It may not seem like it in this 90+ degree heat, but summer is winding down. We can say goodbye to summer vacations, weekday beach trips and hello to school crossings and school buses. It’s time to get back to routine once again. So if you’ve found you let your yoga practice slide over the summer, come home to your yoga mat.
One of the main tenants of yoga is the principle of Abhyasa, which means, “practice.” According to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is all about finding peace of mind-stopping all the crazy thoughts and ideas that constantly run around in our heads making us stressed out maniacs. Verses 1.12-1.14 tell us that in order to do that we need to practice. We need a sustained, vigilant, persistent practice to attain and maintain a state of stable tranquility. If we can practice consistently and continuously with genuine effort, we become grounded in the practice and we begin to transform our lives.
I guess it depends on what exactly you are looking for. Is it all about exercise, sweat, boot camps and looking good in a swimsuit, or is it about learning about your body so that stress doesn’t wreak havoc on your health and preconceived ideas don’t ruin your life? Maybe it’s about all of the above. But if you truly want to transform your life, you must practice and make it a part of your life.
It’s easy to get distracted and find excuses not to practice. But according to the sages, it is only by practicing without interruption that we gain access to the fruits of yoga. Abhyasa is the key to finding bliss, the feeling of connectedness-that elusive “happy” that we all are searching for. Your practice may slip from time to time, but if your commitment is sincere, you keep returning home- home to your practice, no matter where you are-and let, as they say “Shift Happen.”
Man. Is it hot or what? I mean hot! That sticky, icky, walk outside and you are immediately drenched, drippy wet hot. The 2014 edition of the Farmers Almanac says to “get ready for a long hot summer-hazy, hot, humid and rainy.” (At least one out of the 4 is good!) “This summer will be exceptionally hot with oppressive humidity that will make for many uncomfortable days and nights.” Great. Did we really need another lesson in how to be uncomfortably comfortable?
So what do we do about it? We can’t control the heat, but we can avoid things that exacerbate it.
According to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister “science of life and yogic healing” and the 5000-year-old system of Indian medicine, human energy is divided into several mind-body types, or doshas, which have both positive and negative effects. Balanced doshas create health and happiness, whereas unbalanced doshas create discomfort and disease. Summer is dominated by the Fire element and brings up our “agni” fire-a/k/a fire in the belly. With the earth receiving more sun than any other time of the year, it brings up qualities that are hot, bright, sharp and penetrating. Tempers get short, and we tend to get annoyed for no good reason. Both the mind and body tend to get overheated causing us to be more competitive, self critical, easily agitated and dehydrated both inside and out. We need to work on the mental and physical balance of keeping the “agni” fire going without letting it rage out of control and burn us out.
One of the main principles of Ayurveda states: “like increases like and opposites create balance.” To balance “Pitta”, (the dominant summer dosha comprised of fire and water driven by the solar force), we need to remove excess heat from the body rather than to build it. We can balance Pitta through asanas that place more pressure on the naval center, the seat of Pitta.
- Spinal twists such as Matsyendrasana-Seated Spinal Twists-help release excess fire and toxins from the digestive system.
- Forward bends such as Paschimottanasana-Seated Forward Fold and Janu Sirsanasa-Head to Knee pose, are cooling asana that help to bring the focus inward.
- Mild backbends such as Bhujangasana-Cobra and Matsyanasa-Fish pose, can help us to open our hearts and be less critical and judgmental of others and ourselves.
- This is a great time to balance heat building Surya Namaskara-Sun Salutations, with Chandra Namaskara-Moon Salutations-which emphasize surrendering, forgiving, softening and being gentle with yourself.
In terms of nutrition: Sorry BUT, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol will only increase the agni fire in the body. Try eating a lighter whole-food plant-based diet with lots of yummy fruits and vegetables-cooling foods like fresh salads, mango and cucumbers. And don’t forget the sweet mint teas, cucumber water and coconut water–they are so refreshing!
As my grandmother used to say “think cool thoughts” and you’ll be cool. We’ll get through this summer together and remember fall is just around the corner, which means a subzero Florida winter will be here before you know it! read more
One of the best things about summer is walking barefoot in the sand. Walking barefoot in natural terrain is very beneficial to the health of the arches of the feet. We normally spend most of our time in shoes that are often too tight or even worse… heels, and walking on hard, flat surfaces which are all a great disservice to the health of our feet. Our underappreciated feet are so important to us: they are our foundation, bear the weight of our entire body, and are the building blocks of our posture (and look how cute your toes are!). Energetically, they are thought to have small chakras, or energy centers along with the palms of the hands and the 7 major chakras that line our spine.
Most of us know about the medial arches of the feet. They are the most mobile and shock absorbent of the arches and when dysfunctional contribute to “dropped arches”, “flat feet”, and plantar fasciitis. In actuality, there are three arches of the foot and maintaining all three arches will give you more spring to your step (both literally and figuratively). Think of your foot like the pyramids of Egypt in which all three parts of the base are domed upward. This “dome” so to speak has a facial relationship to the dome of the pelvic floor and the dome of the diaphragm. When collapsed, the other two domes are affected which can lead to major imbalances.
The Medial Longitudinal Arch runs from the base of the big toe to the heel and is supported by fibularis longus, tibialis posterior and flexor hallucis longus. In a healthy medial arch, one should be able to slide their first finger up to the first joint underneath this arch. The lift of this arch should be executed in ALL YOGA POSES (check it out in your back foot in Warrior I!). As an exercise, lift all ten toes while grounding the base of the big toe and heel to feel the arch lift, then gently place all ten toes back down while maintaining it.
The Lateral Longitudinal Arch runs from the base of the pinky toe to the heel and is supported by fibularis longus, fibularis brevis, and abductor digiti minimi. This arch is designed to transmit force when walking or being mobile. As an exercise, stand in tadasana and make your feet seem shorter, which engages all three arches but it’s a good way to feel the lateral arch.
The Transverse Arch runs horizontally along the base of the toes and is supported mainly by adductor hallucis. A very good exercise for this arch is to sit with a towel under your foot, scrunch the toes and the transverse arch repeatedly to pull the towel towards you.
Another great self-care exercise is to thoroughly roll a tennis ball under the foot. If you experience plantar fasciitis, this can be done with a frozen water bottle as the roller. Take care of those precious feet by supporting all three arches in your yoga practice, walk barefoot in Mother Nature and most of all give them love.
Namaste, Shila Tirabassi
You may hear the word psoas tossed around in yoga class, but where it is and what does it do? You have a right and left psoas and it is primarily a hip flexor – which means it folds the hip to bring the knee into the chest. Deep in the center of the body, it attaches the entire length of the lumbar spine to the inner thigh. As it crosses the front of the hip, it merges with another muscle called the iliacus. That is why it is sometimes called iliopsoas.
The psoas is important in finding a neutral pelvis. If the psoas is tight, it will pull the lumbar spine forward and increase the lumbar lordosis curve in the lower back. Sitting for too many hours during the day can tighten the psoas. In order to stretch a tight psoas, use poses like high lunge, warrior one and anjaneyasana which lengthen the psoas of the back leg. Conversely, the psoas shortens in poses where the thigh pulls in close to the chest like a step through to lunge from downward dog or boat pose.
Just like everything in yoga, we are looking for balance. I love lengthening the psoas in a neutral position to find this balance. Try it: lie on your back and straighten the left leg along the ground – this is the psoas that will be lengthening. Pull the right leg into the chest. Work on finding length on your left side by pushing your heel away from you. Now imagine that the area just to the left side of your belly button down to your left inner thigh gets longer. Keep reaching your left heel away and take 5 long breaths.
Salamba=propped up or supported
Sarva=whole or all
Asana=seat or posutre
Supported all limb posture
Have you ever felt that the weight of the whole world was upon your shoulders? Sometimes our ego causes us to “shoulder” responsibilities that are not ours to bear. Practicing the inverted posture shoulderstand can allow us not only to become aware of the burdens we have placed upon ourselves, but also that we are, in fact, capable of carrying those burdens if necessary. Inversions literally cause us to turn our world upside down and look at things from an entirely new perspective. It can shine light on those burdens we need to shoulder and those we need to let go.
The benefits of shoulderstand are so vast that it is considered the Queen of Yoga Asana. It has a balancing effect on the whole body. Draining stagnant blood from the legs and abdominal organs; increasing blood circulation to the brain which improves mental functioning; improving respiration, helping to relieve asthma, bronchitis, throat ailments, breathlessness and palpitations; massaging the digestive and elimination systems; and regulating the menstrual cycle and reducing menstrual cramps as well as ovarian cysts are some of shoulderstands’ many benefits. It has a profound effect on the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which not only regulate the rate at which food and oxygen are metabolized but also are very influential on our emotional and mental dispositions.
Contraindications include; arteriosclerosis; cerebral thrombosis: excessively high blood pressure; slipped discs
Where experienced practitioners may begin lying on a yoga mat, using a folded blanket or two under the neck, shoulders, and back alleviates strain from the neck. The head should be on the floor, hands by your sides. Begin by rolling your shoulders back and squeezing the shoulder blades together. As you exhale, bring your knees into your chest and begin to lift your hips off the mat. Placing your palms on your hips for support, press the elbows firmly down. Using your abdominal muscles, as you exhale slowly raise your legs up to the sky stretching your body from the armpits to the toes. The palms move down the back close to your shoulder blades. Maintain the curve in the cervical spine, gaze to your chest. Ideally, the back should be almost vertical; the body should be supported by the shoulders and the back of the head with the arms providing stability. Breathe deeply and slowly. See where you can soften and relax into the pose. Watch the breath and notice if any discomfort arises. Discomfort forces the mind to focus. The security of being upright is no longer available. We learn to breath through uncomfortable situations, which will inevitably arise, in our everyday life. Remind yourself that this discomfort will pass. It will not last forever. Change is inevitable. There is always something changing in the body and mind… in life.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, fold lengthened legs over the head, place the arms on the floor at your sides and gradually lower the legs down. See if there are some of those burdens you are shouldering that you can leave behind. Completely relax for a few breaths and then move into a counter pose such as matsyasana(fish) or bhujangasana(cobra) or any pose that bends the head gently backwards.
Full shoulderstand can be quite challenging, so don’t feel badly if you are not able to get your hips, shoulders, and feet lined up. Ardha Sarvangasana(Half shoulderstand) where the legs are at an angle is always a possibility, as well as using a wall or a chair for support.