It’s the holidays!
Duh…right? And if you look at the cover of any/every woman’s magazine it’s no different from any other month: all about toning your body, losing that flab FINALLY, and being the best/skinniest you that you can be!
What I say to that is:
Yoga, or any form of exercise: be it running, swimming, dancing, or getting it on, is always good for you. There are the obvious aesthetic reasons. But also, there are immeasurable physical and emotional benefits as well. And since it’s the holiday season: I’m pretty sure there’s some extra stress happening in your life that you’d like to get rid of.
If you can attend a beginner’s yoga class: I highly encourage it. You can Google donation yoga classes in your area, or usually the YMCA has them as well. I prefer “Power Yoga,” because it is a style in which your heart rate accelerates: providing aerobic activity, you sweat out toxins, and you’re able to get deep into your stretches: really finding more release and openings safely. If our bodies aren’t warm, we can pull things we didn’t know we had.
There are so many different types of yoga out there, and you won’t really know what style you like best until you try it: and even then, every teacher is different. So really, you have to just be brave, and take some leaps of faith to try out different styles. I know for me, “hot yoga,” or “Bikram,” is not my thing. But I had to try it first to know. So ask around, read reviews, maybe go with a friend-just don’t give up after trying it once: because once you find your yoga groove, you won’t turn back.
If you’re not able to get to a class, or are intimidated, I’m going show you poses in my articles. Also, you can look online for podcasts. Some teachers I recommend are Ally Hamilton (who actually has donation based pod casts), and Bryan Kest. There is also a site called Yogi Chocolate that provides downloadable donation based classes.
The reason I became addicted to yoga, and then became a teacher, is because I noticed a huge change in myself when I started practicing. And I can tell you; honestly…I haven’t practiced much lately. And I can feel it in my body. Physically and emotionally. For me, now more than ever it is crucial I get back to my practice: I’ve been going through a messy break up and had another even more traumatic loss in my life. And a few years back when things were difficult: I found refuge in yoga. It helps me to move through the pain and heal.
Yoga has so many detoxifying benefits. Which is why, especially around this time of year, it’s such a great thing to practice. Even a few minutes a day on your own at home: these poses can help you to relax, and slowly release the negative build-ups in our bodies.
The first, and most important principle of yoga is breath. It’s believed that when we inhale, we are breathing in life force and when we exhale, we’re removing the toxins from our bodies. Sounds silly, I know. But think about it: remember when you were little, having a total fit over something silly and your mom would always say: Take a deep breath and wash your face with cold water? Mom was right: taking a deep breath really helps. It slows down your heart rate: which, fundamentally, is what will help you to calm down and think a little more clearly. So when you have a moment: in bed, on the metro, in your car, try this:
1. Take slow smooth breaths in and out of your nose.
2. Close off a little space at the back of your throat with the back of your tongue. This will make the breath audible.
3. Lengthen your inhales and exhales. Count as you inhale and exhale. I recommend counting to 4 as you inhale, holding for 2, and exhaling for 4.
4. The sound of your breath is often described as ocean waves. Or like Darth Vader: but not as intense. (Another thing you can do, is pretend you are fogging up a window with your mouth. Then close your mouth…you should be making the same noise.)
5. Now try to do a few movements with the body, starting with the ujjayi inhale and then raise your arms up high. As you exhale, lower your arms.
In yoga, we move WITH our breath. If at any point you ever feel you cannot control your breath. Stop. And take: Child's Pose.
Child’s Pose is a resting pose, often taken in the begging and ending of a class, after inversions, or between difficult sequences. Child’s pose gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles. It calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue. It also relieves back and neck pain when done with head and torso supported. If you have a knee injury, you should either put a towel or blanket behind your knees, or not do this pose.
Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Lay down on top of your thighs, with your stomach collapsing between your legs, allowing your forehead to kiss your mat. Your hands may either stay at your sides, or be extended out in front of you. As you inhale, feel your ribs expanding against your thighs, notice the breath coming down the back of your throat, into your chest, down to your sacrum, and feel that moving up and out on your exhalation-ribs contracting.
Downward Facing Dog, or “Down dog,” is probably the most recognizable yoga pose: and one we take the most. It energizes the body. Calms the brain and helps to relieve stress and mild depression: REALLY helpful at this time of year, aye!? Strengthens the arms and legs, improves digestion, stretches the shoulders, calves, and hamstrings. Relieves headaches, back pain, insomnia and fatigue. It’s also a therapeutic pose for high blood pressure, and sinusitis.
Get on all fours. Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Then with your palms pressed firmly on the ground, straighten your legs until your body is making a triangle. Your feet are hip distance apart, and your hands shoulder distant. You want to pull your belly button back to your spine, and work your heels to the ground. Your heels don’t have to touch the ground: mine don’t! But if you, with every exhale, imagine your heels reaching down towards the ground and your heart folding in towards your knees: you will experience a deepening of the posture. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly.
If you have wrist injuries, or start to feel too much pressure in your wrists/elbows/shoulders, then modify this pose and take Dolphin, instead. Which is the same as Down Dog, except on your forearms:
These are two of the most common poses you will hear/encounter in yoga. And two that are really beneficial, as well.
What people often don’t realize is exactly HOW beneficial yoga can be. Stretching is one of the greatest things you can do for your body: it helps maintain joint mobility and can prevent injury. Physical therapists highly encourage people to stretch everyday. You may notice, especially in more challenging poses, a resistance occurs. Your body won’t go there because your mind is stopping you. Often times in a yoga class, students can feel frustrated, or sad, or even angry with a teacher in certain poses. This is where the breath comes in. See, our bodies are tight for many reasons. We could be sore from working out, or tight from having never moved our body in this way before. Also, walking or sitting for extended periods of time also affects our muscles and joints. But one of the biggest reason is stress/past experience that our egos will not allow us to let go of. They camp out in our joints: in our back, or necks, our shoulders, our hips. All over. See, our ego is here to protect us. But for our ego, to "protect" us means to avoid and resist change and hold on to what we know. Even if it isn’t good for us. So often times, in intense postures, you’ll notice that while your hips are opening, your jaw will lock or your neck will tense or you will furrow your brows. It’s normal. Just take deep ujjayi breaths and ALLOW yourself to release further. By breathing, and staying calm, eventually, your body will go even deeper and a release will occur-it may happen in that class, it may happen in a month. But it will happen. That is why when people walk out of yoga classes they often look and feel a little high, or as I like to call: “Blissed out.” Because we are letting go of crap our bodies, heart, mind, and soul do not need.
So this holiday season, take some deep breaths, and get down with yourself in a yoga class.