Sitting Not So Pretty

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We sit at work. We sit in our cars. We sit at home. Is it any wonder we feel caged and constricted in our bodies, limited in our range of movements?

The Silicon Valley lifestyle is not a kind one when it comes to our bodies. Long drives to work, sitting for 8 to 14 hours a day at our jobs, unwinding in front of the TV or getting back in front of the computer at home – all of this wreaks havoc on our posture and our ability to perform natural movements, such as folding forward and backward.

When we sit in a chair, our hamstring muscles partially contract, even though they are not actively working. The subsequent muscle tightness prevents proper knee and hip movement, contributing to knee pain as well as tight lower back muscles. And a poor seated posture can translate into poor breathing, which often results in pain.

Any wonder why sitting is dubbed the “New Smoking”?

Befriending our hamstrings can give us relief from back pain, improve our posture, improve our range of motion around the hip, and help us sit more efficiently, which can ultimately improve our ability to breathe.

Want more info? Check out the “Roll Out Your Forward Fold” workshop coming up on Saturday, May 30. We’ll explore strategies to unwind our hamstrings and “fluff” our buttocks. And we’ll take a closer look at the knee and its neighbors.

Yin Yoga is For Livers, aka, People Who Live

IMG_4264.JPGYou’re already working out 3-5 times a week. You’re eating healthfully (mostly). Maybe you’re doing a couple of Vinyasa classes a week too. And now we’re asking you to add Yin Yoga to your busy schedule. What’s up with that?

What’s up is that Yin Yoga gives your body (and mind) something it may not be getting in your normal workout routines.

In Yin Yoga, you hold a pose for longer periods of time, around 2-10 minutes, sometimes longer. Typically, you relax the muscles and let gravity stress your tissues (ligaments, fascia, tendons, and even muscles). In some classes, you’ll use props to support you. And you breathe, become still, and find space where no space was before.

This gentle pressure applied to the body’s tissues over time lengthens and strengthens these tissues, increasing range of motion (ROM) of the joints and, ultimately, flexibility. The body becomes lighter and moves with greater ease as the muscles have freedom to generate the forces required of them. Too much stiffness, and our bodies compensate, muscles don’t activate effectively, or at all, and we move around sub-optimally, and often in pain. Yin Yoga can help optimize our movements.

The focused breathing helps reduce anxiety and stress, two factors known to cause serious health problems if not addressed. By breathing deeply, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, causing us to relax, and down-regulate, which helps us manage and relieve stress on every level.

When we become still, we have an opportunity to observe ourselves. There is sensation inherent in Yin Yoga. When we sit with this sensation, we have an opportunity to see how we react. This increased awareness of our bodies and our minds gives us space and freedom to choose our reactions, not just react.

Yin Yoga is ideal for just about everyone and can enhance and improve any movement art or exercise regime. For example, athletes and semi-athletes who live with movement-specific-related stiffness, such as tight hamstrings from cycling, tight hips and IT bands from running, or tight backs from golf, can not only feel better with Yin Yoga, but can also see marked improvements in athletic performance.

And those of us living the Silicon Valley lifestyle can see a huge life improvement as this “self work” translates into “soul work.”

It only takes adding one Yin Yoga class a week to begin to see these changes. Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, Yin Yoga can be done anywhere, any time. Chances are, you’ll like the results so much, you’ll want to do it more than your other workouts!

What is a Hip Opener? Featured Blog by Guest Instructor, Robert Brook, of Alignment Lab

yoga-bendConsidering how often they are requested, “hip openers” have to be one of the more desirable categories of postures offered at any yoga class, and for good reason.  Any student of yoga wants more open hips as the benefits of increasing the mobility of the hip joints are numerous. Increased mobility of the hips can relieve hip, low back and knee pain, as well as improve leg strength, balance and pelvic floor function, to name just a few.  More mobile hips are also an essential component in preparing the body for more advanced postures.

But common approaches to opening the hips taught in yoga classes frequently range from ineffective to downright injurious.  Considering the fact that hip replacement surgery is becoming commonplace in the western world, the dubiousness of the “hip opening” often offered to yoga students is unfortunate to say the least.  Especially when, as you’ll see here, a little knowledge and a bit of know how is enough to allow anyone who’s interested to increase the mobility of their hips safely and effectively.

So what is a safe and effective way of hip opening? It starts with seeing where we are actually at and understanding where we want to go.  To do this, we need to:

  1. look objectively at the range of motion our hips currently have
  2. see what movement is a movement of the hip joint and what is a movement of some other part of the body
  3. learn ways of increasing our range of motion (ROM) that maintain the integrity of the hip joints and do not strain the non contractile tissues such as ligaments, tendons or the hip capsule.

The hip joint has 6 different ranges of motion. These are flexion, extension, external rotation, internal rotation, adduction and abduction.

  • Flexion involves the thigh bone or femur moving toward the front of the pelvis or the pelvis rotating toward the front of the femur.  This is the ROM that is most crucial for doing a forward bend.
  • Extension is the opposite of flexion. In hip extension the femur moves toward the back of the pelvis.  Extension is the ROM used primarily in back bends, but it is also important for walking.
  • External and internal rotation are the femur rotating away from or toward the opposite leg respectively.
  • Adduction and abduction are the femur moving laterally (as opposed to rotating) towards and away from the opposite leg respectively. Adduction also describes when the femur moves across the midline of the body and beyond the the opposite leg and hip.

All of these ranges are important in both standing and seated postures and all deserve attention. Flexion and extension are the hip movements we do most often, especially flexion.  Here I’ll focus on flexion as it is probably the hip ROM we need the most but tend to lose.

As I mentioned above, hip flexion is the movement we use in forward bends, but it’s also the hip motion we do every time we sit and should but don’t necessarily do every time we reach forward to pick something up or use the sink or the toilet.  Thus improving our hip flexion will not only help our forward bends in yoga but also help us with the everyday activities that, when our hip ROM is limited, put constant stress on our knees and lower backs.

Let’s start by looking at how much hip flexion we have.

  1. Stand with your feet separated about 5-6 inches and parallel.  If possible, stand profile to a mirror so that you can see the shape of your spine.  If you tend to get lower back pain when bending forward, put a chair or stool in front of you so you can take some support from it.
  2. Next, move your hips back just a little, that is, just until you begin to perceive the pelvis tilting forward.
  3. Now look at the shape of your back in the mirror.  The lower or lumbar spine should be somewhat concave. Robert Brook image 1If you don’t have a mirror, you can try feeling the shape of your spine with your finger tips. Robert Brook image 2If the lumbar does not curve in but rather rounds out, lift your sit bones and your tailbone up away from your feet until you’ve restored the concave shape.  This is hip flexion.
  4. Once you have established a concave lumber position in this very modest forward bend, continue to move your hips back and lift your sit bones up to increase hip flexion.
  5. Still using the mirror or your finger tips, notice when your pelvis can no longer tilt forward and the shape of your lower back starts to change.  When it does you have reached the end of your ROM of hip flexion and have begun flexing your lumbar spine instead (see photo below). Robert Brook image 3If you do this enough it will eventually cause back pain and may compromise the integrity of the hip joints.  Conversely, if you can learn to maintain your lumbar curve more often it will help develop the ROM in your hips you need to do deep forward bends safely.
  6. Now lift your trunk slightly back up until you have restored the concave lumbar position.  To establish a marker, see how far your hands are from the floor. You might use yoga blocks, for example, to see how far you are.  Are you one block?  Two blocks?  A half of a block?  Get an objective measure you can use as a baseline you can refer to later and evaluate progress.  Robert Brook image 4
  7. Then come up from your forward bend, preferably with your knees straight.  If your back hurts coming up with the knees straight then bend your knees to come out.  As you hip ROM improves you will gradually find it easier to come out of this forward bend without bending your knees.  This is another measure you can use to monitor your progress.

To work on increasing your ROM of hip flexion, repeat the above but begin to hold the position for a period of time.  Start with holding the fully hip flexed position with your still concave lumbar for 20-30 seconds. Repeat it 3-4 times.  In time you’ll find you can increase your time in the posture and with increased time you’ll see progress.  Your hip flexion with increase and your forward bends will improve!

robert-brook

Robert Brook  is co-founder of Alignment Lab where he specializes in using Yoga, Ayurveda and Restorative Exercise™ as therapeutic tools to address a variety of health challenges.  He will be guest teaching at Willow Glen Yoga on Saturday, April 25 at 9:45 am.  This class will focus on how to safely and effectively improve range of motion of the hip joints.  Robert will discuss common mistakes made in doing “hip openers” that can sometimes lead to injuries and how to avoid those mistakes.  Robert will also discuss the relationship between hip mobility and hip strength and how both are essential for yoga postures as well as functional movement.

Check out Robert’s website at www.alignmentlab.net.

Breathe your way to relaxation, reduced tension and new energy in less time than it takes to read this blog!

Feeling a bit stressed or anxious?

Need a reboot so you are up for the next challenge in your busy day?

Yearning for that feeling of contentment you get after your yoga practice?

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By tuning into your breath for a minute or two, you can down-regulate and shift into your parasympathetic nervous system.

Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and try any (or all) of the following – repeat 5 to 10 times before returning to normal breathing.

For instant relaxation, inhale for 5 counts, hold for 1 count, exhale for 10 counts.  As you inhale and exhale, chant in your head, Om 1, Om 2, Om 3, etc.

To relieve tension (and relax you), inhale and exhale an equal number of counts. Inhale for three to five counts, then exhale for the same number of counts.

To renew your energy, inhale for 6 counts, hold for 4 counts, then exhale for 6 counts; hold at the end of the exhale for 1 count.

Just as breath brings life to your yoga practice, it can also relax, relieve tension, and energize you. Enjoy!

Beautiful woman with a serene smile

Feed Your Mind

2015 is in full swing. Have you made a resolution to eat healthier and to cook at home more often like so many of us? If you are struggling in anyway I have the perfect solution! I have never been more inspired by a cookbook then I am with, The Healthy Mind Cookbook by Rebecca Katz. I must admit I love the science of nutrition and this book does a fantastic job of transferring it brilliantly to the plate. The author has focused on nutrients that feed the brain as well as keeping things simple enough you don’t feel overwhelmed with the recipes and will be delighted with the taste and look of the dishes.

Rebecca Katz started researching the brain and food after her father struggled with dementia for a decade. Like her, I believe the science that suggests that food may well be nature’s answer to the perplexing brain conditions affecting so many of us. Sadly conditions such as depression, ADHD, memory loss, agitation, brain fog and fatigue are being accepted as the normal way of life.

I was not feeling motivated or inspired about cooking and getting more and more dissatisfied with restaurant food. I went to the market and just could not decide what I wanted to make for dinner that night, let alone for the next few days. I received the cookbook as a birthday gift in January and it was the answer to my prayers. I now keep basic staples in the house and I can easily whip up something tasty. The chapter, The Culinary Pharmacy, provides much of the latest science out there on almost every ingredient in the book. I was so pleased to find so much food science in one easy reference.

The author is inspired by flavor and discusses her favorite flavor carriers: fat (olive oil), acid (lemon juice), salt (sea salt) and sweet (maple syrup). With these carriers you can hone in on the precise taste you are looking for. Over salted by mistake, no problem, add a squeeze of lemon and presto your dish is perfect.

I have tried many of the soup recipes and loved them and the full range of flavors to choose from Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Italian and a robust chicken soup that is hearty like a stew. If you avoid dark leafy greens because you don’t like the taste you’ll be so surprised when you try the Triple Greens Frittata, an Italian omelet that is baked. Science shows that dark greens provide the necessary Vitamins B6, B9 (folate) and B12 that reduce your homocysteine (by-product of the protein building process) levels. High levels are associated with cognitive impairment.

I have been advising my clients to add a mantra to their daily eating habits to include fat, fiber and protein at every meal and snack. This is the best way to keep your blood sugar balanced and to feel truly satiated. Now I am advising them to also get a copy of this wonderful cookbook.

I hope you find yourself as I have, wanting to cook more often everyday.

Mary Ellen Hannon is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach living in Santa Cruz, CA. She specializes in hormone balancing certified by Dr. Sara Gottfried in The Hormone Cure. She leads workshops and does private consulting. For more information about her go to www.shaktinutrition.com.

Somatics and Somatic Yoga

What are somatics and how is somatic yoga different from other forms of yoga practice? Thomas Hanna, one of the developers of somatic yoga practices says it is “the body as perceived from within”. It is based on body awareness: proprioception. One type of proprioception (figuring out where our body parts are relative to one another) is relational- Is my arm at my side? Is my chin over my right shoulder? Is my right knee bent towards my foot? and so on.

In somatic yoga we bring the perception to the interior: using an attitude of exploration rather than “performance”, we investigate what the movement feels like rather than the position of the body. Looking at “how do I coordinate movements?” and “how do I incorporate the breath?” we concentrate on the sensations of the movements. While much of yoga involves stretching the muscles, somtic yoga centers on feeling them. Somatics can alleviate “sensory motor amnesia”- a forgetting of what and how certain muscle groups can move. As the result of repetitive movements (repetitive stress injuries), accidents or trauma we may become blind to certain areas of our body. While one workshop will not permanently wake up these areas- the journey can begin; the journey to total body re-integration, greater range of motion and greater freedom of movement. This change is a change for you relative to your own body mechanics, your body type.

Somatic yoga can address many back issues, it is easy on the knees, an ongoing practice can help alleviate chronic pain and it can calm and center the mind and body. This sublte practice ca be a huge challenge for people who are on the go go go!; a challenge that is useful to be faced.

So what do we do in a class if we are not standing, stretching, strenghtening? We are feeling- moving parts of the body in one direction, another part in the other; torso to the right and knees to the left, spine lifted with shoulders and hips pressed into the floor to mention two common postures and activites. The movements are repeated many times, with small variations, including the breath for integration and pace, often with eyes closed and focus inward. How do I feel, what is the sensation, where is the edge of the movement, does repetition increase range of motion, when and how does fatigue manifest? And so on.

Coming this Saturday January 31, from 1 to 3:30 I am going to be combining an hour of somatic yoga with an hour and a half of restorative yoga. We will first move INSIDE ourselves with the slow movements of a somatic yoga sequence, bringing the conciousness to the body self, then conclude with supported restorative postures to seal the deal – have the benefits of the somatic practiced be allowed to settle into the psyche as well as the body.

I hope you will join me there.

Here is a video by a well know Somatic Exercises practioner James Knight James Knight Twist Series

Recovery Cafe of San Jose received nearly $2,000 from WGY

The Friday and Monday Y12SR meetings and yoga class fees are divided up betwen the instrutor, the studio and the Recovery Cafe San Jose. We have been a proud supporter of the Recovery Cafe SJ for more than four years. This last year, due to the stalwart and continued attendance by loyal students we have been able to contribute $3 shy of $2K to the Recovery Cafe SJ. Here is what they do:
The mission of Recovery Cafe San Jose
Y12SR is a 2 hour “class” for people struggling with the addictive behavior of others or with their own disease. We meet to talk from 7 to 8pm then roll out our mats for an all level yoga practice until 9pm. If this is something you would like to try- please join us.

Body Image of Yoga- Change is Slow

From the nude ads featuring socks to scantily clad yoga models the criteria for asana seems to be quite POSED. Recent articles and blogs have been decrying the perfect body and exclusive feel of yoga studios; disenfranchising the voluptuous and rounded bodies we actually have. Many are seeing the hip fraud for what it is: another unrealistic expectation of both men and women. Others are trying to take a stand for normalcy. September’s Yoga Journal tried, with varying success, to address this in it’s new love your body series. Unfortunately, in the land of magazines, the content and photos are completed four to six months BEFORE the magazine hits the stands to the images and other articles conflict heavily with the “Love Your Curves” article. Melanie Klein of Yoga Dork wrote a balanced blog on the subject trying to ameliorate the tentative nature of the article. Unfortunately the “Love Your Curves” and over all “love yourself the way you are” message is overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of the ads and photos filling the rest of the magazine. YJ is going down the same path as many of the check out counter women’s magazines that proclaim you can “Loose 10 Pounds by Summer” while you make the “Best Chocolate Cake Ever”. The message is not clear and seeks to appeal to EVERYone while educating and supporting no one.

Read Melanie’s blog “From Backlash to Benefit of the Doubt: On Yoga Journal, Body Image and Building a Conscious Community” here

And more on this subject here

Please comment and add your voice to this subject. How do you feel? Aren’t you glad WGY is a safe haven?

Asteya / Non-Stealing and Choosing Joy

This past week I was thrown back on myself. After having arrived at the studio office Tuesday morning I discovered the Center had been broken into. Not much lost; a bit of cash. Mostly consternation, inconvenience and a waste of everyone’s time.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali states that “A person firmly anchored in Asteya or non- stealing will receive all the jewels of this world.  Not interested in material wealth, he or she will have access to the most valuable things in life.” The perpetrators of this ethic did not leave with “jewels”.

I got through Tuesday by counseling myself. The situation could have been much worse. With the support of Kyczy and my brother I felt blessed. Nothing tangible other than money had been lost. I made time in the afternoon for my practice and as I moved deeper I was reminded that yoga is not merely practicing postures; rather it reflects every aspect of life and existence. As I moved and breathed my mental, physical and spiritual problems began to dissolve.

When I focus on the quality of my actions and let go of striving for results I become fluid-more flexible. Tapas, translated as heat, cleansing, focused determination began to quell my anxiety and my fear while delivering me into a state of peace and equanimity.
I brought my focus and my energies back to trusting in “Satya” or truth, shifted my thoughts away from harming thoughts; cruelty or violent thinking directed at the individuals who “burgled my joint” into “Ahimsa” -to the peace of non-harming.  I moved away from grasping and toward “Aparigraha” letting go of an impulse to play victim; and to give me back to myself.

My puzzlement and sense of violation did not manifest till very early Wednesday morning. I woke up and and realized that I felt a bit creepy. The impact of this event was more profound than I had thought.

In Wednesday night’s class, secure in my sweet yoga sanctuary, feeling renewed warmth in community, the loving support of family, and friends, I taught with a freedom and abandon I have not felt so fully in a while.

Thanks to your concern and support I was able to choose joy.

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