Posts tagged #ashtanga yoga

Yoga in the Sauna: Improve your flexibility part I

I have always considered myself pretty flexible, but now that I have been taught eka pada Sirsasana, I have realized I have super tight hips. As I have been struggling with hip flexibility since supta kurmasana, I decided to employ a plan to hopefully loosen my hips and make all of the leg behind the leg poses achievable. My plan is three-fold: 1) Yoga in the sauna, 2) Diet and supplements, 3) rolling and massage. Today I am going to tell you what the first part of my plan - which includes stretches and yoga in an infrared sauna. 

An infrared sauna is different than a regular sauna in that it uses infrared light to heat your body. Also, rather than heating the air around you, the infrared sauna targets your body directly, which means it will produce heat in your body at lower temperatures. The infrared sauna has a wide range of benefits, but its claims on aiding an increase in flexibility have been backed up by scientific studies. For example, a study from Auburn University compared stretching in a sauna and at room temperature. The group that stretched in the sauna saw significantly greater improvements in flexibility.  The heat of the sauna flushes out lactic acid, which in turn loosens tight muscles. 

Excited by these results, I started stretching in an infrared sauna after my regular yoga practice. I also started stretching after running as this activity could potentially affect my hip flexibility. I am lucky enough to have an infrared sauna in my house, however if you don't, there are places where you can go to spend some time in an infrared sauna. Just take some light clothes and get down to business (But please, wear something! Your neighbor does not need to see your naked bits doing yoga!). Below are the exercises that I have been performing to improve my hip flexibility. Note that I do these exercises after my regular practice... Not before.

Exercises

                                                                                               

Seated Pigeon in the sauna

Seated Pigeon in the sauna

1) Seated pigeon

I start with this easier stretch. It gets on my hips without being too aggressive. Try keeping your hips square and bringing the foot as close to chest as possible.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

2) Kurmasana

Kurmasana

Kurmasana

Bring the soles of your feet together and scoot your butt back - this is not badda konasaa. Then fold forward, tilting your pelvis down and bringing your chest as close to the seat as possible. The pelvic tilt will make this stretch more powerful so work on bringing your bootie up like beyonce and your chest down .  Stay 10-15 breaths.

 

3) Baddha Konasana 

Badda Konasana

Badda Konasana

In the same position as the pose before bring your feet closet to your pelvis. Before bringing the chest down activate the pelvic tilt forward (beyonce bootie!) and bring your chest to the floor. Again, the pelvic tilt helps your hips stretch even more. So instead of a rounded back try to keep your back as straight as possible.  Stay 10-15 breaths.

 

4) Full pigeon

Full Pigeon

Full Pigeon

This is probably my favorite pose of all time because it gets deep at the hips. Set up for pigeon pose by bringing your chin as parallel to the wall in front of you as possible. Then slowly bring your chest down trying not to round your back.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

5) Preparation for leg behind the head

Leg Behind the head prep I

Leg Behind the head prep I

Now we are getting close to the actual leg behind the head pose. Seated with your left leg straight, keep your hips squared and then bring your foot as close to your face as possible keeping your knee parallel to the front wall. Work on getting your making your back straight as you tilt your pelvis forward. This small movement will guarantee you get deeper into your hips.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

Leg Behind the head prep II

Leg Behind the head prep II

 

6) Second preparation for leg behind the head

The second prep pose keeps the legs at the same position, but bringing the foot towards the ear.  Again, try to maintain your back as straight as possible by tilting the pelvis forward.  Stay 10-15 breaths on each side.

 

 

7) Leg behind the head

Now from the prep, try to take the leg out and the further back. Reach lower in your back with your foot. try to keep your back straight. Stay 10-15 breaths on each side as you work on straightening your back and moving the pelvis forward.

This is my sauna sequence for tight hips. I have been doing it everyday and hopefully you will see results soon! At first it may seem that your hips become tighter as you are over extending them in the sauna. However, stay faithful in your practice, activate the forward pelvic tilt in each downdog, and you are bound to see great results. This worked for me, but you may want to consult your physician before starting any new health regimen, including this one.

Next week, we will discuss how diet affects your practice and flexibility!

Have a blessed week!

Kapotasana, death, God, and letting go

If Yoga practice is a microcosm of life, then Kapotasana is a microcosm of death. And I am not talking about that Kapotasana where you plop to the floor and never bind. That doesn't count. I am talking about the real Kapotasana where you have to fight the floor to be able to open your heart, and then you take your shoulder to the limit by trying to reach your heels. You may not bind, but I am talking about the struggle that takes you to the limit. That Kapotasana. The one that leaves you breathless fighting your own body to be able to grasp a little bit of air.

Kapotasana is for me such a deep pose that when I started practicing it, it created anxiety before I even set foot into the studio. That is why I equate it to death practice. Because death creates anxiety. Have you ever been in a situation where you are having a great day and then you have a sudden realization that you are going to die one day and everything will be over? Then a bout of anxiety sets in... That is pretty much how Kapotasana makes you feel once it enters your daily practice. 

I started getting anxious about Kapotasana the night before when I went to bed. I would think to myself: "Oh my, I have to do Kapotasana tomorrow morning....". Usually a mini panic attack ensued and I had to do breathing exercises to sleep. When I woke up, another wave of anxiety would come over me with a tiny panic attack when I remembered that I had to do Kapotasana in a few hours. Once I got to the studio, my panic grew and when it was actually time to drop back into Kapo, I was usually trembling. It must seem crazy to you that I put myself through this everyday, but what I have learned through these daily forages into Kapotasana is truly priceless.

Having so much anxiety build over doing a pose, forced me to forget obsessing over accomplishing the pose and going on to the next one. It didn't matter anymore if I bound or not. Instead, I had to focus on the present to be able to just get through my practice without starting a panic attack. So rather than watching every youtube video and reading every article about Kapotasana, I started focusing on every little aspect of my practice. And instead of worrying about what was coming next or when I was getting the next pose, I started letting go and focusing on the now.

Kapotasana forced my focus out of my physical body and onto the celestial one. My anxiety about this pose was so much that I turned my eye completely to God and let Him guide my practice. In fact, when I drop down to Kapotasana I reach to the sky and say a brief prayer before I drop back. Little by little kapotasana got easier, and the anxiety became less overwhelming. God reminded me that after death, the most important encounter of our life happens with Him. I was reminded of John 11:25-26:

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I did believe it. So I let go, my trembling subsided, my grasps for air became longer. My focus was on God. 

What happened after conquering Kapotasana was magical. My practice unfolded effortlessly. My youtube video obsession vanished and getting into new poses was more about unlocking the potential that was already there.  Kapotasana forced me to focus on what mattered: God and the present moment. 

 

Bringing down walls in your Yoga practice and life: Marichyasana D and Faith

Marichyasana D was the first wall I encountered in my yoga practice. No matter what I did or how hard I tried, it did not seem to matter. Months passed by and everyday I had a different reason why I couldn't bind in the pose... First, I figured my belly was too big and getting in the way, then I realized my legs were way too fat to be enveloped by my arms, or maybe my arms were way too short to go around my legs, and then I thought my spine could not twist enough... 

I obsessed over the pose for months. I have probably watched every youtube video and read every article ever written on Marichyasana D. Then after months of consistent practice and faith, it just.... happened. It was a bit anticlimactic... My world didn't change, birds did not sing. One day, I just bound and my day went on as usual. 

Yoga practice is often a microcosm of life and it teaches important lessons if you pay close attention. Marichyasana D was for a while my very own promised land, which was kept safely inside a very tall wall I could not get through. No matter what I did, the wall would not come down. It was only through faithful obedience and consistence that the wall fell. 

Does that sound familiar? The people of Israel also encountered a wall around Jericho. Did they need military prowess to get into the city? No, all they needed was God. Just like conquering Marychaisana D, the people of Israel blindly followed God and through faith and obedience they made the wall fall. 

Every challenging pose in the yoga practice is a promised land that is protected by wall. When you hit a wall what should you do? You should, like the people of Israel, stay faithful and consistent with God in your holy yoga practice. In life, staying faithful and strong with God will also bring down many walls. Whenever you hit a wall in life or yoga practice, remember:

"By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days."  Hebrews 11:30.

During practice today we will attempt to get into an advanced twist called marichyasana D. This is an intermediary to advanced class and it will take about 45 minutes. During class ask yourself: 

  • How else can you access and apply the power of God in your yoga practice and your life?
  • Are there any areas where you could use more faith and consistence?

It is a new year and a great time to reflect on faith and obedience in Christ! So enjoy the challenge of this intermediary class and remember to stay faithful!

Stay Blessed!

 

Holy Yoga for New Years

Kurmasana

Kurmasana

The goal of today's holy yoga class is to rebirth a new self in Christ. As the new year approaches, we will do hip openers as a symbolic exercise of birthing a new self in 2016. The class will work towards a challenging hip opener called kurmasana (or turtle pose). As you take this class, meditate  on Romans 12: 1-2: Think of taking your everyday, ordinary life, your yoga practice, your sleeping, your eating, you everyday work and offering it to God. During practice focus on the following questions:

What will this offering of ordinary things in your life look like for you?

  • What will offering your yoga practice to God look like?
  • What will offering your work to God look like?
  • What will offering your eating to God look like?

What can you improve in your life in the new year so that this offering is even better?

I hope that in the year of 2016 you dedicate your life to Christ. I hope that this is a year of achievements and improvements for you! When we live in Christ and according to His rules, our lives flourish. I hope that the Holy Spirit transforms you this year, and that through Him you are able to find a new self.

Stay Blessed!

Izabel

Can yoga practice prepare you for the grueling 42km of the Inca trail?

I meant to train and prepare myself for the inca trail. It was my son's childhood dream and I did not want to disappoint. But, with yoga teacher training, building a home, waking up at 5 am to drive my son to a school an hour away, and a young baby in the mix I just did not have the time. So at the end, I was left with an impromptu test:  Would my yoga practice single handedly prepare my body to face the grueling 42km of the inca trail? It is important to note that the yoga practice I refer to in this article is a 6 day a week practice of Ashtanga yoga, which I had performed solely for the 2 years previous to this trip. For those of you who are not familiar with Ashtanga, it is an arduous yoga practice developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois based on an ancient text called Yoga Kornuta. It is composed of 6 series that are introduced to the student as they become proficient on each of the initial poses. When I went on the inca trail I was practicing the primary series of ashtanga yoga. 

So going back to my original question: Can ashtanga yoga single handedly prepare you for the inca trail? Here's my day to day account explaining the many ways in which my daily practice prepared my body for what many consider the ultimate trekking trip.

Day 1: As we did this trip over my son's spring break, we only had one day in Cusco to acclimatize. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea and made the hike even more difficult. I underestimated my acclimatization as I had gone skiing in Colorado and never had a problem. But Cusco is higher than Colorado and that slight difference greatly affected my body. Even though in the first day we were presented with the easiest terrain, it was by far the hardest one for me because of the thin air. I often felt out of air while hiking, and had to focus on my breathing. Instinctively copying my yoga practice I started taking really deep inhales and exhaled all of the air so that I could bring in new oxygen. This small breathing exercise helped me get through the day. After seeing some beautiful places on the first day of hike and trying Chicha (corn beer) for the first time, we slept on the backyard of a local's house with the most beautiful starry sky I had ever seen. 

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 10.47.10 PM.png

Day 2: If you are doing the Classic Inca trail, the second day is supposed to be the hardest day. It is 7 hours uphill in the Andes to the dead woman's pass then an hour downhill to the campsite. Even though it was the hardest day, my body began acclimatizing so I only felt a slight headache once we reached the dead woman's pass (the highest point of that day). I feel like my pranayama practice yesterday helped me oxygenate my body and as a consequence I acclimatized quicker. Pranayama can increase the amount of oxygen in the blood helping attenuate the effects of altitude sickness. Once we passed the dead woman's pass, a torrential downpour started. This coincided with the downhill part of the day which meant slipping on the rocks and falling 3 or 4 times. Thanks to the flexibility I gained in my daily practice, the falls did not cause any injuries. That night, we camped in a huge camp site and had an unfortunate mishap. I woke up with a guy nearly on top of me looking for something in our tent. I started screaming like a mad woman waking up my son and the people on the tents next to us. The man fled. Needless to say, my son and I were agitated for the rest of the night and could not sleep. My son had a mini panic attack. Trying to calm him down, I taught him Vishama-vritti or unequal breathing to help him sleep. Then I walked him through a short meditation. At the end, he was sleeping like a baby. It was like magic. I attempted the same on me. I did calm down and eventually took a few cat naps, but I was too scared to completely fall asleep that night.

Day 3: On the third day everyone was complaining about being sore. I, on the other hand, was not. I was feeling great despite not having slept the previous night. Usually our muscles become sore when we challenge them with more strenuous activity than it is accustomed to, so it is likely that my yoga practice is challenging enough to make two days of grueling hiking not a cause for muscle soreness. Despite our best attempts to remain calm and stay another night with our group, my son and I decided to hike the remaining 20 km of the inca trail on that same day and spend the night in a hotel in the closest town, Aguas Calientes. This meant another 6 hours of downhill hiking which really put our knees to the test. At the end of the day, Gabe and I were super tired, but happy we had accomplished that feat. We hiked the entire inca trail in just 3 days! We ended the day with an amazing peruvian massage and a hot shower! 

Day 4: On the next day we took a bus to Machu Picchu to meet our group who had hiked there that morning. Machu Picchu was one of the most incredible and beautiful sights I had ever seen. It is so grandiose, it leaves you speechless. After walking around the sites, my son and I just sat down, closed our eyes and imagined what it must have been like to live at the apex of Incan civilization. 

Final Verdict: My daily practice of Ashtanga yoga prepared my body for more than just physically facing the inca trail. It also gave me skills to deal with the challenges and problems I encountered. I utilized pranayama techniques I learned to fight altitude sickness, and even to keep calm in the midst of chaos. Even without formal cardiovascular training, I had the endurance and the fitness necessary to finish the 42 km in 3 days (one day less than the classic inca trail). My muscles were not sore, despite the 7 hours uphill trekk in one of the days. I had always heard that Ashtanga is a strength and a cardiovascular exercise, but I have to say I was extremely surprised at how well it prepared my body to face such an arduous task. After using pranayama, meditation, and muscular endurance in the trail I can attest that a 6 day a week practice of ashtanga indeed prepares you for the challenge of the inca trail. 

 

Stuck in Supta Kurmasana? Read this!

I always thought I would fly through Supta Kurmasana.... Except that was not the case at all... Despite my decade long affair with Ballet during my childhood and teenage years, despite the open hips I had always been proud of, despite all of that, I was stuck in Supta Kurmasana for much longer than I had anticipated. For a while I felt frustrated. My ego thought: "How can my ballet hips not be open enough for Supta Kurmasana?" Then, as months went by and I still could not bind independetly, I became obessed. I thought about Supta Kurmasana day and night. I googled things like: "Impossible supta kurmasana" or "are my thighs too big for supta kurmasana?"... I became completely consumed by the pose. Adding to my frustration, everyone kept telling me I should be able to bind independently in the pose... "You are definetely open enough, you can bind with assistance... it must be a mechanics issue"... I wanted to get into that pose independently so badly... But, I continued to struggle... As a result, I tried using even more strength, I tried different hand positions, but the harder I tried, the more I struggled. Day after day I felt more frustrated and obsessed. 

However, amidst the frustration I started noticing some changes in the poses that preceded supta kurmasana. I already knew that the primary series was an ingenius sequence and that poses built on each other, but I did not know that working on a pose at the end of the series would impact a pose that anteceded it so drastically. It was some sort of Supta Kurmasana magic. The harder I worked in Supta Kurmasana, the more positive change I saw in the poses leading up to it. The first change I noticed was that my Parivrtta Trikonasana (revolved triangle) and my Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle) became much looser and easier to get into. Medial rotation has always quite challenging for me, so finding some space in these poses was quite surprising. Even more puzzling was the fact that my supta kurmasana, an exterior rotation pose, was aiding my poses that required medial rotation. That same day, my teacher told me I was just two inches away from binding. I was finally getting somewhere. 

One week later, I easily bounded in Marichiasana D and had all this new found space in both Marichis C and D. As I mentioned previously, Medial rotation is usually very challenging for me. In fact, when I first saw Marichis C and D I was convinced those poses would be impossible for me. But all of a sudden they had become really easy. Getting in them felt like butter... The day that I easily got into marichiasna C and D, was also the day that I felt my fingers graze each other lightly in the back. Somehow my medial rotation and my supta kurmasana were weirdly connected. 

At that point, many months had gone by so I became convinced my thighs were too fat to bind in Supta Kurmasana by myself. Either that, or my big butt... I was so close, but at the same time so far away. Frustrated, I started surverying people that bound in supta krumasana by themselves in class. I noticed they were either 1) tall and legnthy, 2) really skinny, or 3) both tall, lenthgy and really skinny. I never saw a person with tree trunk thighs like mine bind by themselves. Well, except for Kino, but that's an entire different species of yogi... I am neither tall nor skinny, so I figured supta kurmasana was not in the cards for me. In fact, I let my teacher know of my informal survey. Alexia Bauer, bless her heart, she is so patient with my crazy antics... Being the amazing teacher she is, she promptly found a counter example that crumbeld my twisted logic.mSo really, the only thing keeping me from binding independently in Supta Kurmasana was really myself. 

Another month went by and I had completely given up. One day, Alexia's assitant Kirk gave me a very deep adjustment in Marichiasana A. I noticed that when he gave me that adjustment, I was able to touch the tip of my fingers to the other one in a semi-bind. I coulnd't bind yet, but I was one pull away! I rejoiced in excitement. Instinctively, I noticed I needed to create length on my backside. I was not sure exactly what was the problem, but I decided to: 1) Go deeper in my forward bends, 2) really work the dog pelvic tilts in all forward bends 3) bring my legs closer in kurmasana and try my hardest to legnthen the spine, keep a dog tilt and bring my legs off the floor while in that pose. The next day after doing all of that, I bound! I screamed in excitement.

I started doing some research and found that the likely culprits were my piriformis muscle and my hip rotators. As a long time dancer, these muscles get stuck on external rotation and they shorten (Duck walk anyone??). As they shorten they compromise your forward bends. When I started working on my pelvic tilts in my forward bends, they legnthened these hip rotator muscles that had been shortened over many years of ballet training. As my hamstrings are pretty open, I never noticed that my hip rotators were shortened and stuck in this external rotation. My ego never let me notice these external rotators were compromising my forward bends. Upon this discovery I could focus my efforts on lenghtening these muscles throughout my practice. I am still in awe of how binding independently in Supta Kurmasana completely changed and impacted my practice. My medial rotation poses improved drastically, my padmasana became more open, which also impacted my ardha baddha padmottanasana, my ardha baddha padma paschimottanasana, and my tiryam mukha eka pada paschimottanasana. At the end of this frustrating journey, Supta Kurmasana was my key into every pose in the primary series. 

Supta Kurasana has, to date, been one of the hardest poses for me to tackle. But once I found out what I had to focus on, and started doing things correctly and focusing on the basics, everything fell into place. In many ways, Supta Kurmasana is a lot like life... When you focus on doing the right things, when you focus on the basics, the rest just falls into place and you start seeing success in your life.

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.

Traveling Yogi: Where to Practice in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, my hometown, is also known as Cidade Maravilhosa or the Wonderful city... And the name is not a mistake. There are so many amazing things to do and see there... Seeing the sunset from Ipanema Beach, watching the sunrise from a morning run in the Aterro, admiring the city from the Christ the redeemer mountain,  doing stand up paddle board at the Praia Vermelha at sunset... But, if you are a yogi and visit Rio, make sure you add to  to your to do list a morning practice with Dany Sá (http://www.danysa.com). Dany Sá is an advanced practitioner of Ashtanga that regularly visits Mysore. She is authorized to teach the primary and secondary series. Her demeanor is calm and light and she is a gentle, but make no mistake: she is also a thorough teacher.

Practicing with her made my yoga practice blossom. She was the first teacher to tell me that "inhaling is everything" in yoga. Years practicing and no one bothered to tell me that before... Through her detailed driven instruction I was able to reconnect with my core after having a c-section. I learned to inhale when jumping through and going up in more challenging poses. She calmly took her time to show me each of the vinyasas correctly. She really changed my yoga practice. And for that, I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Dany teaches at oito tempos in Ipanema every morning. The place is very easy to find because it is across from the General Osório subway station in Ipanema. So, even if you are staying elsewhere in Rio, all you have to do is catch the subway, get off in General Osório, cross the street and you are there. You don't even need a mat, they provide you with one if you need it. If you are a tourist in the wonderful city, or just a local aiming at going deeper in your practice, add her class to your list of to do things while in Rio! 

Finding your Mula Banda

There are lots of elusive metaphors in yoga class. I still have no idea what breathe into your left side means, or what melting my heart really is, or even what a request to make my thighs smile has anything to do with my yoga practice. But there was one elusive request that really puzzled me because contrary to these other metaphors, it came up often and seemed to be a common jargon yoga teachers would use: "Find your Mula Bandha!" "Mula whaaaaaat?" I thought every time this bandha was mentioned... But, since none of the students inquired about it, and none of the teachers explained its meaning, I pretended like I too knew what it was, even when I had not a clue what it really meant. In fact, the closest I ever came to knowing what was mula bandha, was by imagining an Indian version of finding waldo... Finding Mula Bandha...

 

After many years of being ignorant about my mula bandha (or any of my bandhas), I attended a workshop by Kino Mcgregor that would change my yoga practice forever. For those of you who live under a stone and don't know who Kino is, she is the yoga goddess who was the youngest certified Ashtanga teacher by Guruji himself.  Kino taught an Ashtanga weekend here at Moksha Chicago. During that weekend I had the priviledge of taking two classes with her: One was a workshop on Bakasana, and the other was a guided Ashtanga yoga practice. In the first workshop, 5 minutes into the class, Kino told us a funny little story about how yoginis will use capri pants in 100 degree weather because they rely on friction to hold their Bakasanas. Right then and there, I thought that Kino had some creepy super powers... Awkwardly, I was wearing capri pants, it was the middle of Summer, and my wardrobe choice was made under consideration of friction helping me hold Bakasana... Creeppy... Anyhow, the little tidbit that would come to change my practice was that the capri pant trick I had pulled would become obsolete, if we squeezed our mula bandhas, Kino said.

What in the world was a mula bandha after all???? Obviously it was not the Indian version of waldo, if I had to squeeze it to hold a pose. Maybe it was a muscle in my arm or in my core... But it turned out to be neither. Kino clarified that squeezing your mula bandha meant squeezing your anus, your pelvic floor! After 5 years of yoga practice, I had finally understood what mula bandha was... I tried it out for the first time, and it worked like a charm! I held my first bakasana since having a c-section 6 weeks ago!!! I had been dreading this workshopin the weeks prior to it as I have had a really hard time using my core in my practice since having the baby. But, guess what? Mula bandha unlocked the kind of core strength I did not know I had. But how can your anus have anything to do with holding an arm balance? Turns out it has everything to do with it.

When we squeeze our anus, as Kino put it, the perineal floor is lifted and it stimulates our core abdominal muscles to also lift and hold, it helps our body align, and our chest and back are able to lengthen. It has a butterfly effect of sorts impacting our whole body during class. By squeezing my mula bandha I was able to get into bakasana, titibasana, kukkutasana.... All poses that I thought my arms were too weak to perform, but guess what? I was not too weak, I wasn't unleashing the power of my anus!

Yoga teaches me everyday that things I don't expect to be interrelated, in fact, are very much so. It teaches me that everything affects everything else in my body.  For example, who knew that stretching your butt muscles (your piriformis), makes all the difference to do the splits? Or that squeezing your anus would help you hold an arm balance? I certainly had no idea. So yoga has made me notice these little unexpected connections in my body, and in that I am also learning to look outwards into my life and find the same type of unexpected connections. What about you? What has your yoga practice taught you?

Posted on October 6, 2015 and filed under Articles about Yoga.