Monthly Archives: February 2013

5 Safe Ways to Work Towards Drop Backs

The benefits of Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel pose are bountiful! Aside from stretching the upper body, spine and abdomen, other health benefits include:

· Stimulation of the thyroid and pituitary

· Increased energy circulation

· Counteraction of depression

· Therapeutic benefits for asthma, infertility, and osteoporosis

Dropping backward from standing into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose) is a challenging yet rewarding transition. Reaching and releasing your body behind you can be a bit unnerving, so it is helpful to have strategies to prepare the body and mind to fall back. The techniques below will warm up your front body for a deep stretch and support your back body as it works strongly, allowing your mind to conceive of the possibility of dropping back. Take 5 or more deep breaths in each of the poses below.

1. Release Your Psoas

Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge pose) is a one of the best ways to get the psoas ready to support the long stretch from your torso to your legs and help stabilize your spine.

Bring one leg forward into a low lunge and bring the knee of the other leg down, placing the knee far enough back so that you can rest just above the knee cap. WIth your hands folded over the front knee, press down and forward until you feel the psoas of the opposing side engage. Keep your navel pulled in towards your spine and the back body full to avoid crunching in your lower back. Repeat on the opposite leg.

2. Stretch Your Quads

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero’s pose) and Ardha Supta Virasana (Half Reclined Hero’s pose) work exceptionally well to open the quadricep muscles.

Sit into the foundational pose, Virasana (Hero’s pose), with the legs folded back, knees parallel, and both sit bones pressing equally into the ground. Lean back on your hands at first, lowering as you are able to down to your forearms to Ardha Supta Virasana and eventually all the way down to your back to full Supta Virasana. Expand your back body and pull the lower ribs in to keep the spine from overarching and as you enjoy a deep stretch across both quadriceps.

3. Lower Your Center of Gravity

Ustrasana (Camel pose) provides an excellent opportunity to stabilize your lower body while you explore moving your upper body back behind you.

Begin kneeling with your knees and feet hip-width distance apart and your arms and hands reaching upward. Keep the hands energized and the arms extended as you reach back, ultimately bringing the fingers to the ground behind you. Place a bolster or pillow directly behind your feet to reduce the amount of space between your hands and the ground.

4. Widen Your Stance

Dropping back with your legs spread wide apart is another dependable approach to develop confidence in your back body, while keeping your lower body grounded and secure.

Start with your legs 3 to 4 feet apart, the feet parallel to each other. Press your hands firmly on your hip bones, with the elbows pointing back to encourage your chest to press up. Keeping your chest lifted and neck long, begin to walk the hands back along the length of your legs until you reach the appropriate edge for your body. Eventually press the palms of the hands into the ground behind you, coming into a wide-legged form of Urdhva Dhanurasana.

5. Use a Wall

Walking down a wall builds muscle memory and prepares the body for the proper alignment of a full drop back. The action of pressing your hands into the wall also promotes the chest and abdominal muscles flexibility that are necessary for deep back bending. 

Standing an arm’s distance from the wall, reach the hands up towards the ceiling and then back to meet the wall. With your hips pressing gently forward and the chest reaching up, begin to reach one hand at a time lower along the wall, maintaining the feet in a parallel position. Keep your knees as bent as needed initially, over time developing the ability to keep the legs straight while the upper body curls back.

Michelle is feature in the Cozy Orange Gemini Eco Tank and Leo Ankle Fitted Pants

 


Happiness is Simply Something We Choose

The wonderful thing about a yoga practice is that everything relates to being happy. The act of breathing deeply (pranayama) calms the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, and relieves tension in the body. Many postures (asanas) such as child’s pose, a forward bend, or legs up the wall relieve depression, stress and anxiety. The act of physical movement also stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain causing a feeling of well being. Samadhi (concentration) is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Essentially, it is the mental discipline of keeping in harmonious states of mind…i.e. happiness.

I like the term“discipline” because it reminds that these things in life take patience and determination. Also, when a task is challenging I tend to give myself a break about mastering it.

 “Nothing in this world worth having comes easy.” ~Unknown 

Being happy is easier said than done, but it’s possible. The documentary Happyidentifies the human brain as having three categories that influence our happiness– our genetics, our work & responsibilities, and our choices, i.e. our free will. I was shocked to learn that our work & responsibilities, from which we often feel so much stress, only accounts for 10% of our happiness. A whopping 40% of our joy comes from what we choose to do in our pastime and with whom we choose to do it, i.e. our community. The notable Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chodron, teaches that neuro-biologically we only feel our emotions for 90 seconds. For a short minute and a half we legitimately feel emotions like fear, anger, guilt, worry and doubt. Anytime thereafter it is our own perpetuation of those feelings that turns them into ongoing darkness. It’s a choice. It’s our re-play of the story over and over in our heads, or to others like when we call our best friend to reiterate “the inconceivable thing he said to you.” Likewise, we undermine feelings of joy and love by neglecting to to have the mental discipline of keeping in such harmonious states of mind. Here we are back to the wonderful thing about a yoga practice…everything relates to being happy.

 “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

~Abraham Lincoln 

A point may come for many, as a yoga practice evolves, to dive deeper into the mental and emotional benefits of yoga; to go beyond the pleasure receptors of dopamine. There’s an opening up to possibilities. An awakening of the Soul. An understanding that every answer lies within. Happiness is something we choose. It doesn’t happen to us. This is the point when our practice becomes about sharpening that mental discipline and opening to the possibilities for happiness to unfold in our lives. Be mindful of the process. Patience is key. Remember that your journey is unfolding just as it should be.

 


Daily Saucha Practices to Cleanse the Mind & Body


The physical practice (Asana) is only one part (the third limb) of the 8 limbs of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Another limb of yoga is one that consists of five Niyamas. One of those Niyamas is Saucha (pronounced shao’-cha) which means cleanliness. This can relate to many things: mind, body, spirit.

MIND. An approach to cleansing the mind or mental space is to sit for a moment to analyze negative thought. Quick to pass judgement? Closed to change? Dwelling on obstacles. Come to the root of why these thoughts might occur. Cleanse your mind of the negative spin that may be attached to any thought.

BODY. To cleanse or not to cleanse? With the New Year, many people turn to cleanses to start the year. First think, WHY are you cleansing? Some turn to cleansing just to lose weight. While this is not the primary goal of a cleanse, it is a possible effect of a cleanse. A good cleanse is designed to rid the body of the chemicals (i.e. coffee, artificial sugars, aspirin or other medications, etc.) we put into our body on a daily basis. The body is usually restored to a cleaner internal state afterwards. Secondly, do your research. Some cleanses consist of just a liquid portion; others focus on clean eating combined with a liquid cleanse. Some “cleanses” advertise that they will cleanse, but end up putting more chemicals into the body, instead of cleansing it. So as you choose your cleanse, do your research and find one that fits your intention.

Another great way to clean the body is by simply drinking more water. Water encourages the wastes in your body to exit. Think of a river. The water that flows within a river carries rock sediment or whatever may be in the riverbed, thus, in a way, clearing out that part of the river. Imagine that water works the same way within your body, picking up sediment your body doesn’t need and flushing it out of your body.

SPIRIT. How do you feel? Are you smiling on the inside? Is something weighing on you? If the latter, why is this so? Why are you holding on to this feeling that could be keeping you from feeling free and happy? Is it helping you to feel negative or just increasing your spiritual toxicity? Life experiences can easily break our spirits and enable us to put up walls or see the world negatively. Is it something you are capable of letting go? Is it just as beneficial to acknowledge it and come to terms with it? If it does not serve you, let it go.

Devote some time to cleansing your mind, body, and spirit. Whether you are taking time for self-reflection and journaling to practice cleansing the mind and spirit OR cleansing your (inner and outer) physical body, take the time to refresh and renew your body and spirit. 

 


How to Reach for the Stars.. And The Moon!

Feb 9-10th marks the new moon cycle in the age of Aquarius. On the Chinese calendar, this new moon symbolizes the true start of the new year based on the soli lunar cycle. So what does that all really mean? New beginnings, new year, a new you!

The new moon is an opportune time to draw from nature, to reset and actively manifest your thoughts and vision for the future, to plant seeds now that will grow until the next new moon. The last new moon in Capricorn was all about foundation and organizing for your goals. This moon is focused on the bigger picture to help you gain bigger and brighter insights.

Much inspiration during this time came be drawn from your fellow Aquarius friends, as they are helpers and givers. They care about humanity and look at the bigger picture. This is a time to look at things in a new way, and to brainstorm what’s not only best for you, but for the collective whole. Think to move yourself forward into the future and your unique vision. Innovate yourself. Tap into spirituality, let go of limitations, and be true to yourself to allow yourself to walk your path, speak your truth, and follow your mission and purpose. 

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” 

Aquarius are unique, they walk to their own drum beat, they freely guide themselves. They are leaders. They take chances, risks, and engage in ways that call to them. So dare to be bold and different! Take this energy to discover and redefine YOU. Get to know yourself, ask yourself what are your unique gifts? What are your talents? What inspires you? Begin to taste your own magnificence, embrace your uniqueness, and share your love.

Aquarius is also the water bearer. A time to purify yourself, to cleanse of the old, and to pour out that which no longer serves you and your individuality. Here are some powerful intentions to focus on during this lunar cycle:

· Choose your friendships, and be open to new people and relationships. Begin to spread your wings and mingle with new like minded people and groups. Let those that have drifted away go, and consider new people you want to keep around longer & for a life time.

· Expand and clarify your vision for the future

· Think outside the box, shoot for the stars, and jump over the moon!


4 Tips for Achieving a Handstand

Handstands (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) have many wonderful physical and mental health benefits. Helping to improve balance & strengthen the upper body, handstands can also aid in relieving stress, mild depression and in general calm the brain. While the Handstand is a very simple pose to get into, a major obstacle to holding the pose is the fear of falling backwards. The following strategies are recommended by my Handstand teacher, Jean-Luc Martin, to create a more organized, safe and sustainable foundation. Playing with Handstand in the sand or on the grass is a great way to overcome the natural resistance to falling. Also, be sure to practice on a regular basis. 10 minutes a day is a great goal for beginners, gradually increasing practice time to 30 – 45 minutes a day. As you begin, practice with a partner for support and safety.

1. Align your bones

Beginning from the hands, create a straight line with the rest of your body. Your shoulders should be directly over the hands, your hips should be right above the shoulders and your feet should radiate straight up from the hips. You should feel a strong connection from the palms of your hands to the core and from the core to your toes. Focus on keeping the arms and legs straight and your waist firm and unbent. Press up towards the ceiling as much as possible while maintaining this alignment, lengthening and engaging from fingers to toes.

2. Tuck up and down

Practice tucking straight up with the legs together, then tuck down halfway and hold, bringing the knees into the core for a few seconds before bringing the feet back down. This action encourages the engagement of the psoas muscles, which is key to a stable and strong Handstand. Start out with a spotter or against a wall and as you become more confident, try it on your own. Aim at first for one set of five tuck ups and gradually increase to three sets of five.

3. Drive Yourself up the wall.. literally

Instead of kicking up the back of your body to a wall, try cartwheeling with your body towards it. Holding Handstand in this form, with the just the top of the feet pressing against the wall, is a great shoulder strengthener and will build muscle memory of the alignment necessary to eventually stick Handstand away from the wall. Pay special attention to keeping the shoulders turning in, towards the wall.

4. Use blocks

Placing blocks on a non-sliding surface below the palms, both against and away from the wall, is a great way to strengthen the hand muscles and take pressure off the sensitive tendons of the wrists.

Photos taken with gratitude by Melisande Martin at La Jolla Shores Beach. Big thanks to Jean-Luc Martin.

Jean-Luc is a veteran of three Cirque du Soleil shows and since retiring, teaches handstands and hand to hand (two person adagio) full time. He is based out of San Diego and travels throughout the US giving workshops on the art of handstands. His system of teaching and the ability to identify each student’s needs has helped many reach their goals and beyond. Visit his website for more information:http://www.jeanlucmartin.com.

Cozy Luminary Michelle May is featured in the Libra Yoga Tank & Leo Crops from the new Cozy Orange Spring collection, available at: http://bit.ly/YsNsml


Simple ways to Nurture your Health & Well-Being

During my first year of college, I was overwhelmed with unhealthy food choices. McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and Subway were all available into the wee hours of the morning. Late night study sessions meant little sleep, caffeine, and 2 am pizza deliveries. For a few months, I submitted to the life of the quintessential college student. School and fun came first; wellness came second. Overtime, my chaotic sleep schedule and late-night food runs began to take a toll on me. I was constantly cranky, felt lethargic when practicing yoga, and became easily exhausted during my runs.

Initially, I didn’t make too much of my change in energy and mood. After all, I was working hard writing papers, churning out projects, and studying for midterms. I couldn’t expect to be in a good mood all the time, could I? I tricked myself into believing that my stress was the culprit until I noticed a change on the scale. When I finally understood that there was a physical change occurring in my body (for the worse), I realized that my problem was more serious than I thought. My issues were rooted in my diet and lifestyle choices.

My disregard for my wellness, coupled with an overabundance of unhealthy eating options and an overall lack of discipline resulted in a poor mood and negative attitude towards life.

Here are some small ways you can feel better about your health (small things make a big difference!):

· Make several short-term goals and conquer them! There is nothing more satisfying than setting a goal and achieving it. Making time for exercise and sticking to your exercise schedule can do wonders for the mind and body.

· Meditate whenever possible, especially before you go to sleep. Take 15 minutes to meditate before bed so you can clear your mind.

· Drink fresh squeezed juices (my favorite is orange kale juice). All of those vitamins and nutrients will make you feel refreshed!

· Be sure to take a day off! I always take one day off from exercise during the week.

As full-time students and workers, we trick ourselves into believing that nurturing wellness takes time and money. That’s definitely not true! Taking a few minutes everyday to ensure that you are eating and living well will result in more happiness, better health, and greater life satisfaction.