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Yoga

Fitness, Health

Walking meditation for folks who can’t sit still

Who needs meditation the most? Busy people. Those of us who are not naturally calm. People who have a lot on their mind.

We know that we can benefit from time to quiet our mind, but finding the space for quiet can be hard.

I’ve had both family and friends tell me that they can’t find time to meditate. They don’t feel that they have enough hours in the day or they aren’t the type of people who can sit still easily. So they ask how they can incorporate meditation into their lives if they can’t sit still.

No judgment if people aren’t ready or don’t want to sit in a traditional meditation posture. There are other ways to get the benefits of a meditative mindset even if you don’t want to sit in one spot.

Through my yoga studies and personal experience, I have learned that we can calm our mind even when we are moving. Whether we are flowing through yoga postures, hiking in the mountains or strolling our neighborhood, we can move mindfully and create head space.

The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind completely or to think about nothing, rather meditation is designed to help you become aware of your thoughts as they appear so you don’t become consumed by them. If your mind jumps all over the place from thought to unrelated thought, you are experiencing a phenomenon known as “monkey mind.” And you are not alone.

Many of us wrestle with thoughts that jump all over the place. Thoughts like, “I’m hungry. How far is it from San Francisco to Tokyo? I should Google that. I can’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning. I wonder what they are thinking about me. Do I have lettuce stuck in my teeth?” Our minds bounce all over the place, even when we are trying to focus on a project, a task or the present moment.

Meditation is an avenue that allows you to acknowledge your random thoughts and let them go.

We all can begin to tame our monkey mind simply by acknowledging our thoughts and emotions without letting them consume us. This consciousness can be attained through a walking meditation if you don’t have the time or inclination to literally sit with your thoughts.

How to Engage in a Walking Meditation

This is not your typical city walk. You want to reduce outside distractions as much as possible, including traffic, pot holes and other dangers. You will be turning your focus inward, so find a space with even trails or sidewalks that will allow you to do so. Also, leave the technology behind. A walking meditation is a time to be alone with your thoughts.

As you begin your walk, be mindful of the world around you. Notice the noises nearby. Are birds singing? Do you hear traffic?

Then, as you walk, tune in to sounds farther away. Can you make out specific sounds from the overall din of the soundscape?

Then turn the focus inward. Keeping your eyes gazed on the path ahead, become mindful of your breathing. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow? Are you breathing into your back? Just notice.

Then see if you can maintain a rhythm with the breath. Most of us will need to slow down our breathing. Focus on making the inhalation and exhalation approximately the same length. Keep this focus for a minute or two.

And all this time, you are still moving. You may notice that your walking pace has slowed. That is ok.

Breathe.

Now it is time to turn your focus to your thoughts.

Notice what thought bubbles up in your mind, acknowledge it, thank the thought, and let it go. Bring your awareness back to the breath.

Don’t become discouraged if your mind drifts away to another time and place. Find the breath and begin again.

Each time a random thought pops into your mind, notice it, thank it and let it go. Bring your focus back to the breath. See if you can stay in the present a little bit longer this time.

Keep walking, breathing, and noticing.

It’s a journey. Noticing our thought patterns and quieting our minds isn’t easy. But it’s worth it every step of the way.

Fitness

Daylight savings, meet early morning yoga

I have this dream that I wake up at 5am every morning and run down to the local yoga studio to take a 5:45am yoga class. In my dream I return home feeling awake, open and energetic, all before the rest of the family wakes up. We then gets ready for the day together, and I make it to work on time. I am an early riser, and I feel good.

Alas, it’s only a dream. The truth is that I’m not a morning person. I wake up most mornings between 6-7am because my 6-month-old is an early riser. Yet rising at 5am on a regular basis seems impossible. It’s a ridiculous mental block.

With the help of daylight savings, I am about to make my dream of early morning yoga a reality.  Here is the plan–starting on Monday, I’ll wake up at the same time, or what feels like 6am. Since our clocks move back one hour, it will actually be 5am. This extra hour will give me the kick in the pants I need to fit in a yoga practice at the beginning of the day.

I’m happy to use Daylight Savings as a convenient mind trick to add yoga back into my routine.

What are you doing with your extra hour of sleep this weekend?

Fitness

What to wear to a SUP Yoga Class

On our family vacation last week my hubby and I took our first Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) yoga class while visiting Lake Tahoe. Neither of us had paddle boarded before, so we were a little nervous to try it out because we didn’t know what to expect. It was hard to decide what to wear that would be comfortable and warm enough for an early morning class in the mountains.

I did a web search before we went and didn’t find much guidance on what to wear from any websites. I couldn’t find even find information from the SUP yoga providers themselves.

However, through my searches I did learn that most people said not to worry about falling off the paddle board. Of course, that’s easy to say after you have successfully navigated through your first class…

Still I wondered about the possibility of entering the c-o-l-d waters of Lake Tahoe. I wanted to make sure that whatever I wore would easily dry off if I did fall in between poses. I definitely didn’t want to feel like a drowned rat while sitting in savasana at the end of class.

In warmer waters simply wearing a swim suit would be very appropriate. This was obvious as I did my quick Google search before our class. Most online tips cautioned floating yogis to examine the level of coverage your suit provides in various yoga postures ahead of time to make sure you feel comfortable. And you never know, a wardrobe malfunction on the board could just throw you off balance so its best to check ahead. 🙂

But what about in colder waters like Tahoe and the San Francisco Bay?

As I tend to run cold to begin with, I definitely would not wear a bikini in Tahoe. Based on our weather conditions, I decided to wear a one piece swim suit and some capri pants in technical fabric. My hubby wore running shorts and a t-shirt. We each wore light windbreakers to the beach.

It was a very windy day so our instructor told us to wear our windbreakers on the water. Lucky for us, the wind died down when we began to walk down to the lake, and we were able to leave our jackets on the beach. After wading into ankle deep water we were tethered to our boards, so wearing capri pants worked well <phew!>. And we went barefoot, which I would definitely recommend. I was able to dangle my hands and feet in the water during the final relaxation and feel the warmth of the summer sunshine on my body contrasted against the cold water on my feet and hands. Perfection.Stand up paddleboard yoga

What should I wear to SUP yoga?

Based on my first SUP yoga experience (yep, I’m hardly an expert), here are my tips on what to wear:

Definitely wear sunscreen.

Avoid wearing cotton or other natural fibers that will weigh you down if you happen to fall in.

In warm waters:

  • swim suit with enough coverage based on your modesty levels

In cold waters:

  • technical fabrics dry quickly
  • swim suits
  •  shorts, capris (if you have to wear long pants, roll ’em up)
  • tank tops, t-shirts
  • windbreakers

Optional items that may be helpful:

  • Sports sandals depending on where you are paddling and your level of comfort with bare feet
  • Sunglasses
  • hair ties to wear your hair back if needed to keep it out of your face

And most importantly, have fun!

Family, Fitness

The Skinny on Prenatal Yoga

What should you know before attending a prenatal yoga class?

Even if you have never taken a yoga class before, when pregnant you should consider taking prenatal yoga. I am sharing my experience so you have an idea of what a prenatal class may include. Classes and instructors vary, so always let the instructor know that you are a new student and share any physical limitations before class.

I was restricted from engaging in any kind of physical activity during my first pregnancy, including yoga. This time my doctor allowed me to start taking prenatal yoga (with modifications) at 5 months pregnant. I was ecstatic and immediately began researching classes. Luckily I found a popular class right here in my neighborhood and enrolled right away.

What was the class like?

At least 20 other participants at various stages of pregnancy lined the room before each class. We started our practice by introducing ourselves, sharing our due date, what we were expecting a boy/girl/surprise, and at what hospital we planned to deliver.

The instructor was very warm and interested in building community between the pregnant mamas. The community aspect is really important since we were often talking about how the various yoga poses would prepare us for labor. It was serious girl talk, and you want to make sure that you are among friends when talking about such fun topics as squatting through labor and how to encourage your pelvis to open.

It is the community and friendships that seem to bring people back even more than the yoga practice itself.

During class we engaged in vinyasa flow, connecting breath to movement. The flows were modified to meet our prenatal needs, but flow we did, and our entire group was very intent on making sure we could master the breath before labor.

I found the flow similar to other yoga classes I had taken in the past and barely missed the poses that we avoided (more about poses to avoid below). We always started our class standing, moved to sitting and eventually ended the class in a side lying final relaxation.

I was the only one in the room who used yoga blocks, which surprised me. Rows of yoga blocks were stacked against the wall but the instructor didn’t mention using them, so people didn’t. In my third trimester I found poses like triangle and side angle so much easier with a block. Looking around the room I noticed many participants out of alignment in these same poses, forced to lean forward in their changing bodies. They would have received a much greater benefit if they would have used a block and stacked their joints, allowing for elongation and opening.

Honestly, if you plan to take prenatal yoga and the facility doesn’t offer yoga straps and blocks, then I highly recommend you bring your own. Your center of gravity changes throughout pregnancy and you will be glad you have them to maintain alignment. You can buy a yoga strap and block at stores like Target to Walmart or order them from Amazon.

Prenatal Class Exclusives

During our prenatal class the sense of community was so great that our instructor had us chanting at the end of class. And not just typical yoga chanting. We chanted for our friends in class who were at or past their due date. Specifically, we chanted for their cervix to open.

Yes, seriously.

And it was awesome.

There is nothing like 20 pregnant mamas chanting, “Open Susie’s cervix” 5 times while the entire class is settled in a very deep squat.

The families watching their children’s ballet class next door must wonder what is going on as they hear the chanting through the wall. The idea of their bewildered expressions while we chant makes me smile.

The particular chant mentioned above might be the brainchild of the teacher who leads this particular yoga class. In other words, you can’t expect cervix chanting in a prenatal yoga class because these results may not be typical. 🙂

Ultimately, what is the benefit of taking a prenatal yoga class?

Yoga is a great way to stretch, but it is really about the community of women in the room with you. In what other fitness class can you joke about cervix dilation, your changing body and the other aspects of labor and pregnancy without having to weigh your words?

If you are pregnant, it’s worth a try if you have clearance from your physician.

The Skinny on Prenatal Yoga for Pinterest

What yoga poses and exercises should you avoid during pregnancy?

Many of the poses you should avoid in the second and third trimesters include:

  • lying on your back (nope, not even happy baby pose)
  • inversions (no headstands, shoulderstands)
  • lying on your belly
  • deep back bends (no wheel)
  • deep forward folds
  • deep twists
  • hot yoga
  • any pose that doesn’t feel right

Forward folds, twists and other poses that become difficult may be modified as possible.

yin yoga supported forward fold
Fitness

Want to slow down? Try Yin Yoga

Do you practice yoga? If so, do you like sweating through a power yoga class or relaxing into a slow stretch class?

After taking a 40-hour Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Paul Grilley in 2012, I started incorporating supported yin postures in the vinyasa yoga classes I taught. The students loved the support and deep stretch at the end of an otherwise intense practice. It was a time to slow down and just breathe.

I love taking yin classes for their deep stretch and their ability to balance out muscle groups that might be too tight from overuse. For me, this is typically my hip flexors and chest muscles from sitting at a computer all day.

Even if you are devoted to power yoga or generally prefer to avoid yoga altogether, you can benefit from slowing down in yin yoga postures on a regular basis. Yin prevents injury by stretching connective tissues like tendons, ligaments and fascia. Connective tissues don’t usually get the release they need when holding stretches for 30 seconds or flowing through postures. Using pillows and blankets for support allows you to hold most yin poses for the 3-5 minutes needed for maximum benefit.

“The” shoulder stretch

yin yoga shoulder stretchFor years my left shoulder was always injured and tight. Nothing helped, not physical therapy, not rest, not strength training. Of course, I was also waiting tables and injuring it over and over again. I forgot what it was like to have a pain-free shoulder with a full range of motion. When I started practicing yin yoga, I was able to decrease pain and move again. I could lift things over my head without a second thought. I was a new woman!

Yin Yoga Helps You Slow Down

I didn’t begin practicing yin yoga to decrease shoulder pain. I decided to try it to slow down. I was in grad school and studying consumed my life. I needed a release, a place where I could relax and do nothing. So I tried Yin. My sleep improved and I was more focused. Only then did I slowly begin to realize that my shoulder was feeling better too.

How To Yin

Though yin yoga focuses on opening the hips, my first teacher taught postures for shoulders too. I still practice my favorite shoulder posture nearly every day. And I use props, which means lots of pillows, blocks and blankets so I can feel cozy and relaxed in each pose. Truth be told, pillows and blankets from around your house work just as well as fancy studio bolsters. If you feel supported and can relax into a pose, then you are all good.

Of course, please make sure to do what is best for your body and check in with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

Have you tried Yin Yoga? What helps you relax and find center?

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