Wow - what a week! The weather is actually warming up (we had our first picnic of the year yesterday!), I taught my first yoga class at Pure on Saturday, went to my first yoga trance dance (if you have never tried this - you should!) , reconnected with friends and colleagues, and travelled to DC to await my new niece's arrival and have my Visa interview on Tuesday. It has been quite an eventful week filled with love, reaching milestones and goals, and travel!
Whenever life gets crazy and is moving a hundred miles an hour, it is important to stay open to change with an easy mind and heart. Today's asana is Anahatasana, an accessible heart opener that also stretches the shoulders, upper and middle back. Anahatasana, a yin pose, should be held for three to five minutes. The posture slowly and gently opens the front and back of the heart and corresponds with the anahata chakra.
The yogis believe that there are nadis, or channels, that flow along the spine and chakras are formed where these channels meet and create a whirlpool or a wheel. Just as our capacity for love is infinite, so is the anahata chakra which is found at the center of the body at the heart. This divine and infinite love can be seen everywhere in the world if we have our hearts open to finding it. It is beautiful to see this kind of love manifest itself in my sister and her husband in their care for their daughter and in the mindful preparation for their second born (who we will be welcoming any day!). Activating the heart chakra through asana promotes the growth of compassion, unconditional love, and deeper connection in relationships. Spread the love, yogis! <3
To get into the pose, start on all fours and walk the hands forward allowing the chest to drop toward the floor. Keep the hips above the knees and point the sitbones back. Keep hands shoulder-width apart. You can place a bolster under the belly along the spine or under the elbows. If the arms start to tingle, move the elbows further apart. If the knees are complaining, place a blanket under them.
It's a travel day for me today! We were a big bag of mixed emotions as we left Stockholm early this morning to return to NYC for the next three months. Knowing that Peppe will be by my side during all of the upcoming changes keeps me feeling settled - wherever we are together, is home. We had a fun, productive, challenging, and fulfilling past few months in Sweden and I am feeling more and more comfortable there and like I can call it home.
Today's asana is a restorative pose that is great when traveling called Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani). In this posture, we lay on our back, sit bones as close to the wall as is comfortable, with (you guessed it!) our legs up the wall. Viparita Karani is remarkably grounding while also giving many of the benefits of an inversion, like handstand, but without expelling a ton of energy. Having the feet elevated allows gravity to move fluids in the legs which can be helpful before and after travel when we are sitting on a plane all day.
Thankfully, we had a safe and mostly uneventful trip across the Atlantic. After we got a bit settled in our new digs on East 59th, we happily discovered the Whole Foods around the corner where I stocked up on organic produce and all-natural bath and aromatherapy essentials. I enjoyed a soak in some lavender bath salts and then rolled my mat out, made my ginger tea, and put my feet up the wall. It felt so fantastic after the long day of travel. Now we are looking forward to an early bedtime to wake up feeling fresh again tomorrow!
Start sitting with your right hip as close to the wall as possible. Then shift both hips towards the wall and swing your legs up in one motion. Play with your distance from the wall - there should still be a natural curve in the spine. Sometimes it can feel nice to place a blanket or even a bolster under the sit bones.
I cannot believe that this is my last week in Stockholm until the summer. The next few months in New York will be focused on my mentorship with Kate and teaching my Yin/Yang class each Saturday. Then, before I know it, I will be back in Stockholm with a work visa, my pup, and teaching experience under my belt. Woohoo!
Time keeps on moving and I keep walking down the path towards my goals and pursuing my passion. I am enjoying the journey and trying to let it all sink in while living the philosophy of having life happen for me and not to me.
As Spring (slowly) approaches and change is all around me, the term 'Spring cleaning' keeps coming to mind. Recently in my practice I have been incorporating a lot of twists to assist the body in detoxing itself. It is time to dust off the cobwebs of winter and purify ourselves for the upcoming season. Twisting stimulates and massages the internal organs and leaves us feeling lighter and more energized. One of my favorite twists is a classic Seated Spinal Twist (or Ardha Matsyendrasana). The posture is accessible and is a great way for yogis of all levels to get into a deep and detoxifying twist.
To get into the pose:
Start to twist your chest to the right and bring the right fingertips close to the sacrum, lengthening the spine. The torso revolves around the spine. Place the left elbow to the outside of the right thigh, gently deepening the twist. Fix your gaze to a spot over the right shoulder. Inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale to twist deeper
Happy Spring cleaning, yogis!!
Spring is such a roller coaster. One minute it is a beautiful, 60 degree, sunny afternoon and everyone is outside smiling and skipping along and the next it is cold, snowing, windy with people bundled up wondering what they did to deserve this.
In Stockholm this weekend we saw snow, rain, wind, you name it. I even got out my snow boots again - ugh. With the finicky nature of Spring in mind, today's asana is all about the Yin posture Butterfly. The legs in this pose mirror the wing´s of a butterfly (a sure sign of warmer weather) but also is a forward bend and therefore comforting and inward.
Butterfly is a great way to stretch the lower back and the inner thighs. This asana allows even those of us with tight hamstrings to get that delicious lower back stretch that may allude us in other forward folds. If your feet are closer into to the groin, then the inside of the thighs will get more of a stretch but if the feet are further away, the outside of the thighs will feel more of a stretch. It is nice to sit on a folded blanket during Butterfly so that the hips are elevated and the pelvic bowl is tilting forward - plus the extra cushion is nice on the bum:). Once the soles of the feet are together, adjust the distance between the feet and your body and then round the back and lean forward. I like to rest my hands on my feet or on the floor in front of me. If you are holding the pose for a few minutes (and you should!) then it might be nice for the neck to have a bolster propped up on the inside of the heels for your forehead to rest onto. Butterfly, a Yin pose, looks similar to its Yang counterpart Baddha Konasana except for a few key alignment points. Unlike Baddha Konasana, do not think about keeping a flat back and straight spine as you bend forward but rather allow gravity to do its job and maintain the natural curve in the spine. Also, do not feel the need to bring the feet as close into the groin as possible - let the feet slide out creating a nice diamond shape with the legs. Find your edge in the pose and stay there. Breathe and pray for warmer weather. Hold the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Years after my first yoga class in high school, I bought a Living Social deal for Bikram Yoga Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I had not had a dedicated yoga practice in a long time but I was really feeling the urge to get back to the mat. I had just quit my first job in NYC. The place where I had worked was (how can I put this nicely?) toxic and brought me home feeling wretched and even in tears some days. I was mentally and physically drained from a cocktail of workplace stress and, well, cocktails - I was a 25 year old who had just moved to NYC and I was following the prescription of 'work hard, play hard'. I knew that during the search for a new position and living on a tight budget I needed something that could help me deal with the transition and the stresses that came along with it. I remember walking into Bikram Yoga Williamsburg and immediately being psyched to be there - the place had good vibes. I was taken aback when the class was taught in a way that I had never experienced before - first, it was REALLY hot; second, it seemed like most of the students already knew what was coming up next in the sequence (which it turns out they, in fact, did). That first Bikram class had me hooked and I continued a Bikram practice during my job search and then for about three years afterwards as well. Despite the controversy surrounding it's founder, I credit Bikram for kicking my butt (in just the way I needed) and getting me back on my yoga mat day after day, week after week.
Okay, now let´s get to the asana for today. Despite being hot and confused during that first class, I remember the teacher guiding us into Ustrasana, Camel Pose for the first time. During the second set, I decided to give it a try and I could quite literally feel my chest opening and expanding. I thought there must be something to this pose if it feels this intense! The teacher explained that Ustrasana is a heart and chest opener. In day to day life (especially if we sit at a desk most of the day), our bodies are hunched over and (subconsciously, perhaps?) guarding our hearts and our emotions, our vulnerabilities. Thus opening and expanding the chest, Ustrasana can aid in an emotional release for the practitioner. Have you ever heard a teacher say, 'open your heart'? After this pose, I understood what that phrase meant. In Light On Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar states the effects of this pose as being beneficial for people with drooping shoulders and/or hunched backs as well as stretching and toning the spine. This is a pose that helps us to change how our bodies are being shaped in modern day society.
In addition, Ustrasana will help to open the hips, stretches the shoulders, relieves lower back pain, and improves digestion by expanding the abdominal region. There are a few variations on Ustrasana including stretching one arm overhead and it will promote the chest opening even more. In terms of where Ustrasana falls in a sequence, it is a great opportunity to transition in between standing poses and the floor or supine poses - it also feels healing to wrap yourself into Child´s Pose after Camel. To help with your front body alignment, try doing the pose against a wall with the goal of keeping your hips and thighs pressed against the wall.
I read an interesting article on the website for Bikram Yoga Vancouver that Camel Pose most likely got its name not from the bend in the back resembling a camel hump but from how a camel kneels to let people on and off its back. So the pose is probably named more for its setup than the actual backbend. Also, another very interesting fact from the Bikram Vancouver Yoga website: Camels can kick in all four directions with each of their legs - wow!
Some tips and pics for getting into the pose:
How is it Monday again?! I worked at a yoga studio most of the weekend as a Karma Yogi and took some really fantastic classes as well. The weather was absolutely perfect in Stockholm yesterday - sunny and 61 degrees. The whole city was out enjoying the warm air with smiles on their faces. I ran into some friends in Östermalm and joined them for a cocktail, sitting by the water. We could not get over the feeling of the sunshine on our skin. Divine.
Today in Asana on a Monday we will be diving into a most wonderful Yin pose: Bananasana. I am totally in love with this posture for a few reasons, the first being that it is called Bananasana. When you are in the posture, your body actually looks like a nice, ripe banana - how great is that!? Another reason I love this asana is because of the great side-body stretch that is allows.
I love balancing my Yang practice with some delicious Yin. Yang stretches and strengthens the muscles while Yin lengthens the fascia and other connective tissues. I have found that some days my body craves a vigorous, sweaty, powerful Vinyasa practice while other days I am aching for peace from a quiet Yin sequence. This discovery of the balance between Yin and Yang in my life and in my practice has lead me to an exciting opportunity in New York. As some of you know, Peppe and I will be returning to NYC for April, May and June (for various reasons). Fortunately, the timing works out perfectly to take on a mentorship with the beautiful and inspiring Kate Kuss at Pure Yoga! I could not be more thrilled for this next step in the journey and how it will benefit me as a teacher and in my own practice.
If you are going to be in New York between April 11th - June 27th, please come take my Ying/Yang class at Pure Yoga East on Saturdays from 2:30-3:45PM!!!
There will be some fun, flowing Vinayasa sequences paired with peaceful and opening Yin postures. Woohoo!!
Okay, back to Bananasana - because I know that you want to try this one before crawling into bed tonight. It is easy enough to get into but actually can be quite intense to hold for a long period of time. Yin is all about going to your edge and staying there. No need to let your ego seduce you into pushing past that edge - just find it and be there, explore how it feels, really experience the sensations in your body and in your mind. Bananasa provides the side body a stretch all the way from the IT-band to the tops of the ribcage.
Start by lying on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms resting on the floor above your head. Clasp opposite elbows or hands together. Slowly, start to arch your arms and legs to the right - like a banana. As you arch, be sure to keep your hips and your glutes firmly on the mat. Come to your edge and stay there for awhile. Breathe. If you feel you can go a bit further after awhile, then do, but just to that next line of resistance then stop and breathe. To come out of the pose simply bring your arms and legs slowly back to center. Repeat on the left side as well and hold each side for 3-5 minutes.
I find it really helpful to keep my iPhone nearby and set a timer for each pose. That way, the mind is able to relax and let go instead of thinking about the time. You can also use the timer to ensure that you are doing a posture on each side (left and right) for the same amount of time. Remember the Peace Alarm Clock app that I told you about on Thursday? That app works well for timing Yin poses as well!
Here I am enjoying being a banana, exploring my limits in Bananasana:
That about wraps it up for this week's asana! Give Bananasana a try before bed tonight - I promise you won't regret it!
Happy Monday! So, how many House of Cards episodes did everyone get through this past weekend? We were feeling under the weather over here and took it easy all weekend. And by taking it easy I mean to say that we watched Netflix almost all day. When your body needs to slow down, sometimes it forces you to listen by giving you a stomach bug. Ick. Feeling much better today and feeling particularly excited with some new ideas for the blog on my mind. I am dedicating a few days each week to specific topics on yoga and to start, each Monday I will be focusing on a new asana. Tips to getting into a pose, alignment, helpful cues, and the benefits of a posture coming to you every Monday to start your week off right.
Okay, let's get right into it and begin with a pose that a lot of people are familiar with: Downward Facing Dog. During teacher training, we spent hours analyzing this pose - and for good reason! Downward Facing Dog, or Adhu Mukha Svanasana, is an integral part of Sun Salutations, sequencing, and many yoga classes. Often times we just pop into the pose without giving it much thought or care when in fact, the body is using so many different muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments to sustain this position. Try holding the pose for just two minutes- it is really difficult!
What are the benefits of Downward Facing Dog - why do we get into this pose so often when we are on the mat? For beginners, it is a great way to start building stregnth in the arms, legs, core, wrists, ankles...well just about everywhere! For beginners and more experienced practicioners alike it is a helpful posture to get back in check with your breath and focus on some key alignment in the body. Our physical and mental state is different each time we come to the mat so we need not expect the same posture during every practice either. Downward Facing Dog is a great way to 'check-in' with your body - are your calves tight? Are your wrists sore? Are you experiecing a lot of tension in the shoulders and neck? Downward Dog will help bring those points to your attention. So, next time you flow into this pose, think about how your body is feeling today and focus on your alingment from the toes all the way to the nose!
Now, let's talk about two different ways to get into the pose:
From Plank, draw the hips up towards the back of your mat, feeling the side body lengthen. Moving from Plank into Downward Facing Dog helps your body find the correct distance between the hands and the feet. Try flowing back from Downward Dog to Plank to ensure that your shoulders are over your wrists and your legs are straight and active.
Once you are in the pose, straighten one leg and then the other and play around a bit with the distribution of your own weight and find that balance between the hands and feet. The heels should be drawing towards the floor with your legs about hip-width distance apart. Take a peek back and if you can see your heels turn the feet outward a bit so that the heels are hidden from view.
The hips are drawing up towards the sky - creating space in your body and decompressing the spine. Ahh, it feels so nice!
The shoulder blades are drawing down the back and the shoulders are depressed - making sure there is no tension in the neck and shoulders. The upper arms are externally rotating - helping to keep the shoulders drawn down and the elbows and wrists in alignment. What does external rotation of the upper arms look like? Think of it as if you were trying to hide your armpits from people practicing on either side of your mat. Feel the thumb and first finger pressing into the mat and drawing energy from the ground up through your hands and arms.
The neck, an extension of the spine, is in a neutral position. It should not be hanging so that you are gazing at your own navel but it should not be crunching up either. Every body's alingment is different but a good rule of thumb is that your head is in line with your upper arms.
There you are - a beautiful and sustainable Adho Mukha Svanasana!
Have any specific questions about this posture or want additional tips? Feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email (KellyLawson86@gmail.com).
Happy yogaing, everyone!