With spring right around the corner and it almost being one-fourth of the way through the leap year, we should only move forward to whatever is next. Perhaps we could leap and spring straight into Uttanasana, a forward fold position. Transition into it however you’d like, by making the jump or by walking your feet up the mat, as it does take some practice to master the art of springing forward with one swift leap. But once you’ve shifted in your sun salutation from downward dog to Uttanasana, hold that fold.
Although this post has the Sanskirt prefix for “intense”, it’s hardly intimidating. Uttanasana is a rather rejuvenating and welcoming stretch for beginners as well aslong-time yogis. There’s something satisfying about folding the body in half yet still holding ground with the feet, the crown of the head taking a momentary break as it dangles above the floor, inverted without holding any weighted pressure. The shoulders take relief from supporting the head and the arms sway in free for all, with the choice to meet the toes or to trace circles around the feet. This pose will make your spine feel divine, too!
Just make sure your bend forward from your hip joints, not the waist. Joints are made for movement, so save your waist muscles for yogalates or another pose or practice that focuses on the abdomen! But go ahead and draw the stomach muscles in as your inhale from the beginning in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. Keep your knees straight and hip distance apart and make sure you can spot your toes. As you bring your torso to meet your legs, feel free to grab your ankles or let your hands dangle.
The hamstrings will really feel this stretch. Tightening up easily throughout the day, they should relax and release with ease just as much as every other muscle in your body. You may be standing for it, but Uttanasana is a resting pose that helps calm the nervous system and can help relieve facial tension, headaches, a myriad of other stress-related problems. So spring forward, hop, leap, or step your way into a forward fold any time you need some relief!
Do you have a handle on your mandible and your maxillary, your masticator? These parts put together are commonly known as the jawbone. Your mandible gives the jaw it’s form and the maxillary holds your teeth in place. Together, they masticate, chew, crush, ground, and grind…but not always on food, which just isn’t good.
It’s quite common to hold unconscious tension in your jawbone. Ever wake up in the middle of the night with clenched teeth or sore gums? Perhaps you suffer from some form of bruxism, the gnashing of teeth. Whether it’s from stress or anxiety, bruxism is a habit that’s hard to kick, since it mainly comes into play without one realizing it. We express our emotions through body language and facial expressions, so when angered, upset, or sad, you might not notice your jaw locking and your face clenching up. Not only can jaw tension create severe dental problems, but it leads to further stress due to headaches, facial pain, and overall uneasiness.
It’s important to take in the advice during yoga of releasing unconscious tension in your jaw and face. Yogic breathing and alignment are helpful methods to begin correcting poor habits of jaw and facial tension. Simply starting with posture exercises will help align the head, back, and shoulders, which will in turn alleviate the face and jaw. Deep meditation and deep breathing will help you ease into a state of relaxation and awareness where you can notice how your muscles are acting and how they ease up when given a chance.
One pose to get your facial muscles loose is Simhasana, Lion Pose. With a straight back, kneel on both your knees, hold the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, take a strong, deep breath in. You can take your hand to your thighs and extend your fingers for this pose. Then let go with a strong exhale, almost hissing with your tongue sticking out. There’s a more step-by-step detail of this pose available at CNY Healing Arts.
Feel free to let out a roar while you’re at it! And remember, don’t over-masticate, appreciate and be aware of the power and proper use of your jaw. Give your platysma, a key muscle in frowning a break, and practice using your zygomaticus by smiling more, too!
When I set up this blog, I had visions of book reviews, occasional insights and musings on the DC yoga scene. But then the NY press declared war on Yoga and Anusara blew up. I’ll get to those other ambitions … Continue reading
What does AnusraGate mean for DC yoga? Well three things at least. First, two of our better teachers have stepped out of the tent. Second what was the biggest Anusara studio in the US is now no longer exclusive to … Continue reading
The nose is meant for breathing, and the mouth is the backup plan in case something goes wrong with the nasal passages. As infants, humans are predisposed to breathe through their nose, so much as they are referenced as obligated nasal breathers. Infants can breathe through both their nose and mouth, but according to a LiveStrong article on the topic, “oral breathing is potentially difficult because the soft palate –a muscular fold that extends from the back of the roof of the mouth–is so close to the epiglottis–a flap of cartilage that covers and protects the windpipe during the act of swallowing”.
As humans, we learn to breathe through the mouth when we are sick with colds and sinus problems, and turn to the learnt habit of oral breathing over time. It doesn’t feel like a huge difference, as oxygen is still entering the body. But the nose is designed to take part in respiration mores than the mouth, which has many other functions, such as speaking and swallowing.
The respiratory system is broken down into two zones, the conducting zone and the respiratory zone. The nose, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and terminal bronchioles all work together to filter, clean, moisten, and dry the air that we inspire before sending it, or conducting it, to the respiratory zone and the lungs. Therefore, medically speaking, the nose built to serve as the entrance and exit point for breath.
The art of yoga breathing does have a name – Pranayama. Most yogic practices favor the use of nasal breathing, although some practices find ways to incorporate the use of oral breathing as well. Ever had a yoga teacher ask you to breathe in deeply through the nose, followed by a strong exhale with a wide open mouth? Techniques vary, but overall, there is much more of a focus on the benefits of nasal breathing and learning controlled breath through Pranayama.
“Really? Who is teaching this?” was the email I got, forwarding me today’s living social deal. Not only was I amused to see wine and yoga paired up, but I was surprised to see that the studio running this deal … Continue reading
On January 26th SFO welcomed the new 150-square-foot yoga studio with a celebratory sun salutation. Travelers can use free mats to have a respite
from the crazy and rushed atmosphere that is a modern airport. Located just past the security checkpoint in the recently renovated Terminal 2, the new yoga room has blue painted calming walls, a floating wall said to symbolize a buoyant spirit and enlightened mind, and felt-covered rocks to add to the Zen garden atmosphere. Lights in the room are low and warm to counteract the bright concourse.
Airport officials think this is the first in-airport free yoga studio. Travelers are encouraged to use it for they own personal practices.
Melissa Mizell, design director for Gensler, the architecture firm behind Terminal 2, said in a statement that the room “gives modern travelers a space that fosters and supports quiet and reflection,” MSNBC reports.
I personally would love an airport yoga studio. While traveling abroad I noticed the Qatar airport offers a sleeping room, showers, and inexpensive massages. Sometimes with a long layover these extra perks are just what a traveler needs.
Would you use an airport yoga studio?
- The chanting of Om drives away all worldly thoughts and removes distraction and infuses new vigor in the body.
- When you feel depressed, chant Om fifty times and you will be filled with new vigor and strength. The chanting of Om is a powerful tonic. When you chant Om, you feel you are the pure, all pervading light and consciousness.
- Those who chant Om will have a powerful, sweet voice. Whenever you take a stroll, you can chant Om. You can also sing Om in a beautiful way. The rythmic pronunciation of Om makes the mind serene and pointed, and infuses the spiritual qualifications which ensure self-realization.
- Those who do meditation of Om daily will get tremendous power. They will have luster in their eyes and faces.
108 has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism and yoga. Malas, or prayer beads, come as a string of 108 beads. A mala is used for counting as you repeat a mantra, similar to the Catholic rosary.
Mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body.
Some other interesting 108 references:
- In India, 108 is the toll-free emergency telephone number, our version of 911.
- 108 degrees Fahrenheit is also the internal temperature at which the human body’s vital organs begin to fail from overheating.
- An official Major League Baseball baseball has 108 stitches.
Saying 108 Oms was a bit tiring for me, but not nearly as tiring as doing 108 sun salutations, a tradition I have heard practiced on New Year’s day in some studios!
When practicing yoga and meditation, it’s important to focus on the breath. Deep breaths are encouraged. But in everyday life, it’s easy to put your respiratory system on auto-pilot, shortening your inhales and exhales. Shortened and shallow breaths mean more breaths per minute, and this increase in quantity isn’t exactly of best interest. The more breaths we breathe per minute, the more chance we have of diminishing the quality of our blood, oxygen, and overall health.
While resting, an average adult has a normal respiratory rate of 12 to 18 breaths a minute, but a sick or anxious person might breathe more than that, from overcompensating or from a nervous habit. To break it down, many people hyperventilate without really knowing it. The term hyperventilation usually brings upon an image of someone breathing in and out at a rather quick speed, being given a brown paper bag to breathe into. The idea of breathing into a brown bag is to increase the body’s CO2 levels. But one doesn’t need to be a rapid breather to be hyperventilating. Just a couple of extra breaths per minute is all it takes to alter the body’s levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and those extra breaths can easily go unnoticed.
It’s important to keep oxygen and CO2 levels in balance, due to their effect on the body and blood. We release CO2 upon exhales, but our blood also depends on CO2, for CO2 helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Hyperventilation creates the effect of “excessive expulsion” of circulating CO2, which raises the blood’s pH, which constricts blood vessels, which effects oxygen levels, muscles, the nervous system, and in turn, everything. Not knowing this, it might sound surprising to keep your CO2 levels in check, as CO2 is mainly known as a waste product. But in turn, CO2 plays a vital role in respiratory and circulatory processes.
The first step to overcome problems like over-breathing is to become more conscious of your breath, when you can. Take a moment and see how you are breathing. Where does the breath feel like it’s focused at? Your stomach? Your throat? Are you breathing with your nose, or your mouth? And are your breaths short and rapid, or calm and slow? Find out what a normal breath feels like to you, and chances are, it might not be a normal healthy breath. More next time on improving breath.
Ever had someone try to turn you onto yoga, but you felt no interest? Or perhaps you frowned in recollection upon that one time that you gave it a shot, and were too turned off by the quick movements of a Vinyasa flow class. Granted, if you haven’t tried yoga before, and if you aren’t physically active already, then an hour of sun salutations might appear to be challenging, frustrating, and possibly discouraging. But what you might not be aware of is that there’s multiple permutations of yoga styles, and quite a few classes in the city that offer a slow, gentle introduction to the practice, like Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga.
Many normal aches and pains come from wear and tear, the passing of time. Setting aside at least an hour a week for stretching can do remarkable things for your body, from increasing blood flow to overall energy. Perhaps what you need to break down your fear and/or misunderstanding of yoga is to just stretch it out with long, drawn-out hip-openers rather than down dog, plank, cobra, cow, repeat, ad infinitum.
And another thing you should be reminded of, before entering a class that might be too rigorous at the beginning? Breathe. As Anna Nalick says (or sings)…”no one can find the rewind button, so cradle your head in your hands and breathe…just breathe”. Perhaps though your hands will be stretched out in front of you, your cheek gently resting on a yoga mat or bolster as you just breathe. And breathe deep and constant.
I’ve probably been a shallow breather all my life, reserving deep breaths for trips to the doctor’s office for that moment when they put the stethoscope on your chest to get a reading of your lung capacity. Of course we all know that breathing is a fundamental to living, but it is incredibly easy to skimp on the quality of your breath. Yoga really serves as a helpful avenue to advocate for healthy, deep breathing. With the combination of giving your body much-needed stretches and breaths rich with depth, you’ll begin to feel completely different, and perhaps, more willing in time to give yoga a better chance. Just remember, whether it’s for you or your friend, start with the basics, at your own pace and flow.
The diverse family of DC yoga teachers at Yoga District are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone through a huge variety of yoga class types, from vinyasa flow to restorative and beyond. Most Yoga District teachers are graduates of Yoga District’s nationally-attended 200 hour teacher training program. All Yoga District classes focus on coordinating breath with body movement to promote flexibility, strength, and peace of mind. We strongly believe in yoga as therapy, so catch one of our classes whenever you need a healthy dose of self-care.
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The Yoga District 200 and 500 hour teacher training certification programs, registered by the Yoga Alliance are unique in their emphasis on diversity of teaching styles studied, personal attention, and trauma sensitive yoga. It's no coincidence that Yoga District is regularly voted the leading studio in the nation's capital, and that most of its classes are taught by graduates of its training program. As a full time yoga school, small group trainings are led up to eight times a year by a dedicated faculty including Jasmine Chehrazi, contributor to the Harvard Karma Yoga Project teacher training, teacher training faculty at George Washington University, Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Board Member, Yoga Activist Founder, and Yoga Service Council Advisory Board Member. So take your practice and community involvement to the next level by joining a training. There's a reason why our graduates call the training "transformative."
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