If you’re a regular or even an intermittent yoga practitioner, I’m sure you can come up with a long list of benefits to getting on the mat: reducing stress, gaining a sense of community, improving posture and confidence, toning muscle and promoting general happiness…just to name a few. And we’re always hearing stories about yoga students whose practice has kept them healthy and active well into their life.
But what if scientific research could actually show that yoga can improve your health and lengthen your lifespan? Now there is more than just anecdotal evidence of this, with researchers discovering proof that these practices have an observable, biological effect on the cellular level in your body.
Many of us are familiar with the idea of the fight-or-flight response. It’s the natural, biological reaction that our body has in stressful situations in which we’d ordinarily need to either flee or fight back. During stressful situations, this response kicks in, putting our nervous system into overdrive. But according to recent research published in Plos One, activities such as deep breathing, repeated mantras, and ignoring intrusive thoughts, all components of physical asana practice as well as other meditation techniques, can produce changes in gene expression that exactly counteract the negative effects of the fight-or-flight response.
These gene expression changes were connected to improving energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, and telomere maintenance, as well as turning off gene expression involved with inflammation. All of this could add up to some major improvements in overall health, lowering blood pressure, fighting cardiovascular disease, and possibly helping to ward off some types of cancer that are exacerbated by stress.
The study showed that the longer you practice these techniques over time, the more pronounced the positive side effects become; the recommended meditation time was twice a day for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
Yoga District offers several meditation classes throughout the week at various locations if you’re interested in exploring this or would like to learn breathing techniques you can try at home. And the next time you run into a yoga skeptic, pass along some of the data and tell them to give it a try sometime.
Spring is a season of rebirth in DC, with an extra dose of pollen and blossom fragrance in every breath to remind us. As part of this recreation of the self, people are hitting their yoga mats hard as they emerge out of DC’s winter hibernation. Some folks are developing yoga as a new habit while old hands are reconnecting with or sustaining their yoga habit.
In order to keep yoga as a healthy habit and to let go of unhealthy habits, it’s a good time to pay attention to the underlying nature of habits. It’s so odd how we keep habits and hold patterns, even down to talking a certain way, without even realizing what we are doing or why we are doing it. Habits are just automatic. We often consider our habits to be part of our identity, part of the way we are. But this just isn’t that true. Habits are just something we do, but they aren’t what we should identify ourselves by. Let’s go a bit deeper than that.
So next time we start operating according to a habit, whether good or bad, let’s pause and look at what state of being that the habitual action is a reflection of. Do we like the state of being our habits are based on? Do we want to remain, being, in that state?
If we ask ourselves these questions, whether we keep our old habits or not, we will be more aware of our habits and what causes them. That’s the kind of self knowledge that yoga is all about.
So what motivates your habits, including your yoga habit?
It is hard to believe that 6 years ago, my life and those of my fellow Hokie friends were dramatically shifted due to the unexpected and heartbreaking shootings that occurred on Virginia Tech’s campus. Six years ago today marks the beginning of the redirection of my path.
The days, weeks, months, and years that followed this day have been extremely transformative. People who have not experienced traumas do not realize the full extent of what they mean. Your entire world changes, including your friendships, dreams, possibilities for career, and willingness to confront the present moment. All the plans I had for my life shifted. And the fears I had to confront were phenomenal, beginning with, How will I survive now?
The traumatic shootings that took place on April 16, 2007 and the difficult times that followed led me first, to a path of self-destruction, anxiety, and depression. I was disillusioned, angry, volatile, resentful, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I had lost my trust in life itself, even though at the same time I still completely trusted that God would somehow lead me through it all. I was living in a psychologically and emotionally contradictory state, which made me even more desperate. There wasn’t a place I could hide in my head about this. Little did I know that chaos is a classic precursor to transformation.
As time went on, I found myself more and more distant from those I loved and from my own work. Eventually, my mentor stepped in and encouraged me to attend a mindfulness meditation group that had been organized specifically for those of us who were present during the shootings and wanted to heal. After several sessions of mindfulness meditation and yoga asana, I felt calmer and as though I could now begin to confront my feelings and my new relationship to life. I began to open to a path of self-healing and self-transformation through the power of a daily practice of Ashtanga yoga and meditation.
The path of healing dark patterns of illness has not been easy and I tend to revisit the dark spaces on occasion. At first, I had to rely on the strength of my faith to get through this, and my faith wasn’t that strong when this happened. During my recovery, I felt dark emotions I didn’t want to accept I had in me, such as jealousy at other people’s ability to move on from this experience. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to work my way through these feelings and to come out the other end a person who still saw purpose and potential in her life. I learned, through the practice, how to draw on my own reserves of inner strength and integrity to establish myself as worthy, capable, and a powerful conduit of change. I learned how to experience, through my body and breath, my own ability to protect myself, not only because I could respond honestly to my feelings through my body, but also because I knew I could move past the discomfort into a place of ease. I learned how to deal with the consequences of being honest with myself. My whole internal attitude toward my life underwent a remarkable transformation. It’s amazing how your world changes when you discover that you can honestly take care of yourself.
To this day, yoga continues to provide me the opportunity to practice and cope with all that I feel I do not deserve, good or bad, in ways that empower me, and to pursue as best I can the development of my highest potential in all endeavors. Yoga hasn’t solved all the darkness in my life, of course. Rather it has given me the tools to honestly explore and live fully in the mysteries, traumas, and affections while discovering myself one piece at a time.
– Marie Belle
If you have taken a class at Yoga District (or hopefully, if you’ve taken a yoga class anywhere), you have heard these words. Your teacher has moved the class from Warrior II to Extended Side Angle. Your forearm is resting on your front thigh, chest opening to the side of the room. The pose is difficult, and your front thigh is beginning to shake, knee bent to 90 degrees. Then, as if she has no idea that this pose is freaking hard enough as it is, your teacher begins to offer modifications to deepen the pose. “If you feel comfortable, you can lower your bottom hand to the floor”. As a student, a teacher’s well-meaning modifications can come across as, “If you’re a good person, wrap your hand behind your back and take the bind” Okay, hopefully not in those words – but that’s how it can feel. Too often, we begin to equate our self worth to our physical ability and how we compare to those practicing around us. We judge our own practice by how closely our poses resemble the photos on the cover of Yoga Journal. When you hear the phrase “all options are equal”, it may not sound sincere. Clearly, you think, all options aren’t equal, and the girl next to me who has somehow wrapped her hands behind her back, around her thigh, and lifted her front leg straight into the air is winning.
While I have never felt competitive against other students in a yoga class, I have definitely been competitive with myself. I have pushed myself to achieve a fuller expression of a pose, even when I haven’t been ready or when it has caused me pain to do so. I have gone beyond my limits; driven by ego and the fantasy that teacher will love me more if my body can do more.
The 200-hour teacher training at Yoga District has opened my mind to the truth behind that phrase I’ve heard so many times: All options are equal. More than just equal – the decision to back off, do what is right for your body in the present moment and respect your limits is often the much harder choice to make. It is easy to show up for class and push yourself too hard, sacrificing your alignment or your breathing for the goal of getting to that next pose. It is actually more difficult to allow yourself to drop that bottom knee to the floor when you need to. It is a challenge to realize that your body is not ready to take a headstand today, even though last week you were able to hold the pose for two minutes. It is difficult to quiet your mind enough to listen to your body. To accomplish this is to truly practice yoga. Getting in touch with your body, your limits, and achieving the type of self awareness and confidence that it takes to back off and make decisions based on your needs will take you further on the path of yoga than a hands-free headstand ever will. When in class or practicing at home, listen to your teacher and to your body. All options are equal. Choose the one that works for you.
– Kate Adams
Notes for the past 2 weeks might still make it online, or not. But here is what we did last night: 1. Start with the Dancing Cossack, which is beautifully taught here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGnQ99bkHqA I don’t know this teacher, but to give … Continue reading
Here are notes from last week’s class! These are being provided as a reference for those who took the class and should not be used by those who were not there. Remember: You can never be too slow and rarely … Continue reading
Many plants are harvested for their seeds, but turmeric, a sterile plant, can’t be. Instead, it’s roots, or rhizomes, are gathered for all sorts of purposes. First applied as a dye thousands of years ago in India, turmeric soon enough took form as a spice and as prominent component for curry powder. From condiment and coloring, the rhizome naturally progressed as a cosmetic. It doesn’t stop there as a pigment or powder; turmeric is also a highly-regarded herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
Turmeric can be used both internally and externally. It adds a gorgeous golden tone and dishes to drinks, but that yellow tint can also linger on your skin when the spice is used as a first-aid ointment. Don’t let that scare you off, though! Turmeric is highly regarded for its health benefits. If you were looking to hire a spice for all sorts of ailments, you’d be highly impressed by turmeric’s CV. Turmeric would be the cream of the crop! Or, uh, to be more technical, the powder of the root! Curcumin (not to be confused with cumin), a compound found in turmeric, is highly responsible for turmeric’s extensive curriculum vitae.
Here’s a quick basic summary of turmeric’s benefits, taken from turmeric.co.in:
antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, appetizer, astringent, cardiovascular, carminative, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, stimulant, and vulnerary.
Lots of “anti” activity in that list. But “anti” in all the most positive ways. For instance, when you have an infection, whether it be a scratch, bug bite, or virus, your body’s go-to response is the inflammation route. It’s the biological response to trying to remove the problem. Aarthi Narayanan, a guest on The Kojo Nnamdi Show back in September, talked about how omnipresent turmeric has been throughout her life, and how she often uses turmeric for external inflammatory ailments. When she had a bug bite, she’d use turmeric with coconut oil as an ointment, and she said everything would be fine the next day. There’d be no infection, just some yellow residue on her leg.
You don’t need to ingest too much turmeric to get its benefits, just half a teaspoon a day. Turmeric has it’s proper place cooking, but you’ve got to use it in the right manner. It walks a fine line between bland and bitter. Too little won’t do too much, and too much will be a bit bitter in flavor. That’s why other spices are often paired with it, like cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin when making curry powder, for instance. Another guest on the Nnamdi show, Monica Bhide, came to the thought that, “people use it in cooking primarily as a healer more than for any taste”. Perhaps. What’s the harm really in adding this golden spice to your life? It seems to have accumulated a lot of credentials over centuries, and future discoveries of its capabilities wouldn’t be surprising, either.
Like carrots, zucchini is one of those vegetables that crosses over delightfully from dinner plates to desert. Since it goes well into baked goods, here’s a recipe for nutty zucchini cookies. They’re a wholesome, savory treat, and even though vegan and with a vegetable base, still a little sweet.
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup applesauce (substitute butter)
– 2 cups flour
– flax seed water mixture (1 tbs ground flax: 3 tables of water) mixed
(in substitute of egg)
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 cup shredded medium zucchini
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp clove
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1/2 cup of oats
– 1 cups of mixed nuts
1.Get your oven warm and ready for the cookies by preheating it to 355℉.
2. Shred your zucchini into fine pieces (it’s alright to leave the skin on).
3. Whisk all the dry ingredients together (sugar, applesauce, flour, flax, and baking soda).
4. Add shredded zucchini to the mix.
5. Add in the spices, and feel free to add in more if you’re feeling creative! As long as they’re compatible, of course! (perhaps nutmeg, or allspice?)
6. Throw in the fixings. The more, the merrier, the tastier. Load it up.
7. Prepare a cookie sheet. You could line it with parchment paper, or grease it with a vegan kind of oil. (I’ve used coconut oil before, it works just fine).
8. Once you’ve got a well-blended bowl of batter, start placing cookie sized drops of batter onto your sheet.
9. Let the cookies bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
*don’t overbake – your cookies could dry out or burn. They bake almost like scones, since there’s a lot of dry ingredients in the mix. The zucchini adds a bit of moisture, though*
10. Let them cool, and enjoy (possibly with a nice glass of almond milk or some tea!)
In the midst of winter snowstorms, there’s something satisfying about visiting the Desert Room at the National Botanic Garden. Whereas many of the other chambers throughout the grounds are tropical and humid, the Desert Room’s atmosphere is warm and arid, carrying a simple silence that has a stark contrast to the bitter windchill of our known winter weather in Washington.
Deserts lack an abundance of vegetation, except for their cacti and succulent plants, which are fascinating evolutionary structures. Growing in dry areas that are subject to drought, cacti do what they must to conserve water. Over time, they’ve adapted in all sorts of ways. For one, unlike other plants, they’ve lost their leaves, and in place, have spines, which provide protection and shade from the elements.
Cactus pose in Yoga is a great choice for someone who wants to improve their posture. Align your spine! It’s your main source of strength. We spend much of our time forming bad habits of hunching over at desks, so it’s good to get into the practice of standing tall, like a cactus. Did you know that some saguaro cacti can grow up to 75 feet and live for over 150 years? Another interesting fact; it can take up to 75 years for a saguaro cactus to grow an arm. The cactus is a slow-growing species, storing its energy and resources, for it lives rainfall by rainfall.
There are multiple variations for practicing cactus, but I’ll share the vertical version. Not only does it help with posture, but it’s great release for shoulder tightness. You’ll be blending Cactus pose with Chair pose here. Stand up, pull some intention into your navel for core energy, and put your arms in cactus position. Give yourself some saguaro arms by bending your elbows and extending your forearms. Check to see if your elbows are on the same plane as your shoulders. Then you’ll raise your palms skyward. Feel that extension in your hands, from your wrists to your palms and through your fingers. It’s important to make sure your feet are firmly planted. Your base is where Chair pose comes into place. Like any plant, it’s important to stay rooted to the earth. But give your knees a little bend to add some depth to the pose. Keep your dhristi forward, and if you feel so inclined, stick your tongue out, paying some homage to Kali. Repeat as much as desired.
Name: Hannah Allerdice
Hometown: Lawerenceville, Georgia
Now Lives In: Trinidad, DC
Year of first yoga class: 2000
Yoga Training: 200 & 500 Hour Dharma Life of a Yogi Teacher Training (NYC)
Education: University of Georgia, B.A.Political Science, Graduate Work, Political Science
Favorite spot in DC: The National Aboretum Herb Garden
1. What drew you to yoga? I was always searching for ways to settle my mind and experience something deeper. I knew there was more to life than making a lot of money or finding the perfect partner.
Yoga started because I was going to be fit in college, I wanted to look nice for other people and feel good in the body. Then I got into meditation after college and I really started to become fascinated with people like Ghandi and Mother Teresa. Both of them, would not typicall be thought of as yogies, but they utilized yoga techniques in one form or another to help them do good in the world.
With my academic work in political science I sought to affect change in world through conflict resolution. The more I got into yoga the more I realized that these are the tools everyone should have.
2. How did you decide to become a yoga teacher? Some folks will do teacher training soon after beginning to practice yoga – it took me nine years, training really extensivesly. I trained in the dharma tradition for two and a half years. I wanted to train with Dharma Mittra as my guru. What held me back at first was the money. Then, I got a call to teach a conflict resolution class. I would be paid the exact amount of money Dharma teacher training would cost. I knew this was the right thing then.
3. What was teacher training like? I did the 200-hour and 500-hour courses with Dharma Mittra in New York City. These two experiences were some of the most transformative experiences of my life. Dharma’s theme is “The Life of a Yogi.” He teaches is how to be a yogi in the modern world and how to take classical yoga teachings and apply them to out present problems.
4. What is Dharma yoga? It’s classical yoga that Dharma learned from his guru. In every class there are asanas that move energy throughout body, an extended relaxation, breathing into concentration. All of the eight limbs of yoga are representated in the class. The teachers try to be quiet, calm, and balanced so that students themselves can find that stillness in themselves.
5. Why do you feel drawn to Dharma? The emphasis on self realization. We become in union with a higher self by settling the mind. When I went to my first Dharma class, there were all these neat poses I’d never seen before. I left feeling so calm and I thought – this is it! I found it!
6. What are your thoughts on the new H st. studio? what it offers to the community?
It couldn’t be in a better place because this community is just right for more opportunities to find healthy ways of living. I live in Trinidad, seven blocks from studio and my neighbors know I’m a yoga teacher. They’ve all been asking where and when are the classes. I sense there’s a real yearning for these practices in this neighborhood. The H Street Studio is a space where people from all walks of life can join together in community, we’re all in these bodies that have the same issues. Yoga philosophy is that we’re all the same. The studio will be the perfect place for people to come together and see our similarities.
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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