Yesterday I packed up my car, and hit the open road for what Google maps told me would be a 7 hour drive from Washington, DC to South Carolina. Ten hours later (thank you traffic!), I pulled up outside my parents’ house, exhausted, but thrilled to see them. Stepping out of the car, I knew that the many hours sitting in the same position might leave my body feeling stiff the next day. Along the route I incorporated some stretches, and before bed last night, worked my way through a few long and lazy sun salutations, lengthening from head to toe. Whether going on a road trip, taking a long flight, (or even sitting at a desk for many hours!), here are some ideas to counter all that sitting.
Before heading out:
1. I find that before I have to sit for a long period of time, it helps to get active – a quick run, bike ride, or brisk walk – to get the blood flowing.
2. Pack some props – I have a small pillow in the car that I can place at my lower back as I start to feel my spine crunching/hunching.
1. Move through a few cat/cow postures when stuck at a light or sitting in traffic. Round through the upper back, dropping the head to lengthen through the neck on the exhale. On the inhale, draw the chest forward, arching and opening the front of the body.
2. Focus on lengthening the spine – root down through the sits bones and feel as though someone is pulling a string up all the way through the crown of the head.
3. Remember to breathe – long, cleansing deep breaths send new oxygen through the body, help to dispel fatigue, and can reduce frustration. And if you are in the car on your own, try a few lion’s breaths – deep inhale through the nose, open the mouth, allow the tongue to stretch out and down, as you audibly exhale. Ahhhhh…
4. I find driving, especially long distances, to be time for meditation.
Post travel (or a long day at the office):
1. Find tadasana/mountain pose, standing straight, lifting up out of the hips, rolling the shoulders back and down. On an inhale, stretch the arms up over head, until the palms are touching. Reach up, look up, feel like rib cage expand. Allow the fingertips to lead the upper body into a side stretch, being careful not to collapse forward (if leaning to the right, roll the left shoulder open). Repeat on each side.
2. Adho Mukha Savasana, or down dog, is an all around, feel good pose. It not only calms the brain and body, it also opens the backs of the legs (which have been in crunched up all day!) and the upper back.
3. I love a gentle inversion in the evening, such as Viparita Kirani, or legs up the wall, to relieve cramping and fatigue in the legs.
Another road trip from SC to Boston is coming up next week. What are some of your favorite ways to keep the body calm and relaxed on a long trip??
*photo from jwblogisticsandtrucking.
About six months ago, I went through some pretty big life changes… moved to a city I had never even visited before… started a new job… turned a new relationship into a long distance one. I should preface by saying that for the past few years, my yoga practice has been my sanity. No matter what I was feeling – happy, stressed, anxious – I could find what I was looking for on my mat – a few quiet moments to revel in something good, think through a problem, or completely forget about everything outside the studio.
Needless to say, I was somewhat thrown off when, with so many changes happening in my life, I seemed to steer clear of yoga. I couldn’t seem to get excited about finding a new studio. I had excuses for why I couldn’t even attend free classes around town. Sure, during this time, I rolled out my mat in my tiny apartment and flowed through a few suns, or I would take my mat down to the park to practice inversions, but I would find myself laying on my mat minutes later. Laying there, eyes soft, mind quiet, breathing steady.
About a month and a half ago, and with just slight hesitation (probably because I had not moved through a full 1.5 hour class in a while!), I began taking classes. Laying in savasana at the end of class, I realized something… something more than just how sore my body would probably be the next day. I realized that while I may have stepped away from the asana portion, I never abandoned my practice. It just didn’t look like what I thought it would look like. At a time when things seemed somewhat crazy in life, I needed quiet, I needed stillness. And now, feeling more secure in my space, I’m ready to amp it up on the mat. It’s just the way these things work – it’s an ebb and flow.
In reality, the thing that draws me to yoga is the idea of staying present, to thoughts, to the breath… and ultimately to life. And the beauty of the practice is that it always welcomes you back, no judgement.
Have you ever taken a try at Triangle, or Trikonasana? It’s a pose that can expose you to the power of applying angles, corners, and shapes to stretching. Trikonasana taps into three targeted areas, the shoulders, torso, and hips, and turns the extremities into expanding axes.
The hips, the base of the spine, and the lower half all benefit from practicing Trikonasana. Being a standing pose, the legs serve as the foundation, so it’s important to have solid footing yet enough space between each foot to achieve full potential from the stretch. Blocks come in handy with this pose, so feel free to set one up by your front foot. The first angle and imaginary triangle starts on the floor with your feet. Let’s put our right foot forward on the mat with both feet pointing out straight and running parallel. Then turn the left foot out to about 60 degrees, or to a ten o’clock position. (Degrees and clock-references vary). Make sure your heels are still on the same axis, they’re keeping you in firm position!
The second triangle shape forms with your pelvis. Now that your feet are in position, your legs are like opened scissors, holding a wide stride. Keep your pelvis facing forward for a moment, as you would in warrior pose, just to be aware of your pelvic plane. Trikonasana is a great hip opener. You’ll feel your joints activation once you swivel them to be parallel with your heels. If your hips and heels stack up though, that means your stride is too short! Don’t be afraid to slide your front foot forward a bit more to make a wide triangle! You’ll want to make sure that your front leg is straight and diagonal. This pose is full of oblique planes!
It’s time to activate your arms. Let them rise into a T-bar, again, like you would in warrior pose. Now let your torso move forward so that it hovers over your extended right thigh. Drop your right hand to the ground or to a block on the outside of your right foot, and extend your left arm and palm skyward. Your arms should now be in a vertical axis, creating a series of angles between hips, shoulders, and the neck. Make sure your head doesn’t hang, as it should be on the same plane as your torso, but feel free to look skyward.
It’s the last few minutes of class and the quick-moving asanas have come to a close. There’s only one move left, savasana, and it carries the connotation of being the easiest. People anticipate savasana in different ways; some embrace it as a moment of relief, while others feel anxious during the pose due to their wandering thoughts.
Perhaps it should be accepted with neutrality. After all, the body is kept in a neutral position during the duration of savasana. Don’t get mistaken though; although it’s no shoulder stance or inverted triangle, savasana isn’t exactly easy. Sure, the body remains in corpse pose with the back on the ground. Some people even take this physical break as a moment to sleep. It’s actually the chosen pose to hold during yoga nidra practice (or yogic sleep), but it’s important to acknowledge that staying conscious and aware of yourself it where the activity happens, especially in savasana.
“Why must I lie still for that long?” I heard someone ask before in regards to savasana. We were discussing the different parts of classes that we enjoy, and they found savasana to be a nuisance, just because they came for the movement of the course. “The last thing I want to do in yoga is lie down!”
There’s actually a lot of movement happening during savasana. It’s just really subtle. The aim with savasana is total relaxation, which for many people, requires practice to obtain. For starters, it’s simple enough to lie on your back with eyes closed and palms up, but on YogaJournal.com, there’s multi-paragraphs of step-by-step instruction full of intricate details, like broadening “the base of the skull too, and lift[ing[ the crease of the neck diagonally into the center of the head”.
It’s probably best to explore these physical adjustments over time, after you’ve gotten accustomed to calming the mind of thoughts as well as everything else internally, such as your sensory organs. Things like the sounds around you, the lighting of the room, as well as the temperature, should be taken in as observations that are part of the moment rather than distractions.
Sometimes I think that the Sympathetic Nervous System doesn’t live up to it’s given name. Instead of showing compassion, the SNS sometimes acts a little anxious, and with it’s own agenda, sends messages without much concern for the the well-being of the rest of the body. Do I hear a boy crying wolf? I guess you’d be on edge too if you were responsible for mobilizing the force of flight-or-fight response, an inherent tool needed for survival. Sometimes though, it seems like the SNS is just a little too trigger-happy, ready to jump into action when the body doesn’t necessarily need it to, which creates all sorts of problems.
Luckily, the Autonomic Nervous System has another subsystem, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which balances and checks the SNS. The PNS takes care of the body’s “rest and digest” functions and regulates the internal organs. Lacrimation, Salivation, Urination….check, check, check. Take note though that the PNS and the SNS are not antagonistic; they work in opposition, but they really compliment each other, much like yin compliments yang, and vice versa.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly thankful for the unyielding vigilance of the SNS, because really, who knows when trouble might actually arise? But truth be told, it’s easy to rile up those flight-or-flight neurons without needing to tap into that resource. Over-thinking and stress takes a toll on the body and the mind, and especially on the nervous system, which often acts like it has a mind of its own. If it feels like its under attack, it will send for backup, and there’s a lot of power that’s jam-packed into hormones like adrenaline. If your body doesn’t actually need to kick into flight-or-fight mode, then all those recently released hormones are over-working and effecting your well-being without any reason.
It can be extremely difficult realize when your nervous system is over-reacting, because its regulates unconsciously. But if you are somewhat upset or stressed about a situation and feel like you might “fight or flight” and you just don’t know why, take a step back and remember there’s another side that’s ready to “rest and digest”. It’s important to respect and be aware of these two systems and their functions in order to maintain a healthy balance in your life.
I would like to say that having been one of the first people to go to the Dupont Circle studio that my experience at the H Street retreat was quite refreshing. Yeah being out of shape and not a consistent practitioner the flight of stairs at H Street is much more welcoming. I used to be out of breath at Dupont Circle going up those endless flight of stairs.
Now, I went February 29th, I was feeling quite strange, my heart was beating fast and I was worried something was wrong with me or that I had had too much coffee. I arrived about 15 minutes before class and was greeted beautifully by Kerry. A few minutes later I met our instructor Kelly I mentioned that I was out of sorts and I had left an emergency contact number on sign in sheet just in case. Her response was “you’re kidding, right?” To which I responded negatively. After graciously instructing me that I had to take care of myself she assured me she would keep an eye on me and she did. Her demeanor with the class was impeccable and she was conscientious of me being ok throughout.
I felt that the atmosphere at Yoga District is much like the teacher warm, caring and friendly. Kelly was so sweet she gave me a hug at the end of class (I think she was happy I didn’t croak) and I was a sweaty mess. Poor girl. The studio is sleek and I love the big wood tile floor. I will definitely be back. Classes are kept to a comfortable size being that it is a cozy studio. The picture represents what the H Street Yoga District Studio evokes in me.
Yoga festivals are awesome events for those seeking to add some variety to their yoga practice. They take place all around the world and are a great opportunity to practice yoga in sync with a large group of like-minded yoga practitioners. Festivals give yogis the opportunity to focus on different aspects of yoga; from specific workshops, to talks with renowned instructors.
One popular U.S. festival is the Wanderlust Festival. This festival features music, food, speakers, and of course yoga. It takes place in Copper, Colorado and travels to three other locations in the North America: Brattleboro, VT June 21-24, Colorado July 5-8, Lake Tahoe July 26-29 and Whistler, British Columbia August 23-26.
Unlike many music festivals I've been to where the waste generated is huge, Wanderlust uses very sustainable practices including waste reduction, recycling, composting, the utilization of renewable energy sources and carbon offsetting.
The closest place to DC to go on a yoga 'retreat' is the Yogaville ashram in Buckingham, VA. Yogaville offers internships for those interested in living on an ashram, workshops, training, mediation courses, and 600 acres of wooded landscape.
What do you think about yoga festivals? I would love to attend one! It seems like a healthy and inspiring way to spend a vacation.
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
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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