3 Key Principles for Good Posture… #2 Releasing the Shoulders & #3 Maintaining Safe Angles

My last post was about the first principle for good posture:  Engaging the Core.  To refresh… Strong spinal alignment begins with maintaining the natural lumbar curve of the lower back.  Too much curve (a condition called ‘lordosis’) and the anterior pelvic muscles experience congestion/constriction while the posterior muscles of the gluteals and hamstrings become overstretched and painful.  Too little curve (a condition called ‘kyphosis’) can create tension and hyperactivity in the posterior muscles of the body and weakness in the anterior muscles of the pelvis and abdomen.

We can properly Engage the Core by:

1. lengthening the tailbone toward the heels

2. activating the lower abdominal muscles

3. gently pulling the navel in and up toward the rib cage

This allows us to align the pelvis upright and hold the natural lumbar curve with a strong core.  Feel free to watch the video from my previous blog post for more review!  Again, it’s NOT rocket science!  It just takes some awareness, knowledge and discipline for ANYONE to experience good posture and the benefits that go along with it.

 

So here are the remaining two video clips – Releasing the Shoulders and Maintaining Safe Angles & Planes –  from my Yoga Essentials DVD series.  These are the foundation on which you can build good postural habits.  Please post any questions, comments or feedback… I’d love to hear from you!

 

3 Key Principles for Good Posture…. #1 Engaging the Core

For many of us, good posture has become quite elusive due to our sedentary lifestyles.  Human beings weren’t meant to spend as many hours in a seated position as we do today…. at work, in the car, watching TV, at the computer, etc.

In working one-on-one with my wellness coaching clients, I have seen time and time again how they have greatly benefited simply by improving their posture!  “How have they benefited?”, you ask?

They have…

  • reduced, and in some cases eliminated, chronic back and neck tension and pain
  • improved their breathing by expanding their chest cavity and thus allowing for deeper, longer breaths
  • strengthened their core muscles by regularly practicing their good postural principles
  • facilitated movement in their bodies so they move more efficiently and with greater ease
  • increased confidence and self-esteem when they experience ALL OF THE ABOVE!

It’s NOT rocket science!  It just takes some awareness, knowledge and discipline for ANYONE to experience good posture and the benefits that go along with it.  To get you started, I’ll be posting 3 video clips, each one introducing a key principle for good postural alignment.  These clips are from my Yoga Essentials DVD series and are the foundation on which you can build good postural habits.

Here’s the first one… Body Geometry:  Engaging the Core 

Stay tuned for the other two…

Stop and Smell the Pine!

Here’s your friendly reminder to allow yourself to fully ENJOY the experiences of this season and NOT get caught up in the “holiday hub bub”.

The energy of the season can be full of distraction and overwhelm.  I find that the key to staying present and focused amidst this chaotic and sometimes challenging time is to PAUSE and BREATHE!  I do these “Daily Breathers” several times throughout the day as needed.

Every time I notice my mind wandering and being pummeled by way too many thoughts, I simply…

  • become aware and stop what I’m doing (or thinking of)
  • close my eyes (if my environment allows it) or focus on a specific point/object (if I cannot close my eyes at that time) and
  • take 3 DEEP, SOOTHING BREATHS.

As I’m taking these breaths, I make a point to really FEEL the breath moving in and out of my body.  This very basic, simple exercise of mindful breathing is very grounding and will bring you calm and greater focus.  Like anything, the more “Daily Breathers” you take the easier it gets and the more effective they become!

And in case you need a helping hand with this I’m sharing with you a 4-minute Mindful Breathing Meditation audio for you to follow:

Mindful Breathing Meditation

Some of you may have received this meditation from me before, but I’m re-posting it as it’s short and sweet and does the trick.  You can even save the link in your Favorites on your web browser to use it regularly!

During this time of year, it can be easy to forget our most basic yet powerful tool:  our BREATH!

Make good use of it so that as you are getting presents…. you’re also getting present! 🙂

HAPPY HOLIDAYS… AND ENJOY!

 

Remake Yourself…

As human beings, our greatness lays not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.   ~Mahatma Ghandi

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What a thought-provoking and powerful statement!  I think it’s especially applicable in today’s world where so much change and so many challenges are presenting themselves.

It can feel overwhelming sometimes when we are bombarded by so much negativity and tragedy in our (so-called) news, politics, and current events.  Even if you want to help bring about a positive change, you may ask yourself, “Where do I begin??!!”

Exactly where Ghandi has directed us… with ourselves!  Instead of getting bogged down and worrying about things outside of us that are beyond our control… if we focus our intentions on how we can help ourselves feel healthier and think better… we can each as individuals make a positive impact not only on our own beings… but on our families, communities and our world!

The only things we have complete control over are our own thoughts, intentions and actions.  If we each commit to improving and elevating our own well-being — that is how we feel physically, how we think and how we interact with others  — we initiate our own little ripple effect.  When you start feeling better in your body, thinking with more clarity and calm, managing your emotions and stress with ease… you indirectly affect others by example and energetic interaction.

We’ve all experienced something of what I’m describing before… If you’re in a room full of people and someone who is carrying a lot of negativity walks in, everyone feels it.  It drags everyone else down as well.  But if someone who is uplifting comes into the room, it elevates everyone in the room.

Now imagine if you are working to feel the best that you can each day… Your positive ripple effect collides with my ripple effect which collides with someone else’s… get the picture?!  And soon… the similar positive energies converge to effect larger and larger populations over longer periods of time… this is how movements are started!

If you are tired of feeling like a victim or a bystander… if you want to be a participant in something positive, then I challenge you to commit to yourself and your own well-being!!!  If necessary, start with small simple steps that only require 10 – 15 minutes every day.  For example:

–        take a walk outdoors

–        read something inspirational or educational

–        spend time by yourself to journal or reflect

–        take multiple “Daily Breathers” (just pause from what you are doing and take 3- 5 deep, slow breaths)!

The key is to take some action for YOURSELF every day! And if you are ready to learn even more powerful self-care techniques or just need some support and motivation, come talk to me… I would love the opportunity to help you!

Here’s to remaking ourselves…

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To learn more about yoga self-care and personal wellness programs, visit www.anyonecandoyoga.com… download chapters of my complimentary E-Book on the Home page, check out my 3-Part “Yoga Essentials” DVD set from the Shop or simply contact me.

Posture Perfect!

We’ve all heard it at some point or another in our lives… from a parent or perhaps a teacher… “Sit up straight!”  It may have seemed like a nuisance at that time, but that could be some of the best advise we were given as children.  This lesson becomes especially poignant because of the sedentary lifestyle many of us tend to evolve into as adults.

Having good posture has many health benefits:

  • You improve and maintain good core and spinal strength
  • You allow your body to work at maximum efficiency and minimum effort
  • You improve your self-esteem because you feel better and look better (Not to mention taller; I’m 5’ tall and every little bit counts!)
  • You have a more empowering presence

So how did we get to this place where so many of us have such poor posture?  I believe there are 3 key reasons than many of us are no longer able to sit up straight or even stand up straight for an extended period of time:

  1. Lack of awareness of when we are engaging in poor posture
  2. Lack of understanding of what proper spinal alignment is
  3. Weakness in our core region.

Awareness… Awareness… Awareness… Everything begins with having awareness.  Once we gain the awareness of when we are engaging in poor posture, we then need to have an understanding of how it should be corrected.  And after learning how to bring our bodies into a good posture, we then also need to be able to maintain it.

This is where a daily yoga practice can be extremely helpful.  Of course, we are constantly practicing awareness in yoga… we are always paying attention to the sensations and emotions our mind/body experiences.  Thus as our awareness is honed, our ability to recognize poor posture is improved.

Secondly, fundamental to all yoga is knowledge of proper spinal alignment in each pose, stance and movement.  For example, learning and practicing how to align the spine in Mountain pose helps us to stand up straight and steady…. In Easy Pose or Hero Pose, we learn how to sit up tall with no strain on the back… In Standing Forward bend, we learn how to bend forward in the most efficient manner so as to minimize effort and strain.

And finally, our continued practice helps us to retrain and rebuild parts of the musculoskeletal system that allow us to maintain and “perform” good posture.  Gradually, we find ourselves standing up taller and stronger for longer periods of time… we are able to sit longer and with less strain because of our better posture (although we should always take breaks during extensive sitting!)… and we experience more graceful, efficient movements that take less effort because we’re working “with our bodies” rather than fighting against them.

I know that it can sometimes seem overwhelming to think about all the things we could do to improve our health.  I’d like to suggest that by simply focusing on good posture, we can take a BIG first step toward better mind/body health.  It’s never too late to sit up straight!

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To begin learning more about how to improve your posture through yoga, visit www.anyonecandoyoga.com… download chapters of my complimentary E-Book on the Home page, check out my 3-Part “Yoga Essentials” DVD set from the Shop or contact me to learn about my yoga coaching and wellness programs.

It’s Time to Take Charge!

Let’s talk healthcare…. But not healthcare as you hear about it in our media and politics (in my opinion, that debate is about medical care, NOT true healthcare!)  I’ll begin by asking you a simple question:  Do you feel “in charge” of your health?

I ask this, because I find more and more people have the impression that something or someone outside of themselves (a medical doctor, a surgeon, a therapist, etc.) is going to “fix them”.  We as a society have relinquished our responsibility for our own health.

Being a massage therapist as well as yoga instructor/coach, I frequently hear clients say things like “I want you to fix my back” or “Can you fix my neck?”  To these type of questions, I usually reply, “I don’t fix anything…. YOU do your own healing.  I’m here to facilitate and support you in that process.”  That’s what all healthcare and medical care professionals are here to do.

And don’t misunderstand me… when I speak of us healing ourselves, I’m not talking about some “voodoo”.  I am talking about each individual taking responsibility to take the committed actions necessary to be healthy.   And depending on what you are dealing with, that may require having surgery or some specific treatment.  However, how healthy we get or feel goes beyond a surgery or treatment – these are things that come after–the-fact.  I’m speaking more about healing and taking care of ourselves in a preventative way.

I guess my point is that we must take back our power when it comes to how we feel – feeling and BEING healthy in mind, body and spirit comes from our own committed effort to feel GREAT each and every day.  It comes from inside of us when we choose to take daily actions to

  • eat well through nutritious foods
  • move well through physical activity that suits our bodies and
  • think well by keeping an empowered mindset.

Unfortunately, many of us lack the proper knowledge to do one or more of these things.  In my own experience, I felt I wasn’t eating well enough despite the fact that most people would consider my diet to be a healthful one.  I have been learning more and more about the kinds of foods that work best for me – that I can best digest and give me the most energy.  So I’m re-training my body to eat differently.

Similarly, many of us lack the knowledge of how to “move” in ways that suit us best and “think” in ways that are empowering.  Now in these areas, I do have some knowledge and experience! 🙂  Yoga has so many practical techniques to offer us when it comes to learning how to “move well” and “think well”.

To that end, I’ve developed a new workshop called The “ABC”s of Yoga Self-Care.  In this workshop, my intent is to not only teach yoga techniques but to advise on how to practically apply them to our daily lives.  In doing so, we begin to create better habits of moving well and thinking well… we begin to take daily actions to feel good in body and mind… and we begin to reclaim our power for creating our own good health.

So if you answered my question at the beginning with anything but a resounding “YES”… I invite you to contact me and learn more about how to TAKE CHARGE of YOUR HEALTH!

Got Tension?

Maybe the better question to ask is “Who DOESN’T have tension?!”  For the majority of us, experiencing a certain level of mental and physical tension has become commonplace.

In this context, tension can be defined as:

1.  A strained state or condition resulting from forces acting in opposition to each other

2.  Mental or emotional strain; stress

Thus we can experience tension physically when parts of our bodies feel strained or opposed.  When we have repetitive or “stuck” thoughts and feelings, we also experience mental and/or emotional tension.

Yoga is an excellent way to address all forms of tension.  Through a consistent yoga practice, we not only train our minds and bodies to release the tensions, but we also attempt to discover their sources.

How does yoga teach us this?  In my therapeutic yoga approach, there are 4 key components to relieving the body and mind of stress and tension:

1.    Awareness

2.    Breathing

3.    Patience

4.    Surrender

It all begins with awareness!  Many of you who have taken my workshops/classes before know that this is the first thing I always teach.  Sometimes, we aren’t even aware of the tensions we hold because we’ve gotten so used to them!

For example, do you find yourself crinkling your forehead when you think?  Does squeezing the muscles of your forehead somehow make you think more clearly?  NOT!

How about when the temperature in the room suddenly drops… Do you find yourself shrugging and lifting your shoulders?  Does this action bring you warmth?  NO!

And most of the time we aren’t even aware when we do these things because we are so conditioned to them.  So first of all, we must become aware… we must observe our minds and bodies and ask ourselves, “Where are our holding patterns?”  It is this type of introspective observation that can also help us to “undo” our conditioned responses.

Once we become aware of the areas we hold our tensions, we begin to breathe into those areas.  I know what you’re thinking, “Sheetal, how the heck do I breathe into a part of my body?”

Its actually quite simple… just imagine it!  As you stay aware of your area of tension, imagine your breath flowing into that area… slowly and gently soothing the area and causing the tension to dissipate.  This is a simple form of visualization that can be surprisingly powerful.

The 3rd key, which for many people is the most difficult, is to be patient with yourself!  Only when we give ourselves the patient time to feel supported and safe will our bodies respond.  It’s like wanting to come to a gradual stop while driving a car, but we keep giving it gas.  If we don’t let the foot off the pedal how can we expect the car to naturally slow down?!

Similarly, we must take the time to stop “fueling” our bodies and minds and instead let them come to a gradual halt where they can then unwind or do whatever needs to happen.

Finally, the last key is to surrender.  Just allow yourself to let go.  Sometimes, even when practicing first 3 keys we fail to completely release certain tensions because we are unwilling to give them up.  I know it sounds strange but it goes back to the idea of our minds and bodies being conditioned to respond in certain ways.

“Muscle memory” may sometimes be so engrained into our beings…. or certain thought patterns may be so woven into our psyches that we must willingly and conscientiously surrender them in order to truly release the tension we hold.

And while all of this may seen logical or at least easy enough to understand, it’s the “doing” that is the tricky part!  Like anything, these techniques to releasing tension take practice.  But, believe me, they are well worth the effort.  In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that the Keys to Releasing Tension are the also keys to proactively staying healthy!

So I invite you to join me in June to learn AND practice these techniques.  Check the Calendar for dates/times/locations in Eastern PA.  And at the end of the workshop when I ask you “Got Tension?”…. you may just be surprised by your answer!

Happy Joints… Healthy Body!

Last month, I talked about Yin versus Yang energies.  And I introduced the notion that we could benefit from more Yin-like experiences to balance out the prevalent Yang-like activities in most of our lives.

This month, I’m offering you the perfect opportunity to experience this!  In my May Therapeutic Yoga workshop, we’re going to learn how to stretch our joints.   Yes, you heard me right…. We’re going to STRETCH our joints!

Now I know what you’re thinking… “Sheetal, you’re nuts!  You’re not supposed to stretch your joints – you can really hurt yourself by stretching them!”  And my response is that you are absolutely correct…. IF you are thinking of stretching your joints in the same manner that you stretch your muscles.  IF you try to use the same type of approach then you may most certainly harm your joints and that is NOT recommended!

Ok – so now that I’ve completely confused you, let me explain further…

At our joints, we primarily have a variety of connective tissue – things like tendons, ligaments and fascia.  All of these things bind or “connect” the muscles, organs and systems of our bodies.  Without connective tissue, we would not be able to hold our “shape” as humans.

When compared to muscle, connective tissue is Yin (hard and inelastic) while muscle is Yang (soft and elastic).  This key difference is EXACTLY why we cannot exercise and stretch connective tissue, or for our purposes – our joints, the same way that we exercise and stretch our muscles.

This idea of exercising and stretching the joints at all may seem foreign to most people.  We all understand and accept that exercising and stretching our muscles are important because that’s how we can stay strong and flexible.  But working our joints & bone is equally as important.

To quote Paul Grilley, a leading authority on Yin Yoga which focuses on joint health:

I have known many muscularly powerful adults who are physically incapacitated or uncomfortable because of joint problems….  Bad ankles, bad backs, bad knees – these are the injuries that force athletes to retire and old people to shuffle around.  Yin Yoga postures gently stretch and rehabilitate the connective tissue that form our joints.

So while taking that run, weight training, cycling, power & flow yoga are all great examples of working the Yang parts of our bodies (like muscles), therapeutic and yin yoga are effective methods for exercising the Yin parts (like our joints).  Both are important and for most of us, it’s matter of learning how to balance the two in a way that suits our own bodies.

That’s why I’ve chosen the topic of “Maintaining Healthy Joints” as the focus for this month’s Therapeutic Yoga Workshop.  The manner in which therapeutic yoga and yin yoga postures are experienced is very similar; thus, including some yin yoga as part of our therapeutic yoga practice is natural.

Check the Anyone Can Do YOGA calendar for dates/times and locations.  Remember… Happy Joints lead to a Healthy Body!  🙂

I’ll take some Yin with that Yang Please!

Most of us would recognize the above symbol to represent the Chinese Taoist concept of Yin/Yang.  In Taoist philosophy, as well as Chinese medicine, these terms are used to describe all aspects of our world.

Yin and Yang are relative descriptors that beautifully depict how complimentary opposites co-exist in nature to create perfect balance.

To give you an idea of their meaning, each can be characterized as follows:

Yin                               Yang

Hidden                          Exposed

Dark                             Light

Cold                              Hot

Moon                             Sun

Still                               Moving

Downward                     Upward

Calm                             Excited

Female                             Male

In the yoga tradition, the Sanskrit word hatha (as in Hatha Yoga), is defined as sun (“ha”) and moon (“tha”).  The principles and practice of Hatha Yoga is one that aims to bring balance to the opposing aspects of our being – lunar and solar, female and male and yes…. yin and yang.

I am fascinated by how these ancient philosophies are analogous in their approach to life.  As I continue to study these concepts of Yin and Yang, it becomes more and more evident to me that our current day lifestyles are greatly skewed toward Yang.

In my opinion, most of us could all use some more Yin experiences to balance out the plethora of Yang activities in our lives!  Take a moment and think about your daily activities…. would you describe most of your activities to be more Yin-like or Yang-like?  Technically, these are relative terms that should be used in a specific context… so I ask you to allow me some leeway to make a point.

My intention is to have you develop a “feel” for your daily life.  How many activities excite your emotions versus calm your nerves?  How many feel hectic and rushed versus patient and slow?  How many are active and result-focused rather than passive and experience-oriented?

I think the majority of people now-a-days would say that their scale tips to the Yang side a bit more!  So how do we bring more balance into our lives when everything around us – the societal energy around us – pushes us to be more Yang-like?

First, we must begin to identify and recognize what types of things may be tipping our scales – and of course, this will be different to everyone based on their own unique set of circumstances.

Then, allow me to suggest some “baby steps” for introducing more Yin-like experiences each day:

1.    Take yourself out off the “Noise” for 15-30 minutes each day.  Whatever your environment – the workplace or home – find a way to remove yourself for a brief time.  Take a quiet walk at lunch (now that spring is approaching!), take a power-nap (and DON’T feel guilty about it!), or even have lunch by yourself and enjoy the time alone.

2.    Simply eat during meals.  Instead of watching the TV, reading, surfing the web or texting while your eating, just EAT!  Really be present with your food – savor it and see if you can identify its flavors.  You’ll not only enjoy your food more, but you’ll become more aware of how much you are eating and when you are really full.

3.    “Get off the Grid” at a certain time each day.  We don’t need to be connected to the world (at least in a technology context!) 24/7.  Stay away from your computer and turn off your cell phones at a certain time each day.

4.    Take “Breathing Breaks”.  When you feel things speeding up with the potential to get “crazy”, pause and take 5-10 deep breaths.  You can even set an alert on your cell phone or computer (during your designated grid time of course 🙂 ) to remind you about these breaks.  It may sound silly… but whatever works!

5.    Incorporate more passive forms of physical activity into your workouts.  Balance the vigorous aerobic and strengthening routines with passive, focused stretching.  Or add experience-oriented practices like qi-gong, tai chi, or hatha, yin and therapeutic yoga approaches to your athletic regimen.  Giving equal time to these passive practices will actually improve your more active workouts.

Of course, these are just some simple, general suggestions and you may find many others that are more suitable to your specific situation.  And certainly, I am not suggesting that Yin experiences are better or more desirable than Yang experiences.  We need both… but we need both in equal proportions.

My point is to have you notice how the Yin and Yang forces are at play in your life…. Do they feel as if they co-exist harmoniously feeding one-another?  Or do they feel “out of whack” with one dominating over the other?  And then ask yourself if you couldn’t use a little Yin with that Yang?  🙂

The AHA Principles – Honoring the Body

When we begin practicing yoga, it is easy to get caught up in the idea of doing the picture- perfect pose. Our competitive minds make us think that if we don’t bend far enough, or aren’t able to touch our toes, or look a certain way in our poses it’s just not good enough.  But yoga is NOT a competitive sport!  And a picture-perfect pose is not the end-goal (if you happen to achieve that along the way, then it’s just an added bonus.)

In the previous blog post, we spoke about having full awareness while doing yoga poses.  By using our breath to stay in the present moment we can really discover a lot about ourselves.  However, this awareness does us little good if we then choose to ignore the signals our bodies provide.  Thus, the next step is to HONOR this information.

I always instruct students to really pay attention to their first point of resistance in each pose – I like to call this “the edge”.  Once we find “the edge”, we just hold, breathe and observe.  What are our bodies telling us at this point?   If the body is saying “this hurts!” or “I don’t feel balanced/steady”, then we should back off a bit, make adjustments and/or add support to the part of the body requiring it.

Using accessories to support the body is a great way to not only experience a pose but also allow the mind to be present in each pose.  For example, imagine we are on our hands and knees doing the Cat-Cow movement – in Cat-Cow, we flex and extend our spines while grounding through our hands and knees (for more information on doing Cat-Cow, please visit www.anyonecandoyoga.com and download the FREE chapters of our yoga guide).

For many of us, the wrists may begin to feel pressure in this pose since we are supporting a good amount of our weight on our hands.  We can easily support our wrists to alleviate any pressure.  But if we choose to “tough it out” and ignore the message our wrists are conveying …

  1. We could potentially hurt ourselves
  2. We will feel discouraged and may not want to stick to our practice
  3. Our minds will be occupied by the thoughts of our sore wrists instead of being present with the movement of the spine and our breathing.

By bringing support under our wrists to alleviate the pressure, we would eliminate the distraction of discomfort and be able to stay present with the pose to gain its full benefit.

The moral of the story… HONOR your body!  Don’t resist or dismiss the sensations that come up.  Our egos may say “tough it out”, or “I bent further yesterday, why can’t I do the same today?”  The tendency is to follow the ego, to compare and to push further despite what we feel.

We think of ourselves as weak if we “give in” to our sensations of discomfort or pain. But nothing is farther from the truth. Being honest and honoring where we are at this time takes courage!  Giving in to our egos only keeps us in pain and prevents us from truly enjoying the benefits of our practice.  The idea is to challenge the body, not to punish it!

So let’s put those egos aside and instead HONOR our bodies wherever they may be in this moment.  Then, not only can we gain great benefit from our yoga practice, but we can truly enjoy it!

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Check out this video clip on “Honoring the Body” from Anyone Can Do YOGA’s Yoga Essentials-Fundamentals DVD.  For more information about the DVD or to purchase, visit the Anyone Can do YOGA Shop.

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