Archives for the month of: February, 2013

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Usually around this special day devoted to love you can count on your yoga instructor theming a class around ‘opening the heart’. Within the framework of a yoga class it can be difficult to really explain what is meant by this.

Physiologically, the heart is held in the chest cavity- duh! The importance of this in a yoga class is that we have to bend the spine in order to create any kind of action in the figurative heart. The poses that create these bends are backbends and rounded forward bends. The spine has a natural S curve. When opening the heart we focus on the thoracic spine- which rounds forward. So opening the heart happens in the opposite action of back-bending. One thing to consider is that the lumbar spin needs to be in full support of the backbend, so think about keeping your pelvis neutral- or level on all sides. Lift up from the center of your chest, or the space between your shoulder blades. Draw your shoulder blades together behind your heart. In a healthy back bend you will not feel any discomfort or pinching in your lower back, but it will feel strong. Once you are able to create an expansion in your chest you have begun to ‘open the heart’. Often when we do this we may have a physiological reaction like nausea or dizziness. These can be caused by your physical body moving in a way it usually doesn’t. It could also be caused by your vestibular system (an awareness mechanism in your inner ear) trying to adapt to fluid shifting direction. However, most yoga instructors prefer to speak to the more mysterious qualities of opening the emotional heart.

This theory of application generally stems from the chakra system. The heart chakra (anahatasana), in the center of the chest, is an energy vortex that harnesses energies that revolve around love. Qualities like compassion, empathy, passion, self love and love for others are balanced in the heart. When these energies are out of balance we can experience a whole slew of less than lovely emotions like jealousy, unworthiness, depression. But also, we can balance these qualities with some back-bending and forward bending. If you have found yourself coming out of a backbend feeling less than great- it could be worth questioning what your efforts and experiences have been recently in regards to love. Ask questions like: am I loving fully? Am I letting myself be loved? Am I holding on to a broken love? When the energies of the heart chakra are balanced all types of love flow freely in both directions- we can give and receive any and every type of love we humans are capable of experiencing.

Whatever your experience of back bends currently, know that the more you do it the easier it gets. Hmm- sounds a lot like LOVE itself.

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I was at a yoga event last night to assist the students by providing physical adjustments. Sometimes these assists are done to help you deepen your practice, and sometimes they are meant to correct your alignment. Part of this process, from an adjusters point of view, is to first scan and observe the students as a way to assess who could benefit from what type of assist.

Well as I was walking through the students in this class Monday night, I noticed how poor some of the alignment was. There were a handful of yoga poses where bad form was viewable throughout the room. Two thoughts crossed my mind: what are we doing as instructors that is contributing to the bad alignment, and how can we improve the alignment of the largest number of people possible at any given time. Now one answer to these questions in this scenario are to make sure we, as teachers, are teaching to the students in front of us, instead of relying too heavily on a script. Also, there are adjustments we can make to the sequences and yoga poses we are teaching so that people, in general, benefit from the practice instead of reiterate bad habits and poor alignment.

The reality is that form matters A LOT. In the fitness world there is a method called ‘mind in the muscle’, and it suggests that you can increase the success of your results as a weight lifter by up to 30% by paying attention to what your doing. So when you are doing biceps curls, even if you use a 3 lbs dumbbell, if you think about the muscles you are using and connect your mind with your body- your results will be maximized. In the world of yoga this is nothing new. After all, the mind-body connection is the whole point of moving through the poses and breathing with intention.

Bad form generally comes from favoring bad habits, or even a lack of understanding of what the actual intention of the pose or exercise is.  Something as simple as stacking your joints or feeling your alignment can prevent injuries AND deepen your practice.  When we work from proper alignment then the appropriate muscles engage/ disengage to help make our bodies stronger and more efficient. For example, if your shoulders are rounded because you have a bad habit of slouching over a computer all day, then in yoga or at the gym you should focus on strengthening your upper back, stretching your chest and standing upright.

In order to make your form work for you pay attention to the alignment of your joints- they should all stack in straight lines or 90 degree angles (for the most part).  Think of the muscles engaging around the bones to support and create movement. Most importantly, whether you are performing a yoga pose or an exercise at the gym, think about what you are doing, where you feel it, and what you want the outcome to be. A little mindfulness and awareness will go a long way.

So a few days ago I got a text from one of my girlfriends.  ‘Hey there, any interest in doing the Colfax Half Marathon?’ she asked. I remember thinking ‘Colfax, May, could be nice.’ But for whatever reason I didn’t text her back right away. The longer I thought about it the more obvious it got that this was something I should probably do. What I came to realize over the course of the 2 days that I didn’t get back to her was that I have gotten lazy.

Any success that I’ve had toward any goal I’ve set for myself has come from focus and consistency or training. Well, the brutal truth is that the only thing I do consistently these days is be inconsistent!

I am someone who thrives on regiment. I excel at organization and structure. I look forward to making schedules and setting up plans, lists and charts.

I think what has happened is that in my effort to go-with-the-baby-flow I have accidentally become one of those moms who doesn’t put herself on the list. This is a big deal considering that one of the things that kept me from becoming a mother earlier in life was that I knew I was selfish and I wasn’t ready to give that up. I guess I could look at that 2 ways: yay, I’ve let go of some of my compulsions to put myself first which has helped me to relax into mommyhood, or wow, I am the only one who is in the way of getting my butt to the gym! And really I think both are true.

So now that I’ve made it through January and can stop beating myself up about not doing all of the things I thought I would do in the new year, I can get started on some serious goals. As I stated before, my previous successes (of all types) have all come from focus and consistency. So here’s the plan: Every Tuesday, beginning February 5 will be my blog day. My intention is to highlight a different aspect of the Mind Body Battalion Trinity every week to provide you and myself with some consistency. I would like to commit to practicing yoga Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and maybe Sunday.

And yes, I am doing the race in May, so I will have to run 3 times a week. Mondays will be my distance day, Thursdays will be my Red Rocks day, Fridays will be my trail day. It truly does feel good to have a plan and a goal. The Type-A in me is finally getting the structure its been looking for.