Get A Little Uncomfortable

Progress does not promise itself to be easy. Growth is not necessarily comfortable. In fact, sometimes we have to get uncomfortable if we want things to change.

Most great religions claim something to the effect of ask and ye shall receive. But in order for the things that you want to come into your life, room must be made; ergo, a change must occur.

What is your reaction to change? Do you freak out? If so you are not alone, because most people react this way.

Maybe a better reaction would be for us to ride the wave of change and see where it takes us. We must stay aware and be honest of the emotions that come along with scary change, but we should not resist them.

On the Mat, Off the Mat

Yoga teaches us to stay open to possibility. The asana practice does not promise to be comfortable. In fact, if your practice is vigorous, it is often painful at times. Those are just called growing pains.

What is important to pay attention to is our reactions to the pain, because that is often going to be similar to our reactions to change when it presents itself in our lives.

The physical asana practice of yoga is a metaphor for spiritual growth. How we react on the mat is often how we react in life.

The incredible thing about yoga, in my opinion, is that we can grow spiritually and emotionally while maintaining physical health, strength and flexibility through asana.

All yoga asks us to do in order to grow is to remain aware of our reactions to the events that occur in life. Stay present, stay open, stay loving, and everything will work out in the end.

What happens in between asking for what you want and receiving it is a journey. To lose the individual moments of the journey would be a terrible waste of time.

Time is the medium through which life occurs. It is life’s canvas; so it is best not to waste time if we can help it.

Practice Makes Perfect

Since the theme of this week’s blog is discomfort, I will share with you a pose I find terribly uncomfortable. I do it anyway, but it is murder on my coccyx (tailbone).

This pose is called Navasana, or Boat Pose. Full Boat Pose, or Paripurna Navasana, is when the legs are extended, but the pose can also be practiced with the shins parallel to the ground.


If this posture looks like a terrible idea, do not fret. There are modifications, like all yoga poses.

  1. To come into Navasana, begin in a seated position with the knees into the chest.
  2. Place the hands behind the hamstrings, and pull the knees into the chest. Rock back onto your sitting bones. Pull your lower abs in deeply and straighten the spine. The abdominals are pulled in tightly to the spine.
  3. Try balancing yourself on your sitting bones with your feet, or at least your heals off the ground. If that feels ok, challenge yourself to lift your shins parallel to the ground. Squeeze your inner thighs together, keep the spine straight, the abs pulled in tightly, and keep the thighs close to the abdomen.
  4. The next krama, or stage, would be to remove the hands from the hamstrings, and float the arms parallel to the ground. The shoulders blades slightly hug together, and the shoulder joints reach downward toward the hips. The palms remain open. The fingers are active.
  5. The next krama would be to straighten the legs with the feet flexed, kicking through the heels. Continue to breath.

Modifications:

  1. The hands can be placed on the floor by the hips.
  2. The hands can remain behind the hamstrings at all times until the arms can float parallel to the ground.
  3. Keep the knees bent.

Tips:

  1. If it is really painful on your tailbone, as it is on mine, try folding a towel a few times and sitting on it when performing Navasana.
  2. Even though this pose is very challenging to the abdominals to the point where you could be shaking, try to smile through it. Smiling really helps get people through difficult postures.

Benefits:

  1. This posture strengthens the abdominals, the hip flexors, and muscles along the spine.
  2. Navasana improves digestion and helps to relieve stress.
  3. This posture also stimulates the kidneys, the thyroid gland, and the intestines.

Hard Work Reaps Great Rewards

Remember, strong abdominals make for a healthy spine, good posture, and healthy internal organs. Even though this posture is difficult and can be uncomfortable, all of your hard work will bring great rewards.

With discomfort can come great benefit to our minds, our bodies and our lives. It is ok to be a little uncomfortable, a little off-balance, or off-kilter, as long as we stay aware of what we are experiencing.

When the great religions of the world said something to the effect of “ask and ye shall receive”, they never promised the receiving part would come easy. 🙂

Love,

~Amber

The Giving of Thanks

How was your Thanksgiving? I hope it was full of love, laughter and gratitude.

Have you ever wondered why gratitude makes you feel so good? Well, the emotion of gratitude releases levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are chemicals that make you feel good.

Not everyone has a healthy relationship with their relatives. For some, holidays are stressful and toxic.

But even if your Thanksgiving was not full of love or laughter, if it is at the very least it was filled with gratitude, then the holiday should make you feel good physically.

More importantly, giving thanks makes other people feel good. They will in turn hopefully give thanks to others, setting off a chain reaction of positive vibes.

So, try it today. Try paying forward some positive energy and see if it makes you feel good inside. It surely will help others feel good.

Posture: Matsyasana

For this week’s posture, I would like to discuss Matsyasana, Fish Posture.

Matsyasana, Fish Posture

Matsyasana can be performed with effort or restoratively. It is also a heart opener.

As the name suggests, heart openers pull your shoulders toward the backside (posterior side) of your body allowing for the muscles of the chest to open. This posture also opens the intercostals.

When the chest muscles are opened, the back muscles contract, so this posture activates the trapezius muscles, latissimus dorsi, the rhomboids and the posterior deltoids. When the legs are extended straight forward, the quadriceps are also engaged.

 The Practice

To practice Matsyasana with effort, begin on your back with your legs extended. Then follow these steps.

  1. Tuck your tailbone under to broaden the sacrum and lengthen the lumbar spine.
  2. Flex your feet and activate your quadriceps
  3. Place your hands under your sitting bones.
  4. Draw your shoulders away from your ears, lengthening thorough the cervical spine.
  5. Press into your elbows to lift your chest up. Imagine a string is attached to your heart center pulling your chest upwards. Continue to press into your elbows. There is very little weight on the crown of your head.

To practice Matsyasana restoratively, place a block at your shoulder blades (not in your low back) and one block underneath the back of the head (optional). Let go of effort.

You can also place your feet in Supta Baddha Konasana, Bound Angle Pose, by letting the soles of the feet touch and the knees fall out to either side of the mat. Try to relax, breathe, and release tension.

You could even try practicing gratitude here with your heart open, a metaphorical posture showing your willingness to give.

Benefits

  • Fish posture helps relieve anxiety and stress.
  • This posture increases your ability to take a fuller longer breath by opening the intercostals muscles and the chest muscles (pectoralis major).
  • This posture also can help improve posture by opening the shoulders.

Happy Heart Opening!

Love,

~Amber

Remedies for Sore Muscles

Yoga Mala

On Sunday, I did a Yoga Mala, which is 108 sun salutations done in a row. This particular Yoga Mala was a fundraiser I did for lung cancer research. My grandfather died in August of lung cancer. Yogis call a fundraising Yoga Mala a Yogathon, like a marathon.

In today’s post, I am sharing pictures from the Yogathon. Also, below is an explanation of a sun salutation and why we perform 108, as well as remedies to combat muscle soreness from overexertion.

My Yogathon temporary tattoo on my hand. 🙂

My sign dedicating my 108 sun salutations to my grandfather.

Sun Salutation – Surya Namaskar

A sun salutation is a sequence of 9 breaths. In Sanskrit, a sun salutation is called Surya Namaskar.

There are many variations of sun salutations, but below is the sequence we practiced 108 times in our Yogathon.

Surya Namaskar A

  1. 
Inhale – Urdhva Hastasana (Upraised Hand Posture)
  2. Exhala – Uttanasana (Intense Stretch/Forward Fold)
  3. Inhale – Ardha Uttanasana (Half Intense Stretch/Half Forward Fold)
  4. Exhala – Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Posture)
  5. Inhale – Urdhva Mukha Savasana (Upward Facing Dog)
  6. Exhale – Adho Mukha Savasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  7. Inhale – Ardha Uttanasana (Half Intense Stretch/Half Forward Fold)
  8. Exhale – Uttanasana (Intense Stretch/Forward Fold)
  9. Inhale – Urdhva Hastasana (Upraised Hand Posture)

The Sacred 108

108 sun salutations sounds like a lot of work. Yes, it is really hard as it sounds. It took about 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete a Yoga Mala with this sequence.

A lot of people ask why we perform 108 sun salutations. The number 108 is a sacred number in yoga and in Hinduism. There are many explanations as to why this is.

The simplest explanation is that Hindu prayer beads have 108 beads strung together, along with one guru bead. The prayer beads are used to say a mantra 108 times, very similar to Catholic rosary beads.

Combating Muscle Soreness

It should go without saying that performing 108 sun salutations will cause overexertion of the muscles. There are several tricks I recommend to people when they have overly exerted their muscles.

The first trick I recommend is to eat potassium rich foods after the work out or practice, Some common potassium rich foods are bananas, tomato sauce, avocados, most legumes, and coconut water. Muscles cramp up when they lack potassium, so feeding the muscles potassium will prevent muscle cramping and fatigue.

Anyone who has ever worked out too hard, shoveled snow, or performed any other form of manual labor is familiar with muscle soreness and stiffness a day or two after the exertion. This muscle soreness is caused by a build up of lactic acid in the muscles.

The first way I recommend combating muscle soreness is to do some light working out. Warming the muscles back up with keep the muscles from feeling stiff, and movement will work the lactic acid out of the muscles.

Another trick is to take a warm bath in Epsom salts. Epsom salts have long been used as a remedy for sore, achy muscles.

The final recommendation I have is to use a tennis ball or a myofascial release foam roller to massage out the lactic acid in the aching muscles.

Some may have seen a myofascial release foam roller in the gym. It is a cylinder-shaped dense foam apparatus that is used to iron out muscle soreness. Personally, I massage my shoulders and arms with a tennis ball, and use a foam roller on my back and lower body to relieve muscle soreness.

I used all of these tricks on Sunday after the Yogathon to ease my sore muscles. The next time you have muscle soreness or stiffness due to muscle fatigue, see if these remedies work for you.

Love,

~Amber

P.S. My fundraising for lung cancer research continues through December 31, 2011. If you would like to make a donation, please click here. Thank you for your consideration to help fund research and to raise awareness for the number one killing cancer in America. Remember, not everyone who gets lung cancer is a smoker, but lung cancer research is the most underfunded cancer in the country because of that stigma.

More Than You Can Chew

Apologies for not posting last week. Last month, I more than doubled my teaching schedule, on top of working a full-time job.
I am very careful not to stretch myself too thin. I have done that before and it makes living a balanced, healthy life impossible.

Have you found yourself becoming stretched too thin before? Perhaps you are presently feeling overtaxed. Below are reasons to reconsider taking on more than you can handle.

How Stress Affects Health

Our bodies become susceptible to illness and disease when we put too much pressure on ourselves. It is crucial to our health to make sure we have room to fit our responsibilities into our day without feeling overwhelmed.

Too much stress is toxic to the body. When the body is under stress, certain hormones are released into our bodies that increase heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Having those bodily functions elevated over prolonged periods leads to poor health.

Chronic stress makes us more susceptible to picking up colds and flus because it lowers our immune system. Chronic stress also leads to the following conditions.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin breakouts, including acne

This list is not all-inclusive, but it does make stress relief demonstrate how important it is to live a calm life instead of being constantly stressed out.

Stress Reduction

Many doctors recommend yoga for stress reduction, and for conditions that flare up under stress, such as lupus.

Yoga and breathing techniques are wonderful stress reducers. Another thing that I highly recommend is prioritizing responsibilities and only accepting reasonable amounts of duties in one day.

Think of it this way. When we bite off more than we can chew, no one individual responsibility can possibly be done well because we get overwhelmed.

Fitting It All In

That being said, until my schedule changes, I will only be able to guarantee to post to this blog on Mondays. If my schedule allows for more writing, I will post more. But working a full-time job with a commute, and teaching 8 classes a week does not allow much room for writing.

I have heard disappointment from some that they missed the daily posts last week. For that, I apologize. However, I cannot let my health, my writing, or my yoga teaching suffer by taking on too many duties in one day.

Thank you for understanding and thank you for reading. I do hope to get back to posting more frequently as soon as my schedule allows for it.

Peace and stress release,

~Amber

Blogcation

This week I will be taking a vacation from the blog, a “blogcation” if you will. I have a lot on my plate this week, and I need to take time to focus.

I will return to blogging next Monday, November 7th.

Love,

~Amber

Post-Workout Stretch II

A few days a go, a friend of mine asked me to post a few yoga stretches that would help him after a workout. Today, I will discuss Supta Kapotasana, or Supine Pigeon Pose, also known as Figure Four.

Supine Pigeon is a posture to stretch the back of the hips, the piriformis, and it relieves sciatica. The piriformis is a muscle that is often tight on runners. This stretch is especially good after running, using the stair stepper, or the elliptical.

Follow the steps below to perform this wonderful hip opener.

Supta Kapotasana

  1. Lie one your back with your left knee bent and your left sole of your foot on the floor. Keep your head and shoulders on the ground. Try to relax your neck and shoulders.
  2. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh, making a figure four with your legs.
  3. Keep the right foot flexed, place your hands behind your left hamstring muscles, inhale completely, and exhale pulling the left leg closer to the body. It is very important to keep your right foot flexed.
  4. Hold for 30-90 seconds, and repeat on the other side for the same duration.

Deeping the Posture

To deepen the stretch, practice PNF Stretching, or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. That means you use isometric contractions, then release the contraction for a greater stretch. Follow these steps to deepen your stretch:

  1. In the case of Supta Kapotasana, with your right leg crossed over your left thigh, on the inhale press your right leg into your left thigh and your left thigh into your right leg.
  2. Hold the contraction on the inhale, and release the contraction when you exhale.
  3. You will find a lot more flexibility in your right hip when you hold a contraction and then release it.
  4. Repeat on the other side with the same intensity and duration.

Happy Stretching!

Love,

~Amber

Stay Open to Possibility

I have written before that other people’s opinions of your are none of your business. In a similar fashion, the opinion that you hold of someone else speaks more about you than about that person.

Judgment is a dangerous thing. Once you pass judgment on someone or something, your opinion tends to be set. Yes, sometimes opinions change, but for the most part, they stay the same for a long time.

Think of your life as a house with a million rooms of possibilities and options. Judgment is a locked door. So, once you have passed judgment, then being open to possibility is not an option.

Amazing things happen in your life when you stay open to possibility. Opportunities that you never saw before present themselves to you. Also, the you are able to evolve to higher levels of awareness.

I highly recommend trying to avoid holding on to judgment. Remember, the mind will judge and critique as part of its nature. That is a survival instinct.

But, the soul is greater than the body and the mind. The mind is a tool; your soul is the real you. Let your mind act as a tool, but let your soul supersede the mind’s decisions.

For instance, next time you find yourself judging someone, try to just notice the judgment you have passed. That judgment is a direct reflection of the way your mind is thinking, not a reflection of that individual.

God bless,

~Amber

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” -Carl Jung

Passing judgment means “Case Closed”.