An Open Letter to Your Knees

Written by Kari Kwinn on . Posted in Practice

kneesLet me begin by telling you how much I love your knees.

Even if we've never met, I will bet you I'm more concerned about your knees than most other strangers. Why? I teach yoga. And despite what you may have read recently in the New York Times, I care deeply about your well-being, your mental health and your knees.

While I haven't got the space to devote to those other characteristics, allow me to give you a few pointers about keeping those beautiful knees healthy in a yoga practice. 

1. Can you see your toes?: If you're standing in nearly any posture, you need to see the big toe poking out in front of your knee. If the big toe is visible, that means the knee is stacked above and behind the ankle, a good thing. Please also keep the knee pointed straight ahead. Don't let it lean toward the big-toe side of the foot. 

Yoga sequence for anxiety and depression

Written by Deborah Patz Clarke on . Posted in Practice

You’re coming to the end of a juicy yoga practice and the teacher guides you into half pigeon pose. You rest your head and settle in. As your hips begin to open, so do your tear ducts. For a few moments you are overwhelmed with emotion, yet by the end of the class you feel better, physically and emotionally.

Because of its cathartic power, yoga can be an important tool in helping people heal from a variety of psychological ailments. But why exactly does it make us feel better?

Yoga emphasizes awareness of breath. Breathing, the only autonomic function easily brought under conscious control, has a direct influence on our mood state. When we inhale we activate our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight reaction. Our exhales activate the parasympathetic, or “calm down,” nervous system.
 
When we get into states of constant stress our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and eventually begins to break down, potentially creating numerous problems, including depression and anxiety. The emphasis on deep, steady breath in asana (yoga posture) practice brings this system into homeostasis, helping us achieve a balanced emotional state. Asana practice also stimulates the release of endorphins, the brain's “feel good” neurotransmitter.

All yoga postures can help us move further in our journey toward balance, or satva. The following sequence focuses on postures with specific benefits for depression and anxiety. As in any yoga practice, please modify postures to work with your body. Remember that your body, like your moods, changes from day to day and what is easy on one day may feel impossible the next. Practicing at home is an ideal time to explore this fluctuation.

As yoga therapist Bo Forbes says, “Yoga doesn't erase difficulty, it illuminates it.”

Stairway to Yoga: Part Two

Written by Karen Gale on . Posted in Practice

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of excerpts from the book "Stairway to Yoga" by Karen Gale. Read the first part here.
 
Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Standing poses often are used as warm-ups or starting points for other poses. The extended side angle pose stretches the entire body, strengthens legs, opens hips and improves balance.
 
Anatomical focus: Legs, ankles, groin, lungs, shoulders, spine
 
Pose helps relieve: Constipation, low backache, osteoporosis, sciatica, menstrual discomfort
 
Contraindications and cautions: Headache, high or low blood pressure, insomnia, knee injury
 
Beginning level
Tip for beginners: To maintain balance, focus eyes forward or on feet.

tadasana1) Place the yoga mat perpendicular to the stairs. Stand in tadasana with the right shoulder toward the stairs. Take a wide step and place the right foot on the stair within a comfortable reach. Raise the arms until they are parallel to the floor. Stretch the arms out to the sides, with fingers extended, shoulder blades wide and palms are down.

2) Turn the left foot slightly to the right, and the right foot 90 degrees to the right. Keep the right foot centered on the stair, toes down. Align the right heel with the left heel. Turn the right thigh outward, and align the center of the knee with the center of the right ankle.

3) Roll the left hip slightly forward, toward the right. Rotate the upper torso to the left. Anchor the left heel on the floor. Exhale, bend the right knee over the right ankle, so the shin is perpendicular to the floor and the knee is aligned with the middle toe. Turn the right knee toward the outside of the foot. The right thigh should be parallel with the stair.

Proper alignment in forward folds

Written by David Abookire on . Posted in Practice

“Stack your joints.” forward-fold

As students, we hear this in every yoga class. As teachers, we offer this reminder throughout our asana practice. But when it comes to forward folds, it seems we forget this cue in our journey toward the floor. Or do we even know what it means to stack our joints?

Examine the joints involved in a forward fold. We flex our spine, pelvis and hips over our stable knees and ankles. Proper alignment in this position would have us stack our hips over our knees and ankles instead of moving our hips posterior and behind our ankles.

So why do we make this shift? Simply stated, it makes the forward fold easier and we feel more balanced. Mechanically, we end up flexing farther forward when we shift our hips backwards. But anatomically, we are no longer stacking our joints in this position.

“No Place Like Home” – A Visual Salute to Yoga

Written by Susan Currie on . Posted in Practice

dharanaUsually, the word “home” conjures up a clear visual of four walls, a roof and some windows. Ask folks who practice yoga to define “home,” though, and you get another set of visuals entirely:

“…in the garden…”

“…at the top of a mountain breathing in fresh air and noticing the day’s beautiful light…”

“…where my mind is still…”

Everyone has their reasons for practicing yoga, and much is written about its many fitness, mental and health benefits.

Stairway to Yoga

Written by Karen Gale on . Posted in Practice

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of excerpts from the book "Stairway to Yoga" by Karen Gale.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” - Plato, 360 B.C.

My yoga mat sat in the corner for months, taunting me. When people asked if I still did yoga, I lied. I could not get myself into a yoga studio to save my life, although I really wanted to. I needed my workout. But I was ashamed that I no longer could stretch to my toes. It was more than a small blip on the exercise screen of life . . . I was burned out. When 20 pounds began to jockey for position around my waist, I couldn’t take it any longer. I joined a weight clinic and began an exercise regime.

One night, after a workout on my treadmill, I walked over to the stairs in my family room and bridged the steps in a pigeon pose. I was delighted that after a long hiatus from my yoga practice, I managed to stretch enough to reach the third stair. I instinctively inhaled, arched my spine and exhaled as I moved my torso forward, reaching upward to the top step. The stretch was delicious.

Side-Angle-Pose2I couldn’t stop. I moved to the bottom of the stairs and bent forward to the first step in a forward fold. This allowed me to reach down without bending my knees or compromising my back. I relaxed into the pose, allowing the weight of my body to stretch out the kinks in my low back and hamstrings.

On I went, exploring downward facing dog, bridge and sun alutation, all on the stairs. Push-ups were surprisingly easy. Before I knew it, 20 minutes had passed. My yoga workout was effortless yet effective. I was supported by the stairs, but still felt the intensity of each stretch.

Yoga babies

Written by Carly Rogers on . Posted in Practice

Editor's note: This class is for members only at VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa. If you're interested in starting up a new Baby Yoga class at a different location, please contact Carly Rogers: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I’m a vinyasa yoga girl at heart, so teaching baby yoga was initially intimidating. However, it is now one of my favorite classes to teach.

babyBaby Yoga is a class where moms (or dads) can bring their babies – from six weeks to crawling – for some social interaction and stretching. Yoga can help calm their nervous system, aid in digestion and provide better sleep. The class is also an excellent bonding opportunity for parent and baby.
 
We start class by going around the circle and having each mom introduce herself and her baby. The class claps and sings each baby a welcome song. Babies love to hear singing, especially when they hear their name.