Thursday, October 30, 2014

3 Steps to Combat Holiday Stress

With Halloween coming up tomorrow, there’s no denying it: The holiday season is upon us. And if you’re like most of us that means a rush of activities. Parties, happy hours, and shopping all become the norm. There will soon be glittery, flashing lights everywhere. Holiday music will blare from every retail store speaker. Even if you’re doing your shopping from the comfort of your own home online, there will be a million things competing for your attention while you shop for Grandma’s perfect gift.

Ooh! Look! Someone just liked my Facebook photo!

What was I talking about, again?

Oh, yes. The holidays. And how there’s so much happening during the season, it can be overwhelming and difficult to focus…

I’m a yoga teacher, so it’s my professional obligation to recommend a yoga class as an anecdote to just about everything that ails you (I think it’s in the Yoga Alliance’s code of ethics or something). But, I’m not going to do that because I think adding something else to your already busy schedule might not be the best way to combat overstimulation. In fact, I’ve noticed that many yoga classes (with their blaring pop playlists, neon-clad students, and complicated pose sequences) actually ADD to the sense overload many of us experience during our busiest times.

Here’s what I suggest instead: A simple, 2-minute practice you can do at your desk (when you take a break from work or shopping for Grandma), before bed, or any time you just. want. to. make. the. noise. STOP. (As a bonus, it's also a great way to soothe tired, dry, computer eyes.)

Try this:

1. Take a deep breath as you rub your hands together, creating some warmth.

2. Bring palms to your eyes, and let your fingers will rest lightly on your forehead. This will give a very light pressure and block out all stimulating light.

3. Breathe. Focus on the air entering your lungs. Feel the warmth on your eyes. Enjoy the dark. Stay here for about a minute or longer if you can.

Friday, August 1, 2014

15 Things You're Doing RIGHT in Yoga

Image via Flickr user Stephanie Young Merzel

Yoga teachers devote a lot of class time to sharing how NOT to do a particular pose for good reasons: Sloppy alignment, over effort, and big ambitions can create unwelcome tension and even injuries over time.

That said, if I read one more article about how almost everyone does  _______ Pose incorrectly, I might scream. Can it be helpful to pick apart all the ways we do yoga wrong? Sure. Let's take a break from that and focus on all the things yoga students actually do RIGHT for a change, OK?

This post is for every student who's ever been discouraged when, no matter how closely you listen to your teachers' instructions, you just can't figure out why she runs over to you and pokes your ribs EVERY effing time you attempt Downward-Facing Dog. I've been there. Please know that one day it will all click and you will totally understand what your teacher means when she tells you to "knit your ribs" in.

Until then, though, take heart in all the many things you're doing absolutely perfectly!

For example:

You unroll your mat over and over again. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes it feels like you've run a marathon by the time you've worked hard all day, rushed through traffic, dropped the baby off with the sitter, and finally FINALLY found somewhere to park so you could get a glorious hour on your mat.

You show up with a smile on your face even though someone just flipped you off in the parking lot.

You do your best to listen to both your teacher's convoluted instructions and your body's own wisdom and intuition--which is a lot harder than it sounds.

When you fall out of a pose, you laugh at yourself and try again.

When your neighbor on the mat next to you falls out of a pose, you chuckle to yourself and try not to embarrass her in front of the whole class.

When you're tired, you rest.

When you're energized, you challenge yourself.

When you're injured, you modify.

You focus on your breath moving in and out.

You soften where you're naturally hard. You firm where you're naturally soft. You bring your body and mind closer to balance every time you practice in more ways than you can probably even identify.

You make changes little by little, bit by bit. You know that the the smallest changes are worth so much more than the biggest, grandest ideas that you don't follow through on.

You make yourself, your health, your well-being a priority.

You recognize that your teacher has bad days--you smile at her and you come back the next week anyway.

You let the lessons you learn on your yoga mat spill over into all the other areas of your life: you stand up straighter, breathe deeper, leave a smaller footprint, and treat others with more kindness and compassion.

You are open to the unlimited possibilities this practice has to offer you--both physical, mental, and emotional.

You rock! Never forget that!

Prenatal Yoga in Charleston, SC

Know anyone in the Charleston, SC area who is expecting a baby? Send them my way! New Prenatal Yoga Class series starts next week at Barefoot Yoga Studio in North Charleston's Park Circle.

Friday, July 25, 2014

5 Tips for Yoga on the Beach

The sun. The sand. That healthy sea breeze. The cackle of the sea gulls. The laughter of children.

The beach is one of the most awe inspiring place in the world. Sometimes just a quick walk by the ocean can really put things in perspective: Nature is a large and wonderful place, but we, with our petty problems and worries, are but a small drop in that ocean.

So of course, practicing yoga on the beach would be an awe-inspiring experience.  "When people are outside they feel more free, less stressed," says Melora Morgan, a yoga teacher in the Charleston, SC area who teaches beach yoga classes at Folly Beach. People are more likely to be playful in their practice."Just walking out onto the beach brings an immediate release." Unfortunately, some of the things that make a beach yoga session really amazing, are also the things that make it a challenge. You can't always predict when a beautiful day in SC will turn into an ugly thunderstorm, the wild will blow sand into your eyes, or all of a sudden a hundred tourists will set up camp right in front of the ocean blocking your view and your Zen.

 I asked Melora for a few tips on how to make sure your Namaste on the beach leads to bliss.

1. Avoid slipping on the sand. Leave your fancy $100 yoga mat at home--and don't forget a large towel to put under your old, crusty mat to keep you from sliding around on the sand.

2. Protect your feet. Under no circumstances should you bring a BLACK mat to the beach. The color absorbs heat, and can burn your tootsies.

3. Protect your skin. Of course, wear sunscreen! But beware: When sweat and sunscreen drip into your eyes, it's not a pleasant experience. A headband might help. Or use a waterproof sunscreen that won't run.

4. Don't forget your suit. Wear your swimsuit underneath your yoga clothes. "Nothing feels better after a hot, sweaty yoga class than to jump in the water," Melora says.

5. Go with the flow. Allow the sounds of nature the birds, the ocean, and yes, even the tourists, to be your soundtrack. Don't be flustered by the distractions. Let them bring you into the present moment and more into your experience.

Learn more about Melora and her beach yoga offerings through Serenity Tree Yoga by visiting her website and Facebook page.

Friday, July 18, 2014

6 SUP Yoga Tips for Beginners

Image via Flickr User Neal bepko
Stand up Paddleboard yoga is one of my all time favorite summer activities. If you want to know why it's awesome, read this blog post I wrote last year for Yoga Journal. When I was starting I had a hard time finding many solid tips for taking my yoga practice to the water--below I share a few pointers to help you get started.

1. Find the center of your board. Most boards have a handle in the very middle of the board to make it easier to lift and carry to and from the water, but the handle is also a great marker that tells you where to stand so you'll be more stable as you paddle. That means it's also where you'll want to center yourself for most yoga poses. For standing poses, like Warrior I and II, plant your feet firmly, and keep your legs actively engaged and isometrically pull them toward your midline (which should also be toward the center of the board). If you feel wobbly, start with a more narrow stance than you might if you were practicing on solid ground--you can always go wider as you get more comfortable.

2. Stay low. When I first tried yoga on an SUP board, I was so pleased with myself when I was able to lift up into Crow Pose with relative ease. It didn't take me long to figure out that poses practiced closer to the board (like Crow and Bow Pose) are much easier for balance than those standing poses that are considered "basic" in a yoga studio. To make Warriors more accessible, practice from a kneeling position, with the back knee down first. Then, slowly, carefully, mindfully (see tip #3) plant the back foot and straighten the back knee to stand up.

3. Take your time. You might be able to move quickly from pose to pose in a vinyasa class, but if you do that on an SUP board, you might find yourself swimming with the fish! Go slow. Find your sea legs. Move with mindfulness and care, especially as you transition from one pose to the next. You'll be more comfortable on the board in no time!

4. Be a beginner again. A lot of people take to the waters when they want to find a little extra challenge than they might find in a yoga studio. Fine. But here's an important thing to consider. While you might rock your poses on land, it's a totally different experience when you take it on an SUP board. Your balance may be feel off--WAY off! You might even begin to get frustrated that you aren't able to float right up into an advanced pose like you've seen others do in your Instagram feed. Resist the tendency to compare (or compete) and really enjoy the adventure of being a beginner again. Go back to your basics--feet grounded, muscles engaged, gaze focused--and be OK with feeling fully present and alive in poses that you sometimes check out in during your studio practice. That's a more advanced practice than Scorpion Pose, really.

5. Connect. Yoga is all about connection. So take this opportunity to take connection to a whole new level. It's yoga, so you obviously want to connect with your body, your breath, your intention, the present moment. But don't stop there. Connect with nature--whether you're in a place with dolphins swimming by (my favorite!) or just a calm, serene landscape. Connect with other SUPers, kayakers, fishers... wave at people partying on their pontoon boat even though they're totally disrupting your zen and the motor boat making waves that threaten to send you overboard. Because it's the ability to connect that makes this practice different from other fitness activities.

6. Be safe! This is a "duh," tip, but oh so important! Bring along a life vest. And Find an SUP Yoga teacher in your area.  (If you're in the Charleston, SC area, look me up!) Rent a board that's long and wide--I like the Boga Yoga board.

Bonus Tip: Most importantly, have fun! You might fall off your board. It happens. It might even be funny to someone watching from a distance. So, what? When you fall, laugh at yourself, climb back up, and try again. Enjoy the process.