Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Short and Sweet Side Bend Practice

You know all those pretty, serene, perfect photos you see of people practicing yoga? My practice is SO not like that. And, truth be told, I don't know anyone who really does have a practice like that. I know plenty of people who put a lot of time and effort into staging beautiful, inspiring photos of what yoga might look like in a dream world—and I'm not knocking it—but I know it's not real.

In fact, most of the most gratifying and beneficial yoga practices I've had in my 10+ years as a yoga student have been the ugliest. They've been the practices where my hair was crazy, there's dog fur all over my floor, my dishes are piled high in the next room, my daughter was jumping all over me, and I had a window of just 10 minutes to practice... but I did it anyway.

Sometimes I have to fight (yes, literally) to get just a few minutes on my mat. And most of the time it's worth it.

The next time you decide to fight the good fight, here's one of my most favorite pose sequences to do (messy hair, distractions, and all!)

1. Calf Stretch. Start on all fours and extend your right leg behind you. Keep your toes on the floor and press your heel toward the wall behind you. Laugh when your toddler, pet, or significant other interrupts you in the most annoying way they can think of.

(NOTE: Those lumps are my 3-year-olds knees, not my boobs. Motherhood does tend to make things a little saggy, but not THAT saggy, thank you very much.)

2. Side Plank Variation. Spin your back heel to the floor and lift your right arm up and over. Turn your right palm to face the floor as you lift the right side of your ribcage toward the ceiling. Feel a big long stretch. Laugh when your toddler, pet, or significant other interrupts you in the most annoying way they can think of.

3. Preparation for Gate Pose. Engage your core as you lift your torso upright and reach your arms out. Laugh when your toddler, pet, or significant other interrupts you in the most annoying way they can think of.

4. Gate Pose. Reach your right hand down your right leg and move your left arm toward the wall behind you. Breath. Try not to laugh when your toddler, pet, or significant other interrupts you in the most annoying way they can think of.

Repeat the sequence to the other side. Good luck.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Q&A with Jessi Andricks, Author of Detox 101

I admit I'm not a huge fan of the words "detoxing" or "cleansing" in general. My personal experiences with restrictive detox diets have left me feeling hungry, deprived, exhausted, and just plain grumpy. In fact, I have pretty much sworn off detox diets because I think that for some who already have some disordered eating issues (guilty!) it can make things worse. However, when I heard local yoga teacher and health coach Jessi Andricks (who I kind of have an online girl crush on even through I've never met her in person), had authored a book called Detox 101, I knew I'd have to give it a chance. I love love LOVE Jessi's recipes! And there were lots of really good ones in this book. And her detox plan is really a lot more doable, gentle, and, frankly, more sane, than many of the other detox diets I've heard about lately. My favorite part was the self-care tips she includes, many which come from Ayurveda, yoga's sister science.

Detox 101 is both a great guide and a great resource, whether you use this book to do a full-fledged 21-day detox or just read through it for some great yoga sequences, recipes, and self-care tips (which is what I did!).

I sent Jessi a few questions about her inspiration for the book and, of course, to get more insight on her detoxing philosophy. Check it out!


Spoiled Yogi: Detoxing and cleansing are such trendy words lately—but some of the detox “diets” out there seem like they could be dangerous! How is your program different?
Jessi Andricks: They really are! Personally, I love it, because it means more and more people are familiar with it, whether they choose to do one or not. Detox can seem like a super restrictive word, and many believe that our bodies don't need to, or that a cleanse doesn't “clean” our bodies any more than they do on their own. To me, a detox or cleanse is simply a way to recharge your body, replenish your personal health (including movement, personal work and stress relief), as well as clear toxins form our body. 
This is how Detox 101 is different than other cleanses. There are some scary ones out there, or super restrictive cleanses, and those might make you drop a few pounds quickly, but they don't teach you how to live healthier – because most of the restrictive practices aren't made for day to day life. In Detox 101, you learn how your digestive tract works and how it affects your energy levels and overall health. You get shopping lists and recipes, as well as a 21-day meal plan. You get three different types of movement with a 21-day plan, and you get 21 daily meditation practices, mantras, and self-care rituals to help you deepen your detox on a more personal level. The idea is to not only clean up your diet, but refresh your life as well.
Black Bean Buddha Bowl from Detox 101

SY: Who is detoxing good for? Is there anyone who shouldn’t detox?

JA: That all depends on the type of detox. Some are very restrictive, such as the Master Cleanse which consists of only lemon water mixed with specific ingredients for the duration of the cleanse, or completely cut off nutrient categories, like a carb-free or fat-free diet. With Detox 101, the idea is to cleanse and recharge your body, without depriving yourself. It is designed to be safe for generally anyone, because you are eating food and probably getting more nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits than you normally would. If you have any health conditions, history of eating disorders, or are pregnant, you should definitely talk with your doctor about the safety of a cleanse, as you would with any other diet change, but you may find that the kind that focus on eating better and getting well are good for any stage of life.

SY: I don’t have a juicer! Do I really need one in order to detox?

JA: Yes and no! Most of the recipes in the book are juices, rather than smoothies. Juice gives your digestive system a bigger break and you absorb the nutrients in it faster than food or a smoothie, because it doesn't contain insoluble fiber. But if you have a blender, you can either make a smoothie and strain it with a mesh bag, or add water to blend it more thoroughly. While it still contains fiber, it is broken down, so you still get to absorb nutrients quickly and your digestive tract doesn't have to work quite as hard.
SY: I’ve read a lot of things that say our bodies naturally move things out on their own without a special detox diet. What’s your response to this?
JA: It's huge topic and a bit of controversy in the field. Many people don't believe in detoxing, because they think it is either unsafe or unnecessary. The truth is, our bodies are amazing machines and are incredibly intelligent. Our systems are built to help us absorb the maximum amount from everything we consume and to remove the things that are not beneficial, such as toxins and waste. However, our bodies were created a long time ago and although we have evolved, it is hard to keep up with the amount of toxins that are in our food, air, and water. We absorb toxins through our skin, our breath, and by what we put into our bodies. Our systems work efficiently, but only in ideal circumstances. After time, they get weighed down, sluggish, and overworked. This is when a detox can help. It can be used to remedy your body or as a preventative measure to help keep burn out away.
SY: In your book, you talk about dealing with digestive issues. How did a detox program help you to overcome this?
JA: I think I'll always have some digestive issues, mainly because I am so aware of how sensitive I am to foods. When I was 20, I started getting terrible stomach aches and pains every day. I would wake up fine, but as soon as I ate anything, I would start to feel sick. I discovered I had a dairy intolerance. Once I made a few changes in my diet, I felt much better. Seven years later, it started up again, despite my limited dairy. I had been in a stressful job, was changing careers, and had just finished training for a half marathon, I knew any and all of those could be the culprit, so I did a cleanse to help support my transition. By eliminating a few food groups for three weeks, I was able to see which ones were affecting me when I added them back in.

About Jessi Andricks 
Jessi Andricks, author of Detox 101, is an emerging leader in the field of healthy, holistic living. Through her training in Health Coaching, Yoga, and mind-body fitness, she's able to blend together the best of all worlds to create innovative online wellness and detox programs, such as her Flourish Series. 

Jessi fuses together clean eating basics, empowering fitness, and coaching techniques to help clients can live the happy, healthy lives they deserve. Jessi is a contributor to The Huffington Post, and has been published in Mantra Yoga+Health Magazine and Yoga Magazine. 

Her mission is to help people live the happy, healthy life they deserve. Get in touch with Jessi at and look for her book, Detox 101, now available in stores and online.

Monday, July 20, 2015

4 Good Reasons to Practice Yoga Outside

Photo by tiarescott

In the middle of warm, sun-shiney, gorgeous summer weather, it can be especially challenging to drive dimly-lit yoga studio or to a gym with harsh fluorescent lights when there’s so much beauty and fun to be had outside. I get it. The beach calls, with it’s soothing ocean sounds and squishy sand and.. why are sitting in front of your computer right now staring at a screen, anyway? That’s right. You’re probably working, which means you’re daydreaming about those few precious hours of free time you get every week. Of course you want to make the most of them and get outside while you can!

Luckily, there are so many ways to practice yoga outside, you don’t have to skip out on your practice to enjoy nature. (Here’s the truth: I don’t care if you skip my class. I’ll miss you, but your practice is YOURS and you should do it in the way that makes your heart sing.) 

There are lots of good reasons to take your practice outside. Here are a few of my favorites: 

1. Enhanced stress relief. It has been well documented that taking a walk outside in nature can improve mood and reduce stress levels [Source]. If there’s a bit of water close by (beach yoga, anyone?) it enhances that effect even more. In one study, cancer patients who were shown a video of nature scenes including sounds of ocean waves, waterfalls, and creeks, experienced a 20-30 percent reduction in stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol [Source]. Add this to the practically magical incredible stress relieving benefits and you’ve got a powerful antidote to stress and all ways it negatively impacts your life.

Photo by Andrey

2. Enhanced brain function. Other studies have shown that there is a real cognitive advantage to spending time in nature. For example, in one study, students who took a test near a window with a view of trees and a lake performed better on tests than those who couldn’t see the view [Source]. function improve enough to make a huge, noticeable difference, but every little bit helps, right?

3. Increased focus on the present moment. It’s true that there’s a lot going on around you when you practice outdoors—there’s the scenery, there’s usually noise, sometimes there are people walking around. One might think it would be a distraction to your yoga practice. But being outside in a natural setting can also help you to be present in your own body. Feel the breeze, the warm sun on your skin, the earth under your feet. This is what it feels like to be in the present moment.

Photo by Benjamin J. Delong

 4. It reminds you to have fun! As a yoga teacher, I try pretty hard to make sure my students are having a little bit of fun and laughing whenever they do yoga with me. But no matter how funny I think I am and how many polite chuckles I get from my students (thanks for throwing me a bone every now and then!), we all sometimes take our yoga practice too seriously. Sometimes all we need is a change of venue to remind us that we do yoga because we really enjoy it, not because we should or because we need something it has to offer us. It feels good to move our bodies, stretch, strengthen, and breathe. It can be as simple as that. What a better way to remind ourselves that yoga (and life in general) can be fun and light-hearted, than heading to the park or the beach.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What Your Yoga Sequencing Style Says About You

This blog post is one in a series of articles all month long on the topic of Sequencing To The Individual hosted by Kate over at You & the yoga mat. Many awesome yoga experts are contributing to the blog tour throughout the month. Be sure to check out Karin Monaco's post on Reaching the Individual in Group Classes. And check in with Samantha Harrison for tomorrow's post, too. Want to get all the #sequencingblogtour posts? Use the hashtag #sequencingblogtour on Instagram and swing by here to get emails with each post to your inbox all month long.

Whether you're someone who unrolls your mat at home or a seasoned yoga teacher who leads multiple classes a day, the order in which you put your poses during an asana session can say a lot about your approach to yoga—and even about your approach to life as a whole. As a longtime yoga class hopper (in more than a decade of practice, I've yet to commit to one teacher or style of yoga) I pay attention to the pose sequence to tell me a lot about a particular teacher's personality, training, and so much more. And paying attention to how you sequence and identifying the WHY can be a great self-reflection practice, too.

Here are some sequencing styles and what I believe it says about where you're coming from.

You always put the same poses in the same order, always.  There are several schools of yoga that teach the same poses in the same order every. single. time. There's a good chance if you always practice the same poses in the same order, your training is in one of those schools. What it might say about you: If you gravitate toward those styles, you're probably someone who loves structure, loves knowing what's coming next, and loves having a plan laid out for you so you can concentrate other things such as those tiny little adjustments that make such a HUGE difference in your postures or connecting to your breath.

You always put the same pose groups in the same order. A traditional sequences in this lane would look something like this: Warm up stretches, Sun Salutations, standing poses, hip openers, backbends, inversions, Savasana. You may choose different standing poses, backbends, and inversions every time you practice or teach, but you usually stick with this general order for your sessions. What it might say about you: You like tradition, structure, and having a plan. You don't want to change something that has been proven for many years to be an effective way of approaching sequencing, but you also like having the freedom to mix things up a bit, be creative, and adapt the practice to how you (or your students) are feeling that day.

Work up to a different challenge pose every time. So you love deciding on a pose you'd like to work on, then letting every pose leading up to offer an action or energy that will help you nail it? That might mean you work predominant on backbending one day or arm balancing another. What it might say about you: You love a challenge, and you like to be fully prepared to meet that challenge when the time is right. Yoga is a source of confidence, connection, and creativity for you—and you thrive most when you see yourself progressing.

You wing it. Maybe you hate planning, and you prefer to be spontaneous. Or maybe you're just really tuned into what you need in the present moment, so instead of painstakingly planning out your asana session, you just, well, wing it. When you feel like a side stretch, you do it. When you're ready to rest,  you call it a day and settle in for Savasana. What it might say about you: There's definitely something to be said for going with the flow and responding to your body's (or sometimes your students' bodies) needs as they arise. If this is your predominant sequencing style, it could mean you're super intuitive. It could also mean you're in an experimentation stage, where you're testing many different things to see what works for you. Or maybe you've just got a rebellious streak and you love questioning the status quo.

Of course, most of us don't do things ONE way all the time. We are all living, breathing, dynamic creatures, after all.

In sequencing, I do all of the above. I'm not an Ashtanga or Bikram practitioner (styles that follow the same sequence every time), but I do often get almost obsessed with my own little sequence of poses and practice them over and over again, until I'm ready to move on. I usually sequence my yoga classes either in the way I learned is traditional or working up to a challenge pose. And when I unroll my mat at home alone, I love winging it and do what feels good.

The most important thing to remember, I think, is that there's no right or wrong way to sequence poses, as long as you have a good reason behind it and you're willing to change your ways as the situation (either in your life or in your teaching) changes.

What do you think? Do you agree with my assessments? Or do you have a completely different reason to sequence your classes the way you do? I'd love your feedback!

Friday, July 3, 2015

5 Yoga Tips to Help Get Your Toddler to Sleep

My daughter is 3 years old now. That means that, for the most part, for 3 years (and a couple months) every time this child has needed to nap or sleep, I've been with her, rocking her, holding her hand, watching her eyelids get heavier as she drifts off to sleep. It's a beautiful thing watching a sleepy toddler drift off into a peaceful sleep. It means she's relaxed, calm, comfortable, and—well, I'll be honest, it means I will have at least a few moments of time when I can just sit in peace. Just a few moments before either she wakes up from an afternoon nap or before I have to hit the hay myself. During that time, I don't have to answer "But.. Why!? Why is there a moon? Why is it night? Why does the pool close when it's dark? Why can't we just go swimming anyway? Why? Why? WHY?" A few moments of not pretending to eat plastic food or reading the same story I've read aloud 14 times already today. A few moments to do things I like to do, things I once took for granted like showering, eating lunch, answering emails, or spending some much needed time on my yoga mat.

I love my girl more than anything in the entire world, but being a parent is draining in every way. So I won't apologize for looking forward to nap and bedtime so much that any resistance to sleep sends me dangerously close to a nervous breakdown. This is especially true if the resistance comes at a high stress time already (and, of course, that's exactly when these things always seem to happen.)

Every yoga mama knows that yoga can really help to calm a restless mind and body, so I don't know why it took me so long to start integrating yoga into my little one's bedtime and nap time routines. It doesn't always work, but it has helped make bedtime a much more pleasant process for both of us.

Here's what has made a big difference for us. Let me know what works for you!

Add a calming kids yoga book to your nighttime routine. There's no reasoning with a toddler. So when my sweet one says "Can't I just skip my nap today?" I've given up on explaining all the reasons why rest is important. Instead I've started reaching for my newest sleepy time tool, a new book by Miriam Gates, Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story. This book has beautiful illustrations of children practicing yoga poses. My daughter absolutely loves making the shapes along with them while I read, which I think is key because it lets her work off any excess energy she has before she settles in to rest. We both laugh every time she falls out of Tree Pose ("This is a hard one!," she says with a laugh.)

Guide her into a restorative pose. My little one loves putting her Legs up the Wall (or in this case, up the side of her toddler bed) before she transitions into actually laying down in it.

Lead her in a guided visualization. The best part about Good Night Yoga is the visualization at the end of the book, which takes her on an adventure floating through the sky. I use my soothing "yoga teacher voice," add a few more descriptions to make it longer (she always suggests additional details, too), and if it doesn't put her to sleep by the time we're done, I definitely notice a calmer, more relaxed kid who is much closer to drifting off to sleep than before we started.

Encourage slow, deep breaths. I often use the Even Wave of Breath technique described by Yoga International writer Mira Binzen here (there are some other good tips there, too!). I don't have any origami boats (and I have no interest in adding origami to my to-do list), so I just ask my wee one to imagine her belly is a body of water and there's a tiny sailboat resting on her belly button. I explain that every breath she takes makes a wave, so it's important to make the breaths slow and steady—that way the tiny people in the tiny boat won't get wet or thrown overboard.

When all else fails, try compassion. Some nights my daughter just can't go to sleep. Other nights, she drifts off, only to sit up and whine the second I tip toe to the door to try to leave the room. Those night when I can't get away sometimes make me want to scream out in exasperation. Of course, that doesn't help anything. So I try to take a few deep breaths myself, remember what it was like to be an energetic kid in a world full of wonder and excitement, and love her even more. That makes me a calmer, happier mom.

See also ...

The Reality of Morning Exercise with a Toddler

My Toddler is a Yogic Sage

My Almost 2-Year-Old Taught Me Pranayama

6 Reasons Every Mama to Be Needs a Yoga Ball