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We've tapped yoga teachers and creative thinkers in the community to help you juice up your yoga practice both on and off the mat. Check back each day for inspiring pose advice, humorous insights, reflections on food, green tips, and more.

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Contributors

Kathryn Budig Kathryn Budig
L.A. based arm balance champion challenges your practice.
Erica Rodefer Erica Rodefer
Writer and Charleston based yoga teacher tops our list every Tuesday.
Samin Nosrat Samin Nosrat
A professional cook, freelance writer, and teacher, Samin looks to tradition, culture and history for inspiration for her creations. She lives in Berkeley, California.
Aaron Hyman Aaron Hyman
Ivy League chef and yogi has the recipe for practice.
Sage Rountree Sage Rountree
Sage Rountree offers yoga techniques to keep you in top form and injury-free in any sport.

More Yoga Journal Blogs

Yoga Buzz
The latest in yoga news

Beginner's Mind
Humbly learning yoga one lesson at a time

Enlightened Motherhood
Gracefully juggling the joys of parenthood and yoga

Nectar
Juice up your practice; add sweetness to your daily life

Challenge Pose
Take your practice to the next level with awe inspiring asana.

Top Five Tuesdays
Just for fun, find yoga in the small things.

Green Life
Take your practice of the mat with these easy green pointers and products.

Peace and Carrots
Spice up your practice with these yogi-chefs.

Active Yogi
Using yoga to perform better and stay injury-free.

Yoga Diary
Reflections on yoga from our editors




Archives
Peace and Carrots
Spice up your practice with these yogi-chefs.
Active Yogi
Using yoga to perform better and stay injury-free.
Green Life
Take your practice of the mat with these easy green pointers and products.
Top Five Tuesdays
Just for fun, find yoga in the small things.
Wish I Was Wearing
Tips for organic and eco-friendly outfits.
Challenge Pose
Take your practice to the next level with awe inspiring asana.
Practice Playlist
Get inspired with music and a fun flowing sequence.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Ways to Express Gratitude through Yoga

November 22, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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There's nothing like a great yoga class to help you remember and appreciate the many blessings in your life. I often find myself on the commute home from a particularly amazing class thinking something along the lines of: "I really love breathing!" I realize that this probably seems ridiculous to someone who hasn't experienced this feeling, but I am incredibly grateful for those moments that I really appreciate those simple things that I usually take for granted.

Of course, this time of year gratitude is on everyone's mind. We think about how lucky we are to have our families, friends, homes, food to eat, and all the other things that make our lives richer. Expressing that gratitude is healing--and a yoga mat is the perfect place to reflect on and express those feelings.

Here are 5 ways to express gratitude through yoga.

1. Let your intention be to appreciate every moment. Savor the breath in your lungs, the air on your skin, and the stretching sensation in your hamstrings.

2. Make your movements an offering. I remember how thankful I am whenever my hands are pressed together at my heart in Anjali Mudra and when I come to standing at the end of a Sun Salute.

3. Count your blessings instead of your breaths. It's nearly impossible to do this for an entire practice session, but I love to spend one long held pose (Pigeon is a good one) thinking of one thing I'm grateful for with each breath.

4. Focus on the positive. It's easy to get frazzled by what you perceive as shortcomings on the mat--maybe you're not as flexible as you used to be or an injury is inhibiting movement. Make a commitment to use your yoga practice to observe all the amazing things you CAN do instead and gratitude will spill over into other areas of your life as well.

5. Never skip Savasana. Nothing makes me thankful like a nice, long Corpse Pose after an intense yoga class. All the gratitude meditations in the world can't match the experience that comes when tired muscles finally get to melt into the floor. That's gratitude at its best.

How does yoga help you express your gratitude?

From: Active Yogi
Train Your Focus, part II

November 21, 2011

by Kelle Walsh

tennis_guy_211_.jpgWe've looked at pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses to focus on the internal experience (read the post here). The next step for developing focus is learning to concentrate with single-pointed attention (dharana). One way to develop this skill is with drishti, the direction of your gaze. By targeting your gaze toward an object, you anchor your mind, preventing the drifting back and forth that characterizes much mental activity over the day. With your gaze and mind completely focused on one object, you sharpen your mental skills.

You may have used drishti in balance poses on your mat, riveting your gaze to an unmoving object to gain steadiness. If you have practiced Ashtanga Yoga, you'll be familiar with the directions for focus in each of the poses. Drishti is an important tool in stilling the fluctuations of the mind. When the eyes cast about, it's tough for the mind to be still. Resting the gaze on one point enables us to slow down our minds for presence on the mat.

You can also use drishti to develop focus in your active life.

Running Running over trails, you must set your gaze a few feet ahead of you, to keep foot placement stable. (The same anticipatory forward gaze applies in skiing.) On the track, where you don't need to worry about foot placement, you might link your gaze to the runner in front of you, or to the finish line.

Cycling Focus your gaze tochoose a good line. Your bike will go where you look, don't focus on obstacles like potholes but instead look forward and out of turns and traffic.

Swimming Pool swimmers know drishti well, staring at the line on the bottom of the lane for hours each week. Focus is also important in open-water swimming, where cloudy water can limit your gaze, and where your sighting breaths require the skill to take a quick glance at an object, then keep your mind's eye focused on it to ensure you are swimming the most direct line.

Climbing Use drishti to choose a good route. Your gaze can serve to support your anchor to the wall. Newbies: don't look down!

Ball sports In ball sports, you focus your gaze on the ball as you receive it--and where you want it to go as you release it. When setting up a free throw, for example, your gaze is focused on just where you want to place the ball, to the exclusion of everything else (no matter how the opposing fans act behind the basket!). In tennis, you watch the ball as it goes over the net and as it comes back.

On the mat, the trail, the field, or the court, when your gaze or attention wander, gently bring them back into focus. Sharpen your ability to focus exclusively where you need to, and you'll have learned to control your mind in ways that can improve both your sport and your yoga experience.

Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of books including The Athlete's Guide to Yoga and The Athlete's Guide to Recovery. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at YogaVibes. Find her on Facebook  and Twitter.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
My 5 Favorite Kirtan Chants

November 15, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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For the longest time, kirtan seemed mysterious and odd to me. While all of my yoga friends embraced it as something that enhanced their yoga practice, I was left scratching my head. The idea of singing to Indian gods and goddesses in a language I didn't understand was not only foreign and uncomfortable to me, it seemed a little inauthentic--after all, I am a white girl who grew up in the Bible Belt of the United States. I am accustomed to hymns, not so much chanting. Yoga has helped me connect more to who I am, where I came from, and where I want to go ... but I didn't feel like I needed to embrace a whole other culture to embrace yoga.

But I've had a change of heart over the last few years. Kirtan is one of my favorite parts of the Jivamukti class I've been frequenting. The repetitive melodies almost always lull me into a delicious meditative trance, and there's nothing sweeter that that moment of silence that comes right after a long session.

What changed my mind? For one thing, someone handed me a print out that explained (in English) what the Sanskrit words meant. I read it over and could appreciate the beauty and simplicity in the meanings. Somewhere along the way, I also realized that I could sing the sounds and appreciate the vibration without really worrying that much about the meaning for each syllable. In my mind, your own intention behind the sounds is more important than any abstract meaning someone else attaches to it anyway.

Here are my favorite Kirtan chants and a rough translation.

1. Om Namah Shivaya. I bow to the Self.

2. Sita Ram. Sita and Rama are deities who are husband and wife--to chant Sita Ram is to unite with our own perfect masculine and feminine.

3. Shiva Shiva Shiva Shambho. Mahadeva Shambho. Shiva is the essence and source of joy. Lord, the bestower of good.

4. Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. I offer my love and devotion to Sri Ganesha; please grant me success in my noble endeavor.

5. Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu. (My favorite!) May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

Have you had a similar change of heart about kirtan? What are your favorite chants?

From: Challenge Pose
Padmasana

November 14, 2011

by Kathryn Budig

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Lotus is one of the most iconic postures in yoga. It embodies the serenity and beauty that we all strive to manifest from our practice. Some people walk into a yoga room with zero experience and whip their legs into Lotus without a second thought, while many seasoned yogis struggle with even Half Lotus. This posture requires deep external rotation in the hips, which provides quite the challenge considering most us us have tight hips from hours sitting at desks, in cars, or from years of running and sports. The best way to find Lotus is by a series of hip-opening forward folds that we'll go over here. If Lotus is a goal, I recommend doing these on a regular basis. Try the seated sequence from the primary series in Ashtanga--this will help immensely as well. Be patient though--pushing for a deep hip opener can result in knee pain or even injury. Listen to your body. Sensation is great, opening wonderful, but pain is never OK. 

Lotus pose exemplifies yoga--when the yogi is ready, the pose will come. You can't push or break the rules. You show up, do your practice, do your best and when the time is right, it appears.



Step 1:

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Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee and place the right ankle directly above the left kneecap so that the right foot hangs off the side of the left leg. Keep the right foot flexed and gently encourage the right knee toward the ground (never push on your knee). If this is a huge hip opener for you, stay here. Sit up tall and continue this pose until you can sit with ease. If you're moving on, inhale, sit up tall, exhale and begin to lengthen out over the straight leg. If you can reach your left foot without rounding your spine, clasp the foot with both hands. Otherwise, use a strap wrapped over the ball of the foot. Root the hips, lift the belly, and reach your heart up. Keep any rounding out of the spine and don't worry if the right knee doesn't drop down--it's takes time (and patience) to open the hip. Repeat on the second side.



Step 2:
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Janu Sirasasana is a fantastic and accessible forward fold that opens our hips. Begin again in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your right knee and bring the sole of the right foot to the upper inner left thigh. Root into the hips as you take a large inhale, and twist the torso toward the straight leg. Try to line up your naval with your left kneecap. Exhale, walk the hands toward the foot without rounding the spine. Feel free to pause along the way or use a strap. If you reach the foot, grab both sides. Rotate your torso to help square your body. Roll the right side of your waist down and extend the heart. Take 8 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Step 3:

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We're starting to get into deep rotation territory! You may very well practice steps 1 and 2 for a long time. Don't be disheartened by this. Hips take some love and time, as does Lotus! Start again in Dandasana and bend the right knee and grab the heel of the right foot. Draw it toward your belly button then spin the toes toward the ground so that they rest curled over the left thigh. Keep the heel flexed and digging in toward the navel (or where ever it lands) to protect the connection to your knee. You can use a block underneath the knee for support and practice sitting tall. Congratulations, you've reached Half Lotus. With time, deepen the pose by adding the forward fold--elongate the spin (no rounded spine) over the straight leg using your strap on the ball of the foot or holding both edges of the foot. Roll the right ribs down toward the ground and keep the heart extending. Repeat on the second side.

Step 4:

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Full Lotus time! Make sure that all the previous steps are accomplished with ease before attempting this pose. A regular forward-fold practice will get you on a strong path to this pose, so please practice patience! 

Repeat the beginning of step 3 but begin with the left leg in Half Lotus (this is traditional). Once the left leg is as snug as it can be while remaining comfortable, bend the right knee. Grab the right foot and, lifting the entire shin several inches off of the ground, lift the foot above the left knee onto the thigh. Drag the foot up toward the left hip flexor. Once the foot arrives at the crease of the hip and thigh, re-flex each foot and sit tall. No worries if one knee lifts off the ground, it will go down eventually. Sit here for 8 breaths or as long as the knees and hips are comfortable.

Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women's Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam's Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale's The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on TwitterFacebook; or on her website.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Things I've Learned from Practicing for Two

November 8, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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I'm 16 weeks pregnant--far enough along that I want to share my news with the world! Can you believe I'm growing a PERSON!? This is by far the coolest thing I've ever done with my body--and I can get into some pretty rad looking yoga poses (well, I could a few months ago, anyway).

Being pregnant has changed my outlook on a lot of things, but it's also dramatically changed the way I practice yoga. It's also revealed a lot to me about how I practice. Here are five things I've learned from practicing during pregnancy so far.

1. It's not just about self-care anymore. I call it practicing for two because that's how I see it. Yoga isn't just "me" time for me any more. It's not just about my own health and my own sanity. It's something that will help me calm my nerves and get some exercise, both things I believe will make my body a better environment for a growing life. It will make labor and delivery easier (still keeping my fingers crossed on this one). In the earliest weeks it made my pregnancy more real as I got used to the idea that there was a little person growing in there, and now it feels like a way for us to bond.

2. Repeat after me: There's no shame in modifying. There's no shame in modifying. There's no shame in modifying ... At first, I felt really uncomfortable with modifying my practice--partially because I didn't want my classmates to know my secret yet, but mostly because my ego is bigger than my belly will be at 8 1/2 months. I didn't really know that this would be such a struggle for me, but there are many things I didn't know about myself that I've discovered in the last few months. I just keep reminding myself that I have the rest of my life to practice yoga my way--right now, I'm practicing taking care of my baby.

3. Let go of the need to control. As someone who's practiced yoga for the better part of 10 years, I have pretty awesome control over my body. When my teachers tell me to lift my chest or engage mula bandha, I understand it in my head and in my body. But no matter how much I will this little person growing in my belly to kick (I still haven't felt any "flutters") he or she just won't budge. This unborn baby now controls when I eat (all the time), how much (a lot), what kinds of foods (lots of citrus, apparently), when to sleep (as much as possible), and when to pee (about every 5 minutes). And I thought becoming a parent meant I got to make the rules. How silly of me!

4. It's OK to be a beginner. In poses where my toes were once touching, now it's better to keep them apart. In standing poses where my feet were once supposed to be 3-4 feet apart, now are a bit closer together. When everyone else twists to the left, I twist to the right--or maybe not at at all. It's kind of a lot to remember, and I still mess up more than I get it right. This has thrown me off my game in ways that I've never imagined. But I'm trying not to sweat it. I do what I can, go as far as my body will let me, and enjoy the opportunity to be a complete beginner again. Beginner's mind is supposed to be a good thing after all, right?

5. Everyone has advice--ignore it and do what you know is best for yourself and your family. It's still early in my pregnancy, but I admit to already becoming upset on several occasions when people offered me advice (with a little judgment mixed in) about what I should or shouldn't eat, how I should sleep, whether or not to find out the gender of the baby, daycare, and so on. But if I've learned anything from my yoga practice, it's how to practice compassion for others while trusting my own instincts and intuition. I'm working on accepting and being grateful for the good intentions of others, and letting all the rest go. 


From: Active Yogi
When Stretching Is Not the Answer

November 7, 2011

by Sage Rountree

46.jpgBefore my weekly yoga for athletes classes, I like to check in with my students, especially those who are new, to see if anything hurts. The most common answer is, "Everything hurts!" After a chuckle, I drill down: what really hurts, and where? If the student's complaint is in muscles, especially on both sides of the body, that's usually typical postworkout soreness. But when pain appears closer to a joint, especially when it's on only one side of the body, a red flag goes up. This can be a sign of an acute or overuse injury affecting the connective tissue--tendons, ligaments, bursae, joint capsules--and needs to be treated with care.

Two very common one-sided complaints I see involve the shoulder and the hamstrings' attachment at the sitting bone. Don't bring a shoulder injury to a vinyasa class and expect to "stretch it out"! Repetitive  Chaturangas might be the very cause of the problem. Rest your shoulder for a few days, avoiding any motion that irritates it. If it doesn't improve, visit a health care provider to get it assessed.

 

Similarly, don't expect stretching to improve a strain to the hamstrings' attachment to the sitting bone. This is a common site of injury in both yogis and runners. Overstretching this area or quickly changing pace can tear the tendon, and a misguided attempt to stretch it out is only aggravating the situation. Instead, avoid any poses that strain the area, and work to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. Roger Cole has written a wonderful guide to rehabbing this injury.

 

Treat these one-sided niggles proactively, and you'll avoid having them develop into big problems that derail your practice or your training cycle. Soldier through, and you risk both hurting the original site of injury and incurring trouble in other parts of your body, as you alter your movement patterns to accommodate the original problem. At the first sign of injury, take a few days away from a rigorous asana practice. You can use the time to enjoy gentle and restorative yoga, to practice pranayama, to meditate, and to connect with your loved ones.

 

You'll be able to avoid problems down the road when you apply pre-class questioning to your own practice, both in class and at home. Check in with how you're feeling, paying special attention to anything that hurts. If you have suspicious pain, let your teacher know, and sit out any poses that irritate it. The first tenet of the first limb outlined in the Yoga Sutra exhorts us to avoid harm. Don't suck it up and work through it; do rest. And remember: stretching is just a tiny part of the big picture. If you are paying attention to form and breath to calm your mind, you're doing yoga.

 


Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of books including The Athlete's Guide to Yoga and The Athlete's Guide to Recovery. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at YogaVibes. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Ways Yoga Helps During Cold Season

November 1, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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Is it just me or did cold season come a little early this year? I'm a sniffly, sneezy mess and it's barely even November! Thankfully, I can rely on my yoga practice to help me through even the sniffliest of times. Here are a few ways my practice helps me get through cold and flu season.

1. Boosts the Immune System. It might not be particularly comforting when your throat is sore and your nose is stuffy, but studies show that practicing yoga regularly can actually help keep your immune system strong. That means that when you're healthy, practicing yoga can help you stay that way!

2. Eat More Mindfully. If I could choose one benefit of practicing yoga that has been most helpful to me, it would be its uncanny ability to increase awareness. The more I practice, the more mindful I am of the things around me--including what I put into my body. When I have a cold, I actually crave citrus, ginger, and other healthful foods that have been shown to help the body recover from a cold.

3. Listen to Your Body. There's a reason you feel tired and achy when you have a cold--you need to rest! Yoga teaches us to follow our bodies' cues and listen when it tells us to back off a pose or the hustle-and-bustle of daily life.

4. Incorporate Restorative Poses. When I start to feel like I'm coming down with a bug, I take a little more time to incorporate restorative poses to my daily practice.

5. Rest. Here's a piece of advice I bet you never thought you'd find on Yoga Journal's website: When a cold is taking over, it might benefit you to skip your regular yoga class altogether! I've been forgoing my studio classes and practicing at home where I can just lie over a bolster or meditate while my body is recovering. I think the extra rest time helps me get better faster (and I'm sure my classmates appreciate that I kept my germs at home, too!)

How does your practice help you survive cold and flu season?

From: Challenge Pose
Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana

October 31, 2011

by Kathryn Budig

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I've had an uneasy relationship with backbends. My strengths had always been in inversions and arm balances because my spine is not the most flexible in the world. I used to get anxious anticipating backbends and would experience a sense of claustrophobia as my chest would open. It's funny since the deeper the backbend, the deeper the release. I had such emotional baggage when it came to deep heart openers that my body would shut down even before it began.

With time, an open perspective and a dollup of patience, I've learned to love these poses. I especially adore Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (Upward-Facing Two Foot Staff Pose). The shape of this posture breaks away at the years of cement I've buried in my back, leaving me in a state of goofy bliss.

Enter this pose without expectation and don't forget to breathe. Take a deep inhale before you change positions. Let movement come from the exhale. Open your heart, open your chest, open your options.

*Note: This pose is extremely deep in the chest so I recommend a few Sun Salutations along with a Headstand and several Urdvha Dhanurasana's before you go into this Challenge Pose.

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Come onto all fours in front of a wall and interlace your fingers, tucking the bottom pinky finger in so it doesn't get crushed. Place the knuckles against the wall and separate the elbows shoulder-width apart. Curl the toes under as the hips lift into Dolphin Pose. Keep your head off of the ground as the feet walk in towards the elbows. Outer edges of the arms wrap around the bone to stabilize the shoulders. Root into the elbows so there is no sliding or splaying. Keep the neck relaxed and the gaze slightly forward. Hold for 8 breaths and then rest.

Repeat Dolphin Pose. Lift your dominant leg and kick up against the wall. Once both of the feet are at the wall (the head is still lifting off of the mat), bring the entire length of the leg against the wall. The feet, calves, hamstrings and hips are now flush against the wall. Renew the wrapping of the triceps and rooting of the elbows. Do NOT let your elbows go wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep the legs resting against the wall with the tailbone reaching toward the heels. Draw the head and chest through the arms away from the wall. If the neck is not bothered, take the gaze towards the navel. Take 8 breaths. To release, lengthen the tailbone toward the ceiling to remove the legs from the wall. Kick back down and come into Child's Pose to rest.

Step 2:

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Lie on your back with the knees bent and the soles of the feet flat and hip-width apart. Reverse your palms and place them down shoulder-width apart directly above your shoulders. Lift the hips, press into the feet, and come onto the crown of your head. Pause here. Practice hugging the elbows in over the wrists, drawing the tips of the shoulder blades toward the heart, and curling the chest. Next, place one forearm down at a time so the fingers are pointing in the direction of the feet. Interlace your fingers behind your head like you were setting up for Headstand. Once the hands are set, press down into the forearms to lift the head off of the mat. Continue the mantra of "triceps in, elbows root." Imagine shrinking your armpits and firming the upper outer edges of the arms in. Gently practice curling the chest through the arms to open the throat and heart. Use the strength of your legs to help transfer more opening into the chest vicinity.

Step 3:

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Keep the curling of the upper chest and walk both feet several steps away from the upper body. Step the feet together so the inner edges touch. Push into the feet to work the legs toward straight or as far as they'll comfortably go for you. Roll the upper inner thighs down and push powerfully into the big toes. Relax the neck and try to hold for 8 full breaths.

Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women's Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam's Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale's The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on TwitterFacebook; or on her website.




From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Scariest Things about Yoga

October 25, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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Most yoga students think of their practice as something that helps them face their fears, while this is mostly true I have to admit that there have been times when the practice has given me a fright, as well! In honor of Halloween next week, I thought I'd share with you five scary things about yoga.

1. Injuries. In theory, there shouldn't be many injuries from practicing yoga. Yoga is supposed to be therapeutic and help us heal our injuries, right? The reality is, when we practice the same patterns over and over with incorrect alignment (Chaturanga-Down Dog-Up Dog, anyone?), we put ourselves at risk for injuries. That's pretty scary stuff! So it's important to work with a qualified teacher who can spot incorrect alignment and help you correct it early on.

2. Too Much Emphasis on Perfection. Sometimes I'm so worried about alignment and doing things perfectly on my yoga mat, I get caught up in trying to reach perfection in other areas of my life, too. This is not a recipe for success. Of course, as much as yoga has sometimes fed my Type A personality, it has helped me learn to do as much as I can and let the rest go!

3. Revealing Spandex, Athlete's Foot, Plantar Warts, and Body Odor. I'm just saying ... When you are in close quarters sweating with other yoga students sometimes you get to know them a little better than you really want to. But that's a risk I'm willing to take to reap all the benefits of this practice!

4. Being Too Dependent on Teachers. I love my teachers SO much. They're wise. They're giving. I feel comfortable asking them questions about life, not just yoga. As much as I rely on my teachers, I sometimes worry that I respect their opinions so much that I forget to take a step back to find my own truth (which is ironic since that's kind of the whole point of the practice!).

5. Fear of Falling, Looking Silly, or Chanting Out of Tune. We all know no one else is paying much attention to us during yoga class, but sometimes even the most experienced yoga students can't help but look around the room and wonder if our neighbor saw our graceful face plant or knew it was us who Om'd a little bit too long.

Is there anything about yoga that scares you?

From: Active Yogi
Train Your Focus: Step 1

October 24, 2011

by Sage Rountree

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Mental focus makes the athlete. The ability to remain centered, focused, and in the moment, even under extreme pressure, separates the great athletes from the also-rans. Mental focus is what lets us tune out the crowds and make the shot, tune out the pressure and make the putt, tune out the screaming in legs and lungs and keep pushing to the finish line.

We develop this practice in training, and we also work on it in yoga. The first step is pratyahara, a turning inward of the senses that disengages you from all the distractions of the external world and sharpens your focus on your internal experience. Pratyahara is what keeps the sixteen-year-old soccer player's eye on the ball, while the six-year-old soccer player wanders around the field chasing butterflies or asking Mom for a juice box.

For many years I taught a weekly yoga for athletes class at the University of North Carolina Wellness Center, where a wall of glass brick separated the studio space from the indoor track. I purposefully set my mat against the glass brick, so that students could learn to handle the distraction of the runners and walkers on the other side. The unfocused image of people as they passed by made a beautiful visual metaphor for what happens as we begin to focus inward. We saw the runners, some moving fast, some slow, but we couldn't quite make out their faces. Sometimes they passed by over and over and over;  sometimes they walked by once and were gone. Whatever excitement was happening on the other side of the wall--an impromptu race, an older gymgoer with a walker, a mother with a toddler following her--we stayed focused on the experience in our bodies, breath, and minds. This was the practice of pratyahara.

Run through this simple exercise at the beginning of your next yoga practice, training session, or trip to the meditation cushion, to set the mood for an internal experience that will develop your focus.

First, soften your gaze or close your eyes. Even then, you'll be receiving visual information through your sense of sight. Notice it, then soften your awareness further. Next, notice the sounds that are present around you, both far and near; soften that awareness, too. Breathe in and out through your nose, noticing any odors, then soften your sense of smell. Toward the end of an exhalation, swallow, and notice the taste of your own mouth, softening that awareness, too. You'll be left with the sense of touch. Feel the air and your clothing against your skin, notice the parts of your body in contact with the ground, then soften that awareness, too, so that you focus exclusively on how things feel from the inside.

From there, re-engage only the senses you'll need for your next action. If you are sitting in meditation, keep your focus inward. If you are on the mat, try keeping your eyes closed for as much of the practice as you can. If you are heading out on a run, leave the iPod at home. See how this shifts the experience, laying the groundwork for better focus on what's happening right now.

Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of books including The Athlete's Guide to Yoga and The Athlete's Guide to Recovery. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at YogaVibes. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

From: Challenge Pose
Ganda Bherundasana

October 21, 2011

by Kathryn Budig

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This is such a "wow" pose when you first see it, like a yoga party drug. Ganda Bherundasana means Formidable Face Pose, which basically means it ends resting flat on your face with your feet on floor, straddling your head. You don't see the full expression of this pose often (check out page 416 in Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, if you want to see a master perform this particular party trick). Suffice to say, we can practice prep variations of the pose and still derive some of the benefits, including toning of the spine and abdominal organs.

In the version presented here, we'll focus more on the core-strengthening elements, and leave the face plant to the imagination. Still, students wonder how could it be possible to create even this shape in the body. Like any pose, it is very accessible when practiced regularly. I like to say that the impossible continues to be that way until one day it simply becomes possible. I've noticed students for from shy and coy to popping this pose in during transitions whenever they can. There's a lot of joy that runs through the veins of this pose. My advice is to keep at this one. It WILL feel insane at first, but you'll just end up insanely happy if you don't give up.

Step One:

dd.JPGGrab two blocks and place them lengthwise on their medium height. The blocks should be shoulder-width apart. Come into Downward-Facing Dog with the fingertips directly behind the blocks.

Step Two:

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Walk the feet several inches forward into a shorter Down Dog. Bend the elbows placing the shoulder heads in the middle of the blocks. Palms remain flat with the fingertips directly behind the blocks. Walk the feet in like Dolphin Pose, ensuring the lift of the hips. This action is absolutely crucial to achieve the full pose. Get the hips high and keep them there! You'll need this height to have something to kick toward (hips low to the ground won't give you the lift of the pose we're going for).

Step Three:

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Focusing on the height of the hips, lift one leg high into the air. Cultivate the energy of standing splits by keeping the hips square, back of the knee spreading, and the toes fanning wide. Reach the top leg like it's cracked out on caffeine. You need to animate this top leg so the lower one has something to match--something to reach for.

Step Four:

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Keep the top leg reaching like it's just had five espresso shots. Bend the bottom leg and give a slight hop. Once the bottom leg has left the floor, draw it up from the pit of your belly to bring the legs together. Hug the thighs close and spread the toes as if they're trying to grab something off of the ceiling. NOTE: Your chin may rest on the floor as long as you don't sit on it. The shoulders continue to press into the blocks to help release the base of the neck. Keep the core engaged and the tailbone lifting to prevent pitching or sitting in the lower back. Thighs hug tight to suck the energy and weight of the legs to the sky.

Step Five:

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Keep practicing this pose with blocks until it becomes second nature. Once you're comfortable with the supported version you can play without the blocks. Start in a short stance Downward- Facing Dog. Lift one leg and reach intensely. Keep the gaze forward and bend the elbows taking the face toward the ground and past the fingertips. As you bend deeper, keep the hands shoulder-width apart but squeeze the elbows in toward each other. (I like to call this move Push-Up Bra pose--try to smush the ladies!) Rest the chest and ribs on the triceps, making sure that your bottom is still high in the air. Bend the bottom leg and give a slight hop or energetically pull the leg up to meet the top one by engaging the core and reaching almost obsessively towards the ceiling. Again, chin CAN rest on the floor (as you'll often see in photos of this pose) as long as the shoulders don't collapse. Though, I recommend keeping the chin off the ground to keep the neck happy and safe. This requires more squeeze through the arms and more lift through the legs.

Kathryn Budig is jet-setting yoga teacher who teaches online at Yogaglo. She is the Contributing Yoga Expert for Women's Health Magazine, Yogi-Foodie for MBG, creator of Gaiam's Aim True Yoga DVD and is currently writing Rodale's The Big Book of Yoga. Follow her on Twitter; Facebook; or on her website.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Inspirational Yoga Quotes

October 18, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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I love quotes. Especially those insightful quotes that make me think about things in a new way. As a writer, I always appreciate that so much can be expressed through so few words. As a yoga student, I appreciate how one little nugget of wisdom can inspire me and motivate my asana and meditation practice for weeks--and sometimes longer.

I come back to my favorite quotes about yoga whenever I need a quick reminder of the depth and power of the practice. I meditate on these quotes. I develop asana sequences around their themes. Since I've drawn so much insight from the following quotes, I thought others might, too.

Here are five of my favorites.

"This yoga should be practiced with firm determination and perseverance, without any mental reservation or doubts." - Bhagavad Gita

"Inhale, and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you. Exhale, and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God." -- Krishnamacharya

"A photographer gets people to pose for him. A yoga instructor gets people to pose for themselves." -- T. Guillemets

"Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny." - Upanishads

"You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state." -- Sharon Gannon 


From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Ways Yoga Helps in Difficult Times

October 11, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

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You know those days (or weeks or months) when everything seems to go wrong? I've been having one of those months. I've leaned on my friends and family to help me through the tough times, but more than anything I lean on my yoga practice.

Here are 5 ways my practice has helped me through some of the most difficult times.

1. Be OK with discomfort. There have been numerous times when I've thought I couldn't hold Warrior I Pose for one more second, but when I relaxed and breathed I realized that the discomfort I was feeling wasn't so intolerable after all. This is the most practical lesson I've learned on the mat that translates beautifully into life.

2. Knowing I'm stronger than I realize. When I first saw someone in an arm balance, I though that I'd never be strong enough to do that. But over time, my muscles got stronger and I honed my understanding of where my body was in space and I could do it! I try to think about that first moment when my feet lifted away from the floor in Bakasana whenever life seems daunting.

3. Emphasize the positive. A yoga class helps me get my mind off my problems, and it always makes me thankful that I'm healthy and alive no matter what the situation outside the studio doors. Even when my life situation isn't ideal, just being able to experience my breath coming in and out helps me see beyond my own drama and feel like I'm a part of something bigger. That's a huge comfort.

4. Everything is temporary. Poses are temporary. Pain is temporary. Happiness is temporary. Life is temporary. Yoga has taught me that life keeps moving no matter what. And dwelling on how we wish things were different only inhibits us from enjoying the present moment.

5. Suffering is optional. While we may not be in control of the things that are happening around us, we do choose how we react to those things. We can choose to get upset when our teacher asks us to hold that nemesis pose for five more breaths, or we can enjoy the feeling of our feet on the ground and the air on our skin until she calls out the next pose. Life is exactly the same way.

From: Active Yogi
Twist and Squat

October 10, 2011

by Sage Rountree

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We've looked at a dynamic warm-up routine that's perfect for practicing before your workout, when you need to activate the muscles, not lengthen their fibers. After your training session, though, you can take advantage of the warm and relatively loose state of your body to enjoy some static stretching.

I favor a twist from squat as a quick, all-purpose stretch--and a great opportunity to check in with the state of your body, mind, and breath after your workout. It feels good whether you have just finished a long run or a short pick-up game. As you squat, you release your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, and back. Adding the twist works up your spine, and spreading your arms wide opens your chest.

To take the pose, find a squat that works for you. Depending on your body, you might like to take a wide stance (Malasana, or Garland Pose, as pictured here), with knees and toes angled out, or to pull your knees and feet closer, in a tight squat. If your heels don't reach the ground, that's OK; reach your hands to the ground to help balance. Stay for a few breaths, feeling how the breath moves the belly toward the thighs and how it expands the upper back.

To add the twist, take your right hand to the ground near your right foot, and start with your left hand on your left knee. Lengthen your spine and, exhaling, twist to look over your left shoulder. If this feels good and your balance is steady, reach your left arm long and gaze toward your left hand. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then unwind and repeat on the other side.

For a nice variation, find a fence post or a partner, and hold it or them with your hands as you lean back into the squat. Then slide one arm to the support as you twist in the opposite direction, and repeat to twist in the other direction.

When you're done, either sit or stand and see how you feel for a few breaths. Yoga poses give us the opportunity to slow down and feel the body, mind, and breath from the inside out. The more you're in tune with what's going on with your system, the more ease you'll find as an athlete and in your daily life.

Sage Rountree is a yoga teacher, endurance sports coach and athlete, and author of books including The Athlete's Guide to Yoga and The Athlete's Guide to Recovery. She teaches workshops on yoga for athletes nationwide and online at Yoga Vibes. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

From: Top Five Tuesdays
5 Ways to Make Your Home Yoga Friendly

October 4, 2011

by Erica Rodefer

HOME_213_05.jpgIn an ideal world, we would all have a big studio space in our homes. We'd have a nice hardwood floor and a big window that faces east out to our garden. We'd also wake up at 4:30am every morning feeling energetic and happy to be alive, walk to our beautiful studio and practice as we watch the sun rise.


This is not a reality for most of us. In fact, I don't know anyone with this set-up. Many people think that if they don't have the ideal space for a yoga practice in their homes that they can't practice at home. With a little creativity, you can make any space your yoga oasis.

 

Here are a few ways I've made my home into a yoga-friendly environment.

 

1. Work with what you have. Most of us don't have an entire room we can dedicate to our yoga practice. I have a dedicated corner in a spare bedroom that I also use as an office. Your practice space doesn't have to be anything fancy--all you need is enough room to stretch out in Downward-Facing Dog.

 

2. Set aside a dedicated space. While your space doesn't have to be big or fancy, it does help to unroll your mat in the same spot every time. When you get into the habit, it's hard not to walk past your yoga area without thinking about your practice. Even if you don't immediately stop what you're doing for some mat time, you might breathe deeper, relax your shoulders, and look forward to the next time you can practice.

 

3. Put something inspiring in your view. For some people this is an alter with a Buddha statue and pictures of your guru. I draw my inspiration from a bookcase full of my favorite books, magazines, pictures, and other trinkets that remind me of why I do this practice.

 

4. Clear the energy. It might sound a little woo-woo, but when something that stresses me out happens in my home practice space, I like to clear the energy my using my tingshas (Tibetan chimes). I know other people who use singing bowls or burn sage. You could accomplish the samething by simply sitting down to meditate on positive thoughts.

 

5. Leave your shoes at the door. I'm not a germophobe, so I'm not all that concerned about tracking germs from outside into my home. I still love the ritual of removing my shoes before I enter my practice space. It sets the tone for reverence and spirituality--which can be hard to do at home.

 

Do you have a decked out yoga space? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?

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