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Intermediate Yoga

Still a Little Hesitant to Go Upside Down? This Home Practice Will Help

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Strengthen your core and build upper-body strength so you feel more comfortable in any inversion.

Build core and upper-body strength and get comfy going upside down with this sequence from Jolie Manza.

When practiced regularly, inversions build upper-body strength, connect you to your core, and offer a new perspective on your practice. The work you put in to find balance on your hands (or head) can help you meet the challenges you face in your day-to-day life. Like any obstacle, mastering inversions takes quite a bit of focus, courage, and a willingness to try, but the results can be incredibly rewarding.

Going upside down with confidence requires dedication: building strength, learning to use your core for stability, and keeping your legs light and energized so they can balance above your hips.

See also Kino MacGregor’s 4-Step Get-Your-Handstand Plan

The first time I found my balance upside down, I realized the untapped potential of my incredible body. I was hooked. But I also found the journey challenging at times. A moment of clarity came when I realized how under-utilized some of my muscles were. We are so accustomed to relying on the major muscles that help us navigate our pedestrian lives (think quadriceps and biceps) but when asked to call upon the subtle muscles in our hands or low belly, we don’t quite know how to engage them or how to use them to our benefit.

Hopefully this sequence will help you wake up the parts of your body that you will need to call upon when going upside down, in turn, stimulating your mind! Be patient but courageous as you search for your (vertical) potential.

About the Author
Jolie Manza is an international yoga teacher and movement professional in Bali. She’s the founder of YogaKoh, a school specializing in teacher trainings, retreats, and workshops worldwide. Learn more at yogakoh.com.

See also Challenge Pose: Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)



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Advanced Yoga

A TCM-Inspired Home Practice to Ease Holiday Stress

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This 12-pose sequence will help you remember what the season is really all about.

Feeling stressed? This TCM-inspired sequence will help. 

’Tis the season of good tidings, peppermint mochas, and gatherings with friends—and also lots to accomplish (gift-giving anyone?), people to accommodate (hello, Aunt Erma!), and more than likely, weeks of over-extending ourselves.

And while all of this busy-ness is due to a truly wonderful time of year, it’s important to get clear on what “stress” actually entails.

See also Ready to Let Go? A TCM-Inspired Sequence for Fall

The Physiology of Stress

When we are in high gear, plowing through a long to-do list to get stuff done (read: we’re stressed!), the body turns on the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), otherwise known as the fight-or-flight mode. When the SNS is turned on and we’re under perceived stress, it triggers energy to be released, allowing the body to fight or take flight.

By activating the SNS, the energy is directed to prioritized systems to fight or flight and takes energy away from (or shuts down) non-priority systems, such as the immune, digestion, and reproduction systems. This is why some people are more prone to illness, digestive upset, and for women, menstrual irregularities during or after stress.

The SNS’s counterpart is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), or the rest-and-digest mode. When the PSNS is activated, the body conserves energy and turns “on” all down-regulated systems.

So, how can you activate the PSNS? By stimulating the vagus nerve: the longest cranial nerve that interconnects the brain to many organ systems and runs through the back of the throat and through the diaphragm.

Pranayama and Yoga are primary ways to access the vagus nerve, because the breath has the capacity to stimulate the vagus nerve through the back of the throat (hello, Ujjayi breath!) and diaphragmatic breathing (a.k.a. belly breathing). By stimulating the vagus nerve, we increase our vagal tone and turn on the PSNS, ultimately counter-balancing the stress response.

See also 8 Detoxifying Poses to Boost Digestion of Holiday Feasts—& All That Seasonal Stress

Interval Yoga: The Ultimate Counter to Stress

Interval Yoga is a combination of heart-pumping, timed movements interspersed with strengthening flows. The dynamic change between increasing heart rate and space for the heart rate to slow is great for a few reasons:

  1. Research indicates interval training may lengthen telomeres by increasing activity of the enzyme telomerase. Telomeres are the ‘end-caps’ on chromosomes (DNA that carries our genetic information) that protect the genetic information and prevent cell aging. Every time a cell replicates, the telomeres become shorter, eventually leading to cell death when the telomeres have been “used up.” By increasing telomerase activity to add telomere length, we are essentially adding longevity to our cells—and therefore ourselves.
  2. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the energy of yin within yin—and yin equals cold, rest, and non-movement. To counter-balance all of this yin energy, we will add yang energy (heat and activity) through movement and blood-pumping intervals.
  3. In TCM, stress affects the energy of the liver, creating Liver Qi Stagnation. One of the liver’s functions is the free-flow of energy throughout the body and to all organ systems. Which means stagnation here can feel like constriction in the body, neck and shoulder tension, constipation, irritability, and being quick to get angry. The best remedy for liver Qi stagnation is movement. Moving the body and getting the blood flowing will move the liver Qi to alleviate the above symptoms.
Try this 12-pose TCM-inspired sequence when you’re feeling the holiday stress. 

A 12-Pose Home Practice to Counter Holiday Stress

The Holiday season is about giving to others—our time, presence, presents, and energy. That’s why it’s especially important to make this practice about giving to yourself. Create a space that feels supportive to you: play music that feels good for movement; light a few candles; diffuse your favorite essential oils; and set an intention to nurture you.

Also, keep in mind that you can customize how fast or slow you move based on your energy levels. Please, honor your body and modify this sequence to fit your needs.

See also Slow Flow: 4 Tips to Polish Your Step-Forward Transition

About our author

Teresa Biggs, AP, DOM is a board-certified Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Yoga Medicine Instructor and founder of Biggs Acupuncture & Wellness Center in Naples, Florida. Learn more about Teresa at biggsacupuncture.com.

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Advanced Yoga

10 Yoga Sequences for Strong Arms You Can Do At Home

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Before you know it, Chaturanga will be a breeze.



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Beginners How-To Videos

Slow Flow: 4 Tips to Polish Your Step-Forward Transition

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Transitions are just as important as the poses themselves. Master this common one.

Ready to move deeper into vinyasa and build a practice that supports you for decades to come? Start today with Slow Flow: Sustainable Vinyasa Yoga for Life, designed by Cyndi Lee, renowned yoga teacher and founder of OM Yoga. This six-week online course will refine your approach to vinyasa yoga through creative asana sequences, essential modifications, dharma talks in mindfulness, and much more, so sustainability and precision are top of mind every time you flow—now and in well into the future. Learn more and sign up today!

We know you’ve heard it before—transitions are just as important as the poses themselves. Here’s one you do a lot in a Vinyasa practice: the step-forward from Down Dog to the front of your mat. And the truth is that it’s often easier to fling a foot forward rather than slow it down and move with precision. In this video, Cyndi Lee will show you four tips to make that transition a little smoother. 



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