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8 Yoga-Teacher Led Service Orgs to Pay Attention to Right Now

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These yoga teachers are using their platforms to give back to the community in necessary and inspiring ways.

The yoga community has no shortage of selfless souls dedicated to doing good work—after all, being of service is what yoga’s all about. And while we’re the first to throw appreciation toward the stellar work being done by the Giveback Yoga Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Yoga Service Council, we’re here cheering on the underdogs, too. Here are six up-and-coming yoga-teacher founded organizations that are on our radar—and we think should be on yours, too.

1. Desmond’s Friends

Yoga teacher Megan Vandyke created Desmond’s Friends after losing her son just two hours after giving birth. The fundraiser initially set out to raise enough money to donate another CuddleCot—a cooling system that allowed Desmond to remain with Vandyke and her husband in the hospital for three days rather than immediately being taken to a mortuary—to their local hospital in Murfreesboro Tennessee. “In the US, there are more than 23,000 infant deaths a year—about 6 out of every 1,000 live births, which does not even account for stillbirths,” Vandyke wrote on her GoFundMe page. “[The Cuddle Cot] is about giving parents choices and reassuring them that they can spend time with their baby.” Since reaching their goal for the first Cuddle Cot in July, the couple have set out to establish an official nonprofit to continue their work helping other parents facing heartbreaking loss.

2. Embody Love Movement

Motivated to empower girls and women to love themselves and evoke positive change in the world, the Embody Love Movement spearheads initiatives such as awareness campaigns for school kids that support positive self-talk and non-judgmental attitudes, self-love transformational workshops to teardown media-perpetuated myths and bolster self-worth and purpose, and a summer camp where “girls ages 9-12 are given the opportunity to move, breathe, be creative and find joy in the bodies they’re in today.”

3. The Aleksander Fund

The Aleksander Fund was created by yoga instructor and author Jennifer Pastiloff to help bring women on her retreats who are in need of extra emotional support and healing—specifically those who have lost a child. Pastiloff created the scholarship to honor the late son of her friend and reader Julia Anderson. After initially raising money for Anderson to attend one of her retreats in Italy, the power of the experience led Anderson to want to pay it forward, and thus, the Aleksander Fund was born. You can donate here and can apply to the scholarship by emailing scholarship@jenniferpastiloff.com with Aleksander Fund in the subject line.

4. Bent on Learning

Bent On Learning was founded in 2001 by yoga teachers Anne Desmond, Jennifer Ford, and Courtney McDowell. The nonprofit is committed to teaching yoga to New York City public school children, delivering yoga and personal mats to as many kids as possible—right in their classrooms during their school day. The organization has reached up to 18,000 children in the past 15 years and continues to spread light through yoga throughout New York.

5. Purple Dog Yoga Project

Teacher Kate Berlin started the Purple Dot Yoga Project to support and empower people affected by domestic violence through yoga practice and philosophy. Their teachers specialize in Trauma Informed Yoga and provide free classes at domestic violence shelters and at studio partners in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, and California. Learn more, donate, or become a volunteer here.

6. Yoga Gangsters

Founded by yoga teacher Terri Cooper, Yoga Gangsters mission is to raise-up youth through yoga, providing free classes to kids in crisis, be it schools, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, rehabs, and foster care. The organization aims to address the symptoms of trauma and poverty by using yoga to deliver messages of self-empowerment, self-respect, self-control, and self-awareness.

7. Eat Breathe Thrive

Eat Breathe Thrive was created by Chelsea Roff, a yoga teacher who found strength to overcome her eating disorder from yoga and the community. The organization provides programs for others suffering with similar disorders and teaches critical skills for long-term recovery through yoga and an integrative, tried-and-true approach to healing.

8. The Dharma Project

The Dharma Project was founded in 2016 in Atlanta and brings mindfulness and yoga to communities that experience high levels of stress and trauma. On a mission to diversify the people who teach and benefit from these practices, the organization has teamed up with local institutions such as the Decatur Housing Authority, the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta and others to bring yoga to more than 150 community members in the Atlanta metro area.



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Nicole Cardoza Is Changing the Face of Wellness

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Nicole Cardoza is making the world a little bit nicer by bringing yoga to kids in schools and altering the face of wellness.

Nicole Cardoza

Imagine if all playground disputes were dissolved by group meditation and breath work. What if students could coach themselves and others through the stress of a big test with mindfulness techniques? How many fewer road-rage incidents and hostile Twitter rants would there be if elementary schools gave kids the tools to manage their emotions—to be kinder, wiser, more mindful, well-adjusted people—from the start?

That’s the environment Nicole Cardoza is cultivating through her nonprofit Yoga Foster, bringing yoga into elementary schools by offering teachers the training, lesson plans, and resources they need to practice with their students—many of whom come from low-income families and struggle with grown-up problems like hunger and sleep deprivation. “Yoga is a practice of self-inquiry,” Cardoza says. “And that’s not something that’s often taught to children or in schools.” But hopefully that will change. In just five years, more than 60,000 students in 2,500 classrooms across the United States have benefited from Yoga Foster—improving flexibility, strength, coordination, and concentration, and instilling a sense of calmness and relaxation.

“I love the idea of making yoga equitable and accessible from the get-go,” says the 30-year-old social entrepreneur, “so it isn’t introduced to future generations as something exclusive that comes with privilege—something that only certain people with certain bodies and financial capacities are able to practice.” Kids who take up yoga are much more wellness-conscious as they grow, she says: “They can then continue to advocate to make sure the practice remains as accessible as it was when they were in school and they did it between recess and reading in the afternoon.” 

See also This Nonprofit in India is Changing Children’s Lives Through Yoga

And that may be the crux of Cardoza’s work: She has a few more tricks up her sleeve when it comes to egalitarianism. Dahla, her money-positivity platform for women, offers resources for empowerment and financial freedom through workshops and curated editorial content. “My own relationship with money has caused me a significant amount of stress and anxiety,” she says. “I started practicing yoga when I was broke, living in New York City, and trying to get by as a student. Then I very quickly became the executive director of a nonprofit where my job is to ask people for money all the time! Plenty of factors were making me uncomfortable: not getting paid as much as my peers, my own social identity, and, historically, the way money has played a role in my family. I started interviewing women and I found that no matter how much they were making, they still had a lot of distress around wealth or lack thereof. It wasn’t just me. So Dahla focuses on destigmatizing the shame and guilt around money and offering women opportunities to learn about personal finances.”

See also One Yoga Teacher’s 3 Lessons We Could All Learn About Making Money

And with money comes power and influence, Cardoza says, so she’s doing her best to help elevate diverse new leaders—particularly women and people of color. She recently launched Reclamation Ventures, a fund that will support people like herself who are eager to make it easier to access yoga, mindfulness, and additional wellness practices through products, spaces, and other initiatives. “I definitely think that a redistribution of wealth and capital in the industry can help diversify this practice,” she says. “There’s incredible potential for representing voices and perspectives that deserve to be heard.”

Reclamation Ventures is accepting applications for a $5,000 impact grant designed for what Nicole calls “an underestimated entrepreneur” who is working to close the wellness gap. For more information, to apply, or to make a donation, visit reclamationventures.co. 

Nicole Cardoza

Practice – Finding Abundance

Try this short meditation when you need a reminder that you are, and have, enough.

I come back to this meditation when­ever I feel depleted in some way—from what’s happening in the world or on social media, or if I simply haven’t been able to cultivate the energy I need to get through the day. With this exercise, we remind ourselves of all the things that bring us joy, wonder, and awe. I hope you enjoy it.

First, find a comfortable seated position. Notice how your body feels, connected to the earth, in whichever way you choose, and allow yourself to be here, in this moment, in this breath. How does it feel to be here now? It may feel scary or uncomfortable or just right. Allow it to be without judgment, without shame. Notice how the present feels in your breath. Allow your breaths to be short and shallow, or long and deep. And as you breathe, notice if you have space for a little bit more air with every inhalation, perhaps drawing in and out through your nose. Give yourself permission to take in a little bit more air, and release it. Allow your breath to fill in through your nose, through your lungs, down into your belly, and then out again, exploring all of the space and capacity that you have.

See also Everything You Need to Know About Meditation Posture

Fill yourself with breath and then gently let it go. See if you can give yourself more time, allowing for a few more seconds to slow your inhalation and exhalation, making the most of each magical moment of breath.

Now with each inhalation, allow your body to fill the space around you, drawing up through the crown of your head, breathing into the widest parts of your shoulders. Allow your chest and belly to expand into the room. And with every exhalation, connect more deeply with the earth. Relax your muscles, soften your bones, and let the earth hold you a bit more with each breath out. Take a couple more breaths here. Allow your breath and body to fill the space inside and around you. Let this space help you to expand. If at any point you notice yourself thinking about tomorrow, or yesterday, just come back here, if only for a moment. You deserve every inch of this present space. Take a deep, full breath in and let a long, slow breath out. Again, take a big breath in, fill the space inside and out, and then exhale.

See also Find Your Meditation Style With These 7 Practices

On your next breath in, think of something or someone who makes you feel full, rich, and whole. Imagine this person or thing in your mind, and notice how it makes you feel. Breathe it in. Draw it into every part of your being. Let it fill you from your chest to your belly to the top of your head and the sides of your shoulders. With every exhalation, let it sink in and move through you. If this feels good, take a few more breaths, allowing your body and breath to move with this experience, with the emotions. Let them all move through, savoring every second, right here, right now. Let each breath fill you like golden honey from a cup, your sunshine on a warm day. Draw it in with every breath, allowing it to settle with every exhalation. Take all the time you need here. Let yourself overflow. Notice how it feels to fill every part of you, even spaces that might feel empty or left behind.

At your own pace, slowly begin to move the parts of your body that feel ready. Perhaps wiggle your fingers, your toes, or your shoulders. Notice the sounds you hear. Notice if your body or breath feel different than they did before. Allow yourself to continue in the present moment, full and at ease. 

See also 5 Solutions to Common Meditation Excuses + Fears

All proceeds from this issue supports @nicoleacardoza’s fund that invests in underestimated entrepreneurs in wellness. Learn more @reclamationventures.

About our expert

Nicole Cardoza is a nomadic yoga teacher, social entrepreneur, wellness-reclamation pioneer, and nonprofit executive director. She travels the world building platforms that make wellness more accessible. In 2017, she made the Forbes “30 Under 30” list for her work in education. Find more meditations at nicoleacardoza.com. 



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Spine Anatomy: How to Prevent and Alleviate Back Pain

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Don’t miss these strategies for supporting spinal health and keeping pain at bay.

Vertebral column

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 8 out of 10 people, according to the National Institutes of Health. The good news? Yoga-based therapeutics are affordable and accessible ways to alleviate and prevent back pain—acute or chronic—by improving the quality of your movements and by helping the left, right, front, and back sides of your body work together in a balanced way, on and off the mat.

First, it’s critical to understand good posture and put it to use; poor posture often leads to back pain. You can figure out if your vertebral column and pelvis are neutral—critical to good posture—by using several benchmarks. To learn, let’s look at Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

  • The vertebral column is most stable when aligned in its normal curves. Generally speaking, and in relation to the front of the body, the neck and low back display concave curves (lordosis), while the upper and middle back together display a convex curve (kyphosis), as does the sacrum.
     
  • The sacrum is a curved, bumpy bone that angles in toward the body at about 30 degrees, beginning at L5/S1; it does not point straight down. 
  • The pelvic rim, or iliac crest, which marks the top of the pelvis, is fairly level. 
  • The plumb line runs from the center of the ear opening (external auditory meatus), through the shoulder, outer hip (greater trochanter), outer knee, and outer ankle (lateral malleolus). 
  • The cavities (“open” spaces) of your pelvis, belly, chest, and head feel balanced in relation to each other. 

See also Anatomy of the Spine

Once you understand proper posture, consider two key questions during asana practice: Does a body part need space? Does a body part need support? It could need both. Begin by creating space: Reduce the size of a movement or pose. For example, someone who habitually sits with a flattened or rounded back often experiences pain in back extensions. That means simply standing with normal curves might feel like a backbend; thus, Tadasana is the first backbending pose for them. Sometimes creating support helps: Instead of practicing Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) with the pelvis lifted, do it with a folded blanket supporting the bottom of the shoulder blades to the hips.

Bear in mind that seated asana are more likely to cause back injuries than standing, supine, or prone asana, if your posture is poor or you’re unable to engage the muscles of your legs and buttocks. Avoid them entirely if you have low back pain or disc injuries, and instead do other poses that achieve similar ends. For example, to stretch the hamstrings, practice Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) instead of Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). If you have a disc injury or sacroiliac joint dysfunction, avoid forward folds and twists, especially seated twists. It’s much safer to adapt twists to standing. Marichyasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi) can be practiced with a chair at the wall, for instance. If you practice seated twists, you must allow your pelvis to move in order to maintain the form and force closure of the sacroiliac joints and to spread compression more evenly through the intervertebral discs. Bharadvajasana can be a safe seated twist, as long as the pelvis is not anchored to the floor. Gentle, small-range back extensions may help reduce disc-related pain and dysfunction. Salabhasana (Locust Pose) can be useful for developing strength in the back body and reducing load in the low back. It can be practiced with asymmetry to reduce strain and gradually build strength.

See also What You Need to Know About Your Thoracic Spine

Key structures of the vertebral column explain how your neck and back move.

Ride the wave

Intervertebral discs and articulating facet joints, shown left (in teal) separate each moveable spinal segment of the vertebral column (except C1/C2). The discs create space between the vertebral bodies, allowing range of motion. The facet joints are bony connections between each vertebral body that guide direction of movement. They become more vertically oriented as you travel down the vertebral column. Generally, the more vertically oriented the facet joint is, the less range of motion you have in side-bending and rotation. Facet joints have a specific orientation in each region of the vertebral column:

Cervical: Almost horizontal. This orientation allows for a high degree of mobility, which is why the neck is capable of flexion, extension, side-bending, and rotation—as independent and coupled movements.

Thoracic: Almost vertical. This orientation allows for a high degree of rotation (limited by the rib cage), as well as flexion and some extension.

Lumbar: Vertical. This orientation allows for a high degree of flexion and extension, with limited side-bending and rotation.

Neighboring upper and lower facet joints differ in orientation at the spine’s three transitional segments, creating greater directional movement capability—and more potential for injury: C7/T1, T12/L1, L5/S1.

See also Yin Yoga 101: Is It Safe to Compress the Spine in a Yin Pose?

Class Smarts

Dialogue between yoga teachers and students helps prevent back injuries.

Students: If you have been diagnosed with bulging or herniated discs, or experience radiating pain, numbness, tingling, or chronic muscle tightness, tell your yoga teacher before class. It is helpful to know the segmental level of an injury; for example, a bulging disc at L5/S1. Symptoms of numbness and tingling are of particular concern because they can indicate nerve damage that may affect function. Also share how long you’ve experienced symptoms and when you were evaluated by a licensed health care provider. If you do not have a diagnosis, please visit your doctor before you begin any yoga classes, especially if your pain is acute or has lasted longer than three months. Keep in mind that yoga teachers are not licensed health care providers. And health care workers who teach yoga abide by the ethical and professional boundaries created by their scope of practice, and do not diagnose on the mat.

Teachers: If a student says they feel pain, numbness, or tingling, take them at their word. If you don’t know how to proceed, teach what you know with an explicit invitation to opt out, or refer the student to a more experienced instructor with expertise in asana-based therapeutics (and continue to study anatomy, kinesiology, and asana-based therapeutics; education is empowering, so nerd it up!).

See also Anatomy 101: Why Anatomy Training is Essential for Yoga Teachers

About our Expert

Mary Richards has been practicing yoga for almost 30 years and travels around the country teaching anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Mary, a hard-core movement nerd and former NCAA athlete, has a master’s degree in yoga therapy. Learn more at maryrichardsyoga.com.



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Mercury Retrograde Is Here During the Midst of Eclipse Season—These Six Yogis Will Help You Get Through The Chaos

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These six yogis you should follow will help you stay in alignment with the stars during this chaotic time.

Mercury Retrograde went into full effect July 7 and will be lingering around until July 31. While Mercury RX is usually doted as a time to avoid contractual agreements and long term commitments, is responsible for tech glitches and malfunctions, and is seen as a time that will wreck havoc over our lives, this is actually a great time for an inward journey and deep self-reflection. These six yogis you should follow will help you stay in alignment with the stars during this chaotic time. 

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1. Nina Yoga

“Cancer month, dig down in your roots! Cancer is the sign that connects us with our roots, our family and culture. now wonder why my consciousness got me there. Every person has a family tree, know it or not.Mine is very colorful, with different cultures and races interconnected in one body now. The richer the tree, the richer the personality I believe.

This month is an opportunity for us to know what makes us feel connected, belong and be part of s family, cause that’s what’s coming with LEO next. Out Identity. Family is the pre-set for us to create our personality and identity.

In order to go through that process of “becoming” & “to be who we are” fully and completely, we have to do a bit of work. First deconstruct yourself, start digging deep down inside. Learn who you are. You’ll find that you are not alone, you come from a family, a tree… so how is that tree? Is it healthy ? is it sick? Once we figure that out , then ask the same about culture. It represents me? not? Do I feel a part of it? not? Then about your country and at the very end, ask the same question about your race and then the human race. By honestly examining ourselves we can make some change for the better if necessary. With the eclipse a new cycle of six months has began relating to all this matters, now is the time to start moving to a different way. We are entering into a new space of possibilities and opportunities to change, individually and collectively. It’s been too long , too wrong.

Is obvious that things in the world need to change, now the time begins. Let’s do our work , lets learn who we really are and what we really want for us and the world. and this beautiful blue planet.”

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2. Cameron Allen

“Astrology and yoga. I never really see them as separate, they are always in union, except when I’m trying to relate to others. ASTROLOGY IS YOGA from the perspective of my practice.

Reflecting on it through some of the limbs. Yama is the literal basis of how I practice astrology. Niyama is how I choose to attune to the true Self for myself. Sit over your chart in the morning, what is the energetic overlay for the day? Tap in by doing pranayama. I’ve been doing lunar breathing to align myself with Mercury being in Cancer conjunct the north node. Mercury can be the monkey mind, the north node can bring excess, and Cancer is ruled by the moon. Are we calm enough to think about our emotions and make choices from a space of emotional security during times in which safety doesn’t seem to exist? When the meditation is over I practice pratyahara and more pranayama. Laying down to do deep abdominal breathing while attuning myself to the energy of Mercury and Cancer even more. Cancer rules the stomach and Mercury rules the nervous system so I awaken the energetics within my being because I directly experience the lack of separation.

It has me thinking about astrology and yoga and how they are usually presented in pieces.

Most of the time when people think about yoga, they really mean asana yoga because in the mainstream it has been reduced to stretching practices that are fuel to our vanity which causes the opposite of what yoga truly is (from my understanding and perspective). Astrology is no different on some level, reducing people down to their sun sign when most do not even know what a rising sign is. I have no quarrel with this anymore because it hopefully is the prelude to a deepening process. But I do wish to extend an invitation to everyone to go tune in.

What are the 8 limbs of yoga?

Where were the stars when you were born?

Feeling thankful for the gnosis that pranayama is Mercury. Work your astral body.”

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3. Yazamin Adibi

“Spirit never put a cap on your potential. So why would you? Spirit, the cosmos, and our body actively listen to every tiny thought, gesture, pattern and intention we whirl into the ether. New moons are potent for activation + initiations. SO If you had no limits (at all), no breaks, no holds, what would your process, outcome, and feelings of connecting to your dream self look like? Take one actual (tiny or big) step today in that direction. Then take another tomorrow , day after, day after. By the full moon (in 2 weeks) you’ll have cues on how to refine your process or intention. A lot of you already do this subconsciously.”

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4. Astro Yogis

“I have chosen Sukhasana or, easy pose as the yoga pose to pair with the moons energy. This is one of my favorite poses and provides a place for me to close my eyes, look within and give myself that self love and care through prayer, reflection and meditation. In this pose I connect to the universe and my highest self, I honor myself and my journey and express all of my gratitude. This pose creates a sacred space for you to be, let be, and breathe. I invite you all to give this a try for 2-5 minutes. Sit in a comfortable crossed legged seated position (I am in an advanced expression of this pose here), you may sit on a pillow or bolster for added comfort. Lay your palms facing up on your knees to allow yourselves to receive the peaceful energy and simply connect to your breath. Focus on gratitude and let whatever comes, come.”

5. Elisa Rose

“In Cancer season, the theme being played out is allowing healthy boundaries for our sensitivities and emotions to arise and teach us/others what needs to be processed, experienced, or felt. But the patriarchal world we’ve been living in for generations has taught us to fear, disown, suppress, and apologize for our emotionality. And our BIG feelings are a part of who we are. Yes, they fluctuate and we are NOT the emotions themselves, BUT we do need to allow safe space to feel them through so they don’t become stuck in the body and nervous system recreating and recycling trauma pathways and patterns. AND those tend to come out like big ol’ zit THROUGH body symptoms and illness. When these symptoms arise, it’s a call from our soul/the universe to LISTEN and PAY ATTENTION so that you can realign yourself back to our innate wisdom, truth, and authenticity. To come back home to our wise + wild soul.

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6. Destiny

“Ishvara Pranidhana | Surrender | Surrender to the divine. Know that you are always divinely guided. Trust that everything is always working out for you. You get to choose how you perceive this reality. Promise yourself that you will always perceive this reality in a way that feels good to you and then don’t break that promise.Whenever something “bad” happens remember that promise and remember that every is always working out for you. Now that spirit has everything planned out and even if you don’t understand right now everything that happens is truly divine and is always working out for your highest good. Everything really is all good. Believe that, breathe that, live that! Everything is all good. Everything is aligned. And so it is.”



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