Tag Archives: yin yoga

Better living through technology (aka better yoga through props)

Yoga props and Laura in easy poseI’m co-hosting a Restorative Yoga workshop next weekend (21 May) with my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Constanza. As part of my preparation, I’ve been re-reading Your Body, Your Yoga (yin yoga teacher Bernie Clark’s latest book) in which he talks a lot about physical differences in yoga students and how important it is to practice for your own body.

I love Bernie’s philosophy because he’s clear about the why behind doing yoga: “to use the pose to get into the body.”1

And he’s a huge advocate of using props to support the pose – as am I. Props can make all the difference in a pose and I encourage their use extensively in my yin yoga classes. They’re even more necessary in restorative yoga!

Restorative yoga is a practice of being, rather than doing. Opening and softening, rather than stretching. Deliberating resting, rather than sleeping. It’s all about comfort and it’s much easier to be comfortable when we’re supported and the body is at ease.

I know that there are many yogis who feel like props are cheating. For me, it’s just plain stupid not to use all of the tools available to make your yoga practice (or your life) the best it can be. It’s like eschewing technological advances in  because they make life too easy and too comfortable.

Just like technology creates the opportunity for better living, props create the opportunity for better yoga!

 

 

ps – I had no idea that ‘Better Living through Chemistry’ started as a DuPont advertising slogan. Always new things to learn!

1 The full quote from the January 2014 YinYoga.com newsletter is:

Yangsters hate props – are you a yangster? The use of a prop is unconsciously equated to cheating. The inner dialogues goes something like this, “I can do this pose! I don’t need no stinking prop!” But yinsters know something that yangsters haven’t quite grasped yet – the intention of their yoga practice is not to look any particular way; it is not to get into a pose: the intention is to feel a particular way; to use the pose to get into the body. Yinsters don’t care if a little extra help is needed to get sensation into the targeted area: if props can help – let’s use props!

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Let tension dangle

Laura dangling on a Mediterranean beachThere’s a spot in my mid-back that sometimes feels as though it holds all the tension in my body. Like every keyboard stroke, knife cut, sponge scrub, page flip, steering wheel turn, and slouch collects between my shoulder blades and knots together.

The best method I’ve found to release that tension is a long-held standing forward fold. The yin version of the pose is different than an active standing fold (called uttanasana) as the focus is on holding for a minute or more, relaxing the back body and releasing the shoulders. Bent knees, supportive arms, and resting against a wall are all welcome!

A yin standing forward fold is known as a dangle and that’s exactly the hope: that your upper body hangs and allows the muscles and fascia loosen.

Because your head is below your heart, this pose isn’t great for people with high blood pressure and anyone with low blood pressure should come out of it really slowly. Be cautious and slowly release the posture if you feel any pain.

Dangle

Why it’s good

  • Releases tension from the shoulder blades, mid-back, and neck
  • Helps decompress the lower spine and sacroiliac region
  • Stretches the backs of the legs – if you straighten them
  • Promotes good balance
  • Compresses the digestive organs, which can improve digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps
  • Encourages relaxation and can reduce anxiety and stress

How to do it

  • Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and hip width apart
    • let your spine stretch upwards and your shoulders drop away from your ears
    • feel sturdy and balanced – your hips stacked atop your feet, your shoulders square above your hips, and your head floating above your shoulders
  • With an exhale, bend your knees and allow your torso to drop towards the fronts of your thighs
    • don’t feel any pressure to have your chest rest on your legs; most people will have significant space between upper and lower body
  • Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch along the backs of your legs or keep your knees bent to encourage the stretch in your back
    • do not lock your knees
    • try leaning against a wall for additional support
  • Experiment with arm positioning to find what works best for you
    • clasping each elbow with the opposite hand draws more of a stretch into the upper back and shoulders and can make your torso feel heavier
    • resting your hands on your thighs lessens pressure through your lower back
    • allowing your hands dangle freely or rest softly on the floor helps open the mid-back
  • Let you head release and encourage the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, and neck to be heavy
  • Soften your gaze or, it’s comfortable and doesn’t mess with your balance, close your eyes
  • Stay dangling for at least a minute and up to five minutes
    • mindfully move your arms and bend or straighten your knees to find the best version of the pose for you, but try not to fidget
    • if it helps, visualize your spine flowing out of your pelvis like water flowing out of a pitcher, allowing tension to ebb away
    • if the pose doesn’t feel right, you can get a similar stretch in a seated forward fold with a rolled blanket or bolster under your bent knees

To come out of dangle:

  • If you’ve held the pose for several minutes, be cautious! Slowly come out of it using any of the methods below, then take a few deep breaths to regain your balance before moving to your next pose
  • Option 1:
    • Engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees, and take several breaths to roll up to standing
  • Option 2:
    • Bend your knees and lower your hips downwards to come into a squat. Rest in a squat for at least a few breaths before lowering onto your seat or slowly moving to standing
  • Option 3:
    • Rest your hands on your shins and straighten your back; strengthen your abdominal muscles and inhale to come halfway up with your back parallel to the floor; exhale and let your upper body and hands release down again. Repeat this halfway raise a couple times before inhaling up to standing with your back straight.

It’s normal to feel some dizziness after your head has been down for a while. Take a few moments to regain your composure and allow the blood to flow throughout your body before progressing with your practice or continuing with your day.

As dangling is a strong forward bend, it can be nice to follow it with a back bend. Even standing and simply drawing your shoulders back as you lift your face and chest to the sky can be enough to release any tension in your front body that may have built up as you dangled.

Repeat whenever that congested mid-back feeling arises. This is a great pose for airports and offices because it requires no mat and no props!

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Summer camp sukasana

Summer campers sitting cross-legged - with Laura in neon pants!For a few summers, this time of year meant going to camp on Gambier Island. I discovered a bunch of photos from camp a while back (including the one to the right), which triggered a memory of my first exposure to yoga.

One of the camp counsellors was obviously a yogi; she led the cabin in meditations and would help us prepare for sleep by doing guided relaxation. Summer campers sitting in sukasana (easy pose or cross legged) now seems a little silly (or maybe that’s a reaction to my crazy neon pants!), but that introduction to yoga obviously sparked something.

Summer camp was likely where my appreciation of yoga nidra stems from and the childhood connection is probably part of why teaching and practicing this form of guided conscious relaxation is so powerful for me.

The yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre taps into that summer camp spark: a short sequence of yin poses, 20-ish minutes of guided relaxation, then a long savasana.

Join me at 6:30pm tonight and say farewell to any stresses you’ve accumulated in July with a deeply relaxed practice. I might even wear neon for a little nostalgia 🙂

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Pose like an Egyptian

Laura holding sphinx pose on top of a big rockBack-bending sphinx pose can’t help bring to mind the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. I like using that enormous limestone statue as inspiration when holding the posture in a yin yoga practice: level gaze, long neck, relaxed shoulders, and unstrained stillness.

Dogs are also phenomenal models for sphinx. My dog, Sofie, often flops down into sphinx to wait for the next bit of excitement to cross her path.

In a yin yoga practice, the purpose of sphinx is not to bend your lower back as much as you possibly can, but to use your arms and belly to support the weight of your torso and let your back soften. It’s even better if you can convince your neck, shoulders, hips, and legs to relax as well.

Resist the temptation to come into your deepest back bend; instead, find a comfortable compression through your low back. You can always intensify the posture as you sink into it. Likewise, you can always reduce the intensity if you’re getting warning signs that it’s becoming too much.

The gentlest sphinx is simply resting flat on your stomach with your chin on your hands – although that’s certainly resembles the sphinx in Egypt a lot less!

Sphinx

Why it’s good

  • Compresses the lower back, which counters our strong forward-folding tendencies
    • we rarely bend backwards in the course of our daily lives, but often bend forwards (e.g. while driving, working at a computer, reading, lifting groceries/kids/dogs)
  • Helps to create a flexible spine and tone back muscles
  • Stretches stomach muscles and helps open the throat and upper chest
  • Can release tension from the shoulder blades/mid-back
  • Aids in detoxification
    • releasing the pose give the kidneys a fresh supply of blood, which that flushes out toxins

How to do it

  • Start by lying facedown
    • let your belly press into the mat as you breathe
  • Draw your forearms under your chest with elbows bent
    • keep your elbows ahead of your shoulders
  • Rest the weight of your torso onto your forearms and relax your shoulders
    • feel your shoulders drop away from your ears; allow your shoulder blades to soften
  • Keep your chest and collar bones open
    • feel your lungs expand in all directions with every inhale and let go of tension with every exhale
  • Experiment with the positioning of your arms, hands, legs, and head until you find the right balance of compression in your low back, stretch along your front, and ease through your shoulders
    • To decrease compression in your low back:
      • draw your elbows further away from your chest, letting your torso come closer to the floor
      • widen your legs and/or your elbows/forearms
    • To increase compression in your low back
      • bring your elbows closer to your chest (just as long as they’re still ahead of your shoulders)
      • narrow your legs
      • rest your forearms on a bolster or block to bring your chest further from the floor
      • bend your knees and let your heels come towards your buttocks
    • To reduce stress on your shoulders and release tension in your upper back
      • rest your torso on a folded blanket, block, or bolster
      • place a soft, small weight (like an eye pillow or bean bag) between your shoulder blades to encourage them to relax
    • To stretch the back of your neck and stimulate your throat
      • drop your chin towards your chest without compressing into your collar bones – don’t round your upper back
    • To stretch your throat and compress the back of your neck
      • turn your face towards the ceiling, being sure to keep your jaw and throat relaxed
  • Keep your head centred between your shoulders and your allow your eyes to close or your gaze to soften
  • Hold sphinx pose for up to six minutes
    • adjust your head/arm/leg positioning as necessary to intensify or lessen the compression in your low back, but resist fidgeting

To come out of sphinx:

  • For a little extra stretch, inhale and draw the crown of your head upwards, without letting your shoulders come towards your ears
  • As you exhale, gently slide your elbows outwards, slowly lowering your torso to the mat
  • Rest on your belly for a few moments, enjoying the flow of energy and fluid through your low back

Child’s pose is good counter to release the lower back, but some people find that simply lying on their stomachs and letting their breath move to the area that was compressed in sphinx is enough to relieve low-back tension.

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Sweet pea solstice

Magenta and periwinkle sweet pea flowers with water dropletsSweet peas mean summer to me. And while the grey skies in Vancouver (and the flooding in Southern Alberta) might suggest otherwise, summer has officially begun.

The day of equinox or solstice that marks the division between winter, spring, summer, and autumn rarely feels like the actual commencement of the season. This summer solstice is no exception.

But at least the grass is green in the Pacific Northwest, the flowers are out, and we don’t need to worry about watering gardens and lawns!

There are lots of summer solstice celebrations happening today – including one at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre that preempts my regular yin yoga class tonight. No yin bliss tonight… and next Friday is the last of the month, which brings with it a sublimely soothing yin yoga session with guided relaxation and an extra-long savasana.

Hope the first day of summer is treating everyone well and that you’re able to join me for some relaxation on Friday, June 28 at 6:30pm!

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It’s my birthday & I’ll teach if I want to

Laura wearing a birthday hat with a cakeToday is my birthday and part of my celebrations include teaching my regular yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre. Class starts at 6:30pm and will feature some of my favourite poses (like supported fish – which might be one of your favourites, too!), a playlist of yin-appropriate music I love, and homemade cookies afterwards.

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the West and founded 3HO, encouraged his students to bring sweet treats to class on their birthdays to share the celebration of with others. The Kundalini tradition holds that what you do on your birthday sets the tone for the year ahead.

Teaching yoga and sharing cookies sounds like a great beginning to my next year.

Happy birthday to me!

 

p.s. Apologies to Lesley Gore for ripping off the title of this post from her iconic song: It’s My Party.

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Three times lucky

Laura in teacher mode in three imagesThis week I’m teaching three yin yoga classes at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre: Wednesday and Thursday from 8:15-9:30pm and Friday from 6:30-7:45pm.

Bound Lotus is in the midst of a 40 Day Transformation Yoga Challenge, so the class on Wednesday will be the last of the Detoxify series and the one on Thursday will be the first of the yin classes to in the Strengthen and Balance series.

The sequence of poses for Wednesday’s class is all about the glandular and nervous systems and features poses that will stimulate your hips and elongate your spine. The set of poses for the Thursday and Friday classes will help you gain a new sense of your body’s strength and balance… and work out tension in your hips through dragon pose!

Hope you’re able to come join me in the trio of classes I’m teaching this week 🙂

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Last class standing

Laura in mountain with palms together at heart centreAs I mentioned in January, I’m reducing my teaching commitments to free myself to make the next leap.

While I’m still not certain what that leap is, I know that I’ll only be teaching one class a week. The last class standing is the 6:30pm yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre in North Vancouver.

Yin is consistently one of my favourite styles of yoga to practice and teach. There are many reasons why I do yin yoga, mostly I love the stillness and the meditativeness.

Outside of a yin yoga practice, I like finding a moment or two of stillness and a few meditative breaths in mountain pose (or tadasana). Mountain pose is simply standing; well-balanced, connected through the soles of your feet… allowing your lower body to be heavy and grounded, while your upper body stays light and floats upwards.

In a typical yoga practice, I often use mountain as a foundation for other standing postures and as part of sun salutation sequences, but it’s also lovely to do on it’s own. It’s easy to sneak in a little mountain-meditation throughout the day – waiting for lights when walking, queuing in line, doing dishes… any time you’re standing is a good time for a few mountain breaths!

Mountain pose

Why it’s good

  • Helps improve posture, develops balance, and creates body awareness
  • Strengthens and gently tones abdominal and back muscles as you engage your core to keep upright
  • Engages the muscles in your legs and buttocks, creating strong thighs, knees, ankles, and buttocks
  • Connects all the energy centres of the body, helping you feel more aligned and centred
  • Allows you to take a pause in your day and focus on your mental and physical experience

How to do it

  • Stand with your feet parallel and roughly hip distance apart
    • Changing foot width varies the balance point; most people find this pose challenges their balance more feet closer together
  • Gently sway your body to connect all parts of your feet to the mat or floor and feel your weight evenly balanced (front & back, left & right) before coming to stillness
  • Roll your shoulders back and down (away from your ears) a few times before allowing your arms to rest alongside your body
    • Many people like to rotate their arms to allow their thumbs to point away from their bodies; listen to what’s best for your body and let your arms rest wherever they feel comfortable
  • Let your collarbones soften and spread, feeling a gentle lift coming from your upper chest
  • Feel the crown of your head floating towards the sky and tuck your chin in slightly to keep your neck in-line with the rest of your spine
    • Lightly engage your core and leg muscles to keep your spine straight
    • Sense the tallness of your body
  • Allow your lower body to feel rooted, grounded, connecting you with the earth while your upper body feels light, weightless, floating upwards and connecting you with the sky
  • Breath deeply and smoothly through your nose for several breaths, letting the still, solidness of a mountain fill you

To come out of mountain:

  • Simply step into your next pose or move on with your day!

 

The yin class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus will certainly involve a little mountain time. Come join me if you can 🙂

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East-ahhhh weekend

Laura sitting in a relaxed easy poseAdd a little “Ahhhh” to your long weekend with an extra long savasana during tonight’s yin yoga class at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre.

Good Friday happens to be the last Friday of March… and the last Friday of every month I do a 20+ minute yoga nidra (guided relaxation) as part of a blissfully long deep relaxation. It’s a wonderful way to wrap up a month and tonight’s class is a great chance to bring a sense of deep calm into your Easter weekend.

Class starts at 6:30pm and we’ll be doing a short series of to warm up and stretch before getting deliciously comfortable and settling in for deep relaxation. Ahhhh….

Happy Easter!

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

Laura turning on a spiral staircaseAfter focusing on teaching yoga for over a year, I’m feeling restless… I’m looking for a change. I’m not sure what direction I’m heading, but I know that I’ll need space to let it unfold.

To give myself time to focus on what’s coming next and to determine what I want that to look like, I’m cutting back on my teaching commitments.

Starting in February, I’ll be teaching just three classes a week at Bound Lotus Yoga & Meditation Centre: Hatha on Mondays from 9:15-1045am, Yin on Fridays from 6:30-7:45pm, and Hatha on Saturdays from 11:15am-12:30pm.

That means that I’ll be teaching my last Tuesday night Yin class at Bound Lotus tonight. If you’re able to, I’d love to have you join me for some of my favourite yin yoga poses (that means dragons, supported fish, and legs up the wall!) and a lovely savasana that will bring you beautifully sweet dreams!

And I promise David Bowie won’t be in the playlist… although his song Changes has certainly been stuck in my head today! It’s time for me to “Turn and face the strange” and find a balance of being challenged and being comfortable.

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