Beyond a good night’s sleep

Laura in corpse pose for yoga nidra

One of my few positive memories of summer camp is of a counsellor quieting us down at night by doing a guided relaxation. I remember feeling peaceful and weightless; letting go of all my tensions and forgetting any stresses of the day. Given that I didn’t like summer camp much, the comfort and security of the guided relaxation was very welcome!

I had no idea that the counsellor instructing a cabin-full of girls to relax from their toes to their earlobes was actually doing a form of the ancient practice of yoga nidra – or yogic sleep. Yoga nidra isn’t really sleep as the intent is to stay conscious, but it is deeply relaxing. Making a choice to release tension from all of your muscles and surrender to gravity is powerful and profound.

It’s a different feeling from sleeping as every moment of yoga nidra is a conscious decision to relax rather than giving in to the unconsciousness of sleep. It can be even more restorative than a nap of the same duration and some studies show that half an hour of yoga nidra is equal to two hours of sleep.

Sometimes students do fall asleep in yoga nidra and that’s okay, too. I see being comfortable enough to drift off in a yoga class as a huge compliment for the teacher ūüôā

I love the way I feel after doing yoga nidra – relaxed, refreshed, and calm. I also love leading yoga nidra and I end all of my yin classes with at least five minutes of guided relaxation to help settle students into savasana (the relaxation period at the end of class).

Join me at Bound Lotus tonight at 8:15pm for Yin Yoga and check my schedule to see when I’m teaching and join me for a class – including a yoga nidra-infused savasana!

Breathing fire

January 23 marked the start of the lunar new year (aka Chinese New Year) and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. I welcomed the new year with a series of dragon poses at my 1pm yin yoga class on Monday. It was a hip-intensive class that really breathed some fire into the new year!

Dragon pose is a long-held lunge that’s great at opening hips. It can be quite intense and sometimes stirs up some anger or irritation, but the immediate loosening through the hip flexors, quads, and glutes makes it worthwhile. I feel like I have wonderfully mobile “salsa hips” after a good dragon series, which makes the rage I feel settling into the pose worthwhile and keeps me doing dragons.

I’ve included detailed step-by-step instructions for high-flying dragon below; take a look at the Yin Yoga page on dragons for alternative variations.

High-flying dragon pose

Why it’s good

  • Provides a deep hip and groin opener
    • Gets into the connective tissue in the hips and helps work deeply into hip socket
  • Stretches hip flexors and quadriceps
    • Some variants also stretch the glutes, calves, Achilles, and feet
  • Builds strength through the legs and core
  • Improves balance
  • Releases tension (and anger!) from the hips

How to do it

  • Warm up your hips first with some gentler hip openers (like butterfly or half sleeping baby), then move into all fours or down dog
  • Step your right foot between your palms and rest your left knee on the mat
    • Add a foam chip block or folded blankets under your left knee to cushion the joint
  • Relax your pelvis towards the mat until you feel a stretch at the front of your left thigh and groin
    • Keep your right foot in-line with your right knee and hip and your left foot in-line with your left knee and hip
    • Square your hips toward the front of your mat
  • Lift your torso upright and rest your hands on your right knee for balance
    • If you’re feeling well-balanced, bring your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers in yoga mudra
      • If your hands are in yoga mudra, focus on letting them come towards the floor, relaxing your shoulders, and opening your chest
  • Feel your spine lengthen as you inhale and relax your pelvis down as you exhale
    • Let your breath out forcefully (as if you were breathing fire) to release anger and really embody a dragon – also just because it’s fun ūüėČ
  • Settle into the pose and remain still for one to five minutes
    • Keep your breathing even and unforced
    • Relax your shoulders
    • Find a drishti (or focal point) to still your gaze and help settle your mind
    • Don’t fidget, but adjust your position if your body invites you to deepen the posture or if the pose feels painful or too intense
  • Follow the guidance for coming out of dragon below and then repeat – stepping your left food between your palms

To come out of dragon:

  • Roll back onto your left heel, stretching your right leg straight in front of you
  • Pull your right toes back and hold them with your right hand if possible
    • Feel the stretch through your right calf and the back of your thigh
  • Release your right toes and come to all fours
  • Push back into each hip, drawing a horseshoe shape with your hips
    • Hopefully the loosening in your left hip (and possibly your right, too!) provides serious¬†motivation¬†for coming into dragon on the other side!

After holding dragon on each side for a few minutes, coming into a¬†recuperative¬†position like child’s pose can be particularly nice. Child’s pose is also good because it also gets into the hips and can help you feel the impact of your dragons.

If you do only one yoga pose…

Legs up the doorIf you only ever do one yoga pose, make it legs up the wall. It’s one of the easiest postures and is the foundation for many restorative yoga practices. It’s fabulous after a hike, run, long-walk, cycle, or anything that works your legs.

All it takes is nestling your bum next to a wall and swinging your legs up; once your legs are up the wall, relax and let your back body sink into the floor. That’s it!

It was immeasurably helpful for me after an accidental 8-hour hike in China this fall – luckily the hostel bed was tucked right against the wall so my back was well-cushioned!

I’ve included step-by-step instructions below.

Legs up the wall pose

Why it’s good

  • Encourages healing throughout the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Slows the stress-induced sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight reflex
  • Activates the body’s relaxation response; lowering the resting heart rate, slowing breathing, and decreasing the production of stress hormones
  • Brings fresh blood and lymph fluid into the abdomen and internal organs
  • Relieves tension in the lower back and sacrum
  • Reduces swelling, tension, and stress in feet and legs
  • Raises the feet above the heart; reversing effects of gravity, improving heart function, and allowing the heart to rest

How to do it

  • Sit on the floor with the side of your hip against a wall or a closed door
  • Swing your legs up the wall, pressing your bum into the corner where the floor and the wall meet
  • Lower your back to the floor and lean your heels against the wall
    • If keeping your legs straight is too much for your hamstrings, slide your bum away from the wall and bend your knees slightly
    • Your spine should be perpendicular to the wall with your back on the floor
  • Rest your arms alongside your body, lengthen them out in a “T” shape, or extend them over your head for more of a chest and back stretch
  • Let go of the tension in your legs and pelvis
    • Make it even easier by ¬†strapping your ankles together (try a bathrobe belt or an elastic exercise band if you don’t have a yoga strap) so you don’t have to work to keep your legs close together
    • Add a folded blanket under your hips or head if you need more padding to be comfortable
  • Breathe into your belly and relax everything
  • Hang out in this posture for 5-20 minutes – try to relax for at least five minutes

To come out of legs up the wall:

  • Bend your knees and slide the soles of your feet along the wall towards your bum
  • Remove anything you’re using to hold your legs together and press your lower back into the floor for a couple breaths
  • Squeeze your knees into your chest and roll from side to side on your back to release any tension in your lower back
  • Roll to one side and slowly come up to a seated position
  • Breathe deeply for at least three breaths to allow the blood to settle back into your body and prevent getting a head rush when you stand up

“The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego”

Laura wobbling on one leg in treeThis article on How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body from the New York Times is making the rounds and certainly serves as a reminder to listen to your body and keep your ego off the mat.

Asana is not a panacea or a cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.

– Yoga teacher Glenn Black

I’ve certainly pushed myself too hard doing asanas (yoga postures) and suffered the consequences for days after. Thankfully I haven’t had any catastrophic injuries like those described in the article, but it’s easy to see how they could happen.

Every time I practice I remind myself to stay in the moment, listen to my body, and accept that whatever it’s capable of doing that day. ¬†If some part of my body hurts, I need to respect that and move out of the pose or find another approach. Sometimes that means using lots of props, other times it’s just backing off a bit or being okay wobbling on one leg. Often I need to remind myself that yoga is not a competition (not even with myself!) and surrendering my ego is part of the practice. That last part generally means laughing at myself ūüôā

If you’re looking for a really laid-back, no ego involved practice this weekend,¬†I’ll be subbing Randi’s Restorative Yoga class on Saturday afternoon (3:15-4:30pm on January 7 at¬†Bound Lotus). Randi’s Restorative classes are always fabulous and I hope to live up to her excellent example. In addition to being an incredible teacher, Randi also¬†founded Samana Wellness to help people find balance and nourishment through yoga and nutrition.

Randi will be teaching Restorative Yoga again on Sunday (6-7:15pm on January 8 at¬†Bound Lotus) and I’ll be there… striving to get my ego off the mat!

Yin on Fridays & new mellow music

Wrap up your work week (or kick-off your weekend!) with yin yoga. Join me at Bound Lotus (161 East 1st St., North Vancouver) on Fridays, starting January 6, for a yummy yin yoga class from 6:30-7:35pm.

Yin yoga is a great way to de-stress and refuel. It lets you settle into postures, relax your muscles, and target often neglected connective tissue. Yin brings to life the yogic idea of a quiet body leading to a quiet mind.

And all my yin classes end with a guided rest in savasana – the ultimate in delicious relaxation!

Speaking of relaxation, I’ve updated the Listen page¬†with a few new tracks. A couple are winter-themed, including my new favourite holiday song: Winter Song¬†by¬†Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson. I’ve been loving waking up to Winter Song and having it in my head through the morning… hopefully it keeps me going through what looks like it will be a rainy January in Vancouver!

Laura & Sofie in dolphin pose

Yin class Jan. 2 & Meditation Challenge

Twisting at Bound LotusI’ll be teaching a yin yoga class at Bound Lotus (161 East 1st Street in North Van) on Monday, January 2 from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.

Come join me for a relaxing an invigorating class to start-off 2012! Yin yoga is a wonderful way to centre your mind and access the connective tissue in your body for a really deep stretch.

I’m also starting a 40-Day Meditation Challenge at Bound Lotus on Tuesday, January 3 – that’s 40 straight days of doing the same 11 minute meditation. Meditating in a group is a powerful experience and Bound Lotus makes it easy by offering three times a day on weekdays (7:30am, 8:00am, and 5:30pm) and two sessions a day on weekends (8:00am on Saturdays, 9:00am on Sundays, and 5:00pm both days) to come together to meditate.

Learn more about the 40-Day Meditation Challenge on the Bound Lotus website.

Winter songs

Music that captures the seasonal spirit and works as a soundtrack to a yoga practice. Take a look at the Listen page for a full list of songs that are great for a yoga practice and at the Meditate page for meditation music I recommend. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • In the Morning by Jack Johnson In the Morning - In the Morning - Single
  • Maybe Next Year (X-Mas Song) by Meiko Maybe Next Year (X-Mas Song) - Winter Songs
  • Misteltoe by Colbie Callait Mistletoe - Winter Songs
  • River¬†by Joni Mitchell¬†River - Blue
  • Song for a Winter‚Äôs Night by Sarah¬†McLachlan Song for a Winter's Night - Wintersong
  • Winter Song¬†by¬†Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson¬†Winter Song - Winter Songs