Back home.

Yesterday I got on my yoga mat for the first time in almost 6 weeks. The past couple of months have been difficult dealing with family health issues, my husband getting into an cycling accident and several other curveballs that have come our way.
My yoga mat has always felt like home. But when things got really hard for me, that was the last place I wanted to be. And I couldn’t understand why. How could I turn my back on something that I love with all my heart.
I couldn’t even bring myself to roll my mat out at home.
I wanted nothing to do with it.
At all.
I questioned it and questioned it and I just couldn’t grasp why.
Getting back on my mat I finally understand. Yoga is the one thing that truly connects me. Mind, body, heart and soul. All of it. And it connects me to everything around me. It’s what makes everything make sense. It makes time seem to not exist. It aligns every part of me and shows me my own truth. It forces me to deal with my issues and to let them go once they have taught me what I’m supposed to learn. It shows me that everything is going to be okay. No matter what.
And I guess I just didn’t want to see those things. Maybe I wasn’t ready to deal with everything yet. Maybe I didn’t want to let go. Im guilty of suppressing things way deep down and not wanting to face them in hopes that they will magically go away. When you’re caught up in your own mental thunderstorms it’s really hard to see past the pain. And to allow yourself to do the things that you know will bring you joy. It’s like we punish ourselves or something. Or maybe I’m the only one who does that.
Regardless, I am grateful for a great friend for guiding me through my practice and for Soul Yoga for always being my home.

Why Every Athlete Should Do Yoga

As a yoga instructor, I get approached all the time by my cycling and running friends with questions about yoga. It seems that a majority of people are interested in the health benefits of yoga but are not convinced of how it will help them in their sport. They are more concerned with the fact that they are not flexible and are too intimated to give yoga a try, often times just dealing with any aches or pains in their bodies. For a lot of athletes who have intense training schedules, finding the time to incorporate yoga into their already busy day is often challenging. However, not much time is needed and the benefits to the athlete’s performance make it just as important as any other element of their training plan. Yoga is the perfect complement to any competitive athlete’s training and I think it is safe to say that without it, you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance your performance and reach your full potential.

Yoga has become more popular over the past decade and is now being recognized in the professional sport realm for its ability to aid in injury prevention and provide the athlete with the strength and flexibility needed to perform in their particular sport. Athletes such as Shaquille O’ Neal and LeBron James (legendary basketball players), Ray Lewis (linebacker for Baltimore Ravens), Mike Kryzewski (legendary Duke and USA national team basketball coach, Vernon Davis (tight end for San Francisco 4ers), Blake Griffin (forward for LA Clippers) and Tom Brady (Quarterback for New England Patriots) are just a few who have added yoga into their training regimen.

I personally started practicing yoga at a time when I was training for multiple half-marathons and competing in duathlons. I was running and cycling 5-6 days a week and felt yoga would be the perfect addition and would be great for cross training. Yoga was a complete game changer and I have been hooked ever since. Here are some of the many benefits that athletes can expect to experience by incorporating yoga into their weekly workout routines:

1. Improved Strength: With a routine and consistent practice, yoga is able to strengthen the athlete’s under-utilized muscle groups. With specific focus of these muscle groups, these supportive muscles are able to be strengthened enough to help aid in injury prevention and provide more power to the athlete during training and competition. Core strength is one of the most important, overlooked areas for most athletes. Since this area is the body’s center of gravity, it provides the foundation for all movement within the body. This can aid in lower back pain relief and add speed to the athletes sport by allowing the whole body to move in unison while exerting less energy. This will also improve posture and contribute to overall health.

2. Mental Control: Athletes have the amazing ability to push their bodies to the limits and although the physical benefits of yoga are huge, the mental control one can gain is nothing in comparison. There are times in the practice where the student must hold a pose and be completely still, while utilizing the strength of the muscles involved in the pose. This is when the mind starts to wander and it starts to flood the brain with thoughts, feelings or emotions that we just don’t want to deal with. This comes up even more so in the final posture, savasana, where the student finishes up their practice by lying on their back and resting for a few minutes. This should be a time of complete relaxation and stillness but for some, this is the most challenging part of the entire practice. Although an athlete can suffer physically during competition, the moment they are asked to be still is really when the hard work begins. If an athlete can get past the mental barriers holding them back in their practice, they will be that much stronger come competition time, giving them an advantage over their opponents.

3. Improved Flexibility: For most people this is the most well-known benefit of yoga and the one thing that prevents most people from ever stepping onto a yoga mat. Most think that their lack of flexibility will prevent them from ever being able to do yoga. You may not have any flexibility at all, but with a consistent practice, that will be a thing of the past. Stretching works to improves the joint and muscular flexibility. This is another excellent aid in injury prevention. Most athletes experience repetitive motions in their sport. The more we do those repetitive motions without stretching (and strengthening) the muscles, the greater the risk for injury to occur. Common overuse injuries include those involving the illiotibial band (IT band), knee, hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders and lower back. These injuries often times are due to poor core strength, misalignment and lack of flexibility. Yoga helps to alleviate these issues in order to minimize and/or prevent injuries from occurring and sidelining the athlete. If injured, the athlete will be able to recover much quicker than they would have without yoga. Simple stretching before and after a workout is not enough. Most athletes are typically stretching the same muscles in the same direction every time. Yoga works the muscles and joints through all ranges of motion and not only targets the big muscle groups but the smaller ones as well which aid to support the primary muscles used in the athletes sport.

4. Balance: Balance postures can correct muscle imbalance and poor body mechanics. Better balance means more coordination, which will allow the athlete to have better control of their body. This will help with technique and form in their sport.

Now that you know some of the benefits of yoga, it’s time to start incorporating it into your weekly workout routine. If you don’t know where to get started, look for studios near your home or work, many offer various classes throughout the day for a small fee. If a public setting is not your thing, there are multiple websites that offer videos (some at a fee) and these can be tailored to your preference for length, level and style of yoga. Two of my favorites are http://www.yogaglo.com and http://www.yogavibes.com. There are numerous books and magazines that provide guidance on yoga postures and you can find them at your local library or amazon.com. If you know of any yoga instructors, reach out to them. Many offer private lessons and this is a great way to get on-one-on interaction with an instructor who can customize a yoga practice for your body, sport, any injuries you may have and where you are at in your training. Ideally, during your peak season, your yoga practice will be more about recovering the body and stretching the muscles that are being used repetitively. The off season is when more of the strength building and vigorous practice comes into play. This is where having those private lessons becomes advantageous. Everything is tailored specifically to you. Whatever method you chose, be prepared for all the positive changes to come. Most importantly, have fun and don’t take it too serious.

Fall Into a Reset

Ahhhh, November. I have missed you terribly. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. The turning of the leaves, cooler temperatures, scarfs and boots, hot teas and lattes, sitting around the fire, cuddling on the couch under a mountain of blankets, it all makes me giddy with excitement just thinking about it. One thing I really look forward to every year is the time change, the end of daylight savings. I think that setting our clocks back and shorter days is nature’s way of forcing us to slow down and take more time to ourselves.

With the holidays right around the corner, my intention this month is to truly slow way down. To spend more time laying on the couch cuddled up with a good book instead of lacing up my running shoes and pounding the pavement, to cook more meals instead of going out and to go to bed earlier and give myself more rest. I intend to say “no” more often than I say “yes” to plans with others. Most importantly, I plan to take care of myself by hitting the pause button and completely resetting.

We are all extremely busy these days. We live in a fast paced society and we are constantly putting pressure on ourselves to do more and more. It seems that our to-do lists are getting longer and our calendars are filing up quickly. However, you will be of no use to anyone if you don’t stop what you are doing and spend some time relaxing your mind and body. If you notice that you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, then you probably need it much more than you realize. You shouldn’t have a single bit of guilt for carving out time to yourself. Your physical and mental health are more important than any errand, workout or social gathering.

Spend time meditating or take a restorative yoga class.

Read a book.

Drink a cup of tea next to the fireplace.

Start a journal.

Take a bubble bath.

Stay in your pajamas all day long watching movies on the couch.

Pour a glass of wine and light a bunch of candles. 

Listen to relaxing music and diffuse essential oils. (I recommend chamomile, lavender or frankincense.)

 DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO TO SLOW DOWN AND RECHARGE.

 RELAX, RESET, RENEW

Take care of yourself.

 

Disconnect to Reconnect

I recently took a vinyasa class at one of my favorite local studios. I had noticed that one of the students had brought their phone into the studio, and although that’s not something that I would personally do, I didn’t think much about it. As we went through class, I was completely connected to my practice. It was one of those practices where I felt like I was the only person in the room. I was in the moment with full connection to my mind, body and breath. That was until towards the end of class when we were in Ardha Matsyendrasana and we had turned to face the back of the room. Right in front of me was that same student having a full conversation over text while she was in her seated twist. I looked around the room to see if any one else had noticed. There were a few people who had also taken notice of this technology based conversation taking place. I was completely dumbfounded and for the rest of my practice I was distracted by this student and unable to return back to that bliss-filled state of presence on my mat.

Most classes are only 60-75 minutes long. Are we a society that is so reliant on our technology that we cannot be without it for even an hour at a time in order to be able to work on what matters most? Our own mental and physical health are at stake here. The idea of setting my phone next to my yoga mat gives me a tremendous amount of anxiety. I appreciate and look forward to time that I am completely unreachable and disconnected from my phone and endless social media feeds. There is something freeing and liberating about knowing that for the next hour or so nobody is wanting anything from me, I have nowhere to be, no phone calls/texts to answer, nothing. I can completely be present on my mat. When I am practicing yoga and meditation, my practice works better and feels better if I am able to focus on what is happening in my body and mind. Connecting with my breath as I move from posture to posture. My practice is my time.

I am highly against cell phones in class and although I would not ban my students from having them next to their mat, I would strongly encourage them to think about why they feel the need to do so. If they truly have to have it, and I feel that there are certain situations that warrant it (which would include a nurse/doctor being on call, having kids that are at home by themselves so mommy/daddy could get their practice in or various other personal issues) I would ask that the student place their mat in the back row with their phone on vibrate and if they need to answer it to kindly step out and be discreet when doing so. If you feel so connected to your phone that you cannot be without it for an hour, I would venture to say that you probably need yoga more than anyone else in the room.

In this fast paced, technology driven society that we live in, it is so important to shut down, detach, unplug and turn it off for just a short while in order to spend time reconnecting with who we truly are. Although technology makes our lives easier (most of the time), more convenient and something in which we rely heavily on to do our day to day activities, it does not define who we are. One of the eight limbs of yoga is the called the yamas. These are the social restraints that we should adhere to in order to help us get closer to obtaining liberation and finding eternal bliss. There are five yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Staya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation) and finally, aparigraha (nonattachment). Nonattachment would include treating your cell phone as a security blanket. Not allowing yourself to go anywhere or do anything without it. If you’re cell phone is next to your mat and you are constantly distracted by texts, phone calls, etc. you are wasting your time and your practice is nothing more than just moving your body around on a mat. There is no presence, no focus, no deeper sense of self. It is all just fluff.

So, next time you consider setting your phone next to your mat, think twice. Know that you deserve your time more than anybody else. You deserve your practice, your connection to your breath, your intention. . Allow yourself to fully take advantage of the short time you have to be able to turn everything off and tune in to your mind and body. YOU deserve it and you will be able to take away so much more from your practice. Guaranteed.

 

The body. The storyteller.

The great thing about the human body is that we are all different. Our bodies are all made uniquely defined to who we are and what we do. Some of us sit at a desk all day while others have jobs that require physical labor for 8 hours a day/40 hours+ a week. Some of us are runners, cyclists, or swimmers. We go outside and play sports. Some woman have had their bodies completely changed due to childbirth or other various health related issues. Some people have injuries they are recovering from or are dealing with various aches and pains throughout their practice. We are not the same. My dear friend Betina often says “Our bodies tell the unique story of who we are”. I fully believe that every single body is different and with that, certain modifications must be taken.

I have found through working with a friend who does yoga therapy, that right now in my practice, there are modifications I need to take. I don’t take them all the time. There are days when I get on my mat and feel really good and other days when it’s a struggle to get through one sun salutation because of lower back pain. On those days, I modify. There are days when I want to kick up into a handstand and take arm balances and other days when I can barely make it out of child’s pose.

Yoga is a practice and the goal of that practice is feel better than when you first stepped on your mat. Whether that is mental, physical or emotional is truly dependent on the student and what issues they are needing to work through. The beautiful thing about this practice is how it can be completely tailored to each individual.

There is nobody making the rules of how things have to be on YOUR mat. I believe postures must be adjusted to fit individual body types. The golden rule is to do what feels good. You should always do what feels good. If something hurts, stop doing it! It’s your body. You have to live in it every single second of every single day. So make it feel good. Modify when needed, hang out in child’s pose or down dog or heck, if you’re feeling frisky add on to your postures. Maybe you go for that arm balance or inversion. But don’t feel like you have to do it all. At the end of the day it’s your practice and you will only get out of it what you put into it. Some days that may mean making it restorative and gentle, other days you are more playful and explore more on your mat. This is a practice of allowing ourselves to find that deep connection to our bodies and minds through our breath and movement. Make your practice your own. Find your bliss on your mat. Whatever that make look like to you.

“Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies”|Frank Gillette Burgess