Yoga when you can’t do yoga

sick teddy bear yoga when you're sick

Time and time again, a yoga practice of asana and meditation have proven to help people get healthier in mind and body. But having and keeping a healthy body sometimes means recognizing when it’s time to modify our yoga practice. If you’ve ever had a migraine, the flu, an injury or something else, you know that it can be hard to keep up with a yoga practice and that’s an important message to receive from your body.

As the song goes, you gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.  When we get a nice momentum or groove going it can be frustrating to take a step back for rest, but rest is important — especially when you’re sick. And then comes the dreaded ego sneaking in with messages like, “You can do it, it’s all in your head” or “If you take a break now, you’ll never get back into it” or even “If I want to look like Jennifer Aniston, I have to push myself.” None of which are factual or helpful.

I like this post from Mary Catherine Starr, yoga instructor &  studio director in Arlington, VA.  She writes about her own struggle with maintaining a yoga practice during a sinus infection, and has some great tips on how to practice when you can’t practice.

This inability to do exactly what I love when it comes to asana and the abundance of sick or sniffly people around me got me thinking, how do you still “practice” yoga when your’re under the weather? I have a few ideas, pulling from what I’ve actually done over the past week, and thought I would share them with you today. But let me also say that these tips are for people who are struggling with seasonal allergies or sinus infections–for people who, like me, can still go about their day, albiet uncomfortably, but are just under the weather enough to be unable to practice–not those who are so weak that they’re stuck in bed or unable to do much of anything.

Read the full post ‘Yoga for when you can’t do yoga‘ on her blog, Starr Struck.  And, here are some great yoga poses for when you have a cold from Yoga Journal. When all else fails, approach your practice like a beginner.  Once your’e feeling better, take it back to square one. Allow your body to re-experience the newness of yoga and get reacquainted with the poses.

The most important thing to remember is that yoga ISN’T just about physical poses.  When you’re sick or rundown, expand your meditation and pranayama practice (if it’s accessible).  Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of reminding you that there’s more to your practice than asana. Try some guided meditations or transcendental meditation in place of asana (or shorten your asana practice and opt for a longer meditation.)

It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. ~ Krishna from The Bhagavad Gita

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Suddenly Susan)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Bridge Pose (4 variations)

bridge pose setu bandha sarvangasana

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose) is a go to pose that can help solve any number of problems.  From developing strength in your core and glutes (which helps alleviate low back pain) to opening the chest, bridge pose is a must if you don’t already incorporate it into your practice. There are so many variations, it’s accessible by nearly everyone.

What’s in a name?

If we break down the Sanskrit name for bridge pose, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana;  Setu means bridge or dam, Bandha meaning lock. And the meaning of Sarvanga is support. The Bandha or ‘lock’ in this pose is at the throat, is Jalandhara, the throat energy valve. Bridge pose involves bringing the chest up to the chin and extending the upper thoracic at the same time. In addition to the physical benefits of this lock including stimulating the thyroid, Jalandhara connects the head with the heart by opening the throat chakra, helping us establish balance between body and mind, and enabling us to live our truth.

What are the benefits of bridge pose?

  • There are a number of ways bridge pose can help us develop strength or alleviate ailments including:
  •  Toning the butt (when glutes are active)
  • Teaches inactive glutes to fire
  • Strengthens spinal muscles
  • Strengthens hamstrings
  • Enhances digestive system and stimulates abdominal organs.
  • Provides relief for menopausal symptoms.
  • Builds pelvic floor strength
  • Improves circulation
  • Strengthens low back by developing core stability
  • Stimulates thyroideka pada setu bandha sarvangasana one legged bridge pose
  • Opens lungs for better breathing
  • Opens heart & throat chakras

Who should not do bridge pose?

Anyone with neck or knee injuries or issues should avoid bridge pose.  However, if you have issues with your knees, you may be able to do supported bridge with.  Also, women who are menstruating should avoid inversions, of which bridge pose is one, although supported bridge will help alleviate menstrual discomfort. Pregnant women should avoid inversions or lying on their back for too long. Once you hit the second trimester, the increased weight of your uterus while lying on your back interferes with the flow of blood and nutrients to your developing baby.

Getting into bridge pose

From lying on your back (supine), bend your knees at ninety degrees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart and parallel. You may choose to have a folded blanked under your shoulders to support your neck.  I start with the knees at a ninety degree angle to see if there are any sensitivities. Eventually you’ll want to move your heals closer to your buttocks.

Arms are by your sides with your palms facing down. As you exhale, press your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, and your pelvis up toward the ceiling. Firm and lift the buttocks off the floor.  Be sure to keep your legs parallel and not let your knees splay apart.

To take the pose deeper, you can roll your shoulders and chest open, and clasp your hands under your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.

Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel.
Don’t move your head from side to side, but gently lift your chin way from the sternum slightly and open your chest by pressing the shoulder blades into the floor. This will allow you to press the top of the sternum toward the chin. Keep firming the outer arms, broadening the shoulder blades, and lifting the chest.

Hold the pose for 30 seconds or a minute if you can, and release with an exhale, rolling the spine one vertebrae at a time onto the floor.

Bridge pose variations

supported bridge poseIf you want to take your bridge pose to the next level, you can try Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana one one-legged bridge pose.

Supported bridge pose using a block and a strap allows you to relax in the pose for an extended period of time.  For supported bridge, place a strap around your thighs to keep the knees from falling open, and a block under your sacrum to rest your weight on. One of my students has called this version of the pose, “delicious.”

In what I call an ‘alignment variation’ you can use blocks to become familiar with proper alignment for your legs and feet.

To prevent your legs from turning out when you come into the pose, place a block flat on the floor between your feet (in whichever position keeps them hip-distance apart) and keep the inner edges of your feet alongside the block as you come into the pose.

Place a second block between your inner thighs (in whatever position keeps your knees hip-distance apart) and squeeze the block with your legs enough to keep the block in place as you exhale into the pose.

In a coming post, I’ll talk about what it means when your glutes aren’t firing, and bridge pose is critical to helping your body relearn what it’s forgotten.

Happy bridging!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photos: Yoga iSportPreventionDo Restorative Yoga)

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Prop up your yoga practice: A guide to using yoga accessories

yoga props

Using props in your yoga practice is not a necessity, but there are ways to incorporate accessories like blocks, straps, bolsters and wedges to help support your practice.

Myth: Props are for wimps.

Fact: Props can often prevent injury by providing stability throughout the evolution of our yoga practice. Plus, many props can actually help us get deeper into postures, and alleviate unnecessary stress on joints.

This awesome chart from Fit Blogger shows a variety of ways to work props into your regular practice.  I’m a bit of a prop-a-holic myself.  They came in particularly handy after an injury, and allowed me to re-learn my practice using better body mechanics.

prop usage guide

Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the props picture here.  If you don’t have a strap, you can improvise using the belt of your robe.  And if you don’t have a ‘yoga bolster’ you can stack up a few blankets.

I would recommend investing in some blocks, though.  You can experiment with the ones you like, but I prefer cork.  They’re heavy like wooden blocks so you feel supported, but they’re a little softer so they’re more comfortable like foam.

If you don’t use props, why not give them a try.  You may find poses that were once intimidating or inaccessible are become your favorites.

Let me know how you use props!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Chart: Fit Blogger / Photo: Yoga Lifestyle)

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More yoga for runners [3 videos]

Yoga runner

If you’re training for a 5K, 10K, marathon or even a triathlon you’ll want to incorporate exercises that lengthen the muscles as well. Yoga is a great way to bring balance to your training. Physically, yoga is a great compliment to your conditioning. Mentally, it can help you learn to cultivate calm when you’re on the road. If you can learn to remain present and breathe through challenging poses like holding warrior 2 (virabhadrasana), you can learn to breathe through the ‘rough spots’ at mile 8.

Runners are go-getters by nature, so a word of caution when beginning a yoga practice. Like with anything else, start slowly. Ease into poses that you’ve never done before. Accept and understand where your body is today, before pushing it to tomorrow’s limits. Find your edge and hover. Plus, if you regularly pursue classes that push you to a drenched sweat, yoga what you need to introduce balance.

While yoga may not be the cardio blast you’re looking for, it will help you gain flexibility, tone, lengthen and strengthen key muscles to support your trek.

You can start with just a few poses a day, or you can add a regular routine designed just for runners into your week. Here are 3 yoga videos designed specifically for runners.

Mini Practice with Esther from Eckhart Yoga (8 minutes)

Pre-run with Fiji McAlpine of DoYogaWithMe.com (23 minutes)

Post-run with Fiji McAlpine of DoYogaWithMe.com (20 minutes)

Prevent getting sidelined by pain or injury and cultivate balance by integrating yoga into your training. Are you a runner who’s incorporated yoga into your training? Let me know about it here!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Moksha Yoga)

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Favorite Pose Friday: Baby bakasana (crow)

baby bakasana

Happy Favorite Pose Friday! Are you crowing for a new pose to switch up your arm balance practice?  If so, you may want to give baby Bakasana a try.  Oddly enough, this is less of a variation of Bakasana or ‘crow pose’ and more a modifed version of Karandavasana or ‘duck pose’. And, contrary to its name, this is an intermediate to advanced pose as it requires core strength and arm strength so you’re not using your shoulders to hold your weight.

The first time I tried this pose, it felt weird and wrong because it’s such a small pose.  It kind of resembles the first face plant I ever did in Bakasana, but once I got into the groove I just had fun with it.  That’s what yoga is meant to be more than anything, an enjoyable process not torture or self-flagellation.

Here’s the how-to from Kathryn Budig of YogaGlo in Yoga Journal.

Step 1:

Start in a squat balancing on the balls of your feet with your big toes touching. Separate your knees and walk your hands out in front of you until your arms are straight. Reach your forehead down toward the ground as you lengthen your heels toward the mat behind you. Take a few breaths.

Step 2:

Staying low, walk your hands in and place your forearms onto the mat parallel to each other. Wrap your knees around the upper outer edges of your arms. Spreadyour fingers evenly and press down on both sides of the wrists. Keep your gaze just in front of your finger tips to protect your neck, and  lean forward keeping the knees actively hugging around your arms.

Step 3:

Continue to learn forward so your face gets closer to the ground. It will feel as though you are folding your biceps onto your forearms. Your elbows will stay flat the entire time. Once you lean forward, resist the weight of the legs on your arms by hugging the shoulders.  Point just your left foot (you’re so close to the ground you won’t be able to lift it, just point). And don’t forget to keep your abs pulling in.

Step 4:

Round your upper back deeply as if you could sprout wings out of your shoulder blades. Continue to squeeze your knees around your arms as you lean forward a pinch more and point your second foot so both feet are now off the ground. Keep rounding your upper back, firming your elbows down, pulling your abs in, gazing slightly forward without any strain in your neck. Spread your toes and hold for 5 breaths then release your feet to the ground.

Fly little crow, fly!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Primary image: Tumblr/Inhale Exhale)

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Favorite pose Friday: Supported bow pose

Let’s face it back bends are hard, and they’re not for the impatient yogi.  Warm ups and preparation are key to preventing injury and facilitating a healthy opening.  They’re about lengthening the muscles in the front of the chest, opening the heart chakra, and strengthening (not compressing) the back.  I can find both resistance and surrender in a back bend depending on how I approach it.

Like many people, I have overdeveloped (tight) chest wall muscles from working at a computer most of the day;  an anterior pelvic tilt which means I have a more pronounced arch in my low back; and a history of SI joint issues.  So gentle back bends help to strengthen my lower back muscles to better stabilize my pelvis and sacroiliac joint, while allowing me to lengthen and open my chest muscles which rolls my shoulders back and alleviates overstretching in my upper back.

But because of the arch in my low back, I have to approach back bends cautiously, so I focus on tilting my pelvis to lengthening the front of my body and extend out of my low back to bring the curve more into my upper back.  There are more than just back muscles involved.  My hip flexors, quadriceps, adductors, and iliopsoas need to be open enough to avoid compressing the lumbar region and putting pressure on the SI joint.

For me, gentle back bends have been tremendous in alleviating low back pain, specifically and I recently discovered a version of Dhanurasana (bow pose) that involves the placement of a bolster under the hip bones for support. In the post, “Better Backbends” in the Yoga Journal, Jason Crandall explains:

Dhanurasana I: Bow Pose

Propping: Place a bolster horizontally underneath your lower abdomen.

Why This Works: It keeps the front rim of your pelvis lifted and your low back long. The support of the bolster makes it easier to lift your chest and open your upper back.

How to: Place a bolster horizontally across the middle of your sticky mat. Lie face-down over the bolster so that your hip points touch the edge of the bolster that’s nearest to you. Place your forearms on the floor as though you were doing Sphinx Pose.

The placement of the bolster is key in this variation, and you’ll sense whether you’re in the right spot when you come all the way into the pose. If your hips are too far back on the bolster, you won’t feel that the bolster is helping you rock your pelvis in the appropriate direction. If your hips are too far forward on the bolster, you’ll topple forward once you hold your ankles in Bow Pose.

Follow the cue that you are receiving from the bolster and gently engage your abdominal wall; this will help you continue tilting your pelvis backward. Exhale, bend your knees, and reach back to hold the front of your ankles. If you feel yourself falling forward, simply adjust your position on the bolster.

Observe the deep opening of your chest and shoulders while your lower back arches mildly. Although it may be challenging to breathe as your diaphragm presses the bolster, take 3 to 5 breaths before releasing the pose.

Since discovering this pose and introducing it to my students, they agree that this version of bow allows them to really open their chest without the pinch that can sometimes come from trying to get into a pose before the body is ready.  We ALL want to try to do every pose the teacher tells us, but it’s not always what’s best for our body. So, this is a way to experience a challenging pose without pain and open your heart to a new process.

As with all yoga, pay attention to your body.  If you have high or low blood pressure, migraines, insomnia, or serious lower-back or neck injury you’ll want to avoid bow pose.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Yoga Journal)

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Yoga for skiers

ski yoga

Whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, ice skater or maybe even just a snow bunny, Starre Vartan found some great tips on how to protect your body from injury and recover with yoga after hitting the slopes.

Skiing places unique demands on the body.  If you’re a once-in-a-while warrior, you really want to be smart about warming up the body and taking it slow at first.  Even if you’re a regular Sean Pettit, yoga strengthening and stretching can help protect these key muscle groups:

  • Core muscles – transverse abdominus, multifidus and obliques are your steering committee. They keep you on your skis while you’re twisting and turning down the slopes.
  • Feet & Ankles – They take the pressure, are responsible for navigating the skis themselves, and start your rotational movements.
  • Glutes – If you’ve ever skied you’ve felt these muscles after a day in powder.  These are your foundational muscles that act as stabilizers and assist in flexion and extension.
  • Knees  – These are your shock absorbers. They also do tons of flexing and extending, so it’s crucial to build strong yet supple muscles surrounding this large joint.

Check out Starre’s full article on MNN which includes an amazing video from  Sarah Kline with Olympic ski racer Resi Stiegler and professional snowboarder Rob Kingwill.

Before you hit the slopes, hit the mat.

Namaste!

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: The Bunny Slope)

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Bathroom-Break Yoga?

Awesome infographic from Greatist.   Don’t forgo your practice just because you don’t have an hour and half to dedicate to your session.  Here are 10 postures you can do anywhere.

 

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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