Yoga Wellness

iStock_000019230860XSmallIn most cities, yoga classes and yoga studios are something you see almost daily. Forty years ago, people who practiced yoga were typically outside the mainstream. Today, things have certainly changed and yoga is no longer in the fringes, but rather a valuable tool in the pursuit of wellness.

What is it about yoga that is so beneficial? Well the list is long, but I will give you a few of the primary benefits…

  • Yoga emphasizes diaphragmatic breathing and other therapeutic breathing techniques. Regardless if you are doing yoga poses or not, by connecting with your breath, you are practicing yoga. Diaphragmatic breathing results in greater oxygen intake, thus supplying each cell with much needed fuel for proper function. As you inhale, feel your belly rise. As you exhale, contract the abdominals to press the naval towards the spine.
  • Yoga poses facilitate lengthening in myofascial restrictions and connective tissues that link the limbs and the spine. Poses such as Reverse Warrior, Triangle, Pyramid and Bow, just to name a few, elongate through side, front and back restrictions. As restrictions are freed, posture, blood flow, and nerve conduction are improved. Pain, if present is reduced.
  • Yoga promotes dynamic strengthening. Yoga emphasizes core strength and stability as the upper and lower body moves. Many poses are performed engaging the root lock through the pelvic floor region. Poses incorporate the entire body, thus improving strength in the spine and limbs. Our bodies are meant for movement and yoga offers a great format to move mindfully and safely.
  • Yoga aids healthy digestion and detoxification of internal organs. Twisting poses like twisting chair, twisting lunge, revolved triangle, eagle, and spinal twist are just a few examples of rotational movements that squeeze and release the intestines, lymph system and other internal organs to stimulate digestive movement and detoxification.
  • Yoga incorporates balance poses. As we grow older,  injuries more often result from loss of balance. Frequently challenging our balance stimulates proprioception and healthy communication between the brain, nerves and muscles.
  • Yoga practice bolsters mental focus and also the ability to let go of barriers in our minds and bodies. Through the use of mindfulness, breathing techniques, restorative poses and attention to proper structural alignment during the practice, our mind and body begins to move and open in ways often unexpected by someone new to yoga. This ability to remain calm during poses that many initially feel uncomfortable translates to many life situations off the yoga mat where it is important to stay calm and focused during difficult or challenging circumstances.
  • Yoga encourages relaxation and release of stress. At the end of yoga practice, there is a time called final relaxation. It is the counter pose of all the earlier active movements and poses. It is a gift to give your mind and body the opportunity to simply unwind and be still for a few minutes in our hectic pace of life.

Of course there are many more benefits to improving your health and wellness by practicing yoga on a regular basis. If you are a beginner, set your ego aside and make sure you take a level 1 or beginner class to get a better understanding of the poses and proper alignment in order to avoid injury or frustration. It is important to remember that yoga is about honoring your body where you are in the present moment and not about letting your mind insist on competition, judgement or expectations. I’ve been in classes where the instructor was teaching very advanced poses with several first-timers in the class. This leaves new students often frustrated, defeated and sadly, with a possible chance for pain or injury. Make sure you ask what type of class you are entering beforehand. Yoga is a practice, not a perfection.

I encourage you to give yoga a try. Your mind and body will thank you. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reply.


3 Basics for Core Stabilization

double-crunches-abs-anatomy-manCore stabilization is an important concept to understand when thinking about your health and fitness routine. Quite frequently, people assume that “working the core” means doing more sit-ups for abdominal strengthening. This is actually not the case at all. By only emphasizing the rectus abdominus and hip flexors, you are actually causing a destabilization or imbalance of your core. Core strengthening is crucial for proper posture and also for power during heavy work or athletic activities.

Because most of us sit the majority of the time commuting to work, sitting behind a desk all day and sitting on the couch to watch out favorite shows, the hip flexors are typically very tight to begin with. When you do full sit-ups in your exercise routine, the hip flexors engage when lifting your upper body beyond the shoulder blades, off the floor. This creates a situation of strengthening a muscle that is already tight. As the hip flexor tightness increases, the pelvic alignment changes and thereby increasing pressure in the low back. You can see why and how destabilization and imbalance can occur.

Core strength is about strengthening all of the abdominal muscles, the obliques, the gluteals, the spinal extensors and deep rotators. It is creating balanced strength in the front, sides and back. So what are some other ways to strengthen the core besides just those traditional sit-ups? Here are three basic exercises that work the core safely and effectively:

Plank– There are a few type of planks that are very effective at building core strength: Kneeling plank, forearm plank and full plank. Remember to keep the spine in neutral alignment and not let the belly sag. Fingers should be spread wide and gluteals engaged. Keep breathing and hold as long as you can in maintain proper form or 10-60 seconds.

Superman-While lying on the floor, engage the abdominal muscles first, squeeze the gluteals and lift the arms, feet or a combonation of the two off the floor. Keep contracting the abs to protect the spine while your back goes into extension. Keep breathing and hold as long as you can without pain or 10-30 seconds. Return to lying flat on the floor to rest then sit back into a child’s pose where your buttocks moves towards your heels. This flexes the spine to balance out the extension.

Triangle-Standing with feet wider than your shoulders, turn left foot facing out. Extend arms to a “T” position. Hinge to the left from the hips, lengthen through your spine and let you arms go to the 6 and 12 o’clock positions. Squeeze the right gluteals to keep the upper and lower body in alignment and not rotated toward the floor. Keep lengthening through the spine to avoid collapsing your weight unto your shin. Continue breathing and hold as long as you can painfree and in proper form or 10-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Of course there are many exercises tor core strengthening, but knowing the basics is important. If you have questions about these exercises, feel free to contact me. Your health and wellness is my passion and priority.