Friday, February 12, 2016

Yoga Snacks for the Upper Body!

So, you're sitting in front of the computer.  What's your posture like?  Rounded spine?  Head jutting forward?  Crossed ankles?  Are you actually sitting on your foot and your spine is curving to one side?  Yikes!

You are not alone.  We all do it at one time or another while working, eating, driving, reading, watching tv--anything that involves sitting.  Many of us sit in front of the computer and don't even realize how terrible our posture is until we have to get up to grab something from the printer and it dawns on us that we've been hunched over like Quasimodo for the last 4 hours.  And that's when our bodies start yelling at us because by that point the lower back is stiff, shoulder and neck muscles are aching, the head is pounding, hands are ice cold from lack of circulation, and at least one leg has fallen asleep (or maybe it fell off...who knows?).  

So what's the fix?  If we're still working on being mindful about our posture, but haven't quite achieved that goal yet, what can we do to alleviate all the stress and strain we're putting on our bodies when we sit incorrectly?  The answer is:  Yoga snacks.  Little gentle yoga stretches you can do right at your desk.    

The following Yoga Snacks take only a few minutes and target those areas that get really tired, tight and stressed.  

Reminder:  Only do what feels good for your body.  You should feel stretching and working but no sharp pains and you shouldn't feel like you're out of breath.  If you feel pain or feel fatigued, stop and rest.
Before You Start Check Your Posture:  feet flat on floor, ankles under knees, sitting bones rooted, spine long, ribcage stacked on top of the hips, ears in line with the shoulders, chin tucked slightly to make length in the back of the neck
1.  Breathe First:  Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath.  Notice how it sounds, feels, and moves.  Allow your breath to fall into its natural rhythm.  Tune in and enjoy.  Breathing deeply can help relax tense muscles, calm your nervous system and decrease your blood pressure.

2.  Neck Rolls:  To ease neck tension and warm the neck muscles, draw a “U” shape with your chin, moving your head from one side to the other.  Keep your jaw soft...try not to grind your teeth together. This move is great for preventing tension headaches.
3.  Neck Stretch:  Right ear to right shoulder, reach right arm up and over, reach left arm down toward the floor (stretching the L side of the neck)...repeat on other side

4.  Hand Clenching:  Reach arms out straight.  Palms up.  Slowly...Open hands, spread the fingers wide.  Feel the skin stretch across the palms.  Slowly...Close hands, thumbs in and fingers wrapped around the thumbs.  Squeeze.  Repeat open/close 7-10 times.  Really nice for people who type, do a lot of small motor movements, or who get stiffness in the fingers and hands.

5.  Wrist Bending:  Reach arms out straight.  Palms down.  Inhale Slowly...bending at the wrists, bring fingers to point up.  Exhale Slowly...bending at the wrists, fingers point down.  Repeat up and down 7-10 times.

6.  Wrist Rotation:  Reach arms out straight from the shoulders.  Palms down.  Curl thumbs under and wrap fingers around the thumbs to make a fist.  Keeping the arms still, slowly rotate the wrists in outward circles 7-10 times.  Then, slowly rotate the wrists making inward circles 7-10 times.

7.  Elbow bending:  Reach arms out straight from the shoulders.  Palms up.  Keeping the upper arms stationary, inhale and slowly bring the fingertips to the shoulders.  Exhale, slowly extend arms out.  Repeat 7-10 times.

8.  Shoulder Rotation:  Reach arms out straight from the shoulders.  Palms up.  Keeping upper arms stationary, bring the fingertips to the shoulders.  Move elbows in so they touch each other.  Inhale, and reach elbows up toward the sky, then exhale and pull the elbows back and then down. (Making a big circle with the elbows)  Repeat 7-10 times.  Then rotate the opposite way 7-10 times.

9.   Seated Cat/Cow:  Hands on knees, knees slightly apart...inhale, reach the heart up and lift the chin, exhale to curl the spine back pulling the belly button in, dropping the chin toward the chest and tilting the tailbone forward.  This can help ease back tension and stress.


10.  Seated Side Stretch:  Left hand on chair seat, right hand reaches up and over to the left, top shoulder rolls open, looking at the right palm if it feels ok.  Hold and breathe 3-5 breaths.  Repeat other side.

7.  Seated Spinal Twist--Cross Legged or Regular:  Keep the spine long, lifting up through the crown of your head. Sitting bones are evenly rooted into your chair.

8.  Chest Expansion:  Reach both arms behind and clasp hands.  Straighten arms if possible and squeeze shoulder blades toward each other and then down towards the hips.  Lift the heart.  Widen the collarbones. Tilt chin up slightly keeping the neck long.  Hold and breathe for 3-5 deep breaths.  This brings energy into the body and helps stretch out the front of the shoulders.

9.  Rag Doll: Widen feet and let the torso hang down between the legs or resting on the legs.  The body is soft.  Give the head a gentle shake and a gentle nod.  This helps release the muscles in the back, shoulders, and the back of the neck.

OK, Yogis!  Hope you are now feeling refreshed and energized!  Stay tuned for lower body Yoga Snacks that are not only great for doing at your desk, but are fantastic when traveling too!

Namaste, Friends!


Friday, January 22, 2016

A Post for Yoga Newbies

So today's post is dedicated to those of you out there who are afraid to do yoga.  I know you're out there.  You like the idea of gaining strength and flexibility, improving your balancing, working on your  posture, and finding ways to relax and manage stress, but there is something holding you back.  Today I would like to take just a moment to let you know that you are not alone...and you most certainly CAN do yoga!

So let's explore the top 3 reasons that people give me to explain why they don't/can't/won't come to a yoga class. Here we go!

Reason #1:  "I'm not flexible enough."

Um, you guys, that's WHY a lot of people go to yoga in the first place!  Your teacher does not expect that you can already touch your toes, do a split or even just sit comfortably in a cross-legged position (that's really hard for a lot of people).  We know that everyone is assembled differently and therefore we have different strengths and areas of need.  In your mind you may imagine a yoga class where everyone is touching their toes or in "perfect" poses, but in reality most yoga classes have people at all different levels...some use props, some don't go as deep, and some do completely different postures.  And guess, what?  It's all good! ARE flexible enough!

Reason #2:  "I'm too big to do yoga."

Please, get rid of the image of a what you think a yogi looks like.  I know that when you see images of yogis in US magazines they are tall with sculpted muscles and skimpy yoga clothes.  But this is not the required look of a yogi.  Yogis come in all shapes and sizes.  And the cool thing about yoga is though you practice in the energy of a group, your focus is inward, so no one is looking at you or judging you.  The tricky part is...not judging yourself.  Let go of the image of what you think you SHOULD look like and start showing loving-kindness to yourself as you are right NOW.  You deserve it!

Reason #3:  "I'm too old to start/do yoga."  

Nope.  You're not too old.  Ever!  Now this being said, if you are an older adult who has not exercised in awhile then I would suggest starting out slowly....especially if you have injuries!  Please do not jump into a hot yoga class, a power yoga class, or a crowded flow class at the gym expecting to pick it up and practice safely right away.  For older adult yoga newbies, I would suggest attending a small beginner's class, taking a one on one lesson, or taking a yoga class that isn't flow oriented (usually those classes will be labeled Iyengar, Yin, Restorative, Gentle, Chair Yoga, or Active Adult Yoga).  Taking a slower-paced, less crowded class is really important if you're just starting out.  The teacher will be able to spend a little more time with you and show you how to use props to get the safest and most beneficial practice for you!  It will be worth is great for dealing with the aches, stiffness, and pains that pop up as we get older.  Plus, it can help us with strength and balance so we don't get injured as easily.  Yoga is GREAT for older adults!

So, my yoga newbies, I hope that helped you a bit!  Go, right now, and check out a small beginner/gentle class in your neighborhood.  Learn the basics.  Find new strength, flexibility and balance.  Explore new techniques to deal with stress.  Experience increased awareness, energy and joy!  Have fun with it!  And let me know if you have questions.  I'd love to help out if I can!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What We Think, We Become

I woke up this morning to take the dog out and discovered it was pouring.  I mean, all out downpour.  Cats and dogs.  

I grumbled a bit, grabbed the umbrella, and got the dog all set up for his soggy potty outing which would no doubt result in him looking like a drowned rat with lots of tangled fur.  I hate when his fur gets wet...little sticks and blades of grass get all intertwined in his fur and it's a bear to get out.  I was muttering to myself as I passed in front of our hallway mirror and I caught a glimpse of the grouchy gal reflected there.  

Surely, I couldn't look THAT grumpy THIS early in the morning?  I thought back to yesterday's post and then took a look down at my dog.  There he was, staring up at me, wagging his tail...super excited to go outside...despite the rain.  

"Ok, Dorothy," I thought to myself.  "Here is your opportunity. Treat it like an experiment.  Can you choose a different perspective?  Can you choose gratitude?"

Now here I luck out.  Choosing gratitude in this situation is easy.   After all, I live in Silicon Valley, land of the drought.  Last year, it was so bad I think we only had two rain showers the whole year. We barely got spit on.  All the grass turned brown, the trees were droopy, even the air felt dusty.   So yes, I can be grateful for this rain.  We need it. 

So with my new "attitude of gratitude" I turn my attention to different things.  I noticed that since we've gotten a bit more rain, the grass is greener, the trees are a little more upright, and the air smells amazing (really, it does!).  I checked out the raindrops plopping in the puddles and could hear the birds chirping as they were hiding out in the trees.  

Upon re-entering the apartment, I noticed the warmth of the inside air as it took away the chill from the dampness outside.  I could hear the rain on our roof, making the familiar sound that I used to love so much when I lived in Massachusetts.  I thought about rainy Sundays and curling up with a good book and a cup of tea while the rain came down outside.

I looked down at my little wet dog.  A drowned rat, for sure...tiny twigs stuck in his matted fur, but the tail was still wagging.  I bent down to take the leash off and got a little lick  of thanks on the hand (or maybe he was just licking that raindrop off?).  As I stood up, I caught a glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror again.  But this time, the reflection was smiling.....  

I guess you CAN choose to be happy.... 

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought.  The mind is everything.  What we think we become."  Buddha

Monday, January 18, 2016

Lessons Learned From My Dog

I love my dog.  We've had him for about 5 years now, so I've had some nice opportunities to observe his behavior.  And what I've discovered dog has a lot to teach me.

Get Your Asana On...And Do It For Yourself! 

Igor stretches and moves every day...Downward Dog, Upward Dog, full body stretches,  two-legged balances, jumping, running, etc.  He finds joy in movement and never worries about what the other dogs think.  Yeah sure, he may not be as buff as the pitbull mix beside him, but that doesn't stop my skinny little maltipoo from zipping around the park like he's the leader in a Nascar race.  And he loves it!  The tongue hangs out and he's full on smiling.  (Yes, my dog smiles.)  I know how he feels...sometimes I just can't help but smile during my Sun Salutes.  Especially when I get to do them outside in the sun!  Igor is a good role model!  We should exercise every day!

Live In The Present

My dog is happy.  Right here.  Right now.  "We're going out?  FAN-tastic!  I LOVE it outside!  Lots to look at.  Lots to smell.  Oh wait, we're staying in?  Woo hoo!  Love that TOO!  That means I get to snuggle, or play with my favorite toy.  It's all good, Doggie Parents, it's all good!"  Seriously, his tail wags whenever we present him with any option of something to do.  There's no hemming and hawing about "Blech, it's too cold out" or "Blah, I'm too tired", it's just a "Yup, that sounds fabulous and I'm super happy just to be alive in this moment."  This is one of my someday be as present as my dog.   


Wanna see laser-like focus?  Watch my dog when there's a fly buzzing around the house.  Or when we're eating.  Or when we're holding his favorite toy.  Holy Moly.  That dog does not waver or blink or let anything distract him.  The only thing he does is breathe.  Softly and purposefully.  Now if only he could teach me how to do that during my balancing postures....I think it would help me a lot!

Live with Gratitude

William Arthur Ward has this great quote about gratitude:  "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."  I just love that.  Now my dog is a perfect example of how one should express gratitude.  He is so grateful for all the people in his life and for what they do for him that he never misses the opportunity to share his gratitude.  As soon as he hears you pull in, for example, he zips to the door and waits to say hello.  He greets you with a joyful tail wag, or hops up and down, or gives you crazy "kisses" on your fingers, as if to say, "I missed you!  I am SO happy to see you!"  And it really makes my day.  No matter how grouchy I was two seconds ago, I am now smiling.  The gratitude and happiness is contagious.  My husband and I joke with each other...If we happen to hear the key in the door, we'll jump up and greet the person coming home with a "tail wag" and a big hug.  It makes us laugh.  (Yes, we're dorky, but it makes the day so much better!)  Life is really is important to let the people in your life know how much you love them and appreciate them....give them a full on tail wag at every opportunity!

Take Time to Rest and Re-Charge

Occasionally, life gets stressful or we've worked really hard and then it's time to rest and re-charge so that we can face the World again with a positive attitude.  Igor does this really well.  He snuggles up on a pillow, or sprawls out in the center of a sun beam and just drifts off into full relaxation mode.  He breathes deeply and fully and melts down toward the Earth, letting all his muscles soften.  It's calming just to watch him.  And as you would expect, the second he wakes up, he is happy and good to go.  Just like after a good Shavasana!