Top Four Tips For Spring Cleaning - Inside and Out

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Early Spring invites a wave of new crops to the Farmers’ Markets. Roots, peas, greens and strawberries will slowly begin to make their way into the city and onto our plates, supporting our bodies’ natural detoxification processes.

It is common to feel sluggish and a little bit stagnant at the end of the cold winter months. Just like plants and animals, we also go through natural cycles that reflect seasonal variations in weather patterns and sunlight.

At the beginning of spring, you may find that your body is naturally craving lighter and fresher fare, rather than the rich stews and heavier meals that supported you through winter. When the cravings for wholesome foods begin, do not hesitate to listen- you will not only support your body’s physical health but your mental health as well.

Discover these top four easy breezy tricks for spring cleaning- inside and out!

1) Spring Clean Your Pantry and Refrigerator

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Have you heard of the saying that structure implies behavior? The way we set up our kitchen  and the food we keep in our pantries and refrigerators determines what and how we will eat. Take some time to go through your food stash and replace processed, sugar-loaded items with fresh, healthier alternatives.

Consider this simple trick: When you go to the grocery store, begin your shop on the outer periphery of the store, starting with the produce section. You will avoid the colorful temptations of the packaged goods in the center isles.

2) Get Inspired With a Meal Plan

Another way to create heathy behavior is to create a delicious (and doable) meal plan. Take a moment to consider the foods and meals that help your body to thrive. Brainstorm a list of your favorite breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. For inspiration, peruse healthy food blogs and your favorite cookbooks. Consider the influx of spring produce and try to incorporate as much seasonal, fresh (and maybe even local) food as possible.

Tip: Keep your meals simple and fresh to start. Make it easy to follow your meal plan. If you are successful with your first week of meal planning, you are more likely to continue with your healthy habits.

3) Get Your Sweetness From Love Not Sugar

Sugar has made its way into every meal, not to mention drinks and snacks. As a nation, we have such a powerful sweet tooth that companies now add sugar (or corn syrup) to salad dressings, sushi, condiments, soups, sauces, smoothies, yogurts, crackers, breads, and so much more. Our food industry understands the addictive powers of sugar, and they use it so we will crave more and buy more. Read labels, avoid processed foods and cook at home as much as possible, so sugar doesn’t sneak its way onto your plate unconsciously.

So why does this matter? Eating processed foods and sugar spikes our blood sugar levels to unhealthy levels, causing our bodies to quickly respond by releasing the hormone insulin. After spiking in an energetic high, a blood sugar crash with quickly follow. When we repeat this cycle, we can develop insulin resistance and eventually, type-2 diabetes. Beyond wreaking havoc on our hormonal systems and metabolism, our bodies store excess sugar as fat, leading to unwanted and unnecessary weight gain.

Tip: Cut out sugary beverages and you are half-way there. Consider saving your sugar quota for a delicious and satisfying dessert that you share with your loved ones. And enjoy your sweets with some healthy fat, which helps to slow blood sugar spikes.

4) Green Is The New Black

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How much green can you fit into your day? Green smoothies, green salads, sautéed greens, stir fries, soups, and even green (kale) chips not only taste delicious when prepared with care, but they support every system within your body, providing essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

We understand that it is so easy to go through your life and skip the greens. When life gets busy, home cooking is stressful and preparing greens can feel like too much work. After all, lettuce and spinach are not designed to fill you up, and this makes them easy to skip.

Tip: Add greens to your meal plan and shopping list, and prepare ahead of time to ensure you treat your body and mind with an abundance of plant-based foods that help you to thrive.

Transitioning Into Spring

Ayurveda's Kapha Season

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As we shift into the spring season the light is coming back into our days and into our energy.  We are moving from the darkness of winter, the bundled up, warm, comfort of cold weather into a bright period of transition.  As the season literally shifts, it presents an opportunity for us to shift as well.  In order to take full advantage of the changing season, our routine and diet needs to be adjusted to maintain balance. 

Ayurveda, yoga’s sister-science of self-healing, offers an understanding of the rhythms of the day, of the year, and of life.  It also gives you another perspective on your own constitution, your tendencies, reaction patterns, physique, digestion patterns, and potential vulnerabilities for imbalance and disease.  Having an understanding of this system, provides the opportunity to live more in harmony with the world around you and to take advantage of the natural energy that is present.  Spring time is a perfect place to begin this. 

In Ayurveda, there are three doshas related to the elements: Vata (air & ether), Pitta (fire & water), Kapha (earth & water).  Pitta is associated with the summer season when the sun’s rays hit the earth with the most intensity and heat.  Vata is associated with the fall/winter season where everything is in flux and constant change.  Kapha is the dosha of spring where everything is a constant mix of earth and water (mud and rain), and where the earth is warming up, blooming, and growing in abundance. For more details on the three doshas, check out Intro to Ayurveda.

In order to take advantage of this Kapha season for the most amount of revitalization and growth there are certain things you can bring into your life through the lens of Ayurveda.

Eat a Spring Diet

Notice if your appetite has changed naturally and be mindful of not overeating at meals. Decline the heavy comfort foods of winter for fruits and vegetables.  Fruits and vegetables don’t have to be raw, in fact lightly cooked, warm foods are better for digestion.

Put a “Spring” Back Into Your Step

Spring is a great time to create a new routine.  It is easier to establish when the days are lighter and longer.  Start by rising earlier, definitely before the sun.  Don’t let caffeine be the first thing that hits your stomach in the morning.  Instead drink a cup of warm lemon water to aid in elimination.  Bring movement into your morning routine, even just 5-10 Sun Salutations when you wake up is great for circulation of your fluids and balance for your Nervous System.  If you suffer from seasonal allergies, using a Neti Pot (with distilled water) 1-3 times a day is a wonderful way to keep your sinus passages clear.  

Nurture Relationships

Spring is also the time to embrace light-heartedness and adventure.  Reach out to friends to reignite your relationships and to reconnect. 

Spring Clean

There is a reason we feel the need to clean everything and get rid of things as the season shifts.  Winter brings a heaviness with it, as does the holiday season.  Spring offers an opportunity to lighten our homes and our hearts through organizing, deep cleaning, and getting rid of the physical things we don't need anymore.

Spring is a wonderful time of year.  Take advantage of all that this beautiful transition has to offer.  You will shed the heaviness of winter and create a deeper harmony in your own life by simply living in tune with the natural rhythm of the season.   

The Healing Powers of Yoga Nidra

An Ancient Yogic Practice For Deep Relaxation and Personal Transformation

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Although many people are drawn to yoga to stretch and strengthen their bodies, practitioners quickly discover the benefits run deeper and wider, calming the mind and creating a deep sense of peace in the spirit. As a result of dedicated practice, yogis begin to experience the meditation and bliss of deep relaxation during restorative postures and Savasana. People may discover that they are working with the asanas (postures) to move into a deeper state of meditation. Over time, yogis will often set aside time to meditate after a physical practice to experience the deep release that comes from sitting or lying in stillness.

The lesser known practice of Yoga Nidra often skips the physical postures and begins in a Savasana. Beginning with a body scan, the instructor invites a state of relaxed awareness, guiding the person or group deep into their bodies. Throughout the practice, yogis will experience a liminal meditative state between sleep and wakefulness.

Yoga Nidra takes the concept of deep relaxation and merges the practice with meditation.

Also known as dynamic or psychic sleep, Yoga Nidra is a method that takes practitioners through the eightfold path leading to Samadhi (Bliss). Although it appears like the practitioner is not doing anything at all, Yoga Nidra is often considered to be a more advanced practice than intensely physical yoga methods, requiring a deep sense of focus and willingness to be with one’s self.

Like the physical, asana practice we are all enjoy so much, the benefits of Yoga Nidra run deep. Discover the top three benefits and power of this ancient practice.

Transformational Powers

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”―Albert Einstein

During Yoga Nidra sessions, people begin to access their subconscious mind and memories. It is often these repressed memories and experiences that create blockages in our bodies and in our lives. As people enter the state of relaxed awareness, their brain becomes more open and flexible. With the guidance of an experienced instructor, past traumas can be digested, moved-through and transformed.

Healing from Overeating & Addictive Patterns

Alongside the incredible benefits of modern-day society comes a slew of addictive behaviors and tendencies that affect individuals and families. Our fast-paced life can lead us to disassociate from our bodies and overemphasize the power of our minds. This disconnection can manifest in our bodies and minds as:

  • A mild imbalance such as pushing through pain and causing injury
  • Overeating or underrating due to our inability to feel our body’s signals for hunger and fullness
  • A full-blown addiction or disorder

Research shows that people with imbalanced and addictive tendencies have low activity in the area of the brain that regulates interceptive awareness― our ability to recognize and understand sensations in our bodies.

Yoga Nidra heals and regulates this part of the brain. With elevated levels of sensory awareness, you will find yourself more connected to the signals coming from your body, including appetite, emotional cues, and pain or pleasure. With the support of Yoga Nidra, you can change unwanted behaviors and reclaim your life.

Boosts the Body’s Natural Capacity to Heal & Renew

The restorative benefits of Yoga Nidra are mind-blowing― it has been said that one hour of Yoga Nidra is the equivalent of four hours of deep sleep. As you know, deep sleep allows the body to heal and regenerate. During Yoga Nidra, the body maximizes it’s ability to take in nutrients, regulate hormones and glucose levels, and boost immunity. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest & digest system”), the mind quiets and your body begins to heal itself, naturally.

7 Tips to Prevent Spring Allergies & Boost Digestion

Ayurveda & Spring

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Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth are popping up in backyards, street beds and random corners of neighborhoods. With their sparks of color, these flowering bulbs are a reminder that spring is upon us—and so is pollen! From the lens of Ayurveda, the body’s response to the seasonal shift can be indicative of the diet and lifestyle choices made in the prior season. What we did or did not do, ate or did not eat, or drank or did not drink in the winter can play a role in how the immune system will respond in the spring.

Ayurveda & Spring

Ayurveda refers to spring as kapha season. Kapha translates to “stick together”. Giving us insight into the qualities of this dosha—cold, sticky, heavy, slow and wet. After a dry winter season, kapha qualities bring balance to the environment. An increase in rainfall adds moisture to the air and soil. While more sun hours transforms snow into water and warms-up the earth. Inspiring hibernating bulbs to bloom.

As the season shifts from winter to spring, the body, mind, and emotions begin responding to the new season.  If there is an over accumulation of kapha qualities in the body—cold, sticky, heavy, slow or wet, during the winter season, it can lead to kapha imbalances in the spring. Such as water retention, congestion, dry sinuses, weak digestion, heaviness and/ or a feeling of lethargy—imbalances that create stagnation in the body and mind.

Digestion & Winter & Good Fat

Spring imbalances in the body can often stem from improper digestion and dietary choices during the winter season. If a dish was not prepared appropriately or balancing for an individual’s constitution it can be challenging for the body to digest. Leading to ama or toxins, which can create stagnation in the body.  In the winter, one key ingredient is omega-rich fats. Adding healthy oils to the diet can aid in counterbalancing winter’s dry qualities. Incorporating good fat into each meal also helps balance drying or mucous promoting foods. Such as dairy, grains or raw greens, which can further promote dryness, cold, and stagnation in the body, if not prepared for the season.

Consuming sufficient healthy omega-rich oils in the winter is also helpful in protecting the intestinal walls, sinuses, and lungs. Providing a lubricating shield from spring’s pollen. In doing so, it can help prevent digestive issues, excess mucous production, colds, congestion—allergic responses during the seasonal shift from winter to spring. Combined with movement, a seasonal winter diet based on one’s constitution fosters in-season balance while preparing the body for the next season, spring.

Living Seasonally

One of the key principles of Ayurveda is aligning our diets, activities, and routines to the season. Harnessing the circadian rhythm and letting Mother Nature guide our seasonal choices. Living with the season’s clock helps to optimize our energy for a better quality of life. While prepping our body with antidotes, like seasonal foods and activities, to stay healthy in the current season and the season to come. Here are some tips on how to foster stronger immunity in the spring and prep the body for the summer.

7 Dietary Tips to Prevent Spring Allergies & Boost Digestion

1. Avoid or Reduce Heavy, Congesting Foods

Minimize or avoid refined, processed, excessive salty and sweet foods. Including dairy (especially cold dairy), wheat, grains, nuts, and seeds.  Especially if you tend to have kapha imbalances, these foods may be too heavy to digest.

2. Add Beans and Lentils to the Menu

These foods fall under the astringent taste, they help “soak up” water and reduce kapha qualities from the body. To prevent bloating, eat your pulses, lentils and beans warm. 

3. Eat More Greens & Spring Vegetables

Fill half your plate at each meal with vegetables, including breakfast. Generally, greens and spring vegetables tend to be bitter and have a natural detoxifying effect on the body. Helping create lightness to help boost energy. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day at room temperature to help flush the lymphatic system and nourish the tissues.

5. Warm Herbal Tea is Your Best Friend

We recommend ginger, dandelion, tulsi, hibiscus or CCF to keep the digestive fire active and help boost immunity. Hot water is a great way to support and cleanse the lymphatic system. (Herbal tea counts towards the 6-8 glasses of recommended water a day)

6. Eat Your Biggest Meal at Lunch

In the spring, our metabolic rate can slow down, making lunch the biggest meal will help ensure sufficient time for digestion. Another way to harness our natural circadian rhythm. As the digestive fire is at its peak from 12-2pm. For dinner opt for a light soup or steamed veggies – especially important if your primary constitution is kapha.  Read about kapha dosha

7. Avoid Snacking or Opt for Fresh Fruit Snacks

Snacking throughout the day confuses the digestive process and leads to undigested food. Creating ama or toxins in the system. If you are hungry in-between meals, opt for fresh fruit. Fruit takes about an hour to digest, which makes it a perfect snack food. We like vitamin-c  grapefruit in the spring. Dress it up a little and try it spiced.

Bonus Tip: Consider a seasonal cleanse. A cleanse is especially helpful if seasonal imbalances are a reoccurrence issue. A guided cleanse can help de-stagnate the lymphatic system and re-ignite the digestive fire.  Helping to boost digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. In the long-term, helping to foster a stronger immune system.

Ayurvedic Rice Pudding

Ayurvedic Super Food

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Ayurveda teaches us that everything starts in the subtle realm before becoming gross matter. For example, many diseases can be traced back to certain thoughts, ideas or memories.

Subtle energy (or your mood) is cooked into your food and actually changes the physiological components of the matter being cooked. That then affects your physiology --- as well as the more subtle components of your mind.

Ayurveda, as well as the deeper teachings of yoga, teach us that we will take on the mood, the desires and the tendencies of the person who has cooked your food. Wow. It goes so far as to say ONLY eat food cooked from people whom you trust completely, or people you want to be like!

Do your best. At least say a prayer before eating, which also changes the subtle components of the food in front of you.

I like to think of brown rice as an intestinal broom, sweeping out the intestines as it digests. These sweeping qualities are due to the outer husk remaining intact, which contains fiber. The outer husk is removed from white rice, so it loses the sweeping benefits, and won’t give you that nice ‘full’ feeling.

Recipe:

Serves 2

1 cup brown rice – cooked
1 cup milk (either cow, soy or nut milk) 
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick) 
2 cardamom pods (slightly crushed) 
Grated ginger – I like it strong so I add a good teaspoon, but reduce if you need too. 
2 cloves
1 star anise
Sweetener if preferred (coconut nectar, honey, stevia, maple)

Directions:

Add all ingredients into pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5–10 minutes, depending on how strong you like the flavor. Remove cardamom pods and cloves before severing. Bless and enjoy!

 

Ayurvedic Breakfast

Superfood Oatmeal Breakfast

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Oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfast foods for fall and winter.  It is also great for a post-workout meal, and it will support and sustain your energy throughout the day.  You can modify the ingredients and herbs in this recipe to your palette or match it to your Doshic (Vata, Pitta, or Kapha) digestive needs.

Recipe

Prepare organic, gluten-free oatmeal to the consistency of your liking. You could also do quinoa, millet or brown rice. In the fall and winter, the warm, moist and heavy nature of oatmeal is good for balancing Vata. In the summer use the lighter grains.  To every cup and a half of cooked grain add:  

Recipe:

  • Add in 1/2 scoop of plant-based plain or vanilla protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon 
  • Pinch of cardamom, ground ginger

Mix this all together and then mix well into oatmeal. 

Then Add:

  • 1 teaspoon of ghee or coconut oil (or both)
  • Dash of organic 100% pure maple syrup 
  • Other nutrient-dense toppings: walnuts, brazil nuts, goji berries, cacao, ground flaxseed - be creative!
  • A handful of mixed berries and it is ready!! 

Healthy Eating Guideline Tip

Before eating always remember to say a prayer or pause with three breaths of gratitude. This practice connects you with the sacredness of food and the ritual of eating. It also tells your digestion to awaken and kick-on. Thoughts and prayers have vibration and energy. Food is made up of water and absorbs the frequency of these intentions. The food we eat becomes the cells in our body. Our body acknowledges that which is Sacred as healing and the food becomes our medicine! 

Ayurveda for Winter Wellness

Simple and Practical Tools for Vibrant Living this Season

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Winter is indisputably here. Here at Ananda Yoga & Fitness, we hold the intention to move through life in sync with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial. 

In North Dakota winter is first and foremost cold. It can be quite drying. Or it can be wet and snowy. It is a season marked by sickness — colds, flus, sore throats and so on. It is a season where nothing grows… the harvest fields of summer and fall now lie fallow. There is scarcity in nature’s offering. Except, perhaps, in the case of snow!

According to Ayurveda, Winter is the Kapha season. A time marked by slowing down, turning in, and some stillness, even with the risk of stagnation. Picture a big, soft, slow-lumbering bear… nourishing himself generously and then retiring to his cave to hibernate the winter away. This bear is in sync with the season!

Cold. Dry. Wet. Slow. Still. Possibly Stagnant.
These are the qualities we’re working with.

Luckily, there are several easy and intuitive ways to live in harmony with these qualities.

Given the longer, darker nights, what more natural activity than curling up at home with a good book or your journal, reflecting on the year past and the year to come? This is also an ideal time for Yin or Restorative yoga, which encourages stillness and relaxed awareness. Relaxation practices help recalibrate the nervous systems and prepare us to meet the energy of growth and change that comes with Spring.

However, while we might be content to sleep the season away, we can and should maintain active movement. The bone-chilling temperatures certainly might make a run outdoors less appealing, but with a host of indoor exercise options available, we can get the blood pumping, warm ourselves up and stave off stagnation and lethargy. Obviously a flowing yoga practice is ideal, whether gentle or powerful. Utilizing a gym membership gives you access to treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and maybe even a lap pool! And when in a pinch – choose 4 of your favorite upbeat songs and have a private cardio-dance party in your living room. This last option not only works the body but works on dismantling unhealthy ego as well!

As we consider nutrition through the lens of the season, it might seem common sense that the winter is not an ideal time for cleansing, for example! It’s not that we can’t eat clean, but juices and smoothies just add cold to an already cold environment. Instead, it is a time for warming up and fortifying with hearty soups and stews. It’s also important to keep our digestive fires burning bright, helping to stave off stagnation, which can come from many things including too much stillness or too much heavy food. So by including warming and carminative herbs and spices in our diet (ginger, cumin, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, and many of the culinary herbs like rosemary and basil) we support healthy, active digestion. Add these to any one-pot recipe, savor a cup of flavorful hot chai, or start your day off with some warm ginger water.

Because this season is fraught with germs we must also fortify our immune systems. The lungs are the gatekeepers for pathogens, they are literally a first line of defense. It is through our respiratory system that many germs can creep into our systems, while healthy lungs keep germs out. You probably won’t be surprised to hear the lungs are an organ associated with Kapha, and they hate the cold! So, given the risk for coldness, dryness or even too much wetness/stagnancy, we must balance out these qualities with heat, movement and respiratory support. Luckily, many of the carminative herbs and spices also fortify our immune systems, and many heart-opening Yin and Restorative yoga postures support lung health.

Deepening our breathing practices at this time are especially beneficial — bringing some intentional and powerful pranayama into our daily routines to deepen the breath, strengthen the lungs, expand their capacity and resilience. Diffusing essential oils throughout the home is another way to support respiratory health, as they are anti-microbial and cleansing to the home or office environment. I like using Anjali Aromatics’ Breathe Essential Blend which is a distillation of some of the worlds great coniferous trees. We might aptly consider these trees the “lungs of the planet” and so it’s fitting that their essential oils are some our lungs’ greatest allies.

As always, the yogic lifestyle is about balance — a dynamic dance unique to each of us. Winter is a time to balance out the cold with warming practices. A time to embrace stillness but avoid stagnation. A time to support our immunity with breathing practices, diet and herbal support. A time to see the soft darkness of evening as an invitation to turn in, relax and restore. For while the outer landscape might be more barren during this season, the inner landscape (and the indoors with the home fires burning bright!) is full and abundant with opportunity for self-inquiry, wellness, and nourishing self-care. Spring will be coming soon enough, why not thoroughly enjoy the moment and the season that we’re in?

Your Bones On Yoga

Maintain, Prevent, Repair & Restore... Stay limber and strong with these three easy practices

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It’s easy to forget that bones are living tissue, constantly being dissolved and rebuilt in a natural cycle. So, while statistics around bone health are quite staggering, the good news is that we can have an impact on maintenance and repair at any age.

Our bones are comprised of both minerals (like the obvious calcium) and a “gelatin matrix” of water and collagen. They appear solid, but, like bamboo, are healthiest when they are strong and but flexible, pliant and moist.

Surprise surprise: Yoga is one of the most effective practices for bone health.

There have been many studies published over the last few years that show yoga can not only slow bone density loss, but can in-fact increase bone mineral density.

In short, the three yogic practices below can help maintain bone health starting from a young age, slow or prevent density loss, and even boost bone density, restoring strength and elasticity.

Research has recently shown that 72-seconds is an ideal time to hold a yoga posture for maximum benefit. But no worries if this is too long, yoga is a practice so work at your capabilities and gradually over time you might find your endurance increasing.
As you practice these asanas, listen to your body’s signals and work to your edge but not past it. Uncomfortable strain on joints should signal you to back off.

1. Take the Path of Most Resistance

Weight-bearing yoga postures put the right kind of “stress” on the bones: enough to stimulate cellular production, but not too much that the bones break or fracture. Resisting gravity’s pull and supporting our body weight stimulates our bones isometrically, signaling the bones to build up their mass in answer to the challenge.

Warrior I & II

These powerful standing postures activate the largest bones of the legs and arms, plus the ankle, knee and shoulder joints.

Low Cobra

Bhujangasana is an active back bend that supports spine health, lengthening vertebrae and keeping them supple and limber.

Plank

Resisting gravity in this shape strengthens wrists and builds core strength to support the spine.

2. Strike a Good Balance

The WHO estimates one in three women over 50 — and one in five men — will suffer from an osteoporotic fracture. Many bone injuries are caused by falling, and we’re not just talking about a serious fall. Even a little roll of the ankle off the curb (or from teetering on a pair of stillettos) can cause a fracture. Maintaining our balance as we age is a huge piece of preventing injury.

Vrkshasana

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Tree pose is one of the simplest standing balancing postures to practice, yet has a powerful effect on developing balance and equilibrium. Best of all, it offers many different modifications suitable for all ages and levels.

 

 

3. Make an Impact, Safely

There has been so much research done about various exercises that support bone health, and one that remains ahead of the pack is high-impact movements. The New York Times goes so far as to suggest simply jumping up and down!

Shaking Qi Gong

This simple Eastern exercise delivers many of the same benefits of jumping or running, and many more. Best of all, it decreases the intensity of contact, making it safer for those with fragile knees or limited capacity for cardio-vascular workouts.
Check out the video below that explains and demonstrates this easy movement. This is also a fun practice to do with your children!

 

Additional Food & Lifestyle Tips for Bone Health

  • *Boost your intake of calcium-rich plants like Kale & Spinach
  • *Reduce or eliminate processed sugars from your diet – these sugars leach calcium from the bones and contribute to loss in bone density
  • * Stay moist – incorporate Abhyanga into your routine
  • *If you suffer from severe symptoms of Osteoperosis, check out this great yoga sequence created just for you – with modifications for all levels.
  • * When beginning any new type of exercise, always consult your primary care doctor, especially if dealing with acute physical problems.

Holiday Survival Sequence

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A few simple poses that keep on giving

The frosty chill in the air marks a transition from Fall to Winter, as well as the holiday season, which can be a time for slowing down and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Perhaps more than any other time of year, the holidays are a time to celebrate giving as well as receiving. They are a time of cherished exchange.

For many of us, however, holidays can bring up mixed emotions. More often than not, we find ourselves overstretched providing for others, accommodating the crowd, and filled to the brim with rich holiday food, not to mention the challenges many people face reuniting with relatives absent from our lives until this special time of year. We tend to hold this tension in our bodies.

A regular yoga practice can provide tremendous relief amongst the cheer and chaos of the holiday season. Remembering the core values of holiday spirit and slowing down enough to enjoy the experience is easier said than done. The following short sequence can support digestive and emotional balance in the upcoming weeks, helping you to ride the waves of the season.

~ Begin with a short warm-up. You can practice 3-5 sun salutations, take a brisk walk or jog, and/or practice 3 rounds of kapalabhati breathing to prepare the body for the postures.

~ When you feel warm, move into the following sequence, holding each posture for five deep breaths, or until your body tells you to move onto the next side or into the next posture. Be gentle with yourself.

The sequence

  1. Eagle for stability

  2. Squat for strength

  3. Seated Spinal Twist for digestion

  4. Reclined Spinal Twist for relaxation

Simple? Yes.

Powerful? Absolutely.

Each of these asanas will give your body and mind a different gift that we are certain you deserve this season! And for those who think they don’t have time, here’s a gentle but firm reminder to chuck out any excuses, slow down and practice some self care.

Breathing 101

Nestled under the rib cage at the base of the lungs, the diaphragm is the body’s best breathing muscle. Here’s how it works: When we breathe in, our diaphragm flattens out and moves down, creating a vacuum for air to rush into; when we breath out, our diaphragm relaxes and moves up, pushing air up and out of our lungs.  While our diaphragm is always working, we often don’t use it as much or as well as we could. Think of bending over to pick up a heavy box and straining your lower back instead of squatting down and lifting from your legs. That’s what shallow breathing is like — using your chest and neck to pump air in and out when there’s a much stronger muscle (the diaphragm) made for the job that’s waiting for some action.

Yoga is an incredible practice for engaging with the breath; we are constantly reminded to return to it, witness it, and listen to it. But off the mat it can be easier to let the thread of breath slip away.

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing is a super simple way to breathe more deeply wherever we are, immediately increasing the amount of oxygen in our system and blood in our brains.

First, try it lying down. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, following the movement of the diaphragm as it fills with air. If you’re breathing into your diaphragm your top hand will stay where it is while your bottom hand will rise as the belly fills. On the exhale, follow the movement of the diaphragm in and up. Continue until you feel euphoric.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of diaphragmatic breathing in a supine position, try it sitting and standing. The more aware you become of the sensation of deep, vital breaths, the easier it is to recognize when you move back into shallow, chest-centered breathing. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is an absolutely ace relaxation tool to have in your arsenal. Try it the next time you feel unfocused, tired, irritated, disconnected or just want to get a little high, au natural.

Breathwork Basics: Kapalabhati + Breath of Fire

Sister Pranayama Practices That Raise Energy and Heighten Awareness

Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire, two similar and dynamic pranayamas that significantly increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and the brain. Stimulating and detoxifying, they can clear the head and sinuses and fire up the belly — perfect for alleviating springtime allergies and general sluggishness.

While the terms Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire are often used interchangeably, they are slightly different. Breath of Fire is prescribed in Kundalini yoga on its own (eventually building up to a 31-minute practice) or as a jetpack to boost many kriyasKapalabhati translates to Skull Shining Breath and is practiced with the intention of clearing the cobwebs of the mind — imagine polishing a fogged-up window until you can see through it clearly.

The main difference is in the length and nature of the inhale. In BOF they are the same length. In Kapalabhati the exhale is longer and the inhale is passive; essentially it happens on its own.

Here’s what you need to know about both:

  • Breath is rapid, rhythmic and continuous.
  • Inhales and exhales are through the nose.
  • Breath is powered from the navel and the solar plexus through rapid stomach pumps: On the exhale, air is expelled through the nose by pressing the navel back toward the spine. On the inhale, the belly relaxes and the diaphragm flattens down
  • For Kapalabhati, focus on the exhale; it should be forceful but not forced. The vacuum created by the exhale will naturally lead to an inhale; teachers often call this a passive inhale.
  • In Breath of Fire, work toward producing inhales and exhales of equal length.
  • This breath can be fast and rigorous but the body stays relaxed, especially the face. No wrinkles!
  • As you become more accustomed to them, these pranayamas can be practiced for long periods of time; but start small, one to three minutes — this is powerful stuff.
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How to do them:

  • Find a comfortable sit with a long spine, head gently inclined toward your chest.
  • Set your attention at your third eye, just between the brows, with eyes gently closed.
  • Hands can rest on your knees, fingers in maha-chin mudra (index fingers under the thumbs); or, to turn up the volume a bit, arms extended in a wide V over your head, fingers tucked into your palm with your thumb stuck out like a cosmic hitchhiker.
  • Take a regular inhale and exhale to begin. Then, inhale partway and begin breathing rapidly while engaging the belly, letting it move in with the exhale and out with the inhale.
  • When you’re done, draw a deep breath in, retain the air in until it no longer feels comfortable, and then slowly release air through the nose.
  • Sit quietly and observe the effects.

Why do it?

Breath of Fire and Kapalabhati are incredibly potent practices for arriving in the present moment, a snap to attention.

Here are some additional benefits:

  • Releases toxins
  • Expands lung capacity
  • Strengthens the nervous system
  • Balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
  • Powers up the third chakra
  • Increases stamina
  • Energizes blood flow and circulation
  • Delivers oxygen to the brain, resulting in improved focused and a natural state of calm awareness
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Aids in digestion

As noted above, these are powerful practices, so begin with short sessions and rest if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Neither of these pranayamas are recommended for pregnant ladies and they’re uncomfortable to practice on a full stomach. As with any pranayama practice it’s wise to study with a teacher. Energy moves up and out in unexpected ways, so a safe container for experimentation is really vital. Practice them on their own, as part of your meditation, or add to an asana like plank or utkatasana to heat things up.

Healthy Holidays – Easy Tips For Mindful Eating

It’s not just what we eat, but how we eat that matters

As the holidays ramp up we’re just moments away from the dreaded/delicious culinary decadence vortex: a busy calendar means more wine or cocktails at social and work gatherings, overindulging in brunches, lunches and dinners with family and friends. Pies, cakes, holiday cookies, gravy, roasts, and a cornucopia of veggie and grain side dishes each more incredible than the next, and all too wonderful to pass up.

I might have put on five pounds just writing that paragraph!

It’s the same cycle every year, and changing recipes to “low fat” versions of everything is just as ridiculous as trying to play hermit and hideout fasting until the whirlwind is over. Worse yet would be to become glutionous in the moment, only to wallow in guilt and remorse later.

So...What do we do?

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has some advice, in the form of a small, simple and highly practical book aptly titled HOW TO EAT.

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Bringing our mindfulness practice to our dining table (or office party or family gathering) is a powerful tool for not only truly enjoying the abundance of the season, but also staying balanced nutritionally and where weight is concerned. The simple tips shared in the book encourage “a joyful and sustainable relationship with all aspects of eating.” Meaning we can absolutely say yes to dessert, just so long as we pledge to actually enjoy it. This means, slowing down, tuning in, chewing and actually savoring each bite before we load the fork up for our next mouthful.

Scientific research is now revealing the effect of mindful eating on obesity and binge eating disorders. The results of this practice include not just enjoying each bite more, but supporting healthy digestion and cultivating an awareness of your levels of satiation – all of which also leads to portion control and maintaining a balanced weight. Simply by using the power of your attention.

You can click here for a little “taste” of the book, and also to purchase. The book also makes a sweet stocking suffer or hostess present – the type of gift that keeps on giving.

I recommend getting the book and savoring each usable piece of advice. And in the meantime, here are some simple tips:

Mindful eating is a before ~ during ~ & after process.
A process of tuning in. 

Before, we can tune into the efforts of the chefs or bartenders, the efforts of the farmers and grocers and bakers who contributed their energies into the forthcoming morsel. The efforts of the soil and sun and water that all conspired to facilitate your nourishment. If we’re cooking we can make the kitchen into a meditation room, cook without rushing and cook with love. We can thoughtfully set the table, supporting enjoyment for all those who will sit at it.

During we can chew and enjoy, tuning into the dance of flavors and activating our healthy digestive process at the same time. According to Thich Nhat Hanh we can let ourselves pay attention to two things: “the food that we’re eating and the friends who are sitting around us and eating with us. This is called mindfulness of food and mindfulness of community… true community building.” The good news is our powerful multi-tasking brains can listen to what’s being said around the table while also tuning into what’s happening on our plate, on our fork and in our mouth. Give it a try and I’m sure you’ll find you’re able to enjoy what you’re eating even as you listen to your tipsy cousin recount an embarrassing story for the third year in a row. We can sit down – turn off the radio or TV – and tune into our body’s signals. This will help us feel when we’ve had enough.

After a meal we can once again remember gratitude, and allow the body to be nourished by the nutrients in the food and the energy of our company. We can take some time to “rest and digest” so our systems can properly absorb and assimilate what’s just happened, before rushing to our next meal or engagement and overly taxing the system. We can even think of the act of doing the dishes as a meditation, a pause for digestion and appreciation.

Bringing mindfulness into the decadent deliciousness of holiday season is a way to keep your yoga practice going “off the mat” and truly continue to live a yogic lifestyle.

 

Age and Yoga

Do you want to feel youthful, agile & alive regardless of your age?

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The eightfold path of yoga keeps the body and mind agile, peaceful & responsive. We all know yogis who seem ageless, appearing far younger than their actual years. That said, aging gracefully through yoga is not about looking young forever.

Aging gracefully through yoga begins wherever we find ourselves in life, whether we are still young or start practicing because our great-grandkids are into yoga. It is about cultivating deep self-acceptance and capacity to love what we’ve got. And aging gracefully is about giving ourselves enough support so we can lengthen, relax, let go, and breathe deeply during practice, rather than push ourselves to achieve something that we think we should be able to do.

As each year passes, I enjoy the mind-blowing variety of yoga practices available. Rather than push myself to be strong and overcome fatigue as I did in my younger years, I am learning to support myself and deepen my practice with gentle & therapeutic yoga.

I continually find that my students who are older and wiser are very mindful and clear about how deep they want to go. They ask for adaptations for knees, wrists, hips, shoulders or back injuries or discover adaptations themselves. Gathering all of the props to support themselves, they enjoy finding ways to let go and relax. They love breathing and moving and, given the opportunity to add some humor, laughter is quick and from the gut.  When they have breakthroughs or openings, they discover ecstasy, lighting up like a small child.

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I will never forget the time, a man nearing his nineties joined class. He relaxed into yoga therapeutics with grace and then also wanted to explore some of the warrior series and tree pose. He balanced on one foot with determination and, yes, grace. Yoga is for every body. And the beauty and grace that can accompany a yoga practice comes from deep within ourselves.  His practice was truly his own without ego and without judgement.

When we begin to cultivate a non-judgmental mind and become willing to explore ourselves as we are in this moment, we are given an incredible amount of information from our bodies.

We begin to tap into our body wisdom. Sometimes we discover that we are stronger than we thought we were. Other times, everything feels stuck and hard. Each time we lean into the hard places without self-criticism or going numb, we discover a little more light and grace. Often, this occurs as we find ways to provide enough support so our bodies and mind can relax.

If we provide enough support, eventually something is going to let go.

The beauty of allowing yoga to help us to age gracefully is that everything we do permeates out into the rest of our lives. If we are able to show up to our mats and be with ourselves in a way that is non-judgmental, loving and compassionate, we deepen our capacity to show up to the rest of life with these same graceful qualities.

The powerful part of starting or continuing to practice yoga when we are not so young anymore is we are often already tapped into the many dimensions of ourselves. We can access and experience the subtleties of yoga. We know ourselves better and have more tools to talk ourselves through the confusing or challenging parts of yoga. No longer wanting to push ourselves so hard and incur injury, we tend to know our boundaries and treat ourselves with gentleness and wisdom.

Just as Leonard Cohen said, “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Aging gracefully through yoga comes as light gets into broken and stuck parts and we experience a profound acceptance of ourselves as we are. When we have these moments of yoga, we are ageless and infinitely graceful.

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How to Start a Regular Yoga Practice

Do you want to start a daily yoga or meditation practice but feel overwhelmed with a full schedule? Or, do you wonder how to get started and stay focused without the guidance of a teacher?

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Like anything else, the experience of yoga and meditation deepens with practice. The subtle effects of the postures are revealed over time. As we sit in the practice of yoga and meditation, we strengthen our capacity to be with ourselves as we experience the ups and downs of life.

The beauty of practice is this: The more we practice, the easier it becomes. In fact, over time, we cannot help but show up to our yoga practice, because yoga slowly becomes a part of everything we do. Plus yoga works! Once we know how calm and peaceful we can feel all day long as a result of our yoga, we will have a hard time giving up on our daily practice. The asana practice or seated meditation practice becomes a way to continue to stay engaged with the essence of our beings, every beautiful day.

Ready to get started?

Here are my top four tips to start a daily yoga practice:

1. Easy Does It

Life design coach, Martha Beck, recommends that we establish “ridiculously easy” goals to make BIG changes. After all, if we aim too high and make our goals too difficult, we will not do them. To begin your daily practice, start with something ridiculously easy that you will do every single day. Try one sun salutation or one minute of sitting. Just 30 seconds of breathing deeply can be your ridiculously easy daily practice. Once you reach your goal and you have a simple routine established, add just a little bit more. Continue to build your practice with baby steps until you discover a routine that works well for you.

2. Develop A Yoga Habit

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Commit to practicing a couple of postures every day for a full month until it becomes a routine. Or invest in yourself and get a monthly unlimited package at the studio, so you can build your daily habit with the guidance of your favorite teachers! Developing a routine around yoga makes continuing a daily practice easy. If you miss a day, be kind to yourself and simply start again the following day. Allow your practice to be nourishing and fun… not one more thing you have to do in your day. The simple act of showing up to your personal yoga practice will have a profound effect on your life, guaranteed.

3. Find A Sequence That Works Well For You

Depending on where you are at in life, different asana practices can support your body and soul. Having a series of postures or flow that you can practice every day can help you to see how certain postures affect your well-being. Some people enjoy the Ashtanga yoga practice because there is a series that they show up to every day. Others prefer restorative postures, or seated meditation without any postures at all. Do you want support in designing a sequence that is perfect for your body? I highly recommend working with a private instructor who can teach you a sequence that will support you wherever you are at.

4. Take Your Yoga Off the Mat

You can start a daily practice by integrating yoga into your day wherever you are. Maybe you don’t have time to roll out your mat every day, but can you breathe deeply for 30 seconds on your commute? Or find time to practice tree pose for five deep breaths on each side after you go to the bathroom? Sometimes the simple yet profound act of listening deeply, with full attention, to another human being can be your yoga practice. Pay attention to how you practice yoga off the mat. Perhaps you will find you already have a daily practice!

Four Ayurvedic Practices to Boost Your Immune System

Ward off the cold and flu with these ancient healing practices!

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The cold and flu season approaches each year as leaves blanket the ground creating an artful display of fall colors. Hearty root crops and winter squash are abundant at the farmer’s market. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, autumn is the vata season, known for its cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic qualities. There is incredible momentum, movement, and vitality that occurs with when the wild vata winds blow, generating transformation. And yet, we can also find ourselves forced to stop in our tracks as colds and the flu spread through schools and workplaces like wildfire during this time of year. To go forth with steady confidence and healthy bodies, favor a vata pacifying lifestyle which boosts the immune system and brings the body, mind, and spirit into balance. Check out these four tips to be well and stay calm.

One: Begin to see food as medicine.

Incorporate a vata pacifying diet this fall and winter, which consists of foods that are warm, moist, smooth, and nourishing. Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. Minimize stress and support easy digestion by consuming lightly cooked foods that are warming and soothing. Sip ginger tea with meals to aid digestion, or make a healing, anti-inflammatory turmeric-honey tea to support the immune system. Go deeper with this recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

Food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

Two: Wake up before sunrise and create a morning routine.

Routine balances the vata dosha. The early morning hours before sunrise are the vata time of day, inspiring movement and energy. Practice pranayama, sun salutations, yoga postures, and meditation first thing in the morning to stimulate your body’s cleansing systems and set the tone for your day. Sip room temperature or lukewarm water with lemon first thing to stimulate and balance your digestive tract.

Poses that work on the colon (the bodily seat of vata), intestines, pelvis, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac balance vata by bringing energy back down into the base of the torso. Spinal twists and inversions of all kinds soothe this dosha. Sitting and standing forward bends are choice poses, particularly for insomnia; boat, plank, staff, and plow are also powerful vata-reducers. To support grounding, work with standing poses such as mountain, triangle, warrior, and tree. Avoid back bends, such as bow, cobra, pigeon, and arch, which increase vata, or hold them briefly. If you enjoy vinyasa, do sun salutations S-L-O-W-L-Y. Let child’s pose lead you back to your innate innocence and trust. End your practice with a long Savasana (20–30 minutes); it is really okay to do NOTHING for a while.

Selection taken from Kirupalu’s Yoga and Ayurveda article. 

Three: Give yourself a thorough rubdown.

A self-massage with warming sesame oil may provide the moisturizing nourishment your skin needs to maintain its healthy glow this fall and winter. Plus self-massage boosts the immune system, improves circulation, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind. Follow the sesame-oil massage with a relaxing bath or shower. 

Four: Practice alternate nostril breathing.

Alternate nostril breathing is very balancing year-round, but particularly supportive during the vata season. Check out this video to go deeper: