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I’ve been asked if people should go to yoga class even if they’re sick or if it’s better to stay home.
There are differing views on this, but I believe that yoga is beneficial to your health in all circumstances. Of course, if you are contagious or have a persistent cough, it may be better to stay home and rest. However, if you are not contagious, attending a yoga class may be a big step back to health.
Yoga gives the immune system a much needed boost of energy. Breathing exercises (pranayama) are very efficient at moving out stale and stagnant energy from your body, and allowing fresh and vibrant energy to enter. The important thing when you’re sick is to not push or over-exert yourself.
Here are a few suggestions if you’re attending a yoga class when not feeling well:
You may not feel the healing energy of yoga in the moment. But going to yoga class, even when you’re not feeling your best, can be a very powerful way to stimulate your immune system and begin your journey back to health.
If you’ve taken yoga classes with me you’ve heard me say countless times: listen to your body and do only what feels good to you in the moment.
Often in yoga class I see people looking around the room to make sure they’re “doing the pose right.” Many people feel that if their yoga pose doesn’t look like someone else’s then they must be doing it wrong. But just because one person can do a pose a certain way doesn’t mean everyone can. That’s what is meant by finding your “expression” of a pose: doing the pose within your physical abilities in the moment.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been given the opportunity to practice what I teach. After suffering an injury playing hockey in early January, I’ve been nursing a torn ligament in my left knee. The injury hasn’t stopped me from teaching yoga or doing my own practice, but it has made me change how I do yoga.
There are a number of poses I used to be able to do, but currently can’t do. There are many poses I can do, but need to modify in order to accommodate my injury.
Yogic philosophy teaches that it’s not the past or the future that is important, but rather the present moment. Yoga is about acknowledging and accepting your abilities (and limitations!) in the “now” and not forcing the body to do what was possible yesterday or what you think you’re supposed to be able to do.
Yoga is about honouring yourself. As you practice listening to your body’s needs in the moment, you bring about transformation and healing on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually.
Are you convinced you don’t have time to meditate? Well, if you can spare one minute, you have plenty of time to meditate.
You don’t have to meditate for 20 minutes to reap the benefits. Meditating for one minute can be enough to lower your blood pressure, release stress and relax your body. All you need to do is focus your mind on something that makes you happy, feel good, or feel calm.
Here are a few one-minute meditation ideas:
Take just one minute to focus your mind on something enjoyable and you’ll notice an immediate change in how you feel mentally, emotionally and physically. It really is that simple!
With Spring in the air, it’s a wonderful time to clear out the clutter in your home or office. De-cluttering is considered modern day alchemy.
When you go through and clear out anything old, you don’t use or you don't need from your closet, storage room, desk, or even your computer files, you release stagnant energy. Over time our space becomes heavy with dense energy that can hold us back from growth and healing. De-cluttering can be therapeutic, energizing and transformative.
When we are happy and lead a fulfilling life, we don’t need so much material “stuff” around us. So take a look around you and see what you’re holding on to that may be making you feel heavy, sad, frustrated or even weighed-down. Then allow yourself to release what is no longer serving you, what is no longer useful or required, and experience your light and joyful “rebirth” this Spring!
Do you put off your personal yoga practice because you don’t have time? If so, I highly recommend “Pyjama Yoga.” It takes no time at all and I guarantee you’ll feel great!
Pyjama Yoga is practiced, you guessed it, in your pyjamas, either as soon as you wake up in the morning and/or just before going to bed in the evening.
Morning Pyjama Yoga Practice
First Pose – Mountain Stretch:
As soon as you get out of bed, stand up straight in Mountain Pose. Feel your feet flat on the floor and imagine the crown of your head reaching upward toward the ceiling. Take a deep Letting-Go Breath (inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth making an audible “ahh” sighing sound). Then, as you inhale deeply, stretch your arms up toward the ceiling and really allow yourself to feel a deep stretch through your entire body. As you exhale slowly and fully, allow your arms to lower down by your side.
Second Pose – Half Dog Stretch:
Facing your bed, place your hands flat on the bed, and slowly and gently walk your feet back as you hinge forward from the hips. Walk your feet backward as far as is comfortable, keeping in mind your body will still be stiff from sleep. As you walk your feet back, your torso will slowly tip down toward the floor. Depending on how you feel, your torso may come parallel to the floor (or not!). Allow yourself to feel a gentle stretch in the shoulders, spine and hips. Take a few full deep breaths. To come out of the pose, slowly walk your feet back toward the bed as you hinge your torso back up. Remember to bend your knees to come up if your back is stiff.
You’re now ready to start your day!
Evening Pyjama Yoga Practice
First Pose – Chest-opening Shoulder Stretch:
Standing by your bed, clasp your hands behind your back, lengthen your arms if you can, and draw your shoulders back and down. Close your eyes (keep your eyes open if you feel light-headed, dizzy or wabbly) and take three deep Letting-Go Breaths (inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth making an audible “ahh” sighing sound). Take an inhale to prepare your body and as you exhale gently release your hands and arms.
Second Pose – Child’s Pose:
Get into bed and move right into Child’s Pose (fetal position on your knees). Again, take three deep Letting-Go Breaths.
When you’re ready, get into your favourite sleeping position for a restful night’s sleep!
Of course, there are many more poses you can do in your pyjamas, so explore and have fun! Personally, I love to do slow, gentle sun salutations in my pyjamas. For some reason I find it very empowering, inspiring and rejuvenating!
Give it a try and let me know about your personal Pyjama Yoga practice!
There is a general misconception that “gentle yoga” is not as beneficial as the more active styles. However, gentle styles of yoga, such as Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Somatic Yoga, Chair Yoga and Therapeutic Yoga, can stimulate the immune system and improve one’s overall health.
Gentle yoga styles help to get the body out of stress-mode, release tension, calm the nervous system, gain clearer thinking, and even restore an overall sense of balance to the body, the mind and the soul.
People tend to think that gentle yoga classes are easy. But, surprisingly, many participants actually find these classes challenging because they require the body and the mind to relax.
In our society, people tend to feel the need to always do something and to feel a sense of accomplishment. Rarely do we allow ourselves the opportunity to simply “be”. Believe it or not: “being” rather than “doing”, in and of itself, is an accomplishment!
So, the next time you go to a gentle yoga class, be prepared to slow down. Allow yourself the opportunity to “be” in the poses by supporting your body, using props as needed, and then surrendering to the experience of the moment. Know that you are cultivating a mindful practice, as well as stimulating your body’s natural healing abilities.
When you include a gentle yoga practice as part of your other activities, you will begin to experience an improvement in your overall health, and a deep sense of inner awareness and peace.
Many people think yoga props (such as blocks, bolsters, cushions, straps, etc.) are for new students to help them do poses more easily. But that’s not really what props are all about.
The main reasons we use props in yoga class are to support the body and to “bring the floor up.” In both cases, props ensure the body remains safe and aligned in yoga poses, regardless of your physical abilities.
Tight muscles and joints can restrict one’s range of motion. When we use props to support the body in a pose, we give the muscles and joints the opportunity to more safely release. For example, Cobbler Pose or Diamond Pose (sitting with the soles of the feet touching and the knees bent out to the sides) can be very intense on a person with tight hip joints. Placing a block under each thigh or knee can help release tension in the hips allowing for a efficient stretch.
Similarly, in a “basic” pose such as Ragdoll Pose (standing forward bend), where one’s hands don’t reach the floor, it is a good idea to bring the hands to a block. In this case, the block is used to “bring the floor up” within the person’s reach. This is extremely important since hanging in the forward bend without the support of your hands can lead to increased pain, or even injury, in someone who already experiences back pain.
There are many poses we do in yoga class where we think we don’t need support. You may think that using props makes poses too easy and that your body can handle the intensity, but that’s not necessarily the case.
One of the most important things in yoga, other than the breath, is maintaining the body’s natural and stable alignment. Explore the use of props and see your yoga practice blossom!
People often go to yoga class without a bottle of water thinking that if they don’t sweat or get thirsty during class they don’t need to drink. But, whether you sweat or not, or if you get thirsty or not, you need to stay hydrated.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue, lack of energy, headaches, and muscle cramps. It can also cause more serious health problems.
When the body is hydrated, the muscles are stronger and more efficient. Even your heart functions better when you’re hydrated because it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood.
Plain water is the most hydrating and nourishing to the body, unless you’re doing high intensity activities. Sports drinks do have replenishing electrolytes, but they are also high in sugar content. Coconut water or drinking water and eating a fruit are great and simple alternatives.
Keep in mind that if you’re thirsty, your body is signaling to you that it’s already dehydrated!
So, regardless of whether you’re doing an indoor activity like yoga, playing a sport, or simply enjoying some time outside on a nice summer’s day, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep your body healthy and strong.
As the summer begins to wind down and autumn activities increase, we find ourselves even more distracted by our environment and obligations than usual. We feel that there’s not enough time in the day to do what we need to, let alone take time for ourselves.
Did you know that, amidst all the chaos around you, stillness is possible?
Stillness doesn’t necessarily include silence. Stillness can be found in a room filled with children playing, in a business meeting, in a busy store. Stillness is simply taking a moment to experience yourself within the world around you.
Hear the sounds and distractions around you. Acknowledge them. Then let them all go. Bring your awareness to your body, whatever position you’re in, and notice if you feel tight or tense. Take a deep breath and, as you exhale, focus on releasing any tension from your body.
In that brief moment, just 5 to 10 seconds, you’re able to bring stillness into your body and mind that can immediately transform stress into calmness, and frustration into peacefulness. There’s no excuse. You have the time! Take that moment now and find your stillness.
Do you experience that mid-afternoon energy crash? Maybe it’s because you’re not breathing properly.
Most people don’t think about breathing because the breath is an automatic function of the body. However, you need to start paying attention to how you breathe. Your health actually depends on it!
In our fast-paced society, we tend to breathe into and out from the chest. These short and shallow chest breaths don’t allow us to take in the oxygen we need to function efficiently, and keep us in the “fight or flight” stress-response mode. Long term, this has a major effect on our physical and mental-emotional health. Though the chest breath is important to carry us through times of stress, we need to be able to bring the breath into the “rest and digest” relaxation mode. We do this by lengthening and deepening the breath, and directing it into and out from the belly. Abdominal breathing is our natural way of breathing.
The word prana, in Sanskrit, can be translated both as “breath” as well as “life force energy.” When you think about it, our breath is essentially our life force energy. It is the quality of our prana that determines our overall health and vitality.
So the next time you think you need an extra shot of mid-afternoon caffeine to keep you going, stop and check your breath. Are you chest breathing or belly breathing? Simply taking five conscious, long, deep belly breaths can be enough to re-energize you and give you the boost you need to finish your day on a high note!
Someone brand new to yoga asked me what “top five” things they needed to know before going to a yoga class. So here is my Top Five List of things everyone should know before walking into a yoga class!
5– Take your shoes off at the door
At most yoga studios you are expected to take your shoes off at the front door. However, if you take yoga at a community centre, please take your shoes off at the door to the room where you take your class. This not only helps to keep the yoga space clean, but it is also a sign of respect for the space in which you will be practicing.
4 – When you arrive and OM-ing is in progress, please wait
If you arrive late to class and you hear the group chanting “OM,” please wait until they’re done before entering the room. OM is considered a sacred sound that represents the creation of the Universe and everything within it. Walking into the room at that precise moment can be disruptive to the vibration and intention the class is setting. Entering the room either before or after the chant of OM is fine.
3 – Walk around the mat
The yoga mat is each individual’s personal and sacred space. Please be mindful to walk around people’s mats rather than stepping on them.
2 – Speak softly
Some people like to arrive to their yoga class early to relax before beginning their practice. If you are speaking with someone, whether in the yoga room or even out in the hall, please speak softly. In many yoga rooms, regardless of where you practice, sound carries and speaking loudly can be disruptive, even unsettling, for some people.
1 – Honour yourself
The most important thing to know and keep in mind, in my opinion, is to be kind to yourself when doing your practice. Yoga is intended to be enjoyable and relaxing, while being stimulating on the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic levels. There are some days where you can take on challenges and intensify your practice; there are some days where you need to be gentle with your body and give yourself the opportunity to rest, restore, regenerate and rejuvenate.
If you’ve been to any of my yoga classes, you’ll have certainly heard me use the word “awareness.” But what does it mean?
To me, being aware is to be present in the immediate moment and conscious of what’s going on around you and within you.
One of the best explanations of awareness I have come across is in Barbara Marciniak’s book Path of Empowerment:
“Awareness is the ability to observe, take note of, integrate, and make use of the information presented for the purpose of expanding your perceptions of reality. New realizations offer renewed opportunities for personal growth and expansion of consciousness. (...) Once you can see through the script of beliefs and ideas that entrap your use of energy, you liberate your mind and free up your energy to be managed from a more consciously empowered position. When you take the time to notice and observe, to pay attention and to reinstate your curiosity, then your awareness will flourish...”*
Having a curious mind can bring a sense of excitement to your yoga practice. The next time you’re in a yoga class, allow yourself the opportunity to explore physical sensations and observe your thoughts while in poses. This will open new doors of awareness to better understanding who you are.
*Barbara Marciniak, Path of Empowerment, New World Library, 2004, p. 240