Tree Pose (Vrksasana) Recap from Fundamentals

vrksasanaSo, I’ve been slacking off on getting my Fundamental Yoga class recaps posted, and since we’re gearing up for our final 5 weeks, I thought I better get a move on!  I am going to try to post on every other day until I’m caught up.  After that, I want to start writing on some other topics including a reoccurring series called “Eat like a Yogi.”  I am excited about that one as I used to have a food blog and miss it, kind of.

Alignment/Tips for Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

Stand on your mat with your feet hip distance a part, toes facing forward.  Ground all four corners of your feet into the mat (base of the big toe, inside of the heel, base of the pinky toe, outside of the heel).  Spread your toes.  Feel the energetic lift of your arches reaching all the way to your groin and continuing through the crown of your head.

Begin to switch your weight into your left leg. Lift your right foot off the ground, as you start to bend your knee.  Place your foot on your ankle, calf or thigh (never the knee) as you open your knee out to the right.

For added support, press your foot into your standing leg and your leg into your foot (this is easier if done with the foot on the calf or thigh as the ankle may not feel stable enough).  This will help to create a new focus for balance.  From that place lengthen all the way through the crown of your head.  Bring your hands together in prayer position.  Relax through your shoulders, drawing the shoulder blades together to create openness in the chest.  Make sure your ribs aren’t pushing out.  Gently draw your belly button in towards your spine.  Breathe.  Once you feel stable grow your branches by raising your arms out over head.

If you can, practice in front of a mirror, notice if as you place your right foot on your calf, did your right hip hike up?  If so, work to lower that hip so it is even with the left side.  I worked with one lady who experienced the opposite.  Her right hip actually lowered and she had to work to raise that hip.

In class I was asked about the lifted leg being completely parallel with the rest of the body. (Think about standing up against a wall and your whole lifted leg being flesh against the wall.)  This is something that could happen over time as psoas muscles and hips begin to release the more you practice yoga.  Or, it may never happen as everyone’s bodies are different.  For now, work on your balance and even hips.

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Flexibility in Training

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Practice: Gentle practice centering around the neck, working into Fish pose and Shoulder Stand.

Inspiration: Flexibility in emotions, thoughts and life in general. ie. bending to be straight.

Life Lesson: I decided to take my daughter and niece to a children’s museum just a quick 40 minute drive up the freeway. The museum had rave reviews and an awesome website showing the fun attractions for my littles to enjoy. A 40 minute drive later…we find the museum is closed and in search of a new location.

Seriously!?! Well, (insert internal explicative here). So we stop at a gas station, grab a cheese stick for the girls and a Kind bar for me. I tell them, over our snack, that we’ll drive back home and go to the library. “Yay! Let’s go!” Their excitement baffles me.

They taught me a lesson in flexibility for sure.

I was grumpy for the rest of the day (could be from lack of carbs). But, the girls enjoyed the library and doing yoga with me, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

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Self-Actualization in my Big-Orange Dress

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I wore a very orange, very long, and full dress today. It yells, doesn’t whisper, summer and feminism. After church, after toddler was down for her nap, I went to my backyard sanctuary to play around with some yoga – in my big orange dress.

I took my camera thinking maybe the dress would create an artful picture. Maybe I could blog about how beautiful and flowy it made me feel; an opportunity to spread some real yoga body-positivity.

DSC_0478aTimer set. Run to mat. Snap first picture.

Several poses and deleted pictures later, and the only one I could even handle looking at was one that perfectly hid my adipose tissue (ehem, fat) and my God-given awkward face.

I finally decided this was as good as it was going to get. It would never get any better. I felt defeated, no joy left to do yoga. I lamented in Child’s pose until my legs fell asleep, and then moved myself into a prone position until my arms tingled. Finally I moved to a chair and sat even longer.

I sat in deep contemplation.

My self-reflection had me wondering and playing out what ifs.  What if I were to be totally mangled, (face and body)? Could find happiness despite my ugliness?  This thought reminded me of that saying (or maybe it’s just a popular meme) that basically says I am not my body, my body is just a vessel.

DSC_0478bJust a vessel.

The person I am. The person I want to be. The person I hide. That’s who I am. Not this flesh, which by the way is incredibly strong thanks to yoga (I mean, check out the budding definition in my arms! Woohoo!). I am this geeky, overly emotional, awkward, wife/mom/daughter who likes pretty dresses and loves God, and loves teaching and doing yoga. My flesh doesn’t have anything to do with it.

Really, my flesh is not just a vessel. It’s a barrier keeping me from fully expressing, experiencing and appreciating my individuality.

I still don’t have the courage to share the pictures that show my tricep flab, or the ones with my pouty lip (which is almost Bubba-Gump pouty from a profile angle) and my 31-year-old turkey neck.

But, the point is: Self-actualization. And body acceptance, of course.

Contemplate. Meditate. Pray. Love. Yoga. That’s how I’ve been shifting from self-loathing to self-loving.

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Why you couldn’t pay me to weigh myself.

Vashistasina in my space pants and feelin' fine.

Vashistasina in my space pants and feelin’ fine.

I don’t weigh myself. I don’t own a scale. I intentionally avert my eyes when being weighed at the doctor’s office. If I really wanted to I could get out my Wii Fit board and see the damage. But I don’t want to. I especially don’t want that damn little animated board telling me, “That’s overweight!”

Anybody ever flip off your TV? Cause I have.

I recently discussed this topic with a student of mine. We talked about how discouraging it is to see the number on the scale fluctuate: from day to day, from hour to hour. It’s like playing the happiness lottery. “Come on -1 pound, mama needs some chocolate!” I told my student how I refuse to get on the scale, and she told me I seemed to be pretty good about that kind of thing.

The truth is, I’m still learning to be “good” about that kind of thing.

Trying to undo 31 years of damage is going to be a life time of work, because until I can totally become immune to our society’s dysfunctional body image standards, my body-hate bucket will continue to be filled. Although, now, I imagine my bucket has a tiny, pin-point hole in the bottom, leaking out a little bit at a time.

I think I earned that pin-point hole about 2010 when I gave up dieting after reading “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. (Side note: I both recommend and do not recommend this book. Please see my brief notes after this post.)

Following a miscarriage in 2009 I gained a ton of weight, maybe 30 pounds, and honest to goodness I couldn’t figure out why. So I did what any girl would do, I worked my butt off. I ran a few miles every day, and kept my calorie intake to 1200-1400. I felt like crud and gained more weight.

That’s when in 2010 I read that book and gave up dieting. I finally discovered in 2011 it was a sluggish thyroid and Hashimoto’s disease to blame. I continued with my non-dieting mentality and was able to maintain my weight.

Fast forward to 2012 post baby, I did eventually lose my baby weight and most my thyroid weight with a paleo diet. I didn’t consider it dieting, however, because I ate as much as I wanted and felt very satisfied. I had my energy back, and felt semi healthy and normal.

But during this time, I did continue to weigh myself. I felt good physically, but I mentally and emotionally I still felt like a failure. I was still a chubby yoga teacher and I couldn’t quite get back down to my pre-thyroid disease weight. At times I wanted to give up teaching yoga, all because my self-worth is/was wrapped up in three little numbers.

I’ll admit, I have recently gained more weight. And I partially know why this time: Stress of a big move, stopped my paleo diet, thyroid numbers being off, discovering a new health issue, etc. But I don’t know how much weight and I really don’t care to know.

I have not weighed myself or looked at a scale for almost a year now. So I am oblivious to those three little numbers.

Here’s what I do know:

*I am WAY stronger than I was a year ago. Hello biceps!
*My belly is deflating due to merging back to a whole foods/paleo diet lifestyle and the plank challenge.
* I bought my first pair of patterned yoga pants, which are slightly bigger than the last pair I purchased, but I don’t care because I LOVE wearing them. They make me feel wonderfully geeky and happy.
*I love teaching yoga.
*My health journey and struggle with weight and body image can actually be very helpful for my clients who struggle with similar issues.

Instead of the scale I choose to measure myself by how I feel. I reflect on how much love, happiness and strength I have gained. And, in a practical sense, the way my pants fit is the best, least frustrating indicator of how I am doing in the weight management department.

Despite not weighing myself, these self-defeating thoughts still rear their ugly little heads, but after a good cry and some chocolate, I get over it a whole lot faster.

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**A note about “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. What I love about this book is that it can teach you how to know when you are truly hungry and truly full, which I do believe most of us have gotten away from. The book helps you overcome your fear of food being bad vs. good. There is also a helpful exercise helping you discover your real ideal weight. I found this to be pretty cathartic and eye opening. What I do not love about the book is that it doesn’t acknowledge food sensitivities or allergies, follows the government food pyramid, and doesn’t focus on a whole foods, clean eating diet. Let’s face it if I followed the government’s recommendation for portions, the Wii fit would be calling me obese. The science is from the 90s – when the whole low-fat thing was still a trend. They did just put out a new edition, but it doesn’t sound like the ancient science and food recommendations have been updated. Anyway, read at your own risk.

Because, Yoga: A story of body-hate, then love

urdvadahnurasana copyI have never been more excited about my yoga practice than I am right now.

In good ‘ole social media fashion, let me overshare my heart with you…

I, apparently, have had an emotional block, or disconnect with my yoga practice since, well, forever. I started yoga when I was 17, at the height of insecurities and body-hatred. I had recently lost about 40 pounds, and was looking and feeling smokin’. You see, my entire self-worth was wrapped up in how I looked.

My yoga practiced ebbed and flowed through college, marriage and first grown-up jobs. I was 27ish when I started giving yoga a second, deeper thought – when I thought maybe I’d like to teach. Even though it was close to ten years after I first discovered yoga, I still maintained all of my old insecurities (I could just hide it better), but I hated my body even more; because now I was sick and tired, and I didn’t know why.

All I knew was that I couldn’t sit behind a desk and keep my sanity any longer.

So, teacher training. Because, yoga.

I was still sick, and overweight. And public speaking was my biggest fear (second to giant house spiders). But through it all, teacher training lead me to diagnosing myself, which was confirmed by a real doctor, AND the training seriously helped me overcome my fear of speaking.

So then, teaching.

I was on the mend physically (minus lingering baby and thyroid weight) and I was ready to take on the yoga teaching world! I quickly landed a teaching gig and was given the opportunity to teach as much as I wanted. That was exciting.

But then, teaching.

I equally loved and feared my students. To be honest, I got a lot of judgement from students who thought a yoga teacher should look a specific way. It hurt, a lot. But I also had a group of AMAZING, supportive students who I loved. They encouraged me, and so I kept teaching.

But, I found myself in a giant rut. I was teaching in a way that catered to the athletic, able-bodied student, because I didn’t want to be judged. I think, however, teaching in this manner burnt me out, because my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t realize how damaging and how draining it was to please a group of people who were not even my target. I wanted to quit so. many. times. I am ashamed to share that, honestly.

And then, body positive yoga.

One day, feeling down about myself, I started looking at Instagram photos for the campaign #whatayogilooks and #yogaforall. These yogis defy the U.S. standards of a beautiful yogi and can do some amazing things with their bodies. Instagram led me to blogs, which lead me to some blogging of my own, which lead me to the Yoga for All teacher training (which starts this Tuesday!!).

These past few weeks of focusing my intentions on body positivity and teaching in a more gentle and loving way, has rekindled my passion for teaching yoga. I’ve literally done a home practice every day for about two weeks straight (I was only required to do 4 days a week during training)! I am just so excited to have an area of focus for my teaching. My goal is to reach those people who have felt excluded by yoga “standards.”

If you’ve been looking for a place in the Longview/Kelso area to do yoga; if you’ve felt excluded in a yoga class; if you’re worried you won’t fit in or won’t be able to do the poses; come try out Yoga with Shawnee at Summit Studios! I will do my best to accommodate you, to modify you, and to make you feel welcomed.

I am SO looking forward to starting the Yoga for All training and saturating my classes in body-positivity and yoga inclusivity!

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Let’s be real: Loving yourself is hard work

DSC_0038 copyJust like loving a significant other, learning to love yourself in order to eradicate a negative body image takes time, work, effort, respect, and constant reminders. If you’ve battled your body your whole life, as I have, you are not going to, realistically, wake up one morning and just decide that you love everything about yourself.

You’re still going to have insecurities, fears, moments of sadness, and icky envy… <–Gosh, doesn’t sound very promising, eh?

But wait a minute! There is still hope.

I can’t guarantee this is how it will be for you, but when I decided to stop dieting and focus on intuitive eating, and then a couple years later decided to lose hate instead of weight, I felt lighter. I think it was years of guilt I felt float off my shoulders – a lifetime of being told by peers and media that, because I had fat, I wasn’t a significant human being—woman.

And I still struggle with loving myself at all times. Heck, my biggest trigger is seeing myself in candid photos. Eeek! While I didn’t cry this time, I sure felt all those nasty little emotions popping up as I looked through vacation pictures.

Here is the amazing thing, though. I didn’t cry. I looked at some of those pictures for a while. I sat with them until it didn’t hurt so much anymore. Then I made myself say something nice about the picture. Even something simple like, my hair looks shiny, or my legs are almost tan!

Then, in those moments of “feeling fat,” I start down the path of “I need to lose weight” really quickly. But not long after follows some internal dialogue about needing to stop that; if you exercise you do it out of love; if you eat, you eat for health; etc.

See?

It’s a process. It’s a journey. Hang in there. You can get through each and every icky moment!

Loving yourself is a commitment. You have to wake up every day, reminding yourself every hour, every minute, that you are special, important and beautiful.

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Love your body at any age: Yoga and Osteoporosis

New blog post! This past week I had the opportunity to listen in on a tele-summit regarding yoga and osteoporosis. The information I gathered was very helpful and so beautifully fit into the “body love” and “yoga for all” direction I’m taking my teaching. Loving your body at any age is equally as important as loving your body at any size, etc. In short: yoga can both prevent and reverse osteoporosis. <-What a better way to love your body than with prevention! Read my notes to for the DOs and DON’Ts of Yoga for Osteoporosis.

Photo credit: According to Bing this image is free to share and use.

Photo credit: According to Bing this image is free to share and use.

***The information presented in this article are my notes on the free YogaU.com tele-summit , “Yoga for Osteoporosis: Prevention and Practice,” as presented by Dr. Loren Fishman and Ellen Saltonstall.

For eight years Dr. Fishman, who is also a well-known yoga teacher, has been studying effects of yoga and building bones. Throughout this eight year span, Fishman collected data on 900 participants and found the average participant, who was in the Osteoporosis range before starting yoga, had re-grown bone mass and came out of the Osteoporosis range.

Google defines Osteoporosis as “a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D.”

Dr. Fishman, however, doesn’t fully agree that the loss of tissue is solely a result of mineral deficiencies. Fishman holds to Wollf’s Law, which, according to Wikipedia “is a theory…that states that bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads under which it is placed.”

In other words, bone can re-build mass and adapt if appropriate, healthy pressure is applied. Gentle, strength-building forms of yoga provide a compressive force that stimulates the bone. As muscles are worked, the muscles pull on joints and bones to stimulate growth.

Dr. Fishman also found that yoga works just as well (if not better) to reverse Osteoporosis as pharmaceuticals such as Boniva. Fishman states that Boniva does work, but has its problems and one thousand and one side effects. Yoga on the other hand, has no negative side effects (if practiced safely) and can improve posture, balance, coordination, range of motion, strength and anxiety, all of which are important to aging bodies.

Osteoporosis is not just a concern for those who are older. Prevention should be a concern to those of any age. Dr. Fishman states the earlier in life you start your yoga practice, the better, as a yoga practice can help prevent osteoporosis.
Ellen Saltonstall, a well-known yoga teacher and assistant in this yoga study, gives some advice for those who have Osteoporosis, or may be at risk to Osteoporosis, and would like to begin a yoga practice.

The DOs of Yoga for Osteoporosis:
-Check with a physician. Get a DEXA scan. Check for other medical problems.
-Find a qualified yoga teacher. Yoga Alliance registered is important, but experience and background are also things to consider.
-Use care and intelligence. Start slowly & gradually.
-Practice regularly. Ideally 30 minutes five to seven days a week. Slowly build up amount and frequency.
-Focus on strength and balance rather than stretching or relaxing.
-Prioritize poses that extend the spine: back-bending, which build strength and counteract kyphosis.

The DON’Ts of Osteoporosis.
-Strain: Be intelligible/mindful.
– Avoid flexing (bending forward) the spine with speed and force.
-When practicing balancing poses use props, wall, chair.
-When twisting, avoid curving the spine. Don’t force with leverage. Focus on lift of the spine and raise the hips with a blanket, block or towel.
-Avoid inversions until proper guidance and enough strength in the arms and shoulders.
-Avoid excessive weight bearing on the hands and wrists before you’re ready. Build up strength slowly.signiture copy copy