• Breath is Life

    Breath is directly linked to life force energy. Yoga often uses the word prana which refers both to the breath and to the vital energies of our body. As we move breath through the body, we also move Prana. The steadiness, fullness and depth of our breath reflects the same characteristics of that vital flow of energy.

    The practice of pranayama, the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the practice of intentionally directing the movement of the breath. It requires practice to become aware of our breath and to direct it intentionally. As we focus our attention on the movement of our inhales and exhales, our awareness is drawn inward to experience ourselves on a deeper, less distracted level. So how does this benefit us? What are the effects of breath control?

    On the physiological level, breath is literally life. The oxygen we take into our bodies through breath is processed through our lungs and heart into our blood where it is transferred throughout the body to every single cell. Within the cells, oxygen is the catalyst for the chemical reaction that creates energy, it keeps our cells alive. Our cells breathe. Breath equals prana equals life. The more effective our breathing, the healthier our bodies are on the cellular level. The health of our cells affects the well being of the entirety of our anatomy: our abdominal organs, our brain, our muscles, bones, skin, blood… literally everything.

    While breathing is something that happens naturally without our effort it is also something that we can control, direct, and manipulate. It can happen on the subconscious level as well as the conscious level, a function of the autonomic as well as the somatic nervous systems. It is the only system in the body like this. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic, our fight, flight, or freeze response, and parasympathetic, our rest and digest function. You may easily observe how the breath responds within these two functions. When we are stressed, experiencing some extreme emotion or circumstance, our breath becomes quick, forceful, possibly erratic.

    When we are at rest, calm, and peaceful, our breath slows, and lengthens, even quiets. Our breath responds to our state of mind and emotions. This relationship also exists in the reverse. Our nervous system is affected by our breath. By intentionally slowing, lengthening, deepening the breath, we send a message via the diagram and vegas nerve throughout our body that all is well, we are safe, we are at peace, slowing the heart rate and initiating relaxation. Through the breath, we can control the state of our minds and emotions, we can control our experiences.

    In our asana practice, we are increasingly challenging the steadiness of our breath. The first layer of an asana practice, especially a vinyasa method, is the breath. The breath establishes a rhythm and dynamic, and we then layer movement over it. Ideally the movement and positions of our bodies do not alter the pace, rhythm, or tone of our breath. Of course, this is difficult, this is the challenge, this is the point. We are intentionally creating increasingly intense situations for our nervous system and then requiring our breath to remain steady, requiring our nervous system to remain steady. This practice over time lengthens the space between impulses, allowing us the time to make intentional discriminative choices of response rather than pre-thought reaction. Establishing control of breath affects the experience of our nervous system, allowing us to grab the reins of our impulses, directing thought and eventually life force energy.

    Pranayama practice similarly creates a challenge for our nervous system but instead of maintaining an even steadiness of breath, it varies the rhythm and pace of breath, working with retentions and alternating the use of the nostrils. By challenging the extremes of breath, it challenges the experience of the nervous system and asks us to remain calm, remain at peace, remain in control. Physiologically, it strengthens the muscles of respiration and increases lung capacity which improves the efficacy of the function of breathing.
    New research is still being done on the breath, particularly how it affects our brain and its functions. One recent study I’ve heard about focused on different mindfulness practices, like yoga asana and meditation.

    They found that the common link that resulted in neurological benefits was the attention to the breath. Another breath study of epileptics came to a similar conclusion, they observed that different types of controlled breathing activated different regions of the brain, noting that simply focusing on controlling the breath may be the key. Our focused intention lights up otherwise un-accessed parts of the brain. A third study I recently came across was related to how breath affects the cleansing function of brain fluid. The fluid of the brain is meant to draw out impurities and toxins to be filtered and released from the body. The depth and breadth of the breath seemed to increase the volume and effectiveness of this process which has implications for diseases like Alzheimers.

    The breath is our link between the conscious and subconscious mind. It is the communication between our body’s experience and our mind’s awareness. It is connection. The breath supports the vitality of every key cell in our body, affecting the functionality of every system. It is the force that drives vitality, prana. It is life. Giving attention to breath in our yogic practices provides deep and broad benefits to our body, mind, and spirit.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Practice Ashtanga with Angelique on Omstars

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

  • Downward Dog: Reexamining What is Habitual

    I teach a broad range of classes, from basics to hot vinyasa to honey flow (and if that intrigues you, check out my website!). Joining those classes on any day are a range of yogis from beginners to advanced to fellow teachers, those with whom I have practiced for years and those I meet for the first time.

    Now for the surprise. I break down downward dog to every single student in every single class. Only a day-one yogi has never been in downward dog, so of course, it is my honor to introduce that yogi to this foundational pose.

    And most yogis who have been in downward dog many times can still benefit from the grounding instructions, “sharpen your arms, bring your toes up to engage the front of the legs, don’t worry about touching your heels down to the ground.”

    But what about the advanced yogis? What about fellow teachers in my class? Is there a purpose to breaking down a pose they do dozens of times each and every day? Yes. And it is a reason that extends far beyond downward dog and even more broadly than yoga.

    Things we do again and again become habitual. In fact, it is a great evolutionary survival mechanism of our brains that we can approach familiar movements with an automaticity that reserves our precious brain power for novel endeavors.

    But this automaticity exacts a toll. It can be hard to be mindful in the habitual. Reexamining the things we do regularly can give them a renewed sense of purpose. So no matter how many times you have been in downward dog, make it feel like your first.

    • Feel the even weight of your body between your limbs.
    • Sharpen your legs, sharpen your arms, and extend the side of your trunk.
    • Push the front of your thighs towards the back of your thighs and lift your hips upwards and backwards.
    • Feel the stretch extend from the soles of your feet, through your calves and into your hamstrings. Let that lengthen your spine.
    • As you fold forward, sending your unique energy inward, accept that calming effect on your nervous system and allow yourself to look within. I bet you’ll like what you find. 

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Check out Ahmed’s Mindful Alignment course on Omstars

    Practice with Ahmed LIVE on Omstars

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

  • Yoga for Menstruation

    As someone who has had to seek medical intervention in the past, I can tell you that the most consistent relief I’ve had has happened since I have had a consistent yoga practice.

    Menstruation can be hard. Whereas it’s normal and expected once girls hit puberty, those 5-8 days can be dreadfully, frighteningly painful for many women. From anxiety to mood swings, lower back pain to crippling abdominal cramps, nausea and diarrhea to constipation. As someone who has had to seek medical intervention in the past, I can tell you that the most consistent relief I’ve had has happened since I have had a consistent yoga practice. Try adding yoga to your daily routine and see how it helps. You can also try these yoga poses for menstruation. They will help to relieve symptoms of bloating, heavy bleeding, PMS and lower back pain.

    Supta Baddha Khonasana

    This is a reclined variation of Butterfly Pose. You can also place a cushion, bolster or blanket under your back, the entire length of the spine. Hands can be flat on the ground, palms up. Or, you can place one hand on the heart, the other on the lower pelvic belly. Breathe. This pose opens up the hips and groin area and helps to relieve traditional lower abdominal cramps. Stay here for 5 minutes.

    Legs Up The Wall

    This pose is especially helpful for those of us who struggle with lower back pain associated with our period. It supports the lower back and the relaxed position, with the spine flat on the ground, eases compression in the lower back area. If a wall is not available, feel free to choose a similar variation but with the knees bent and feet drawn close to the glutes. Stay in this position for 5-10 minutes.

    Bound Angle/Cobbler/Butterfly Pose

        

     

    Bound Angle Pose works by opening and massaging the pelvic area of the body. This pose can also help with heavy bleeding. You can sit with the spine straight, grabbing the feet. Or, place several blankets, a bolster or a cushion underneath the torso and come into a folded variation. Hold for 5-10 minutes.

    Sideways Cat Stretch

    From all fours: inhale center, exhale, try to bring the head to the glutes. Alternate, left and right sides.
    The aim here is to help the pelvic muscles to relax and ease the discomfort that results in cramping pain when those muscles contract. Repeat 5 times on each side.

    Supine Twist:

    Supine twists are great for relieving the symptoms associated with menstrual cramps. They aid by easing the discomfort in the lower pelvic region and also stimulating blood flow and circulation. The stretch on the lower back and hips is also quite soothing. Add a bolster, cushion or folded blankets under the bent leg to make yourself more comfortable. Then stay in this pose, on each side, for 3-5 minutes.

    Savasana

    Menstruation often comes with a roller coaster of emotions. Savasana relaxes and calms the nervous system and helps to balance the emotions. Hold Savasana for 5 minutes.

    Happy period.

    By Sasha Daley

     

    I started practicing yoga in 2015. I had a pain in my knee and, after searching Google, figured I had nothing to lose by trying. I watched my life and relationships become transformed by my practice. So much so that I pursued my 200 HR certification with Bodhi Yoga Academy in 2018. I advocate yoga and it’s transformative, healing properties for all peoples and all bodies. I see yoga as a safe space, a place where we forget who we think we are, who we’re expected to be; it is where we allow the body, the mind, the breath to be so perfectly intertwined that we can just be. Being a teacher is great. Being a student of the practice is, by far, my greatest accomplishment.

  • Demystifying the Mysore Method

    And even if you have some knowledge of what Mysore is, the idea of taking a class may be a bit intimidating.  I totally understand. It is hard to anticipate what you are in for when you think about taking your first Mysore class. However, it really is a very welcoming and inclusive form of yoga practice even for beginners. Maybe especially for beginners. Allow me to clear up some of the haze around the mysterious Mysore Method.

    I teach the Mysore method of Ashtanga Yoga.  Have you heard of it? If you practice any yoga technique you have probably heard of Ashtanga, but Mysore may be a mystery.  And even if you have some knowledge of what Mysore is, the idea of taking a class may be a bit intimidating.  I totally understand. It is hard to anticipate what you are in for when you think about taking your first Mysore class. However, it really is a very welcoming and inclusive form of yoga practice even for beginners. Maybe especially for beginners. Allow me to clear up some of the haze around the mysterious Mysore Method.

    First of all, let’s be clear on what Ashtanga is. Ashtanga Yoga is a vinyasa method. Vinyasa refers to the synchronizing of movement to breath. Breath is the first layer, a steady flowing of in and out, setting the pace and dynamic of your yoga practice. The body’s movement is layered over the constant rhythm of the breath. In a vinyasa method, such as Ashtanga, the postures, moments of stillness, are linked by transitional movement sequences. Every breath has an assignment, either to maintain and deepen the experience within the posture or to transition from one posture to the next. In this way, the mental connection to the practice can remain unbroken. From the first inhalation to the last exhalation, the practitioner is asked to stay focused, stay engaged, stay in their yoga.

    Practice with Angelique LIVE on Omstars

    Ashtanga is a vinyasa method that has a set sequence of postures. You do the same postures in the same order ever time. The sequence is progressive in that each posture is built on the information received from previous ones. There are six series of postures, each one more challenging than the last. The first is referred to as Primary Series, also Yoga Chikitsa, yoga therapy, and is intended to rehabilitate the body. The postures address the main areas of the body: spinal column, hips, knees, shoulders, as well as the internal organs. The intention is to assist in healing old injuries, correcting chronic patterns, and bringing the body to its most optimal neutral state. The second series, referred to as intermediate series, or Nadi Shodana, is a practice of nerve cleansing. This practice deals with purifying the energy channels of the body. The third series and beyond continue to challenge the physical body and the subtle bodies of energy, mind, emotion, and spirit in increasingly deep and intense ways. Each series can take many years to learn and fully integrate. Most practitioners find a lifetime of benefit within the primary series alone. A handful may venture into the intermediate series and only a few work their way into the advanced series of Ashtanga Yoga.

    Mysore then is the traditional self-practice approach to the Ashtanga technique. It derives its name from the city in India, Mysuru, where it developed and where the current head of the lineage continues to live and teach. In a Mysore class, each student moves independently, according to the timing of their own breath, through the sequence of postures as they have learned them from their teacher. The teacher moves through the room, giving assistance, instruction, and guidance as needed on a one on one basis. This method requires a commitment of time and effort. Frequent and consistent practice results in deeper understanding and greater connection to the work of the yoga. It is considered to be a daily practice that includes one day of rest per week, rest on the full and new moons, and rest for women during their monthly cycles.

    When a student new to the practice begins, the teacher provides a lot of attention and instruction, teaching them the beginning sequences of the practice, bit by bit. They do not need to know anything about Ashtanga to begin, they don’t even need to know anything about yoga! The instructor meets them where they are and teaches them the practice at the pace that best suits them. Every practitioner is different and this method honors that. The teacher determines the student’s readiness to progress deeper into the challenges of the practice. As the student mentally integrates the order of postures and physically integrates the information of each pose, the teacher gives them more information; more poses, building slowly and intentionally through the series.

    Practice the Primary Series with Angelique on Omstars

    The nature of the method allows for a significant amount of independence for the student. They are required to memorize the order of postures and to flow through them according to that memory. They are also given the space and time to give attention to areas they struggle with. A student may do one posture two or three times to work on obstacles before continuing through the sequence, or may stay a bit longer in order explore an experience. There is opportunity for each student to do the work they need to do in order to best receive benefit of the practice.

    This method also allows for a relationship to develop between student and teacher. A good teacher of Ashtanga Mysore is assessing your progress as it projects forward into the days, weeks, months, even years to come. They are aiming to develop a program that will help you navigate the practice according to your specific strengths and weakness. Trust grows in this relationship based on an understanding and empathy from the teacher and a knowledge that the teacher has themselves gone through the same process. The student is tasked with finding their teacher, the person they connect with, can trust, and allow the overall guidance of their practice.

    Ashtanga Mysore can be an incredibly transformative yoga practice. The set sequence allows for a daily checking in of progress and the fluctuations caused by…well, life. If the practice remains the same, day to day, what changes? We do. Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states are subject to fluctuations. This is natural. The consistency and structure of the Ashtanga method is the framework within which we can become aware of and assess these fluctuations. As we develop understanding of how our lives affect us, we can make choices. We can learn to respond intentionally rather than react impulsively or out of habit. The set sequence also allows for muscle memory to develop, freeing the focus of the mind to enter a more meditative state. When we no longer have to think about what pose comes next, we can fully immerse in the present, in the sensations of the posture and the thoughts and emotions that arise. We can find and cultivate the inner witness of the present moment, the self that observes and can remain steady within the swirl of distraction. When the self can be at peace, no matter the intensity of the posture, the self can also be at peace no matter what challenges are encountered off the mat.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. During her 2011 visit to study in Mysore, India, Angelique received Authorization to teach Ashtanga Yoga. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

  • Yogis at Ramadan

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    This month, Ramadan, is one of deep inward reflection for Muslims. For many non-Muslims, the month of Ramadan immediately suggests a time of fasting, hardship, and deprivation. Perhaps for those very reasons, many of my non-Muslim friends are shocked to hear that I maintain my same yoga teaching and practice schedule throughout my observance of Ramadan. They are indeed correct that Ramadan involves fasting — from dawn to sunset, Muslims, myself included, refrain from the intake of food and drink and even abstain from bodily pleasures of intimacy. And they are certainly correct that this is a deprivation and can be a hardship, but the result is a time of deep cleansing and renewal and the effect supports and enhances my yoga practice. My yoga practice is deeper and more spiritual than it is at any other time of the year. Yoga and Ramadan bring out the best in each other and the combination brings out the best in me.

    When I teach yoga, I often say to my students “as you are.” For example, “as you are, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.” What I really mean is something much deeper than that. As you are — whatever you brought with you to this mat and this practice, whatever your body is today, whatever emotional or spiritual energy you have with you, we can work with it because as you are, right now, is exactly as you are supposed to be.

    “As you are” takes on an even deeper meaning to me during the month of Ramadan, because it is a month stripped bare of distractions. We spend a lot of time distracting ourselves from who we are. For many of us, we are not comfortable facing who we truly are, so we distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex, curated, online personas of ourselves, memories of what we once did, anxieties about what we might one day do. In fact, we have any number of tools at our disposal to keep us from facing the stripped down truth of who we are, as we are, at any particular moment. Yoga provides one framework for accessing our true selves, as we are, by penetrating and examining the five koshas, or sheaths, that overlay our true selves. The observance of Ramadan helps us strip away the distractions and focus on each kosha.

    Annamaya is the physical layer, our flesh and bones. During Ramadan, we fast during daylight hours and make careful choices to hydrate and nourish ourselves during the precious few hours between sundown and dawn, mindful of the delicate balance with our bodies’ countervailing need for sleep. Making the right choices involves a keen understanding of our physical selves, where our body is on that day and in that moment.

    Pranayama is our energetic layer, manifesting through the breath as a symbol of the energy of life. Islam encourages us to find balance in our lives and, during the month of Ramadan, we are asked to fast from the worldly desires that may, at other times, overtake us and throw us out of balance. During this month, we fast from temptations, anger, and aggression. Instead, we prioritize compassion, kindness, giving, and community involvement. This renewed focus cleanses our energetic selves.

    Manomaya is the mind, our means to self-identify, and Vijnanamaya is our intellect and wisdom. During the month of Ramadan, we increase our practices of reflection, contemplation, meditation, devotion, and prayers. Our increased prayer practice forces us out of the daily bustle and drops us into ourselves. This inward focus quiets the noise of our daily lives and connects us deeply with our own spiritual beliefs. Free from that noise, we understand who we are and we grow the intellect and wisdom that supports us on our path.

    Anandamaya is the absolute truth, our true self, as we are, at this moment. These daily practices purify our body, our mind, and our soul. Ultimately, they help us pull back the curtains we wrap around ourselves and face the reality of who we are. It might not be quite who we thought. It might not be an Instagram-perfect reality. It might be something we’ve been avoiding. But finding our true self is important because it links us to God. Believing in God requires you to find yourself and believe in yourself, after all, you are the only version of yourself that He made. To ignore or hide your true self is to ignore God. To change yourself or avoid your true self is to assume that God made a mistake in creating you. He didn’t. We tend to look for things in the wrong places, God included. In Arabic, we say Allah for God, pronounced al-Luh. When we say it over and over, it mimics the sound of our own beating heart. Our own heart is the best place to find our connection to God. 

    So, find your true self and celebrate what you find.  You may not be perfect, but you are as you should be, right now.

    Practice with Ahmed on Omstars

    By Ahmed Soliman

    Before I found yoga and began teaching, I was a wildlife biologist and environmental scientist. Serving the natural environment and helping to recover endangered species was my way of giving to a greater good. This is a concept that I’ve carried daily into a yogic lifestyle, both in teaching and in practice. I seek to serve this community in a way that supports strength, healing, and sustainability. After having multiple knee surgeries due to a car accident, I myself sought these qualities from my own encounter with yoga. I had to transition from contact sports like soccer to the safer and deeper space that the practice provides. A continuing student of Iyengar yoga, vinyasa, and meditation, I believe that awareness of breath, knowledge of the body, and mental focus on the mat lead to mindfulness and living harmoniously off the mat. I draw from my own experience and the study of human anatomy to offer a safe and grounded space for practitioners. I endeavor to help them explore their physical boundaries with a focus on intelligent alignment, awareness of breath, and steadying or relaxation of the mind. I have studied with Nikki Costello, Nikki Vilella, Magi Pierce, and other influential teachers. I am an ERYT-200 hour yoga alliance certified teacher with additional specialized training in anatomy, meditation and yoga nidra. Connect with Ahmed on Instagram or http://yogisoli.com/

    Join live classes with Ahmed on Omstars

  • A Simple Sequence for Gentle Yoga with Kaitlyn

    Set your day up for success with simple stretches in the morning. This simple gentle yoga sequence will guide you through the steps and help set your intention for the rest of the day.

    You’ll need your mat, a quiet space, and blocks or books for this sequence. Start by finding a comfortable seat. Bring your hands palm face down on your knees if you’d like to ground down your energy, or face up if you’d like to receive energy for the day, or one of each if you can’t decide.

    Take a moment to notice your sit bones grounding into the space beneath you, the length of your spine, and the crown of your head reaching toward the sky. Allow your shoulders to relax away from the ears, soften the facial muscles, and relax the space between the eyebrows. Start to bring your awareness to your breath, taking deep inhales, and slowly releasing the breath on an exhalation.

    Focus on your breath, and set an intention for the day.

    Bringing your palms face down on your knees, inhale to press the heart center forward, begin to lift the chin and the gaze, and roll the shoulders away from the ears.

    As you exhale, begin to round the spine as you tuck the chin toward the chest and fall back on your seat. Repeat three times.

    Next, bring your chin to your chest, roll the chin along the collar bone rolling right ear to right shoulder, lower the left hand toward the earth or a block, and gently rest your right hand on the side of your head without putting any pressure on it, just allowing the weight of your hand to give you a deeper stretch. Repeat on both sides.

    Inhale and bring your arms overhead, palms can press at the top, or your arms can be separated, and exhale to bring hands through to heart center. Repeat three times.

      

     

    Inhale to reach the arms overhead, and exhale to lower the right hand toward the earth, walk or slide the fingertips away from you, and reach the left arm overhead for a side stretch. Repeat three times on both sides.

    Next, inhale to reach the arms overhead, and exhale to twist towards the right, bringing your right arm behind you like a kickstand, and the left arm in front, bringing your hand either onto the floor or your right thigh. Use the breath as a tool to soften into your twist. Repeat three times on both sides.

    Slowly make your way onto hands and knees into a table top position, allowing your shoulders to stack over the wrists, and your hips to stack over the knees. You can bring a blanket under your knees, or fold your mat for more support for your knees. Inhale as you press the heart center forward lifting the chin and lifting the gaze. Exhale as you round the spine, pressing the ground away from you, tucking the chin towards the chest. Repeat Cat/Cow three times.

         

    Walk the hands slightly forward and begin to lift the sit bones up and back for downward facing dog, keeping the feet hip distance apart. Take a shorter down dog than you usually would, and invite a bend into the knees. Alternate from side to side to bend into the knees, and maybe move the hips from side to side. Do what feels good in your body today. Pause here for a few deep breaths, and bring your focus back to your intention.

    Moving into your Anjaneyasana, or low lunge pose, step your right foot to the top of the mat between the hands. Lower your back knee towards the earth, and square the hips toward the front of the mat. You can place blocks or books under your hands to bring the ground up toward you. Pressing the heart center forward, start to breathe into this space for a moment.

    Start to walk blocks/books back toward your body. Straighten into the front leg, bringing the toes to point up towards the sky. If you’re feeling tight, stay right here, or gently fold over the front leg.

    Now working with the breath, inhale to bend into the knee to walk the blocks/books forward opening through the heart center, and exhale as you walk the hands/blocks back in toward the body and gently fold. Use the breath as a tool and move back and forth three times. Repeat this on the second side.

    Note: if one side feels tighter then the other, don’t judge yourself. Just breathe into wherever you are on each side. If it feels better to pause in either variation, feel free to pause. Do what feels right in your body, today.

      

    Come back into your downward facing dog for a few deep breaths. Slowly bring your knees toward the earth, separating them as wide as you’d like. Bring your big toes to touch, and begin to melt into your child’s pose, bringing your sit bones toward your heels. Bring your forehead to touch the ground, or you can create fists with your hands, and stack your fists and bring your forehead to your fists. Always do what feels comfortable for you in your body.

    Pause here for a few breaths, bringing your awareness back to your breath. Are you breathing deeply? Is your mind wandering? Take a few deep grounding breaths here.

    Slowly make your way back into a comfortable seat. Bring your hands to heart center, bow the chin towards your chest, and take a moment to reflect on the intention that you set at the beginning of your practice. Thank yourself for finding time to come to your mat and practice today, and take this grounding feeling with you throughout the rest of your day.

    Namaste.

    By Kaitlyn Kreitzman

    Kaitlyn started practicing yoga in high school to combat the high demands of school work, sports, and life in New York. It was an on and off practice until college where she really became dedicated to making time on her mat daily. After realizing the amazing benefits of a yoga practice, and watching them become a reality in her life, Kaitlyn wanted to share this practice with others. She received her 200-hour RYT in 2015 from Urban Bliss Yoga In North Carolina. She taught on her college campus and in studios around the area of Fairfield Connecticut. After she graduated with a B.A. in Graphic Design and Illustration, she wanted to expand her knowledge of teaching and received her 500-hour RYT at Simplicity Yoga Studio in Long Island, New York. Kaitlyn now teaches and lives in Northwestern Colorado. She draws her inspiration for her classes from her everyday life. Kaitlyn’s classes focus on alignment, breath work, meditation, and yoga philosophy. She loves to help others take what they learn on the mat and incorporate it into their everyday lives. Kaitlyn works as the Social Media Manager, and Graphic Designer for Omstars. When she’s not teaching or practicing yoga, she enjoys camping, hiking, rock climbing, reading, and painting.

  • Balancing a Career and a Yoga Practice

    “I wish I had enough time for yoga.” How many times have you heard those words, or said them yourself?

    Something that I get asked about on a regular basis is how I’m able to keep the balance between a demanding career and a dedicated yoga practice. These questions come from both people that I work with, and people that I practice with. I am a medical doctor, specializing in obstetrics & gynaecology (OB/GYN), and my Ashtanga practice has me learning Intermediate Series. One thing that often prevents people from dedicating themselves to a daily practice is the perceived impossibility of fitting it into their already-crammed schedule. Certainly, before I started practicing yoga, I wondered how people had time for work, physical activities, volunteering, and socializing. These super-human individuals seemed to have more hours in the day than the rest of us mere mortals. I added yoga to my life over three years ago, from a previously sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle. Having seen both sides of the coin, I can tell you that it’s not possible to invent more hours in the day. That said, it is completely possible to manage a busy career and a demanding practice.

    As the yoga practice took hold in my mind and soul, what had been a weekly exercise became a daily practice. This process evolved over the course of about a year. I noticed that the more time I committed to yoga, the less time I devoted to other things. This natural evolution in my priorities is something that is ongoing. Going out for a big night isn’t something that interests me much anymore. Neither does staying up to date on the latest episode of Queer Eye. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these things. Rather, I moved them down my list of priorities so far that they rarely happen anymore. Other things became more important: yoga, work, and a small circle of loved ones. One of the benefits of starting a physical practice from a place of inactivity is the abundance of new energy that comes along with it. So, while you might not be able create more hours in the day, you might be able to do more in the hours that are given to us. Prior to committing to a daily practice, I would often feel sluggish after work. Now, I look forward to getting on the mat, be it at home or in the shala.

    Along with working long hours, I also work unusual, irregular hours. This is something that I have learned to embrace. I get to be quite creative in my practice schedule. An Ashtanga practice lends itself well to this sort of flexibility of schedule. Did I really just say that, about the style of yoga most known for its disciplined structure? In a word, yes. However, I am forced to veer away from what tradition dictates, which is early-morning practice, 6 days a week. Evening practice suits me better, and is more sustainable for me. I often swap around moon days, which are meant to be days of rest, for other days to accommodate my schedule. Most importantly, I have a sequence that I can do anytime and anywhere, and there is power in that. If I’m in work until 9 pm, I can come home and do as much of my practice as I’m able for. If I’m doing one of my 24-hour-long, in-hospital shifts, I might get a chance to do a Surya Namaskar or two in the on-call room. Working a night shift? Get on the mat at home or in the shala in the morning.

    In addition to learning to be flexible with the times that I practice, I’ve expanded my definition of what practice is. Working in my career, I am regularly expected to be awake (and functioning!) for 24 hours in a go. This usually involves long hours standing, and doing physical work on my feet. These things naturally take a toll on my body. Some days my body is only able for the Surya Namaskar and the finishing postures. Other days, a full-power, long practice is what I need. Most days, it’s somewhere in between. In my early days of practicing Ashtanga, I would beat myself up if I didn’t have the capacity for a full practice everyday. I pushed and pushed, often to the point of injury. My type-A personality and need to achieve were something I had to confront on the mat. Learning to accept my limitations, and accept where I am any given day, has brought me a lot of peace. There will always be ebbs and flows of busy times at work and softer practices, to balance with less busy times and more energetic practices. It’s all practice!

    I’ve talked a lot about the physical practices of yoga, but that’s not all there is to yoga. Within the 8 limbs of yoga, we also have codes of conduct and personal disciplines, the yamas and niyamas. Applying these ethical guidelines to our day-to-day life is another important way of practicing yoga. I also like to think of my work as a form of karma yoga. That is, good work, done unselfishly, to benefit another, is a form of prayer. While I’ve written mostly on navigating the often-negative impact that a busy career can have on a yoga practice, there is a lot to be said for the impact that the practice has on career. In yoga practice, we are continuously being confronted by difficult situations, and are asked to sit with them. This brings up our stuff, whatever that may be. This can have manifold benefits. By unpacking our own demons, and challenging our habitual patterns of thinking, it’s natural to become more compassionate towards others. That pose that challenges us immensely might bring up anger, frustration, or sadness. We can now see that when someone at works acts in an unpleasant manner, they are really reacting to something within themselves. In knowing that, it is easier to address the negative behavior, and forgive the person. This way of thinking has changed the way I interact with colleagues and patients alike, for the better.

    I’ve also learned to extend this kindness and compassion, and what is essentially ahimsa, to myself too. Being more in tune with the body and mind has made me realize how badly I was – and often still am – abusing both in the name of work. Inadequate sleep, poor diet, less than ideal posture, negative self talk. All these things can easily happen when we put career first. However, the yoga practice continuously brings my awareness back to these habits, and challenges me to change them. Through the yoga practice, we become more resilient, and able to recover from failures. How many times have we failed on that difficult posture, only to try again tomorrow? Difficult situations arise in my line of work frequently, and being resilient is essential. Being present, empathetic, and kind in stressful situations are skills that can be learned. Being able to not become attached to the situation is often more difficult, but yoga helps us practice that. My way of approaching the yoga practice won’t work for everyone or every job. They are simply the things that I have learned over time. Hopefully something I’ve shared can help someone out there struggling to find time for the mat.

    Namaste.

    By Alison DeMaio

    Alison is a medical doctor, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology in one of Ireland’s leading maternity hospitals. Originally from the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences in 2007. The following year she moved to Dublin where she completed a graduate medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In her early years of working as a  doctor, Alison experienced a great deal of back pain and stress.  Yoga became a deeply transformative tool in both her physical and emotional healing. Alison is committed to her daily Ashtanga Mysore practice, despite the demands of a busy job. She has been fortunate to practice with some world-renowned teachers, and she is currently learning the Ashtanga Intermediate Series in the traditional method. Keep in touch with Alison (@ashtangi_ali) on Instagram.

     

  • Plank Pose: Where the Body Goes the Mind Will Follow

    If you’re looking for a quick strengthening, full body workout then these two poses give a lot of bang for their buck. Although Plank Pose and Upward Plank are two obvious core strengthening poses, when practiced with the correct alignment they work pretty much every muscle in your body. Apart from the physical benefits, I like to think that both of these poses also help to bring stability and strength on an emotional and spiritual level. Where the body goes the mind will follow.  Plank Pose and Upward Plank will help to increase focus, stamina, and endurance. I also feel that these poses help to develop the understanding that the muscles of the body or, different aspects of yourself, need to work together in unison in order to create that strength and stability.

     

    Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet hip width apart, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the wrists aligned directly under the shoulders. Your focus is on keeping the body in one straight line. Draw the lower belly back towards the spine, pull the kneecaps up to keep the legs engaged, and plug the arms into the shoulder joint by rotating the eyes of the elbows forward. Imagine pushing the mat away with your hands as you keep the shoulders broad, and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Gaze forward, and think about keeping the shoulders, hips and heels in line with each other.

     

     

    Upward Plank Pose:

     

    Have the feet together, with the base of the big toes touching, and the hands shoulder width apart, with the fingers pointing towards the toes. Again, imagine pressing the mat away firmly with the hands and feet. Aim to keep the wrists under the shoulders. Focus on lifting the hips, and imagine the whole of the back of the body extending and engaging to create a slight backbend. Open and lift the chest, as you internally rotate the thighs by pressing into the base of the big toes. Engage the core by pulling the belly button back towards the spine, and gaze toward the space between the eyebrows.

    By Laura Large

    I am an Ashtanga Yoga Practitioner and Teacher based near Marlborough, Wiltshire with a real love and passion for the practice. I also own and manage a Wellbeing Centre where I work as a licensed Acupuncturist, which really helps me to understand the energetics of the asanas and how they affect the physical, mental and emotional bodies. My classes are strong, energetic and fun.  Ashtanga Yoga is an amazing practice for developing some serious strength and flexibility in body and mind. Outside of my daily Ashtanga Vinyasa practice I love playing creatively with poses and exploring hybrid postures and different variations – Arm balances are a real favourite of mine! You can find me on Instagram where I host yoga challenges and share tips and tutorials at @omniyogagirl

    Check out more pose tutorials on Omstars

  • Easing in to Chaturanga Dandasana

    In our last post we focused on the hip abductors and adductors and how they can be used to stabilize the pelvis and synergize flexing the hips in forward bends. In this post we zoom out and look at a technique that can be learned with Chaturanga Dandasana and then transported to other poses to improve benefits and safety. I call this technique “ease in, ease out” and it relates to how one approaches the end point of a pose.

    Figure 1

    For this cue, I take a yoga block and place it at the level of my sternum, then lower down to lightly touch it from plank position. I then straighten my arms to return to plank. The image that body weight practitioners use for this is “kissing the baby” because one touches the block as gently as kissing a baby on the forehead. Working in this manner teaches muscle control and sensitivity.

    Figure 2

    Those who avoid full Chaturanga due to weakness of the muscles involved can develop the strength for the full pose by starting at a wall as shown in figure 2. Here instead of the chest touching the block, bend the arms to lower towards the wall and gently touch the forehead, hold for a moment and then straighten the arms. Work in this manner until you can comfortably do ten repetitions. As strength builds, transition to a plank with the knees on the mat, lowering down to touch the block as in the final version. (Figure 3).

    Figure 3

    Visualizing the muscles involved is a powerful adjunct to this technique. Use a mental image of the triceps, pectoralis major and serratus anterior muscles engaging to stabilize the arms, shoulders and chest as shown in figure 4. The triceps straightens the elbows and is a secondary stabilizer of the shoulder joint. The pectoralis major draws the upper arm towards the midline (adduction) and helps to expand the chest (when the shoulders are held in place). The serratus anterior extends from the upper nine ribs to inner (anterior) medial surface of the scapula. It acts in concert with the rhomboids to stabilize the shoulder blades and thus preventing “winging” of the scapula in this pose. (Figure 4).

    Take a moment to review our post on “co-activating the glutes and abs in Chaturanga” and integrate these muscles into this technique. Also, feel free to browse through the Yoga Mat Companion series. The illustrations in these books are designed to aid in visualizing the muscles in action in a variety of poses.  Slowing the movement as one approaches the endpoint of the pose also sets up a cadence or rhythm, especially when working with a Vinyasa Flow based practice. It can be applied to any pose and also to inhalation and exhalation, thus smoothing the breath. It also aids to protect the joints, which have smooth curved surfaces that adapt best to gradual transitions during movement.

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

     

    An excerpt from “Yoga Mat Companion 4 – Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions”.

    Check in next week for Part Three of this series on preventative strategies for lower back strains in yoga. Also, be sure to visit us on Facebook for your free Chakra poster and e-book.

    Namaste’

    By Ray & Chris of The Daily Bandha

    Ray Long MD FRCSC is a board certified orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga.

    Chris Macivor is a 3D Graphic Dessigner and illustrator who has been involved in the field of digital content creation for well over ten years.

    This article was originally posted on www.dailybandha.com. If you would like more practice with Chaturanga Dandasana, check out the tutorials below on Omstars.com.

    Adrian Molina’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

    Laruga Glaser’s Chaturanga Tutorial on Omstars

  • How to do Marichyasana B

    Marichyasana B of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one of what I call “Birthday Cake Poses”. It involves specific ingredients that must be added in the proper order, at the appropriate time, for the recipe to work. The process is essential to honor the intention of the posture.

    The first ingredient is the lotus posture. Without lotus, it is really just a version of Marichyasana A. So take your time with your lotus position, finding release in the hip, checking in with the knee, bringing that foot high across the other leg, heel positioned within the line of the pubic bone and belly button. Once you have a workable lotus – perfection is not required, just something that is not painful and gives you space to work the other leg – lean back into the hands so that you can draw the second leg up, heel to sit bone. This moment may reveal some resistance in the hip, acknowledge that and navigate a path through it. If the hip is not too intense, rock your weight forward and diagonally toward the lotus leg. Eventually you want to feel secure in this foundation, the thigh of the lotus leg and the foot of the other side, that sit bone lifted. This is the baking phase of our recipe. Settle into your foundation, sit with ease. If you are still holding on to the planet to avoid falling back, then work here for a while. Next take a forward fold over you lap, reaching around for the bind just as in Marichyasana A, first arm around the upright knee, the other tossed behind the back. Got the bind? Frosting! Lastly, enjoy your dessert, finishing with a deep fold, forehead or chin to the floor. Breathe.

    If you rush this posture, you may end up with some distorted version with no integrity. Step by step process draws your awareness to places of resistance and thus places to work. When the full expression is reached it will feel like it makes sense, you will feel ready for it. No hurry! And always honor injuries, especially in the knees. It is certainly acceptable, even encouraged, to modify the lotus during a time of injury.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

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