One of my teachers suggest that this be a question to come back to often and consider, and it is a practice I have followed since. I know that I need to align with and understand why I am doing what I am doing so I don’t get lost in the hustle of everyday life.
So, why do I teach yoga? Today, with a break in between my two classes I pause and remember each face that enters into each class that I teach and wonder, “why are they taking time out of their busy days to come and follow along to the words and movements that I suggest to them?” They come for the same reason I do, to escape, to relax, to have a moment away from their responsibilities, to move, there are infinite reasons and I feel privileged to provide this space. I teach yoga to give people the reprieve that they need. The “yoga high” you get after class because you spent 1 hour out of your day connecting to your breath, your life force, your body that supports you endlessly.
Lower back pain is one of the most common physical ailments that plagues our western society. Low back pain is characterized by acute or dull aching pain in the lower back and can be considered chronic if it lasts for more than 3 months. Low back pain is one of the leading causes of activity limitation and work absence. Yoga works to strengthen and lengthen the lower back muscles to help decrease the pain in the low back, naturally.
This pose is great for passively stretching the lower back. The body and muscles that surround the low back work in combination with the block (or pillow) to hold the lower back in the air. The lower back then has a chance to relax, allowing lengthening through the muscles and release of the tension that resides here.
Arrive in this posture by lying on your back with the knees in the air and the feet planted, bring the arms alongside the body with palms facing down, take a big inhale to fill up the belly, exhale pressing each vertebrae in the spine against the ground, begin to float the hips up by pressing into the feet and the palms, slide the block or pillow underneath the sacrum (space right between the hips above the tailbone) and relax.
Malasana or “Yogi Squat”
This pose works on opening and strengthening all of the areas that surround the lower back, as well as strengthening the lower back itself. Malasana offers a peek into how much our hips and core affect our lower back. Malasana offers a great deal of support and TLC for the low back by strengthening the core and lower back, lengthening the lower back, and beginning to open the hips.
Start with placing a block, or a low seated chair slightly behind you. Bring the feet out wider than the hips and the toes out a little wider than the heels. Slowly sit the hips back onto the block or chair (you may use a table or chair to hold onto as you lower and your heels might lift a bit and this is ok), bring the arms to the inside of the legs (if they are not on a table or chair) and maybe press the palms together or place them on the ground, lengthen the spine by pressing into the crown of the head, engage the core by drawing the belly button up and in, rest in this posture and let the work happen!
Twisting through the low back can be one of the most therapeutic movements some can do for the spine, but depending on injuries or how tight you are this could be miserable. By supporting the knee and making the twist significantly lighter, this pose can become enjoyable and relaxing for all. This pose stretches out the back muscles and the glutes and provides a natural realignment for the spine.
Set yourself up for this posture by stacking up some pillows and blankets on either side of you and lie down on your back. Begin by drawing one leg out long on the ground and the other knee in towards your chest, slowly allow that knee to fall over to the opposite side, let the arms come out wide or into a goal post shape to ensure both shoulders stay planted, and allow yourself to relax.
Allow yourself and your spine some time dedicated to relaxation and release. A large part of back pain is due to a large amount of stress, so dedicating time each day to decompress could have significant benefits for the spine. Lie down, clear the mind, focus on the breath, and relax. Lying down with no support can be extremely uncomfortable if you have pain in the low back, so set yourself up with lots of support.
Take a blanket with a small roll at the base for the neck underneath the head, a large pillow under the knees, and maybe even a rolled up blanket under the ankles for a little extra support. Turn on some relaxing music, close your eyes, and enjoy this brief moment of peace.
Tight legs can be part of the problem when considering all of the things that may be causing low back pain. If your legs are tight and your low back is tight how can you properly do a forward fold? The answer is simple: a bend in the knees and engagement in your core. Keep a big bend in the knees to support the low back and as long as the back stays long, the legs will get a deep stretch. Engage the core to ensure the back has the support to stay long and straight.
Bring the feet out a little bit wider than the hips, keep the feet parallel to each other or turn the toes inward slightly. Bring the hands to the hips, draw the belly button up and in, take a bend in the knees and slowly begin to fold in. Once you are folded, release the arms from the hips and grab a hold of opposite elbows, keep a big bend in the knees, allow the weight of the head to draw your upper body forward and decompress the spine and low back. Keep the belly button drawn up and in to support the low back.
Good posture is defined as a neutral spine. Looking at the front or back of the spine the 33 vertebrae that exist there should appear completely vertical.
“Mountain Pose” is a great place to start when viewing posture. Start by looking at yourself from the side in a mirror, check in with the curves that you see in your spine, (if you see no curves, congratulations, you are done!) for the majority of the population, this is where the work starts. Start from the bottom and begin working your way up. Check in with your feet, notice the distance between them, how they are planted on the ground, and how far in front of you or behind you they are. Try to bring the feet so that they are hips distance apart and stacked right under the hips, check in and be sure they are parallel to one another and not turned out. Next, begin evenly distributing weight between the two feet, rock yourself forward and back, from side to side, eventually landing in the middle of each foot where you have a full 360 weight distribution between the feet. Next, check in with the knees: there should be a micro bend through your knees so that they are right over the top of the foot. Whenever standing ensure this bend is there so there is even blood flow through the body and that the knees are never locked. The hips should be at neutral, and not the typical anterior tilt that we often see. (see below) You can arrive at this place by tucking the tailbone and pulling the belly button up and in to engage the low belly. Keep the head and neck at neutral and breathe normally into the belly and rib cage.
The best exercise that can be done to improve posture are core strengthening exercises because standing straight up requires some core engagement. You can strengthen your core with many exercises, but here are a few examples.
Come to a comfortable seat, bring the feet out in front of you, planted on the ground, hips distance apart, knees straight up in the air at about 45 degrees. Begin by lifting up into the crown of the head and lengthening the spine, ground down into each sit bone, reach the arms out long in front of you, lift up into the chest slightly, and engage the core and hold. To increase difficulty, slowly begin to lift one foot up off the ground without moving the spine, alternate feet holding each for about 5 seconds.
Come to the hands and the knees, walk the knees back so they are slightly behind the hips, lower down onto the forearms, keep the hips and shoulders in an even line, round out slightly through the upper back and engage the core. Hold this for about a minute, and to increase difficulty first come up onto the hands, maybe you stop here, if you want to continue on dig into the toes to lift the knees up.
Bring the back up against the wall, step the feet out so you are able to slide the hips down the wall and bring the hips even with the knees without allowing the knees to extend over the toes, engage the core and stay here for about one minute, for more intensity bring the arms straight up above the head. To increase intensity, do all of this without the support of the wall.
Fiber contains no calories and is not digestible, therefore it serves primarily as a medium to provide bulk to stool. The distinction that can be made between soluble and insoluble fiber is their ability to absorb and retain water. Soluble and insoluble fiber both attract water, but soluble fiber softens and gels in water while insoluble fiber does not. Think apple and apple peel, the apple’s juicy center is soluble fiber and the apple’s peel is insoluble fiber. For example, if you were to take an apple, peel it, cut it into wedges and dehydrate the peel and the wedges seperately, to rehydrate the wedges would be simple by adding water, but the peel would likely never regain any mass or absorb any of the water. Soluble and insoluble fiber are both important in digestion and overall health.
Soluble fiber contains many health benefits, and in particular benefits to the heart because it has that ability to bind to cholesterol rich bile in the GI tract forcing this “floating” cholesterol to pass through the stool rather than reabsorbing in the body. Soluble fiber will slow glucose absorption in the intestines by creating bulk and allowing foods to be absorbed more slowly, this in particular is a huge benefit for diabetics and those with hypoglycemia. Insoluble fiber primarily acts as a stool softener decreasing this likelihood of constipation and hemorrhoids.
The intestines are a muscle! Fiber provides bulk and softness to the stool forcing your intestines to work and move more as it passes through, giving the GI tract muscles exercise and tone throughout the day. Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, decreases transit time allowing a lesser exposure of possible carcinogens in the intestines reducing the risk of colon cancer greatly.
How much fiber is needed each day and where can it be found?
The recommended daily intake of fiber is 1.4 grams for every 100 calories consumed in a day.
Fiber is any part of plant-based foods that cannot be digested or absorbed in the body. Foods that contain primarily soluble fiber are fruits, vegetables, legumes and oats. Foods that contain primarily insoluble fiber are whole grains, fruit/vegetable peels or celery “strings”, and root vegetables.
What foods are considered “high fiber”?
You may notice as you move through the aisles of the grocery store that some foods are labeled “high fiber” or “excellent source of fiber”. These distinctions are made by considering the food to have (at a minimum) 2 grams of fiber for every 100 calories. It is easy to determine for yourself what the fiber return on a food is by looking at the nutrition label and comparing the fiber content to the amount of calories. For example, if a food is 170 calories and contains 34 grams of fiber that would be a “high fiber” food.
All things in moderation- like anything too much soluble or insoluble fiber can cause negative effects like bloating, gas and too large or too frequent bowel movements.
Many of you, like me, probably experience those after dinner/evening cravings for “something sweet.” This experience is one of the most common things that people that I work with complain about. Many will be doing great on their diets until the evening rolls around and then they start to get that little voice in their head and stomach telling them that they must head over to the candy jar and grab something out and more often than not, it doesn’t end with just one. So, what to do? Are we doomed to spend the rest of our lives feeling guilty for these cravings as we continuously try to curb them?
Fortunately, there are quite a few solutions to this problem most people experience. The best way to succeed in curbing these cravings is to start with the day, this means breakfast. Ensure you eat a well rounded breakfast consisting of primarily whole grains each morning. Options include oats, whole grain toast or a whole grain cereal like cheerios. Have healthy, “sweet” snacks in between meals, like fruit. Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water all throughout the day, at least 2 liters. When dinner rolls around, ensure that you are eating a meal that is well-rounded with grains, vegetables, fats and protein so that your body is receiving all of the “satisfying” signals that it desires. In the evening and during dinner try to limit screen time as much as possible. Screens make us feel hungrier and experience more cravings than we truly have and they send our body a variety of confusing signals that may make us crave things that we don’t actually need. When you find yourself feeling that evening hankering for something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit or dark chocolate (with no sugar added) and eat small portions of these things, slowly with no distractions. Lastly, ensure that you are getting enough quality sleep each night, exhaustion can lead to cravings later in the day. So, what is quality sleep? Quality sleep is defined as falling asleep soon after getting into bed, within 30 minutes or less, sleeping straight through the night, waking up no more than once per night, and being able to sleep the recommended amount of hours for your age group. You may still find yourself experiencing these cravings even though you have done everything listed above. This is when the idea that your cravings may be emotional must be considered. Are you bored and reaching for sweets as a way to entertain yourself? Try finding a “healthy” distraction like reading a book or working on a craft. If you find yourself still reaching for something sweet, this may be a way of satisfying some emotions, take a moment and consider how you are feeling and why. Maybe start a journal to write about how you are feeling when you start to crave something sweet. You may even try a supplement like Gymnema that works to make sweet foods taste bitter not long after you take it. This associates the emotional need for sweets with something bitter and may retrain the brain to no longer crave sweet foods as a means for emotional support. Hopefully you can take some of these tips to move through your evening each day with success in avoiding those tempting sweets!
When people start thinking about why they may be overweight, why they can’t seem to lose weight no matter what they do or try, or why they gain weight even though they eat very little they very infrequently think about their hormones. However, hormones may be one of the first things they should consider. One hormone specifically may be the primary culprit in this situation that so many people are faced with. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and regulates stress in the body. The adrenal glands (also where adrenaline is produced and how it gets its name) rest on top of the kidneys and produce a variety of hormones, one of them being cortisol. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone” is the body’s response to “fight or flight” signals. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious our body does it’s best to respond the only way it knows how. This is by trying to regulate that response in our brain by releasing cortisol. Cortisol receptors exist in most cells in your body and are readily absorbed and used for various functions. Some of those uses being, regulation of blood pressure, increasing blood sugar, managing how your body uses carbohydrates, fat and protein, and controlling your sleep cycle.
How does this cause weight gain?
When we are experiencing stress, anxiety or fear our brain sends signals to our body that tell it to use the cortisol being produced to shut down various functions like digestion, reproductive or immune function so that it can focus on reducing the stress that is being presented. When the stress ends, cortisol levels should return to normal, but what if the stress never ends? This can mess with your body’s most vital systems. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with overeating, weight gain and insulin resistance, all of which can be problems for those of us who struggle with our weight. It is very difficult to maintain healthy eating habits when chronically stressed and overproduction of cortisol in the body can only make these problems worse.
What do I do now?
Manage your stress anyway that works for you. Try a yoga class or meditation, take a long bath, pick up a hobby, stay active and exercise regularly. Most of all, make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. The reason for this in particular is that studies have shown that people with insomnia produce a much greater amount of cortisol throughout the day. This potentially causes a lot of these adverse effects we have discussed and could promote stress in your life. When you are eating, use intuitive eating methods to understand why you are eating and if it is coming from an emotional place or because you truly need to eat in that moment. If you have questions or want to understand what to do to lose weight beyond these small steps you might consider meeting with a nutrition counselor or dietitian.
Chronic pain is defined as any pain that exists in the body for more than 3 months. An estimated 50-75 million Americans live with chronic pain, and if you’re one of these you may be feeling like you have tried everything and are beginning to feel, or maybe you already are feeling hopeless. There may be something that can help you with the chronic pain you’ve suffered from for some time. Yoga can have a significant effect on not only the physical pain you experience in your body, but in the pain response you experience in your mind. A regular, relaxing yoga practice (such as restorative) teaches the body and mind to rest in a place of safety rather than emergency. This reduces the pain response in the mind and the body.
Specifically, relaxation has been shown to be extremely beneficial for chronic pain by converting the pain/stress response in the body and mind to growth, repair, and other self-nurturing processes. Relaxation promotes healing and freedom from a great deal of pain. Restorative yoga, specifically, combines the use of many props and gentle poses held for about 10 minutes allowing the body to completely relax and drop even the deepest layers of tension. You will feel no strengthening and hardly any stretch when practicing restorative yoga because, while these are great things and are necessary in life, these are forms of tension being held in the body.
Using a deep breathing exercise can also promote quite a bit of relaxation in the body and can be done easily from home. Deep breathing can be practiced a thousand different ways, but here is one in particular that can help with the pain response: lay down on your back and place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Begin to bring your awareness to your breath and try to move your breath into the hand that is on your belly. Focus on imagining any place in your body where you may be experiencing pain and imagine the pain leaving your body with each exhale. If this feels too uncomfortable and you find that you are focusing on the pain, move your awareness from the area that is painful to a more comfortable area in the body and try to move back and forth from each area as you move through the discomfort. This will train your brain to intentionally shift your focus from the pain while still being present in the body.
Chronic pain can affect those who experience it deeply and there are many ways to cope with it, if this is something you experience don’t give up quite yet, there still may be an answer out there for you.
Intuitive eating is defined by professionals as mind-body eating. What intuitive eating is NOT is a “diet” designed to help you lose weight. “Essentially, Intuitive Eating is a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to meet your physical and psychological needs.” (www.intuitiveeating.org, 2018) Intuitive eating encourages you to listen to the signals your body sends you and eat based on those signals.
Intuition is defined as the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for reasoning. Many things we do in everyday life are like this, breathing, digestion, listening, and many more. We don’t have to think much about the things we do each day to keep us alive, but so much thought and pressure has been placed around food and eating as time has gone on. In reality, eating is not that much different from these other things. Eating is something that we must do each day to stay alive and shouldn’t be something that we put a ton of pressure on ourselves for. We frequently find ourselves thinking about what we are eating, how much we are eating, and why we are eating, when we could just be listening to our bodies and responding to the signals it is sending up.
When you sit down to eat a meal, turn the TV off and pay attention as you enjoy your food, your body has time to receive the signals the food is sending it. Your body is continuously sending you signals about what it needs and the same applies to nutrients. If you find you are craving a certain food there may be a biological reason for it. The food you are craving may contain nutrients your body feels deprived of or is deficient in for some reason. Also, your body is sending you signals of hunger and thirst and this awareness can promote healthier water drinking habits and assist in boosting your metabolism as you eat more healthy foods throughout the day.
So, provide your body with the nutrients it needs and craves. Tune in and listen to your body and how it communicates with you throughout each day. Notice what you crave and why you crave it. Crave sugar all day? Maybe you need more fruit. Crave salt all day? Maybe you need more vegetables and water. Crave meat? Maybe you are low on iron or protein. Respond to your body’s signals with the healthiest habits you can and if you crave junk food, give in a little bit here and there. Completely depriving yourself of something you love will only lead to binging later.
What is the keto diet? The keto diet is a low carb, high fat diet designed to put your body in a state of ketosis. The theory is that by depriving yourself of carbohydrates (and therefore glucose) this will force your body to use a “different” type of fuel, burning stored fat for energy. This seems like a brilliant idea because what better way to lose weight than by burning up stored fat? However, it is not that simple, entering into a state of ketosis can be difficult because you must eat less than 20-50 grams of carbs and eating too much protein can interfere with ketosis. If you were to achieve a state of ketosis, however, there are many health risks involved with what it takes to get there and what happens in your body when you do.
The pitfalls of keto:
The keto diet is famous for being able to eat as much as you want of the foods that are permitted and that are high in fat. This consists of foods like cheese, butter, heavy cream, and coconut oil all of which are high in saturated fat. We have known for years of the negative health effects of saturated fat, including heart disease and high cholesterol, and it is recommended that we limit our intake to less than 7% of total calories for optimum health.
When you start adding all of this extra fat in your diet, it is not just magically processed, an organ must do the work to metabolize it. Enter the liver. If you have a perfectly functioning liver and you plan on doing the keto diet for only a short period of time this may not be a problem for you. However, prolonged strain on the liver may eventually cause problems such as fatty liver disease, so this is not a diet you would want to follow for an extended period of time. If you already have underlying liver conditions you may make them significantly worse by adding on all of this extra work.
Typically seen in people with diabetes, ketoacidosis is a condition when your body is not producing enough insulin to utilize blood glucose (or not receiving enough glucose) and your blood becomes overloaded with ketones (energy your body creates from stored fat) as they are being used as the primary source of energy. When ketones build up in the bloodstream they make the blood more acidic, causing extreme sickness, fainting, and can result in a diabetic coma. This condition is rare and is mostly seen in those with type 1 diabetes.
This diet is not something that can be followed for a long period of time because of its many health risks and unnatural eating patterns. This leads to the inevitable of following the diet, losing weight, getting off of the diet, returning back to your regular eating patterns, and gaining all of the weight you lost back. Rather than following this fad diet that has detrimental health effects and is simply unsustainable, consider modifying your diet to contain healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This will create lifelong health and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Any major shifts in diet should always be discussed with your healthcare provider. If you have any questions please reach out to our nutrition counselor.
mended that we limit our intake to less than 7% of total calories for optimum health.
When you start adding all of this extra fat in your diet, it is not just magically processed, an organ has to do the work to metabolize it. Enter the liver. If you have a perfectly functioning liver and you plan on doing the keto diet for only a short period of time this may not be a problem for you. However, prolonged strain on the liver may eventually cause problems such as fatty liver disease, so this is not a diet you would want to follow for an extended period of time. If you already have underlying liver conditions you may make them significantly worse by adding on all of this extra work.
Typically seen in people with diabetes, ketoacidosis is a condition when your body is not producing enough insulin to utilize blood glucose (or not receiving enough glucose) and your blood becomes overloaded with ketones as they are being used as the primary source of energy. When ketones build up in the bloodstream they make the blood more acidic, causing extreme sickness, fainting, and can result in a diabetic coma. This condition is rare and is mostly seen in those with type 1 diabetes.
This diet is not something that can be followed for a long period of time because of its many health risks and unnatural eating patterns. This leads to the inevitable following it, losing weight, getting off of it and returning back to your regular eating patterns, and gaining all of the weight you lost back. Rather than following this fad diet that has detrimental health effects and is simply unsustainable, consider modifying your diet to contain healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Any major shifts in diet should always be discussed with your healthcare provider. If you have any questions please reach out to our nutrition counselor.
Over the past few years a lot of information has surfaced regarding “plant based diets.” Many are claiming that it is the ideal diet, it can reverse disease, and that it may even reduce your risk of cancer greatly. You may be left wondering what exactly is a plant based diet, why is it good for me, and how do I change decades/years worth of eating to resemble a diet that seems so foreign?
A plant based diet is defined as a diet that largely focuses on food that does not come from animal sources and foods that are not highly processed. This means mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A plant based diet does not mean excluding dairy, eggs, and meat based products, but limiting them greatly. The reason for this is that dairy, eggs, and meats contain large amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat, and tend to be highly processed leading to numerous health problems.
The China Study came out in 2005 and was the most comprehensive study done about nutrition, weight loss, and overall health. This study found that a diet that is largely composed of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will escape, reduce, or reverse the development of numerous common diseases. This was a huge kick starter for many documentaries, articles, and studies that have since educated people on why a plant based diet may be the ideal diet for human health. The China Study recommended limiting intake of external dietary cholesterol and adding in supplements to provide adequate nutrition, specifically vitamin D. The study points out the growing number of people in the United States dying of heart disease (the #1 killer for the past 80 years) and the factors that contribute to it. Heart disease risk factors include: elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, physical activity, and smoking. 3 out of these 5 can be largely prevented by eating a whole food, plant based diet. Another ailment this study points out is diabetes, something that is plaguing more and more individuals in our society every day. The China Study showed that plant based diets high in fiber can be protective against diabetes.
Shifting your diet away from the standard American diet and towards a plant based diet can be a challenge, but is something that is recommended because of the many health benefits that you will receive. The important thing to remember is that small wins are wins indeed. Introduce a plant based diet slowly, begin by swapping out your white rice for brown or switching your white bread for whole grain bread. You may also make one day a week “meatless” where you try making all meals or your dinner center around a plant based protein like beans, tofu, or a meatless substitute. A good rule of thumb is to fill all of your “plates” halfway with fruits and vegetables. Slowly try to shift your focus away from the foods that are high in sugar or sodium and you will notice a huge difference in the foods you enjoy or crave.
I really feel passionately about breaking the stigma behind healthy eating. I feel right now we all have an opportunity to be home, cook, bake, and connect with our food on another level. This blog will break down different ways to stock up on nutritious and easily preserved food, without breaking the bank!
Frozen Fruits and Veggies
These have been my best friend during this extended stay at home. I can’t say enough good things about these and the opportunities are truly endless. I bought a few big bags of mixed frozen vegetables and mixed frozen fruit at Costco, and if you have a membership this is the most bang-for-you-buck way to do it (but all stores have these!) Smoothies and stir fry are my go-to easy meal in and out of quarantine. Smoothies are always great way to get in extra veggies and can be made with entirely frozen items, with the exclusion of milk or coconut water. I buy a case of shelf stable almond milk and use these in my smoothies along with a big handful of frozen spinach!
I am not a big meat eater, but I love my fish and can’t say enough good things about getting some fresh fish, seasoning it and freezing it for later. You may have noticed, and if you know me you know my love for Costco. I buy a huge piece of salmon at Costco, slice it into individual servings, place those servings into individual Ziploc baggie, pre-marinate them, and stick them in the freezer. My favorite right now is lemon, garlic, olive oil, and cholula sauce. I cook this in my air fryer straight from frozen, but this could work well in an oven too! I am certain you could do the same thing with any kind of meat as well.
I love bread (who doesn’t?) and I always keep an extra loaf in the freezer for emergencies such as these. I will put the frozen loaf in the fridge to let it thaw overnight and then I tend to leave it in the fridge because I’m the only one who eats it in the house and I don’t go through it too fast, but after it thaws you can always place it on the counter for the soft bread feel. Rice is, in my opinion, THE grain. This is the one grain that you can buy in bulk for cheap that can you can do ANYTHING with. Breakfast rice is something my roommate taught me years ago. Cook your rice in a milk/water mixture and add in cinnamon and sweetener as needed. Throw rice in your stir fry, serve under fish, add in some coconut and chopped mango. There is no limit to what you can do.
Treat this like you would anything, listen to your body and respond. You know what’s best for you, and no two bodies are the same!
The number one thing that I believe helps me to stay sane and inspired in a time with no certainty, or structure, is to create a schedule for myself. This does not have to be rigid by any means, but can be something as simple as waking up and taking a shower, moving into meditation (or something to feed the soul), and then cooking a meal, etc. Creating a health routine allows you time to sit and be creative, it helps to balance the chemicals in your brain preventing depression (and therefore keeping you inspired), and it allows time for sleep (one of the most vital things for our brain function and creativity!)
Create, create, create! I mean that’s what this is all about right? Set aside some time to create. Whatever that looks like for you, maybe it’s writing a blog post(!), journaling, coloring, painting, making music, crafting, building, cooking, the possibilities are truly endless. This inspires me more than anything! Cooking is one thing in particular that gives me a huge boost of inspiration. I enjoy spending time going through what I have in my fridge and pantry, even when I’m running low on food, and making what I can. The creative juices just start flowing. Inspiration is waiting to be found in the most simple things, you only need to look for it.
This is another thing that can seem so simple and yet can be so inspiring. Leave the phone at home, grab your friend or pet, and hit the sidewalk (or if you’re lucky like me, the trail!) Checking out nature, hear the birds sing, see all the little critters and colors, and enjoy the life you were given. There are few things more inspiring than a simple mindful walk or hike.
Find Time to Sit in Silence
Time spent in silence is vital for the brain and controlling the mind. One of the biggest inspiration killers in my personal life is anxiety. Spending time in silence to tune into the breath and gain control over the mind, is necessary to keep inspiration flowing. Make time in your, likely not very busy day at the moment, to sit and be with yourself. Get in tune with who you are without all the mind chatter, and this well help you find what it is you really want to spend your time doing and creating!
Trataka meditation is probably one of the simplest forms of meditation I have ever practiced, and yields some of the greatest results I have personally seen. To practice: Find a small candle and bring it to eye level (about 12-24 inches from the face) and gaze into the flame. The first and maybe second time you practice this close your eyes and allow yourself to take in the images as soon as you blink. As you practice this more, allow yourself to gaze into the flame even after you blink. Once your eyes begin to water and burn a little bit, close your eyes and take in the imagery. When you open your eyes turn the gaze to a living plant or flower, or maybe a wall around you, but not immediately back to the flame.
Why practice this?
This practice is important, and for me personally it is pivotal for opening the pineal gland or third eye. This practice provides a feeling of bliss, improved sight, a relaxed state of mind, enhanced and clearer thinking, and a deeper knowledge of self and one’s own thoughts.
How does this work?
The light and heat emitted from the candle flame generates energy in the brain and pineal glad as it is taken in by the eyes.
Practicing Nadi Shodhana before beginning
Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing greatly enhances the effectiveness of this meditation by balancing the opposite sides of the brain, and the intake of breath through each nostril. This breathing technique is particularly beneficial for this time of year as we become quickly imbalanced with the change of seasons, and congested with the various illnesses and allergies circulating. So how is this done? Arrive in a comfortable seated position, placing the left hand on the left knee in chin mudra (see below), the right hand will come into vishnu mudra (see below). Close the right nostril with the right thumb and breath in through the left nostril, close the left nostril with the right ring finger and breath out through the right nostril. Breath in through the right nostril, seal the right nostril with the right thumb and breath out through the left nostril. This is one cycle. Repeat this for about 10 cycles.
Malasana: this is by far one of my personal favorites for digestion because it really makes the most sense. This posture is also probably the most widely of these used by non-yogis. In fact, some toilets outside the U.S. are built so that you are practically forced to do this posture while using the bathroom. This posture works so well because it creates a kind of streamline effect for the digestive organs, bringing everything into alignment allowing for better waste elimination.
The pose: take your feet and plant them a little bit wider than hips distance apart, take your toes out a little wider than your heels, and squat down. Simple as that! If you have tight hips this is going to be a challenge and you may want to take some sort of support underneath your seat. If you’re feeling fancy you can bring the hands into prayer and press into the knees to open them up a little more. Wherever you are feel the crown of the head press up into the sky to keep the integrity in the spine.
Maricyasana Variations (pictured above): I love this pose because it almost feels like a little massage on my belly and I’m sure you can see why. This pose quite literally gives your internal digestive organs a massage and “shakes off” the lining of the intestines allowing built up waste to pass through. You can’t go wrong with this one for long term benefits to your digestive tract.
The pose: come into just about any seated position you fancy, I’ve provided 3 variations here: *for the purpose of this blog I’ll explain one side
1. a traditional cross-legged seated pose,
2. draw the left heel towards the right sit bone bringing the left knee in line with the tail bone and take the right leg and cross the right ankle over the left knee drawing the right knee up toward the sky (pictured above),
3. extend the left leg out long and draw the right knee in so that the right heel is in line with the right sit bone.
Whatever you choose make sure both sit bones stay planted and lift the arms over head planting the right hand along the spine and reaching the left arm over head hooking the left elbow on the right knee, or the left hand on right thigh if you are in a standard seat, and twist from the midline. Then, take the other side.
Legs up the Wall: this is a wonderful posture for digestion because it increases blood flow and fluid circulation in the intestines stimulating digestion
The pose: find a wall, scoot your butt up next to the wall, and let your legs extend up the wall. If this feels uncomfortable for any reason start propping yourself up, you can take a block, a pillow, or a blanket under the hips and any of these props along the body or under the head for a little extra support.
Wind Removing Pose: Do I need to say more?
The pose: lay on your back and hug your knees into your chest, so easy right? The perfect way to end a practice and that’s why I’ve put it last. Try it and in no time you’ll see how it got it’s name.
Pranayama (Breath Work) for Digestion
Kapalbhati: this breath is amazing for the digestive tract because it (like some of the poses) gives it a little massage and “shakes off” the gunk trapped on the walls of the intestines.
The breath: sit in a comfortable position with a strong spine, inhale passively and exhale forcefully drawing the belly button back towards the spine. Do this breath about 10 times and stop if you begin to feel light headed
Anahata, the heart chakra, is the fourth of the primary chakras and is located (you guessed it!) at the center of the heart, near the sternum. Anahata is Sanskrit for, “unhurt, unstruck, or unbeaten” and “unlimited, infinite sound,” just as love is infinite, so is anahata. In order to truly feel divine love we first must open up the heart chakra.
Anahata is represented by the color green, the seed syllable of the heart chakra is the mantra, “yam,” and is represented by a lotus flower with 12 petals with a hexagram center. The color green signifies life, nature, and the divine connectedness between all living beings. The 12 petals of the lotus are said to represent the divine qualities of the heart: bliss, peace, harmony, love, understanding, empathy, clarity, purity, unity, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. The hexagram center, containing two opposing triangles, is said to symbolize the center of all of the chakras. This refers to the fact that one triangle is pointing up towards the three more spiritual chakras, and the other triangle pointing down towards the three more physical chakras. The hexagram is the meeting point of the flow of human consciousness upwards towards the spiritual and downwards toward the physical world, the integration of all existence, male and female, sun and moon, everything meets at the heart center.
When Anahata is in balance, everything can seem wonderful. Colors shine brighter, relationships become easier and smoother, the world becomes a more beautiful place. We are filled with forgiveness, compassion, and understanding when our heart chakra is open and in balance. True self-acceptance and love come easy, we are able to show up for ourselves and others, and unconditional loves come naturally in all of our relationships.
Anahata can provide an experience of joy and delight, but it can become easily out of balance if the mind and consciousness are not kept in balance. Misleading thoughts, feelings, fixed ideas, and complexes can affect us physically and arise in the Anahata chakra. You know that tight feeling that you feel in your chest when hard emotions are arising in the body and mind? That’s the imbalance I’m talking about in Anahata. When out of balance you may start to feel overly defensive, closed off, jealous, codependent, or unworthy of love.
Anahata is the seat of love, and because of this it is no wonder why the heart is regarded as the symbol of love. As Valentine’s Day is upon us, there is no more fitting topic. The heart chakra invites us to love, to love ourselves and others, to act with compassion, and to do so unconditionally. When our heart opens up to divine love, the possibilities are limitless.
Heart Chakra Affirmations:
I send love to everyone I know; all hearts are open to receive my love.
I accept that pain is an essential part of my growth and development.
I love myself for me and the potential within me.
All past hurt I release into the hands of love.
I am grateful for all the love that is in my life.
Other people deserve my compassion.
The love I feel for myself and others is unconditional.
Love will set me free. Others love the best that they can.