Holy wow - I cannot believe January is almost over! We've come to the last day of poses (asanas) featuring the legs so after focusing on poses (asanas) that work your hammies and quads pretty hard, it's only appropriate that we end with one that offers up a fantastic stretch for your thighs, knees, and ankles. Hero Pose, or Virasana, is another pose that you'll likely either love it or hate it. For some people, this pose is heaven on earth and they could (and have) fallen asleep in while lying in the reclined version, Supta Virasana. For others, though, Hero Pose puts way too much pressure on the knees and/or ankles, making it totally and unbearably awful. If that's you, though, don't worry - you have options!
How to Get There
How does this help our legs? You're probably sick of reading this, but this really is a great stretch for your thighs, knees, and ankles! There aren't too many poses that wi
The most common (and most frightening) mistake I see in this pose is people going past their edge. "Going past your edge" may sound a little too yogi for you and it might not make sense, so let me translate in English: it is doing something your body is not ready for yet. For instance, say there is yogi trying this pose for the first time in a class, and they see other yogis taking it back into Supta Virasana. They want to do the same thing everyone else is doing, so they give it a go. This particular yogi's quads are still a little tight, though, so his/her knees end up popping up off the mat (like in the picture below), and/or his/her knees separate way too far apart. I'm willing to bet that at this point, this yogi is feeling some serious discomfort and possibly pain, risking long-term injury. This yogi would be "past his/her edge." He/she should start off sitting upright with a block and/or blanket/towel, and only move deeper when the body is ready for it, and overtime, it will be!
It may be apparent (or obvious) by now that this pose can be scary for the knees, but it really doesn't have to be! It's a great pose to practice patience and stillness while you explore the modification or variation that makes the most sense for your body. Try to relax so that you can enjoy the sweet stretch that happens on the fronts of the thighs and into the knees and ankles! Maybe even force a smile to help take some of the pressure out of your mind...sounds strange, but it really does work!
Happy almost weekend friends! Here are some suggestions as you're making plans for the weekend...
Take a Workshop
Interested in deepening your practice? Check out one of these yoga workshops:
Or maybe you're looking to spend some cash dollars...
Catch New Ads on TV
To sports fans, this is also known as watching the Super Bowl. Need an idea on what to do for the game? The links below have some great suggestions!
However you choose to spend the weekend, be sure to spend some time doing something just for yourself to help you relax and restore (even if it's only 5 minutes)! And bundle up if you go outdoors -- it's looking to be chilly!
In honor of the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I want to share one of my favorite Super Bowl recipes: Chili! This is a Reilly household favorite--even the cat loves it. Just kidding, he doesn't like human food (not even milk), but everyone else seems to like it! I have been experimenting with chili recipes for awhile now, and I tell you that this is the one. It's really truly SO easy, even if you are modifying around dietary restrictions, and it costs about $10 to make a week's worth of organic chili...not bad, right? It's so easy that it was my go-to meal during my 200-hr Teacher Training last year: before heading downtown for the long Saturdays and Sundays, I would carve out an extra 15 minutes before heading out the door to get the crockpot started and then when I got home from a long day, dinner was ready!
-You don't need to use dried portabello mushrooms - just chop up regular portabello s'hrooms and throw them in.
But back to my point on how Lasater turns Sanskrit into words that make sense. In one chapter, she explains Yoga Sutra 2:5 which states, “anitya-ashuci-duhkha-anatmasu-nitya-shuci-sukha-atma-khyatir-avidya,” or in English, “Nescience is the seeing of that which is eternal, pure, joyful and the Self in that which is ephemeral, impure, sorrowful, and the non-self.” I mean....what? Like seriously, that could be from a William Shakespeare sonnet. Thankfully, Lasater translates this Sutra into understandable English: “when we…think [we] will remain the same, we do not understand impermanence” (Lasater page 95). She then goes on to discuss how the only thing certain in life is change. Ah ha! I get it now: the Sutra is really saying: "change = good."
There are so many tidbits of wisdom in this book, but they're all presented in such a humble and "take what you will" fashion that really resonated with me. The book was also a pretty quick read. I read it cover-to-cover (or start to end on my Kindle) over about a week's worth of 30 minute metro commutes. Side note on the Kindle app: a nice feature is that it lets you highlight passages and take notes that you can then easily search for after the fact.
Anywho, if you haven't done so already, I HIGHLY encourage you get a copy of this book and read your heart out. It's sure to leave a lasting impression.
Happy reading, loves!
I want to start this week off with a challenge so today's post is all about Warrior III, or Virabhadrasana III in Sanskrit. Now this is one beast of a pose. Just holding this pose (asana) is a great workout for your legs, abs, shoulders, and even arms if you engage them enough. Being a part of the Warrior family, it's no wonder that Virabhadrasana III is a whole body challenge.
How to Get There
How does this help our legs? Beyond strengthening shoulders and the muscles in your back and core, Warrior III will improve your balance and posture, both of which are dependent on your legs. This pose strengthens ankles, calves, and thighs, and when done correctly, it really works the outer thighs and "saddle bags" area :)
Here are some examples of what it looks like when your alignment may be slightly wonky:
Today's pose is Frog Pose, or Bhekasana. We don't see this one too often in class since it's a tad awkward, but it's a great one! In it's full expression, Frog Pose is an insane quad stretch and backbend (which should only be done after lots of prep). It also stretches the chest (pectoral muscles) and gently works your upper (thoracic) spine. Since there's so much going on here, I'm focusing on One-Legged Frog Pose first, with the option to work into the full expression as an advanced variation.
How does this help our legs? Frog Pose is great for boosting energy and reversing the effects from sitting (possibly all day at work). It's also one of the best ways to stretch and lengthen our quads and hip flexors. This is crucial for mobility and helps with running, jumping, or any other physical activity that you're into.
Word of caution, if you have any knee issues, take this very slowly! Start with Half Bow Pose and only as your knee allows, start to work into the deeper variations.
Enjoy the frogging!
Inflammation has a been a hot topic lately and everyone is talking about it. Why? Well, frankly, because it can lead to very bad things happening in your body. Did you know that despite all the bad press, inflammation in itself is actually good? We experience acute inflammation when we get a cut or scrape and the skin becomes red and swollen. This is when our bodies go to work producing white blood cells to remove harmful stimuli or irritants (i.e., bacteria and viruses).
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not so great. In a nutshell, this is when your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, but in response to environmental and/or mental stress. It's different for everyone, but basically, our diets, stress-levels, and exposure to products and toxins can result in our bodies working overtime to protect against real or perceived dangers, eventually leading to chronic inflammation as our bodies work on non-stop overdrive.
So now we get to why this is a bad thing: chronic inflammation has been linked to just about every disease out there. For instance, some research indicates that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke can result from oral health and gum disease through inflammation (another plug for oil pulling!). The theory is that as a result of inflammation, the bacteria from gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. Yikes! On a broader scale, this theory also speculates that what we eat and how we respond to stress leads to inflammation which can lead to somewhat scary things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and even scarier things like cancer. Double yikes.
The good news is that there is hope. Lots of it. There are so many things you can do to fight inflammation - some are super easy and some are a little more difficult. But whatever you choose to do, just do something and do it now. After lots and lots of reading and talking to my doctors and acupuncturist (Kelly Welch - AH-MAZING), below is a list of the 4 things I'm doing to reduce inflammation in my body. Some of these things were really easy for me to change, but others were (and still are) very hard so I've made the change gradually.
4 Ways to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
Food allergies are a huge cause of inflammation. Maybe you're thinking that since you have no known food allergies, this doesn't apply to you so you can go about eating any and everything. I know I used to be that way, but I was oh-so-very wrong. Did you know that roughly 60% of adults can't properly digest milk? Scientists believe that this inability to properly digest milk and dairy can lead to inflammation. Now I'm not saying that you need to go ahead and cut dairy out of your diet right away (though I have been dairy free for 3 weeks now and I feel FABULOUS). But you could try cutting back, or maybe swap out milk for rice or coconut milk (primarily avoiding casein) for a week and see how you feel. You could also try incorporating more of the following into your diet:
Red meat has also been linked to inflammation so maybe try giving steak a break and opt for poultry or, even better, fish every now and then. I went red-meat free in 2008 after I read the book Skinny Bitch, not knowing that the authors are vegan. The book made me want to go Vege all together, but I knew that given my lifestyle, it just wasn't realistic to cut out all forms of animals from my diet completely. So I started small and stopped eating four-legged friends first, only eating organic, free-range poultry and fish on occasion to ensure I was getting the proper nutrients. I found it relatively easy to stop eating red meat, though I do find myself missing the taste of hot dogs and salami (a.k.a. nitrates) every now and then. In my opinion, the hard part has been cutting out dairy since almost every food product out there has some form of milk or cream in it! That, and I really, truly love ice cream. Like bad.
But my point here is that you don't need go all in right off the bat. In fact, if you're anything like me, that is a recipe for disaster because you just end up placing too much pressure on yourself. Just start with what is realistic to you, even if that's only making one small change like using almond milk in your latte or swapping a hamburger for a black bean burger. Whatever the change, see if you can give it a try for a week, then two, then a month and so forth, and notice how your body feels after each week. I'm willing to bet that you'll be feeling pretty good!
Acupuncture is the best. It is a great tool to fight inflammation for two reasons: it helps you rest and relax (take that, stress!) and it can help regulate your blood flow. I walked into my first acupuncture appointment full of anxiety and stressed out to the max. But after just one 30-minute session, I walked out feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. During your first session, you will likely have a consultation with your acupuncturist where I recommend you be completely honest so they can best treat you according to your needs. And after the consultation, you'll have your first session with needles. It is not scary at all, I promise. You barely feel the needles, and you definitely can't see them poking out of you while you're lying there.
If the thought of needles really just freaks you out, you can also try acupressure!
Most of us value convenience and efficiency, and I am proud to say that I fall in that category. But what I think we all to often choose to ignore is that with convenience comes a number of harsh chemicals and toxins in our food, home and personal care products. I bring this up because these toxins are often associated with inflammation. Toxins are considered foreigners to our bodies (no surprise there), so it's natural and even expected that our bodies may enter the "fight or flight" mode when repeatedly exposed to such dangers through our skin and digestive tract. So through this ever-so-clever deductive reasoning, I've come to believe that by reducing toxins, we can reduce inflammation.
As I mentioned before, going organic to reduce toxins and chemicals in my food has been made easy thanks to my local Trader Joe's (I promise, they don't pay me to say this!). As a rule of thumb, I try to limit the number of processed foods I consume and when I do, I only buy processed foods with ingredients that don't sound like a pharmaceutical product. Stores like TJ's, Whole Foods, and M.O.M. make this SO easy and the price points are comparable or even lower than that of a Giant, Harris Teeter, or Safeway.
On the other hand, I've had a much harder time reducing toxins in my personal care and home cleaning products. To start with, I was honestly consumed with vanity (rightfully so, IMHO); I worried that without chemicals, I'd be the stinky girl with greasy hair. And to be fair, with some brands, that was definitely the case. When that happened, though, I just went back to my chemicals until I found another brand to try. Little by little and after much testing, I began to swap out one product than another as I found brands that I trust, both for their integrity and ingredients, as well as for the fact that I still feel (and smell) clean.
Take a Yoga Class (or two, or ten....)
The last thing on my list is YOGA, and I sincerely hope you're not surprised by this :) Rest and recovery is essential to reducing inflammation - how else is your body supposed to know that it doesn't need to fight anymore? I think yoga is a great form of rest because in addition to the stretching and physical release you'll find with it, yoga also teaches us to be at peace in our bodies. Through breath work and meditation (even just sitting quietly for 1 minute can count - it doesn't need to be so daunting!), yoga can help us us calm our minds, which naturally leads to a calmer body.
Being that this is a yoga blog, I will be writing so much more about yoga so I'll leave the details for a later post. But in the meantime, see if you can pay a little more attention to your breath next time you stretch. When you inhale, focus on lengthening your spine or your muscle being stretched and when you exhale, work to let go so that the stretch happens a little more naturally. These controlled breaths will also help slow your heart rate and trigger your body's "Rest and Digest" phase (think opposite of "Fight or Flight").
You're probably starting to realize by now how much I love colors. It's no secret that I've always been a huge fan of any and all shades of pink (I can do a whole load of just pink laundry and I wouldn't exactly be disappointed if I accidentally slipped some pink in with the whites and all my whites turned pink, too). But I'm also loving the fun shades of greens and blue/greens that have started to pop up everywhere, especially this mint color (or "Toothpaste" as this shirt is called). So for today's Favorite Finds, I'm celebrating these two vibrant colors. Don't worry, if pink and/or mint aren't your thing, there are plenty of other choices!
lululemon Power Y Tank in Toothpaste
Obsessed. I don't think I need to go on any more about how spectacular this color is, so I'll go on about the tank itself. I have 2 more of these "Power Y" tanks in other colors because they are my favorite. The production is solid: the material is soft but sturdy and the top is comfortable enough to wear all day. The straps are also really comfortable and they don't pull on my neck like some of the other yoga tops I have. I find the cut very flattering on the upper arms/torso, too! The only potential issue is the level of support; it's listed under the "light support" for good reason. I've never had an issue with the top, but I do find myself glancing down after a few rounds of jump backs and jump ups to ensure that, um, the ladies are not popping out. So if you've got a little more going on up top, you may want to add a sports bra underneath. Either way, I think you'll love it.
Also want this and this (on sale-woohoo!).
Glyder Mantra Crop Legging in Mojave Dusk Space Dye
These crops are SO soft. They also stay put without cutting off circulation or creating a muffin top look. The yoga studio I practice and teach at (Tranquil Space) recently just got a new shipment of these Mantra Crop leggings, and I seriously had to stop myself from buying up every pair. I've washed them a bunch, too, and they still look just as new as when I got them last summer. No see-through issues, either, which is a necessity in my opinion, though I bet you'd agree.
Also crushing on these and these (on sale!)
lululemon Bang Buster Headband
I am normally not a fan of headbands. Well, I take that back. I LOVE headbands and how they look on others, but I HATE wearing them because I almost always get a headache. Whether it's a fashion headband or an athletic one, I can almost always guarantee that my head will be throbbing within an hour of putting it on. But I found this one on sale one day and it was so stinking cute that I just had to try it out. And let me tell you what: I am so happy with this purchase. It doesn't have those little grip things, but it still somehow doesn't slide off during practice, no matter how many times I look up or down or circle my neck. Must buy.
Also love this and this.
Target Yoga Direct Yoga Mat in pink (comparable)
The mat pictured above is my very first yoga mat, ever. I bought it in 2007 in Williamsburg at the local Target, I think for $12.99 at the time. I don't think the company that made it even exists anymore, but the one I've included in the link is the most comparable mat I can find (aside for the price increase - thanks for that, Inflation!). If you're just starting to explore yoga, no need to spend heaps of cash on a mat because this one will do just fine. It'll give you the cushion you need and it's not too heavy or slippery. I still use this mat during my home practice at times and it still works just fine! Yet another Target win.
Chair Pose. Utkatasana. Everyone has their one or two most-hated pose(s) and this one is mine. No matter how many times I do Chair Pose, I still frown and groan whenever it is called out in class. I even get annoyed with myself when I add it into my home practice. And I don't really know why, either. It's definitely not the worst. I guess it is just that this pose works my ankles, calves, thighs, and core all at once and in a way no other pose can compare.
So if I hate Utkatasana so much, then why do it? Because it's good to step outside comfort zones and find a challenge! In life, we are constantly coming up against things that are hard, uncomfortable, scary, or just unpleasant, and one of the best parts of yoga and doing poses like Chair Pose is that it teaches you resilience and strength in moments like these. Yes, yoga is about poses and alignment and controlling your breath, but it's also so much more. It is the best teacher I've found to help me overcome challenges.
How does this help our legs? Utkatasana falls in that "work every piece of the body" poses, but specifically, it can increase ankle, knee, and hip mobility. It also works to strengthen and tone the quads while also teaching good posture and confidence!
That's all on Utkatasana for now, but I'm sure we'll explore it more in the future! Enjoy these options for now, though. Hope you have a lovely Monday!
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the splits (or Hanumanasana, in Sanskrit, after the Monkey God Hanuman)? Ouch? If so, you're not alone. This is a much dreaded and despised pose, but it really doesn't have to be! You may even be thinking, "why bother? I'm not naturally flexible so it's never going to happen," but that's not necessarily true. There are many modifications and steps you can take to work into this. Let's begin!
How to get there
How does this help our legs? Hanumanasana is a great pose for lengthening the leg muscles. It also stretches the inner thighs/groin area and loosens the hips. These things are crucial to mobility and making sure that we can still move around on our own two legs as we get older! Plus, it's a great party trick to whip out in the middle of a dance floor!
More often than not, I see yogis with uneven hips in this pose, and I'm guilty of that, too! It's easy to do and it's not so easy to know when you're doing it. It's also pretty common in Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Splits). Take a look below - do you see how in the picture on the left, the left side of my body is higher? I'm bent further over my knee here, but my hips are definitely not in line. In the picture on the right, I've lifted up a bit so that I can pull my front hip back in line and my back is more level.
As is the case in most hamstring stretches and hip openers, you will most likely either love or hate this pose. But if you hate it, I guarantee you will come to love it after more and more practice! Next time you practice the splits, notice if you're frowning or tensing up through your legs, shoulders, hips, or anywhere else, and then try to relax some of that tension so you can let some resistance go. It'll make the whole experience much more enjoyable, maybe even fun - I promise!
Hope you have a lovely, splits-filled weekend!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...