lululemon old tank, but popular style that is often rotated through. You can find a similar one here.
I have at least 3 of these tanks purchased over the years, so I know it's a lululemon staple. I think it is stylish, comfortable, and flattering for all. The material is great if you'll be sweating a lot as it gives you lots of room to breath. I wear these tops primarily for yoga, but I also like them for the gym (weightlifting, cardio, etc.) and kickboxing. I also have these in a couple different sizes - the top runs true to size, but I generally like to go 1 size down to offer more support up top so that I don't have to wear a sports bra with it. If you're a little more well-endowed on top, though, it'd probably be a good idea for you to double up with sports bra either way.
Also want this and this (though I'm not sure I can rock this style...)
Glyder Appearal Mantra Crop Legging in Mint
These are SO soft! Like so soft that I thought there was no way they'd stay up throughout a yoga practice, but they do! And they've surprised numerous trips through the wash and haven't lost their stretch, support or softness. I also love the color. It's even better in person. My only issue is the color is just the tiniest bit see-through so I need to wear nude undies with them. I think this is only an issue with the lighter colors as it doesn't seem to be a problem with some of my other pairs of Glyder leggings in darker colors or prints.
Also love these and these (on sale!)
eKO SuperLite Travel Mat 68" in Majesty (Enter code "MORE2LOVE" for up to 20% off)
Read my review here.
Boat Pose (Navasana) is yet another favorite. You can make it as challenging as you want, and it targets the entire body. It's also a GREAT way to work on building your core strength. If you've ever practiced this pose, you know that your entire core is working hard to keep your body in this nice V shape. Just staying in this pose for 30 seconds can feel like an entire workout.
How to Get There
There are quite a few ways to get into this pose ranging from simply lifting your legs off the floor from a seated position to getting fancy and jumping through to it from Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). You can also lower down into it from Chair Pose (Utkatasana), which is a personal favorite.
We'll go with the basics:
The nice thing about this pose is that there are so many stages, modifications and variations so as long as your muscles are engaged, you are most likely doing the pose correctly. I can tell when someone isn't engaging all of their muscles because they look something like this:
The back is drooping, the neck is straining, and the arms and legs are dangling. It's actually quite risky to go this route because you risk seriously pulling/straining a muscle. If you're still working on building up the core strength for full Boat Pose, try one of the modifications above to avoid risking any injuries.
Happy sailing! :)
Well helloooo, March! It seems you're holding on strong to winter, which I don't particularly appreciate, but that's okay because Spring will be here soon enough.
Though it doesn't feel like it, spring really is just around the corner (woohoo!). And that means that summer (aka swimsuit season) is right behind it (could be another "woohoo" or an "ah crap", depending on how you're looking at it). As such, I think it's a perfect time to give a little extra attention to our core. This is one area I always get requests for in class, and I simply LOVE it.
The core muscles include all of the muscles in your trunk and pelvis, with the majority of them being in the belly, mid- and lower-back, and hip areas. Yep, that's right...your core consists of more than just your abs! For all you anatomy buffs out there, here is a great blog post by a pilates instructor on the core muscles.
These ever-so-popular core muscles are most widely known for holding in/protecting your internal organs and stabilizing most actions of the body. A stronger core means a more stable body all around which is why it's so important to strengthen these muscles! It's also absolutely essential for your core to be strong in order to take on more advanced yoga poses (asanas) like handstands and arm balances. So while 6-pack abs do tend to look nice, I think it's equally impressive to be able to stand on your hands, do crazy arm balances, or even just walk in a straight line without falling over. Don't you think?
That is why March will be devoted to the core. I'll breakdown my most favorite poses and exercises to strengthen this area at the beginner, intermediate and advanced practitioner levels.
To start, let's discuss Plank Pose. Seemingly simple, but I bet that anyone who's had to hold plank for 30 seconds or more will tell you it's anything but.
How to Get There
The Belly Sag: If you hear a teacher tell you to lift your thighs or kneecaps up to the ceiling, you may be doing this:
The Humpback Whale: And if you a teacher tells you to lower your hips or walk your feet back so your heels are over your toes, you may be doing this:
Hope you have fun warming up your core! You'll need the prep work - there's much more to come!
Now that we've all mastered standing on our heads (ha - we can dream!), it's time to talk about taking it up a notch. I often see yogis who rock a mean headstand. At the end of every class, they pop right up into it and can probably stay there for minutes on end. When I see these yogis, though, I can't help but wonder why they're only sticking to the same variation each and every time. I mean, don't get me wrong - it's crucial to "master" the foundations of a pose, and it's awesome once you are comfortable in one to challenge yourself by staying there longer and longer each time. But in addition to being content, yoga teaches us about personal growth and moving beyond our edge. And it seems that we practice this in other poses when we try new variations once we nail the foundation, but for some reason, that is just so much more daunting upside down.
There's no reason it should be, though! Being someone who was deathly afraid of headstands (and still kinda is), I can tell you that playing with headstand variations really isn't that much scarier than getting into headstand in the first place. The concept is the same: stack hips over shoulders. Once you've got that down, you're golden. So if you're pretty confident with your headstand and you're feeling a little motivated this weekend, maybe give one (or all!) of these variations a try!
One of my favorite variations is tripod headstand with Lotus legs. Disclaimer: you should have full Lotus in your practice before trying this - be extra cautious of your knees!
To enter, come into Tripod Headstand, with legs straight overhead. Starting with your more open leg (we all have one side that is more flexible, more open, whatever you want to call it), bring one foot into the opposite hip crease. Easy-peasy, right?? The second leg is a little tricky. You'll bend the leg and cross the shin on top of the other shin, wiggling your foot into the opposite hip crease. Press your hands into the mat and activate your core even more to help maintain balance while you've got the wobbles going on up top.
Flow From Crow Pose to Headstand to Chaturanga
Be a Lady and Sit with Legs Crossed at the Ankles
So unlike the Crow - Headstand - Chaturanga variation, this one is actually much harder than it looks. From Tripod Headstand with your legs straight overhead, draw your knees into your chest and cross your ankles. Slowly inch your hands in, bringing arms towards one another until forearms press into each other and fingers are point out. Actively press your arms into one another and hug your belly in to help maintain balance. You can also bring your knees to rest on your upper arms.
Mukta Hasta Sirsasana
I think this one is the most challenging variation because I also find it the scariest. Your neck is definitely the most vulnerable here, as your hands are not really anywhere near your head to help distribute your weight. So if you have even the slightest of neck issues, you may want to avoid this option.
Again, start in Tripod Headstand with legs straight overhead. Activate your core like you never have before, so much that you can feel your belly button touching your spine. Slowly, inch one hand out a little bit and then inch the other hand out the same distance and repeat this until your arms are out straight. To make the pose more accessible, create a larger angle with your arms (i.e., send your arms more out in front of you). To make it more challenging, send your arms straight out to the sides, keeping your entire body on one plane.
Headstand is already challenging enough so it's perfectly normal if you think it's straight up crazy to make it any more difficult. And it is straight up crazy. But crazy can be a little fun, right? And fun is what makes life worth living so I say give it a go, but take the necessary precautions of course :)
Headstand. Sirsasana. The king of all yoga poses (asanas). It is one of the most powerful and beneficial yoga poses you can do...when done safely and correctly, of course. Some of its many benefits include calming the brain, relieving stress and mild depression, improving digestion, stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands, and strengthening the arms, legs, spine, abdominal organs, and lungs. Sounds good, huh?
This king pose isn't for everyone, though. You should steer clear if you are experiencing back or neck pain, headaches, any heart conditions, high or low blood pressure, or a bun in the oven (this one can go either way, but the general guideline is to avoid completely if you are pregnant and new to headstand). You also may want to steer clear if you are experiencing fear, and if that's you, you are not alone.
But good news is that is something we can work with! We talked about this in an earlier post, 5 Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Falling. There are also two variations of headstand that are both fairly accessible: Bound Headstand and Tripod Headstand. I found the tripod variation to be "easier" so I started to work with that one first and it was a long time before I was able to do the bound variation. But many others think the bound variation is easier. It's different for everyone so I encourage you to try both and see which one is easier, or not as scary, for you.
Since headstand is such a special pose, I think it'll be most helpful to break it down with lots of pictures and options (many thanks to my girl, Lauren, for being my model!).
Tripod Headstand (Sirsasana II)
There are a couple ways to get into Tripod Headstand, but one of the most common ways is to start from a Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Paddottanasana):
Take a wide-enough stance so that you can place your hands flat on the mat, directly under your shoulders (it's okay to bend your knees). Bend your arms and place the top of your head on the mat (you may want to place your back close to a wall if you're new to this so that you can find the sweet balance spot on the top of your head).
Your elbows should stay parallel with fingers pointed forward. Your hands should be far enough away from your face so that you can see the tops of your finger tips.
One leg at a time, bring your knee to rest on your arm so that you create an egg shape. Use your core and press into your hands as you lift your knees off your arms, stacking your hips over your shoulders. If you're practicing this for the first time, stay here and practice getting comfortable upside down before straightening the legs.
Pressing into your hands, draw your belly in and slowly start to extend one leg up at a time. Press up through the balls of your feet and squeeze your thighs together. Keep your elbows hugged in and continue to press into your hands, and voila! Headstand!
If you've mastered the upside-down egg, another entry option is from Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana). This variation takes a little bit of flexibility/openness in the hammies to be able to get your head on the mat, but you can also bend your knees to reach your head down.
From Wide-Legged Forward Bend, place your hands down on the mat, fingers pointed forward, just far enough back so that you can see your fingertips, elbows hugging in. Shift your weight forward, bringing hips over shoulders, and slowly start to lift your legs off the mat, drawing them up and in towards one another. Squeeze your thighs together, and I mean squeeeeeeze! This will help you firm up through the whole body in order to get your balance. When you're ready to come out, use your core to lower down the same way you went up.
Bound Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana)
To enter Bound Headstand, kneel on your mat (towards the back), and place the top of your head down. Interlace your fingers behind your head, as if you're cupping your head with your hands. Press your hands into your head and your head into your hands to help balance.
Press evenly into your forearms as you tuck your toes under and begin to walk your feet in towards your body. Bend one knee into your chest at a time, coming into that upside-down egg shape from before. Slowly start to straighten your legs, one at a time or at the same time for an extra challenge. When you're ready to come down, either lower one leg down at a time or come back into that egg shape and lower down to your toes.
For so many of us, the only thing standing in between ourselves and an amazingly empowering headstand is fear. In a society where we all have a little bit of a control freak hidden away, the thought of falling out of a headstand is just unfathomable. As such, no matter how hard we try or how on spot our form is, this fear of falling keeps us from going all in and upside down.
Now there are some people who don't ever let fear get in their way; they set a goal and go for it. I assure you, I am not one of those people. It took me years...YEARS...before I decided to stop letting my fear of falling control me. Seriously, years. After a few years' of practicing yoga, I would see folks brand new to yoga waltz into class and pop up into a headstand their first or second try. For a few minutes, I'd be inspired to give it a try, but inevitably, once my head was on the mat and my hips closing in on my shoulders, I'd be overwhelmed by fear and opt for another pose instead. What was I scared of? Ohh, I don't know...smushing my neck, falling and embarrassing myself terribly, falling and breaking my face, or worse, falling on someone else and breaking their face...the list of valid concerns is endless.
Over time, I finally did it (wooo!!) and here's how...
Set a SMART Goal
One day, I decided that I really wanted to go upside down and that I would no longer allow my fear of falling stop me. As such, I promised myself that I would spend the next year of my practice working into a headstand. Obviously, that's a goal, but what makes it SMART? A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Delimited. Making your goal realistic and time-delimited is crucial--these really help you be accountable to yourself. For example, if you've never done a headstand before, saying that you want to pike up into a headstand next week may not exactly be realistic since you likely won't have the necessary tools and training to do so. Knowing myself and how truly afraid I was, I thought a year was a good time frame because it allowed ample time to learn the proper preparations and recovery and it was plenty of time to practice at my own pace.
Ask For Help
Once I set a goal, I made this goal known to my yoga teachers. My teachers were always asking students to let them know if we wanted a "spot" or "assist" during Finishing Poses at the end of class, but I was always too bashful to ask them to help me into headstand. Again, I made the conscious decision to let go of my ego and just ask for help. All it took was a few minutes with my teacher watching me attempt a headstand and they gave me some tips specific to me and where I was in the process, which really helped me gain confidence in my headstand.
If you don't have access to a teacher, you can ask a friend, family member, spouse, etc. to be an extra set of eyes for you while you practice at a wall so that they can tell you if/how your hips are stacking over your shoulders.
Start At A Wall
This one is a bit controversial in the yoga world. One school of thought is that if you learn to headstand at a wall, you will become dependent on the wall and you won't develop the body/muscle memory from going upside down. I think that is a very valid argument, but for me, it's simply not the case. I would have never felt comfortable even trying a headstand in the middle of a room without first feeling comfortable at a wall. Using a wall helped me learn what it felt like to have my hips directly over my shoulders, something that is crucial to getting and staying upside down. The wall was also an amazing safety net - I knew that if I lost my balance and fell backwards, the wall would catch me.
I started by going into an upside down egg (we'll go more into this on Monday) with my back against the wall, then I'd move to extending my legs overhead. Eventually, I'd play with floating one foot, then the other a couple inches away from the wall. And then I'd start inching my head a little further away from the wall so that the wall was still there if I needed it, but not nearly as close. Most importantly, this process of slowly moving away from the wall gave me something to focus my mind on other than my fear!
Practice Away From The Wall In An Open Space
Once you're comfortable (or at least no longer petrified) with headstanding at the wall, slowly start to inch away from the wall until you find yourself in a headstand in the middle of the room. I started doing this at home on carpet in an open space where I knew that if I did fall, there was nothing around me to land on. Once I felt comfortable (or, again, at least no longer petrified) with headstanding in the middle of an empty room, I decided to try my headstand in a yoga class, surrounded by yogis. I'd start closer to the back of my mat so that if I fell forwards, I had plenty of room on my mat to do so. Lastly, I would do a body check each time before committing to going upside down, to ensure that my body was ready for a headstand on that particular day. I still do this :)
Learn To Fall
Another trick to help overcome your fear of falling is to learn to fall. Obviously, you should definitely be careful here and use caution as you fall, but there is no better way to overcome your fear of falling than to simply fall. A good rule of thumb is that if you notice yourself about to fall to one side, fall to your dominant side. When you do this, you'll pull out some cat-like reflexes and your feet will almost always find the floor before some other part of your body does.
Another thing to try is a somersault...you know, those fun twirly things we used to in P.E. when we were little? It's a little strange and unfamiliar to do, but as long as you don't have neck issues, you should give it a try! You'll be surprised at what your body remembers from being a kid and at the very least, you'll have fun getting back in touch with your inner child.
I somehow talked my friend, Lauren, into demonstrating a somersault for you in the video below (it was a little too hard to talk and demo at the same time). Notice how as she starts to wobble and tilt backwards, she curls her knees into her chest, draws her belly in, and rolls right on out of her headstand. It is just as easy and fun as it looks!
Have another tip or trick on how you overcame your fear of falling? Leave it in the comments below!
As of the time of this blog post, I have been dairy-free for 6 weeks and 2 days, and I feel FANTASTIC. And I mean truly wonderful. Gone are the days of heartburn and post-lunch exhaustion. My skin is clearer, I've lost weight without changing anything else in my diet and exercise regimen, and I have more energy all around.
Although I don't like to go around advertising that I'm diary-free, it does come up sometimes during the day when I'm out to lunch or dinner with friends and coworkers and I inevitably have to ask the server if an item has milk, cream and/or butter in it. Many people I know have some sort of dietary restriction so it isn't much of a surprise to them, but for others, the thought of giving up milk, butter, cheese and all things yummy is just unfathomable (and let's be honest, it kind of is). I almost always get asked the same 4 questions to which I've provided answers to below.
Why Go Diary-Free?
This question is always first, understandably so. In a society where we're raised on "Got Milk?" ads and we associate book clubs with wine and cheese (rightfully so), people generally assume I gave up dairy because I had to as a result of being lactose-intolerant or something like that. Hate to break it to ya, but that's not exactly the case. While I think I am a little lactose-intolerant, I was never diagnosed as much by a doctor, and a little lactose-intolerance isn't enough to make me give up some delicious slow-churned ice cream and double cream brie.
As I wrote in my post on reducing inflammation, giving up dairy is a great way to fight inflammation and that's the main reason I gave up my beloved dairy. My acupuncturist had been hinting at it for awhile, but it took me finally realizing that I wouldn't die without cheese and ice cream before I decided to give it a try. I figured that I would try it for a little while to see how my body felt. Before I knew it, a week had gone by, I hardly missed dairy, and, more importantly, I could already see the positive changes that cutting out dairy had on my body. It was at this point that I started researching why I felt so good without dairy, and I learned how roughly 60% of the population are allergic to the proteins found in dairy (mostly casein, but some whey, too).
At the end of the day, though, it's a personal choice that only you can make for yourself. No judgments, just do what feels best to you!
Does This Mean I'm Vegan?
Nope! Dairy-free doesn't mean you have to be Vegan, and I still eat organic, free-range chicken and fish. I also still eat eggs (also organic and cage free) since they're neutral in acidity (aka no inflammation risk) and not dairy (since dairy technically comes from cows). That being said, it's sometimes easier to just say that you are Vegan to ensure there is no hidden milk, cream, or butter in your food at restaurants. Be warned, though, that you will get some funny looks if you take this approach and then order something with Chicken or Fish in it. Trust me, I've been there :)
How Do You Get Enough Calcium?
Osteoporosis is a serious concern so it's super important that you get enough calcium. But what exactly does "enough" calcium mean? According to the Mayo Clinic, men generally need about 1,000 mg/day while women need between 1,000 mg and 1,200 mg/day. Lucky for us, though, there are tons of foods that give you all the calcium you need! Here are just a few examples:
What Are Good Dairy Substitutes?
There are SO many dairy substitutes, and although it's awesome, it's also a little overwhelming. I've listed my favorite substitutes below, but my general advice here is to be open to new things and try different products to see which ones you like best. And with the handy-dandy Google, you can find a way to substitute just about anything these days, so again, I say there are SO many options!
**You'll notice that I don't include a cheese-substitute because I think they are all pretty gross. I'd rather go without any cheese at all than to dishonor the memory of my beloved cheeses with some poor impostor. If you do feel like you need a fix, though, goat cheese is a pretty safe option and is less acidic than other varieties (read: not as inflammatory as the others)!
A couple words of caution
Still have a question about going dairy-free? Leave a comment or message me directly!
lululemon 105 F Singlet (old color pictured, but great new ones available!)
This tank is AH-MAZING. It is so soft and versatile - great for any style of yoga (including hot yoga), running, the gym...you name it! There are so many color options and each one is fantastic. The material is such that you can wear and sweat in it a bunch of times before having to wash it, but it also holds its own in the wash. I've washed this top way more times than I can remember and it hasn't faded or shrunk at all and the material is as good as new. Must-buy.
Also LOVE this (super sale and best.sweater.EVER.)
Athleta Revelation Tight in Dress Blue (on sale!!)
These leggings are the best. Seriously. They are "wear all day" comfortable, flattering, and not see-through. The extra seam in the sides gives them a "slimming" appearance while also adding more support. And an extra plus for shorter ladies: these aren't technically supposed to cover your heels, but I'm able to pull the legs over my heels for extra warmth/coziness without wearing through the heels. If your legs are on the longer side, though, these will likely come to your ankles like most other leggings. The blue color is gorgeous and a nice mix-up from your every day black and/or gray. Another must-buy.
Really want these, too!
So there are just a couple things left to cover before we get into the juicy headstands. One of them is learning to fall, which is super important, but we will get into that later this week. The other is equally important: counter poses. A counter pose is a pose that moves your body in an opposite direction of the previous pose for the purpose of restoring balance in your body. They're designed to make you feel good again after you reach your edge and they are crucial when it comes to inversions, especially headstand. Without them, you risk injury, and with a pose like headstand, that injury could be to your head, neck, shoulders, back, or some other VIP body part. No bueno, right? I can't say enough just how vital counter poses are to making sure you don't destroy your body so be sure to incorporate them into your practice, especially when playing upside down.
The Counter Poses
To start, let's go super basic and talk about Child's Pose, Balasana. Child's Pose is a great counter pose to heated inversions (aka hard ass poses) like headstand, handstand, forearm stand. In these kinds of active inversions, your core, back, shoulders, and wrists are all firing to turn you upside down and Child's Pose offers a sweet release to all of these body parts. Press your hands into the mat as you sink your hips back on to your heels, stretching your chest down. Feel your shoulders release as your forehead presses into the mat and allow your low back to let go. Taking a wide-kneed Child's Pose (picture below) will offer more of a hip opener, but if you want to focus on your low back, keep your knees together so that your back is rounded a little more. From here, you can also reach your arms towards your toes to further release the back.
A second option is Puppy Pose, Anahatasana. Puppy Pose has a special place in my heart, and it's not just because its Sanskrit name, Anahatasana, has the same first 5 letters as Anahita. Puppy Pose is a legit shoulder opener and a great substitute for Child's Pose if you have any ankle or foot issues. For some people, Child's Pose just puts too much pressure on your ankles so that a pose that is supposed to be amazingly yummy becomes the worst thing ever. In Puppy Pose, though, your hips are stacked over your knees and you aren't putting any pressure on your ankles. It also offers more of a backbend and shoulder release. From table pose, keep your knees over your hips as you walk your hands out in front of you until your forward or chin touch the mat. If you want less of a backbend or shoulder opener, simple! Just don't sink your chest down as a low :)
A third option is Rabbit Pose, Sasangasana. You won't see this pose too often in class, I think because it's a bit difficult to teach in an all-levels class. Not only is it awkward to get into Rabbit Pose, you also need to be careful with the placement of your head so that you don't end up straining your neck. Starting in a kneeling position, shift forward and place the top of your head on the mat, as close to your knees as possible. Reach your arms back and grab hold of your heels, ankles or calves as you lean forward, bringing your hips over your knees. You should feel a wonderful stretch along the back of your neck all the way down your spine. Be careful not to press the top of your head down too hard and enjoy!
One final counter pose is a good old-fashioned neck stretch which is awesome after a practice, but it's also a great way to begin your practice. To start, spend 5-10 breaths taking gentle neck circles 5-10 breaths in each direction, and bring your head back to center when finished. Take a deep breath in and slowly lower your right ear to right shoulder as you exhale. As gently as possible, place your right hand over your head (fingertips will be near the top of your left ear) and apply the tiniest bit of pressure to get a deeper stretch in your neck. If this feels good, you can press your left hand down your left shoulder to get even more of a stretch. Stay here for a few breaths, come back to center on an inhale, and then repeat on the other side.
Lotus Pose. Padmasana. A quintessential yoga pose. It's said that the placement of your hands and feet resemble the petals of a lotus flower, which is referenced throughout ancient yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The lotus flower is also used as the visulization of the chakras, or energy points in the body, with a different number of petals for each chakra. Seemingly simple, yet so symbolic and grounding. It's a great pose to improve posture and clear your mind - both of which are sooo important when balancing on your head!
For many of us, this pose is just not going to happen, especially if there is a history of knee or hip injury. But there are some things you can do to work into and/or modify the pose:
If your body doesn't mind Lotus Pose, this is a great pose to practice meditation in. The pose is also a part of many other poses to include Scale Pose (Tolasana), Rooster Pose (Kukkutasana), and Lotus in Headstand (Urdhva Padmasana). Give it a try and see how it works for you, but pleeeeease pay attention to your knees and back off immediately (but slowly) if you feel any sharp or stabbing pains!
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...