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Yoga

Why You Should Start A Home Yoga Practice

About a year ago I started practicing yoga on my own. Before, I was never one to practice alone. After all, why should I stay home and practice by myself when I can go to YogaWorks?

You might be one of those people who also doesn’t want to miss out on the social vibe of public classes, and I don’t blame you.

Or maybe you don’t feel like you know enough of yoga sequencing and alignment to be on your own. In that case, you can either take mental note of what you see in class and replicate it, or read up a sequence online. Even though safety is still priority, if you are looking for a simple, solid home practice you can figure a few poses out work for you specifically and get all the benefits of a self-imposed structure.

All Photos Taken By: David Yaugo

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When I started refining my alignment in postures it became apparent that a public class wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to work on opening my shoulders and refining my lunges, so what happened if I went to a fast paced class that focused mostly on hip openers?

That’s when I began the arduous but rewarding journey of self-practice. And let me tell you, it is not easy. For a procrastinator like myself, all it took was a text message to blow my whole practice over. Sometimes I would just sit on the couch and stare at my mat for hours until I gave up.

I remember Erin Cookston saying: “Once you start self-practice, you’re jamming”. And I thought: “Yeah right. It’s so difficult. How do I push myself out of my comfort zone when I’m alone?”

If I hate backbends then will my self-practice be all about of forward folds? As it turns out, the practice is so balanced and intuitive that it will bring both what you like and what you need.

 

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Set A Time And A Place

I slowly began to set a time and a duration. I realized that depending on where I am, specifically California or Costa Rica, there are different times that are best suited for my self-practice. In California, it was late at night, when everyone is asleep and I no longer had obligations for the day. The house was quiet and I could summon my leftover  energy to dedicate an hour to myself. In Costa Rica, it’s the early morning. No mosquitos and a cool breeze.

The process alone of figuring out which time is best for self- practice is huge because it will force you to break through mental patterns. I always labelled myself as a “mid-day” practitioner, someone who is too stiff to practice in the morning, who doesn’t have enough energy at night. And here I am, adapting and making space for something important like my yoga practice.

As far as the place, anywhere goes. Once again, you might find yourself thinking limiting thoughts. I can’t practice on the grass because of ants. The sand is too soft. The tiles in my house are too hard. There is no such thing. You can practice anywhere you choose. It’s part of the practice to adapt to your surroundings and make them work. 

For the longest time I was convinced I could ONLY do inversions on the grass because I wasn’t afraid to fall, only to realize most balance postures are actually easier on a harder surface.

Motivation and Discipline

Once you’ve got your time and place figured out, you gotta find what motivates you. Determine the duration of practice to  stay motivated. My rule is one hour. Even on the worse days, I know an hour is not that long so I’ll push through it.

So you can stop, get a drink of water, answer a text message, right? NO. During that time, phone is on do not disturb mode and you got stay focused.  (puppy kisses are okay though).  When I’m feeling really sluggish, it’s half an hour. As long as I am on my mat for one hour every day, I am satisfied about my progress.

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Make Your Own Rules

The catch for me is, there are no rules of what needs to happen on my mat for that one hour. There have been times when I have spent the entire hour laying around, but it still served its purpose.  There have also been times when the hour became a sweaty two hours.

The beautiful thing of self practice is, no one is telling you what to do, so you have to get smart. Figure out how to  bring both challenge and ease. It becomes a process of self-gaging. Your body is intelligent and it knows what it needs. Your mind can then help determine how long a hold will be, the sequencing, the number of repetitions, when to rest. You’re in constant communication with yourself.

And really, where else do you get the chance to choose exactly what suits you? Hold it for as long as you like? Play the music you wish? The luxury of a tailored practice is not to be underestimated.

 

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The Rewards

The bigger gift you’ll receive from self-practice is more confidence and a stronger will power. If you can get up every day at the crack o’ dawn to do yoga, you bet you can accomplish X Y Z.

During my 200 hour teacher training at Green Monkey in Miami Beach my teacher Paul Toliuszis gave us the assignment of practicing a set of Pranayama exercises  every day for a month, and said:  “This will give you the confidence to be teaching”.  I though “How would practicing a bunch of breathing exercises translate into me feeling comfortable getting up in front of a group of people?”

Now, three years later I finally understand what he meant. Because I have enough discipline to do it myself, I can “talk the walk”.  

The other way in which self practice will benefit you is that you’ll able to practice anywhere. You’ll no longer depend on a yoga studio and you can keep your practice going even in the remote jungle. 😉

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog, Yoga

To Lengthen and Strengthen in Yoga

My journey in yoga lately has been leading me to throughly analyze the way postures work. In other words, alignment.

Lately I’ve been asking myself: what is the balance between strength and flexibility? Does a body party or muscle group need to be strong in order to be flexible?

Pincha Mayurasana Peakock Pose Yoga Costa Rica Blue Osa
You guessed it, I am more strong than flexible. It’s a work in progress! 🙂 Photocred: Jonathan Hokklo Pants by: Black Milk Clothing

1. Are you strong or flexible?

While we all ideally strive to become both strong and flexible in our yoga practice, I’ve often found that we are born with either one or the other. People who are flexible are lacking in strength and vice versa.

Without getting too much into it, there is a lot more than genetics that determine your level of flexibility. Tendons, ligaments and muscle fascia also play a great part in the flexibility game.

Tendons transmit force by connecting bones to muscle. They are relatively stiff, and they need to be to facilitate fine motor coordination. They have very little tolerance to stretching.

Ligaments can safely stretch a bit more than tendons—but not much. Ligaments bind bone to bone inside joint capsules. It is generally recommended that you avoid stretching them.  That’s why you hear instructors in class say to flex your knees slightly—rather than hyperextending them.

Muscle fascia is the third connective tissue that affects flexibility, and by far the most important. Fascia makes up as much as 30 percent of a muscle’s total mass. Fascia is the stuff that separates individual muscle fibers and bundles them into working units, providing structure and transmitting force.

So because of genetics, conditioning and other factors, we all find ourselves needing to work on either strengthening or lengthening a good deal in our yoga practice.

2. A tight muscle is not necessarily a strong muscle

But then there’s also tightness. Tightness is different than strength.  Muscle tension is caused when a muscle contracts and does not release, which is not a healthy condition. Muscle tension can be caused by overuse or stress. One can (and should) have a strong, lean muscle without it being tense.

3. Reciprocal inhibition (they work the opposite)

It’s important to know that strength is about engaging just as much as it is about extending; it’s a yin and yang relationship. When you engage your bicep your triceps loosens and when you extend your arm your triceps activates. In forward folds you engage your quadriceps to release your hamstrings. Whenever one set of muscles (the agonists) contracts, this built-in feature of the autonomic nervous system causes the opposing muscles (the antagonists) to release. If done correctly in yoga, when you strengthen one part of your body, you automatically lengthen its counterpart.

4. You can’t have one without the other

In conclusion, there should be equal emphasis on both strength and flexibility. If we only have flexibility in our practice we might not have enough stability to keep our joints safe. On the other hand, being only strong means we have short muscles that can’t fully expand in postures.

“Sthira Sukham Asanam” is a popular quote from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It means a yoga posture should be steady, firm and stable, yet also comfortable and light.

Sthira refers to stability and strength. Sukha refers to comfort, ease and openness.

If you have too much sukha in your body, you are mostly flexible and open, in which case you should improve your strength to balance your flexibility .If you have more sthira, you will probably be stiffer and you will have to work on your flexibility for a well rounded practice.

On our yoga mat, as in our lives, we are looking to balance flexibility (freedom and ease) with strength (stability).

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Yoga

5 Reasons I Choose Organic Cotton (and YOGiiZA)

I was introduced to Yogiiza on my last trip to Miami by a friend.

”Do you want to go to a free yoga class in Sunset Harbor followed by a potluck?”

“Yes , please!”

I immediately fell in love with the vibe in the Yogiiza karma yoga class. But before I took class I had to get my hands on a pair of Yogiiza pants. I chose the long skinny leggings in forrest green with the pink embroidery. I’m not gonna lie, before trying them on  I feared they were going to be like the loose, thin cotton pants I used to wear a while back. I was so mistaken. Yogiiza pants hold you tight (but not too tight), have a nice thickness to them that feels supportive and give you a really nice lift too! My Yogiiza discovery has represented so much more than just adding a pair of yoga pants to my collection; here’s why:

 

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1. Organic cotton feels like second skin and it looks good too 

Of course I like to wear colorful things and flowers and bright colors and skulls and clouds. But Yogiiza is different because it carries a natural feel and earthy colors. Something about their brand really caught my eye. Maybe it’s because their spokes-models look gorgeous in their clothes. Maybe it’s the clothes’ fit. They lift without squeezing and hug without suffocating. Organic cotton makes a world of difference on your body and your skin will thank you. I also find Yogiiza’s color choices of various shades of white, blue, green, and brown to be calming and soothing. You can never go wrong with wearing simple, classy yoga clothes made out of cotton.

 

2. It’s not just the clothes, it’s the people

 

You know when you connect with a yoga instructor and all of a sudden you want to go to all his/her classes? It’s the same phenomenon with Yogiiza! Not only does Yogiiza make great clothes, but it has built an incredible community of yogis in Miami. It’s a cool community to support and mingle with because everyone there is dedicated to yoga but understands that there is a lot more to asana practice and they don’t take themselves too seriousuly.You’ll be greeted at the little warehouse door by smiling faces and a piece of 100% pure chocolate. I like Yogiiza because Mark and Dawn are cool, laid back, and fun. Those qualities reflect on their clothes too. Genuine, comfortable and good looking!

 

3. Natural is better

 

I choose to be natural in the way I eat, in how I cure my health and in what I wear. That doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t eat meat or gluten or that I won’t ever wear a pair of Lululemon pants again. But now I’m more conscious of what I wear. I prefer natural fabrics to synthetic ones. Natural is a way of life that applies beyond your clothes. Natural means going back to the roots, connecting to what’s important and simplifying. Natural means striving for balance. Cotton is the most natural thing to be worn on skin. Just as paper and glass are the preferred sources in industries of other kinds.

 

4. I choose consciously

I want to know where my clothes are made just the same way I want to know where my food is grown. Yogiiza clothes are made in Peru and Yogiiza works very closely with their producers. The motto “Live by Yoga” written on the back of the YOGiiZA tees is a good reminder to care for all the choices you make, ranging from your body, your planet and work conditions of people who make your clothes. I have a choice in what to wear, and it does have an impact in other people’s life as well as mine.

 

5. I am transitioning to a simpler, more natural look

 

I don’t just choose to be natural from the inside, but also from the outside. Lately I have invited a more plain, natural look into my life. I used to coordinate all my outfits. Now I just throw on a pair of Yogiiza pants and they match anything. I’m shedding  jewelry and I haven’t worn make up in 6 months. I have to carry less stuff around with me,I’m lighter and more free, both physically and metaphorically.

The new choice of wearing cotton also translates into feeling more comfortable in my own skin and starting to own my natural features. I finally understand that It’s small imperfections that make people beautiful and I am comfortable with my own imperfections. I have a whole new appreciation for natural hair color too. Nothing beats what mother nature gave us, and wearing Yogiiza organic cotton is as earthy as you can get. And as fashionable as you can be.

 

Read more about Yogiiza and what they do here.

 

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Yoga

Evening Fluctuations

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Experience has taught me to watch for red flags in people’s behavior to figure out what to expect from them. That way I know  how to protect myself from their actions. If said actions seem psychotic, unreliable, or worrisome I can then make a quick judgment call to run in the opposite direction to prevent harm.

 

Yoga on the other hand teaches me not to judge, to be open and receptive to all kinds of behaviors, approaches and personality, step back, observe and let things unfold at their own pace.

 

I am still very much unsure which is the best approach. The fist one is more practical but denies opportunities whether the second one is more inspiring but leaves more chances to get hurt.