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Month: June 2020

Plank to Downward Dog: 5 Awesome Ways to Transition Between Them

By Kristen Fischer for Greatist.

Love how it feels to go from Plank to Downward Dog in yoga? There are stellar benefits for each pose. Combining them into one fluid movement is the perfect match when it comes to building your core strength and improving flexibility (plus it just feels so dang good).

Traditionally a transition or resting pose in yoga, this exercise is completely equipment-free. Just grab yourself and a mat (or find a comfortable surface) and get moving.

You also don’t have be a yogi to perfect Plank to Downward Dog (aka Downward-Facing or Down Dog). Even if yoga’s not your thing, Plank to Downward Dog can be a great workout to add to your routine.

We chatted with three yoga instructors to show you how you can master this move, and incorporate it into your yoga or fitness routine.

How to Plank to Downward Dog

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Keep your shoulders directly above your wrists and your hips over your knees.
  2. Tuck your toes under and straighten your legs. Your core should be engaged, and don’t let your back sag or your shoulders scrunch up toward your ears. Relax your head and neck. You’re in Plank Pose.
  3. Press your hips and butt back. Push away slightly with your arms as you engage your core. You’ll be in an upside down, V-shaped pose. This is Downward Dog Pose.

Tips for Plank to Downward Dog

 
It’s All About Foundation

Making a smooth transition between poses begins with your foundation, says New Jersey yoga instructor Kris Fleischer.

“Keep your fingers completely spread apart like a star to give yourself as wide a supportive base as possible,” she explains. “The inside of your elbows facing forward assists with the external rotation of your shoulders as you press your hips back to find Downward-Facing Dog.”

Also, make sure you don’t collapse your lower back, hyperextend your legs, or have your butt already in the air while in Plank. Drawing your belly away from your thighs also helps wake up your core for stability in Downward Dog.

Take Your Time

There are no rules for how long you should hold each pose, or how many times you should do each pose. Moving between them should only take a few seconds, and the transition is equally as important as holding each individual pose. Do what feels right.

Try Bending Your Knees in Downward Dog

Hammies feeling tight in Downward Dog? Slightly bending your knees can help prevent muscle strain.

“I really like bending the knees as I transition into a Downward Dog from Plank Pose. It allows me to focus on lengthening the spine and helps me to build momentum so I can shoot forward into Downward Dog,” says Alice Blunden of Yoga Medicine.

Modify Plank if You Need To

“Don’t try to be a Plank hero,” says Bridget Riepl, founder of the New Jersey Yoga Collective. “If the pose feels uncomfortable, especially in your low back, drop to your knees… rather than holding something that ultimately might sideline you from continuing to practice.”

Planking on knees can be done by walking your hands out so your hips are not over your knees. You can also lower your forearms to the ground or plank on a wall to modify the pose, Blunden adds.

Keep Space Between Your Shoulders

When in Plank or Down Dog, make sure you keep space between your shoulder blades and don’t round your shoulders forward.

“If practitioners hear the cue, ‘bring your shoulder blades down,’ this doesn’t mean squeeze them together. It means to slide them down toward your hips. You want to keep space between your shoulder blades,” Fleischer adds.

Benefits of Plank to Downward Dog

 
No Weights Required

“Both transitions are definitely hard, but if you move from Plank into Downward Dog, you have the additional weight of gravity to work against so it can feel more challenging,” Blunden adds.

Get a Full Body Workout

Plank works your upper body, abs, glutes, and legs while Downward Dog stretches your hamstrings and back.

Core exercises like this move have been shown to activate muscles better than isolated exercises.

Mastering Plank

 
plank to downward dog

 

Plank Pose uses your own body weight to tone and strengthen your upper body, ab, glute, and leg muscles.

Here’s how to perfect your Plank to reap the benefits of the Plank to Downward Dog transition:

  1. Get onto your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders like you’re doing a push-up.
  2. Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes.
  3. Neutralize your neck and spine. Look at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond your hands. Keep your head in line with your back.
  4. Hold the position as long as you can. As you get more comfortable, hold it longer.

Mastering Downward Dog

 
plank to downward dog

 

Downward-Facing Dog opens your shoulders, stretches your hamstrings, and lengthens the spine. “The upper body gets most of the muscle work in Down dog, where the lower body enjoys the stretch,” Riepl adds.

Here’s how to practice Downward Dog Pose:

  1. Get on all fours with your shoulders in line with your wrists and your knees in line with your hips.
  2. Walk your hands 6 inches in front of you and spread out your fingers.
  3. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back to lengthen your spine, creating a reverse “V” shape. Press your thighs back toward the wall behind you and push the floor away with your hands to gain more stability.

Plank to Downward Dog Workouts

 

Think you’ve got the moves down? Here are some challenging variations of Plank to Downward Dog to try out.

Plank to Downward Dog Toe Taps

This works your core and boosts balance.

plank to downward dog

 

  1. Begin in Plank and transition to Downward-Facing Dog.
  2. While in Downward Dog, lift your right hand and reach back to touch your left toe.
  3. Then place your right hand back on the floor.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side. Go back into Plank.
  5. Start with 5 reps per side. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Downward Dog Knee to Elbow Plank

Intensify your abs and improve balance with this variation.

plank to downward dog

 

  1. Start in Downward Dog. Lift your right leg into the air, coming into Downward Dog Split (or three-legged dog).
  2. Shift your right knee under your torso toward your right elbow.
  3. Extend the right leg back into Down Dog Split.
  4. Put the right foot back on the ground.
  5. Switch sides. Start with 5 reps per side and repeat 2 to 3 times.

Pro tip: You can also twist your right knee across your torso toward your left elbow for more intensity.

Plank to Downward Dog Walk Up

This variation stretches the legs while improving upper body and ab strength.

plank to downward dog

 

  1. Start in a forward fold and walk your hands out in front of you until you arrive in a plank.
  2. From there shift into downward dog.
  3. Return to plank and walk your hands back toward your feet to go back into a forward fold. Then unfold into an upright standing position, or walk yourself back to plank.
  4. Do 10 reps. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Three-Legged Downward Dog to Plank
plank to downward dog

 

This move works your whole body and improves balance.

  1. Begin in Down Dog.
  2. Lift your right leg up so it’s parallel to the ground. Keep your hips square and flex your foot.
  3. With the right leg lifted, shift your weight forward to stack your shoulders over your wrists in Plank Pose.
  4. Breathe.
  5. Return to Down Dog and put your right foot down.
  6. Do 5 reps per side. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Takeaway

Downward Dog and Plank can both build strength on their own, but transitioning back and forth between the two poses is even better for a complete workout.

Combining the moves can work your upper body, abs, glutes, legs, and hamstrings. Even if you’re not doing the move in yoga, remember to breathe as you move.

Yoga for the Fire Element

By Kate Howard-Keyes for her Yoga Life with Kate Blog.

Summer and the Element of Fire

Sunday June 21st marks summer solstice and the day when the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere receives the most direct sunlight in the year. This makes it the day with the longest daylight and shortest night. It also marks the beginning of summer, a season that many of us look forward to with the longer, warmer days giving us an opportunity to do more things that we enjoy. During this season, I feel a lightness in the air and a desire to be outside meeting with friends, family and enjoying nature. I also very much enjoy being outside with a good book, soaking in the sun’s rays. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”) the summer season is governed by the Fire element, making it an easy one to remember as we associate the heat from the sun during this time of the year.

I try to bring concepts from each of the elements in TCM into my classes throughout the seasons. For my students and for my readers, I thought it would be useful to expand on what the five elements are and what you can expect from the Fire element on and off the mat as we begin the summer season.

The Five Elements in TCM

In TCM we have five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) that are used to help us understand how the environment around and in us influences the health of our body and mind. We each have the five elements in us which are constantly fluctuating in balance (either being in balance or out of balance). These five elements are commonly used to diagnose and treat ailments in TCM by understanding which area of each element is out of balance. Our bodies are continuously evolving, meaning the balance of each of the five elements is also in a continuous process of natural change and flux. In my opinion the five elements help us understand where an imbalance may be present and how through yoga, diet and lifestyle changes we can bring our mind and body into more harmony.

Each element has various qualities about it and is paired with certain organs in the body. Each of the organs is classified as being yin or yang in nature and has energy lines (also known as meridians) that run throughout the body (usually starting and ending at our feet and hands). The energy that runs through the meridians is known as Qi (pronounced “Chi”) and can be also viewed as our vital life force. When there is a disharmony in the body it usually means that our Qi is either lacking or deficient, or is stagnant or stuck (it can also be collapsed or rebellious (i.e. not moving in the right direction)).

From a yoga practice perspective, we use postures to apply pressure or to stretch our muscles or tissues around these energy lines in an attempt to move stagnant energy or to increase circulation through the meridians but with no needles involved!

In addition to the meridians, each of the five elements includes sub-categories such as body tissue, season, emotion, taste and psychology that tell us more about when an element is in or out of balance.

Qualities of the Fire Element

Summer is a time when plants and creatures flourish. A time when we feel the expansive and radiant energy from the sun beaming down on earth for longer. In TCM, the fire element is most strongest during the summer season and it is also the height of yang. Yang representing light and warmth.

Fire is important for our joy and our ability to be passionate and optimistic in life. It gives meaning to our relationships with others and allows us to express ourselves fully.

The fire element, unlike the other elements, has four main organs associated with it: the heart (yin), small intestines (yang), pericardium (yin) and triple heater (yang). The heart is the most important of the four organs, however, all four have their meridian lines running up and down our arms. In yoga, we place more emphasis on the yin organs as they are seen as having greater influence on our mind and body, which is also why we call them the “precious” ones. When we think about these organs, it’s important to remember that in TCM they play slightly different roles to the ones in Western medicine (just something to bear in mind).

As the principal organ for the Fire element, the Heart stores our spirit (or our Shen) and is responsible for housing our thoughts in our mind. Effectively, the Heart is the centre of our emotional and mental activity.

When the Heart meridian is in balance we are optimistic and enthusiastic about the future, and we have a strong ability to connect our actions to our heart. We have compassion for those around us and are comfortable with being vulnerable, allowing our authentic self to show up in the world. We are creative and able to be expressive, creating depth in our relationships.

When the Heart meridian is out of balance we may lack depth in our relationships and interactions with others. We may be impatient or uninspired and have a strong reluctance to letting down our guard. The physical issues we tend to see with a Heart meridian imbalance include short-term memory problems, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, insomnia and anxiety.

To bring the Heart meridian in balance from a yoga perspective, we focus on the upper body and in particular our arms, armpits and shoulders, as this is where the energy lines run. Some great poses to help bring this into balance include:

  • Gomukasana arms

  • Puppy dog pose

  • Backbends

  • Arm balances

  • Wrist work (which you can do even while sitting at your desk).

On my next blog post in early July, I will be sharing some of the poses that you can do at home to balance your fire element. Look forward to seeing you on the mat over the summer as we practice moving the energy of the fire element in our bodies.

10 Ways Yoga Straps Can Deepen Your Practice

By Rachel LandSenior Yoga Medicine® teacher, for Yoga Digest.

Props are for students who can’t do the “full pose”, right? Wrong! Rather than being training wheels for beginners to rely on, yoga props can deepen our practice in unexpected ways. The addition of a prop to a familiar pose can completely change our experience; rather than falling back on our old habits, the prop can highlight new areas for focus. Rather than being just a stepping stone for new students, smart use of props can refine our practice. But don’t take my word for it; try these ten tips to see how the simple addition of a yoga strap can change your practice for the better.

1. Shoulder Circles

This is a fantastic shoulder warm-up, perfect to use early in practice to open your chest for better range of motion and deeper breathing. It’s also excellent preparation for overhead stretches (like Urdhva Dhanurasana or Wheel) and overhead binds.

Try it: Find a comfortable upright seat. Measure a length of strap from your nose to one hand and hold with between both hands in front of you. With your inhalation circle the strap overhead, lengthening your grip, if required, to allow both shoulders to glide through simultaneously. On your exhalation, take the strap behind you, feeling a stretch across your chest and shoulders. Next inhalation bring the strap overhead again, and exhale to guide it back down in front of you. Take 10-12 shoulder circles, feeling increasing warmth and fluidity with every round.

2. Side Bends

One of the most potent benefits of a physical yoga practice is reminding our bodies of their full range of motion. We so seldom side-bend in daily life; this exercise is useful to re-awaken both strength and ease in our side body, allowing us to deepen our breath and move more freely into side-bending and rotated poses as well as overhead binds.

Try it: From your comfortable seat, with your strap still between your hands, take your arms overhead. As you next inhale, reach up and over to the right, feeling the entire left side of the body fan open, and as you exhale engage your left side body to come back to center. On your next breath in swap sides, flowing side to side for 10-12 breaths and noticing how both your strength and your ease of motion increase with each cycle.

3. Abdominals

Whether we love abdominal work, or love to hate it, there’s no question how important abdominal engagement is to our yoga practice. Adding a strap to supine abdominal work is a fool-proof way to learn how to engage rectus abdominis (your “six pack” muscles) to fine-tune the position of the spine and pelvis. It’s especially beneficial for students like me, who need help learning how to support a deep lumbar curve. It is my favourite preparation for Adho Mukha Vrksasana or Handstand, where without strong core engagement we would have the tendency to collapse into a banana shape.

Try it: Lie down on your back with your strap on the floor behind your waist. Catch one end of the strap with one hand but leave the other end loose. Draw your navel toward your spine, pressing your low back down onto the strap and pinning it to the floor. Maintain downward pressure on the strap so that you’re unable to pull it out from beneath you, then lift your right knee above your hip, shin parallel to the floor. Without letting your strap move, swap legs midair to lift your left knee. Continue to flow side to side for around 60 seconds without allowing the strap to slip, then return your feet to the floor to rest for a few deep belly breaths. If you’re ready for more of a challenge in your second set, keep the downward pressure on the strap and extend the lifted leg out to hover above the floor. Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed,but feel the powerful engagement of your abdominals supporting your low back.

4. Boat Variation

This variation of Navasana takes the pressure of your hip flexors, giving you space to notice the powerful relationship between the strength in your legs and the lift of your core. It works well as part of a warm-up, so that you’re able to tap into that potent connection throughout practice.

Try it: Come to a seat, taking your strap under your armpits and around your back at bra strap or heart rate monitor height. Make a long enough loop that you can hook the ball of your right foot with little or no bend in your knee. Cinch your belly, as if you’ve tied a string around your waist and drawn it tight. Shift forward to the front edge of your sit bones and lift your left leg, bringing your left foot into the loop of the strap beside your right. Notice that the more you press through your legs, the more you’re able to lift out of your low back. Hold for 8-10 slow breaths before bending your knees to return your feet to the floor. Rest for a few belly breaths before repeating with the left leg leading.

5. Angel Wings

No matter how mindfully we move through our yoga practice, it’s what we do the rest of the day – in other words, our posture – that really impacts our physical health. This “anti-slump” strapping technique helps us learn healthier postural patterns by anchoring our shoulders back and down to broaden our chest.

Try it: Thread the strap around your back just under your armpits, then loop the ends of the strap forward over the fronts of your shoulders to drape down behind you again. Cross the two ends of the strap over your upper back in an X-shape, then bring the long ends back under your armpits to lock in place just below your sternum.

Tightening the strap pulls your shoulders back and down, immediately resetting your posture from slumping to upright. Try wearing your angel wings for a couple of hours of your day, or through your standing yoga practice, and observe your breathing, energy and mood to see what a difference balanced posture makes.

6. Pyramid Hip Hinge

Our aim in Parsvottanasana or Pyramid is to hinge at the hips, lengthening both the front line of the torso and the hamstrings on the back of the front leg. Eventually we may round the spine to fold over the legs, but we need the movement to initiate at the hips. For many of us, hinging at the hips is challenging and instead we tend to round our back and collapse our chest. Using a strap can help us find the anterior pelvic tilt required by the pose, as well as engaging the posterior shoulder and mid back to keep our chest open.

Try it: Stand with your right foot forward and left foot about 3 feet back, toes turned slightly out so that you can ground your left heel. Hold the strap across the front of your pelvis just below your frontal hip bones, adjusting the length of the strap so that with your arms a couple of inches from your sides, the strap pulls taut. Keep the weight even between both feet and slowly hinge forward at your hips. Draw your hands back to help lift and lengthen your chest. Feel how the strap helps you to balance the forward lift of your chest and the backward pull of your sit bones and hands. Stay for 8-10 breaths before slowly rising up to repeat with left foot forward.

7. Warrior 3 Variation

Virabhadrasana III is one of the most powerful standing balance poses, and great way to learn to access the power in our legs. But while many of us are able to feel the strength in our standing leg, we can struggle to engage the lifted leg. The resistance of the strap allows us to experience the pose with vigour in both legs.

Try it: Stand upright with the strap between your hands and a long loop grazing the floor. Step your right foot forward through the strap and hook the ball of your left foot in the loop. Adjust the length of the strap so that, with your arms a couple of inches from your sides, the strap pulls taut. Shift your weight into your right leg and hinge forward at your hips to float your left leg. Draw the heads of your shoulders away from the floor, feeling your posterior shoulders and back awaken. Find balance between the resistance of your left foot, the pull of your hands, and the opposing length through your crown. Notice the stability you feel when you’re fully engaged in the pose. Stay for 5-7 breaths before slowly releasing to repeat on the other side.

8. Sleeping Butterfly

Supta Baddha Konasana or Supine Bound Angle Pose is one my favourite hip openers. It can be an active pose, with muscular effort required to draw the knees apart and hold the feet together, but the addition of the strap creates a more comfortable and restful option.

Try it: Take a seat with your feet together and bent knees opened wide. Thread the strap around the back of your sacrum, over the top of your hip creases, and under the pinky toe blades of your feet, connecting the strap where you will easily be able to reach the free end to tighten the loop if required. Recline back onto a prop or the floor, aware of how the strap lengthens your sacrum, creating space for your low back. With the strap holding your feet close, you can allow your inner thighs to melt into the stretch. Relax for 10-20 slow and steady breaths before loosening the strap to release your legs.

9. Hand to Big Toe Pose (Variation 1)

Supta Padangusthasana is arguably the most common place a strap is used during yoga class, but using the strap to reach our lifted foot can create tension in the chest and shoulders. Using the strap instead as a sling for both lifted foot and head eliminates much of the effort required, allowing us to more easily relax into the stretch. You’ll feel the benefits not just in your hamstrings, but in your upper body too.

Try it: Make a long loop with your strap and hook it over the ball of your right foot. Your left leg can remain bent or straighten. Ensure you can reach the free end of the strap so that you can adjust the length of the loop to cradle the back of your skull without you having to distort your spine or overly bend your right leg. Position the strap above your ears so that your head and neck can hang heavy with their relaxed weight gently lengthening the back of your right leg. Feel free to keep a slight bend in your right knee and subtle resistance up through the ball of your right foot, but allow your head, neck, chest and shoulders to melt. Relax for 10-15 slow and steady breaths before loosening the strap to swap sides.

10. Hand to Big Toe Pose (Variation 2)

If you have more mobility in your hamstrings and find it easy to catch the lifted foot in Supta Padangusthasana, you can use the strap to fine-tune your alignment. As we straighten the lifted leg, our hip often hikes toward our ribcage, moving us away from the full potential of the hamstring stretch. In addition, we often forget the lower leg. This strapped variation harnesses the strength in the lower leg to help us keep the hips square. These are both very helpful patterns to in this pose, as well as in any standing hamstring stretches.

Try it: Make a long loop with your strap. Hook one end around the very top of your right thigh and the other end around the ball of your left foot. Ensure you can still reach the loose end of your strap so that you can tighten it to roll the right outer hip away from the right side ribs. As you extend the back of your right leg and catch your big toe, press out through the ball of your left foot, feeling how the strength of your left leg helps you to create more symmetry in your hips. Stay for 8-10 breaths before releasing your right foot to swap sides.

Hopefully now you’ve experienced how a prop can actually deepen your asana practice. Rather than being a fall-back for new students, smart use of props can create deeper and more nuanced understanding of a familiar pose. In my opinion, it’s this process of exploration and experimentation that builds a truly advanced asana practice.

Do Politics Belong in Yoga?

By Andrea Rice for Yoga Journal.

Yogins United, a collective of yoga and Buddhist teachers, says yes. The organization is a new initiative to help yogis get out the vote this November.

One hundred and sixteen prominent yoga teachers and three Buddhist leaders signed on to an initiative in May that will encourage members of their communities to vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election and increase voter turnout. The group, dubbed “Yogins United” (a yogin is a gender neutral term for a yogi), includes luminaries and changemakers like Reginald Hubbard, Octavia Raheem, Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Stephen Cope, Rajni Tripathi, James Bae, Rod Stryker, Seane Corn, and Shiva Rea.

“In light of recent events pertaining to the murder of George Floyd, I have seen a tremendous hunger in the yoga community on how they can be more engaged with matters of racial justice and civil rights,” says Reginald Hubbard, a yoga teacher and senior political strategist and congressional liaison for MoveOn.org, a public policy advocacy group.

Hubbard teaches yoga and meditation to political operatives, congressional staff, and members of Congress including “The Squad” (Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib), and says that wellness should serve as a foundation rather than an afterthought. For Hubbard, his pledge to Yogins United is part of a larger effort to reform the status quo through community engagement. “My hope is to use my teaching platform to share from my activist experience about why voting and civic engagement matters, and to help organize the community through online live events like the Wellness of We,” he says.

Every Vote Counts

The November election threatens to exclude an alarming number of eligible voters. Voter suppression has been a tactic of the Republican party, according to an audio recording that was leaked by a top Trump adviser and obtained by the Associated Press in late-2019. And the current administration is rallying against voting by mail.

Yogins United, started by David Lipsius, a yoga teacher and former president of Yoga Alliance, is a call to action for the yoga, mindfulness, Ayurveda, and spiritual communities to help get out the vote—in person, or by mail if COVID-19 prevents millions of Americans from making it to the polls this fall. “Spiritual teachers have united with nonprofit leaders and CEOs, and community builders have joined forces with activists and healers to send a message—the time for division is over,” Lipsius says. “A new era of partnership and teamwork must be fostered to achieve the highest goals of yoga—peace, freedom and liberation for all.”

Collectively, Lipsius says, the 80 million Americans who practice yoga form a potential voting block that has the power to change systems, leadership, and even society itself. “What would happen if 50 million yoga practitioners inspired just one other person to vote?” Lipsius asks. “Could we begin reversing climate change? Could we eliminate childhood food insecurity? Could we ensure basic human rights for every person in this country?” Lipsius acknowledges that not all yoga practitioners share the same political beliefs and values, but says that as yogis, it is our collective responsibility to address these issues rather than remain impartial or neutral. 

Yogins United began as an outreach effort in the Buddhist community started by renowned spiritual teachers Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. When Brach asked Lipsius if he thought yoga teachers would be interested in mobilizing, he began contacting yoga leaders and received an overwhelming positive response. “It’s exciting that we can be natural partners in initiatives like this,” says Brach, a psychologist, author, and Buddhist meditation teacher. “Together [we] have the potential for significant and deeply beneficial impact.”

The Buddhist and Yogin groups—more than 200 strong together—will use digital platforms and outreach to provide resources and reminders for how to improve the percentage of Americans who vote, particularly in the yoga, meditation, and spiritual communities. “One of the central teachings of yoga is the truth of our interdependence,” Lipsius says. “Now is the time to come together.” 

9 Yoga and Meditation Teachers On Why They’ve Pledged to Help Get Out the Vote

While some yoga practitioners have argued that politics don’t belong in a yoga setting, there’s never been a more compelling time than now to rethink the intention behind the practice. As Gandhi said, “Those who think politics and spirituality are separate, don’t understand spirituality.” For me, yoga is not about temporarily escaping or hiding from reality, rather yoga strengthens our resolve and gives us the tools to navigate it all from a place of integrity and truth. Yoga practitioners can be peaceful warriors who stand up for what they believe in and possess the courage to speak out against injustices.

I reached out to a few of the yoga and meditation leaders who’ve pledged to Yogins United to learn more about why they believe we, as a collective community, need to help get out the vote this November.

Maya Breuer, E-RYT

Co-Founder of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Founder and Co-Director of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color

We are in direct need for this country to alter what has historically been the mistreatment of the black community. The murder of George Floyd and numerous other Black Americans; police brutality and violence, racism, inequality, mass incarceration, harsh jail sentencing; the lack of socio-economic parity. I am not sure how things can be changed even with new leadership. I remain hopeful that if Joe Biden is elected President of the United States, it will signal the intention for a better America and we will be poised to begin to address these issues that have been endemic to the black community for many years.

Rhode Island has a long history of disenfranchised voting rights. Until recently, felons were not allowed to vote even after completing their sentences and probation. Voting rights were restored to RI felons in 2006, but the long history of not being able to vote continues to impact voter turnout. Today, RI requires a photo ID for all voters, and this serves to suppress voting, particularly among the unhoused. A provisional ballot is offered in these cases, based on matching signatures.

In 2005, the following information was published by the ACLU of Rhode Island: “Rhode Island disfranchises a greater percentage of its African American residents than Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, and 34 other states. With long probation sentences increasingly the norm in Rhode Island, some felons are prevented from voting for decades after they have reentered the community. The Family Life Center estimates that of the 15,500 disenfranchised felons in RI, 86 percent are not incarcerated and would be re-enfranchised by the proposed amendment. According to the Center, since 1987, the number of Rhode Island citizens barred from voting has increased nearly 70 percent.”

Breaking Boundaries to Teach Online

By Rachel LandSenior Yoga Medicine® teacher, for Yoga Digest.

Times have changed, and teaching yoga has changed too. Not that long ago, we connected with our students in person and online yoga was something that other people did. Not any more.

Suddenly our only option is to live stream or video our classes, or not connect with our students at all. It’s as if our ideas of what it means to teach, and what skills are required, have abruptly turned on their heads. Lighting, video editing, and technical skills suddenly seem a crucial part of a teacher’s repertoire.

For many of us, the change has brought to light stories that we have been telling ourselves for years. Stories like: “My practice isn’t fancy enough to film”, “Technology isn’t my thing”, “I can’t teach if I can’t get a feel for the room” or “My students won’t respond to that”.

Some of these stories may be based in fact, but others are rooted in insecurity.

I’ve met hundreds of yoga teachers from all over the world, and whatever our differences there are core similarities too. Most of us don’t teach because we want to be the “star”. We are often introverts, behind-the-scenes types, thoughtful enough to be acutely aware of our flaws. Yoga is our comfort, our solace, our sanity, and we teach because we feel drawn to share the tools that help us with others. But ask us to market our offerings, to sing our own praises, and many teachers fall silent. 

Our work asks us to dig deep, to examine our actions and motivations with a critical eye. That practice is incredibly helpful, but it can also create a tendency to judge ourselves more harshly than we do others. To feel that we have nothing unique to offer, that there will always be someone else who can do what we do better. Who can offer more inspiring, more creative, more intelligent, more challenging, or more useful practices than we can. Who have a clearer voice, a better platform, or the technical skills that we lack.

But this is not the time to listen to our inner critic. Whatever other teachers have, there is a crucial thing missing, and that is the unique relationship we have built with our students over time. We may not have felt it as keenly as we do now, but our students have always had the option to practice with other teachers, whether locally or online, paid or free of charge, and they have chosen us.

Mahatma Gandhi said: The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” These words have never been so true. In these trying times, in the face of almost complete uncertainty, our students need yoga more than ever. There has never been more potent motivation to set our stories aside, to overcome our perceived limitations and reach out to our students in new ways.

Thankfully our students realize how new the online yoga world is for most of us, and are very forgiving in their expectations of production value and ease of access. This the perfect time for us to give online offerings a try.

What does that mean to you? It means that you:

  1. Find a platform your students will have ready access to: for example a private group on Facebook, an unlisted video on YouTube, or Zoom or Vimeo classes that you can email access to.
  2. Determine what core content will most benefit your students. Decide what class length, type, and level will be most useful and whether you prefer livestream or pre-recorded content. You dont need a camera, fancy lighting, or expensive recording equipment; your students aren’t expecting polished and professional delivery, they simply want to connect with you, so your phone will do just fine.
  3. Perform a test run, free-of-charge, with a friend, family member or regular student to iron out any technical hitches. Assess whether they can see and hear you clearly. Notice any visual or auditory distractions that could be reduced or eliminated. Decide what props will be accessible outside of the yoga studio, and whether or not you plan to “mirror” your students. Don’t listen to the voice of your inner critic telling you that it’s only worth doing if done “right”; these days your students simply need connection, however imperfect, to the comfort of familiar people and practices.
  4. Let people know that your classes or courses are available, and offer payment options. No need for a payment process to be embedded into your online platform, you may just choose to message interested students your bank account number, Venmo or PayPal details. If you are concerned about your students’ economic state, you can offer donation-based or sliding-scale payment options.
  5. Be consistent. You aren’t trying to build an online empire, so set a schedule that you can maintain without adding too much to your plate.

We are all dealing with unforeseen obstacles, pushed to learn skills that didn’t seem relevant just a few weeks ago. Our option is to leave our comfort zone miles behind us or stop teaching entirely. But we teach because we need to. Because the practice has been our support, our relief, our release, and we know our students need the tools yoga provides more than ever before.

Robert Ingersoll said: “We rise by lifting others”. And so we find a way.

Check our Rachel's new online courses to grow your yoga business

About Black Lives

By Eding Mvilongo, MScE, MD, FRCPC for Yoga Medicine®.

It all started last week.

After over 10 weeks of intense work on the COVID-19 healthcare frontline, I had the most perfect vacation days planned: sleeping, gardening, cleaning, catching up on life. Then I read about Christian Cooper’s story.

Growing up a minority in a mostly Caucasian world has been anything but easy. And even as an adult, things remain hard. But if there’s one thing that you learn very early on, it’s to develop a thick shell so that the constant micro-aggressions don’t destroy you. You keep going and you work harder, a smile plastered on your face so as to not make others around you feel uncomfortable. Resiliency is key for survival. Period.

The incident implicating Christian Cooper highlights perfectly how society still has some major racial problems. I had become complacent in assuming that, in 2020 North America, people finally had enough knowledge and critical thinking skills to evolve from believing everything “the system” had been feeding them for the past 400 years. This story triggers me to the highest level, making me ask what would have happened to Christian Cooper ( or any other Black man, in this instance) if the encounter hadn’t been recorded… Soon thereafter, the George Floyd murder took place. All 8:46 minutes of it recorded for the world to witness. To me, it was incomprehensibly brutal, vicious, senseless and filled with hatred. And it made me realize that the use of the expression African-American to characterize a Black person in North America is completely erroneous: Black lives obviously are not being considered when we speak of North American lives…

Instead of all my carefully crafted plans, I spent my last week reflecting on this realization and its implications, rehashing traumatic memories I had buried so deeply within myself. The process made me both scared and angry. Could one layer of different color skin cells really determine one’s fate at the hands of a stranger or the law? What makes it so inconceivably difficult to understand that we’re all equal? I have thought about all the instances Black community leaders have tried, over the past decades, to reach out and educate officials and the population about culture bias. All the times I’ve also reached out to friends and strangers alike to share my experiences and sensitize them on racist issues. My conclusion: IT’S TIME TO WAKE UP. We no longer have a choice. We all need to pitch in. Now is the time to push for the change we NEED to see. It’s now or never. These horrific stories must stop. Now. Systemic racism is a global health emergency of pandemic proportions; it has to be addressed the same way we’re addressing the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Black lives are lost now, and more will follow if racism is left unchecked. This will be a lengthy process, but we’re all in it for the long haul. Resiliency is key, so let’s make this uncomfortable work bearable by working together. It is our duty to make Black lives North American lives that matter. Observe, listen, educate yourselves and your peers, vote for that change and most importantly: speak up when it’s time!

Dhanni Podcast Interview: The Nervous System, Immune Functions and Lymphatics with Tiffany Cruikshank

Saadia Tariq interviews Tiffany Cruikshank for the Dhanni Podcast.

In this episode, Tiffany discusses:

  • What is the Nervous System?
  • HPA Axis & Immunity
  • Tools to activate the Vagal Tone
  • Lymphatic System
  • Tiffany’s personal tools during challenging times

Click here to listen to the full episode.

Resetting the Clock

By Dr. Doreen Wiggins for Yoga Medicine®.

In the last three months, all of us have entered a new relationship with distance, time, and, as social beings, each other. To help prevent the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, governments have enacted stay-at-home orders and enforced strict social distancing policies. Businesses and schools are closed. Travel, for the most part, has ground to a halt. Some of us, including those employed in industries like food, healthcare, and manufacturing, have continued to show up for work, while the remainder of adults who were employed before the pandemic are working from home or have lost their jobs altogether. These months have brought tremendous loss and suffering—in different ways for different people—affecting us all.
 
Many of us are grieving, contending with not only the loss of life, but also the loss of so much that makes life meaningful, or at least lends it structure. If you are like me, you might feel as if you are adrift, less able to make sense of life without the schedule, appointments, and basic routines that made up your day. Without places to be, people to meet, and things to do, the days melt together, and time flows on without punctuation. I invite you to mourn this loss of structure. At the same time, I hope you find space within yourself to explore a new source of meaning within its absence.
 
I, for one, have been thinking about the fundamental nature of our interconnectedness—how, without the busyness of daily life, and despite this moment of social isolation, I feel that I have come into closer connection with the rhythms and pace of the Earth, my body, and the cosmic forces from which all life is drawn. I am resetting the clock.
 
As a physician and a mother, I derive meaning from serving my patients and raising my children. My daily routine, while at times demanding, has helped structure and orient my life. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, for instance, meant that I was teaching yoga, while Thursday evening was spent taking a yoga class, and Friday meant an early morning and a full day in the operating room. Three nights per week, I wouldn’t be home until after 9:30 p.m., as I would be picking up my daughter from dance practice an hour away from home. Amid this busy schedule, I have always found time to nourish myself with outdoor exercise, eating well, and practicing yoga. Despite these attempts to find balance, however, I often felt out of whack. I was stretching myself too thin, coming home exhausted, and sleeping poorly. It felt like I was trying to keep up with two different clocks, one set to the demands of my schedule and the other to my own innate circadian rhythm. I was out of sync.
 
I was experiencing what the chronobiologist Till Roenneberg calls “social jet lag,” or SJL. It is the gulf between our internal clock and the demands of our social world. According to Roenneberg, social jet lag “promotes practically everything that is bad for our body,” from weight gain to reduced mental performance, inflammation, cytokines, type 2 diabetes, and chronic illness. Studies suggest the circadian misalignment occurring in SJL can lead to bad health habits, including cigarette smoking, caffeine overconsumption, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and even certain forms of cancer.
 
Our social obligations have pressured us to manipulate time and disregard our internal clocks, which, believe it or not, are somewhat genetically predetermined and set to the rhythms of our natural world.
 
The most poignant aspect of interconnectedness to our planet, every life form has been dependent on the tilted rotation of the earth for over 4.5 billion years. The circadian clock, a biological rhythm set by the 24-hour cycle of light and dark has been an inherent foundation of health and wellness in the oldest practices of medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine, each have circadian cornerstones for health, and bridging wellness to deeper understanding of “harmony between humans and nature”.
 
Our manipulation of time, ignoring nature’s cues has not only misaligned our innate genetic circadian rhythm and health, it extends to the world around us. One of the great observations of slowing down human movement that has emerged during the pandemic is the impact we have on our environment. Measurable from space, and visible on earth, atmospheric pollution and greenhouse emissions have declined in some areas by 50%. The Himalayan Mountains previously hidden from smog can be seen in a distance, clear vibrant waterways have emerged, nature and wildlife are venturing to reclaim otherwise busy human occupied spaces. Humans have imposed an “environmental jet lag” on mother earth, placing human priorities above the natural rhythm needed to sustain a balance with nature. Environmental warming, pollution, disruption of natural resources, the earth has suffered from humans. Nature has shown us the ability to heal in a short few weeks by global sheltering in place. If human’s sheltering in place could aid the planet’s healing, imagine the impact we could make by being intentful, nurturing our environment and tapping into nature’s circadian wisdom. Perhaps it is time to “reset the clock” and to look at ways to improve balance within each of us, and maintain harmony with the world around us.
 
Resources:
 
  • Sűdy ÁR, Ella K, Bódizs R, Káldi K. Association of Social Jetlag with Sleep Quality and Autonomic Cardiac Control During Sleep in Young Healthy Men. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:950. Published 2019 Sep 6. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00950
  • Clocks & Sleep 2019, 1, 435–458; doi:10.3390/clockssleep1040034

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