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Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
Unfortunately shoulder tension is very common nowadays. It seems like there is at least one student in each class asking for yoga sequences to help remove shoulder tension. The shoulder joint is the joint that has the widest range of movement in the human body. However, overusing the shoulders through movement in one direction tends to generate restriction, often characterized by tightness at the front of the shoulder. It makes sense to try to counteract the typical pattern of movement with movements that help us restore the natural range of movement of the shoulder.
Yoga is a path to self discovery that leads us to greater balance at all levels. It is important to remember that yoga is a practice of integration, where we try to bring together all aspects of our being. In other words, we are trying to get body, breath, mind and heart to work in unison, in harmony. Sometimes, when we think about the shoulders we think about the responsibilities we carry with us, such as in the expression “to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.” Or we may think about working hard and making an effort, like when we say “put your shoulder to the wheel.”
In general, i see many people who are working very hard and who carry many responsibilities with them all of the time. I agree that it is important to give our best effort and that we need to be responsible. However, carrying a burden on our shoulders all the time without rest, tends to generate tension and stress.
I am going to suggest that we can give ourselves a break, for a few minutes and that we can let go of worries and expectations so that we can breathe and explore the range of movement in our shoulders through the sequence in the video below. As usual, follow the guidelines in the video, do what you can without struggling and without forcing.
Try this video a few times, keeping a positive attitude and synchronizing your movements with a serene and satisfying breathing rhythm. Notice the effects. If one side is tighter or more restricted than the other consider balancing the sides by performing the movements for a longer period of time on the side that is more limited.
If you notice soreness that lasts longer than 48 hours, you may have tried to hard. Take a couple of days to rest and resume when you feel ready. I hope that you find the sequence enjoyable and that you start noticing that your shoulder flexibility is increasing at a gradual and manageable pace. By restoring our natural range of movement and flexibility in the shoulders we may be better able to participate in our lives with enthusiasm and energy and without unnecessary tension. Thank you for embarking on the journey of yoga.
9 June 2014 at 6:56 PM by ruben
If you are alive, you are breathing. A remarkable aspect of the respiratory system is that it can work automatically, that is without our conscious intervention; but the breathing system can also be directed by our conscious mind. In yoga we know that the quality of our breath has a powerful influence in the quality of our life, in the way we feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
As a student of yoga I have been exploring a variety of ways of breathing for a number of years and i remember that it was quite confusing to know how i was “supposed” to breathe during the practice of yogic postures. Most of us, are never trained in the art of breathing and thus it is not surprising that we may not be very aware of the wide range of options that we have for breathing. For instance, on a regular basis I notice that some people, in order to calm the mind and feel peaceful, try to take “a deep breath” as a forceful inhalation into the upper chest, and they experience some confusion when they feel that “deep breaths” seem to have the opposite effect to the one they are looking for. The explanation is that breathing intensely into the upper chest tends to generate a response of alarm and, in many people, it can also create a feeling of anxiety.
When exploring breathing techniques, it is common to come across the word diaphragmatic breathing. However, i have learned that the definition of diaphragmatic breathing is different for different people. Some people even argue that all breathing (with very few exceptions) is diaphragmatic because it involves the diaphragm, the main muscle in the breathing process.
The video below offers a, hopefully simple, approach to breathing that guides you into deep and easeful complete breaths in a way that connects you with the complete range of movement of the diaphragm. I find that breathing in this way can help us improve our general health, it can calm our mind and it can be a helpful tool to focus the mind. Please keep in mind that there is no need to struggle, strain or force. This is important! The breath needs to flow without abruptness and without any agitation. Notice towards the end of the video that there is a way to make this exercise even more powerful.
Since many of us have not been practicing this type of breath,it may take several weeks for us to grow in our awareness of the expansion of the torso. So, this way of breathing can also teach us how to be patient. It is worth giving this exercise your time and attention every day. As you do, notice the effect that complete yogic breathing has on you at all levels. I hope that you enjoy breathing this way and I invite to try this way of breathing during the practice of yoga postures and before practicing meditation.
Enjoy the journey of becoming intimate with your breath.
17 March 2014 at 2:14 PM by ruben
Unfortunately lower back pain is a widespread ailment affecting millions of people. There are multiple factors that contribute to create lower back pain. Yoga offers us an integrated approach to help decrease, dissolve and prevent low back pain.
Restrictions in the natural mobility of the hip joints can result in lower back pain due to the lower back (and often the knees) moving beyond their range of healthy movement to compensating for the lack of mobility in the hips.
The sequence below has been very helpful to reduce chronic tension and pain for a large number of people (12 minutes):
In addition to, and often in combination with, restricted mobility at the hips, many of us tend to favor one side. Over time, this can create an imbalance between the sides, where one side may be stronger/weaker, looser/tighter, etc.
The two videos below offer a short and a longer practice to try to uncover and address imbalances between the two sides:
Shorter video to restore hip and thigh balance (10 minutes):
Longer video to restore hip and thigh balance (17 minutes)
Our regular posture can result also in restrictions in the lower back. Since we “practice” our sitting and standing postures daily over long periods of time. It is a good idea to ensure that we sit and stand in a way that is healthy and comfortable.
Use the Healthy Sitting Posture video below to help you find a sitting posture that support your back health (6 minutes) :
I would also suggest that you try the Basic Standing Posture video (7 minutes)
It is incredible how much stress we carry with us everywhere. With more and more demands on our time, it is not surprising that many of us do not take time to relax. I often suggest to people in my classes to make sure that they take a break every day, for at least a couple of minutes.
The video below can help you relax the back. Although the video is only 2 minutes long, I would recommend taking longer if you can afford to do it. Your body and mind will thank you:
I hope that you find these suggestions useful. Of course, you will only see the benefits if you try them. And if you do, please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be glad to help if I can.
A few other suggestions that you may want to consider:
As always, I hope that your yoga practice helps you live a vibrant, joyful and meaningful life.
17 February 2014 at 2:28 PM by ruben
It can be argued that one major goal of yoga postures is to cultivate spinal suppleness. That is, the postures are helping us maintain the natural mobility, strength and flexibility of the vertebral column. Since the spine is attached to the shoulder girdle at the top and the pelvic girdle at the bottom, restrictions at the shoulder and pelvic girdle will affect the range of movement of the spine.
Since many of us spend a good amount of time sitting, our muscles and other tissues will tend to adapt to facilitate sitting for long periods of time. Part of the adaptations that happen include tightness in the muscles in the thighs and lower back. Also, most of us have a tendency to favor one side. We can see this when we sit in a cross legged position and then change the crossing of our legs. One configuration will, for most of us, feel easier.
Here is a complete sequence of yoga postures to help us discover imbalances between the left and right sides of our bodies. This yoga practice will contribute to restore the balance between the two sides. The basic idea is to practice the posture on each side and to repeat the side where we notice more limitation, tightness or restriction. Moreover, as we address the imbalance and release some of the limitations in the hips we may start noticing less restrictions on the healthy range of movement of our spine, thus contributing to facilitate a natural range of movement and also the elongation of our spinal column.
As you practice, remember to just do what takes you to the limit of your capacity, without generating new pain or agitation. Trust that going to the limit of what you can do will help you move beyond your limitations at a pace that you, your body and your breathing can handle.
Also, please be mindful of the knees, always ensuring that your knees are not twisted and that there is NO PAIN IN THE KNEES whatsoever, this is important!
As usual, a sense of curiosity is helpful, especially because one of the challenges that we may face is that it might be difficult to discern between appropriate intensity and pain. This is a key skill to hone for all yogis.
While you practice, please keep in mind:
I hope that you find this video (filmed in Sedona, Arizona) useful.
7 February 2014 at 9:34 AM by ruben
This Yoga posture, known as Janu Shirshasana, can be used to restore balance between legs, hips and the lumbar area as well as to relieve pain in those areas.
Many of us tend to favor one side when we stand, walk and sit. However, since we do this regularly and , most likely unconsciously, many of us don’t notice the imbalance that has built gradually over time.
This simple yoga posture, called Janu Shirshasana in Sanskrit, is an excellent way to determine if there might be an imbalance between the two sides. Even better, by practicing the posture twice on the side that is more challenged by it, we can gradually restore balance.
Of course, it is important to remember to practice with patient persistence and without creating new pain or agitation. Also, notice that having an attitude of gratitude and ease will make the practice easier and more enjoyable.
While you practice, please keep in mind:
I hope that you find this video useful.
As yoga has grown in popularity in the last decade, there are more yoga classes offered in a variety of venues from yoga studios, to fitness clubs, to gyms, parks and beaches. Increased popularity means that, hopefully, there are many options for people who need and will benefit from practicing yoga.
A somewhat common label for yoga classes, at least in the US is “power yoga”. In general, classes labeled as power yoga offer a flowing style of yoga postures organized in a variety of sequences that move at a faster pace than other classes and that are also physically demanding and intense. It can be argued that these classes are generally targeted towards people who are already in good shape, and who enjoy exercising. Because these classes can put the system under intense stress, practitioners may feel a runner’s high, a release of endorphins that creates a sense of euphoria or exhilaration.
It seems reasonable to think that getting a ‘blissful workout’ is the essence of what yogis are searching for. However, when that pursuit does not involve a mindful practice, some practitioners often end up with injuries in addition to feelings of inadequacy for not being able to do the ‘complete’ versions of the postures that tend to be practiced in power yoga. Unfortunately, over the years I have seen students for whom the power yoga practice has become a way to exacerbate an imbalance that drains their energy and vitality. Since yoga is a continuous process of meeting ourselves where we are, these classes can offer benefits for people who need to develop greater strength, speed up their pace and metabolism. The key is that each person grows in their capacity to discern what is too much and what is enough, so that they can choose intelligent ways to create greater balance where it is needed.
I would like to suggest that a more adequate definition of power yoga is: a yoga practice that empowers students to become more mindful, self-reliant, vibrant and alive. In other words, power yoga consists of practices that help practitioners integrate their physical, mental and emotional aspects to participate more fully and joyfully in their lives. This style of power yoga enhances clarity, reduces suffering and generates more love.
By engaging our bodies, minds, hearts and breathing at their full capacity, not going beyond what we can do and not doing less than we can. The practice is even more potent when the contribution of each one of these systems, physical, mental, emotional and respiratory is integrated and balanced. This is easier said than done. Thus the practice presents a challenge that is appropriate and changes over time according to our condition and situation. This is a powerful path that will truly empower us to move mindfully beyond our limitations. Perhaps a helpful way to clarify if we are practicing authentic power yoga is by asking: Does my yoga practice replenish or deplete my energy? How can we answer this simple question? By taking a few moments to feel the effects of the practice, immediately after finishing and also during the rest of the day. By observing you will also grow in your ability to notice sublter and subtler changes and to direct the practice to create greater balance and aliveness.
I hope these ideas help you fine tune your yoga practice.
3 July 2013 at 10:03 AM by ruben
At the beginning of my classes I usually ask students to share what they need from their practice. The 3 most frequent requests are de-stressing/relaxation, releasing tension from shoulders and low back pain relief. I tailor each class to address what is needed so that yoga helps students feel better and more balanced.
Hearing these requests on a daily basis motivated me to upload videos to YouTube so that my students and other people could benefit from living with less pain, less stress and more clarity.
I am humbled to see the wonderfully positive reception that the videos for low back pain relief have had in YouTube. It makes my day to know that many people are using them to feel better. Thank you!
When you need to relax your back and rest you can try this simple and easy posture to help you release tension along your back as well as to help relieve tension from your shoulders and chest. What I like the most about this posture is that it is easy and simple and can be done by most people.
You will need one or two towels.
It may be a good idea to practice this posture at the end of your day, after exercising, or after doing one of the sequences to relief back pain or to relax the shoulders and neck.
As usual, there is never forcing or pain in yoga. The idea is just to do what we can do at this moment. Remember that yoga benefits result from practicing with patient persistence.
I hope you enjoy this posture and its effects.
As a result of engaging in activities that require our arms to move forward, there is a general tendency for the shoulders to become tighter at the front. This tightness at the front of the shoulders generally limits mobility of the shoulder joint that contributes to create further tension and tightness in the shoulders and neck area. In addition, limitation in the shoulders requires elbows and wrists to compensate through over-movement. Furthermore, tightness at the front of the shoulders is often associated with rounding of the upper back and moving the head forward out of alignment. A combination of some or all of these factors tends to generate tension and pain in the neck and shoulders, an unhealthy posture as well as restricted breathing.
The general approach in yoga is to notice a tendency and to observe its effects. If the tendency does not contribute to optimal flow of life energy and deeper peace of mind and heart, we try to find ways to counteract the existing tendency until there is greater balance.
The video below offers a short sequence of yoga movements focused on creating greater shoulder mobility to release tension and stress in shoulders and neck, to improve posture and to help with deeper breathing. As usual, there is never forcing or pain in yoga. The idea is just to do what we can do at this moment. Remember that yoga benefits result from practicing with patient persistence.
I hope you find this practice helpful.
Very often we hear reports about the benefits of meditation at the mental, emotional and physical levels. These benefits include better stress management, lowered anxiety and negative emotions, improved sleep patterns and pain relief.
However, for many of us trying to meditate may seem like an exercise in frustration, especially if we see meditation as stopping all thoughts.
A simple approach to meditation that helped me get started was to see meditation as being with what is. In other words, meditation is cultivating the ability to accept what is happening and to observe it clearly and, to the extent that it is possible for us, without judgment.
Some of the challenges that we face when we try to practice meditation may include:
I thought that this simple 3 minute meditation video could be helpful in getting to practice meditation. It is pretty simple, so when you try it, keep it simple.
All you do is keep your eyes open, watch the clouds and listen to the bells. If you get distracted, that is OK, most of us will get distracted. When you notice that you got distracted just return your attention to the clouds and the sounds. That’s all.
Do notice if there is any difference in the way you feel after this practice. If you feel better try it again at another time. Maybe even for a few days in a row, but without letting expectations get in the way. Remember, just observe as clearly as possible what is happening.
I hope you enjoy this practice.