Feed on
Posts
Comments

Where to Start?

Hello! New to the blog?

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.

Useful articles to learn yoga

 

 

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.

1: Reduce 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):

2: Restore Balance

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)

3: Maintaining Healthy Posture

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)

4: Relax

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:

  • Reduce extra body weight.
  • Move. The human body does not do well staying in the same position for many hours. Changing your position, getting up, walking, stretching can help.
  • Stay hydrated. Sip good quality water throughout the day.
  • Relax. Take time to let go of tension and stress. Many people experience back pain as a result of stress.

As always, I hope that your yoga practice helps you live a vibrant, joyful and meaningful life.

Namaste.

 

 

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:

  • Pay close attention to what is happening in body, breath and mind.
  • Do not force or strain.
  • Do what you can, not too much, not too little.
  • Keep your spine long.
  • Breathe at full capacity without struggling.
  • Enjoy the practice as a journey of self-exploration.
  • Smile.

I hope that you find this video (filmed in Sedona, Arizona) useful.

Namaste.

 

 

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:

  • Pay close attention to what is happening in body, breath and mind.
  • Do not force or strain.
  • Do what you can, not too much, not too little.
  • Keep your spine long.
  • Breathe at full capacity and without struggling.
  • Enjoy the practice as a journey of self-exploration.

I hope that you find this video useful.

Namaste.

 

 

What is power yoga?

Power Yoga / Power Yoga

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.

How can we practice power yoga?

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.

Namaste.

 

 

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!

Here is a simple yoga posture to relax the back, shouders and chest. This posture is an excellent complement for the sequence for low back pain and for the sequence to release shoulder tension.

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.

  • Roll up the towel(s) along the long side into a smooth roll with no folds.
  • Place the roll on a padded surface on the floor.
  • Sit on the roll aligning the center of your back pelvis (sacrum) on the roll. Start with your knees bent.
  • Recline your spine along the roll until your head rests comfortably on the roll.
  • Let your arms slide to the sides at a comfortable angle with the palms of the hands facing up.
  • You may keep your knees bent or you can rest the legs on the floor at an angle that helps you feel balanced. Try both options and choose the one that feels better to you.
  • Close your eyes and maybe point your chin towards your chest.
  • Focus on expanding your breath in a satisfying way.
  • Relax.
  • Stay for a few minutes and then remove the roll and lying down on your back noticing the effects in your body and mind.

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.

Namaste.

 

 

Release neck and shoulder pain

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.

Namaste.

 

 

3 minute simple meditation

tree branches - ramas de árbol

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:

  • Our the expectations that we should be able to stop all thoughts
  • A tendency to try too hard
  • Disappointment in ourselves when we get distracted

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.
Namaste.

 

 

Movement / Movimiento

It seems that maintaining consistency is a challenge for most, if not all, of us. I would like to suggest a simple and VERY EASY and quite enjoyable way to start practicing yoga at home with more regularity.

Unfortunately many people think that yoga is only a set of postures to make our bodies capable of complex contortions. Authentic yoga is a complete system of practices to help us feel harmoniously integrated and to help us live a more conscious, deliberate, wholehearted life that is aligned with our true purpose.

Every day when as I ask students in my classes to tell me what they need from the practice, without fault the most frequent answers are: relaxation, quieting the mind, serenity. This is not at all surprising. Just look around and it seems that most of us are in a constant process of training our bodies and minds to do more things, to get more things accomplished and to process more and more stimuli. There is a lot of doing and processing, but it doesn’t seem like we are balancing all of our doing with not doing, with surrendering and allowing. No wonder we end up feeling exhausted by the end of the day (and sometimes even after we wake up in the morning)!

In yoga we want to meet ourselves where we are. In other words, we choose the technique or practice that will bring us into a feeling of completeness and clarity. To balance too much doing, it is good to practice not doing. Remember that a yoga posture (asana) is defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (ca. 3100 B.C.E.) as steadiness (sthira= firm, stable, strong) and ease (sukha=pleasant, delight, joy). From this perspective, I want to invite you to try this simple, effective and enjoyable practice.

Cultivating the Skills of Observation and Surrender

Give yourself 1 to 10 minutes to do this — whatever amount of time you can afford.

In the morning, while still in bed, once you notice that you are awake but before opening your eyes and getting up, give yourself permission to not do or process. Allow your to-do list to drift away just for the next few minutes. Focus your attention fully on noticing the sensations in your body starting at the tips of your toes and gradually moving up throughout your whole body. It helps when you are interested in really feeling what is happening in your body. You don’t even need to try to describe or explain, just feel. Give yourself time to scan the whole body and notice what happens, notice just how you feel. When you finish scanning you body, think of something that brings peace, inspiration, love or compassion to your heart and mind, immersing fuly in this experience. (Notice that we are integrating body, mind and heart through awareness )

That’s it. Pretty simple.

Try this exercise once a day, if possible, for 1 or 2 weeks and notice what effect it has in the way you feel during your day and on your general outlook.

One more suggestion, try this exercise also at the end of the day, once you are in bed as a gentle transition out of “doing mode” and into “complete relaxation” mode.

You might be asking: How is that going to help me when I have some many things to do? I cannot afford to do nothing!

When you engage in this practice you can receive the following benefits:

  • Most likely this practice will enable you to lower your levels of stress which might be helping your immune system. Sttress has been found to contribute to “digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system.
  • You are developing skills to improve your ‘other’ way of practicing yoga because you are learning to discern more clearly what ease feels like, thus making it easier for you to balance your steadiness with ease the next time you get into a yoga posture.
  • You are cultivating the foundational skills for more advanced yoga practices: pranayama (life energy expansion), pratyahara (inward gaze), concentration and meditation.
  • You are expanding your modes of operation so that you can access the mode that is needed when it is needed.
  • Deeper relaxation allows your body to recover, repair and heal.
  • You will enjoy this practice and its results. Hence, you are more likely to incorporate it into your daily routine.

I hope that this practice contributes to your well-being.
Namaste,
rubén

 

Sitting

There are many reasons that lead us to spend a good amount of time sitting everyday. Our bodies are so adaptable that if we stay in the same position for long periods of time different parts of our bodies will adjust in a number of ways, for instance, some muscles will shorten while others may lengthen or loose their tone. Adopting a posture regularly will cause consistent and sustained changes in soft tissue over time.

Ideally, the postures we practice will be anatomically sound and will contribute to a greater sense of clarity in body, breath and mind. But even when we sit in an anatomically correct and appropriate posture it is essential to take frequent breaks so that we allow for the muscles that are contracting to release and those that are lengthening to contract. If we are sitting just standing up for one minute will be helpful.

It is not difficult to notice how people’s bodies adapt over time to sitting for extended periods of time. Some of the common patterns include a rounded spine where the natural concavity at the back of the neck and at the lumbar spine tends to disappear. This convexity of the whole back body tends to tighten muscles in the front of the torso, shoulders and hip joints resulting in limited mobility in shoulders and hips. In addition, this posture tends to constraint the full expansion of the lungs thus limiting our breating capacity including the full oxygenation of our system through the inhalations as well as the release of toxins through complete exhalations.

Keeping in mind that it is best to change positions frequently, these are some suggestions for a healthy sitting position:

  • Ground through your feet aligning knees above ankles
  • Ground through the sitting bones
  • Center the torso between leaning forward and back as well as between left and right
  • Bring the navel slightly in
  • Lift the ribcage and crown of the head up
  • Breath with long smooth inhalations and exhalations
  • Remain aligned with a clear and luminous intention in your mind and heart

Enjoy this brief video with tips on improving your sitting posture:

As usual please be aware that your own body, breath and mind offer you continuous feedback on your activities. If the feedback shows you more agitation, strain, or pain you can choose to use this information as guidance to create changes towards feeling healthier, more lucid and more vibrantly alive. Please remember that taking breaks often is a simple, inexpensive and healthful way to prevent future pain, limitation and restrictions.

I hope you find these suggestions for sitting helpful during your day.

Namaste,
rubén

 

Older Posts »