Yogawalla

Yogawalla

"Yogawalla NYC is for real New Yorkers who want to achieve their health and wellness goals effectively and efficiently. Whether you are overcoming an injury, want to increase your focus at work, or you are ready to take your practice to the next level, I create engaging and challenging private yoga sessions to get you there. "

-Jesal Parikh
Founder of Yogawalla

5 Ways to the Best Massage in Savasana

Since the long weekend is coming up and many of you will be busy with family, travel, fireworks and barbeques, I thought I’d put out something light-hearted. Since I teach small groups and privates, I always give massages to students who want it at the end of class. By now, I must have given hundreds of massages and I’ve noticed a few things that can make the experience even better. So if you are looking to get the best massage possible at the end of your yoga class, here are a few things you can do.

1. Take off your jewelry – If at all possible, the massage I will start the massage from beneath the neck in that spot between the shoulder blades. I give the neck a little rub and gently pull the base of the head up to create some length in the back of the neck. I may even massage the earlobes. If you’re wearing necklaces or earrings, I would have to rub only the upper neck and skip any ear massage I may have given. If you are looking for the deepest experience possible, I would suggest you remove your jewelry before class or before savasana.

2. Keep your long hair away from your neck – The reason for this is similar to #1. If I have to spend time to move your hair to get to your neck, you may get a shorter neck massage. If in the few seconds I have to assess, I find that moving your hair might be disruptive to your relaxation, I won’t move it at all and you will get very little neck rub.

3. Take off your glasses – I always end my savasana massage by lifting the eyebrows away from the nose. If you are wearing glasses, I won’t do this because that would be awkward. Again – if you want the benefit of the whole massage, I suggest your remove your glasses.

4. Keep space behind your head – In order for me to give some upward strokes to your neck, I need space to not only squat behind your body but also pull my whole body back a little bit. That means making sure there is space behind your head, either by sliding down your mat or by turning around if there is an obstruction behind you. Making sure there is space behind your head will ensure that I will be able to leverage my body to give you a better experience.

5. Don’t try to help – Oftentimes, when I get my hands under people’s necks and shoulders, their instinct is to lift up to make it easier for me. While appreciate the sentiment, the weight of your body pressing into my hands actually gives me the ability to create better pressure for your massage. If the massage is too strong, by all means, lift your head (and in fact – stop me and tell me!). But if you like the regular amount of pressure or even desire a little more, then be sure to let your head and neck hang heavily towards the ground.

Bonus: If you are wearing a halter top or bra that presses into the base of your neck, I won’t be moving it out of the way to get to the shoulders. If you want me to rub between your shoulders, best not to wear halter-type clothing to my class and save it for one where there isn’t any massage.

Okay – I realize that was a fluff piece but I know many of you enjoy that moment at the end of our classes. So I hope you found those tips insightful. Enjoy your long weekend and we will get back to the deeper yoga, anatomy and therapeutics next week. Happy Fourth of July!

What is “Range of Motion”? 5 Things You Need to Know

Range of motion is a term that has recently gained popularity in yoga communities…and for good reason. As more and more people come to yoga to gain flexibility, it’s important for teachers and students alike to have a few basic facts to prevent overstretching and hurting ourselves.

Anatomic Position

Anatomic Position

So what is range of motion (ROM)? Range of motion is basically a measure of how flexible we are at each joint in our body from a neutral, standing position – referred to as anatomical position. From this position, movements for each joint are broken down and assigned a range that is considered normal or average. For example, if you were to lift your arm straight up, it should lift up 180° (right besides the center of your ear). For a basic ROM list for each joint, you can check out this link. However there are few things you should consider if you’re looking to gain more flexibility:

180° of Shoulder Flexion

180° of Shoulder Flexion

1. There are two types of ROM – Passive and Active. Passive range of motion is what we typically think of when we think of stretching. It’s using gravity, our body weight, props or even assistance from someone else to create the most movement we can at a joint. Active range of motion is when we use the strength of our muscles to create as much movement as we can at a joint. Active ROM is often considered to be more desirable because it means that the muscles are strong enough to lend our joints support as well as flexibility. When we focus on active ROM, we are less likely to overstretch or injure ourselves.

2. ROM can be limited by much more than just muscle tightness. There are lots of factors that limit our range of motion that have nothing to do with tight muscles. These factors include individual variances in bone structure, age, dehydration, soft tissue approximation, an injury or previous injury, arthritis, nerve damage, shortened ligaments, joint replacement and more.

3. ROM numbers are guidelines, not rules. Because of the variances in individual bodies, ROM numbers should be taken as approximations. In addition, guidelines from different sources can vary slightly. So while it’s okay to go a few degrees beyond normal ROM provided you take it slow and listen to your body.

4. When we go way beyond what is considered normal ROM, we risk losing stability. Muscles are not always the only things stretched in yoga. Oftentimes, when we go beyond our natural range of movement, we pull on our ligaments as well. Unlike muscles, ligaments have a very limited ability to stretch. They only stretch about 6% and after that they start to tear. And because they don’t have much blood supply, they often don’t come back to their original length. This means that the overstretched joints are less stable and more prone to recurring injuries in the future.

5. Increasing ROM requires good technique, consistency and time. Believe it or not, overstretching can actually prevent us from gaining flexibility. In other words, don’t go too fast too soon. Your body will respond better if you warm up your joints, go slowly, and breathe deeply. For best results, you should stretch a little bit every day, feeling no more than a mild to medium sensation. If you’re straining and your breathing becomes stressed and shallow, you’re less likely to get the results you’re looking for.

Wheel pose is way out of normal ROM for wrist flexion,  shoulder flexion and spinal extension. Poses like this need to be worked up to slowly and with caution,

Wheel pose is way out of normal ROM for wrist flexion,  shoulder flexion and spinal extension. Poses like this need to be worked up to slowly and with caution,

While flexibility allows us to perform every day tasks with ease, decrease pain through good posture and body mechanics and even helps to prevent some injuries and illnesses, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing. Many yoga positions require much more range of motion than normal, so it’s best to work slowly and with caution. Ask yourself if you’re working on a certain pose because it contributes to your overall health in your everyday life. If the answer is “no,” you may want to rethink your yoga practice.

5 Ways to Individualize Your Yoga Practice to Keep Your Shoulders Safe

Though I teach mostly private yoga classes, I love going to group classes when I have the time. The feeling of community and the energy of practicing together can feel really great. But lately, I feel more tension and soreness in my shoulders (I've been looking at a computer screen more in order to write blog posts {yay!} and I've been boxing, too). So whenever I go to a group class, I modify my practice to keep my shoulders pain-free and safe. Below are some of my tips for individualizing the practice to keep the shoulders pain-free.

1. Do a Different Arm Variation

In yoga, there are a lot of poses that require your arms to be in the overhead position. Whether you are lifting weights, working the front body a lot, have rounded shoulders or just practicing a lot of yoga, you may start to experience some discomfort, tightness or pain when you take your arms overhead. If that's the case, feel free to take a different variation like taking the arms by your sides, back behind you, interlacing your fingers behind you or even taking a bind.

shoulder - sq-43.jpg

2. Skip Those Chaturangas

Speaking of working the front body a lot, chaturangas work a lot of muscles on the front of the torso and can exaggerate rounded shoulders, thereby contributing to pain when you take your arms overhead. So if you are feeling that tightness as you lift your arms or if you feel your are developing rounded shoulders, feel free to skip the chaturangas.

3. Extend the Arms More to Balance Out All the Flexion

Like I mentioned above, in yoga we take the arms overhead (in flexion) quite a bit and over time, this can create an imbalance. You can prevent the development of shoulder pain by taking your arms back behind your whenever possible or incorporating more reverse tabletop variations. If you are skipping the chaturangas, this may be a good time to bring these into your practice.

4. Use a Wall, Chair or Any Other Prop for Support

We often use our arms for balance or weight-bearing in yoga, but when you are dealing with pain or, especially, injury it's great to make sure that we have what we need to rest our arms and not fall over. By using a wall in poses like high lunge or any transitions between standing poses, you can keep your arms rested and relaxed while still keeping your balance. Tip: ask your instructor for a chair - many studios will have them on hand.

modify rotator cuff-10.jpg

5. Outwardly (Laterally) Rotate Your Arms Before You Lift Them Up

When you take your arms up with your palms facing each other, there is a bump (the greater tubercle) on the head of the humerus (arm bone) that can bump into the acromion process (part of the scapula). By turning our palms to face up before we take the arms up overhead, we can move the greater tubercle out of the way so there is more clearance and less chance of shoudler impingement.

I hope you enjoyed my tips on how I individualize my group practice to keep my shoulders safe and pain-free. Let me know what you think of these tips by writing in the comments below.

How to "Flow" With a Shoulder Injury

If you regularly practice yoga at a studio, gym or in another group setting, then you know what a bummer it can be to go to class with a shoulder injury like a rotator cuff tear or a frozen shoulder. Most yoga classes require a lot of time bearing weight on your wrists and shoulders in poses like downward facing dog, plank pose, upward facing dog, chaturanga, etc. What you probably didn't know is that, once you've been cleared for movement from your doctor or physical therapist, there are some easy ways you can modify your practice to fit your needs until you are back to 100%.

When practicing with a shoulder injury, sun salutations (the flow) can be the most frustrating part of class. Below is a simple sequence you can do to modify the practice and still flow along with everyone else in the room. From forward fold, step back one foot - taking smaller steps to get there if needed - and drop down to one knee. Then bring the front leg to meet the back so you are standing on both kees. Exhale for a gentle camel poses, keeping your arms nuetral to avoid pain or exacerbating the injury. Inhale back to center and on your exhale, bring the very top of your head to the floor and then very slowly lifting your hips for rabbit pose. Come back to standing on your knees and close out the flow by steping one foot forward at a time until you are back in forward fold. This practice should match the pace of a regular sun salutation and similarly includes both a back bend and a forward fold. You can scroll down to see the sequence breakdown.

Got any questions, comments or ideas? Be sure to include them in the comments!

Mini-Sequence for Strengthening the Rotator Cuff

In the last post, we looked at what the rotator cuff is, what it does and how to strengthen it. In this post, I wanted to share with you a video I made that shows you how to put three of those moves together to create a mini-sequence you can practice on your own. This is also a great sequence to take into your group classes if the class is working on an arm balance but you are still working through a shoulder injury. Of course, as always, make sure you get clearance from your doctor or physical therapist before attempting any new activity. Check out the video and let me know what you think.

The Rotator Cuff: Preventing Pain & Injury

Understanding the Rotator Cuff

Rotator cuff tear in the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle.

Rotator cuff tear in the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle.

You've probably heard a lot about the rotator cuff...you might even have experienced a rotator cuff injury before. But what exactly is it? Why is it important? And how can we prevent (further) injury? The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that are responsible for keeping the arm (humerus bone) attached the shoulder socket (scapula). The tendons of these muscles wrap around the head of the humerus, uggin the humerus to the shoulder socket. This is a tougher job than it might seem; our arms actually have a pretty shallow connection to the shoulder sockets. This shallow connection gives our arms a lot of mobility but not a lot of stability. It's one of the reasons why shoulder injuries are among the most common types of injuries and why everyone should invest a little more time in toning these highly functional muscles.

The four muscles of the rotator cuff. The anterior view is the view from the front and posterior is from the back. 

The four muscles of the rotator cuff. The anterior view is the view from the front and posterior is from the back. 

Let's take a closer look at what these muscles are, where they are located and what they do. The rotator cuff muscles include:

  • Infraspinatus: Located on the back of the shoulder blade and arm bone, the infraspinatus is one of the largest rotator cuff muscles. This muscle outwardly (laterally) rotates the arm and horizontally abducts the arm (see below).
Horizontal Abduction

Horizontal Abduction

  • Teres Minor: Teres minor is a smaller muscle located just beneath the infraspinatus on the back of the shoulder blade and arm. It also performs similar actions (lateral rotation and horizontal abduction) as the infraspinatus.
  • Supraspinatus: This muscle is located along a groove near the top of the backside of the scapula and connects over the top of the arm bone. This muscle works to lift the arms out to the sides from a relaxed position (abduction - see below). Suprasinatus is the most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle.
Abduction

Abduction

  • Subscapularis: Also a large muscle, the subscapularis connects from the front side of the scapula to the front of the arm bone. It inwardly (medially) rotates and horizontally adducts the arm at the shoulder joint (see below).
Horizontal Adduction

Horizontal Adduction

5 Poses for Strengthening the Rotator Cuff

By keeping our rotator cuff muscles toned, we can reduce the chance of injury to the area. If you've ever injured a rotator cuff muscle, then you'll know that strengthening these muscles is typially part of the recovery process once the area is healed. Below are five moves you can incorporate into your yoga practice (or workout) to keep these muscles in their best working condition.

Addressing Shoulder Pain (Part 2)

Last time on the blog, we took a look at the structures of the shoulders and the most common reason why we experience shoulder pain: chronically rounded shoulders. This time, we’ll take a look at 10 yoga moves that can address rounded shoulders and eliminate the pain.

Try these poses out and let me know what you think in the comments!

Addressing Shoulder Pain (Part 1)

Lately, I’ve had so many complaints from students about shoulder aches and pains. So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to examine the most recurring shoulder issues I see with my students, why these issue can lead to pain and injury in the shoulders, share some ideas as to how we can prevent pain and also share some tips on how we can modify our yoga practice to accommodate injuries to the shoulder area.

Shoulder Anatomy 101

Did you know that what we think of as our “shoulders” is actually made up of 3 bones and 4 different joints? Together, these bones and joints are called the shoulder girdle or shoulder joint complex. The shoulder girdle is made up of:

  • the scapula: a.k.a the shoulder blade – which is also the bone that provides the shoulder socket
  • the humerus: a.k.a the upper arm – the part we typically think of as the round part of our shoulder
  • the clavicle: a.k.a the collarbone - the part that transfers weight from our arms to the rest of our body
Fig. A: The scapula, humerus and clavicle form the "shoulder joint complex" and move together as a unit.

Fig. A: The scapula, humerus and clavicle form the "shoulder joint complex" and move together as a unit.

You can see in the animated image above how the three bones connect to each other. The scapula lies on top of the ribs in the back and the clavicle connects to the sternum (a.k.a breastbone) in the front. When we are at rest in an upright position (sitting or standing), the shoulder blades should lie snugly on the back ribs, the upper arms should connect snugly in the shoulder sockets and the shoulders should line up with the ear canals and the hips (see image below).

 Fig. B: Optimal shoulder alignment

 Fig. B: Optimal shoulder alignment

Why the Pain?

One of the reasons we develop pain in our shoulders (and neck) can be our tendency to have rounded shoulders. Rounded shoulders is when the scapulae rest more forward on the ribcage and are often tilted forward as well, causing the clavicles to also be more forward and tilted. The humerus bones (upper arms) turn inwards towards the body, and very often, the head and neck stick forward. Sometimes the shoulders are also scrunched up towards the ears. We tend to hold this position a lot when we are looking at our phones and computers but ESPECIALLY in the winter when we are bracing ourselves from the cold. We also tend to take this position when we feel vulnerable or down in some way; it’s our body’s way of instinctually protecting our vital organs – the heart and lungs. Cyclists, breast-feeding mothers, body-builders who work their chest more than their back, drivers, and large-breasted women are also likely to develop rounded shoulders.

Fig. C: The shoulder blades are tend to tilt forward and the head protrudes when we have rounded shoulders

Fig. C: The shoulder blades are tend to tilt forward and the head protrudes when we have rounded shoulders

So why do we get pain from this position? Well, when our shoulders are out of alignment, all the muscles that attach to our shoulders are out of alignment as well. There are 17 muscles that attach to each scapula alone! Many of the muscles of the shoulder joint complex pass through the narrow space under the collarbone. A large nerve bundle also passes through this area as do many blood vessels. Because of the number of muscles in the area, there are lots of bursae - little fluid filled cushions – in the area as well. When the shoulders are misaligned, it’s very easy for these structures to get compressed, inflamed, overworked or chronically shortened. It’s also harder for the muscles that keep the arm bone in place (the rotator cuff muscles) to do their job and it's harder for the collarbone to efficiently transfer weight from our arms to the rest of our body.

What Can We Do?

So how do we reshape our shoulders so that they are in optimal alignment? The key is in lengthening muscles in the front of the body, strengthening muscles in the back of the body and making sure the whole area has a healthy range of mobility. Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll recommend some specific ways in which to restore rounded shoulders to their optimal alignmet and reduce the occurance of aches and pains.

Take Your Yoga On The Road: Apps, Youtube Channels and Podcasts to Try

For many of you, the holiday season may be the time of year that you most rely on yoga practice. However, it may also be the time of year where family and travels get in the way of your usual routine. To help you avoid falling off of your yoga routine altogether - I've compiled a list of my favorite apps, video channels and podcasts that will help you get moving and meditating, no matter where you are here. Without further ado...

 

Try These Apps

1. DDP Yoga - This app was created by wrestler-turned-yoga-master, Diamond Dallas Page and has classes for every level, making the practice really accessible for anyone. His style is also down-to-earth, so if you aren't into the woo-woo aspects of yoga this is for you.

2. Yoga Studio - This inexpensive app offers classes of various lengths and difficulties like the DDP app, but also allows you to link poses together to create your own sequences. It also allows you to download any sequence so you can practice without the need for wifi.

3. Headspace - What I especially love about this meditation app is that it begins with some really clear videos explaining what meditation is and how it works. The app offers a 10-minutes for 10 days course that you can repeat as many times as you like in order to build up a meditation practice. It also offers some other great meditations like one for fear of flying. 

4. Insight Timer - This app has thousands of meditations and talks from a diverse range of teachers. Some of my favorites are Tara Brach and Sadhguru. 

5. Buddify - This meditation app is activity based. You simply select an activity such as traveling, walking or cooking and, voilà! - a specific meditation to help you be more present.

Watch on Youtube

1. Ekhart Yoga - Esther Ekhart is extremely knowledgable and has keen grasp of bodies of all different ranges. She provides precise and practical cues. While you can visit her website to get a subscription to full classes, her Youtube channel offers hundreds of mini-sequences, exercises yoga philosophy and anatomy videos for free. 

2. Yoga with Adriene - Adriene's Youtube channel also offers hundreds of classes and while some of them are 10-15 minutes, many of them are around 30 minutes or more. If you're looking to do a more well rounded express class, this may be the channel for you. 

3. Kino Yoga - Kino MacGregor is an incredible Ashtanga master teacher. I don't personally practice Ashtanga yoga - which takes a lot of time and patience to move forward in correctly. But I love watching her videos as a reference point for moving into more advanced poses. If you are working on something that is particularly difficult for you, her videos may offer some fresh ideas on how to get there.

4. Talking in Circles - This Youtube show by Laura Miller isn't strictly a yoga show, but she (and her circle of friends, including yoga teacher Tara Stiles) get together to talk about how they deal with some very real topics that, in a way, captures the essence of yoga. While they talk about some heavy topics that may be perfect for easing you through the holidays, her characteristically goofy/awkward personality lighten up these 10-min and under episodes. 

Listen To A Podcast

1. Meditation in the City - This podcast is based on the weekly Shambhala dharma talks given at the Shambhala Meditation Center in NYC. Shambhala comes from a Buddhist tradition and these talks are very much based in the reality of living in NYC.  The episode on family karma is especially relevant this time of year. I love downloading episodes from these talks and listening to them while on a long journey. Here's the link for iTunes and for Android.

2. Dear Sugar - If you love the book by Cheryle Strayed, you'll love this podcast in which she and Steve Almond (the original "Sugars")  take on real problems and difficulties with straight talk mixed with radical compassion. Find it on iTunes or Android.

Now that you have a pretty comprehensive list of resources to help you keep up your practice and keep your peace of mind this season, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that you can also check out my Instagram page for videos of mini sequences and my Soundcloud page for guided meditations. Happy Holidays!

6 Poses to Help You Manage the Holidays

For me, like for many people, the holidays can be a stressful time. Parties and get-togethers are a lot of fun but they can also be depleting, especially if, like me, you are spending a more than normal amount of time with family of friends. The food and drink temptations and the financial pressure only exacerbate the fatigue and energetic drain that often accompany this time of year. To help you manage your energy and emotional needs, I've put together a list of six poses that can help you get through the holidays with a little more ease and grace.

Relieving Low Back Pain: Part 3 - Strengthening the Spine

So far in Relieving Low Back Pain Part 1 and Part 2 we've covered how out-of-alignment hips and tight muscles can contribute to low back pain. In this post, I show you how to strengthen your "core" muscles so that they can help your spine stay tall and carry the weight of your body. When most people thing of their "core" muscles, they think of the six pack abs that are formed by the rectus abdominis muscle. While this muscle looks great when toned, it actually doesn't do all that much to stabalize your spine. Instead, muscles like the transverse abdominis (the corset muscle), multifidi, and the obliques are much more involved. Muscles around your entire torso (front, back and sides) work together to create spinal stability. If some are working much more than others, it can create tension, compression and/or pain in the low back. Below are some stregthening poses for the entire torso that will help to decrease compressive forces and bring balance to the area and help alleviate low back pain. As always, if you are dealing with an injury or condition, be sure to get clearance from a doctor or PT before performing any of these exercises.

Relieving Low Back Pain: Part 2 - Stretching the Spine

In Relieving Low Back Pain Part 1 we took a look at how the pelvis need to be aligned because it is the foundation on which the spine rests. In this post, I give you some passive stretches you can do to lengthen the muscles around the spine itself. The poses should be relatively relaxed as gravity is doing most of the work for you, but if you have a limited range of motion, you may feel some intensity in the stretches. Remember to breath deeply and try to hold each pose anywhere from 10-30 breaths. Just a reminder: if you are dealing with a low back injury or condition be sure to get clearance your doctor of physical therapist before attempting any of these poses.

Relieving Low Back Pain: Part 1 - Hip Openers

     There is a strong connection between the hips and low back pain. Because the lower part of your spine rests on the top of the hips, if there is an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the hips, such as tightness in a particular muscle, that imbalance can be transferred to and amplified in the lower back. Below are six stretches that target the muscles surrounding the hips to help you relieve low back pain. Warning: these poses are not intended for those suffering from structural issues (herniated discs, spinal stenosis, SI injuries, etc.) that have not yet received clearance from a doctor or a physical therapist. These poses may be helpful for some of those conditions but only after the initial healing phase and with modifications appropriate to the condition. That said, let's get stretching!

What Does Yoga Have To Do With Spirituality?

As a yoga instructor, I often take it for granted that my students know the connection between the yoga we do together and the spiritual meaning of it all. But recently, I’ve found that even though many people know that yoga is connected to spirituality, they don’t always what that connection is.

If you are wondering what the connection is between yoga and spiritual practice, we should first clarify that the goal of all the yoga practices is to bring us closer towards enlightenment, aka Samadhi. It is a state of constant connection to the Greater Source and sometimes described as an experiential realization of or awakening to the true nature of the ourselves and the world.

The second thing you should know is that doing the physical exercises done in most yoga classes (asanas) is just one of several practices prescribed in yoga (practices that include living by a moral code, exerting control over the breath, meditation, etc).

While most yoga practitioners aren't having their spiritual awakening to the true nature of all life anytime soon, there are still many spiritual benefits to doing yoga poses on their own. Listed are 8 ways in which asanas and spirituality are connected.

1.     Asanas allow the body to be healthy enough to sit for long periods of meditation. In order for our bodies to sit up straight for hours with ease and without the distraction of joint stiffness or muscle pain, we must have a reasonable amount of strength paired with a reasonable amount of flexibility. Yoga poses are designed to give us just that.

2.     They provide a lens through which to understand our emotions. The body reflects what is happening on a deeper level. We store a lot of emotions in our body. When are feeling down in the dumps, we tend to hunch. When we are happy or proud, we stand up tall. When we are stressed we tend to feel tightness in the neck, shoulders or hips. By aligning our bodies, we can influence our mood/state of mind.

3.     Moving the body everyday creates a practice of discipline. Sometimes, just getting to yoga class is an act of discipline, amiright?

4.     Moving our bodies into alignment allows energy to move through them more efficiently. Our daily habits (sitting too much, hunching forward, walking/running, right-handedness/left-handedness) can create misalignments in our bodies over time. By consciously moving our bodies into correct alignment, we allow energy to flow through us more efficiently.  For example, if we can sit up straight with our spine in optimal alignment, we avoid damaging or obstructing our spinal cord. In yoga, energy is often equated to life force or consciousness. So the freer the movement of energy through the body, the more easily we can connect to the “Greater Source” of energy in the universe.

5.     When you do yoga, you begin to understand your own habits and reactions. Are you the type of person that gets bored during the warm-up? Or maybe you are silently cursing the teaching in pigeon pose? Do you feel compelled to do that 20th chaturanga even though you previously had a shoulder injury? All of your decisions/reactions during class reveal something about you, and once you know what they mean, you can start to bring about real self-transformation.

6.     Doing advanced yoga poses required a deep level of concentration. Concentration is the one of the most important skills needed to get to advanced meditation and when you are in an arm balance or inversion, boy, do you need a lot of concentration!

7.     Doing yoga poses requires control over some the subtleties of the body and over our breath. Learning these skills is a precursor to having complete governance of ourselves, which is really the point of enlightenment. Moving towards enlightenment really means that we stop doing things on autopilot, subconsciously and instead do things consciously, with intention. For example, when you have an itch, do you automatically just scratch it? What would happen if you didn’t? Yoga helps us to understand this idea. When you have an itch in headstand, you definitely don’t scratch it.

8.    Asanas help us stay healthy. I think it is safe to say that if you have a healthy body that doesn't experience much pain or illness you likely to be happier, nicer to those around you, more self-sufficient and more fulfilled than if you had a body that experienced greater illness and/or pain.

Now that you know how asanas help move us embody our spiritual selves,  let me just emphasize that doing yoga poses alone is probably not going to turn you into the Buddha. Poses are just one part of yoga practices and meditation might arguably be the most important practice. But doing yoga poses is an easy way to begin accessing and understanding your inner Self. 

How to Bring Self Love Into Your Yoga Practice

Self love is always a good place to start. Like the well-known airplane line about putting on your own oxygen mask first tells us, we can't really take care of others if we don't care for ourselves. And since we are in the dead of winter, a time for introspection, the next few weeks are an especially good time to put these words into action. While I already listed some tips on how to bring self-love into your everyday life via my newsletter, here are some ways in which you can bring loving kindness towards yourself into your yoga practice.

Photo Cred: http://bit.ly/1Vo9nEJ

1.     Set the intention. In those first few moments on your mat, while you are starting to tune inwards and deepen your breathing, set an intention that you will choose to be kind to yourself for the duration of the session.

2.     Be honest about where you are physically.  If you are tired, then take that child’s pose or svasana. Or maybe even take that yin or restorative class! Go for the arm balance only if you have a lot of energy and are properly prepared (you ate a good meal beforehand and have had enough time to digest, you got enough sleep, etc).

3.     Be careful with your thoughts. If you can’t do a pose or stay in it “long enough” or are otherwise frustrated with yourself in some way, be sure the narrative in your mind hasn’t turned into a self-defeating, self-deprecating or otherwise negative one.  Let yourself have a deep breath and consciously take control the narrative to be one of kindness or positivity towards yourself.

4.     Listen to your body first and foremost. If your teacher instructs you to do something you are simply not comfortable with, then don’t do it. Her instructions are guidelines and suggestions, not gospel. Which also brings us to..

5.    Use props. Sure maybe you don't need the blocks or props, but ask yourself this: "why not?" Do you have a really good reason? If not, then go for the props.

6.    Stop comparing. The easiest way to be unkind to your self is to compare yourself to other people in the room. Everyone has their own struggles and problems so comparing is a fruitless activity. Close your eyes if you need to or just refocus your attention on your breath.

7.     Check in with yourself at the end. Take the last few moments before final savasana to really evaluate your mind/body and take any last pose you need, regardless of the teacher’s instructions. Or maybe you sit in meditation instead. Do whatever you need in order to feel you've completed your practice.

8.     Take a really long savasana. Savasana is where your body calms down so you can leave the class feeling relaxed. Sometimes being in savasana feels great and sometimes our minds can't be still. If you are having trouble stilling your mind, then do an active savasana where you scan your body part by part and actively try to let go of any tension you are holding on to. For example: Wiggle out your toes and then relax them completely. Shake out your ankles and then relax your feet. Release any holding in your calves, soften the backs of your knees, relax your thighs...etc., etc.