No Pain, No Gain

This past week I started class by telling students that they were going to work hard and for them to remember that old adage- no pain, no gain. I admit that it sounds contradictory to what I teach as a theme in many of my classes which is to use the breath as a tool to protect the body so that you don’t go past your edge, but really what we should be doing in order to advance is to push ourselves just beyond that edge to a safe level of improvement.

Yoga asana is a practice of learning the body. In my practice that is quite possibly the primary benefit. The skill that I have to know where my hips are when I’m in an inversion and if they’re not forward enough to hold the balance is a skill that I learned though lots and lots of practice. Through injuries I have learned a lot about the limitations of my body from side to side, left and right, and how to modify my practice to make sure those injuries heal instead of inflame. And because of the mindfulness of breath and body work I can better detect when I’m getting sick, when I require more sleep, and when it’s a good time to push myself physically.

20160121_182214.jpgThe majority of my practice involves ‘basic’ or common poses – the warrior poses, lunges, sun salutes, forward folds; only a small portion of my personal practice involves arm balances and inversions, but I do incorporate them in almost every practice in order to evolve. Of course those common poses are the poses that build strength and awareness in the entire body which enable the core to lift the lower limbs overhead in sirsasana/headstand. Those basic poses are extremely beneficial. Lying in savasana for 20 minutes is beneficial. Skipping asana practice to recuperate is beneficial.

 

But it’s the gentle pushes and hard nudges beyond the body’s limitations that cement new challenging asanas. That being said, it is so important to learn proper technique and alignment because injuries in yoga occur and will occur more frequently without proper support and guidance. You can’t do an inversion without a killer warrior II. You have to know how to read that the back foot is engaged and the back hand is in the midline to also know that the legs are engaged when upside down. Sure those are totally different body parts and skills, but the proprioception skill is the same.

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In one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books he wrote that the Beatles were so good and changed the music scene not because of how much they played and practiced, but because they challenged themselves and the industry as musicians. I believe that the Beatles reference came from ‘Outliers‘ a book that Gladwell wrote about how the best of the best came to be at the top and no surprise a big secret was practice and dedication. A study was done at one point to say that the secret number was 10,000 hours – put that much time into anything, time in which you’re constantly pushing yourself into an area of gradual difficulty, and you will become great.

Sometimes when I post a fancy yoga pose on my social media I’ll get comments and questions such as, “Oh my gosh, that was so amazing, how can you do that?” My response is always to say that I did that with a lot of practice and dedication. A good week for me is to put in 5-6 hours of yoga practice on top of my 5-6 hours of teaching. That might seem like a lot (I’m sure many teachers put a lot more in than that, but I also have a full time job) but yoga is my passion, it’s more than a physical practice, it’s a lifestyle. It permeates into all aspects of my life and I will be doing some form of yoga until the day that I die.

Challenging my body into difficult positions is rewarding. I no longer think of my falls or poor attempts as failures but rather as the effort needed to one day make the impossible possible.

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Celebrate & Balance

The holiday season has come and gone and it breezed by like the wind. Parties, festivities, friends and family, and loads and loads of treats in the way of delicious holiday cookies and plenty of alcohol and toasting to the new year. I sincerely hope that you were able to celebrate and let loose as much as possible, but I also believe that for the sake of health there should be a balance of enjoyment and restriction. As a yoga teacher I teach people how to stand on one foot and put their arms in the air and how to balance on their forearms and top of their heads and put their legs in the air, but balance in life goes beyond being able to do impressive feats of gravity.

Adults tell children to eat their vegetables (hopefully) and we ought to remember that rule ourselves, especially at the holiday season when almost every vegetable in site has been corralled and buried in pounds of cheese and some sort of oil. Did I eat those tempting casseroles? Absolutely, but I also practiced yoga regularly during the holidays and continued to eat salads and drink a lot of water. I did not sacrifice one for the other, I thoroughly enjoyed eating three cookies for breakfast and sweating on the yoga mat in the afternoon. Waste not want not, we had a lot of cookies around, but during the other 50 weeks of the year we don’t.

The ball dropped in Times Square people and people around the world set intentions and resolutions, goals for the new calendar year. Often for women those goals are diet and weight based, which I have mixed emotions about, but if phrased in another way, say like this: Often for women those goals are health based, then I am all for it. Self worth and confidence should not be defined by a number on a household scale, but instead making goals to move more and feel better for the new year are great ways to move into the new year.

The way that I have chosen to stay healthy and physically active has been yoga. It consumes a lot of my life because I love the way that it makes me feel and I dislike the way I feel when too many days go by without practicing yoga, so much so that not doing yoga is not a part of my life anymore, I make time for it multiple times through my week. However, I recently went for a run with my husband and instantly realized that I am not exercising my heart enough. In yoga I teach students to not push their bodies into a state of aerobics and to use their breath as a tool to keep their practice safe and that is how I practice as well, therefore I hardly ever move into cardiovascular work. My form of physical fitness is very imbalanced.

When the weather is nice enough I commute to work by bike, so twice a day, five days a week I ride my bike to work pedalling hard up a small incline to get to work on time which makes me breathe hard and sweat, but now that it is winter I drive to work and am now lack cardio. My goal for 2019 is to incorporate more cardio into my life, even though I pretty much hate it.

Having a fitness and health goal for the new year, or at anytime of the year is a good thing in my opinion as long as it is a healthy goal and is not developed from guilt, but from a healthy consideration for one’s own longevity and quality of life. I know that the heart is a muscle that needs to be strengthened just like the quads and glutes and that it plays an extremely important role in my health, a vital role you might say, so although it is a struggle for me to decide to go for a run in a way that doing yoga isn’t a difficult decision but rather a happy one, I will still strive to do so, not out of guilt, not to shed pounds, but as an investment in my own future and so that I am able-bodied enough to hike mountains with my husband and our dog.

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May you create joy, love, happiness, success, health, and balance in 2019 and every year to follow, Namaste.

Warm Up Your Practice

The days and nights are cold and the sun, although present, is not very warming at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Winter officially begins on December 21st – the Winter Solstice, and until then the days get shorter and shorter. Then, like magic, they start to lengthen day by day in such tiny increments that it’s difficult to notice. Short, cold days can make it difficult to find motivation for fitness or generally rolling out of bed. To counter the chill in the air here are some way to bring warmth and light into your yoga practice.

Heat Up Your Practice

When it is cold out there and the opportunity to be outside is slimmer than other months, I like to turn the heat up on the mat. My flows become more common than a hatha practice and I add variety into my vinyasa with more strength than flexibility work. By keeping the pace up and challenging myself with difficult pose varieties the heat comes from within and in a matter of minutes I’m removing a layer.

Awkward Chair Squats

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Some easy options to incorporate into your yoga practice include adding squats in awkward chair pose. Stand in chair with your feet hip distance, on the in breath stand up and squeeze your glutes pushing your hip points forward (this builds heats and tones the glutes), on the next breath, squat back into chair.
Add rounds of 10 squats at the beginning of your three Surya Namaskar B’s/Sun Salutation B’s to create fire in the lower body. Move with the breath.

Chaturanga Push Ups

Chaturanga push ups, or double dips. This can be done on the knees or from full plank. On the exhale lower down to chaturanga, hold and hover there until the breath is fully out, on the inhale push down into the floor through both hands with fingers spread wide, and push back into plank. One is enough for me, but if you have the power and energy do two or more at a time. Watch your form and drop the knees if the body isn’t straight.

Handstands at the Wall

If like me, you require the use of a wall for handstand as you build up your skill and confidence to move to the middle of the room, then begin a practice by doing handstands at the wall. The hop up into the pose is warming in its own right and to hold and build endurance using the wall for balance will teach the body the tone that is needed to hold the body upright, upside down. Do not simply allow the legs to rest on the wall creating a banana curve in the back, that relies on the wall too much meaning that no engagement is occurring in the muscles of the lower body. Instead, move one leg slightly away from the wall, over the corresponding hip, then try bringing the second leg over the hip until you are in a vertical handstand. Likely, your legs will float right back down to the floor, if that’s the case then try again. Be sure to alternate the leg you kick up with, do not favor the stronger leg. Rest in child’s pose, balasana, afterwards for 5-10 breaths.
If handstands aren’t something that you feel ready to practice, then you can substitute kick ups from three-legged-dog. Begin in three-legged-dog, walk the lower foot in slightly closer to the hands and bend that leg’s knee. Come on to the ball of the standing leg foot and do little hops, kicking your heel to your butt. Land lightly! That is key, land with a bent knee and try to land as softly as you can. Do five on each side.
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Light the Way

There are times in the winter when a mug of hot chocolate and good book sound better than anything and the same idea is true of yoga. Sometimes a fiery vinyasa flow is needed, sometimes a slow, restorative practice with mounds of bolsters and blankets is what warms the heart. For these types of classes lighting a nice scented candle, or lots of tea lights is an excellent way to bring peace and serenity to what is already a calming practice.
The glow of real candles is beyond relaxing, but could be dangerous to have around if going into savasana, especially if you’re sometimes prone to falling asleep in savasana as I am! If you are going to use real candles, I suggest investing in natural, soy, hand poured candles and having someone else in the house when you burn them and practice yoga.
An alternative to practicing with lit candles are to use battery operated ones. I have around 20 that I bought second-hand for my wedding that I use for special candlelight yoga classes. Their glow is nice, although can’t match a real candle, the downside is the wastefulness using something that is battery-powered. Another alternative could be to use Christmas lights in your yoga space as a soothing form of lighting.
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It is easy to become lethargic on cloudy, cold days. To desire to bundle up and lay around, and although that is beneficial in its own right, it is also extremely beneficial to keep your yoga practice consistent through all seasons and temperatures in order to create a habit of practice and drill the discipline of rolling out your yoga mat multiple times per week.

Find Your Tribe – Your Health Depends on It

Life gets hard. Life is hard. Personal struggles build up and then there’s all of the negativity in the world at large. Stress and anxiety are common and ever present in our daily lives, especially with frequent use of social media. Stress strains our moods, relationships, and health. As much as we try our hardest to impress  to the cyber world how great our lives are, how much fun we’re having, and what great food we’re eating, the inside does not always match the outside.

It is important to pause now and again and deeply reflect on what is and what isn’t bringing you joy and happiness. If something does not serve you, and for the purposes of this post – if someone does not serve you, then it is time to make some edits. It might sound slightly harsh to mention editing relationships, but we’ve all been in toxic relationships with romantic partners or ‘friends’ that cause more harm than good, in those cases, recognize the detriment and let those people drift away.

There are some communities of people in your life that benefit you and some that bring you down. We all go through different phases in our life – possibly partying when we’re young, settling down when we’re older, finding and dropping habits and routines. Scan your social scene and ask yourself if the way you’re spending your time is healthy and beneficial, and is there anything lacking or could you add more beneficial activities. You can go to the bar for happy hour on Friday night, and still go to the gym a couple of times a week. It’s not one or the other, it’s recognizing if some aspect of a healthy lifestyle could be added to your routine. Not just for your figure, but for an increase in endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin –  senses of pleasure and bliss through releasing of hormones that occurs through physical activity. 

Mental Health Awareness Month

Being a yoga teacher, of course I am a promoter of the many health benefits of a yoga practice. Through the physical challenge of the asana practice and calming control of the breath, a state of relaxation and calm can come over the body and mind. Learning and utilizing a tool that helps you to manage your moods, whether it is yoga, boxing, surfing, etc., adding or increasing positive physical practices can be life-improving additions to your life.

Not only does a new, positive habit aid your bodily systems – circulatory, muscular, etc., in functioning the best that they can, it can also give you a much needed boost of endorphins in a day to day life that is wrought with cortisol secreting activities such as checking how popular your most recent post is on social media. The icing on the cake of starting a new healthy habit can be that it might create a new social outlet for you.

The blue light of screens is blinding our eyes more and more, and while social media and modern technology in general have created whole new economies and kept distant loved ones in touch, they are also a major cause of feelings of isolation and loneliness. It doesn’t make sense that what connects us simultaneously divides us. Social media is the perfect environment for feelings of competition, feeling less than and left out. We’ve all had FOMO now and again.

Joining a new gym, trying a free promotional class, inviting a friend to come along with you and keep you accountable for physical activity, may also lead to meeting and getting to know others at the gym, or studio. Being social within that community may simply be sharing a smile and a good morning with someone, but sharing a neutral social interaction can often be better than none at all, and definitely feels better in the heart than a like on a screen.

It is not always easy to put yourself out there, especially if your personality is an introvert, or are feeling vulnerable – an emotion that is evermore common as we put our lives out there for the world to see every day, but by finding or increasing an already existing sense of community, especially through a physical form of activity, you may be able to stave of modern feelings of loneliness. Social media is fun, and can be interactive, but real human interaction is far superior.

 

Guest Author – Ashley Ordines – On Her Health Transformation Through Yoga

Introducing another Ashley! Ashley attended a New Years Yoga workshop hosted by Kara Bemis Yoga in early 2017 and has never looked back since.

On December 31st, 2016 I made a new years resolution to try to become a healthier person. I had struggled for the majority of my life with weight control and mental health issues. The resolution I made came during my very first yoga class at Phoenix Rising Wellness Studio in Jamestown, NY, taught by Kara Bemis. I really enjoyed the class and knew that it was something I would like to continue to do, even though I remember thinking, “wow downward facing dog is SO hard!” This was huge for me as I had never found a physical activity I really enjoyed doing. It even seemed to be mentally beneficial; after only one class my mood had improved. I decided that my resolution for 2017 was going to be regularly doing one thing for myself that would teach me to be more mindful and self-aware, as well as improve my physical fitness, so I signed up for more yoga.

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I began taking classes at Sun Moon Yoga when it opened in a new location in January 2017 with Karen Hansen. Over the next several months I slowly learned to be more comfortable with my body and gradually began feeling improvements in my health. I felt more energetic, flexible, and overall more positive. I even began documenting the food I ate as a way to become more aware of what I put into my body. I consider this point to be when I really started making my journey about mindfulness, specifically relating to how I treat my physical and emotional self.  

I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, I have lost 97 lbs… most importantly I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Over the next 18 months I began to lose weight while gaining strength and confidence. I began trying other physical activities as well, and found that I also really love hiking. So for many months I continued doing yoga 1-5 days a week, both at class and at home, and hiked during the warmer months. I continued to track what I eat as well, and as of today, May 30, 2018, I have lost 97 lbs. I have lost over 10 inches on my waist, 8 inches on each thigh, and 9 inches from my hips. Most importantly, I have found a physical and mental strength that I never knew I had. Without yoga, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Yoga has taught me to accept myself where I’m at and to not be discouraged by not being able to do everything at once. I have learned patience and acceptance for myself and continue to work every day on loving myself for who I am right now. To anyone who has considered doing yoga but is afraid to try something new, I say do it. Even if you don’t want to lose weight or change anything physically, you can learn so much about yourself just by trying something new. One of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout all of this is that even when your life situation seems like the “end-all-be-all,” it doesn’t have to be forever. Be patient with yourself. Go through the steps. Trust the process. Just breathe. Downward facing dog won’t always be hard.


30595258_10211780662216373_1594345654740582400_nAshley Ordines is a freelance artist/illustrator living in Jamestown, NY. Her focus as an artist is mainly illustration, concept art and design. She is also a passionate environmentalist and hopes to bring focus to environmental issues through her art. Ordines is also an avid gamer and spends most of her free time playing video games or hiking.

Instagram: @ashordinesart @thtashtho

Facebook: Ash Ordines Artworks