Monthly Archives: July 2011

Yoga helps manage pain and keeps the nervous system balanced

A new study published today by York University in Toronto, Canada, finds that practicing yoga twice a week diminished pain in women with fibromyalgia. Yoga helps manage the subjective experience of pain by teaching how to observe thoughts and sensations as fleeting things that do not define the self. After practicing twice weekly for eight weeks, subjects reported “catastrophizing” about pain less, felt less helpless, and also reported less pain.

The practice of yoga is absolutely correlated with stimulating the para-sympathetic nervous system, the part of your nervous system responsible for relaxation, lowered blood pressure, and deeper breathing. By contrast, our modern lives can be defined as having a sympathetic nervous system style: rushing, anxiety, pressure, competition, poor food and lifestyle choices, and insufficient sleep keep us in a state of stress hormone overload. The “flight or fight” sympathetic nervous system can get stuck in the “on” position when we are under a barrage of stress, bad food choices, cellular devices, and insufficient sleep.

The regular practice of yoga can help to bring the system into balance, reducing pain, reducing stress, and giving your adrenal glands a chance to rest. When the sympathetic nervous system dominates, the adrenals pump out cortisol all day (which they are not supposed to do; they reach their maximum function about 30-40 minutes after we wake up), leading to a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue.

Practice yoga to keep your nervous system in a state of balance and good health!

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Active Feet/Spreading Through the Bones

I went into tonight’s class inspired to get everyone rooting down into their feet to feel how expansive and light they can be…with a strong foundation. I’m not sure the message got across. Maybe it was the heavy after-rain air or maybe it was Monday blues or something else entirely, but class was a little distracted tonight, and that was my first time as a teacher dealing with that level of distraction (that’s for another post: how to respond to what you see reflected back from your students).

So in the spirit of trying again to see if I am more integrated in the lesson the 2nd time around, I am going to attempt teaching active feet here in this blog, albeit in a far less concrete way. See, the feet, when spread, become like energetic little straws, drawing energy into the body and also sending it OUT from the body in a very radiant, directed way. It’s easy to talk about the feet and structurally how they are our foundation and our roots, etc., but experiencing the feet energetically is different.

Although I love the anatomy lesson about the feet, what I really tried to get across in tonight’s class is the energetic component of the feet. Energetically, they can be these expressive, playful things that do a lot more than hold up our bodies.

Try standing in tadasana and lifting all ten toes, spreading them, and then putting them back down on the mat. Take your time. Lift your toes. Breathe. Spread your toes actively and consciously, moving the pinky toe as far away from the big toe as you can. Breathe. Keep your toes lifted! Feel the air circulate in between the toes. Feel the webbing between the toes stretch. Feel the ball of the foot rooting into the ground with a distinct energetic signature and feel the energy vibrating out of each lifted, stretched, expressed toe. Breathe. Now slowly and with awareness, lower the toes, while keeping them spread!, back to the mat. Feel the difference between standing with un-expressed feet, and standing on expressed feet. Feel more connected, more grounded? Maybe feel the minor chakras in the soles of the feet? Do you feel your heart center bounce up as the arches of your feet open? These, and still other!, sensations are the result of active feet.

You can spread the bones in the toes by threading your fingers in between the toes. Try it now. Thread your index finger between the big toe and second toe and keep working until you get all your fingers in there. Not easy, right? Shows you how habitually “closed” we tend to be with our feet. If you think about your feet and the chakras in your feet the same way you do about your heart chakra, you wouldn’t want to walk around with a collapsed, habitually closed 4th chakra, would you? But we almost never think about our feet being “open.” Those Yoga Toes sandals sold in the back pages of Yoga Journal do exactly the same thing as spreading your fingers between your toes does: it creates space in the bones of the feet. Spread your fingers into your toes daily and bunions, hammertoes and other foot foibles will stay away.

In your yoga practice, try active feet. Make a conscious choice to EXPRESS through your feet. Ground down to rise up. In asymmetrical standing poses, like tree, spread your toes and feel the base of the foot widen and become softer. Let that wide, soft base support you. Feel every wobble and bobble as you continuously readjust for balance. In asymmetrical standing poses where you lengthen one leg, like bird of paradise, try spreading through the toes and imagine each toe like a laser beam of energy, coming from your deeply rooted core through your strongly aligned leg, and I guarantee you your standing pose will be brighter, sparklier, and your experience of the asana will move from one of effort to one of expressed joy and radiance.

Since reading Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine, where I was formally introduced to the phrase “active feet,” this has become a de facto part of my practice. I almost can’t imagine forgetting my feet when everything else in the pose is considered, yet think back to how you practice. How often do you let your back foot in Warrior 1 or 2 slouch or just get kind of lazy? How about in forward folds, do you forget or stop flexing your feet and just let your thigh bones yawn open? Or how about in complex arm balances like Eka Pada Galavasana? Does expressing through your toes help you lift your leg? Does it create a sensation of lightness? I have experienced the difference in all these poses by activating my feet and not stopping my asana at the ankle, but being aware of every small detail, down to my sparkly toes.

The simplest and most direct way to experience active, spread feet is in tadasana. Lift all ten toes, breathe, spread them out, breathe, spread them out some more, breathe, now slowly lower your toes back to the mat, breathe, feel the energy rebounding from the sole of your active feet up your legs and into your heart center, creating a more lifted, more connected tadasana. I’d love to hear any feedback on how active feet has made a difference in your practice.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. And keep those toes sparkly! Namaste.


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Subbing for Paula through mid-August

I will have the honor of subbing for my teacher Paula Tursi from late July-mid August while she’s away leading a teacher training in Honduras. I will be covering Paula’s Monday night Level 2 class from 6:30-8pm from July 25th-August 15.

Would love to see you in class, and if you have any poses you’d like to approach or any suggestions for things you’d like to work on, I’m all ears!

Classes will take place Monday nights at Reflections Yoga, 250 W. 49th St. (2nd floor), between B’way & 8th Ave.

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Sitali pranayama for the heat wave

It’s 104 degrees in NYC today, and the heat index says it feels like 114 degrees. It is HOT. The energy in the streets is much quieter and less frenetic. With everyone affected by this extreme heat, people simply aren’t expending as much energy. I hear fewer loud conversations, less rushing, less horn honking. Everything seems to be running at a slower pace, which makes sense in this heat wave.

Besides drinking lots of water and trying to be in air conditioning or where there’s a lot of air circulation (especially with negative ionization, like at the beach), what’s one to do? The wise yogis of India developed a breathing technique to help in such extreme heat. Called sitali pranayama, it moistens the air as it enters the body, producing a marked cooling sensation along the surface of the tongue, and into the lungs.

Sitali is performed in typical meditation posture (head, neck, and spine in alignment, legs crossed, hips higher than knees) with eyes closed and hands in chin mudra (index finger & thumb touching).

1. Sit in comfortable meditation position, or on a chair with feet on floor, spine tall and aligned, and eyes closed. Breathe rhythmically for a few minutes, focusing on your inhales and exhales.

Forming an "O" with the tongue

2. Open the lips and form the tongue into an “O” shape by curling the edges of the tongue towards the center. If this is not possible, part the lips but keep the upper and lower teeth touching. This is called sitkari pranayama.

3. Inhale through the mouth, feeling the cooling nature of the breath as it passes over the surface of the tongue (or through the teeth).

4. Exhale through the nose.

5. Breath sitali or sitkari pranayama for 2-3 minutes, gradually working up to a 10-minute practice.

Sitali pranayama adds moisture to the system and helps create awareness around breathing. It also reduces bad breath, fatigue, fever, and high blood pressure.

Satali pranayama is best done in hot weather or after a very heating physical practice. Sitali pranayama is not recommended during the winter months when the coldness of the air may bother the lungs, or for those with extreme vata (air) dosha imbalance.

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Thai Yoga Bodywork and its connection to yoga asana

Very good video from a massage therapist in Austin, Texas. This video shows some of the really incredible assisted stretches of Thai Massage. The recipient gets many of the same benefits of yoga, but doesn’t have to do anything. Sometimes called “lazy man’s yoga,” Thai Massage is an ancient healing modality that originated in the time of the Buddha. As you can see from this video, some of the stretches of Thai Yoga Bodywork resembles yoga asana. For example, the luxurious assisted bridge at about 3:55 really lengthens the spine and opens the hips. A side sen stretch at around 5:14 resembles Dancing Shiva or Natarajasana, opening both the heart center and lengthening the psoas.

Tune in to the breathing between the therapist and the client and you can get into the incredibly relaxing and connecting experience that is Thai Yoga Bodywork. Both relaxing and invigorating, Thai Yoga Bodywork is a beautiful therapy to give and to get.

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Healing with gemstones

I’ve recently become very interested in gemstones and crystals and their metaphysical and healing properties.

The first stone I purchased for myself was from Stick, Stone & Bone on Christopher St. in Manhattan. I bought a piece of tumbled quartz crystal that grew warm in my palm as I held it. Without having any experience or knowledge about gemstones, I just picked up several samples and one of them seemed to feel right, so I purchased it. Little did I know that this is the way to select gemstones: hold them in your palm and feel their energy.

My collection has since grown to five pieces: the quartz crystal, a piece of Kambaba jasper, rhodochrosite, tektite, and malachite.

several examples of tumbled malachite

I’ve been reading books about crystals and healing, and using the crystals on myself, my friends, and even my plants. While I’m still very much at the beginning of this exploration, I have alleviated cramps by placing the malachite over my abdomen and felt relief from general exhaustion and stress by laying with quartz over my fourth chakra. Additionally, I absolutely feel the crystals: they each have their own energy, that can feel soft and grounding, like the jasper, or literally like something is being pulled out of me, which is how I respond to having malachite laid on me.

I’ll write more as I learn more. If you’ve had any experience with crystal healing, or perhaps using crystals in meditation, please let me know!

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