Monday, December 26, 2011

Inner Space Yoga Makes Yoga Practice More Colorful

Angela from Inner Space Yoga contacted me recently about her colorful, quality, and domestically made props. I had a look at her website and loved all the fabric choices - plus, there is the added bonus that she is a small business and sources things locally. As a side note, my grandma owned a fabric store when I was growing up and I always loved going to visit her to play in the rows upon rows of fabric. So much potential!

If you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas, have a look at Inner Space Yoga's yoga and meditation supplies.

Check out these awesome fabric choices!
perfectly-pink honeysuckle instant-maui wavygravy sand-dollar clematis blue-lotus surya pollen peacock mughal kashmirred sunflower antigua padma

About Inner Space Yoga:
Inner Space Yoga was created in 2007 by Angela McWilliams, to meet the need for quality, domestically manufactured yoga props. All designs were developed and refined with the input of Angela’s teachers and fellow yogins, with the goal of creating yoga props that are durable, well-made, supportive and, above all, beautiful. Many of the materials, such as the cotton batting, are sourced locally, and the products are sewn by either Angela herself, or local sewers.

Bio: Angela McWilliams began practicing yoga in 2006, studying Iyengar yoga with Cindy Dollar. She is a graduate of Asheville Yoga Center’s 200 hour teacher training, and is pursuing her 500 hour certification. While still primarily a student of Iyengar yoga, she does enjoy exploring other styles of yoga and takes advantage of the many opportunities to study with world-class yoga teachers who offer trainings here in Asheville. She also studies extensively with local teachers Steph Keach and Lillah Schwartz.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part I - Finding Mula Bandha

In my previous posts I spoke quite a bit about the inner core. But what does this mean exactly? It's not just your abs - yoga doesn't care if you have a 6-pack. The important thing is to have a calm, strong, and steady center. Inner core work is vital to this process. Below, I detail the first exercise to help you start to rebuild and strengthen your core.

Exercise 1: Finding Mula Bandha (pelvic floor engagement) and Uddiyana Bandha (lower abdomen engagement)

Setting up:
Start by laying on your back on the floor with your knees bent (Constructive Pose). Find a neutral pelvis - hip points and top of pubic bone are on the same plane. Do a couple of pelvic tilts and tucks to find neutral. Use extra padding (folded blankets) as needed under the bum or under the neck/head for comfort.

Find a regular, steady breath. Notice how the inhale causes the respiratory diaphragm to press down into the organs which in turn press down into the pelvic floor (this is subtle - don't worry if you can't feel it yet). The exhale returns the respiratory diaphragm to its resting "umbrella-like" position under the rib cage.

Working in the pose:
After establishing your breath, begin to exaggerate the movement of the belly and pelvic floor. On your inhale, relax everything and let the belly rise. On your exhale, pull your belly toward your spine without moving your actual spine - keep your pelvis neutral. Now you are engaging the transverse abdominus and Uddiyana Bandha. Inhale and soften again. Take a few rounds of this breath. Inhaling and relaxing, exhaling and engaging.

Adding on, we will start to find the pelvic floor muscles. On your exhale I want you to engage the pelvic floor muscles (these are the muscles between the tailbone and pubic bone and from sit bone to sit bone) and the belly muscles (transverse abdominus). Pull the pelvic floor muscles up toward the area behind your belly button and pull your lower belly back toward the spine. Don't worry if you can't figure this out at first. It takes practice. On the inhale, relax everything again. Take a few rounds of this type of breathing. Inhale and relax, exhale and engage belly and pelvic floor.

If you can imagine your muscular engagement as a dial, practice your engagement at different levels of engagement. Try about a 3, then dial it up to a 7; try a 10 (completely engaged) then dial your engagement back to a 1 or a 2. Practice these different levels to become familiar with the amount of effort it takes to engage. Why? Because you don't need to dial up your engagement to a 10 if you are only picking up a water bottle. But what if you are picking up a toddler or a heavy rock? Then you need more muscular engagement.

Let yourself completely relax after working Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Take any finishing movements that you like: a long stretch, a bundle roll hug, gentle twist, etc.

Benefits of Pelvic floor work:
Helps reverse or prevent incontinence; Can assist in reversing or preventing prolapse; Improves sexual functioning; Improves your fluid movement and connection with your inner core.

Benefits of Pelvic girdle work:
Creates stability in the pelvis; Reduces back pain; Reduces SI pain; Creates a center that is unshakeable; Improves posture and stability from the inside out.

Previously: My Story Part IV: Restoring my Inner Core
Up next: More exercises to improve your core.

ps - Just 5 minutes a day of these exercises can help you. You don't even have to lay down and take time out of your day (although you should give yourself a break). You can practice your inner core engagement while you are sitting at your desk, waiting for a stop light, doing dishes, or any time you think of it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Wonder Yin

I'm taking a little break from writing about the inner core to bring you a bit of info about keeping healthy and stress-free over the winter and the holidays. The following article from Yoga Journal explains the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective on winter, the holidays, and learning to keep rhythm with our body's natural cycle.

An acupuncturist explains why the final month of the year, an inherently yin season, is not the time to indulge in yang activities like shopping, partying, and staying up late. By Laurel Kallenbach

The final few months of the year often find us in a frantic state of shopping, decorating, traveling, and other high-energy activity. Yet instead of having fun, we often end up feeling ill, anxious, or depressed. The reason, according to Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine, is that the action-packed schedules we keep at this time of year fall out of sync with the earth's natural cycles.

"We naturally have less energy to burn during the winter," explains acupuncturist Carolyn Cohen, L.Ac., who teaches at Yo San University, a college of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in Santa Monica, California. "So when we engage in behaviors more appropriate for summer—staying up late and dashing around town—it's no wonder that the forced cheer of the holiday season can wear a bit thin."

Taoist philosophy conceptualizes universal balance in terms of yin and yang, complementary forces that govern the universe. Yin characteristics are cool, wet, slow, feminine, and quiet, whereas yang is the opposite: warm, dry, fast, masculine, extroverted. Winter, the yin season, is a time for storing and conserving energy in the way a bear retains fat by hibernating, or a farmer stores food for the cold months ahead.

In agrarian cultures, people spend the shortest, darkest days indoors by the fire, eating warm, slow-cooked, nourishing food and sharing stories with their families. The incongruity between winter's restful, introspective, yin nature and the frenetic way many Americans spend their holidays can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, depression, exhaustion, and other manifestations of what is known in TCM as shen (or spiritual) disharmony.

"Winter solstice, just three or four days before Christmas, is the darkest, most yin day of the year," says Cohen. "Instead of turning inward, we're celebrating with excess and yang activity. This artificiality creates stress, and many people dread the season as a result."

To stay balanced during winter, suggests Cohen, conserve your yang energy. Restorative yoga, tai chi, qigong, and walking are best suited for yin season, as they safeguard your energy reserves. "Think of these practices as an investment of your 'energy paycheck,'" says Cohen. "Don't use up what little winter energy you have with overactivity and added stress."

Eating cooked, spicy yang foods provides another good way to replenish energy. Prepare yang-strengthening soups, slow-simmered stews, beans, roasted root vegetables, and warm drinks. Add yang spices such as garlic, ginger, black pepper, cloves, and basil to increase the warming effect. Minimize your intake of yin foods such as raw vegetables, salad greens, and cold drinks.

If you find quiet, more modest ways to celebrate the holidays, you'll stay in tune with the season and feel less need to release tension by overeating or rampant spending. You'll also have more time and energy to connect with close friends and family. If you're out of sync with the mall mobs with maxed-out credit cards, chances are you'll find yourself in step with the quiet, nurturing yin nature of winter.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Story Part IV: Restoring my Inner Core

Restoring my inner core has been my mission ever since teacher training. My exploration of the inner core and learning to deepen my awareness began in TT. I continued this learning-path with extended studies specializing in the inner core with my teachers, Ann Maxwell and Susi Hately Aldous, and I dedicated two 40-day practices to the inner core.

I had two signs that there was some change happening in my pelvis, sacroiliac joints and inner core: 1) my left SI joint moved for the first time ever. Now this didn't feel good, but I still took it as a good sign because at least both of my SI joints were moving instead of one stuck and one hyper-mobile. And 2) my outside-to-inside kick in Tang Soo Do (a Korean martial art) became so much stronger that I was able to kick the training pad out of my teacher's hands. Sounds like a funny way to measure change but I knew my body and I knew that I was making a difference by practicing deep inner core work.

Image from Wikipedia
This work is quiet, mindful and can make me want to scream. I had to learn how to find, use and move my pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, multifidi, adductors, and abductors, and I had to breathe while I did all this concentrating.

All this work has not eliminated my SI joint instability but it has become manageable. When I keep up on my work (as little as 5-15 minutes a day of inner core work) I can manage my pain. When I get lazy and don't do my work, instability comes sneaking back into my body. But now, after 3-4 years of work I can bring back stability in a short time. And at least I know I have the option of helping myself get out of pain.

Previously: My Story Part III: Teacher Training and More
Next up: I will detail some of the exercises I did that helped me strengthen my inner core and regain some control over my life by reducing my pain.