Open Your Hips & Learn to Fly ~ Malasana > Bakasana

I began the week with a nod to the Mala for my #MeditationMonday blog at ShineYoga.com. A Mala is the strand of meditation and prayer beads that you will often see adorning a modern yogin’s wrist or neck. Malasana or “garland pose” is a deep yoga squat that helps you to begin to open your hips, lengthen your spine, strengthen your core, and improve flexibility and balance for your legs. Deep squatting is an essential component in my PreNatal Yoga classes for it’s myriad benefits during pregnancy and it is generally a great pose to use to aid digestion. Malasana can also help you develop the the strength, flexibility, and coordination necessary for many of the fun yogic arm balance poses. Malasana can be challenging if you have knee issues or tight muscles in your legs. While many of the yoga poses will cause sensation in your body as stretch and strengthen, joint pain or sharp shooting pain should always be observed and responded to with loving modifications.

Watch the slideshow for both therapeutic modifications/variations – and to see how Malasana can be a launchpad for some adventure in your yoga asana practice.

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Heart Opener ~ Chest & Shoulder Stretch

Use this short exercise to help open your heart center…. chest, shoulders, lungs. Directions are down below the slideshow.

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Interlace your fingers, and then unlock the pinkies – make a little temple with the little fingers to alleviate any knuckle pressure during the pose. Important – keep your elbows close to keep your shoulders safe and to receive the full benefit of the pose. Place your elbows against the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your elbows shoulder distance, walk your feet back until you feel you are in a comfortable position to lean your chest in towards the wall. With your heart and head reaching to the wall, stretch your hips back away from the wall to stretch your spine and open your heart center. As your flexibility increases, slide the elbows lower down the wall. Again, keeping the elbows close, begin to press your chest towards the floor. Remember that the purpose of the pose is to open your upper body, keep your low-belly toned so that you don’t overarch your lower back. In this deeper variation, you will be creating a sense of open-ness and integration that will aid you in some of the more advanced postures like full wheel and forearm balance. Be kind ~ breathe deep ~ Namaste.

Low Back Attack

Often when you strain or injure your back, the back muscles and muscles that support the back, seize up in an attempt to brace your back and prevent further injury. This natural reaction is a good thing. But… sometimes the muscles have a hard time letting go of the tension. When you add chronic tension to a low back strain or injury, a chain reaction is enacted where stiffness, tension, and pain get caught in a feedback loop that limits mobility and slows healing. This short exercise or sequence allows the back to rest supported in it’s natural alignment without strain. It also allows the muscles to rest in their contracted state. Once the tension begins to dissolve in their protective contracted state you can begin to encourage greater movement and length in the muscles that is necessary for everyday comfort and ease. As is in all things, nothing works for everyone 100% of the time. Use your intelligence, pain as a guide, and your doctors recommendations to promote your fullest healing/recovery.

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To perform this therapeutic Yoga exercise…. Lay on the floor with about the thickness of one or two yoga blankets long against your spine – so your hips are on the floor but your low back curve, spine, and head are supported on the floor. Best to let your head rest back onto the blanket without additional height. Keep your knees bent and try to get your body to trust you as you hold steady and make space for any chronic tension or spasming to release. Once you feel yourself relax and as long as you are 100% pain free – start to stretch one leg very slowly towards straight – it might only be 2 inches to start. This will help your psoas to relax and lengthen so you don’t have unnecessary tension in your low back.

To begin the leg extensions, gently engage the muscles of your leg and begin to stretch it towards straight. Use pain & tension as a guide. If either arise go back to the start position and practice resting easy before you move again.

If you are able to extend the leg straight, keep your  muscles gently engaged and ground the back of you leg into the floor to extend it fully straight at the knee. This will gently lengthen the muscles on both the front and back of the leg and help them release their grip on your back.

Only if you can extend your leg fully (with no pain!) allow the leg to relax and rest for a few minutes. Repeat the sequence on the other leg and then give it a try with both legs. It may be helpful to use a rolled up towel under your knee if full leg extension is not comfortable.

Back pain is tough – I hope you feel better soon! Namaste

Harvest Chard

harvest chardA little bit sweet, sour, and spicy. Rainbow Chard is one of my favorite vegetables because of it’s dual nature with the crunchy stems and leafy greens. One vegetable seems to take on the life a full salad. Chard is dressed up with fortifying fall flavors in this quick-fix warm salad. Because the chard leaves cook down so much, this recipe should be doubled if serving more than one. This recipe makes enough for a main dish salad with a little leftover for later.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tb. oil – I’m using Walnut Oil for this recipe but anything will do
  • 1 small Shallot – small dice
  • 1 bunch of Rainbow (or other variety) Chard  – strip leaves from stems, chop stems and leaves separately
  • 1 small Apple diced – reserve a few Tb. of chopped apple to top salad
  • a handful of Golden Raisins
  • Mix together — 1 Tb. Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 Tb. Water, 1 tsp. Dijion Mustard, pinch of salt, pinch of Chili Powder
  • Handful of chopped Walnuts

Preparation

  1. Saute shallot in oil, and when softened a bit, add the Chard Stems, 3/4 of the Apple bits, and Raisins over med/high heat
  2. Cook for about 8 – 10 minutes until Chard Stems and Raisins have softened slightly
  3. Add Chard Leaves and Cider cooking water to steam the leaves – cook just until tender – only a couple of minutes
  4. Top warm salad with remaining apple pieces and chopped walnuts

Enjoy and Namaste ~Kate

2015 Harvest Moon Eclipse

I stayed up late to watch and meditate on the moon magic happening in the sky last night. Read on below the slide show if you’re interested in a few of my contemplations. Otherwise, just enjoy the show;-)

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The first of my two big insights last night related to how it seemed as if I was watching a whole month of a moon cycle happen in two hours. As many traditions encourage connecting intentions & wishes with the cycles of the moon, I decided to do a little intention setting for some things I’d like to see happen a little quicker than the casual route. The other insight goes along the lines of understanding that our perception of the world is made of light and shadow. When the light is shining bright we sometimes miss the more subtle details of things. You can see in the pictures when the light is so bright we miss a lot of really beautiful detail. The eclipse can be a time to let ourselves go into our dark corners in order to understand what’s happening deeper beneath the surface of our lives. There is great beauty even in the dark corners of life for those who have the courage to open their minds to that perspective. Shine Yoga’s Meditation Monday is to open your heart to your own dark shadows and those of others. It is only in cultivating acceptance that we can create harmony between life’s complementary opposites.

Meditation Monday – Sankalpa Mudra + Clear Mind / Open Heart Meditation

San Kalpa Mudra

Sankalpa Mudra in Gomukhasana Variation.

I’ve been working through a series on meditation techniques for my yoga studio blog @ shineyoga.com. I’ve been working through a few mudras (hand gestures) that add significance to meditation practices. This week I decided to showcase Sankalpa Mudra. This was the first mudra to really pique my interest in that I felt the hand placement create a dramatic shift in my awareness. I first practiced this mudra with my teacher, Sianna Sherman, in my second level teacher training more than 15 years ago. I believe that it was passed on to her by our philosophy teacher, Douglas Brooks, and may have it’s roots in Tantric Philosophy. As usual, I am not too particular about the physical roots of things because I believe they all come from the same spiritual space. I believe it’s up to us to explore the unique practices of yoga, honor to the best of our ability the teachers who practiced and evolved the techniques, and ultimately to fine tune the practices to meet our individual needs.

Sankalpa means resolve. It’s an amped up version of intention setting. When practicing sankalpa the idea is to connect to your most essential self in order to realize what it is you most need and want to manifest in your experience of life. This practice asks you to sit quietly in order to connect deep within. With awareness of your highest aim, you cross your right arm over your heart, bringing the right hand to rest in the left. Sankalpa is a gesture of remembrance and of resolve. It is a seal of intent. An empowering aspect of a life in alignment, is that we each get to decide how we  will show up to greet each day.

If you feel disconnected from your heart’s deepest intentions, you might choose to do this heart clearing meditation/mudra practice before setting a clear intention with the Sankalpa Mudra. Today’s heart clearing practice uses a non-traditional kriya (repetitive body/energy flow). Hold your hands in front of your heart with Ganesha Mudra (click here for more details). Take a moment to hold in your mind all (or some;-) of the blocks that prevent you from feeling free and clear in your inner vision. Maybe you are angry, or afraid. Maybe you’ve been hurt or feel stuck. Allow yourself a moment to hold your blocks with as much acceptance and even love and you can. Take a deep breath in and then with your exhale stretch your arms out wide. Envision letting go of all the energy that blocks your heart and mind at this time. Imagine a great internal clearing. While we can not change all of our outer circumstances we can release the energy that shuts us down. Breathe in with courage to stand true in your life at this time. As you begin to feel more calm and clear, set the seal for the energy that you want to hold and give back to life with Sankalpa Mudra. Namaste ~ Kate

A Personal R-Evolution

People often debate about whether our lives are fated — or — if it is we who shape/create our life experience. For the most part I’m an in-between believer. Though each one of us began our life journey with a certain set of “destined” parameters, experience has shown me that when we are ready for a big change, life will step up to both challenge and support our personal evolution.

I wanted to share a personal experience today because it was such a powerful moment and because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s been holding onto outdated ideals for themselves. I would bet that others could benefit from the insights. Although I’ve worked for and celebrated a movement away from pain and into joy, I just realized that some of those old ideals have continued to play in my mental background and have prevented me from feeling fully confident in my “new” happier/healthier way of life.

I happen to be working on what I thought would be a career development program. I’m participating in David Martin’s Impact Player Launchpad. I signed up for the course hoping to find greater clarity about how to balance my home and work life. What I didn’t expect was that the course would spark this personal revolution that is allowing me to better trust my path and to not feel so overwhelmed and “lost.”(Daveed — from the bottom of my heart – thank you for this opportunity.)

I’m six or so weeks into the course and have just entered the action phase which so far involves some contemplation, journaling, and affirmation. Today’s exercise was to create an “Impact Statement” in which we crystallize into words the impact we want to have on life. I wrote a beautiful statement — and ended up feeling completely embarrassed about it! I felt a familiar sensation pushing and pulling me around this impact statement. Conflict! I’m one of those people who can see many sides to an experience. This is both beautiful and frustrating — but that is not what today’s story is about.

In the form of affirmation, here’s the Impact Statement:
“I am contributing to the health, harmony, and happiness of the planet, and all those who dwell on it as I root into love and nurture it’s blossoming all around me.”

It’s a pretty sweet sentiment, right? I mean – I’d like to hang out with this chick. But here’s the thing — as beautiful as the sentiment is — there is/was another part of me who wants to puke at the thought of sharing this! I feel like “others” might view me as completely naive, simple minded, or too sweet to have any substance.

I’m working on shining through this embarrassment. As I move through the discomfort, I’m fortifying the confidence I hold around the deeper truths of my heart. I’m mustering the courage to be vulnerable in order to express what really matters most to me in the world.

All this “LOVE” talk really has me kind of embarrassed. I didn’t plan to grow up to be like this. I tried my best to be counter-culture. I wore all black, I was sarcastic, I liked to play it cool, deep, and dark. I imagined I’d grow up to be a power player… a kick ass lawyer… or a rock chick graphic artist. I envisioned myself in a sleek urban high rise looking sharp in a tight dark suit… successful…. powerful… free!

None of what I planned for came to fruition.

What I have is better than what I wanted —- (I hope – I think;-)

But… I’ve realized that even though the outer form of my life is different than what I thought I would create, there are still some old ways of thinking that have left me really confused about where I’ve ended up.

I went to design school so I could be an artist who actually got paid. I got side tracked on my way to the big city though. I “threw away” five years of school to become a health coach/yoga teacher/etc/etc… when I realized that I wanted to help people more than I wanted to make money. There’s been a lot of hard work and sacrifice to forge a new path for myself. I’ve been lucky to have great teachers, helpful guides, and many valuable learning opportunities along the way. While I always felt like it was the right choice to change paths, I also have almost always felt a little overwhelmed and a little lost too. What I’m realizing is that perhaps I never fully let go of that image of my future self that I had created so long. Because I couldn’t let go – I couldn’t really move forward.

kali_goddess_by_lunarlunatic-d834odxI can say from the bottom of my heart that LOVE matters. If I can hold a place in life that helps people connect with love — helps them to actively love themselves — inspires them to share that love with others — well — I can call that success. The true beauty of this program so far is that I’ve begun to realize that I am already living my impact statement. I have a career that allows me to help people nurture themselves. In nurturing the self, healing takes place… love grows and spreads. I believe that nurturing love is a noble path and nothing to be embarrassed about anymore. So here’s to more love… rainbows… and light… and of course —- thank goodness, in Yoga, we have the dark goddesses too;-)

An Amped Up Favorite – Bok Choy Power Bowl with Ultra Miso Dressing

I’m working with a new food book – while there is a little cooking in the book, the main focus is on fresh plant food – so it’s more of a slice, dice, and sprout kind of book. The contents and the authors of “The Plantpower Way” are incredibly inspiring. This book is worth a look!

Their Asian Dressing got me thinking about an update to one of my favorite basic recipes. With the afternoon off, I stopped at the market to amp up this classic favorite. Today’s recipe is all for me. It will make two bowls – I will eat them both – and that is totally ok! If you have a few more mouths to feed just magnify the recipe.

Bok Choy Power Bowl

Ingredients:

  • Toasted Sesame Seed Oil
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger
  • 1/2 head of Bok Choy – or a few heads of baby bok choy – sliced – separate the crunchy stems from the leafy greens
  • a handful of Mushrooms – sliced – today I used 4 Cremini and 2 Shitake Mushrooms
  • 2″ piece of peeled Daikon Radish (a few classic radishes would also work) – cut in half lengthwise and slice them thin
  • Handful of sprouts and seeds to top your dish (optional) Today I have Pea Sprouts and Sunflower Seeds

Preparation:

  • Coat a large pan with Sesame Oil and place over med-high heat
  • grate Ginger and Garlic into the warm pan
  • Add the Bok Choy stalks, Mushrooms, Radish – add bits of water while the veggies cook – just enough to keep them from sticking to your pan
  • Turn down the heat and prepare the dressing
  • Add the Bok Choy leaves and the Dressing – stir to coat the salad – and serve – top with Sprouts & Seeds if you like

Miso Dressing

  • 1 Tb. of mellow Miso
  • 1 Tb. Mirin (soy sauce)
  • 1 Tb. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Water
  • 1/8 tsp. of Garam Masala or Chinese Five Spice + a pinch of pepper (I just wanted a mild spice flavor — you actually could skip, add more, or add a bit of your favorite spice to the dressing)

Enjoy and Be Well!

Travel Yoga

It’s time! Road trips, vacations, and retreats are on our radar. As many of my students and clients are already on the road and in the air, I thought I would share this series. I consider these three moves, used regularly in my yoga classes, travel essentials that will help to help you unfold yourself after a long drive, flight, or even unwind the kinks that work their way in from sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Click on the photos for a little description of each pose and how it helps.

Happy Trails!

Cherry Blossom photo credit: http://www.juliedoranphotography.com

While our vacation is still a bit aways, I am looking ahead to our summer trip. Every two years we meet up with some dear friends at our favorite beach spot. Each morning I wake up as the sun rises so I can catch some quiet time for a daily practice in a space that matches the expansiveness and freedom that I feel inside when I practice yoga.

Power Packed Veggie Burrito with Avocado Creme

Today’s recipe was inspired by Kristie’s “The Mostly Vegan” blog. Here’s the link to her recipe. http://www.themostlyvegan.com/page/4/.

I forgot to soak the cashew’s for her Chipotle Cashew Crema so as usual there was some improv happening in our kitchen. With the kids home for summer break, I’m trying to keep many balls rolling and am working while the kids are home. I was so happy to have my 11 year old step up and do the veggie chopping and cooking! Way to go B! Here’s what we came up with for dinner tonight…

Veggie Saute for Burrito Filling
In a large saute pan, layer in:

  • 1 Tb. olive oil
  • 1 sweet potato, small dice
  • once the sweet potato has softened add: 1 large zucchini, small dice
  • cook for a few more minutes and then add about 15oz. cooked & rinsed black beans
  • about 1.5 cups (non-GMO) corn kernels

Avocado Creme
Mix in a high speed blender:

  • 1 avocado
  • small handful of cilantro leaves
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • (many recipes use 1/2 cup of yogurt or sour cream – you can use some olive oil – or just skip)
  • 1-2 Tb. water to bring it to the consistency of your liking
  • a little heat – I like a few drops of Jalepeno Tobasco or Dried Chipotle Pepper – chili flake or black pepper all would be fine
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder – a fresh clove would be just as good
  • salt to taste 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. should do nicely

Wrap it up!
We went for tortillas but the healthier choice as suggested in the original recipe is a nice strong lettuce leaf.

Savor and Enjoy!

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