Month: December 2013

Practicing Saucha


As you delve deeper into your yoga practice, you may notice your yoga practice leak out into your life off the mat.  Yoga teaches us to see the big picture—so maybe we can muster up more patience during rush hour, or find contentment even in the face of a challenge, or tap into the courage and discipline that has been cultivated through yoga practice.

Way back in the second century BCE, there were some yogi guidelines written down called the Yoga Sutras.  This organized text defines the discipline of yoga and provides steps to quieting one’s mind.  One of the steps is a list of yamas, or moral restraints, which will help a yogi on their path.  The first yama is saucha, which means purity or cleanliness.  Whatever style of yoga you practice, you work to purify your body and mind.  This cleanse may start out on the physical level and turn more psychological as you deepen your practice.  By clearing out what you don’t need, you release blockages and allow energy to flow freely.

When you first make it to your mat, you may see noticeable changes as you move through the purification process—your body becomes stronger, leaner, and more flexible.  Then you will notice how your life off the mat can affect your yoga practice. Some foods or habits may no longer serve you. When you practice saucha, it includes the way you shower, clean your teeth, wear clean clothes, organize your home, eat nourishing and clean foods that move efficiently through your system, and how you absorb pure or clean imagery (like movies or television).

In other words, through saucha practice, you can find a balance that makes you feel clean and clear.  Besides the obvious advantages, cleanliness can reinforce self-esteem, feelings of self worth, and increased mindfulness of the self. So over the holidays, stay grounded by asking yourself—where in your life can you practice saucha?  In addition to cleaning your body, mind, and environment, you can take a mindfulness walk in nature (appreciate the snow!), sing or chant, fast from sleep or food, abstain from television, clear out your clutter, recycle, and surround yourself with clean energy and laughter.

Plank Pose


Sanskrit name:  Kumbhakasana
English translation: Plank Pose
Benefits: Skip the crunches and sit ups! Plank pose is known to be one of the most beneficial abdominal exercises for your body. Plank strengthens from head to toe focusing mainly on the abdomen, wrists, and spine.  Also, plank helps to create and build bone density. 
Start in Downward facing dog. Inhale, shift your body forward so that the shoulders, elbows, and wrists create one straight line. 
Keep the fingers spread wide while you press your palms firmly into your mat and to help dome the upper back. 
The crown of the head, hips, and heels of the feet all create a strong straight line. Begin to press your heels back to help relieve tension from the wrists.
Hug your elbows into the midline of your body. Hold here for 3 to 5 breaths. 
Modifications: Drop the knees to your mat for support.
Variations: One legged plank or Eka (one) Padha (foot)

Yoga today to keep the doctor away


Inversions, like Downward-facing Dog, are helpful poses for the winter season.

As the days become shorter and nights get colder, we come into hot yoga season.  Not only does it feel nice to be in a warm room but coming to your yoga mat is also a great way to boost your immune system during cold and flu season.  A yoga practice that includes inverted poses and compression postures, will increase lymph circulation.  Lymph is the clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out through the lymph nodes.

Our blood moves around our bodies as a result of our heart pumping.  Lymph moves by muscular contractions. So physical exercise, such as yoga, is essential for keeping lymph flowing. The movement of lymph is also affected by gravity, so anytime you do an inversion where your head is below your heart, lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs often enter the body. When you come back to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph which cleanses your lymph nodes. Child’s pose (Balasana), Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani), and Downward-facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) are some examples of inverted poses that will drain your lymphatic system.

Some other techniques that you can use to boost your immune system would be compression or twisting postures.  Poses that involve a twist or compression hold, then release, will also drain lymph.  In eagle pose (Garudasana) you create a tourniquet effect by cutting off the flow of lymph so when you release the pose, the lymph floods through the nodes to cleanse.  Twisting postures like Half Lord of the Fishes pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) can help to stimulate energy around the spine and massage the internal organs. Twists compress everything in your abdomen to wring out the old, stale blood and lymph in your organs, to then flush those areas with fresh fluids when you release.

Don’t wait until you have a stuffy nose or head cold to come to your mat.  Inversions can sometimes be uncomfortable if you feel ill, adding extra pressure to a head cold. Instead, use these postures to boost your immunity throughout the cold season as a preventative measure.  Take care of yourself to stay strong and keep your energy up all winter long.