Author: Carla

April Pose of the Month

Up we go, down we fall. Up again, down again. Up again, down again. Up again, down again. Some people might find this frustrating, or pointless altogether. The journey to Handstand is long and tedious, and often an on-again-off-again one due to the up and down nature. I guess it’s just like glass half full versus glass half empty people. You can get on your hands every single day, fall down every single day, and become impatient at a lack of progress, OR you can get on your hands every single day, fall down every single day, and call yourself a handstanding hero. And here’s the thing…you are. This month, we’re bringing you pike handstand at the wall, and reiterating that when you’re on your hands every single day…it doesn’t even matter if you’re up again, down again. It’s the every single day part that matters, and your journey to Handstand *will* be fruitful.

The key to finding your Handstand lies in building a strong core, body awareness to stack your joints, and finding your line. I’ve been leading Handstand workshops (one more coming up on 4/30!) and we go through drills on drills on drills to get there. One of the first Handstands we practice is pike at the wall, and I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s a foundational Handstand for beginners and advanced inverters in that it: 1) fosters proper body alignment with hips over shoulders, 2) helps familiarize bodies with any disorientation that occurs from being inverted, and, 3) the use of the wall as a prop makes it so that we can focus more on engaged muscles, active bandhas, and teeny anatomical refinements instead of solely the balance challenge. Collectively, attention on these prep items as a prerequisite to just kicking up willy nilly is going to set a foundation that you’re less likely to abandon. There are three little piggies, but you’re the one that chooses brick, ya feel me?

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Accessing Pike Handstand at the Wall:

  • Sit with your back against the wall and legs straight out in front to measure out where you’ll place your hands
  • Place your palms exactly where your heels rested on the floor (you can use a partner as a marker, so you don’t accidentally eye out the wrong distance)
  • With hands shoulder-width distance apart, use your feet to walk up the wall until your legs are parallel to the floor
  • Push the earth away from you with your palms
  • Knit your ribs inward and fire up your abdominals
  • Draw your armpits in and shoulder blades together
  • Note your lines
  • Don’t forget to breathe!

*Note: It’s great to practice with a partner to get to this shape, mostly because being upside down can be disorienting and walking “up” the wall can feel a whole lot like giving directions in a room of funhouse mirrors.

Pre- and Post-Handstand Reminders:

  • Always Handstand with a warm body & worked abdominals
  • Take time to warm up your wrists and forearms with proper stretching and massage, and give them the same amount of love when you’re done practicing
  • Strengthen and open up your shoulders to protect your joints

Remember that it’s just a basic law of gravity that whatever goes up, must come down. So just keep going…up, and back down!

*Next Handstand Workshop*

4/30 from 1:30-3:30 at our Downers Grove Yoga By Degrees // $40 for nonmembers and $20 for members // Sign up in advance, online or at any of our locations

March Pose of the Month

On we March. Into the month. Into the season. Into the storm. Into the thick of it. We keep marching. Whether we’re ready or not, we’re sometimes thrown into circumstances that aren’t necessarily exactly as we’d choose. So we get up, and we move.

In honor of standing tall, feeling powerful, and readying our bodies for whatever comes next, we’re going through Standing Half Moon this month. Not only is this a juicy side body stretch, and the starting posture in our YBD HOT sequence, but it opens and releases the shoulders, which helps to balance perceptions of inner and outer self: how you see the world, and how the world sees you. This balanced notion will help us to march on no matter what’s going on outside of us and around us.

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Accessing the Posture:

  • From Urdhva Hastasana, come to a steeple grip by interlacing your fingers overhead with index fingers pointing up.
  • Keeping your arms at your ears, bump your hips to the left and stretch to the right
  • Open through the chest, and look up to the left with a lifted chin to expose the throat chakra
  • Energetically pull your face through your arms to keep the chest open
  • Focus on using and stretching the hips rather than bending from the torso
  • Repeat on both sides

Benefits of the Posture:

  • Increases flexibility of the spine
  • Corrects poor posture
  • Improves and strengthens every muscle in the central body, especially in the back and abdomen
  • Helps to build will power and strong self-esteem

February Pose of the Month: Seated Meditation

This month we’re cultivating a deeper self-love, the kind that transcends giving yourself compliments, nourishing your body with healthy whole foods, and providing your body with energy and movement. While all of these things are so important, and it’s nice to wake up and have a good hair day or see a number on the scale that’s pleasing and to really feel beautiful, we’re talking about a kind of self-love where none of that really matters after all. This month we’re acknowledging that while feeling beautiful is wonderful, knowing you are on a soul level is forever warming.

Seated Meditation with Various Mudras

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  1. Thymus Tapping – We call these “heart” taps and you might have practiced this in a restorative class. Your thymus gland is located right at the center of your chest. The word thymus comes from the Greek work “thymos” which translates to “life energy” and this gland is in charge of keeping your own energy vibrating at high frequency. These thymus taps stimulate the gland and activate a happy hormone that’ll leave you feeling warmer, more energetic, and a little less obsessed with every day stress.
  • Find a comfortable seat
  • Allow one hand to rest on a knee, either with the palm down for grounding, or the palm up to receive energy
  • With the opposite hand, find your chest bone and tap firmly with your hand open or in a fist for two minutes
  • Repeat

 

  1. Anjali Mudra – We use this often in vinyasa classes to draw energy to the heart, but you can also use Anjali mudra to transfer energy up and away as an offering. Anjali mudra is a seal of composure and reminds us to come back to the heart where we gather all of our resources. Lifting the arms up overhead acts as a prayer of sorts, so that we might lead with the heart in every day interactions
  • From standing or seated, bring your palms together to touch
  • Press energy into your palms, and allow your chest to widen so you can feel some space under your armpits

 

  1. Vajrapradama Mudra – Use this for building inner trust and tackling insecurities when it comes to your self-dialogue. This mudra acts as a shield to the heart, and forms the base for healthy self-confidence when you feel like you just cannot deal with an issue at hand.
  • From seated, interlace your fingers and draw your thumbs wide
  • Lift your interlocked fingers right in front of your heart space
  • Begin to find some resistance by pulling outward and creating a long line of energy from elbow to elbow

 

  1. Lotus Mudra – This one purifies and opens the heart chakra. The lotus flower is a symbol of light and beauty emerging from muddy roots, so practicing this mudra in meditation can be helpful in rising from any personal darkness.
  • Spread your fingers wide and bring the base of your palms together to touch
  • Touch your thumbs and pinky fingers together to create a bowl-like shape with your hands
  • Try inhaling and moving the mudra up to your third eye, and then letting your breath go as you draw the mudra back to your heart

 

Some Benefits of Seated Meditation (There Are So Many):

  • Supports emotional well-being
  • Helps to ignore distractions
  • Quiets Ego
  • Improves immune system and energy level
  • Fosters a deep self-love

Mindful Monday: Don’t Quit

Happy Monday!

Every once in awhile you need to reroute. And I don’t just mean turning another direction, or getting off the train for a minute to wait for an express, but rather jumping tracks entirely. A new destination.

This can be scary. New faces, new scenery, maybe a fresh intention for living altogether.

Newness sometimes causes us to abandon our soul work. How many projects left unfinished? Slightly broken friendships never tended to? Half-read books? A goal unachieved?

Fresh is good. If you need to hop tracks, do it. You can still keep your integrity on a freshly paved route by bringing unfinished work with you. Take caution not to let a new decision or forward-moving vision cause you to leave really important or unfinished matters in the other lane. Pick a new path with the intention to reroute, but not as an escape route. Dealing with current hurts and pains is difficult, but not impossible. Go slowly & don’t quit.

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Mindful Monday: Soul Work

Happy Labor Day, mindful community!

In spirit of the holiday, it’s the perfect time to reflect not just on your 9-5, or the title on your business card, or how many years of schooling you’ve had, or what you do day in and day out that yields a paycheck. Sure, these things are important, and maybe they even contribute in some way to our sense of being and pride. Today’s a celebration of the working masses, but let’s redefine that a bit.

Who are you?

Odds are, when asked, one of the first ways you’d answer this question is with your work role. Teacher. Mother. Lawyer. Union worker. Athlete. Chef. Nurse. Analyst. Salesperson. Office clerk. Waiter. Customer service rep. And so on…

But, who are you?

If you’re attending weekly classes, or into personal development, or consider yourself spiritual on any level, or have ever contemplated your existence, you’re already probably able to take this question a bit further.

Today, let’s celebrate the fruit of our labor on a deeper level, by the things we do every day that start a ripple of change or make someone smile. This is where the real work comes in. The soul work. Write out your gifts, and then go out and create something. We bring energy to everything we do. The conversations we have, the meals we cook, any big or small task we perform. When it comes to soul work though, merely getting the job done isn’t always enough. Consider the energy you’re putting into everything you do. There is honor in all work, in all tasks, and in all the things we create. Today, make it a labor of love.

And, to celebrate the one week anniversary of my own labor of love, meet the newest addition to our growing Yoga By Degrees family, Baby Malcolm:

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Mindful Monday: Weekly Reminder

This is your Monday morning reminder that you can handle whatever this week throws at you!

Important deadline gets moved? No problem.

5 minutes late to yoga class? We forgive you.

Caught at every red light? Make a wish every time you’re at a pause. You’re okay.

Spill your drink on the floor? Happens all the time.

Accidentally scream at your kids when they’re misbehaving? Have you been told this week what a rockstar parent you are? Because you are.

Someone cuts you off in the parking lot? You meant to let them through anyway.

Major headache and the start of a change-in-seasons cold? This too shall pass.

Friend cancels plans? Hey, didn’t you need to do that other thing anyway?

Today is Monday, and a beautiful, glorious, new start for us all. Who knows what this week will bring, and why does it really matter? Wake up and think for just a moment what a gift it is to be alive. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are doing the best you can. You are worthy. You can do it!

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Mindful Monday: Rev the Engine

The end of summer is time for adventure. Like yoga in the park, or visiting an old friend, or taking a daytime trip to the dunes. But what happens when you set out for a fun adventure and it doesn’t go quite as planned? You’re off-roading through the mud and screaming in delight one second, and the next you’re stuck in the mud.

If your car gets stuck in the mud, you immediately try to get out. You rev the engine, and the wheels spin and spin and spin. Sometimes you have to rev the engine and spin the wheels a bit to get some motion going. It may seem like you’re still exactly where you were, but the acceleration starts the process of getting unstuck.

That’s how it is for us, too. You might find yourself in a situation that kills your vibe, or one that you just don’t know how to handle whatsoever. So you become annoyed or upset or afraid or confused. The engine is revving, the wheels are spinning, and you want out. Let ’em spin. Sometimes we need to get through that time of accelerating in order to get to the next place…the place where we slow down and figure out what we’re doing next. Let your frustration and tiny annoyances and fear get the momentum going in the direction of solving the problem. Keep moving.

P.S. Here are more happy faces creating summertime memories, and there’s still time to share your #slowdownsummer photos with us! ❤

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Mindful Monday: Slow Down Summer

In sanskrit, Sangha means community. And not just like the community where your address happens to be, home of public service stations and a bustling local coffee shop. Sangha is the community we crave, and because we crave it, we create it. At Yoga By Degrees, each of us participates actively in the creation of Sangha. We all play an important part. It’s like when you walk into the studio to take your routine 9am sculpt class and you’re greeted by first name, not because we’ve checked you in a million times, but because we’re expecting you. Or when you’re all in your head about an argument you just had at work, and as your instructor reads a quote that seems cosmically meant just for you, her gentle hip massage in pigeon confirms that she actually does know just what you need. Or when you spread your arms and roll over in supine twist and your fingertips accidentally touch your sweaty neighbor who you’ve never before spoken to before, and you actually don’t mind at all.

One of the greatest gifts of working for a yoga studio is the built-in community. Whether you’re a veteran teacher, or a teacher trainee, or a 5-classes-a-week-no-exceptions Platinum Member, or on your complimentary free week of classes, you’ll fall willingly victim to our happy home and energetic embrace. Our Sangha.

Our studio’s summer challenge to take 30 classes within 40 days is wrapping up quickly, and we’re all reminded that nothing lasts forever. It’s something to mourn and celebrate at the same time. The changing seasons reminds us of our size, and also of our courage to surrender. On a day to day level, we are huge. Our problems, and similarly, our joys, are everything. We’ll feel so helpless about a bad day that really just stemmed from one bad moment that we’ll expunge hours or maybe even multiple days in an all-out pity party for one, because we are that big. And, before you start thinking “Yeah, that’s me” and start feeling badly about having bad days, let a gentleness hug you tight and know that every single one of us does this. It’s the scale from which we operate.

And so when we wake up and ask someone what today’s date is and can hardly believe that we’re already approaching the middle of August, let it shrink us back down to proportion. Our Egos are big, but we are so, so, so small. The world didn’t stop when we spent that full day practicing couch-asana with a pint of chocolate ice cream. It didn’t stop when your son jumped in the swimming pool for the first time, or when you saw the look on your daughter’s face when she opened the letter that said she’d been accepted into her top-choice school. Even though we sometimes wish that time would just speed up to get us out of our darkest holes, or that time could stop just long enough for us to savor our sweetest moments, it doesn’t. We are here, in August…so small, but with a courage big enough to surrender even to this moving timeline we have no control over.

We’ve decided to start a #slowdownsummer movement to remind us of this when we’ve forgotten. We can’t stop time, but we can create our Sangha. And together, our Sangha can share stories and still-frames and memories of the moments that make us most alive. We’ve asked our staff at Yoga By Degrees to share their favorite summer memories with the hashtag #slowdownsummer, and now we’re opening it up to the rest of our community whom we love so much.

Share your favorite summer memory using #slowdownsummer and follow & tag us on Instagram @yogabydegrees for your chance to be featured! Collages will be shared all month long!

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August Pose of the Month

We’re officially in our last “summer” month already! It came so quick that I nearly forgot it was August entirely…anyone else? When life seems like it’s spiraling a little quickly, I’m reminded to come back to my favorite trifecta mantra: Smile, breathe, and go slowly! Appropriately, then, this month’s pose is extended triangle pose:

  • From Warrior II, straighten your front leg and bump your opposite hip backwards
  • Keep your arms at a “T” and hinge forward from your hips over your front straight leg
  • Rotate your top arm up and back to keep your chest open
  • Lower your bottom hand to your ankle as you continue hinging from your hips, avoiding bending from the waist and dumping your top shoulder
  • Keep your neck neutral or gaze up toward your lifted fingertips

Benefits of Triangle Pose:

  • Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles
  • Stretches hips, groin, hamstrings, and calves
  • Improves digestion and helps relieve stress

Remember the trifecta, yogis! Relax into triangle pose this month, modifying or adding an extra hands-free challenge depending on what your body needs. Smile, breathe, and go slowly! ❤

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Mindful Monday: The Scenery Changes

It’s easy to get stuck in your feelings. Whenever you’re feeling like you might be feeling this way or that way forever, take note at how quickly the scenery changes. From the weather outside to our physical surroundings, sometimes every step can create a new vantage point. And on that note, HELLO AUGUST!

Even in Illinois, hop on the highway in any direction and watch how quickly the scenery changes. In the space of a few hours,  you can go from your quiet suburban driveway to the bustling city, or in the opposite direction to miles of cornfields, and wind turbines creating enough energy to power entire towns.

In the space of one day we can see hope, faith, anger, desolation, healing, and overwhelming joy. If we can remember one thing: Everything is temporary. The universe is always changes, propelling us sometimes quicker than we’d even like from one season into the next. Pay attention. As the scenery around you changes, watch how each piece leads into the next. I remember as a little kid sitting in the back seat on road trips, looking out the window, and getting lost in the montage of everything passing by. Begin to think of the changing scenes in your life as a deliberate journey, each frame bringing you to some place worth going and being. Enjoy the view.

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