Author: Carla

July Pose of the Month

It’s hard to believe it’s true, but we’re in the thick of the summer already, so poses that are energizing and fulfilling for the entire body are where it’s at! This month, we’re offering a kaleidoscope of warrior II variations. A strong warrior II requires an even stronger foundation, which often has us focusing on the set-up and strength in our legs. With these variations, we’ll keep the hamstrings happy while giving the shoulders, upper back, and wrists something to smile about.

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Building on your Warrior II:

  • Get low in your stance and trust yourself to sink down to stimulate active hamstrings
  • Keeping a solid foundation in your legs, experiment walking your fingertips forward, pausing to linger in the pose when your knee starts caving forward – energize it back!
  • Crawl your hands back, and then switch it up by coming up to your tip toe in your lunge
  • Criss-cross your arms and point your fingertips toward each other
  • Press into your palms to stretch your wrists and forearms
  • Come into a cat back to stretch and strengthen your upper back and shoulders while you’re there

Benefits of Warrior II Variations:

  • Stretches inner thighs, groin, and knees
  • Stretches wrists and forearms
  • Strengthens upper back and shoulders
  • Encourages a strong mind-body connection

June Pose of the Month

I’m so happy that the month of summer is finally here! Even if you’re not in the place anymore of enjoying a summer totally off, just the nice weather alone seems to give the body a bit of a reprieve. We’re warmer and therefore less tense, happier and therefore less frantic. Life is busy, so much so that people make memes and t-shirt that say “CAN’T ADULT TODAY” and I gotta tell ya, some days I want one. There’s either so much to do that we just sit on the floor in savasana recounting an endless to-do list, or we overexert ourselves thinking we are Wonder (Wo)Man and then crash and burn. The burnout is real. I’d love to give you a good restorative pose to revive and rejuvenate, but this month is about the comeback. Get up, stand up, feel the burn, move your body. Here’s extended side angle, a core buster and hammie strengthener, and one that’s sure to give you all the stamina you need.

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Accessing Extended Side Angle:

  • Set up in a strong Warrior II by anchoring your back heel to the floor, stacking your front knee on top of ankle, and getting low in your lunge so that your front thigh is near parallel to the floor
  • Lengthen and pull your fingertips and abdomen slightly forward, and then exhale and hinge downward from your hips
  • Keep your arms open so that your bottom arm lowers down and in front of your knee and calf, and your top fingertips extend open and toward the sky
  • Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and rotate your chest open
  • Use your core to try to keep the foundation of your legs strong, and trust yourself to get deep into your lunge

Benefits of Extended Side Angle Pose:

  • Strengthens legs, knees, and ankles
  • Stretches inner thighs, groins, spine, and shoulders
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Increases energy

May Pose of the Month

May the 4th be with You today! Because we speak so much to energy and energy lines in class, yoga and The Force pair together nicely. In Star Wars, Obi Wan explains The Force to Luke as “an energy field created by all living things that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” If we think of ourselves as just a small piece on this larger energy grid, we can begin to use energy in our yoga practices to control our behaviors, soothe our emotions, and motivate us to live our very best life both on and off the yoga mat.

This month we’re bringing you flying cobbler’s pose, mostly because when you’re floating on a block in this way, it makes you feel like a little meditating Jedi.

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Accessing Flying Cobbler’s Pose:

  • Start in baddha konasana or “butterfly” with the soles of your feet touching and your knees splayed open to the outsides
  • Warm up your feet and ankles by using your hands to massage your feet open, so that the tops of your feet begin to rotate up toward the ceiling
  • Place a large block on the floor at the flat wide width, and then place your feet on top of the block so that the outside edges of your feet rest directly at the center
  • Come up on to your fingertips with one hand in front of the block and the other hand back behind your hips for support
  • Use your abdominals, the lift of your hips, and the momentum from your arm at the back to launch up and forward with your hips and chest
  • Take a moment to get acclimated as you balance your weight on top of your feet and ankles
  • Your shoulders and chest should be slightly in front of your hips to keep balanced
  • Don’t forget to breathe!

Benefits of Flying Cobbler’s Pose:

  • Stretches inner thighs, groin, and knees
  • Stimulates heart and improves general circulation
  • Conquers fear by being suspended on the block

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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