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Yin Yoga | Wrist, Neck, & Shoulders

Hello lovely ladies & gents.

To celebrate this warm day in Texas and the soon arrival of Spring, I thought I’d stop by with a little post. And in response to many of your requests, I am offering a short yin sequence that incorporates stretches that release tense tissue in the neck, shoulders and wrists. Typically, you will not see much focus in the upper body when it comes to the yin practice. Most often, yin postures target the meridian lines which are primarily stimulated in stretches through the lower half. This certainly does not mean that the upper half is unimportant. It really matters! Especially if you have a desk job or do a lot of driving – the joints in the upper half of the body can build up a boatload of tension. Time to unload that boat, y’all.

Follow along if you need a little extra love in these areas today.

Block Up the Spine (3 minutes each)

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1. Supported Bridge with Block

 

 

 

 

 

2. Block (horizontally placed) in middle back

 

 

 

3. Block (vertically placed) in between shoulder blades

note: you can provide support for your head here with a pillow or another block if it strains you to drop it all the way back

 

 

Simple Reclined Twist (3 minutes each side)

With arms open wide, drop your knees to the right, then to the left.

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Block under arm (2-3 minutes each)

This one helps to release the tension that builds up at the base of the shoulder joint. We tend to be tight in the shoulders because of a lot of factors so it’s a good idea to loosen any tight muscles that surround the joint.

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Start propped on one side (first picture). With block set up horizontally.

 

 

 

 

Begin to lay down all the way on your side and prop the block under your armpit first. You can bend your elbow and rest your head as I did or you can keep the hand on the ground and rest the ear toward the shoulder.

 

 

After you’ve spent a couple minutes in the armpit region, move the block down into the tricep. Hold there for 2-3 minutes as well.

note: make sure to turn around and do the other side!

 

Cowface Pose | With stretches for side body, back & neck

You can choose to do a simple seated pose with the ankles crossed if this position doesn’t work for your body today.

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Start with your right leg on top. Begin by sitting up tall and taking a few breaths. Then, interlace the fingers and place the palms to the back of the head. Begin to drop the chin toward the chest and let the elbows hang heavy. 30 seconds here

note: do not press, just rest!

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Release the interlace and stretch both arms for the sky. Take a big inhale and as you exhale, drop the right hand to the side and stretch the left overhead. You can rest it on the head (as pictured) for a more restorative approach. 30 seconds here

note: switch to other side

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Fold forward for 1-2 minutes.

 

 

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Switch legs. This time, sit up tall to settle. As you exhale, drop the right ear to the right shoulder. Stay here or add the weight of one hand to the opposite side of the head. 30-40 seconds then switch to stretch other side.

note: again, don’t press, rest. 

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Fold forward on the other side.

 

 

 

Shoulder Rolls

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Pectoralis Minor stretch: Start on your belly. Reach your right arm to the side and bend the elbow at 90 degrees. Begin to press yourself onto your right side, kicking the left leg behind the right as a kickstand. 2 minutes here

 

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Sphinx Pose: Come back to your belly and prop yourself up on your forearms. Take a few breaths here observing the physical and energetic shift from the previous stretch. 1 minute here

 

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Deltoid & Pectoral Stretch: Start on your belly this time extend the right arm straight out in line with the shoulder. Roll onto the right side and use the left foot as a kickstand again. 3 minutes here

note: after, come back to belly and do left side.

 

Wrist/Finger Holds (30 seconds each)

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From the belly, press back into childs pose and hold here for a few moments. 2-3 minutes

 

 

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Lift your chest up and reach the hands in front of you. Flip the palms to face up (thumbs face one another) and use your breaths to add pressure. Imagine trying to press the tops of the wrists toward the mat. Find some good sensation and then pause in it for a few moments.

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Lean back and shake out the wrists. Then switch the direction of the palms by turning them down toward the mat (pinkies in toward one another). Again press down until you find sensation and just breath into whatever shows up.

 

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Shake out the wrists once more. Similar to how we entered the previous two, this time we will focus more on the finger joints. Press the very top knuckles (closest to top of hand) at the earth and let the other fingers curl in. Try wiggling around the fingers here.

 

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Release the grip and then turn the pinkies in toward each other. Begin to press forward as if you were trying to reach the top knuckles toward the earth.

 

 

Back of Neck Release

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Come to seated and place a block horizontally where your neck will be when you lie down (you may have to adjust once you are on your back). Lay onto the block and make sure it doesn’t slip beneath you. 30 seconds

 

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If your neck feels good, begin to roll your head to the left and right. Keep it really gentle and slow like a deep tissue massage. Move mindfully.

 

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Once you feel balanced, release the block and take a few minutes reclined in Savasana.

 

 

 

Hope you enjoy! Feel free to leave comments/questions.

xo~ Nancy

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Play Your Edges

Hey lovely people!

Most of my blog content is now going to be posted LIVE over at inspireyoga.com/blog.

Today there is an article about “Playing Your Edges” aka – finding balance on and off the mat amidst a busy life. You can read it HERE.

Would love to hear your thoughts and own personal journeys on this topic. Leave me a comment and I will get back to you.

xo

Nancy

Not Feelin’ It? Try these 5 Motivational Boosts.

Not Feelin' It

Guys, it’s been a while! I’ve been busy doing exciting things over at inspireyoga.com. We now have a pretty spiffy blog up there as well where I will be posting some sequences and pose breakdowns. I will also be adding more content here since I have received so many loving comments and requests to write more. I’m here for ya! Just do me a favor and hop on over to Inspire Yoga to explore our blog and training programs. We’ve got some good things in store :)

 

So – how do we practice yoga, when we just aren’t feelin’ it?

1. Take a deep breath. Yoga started with simple breathing techniques. So why do we feel that we always have to do a handstand and a bind to practice yoga? Psh! All you need is a little pranayama and you’re good to go. What I love about breath is that it creates space within our bodies and our minds. When you practice these techniques (bee breath is my favorite) – you create the space for a fresh start, which is really what we need.

2. Rest. Yep, savasana is yoga. A lot of times we assume we have to do an entire practice to “deserve” it, but that’s just not true. You work hard at your job, being a parent, planning your day, …whatever your story it. And sometimes your body and mind just need to balance all the effort out with all the ease. So…take a nap. Veg on the couch. Turn off your phone. Hide in the closet. Just shut down for a few minutes.

3. Go on a walk. Nothing like the fresh perspective of going outside and simply putting one foot in front of the other. Just move your body a bit. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be yoga. If you have a pup, even better….take em’ with ya! My dogs always remind me to enjoy the little things. They get excited about every tree, every car, every gust of wind. It cracks me up.

4. Practice speaking truth over yourself. In other words, find a mantra that you need to hear. Something that you need to remind yourself of. Perhaps it’s “I am loved.” or “I trust”….just find something that resonates with your spirit. What does your soul need to hear?

5. Make a gratitude list. Naming the things you are thankful for is an excellent way to rediscover your passions, your values, your true self. Nothing helps me refresh my mindset and really set an intention like saying “thank you”. Try it!

Root Juice: Beet, Carrot, Grapefruit, Apple, Lemon

photo copyHappy Earth Day friends!

Here is the juice I made today. I decided I needed to juice a beet and some carrots to celebrate being connected to the ground I walk upon! I had never actually juiced a beat, but it was super easy. If you are new to it, just make sure you scrub down the outside first (I use a bamboo veggie scrubber brush from World Market). Cut off the stem and the base of the root and press it right in your juicer!

Here’s everything I had for this juice:

3 Carrots

1 Apple (any kind will do)

1 Medium Beet

1/2 Grapefruit

1 Small Lemon

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The benefits of root juice:

  • Enhances energy levels
  • Clears skin
  • Bone strength
  • Decreased risk for disease
  • Cleansing for the liver, kidney, gallbladder
  • Increased mental capacity

Yin Yoga: Hips & Hamstrings

piclabHappy Friday!

Today I wanted to share with you a sequence for your hips and hamstrings that I taught in class this week. It’s a great sequence for runners and cyclists to help loosen up those tight areas. If you do have tension in these parts of your body, there is a tendency to want to run away from the pose or fidget your way through the hold. Do your best to transform those moments into opportunities to lengthen the breath, soak up stillness and receive the gifts of the 1st chakra (root). With time spent in these poses you will begin to feel a sense of calm, patience, and willingness to savor the moment at hand. Enjoy!

Complete steps 1-6 and then switch to the other side of the poses.

Step 1. Cross Leg Fold | 4 minutes

Lately I’ve been trying to find ways to switch up poses that we are very used to. For your first pose, cross your ankles (right leg on top). Take a deep inhale, lengthen the heart forward as you begin to fold. When you feel a good amount of sensation, pause, relax the arms and forehead.

*If you need to, you can take your basic caterpillar pose (regular forward bend) here.

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Step 2. Sage Twist | 1 minute

Draw your right knee up, snug the outer ankle to the left thigh and plant the soul of the foot. Drop your right hand behind you like a kickstand and on an inhale lengthen the left arm for the sky. As you exhale, find your twist. 6 deep breaths. After the twist, take both hands off to the other side and counter with a few breaths folding to the left.

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Step 3. Reclined Pigeon | 3 minutes

From previous pose, begin to bend the left knee and bring the sole of the foot to the earth. Set up your right leg so that the ankle crosses over the base of the left thigh and flex the foot. Begin to recline. Reach through the legs with the right hand and to the outside of the leg with the left. You can hold onto the hamstring, shin or you are welcome to use a strap.

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Step 4. Figure 4 Twist | 2 minutes

Without changing the leg position, just release the arms out to either side of you. Drop the left foot back to the earth and walk it over to the left a few inches. Drop both knees to the right and send your gaze to the left.

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Step 5. Half Happy Baby | 4 minutes

Uncross the legs and hug both knees into the chest. Take a little bit of movement side to side, front to back, and then release the left leg out to the ground in front of you. Keep hugging in the right knee and then begin to reach for the outer edge of the right foot (your forearm will cross the shin). Imagine drawing the knee in toward your armpit and the sole of the foot is facing the sky. Do your best to keep the left leg grounded here. You can also bend the left knee and bring the soul of the foot to the earth.

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Step 6. Banana | 3 minutes

Release the right leg to meet the left and take a full body stretch. Begin to grab onto either elbow as the arms are stretching overhead and relax the arms to the earth. Take the left foot off of the mat at about 6-inches to the side. Keeping your hips where they are, begin to walk the upper body over to the left until you find a good stretch in a banana shape. You can also rest the left side of the face on the left arm here. Breathe deep breaths into the right side body. Notice the space you’ve created on this side.

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***Repeat Steps 1-6***

Step 7. Dragons | 5 minutes

Begin in tabletop or downward facing dog. Take the right leg to the sky and open the hip. Step the right foot in between the hands and drop down the left knee behind you. Allow your chest to rest on the thigh of the right leg and your gaze to be down. Taking 2 minutes in this position.

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If you feel open, begin to bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. To make space for your upper body, begin to walk the right foot over a few inches. If you can go further, begin to drop down to your forearms on a bolster, block or all the way to the mat (not shown). 2 minutes here.

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Whether you are on hands or forearms, begin to turn the right foot out about 45 degrees, flex the foot, then roll onto the outer edge of it. Make sure there are no wrinkles in the inner ankle to protect the joint. Your knee should be pointing in the same direction as the toes and there should be no pain. Take your right hand to the right knee and begin to twist and stack your shoulders on an exhale. If you would like to add a quad stretch, begin to bend the back knee and locate the foot with your right hand. You can simply draw the heel in toward your glut or kick into the hand to draw you into a deeper twist and backbend. 1 minute.

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Step 8. Half or Full Splits | 2 minutes

Release the back foot if you have it and square your chest back to the top of the mat. Both hands come to either side of the right foot and then take your next exhale as you begin to shift your hips back and straighten out the right leg. Flex the right foot to protect the joints and deepen the stretch.

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Take a childs pose for one minute to balance out before moving to other side.

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***Repeat Steps 7 & 8 on the other side***

Step 9. Savasana (however you’d like) | 6 minutes

When you are ready begin to make your way into your final pose of relaxation. You can set up for Savasana however you feel most comfortable and at ease.

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Namaste!

 

Downdog Breakdown

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{Downloadable PDF of this tutorial}

One of the most difficult things to understand when you first begin practicing yoga is the proper alignment in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). It is such a critical pose to understand in order to find ease in your flow practice. There are a lot of cues that you might hear in class from your instructor. Here are some important ones…

Starting with your base: Hands & Feet

1. Fingers spread wide, pointer finger forward. Make sure to root down through the pointer finger and thumb knuckles especially.

2. Feet are hips distance apart, sometimes a wider stance can grant more space in the low back if that area is tight. Heels draw in toward the mat.

Moving on up: Gaze, Spine, Ribs, Tailbone, Legs

3. Gaze shifts forward to the top of the mat (neck is long)

4. Internally rotate the “eye of the elbow” forward. If you are hyper-mobile in the arms, you will want to make sure you do not hyperextend here. This rotation will help lengthen through the shoulder blades and draw the shoulder heads into socket away from the ears.

5. Chest reaches for the thighs, but keep the low ribs drawing in toward the spine.

6. Slight tilt of the tailbone up to sky (to help lengthen hamstrings)

7. Legs are engaged, gently drawing the kneecaps into the base of the thighs. Engaged, not locked.

Common Mis-alignments:

1. Hand Position…

It is so crucial to have your hand in the right position. One of the main complaints I hear is of wrist pain in yoga. It’s usually because the student is unaware of their hand position in poses like down dog, plank, etc. Your hands are a very important part of your foundation in these poses. Picture three shows all fingers spread with the finger pads and knuckles rooting into the mat. This will protect the carpel tunnel region from getting all of the weight and will help you evenly distribute it throughout the hand.

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2. Rounded Spine….

This misalignment is usually caused by tightness in the shoulders and hamstrings. When these areas are tight, it is easy to try and compensate in the pose by altering the integrity of the spine to feel more supported. Unfortunately this rounded spine will do nothing for your growth in flexibility and feeling the expansion of the pose. A way that you can better modify the pose is by bending the knees and drawing the chest in toward the thighs. This will help you shift your weight away from the wrists.

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 3. Deeply Arched Spine…

This usually happens in students who are very flexible. I used to do this myself! I have really open joints in my shoulders and knees so I used to lock out my legs and dump into my shoulders (as you see in picture one). Students will think the goal of down dog is to get the head down to the mat because they see these hyper mobile students like this. It is a really bad position for your joints (especially the shoulders) and it does nothing to help activate needed muscles to transition into the next pose from down dog.

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A quick note on flexibility…

When you are really flexible, your goal should be to find places where you can balance out with strength. And vice versa…when you are tight, your goal should be to locate areas where you feel the sensation of flexibility happening. When you find that place of balance, you are able to transform physically and mentally. You will feel more in touch with your true self and will find areas to explore and grow in!