Happy New Year's, yogi friends. I hope you're doing something fun to ring in the new year!
Last year, the Hubs and I were watching fireworks over the water in San Francisco. We spent the day on my dad's sailboat in the bay and then walked around near Fisherman's Wharf. This year, we're enjoying a quiet and relaxing celebration at his family's home in northern Virginia. What are you up to?
One of my goals for the new year is to increase flexibility in my spine. I imagine this is true for a lot of you yogis, too, so this post offers a few reminders about how to do healthy and safe backbends whether you're new to yoga or you've been on the mat for a while.
One of the best things you can do as a beginner is to seek the guidance of a certified teacher. Yoga instructors with experience know how important it is to warm up the spine before attempting a deep backbend. During classes at a studio, you'll be able to engage in a smart series of postures to keep your spine safe, warming it up one vertebrae at a time.
Ever notice how in Bikram classes, you don't do camel or rabbit pose until the end of class? And in a Hatha class, you wouldn't do full wheel pose until you've done a bridge pose or two, right? Sequencing asanas this way allows you to ease into your spine's full flexibility.
Another important consideration, especially for deep backbends, is to utilize strength in other areas of your body -- namely, your core and legs. Look at the photo above, for example. When you're in full wheel, your arms, legs, and core are engaged fully so that your lower back doesn't have to take the burden of holding you up.
Similarly, in camel pose (below), you push forward with your legs, hips and glutes so that your low back doesn't feel the full pressure of the upper half of the body bending over.
Keep in mind, too, that your low back should feel long throughout the posture.
Let the fear go. Remember that backbend postures stimulate your nervous system, sending you into a "fight or flight" response. It's normal to feel dizzy, energized, emotional, or otherwise stimulated during these poses.
Begin to approach each backbend with curiosity and patience. Apply your yogic skill of observation and watch your energy as it moves during the pose. How do you feel after a backbend? Are you more awake and alert?
Can you encourage yourself to try holding a pose for 10-15 seconds instead of 5? Remind yourself that you are opening your heart to greater compassion and deeper love by the simple act of bending back.
Gradually work your way in using the breath, and try to allow yourself to enjoy the backbend. Before you know it, you'll be craving them on a daily basis.
Above all else, remember to give it time. Flexibility of the spine doesn't happen overnight -- it is a lifelong process. We spend so much time hunched in front of a keyboard or car steering wheel that it can take a while to reverse our tendency toward experiencing forward folds... but gradually, with persistence, you will find yourself arching backward gracefully with little resistance.
Want to learn more about backbends? Try this article from Yoga Journal, tips from another blogger, or Bikram's thoughts on how Bikram yoga can help heal back pain. Or learn more about how backbends open your heart.
One of my goals for 2012 is to eat better than I ever have before. I believe taking my yoga off the mat and into the kitchen will help me lead a healthier, happier life.
Will you join me in my wholesome eating adventure? I'm inspired and want to plan:
more entrees and snacks featuring vegetables,
and healthy drinks from the juicer/blender instead of sweets.
Here are a few recipes viaGood Mood Food (pictured above) to start out the year in a healthy, wholesome way. Keep an eye out for weekly posts featuring more wholesome recipes throughout the year, and please share your ideas in the comments below!
1 zucchini, cut in thin slices
1 eggplant , cut in thin slices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup quinoa
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 bunches mint leaves
1 bunch cilantro/coriander
3 tbsp raisins
2 avocados, cut into 1 inch squares
4 small spring onions, chopped
1 cup almonds, divided in half, roasted and salted
Start by making the marinated vegetables. Spread out the zucchini and eggplant slices on a bbq, in a grill pan or in the oven, a couple of minutes on each side. Put them in a bowl, drizzle olive oil, garlic and salt over them and set aside.
Cook the quinoa according to the package but add one tbsp cinnamon in the water. When it’s done cooking, rinse and set aside to cool off. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon and add five tbsp of olive oil into the quinoa. Chop half of the mint leaves, half of the cilantro and all the raisins, throw them in the quinoa and toss it around until everything is mixed. Serve in bowls together with the marinated vegetables, avocado, spring onions, the rest of the mint and cilantro and the roasted almonds.
Coconut Berry Smoothie
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup coconut water
1 frozen banana
a big chunk fresh ginger, minced
juice from 1 lime
2 tbsp coconut flakes
a handful of walnuts
Throw all the ingredients in the blender. Blend it for half a minute. Enjoy!
Alive in the Fire is an award-winning blog all about yoga, but we also love fashion, green goods, spa and massage, and creative companies with a passionate approach.
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For more info about the types of companies I've worked with in the past, see here. And for details on ad spots in 2012, email me at aliveinthefire at gmail dot com. Namaste!
Christmas may be over, but there's still wintery magic all around us. I love how at this time of year there are lots of sparkly lights to admire. Have you driven around your neighborhood to witness the enchantment yet? :)
Photos in the post via Pinterest, Flickr and Google Images.
Merry Christmas, yogis, friends, and lovely readers! I hope you are having a beautiful day.
I wanted to share a few heartfelt reflections today. This has been such a meaningful and compassion-filled week. I've been spending time surrounded by family -- sharing meals together, speaking openly, playing games, laughing, supporting each other, and just generally being close.
I've found it's the small things that are such wonderful reminders of what Christmas is really about -- talking to my nephew for the first time as he bumbles over little words and calls me "auntie," dancing with my brother in law and helping him build forts in the living room, sharing a kiss under the mistletoe with my husband.
This year, I have also been blessed to experience something I've always wanted to at Christmastime: the chance to give freely to a(n almost complete) stranger.
As many of you know, last year I embarked on a unique journey with 8 very special yogis all around the country. Through my blog, I decided to sponsor them and support their yoga journeys for the year. While I was able to offer them free classes, send them written support, and even mail some gear and goodies their way, none of those gifts seem as meaningful as this one.
This week, my heart went out to Beth, who lives in Missoula, Montana, and is having a very hard month. She recently lost her unborn baby. Hearing the news broke my heart, and I continue to grieve as I've followed Beth's poignant posts on her own blog. Every time I sit down to read her reflections and think about what she's going through, I've wondered, what can I do to help? Is there anything I can offer?
What can you offer to someone you hardly know who has just lost her child?
I pored over Beth's elegant yet agonizing words, admiring her as a woman and a writer during this difficult time. I was particularly struck by this passage:
This grief thing is so . . . strange. It’s hard and confusing sometimes, feels good other times, and is unpredictable all the time.
How can I tell of the complexity of hope and fear and doubt and love occupying my every breath? But it is one that every part of me longs to be answered.
There is love, and there is gratitude. After Eve died, everything was as easy as it could possibly have been. An unshakeable peace, a short labor, easy delivery, no complications, a quick-healing body, safety from postpartum depression — not to mention the courageous, empathetic love that our friends and family have surrounded us with since we invited them into our loss. God has not left us alone in this.
Reading these words, I was inspired by the way Beth could see the greater good within her struggle and how she has been able to recognize the power and grace of God even as she grieves.
What hard work that must be, I realized, scanning the words on my screen again. I bet she could really use some rest and relaxation after all that she's going through. And so I decided there is something I can offer Beth-- small and incomparable as it is in the face of her story -- but I went for it.
I sent messages to a bunch of massage therapists in the area, and found not one but two ladies (one from Healthy Hummingbird Massage and one from Red Willow Learning Center) who also know the true meaning of Christmas. They each quickly offered to give away an hour of their services for massage and holistic reiki therapy.
Simple, yet full of love: some bodywork R&R, a Christmas story worth remembering, and a glimmer of hope in a world that sometimes feels dark. Beth, these are my gifts to you.
Thank you for sharing your gifts of courage, honesty, and faith. Thank you for sharing the gift of love. Most of all, thank you for reminding us that it's OK if the holidays feel like a paradoxical time -- filled with love and hope and togetherness, and also a poignant sadness for those we've lost and can no longer enjoy them with. Thank you, Beth, for remembering that at Christmas, our God brings the ultimate gift of joy and grace, a pure hope in the form of a beautiful child, a hope that's worth holding onto.
PS Another inspiring quote from Beth's blog:
“Gifts of grace come to all of us. But we must be ready to see and willing to receive these gifts. It will require a kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of believing that, however painful our losses, life can still be good — good in a different way then before, but nevertheless good. I will never recover from my loss and I will never got over missing the ones I lost. But I still cherish life. . . I will always want the ones I lost back again. I long for them with all my soul. But I still celebrate the life I have found because they are gone. I have lost, but I have also gained. I lost the world I loved, but I gained a deeper awareness of grace. That grace has enabled me to clarify my purpose in life and rediscover the wonder of the present moment.” (Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised)