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It’s Always Better After Yoga…

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its_always_better_after_yoga_mens_tshirtFor many years, after my yoga classes when students would say how great they feel, I have usually replied “It’s always better after yoga!” And we have laughed about how I should make that slogan into a t-shirt! Well, this year, I finally made one for the holidays!

Roseanne Harvey invited me to include my Yoga for Arthritis DVD in the new Holiday Gift Guide on her wonderful blog called “It’s All Yoga Baby”, so, my webmaster and friend, Garret, suggested I also create a new holiday t-shirt to offer with a discounted DVD! So, I did. To visit Roseanne’s blog, which I recommend, go to www.itsallyogababy.com.

Many of you probably aren’t aware that I used to be known as the “yoga t-shirt lady”! I had a line of Shoosh Designs yoga poses that I used to sell in the Yoga Journal in the 1980’s, when no one else had any yoga clothing. My most popular design was my Sun Exercises design with my trademark stick figures. I sold this design to yoga fans all over this and other countries! I made many yoga friends as a result of selling these shirts because I would make sure to look up any yogis who had purchased them when I happened to be going to their towns. I even learned of people who became friends when one was wearing one of my designs and the other recognized it because they had the same design! A little world of Shoosh Designs yogis!

And, now I have brought them back on Café Press as Designs by Shoosh. You can visit this site from the Home page of my website and click on the link. My new holiday t-shirt is available there.

The graphics on the design are brush-stroke poses that I created in a series a while ago, so I took 3 of these poses, Triangle, Boat and Trees, and reduced them in size to create this new design. I personally do not like “Christmas-y” stuff, so instead of being too obvious, I simply added red and green to part of the type. Hopefully, people will enjoy this for the holidays, but also not feel silly wearing it any time! And, of course you can see my Sun Exercises design there as well as the Dancer, Triangle and Warrior pose designs. For these other designs, Café Press offers choices for placement on more than just t-shirts so you can choose to place my graphics on mugs, sweatshirts, baby clothes, iPad covers, etc. Check them all out!!!

I just realized that this is my last blog for 2014. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and will have a happy and healthy holiday season. And, that you don’t forget to keep doing your practice!! After all, it IS always better after yoga!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

SUGAR RUSH AFTER HALLOWEEN

Yesterday was Halloween and there has been and will continue to be, candy everywhere we go! Candy for the anticipated eve, and then left over candy that didn’t get “treated”. So, what does that mean for our bodies?

I am not a doctor or nutritionist, but there is enough data that shows how terrible sugar is for us. Period. Yes, it can be delicious and feel like a reward and kids crave it, but why is that? Is it intrinsic or trained? My young 5-year old grandson prefers berries to any form of candy or ice cream. Gradually, however, he is being encouraged, not by his parents, but by the media and marketing of sugar-based foods to learn to want candy. After all, it is a treat, it is special, and who doesn’t want that? And, it is now in so much of our food, often unknown to us, that our bodies learn to crave it.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a respected source of nutritional information, says that sugar can have a negative impact on health that can accumulate over the years. In other words, starting kids early on their sugar cravings, then adding those extra doses in so much of our daily food, is a direct path towards poorer health with aging. He suggests instead of candy, eating fruit to satisfy a sweet craving.

Another school of thought, led by Dr. Eric Westman at Duke University, suggests that eating healthy whole fats, which the American diet has removed as a result of the low-fat industry, is an alternative way to keep your body satisfied. Many of the low-fat companies have added sugar to replace the fats and that just adds to the sweet cravings. Instead, Dr. Westman suggests eating macadamia nuts, lots of them until you are satisfied, or other whole fat-rich foods. He says this will help alleviate the sugar craving.

For Halloween, I used to give out boxes of organic raisins, or whole apples. Well, with the fears that parents now have about crazy people poisoning their kids, it seems that unpackaged foods are just tossed, unwanted. Personally, I have postponed the dilemma of what to give out, by going out trick or treating with my grandsons instead of staying home to give out treats. But, that does not solve the problem. Maybe pretzels? But, the gluten-free folks would not approve. So, what to do?

There are many theories and nutritional guidelines about diets, low and high fat, sugar, and so on. Yet, on Halloween, many of us will have at least some chocolate. Kids will inevitably overindulge (with their off-the-wall behavior paying for it the next day!) I guess parents should teach their kids that eating all this sugar should be a once-a year event, and teach their children that too much of anything is not a good thing.

So, enjoy the sugar rush, America. Tomorrow you can compensate with healthier foods once again. And check out the food labels to make sure what you are eating does not have any extra hidden sugars added, where you don’t want them!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

INNER THIGHS AND CORE STABILITY

The concept of core stability has always been important, but lately, it is very popular in most bodywork classes. Yet, the majority of students think that this concept relates to sit-ups and increasing the abdominal muscles. Building these muscles certainly is valuable, along with other trunk muscles, however, it is also important to acknowledge the purpose and value of the inner thigh muscles in relationship to core stability.

The inner thigh adductor muscles attach to the front of the pelvis at the pubic bone rim. Therefore, since they influence movement of the pelvis, they are important in helping to keep it stable. If one or more of the muscles is weak or too tight, then this could cause the pelvis to shift in a way that would make stability difficult.

Anterior_Hip_Muscles_2There are five inner thigh adductor muscles: pectineus, gracilis, and adductor brevis longus and magnus. (see graphic.) The gracilis is the longest of these five and it inserts at the top of the inside of the tibia of the lower leg. This means that it ends below the knee, which is what I want to focus on. This muscle not only helps to flex the hip joint, it also helps to flex the knee and when the knee is flexed, it also assists in rotating the leg medially (toward the center.)

Holding one-legged standing poses could be difficult and possibly damaging if the gracilis is not functioning adequately. It could cause the knee to be out of alignment and this, in turn, will affect so much of your posture! Focusing on strengthening that inner gracilis muscle in these poses would therefore be very useful. You can feel this muscle and tell whether it is soft or strong. Start in a standing position and hold onto the wall or chair top with your right hand. Bend both knees slightly (only a few inches) and lift your left foot off the floor behind you, keeping the knees parallel. To start with, try balancing without holding on and moving the right leg at the knee up and down just a few inches. If your balance comes easily and there is no wiggle in the hip or knee, then you are most likely aligned and stable, and already using the gracilis. BUT, if you are shaky or had difficulty balancing in this movement, then the gracilis needs help! Still in the same standing position on the right leg, take your left hand and place it on your inner right thigh. Make sure your standing knee is directly above your foot, which for many of you means you need to rotate the knee a bit medially (inward). You will be able to feel whether the gracilis is activated or not if it is soft or not. If it is soft, focus on tightening it by rotating slightly  inward until you feel the tension. Once you feel the strength of the activated muscle, try the up and down movement again, remembering to focus on keeping that gracilis strong and keeping the inner line of your knee in line with your naval. You should be able to feel a definite improvement in balance and movement. Now, repeat on the other side.

The key is then taking the information and awareness that you have just learned and applying it to other poses and movements. It can be a fantastic eye-opener when you realize that you have not been using this important muscle to help your core stability! Let me know what you discover when you try this exercise!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

Cycle of Life

The past few weeks have been very thought-provoking for me.  First, one of the most influential yoga teachers in my life (and in the world) passed away, B.K.S. Iyengar. Second, a new grandson was brought into our family. One passing and one welcoming.

There has been an enormous outpouring of comments, recollections, photos, and articles about how Iyengar Yoga has been and is so important to the immense growing popularity of yoga in the west. In 1976 I was encouraged by one of my teachers, Ganga White, to study in Ann Arbor, MI with many people who were responsible for bringing Mr. Iyengar to this country.  There was no such thing as “teacher training”, but I moved to Ann Arbor and took 5 hours each day of classes from a variety of teachers, including Mary Palmer, whose daughter Mary Dunn became a much admired yoga teacher.

I loved my classes in Ann Arbor and stayed there for months. The teachers there taught me whatever they could and I spent hours more each day practicing what I was learning. That was my introduction to Iyengar yoga.

I continued my own studies with many more teachers, many among whom had become senior Iyengar teachers along the way.  I also, however, enjoyed studying with teachers from different backgrounds. But I never forgot or ignored my “Iyengar roots”.

Some of the articles and blogs sum up many aspects of what impression B.K.S.Iyengar leaves behind and also what his legacy will continue to be.  His passing also caused me to look back at my own life as a yoga teacher. I hope I have inspired many to find their own yoga paths, as my teachers always encouraged me to do.

And, yesterday, after a struggle with many complications and “against many odds”, my incredible daughter-in-law (and her husband, my terrific step-son) gave birth to a beautiful boy.  Adding this blessing into our family, this new life full of potential and love, brought the cycle of life full circle. Passing and welcoming.

I have much to be thankful for: I am lucky to have been influenced by the vision of yoga that Mr. Iyengar created and developed. And, I am lucky to have a new member of our family. The cycle of life…

So, maybe take a few minutes to look at your life, appreciate what you learned from those you have lost, but also cherish those who are sharing it with you now.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

Listening with New Ears

Recently, I have noticed that out of habit, I sometimes find myself not listening to each word when someone I know speaks on a topic that is familiar. I find myself filling in the blanks with my own directions and often it is not until much later that I realize I have not processed the conversation or lesson thoroughly. The same is evident with my yoga students. They have heard me telling them to focus on their breath, to expand their ribcages, to relax their shoulders, etc, and often really do not HEAR me any more.

This has become more evident to me since my last blog on the psoas. I have been getting comments from students about it, and from others who also read it, saying how this was wonderful “new” information. Yet, in every class, I always stress the importance of these muscles, describe where they are and what they do. But, obviously the words are floating above some students while they are focusing elsewhere.

I once had a long-time student who, while I was away on vacation, finally went to another teacher’s yoga class (which I always encourage!) He reported back to me that this particular teacher was so informative, focusing on the hamstrings. That was somewhat surprising to me because I also always do hamstring stretches in every class and always comment on how important these big muscles are to posture, and so on. So, it made me realize that after hearing me say this for 10 years, or so, he no longer really was hearing some of what I was saying any more.

What I am finally realizing is that after many years of being in my classes, the students have heard me talk and now often tune me out? YIKES! So, what does this mean? Should I review my teaching style? Should I try harder to make myself heard or understood? OR, do these students just need to move on to another teacher?

So, to other yoga teachers, I think we need to make sure our students are absorbing what we are saying. Try to vary routines, phrasing, and create situations where you can see exactly what your students are absorbing! To students, it is important to shake it up a bit. Do not get too complacent with one teacher. You need to get rejuvenated and re-inspired and sometime other classes are what is best. And, you just might learn that you prefer the original class after all, but when/if you return, you might just listen with new ears.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

Salutations to the Sun

Throughout history, cultures have had a reverence for the sun, which continues today. As yoga students and teachers, we are certainly reminded daily through our Sun Exercises, or Surya Namaskar, of the power of the sun. Personally, I have always loved and appreciated the basic series as well as the growing sequences of variations. I include them in all of my classes, even those where the students are seated. (See my earlier blog on how to do my Seated Sun Exercises, 11/2013.)

I am traveling these days and in the Old Town of Zadar, Croatia, there is an artistic solar display aptly called “Salutation to the Sun.” It is colored glass above small solar panels in the cement of the sea wall area that is about 72 feet in diameter. It produces enough energy to light the harbor area around it! Tourists flock to see it and children play on the surface. At sunset, it glows. Everyone thinks about the sun, it’s power and beauty. Another modern ode to the sun.

Everywhere, even in this small Croatian town, I found a familiar place…

So, wherever you are, when watching a sunset or sunrise, when enjoying a beautiful sunny day, when moving through your Surya Namaskar series, take a moment to appreciate the power and smile and feel that bond with others who salute the sun.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

Relaxing the Psoas

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The Psoas

The psoas muscles are a popular topic among yoga teachers these days (and with good reason!) We have come to realize their importance and many of us have begun to recognize how much we have not known all these years! The psoas muscles (one on each side of our bodies) attach at the inner part of the spine from T12 to L5 and connect to the leg, through the abdominal core where it then attaches at the inside of the thigh bone (see graphic.) For those who are still not aware of why the psoas is important, here is a terrific description written by Liz Koch*. She is the “psoas lady” and I went to her personally for some sacral joint pains about 20 years ago, at which time she opened my eyes and hips to what the psoas is and does. I think of her often in relation to my pelvic positioning and I found an article on line that she wrote for Yoga Journal** that goes into wonderful detail on the psoas. In this article she says the psoas is a “bridge linking the trunk to the legs, … is critical for balanced alignment, proper joint rotation, and full muscular range of motion. In yoga, the psoas plays an important role in every asana. In backbends, a released psoas allows the front of the thighs to lengthen and the leg to move independently from the pelvis. In standing poses and forward bends, the thighs can’t fully rotate outward unless the psoas releases. All yoga poses are enhanced by a released rather than shortened psoas.“ I find that most people want to stretch the psoas rather than release it! So, below is an exercise to begin psoas awareness and release.

In my classes, I have found a simple and easy way to let students see for themselves what a released, relaxed psoas feels like. To start with, refer to my Blog from JULY 1, 2013 on THE PELVIS. This will teach you how to lie on your back with the pelvis properly aligned for the following movements. Once you are in this aligned position, then, begin by bringing both knees into your chest. Then extend your arms forward until they are straight, moving your knees forward away from your shoulders, until you feel the full weight of your legs in your fingertips. Notice the jelly-like, softened feeling in your belly since your hands are doing much of the work of your hip flexors, which can then relax. Keep your left hand and leg stable, and let the right foot drop to the floor, keeping the knee bent. Bring your right hand down to the floor by your side. Be aware of the balanced feeling in your pelvis and keep it stable, and relaxed as you inch the toes of your right foot forward just a few inches. Stop, take a breath, and on the exhalation, let your muscles soften and relax. On the next inhalation, move your right foot forward a few more inches. Repeat the breathing and movement 2 more times. At this point, your knee is still bent, but you have moved your foot forward about 12-18 inches. Now, flex your right foot and visualize a 5-pound bag of rice placed on your right knee. Feel how heavy it becomes and let the weight of the rice bag very gradually lower your knee toward the floor, until your leg is completely straight. Liz just explained to me by phone today that when you use this visualization, it allows you to relax the hip flexor muscles in your thighs (the quads). And, overactive quads, which are very common and result from incorrect pelvic alignment, cause tensing of the psoas to balance out their movement. Therefore, to relax the psoas, you need to relax the quads. Next, relax your right foot, and note the beautiful lengthening you can feel in your right hip area. THIS is a lengthened and relaxed psoas resulting from relaxed quads. Ahhhh. Keep the right leg relaxed and repeat the sequence with the left leg.

I always enjoy doing and teaching this exercise. Give it a try and I hope you also find it helpful! Check out Liz’s website (below) and if you get a chance, take one of Liz’s Core Awareness workshops to really learn more about the psoas.

If you have any question or comments, feel free to write on my Ask Shoosh page, or email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

* Here is Liz Koch’s website: www.coreawareness.com

** Here is the link to the Yoga Journal article: http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/170

Relaxation and Stress Reduction for Fibromyalgia

It’s that time of year again when those with fibromyalgia (FM) are recognized and information is given to help promote an understanding of this often debilitating condition.  Last year, around this same time, I wrote a blog on fibromyalgia, since May 12th is National Fibromyalgia Education and Awareness Day.  I have been working with yoga students who have FM since 1996*.  This condition exhibits a broad array of symptoms and there is no cure, but yoga has been shown to be of great value in providing empowering tools for those with FM.

In this blog, I want to discuss the importance of relaxation and stress reduction for FM.  There has been much research that confirms the importance of stress reduction in relation to health, but this is especially true with FM. Coping with this condition is in itself stressful, besides trying to manage the symptoms.

People often want to do too much and push too hard beyond what their bodies are telling them is healthful.  There are many poses that can be beneficial for FM, but in our busy lives, we forget to STOP and listen to what our bodies need.  Instead we strive and work too hard or move too much, when instead, putting our legs up a wall, resting on our backs would be the absolute best thing to do.

Yoga is not just contorted positions and flexibility exercises, balance, etc.  In fact, the more one practices and ages, it becomes apparent that we tend not to hear ourselves very well. We listen outside and often ignore our own signals to slow down.  Well, it’s time to start listening better!

One of my favorite relaxation poses is the one lying on your back and putting your legs up a wall (Viparita Karani).  Get comfortable by putting a pillow behind your head, or some blankets under your trunk, whatever feels best for you. If it is not easy for you to put your legs up that high, rest your calves on a chair or couch instead, with your knees at a 90-degree angle.  Put on some of your favorite music, or just close your eyes and breathe.  Rest in this position for at least 10-20 minutes, every day! Choose a time, maybe mid-afternoon when your energy level is low, and enjoy. Let go of any residual guilt you may have for taking this time.  Look forward to this gift of quiet that you can give to yourself in your busy life.  Do the yoga your body needs.

If you have any question or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.

*  In 2008 Rodmell Press published my book, Yoga for Fibromyalgia: Move, Breathe & Relax to Improve Your Quality of Life.  If you are interested, you can get it at Amazon.com

April Fools’ Day

I have been lucky enough to travel to many parts of the world.  For my 60th birthday, my husband and I went to Bhutan.  On April 1st, while there, the local children played silly jokes on us and said, in English, “April Fool!”  It seems this day is a universal day, even in many places as far away as Bhutan in the Himalayas, to smile and be silly and laugh.  (Or, as Mark Twain said, a day to recognize how foolish we are on the other days of the year!)  Well, April 1st is also my birthday. This year, I am 64 and I keep hearing the old Beatles tune playing over and over, and children still play silly jokes on me to make me smile.  So, upon becoming 64, I find myself being reflective.

When I was 21 I was introduced to yoga while traveling around by myself in India.  I remember that the idea of being 64 seemed so distant and irrelevant.  However, I now look back and wonder what my life would look like if I had not begun my practice then!  What condition would I be in, physically, mentally?  In what ways would I have traveled a different road and where would it have brought me?

I am thankful that I met the people who themselves were intrigued with the poses and the philosophies of yoga in such a way that it also attracted me to begin my own yoga path.  And, since I have now been teaching yoga for a few decades (almost 40 years!) I hope that I have inspired others to begin yoga paths of their own.

With age, my practice also has changed, as my body has.  I think this has made me a better teacher.  Recently I saw a blog where a yoga teacher was saying that many senior yoga teachers (such as myself, I guess) did not attract as many students at some popular centers. Her solution, as a businesswoman, was to let those teachers go.  My suggestion instead was to charge more for the senior teachers.  We have more life experience, more years of working through many different challenges both our own and those of our multitudes of students. This should be worth more!

Well, I have a feeling my suggestion was not welcome. But, we senior teachers know that these younger teachers will also age and their bodies will change and maybe their practices will also.  Since yoga has become so popular, there are many more young teachers, which is just wonderful, and right now, we seniors are definitely in the minority. But given time, all these young teachers will become seniors as well and the yoga world will continue to evolve.

Meanwhile, I will try to get that Beatles song out of my head, will continue to smile and enjoy the silly pranks of kids saying “April Fool” and will continue teaching yoga and appreciating the passing of each year with the promise of each new year.  Happy April Fools’ Day, to everyone!

If you have any question or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com or comment on Facebook at yogawithshoosh.  I welcome all your comments and will reply promptly!

Seated Hamstring Stretch

hamstring_stretch_w_shooshAlmost everyone has tight hamstrings. Of course, “tight” is a relative term, and some will appear to be more flexible than others. If you sit all day, the muscles shorten in the flexed position of the knee and hip, and get tight. If you walk or exercise a lot, the muscles are constantly being worked, and tightened.  So, those three big muscles on the backs of the thighs are always being tightened. The only time they get relief is when you are lying down, relaxing, or when you make a conscious effort to release and stretch them!

The hamstrings can inhibit pelvic movement since they attach to the sitting bones (ischial tuberosities) at the base of the pelvis.  When they are shortened from being tight they pull down on the angle of the pelvis and do not allow it to tilt properly. This then affects posture. So, making sure there is enough length and flexibility in the hamstrings to allow movement in the pelvis is very important.

Since I like to stretch my hamstrings and am constantly reminded of their tightness in most of my daily activities, I do a variety of movements that stretch them in my classes, either through poses or basic stretches.  There are many complicated poses and intense movements that can accomplish this stretch, but one of my favorites is the Seated Hamstring Stretch.

Begin by sitting on the edge of your chair, with your pelvis stable and aligned so it is not tilting back behind the sitting bones.  Extend your right leg straight out in front of you, keeping your left knee bent at a ninety degree angle.  Flex your right foot. Place both hands on the creases where your hips flex, with your thumbs behind and your fingers aligned with the crease. This position of your hands helps you to focus on where you will be moving:  from this hip flexion (not from the spine.)  Often people have too much back involvement in their forward bends so this awareness can help to prevent you from leading with your head and curving the back.  Inhale and sit up tall, lengthening your spine. As you exhale, bend at the hips going forward only a few inches. Most people will be able to go a few inches while keeping their spines long. Inhale and once again think about lengthening your spine, all the way to the top of your head. Then, as you exhale, allow yourself to relax and move forward, still keeping your spine long.  (In other words, do not lead with your chin and shoulders.)  Then, once again, inhale, lengthening the spine, and as you exhale, go as far forward as you can without moving from your middle back.  Feel the wonderful stretch behind your right thigh (the hamstrings) and also by flexing the foot, you will feel it in the right calf as well. Hold this pose for three more breaths. Then, inhale and sit up and return to your starting position, switching legs and repeating on the other side.

Because this seated stretch can be done almost anywhere, such as at your desk at work, there is no longer any excuse NOT to stretch your hamstrings! On those days when you just don’t feel like getting onto the floor, remember this variation and try incorporating it into your daily life!

If you have any question or comments, feel free to email me at shsh@yogawithshoosh.com.