In honor of Memorial Day, Connect with your Inner Warrior

On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor those warriors who have given their lives protecting our freedoms that we hold so dear. I am also so grateful for today’s warriors, who have served our country (our veterans), or continue to risk their lives for our country.

So, what makes a great warrior?

Courage, Faith and a Sense of Responsibility.

These are qualities that we try and cultivate in our yoga practice.

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It is easy to build impervious walls and shield ourselves from “harm”.  It takes Courage to show up in your life, to feel and care for ourselves and those around us. On our mats, we find courage, not only in the challenging postures, balancing, inversions or whatever that may be for you, but also, and perhaps more so, in the stillness of Shavasana.

Faith is complete trust or belief in someone or something, sometimes trusting something not easily seen or understood. Our warriors serve with absolute faith that what they’re doing is right and in the best interest of our country. Connecting with your warrior requires you to believe in yourself and your unique gifts. When we develop our gifts, we are serving others. It takes faith (and courage) to show up on our mats, to consciously breath,to stand on one foot, to go upside down and to be still in Shavasana.


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Being a warrior means taking responsibility for your actions as they relate to others and the world around you. We all have a responsibility to live this life to the best of our ability. This means taking care of ourselves, our family, our neighbors, our Earth, our Universe. The principles of Yoga teach us to live a life of loving kindness, on and off the mat.

To all the Warriors,

Namaste

 

How to Avoid Yoga Injuries

Yoga is powerful medicine. We know that yoga is therapeutic and beneficial for many health issues, ranging from high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, chronic pain and depression. However, yoga, specifically the asanas (poses), like any physical activity can result in injury. 

With the growing number of yoga practitioners, the number of reported cases of yoga injuries has also risen. There are a number medical reports describing the potential injuries. In 2009, a New York City team based at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons published a worldwide survey of yoga teachers, therapists and doctors. The survey’s central question was “What were the most serious yoga-related injuries they had seen?” — The answers revealed that the largest number of injuries (231) centered on the lower back. The other main sites were, in declining order of prevalence: the shoulder (219), the knee (174) and the neck (110). Then came stroke.

The most common yoga injuries stem from inversion postures and forceful hyperextension of the neck that exceed your physical tolerance, but can occur with overstretching any muscle, cartilage, or ligament. Strokes, while rare,  can be caused by impingement of the basilar artery and extreme motions of the neck and head.

So, how do you keep your yoga practice safe?

In one word, Mindfulness. Mindfulness is Awareness. Yoga is first and foremost a practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is not just a practice of the mind. It begins with an awareness of the body. Being mindful in your yoga practice, you observe and respect that you have gifts and strengths along with limitations, that we change moment to moment, practice to practice, which requires us to shed comparisons, expectations, judgements and see ourselves for who and what we are in the moment.

Here are some tips for practicing yoga safely:

  1. Let go of Ego. Yoga should not be a competitive sport. You do not have to do, and should not do, what other students are doing if your body is not ready for it. Listen to your body and practice mindfully. Never force yourself into any position
  2. Connect movement with breath. Exhale on effort, inhale to relax (lift, lengthen, hold).
  3. Avoid hyperextension of the neck such as in Cobra, Camel and Anjaneyasana
  4. yoga-cobra1Use props and modifications. There is no shame in not being able to do the deepest expression of a pose if you have tightness anywhere in your body. Props and modifications allow you to experience the pose without overstretching and injury. Ask your yoga teacher about modifications that suit your body, age and health.
  5. Be careful with or avoid inversions, especially headstands.
  6. Rest. If you experience discomfort or injury, honor your body and rest; do not go back for more because your ego tells you that you have to take a yoga class 3 times a week. If discomfort persists, see a doctor
  7. Stay for Savasana. Savasana allows the body’s nervous system to slow down and relaxes the body

Namaste

Yoga Poses to Lower High Blood Pressure

Yoga, when practiced mindfully, can reduce high blood pressure by regulating the autonomic nervous system. It is the mind-body-breath connection that makes yoga so effective. While a general yoga practice is beneficial, some asanas are better than others for actually lowering blood pressure, and simple modifications of many poses make other asanas beneficial as well.

Start in Sukhasana (Easy Sitting Pose). This pose is relaxing and aligns the spine. Sit in a cross legged position. Ground down through the sit bones. Sit up tall. Neck should be in line with the spine and the shoulders relaxed. If the knees are above the hips, sit on a block or two, blanket or bolster. Rest the hands on your thighs. Close the eyes and take 5 deep breaths.


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Before moving on, I would like to introduce my Mom who will show that anyone can do yoga at any age as she demonstrates  the next few poses beautifully.

From a seated position, come to a tabletop – hands under shoulders, knees under hips. Push hips up into Adho Mukha Svasana  (Downward facing dog) .

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This pose looks like an upside down V with the body. Ground down through your hands, arms straight, relax the shoulders down the back, engage the core as the belly reaches towards the thighs. Its okay to have a slight bend in the knees, especially if you have tight hamstrings, but keep the legs engaged. The inner thighs rotate towards each other, the thighs back and the heels reach towards the ground. Relax the neck and take 5 breaths.

Standing Forward Folds may help lower blood pressure, especially if the head is supported.

From Downward Facing Dog, walk your hands back to your feet and you are in Uttanasa (Standing Forward Fold). Grab opposite elbows and dangle for a moment.

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Place your hands or fingertips on the floor next to your feet or on a block in front of your feet. Ground down through your feet and gently press the thighs back. You may want to place a block between your feet and in line with your big toes to support your head. Depending on your proportions and the flexibility of your hamstrings, you may need more or less support. Stack a couple of blocks, if necessary, or put the blocks or a folded blanket on the seat of a chair to rest your head. To come out of this pose, put your hands on your hips, engage your core, inhale, and slowly roll up.

 Prasarita Padottanasana (Standing Wide Legged Forward Fold) with Head Support if neeed. 

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Separate the feet about 4-5 feet; feet parallel to each other. Bend forward and place your hands on the floor. With a straight spine, slowly straighten your legs. Move your shoulders away from your neck, but let the head relax toward the floor. Lift your thighs firmly and press the thighbones toward the backs of the legs. The back of the neck should feel long and the chest broad.  To come out. place your hands on your hips, inhale, and come up.

Pashchimottanasana (Posterior Stretch Pose). 

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Sit  and extend your legs straight in front of you in dandasana (seated staff pose). Lift the sides of your torso up. If you find that you’re slumping backward, sit on a blanket. Extend forward and hold the outside edges of your feet with your hands. If you can’t reach your feet, hold a belt around the feet. As you inhale, lift the chest. As you exhale, begin to straighten your legs and press the thighbones toward the floor as much as you can without rounding your back. Relax the forehead and release the shoulders apart and away from your neck. Keep the back of the neck long and soft and relax your facial features. Hold for 5 breaths and then return to dandasana.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose).

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Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Extend your arms along the floor, palms flat (fingertips should graze your heels). Press your feet and arms firmly into the floor. Exhale as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.Draw your tailbone toward your pubic bone, holding your buttocks off the floor. Relax the glutes. Roll your shoulders back and underneath your body. Stay here or clasp your hands and extend your arms along the floor beneath your pelvis. Straighten your arms as much as possible, pressing your forearms into the mat. Reach your knuckles toward your heels.Keep your thighs and feet parallel — do not roll to the outer edges of your feet or let your knees drop together. Press your weight evenly across all four corners of both feet. Lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your knees. Relax your forehead, relax your throat and allow the tongue to drop away from the roof of the mouth. Close your eyes and hold for 5 breaths. To release, slowly roll your spine along the floor, vertebra by vertebra. Allow your knees to drop together.

Halasana (Plow Pose)


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Experiment with this pose using blankets, a bolster, and a chair for support. If you feel any discomfort, simply come out of the pose and rest in shavasana. Bend your knees toward your chest, lift your pelvis off the floor, and take your feet overhead, toes onto the floor, a block or the seat of a chair, toes curled under.Pressing your toes down, lift the fronts of your thighs away from your head and straighten your legs.  Keep your legs active but your head and neck passive, and your throat and face completely relaxed. To come down, bend your knees and slowly roll your upper, middle, and then lower back to the floor, keeping your head down.

Shavasana (Corpes Pose). 

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This is the most important pose and sometimes the most difficult. Lie on your back with your legs extended out in front of you and your arms by your side, as wide as you’d like. Allow the feet to drop open. Close your eyes and allow the full weight of the body to be supported. Scan the body for any tension and consciously let it go. Starting from the crown of the head, relax every muscle down to your toes. Stay here for as long as you’d like.

A few final comments: If your blood pressure is not well controlled, definitely modify the standing poses above with support. In general, modify any standing poses in which the arms are normally extended overhead (like Virabhadrasana or Warrior I) by placing your hands on your hips. In trikonasana or triangle pose, look down toward the floor instead of up at the ceiling to keep blood pressure from rising. Steer clear from poses that compress the front of the diaphragm, such as dhanurasana (bow) and mayurasana (peacock) which can drive blood pressure up. Anyone with untreated high blood pressure should avoid unsupported inversions, such as shirshasana (headstand) or adho mukha vrikshasana (handstand)-or any other pose in which they can feel pressure in the throat or head, or that causes respiration to become heavy or difficult.

This is Mom’s favorite pose – Plank. She held it perfectly for 4 minutes.

Thank you Mom for your beautiful light and energy.

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Namaste

Delicious Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure

“Let Nature be your Medicine” – Hippocrates.

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. High BP, otherwise known as Hypertension, is a huge problem which can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and death. The best way to manage it is to follow an integrative plan involving proper nutrition, exercise, stress management and prescribed medication when needed. Last week, we discussed stress management. Today, we’ll discuss all the cool foods that can actually lower your blood pressure, like medicine, but tastier.

Remember, SALT (Sodium) IS THE ENEMY. The American Heart Association recommends 1500 mg of sodium daily. Most Americans consume 3400 mg daily! Contrary to popular belief, the problem is not the salt shaker. Seventy five percent of our sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant food. It seems that salt is added to everything, not just the chips, cold cuts, canned soups, and frozen pizzas, but also the bread, cereal, pasta. So, start reading labels, and tracking your sodium consumption. There are a lot of cool phone apps that can help track sodium.

While sodium can increase blood pressure, potassium and magnesium can lower blood pressure. Thankfully, Mother Nature does not produce anything with sodium but produces many options high in potassium, magnesium and other beneficial compounds that can help lower blood pressure. Here are a few delicious and easy ideas.

1. Beets. Beets help the heartbeat! Beets are high in nitrates. Nitrates are converted by our bodies to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels, causing them to dilate. Nitric oxide also has anti-platelet properties which decreases clotting risk. End result is lower blood pressure . Don’t like beets 🙁 well try these other vegetables high in nitrates – radishes, celery, leek, eggplant, carrots. My favorite is beet and carrot juice. Check out your local juice bar for their version of beet juice – they all have one.

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2.  Garlic. The medicinal properties of garlic have been known for centuries. More recently, studies have shown that garlic supplementation, via the active ingredient Allicin, can significantly lower blood pressure. Other herbs that have been reported to lower blood pressure include ginger, turmeric, hawthorne, cinnamon (especially in diabetics), cardamom, and celery seed. Please be sure to tell your doctor about any and all herbs used regularly as there may be interactions with your medications.

3. Bananas. This yummy fruit  is rich in potassium. Who doesn’t like bananas?

4. Cashews and Almonds. These tree nuts are rich in Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is quite prevalent especially among Americans with high blood pressure. Replacing this magnesium, and eating a diet rich in Magnesium has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure.

5. Celery. Long used in Oriental medicine, studies now show that celery contains phthalides that dilate blood vessels and act as a diuretic, 2 mechanisms to lower blood pressure. Add it to your salad, eat it raw or juice it.

6. Speaking of juices, try Pomegranate Juice. Pomegranates are sweet and packed with potent antioxidants with many health benefits, one of which may be to lower blood pressure.

7. Green Tea and Hibiscus Tea. Also rich in antioxidants and delicious

8.  Kale. This superfood is rich in potassium, magnesium and Vitamin C. The same can be said for broccoli. Check out this Yummy kale, broccoli, chickpea, and almond salad. Drizzle with lemon juice and EVOO (also reported to lower blood pressure) and feel the blood pressure lower.

Broccoli-Salad

Enjoy these foods and Enjoy lower blood pressure! 

Don’t forget to breath and exercise regularly (5 days a week, 30 minutes a day)

Next week, I’ll discuss yoga postures for anyone with high blood pressure.

 

Namaste