Monday, April 6, 2020

I Am Safe.

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In the midst of great uncertainty, there is much to be thankful for. Everywhere we look, people are helping each other, pulling together and being kind to each other. Maybe we are learning how to slow down, how to prioritize our lives differently. The whole world is connected, concerned and focused on a common goal.

How blessed we are to live in the age of technology, where isolation doesn’t have to be isolating, and where we have a chance to plan ahead and learn from what’s happened on the other side of the planet. We have an opportunity to save lives just by staying home. How incredible that our necessities, such as food and shelter, are still available even when it seems the sky is falling.

The sun continues to shine. The moon comes out at night, and the stars twinkle. For most of us, water still flows when we turn the tap, and the lights still come on at the flick of a switch. Do you notice these little miracles more keenly now? Do you see what a magical life we lead? Suddenly we hear the birds singing, their voices no longer silenced by the drone of highways and airplanes. Perhaps the air and the water are becoming cleaner too, as we are forced to finally reduce our carbon emissions in our quest to stay ahead of this disease.

Now is the time to surrender your fear to divine love. Close your eyes. Bring your hands to your heart. Call to mind something you love, anything that feeds your soul. Make a mental list of all that you are grateful for. Envision the sheltering arms of a blossoming weeping cherry tree over your head, protecting you from the elements. It smells of flowers and buzzes with bumblebees and humming birds. Say to yourself: Thank you for this new moment. I surrender my fear. I am safe.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Simple Yoga Duo For Full Body Strength

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This week’s yoga duo strengthens our wrists, hands and ankles while alternately strengthening and stretching our abdominal muscles. It also improves movement of the shoulder sockets, expands the chest, and tones the thighs and buttocks. The magic combination? Crab Pose (Purvottanasana or Front Body Stretch) to Balancing Stick pose (Danda Tulasana.)

To practice this enticing duo, see our video here. Begin in Stick Pose (Dandasana), seated on the floor with your legs outstretched and your hands placed on each side of your hips, away from your body. Bend your knees and place the bottoms of your feet on the ground. Exhale fully. On a deep inhale, lift the front of your body up to open your chest and throat to the sky. Inhale all the way, feeling your pectoral muscles and shoulders open wide. Exhale slowly as you drop your tail between your hands and roll from the bottoms of your feet to the backs of your heels. Press through your hands to keep your body lifted off the earth. Exhale all the air in your lungs by pulling your belly toward your spine and engaging your abdominal floor. On an inhale, roll back onto the soles of your feet and lift the front of your body to the sky to repeat. 

Do this duo three times or more before returning to Dandasana. Try adding an affirmation such as “I am healthy in body, mind and spirit.” Inhale as you think “I am healthy” and exhale thinking “in body, mind and spirit.” Namaste!

Crab Pose / Balancing Stick Graphic with Affirmation by K. Mae Copham. Video “Yoga Duo” by K. Mae Copham, shot by Robert Oakley in New Paltz, NY June 2019. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Yoga Duo To Release Stress

Some things just seem to work best in pairs. Think salt and pepper, bricks and mortar, the sea and the sky. Likewise, some yoga poses work well as a pair because they naturally create flow. Cat & Cow is the classic “yoga duo.” A fun and creative duo for releasing stress is Pigeon to Half Lord of the Fishes (the Sanskrit mouthful Eka Pada Rajakapotasana to Ardha Matsyendrasana.) Think birds and fishes.

Why does this Duo release stress? Pigeon Pose is a classic hip opener, and the hips are where we hold fear and anxiety. Half Lord of the Fishes is a twist, which naturally detoxifies. Check out this video or read on to learn how to practice this short and relaxing sequence. 

Start in Downward Facing Dog. Breathe in, raise one leg to the sky, then exhale your knee forward toward your wrist. Lay your leg on the floor so that your ankle is behind the opposite wrist. Slide your other foot back along the floor. Come up on your fingertips on a deep inhale, puffing out your chest like a pigeon. If it feels nice, breathe out, bend forward and rest your forehead on your hands or lengthen your arms. Breathe deeply here for as long as you like.   

To move into Ardha Matsyendrasana, come back up onto your fingertips. Swing your extended back leg around to cross your front bent leg at the knee.Squeeze your leg in close to your body. Keep your tail grounded and place the same hand as your top leg snuggly at the base of your spine on the floor. Inhale and raise your other arm to the sky, making your back long and tall. Exhale and bend your elbow, pressing it outside your bent knee. Gaze over your shoulder and press your elbow to your knee to make your belly twist like a sponge. Take at least 3 long breaths, lengthening as you breathe in, and twisting as you breathe out.

When you’re finished, uncross your top leg and swing it behind you. Catch your toe and release your bent leg, pushing back into an extended three-legged dog. Lower your leg and “duo” the sequence again on the other side. Take your time, luxuriate, and let it all go! Shanti. Peace.

Pigeon / Half Lord of the Fishes Graphic by K. Mae Copham. Video “Yoga Duo” by K. Mae Copham, shot by Robert Oakley in Pismo Beach, CA, October 2018.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

It’s Spring, Start Afresh!

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Spring is here. In many places the trees are budding, the grass is greening, spring flowers are blooming and the animals are shedding their thick coats of fur.  After the long, deep sleep of winter, nature is waking up all around us. The longer days arouse the senses and give us renewed energy to start afresh ourselves.

Like the breath of spring, yoga offers many wonderful ways to awake and renew ourselves every day. An easy and effective wake-up pose is a combination of two poses, Cat (Marjaryasana) and Cow Pose (Bidalasana), commonly called Marjaryasana when used together. Cat/Cow naturally awakens the spine by flexing it, opening and closing the spaces between the vertebrae at the front and the back. When combined with the breath, Cat/Cow is an effective way to generate more of that spring-like energy inside yourself.

Marjaryasana can be done in lots of different ways: on all fours, seated in a chair, or standing with your knees bent and your hands on your thighs. Inhale and drop your belly like an old cow, spreading the bones out in your chest as your shoulder blades kiss. Exhale and push your back upward like a cat, pulling your belly button toward your spine and lifting your pelvic floor. Do this at either a regular breathing pace, or super slow, or really fast if you’re looking for extra warmth and energy. You an even try switching the breath, so that you’re breathing out for cow and in for cat. Add a lion’s breath at the end of your cow for fun, sticking your tongue out and looking down at the tip of your nose as you let out a soft roar.

In the playful and regenerative spirit of spring, play with it! See what different variations and movements you can discover to help you wake up and get to know your body a little better today. Happy spring!

Here is a short video to demonstrate some of the variations in Cat/Cow Pose. 

Image: Collage of images colored by Miss Michele Palumbo by K. Mae Copham. Video shot by Robert Oakley in New Paltz, NY, April 2019.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Yoga's Most Excellent Pose

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There is a reason Side Plank (Vasisthasana) is also named “Most Excellent Pose.” It improves our core strength. It offers a way to practice our sense of balance in a non-threatening way (on the ground!) It strengthens our wrists and tones our arms. When we put it all together and add breath-work to the mix, it gives our mind something excellent to focus on. This short video will show you how to get in and out of yoga's Most Excellent Pose.

Begin in Plank Pose. You can get there from your hands and knees then stretch your legs out behind you, or walk your hands out from a forward fold. Breathe here, expanding your belly and ribs on each inhale, and pulling your belly toward your spine on each exhale. Shift your weight to one hand. Bring your feet together and drop back so your feet are stacked one on top of the other. Inhale and reach your free hand toward the sky. Lift your hips away from the ground and breathe deeply. 

If this pose is challenging for you, bend your top leg to bring your foot to the floor in front of your hip. This will give you the extra support you need but you’ll still enjoy all the benefits of the pose. When you’re ready, move back to plank, taking a break if you need it. Be sure to spend an equal amount of time on the opposite side. Excellent job!

Image: Most Excellent Pose from Yoga Teddy Bear’s Big Little Coloring Book of 108 PosesVideo by K. Mae Copham, shot by Robert Oakley, October 2018 in Pismo Beach, CA

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

More Yoga On Skis!

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Last month’s blog offered a short yoga sequence to try on skis. Here are two more poses for anyone who likes to play on skis and also has a strong sense of balance. The first pose could be called Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana). The second pose is a variation of King Dancer, Dancing Shiva or Natarajasana. These poses are an effective way to warm up for skiing because they stretch your hamstrings and quadriceps respectively. 

To practice these poses on skis, begin on a flat surface. If you’re on any kind of slight slope, stand at an angle so your downhill ski can get an edge. Plant your poles and lift your uphill ski to place your ski tail into the snow. Inhale and lengthen your spine, then exhale and fold forward, bringing your nose toward your knee. Reach your arms toward your feet and breathe here as your hamstrings relax. Come out of the pose by raising your torso and releasing your ski.

Next, plant your poles on your uphill side and shift your weight to your uphill ski. Balance here as you lift your downhill ski behind you so that your tip is facing backward. Grab the tail of your ski with your downhill hand and leverage your ski so that you lean forward with your uphill pole arm outstretched. Breathe here as your quadriceps relax.

Be sure to turn around and try Monkey Pose and King Dancer Pose on the other side, too. Happy winter! 

Image: The Letter K from Yoga Teddy Bear A-B-C. Video by K. Mae Copham, shot by Robert Oakley, Dec 2019 in Vail, CO.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Build a Bridge to Love

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When people say “build a bridge,” it’s often followed by “and get over it.” A bridge takes us from one side to the other.  Whenever we’re in a dark, fearful or sad place, building a bridge to a better place – a place of love, acceptance and receptivity - is something we can practice with our body, our breath and our mind.  Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) offers us a gentle way to open the heart center. Try pairing it with these affirmations to get yourself back to the other side when you need it.

To practice Bridge Pose, lay on your back. Bend your knees so that your feet are on the ground. Reach your hands toward your heels and try to grab them while using your legs to lift your hips toward the sky. Keep your knees in line like two train tracks. Inhale and lift your hips to curve your back like a bridge. If it feels nice, clasp your hands together underneath you. You can use the leverage of your shoulder blades squeezing beneath you to spread open your chest muscles. Keep flexing and lifting your thighs as you breathe deeply.

While breathing in Bridge Pose, choose kind words to speak to yourself. Some of my favorites are: “I am enough.” “All is well.” “I trust the process of life.” “I love and approve of myself.” Pick one short sentence, or even just a word such as “love” and mentally repeat it with each breath. By taking a little time to breathe deeply with an open heart while you speak kindly to yourself, you are building a bridge to love.