We’re flying at 30,000 feet and we’re about ready to…TO LIVE!
The first moment that I felt any sense of calm of airplane in 10 years was a monumental moment. I looked out at the clouds after having some pretzels and marveled at the sense of peace that had alluded me. But it wasn’t always this way…
Fear started to build months before boarding an airplane. I would have panic attacks. Just thinking about boarding a plane made me sick to my stomach. I had dreams and nightmares regarding flying. And this all before even getting to the airport.
At the airport, panic elevated. I couldn’t eat when I needed to because the elevated anxiety had made my stomach so upset. My heart rate was elevated. Still not on the airplane…
On the plane, I felt like I couldn’t move or even look around. Hands clutched the arm rests. Whether or not the air craft was hot, I sweat buckets. I counted the seconds to landing again. Don’t even ask about turbulence.
The fear was a vicious circle of panic. It was not a way to live. I almost backed out of several trips. Fear of flying was preventing me from traveling to places I wanted to go and people I wanted to see. I also didn’t want to have to use alcohol or anti-anxiety drugs to control my fear.
Enter Yoga Tune Up® teacher training, I did this as a challenge for my 40th birthday. Little did I realize that it would complete me as human being not just as a “mover.” Learning how to down regulate myself helped me to calm anxiety, fears, and calm myself without external chemical implements.
Last week, I discussed my newfound awareness of the core in its entirety at the the Yoga Tune Up® Core Integration Immersion. This week, I’ll discuss how I came to terms with all of the incredible things my core can do for me, and let go of the shame I felt for my belly.
Honor the Curve of Your Spine
Since my very first days practicing yoga, I had appreciated the notion of awareness through various meditative practices involving the breath. I was getting better at sitting or lying down and focusing on the in and out of my breath. But the core immersion took me to a new and unexpected place. I don’t believe that before the core immersion, I had actually been aware of my spine. I knew in general that the core was not one thing, but many things, I knew, intellectually at least, that it was composed of the entire mid-range set of muscles that surrounded my core like a cumberbund: the rectus abdominis, of course, but also, the transverse abdominis, and the internal and external obliques. But my spine, awareness of my spine? That was something I had never, ever contemplated.
I somehow thought that this circular band of muscles woven through and hydrated by our precious fascia was all that was necessary to support the spine.
After each series of breath-filled movement, we lay on our backs and “checked–in.” Encouraged to notice my spine, I now felt the lumber curve as more curvy and more alive. My thoracic spine, surrounded by my upper back, spread deliciously onto the mat with more assurance and my cervical spine, or neck region seemed more relaxed. And my lower, front ribs seemed to relax down as well.
Breathe. Check in. Stabilize. Repeat!
The Most Coregeous Abdominal Muscle of All
Each day of the immersion began with an exploratory class that surprised and delighted. We found our innermost abdominals by resting our bellies on the Coregeous® ball. But we also used The Roll Model® Therapy Balls to release intercostal tension and to mobilize rib joints, which would improve our breathing mechanics. We did leg lifts on blocks with arms outstretched to lengthen, strengthen, and connect our breath with the central chassis of the spine. Lying on our sides we used the “Magician’s Assistant on a Ledge,” to strengthen and lengthen deep lateral stabilizers like the quadratus lumborum. Throughout all of this 360-degree movement that both lengthened and strengthened, I learned that the diaphragm was the body’s MVP.
Perhaps my biggest Aha! moment in the core immersion was that I could use my breath as a mobility tool. Certainly muscles stabilized the spine. I knew that, at least at some basic level, when I entered the immersion. But leaving the immersion with this new, very big idea about the breath and the function of the diaphragm was really a game changer for me personally and for how I design my Yoga Tune Up® classes.
We laid on the floor – all of us on our bellies – looking down at an illustration of the diaphragm in our well-worn anatomy book, the Trail Guide to the Body and then we looked up at the much used skeleton, draped with multi-colored elasta-bands. We could see, now, how stabilizing the core happened from the inside, specifically inside the ribs, with the movement of the diaphragm.
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I have been ashamed of my belly my whole life. There, I said it. And even as I write these words, tears begin to well up in my eyes. Will I never get past this feeling of inadequacy and shame?
Find out how I found the courage in my core in this two-part post on the Yoga Tune Up® Core Integration Immersion. One of the foundational YTU immersion trainings.
I arrived at Kripalu last August, my too-large belly tucked and belted firmly into my high-waisted stretch jeans, wondering what Elizabeth Wipff’s “Core Immersion: Total Abdominal Awakening” could do for this unsightly bulge.
In my younger days, I didn’t even know how I felt about my belly. It was there. It was ugly. It was my enemy. If I couldn’t make it go away, I could try to control it.
I sucked it in. I did crunches. One time I ate grapefruits for 3 days and another time I ate hard-boiled eggs for three days. I exercised and exercised and exercised some more. I punished my belly for being inadequate. I distanced this part of my body and considered it broken, irreparably broken.
And, as I learned more about nutrition, I came to understand that my “jelly belly,” as my kids lovingly called it, was the result of metabolic and hormonal disarray. My unalterable apple-shaped midsection resulted from my slow thyroid, my near-constant high stress life-style, and, perhaps insulin resistance, which turned me into a fat-storing machine. But there was much more to learn.
My Belly was a Body Blind Spot – Abused and Overused but still Numb
Even with this relatively new awareness of my belly, it was still, for me, what Jill Miller calls a body blind spot. My belly was a source of inappropriate attention. I fussed about my belly. I looked for quick fixes. I clicked on every Internet sidebar that offered five foods not to eat.
What I was not doing, even after all this time, was connecting to my belly in a way that could help me design “a new normal” – a way of understanding how my belly was not a separate and numbed-out body part, but was instead an integrated piece of my whole being, both body and soul.
Breathe. Sometimes you need a reminder.
Kripalu Means You’ve Arrived – Permission to Feel
This was my second trip to Kripalu after completing the Level 1 certification training and I knew that as my shuttle turned right off the main highway, heading down the steep grade toward the red brick Kripalu campus that I would be in good hands, no matter what. I smiled when I saw the sign by the road that said, “Breathe, You’ve Arrived.” Three meals a day I didn’t have to prepare. All the vegetables I could eat. And, peanut butter and jelly, when absolutely necessary. I had checked in, connected with old friends and now, finally, seated on my mat, and wondered what was in store for me – and my belly — during the next five days. (The core immersion is a bit longer than usual at Kripalu.)
We began our first evening with introductions. Nancy Bellantoni, who would assist, told us about her competitive sailing activities and how Yoga Tune Up® and The Roll Model® had provided much needed support for her overworked body.
Elizabeth Wipff, our lead immersion teacher, helped us to connect with our Sankalpas, our mindset mantra. This was new to folks who hadn’t been at the Level 1, but for me, I easily remembered my own simple Sankalpa that had supported me so profoundly during the Level 1 training, “I am supported on my journey.” Each time my frisky brain decided to do a nosedive into some old, useless, thought patterns, I used my Sankalpa to pull myself to safety. Read the rest of this blog post »
The time has come…to tune up your life! Eradicate pain, improve your posture, and enhance your performance with The 10 Days of Yoga Tune Up®. Follow along on social media for the next 10 days, and give these techniques a try.
Refresh your morning routine by adding in some quick-fix moves. If you can make time to brush your teeth, you can surely fit in a quick fix. Just 5 minutes of rolling in the morning can make a difference. YTU Teacher Max Bayuk will give you some guidance on where to start.
The Yoga Tune Up® Sidewinder Minivini accomplishes both strengthening and stretching goals in one fell swoop – check it out! In addition, if integrating quadratus lumborum (QL) stabilization with core and upper body strength is the goal, explore variations of rotational movement in Vastistasana (Side Plank). To massage the QL use the YTU Alpha Ball – its broader surface offers the perfect distribution of pressure to target and address the unique QL tissue size and shape.
Our “real” post for the week will come on January 1, when we release a series of movements to start your new year right with The 10 Days of Yoga Tune Up®! Follow along on social media for our 10 daily posts.
December, one of the most festive and joyful time of the year, but also a period full of long to-do lists, waiting lines and holiday travel mishaps. The key to maintaining balance and keeping energy levels up, is to make time for self-care activities that can help you unwind, relax and recharge. The following five tools will revitalize you this holiday season!
One of the fastest ways to down regulate is to take a moment and just breathe. Slow, deep abdominal breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which controls your parasympathetic nervous system. Since the vagus nerve runs through your diaphragm, a dome shaped muscle that’s situated in your ribcage, engaging this muscle during belly breathing will result in a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. It will also aid digestion. All of which result in a sense of calm and relaxation.
Lie down on the floor (or in bed) or find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. As you inhale engage your diaphragm by drawing it down towards your abdomen. As you exhale just observe how it settles back in under your ribcage. (Placing a hand on your belly can help reinforce this movement.)
Use the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls to help you relax and recharge. The following sequence can be done anywhere, anytime – no appointment necessary! If you have 10-15 minutes to spare, do them all. If short on time pick one…
Lie down on the floor with your knees bent and your arms by your side. Place a pair of original Yoga Tune Up® balls on your upper trapezius on either side of your neck and just let your body settle into the balls. Stay for a minute or two and just breathe. (If you would like more pressure, place a block under your sacrum.)
Place the balls in their tote and lie down with a block under your head. Place the balls on top of the block on set the base of your skull on the balls. Massage your sub-occipitals either by remaining still or by gently moving your head from side to side or up and down. Stay for approximately two minutes.
Lie down on your side and place a Yoga Tune Up® ball on a block. Set your masseter muscle on top of the ball. Move around to strip or cross-fiber the masseter or remain still for a sustained compression of the muscle. After 1-2 minutes move the ball up to your temporalis muscle and repeat the self-massage treatment.
If the winter weather has you dreaming of warmer activities, you may enjoy the continuation of our mountain biking adventures!
In my previous post, I outlined the geekery that occurs in your body in order to be stable on top of a mountain bike. Today, I am happy to introduce some of my favorite Yoga Tune Up® practices to assist so many aspects of your riding experience.
Let’s start with Frog Crawls! Performing this movement builds a bridge between the right and left hemispheres of your brain, which is essential for physical adroitness and hand eye coordination, a necessary component for the trails. We are contralateral beings in our neurological organization, and feeling a bit off kilter is not conducive to riding which requires acute focus. I find Frog Crawls to be essential as a part of my body/mind/spirit constitution for riding.
On a musculoskeletal level you are keeping the spine in Tadasana, stabilizing with the core postural muscles mentioned earlier, while propelling yourself forward with the deep hip flexors. This crawling pattern simultaneously stabilizes the pelvis while mobilizing the shoulders, and spine, and simulates the movement needed to maneuver your bike while staying upright, perfect training for your outdoor experience.
Be a supple amphibian with YTU Frog Crawls.
Another strengthening posture is Warrior 3 Squats. These focus on glutei, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, core and low back. The thrusting motion is so similar to the power phase on your bike. The arms are alongside your ears which automatically requires you to turn on the abdominals to stabilize your back in this long lever. (If you are one who needs special precautions with, or lack strength in your back, I recommend keeping your arms at your side). I like that one leg is used at a time, forcing it to support the load independently. Enlightening you and helping to correct any muscle imbalances as one side may be quite different than the other.
Now to open some areas that may have become hypertonic! The buttocks, and psoas to name just a couple.
Give your hips life with Asymmetrical Uttanasana!
Asymmetrical Uttansana is an awesome opener addressing the hindmost of your rear, and as a bonus if your walking stance is feet turned out this could help to realign your legs and ease the lowest part of your back. You will start in a forward bend or Uttanasana with knees bent one foot is on a yoga block (feel free to use a block turned higher for your hands—you may need it!) lean body weight forward to straighten both knees, walk your hands diagonally, and lean toward the hip (block side), then hands go to the other side. This can be a delicious stretch especially if your upper body gives into gravity, while engaging the front of your thighs encouraging hamstrings to open.
Apanasana on a block with one foot at the wall will offer great benefits, disentangling tightness which may have gathered in your psoas and all hip flexors. Lie supine, place your block on its lowest level, and your sacrum upon it, extend your leg, keep a parallel position, and your foot on the wall. Hold onto your other knee and pull it deeply into chest, keeping that side of your waist long, maintaining alignment of sitting bones. To get even added benefit try a PNF by pushing your foot isometrically up the wall.
And maybe there are those rides when you just want to come home and lay on your booty on your YTU Therapy Balls and strip across your glutei.
Yoga and Yoga Tune Up ® can be like health assurance because the work we do on the mat to focus on breath and cultivate a mind body awareness can be transported to the bike to maintain a strong AND supple body, a calm confident mind, improved coordination, capacity, and laser-like clarity.
Life gets busy! No matter what season we are in, it’s easy for our schedules to get out of control. During this time of year it can be even more challenging to carve out time to care for our body and mind. Sometimes we just give up on this idea until January but it shouldn’t be that way!
There are many simple ways to care for yourself and decrease stress even when you don’t have much time to spare. Most of these tips can be incorporated without taking time from your day, and others take a just few minutes. I use these tactics to help me give myself some love even on non-stop days when I don’t have good chunks of time to exercise.
I usually host Thanksgiving, then my middle son’s birthday is early December, followed by Christmas and finally my oldest son’s birthday in January! This streak of events, combined with the cold weather, seems to trigger me to carry tension in my body which often ends up in my right psoas. This actually just happened to me, my right psoas went into spasm on the day before Thanksgiving. You may tend to carry tension in other muscles, it is helpful to be aware of where you tend to hold your stress. It’s also very beneficial to know what to do once you recognize this tension, and even better to avoid it. I hope these tips help!
1. Improve Your Posture
The basis for good movement starts with healthy alignment. Rarely do I spy someone sitting or standing with upright posture, and I “people watch” all the time! I correct posture at both of my jobs as a physical therapist and Yoga Tune Up® Instructor, yet I still need to correct my own posture countless times each day. It is one of those things that takes a lot of awareness and effort, but it is totally worth it.
Your head is heavy and can weigh an average of 8 to 12 pounds. If you don’t stack your head over your shoulders this causes strain on your neck and upper back. And if you slouch this restricts your breath and compresses your vertebrae. Simply improving your posture helps you to feel and breathe better!
When sitting in a chair, sit at the base of your ischial tuberosities (the bony prominences from your pelvis that you feel in the seat of your pants when you sit on a firm chair, some people call them your “sit bones”). Most of us tend to sit on the back of these bony protusions, or on our sacrum (tailbone) instead, but this base of support leads to a slumped posture. Get to know what it feels like to sit on the very base of your tuberosities, then stack your head over your shoulders, shoulders over your hips. Imagine that your head is a helium balloon floating over your shoulders, this can help to achieve proper alignment and decompress your spine without using any special equipment! Now take a few deep breaths….don’t you feel better already?
Standing and walking with upright posture is also important. Practice standing with your feet straight (not turned out or in), stack your head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over ankles. Pay special attention to your rib cage, stacking it directly over your pelvis. Most of us need to shift our weight back to get into this stacked position. It may feel like you are actually tipping back a bit but you are probably finally standing up straight! Some people need to do the opposite and shift their weight forward because they tend to shift their trunk posteriorly, but this is not a common correction that I have to give.
2. Breathe Fully
Many people habitually take shallow breaths into their upper chest only. Instead, sit or stand with tall posture as described in #1, or lay on the floor in ardha savasana with your knees bent and feet hip distance apart. Now practice abdomino-thoracic breathing by filling your abdomen with air, followed by breathing into your rib cage in all directions, then exhale.
Breathing is the only function of the autonomic nervous system that we can control voluntarily. If we slow our respiration rate and breathe more fully this has many benefits including stress reduction and helping to relieve the tension you carry in your body. Every line of fascia ties into the diaphragm so exercising your diaphragm has a body-wide effect! If you feel restriction in your torso when trying to take full breaths I recommend learning how to massage your abdomen with the Coregeous® ball, this can free up restrictions and allow fuller breaths.
If you are beginning to let the busy-ness of the holidays stress you out, pause and breathe this way to down-regulate and feel great!
3. Roll With It
Bring your Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls with you when you’re on-the-go! They are super portable and easy to use almost anywhere! Some of the techniques add no time to your busy day, you simply massage while doing another necessary task. For example, place a ball between your shoulder blades while driving and breathe into the ball, or place a ball under your feet and massage while making a phone call or brushing your teeth.
Using the Coregeous® ball on your midsection is a terrific way to reduce stress, I am pretty much hooked on this one because it also helps to relax my pesky psoas muscle which is found deep in my core. I recommend that you have your Roll Model™ balls available in the places you are most likely to use them to make it more likely to happen!
Give yourself permission to take 5 minute massage breaks when baking cookies, writing out cards, or wrapping presents to avoid turning into “the Grinch”. You will feel more jolly as you continue to attack your checklist! By massaging with these pliable, grippy balls you can release trigger points in your muscles and loosen up restrictions in your fascia. This is one of my favorite ways to self-treat my aches and pains any time of year!