Need more reasons to make fruit a part of your regular daily diet? Check out this handy infographic that Natural Healthy Concepts put together:
Uttanasana is one of the first poses you will learn in a yoga 101 class. It looks pretty simple right? Just bend over and touch your toes. But looks can be deceiving, which is true for the standing forward bend. The goal of this pose is to fold the body in half, bringing the chest to touch the thighs, and resting the balms of your hands flat on the mat. To achieve this, you need to have flexible hamstrings, hips and spinal muscles; the three areas that tend to be tight for most people, and therein lies the challenge. The good news is, with regular stretching and the right combination of yoga poses, you can open up the hip joint and lengthen the hamstrings, as well as the muscles of the spine. The other good news is that gravity is on your side. It’s role is to pull you down, allowing you to go deeper into the pose. Props can also come in handy when doing the forward bend. Blocks are a great way to bring the ground to you, if your hands don’t quite make it there on their own just yet.
These are the muscles that are used in the forward bend, as illustrated in this diagram:
- gastrocnemius (calf)
- spinal muscles
There are many ways to come into standing forward bend, the most common of them is from tadasana (mountain pose):
1. Begin standing on your mat in Tadasana (mountain pose).
2. Inhale, circle the arms up overhead.
3. Exhale, open the arms and bring the chest and head down towards the ground, hinging at the hips to fold over the legs. Balms flat on the mat.
4. Legs are straight, and weight is evenly distributed between both feet, with most of the weight on the balls of your feet. Bring your chest to rest on your thighs, your forehead to touch your shins, and both balms to lay flat on the mat next to your feet.
5. Inhale through the nose, feeling your back expand with air. Exhale through the nose, and relax the back muscles, letting gravity pull you deeper into the pose.
6. If your hamstrings are tight, slightly bend your knees to release the spine.
7. If your hands do not reach the mat, just let the arms hang, along with the spine and head, allowing gravity to slowly pull you down with each breath. You can also bend your arms and grab opposite elbows with your hands, gently swaying the upper body from side to side, releasing any tension in the back and hips.
How to use blocks:
For some of you, the floor may not be so easily accessible for your hands, and just letting your upper body hang out in mid-air causes tension for your lower back and hamstrings. Blocks can help relieve that tension by providing a more supportive way of easing into the pose fully. They act as raisers, bringing the floor closer to your hands and giving them a place they can rest on.
- Place a block, or two, in front of your feet and rest the balms of your hands on them. Slightly press into the block(s), and straighten your legs by contracting the quadraceps and grounding down through the calves and feet.
- Choose the block height that you need, progressing to the lower height levels as you gain flexibility, and eventually to no block at all when your hands finally reach the floor on their own. Stand the block vertically for it’s highest height, horizontally on the slender side for it’s mid height, or lay it flat on the broad side for it’s lowest height.
- Use a block in between your thighs to keep the quadraceps, adductors (inner thighs) and pelvic floor fully engaged throughout the pose. This is especially helpful for those who are not sure how to isolate these muscles for contraction. You will not be able to keep the block from falling if you are being lazy with your leg muscles. Once you get the sense of how to activate these muscles, you can perform the pose without the block.
The standing forward bend is great for stretching the muscles of the spine, hips, hamstrings and calves, stimulating the liver and kidney, calming the mind and helping to relieve stress, strengthening the thighs and knees, improving digestion, and providing relief for headaches and mild insomnia.
Do you practice yoga?
Why not? 20.4 million Americans do (as per a study released by Yoga Journal in December 2012). I’m not usually one to encourage going with the masses. I value individuality and freedom too much. But when it comes to yoga, I’d say these 20.4 million people have discovered something special that you should get in on. If you are concerned that you don’t have the flexibility, strength, or patience to give yoga a good shot, don’t be. You won’t be the only person in the class who is not limber, strong or focused enough to master all those poses from the get-go. Trust me on that. The great thing about yoga is, you don’t have to perfect the pose to reap the benefits. Just making the effort goes a long way.
Perhaps you are part of the 44.4 percent who call yourselves “aspirational yogis” – you are interested in trying yoga. I absolutely love that term. To me, it means you are half-way there, perhaps even more, you just need a little nudge to help you take that last step. Well, I say come on over to the light side. I was once an aspirational yogi, and remember it well. For years I was keen on learning yoga, but just didn’t know how to get started. And like everyone else, I worried about my abilities to keep up in class. But once I got myself into that yoga studio, I never turned back. So if you are teetering on that yoga scale, and want to make this the year you tip over to the yogi side, then maybe these pointers will help you get started:
Go studio hunting. Just like buying a house, you’d want to see a few before finding the perfect one. Same goes for a yoga studio. It’s important that you feel comfortable at the studio, and that the styles of yoga they teach meet your needs. Otherwise, you’ll find excuses not to go. Does the studio offer the calm, tranquil and soothing environment you need to de-stress and heal? Do they have friendly staff that are helpful and knowledgeable? Some studios have strict rules about being on time for class, and do not permit stragglers to enter once a class is in session. If this doesn’t fit your tendencies to be fashionably late, then find a studio that has an open door policy. Ask for a tour of the studio, what specials they have for new members, and which of their classes are suitable for newbies.
It’s all about the right teacher. Yes it is. Finding a good yoga teacher could mean the difference between becoming a yogi for life, or getting turned off of yoga for the rest of your life. Obviously, we want your experience to reflect the former. Look for a teacher that is knowledgeable, puts safety first, and personifies the yogi values. Do they understand yoga anatomy? Do they give clear instructions on how to get in and out of poses? Do they emphasize only going to your limits and leaving the ego at the door? Many studios offer new members a one week unlimited class pass for a reduced price. Take advantage of this offer to try out different classes and teachers so that you can find the one you connect with most.
Self-practice and practice regularly. The best way to get the hang of something, is to keep doing it. You might find your first yoga class to be somewhat challenging, but don’t let that scare you away. With time, and a regular routine, your tight joints will open up and you’ll start to flow easily through the poses, and feel great. Don’t wait a whole week or two before taking your next class. Get into the rhythm early on by having a regular practice of 3-4 times a week. And be sure to do some self-practice at home. It’ll help you become more aware of your body, and allow you to go deeper in your focus and concentration. If you’re thinking this is a lot of yoga, remember, it is called a yoga “practice” after all.
It’s just you and your mat. Get into your practice. Never mind what others around you are doing. Be open to accepting their positive energy, and using it to fuel your practice, but don’t get caught up in worrying about what others might be thinking of you. The truth is, everyone is too busy focusing on themselves, as they should be. The time on your mat is for you to rejuvenate, de-stress, strengthen your back, or whatever it is you feel you need that day. Set an intention at the beginning of your practice, and use that as your focal point to shut out distractions around you.
Listen to your body. This is by far the best piece of advice my yoga teacher could have given me. She would say it in every class, always encouraging us to only go as far into a pose as our body would allow us to that day. You should never feel pain in yoga. If you do, it’s your body’s way of telling you something is not right. Get out of the pose and do a modified version of it until you’ve built up the strength, flexibility or proper body alignment for it. Your teacher is there to help you with that. And if they don’t, then find another teacher. It’s easy to fall prey to our own ego, or to the pressure of peers and teachers. But safety always comes first, no matter what anyone else says.
Have a tip of your own to share, or perhaps an inspirational yoga experience? Leave a comment in the below comment box. I would love to hear them.
We have good intentions when we start the new year off by setting goals for ourselves. It gives us something to work towards as the year progresses, and a great sense of achievement when we reach them. We have every intent of sticking to those goals, even though some might be harder to do than others. You know the one I’m talking about – This year, I am going to the gym three times a week – yes, that one. Well, we’re near the end of the third week of January. I’ll bet you’re right on track with your gym schedule, and doing a great job. Most people are able to hang on until the big V-Day. After that, you’ll probably be able to get on that treadmill at the gym without having to wait your turn.
If you find that you’re one of the many who need some motivation to help you stick to your exercise program beyond February, then you might find this GymPact app just the thing you need. It pays you to workout. Cha-ching!! Here’s how it works: You set your schedule for the week by committing to the number of days you will go to the gym. Then you set the dollar amount you are willing to give up if you don’t meet the schedule. Check in at the gym with your smartphone. At the end of the week, the money from those who did not meet their pact gets divided among those that did. That simple. You can even change your pact every week, because life is constantly changing. Now who wouldn’t get motivated by money?
Would this app give you the incentive you need to achieve your fitness goal this year? If you try it, be sure to come back and let us know how it worked for you.
Now get to the gym!
The holidays are over, but you’re not in the clear for gift giving yet. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! Better start thinking of what to get your sweetheart, so that you’re not left sleeping in the dog house. Blurb has you covered with their 15% off promo from now until February 14, 2013. Create a beautiful photo book of all the special, fun and romantic times you shared with your loved one. It’ll be the perfect one-of-a-kind gift.
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Buddhist monks have been doing it for thousands of years. Meditate, that is. And they are the most calm, peaceful and stress-free people I can think of. Yogis have adopted this ancient practice as well, to help balance the mind, body and spirit, as they work on their path towards finding union. Meditation has been praised for it’s ability to tame the mind, thereby eliminating suffering caused by racing thoughts, negativity, and false perceptions, allowing one to experience life with focused attention, compassion and joy. The concept has been thought by many as somewhat fringe. Controlling the mind? Willing away bad thoughts and evil just by sitting cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed? You have to admit, it sounds a bit like something you would see in a movie. And without cold, hard scientific proof, there was no way to show how meditation actually worked, to measure the success, or to explain why someone felt better after meditating.
Well, thanks to the advancement of research, we now have scientific evidence that meditation does indeed impact brain functions, helping those that suffer from chronic and acute pain, find relief. This comes from a report released by The US Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, who will be using the findings to recommend changes to health care coverage. You can listen to the CBC Radio broadcast of this story by clicking here: CBC.ca
Basically, the panel of researchers looked at studies conducted on meditation, specific to people living with pain, and found that those who meditated saw a decrease in their pain scale score, compared to those who did not meditate. They also saw a decrease in their anxiety score. As Dr. Peter Lin explains in the broadcast, pain is caused by neurons firing in the brain. With the use of MRI scans, they were able to look at the brains of monks while they were meditating, and saw that the monks were actually able to turn on and off parts of their brain during meditation. Skeptics may say that monks are special people, so naturally they would be able to control their brains. Seems like a fair comment. So they applied the same study to a group of university students, as representatives of “average” everyday people. They trained these students on meditation techniques, scanned their brains, and found that their brain functions changed as well. These findings are sure to put meditation more on the forefront of alternative healthcare, now that we have a science way of explaining how it heals us. And from a cost perspective, it is relatively inexpensive compared to drugs, with no side effects. It does, however, require you to set aside time to actually do the meditation. Which can prove to be a challenge for most, given that time can be a rare commodity.
Do you have a regular meditation practice? If your doctor prescribed it as a treatment, would you give it a try?
We are just past the half-way mark in December, which means we are well into the holiday celebrations. It’s definitely the most festive time of year with all the countless holiday parties – office, clients, friends, and the big family dinner. It’s hard to stay on track with eating healthy when you’re constantly surrounded by food, delicious treats, and beverages that are high in calories. For many, this is the time of year where they give themselves permission to cheat on their good eating habits, without feeling guilty. After all, what’s Christmas without chocolate, home-made pie, spiked eggnog, stuffing and turkey with gravy? Even Santa expects cookies when he comes to visit. But if you’re hosting a holiday dinner this year, and would like to help your guests maintain their health, then sneak in a dish that’s good for their soul. Try this Carrot and Ginger Soup.
What makes this soup so good for you? Three things:
1. Ginger. Did you know that ginger is not only used as a spice when cooking, but that it’s also a powerful medicinal herb? Ginger has amazing abilities to promote health and prevent diseases. Here are just a few examples of the many benefits of ginger:
- Provides effective relief to stomach aches, indigestion and nausea. Studies show that ginger’s effectiveness in relieving these gastrointestinal distresses out competes many antacids and prescription drugs. It is even proven to be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting caused by pregnancy, while being safe to the baby.
- Contains gingerols, which are active phytonutrients that provide anti-inflammatory effects, reducing pain levels to those suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Research has also shown that gingerols may inhibit the growth of colorectoral cancer cells, and are effective in killing ovarian cancer cells.
- Very high source of potassium (71% daily value based on a 6g serving) and magnesium (65% daily value). The body needs potassium to ensure that all cells, tissues and organs function properly. It also helps in counter-balancing some of the harmful effects that sodium can have on your blood pressure. Magnesium is another essential mineral that is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, such as maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, keeping the heart rhythm steady, and keeping bones strong.
2. Carrots. Eat your carrots, their good for your eyes. No kidding. Just one cup of carrots contains 408% daily value of Vitamin A, which is the vitamin that plays a critical role in vision health. It is also an essential component of rhodopsin, a protein that absorbs light in the retinal receptors. Other health benefits of carrots include:
- Rich in antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, hydroxycinnamic acids, and anthocyanindins.
- Protection against cardiovascular disease(CVD). A recent study done in the Netherlands has provided results indicating that carrots lead the pack when it comes to reducing the risk of developing CVD, thanks to its antioxidant properties.
3. Home-made chicken broth. Making your own broth with the left over roast chicken from last night’s dinner will not only increase the nutritional value, it will also reduce your sodium intake by at least 16%. A diet high in salt can lead to high blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney damage. The broth can be made well in advance, stored in the freezer, and ready for use when it’s time to make the soup.
Kick-off your holiday feast with a delicious appetizer that’s good for the heart – literally! Your guests will thank you for it. Be sure to let me know how it turns out for you, by leaving me a comment below. I would love to hear your stories, or try one of your favourite soup recipes.
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1 large potato, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium turnip, peeled and chopped
- 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- 6 1/4 inch thick slices of fresh ginger
- 6 cups of home-made chicken broth
- 1 tsp of salt
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, and cook for another minute. Add carrots, potato, turnip, apple, ginger and chicken broth. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 50-60 minutes. Add salt, and remove from heat. Puree with hand blender or in food processor until smooth.