Yoga

STRENGTHEN THOSE HAMSTRINGS

 

In our yoga practice, even thought we're working our whole body, there can be imbalances and one of those is the approach to our hamstrings. Generally speaking in the yoga practice we continuously and consistently stretch our hamstrings compared to strengthening. This is partly due to the fact that not many poses strengthen hamstrings! It’s very common for people to have a desire to lengthen hamstrings to reach an aspired pose. I for one did not hold back on poses that primarily focused on stretching hamstrings. This persistence for longer hamstrings of course led to injury. As with everything we need to find balance!

Is it a myth that strengthening hamstrings will tighten them? As Jenni Rawlings concludes on her blog, ’strengthening your tight/short hamstrings (or any other muscles) will not make them tighter/shorter. But it will make the connective tissue of your hamstrings stronger and less prone to injury.’ Click here to read more - http://www.jennirawlings.com/blog/fact-check-will-strengthening-your-tight-hamstrings-make-them-tighter.

Admittedly when it came to strengthening hamstrings in a yoga sequence I was a bit stumped. So I turned to the ever insightful Google. I found tones of hamstring stretching poses / sequences but hardly anything on strengthening. For an injury that is really quite common in the yoga world I was surprised how little information there was on strengthening hamstrings. 

After trying many different hamstring exercises, I found the below exercises / poses, were the easiest to incorporate into a practice. 

I got this exercise from Jenni Rawlings blog.   - Lie face down and place a block between your feet  - Make sure your ankles are above the knees   - Lift knees of the mat and push pubic bone into mat   - Repeat between 5 - 10 times

I got this exercise from Jenni Rawlings blog. 

- Lie face down and place a block between your feet

- Make sure your ankles are above the knees 

- Lift knees of the mat and push pubic bone into mat 

- Repeat between 5 - 10 times

Add on   - Keep the knees lifted and straighten the legs   - Continue straightening and bending the knees whilst lifted   - Repeat 5 -10 times 

Add on 

- Keep the knees lifted and straighten the legs 

- Continue straightening and bending the knees whilst lifted 

- Repeat 5 -10 times 

- Set up for bridge pose (Feet hip distance, reach to touch your heals with your finger tips)  - Push down into the feet, as you lift your pelvis, keeping your arms beside you  - Extend one leg at a 45 degree angle   - Hold for 5 long breaths and repeat this 3 times 

- Set up for bridge pose (Feet hip distance, reach to touch your heals with your finger tips)

- Push down into the feet, as you lift your pelvis, keeping your arms beside you

- Extend one leg at a 45 degree angle 

- Hold for 5 long breaths and repeat this 3 times 

I got this idea from Jason Crandell when he was interviewed on Yoga Land podcast.   - As if you were setting up for dancer pose, balance on one leg and bring the opposite heal to the bottom   - Extend the opposite hand in front of you and place the other hand on the hip  - Lift the back leg as high as you can and start to reach the opposite hand forward  - Lift up through the abdominals to help with balance but most importantly bring your focus to the hamstring engagement of the back leg 

I got this idea from Jason Crandell when he was interviewed on Yoga Land podcast. 

- As if you were setting up for dancer pose, balance on one leg and bring the opposite heal to the bottom 

- Extend the opposite hand in front of you and place the other hand on the hip

- Lift the back leg as high as you can and start to reach the opposite hand forward

- Lift up through the abdominals to help with balance but most importantly bring your focus to the hamstring engagement of the back leg 

Even if you’re not a devote yogi it’s important to be aware of over stretching the connective tissue of your hamstrings; it’s very easy to do so and it’s a long road to recovery!

I hope these exercises are helpful!

 

HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF-PRACTICE?

 

HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF - PRACTICE ? 

Many of my students find self practice rather daunting. People have the illusion that you have to move in a certain way to do yoga. The fundamental importance of our yoga practice is to develop greater awareness of the body and to centre the mind. One of the beauties of being new to yoga and self-practice is that automatically you are more aware of your body as the practice is unfamiliar. In self-practice we have the opportunity to listen to the body more closely and move as the body desires as well as working deeper into areas that need it. Often in class our mind can take over our practice and force our body to do things it may not want to do that day. Being surrounded by other students our egos can take over, so rather than moving intelligently with awareness, we may move with more determination. This will not be the case in every class you take but at some point our ego does creep in. 

With self-practice we have the opportunity to listen more closely to our body and work on areas that need strengthen or opening e.g hamstrings, hips, core, breath, backbends, balancing, heart openers etc. We have the chance to listen to the body and target certain areas more mindfully at a pace you wish. You can explore and work deep into your edge, expanding your boundaries and awareness. 

Yoga is an exploration of the body and when practising we gain a better understanding of our body and mind through increased awareness. 

 

SELF-PRACTICE 

Where to start?

  • Purchase a decent mat Yoga Matters sell good, reasonable and non stick mats. 
  • Invest in blocks, straps and eye pillow (not essential at the beginning but great to have to support and advance your practice).
  • Set a side a time that works for you - morning is the best time to do yoga; try and set aside 20 minutes. If morning does not work then allocate another convenient slot. 
  • If 1 hour feels like a lot then start with 15 minutes and build up to 1 hour.

 

General plan

STEP 1: Plan a warm up e.g. Child pose (Balasana), cat cow, downwards dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), rag doll, Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Make sure you take 5 minutes in Childs or Corpse pose at the beginning of the practice to centre the mind and tune into how the body is feeling that day. 

STEP 2: Standing poses. Either do 1 pose on each side or start to link 2 or 3 poses e.g. Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). Take Child's pose as often as you like. 

STEP 3: Do the same with seated poses e.g. Pigeon (Eka Pada), Head to Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

STEP 4: Backbends and Inversions. Depending on your practice your backbends and inversions could be restorative or dynamic. To invert you can take legs up the wall or place hips on a bolster and feet to the ceiling. For a backbend Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is great option. 

STEP 5: Give yourself time for Savasana (5 minutes or more)

Have some go to poses that you’d like to practice and work on these regularly. You can use your self-practice to learn any poses that you might want a bit more time on e.g. headstand (Sirsasana) 

Expanding your practice?

  • After attending a class write down 2 or 3 poses and add them to your self practice. This will help build your flow and motivate you. 
  • Ask your teachers questions and seek advice. 
  • Follow a couple of online classes to give you inspiration - Yogaglo.com is a great platform.
  • The key to self practice is motivation. Set realistic goals and don’t beat yourself up if one week you slip. There is always the next week.

Sanskrit names of poses mentioned above

Childs Pose - Balasana

Downwards Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana 

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III 

Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana

Extended Side Angle - Utthita Parsvakonasana

Pigeon - Eka Pada

Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana 

Bridge - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana 

Headstand - Sirsasana 

Corpse Pose - Savasana 

 

STAY CURIOUS TO BE PRESENT

 

|| Stay curious to be present ||

One of the main reasons why I loved Burning Man so much (which many of my dear friends know about) is that it brings a child like curiosity out in you. There is so much random, beautiful, amazing, interesting, inspiring, sensational.. you get the point, things going on. It’s mind blowing. You suddenly find yourself being this curious kid cycling round the desert experiencing things for the first time, and it lasts a week!!! It's the first and only time in my life that for a whole week I was really living in the present moment and didn't even think about 'real life' for a second, until we had left.(It helped having no access to the internet or signal). If only we can find a way for every moment in daily life to be this interesting and engaging!

Even though routine can be great and work has it’s up and downs as does all relationships. We can still enter everything with a sense of curiosity. Even in our asana practice…. Even holding Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2) for the umpteenth time you can enter it with a sense of curiosity. Each day is different, the body feels different, moves differently, is experience different things, each day something changes. Developing that sense of curiosity into everything that you do is a skill but also helps you be more focused and engaged. It’s like an ad blocker from boredom, negativity, judgemental thoughts, anxiety, doubt… you name it!

It’s something I’m working on and trying to bring into my everyday. Be curious in the moment and stop worrying or thinking about other things that most likely are irrelevant to that moment.

 

 

5 TIPS TO HELP WITH SLEEP

5 TIPS TO HELP WITH SLEEP

Not being able to fall asleep is one of the most frustrating and upsetting experiences. When I suffered from sleeping issues I used to envy (I still do at times) my friends whose heads would hit the pillow and they would be out until the morning. I often thought that if I could sleep properly every night then I would be super woman – I’d be able to do everything I could do and more.

 

I suffered badly with sleep for about 5 years. It started during third year at university when I was working hard for my finals and I felt as though I hadn't slept for 6 months. Obviously I did sleep but it was often a very light sleep or not noticeable for me. I still suffer from the odd night or a few days of bad sleep but I have a few go to tips to help me unwind and settle down.

 

1.     My first recommendation is to read ‘Over Coming Insomnia and Sleep Problems’ by Colin Espie. This book changed my life! It’s a 6 week CBT course and you read a chapter a week adding something to your evening routine each week. You have to be fairly disciplined especially for the 6 weeks but as your sleep returns to normal you can gradually stop doing some of the exercises or reduce how often you do them. This course is great to do and the skills you learn are ones you can reference back to on restless nights or periods of bad sleep.

£10.68
By Colin Espie

2.     If I’ve had a very eventful day sometimes I come home and my mind and body are racing. On these days I have learnt that I have to be really selective about what I do in the evening in order to wind down. I won’t watch anything that will get my heart rate up or get me over excited (The Walking Dead has caused many sleepless nights). It’s fine to watch TV but watch something chilled, maybe watch something off the laptop in the bath in dim lighting or with candles. I even find a really gripping book will keep me awake. So make the right decisions when you come home and really enjoy your evening. That might be cooking a lovely meal, watching a comedy, have a chat with a friend. If you can avoid social media for 2 hours before bed then do!

3.     I used to fear going to bed and would either go to bed 2 hours before I needed to or avoid going to bed at all. Try and keep a normal routine even if you’re worried that you’re going to be awake for hours. It’s important that you don’t let the fear of sleep rule your life. Make your room and your bed appealing. Make sure your room is a nice temperature, I like to sprinkle lavender essential oil on my pillow, light a scented candle, and I always have ear plugs and eye masks handy – incase I’m feeling sensitive to sound and light.

4.     Once you’ve gone to bed if you can’t fall asleep after 15-20minutes or if you’re feel fidgety then get out of bed and go read in the living room in low lighting. This is one of the hardest things to do when you’re warm in bed, but almost every time I do this when I can’t sleep I get back into bed and fall straight asleep. It really helps you clear your mind for a few minutes and stops you from allowing yourself to be restless and your thoughts to continue to tick over.

5.     Try your very best not to get frustrated or upset if you can’t sleep. This took me quite a while to get good at but what you have to say to yourself and believe, is that you will sleep at some point, it may not be that night but at some point in the near future. Getting frustrated will only make the situation worse. 

5 of my favourite yoga postures to help with sleep to follow soon!