Yoga for the New Year: Try Something New this Time!

Mackenzie Miller of The Hot and Healthy Blog doing anti-gravity yoga!

Try something new this time

by guest blogger  Allison Brooks

Every time around this year, it never fails.  You hear people talking about their New Year’s Resolutions and how they are going to stick to them this year. It is the same ole same, but why not try something new for a change. Instead of hitting the gym daily, and depriving yourself of chocolate and carbs, why not grab a friend and go to a yoga class. I know, I know, you are probably thinking, “but I can’t even do the splits” but that is why yoga is perfect for anyone. There are so many types of yoga that there is one out there for you. Trust me. Below I listed three alternative forms of yoga to help get the ball rolling.

One fun alternative is AcroYoga. This form of yoga combines acrobatics, healing arts, and traditional yoga poses to create a fun and balanced class. Since the poses are based on the effort of two people, it is a great way to set a goal with a friend or significant other. A “base” and a “flyer” perform aerial poses to rejuvenate the body’s energy and build/tone muscle mass. It fun class to take at the end of busy week when you want to let loose and have fun, while getting a good workout.

Another great “end-of-the-workweek” yoga is laughter yoga. Though there is not much traditional asanas associated with it, the mental and spiritual effects are compared to the mainstream yoga. Laughter yoga is a great stress reliever and core-toner. It is sweeping studios and nursing homes by storm because it helps a person “let-go” or issues and boosts morale. Many elderly patients have adopted laughter yoga as well as people with aggressive cancer diagnoses, like a non-hodgkin’s lymphoma or mesothelioma prognosis.

AntiGravity yoga is another form that is a fun twist to traditional yoga practices. Students get to perform poses hanging and stretching from a silky hammock attached to the ceiling. It is a very physically intense yoga and is a great way to really work that upper body, get tone and reenergize the mind-body connection. AntiGravity yoga combines Pilates, dance, calisthenics, and acrobatics with traditional asanas to create a fun alternative yoga.

So as the New Year creeps up, try and set a goal that is not based on the gym. Yoga studios are always welcoming to new students. You will reach your goals while becoming a better you, inside and out.

Five Ways To Stay Fit And Sane During The Holiday Season

Here Are A Few Simple Ways To Stay Fit, Feel Great And Maintain Your Sanity During The Holidays.

Do holidays leave you feeling drained and flabby?

Even the best intentions sometimes get laid to waste during the eggnog-fueled, candy-ridden, hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Not to mention the guilt that sometimes goes along with turning down another slice of grandma’s pie,…that oh, by the way, she baked especially for you!

Overindulgence is practically synonymous with the holiday season and sometimes a source for a great deal of anxiety for those of us who still want to slip into the same size yoga pants at the end of all the craziness.

Is that vain?

Sure, I will admit to a little vanity, but why does love have to come with love-handles?

I mean surely there is a way to stay sane, and fit and leave everyone at home feeling loved without busting your pocket-book or the seams on your favorite yoga pants. Below are some of my favorite strategies…

  1. Lend A Helping Hand In The Kitchen. Yogis don’t complain, they pitch in and help out. Roll up your sleeves and help out a  little! Is there a farmers market near mom’s? Great! Buy some fresh veggies and introduce them to some exciting new dishes! With a little effort your family will soon be having a love affair with Kale and even better mr. fatty mashed potatoes  will have to make room for some new friends on the dining room table.
  2. Make Fitness A Family Affair. So you can’t convince your mom to turn on the stove full blast and crank the heat in the house so you can make her place into your own personal hot yoga studio? Don’t despair. Baby steps  lil’ yoga tiger! If your family isn’t into yoga try taking them on a brisk morning walk, sledding, ice-skating or any other calorie-busting activity that is fun and gets everybody moving.
  3. Tricks Are For Kids…And Bored Grown-Ups! Sometimes you must have a few tricks up your sleeve to grab people’s interest. If it seems impossible to get your “too-cool-for-school” teen-age cousin to try a yoga class try teaching him how to balance on his hands in crow pose. Can’t get your mom to go with you to your morning vinyasa yoga class? Try teaching her cat-cow after a long day of shopping to loosen up tight lower back muscles. You get the idea….
  4. Redefine Your Idea Of A Workout. Stir crazy? Before the hamster in your head runs off of its wheel get up off of your tuckus and DO something! Shovel snow, rake leaves, or help your mom re-organize the garage. Focusing on how you can be of service or seva (self-less service) doesn’t have to be completely self-less to earn you some good karma points…and you will feel great doing it too!
  5. Stay Present And Practice Gratitude. Let’s face it, the holidays are a total sensory overload. I promise though that drinking yourself silly or trying to get grounded by gnawing your way through a pile of stuffing is not the answer. Wake up early to carve out some time for yourself or step away from the din once in a while to practice gratitude. Sure, your family isn’t perfect and things are chaotic. Sometimes it may feel like you are being swept up in holiday that focuses on draining your pocketbook and adding another digit to your pant size. However, at the heart of the holiday season is an opportunity to re-connect with loved ones and be grateful for the families we’ve been given. Whether they are blood relatives or just a motley bunch of characters that are dear to our hearts, the holidays are about bonding with your family. Take a moment to remember why you braved holiday traffic, long airport lines and general holiday insanity in the first place. Reconnect to the true meaning of the holiday season. Breathe, count your blessings, review the things you LOVE about each family member, and then get out there and spread the love!

Here’s To Happy Holidays, Family, Sanity and Staying Fit!

Yoga and Chakras – The Fourth Chakra Anahata “The Heart Chakra”

The 4th Chakra - Heart Chakra AnahataThe Anhata Chakra is the 4th of the 7 yoga chakrasand means “Unstruck Sound”. The 4th Chakra is the Heart Chakra.

The heart chakra the color is green, and sometimes pink, the symbol is a circular flower with twelve green petals. Inside of the circle are two overlapping triangles which represent the union of male and female.

When the heart chakra is balanced we radiate divine love and feel deeply connected to others. The 4th Chakra represents unconditional love for ourselves and others.This chakra connects the bottom three chakras to the upper three taking us from our basic needs and animal nature to our divine and spiritual nature. Those with open heart chakras have a highly developed sense of touch. Their peaceful energy and compassionate touch are very healing to those around them.

Heart Chakra Body Parts:

  • Heart
  • Ribcage
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Wrists
  • Hands
  • Circulatory System
  • Thymus
  • Endocrine System
  • Asthma
  • Breast
  • Heart Attacks

Things That Throw The 4th Chakra Out Of Balance

  • Heartbreak
  • Abandonment (particularly as a child)
  • Envy
  • Despair
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Feeling Unloved
  • Neglect
  • Abuse
  • Rejection
Open Heart Chakra Traits
  • Balance
  • Harmony
  • Openness
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion
  • Acceptance
  • Contentment
  • Understanding
  • Oneness with Life
  • Group Consciousness
  • Divine Unconditional Love
  • Peace
  • Devotion
  • Passion
  • Self-Acceptance
Blocked Heart Chakra Traits
  • Fear (Fear of emotional loss)
  • Envy
  • Hatred
  • Jealousy
  • Inability to feel compassion for others

Backbends Are Paticularly Good For The Heart Chakra.

Backbends will be paticullary difficult for those with blocked heart chakras as they feel unsafe. A blocked 4th Chakra manifest as an inability to open up and be vulnerbale in the area of the heart. Obviously, backbends require a total surrender in the area of the heart.
I would like to note that the third chakra supports the 4th chakra here providing the strength to let go in a safe way. People without the support of the third chakra will bend until they break. They often lack personal boundaries. The focus here is on opening the area around the heart. Mobilizing the upper back and opening the front of the chest are crucial.
Special attention should be brought to opening the hip flexors, psoas and thighs (2nd Chakra stuff) as well so as not to hinge in the lower spine in an attempt to backbend.


Hip Opening, Sex and The 2nd Chakra

Sex, Hips and the 2nd chakraYoga Sequence for the Second Chakra. The Sacral Chakra Relates to The Hips, Sex, Sensuality, Relationships,Power, Money, and Creativity.

The 2nd Chakra is often called the body chakra because it is where you connect with the physical body through your senses. Located below the navel the sacral chakra is the chakra of sensuality, pleasure and sexuality. It governs how we choose our relationships and partnerships with others. When unblocked it magnetically draws others towards us. Since the Second chakra also governs our creative abilities when unblocked our creative energy flows effortlessly. The struggle for power and obsession with money are no longer distractions and finances are approached in a respectful and balanced manner.

Sounds pretty good right?

So, how does ones Sacral chakra become blocked?

Life happens!

Guilt and shame associated with sex, sexual abuse, sexual repression, being denied creative self-expression are all examples of how we can develop blockages early on. For all of these circumstances we develop a coping strategy.

Over time our coping patterns become stuck in the tissues of our body and mind.

Anchored deep within the confines of our psyche and body we re-express our pain in ways we are not even consciously aware of. Unfortunately the structures of defense we have built around us meant to protect us from future harm only block us from reaching our true potential.

Like a budding plant being choked out by rocks, at some point we can no longer grow holding up the weight of our own armor. The very thing meant to protect us eventually pushes us under.

Have you ever gotten misty eyed during a deep hip opener?

When you release tension in the hips often a lot of emotion comes pouring out and you may not even realize where it’s coming from.

This phenomenon is nothing new, as our bodies release trauma from the sacral chakra we will on some level re-experience it. Don’t be alarmed or try to suppress it, just let it flow. This too shall pass.

Hip openers will bring to the surface feelings connected to long-buried fears past hurts and disappointments.

You may feel frustrated, sad, hurt and vulnerable all over again.The fact is your body is reprocessing the same way you might try to process things that happened in your past with a therapist. In this case the therapy is happening on a cellular level rather than a mental level.

Are you feeling blocked in your creativity? The second chakra is governs the area of creation and creativity. When blocked we are unable to share our creative gifts with the outside world.

What about your sex life? If your sex life feels out of balance is an indicator of a second chakra that is out of balance as well. Financial issues are also linked to your second chakra so if you are experiencing problems with money balancing this chakra could be of help.

I am not suggesting miracles here. Doing pigeon for 20 minutes a day isn’t going to make Mr. Right materialize on your doorstep with a dozen roses nor will it guarantee you make a million dollars.

This sequence for the second chakra will release pent-up tension in the hips, pelvis and thighs. 

There are no quick fixes. However, try this yoga sequence and see what starts to shift for you. Be ready to deal with whatever may bubble to the surface, you may be surprised at what comes up.

Warm up with 3-5 rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation C

Low Lunge

Frog

Baddha Konasana

Half Hero

Hanumanasana

Pigeon

Double Pigeon

Savasana (5-10 minutes)

Happy Hip Opening Yogis!

Cough Your Way To A Flat Tummy and Core Strength and Engage Your Transverse Abdominals

 How to Get a flat Tummy by engaging your transverse abdominals How To Train Your Transverse Abdominals and Strengthen Your Core For A Flat Tummy!

Here are some practical tips on how to connect to the ever so challenging lower abdominal muscles.

We will refer to them as your TA …or more specifically, your transverse abdominals!

What is the Transverse Abdominal?

The Transverse abdominals are our deepest abdominal muscles and act as a corset stabilizing our spine and making our lower belly narrow and flat. Yay!

They lie underneath our obliques and connect to our pubic bone by ligaments. This makes training them crucial to pelvic floor engagement and mula bhanda.

They also connect to our diaphragm aiding our lungs and making our breath more powerful.

 Training your Transverse Abdominals is tricky. When they are weak, the feeling of engaging them is sometimes so subtle it gets overlooked. Don’t give up though, it is well worth the effort!

A “Real Life” Example Of What Your Transverse Abdominals Feel Like.

Imagine you have a pair of drawstring pants you are tying on. Your two frontal hip bones should feel as if they are drawing toward one another and your waist should feel as if it is narrowing.

Next, imagine you are trying to zip the fly on some really tight skinny jeans and you have to “suck it all in” so to speak. (Not that you’ve ever had to do that of course….) You should feel that everything from your pubic bone to your navel is sucking in and up.

So What’s The Big Deal?

It is difficult to train the TA alone as it  often gets “bullied” by the other more easily accessed abdominal muscles.

This result is overtraining the other abdominal muscles and a bulky lower belly pooch instead of the sleek lower abs we actually want. Very frustrating indeed!

If you’ve ever seen a bodybuilder with overdeveloped abs that stick out, you know what I’m talking about. A lower belly pooch is often the result of an overtrained rectus abdominal (the most superficial abdominal muscle) and an under-trained transverse abdominal.

A Reminder – Why Is The TA So Vital For Women In Particular?

The TA is particularly important  to cultivate for women who have had children. The Transverse Abdominal muscles are directly connected to the pelvic floor muscles.

Strengthening them not only gives you back your pre-baby body but prevents embarrassing accidents as well. If you have ever laughed so hard a little pee came out you know exactly what I am talking about.   

A Simple Excercise  to Find and Engage the Transverse Abdominals

Place your hands on your hips and gently press your fingers into your abdominals and give a polite “ahem” cough like you are trying to get someones attention. You should feel a deep smooth muscle engage underneath your fingertips. That my friend is your Transverse Abdominals!

Engage Your TA All Day Every Day for Strong Adominals!

So now that you know how to engage your TA, use your “ahem” cough to engage your transverse abdominals whenever and wherever you like. Over time you will be able to engage without the help of your cough. In fact you don’t even need to make a sound as you “cough” it’s more about just bringing your awareness to that area of your body. Over time it will just become automatic.

Every once in a while double-check with your fingers to make sure that you are engaging correctly. You will know you aren’t doing it right if you feel your lower abs bulge out.

I think if the “Most Interesting Man In The World” (The Dos Equis Beer Commercial Guy) were to explain all of this he would say “I don’t always cough, but when I do I make sure to engage my transverse abdominals. Stay strong my friends!”

Related articles

Who is in Charge?

I am reposting this article with permission from My Life Yoga blog on the ego and our illusion of reality, enjoy!

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Pettry amzanig huh?

The above paragraph illustrates that we do not read by assembling letters into words from left to right. Instead we use forecasting to predict what a jumble of letters means. This allows us to read fast and correct for errors.

The key idea here is that forecasting is central to how we function. This is not limited to just reading but pretty much everything we do. The central aspect of forecasting is that it needs a model. A model is an idea of how something works. Once the model is in place we can input a limited number of details and simulate the rest. When we read the words in the first paragraph we are able to simulate the words in the original sentence through the model of English Language in our head. Somebody who is not a native English speaker may find it hard to read the first paragraph because the English model in his head may not be very good.

When sight is restored to somebody who has been blind since birth, he does not immediately begin to “see”. All he sees is fuzzy formless light. It may take months, if not years before normal seeing commences. This is because the person has no model for vision. Only once this is built can normal sight work. When we look around the room we do not scan every part of the room starting with the top left corner zigzagging down. Instead we take in the details of a few spots and simulate the rest using our in-built model for sight.

So here are some details of the models in our head:

1. Our models may not be perfect but they work.
2. Our models may work but they are not complete.

Some philosophers have suggested that since our perception of reality is based on simulation of imperfect models that all reality that we perceive is merely illusory. This may be not be an appropriate way of interpreting this discussion. The models in our head are pretty good because they work and reliably allow us to navigate the world.

However, we must not go to the other extreme. Just because these models work, in the current context, we must not assume that these model represent reality completely. These models are just good enough for our species to survive and get by. For example we do not see in the ultra-violet or infrared spectrum. We are completely oblivious to that portion of reality. In fact the model of reality in our head is like the tip of the iceberg. What we know and perceive is vastly undermined by what we are ignorant and oblivious of. For example, who knows how a whale percieves the world?

Similar to the models of the external world we also have a model of our internal selves. This model of ourselves is termed as an ego. Just like we think that the model of external reality is complete we are fooled into believing that we are our egos.

Our ego is not our complete self. It is at best a very incomplete model of ourselves in our head. The journey of yoga is a journey into a deeper dive into ourselves. It is a journey of discovery of that portion of us that lies beyond the ego. In fact the root of most of our problems lies in the subtle belief that we are our ego and the interest of our ego and our deeper selves is the same. We spend every moment of our conscious experience as captives of our ego-identity. We think, emote, and act on behalf of our ego, little knowing that we are spending our lives at the service of a wrong master.

The journey of discovery of our identity beyond our ego is not an easy one but it may be the most important journey we may undertake. After all who wants to spend a lifetime as a slave of something only to realize that it was all in vain?

4 Hormones That Cause Belly Fat : How To Lose Abdominal Fat And Get Skinny

4 Hormones That Make Your Belly Fat : How To Lose Abdominal Fat And Get Skinny

We already discussed the 3 Hormones That Make You Skinny And How To Make Them Work For You. Now for the bad news. Here are the 4 Hormones that make you fat! They are Insulin, Estrogen, Leptin, and Cortisol.

Belly Fat Hormone #1. Insulin

Insulin spikes make you fat. If you are feeling starved that pretty much means your insulin has already spiked and the next thing you put into your mouth will now get stored as fat. Refined carbs and sugar are the worst offenders sending blood sugar sky-rocketing. These types of carbs raise endorphins in the brain like a drug, but the high is short-lived.

What to Do To Lose The Belly Fat:

  • Avoid simple or high glycemic carbohydrates. (Potatoes, pasta, bread, candy, soda, juice, refined anything ect.)
  • If you must have your “fix” try to make it around 150 calories and under 5 grams of sugar per serving so as not to spike your blood sugar.

Belly Fat Hormone #2. Estrogen

Too much estrogen causes weight gain, cellulite, cancer and makes you feel soft and spongy.

What to Do To Lose The Belly Fat:

  • Avoid Processed foods
  • Eat high fiber (25-30 grams per day)
  • Avoid too much caffeine
  • Avoid too much alcohol (Impedes livers ability to metabolize estrogen)
  • Stay away from plastics! (If you are using plastic make sure it is BPA FREE, otherwise get rid of it!)
  • Soy products increase estrogen so limit your consumption.
Belly Fat Hormone #3. Leptin
When you have adequate levels of Leptin in your body it tells your body to stop eating. When it is low it causes you to store fat.
What to Do To Lose The Belly Fat:
  • Avoid MSG
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Eat slowly
  • Eat Fish
  • Get more zinc (Poultry and seafood are high in zinc)
Belly Fat Hormone #4. Cortisol
Cortisol is the stress hormone and just as nasty as it sounds. As if you didn’t have enough problems, this lil’ guy will make you store fat around your middle like a spare tire.
What to Do To Lose The Belly Fat:
  • Cultivate a sense of humor
  • Practice yoga
  • Take long deep diaphragmatic breaths
  • Get more sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Meditate
  • Remove yourself from upsetting  situations when possible until you calm down.
  • Maintain close bonds with family and  friends
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Limit your exposure to violent TV shows and movies
  • Eat white beans, citrus fruits, and black tea.
  • Take magnesium and Vitamin C

10 Reasons You Should Smile For Your Health

Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available.  ~ Jim Beggs

Ever see someone who’s face reads “Please check your cheerfulness at the door”? Deep frown lines, eyes that bore holes when they look at you, and a face that would make the Grinch squirm?

So how does one end up waking up one morning with a face that growls at everyone it meets?  I must admit I have always been a little afraid that I might cross the line of crankiness and wakeup looking like a grouch. So far so good.

I often smile at strangers when passing on the street. It’s the small town girl in me, I can’t help it. When I’m lucky they grin back. Sometimes however they’ll shoot me a look that says they’d rather pull a hamstring than smile back. It’s as if they are genuinely pissed off that someone has the nerves to smile at them. Other times they observe me as if I am an alien life form come to invade their angry planet. And of course there are ones who only manage to curl up one side of their mouth. Sure, it’s technically a sneer, but I imagine it  is a smile trying to get out.

So what’s my yogic point here? Smiling is important, it’s basically yoga for your face. Those cheeks need a grin like your leg muscles need downward dog. Studies show that there are many mental, emotional and social benefits from smiling. It reduces stress, makes you happier, and makes the opposite sex find you more attractive. (Go gettem’ tiger!)

A few more smile motivating facts..

  1. If you can’t smile at least try not to frown. Studies show that adults who get Botox for their frown lines report feeling less depression after the procedure. I am not suggesting you go get botox, but there is clearly a mind-face connection at work.
  2. Smiles are more attractive than makeup: A recent studies show that 69% of people find women more attractive when they smile than when they are wearing makeup.
  3. Smiling makes you memorable. You are 3 time more likely to remember the person that is smiling over the one that is wearing a negative or neutral expression.
  4. Smiling improves the way others see you.  72% of people think of those who smile often as being more confident and successful.
  5. Smiling helps You make new friends. 86% of people say that they are more likely to strike up conversations with strangers if they are smiling.
  6. Even a fake smile will lift your mood.  Your body releases endorphins Serotonin, Dopamine and Morphine when you smile. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that reduces fear and worry. Dopamine squashes negative emotions. Morphine is a powerful pain-killer. Enjoy the natural high!
  7. Smiling at others is a way to show Ahimsa (non-violence). A smile is a non-verbal way to communicate non-violence. Scientists have found that smiles reduce aggression in both the giver and the receiver.
  8. Smiling makes you healthier. Smiling activates the central nervous System and boosts your immune system. It lowers your blood pressure, regulates your heartbeat, and enhances respiration. Those lil’ guys the white blood cells (Leukocytes) activate as well! They are on the front lines attacking foreign bacteria, viruses, and toxins keeping you disease free!
  9. Fake smiling can lead to genuine smiling and real happiness. Fake smile for 20 seconds for seven (7) days, and it creates a neural pathway in your brain.Continue for 21 consecutive days and fake smiling becomes hardwired into your brain becoming a genuine smile!
  10. Happy people live 9 years longer than unhappy ones.
Keep smiling!
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Heart and Core Via K.O. Yoga Blog

Angela Kukhahn in Handstand. Photo by Leelu Morris

Props to handstanding yogini Kristin Olson of the K.O. Yoga Blog for writing this amazing post on handstand….

While working on handstands in Brock Cahill‘s Flight Club class at Yogis Anonymous, I was chatting with other students about handstand tips. We were talking about how hard it is to manage simultaneously two of the tricks to finding balance in a handstand: engaging your core while opening your heart. Thinking about it after class, I was pondering about how these two principles apply in life. Read More…