Yin yoga, Myofascial release & Yoga for the Face!

Yin Yoga, Myo-Fascial Release and Face Yoga workshop:  A self-care workshop:

savasana
I’m holding an afternoon workshop on these three delicious gems of self care on Sunday May 22nd at Hummingbird Eco Retreat, Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula in the beautiful Yoga space there. 

EXPERIENCE Yin Yoga , a slow and mindful form of yoga designed to wipe your stress away physically and mentally and bring you to an altered state of being. Yin yoga is a beautiful adjunct to a busy life or indeed a more yang style yoga practice. In Yin yoga we concentrate on sensation in the present moment. It is literally the anti-thesis of multi-tasking, and at the same time it is a powerful physical practice, working on deep connective tissue to relieve the body of stagnant energies.


LEARN Myofascial self release techniques ( MFR ) to shift stubborn tightness in the fascia (the connective tissue ) and muscles, helping to release habitual muscular patterns and chronic pain and enhancing everyday mobility. We use tennis balls on trigger points and along acupuncture meridians to ease blocked energies, built up pain responses and chronic tension.


TRY out Yoga for the Face- a yoga facelift method to tone the face via its muscles – a workout we never think of doing but one that is just as important as all the muscles below the neck. Everyone knows that toned muscles don’t sag, and this is just as true for the face. Yoga for the Face also enhances circulation to help with clear smooth skin. On a less superficial note,  Yoga for the Face also helps with tension in the head, face and neck, bringing relief from headaches and jaw tension. 


RELAX with a guided Yoga Nidra meditation, deep relaxation through a mindful rotation of awareness.

The workshop includes notes on Myofascial techniques and tennis balls and sock for the MFR therapy, plus chai tea and a healthy gluten free/ dairy free snack.

1.30 – 4.30pm Sunday 22nd May

( this workshop would make a great early Mother’s day gift- vouchers available! )


Investment: $65
Couples/friends: $120 for two
Early bird price ( book & pay before May 8th ): $55,
$100 for two.

Suits all levels including absolute beginner and the established yoga student- and this includes most bodies!

Check out the lovely accommodation at Hummingbird if you want to make a weekend of it. http://hummingbirdeco.com.au/sleep/accommodation

Bookings for the workshop can be made via email :
heidi@yogaguerilla.com
or call/ text Heidi on 0403560850

Effort in Yoga, how much is too much, how much is too little?

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

Deep surrender in dragonfly, the effort is in the surrender. Note that I am dagging out in trackie dacks and keeping warm in home practice with ample clothes, practicing on a warm carpet and in front of the fire. All highly conducive to letting go.

As a teacher, I see a range of types of people coming to class to learn and practice yoga, and within that many variations in body types, and mind/ personality types. It’s a wonderful thing that keep us yoga instructors on our toes and far from being bored and complacent. No two body/mind/spirit combinations are the same.
There is always a wide range of effort in class, from person to person and from week to week, from season to season and from one type of class to another. Hence it is worth posing the question- how much effort is the right amount?
How do we know when to just allow the shape of the pose to do its work, easing into it without activating the muscles, or when to work against the shape of the pose to press and push deeper?

Obviously, the type of yoga you are practicing makes a great difference on a basic level- in an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class effort is seemingly key, while in a Yin class it seems it is all about letting go.

However it goes deeper than that. The intensity and therefore benefit of a yoga posture can be enhanced by conscious activation of the muscles surrounding the joints that are being worked in any given pose. Engaging or tensing the muscles towards the bones with effort protects the joints and allows the practitioner to move in and out of the pose safely.

Think of the hamstrings for instance- when stretching the hamstrings, a purposeful ‘engagement’ of the front thigh muscle ( the reciprocal part of the body to the hammies ) perhaps through pushing into the big toes or consciously pulling up through the arch of the foot, maybe also micro bending the knee- will activate the quadriceps and in turn protect the hamstrings from over stretching. The hamstrings will then in turn, after a few breaths, be able to move deeper and more slowly into the stretch without the threat of sudden, damaging over-stretching in the origin or insertion points of the muscle.

This action demonstrates how the muscles serve to activate the reflexes of reciprocal action, and the reflexes of relaxation- if you tense the muscles towards the joint being worked and hold them there, the muscles will after a time let go, allowing greater depth in the asana without the danger of letting go and surrender. Ok, I kind of repeated myself there but you get to drift.

This type of activation also increases the heart rate for many people and encourages deeper breathing, creating heat, which helps with flexibility.

How much should we be tensing the muscles towards and around the joints though, and when do you and don’t you tense them?

Key to this question is- how does your head and neck feel? Is your jaw and tongue able to stay soft and your forehead smooth when practicing poses. Is your face red? If there is tension in the face and head, you may be trying too hard. Many beginner Ashtanga students find themselves using the face too much to do a pose that has nothing to do with the head, tongue cleaved to the roof of the mouth, and that intense set jaw and stare… this is not yoga!
You may also find you can not move into the pose very much at all if the muscular effort is too intense. Shaking or quivering is another manifestation of over doing it. Not so much the quivering of a muscle that you are not used to using, but an internal quivering, signalling nervous system over stimulation. Often you won’t realise this until after the practice, whilst resting in savasana.
Over breathing- basically hyper ventilating with breaths too deep and too close together- is another major sign of over effort. Sure we need to do it sometime to manage oxygen levels in something causing exertion ( think of pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood up a hill ), but a whole yoga practice like this ??? That lends itself to nervous system irritation and in the longterm over sensitisation. not really yoga at all. In savasana or meditation at the end of your practice, see if there is any subtle pulsing or flickering in the eyes or behind the eyelids, like a mini strobe light effect. If there is, you have likely over doe it with the effort that day- and need to pull back a bit tomorrow.

You should be conscious and present in your own practice, whether in a class setting or at home, and use this mindfulness- this concentration- to see and feel and know what your body is doing in any given pose on any given day. Some poses may require more effort than others, others more surrender.

If you move too fast into a pose or a vinyasa without muscle co-activation, where the muscles are working together to protect the joint, the danger is that you will compromise the joint or muscle by moving too deeply into the weaker OR more flexible muscles of the area, without using the more stiff regions. Damage can result, and in the long term- even without damage- muscular imbalances may be formed which are hard to undo.

Generally, if you are cold or stiff, tired, unmotivated and/or distracted, a little extra effort in the muscles is all you need to get you back on track and bring greater benefits to your practice.
Some teachers will ask you to ramp up the breath in order to do this- I suggest in order to nourish and protect your sympathetic nervous system ( the one responsible for flight and fight/adrenal stimulation) that the effort comes from the muscles and you don’t force the breath into an unnatural depth or speed. There are far too many people out there that are over doing the breath and are on the path to yoga burnout/ nervous system burnout. Extreme hunger after practice can also be a sign that you have been over breathing/ hyper ventilating.

How about Yin yoga then, the yoga of sweet, sweet surrender?
This advice can also be incorporated into a Yin style practice without being completely contradictory.

First of all, in a Yin practice, you are not building heat through the breath, or through muscle activation or through vinyasa, or through effort. So, the key is to be warm– practicing in a warm room or sunny spot out of the wind, with plenty of clothes on, even socks!
As the body remains cool, and therefore somewhat stiff, there can be a danger to the joints, tendons and muscles if going into poses too quickly and too deeply. Luckily Yin yoga is about patience and staying in the pose for minutes, and seeks to use the reflex of relaxation by doing this. The bodily reflex of relaxation takes around a minute ( give or take) to kick in, and a few deep slow breaths can help it occur. Then you may feel your body soften and let go.
But you have to keep it real and be honest with yourself- not push in any way or expect to get into poses with the depth that you may in a more Yan style practice. Yin changes every single time you practice. Keeping your eyes closed or focus soft, and keeping the breathing natural and tidal helps you keep from grasping or trying too hard.

However, muscle activations can be used to benefit Yin yoga too.
Take for example drogon-fly pose- or the wide legged, seated forward bend known as Upavishta Konasana A in Ashtanga yoga. In Yin yoga you hold this for 5 minutes, and since it is not asking you to balance or make a muscular effort, it is a true Yin posture- as Yin as you can get- especially if your body is open enough to lie on the floor between your feet.

However, on coming into this pose when the body is cool, you may find yourself too stiff to move forward, and too stiff to let go. The muscles of the hips, the hip flexors and extensors, tend to hold on tightly in many people and require more than mindful ‘asking’ of your body/mind to let go. Tensing these muscles while in the first minute or so of the pose, activating towards the hip joints and increasing heat in the area, can help move you deeper into the pose once you let go and the blood flows back into the area. Surrender is then able to happen more safely and completely.

Say you have moved into a Yin yoga pose but feel unsafe- like you have gone too far and are stretching the muscles or tendons beyond what they are ready for? Thats is another time that the effort of muscle activation is beneficial. Say you have a pain in the knee… Immediately engaging the muscles towards the knee, in effect locking it and not allowing it go any further, will protect it. You can then either stay in an engaged form of the Yin pose, or move a little out of it until your knee feels good and then let go of the muscles again.
And if there is a sense of over stretching the lower back? Use the muscle activations of the abdomen- especially good to use when coming in and out of asanas, by imaging a wide 80’s style belt around your belly between the navel and the hip bones, and consciously pulling this belt in from all directions, as if cinching the belt in. This will protect the lower back within the pose, or until you move back to a depth more safely available to you.

How do you know, in any form of physical yoga, if you have not used enough effort? Well, first up, you don’t feel radially different than you did when you first rolled out your mat.
Did your mind wander while practicing, and get caught up in mundane worldly problems or issues? Another sign that you could have applied more effort.
Or, you may find you can’t relax in savasana ( this can also be due to over breathing and over stimulation of the nervous system- be mindful and work out for yourself whether its from over or under effort ).
Or perhaps you don’t feel it in your muscles at all later that day or the next day. We are working the muscles and joints, some sensation is likely, and a useful gauge of how the effort involved.
Or perhaps your practice is going backwards, not forwards? Often in yoga we make effort abut reach a plateau. I believe this to be normal, it can last a long time, and that’s fine. But if in regular practice you feel you are going backwards- physically and in concentration- then maybe more effort could be a useful tool.

All of these signs are good markers to work out for yourself what kind of effort you should apply to yoga practice, so that you neither damage your joints and muscles or your nervous system, or just waste time on the mat faffing around getting distracted and stagnating.

What are your thoughts? Where are you at right now and what do you feel affects your effort in practice the most?

YOGA, ACHES and PAIN- and what to do about them.

This is the first in a series of posts about the aches and pains that may arise from a regular or daily, physical yoga practice.

Like any other activity where you use your body- sport, working out at the gym, gardening, housework- aches and pains and injury may result. Lack of activity will also cause aches and pains ( think how you feel when you get off a plane, do some long distance driving or after a long day of sitting meditation )

It’s a part of living with a body.

Over the many years of my yoga practice, I have had various aches and pains move about my body as areas opened up, or strength was developed, or indeed if I performed an asana incorrectly or without mindful attention- so I have had much experience experimenting with what works to alleviate these pains.

Yoga is designed to balance the body, and this certainly means that it aims to create balance in flexibility and strength. Areas of the body that are flexible- especially over flexible, need support from muscle and bone strength. Areas of the body that are strong can be tight or blocked, and require flexibility to be efficient and comfortable. Keeping this in mind- and applying it to your own body specifics in a mindful way, can help prevent injury and even everyday aches and pains to a certain extent. Simply put, flexible people coming to yoga needs to work on strength, strong people- especially those with strong or ‘built’ muscles need to work on flexibility. But thats getting off topic a bit…

There are a lot of great things you can do to alleviate aches and pains and minor injuries, so I have split them into various categories over several posts:

Please note that I have only included what has worked for me personally- or my partner ( a tradesman, sportsman and long term yogi himself ) .. so while there are many studies out there, and I have read countless articles ( some shown in the links ) this is largely an anecdotal post.

I would love to hear from you if you have other tips apart from these… please make a comment below.

Supplements, tonics and foods that heal- Internal.

Magnesium– is a vital mineral in which so many people are deficient. Magnesium helps the body repair the muscles, essentially feeding them, so they grow larger and stronger. Magnesium eases muscle cramps and helps you relax, is additionally great for stress relief (which in turn relaxes the muscles) and encourages a good nights sleep. It helps keep the integrity of the bones with a synergy with calcium and Vitamin D, and it suppresses the parathyroid hormone which increases blood calcium levels ( not a good thing ) which will break down bone if in excess.
It is a vital nutrient for the functioning of the heart. It is alkalizing and helps hydrate in its use as an electrolyte.
Magnesium can be found in the diet in nuts- especially almonds, in seaweeds, buckwheat, and whole-grains prepared properly for digestion ( soaked overnight in water with a little yoghurt or lemon juice to help break down the phytates ) and leafy green vegetables.
HOWEVER magnesium is such an important mineral that it is the one nutrient I take as a supplement several times a week to ensure I am getting enough, especially if my muscles are aching.

Vitamin C is essential for the restoration of collagen, which helps to rebuild muscle tissue that has been broken down. This can happens when muscles are not used, or when muscle fibres tear, which happens when muscles ARE used ( strengthening muscles actually requires the muscles to have minute tears which heal, forming a denser stronger muscle).
Citrus fruits, tomatoes, berries, especially super berries like kiwi, goji, goldenberry and amla are high in C, as are many leafy greens and broccoli. Raw milk has vitamin C to some extent.
I tend not to take C as a supplement as it is so easy to find in the diet, and much easier on the stomach when taken as food.

Glucosamine,Chondroitin and Collagen ( Bone Broth or Stock )
Strict vegetarian yogi’s need to be aware this is not vegetarian, though I have heard that vegetarian supplements have been developed. Glucosamine and Chondroitin and Collagen are used for joint pain relief.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements are expensive, however. Making your own stock from organic, free range animal bones is a cheap and highly bioavailable way of including these substances in your diet.
Happy, pastured chicken, cow, lamb or wild game animals (I wont partake of the mammals, personally, but I make them for my family ) OR wild caught fish bones from a non oily fish are all good things in which to make bone broth.

The gelatin found in bone broth is hydrophilic- which means it attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices in the gut, thereby supporting proper digestion and absorption of the food it is cooked with (such as grains, soups etc) . It also helps with longer term hydration, holding liquid internally for longer. The gelatin in stock has the anti-inflammatory amino acids arginine, glycine and proline. It helps to heal the gut, and of course, the gut and digestion is the centre of all health.

Here is a link on how to make and use bone broth.
http://nourishedkitchen.com/bone-broth/

Kombucha

Kombucha has much anecdotal evidence supporting its use as a tonic for the body and a liver detox aid. Kombucha is also great for recovery IF you are used to caffeine and sugars, as it does still contain some of both after fermenting. I suggest having water first however, than going straight for the hard stuff, and not relying on Kombucha for energy as some people do with coffee. I find it very useful in relaxing over-used muscles, and give me a pleasant buzz- but I find it too over stimulating if taken after mid afternoon.
Many people have had success drinking kombucha- especially that brewed at home- for muscle pain, joint pain and arthritis, even fibromyalgia symptoms.
Kombucha can contain glucoric acid ( this has both been proven and disproven.. some say it has precursors to help the body produce its own glucoric acid) which is a great liver cleanser and helps with rebuilding the joints. It is full of probiotics, another way help make for a healthy gut.
Here a couple of sites to peruse about the use of Kombucha
http://www.cajunernie.com/arthritis.php
http://www.kombuchakamp.com/2011/04/kombucha-glucosamine-glucuronic-acid-athletes-healthy-connection.html

MSM is a natural nutrient that needs to be taken as a supplement as it occurs in small amounts in food. It is a type of sulfur, which is a vital building block of joints and cartilage ( as well as skin, hair and nails) and is also a methyl compound- which supports many vital biochemical processes in the body, including production of energy.
It is often taken with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health.
Here is a link about MSM from a company that produces the stuff and as far as I can tell it is vegan, or vegan options are around.
http://www.msmguide.com/jointpain/sportsjointpain/

Coconut water… a glass of coconut water supplies you with the salts, sugars and electrolytes required for hydration. Make sure your choice of coconut water is not from concentrate… better still drink it straight from the nut. Coconut water can hydrate quickly and help prevent muscles from seizing up after use or over use. Remember, dehydration can be the main cause of headaches and muscle aches!

Green foods are seen as anti inflammatory, as they are alkaline forming, not acidifying.
An acidic body- one that has high levels of acid ( in the blood) will have high levels of calcium being leached into the blood from the bones, the teeth and bones will weaken.
I tend to think our diets should be based around vegetables, with a lot of them leafy green vegetables, slightly cooked for better absorption and digestion.
Warm foods tend to be much gentler on the yogi’s body and hence nourishing to the muscles, joints and bones than raw foods… raw foods are best in summer and in the middle of the day- but that is another post altogether. ( yoga and food )
Green food powders are widely available, and often used for their alkalising properties. While I have bought them many times, I have never been able to incorporate them in my daily life, and they end up lurking- far past their use by date- in the back of the fridge. I suppose I’m just more into eating green veggies, personally, than powdered green foods.

Ghee– over the years I have had several Indian Master teachers tell me to ‘Eat more ghee’- usually in a stern and commanding tone. Ghee is a pure oil made from cow butter which has been heated and strained to clarify, removing the milk solids and lactose.
Ghee contains vitamins D, E, K and Omegas 3 and 9- but should always be sourced or made from grass fed butter in order to have good levels of the above.
Ghee is used in Ayurvedic medicine to lubricate the joints and nourish the muscles, amongst many other uses and is highly regarded for its ability to facilitate the absorption of the beneficial substances present in the foods with which it is prepared or served.
The reason yoga and pranayama teachers often recommend eating more ghee is for recovery after strong yoga practices ( and exercise, including childbirth ), building strength and for muscle repair. It also does a great deal towards calming the vata dosha and soothing pitta dosha. I’ve been prescribed 4 tablespoons a day! And although I love the stuff and use it instead of butter on everything, 4 TB’s is quite a feat.
Make ghee yourself! It is a lovely process, and costs far less to buy organic butter to make your own, than to buy the ghee pre-made.
Ghee can also be used externally as a body rub (but that’s for the next post, where I go into detail on the remedies and practices taken externally)

and last, but never least…WATER

The very first thing you should do after practice is drink water- every time, no exceptions.
Quality, purified, alkaline water, served room temperature and drunk in abundance.
Yoga practice releases toxins, and if you are not well hydrated after (and before) your practice you are doing yourself a real disservice. Not only from not allowing the body to flush out the toxins – and built up lactic acid- through the kidneys, but robbing your muscles of the water they need to recover. Fascia needs water to function properly, as does skin- to stretch and remain elastic.

If you find that water sits uncomfortably in your gut, seeming to not be absorbed and leaving you feeling bloated, you need to find better water. It’s quite possible that the water you are drinking is lifeless, and not hydrating to the body- being chlorinated, acidic or stale, or full of impurities such as VOC’s ( volatile organic compounds found in paints, chemicals, plastics and always major components of modern air and water pollution )

I have had many water filters over the years, but the one I have stuck with for the past 10 years is the Nikken PiMag water system. The PiMag filter removes impurities, toxins and chlorines out and, mimicking a natural waterfall, negatively ionises, alkalises and remineralises the water, with silver stones for anti bacterial purposes. Plus it is magnetised on the way out of the spigot. I have heard it referred to as a ‘structured water’ – which is highly absorbable, just like water flowing in a stream ( but in this day and age, quite likely a lot cleaner)

It is sweet and delicious and when you own a PiMag water system you find that you finally begin to drink the amount of water you should ( I also use it in all my cooking ) – and it’s then you begin to notice the benefits of a well hydrated body.
Many yoga and pilates studios and gyms are choosing the Nikken PiMag water filter to provide the best water for their students and themselves, and can write the cost off in their taxes!

PiMag waterfall water filter

PiMag waterfall water filter

One more point about water- it should be room temperature, or warm, never cold or chilled. Cold water on an empty stomach, or for that matter on a belly with digesting food, is not good for anyone, it literally freezes the guts, slowing down absorption and digestion.

To find out about PiMag water click here : http://www.nikken.com/product/technology/piMag-water/

I do sell these water systems ( available to 40 countries ) at a discount for followers of this blog, so if you are interested please contact me on heidi (at sign) yogaguerilla (dot) com

I have no affiliation with any of the products I use above EXCEPT the Nikken magnets (next post) and the PiMag Water filters- which I love and believe in, and have seen so many positive effects through- I decided to sell myself!
Please be sure to follow this blog for the next post on this topic Yoga, Aches and Pain- External and share it with fellow yogi’s and friends.

A comment- or if you have another tip that you favour yourself- is always appreciated.

Om
Heidi – yogaguerillagrrl