Is Skype Yoga for You?

YogaSkypeWith more and more folks having video calls and chats for work and catching up with friends, it would only make sense that we’d find a way to bring yoga into it… skype or web-based yoga sessions.

What are they?  Don’t worry — the reality is nothing like this image on the right… and are they for you?

From my research, I’ve found that skype yoga or web-based yoga classes are being offered by yoga instructors around the country (including yours truly).  These are generally private classes that are customized for you.  You and your instructor talk or email before your class and discuss any areas of concern, past injuries and current wellness goals.  You likely sign a waiver just like you would in an in-person class and you’re set.

What you’ll need for skype yoga classes:

  • A good internet connection
  • A webcam either clipped on your computer or built into your device
  • A room with enough open space for you and your yoga mat, preferably closed off from the kids, dogs and other distractions.
  • A yoga mat
  • A PayPal account or willingness to pay through PayPal

Skype or web-based yoga classes offer these great benefits:

  • You don’t have to leave your house for class! This is especially great for folks who don’t have classes in their community or who would rather stay home to workout.
  • You have the accountability of having an appointment with your instructor but you can already be in your comfy clothes and don’t have to brave the gym or the sometimes intimidating yoga studio.
  • You get the benefits of a customized private yoga class that’s likely a little cheaper than having an instructor come to your home (I sometimes build in gas money for my private class rates).
  • Web-based yoga classes are great complements to DVDs in that you’re working with a living, breathing and certified yoga instructor so the content of your practice will be new and dynamic to fit your needs.  You can still use DVDs on your non-class days.
  • Because your class is tailored to you – your needs and goals — you’ll likely see progress in your practice more quickly than a “one size fits all” class.

Who should think about skype yoga classes?

  • If you have been thinking about trying yoga but feel intimidated, uncomfortable or anxious going to a large class, this could be the perfect class for you… We ALL have fears and insecurities about certain things and this could be for any reason at all.  A web-based class allows you to explore yoga in a way that’s safe and on your terms.
  • If you’re home bound, caring for a loved one or working from home, your instructor will work with you to find a convenient time for class.
  • Maybe you live in a small town with no yoga class options and you’re really not a fitness dvd person.

One final thought on this — you don’t need to already know yoga or be an avid yogi to benefit from a web-based class.  It’s amazing how well I can see even slight adjustments in form as I’m instructing my skype clients.  The technology is such that it’s like I’m in the room with them… only better.  When we’re finished, my clients are relaxed, feeling balanced and strong. And, they just hang up our video call and set about their day.  No driving through traffic or any other “peace stealers”.

Has anyone tried skype yoga with an instructor?  What was your experience?

If you’re interested in skype yoga with YogaXoga, contact me to learn more.

The Power of Six – 6 Count Breath

SAMSUNGI just returned from an amazing two day training in hot, but beautiful Palm Springs and I’ve got so much to tell you!  But…I’m going to try to parse it all out into manageable bites instead of spilling all of the beans here.

Here are the highlights… I spent two days learning about how yoga can help facilitate healing from emotional and physical trauma.  If this is intriguing for you, check out YogaFit’s website to find a training near you.

As many of you know, I teach yoga to teen girls who are survivors of sex trafficking…which definitely falls into the realm of emotional and physical trauma.  More on that in future posts…as I’m trying out many of these techniques I’ve learned…

What I didn’t expect was to come away with so many “aha moments” for myself.  While I’ve not experienced the type of trauma that my students have or the type of trauma that our troops have endured, we all have withstood traumas of some sort. That’s life.  Anytime you are in a situation where your nervous system can’t do its thing – fight or flight – yet we’re in a situation we didn’t choose and can’t control, we experience trauma.

Here’s the game plan…I’m going to spend however long it takes blogging about simple things that you can do to feel better, be more present, feel less stressed…you name it.  If you’d like more details on any of this, see my references at the end…here’s the first one…

The 6 Count Breath:

Lie on your back or sit tall (with feet on the floor and hips toward the back of the chair).  If you’re lying on your back, make sure that your chin is level or slightly down, not tilted up.  Place a pillow or rolled blanket under your neck to adjust this.  Begin by breathing in and out through your nose and notice the movement of your breath.  Try to feel your breath in your belly.  As you inhale, your belly expands and as you exhale, your belly falls back.  You might place one hand on your belly to feel this movement.  Allow your chest and shoulders to just rest.

Begin to count as you inhale and count as you exhale.  Something like this:  inhaling 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and exhaling 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…  Ideally, you want to practice a breath that’s 5-6 counts long… this is the optimum length for calming your nervous system and stimulating your vagus nerve (more on that in future posts) which helps communicate between the two sides of your nervous system.  If this feels like too long, just breathe the length that’s comfortable and over time, work up to a 5-6 count breath.

The challenge:  Try this 6 Count Breath for 6 minutes in the morning and 6 minutes at night for 6 days…. and let me know what happens… Add your comments here and share with us…

————————————————–

For more info on Yoga and Trauma:

Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD

The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of post traumatic stress by Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD  http://www.trauma-pages.com/vanderk4.html

 

Taking Comfort in Things Past & Present

An old picture from our DVD film shoot

An old picture from our DVD film shoot

We see blog posts and articles about our older, wiser selves addressing our younger, more naive selves with key lessons learned and words of wisdom.  But how often does our younger self really give us new insight?  This just happened to me and I thought I would share…

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been doing a lot of yoga lately.  I have all of those excuses that you sometimes do – not enough time, need a more cardio-intensive workout, blah. blah. blah.  And, as you might expect, my body was noticing and craving it.  So, I broke down this week and decided to put in one of my yoga DVDs.  Keep in mind, I don’t usually do this.   First, it’s a little weird to watch yourself on a DVD.  Often, I’ll just get the mat out and make up my practice as I go along.  But this week, I needed more.  I needed something (or someone) familiar to guide my practice.

After just a couple of minutes of letting my mind settle, I was able to close my eyes and just tune into my breath and my movement.  It felt like I was visiting with an old friend.  Having gone through and still going through a lot of change and uncertainty, it was comforting to step back to a former time and even to a former version of myself.  Yet, I was still in the present moment, but receiving comfort, insight and encouragement from my past.

So how does this apply to you?  You likely do not have a yoga DVD of yourself but this can still be relevant.  Whether it’s yoga, gardening, taking a dance class, re-visiting a journal or painting a picture, you can tap into something that’s familiar and soothing.

Yoga does have a unique ability of helping us tune in and be aware of what’s happening within us — not just what’s happening around us.  You might take a look at this post on yoga breathing for a place to start.  For me, I was reminded this week that my yoga practice helps me be still and listen for divine whispers and guidance.  For that sense of direction or purpose that we all long for.  And even more so on a day like today when we all pause and remember those who left this world too soon.

I’m back on the yoga bus and very glad about that.

Demystified Yoga for Everybody

Yoga Xoga (15)I can’t tell you how many awful, humiliating stories I’ve heard from folks once they hear that I teach yoga.  It’s usually hot or cold.  The nice response is “I love yoga!” but the equally often response is “Let me tell you about my awful, humiliating experience with this or that yoga class or teacher.”

Just recently, I met a woman who shared with me that she was asked  to leave her yoga class (permanently) because she moaned and grunted so much that it disturbed the class. This woman seemed quite sincere that she was wanting to do her best in the class and was not purposely distracting others.  Hmm…I guess I come from the mindset that yoga should be for EVERY BODY.  And with that in mind, we should try to extend grace and understanding to everyone in our class.  If I was teaching her class, I would try to take a look back at myself and my pose choices for the class.  Are the poses consistent with the levels of my students?  Moans and groans may mean that the student is pushing too hard or needs another modification, but that doesn’t mean she should be booted from class.

When people ask me why did I name the yoga DVD series and our classes Demystified YogaTM, this is why.  So that any body, any size, any age and any faith could come into one of our classes and feel at home.  Accepted and not judged.   Where yoga is taught in a practical stress-relieving way, in English and without mystical ideologies.

In moving to Phoenix, it’s taken me awhile to really find my “yoga people”.  People who utilize yoga to help them do the things in life that they enjoy, without taking the yoga rules too seriously.  People who may have an extra moan or groan in doing their version of a pose, but who are surrounded by others who get it and extend grace all around.   I so enjoyed that amazing community of  “yogaxoga people” in Kansas City and am hopeful that they’re here in Phoenix…we just need to find each other.

 

Yoga in the Broken Places

First let me say I am not a trauma expert. And I’m not a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.  I’m a seasoned yoga teacher with a heart for those who have experienced trauma and come from broken places.  I’ve worked with a variety of different types of people who have experienced trauma and abuse and have shared yoga with them.   With our breath and mindful movement, we ease gingerly into those broken places and move towards healing.

Yoga has so many great foundational messages about being present, accepting  yourself, your situation in the present moment, and non-violence and choosing.  For many who have suffered trauma and have come out of broken places,  they have to re-learn that they have choices.  They’ve been in situations where they had no choice.  In each moment, they can choose to do a pose or not.  They can choose to push through discomfort or ease back.  It’s theirs to adjust, form and create.

I’m writing this today for two reasons…one is to highlight a great way that yoga can be shared.  And two, to share tips and insights for others out there with big hearts to serve people that come from broken places…It can be discouraging at times so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far (always learning).

Specifically, I share yoga with young victims of sex trafficking at a safe center where they live.  These girls have come through horrific experiences that many of us don’t want to even think about.  And they’re now in a safe place, receiving shelter, education and therapeutic care to move forward and write new stories for their futures.  Did you know that the average age of a girl entering into sex trafficking is 13?  Do you know a 13  year old girl?  Let that sink in for a moment.  If this topic strikes a cord or interests you, please explore StreetlightUSA’s website, which is where I volunteer.  Or leave a comment; I’d love to talk with you.  It’s a wonderful organization, making a big difference in these girls’ lives.

I will say that it has been a roller-coaster ride in being the “yoga lady” at StreetlightUSA.  If I’m honest, in the beginning, a part of me wanted and even expected to deliver a well-executed class each time and see satisfied, restful and even grateful participants looking back at me at the end.   And that was my biggest mistake.  But when I began to surrender my expectations of the classes and these girls and just continued to show up and share what I had to share in as empathetic and respectful way as I could, I believe God stepped in in a big way.  And that’s when the seeds of healing began to sprout.  Some weeks, a resident will share that she used a breathing technique that she learned in class to calm herself that week.  Some have started requesting poses that they like better than others.  And I do gaze back at restful, relaxed faces at the end of class. Progress is happening… not sure who feels more blessed but I’m thinking it’s me.   I feel humbled and very blessed to play this small role in their journeys.

Practically,  there are poses that we avoid because I want to minimize as best I can the triggers that might surface from yoga.  I’m sure you can figure those out (no Down Dog, happy baby, etc).  Because many of these residents arrive with physical pains, we do a lot of gentle movements and stretches such as back stabilizers (spinal balance, cobra), strengtheners, spinal twists and deep stretches. We do a lot of breathing exercises such as Alternate Nostril Breath and “Ha” or Counting breaths so that these girls have these stress-relieving tools in their “virtual toolkit”.  I always say that their breath and their ability to slow it down is always free and is always available to them.   Most of all,  I insert a lot of choices for each activity that we’re doing so that the residents have the opportunity to practice making choices for themselves in a safe place.

Here are some of the highlights of what I’ve learned:

  • Come with a humble, servant’s heart — I admit I wasn’t always practicing this one…but when I did/do – the whole experience  is better for everyone.
  • Leave expectations at home and meet them where they’re at.  Sometimes “participation” is someone lying on their mat, eyes closed and not engaged.  And maybe the next time, she’ll try a few movements and the next a few more. Baby steps are still real steps.
  • Incorporate choice – Make sure that you don’t present just one way to do something unless there truly is only one way.  With yoga specifically, give at least two or three options so that everyone in the room feels that they have an option that they can choose.  I try to practice this with all populations of people.
  • Make it fun — Yoga doesn’t have to be somber and serene all of the time.  Incorporate fun movements, even dancing to lighten the mood.  Choose fun music that will engage your audience.   All of this will help the quieter, more reflective moments as well.
  • Don’t quit – unless you absolutely have to.  People who have experienced trauma and come from broken places have often had many people walk away from them or give up on them.  Be the exception.  Let them see something different in you.  Maybe they’ll see stubbornness at first but hopefully in time, they’ll see consistency, perseverance,  and love.

Real Yoga Stories: Claudia

Below is my client, neighbor and friend Claudia’s yoga story.  She and I have worked together twice a week for about six months.  She also supplements with my DVDs when she’s out of town.  Claudia is living proof that yoga can make you feel stronger, more fit and just all-around better!

———————————————————————-

ClaudiaI am a 67 year old female who has just begun my journey through yoga and I am here to tell anyone who will listen that it is the best “exercise” I have ever done!!! Thanks to Heidi Valenzuela who is my instructor who has shown me a very gentle method to this form of yoga.

She is so good at making you feel comfortable with each of the poses and encourages you when you don’t do it well. The best part is she is so encouraging and wants you to do your best. I have become so much stronger than I could have imagined! I did almost trip once and was headed for a face plant in my yard. I was able to “save” myself from falling because of the strength in my legs thanks to what I have done in yoga.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, yoga can be done. That’s the other thing I love about working with Heidi. As I have progressed, we go a step further but not to the point that I could not do the pose. I can’t thank Heidi enough for making my quality of so much better.

————————————————————————-Thank you, Claudia!!

Facing Fears and Jumping In: A Personal Update

DSCN1245I know this is primarily a yoga blog and you would expect yoga topics here… but I also know many of you who follow and regularly read this blog are clients (past and present), friends and family…so I’m taking some liberties today and sharing a personal update with you.

As many of you know from past posts and personal conversations, we have tried for awhile now to grow our family biologically.  That’s basically how the Wellness Junkie Blog came about because I would pretty much try anything for the sake of health, wellness and yes, fertility.  And I’m healthier now at nearly 40 than I was in my 20s and 30s and I have many a naturopath, acupuncturist and bunches of kale to thank for that!  While, we’re not shutting the door on the possibility of a bio baby (God can do it… and surprise us!), we’ve taken a significant step forward in growing our family through adoption… and I’m bursting to share this with all of you.

We have submitted our home study paperwork for domestic adoption to Arizona’s Christian Family Care and will be starting our home study interviews soon… We celebrated completing seven weeks of Adoption Preparation classes last week.  As a planner and goal-setter, my hope is that we’ll be certified and officially “waiting” by the end of the summer.   We’re excited and a bit anxious…but facing those fears and trusting that this is exactly where we need to be.

I am, by nature, a very private person… sharing things with a few intimate friends and often keeping things tucked inside.  I’m learning that when we face those fears, ignore the inner voice that keeps us from speaking and share our lives with others, good happens.  We don’t know who else is going through similar things or completely different things but things that also require courage, trust, and love…we need to do life together.

So there you go.  In some ways, it feels like we’ve been on this journey for a LONG time, but in other ways, it feels like it’s just now beginning…

Will digress from yoga occasionally with updates…

Heidi

7 Yoga Poses for the Yoga Skeptic

When people learn that I teach yoga, the most common response that I hear is “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.”  Hmm…  That sounds very similar to the  “I’m too sick to go to the doctor” response… I know. Crazy.  But it’s a common misconception when very advanced poses are always the ones we see on magazine covers and people often mistake the end state of many years of practice as a beginner’s first step.

So for those of you who practice and enjoy yoga — any level and style of yoga, but aren’t sure how to gently encourage a co-worker, friend, or loved one to give it a try, this post is for you.  And for those of you who have responded with the “I’m not flexible enough…” line, these poses are for you.  Give ‘em a try!

 

For the Stressed Out:

  • Slow, Belly Breathing – It’s a simple thing, really.  Slow your breath down and you’ll feel better.  Lying on your back, place one hand on your belly.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, making a quiet “Ha” sound.  Notice as you breathe in, your belly rises and as you breathe out, it falls.  After a few breaths, seal your lips so that you’re breathing in and out through your nose.  Continue for 6-8 breaths.
  • Chest Expansion – This is a great stretch to do standing or in a chair.  If seated, sit at the front edge of the chair with your feet on the floor.  Place your hands behind or beside you on the chair seat and lift through your sternum and chest. Be sure and draw your shoulders down from your ears and your shoulder blades toward each other.   From a standing position, make sure your feet are hip width apart.  Draw your arms behind you as if you were holding a beach ball and lift through the sternum and chest.  Hold and breathe in the pose for 3-5 breaths. 

For the Achy Low Backs:

  • Knees to Chest – Lying on your back, draw your legs in toward your chest, holding on behind your thighs.  Gently rock side to side or just hold here for 4 slow breaths.
  • Legs Up in a Chair – Lie down on the floor near a chair seat or ottoman legs up chairso that your hips are pretty close to the front feet of the chair and let your calves/feet rest in the chair seat.  Draw your shoulders down and let your arms rest on the floor beside you.  Align your ears over your collarbones so that you feel that your spine is straight.  Rest here for as long as you’re comfortable.  This is a great stretch for the low back and for de-stressing at the end of the day.

  • Cat & Cow Flow – With hands and knees on the floor, take a moment to check your alignment.  You want to have your hands right underneath your shoulders and knees directly over the hips.  With your next inhale, let your belly release toward the floor and draw your sternum forward, looking slightly forward.  As you exhale, reverse the movement, rounding your back and drawing your belly up toward the spine.   Continue moving each way with your breath for 8 rounds.

For the “Yoga isn’t a workout” friend:

  • Plank – Downward Dog Flow -
    Plank

    Plank

    After warming up your spine with Cat & Cow Flow, come into Plank – top of a push-up position, keeping a slight lift in the hips to protect the low back.  Take a full inhale and as you exhale, lift the hips up and shift your shoulders back into Downward Dog.  Take a moment this first time to bicycle your heels and stretch your hamstrings and calves.  Begin to flow between the two poses:  inhale into Plank and exhale into Downward Dog.

    Downward Dog

    Downward Dog

    Repeat for 4-6 rounds and rest in Child’s Pose.  For more challenge, repeat the flow. 

 

 

 

 

  • Dolphin Plank – Dolphin Plank is similar to the Plank described above, but with forearms on the floor instead of hands.  Make sure that your elbows are directly under your shoulders and not splaying out to the sides.  dolphin plankBoth Dolphin Plank and Plank can be modified with knees on the floor for a more gentle (but still effective) version.  Make sure you feel work happening in your abs, shoulders and forearms and no strain in your low back.  If you are feeling low back strain, then choose to rest in Childs Pose or choose the modified version with knees on the floor.  Try holding this pose for 20 seconds and then rest for a few seconds and repeat 2 more times…so you’re holding for one minute but not a continuous minute yet.  Over time, you can work toward 2 30 second holds and then one minute holds as your body is willing.

 

Creating a Personal Affirmation

j0441048About 4 years ago, I sat in a yoga teacher training while the instructor talked about creating an affirmation statement for your life.  At the time, I resisted.  I was going through a rough time and had uncertainty and fear spinning all around me.  I wasn’t convinced that a flowery yoga phrase would help.  But, for the sake of participation, I complied and wrote this:

I am embracing the opportunities and adventures life and God have for me with courage, gratitude and love.

Fast-forward 2 years later…while rummaging through my training manuals, this small piece of paper falls out with my affirmation.  Now, I’d love to tell you that I was mindfully focused on it every day for the past two years and wonderful things ensued.  Wonderful things have ensued but I wasn’t mindfully affirming them, necessarily.  But, there is power in writing something down.  Even though I wasn’t focused on these words every day, they were there in the back of my mind, my intentions and God was weaving a beautiful quilt of opportunities, failures and surprises that I could’ve never imagined.

So a few thoughts on affirmations…at least what others say and what I’ve found:

  • Affirmations should be written in the present tense, not the past or future…but right now.  -Ing verbs are even better as they imply continuity and flow.
  • You want your affirmation to not be so specific that it won’t last through the years, but it’s also ok to have different affirmations for different situations in your life or life stages.  You might have several that serve you in different ways.
  • They should be aspirational…they should nudge you (in a good way) toward what you’re wanting in your life, how you’d like to be.
  • Write your affirmation down and place somewhere that you’ll see it frequently.  Mine is taped up in my office so that it’s in my peripheral vision while I type.
  • Affirmations should be positive.  They should not include a “not” or “never”… they should encourage and inspire us.
  • A practical exercise is to take a slow inhale and as you exhale think your affirmation in your mind.  It will begin to come off the paper and be a part of you.

Back to my affirmation, I think I’m going to stick with mine – unchanged after four years and maybe even more applicable today than back then.  Sometimes I just try to conjure up the short version: Courage, Gratitude & Love. It’s been a great day if I’ve expressed these three things in some small (or big) way.

New adventures are just around the corner for us (more in future posts) and maybe it’s because I’m nearly 40, but I am embracing them without old fears or my negative self-talk tapes.  I’m grateful for each opportunity and challenge, filled up with love.  Excited.  More soon.

Yoga Stretches in Bed, before Bed

Sometimes we have days, even weeks at a time when we have every intention to exercise or get to that yoga class and it just doesn’t happen.  This post is all about yoga stretches you can do in bed.  Yep.  You don’t even have to leave your bed to stretch your body.  And these stretches take only about 15 minutes total to do.  The following are  stretches to do at night in bed before bed.

Yoga Stretches in Bed 

Knees to Chest: Begin lying on your back and draw  your knees in toward your chest.  If your knees are sensitive, be sure and hold onto your legs behind your thighs.  Gently rock side-to-side and begin to make small circles, massaging your sacrum (low part of your spine).

Knee Hug Series: From Knees to Chest, keep hugging one leg in towards you and release the other leg. If your low back is sensitive, keep the released leg bent with your foot planted on the bed.  Rotate the ankle of the hugged leg in both directions for a couple of breaths.  Then, begin to rotate the hip of the hugged leg — just small controlled circles with the hip in both directions.  Finally, gently move into a Half Happy Baby by opening the hip out to the side and lifting the sole of your foot to the ceiling. Gently hold on either behind the thigh, shin or sole of the foot.  Hold for a couple of breaths and come back to Knees to Chest.  Switch sides when you are ready.

Recline Pigeon: With your legs bent and feet on the bed, gently lift the right recline pigeonankle and cross it over the left knee.  Gently press your right thigh away from you, stretch your hip or lift the left foot from the bed and draw the legs toward you; engaging your core.  Hold the stretch for 4-6 breaths and switch sides.

Moving Recline Twist: With the soles of your feet on the bed, draw your arms out away from your body and take a slow inhale.  As you exhale, gently rest both of your legs to the right side.  With your next inhale, bring your legs back to center and as you exhale, gently shift your knees to the left side.  Continue moving with your breath at a slow, steady pace for 8-10 breaths.

Legs Up the Headboard/Wall: Gently turn yourself around so that your head is toward the foot of the bed and inch up so that your hips are close to the headboard of your bed.  Roll to one side and allow your legs to rest up the headboard (or wall if your bed has no headboard).  Be sure that your hips/back are fairly close to the headboard and that your low back feels comfortable and supported.   Draw your shoulders down, relax your face and jaw and begin focusing on your breath.  Try to make your exhales last a bit longer than your inhales.  Stay here for 3-5 minutes and when you’re ready, gently roll to one side and slowly make your way to some ZZzzzz’s.

For more: Our YogaXoga Demystified Yoga DVD Volume 2 features three 20-minute yoga classes including Yoga Before Bed.