Sunday, February 15, 2015

How Yoga Has Changed My Mind, Body, and Life!

I know it's been awhile; I went on my workout hiatus, but I've been back in the game for months now thanks to Yoga.  This might be a little long, but for those of you wanting to either try something new, learn Yoga, already enjoy Yoga but think it's too hard, or are stuck in a rut, hang on and please keep reading.  I'm hoping this will be not only instructional but inspirational!

I always thought, "Yoga's too slow, I need something fast-passed," or "Yoga seems boring," or "Yoga isn't going to burn as many calories as HIIT training will."  So all my negative thoughts only led me as close to Yoga as Jillian Michael's Yoga Meltdown and Yoga Inferno and then Denise Austin's Yoga Body Burn.  These Yoga workouts are a little more fast passed and Jillian combines a little HIIT training, but none of them focus on what yoga is all about: proper form, breathing, and calming the mind.  (A calm mind leads to much less anxiety!)  Now, don't get me wrong, these are all good workouts and they are how I got more involved in a true, daily Yoga practice.  So I'm not saying not to try them, but maybe try reading some materials on Yoga and learning proper breathing a proper form so that you can complete these workouts with correct knowledge of each move.  

I am by NO MEANS an expert, so what I'm about to tell you about is things I've learned from reading Slim Calm Sexy Yoga and Yoga Cures by Tara Stiles (personal Yoga instructor to Deepak Chopra) and Yogalosophy (also the name of a GREAT Yoga DVD) by Mandy Ingber (personal Yoga instructor to Jennifer Aniston), as well as various other Yoga instructional books (all of which I've gotten from my local library...I eventually purchased Slim Calm Sexy Yoga because I LOVED it so much.)

Tara Stiles has various 10 minute videos on YouTube that are great for a quick routine--you can do several to make your own workout or if you only have 10 minutes, you can pick one and then there is your Yoga for the day!  Just 10-15 minutes a day and you're already on your way to daily Yoga practice!  Tara is full of information on proper form and ways to help you with everything from laziness to heart disease.  I do her 5 minutes A.M. Metabolism Kickstart before I even get out of bed every morning (you can find this exercise in her book) and then I do a 10 minute Deep Sleep routine every night before bed (there's my 15 minutes!)  

Yoga creates an awareness--it's what all the pro-Yogis talk about; it's an awareness about not only the muscles your working and the things your accomplishing inside and out, but it gives you an awareness of what types of food and when you put food into your mouth which makes you less likely to eat junk, drink soda, or even overeat.  Yoga helps you know (without even really thinking about it) what your body needs...not just what your mind thinks you want.

Both Mandy and Tara will teach you how to breath correctly and how to continue that breathing throughout your workout.  Now, Mandy adds some toning exercise reps and pulses into her DVD that will exhaust your muscles and give you energy at the same time (her sense of humor keeps things interesting, too).  Keeping your breath at a steady pace, using proper form, and keeping your gaze still in order to keep the mind still and focused are the 3 most important aspects to a great Yoga practice.

Now, to learn proper form, you probably want to run to the internet to look up videos of people doing "proper Yoga pose," but you should really READ about it instead.  Published Yoga instructors are the best way to get the right information; they've been through the proper training and most of them run professional studios in New York or L.A. and work with celebrities. (The celebrity part just means that for the price I'm sure they get paid, they must be good! Haha!)  I've read a variety of books that show and describe in detail how to do poses properly, and I trust them because they all say the same thing! :-)

I got the inspiration to write this because I was looking through Yoga videos online and I found several where people were really just harming their bodies instead of helping due to the lack of proper form.  (Now, some of those videos are right--many instructors post their stuff online to get their practice out there, but I'm going to help you spot the ways you should and shouldn't do certain moves.) 

I'm going to go through and explain some of the most popular and pretty much ALWAYS used positions in every Yoga workout I've tried in order to give you a good base starting point:

I learned a secret from Tara about how to hold a plank without feeling like my shoulders are going to give out.  Plank is all about the CORE, however, most people just get into a plank pose and use their arms for all the support. Jillian Michaels loves to do planks, and it really sucked when I found out that I've been doing it (somewhat) wrong for years!!  Try this:  From your hands and knees, raise up into a high plank/top of a push-up.  Don't lock your arms--that will put the tension in your shoulders and make your elbows face outwards.  Make sure your elbows are facing towards your toes with just the slightest bend.  Lift your hips and suck in your belly so that you're in a perfect line with your shoulders.  Think about lifting the back of your thighs to the ceiling, and bushing the back of your heels towards the wall.  Now...BREATHE STEADY and keep your focus slightly IN FRONT of you (not straight down).  Focus on your belly and thighs and breathing and you won't even notice that your arms are getting a workout, too.  It's become amazing how long I can hold a plank, now.

Many think chair is just a squat, but it is NOT.  A squat is where you you stick your booty out and get down as low as you can go. You DO NOT want to stick out your butt while holding a chair pose.  It will only hurt your lower back and is bad for your spine.  Try this: Tuck your hips, suck in your belly, squat like your about to sit in a chair, raise your arms up by your ears and focus on a single spot up and in front of you.  Make sure your hips are tucked the whole time, don't let your booty float out, because then you loose the core workout that comes with a chair pose and end up with a sore lower back.

(Stay tuned...more poses to come!!!)