what to do when you lose your yoga mojo

A jug fills drop by drop. ~Buddha

One of the things that came up in conversations on retreat this summer was how hard it can be to get back into consistent practice after a disruption.

Vacation, having company, a change in schedule… anything can disrupt our delicate yoga mojo.

So how do you get it back if you can’t, say, go on retreat? Here are a few ideas for both home and studio practice:

  • Set up structure Consistency is key — both with the benefits of practice and the likelihood of doing it. Get on a realistic schedule. Make it non-negotiable. You wouldn’t consider not brushing your teeth for a day…why is “flossing” the body any different? Routine of time and place might not be exciting, but it will help the habit stick.
  • Create space This may seem obvious, but if you want a home practice and haven’t designated a place for it, it won’t happen. Find a corner, a rug, a spot that feels good to you — it doesn’t have to be a whole room. Consider the view, which direction you’ll face, the light, if there’s a draft…but don’t let any of those become excuses to not get on the mat.
  • Accountability buddy The power of the no-flake pact! If practicing in person with a friend isn’t an option, how about virtually? Text or call to indicate the start and end of a meditation or asana practice. Just knowing that we’re sharing that time, even at a distance, can increase our fidelity.
  • Remember that the first step is the hardest When it comes right down to it, there’s no magic secret or guarantee to help us make healthy choices. Habits build by repetition. The first step (getting out of bed 30 minutes early, getting off the couch even after a long day) is the hardest part. Once we’re in it (or done) we remember why we love it, how good it feels, how happy the body is with just a little bit of care. Let that feeling be your motivation.

Yoga is thing that gets us back to what is real and important in life. Make it easy for yourself with structure, routine, accountability and forgiveness. 

Of course, if you want a little more support, there’s always At Home with It’s All Yoga. And we love to see your shining face in the studio!

Lots of love, Michelle

sitting is worse than smoking?!?

Ok, so last week I shared my favorite posture support trick for sitting at a desk. Because the fact is, I sit at a desk every day. But sitting properly isn’t enough. scorpion pose The S.F. Chronicle recently published a piece about what it takes to mitigate the damage done from sitting 8 hours a day. Even if we sit with perfect posture, we are sitting more than our bodies are meant to sit. Researchers found that “sitting all day is as dangerous as being obese or smoking.” Wow. As you can see in the article, the recommendation is to walk or engage in healthy, moderate-intensity movement for 60-75 minutes a day to counteract the effects of sitting. Yes. Definitely. Move your body. Yoga absolutely fits the bill. (And has many additionalbenefits.) In this spirit, I thought I would share a couple other tactics that I use to keep my body from being permanently stuck in chair mode. First, I use the Pomodoro method of working in spurts. There’s research on how much concentration time is ideal for optimal brain function so my productivity and creativity are increased….with the physical side-benefit of taking a stretch break every 25 minutes. The other new habit I’m building has to do with what I’m doing during the short breaks in between work spurts. Sid Garza-Hillman has coined the term “Integrated Exercise,” where he suggests doing a few exercises — for example 4 push ups, 6 sit ups, or a 30 second plank hold — several times a day. The basis of the tactic is to build exercise into your regular day in very small doses. Do only as many reps as you can currently do, not a prescribed number and not to the point of straining yourself. If you are consistent, the number of repetitions or amount of time will naturally increase. In the meantime, you are doing more than you were before. So during some of my Pomodoro breaks, I’m doing fake jump rope for one minute and a few minutes of some Jane Fonda-esque aerobic moves. (For me it’s more about movement and mobility than strength.) It feels good, it’s fun and it’s more than I was doing last week. Last, I try to abide by the 20-20-20 eye relief rule: every 20 minutes focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is supposed to give the eyes relief from screen strain. Keep in mind that sitting time isn’t only desk-sitting time. Driving, watching TV, reading…all of the time that you are sitting down counts. The big take-away here is do less of it. Get up, move, dance, stretch, hop. There’s no such thing as too late or too little. Starting today means your body is happier than it was yesterday. I hope these ideas help inspire you! Michelle PS – we just added a slew of workshops scheduled through the fall. check em out. PPS – the Back to School Sales are here! (OMG)

put on your yogi backpack

  Do you sit a lot in any form — driving, computering, tv watching? Are you a slumper? Does your neck or back hurt after sitting? Or does your breath get shallow?  Michelle Marlahan on healthy sitting posture{{Confessions of a sloucher}} Like most people, I sit a lot. Being a yoga teacher does not mean that I am doing asana all day. Nor does it mean that I automatically have perfect posture all the time. In actuality, running a business means that I am sitting at a computer doing a whole lot of administrative work… during which time I am often slouching (see sad photo –>). A couple of weeks ago in the Sunday 9 am class, I shared this much-loved technique of using a strap (or a robe tie at home) to make a Support Backpack. One student reported that she loved it so much (it completely alleviated her shoulder pain) that she was going to try it at the office! With such great reviews, I figured it was worth featuring with an instructional video. Check out this short clip for a quick how-to on creating your own posture support. (Or watch on our YouTube channel.) I actually used this last week while working and my posture, breath AND attention all felt brighter. Let me know how it goes! Michelle

the impatience of august: 5 ways to come back

Do you ever feel a little impatient this time of year?
Whether you are simply weary of the heat, counting the days until school starts, planning that last-minute road trip to squeeze out the last bits of summer, August can be a time of hammock-induced anxiety. Squirrel wisdom Most of us suffer from that pesky Western desire to get somewhere. Maybe that’s why the theme for August at It’s All Yoga is Patience. Full disclosure: if you asked my family about my relationship to patience, they would probably roll their eyes and chuckle. But it is a practice, I say, a practice! In that spirit, I give you… Five ways to practice patience in August!
  1. Stay – Wherever you are, stay there.
Here’s an example: If you are in that long, slow line at the grocery store, don’t scamper on over to the shorter one just to save two minutes. And that slow lane in traffic? Cool your jets…literally. See what it might feel like to stay.
  1. Create Something – Draw, write, build a deck, make some jewelry, prepare a meal from scratch, plant a garden.
When we are creating, things like mistakes and wrong turns are just part of the process. Patience comes in handy here. Creativity also gives us space to tinker, to ponder, to slow the heck down…no matter what the outcome.
  1. Chew Your Food – Okay, I’ll admit it. This is my number one patience practice.
I don’t know what it is. My jaw is a sprinter, not an endurance runner. But I’m learning. We could practice this one together. We could call it the “30 Chews Per Bite Club.” Who knows, we might even taste our food, really taste it. If nothing else, our intestines will thank us for all the mindful chewing.
  1. Listen – Most people just want to be heard.
True listening takes loads of patience. To practice the great art of listening, consider asking a friend to lunch (maybe someone who is going through a rough patch), and practice your nodding skills.
  1. Meditate – You didn’t think I was going to forget that one, did you?
Meditate while sitting, walking, or doing the dishes. Notice your breath. What does your body feel like? What are your habitual thought patterns? What emotions or judgments arise? Pay attention. Just a few minutes a day can create miracles. Which brings me to the real gift of practicing patience: Presence. When I slow down long enough to be present to my own life, it’s kind of amazing. I realize that I manufactured about ten of the things on my “to do” list just so I have something to look forward to. What’s all this about the next big thing anyway? The big thing is right here, right now. With love, Holly

moon energy moves

* Sizzling from the Sun? During the peak heat of summer, we can start to feel burnt to a crisp and fatigued from the long days of light.  The sun is represented in the front of our bodies, a more masculine and activated energy, encouraging more doing, going and achieving.  If we become energetically over-heated, the body may respond with certain symptoms of imbalance, such as stomach upset, fatigue, head/neck ache, irritability and/or emotional volatility.  These symptoms may be the body’s way of asking for some complementary cooling. Tap into the Energy of the Moon The back of the body is our moon side.  Moon energy is more more feminine, cool, dark, receptive, nurturing, content and quiet.  This is the energy that supports us, holds us and allows us to rest.  It is also the energy that allows us to see our whole self, the light and the dark, and is wholly accepting. Just as it guides the currents of the ocean, moon energy invites us to let go, trust and surrender to the flow. Feel the Lunar Shift in Your Body with these 7 Poses Try this short yoga asana sequence at home, using the wall.  The wall allows the body let go and release with more ease, cultivating a deeper sense of contentment.  All of these shapes encourage the body weight to rest into the heels, back of hips, back of heart and back of head.
1.  Tadasana at the Wall: Stand with your feet about 6-12 inches from the floor board.  Feet parallel and hip-width, find softness in the knees.  Allow the weight to shift back into the heals, the back of the hips, heart and head, resting fully against the wall.  Allow the shoulder blades to melt down the back, front ribs softening toward the back of the body.  Find 10 breaths in Tadasana at the wall. This shape will create a sense of grounding, contentment and support.  It will also illuminate how much energy we have moving forward, and how different it is to rest back.
2. Wall Dog: Stand facing the wall, place your hands on the wall down low, by the waist.  Press into the wall with the hands as you walk the feet back.  Check to be sure your wrists and shoulders are in alignment, and that the feet are underneath the hips.  Press actively into the wall and reach actively back through the tail.  Soften the knees as much as you need, draw the front ribs up toward the back spine.   Find 10 breaths in this shape. Wall dog will encourage a lengthening the neck, shoulders, heart, hips and hamstrings, to create a flow of energy along the whole back body.
3.  Forward Fold, Sit Bones on the Wall: Position your heels about 6-12 inches away from the wall and rest all of your weight back into the wall.  Keep the weight in your heels and keep the sit bones in contact with the wall.  Bend the knees deeply and begin to fold the torso over the legs.  You may use the elbows on the knees or let the arms hang loose.  Let the head hang, allow the spine to be soft.  Find 10 breaths in this shape. Passive forward folds cool the nervous system, give the brain and heart a fresh blood supply, and are ideal for slowly releasing the connective tissues along the entirety of the back body, from head to heels.
4.  Wall Squat: There are 2 variations of this pose, depending on your joint flexibility. (1) If you are on your feet, place the heels 4-6 inches from the wall.  Let your weight rest back, and slide down the wall, heavy in the tail.  Let the elbows press inside of the knees, lift the heart for a prayer mudra.  (2)  If you are lying on the back, bring the tail about 2-6 inches from the wall, bring the feet to the wall and open the legs, bending at the knees.  Arms can open to a “T” or to cactus arms. Find 10 breaths in this shape. This shape will open up the hips, elongate the lumbar spine and invite rest into an open heart.
   
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* 5.  Supported Shoulder Stand:  Position your hips 6 inches from the wall and bring the feet to the wall, knees bent.  Back of the neck is long and head remains straight.  Palms are down along the sides with arms extended.  Press down into the palms, press into the wall with the feet and begin to lift the hips off the floor.  You may lower and lift in a dynamic movement, or press firmly into the feet and find the hips lifting up, perhaps hips rise up over the shoulders.  You may remain with lifted hips or practice lifting and lowering.  Find 10 breaths in this shape. This shape will open up the front of the hips and shoulders, create strength in the back body and belly, and can flush out stagnant energy from the feet and hips through the heart.
6.  Twist at the Wall: With the feet on the wall, and the knees bent, let the arms reach out to a “T” shape or cactus shape.  With bent knees, allow the legs to fall  to the right for 10 breaths, and then switch to the left for 10 breaths. Twists help to wring out excess toxins, lubricate the spine and open the heart.  Twists will also neutralize spinal alignment.
7. Legs up the Wall OR Savasana For the final resting shape, find 4-12 inches of space between your tail and the wall, and allow the legs to straighten up the wall.  You may prefer the legs to be open wide, or feet together with the knees open like a butterfly.  If Legs up the Wall is not comfortable in the body, you may roll to one side, press up and pivot the body away from the wall and find regular savasana, lying on the back, palms up, feet flopped open. You can stay in this shape for up to 10 minutes(!)  Set a timer. These shapes represent the ultimate letting go – allow all control to cease, let the back body be heavy and held from head, to heart, to hips to heels. I hope that you enjoy this short home practice and are able to tap into your moon energy at the back of the body. Your friend, Jeanne

Summer

 
Oye, this heat. It’s miserable. You sweat in whatever you’re wearing, stick to whatever you’re sitting on and it can make you tired and grumpy. Let’s just cover the obvious practicalities first —
  • If at all possible, don’t be outside from noon-5 pm.
  • It’s not always possible to not be outside, so if you do have to be, wear a thin layer of clothing (direct sun on bare skin is even hotter). And a hat.
  • Always wear full-spectrum sunblock. (My fav is Suntegrity.)
  • Drink water…without ice. I know it’s so tempting to drink ice water thinking it will cool you down faster, but it’s hard on the inner systems — too shocking. So cool or room-temperature water. Add fresh mint or rose petals for extra benefit.
  • Get extra rest during the day and take this week off of intense cardio — you just don’t need more heat.seetali yogic pranayama
When it’s crazy hot like this and the basics don’t cover it, I turn to the wisdom of yoga and two breath practices known for creating coolness in the body. In this video, you’ll do both techniques so you can compare the effects and feel out which one worked best for you. You might feel cool as a cucumber…or at least light-hearted for trying something new. And hold out for three bonus tips at the end of the video.

The best place to sit? Where you are.

“Be where you are; otherwise you will miss most of your life.” Buddha

meditation at it's all yogaWe can come up with so many creative reasons for not being able to start or maintain a meditation practice.

      Some of them are totally valid, like
“My hips scream at me when I sit on the floor.” 
          But some are just the mind’s way to avoid being with itself, like “I don’t have a special room to do it in, so I can’t.”
              Creating a meditation space can be great. A designated space can:
              • be symbolic of your commitment
              • create a sense of reverence
              • inspire an energetic quality like groundedness or peace
              • create a distinctness from the rest of the day

But this is not to say that you need a whole room. (You do, however, need privacy and relative quiet. This might require a conversation with others in the household about the importance of some undisturbed time.)

What helps create that sense of focus and calm is repetition, or ritual.

Several things contribute to creating ritual: an altar, which doesn’t have to be fancy or religious (and you don’t have to call it an “altar”), can offer support and inspiration through objects that are meaningful to you; consistency of routine (time of day or sequence of activities); and intention.

If you are meditating in bed, on the couch or in a chair that you also use in daily life, have a candle or flower that you set in place for your meditation time. Everything from lighting the candle to preparing your seat becomes part of the meditation and prepares the mind to enter a different state.

If you have space to designate for sitting – a corner of a room, a whole room – your altar can be more formal. One idea is to take one thing from each of the senses:

              • smell – a candle or incense
              • sound – a bell, singing bowl or guided meditation (the Insight Timer app is a great time keeper that has different bell sounds if you don’t have a signing bowl)
              • touch – mala beads can give you the tactile reminder to stay with the moment, or a mudra, yoga for the hands, like touching index finger and thumb tip together
              • taste – many people offer fruit or water to their altar
              • sight – a picture (of anything you love – even your dog!), statue or object that is meaningful to you

And I always have something from nature on my altars. A flower, stone or piece of wood can bring the wisdom of nature into the space.

If the space is available, you can neatly leave your meditation stuff out – the things you use to prop your seat or a blanket or shawl to cover you – so that you are reminded that meditation practice is a part of your life. I like to fold my blankets and stack my cushions to create a sense of closure and transition into the next part of the day.

Maybe a designated meditation space has a calming effect or encourages you to sit. But you know what makes it easier to drop into that state more regularly and quickly? Doing it over and over and over.

So don’t let not having a tricked out room keep you from doing parking lot meditation (as one of our challengers reported!), line-waiting meditation, airport meditation. I call these ambush meditations – you sneak up on yourself and whoosh into the moment before your mind has a chance to protest.

When your intention is to live in the moment at hand, to see yourself and Life more clearly, to be Awake, meditation moments will find you…on the cushion or wherever you are.

So where’s your favorite spot? Outside? In bed? Any special pieces to your “ritual?”

P.S. Some exciting schedule changes to be announced next week. Stay tuuuuuned….

Does it matter how you sit? No…and yes.

Holy moly, there’s a whole lot of sitting going on. Like 110 of you in The Challenge! Congratulations on stepping up! (And if you aren’t signed up, get in by April 15th to get weekly support and guided meditations…and the profound benefits of this practice.)

One of the most common obstacles I hear about starting a meditation practice is, “But I can’t sit like that!”

Your knees or hips or back might not agree with you trying lotus pose on the wood floor.

But please hear this: The quality and benefit of meditation have no relation to what you are sitting on or the posture you choose. In fact, if you are positioned in a way that doesn’t allow for relative ease in the joints and the natural alignment of the spine — which inhibits your breathing — your physical and mental systems will be compromised and the benefits may not be as great. Meditation is not about struggling with your body. There’s no “winning” here.

Whew.

So let’s look at a few sitting ideas and other tips that might help make the body happy and increase our odds of actually sitting!

Sitting On A Chair

meditation in a chairSomething firm is best — a dining chair, a folding chair.

Notice that you will sit on the front edge of the seat –not all the way back and not leaning onto the back of the chair.

Position your feet flat on the floor under the knees, both hip width. Make the thighs parallel to the ground or the hips a little higher, which might mean lifting your seat with a firm blanket or lifting the feet by standing on books.

Do a couple of seated cat/cow rocks, tipping your pelvis forward and back and feeling the front and back of your sitting bones. Then from the forward rock position, draw the sides of the low belly into the body and pull the tail straight down, leaning back until your spine is upright and you are on top of those sitting bones.

Keep the chest and the back broad. No need to squeeze or pull or do anything weird to the shoulders. Let the hands rest on the thighs (or a pillow! See below!). Neck long.

As you might guess, even if you were further back in the chair, this is ideally how we would sit to eat, work or read. Over time your back muscles will get stronger and it will be easier to sit in alignment.

Sitting On The Couch

meditation on the couchBecause this is a squishier surface, it needs more propping.

This picture is of crossed legs, but you can sit with your feet on the floor like above. Just make sure there’s enough lift under your seat and the lower back is not rounding. I like to shimmy my tail as far back in the crevasse as possible and then find the sides of the low belly.

The couch option is nice because it can give a little back support. However, this is not an invitation to lean back and go slack. Use the support (pillow or folded towel) at the lower back and keep lifting through the crown of the head. All other instructions for Sitting On A Chair apply. Also, see the support notes below.

Sitting On The Floor With Support

meditation in virasana What I really want to show here is the amount of propping.

Pillows (multiple) under seat, pillows under knees, back supported by couch, chair or wall (again, don’t lean back — snug your sitting bones back back back so your hips are underneath you).

And my favorite, pillow in the lap to support the weight of the arms, taking pressure off upper back and neck. This one trick has made my sitting posture a millions times more comfortable.

*

meditation in virasana

Sometimes Hero Pose on the shins is easier than crossed legs. Often, the higher the better for either posture.

Side note: I went away this weekend and forgot all my yogastuff. Even though it’s great to have the official accouterments, obviously, you don’t need them. Bed and couch pillows, couch cushions, an ottoman, a stack of books, a robe tie…many things can be used as props.

At the end of the day, even if your seat isn’t perfect (what’s that, anyway?), if you’re sitting, that’s GREAT. We start small, make achievable, realistic goals, acknowledge our efforts, and do it again the next day. It’s not sexy, friends…it’s Yoga.

Let me know how it goes, Michelle

P.S. Yes, these are totally home-grown pictures of a mostly-willing non-meditator. So if he can, let’s all sit down!

April Meditation Challenge

It's All Yoga studio in Sacramento, CAYou’ve heard that meditation is good for you. It’s one of those things you know you should do.

It can relieve anxiety and depression and increase concentration and self control. Meditation has even been proven to boost happiness and compassion. (Here’s a quick list of 20 reasons that, yes indeed, meditation can make your life better.)

Ok, so we know we should. But when and for how long and am I doing it right?

This is why we are devoting the month of April to the theme of meditation — how to get started, build the habit and set realistic goals.

April Meditation Challenge

The biggest roadblocks to starting a new habit are not having accountability and support. By joining the IAY Meditation Challenge for the month of April, you will have both.

Here’s how it works:

  • Commit to starting (or growing) a meditation practice of 5 minutes three times a week, building to 15 minutes five times a week by the end of the month. We will give you guidelines and support along the way.
  • Get weekly recordings of guided meditations from our very own teachers. (Which means you don’t have to live here to join!)
  • Give yourself a star to grow our meditating community on the “I meditated today” bulletin board at the studio.
  • If you wish, add extra power behind your intentions by writing them in the dedication book on the altar.
  • Receive our April newsletters, which will include resources and tips to support and encourage your budding practice, such as How Do I Make My Seat Comfortable andHow Do I Create a Meditation Space?
It’s time to get out of shoulds and commit to starting and maintaining a meditation practice for a month. If it adds nothing positive to your life, you don’t ever have to do it again. Join the challenge!
   

Holidaze: a free meditation and practice support

  We are in the time of Hanukkah, next week is Christmas, and today is the official Winter Solstice. Add in the wonderful rain we’ve been getting and whew. Check out our holiday schedule to keep you on the mat (aka sane). For the days your cocktail is three parts crazy, one part running late, here are three ideas to keep you in your practice.
  • A five minute meditation. I know… you don’t have time for it, and even if you did, how could five minutes help? Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today, I need to meditate for two hours instead of one.” Yes, meditation is magic like that. Give it a try and feel how your inner state can have more ease. (Dropbox is a file sharing site — just make a login to access the free recording.)
  • My day is so much better — especially if I know I’m not going to make it on my mat — if I start the day with a couple of bed stretches. Seriously – wake up, stretch your legs to the ceiling and do 3 ankles circles in each direction. Do a figure 4 stretch for a few breaths with each leg.  Windshield wiper the knees side to side while stretching the arms in the opposite direction (bonus for making yowling noises). I promise your body will be so much happier all day long.
Remember that everything is better with yoga, and a slow deep breath counts. I hope whatever you celebrate, these winter days hold moments of deep peace and joy. From our family to yours… Michelle