Yoga off the Mat: Find Joy in Living Yoga

 

Mudita, or joy, is such a wonderful feeling. It comes from delighting in other people’s wellbeing rather than begrudging it. It is the opposite of a negative feeling that can weigh us down: envy. In Buddhism, as we increase our ability to connect with the spring of infinite joy, the closer we may find abundant happiness. To celebrate others in the face of tragedy so to foster and encourage a joyous state is not easy. Living yoga can help you feel this liberating state of consciousness.

Train your brain to look for the good. It doesn’t mean denial. It means awareness of now and to honor that truth. Focus on how you feel just by moving and breathing with intention. Settle in your in body. Engage the flowing energy of breath. Let go of negatives in your mind. Acknowledge the essence of who you are and the spirit that exists in you. Find out who you are and be at peace with all that makes you unique. Shift out of dwelling in what you cannot control and savor in little blessings everywhere. Experience joy with practice, breaking down walls, connect yourself with others, realize the simplicity in each moment and live it with bliss. Recognize the potential that lies in success of others, express genuine delight, and savor the comfort that you gain from seeing your expectations soar and free. We can all be “better,” but what you are now is pretty darn amazing.

So go on: let yourself be happy by seeing all the good and happiness in the world that surrounds you. Cultivate your joy daily, on and off the mat.

Movement of the Month: Celebrate JOY of summer with Anjaneyasana “Crescent Lunge Pose”

Summer sun is around the corner and I love practicing this heart opening, joyful pose. This picture was taken at my friends’ Will and Jen’s Aerial Arts of Rochester studio.  It tones our chest, abdomen, butt, thighs, calves, feet and ankles. It stretches our hips and groins It brightens your energy and reduces fatigue. Ignite your internal sunshine!

(Fit2bWell tip: Feel free to modify with a low lunge version by placing your back knee and thigh bone down onto a padded blanket. Uncertain about balance? Try with a high back chair in front of you as a guide.  For a challenge, kick it up a notch by doing a variation with aerial yoga like I demonstrate here, with back foot on an aerial hammock.)

1.)   Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Exhale and step your right foot forward between your hands, aligning your knee over the heel. Keep your left leg strong and firm. If you are would like to do a low lunge variation, feel free to start kneeling both knees on a padded blanket.  Keep your left knee grounded, as you take your right food forward. Your feet should be approximately hips width distance apart. Similar to above, you should start by aligning your knee over the heel. Keep the ball of the left rooted, similar to the energy of the left knee and top of thigh. Pretend in both versions the back foot is stepping on to the back wall.

2.)   Inhale and raise your torso to upright. At the same time, sweep your arms wide to the sides and raise them overhead, palms facing. Feel free to explore other variations, such as Namaste (prayer position) or cactus variation, where palms face the front, upper arms are parallel to the floor at shoulder height and elbows at 90 deg. These would work your shoulder girdle in various degrees and engage your shoulder blades with various degrees of difficulty.

3.)   Be careful not to overarch the lower back. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and tuck your pelvis softly forward. This will bring the shoulder blades deeper into the back and help support your chest and integrate the core into the strength of this pose. Allow your gaze to lift the heart upwards.

4.)   Be sure not to press the front ribs forward. Draw them down and into the torso. Hold for 6-10 breaths.

5.)   Transition back to Down Dog or knee kneeling pose after completion. Hold for a few breaths and repeat with the left foot forward for the same length of time.

Movement of the Month: Open your Heart with Ustrasana “Camel Pose”

  1. Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly, narrow your hip points, and firm but don’t harden your buttocks. Imagine that you’re drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Keep your outer hips as soft as possible. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.
  2. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down. Use your hands to spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down through your tail bone. Lightly firm the tail forward, toward the pubis. Make sure though that your front groins don’t “puff” forward. To prevent this, press your front thighs back, countering the forward action of your tail. Inhale and lift your heart by pressing the shoulder blades against your back ribs.
  3. Lean back against the firmness of the tail bone and shoulder blades. Keep your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis. Beginners probably won’t be able to drop straight back into this pose, touching the hands to the feet simultaneously while keeping the thighs perpendicular to the floor. If you need to, tilt the thighs back a little from the perpendicular and minimally twist to one side to get one hand on the same-side foot. Then press your thighs back to perpendicular, turn your torso back to neutral, and touch the second hand to its foot. If you’re not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and elevate your heels
  4. Lift  the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Press your palms firmly against your soles (or heels), with the bases of the palms on the heels and the fingers pointing toward the toes. Turn your arms outwardly so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. You can keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. But be careful not to strain your neck and harden your throat.
  5. Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. To exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. Smile to finish!

 

Movement of the Month: Open your Heart with Garundasana “Eagle Pose”

The day can take a toll on our posture. Gravity and fatigue are strong forces to battle. If you notice that you are sitting with your head forward, shoulders rounded, and your back aches,  it’s time to start give your heart some room to breathe. When we lead with our head and not with the heart, we tend to disconnect our mind, body and spirit. This is a pose to help you unravel your heart once again.

 

Fit2bWell tip: If balance poses causes a pang of anxiety, practice this posture seated

  1. Stand in Tadasana, “Mountain Pose,” with your feet hips width apart, soft knees and tall spine. Feel the crown of your head lift from the roots of your feet.  Find a focus in front of you that will connect gaze to center your pose if you feel unsteady. Bend your knees softly and slightly, lift your left foot up and, while balancing on your right foot, cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor. Balance on the right foot.Fitb2bwell tip: Challenge the muscular energy of your foundation by hugging the muscles to the bone, pressing the foot back, and then hook the top of the foot behind the lower right calf.
  2. Stretch your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor. Spread your scapulas wide across the back of your torso as you find expansion of your collarbones. Keep your side body long, core connected. Cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left.  Bend your elbows. Kiss the right elbow into the hook of the left. Lift the forearms perpendicular to the floor.  The backs of your hands should be facing each other.
  3. Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so that the palms are now facing each other. The thumb of the right hand should pass in front of the little finger of the left. Now press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling. If you cannot press palms, focus on the elbow connection and lift from your heart.
  4. Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, then unwind the legs and arms and stand in Tadasana again. Repeat for the same length of time with the arms and legs reversed.

 

Fitb2bwell tip: Expand your torso as you find strength in your legs to engage your organic expansion and lighten your breath behind the pose. Play around what the depth and angle of your hip flexion. Have fun

 

I believe in balance.

I began my yoga journey through competitive racing in marathons and triathlons around 2003. I have always been an athlete, from basketball to cheerleading, and have had passion in fitness and health. I used yoga and endurance racing to cope with stress and to keep healthy during medical school and residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As my clinical experience grew in medicine, I sought to use yoga and other mind/body exercises such as TRX, Hoopnotica Flow, Pilates, Cirque Fit, and Barre as modalities to not only keep people fit, but well. I later became board-certified to practice Integrative and Holistic Medicine. I am an experienced registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance and received training primarily in an Anusara inspired/Alignment-based yoga program. I also took courses in PiYo, Thai Yoga Massage, Iyengar, Restorative, Aerial Yoga and Acroyoga to add to my breadth of other fitness trainings in pilates, pilates reformer, barre, and spinning. I practice various forms of yoga outside of Anusara including Baptiste Power vinyasa, Acroyoga and Bikram. I even took focused trainings at Duke Integrative Medicine Center and at Kripalu Center for Health so that I can teach yoga and chair yoga to seniors and yoga for scoliosis. I have had the pleasure to attend trainings with esteemed teachers such as Simon Park, Seane Corne, Sianna Sherman, Jason Magness, Chelsea Magness, Elise Browning Miller, Lux Sternstein and Jason Nemer.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

I believe in balance, while exploring fun in the journey of always striving for better, and continue to learn various styles of yoga and integrative and lifestyle medicine, to further nurture myself, my students, and my patients. Aside from a full time clinical practice, I remain a teaching faculty and alumni council board member at University of Rochester School of Medicine. I enjoy teaching medical students how to become more diversified, compassionate, and holistic. Outside of Rochester, I currently serve as a peer reviewer for the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and am a contributing author to various magazines and forums. Off the mat, I have had additional trainings in Reiki, osteopathic manipulations, active release techniques, craniosacral therapy, and acupuncture. I am also a certified holistic health coach and integrative nutrition counselor. To continue my journey in sharing my passion of empowerment and self-care through joyous movement, preventative medicine, and wholesome eating, I am the founding president for Fit2bWell Health: a wellness company that focuses on bio-individuality and mindful healing. I look forward to riding this beautiful ride we call life, and to help my community grow closer together as we grow with purpose, love, and gratitude.

Six Simple At-Home Moves to Tone Up, Slim Down, Stay strong

Kick off 2014 right with these simple at-home moves that will help you tone up, slim down, and stay strong. This is a workout plan with progression challenges and modifications to cater to your fitness level while helping you stay engaged and keep sweating.

(Fit2bWell Tip: Try these with two large cans of soups of the same size to use as weights. Adding weights to these yoga, pilates and barre inspired moves will keep your intensity up, and provide extra challenge)

 1.)           Plank:

How to:  Align your shoulder above your soft elbows and wrists. Keep your body in one line from head to heels.  Keep breathing for a 5 second hold to start. Take a break for 2 breaths, repeat x 5. As you get stronger, go for a 10 second hold

Benefits: Tone arms, wrists, core and legs

Modifications: Try letting your knees touch the mat or doing forearm versions to allow your wrist a break

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a pushup every 5 seconds hold for a total of 5-10 pushups. Also options with soup can weight, do a one arm plank and hold the soup can with the other hand to the side. If that is not challenging enough, try lifting the opposite leg up for one arm/one leg plank variation.

 2.)           Side plank:

How to:  Lie on your side with your knee straight. Prop your body up on your left elbow and forearm. Position your elbow under your shoulder. Brace your core by contracting your abs forcefully as if you were punched in the gut. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from your ankles to your shoulders. Your head should stay in line with your body. Keep breathing for 5 second hold to start. Take a break for 2 breaths, repeat x 5. As you get stronger, go for a 10 second hold.

Modifications: Try letting your knees touch the mat or doing forearm versions to allow your wrist a break

Benefits: Tone arms, wrists, core and legs

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a soup can weight to the top arm and hold it towards the sky. Add a side crunch for some balance and additional core stabilization training

 3.)           Lunges

How to:  Stand your feet about shoulder distance apart. Take a step forward with right leg. The bigger the step, the more challenge to your legs and your core for balance. Place the front knee in a bend. Make sure your knee does not go past your ball of foot and knee and knees track towards your toes. The back knee is soft and not locked. Your pelvis remains neutral so your core supports your back. Keep your arms engaged by reaching them above the head.  Hold for 5 seconds, step back to starting position. Switch to other leg. Repeat x 5.  As you get stronger, go for 10 second hold.

Modifications: Try placing a blanket on the ground to allow the back knee to land softly for low lunge. You can also have the hands placed on the ground for extra stability.

Benefits: Tone legs, gluteals, core. With arms overhead, you can also tone arms.

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a soup can weight to both arms and extend them to the sky or to the side to tone underarms. May add dips with the back knee for extra toning of the thighs.

 4.)           Squats:

How to:  Align your legs so feet are hips width apart. Keep arms extended in front of you. Slowly bend knees at a 90 degree angle. Keep eyes looking ahead, head neutral. Make sure knees are tracking towards the toes. Imagine you are reaching your gluteals towards a chair. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat x 5.  As you get stronger, go for 10 seconds.

Benefits: Tone arms, gluteals, legs, core.

Modifications: Try placing a chair behind you as a guide and sit down if you feel unsteady. Stand back up slowly. Repeat.

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a pulse of 5 mini squats at the end of your hold. Also consider using soup can weights in arms as you extend them. To open up the chest, work the triceps/shoulders, consider extending the arms backwards by keeping elbows flushed to your sides.

 5.)           Plie Jacks:

How to: Stand with your hands at your sides, feet hips distance apart and jump into the air. Extend the arms overhead as you jump and land with your feet wider than your hips, feet slightly turned outwards. Bend the knees so knees track towards the toes. The deeper the bend in the knees, the more work on the legs. The core is engaged in this jump, keeping your spine neutral and tall. You can hold the plié for 5 seconds before jumping back to starting position. Repeat x 5. As you get stronger, go for 10 seconds.

Modifications: You can keep your hands at your hips as you jump.  If you don’t want to jump, step from plié back to standing.

Benefits: Tone arms, wrists, core and legs. This will also work on heart rate training if you jump.

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a soup can weight with your hands as you jump and instead of extending the arms overhead, try a T position. You may pulse some mini pliés x 5 after the 5 second hold as well for an extra leg workout.

 6.)           V-ups

How to: Lie on the floor with a blanket as a mat if you do not have one. Extend your hand above your head. Keep your legs straight to start. Take a breath in and as you exhale reach the hands towards your legs as you raise the upper body off the ground. Move your legs at the same time towards your upper body, creating a “V” position. Hold for 5 seconds in the “V” formation. Return to starting position, and rest your legs on the ground.  Repeat x 5.  As you get stronger, go for 10 second hold.

Modifications: Try keeping your legs bent at 90 degrees so knees are stacked above the hips, shin bones parallel to the ground. By focusing on the upper body mechanics, you will still work the core while building endurance in your hip flexors.

Benefits: Tone core, hips, arms.

Fit2bWell Challenge:  Try adding a soup can weight to both arms as you do the exercise and not let the legs rest back on the ground before the next repetition to maximize the contraction of your hip flexors and abdominals.

 

Creativity is maximized when you are living in the moment ~ Lululemon

Did you know?
According to cognitive psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, creativity can be broadly defined as “…the process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile.” Creativity is all about finding new ways of solving problems and approaching situations. This isn’t a skill restricted to artists, musicians or writers; it is a useful skill for people from all walks of life. Creativity is what can help you explore more of who you are at work, at home and help you come closer to your true self outside of an environment.

Yoga for the heart

For the last 10 years, yoga has slowly become one of the trendiest forms of exercise. Popular media has marketed yoga to be neat packages of flexibility, strength, beauty and grace embodied in athletes and models. With the rising popularity of such campaigns, many are intimidated to step onto a yoga mat, let alone a class.

Shadowed by the fitness world, many people do not realize the power of yoga as an ancient form of movement based healing, especially for something as common as heart problems. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in 2012, cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of death in the US; one in every three deaths is from heart attack or stroke, equaling to 2,200 deaths/day. Despite Dr. Timothy McCall’s book published in 2007 called Yoga as Medicine and Dr. M. Mala Cunningham’s unique form of Cardiac Yoga TM (www.cardiacyoga.com), yoga as preventative and healing medicine for heart disease is still largely unrecognized.

Yoga literally means “to yoke” or “union” in Sanskrit, a language of India, the birthplace of yoga and yoga philosophy. It has many different styles called many different fancy Sanskrit names and created by many different people. Beyond the physical postures, yoga emphasizes strong breath work and through its philosophy encourages self compassion and inner peace. “With regular practice, you are strengthening and calming the nervous system,” says Dr. McCall.

As yogis and yoginis exercise their physical being, they become stronger, more flexible, and less cluttered with excess in their bodies. Moreover, “what is happening on the outside is a reflection of what is happening to every system in the body,” says Dr. McCall.

It is through intentional elimination of the excess and developing resilience in our mind and spirit that stress is also diminished.

Since stress is a known risk factor for many chronic medical conditions, especially those affecting the heart including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and heart attacks, it is no wonder that yoga is an endorsed form of exercise from the American Heart Association. Yoga is also one of the fastest growing research areas for the National Institutes of Health, so we can help scientifically demonstrate what many people already self report.

According to the Yoga BioMedical Trust, 84 percent of people noted improved blood pressure while 94 percent of people noted improved cholesterol. This is in addition to other cardiac risk factors such as anxiety, poor sleep, obesity, smoking, and diabetes – all of which also demonstrated at least 75 percent improvement with yoga. Best of all, an average yoga class costs about $12 in most studios. Now what drug can work on all of the above at that cost? Not all forms of yoga is right for everyone. And not every form of yoga is safe for those who suffer from medical conditions such as heart disease since practicing advanced yoga postures in heat can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, or even worse falls or loss of consciousness. But yoga can be tailored for most individuals. It is important to have an open and honest discussion with your physician and potential yoga teacher about why you want to explore using yoga as a form of mind/body exercise and healing. But as we wrap up another year with heavier foods, busier schedules and hectic travels of the holiday season, keep in mind that yoga can be a wonderful way to introduce lightness to the heart and spirit, calmness to the mind, and rejuvenation for the body.

Dr. Wu is an E-RYT (experienced registered yoga teacher) She was also a personal trainer certified in a variety of fitness exercises and a multisport athlete for more than eight years. photo courtesy of Scott Southerland (www.thinkincolor.net)

My Yoga Journey

“Live passionately and don’t hold back” ~ Anonymous

I began my yoga journey through competitive racing in marathons and triathlons around 2003. I have always been an athlete, from basketball to cheerleading, and have had passion in fitness and health. I used yoga and endurance racing to cope with stress and to keep healthy during medical school and residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. As my clinical experience grew in medicine, I sought to use yoga and other mind/body exercises such as TRX, Hoopnotica Flow, Pilates, Cirque Fit, and Barre as modalities to not only keep people fit, but well. I later became board-certified to practice Integrative and Holistic Medicine. I am an experienced registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance and received training primarily in an Anusara inspired/Alignment-based yoga program. I also took courses in PiYo, Thai Yoga Massage, Iyengar, Restorative, Aerial Yoga and Acroyoga to add to my breadth of other fitness trainings in pilates, pilates reformer, barre, and spinning. I practice various forms of yoga outside of Anusara including Baptiste Power vinyasa, Acroyoga and Bikram. I even took focused trainings at Duke Integrative Medicine Center and at Kripalu Center for Health so that I can teach yoga and chair yoga to seniors and yoga for scoliosis. I have had the pleasure to attend trainings with esteemed teachers such as Simon Park, Seane Corne, Sianna Sherman, Jason Magness, Chelsea Magness, Elise Browning Miller, Lux Sternstein and Jason Nemer. In 2013, I became a Lululemon yoga and health ambassador.

 

“Be the change you want to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

 

I believe in balance, while exploring fun in the journey of always striving for better, and continue to learn various styles of yoga and integrative and lifestyle medicine, to further nurture myself, my students, and my patients. Aside from a full time clinical practice, I remain a teaching faculty and alumni council board member at University of Rochester School of Medicine. I enjoy teaching medical students how to become more diversified, compassionate, and holistic. Outside of Rochester, I currently serve as a peer reviewer for the International Journal of Yoga Therapy and am a contributing author to various magazines and forums. Off the mat, I have had additional trainings in Reiki, osteopathic manipulations, active release techniques, craniosacral therapy, and acupuncture. I am also a certified holistic health coach and integrative nutrition counselor. To continue my journey in sharing my passion of empowerment and self-care through joyous movement, preventative medicine, and wholesome eating, I am the founding president for Fit2bWell Health: a wellness company that focuses on bio-individuality and mindful healing. I look forward to riding this beautiful ride we call life, and to help my community grow closer together as we grow with purpose, love, and gratitude.

“Why I love my yoga practice: it is a place and time where I can learn to be a better me just by simply being me.

Why I love teaching yoga: it is my way to share that better me with my community so to mutually inspire towards honest self-growth – from a place of self-acceptance, unrelenting kindness, and joyous play.

The gift of yoga is priceless.” ~ Joanne Wu, MD E-RYT 200

 

Why do you yoga?