By Renee’ Fulkerson
By Renee’ Fulkerson
- Am I able to take a full deep breath in this posture?
- Does my spine and sacrum maintain their curves and integrity?
- Does this posture simulate functional movement, am I comfortable and stable?
We have been exploring in my public YogAlign practice that some folks do not and have not ever felt comfortable and stable in a forward lunge. A lunge is a lower-body exercise that works several muscle groups at once. The targeted muscles include the glutes in your hips and butt along with the hamstrings and quadriceps in your thighs. The calf muscles in your lower legs, your abdominal muscles and your back muscles act as stabilizers during this exercise.
Not feeling stable in the forward lunge restricts deep breath, alignment and there for is not comfortable or stable. The solution is simple we have placed a yoga block under the back foot which has a double duty purpose. One it allows the student to get alignment from the foot to the hip, raises the heel to a comfortable level and creates the stability the student was lacking and once they are in a stable lunge everything else falls into place.
I have also had students lunge with the assist of the wall. Placing their right foot forward big toe close to the wall be not touching, left foot back on a block or heel lifted once they feel stable (foot in alignment with hip) I have them check to see if the back of the head the Occipital bone and the sacrum are in alignment creating even more stability and bonus proper alignment. Next when alignment and stability are solid we sink into the front knee and place the pads of our fingers (fingers open to turn on the arm muscles) against the wall upper chest height and start our SIP breath (structurally Informed Posture- informs our body of how to be in good posture by aligning from the inside out). Allowing this core breath to stabilize the body along with drawing the shoulder blades together creating even more stability.
When properly aligned in a posture with effective breathing and feeling stable and comfortable then and only then will we reap all the benefits the posture has to offer. I would say the above described YogAlign Power Lunge is sustainable for the human body as it ticks all our boxes.
If we are moving through a yoga practice that is harming or damaging our human body what would be the point? Although sometimes this may happen and we do not even realize it is happening. Be careful when an instructor cues a posture is supposed to be painful and to breath through the pain. That may be somewhat true for a person who has had a debilitating accident and is in recovery (physical therapy) and even then I would question the motive and benefits.
We can create a happy healthy mind, body and spirit well into a mature age by putting our body in breathable, aligned, functional, comfortable and stable yoga postures.
Now go out and use your sustainable body for good!
See you on the mat.
It was Friday night after a long week. I was exhausted, but I had recently signed up for a trial yoga membership in an effort to practice more “self-care,” so I looked up the schedule and found a late-night restorative yoga class that promised to leave me feeling “balanced, rested, and elevated.” Yes, please, I thought as I grabbed my mat and hurried through the cold to the warehouse-like studio.
Once inside, I was instructed to grab what felt like a large carry-on of props: two blocks, a firm pillow-like thing called a bolster, and two blankets. I dragged this load into the dark room, laid everything out, and was prepared to be restored. I couldn’t wait to feel balanced, rested, and elevated—look at me and my Friday night self-care!
As the class started, we moved through a few stretch-like positions slowly, then set up for our first restorative pose. I followed instructions and positioned the bolster-pillow-thing under my stomach while in child’s pose. The teacher instructed us to turn our head to the right and lay it on the bolster. Great. Done.
Then I waited. And waited. And waited. After what seemed like an eternity, we were instructed to turn our head to the left and… lay it on the bolster.
My mind erupted. Are you kidding me?
If I knew I was going to walk in the cold just to lie on a pillow and turn my head every 10 minutes, I would have just gone to bed early instead! After the 75-minute class ended, I stormed home and that’s exactly what I did (… and slept like a baby).
At the time, I didn’t put together that my childlike slumber could have been a positive side effect of the class, but I was curious as to why anyone would pay money for what seemed like a 75-minute group-snooze. So I decided to do some research and talk to people who are fans of the practice.
Restorative yoga was first developed to help people heal from injury, illness, or burnout by holding certain poses for longer stretches of time (5-20 minutes) compared to a traditional yoga class. Some claim that it is the most advanced practice of yoga due to the difficulty of achieving conscious relaxation—it’s all about moving past the “Um, now what?” I was fixated on in that first class and learning to achieve a state of active relaxation.
OK, great. But couldn’t I just take an hour-long nap instead?
Elian Zach, yoga instructor and founder of the Woom Center in New York, believes that naps and yoga are both useful self-care tools, but they’re not interchangeable. “When restorative yoga is done right, it can facilitate a deeper rest than sleep. What happens is almost the equivalent to REM sleep, but when we sleep, we dream and can experience anxiety. It’s not necessarily always a quality time of rest.”
Eileen Goddard, a restorative yoga teacher at Yoga Vida in NYC, shed some light on all the added equipment. “In order to fully relax, we need to feel supported, both physically and mentally. We prop up in restorative yoga, particularly at the joints, to give the body this experience of full support.” Goddard adds that another important prop is the presence of the teacher, which offers another level of support.
And the studio atmosphere itself can make or break a good restorative yoga class. “The environment needs to exude a personality that is soothing and calming,” Zach says, adding that at the Woom Center, they have everything from a 3D sound system and overtone-emitting instruments to three unique aromatic combinations that alchemist Michelle Gagnon developed to help students unwind. (Which, whoa.)
This is all starting to sound a little better than a nap—but what are the real benefits of this type of self-care?
“The biggest benefit of practicing restorative yoga is the opportunity for your nervous system to switch over from the ‘fight or flight’ stress response to the ‘rest and digest’ relaxation response,” Goddard says. Other reported benefits include improved management of pain, anxiety, and depression as well as lower blood sugar and even weight loss.
A study from the American Diabetes Association observed a focus group of obese women who practiced restorative yoga over a 48-week period and a group who engaged in a stretching program over the same time period. They found that those who practiced restorative yoga lost a significant amount of subcutaneous fat over the six-month program compared to those in the stretch group, and those same women continued to lose during the maintenance period once the program was over. The study credits this to the practice’s focus on relaxation and stress reduction, which led to a decrease in cortisol (the hormone we blame for abdominal fat).
Sign me up! Restorative yoga for life! I have self-care figured out now!
I won’t be removing Pilates and cycling classes from my schedule any time soon—you can’t just replace regular exercise with restorative yoga. Instead, even the study noted that restorative yoga is a “complementary, ancient practice” that should be used in addition to regular exercise.
So, intense workout, restorative yoga class, or just a nap? Why not all three. “There is room for high-intensity classes,” Zach says. “There is a time for sharing space with others and another to sit alone and veg in front of the TV. Sometimes that’s OK, but sometimes you want to find self-care in a bigger way. Restorative yoga isn’t lazy—it’s a proactive act of self-care.”
E.J. Johnson is a Brooklyn-based comedy writer and performance artist. If you like pictures of pink sparkly things, you can follow her @ej.sunshine on Instagram.
By Kathy Bolte
It’s that time again when we look ahead to the year in front of us and imagine it to be better than the one we are leaving behind.
We may think of stopping a bad habit, creating a positive one, or reaching for a significant goal in the upcoming year. We resolve to evolve. But let’s face it: our resolutions rarely create the magic we intend.
Before we resolve to change the bad habits that plague us, perhaps we need to understand them a little better.
In yogic philosophy, our habituations are called samskaras. They are mental, emotional, or psychological imprints. Every time we receive a bit of sensory input or produce a thought, a subtle imprint is recorded in our memory. The more intense the input or the more often it is repeated, the stronger the impression becomes. Eventually these imprints become a part of who we are and influence our behavior. It is even suggested that we may be born with a karmic inheritance of patterns through which we cycle over and over again.
Repeating samskaras reinforces them, creating a groove that is difficult to avoid. I like to think of them as our psychological comfort zones. Samskaras can manifest in positive ways such as healthy eating habits or positive self-talk. They can also be negative such as mental patterns that influence low self-esteem or destructive relationships. Our negative samskaras are what block our positive growth.
Changing samskaras is not a process to be taken lightly.
What typically happens on New Year’s Day is that we identify something we want to change, or something we want to manifest, and so we create that tired old “New Year’s resolution.” We declare our resolve in January, and by February, we’ve slipped back into old habits of behavior and forgotten about our commitment. Changing our samskaras requires a much stronger intention and a dedication to a practiced discipline that will support our intention.
Yoga teaches us that the intention we are looking for is called a sankalpa. Unlike our New Year’s resolution, a sankalpa is a sacred intention formed by the heart and the mind. It is a solemn vow that is steeped with determination to harness our will and create focus in our mind and our body. But there is an interesting paradox that we must observe when setting our intention and making our vow. We must realize that we are already perfect as we are, even while we are reaching for change.
If we begin with the premise that we are perfect just as we are, we can ask that deepest, most wise part of ourselves what it is that we truly want, what it is that we need. Sankalpa unites our mind with those deeper parts that can sometimes be difficult to access.
Conscious use of sankalpa is a compelling way of communicating, to our emotional and spiritual bodies, what it is that we truly want. Instead of asking for something magical outside of ourselves to create what we want, we tune in to our own deep knowing. Sankalpa is not something we have to make up. It’s already there. All we have to do is listen courageously to what is calling out from deep inside our heart.
Once we set our intention, we must not be impatient. Significant change doesn’t happen overnight. We have no magic wand in hand, so it’s important to set milestones to help us stay committed during the long year ahead.
So you’ve identified the samskara (habituation) that you want to change, and you’ve created your sankalpa (sacred intention) and taken your solemn vow to remain dedicated to your intention. How are you going to keep your commitment?
The final ingredient in our recipe for change is tapas (fiery discipline).
Tapas is the disciplined practice of implementing your plan for change. It is the dedicated practice that actually causes the change. The word tapas derives from the Sanskrit word tap which means “to heat.” Purposeful change in behavior creates heat from the friction of the new pattern rubbing against the old, negative one.
Change is usually quite uncomfortable. When we consciously change a habit, discomfort arises and creates emotional or physical heat. The heat generated by practicing tapas will incinerate the impurities of our negative samskaras. If we acknowledge that the discomfort generated by the discipline is ultimately good for us, we are more likely to remain dedicated to our practice.
In summary, tapas (fiery discipline) challenges our long-standing samskaras (patterns of behavior), and gradually burns them up and clears the way for our sankalpa (sacred intention) to emerge as significant spiritual and psychological growth.
Rather than reverting to another same ol’ same ol’ resolution on New Year’s Day, I invite you to commit to a new way of evolving.
Author: Kathy Bolte
Image: João Silas/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Written by Victoria Wolk. Yoga doesn’t just give Mrs. Claus the strength to help load gifts into Santa’s sleigh. Those moves also keep her memory sharp, so she can remember if you’re on the naughty or nice list this year. Find out more about yoga’s cognitive benefits via the link in our bio! And stay tuned for more ways Mrs. Claus stays healthy during the holiday season. Check out more about yoga’s cognitive benefits below ✍️ by David Brunell-Brutman
In the quest to keep dementia and Alzheimer’s out of your future, you’re probably already doing what you can to get plently of sleep and exercise, both proven ways to protect your brain. Now a new study offers up one more tool to add to your anti-aging brain plan: gentle yoga.
In a study published in the Journals of Gerontology, two groups of adults 55 and older were tested on cognitive skills such as planning, problem solving, and multitasking. Then they were split into two groups: One group did gentle yoga for 60 minutes 3 times a week, and the other did a series of stretches and strengthening exercises, like bicep curls and flutter kicks, for the same amount of time. After 8 weeks, the participants’ cognitive skills were tested again. The result: the yoga group significantly improved their cognitive performance, while the stretching group showed no changes.
What is it about yoga that wakes up your brain?
Study author and assistant professor at Wayne State University Neha Gothe, PhD, isn’t entirely sure why yoga has an impact on mental skills, but she believes it has something to do with the mind-body element of the exercise. “While practicing yoga, you’re not just moving your body,” she says, “you’re focused on your breath and mindfully aware of your postures.” If you’re doing other kinds of exercise, like running, it’s much easier to get distracted by everything going on around you—but get distracted during, say, Triangle pose, and you could end up kissing the mat.
Plus, according to past research, stress and anxiety have a huge impact on cognitive function, so the relaxation aspect of yoga might also be in play.
By Carol Krucoff
Yoga may hold a key to aging well, suggests a growing body of research into its potential benefits for body and mind — benefits that include reducing heart rate and blood pressure, relieving anxiety and depression, and easing back pain. One recent study even raised the possibility of positive changes in biological markers of aging and stress in people who do yoga.
So it’s no surprise that the number of yoga practitioners in the United States has more than doubled to 36.7 million over the last decade, with health benefits the main reason people practice, according to the Yoga in America Study conducted last year on behalf of Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance.
While yoga enthusiasts are often pictured as young and bendy, the reality, according to the Yoga in America study, is that 17 percent are in their 50s and 21 percent are age 60 and older.
Along with this upsurge of interest has been an upsurge in injuries, particularly among older practitioners. “Participants aged 65 years and older have a greater rate of injury from practicing yoga when compared with other age groups,” researchers wrote last year in a study of nearly 30,000 yoga-related injuries seen in U.S. hospital emergency departments from 2001 to 2014. “While there are many health benefits to practicing yoga, participants and those wishing to become participants should confer with a physician prior to engaging in physical activity and practice only under the guidance of certified instructors.”
As a yoga therapist who has been teaching in medical settings for nearly 20 years, I have found it distressingly common to hear about the negative experiences and injuries people have sustained in yoga classes. The stories my students relate suggest classes that were too difficult for them and/or were taught by an inexperienced or poorly trained instructor. Even instructors who are trained to teach able, young students typically have a limited understanding of safety considerations that are essential when working with middle-aged and older bodies and people with such health challenges as rotator cuff injuries, arthritis, glaucoma, hypertension and heart disease.
Fortunately, there is a growing recognition of the importance of safe yoga practice along with professionalization of the field. To practice yoga while reducing the risks, here are five strategies to help older adults — as well as people with health challenges — age well with yoga:
Start where you are, not where you think you should be. If you are new to yoga, try a beginner’s class — even if you’re fit and active — because yoga is not just about what you do, it’s about how you do it. Unlike Western exercise, the yogic approach is to balance effort with relaxation, which can be surprisingly difficult for many people used to our culture’s emphasis on striving, competing and being “in it to win it.” In fact, learning not to push yourself, or rush, or be ambitious to look a certain way, can be one of the most challenging (and therapeutic) parts of the practice. Give yourself time to learn how to move into a posture to a point where you feel challenged but not strained.
Recognize that styles of yoga vary widely. Yoga classes range from vigorous and athletic to relaxing and restorative — with a confusing array of trendy hybrids such as yoga with goats and kittens, and yoga offered on a paddleboard. To find a class designed for mature bodies, look for names such as “Yoga Over 50,” “Gentle Yoga” or “Senior Yoga.”
Hatha yoga is the name for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. This means that virtually all yoga classes in the West are hatha yoga. But when a class is marketed as hatha yoga, it generally signifies a non-gimmicky approach to basic postures and breathing, which may be a good starting place. Viniyoga and Kripalu yoga are relatively gentle styles that may be appropriate for people with health concerns. Restorative yoga involves using supports (such as blankets and yoga blocks or bolsters) to prop students into passive poses that promote profound rest. Hospital-based wellness and integrative medicine centers may offer classes designed for people with specific ailments such as cancer or back pain.
Find a well-trained, experienced teacher. Ask prospective instructors about their credentials [see sidebar about yoga credentials], how long they’ve taught yoga and whether they’ve had special training and/or experience teaching older people. Ask to watch a class to see if it’s suitable, which is also a good way to assess the instructor. A good yoga teacher will act as a guide, helping students explore what works best for them as they try each posture. For people with health challenges, working one-on-one with a certified yoga therapist can be ideal.
Talk to your care provider. If you have medical issues, get guidance about specific movement precautions. For example, people with glaucoma may be advised to avoid “head-down” positions, which may increase pressure in the eye. Hot yoga may be problematic for people with heart conditions because high temperatures can increase cardiac workload. Recognize, however, that many doctors know little about yoga and may assume you’re planning to stand on your head. Tell your provider that you’d like to try gentle yoga consisting of simple movements, stretches and breathing practices.
Let go of excuses that you’re too old. You don’t have to be young or fit or flexible to try yoga. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.
Krucoff is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., and co-author of “Relax Into Yoga for Seniors: A Six-Week Program for Strength, Balance, Flexibility and Pain Relief.”