Keep stretching!

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One of the most common reasons I hear for people to do yoga is stretching. Either they want to stretch, because they feel stiff, or they love to stretch and want to become more and more flexible. Yoga is great for that; it will stretch you on the mat and off the mat.

The feeling of a good stretch is satisfying and the contentment after a yoga class is rewarding. And that is because in yoga we don’t only stretch our bodies, we also stretch our minds, our boundaries & our breath. When we are able to combine all the different stretches in our yoga class, we can deepen tremendously in the pose:

The body opens up by practicing and will stretch deeper over time. We learn how to control our breath patterns and lengthen it when we need to hold a pose or create space in that pose. We always look for the boundaries and limits in our bodies and push them, touch them and see if we can move them a little further each time. We don’t march over our limits, but we stretch it in a comfortable way. And lastly, we stretch our mind, by learning how to control our patterns of thought through staying in the moment. Yoga teaches you that a laser sharp focus will improve your practice, creates a deeper connection to yourself and create a stillness in the mind. A stillness we can come back to whenever we are stressed, irritated or lack focus.

To me, the most interesting and biggest stretch is off-mat. How do you take what you have learned about yourself on the mat to your daily life? How can you make yoga something more than a work-out? How do you stretch the boundaries of what you believe you can achieve?

One big lesson I have had in the past couple of years, was that I was more concerned with what would come next, then actually appreciating what I had achieved so far. Every day I am growing and developing as a teacher, which creates bigger goals and more dreams about what I would like to achieve. I have made my master plan and every few months I look at where I am, what needs to be changed and how I should change my course of work. However the great part of it is, that I am able to also enjoy and be grateful for what I’ve achieved so far. I have set up building blocks that show me my progress. Every little step is one in the right direction on my path.

As a teacher you need to develop, extend your knowledge, understand the bodies in front of you, be able to explain different types of poses and offer classes that are challenging and satisfying. You need to be able to step out of your comfort zone to explore what else you have to offer. You need to push your boundaries and don’t take it personal when something doesn’t work out for you. Just like deepening a pose, sometimes you click, you got yourself a step further in your practice and sometimes the time and pose are just not right. All you are left with is take a deep breath, take in your lessons learned and move on.

Understanding the lesson and moving on is easier said than done, but it is the only way to test if you still gives life the opportunity to show you what it has to offer. It is the only way to discover if you actually stretch yourself or if you are led by your fears; your fear to fail, your fear for the unknown, your fear to lose face, and so forth. . Just like we do in our poses. When I practice a handstand in the middle of the room, I am afraid to fall and hurt somebody, I am afraid to fail which paralyses me to do the pose and I am afraid to lose face. I am a yoga teacher, shouldn’t I be able to do this pose easily? What would other people think of me? So all I can do is practice, learn how to fall, learn to accept my practice where it is and celebrate every small goal in my journey upwards.

So every stretch is one closer towards yourself. Every stretch is one closer to what you want to achieve. Using the mat as your playing field to test out what you can do in real life. But in the end it all start with being appreciative and grateful for what you have, your achievements both professionally and personally. Don’t only look ahead to where you want to be and don’t get caught in looking back to what was. Be in the moment, celebrate and keep stretching!

 

 

Yoga sequence to boost your energy

Yoga sequence Energy boost

When we live in cities, have busy jobs, demanding social lives and deal with changing seasons, we often lack energy. We get tired easily, because there is more energy taken from us then we get to fill up our reserves. In yoga we have a lot of poses that help you to restore your energy, or simply create energy. Restoring energy can be done in a restorative yoga sequence. It focuses on poses that we hold for a long time, while we completely let go of all our tension stored up in the body. These practices can be a true delight! However, often we are too busy and run around in such a high pace that restorative yoga can be a bridge to far. Or we just simply need let off steam and our built up muscle tension. In these situations it is good to do a more vigorous yoga sequence. One where you sweat, do energizing poses and clear your mind from thoughts because your mind is occupied in the practice. I LOVE these practices. It brings me back in my flow and gets me focused. So therefore, I share with you one the practices I love to do when I want to boost my energy. This sequence can vary from 30 minutes up to 45 minutes, it depends on how long you hold the poses and how many repetitions you do. It is advisable to start the practice with 5 minutes of meditation, to calm the mind and be focused during the practice. End the practice with a Savasana pose (corpse pose) for a minimum of 10 breaths. Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you have doubts about the poses, below you can find the basic ideas and adjustments per picture:

  • Picture 1: Padmasana Meditation pose/ Lotus pose. If you sit down make sure your knees are not higher than your hips, which will become very uncomfortable quickly. Preferably, use a block, blanket or pillow to sit on. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are low. Breathe in deeply to your belly and breathe out slowly. If you want to know more about meditation, read this blog entry.
  • Picture 2: Padmasana opening shoulders Lotus pose opening shoulders. Remain seated in the lotus pose. Bring your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. Inhale into your chest, roll your shoulders down and look up. Stay for a minimum of three cycles of breath.
  • Picture 3: Padmasana Twist Lotus pose twist. Remain seated in lotus pose. Inhale take both your arms up. Twist from your belly button towards the right. Left hand goes on your right knee, bring your right hand behind your back. Twist your head as last, to look over your shoulders. Stay for a minimum of three cycles of breath. Change side.
  • Picture 4: Salabhasana Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.
  • Picture 5: Marjaryasana Catpose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.
  • Picture 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.
  • Picture 7: Plank pose Plank pose with one knee forward. Make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Bring your right knee to your right elbow. Try to stay here for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 8: Chaturanga Dandasana Four-Limbed Staff Pose. From the plank, move your body weight forward. You are now on the tips of your toes. Bring your body weight down, like an airplane coming to land. Create a 90 degrees angle from wrist to elbow and elbow to shoulder. Your shoulders don’t go below your elbows. If you want you can hold the pose for a few breaths to build up strength.
  • Picture 9: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Upward-Facing Dog Pose. From the previous pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, you roll over your toes, top of your feet are on the mat. You pose your body up, by straightening your arms. Your shoulders are straight over your wrist. Bring your shoulders backwards and down. Open your chest, breath into it and look up. You inhale while doing this pose.
  • Picture 10: Uttanasana Standing forward bend pose. From the previous pose. Move backwards to a downward facing dog. Look in between your hands and stand forward with both feet in between your hands. Hang forward, have your knees slightly bent or straight (your own preference) while holding your elbows. If you want to intensify the pose you hold your arms behind your knees. Feel how, due to your head hanging down, the vertebras in your neck are getting some space. Stay in this pose for at least 5 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Picture 11: Urdhva Hastasana Upward Salute pose. With an inhale come up from Uttanasana. Keep your back straight while coming up. Align the movement and speed of your body with the breath. Bring your palms together over your head and on a next inhale make a small backward bend. If you want you can keep the pose for 2-3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 12: Virabhadrasana II Warrior 2 pose. Turn your back foot to a 45-degree angle. Open your hips towards the side. Roll your shoulders down and back. Look over your front hand. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 13: Ardha Chandrasana Half moon pose. Place all the weigth on the foot that is in front. Take your back leg up and bring it parallel to the floor and in line with your torso. Pull your toes towards you and contract all the muscles in your leg and core. Place the same hand as your front leg on the floor. Bring your other arm up in the air so your arms are in a straight line with each other. If you can hold your balance look at your upper hand. When you lose your balance keep on looking towards your hand on the floor. Stay for a minimum of 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 14: Virabhadrasana I Warrior 1 pose. Come to the front of your mat, standing. Step backwards with one leg.  Knee is 90 degree over your ankle, hips point forward, arms are up, shoulders are down.
  • Picture 15: Virabhadrasana III Warrior 3 pose. From the previous pose keep your arms where they are. Bring the weight onto your front foot, take up your back leg and move your body forward. Your torso, arms and back leg are in one line and parallel to the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles for balance and make both your legs as active as possible. Stay for 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 16: Runner Pose Runner pose. Come to a high lunge. Front knee is 90 degrees over your ankle. Bring both your hands next to your right foot. Come to the tips of your fingers. On an inhale come up, straighten your spine, and bring your hips a little further up, as if somebody pulls you on the top of your head. It feels like you are ready to sprint away. Stay for 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 17: Vasisthasana Side plank pose. Bring your right hand under your face. Turn to the outside of your right foot. Bring your left foot on top of your right foot. If this is too heavy, place your left foot behind your right one (not before or after). Take your left hand up in the sky, look up to your left hand. Try to stay for a minimum of 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 18: Ardha Purvottanasana Reverse table top pose. Sit down on the floor. Feet are on the floor and knees are upwards. Feet are hips distance apart. The feet are about two feet distances away from your hips. Place your hands on the mat, fingers pointing towards your feet. Your hands are straight under your shoulders (so next to your body). The hands are placed just behind the hips and thus behind your body. Inhale, push your hips up and bring your legs, hips and torso parallel to the floor in one straight line. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 19: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hip distance apart. Measure the positioning of your legs by bringing your arms next to your body; the tip of your middle finger needs to just barely touch your heel. Then interlace your fingers behind your back. Push your hips up as far as you can, roll your shoulders together. Breathe into your chest. If you want to, you can take up one leg (as shown in the picture). Do both sides. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 20: Urdhva Dhanurasana Upward Bow (Wheel) pose. Start as in bridge pose. As only difference, you place your hands above your shoulders; fingers are pointed towards your shoulders. On an inhale bring your hips up. Come unto the top of your head. Exhale here. On your next inhale, push yourself completely off the floor, so you stand only on your hands and feet. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 21: Release pose. Release pose. Lay down on your back. Bring your knees into your chest. Place your hands over your knees. Make small clockwise circles. Make them bigger as you go. Come back to the middle and change direction. This pose helps you to release tension from your lower back, by massaging it.
  • Picture 22: Janu Sirasana Head to knee forward bend pose. Sit on the mat. Bring both legs forward. Pull your toes towards you. Place your right foot into your tight, as high up your leg as possible. Inhale bring your arms up and straighten your spine, push your chest forward. Exhale, come to a 45-degree angle and grab where you can on your left leg; knee, calf muscles, ankles, toes. Inhale straighten your spine again and exhale come forward as far as you can with your back straight. Look towards your knee.
  • Picture 23: Paripurna Navasana Boat pose. Place your feet in front of you, hips distance apart. Hold with your hands under your knees; use this force to straighten your back. Keep your back as straight as possible during the entire pose. Balance on your sit bones; take your feet off the floor. If possible stretch arms out on shoulder height and a next step is to straighten your legs.
  • Picture 23: Salamba Sarvangasana Shoulder stand. Lay down on your back. Palms are facing down on the mat. Bring your knees into your chest. With the force of your hands push your hips off the floor. Place your hands in your back. Straighten your legs upright. Walk your hands closer to your shoulders blades. Stay here; wait until you can breath properly. If gravity is pulling you down, walk your hands closer to your shoulder blades and give yourself a lift. Stay for a minimum of 10 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 25: Halasana Plow pose. From the previous pose, shoulder stand, bring your feet down over your head. Make sure it is a controlled movement. Keep your arms in your back. Or if you want, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms out on the mat. If your toes can’t touch the mat, you keep your hands in your back – or you place blocks under your feet. Stay here for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 26: Matsyasana Fish pose. Lay down on your back. Place your hands under your hips, palms facing down. Breathe into your chest and bring it up. Place the top of your head on the mat. Make sure the weight is on your hips and not on your head. Stay for a minimum of 5 breath cycles.
  • Picture 27: Reclining twist Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Yoga for runners

Yoga for runners
Yoga and running are two sports that combine very well. The running keeps you fit and gives you endurance, while yoga helps you to stretch those tightened muscles and helps you to prevent injures. Both sports will help you clear your mind and as a bonus, yoga will also help you deal with the physical stress you built up in your body while running.

Yoga will also help you create a better balance, it will elongate your muscles and improve your body & breath awareness. The combination of these three will help you to improve your running and become more aware of possible injuries during your training.

But maybe most important is the stretching of the muscles we tighten while running: our hips, hamstrings and gluteus (butt).

The following sequence will work on the different elements described above:

  • Stretching your legs (pictures: 8-9-10-11-12)
  • Opening your hips (pictures: 1-2-17)
  • Creating balance (pictures: 13-14)
  • Work on body awareness and breathing (pictures: 3-15-16)
  • Strengthen your core muscles (pictures: 4-5-6-7)

This sequence can vary from 15 minutes up to 30 minutes, it depends on how long you hold the poses and how many repetitions you do. The basic rule is: better to do it 15 minutes then to not do it at all.

It is advisable to start the practice with 5 minutes of meditation, to calm the mind and be focused during the practice. End the practice with a Savasana pose (corpse pose) for a minimum of 10 breaths.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breathes through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer then your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • While you’re in a standing pose always check your front knee. When it is bent, it makes a 90-degree angle with your ankle; however, it should never go over your ankle.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.

If you have doubts about the poses, below you can find the basic ideas and adjustments per picture:

  • Picture 1: Bound Angle Pose. Place the soles of your feet together. Interlace your fingers and hold around your feet. Try to keep your back as straight as possible when you come forward. Stay for 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 2: Cow Face Pose. Legs: Bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Then cross your right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left, and bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Try to bring the heels parallel next to the hips. Sit evenly on your sitting bones.
    Arms: Bring your right arm forward; place your left one over it. Back of your hands are facing each other, thumbs are up. Make one more bind by bringing your hands in a position where your palms are facing each other. Bring your shoulders down and your elbows up. Do at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 3: Thread and needle pose. With an inhale take one arm up, look towards it and then bring it through the hole of your knee and hand. Shoulder and ear to the ground. Try to keep your hips aligned.
  • Picture 4: Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest of the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.
  • Picture 5: Boat pose. Place your feet in front of you, hips distance apart. Hold with your hands under your knees; use this force to straighten your back. Keep your back as straight as possible during the entire pose. Balance on your sit bones; take your feet of the floor. If possible stretch arms out on shoulder height and a next step is to straighten your legs.
  • Picture 6: Plank pose with one knee forward. Make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Bring your right knee to your right elbow. Try to stay here for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 7: Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.
  • Picture 8: Standing forward bend pose. Hang forward, have your knees slightly bent or straight (your own preference) while holding your elbows. Feel how, due to your head hanging down, the vertebras in your neck are getting some space. Stay in this pose for at least 5 cycles of inhales and exhales.
  • Picture 9: Chair pose. Come up from your previous pose by bending your knees. On an inhale bring both arms up. Arms are in line with the shoulders, palms are facing each other. Your tailbone is turned inwards.
  • Picture 10: Warrior 2 pose. Turn your back foot to a 45-degree angle. Open your hips towards the side. Roll your shoulders down and back. Look over your front hand. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 11: Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 12: Side angle pose. Both feet are pointing straight forward. Place your hands under your face. Inhale, lengthen your spine, exhale fold forward. Stay here with a minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 13: Tree pose. Put all the weight on one leg. Place the other one in your thigh or on your lower leg. Never on the knee!! Focus on a point in front of you and don’t let it go. Stand up tall. Hands in prayer in front of your chest. Minimum of 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 14: Warrior 3 pose. From the previous pose keep your arms where they are. Bring your knee forward, bring your leg to the back and stretch your leg completely. Make your leg, torso and arms parallel to the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles for balance and make both your legs as active as possible. Stay for 3 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 15: Camel pose. Sit on your heels, knees on the mat. Bring your knees hips distance apart. Push yourself up, so you have your hips 90 degrees over your knees. Freeze this – your knees and hips remain 90 degrees throughout the entire pose. Tuck your toes under and place your hands on your lower back. Inhale into your chest and bring your torso backwards. If this is enough for a backward bend stay here. To continue, bring your hands down and reach for your heels. Look straight up, be aware of the 90 degree angle of knee and hips. Stay here for a minimum of 3 cycles of breath. To come out: bring your hands back on your lower back. Move your hips towards your heels. Your head comes back last. Go to child’s pose.
  • Picture 16: Bridge pose. Lay down on your back, knees are up, feet are hips distance apart. Measure the positioning of your legs by bringing your arms next to your body; the tip of your middle finger needs to just barely touch your heel. Then interlace your fingers behind your back. Push your hips up as far as you can, roll your shoulders together. Breathe into your chest.
  • Picture 17: One-legged king pigeon pose. Come to a downward facing dog pose (picture 7). Bring your right leg up and bring it forward. Right knee goes to your right wrist. Your foot goes as close to your left wrist as possible. Your hips need to be open to do this, so you might want to walk your foot closer to your body. Place your hands next to your hips. Breathe into your chest and stay up straight. A possible next step is to bring your body forward on an exhale. Make a diamond of your hands (hands are on the mat) and place your forehead in the diamond space of your hands. Stay for 5 cycles of breath.
  • Picture 18: Rotation pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.