Yoga inversions and arm balances class | not quite what I expected

Last weekend I participated in my first yoga inversions and arm balances workshop. [Notice the use of the word 'first' here. It implies that there will be a 'second', despite the tenor of this post...]. Although I’ve been practicing yoga for over a year now, I have yet to become comfortable with inversions and am downright terrified of arm balances.

I had NO IDEA what to expect. Knowing myself well enough to recognize that I might back out at the last minute, I publicly announced my intentions on Facebook.

yoga inversions and arm balances

No getting out of it now ;)

Thinking of trying a yoga inversions and arm balances class? Here are 5 things you should know before you go!

1. Expect to feel many different (and possibly intense) emotions. Although yoga inversions and arm balances are energizing, many people are surprised by the range of emotions they experience when first attempting these types of poses. Everything from fear to anxiety to annoyance to frustration to elation to sadness to anger.

I left the workshop feeling particularly fragile and vulnerable and couldn’t even sit down to write this post until yesterday. Five days later, I’ve gained some perspective on why I was feeling that way and plan to repeat this workshop the next time it’s offered, not only to improve my physical practice, but to help me work through some ‘life issues’ that my navel gazing revealed.

2. Expect to spend a significant amount of time warming up. My workshop was two hours in length and I anticipated that we would spend most of that time learning the subtleties of headstand, handstand and crow. Wrong!

Because yoga inversions and arm balances require significant hip, shoulder and back flexibility, we spent the first 40 minutes of the evening performing ‘centering’ poses and sun salutations. In addition to warming up the body, the familiar practice helped to ease anxiety and nervousness about the new experience to come.

3. Expect to work with a partner. Many inversions and arm balance poses are difficult to get into for the first time. While a wall can be a useful target (and back stop) when attempting handstand, it cannot help you lift your hips up and over the midline of your body.

I found ‘partnering up’ to be the most anxiety-provoking part of the workshop; if I’m going to fail at something, I’d prefer to do it quietly, in the corner, on my own, thank you very much. I plan on remembering this feeling next time I ask my group fitness participants to ‘find a partner’ and promise to have an option for those who prefer to go it alone.

4. Expect to have sore wrists the next day. Even though you won’t spend the entire class on your hands, your wrists and forearms will get a serious workout. My wrists continued to be stiff and sore for about 4 days after the workshop, significantly affecting my ability to do pushups and make progress on my Christmas knitting.

That being said, yoga inversions and arm balances will help to strengthen your hands and wrists if you regularly include them in your yoga practice. Try the wrist stretches and strengthening exercises in this post.

5 . Expect to fall. A lot. It’s unlikely that your first attempt at headstand, handstand, crow or side crow will be successful. My instructor had us strategically place bolsters (aka ‘crash pads’) to ensure that we didn’t hurt ourselves falling out of a pose. Don’t underestimate the psychological power of having something soft nearby to land on. I was much more willing to try challenging poses with the bolster in place.

My instructor both started and finished the workshop with the following quote:

yoga inversions and arm balances

During the workshop, I interpreted the saying quite literally. I lost count of the number of times I fell somewhere around 12.

Upon later reflection, I came to see it’s universal applicability, reinforcing my belief that yoga is a metaphor for life.

P.S. Having a hard time visualizing the poses I’m describing? Check out this YouTube video I made a few months back of me, attempting crow!

Have you ever experienced powerful emotions while attempting a yoga inversion?

What’s your favourite yoga pose? Why?

The 15-Minute Yoga Routine to Beat your Halloween Candy Binge

In just a few hours one (or both) of two things is going to happen. (1) You’re going to put out a big bowl of candy to give to trick or treaters; (2) your children are going to arrive home with their trick or treating haul. Suffice it to say that most of us will indulge in Halloween candy once or twice during the coming days.

Today’s post is written by Anna Quinn, a yoga instructor, writer and regular reader of my blog.

Did you know that the human body is built to cleanse itself of waste that can make you sick? Now that doesn’t give you a free pass to pound back a whole Halloween bag of goodies this Wednesday evening. But it does mean that you have the power to combat the effects of all those empty calories with a quick 15-minute yoga routine.

Halloween candy binge

Yoga postures, or “asanas”, combat the negative effects of a sugar-filled evening because let’s, face it; we’ve all woken up with mini chocolate bar wrappers stuck to our wigs! The good news is that your body already has the systems in place to eliminate toxins:

  • The Lymphatic System—stimulates lymph fluid via movement (so exercise is key) and flushes toxins out through the bloodstream.
  • The Digestive System—which processes the food we eat by separating nutrients and eliminating waste.
  • The Circulatory System—responsible for the delivery of oxygen-rich blood and waste elimination from cells.

The following yoga workout proactively encourages detoxification, circulation, and flushes out the toxins from a Halloween candy binge…

1. Forward bend

The motion of bending at the waist compresses the abdominal organs and eliminates waste by stimulating the digestive system. To perform a safe forward bend:

  • Sit facing forward with a straight back and legs extended straight
  • Ensure a slight bend at the knees to take stress off knees and lower back
  • Hinge forward at the hips, reaching head and heart forward
  • Grasp the backs of the knees or the soles of the feet

2. Seated yoga twists

The twisting motion squeezes the abdominal organs and stimulates digestion! To perform a yoga twist:

  • Sit cross-legged on the floor and twisting the body to the right
  • Come back to centre and repeat on the left side
  • A twist works by literally wringing the liver and kidneys out a like a sponge, squeezing out unhealthy toxins in the blood and cleansing the abdominal organs with fresh, clean blood when the twist is released.

3. Cat/cow pose

These two poses work collaboratively to encourage healthy spinal alignment and gently massaging the belly. To perform a cat/cow:

  • Come to a tabletop position on all fours, with the hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips
  • As you inhale, lift your head and tailbone, letting your belly dip towards the floor
  • As you exhale, tuck your tailbone, round your back towards the ceiling and drop your head Alternate gently between the two poses letting your breath guide you

4. Yoga Inversions 

Placing the heart over the head encourages the drainage of lymph waste from the lower body. Inversions like yoga headstand, shoulder stand, bridge, or simply lying on the floor with your legs up a wall will soothe the immune system, nervous system, and reduce stress. My personal favorite inversion is bridge pose due to its soothing effect on abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid, digestion, and back muscles. To perform bridge:

  • Lay flat on your back and bend your knees, feet flat the floor
  • Reach your arms alongside your body with your fingertips grazing the backs of your heels
  • Exhale, pressing your feet and arms down and lifting your tailbone until your thighs are parallel to the floorHold the pose for 10 breaths and release on an exhale, rolling the spine gently down to the floor

Halloween candy binge

5. Corpse pose

I end all of my yoga classes with Savasana because it helps the body let go of the tension from your practice:

  • Lie flat on your back with your arms and legs resting comfortably, palms facing up and legs, ankles and feet slightly splayed
  • Close your eyes, let your jaw and tongue hang loose, and allow your breath to become natural
  • Focus on peaceful, calming thoughts
  • Rest in corpse for 5 minutes, then awaken the body by gently wiggling the fingers and toes

Anna Quinn is a staff writer for AndGeeks . A woman who admits she’s addicted to her smart phone, video gaming, and really any new and neat consumer electronic, Anna decided to put her passion to pen and earn a living writing about technology and consumer electronic reviews to help the average person make a smart purchase. When she’s not obsessed with a new gadget, Anna likes to balance her type A personality with a little hot yoga.

Off to a great start: 5 things that make for a happy day

I can always tell, within an hour of waking up, what type of day it’s going to be. Calm and relaxed or frenzied? Energetic or tiresome? Happy or not-so-much.

For me, the activities that I engage in before 9 am have a tendency to set the tone for the day. I know it will be a great one if the following five things happen;

1. I awake before the alarm and my husband brings me coffee in bed (he’s been doing this for 18 years now; I know, I’m spoiled).

2. I have time to sit down to a healthy, satisfying breakfast (instead of feeding myself while standing at the counter and preparing breakfast and lunch for everyone else). This morning, I had overnight oats topped with Holy Crap cereal and strawberries. Yum!

3. I remember to take my GNC vitamins.

4. My children awake happy and allow themselves to be hugged and kissed by mom.

5. I have an exercise plan. Today is my day away from teaching and training clients and I’m excited to try a new Hatha Flow class at Kushala Yoga.

What needs to happen in your morning for your day to be a happy one?

Why are you here? A big question for on and off your mat

Last week, I attended my 25th yoga class! Hooray!

You’ll remember that I started practicing yoga last fall in an attempt to quiet my mind and improve my flexibility. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that it would ‘stick’. I have difficulty with stillness and mindfulness.

I’ve experienced some ‘successes’ (although in yoga, we’re not really encouraged to think of making physical progress, just doing what feels right for our bodies, at that particular  moment in time).

Slowly, I’ve overcome my fear of inversions. I can get into Headstand quickly and hold it for five slow breaths.

My Wheel pose is coming along; I still feel a little panicky when pressing up into it and have to remind myself that my arms are certainly strong enough to lift my torso up. It’s just my brain that lags behind.

Hip openers, like Pigeon pose, no longer make me want to run from the room screaming and I don’t have to watch my foot while setting up for Warrior III.

But what I love most about my Saturday morning yoga class is my instructor’s ‘welcome’. Each week, Chris starts the class by inviting us to think about a particle topic or question while we ‘gather ourselves inward’. Usually, my mind wanders away from the theme and I struggle to return from grocery lists and ideas for blog posts…

Last week, however, the question we were asked to ponder during our practice was, ‘Why are you here?‘. We were asked to take our initial response and dig deeper. To ask again, ‘Yes, but why are you here?’. Over and over and over, until we reached the real reason we had come to practice that particular morning.

Now I won’t bore you with the details of my own internal dialogue ;), but what struck me about the process was how much it applies to life off the yoga mat too.

All too often, we start something new (a diet, a workout schedule, a skin care regime; these just happen to be the new things I’ve started lately…) without knowing ‘why’ we’re really doing it. For example, a client might tell me that they want to start personal training because they want to lose weight.

Okay. Weight loss is an admirable goal, but knowing ‘why’ they want to lose weight will be an important factor in their success. ‘To be healthy‘ might be the answer to the 2nd ‘why’ and ‘so that I will live long enough to see my children graduate from university‘ the answer to the 3rd. And so on.

Keep on asking ‘why’ and you’ll eventually find the truest reason for making change. (I just realized that I’ve written on this topic before, but clearly, I’m not done with thinking about it. You probably aren’t either ;) ).

I started my yoga practice with the answer ‘I just need an hour to myself’ and left my mat knowing that the morning’s practice was really about becoming a more accepting person; more accepting of myself (warts and all) and the people around me.

Why are you here?

The tyranny of perfection: why fitness, food and knitting slip-ups no longer faze me

Years ago, I was a perfectionist.

I held high expectations for myself and all of my endeavours. Workouts had to be all or nothing. If i missed one, I was ‘lazy’ and ‘soft’. Diets had to be adhered to ‘to the letter’ or abandoned entirely. Recipes had to be tried and perfected before serving to company. An accidental right slanting decrease rather than an SSK in my knitting? Rip it all out and start again.

Then I had children. The perfect anti-dote to perfectionism. They remove your ability to control the world around you. You can fight it, but it is an tireless and insanity-making battle. Embrace the chaos they embody or go mad.

Evidence that I’ve moved beyond perfectionism?

This week, I missed my Friday workout due to (yet another) Pro-D Day, Saturday yoga because I slept in (an extremely rare occurrence) and Sunday step class (sorry guys, I’ll be back next week) out of sheer exhaustion. No worries. There’s always tomorrow and sometimes rest is as good as a change. No one de-conditions over the weekend :).

Valentine’s Day chocolates tempted me to relent on my ‘no sugar’ meal plan. I enjoyed each and every one of the nut and caramel-filled treats, without guilt or worry that I would immediately revert to my old ‘sugar filled’ ways. (And more importantly, without running to the bathroom scale to see whether I’d gained weight)

I finally finished the sweater I’ve been knitting and cast off only to discover a mis-crossed cable. I decided to leave it there in the age-old tradition of quilters who purposefully make one mistake per quilt just to acknowledge that no one’s perfect.

Bet you can’t even spot it (okay, maybe you can, but I’m not going to worry about it!).

Pattern is Irish Coffee knit in Madelintosh Vintage (Briar colorway); ’cause I know that somebody will ask!

My children have taught me that life is TOO SHORT to fill it up with negative thoughts about errors and might-have-beens. A little imperfection is a small price to pay for a more relaxed, enjoyable life!

Enjoy the rest of your perfectly imperfect weekend; I know I will!

Favorite fitness Xmas presents

I love Boxing Day! After all the cooking, cleaning, traveling and entertaining of the past week, it’s wonderful to have a day when you have nowhere to go and nothing much to do.

The children are happily (!) playing with their new toys. Hubby has retired to his study to get a jump start on next week’s teaching duties. I’m leisurely reading blogs and knitting and taking yet another day off from the gym.

But just one. Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to a visit to the weight room so I can break in a couple of my new fitness inspired gifts.

Pink Lulu workout top and headband (thanks to my sister Tracy) and fresh-smelling weight training gloves (from hubby, who must have noticed how stinky and holey my old ones were).

Hope you had a fabulous day with your family too!

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When worlds collide; handknit fitness gear

I love to exercise and I love to knit. But never at the same time. Picture yarn caught up in the gears of the elliptical. Needles piercing a stability ball or Bosu. Not a pretty sight.

Other than the parallels I’ve drawn between them in this post, in my life, exercise and knitting rarely meet.

Until now. The perfect marriage of form and function. Fiber meets fitness. May I present my version of the yoga sock, knit in a soft, warm alpaca/merino/silk blend;

Sans heels and toes for better mat grippage

Laced at the top to prevent drooping

And a pretty little faux seam up the back, just because

The pattern is my own and inspired by (1) the legwarmers worn by my yoga instructor, (2) a pair of machine knit yoga socks on the Lululelmon website and (3) my trusty stitch dictionary.

Want to knit a pair of your own (or get your crafty friend to do it for you)? See my Ravelry page for pattern details!

Namaste!

Crows, dolphins and (teddy)bears, oh my!

So I’ve been practicing yoga (semi-)faithfully for about three months now.

Absolutely loving savasana. Slowly getting better at downward dog and warrior. Working on ‘enjoying’ chair and pigeon pose. But up until today, quite terrified of inverted balance poses.

In part because I’m afraid of falling and looking silly but also, because of the little voice in my head that’s been telling me my entire life that I’m not an athlete. (Yes, I know, I lift weights, teach group fitness and indoor cycling and can out-push up my husband, but somehow, I haven’t an athletic bone in my body…)

Fortunately, I usually attend the busy classes, where I’m guessing, there’s just not enough room for ‘new-to-inversions’ yogis. (Imagine thirty-five people attempting headstands for the first time with mats a mere six inches a part; I know, funny, huh?). So although I’ve been challenged by the difficulty of holding my body in contorted positions for long intervals, I haven’t really pushed myself outside of my comfort zone.

Until today.

Maybe it was due to the small class size (there was lots of room between mats for ‘errors’). Or perhaps because a kind, supportive friend (thanks Tracey!) was on the mat next to mine. Possibly it was the instructor; a gentle, nurturing woman who notices and doesn’t hesitate to celebrate our small yogic victories.

Today’s class was full of inversions.

We began with crow pose.

This one, I’ve done before, but only fleetingly. Supporting your weight on hands only, knees balanced on the back of triceps. One leg slips off, try, again. Other leg slips off, try again. After the third try, I usually slip into child’s pose to regroup (and hide my embarrassment).

Today, I hugged my arms and inner thighs towards the midline of my body and managed to hold the pose for what felt like forever (but was probably only 15 seconds…).

We moved on to dolphin,

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not difficult on it’s own and really a pose used to transition into the more challenging teddy bear (from dolphin, balance your knees on the back of your triceps, much like crow). Miraculously, I was able to hold and maintain this one for an unbelievable (at least to me!) amount of time.

From teddy bear, the instructor challenged us to begin moving into headstand. Ever so slowly, start to bring the the knees together (holy core strength, batman!), pressing the inner thighs together, inch the feet towards the ceiling. I squeezed and inched, but only managed to make it about a quarter of the way to the top. The instructor cheered me on and I felt victorious as I lowered myself back down on the mat. Next time, half way, I promise!

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For the first time in a very long time, I attempted something scary. Nowhere near as often as Lululemon advocates (“Do one thing a day that terrifies you”), but a good start.

So often our fears of embarrassment and failure hold us back. That little voice in the back of our heads that tells us we can’t. “I can’t take a group fitness class, I’m too uncoordinated”, “Weight-lifting? I’d probably hurt myself”, “I’ve tried eating better, but I haven’t got the willpower”.

Tomorrow, apply some mental duct tape to your little voice’s head and do something that scares you (try ‘scares’ before you attempt ‘terrifies'; baby steps). I have no doubt that you’ll surprise yourself. I won’t be surprised; I knew you could do it!

What have you done lately that scares you?

Did you feel elated and powerful afterwards (even if you weren’t entirely successful)?

Change, personal bests and serendipity

This past Wednesday, I finished up a four-week weight training cycle. All. Done.

Recall that I had reduced my weight training sessions from four times a week to just two. In part, because I’ve been trying to make time to address my lack of flexibility through yoga, but also, because I had plateaued in my strength gains and thought that a change might stimulate new growth.

For the past month, I’ve split my training time over two days; one day for chest, back and triceps, the other for legs, shoulders and biceps. I’ve kept the exercises the same each week, but manipulated the loads and repetition numbers. (For those of you new to weight training, this is called progressive resistance training. To continue to make strength gains, you need to continually add weight (or difficulty) to an exercise.)

And boy, did it work!

She should be lifting heavier... Source

Below, I’ve listed my start and end performances for just the chest and back exercises (don’t want to bore you with all the numbers!). Notice the increase in load over just four weeks! The chest press, bent over row and cable pec fly represent all-time personal bests! Hip, hip hooray; let’s hear it for change!

  • Dumbbell chest press: 25 lbs x 8 reps x 4 sets TO 30 lbs 8 x 10 reps x 4 sets
  • Single arm bent over row: 35 lbs x 8 x 4 TO 40 lbs x 10 x 4
  • Lat pulldowns: 70 lbs x 8 x 4 TO 80 lbs x 10 x 4
  • Cable pec flys: 25 lbs x 8 x 4 TO 27.5 lbs x 10 x 4
  • Seated row: 65 lbs x 8 x 4  TO 75 lbs x 10 4 4
  • Pushups: 30 (total over 4 sets) TO 57 (total over 4 sets)
I saw similar changes in the amount of weight my shoulders, arms and legs could move. Some exercises resulted in greater gains than others, but all in all, I’m pleased with my progress and thrilled that spending less time in the gym produced greater results!

However, I don’t think I’ve gotten everything I can out of this training schedule. So for the next four week cycle, I’ll be following the same schedule. Still splitting my training over two days. Still grouping chest with back and triceps, legs with shoulders and biceps. Only the specific exercises will change (I’ll post details next week).

As a consequence of the heavy rows and presses I did on Wednesday, I’ve been feeling very tight and constricted through the shoulders. Although I did stretch thoroughly after my workout, delayed onset muscle soreness hit me hard this morning. Since the gym is closed today (Remembrance Day in Canada), I thought I’d head to the yoga studio for a more intense stretch.

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The instructor must have read my mind. We spent the entire class on chest and shouldering opening poses. I left feeling thoroughly relaxed with no hint of tightness remaining. Serendipity always makes me smile!

Have you made a change in your exercise routine lately?

Tell me about it!

If not, why not?