Yoga Poses to Reduce Stress

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Holidays got you stressed?

Stress and fatigue are often unwelcome guests during the holiday season. Stress creeps up while planning, preparing, and cooking a holiday meal, decorating your house, setting up for the holiday party, sitting in traffic, shopping, looking for a parking space, etc. Stress dampens your mood, makes us irritable, and can even cause physical pain. All of which will hinder our spirits and take away from the joy of the holidays.  

There are ways to help these feelings of stress. In fact, yoga is a great tool to help stretch the body and calm the mind.  Enjoying a yoga class can help you relax, recharge, and restore your mind and body through the entire holiday season.

If you can't get to a class, that’s ok. Check out some of the poses below. These postures will help you get back on track, feeling calmer and restored.  

These poses should take no longer than 10 minutes and should be done in a quiet space. Hold each pose for at least 5-8 deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and give your mind some much needed rest.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

The foundation of all standing poses, Mountain Pose is a great resting pose. Stand with your feet parallel to one another, about hip-distance apart. Distribute your weight evenly on your feet. Keep a very small bend in the knees, engage your thighs to avoid locking your knees. Place your hands together at your heart center or by your side. Close your eyes and breathe. Allow this pose to help induce a meditative state- find some balance and calm your mind. Set an intention or take a moment of gratitude for yourself.

Uttanasana (Forward Fold)

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Uttanasana will help awaken your hamstrings, calm your mind, and relieve stress & anxiety. Stand in Tadasana with your hands on your hips. Begin to bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. As you descend, lengthen your torso, fold over your legs, and release the crown of the head towards the floor. Hands can stay on the floor, interlaced behind your back, or grab for opposite elbows. We often carry stress and tension in our neck and shoulder area; so allow your entire upper body to release and relax. Focus on letting go all of the tension in head and your neck. Perhaps gently shake your head “yes” and “no” to ensure that your neck is completely relaxed. Imagine all of your worries and stress rolling off of your back. Close your eyes and breathe!

Adho Mukha Svanasana  (Downward Facing Dog)

Down dog is one of yoga's most widely recognized poses and offers the ultimate all-over, rejuvenating stretch. Down Dog encourages fresh blood to flow through your body, allowing you to feel energized and rejuvenated. This pose is considered a mild inversion because your heart is higher than your head; this encourages blood to flow to your brain which helps calm the nervous system.

To get into the pose come onto all fours; plant your hands down towards the front of your mat and walk your feet towards the back of the mat, to resemble an upside-down V shape.  Spread your fingers wide and press down with all four corners of your hands. Draw the sit bones up and back and release your heels to the mat. Close your eyes and breathe!

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

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Balasana is considered one of the most restorative postures in yoga. This gentle resting pose stretches the entire backside of the body. To begin, kneel on the floor and bring your big toes to touch. Sit on your heels, then separate your knees about hips width distance apart. Lower your torso to the floor between your thighs. Allow your hips to draw back towards your heels and extend your arms out in front of you. Place your forehead on the mat or a pillow. With each breath, try to melt deeper into this pose and encourage your body to completely relax. Quiet the mind and allow your body to ground down, completely relax and release tension. Close your eyes and breathe.

Supta Baddha Konasana  (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)

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Supta Baddha Konasana is a classic restorative posture and one of my favorites. This pose opens the hips & groin as well as stimulates the heart, improves circulation, and allows the body to move stagnant energy. It also encourages relaxation of the abdominal muscles and soothes digestion. Find this pose by coming to lie on your back. Next, bring the soles of your feet together. Gently allow your hips to open. Rest your hands on the ground on either side of you or place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Release any tension or tightness in your body and allow yourself to relax into the pose. Close your eyes and breathe!

Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall)

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This pose is said to have the cure to whatever ails you. Legs up the wall is a restorative inversion and a great pose to help relax and explore your breath. By placing your legs up the wall, you’re allowing stagnate fluids to release, and fresh blood to flow through your body. This circulation boost allows your body to restore itself and find balance.

To start, bring yourself to sit sideways by a wall. Slowly roll onto your back and let your legs rotate up and against the wall. You may need to scoot your body closer or further away from the wall in order to find a comfortable position. Rest your arms by your side or place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Once you’re comfortable, close your eyes and breathe.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

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Savasana is a pose of total relaxation and often will come at the end of a flow practice.  After flowing, Savasana is a great way to allow your body to relax and feel the effects of your practice.

Find savasana by gently lieing all the way onto the floor and allowing yourself to completely surrender. Allow your legs to extend down on the mat and your feet to relax, opening towards the corners of your mat. Arms come to your side and palms face up. Release every muscle in your arms, legs, torso, and face. Close your eyes and allow your body and mind to be completely still.

Beat Holiday Stress

Holidays are fun, but they can also be stressful. You may be dealing with visiting relatives, end-of-year work deadlines, meal planning, shopping, crowded malls, endless cleaning, needy family members, awful traffic, etc.

The good news is that some stress is good for you, because it gives you purpose, challenge, and a sense of achievement. For example, while it's stressful to host a meal for your family, it’s nice to do something for the people you love and share a delicious meal you prepared on your own and made with love.

On the other hand, lots of stress is not so great for us. When we are stressed, our cortisol levels increase. A sudden increase in cortisol levels causes a long list of problems. For example, you are at a greater risk for having a heart attack or stroke, as well as elevated blood sugar, increased belly fat, and memory loss.

So if you know the holidays really stress you out, your goal is to find things that will help balance you and help you feel good.  

Here are some stress reducing activities to help you get through the holidays:

Exercise:

The first step towards managing your stress is to get a decent workout in every day. A good workout rejuvenates you and helps to produce endorphins, which make you calm.

For example:

  • Take a hot yoga class- get out of your head and into your body. Visit Empower Yoga!
  • Go for a run

Get a good night’s sleep:

People need a fresh start each day, but for many, a good night’s sleep is hard to come by.

  • Stick to your schedule and try not to deviates by no more than 1 hour daily (2 hours max), even over the holidays.
  • Use your bed for sleep and not work, tv, ipads, cell phones, etc.
  • When you turn out the lights to sleep, be sure to keep the bedroom dark and quiet.
  • Avoid bringing pets or children into your bed at night as they will wake you up.

Be mindful of your alcohol and caffeine intake:

If you have trouble sleeping, don’t consume more than 2 servings of caffeine during the day, and not more than 2 servings of alcohol in the evening. Extra caffeine and alcohol disrupts a good night’s sleep.

Get Off Your Feet:

If you’ve been on your feet all day working, shopping, or socializing, quickly relieve stress by giving your feet a break. Simply elevating or lifting your feet above your heart, can help you relax and recenter.

Breathe:

If traffic is backed up, or your in laws are testing your patience, go ahead and sigh. Take a minute to breathe. This is the body’s natural response to stress.

Relax your shoulders, neck, and upper back. Then, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, letting go of any stress and/or tension you may be feeling.

Schedule some peace and calm every day:

Many people eat well and exercise, yet they don’t schedule any time in their day for peace and calm. If you don’t have a daily relaxation routine, 10 to 20 minutes of soul calming activity, in place to manage the stress in your life, it probably won’t happen on its own.

  • Make an appointment for a massage.
  • Sign up for a yoga class. If hot or athletic yoga classes are too strenuous for you, opt for a relaxation yoga class- Empower Yoga offers a Yin Yoga class as well as a Recharge class.
  • Meditate- give yourself 10 minutes to tune in and transform your negative thoughts.

Get outside and have fun!! Do something you love and enjoy a few times each week for your own health and sanity. Plan some activities that are fun for you, your family, and your close friends. When you are stressed, it’s nice to spend time with people who make you happy and who bring cheer.

As you reduce your stress, you’ll sleep better, eat more wisely, work out more, and feel better all around.

Happy Holidays!

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Why Hot Yoga is Great for Athletes...

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Athletes play hard– running, climbing, jumping, biking, lifting, golfing, etc. When muscles work hard and become more fibrous and strong, they also become very tight. Tight muscle can lead to the loss of mobility, making it difficult to move around.  For example, if you're a runner like me, we have strong quadriceps but our hamstrings shorten, making it difficult for us to bend over and touch our toes. Another example, weightlifters will get super toned in the shoulders and arms, but they often have difficulty raising their arms high overhead. As an athlete’s range of motion decreases, the ability to stay on top of his or her game becomes harder. This is preventable! Hot yoga loosens the muscles naturally and safely, allowing all athletes to find more freedom, flexibility and ease in tight areas.

Practicing yoga a few times a week, helps the tight muscles stay strong, but also become more pliable and flexible. The benefit- lengthen and strengthen the body so you have the ability to move safely for the rest of your life.

At our power yoga studio, we strive to provide a well-rounded workout (cardio, weight bearing, stretching and more) that makes you feel good from head to toe. If you can commit and incorporate yoga regularly (2 to 3 times a week), you’ll see results within a month.

Here are just some of the benefits of hot yoga for athletes:

  • Full range of motion
  • More flexibility
  • Improved balance
  • Focus
  • Mind Control
  • Breathwork
  • Increased core strength
  • Injury prevention

Why does the heat work so well?

The heat makes your muscles more elastic and pliable allowing for deeper and safer stretching. The heat also allows blood and oxygen to be delivered to the muscles helping them to build, lengthen and repair more easily. This increased blood and oxygen also speeds up the body’s ability to breakdown glucose and fatty acids that help shed fat tissue and weight. In addition, hot yoga gives the body the rest it needs from repetitive motions of one sport while still offering a solid workout. Another great benefit is the breath control you learn in yoga will help keep your mind and body calm in stressful conditions on and off your mat.
Top professional and recreational athletes are big on yoga! Famous football and baseball teams embrace yoga. So do ice skaters, swimmers, golfers, triathletes, gymnasts, dancers and many more.

Are you ready to start adding yoga into your weekly fitness regimen? I hope so!!

Our classes at Empower Yoga include:

  • HOT or Warm Power Flow/Vinyasa classes
  • Power Plus
  • Yin Yoga
  • Restorative Yoga

Get started today! Join us at Empower Yoga!!  Get strong and bendy for lifelong athletic health.

Life Lessons I've Learned From Practicing Yoga!

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I have been practicing yoga for over 10 years. One thing I know for sure, it’s one of the most consistent and transformative things I’ve ever done. Over the last 10 years, yoga has been a constant presence in my life. I love yoga and continue to enjoy my practice and my ability to explore my body, mind, and soul. I believe that yoga is a gift for everyone to enjoy.

Through the years, I’ve learned that the physical health benefits of yoga are numerous, but yoga also has the ability to boost your emotional health as well. I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned from yoga in this week’s blog.

I hope this article inspires you to give yoga a try and if you already have, I am sure you may agree with the things I have listed below!

Here are some of the life lessons that yoga has taught me.

Follow your heart:

Once opened, the possibilities for love and joy are endless! Once in a job I hated and living life in a perpetual pattern of negative thought, I discovered yoga and it helped open my mind to endless possibilities. Yoga gave me the strength and wisdom to get rid of my doubts, fears and worries.  Instead, I am able to listen to my inner self and follow my heart. Without yoga I wouldn't be where I am today- an entrepreneur, who opened her own yoga studio in an effort to give back to a community that gave her so much. I want to help others find their true path and empower them through their own yoga journey of healing and self discovery.

You are capable of more than you give yourself credit for:

I believe that whatever my goals are, I can accomplish them with determination, hard work, and persistence. For example, just a few years ago, I never thought I could do a handstand. But I can do them now (at least for few seconds lol) because I just kept practicing, gaining strength, and learning the technique little by little. Sometimes we put limits on ourselves, but we can do more than what we give ourselves credit for. I know things can seem scary sometimes, but it's in those moments, we know that we are alive. Plus, once we’ve achieved our goals, we are rewarded with a feeling of self accomplishment and satisfaction.  

Live in the present:

This can still be a challenge for me, but I work hard at it each day. When we step back and take a moment to consider how much of our day we spend worrying about what is going to happen next, or what has happened, it can become very detrimental to your mental, emotional and physical health. When we constantly worry about things we can’t control or change, we begin to feel anxious, stressed and even depressed. To avoid this, take each day, hour and even minute at a time to experience the present moment fully and let go of any other stressers you do not need. Yoga is a great way to help get you there. In yoga, we observe our thoughts, get down past the surface of everything and go deep into our core of existence. Here is where we find the answers to what we need to let go of and start living.

Just breathe:

This may sound simple, but trust me, it’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned.  When faced with a difficult situation or when experiencing unsettling emotions, the first thing that comes to my mind is “just breathe”. Slowly, in through the nose and out through the nose (eyes open or closed), I just breathe. Sure enough, I feel calmer, stronger and more able to deal with whatever is going on around me and within me.

Don't create unnecessary tension:

Sometimes in yoga when we get into a pose that challenges us, we clench our teeth and/or tense our shoulders or face. In those moments, it’s important to remember to relax and just breathe. Similarly in life, as things get hard, try not to overreact, panic, become defensive, or place blame, just relax and breathe. Unnecessary tension causes stress and stress is bad for our overall health.

Don’t take anything for granted:

Nothing in life is guaranteed. What is here today may be gone tomorrow, so appreciate and value what you have while you have it. You never know what may happen next. Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination. With yoga, and with life, the beauty of the practice is not about the “results,” but about the journey. Enjoy every moment and don’t take anything for granted.

It's ok to fall:

You know that pose that looks and seems totally impossible? You'll never gain the strength and flexibility you need to do it if you don’t try. Same applies in life; stop worrying about if you fall down and just give it a try and keep trying until one day it sticks!

Be patient:

You can’t force your body to open into a pose before it's ready, otherwise you could get hurt.  To get into more challenging poses, you need to warm up and work up to them; some poses take a lifetime. Life is the same way, forcing things to happen when they aren’t ready, almost never gets us closer to our goals.

Alignment is key:

In yoga poses, it's important to align your body properly to avoid risk of injuries. Same with life. If you do things that don’t align with your core values, you put yourself at risk and prevent yourself from achieving your goals.

Only you know your body:

In a yoga class, your teacher is there to guide you and offer suggestions. No matter how many teacher trainings they’ve completed, he/she doesn't live in your body and he/she doesn't feel what you feel. For this reason, you are the only one who can really make sound decisions for yourself. Trust your judgment, do what feels right, and you can never go wrong.

We never stop learning:

As soon as you think you've mastered a pose, making a slight adjustment can change everything. Every pose has multiple variations that can make it more supportive or challenging. This is the nature of yoga poses, and also the nature of life. There's always another lesson to learn, new places to explore, and new challenges to meet.

Never give up:

Whether it's mastering a new yoga pose or attaining your life’s goal or dreams, never give up. Yoga has helped teach me to find the resilience, courage and inner strength to believe in myself and to never give up. So for those of you currently facing challenging times and searching for strength, know that’s it's already within you, all you need is the courage to pull it out; never give up.

 

Every time you get on your mat you bring with you different challenges; with different mental, physical and emotional challenges, the experience differs accordingly. Sometimes you feel physically strong, while other times your balance may be off and that’s ok.  Take a few moments to observe and accept what is going on and then learn from it. Enjoy the journey of life, continue to grow and challenge yourself, and never give up!


 

 

Fall Equinox

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Even though we know the seasons change, autumn still has a way of surprising us. It seems like one day it’s hot and humid, summers in full swing, and the next there’s a shift- the airs cooler and it feels crisp. 

Then before you know it, it’s pumpkin-spice-everything, everywhere and we are wearing boots, long sleeves and sweaters. 

The fall equinox is what is responsible for this shift and the seasons changing from summer to fall. 

This year, the fall equinox arrives on Friday, September 22. The fall equinox happens the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, which is an imaginary line in the sky that corresponds to Earth’s equator. Every year this occurs on September 22, 23, or 24 in the northern hemisphere.

From here, the days start to get shorter until the winter solstice in December, then they’ll begin their slow climb back to the long summer days. 

The word “Equinox” comes from the Latin words “equi” meaning “equal” and “nox” meaning “night.” So during the fall equinox, there are equal amounts of daylight and darkness. The equinox is a point of union and balance between the light and the dark, between fire and water, & between the yin & yang.  

This time is a great reminder for us to turn inward and check in with ourselves, slow down, and become more grounded. 

Often as the end of the year approaches, we want to work harder to get things done. Instead, take the opportunity to reduce your work and only complete what's necessary. As you check in with yourself, ask yourself: what do I need/want? Get more rest, eat earlier, develop a fall routine, get into a rhythm and stick with it. To feel more grounded, listen to slow rhythmic music with heavy drum beats and deep melodic chanting, these vibrations will resonate in the lower chakras, drawing energy closer to the earth. To also honor yourself during this time, meditate, take a yoga class, stay warm, and love and honor yourself and your body.

In honor of the fall equinox we will be holding a special grounding yoga class with Sam Benson on Saturday, 9/23 from 9:00-10:15am.  To register, please visit: http://empoweryoganj.com/schedule/

Namaste!

Exploring Mantras

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In this week's blog, I’ll be exploring mantras and the benefit of mantras both on and off the mat.

With spiritual practices like yoga and meditation becoming more popular, it seems like everyone is talking about mantras. But what’s a mantra??

WHAT ARE MANTRAS?

A mantra is a word, sound, or phrase repeated to aid in your concentration. They are a living force that are believed to have high spiritual and creative power.

Mantras can also be used as an affirmation and to help keep you connected to a particular state of mind. When using a mantra, it's believed that only the positive intentions and actions will fill your mind and negativity will be eliminated.

 

WHY ARE MANTRAS IMPORTANT?

Mantras can be a great way to help keep you focused and connected to a particular state of mind. You can choose a mantra based on how you're feeling or what you are needing in life. Whether you're looking for positivity, health, happiness, self love, or if you simply want to find balance, finding a mantra and sticking with it can help you cultivate that in your life.

HOW DO THEY HELP?

In a vinyasa flow yoga class, mantras can be used as a silent repetition to help keep the mind focused and present.

Off the mat, when you have difficulty focusing, your mind keeps wandering, or you’re in a stressful or uncomfortable position, a mantra can help you feel grounded and at ease.

Studies have shown that mantras can reduce stress levels and change your brain's chemistry.  They interrupt your negative thoughts and experiences and give you something more positive to focus on instead.

Mantras help you maintain a connection to the state you wish to cultivate. Choosing a mantra in the morning can help set the tone for the rest of your day.

At the beginning of most yoga classes, the teacher will share a theme or invite you to create an intention or pick a mantra to use and help support you throughout your practice.

SOME POPULAR MANTRAS:

Endurance/Strength- "This too shall pass."

Love- "I am love."

Manifesting Love- “I am attracting all the love I dream and desire.”

Calmer mind- "Smile, breathe, and go slowly."

Being present- "Be here, now."

Allowing the universe to guide you- "I am open to receiving universal gifts."

Creating happiness- "Today I choose joy."

Release- "Close your eyes, clear your heart, let it go."

Empowerment- "I am capable of wonderful things."

Building Self-Confidence- “Today you are perfect.”

Strength and Willpower- “Forward progress, just keep moving.”

Enduring Tough Times- “you are the sky, everything else is the weather.”

Neutralizing Body Image- “I am strong. I am beautiful. I am enough.”

Radiating Gratitude- “I am grateful for all the things unfolding in my life & all that is yet to come.”

Starting the Day- “I am fullfilled, I am fearless.”

Ending the Day- “Less is more.”

 

MY FAVORITE: “It’s a great day to be alive.”