Are you addicted to food?

After a nice lunch, you have your dessert. Despite feeling full, have you ever had more cravings for a snack or two soon afterwards?
Recently, I came across an interesting article about a study that proves that higher-sugar, higher-glycemic foods are addictive in the same way as cocaine and heroin are. Food high in sugar activates the nucleus accumbens in our brain, which makes us feel good and encourages us to seek out more of this good feeling. In the study, two groups were given milkshakes that had exactly the same nutrition (exactly the same amount of calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate). The difference was that one group had milkshakes that contained more sugar with a high glycemic index. ‘This high-sugar, high-glycemic-index milkshake caused a much greater spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, and also yielded reports of increased hunger and cravings four hours after they consumed it.’ This explains why people find it so difficult to cut down on snacks.
In today’s fast paced society where processed food are so convenient and fast food is readily available, it is difficult to avoid being drawn into the vicious cycle of cravings, especially if you are feeling stressed from a day of work.
cycle
I am trying to reduce the amount of snacks I eat each day. Here are some tips which I find helpful if you wish to do so too:
1. Out of sight, out of mind. A simple rule that helps a lot. When you avoid keeping any food just within your reach or sight, you are less likely to think of it, and much less likely to eat it. That means no food on your table when you are working!
2. Hide any snacks far away. When you have to get up and walk 100m to get it, you will think twice about having it.
3. When you have a craving for something, try drinking a cup of water first. You may think you are hungry, but you may actually be feeling dehydrated instead. Try drinking a cup of water!
4. Grab a fruit instead of a snack. Always better to go natural.
Diana
200hrs YTT (weekend)
 
 

Sternocleidomastoid

Sternocleidomastoid. What a mouth full!
Let’s try to break it down. The Sternocleidomastoid, or SCM for short, is a major muscle of the neck and comes in a pair. One on each side.  It originates from the sternum (sterno) and clavicle (cleido), and inserts in the skull just behind the ear (mastoid). It is located superficially on both sides of the neck. To see your SCM in action, look at the mirror and turn your head to the left, you’ll see your right SCM contract.

The Sternocleidomastoid muscle highlighted in green.
 
What does the Sternocleidomastoid do?
1. Flex your head to bring it to your chest
2. Laterally flex your head to bring ear to shoulder
3. Turn your head to the side
The SCM may become tight from improper posture, causing movements in all directions to be inhibited. To stretch and strengthen your SCM, try doing some of these asanas:
1. Revolved chair pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana)
2. Camel pose (Ustrasana)
3. Revolved triange pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
For example, when we do Parivrtta Trikonasana to the left, we are contracting and our right SCM. Remember to repeat on the other side to get an even work out on both SCM! In Ustrasana, both SCM are working together when you are looking up.
One important point to note is that only isometric exercises should be used to strengthen the neck. That means that we should not actively forward or laterally flex, extend, or rotate the neck against resistance as this may result in serious injuries!
 
Diana
200hrs YTT (weekend)
 
http://www.gustrength.com/muscles:sternocleidomastoid-location-action-trigger-points
http://livehealthy.chron.com/yoga-sternocleidomastoid-2887.html
http://woman.thenest.com/yoga-sternocleidomastoid-6657.html
http://www.human-motors.com/en/muscles/m-sternocleidomastoideus-2/

 

Chaturanga Dandasana

While it is fun to dabble in the advanced asanas and challenge your body in various arm balances and inversions, I have always found that the foundation is very important. Hence, in this current asana that I will be talking about, I will be touching on one of the foundational asana: Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose).
Being able to master the Chaturanga Dandasana and pushing the boundaries of this asana in terms of duration of holding the pose will eventually open up doors to a variety of arm balances. However, it is also one of the most common pose that is done wrongly. Doing a pose wrong repetitively will lead to a habit. This will eventually cause repetitive motion injuries (cuff rotator injuries). 
1) Getting into the Pose

  • From High Plank Pose, shoulders should be aligned slightly in front of elbows and balls of feet are firmly pressed into the ground. Imagine that the body is lengthened to be a straight line from the crown of your head to the heels of your feet

 
IMG-20150918-WA0031
 

  • On inhalation, actively engage your quads and draw the shoulder heads back, actively engaging your core
  • On exhalation, gently bend your elbows and lower your body such that your arms form a 90 degrees angle

                 
 
IMG-20150918-WA0023
 
Verbal cues

  • Elbows are hugged to the side of the body, forming a 90 degrees angle
  • Shoulders are pulled back away from ears
  • Shoulders are in line with elbows and not dipping lower
  • Shine your chest forward
  • Engage your core and tighten the abdominal muscles
  • Tuck your tailbone so the legs, hips and torso are one straight line

 
2) Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Don’t let the buttocks stick up

IMG-20150918-WA0020

  • Shoulders should not sink lower than the elbows

IMG-20150918-WA0024

  • Letting the belly sink towards the ground (Stress created on lower back)

IMG-20150918-WA0021

  • Shoulders rolling forward

3) Modifications

  • Bent Knees in Chaturanga
  • Using two blocks to support weight from the shoulders
  • Strap to keep the elbows from splaying out

 
That’s all for now! So the next time you move to Chaturanga in your Vinyasa, do remember to consciously take note of these pointers 🙂
 
Namaste,
Rachel Pan Yijun
200 Hour Yoga TTC (Weekend Batch)

Diet & Nutrition – 3Ws 1H of eating.

In today’s society that is moving towards a more sedentary lifestyle, people are looking for alternatives to losing weight, keeping fit the easy way. As the saying goes “What you eat in private, eventually is what you wear in public” so how can we make adjustments in our life such that we are “balanced”?
There are 3Ws and 1H that we need to understand:
1) Why – Why is there a need to eat healthily?
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need” – Acient Ayurvedic Proverb.
 
Let’s list some common excuses that people have:

  • Time

Food preparation requires time and effort. Not anyone is willing to sacrifice sleep to prepare the food. Processed food or takeaway food does not require effort and saves time.

  • Cost

Healthy food costs more. Blueberries cost more than apples, granola costs more than cereal and salmon cost more than a normal fish.

  • Taste

Stir fried vegetables taste nicer than a salad.
 2) What: What should we include in our diet?
Here are some suggestions:

  1. Green leafy vegetables: Rich source of iron and fiber
  2. Yogurt: calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12,potassium, and magnesium.
  3. Chia Seeds: Rich in Omega 3
  4. Eggs: Vitamins and Clorine
  5. Salmon: Rich in Omega 3
  6. COCONUT WATER: electrolytes calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium

3) When: When to eat and drink?
A golden rule of the thumb is DO NOT skip breakfast. Breakfast can be said to be the most important meal of the day as it is the first meal and therefore responsible for providing energy throughout the day.
Our body is made up of 70% of water. Throughout the day, we sweat and lose water through perspiration and therefore it is important to replenish this loss. It is recommended to either drink 30mins before or after a meal and at least 8 cups of water per day!
4) How: How to eat?
During eat, avoid using phone, talking or watching show and just concentrate on eating as if you do so, subconsciously, you will be over eating even though you might be already full. Another way is to eat slowly and chew your food for about 20-30 times before swallowing. This helps to break down food into even smaller pieces and aids in digestion.
Here’s an example of my typical lunch:

  • 2 boiled eggs
  • 1 piece of steamed salmon (add some ginger slices on top)
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • 1 cup of yogurt

After half an hour, drink a cup of coconut juice!
Eating right is as simple as ABC! A balanced diet coupled with yoga keeps you physically fit, mentally strong and energetic! What are you waiting for..Start now!
Angela Bok (200hr Weekday TTC Sep 2015)

Mediation – The key to a peaceful life

Mediation, or Dhyana in Sanskrit is the 7th limb in Ashtanga/Raja Yoga. Master Paalu talks about Ujayii (victorious breath) breathing all the time so how is this breathing linked to mediation?
First let us start with the definition of mediation. By dictionary terms, “mediation” means to ponder or reflect. However, this term has been misused and often associated with mindless thinking or even daydreaming! Mediation as opposed to many views does not belong to any religion and therefore can be practiced by anyone.
Out of the many ways, there are 2 simple ways to get into mediation – Gazing and Breathing.
Gazing means to maintain an open-eyed focus on something which can be an object or any focal point. This focal point is also called “drishti” and every pose in asana have a gazing point. This can be done with the eyes partially closed or fully opened. For me, focusing on a physical object or focal point is easier than chanting a mantra. At the start it might be relatively hard to concentrate but after a few practice, there should be less blinking observed and eventually, you might be able to see a soft diffused gaze or even two images.
Ujayii (victorious breath) is another way of mediation. Start by making sure that the body is relaxed and you are comfortable be it in an upright or lying position. Breathe in through the nostrils and keep mouth closed. The time taken to inhale and exhale should be the same. By controlling the breath, you are able to concentrate, calm yourself and Observe and feel every breath going through the nostrils and down to your abdomen and coming back up.
Glazing mediation is the fastest and easiest way for one to practice as it can be done anywhere at any time as it does not require any postures and breathing. Both methods have their own benefits but do note that ujiayi breathing should be practiced by a healthy person.
As the saying goes, quiet the mind and the soul will speak – Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
Angela Bok (200hr Weekday TTC Sep 2015)

Yoga Anatomy – Flexible lumbar vertebrae, good or not?

Just a little background of myself…
I started dancing and doing gymnastics at the age of 7. However, due to dislocation of the elbow thrice, I was forced to stop gymnastics as my body is not physically fit to do so. I moved on to doing Chinese dance in school and after that ballet, jazz, modern dance before moving to partner related dances like salsa and etc.
One thing in common that I learnt from both dancing and gymnastics was every move with regards to back flexibility, we engaged our lumbar vertebrae. I was not taught to inhale, open up my chest, exhale, lift the chest and continue doing so moving from cervical vertebral to thoracic vertebrae and then end with lumbar vertebrae. All I learnt was lift up and hold there using your lumbar vertebrae to create the arch on the back. I could hold for 1min, 3 mins or even 5mins in that position.
Years passed and I went on to do salsa. Similarly, I was told to arch my back as much as I can to create an arch with makes me look sexier and curvier while dancing. That became a habit and I could even walk naturally with the arch. However, I did not know the accumulation of all this “hardwork” will lead to benefits and consequences after! The benefit is that my lower back is very strong but the consequences is that I suffer from backaches every now and then.
So how do we correct the alignment then? There are several poses that can help strengthen the upper back so that we will not put too much pressure on the lumbar.
A brief introduction about the back muscles:

Muscles Strengthen Stretch
Latissimus dorsi
  • Makes up about 2/3 of the back
  • Middle back
Adho Mukha Svanasana/ Purvottanasana Child pose
Quadratus Lumborum
  • Side of the lower back
Vasisthasana (Side plank) Utthita Triconasana
Erector Spinae / Multifidus Spinae
  • Extension of the spine
  • Maintains correct curvature of the spine
Cobra (Bhujangasana) Cat pose/ Child pose

 
With this, I hope to get a balance of strength training and stretches on my upper back!
-Angela Bok (200hr Weekday TTC Sep 2015)

The tree pose : Vrikshasana

I chose Vrikshasana as it is one of my favorite pose. It instantly makes me feel calm, secure, and grounded.
As a beautiful symbol of deployment to the sky, keeping  at the same time the feet firmly anchored to the floor, this pose represent to me the ability  to blossom while keeping at the same time  measure, balance, and sense of reality.
This pose may seem to be an easy relaxing pose, but when closing the eyes, it can be a redoubtable balance exercise.
 
How to execute ?
Stand in Tadasana, both arms by the side of your body, feet width apart.
Shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, grounding the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee. Reach down with your right hand and grab your right ankle.
The sole of the foot should be placed flat and firmly against the inner left thigh, if possible, toes pointing toward the floor.
Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor.
Make sure  to keep your left leg  straight. Find your balance. Do not hesitate to firmly press the right foot sole against the inner thigh and resist with the outer left leg.
Once  done, inhale, and slowly raise your arms over your head from the side, pressing  your palms together in a prayer position in front of the heart.
Gaze straight ahead at any fixed point on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away. A steady gaze helps maintain a steady balance.
Ensure that your spine is straight. Keep taking in long deep breaths for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
 
How to deepen the Pose?
You can challenge your balance by practicing this pose with your eyes closed, in order  to try to  balance without any anchor point around.
 
How to exit the pose?
With slow exhalation, slowly  bring down your hands from the sides, and release the right leg.
Stand tall in tadasana, and repeat with the other leg.
 
Beginners tips :

  • Use a wall if you have trouble balancing.
  • If you are having trouble balancing with your arms above the head, keep your palms together in front of your chest.
  • If the raised foot have a tendency to slide down , you may use  a mat or towel  between the raised-foot sole and the standing inner thigh.

 
Benefits of the pose:
As for many asana, the practice of Tree pose is good for both mental and body. It brings balance and equilibrium to the mind, and helps to concentrate, calm down, and well performed it gives the student a comforting feeling of body control.
This pose is an invigorating pose that leaves you in a state of rejuvenation, as it stretches the legs, back and  arms, and opens the hips.
It also strengthens thighs, calves, ankles, and spine, stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders, Improves sense of balance and may relieve sciatica.
 
Contraindications and Cautions

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure
  • High blood pressure: Don’t raise arms overhead

 
Veronique Blavec.

Today’s Focus : On Beetroot

Beetroot is a rich source of Betaine, a natural liver detoxifier and bile thinner. The average liver of people living on processed foods contains hundreds of gallstones, little gall pebbles that can clog up the e bile duct and impede the flow of bile. Beets are on e of the best ways to promote the movement of gallstones towards the bile ducts and out of the liver.
They are best for Kapha and Vata , and therapeutic for Pitta liver conditions (in small amounts and cooked, they are Pitta pacifying.)
Beets cleanse and cool the blood, nourish the liver, and improve the eyesight. It is  high in flavonoids, known as ‘nature’s biological response modifiers’. Generally, bioflavonoids show anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-cancer activity.
The body tries to get rid of bio-flavonoids soon after they are eaten. In order to eliminate them, the body activates phase II enzymes that also help eliminate mutagens and carcinogens.
Daily intake of beetroot can provide you with a variety of health benefits.  It contains a host of nutritional compounds like magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and calcium as well as small amounts of copper, selenium, zinc, iron and manganese.
In Ayurveda beets are used for uterine disorders, constipation, hemorrhoids and due to their rich content of folic acid they have benefit for the female reproductive system.
It can be consumed easily either cooked, or in salad or in the form of juice as one wishes.
 
Beetroot Punch recipe: The energizer
Ingredients:
1 large beetroot – peeled
5 lemons
3 small pieces of ginger
1 teaspoon of shopped Mint leaves
1 pinch of salt
(Optional : sugar)
 
Cut Beetroot into small pieces, and put it into the blender. Add the juice of 3 lemons, cut two of the remaining lemon and add to the preparation.
Add all other ingredients, and 2 cups of water and grind. The juice may be strained and used. Sugar may be added for taste.
 
It s a perfect cool drink, that enhance appetite. (Beets are good for anemia). According to Ayurveda, sour and pungent tastes clear the channels where sweet nourishes. Beetroot punch forms a perfect blend of those.
 
Here are a few health benefits of the wonder juice:

  • A cup of beetroot juice helps reduce blood pressure level.
  • Beet juice is alkaline in nature and helps to lower acidosis
  • It is an amazing antioxidant and helps prevent the formation of cancerous tumors.
  • Beetroot juice detoxifies the liver and also cures some diseases of the digestive system.
  • Beetroot juice could energize the elderly to lead more active lives as it widens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during physical activity.
  • It is a very good source of folic acid (that help in building red blood cells)
  • Beet juice increases stamina.
  • And last, but certainly not the least, beet juice lowers bad cholesterol level.

 
Veronique Blavec

Tapas Nimaya

I was talking about yoga to my friends the other day. They already know how much I am into it, and were quite intrigued about the benefits one’s could get from yoga.
I had to tell the truth: Practice of Yoga won’t turn you onto an ecstatic radiant goddess able to float above the clouds, playing harp and wearing Birkenstock.
It has actually a lot to do with  self -discipline.
It is true that yoga can make you feel more confident, strong, anchored, safe and happier. But all theses promises won’t happen unless you follow a few rules.
The third of Patanjali’s Niyamas is ‘Tapas’, which often translates traditionally as “austerity” or “discipline”. The word Tapas comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means ‘to burn’, and evokes a sense of ‘fiery discipline’ or ‘passion’.
Tapas can mean cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away ‘impurities’ physically, mentally and emotionally, and paving the way to our true greatness.
Tapas has relevance both on and off the yoga mat.
But starting on your mat, here are seven rules below to help you start  to practice asanas, and get some benefits from it:
Breathe. This is the first step. However it seems obvious that you have to breathe, sometimes, maintaining balance, streaching hard, engaging strength to keep a plank longer … we might have a tendency to hold the breath, or, at the contrary accelerate  it..
But a good deep regular  breathing  is your best friend when difficulty increases. It will help to stay in touch with your body, to keep awareness and focus at the same time. And I am not talking only about the practice of asanas.
Enjoy the slowness   I noticed some teachers having a tendency to go very fast, trying to show how sporty yoga can be. I remember attending a class where a yelling teacher did not realize that the students where not  interested in training for the Olympics.  After a busy day of work, give your body and soul a little rest. Doing things slowly allows a better control of the movements.
Be soft with yourself.  Again, it seems completely obvious. But we might forget that we are living in a world where performance is king, and we might think that more effort, more intensity can make us improve faster.
Sometime, some twisted  poses might make us feel uncomfortable – some unknown muscles are suddenly revealing to us, but the practice of asana should not hurt.  Always carefully warm up, and act responsively with  your body. ‘Discipline’ doesn’t strictly mean pushing ourselves harder in a physical sense. For some, Tapas will mean making time to be still and observing the mind, and for others it will mean working on his strength or balance.
Enjoy sharing. Enjoy being part of a group, but keep your focus. Being part of a group class is motivating, and brings lots of  energy, plus you can meet new friends. Yoga is a personal journey, that you can share, but forget about competing with others.
There always will be someone better than you are. But, hey,  good new!:  Yoga is not about competition. The teacher should always be able to propose some alternatives to each pose based on student  abilities. Having the discipline to practice consistently and the humility to admit when we’re not perfect are both essentials.
Adapt : Instead of cancelling your session, if you are not feeling well, try to attend  the class but do not push yourself more than necessary. You might be tired, sick, stiff and still feel the benefits of the practice. Just choose the options that suits you well but be consistent  in your practice. Tapas is an aspect of the inner wisdom that encourages us to practice even when we don’t feel like it. It’s that fiery passion that makes us get up and do our practice for the love of it, and by committing to this, the impurities are ‘burned’ away.
Be aware of your movements. It is easy to put yourself in an automotic mode. But the benefits might not be the same.
Be confident. Instead of thinking that you might never be able to perform some asanas, surprise yourself. We can do a lot more than we actually think. Just try, and try a little more. If you still cannot make it,  it’s probably because it  was not the right day. You may try again the day after. And another day after. Cultivating a sense of Tapas in our physical practice could mean practicing poses we usually avoid or find difficult.
 
Veronique Blavec.

First steps into Meditation – Beginners tips

I recently read a lot of articles about Meditation, and its related benefits, such as how it can help you in reducing stress, increase focus, being more serene, calm and open minded. How it can also give you a more accurate sense of freedom, and develop your creativity.
Yet it is true that there are a lot of unquestionable benefits that you can get from the practice of meditation, but I would add that the most important is that it brings you back in the present: To this particular moment when you stop being affected by the past and/or planning the future (which, by the way will never happen as you planned).
Meditation is not a magic thing, nor is a spiritual act, the goal to be connected to your body and to the world around you.
If you are interested in meditating, but it seems as a complicated process to you that you are reluctant to approach, not sure on how or where to start, you can follow these few tips below for an easy start:

  1. First thing you need to know: 5 to 10 minutes a day are enough to start.
  2. Sit steady in a safe, comforting place. Whatever the pose you choose, just be comfortable. You may sit in a lotus pose for example, arms resting on your thighs, palms open facing the sky if you like, but nothing is mandatory.
  3. Be there, and concentrate on what you are doing.

Being there literally means here and now, aware of your environment. Any noise around? How do you feel sitting like that? Do you feel any tension in your body? New thoughts popping up? There is nothing wrong with random thoughts. Try to not follow them, just observe them. The concept of meditation is to observe and be in the present: observe your breath, connect to your body, observe your thoughts and feel as a part of the world. Connected.
It is not an easy thing to do.  But do not give up.
Each time you follow your thoughts, there will be a moment when you realize that you are not in the present moment anymore (you may think about something you have to do, something that someone told you…) When you realize  that you are not in the present moment anymore, relax  and go back focusing on your breath. Consider it as a wave: you follow your thought and come back to the present.  By practicing this without judging you, you will stay longer in the present moment. It is very important not to judge when you are meditating. Just observe.

  1. Be aware of your breathing. Breathe slowly, again and again. Meditation, as for the practice of yoga asana, is nothing without a good breathing. Take a deep breath and feel the air travelling through your entire body. Random thought popping up again? Then, close your eyes, again focus on your breath, feel the air in your nose, in your lungs, observe that the air is cold when you breathe in and warmer when you breathe out. Re- connect with your breathing.
  2. Feel your body. As soon as you get your focus back, be aware of your body. Analyze each part of your body. Start with the toes, then slowly go up towards the head. Again, if you start to lose your focus, concentrate on your breathing. Breathe 5 to 10 times focusing on each inhalation.
  3. Go deeper. Using the above mentioned steps, you already have a good basis to practice, it is not much complicated than that. Now, if you want to know more about it, you will easily find many good methods, class, books, videos…
  4. Practice. You have to do it at a steady rate. It’s essential. You know already that training once a month for one hour is useless, right? But training every day even for 10 minutes can actually make a difference.

It is the same for meditation. Practice on a regular basis can actually make a difference.
I hope these few advices may help you and lead you to a fresh an easy start into meditation.
Your go now!
 
Veronique Blavec