The Mind-Body Connection Is for Real: When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles

When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles - the mind-body connectionOh it was just your average Friday. Crying in yoga class for absolutely no apparent reason. NBD …

Towards the beginning of a yoga class I took last week, the instructor had us in rag doll. She spoke of letting the head hang heavy to release the neck and mentioned that if we tend to hold tension there, fully releasing can feel a bit unsafe.

I checked in with myself. The back of my neck felt really tight, as if it were under a heavy pressure. The thought of relaxing the muscles did feel a little (physically) unsafe. I took a deep breath in anyway and on the exhale fully released the muscle tension in my neck as best I could. That’s when it hit me.

Emotion swelled up in my chest and I felt intensely upset. Agitated, sad, angry–I was extremely emotionally and physically uncomfortable. Tears started to rim my eyelids, everything felt “off” and I wanted out of the pose, out of class, out of my own skin.

Then, just as suddenly as I was overcome with these negative emotions, they seemed to wash away. I felt fine. Great, actually. I could have stayed in that forward fold for the entire duration of class.

Whoa what the hell was that?!

When Stretching Releases More Than Tight Muscles - the mind-body connection

WEARING | Fabletics bra (<–currently doing a Labor Day sale and giving you your first outfit for only $15!) + Alo Yoga Goddess Leggings c/o Amazon (also obsessed with the high-waisted moto legging from Alo)

A seemingly rudimentary yoga pose triggered a complete catharsis. Weird, unexpected, but the more I thought about the experience, the more it started to make sense to me. I don’t have great posture by any means. My shoulders roll forward and my neck looks permanently craned. Anatomically, it makes sense that I’d feel muscular tightness in the back of my neck due to this poor postural alignment. And on a deeper level–this is where the post gets a little “new age” and a few of you might roll your eyes haha–I see an interesting emotional connection as well.

Why do I have poor posture? Sitting at a computer all day doesn’t help, but it started all the way back in middle school when I started to become painfully self-conscious about my above-average height. Today I LOVE being tall, but being a solid six inches higher than every boy in the 6th grade is a true struggle for a pubescent girl (it was for me anyway). I would stand with a wide stance, stick one hip out, slouch downward, hunch my shoulders–anything to seem shorter next to my classmates. And that pretty much continued all throughout high school as well.

So in a way, that area of physical tightness also represents a lot of insecurities and less-than-pleasant emotions for me. Could it be that these past couple years of regular yoga practice have not only helped release the tight muscles, but the emotions onto which they were tightly clenching?

I’ve had this physical trigger of an emotional release happen once before when I was a kid. My mom brought me to an acupuncturist (not for any specific reason, just to get me on her patient roster) and when I left the appointment, I started sobbing in the car. I was agitated, uncomfortable, intensely upset for no apparent reason and just remember saying over and over again to my mom, “I hated that, I’m never doing acupuncture again, I hate it, I hate it, why’d you make me do that?!” But even then I didn’t really think the unexpected wave of negative emotions was really directed at the acupuncture. Rather the acupuncture had somehow released pent-up, unresolved sadness and anger that my body had been holding.

This was a bit of a random post, but I keep thinking about how cool it was to experience such an intense moment of connection between mind and body. As I physically let go of the tension in my neck, I emotionally let go of some junk as well.

Or, maybe I’m making something out of nothing and I just had a surge of PMS. I’m open to that, too. 😉

Have you had an experience like this before? Was it in yoga class? At a chiropractor? Where? So interested to hear from you guys on the topic–would love for you to share in the comments section!

P.S. Just realized that the title of this post makes it totally sound like I’m talking about farting. L. O. L.

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How to Do a Headstand without a Wall

How to Do a Headstand without a Wall -- there are lots of ways to get into a headstand, but I find this one easiest as a beginner!First and foremost: my feet. LOL. I mean, I have larger feet, but this camera angle is just not doing me any sort of favors. While making this pictorial I was like ohmygod are my feet as long as my shins?? They aren’t. I promise. Anyway…

You guys may remember that my New Year’s resolution was to regularly practice yoga, so I thought a fun way to check in with my progress on that would be to share how I finally nailed a headstand without a wall. Some weeks are better than others, but so far 2015 has marked a huge turn in my yoga practice (namely, I’m actually practicing haha).

There’s a hot yoga studio (H.Y.P.) on ClassPass that has a class right after I’m done teaching at Btone Wellesley on Tuesdays, so at the very least, I practice yoga once a week. In addition, I’ve done some new client specials at studios by my apartment, so some weeks I’ll practice up to four times. Those weeks are awesome because I really notice a difference in how deep I can get into the poses and the increased ease with which my body is moving. I think the key to consistency will be incorporating some shorter at-home yoga sessions into my week. Let the YouTube searching begin! 🙂

I’m a morning person and usually love early workouts, but I’ve found that I actually prefer practicing yoga at night. I’m not as stiff and that calm, relaxed post-yoga feeling makes for a great night’s sleep. Anyone else feel that way?

How I Get into Headstands without Using a Wall

How to Do a Headstand without a Wall -- there are lots of ways to get into a headstand, but I find this one easiest as a beginner!Inversions scare the living sh*t out of me. It’s not so much holding them—I think I have the upper body and core strength to do that—it’s getting into them. Being tall is awesome and all, but when it comes to flinging your limbs into the air and sticking an upside-down balance, it’s a disadvantage. Or maybe I’m just a chicken. Either way, there is a reason why gymnasts are short!

There are lots of ways to get into a headstand, but I find the key for me is to keep my limbs as close to my center of gravity as possible. Rather than kicking up into the pose or lifting straight legs into the air, I start with bent knees close to my torso and extend straight up from there. How to Do a Headstand without a Wall -- there are lots of ways to get into a headstand, but I find this one easiest as a beginner!

I’m not a trained yoga instructor (or even all that good at yoga), but here are some tips to go along with the pictures based on my personal practice and the advice certified teachers have given me in class:

  • Place a blanket/towel underneath your head. The added padding makes it a lot more comfortable.
  • Hands should be shoulder-width apart. The tendency is to plant the hands out wide, but that wider base actually isn’t as supportive as having the hands aligned with your shoulders. As a matter of fact, in looking at the pictures in this post, I think I could have had my hands in a little closer to each other.
  • Once your knees are balanced on your elbows, squeeze the elbows in towards each other. One of the yoga teachers at Back Bay yoga gave me this tip—it’s a small adjustment, but you’ll feel a huge difference in stabilization if you actively squeeze the elbows in as you lift the knees off your arms and into the air.
  • To hit a straight line with your body, you’ll need to pull the legs back a few degrees passed your perceived midline. If you’re a beginner like me, the scariest part of the inversion is the last few inches of pulling your legs up and back to form a vertical line with your body. Taking these pictures actually helped me a lot because I could look back on my form. When I thought I was in a straight line, my legs where actually slightly in front of my body. I had to go to a point that felt like I would topple over backwards to achieve that straight alignment—engaging my back (rather than just my abs) to get there. Your entire core needs to work to stabilize, not just your front body.

Ok, next up: handstands. Eeek.

How to Do a Headstand without a Wall -- there are lots of ways to get into a headstand, but I find this one easiest as a beginner!

WEARING: tank: Lululemon (old) // leggings: c/o Eddie Bauer // sports bra: c/o PUMA (old)

And a big thanks to Nomadix for the printed towel—isn’t it gorgeous?! One of my college BFFs introduced me to guys behind the brand, and I instantly fell in love with the bright prints and their message: Own less. Do more. I use my towel for yoga (usually on top of my mat during hot yoga), but it can also be used at the beach, picnics, hiking, etc. It’s made from 100% recycled material and is lightweight so it’s easy to pack and fit in a bag. Pictured is their Zig Zag Towel.

Yogis/yoga teachers—I would love for you to share your headstand tips in the comments section! signature

The New Year’s Resolution I’ve Failed at 4 Years in a Row and Why This Year Will Be Different (Damnit!)

yoga-downward-dogThis post is going up a little later than intended because I started 2015 off by watching five back-to-back episodes of Jax Teller Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. We’re off to a great, productive year, my friends.

Anyway…

Every year I vow to regularly practice yoga. Every year I do a couple classes or videos at home and then quickly deprioritize yoga in favor of other workouts. My commitment to becoming a badass, Instagram-famous yogi who posts pictures of herself doing insane poses at sunset on picturesque beaches wanes by about January 10th.

But this is year is going to be different. And I can say that confidently because by the end of 2014, things already were different. My attitude towards working out, yoga and meditation has changed, and for the past few months, I’ve been going to at least one yoga class a week, looking forward to them, and itching to incorporate more into my schedule. I LOVE YOGA. Which says a lot seeing as I was rolling my eyes at every “ohm” six months ago.

So how’d this happen? Why did I even bother when I’d never been able to enjoy it in the past? Here are a few reasons why I (now) adore yoga and what’s changed to bring me to this point.

I’m more in tune with what my body needs for a well-rounded level of fitness, and flexibility training is the missing piece.

I exercise a lot and my workouts are varied—HIIT routines at home, megaformer classes, running, rowing, spinning, bootcamps and everything in between. But I admittedly don’t stretch enough or focus on flexibility, which is a key component to overall fitness. Doing the splits may not be in the cards for everyone (nor does it have to be), but you should work for a certain level of flexibility for injury prevention, increased range of motion and muscle balance.

I like that I’m bad (or at least definitely not good) at yoga…yet.

yoga-pose-failAs you grow older, it’s easy to just stick with what you’re good at. And that’s not necessarily bad—I think a big part of what makes us “good” or “bad” at things is our level of interest in them, and as you grow older you should weed out things you don’t enjoy and do more of what you love. The trap, however, is when sticking to what you’re good at prevents you from trying out new things and discovering other activities you don’t yet know you enjoy.

I actually like that I’m inflexible and look like a total spas doing yoga (see picture above…trying so hard at the easiest “pose” ever and struggling). It’s a challenge and makes every little progression seem like a huge achievement. And because I’m such a beginner, I can set so many goals for myself this year. I’m going to take progress pictures to see how much I can improve my flexibility over the course of 2015, which makes my nerd brain beyond excited. And you bet your ass I’m going to post pictures on Instagram every time I master a cool pose. Right now an amateur crow is about as baller as I get, and I can hold it for a whopping four seconds before face-planting… crow-pose-yoga

I’ve realized that not every workout has to (or should) leave you feeling beat, drained and sore.

Ever find yourself feeling disappointed with a workout if it doesn’t leave you on the verge of barfing or sore the next morning? I’m guilty of it. Don’t get me wrong—some workouts should push you passed your perceived limits; that’s how we create change. But there’s no need to go to that extreme every workout. I’ve been getting better about working out smarter (as opposed to harder) and really listening to my body. Some days I want to finish a workout feeling like I just emptied my proverbial tank of everything I had. Other days, I want to finish a workout feeling like I just filled my tank. Which brings me to my next point…

I love that post-yoga feeling: calm and relaxed, yet invigorated.

Isn’t it the best?! Every time I leave a yoga class, I feel like I’ve just given my body, mind and soul a big hug.

I realized that not every yoga session needs to take up 90 minutes of my day.

yoga-upward-dog-poseWorkouts don’t need to be long to be effective (see: all the quick workouts I post here), and I have no clue why it took me so long to realize that it applies to yoga as well. I think that’s a big reason I never stuck with it in the past—if I only had an hour of free time during the day to workout, I would prioritize workouts that gave me a bigger burn (muscularly or calorically).

Recently I was having some lower back pain, and on days I didn’t feel like going to a full-length yoga class, I would just do 10-15 minutes of it on my own before bed to relief some of the ache. Granted, me doing yoga on my own is essentially just me rolling around on the floor like a toddler pretending to know what I’m doing, but still.

I’ve learned to love the mental benefits of yoga as much as the physical.

This has fully allowed me to appreciate the wonders of yoga. I used to fidget through any part of a yoga class that got too meditative and really disliked the parts of stillness in the practice. I have a busy mind, I’m a go-go-go type of person, and I have a lot of energy. It can be hard to quiet my mind and body, but it’s exactly what I (and all you other high-strung perfectionists out there!) need.

What are your fitness goals for 2015? Do they involve yoga?

Outfit is from Fabletics.

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