I love the inversion called Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana), plus the benefits of practicing inversions are many. Shoulderstand is thought to promote good blood circulation, calm the nerves by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, decrease fatigue, and improve immune function. It also strengthens the spine and core muscles. However, it also puts a lot of pressure at the base of the neck (cervical spine), especially if performed incorrectly (“no” in picture 1). The body’s weight is pulled down by gravity, to rest on your cervical spine.
In Shoulderstand it is important the body aligns in a vertical line (“yes” in picture 1). I tell my students to image the entire back of their body up against a wall. The ankles, knees, hips and shoulder line up with one another. Your hands are supporting your back, with fingers facing inwards toward the spine. The shoulders blades are squeezing together and the back of the arms helps create a trapezoid base. The core and leg muscles are all engaged. Energetically your reaching your toes towards the ceiling.
If you still feel too much compression on the neck, use a folded blanket. A blanket adds space between the neck and the floor (pic 2), releasing pressure. One blanket is usually enough.
Other great options are Half- shoulderstand (pic 3) and a Modified-shoulderstand (pic 4), which uses a block. In Half-shoulderstand the torso is at an angle, alleviating pressure from the neck, while still working core muscles and getting the benefits of an inversion.
In Modified-shoulderstand, start in bridge pose, press the hips up and place the block under the sacrum, then lift the legs straight up. This pose is a cross between Shoulderstand and Legs-up-the-wall. You are still getting the benefits of an inversion. It is gentle and works for most bodies.
Cautions! If you have chronic neck issues, you should not attempt Shoulderstand, instead stick with the modified options. If you have high blood pressure, inversions are not recommended. You should consult your doctor. Always listen to your body, pushing your body beyond its natural limits is likely to cause injury.
What does ” living outside your comfort zone” mean? As humans we create patterns in our lives, like grooves in the sand. We habitually use these grooves over and over again because it creates ease. Then one day, you go outside the grooves, and it feels uncomfortable because you have to find new ways to manage the experience. However, it is those new ways which help us grow, and enjoy life more fully. They weave a tapestry of colors and layers that enrich our life, even though it can be uncomfortable.
This past weekend I stepped outside my comfort zone. I traveled to a place I had never been, to spend three days/two nights with people I had never met. A few times I was struck with fleeting pangs of anxiety “this could be really good or not”. I had to work at letting those thoughts go, and to trust in the process of life. Fortunately, Dragonfly Yoga Barn & Retreats was a divine place, surrounded by the majestic White Mountains of Sandwich, NH. It is owned and run by Declan and Katie O’Connell. The atmosphere was serene and peacefully. You can feel, the dedication and love, which has gone into creating and maintaining a unique place like this. It is quaint, personnel and warm, just like its owners. It is a real treat.
When I arrived I met my retreat companions for dinner, at the owner’s home, where all of the meals are served. I met a group of ladies who have been meeting there yearly, on the same May Retreat, for the past nine years! The ladies were open and welcoming. The home was a New England-style farmhouse house with lots of country character and charm. Declan had prepared a healthy, delicious vegetarian meal for dinner, which included carrot& ginger soup, zucchini fritters, roasted beets, arugula salad with feta and local homemade bread. For dessert, Katie, who is the baker, made homemade biscotti with tips covered in chocolate.
Afterwards a few of us decided to use the hot tub, located on the outside deck of the yoga barn. It was a great way to get to know a few of the ladies. We all slept in the dormitory-style room. Initially this was the hardest part of the trip, because sleeping with strangers in the same room was…well..uncomfortable. However, it worked out perfectly fine. I slept on the top bed of a bunk-bed, even though there were bottom bunks available, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The rooms were cozy, comfy and clean. The first night everyone’s sleep was a little off, but that’s to be expected. Everything is different from the grooves you’re used to. The second night, we all slept like a baby.
In the morning there was fresh snacks in the kitchenette, downstairs in the yoga barn lounge room, followed by a wonderful yoga class taught by Katie. She is a 500-hour certified yoga teacher. Brunch time rolled around, and we were ready for fresh brewed coffee, and another nourishing meal prepared by Declan and Katie, who made fresh scones. Afterwards the women went for a walk, but I stayed in. My energy was depleted, I needed to recharge. At one point I was in full savasana mode, for a while. It really helped me understand the true restorative nature of this pose.
The yoga barn was extremely warm with all of the traversing beams, wood ceiling, walls and floors. You are supported by nature, not only from the interior, but always with the visual landscape that surrounds the property. When I was standing in mountain pose, I could see the tip of the mountain, peaking through the clouds, it reminded me to stand tall in life, while remaining grounded. The yoga barn was a great space that combined spirit, beauty and nature. It had an inspiring dragonfly-design, stained glass window at the front top, where natural light beams in. The energy in the space is peaceful and healing. Katie’s unique collection of Hindu deity statues at the front door, created reverence and sanctity. It was a wonderful spot to meditate.
The Dragonfly Yoga Barn is the perfect place to recharge and reconnect with yourself and others. It is an intimate setting. A great place to release (judgement and comfort), to receive (love, peace and healing) and to just be (one with everything and everyone that surrounds you). I was excited about ourretreat this fall, however now I am elated.
I let go, embraced the weekend, and had an amazing experience. My life is richer because of the people I met, and through the discovery of a new place. These are the types of memories that stay with us forever, in a positive, magical way. Live life inspired…it’s the only way.
I’m excited to add this category to my blog. I believe we are constantly inspiring each other, even if never hear about it. What inspires me most is the “extra” ordinary. Every day people who in some way or another through their actions, or how they live their lives are inspirational, yet ordinary. I guess I like to look for the “extra” in the ordinary. It’s everywhere actually. And while you’re being inspired, you may very well be inspiring someone else. So don’t be surprised if I approach you and ask to highlight you in my blog. Why not allow yourself to be inspirational!
Gary started practicing yoga at the age of 60. He started right around the same time I started teaching yoga. Gary will tell you he could hardly touch his toes. As an avid gym goer, he’s routine consisted mainly of strength training activities like boot camps etc.
What I admire about Gary is his courage to try something new, his dedication to whatever he’s doing and his ability to stay focused. Like many people, he works full time and has family responsibilities, yet he is at the gym five days a week.
He’s the only male in our Zumba class and it doesn’t seem to bother him, even when the guys tease him. Obviously he doesn’t allow others perceptions to define him, which also takes courage.
Six years later Gary does yoga five days a week in conjunction with his cardio and strength training classes. He’s doing poses like wheel, crow, and headstand, that’s inspiring!
The Quick Chat with Gary:
What’s the best thing about yoga?
“It helps me relax and makes me strong”.
What pose did you think you would never be able to do?
“Headstand or Crow”
What’s your favorite sequence?
What’s your favorite pose?
Last words Gary!
“A lot of the guys I work with who are my age, even younger, frequently ask me …how do you do it? How do you stay so fit? If my wife is around, I have to say it’s my wife’s cooking…lol, if not, I honestly tell them, its yoga.
During the weekend of September 21th through 23rd I attended Love Yoga Fest 2018 in Falmouth, Cape Cod at the Seacrest hotel, with two friends. Anytime I attend an event like this, I try to simply be open to the whole experience, instead of critical. It’s exhausting to continuously rate and judge every single thing. Life is more beautiful and enjoyable, if you allow yourself to be present and allow yourself to experience.
I was happy to see that Cape Cod has a thriving, vibrant yoga community. There were people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds attending, some men, mostly women. There was a wide range of classes to choose from, including lectures that covered the spiritual side of yoga, as well as the physical practice. There were classes on nutrition, philosophy and Ayurveda. I felt like I came away with a pearl or two for every class.
A few of my favorites were Kevin Courtney (www.kevinjcourtney.com) with the Yoga of Yamas. I love that he’s bringing the teaching of these spiritual laws to yoga practitioners not just instructors, usually these are covered in our 200hour teacher training. It gives the practitioners an opportunity to understand that yoga is not only an exercise, it is a way of life. The Yamas can be practiced every day, regardless of your religion, they are guides for your soul. I loved the condor of his presentation. It was just the inspiration I needed on my continued spiritual journey.
Emily K. Griffin (www.emilykgriffin.com) conducted the Ayurveda class. Ayurvedic medicine (also called Ayurveda) is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. She did a great job giving an overview of a system that works specifically with each persons’ individual personality and body chemistry. She gave us, great, basic self-care tips, for every body to use. I particularly loved the tongue scraping instructional, and all of its benefits. I was happy to know that some of them I already practice regularly, and plan to add the others. Her class inspired me to take at closer look at my “self” care. I learned it is not a one-formula-fits-all.
I also enjoyed Melissa Boyd’s (www.melissaboyd.net) Yoga Mindfulness and Malas. Her enthusiasm was uplifting. I love when people share something that they are passionate about, and it exudes from their whole being, that alone is inspiring. She covered a lot of different areas in her class, however, the one I loved most, were her lessons on the mala (www.malacollective.com). She gave everyone in her a class a mala as a gift. I’ve been wearing it every since, and have already started using it. Meditation is a practice that is slowly becoming a big part of my life. My mala will help me stay on course, and true to my path.
There were many other classes I enjoyed too, overall I thought they did a great job creating interesting, meaningful classes. The vendors were wonderful too. So many beautiful, inspirational apparel, jewelry and artwork. I wish I could buy something from all of them. These vendor are people who put their heart, soul and money into their products.
There were only a couple of things that could have been a little better. First the SUP classes that were cancelled, the instructor could have stay to personally let people know, instead of letting them show up and having to figure out it was cancelled, not cool. Also the Saturday night fire at the beach was advertise as a “bonfire” and we were expecting a rip-roaring fire, instead it was a propane backyard fire table. Again not a big deal, however we were a little disappointed. It was a cool night, and a bonfire would have been awesome. They should hire a professional company to do that next time. It would be perfect! Again, small inconsequential in the big scheme.
All in all, it was a wonderful three-days of contemplation, inspiration, yoga and growth. It was also wonderful to share time with the two lovely women I went with. We had an opportunity to get to know each other better. There was lots of laughter, honest conversations and tears. Tears because one of our friend’s mother passed away on the last day we were there. Nevertheless, we were comforted that she was in the best possible frame of mind and spirit (thanks to Love Yoga Fest) to receive the news. The universe works in divine ways, every day.