Your Inner Smile

An Ayurvedic teacher once said, “An illness is a function of the loss of the inner smile.” What is the inner smile? Where is it, exactly? And, if it is so important to health, how do we do it? How do we maintain our inner smile, even when our outside world may not be such a nice place?

According to the yoga master, Aadil Palkhivala, the inner smile lies deep in your Heart Center and only emerges when you truly feel connected with all things. Your inner smile is your bliss; your calm inner state, formed by your knowledge of connectedness. It is the feeling of true love, but not in the passionate or sentimental sense. No one and no event can bring you bliss, just as no one and no event can take away your inner smile. Your inner smile is a choice – do you choose to connect to your heart and soul, or do you choose to let your circumstances push you around?

One way to choose bliss is to practice Smiling Breath. Your breath is physically the closest you can get to your inner world. To develop Smiling Breath, smile from within on your inhales. In other words, smile with your eyes and heart (and lips) as you breathe in all that is good. Feel light and full. Then, on the exhale, calm your mind, focusing only on the feeling of breath on your upper lip. Repeat several times, smiling on the inhale and focusing on the exhale. In this way, you program your subconscious to link the sensation of breath with bliss. So even in the busy-ness of daily life, each of your breaths will remind you of your inner smile. With each breath, you choose bliss.

The real challenge to finding your inner smile comes during times of grief. Being connected to your Heart Center and knowing that bliss is a choice is a good start, but sometimes it takes more physical effort to smile (on the inside or the outside). One way to lift yourself out of anger or sadness is to actually lift your arms overhead. When you are upset, what does your body do? Clench up and pull inward – chest collapsing, fists squeezing, shallow breathing. Your body physically holds grief in your upper torso. So throw your arms up, open your armpits and chest. Do you notice that this posture looks a lot like someone celebrating? It’s not a coincidence! Lifting your arms has always been a joyous gesture. Back bends and twists also open the chest, giving your lungs more room to practice your Smiling Breath.

Your inner smile is always in there. Begin to notice it and practice finding it so you can enjoy your bliss, regardless of the circumstances and people surrounding you.

Tap. Tap. Tapping.

Healthy food?
Check.
Plenty of rest?
Check.
Exercise?
Check.
Drinking water?
Check.
You’re trying to do all the right things to stay healthy and happy (including joining Y4A for yoga classes and workshops). But if you are looking for a little something extra to boost your emotional health, maybe you could try tapping? No – not like Shirley Temple or Gregory Hines, though that would be fun! This kind of tapping combines psychology and ancient Chinese medicine as a simple and portable tool for mental health. It’s like psychological acupressure!
“Basically, you touch or “tap” acupressure points to release energy. Simple tapping can stimulate the nervous system, relax muscles, move lymph, and promote healthy blood flow. Plus tapping is a healthy self-soothing behavior. It deactivates the fight-or-flight response and calms the body and mind. Tapping while experiencing negative or stressful events can reprogram our mind’s response to it. The tapping basically stops the panic message before it hits the amygdala in the brain. In one study, an hour-long tapping session reduced the cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) by 25%-50%!
Sometimes referred to as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), the tapping is most effective when used in the proper spots on the body and in conjunction with positive affirmations. In other words, while tapping you should be repeating a positive mantra. Several websites are available for quick demonstrations, and many videos are also available to educate yourself about the technique.” (Link to article here)
Shaking your body works in a similar way – and chances are you’ve used this calming technique without even realizing it! Think about a time when you were all wound up with extra energy. You might have taken a moment to “shake it off” to settle down. Three quick shaking practices to get out of a stress response are:
1) Ping Shuai Gong – Swing Hands Exercise: This simple swinging-hands exercise improves Chi (qi) and blood circulation through the theory of “Ten fingers connecting the heart” opening all our body meridians and stimulating bone marrow to rid toxins from the human body.
2) Kim Eng – Shaking Practice: This simple shaking can be done anywhere, just shake out the part which feels tense. Jump, kick and throw your hand up. Surrender to the shaking. Let out any sounds that want to come out. You will feel the release of tension.
3) Crawling – The Best Mind Body-Exercise: Just get on fours with the kids and crawl and shake away your tension.
There are so many paths to health and we are so proud to offer instruction in yoga, meditation, and breathing to our students across the country (and continent via Zoom)! Keep working on your mental and physical health however feels best to you. You are important!
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Sweet Dreams

A bout of occasional insomnia isn’t unusual – we’ve all been there. And in these anxious times, falling asleep and staying asleep are often even more elusive than usual for many of us.
There are many traditional treatments for insomnia including turning off screens before bedtime, sipping chamomile tea, and avoiding caffeine. Been there. Done that.
Have you ever tried yoga and Ayurveda practices to help you slip into sound slumber? In clinical studies, yoga has shown to improve:
  • Sleep efficiency
  • Total sleep time
  • Total wake time
  • Sleep onset latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep)
  • Wake time after sleep onset
Some poses that improve sleep are legs-up-the-wall, supported bridge pose, reclined cobbler, child’s pose, happy baby, seated forward fold, corpse pose (savasana). These poses in particular cool the mind, relieve stress, activate the body’s natural resting response, reduce heart rate, and refresh the heart and lungs.
You might also try a special (and tasty) treat before bed based on Ayurvedic practices and have a cup of warm Golden Milk. The spices and milk proteins help settle the nervous system and build the Ojas (Deepak Chopra defines ojas as “the pure and subtle substance that’s extracted from food…the vital nectar of life”). Here’s the recipe (adapted from Balance & Bliss Ayurveda:
  • 1 cup organic milk (cow, soy, almond, rice, cashew, oat, etc.)
  • 1 spoonful Ghee (clarified butter) – you can make this yourself or buy it at some grocery stores
  • Maple syrup, to taste
  • A pinch or two of each spice, to taste:
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cloves
Warm ghee until it is melted. Add the milk and spices and heat. When warm, sip slowly.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Yoga for Your Eyes

If you are like most of us these days, you’ve probably had enough screen time! Zoom meetings, virtual happy hours, distance learning, Netflix binges… We need a tech time-out for the health of our eyes!
To begin giving your eyes some TLC, start with the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue. While you’re at it, add a few seconds for neck and shoulder circles, some seated cat/cows and twists, and a yawn or two.
You could also do some eye muscle “calisthenics”: Look far away for 10 seconds, then at something up close for 10 seconds (NOT your screen). Repeat looking far away and then close-up 10 times. Blink frequently during these breaks to avoid computer-related dry eye.
You could also add eye movements into your yoga routine! Here’s one from Yoga Journal:
Begin with the eyelids open, the head and neck still, and the entire body relaxed. Picture a clock face in front of you, and raise your eyeballs up to 12 o’clock. Hold them there for a second, then lower the eyeballs to six o’clock. Hold them there again. Continue moving the eyeballs up and down 10 times, without blinking if possible. Your gaze should be steady and relaxed. Once you finish these 10 movements, rub your palms together to generate heat and gently cup them over your eyes, without pressing. Allow the eyes to relax in complete darkness. Concentrate on your breathing, feel the warm prana emanating from your palms, and enjoy the momentary stillness.
Follow this exercise with horizontal eye movements—from nine o’clock to three o’clock—ending again by “palming” (cupping your hands over your eyes). Then do diagonal movements—two o’clock to seven o’clock, and 11 o’clock to four o’clock—again followed by palming. Conclude the routine with 10 full circles in each direction, as though you are tracing the clock’s rim.”
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Mind Full or Mindful?

Mindfulness has been in the news A LOT in the last few years – and with good reason! Science has shown that a mindfulness practice can:
  • promote empathy
  • enhance self-compassion
  • decrease stress and anxiety
  • improve general quality of life
Sounds good, doesn’t it? And the best part is you can start a mindfulness practice right now! It’s simple, powerful, requires no equipment, and is quite portable. Mindfulness simply means being aware of what is happening inside and outside without trying to change it.
Here’s an easy mindfulness practice: Name Three. Sitting right where you are, name 3 sounds you can hear. Name 3 sensations you are physically feeling. Name 3 things that are blue (or brown, or green, etc.). Just by stopping your endless loop of thoughts for a brief moment to observe what is happening right now gives your mind a chance to reset so you can go back to your normal routine, but hopefully with a bit of added peace. The more you practice mindfulness, the stronger those “muscles” become. Click HERE for some one minute mindfulness activities (sometimes called Brain Breaks).
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

At Ease. At Home.

We’ll be the first to admit – venturing into the world of digital, streaming yoga classes is daunting! Hours of research, shopping, and trial-and-error, plus the patience of our students and flexibility of our teachers have come together in the creation of our “new normal”. And while it was a bit awkward at first and there are still a few technical glitches, we think Y4A has created a strong schedule of classes to keep you mentally and physically healthy. We hope you think so, too!
If you are still unsure about turning your living room into a yoga studio, or if you still feel a bit weird about the whole thing, here are some ways to get comfy with yoga at home:
  • Props: Most of us don’t have bolsters and blocks at home but never fear! Use a necktie, bathrobe strap, towel or scarf for a strap. Grab a footstool, box of wine, or duct tape a stack of books together for a block. Blankets, pillows, and towels work for bolsters. Don’t have a yoga mat? No problem! Practice on your carpet for a bit of cushion. Take one of your single socks (crew or knees socks work best) and fill it about 1/3 full of rice, tie a knot at the top and you’ve got an eye pillow for savasana. Pro-tip: keep it in the freezer for a cooling experience as the days get hotter.
  • Environment: You can create the experience you want! Looking for a mini-vacation during your practice? Play some Hawaiian music in the background and light a pineapple scented candle. Need to blow off some steam? Crank loud music. You are in control of the room’s temperature, lighting, ambience…it’s truly a personalized experience! Wear your usual yoga clothes, stay in pajamas, rock your robe. It is totally private because no one else in class can hear you and you can choose to turn off your camera, too! And pets! Your pets are invited to join you for the class, or maybe just for a post-savasana cuddle session.
  • Instruction: Often in studio classes, your teachers wander the room, adjusting students’ postures and observing the class. In the streaming classes, the teachers are usually moving through the postures right with you so you can really see how the teacher adapts his/her own practice in real time. Our instructors have also tightened up their instructions and cues to keep you safe and strong from a distance.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Balance in Bliss

We all have poses that we feel strong in and poses that we experience a feeling of flexibility. But how often are you aware of the subtle “tug-of-war” that goes on within each pose between power and release?
Injuries can occur if you simply push your stretching further and further and neglect to balance that with the strength to support it. Or, if you are very strong but lack the flexibility to functionally move, you can also get hurt. This is especially obvious when we explore the hamstrings. “If your hamstrings don’t have a lot of motion, gaining flexibility can help keep your knees, hips, and legs healthy. If your hamstrings are hyperlax, controlling their range of motion will also help you stay injury free.” (link)
The entire yoga practice is based on the idea of union and balance, between rising up and rooting down, between inhale and exhale, between power and surrender, between length and strength. Every class and workshop at Y4A strives to provide the most balanced practice, designed for everyone to leave feeling refreshed, stronger, and more limber.
Explore more about the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio and online classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Just Breathe

According to Swami Vidyananda of Integral Yoga, your breath is your most powerful form of stress-management. A deep, mindful breath sends a message to your brain via the vagus nerve that you are safe. In turn, your brain sends a message back to your body to release calming, settling hormones. So it is physiologically impossible to experience a stress response while taking long, smooth breaths. Your breath really is a super-power!
Plus, deep breaths are your body’s way of cleaning out your lungs. Think of your lungs as a swimming pool. The shallow breathing that you do most of the time works to simply skim the surface of your lung-pools. The walls and bottom stay filmy, or even covered in algae. It takes deep, diaphragmatic breathing to clean out the depths of the lungs.
Not sure if you are taking long, deep, belly breaths? Try this. Sit up tall and place your hands near your waist, feeling your lowest ribs under your fingers. Now try to take a breath that fills that lowest part of your lungs (it may feel like you are filling your belly). Your hands will feel your lungs expand front to back, left to right, and top to bottom. Only after you fill the bottom of your lungs do you continue to inhale to fill all the way up to your collarbones. Pause at the top and let your lung tissue stretch. Then smoothly and slowly exhale through your nose from the top of the lungs to the bottom, so the space under your hands is the last to release. Your exhale should be so slow that you wouldn’t blow out a birthday candle with the air being released from your nose. Try that breath at least two more times. And then set an alarm to take three deep, mindful breaths every hour. It’s good for your mental health AND for your physical health, too.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.  
See you in the studio!

Yoga and the Lymphatic System

YOGA TO THE RESCUE!
During cold and flu season (and all year round), your lymphatic system is working overtime to keep you healthy. Lymph is a transparent fluid filled with pathogen-fighting white blood cells and proteins. It moves around the body taking waste and toxins toward the chest where it dumps into the circulatory system through veins right under the collarbones. There are lymph channels drawing fluids from deep within the torso, around every organ, and even near the surface of the skin. On its way to the circulatory system, the fluid moves through filtering stations called lymph nodes. This is where white blood cells can destroy bacteria and viruses that have been collected by the lymph fluid.
There is no “pump” for the lymphatic system. The circulatory’s pump is the heart which pushes blood through the arteries. Lymph depends almost entirely on movements of large muscles to wring out the tissues and force fluids into the lymph channels. Any kind of muscle contraction can move lymph, but YOGA is particularly effective. Between inversions reversing the effects of gravity, twists and forward bends moving lymph between the core organs of the body, and conscious breathing directing lymph toward the collarbones, yoga is a powerful immune-boosting practice.
You might also consider adding regular massages to your self-care routine to stimulate the flow of lymph. Explore skin brushing (also called dry brushing) to promote lymph flow from the feet and hands up toward the collarbones. Staying hydrated is critical to keep the digestive tract healthy so toxins are washed out through the lymph rather than stagnating in nearby lymph channels.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.

Add Spice (and Health) to Your Life!

Have you been cooking at home more? Start with using more herbs and spices to bump up the taste and the health benefits of your favorite foods! Here are some delicious and healing ways to incorporate herbs and spices into your diet (from Baycare):
Cinnamon
Besides being delicious in everything from baked goods to tea to meat rubs, cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Turmeric
Known for providing the yellow color to curry dishes, turmeric reduces inflammation, which may help to:
  • Reduce arthritis pain
  • Increase joint mobility
  • Slow cognitive decline
  • Reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Ease depression symptoms
  • According to one high-profile study, turmeric may even help fight cancer!
Basil
Basil contains flavonoids—a type of phytonutrient that helps protect cells and DNA from damage. It’s also shown antibacterial properties and may help fight antibiotic-resistant infections.
Cayenne and chili peppers
The “heat” in hot peppers comes from a plant compound called capsaicin. Because of the way your brain responds to capsaicin, it can actually lessen the pain you feel from other sources like arthritis or diabetic nerve pain. Another benefit is that, despite our fears of an upset stomach from spicy foods, capsaicin kills off the bacteria that cause ulcers.
Ginger
Delicious ginger is widely known for treating and preventing nausea from pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. It also soothes upset stomachs, treats diarrhea, suppresses the appetite, prevents gas and eases menstrual cramps!
Garlic
A powerhouse among spices, garlic has been researched extensively. Some of its top benefits are:
  • Prevents hardening of the arteries
  • Reduces cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Provides immune system support as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal
  • Acts as a potent anti-inflammatory
  • Lowers blood pressure
Oregano
Oregano is one of the best sources of antioxidants among herbs and spices. It has powerful antiseptic properties and has even been shown to prevent food-borne illness when eaten with contaminated food.
Explore more about wellness, the physiology of yoga, the science behind the practice, and the peaceful power that yoga cultivates in our studio and virtual classes, Y4A’s unique workshops, and on our Facebook page.