A chaturanga dandasana, the Sanskrit term for “four-limbed staff pose,” is typically done 15 to 20 times in a classic 60-minute Vinyasa class. It’s a pose that energizes and strengthens the entire body, especially the arms, legs and core. This half push-up is one of the most frequently practiced poses in class, and yet it is commonly done incorrectly. As a yoga instructor, I’ve witnessed this all too often, and as a practitioner, I too fall prey to misalignment on occasion. But with proper guidance and practice, your body should be able to feel the difference between improper alignment and proper alignment.
Incorrect Chaturanga Dandasana
In this misaligned pose, the arms are wide apart and the elbows are facing outwards. The shoulders are tense. You can see that the core isn’t engaged because the lower back is sinking down, which will eventually cause pain in your lower back. The glutes are not engaged, and the tailbone is sticking up. The heels are shifting the body and flow of energy backward and down instead of forward.
Incorrect Chaturanga Dandasana
Here, the core is sinking way too low and isn’t supporting the lower back, which affects the alignment of the entire body. You can see the legs are drooping down towards the ground. The torso, quads and hamstrings are not fully engaged. Also, the shoulders should be back away from the ears, and the upper body should be in line with the hips.
A Proper Chaturanga Dandasana:
Start at plank position. Lower the body halfway only with the tailbone tucked under. There should be a long line of energy flowing straight forward from the heels of the feet all the way up to the crown of the head. The elbows are at a 90-degree angle and hugging in towards the ribcage. The fingers are wide open, knuckles pushing down towards the ground. Your gaze should be relaxed, keeping the cervical spine long. You will know if you are doing it incorrectly if your body doesn’t feel engaged. While in the pose, squeeze the inner thighs, the glutes and the core to get the full expression of the chaturanga dandasana.
STORY BY SUNINA YOUNG
Sunina Young (sunina.com) is a yoga + SLT pilates instructor in New York City
Photos by Andy Hur, andyhur.com
This story was originally published in our Spring 2015 issue. Get your copy here.
Although yoga is a mental, spiritual and physical Hindu discipline that originated from India, many Americans of every religion have embraced yoga in almost every gym across America. Despite the rising love for yoga, ask most Americans about the religious history behind this discipline and you’ll probably hear crickets.
College Humor, fresh off their “Diet Racism” video which hilariously took on racial microaggressions, now takes on yoga’s popularity among Americans by creating a fictional scenario where Mahatma Gandhi steps out of a time machine and takes a yoga class with mostly all-white students. The results are hilarious and troubling.
Right off the bat, the white instructor is condescending and claims a false sense of authority. Gandhi’s fellow classmates aim to use yoga to “prepare for beach season” and throw the word “spiritual” around until it’s rendered meaningless. Eventually, Gandhi loses it. While we do not want to fully spoil the video for you, let’s say f-bombs are flung.
Yes, there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. However, as yoga has entered the mainstream, there is no doubt that it is being changed and watered down from it’s original roots. A key moment of the video is when Gandhi says “Bitch, you do know this is my actual religion, right?” when a classmate describes a yogalates class as “so spiritual.” Right now, there are an increasing amount of vocal critics against the cultural appropriation of yoga and even a “Take Back Yoga” movement started by the Hindu American foundation.
While the time-traveling, sassy and foul-mouthed Gandhi of this video is of course fictional, the real Mahatma Gandhi did practice yoga. In his own words, “the yogi is not one who sits down to practice breathing exercises. He is one who looks upon all with an equal eye, sees other creatures in himself.”
’Tis the season to celebrate! To party! To be joyful! So why are you so down? Don’t let the worst of the winter months get the best of you. You are responsible for your own happiness, so take charge, relax, let go. Even if you’ve never done yoga before, try these four easy ways to beat the winter blues.
Find a clean, quiet corner. Sit comfortably with your legs crossed, spine tall. Roll the shoulders back. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Try to clear the mind by focusing just on your inhales and exhales. Imagine the inhales are a golden, pure light. The exhales are pushing all internal impurities out of your system. Imagine that golden light circulating throughout the entire body. Let the mind and body fully relax. One breath at a time, let your mind be at ease.
You may want to use a mantra to stay focused. Here are five you can repeat; use any or all: “Let go,” “I am light,” “I am peace,” “I am free,” “I choose happiness.”
Your meditation can be just as quick as one or two minutes, or as long as 30 minutes or more. Let yourself smile if you feel the corners of your mouth lift up. Let yourself feel safe, warm, filled with light, at peace.
Based on studies that have shown that fake laughter may have the same physio- logical and psychological benefits as real laughter, laughter yoga was developed by an Indian physician in the ’90s. Start by grabbing a partner. It can be your friend, your significant other or — my favorite — a child! A child’s pure heart and naturally open mind makes him or her the perfect partner to get the laughter going. Start by making eye contact with your partner and simultaneously shouting out, “HA, HA, HA, HA, HO, HO, HO, HO” — in other words, fake laugh. Make it so fake that it sounds ridiculous! Soon you’ll “fake it till you make it,” as real laughter eventually kicks in.
Child’s Pose is a great way to breathe in a receptive position. Get on your knees and spread them out shoulder width apart, big toes touching behind you. Sit your hips on the heels and fold over. The ribcage should fit perfectly between the thighs. Drop the forehead down to the ground. Stretch the arms by your sides, palms up. Relax the shoul- ders and neck. Breathe in through the nose, out through the nose. Repeat this mantra throughout the pose: “I am safe.” Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.
For the Puppy Dog Pose, get on all fours, palms and knees to the ground. Shoulders are above the wrists, hips above the knees. Walk the hands forward as you lower the chest down to the floor and curl the toes under. Exhale and move the buttocks halfway back toward the heels. Engage the entire arm from the fingertips to the triceps, while relaxing the shoulders and neck. Keep a slight curve in the lower back. Lengthen the entire body, feeling the stretch in your spine. Feel the shift in your mood as this pose helps you open the heart and chest. Repeat this mantra: “Choose happiness with every passing thought.” Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.
Sunina Young (sunina.com) is a yoga + SLT pilates instructor in New York City.
Story by Sunina Young
Photos by Andy Hur, andyhur.com
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here.
One of my yoga mentors once said in class during a shoulder stand, “Do this every day for 30 minutes, and you will see that this is better than even the most expensive anti-aging cream out there. Truly.”
Mind you, this teacher looked half his age. Since this admonition, I’ve used the shoulder stand to end every one of my own classes. The shoulder stand increases your blood circulation to the face, which is a great way to prevent premature aging and encourage a youthful glow. Do the following three poses on a daily basis, along with your skin care regime, and you are on your way to a beautifully youthful and healthy look.
Yoga Pose #1: Standing Forward Fold
Stand up straight with open shoulders, legs together, big toes touching. Inhale and stretch the hands up to the sky, gazing up. Exhale and fold over your legs, hands by the sides of your feet or arms behind the calves. Think about lifting the tailbone up higher as you drop the crown of the head lower. Stay for five to eight breaths.
Yoga Pose #2: Seated Forward Fold
Sit with legs out in front of you, big toes touching. To ensure that your hip bones are rooted down evenly and firmly, lift up your right hip, shift the right butt cheek to the side, and repeat on the other side. (Yes, literally move your cheeks.) Inhale and stretch the arms up to the sky. Aim for a tall lengthy spine. Then exhale and, keeping the spine lengthened, lower down to touch the toes. It is OK to bend your knees as long as you are keeping the spine long and the head is completely dropped towards the knees. Breathe for five to eight breaths.
Yoga Pose #3: Shoulder Stand
Lay on your back. With the strength of your core and with ener- getic legs, lift the legs up to the sky and place your hands on the lower back. Press the palms to push the back up straight. Lift the kneecaps up to keep your legs energized and straight up, feet flexed. Bear your weight on your shoulders, relaxing the neck and breathing. Stay for five to eight breaths. Eventually, work up to a 30-minute shoulder stand.
Sunina Young (sunina.com) is a yoga and SLT pilates instructor in New York City.
Photos courtesy of Ron Gejon.
This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here.
Your colleagues are mean to you, your boss keeps hinting that your work is not up to par and you’re so stressed out that all you want to do is go home and cry into your pillow. Cue Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day.” Sometimes, a good cry is just what you need to get out all the pent-up frustration.
Well, for those of you who may not be keen on crying your sorrows away, we’ve got some good news. We’re here to introduce you to a therapy that’s quite the opposite — “laughter yoga,” a new form of yoga that is sure to lift your spirits right back up.
This new form of yoga, a combination of the literal act of laughing and your typical yoga breathing techniques, was first founded by Indian cardiologist Madan Kataria in 1995, and it is now the latest form of therapy practiced all over the world. In Asia, Europe and the United States, there are more than 600 clubs that offer laughter yoga courses.
UK consultancy firm Inspire2Aspire, which now has a branch in Hong Kong, also offers laughter yoga courses corporations can enroll in, which is believed to “ease stress and increases productivity and creativity.”
Veena Dansinghani, a partner at the firm, explains to CCTV in an interview, “The whole concept of laughter yoga is that you fake it until you make it,” he says. “Your body doesn’t recognize, or your mind doesn’t recognize if you’re laughing for a reason or not. Your entire body is being exercised. Your internal organs, your heart is being exercised. You’re getting a great cardio workout. Ten minutes of belly laughter is equivalent to 30 minutes of cardio.”
Watch the interview below:
As the reporter says in the video, “Can’t touch your toes? No worries. Laughter Yoga just wants you to be happy.”
Though it may seem silly, it has proven to work for some employees. Euby Yu, the Learning and Development Manager at Ocean Park has said of his experience with laughter yoga, “We’ve seen remarkable results. We see many happy faces. The day after our session, one of our colleagues, the first thing she said to me, is ‘Ho! Ho! Hahaha!’ I can see the difference.”
Not buying it? Well, we hope we’ve at least made you chuckle for a few seconds. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
Story by Anna M. Park.
Nagging headache? Can’t sleep? Not very productive at work? It could be stress. Left unchecked, chronic stress may play a part in up to 80 percent of diseases and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — everything from insomnia to hypertension to premature aging to even death.
And boy, are we feeling it. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey for 2013, 43 percent of women say their stress levels have increased in the last five years. In fact, the APA report showed that Millennials and Gen Xers experience the most stress and the least relief — they have higher stress levels than older generations and they are not managing it well. This is supported by a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, which found that not only were women more stressed than men but 20-year-olds were more stressed than 30-somethings.
If that doesn’t scare you into de-stressing, how about these unsavory tidbits: Chronic stress leads to obesity, acne and infertility, and a recent study found that men found women with a high level of the stress hormone cortisol less attractive.
Stressing about de-stressing yet? Relaaaaaax. We’ve done the research for you and found a variety of experts to provide easy tips on how to take it down a notch in our everyday lives.
According to Marilyn Tam, the author of the best-selling book The Happiness Choice, meditation is natural. If you’ve ever “been in the zone,” where “there is no other thought; you are fully present and immersed in whatever it is you are doing” — that, she says, is a key aspect of meditation.” Here, Tam’s step-by-step guide to meditating.
1. Find a quiet space where you will be undisturbed. Turn off all electronic devices.
2. Give yourself a window of open time; to start with, it can be as short as 15 or 20 minutes. You may want to set a timer so that you don’t have to keep checking on the time.
3. Relax your body, stretch, move your arms and legs and gently roll your head from side to side and front to back. Sigh. Move your face muscles. Loosen the tightness in your body and mind so that you are able to be fully present.
4. Sit comfortably with your back straight in a chair or on a cushion. Let your hands lay comfortably on your knees or rest your hands on your lap, right hand on top of left, with your thumbs touching each other — this is the Samadhi mudra, the hand gesture that promotes calmness. Close your eyes or keep them half open, focusing on an object like a lit candle. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly and gently. Repeat without using force in your inhale and exhale. Observe your breath as you breathe in and out. When thoughts come, mentally push them aside without judging them. Return to your breathing. Continue on this cycle of breathing, clearing away thoughts, breathing.
5. At the end of the meditation time, slowly bring your consciousness back to your surroundings; make note of any insights you may have glimpsed in your quiet time.
A former corporate executive, Marilyn Tam, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, consultant and certified coach. Her radio show, The Happiness Choice, on FMG Network is broadcast globally to more than 30 million listeners. Find out more at marilyntam.com.
With rampant stress, “our bodies have lost the balance between our sympathetic (fight or flight response) and parasympathetic (repair and restore response) nervous systems ,” says Marc Zollicoffer, director of Aveda Spa Education. “We are in a constant state of flight or fight and not spending enough time resting and regenerating.” Based on studies that show that aroma has an effect on the brain’s hypothalamus, which controls the stress cycle in the body, clinical aromaologist Pierre Franchomme and Aveda created the Stress Fix aroma. Clinical testing showed that the aroma, a combination of certified organic French lavender, clary sage and lavindin (a hybrid of true and spike lavender) essences, relieves feelings of stress, significantly increasing positive moods and feelings of relaxation.
Perhaps nothing is as stress relieving as a massage. At OleHenriksen Face/Body Spa, the Hot Stone massage uses volcanic basalt river rocks for their heat retention properties, combining thermotherapy with massage techniques. The treatment revs up the parasympathetic system, but it also has a metaphysical “earth energy component” for energy balancing — the masseuse literally bathes the stones in full moonlight every other month. You lay on a sheet, your spinal column nestled between two rows of river rocks, while the masseuse kneads your arms, feet and legs, placing warm stones on your chakras (along your torso, under the knees, even between the toes). According to the masseuse, the heat from the stones relaxes muscle groups and increases circulation and lymphatic drainage, allowing for deeper massage work due to increased blood flow. It’s like being kneaded with rounded, solidified silk, and afterwards the kink in our shoulder was almost gone and we drove home stress-free. Details Olehenriksen.com.
Can’t get to a spa? Treat yourself to a mini-facial massage at home to knead out tension, especially in the jaw and forehead. A luxurious massage milk with micro-collagens to plump skin. Massage on and go straight to bed — no rinsing necessary. Koh Gen Do Royal Massage Milk.
According to the APA’s 2013 Stress in America survey, stress keeps 46 percent of women (and more than 52 percent of Millennials and 48 percent of Gen Xers) lying awake at night. And yet it’s sleep that we need to lower cortisol levels. Take steps to ensure you get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. Cut back on caffeine, stop screen time (TV, iPad, smartphone) at least one hour before bedtime and go to sleep at the same time each night to set circadian rhythms. Spray your sheets with calming lavender and get a cooling orthotic pillow (like Proper Pillow, proper- pillow.com) specially made to properly align your neck and spine for a truly restorative sleep.
Yoga instructor Sunina Young shows us how these poses can help de-stress, even if you’ve never done a downward dog in your life.
Yoga helps you retrain your stress response by encouraging you to fully focus on your breath through poses. You can use this practical breathing technique in any life situation as well. As you go through each pose below, breathe and simply let it go. If a stressful thought sneaks into your mind, mentally say a calming affirmation like,“I now release all feelings of stress.”
Breathing Technique for Poses:
Inhale through your nose for seven counts, exhale through your nose for eight counts. Let whatever you are feeling pass naturally. Repeat this breathing pattern throughout your poses.
Calming Pose 1 (Moderate)
Hero pose (shown below, left) is great for improved digestion, better posture and knee, calf, ankle relief (calling all ladies in heels!). Start by standing on your knees so they are aligned with your hips. Press the tops of your feet down and into the ground. Open your calves out to the sides and sit your hips down to the ground, your behind between your heels. (If your butt doesn’t touch the ground, sit on a yoga block or a rolled up yoga mat.) Sit up tall, twist to the right, right hand placed behind you, left hand resting on top of the right thigh. Stay for seven to 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side. Affirmation: “All the tension in my muscles release freely.”
Calming Pose 2 (Dynamic)
Camel pose is a back-bending pose that creates space in your chest and lungs for better breathing. Be sure your body is warmed up before you get into this pose. Start with your knees hip width apart and hands at your lower back, spine lengthened and tall, crown of the head neutral, shoulders rolled back. With a deep breath in, lean back slowly with your chin tucked in. Thighs are spiraling inwards to maintain a strong foundation as you lean back further. Lift your chest as you lean further back. Only lean back where your body threshold permits. Reach your hands back to your heels and extend your head back slowly. Stay for seven to 10 breaths. Affirmation: “I am cool, calm and collected.”
Sunina Young is a yoga instructor and blogger in New York City. Check out her blog at sunina.com.
If all else fails, just laugh. “The very act of moving your facial muscles to form a smile is already prompting your body to release endorphins,” says Tam. “Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain and to increase feelings of euphoria, so we feel fewer negative effects of stress.” At the very least, we’ll look more attractive to the opposite sex.
This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.
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