Loving Your Yoga Mat

Recently, during a break in a teacher training weekend, a group of us sat in the Yoga Nook garden, sipping our coffee and enjoying the early morning sun. One of the participants stretched out on her mat.

“That looks comfortable,” I said.

She smiled. “I love my mat,” she said. Then she sat up.

“You know, this mat is my go-to place. If I’m feeling down, I find it and lay on it. It brings me peace. If I’m stressed, it calms me. If I’m distracted, it brings me focus. Just recently we put our dog to sleep, and I spent the last few hours lying on my mat with him by side.”

She stroked the mat affectionately. “I’ve been through a lot on this mat.”

This conversation got me thinking about other teachers I know who have used the same mat for decades, even though it didn’t perform as well as a new one. For some, it has become “the lucky mat,” a talisman for teaching great classes. For others, it’s been a safe haven in the midst of the frenetic world we live in.

Perhaps we become attached to this slim rubber prop because it remains a constant in our lives, absorbing our joys and sorrows without judgment.

One of my students once told me about a time her car got well and truly stuck in a ditch after she’d swerved to avoid another motorist. Luckily she had her mat in the trunk, so she slid it under the back wheels and was soon on her way home.

Mats have other uses, too. If you look closely in the Yoga Nook garden, you’ll find some old mats being put to good use. Here are some other ideas for how to use your retired yoga mats:

  • Use your old mat in place of a rug liner to keep area rugs in place and prevent slipping.
  • Cut the mat into 1″ strips — they make great ties for large shrubs or trees in the garden.
  • Cut your mat to fit your trunk. It’s a great non-slip surface to keep grocery bags from sliding around.
  • Cut a small square or rectangle from an old mat (or get creative and cut out a pose silhouette), and use it as a mouse pad.
  • Typically mats will wear most at either end, leaving the middle section in relatively good condition. Cut off the worn areas and offer the mat to a child interested in starting yoga. Kids and grandkids love to have their own props.
  • Use two mats for your workout, one on top of the other. It pads the knees and sit bones a little more comfortably.

Do you have an unusual use for one of your old mats? Or maybe you have a great yoga mat story. Let us know — leave a comment below or send me an email at yoganookcalling@gmail.com.

 

Image credit: Werner Moser via Flickr (CC)

Two Hot Dogs and an Englishwoman

I open the front door and pause on the threshold, reluctant to walk into the wall of heat radiating from the sidewalk. Can it really be this hot at 6:30 a.m.? My dogs pull eagerly at their leashes; they don’t care about the temperature.

On the horizon, a hazy sun is about to rise. The air, heavy with particulate matter, shatters the sun’s rays into a foggy glow. I can feel the beginnings of Santa Ana conditions — the dry breeze sucks the moisture from my skin and tangles the branches of the shade trees on Walnut Ave. The air smells of dust and lacks the motivation that usually comes with a refreshing, early morning walk.

Walking is both my exercise and meditation. I walk between three and five miles every day with my two dogs, Willy and Juno, unless it’s raining or extremely windy. For a large part of that walk, I practice being in the moment and surrender myself to the actual experience of walking.

My right foot swings forward and the heel strikes the pavement. I load the leg with my weight, simultaneously pushing off with my left foot. I’m aware of my spine and the weight of my head atop my neck.

We stride together for three blocks before the dogs pull me off course to sniff enthusiastically at the grass verge. And this is how we walk along, alternately striding with awareness and then being pulled off-center.

This morning as I walked, it occurred to me that this daily activity is a metaphor for life. If there are obstacles in my way, I must stop or navigate around them. If I am pulled off-center by a force that I can’t control (the dogs), I need to pause, recollect and carry on.

Some days I am distracted by the world around me, and it’s harder to stay focused on my stride and the feel of my body; other days it’s easy to stay connected to the rhythmic movement of my arms and legs, and the walk is effortless and carefree.

Our route winds through a housing tract, then cuts up a steep hill behind a golf course. We always power-walk up this hill; the dogs gather their legs under them, ready for the quicker pace. I push myself, feeling the effort as my back leg propels my body forward and my front leg gathers the ground toward me. On the hilltop, I’m rewarded with a quintessential California view of chaparral and palm trees shaking their Methuselah fronds in the stiff breeze.

Now on level ground, I begin to stride again with awareness of my heel-strike and the roll onto the ball mound of my big toe. But Juno is hot and thirsty and pulls me off balance to get to a wet lawn, where she rolls onto her back, tongue lolling.

I laugh at her joy. She’s always in the moment. We should all enjoy the day as much as a hot dog rolling around in wet grass.

 

Image credit: Andy McLemore via Flickr (CC)

Dancing in the Rain

As soon as I wake up, I know it’s raining. I can hear it on the patio roof, clicking like hundreds of tiny hammers tapping metal. I get up and fling the patio doors wide open so I can breathe in the relief of the garden.

The ground seems to be singing with joy; the plants pick up their heads and look skyward in silent thanks. In this land of little rain, these few hours of drizzle are like pennies from heaven.

Like the dry earth, we need water. Dehydration can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion or even shallow, rapid breathing. Virtually every part of the human body and all of its processes need hydration in order to function optimally.

Our blood is an incredible 92% water, while lean muscle is 73% water. Even our bones are 25% water. It is the primary component of secretions such as tears, saliva and gastric fluid. Without water, the body is unable to repair itself, lubricate itself or feed itself.

When we are well-hydrated, toxins are diluted and flushed, our body temperature is regulated, and vital nutrients are transported easily in the freely circulating blood. Even slight dehydration can cause sodium levels in the body to rise; the blood becomes more viscous and the kidneys slow excretion.

At this stage, the brain triggers the sensation of thirst. Feeling mildly thirsty is a warning sign that many of us ignore until it’s more urgent, but even mild thirst is an indicator that you are already depleted by approximately one pint.

water intake infographic
Click to enlarge – Infographic by visual.ly

Daily Recommendations for Water Intake

The recommended daily serving of eight to 12 8-oz. glasses of water may seem extreme, but in truth this only meets our minimum daily requirement. If you are participating in any aerobic exercise, your need for fluids will be greatly increased, and you should consume an additional one to three cups of water per hour of exercise.

Many fruits and vegetables contain a high percentage of water by volume. Cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelons are obvious choices, containing more than 90% water, but broccoli, carrots and grapes are also high in water content.

In just a few hours, the soil in my garden has become dark from the late-summer soaking. The plants, resupplied with water, look turgid and upright, their energy regained. We are a part of nature, not apart from it – so on this humid, rainy day, I’m going for a walk to delight in the gift of water. I may even dance in the rain.

 

Image credit: Heather via Flickr (CC)

Windows to the Soul

It’s 8 p.m. and daylight has withdrawn, leaving a golden twilight to bathe Rocky Peak at the east end of Simi Valley. One or two people wander around Yoga Nook @ Fifth, walking to and from the laundromat or sushi restaurant.

I’m alone in the new studio, the rhythmic sound of sandpaper on wood echoing throughout the empty space. I’m repairing the window frames that will soon be positioned in the partition wall between the vestibule and the yoga studio.

These window frames are old, Victorian probably. They bear the scars of hot California summers, indifferent painters and unskilled glaziers. The distressed wood is pitted from sloppy attempts at repair, yet they are just the right size and shape — and I’m conscious that I’m not the first person to think they are perfect for the setting.

I discovered these frames at an architectural salvage store in Pasadena, a dream playground for anyone with an eye for antiques and the willingness to put a little elbow grease into a project. They specialize in doors, windows and hardware. Need a Victorian hinge, a crystal pull, a 12-foot door? Then this is the place to go. You’ll find aisle after tidy aisle of stained glass, oak doors and objets d’art.

I scrape at the brittle paint with a putty knife — an unusual tool for the job, but one that fits the need. It’s just thin enough to reflect the paint, just flexible enough to avoid gouging the wood. As I peel back time, revealing alternating layers of color, I wonder what kind of house these windows dressed. Who looked out of them? What views are recorded in the photographic memory of the glass?

In sanding the frames, I discover abandoned locks and screw holes where blinds once hung, and I’m curious about the family that lived behind these windows. Perhaps the house faced west and the heat of the afternoon sun was shuttered out. I imagine a dim room filled with antiques, a grandfather clock ticking slow and steady, a grand piano displaying four generations in silver frames.

Stripping away encrusted paint, the well-defined edges of the original frame are revealed, sharp and crisp against the soft blue of the glass. Once, many years ago they looked like this, a statement in yellow.

Perhaps the whole house was yellow. I imagine a beach house with the windows flung wide open, the sound and smell of the ocean invited in. Perhaps children laughed and played here; life emerged, developed and matured here; and now these windows will grace the Yoga Nook studio with light.

Something old, something new, love, passion and dedication — these are the ingredients of Yoga Nook @ Fifth. Many hands have joined in the making of this new space. I send a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported this new and beautiful studio, and I look forward to welcoming you all on Saturday, September 12th.

yoga nook @ fifth sign

jeni rachel yoga nook @ fifth

Related articles:
Words That Matter
The Business of Yoga: The Exquisite Risk

 

Image credit: Maia C via Flickr (CC)

The World on Your Shoulders

It’s much easier to click a mouse than to keep your shoulder to the wheel. These days we often delegate physical tasks, paying someone else to take care of them on our behalf rather than shouldering the responsibility ourselves. Technology, too, has replaced good old-fashioned elbow grease, significantly improving our lifestyles. But at what price?

With the burden of physical work reduced to a minimum, the average adult typically makes small, unloaded movements that only employ about 50% of the shoulders’ available function. The body gradually adapts to this limited range, the head comes forward and the shoulders round. Over time, the sculpted “S” shape of the spine becomes a “C” shape. With limited use of our arms and shoulders, we lose strength and stability, setting us up for injury.

Younger Generations Are Affected, Too

Today’s children spend more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV, computer or mobile device. These excessive amounts of screen time are setting them up for head-forward syndrome way before middle age. Carrying overladen packs on their backs also puts unnecessary strain on young shoulders and quickly molds their spines into rounded “C” shapes.

It’s much easier to prevent a shoulder or back injury than to recover from one—so do your kids a favor by limiting their screen time, and encourage them to unload unnecessary weight from school backpacks. Your nagging now may save them a great deal of discomfort in the future.

The Shoulder Girdle and Rotator Cuff

The shoulder girdle, which comprises the shoulder blades, humerus, collarbone and sternum, literally floats on the torso, as it’s not attached to the spine. This balancing act relies on an intricate network of muscles, including a group of four muscles called the rotator cuff. This muscle group is responsible for rotating the upper arm bone outward and inward, and for swinging the arm away from the body (abduction).

Image via ShoulderCommunity.com

Professional and recreational athletes alike are prone to shoulder cuff problems, especially if the sport is centered on a biased movement, as in golf or baseball. The following series of exercises will awaken the rotator cuff muscles and remind the shoulders of their range and flexibility:

Shoulder Cuff Exercise

  • Lying down with the spine and head in neutral, move your arms out to a 90-degree angle from the spine. The biceps should face the ceiling.
  • Keeping the forearms in touch with the floor, bend at the elbows, creating a goal-post shape with your arms (right angles at the elbows). The palms should face the ceiling and thumbs point toward your ears.
  • Now move the forearms through 180 degrees, rotating the upper arm bone in its joint until the palms face down and the thumbs point toward the center of your torso. Try 10 slow reps.

Scapular Protraction and Retraction

  • Lying down on the floor with the spine and head in neutral, cover your ears lightly with your fingers as if you were supporting the head for an abdominal crunch.
  • Keep the head and torso in contact with the floor as you slowly bring the elbows together, then open up the elbows until they touch the floor. Try 10 slow reps.

Pullovers

  • Lying down with the head and spine in neutral, interlace your fingers and straighten your arms toward the ceiling.
  • Stretch the arms back over your head and then bring them back to the starting position. Try 10 slow reps.

If any of these exercises cause pain, STOP. Pain is a form of high-priority communication. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, there is something seriously wrong here.” If you are suffering from a prolonged shoulder or neck issue, you should see your doctor before attempting this or any exercise program.

Related Article: 
Correcting Poor Posture with AIM Somatic Movement

 

Image credit: Britt-knee via Flickr (CC)