Category Archives: Asana

Want to Strengthen Your Core? Start with the Breath

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Most people think of crunches or even Navasana (Boat Pose) as the holy grail of yoga core strengtheners.  But what if you could strengthen your abdominal muscles simply by breathing?

You can!

This simple exercise strengthens the girdling muscles that stabilize the lower back and pelvis. You can do the motion with every breath in your yoga practice, but I like to teach it lying on the floor, where you can more easily feel the motion of the spine and you aren’t distracted by other movements.  Give it a try for 5 minutes each day.  You’ll notice the difference. Your abs may even talk to you the next day!

  1. Lie on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Notice how this position flattens your lower back curve.
  2. Place your palms on your belly.
  3. As you inhale, allow your belly to soften.
  4. As you exhale, imagine that you are closing the zipper on a too-tight pair of jeans. Pull in your belly starting at the bottom (the pubic bone) and contract upward toward the bottom of your ribs. You might feel your belly hollow out and your lower back press toward the floor.
  5. On the following inhale, imagine that you are breathing in from your collar bones down. Keep your belly pulled in strongly for the first half of the inhale, and then slowly allow it to relax in the second half.
  6. With each following exhale, close the zipper again.

Hints:

  • On a scale of 1 – 10, make the abdominal contraction on exhale about a 6.  Strong enough to feel the muscles, not so strong that you feel breathless or tired.
  • Relax the rest of your body.  In particular, notice any tension that builds in your neck, shoulders, jaw, and arms, and consciously release it.
  • Once doing the exercise becomes habitual when lying on your back, try it seated crossed-legged on the floor or in a chair.
  • Once doing the exercise becomes habitual without movement,  integrate it into every breath of your asana practice.

Enjoy, and happy practicing!

Tracy Weber

A Killer RetreatCome visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Competition to Compassion

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Daniela Maurie. Daniela is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training, and a student in our current advanced training. Besides yoga & dance, she is an avid animal advocate who frequently does yoga practices with her constant canine companion, Chai. Daniela can be contacted at danielamaurie@gmail.com.

I came to Viniyoga from the professional, competitive dance world. My self-worth was entirely based on my ability to be the best – the fastest, the smoothest, the prettiest, the best body, the most precise, entertaining, flexible, expressive, artistic, etc., ad infinitum. There was no such thing as enough. I was always striving to be better, to improve something. Well, everything, actually. And while I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with striving for improvement, basing my value in the ability to achieve perfection was a fruitless, empty, and damaging trip to take.

Back and knee injuries ended my full-time dance career. I needed to find another profession that would keep me active and challenged, without breaking my body any further. That need was what brought me to yoga. I remember clearly my first night of Yoga Teacher Training. I was an insecure dancer who thought she had something to prove. I walked in to the program with many years of experience, but little understanding. I expected yoga to be another endeavor where being the best was what mattered. As I said, loads of experience, zero understanding.

Little by little, attending Yoga Teacher Training week after week, taking classes, and listening to my fellow yogis, I began to understand, yoga is not a competition, not even with myself. On any given day, I may or may not be able to maintain the form and balance required of warrior III. On any given day, I may or may not be able to complete a pranayama practice at my maximum breath threshold. On any given day, I may or may not have the focus to do a meditation. But on any given day, on every given day, I can accept wherever I am at, and whatever I am feeling. Through Viniyoga, I have learned compassion for myself, something I never knew as a dancer. I can now accept my imperfections, and not only accept them but celebrate them as part of this whole, wild, human experience. That hunger to be the best has been replaced with a deep and abiding desire to be authentic. That is the best I can be. Real.

I still dance, both socially and professionally. It is my oldest passion, one I am very grateful for, and doubtful will ever change. What has changed, though, is my ability to divorce my self-worth from my ability to perform, whether I am performing an Argentine tango or downward facing dog. There is no best in yoga, or life. There is only where I authentically am, right here, right now. And that is always perfect.

Daniela

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Your Inner Dialogue

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Sarah Smith. Sarah is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our advanced training. She can be contacted at sarahesmith10@yahoo.com

Communication is powerful.  Just like the knife that can be used in a beneficial way to prepare food for nourishment, or a surgery to heal the body, or used against some one to harm them, communication can be positive or negative.

Sometimes when I am leading a yoga class I will bring the class to standing and ask them to close their eyes and think of one thing they love about their body.  A few more asanas later, coming back to standing, I will ask them to say one kind thing to their body.  At the end of the practice just before ‘namaste’ I will ask them to think of one thing they are grateful for or appreciate about their body.  Other times I will ask them to think of something they love about themselves.  Not surprising is how many people come up to me later and say how hard that is for them.  They are unable to think of one thing they love about their body or their self.

In our daily life how others speak to us has a powerful affect on us.  People who are our well wishers, are encouraging and point out our gifts and talents empower us in our endeavors.  People who invalidate, criticize, judge can throw us into a downward spiral that takes the wind out of our sails and can make us feel as if the life is being sucked right out of us.

Our internal dialogue is incredibly important.  We sometimes get into patterns of thinking that affect us in ways that we don’t realize.  “I have a bad knee” versus “I have a knee that is trying to heal itself.  I am so grateful for the healing power of my body”.  We may find ourselves mentally focusing on our ‘failures’, thinking they define who we are.  This life, this body did not come with a manual.  Maybe taking the word failure out of our vocabulary and replacing it with ‘great lesson’ would put us back in the driver’s seat.

Notice what you would like to have others say to you, and begin to give that to yourself. Words and thoughts that are kind, loving and honoring help our bodies to heal, and ourselves to grow into the spiritual beings that are who we truly are.  It takes practice, but that is why we call it yoga practice, not yoga perfect.

Sarah

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. The first book in the series,  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere!

Do You Practice Hatha Yoga?

I recently sat next to a very kind gentleman on an airplane for a six-hour flight back to Seattle from Malice Domestic (a mystery fan convention.). I don’t think he knew I was a yoga teacher, especially since he spent a good thirty minutes educating me about the benefits of yoga. Of course, I agreed with him. Yoga is good stuff. He then said something that made me both externally smile and internally cringe, at least a little. He mentioned that he doesn’t like the more strenuous yoga forms of yoga, and that he only practices “Hatha” yoga.

I didn’t disagree with them. After all, he’s right, in a way. He does practice Hatha yoga. Almost all of us who practice yoga in America do. “Hatha” is an umbrella term that means the physical practice of yoga.  But referring to all yoga as simply “Hatha” is a little misleading. Although there are definite similarities between yoga styles, there are even more differences.

One Hatha yoga class may be practiced at a hundred and five degrees. Another may focus on “proper” alignment. Yet another, on connecting movement and breath. Some Hatha practices flow from pose to pose, while others stay in each posture for a minute or more before moving on to the next. Teachers of some styles teach the exact same sequence of poses each time. Some classes, like most Viniyoga classes, are designed in the moment based on what the practitioners need that day.

When you sign up for your first yoga class—or next, for that matter—ask the instructor what style they teach and explore with them whether that style will fit your goals. If the teacher says they teach “Hatha,” dig deeper. What lineages has she been influenced by? Who did she train with? Does she believe form follows function or the reverse? Her answers will help you find the right practice for you.

Most importantly, if you don’t like the first yoga class you try, take another. There’s a yoga style, teacher, and philosophy that fits everyone.

This article from Yoga Journal is a great starting place to explore the options available.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Lower Fatigue and Inflammation in Breast Cancer Survivors

I doubt many of you know this, but before I opened Whole Life Yoga, I taught yoga classes to women in all stages of cancer recovery through Team Survivor Northwest.  Some of my classes were taught in English; others through a Spanish language interpreter.  Some of my students were currently undergoing treatment; others had been cancer-free for years. But in all cases I was impressed by the resiliency, joy, and courage I saw in my students.

I knew, deep down inside, that yoga helped my students. Now I have research to back me up. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser—professer of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University—followed two hundred breast cancer survivors. Some of the women participated in ninety-minute Hatha yoga classes two times a week for twelve weeks.  The rest (the control group) were wait-listed for the same class.  All participants were new to yoga, and students were encouraged to practice with DVDs at home.

The practitioners were diverse. Participants ranged in age from twenty-seven to seventy-six, were diagnosed with breast cancer staged 0 – 3A, and were two months to three years past their latest treatment.  The results were impressive:

  • Yoga practitioners had fifty-seven percent less fatigue than the non-yoga group.
  • Inflammation-related blood proteins were twenty percent lower in the yoga group than the non-yoga group.

The researchers were surprised, because similar results have not been seen with studies of other types of exercise.  They now believe that the breathing and meditation aspects of yoga are especially impactful, which is great news for Viniyoga practitioners.  Viniyoga focuses on the connection of body, breath and mind, making it especially breath and meditation-focused. 

The researchers believe that yoga might have similar benefits with other groups of people who suffer from fatigue and inflammation, including patients suffering from coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

All of this just goes to show what I’ve known all along. Yoga works!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Pain: Turning “Weaknesses” into Strength

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Katie West. Katie is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 hour yoga teacher training program and a student in our advanced teacher training program. She can be contacted at vinikatie@gmail.com.

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that “feeling” is a sign of physical or emotional weakness. Our culture has conditioned us to put people who elicit feelings of sadness, anxiety, or pain into a category of being “weak,” projecting a negative self-image and association with these feelings onto those who endure them. In reality, physical, mental and emotional conflicts can actually give you strength. When you can recognize, accept and control them, you will gain more power and clarity about yourself and the world around you than you ever thought possible.

Growing up, I was conditioned to look at pain as a weakness and to always push through it. Like everyone else, athletes have a pain threshold. Most hover just below it, where the body is screaming at you, telling you not to go any farther and you quiet it just enough to push through your practice, game or day. The problem is, once you have gone over that threshold, it is incredibly difficult to get your body back to “normal.” I broke my pain threshold, multiple times. I created injury on top of injury, until muscular and structural issues within my own body literally stopped me in my tracks.

Discouragement, pain pills and anti-inflammatories were thrown at me from all angles, providing me with zero resolution, only masking my pain and shoving me farther into the depths of my mind. When you are in physical pain, your mind and emotions suffer as well, causing depression, anxiety, negative thinking and poor sleep quality. These conflicts are normal, but no one tells you this. I’d like to invite you to embrace this. Our bodies tell the story of our lives. Learn to empower that story. No matter how tragic or lost you may feel it is, it is beautiful and unique to you. Make your “weaknesses” your strength. It is a long journey that requires perseverance. When I started, I was still attached to my negative conditioning of pain. I didn’t want to talk about it; I just wanted to hide it.

You may receive discouragement, resulting in self-doubt and feelings of weakness. When that happens to me, I slow my thoughts down, quiet the mind, and think of all the positive things my pain has brought me. I think of how it defines me, and only I can define my Self. Yoga has provided me with a completely different outlook on life that yes, I have this mess of a body, but I have a choice. I can sit back and let my “weaknesses” overcome me, or I can embrace them, empower them. I chose the latter and I have let my “weak” body become my teacher and my strength, allowing me to pass my gift of yoga along to others through teaching and sharing what I have learned.

By embracing your “weaknesses,” you will learn to appreciate, love and hopefully share your story so that others can do the same, knowing they are not alone.

Namaste Friends,

Katie West

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Research Proves It! Yoga Helps Combat Depression

Great news for those of you who suffer from seasonal depression or the holiday blues.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine recently published a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that showed that three hours of yoga per week can help combat depression much more effectively than an equivalent amount of other forms of exercise, such as walking.

Researchers monitored two groups of healthy individuals for twelve weeks.  One group walked for three hours each week; the other practiced an equivalent amount of yoga. Both groups filled out questionnaires about their mental health and underwent magnetic resonance spectroscopic (MRS) imaging to measure levels of the amino acid GABA. GABA is essential to central nervous system functioning and helps promote a state of internal calm.

The yoga group reported improved mood and lower levels of anxiety, which were reflected in climbing GABA levels.

Yoga participants also showed improvements in strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.

Exactly what the ancient teachings have told us all along!

Namaste

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Research Proves It! Yoga Benefits Seniors

A recent study at UC San Diego showed once again the many benefits of yoga, this time for older adults. The study followed yoga students with a median age of sixty-nine.  Students took weekly one-hour yoga classes held at local community centers for three months. The classes included gentle yoga postures designed to be accessible to all functional levels. Students who completed the study experienced the following benefits.

  • Statistically significant decreases in pain
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Increased mobility
  • Statistically significant decreases in symptoms of depression.

The study was small, (thirty-one students) and more work is needed to verify these results according to rigorous Western research standards.  But the initial results are encouraging and prove what the ancient yogis knew all along.

Yoga works!

Yoga is always best studied with a teacher.  In older populations, I think working with a trained teacher is essential.  Yoga for seniors is widely available at aging facilities, senior centers and community centers.  Most classes at Whole Life Yoga are accessible to seniors.  We also offer special “Yoga over Fifty” classes twice each week.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Yoga, Photos, Books and Thank Yous

I adore my yoga students for so many reasons. They pretend to laugh at my lame jokes, support me during my dog’s many health issues, and encourage me in my other major endeavor, writing yoga and dog-based mysteries!  Recently, several of my students went well beyond the call of duty by posing (pun intended) as yoga supermodels to help promote my first book, MURDER STRIKES A POSE.

Today, I share a 7 of almost 200 final photos with you and say a GREAT BIG HUGE THANK YOU to the models and their photographer.  More photos coming soon on Facebook, Twitter, my two blogs (this one and Killer Hobbies), and my author mailing list.  Brush up on your yoga, dog, and Seattle trivia and keep your eyes peeled. You might win a free copy of the book or a Downward Dog Mysteries coffee mug!

Katie Burns, Shana Robbins, and Katelyn West. Anyone recognize the prehistoric beast behind them?

The perfect portraits of Rene de los Santos, Larra Dutton, and Katelyn West meditating in Sukhasana.

Sarah Mercier, Shana Robbins, and Jenny Zenner.  Three female warriors reading MURDER STRIKES A POSE.

Who’s that clown hanging out with Shana Robbins and Katie Burns? And why doesn’t Katie open the book so he can read it?

Peace-centered Tadasana with Larra Dutton, Rene de los Santos, and Katelyn West.

Yoga, like the rest of life, is a balancing act. With Kim Tull-Esterbrook, Shana Robbins, Jenny Zenner, and Kiyoumi Weibye.


And finally Shana Robbins, Jenny Zenner and Sarah Mercier—Handstand on the Seattle waterfront.  And the world’s worst picture of me, just to prove I was there.

A huge thank you to my yoga student models:

  • Shana Robbins
  • Katelynn West
  • Katie Burns
  • Rene de los Santos
  • Larra Dutton
  • Jenny Zenner
  • Sarah Mercier
  • Kim Tull-Esterbrook
  • Kiyoumi Weibye

And my husband and photographer extraordinaire, Marc Martin. Couldn’t do it without you, honey.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available for preorder now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

Motherhood and Viniyoga

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Shelley Curtis. Shelley is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program and a yoga teacher at Whole Life Yoga. She can be contacted at sac68@earthlink.net.

curtis-geiss

If you’d told me in my 20s and 30s that I would someday be both a yoga teacher and a mother, I would’ve giggled myself silly. But yoga – and motherhood – found me when I needed them the most.

In our late 30s, my partner (now husband) and I were quite content with being childless; watching in amusement how chaotic and out-of-control the lives of our friends with children appeared to be. But at some point we began to feel that having children would bring more joy than chaos. We were ready for a change in our lives that would bring self growth and a new perspective.

At about the same time, I injured my back and began practicing hatha yoga to rebuild my strength and flexibility.  Once I conceived, my growing belly made practicing the asanas I was used to more challenging. A friend (later one of my viniyoga mentors) invited me to come to her prenatal yoga series at Whole Life Yoga.  I didn’t know anything about viniyoga, but I was eager to find a yoga practice that I could continue through my pregnancy.

Turns out, viniyoga was the exact thing my body needed. At the time, I had no idea it was also exactly what my mind needed. I focused on the physical aspects of my practice, but little by little I began to connect breath, body and mind.

My transition to motherhood wasn’t quite as smooth.

I felt overwhelmed, isolated and I struggled with my new identity. I realize now that I was completely attached to the outcome of my actions. I measured my success as a mother by how well my child nursed, slept, ate, and behaved. I loved my son with all my heart, but my mind was often occupied by thoughts of the future and planning for what was (maybe) to come. Sometimes being in the present moment was too painful and scary.

Even though the first couple of years were a struggle at times, the joy of being parents overcame us and we decided to have a second child. My pregnancy coincided with my teacher training at Whole Life Yoga. What a gift! I loved learning about the physical asanas, sequencing and anatomy (ok, maybe not anatomy). But the real joy was learning how to quiet my mind – how to stay present with my breath and my body. As a result, my transition to motherhood the second time seemed way less overwhelming. Yes, I had done it once before, but I truly believe my attempts to internalize the principles of yoga made the difference.

My viniyoga practice made me a better mother.

The effects of viniyoga on motherhood come in many shapes and sizes. First, I am able to be in the present moment more often and more fully. Second, I am better able to practice non-attachment, which frees me (to some degree) from the outcomes of my mothering. Third, paying attention to my breath and trying as best I can to live in the present moment make me less reactive and more patient. Finally, my yoga and meditation practices teach my kids about the importance of self-care, even if they don’t know it yet.

Motherhood and yoga practice are both life-long journeys that teach me to slow down, breathe, and be more fully present. I can’t think of a better combination.

Shelley

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join Tracy Weber’s author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!