August Photoshoot with Amanda

In August Amanda and I shot some more videos for the Globe and Mail’s Yoga Basics series.
You can check them out on the globe and mail website or here, on my website.

Below are some of the stills Amanda shot while we were filming

Check out more of Amanda’s work on her website.

Yoga: Injury Prevtion for runners

I’m in the process of training for an ultramarathon (Squamish 50) and a marathon (BMO Marathon).

And let me tell you, it ain’t pretty.

I’m talking big juicy blisters under the pads of my toes.
I’ve even resorted to painting my toenails dark red in an attempt to hide my bruised and blackened nails.

But a couple of battered toes aren’t too bad of a sacrifice when training in such a high impact sport. Unfortunately, some people suffer from joint pain and injury while training. Knees are a common casualty of runners and high endurance athletes, which is why it is important to develop even strength throughout the muscles of the legs so that the knee joint is stabilized.

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Anatomy:
Let’s break it down very simply.

kneeYour femur is the long bone in your upper leg.
Your tibia is the bone in your lower leg, also known as your shine bone.
The round bone where these two meet is called your patella, or knee cap.
Together these comprise the knee joint, one of the largest and most complex joints of the human body.

Surrounding your femur are tendons (which attach muscle to bone), ligaments (connects bone to bone/cartilage) and the muscles of your hamstring and quadriceps.

Your hamstrings consist of three muscles that originate in your pelvis and run along the back of your leg.
Your quadriceps consist of four muscles that are situated at the front and side of your thigh. These four muscles come together to form a tendon that connects to your tibia by crossing your patella.

utkatasanaWhen you bend your knee your patella glides smoothly over the bottom part of your femur, an action that is largely facilitated by the muscles of your quadriceps.

By understanding how the knee joint works and moves it is easier to imagine how a muscular imbalance in the thigh may cause the knee joint to track off course. This causes stress on the joint and can lead to injury or inflammation of the meniscus (the shock absorbing cartilage in your knee).

 

 

So how does Yoga help?

Yoga can be an excellent preventative or even restorative practice for athletes with knee or joint issues.
Yoga asanas strengthen the muscles that support the knee, which helps to stabilize it and therefore prevent injury.
Yoga also improves balance and core strength, allowing you to move tactfully while running.

Aside from the benefits of stretching and strength building, yoga helps to increase an athlete’s awareness of their body, making them more sensitive to the warning signs of potential injury.

Phew! That was a lot of information.
If you are more of a visual or kinesthetic learner check out the most recent video I filmed for the globe and mail: Utkatasana/chair pose which is particularly good for building even strength in the legs, providing stability for the knee joints.

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.42.20 PMClick the image to view video

References:
Sports Injury Advice Website
Picture of the knee: © 2014 WebMD, LLC.
Chair pose anatomy photo: © 2005, 2006 Raymond A. Long MD.

Introduction to Bandhas

Have you been to a yoga class and the teacher tells you to “engage your root lock”?

‘What the hell is a root lock?’

You glance around the class hoping to mimic a student who knows what this means, but you see no change in what the other yogis are doing?

If you’re confused by the term “bandha” you’re not alone. Even if you have been practicing yoga for many years you may have never experienced the sensation of engaging the yogic ‘locks’ or Bandhas. Discovering these three zones can unleash new potential in your practice; especially when it comes to your inversion practice (hello handstands!).

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Bandhas
There are three bandhas, or locks, within the body. Bandha means binding or bondage; it is the practice of contracting the muscles and organs of a specific region of your body and thereby controlling the flow of energy within the body.

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  1. Moola/Mula Bandha
    Also known as the root lock, Moola Bandha refers to a lift of your pelvic floor. It involves the controlled contraction of your sex organs, namely the perineal body/cervix. It is believed that by engaging this lock, the downward flow of energy known as apana vayu is forced to rise. It takes practice and awareness to keep your muscle contraction isolated to this area alone.

    • How to: Sit comfortably in sukasana, or simple cross-legged position, with your hands resting on your thighs. Bring your awareness to your breath. Once your breath is steady, shift the awareness to your perineum. For women, practice contracting the cervix and vaginal muscles, much like a kegel. For men, contract the perineum and the area above it. Hold, and then release. Practice a few rounds like this.
  1. Uddiyana Bandha
    Also referred to as the abdominal lock, Uddiyana Bandha involves the lifting of the organs in the abdominal cavity. Uddiyana means to ‘rise up’ and the practice of this bandha is said to raise prana to the higher energy centers, increasing vitality. Uddiyana Bandha should be practiced on an empty stomach and with Jalandhara Bandha engaged as well (described next).

    • How to: You can practice this lock standing or seated, whichever is most comfortable for you.
      • Standing: step your feet hip width apart and bend your knees slightly. Place palms on your thighs just above your knee joints with your fingers facing forward. Keep your spine straight and inhale through your nose. Exhale steadily yet quickly through your nose or slightly pursed lips. After you’ve exhaled completely, suck the abdomen and stomach up and in towards your spine. Hold and when you’re ready, inhale releasing the lock and letting your breath return to normal.
      • Sitting: place a cushion under your sitting bones and sit in sukasana. Place your palms on your knees and sit up with a straight spine. Inhale through your nose, then exhale steady and quickly through your nose or slightly pursed lips. After you’ve exhaled completely suck the abdomen and stomach up and in towards your spine. Hold, and when you’re ready, inhale releasing the lock and allowing your breath to return to normal.

        Practice a few rounds, taking breaks between each round to return to a steady unforced breath.

  1. Jalandhara Bandha
    Throat lock, or Jalandhara Bandha, is the contraction of the throat by releasing your chin down towards the chest. When first learning Jalandhara Bandha, practice it alone. Then, once you get comfortable, practice with other Bandhas or breathing techniques. It is believed that the squeezing of the thyroid gland as a result of this bandha can help moderate the decay of your organs. Traditionally it is said to destroy old age and death.

    • How to: Sit in a comfortable seated position, preferably sukasana, and place your palms on your knees. Take a few slow breaths and allow your entire body to relax, pausing slightly (retaining your breath) on the top of your inhale and bottom of your exhale. Inhale and hold, drawing our chin down towards your collarbone while lifting up through your sternum. Straighten your arms so your shoulders rise up slightly towards your ears. Hold your breath and the lock for as long as feels comfortable. On your exhale, gently raise your head back to center and relax your shoulders down. Return to a natural rhythm of breath for a moment and then repeat.

 

This is just an introduction to the Bandhas. Each bandha can be elaborated on with great detail, particularly when getting into the energetic influences of these three locks.

Having a basic understanding of where to focus your energy when the teacher mentions any of the three bandhas is a great start. You can practice engaging each of the locks to get familiar with the sensations and control over each area of your body.

Once you become more aware of these three areas, you will begin to notice the effects of engaging them while you are in different asanas. (Downward facing dog is a great pose to practice engaging all three bandhas). When you bring the concept of the Bandhas to your inversion practice you will notice how the drawing up of energy will help with your alignment and steadiness.

Reference:
Swami Muktibodhananda, 2013. Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Artwork:
Jaymie Johnson

Stretch out those ski legs! *Yoga for Skiers*

IMG_20141124_203529This year I converted.

I made the switch from snowboarding to skiing.

I was motivated to convert after a trip to Elfin Lake hut last winter. I watched as the skiers quickly climbed hills with their skins, while I slowly trudged up the mountain on snowshoes with my snowboard strapped to my back.

10423878_10154844867955055_1255976639566809084_nTwo weekends ago was my first time ever on skis. We hiked to Keith’s hut and skied Anniversary glacier. The next day my legs ached. Apart from being covered in bruises from all of the falls I took, my muscles were really sore-skiing gave my legs a serious work out!

So, with the start of the ski season, I’ve designed this little flow to help all the skiers stretch-it-out after enjoying some (hopefully) powder filled days!

Click for Skiers Yoga Flow
  1. Butterfly/Bound Angle Pose {Baddhakonasana}
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    Baddhakonasana stretches out the groin and inner thighs, making it a wonderful pose for after skinning up a mountain or snowshoeing.IMG_20141123_155422• Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you, if you have tight hips sit on a folded blanket
    • Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels in close to your pelvis, feet flat on the floor
    • If you are tight in the hips or groin move your heels further from your pelvis
    • Relax your knees out to the sides (like an open book), bring the soles of your feet together and grasp your feet your hands
    • For a deeper stretch, guide your feet in closer to your pelvis
    • Press the outer edges of each foot into the floor
    • Stay here and breathe
    • To try a more advanced version, extend your torso forward over your feet as far as you can while maintaining a straight spine. Once you’ve reach your maximum extension with a straight spine, begin to round the spine, relaxing the head towards the floor. Elbows should be on the outside of your shins
    To come out: Inhale, lift your knees away from the floor (like closing a book), feet flat on the floor. Next extend your legs straight out in front of you
  2. Wide Legged Forward Bend {Prasarita Padottanasana}
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    This pose helps to decompress the spine after skiing all day and stretches the back of the legs as well as the inner thighs
    • Stand so you are facing the wide side of your yoga mat and step your feet wider than hip-width distance apart
    • The taller you are the wider the distance between your feet should be; Or you can increase the distance if you want a deeper stretch
    • Feet should be parallel to each other
    • Press firmly into the mat with your big toe and outer edges of your feet
    • Inhale, place your hands on your hips, lift up through the sternum and straighten your spine
    • As you exhale, hinge your torso forward moving from the hips and maintaining a straight spine
    • When your torso is parallel to the floor, release your hands to the mat (you may need to shorten the distance between your feet if you struggle here)
    • Open the pelvis by rotating the inner groins away from each other
    • Pressing the floor away from you, inhale and lift your chest up away from the floor
    • As you exhale walk your hands between your feet, relax your head down while maintaining length in the back of your neck
    • Bend at the elbows, upper arms perpendicular to your legs, fingertips pointing forward
    • Keep the arms parallel to each other
    • Maintain the length in the front of your torso while bending forward
    • Spread and widen through the shoulder blades, lift the shoulders away from your ears
    To come out: walk your hands along the floor so that they are under your shoulders, lift your torso so that it is parallel with the floor. Place your hands on your hips and as you inhale root down through your tailbone and guide your torso to an upright position stacked ontop of your pelvis. Step the feet back hip width distance apart.
  3. Downward Facing Dog Variations {Adhomukha Svanasana}
    In one pose, downward facing dog targets many of the areas of the body that can tense up after a day of skiing. It stretches out the shoulders, hamstrings and calves. These two variations are also great ways to get the most out of this posture! 
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    • Come to all fours on your mat; knees directly under your hips, palms slightly ahead of your shoulders (shoulder width apart), press your palms and the pads of each finger into the mat firmly
    • Tuck your toes under and as you exhale lift you knees up off the mat, straightening your legs
    • Lift your sit bones high towards the sky, coming up onto your tippy-toes
    • Lengthen from your tailbone
    • As you exhale release your heels to the mat (or as close as possible), firm your outer thighs
    • Firm your outer arms and lift from your wrists up your inner arms to your shoulders
    • Firm your shoulder blades on your back and draw them toward your pelvis slightly
    • Do not let the head hang, maintain length in your neck but suspending the head in line with your straightened armsVariation I – Walk the

    Dog
    IMG_20141123_170654 IMG_20141123_170738

    • From downward facing dog; as you exhale, bend your knee (alternatively/one at a time) towards your torso, lifting the heel off the ground
    • Keep one leg straight and strong with the heel rooted down while you bend the opposite leg at the knee
    • Keep the hands pressed firmly into your mat, pressing equaling through both hands
    • Continue alternatively bending each knee until you feel you’ve warmed up the hamstrings sufficiently, then return to downdogVariation II – Knees to chest
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    • After walking the dog; Come to downward facing dog
    • Inhale and lift your heels up off the mat, sit bones high to the sky, legs straight
    • Press your hands firmly into your mat, and as you exhale bend both knees at the same time, releasing your thighs as close to your torso as possible while maintaining a straight spine
    • Hold and breathe
    • When you’re ready, inhale and straighten the legs
    • As you exhale slowly release your heels to the mat, coming back into downward facing dog

  4. Pigeon Pose {Eka Pada Rajakapotasana}
    Pigeon is an excellent hip opening posture. It targets the hip flexors (the psoas and iliacus muscles), lengthening them and increasing mobility in the hips-making it the perfect pose for skiers! If you are tight in the hips have a prop on hand, a yoga block, folded blanket or pillow will work well.
    IMG_20141122_194029 IMG_20141122_194425
    • From Downward facing dog; Inhale and shift your weight forward, brining your right knee on the mat between your palms
    • Your right ankle should be behind your left wrist, flex your right foot
    • Using your palms for support, gently lower your pelvis towards the mat while sliding your left leg back straight; the left leg should be in line with your left hip, relax the top of your foot on the floor
    • Centre your weight evenly in your pelvis and square your hips to the front of your mat; this is when your prop might come in handy, place a yoga block, pillow or folded blanket under your left hip to level out your pelvis. If your right hip doesn’t come close to the floor you can place support under both hips, ensure your pelvis is level
    • If you want a deeper stretch, slide your right foot further from your pelvis
    • Tuck your chin in slightly to elongate your spine and on your next exhale gently release your torso over your thigh; you can stack your palms and rest your cheek on your hands; or extend your arms forward, palms facing down and relax your forehead on the ground
    To come out: Inhale, pressing your palms into the mat for support, gently peel your torso up off your right thigh. Tuck the toes on your left foot under, inhale and slowly send your right leg back into downdog
  5. Low Lunge {Anjanevasana}
    This pose feels great after skiing! It stretches out the thighs and groin and offers variations depending how deep you want to get into the hip rotators.
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    • From Downdog; bring your gaze in between your palms at the front of your mat
    • As you exhale step your right foot to the front of your mat between your palms
    • Your right knee should be at a 90º angle, knee directly above your right ankle
    • Keep the right knee fixed in this position and slide the left foot away from you while lowering the left knee to the floor, you should feel a nice stretch in the thigh and groin (if there is any pain, shorten the distance between your left knee and right foot)
    • Flatten the left foot so that the top of the foot is on the floor
    • Press the big toe and heel of your right foot firmly into the ground
    • Lift your chest and firm your shoulders blades, as if you are squeezing a pencil between them
    IMG_20141123_155539
    • **advanced** From here you can roll onto the outer edge of each foot, rotating your hips towards the right. Left palm on the mat stacked under your left shoulder, place your right palm on the inside of your right knee and gently press the knee away from you, sinking the left hip deeper towards the mat
    IMG_20141123_160721 IMG_20141123_160614

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