Posts by Yogi Alana Ramirez

Eating for Yoga

Posted on: May 31st, 2016 By:
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Eating is an aspect of human life that takes up a large part of our mental energy. So many questions run though our minds on a daily basis, not only “What should I eat?” but also when to eat, who to share it with, whether or not we are going to eat gluten or animal products, how much sugar to consume, how much protein, how many plants, etc. The list can be exhausting.

eating for yoga

The other day I was talking to a fellow yogi about the idea of “eating for yoga” in other words, what we fuel our bodies with for a yoga practice. While we both agreed that we don’t like to eat a heavy meal before any sort of yoga practice, our in depth answer was of course, different for both of us. My fellow yogi explained to me that she follows a strict vegetarian diet, choosing not to eat animal meat for moral reasons. This reasoning I completely respect. She mentioned that she loves how energetic her body feels moving in a yoga class, not having to expend energy digesting meat. For myself, I like to base my food decisions more on the quality of where it came from and what it will do for my body and the implications it has on the environment. Whenever possible I like eating locally, instead of eating food that’s been shipped thousands of miles to get here, and I like eating food that will sustain my energy through a rigorous practice. My favorite pre-yoga morning fuel is a banana with a Vega One protein smoothie. My fellow yogi loves wheatgrass shots and oatmeal.

 

Naturally there are pros and cons to any diet we choose to follow as humans. Not a single diet is perfect for every body type, not even for every yogi. The one characteristic I realized that both my fellow yogi and I had in common when choosing what we were going to eat was that we both made our decision consciously. Though our reasons were quite different for our food choices, we both had put deliberate thought into these choices. We chose to eat certain foods over others for reasons that were more than just “because x tastes good” or “because y is cheap”.

Michael Pollan explains this concept of eating with consciousness perfectly in Omnivore’s Dilemma, “To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction. By comparison, the pleasures of eating industrially, which is to say eating in ignorance, are fleeting.”

Eating, just like yoga, can be more enjoyable and more meaningful when we do so mindfully. We already know that in yoga, letting go of the need for a posture to look flawless, or to have perfect alignment every time we practice, we are left with mindfulness. Similarly, letting go of the need to eat perfectly, or eat in one certain way we believe is right, we are left with the practice of mindful eating. When we take the mindfulness that we learn on our yoga mats, into other areas of our lives we can derive deep pleasure and satisfaction.

Relieving Back Pain with Yoga

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 By:
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Back pain is a simple complication that, in the western world, we are all too familiar with. Whether it’s from sitting at a desk in front of a computer for hours a day, from unintentionally slouching behind the wheel of a car for long periods of time, from strenuous manual labor, stress, or even menstruating, we have all experienced the toll that back pain can cause. Even in a yoga class, it is one of the more common ailments people choose to share at the beginning of class with their yoga teacher.

A healthy back means a healthy spine, and healthy spine is so important to the well-being of the rest of your body. Luckily, yoga’s got our back (pun very intended) when everyday life brings it pain and imbalance. In yoga we move the spine in various ways, that lead to the strengthening and stretching of our back. These movements can help bring relief to temporary or perpetual back pain. Here are my favorite movements and yoga poses to help combat both lower and upper back pain:
Cat-cow Majaryasana
yoga for back pain
Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a single yoga class, no matter the style, you did a couple of cat-cows. There’s a reason so many teachers incorporate this simple movement into the beginning of a yoga class- it provides a massage to the spine and awakens the back. As you alternate from arching the back to the ceiling in cat pose, to dropping your belly towards the earth in cow pose, you are providing a stretch to the spine in two different directions that feel wonderful after a long day of sitting.
Child’s Pose Balasana
yoga for back pain
Child’s pose is a beautiful thing. Not only does it provide an amazing resting position before or after any asana, it also provides much relief to back tension. When doing child’s pose with the knees together it creates a stretch for the lower back. Holding the pose in this manner, you can easy alleviate any lower back tightness or tension. You can choose to keep the hands along the sides, or stretch the arms long in front of you, pressing into the hands to create more intensity in the back stretch.
Foward Fold Uttanasana
yoga for back pain
Another very simple, yet very effective yoga posture for finding relief from back tension is to fold forward over the legs, with the crown of your head weighing down towards the earth. When we spend our days standing or sitting for hours on end, or spines become compressed. A forward fold is a great way to give the vertebrae a break from this compression, and let gravity create space in the spine again. While the pose is great for both upper and lower back pain, bending the knees deeply while in the forward fold can create more relief for lower back pain.
Happy Baby Ananda Balasana
yoga for back pain
Happy baby is always a welcome pose for me at the end of a yoga class, but especially after a long day of manual labor of any form. In happy baby, as we stretch the tops of the thighs to the earth, our spines gently stretch out on to the earth in a soothing manner. Further, as you rock forward and back, or side to side in this pose you get a nice massage for the lumbar spine and middle back. It feels especially good if the back is tight or full of tension knots.

Sanskrit 101

Posted on: April 26th, 2016 By:
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Sanskrit

Back in my days as a beginning yogi, I remember struggling with many poses, many variations, and often my upper-body strength. Well, let’s face it, I still struggle with these things on occasion. One thing, though, that frustrated me most of all as a beginner, was learning Sanskrit names for poses. As I became more and more advanced, there were times I took classes with an instructor that only used Sanskrit names for poses. During these classes I always had to look around the room desperately at my classmates, not knowing which pose was which. My physical knowledge of the postures advanced much quicker than my mental knowledge of posture names. Fast forward many years and now I love hearing and using the Sanskrit names for postures. It’s an aspect of my yoga practice that I had to mostly learn myself. I think it’s important for all yogi’s to have a working knowledge of Sanskrit names, not only because its helpful in a quickly flowing class, but because we owe it to this very ancient practice to use these traditional names for postures.

Here are a list of some basic postures, with their Sanskrit names, for your working knowledge and enjoyment:

Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward facing dog
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana Upward facing dog
Dandsana plank pose
Tadasana mountain pose
Trikonasana triangle pose
Uttanasana forward fold
Virabhadrasana 1, 2, or 3 Warrior 1, 2 or 3
Balasana Child’s pose
Uktasana Chair pose or “awkward” pose

One thing to note is the word asana, rooted in each posture name as asana itself means posture. Another thing to note are the Sanskrit words for half and revolved- ardha and parivrtta as they show up in other posture names often.

Lastly, to note, is perhaps the most beautiful Sanskrit word of all: “the light and love in me, honors and bows to the light and love in you”

Namasté

Meditations from the Mat

Posted on: April 12th, 2016 By:
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Many people on the path of yoga, or any kind of spiritual practice, have a favorite author, teacher, or go-to spiritual guide. I know that personally, I have a handful I like to take life guidance from. One of my favorite parts of a yoga class is when an instructor shares a reading or quote from one of their favorite teachers. In my classes at Sanctuary Yoga I have heard teachers share wisdom from a wide variety of spiritual leaders including Rumi, Marianne Williamson and even Buddha, among others. I love that this wisdom is shared in class, because it always inspires introspection on the mat, and off the mat into the rest of the day. I always seek out books and texts from the quotes I hear, for further insight.

Recently, in a class I was inspired by a quote from the wonderful Rolf Gates:

“A spiritual practice is one that brings us full circle– not to a new self but, rather, back to the essence of our true selves” –Meditations from the Mat

meditations from the mat

After years of eyeing Meditations from the Mat I finally purchased it after a class one day. Adding to my already full collection of spiritual books, I can tell Meditations from the Mat is going to be a book I’m going to reference over and over again. Meditations from the Mat is a guide with 365 essays, one for each day of the year, meant to be read alone, leaving time for digestion. I like to read an essay every morning before or after a short yoga practice, though it’s also nice to read at the end of a day.

Meditations from the Mat is a great read for anyone who practices yoga, or has a spiritual practice of any kind. My favorite aspect of the book is that it follows Patajali’s yoga sutras and applies them to everyday life. Having the book is like having your own private yoga teacher and mentor guiding you through the meanings of the eight limb path of yoga. Understanding these eight limbs, and how we cycle through each of them throughout our lives, both on and off the mat, brings a deeper meaning to any yoga practice. If you’re looking for a new spiritual or yogic guide, I highly recommend Meditations from the Mat.

The Amala Foundation: A Brief Introduction

Posted on: April 5th, 2016 By:
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Why do you practice yoga?

I ask myself that on a regular basis. Often the answer is egocentric. I practice yoga to be healthier, to be fit and flexible, or to work towards a personal spiritual goal. These are all good and valid reasons to practice yoga, and the personal benefits of a yoga practice are well understood by anyone who has sweated through a vinyasa class.

So how much more awesome is it that a deeply personal practice can also benefit the wider community, can benefit youth of widely varying and often unimaginably difficult backgrounds?

That is the benefit of the Amala Foundation. Every time you practice yoga at Sanctuary Yoga, or rent their event space, you benefit this amazing organization, a foundation that supports the “social emotional learning” of refugees, immigrants and at-risk youth through a variety of programs. Many of us have practiced yoga at Sanctuary without knowing of the breadth of the organization we are supporting. Thus, it’s important to take note of just how wonderful The Amala Foundation really is.

The Amala Foundation runs Camp Indigo, which supports youth aged 4-12 in developing mutual respect for each other as well as promoting increased confidence in a creative environment, through yoga, gardening, self-portraits, and other creative and communal pursuits.

The Amala Foundation also holds The Global Youth Peace Summit, which brings together older children to cultivate a spirit of peace, but most of all to “be real”. Come as you are is the motto, and they do. Young people, our future, coming from war-torn countries, or poorer countries, or from a variety of difficult backgrounds. Look through the testimonials of youth who have benefited from these summits (the 10th Annual is coming up in August!). You will be struck by the compassion and thoughtfulness of the youth who participated.

amala foundation

“Amala” has numerous meanings, including “hope”, “work”, and “pure”. The next time you are in a yoga class at Sanctuary Yoga, remember these meanings, and remember that you are benefiting a future generation, giving hope to children now so that they may work to build a future that is more pure than the present.

30 Second Mindfulness

Posted on: March 27th, 2016 By:
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In the Western world, the idea of mindfulness has gone viral in recent years. This is a great thing of course, as our over-worked and over-consuming culture needs more mindfulness. The one resonating complaint people still give though, is not having enough time during the day to practice any kind of mindfulness. My favorite thing about mindfulness is that it completely diminishes this complaint, as it can be achieved in as little as 30 seconds!

Here are my favorite ways to mindfulness, that can all be achieved in 30 seconds or less:

Smell the nearest flower.

Stand up strait and tall, and practice your best tadasana, mountain pose.

Grab a pen, and sketch the nearest edible object.

Write down two things you are grateful for, in this very moment.

Take two deep inhales and exhales. Flutter your lips like a horse as you exhale the second time.

Stand up and stretch your arms out into a “T”. Inhale as your stretch them up to the sky and together.

Notice your posture in this very moment. Are you slouching? Are you leaning on an object? Try to reach the crown of your head to the ceiling. Lower your shoulders away from your ears.

Smile until you start laughing.

Drop your chin to your chest. Release the weight of your head, now roll it from side to side, pausing at any tender spots.

Go outside. Close your eyes and point your nose up to the sun.

mindfulness

Some of these activities may be strange and some of them may not make sense, but they are all guaranteed to make you more in tune with the present moment. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a chore or a 15 minute meditation, it can simply be remembering to stop and walk through life with a little more consciousness and a little more awareness, even in small 30 second moments.

Hot Yoga: Are There Actually Health Benefits?

Posted on: February 7th, 2016 By:
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hotyoga

If you’ve been practicing yoga for at least a year, chances are you’ve taken part in a hot yoga class. These sweaty yoga classes take place in a heated room, ranging any where from 75 degrees heated to 104 degrees heated. At one point in my yoga journey I was addicted to these hot yoga classes. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel satiated unless my yoga was hot, and I was leaving class dripping sweat. I felt like I had worked a lot harder after one of these hot yoga sessions. You could say, many yogis today are still addicted to hot yoga. Many studios accross the country offer hot yoga, and yogis pack in like sardines for these classes and their supposed health benefits.

But what are the actual health benefits of hot yoga? It seems many are under the impression that there are many, though there isn’t much science as proof. One of the more popular benefits that yogis believe in is that you are burning more calories during these heated yoga sessions, than you would say, in a normal temperature yoga room. According to a recent study done by a team at Colorado State University, after measuring the metabolic rates (how many calories were burned) in a group of people in a 104 degree, 90-minute heated yoga class, the metabolic rates were found to be similar to that of people walking briskly. In other words, not nearly as high as one would assume, considering how depleted your body feels after a 90 minute hot yoga session. Of course, the hot yoga proved to be good for increasing heart rate, though this can be done in any yoga class.

For some that are addicted to the perspiration, many non-heated vinyasa classes can offer the same amount of sweaty satisfaction, without the high temperatures. I know recently, during my intermediate vinyasa class with Laura Joy DeBolt at Sanctuary yoga I was sweating immensely, and the class was not heated. If you’re looking for a sweaty, detoxifying work-out, look no further than any vinyasa class, the harder you work, the more benefits you will receive, hot yoga class or not. After all, there is something even more satisfying about building your internal heat, or prana, all on your own during a yoga class.

Benefiting from Core Strength in Everyday Life

Posted on: February 2nd, 2016 By:
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In nearly every asana we practice in yoga, we are utilizing our core strength in some way. Our core strength is important to the integrity of many different postures as it keeps us steady and prevents us from injury. As we hold a tree pose, transition from upward facing dog to downward facing dog and even while we practice the warrior series we are utilizing our core strength. It’s certainly not fruitless when our instructor asks us to hold plank pose or boat pose for an extra couple of breaths. Here are some of my favorite ways that we benefit, in everyday life, from the core strength we gain while practicing yoga.

core strength

Keeping Good Posture
For many westerners, a large amount of the daytime is spent either sitting at a desk or sitting behind the wheel of a car commuting in traffic. Our core strength helps us to have good posture while we are sitting for these long periods of time, protecting our spine and shoulders from perpetual slouching. Having good posture is more effortless with a strong core.

Carrying and Moving Objects Safely
When we have a strong core we are able to move through our day, picking up groceries, children and other heavy objects more efficiently. Not only does our core help us pick up and move these objects more efficiently, but our core helps us to do so more safely than we would with a weak core. Having core strength protects the back from getting injured when lifting a heavy object or doing any strenuous activity.

Running and Other Athletic Activities
Many activities, including something as basic as running, require core strength. During these activities our body demands the stability and balance that our core strength provides. Imagine trying to surf, roller blade or even ride a bike with no core strength. Our bodies wouldn’t be able to take part in any of these activities without a strong core without toppling right over. Additionally, the core helps us have more coordination between our upper and lower body.

Even though dripping sweat while holding plank pose for the 5th time during a yoga practice may bring us internal frustration, knowing that we are making a difference in our everday movements can provide enough justification to push through it next time.

Meditation in Austin

Posted on: January 24th, 2016 By:
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Sometimes, living in Austin, the choices we have for everything ranging from food, fitness and overall wellness can be overwhelming. In any given part of the city there are so many wellness business options that it’s often easiest to just go with the most convenient, location wise, or the most affordable. The fact that we are such a wellness minded city is great though, because it creates opportunities for many different types of people to participate in healthy activities such as yoga and meditation. Recently, I’ve had an increasing number of friends of mine inquiring about where the best places for meditation in Austin are, especially for beginners who want to learn how.

The truth is, one of my favorite places to meditate is in the comfort of my own home, first thing in the morning or right before bed. I’ve learned a lot just by practicing with meditation at home, reading different spiritual books as a guide. That being said, there is something powerful about meditating in the presence of others, especially in a yoga studio, with an instructor leading you through. For those that seek guidance in their meditation practice, Sanctuary Yoga offers a Yoga and Meditation class 4 days a week. The majority of these classes are taught conveniently after 5pm. While almost any yoga class these days will give time for meditation, it’s refreshing to take a class that dedicates itself to the practice of meditation just as much as the practice of the asanas. It’s also helpful to take the Yoga and Meditation class on different days because each Sanctuary instructor provides different ideas on how to find a relaxing meditative state. With the support of Sanctuary Yoga’s beautiful space, and wonderfully led yoga classes, it becomes one of my top recommendations for meditation in Austin for anyone.

meditationinaustin

Of course, meditation in Austin is wonderful to do outside too. Knowing that we typically have over 200 hundred days of sunshine each year in Austin, parks, barton springs and even the greenbelt become ideal places for meditation in Austin. Luckily for us, Sanctuary Yoga offers greenbelt yoga every Saturday at 10 AM. There’s nothing more satisfying than yoga and meditation underneath the blue skies and sprawling trees of the greenbelt.

Perhaps finding meditation in Austin is easy for some. For those that need the extra guidance and community environment, Sanctuary Yoga’s meditation offerings are suitable for just about anyone. I hope to see you on the mat soon.

Pranayama 101

Posted on: January 18th, 2016 By:
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pranayama

More often than not, the first, and sometimes last, 5-15 minutes of a yoga class are spent on centering, intentions, and pranayama. Though it may sound daunting to both novice and expert yogis, pranayama boils down to a simple meaning. The word pranayama comes from two sanskrit words: prana, meaning vital life force and ayama meaning to extend or draw out. Our vital life force is our breath, and when we consciously extend or control our breath we end up with the practice of pranayama.

Pranayama is transformative and can take on many different forms. I am here to break down a few of the many pranayama techniques for you. That way, the next time your instructor mentions the word Kapalabhati, your face won’t be overrun with anxious confusion. We’ll start with one of the the more simple forms of pranayama, first.

Ujjayi

Ujjayi can also be translated as the “victorious breath”. When your instructor guides you to inhale and exhale out of your nose, constricting the back of your throat, this is called Ujjayi breathing. This is an audible breath that will carry you throughout your poses in a flowing yoga class. It can sustain your energy effectively throughout even the most challenging asanas. Think of yourself fogging a mirror with your breath, and then do so with your mouth closed. Another way to cultivate this ujjayi breath, is to mimic the sounds of ocean waves, or alternatively, Darth Vader’s breath.

Anuloma Viloma

This is known more simply as “alternate nostril breathing”. Anuloma viloma is done by alternating inhales and exhales through each nostril. Typically, anuloma viloma begins by closing off the left nostril and inhaling through the right, holding, and exhaling through the left nostril as the right nostril is closed off. The cycle is then repeated by inhaling through the left nostril, pausing, holding and exhaling through the right nostril. Often times many practice extending their exhales a couple of counts longer than each inhale. This helps to remove carbon dioxide from the blood stream, and promotes relaxation. Additionally, anuloma viloma is known to balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain, balancing ones creative and logical abilities. If you have a regular meditation practice, anuloma viloma is also a fantastic precursor.

Dirgha

This is known as 3-part breath. The breath travels through three parts off the body- the belly, rib cage and upper chest all the way up to the collar bones. Dirgha is a great pranayama to practice at the beginning of a yoga practice, as it makes you very conscious of the way breath travels through your body. It’s best practiced in a comfortable seated position or even lying on your back. Personally, I like to place one hand on my stomach and one hand on my chest to feel the breath traveling. You begin this breath by inhaling first into the belly, letting it fill up completely, then continuing your inhale so that your ribs expand and finally your chest rises. You exhale so that your chest falls, you feel your ribs contract and finally the belly contract. It’ helpful to imagine the breath as a wave flowing in and out of these three chambers of your body.

Kapalabhati

This pranayama technique is one of my favorite, and better practiced once you’ve had some experience with pranayama. It can also be referred to as “Skull shining breath” as kapal means skull (including the organs underneath) and bhati means shinning or illuminating. Kapalabhati is rejuvinating and purifying; you can do it in an easy seated position or even while holding certain asanas for an extra challenge. It’s great for cleansing the lungs, sinuses and overall respiratory system. Kapalabhati consists of short powerful exhales through the nostrils, and passive inhales; you can work your way up to many rounds a minute, though 20 rounds is a good place to start . Regular practice with kapalabhati can strengthen abdominal muscles as well as your immune system.

Pranayama is a rewarding way to not only end or begin a yoga class, but is a great way to keep you conscious and energized throughout your yoga practice. If your mind is traveling to too many places, it’s a great way to recenter. If you’re energy is lagging, it’s a great way to reenergize. If you’re feeling stressed of over stimulated, it’s a great way to relax. Over the years, I’ve come to love practicing pranayama just as much as the asanas. After all, without breath, yoga would just be another aerobics class without the spirit and vitality that makes it wonderful.