Yoga

Hip Openers for Desk Workers

Hip Openers for Desk Workers

If you sit at a desk all day, like me, you probably have tight hips. Imagine if you were holding a box in your arms with your elbows at 90 degree angles -- your arms would be flexed. Now, think about holding that box for 8 hours. Your biceps would be massively sore and your triceps wouldn't have gotten work all day. 

Your hips are similar. When you sit all day, your hips are in that flexed position and your glutes are under-worked. I'm not suggesting that you go out and quit your day job, but I am suggesting that you should consider incorporating some hip openers into your exercise routine. You should also incorporate some glute strength work to help them to catch up and stay strong.

YogaSmoga Tippy Toe Leggings

Based in New York City, YOGASMOGA is a kind-natured athletic apparel company with a heart for authenticity. One thing that I really love about the company is that they refuse to photoshop the bodies of their models. They believe that we are beautiful in our natural form, and don't need to look like an unattainable standard of perfection. 

They were kind enough to send me a pair of their super popular Tippy Toe leggings, and I'm in love. The fabric feels rich and stretches really well. I did a forward fold test to check on booty transparency, and the fabric was thick enough there that people in a yoga class with me wouldn't see too much! (This is super important when looking for yoga leggings). 

I love the fit of these leggings. They stretch really well during my yoga practice, and the waistband lands perfectly on my hips -- they don't feel too high up, but they also don't slide down and expose my undies when I bend over.

If you typically find yourself between sizes, I would choose the bigger size. Otherwise, you can choose your normal size.  

They come in a number of colors, ranging from super bright neons to more subtle black. 

These leggings are made in the USA and support fair wages to workers right in our backyard. YOGASMOGA cares about people and about the environment, and they seek to do as much good as they can in their business. 

Have you tried out apparel from YOGASMOGA? If so, what did you think? What are your favorite items?

Yoga Isn't Always Pretty - And That's Okay!

yoga-isnt-always-pretty

Let's be real. Nobody's yoga looks like a Briohny Smyth video all the time. For some, more practiced yogis, it may look like that some of the time. And for other, newer yogis it may never look like that. And that's okay. 

My point may seem obvious to you, but I still think it's worth discussing.

Yoga doesn't always look the way it appears on Instagram. In fact, it often doesn't. 

Yoga is not all or nothing. You don't need to be able to put your hands flat on the ground in forward fold or slide right into the splits to be a yogi. Just come as you are to the mat. That's the beauty of yoga. It's not designed to be a competition or comparison thing. 

Maybe I shouldn't say that it's "not pretty," but rather we should redefine pretty. There is so much beauty in imperfection. There is beauty in honesty. There is beauty in vulnerability. I think those things are more beautiful, in fact, than polished perfection. 

Just to open up a bit about myself -- I am probably one of the least flexible yoga teachers in all of the land. I am substantially more flexible than I was at 19, but I'm still not super bendy, especially when it comes to center splits and straddle wide. (See the above and below photos). 

straddle-wide.jpg

Yup that's as far as I can go. And typically, I would never post something like this on social media because it doesn't make me look like a champion. It makes me look like a noob. And it feels kind of embarrassing to be so bad at center split as a yoga teacher. I tend to skip this pose because it is so hard for me (which leads to me not improving, but that's a whole different topic). 

Typically, I like to share photos that showcase things I'm good at -- like some specific arm balances or holding a scorpion pose or dancer pose. But that's not the whole story.

Here's another example. I would totally feel cool posting the photo on the left, conveniently leaving out the fact that I used the wall to get up into the post (as seen in the right photo). Oh and the fact that I only held it for like two seconds before falling out. 

handstand-truth

I hope my point is coming across clear. I'm pretty sure every yogi has fallen on their face a bunch of times. We all have weaknesses. And we should be absolutely okay with the fact that we're never going to be perfect. Instead, let's continue to learn and to grow. Let's continue to challenge ourselves and push our boundaries. Let's continue to celebrate victories and work at the things that come to us with more difficulty. 

I also hope that this encourages anyone who is new to yoga and is afraid of embarrassing themselves. We were all in your shoes once. And we all have certain poses that we struggle with. Know that it's okay to be exactly where you are. Walk into that class, feel confident, do the best you can, and come back again to continue your practice. 

In what areas do you struggle? Flexibility? Balance? Strength? Motivation? What are some of the most difficult yoga poses for you?

5 Stretches I Do After Running

5-stretches-after-running

I know that stretching + running is a widely debated topic. Should you stretch before you run? Should you stretch after you run? Does stretching and flexibility actually inhibit performance? Does it prevent injury?

By no means am I an expert at answering these questions, but I will share with you what I've learned and seen in my own personal experience. 

running

As a certified yoga instructor, I'd be lying if I didn't say that my point of view is a little biased towards stretching. I think that flexibility and stretching is an important component of any fitness regime. I actually got into yoga originally to cross train and prevent injury from my long distance running practice. And then I fell in love -- another story for another time. The point is, I've found stretching to be a wonderful and healthy complement to running for me. I feel more nimble, more athletic, and less prone to injury because of this. 

That being said, I do not do any static stretching before I run. I've found that stretching before I run actually exhausts my muscles and inhibits my performance. So instead of holding a forward fold or a calf stretch before I run, I do a handful of dynamic stretches and then get a move on. 

I do like to stretch after I run. For me, it's a win-win. Stretching after I run is good for both my running practice and my yoga practice. My muscles are super warm, so I can actually get deeper into stretches than I would be able to cold, and a goal of mine is to continue to increase flexibility. And it helps me to relax after my run.

seated-hurdle-stretch

Here are the 5 stretches that I like to do after running. Before I hop into the first stretch, I do a quick cool down walk. 

1. High Lunges

2. Standing Forward Fold + Wide Leg Forward Fold 

3. Standing Quad Stretch

4. Seated Hurdle Stretch

5. Pigeon Pose (Glute Stretch)

Those are my typical 5. But if I'm feeling tightness in other places, I'll stretch those out too. For instance, if my hamstrings are especially tight, I'll do a standing one leg hamstring stretch before I go into forward fold. Or I'll throw in a curb calf stretch if my calves feel tight. 

Lately, I've also been moving into my full side splits after pigeon. That has nothing to do with running, I'm just taking advantage of my muscles being warm to move further into this stretch.

I'm also interested in foam rolling. I don't currently do it as part of my recovery routine, but I know a lot of people who really love the post foam roll feel. I'm curious to know your thoughts about foam rolling and stretching!

Do you stretch after you run? Do you foam roll?

5 Tips for Improving Your Flexibility

improving-flexibility

Are you one of those people who can curl 35s or run a full marathon, but can't touch your toes to save your life? It's okay. I've been there. You're not stuck in this place. You CAN improve your flexibility with practice. 

And I'm here to help! I recently restarted my 100-Day Stretching Challenge to continue improving my flexibility. You're more than welcome to join me!

Either way, here are my top 5 tips for improving your flexibility:

1. Hydrate

Your body needs water. It needs it to stay alive, to workout, and to be flexible. Make sure you hydrate appropriately (I recommend at least 80oz of water every day). Don't believe that it makes a difference with flexibility? Experiment with it yourself. I'm confident that you will notice a difference in both your energy and your flexility when your body is hydrated. Just do it. 

2. Warm Up

Before you pull a muscle sliding into the splits cold, take some time to warm up. I like to be efficient and just stretch after my workouts (that way my body is already warm, and I don't have to warm up again for stretching). If you like to stretch first thing in the morning, just do some burpees or jumping jacks or something so that you break a little bit of a sweat. This will help to get you deeper into your stretches without pulling something. 

Still, you should take it slow with your stretches. Do some easy preparatory stretches before trying an extreme stretch like wheel pose or the splits. Circle your neck, roll your shoulders, do a light back bend, do some lunges, whatever gets you moving towards your destination pose. 

3. Breathe

Breathe into your stretches, and breathe deeply. Keep the oxygen coming, you need it while you are stretching. Also, deep breathing will help you to relax, which will in turn help your muscles to relax. 

4. Be Consistent

Stretching one day and then not stretching again for a month won't increase your flexibility in any noticeable way. Try stretching every day for 10 minutes. If you miss a day, don't beat yourself up. Just get back into it the next day. 

5. Keep it Up

I've noticed that I can lose my flexibility really quickly when I stop stretching for a while. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that you people lose about 7 percent of hip flexibility after not stretching for a month. That's significant! 

When you work really hard to increase your flexibility, you don't want to throw all of that away. Continue to stretch a couple times a week to maintain your flexibility. 

How to prepare for your first yoga class

So you did it; you signed up for your first yoga class! Congrats, you [probably] won't regret it. (kidding!! You'll love it.) I know a lot of y'all have been interested in yoga and/or dabbling in a home practice here and there and have been reluctant to take the public plunge of going to a class. 

I totally get it. 

It's intimidating to sign up for an in-person yoga class. If you're incredibly unflexible (like I was when I first started practicing several years ago), you're probably expecting to make a fool of yourself. You may be under the impression that everyone in the class will be skinny vegans who watch TV in the splits. I thought that too. 

Luckily for all of us, that is not the case -- and it's also not the right mindset to go into a yoga class. Unlike most athletic ventures, yoga isn't a competition. It's designed to be a personal journey towards becoming a better, more balanced, and more limber version of yourself. And you know what, everyone has to start somewhere. There's no better time than now to start up a yoga practice. 

I often hear people say, "Well, I'm just not flexible enough to do yoga." And I always reply, "You know who's flexible? People who do yoga."

It's a vicious cycle that non yogis get themselves into. I was totally there with ya. I didn't practice yoga because I thought I wasn't flexible enough, and I got more and more unflexible because I continued to not practice yoga. 

Doing yoga will help to increase your flexibility -- no doubt about it. Excuse busted. 

The next question I often get is, "Can't I just practice at home?" The short answer is yes, of course. But it's a bit more complicated that than. It's always nice to build a yoga practice on a solid foundation. Going to an in-person class will help you to start your practice with good habits and good form. Just like any other exercise, you don't want to do yoga with bad form. Bad form can keep you from growing in your practice and it could also cause injury. Nobody wants to claim a yoga injury. 

I like to encourage people to attend in person classes at least at the beginning, when they are first learning poses. I also like to encourage people to do check-ins every once in a while (if they don't want to or can't afford regular classes) just to make sure that their form and alignment is still in the right place. 

How did I get so distracted? I'm supposed to be telling you about how to prep for your first class. Let do a Q&A:

What should I start doing as soon as I sign up?

Stretching. Begin to make stretching part of your daily routine. It can be as simple as forward folds, lunges, neck rolls, and shoulder rolls to begin with. You could even try my popular 100-day stretching challenge.

Should I warm up before class?

I'd say yes. You're much less likely to pull a muscle during yoga if your muscles are warm when you go in. Maybe try walking or biking to class. Or just do 25 jumping jacks before class -- whatever works for you.

Should I eat before class?

That's a tough one. You don't want to go into class starving, but you don't want to go in with a fully tummy either. I recommend positioning your meal about 3 hours before your class. If you get really hungry before, have a light snack. You don't want to be the person who accidentally lets one loose in class-- especially if it's your first class. 

What should I wear?

 Top: Element | Sports bra: Lorna Jane | Pants: Lululemon | Shoes Chaco | Mat: Manduka Pro | Water bottle: Nalgene

Top: Element | Sports bra: Lorna Jane | Pants: Lululemon | Shoes Chaco | Mat: Manduka Pro | Water bottle: Nalgene

Pants: I like to wear form fitting pants or shorts. I don't like loose pants (the traditional bell-bottomed yoga pants) because the extra fabric gets in my way. And running shorts are a bad choice because I don't want people to be able to see up the leg of my shorts. 

Pro tip: make sure to do a see-through check on your pants. A lot of yoga pants that appear to not be see-through when you are standing upright become very see-through when stretched into a forward fold. It's a weird thing to do, but do a forward fold in front of a mirror or a friend to see if you can see things through them. Save yourself the embarrassment in class. 

Tank: I like to wear tank tops, as opposed to tshirts, because it gives my arms freedom of movement. If I pick a more loose tank, I just tuck it into my pants/shorts when we do downward dog or anything upside down. 

Sports bra/undies: As for the stuff that goes under my clothes, I just like to make sure there is enough support in my sports bra and that my undies/panty line can't be seen through my pants.

Shoes: I pretty much always wear sandals to class. That way you can just slip them on without dealing with socks. And I've found that my feet are less smelly when I wear sandals, as opposed to running shoes.

Hair: I like to wear mine in a low pony or braid. That way it doesn't get in the way when I'm laying on my back or when I'm balancing on my head.

What should I bring?

what-to-bring-to-yoga

Keep it simple. Bring water, a mat, a towel (if you're doing hot yoga), and a good attitude. 

What should I do when I get into class?

Arrive early so that you can get your pick of spots in the room. Try to be courteous and quiet. Most classes seem to have the short edge of the mat facing the front of the room, but just do what others seem to be doing with their mats. If you notice people grabbing blocks/straps from the supply room, get the same things they're getting -- if they're regulars, they'll know what the instructor uses.

Make sure you either turn your phone off or edit the settings to where it won't vibrate or ring. Don't disrupt the class. Once you have yourself situated, sit down on your mat and do some light stretches on your own. Or you can sit patiently and wait for the instructor to begin.

What should I expect?

Expect to be challenged and surprised at what you're able to do. Have an optimistic and playful mindset towards this new adventure. Don't take yourself too seriously. If you can't touch your toes and if you fall out of a pose, that's okay! Yoga is a journey. Enjoy the place you are in. 

Also, expect to be really sore the next day. You'll be moving and stretching muscles in a way that you're probably not familiar with. Keep at it, and the soreness will subside.

True peace

True peace

Keller starts to define peace by saying what it's not: the opposite of peace is fear and worry (Eph 4:6). That's tough for me to hear because I am SUCH a worrier. I am the type-A girl who likes to know logistics months in advance. Having the rug ripped out from under me is not part of the plan, and it gives me anxiety.

5 Workouts You Can Do While on Vacation

5 Workouts You Can Do While on Vacation

Spring is here, and that means that a lot of us are prepping for vacation time (yayy!!). Now we have all worked really hard to get our bodies into vacation shape, and it’s totally not worth it to blow all of that while you’re on vacation. I’m not saying to spend your whole vacation eating kale and working out, but make time in your schedule (maybe wake up early) to squeeze in a workout.

Here are 5 workouts you can do while you’re on vacation. They don’t require equipment or a gym.