Yoga Tutorial: How to use Props?

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Props can help you find more freedom and space as well as stability in your postures.There are great ways to use blocks, blankets, straps, bolsters and incorporate them in your practice. The more I incorporate tools in my classes, the more the students would be likely to continue using them. Let us start with your best friend.

Yoga mat

To me, an ideal yoga mat should be light in weight, natural fabric, easy to clean, and non-slippery. You can find many type and different colors on amazon too and choose the one that suite you best. There is no need to spend a fortune on your mat, but if you are getting serious about it and want a good quality may with points of alignments to help you with your posture, check here. This is a helpful resource on yoga mats that a team at reviews.com recently put together. 16 mats were put under strenuous testing, and recommendations from few certified teachers found that this is exactly what is needed for our personal practice.

Straps

There are many ways to use straps for opening the body, the shoulders, the legs, and helps you hold poses with less effort. Straps are great for lengthening, stretching after a long day sitting and when you feel stiff. A great example to open up the shoulders is as follow: Stand up in Tadasana, (standing posture), hold on to the strap with both hands wider than the shoulders. Inhale take the strap over your head and bring it behind you as you exhale. Bring the strap back over head and repeat few times.

You can use the strap as a support for any pose variation. Let’s take an example for Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III pose). Stand in Tadasana, Hold the strap on each end behind you. Step one heel on the strap. As you inhale lift up through your sternum and engage your upper back and shoulders with straight arms. Lengthen the side of your body, as you lean your torso forward and lift your leg up to warrior 3.

Straps are useful to keep alignment while performing balancing postures. Whether you are trying downward dog, wheel, or crow pose, the benefit is the same. If the elbows tend to go out toward the side, loop the strap around your upper arms to keep the hands and arms in line with your shoulders. This will considerably re-enforce your arms strength and alignment.

Another pose Utthita hasta padangusthasana, (Extended hand to big toe) is challenging and tests your physical and mental sense of balance. This pose can be performed only when your mind is calm and when you do not try to achieve the shape. Use the strap and loop it around your foot, and keep the distance between the foot and the hand as close as you can. The strap encourages you to feel stable and in line.

Straps are fairly cheap and they come in various fabrics, they are durable the buckle material varies. I use the metal one as it holds the strap better when you loop it, it is stronger than the plastic ones, but it is often presented in white and get stained easily.

Blocks

Use Blocks for proper alignment and for adjustment in your posture. They can be very useful in your practice. Blocks are essentials for beginner practitioners and for advanced yogis. They are often used when the flexibility is not quite there yet, as an example for Trikonasana (tringle pose) if you do not reach the floor with your hand.

Using a block for forward folds can be useful to find better alignment and flexibility. For example sit on the edge of the block, sit comfortably as you notice the pelvic floor moved slightly forward. Use your breath as a tool in your practice, bend forward and feel the muscles engaging in this posture.

Another helpful way to use a block is when you perform Eka pada rajakapotanasana, (pigeon pose) especially if the rotation in your hip or knee is not available. Place the edge of the block directly under your sit bone. Just like the forward fold, the block encourages a forward tilt of the pelvis and bring the body in proper alignment. It is best that you place your elbow to the ground so you do not feel too much pressure in your pelvis and if the opening in the hip is too intense. You can also use a blanket, or a bolster and place it under the sitting bone of that leg. Supporting your sitting bone will allow you to release the weight of your body and will increase your comfort in this posture. You will be able to breath more easily and deeply producing a calming effect on your nervous system.

A simple posture such as Baddha konasana, (easy sited posture), can be difficult for some with tight hips. You can support your knees with block on each side of each leg, so the weight of the legs doesn’t pull too hard on the inner thighs.

Using blocks can be very useful for arm balances. Astavakrasana, (the 8 angle pose), is great for the hips and for the core. If I do this posture on the mat, I can’t find enough hight because my core is not strong enough, and therefore the block helps lifting higher of the ground. I have more room and I can re-engage the core and get back into the posture that way.

There are many block in the market to choose from, if you are a frequent traveller like me, I suggest you to go for the foams blocks as they are light, cost is around 6 euros. A better quality block, would be to use as daily practice, bamboo block, but they are around 15 euros each. Then there are the cork blocks, more solid and grip everywhere, but they are around 25 euros each. Ideally buy 2 blocks, to perform balances postures and hold your body evenly on each side.

Blanket

Place a blanket under you pelvic floor when you are performing seated postures, as example, Upavistha konasana, (the wide legged forward fold) will helps you to engage your lower bandha by lifting up the pelvic floor. This will strengthen your inner thighs and core. You can also bend your knees if your are very stiff or place a blanket under each knee if your lower back and hips are tight.

How to use a blanket for Sirsasana, (shoulder stand). Fold the blanket, Place it under the shoulders but not bellow the neck, place the head on the mat, and lift the legs for sirsasana. Using the blanket underneath this area protects your neck.

Use a blanket for chest opening. Blosters can be expensive, so for a more budget friendly option you can roll up a blanket tight and place it under the back, in line with the spine, and lower down. Place yours arms in a T shape in line with your shoulders and the palms of the hands facing upwards. Breathe and relax in this pose for as long as you like.

I would suggest you get the Manduka Blanket made of wool, for the warmth and comfort during your practice.

Bolster

A bolster looks like a big cusson, it can have a rectangular or circular shape. It is used mostly during yin or restorative practice with the purpose of relaxing and help soften a posture and opens up the body.

A good use even at home is recommended for Savasana or Corpe pose. Savasana is the most important part of your practice, because this is when your body integrates all of the efforts you have made during the practice. Place a bolster under your knees and let the legs float freely. This will help to lengthen and create open space in your lower back and allows it to be connected to the ground.

A good way to use a bolster is to perform supported back bends. It is an immediate heart opener that allows the shoulders the chest, and the abdomen to open and relax, while the head the neck and the back are fully supported. This will also decompresses the spine.

Supported forward fold. Paschimottanasana. Forward folds are amazing the bring your awareness back into yourself, to center yourself and reconnect with your inner world. On the physical level is help lengthen and relaxes the muscles. It stretches the hamstrings, the lower back the spine, and reduces anxiety by calming the mind.

Sukasana or easy pose. A bolster is very useful here especially for those who can’t open the hips because of stiffness, and in this posture the knees won’t reach the floor. Sit on the bolster and notice the difference. Legs are open, hips are comfortable, lower back is supported and the knees are in contact with the ground. This is ideal posture for meditation practice and generally how one would sit for extended hours during yoga training or workshops. Yoginis used to sit leg crossed for long periods of time, and it can be very painful at times if your back is not strong and if your hips are not open. The bolster helps greatly.

Bolster can be costly so an alternative would be to opt for a nice blanket that you can fold tightly instead.

Yoga wheel

The newcomer in the yoga world is a narrow wide cylinder made of plastic, wood, or other materials. This tool is used to enhance flexibility, deepen stretches, and can be challenging for balancing postures. Follow a course where this prop is used for a safe and effective practice.

Use the wheel in Sukasana. (Easy seated pose). Place the wheel in between your legs, knees opened wide, and big toes touching. Place your hands on top of the wheel and roll it to extend the arms in front of you until your torso touches your thighs. You will feel a deeper stretch in your arms shoulders and back.

Supta sukasana, (reclined easy seated pose variation) is great for relaxing the shoulders with the assistance of the wheel supporting your chest. Tension is the back is relieved. Spine is lengthened. Rest the forehead on the mat. Relax and breathe.

Matsyasana or fish pose. Here the wheel helps with opening the heart, arching the back, and without straining on the neck or arms. Breathe and rest on the wheel comfortably.

Yoga Wheels are around 20 euros more or less, depending on the nature of the material used, simple or with graffiti. There are many poses you can perform with the use of the wheel and benefit from it.

These tools mentioned above are a support for you when you spend a lot of time by yourself and have no one around to help you with your Asana. They are very useful for beginners and I found to make great improvement using them.

So get ready and set yourself accordingly. Have fun and keep up with the practice! Namaste.

 

Deep in the blue.

Breathing and diving.

Very often, we find that gaining strength and body mass can help dive deeper, because when we have bigger muscles we can generate more air in our body. Each muscles are fueled by oxygen, and the harder the muscle works, the more oxygen it requires. To dive deeper and longer, you need to make good use of this oxygen, and in order to do so , you must be very calm and relaxed.

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Relaxation helps considerably to be a good free diver, that way you can be more aware of the messages sent by your body, for example, spasm in the diaphragm are the first signals letting you know that you are running out of breath and therefore time for your ascension back to the surface. But when you control your mind in being relaxed and calm you will notice that you are able to remain few minutes longer without drowning.

Yoga is one great way to improve your breathing techniques. We use the breath in yoga poses, so that we can integrate into the asana or pose with ease and focus. Some techniques can considerably help you during your free dive.

Pranayama, or breathing exercises, such as Anuloma Viloma known as alternate nostril breathing, will definitely improve your lungs capacity. Smokers who are willing to stop smoking, use this powerful technique. After some time, your body starts to heal by generating new cells. You can start with practicing “Ujjayi”breath, commonly known as “the ocean breath” or “victorious breath”. Patanjali suggests that the breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth).

Throughout an entire yoga practice, you engage, breathe, lengthen, release, and repeat in order to transition from Asana to Asana. Each of these movements helps build both physical strength in your body as well as the mental strength required to consciously flow from one Asana to another with present moment and full body awareness. Certain yoga poses can help you stretch and expand the chest, such as the heart open poses: camel pose, full bridge, fish pose matsyanasa.

Massages has been proven to promote health and wellness. Massage therapy helps reduce stress, helps body and mind to relax. Deep tissue massage focus on the deeper layers of the muscles and the fascia, releasing the muscles, and ready for wider movements.

Meditation is an other very effective technique to use to control your mind, therefore remain calm and serene while free diving.

As free divers, we must learn how to use our breath, how to control our mind and how to remain calm in every situation. Harder to say then to do, probably, but nothing is easy.

So get into it, start your practice, stick with it, and be a great free diver, or a great breather.
Diving and yoga are hand in hand practice, that changed my behavior and attitude toward life in general. In many occasions, deep diving has shown my limitations and strength. I am so grateful to breathe and be living this magic adventure everyday.

Feel free to leave your comments bellow on how the yoga helped you with your diving and life in general.

Surfing – Breathing – Meditating.

I have been teaching yoga 5 years and surfing 10 years and I am still learning. When you are out there in the surf line up, you are fully tuned with your surroundings and completely focused on what’s going on around you, if you don’t, there are chances where you could easily lose control of your balance, control over the board and control over the mind.

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I use this example as an example for life. Steady rhythm, steady breath, steady mind and therefore steady life.

Yoga is a great example and find equanimity (balance) with the breath but also with the flexibility, the strength and focus. If you clear your mind from fluctuation you will progress more.

When I am surfing, I feel like my thoughts disappear and no other emotions evolve except full awareness, the sensation of the slide on the lip of the wave.

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Just like meditation, the visions and the sensations flowing from my chest through my arms and my spine are magical, a feeling of calm peace and freedom holds me.

“Yoga and surf are naturally flowing, one by the rhythm of breath and body and the other gets you tuned with the ocean and the waves. You can’t force it but only go with it, and fully be in the moment”.

Life…. you make it. With faith, hope and discipline in your practice, you will be the King or the Queen of your own century.

Enjoy the journey.

 

 

 

How yoga promotes mental well being?

Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “unite”. Union between the physical and spiritual, body and mind. Yoga brings a multitude of therapeutic benefits. Regular practice is an essential part in our life. Yoga existed many years ago first in India and found it’s journey to the western countries, it is now firmly rooted in our culture.

The Practice of yoga provides all the physical benefits, but it also helps in the mental aspects. Yoga self practice must be adapted with full awareness in order to benefit from the positive changes, to be able to relax and release anxiety and depression. Depression is mostly due to fatigue, and stress.

Yoga effectiveness derives from the ability to release tension and cortisol level in the body. The emphasize is on deep calm profound breaths to allow the body to relax at a cellular level. Yin yoga is ideal practice, as you stretch deeply into the connective tissues, where all the magic happens. It helps in releasing tension, and letting free sensations that may rise on the surface.

When you have control over the breath you have control over the mental’s state and ability to control situations. Yoga meditation teaches you to take time to reflect on your actual state of mind, to search deep in the self. Yoga practice is about self awareness, self understanding. It helps you clarify other parts of your life, such as work, family, friends, relationships, ect…

The more you practice meditation the more you will gain control over your life and realize the changes you desire.   Daily practice will help you stay calm, focused and helps you reduce considerably your anxiety, stress or depression.

When you keep your body flexible you also keep your mind flexible. Do not let mental block control you. Set yourself free. I believe that everybody should have a healthy and balanced life style, and this is why I encourage you people to change your life for better.

 

This blog is the ultimate for self improvement this year.  With love. Namaste.

 

 

Self discovery.

Helping self and others.

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I had a conversation last night with a good friend of mine who tend to be depressed and unhappy with all his surrounding, friends and people close to him as well as with his family.

We decided to meet an clear out some points about his perception on life. I asked him what was so terrible in his life to feel so miserable everyday?  He enumerated few things that were going wrong in his life, then he continued talking until he unconsciously said, I do not love myself… I stopped him right there.

I do not have all the answers, but If I can help people in need to make them feel better with themselves, to show them how wonderful they are, I will. It is a way to heal people, but to me it is all about attitude and energy that you are willing to give. I know from past experience, the only one thing that heals every problem, is love. When people start loving themselves, they can reach toward self confidence, success, happiness, every dump on the road dissolves leaving a clear pathway for you.

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I told my friend it all starts with love, love yourself first if you want to find hapiness. Change your habits, shift from an unconscious to conscious state. Our subconscious is filled with ideas and beliefs, we don’t recognize we have. These ideas guide us by making decisions. These ideas are guiding our behavior and opinions about the world. At time they hold us back from living the best life possible, by sabotaging our efforts with negative taught. When you find one, observe and figure out if it’s worth listening to it or not. This is how we bring the conscious closer to the subconscious and continue on the road to knowing ourselves better.

Sometimes, we don’t know what we want, where to go, how to feel about certain situations, and sometimes life seem to be just so hard to cope. Make time to know what you want to do with you life, and try to know who you are. Integrate positivism and affirmations to uplift your mood.  Slowly, you will see things coming back to you. You will attract everything you need in your life.

Life is a journey of self discovery, not only it is important to love self, as only love keeps the universe together. We can really and only help others when we love and care for ourselves. Love is compassion for self, compassion for others, a deep understanding of self and others. As a reminder for all of us, we need more love, and less troubles.

This world need to be reminded of the love it carries and it’s beauty. This world need to be respected, this world need to be taking care off, this world need to be loved. You can make a change, it is up to you. Remember that you have the power to switch the light on. Feed your subconscious mind with love and let that beautiful light become your reality.

 

Please feel free to write your thoughts or comments bellow about your self discovery and if this blog helped you in anyways.

Namaste.

 

Ayahuska Journey.

The most incredible, cleansing, trans-formative and spiritual Ayahuaska journey with the true master and indigenous Indian Shaman from “Cofán tribe”, in southern Columbia, has come to Europe to provide and introduce westerners with this beautiful and ancestral medicine.

Shaman Andres Criollo, comes from a lineage of shamans and has learned the secret of the medicine from his ancestors, grand father, and father. His own grand mother is also the protector of the aye (Ayahuaska). The tribe collect the Chacruna and the Vine from the source in the profound and protected amazonian forest.

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I had the honor to meet Andres, son of the famous “Jaguar Shaman”, the most respected elder shaman man in Colombia and the highest spiritual authority of the Cofán people.

The Ayahuaska brew is prepared with care and dedication, with love, songs and prayers for long hours and even days in the jungle until it is ready to consume. The ceremony takes place in the Maluka, (the ceremonial room) is usually dark with only few candles lightened during the whole evening. The ceremony starts around 10 pm and finishes early morning. The last shot of  the Aye is taken not later then 2 am.  A small prayer is always held before the ceremony starts.

A little glass is enough to feel the effects of the sacred medicine and the effects will last hours in your system. The spirit of the aye contained in the medicine depends of the nature of the vine, some of the rarest are called the “Jaguar Yage”, others the “Lucero Yage” or bright star, and also the “Gold Yage”.

The ceremony is often guided by the shaman whistling, songs, prayers, and music instruments are used such as the harmonica, the drums and the guitar. The shaman uses the Guaira to cleans the body and mind of his patient or disciple after the ceremony and brings him peace and protection.

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After a long conversation with shaman Andres, it is estimated to be around 2000 Cofán people left (compared to 15.000 people since the 16th century) and about an average of 2800 ethnic tribe members residing in Columbia and in Ecuador. The majority of the natives tribe has been decimated with mining and oil exploration and exploitation, as well as disease and violence.

Local communities and humanitarians efforts eventually gained control over nearly 4000 square meters of rain forest insuring legal protection and created local school infrastructure for their young.  The Cofán tribes remain the authentic and unique guardians of the forest today.

Thank you Shaman Andres Criollo and Sandra Fragoso for introducing me with the sacred medicine of Ayahuaska and purifying my soul and my body. Thank you Lisa Marie Robinson  for guiding me to him. Finally thank you Frank Neubert for sharing the experience with me and for your care and support along the way.

Bless, light and most of all LOVE.

Salama Ayurveda & the Fortified Ksar of Ait Ben-Hadou Morocco.

THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS.

Salama Ayurveda is a holistic center located at the base of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The scenery and the area is beautiful quiet and this is a place where we can breathe fresh air all year around. Winter can be very cold with snow falling occasionally on the mountain slopes. Summer is wonderful, a great possibility to clean the body and the mind close to the river falling close by and listening to the birds singing while you are having a full body massage or a meditation course.

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The establishment is made of a Berber style. Khalid the owner of the centre has a magnificent spirit focusing on using all tools such as Ayurveda cooking, massage, yoga, silent walks, meditation, chants, to uplift the mind, and to make you tuned with yourself, so you can truly find the purpose of your presence on earth and understand the principles of equanimity. His aim is to make every traveler, a unique journey, with excursion in the Moroccan desert Merguza and Zagora. Options to visit the city of Marrakesh and its Medina as well as Ouarzazate and surrounding Berber villages close by other services the center provide.

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The experience this year has been one of its kind, close to nature, silent walks to waterfalls, and other trip such as camping in the desert, practice yoga and eat lot of Tajines! I was hoping for more Ayurveda type of food, and a more intensive program to detox my body and mind.

The Excursion was nice, the 4 of us, our guide, a girl from Holland and a men from Germany and myself. First camel ride for about an hour and a half felt like a full body workout! My legs started shaking and my back sore, so I decided to continue the journey walking and following our guide. Arrived at the camp we had more Arabic mint tea and a Tajine with vegetables and meat. The evening was clear and the stars shining above our heads.

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The next morning, we dealt with a little disagreement, when the weather changed to blow sand on our faces most of the day and therefore we had to cancel the yoga classes and head back to Ouarzazate that same day. The time we spent driving hours was animated by deep spiritual talks and listening to powerful sounds of music.

A good rest, a shower and a light meal and we were on the way back to Salama Ayurveda in the morning. We stopped on the caravan trade route to visit the ancient Ksar Ait Ben Hadou, the famous fortified village or Ksar in Arabic. This village is made out of natural material, covered by red mud plaster, and surrounded by high walls. I was able to take impressive shots from the UNESCO heritage site, renowned for it’s natural and cultural importance but also a site where many films have been made, such as “The Mummy”, and “The man who would be king”.

 

Apart from villages, public establishment such as a mosque, and a saint school and a public square where built. The trans-Saharian route connected Europe and North African coast. Because of such a traffic on the road with merchants transporting gold, salt and also slaves, gave no choices to locals but to build towers and high walls to protect the customers living on the site as well as local inhabitants.

The beautiful day became cooler and heavy winds have started to blow in this month of March. We kept driving toward the Mont Tishka in 2260 m altitude where snow started falling. We were driving slowly on this wet road slope after slope, turns after turns, until we arrived in the beautiful valley of l’Ourika. I conducted a yoga class the next day at Salama Ayurveda under the soft sun and with beautiful people.

 

Reference of the KSAR ofAIT Ben Haddou UNESCO World Heritage Site.

NAMASTE