Mindful Movement - Sun Salutations: Ardha Uttanasana

Ardha uttanasana (half stretch pose) seems to be a pose that I see done incorrectly so often. Because this pose is part of the Sun Salutation sequence, it is a common pose in many classes. It is not a difficult pose with immense sensation to discover. However, I feel as though this pose is not given the time and space for it do be taught or practiced correctly. 

The point of the pose is to lengthen the hamstrings and to strengthening the back muscles. If this pose is done with a curvy spine the work is being put in straining the back, and that is the last thing that we want to do. Avoid locking in the knees. Engage your quads, lift the knee caps and find the tailbone and crown alignment. 

I like having my feet hip distance apart with my knees slightly bent. Placing my hands on my shins, I activate my spine by engaging my extensor muscles. Ensuring that your neck is free, use your latissimus dorsi muscles to bring the shoulder blades away from the ears. A common error I see is long legs with a curvy spine with the hand on the shins. I like to focus on giving the cue, "Feel your tailbone go to the back of the room and the top of your head towards the front of the room. Make sure your back is flat enough to balance your brunch on there." 

Below is a video of how I lengthen the hamstrings and strengthen the back in ardha uttanasana, as flow through the Sun Salutations. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Sun Salutation: Uttanasana

Flowing from the last post, our Sun Salutation starts with reaching our arms up in urdhva hastasana, then we fold forward to Uttanasana. Bowing down to salute the sun has many benefits. Stretching the hamstrings and lengthening the entire back of the body is the intention. Folding forward is also a great way to decompress the spine. Going upside down is a nice way to change the orientation to gravity to bring blood flow to the brain. After a long day sitting or standing, allowing the spine to release in a forward fold can be a a quick way to "wake up"! There are two versions I would like to share today:

1.) Sukha Uttanasana - (Easeful Stretch Pose) is when you are folded over with bent legs. I like to place focus on lengthening the vertebrae versus lengthening the legs. Allow gravity to be the primary force. When I practice and when I teach, I create space to be really easeful in my first forward fold. I usually have my knees bent enough so my thighs make contact with my belly. I hold opposite elbows and sway side to side. Shaking my head yes and no allows me to feel like I am releasing tension in my face, jaw and neck. When I look around the class, there are always a few yogis that still keep their cervical (neck) muscles engaged. Reminding them to release the back of the neck, I see the head slowly drop even more. During this easeful forward fold, I like to invite the yogis in my class to "shake it out." I do this by doing little bounces of the knees while the spine is flexed over. I energetically visualize that I am releasing any extra energy that I might of picked up from others throughout the day or week.

2.) Uttanasana - An active forward fold. Working towards lengthening the legs, reach the crown towards the Earth. Keep weight forward with the hips of the heels and intention on lengthening the whole backline of the body. Allow the trapezius muscles to stay soft. Focus on creating space out the back of the heart and especially the backs of the legs where the hamstring will experience a juicy stretch.

Below is a video of how I open up and lengthen the back of the body in uttanasana, as I flow through the Sun Salutations, I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Sun Salutations: Urdhva Hastasana

An active yoga class is not complete unless there are a few Sun Salutations. Also known as Surya Namaskara, it is a flow to salute and bow down to the sun for all of its offerings. I feel it keeps us connected to the traditions of the ancient practice. It is a series of poses that are energizing. Focusing on connecting breath to movement, the body heats up from within. Holding certain poses can also build strength. The first pose of the sun salutation is Urdhva Hastasana - Upward Hand-Pose.

First, ground down the feet. I like having my feet hip distance apart. Root your energy down then lengthen through the spine with an inhale and allow your arms to float up. The intention is to feel a shoulder opening and to expand your inhalation. There are two versions. When reaching your arms up be clear with which version you want to commit to. 

Version one: is lengthening the arms so high that the shoulders reach up to the ears. Feel energy out the fingers and the body creating space along the sides of the body. Engage the entire body, with intention of reaching energy above and beyond the ceiling.

Version two: is has the feeling of a gentle opening of the chest with the heart radiating up and out towards the sun. Soften the shoulders. Release the trapezius muscles and perhaps engage the latissimus dorsi muscles to bring the scapulae bones away from the ears. Be sure to feel a lift out of the torso. Never collapse in the lower back.

Reach up however you choose to. Commit to reaching up out the fingers (version one) or out the heart (version two), then we will continue to flow forward to the next pose.

Below is a video of how I open up to expand out before I flow through the Sun Salutations, I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Chest and Shoulder Stretch

Gravity is acting on our bodies all the time. As we eat, look at our phones, work in front of computer, the list can go on forever, unless you are consciously thinking about your posture, the tendency to allow the shoulders to drop forward is normal. Growing up as a dancer, posture was something that I was aware of all the time, however now as I practice and teach lots my shoulders get stronger, but also tighter if I do not give them some love. For athletes, artists, humans, here is a mindful movement exercise for the shoulders and chest that I feel anyone can benefit from.

Start on your belly. Extend your right arm out directly out to the side from your shoulder. If you want more sensation, bend your arm to 90 degrees. Perhaps try both to see what your body is craving. Place your left hand beside your left shoulder. I like tenting my fingers, making my hands look like a spider to keep the hand alive and active. Push into the left hand and roll towards the right. It really does not matter what your lower body looks like, the intention should be stretching in the chest (pectoralis major muscle) and the front of the shoulder (anterior deltoid muscle). Rest your head onto the mat. There is no need strain or stimulate any other muscles. Use gravity in your favour. Let the posture do the work. All you need to do is be there and breathe. I like to inhale to acknowledge the sensation, and then to exhale the "stuff" we may be holding in there. Hold for 5 breaths or as long as you feel guided to do.

If you want even more sensation, lift your left arm off the mat and towards the sky. This allows the body to open up even more. Simply let the body roll to the right as you stretch into the right shoulder and chest. Soften with every exhale and then repeat on the other side.

Below is a video of the movement I do to use gravity to open up my chest and shoulders in my practice and in my classes. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Side Flexion of the Spine

Expanding on spinal health, side flexion of the spine is a move that I love to incorporate in my practice and when I teach. I like to visualize we are creating space for our organs to work effectively and efficiently. We can flex the spine while we are in a seated posture, table top, but my favourite way of flexing the spine side to side is when I am standing.

Ground down both feet, hip distance apart, reach the arms above your head, clasping the fingers and release the index fingers. Feel length of the spine as you inhale and then side bend to one side keeping your nose, heart, and belly button facing forward. Visualize the space between the ribs are expanding and making space for the lungs and other organs to do their job. You can choose to hold there for a few breaths, thinking length versus crunching in the side. I like to inhale lengthening up and bending to the side with an exhale. Inhale lengthen back to centre and then make my way to the other side. Imagining that you are between two panes of glass to ensure it is a true side flexion. Containment of the abdomen will also protect the lower back.

In addition to side flexion of the spine, I like to look down and bring the top should down to get a stretch diagonally across the back. Breathing in space towards the back of the ribs and lungs. It appears to look like improper form, but should feel nice and juicy. I encourage my yogis to do this if they need to get oxygen to their brain after sitting down for long periods at time. Keeping the spine limber is essential to overall physical and mental health. Healthy spine, healthy life.

Below is a video of the movement I do to explore side flexion of the spine in my practice and in my classes. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Spinal Rotation

"A man is a young as his spinal column" - Joseph Pilates

Simply put: healthy spine, healthy life! In every yoga practice and in every yoga class that I teach, I make sure I warm up the spine. I move forward, back, side to side, and rotations around the vertebrae. It is our centre, our actual core of our body, it is where all of the nerves run throughout our body. I like to articulate the importance the spine's mobility to insure the clear communication of the nervous system - especially between the head to heart, and heart to head.

There are so many ways you can safely warm up the spine with a twist. My favourite way is to start in a table top. When I do rotations, I like to have my toes together and my knees apart to create a wide foundation. Ground your left hand directly in front of your face and reach your right arm up. Reaching above and beyond, towards the sky. Perhaps even reach behind you to feel an opening in the pectoralis major muscles in the chest. Feel energy radiating out of your heart and fingers. Then thread your right arm through the window between your left arm and knees. Allow your head to rest on the mat and then gently press your left hand down to twist deeper into the spine. Inhale as you reach up and out, exhale as you twist inwards. 

Use your imagination. Visualize the sun shining on the right side as you expand towards it just as a flower would absorb all of the sun's powerful energy. As you twist your spine, visualize how you wring out a dirty wet towel. 

Really allow your breath to guide you through this movement. I like to explore my lung capacity as I explore the mobility in my spine. I reach up as I inhale, and keep reaching until my breath goes silent, then it is my exhale that brings my body to contract. I empty out all the air, visualizing I am releasing all the toxins.

This movement is great for your body physically. However, you can also make it an energetic practice. As you inhale and open up your chest, what are the feelings do you intend to create? What qualities do you want to affirm to yourself? What kind of energy do you want to radiate out? Love is a feeling I intend to feel for myself, others and the world. Fear is something I feel is "False Evidence Appearing Real," and is what I would want to release and get rid of. So as I inhale and reach up I FEEL expansive feelings of love, and as I exhale and twist, I let go of feelings of fear. Inhale the "good," exhale the "bad." Repeat on same side however many you feel guided to do, connecting to your breath, and your inner cadence within. When you are ready, ground down the other hand and repeat on the other side.

Below is a video of the movement I do to explore spinal rotation in my practice and in my classes. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Preparing for Cobra and Upward Dog

Gravity brings our upper body forward. Especially with our lifestyles of looking at our phones, hunching over while we eat, slouching as we check our emails, or release all ideas of good posture when we watch movies. At the beginning of my practice I like to do a simple exercise to increase the mobility of the spine.

It is not quite cobra and not quite upward dog. It is a gentle ripple of the vertebrae off the mat, and a cascading effect as we make our way back down on the mat. 

Let's start on our bellies. Place your fingertips off the mat. I like having the palms elevated and having the hands tented up like spiders. Keep your elbows high. Push into the floor and peel your collarbones, chest, and belly off the mat. Expand your abdomen, ribs and throat as you inhale. Then melt back down leading with the belly, then lower ribs, chest, and maybe your chin as you exhale. I like to visualize the vertebrae like a string of pearls leaving the mat, and then pearl by pearl the spine releases back on the mat. Inhale ripple up. Exhale melt back down.

Focus on opening the front of the body. No need to focus on stillness, building strength or activating a stretch during this exercise. Simply mobility. This sensation should feel juicy after a long sleep or a long day. Either way, this movement is nice to incorporate at the beginning of your practice before you get deeper into more active heart openers and back extensions.

Below is a video of the cobra and upward dog variation that I use in my practice and in my classes as a "warm-up." I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Hips and Hamstring Mobility

Hips and hamstrings are the the most popular "issues" I hear when I ask if there are any concerns I need to know about the yogis body when I first meet them. "I have tight hips," "I can't reach my toes," "I have pain in my lower back." From athletes, to dancers, to those who have never been active in their entire lives - Here are two movements / stretches that I enjoy doing to warm up the large muscles and joints in the lower body.

Illiopsoas muscle is a key muscle to flex the hip and stabilize the lower back. It connects from the lumbar vertebrae to the lesser trochanter on the femur. It can get "tight" when one sits for a long period of the day, and also when one is out and about. To stretch the hip flexor is to find a deep lunge. Ensure the front knee does not pass the ankle to create space for the maximum stretch. There are two options: to have the back knee down on the mat or off the mat. Usually I like to start with the knee on the mat, and when the body is a little warmer from within, I invite them to find the full lunge with the knee off the mat. Even though the emphasis is on the hip flexor, I like to cue feeling the lengthening of the entire front of the body. Feeling energy out the crown and out the heel as the pelvis drops to the centre of the Earth.

There are three muscles that make up the hamstrings: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. The muscles originate from pelvis to the back of the femur to the lower leg (tibia and fibula). To stretch the hamstrings is a forward fold. I like doing one leg at a time to create heat and warm up within. From the deep lunge whether the knee is on the mat or off the mat, bring the hips back to straighten the front knee. Flex the foot towards the face to ensure we truly tighten the fascia (the connective tissue that covers the muscle), and breathe through the stretch in the belly of the hamstring muscle. Also, playing with the activation of the back can change the stretch. I like thinking the spine is like a lever. In order to do the work in the right place, the spine must be active an straight. If you want to encourage mobility in the spine as well, allow the vertebrae to melt forward.

Below is a video of the forward and back motion of the hips and hamstring stretch. I invite you to press press and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Downward Dog

I remember the first 3 times I tried yoga I hated It! Downward dog was "hard" and I didn't understand why they would say, "Rest in downward dog." In my head, I was like, "What?! This is definitely not what I call resting.. my arms are getting tired! Why are we still here.?!" It gets better. I promise. 

Downward Dog pose has been in almost every active yoga class that I have been to. If it is early in the practice, I don't like to rush to find stillness so soon. I like to explore, discover, play in my first downward dog and I invite the yogis in the room to do the same. I heard Michelle Tamblyn-Sabo call it a "downward dance" and it seem to stick in my own practice and in my classes as a teacher. 

Start by having hands reach out in front on the mat or floor shoulder width apart or wider. Tuck your toes underneath you with your hips back close to your heels. Push into your hands and feet to lift the hips higher than your heart, and your heart higher than your head. Pedal out the feet. Lower one heel to the mat first and then the other. Feel the calf muscle stretch, and simply create awareness of how the whole body arrives on the mat, physically, emotionally, mentally and energetically. 

I like to massage the mat with my hands and feet. I sway my hips and ribs side to side. I like to visualize being like a tiger or tigress intentionally moving through the jungle on a hunt. I find this quite sensual as I find different areas in my body to send breath to. 

When finding the downward dog pose that is steady and still, ensure that it does not feel stiff. Have the intention to work towards finding a long spine, versus straight legs. If your knees stay bent that is fine. It is better to have bent knees than to have a curvy spine that may put strain in the shoulders and or neck. Allow your heart to melt towards the earth and not your nose. Sometimes I see the yogi's nose is reaching for the mat and there is a break in the neck. Feel the flow from the tailbone to the crown. Roll the shoulders down and back, activating your latissimus dorsi muscle so the neck can be free, and eventually it will feel like a resting pose.  

Below is a video of the downward dog pose. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

Mindful Movement - Cat Pose and Cow Pose

Every time yoga comes up in conversation, someone always says, "I'm not flexible enough for yoga." Which I find just as silly as saying, "I'm not dirty enough for a bath."

Yoga is art of connecting - to our mind, body, each other and the big picture. It doesn't have to be complicated. I know we see an abundance of strong, powerful, flexible super yogis out there on the online world that create the most visually appealing poses that may intimidate one who may want to explore the art of connecting to oneself and take a yoga class. The way I was trained at Ahimsa Yoga Centre, and the way I love to teach is to make it accessible for everyone. I honor that we are one, but we have arrived in different physical instruments that we call our bodies. They look different, move different and have lived different stories that are embedded in our essence. Open up. Allow breath / energy / prana flow freely through the body. A great way to get started is with the poses Cat and Cow.

Cat and cow are two poses that I love to start my practice with. It's simple, effective and almost everyone can do it. 

Start on your hands and knees. Hands directly under your shoulders, and knees under your hips, hips distance apart. If you need to protect your knees you can fold your mat or use a towel to add extra cushion. 

For some reason, perhaps it feels good for my body, I always seem to start with cat pose with a breath in. Press firmly into your hands, (the whole hand and not just your wrists) and puff up the back of your heart towards the ceiling. If your eyes are open, looking at your belly button helps to increase the inward curvature of the entire spine. This is flexion of the vertebrae bone.

When I exhale, I make my way to cow pose. Roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears. Look up towards the sky. I even like to add traction in the hands to open of the front of the heart even more. This is extension of the vertebrae bone.

Inhale cat pose. Exhale cow pose. Repeat.

You can change up the breathing (inhale cow pose, exhale cat) and will feel a contrast in where you feel openness versus containment. Both ways of breathing are effective. I like to allow students to explore what works for them. And I even create space for them to find neutral and change up the breathing if they choose to. 

This simple movement of flexion and extension of the vertebrae makes me feel that I am slowly starting to increase blood flow, pump lymph, and increase the communication between the nerves along the spinal cord - especially the communication between the heart and the mind. 

There is a video below is of cat and cow. I invite you to press play and come play! Namaste.

A Mindful Moment

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness can mean so much and can be practiced in every area of our lives. We can be mindful in the way we eat, connect to others, how we treat ourselves, what we choose, how we act, behave, etc. To me, I connect to the word "mindfulness" as a simple conversation with self. Developing the awareness of the thoughts and feelings that we experience within. What we see in the screen of our mind, and feel in our hearts are ways that we can communicate to our innermost true essence - our soul. Mindfulness is connection to one's mind, body and spirit. Always having a conversation with self to discover, learn and grow everyday. When you ask yourself a question, you intuitively hear the answer. The first answer that comes to mind without hesitation is the answer in its truest form. Before we start to analyze ideas and stress over details of the imaginary stories we create, we just need to trust the voice within. Here is a video that Michael D. Lorsch and I did for lululemon in the Toronto area to start the conversation of bringing mindfulness and meditation in the stores within the team. I wanted share the video for the sake of sharing a little bit about myself, but also to start the conversation of mindfulness within yourself. Ask yourself the questions that Michael asks me. Perhaps it is best to not even ask, but to simply listen. I know it is easier said than done to quiet the heart and mind, but step back and observe. Do your best to separate yourself from the stories, attachments, expectations and LISTEN. Stop. Come back to the present moment. Take a deep breath in... and a cleansing breath out... Drop the stories, come back to breath. THAT is where the mindful journey can begin. 

My Yoga Journey

Many moons ago, I discovered the love of moving. Hearing music, in the real world or in my head, I would twirl, prance, and walking on my tip toes was what I did all the time. My parents put me in ballet lessons when I was four and I haven't stopped moving since. Growing up, I explored dancing different styles - ballet, jazz, contemporary, musical theatre, hip hop and even Filipino folk dancing. I loved performing, creating, sharing the movement on stage, and creating space for the audience to feel. Competitive dancing turned to professional dancing - I thought that was my path.

I was using my friend's yoga studio Sanguine Yoga, in Calgary, Alberta just to choreograph my solos for "So You Think You Can Dance Canada." I would be there all afternoon when there were no yoga classes scheduled. I would just dance, play, create. Frank let me use the studio space for free.. What a gem! I wanted to help clean the space in exchange for his generosity. So, I joined the Karma Team: an energy exchange where people "work" at the studio and get free yoga. Then Frank was like, "Why don't you try yoga? You get it for free..!" I was like, "Sure. Why not?" I hated yoga the first 3 times doing it... I was like, "Why are we holding this pose soooo long?" As a dancer, I just wanted to move! Then there was a 30 day challenge at the studio and my ego was like, "Ouuuu.... a challenge! Let's see if I can do it." There is something about putting a sticker next to your name that is so satisfying. Anyway, after showing up on my mat consistently for 30 days, I fell in love with the practice. I felt the benefits of feeling stronger, more flexible, and easefullness in the mind at the end of each class. I would completely let go in my savasana and wake up when the room was completely empty. The floating feeling after every class was my favourite.

A couple of my yoga teachers in Calgary would ask, "When are you going to start teaching?" I would say, "Nope, not for me. I am going to focus on dancing and performing. That's what I want to do." So I did. Went to L.A. for a bit, explored New York for a couple of months. And NYC was where I wanted to relocate. Worked with a lawyer, figuring out how to get my O-1 Visa - then realizing that I needed to build my resume. So, I moved to Toronto. Stayed in my country where I was legal. Did a couple of music videos, web series, commercials... had the most random jobs to pay for my survival in my transition to the big city. Yoga is what kept me sane. 

I got a job with lululemon and their benefits program allows the employees to take free yoga classes a couple times a week. That is when I felt like I was beginning to get my footing in place. I would explore different studios, teachers and then I went to Ahimsa Yoga Centre on one Sunday morning and it changed my life. The room was packed with many different souls, but the vibration in the room brought tears to my eyes. The feeling of connecting to something outside of myself, the connection to others, the connection to the Divine big picture is what I experienced in that moment. It was that very moment, I knew in my body, mind, and heart that I just discovered the true meaning of yoga - union or connection.

Then one day, I needed guidance. I was having a midlife crises, which I usually have weekly. I went into a restorative yoga class with one of my favourite yoga teachers with the intention: "Angels, please let me know what's next... I am ready to move forward.." I didn't get any Divine messages during the practice, but as soon as the class was done, the first thing he said to me before saying anything was, "When are you going to start teaching?" I knew that was the answer loud and clear! That was the third time someone had asked me. 3 different teachers, 3 different times, same question and weird thing was that my best friend Reggie was there every time witnessing the moment unfold. So that is when I chose to dive in. I chose to develop the practice of yoga. I did my yoga teacher training at Ahimsa Yoga Centre, in Toronto and the rest is history. 

It is funny how life unfolds. I had zero intentions of becoming a yoga teacher, but now every cell in my body, mind, heart knows that this is where I belong. Thank you, Universe. Thank you!

Β 

Yoga for Strength Training

Here is my first yoga video with Fuel Training Club's Greg Hetherington. Filmed in The Attic at lululemon Queen Street West - Toronto. I am so excited to share my love of yoga with the souls that do not live in the city. It is an intentional, invigorating 30 minute flow that you can do anytime, anytime. Namaste.