The Importance of Stretching

flexibility (2)I hear the complaints of not being flexible all the time but very rarely do I see anyone that is actually motivated to do something about it. I can only assume this is because people don’t understand the importance of stretching and flexibility.  I also know stretching can feel more like a chore than pleasure and if you don’t know what you are doing then you won’t see much progress.

Stretching has not only physical benefits but also mental, spiritual, and psychological benefits. Some of the tops benefits for me are:

  • Flexibility determines what movements you are able to make and how fast, accurate, and powerful they can be. If you are involved in sports this can be a key to getting an edge over your competition.
  • Flexibility helps your posture become more upright without mental reminders and your body become more relaxed as it reduces overall tension in the body. Better posture also helps you breathe deeper which improves overall health.
  • Flexibility relieves pain, prevents injuries, and helps relieve stress.
  • Flexibility teaches you how to embrace being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Stretching
This is something you can do on your own whenever and wherever you want. All you need to know is the top five stretches that work for you. You could do a google search or you could ask a physical therapist, massage therapist, personal trainer or fitness instructor for recommendations based on your body. I also do skype sessions with clients to teach them a stretching routine and make personal youtube videos for them to follow along with. A small routine can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes a day and will make you feel so much better.

Yoga
Try it on your own, go to a class at a local studio, try a class online with YogaGlo or Gaiam. This is an arena that it is best to do your homework first. Yoga can help you become more flexible but depending on the style of yoga it could be a slow road to progress. Holding a stretch for longer periods of time is when the muscle actually has the time to relax and go further into a stretch to help increase your flexibility. Classes that are quickly moving through the poses will generally take a longer period of time to increase flexibility than classes where postures are being held for over a minute.

Assisted Stretching
This is a one-on-one technique that you will need a professional for but it is a way to get instant results. You get what you pay for! All you need is a thirty minute session so it should not be a large financial burden or if you already get personal training you could ask them to do this for the last fifteen minutes of your session.

Thai Yoga Bodywork
This is also a one-on-one technique that you will need a professional for. With my experience this is the quickest way to increase your flexibility. I used to do this for the NBA and saw players get more progress in the first week than doing a year of yoga. If increasing your flexibility is important to you and you want lasting change then this is the approach for you.

I hope you find a technique that works for you. Flexibility is important and it is one more thing we begin to lose as we age. Don’t procrastinate on this! It is so simple to add into the daily routine. Start with just one stretch in the morning when you get up and one before bed at night.

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5 Common Types of Yoga Explained

This weekend I was on a spin bike with a friend visiting me in Nicaragua and she asked me to explain the difference between all these different types of yoga. Many people may be from smaller areas where there is only one yoga class in town but some people head to the gym and look at a schedule covered in different types or are trying to find a good deal on Groupon but have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

When you are just getting into yoga it is hard to know what class to try out. My recommendation is to try as many as possible so that you can find the one that suits you right. There are so many different styles and teachers, it’s important not to go to one class you may not like and completely give up. This brief guide will help you understand the differences between five common styles, so you know what you are getting yourself into before you walk into class. 

1. Ashtanga 
Ashtanga is based on ancient yoga teachings and was brought to the West by Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a rigorous style of yoga which follows a specific sequence of postures, and links every movement to a breath. You may also hear the terms vinyasa or power yoga which are both similar to ashtanga. The main difference being ashtanga always performs the exact same poses in the exact same order; while vinyasagives instructors the ability to put their own spin on it, making every class unique and different instead of sticking to the same sequence every time. This is a hot, sweaty, physically demanding practice. 

2. Bikram/Hot Yoga 
Approximately 30 years ago, Bikram Choudhury developed this school of yoga where classes are held in artificially heated rooms. In a Bikram class, you will work your way through a series of 26 poses that are always taught in the same sequence. Bikram trademarked his sequence but other teachers wanted to create their own, so it has to be called Hot Yoga instead of Bikram. You will sweat a ton in these classes and leave drenched.  

3. Hatha 
Hatha yoga is a generic term referring to any type of yoga which teaches physical postures. Nearly every type of yoga class taught in the West is hatha yoga. When a class is marketed as hatha, it generally means you will get a gentle introduction to the most basic yoga postures. You probably won’t work up a sweat in a hatha yoga class, but you should end up leaving class feeling longer, looser, and more relaxed.  

4. Iyengar 
Iyengar is a very meticulous style of yoga which pays attention to finding the proper alignment in a pose. In order to help each student find the proper alignment, an Iyengar studio will stock a wide array of yoga props — blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, bolsters, and a rope wall are all common. Poses are held for a longer amount of time trying to find and hold the perfect alignment. You will be amazed to discover how physically and mentally challenging it is to stay put. Iyengar teachers undergo comprehensive training so if you have an injury or chronic condition, Iyengar is probably your best choice to ensure you get the knowledgeable instruction you need. Many styles of yoga training do not go over injuries at all, so if you have an injury, ask your teacher in advance to be sure you are trying a style that is not Iyengar. 

5. Restorative/Yin 
Restorative yoga is a wonderful way  to relax your body and soothe your mind. Restorative classes use blankets, bolsters and blocks to prop students in passive stretches so that the body can experience the benefits of a pose without having to exert any effort. A good restorative class is more rejuvenating than a nap! 

*So what type of yoga is the best? Well…there is no perfect answer to that. What type of yoga should YOU do? You guessed it…there is no perfect answer to that either! Honestly the type you tend to shy away from is most likely the one you need. If you are a bit of a couch potato and like to rest you will probably be drawn to the restorative class where you get to lay around, propped up by pillows, being completely supported in every stretch; however, what you really need is more of an ashtanga class to get your body moving and work up a little sweat. If you are a type A personality who loves to sweat you are probably going to be drawn towards the hot yoga; however, what you actually need is the restorative class to help you slow down mentally and physically. Once you find a style you enjoy make sure you try out some different teachers too. Ultimately all yoga is good for you so you should just go to the one you enjoy and will attend the most often.  

The Practice of “A Little”

Small Steps I was taught that it is better to have a practice of many little things than no practice at all. I find this concept is the key to success. We have a tendency to think we need to take massive steps in order to succeed but because the steps are so huge we don’t take them at all and stand still frozen in the same patterns. We think we need to spend at least an hour at the gym and when we can’t fit that time block into our busy schedule then we don’t go at all instead of doing a 4-minute session of tabata training right at home. We try to find a yoga class that will work in our schedule and when life interferes we don’t go at all instead of taking the time to do five rounds of sun salutations at home.  We think we need a massive overhaul in our diet when replacing juices and sodas with water is actually a huge improvement. The secret to success lies in your daily routine. Find a way to take small steps forward each day. Create your own practice of “a little”.

 

Nicaragua Yoga and Adventure Retreats!

I am so excited for these upcoming retreats in Nicaragua. This is such a fun way to make new friends, have access to a wellness expert to help answer all your questions from fitness to food to health, and travel without all the hassle of arranging tours. All you have to do is show up and enjoy!

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Dates: February 8-14th, 2015 OR February 19th-25th, 2015
Location: Granada, Nicaragua
Accommodations: Casa Lucia Granada
Double Occupancy $999 (Shared Bed)
Single Occupancy $1299 (Private Room)

Price includes accommodations, yoga classes, workshops, surf lessons, excursions, fresh prepared breakfast, and a daily superfood smoothie. Price does not included airfare, transportation to and from the airport in Managua, lunches or dinners.

Join us in Granada at the Casa Lucia boutique hotel for a week of wellness and adventure! Begin each morning with a yoga class on the open air pool side yoga platform. Take part in workshops to discover and enjoy the benefits of vegetarian, vegan and raw foods. Several excursions are booked for the week to provide you with unique and memorable experiences you will never forget! There will also be some scheduled down time for you to relax pool side or explore the city and sites of Granada.

Day One: Arrival day. Fly into Managua and enjoy the drive into Granada. Let us know if you need help arranging transportation from the airport. Get settled into your room, enjoy the pool and an evening yoga class to help you adapt into the slow and relaxing pace of Nicaragua.

 Day Two:  Mambacho Volcano and Canopy Tour! First we will drive up the volcano till we reach the top and the dense cloud forest. We will make a small hike exploring the ancient craters, learning about the flora and its fauna. After a visit to the Biological Center we drive down till we reach the coffee plantations and the ecosystem changes into Dry Tropical Forest. This is the spot where we will glide through the tree tops, from platform to platform! A total of 11 steel cables -3 hanging bridges- 17 platforms, forming together more than 2 kilometers in distance is a guarantee for lots of adrenaline and fun! The equipment and structures used in this tour are the best in the market and completely safe. Their professional tour guides will assist you on how to properly use the equipment, and provide safety guidelines and techniques on how to pass safely from one platform to the other.

Day Three: Enjoy a drive to Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast for an hour surf lesson and a hike up Giant’s Foot Mountain for one of the most beautiful views in the country.

Day Four: Kayak the Isletas. Lake Nicaragua has 365 Isletas. Kayaking is a unique way to explore them and be surrounded by the unique natural beauty and animals. This tour is over four hours where you will see monkeys, birds, an old fortress, sinking hydrofoils and more.

Day Five: Coffee & Cacao Farm Tour by Horseback: Feel the fresh breeze of the biggest fresh water lake of Central America; be amazed with the majestic view of Mombacho Volcano and the Islands of Granada; enjoy great bird watching; explore the tropical forest and organic plantations of plantain, cacao and coffee via horseback; experience the different stages of production and processing of cacao beans; refresh yourself in a natural fresh water pool; benefit from the therapeutic effects of natural thermal waters; and enjoy the mangrove swamps with all their rich flora and fauna!

Day Six: Laguna de Apoyo is only 20 minutes outside the city. The lagoon is a little cooler than the city but the water is nice and warm and creates the perfect beach day. There are kayaks and paddle boards you can take out to explore and a full bar, restaurant and wi-fi.  The crater of Apoyo was formed approximately 23,000 years ago, after a strong volcanic explosion which left a hole measuring six kilometers in diameter. Time went by and subterranean waters and rain filled the crater and the slopes became covered by vegetation. Today this crater is considered to be a sleeping volcano, in repose, with certain volcanic activity still present through a few hot springs in its interior.

Day Seven: Departure day. Finish off with a final yoga class and spend the day as you please! Many people like to stay a little longer so let us know in advance if you would like to reserve your room for more than six nights.

To book visit http://www.radhahilery.com/#!retreats/c1q0o

Don’t Stop – Move it, Move it!

I have been working with an older clientele lately and am finding the biggest cause for their body pain all originates from being sedentary. The longer they are sedentary the worse the problems get. Often times they go to multiple doctors for opinions but the answer always ends up as exercise. I wish people understood that exercise doesn’t have to be painful – there are so many varieties and options out there that I truly believe there is something for everyone. I am not saying that it is super easy but you can create a manageable routine.

There are four major components that are important to work on and incorporate into your routine.

1. Muscular Strength – This could range from lifting weights to doing body weight exercises. Both activities are going to increase your strength. The beautiful thing about body weight exercises like squats and push ups are that you can do them anywhere and don’t need to bother with a gym membership.

2. Muscular Endurance – This refers to how long your muscles can maintain their strength for. The more push ups you can do, the more muscular endurance you have. I find this to be the biggest problem as people become more sedentary. They don’t have the endurance to complete activities anymore.

3. Cardiorespiratory Endurance – This is the bodies ability to supply oxygen and remove waste during physical activity. This is generally achieved through activities such as running, swimming or biking. I find when I am working with a client that doesn’t enjoy exercising that Tabata training is a better approach because it only takes four minutes and has been scientifically proven that it is all you need in order to achieve results.

4. Flexibility and Range of Motion – This is your bodies ability to move each joint through its full range of motion and stretch the muscles connecting each joint. This is extremely important as we get older. As muscles get tighter they start to pull on the joints and create imbalances in the body. This is why you see kyphosis and scoliosis get worse with age (hunchbacks and curved spines). Stretching helps create a balance within the body and often relieves pain more than a massage would.

Increasing your activity level doesn’t have to be difficult. You can just start walking every day – that walk may only be to the end of your driveway and back but every single difference makes a difference. I do coaching sessions via skype to help people find a routine that will work for them or you can find a local personal trainer or physical therapist to help you get started. Hiring a professional is more important than you think. Most YouTube videos and magazine articles are catering to people that are in perfect physical condition. “Get Your Bikini Body In Two Weeks” is not tailored to somebody that has never worked out in their life. The most important thing is to start moving in a safe way that works for your body. Every body is very unique, embrace that and find what works for you!

What is yoga?

Yesterday I watched the documentary “Enlighten Up!” and it really made me think about what yoga is. This question was asked repeatedly and everyone’s answer was so different.  I found it amazing to really stop and think about all the contradictions among the well known yoga instructors and the variety of reasons these people do yoga and it made me question what yoga is to me.

Yoga is about developing the mind and the body.  When I go to class I forget about the outside world and am fully focused on the present.  There are no expectations, no competition, and it is a time when my strengths shine, my flaws make me laugh and I strive to continually improve. These feelings transfer off of the mat and into my life.  When I am in class I am focused purely on the postures and how my body feels in each position.  When I come out of class I feel calm, focused and prepared for what the world may throw at me.  There have been a few times where I have been extremely upset before coming into class and although those feelings may not be gone after class, I have taken ninety minutes to focus on myself and forget the problem and I gain a new perspective when I venture back out of class and into the world.  So, what is yoga to me?  Yoga is a series of physical postures that will help cleanse, strengthen and open the body that in turn helps cleanse, strengthen and open the mind. Yoga has become much more to me since I first started the physical practice and is now more about the ethical practice. Mastering the yamas are much more difficult than mastering the asanas!

What is yoga to you?

Find YOUR Yoga

I have been in search of a good yoga community in San Antonio and judging by the websites, the Bikram studio seems like my best choice. The only drawback of this is that I hate Bikram yoga. This week I signed up to do ten days of unlimited Bikram yoga. As I laid on my mat before the first class I closed my eyes and continually told myself to just be present with no expectations and keep an open mind. As much as I wanted to stay open minded during the class, all I could think about is how much I hated it and that I was never coming back. There are so many people that like it though that my curiosity kept bringing me back. Four classes later my body has adapted to the 105 degree room but I still despise the teaching method, the environment and I think the poses suck.

Let me start with the teaching method and environment. Standing under fluorescent lights in 105 degrees with sweat dripping off everyone and absorbing into the carpet releases a stench specific to Bikram yoga. Now give the teacher a microphone that they can yell their commands into while they tell you to push harder, go past your limits and that the poses SHOULD hurt. During my third class I felt a weakness in my lower back. Instead of going on to the next pose I decided to lay down and do happy baby pose to help release my lower back. The teacher decided to call me out in front of the entire class and tell me that I should either lay down in savasana or get up an do the pose. I was pretty infuriated as I know my body and the instructor does not, but according to these classes you are only allowed to do the 26 poses and no others.
As far as the poses go, I can tell they are chosen for their therapeutic benefits but some of them do not make sense to me. Part of the reason I don’t like it is because I am very flexible and doing the same poses every class doesn’t provide me with the challenge that I enjoy. The other reason is that there are a lot of poses that compress the spine. Now, in our daily lives we are constantly compressing the spine, rounding our shoulders and hunched over with our hips flexed. The majority of the poses seem to reinforce that instead of reversing it. Most people need to extend and decompress so I have difficulties seeing the benefits for the actual muscular development.

I think if you are going to take ninety minutes to invest in your body and mind that you should enjoy the process. If Bikram yoga was the first one you ever tried, please know that it is not the definition of yoga. Take the time to try different varieties of yoga and different teachers to find the best fit. It may seem frustrating when you have tried a lot of varieties and a lot of instructors, but when you find one you like it is amazing, transformational and well worth the wait!