Friday, May 2, 2014

road trip yoga!

Nothing like a few solid hours in the car to make your back ache, your hamstrings cramp and your hips seize. As the driver, there's not much maneuvering and stretching you can really do during the car ride, but there are definitely a few adjustments you can make for alignment and everyone can participate in some rest stop yoga! 

When you're in the car for hours at a time, it's important to think about proper seating position. 
Though some car seats are naturally more comfortable than others, you can make adjustments for better alignment. 

1) Ideally, the hips should be higher than the knees to allow length in the front hip flexors. Use a folded blanket to sit on if you can't adjust the seat accordingly.
2) Sit about arms-length away from the steering column, (for safety and comfort) with shoulders down away from the ears. Most people sit FAR to close. 
3) Though many people think good posture means 90ยบ, the back of the seat should not be at a right angle but just slightly reclined, so as not to strain the angle in the lower back.
4) If you have cruise control, use it! You probably already do, but know that the more you can utilize cruise control, the less one leg is left extending for the gas and brake. Setting a speed will help you be more symmetrical, give you better gas mileage and allow you to move around a bit. 
5) Make tiny adjustments to your overall position as you drive to keep from cramping up. 


When I'm driving, one of the first places I feel discomfort is my lower back. A tight lower back can contribute to sore hips and hamstrings, so this is a good place to start.

Ragdoll Pose: Fold forward with the chin tucked to the chest, lengthening and stretching from the tailbone. REALLY let the knees bend here to get the back stretch. Otherwise, you'll be stretching your hamstrings.

Child's Pose: Knees wide or close, tops of toes touching. Rounding out the whole spine in this way feels great after being seated.

As a runner, my hammys are already challenged, so sitting for long periods of time is a surefire way to shorten them even further.

Downward Facing Dog: Hit up a Down Dog to open the backs of the legs. Focus on getting the tailbone up high, bending the knees if you need to. You can also try a supported version by just propping your hands on your car.  
Bonus spinal and shoulder stretch, too! Ahh...

Pyramid Pose: Keep both hip bones pointing forward to assure proper pelvic alignment. For less stretch, scoot the feet closer together, for more, widen them front to back. Breathe!

Nothing will make you cranky like tight hips. 

Stacked Log Pose: Knees bend at a right angle (or less, if tight) stacking one leg on top of the other. This will probably feel intense, but amazing after a long trip.
Bonus: If you're a passenger, you can practice this one right in the car!

Pigeon Pose: Aaaaaw yeeeeah! Be sure the foot stayed flexing in toward your shin.
I would save this one for when you arrive at your destination because I can assure you, you will NOT want to get back in the car.

When in doubt, just shake it out as best you can. Squirming around and doing whatever feels good is usually quite effective. Just remember that breathing is STILL the most important part so that all these sore muscles can get the oxygen and blood they need to relax. Hope you all can get away sometime and relax, too! Namaste!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

pigeon pose pins & needles

Pigeon Pose: a deep, hip, piriformis and sciatica release that can be simultaneously amazing, challenging, relaxing or slightly uncomfortable. Though many of us adore full pigeon pose, just as many struggle to find that point of release. Myself included, many people also have at some point experienced foot or leg tingling or numbness in the pose. If you regularly experience annoying sensations while trying to relax in pigeon pose, there are definitely options to help!
pigeon pose pins & needles : wholehearter
First of all, let's look at WHY you're experiencing numbness here. Is it poor circulation? Improper breathing technique or misalignment in the pose? I experienced numbness in pigeon pose for the first full year of my practice and it would often continue for a while after class before it dissipated. It drove me nuts. As a runner, I knew I needed the pose and though it felt good for me, I wish I would have known more about it or how to avoid that annoying "pins and needles" sensation. 

According to my research and assuming the pose is correctly aligned, 9 times out of 10, what you're experiencing is simply tightness in the piriformis muscle that results in annoying compression or pinching of the sciatica nerve.

The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle located in the buttocks near the top of the hip joint. It stretches just across the sciatic nerve (as shown), so when it's too short, in a stretch like pigeon pose, it ends up smashing the nerve.

Though you probably don't experience the numbness any other time, it's very common in pigeon pose because the piriformis muscle is exactly what we're targeting and it needs space to stretch across the sciatic. Ideally, you should work toward lengthening the muscle enough to allow healthy circulation and not experience any numbness.

There are multiple common factors that contribute to piriformis muscle shortening:
1) Lack of stretching: Sorry, but if you only practice yoga or pigeon pose once a week, this could definitely be you.
2) Weak synergistic or antagonistic muscles: Basically, the muscles that work with or work against the piriformis are unbalanced. This is common in runners or anyone who practices 1 type of sport regularly. The best plan is to take cross-training seriously to balance out surrounding muscles.3) Foot dysfunction: If your foot is constantly hitting the ground wrong, your whole body and spine will be thrown out of balance. We practice yoga barefoot to help activate the pressure points in the feet, creating better strength, balance and overall gait. A chiropractor can also help.4) Too much sitting: (ie. desk job) We all know that sitting is bad for our bodies, but it's especially hard on the hips. The front of your hip flexors are in a constant state of contraction when seated, so overtime, they tend to want to stay that way.

HOW you can help release the piriformis:
1) Tennis ball pressure point: This is by far the best recommendation I can offer, if you really want to work toward fixing the core issue. A tennis ball offers the perfect size, shape and amount of pressure to pinpoint and help release the exact spot where the piriformis attaches.
pigeon pose pins & needles : wholehearter
Tennis ball pressure point for piriformis muscle. Remember to breathe deeply!
Since we're trying to target pressure points here, it will be a bit uncomfortable. Let's just say, "you'll know it when you find it." Try propping the tennis ball under the bum and lying down to help release the muscles over the ball. If the tennis ball is entirely too much though, just try rocking onto the hip/butt on a flat surface at first, moving the knees around and exploring and breathing into tight spots. 
Ask for or bring a tennis ball with you to your next class for your hip opener! 
2) Practice Modified Pigeon Pose: Rather than letting gravity sink you into Full Pigeon pose, try a gentler version to control your position. Modified Pigeon can be performed two ways. You may either set up for full pigeon pose, but just let the back leg stay bent, not extended, or lie on your back, cross one ankle over the knee and press in toward your chest as shown in my little drawing.
pigeon pose pins & needles : wholehearter
Modified Pigeon pose is a more passive version of the stretch.
Both of these pose options will help you gently loosen the muscle, working toward a full release. You might also try rocking back and forth or using a block or strap for support as needed.
3) See a chiropractor: If you practice yoga a few times a week or experience numbness outside of a hip opener, seek the help of your chiropractor. Your hips may need a little extra TLC.

As always, don't perform any poses that cause discomfort, but I do think the old adage is true that "your least favorite pose is usually the pose you need most!" Don't give up on finding a comfortable hip opener because the tingling is a surefire sign that you need it.  If or when you begin to feel tingling in any hip opener, always feel free to move out of it to a different hip opener or ask your teacher for suggestions and modifications. Keep yoga cozy & namaste!

Monday, April 14, 2014

bedroom remodel

Nothing like a total disaster to prompt unplanned home renovations! One random Tuesday in October, our bedroom ceiling caved in. Believe it or not, our insurance didn't cover this, so it ended up being our biggest DIY project yet.

Thanks to my handyman Dad and some help from friends and family, we were able to do the work ourselves. We created my dream bedroom and got a little creative with bead-board and trim work. 

 The process took a until spring because I basically shut the door and avoided thinking about it till after the holidays, but it was WELL worth the work and the wait!
 I love how the wall color turned out against the white.
 Even Bishop got a new space! :)
 Love this beachy look.

Hope you enjoyed this or got some inspiration!