Bloated Tummy, I Banish Thee

Rise and shine! Another lovely day ahead, and hopefully, another lovely week! I have been feeling much better lately in terms of my body. These past couple of months have been stressful and it did take a toll on my exercise regimen.

Mind you, it wasn’t that I fell completely behind and didn’t exercise at all. Of course I did my morning yoga and meditation, but it felt like the stress I was experiencing kept me from fully enjoying myself, and you know how important this is to me, so of course, I missed feeling my best. And on top of that, my body felt it. I felt stiffer and less flexible, and it was harder for my mind to turn off all those racing thoughts. If you’ve ever had a stressful period, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Anyways, of course I never stopped exercising. After all, yoga has helped me so much and if you practice it, I’m positive you’ll know of its amazing benefits. I am immensely grateful for the day I first started practicing yoga! But, as I was saying, stress did take its toll, and even though it slowed me down a little bit, I never gave up and kept going. Please remember to do the same, no matter what!

It did, however, affect my digestion. As you know, your tummy reacts to everything going on within you, so when you’re under stress it will react to send you a message that you need to change something in your life.

I noticed this tummy discomfort early on, but I didn’t know what caused it, I thought it must be some reaction to something I’ve eaten, or even dairy. I even suspected my local coffee shop of putting dairy milk in my coffee instead of soy, even though I get my coffee there every day and they know how I take it. But as it turned out, it wasn’t any food, it was stress.

Being in this situation was not comfortable at all and I came to appreciate my toilet a lot during these weeks, high score on for sure. I was still doing my favorite yoga flows, but, still, my tummy didn’t seem to be in the right place. It then dawned on me that I should probably focus on the abdomen area only, instead of the whole body, so I started doing more digestion-relief poses and less hip-opening, and I found that it helped me a lot!

It did take a couple of weeks to get more results, though – you need to be diligent with this, and definitely do them often. My routine was the following: meditation and sun salutation flow, followed by the sequence of digestion-relief poses; then, in the evening, variations of my favorite nighttime yoga flow (I don’t do these every single night, but I change them up depending on what part of the body I feel I need to stretch that day), and of course, the digestion-relief sequence once again!

A Handy Education

The word, calm, is appropriate for my blog as I value this state of being. It means being in control of the world around you, although people are not always included. It means coping with adversity and taking advantage of possibilities. But lest I start to get too profound, I am also on a quest to improve my home environment. I am grappling with home repairs and how I, like any handyman, can do the jobs needed by myself. This kind of ability will make me calm and secure that I can handle most anything that comes my way, from an over-zealous water heater to repairing a broken cabinet door. If I need to use a tool, then so be it.

As far as the water heater goes, I found the repair very interesting. The tankless style means an entirely different process is involved, which I learnt after reading about how tankless water heaters work. I thought a leak, for example, meant welding a big huge tank to patch a hole. Not so. I was glued to the computer screen watching YouTube videos. Thank goodness for them, as it was a complicated endeavor dealing with the thermostat. There is no conventional dial. I watched over and over until I got the hang of it. You have to know how to program simple settings and undergo a bit of trial and error in finding just the right water temperature for your house. You also can control output or volume in the same way. You learn what you are using on a regular basis and try to avoid over production and an unnecessary use of electricity. After mastering the task, I felt strong and proud of my success.

My Favorite Poses

One of the great things about yoga is that there are lots of different poses. There are poses for every part of the body, for relaxation and for energizing yourself, to stretch and to promote healing. I’ve heard that there are thousands of poses if you count variations. That’s a lot! Like most other yoga students, I have poses that I am better at than others and I have poses that I really like to do. Here are a couple of my favorites.

I like Warrior II. It makes me feel strong and confident. It just feels good, too. If you know how to do a lunge, you can do this pose – it is basically a standing lunge that includes your arms. To do Warrior II, you start with your feet together while standing upright. Then you take a big step forward with one foot so that your feet are about 4 – 6 feet apart, with your heels aligned. Once you are stable in that position, turn your back foot sideways and be sure your front foot has your toes pointed toward the top of your mat. Bring your arms up and out to the sides at shoulder length. Bend your front knee like you are doing a lunge, careful to align your knee over your ankle. Sink your hips toward the floor while keeping your front shin parallel to the ground. Turn your head so that you are facing the hand over your bent leg so you are looking forward. There you go, you’re a powerful warrior!

If I am really tired or I am looking for a good back stretch, I like a variation on Crocodile Pose. You lay on the floor on your belly, hands folded under your head. You stretch your legs out behind you and point your toes so you are as long as possible. Put your elbows on the ground and raise up your head and shoulders. You hold your head in your hands and just relax there with your eyes closed. Really, you read that right, you’re basically laying on the ground with your head in your hands, kind of the way you probably watched tv as a kid. You’ll feel a really good stretch for your back, and it opens up your chest so it always feels easier to breathe afterward.

Some seated poses are really easy. They can help loosen your hips and make your body more comfortable after being stuck in an office all day. I have found Cobbler’s Pose (also known as Butterfly Pose) is especially good at opening my hip joints and making me feel less stiff. It’s super easy, too! You sit on the floor. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Keeping your spine straight, straighten your arms and hold onto your feet. If you can’t get your knees to stay down, you can put yoga blocks between the mat and your knees so you have somewhere to rest your legs. There’s a great variation on this where once your legs are in position, you just lean back and lay down. Ahhhh!

I hope this post has inspired you to think about the poses you like best or to try them on your own. Namaste!

Common Misconceptions About Yoga

Maybe you are thinking of starting yoga but are too intimidated to try it. I promise, though, there’s nothing to be afraid of! It may seem different because it is not just cardio or strength training. It is also restorative, which is the part people get nervous about. However, you’ll find it similar to most other fitness programs in that you can modify poses to fit your skill level and classes go by how much experience you have. So no worries!

You don’t actually have to be super flexible to try yoga. It will help with your flexibility, absolutely, but it is not really a requirement at the start. There are all kinds of equipment to help you get into poses if you need it – there are straps and blocks and bolsters and blankets. And you never have to force yourself into a pose that’s too difficult, so it is fine. Most studios will provide the props, and most will even have yoga mats you can borrow if you aren’t ready to get your own mat.

Another thing people firmly believe is that yoga is one of those things you need to take very seriously. That’s not true either! Yoga can actually be a lot of fun. It depends on the instructor and the class. Some places have animals. Other places play cool music. Some places do yoga with partners or kids, where there are different couple poses or you make animal sounds to go with the different poses. Others do yoga on beaches or other interesting places. So yoga can be fun!

You also don’t need expensive yoga clothes to take a class. It is best to wear things that are comfortable and allow for movement. My studio recommends dressing in layers so you can take things off as you get warmed up. Sometimes people wear shorts or sweatpants, some people wear tank tops or athletic shirts. Basically, it is as varied as what you see at any other class in the gym.

Yoga is definitely not all incense and “om” and Tibetan singing bowls and chiming bells. Your yoga instructor is going to be a normal person, not some kind of rubber band with hair that expects you to put your feet over your head or balance on one hand. All the instructors I’ve ever had have been really approachable and helpful. They’ve been enthusiastic and always willing to show me modifications and offer encouragement.

Let me tell you what yoga IS about: it is about centering yourself, about listening to your body and stretching and breathing. It is about learning things about yourself and finding stillness and strength in the poses. Yoga is not about doing the poses perfectly but accepting the imperfectness of yourself. There is a reason why we call it a yoga practice. No matter how much you practice it and how much you learn, or how good you are at the poses, there is always room to learn and improve!

Yoga + Meditation = Calm

I got into yoga because I have a pretty high stress job. My brain always felt like a hamster on a wheel. Always running running running and not going anywhere. I started therapy, and that has helped me, but my therapist recommended that I do some exercise to boost my confidence and help me sleep at night. I started jogging, and it turns out that I hate jogging. I thought her advice was good, though, and so I joined a gym and started experimenting to find something that worked for me. I went into yoga sort of by accident. There was a class offered at my gym when I was there and so I took it.

At first, I felt a little intimidated but the instructor was really good. He and helped me adapt the poses that felt too challenging for me. At the end of the class, during shivasana, when I was told we get to lay there quietly, I thought my brain was going to explode and it would be a great waste of time. It turned out that the hamster of my brain was actually rested and still. If you would have told me that just a couple of weeks before, I would not have believed you. Yet there I was, feeling closer to being at peace than I ever have in my whole life. And that feeling is really addicting!

There is something about holding poses and concentrating on breath and balance that really calms me down. Meditation! Something else that I never thought I would do: sit still for an extended period of time. People who know me would say it was impossible. I pretty much thought it was impossible.

Well, it turns out that I had meditation all wrong. First of all, you don’t have to do meditation sitting down. Some of my most successful meditation sessions have been lying down. The second thing is that you don’t have to clear your mind entirely. It is really really hard to stop your brain from thinking things and to get it to stop responding to stimuli. Just because your eyes are closed does not mean that your sense of hearing, touch, taste, and smell have disappeared.

The key to meditating is to acknowledge what you’re thinking and to let it pass without judgement. It sounds a lot easier than it is, but just like anything else, you get better over time. Nowadays, I sort of visualize my thoughts as balloons while I am meditating. I let them float up and away from me. I don’t let my thoughts get tangled together in their strings, and I don’t grab hold of any of them.

I especially like to combine yoga and meditation because I feel like it helps me get the most out of my yoga class. It is a workout for my body and my mind! Yoga helps me feel centered and calm, and then meditation allows me to accept and process all of my thoughts. I can let go of the negative feelings I have and accept the positive ones. It’s amazing how much better my outlook can be after a session!

If you feel wound up or stressed out all the time, maybe this is something you can try to help yourself out.

Only Positive Thoughts on the Mat

Today I want to talk about a self-improvement technique that yoga started me on: positive self-talk. We all treat other people so much better than we treat ourselves, and that is just not right. It is something that I have been working on for a long time, with varying levels of success.

I am doing better with it, but it is can be hard to shut out that negative voice in my head sometimes. I am really good at negative self-talk. Maybe you are as well and you hear it too. Not my negative voice, obviously, that would be weird, but your own Negative Nasty who is always talking to you about how worthless you are or what dumb thing you did three years ago that you still haven’t let go of.

You know, that voice that keeps you up at night reviewing every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while you’re trying to sleep? Yes, that’s the one. I hate that voice. That voice is mean.

I have, through my time in therapy, found the ability to talk to myself a little more kindly. And that’s been going ok. My therapist has taught me a few techniques to help bring my thoughts back on track and to find ways to stop the voice from causing my emotions to spiral downward. They work but they don’t necessarily stop the voice from expressing an opinion in the first place.

Yoga seems to help stop the voice in its tracks, though. For some reason, it keeps the stupid voice at bay. Sometimes when I am doing an especially difficult pose or I’m maintaining my balance really well, or even when I’m even doing a little better in a specific pose than I ever have before, I even hear a positive comment.

So I’ve instituted a policy: only positive thoughts on my yoga mat. If I fall out of a pose or somebody nearby is doing it better than me, I remind myself to be gentle and find something to be positive about. Any other activity and the voice would be telling me how much I suck or how everyone hates me and thinks I am bringing the whole class down. But yoga, on the other hand, has managed to keep me sane AND kind to myself.

It actually is not all that hard to do once I got used to it. I see the muscles in my arm tighten while trying to hold myself up and think, look how strong you are! Or I do a forward fold and think, look, you did a good job painting your toenails the other night! It may sound dumb but sometimes it is all I can think of.

It has been a good lesson for me. Being positive is definitely a learned skill, and I’m not always great at remembering to practice it. But for some reason, it seems easier to do while I am on my mat. Just another reason to love yoga, I guess!

Why Yoga with Animals?

Despite being an ancient practice, yoga also can be very trendy. You’ll find right now that there are a lot of classes offered that involve animals. They happen for a variety of reasons, too. The big question is, why? And should you try it?

The first type of yoga that I’d heard of that involved animals was dog yoga (or doga). Dog yoga was actually designed to help your pet stay flexible and burn some energy. You, in turn, should develop better posture. It is partner yoga where the dogs often just have to lay on the mat. For example, in Downward Dog, you stretch over your dog. Or when you do butterfly pose, you hold your dog under the arms and keep their bottom on the mat so you’re stretching him gently. Most poses just involve stretching and petting your dog, so they’ll love it. Small dogs can be on your back as a weight during some stretches and bigger dogs can stand and be a touch or gazing point during balance poses.

There is also cat yoga, but if you own a cat you know this is not the same as doga. Your cat will probably just lay on your mat and figure eight around your legs as you do your poses. Many shelters have cat yoga classes as a way to both fundraise and as an adoption technique. You do yoga and bond with the cats (or any other animals roaming around) and you can pet them as they go by. Then at the end, you can hang out with the cats some more and possibly adopt one. It’s not so much about the yoga in this type of animal yoga as it is with bonding and finding a forever home for some great animals.

Along the same lines with cat yoga, there is a trend of goat yoga. This one is not really clear to me, because it is not like you get to be partners with a goat, nor are they usually available for adoption. It’s just fun, I guess. I don’t have any goat yoga classes near me, so I can’t really tell you too much about it. I’d be afraid that the goat would try to eat my mat or jump on my back during Downward Dog, but I guess that adds to the fun of class.

Another type of yoga with animals involves horses. This is the type of yoga that should probably only be attempted if you’re really good or you have excellent balance. I cannot imagine doing poses on horseback, but that is exactly what you do in these types of classes. The horses are calm and steady, which is supposed to help the student be more calm and relaxed. Plus it adds a layer of concentration to your practice unlike any other, as it is much easier to fall off a horse’s back than it is to fall off a mat.

I’m very interested in doing dog yoga but I don’t have a dog. Maybe I’ll find a shelter that offers it. There is a place a couple towns over that does cat yoga, but I am allergic to them so I can’t do it. I’m not sure about the goat thing, and I’m definitely not good enough to try the horse yoga. Have you tried yoga with animals? What kind? Was it fun?