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VIDEO: 30-minute yoga practice for hips and shoulders

January 26, 2016

Here’s one of the most wonderful things about yoga: there’s no such thing as being too tired to practice.

Want to lie down on your back for 10 minutes and just watch your breath?
Or do child’s pose in bed?
Or sit at your dining room table after a meal and simply be?

It’s all yoga. And you can adapt a practice for whatever your needs are that day.

I designed this practice for those days you just don’t feel like standing up. Days when your energy might be a little low but you feel tight and achy and need some relief. Days when you are tired and achy from a long flight but there’s no yoga mat in sight.

This practice is perfect for those days. It’s done all close to the ground. And focuses on holding poses for hips and shoulder for longer periods of time in order to release tension.

Enjoy! And pass it on. More to come!

7 things you didn’t know about the Yoga Retreat in November to Costa Rica

June 30, 2015

Have you ever taken a trip that’s just for you? It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started taking my hard-earned time off very seriously. Not only did these just-for-me trips remove the seasonal stress residue that had built up in my life but upon my return my life took a new direction. I’m not exaggerating.

Every time I take a trip that’s just for me, I come back renewed and re-energized, with focus and ferocity to a) get out of an unhealthy relationship (that I didn’t realize was horrible) b) execute my exit plan from my sh*tty job (that I didn’t notice was killing me) or c) redesign my entire business with total clarity (that I was too blinded to see beforehand.)

These experiences of escape and renewal are so critical to continue learning, growing and changing. There’s something magical about them. They will get you out of feeling stuck in any area of life and push you forward. What would you want out of getaway that’s JUST FOR YOU?

Join me and Mora Solano Lavin for a 6-day retreat to Pranamar Villas in beautiful Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. There is a lot of information and details here all about the trip and here are seven things the website won’t tell you (but I want you to know.)

1. Pranamar is the nicest place in town.

Whenever you mention Pranamar to anyone who lives in Santa Teresa, they respond with an “Ohhhh! I LOVE Pranamar!” They’ve got beautiful accommodations, a fresh-water pool and the best yoga pavilion in town. Check out the pics.

2. You can do whatever you want.

We’ll offer you twice daily classes and the rest is up to you. Take the R&R route, get massages and walk the beaches all day or be an adventure junkie with surf lessons, waterfall hikes and stand up paddleboarding. Show up to classes or don’t – it’s your retreat!

3. Yes, you can drink.

Funnily enough, people have been asking this one a lot. Yes, Pranamar has a bar and there are stores nearby where you can buy your own and bring home or other local bars to visit. No, this retreat is not a nutritional detox, cleanse or fast – unless you want to make it one.

4. You’re invited to my 35th birthday party.

I picked these dates on purpose so we could all celebrate my birthday in Costa Rican style on the beach among the palm trees. And my mom is coming! (Have you considered inviting yours? We do have some family groups coming.)

5. You can visit “The Tree”.

Seriously, it’s very cool. Look here.

6. You really don’t have to know any yoga beforehand.

Of the people already registered, there is a wide variety of experiences with yoga. Mora and I specifically design classes that are for EVERYONE, no matter what your level or ability. For that matter we also have a wide spread of ages on this trip from young professional to grandma (and men too!)

7. You will experienced an unexpected and welcome shift in your life.

Promise.

Early Bird ends July 1st and we are more than half full so don’t delay! Any questions can be sent to Retreat@circleyoga.com.

Register now.

One reason why I may ask you to leave my yoga class

May 26, 2015

Go on. Get out of my classroom.

You’ve already decided exactly who you are. You’re certain you’ve already figured it all out. You’re who you are and that’s who you’ll always be. You’ll never twist like that or bend that way or be able to hold a plank for that long. You can’t sit still because you’ve just never been able to. And you’ll never go upside down because you gave it up a long time ago. You have a bad back. You pinched a nerve so you can’t do twists. Your knee never recovered from that injury. It’s just not your thing. You’ll never change.

Go on. Get out of my classroom.

SkandasanaModI need you spongy. I need you soft. I need you childlike and even a bit foolish. I need your adventurous spirit, your eyes wide open and your thinking cap off. I need you to be absolutely yourself, armor off, with all your vulnerable bits showing. With all the hope in the world. And every reason to be there.

That’s where your yoga practice begins. Come on in. Take a seat.

The 5 Things To Do In Yoga Class During Savasana (Corpse Pose)

May 12, 2015

savsana groupAlthough it looks like a room full of sleeping adults, there’s hardly any of that going on at the end of yoga class. Savasana is the most important few moments of your practice (if not your day) so let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on.

Here’s a step by step guide of how to practice Corpse Pose.

  • 1. Assume the position.

I turned to Mr Iyengar for details on technique. In Light on Yoga, he says:

“Lie flat on the back full length like a corpse. Keep the hands a little away from the thighs, with the palms up. Close the eyes. If possible place a black cloth folder four times over the eyes. Keep the heels together and the toes apart. (Note. This does not mean heels are touching, but merely facing towards each other.)

  • 2. Get comfortable.

Grab some yoga props like blankets, bolsters, eye pillows, sandbags and whatever else helps your body relax comfortably on the floor. Is your back a little achy from that shoulderstand? Place a bolster under your knees. Are you a little chilly? Put on your socks and place a blanket over your body. Don’t spare any expense (but be mindful of disrupting those around you). Your teacher can help you find a comfortable shape. Just ask her for help. Some days class can be so intense I just take plotz-asana, which involves just falling to the floor out of fatigue and relief that class is over. On those days I skip the props.

  • 3. Relax your body.

Once you’re comfortable it’s time to relax every muscle in your body. No clenching, guarding, straining, stretching or flexing required during this pose. Letting go of all the effort in your body, conscious and unconscious, can take up to ten minutes, so don’t be in a rush. Lightly run your attention across your whole body and give the full weight of your muscles and bones down to the floor.

  • 4. Notice your thoughts.

Once your body becomes still, you might become more aware of your thoughts. Remember you’re not here to empty your mind because that’s impossible. Your mind will always be going as long as you’re alive (phew!). But sometimes your mind races like a busy traffic intersection while other days feel like a lazy Sunday stroll through the park. Either way, it’s how we attach ourselves to these thoughts that matters. Don’t get pulled away! Take a moment, as an observer, to notice the thoughts that come and go as you lie here.

  • 5. Practice presence.

As you lie still, notice if you want to fidget. Fidgeting is a trick the mind plays to distract you from the moment you’re in. Notice if you’re making to-do lists or meal-planning (my personal favorite thought) or having pretend discussions with people from past or future encounters. Here’s your big chance. You have an opportunity right in these moments when you’re noticing these distractions of the mind to a) acknowledge them and b) come back to relaxing your body.

Go ahead, give it a shot. And remember, it’s a practice, not a performance.

 

 

A Yogi’s Guide to Getting Through Winter (and Warding Off Seasonal Affective Disorder)

December 14, 2014

SmileDo you remember last winter? It was the longest in DC history. OK I don’t know if that’s true but it lingered on and on and for those anywhere on the east coast you’ll recall it was an unusually harsh winter.

People were downright cranky. And even borderline depressed by March.

Talk about depressed, I’ll tell you who’s NOT. Ashley from Canada. I met her last week on my surf retreat to Costa Rica. She was soaking up some last minute rays of Vitamin D and said “it’s -40 back at home so I want as much sun as I can get before we leave.” Minus 40. Yes I said minus. That’s about 80 degrees colder than back home in DC. And for Ashley, it would be a net difference of about 120 degrees. That. Is. Just. Insane.

But what was the tone of her voice when she said “I’m going back to minus 40”? Nonchalance. Like it was no big deal. She’d just put on another sweater and be on her way.

I had no place to complain. That’s when a light bulb hit me. If we didn’t complain so much, talk it up so much, and get so anxious about long, cold winters, then maybe they wouldn’t be so bad.

This is certainly not a new concept but nevertheless it led to more light bulbs and ultimately this:

A Yogi’s Guide to Getting Through Winter

Rule #1. Be present (and stop complaining about the weather already)

To “live in the moment” means to pay attention to what’s happening here and now instead of being wrapped up in what *might* happen at 2am tomorrow when there’s a 90% chance of wintry mix and blustery winds. This moment you are in now, curled up on the couch watching your favorite show with a cup of hot chocolate, is pretty great. Avoid ruining it by worrying about tomorrow. Later, when you’re putting on your snow pants to go shovel the walk, that is when you will feel appropriately uncomfortable and cranky. But for now, just sip your worries away and enjoy yourself.

Just as yoga teaches us to stay focused on what’s happening in the body as we breath and move through poses, we can do the same as we move through the day, staying present on what’s happening right in front of our noses.

Here are some other very practical tips how NOT to make winter worse than it already is.

  • Don’t talk so much about the weather.
  • Avoid people who complain a lot about it being cold.
  • Don’t cancel plans because it’s too cold out. Dangerous conditions are one thing but socializing and being active will do you good.
  • Make a friend who grew up in Minnesota. They’ve got a great perspective.
  • Choose NPR for weather reports over FOX NEWS. It’s far less dramatic.
  • When someone says “Wow, it’s so cold out there,” respond with a smile and say, “Hi, how are you today?”
  • Book a vacation for somewhere warm and sunny in February.
  • Take hot baths and drink hot tea.
  • Take an occasional hot yoga class to enjoy being sweaty for a change.

This is a really important point so I’ll drive it home again. Let’s say something unpleasant is about to happen. We anticipate its awfulness way ahead of time by ruminating on the multitude of ways it’s going to make our lives difficult. This ruminating makes us anxious and ruins whatever we’re doing in the moment. And when the unpleasant thing actually occurs, we’re already so overwhelmed that we’re not prepared to handle it skillfully and we’ve successfully then made it worse that it needed to be. Is there another area of life besides dreading long winters where you’ve done this?

If the anticipation of something awful not only exacerbates the awfulness but elongates the length of time of the awfulness then why do we do it? Why do we complain about it being cold tomorrow when right now, in this moment, we’re on a sandy white beach soaking up the sun? Well, the truth is, we just shouldn’t.

There’s a difference between being prepared for a winter storm and being a drama queen in the face of a 4-6 inches snow drop. There’s no need to catastrophize. Make your preparations and go back to your hot cocoa.

Rule #2. Feel your body.

Something very powerful that yoga has taught me is how to sit with discomfort. If your yoga teacher has ever had you hold Warrior II for a few minutes, then you know what I mean. Instead of overreacting and jumping out of the pose because it’s uncomfortable, yogis learn to be present, observe and feel the changing physical sensations associated with holding a pose for a very long time. Sometimes those sensations are really subtle and sometimes they are quite obvious.

With time and lots of practice, another immensely valuable skill develops: our ability to watch our thoughts and feelings as they arise under uncomfortable circumstances. This is the number one most transformational life lesson yoga has offered me. Just like holding a yoga pose can be uncomfortable and challenging, so can asking for a raise, having a difficult discussion with a spouse or losing a loved one. Yogis learn how to truly stay present in these difficult situations and move more skillfully through them.

What I realized is that being outside in bitter cold weather or being stuck inside with a touch of cabin fever is not unlike holding Warrior II for a few minutes. It’s challenging, it’s uncomfortable and in those moments the changing physical sensations are intense. If I can withstand it in yoga class then why is it any different outside waiting for the bus?

I feel very relieved having realized this. I’ve started practicing it already. And YES it is helping.

A quick note on SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very serious condition and is recognized as a specific type of Major Depressive Disorder. Although the tips above are for anyone interested in changing their relationship with the seasonal weather changes, if you’re experiencing more serious mood, energy or sleeping pattern changes then you should call your doctor.

A big shout out to my friends in NY and NJ who are anticipating a chilly winter. Want some support getting through it? Make sure your health and wellness support network is in tip top shape. You can visit OSCAR to find out how your health plan can support your health and happiness this season.

Rebecca Bly is a wellness coach and yoga teacher in Washington, DC. She works with clients nearby at Circle Yoga and from faraway over the phone. You can email her to set up a consultation.

3 Steps to Stop Feeling Stuck and “Say YES to What’s Next”

November 12, 2014

First off, WOW, because I haven’t posted anything in almost four months which is extremely relevant and very “meta” to this post. Because today we’ll talk about BEING STUCK. And clearly, I have been.

I’ve had at least a dozen ideas. Check these out:

LetItGoBanner

FlowFast

Learnedbanner

Have you ever had a billion ideas of how to fix a problem or change your life or get it together but get can’t any of them off the ground? Do you ruminate endlessly and then become so exhausted that you have to take a nap or a sick day (or a vacation)?

You’re probably STUCK. Just like me.

Yep, it’s happening to me right now. Clearly it’s been going on a while but I hadn’t quite noticed. Except that I’m exhausted ALL THE TIME and that’s not normal. By the way, here’s a fantastic little read from Elephant Journal on being exhausted all the time and what you can do about it.

It’s time for me to snap out of it, so here’s what I’m going to do. See if these might work for you too.

poohheader

1. Fess up and go public.

The first step is admitting you’re stuck (or sad or bored or fat or upset or sick). Say it out loud. Point out the pink elephant in the room. Go ahead and admit it “I’M STUCK!!!” And then go tell someone else. Your friend, your therapist, your dog. It doesn’t matter who – just saying it aloud makes the pink elephant disappear from the room. And what’s left? Much, MUCH more space for good stuff.

2. Gather the troops.

The worst idea you’ll ever have next is “I really need to sit and figure this out on my own.” After all, this is what you’ve been doing for the past 18 months and look where it’s gotten you. There’s a reason why there are 7 billion people on this planet – we’re supposed to help each other. So call in your troops, whoever is on your team and ask them to sit with you, listen to your ideas and wishes and help you get unstuck. Pay someone money if you have to (keep in mind that a professional’s opinion is less biased than your sister’s). I’m talking about ANYONE who has helped you in the past including

  • friends, family, colleagues
  • therapists, coaches, trainers, consultants, mentors
  • hair stylists, manicurists, bikini waxers
  • doctors, lawyers, financial managers
  • massage therapists, match makers, bartenders
  • bosses, employees, colleagues

and don’t forget your yoga teacher.

Pick the best team based on the problem you’re addressing.

3. Say YES to something. Anything.

YesMermaidYou’ve had a billion ideas and because you’re so smart, they’re probably all very good. Let your troops help you pick ONE and start on it. NOW. You’ll never know before you try if it’s the “right one” and to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What you’re looking for, is a booster shot of energy to get you unstuck. Picking one idea and putting it into action will give you just that. Not to mention the confidence boost from making a decision. Trust me. TRUST ME.

Sigh, just writing this post is making me feel better already.

If you want to start feeling better already too, let’s get on a call this week. Email me to set it up, I’m ready for you.

Rebecca Bly is a wellness coach and yoga teacher in Washington, DC. She believes in achieving balance, strength, peace and clarity beyond the yoga mat and helps people who are stuck to do just that.

What’s the difference between Cobra Pose and Upward Facing Dog?

July 22, 2014

Ouch, Kate Hudson, what’s wrong with this yoga pose?

 

Poor Kate Hudson is stuck between a photographer, a stylist and a fashion designer in attempts to produce a compelling advertisement for her new clothing line. She may be doing a good job of it. What she’s not doing a good job of however is modeling a yoga pose. She’s also not unlike many yogis who are confused and stuck between cobra and upward facing dog.

Check out below where I tear apart unassuming and open-to-criticism Kate Hudson’s pose (celebrity status…stinks sometimes. I have a feeling she even knows she’s offending yoga teachers everywhere with this).

But first, let’s answer a few questions.

1. What IS the difference between cobra pose and upward facing dog?

They’re both backbends (poses which put the spine into extension) but put very simply, the difference is straight arms v. bent arms and thighs up v. thighs down. This info-graphic from yasminyoga.com does a fantastic job of explaining it. Note the starred items which illustrate the differences. Also notice how many similarities there are – not just in terms of alignment, but action (press your feet down, reach through the crown, lift the lower abdomen, etc.)

updogvcobra

 2. Which pose should I do in my vinyasa flow yoga practice?

Here are a few guidelines about which may be best for you:

1. New to yoga? Stick to cobra for a while. There’s even a pose called Baby Cobra which is a gentle version of the pose that helps you learn how to align your body, cultivate the strength it requires and builds you up slowly over time into Full Cobra Pose.

2. Back hurting? You might be experiencing compression in the lumbar spine (super common!) so ask your teacher to help you make adjustments and stick with cobra until you feel free of that pressure when you strike the pose.

3. When in doubt, stick to cobra. It’s a really powerful pose and to be honest, you can hang there and get really strong through the arms, chest, upper and lower back without ever lifting off the ground. At the moment, I think upward-facing dog is a bit over rated. Sorry updog. Also there are so many wonderful variations of cobra pose that you’ll never be bored. Stay tuned for a video on this…straight from the Beyond The Mat living room studio!

Whichever pose allows you to open the chest with the strength of the rest of your body without causing compression on any joints, then that’s the pose for you. Typically beginners learn cobra for a while until upward dog becomes accessible. It requires all those qualities listed in the graphic above: lengthening of the legs, pressing of the feet and hands, activating the arms and upper back and toning of the stomach muscles. Until you have cultivated those qualities in your practice and have learned how to put them all together to open up fully in cobra, then you should probably avoid Upward Facing Dog.

Too many people practice upward facing dog incorrectly and repeatedly because the pose is done many times in a vinyasa flow, power yoga or Asthanga vinyasa yoga class. This leads to cranky backs, wrists, shoulders and repetitive strain injuries. Yoga injuries are the WORST to heal. They take forever. So it’s your best bet to ease up and avoid them.

So what exactly is wrong with Kate Hudson’s yoga pose?
a. Her hands aren’t actively pressing the ground.
b. The heads of her shoulders are pointing forward.
c. She’s not engaged through the legs.
d. She’s not lifting from the abdomen.

Basically, she’s doing boudoir yoga, not healthy, mindful yoga. No, Boudoir Yoga is not a thing. Yet. (Although this does tempt me to search the web for more yoga celebrity bloopers.)

Any more questions? Leave ’em here.