Crystal M. Hill is an E-RYT 200-hour Certified Yoga Teacher and Co-Owner of Yoga Elements yoga studio at 1981 Midway Rd, Menasha. Crystal creates connection through yoga, healthy living and coaching. For more information, please visit
www.yogaelementswi.com, or contact Crystal at [email protected] or 920-383-1003.
March 20 marks the spring equinox. This signifies the first official day of spring and the moment the sun crosses the equator. It is common to celebrate this date as a time for cleansing and rebirth. Many use this as an opportunity to deep clean the home and purge clutter! It is also the perfect time to reflect on your life to notice what is no longer serving you, rid yourself of negativity and make room for opportunity, new experiences, and enriching relationships.
In the yoga community, we use this time of the year to set intentions for personal growth and empowerment. This is often done through a practice of 108 Sun Salutations. A Sun Salutation (or “Surya Namaskar” in Sanskrit) is a series of poses done as a moving meditation, connecting movement with breath allowing you to take in “prana” (breath/life force) and exhale “apana” (that which is no longer needed). The detoxifying practice is completed after 108 repetitions of the Sun Salutation series. We use the number 108 as it has many symbolic and important meanings in mathematics, science, religion and the arts. It is also the number of beads in the traditional mala string used for meditation and/or prayer.
The classic Sun Salutation sequence is as follows:
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana) — Stand tall and strong with hands at heart center, feet grounded, shoulders back and core engaged.
2. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana) — Inhale, reaching arms upward and keeping shoulders relaxed.
3. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) — Exhale to fold forward, hinging from the hips and keeping knees soft. Relax upper body.
4. Halfway Lift (Ardha Uttanasana) — Inhale and come up halfway, lengthening the spine, keeping the back straight and relaxing the arms (or bring hands to shins).
5. Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) — Step or jump back to plank, shift forward on the toes and while exhaling, descend into a low pushup, keeping elbows in and stacked over wrists. Option here to lower belly to the floor.
6. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) — Inhale and extend arms long, engage leg and abdominal muscles, and relax shoulders away from ears. Tops of feet and bottoms of hands press down while the chest opens up.
7. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) — Exhale to lift hips, tuck toes and press back to an inverted “V” shape with your body. Feet should be hip-width apart, thighs pressing back and eye gaze toward your navel or thighs.
8. Feet to Hands (transition to front) — Look forward, soften knees and walk or jump feet up to meet hands.
9. Halfway Lift (Ardha Uttanasana) — Inhale and come up halfway, lengthening the spine, keeping the back straight and relaxing the arms (or bring hands to shins).
10. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) — Exhale to fold forward, hinging from the hips and keeping knees soft. Relax upper body.
11. Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana) — Inhale, reaching arms upward and keeping shoulders relaxed.
12. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
If you don’t have time to complete the full practice of 108 repetitions, even just 20 minutes of flowing through Sun Salutations can have tremendous effects on physical and mental well-being. A recent study in the International Journal of Yoga found that college students who practiced Sun Salutations every day for two weeks reported a quiet mind, feelings of rest and joy, and less worry than a control group who did not participate in any practice.
Use this sequence to energize the body, refresh the mind and see the sun reflected inside yourself. Feel empowered to be yourself and feel gratitude for the blessings in your life!
Reference: “Surya Namaskar Is All You Need, Study Shows.” Yelena Moroz Alpert. http://bit.ly/1J29Mcn.
Nothing evokes the warm, cozy feeling of the holidays like all the alluring smells of the season! Pine, cinnamon, peppermint and apple scents fill homes and businesses everywhere, whether it be in the form of candles, room sprays or diffusers, or in recipes for your favorite warm beverage or holiday treat. Another way to incorporate these scents into your home and holiday celebrations is by using essential oils! Many essential oils not only smell amazing when diffused into the air to freshen a room, but add vibrant flavor to recipes.
Try some of the suggestions for essential oil use listed below. Feel free to adjust quantities of oils you diffuse to suit your preferences! Be creative and use these ideas as a starting point to formulate your own blends!
Quantities listed below in “drops” of essential oil (EO).
Warm & Cozy:
Baked Apple Pie:
Or adjust slightly for…
Relax & Unwind:
Candy Cane Coffee: (Adjust quantities to taste)
Instructions: Mix in blender or whisk until combined.
Instructions: Bring to boil. Simmer on low for 20 minutes or as long as you would like to keep it warm! Serve.
Rosemary Mashed Potatoes:
Prepare your favorite mashed potato recipe. Mix in 2-3 drops Rosemary EO before serving.
While preparing your favorite cornbread (or other dressing recipe), add in the following before baking:
Substitute the following oils for the dry/ground ingredients in your recipe:
NOTE: 1 drop of Cinnamon Bark = 1-2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon.
1 drop of Clove, Ginger or Nutmeg = approximately ½ teaspoon of ground allspice.
If recipe calls for less than 1 teaspoon of dried/ground cloves, ginger, nutmeg, peppermint, cinnamon, etc., simply dip a toothpick in the oil and swirl that in the recipe. These oils are quite strong and will overpower the recipe if not used sparingly.
Holiday parties and family get togethers often cause us to overindulge. If you consume too many rich foods and experience indigestion, gas or bloating, try one of these!
You can diffuse, inhale, dilute 2 drops with a little carrier oil and rub directly on stomach (fractionated coconut oil, almond oil or olive oil work well as carrier oils), or put a drop in a glass of water and drink.
Remember to use therapeutic grade oils — especially in recipes — as oils are NOT all created equally. Purchase them from a reputable company and do research into where the oils are grown (not all oils grow well in the U.S.), how the oils are harvested, and the methods used to test purity before selecting a brand!
Happy holidays and best wishes for a new year full of warm memories, health, joy and love!
Yoga is a wonderful practice of wellness that can take many different forms. This is a blessing and a curse as it offers sufficient options to suit everybody and every need, yet can be confusing to the practitioner in selecting the appropriate class for their lifestyle.
This article is the first of a series that will focus specifically on chair yoga and its benefits. Chair yoga can fulfill needs for yogis ranging from those with severe movement limitations to those very advanced in their yoga practice. This particular piece will limit our focus to gentle chair yoga.
Gentle chair poses are done while seated in a chair or using the chair as support. This allows for greater safety and stability during the yoga practice. The poses are kept to a basic level and are modified to allow ALL participants to experience the benefits of the poses — even those with limited range of motion, health restrictions or those recovering from injuries.
The following are a few poses that can be done at home or work to feel the benefits for yourself!
Improves posture, releases tension in upper body
Stretches the spine/hamstrings, improves blood flow and has a calming effect since the head is brought below the heart
Relieves lower back pain; improves digestion and circulation.
Releases upper back/shoulders; stabilizes shoulder joints
The practice of gentle chair yoga helps all levels — even beginning students and those with health or movement restrictions — to experience the benefits of yoga.
Getting children involved in a yoga practice at an early age helps nurture commitment to a healthy lifestyle, fosters a sense of community with others and instills respect for the environment.
Other benefits of yoga for children include:
Improved motor skills
Fortunately, most children are eager to try yoga and take to it quickly. Their flexible bodies are able to perform poses quite well, which leads to a feeling of accomplishment and success for them, making it a fun activity.
However, not all children are so apt to try the ancient practice. This can be disappointing for parents who practice yoga and have realized the benefits of yoga for themselves. So how can I get my child more interested in trying yoga? Keep it easy, fun and free of expectations!
It’s important to maintain a playful environment for children’s yoga. Laugh, run, roll around and smile a lot! Don’t sweat it if they lose interest quickly — they have short attention spans after all. It’s better to keep it short and sweet and have them experience a few poses in a fun way than to force them to endure a long, rigid practice that could turn them off of yoga for good.
It’s acceptable to have an idea of what poses you’d like your child to do, but try to avoid getting committed to that idea. Let the child help shift and structure the practice and you might learn something too! Go with the flow!
Playing yoga games is a fun way to introduce yoga:
Get outside and explore nature! Create poses to mimic the items you encounter (tree, rock, bug, bird, dog, etc.).
Try “Simon Says” using yoga poses.
Work on breath control by sitting in a circle (if in a group) or across from each other (if only two of you) and blow a balloon back and forth to each other.
There are many books and songs that work brilliantly for incorporating yoga:
The song “Old MacDonald” can be sung while doing yoga poses for the animals (Downward dog for “dog”, Frog pose for “frog”, Cow pose for “cow”, etc.).
“My Daddy is a Pretzel” is an adorable book by Baron Baptiste that takes children through a story incorporating yoga poses and really gets kids intrigued and involved! (Available at Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/1PqfrJs.)
Attempt yoga art:
Make family mandalas at home, letting each member create a section or part of the design! Idea for how-to here: http://backyardkidsyoga.com/blog/familymandalaactivity.
Have kids draw themselves in a yoga pose and then demonstrate the pose.
Your local yoga studio or yoga instructor friend may offer classes or workshops for children or families too!
Other great resources include:
Backyard Yoga: A blog and yoga teaching tools:http://backyardkidsyoga.com/
Online kids’ yoga classes and downloads: http://bit.ly/1W0eqOT
The weather is getting warmer and we are on the cusp of the summer season. It’s the perfect time to bring your yoga practice outdoors for some fresh air, sunshine and a change of scenery! Since no equipment is required, you can take your practice almost anywhere. Plus, being outdoors in nature has been shown to promote happiness!
When practicing outdoors, there’s no need for a mat as sometimes the grip and cushion of a mat can cause it to bunch up on softer surfaces or slide around on damp grass. A beach towel or heavy blanket — or nothing all — works just fine! If you are practicing on a rough surface (for example, a wooden deck or pier), then consider using a mat or towel to prevent splinters and scrapes.
Get creative using objects in the environment as props. A step, park bench or railing can serve as a support instead of a block, and also work great to elevate the front leg in a Crescent Lunge or Warrior pose to stretch psoas and hip flexor muscles. A rope or long stick works well to connect hands in binds or hold overhead to increase intensity in a Warrior or Crescent pose.
Be mindful of wrists on softer surfaces. A soft surface may have too much “give” and can allow the wrists to collapse and cause strain on the ulna bone of the arm. Instead, limit arm balances, Sun Salutations and long Upward/Downward Dog holds in favor of more standing and balance poses. Standing poses benefit from the uneven surface to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the legs, ankles and feet. However, there are benefits to soft surfaces, such as grass or sand, as they provide a suitable platform for practicing inversions. Softer ground = softer falls if you take a tumble!
Consider ditching the electronic devices. Tune in to the music of the environment instead! The rustling leaves, swaying branches, splashing water, chirping birds, whirring wind — it’s a symphony of nature! If you must have music, load up a fun playlist on your phone or iPod.
Wear sunscreen! It’s also smart to practice in the shade or have the option to move into a shady spot if you get too warm. Skin damage and heat stroke do not contribute to a healthy yoga lifestyle!
Dress in layers. Or bring a long sleeve shirt or sweater in case the temperatures cool or you need a coverup during savasana when your body temperature lowers.
Depending on your practice environment, you may want to bring bug spray. It could make the difference between an enjoyable and an unpleasant experience.
Stay hydrated, especially in warm temperatures! If you forget your H2O bottle, try to find an area near a water fountain so you have the option to take a few drinks every half hour.
Remember, 5 minutes of yoga are better than no minutes. Even the few poses you do with your dog or children in the backyard count and provide benefits to you physically and emotionally.
June 21st is International Day of Yoga. This is great opportunity to find an outdoor class offered by your local yoga studio or find a spot to practice on your own.
“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. This tradition is 5,000 years old. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature...” — Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly
Essential oils have so many wonderful uses and provide a multitude of ways to replace products in your home with safe, natural alternatives. One of my favorite ways to use essential oils is in room spray. It uses few ingredients, it’s simple and doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals!
1 6 ounce spray bottle (4 ounce or 8 ounce bottles work well too, just adjust the quantities of the other ingredients accordingly.)
I recommend using a dark blue or amber colored glass bottle. Avoid plastic as the oil will eat away at the plastic. I found some inexpensive bottles of various sizes here: https://www.aromatools.com.
1 ounce witch hazel or vodka
This helps prolong the life of the spray and also helps disperse the oil. Rubbing alcohol can also be used.
Approximately 15 drops of essential oil
You have a lot of options here. I tend to use a mixture of a few different oils, but using one oil works well too. For refreshing and deodorizing, try 7 drops rosemary, 3 drops eucalyptus, 2 drop lemon and 3 drops mint (adjust quantities to suit your olfactory preferences!). Other options/combinations are listed below.
1 cup distilled water
Before each use, shake the bottle gently to disperse the oil; otherwise it tends to sit at the top of the bottle.
Soccer is on many minds these days. Whether playing it, watching a friend/family member play it or following the World Cup, it’s an exciting time of the year! It is a versatile sport too! Have you ever considered how soccer is like yoga? It can be enjoyed indoors or out, any age can participate and benefit, it brings people together, it requires focus and mindfulness, and it improves health and well-being.
Yoga is a fantastic partner activity to soccer as well! Soccer is a sport in which most players are dominant in one leg, resulting in significant asymmetries in their bodies. Most soccer athletes are 80 percent dominant in one leg! Much time is spent planting and holding ground with one leg, using gluteal muscles and hamstrings. The majority of kicking is done with the other leg, using hip flexors and quadriceps. Yoga can provide balance and symmetry to the body to correct the issues caused to hips and spine by this lopsided sport. Yoga also improves flexibility, range of motion and endurance!
These yoga postures will target the lower body muscles — primarily the hip flexors and hamstrings — to improve flexibility. For the Lunge and Warrior postures, hold the pose longer when the dominant leg is back to help correct imbalances.
Downward Facing Dog: lengthens spine, opens shoulders, heels, calves and hamstrings
Crescent Lunge: stretches hip flexors
Warrior I: increases strength in legs, back and ankles; improves hip flexibility
Warrior II: opens hips, strengthens and stretches legs and ankles
Warrior III: increases ankle stretch and builds stability
Twisting Low Lunge: stretches back, thighs and iliapsoas; creates spinal space
Chair with Hip Opener: strengthens gluteus medius; opens hips, develops balance
Reclined Butterfly: stretches inner thigh and groin muscles
Half Pigeon Pose: opens hips, lengthens gluteus medium and iliapsoas
Seated Forward Bend: stretches back and hamstrings
Hero Pose: increases flexibility in hips, knees and upper thighs
Of course these poses can benefit the soccer spectator as well as the athlete! If you are a yoga newbie or recovering from an injury, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of a trained yoga teacher before attempting these poses on your own.
“Yoga Exercises for Soccer Players.” Demand Media. Robin Reichart.
Essential oils possess a varied and established history. These extracted plant compounds have been used throughout the ages for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits. The applications of essential oils are numerous. More than fluids that are pleasing to the senses, they heal the body, stimulate the spirit and calm emotions. For these reasons, they are an exceptional match to the practice of yoga!
Similar in diversity to essential oils, yoga is more than it appears. Yoga has an obvious physical component with the practice of asanas, which bring strength and flexibility to the body. Yet yoga also encompasses well-being of mind, body and spirit. The harmonious melding of yoga and essential oils takes holistic healing to a completely different level and brings balance to the well-being of the individual.
If you are looking for ways to complement your yoga practice with essential oils, consider the different methods of using oils: topically, internally and aromatically.
Before using oils topically, take care to investigate if the oil or oil blend you plan to use requires the use of a carrier oil (such as fractionated grape seed, olive or coconut oil). Essential oils are absorbed quickly and easily by the skin so they can be irritating if not used appropriately; however, quick absorption also provides quick relief. Calming, restorative and disinfecting are a few main properties of essential oils used on the skin. They also make wonderful cleaning agents for sweaty, stinky yoga mats!
Suggestion: Try using a few drops of peppermint oil on the chest before your practice to open the airways, or use after your practice to ease sore muscles. Mix several drops of melaleuca and lavender oil with 4 to 6 ozs. of water to mist on your mat after use — just wipe off with a towel.
Most essential oils are considered safe for human consumption; however, there are a few that should not be taken internally. Please research the labels on the oils you use to educate yourself to use them safely. That aside, oils that are safe to consume can provide healing and prevent illness, which in turn allow you to continue a safe and enjoyable yoga practice.
Suggestion: Add lemon oil to water to stimulate your metabolism and eliminate toxins. Put a drop or two of melaleuca, frankincense, thyme or oregano oil into a few ounces of water and drink to shorten a cold.
Diffusing essential oils into the air provides a stimulating and motivating environment for the movement and connection of yoga. The sense of smell is very strong and some individuals are very sensitive to the incense and candles used at some yoga studios. Essential oils for aromatherapy are a more subtle way to cleanse and purify the air, enhance breathing and still remain gentle to sensitive noses.
Suggestion: Diffuse lavender or lemongrass oil in your practice space to create a calming environment. Use wild orange to create a more invigorating space.
No matter the vehicle or method in which you use essential oil, quality matters. Many oils on the market are not 100 percent pure and may be diluted, contain fillers or contain synthetic substitutes. Use only 100 percent pure therapeutic-grade essential oils to ensure safety and to obtain the most benefit from the oils.
I have only touched on a few of the applications of essential oils. With many single oils and blends to choose from, the options are endless to integrate essential oils into your yoga journey to create alignment and balance for health of mind, body and spirit.
Yoga nidra is often referred to as “yogic sleep.” Think of it as having the body be asleep, but the brain in an active state of consciousness. Nidra is different from meditation in that during meditation, you do not leave the waking state of consciousness into a state of dreaming. In nidra, you experience a state of extreme meditation that goes beyond relaxation and allows you to pass through the dream state into a deep sleep state, but still remain awake.
Yoga nidra has been practiced for thousands of years by yoga sages. The purpose of this practice is to instill calmness, reduce tension and provide extreme relaxation of the nervous system. It can also assist in bringing clarity and helping find purpose as your mind processes thoughts while you rest.
Please note that this is only an outline to bring understanding of the process. It does not include every step and detail of yoga nidra.
If you are ready to try yoga nidra, you can practice it yourself. There are many online scripts and readings available if you take a moment to do some searching. Another option is to find a local yoga studio that leads yoga nidra so you can attend and simply experience!
References: YogaJournal. www.yogajournal.com.
I am a wife.
I am a mother.
I am a fitness nut.
I am a yoga teacher.
I am a Christian.
To some, the last two points would be contradictory. This likely originates from the widespread discrepancy about what yoga is and how it is practiced. Each one of us has our own interpretation of everything. This doesn’t indicate that some of us are wrong and some are right. It simply means that we see and experience differently. This holds true in yoga as well.
Universal agreement on the exact meaning of yoga and the relationship between yoga and religion does not exist. To me, yoga is not a religion. While I cannot represent the voice of the unified population, the following is the interpretation of yoga that holds true for me and many of my clients and teachers in the yoga industry.
The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “to join.” It represents the union or joining together of body, mind and spirit, according to the website http://www.swamij.com. Rather than considering yoga as a religion, think of yoga as being contained in religion. Can yoga be spiritual? Absolutely! Can yoga help us grow more connected with religion? Yes! Don’t misinterpret this as meaning yoga is the religion.
By increasing our understanding of ourselves, each other and how we are all connected on some level in this big world, we can enhance connection to God, Mother Earth or whatever higher power that is meaningful. Yet this doesn’t mean that we have to make that connection either — and that’s OK. If you simply want to practice yoga for the physical benefits, then that is perfectly acceptable. If you want to practice yoga to learn to relax, that’s fabulous. If you practice yoga because of the spiritual experience you get out of it, that’s OK too.
Yoga does not worship a deity, nor does it have a creed or statement of belief. There are no worship services or sacred rituals or requirements for confession of faith in yoga. Instead, yoga seeks to bring us to a better understanding of self. It teaches us to live in harmony with all that exists and gives us the tools to overcome obstacles that hinder that harmony (i.e., breathing exercises to reduce stress, physical asanas — or poses — to strengthen and tone our bodies to improve our health, and an open mind to accept and welcome diversity).
Yoga was adopted by religious groups from Vedic India, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Many yogis are Buddhists or Hindus. That doesn’t make yoga a religion, nor does it require you practice Buddhism or Hinduism to practice yoga. Many yogis follow other religions or no religion at all. Buddhism is actually nontheistic; it is a nonreligious philosophy that does not worship or follow Gods. While Buddhism has no god, Hinduism is tolerant of multiple gods and religions as being forms of a single supreme being, according to AllAboutReligion.org.
What about the Buddha statues often found in yoga studios? They do not represent a god to worship. Buddha is not thought of as a god; he is a respected teacher, much like Gandhi. He represents living and acting in a peaceful way, being kind, and seeking out good in this world and the best in yourself. These are similar to the teachings of yoga and of most religions. By living in harmony with others, you manifest a better understanding of your better self and that can bring you closer to your creator.
For me as a yoga studio owner and a lifelong Christian, yoga is not a religion. It’s my workout, my stress relief, my sanity and my fun. For me, Buddha is not a symbol of worship, but a symbol of the origins of the yoga I practice and represents some of the same values I hold to in my religion. Don’t get hung up on misconceptions — make yoga what you want it to be for you.
“Buddhism Beliefs – What Are the Basics?” and “Hinduism Gods – Who Do They Worship?” AllAboutReligion.org. http://www.allaboutreligion.org/buddhism-beliefs-faq.htm and http://www.allaboutreligion.org/hinduism-gods-faq.htm.