05 May

Your Knee is a Hinge- Part 2

In Your Knee is a Hinge Part 1 I started discussing how to keep the knee safe when bearing weight in standing lunges where the hips are open (a la Warrior II).
The trick is to not let your knee roll inward because, as the title suggests, your knee is a hinge. It’s not a ball and socket joint like your shoulder or hip. It’s only meant to move in one direction. Check out the post for the tip I gave to help you do that.

This follow-up is another really quick and easy cue to keep in mind when you’re in your lunge.

Try This:

In your warrior II, create a circle of energy starting where the inner thigh meets the groin and moving clockwise around the entire thigh of your bent knee.

That is, pull the inner thigh up to and around the kneecap, then pull the outer knee along the outer thigh to the hip socket. Did your knee re-align itself? I thought so.

Check out the video for more detail (plus a fun singing solo by your truly).

25 Apr

Your Knee Is a Hinge–Part 1

I’ve been posting some Asana Quick Fix videos on my Facebook page and YouTube lately to address some really easy ways to make your yoga poses better for you body. Check them out, if you haven’t already!

Let’s Talk Standing Lunges

In standing lunges with an open pelvis, like warrior II and side angle the front knee happens to be bearing the weight of most of your body. So it’s critical that you keep it safe as possible.

What can damage the knee? When the front knee is rolling inward. This happens a lot and is primarily because of poor range of motion in the inner thighs. If you are trying to open your hips and your flexibility is poor in the inner thighs then you just happen to drag your front knee in the same direction as the hips are going.

This is bad.

Maybe not once or twice or thrice but if you keep practicing yoga like this you won’t be practicing forever.

knee hinge joint

The knee is a very simple joint. It’s a hinge. It opens and closes in one direction like a door. Imagine you had a door that moved up and down as you opened and closed it. You’d be like “this door is fucked up”. Feel free to say that to yourself every time your knee caves in in warrior II. “This knee is fucked up”.  Because it definitely is not safe for it to be moving that way.

So how do I fix it?

How can you keep your front knee from caving in and getting all wonky and out of alignment and fucked up? Don’t sacrifice the knee for open hips!

Try this:

Come into warrior II or side angle. Look down at your front femur. If it is not parallel to the edges of the mat and the knees is caving in here’s what you do:

Turn the front of your back hip down toward the floor and watch the front knee realign, like magic!

Check out the video below for a little more explanation and stay tuned for part two!

12 Apr

More Stability with Less Work

Core Strength Meridian

From a weight lifter’s perspective, bracing the core is super important to get you to lift the load at hand without injuring yourself. It helps you stabilize when you are moving a lot of weight in one plane.

But what if you’re not moving a lot of weight? What if you’re just holding a Warrior pose? Or walking your dog? Or playing shinny? Is all that effort to brace your core really necessary?

Core stability is all about control, coordination, and agility.

I recently took a workshop that really intrigued me. It was with Suzi Hately at the Yoga Conference in Toronto about how to find more stability in the core with less work. She spoke from a therapeutic perspective about how core stability means control, coordination, and agility.

Agility is key. Firm bracing of the core muscles is great for something like weightlifting but can be limiting when your body needs to be responsive and to change direction quickly (ie. be agile).

So how do you evoke the core without actively engaging it?

Try this:
Lay on your back with the knees over the hips and the shins parallel to the floor. Press your hands into your knees and knees back into your hands. This requires the core to work, but we want it to work naturally, without forcing it.

Notice:
Can you evoke the core rather than forcing the core muscles to engage? Can you breathe smoothly and easily? Can you do this exercise with less effort?

Then notice if other muscles in the body are engaging or firming up. Are you holding tension in your shoulders? Chest? Hip flexors?

Your body is so smart that it will do what it needs to do to get the job done. In this case, if there is some weakness in the core muscles then other muscles will compensate in order for you to make this exercise happen. Cool, right?

If you find these compensatory muscles working, can you really soften them without forcing relaxation? Like butter melting in a pan, like a foot sinking into wet sand.

When you have completely softened all your compensatory muscles and you’ve stopped forcing your core to engage then you will find the point of stability for your body. It may be weaker than you think!

For me, when I do this exercise, I find it damn near impossible to stop my hip flexors from doing all the work once I stop bracing my abs. It’s as if it is harder to do less work and to find ease in the exercise.

And that’s what the core should core provide. A sense of lightness and ease.

So see for yourself what happens when you work your core less and tap into your true stability.

08 Dec

Yoga for Athletes: Tip 2 – Get in the Zone

Be a Better Athlete With Yoga - Zone

 

Part 2 of the Yoga for Athletes series focuses on focus.

Get in ‘The Zone’

“Get you head in the game!”

“Focus!”

“Keep your eyes open! Pay attention!”

. . . hollow words shouted from the sidelines attempting to motivate you to stay focused and perform at your best. Easier said than done.

As an athlete you’ve had those moments when you just can’t focus and your head is out of the game. Your thoughts are drifting to pain in your body or stress in your life and not your performance.

But as an athlete you’ve also had those moments when you are so into the game that you’re one with it. The connection between your mind and body becomes so intertwined that you don’t know where thought ends and action starts. You’re not thinking THEN doing. Your mind is so absorbed, so hyper-aware that your body is doing exactly what you need to do. It’s magic.

This is what it takes to have success in your sport. This is what it takes to have peak performance.

But how do you get to the point where your mind and body to work in synchronicity? How do you get out of the distraction zone and into the performance zone?

Yoga is a great way to help you get there. The goal in yoga is to be completely aware of your body at any given moment of the practice. It’s about focus. It’s a moving meditation.

Everything from stress, to nervousness, to noises and visual distractions can take your head out of the game but yoga teaches you how to avoid them and turn your attention inside yourself. Consistent yoga gives you great practice in programming your mind to let go of distractions so you can stay in ‘The Zone’ in every game.

13 Nov

Yoga for Athletes: Tip 1 – Breathe Efficiently

Be a Better Athlete With Yoga - Breathe

Yoga for athletes is critical and if you’re not practicing yoga as part of your training then you’re doing your body a disservice.

There are a number of major benefits that yoga can provide to athletes that their strength and conditioning cannot and I will be introducing them one at a time as a part of my new Yoga for Athletes series.

This first and most important part of a yoga practice is actually not learning handstand (contrary to what you might think if your primary knowledge of yoga comes from Instagram yogalebrities). It’s learning to breathe.

Learning to Breathe

I know how to breathe! You’re thinking to yourself. But, do you? Really?

When I tell athletes to take a big breath in, what often happens is they fill up and puff out their chest and suck in their gut.

It’s interesting. And by interesting, I mean unfortunate. Because that might make you look good (big chest, small waist) it’s totally inefficient. . .

. . . and it means you’re not using their diaphragm properly.

The diaphragm is that muscle between the gut organs and the chest organs. When used properly, the diaphragm drops on the inhale making space for the lungs so the belly– not the chest– will get bigger.

If the diaphragm is not being used then, in order to make space for the breath, other muscles in the upper body will have to compensate like the shoulders, upper back, and chest. Ya know, the muscles that you need for your sport.

So, that is to say, you’re wasting your muscle power on breathing when you could be using it to block, attack, shoot, and score.

Easy Exercise to Improve your Breathing

1. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 and focus on your breath coming down into the belly and allow the belly get bigger.

2. Exhale through the nose for a count of 8. Start the exhale from the bottom of you belly and focus on squeezing the breath out from bottom to top like you’re squeezing a tube of toothpaste.

3. Repeat.

You can do this for as long as you want. You can do this whenever you want. You can stop and forget about it and then start again.

Benefits of this exercise:

By breathing into your belly, you are activating your diaphragm and preventing your superficial muscles from compensating to make space for your breath.

By making your exhales longer than your inhales you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, ie. your nervous system is making your body relaxed.

19 Aug

Strong, Sexy Arms with Chaturanga (video)

Tips for a safe chaturanga: Get strong and sexy arms while keeping your shoulders safe.

In Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga practices one thing we do over and over again is the chaturanga dandasana pose, or low pushup.

This pose in an amazing strengthener for the shoulders, triceps, chest and core, but poor form can cause be damaging to the shoulders (hello, rotator cuff injuries!)

The three steps you want to use in your chaturanga pose are

1. Pull the heads of the shoulder back.
2. Hug the elbows in to engage the triceps.
3. Press the floor away with the palms spread the shoulder blades.

Check out the video below for to details as to why these steps are important to getting strong safely.

24 Apr

Mindfulness is effective for treating depression

Worrying quote

If you’ve never tried a mindfulness practice then you should start.

I try to meditate as often as I can remember because I know it benefits me, even though it can sometimes feel like I’m sitting around and doing nothing.
If I don’t get around to meditating in the traditional sense (seated, in silence, with my eyes closed) then I turn my actions into a meditative practice.

meditating

Yoga is an obvious one. Paying attention to my body in space– how it moves, how it feels, how it changes. I do it when I lift weights too.

Sometimes I create a mindfulness practice when I walk the dog. Noticing the temperature of the air, the sounds I’m hearing, and noticing my own state. Am I trying to rush through the walk? Am I thinking about other things? Am I stressed or anxious?

I even work on mindfulness in the shower where, left to my own devices, I would be so scatterbrained that I’d forget whether I shampoo’d and do it twice.

It’s nothing much. It doesn’t seem like it requires a lot of effort but when you actually stop and try pay attention to the present, to how your mind bounces around or fixates itself on something, or to what your body is experiencing it can be a challenge to remain focused. It takes practice.

The benefits of mindfulness are numerous and as more studies come out touting the health benefits of staying present, it’s becoming a no brainer, like flossing your teeth.

For example, a recent study on mindfulness therapy and depression “established that mindfulness-based therapy is equally as good as drugs, which could offer a new option for those who do not want to be on medication for years.”

“It teaches people to recognise that negative thoughts and feelings will return, but that they can disengage from them. Rather than worrying constantly about them, people can become aware of them, understand them and accept them, and avoid being dragged down into a spiral leading back to depression.”

Want to try it?

Here’s a very simple exercise you can try anywhere at any time:

Focus on your breath for one minute.

That’s it.

Breathe in and out slowly. Your mind will drift and, when it does, notice your thoughts then return to your breath.


15 Apr

The Mama Expo Recap

Phew! I made it through the big expo day!

I started out early– with a lot of help from my friend a future step-mother Silvia– setting up my Prenatal Yoga booth.

Mama's Expo Windsor

We laid out all my posters and postcards and brochures for the taking. And, of course, candy tastefully coordinated with my colour scheme (vanilla tootsie rolls and hershey’s kisses) which was my way of enticing people to my booth but really drew children over more than anything else.

Mama's Expo Windsor

Overall I think the expo did well. It was very well organized, especially since it was the inaugural year.
I was surrounded by some really cool booths and chatted with some really awesome vendors like Hot Mama Fitness, Bites for Babies, Ocean Bottom Soap, and the delightful Union Jack Pop-Up Tea Room.

I was on the workshop schedule so I sneaked away from the booth for 30 minutes to teach a Prenatal Yoga sampler to a small (okay, very small) group of ladies. Since the class was right at the start of the expo I expected no one to show. The fact that I got 3 ladies was a win.

I spent the rest of the day working the booth, handing out printouts, fielding questions about prenatal yoga, and smiling so much that I had to unscrew the smile off my face at the end of the day.

It was exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to teach yoga and I love to talk about the benefits of yoga and I want more people (especially pregnant women) incorporating yoga into their life.  That was the whole point of me being there. However, being social and smiling all day are not my forte. I’m more of the Silent-observer type, the Nose-in-a-book type, the Are-you-talking-to-me?-Please-don’t type. So, yeah, this was work.

But I’m so glad I stretched out of my comfort zone just a little to do it.

Mama's Expo Booth

 

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to say hi. Thanks to everyone that helped me as I got ready for this big event. Your support means so much.

01 Apr

The Mama Expo – my first show!

I’m gearing up for my very first expo!

I’m pretty excited and nervous and maybe a bit overwhelmed as I get ready to promote prenatal yoga at The Mama Expo, with my own booth and stage time.

Mama Expo

The Mama Expo is a cool new shopping and pampering experience. New moms and moms-to-be are encouraged to come and have fun and do something just for them.

I’ve been busy designing posters, making business cards, creating a big banner, putting together a raffle prize, assembling brochures and postcards, and generally just trying to keep my shit together. I truly didn’t realize how much stuff I would have to think about.

Once I started planning one thing then I started thinking about another thing to plan and got into this snowball effect of thinking and planning and working and doing. Whew! I need yoga to de-stress.

I’m 12 days out from the expo (April 12) and think I just about have everything together. I’m looking forward to this event being a big success!

I’d love to see lots of faces there so if you do show up, stop by my booth and say hi!

Here’s what I’ll be providing:

– A sample 30 minute class at 10:15am on the main stage. BYO mat.

– Information about all the proven benefits that are associated with practicing yoga during pregnancy: how the practice will help women learn to handle stress and anxiety, have a better night’s sleep, and even improve the birth weight of their baby.

– Details about all my prenatal yoga classes and workshops at Downtown Yoga Studio and Breathe Pilates & Fitness

Candy! (Come to the booth before I eat it all)

A raffle for a basket of goodies for new moms valued at over $150 including a prenatal yoga DVD and a 6 class pass for Prenatal Yoga with me at Downtown Yoga Studio

– A yoga selfie contest! Post a photo of you in your favourite yoga pose. Tag yourself and Samantha Menzies Yoga (facebook) or @SamanthaYoga (twitter) for a chance to win a 6 class pass to Prenatal Yoga at Downtown Yoga Studio.

14 Feb

MC Yogi Weekend in Windsor Review

Last weekend MC Yogi came to Windsor.

MC Yogi Windsor

Me and the MC

It was kind of a big deal because Windsor tends to get overlooked in tours like the one MC Yogi is currently doing to promote his new album Only Love is Real but with some kickstarter funding and some dedicated local yoga studios we got him here.

DSCF8379

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but had a pretty great time at the event. There were 3 two hour sessions of yoga practice over the course of the weekend, of which I did two.

Each session included story-telling, mantra, yoga, and music themed around a particular Hindu deity. While I’m not really into exploring Hinduism in my practice per se,  I can get behind the life lessons that we explored and I did appreciate how the theme was weaved throughout the practice in a fluid way.

The practices were led by MC Yogi and his wife Amanda who I think I liked better than the MC himself. Amanda exuded a personality that managed to be simultaneously calming and energizing. Plus she gave great adjustments.

Me and Amanda Giacomini

Me and Amanda Giacomini

As for the MC,  I was expecting him to perform some of his music, but he didn’t and I was expecting the music to be loud and energizing (he is an MC after all and I do love loud music), but it wasn’t. And when he first introduced himself wordlessly with a bow of the head and a glazed over look in his red eyes I thought “Really? Who is this stoner and why am I paying him to teach me yoga?” and started to feel vaguely like I was in an SNL sketch stereotyping yogis. But things did improve.

I liked a lot about the practice. I made a mental note of some of the bang-on cues MC Yogi used to get us into poses. Also, his use of humour in the practice made it light-hearted and enjoyable. (I love using humour when I teach, unfortunately I’m often the only one who finds me funny.)

What I liked most of all was nearly the entire Windsor yoga community coming to practice together. It doesn’t happen often because we’re all at our own studios, doing our own thing. But when it does it is sweet.

That’s what I love about the yoga community in Windsor. We collaborate. We come together. We know each other. We accept and respect each other’s preferences when it comes to practicing yoga and teaching yoga and know that no two of us have the same style. It’s a great bond that keeps the community strong.

Windsorites, what did you think of the MC Yogi weekend? Answer in the comments below.