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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mission, Complete

So today marks the final sequence of the 21-day challenge!  If you were able to complete the challenge, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for a job well done! And if you never got around to doing any of the sequences, they're still available online for your viewing pleasure.  :)

Now that the challenge is over, I've gotta figure out what I want to write about.  So here's what I'm thinking: I'm thinking of making a schedule where I dedicate a specific day for different topics.  But I need your help in deciding what topics are important.  Would you like to know more about  specific asanas? Want more information on the vegetarian/organic lifestyle?  If there's anything that interests you, please let me know in the comment box. :) Anyone can comment, even if you don't have a blogger account. *hint, hint* Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Om Namah Sivaya!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spinach Lasagna

Upon checking my email today, I noticed that today's challenge is the core sequence again. I love that sequence, but I won't bore anyone by repeating how I feel about it. So while making dinner, I was thinking of what I could right about today instead. And then it hit me, I could write about what I was having for dinner!

An important part of the yogic lifestyle is a vegetarian diet. When I found this out, I was highly concerned. How would I ever be able to give up meat!? But I am now nearly four-months clean and haven't really missed it.  In fact, I was nearly sick last night watching my husband cut into a steak at dinner (Which I did not cook. I refuse to prepare or clean up after meat products.) I had to get up from the table!

Tonight, I decided to prepare a quick and easy vegetarian dinner: Spinach Lasagna. It's delicious and the best part is, it's meat free! Take a look at the recipe and give it a try. :)

Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna:
Oven Temp: 350
Cook time: one hour
Serves 4

What you will need:
8 lasagna noodles (I like to use the precooked kind)
1 (10 oz) packaged frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (24-oz) jar marinara sauce
1 cup mozzarella
parmesan, to taste

*** I personally try to buy organic products. Also, you may want more or less mozzarella depending on your taste. :) I also use a small glass dish to cook the lasagna in... It's about an 8x8.

-Preheat the oven. Prepare noodles as directed on packaging (A great reason to use precooked!)
-Squeeze the water from the spinach and place in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
This is the order that I like to layer:
1. 1/4 jar of sauce
2. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 of spinach mixture, 1/4 jar of sauce
3. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/4 jar of sauce
4. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 of spinach mixture, 1/4 jar of sauce
5. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella

I also like to put a bit of parmesan on top, but you may not. Once you have it prepared, cover with tinfoil and cook for 45-minutes.  Remove tinfoil and cook for 15 more minutes. And then voila! Served with a side-salad, you have a nice, healthy vegetarian dinner that was easy to make. And to make life even more simplistic, you can prepare the dish early, refrigerate, and bake later.

Mmmmm... Cheese.

Look at those delicious layers!

Let me know if you decide to try this delicious meal. Om Namah Sivaya!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Week Three Already

Wow! I just took at look at my last post and realized I haven't updated since Friday! My husband and I are preparing to move across country next week, so things are a little crazy around the household. Thank goodness for yoga, right!?

Since yesterday and today's challenge sequences are repeats, I will do a short recap of Saturday's routine. Just a side note: In order to complete this sequence, you will need a comfortable chair that allows your feet to touch the floor.  Any ordinary kitchen or folding chair will do, or just make the most out of what you have.

Saturday marked day 13 (It's hard to believe we're already into the third week!) and focused on removing tension from the shoulders.  Unknowingly, many of us carry our stress with us, not only in our neck and back, but in our shoulders as well. This sequence allows one to work the tension out and let go of it, physically and metaphorically speaking.  And it is so gentle that it can be done by any skill level, seniors, and even expectant mothers.*

With all the stress I am under because of the move, this sequence came around at the right time. I really needed that 20-minutes of sitting, closing my eyes, and concentrating on nothing but the movement of my body and breath.  It allowed me to take a little time to myself and forget about what was causing me stress.

Yoga is more than just physical movements... It's also about the meditative experience one can have while doing it.  By completing this sequence, I was able to harness my stress and redirect its energies toward something more productive, such as writing this post.  So, if your shoulders are feeling tighter than usual, take 20-minutes to self-medicate. Om Namah Sivaya.

*If you are expecting or have any medical issues, it is recommended to have any fitness routine evaluated by your doctor.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 12: Crow

Kakasana, or crow pose, is an advanced yoga position that can be physically and mentally grueling on the body.  It demands work from many muscles groups, as well as proper balance and concentration.  That is why it is important to thoroughly prepare the body for this strenuous pose.

Kakasana, crow

Yoga Journal's Jason Crandell thought the exact same thing, so today he has dedicated an entire sequence to the preparation for kakasana (referred to as bakasana in the video).  He recognizes the importance of full body strength and walks us through the steps to strengthen our bodies.  Crandell particularly focuses on opening the hip flexors, strengthening the abdominal region, and bearing weight on the arms alone.

I think the best thing about this video is the fact that he allows time for one's body to mentally prepare itself for the strange position of kakasana.  Since it is not a position the body typically does in nature, it's important to give yourself time to adjust to this new situation.


So, why do kakasana? For starters, it looks amazing when performed properly.  It also gives strength to the arms, wrists, and shoulders and can aid in the prevention of osteoporosis of the wrists.  And coming from a western culture where attention disorders prevail, kakasana promotes concentration and physical and mental balance.

Show off.

If you feel wary about attempting kakasana or are a beginner, I think this is the perfect routine to get you started.  Even if you cannot get into the full pose, you can still do what I like to call a half-crow where your toes never leave the ground.  Once you feel like giving the pose a go, put a pillow in front of your mat in case you fall forward.  And if you already feel comfortable in crow, it never hurts to practice getting into the more advanced variations.  Take a look at the video and give it a try. Om Namah Sivaya!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 11: Back Bends

I was so excited to find that there was finally a new yoga sequence for the 21-day challenge. Today focused on back bends and  the alignment of the spine.  It was fabulous, and my back is thanking me for an excellent stretch.

If you're thinking about skipping today, here are some things to consider about backbends:

1.  At the ashram, a chiropractor lectured us on the importance of backbends for back health. He informed us the single most important asana was cobra.  "Why?" you may ask.  Just think about it! How many of you out there are habitual slouchers?  Which way does your back bend when you slouch? How many of us ever bend our backs in the other direction? I would be willing to bet, never.  That is why back bends are soooo important.  We can correct some back issues just by bending our backs in the opposite direction (ex. hunchback, back pain, lumbago, and myalgia of the back).

Bhujangasana, cobra.

2.  Women can especially benefit from backbends such as cobra and bow. Why? Because while we are in this pose, the ovaries and uterus are being toned.  Toning these organs can help relieve menstrual problems and combats some reproductive disorders. *If you are pregnant DO NOT attempt.

Dhanurasana, bow.

3.  Other benefits include increased flexibility, toning of superficial muscles of back and abdominal region (combating constipation), and can even provide relief to those with asthma (promotes expansion of the chest).

This list only scratches the surface of the benefits of backbends.  If I wanted to list them all, I would have to dedicate individual posts to each back bend.  So what are you waiting for? Pull your mats out (and a strap because you may want it) and start caring for your back! Om Namah Sivaya!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On to other things....

Upon further inspection of the 21-Day Yoga Challenge, I've discovered that the routines are the same every week. Quite the disappointment!  So instead of writing about the same thing everyday for the next two weeks, I'm going to focus my energy elsewhere. However, I do plan on completing the challenge, and I'm sure it's bound to come up in my writing at some point.

Now on to possible topics... Is there anything that you are curious about? Let me know if there is anything that you are particularly interested in, and I will do my best to cover the subject. Keep in mind that I have a background in hatha yoga, but I will do my best with questions about other forms of yoga.  Om Namah Sivaya!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week Two Begins

Yoga Journal really let me down today... The sequence is a re-run of day one.  I get that these routines can be done over and over again, but I was still disappointed when I opened my newsletter (especially when I wasn't particularly in love with the routine to begin with). I guess I was just expecting something new everyday.

I will admit though, the routine was much easier to complete today.  It just goes to show that yoga works and anyone can get results from this amazing practice.

Enough about me, what were your thoughts? Were you hoping for something different or were you pleasantly surprised to see this routine on the agenda again?  And if you completed today's routine, did you find it easier to complete this time around?

I would love to hear your feedback! Share your thoughts, concerns, anecdotes, or whatever in the comments.  Thanks so much and Om Namah Sivaya!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week One, Complete

It is day seven of the challenge and that means that I have successfully completed the first week!  If you are also participating, give yourself a pat on the back for your commitment and hard work. :)  Yoga Journal decided to treat us today with a nice and relaxing sequence.  This particular sequence is best done in the evening or anytime you are looking to unwind a little.

If you are looking for a more intense workout, you may find yourself slightly disappointed.  No particular asana is done and many of the movements are redundant. If you find yourself yearning for more, I would recommend completing the sequence from day one followed by this more gentle routine.

However, I think today's routine is the perfect opportunity to turn one's awareness inward.  Many of us tend to cycle through the yogic movements without allowing ourselves to tune into our inner self. During the movements, try closing your eyes and focus on the breath. Shutting off your visual sense makes a surprising difference during these relaxation focused routines.

Since today completes the first week, give yourself another treat by taking an extra-long savasana. If you usually do two-minutes, try five today and so on.  If you happen to have an eye pillow laying around, using it during final relaxation can be beneficial.  It blocks out any unnecessary light and puts comfortable pressure on the eye sockets. If you don't have an eye pillow, a small towel will do as well.

I would also like to draw your attention to From the Mat up's new online store feature. If you are in the market for a new mat or accessories, I would highly recommend it. Om Namah Sivaya!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 6: Open those hips!

Today's sequence was a very special treat for me: A hip day! I love, love, love yoga hip stretches.  Once again, we get another great workout from Rebecca Urban.  I think out of all the teachers, she is my favorite.  She and her model seem to always be very well prepared, and she is always so precise and encouraging.  Plus, anyone who starts a routine in child's pose gets an A+ in my book. ;)

I really liked how Rebecca started today with warm-up exercises (child's pose, cat-cow, shoulder to hip).  Warm-ups are so important, especially when opening the hip, because they help the body adjust more readily to the intensity it's about to go under.

I was surprised, however, when the routine only called for a half pigeon instead of a full.  I really enjoy relaxing into pigeon, and I feel that it is an important hip-opener.  But I was pleased that she included things such as "rocking the baby" and a modified cow face pose.

Half Pigeon
If you're a newbie to yoga and are giving today's challenge a try, don't be surprised if you can't get as deep as you want into the pose.  I know a lot of people who have been practicing for years that have limited hip mobility.  Just remember to never push yourself too far, and never try to compensate with your knee. Manipulating your knee in order to push your hip further can result in serious injury. Just be happy where you are and the flexibility will come in time.  Om Namah Sivaya!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 5: Low & Open

I am so relaxed after today's practice that my mind is totally blank on what to write, which is an excellent feeling!  It's always nice to see the benefits of yoga in action.  As I collect my thoughts, you should check out today's sequence with Elise Lorimer.

I was rather nervous when I read in my newsletter this morning that hanumanasana was on the agenda for today.  For someone with two bum hamstrings, this is a nearly impossible pose.  However, the video offered a great variation for me to keep from popping anything. That's why you have to love yoga:  No matter your ability or skill level, there is always a variation available.
Hanumanasana aka the splitz.  I haven't been able to do this since high school.
The variation I enjoyed.
My favorite part of the sequence definitely had to be the chair variations.  If you've ever done chair, you know it's a great workout for your thighs.  I find eagle to be my favorite spinoff of this lovely pose:
What a great stretch/burn!
If you are interested in this sequence at all, I would highly recommend having a block available.  Beginners trying hanumanasana will definitely appreciate having those extra few inches under their hands.  I would also recommend using the block for half moon pose as well.  If the hamstrings are tight, it can be difficult getting into the pose comfortably without disturbing your alignment.
Half moon with block support.  Remember to keep the legs perpendicular/parallel (depending on the leg) to the floor and the shoulders in a straight line.

The last thing I would recommend for today's practice is to give yourself an extended savasana (final relaxation).  I know this can be the hardest pose to do sometimes, but it's important to give your body time to recognize what it has just done and to let go of any tension or stress.  At the Ashram, we would do upwards of twelve-minute periods of relaxation.  You don't necessarily have to go to those extremes, but I would do no less than five. While savasana is relaxation, it is not nap time. You should keep the mind clear, but remember to stay alert and tune into your inner self (kinda like a mini-meditation session).
Just close your eyes, breath, and let go. Om Namah Sivaya.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 4: Aligning and Refining

The 21-Day Challenge is totally doing it's job... I woke up this morning and my abs were sore! I love that feeling, especially when it's from a self-motivated workout.  The core sequence from yesterday will have to go into my personal yoga archive for future reference.

On to today's sequence:  Aligning and Refining.  This is just a fancy way of saying posture and balance.  Most of the asanas were standing poses that worked on, you guessed it, balancing the body and aligning the spine.  I would highly recommend using a block and a strap for this sequence, especially if you are a beginner or have tight hamstrings.  My left hamstring is pretty much blown from an old injury, (non-yoga related) so I appreciated having a block nearby for the triangles and side angles.

Tree... I had to take it in my entryway because it's the only area not obstructed by furniture.  I need a yoga area!

Another pleasing thing about today's video was that it featured males!  The yoga community is largely represented by females, so it was nice to see male yogis represented as well.  I also liked Jason Crandall's encouraging voice and how he made sure to move slowly through each pose (moving too quickly could possibly result in a pulled hamstring).  However, I was a bit disappointed when the video abruptly cut off at around 30-minutes (6 minutes are missing).  It had to be a mishap because it was in the middle of half moon, right side (I had to do the left on my own, don't forget to do both sides!) 

I do have a few of tips to help make today's sequence a little easier:  First, while in balancing poses, pick a focal point.  I usually choose one on the ground in front of me or possibly one of my hands.  Whatever you choose, just make sure it makes sense, doesn't affect your alignment, and isn't distracting.  Second, remember to keep you hips in line with one another in all the angle/triangle poses.  You are really doing yourself a disservice by popping a hip out of alignment.  Sure, you may be able to reach further, but in doing so you are compromising your alignment and stretch.  Last, remember to keep your shoulder away from your ear in the poses.  Once again, it's all about alignment!

I would also like to add that I may soon feature Carrie-approved yoga products on my site.  More on that in the near future.  Also, I would like to take a moment to share this particularly cute picture of my dog, Penny:

Penny doesn't mind working from the mat up to get into shape. :)
I hope that everyone participating in the challenge is enjoying it as much as I am.  And if you're not doing it yet, it's never too late to start (Well, it does end on the 31st.) Anyone can spare a max time of 45-minutes from their day to feel great.  Remember to watch the video and sign up for the daily newsletter.  If you have any questions or comments, leave me some love below and I'll get back to you asap. Om Namah Sivaya!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A new blog and day three of the challenge!

Over the past few months, I have been keeping another blog, mostly anecdotes to keep friends and family who live far away updated about my life. However, after attending a yoga teacher training course back in October, I noticed that majority of my posts have included something about the yoga practice.  After much thought and deliberation, I decided to make a spin off and dedicate an entire space to yoga.

The last few entries in my other blog have discussed a 21-Day Yoga Challenge created by Yoga Journal.  If you haven't heard about the challenge, I describe it here.  It is my goal to complete the challenge, blog about it daily, and hopefully motivate others along the way (The first two days can be found here and here.)  I am continuing the yoga challenge blogs on this site starting today.

Today's yoga challenge was a core strengthening sequence and lasted about 20 minutes.  I loved this routine and really felt the burn in my abdomen.  However, I never felt strained or too tired to continue.  The instructor, Rebecca Urban, combined the perfect amount of effort and relaxation in her routine.  I would highly recommend this workout for any skill level (Beginners, that means you too!)  Everyone would be doing themselves a great favor by working out their core.  Not only will you experience a flatter middle, but you will notice that daily activities may become easier to complete (Ever had to twist and stretch in order to get something out of reach?)

The Swimmer... A variation on boat pose.

If you would like more information about today's challenge, this link will take you to the video. You can also sign up for the 21-Day Challenge newsletter at the same site.  By signing up, daily videos, recipes, and helpful tips will come straight to your inbox each day. Also, remember to check out my new blog daily for my thoughts on the day's practice (I also sometimes post my own personal tips.)  Have a great day and Om Namah Sivaya!