Sunday, September 25, 2016

Teacher Wellness Series, Part 2: Morning Rituals to Start Your Day Off Right

What is a morning ritual? A morning ritual is a series of habits, acts, or practices, usually completed in the same order, day after day. And these rituals are vitally important--the way we begin our morning sets the tone for the rest of our day. A calm, relaxed, and nourishing morning ritual empowers you to deal with the inevitable challenges you'll encounter, reduces stress, increases productivity, and helps you live more intentionally. And getting out of bed is a lot easier when you have something to look forward to! Developing a morning ritual is a very personal thing, and one that evolves over time to be responsive to your needs. This blog post is a window into my current morning ritual that will hopefully inspire you to develop your own.

Morning Stretch: sometimes I do a few yoga poses before I even get out of bed, slowly introducing movement and stretching to my body after hours of sleep. This morning sequence will help you transition from sleep to awake and make it easier to get out of bed.

Apanasana: hug your knees into your chest and gently roll from side to side
Happy Baby: hands come to the outsides of your feet as you bend your knees, bringing them wider than your torso. Soles of the feet face the ceiling as you lengthen your tailbone down to the mattress. You can rock from side to side.
Supine Twists: extend your arms out to the sides in a t shape as you hug your knees into your chest. Let your knees fall over to the right side as you look over your left shoulder. Ground down through your shoulders, and use your right hand to press your knees closer to the mattress.
Bridge: let your arms rest by your sides as you bend you knees and place your feet flat on the mattress. Gently push your hips up toward the ceiling, pressing down through your hands.
Fish: while lying flat on your back, bring your hands underneath your hips, palms down to the mattress. Lift your heart and chest above your shoulders (think pushing from your bra strap area) and stretch your head back.
Seated Forward Fold: sit up, extending your legs in front of you. Inhale to lengthen your spine, then exhale as you fold forward, reaching for your shins, ankles, or toes.
Child's Pose: sitting up, bring your sit bones to your heels, pausing for a few breaths in virasana (hero's pose). Push back into child's pose, keeping your legs together or taking your knees as wide as your hips. Arms can extend over head, using your hands to push your sit bones a little closer to your heels.

Lemon Water: for years I've heard about the benefits of drinking warm lemon water first thing (before eating) in the morning. This hasn't been natural for me as I'm always ravenous when I wake up and want to go straight to eating breakfast. However, I've had more success with this practice since I started squeezing the juice of half a lemon into a cup of water the night before. Then I just microwave it for 90 seconds and drink it while I prepare my breakfast. You can even drink it at room temperature if you prefer. So what's the big deal about warm water and lemon?
-helps constipation
-prevents urinary tract infections
-boosts your immune system and fights off infections (all that vitamin C!)
-reduces inflammation in your body
-cleanses the liver
-promotes weight loss
-boosts brain and nerve function
Read more here!

Goal or Intention Setting: as I eat breakfast, sometimes I write down 5 things I'd like to complete during the day. Taking the time to write down your goals for the day takes them from abstract to concrete, increases your accountability, and makes it more likely that you will actually accomplish them. And goals don't need to be about housework or your job...including goals such as drinking water, pausing to breathe when you feel stressed, or going for a walk at noon make your self-care and wellness a priority.

Additionally, you might choose to set an intention for your day. An intention is a quality or attribute that you wish to cultivate or continue to work on. Intentions such as patience, calm, or kindness are powerful when recalled throughout the day. If I am working on a certain intention for a period of time, I make it the lock screen on my phone. I use a picture that I really like and use a text on photo app (such as Rhonna Designs) and create something that is a beautiful reminder every time I check my phone. I sometimes do this with inspiring quotations as well.

Inspiring Quotations: I LOVE inspiring quotations. I have books of them and I'm always pinning them on Pinterest. After finishing breakfast, I take a cup of tea to my yoga mat and I often choose an inspiring quotation for the day or week. One of my favourite inspirational books is "Brave Enough" by Cheryl Strayed. No matter what page I flip to in this little green book, there is always something that resonates with me. As I mentioned previously, I sometimes turn my favourite quotations into an image for the lock screen of my phone. Or if you'd rather do it old school, print them on a Post It note and stick them to the dash of your car!

Yoga Practice: now that I'm on my mat with a cup of tea and inspiring thoughts in my head, I begin my physical yoga practice. Although I generally practice in my living room, it's important for me to create a tranquil atmosphere. I either burn incense or plug in my Saje diffuser with an essential oil or oil blend. Depending on my mood, it might be a grounding, energizing, uplifting, or calming scent. I am pretty much obsessed with my aromaOm much that I just bought a second one so that I didn't have to keep moving it around the house with me. Saje diffusers are wonderful for cleaning the air and fragrancing your space. My favourite essential oil blends from Saje are Yoga and Tantra, and I always love lavender essential oil.

My morning yoga practice always begins with breathing exercises, cat/cow, child's pose, some gentle twists and side body stretches, and sun salutations Sun salutations are wonderful for warming the body and working nearly every muscle group. After my sun salutations, I do a combination of flow sequences and static poses depending on what my body needs. In order to move forward with my practice, I try to work on a pose that is challenging for me. I find that by practicing it daily, I see a lot more growth and feel like I'm getting somewhere in my practice. Since I'm a yoga teacher, I usually make up my own sequences. If you're not comfortable with that, an online class might be a better option for you. See this post for free online yoga resources.
Above: hard at work on Warrior III as my challenging pose of the day

After a nice long savasana, I sit in meditation for a few minutes and practice gratitude (learn more about meditation and gratitude in future posts). Then I open my eyes, ready to begin my day...always feeling stronger, calmer, and more quietly energized than when I got out of bed. Teaching is a very demanding profession, and we owe it to ourselves and our students to take the very best possible care of ourselves. Developing a morning ritual that feeds your soul is an important part of being the best teacher you can be each day.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Teacher Wellness Series, Part 1: Simple Tips and Free Resources to Start Your Yoga Practice

If you are a regular reader of this blog or follow me on social media, you'll know that yoga is a huge part of my life. For my entire adult life, I dabbled in the physical practice of yoga on and off, but only in the past two years have I developed a daily practice and certified as a yoga teacher. I often hear from people that they'd love to start doing yoga too, but they're unsure of where to begin. This blog post is for you!

If you live in a rural area, yoga studios are few and far between. For my urban friends, sometimes it is just really intimidating to show up at a yoga studio as a complete beginner. Not that it should be--I've found yoga communities around the world to be very warm, welcoming, and supportive. But sometimes you just aren't sure about the level of the class, and practicing beside someone who can do a headstand when you aren't sure what child's pose is can be daunting indeed! If you have access to a studio, consider signing up for a "Foundations of Yoga" or beginners' class. Classes like this will slowly take you through the basics and ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what key poses feel like in your body. If you're feeling some anxiety, it's a good idea to talk to the instructor first. Ask if he/she is comfortable with providing options for yogis of all abilities and if the instructor recommends his/her class for new yogis.

A few private sessions are not as pricey as you'd think and can go a long way to helping you feel comfortable on your mat. I began my yoga practice with private sessions with a yoga instructor and my best friend. It was a wonderful introduction to the practice and made me realize that yoga was key to managing stress and taking care of myself. But my private sessions were only once a week and I wanted to learn more on my own and practice on a daily basis. I had a couple of friends who mentioned 30 Day Yoga Challenges, so I decided to begin one on my own. Since then, I've discovered a number of great online tools, classes, and challenges.
Above: starting my first 30 day yoga challenge nearly two years ago with my $15 mat and my sheltie for company!

My Favourite Free Yoga Resources

30 Day Yoga Pose Journey: The Journey Junkie
One pose a day is delivered to your inbox, beginning with simple poses and moving to more advanced. There's a nice explanation of the benefits of the pose and a short tutorial video. This is an excellent way to build your practice, one pose at a time!

Yoga with Adriene: 30 Days of Yoga 
This was my first 30 day yoga challenge and it had a huge impact on me. Although Adriene can be really chatty and somewhat annoying, she does know what she's talking about. She really encourages you to listen to your body and "find what feels good". She has tons of free content on her YouTube channel, and you can sign up to have a weekly class sent to your inbox.

Erin Motz: Bad Yogi Official Blog
Erin Motz is my favourite online yoga instructor, and I did her 30 day yoga challenge after I completed Adriene's. She is very down to earth and accessible for new yogis, but her videos have a nice level of challenge to move you forward in your practice. If you visit her blog, she has lots of free content, and you can also sign up to receive a free weekly class emailed to you on Mondays. Erin is a huge figure in yoga counter-culture and maintains that we need to take the snobbery and pretentiousness out of yoga--yoga is for everyone and every body type.

Do You Yoga
Do You Yoga is a paid subscription site, but they have lots of great free classes, challenges, and articles too. This is a great resource and definitely worth a visit--they frequently have weekly and monthly challenges that you can access for free.

What supplies do you need to get started?
Truthfully, you can practice yoga on the floor in your bare feet with no props or mats. However, it is more comfortable with a mat. If you're not sure that yoga is for you, I'd recommend picking up an inexpensive mat at Winners for $15. If you continue to practice and want something more supportive, I'd recommend purchasing a mat from Lululemon or B Mat. Both are Canadian companies who make excellent products. I love Lululemon's 5 mm's super cushy and grippy.

I would also recommend two blocks. Again, you purchase them for about $7 each at Winners. A yoga strap isn't a must (you can always use a scarf), but a strap is very inexpensive and I always like to have the proper equipment. A strap is invaluable in seated forward fold if you can't reach your toes yet, and as well as variety of other poses! Lululemon makes a great strap that doubles as a carrier for your mat.

Important Points to Remember
They say it takes weeks to develop a new habit, so try and carve out a bit of time each day to explore yoga--even 15 minutes! I prefer to practice in the morning--it is a wonderful start to my day and no matter how crazy my day turns out to be, I've already got my yoga in! Make yourself a cup of  tea and put some music on...make this a special time for yourself (read more about this in a future post about morning rituals).

Some days you just won't feel like doing yoga. For those times, I have a rule that all I have to do is get on my mat and do child's pose (still wearing my pajamas). Sometimes I'll stay in child's pose for ten minutes, but usually it feels so nice that I'm inspired to do more. It's getting on your mat this is the important part...staying there is easy!

Listen to your body. If it hurts, don't do it! Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Some discomfort in a new pose is normal, but pain is not. And always make sure that your body is warmed up before increasing the demands on it!

Lastly, don't forget to breathe. Linking breath with movement is what makes yoga the transformative practice it is. And don't forget to be kind to yourself and enjoy every step of this new journey you have started!