Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

For the last twenty plus years, I have had the pleasure of viewing a silver maple tree out my kitchen window.  I live in the midwest and have seen the splendor of this tree in every season. I’ve watched it grow from an adolescent, to the tall strong beauty that stands in my yard today. I love seeing its graceful branches gently moving and bending in the breeze, its roots planted firm in the earth.  I am always reminded of this beautiful tree when teaching or practicing tree pose (Vrksasana) in yoga

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My silver oak

I have been a yoga instructor for 16 years, and a student of yoga for 20.  Tree pose is one of the first balance postures we learn in yoga, and one of the most powerful and sometimes challenging postures.  I personally love the strength I feel while standing tall in this posture. Physically, tree pose stretches the inner thighs, groin, and shoulders.  It strengthens the calves, thighs, core, and feet. Mental focus is essential in tree pose, and while it relaxes the central nervous system, it brings balance to the body, opening oneself to mind/body awareness.  Tree pose encourages oneness and I feel the true nature of this posture is a subtle balance in the mind, body, and spirit.  When you practice visualize the strength of your roots traveling from your body, down through your feet, and into the ground.  You may sway as trees do in the wind, but if you remain focused and connected to your breath, you will find yourself anchored to the ground through your strong system of roots. I love that tree pose allows you the freedom to shift and move to find your stability with the knowledge that your strong foundation is supporting you and keeping you secure.  As you breathe and stand tall in tree, you find and are content with your own progress in this posture, finding acceptance in your true self.

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Nicole demonstrating tree pose

For more information on Tree Pose, check out this link.  http://www.yogabasics.com/asana/tree/

~May

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Fruit Infused Water

We always hear about the importance of drinking enough water, particularly during the hot summer months.  Water flushes toxins from our bodies, boosts our metabolism, keeps the body moving while we sweat, helps prevent kidney stones and constipation, supports healthy skin tone, etc…..Basically water is essential for our health and well being.

For me, drinking plain old water is well, boring.  I know I don’t drink as much as I should and I’m not a big fan of the flavored waters you can purchase, so I started infusing my own water with seasonal fruits and some fresh herbs from my garden.  It’s so easy and for the most part, you can use any combination of fruits that you love.  The water is full of natural flavor and has no chemicals or calories. You can make the water by the glass or you can purchase a fruit infusion pitcher and keep it in the fridge.  Simply add your choice of fruits and/or herbs to your favorite glass, ice and water.  That’s it.  The longer you let the fruit water sit, the more it infuses.

Here are some of my favorites:

-Lemon with fresh mint

-Blueberry and strawberry

-Lemon and cucumber

-Strawberry, basil and cucumber

-Lemon and raspberry

-Lemon and lime

-Orange, mint, and rosemary

-Watermelon

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I love trying different combinations of fruits and herbs.  I also like infusing fruit in coconut water.  It adds a little extra flavor,  plus coconut water contains potassium and a little sodium which the body needs if you are sweating.

So if you’re tired of plain old water, give this a try.

Enjoy your Monday.

May

The Many Wonders of Coconut Oil

Once demonized as an unhealthy saturated fat, coconut oil is now becoming one of our country’s newest superfood.  It’s unique blend of fatty acids is showing promise with such health benefits as lowering cholesterol, promoting weight loss, and possibly aiding in the prevention of Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia.  (Alzheimers.net)  In addition to its health benefits, coconut oil also has many wonderful uses.

I personally have used coconut oil for several years.  For me, it was easy.  I LOVE coconut.  I love it flaked, in cookies, and in candy bars (hello Mounds).  I regularly drink coconut water, and in the summer I love coconut sorbet when I can find it.  (I know June is making a face while reading this as she’s not a fan)  In addition to the wonderful health benefits to my heart and brain, I’ve discovered many other uses for coconut oil that I’d love to share with you.

1. One tablespoon of coconut oil emulsified in coffee.  Make sure you have an immersion blender to mix it well, otherwise the oil will just sit on top of the coffee and it’s not very good.

2. I’ve started to move away from applying chemicals to my skin, and now solely use coconut oil after my shower.  You don’t need much and it absorbs quickly, especially if your skin is a little dry.

3. I’ve discovered if your hair has some flyaways, particularly in the winter, just a dab of coconut oil rubbed between your palms then on your ends does a great job of keeping them tame.

4. In the winter my feet get really dry.  Before bed I rub a little coconut oil on my feet and put on socks.

5. After I’ve been out in the sun, I spread a little coconut oil on my arms and legs.  I don’t sunburn often, but it does give relief to a sunburn.

6. The natural properties of coconut oil also make it a good facial moisturizer.  I only do this in the winter, when my skin is particularly dry.

7.  Coconut oil makes a great makeup remover.

8. Massage oil for tired muscles.

9. My family makes popcorn the old fashion way, on the stove.  We switched to coconut oil and our popcorn turns out perfect every time.  Just put 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot and allow it to melt.  Sprinkle in 1/3 -1/2 cup of popcorn and cover.  Periodically shake the pot so the kernels don’t burn. When it’s done popping, add whatever toppings you like and you’re ready to start your movie.  The coconut oil adds a nice light flavor, similar to movie popcorn.

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10.  Coconut oil is a great replacement for vegetable oils if you are doing a sauté, and we use it in the pan for eggs.

11.  A little coconut oil is yummy on toast.

12.  A teaspoon of coconut oil thickens smoothies.

13.  Coconut oil whitens teeth and is great for gums. (oil pulling)

14.  Great lip moisturizer.

15. A tablespoon in a cup of tea can help soothe a sore throat.

16. A teaspoon mixed in your dog’s food promotes healthy skin and a shiny coat.IMG_2609 (2)

The list goes on and on.  I’ve generally used Trader Joe’s coconut oil because it’s available and a good price.  Now you can buy it just about anywhere.  You want to look for a brand that’s organic, unrefined, and virgin.  For more great uses and information on the benefits of coconut oil, check out this link. draxe.com

What are some of the ways you use coconut oil?

~May

Breathing Space

I love yoga, and was hooked after my very first class.  When I began the yoga journey I was a runner and loved the calming effect it had on  the mind chatter in my head, the postures stretching and soothing my tight muscles. As a student, I know when I cross the threshold into the sacred space of the studio, I can leave my stress and worries outside the door, giving my mind, body, and spirit a much needed break from everyday life. As an instructor, I always look forward to my very first class with fresh yogis new to the practice. I love watching them as they walk into my room with brand new rolled up mats, ready to have their bodies twisted and shaped into postures they’ve seen many times in magazines. I also love to see the confused looks on their faces when they realize the majority of their first class will be spent stretched out on their mats, learning the art of breathing and finding the peace that comes with stillness.

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Learning to quiet the mind for even a few moments can be one of the most challenging aspects of a yoga practice. We humans love to obsess about the past, or worry about the future and often miss out on the simple act of being.  Let’s face it, most of us take breathing for granted because it’s automatic and we are usually unaware of it, unless of course it’s somehow compromised.  But did you know that how you breathe can actually effect how you feel?  Did you know that the more stressed you are, the shorter your breath becomes which can actually make you more anxious?  The word yoga means union.  In this beautiful practice we unite the body, breath, and mind and they all work together. Breathing correctly is vital to a yoga practice, which is why I teach it first.  It fuels our muscles with energy.  Our breath also lives in the present moment.  Taking a few minutes everyday to connect with the breath, whether you’re practicing yoga or sitting at your desk, calms the central nervous system. It allows the mind and body to experience the bliss of what is here and now.  We’re able to release the past which is gone, and stop the what if’s of what may or may not happen in the future, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the present moment.

To learn more about the basics of diaphragmatic breathing, check out the link below.

http://www.yogajournal.com/article/practice-section/healing-breath/

Namaste,

~May