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How to Make Travel as Rejuvenating as Possible

As an international yoga teacher most of my travel is for work, but I’ve found a few key things that help me stay stress free while traveling for work or for pleasure.

Food

Irene13This is a big one on my list, because when I eat well I have more energy and find it easier to demonstrate poses while teaching. This can mean staying at a resort that cooks healthy and organic meals, or finding a hotel near a marketplace where you can shop for yourself and stock up on healthy buys. When choosing vacation spots or places to host yoga retreats healthy food is definitely a priority.
 

Exercise

Since we all enjoy different forms of exercise, it is important to find a place that suits your needs. Whether this means choosing a hotel with a pool or gym, or a resort near a beach or that offers yoga classes. Even if you don’t normally exercise, taking time to walk and sight see can be a great way to tire yourself out, making sure you rest well even with a time change.

Rest

Irene8When it comes to traveling for vacation many of us try to pack in as much as possible, but remember to leave time and space to relax so that you can really enjoy yourself. I need time alone in order to clear my mind. Sometimes I read or write, other times I just nap, but it’s important for me to book my time wisely, leaving time for me.

Ease of Travel

When traveling for work I don’t always have a lot of say in how or where I travel, but when I do I make sure to choose wisely. This means direct flights whenever possible, adding an extra day when the time change is more than 7 hours, picking cities that are easy to navigate, and researching the places I travel before I go. When I travel for pleasure, depending on the duration of my trip I try to limit overall travel time (to and from airport as well as time on the plane) whenever I can so that I can spend my time off on the beach instead of in the car or on the plane.

Location 

Irene3One of my favorite places that I have been to in the last year is Vista Celestial in Costa Rica. This boutique hotel is perfect for a luxurious retreat with an active lifestyle. The food is all locally sourced and organic, much of it being grown on site. Locally grown coffee is roasted and ground fresh every morning, which is a huge plus for me! With a pool, jungle trails, yoga platforms, and a private beach nearby, there are tons of activities to stay fit whether you like to surf or practice yoga.

The Great Outdoors

Nature has its special way infusing us with energy and instilling in us a sense of wellness and relaxation.  I live in a busy urban environment so when I travel I try to pick destinations that offer the chance to escape and explore the wilderness, hike, meditate, and of course, practice Yoga.

Fun

Irene7 Although it seems obvious, remember to enjoy yourself and have fun! Put your cell phone away and just be present and enjoy every moment. Use your time to try new experiences, meet new people and enjoy life to its fullest. Making memories that last a lifetime will leave you feeling like a new person and you will return feeling recharged and ready to take on life’s challenges.

Irene Pappas - As a lover of movement, Irene is passionate about her practice. She practices both Ashtanga and Rocket yoga, as she enjoys both a traditional practice as well as a spontaneous one. Not only does she practice yoga but she studies with hand balancers, circus performers, and contortionists to expand her own knowledge and explore the capabilities of her body.

Flexible Strength - Red Bank, NJ

The Ultimate Guide to Staying Motivated into the New Year

Even though we're already a couple weeks into 2016, there's no reason why you can't choose a resolution now. The holiday season has its share of wonderful moments; it's always great to see family and celebrate, while taking some time off work. However, there's no doubting that the season is also full of hectic situations. From planning events to buying gifts, it's easy to feel exhausted going into the holidays; there’s just so much that has to be done.

Staying motivated throughout the New Year instead can be extremely beneficial to your focus, efficiency and overall health. The six tips below will help you use the chaos of the holiday season as a surprising way to stay focused and motivated into the New Year:

 

Maintain Your Exercise Routine

It’s easier to stay motivated if you strive to maintain your exercise routine to a reasonable degree into the New Year. Doing so will shake off the holiday grogginess that many people feel come after New Year’s, mostly due to sitting around and eating/drinking. Those things are fine; it’s the holidays after all. Just be sure to start back up with your usual exercise ASAP to burn it off and stay motivated.

 

Give Time, Money, or Gifts to Others

Charity is mutually beneficial; it helps others while boosting your own sense of self-worth (and rightfully so). A lack of motivation can be due to fear of failure or lack of faith in one’s abilities, both areas that can be aided by the work and resulting feeling of helping out in a soup kitchen, donating your bonus to charity, or going gift shopping for others. Being charitable not only during the holiday season, but all year long is the right thing to do and helps you stay motivated as well.

 

Set Realistic Goals

There's a lot of stress injected into our lives during the holiday season, largely because we're deliberating about changes to our lives in the near future. With this in mind, it's always important to set realistic goals, as opposed to over-encumbering yourself with unrealistic expectations. Making short term goals as opposed to long term goals can help provide a likelier positive mental payoff that rewards your psyche and maintains focus.

 

Visualize Tasks

Getting back into a routine after the holidays can be tough. It's a useful habit to use visuals to aid in organizational skills. This can be done as simply as placing yellow post-its on your fridge, or using a small section of your home for work with a small board displaying tasks that need to be accomplished.

There are also a wide assortment of mobile apps that aid in task management. Many of them feature notification options that will notify you via a text message or pop-up when a certain task needs to be done, or simply a friendly reminder. This is particularly useful for those who are wary of losing track of time and responsibilities during the holidays, which is certainly the most vulnerable time of the year for such to occur.

 

Do the Mundane Tasks Right Away

Specifically by attending to any pending mundane tasks, like paying off your credit card, addressing any bills, making any repairs you’ve been putting off, etc. This will make the transition from holiday break to work a lot easier when the time comes, keeping you motivated, focused and confident as opposed to unprepared and overwhelmed.

 

Show Interest in the Careers of Others

Not only is showing interest in this admirable conversationally, but it can also keep you motivated; hearing of others’ business successes will motivate you to do the same, while more bleak tales of business can serve as a lesson of things to avoid.

 

These six tips should keep you alert and motivated throughout the holiday season, enough to make the transition seamless when it passes, resulting in a very ideal way to start the New Year.


Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 8.48.46 AMKacey Mya Bradley is a lifestyle blogger for "The Drifter Collective."  Throughout her life, she has found excitement in the world around her.  Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations, cultures, and styles, while communicating these endeavors through her passion for writing and expression. Her love for the world around her is portrayed through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Twitter. Pinterest.

The Drifter Collective: An eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us.

 

Secrets to Better Breath Control in Aqua Yoga

  Yoga is believed to have originated between the fifth and sixth centuries BCE in India. It is an umbrella term for a variety of mental, physical, and spiritual practices with a wide net of goals that may include peace, balance, or an overall sense of well-being. Aqua yoga, also called water yoga, is a low-impact form of exercise that adapts yoga postures for the water. This requires some degree of breath control, and if you enjoy aqua yoga but struggle with breath control, there are steps you can take to improve.

Overcome your Fear of the Water

A beginner water yoga class is usually conducted in the shallow end of the pool, with your feet firmly planted on the pool floor. However, bending into a pose can bring your face close to the water. It is natural to be frightened of having your face in the water, and plenty of adults still carry this sense of unease. This is especially true if you never learned to swim, and deep water is foreign to you. To gain confidence, go to the pool and practice putting your face in the water. There is a trick to breathing properly: you want to constantly exhale when your face is submerged, and turn your head to inhale when you are through exhaling. Plenty of beginners have a habit of holding their breath underwater. This causes you to tense up as carbon dioxide saturates your blood stream. As you practice and learn to breathe continuously in the water, any residual fear of the water should abate.

Control Your Exhalation

Once you're completely comfortable breathing in the water, you can start with controlling your exhalation. At first, you'll exhale very strongly. Over time, you can perfect a slow, controlled exhale in time with your postures. As you become more and more comfortable in the water and having your face submerged, you will learn to time your breathing with your poses. Focus on constant breathing. Never hold your breath, as this will cause you to tense up. Constant breathing will allow your body to remain oxygenated and relaxed throughout your yoga practice.

Work on Lung Capacity

If you want to learn to exhale slowly and consistently, you will eventually wish your lungs could hold more volume. While lung capacity is limited by biology, you can learn to use all the space in your lungs effectively. Swimming lessons are excellent low-impact cardio activities that can help you to utilize all your lung capacity. Let your instructor know your goals involve relaxed, efficient breathing. The vast majority of swim coaches understand that tight, labored breathing leads to inefficient movement and body tension, so you should have no issue finding help in this area. You can find available classes for New York City swimming lessons at SwimJim to help you get started.

Focus on Breathing from All Directions

Many novices to water sports develop a bad habit of always breathing to one side. This not only throws off a swimming stroke, it can strain your neck and put pressure on the eardrum opposite the side you favor. As you become more and more confident, concentrate on breathing from all directions in your yoga poses. While swimmers choose left or right during most strokes and breathe with their head straight during the motion of a breast stroke, yoga practitioners approach the surface from all angles. Pay attention to the sensation of the water on your face and move slowly until you are comfortable taking air in any direction. Learning to control your breathing in the water during aqua yoga takes practice, especially if you have an apprehension or fear of the water. By following this progressive training schedule, you can get comfortable with deep, relaxed, effective breathing at all stages of your poses.

 

Featured Image: Hugo André

5 Yoga Poses to Balance Your Third Eye Chakra

The sixth chakra, Ajna, is our all seeing Third Eye. It is all about intuition, wisdom and psychic ability. When this chakra is open, we can trust our inner guidance, we are intuitive but grounded and can see clearly what needs to be seen. To keep this chakra in balance you can incorporate the following gentle asanas and meditative exercises into your practice. Let your creativity fly, and feel free to visualize the world exactly as you would like to see it. After all, we first create with the eye of the mind, we create with visualizing, before we see things in the physical world.

1. Child's pose with forehead pressed to the floor

Come down to child's pose, knees open or closed, hands stretched in front. Press your forehead on the floor, close your eyes and bring your awareness to the Third eye. Bring your inner energy onto to this chakra, and let it show you how you would see the world through it. What is needed for you to see? What is relevant, and what isn't?

Take 2-4 minutes here, breathe steady and long, and let your body relax.

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2. Ardha Uttanasana - Half standing forward bend

This mild forward fold relaxes the mind and at the same time creates pressure in the area of the third eye, stimulating it.

06_Ajna_Chakra2 kaisa_yoga-4

Start in Tadasana, inhale your arms up, and fold forward into uttanasana, standing forward bend. On an inhale straighten your legs and your back, and place your palms on the floor in front, or on your shins (or on two blocks). Stay for 4 long and deep breaths, and come out by folding back down to uttanasana on an exhale. Bend your knees, and come back up with an inhale, arms all the way up towards the sky, palms touching. Close your eyes and bring your thumbs close to your forehead, and pause here. Feel the third eye chakra, take 5-6 long breaths before lowering the hands and opening your eyes.

3. Sun salutations - with your eyes closed

Yes, with your eyes closed! When we close our eyes, we can truly start to see with our Third eye. Make sure you have enough room in case you tumble, and take it slow. Feel your body, feel you intuitive guidance and go with the flow.

06_Ajna_Chakra3

You can do one round of Sun salutations with your eyes open, and flow through uttanasana (standing forward bend), ardha uttanasana (half standing forward bend) , plank pose, chaturanga dandasana (four limbed staff pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), adho mukha savasana (downward facing dog) and back to uttanasana and finally tadasana (mountain pose).

After this first round, close your eyes before you begin the second round. Place your hands in anjali mudra, and have the bases of your thumbs touching the forehead. Focus here, and again draw all your energy into this one point of the sixth chakra. From here, begin 4 rounds of Sun salutations with your eyes closed.

After the final round, take a few breaths in Tadasana and feel your body. How did you experience your body when the eyes were closed. What was different?

4. Virabhadrasana III - Warrior III

Practicing balance can bring energy and awareness into our third eye chakra. When we balance the body, the mind needs to be just as engaged as the body.

Start in Tadasana in front of your mat. Inhale your arms up, and with the exhale bring the palms together and place the thumbs again onto your forehead. Close your eyes, take few breaths here and draw the energy into your third eye chakra.

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With an exhale, bring your palms in front of your heart centre, pour all your weight onto your right leg, and start lifting up the left leg while hinging forwards from the hips. Keep the hips square, and the toes of the left foot facing towards the floor. Keep your hands on your chest, or extend them forward or to the side. Take 3-5 deep breaths here. With an exhale take your hands back in front of your heart space, and start coming back up with a straight back. Repeat on the other side.

5. Seated meditation

One of the best ways to find contact with our Ajna Chakra is via meditation. Find yourself in a comfortable seated position, sit on a block or on the floor, straighten the back and relax the shoulders. Close your eyes.

06_Ajna_Chakra5a

Start with rubbing your hands together to generate heat in your palms. Do this for about 15-20 seconds, after which you can place your hands on your eyes. The warmth of the palms stimulates the eyes and lets the eyes soften. Once you feel the palms losing their heat, repeat once more.

06_Ajna_Chakra5b

Then, place your hands on your thighs or on your lap, and focus on your breathing. Once more draw your energy onto your third eye, and ask it to show you what you need to see. Ask it to remind you of your purpose in this life, and then sit and listen to the answers coming from within.

06_Ajna_Chakra6

The Ajna Chakra is about your inner wisdom and guidance. It's about being creative and trusting the intuitive messages we receive. For this we sometimes need to close our eyes to really see what we need to see.


feature mage via: M. Appelman

5 Yoga poses to Balance Your Throat Chakra

  The fifth chakra, Vissudha, is our voice. It is governing our ability to express ourselves, to listen and to communicate with others. It challenges us to think about what we say and what we hold back, what is our truth and how willing we are to share it.

To balance your Vissudha chakra, yoga poses that focus on the upper back and throat can be beneficial. Here are 5 yoga poses that can bring balance to your 5th chakra.

1. Neck rolls

If the throat chakra is not balanced, this can lead to tension in the neck and jaw. You may grind your teeth or have tensed shoulders.

05_Visshudha_Chakra1

Start by sitting comfortably in Sukhasana, and bring a block under your hips if needed. Start with tilting your head from side to side, slowly observing if there is any tension. You can roll your head from side to side, and stretch the sides as well as the back of the neck. Make also sure that the jaw is released. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

2. Matsyasana - Fish pose

The Fish pose opens the throat and the chest. It stimulates the thyroid and strengthens the muscles of the back.

05_Visshudha_Chakra2

Start with laying on your back, and slide your hands slightly under your hips. Keep your hands touching your hips at all times throughout the pose. Imagine there is a magnet in the middle of your chest pulling you up. With an inhale, start slowly lifting up your chest from this point. The crown of the head, or the back of the head, touches the floor, and the forearms stay grounded to the floor. Stay for 2-4 breaths and come out slowly. If you feel any tension in your neck or throat, lower the chest and the angle of the head.

3. Salamba Sarvangasana - Supported Shoulderstand

The supported Shoulder stand tunes the nerves running in the neck, and stimulates the thyroid. The pose calms the mind while energizing the body. As it's an inversion, the blood starts to circulate better and the mind gets clearer.

You can start in Viparita Karani, bringing the legs up the wall and hips close to the wall. Place the bottoms of your feet against the wall, and have your hands firmly on the ground. From here you can start slowly lifting your hips up, firmly rooting your feet onto the wall. Once up, you can bring your hands behind your lower back to support your back, and raise one leg at a time, or both legs, into supported shoulder stand.

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Be mindful not to adjust yourself when in the pose! Stay for 2-4 breaths to begin with. Slowly come down by placing your feet back on the wall, and lowering yourself onto the mat. With any pain or discomfort in the neck, avoid the pose.

4. Purvottanasana - Upward plank

This pose gives a great stretch to the shoulders, neck and upper back, releasing tension from the whole front of the body.

05_Visshudha_Chakra4

To come to this pose, start with sitting in Dandasana, and place your hands behind your hips, fingers pointing towards you. Take an inhale, and on an exhale press into your hands and lift up your hips. Try to open up the chest towards the skies, and if your neck feels comfortable, you can drop your head gently. Leave your neck neutral if you have any discomfort in the neck. Hold for 2-3 breaths at first, and come out slowly by lowering your hips.

5. Child's pose

Child's pose is a wonderful, restorative pose, relaxing the upper back, neck and throat. You can have your knees together, or apart, whichever feels more comfortable. Have your hands straight in front, or folded underneath your forehead. Place a flat pillow or bolster under your hip bones to make the pose more comfortable. Try to let go of all the tensions you might be holding in this area, and relax yourself with every breath.

05_Visshudha_Chakra5

In all poses try to imagine the freedom you have when you can speak your truth in every situation, and with every person. Remind yourself:

I have the right to speak my truth. I love to share my experiences and wisdom. I am at peace.

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Ayurveda 101: How to Easily Reduce Inflammation and Stop Bloating

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to fight infection. However when inflammation gets beyond control and starts causing pain it needs to be controlled. Pain is often accompanied by swelling. Ayurveda defines pain as an excess of  vata or air in the body. Where there is swelling and pain there is excess vata. Increased Vata moves freely between the joints causing pain and inflammation and at times blocking the normal functioning of the body.
To reduce this inflammation ayurveda prescribes a reduction in air within the body. Air is considered as drying, rough, cooling so eating foods that are the opposite of these qualities will reduce the free movement of air in the body. So instead of dry foods opt for oily foods like ghee, butter and milk. Favour cooked foods over raw foods as raw foods are considered rough and increase the vata element. You can go back to raw foods once the vata is balanced i.e the inflammation goes away. Eat freshly cooked food and avoid kept food even if the food is reheated, it is considered cold.

Move it on Out

Opt for Yoga asanas that stretch the body and reduce swelling. Go at a slower pace. Slower paced yoga will move fluids like lymph and blood at the right pace. Movement is important otherwise there will be water retention. Water retention tends to put additional pressure on the capillaries. Practice the asanas in a cool room - not heated or cold. Some postures or asanas help increase strength and flexibility of the joints. These are:
Half spinal twist (Supta Baddha Konasana)
This pose opens the pelvis, belly, chest, and throat. By supporting the legs, circulation and blood flow within the pelvic region. This  increases flexibility and improves digestion. This is also an excellent pose to get relief from migraines.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Tadasana stretches the entire leg muscle and provides a gentle stretch to the arms and shoulders. It helps with inflammation of the feet due to bad footwear, long periods of standing, general wear and tear, bunions or even sorenes. By stretching the arches you provide relief to the feet. Tadasana separates the toes creating room for circulation and stretches the arches.
Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana)
This pose is fantastic for the knees as the stretch relieves chronic knee pain due to inflammatory or degenerative bone disorders. Since the ankle is neutral, there is no stress on either the toes or arches. This pose strengths the arches. It also opens the shoulders so if there is inflammation due to a frozen shoulder, this pose helps.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
In the trikonasana the front ankle is extended which helps to ground the foot as well as the big toe. Great if swelling is in the big toe as to reach the ankle you have to keep the mound of the toe grounded.
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
The tree pose is a gentle way to stretch the arms. It also increases circulation around the knees, ankle and elbows. Increased circulation results in lessening pf inflammation.
Bridge Posture (SetuBandhasana)
Great for the knees as most of the pressure is taken by the shoulders and back

Breathe Freely

Follow up the yoga asanas with pranayama to cool the body and bring balance. Pranayama calms inflammation and soothes the body. By bringing cooling breath and oxygen to the body, you also calm the mind.

Fuel the Solution

Add a few ingredients from the kitchen shelf to restore balance to the body and reduce inflammation. If Sinus inflammation has got you down then drink plenty of water flavored with spices, to cleanse the sinuses of toxins and to allow the toxic waste that has built up to flow out. A drink made from boiling herbs like mint (8 leaves), lemongrass (one shoot), peppercorns (2-3), basil (4 leaves), ginger (2-3 thin slices) will soothe the inflamed areas and bring relief from pain. Boil the ingredients with a glass of water till the water reduces to half. Sip this warm tea three times a day for a couple of days. Other spices that warm the body and reduce inflammation are spices like Ginger, garlic, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin and cardamom. Try incorporating these in your diet and see the inflammation reduce over a couple of days.
Make changes in eating habits. Eliminate saturated oils completely  from your diet. Omega-6 fatty acids found in corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils increase inflammation in the body. Trans fats commonly found in baked goods like shortening and margarine should also be avoided. Instead opt for omega-3 fatty acids naturally available in fish. Keep refined carbohydrates and refined sugar at a distance as these increase the blood sugar which may result in more inflammation.

Sabinder Singh is a Yoga enthusiast, Reiki Master and freelance writer. She has been healing with reiki through distance reiki healing showers and believes that yoga is important to bring about a balance in the body, mind and spirit. You can read more of her articles  at: http://www.onboardthereikibus.com/ 

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Feature image via: Sonny Abesamis

Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Choosing A Yoga Retreat

  Yoga retreats can make or break a devoted yogi.  With a wealth of available retreats for you to experience, it's important to do your homework and know what your getting into rather than be blindsided by a trip you weren't prepared for.  Here's your checklist to make sure you get the most out of your next adventure.

1.  What type of retreat?

As yoga and yoga retreats gain popularity, it’s important to realize there are a wealth of different types of retreats available for you today.  Some retreats involve a small number of people, going to an area in the world where yoga and meditation is going to be your number one focus.  Other retreats bring a larger group of yogis and yoginis as well as a few more instructors to offer a variety of classes intermingled with daily excursions and experiences (in addition to the yoga).  There are retreats that offer an intensive training schedule if you plan on doing a teacher training retreat.  There are retreats that allow you to wander the streets of a foreign village experiencing the culture and lives of its inhabitants.  If you want to participate in volunteer work and spread yoga in 3rd world countries, there are retreats for that as well!  It all comes down to a matter of preference, and it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into before you board that plane.

2.  Who are the instructors?

Most retreats these days are at least a week long.  If you’re going to be taking daily classes with an instructor, it’s a good idea to get a sense of what style they teach, what their personality is like, and how they will make this retreat a memorable experience.  Most instructors have a strong social media presence or even blog you can check out to get a sense of who they are and what drives them.  Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter or Wordpress are great places to start when doing your research about your instructor(s).  Even better, do a quick Youtube search to see if your potential instructor has a class you can take in order to get a sense of how they teach.  If you can’t make it through a class with them via the web, chances are you’re not going to have that fulfilling yoga experience you’re anticipating.  If you’re instructor has a bigger online presence, try searching for them on some bigger yoga class sites (Udaya, Yogaglo, MyYogaWorks, YogaAnytime, GaiamTV)

3.  What’s the menu?

This bit of research might not be as important to you as you think…With the rising popularity of detoxing and special retreats devoted to “detoxing” your body, it helps to understand what types of food you’ll be eating while on your journey.  If you’re going on a detox retreat, it’s common to expect a week long of eating fresh, vibrant, mostly vegan or vegetarian foods.  These retreats typically involve eating at a specific resort for the duration of your visit.  It’s also common to have a personal chef cooking for your group during that type of retreat.  If this doesn’t float your boat, don’t fret!  There are a lot of retreats out there that allow you to venture out on your own, tasting the unique foods of your region and culture.  Wine tasting is becoming an extremely popular activity on a lot of retreats, as is going out to eat and experiencing the vibrant culture of the places you’ll be staying.  If you have any specific diet or allergy you need to accompany, then hopefully you’ve already done your research into what is being served at your retreat, and what your available options involve.

4.  Whats in your bag?

Packing too light, or packing way more than you need is a nightmare you don’t want to experience.  Some retreats are exclusively meant to grow and hone in on your yoga practice, meaning you’ll need little more than your mat, clothes and a few personal belongings.  Other retreats involve day hikes through incredible land marks, trips to various cities or villages, hiking, diving, biking, you name it.  If your retreat offers more of an opportunity for exploring, then definitely pack that camera, swimsuit, and a pair of hiking boots.  You don’t want to find yourself in the midst of a glorious and fascinating city or landmark and not have the tools you need to remember this life changing opportunity!

5.  Why be open minded?

Perhaps the most important aspect of going on a retreat, it helps to keep an open mind.  You might make some life long friends on this journey.  You might not.  You might find that the schedule you’ve previously glimpsed at is far from being rigid and structured.  In many cities or villages around the world, time goes by a lot slower, and locals are a lot more laid back and relaxed.  Some people view retreats as a vacation, while other people choose to view a retreat as the beginning of a turning point in their lives.  Depending on what your view is of your upcoming retreat, choose accordingly.  If you want to experience all that a new country and region has to offer, it might be a bad idea to choose a retreat that doesn’t allow you to leave the premises and explore.  If your goal is to restart your life, detoxify your body and soul, and hone in on your practice then choose a retreat that caters to your intent.  There are always going to be little surprises, or little hiccups in your journey, but at the end of the day we are all yoga practitioners.  Go with the flow!

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Image credit: gurmit singh

 

Do You Have To Be Flexible To Do Yoga?

How many times have you suggested to family members or friends that they ought to try a yoga class sometime?  You immediately dive into a conversation about all of it’s benefits, the strength you can gain both mentally and physically, the mindfulness you cultivate, and how it can literally benefit you in all aspects of life.  Then you hear it, the single most popular phrase almost everyone blurts out who has never given yoga an honest try:  “I’m not flexible enough.”  I’m not flexible enough.  That’s like saying you don’t want to lift weights because you aren’t strong enough.  You don’t want to take a cooking class because you aren’t good at cooking.  You don’t want to ride a bike because you can’t balance well enough.  I could go on and on.  Hopefully, the pattern above helps you to hone in on the unifying aspect that ties all of these analogies together:  Growth. So, let’s talk:  Do you have to be flexible to do yoga?

The short answer:

[bctt tweet="No, you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga. But be willing to embrace “growth”. "]

The long answer:

Walking into a gym for the first time can yield terror for many Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 3.33.48 PMpeople.  The many different machines, stations, weights, and equipment can prove to be daunting to those who’ve never worked with a personal trainer, or haven’t done the proper research on technique.  Similarly, a kitchen could be you or someone you know’s worst nightmare…All of the tools and equipment, devices, recipes, and ingredients might overwhelm someone who is used to microwaving their dinner most nights of the week.

[bctt tweet="Like in yoga, a mere willingness to embrace growth is all that is needed in order to “succeed”. "]

This applies to almost any new task in life you are unfamiliar with.  Walk into a yoga class, and sure, you might feel as if you’ve walked into a class with people who have just finished a month long tour with Cirque Du Soleil.  The first thing to do is not get discouraged or self conscious.  Most likely, the people you see warming up for class with forearm balances and crazy backbends have been practicing yoga for far longer than you could guess.  It’s important you realize first and foremost that with yoga, each person is on their own unique journey.  Where you are with your practice is different from the person to your left and the person to your right.  Simply showing up to a yoga class is enough to get your instructor fired up about sharing the world of yoga with you.  Like all physical activities, the more you show up and follow through with a class or workout, the more your body and mind benefit.  Practicing Yoga can be an excellent tool to use in order to increase your flexibility, however this is not the only reason we practice, nor should this be the only reason you go to a yoga class.

When you do take your first class, or are feeling the urge to get back into the yoga world (which you should!), walk in with the mindset of growth.  Like a kid walking onto a playground for the first time, they are bewildered by all of the magical and infinite possibilities that this space contains.  Would a curious child stray away from the monkey bars because they are too high?  The slide too steep?  Now transfer this playfulness to your inner self.  Embrace your inner curiosity, and approach your next class with the mindset of a child.  Embrace “play”.  Be willing to fall down, laugh at yourself, dust yourself off, learn, and grow.  With this, you’ll begin to understand what you can and can’t do, and in general grow more knowledgeable about your entire body along the way.

Finally, once you understand your own limitations, it’s important to really harness in and start taking your practice to the next level and trying new things.  Like many workouts and exercises, there is an edge for your body.  Once you are comfortable enough with your practice, in order to grow you need to begin playing with pushing yourself to your edge.  See how far your body will take you until you begin to find your edge.  This is where true growth occurs, and this is where you will begin to notice that indeed you can gain not only flexibility, but strength and endurance in life as well.

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Image Credit:Brian Ng

5 Yoga Poses to Balance Your Heart Chakra

The fourth chakra, Anahata Chakra, is the heart chakra, and unites the lower and higher chakras. It is our centre of love, compassion and joy. Since it's located in the heart centre, the beneficial yoga poses are those opening the chest, the heart space and shoulders. To balance your Anahata chakra, enjoy these following heart-opening yoga poses.

1. Cat / Cow pose

To warm up the muscles in the chest and upper back, the cat / cow movement is a good place to start. When our intention is to open up the heart, we also need to focus on the shoulders and upper back muscles to make sure they are released and supportive of opening up the chest.

Start by coming on your hands and knees. Keep your shoulders above your wrists, and hips above your knees. On an inhale start lifting your head and tailbone towards the ceiling. On an exhale, arch your back, press through the shoulder blades and drop your head. Focus on bringing the shoulder blades as close together as possible on the inhale, and as far away from each other as possible on the exhale.

Repeat for 6 rounds, before moving on to the next pose.

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2. Anahatasana - Melting heart

This Yin yoga pose is great for opening the shoulders and softening the heart. It also creates a mild back-bend for the upper back.

Begin on your hands and knees. Start walking your hands forward, and allow your chest to drop to the floor. Your hips should be above your knees, and hands shoulder width apart. Stay for 2-3 minutes, and come out to a Child's pose for a mild counter pose.

If you have any issues with your neck, avoid this pose. If you feel any tingling in your arms, adjust the arms and bring them further apart. Tingling could be a sign of a compressed nerve, which can damage the nerve if left longer time. You can also rest your chest on a block to make the pose more gentle.

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3. Bhujangasana - Cobra pose

This pose strengthens the entire shoulder area, and provides an opening for the chest.

To start the pose, lie on your stomach and place your feet hip width apart, the tops of your feet pressing against the floor. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, and draw your pubic bone towards the floor to stabilize your lower back. With an inhale, start lifting your chest off the floor until you feel you cannot go higher without compromising the steadiness of the pose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Take two long and steady breaths here, and with the following exhale lower yourself back onto the ground.

Avoid this pose if you are pregnant or have undergone abdominal surgery. If you have problems with your wrists, stay on your elbows (Sphinx pose) and elevate the elbows with a block to get a deeper back bend.

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4. Ustrasana - Camel pose

Powerful heart opening pose, the Camel pose is a great counter pose for modern life, where we tend to hunch forward. If we have been hurt in life, we tend to protect the heart area by closing the chest and rounding the upper body.

Start with kneeling on the floor, legs hip width apart. Press down on your shins and feet, and place your hands on the back of your hips, fingers pointing down. As you inhale, lift up your heart, draw your shoulder blades together and arch your upper back. When you feel ready, place your hands one at a time on your heels. Make sure your hips remain above your knees. Drop your head gently if this feels comfortable for your neck. Stay for 3 long and steady breaths. Come out slowly by placing your hands back on your hips. Take a few moments in Child's pose again as counter pose.

Leave your hands on your lower back for a more gentle back bend. You can also tuck your toes under your feet to elevate your heels, making the pose more accessible. If you suffer from lower back or neck injury, avoid the pose.

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5. Setu Banshasana - Bridge pose

The bridge pose builds lower body strength at the same time as it opens the chest.

To start, lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet close to your hips, your hands next to you palms facing down. While exhaling begin lifting the hips up, starting from the tailbone and slowly rolling the spine off the floor. Press your legs against the floor and lift up your hips. Press your shoulder blades against your spine, and if you feel comfortable, place your hands underneath your back, interlacing the fingers while the shoulder blades are close together. Stay for 2-3 long, steady breaths, release your hands and slowly lower your hips back onto the ground.

If you have neck injury, avoid this pose. For additional support, you can also place a block or a bolster under your sacrum.

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While opening your chest with these poses, focus on energetically opening your heart to love and compassion. Remind yourself

"I am open to love. I feel compassion and connection to other beings. I am open to receive love."

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Feature image credit: Ashley

 

The Importance Of Safe Travel

  Part of the joy of being human on this wonderful rock we call home is the chance to explore everything this earth has to offer.  The thrill of new sights, the journeys we embark upon, the people we meet and the foods we eat; all of this influences how we get to live our lives, tell our stories and leave our legacies.  Although we at Yoga Travel Tree pride ourselves on providing the most spectacular adventures and yoga retreats possible, we do want to stress that as with any type of travel, there are some universally known rules or guidelines you should keep in mind.

1.  Do Your Research

When traveling to any new area, it’s important to understand where you are going.  Aside from picking out where you want to stay, what restaurants you want to visit, or what attractions you plan on exploring, it’s important to know and really understand the area that you're visiting.  Do your homework and find out some of the laws, rules and regulations of where you are visiting.  Does this new region have a history of political instability?  How prone is this area to natural disasters or bad weather?  How do the locals respond when meeting outside travelers?  All of this is just as important as finding the best place to grab authentic local cuisine, a rockin’ beach front hotel, or a guided tour through the mountains and jungles.

2.  Contact Friends And Family

This tip is especially important if you plan on traveling solo.  Make sure your friends, family, and any other important entities (credit card companies, banks, post office) know that you will be traveling abroad.  It not only helps keep a piece of mind for everyone else, it allows you to fully immerse yourself in your journey knowing that you have people back home keeping an eye on you.

3.  Share The Experience

What’s better than going on your own adventure?  Sharing that adventure!  Having a friend or family member with you on your travels can be a game changer.  Not only will you be able to experience so many new and different things together; you’ll have someone to share these stories with for the remainder of your life.  In addition, traveling together can also help you stay a lot safer when out and about in a new area.  If you get lost, not to worry, you’re lost together!  Having someone by your side is an excellent way to travel, regardless of where you go.

4.  Pack And Prepare

Remember the phrase “Don’t work harder, work smarter”?  Well, the same holds true for travel.  Rather than packing a suitcase full of things you only “think” you may need, it really helps in the long run to only bring what’s absolutely necessary; things that will truly aid you in your trip.  Traveling to a destination with a beach?  Obviously a bathing suit, towel and sunscreen are in order.  Instead of throwing in a jacket, bring along a hoodie or sweat shirt to minimize luggage.  Packing in excess will only weigh you down when traveling, create anxiety, and limit the amount of adventuring you’ll be able to do.  Do your research, understand the difference between what you need to pack vs. what you want to pack, and go about your journey knowing you're prepared to the fullest extent.

5.  Use Common Sense

The final tip I have for you:  Use Common Sense.  Listen to your body.  Be cautious of your surroundings.  Understand where you are.  Be present.  Follow your instincts.

For more information, tips, and how to stay safe when traveling, visit our tips page here!

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Feature Image Credit: Michał Stefanów