Love Your Feet! – by Melissa Bourgeois

I’m a planner. Going on vacation? I’m happy to research the destination, compare flights, explore accommodations, find enticing places to eat, and map out a series of activities. Me and Excel? We’re good friends.

One night a few years ago, I was in the throes of planning a trip to Chile, stayed up too late and got cranky. Side note: I only admitted to the crankiness in hindsight. During the cranky period, I would have sternly said, “I’m fine!” Working toward enlightenment is a life long process, so I take solace in the fact that I have more time to observe my patterns! In any case, I said to my sweetheart, “Ugh. You need to HELP with this!” He said, “Happy to. And what would you do if I suggested where we stay during our trip?” I paused and begrudgingly replied, “I would plan the whole thing over again.”

All this is to say that I also plan the yoga classes that I teach. I always have a written sequence of poses with me, even though I rarely look at it during class. I make sure to bring awareness to the particular body parts needed for the more advanced poses. Working toward Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose)? We’ll open the shoulders, engage the abdominals, lengthen the sides of the waist, and so on.

Recently, in one such planned class focusing on backbends (including Urdhva Dhanurasana), we moved into shoulderstand as we were winding down. I walked over to dim the lights and surveyed the group to make sure everyone was approaching the posture safely. I saw something that I did not expect: tears. A student was crying while in shoulderstand. Although I know from both my personal practice and from teaching that emotions often surface, I was surprised that it happened during shoulderstand. I gave the student plenty of space to work through her experience, continued as usual and moved into savasana.

After class, she lagged behind as everyone else filtered out. We had a habit of chatting after class, and I wondered if she’d bring up her shoulderstand experience.

During our conversation she said, “Melissa, I was looking up at my toes during shoulderstand, and I thought ‘I love my feet!’ I felt strong and I thought, ‘Look at my feet up there! I love them!’

She went on to say that she had a history of eating disorders and body image issues, and this was the first time in years that she felt like she loved a part of her body. Her feet! She said she had never cried in a class before, but she felt overwhelmed by emotion and it surprised her.

I could never have predicted or planned for this. It had so much to do with the student’s personal experience, and much less to do with my planned sequence of poses. As a yoga teacher, I am lucky enough to provide a structure and offer space for people to experience emotion and discover new parts of themselves. That’s one reason why teaching and practicing yoga is so vibrant, so dynamic. It’s humbling to witness people putting themselves out there, both physically and emotionally. Moving through the postures in a room with other people requires bravery and vulnerability; it can be just as much an emotional process as a physical one. Everybody (and every body) has his or her story, and each student turns the page at his or her own pace. Once in a while, as a teacher, I get to see the page turn and it’s very, very special.

This was yet another helpful reminder that there is only so much you can plan in life. When you’re open to what comes, you can experience it fully, in this moment – the one happening right now. To quote guru John Lennon: “Before you cross the street, take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

So please. Right now, in THIS moment, love your feet! Take time to experience what is happening without a written sequence or organized plan. You will likely discover something new, and that is where the real growth happens.

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Melissa teaches with a full heart and a generous dose of humor. Yoga helps her slow down, gain perspective, and find calm in hectic NYC, and she loves helping others do the same. She completed her 500-RYT certification through YogaWorks NYC under the mentorship of Chrissy Carter, and has pursued additional training in prenatal yoga with Carrie Parker, restorative yoga with Jillian Pransky and kids yoga with Asana Alphabet . She also studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and is a certified Health and Lifestyle Coach. She’s currently embarking on her newest yogic journey: being a new mom. Check out more at melissabwellness.com.

 

 

Day 9 – Honestly Observe the Thoughts in Your Head

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Today we are back focusing on the lower body with Firm Your Foundation.

If you would like a level 1 experience try Hips & Hamstrings.

Remember to keep your journal close by so that you can reflect on your practice immediately following savasana.  Your reflections should focus on your thoughts during your practice – what you loved and what you didn’t.  Keep honestly observing the thoughts in your head.  Preconceived ideas like, “I’m really flexible”,  “I’m really stiff” ,  “I’m good at that pose”, “I’m bad at that one”.  No thoughts are bad, don’t worry, you’re just looking at what’s going on in your mind.  Explore!

Do you need a little motivation this week? Join the conversations on our Facebook Group page and if you tweet with the hashtag #springyogachallenge, I will tweet you back.

Tomorrow your class is 30-Minute Rigorous Flow. Make sure you plan time for it in you schedule!

Namaste.

Alexandria Crow

Day 8 – Reflect On Your Experiences

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It’s the start of week 2. This week, we increase our well-rounded practice to 30 minutes, don’t worry you can do it! Your class today is Rigorous Flow. If you’d like a well rounded level 1 experience try Flowing in Balance

Hopefully this week you will be able to eliminate some of the external distractions that you experienced last week so that you can start to focus on what happens in your mind during your practice.  After each practice, write down what you didn’t like about the practice.  It’s ok if you were frustrated or intimidated, don’t worry, I won’t be offended! It’s important information to become aware of.

Maybe you didn’t like a certain pose because it was uncomfortable or hard for you.  Did you not try something because you were afraid of failing?  Did you push into poses that you should have backed off on?  Did you refuse to use props?  Did you use props where you didn’t need them?  Don’t panic if some of these apply to you! They are common reactions. Noticing how you think and what you do on your mat is an opportunity to learn about your patterns of behavior. Take time to reflect on those experiences this week during your daily practice.

There’s a new BLOG post from Joanna this week. The “crowding out” theme continues with a focus to add more whole grains (not refined grains) to your daily diet.  Read the latest post and get new recipes HERE.

 

Join the conversation on our Facebook Group page!

Tomorrow’s class is 15-Minute Firm Your Foundation.

Happy Practicing!

Spring Challenge – Nutrition – Week 2

Congratulations on completing the first week of the challenge! Hopefully you’re feeling great, ready for longer classes, and have started a lifelong love affair with greens. As I mentioned in week one, “crowding out” is a powerful tool for cleaning up your diet. Here’s a little bit more about how it works:

  • Add Healthy Food. The more healthy food you eat, the less room there is for anything else. If possible, you’ll eat healthy food before you eat unhealthy food. For example, you might have oatmeal for breakfast and wait to see if you still want a donut. As time goes on, you’ll find you want the donut less and less.
  • No “Bad Food” Lists. When people are overly restrictive with themselves they’re bound to fall off the wagon, which is why most diets don’t work. If you start by focusing on what you can have rather than what you can’t, you’ll be more likely to make lasting dietary changes.
  • Change Your Cravings. One of the primary causes of “bad” cravings is a lack of nutrients in your diet. When you eat plenty of nutrient-dense food, you’ll be less likely to have those types of cravings. Believe it or not, you’ll even start to crave the healthy stuff!

For those of you who missed week one, it’s not too late to start! Click here to read my post, which outlines the first challenge, as well as what to expect for the next few weeks. And now for week two… IMG_1172 WEEK TWO: Whole Food, Whole Grains

When you refine a food, part of it is removed – in other words it’s no longer in its natural state. For example, when you remove the outer bran layers from brown rice, you get white rice. Unfortunately, those layers are filled with tons of valuable nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, amino acids, fiber and vitamin E.

Sometimes companies will add nutrients back into a food after refining it. For example, you’ve probably noticed white flour that’s been fortified/enriched with vitamins and minerals. What they’ve added is a synthetic version of what was naturally part of the wheat before it was processed. Unfortunately these synthetic versions are not what you would find in natural food.

There’s also increasing research about how nutrients work together. The delicate system of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in a plant is thrown off balance when one is removed, which can effect how much you’ll get out of eating it.

Finally, whole grains (along with many other whole foods) are digested more slowly than their refined counterparts, which means they’ll keep you full for longer – a very helpful thing when it comes to crowding out!

How to Eat Them

  • Explore. You’re probably most familiar with brown rice, buckwheat, oatmeal and quinoa. But there are some less common options that are equally nutritions and delicious such as amaranth, barley, bulgur, cornmeal, kamut, millet, rye berries, wheat berries, spelt, and wild rice. A note for those who can’t tolerate gluten, the following grains from that list are not gluten-free: barley, bulgur, kamut, rye berries, wheat berries, spelt. Oats should be certified gluten-free as they’re often processed in the same facilities as wheat.
  • Combine. Try mixing grains together for added nutrition and to keep things interesting. For example, my mother recently told me she’s been adding quinoa to her oatmeal in the morning for a little extra protein (fun fact: quinoa has all of the essential amino acids to make it a complete protein).
  • Cook Extra. Cooking whole grains can often be time consuming. Doubling the amount you make and keeping the leftovers will save you a ton of time. You can even use the leftovers for breakfast the next morning! Keep them in the fridge for up to 4 days, or the freezer for a few months.
  • Use Them In… salads, soups, stews and baked goods.
  • Build-a-Bowl. Use whole grains as a base to build a truly delicious and nutritious meal. Read more about how to do this here.

Week Two Challenge

  1. Eat whole grains every day.
  2. Try one type you’ve never had before.
  3. Continue to eat greens every day.
  4. Be sure to drink plenty of water! The daily recommendation is half your body weight in ounces.

Enjoy!

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Joanna McCracken photo by fluid frame 
Joanna McCracken is a health coach, writer, recipe developer, and 500-hour certified yoga teacher.  Her goal is to educate and assist people throughout their unique journey to better health, and to make that journey fun and delicious! Visit Joanna’s blog, Pepper My Salt, or follow her on Facebook.

Day 7 – Relax & Restore

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Congratulations! You reached the end of the first week of the 28-Day Spring Yoga Challenge.

Today’s class is a replenishing and relaxing restorative class, Relax & Restore- http://bit.ly/1rYb65M

If you don’t have a bolster, use a stack of blankets or a stiff pillow (one from your couch will work well). If you don’t have blocks use thick books. If you don’t have a strap, use a soft belt from your robe or an old tie (if you want to really feel like a yogi, order a set of real yoga props here.

After you finish Savasana, review your journal entries and reflect on the challenges that you experienced and what might have distracted you this week. Work toward eliminating those distractions – whether it’s putting the phone in another room or the dog outside, try to stay present and focused for the minutes each day that you dedicate to your yoga practice, even when it’s hard. Commit to doing something different, I know it’s scary but you’ll be surprised at the results!

Day 2 – Firm Your Foundation

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Good Morning,

How are you feeling today? I hope you are ready for more!  If you haven’t had the opportunity to take my class at a YogaWorks studio or on MyYogaWorks before, there are a few things you should know about me, I truly believe that everyone can benefit from yoga and I aim to teach yoga in a step by step manner so it’s accessible to anyone.

There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘advanced’ yogi based on flexibility or strength or the ability to do fancy/showy things.  The measure of an advanced practitioner or a yogi that is doing the work is one’s ability to pay attention in the moment and make clear decisions based on the information they receive in that present moment.  To do what’s hard, which sometimes includes backing off!  Learn to pay attention in all ways, that’s the yoga.

Today’s class is Firm Your Foundation.

Before you start class today, place your notebook close by so it’s easy to reflect after you finish Savasana.

Do not forget, there is also a nutrition portion to the Challenge.  For the first three weeks you will focus on a concept called “crowding out.” The idea is to add as much healthy food into your diet as possible, thus leaving less room for the unhealthy stuff.  Joanna McCracken will lead you through the nutrition portion and provide easy, healthy recipes along the way.  Go to the BLOG now to read this weeks post.

Share your experience with us on the Facebook Group and tag your tweets with #SpringYogaChallenge.

Happy Practicing!

Alexandria Crow

*The videos for the first week of the 28-Day Spring Yoga Challenge are free. To continue participating in the Challenge for all 28 days, you must be a MyYogaWorks member. Sign up here

Spring Challenge – Nutrition – Week One

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The MyYogaWorks 28 Day Spring Yoga Challenge starts today! In addition to amazing daily yoga and meditation classes from Alex Crow, I’ll be providing you with weekly nutrition guidance. Hopefully by day 28 you’ll feel stronger, happier, healthier and more energized than ever before!

Before we get started with this week, here’s a little bit about what to expect from this part of the program:

Every Monday, I’ll post something to work on for the week ahead. For the first three weeks we’ll focus on a concept called “crowding out.” The idea is to add as much healthy food into your diet as possible, leaving less room for the unhealthy stuff. Each week we’ll focus on different foods to eat more of, and I’ll provide you with simple recipes and suggestions that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. It’s so much more fun to focus on what you can have rather than what you can’t, right?

By week four you’ll be eating plenty of healthy food, practicing yoga almost every day, and ready to do something a bit more challenging nutritionally: an elimination diet.

Elimination diets help you uncover food allergies, intolerances and/or sensitivities, which can cause a wide array of symptoms such as fatigue, digestive issues, headaches, congestion, weight gain, and skin problems. We’ll go over this in more detail in week four, but you’d be surprised by how many people suffer from these and don’t know it. For example, I had no idea that my acid reflux was triggered by dairy until I cut it out of my diet – then voila, goodbye antacids! It was then I realized that no matter how well you eat, hidden allergies, intolerances and sensitivities will still cause health problems and prevent you from feeling your best.

That said, an elimination diet can be difficult, which is why you’ll be leading up to it each week by incorporating plenty of healthy and delicious food to get you started.

Which brings us to week one of the challenge…

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WEEK ONE: When You’re Green Inside, You’re Clean Inside.

Green veggies are the foods most missing from the modern diet, yet they’re one of the easiest and most important to incorporate. In general, they’re high in fiber, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamins A, C, E and K and other phytonutrients. The health benefits of eating greens include cancer and heart disease prevention, blood purification, reduced inflammation, immune system support, a healthier gut, and improvement of liver, gall bladder and kidney function. According to Food Energetics, they’ll even lift your spirit and promote a lighter more flexible energy!

And when it comes to crowding out, greens are key. How so? Well, one of the main causes of cravings is lack of nutrients in your diet. As you can see, greens are dense with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, so eating them will naturally help reduce cravings.

Choosing Greens

  • Mix It Up. There are so many options at your fingertips. Try broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, kale, collards, watercrss, mustard greens, dandelion, arugula, frisee, endive, chicory, lettuce, mesclun, romaine, spinach, swiss chard and/or beet greens.
  • Look for color. Funny enough, the most nutritious greens are actually red, purple or reddish brown. The next most nutritious greens are dark green in color.
  • Loosen Up. Heads of lettuce with looser leaves have more phytonutrients than those that are tightly packed.
  • Taste Test. Bitter, sour and spicy flavors are also a good indication of nutrition.

How to Eat Them 

These very simple tips make eating greens quick and easy – even for the most culinarily challenged folks out there!

  • Salad. Start with a base of greens and top with as many colorful veggies and fresh herbs as you like. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar or lemon, sea salt and pepper. Or try my recipe for a cleansing spring salad.
  • Sautée. Choose greens that do well with heat (ex: kale, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, mustard greens) and rip them up into pieces. Heat a small amount of water or extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Add greens and cook until just wilted (about a minute). Top with sea salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar or lemon. Or try my recipe for sautéed kale with shallots and currants.
  • Steam. Add a couple of inches of water to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Set a colander over the water and add greens that do well with heat (ex: kale, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, mustard greens). Top with sea salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar or lemon.
  • Add Them To… Smoothies, sauces, pesto, soups, broths, grain dishes, etc.
  • Chips. Make a batch of light and crispy kale chips!
  • Fat. In order for your body to absorb some of the most important nutrients greens have to offer, you’ll need to eat them with some fat. Skip low/non-fat options and go for healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds instead.

Week One Challenge

  1. Eat greens at least once a day.
  2. Pick one type you’ve never tried before.
  3. Experiment with eating them at different times throughout the day – who knows, maybe you’ll find that you love to eat greens for breakfast!
  4. Be sure to drink plenty of water! The general recommendation is half your body weight in ounces.

Enjoy!

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Joanna McCracken photo by fluid frame 
Joanna McCracken is a health coach, writer, recipe developer, and 500-hour certified yoga teacher.  Her goal is to educate and assist people throughout their unique journey to better health, and to make that journey fun and delicious! Visit Joanna’s blog, Pepper My Salt, or follow her on Facebook.