Release Tension Before Bedtime with These Rolling Exercises

Written & Developed for BreatheTogetherOnline.com Magazine - check them out!

Tools: Yoga block (or book) and Yoga Tune-Up™ ball (tennis or lacrosse balls can work here as well)

According to the American Institute of Stress and American Psychological Association, over 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73 percent experience psychological symptoms. For most, sources of stress included the future of our nation, money, work, politics, and violent crime. Unfortunately, these topics permeate our daily lives. In addition, 43 percent of adults reported that stress has caused them to lie awake at night.

While a strong, mindfulness practice can help us manage the moving stressors of the day, bedtime can be like slamming on the breaks of a car: we stop moving, and all of a sudden, the momentum from the back seat rushes up to the front. Restorative Yoga Teacher Judith Laseter, often says that new students will complain that savasana, or long relaxing postures, “stress them out” – to which she kindly replies, “Maybe it’s not savasana that’s stressing you out; maybe you’re finally sitting still enough to feel the stress that’s already there.” So, when most of us head to bed – BAM! – there it all is.

By developing a five to 10-minute self-care routine before bed, you can actually change the way your nervous system is primed throughout the day, and actively prepare yourself for a higher quality of sleep. By using self-massage techniques to stimulate certain areas of the body, we can steer our nervous system into a more calm and present state. At a very basic level, it’s helpful to understand that the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the “fight or flight,” and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is the “rest and digest.” I’ll get more into those in a future article, but for now understand that great quality sleep and downregulation can happen when the PSNS is more dominant. But, how do you do this if you’re coming off a high-stress day?

A major player in the PSNS is a nerve called the vagus nerve. The word “vagus” has roots in the word vagrant, or wanderer, because this giant nerve meanders all throughout the body, with a particularly high concentration of nerve endings in both the face and head region, as well as the belly and abdomen area. In yoga, one of the many reasons we coach students to “breathe into the belly” is in the hopes of stimulating this high concentration of nerves in the abdominal region and induce parasympathetic dominance. Another great way to stimulate this nerve is by using massage tools on the neck, head, face, and jaw. This practice is great before bed because it can be done while lying down on the floor, mostly on your back or on your side. Not only does this sequence feel incredible, it can also help those who clench their jaw at night and/or suffer from tension headaches. 

Yoga on the Row: Playlist, Theme & Photos

Thank you to everyone friends and strangers who came out to Yoga on the Row @ Santana Row this Saturday. We had a blast and everyone was such a great sport. Thank you to my beautiful assistants Samantha Armellino and Tricia Salata for all your support.

A few of you asked me for the playlist for our session. I’ve included it below. The yoga itself started with song #4 by Leon Bridges - from there it’s about an hour to the end. Here’s the link to Spotify where you can follow and share this playlist or add the songs to your own playlist.

And here’s the embedded playlist you can listen to right now :)

PHOTOS

What we worked on was a very simple vinyasa-esque format! While we practiced we did stuff differently, we held stuff, we jumped - we shook up our energy and woke up the feeling function in our bodies from multiple angles. Then we rested and came back together and with the reminder that for you to be a force of good in the world, you need to feel good. When you practice yoga and teach your strengths to hold the hand of your weaknesses and your patience to hold the hand of your doubt - you start to become more integrated. From that space you can be of greater service to the people in your life who need you. And the human race doesn’t survive divided. Here’s a rough outline of what we did - enjoy!

  • Bridge Lifts

  • Apanasana Variations to stimulate breath & core stability

  • Cat/Cow

  • Sun Salutations

  • Chair / Squat

  • Side Angle Exploration

  • JUMPING (2x for a minute each) then PLANK for one minute! (Macklemore)

  • Lunges and twists and 1/2 moon

  • Prone lifts - strengthening the back bone with buddies

  • Back Bends

  • Twists

  • Savasana (East Forest)

  • Getting READY for your blessings, with Music by Chance the Rapper

The Struggle is Real

MUST GET POSE!!!!! MUST GET DEEEEEEP IN POSE!!!! MUST DO HARD POSE LONGER THAN ANYONE ELSE!!!!

I see it all too often. People’s inner “Hulk” comes to the surface.

  1. A student is DETERMINED to get into a pose.

  2. They push, force, shake, stop breathing and BOOM…

  3. They kind of sort of get the pose!!!

  4. Panting and confident they move on to the next thing with no real awareness of what happened in the body / and whether what they did was actually good for them

  5. They do the same thing again 10 minutes later, and in the next class, and next week and next month

Every time I see it happen I cringe a little. Even through verbal cuing / 1 on 1 check ins - its impossible to stop and correct it all. In a “silver bullet” culture - where pills, procedures, and quick fixes are the way of the future - many people have lost the critical skill of working patiently, and diligently over time and witnessing the safe, subtle and lasting transformation that can happen through a well-balanced yoga practice.

I would say that 1/2 of my job as an asana teacher is teaching postures and the other half is helping students in the sophisticated art of finding that balance between effort and ease. What can we look for in students that indicate struggle? Tune in for things like shaking in the body, clenched jaws, stealing from one area of the body to make things look deeper (think hinging at the lumbar spine as the sole source of a back bend), or held breath… to name a few.

WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT? BECAUSE WE’VE SPEND YEARS - IF NOT DECADES - CONFUSING OUR BODIES NATURAL DESIGN!

Recently, I read “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman. And while I’ve been on the “move smarter not harder” train for a while now - there is a really important idea in her book that all teachers of movement should try to understand: If you spend most of your life challenging your very design by preventing your body from moving in the way it was designed to move (walking, running, climbing, squatting, with bare feet on diverse surfaces - all day long) and then have a life that limits that potential by wearing shoes and sitting a whole heck of a lot, then no amount of personal ass kicking - performed for an hour every other day - is going to be able to bring you into lasting "good shape.” Forcing your body into a state of “struggle” in these classes or activities is likely (over time) to result in injury or pain.

AS WE ADVANCE IN OUR PRACTICE, DON’T WE WANT TO BE MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN THAT?

I’ve said for years that the hardest pose in yoga is patience. Be skilled and patient enough to work with your body and notice the subtle nature of the current condition - coaxing your tissues mindfully towards change. Be patient enough to also get your nervous system on board by incorporating smooth and steady breathing that moves your diaphragm in your body. Be patient enough to find the edge of effort and ease (sthira sukham asanam). Be patient with the parts of your body that say “no, not yet” - because you will also notice the parts that are saying “ahh, yes, like that!” Doing so will set you up for a practice that lasts a lifetime.

Sun Salutation A - Low Lunge Variation with #StanTheYogaMan

#StanTheYogaMan is back and showing off one of my favorite variations of Sun Salutation A. In this version we step into a lunge and a balance posture on the way to the top of the mat. This can also be done in "step back" format - which can be easier for populations newer to yoga or those who carry more weight around their mid section.

I love this lunging variation of Sun A because it not only works balance early on in practice, it provides extra lengthening for the hip flexors - which can be critical for a population that spends a lot of time sitting. If I'm working towards bigger back bends - then I'll use this sequence in the beginning quite often. The key here is to do this slowly first and impart the importance of keeping a strong belly and rooting down into the legs for the lunge with the knee down - especially if they want to lift their arms here. For some, it may make more sense to keep hands down on blocks and have those blocks available for standing split (which may also turn into more of a supported warrior 3). 

WHY Sun Salutations? by #StanTheYogaMan

WHY Sun Salutations? by #StanTheYogaMan

Here is #StanTheYogaMan - my newest creation. Stan is here to help me share my latest sequences, thoughts on poses and nerdy yoga stuff. This post gives a break down of Sun Salutation A, explains why I think Sun Salutations are important in general and why I teach them in almost every, single class!

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