Flat abs? Yes please!

For most of us, our abs are a real problem area. As much as we’d wish for a miracle cure or a magic pill to mysteriously and effortlessly melt the fat away overnight, the unfortunate truth is that it NEVER happens. The best route to a toned mid-section is the plain solid old-fashioned workout. We have tried to put together a short and sweet sequence (who am I kidding? It’s abs workout, it’s supposed to burn) of 8 different zero-equipment exercises here which will help you get started on your journey for losing belly fat fast.

Please follow these guidelines:

  • Week 1 – 3 sets each
  • Week 2 – 5 sets each
  • Week 3 onwards – 7 sets each
  • Rest in between sets for not more than 2 minutes.
  • As always, I would encourage you to listen to your body and exercise caution.

1. 10 Knee crunches

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2. 10 (each side) Cross crunches

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3. 12 leg raises

leg raises

4. 20 (each side) Bicycle crunches

bicyclecrunch

5. 20 flutter kicks

flutterkick

6. 10 (each side) Heel touches

heel touches

7. 60 seconds elbow plank

elbowplank

8. 10 (each side) sitting twists

sitting twist

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Why you need a brain vacation – right now!

o-BRAIN-570This summer, many of us will take time off work to go on a holiday or spend it with family and friends and most of us will feel guilty for doing so. We will worry about the work piling up at office, we will continue to compulsively check our e-mails and messages during this time off. Be careful of such false breaks.

Your brain, on an ongoing basis is assaulted with facts, pseudo-facts, news feeds and jibber jabber coming from all directions. Here are some over-whelming facts:

  • According to a 2011 study, we take in an equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information on a typical day. A five-fold increase from it’s 1986 equivalent.
  • We watch an average of 5 hours of television per day.
  • For every hour of YouTube we watch, there are around 6000 hours of new video just posted.

It is important that we understand that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. The brain, essentially operates under two dominant modes of attention, only one of them active at one time:

  1. The task positive network or the Central Executive which is active when we are engaged in a task, focused on it and undistracted.
  2. The task negative network or the Daydreaming Mode when our mind is wandering.

There is however a third component of the attentional system – the attentional filter which basically tells you what to ignore and what to pay attention to.

Here are six things that you can start doing immediately to improve the balance in your life and to give your overworked brain a much needed reboot.

  1. Every status update on Facebook, every tweet, every message on your phone is taking up important attentional space in your brain which then begins to ignore important things like where your passport is, whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, or how best to reconcile with a close friend after an argument.
  2. If you want to have more energy and have a more productive day, make sure that your day is partitioned into project periods. The social networking should only be done during a designated time, not as a constant interruption during your day.
  3. Check your emails at designated time and reply. Turn the email program off when you have to work on something else. If you know that there is an unread message waiting for you, it saps attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it.
  4. Tame your multitasking nature. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Several studies have shown that a walk in the nature or listening to music can trigger the daydreaming mode of the brain acting as a reset button and providing a much needed perspective on several issues at hand.
  6. Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better, a ten-minute zoning out improves cognitive function and vigour and decreases lethargy and fatigue.

So, make a promise to yourself to start taking regular vacations – true vacations without work.

5 Reasons You can’t do a Headstand (and 5 reasons why you must start doing it)

eagleheadstand

More than half of the time has passed and you are proud of yourself for having lasted this long in the yoga class. And then…the instructor says “time for headstand”. Suddenly you get a mini panic attack. Whether you have tried to do it several times before and can’t stay up there for more than a split second or are too intimidated to even try it – you can read on to understand why headstands aren’t happening for you.

  1. Fear of falling. This is a very reasonable reason for not even attempting a headstand but how will you know if you can balance upside down or not if you don’t give it a chance? Give it a go against the wall, seek help from a seasoned practitioner or an experienced teacher to help you lift your legs off slowly or just be in the bound headstand prep where your feet never leave the ground. It still is a headstand if you are balancing on the head.
  2. Your upper body is weak. Although it’s more about focus, balance and core strength but if your upper body is weak, you won’t be able to create a strong base. So work on the biceps, triceps and shoulders. Two words – push ups!
  3. Your core is weak. Story of my life! When the core is weak, you tend to kick up into headstand and the momentum makes you lose your balance. With a strong core you can slowly lift the legs off the ground making for a more stable pose. Practice boat pose and push ups.
  4. Your base is unstable. If this is the case it becomes extremely difficult to manage the weight of the rest of the body in the inversion. If it’s the bound headstand, make sure that the heels of your hands are touching the sides of your head and your elbows are a few inches away from your ears. If it’s the tripod headstand your elbows need to be bent at a 90 degree angle.
  5. You are not aligned. The alignment needs to be perfect with your hips stacked over your shoulders and feet stacked over the hips with your abdomen engaged and torso in one straight line. Ask your Yoga teacher to watch you get into the headstand and teach you proper alignment.

Now that you are aware of the hurdles on the path you should be able to work your way past them.

Headstand or Shirshasana has been referred to as the “king” of all yoga poses and rightly so. If you practice headstand daily for 10 breaths, you can reap several benefits. Here’s a list of five to get you inspired.

  1. It gives you a face lift by reversing the effects of gravity – giving you that beautiful glowing yoga skin.
  2. It increases the nutrient and blood flow to the scalp delaying the onset of grey hair.
  3. It flushes out and detoxifies the pituitary, hypothalamus and adrenal glands regulating the hormonal imbalances in the body and uplifting your mood in the process.
  4. It results in an improved blood circulation and reduction of undue strain from the heart. When you are hanging upside – down, the de-oxygenated blood is able to flow more easily from extremities to the heart. Also, it almost eliminates the risk of ischemic stroke in the practitioner.
  5. Any fluid retained in the feet (oedema) is able to drain, reducing the onset of varicose veins.

I recommend learning headstand from a qualified teacher.

Please note that headstands are contraindicative if you have very high blood pressure, neck injuries, eye or ear problems, acid reflux or are menstruating.

10 Yoga Poses to Strip the Stress Away

Been feeling fatigued, exhausted and stressed lately? Now is the perfect time to hit the mat. Your practice can not only relieve stress, it can ease the symptoms of anxiety and release physical tension.

The following 10 yoga poses have been organized into a sequence that can be practiced together in this order or individually on an as-needed basis to help relieve stress and anxiety. Few things to keep in mind before we start:

  • Focus on deep calming breaths as you move through the poses.
  • Closing your eyes may help you relax and achieve a more meditative calm state.
  • Although the sequence can be done by beginners, please seek assistance of a trained yoga teacher if you are just beginning your practice.
  • Proceed with caution. To avoid injuries, listen to your body and do not push too hard.
  • Hold each pose for 30 seconds to a minute, depending on what feels comfortable.
  1. Sukhasana / Easy pose

Sukhasana

Promotes inner calm, opens hips, lengthens the spine, and amplifies serenity and tranquillity. Focus on the breath and stay in the pose for atleast one minute.

  1. Tadasana / Mountain Pose

Tadasana (2)

Stand with your big toes touching and feet rooting down into the mat. Lift your knee caps up and engage your quadriceps. Tone the belly by slightly pulling the navel inwards. Open your chest and roll your shoulders back. Maintain the natural curve of your spine and gaze directly forward. Hold the pose for a minute focusing on breathing calmly and evenly through the nose.

  1. Tiryaka Tadasana / Swaying Palm Tree Pose

TiryakaTadasana

Stand with feet more than shoulder width apart and raise your arms up interlacing the fingers and turn the palms upwards. Exhale and bend to the right side from waist, inhale and come back up. Repeat on left side. This completes one round. Practice 5 to 10 rounds.

  1. Ustrasana / Camel Pose

Ushtrasana

Stand on knees with arms at sides, keep the knees and feet hip distance apart. Lean backwards, slowly reaching for right heel with right hand and then left heel with left hand. Do not strain if you can’t get there, just support the lower back and bend backwards as far as is comfortable. In either variation, push your hips forward, keep the thighs vertical and relax the whole body, especially the back muscles into the stretch. Focus on breathing normally. Avoid completely if you have severe back ailments.

  1. Balasana / Child’s Pose

Balasana

Begin by kneeling on a yoga mat or the floor. Bring your knees together and your buttocks to your feet. Exhale and slowly rest your torso over your thighs so that your forehead touches the mat.

  1. Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold

Paschimottanasana

Sit on floor with legs outstretched, feet together and hands on your knees. Relax the whole body and slowly bend forward from the hips sliding your hands down on the legs. Try to grasp the big toes with fingers and thumbs or else just hold any part of the legs that can be reached easily. Move slowly without forcing or jerking. Hold the position for 30 seconds at least, breathing deeply. Relax the back and leg muscles allowing them to stretch gently. Keeping the legs straight, slowly bring the trunk downwards towards the legs maintaining a firm grip on the toes or legs. Try to touch the forehead to the knees. Hold for as long as it’s comfortable.

  1. Bhujangasana / Cobra Pose

Bhujangasana

Lie down on the mat in a prone position with your hands next to your ribcage and elbows bent. Begin to raise your head first, then shoulders, then straightening your elbows arch the back. Bend the head back and gaze upwards to eyebrow centre. The thighs and hips remain on floor and the arms support the trunk. Unless the spine is very flexible, the arms will remain slightly bent. Hold for 30 seconds and relax in Child’s pose.

  1. Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog Pose

UrdhvaMukhaSvanasana

From the child’s pose, stretch your arms forward, pushing into your palms lift your knees off the floor. Raise the buttocks and lower the head between the arms so that back and legs form two sides of a triangle. The legs and arms straighten in the final position and the heels come down towards the floor. Bring the head and shoulders towards the knees but do not strain. Remain here for 30-60 seconds.

  1. Viparita Karani / Legs up the wall or inverted pose

ViparitaKarani

Lie flat on the back with legs and feet together in a straight line. Place the arms close to the body with palms facing down. Raise both the legs up perpendicular to the floor keeping them straight and together. Hold this pose for a minute. You can also take support of the wall if you are just beginning the practice. Refer to https://mysliceofzen.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/yoga-sequence-for-a-better-sleep/

  1. Shavasana / Corpse Pose

Shavasana

Lie flat on the back with arms about 15 cm away from the body, palms facing upwards. Let the fingers curl up slightly. Move the feet apart to a comfortable position and close the eyes. Head and spine in one straight line, relax the whole body and cease all voluntary physical movements. Become aware of the natural breath and allow it to become rhythmic and relaxed. Stay in the final resting pose for 3-5 minutes, then become aware of the body and surroundings and gently and smoothly release the posture.

Remember

Always work within the range of your own abilities and limitations. Approach each posture cautiously and respectfully. Seek guidance of an experienced and trained yoga instructor to begin your practice.

Am I stressed?

Whether it’s an issue related to work, an argument with a friend or problems with the family – everyone feels stressed sometimes. Do you ever wonder about the effects that stress can have on your body and mind? Stress is recognized by many as the no.1 proxy killer disease today. The American medical association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60% of all human illness and disease. Medically, stress is defined as any condition or situation that places undue strain on the body. The causes of stress can be varied. It could be due to physical illness or injuries or psychological reasons like fear, anger or frustration and even something like unusual happiness.

stress2

In this blog post, we have some insightful stress facts that you might be unaware of.

 

How to know if you are stressed?

Following are common manifestations of stress:

Physical symptoms

  • Palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain & other signs similar to those of heart disease
  • Unusual rapid breathing, dizziness, light-headedness
  • Tingling sensations in hands and feet
  • Chronic or recurring neck pain and backache
  • Frequent headaches
  • Sudden and excessive hair loss
  • Appearance of skin problems
  • Loss of libido
  • Diarrhoea or constipation, heartburn and other digestive problems

Psychological symptoms

  • Difficulty in concentrating & decision making
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic fatigue, even after resting
  • Prolonged anxiety
  • Changes in appetite and increased reliance on alcohol, nicotine or other drugs
  • Difficulty coping with what normally would be minor setbacks
  • Decreased enjoyment of pleasurable activities or events

How can you cope with stress?

Good nutrition is especially important during periods of stress. When stressed out, some people are always hungry and binge eat; others have to force themselves to eat. I’ll leave you with some tips for eating during stressful periods. However, no diet can make stress disappear completely but these tips ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs for dealing with stress and keeping the immune system healthy. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

Don’t

  • Skip breakfast.
  • Eat quickly.
  • Follow fad diets.
  • Drink excessive coffee and alcohol as these can affect your mood and sleep patterns

Do these simple things to cope better:

  1. Take a multivitamin pill.
  2. Eat regular and healthful meals; several small meals may work best.
  3. Exercise regularly to increase the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that lift mood.
  4. Listen to your favourite music; this too increases endorphin levels.
  5. Practice deep breathing, meditation and Yoga. We will soon share a Yoga routine that’ll help you keep stress at bay.
  6. Make a to-do list for the day. It’ll help you remain organized and prevent unnecessary panics.
  7. Talk to family and friends.

So the next time you’re stressed, take a step back, inhale and laugh. Remember who you are and why you are here. You’re never given anything in this world that you can’t handle.

6 Odd Stress Inducing Habits

I have experienced it more than once. I’m sure you have too.stress

Sweaty palms, heart racing, panic rising as you realize there’s only so much time at hand and way too much to do.

Stress can immobilize you and negatively impact several aspects of your life. However, do you know that there are certain things that you might be doing to yourself on a daily basis to up your stress levels? It’s vital to understand that stress resonates beyond work and nagging individuals.

Over the next few days, we will try to take a step back, take a mental health day and de-stress and detox our minds. On the onset, let’s try to understand which daily habits act as stress triggers for us and how to break them.

  1. You don’t like to say NO. It’s good to act in order to please others, but not at the cost of your own happiness. Saying “no” once in a while is perfectly alright, especially if it means you are happier and less stressed. Allow yourself that.
  2. You obsess over things which are out of your control. There are things that you have no control over, especially the behaviour of others. Do not allow it to destroy your internal peace. Move on and work on resolving issues rather than thinking about things that you can’t change anymore.
  3. You eat unhealthy food in excess. Feeding your stress with processed junk food and excess of caffeine leaves you for worse physically and mentally.
  4. You overload your schedule and have no time to sweat it out. Human brain is built to deal with stress better when the body is physically active. If you aren’t getting your fair share of workout, a quick jog, a yoga class, a swim or even a romp in the sheets is a good idea. Just get moving.
  5. You procrastinate. Better get the things done ASAP. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
  6. Why so grim? Laugh more! It alleviates your stress levels, it improves the blood flow, relaxes the muscles and it does make you look pretty!!! Don’t be stingy with your laughs.

So now, the next time that you are stressed, take a step back, breathe deeply and stop yourself from repeating these unhealthy habits.

We will soon bring more information and tips your way to handle the stress better. Stay connected.

Teaching or Showing-off?

Being a Type B introvert, I could never fare well in a world that celebrates gettingyoga cat showoff ahead. We, unlike our Type A friends, do not have it in our nature to strive and it takes an immense amount of mostly clumsy effort to actually do it. But Yoga, you see, was different. It discourages competition and hence, I found my home in it. Now, after years of practice and teaching, I can appreciate the wisdom behind the non-competitive philosophy which essentially is:

  • The safety of students is of foremost importance
  • The way pushing hard, frustration and discontent renders you insincere to your practice
  • The futility of comparing your body and its capabilities to a genetically different person whose history is entirely different from yours

In spite of believing in the non-competitive aspect of Yoga I still sometimes am guilty of doing the opposite. I would demonstrate the full version of a pose with the intention of inspiring my students and telling them what is possible. Sure, it’s justified to show some individuals whose bodies are capable of fancy poses safe ways to approach those poses. But demonstrating such “advanced” versions to a class at large is fraught with problems.

  1. When teachers show off, it causes at least some students to feel inadequate. (Remember anyone saying “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible”? This is where it comes from.)
  2. Demonstrating fancy advanced poses to the students gives them the flawed idea that Yoga is all about getting into such pretzel poses when in reality, it’s about being mindful and respecting the capabilities and limits of your own body.
  3. It may even lead to some students trying to force themselves into poses prematurely and causing serious physical harm to themselves.

There’s no “perfect” in yoga, and there’s no getting to the “end” of your practice. Yoga is not a race and we are not running it. It’s the responsibility of a teacher to share their experiences and guide the students into a safe, mindful practice.

Yoga Inversions – should you or shouldn’t you?

pincha2When your heart is higher than your head, you place your body in an unusual configuration.

I’ve learnt from my personal practice that not only do the inversions shift your relationship with gravity, they challenge your perceptions and they may evoke fear. But if you conquer your weaknesses you end up with a rewarding sensation which is motivational and reenergizing.

However, I know that not everyone will agree with me. What I can do, by means of this article, is try to bring out the pros and cons of doing inversions to light.

Why should you do inversions?

  1. Getting inverted reverses the blood flow and improves the circulation.
  2. It uses gravity to provide brain with more oxygen and blood to improve mental functioning, increasing concentration, memory and processing abilities.
  3. It improves immunity. Lymph moves through the body to pick up the bacteria and toxins which are later eliminated by lymph nodes. This movement is largely due to muscle contraction and gravity so getting inverted helps lymph to travel easily to respiratory system where much toxins enter the body.
  4. Some heating inversions like headstand, arm stand and forearm stand are known to physically and mentally invigorate the practitioner.
  5. Cooling inversions like shoulder stand and legs-up-the-wall pose calm the nervous system, act on the parasympathetic nervous system producing a feeling of balance and calmness.
  6. Physically inversions improve body’s balance and core strength.
  7. Let’s accept it, they ARE fun. They reintroduce us to our inner child and remind us to remain light hearted in our asana practice.

Why shouldn’t you do inversions?

  1. Being inverted for more than a couple of minutes decreases the heartbeat and increases the blood pressure. Hence, if you have heart disease or hypertension, you should avoid inversions.
  2. If you have glaucoma or an eye injury you should stay off inversions as they put pressure on the head.
  3. Weak bones make for another reason to not go upside down. When you go inverted, the body weight pulls you down and provides traction. Though this might give you a short term relief from your nagging back problem but in the longer run it might be more damaging for people with weak bones, fractures which haven’t healed well, skeletal implants or spinal injuries.
  4. Medical conditions like hernia or middle ear infections are contraindicative for inversions.
  5. Inversions should be avoided during pregnancy as they can have damaging effects on the foetus as well as the mother’s health.
  6. Several traditional schools of yoga believe that inversions during your “ladies holiday” is a no-no. It’s a wise thought as we want to bring the energy downwards, instead of upwards during the periods.

If you are just starting out in your inversion practice, it may be challenging at first but going inverted may serve as a natural caffeine-free way to burst out of inertia and access hibernating stores of internal energy. Now to balance out the mental work you just did in reading this article, you might want to move to your mat and go upside down; or may be not! The real yoga is in knowing when to “back off”.

Yoga Sequence for a better sleep

Wind down and relax with this simple yoga stretch routine demonstrated here by my SuperYogi. The sequence is easy and appropriate for even beginners to follow, plus it could be done in the comfort of your own bedroom. These yoga poses will soothe your mind and body, calm your nervous system and prepare you to catch up on better Zzzs. Do remember to hold each pose for 10-15 breaths. However do not push yourself, the poses must be comfortable and the breathing needs to be slow, deep and relaxed. Just play some relaxing music, light up a scented candle and stretch the worries of your day away.

  1. Janu Sirsasana / Head to knee forward bend Janu sirsasana J
  • Sit with your left leg extended and your right knee bent with the right sole resting against the inner left thigh.
  • Inhale and lift your arms up, lengthening the torso.
  • Exhale and reach to hold your right foot or shin. Align your navel above your left leg by twisting the torso a little.
  • Relax your shoulders and breathe deeply.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Avoid if you have diarrhoea or asthma. In case of a knee injury, place cushions under the straightened knee.
  1. Baddha Konasana / Bound angle pose baddha konasana J
  • Sit with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together.
  • Inhale and draw your feet as close to your pelvis as you comfortably can.
  • Straighten your back and hold your feet with your hands. Do not force the knees down.
  • Stay in this pose and breathe.
  • In case of groin or knee injuries, perform the pose with cushion support under outer thighs.
  1. Upavistha Konasana / Wide angle seated forward bend Upavishta Konasana J
  • Sit tall and supporting your weight on your hands, open your legs wide at approximately a 90 degrees angle.
  • Rotate your thighs outwards and point your knee caps up towards the ceiling. Your feet must be flexed.
  • Straighten the torso.
  • Exhale and begin to walk your hands out towards the front if it’s comfortable. If not, stay upright.
  • In case of lower back pain, sit on a block or a folded blanket.
  1. Parivartanasana / Supine twist   supine twist J
  • Lie down on your back on the mat.
  • Inhale, draw the knees to the chest and stretch your arms to the side with the palms facing up.
  • Exhale and bring the knees to the left side on the floor and turn your head to the right side.
  • Breathe comfortably while holding the pose.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  1. Viparita Karani / Legs up the wall pose  Viparita Karani J
  • Sit sideways with one side of your body against the wall.
  • Exhale and with one smooth movement, swing your legs up the wall and your head and shoulders gently to the floor. Please exercise caution when you are doing this step.
  • Once your back is on the floor, relax your jaw, neck and shoulders.
  • Stay and breathe comfortably in the posture.
  • To release, bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to shift the pelvis away from the wall. Bend your knees and turn to your side before you get up.
  • Avoid during menstruation or pregnancy and if you suffer from glaucoma or high blood pressure.

Remember

Always work within the range of your own abilities and limitations. Approach each posture cautiously and respectfully. Seek guidance of an experienced and trained yoga instructor to begin your practice.