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Why Hips?

You know the place at the beginning of class when the teacher asks for any requests? I would say one of the most common, if not THE most common, request is “hips.” Now, I think this is generally meant to be a request to stretch out tight hips from standing or sitting all day while working. When we think of “hips” we tend to generalize it to one muscle. Our hips are each a joint made up of two bones coming together surrounded by at least 17 muscles and tendons, 5 ligaments, and a myriad of blood vessels and nerves, including the sciatic nerve,  in each hip. Eeghad! There is so much going on in one spot.

Most of the muscles that make up the hip joint connect the pelvis to the thigh bone (femur) in some way. So we can intuit hip also includes the upper leg. What, I think, many of us don’t intuit or forget is that some of the hip muscles also connect up into our spine. This is important to understand because tight or weak hip muscles can lead to back pain and tension as well as the knee. The 17 hip joint muscles are typically divided into four groups: gluteal, lateral rotator, adductor, and iliopsoas.

Tight Hips

Some may refer to themselves as having tight hips. This could be related to many things including shorter hip muscles, weakness in some key hip muscles, and even tightness in muscles not designated as part of the hip. What? That’s right. Because our hip is a joint at our pelvis, many hip movements are also regulated by the ability of the thigh muscles and the lower torso muscles including in the back. Because all parts of our body are interconnected, when one group of muscles is struggling, another group will either take over to compensate, or struggle in conjunction. Here’s one way to experiment with this idea.

Stand with your feet hip-width and your hands on your hips. Balance on one leg and bend the other knee to 90°, use a wall to help if desired. Bend your knee as much as you can to squeeze the foot toward the buttock and keep the thigh parallel to he floor. Make sure your hips are level with each other and squared forward, and your abdominal muscles are engaged with a neutral pelvis. Keep your foot squeezing toward you buttock and begin to lower your knee without rotating it in or out. As the knee gets closer to the ground, resist the urge to arch your lower back. Once the knee begins to move behind the torso, resist letting the foot stop squeezing in. Ok, you probably have a huge hamstring cramp after that, sorry. 🙂

Hopefully you can now see how the muscles and movement of the hip are also affected by the muscles of the rest of the leg and lower torso. Once the leg got closer to the floor, the lower back likely wanted to arch. Once the leg moved behind the body, the lower back kept wanting to arch and the knee wanted to straighten. This was a test of what are called the hip flexors and extenders, sheds light on where compensation for tight quadriceps and/or weak hamstrings occurs in the low back.

What Does Tight Hips Mean?

This depends on the person and their bone structure. Everyone has differently shaped thigh and pelvis bones and where and how the thigh bone articulates (connects) to the pelvis is also different. Some people have a shallow hip joint meaning the thigh bone is more toward the front (anterior) which may allow them easier access to forward folds and may cause things like hip dysplasia because the labrum (fibrocartilage keeping the thigh bone in place) can’t fully cover the top of the thigh bone (femoral head). Or someone may have a deep hip joint meaning the thigh bone is more toward the back (posterior) which may allow them to bring the leg further behind the body and can lead to hip impingement as the femoral neck bumps up against the pelvis when the hip is flexed. Then there are the middle of the hip people, who should be wary of overdoing any particular movements.

As you can see, where your thigh bone is in relation to your pelvis can also play a role in hip tightness. This is not something we can change, this is how we are born and best to know our own limits so we don’t hurt ourselves. We can also embrace our hip structure to allow us to be awesome at running, super strong in squats, or make beautiful backbends.

It’s not all about the bones, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments also play key roles in hip mobility. It is also possible some of the tendons or ligaments have been shorted, and/or the muscles may be shortened. If it is the ligaments, there’s not much we can do about that. If it is the muscles, stretching the muscles around the hip joint can help.

The most common tightness people feel is in the hip flexors in the front of the hip and in the deeper hip muscles under the gluteals, typically the piriformis. When the hip flexors get tight, they pull the pelvis forward making a deeper arch in the low back which may also cause tension in the low back. Generally a deep externally rotated hip stretch feels awesome for these muscles.

Hip Weakness

It is difficult to tell if “tight” hips are from weakness or from inflexibility. As I mentioned, the hip flexors are the most common place where people feel tight. This can also be due to weakness and they may not be strong enough to support your activities leading them to feel sore or tight. If you haven’t run before and you go for a 5 mile run, your hip flexors are going to give it to you after because they are not strong enough yet to meet the demands of running 5 miles. In this case, strength building is important.

Similarly the internal adductor muscles that squeeze the legs toward each other, the extensor muscles that move the leg behind the torso, and the gluteal muscles also tend to weaken from sitting. These muscles are key for most of our movement, especially for those who perform athletics like walking, running, swimming, etc.

Now What

If you’re the one who asks for hips a lot in a yoga class, consider if the muscles are in need of strength building to meet the demands of sitting and/or exercise, become more aware of your range of motion to familiarize yourself with your bone structure, and get those deep stretches in that make you melt just a little bit more.

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April 10, 2021 · 11:40 am

Pratyahara – More than Withdrawing from the Senses

You may or may not be aware that most modern yoga is based on eight tenets of life called the Eight Limbs of Yoga, or Ashtanga Yoga. Asana, the postures we make in yoga classes, is only one of the limbs.

The first four are considered external practices, things we incorporate into every day life to be good people and live in the world. Others around us can see any changes and shifts as we practice the first four limbs, and may even benefit from our kindness and love. The final four are considered internal practices, practices to work with the inner workings of our mind to transcend the physical plane of existence. Others can’t physically see the effects of these practices, such as meditation, but they again may benefit as we cultivate inner awareness and compassion. There is a whole expanse of yoga still to discover and explore beyond what we are doing with our physical body!

Pratyahara

The fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, along with pranayama, breathing techniques, is the bridge between the physical self and the higher self, the external practices and the internal practices. Pratyahara is the connection between the physical realm and the spiritual realm.

Made up of two root words, prati (back to, retreat, away, against, opposition), and ahara (food, nourishment, procuring) we can infer the meaning of pratyahara as moving away from external influence. In yoga philosophy there are three types of nourishment: actual food we eat, the impressions made on our mind from experience through the senses, and feeding our soul from interactions with others close to our heart.

Typically translated as withdrawal from the senses, pratyahara is more about noticing when we are being controlled by our senses and having the discipline (tapas) to return to a mental and physical state of awareness away from seeking external pleasure or sensory experience. Is it possible to sit still and quiet for five minutes?

Now, we can’t practically withdraw from our senses or terrible things would happen, like not having our eyes open while driving for instance. We need our senses to function in life, to keep us safe, and to offer some joy. We want to begin to notice what impressions are being imprinted on our mind as we interact with our senses. When I see someone cut me off while I am driving, what happens to my mind? Pratyahara offers us the chance to use our external world to shape our internal world into what we want it to be. When I see someone cut me off while I am driving, I wish them well and don’t react. (To be fair, that’s not always what happens, but we’re all human and doing the best we can.)

In a sense (see what I did there), we are learning to become friends with and like ourselves by not defining who we are with our external environment and making choices to support ourselves. We need our senses to function in the world; to see while driving, to feel temperature on our skin, to adequately digest our food, to smell aromas enlivening our digestion, and to hear so we can experience others through spoken word, etc. The effort of pratyahara is noticing when these senses begin to control us and we become a slave to them constantly seeking stimulation. I see chocolate, I must eat chocolate despite knowing it may keep me awake at night so I don’t get enough sleep, or I am not in actuality hungry, etc.

Pratyahara is about recognizing we are good enough, we are worth a damn, and loving ourselves just as we are so our choices become a reflection of this self love. It is about living in each moment fully, and requires a focus on the here and now, whatever the task may be.

Ways to Practice

There are formal meditations one can do to practice pratyahara. For many of us, sitting for an hour and running through our sensory stimulus isn’t practical. Here are some ways you can practice pratyahara every day.

  • Take five minutes to sit in quiet with your eyes closed every once in a while.
  • Drive without the radio on for one trip.
  • Notice when you are eating if you are still hungry and need that second helping, or if your eyes, nose, or tongue are beguiling your mind to get get more.
  • Take in a beautiful sunrise, sunset, artwork, or other visually pleasing item and notice how it effects the way your mind moves.
  • Notice how you feel emotionally and energetically after watching a movie or tv show and determine if it is something that suits you well.
  • Pay attention to the way those around you speak and the way you speak to others and to yourself.
  • Caring, physical touch is essential to human life, give a hug to someone you love.
  • Take a nourishing bath or use a lotion that feels soothing on your skin.
  • Notice aromas around you and do your best not to label them as good or bad.

Our senses are constantly bombarded with stimulation. Taking time to reduce the bombardment of the senses can make a huge difference for reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, may help sleep come more easily, and create a more meaningful relationship with Self.

Take time to choose imprints for your mind that support the person you want to be!

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April 8, 2021 · 3:45 pm

Help Reduce Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

Spring is a time for rebirth, renewal, sunshine, dewdrops, and the promise of sunny days. It can also be a time of intense allergies, congestion, and sluggishness.

During winter we sleep more, eat heavier foods, and take time to snuggle in for some alone time. In the spring we want to begin to balance this out by eating lighter and drier foods, waking earlier as the sun rises earlier, and beginning to spread our social wings.

According to Ayurvedic principles, allergies stem from all the kapha we accumulate over the winter accumulating in our body. We need the kapha accumulation in the winter to keep us warm, hydrated, and nourished. In the spring, this accumulation can lead to colds, allergies, and a general feeling of sluggishness.

Three types of allergies can trigger these unpleasant reactions: food allergies, airborne allergies, and contact allergies. This means the body senses something foreign and sends cells to attack kicking the immune system into overdrive. According to Ayurveda, some primary causes of allergies are genetics; weak agni, or digestive fire; a person’s current state of wellness, or imbalance; and/or the presence of amaundigested or poorly digested food that turns toxic and interferes with processes in the body.

As we enter spring, this is the perfect time to begin cleansing all the heavy, dense, watery qualities we accumulated over winter from eating foods to keep us nourished and warm. If we don’t take care to balance out these qualities our spring will be blurry and full of sneezes instead of taking in the aroma of new life beginning to bloom.

Seasonal allergies effect many people every spring. If you are one of those people, Ayurveda can help! Here are a few simple things you can do to help prevent allergies from starting this spring.

  • Reduce or Eliminate Cold Foods and Drinks
    Cold foods and drinks aggravate kapha and can lead to more congestion and reduction in the body’s ability to fight allergens.
  • Eat Warm and Cooked Foods
    Our digestive capability in the spring is not very strong. Having warm and cooked foods help our digestion break down our foods better so we able to better assimilate nutrients from the foods we consume.
  • Drink Ginger Tea
    Drink ginger tea 30 minutes before a meal and/or throughout the day to bolster digestion.
  • Pranayama Practices
    Breathing techniques like ujjayi and kapalabhati are great for invigorating the body, stimulating the mind, and clearing the airways for easier breathing.
  • Exercise Daily
    Move your body for at least 20 minutes every day. This does not have to be vigorous movement such as a walk, living room dance party, charades, etc. Or, move your body vigorously for 30 minutes 3-4 times each week.
  • Neti Pot
    The neti pot (pronounced naytee) is a great tool to help clear congestion in the nasal sinuses. If done before seasonal allergies kick in, it will help the cilia of the nose be more prepared to defend against allergens. This is also a wonderful tool to reduce symptoms of a cold if used early enough, but don’t use it after you have a cold or the symptoms will worsen.
  • Dry Brushing
    Gently exfoliating the skin, dry brushing is a wonderful way to move the lymph which can help boost immunity to fight against seasonal allergies and colds.
  • Eat dry, bitter, astringent, and pungent foods
    Allergies stuff everything up with sticky, gooey stuff, so eating similarly like cheese, bananas, etc, will worsen the symptoms. Adding foods to your diet like dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, etc), dandelion greens, pomegranates, green beans, chickpeas, onions, ginger, garlic, chilies, and green tea will help dry out some of the mucous.
  • Seasonal Cleanse
    According to Ayurveda, one of the reasons allergies hit us is because our immune system doesn’t have the capacity fight off allergens. One cause of this is a weak digestive system so the body is having to put too many physiological resources into digesting food. Giving the digestive system a break by consuming an easy to digest meal for several days, called a mono diet, can help rekindle the digestive fire so the body can focus on more important things. (Join me for the annual cleanse March 15-19.)

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March 4, 2021 · 1:49 pm

Eat Well This Holiday Season

Eating well over the holidays can be tricky. This holiday season is going to be different for most of us in our current state of affairs, but we can still be mindful in the food choices we make to keep us healthy.

What is eating well anyway?

In Ayurveda, it depends. Each person is different, made up of a different balance of the five elements, different life experience, different family history, and so all foods can either be a poison or medicine depending on the individual. Some people may be able to tolerate chili peppers without any digestive upset, whereas others may break out in hives, or have acid indigestion, etc. Eating well in Ayurveda is all about maintaining good digestion to support our immune system and body functions.

Healthy eating is more than just giving up cookies. In fact, having cookies can be part of a healthy diet. The foods we choose to consume are just as much about our mental state as our physical state. Sometimes we may feel bored and decide we need a cookie. Or we may feel sad so we reach for some cake. Being aware of your emotions and mental wellbeing is critical for creating and maintaining healthy eating habits. Perhaps if you are bored, you may do well with a glass of water. If you feel sad, perhaps a hug from a loved one or watching your favorite movie will satiate your need.

Optimal health and eating well in Ayurveda are all about maintaining a healthy digestive system: urination is not foul smelling and is a light yellow color, and occurs regularly about every 3-4 hours; bowel movements occur at least once per day and first thing in the morning, ideally 1-3 times per day, are the consistency and size of a ripe banana, are a good brown color, and are not oily or dry. It’s not pretty taking about our body’s elimination, but we can learn a lot about how well or GI system is working be examining our excretions. If your urine is bright yellow and occurs 2-3 times per day, you may not be consuming enough liquids. If your bowel movements are hard, painful, or do not occur at least once per day, you may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals or other necessary nutrients.

How do we know if a food is poison or medicine?

It is all an experiment with foods and a deep awareness in how they affect your physiology. Does eating yogurt with fruit on it give you gas? When you eat eggs do you feel lethargic or energized? When you eat raw vegetables do you feel bloated or unbothered? Once it is determined if the body digests something well or not, it becomes a mental practice. Is it worth it to me to feel this particular to continue eating the thing(s) that make me feel like this? This is where discipline and practice come in with a dash of compassion and forgiveness.

It isn’t “healthy” to restrict things because we “think”we should. If know something is bad for us, and it is not just limited to food, and we continue to consume it or participate in that activity, this is more about the strength of our mind. If I know when I eat cream cheese I will wake up the next morning with nasal congestion and mucus in my throat, I have to decide if I want to eat the cream cheese and feel that way the next day. Or, do I want to skip the cream cheese and wake up the next day with clear sinuses and throat? Sometimes it is worth it, like if we are celebrating a loved one with a lovingly made cake with cream cheese frosting. Sometimes it’s not, like if I plan to go for a swim the next day and need to be able to breathe clearly.

Tips To Eat Well This Holiday Season

Here are some easy ways you can ensure you eat well over the upcoming holidays, and year round, to help keep your immunity and energy up, and your digestion moving smoothly.

  • Make lunch your largest meal.
    Our digestion is the strongest in the middle of the day, so it can help with better sleep, better digestion, and overall mood if you eat your largest meal at lunch time. If you know you are going to a dinner party later in the evening, keep lunch light.
  • Skip a meal if you aren’t hungry or plan to eat a larger meal than normal.
    It is important to be hungry when you eat a meal. If you are hungry your body releases gastric fluids to help you digest your food. If you aren’t hungry and you eat food, your body will have a difficult time breaking down what you eat because the appropriate fluids and enzymes are not available to break the food down. If you know you are going to have a larger than normal dinner, your digestion may benefit from skipping lunch before or breakfast the next day, or making those meals very light.
  • Eat and drink enough during your meal to feel satiated and not full.
    It is a good idea not to eat so much you feel full. In general, see if you are able to consume food and drink during your meal to fill you 3/4 of the way full. Generally we want each meal to fill our stomach half full with food and one quarter full with liquid or drink.
  • Have dessert as part of your meal.
    If you are planning to have dessert, which you are because the holidays offer some of the most delicious desserts, do your best to leave room for it as part of your meal and don’t eat so much that you feel full and have dessert a few hours later
  • Eat a plant-based diet.
    Ayurveda promotes a plant-based diet of whole foods. With an Ayurvedic diet, meat is used only when needed to support bones or muscles, or if a person’s particular constitution requires it for optimal health and safety. Most people can get all the essential vitamins and minerals they need from fruits, vegetables, and legumes when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
  • Don’t eat a minimum of 2 hours before bed time.
    It takes most foods 2-6 hours to fully digest. If we eat right before bed or in the middle of the night, our body is busy working to digest the food instead of resting and may cause restless sleep.
  • Avoid snacking.
    Because it takes most foods 2-6 hours to digest, snacking can lead to indigestion, stomach upset, gas, bloating, or other GI discomfort. The reason for this is because when we eat hydrochloric acid is released in our stomach to break down the foods we eat to be absorbed through our small intestine as vitamins and minerals. Hydrochloric acid, along with other digestive enzymes, is considered our digestive fire, or agni in Ayurveda. This is like a real fire, if we put logs on it, it will burn evenly. If we then put four more logs on before the first logs have caught and are becoming embers, we may put out the fire. If we constantly put food in our stomach without allowing it to be fully digested, it may cause gas, bloating, and or GI distress. If you are hungry, you should eat, and some people benefit from frequent small meals. If you need to snack, consider foods that digest quickly and easily like fruit.
  • Reduce or eliminate cold drinks with meals.
    Similar to snacking, if we put something cold in our stomach with the rest of our meal, it will dampen the ability of the stomach to fully digest what is consumed. Room temperature or warm drinks are best with meals. If you love iced beverages, keep them for in between meals as best you can.

It’s important to keep in mind everyone’s digestion is different. These are basic tips to help you keep on track with healthy eating this holiday season and year round. Remember, healthy eating means you easily digest the foods you consume. In Ayurveda we like to encourage the 80/20 rule. If 80% of the time you have good digestion and 20% of the time you eat your favorite snack and have a little gas, then you’re doing great! Being perfect is boring, and we want to enjoy the life we live. So get out there and enjoy your pumpkin pie! (But as part of your meal.)

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November 26, 2020 · 7:51 am

Create Greater Wellbeing this Fall

Transitioning from summer to fall can be difficult on our system and our mindset. There are many things we can do to help make the transition a little smoother and easier to cope with.

Fall is one of the most magical times of year. When the leaves begin to change from shades of green into purples, golds, pinks, and reds, there is a sense of ease and warmth. Fall is considered the start to vata season, which takes full swing through the winter. Fall still has some traces of summer with some warm sunny days, late summer vegetables, and sleeping with the windows open. As the light begin the fade and days become shorter, that feeling of warmth the leaves gives us is a reminder that cold days are coming and we would do well to make some diet and lifestyle preparations to be ready for the oncoming winter months. Ayurveda has some helpful tips for making that transition easier.

The qualities of vata are cool, dry, rough, hard, mobile, and spacious. Ayurveda offers us simple tools to make the transition from warm to cold by cultivating a feeling of warmth, heaviness, and stability. The fall helps ease us from the heat of the summer to the cold of the winter. We will still see some summer vegetables in the fall, depending on the climate you live in, like broccoli, peas, peppers, and others. The flavors of summer, sweet, bitter, and astringent, will come through in some of these later vegetables and fruits. This is important because winter is all about incorporating foods that are sweet, sour, and salty and the sweet flavor is the bridge between the two. Remember, sweet taste is more than just eating chocolate and and candy. Although those fall in the sweet category, sweet taste shows up in foods like dairy, grains, meats, etc.

As fall begins to incorporate these new tases in the diet through the produce that is available naturally, we also want to consider the qualities of the foods we are eating. In the summer, our foods are light, crisp, and cool. We see these qualities in melons, berries, cucumbers, etc. As we transition to colder months, incorporating heavier, warmer, and dense foods will help us stay warm and help us feel cozy inside. Thinking of the foods we see available in the fall and winter, this makes sense. Typically, these foods are best in the fall:

  • Nuts (especially pecans and almonds)
  • Squashes
  • Pumpkins
  • Potatoes (especially sweet)
  • Fruits (apples, dates, figs, lemons, oranges)
  • Grains (wheat, oats, amaranth, quinoa)
  • Dairy (cow, goat, soft cheeses)
  • Oils (ghee, sunflower and almond oil)
  • Legumes (kidney, mung, urad)
  • Meat
  • Warming spices (cinnamon, chilies, pepper, anise, clover oregano, cardamom, ginger, saffron, rosemary)

In terms of diet, think all the warm, comforting, sticky, heavy foods like chili, mac and cheese, pastas, casseroles, etc. Although in the fall season

A daily routine incorporating abhyanga, the self oil massage, is perfect for creating warmth and nourishment for your skin. This is the perfect time to incorporate slower practices like yin or restorative yoga, meditation, journaling, and other forms of self-reflection and introspection. Take the time to think about what you have done over the last few days, weeks, or months and determine whether your choices are helping you move in the direction you want to be going or if they are derailing you. What can you learn from your experiences to help move you along your path with a little more ease.

In Ayurveda there is an adage that like increases like and opposites balance. Remember the qualities becoming fo fall, cool, dry, rough, hard, mobile, and spacious. See how much warmth, moisture, smoothness, softness, stillness, and stability you can incorporate into your life in all possible ways.

 

Self Care Sunday October 2020 Yoga with Angelina Fox, ERYT500, YACEP, Yoga Teacher and Ayurveda Health CounselorYou may enjoy this video from the October Self-Care Sunday discussing the transition from summer to fall.

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November 14, 2020 · 11:16 am