Living with Harmony ~ A Blog for your Mind & Body

Pilates Ring Exercise: Shoulder Bridge

Posted in How-To,Pilates,Pilates Ring by Harmony on September 30, 2010

In just over one minute you’ll learn how to incorporate a Pilates Ring into your Shoulder Bridge Pilates exercise. The Shoulder Bridge usually works the hamstrings and glutes, but by adding the Pilates Ring you’ll also be working the inner thighs as well.
How To Do A Shoulder Bridge With Ring (Pilates Tutorial)


Head to Knee Pose with a Yoga Strap

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Pose,Yoga Strap by Harmony on September 28, 2010

Just a quick video on how to properly get into Janu Sirsasana with a Yoga Strap. This is a wonderful hamstring stretch.  Great for runners, bikers, desk jockeys, and others!

There are a variety of Yoga Straps to choose from.

  • You can choose cotton or hemp material.
  • Buckles are either a plastic cinch buckle or a metal d-ring style.
  • And you can choose from lengths of 6 feet to 10 feet.

These are all personal choice decisions.  The longer lengths may be preferred by taller people, or by those who prefer bound poses, or Iyengar practitioners using lots of props.  Both types of buckles are easy to use, but some people may find the d-ring a little easier but the plastic buckles are a little quieter when allowing the strap to be used without looping.  When deciding between the cotton or hemp straps, you may want to read about the environmental benefits of hemp before making a decision.

Choosing a Meditation Cushion: Buckwheat or Kapok?

Posted in How-To,Meditation,Zafus/Zabutons by Harmony on September 27, 2010

Both Buckwheat and Kapok make for great cushion-fill, but how do you choose which is best for you?  Hopefully the following information will make your decision a little easier.

What is Buckwheat?

Buckwheat hulls are the by-product of buckwheat milling. Naturally pest and water resistant, our buckwheat hulls are a sustainable, pesticide free, hypoallergenic agricultural product.

Buckwheat hulls make a firm and body-fitting cushion. They stay in the shape you form and need.

Organic Buckwheat Hulls

What is Kapok?

Kapok is an all-natural fiber pulled from the seed pods of the kapok tree. A sustainable, completely natural and pesticide-free product sourced from South Pacific growers, Kapok is resilient, lightweight and water resistant, which means it also resists mold.

Kapok is also naturally hypo-allergenic: After harvest, our kapok is spun at a high rate of speed & air cleaned, leaving virtually no dust or pod debris. This makes kapok stuffing an excellent choice for environmentally sensitive individuals.

The drawback to kapok is that it is a natural buoyant hollow fiber. It is so light and fine that the fiber floats in the air and can make a mess when refilling pillows and cushions. It is advised to refill outside or in a space that is easy to clean. This may be necessary when you wish to wash the cushion/pillow cover.

Organic Kapok Filler

Comparing Buckwheat and Kapok Meditation Cushions:

  • Buckwheat Hulls make for a denser cushion, while Kapok is a bit fluffier
  • Both will conform to the body’s shape and support your weight without caving in
  • Buckwheat cushions tend to weigh more than a Kapok cushion (for example, our Kapok Crescent Zafu weighs approximately 28 oz versus a similar Buckwheat Crescent Zafu which weighs 69 oz)
  • Some may find that the Buckwheat provides a more stable and create a very grounding feeling
  • Both are environmentally friendly

The choice is yours.  We offer a variety of Zafu and Zabuton Meditation Cushions.  When choosing from our Zafus, you’ll also be able to select round or crescent-shaped; cotton or organic covers; preferred color; in addition to your fill preference.  Our cushions also have zippers giving you access to the fill so that you can empty the cushion when you wish to wash the cover or wish to adjust the density of the fill to best fit your comfort level.

Performing the Perfect Pull Up

Posted in Core/Fitness,Doorway Gym Bar,How-To by Harmony on September 24, 2010

Doing Chin Ups and Pull Ups at home just got easier.  Ok, so the exercises themselves are still challenging to most of us and we can’t help make the exercise any easier, but we can help make practicing them easier with the new Doorway Gym Chin Up Bar. With a quick and easy installation of this Gym Bar you can now practice chin ups, pull ups, sit ups, and press ups in the comfort of your own home.

Watch the following short video for specifics on how to do a Pull Up. So what’s the difference between a pull up and a chin up? The grip. In a pull up, your palms face away from you, and when doing a chin up, your palms face towards you.
Arm & Shoulder Workouts:
How To Do Pull Ups

Benefits of doing Pull Ups and Chin Ups:

  • Build Muscle:  Pull-ups & Chin-ups force you to lift your own body weight. This stresses your body, building the muscles of your arms & back.
  • Grappling Strength:  Pull-ups & Chin-ups help any sport which involves gripping, grappling & pulling, like martial arts or Rock Climbing.
  • Carryover:   Get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups and you’ll get stronger on the opposite movements: the Overhead Press & Bench Press.
  • Shoulder Health:  Balancing press exercises like the Bench Press with pull exercises like Barbell Rows & Pull-ups prevents muscle imbalances.

Beginner Pilates with a Balance Disc

Posted in Balance Discs,How-To,Pilates by Harmony on September 23, 2010

By creating an unstable base, you can turn some beginner Pilates moves into a more advanced or challenging workout. It’s an easy way to get a more “all-body” workout in the same amount of time. In the following video, the instructor and model review how to take some simple moves and make more challenging using one or two Balance Discs (or Balance Cushions).  One exercise also uses the Pilates Ring.  We offer two Balance Discs in our store: Balance Disc by TKO and an environmentally friendly, phthalate-free vinyl Balance Disc by Natural Fitness.  These balance discs can be incorporated into many Pilates exercises, Yoga poses, and other exercise routines.

10 Exercise and Motivation Tips

Posted in Core/Fitness,Pilates,Yoga by Harmony on September 22, 2010

10 Exercise And Motivation Tips

by Matthew Sawyer

The most difficult part of any activity that is beneficial to the mind, body, and spirit is the motivation it takes to get started. Once that desire from the depths of your being nags at your psyche deeply enough, you will have what it takes to be on your way to improving your health and well-being.

Exercise is one of those things that we need on a daily basis, but the need is often substituted for other lethargic activities. One of the reasons is that activity lends itself to more activity and inactivity lends itself to lethargy. In order to get motivated for exercise on a regular basis, it’s necessary to start somewhere to begin this domino effect.


1. Have a set of 1- 5 pound weights at your disposal and pick them up throughout the day, doing a few repetitions of arm curls and over the head lifts. Start with a repetition of 10 or 12 and increase gradually.

2. Drink water regularly throughout the day so that any increase in activity that will cause you to perspire more will not result in fatigue associated with dehydration that may subconsciously curb your desire for more exercise.

3. Burning rosemary essential oil incense or putting a drop or two in a quart of water will invigorate and give incentive to move. Being a good aid to muscle and joint limbering, it will also help to ready muscles and limbs that may seem stiff and stagnant.

Once you have accomplished these steps that will motivate you to start a program of exercise, while keeping them in place, begin the next series of steps. Your desire to continue by following the above and feeling improvement to your well-being will spur you on to a more strenuous program.

Devising a Program

4. Don’t do the same kind of exercise all the time, and do activities you like to do.

5. Invite a friend. Statistics show that those who exercise with another person are more likely to stay motivated.

6. Stretching exercises when you arise are a good way to get the blood flowing and the feeling for a need to move.

7. Daily routines of shorter, 15 or 20 minute spurts of exercise will keep you energized and motivated for more.

Now that you have a program in place, and perhaps a friend who is joining you, there are some final steps to add. These ten steps together will serve to help keep you wanting more exercise.

Climb and Acknowledge

8. Keep setting new goals, and reward yourself when reaching them with almost any non-food type reward.

9. Keep a record of the milestones and goals you have achieved. Note any positive differences in attitude and any other physical and mental improvements.

10. Take time to recognize and remember who you are and be thankful. Don’t compare yourself to others. Take time to appreciate yourself. Strive be the best you can be, and know that is the best there is to be.

Pranayama: Breath of Fire

Posted in Pranayama / Breathing Exercises,Yoga by Harmony on September 21, 2010

The “Breath of Fire” breathing technique offers many benefits. To name just a few, it cleanses the blood and mucous linings of the lungs and cells within the body, it expands lung capacity, and it warms the body and activates the brain. This is a great breathing practice to use before an energizing yoga class since it will warm you up.

In addition to the following video, which will take you through the details of learning how and why we should practice Breath of Fire, another tip for beginners would be to focus on your exhale when just learning. Place a hand on your abdomen and feel the inward pull of your navel center during the exhale. Concentrate on the exhalations, and the inhalations will occur naturally.

For beginners, it is suggested to practice sitting in Sukhasana, or Easy Pose (a comfortable cross-legged position). You may choose to sit flat on the floor, on a folded blanket, or a bolster or Zafu for additional height and comfort on your knees & ankles. Start by practicing for one minute and then work your way up to three minutes or longer.  As you become more experienced in this practice, you can incorporate breath of fire into yoga poses or other activities.

Warning: not advised if you have any heart conditions or high blood pressure, please be aware that this Pranayama will elevate your blood pressure.

Gayatri Mantra

Posted in Meditation,Yoga by Harmony on September 20, 2010

A beautiful rendition of the Gayatri Mantra by Deva Premal with relaxing, scenic images to help create a quieting mood.

“Om bhur bhuvah svah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat”

This mantra has been around for thousands of years and has several translations.  Here are two:

Swâmi Shivânanda’s translation of the Gâyatrî Mantra is:

We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who has created the Universe;
Who is worthy of Worship;
Who is the embodiment of Knowledge and Light;
Who is the remover of all Sin and Ignorance;
May He enlighten our Intellect.

A succinct and delightful translation by S. Krishnamurthy is:

We meditate upon the radiant Divine Light
of that adorable Sun of Spiritual Consciousness;
May it awaken our intuitional consciousness.

This mantra is considered one of the oldest and most sacred hymns and is believed to alleviate many fears and will help with the start and successful outcome of any important work.

If you enjoyed Deva Premal’s singing of the Gayatri, you may also enjoy Deva’s CD titled Embrace.

Foam Roller Exercises for Upper Body

Posted in Core/Fitness,Foam Roller,How-To by Harmony on September 17, 2010

A High Density Foam Roller will hold it’s shape for a longer period of time than the open-cell foam rollers available on the market.  This will allow you to continue using your roller for a longer period of time with the same amount of support and resistance.  We offer two sizes of high density foam rollers – a 36″ foam roller and an 18″ foam roller.

Foam Roller Exercise – Upper Back

by Elizabeth Quinn

Foam Roller Exercise - Upper Back
Foam Roller Exercise – Upper Back

Photo � E. Quinn

Use a foam roller to massage and release the muscles of the upper back (the trapezius and rhomboids) by positioning the foam roller beneath your shoulder blades. Support your head with your hands and keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Use your feet to control your motion and pressure and start rolling toward your head, pausing at any sore spots. Roll back down to the mid-back and repeat.

Foam Roller Arm Exercise – Latissimus Dorsi, Triceps, Teres Major

Foam Roller Exercise - Latissimus Dorsi, Triceps, Teres Major
Foam Roller Exercise – Latissimus Dorsi, Triceps, Teres Major

Photo � E. Quinn

Another hot spot for trigger points and muscle tightness is the shoulder and back, just under the armpit. This is a spot where a variety of muscles all converge as they connect from the back and shoulder blade to the upper arm (humerous).

Use the foam roller to work the latissimus dorsi, teres major and the triceps by lying on your side, with your arm outstretched and the roller positioned under your armpit (just at base of the shoulder blade).

Roll upward, toward the armpit, pausing at any sore spots. Roll back down and repeat. This exercise can take some practice and experimentation to find exactly the right muscles. Take your time and go slow.

Toning Balls: Add to Pilates, Yoga, and Exercises

Posted in Core/Fitness,Dumbells/Grip Weights,How-To,Pilates,Toning Balls,Yoga by Harmony on September 16, 2010

The soft, weighted Toning Balls that we carry are 2 lbs each and are sold as a pair.  They are manufactured by Natural Fitness and are made with the environmentally friendly phthalate-free vinyl.  The size and texture of toning balls make them easy to grip and can improve your hand and finger strength as well.

The following exercises could also be done with hand held weights – such as our neoprene dumbbell weight set, that offers weights from 2lbs to 5lbs for those looking to up their weights in these exercises.

Another way to increase the intensity of the workouts below (without increasing the weight) is to up the repetitions or the number of sets.  Or, if you know an intermediate or advanced level of the exercise or pose, try that while using the weights.  For example, if you practice yoga and are familiar with a “Blowing Tree”, you could perform this variation while holding the weights as well.  Feel free to experiment, but pay attention to your body!

Toning Ball Workout

by Denise Wang ~


Toning balls are a popular accessory to a variety of different exercise routines, including Yoga, Pilates and basic calisthenics. Toning balls are an alternative to hand held dumbbells or weights and are made of a soft vinyl material. Toning balls come in weights between 1.1 pounds and 5.5 pounds per ball and are held in the open palm with a gentle grip. For light weight training and as added resistance to popular Yoga and Pilates exercises, the balls also help individuals with balance, coordination and flexibility. Performing a 20 to 30 minute workout with toning balls adds interest and effectiveness to any exercise routine.

Step 1 – General

Utilize weighted toning balls to work arms, shoulders and upper torso strength and flexibility. Toning balls are popularly used in Yoga and Pilates workouts by balancing them in the palm of the hand for added resistance or muscle toning exercises. Adding even a slight weight resistance to such poses as Warrior’s Pose, Tree pose and basic calisthenic or isometric exercises like jumping jacks, shoulder raises and arm circles is helpful.

Step 2

Work the arms by holding a ball gently in each hand, arms at your sides. Start with your feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Using a 1 to 2 pound ball, lift both arms above the head, pause and then lower. Repeat this exercise between 12 and 15 times, repeating the set twice.

Step 3

Stand with the feet just over shoulder width apart. Tuck in the abdominal muscles and, holding a ball in each hand, bend slowly forward at the waist until your back is level or parallel to the floor, arms hanging downward. Holding the stomach in and looking downward, extend your arms outward. Raise the arms until they are level with your torso, even with the shoulders and hold. Count to 5 and then slowly lower to the original position. Repeat this exercise between 10 and 15 times. Repeat this set two times.

Step 4

When performing a Pilates Criss Cross, hold a light pair of toning balls in the hands near the side of the head instead of clasping the hands behind the head. Lie down on the floor, legs bent and lifted above your hips. Tuck in the abdominal muscles and lift the head and shoulders off the floor. Extend one leg out while the other pulls in toward your chest. Switch legs, pushing the opposite leg outward while bringing the other knee toward your chest.

Step 5

Hold onto a light set of toning balls when performing Yoga moves like the Tree Pose. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Gradually shift most of your weight to the right foot and bend your left knee, lifting and resting your left foot along the inside of the right leg. Beginners may only be able to place the foot at ankle or calf level. Balancing, lift the arms over the head, keeping them either shoulder width apart or bringing the hands together high above the head, depending on your balance, comfort and strength level. Hold this position for 1 minute, rest a few moments and then switch sides.

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