Living with Harmony ~ A Blog for your Mind & Body


Uses for a Yoga Wedge

Posted in How-To,Yoga,Yoga Wedge by Harmony on September 14, 2010

Yoga Wedges provide support in poses when we can’t quite get our hands or feet flat on the floor. This is usually due to stiff ankles and wrists.  By placing a yoga wedge under our hands and feet we improve our stability within the pose and it allows us to achieve proper alignment without undue stress and strain on those joints.

Another time when we might choose to use a wedge would be in forward folds.  A slight lift of the sit bones allows us to fold forward more easily.  This lift can be achieved by sitting on a bolster, a block, a folded yoga blanket, or by using a wedge.  The prop you choose will depend on the amount of height you desire in the pose you are in.  For example, folding forward while sitting cross-legged may be more comfortable with some added height (like a bolster or block), but folding forward with legs extended straight (Staff Pose) may require just a slight lift that you would get from a blanket or a wedge.

We sell two different kinds of wedges:  Foam Yoga Wedges (two colors to choose from) or the eco-friendly Cork Yoga Wedge.

Click on the image below to enlarge:

Using a Yoga Wedge

Using a Yoga Wedge

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Tratak: Gazing Meditation Online

Posted in Meditation,Yoga by Harmony on September 13, 2010

Last week’s post reviewed some of the details and methods to practice Tratak (a gazing meditation).  This link to Swami J’s website will allow you to practice Tratak online by focusing on a lighted circle on your computer screen.  Some added benefits is that there is a built-in timer so you can set it to count down for you without having to set another alarm.  And, you can also click to add the So Hum mantra audio to play at the same time.

Tratak Gazing Meditation at SwamiJ.com

Practicing Tratak can now be done at your desk with little set up required.  Just close your door and sit in your chair with an erect spine and allow yourself a few moments to increase your focus and clarity.

Foam Roller Exercises for the Legs

Posted in Core/Fitness,Foam Roller,How-To by Harmony on September 10, 2010

Follow along with the follow exercises with your own foam roller – available as a 36″ high density foam roller or an 18″ high density foam roller.

Foam Roller Exercise – Glutes and Hamstrings

by Elizabeth Quinn

Foam Roller Exercise - Hamstrings
Foam Roller Exercise – Hamstrings

Photo � E. Quinn

To work your glutes (butt) and hamstrings (back of the thighs) start by sitting on the roller with the soft, meaty part of your buttock directly on top of the roller. Begin slowly rolling back and forth and slightly side to side to release any tight sports in the muscle.

Slowly roll down your leg toward your knee and work the hamstrings in the same way  (pictured above). Change your position from side to side to work the entire muscle. Slowly roll from the buttock down to the knee pausing on any tight or sore spots.

Increase or decrease pressure by using one or both legs at a time. Roll with your feet turned in and out to cover the entire muscle group.

Foam Roller Exercise – Quads

Foam Roller Exercise -  Quadriceps
Foam Roller Exercise – Quadriceps

Photo � E. Quinn

Releasing your quadriceps (quads) is one of the easiest foam roller exercises. Simply lay on top of the roller using your hands for balance and work the front of the thigh from the hip down to the knee. You can perform this exercise with one or both legs on the roller, depending upon how much pressure you can handle or desire. If you want less pressure, keep one leg off the roller and use the foot to support some of your body weight.

Foam Roller Exercise – IT Band

Foam Roller Exercise - IT Band
Foam Roller Exercise – IT Band

Photo � E. Quinn

Using the foam roller on the IT band can be painful, but many people find it’s one of the most useful stretches you will do with the foam roller.

Lie on the roller on your side, with the roller positioned just below the hip. Your top leg can be in line with the bottom leg if you want a lot of pressure. Or, bend it in front of you to unload some of your body weight and provide better balance.

Use your hands for support and roll from the hip down to your knee, pausing on any tight or sore spots. Repeat on the your other side.

Foam Roller Exercise – Calves

Foam Roller Exercise - Calves
Foam Roller Exercise – Calves

Photo � E. Quinn

Position the roller under the calves. Using your hands for support, slowly roll from the knee down to the ankle pausing on any tight or sore spots.

Roll with your feet turned in and out. Keep toes flexed and pointed to work the entire muscle group.

Increase or decrease pressure by using one or both legs at a time, or placing one leg on the other for even more pressure.

Pilates Ring Exercise: Heel Squeeze

Posted in How-To,Pilates,Pilates Ring by Harmony on September 9, 2010

Follow along with this short 3-minute video on how to perform the Heel Squeeze exercise using a Pilates Ring for resistance.  You’ll see two variations of the Heel Squeeze and you’ll work your glutes and hamstrings when trying it out.

http://www.videojug.com/player?id=eb188ed8-97f7-6792-e3e3-ff0008cbfea7
Pilates:
How To Do A Heel Squeeze With Ring (Pilates Tutorial)

To Prop or Not to Prop

Posted in Yoga by Harmony on September 7, 2010

Everyone has different expectations for their yoga practice. Some look for meditative deep relaxation while others look for a hard-core workout. So it should be no surprise that whether to use yoga props during your practice would vary from person to person as well. This article from Yoga Journal offers some thought for those from both sides of the fence. Having started my practice studying Iyengar Yoga, I’ve always been open to using props in certain challenging poses, or on days that I was less flexible. But, as this author points out, it is important that you become aware of how you are using these props and evaluating how a yoga prop is assisting you on that day, at that moment, in that pose. Be in tune with your body. If the use of a certain prop no longer feels “good”, then experiment with other options.  And, besides “being your own teacher”, don’t hesitate to ask your yoga instructor for ideas or recommendations on which props you could use when in certain poses.  If you are uncomfortable asking during a class, you can always ask them for guidance after the class so you can incorporate this idea in your home practice or future classes.

To Prop or Not to Prop

Are props a helpful supplement to your practice, or do they just get in the way? Here’s how to decide when to use—and not use—these tools.

By Claudia Cummins

The original yogis didn’t practice with foam blocks, D-ring straps, or purple sticky mats. But as yoga evolved, many practitioners discovered that props could help deepen their explorations.

Among modern yogis, attitudes toward props range from the Zen-like minimalism of those who shun all but a sticky mat to the abundance of those who travel with an extra suitcase filled with yoga accessories. Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, a few guidelines can help you make the most of your props.

Be clear about why you’re using them. Mindlessly using a block to support your hand in a standing pose just because your teacher told you to won’t deepen your practice. Ask yourself what purpose the extra support is serving and let that answer guide the way you use it. Are you using the block to move into a posture you aren’t yet supple enough to manage on your own? If so, consider ways to lessen your reliance on that aid over time.

Be your own teacher. Use your body’s signals to devise new and effective ways of using props to enhance your practice. When you sense a certain part of your body crying out for extra support in a resting pose, for example, wedge a towel or shirt beneath that area and observe what happens. Or if you’re struggling to master a new pose, ask yourself whether any props within arm’s reach might help. You might be surprised by the ingenious solutions you unearth.

Explore new territory. If a rolled-up blanket is supporting your back during a restorative pose, you might like to explore how varying the size and position of it alters your experience. Or if you’re using a strap to help you understand a particular action or direction in a posture you know well, you may choose to repeat that same pose without props from time to time to explore the differences.

Be creative. Yoga basics include mats, blankets, straps, and blocks. But if you consider a prop to be any aid that helps you access a posture more fully, your world will widen considerably. Walls, tables, balls, books, socks, neckties, even the helping hands of a friend can all be used to deepen your exploration.

Practice nonattachment. Ideally, yoga leads us toward greater flexibility and adaptability. So don’t grow so attached to your chest of yoga toys that you can’t practice without them. If you use props regularly, challenge yourself every once in a while to stow them away and practice without any aids at all (that’s right, not even a sticky mat). On the other hand, if you’re a yoga minimalist, incorporate a few props into your practice every now and then just to explore how they might be helpful. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, the best yoga prop is always an open mind.

Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in Mansfield, Ohio. At the moment, her favorite pose is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).


If you are not familiar with the variety of yoga props on the market, please check out our website Rolling Sands Harmony. Our product pages will provide more information on the products themselves. If you click on the Categories listed here on the right of our Harmony Blog, you’ll see some of the poses or exercises that you can do using that prop.

Tratak: Gazing Meditation

Posted in How-To,Meditate,Meditation,Yoga by Harmony on September 6, 2010

Before sitting in any meditation, it is helpful to be physically comfortable.  In Tratak, or gazing meditation, you’ll be sitting in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.  The item that is your focus point, usually a candle, will be at eye-level and within arm distance.  If sitting on the floor, consider using a folded yoga mat, zafu or zabuton for cushioned comfort and set your focus point on a table or chair in front of you at the proper height.

For beginners, start by practicing for 1 or 2 minutes only (set a timer so you won’t need to change your gaze to look at a clock) and then work up to 10 minutes over time.

It also feels very nice after a round of gazing to close your eyes and rub the palms of your hands together rapidly warming the hands.  Then place your palms over your eyes and feel the heat radiate around your eyes and face.

TRATAK

by Eternity-yoga.com

During our waking hours, our minds are usually filled with thoughts, good and bad. The mind has a tendency to stay in a state of disturbance and we have a propensity for being distracted easily. This leaves us feeling scattered and fragmented and unable to cope with situations that need focus. We are constantly being bombarded by thoughts and may feel out of control. It comes as no surprise that, with all the thoughts that invade the mind, our minds drift and wander and cannot stay still for longer than a few moments. As a result, we experience stress, memory loss and lack of concentration. We are unable to feel and experience the PRESENT MOMENT.

We can enhance our power of concentration and strengthen our memory by an ancient meditation technique called Tratak. Its benefits bring an end to the mind’s distractions, enhances our ability to concentrate, increases the power of memory and brings the mind into a state of supreme awareness, attention and focus.

WHAT IS TRATAK

Tratak is an ideal meditation technique. With continuous practice, you will witness an increase in your alertness, confidence level, stability in thoughts, and an ability to control situations that were previously difficult. You may also notice an improvement in your eyesight. Tratak is very helpful in improving mental clarity and capacity. People of all ages will benefit, especially students who need to concentrate on their studies. Children in India are started with this meditation technique at an early age, but this method should not be practiced by children that are not supervised. Regular meditation techniques may be difficult to master if you are extremely stressed, worried or agitated. But Tratak is different in that you gaze at a focal point, usually a candle flame, that captures your sight. The eyes control the thought process, and focusing on a candle flame that is steady has tremendous and powerful benefits. Changes in our consciousness level occur through gazing steadily at the glowing flame. To attain a deep state of meditation, the level of energy in the mind must be elevated and single-pointed. Concentration is the first stage of meditation. Tratak induces and magnifies this single pointedness.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

(more…)

Massage and Release with Foam Rollers

Posted in Core/Fitness,Foam Roller,How-To by Harmony on September 3, 2010

Foam Rollers are available at our store – available as a 36″ high density foam roller or an 18″ high density foam roller.  The next few weeks will cover a number of exercises for these versatile rollers.  Foam Rollers can be used to release tension and overworked muscles or also as a prop to add challenge to your fitness, Yoga, or Pilates routines.

Foam Rollers for Myofascial Release and Massaging Tight Muscles

by Elizabeth Quinn

Use a Foam Roller
Photo � E. Quinn

Foam rollers offer many of the same benefits as a sports massage, without the big price tag.

The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.

How It Works

The superficial fascia is a soft connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascia system. For various reasons including disuse, not enough stretching, or injuries, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion and it results in restricted muscle movement. It also causes pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion.

Myofascial release is a body work technique in which a practitioner uses gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia. This technique results in softening and lengthening (release) of the fascia and breaking down scar tissue or adhesions between skin, muscles and bones.

Myofascial release has also been shown to relieve various muscle and joint pains such as IT band syndrome and shin splints as well as improving flexibility and range of motion.

Foam rollers are inexpensive and with a bit of experimentation you can target just about any muscle group.

How to Use a Foam Roller for Myofascial Release

Using a foam roller is simple, but working some areas may take a bit of practice and some body contortion. You start by finding a relatively open area with some floor space. Position your body with the area you want to work on top of the foam roller. Your body weight creates the pressure that massages and releases tight spots in the fascia. You control the pressure by applying more or less body weight on the foam roller and using your hands and feet to offset your weight as needed. It’s helpful to try a variety of positions and see what works best for you.

Tips for Using a Foam Roller

* Always check with your doctor before using a foam roller for myofascial release.

* Perform foam roller sessions when your muscles are warm or after a workout.

* Position the roller under the soft tissue area you want to release or loosen.

* Gently roll your body weight back and forth across the roller while targeting the affected muscle.

* Move slowly and work from the center of the body out toward your extremities.

* If you find a particularly painful area (trigger point), hold that position until the area softens.

* Focus on areas that are tight or have reduced range of motion.

* Roll over each area a few times until you feel it relax. Expect some discomfort. It may feel very tender or bruised at first.

* Stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly over bone or joints.

* Keep your first few foam roller sessions short. About 15 minutes is all you need.

* Rest a day between sessions when you start.

* Drink plenty of water after a session, just as you would after a sports massage.

* After a few weeks you can increase your session time and frequency if you choose.

* Do not use a foam roller without your physician’s approval if your have any heart or vascular illness or a chronic pain condition.

Toning Arms with Pilates Bands

Posted in Core/Fitness,How-To,Pilates,Pilates Bands by Harmony on September 2, 2010

In the following 7-minute video you’ll learn four exercises for toning your arms. But in addition to your arms, you’ll also work your upper back, shoulders, and chest. Three of the four exercises are using an elastic exercise band, also known as a Pilates Band.  The fourth just requires open wall space.

One of the benefits of the Pilates Bands is their portability.  They are so lightweight and can be folded or rolled so small that you can take them anywhere, making them great for people who travel or like to workout outside without having to carry much with them.

http://www.videojug.com/player?id=3daeecc5-ec1f-1055-b6eb-ff0008c8fd6f
Pilates:
Pilates: How To Tone Your Arms

Consider Cork

Posted in Company News,Green Yoga,Yoga Block,Yoga Wedge by Harmony on September 1, 2010

Why should I consider buying a Cork Yoga Block or Yoga Wedge?

Cork is an environmentally friendly choice over the standard chemically-made foam found in most yoga props (such as Yoga Blocks and Yoga Wedges). Here are just a few reasons to consider buying cork yoga props:

  • Cork is a renewable, sustainable material.
  • There are no toxic chemicals in the harvesting or manufacturing process.
  • It is harvested from the bark of Cork Oak. The bark naturally splits every 9 – 15 years and is harvested without harming the tree.
  • Cork will safely biodegrade by nature when these yoga props eventually must be retired.
  • A Cork Yoga Block or Wedge offers a soft texture that is easy to grip and is slip-resistant (similar to that of a foam block).
  • Cork blocks are firmer than foam blocks.
  • The drawback to the foam blocks is that they are chemically-made and can emit an odor when they are new (some people are more sensitive to these odors).  Cork is odor-free.

In addition to offering cork products as part of our “Green” line of yoga products, you can also find yoga blocks made from bamboo, balsa wood, and recycled materials .  Check out all of our Yoga Blocks and Wedges.

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