Quit Slipping: Yoga Towel vs. Mysore Rug

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Photo by The Real Yogi

Photo by The Real Yogi

Believe it or not, a yogi can become very sweaty during a yoga practice, especially during Ashtanga Yoga, which is also known as Power Yoga.

For those who sweat a little or a lot, many choose to put a yoga towel on top of their mats for sweat absorption and an increased grip.

But after practicing for some time, I’ve come to realize that there seems to be a significant difference between yoga towels, and what is called Mysore rugs.

Mysore rugs are usually made out of cotton and are actually from India.  These rugs tend to be heavier and can sometimes be a little rough to the touch.

Many yoga towels are made of cotton or microfiber.  Some are very soft and plush-feeling, which may be more appealing to women.

However, for those who sweat a lot, a Mysore rug may be a better option as they are less likely to move during a rigorous practice involving a lot of jumps during vinyasas.

Basically, some yoga towels are rather thin and lightweight, which is appealing for someone who wants to be able to transport it easily, but being lightweight means that the yogi must be light on his or her feet when practicing.  Otherwise, the yoga towel will most likely bunch up and move out of place, which can be annoying and really slow a practice down.

Because the Mysore rugs are a little bit heavier, they tend not to bunch up or move.  For a beginner yogi who sweats a lot, the heaviness of the rug may be an advantage as it is highly likely that he or she is not quite so nimble yet.

Furthermore, using a yoga towel or rug protects the mat from getting dirty.  Instead of having to clean the mat, the towel or rug can be washed instead.  Usually it is okay for a towel or rug to be put in the washing machine on a delicate cycle.  While it is still a good idea to clean one’s mat, a yogi will not have to clean it that often if using a towel or rug.

Many different brands make towels and rugs.  Manduka makes a yoga towel called the eQua Mat Towel, which is priced at $42.

Manduka also makes a Mysore rug called the Shama Yoga Rug, priced at $45, but it is only available in two colors and one design.

A company called Barefoot Yoga makes Mysore rugs with a variety of colors and styles, ranging from about $38 to $52.

So, no matter one’s preference, yoga towels and Mysore rugs are both great options for absorbing sweat and increasing one’s grip when practicing yoga.

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Bikram Yoga

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Photo by The Real Yogi

Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, was developed in the 1970s by a man named Bikram Choudhury, according to Sara Beck via nytimes.com.

Bikram yoga consists of 26 poses performed in a room heated between 90 and 105 degrees.

Proponents of Bikram yoga believe that the heat and humidity help the muscles and joints cooperate better when performing yoga poses and sequences.  Also, they believe that the heat aids in releasing toxins from the body.

“Yoga changes the construction of the body from the inside out, from bones to skin and from fingertips to toes. So before you change it, you have to heat it up to soften it, because a warm body is a flexible body. Then you can reshape the body any way you want,” says Bikram Choudhury on his site bikramyoga.com.

While this philosophy may make sense to some, others recognize the potential for harm when practicing yoga in a heated room.

“The heat can make you feel more flexible than you really are, causing you to push yourself into poses more deeply than you’re ready for,” says Diana Zotos, a physical therapist and certified yoga instructor for the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department.  “This can potentially lead to injury. Know your body, and don’t overextend yourself.”

Basically, people may become over heated and dehydrated when practicing in a 105-degree room and heating the muscles too much can result in  too much flexibility, causing hyper-mobility or hyper-extension of the joints.

To avoid health issues and injury, it is important for yogis to drink a lot of water before, during and after a hot yoga practice.  Also, people should check with their doctors to ensure that hot yoga is safe for them.

After the Intro: Mysore Class Will Make You Sore

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Photo by The Real Yogi

Photo by The Real Yogi

After a month of the Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga class, every Tuesday and Thursday at Surya Yoga,  I have now moved on to the next level of the class.  This class is called Mysore, and it will definitely make you sore.

Basically, Mysore consists of doing the whole series of Ashtanga yoga, but without a yoga teacher instructing the class, step-by-step as a whole.  Instead, the Mysore class is designed for the student yogi to teach oneself under the supervision of the yoga instructor.

In the Intro class, eleven other students and I learned how to do the first half of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga.  We learned in a group setting and we all went at the same pace.  In Mysore, each yogi performs the first half of the primary series, or the whole entire series, at each one’s own pace.

In Mysore, India, it is traditional that yogis learn each move in the series one move at a time.  A yogi cannot move on to the next move until he or she masters the one before it.

The same idea applies in this class except that the newer yogis perform either a few moves per class, or the whole first half of the series in one class, not just one move at a time.  The advanced yogis perform the entire series in they can fit it into the two-hour window.

The point is for the yogi to really commit the series to memory, so that one day, it can be done without an instructor or peer’s help.

It took me two hours last Thursday to complete the first half of the series from start to finish.  Since the attendance was rather small that night, only about six or seven of us, the yoga instructor, along with another yoga instructor who happened to be there, was able to pay particularly close attention to me.

Stuart and Danielle, the yoga instructors, watched me throughout the two hours and even spotted me through most of the poses.  It was awesome.

I happen to have a very bad back and neck, with mild scoliosis.  Basically, my pelvis doesn’t stay in place, but instead constantly shifts.  One leg is always shorter than the other, and I have lost the curve in my neck, according to chiropractors.

My range of motion is poor as well.  Needless to say, many of these yoga moves are difficult for me to perform.  Having professional, real yogis around to monitor my performance and help me along the way is priceless for me.  I feel comfortable knowing that I won’t risk injury since they are constantly watching me and correcting my form.

Plus, I am amazed at what I have accomplished in such little time.  For instance, I was doing a seated position in which the goal is to bind your arms behind your back and have your hands clasp one another.  With the help of Stuart, I was able to at least have my fingertips touch.

I was afraid that I would have pain afterwards, but it’s already been a few days and I am pain-free and eager for more.

I can’t wait to go back and I find myself thinking about yoga all the time, especially when I am bored or stressed out.

I bought myself a new yoga mat as a reward/incentive for continuing with all of this.  It is a Manduka Pro – Black Magic.  It is royal purple, my favorite color.  It came in the mail on Friday and I have yet to try it out and I can’t wait.

Maybe I’ll become a real yogi after all.

Roll it Out: Find Which Type of Mat Suits You

yogamatsThough yoga mats may seem pretty generic and simple, there are actually several different types that exist to fit each yogi’s specific needs.

Choosing which mat best suits a yogi’s needs may take time and experience and there are many options to choose from.

Beginner’s/Sticky Mat:  For anyone who is just beginning to learn yoga, or someone who just does not want to spend a lot of money, a simple sticky mat is a great option.  These mats are usually thin, about 1/8 of an inch thick, and can be made with different materials, most commonly vinyl.

Some great places to purchase these mats are at Target, Sports AuthorityTJ Maxx and Ross.

The basic sticky mat can range in price from $10 to $30.  Being inexpensive, these mats may wear down or shred sooner than more expensive mats, but when a yogi is just starting out, it may be a good idea to make sure that he or she wants to continue with yoga before committing to a better mat.

Gaiam is a very popular brand for inexpensive yoga mats and is popular at Target.

Green/Eco-Friendly:  These mats are usually made of rubber or latex and are 100% biodegradable.  People who are environment-conscious usually prefer these mats over other mats, which are commonly made of PVC and other synthetic materials that are harmful to the environment.  Although, those with allergies to latex need to be careful.

Hot/Bikram Yoga:  Any yoga mat can really be used for Hot/Bikram Yoga.  Many yogis will place a yoga towel directly on top of their yoga mat to absorb sweat and to prevent their mat from becoming slippery or filled with bacteria.

However, some yoga mats are specifically made to absorb sweat without holding bacteria.  These mats are usually made with a good grip, some with added texture.

Cotton:  Mats made of cotton are lightweight and absorbent.  These mats may be more comfortable for someone who has bad knees or elbows, depending on its thickness.  Also, they are easy to transport and stay relatively cool during a rigorous workout.

Travel:  When traveling, it is a good idea to have a travel mat.  These mats are thinner and much lighter in weight than ordinary mats and can be easily folded to fit in a suitcase.

Pro/Real Yogi:  Once one becomes a “real” yogi, it is important to invest in a good-quality mat.  When someone is highly involved in any sport, he or she needs good equipment.

Good-quality yoga mats can get expensive, but they should last must longer.

There are two yoga brands that have an awesome reputation in the world of yoga mats:  Jade and Manduka.

Both brands make their yoga mats to last a long time.  Manduka mats even offer a lifetime guarantee.

Jade and Manduka mats are a little bit thicker than the average mat and do not get worn out as quickly, which is extrememly imporant for a yogi who practices daily.

Jade yoga mats start at around $69.95, while Manduka mats start around $76.  One of Manduka’s most popular mats, the Manduka Pro, is $100.

Furthermore, yoga mats come in different lengths, widths and thicknesses.  The average “cheapo” mat is 1/8 inch thick, about 24 inches wide and 68 inches long.  The Manduka Pro is 1/4 inch thick, and comes in two lengths, 71 inches or 85 inches long.

For people with bad joints, knees or elbows, a thicker mat may be the answer.

Others prefer thinner mats to feel more grounded and balanced when performing moves that involve a lot of movement, such as in Ashtanga Yoga, also known as Power Yoga.

With time, patience and experience, each yogi will eventually find a mat that fits his or her needs.

Finding Your Dosha

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ayurvedic-doshasAyurveda is a holistic approach to health that has been practiced in India for over 5,000 years, according to www.umm.edu, and is considered to be the oldest healing science.

The term comes from two Sanskrit words:  ayur meaning life or lifespan, and veda meaning knowledge, says http://www.umm.edu.

“Ayurvedic medicine is considered complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)…[using] herbs, massage, and specialized diets,” says nccam.nih.gov.

Those who believe in and follow the ways of Ayurveda determine and maintain one’s health based on types of doshas, or energies.  There are three types of doshas:  vata, pitta and kapha.

Vata is said to be the energy associated with bodily functions, such as motion, blood circulation, breathing, blinking and hearbeat, according to http://www.unm.edu.

According to http://www.nccam.nih.gov, the vata dosha is “the most powerful dosha because it controls very basic body processes such as cell division, the heart, breathing, discharge of waste, and the mind.  Vata can be aggravated by, for example, fear, grief, staying up late at night, eating dry fruit, or eating before the previous meal is digested.”

Vata is related to the elements of air and ether, says www.kripalu.org.

The pitta dosha is the energy that is comprised of the body’s digestion system, metabolism, appetite, vision and body temperature.

“In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence,” says http://www.unm.edu.  “Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.”

Pitta is associated with the elements of fire and water.

The last dosha is kapha, which controls growth in the body, supports the immune system and lubricates the joints and skin.

“When in balance, they are the best friend a person could have — calm, devoted, consistent, tolerant, and patient.  However, out of balance, they are their own worst enemy, being prone to mental sluggishness, procrastination, lethargy, weight gain, excessive sleep, and problems letting go,” says www.kripalu.org.

People who follow Ayurveda always strive to maintain and balance their doshas.  The first step is to determine which dosha best defines him or her.

To do this, there are dosha tests available to help.

Take a Whiff: Aromatherapy May Enhance Yoga

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Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils that are derived from plants and flowers to increase physical and psychological wellness.

Some yogis use aromatherapy to enhance their yoga practice.  In fact, there has been a relationship between yoga and aromatherapy for quite some time.

“Yoga and aromatherapy were linked in the past,” says Maysan Marouf, at thelotuscenter.org.  “In India, attars (perfumes prepared from plant material, with a sandalwood base) were an important part of yoga practice, helping to increase relaxation and calm the mind.”

The essential oils of aromatherapy are distilled from plants by boiling or steaming the plants, causing the oil to vaporize.  Then, these oils can be used for massages, baths, inhalation or candles, says www.unh.edu.

Dawn Carrasquillo, 51, has been using aromatherapy in her home for many years.  She finds it to be very relaxing and therapeutic.Aromatherapy-for-Depression-2

“I think aromatherapy is beneficial because the sense of smell is very powerful and is connected to so many brain sensors.  Smell can trigger so much,” says Carrasquillo.  “Pleasant aroma can be a useful tool in de-stressing, and who can’t use more of that.”

Some share Carrasquillo’s view on how powerful the human sense of smell can be.

“Practitioners of aromatherapy believe that the fragrances in essential oils…stimulate nerves in the nose. Those nerves send impulses to the limbic system, where memories, instincts, and vital functions are controlled and processed,” says Evelyn Vincent on younglivingcircle.com.  “Main bodily functions can be regulated through the connection between the limbic system and other parts of the brain and body, such as digestion, respiration, cardiovascular activity, and stress levels.”

Furthermore, use of aromatherapy during yoga is suggested to be beneficial in aiding a yogi in focus and concentration.  Different oils enhance a yoga practice in different ways.

For instance, according to www.auracacia.com, vetiver, ginger and patchouli may help a yogi with grounding poses, such as the warrior poses, while sandalwood and cedarwood are helpful with stabilizing, strengthening and centering poses.  Likewise, lavender, geranium and chamomile are said to be calming and relaxing.

Essential oils can be directly applied to the skin, inhaled or slowly heated with oil lamps to fill a room.  The oil lamps basically are a small dish that holds the oil, which sits directly above a flame, most likely a tea light candle.

Additionally, essential oils, like lavender, can be used to clean a yoga mat.

Overall, adding aromatherapy to a yoga practice seems to be a way to enhance the experience.

How to Do a Standing Forward Bend

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Successfully achieving a standing forward bend may look easy, but it can be pretty tricky.

Here’s how to do one:

Stand at the front end of your yoga mat with your feet parallel, close together, touching or hips-width apart.  If possible, turn the toes of each foot towards one another so that your legs are slightly inward.  This allows for you to bend at your hip joints more freely.

Straighten your body as much as possible.  Pull in your bhandas (your lower abdomen and your pelvic floor).  Activate your quadriceps by lifting your knees.  By doing this, you allow for your hamstrings to relax so that you can bend forward with ease while still attaining a good stretch.

Take a deep breath, lift your chest and look up towards the ceiling.  Exhale, slowly lean forward, and bend at your hip joints, keeping your legs straight and your quadriceps engaged.  (If you are not sure where your hip joints are located, raise your knee when standing and see where the fold line occurs.  Keep your hands on this point as you bend forward to maintain the proper form.  Otherwise, sweep your arms straight above your head and extend them forward as you bend).

As you bend forward, keep your chin up and your gaze forward.  This will keep your back straight, which is extremely important.  Not keeping your back straight can result in injury.  Also, keep your chest lifted and extend it as far in front of you as possible to increase the length of your torso.

After reaching your furthest extension, take a deep inhale, then exhale and begin to bend or fold further downward until you reach the point where you cannot go any further.  Release your arms towards the floor.  (If needed, you can slightly bend your knees.)  If you can, place your hands flat on the ground in front of you or on the outside of your feet.  If not, use your fingertips.  If this is impossible, you can wrap your hands around the back of your ankles.  Worst case scenario, clasp your elbows or let your hands hang freely beneath you.

Relax your neck and let your head hang low.  Remember to continue breathing throughout this entire process.  With each inhalation, lengthen your body.  With each exhalation, fold deeper into the pose.  Hold this pose for 30 to 60 seconds, or four to five breaths.

When it is time to stand up, place your hands on your hip joints, inhale, and raise your upper body slowly, keeping your quadriceps and your bhandas engaged.  Keep your chin up and your gaze straight ahead.

Here is a YouTube video to demonstrate the standing forward bend.  Pay close attention to how she keeps her back straight as she bends forward:

The Meaning of Om

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omThe word “Om” is pronounced ommm, with a long o sound.  It is the symbol of the absolute reality, which is the Self of spirit.

“Om” is often chanted at the beginning and/or end of a yoga session.  The sound is supposed to be a way to help someone focus during meditation.

A sound or phrase used during meditation to focus the mind is called a mantra, according to Yoga for Dummies.

Mantra Yoga is said to have arisen in the Western world “in the late 1960s during the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whose most famous disciples were The Beatles,” says Yoga for Dummies.

Additionally, the syllable “om” is “composed of the letters a, y, and m, and stands for the waking state, dream state, and deep sleep respectively,” says Yoga for Dummies.  “Hindus consider this syllable to be sacred and to symbolize the ultimate reality, or higher Self (atman).”

To effectively perform the “om” sound, yogis need to sit up straight with their legs crossed, in an indian-style pose. A yogi should rest his or her wrists, palms facing up, at the edge of the knees.  With closed eyes, hold the lower abs in, take a deep breath and begin to recite the “om” sound.

The vibration of the sound should begin at the navel and eventually work its way up to the crown of the head, according to yogawithsubhash.com.

After repeating this two to three times, yogis should remain still with their eyes closed, continuing to feel the vibrations.

Learning Sun Salutations

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sun_salutations-2So, as a continuum further into my yoga journey, I have now began a yoga class called Introduction to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Surya Yoga.  This class is every Tuesday and Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., from March 5 to March 28.

Unlike most yoga classes, this class is a more student to teacher structure.  This class runs each month and the enrollment is only 12 students to ensure an intimate atmosphere.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first class on March 6.  However, I did attend the second class on March 8 and it was wonderful.

First of all, let me describe the room that I was in.  The yoga studio is located in a plaza but the studio is quite spacious.  There are at least three different yoga rooms all together, but I went into the first one on the left.

The floor was a dark, chocolate brown wood, or perhaps a wood look-a-like.  The walls were painted in a variety of bright, bold colors, like orange, blue and green.  Two of the walls had a meditating yogi painted on them really big.  The walls in themselves were stimulating and inspiring.

Furthermore, in traditional yoga classes, the instructor demonstrates the moves and postures to be performed and the yogis participate and follow along with the instructor for the entire class.  In this class, we practiced Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and Surya Namaskara B (Sun Salutation B).

Both of these routines are intended to be warm ups for each and all yoga classes and are expected to take up about the first 15 minutes of class.

So, instead of the yoga instructor simply demonstrating these routines and having us follow along, she explained and demonstrated each part of the routines one by one.  She even gave each student a sheet of paper with pictures of the postures for each Sun Salutation.

Then she performed a Sun Salutation from start to finish just to show us what we would be learning by the end of class.

Then, she started off with the first two postures of the first Sun Salutation, explaining how to do it correctly while physically demonstrating it.  As a class, we attempted the poses and we did them a few times in a row.

By the end of the 90-minute class, we completed a complete Sun Salutation A and B.

During the whole process, the teacher gave us short breaks in between poses to rest and to ask us questions about how we were feeling.  She also allowed for us to ask our questions.  It was truly a learning experience.

Towards the end of the class, the yoga instructor did a chant that is apparently common at the end of a yoga session.  I had no idea exactly what she was saying, yet it was somehow soothing and calming.

During some parts of the chant, she spoke, in almost a song-like fashion, the word “om,” and the majority of the class joined in with her.  I’m guessing that she explained the significance of this during the first class, which sadly, I missed.

All in all, I really enjoyed this yoga class and I cannot wait until the next one.

How to Clean a Yoga Mat

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photo (1)Every yogi should make sure to clean his or her yoga mat at least once every few months, or when it starts to smell. A clear indication that a mat needs to be cleaned is when the mat becomes greasy, slimy and hard to grip.

There are three efficient ways to clean a yoga mat:

1.  Spray and Wipe:  There are different mixtures and solutions that can be used to clean a yoga mat.  Some cleansers can be purchased online and at stores that sell yoga items.  One simple mixture is water and a mild dish detergent.  Just three of four drops in an 8 oz. bottle with water should do.  After spraying down the mat with the soapy water, just take a sponge or terry cloth and scrub the solution into the mat.  Then take a clean, wet terry cloth and wipe the soap away.

2.  In the Shower:  Another way to clean a yoga mat is to take it in the shower.  This process is similar to the Spray and Wipe method only without the spray bottle.  Just apply a small amount of dish detergent or other cleaning solution to the mat and scrub with a sponge.  Rinse the mat thoroughly.

3.  In the Washing Machine:  If the above two methods sound too time consuming, yoga mats can be washed in the washing machine.  If using this method, make sure that the mat is the only item being washed.  Run the cycle with cold water and use a mild laundry detergent, such as Woolite.  Make sure to remove the mat from the washing machine before the spin cycle starts.  It is safe to use this method for most yoga mats, but if unsure, check the website for the mat’s manufacturer.

Drying:  Once the yoga mat is clean, place the mat on a clean, dry towel.  Roll the mat with the towel and lightly step on the rolled mat to remove excess water.  Then, unroll the mat and hang it to dry.  For best results, hang the mat outside in the sun.  It may take up to 24 hours for the mat to dry completely.

The more a yoga mat is washed, the more worn out it becomes.  To avoid having to wash it so often, try spraying it with a disinfectant spray after each individual use.  A simple mixture of vinegar and water works well.  Essential oils, such as lavender, can be added to a vinegar and water mix to add a pleasant scent.

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