Now I’ve done a great job cutting back on coffee during my Yoga training (down to one cup a day…woohoo!). But this weekend, I let myself indulge in a second cup of a creamy caffeinated creation I like to call The Fat-Free Chocolate Mocha. Think of it as a much slimmer version of the Starbucks “Skinny Mocha.” Plus it’s cheaper and has way moore chocolaty goodness.
At 25-calories a cup, this cocoa mocha packs a powerful punch to get you over that mid-day slump. To make it, I like to start with my Ciocattino-flavored Nespresso Cups (about 5-cals per cup). I pop one in the machine and add 2 tbsp of Nestle’s Fat Free Hot Cocoa Mix (20-calories per serving). Whirl that together like a champ, then add 8-oz of hot water. You can even spice it up with a dollop of fat free whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon (or nutmeg if you’re feeling crazy!). If you don’t have a fancy dancy espresso machine, don’t sweat it; half a cup of regular coffee plus the cocoa mix works just fine. It’s super easy to make and even easier to enjoy.
I’m a huge fan of foam rollers. My best friend Angela introduced me to them awhile back and they really make a tremendous difference in-between workouts.
For those who have never used one before, a foam roller works to massage your muscles (or in technical terms, it’s a technique for “self-myofascial release”). In our Yoga Anatomy class this week, we learned that our insides are enveloped in a web-like connective tissue, called fascia. I’ve also heard fascia referred to as a “body stocking” that covers and protects our muscles and internal organs. If you’ve ever cooked a chicken breast, it’s that weird white, stringy stuff in-between the skin and meat.
In essence, fascia acts like a “glue” that holds things together, but it also builds up in certain areas over time. And that’s where foam rollers come in! Through deep compression, the foam roller helps break up all of that extra fascia (or “knots”) we feel around the muscle. And by doing so, it restores blood flow to the area and allows for healthy tissue to build back up.
But rolling can be painful. Just the other night, I rolled out my IT (iliotibial) band, the area of the outer leg that stretches from the hip to the knee. And when I say it was painful, we’re talking excruciating. Almost to the point that I thought I was doing something horribly wrong. But this is very common. A lot of runners and cyclists have tight IT bands and can sometimes develop ITBS (Iliotibial band syndrome). Rolling out certain muscles (like the quads) will feel good, while others will hurt like a b****. But if you roll them out frequently enough, the pain does eventually go away and your muscles will feel relaxed and restored over time. Not to mention, it can help prevent ITBS and additional muscle pain. Just make sure to never roll over a bone or joint.
Most gyms supply foam rollers, or I recommend buying your own for $10 – $30 so you can make that “excruciating pain face” in the comfort of your own home.
I’m three days into yoga training and it’s kicking my butt…literally. My thighs and glutes are pretty sore from all that Downward Dog. Not to mention all of our lectures are “chair-less.” Yup, just like kindergarten, folks. But it’s fascinating to see how my posture has changed in just a few days. I find that I’m sitting up higher, walking taller, and running faster. Like a lot faster. I used to run a comfortable 9:30 mile, and now I’m down to an 8-min mile. It may be due to the intense strength training from yoga, or Soul Cycle, or both. Whatever it is, I am mighty delighted by these changes. I also just feel so much lighter from a lack of stress. Although the exercises put a lot of stress on the body, it’s a different kind of stress from the type that originates in the mind. Managing mental stress will always be an issue for me, but if yoga helps alleviate some of that each day, then I’ll take it!
Ok, here are two poses for the price of one 🙂
“Warrior II” (Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana II)
- Start with feet together, toes touching
- Inhale: Jump out to spread the legs apart
- Turn front leg out, 90 degrees
- Keep the back leg straight and strong, turn the foot in slightly at 15 degrees
- Feet should be (heel → heel) or (heel → arch)
- Bend the front knee (stack it over your ankle)
- Press deep into your front heel
- Track the kneecap towards the pinky (away from the big toe)
- Front thigh parallel to the floor
- Wrap your right buttocks underneath
- Elongate the torso, lengthen the spine
- Remember: Don’t square those hips!
- Lengthen the tailbone towards the floor, tone the low belly
- Arms stretched out, parallel to the floor
- Relax the shoulders
- To come out of pose: relax the arms, square your feet parallel, jump or hop the feet back to standing
*This pose is great for leg strength, can help relieve backaches*
After my elbow injury in November, I’m still a little leery about holding myself up with my arms. But my teacher taught me an amazing way to get more comfortable with the mechanics of the pose. If you have a doorway or two walls close together (like in our kitchen), you can use them for leverage and support until you are ready to take on gravity! A great way to prep for handstands is downward dog. When you’re actually ready to do it on your own, make sure your back legs are strong and elbows are straight (this is still a pain point for me, so I haven’t scaled the wall completely, but close enough for now).
After barely sleeping last night with “back-to-school” jitters, I am happy to report that I survived my first day of Yoga Training! And I even have an awesome pose to show for it. Behold Vkrsasana – the “Tree Pose.” I had to tap into my days as a prima ballerina from middle school to tackle this one. This pose requires an intense amount of focus and concentration to find balance – which is usually difficult considering my high-strung nature. But if you follow these steps, it becomes so much easier to achieve:
- Inhale: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Maintain your strength and shift all of your weight into your left foot
- Inhale: Grab onto your right ankle and place it at the base of your upper left thigh, toes pointing toward the floor
- Helpful trick: Flex your foot to help with balance
- Keep your pelvis squared but neutral
- Bring your arms to a prayer position then raise them up overhead when it feels comfortable
- Lengthen the tailbone and really ground yourself in the floor
- Breathe and gaze at an object or something to help with concentration (I like to stare at a crack in the wall..or something that is imperfect in nature to help me focus)
- To come out of the pose: lower the arms, lower the right leg
- Come to a comfortable standing position and relax
- *This pose is great for: balance, strengthening the thighs, ankles and spines*
And as always, there’s Moore to come 🙂
This evening, I pause to reflect. I take 3 invigorating breaths and begin to write this post, excited by the prospect of what is to come. I am about to embark on a journey of personal self-discovery — one that is sure to test my physical limitations and mental perseverance. I am beginning a one-month teacher training program. I look forward to gaining the skills and confidence to teach yoga as a profession. I expect this will be a humbling experience with numerous challenges, but infinite rewards.
This marks the first time I really have the chance to pause and meditate on my place in the world. Within two weeks of having moved to San Francisco in 2013, I immediately began working at a fast-paced tech company. Looking back, I can’t believe that a year has passed so quickly. Of course, I’m so grateful that I was able to land a job in such a short amount of time — and to have made so many wonderful friends along the way, including my love, Jasper.
The funny thing is that I spent much of that time longing for true serenity. Stress took over and clouded my vision, creating for a prolonged state of internal ups and downs. It wasn’t until I had two weeks off in December to truly reflect that… with the help and wisdom of my loving Mom… I decided to make a true change at the start of the new year. I’m not a huge fan of “New Years Resolutions.” I tend to associate them with fads that fade over time. But this wasn’t a resolution; this was an internal revelation. This was my chance to take back control and fight for my own happiness. And that’s exactly what I did. I quit my job last Friday and begin classes tomorrow morning — a move that probably seems crazy to most people out there. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never follow the status quo. There are two sayings from friends that helped me recognize who I am and the kind of life I need to live:
A normal routine ruins ambitious people like you
– Stephen Heffernan
If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space
– Patrick Harrington