Like most people, Angie Starz—who teaches at Village Yoga in Ukrainian Village—had a daily routine. Coffee, commute, a nine-to-five grind, commute, yoga, and whatever semblance of a social life she could squeeze in afterward. From the moment she woke up, she would feel her stress level steadily rising, and it wasn’t until she tiptoed into the yoga studio’s quiet sanctuary that she experienced calm. “Yoga was my secret indulgence,” she says. “It was the one thing that got me through the work week. Angie lived a double life for years: mobile marketing manager by day, avid yogini by night. Until recently, she thought she was doomed to keep the two worlds separate and would forever be forced to rush through crowded commuter trains on her way to practice, working herself into such a harried state that she could barely relax during class. And she lived that way, two halves of a disjointed whole, until it hit her. In what she refers to as a slightly obvious “A-ha!” moment, Angie realized that yoga’s healing powers don’t need to shut off once you’ve rolled up your mat. “Just bringing awareness to our posture, to the way we position our keyboards and the frequency with which we move … has the potential to drastically change how we feel,” she says. Indeed, a few tweaks to your workday habits can keep the benefits of yoga alive and cause tension to melt, even after hours of consoling crabby clients or slumping over your desk. This is great news for both individuals and the companies they work for—a boost in physical fitness typically has a mirrored effect on mental focus and energy. Enter Cube Yoga, a series of simple movements and adjustments that encourage calmness, composure, and wellness, no matter what the day throws at you. Each is adapted from a classical yoga asana, or pose. However, they’re also designed to look somewhat pedestrian so that you can perform them in a public setting, such as your office. Below, we’ve outlined Cube Yoga’s core poses and techniques. Before you begin: Proper posture is important in these poses (and in all of yoga). When practicing, make sure to keep your shoulders down and your shoulder blades drawn back, pulling your chest open. Keep your feet squarely on the floor whenever possible. If you’re wearing heels, feel free to kick ‘em off before beginning. These postures are best suited for a firm chair without wheels. If your chair is soft or on wheels, be mindful of your movements. If any pose causes pain, do not practice it again until consulting with a real, live, certified yoga teacher. 1. Tall Seated Chair Pose (This is the foundation for all of the following Cube Yoga poses.) The Benefit: This pose promotes proper posture and may relieve lower back pain by lengthening the spine. The Movement: Scoot forward 3 to 5 inches away from your chair back. Place your feet hip-distance apart on the ground and your palms face-down on your thighs. Sit tall to lengthen the spine. Roll your shoulders back and down and press your chest forward. Lower your chin and take five to eight deep breaths through your nose. Focus on deepening your breath. 2. Neck Bends The Benefit: These movements release neck and shoulder tension caused by typing or clutching a phone between your shoulder and ear on long conference calls. The Movement: Start in the tall seated chair pose. Take a deep breath and exhale, bending your right ear down toward your right shoulder. Keep your shoulders relaxed and level. Take three full breaths. Inhale, and lift your head back to center. Repeat on the left side. Bring your head back to center and release your chin toward your chest. Avoid adding extra pressure to these stretches—instead, let gravity do the work. 3. Seated Forward Fold The Benefit: This mild inversion will increase circulation and get the brain firing more rapidly to help you bust through mental blocks. It’s also a great way to relieve lower back pain by lengthening the spine. The Movement: From tall seated chair, inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and fold forward at the hip crease, resting your torso between your thighs. Press your feet into the ground while pulling your rear end toward the back of the chair and your chest toward the floor. Release your head, neck, and shoulders. Let your hands touch the floor or grab their opposite elbows, then hang out for a moment. Take at least three to five deep breaths. 4. Seated Spinal Twist The Benefit: Any twisting yoga pose stimulates the digestive system and promotes detoxification in the body. This is a great way to lift your energy levels. The Movement: Begin in tall seated chair. Plant your left hand on the outside of your right thigh, and bring your right hand up to the back of the chair. Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale while gently twisting your chest open to the right side. Feel the twist start near your navel and extend all the way to the crown of the head. Gaze over your right shoulder. Take three to five breaths. Repeat on the other side. 5. Desk Down Dog The Benefit: This modified downward-facing dog pose is a go-to when you’re feeling low on energy and high on stress. By creating a long back and lowering the head to the same plane as the heart, you’ll relieve compression in the back and increase circulation, which in turn improves memory, focus and concentration. The Movement: Stand up and place your hands on the edge of your desk, shoulder-distance apart. Align the heel of each hand with the very edge of the desk. Walk your feet away from the desk until your torso is parallel with the floor and your hips are above your feet—your body should create an L-shape. Press the heels of your hands into the desk, pull your hips away from your torso, and flatten your back. Take three to five deep breaths and repeat as needed. 6. Seated Eagle Pose The Benefit: This pose relieves the tight hips and shoulders that result from slumping over your desk all day. It also increases circulation for a natural energy boost. The Movement: Start in tall seated chair. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just above the knee. Flex your foot and press your right knee toward the floor, using only the strength of your leg. Raise your arms to shoulder height. Cross the left arm over the right, bringing both arms to the center of the body and reaching for their opposite shoulder blades (just like giving yourself a hug). Release your hands from your shoulder blades and touch the backs of your hands in front of your face, or wrap your wrists so that your palms face each other. Lift your elbows and press your hands away from your face. Take three to five deep breaths and feel the space between your shoulder blades widen. Switch the cross of the legs and the cross of the arms. Repeat on the other side. 7. Power-Down Pose The Benefit: This pose gives you the peace you need to prepare for a big presentation or dreaded meeting. By turning the senses inward and reconnecting with your breath, your body and mind get a much-needed moment to recover. The Movement: From tall seated chair, bring your thumbs to your ears and close them, eliminating sound. Fold the other four fingers over your face to cover your eyes. Take five to eight deep breaths, in and out through the nose. Angie’s advice to those who just can’t get into yoga? “Make your movement productive. … Take a walk to the other side of the office to ask a question of a coworker rather than instant-messaging them; take the stairs in lieu of the elevator. Bring awareness to your breathing—maybe even set an Outlook alert once a day to remind yourself to close your eyes and breathe deeply.” Or you can recite a mantra in your head to focus your thoughts. Any small change can make a big difference. Consult your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen. Photo: © Stephanie Bassos, GrouponRead More
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CorePower Yoga instructor Anna Counts wasn’t drawn to yoga for its meditative benefits. She wasn’t seeking pain relief or increased flexibility. Anna began practicing yoga because she needed to save her body. “I actually started doing yoga while I was in a treatment program for anorexia,” Anna explains. “I didn’t do anything for six months. I was just supposed to sit around and gain weight. And then I wanted to start moving.” But she wasn’t ready to return to her former haunt—the ballet studio—so Anna turned to yoga. “Yoga’s all about changing your body, and it’s sort of phenomenal to start with a skeleton...I literally built my body up from scratch. And it was excellent for body image because you start to see your body as a functional object as opposed to an aesthetic object. It helped me change my mindset a lot.” Today, seven years after she began practicing as a student, Anna teaches yoga full-time at CorePower studios around Chicago. But she still deals with acid reflux—a lingering reminder of her struggles with food. Luckily, it’s something that, like other post-meal discomforts, can be relieved with a few simple yoga moves. Here, Anna demonstrates how a sequence of seven postures can calm an unsettled digestive system. 1. Downward-Facing Dog The quintessential yoga move, this pose works to compress “everything going on in the abdominals,” as Anna puts it, which can calm any disrest. To perform it, plant your feet and hands on the ground at about hip distance apart, then push back, raising your tailbone into the air. Hold for a few moments. 2. Padahastasana More commonly known as “forward fold,” this position boosts the effect of a downward-facing dog by intensifying the fold. Stand up with straight with your feet planted, and then hinge at the hips, dropping forward until your fingers can touch the ground. Simply hang in this position for a few moments. 3. Chair Twist Bend your knees and sink your hips back, placing your hands together in a prayer position. Twist your torso to the right, pulling your hands with you until they reach the outside of your right hip. Hold, and then rotate everything back to center. Repeat this sequence on the left side. “When you’re twisting, you’re working with your ascending and your descending colon,” Anna says. Twisting to the right first opens the ascending colon, and twisting to the left then opens the descending colon, which ensures that their contents keep moving smoothly. For a deeper stretch, reach one hand toward the sky and one hand toward the ground upon reaching the hip. 4. Salamba Sirsasana An inversion changes the way gravity affects your digestive tract. Though it’s not recommended for acid reflux, a supported headstand can help ease other digestive issues. For a seasoned yogi: position your elbows beneath your shoulders, clasp your hands behind your head, and then lift your legs straight to the sky. For a beginner: modify this by performing the headstand against a wall. Or, opt for a shoulder stand instead: lie flat on your back and raise your hips over your head, supporting the lower back with your hands and lifting your toes skyward. 5. Supine Twist Like the chair twist, the supine twist also stretches the digestive tract from right to left—the direction in which food moves through it. Lie flat on your back and, with your right knee bent at about 90 degrees, shift your right leg over your left (which stays long). Then reach your left hand long across your body, twisting your head to look toward your left palm. Repeat this on the other side. 6. Wind-Relieving Pose The wind-relieving pose is as straightforward as its name. Lie on your back and clasp your knees to your chest, wrapping your arms around them. 7. Peacock Anna notes that this challenging arm balance is not for the novice yogi. Start by planting your palms flat on the ground with wrists close together and stretching your fingers back toward your feet or away from each other. Lean forward, digging your elbows into your stomach and lifting your legs (keeping them straight and in line with your spine). Placing your lips on the floor can help aid balance. According to Anna, it’s the pressure from your elbows which helps assuage upset tummies. Photo: © Michelle Klosinski, GrouponRead More
There’s practically an entire industry devoted to returning new moms to their “pre-baby shape,” but there’s a good reason why it’s so hard to bounce back from a baby belly. It’s called relaxin, a hormone produced at high levels at the end of pregnancy with a name that’s true to its function. “It relaxes your muscles [and the] connective tissue,” says prenatal and postnatal Pilates instructor Joan Van Geison, who previously walked me through prenatal exercises. Relaxin eases the birth process, but it can make new moms feel “mushy,” like they can’t build muscle tone no matter how hard they try—and the hormone can stick around for months after giving birth. “Oh! Nobody says that! Nobody ever told me that,” is the common refrain Joan hears after delivering this news. Another common postpartum misconception is the idea that intense, high-impact workouts will spur faster weight loss. In reality, this practice may be harmful for new moms, particularly if they’re breastfeeding. “Vigorous or intense, prolonged exercise is not recommended for mothers who are breastfeeding, as this may increase the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which in turn may cause breast milk to taste sour,” Joan explains. It can become a cycle where a fussy baby refuses to feed and the mom “gets frustrated and works out more to release their frustrations.” At Soulistic Studio & Spa, Joan’s low-impact postnatal Pilates classes aren’t as much about regaining a pre-baby body as they are about ensuring a safe and healthy recovery. Because of this, the classes are highly customized to individual needs: “It’s all about what happened, so you listen to the birth story before you do anything,” Joan says. This process involves some highly personal questions, but it’s all so Joan can recommend exercises that don’t aggravate existing conditions. “Yeah, you’re up in people’s business,” she admits. Most new moms don’t get a doctor’s clearance to begin working out until six to eight weeks after giving birth, and Joan finds that most women are grateful for the break. “They are happy to have some ‘me’ time. It is critical to have that time to focus just on yourself. If you can't keep yourself healthy, then you can't take care of others.” During my visit, Joan walked me through three common postnatal exercises. Even as a regular Pilates student—and without having had a baby myself—I’ll admit I found them challenging. I walked away slightly sore and with a better appreciation of the challenges of postpartum recovery. 1. MARCHING ON THE BALL Lying on your back on the reformer, place a small inflatable ball right at your tailbone, then place your feet on the bar and grab a wooden handle with each hand. As you press your pelvis down against the reformer, drawing the hip bones together, bring your arms straight up to the ceiling. Staying steady atop the ball, bring your right leg into the “tabletop” position (knee bent at about a 90-degree angle) and bring your arms forward slightly, moving the carriage about an inch. Bring your left leg up into tabletop as well, keeping the carriage steady, and inhale as you lower the right leg just a few inches. Exhale, and bring the right leg back up; repeat with the left leg. Perform the exercise a total of five times on each leg. Though this exercise involves the legs and the arms, you should really feel it in your core. The goal here, says Joan, is “re-engaging the abs.” “The abs have done this humongous job by keeping the baby supported, but they have stretched, so a lot of times women lose the connection with the abs.” She’ll often begin postnatal workouts with this exercise because it imparts a valuable muscle memory of how to keep the core engaged during the rest of the session. 2. THE ROLL-DOWN WITH TRAPEZE Sitting on a Pilates cadillac or tower, place one foot against each pole, keeping your legs straight. From there, grab the trapeze bar with both hands placed about shoulder-width apart. Tucking in the tailbone and keeping your shoulders down, inhale, and as you exhale, engage your abs as you slowly roll down, articulating the spine one vertebra at a time. When you’re lying down, inhale, then exhale as you begin to curl yourself up slowly, keeping your tailbone tucked and your abs engaged. Once you’ve reached the starting position, roll all the way down again and slowly pull the trapeze closer to your chest as you exhale, drawing your elbows away from each other. Pull the trapeze a total of three times, then roll up to finish. “The roll-down is about shoulder stability and about abs,” Joan says. Women often adopt a hunched-over posture while breastfeeding, which contracts the muscles in their chest. Opening up the shoulders stretches out the chest muscles and allows for a deeper connection with the abs, which work with the shoulders to keep the body steady during the roll-down movement. The chest press with the trapeze further stretches the shoulders as it works the pecs and rotator cuffs. 3. BRIDGE SERIES WITH ONE-LEGGED BRIDGE Lying on your back on a mat or a flat, cushy surface, bend your knees with your legs hip-distance apart and your arms long by your sides. Press down into the feet, keeping your shoulders down and chest open, inhale, and as you exhale, curl your hips up slowly. Hold the bridge position for an inhale, then exhale as you slowly roll your hips down, one vertebra at a time. Repeat once more. As a progression, you can repeat the bridge exercise beginning with your right leg in tabletop position, making sure not to shift to one side as you raise your hips. Repeat again with your left leg in tabletop; perform the one-legged bridge a total of two times on each side. Similar to the roll-down, the bridge series is powered by the abs, which control the articulated movements, and it further opens up the shoulders to engage the upper-core muscles. As an extra challenge for the glutes and hamstrings, the one-legged bridge also connects to the abs and “makes you keep yourself centered,” Joan says. She’ll often incorporate progressive exercises into her postnatal routines to gradually build up strength until students feel comfortable returning to regular Pilates classes, usually within two or three months. Photo: © Michelle Klosinski, GrouponRead More
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