I admit it…yoga doesn’t meet the usual definition of working out. We aren’t racing our bicycles down the highway or dancing in a zumba class or running on a treadmill in a gym. We’re in our bare feet, doing what looks, to the uninitiated, like a lot of stretching. We’re sweating lightly instead of moping it off our faces with a towel. We’re slightly out of breath instead of gasping for air. When our practice is over, we lay down on the floor like we’re all taking naps together in kindergarten. We’re smiling and looking peaceful and trusting. We’re breathing with the effort, softening, looking inward, setting intention and releasing what doesn’t serve us.
I practice yoga for a lot of reasons. One of the main reasons is that I want to be strong. And happily, what I’ve have found since I’ve been practicing two to three times each week is that it’s working. I’ve been getting stronger. Physically stronger. Poses are easier to get into. I can stay in them longer. I can bend into them deeper.
Let me say it right out: Yoga builds physical strength.
Because we move through the poses using our own body weight, the muscles develop in a natural way … following the natural movements of the body.
This feels so much more natural to me than going to the gym and lifting weights, listening to the clank and clatter of the metal disks and the loud pumping music.
What I enjoy about building strength through yoga is that my brain feels just as refreshed as my body does when I’m finished.
I always feel as though the day has slowed down and I’ve slipped those 30 or 60 minutes into it, like a love letter into the envelope of my day. ♥
I’ve made two birthday cakes from scratch in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d tell you about them today. Because who doesn’t like cake? (I don’t see any hands raised…Everybody loves cake!)
I can make a cake from scratch, no problem – it’s the decorating that gets me. Just call me the queen of lopsided. Highly skilled in filling divots with extra icing. Nothing ever so bad that a good handful of sprinkles can’t make better. That’s me.
I was bemoaning the fact on Facebook last month when I baked a cake for M’s birthday, and here’s what my friend Val had to say:
These days, my heart warms to see a lopsided, real ingredient cake. More often, a perfect, symmetrical synthetic cake from the store is our effort to show love. Your handmade one is the real thing. It reminds me of the choices you make to spend your time on things that matter to you.
Isn’t that wonderful! It made me feel better right away. Because she is 100% correct. So pfffft that my sprinkle-drenched over-frosted-to-cover-the-divot cake was lopsided. It was delicious and I made it by myself for my son.
Today we’re going to a 59th birthday party for Mr C’s cousin who lives in Vernon. Feeling bolstered by Val’s wisdom, I volunteered to bake the birthday cake. I’m not sure how many people will be there, so rather than baking a two-tiered cake, I made cupcakes instead. They look very pretty on my wire cupcake stand. This is chocolate cake from scratch, with a chocolate whipped cream icing that is very similar to chocolate mousse.
And lucky you….I’m giving out the recipe! Now go eat some cake!
Nita’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake Recipe Mix together dry ingredients: 2 cups sugar 1 3/4 cups flour 3/4 cup baking cocoa (the dry powder) 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1 1/2 tsp baking soda Mix together wet ingredients: 2 eggs 1 cup milk 1/2 cup vegetable oil 2 tsp vanilla Mix wet and dry ingredients together. Add 1/2 cup hot coffee & 1/2 cup boiling water. Pour into 2 cake pans (batter will be very thin). Bake @350 30 – 40 minutes until done.
Chocolate Whipped Cream Icing 1 cup whipping cream 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup cocoa powder 1 tsp vanilla Whip until stiff.
Now that you’ve eaten all that cake, you can work some of it off doing a bit of yoga during the April A-Z Blog Challenge:
Lay on your back with your arms down along your sides. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Scoot your feet up as close to your bum as you can comfortably get them. Push down through your feet and lift your bum into the air any amount.
Any amount means one inch, six inches, twelve inches – whatever feels good.
I like to press my lower back down into the floor and then slowly peel my hips up off the mat, raising my back one vertebrae at a time until I’m resting on my shoulder blades. I roll myself back down the same way. But that’s just me. You do what feels good for you.
Once you’re up there, you can wiggle around a little bit and get your shoulders underneath you. If you’re way up there, you can lace your fingers together underneath your bum and push your arms into the mat to help get more lift in the hips.
If this hurts your neck don’t do it.
You might find that bridge pose feels really good in your mid & lower back. You might find it feels really good across the front of your chest.
Here’s a short video tutorial so you can see what it looks like:
And because every pose should be adjusted for every body, here is a great modification using a strap for those of you who are blessed with abundant bosoms (so that you don’t smother yourself), or using a block for those of you who haven’t developed the strength to hold yourself in the pose just yet. 🙂
Have you ever chosen a word
just one single word
to guide you through the year?
For the last couple of years I’ve held the word balance close to my heart. It was the word that helped me to navigate a very busy life: teaching up to 5 dance classes per week, directing a dance troupe, choreographing and producing shows while managing to have a family life and working a 9-5 day job (phew!)
Balance was the word that got me through to the other side of menopausal depression. I was out of balance physically, emotionally and hormonally. Searching for and maintaining balance was the lifeline that I clung to and the rope I hauled myself up by. It kept me secure during the heartache of deciding to let go of my dance troupe and students. I kept it in the front of my mind during my weight loss journey (65 pounds!). It was the word that taught me to put health and happiness above productivity.
Balance guided me through the waters of deciding to retire relatively young; to move to a new town and seek out new adventures.
Balance: what a beautiful word!
But now it’s time for a new word to live by. It’s time to get out of the box and…
This year I am going to play in my kitchen and learn to bake a cake from scratch. Specifically, some of the Chatelaine cakes. Yum!
…and I will experiment creating delicious meals from all over the globe: India, Japan, Italy, Thailand…! No fear in the kitchen will be my new motto – play with those spices, Nita! Try it out!
In my Creativity room I will play in the sewing nook, on the yoga mat, in-front-of the dance mirror and with words at my laptop.
My body will become stronger as I play outdoors, exploring local walking and hiking trails with Kelly and Sammy. We’ll take our bikes out and explore some of the country roads.
I will play in the garden, discovering all the wonders of living in a zone 5 gardening region.
I vow to put myself “out there” and be open to meeting new friends, getting involved in the community somehow (music? theater? dance?)
My friend Melissa at 100 Billion Stars puts it brilliantly (you can read her entire blog post here):
Play is a way of making room for our potential. It isn’t about pretending to be something we hope to be one day. It isn’t about presenting a different face to the world, trying on masks and personae. It’s about being authentic and true to ourselves in an atmosphere without judgment or rules. It’s from this place that growth begins, releasing the possibilities that have been lying dormant all our lives.
So here I am this morning, wishing you all a wonderful year of play and a hell of a good time doing it!
The Millennium Trail is my favourite Whitehorse walk. Starting at the S.S. Klondike, it follows the Yukon River in a 5 km loop, crossing the river at the Whitehorse Dam. It takes about an hour to walk the dog, depending on how active the “pee-mail” message boards are. 🙂
If you’re reading this on your tablet, you will need to go directly to the website to see the slide show as movies don’t seem to work on tablets or phones.
Music by The Big Band (and you can clearly hear me on bari sax, lol!) Enjoy!
Bellydancers can benefit from including yoga into their personal fitness routine, and one way this is evident is in floor work. Floor work is an aspect of the dance that seems to be making a bit of a comeback very recently. At least, after seeing virtually zero floor work for about a decade or more, I have suddenly seen a few routines making an appearance in various shows over the last couple of years, and “how to” floor work DVDs are starting to appear on the market. Bellydancers in North America used to do floor work regularly in the 1970s & 80s. It was part of what used to be called the “standard 5- or 7-part restaurant routine. More on that in another posting.
Anyway, back to yoga. My yoga practice ebbs and flows, and sometimes I just don’t feel like working with my DVDs. Instead, I’ll spend some time on my mat just working through poses that I enjoy, trying out poses that I see in magazines or online journals, or working on poses that focus on areas I need to build strength or flexibility in (personal challenge poses). I have weak wrists, and there are some poses I simply can’t do because my wrists do not support me. I also don’t do the sword work that I’d like to do because the weight of the sword causes pain in my wrists, making practice difficult. In a fitness assessment last June, I scored low in the upper body strength category. That wasn’t a surprise, but it did cause me to refine my fitness plan. As a result, I’ve started to incorporate some movements to stretch & strengthen my wrists, arms & shoulders into my yoga routine. I’ve also added working with light weights, but I’m not as dedicated to that practice yet.
One of the personal challenge poses that I’m working on right now is the upward plank (purvottanasana). This pose strengthens the wrists, arms & hamstrings and is also a heart-opener (stretching the shoulders & chest). By the way, Purvottanasana translates as “intense Eastern stretch” in Sanskrit (the front of the body being the “eastern side” and the back of the body the “western side”). For some reason, that just tickles my little raqs sharqi (eastern dance) heart! I love word associations!
The upward plank pose is challenging for me to do with good form. Start by sitting with your legs together in front of you, toes pointed. Hands are behind you with your fingers pointed towards your bum. Press down through your hands and engage your legs to lift your hips into the air. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders. Your arms and legs should be straight. Relax your bum without letting the hips drop, and let your hamstrings & arms do the work. Ground all 10 toes and gently tilt the head back. If you can’t do it without “cheating” & using your glutes, then sit back up and bend your knees before pressing up into reverse table top position. When you’ve built some strength in your hamstrings, you can begin work on the full upward plank again. You’ll see right away why this is a good strength builder for wrists, arms & legs!
As a bellydance floor work movement, you can layer belly rolls & flutters onto the upward plank pose, being mindful to not allow your hips to drop. To recover, lower the hips back to the floor. Cross one ankle over the other and roll towards your audience onto your side, supporting your torso with the downstage arm. From here you can lift into full or partial side plank for more isolations if you choose (another powerful arm strengthener) or keep your side-hip on the floor as you focus on performing mesmerizing hand & arm movements with your free arm. To sit up, bend the knees & swing the legs around to kneeling. (Be mindful to not offer your audience any crotch shots. Always dance side-on or at a diagonal when on the floor.)
If you are balancing something on your head such as a sword, cane or water pot, you want to be very mindful of your balance & center. So, as you roll over, be sure to start the roll from the foot. Think of it like gently “wringing out” your body. The turn starts from the ankle and then proceeds through the lower leg to the inner thigh; then the hip turns, followed by the waist, the breast, the shoulder, turning the head last.
Here is a lovely photo ofAndrameda in purvottanasana, balancing a very heavy sword on her chin. She did some stomach isolations, followed by lovely snaky cross-over steps with her feet from this position. I hope everybody was suitably impressed with the strength required to do this movement and especially with the ease and grace with which she executed it! Brava, Andra, you make it look so effortless!