Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring into Action with Yoga: Core Strengtheners

yoga for core training
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

For many Yoga students and teachers, spring is the time to reinvigorate your life on many levels. This may include cleaning out your closet, detailing your car and doing a deep spring-cleaning of your apartment or house. This impetus to clean out that which is no longer serving you and spruce up your living space is a natural response to the new life, which is generated during this time of the year. Many Yoga practitioners also respond to the pulsation of new life around them by revamping their exercise regime, including their Yoga practice.

If you find that your Yoga practice has become somewhat routine and uninspired over the long winter months, the springtime is a wonderfully inspiring time to breath new life into your practice. One way of doing this is to include more core strengthening exercises into your practice. A balanced practice of traditional Yoga postures that includes standing, balancing, twisting, and seated poses, offers a practitioner many ways to incorporate core-strengthening exercises into the “regular” flow of the practice. 

For instance, simply keeping one leg raised while you flow from Downward Facing Dog into Plank Pose and Upward Facing Dog is tremendously strengthening. In the same way, weaving some core abdominal work into your Yoga practice as you flow in and out of the postures will strengthen your side oblique and abdominal muscles, without you even noticing! If you incorporate these abdominal strengthening movements into your Yoga practice several times a week, in a fairly short amount of time you will notice a substantial improvement in your core strength. 

Two of my favorite cores strengthening Yoga poses are Reclining Goddess Pulses and Dolphin Plank Pose. Reclining Goddess Pulses are a gentle way to improve your core strength if you are recovering from an injury or surgical procedure, which makes it difficult to engage in a more vigorous core strengthening exercise. Dolphin Plank Pose is a very strengthening core Yoga posture that can easily and efficiently be woven into a vinyasa-based practice. Both of these poses will effectively strengthen your core abdominal muscles and release tension throughout your shoulders and the neck.

* Reclining Goddess Pulses

Reclining Goddess Pulses are small abdominal movements that are done while in Reclining Goddess Pose. Reclining Goddess Pose is generally practiced towards the end of a Yoga class and prior to Shavasana. When you are ready to practice Reclining Goddess Pulses, lie down on your Yoga mat and place your legs in a diamond position, with the soles of your feet lightly touching. If your knees or hips are tight, you may wish to place two rolled blankets, pillows or bolsters underneath your knees for support. This movement should pre practiced slowly to avoid ballistic stretching. If you are recovering from abdominal surgery or an injury, remember to move very slowly and with compassion and respect for your body. 

Reclining Goddess Pose helps to increase the blood flow throughout the pelvic area, as it stretches out the groin and hip muscles. By incorporating a series of small pulses with your hands in between your knees, you will gently strengthen your core abdominal muscles and release tension in your shoulders and neck. To practice Reclining Goddesses Pulses, extend your arms between your legs and press the palms of your hands together with your fingers facing the front of the Yoga studio. Extend you arms fully, and begin to gently contract your abdominal muscles with each exhale. 

As you contract or pulse your abdominal muscles with each exhalation, extend your hands an inch or two further towards the front of the room or Yoga studio. This extension will help to elongate the muscles along the sides of your neck and release any tension in your shoulders. Pulse for a set of ten counts, and then lie back and rest for a moment in Reclining Goddess Pose before doing two more set of ten pulses. When you have completed a series of three rounds of Reclining Goddess Pulses, lie back on your mat and rest in Goddess Pose before proceeding with the rest of your Yoga practice

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York; where she specializes in writing customized, search engine-optimized articles that are 100% unique. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at:

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Yoga for Cancer Recovery: Cultivating Optimism

yoga for cancer recovery
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

One of the most challenging aspects of living with cancer is managing the tremendously high levels of stress, anxiety and downright fear that such a daunting diagnosis causes most of us. Truly speaking, part of living well with cancer is maintaining an ever present awareness of the reality of the disease, while walking the razor’s edge of cultivating optimism and hope in the face of a life-threatening diagnosis. This balancing act requires the daily, diligent holistic and/or allopathic treatment of cancer, in addition to the ability to focus on the positive aspects of your life. 

When a cancer diagnosis descends on you or your loved one, the world can feel that it is spinning out of control. Although this out-of-control feeling may only be related to your own individual situation, keeping all of different aspects of your life in order, while you engage in a cancer recovery program or support a loved one in their recovery process, can certainly be overwhelming. Until you have experienced the challenge of living with a life-threatening diagnosis, you may not realize how difficult it is to keep all of the bills paid, take care of the household chores, and even regularly change the oil in your car, while you or your loved one are healing from a series of cancer treatments.  

Of course, attempting to keep all of the proverbial, financial balls in the air, while contending with a cancer diagnosis, can cause even more stress and anxiety. When stress and anxiety levels remain high for an extended period of time, the immune system is negatively affected. For some cancer patients, a lowered immune system could mean the difference between life and death. There are many ways to manage your stress and anxiety levels, while you recover from cancer and from intrusive cancer treatments. By maintaining strong family and community connections and reaching out for help when you need it, you will feel a little bit less stressed and less alone during your journey recovering from cancer.

Additionally, a well-rounded, daily practice of some form of Yoga can greatly help to boost your physical level of well-being and your sense of optimism. There are a wide variety of Yogic techniques that help to nourish and maintain a strong, limber body, a calm mind and a happy heart. Of course, if you are living with a life-threatening disease such as cancer, your body may not be quite as strong as it used to be if you are still recovering from a series of cancer treatments, but your body will be stronger than it would be if you did not do any Yoga postures or relaxation exercises at all!

The daily, diligent practice of a series of traditional, modified or restorative Yoga postures will help you to maintain your strength and flexibility during your recovery from cancer. Many of the standing postures of Yoga help to strengthen the large muscles groups, elongate the muscles and ligaments, and generate heat and energy throughout the body. Back bending Yoga postures, such as Cobra Pose and Bow Pose, open up the front of the body and help to release muscular constriction around the heart and throat chakras, which is very common if you are feeling afraid and overwhelmed much of the time. Seated Forward Folding Yoga postures, such as Marichyasana A, will help to open up the shoulders, hips and the back of the legs, while the body and mind can come to rest on the solidity of the earth. 

As you journey through your cancer recovery process, you may find that you will only be able to do a few gentle, restorative forward bends and soothing pranayama exercises on a particular day. While, at other points during your recovery process, you will be pleasantly surprised when you are able to naturally expand the “portfolio” of Yoga postures and pranayama exercises that you are able to practice in a safe and comfortable manner. By maintaining a regular rhythm of self-care through a daily practice of Yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, you will nourish your own underlying intention of healing and well-being, which is so vital to cultivating an optimistic attitude during your recovery from cancer.  

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Romancing Divine Love: Loving Kindness Meditation

By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

A regular practice of Yoga is a wonderful tool for romancing divine love. The awareness of the essential energy of divine love that pervades the fabric of the universe is unveiled through a consistent, dedicated practice of Yoga postures, pranayama exercises, meditation, chanting, and japa recitation. A balanced, comprehensive practice of all of these various Yogic techniques will ultimately lead a Yogi or Yogini into the inner sanctum of his or her own heart. Along the way, however, it is not unusual for a Yoga practitioner to contend with a wide assortment of negative beliefs and thought patterns. 

Many of the ancient and time-tested practices of Buddhism can be very helpful for uprooting negative thoughts, beliefs and samskaras. Loving Kindness Meditation, or Metta Meditation, as it is also known, was practiced and taught by the Buddha. The Buddha noticed that with the practice of offering thoughts of loving kindness to himself, and then to those around him, that he was able to supplant negative thoughts with more nurturing, sweeter thoughts of compassion and kindness. This act of loving himself and offering his love and compassion to others during the course of his meditation helped him to systematically cultivate a state of loving acceptance, which helped to calm and free his own mind from confusion and pain. 

A number of neuro-cognitive researchers, who focus their study on the interplay between the brain and emotion, have documented that the “doing” part of the brain is lit up during the practice of a loving kindness meditation. Essentially this means that practicing 7 minutes or more a day of a loving kindness meditation will help to offset the low energy of depression and get your mind and body primed for putting into action the plans that you have mentally envisioned for yourself and your life.  Supplanting negative emotions with positive emotions during the practice of a loving kindness meditation has also been clinically shown to shift the balance in the brain from a state of negativity to positivity, which helps to enhance the ability to learn and follow through on cherished dreams and goals. 

* Loving Kindness Meditation in a Nutshell

It is quite easy to weave a 7-minute session of a loving kindness meditation into the end of a Yoga class or personal practice. Simply give yourself a few extra minutes just prior to, or just after Shavasana. This meditation practice can also be done during Shavasana, if you are short on time. When you are ready to practice the Loving Kindness Meditation, come to an easy sitting position on your Yoga mat, on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your spine comfortably erect, or lie back in Shavasana. If you are practicing this meditation while in Shavasana, you may wish to place a Yoga bolster under your knees for comfort and support.

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. As you begin to relax, formulate three wishes for yourself that would support your highest good today. For instance, you may wish to be filled with ease, happiness and health. Choose three wishes for your life that support your well-being and happiness today. If you encounter resistance to offering yourself loving kindness, mindfully witness the resistance, while continuing to gently and compassionately offering yourself kind, loving thoughts for a minute or two. 

This Loving Kindness Meditation practice is like a series of concentric circles that radiates from your own core outwards. There are five steps. The first step is to offer yourself loving, kind thoughts. The next step is to offer those same loving, kind thoughts to those you love, and then to a group of people whom you feel neutral about. The final two steps are to offer loving kindness to a person or group of people with whom you are struggling or actively dislike, and then to the world at large.  

If you find that offering loving kindness to those you do not like is difficult, do not worry! This is very common. With patient practice, you will be able to internally offer loving and kind thoughts to those people you do not like, especially when you experience the benefit of practicing loving kindness in your own heart and mind.  When you have completed your practice of the Loving Kindness Meditation, bring your hands into Prayer Position at the front of your heart and bow your head in gratitude, before moving quietly into Shavasana or finishing your Yoga practice. 

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: