Style, Brands & Reviews: OH MY! Find the Yoga Mat that is Perfect for You, Stress Free

Are you looking for the yoga mat that is just right for you and your practice?

Feeling overwhelmed by the many candidates?

Stop, take a breath, chill on the research. Read on to find your yoga mat the right way.

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Your Mat, Your Practice

Yoga mats play a major role in modern yoga practice. The right mat gives your protection over rough surfaces, cushion to relax, grip in poses that test your balance, and your own space to conduct your yoga practice. A yoga mat can be a great asset….. or a total ass.

When I first started my yoga practice, I used a brand less purple mat that I picked up at a local store. Overall the mat was okay, but as it got older and my physical yoga practice became regular, it began to lose tiny bits of mat after every class. This was equally embarrassing, satisfying and celebratory, as the little purple bits of mat looked like I was littering, working so hard in class that I literally tore the mat up, or that I was a self contained party full of purple mat confetti. Either way, my mat was deteriorating and I needed to get a new one. And I had no idea where to start.

A yoga mat can be a great asset….. or a total ass.

Exploring Your Options

Exploring the world of yoga mats can be overwhelming. I couldn’t believe all of the different choices when I first started looking. I also didn’t know if I could trust personal reviews. After all, we are all different, and what one person says may not lead me to the right mat for me.

So where do we begin?

  1. Determine what you need from your mat.

Start with what you really need. Are you sweaty and need a non-slip mat with good grip? Eco conscious and interested in low impact on our environment? A traveler looking for the lightest mat possible? Taller than average and looking for length? Or perhaps a bad knee that needs thicker padding? Whatever your specific needs are, there is a mat that can help! But be sure the clarify what your needs are before you start your search,

  1. Know your research.

Next, we go to the research. Normally, this could be exhausting and stressful.

Product research and multiple personal reviews are needed to get a holistic picture of what a mat will give you. Purchasing factors may range from mat length, material, effect on the environment, style, brand, weight and price. It is easy to get a headache researching and a bit of anxiety debating whether you have truly made the best choice.

The team at Reviews.com has compiled a well-researched, comprehensive list of the top 10 best yoga mats. Their approach is truly anthropological at heart, exploring hundreds of yoga mat reviews across outdoor shops, yoga blogs, product reviews and personal recommendations from established yoga professionals.

  1. Explore your mat!

Now is the really fun part- exploring your new mat and noticing how it affects your yoga practice. It may feel a bit strange at first, but all new things do. Enjoy the exploration!

You don’t have to have a mat to practice yoga, but finding one that works for you can be a great addition to your practice. Take the time to read the research and find that mat that is truly best for you!Let me know what you find, and happy mat hunting!

-Laura

 

 

 

Sitting Sucks. Yoga Can Help.

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How many hours do you sit in a day?

What effect does this have on your body? On your mind?

We sit. We sit a lot.

People sit for work, on a drive to work, during lunch, during meetings, coffee out with friends. This sedentary posture is so common that many people schedule in their time for a work out, perhaps assuming they will not actually get a work out during the day. The push to make things easier and comfortable is leading some to some negative health trajectories. The good news is that we can do something about it to improve our health and wellness.

To be clear, sitting is and of itself not bad. It is the amount of daily sitting combined with lack of exercise that gets us in trouble. Take home point: sitting for extended periods of time, especially with poor posture, has negative effects on our health.

What Does Extended Sitting Do to Your Body?

Over time, sitting can mess with the body in multiple ways, such as poor organ function, muscle degeneration, bad back, reduced mental clarity, general body strain and weakening.

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Graphic from Quitting Sitting.

How does all of this happen? When we sit, we are sedentary- not moving. By not moving, we are losing strength and vitality in the body resulting in circulation and oxygen intake and weakening of our muscles. When we sit, we deteriorate.

Avoiding or reducing sitting can be tough, as it is often built into the day. Between driving to and from work, sitting at a desk for a large chunk of the day, and sitting down for dinner with friends and family, sometimes it is hard to avoid sitting!

The most difficult part of breaking the sedentary lifestyle is changing daily patterns. Set achievable goals that you can pattern into your day. Are you able to avoid watching TV for an hour and instead pop on a podcast and go walking? Can you walk to lunch? Have a stationary bike in the television room? Small changes can have big effects- we are designed to be active!

Yoga to Counteract Sitting

Yoga helps us engage our muscles by bringing new blood flow to areas that we don’t always use. The breath work also helps stimulate the nervous system and keep us calm and alert. Any yoga is good for you, but the following postures are a great way to target areas that may be weakened due to prolonged sitting.

Cat/Cow

Increase spinal flexion and extension with this pairing. In Kundalini yoga, you can do this set rapidly for 3 minutes to increase energy and balance.

Half Pigeon

Hip-opening poses like half pigeon pose help to counteract the detrimental effects of sitting by stretching muscles, tendon, ligaments and fascia in the area, release emotional build up and improve the ability to deal with stress by finding calm through activating the flight or fight response we all have.

Revolved Triangle

This pose engages the spine, abs, and the hamstrings- all muscles that need attention from a life with a lot sitting!

Wide Legged Forward Fold

Low back pain is a common issue for many people, and sitting can aggravate it. Release the low back, stretch the hamstrings and reverse blood flow in this pose.

The First Step is to Start

These are just a few ideas of poses to insert into the day and break up the seated lifestyle. Any yoga practice is a good way to counteract the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. The biggest challenge is simply working it into your day. Start small, put in the effort, and remember that are bodies are made to move! If you feel overwhelmed, check out the Sit-Stand transition guide from Quitting Sitting.

To check yourself and your progress, start with 3 baseline days. Simply record how many hours or minutes a day you spend sitting.

Make an achievable goal to reduce sitting time and get active! Insert an activity into your sitting them.

If you need support, get some friends together and hold one another accountable.

Take a stand against the harmful effects of sitting- literally! Let us know how you do!

 

 

 

Nickeled & Dimed in Yoga: Why do Yogis Work for Free?

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Most people do not get into yoga for the money, despite the industry being worth over 10 billion dollars in the US. Becoming a yoga teacher requires an incredible amount of dedication and costs, including monetary and personal. Yoga professionals are aware that a lucrative yoga market does not necessarily translate to a lucrative yoga career. In fact, many yoga teachers have, at some point, worked for free. In an industry that has exploded in the past five years, and requires extensive training and dedication, why are yoga teachers willing to work for no monetary gain? Why don’t Yogis demand more?

  1. We are driven by passion, not money.

Most people who work in the yoga industry may enter it out of passion, focusing more on the joy of actually teaching, practicing, and being involved in the yoga community than wealth. The connection to yoga is a powerful personal one, and the instructor wants to share that with others.

  1. We are predominantly women, and we do more for less.

Another factor is rooted in the demographics of yoga: the majority of yogis are women. Women work for less pay, speak up less about pay inequalities, and do more work than male counterparts. In fact, women are more likely to work with unstable contract jobs and are more reluctant to ask for a pay increase or promotion. Bottom line- research has shown that women work for less money than men, and these societal roots may be growing into yoga.

  1. We are honoring yoga philosophy by giving to others.

The Upanishads are ancient scriptures that discuss the concept of karma yoga, or sacrifice through action. In the modern day, others may feel that they are acting in a selfless form of Karma yoga, using yoga’s own philosophy to explain working for less or nothing. Essentially, you are sacrificing your work for perceived benefit of others.

 

  1. We equate celebrity or notoriety to success.

The popularity of yoga in recent years has created a competitive yoga market. Developing a following via social media, including YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, is commonplace for yoga teachers. The yoga industry has combined into fitness industry and celebrity culture, promoted by social media outlets. The result? Many teachers are willing to work for free in the hopes of achieving success by creating a following or brand.

Should Yogis Work for Free?

As much as I would like to answer this question with an unwavering “NO”, I recognize that the situation is more complex than that. In a time of unpaid internships and people vying for exposure, I can’t knock anyone for try to get experience- in fact, many people do it in a way to pay their dues before getting a paid gig. However, the amount of unpaid “work” in yoga is alarming, ranging from work trades abroad to promise of exposure through online websites- all without monetary pay. Working without appropriate compensation affects not just you, but other people in the industry as well. When considering working for free in the name of experience and exposure may actually devalue the work that you do. This devaluing of work reaches far beyond the individual, affecting the overall industry.

If you are in this situation, or are considering working for free, reflect on this: Do you feel respected? Are you learning something? If you answer no to either of these questions, I would leave and gain your experience elsewhere. If yes, consider staying- as long as it feels okay to you. But be aware that this is feeding into a larger social structure that promotes inequality. Respect yourself, what you do, and be true to who you are as a teacher, person, and student. You are valuable, but will you demand and command others to see you the same? It is your call.

 

Using your Yoga Practice to Burst the Busy Bubble

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We are all guilty of multitasking and pretending to be busy. In the era of social media where notifications constantly beep for our attention, it is fair to say a lot of us are distracted. The other day, I went for a walk. It was beautiful and sunny outside, and still I caught myself browsing through Instagram. I put the phone away and realized that multitasking and looking busy was actually taking away from what really matters: the enjoyment in the present moment.

Our Culture of Busyness

I credit my awareness to the “culture of busyness” to my yoga practice. The irony is that I originally started yoga to fill time- in other words, to stay busy. However, as my yoga practice progressed, it equipped me with the tools to slow down, deepen the breath, and try to focus on the present moment. At least sometimes.

Like many people, I find my social media and subsequently my phone pretty addictive. There is evidence that humans have the same attention span as a goldfish. Yes, a goldfish. What does this mean? People surveyed reported having an attention span is a mere 8 seconds, largely attributed to our attention being divided amongst multiple medias. This isn’t really an insult goldfish, but an example of how human attention is shifting due to smartphones. While are attention spans becoming shorter, we are able to multitask better- again, presumably because we have a wealth of information and entertainment at our fingertips. But is this a good or bad thing?

Depending on how you look at it, this ability to do many things at once but constantly be looking for the next thing is good, bad, or neither. For example, you may be able be more productive than offer, but you may not actually be enjoying the process of producing because your attention is pulled in too many directions. Or you may be looking ahead to see what the next project is. This can produce what psychologists call a the hedonic treadmill, a never ending race to find pleasure and joy that just keeps going and going, consistently leaving us unsatisfied. How do you burst the busy bubble and step of the hedonic treadmill? Use your yoga! Deepen your breath, close your eyes, and focus on the present moment, Try to tame the wandering monkey mind heading straight for the hedonic treadmill.

Yoga Helps Bursts the Busy Bubble

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, verse 1.2 states that “Yoga is the ability to calm/direct/restrain the fluctuations of the consciousness/mind”, in other words, get you to slow down and be in the present moment. A regular yoga practice can help you slow down and take control of manic thoughts. There is nothing wrong with being productive, but you should be able to put on the brakes when you need to!

 

Other steps you can take:

  1. Be mindful and show daily gratitude
  2. Take care of your mind and body so you stay healthy
  3. Stay away form people, places and activities that bring you down
  4. Appreciate and help others

If you need more inspiration to reduce busyness, check out this TED talk by Manoush Zomorodi.

Challenge the culture of busyness. Slow down. Embrace the present . You may be all the happier for it!

A Yogi’s Guide to Dharamsala

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There is no place quite like Dharamsala. The blend of Asian cultures, diverse tourists and the stunning natural beauty provide a traveler with ample opportunity to explore yoga, meditation, food, museums and temples.

I stayed in The Dharamsala area for 6 weeks, and put together a rough guide of my favorite best yoga spots to explore and enjoy. Note that the time of year is a vital component to consider before visiting. Monsoon season lasts from July to late August, and temperatures can be both hot during the summer months and cold during the winter. Be flexible and prepared to adapt!

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Prepare to live that “Chai Life”!

Dharamsala

Dharamsala is an area located at the base of the Dhauladar mountain range in Himachal Pradesh, India. The area is made up of a few key epicenters: Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot and Bhagsu. The city of Dharamsala, is ironically where the least amount of tourists go. Approximately 5 kilometers up the road sits the primary tourist draw: McLeod Ganj,, home to the Dalai Lama. Dharamkot and Bhagsu are both smaller towns up the road from McLeod Ganj and great for Dharma bums or people looking to get away form the hustle and bustle. Nature is dramatic and abundant here with walks, hikes and treks available. Dharamsala caters to many needs, and is an ideal place to practice yoga.

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A hand drawn, pretty accurate map of McLeod Ganj!

McLeod Ganj

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A mural on the way to Ram Yoga House.

Ram Yoga House

Nestled away from the tourist bustle yet still maintaining a central location is Ram Yoga House. The Yoga studio overlooks the stunning mountains, and, as far I saw, had the best view of any yoga studio in the area. Ram Bhardwaj, the founder, is trained in Sivananda tradition and has been teaching since 2008. He spent a significant amount of time living and working in Mexico. Because of the cross-cultural influence, he has a café that serves sattvic and Mexican delights! Bonus- he speaks Spanish & English! Ram Yoga House offers a place to stay, a great café, in house teachers and ayurvedic and Thai massage for extra curious students. This place was relaxing, Ram is awesome, and an adorable black “guard” dog is an added plus. Come here for the yoga classes, a teacher training, the view, the Mexican food, or to escape the buzz of McLeod Ganj.

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Ram Yoga House

Surya Hotel Road  (Behind Norbu House),

McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh

176219, India

Contact:

Call of WhatsApp: +9198164 09053, +919218409053, +917018020854

Email

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A mural near Universal Yoga.

Universal Yoga

Meander down the hill of Jogibara road and you will see steep staircases to the left. Follow them- they will take you to Universal Yoga, home to daily classes and teaching trainings. It doesn’t take long to figure out how this studio got its name; its holistic technique really does give each student a universal perspective of yoga. The founder and instructor, Vijay, has studied under BKS Iyengar and has taught yoga classes and courses around the world. His style is known as Universal Hatha Yoga, a blend of tradition and experience from a long yoga career. If you are craving different scenery, Universal Yoga is also down in Goa!

 

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Universal Yoga

Youngling School Building Room 5

Jogibara Road

McleodGanj, McLeod Ganj

Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh 176219

Contact:

Email: vijayamar@yahoo.com | vijayamars@gmail.com

Phone: +91-9882222323

 

Good Eats

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McLeod Ganj caters to the diverse tourist population, and many food options are available. My all time favorite is the recently established Bodhi Greens, home to raw, vegan cuisine that satisfies, satiates and keeps you healthy! The restaurant overlooks the main square, but you can curl up and read a book or grab a vegan latte. A must try is the raw, vegan banana chocolate pie. Oh, and come hungry- portions are big!

Bodhi Greens

Just off the main square toward Bhagsu

1st Floor, Main Square,

McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala,

Himachal Pradesh 176219, India

 

Must Stop Shop with Vegan Products: Unity Health Food & Osho Books

If you are looking for snacks or food to carry with you, check out Unity Health Food Store. An awesome older guy runs it, and it is stocked with delicious home made cookies, crackers, Peepal Farm Peanut Butter, and incredible home made chocolate! He also has a wide range of supplements and health foods- great if you are in the area awhile. There are apparently books there as well, though I always had peanut butter and chocolate tunnel vision, so subsequently never noticed. The shop is small but packed with goodies. Go for the unique foods, stay for the books, or until it gets too crowded and you need to step outside!

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The road toward Unity Health Food.
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Unity Health Food & Osho Book Store.

Unity Health Food & Osho Book Store

Swarag Ashram Road

From the main square, follow the road up.

The store will be on the left!

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The Carrot Mural located in McLeod Ganj.

Dharamkot

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One road in Dharamkot.

Tushita Meditation Centre 

As you wander up the hilly roads toward Dharamkot, take a rest at the well-known Tushita Buddhist Meditation Center. Tushita means “ the place of joy”, and throughout the grounds, it is not hard to see why. Courses. are happening throughout the year, but daily meditations are usually on the schedule as well. This amazing place is a must see for novice to advanced meditators, or anyone looking for peace, quiet and tranquility.

The video below was taken on the walk up toward Tushita. The calm and quiet is possible even in the monsoon season!

Dharamkot is also literally full of gems. Custom jewelry with you favorite gem stones is easy- ask for a jewelry maker named Jay!

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Just a handful of the gems in Dharamkot!

I also came across some Kombucha in Dharamkot. Don’t be too sketched out by the bottle- it was good and I stayed illness free after drinking a few bottles of it!

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Kombucha in Dharamkot

I wasn’t able to check out yoga in Dharamkot, though there are signs for it. Explore it and let me know what you find!

Bhagsu

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Wandering on a path toward Bhagsu from Dharamkot. It is only a 20 minute walk.

Bhagsu Yoga Institute

On top of SunRise House sits the Bhagsu Yoga Institute, a calming studio with a tree house vibe. Omji Shankar, the founder, grew up in the Dharamsala area and became invested in yoga at the age of 11. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Yogic Education in 2010. During that same year, he opened the Bhagsu Yoga Institute. He specializes in traditional yoga, Reiki, pranayama and meditation. Drop in classes, teacher trainings and retreats available!

Bhagsu Yoga Institute

Roof Top Of SunRise House, Next To Singh Corner

Upper Bhagsu Nag,

Bhagsunag Rd, Bhagsu Nag,

Himachal Pradesh 176219, India

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At Mahi Yoga. Leave your ego outside.

Mahi Yoga

I met Mahi on a rainy day in Bhagsu. We sat across from one another and talked yoga over glasses of water. From his many years of working with yoga students, he told me he can read body imbalances well. Skeptical as ever, I let him try to guess mine. He immediately detected that I just started to breathe through my left nostril- a feat I had indeed developed one month prior at my 300-hour yoga training. He also told me I had swelling in my lower right abdomen- again, he nailed this observation, as a pesky ovarian cyst was recently discovered in that area. I basically just stared at him so he wouldn’t think I was too impressed, but he could probably tell I was pretty surprised at his accuracy.

Yoga has been a part of Mahi’s life for a long time, and he brings his expertise, intensity and knowledge to his classes and trainings. Body observations aside, Mahi is an incredible yoga teacher full of knowledge ranging from yoga tradition to anatomy. Note that there are 2 locations in the Bhagsu area, and it is best to contact the center in advance!

Visit for a drop-in class, training or to have him guess your body imbalances.

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Mahi Yoga

Upper Bhagsu nag,

P.O. Macleodganj, Dharamshala,

Himachal Pradesh 176219, India

Phone: +91 7831823200

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My favorite drink: honey, lemon ginger tea!

I hope you get to travel to Dharamsala and explore it on your own.

Like most things in life, planning is great, but sometimes you just need to get out there, explore, and discover your own adventure. Dharamsala is an ideal place to do just that!

See you in Dharamsala

Reflecting on the Un-Wellness of Wellness Culture

WARNING: A lot of this post is personal reflection. If you aren’t feeling that today, save it for another time!

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A calming lavender photo. (C) Rosh Jaypalan

Culturally, wellness is marketed as a routine to mold your body, adjust your mind and pump you full of vitamins and nutrients. Wellness is bout living the good life- or at least looking like you are. Our cultures define how we see the world. This process happens early on in our development, and we don’t have say in it. One reason I love traveling is that it consistently challenges my worldview, and it ultimately makes me a better person.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life.

I lived in India for 10 weeks, working a contract job and required a lot of my attention. I was surprised that, despite my stressful and sometimes hectic schedule, I kept a really regular yoga practice. I also wasn’t obsessed with what I was eating- I tried to find a mindful balance. But I certainly wasn’t counting calories and weighing up the amount of macro minerals I should be consuming. And you know what? My body felt good. My mind felt good. And then I came home.

I immediately went to the grocery store and stocked up on produce, chia seeds, peanut butter, vegan yogurt, cereal, and almonds. I realized that I bought so much produce that I would need to strategize exactly how to use it without it rotting away in the kitchen. Enter: Stress over food due to too much choice.

I have to admit that I get a bit too intense about food. Green smoothies packed with spinach, chia, yogurt and fruit? Yep. Green soup pack with 7 veggies? Nailed it. Cookies made from chickpeas? I go there too! The bottom line is that I pay a lot of attention to what I put in my system- maybe too much attention. I realized that a great thing about living abroad is that I didn’t worry about food. I ate when I was hungry, and I made due with the choices I was given. Although I do love cooking, this lifted a huge amount of stress away from me deciding what I was going to eat and how much “wellness” I could pack into it. And the focus away from wellness, but rather on just living, made me feel more relaxed, focused and grounded. Life lesson: Exploring the culinary adventures that health food offers is great, but focusing too much on eating said healthy food is actually unhealthy. Release the obsession with “healthy” food, and eat moderately.

I also noticed that as soon as I came home, I began to generate “to-do” lists in my head. Suddenly, social events I was looking forward to and calls with friends seemed like chores. Why?

As I stepped back into my home culture, the expectations to be productive immediately stepped into my own mind. I realized that while traveling and living abroad, I was able to release this invisible cultural pressure of always looking busy, looking forward and being as productive as a robot on the factory line. I also realized that operating in this way sucks the joy out of what life is really about: people, love, connection, learning, and maintain relationships.

I also noticed that I preferred to do only one activity at a time, versus about five. At home, I often run while listening to music. When I came back, I observed a strong inclination to run without music. Just to run, enjoy the environment, and relax. I didn’t want to do two things at once: I just wanted to stay present in one.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life. Let’s be real here: we live in a competitive society, where appearance (physical and social) carry heavy weight. There is an underlying theme of looking busy, staying busy, and therefore somehow being successful. Planning ahead to the point of where your mind is consistently in the future and not in the present does do make you happy. Staying in the present, appreciating what is there, and ultimately releasing control over a situation is what made me feel happier. It just so happened that I had to travel to another culture to realize it.

Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

 

So what if you aren’t traveling away and may have a hard time identifying these things?

Stay mindful, and be aware that culture is a powerful thing. Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

Are you a traveler? What have you learned about yourself?

 

Yoga and Schedules: Making Time for your Practice

I am currently in India running a service program for high school-aged students. The days are long and the work can be intense- let’s just say a lot can happen with 25 kids in a foreign country. Despite the packed schedule and the need for me to occupy multiple job roles simultaneously, I have kept a regular yoga practice. This is somewhat surprising- when life gets busy, usually self-care takes a back seat to other responsibilities. Why does yoga remain stable in such a busy schedule?

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Yoga helps you deal with intensity in your schedules, mind, and life! A physical yoga practice reduces stress and is beneficial to our nervous system. It literally keeps you calm and cool in intense and high stress situations. But getting to the point where your yoga flows into your busy schedule takes some effort toward developing effective habits. Follow the steps below to insert yoga into your schedule and habits!

  1. Start Small to Avoid Burnout

When you first started to practice yoga, did you cram in as much yoga as you could? If you are anything like me, you like to really go for it. That is a great quality, but in yoga, it can quickly lead to burnout. Yoga practice requires dedication and patience. Attending as many classes a week as you can may improve you physically, but has the tendency to exhaust your mentally. Start your yoga practice small, but attending classes 3 times a week or taking 20 minutes out of your day specifically for yoga. Note that this practice may be physical, meditative or breath based!

  1. Listen to Your Body

When schedules get busy, our focus shifts outward vs. inward. This can affect your ability to listen to what your body needs and wants. Yoga practice facilitates the connection between the mind and body naturally, but being aware of how you are doing mentally and physically can help speed up the process. Take a minute or two out of your day and ask yourself “ How am I doing? What do I need?”. These two simple questions are a great way to start strengthening your awareness around your body.

  1. Make it a Ritual

This is probably the most challenging aspect of inserting yoga into your scheduled life. It starts as an interest, morphs into a habit and eventually becomes a ritual. A ritual is an act repeated in consistent way. It isn’t mindless, but you don’t question it as being a part f your day or your schedule. I’m not going to lie: this takes good old-fashioned time and effort. By starting small, your will set the platform to continue a goo habit and make it permanent. Yoga makes it easy in this way- when you do it, you feel better.

Take a minute or two out of your day and ask yourself “ How am I doing? What do I need?”.

Life gets busy and intense, and a yoga practice us always there to help us adapt. Use yoga as a tool to improve your body and behavior during the intense times. Trying out these simple techniques can lead to great results. You may be surprised at where the path takes you!