Happy Holistic New Year – Pt. 3

From the relaxing music to warm towels, I love everything about spas.  Out of all the spa services I’ve received, my favorite is a deep tissue massage.  If you’ve ever experienced a deep tissue massage, you know that there’s nothing “relaxing” about it.  Unlike a Swedish massage, deep tissue massage is performed with more pressure in order to get deeper into the tissues.  It is known to help relieve chronic pain, sports injuries, and areas of tightness.

The best deep tissue massage I receive is from a good friend of mine who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy.  She has been treating me for my chronic neck pain (from a car accident years ago) and my wrist pain that has been bothering me for over a year.  I know it sounds ironic that I love the relaxing spa atmosphere, yet my favorite massage is a deep tissue massage.  The relaxation I experience from a deep tissue massage comes AFTER the actual massage itself.  After a PT/massage session with my friend, I feel amazing for several days!

We carry muscular imbalances in our bodies from slouching, sitting cross-legged, sleeping habits (sometimes I wake up looking contorted! 😂), etc.  Those imbalances can lead to headaches, neck aches, back pains, sleep disturbances and many other pain-related issues that we sometimes chalk up to aging.  Having regular massages can help relieve some of those “aches and pains” that may not necessarily be related to getting older.

If you have never experienced a professional massage before or tend to be sensitive to touch, I highly recommend that you start with a Swedish massage.  During the session, you can ask your massage therapist to deepen or lighten the pressure to your preference.  If you find that you prefer the deeper pressure, you might enjoy a deep tissue massage.  Most spas offer add-on services such as aromatherapy and hot stone massage for a fee.

Massages range from $45 to over $100 depending the length and the type of massage.  Location also plays a role in how much you’ll be paying (my first massage was at a spa in Beverly Hills, CA which was about $120 with gratuity in 2004; I spent $60 with gratuity for the same type of massage at a spa in Charlotte last week).  Great news is that Groupon is always filled with discounted massage services!  Try out different spas and massage therapists until you find one that you really like.

If massages are out of your budget right now, invest in a pair of myofascial release balls (also known as therapy balls).  I teach a weekly class at the local YMCA where we use therapy balls to roll out the tightness and “knots” in the neck, shoulders and the arches of the feet (we use a foam roller to roll out the rest of the body).  My students have commented on numerous occasions how they feel like they just got a deep tissue massage.  As of today, these therapy balls are on sale for $9.98 on Yogaoutlet.com.  I know some people that use lacrosse or tennis balls, but these therapy balls are specifically designed to be the perfect sizes and firmness for releasing the fascia.  There are several instructional videos on Youtube if you don’t have access to a class that teaches this method.  If you’re a member of the YMCA in Charlotte, NC, come check out my class on Mondays at 9 AM in the University location.  Another class I would recommend is Jenn’s “Roll & Release” class on Tuesdays at 9:30 AM, “Desk Detox-Roller” class on Wednesdays at 6:30 PM, and “IM=X Mat & Rolling” class on Thursdays at 11AM at IM=X Pilates in North Charlotte (where I teach yoga and pilates).

Next week, I will share how you can use simple yoga poses for holistic therapy!

With Gratitude,
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Happy Holistic New Year – Pt. 2

When I was in second grade, I fell down the stairs (just a few steps) at my elementary school in Seoul, South Korea.  I didn’t feel the pain right away because I think I was too embarrassed to notice that my left ankle was swelling up quickly.  Back then in Korea, going to an acupuncturist was just as common as going to the western medicine doctors.  In fact, I heard more about herbalists and acupuncturists than medical doctors.  So once it was clear that I had severely sprained my ankle (no broken bones), my parents took me to an acupuncturist in our city.  Since then, I have sprained both of my ankles (not both at the same time) countless times: While teaching a step aerobics class in 1997, hiking in 2002, missing the curb in 2004, high heels mishap in 2006, slipping on a patch of ice in 2011, missing another curb in 2015, and uneven walking trail in 2018.  With all these incidences, it’s a wonder that my ankles haven’t broken off completely! 😂  Every single time I’ve sprained my ankle, I’ve always turned to acupuncture; and every single time, I was walking fine in a matter of weeks.

On this particular day, I went in because of my seasonal allergies.

Acupuncture is one of the practices used in traditional Chinese medicine where the practitioner (acupuncturist) stimulates specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin.  Acupuncture is practiced on the concept of energy flow known as Qi (pronounced “Chee”) and meridians/pathways.  It is believed that when there is stagnation/disruption of Qi, disease can develop in one’s body.

Some — in the western medicine world — believe that acupuncture works through a placebo effect.  There are people who also believe this complementary medicine is quackery.  As a patient who has benefited greatly from acupuncture for sprained ankle, tendinitis, seasonal allergies, headaches and vertigo, I stand by this alternative practice.  Unless I’m bleeding or my bone is broken, I’m more likely to go see my acupuncturist than my primary care physician.

The only downfall I see in choosing the acupuncture route is that most health insurance companies will not approve a claim for this modality.  My personal opinion in this matter is this: I can either spend the co-pay and deductible to go see an MD only to pay another fee for prescription medicine which will only treat the symptoms, or I can pay out of pocket for acupuncture that aims to treat the root of the disease.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for western medicine; I’ve been to the emergency room twice last year, and I thank God that I was able to receive the care I needed right away.  But I think we’re so quick to turn to medicating ourselves before trying to figure out a way to resolve the issue at the root cause.

I feel blessed to live near Wellbeing Natural Health in Huntersville, NC (north of Charlotte).  The owner and Acupuncturist Cristin Gregory offers Community Acupuncture several days each week where payment is based on a sliding scale of $20-$45; during community acupuncture, the patient enters a shared space that has four anti-gravity chairs and receives acupuncture services for about an hour.  Every patient in the room lies down in the anti-gravity chairs and has their eyes closed while listening to the relaxing music playing in the background.  Other than the occasional sneezes and coughs, the room is pretty quiet, and it’s really easy to forget that there are other people in the room with you (I have fallen asleep on many occasions).  Cristin is the kindest and most down-to-earth acupuncturists I have ever been to.  She is also Chinese Herbalist, so she is able to recommend Chinese herbs to complement the acupuncture sessions.  She also offers cupping and Qi Gong services.  If you live outside of the Charlotte area, you can find a licensed Acupuncturist near you by going to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

For my blog next week, I will discuss massage therapy!

(If you would like to check out my blog from last week about Doshas and Ayurveda, scroll down or click here.)

 

With Gratitude,
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Happy Holistic New Year – Pt. 1

Happy 2020!

We’re already six days into this new year and new decade, and I must confess, I already feel like I’m running behind!  On paper, I’m hitting my goals daily; but mentally, there’s a part of me that feels like my mind has not caught up with my body.  Granted, I spent two of the six days out of town so I think it sort of threw my nervous system out of whack.  Did you know that when you travel, your vata increases?

Vata is an ayurvedic term for the subtle energy in each of us that governs the functions of the autonomic nervous system.  Vata is one of three Doshas — elemental energies —  that makes up every human being.  Basically, it’s your DNA.  DNA is what makes up who you are not only in your physical appearance but also your personality, your tendencies, your digestion, etc.  Since I am not an expert geneticist, doshas are much easier for me to understand and explain.

There are three primary Doshas:  Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.  Vata governs the Air/Ether elemental qualities such as movement and change.  Pitta governs the Fire elemental qualities such as intensity and power.  Kapha governs the Water/Earth elemental qualities such as moisture and solidity.  Everyone has all three doshas within them and we are born with a certain energetic constitution known as Prakriti in Ayurveda.  Most of us are born with two doshas that tend to be greater than the third.  It is possible to have all three doshas equally, but this is rare.  The following is no way near a full list of the doshic qualities, but it will hopefully give you some information to start your understanding of the doshas.

Qualities of Vata

Physical:  Thin, light frame.  Easy to lose weight. Have dry skin and hair as well as cold hands and feet. Light sleepers and have slow digestion.

Emotional: Creative and love to daydream. Tend to talk fast and have a higher voice.

When Out of Balance: Tendency towards weight loss (generally), hypertension, arthritis, weakness, restlessness, constipation and gas.  Anxiety, restlessness and insomnia.

Qualities of Pitta

Physical: Medium size and weight. Premature graying, baldness or thinning hair. Excellent digestion.  Warm body temperature. Quality sleep in short sleep cycles.  Has a lot of energy.

Emotional: Intellectual and has great concentration ability. Ambitious and task-oriented.  Usually has medium, sharp voice.

When Out of Balance:  Skin rashes, indigestion, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, impatient and argumentative.

Qualities of Kapha

Physical: Strong build and excellent stamina.  Smooth and radiant skin.  Thick hair.  Either very tall or very short.

Emotional: Naturally calm and caring. Tend to prefer a routine in their lives. Loyal, patient, and supportive.

When Out of Balance:  Hoarding, Co-dependency, stubbornness, overweight, excessive sleeping, hay fever and depression.

 

So now what? 

There are many websites that you can check out for a more detailed information on this subject, but one that I highly recommend is Yoga International.  They have a quiz you can take to find out what your Doshas are.  I recommend that you take it twice:  The first time you take your quiz, your answers should be based on when you were a child, before puberty.  This is generally your true prakriti.  The second time you take the quiz, your answers should based on your life today.  Keep in mind though, this is not a fool-proof method as we’re not always the best judge of ourselves.  The best option to find out and pacify your doshic imbalances is to meet with a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner.  You can always google “ayurvedic practitioner near me” to find some in your area.  The one I always recommend to people is Rachael Harper who is based out of Mt. Holly, NC.  She is a Yoga Teacher, Studio Owner, Thai Yoga Therapist and Ayurvedic Practitioner.  She offers online and in-person appointments (BTW, I am not receiving compensation from her for my recommendation.  You will start to see more recommendations from me in the upcoming blogs).

Ayurveda is an excellent holistic healing system using the doshas to create physical, emotional, and energetic healing through diet, physical activity, and other natural modalities.

In this new year, I invite you to try different holistic methods and see what works best for your health goals!

Stay tuned for my blog next week about acupuncture!  😉

 

With Gratitude,
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10 Year Challenge

I’ve been seeing a lot of these “10 Year Challenge” posts on social media lately.  I’m sure you also have seen your fair share of photo posts of your friends (and maybe strangers) of what they looked like in 2009 and what they look like now.  Here’s mine:

Other than gaining about a dozen gray hairs, a few wrinkles and having less elasticity in my skin, I don’t feel like I look too different in these photos; but the person that I was in 2009 is definitely not the person that I am today.

In 2009, I was working full-time as an Analyst for a Fortune 500 Company, songwriting and recording at night, singing in a Christian band… and exhausted, insecure, and unhappy with a lot of things in my life.  I was dealing with feelings of inadequacy in all aspects of my life (feeling like I wasn’t good enough of an analyst, a musician, a wife, a mother, a friend… the list went on and on).  I had gone down from a size 12 to size 2, but I still felt like I was too big. I was obsessed with working out, losing weight, putting strict restrictions on food, etc.  Needless to say, 2009 was a very trying year for me.

2010 was a year of rebuilding myself.  With the support of my husband, I left my comfortable, well-paid job to focus on spending more time with my family.  I decided to do contract work so that I can take summers off to spend with my daughter instead of sending her to summer camps.  I made sure I only worked when her school was in session.  I also started taking Mixed Martial Arts class to work on my inner strength (the outer strength came with it naturally).  I also returned to practicing yoga more regularly.

2011-2012 were spent soul-searching.  I tried my hand at being a consultant for an MLM company (which I realized that I was pretty good at but was not passionate about).  I tried starting a resume-writing business and an event planning business.  I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to put my energy into professionally.  I experienced a lot of highs and lows those two years, but by the end of 2013, I had successfully gotten back into the fitness industry as a Zumba Instructor and Dance Fitness Instructor.  I also decided that I was going to become a Yoga Teacher.

In 2013, I completed my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training.  This changed everything for me.  I experienced a transformation from within that shaped the way I began to view life.  I became more calm and grounded.  Life stopped being about DOING but rather BEING.  My relationship with God began to become deeper and more intimate.  I heard God’s voice through His Word (The Bible) so much clearer.  I became more in tune with the Holy Spirit.  I felt more connected to Jesus.

2014 was a year of experiences.  I completed an aerial yoga instructor certification and opened Dallas’ first Aerial Yoga Studio with two business partners.  I learned how to run a studio, train the staff, do payroll… all the while homeschooling my daughter and spending time with my family.  I had to kiss my social life goodbye, but that year was a pivotal time for what was to come.

In 2015, I experienced transitions of many kinds.  The lease was up on our aerial yoga studio, and we had to relocate due to a change in landlord who wanted to use our space for his business.  We tried so hard to find a new location to reopen; but after looking and negotiating with various building owners/management for months, we decided to close our studio.  Around the same time, my husband was offered an opportunity to transfer to their Charlotte office.  After many prayers and a visit to North Carolina, we made the move to North Charlotte in October.

I started to become known as the “Aerial Yoga Master Trainer” (training future instructors) as I began to certify instructors in North Carolina (as well as Texas) in 2016.  By this time, I had “perfected” my aerial yoga teacher training manual as well as my teacher-training skills.  This was the first time since leaving the corporate world that I started to make a decent amount of money.  I loved traveling to Texas to certify instructors while making a lot of money in the process.  I realized that year that I had a knack for training instructors; so I started to pray for greater things for the upcoming year.

I launched my own 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in the beginning of 2017.  It was challenging to write the manual, teach while learning and researching, but I was eager to meet that challenge.  I learned a lot about myself and others while I ran my 200-Hr YTT and 30-Hr Aerial YTT in 2017 and 2018.  I felt that I found my calling professionally, and I was convinced that teaching, training and certifying future yoga/aerial yoga teachers was what I will be doing until it was time for me to retire (although I don’t think I would ever completely retire).

2019 became the year of accomplishments.  God had placed a desire in my heart to write a book about biblical meditation in 2017, but I pushed that desire aside for two years because I didn’t think I knew enough to actually write a book about it.  But after wrestling with whether or not I should author a book for a couple of months, I started writing it in the beginning of March which the publication goal date of October 1.  I actually ended up publishing my book in September all the while completing a certification training to become an IMX Pilates Instructor!

From 2009 to 2019, I was able to experience many challenges that sometimes tested my character deeply which helped me to mature and become stronger.  I also experienced some amazing things such as going on a 17-day roadtrip with my family (which was the beginning of many long vacations we have been blessed to take), choreographing and leading flashmob dances for high profile events, moving to a new state, gaining wonderful friends, mentoring teenagers, taking a short sabbatical, writing and publishing my first book, teaching yoga and meditation at retreats in beautiful places…  This decade has been awesome!

I may wake up with more aches and pains than I used to; but this has been the most favorite decade of my life because I was able to trade in some of my youth for invaluable experiences, much growth, wonderful memories, and a zeal for life that I have never felt before!  I am in a place in my life where I can decide to be still, listen to God, make some tea, and enjoy everything life has to offer!

As you reflect on your “10 Year Challenge,” I hope you’re able to recognize all the blessings that have come out of this decade.

 

With Gratitude,
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Learning to Breathe: Importance of Pranayama

Learning to Breathe: Importance of Pranayama

Today, I had a brief conversation with a friend who told me that he recently had an anxiety attack. He said it was triggered by a combination of a crowded room he was in, and not being able to slow down his mind (being that he’s a singer/dancer, his mind is creating a thousand ideas a minute on top of all the day-to-day thoughts he sorts through within that same 60 seconds… If you’re an artist, you understand). When I mentioned to him that I can teach him some breathing techniques that have helped my clients who struggle with anxiety, he jokingly said, “People pay to learn how to breathe? I can do that all by myself!” (He was joking, as he was very appreciative of my offer)

Not that I was offended by his joke in any way, but his statement got me thinking about how so many people believe that they’re breathing simply because they haven’t passed out from turning blue… but I stand by my belief that at least once a day, you must make your breathing intentional.

You may have heard the word, Pranayama in your last Yoga class. In Sanskrit, Prana is “fundamental life force” (aka breath), and Ayama is “control”… so Pranayama translates to “breath control”, more specifically, controlling the breath to intentionally create a specific energetic effect.

Throughout the day, most people take unintentional, shallow breaths through the chest. This shallow chest-breathing manually activates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is the “fight or flight” response to stress.  When this this activated, the shoulders start coming up towards the ears, digestion slows down, and the immune system weakens.  Our bodies are wired with the ability to activate the SNS to protect ourselves from dangerous situations and environments. But if SNS is active for too long, it becomes a chronic condition. Studies have shown that chronic stress is linked to many ailments such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain and impaired memory.

All this sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  There’s great news though! Just as I mentioned to my friend earlier, you can manually activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which is the “rest and digest” response toward optimal health.  Activating the PNS allows your entire body (including your vital organs) to relax, heal and restore.


To activate the PNS, try this simple Pranayama:

Sit comfortably, and begin to breathe through the nose, inhaling for 4 counts and exhaling for 4 counts.
After about 5 breaths, start increasing your exhalation by 1 count until you reach a 1:2 ratio (inhaling for 4 counts, exhaling for 8 counts):

Inhale 4 counts; Exhale 4 counts.
Inhale 4 counts; Exhale 5 counts.
Inhale 4 counts; Exhale 6 counts.
Inhale 4 counts; Exhale 7 counts.
Inhale 4 counts; Exhale 8 counts.

Close your eyes and continue the 1:2 breathing for several minutes until you begin to feel calm and relaxed.


The 1:2 breathing above is also excellent to practice right before going to bed… In fact, this is the pranayama that I practice every night.

There are many different types of pranayama for different effects, such as to energize, to help focus, to clear the head, to increase digestion and to increase focus.

And to answer my friend’s question: Yes, people do pay to learn how to breathe.
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Aerial Yoga: A 3-Dimensional Practice

I love Aerial Yoga.  I love the fluidity, grace, strength, and fun that Aerial Yoga brings. It’s such a cool way to practice Yoga, and when done properly, it can be a great practice to uplift, calm, or center (just like a great traditional Yoga practice). It can be as restoring or as physically-challenging as you want it to be (or both).

You can use the hammock as a propAerial Dancer to assist in certain poses (like in Natarajasana, or “King Dancer Pose”on the right) which allows certain poses to become more accessible for those working on increasing their stability and/or flexibility. While in a pose like Natarajasana with a hammock, you can pull the fabric forward and up simultaneously to increase the back bend.

You might be saying to yourself, “I can use a yoga strap to achieve the same pose.” It is true that you can use a yoga strap to achieve an Assisted Natarajasana, but the aerial hammock allows for more versatility in assisting with other poses like Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (“Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose”like this one on the left).  This assisted pose allows the body to build up the stability and flexibility gradually while learning proper alignment and gaining confidence that you can achieve the unassisted/unmodified version of the pose(s) in the future.

Another aspect of Aerial Yoga that I love is the inversions. When I teach traditional (Hatha and Hatha Flow) Yoga classes, the only “inversion” that I teach is Viparita Karani (also known as “Jack Knife” or “Legs up the Wall”) because it does not compress the cervical spine. Ever since I was involved in a car accident two years ago (I was rear-ended by a vehicle going about 40 mph), I no longer do my favorite inversion, Sirsasana (“Headstand”) because my I’ve lost a lot of the curvature in my neck (see my blog titled “Inversion Addiction“). Aerial Yoga gives me an alternative and therapeutic way to invert without compressing any part of the spine.

Here’s me doing one of my favorite inversions, Inverted Pigeon:
Inverted Pigeon

This pose, along with other aerial inversions, allows the spine to decompress, creating more space between the discs which becomes more and more important as we get older.  (On a side note, did you know that after about 30 years of age, your spinal discs begin to dry out because the water content in them begins to decrease?  Creating space in the discs allows them to “suck up” moisture like a sponge.)

To be completely honest, I haven’t done an aerial yoga practice in 12 days, and my spine definitely feels the difference! I’ll be planning some time with my hammock this week!

Yoga Teacher Training – Weekend #2

I felt good going into the second weekend of my In-Depth Yoga Studies & Teacher Training program with Shanon Buffington because I felt like I knew what to expect and because I had met a lot of the students during the first weekend and through Facebook (good ol’ Facebook!).

Friday night was a review of our homework and lecture on forward bends and related anatomy.  I was feeling confident about my homework because I was sure that I got all of the answers correct…  Well, I was wrong.  I had most of the answers right, but on a few, I was way off.  I found myself feeling “below average” for my inability to get all of the answers correct.  I was able to brush off that feeling, so I just dismissed it as a non-issue.

Saturday was a very hands-on lecture:  As we learned the anatomical aspect of each forward bend asanas, we got up and tried these poses.  One of the first asanas that Shanon used “models” for, was Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog).  She asked one of the students to demonstrate it, and the rest of the class observed her proper alignment (basically, the proper way to do the asana).  Shanon then asked me to demonstrate my Adho Mukha Svanasana.  I was more than happy to demonstrate it, since I have been practicing yoga for 16 years.  To my surprise (and a blow to my ego) however, she pointed out to the class how my “shoulders were crunching into my neck”.  She then provided me with verbal instructions on how to make adjustments to make the pose correct.  I was shocked at how much more challenging this “simple” pose was once I was doing it properly!  Although I was glad to know the proper way of doing this pose, I started questioning my yoga practice and abilities.  Again, I decided to push this out of my mind.

Saturday ended with an asana practice focusing on forward bends.  Being that Shanon and informed us of the effects of forward bends (it brings the energy down, which means if you’re super hyper/energetic/busy mind/etc, this will be a good practice for you; however, if you have a tendency to be down or struggle with depression, this is NOT a favorable practice), I made sure I listened to her cues for breathing techniques that we should do if we don’t want our energy coming down even more (I was feeling a bit emotional and down that day).  I didn’t feel any dramatic effects of the practice that evening.

We finished the weekend on Sunday with another practice after the lecture/demonstration session.  As I packed up to leave, I slipped out of the studio quickly and quietly because I was feeling a bit introverted.

The next few days after that, I continued to observe my mood, energy and behavior…

After a Vinyasa class on Tuesday evening (where we did some forward bending asanas and ended with an inversion), I awoke on Wednesday feeling DEPRESSED!  I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I had very little energy to stay awake for more than an hour at a time.  Everything overwhelmed me and I felt like I couldn’t face the world!

Wow…  Never underestimate the powerful effect of yoga!

(P.S. – After a couple of days, my energy and mood was back to normal.)