Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yoga For Insomnia

Most of us are so busy that we don't even think about sleep until we're laying in bed waiting for it to come. We rush through our days, taking care of the people around us, fulfilling the expectations of our jobs and making to-do lists so our waking hours are fully maximized. Maybe we daydream about an afternoon nap, or let our minds wander to the moment when our heads will hit that soft pillow - but we quickly snap out of it and get back to work!

Sadly, when the time for sleep actually arrives, we're too wound up to take advantage of it. Tossing and turning, thinking of what needs to get done tomorrow, revisiting today's reel of thoughts - it's exhausting, yet sleep just isn't coming naturally. It's a cycle of sleep deprivation, and for many people it's a reality.

This is of course, not healthy. A Reader's Digest article on the topic reports that "sleep is crucial to maintaining your health. Without it, you increase your susceptibility to an astonishing array of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and depression." In addition, sleep deprivation severely affects immune system functioning. "The immune system works best when you're asleep," said Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia "That's when your natural killer cells are generated." These natural killer cells are what protect us from viruses and bacteria; a key reason to get enough sleep in the midst of the current H1N1 frenzy!

Thankfully, yoga can help the sleep-deprived and stressed (i.e. most people!). A regular yoga practice, like any exercise, is a wonderful way to begin the process of incorporating healthy sleep habits into your life. Taking a yoga class two or more times per week, and practicing a few asanas before bed can make an incredible difference to the length and quality of your sleep.

To help you get ready for bed tonight, Bobby and I have put together a short series of calming, restorative postures. These asanas are designed to slow the body and brain, helping you ease into a restful state of mind. The props we've used in the photos can easily be substituted for things you have at home such as pillows and blankets.

Start in any comfortable sitting position. Use a pillow or blankets to elevate your hips. Draw your focus onto the breath, slowly beginning to extend both the inhalation and the exhalation until you feel your lungs expand fully with each deep breath. Choose a mantra to focus on - to calm the mind I like to repeat the sound Om or the word Shanti, which means peace. Each time you exhale, hear the mantra in your mind, letting the sound and meaning relax your mind until all other thoughts fall away.

Once you feel grounded and calm, slowly move onto the hands and knees. Remove your sitting props. Place your hands about one palm distance ahead of your shoulders and the knees directly below the hips. Tuck your toes and take a deep breath in. As you exhale lift your hips toward the sky into adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog. Make the movement slow and controlled. Continue to focus on your breath and your mantra. Using a block underneath the head will allow you to relax more deeply and feel fully supported.

Next, come into a well-supported forward fold, paschimottanasana. Seated forward folds calm the brain and ease anxiety. Rather than striving to be deep into the posture, stretching the hamstrings, allow yourself to be completely at ease here. Support your upper body, arms and head with pillows and blankets. Rest yourself at a height where you feel absolutely no strain. Remember, the purpose of this practice is to become sleepy - not to lengthen your hamstrings!

Slowly remove the props, draw your legs to the side and bring yourself to hands and knees. With a deep exhalation sink your hips towards your heels. Rest the belly, chest and head on a firm support, easing into a comfortable balasana, child's pose. Breathe into the hips, feeling them become more loose with each exhalation.

With as little movement as possible, reposition your firm supporting pillow or bolster next to a wall. Rest your hips on top as you lengthen your legs up the wall. Be sure to have the hips and heart slightly elevated in order to get all the benefits of this half inversion. Arms can rest by your sides, palms up or raised over the head, clasping the elbows. You can lay a blanket over the chest and arms to keep heat in. Let your eyes close and notice the calming effect this posture has on body and mind. This variation of viparita karani offers relief for tired legs and mild backache. It also eases digestive problems, the symptoms of menopause and uncomfortable symptoms during the menstrual cycle.

When viparita karani feels complete (approximately 2 - 5 minutes) gently roll to the side and prepare for your final sleep-inducing posture, supta baddha konasana, reclined bound angle pose. This asana requires some time to set-up properly but is well worth the effort (this is my absolute favorite restorative asana!).

To set up: sit in front of the cushion, bolster or firm pillow. Press your sacrum into the edge. Bring the soles of your feet together, drawing the heels as close to your groin as is comfortable. Wrap the blanket over the feet and pull the ends underneath your thighs. Bring both hands to the bolster behind you and gently lengthen the spine along it. You may need additional support underneath the head of you have a long torso (like I do - notice in the photo, I'm also using two foam blocks to support my head. Another pillow or some blankets will also do the trick). If you have tight hips you may also want to use support underneath the knees to bolster the work of the rolled blanket. Before settling in completely massage your temples and actively relax your jaw by removing the tongue from the roof of the mouth and letting the lips part.

Enjoy this pose for as long as you like, noticing your heart and hips gently opening, releasing tension and preparing you for sleep. Afterwards, take savasana, corpse pose for a few minutes or simply climb into bed.

This series can be practiced in as little as 10 minutes. If you have more time to linger, even better. Over time you will notice how your body reacts to these asanas - revise the sequence accordingly; spending more time on one, less on another or modify in any way that brings you greater relaxation.

Sweet dreams,

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sarvangasana - Shoulderstand pose

Over time, we'd like to build a big, informative yoga asana library here on the blog. Using photos and description to explain the poses, we'll offer as much insight as possible so you can begin incorporating some of the poses into your home practice...or just read them and be intrigued! This is the first post of that nature. Thanks to Bobby for this wonderful description and precise photos. Enjoy!

Shoulderstand, Sarvangasana.

Lie on your back. Align the head and spine. Relax the entire body and mind.

Contract your stomach muscles and support your lower back by placing the hands palm down on the mat and just below the buttocks. Slowly raise both legs to a 90 degree angle.

Press the arms and hands down and slowly roll the buttocks and the spine off the floor.

Bring the hands around to support the back, keeping the elbows as close together as possible (do this by rolling the shoulders under) and getting as much of the trunk in an upright position as is comfortable. Gently push the chest forward so that it eventually pushes firmly against the chin. Keep your weight in the shoulders rather than letting it fall into the neck - there will be pressure on the neck, but there should be a comfortable balance in neck and shoulders. In the final position the legs are together and the legs and trunk are in a straight line perpendicular to the floor.

Close the eyes, relax the body, and breathe deeply and slowly. Stay in the final position as long as it is comfortable, working up to 3 minutes (or longer).

When coming out of the position slowly move your hands down your back towards the buttocks, returning to the floor one vertebrae at a time until legs return to initial vertical position. Now using stomach muscles slowly return legs to the floor to a slow count of 20.

Health Benefits:

This inverted posture balances the circulatory, digestive, reproductive, nervous systems. The Endocrine system functioning is also optimized as a result of thyroid stimulation when the chin presses against the chest. Other benefits include:

-Calms the mind, relieves stress, fear and some headaches. Also works to clear mental imbalances.

-Enhances Immune system functioning due to stimulation of thymus gland.

-Promotes bone health and regeneration due to stimulation of parathyroid glands.

-Improves air exchange, relieves stress and massages abdominal organs due to inducement of abdominal breathing.

-Tone legs, abdomen and reproductive organs and drains stagnant blood and fluid, increasing circulation to these areas.

-Tones nerves passing through the neck to the brain and increases ear, eye, nose and throat health.

Yoga Therapy Uses:

Sarvangasana is used in yoga therapy to treat asthma, diabetes, colitis, thyroid disorders, menopause and menstrual disorders. This posture is also a means of preventing colds and Flu.


This asana should not be performed by people suffering from enlarged thyroid, liver or spleen, cervical spondylitis, slipped disc, high blood pressure, other heart ailments, weak blood vessels in the eyes. It is also recommended that it not be practiced during menstruation.

Sequence suggestions:

Sarvangasana is ideally practiced before halasana (plough pose). Afterwards, practice either ushtrasana (camel pose) or matsyasana (fish pose) as a counterpose.



Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jala Neti

Tis the season of cold & flu! From the basic sniffles to the Big One (a little thing called H1N1) - everyone seems to be prepping their bodies and minds for an onslaught of sickness.

Enter the neti pot. Although not just for preventing and easing symptoms of cold and flu - this ancient yoga practice can soothe your sinuses all year long - the neti pot is definitely useful during this precarious season. We've had lots of people asking about them at the studio so I thought I'd provide a little info here.

Jala neti is one form of shat karma: yoga practices for body purification. These practices are ways of keeping the body clean and healthy so that we can feel comfortable when we practice asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. In Western science, jala neti is becoming well-known and medical doctors frequently recommend the practice for people with sinus irritations.

For anyone new to jala neti, the practice can be a little daunting. However, it doesn't take long to feel the positive effects and people are often surprised by how easy it really is (I know I was when I started!). To help you get started, the Himalayan Institute offers this how-to video.

From personal experience, I'd say the hardest thing is getting used to breathing while you pour the water through the sinuses. As long as you relax and breathe through your mouth you'll be fine!

You can find neti pots at a few locations in St. John's. We carry the same ceramic pots you see in the above video from the Himalayan Institute. Natural health stores and even basic drug stores often carry them as well.

So before you concede to the winter sniffles and sinus stuffiness, try a neti pot. Once you get used to it, your sinuses can be cleansed as quickly as your teeth each morning!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Monthly Newsletter

Bobby just created the most wonderful monthly newsletter and so of course, I had to share! Click above to view.

Namaste and happy reading.

Oh and email me if you'd like to be added to the email list:

Saturday, October 10, 2009


This weekend many of us will be crowded around dinner tables, enjoying time with friends and family and of course indulging in lots of delicious food. In the spirit of giving thanks I thought I'd share a list of things I'm thankful for at this moment in time. It's not nearly exhaustive, just a few things that are stuck in my mind right now.

I am thankful for:

- amazing family and friends who have given so much time and energy to our Studio
- the luxury of being invited to (and rsvp-ing to) three Thanksgiving dinners!
- the ability to spend my days doing, discussing, promoting and living yoga
- the fresh clean air in my home city
- my body, which is understandably cranky right now, but still holding up to the new regime of yoga all day, every day
- a beautiful community of people that has come together at our little yoga space, sharing energy and spirit

I'm sure over the next two days I'll think of many more things to be thankful for. Of course, that's the beauty of being appreciative and giving thanks - it's something we can do daily, cultivating gratitude all year long.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Flexibility for Heart Health

A recent study has linked flexible bodies with flexible arteries. Wondering why you may want flexible arteries? Well, arteries that are elastic help to moderate blood pressure whereas stiff arteries just get clogged up! One more great reason to practice yoga (we knew it was good for the heart, but I love that we can add 'artery health' to the long list of yoga benefits)!

The hilarious yogis at Yoga Dork blogged about this heart health finding earlier today. You can read their witty and informative take on the study here. My favorite line? "Yoga, just like Drano®!" But more environmentally friendly of course ;)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kids Yoga

Today we put together a plan for our first session of Kids Yoga classes. Soon we'll have lots of little yogis and yoginis jumping, playing and of course, acting like animals in aptly named yoga asanas. We're so excited about the level of energy this class will bring into the studio!

Curious to know more about the fun combination of kids and yoga, I did a quick online search for interesting info and came across a good article from Yoga Journal.

The author and well-known kids yoga instructor, Marsha Wenig writes:

"The physical movements introduce kids to yoga's true meaning: union, expression, and honor for oneself and one's part in the delicate web of life".

And isn't this true for all of us? Kids or adults, we use physical yoga asanas (poses) to move towards a better understanding of our place in the world.

More to follow on this as we get the classes started. Can't wait to report on all the little cobras, dogs and lions we have running around the studio!

For details on this class contact us:


Friday, October 2, 2009

Sun Salutations

Since adding two early morning classes to the schedule this week (7:15am), I've been thinking a lot about Sun Salutations. Known as Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, this series of postures is a beautiful way to start your day; invoking the sun and greeting the morning. Physically, it also makes sense to practice Surya Namaskar in the morning. This series wakes up the whole body, lengthening and strengthening major muscle groups plus energizing the respiratory and circulatory systems.

Different schools of yoga teach different Sun Salutation series', but in general there are about 8 key poses, or asanas. Yoga Journal provides a nice step-by-step outline of a Sun Salutation, which you can find at this link. Here in the studio, we teach steps 5 & 6 in slightly different ways (raising the arms in lunge before plank, and moving to cobra pose instead of upward facing dog) but this is still a nice outline for anyone wishing to incorporate Sun Salutations into their home practice.

Another nice example is this video by Shiva Rae. Love that sunrise in the background!

If you're interested in the history and tradition of Surya Namaskar, Richard Rosen offers a good description here. He brings attention to the ancient roots of Sun Salutation (it's 2500 years old!) and it's intention as a means to honor the sun as the "physical and spiritual heart of our world...".

Next time you're up early try taking a few minutes to practice Sun Salutation before work or school. Find a deep connection to your breath as you experiment in the series, and enjoy the multitude of benefits of practicing Surya Namaskar before starting your day.

Om Shanti,

Welcome to Our Shiny New Blog

Welcome to Shakti Yoga Studio's brand new blog, yogis and yoginis!

We're jumping into the blogosphere in hopes of sharing more information with you than is possible during classes at the studio. We'll use this platform to discuss the great big topic of yoga and hopefully build a community of readers who can share their ideas, knowledge and experience as well.

The yoga community in St. John's, NL (where we're based) is growing - rapidly. It seems that we're on the cusp of a tremendous surge in yoga's popularity here in the city. As the first full time and full service yoga studio that has emerged from the small community of excellent yogis that teach and practice here, Shakti Yoga Studio is excited to take part in supporting people as they start (or continue) their journey in yoga.

This blog will primarily be written by me, Meaghan Hutchings, co-director here at the studio. Of course there may be special guest appearances by my business partner Bobbey Bessey or other members of our expanding studio community. We'd love to hear from you - so if you're reading, leave a comment or send us a message to let us know you're out there! We're also open to ideas for topics you'd like to see covered here, questions you'd like to put out to the community, reading lists you'd like to share, other blogs you like, and just about anything else!

Om Shanti,
Meaghan Hutchings

Studio Director,
Shakti Yoga Studio