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  • Mara Olney





Want to hear a funny story?

When I wanted to become a yoga teacher I was terrified of any form of public speaking. And it doesn’t matter how “good” at yoga you are, if you can’t communicate, you can’t teach. The idea of getting in-front of a class and saying words and constructing sentences that could be understood well enough for people to move their bodies into beautiful shapes for an entire hour made me want to pass out. I was so scared I would mess up. I was scared of not knowing enough and that people would think I was terrible and had no business teaching. But I wanted it so badly! And I knew the only way I was going to be able to get over this debilitating fear would be to get my ass up there and teach.

And so I did. And I had to take Xanax to do it! Not even kidding. I was hyperventilating before I got up to teach the first time and I needed drugs to get through it. Not very yogic of me, right? But the drugs took the edge off enough to prevent me from having a full-blown panic attack and I survived my first teaching experience. Someone legitimately yelled out while I was teaching, “We can’t hear you!” and in that moment


I wanted to dig a hole and crawl into it.



BUT I got through it. Afterward, not only did my fear drastically decrease, but I felt fucking amazing. I did the thing that I was so scared to do and yes, I sucked MAJORLY the first time but I didn’t even care. My life completely changed that day. I think I maybe took Xanax to help me teach about 3-5 times after that until I didn’t need it anymore. Now I can talk all day in front of people on a stage, on camera, on podcasts or anywhere (WITHOUT DRUGS) and it is one of my most favorite things ever.

Since that day I have noticed, the things that scare me are usually closely related to the things that I really want. And I think that might be true for everyone. If there is something you really want, and in order to have it you have to do something that scares you, I think that you should do it. Run toward whatever that that scary thing is because something incredible is on the other side.

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  • Mara Olney

Yoga can be hugely beneficial to improving the quality of your sleep! When you think about yoga practice, you may picture a heated room with intense yoga flows and people doing handstands. But you don’t need to practice intense Vinyasa flows to reap the benefits of yoga. There are many styles of yoga, and most of these styles could be categorized as either a Solar or Lunar practice. Your Solar practices are the invigorating, fast paced flows that are meant to energize and invigorate. Your Lunar practices are restorative and calming. Yin Yoga is a Lunar style of yoga that you may be familiar with. Lunar yoga postures are typically held for extended periods of time while you focus on breathing deeply and relaxing the muscles in your body. In these calming poses, we are working on letting go, surrendering and relaxing the body. If you are struggling with falling asleep or getting quality sleep, try these calming postures before bed and wake up feeling rested and ready to take on the day!

1. Wide Leg Forward Fold: Forward folding postures create a calming effect throughout your central nervous system, so they are perfect at the end of the day. I love a good standing forward fold.

Cues:

  1. Step your feet wide apart

  2. Open your heels a little wider than your toes (slight pigeon toe)

  3. Bring your hands to your hips and hug your elbows back a bit and keep

  4. Stamp your feet firmly into the earth and fold your ward with a flat back

  5. Once you are folded take an arm variation of your choice. Hands can be placed on the earth between your feet. Option to grab hold of your ankles and guide yourself in deeper. Or take clasped hands behind the back.

  6. Lean your weight forward into your toes

  7. Tilt your tail bone up

  8. Let go of the weight of your head and relax your neck

  9. Stay for 5-10 full cycles of breath

  10. To exit the pose; bring your hands to your hips, engage your legs and come up with a flat back.


2. Garland Pose: Garland Pose is a yogi’s squat. In yoga we have energizing and uplifting postures and we have grounding postures to create balance in our practice. A yogi squat is a grounding posture, and is wonderful for releasing tight hips. If you have tightness in your hips, there is a good chance that you wake up with lower back pain. Try this posture before bed to help you ease your back pain and to feel grounded.

Cues:

1. Separate your feet about 2 1/2 feet apart, toes turned out

2. Squat down and press your knees out. This is a deep squat so come down as low as you are able

3. Bring your palms together for prayer hands, and plug your thumbs into the center of your chest

4. Lift through the crown of your head

5. Relax your legs and hips. Let go of any gripping or squeezing and soften into your squat

6. Stay for 5-10 breaths

7. To exit the pose: turn your toes straight forward and forward fold before slowing rising up to standing

*Your heels should be grounded. If you are unable to keep your heels grounded in your deep squat, lift up out of your squat enough plant your feet flat, and rest your forearms on your thighs with your palms together.


3. Head-to-Knee Pose: Another calming forward fold. This fold is great for stretching your hamstrings, and can help relieve sciatic pain.

Cues:

1. Begin seat with both legs extended forward.

2. Bend your left knee out and rest the sole of you left foot against your right inner thigh

3. Breath in and reach your arms over head, exhale and fold forward and deeply as your body allows without forcing the stretch.

4. You can place your hands on either side of your extended leg, or if flexibility allows, draw yourself in deeper by grabbing hold of your ankle or foot.

5. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and lengthen the back of your neck

6. Stay for 5-10 breaths and then repeat on the second side


4. Reclined Bound Angle Pose: This pose is deeply relaxing and beneficial to improving your sleep. This pose will improve your circulation, help relieve stress, and also provides a wonderful inner thigh stretch.

Cues:

1. Lie on your back with the soles of your feet planted and your knees bent

2. Allow your knees to open like a book and bring the soles of your feet together to a touch

3. If this is too uncomfortable because you inner thighs feel too tight, place pillows or yoga blocks under your thighs

4. Close your eyes

5. Place your hands on your belly and connect to your breath. Feel the rise and fall of your belly with each breath in and each breath out.

6. Stay for at least least 10 breaths. Longer if you like.


5. Waterfall Pose: This is a restorative inversion that will lower your heart rate, and bring you into a relaxed state of being almost instantly. This posture is also wonderful if you experience swollen feet or ankles after a long day and will help relieve swelling in your lower extremities. And the best part is, this pose is so simple!

Cues:

1. Lie on your back

2. Arms can be over head clasping opposite elbows, or cactus your arms, or extend them out wide with open palms

3. Send your legs straight up to the sky

4. Close your eyes and imagine your blood flowing energetically inside of your body like a waterfall beginning at your feet. Visualize this waterfall hydrating and nourishing your vital organs, see it swirling around your heartspace and your brain

5. Stay for at least 10 breaths



6. Happy Baby: Our final before bed pose is Happy Baby. I love this posture at the end of a yoga class or the end of a long day. It is the perfect finale pose before rest and will leave you ready to soak in all the benefits your yoga practice while you sleep.

Cues:

1. Lie on your back

2. Bend your knees and separate your knees wider that your torso with the soles of your feet facing the sky

3. Press your arms against the inside of your calves reach up and grab the outside of your feet with your hands

4. Align your ankles over your knees

5. Rest your head, back of neck and shoulders on the earth and draw your shoulders away from your ears

6. Draw your tailbone down

7. Stay for 5-10 breaths

Sleep well, yogis!


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  • Mara Olney

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

What are the benefits of folding poses in yoga?

There are so many incredible physical benefits to forward folding yoga postures, such as more hamstring flexibility, forward folds also improve your spinal and hip mobility. Forward folds can also help relieve back and neck pain. And when you are looking for a calming and grounding experience in your yoga practice, forward folds are where you want to dedicate more time. Just like how heart-opening poses energize your nervous system, forward folding postures create a calming effect throughout your central nervous system.

How does folding in yoga help to de-stress/calm your mind?

The spinal cord is a complex bundle of nerves that is responsible for movement and sensation in your entire body. Your spinal cord carries signals between your brain and the rest of your body. During a forward fold your body is surrendering, and releasing, while creating space in-between each of your vertebra. The space you are creating gives way for increased circulation to the beautiful bundle of nerves that is your spinal cord. When you fold your spine and body forward you are increasing blood flow to your spinal cord. Your nourished and happy spine then sends a calming signal to your brain, which in turn creates a soothing effect throughout your entire body. Forward folds are a quick way to move out of fight and flight and into rest and digest. This is why we yoga teachers often cue forward folds at the end of class before savasana.

My favorite forward folds:

Standing Wide-Leg Forward Fold or in Sanskrit “Prasarita Padottanasana”

This is my absolute favorite forward fold because it is dynamic with all the arm variation opportunities, and it is also an easy pose to transition into and out of in so many different ways. I love how this fold creates a stretch deep stretch in the hamstrings, an opening sensation in the pelvis and a beautiful release throughout the entire back back body. And because of the wide straddle stance, this pose also feels stable and grounded which makes it easy to relax and focus in on your breath.

Cues:

  1. Step your feet wide apart

  2. Open your heels a little wider than your toes (slight pigeon toe)

  3. Bring your hands to your hips and hug your elbows back a bit and keep

  4. Stamp your feet firmly into the earth and fold your ward with a flat back

  5. Once you are folded take an arm variation of your choice. Hands can be placed on the earth between your feet. Option to grab hold of your ankles and guide yourself in deeper. Or take clasped hands behind the back.

  6. Lean your weight forward into your toes

  7. Tilt your tail bone up

  8. Let go of the weight of your head and relax your neck

  9. Stay for 5-10 full cycles of breath

  10. To exit the pose; bring your hands to your hips, engage your legs and come up wit ha flat back.

Childs Pose or “Balasana”

A fan favorite, for sure is child’s pose. I love cueing this pose in-between intense Vinyasa flows for a moment of re-grounding. This posture instantly calms the body and mind.

Cues:

  1. From all fours, bring your knees wide and your big toes together to a touch and sink your hips back into your heels.

  2. Drape your arms forward

  3. Rest your forehead on the earth

  4. Take a gentle tuck of your chin to lengthen the back of your neck

  5. Close down your eyes

  6. Bring your tongue to the lower pallet and feel your breath swirling around the back of your throat

  7. With every exhale, feel your hips sinking deeper into your heels and your heart resting heavier toward the earth.

  8. Shift your focus to the space between your brow where your forehead meets the mat. Breathe into that space. Breathe into your third eye.

  9. For a more calming experience, repeat this mantra, “I am grounded. I am grounded.”

  10. To exit the pose, breath in a return to all fours.

Seated Forward Fold or “Paschimottanasana”

This forward fold is known as one of the top four most important yoga postures of them all. This posture will lengthen your hamstrings, release your lower back, and bring you into a mindful awareness of the sensations in your body and the quality of your breath.

Cues:

  1. Begin seated, extend your legs forward, engage your legs, push through your heels and draw your toes back toward you

  2. Tilt your pelvis forward and untuck your tail-bone

  3. Sit “core-tall.” Think about lifting your ribs off your hips

  4. Inhale and reach your arms alongside your ears

  5. On your exhale, fold into yourself

  6. For a more passive fold, place your hands on either side of your legs and soften your legs

  7. For an active experience, grab hold of your calves, ankles or feet if it’s available, and draw yourself in deeper

  8. Tuck your chin slightly and lengthen the back of your neck

  9. Take 5-10 deep breaths and allow your body to become heavy on your exhalations

  10. To exit, re-engage your arms alongside your ears and lift your torso off your legs on an inhalation

*If your hamstrings feel super tight, roll up a towel and place in under your knees

Whether you practice yoga regularly or not, add forward folds to your daily life to de-stress, and calm your mind. Pay attention to your natural behavior when you fold your body forward, whether standing or seated. There is a good chance that you automatically shut down your eyes, slow your breath, and you might even let out a sigh of relief. That’s because forward folds not only feel wonderful, but they actually are wonderful! After your forward folds, take a moment to observe how you are feeling. How has your mood shift? Do you feel more relaxed?


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