Chaturanga Alignment: 3 Necessary Actions for the Shoulders

Chaturanga: The 3 Muscle Actions for Strength and Lightness

 

Chaturanga is one of the most repeated poses in the modern yoga practice, and it happens to be one of the most challenging on the shoulders. It is highly beneficial to take a look at the mechanics of the posture. I have been studying this posture for over a decade, and I have to say chaturanga seems to be one of the most mysterious postures out there. So many teachers are offering "correct alignment" and throwing around "should's" and "Shouldn't's" without taking a deep look at what is really happening.

Part of why there are so many contrasting opinions is the simple mis understanding that bones and muscles are not the same - or better put, alignment and muscle engagement don't necessarily go hand in hand. When we say that the elbows are bent in chaturanga we are referring specifically to the structure or alignment of the pose, NOT the action of the muscles. If we are to pause in chaturanga and hold it as a posture, what are the muscles that stop the elbows from bending? You may have figured it out - the triceps. What do the triceps do? they straighten the elbows. So we can say pretty confidently that in chaturanga the elbows are bent, but we are trying to straighten them in order to stop or slow down movement. The same is true in the shoulder blades but because the shoulder blades aren't as straight forward as bend and straighten most people have a cloudy understanding of what is happening there.

The Shoulder Blades

What is happening at the shoulder blades in chaturanga? as for the structure I would argue that they are retracted (closer together) and most likely in what is called upward tilt (Video Time Mark - 3:30) - shoulder blades climb up and over the top of the rib cage. These joint relationships are quite normal when you do a "seated row" with your elbows close in. If the hands are wider in chaturanga the shoulder blades are less likely to be in upward tilt and more likely to just be retracted. If you don't follow this don't worry, just know that the shoulder blades tend to move in specific ways when the arms move, and the video above will give you the visual of these actions.

Lets keep it simple, the shoulder blades are retracted when in the bent elbow position. in order to slow down the movement you would have to try to protract your shoulder blades - move them a part - as if you were trying to push back up to plank pose. In the video above there is a great visual of my shoulder blades moving from retraction to protraction at the 4 minute marker. Just like the elbow joint, we can look at the shoulder blades and say the structural alignment is retraction, but the muscle action is the opposite - we are trying to protract the shoulder blades - this is what slows down or stops the movement at the scapula.

In the video I use a term that I created for my Mentorship Mastery students, and have now integrated into my new yoga system called Chromatic Yoga. This term is called a Balancing Action - an engagement of the muscular system that apposes the structural alignment. When we engage the triceps while the elbow is bent, this is a "Balancing Action".

The primary muscles that create protraction are the Seratus Anterior. If the shoulder blades are retracted and we activate these muscles then again this would be called a Balancing Action.

3 Essential Muscle Actions at The Shoulders

  1. External Rotation of the Humerus - This action will stabilize the Glenohumeral Joint A.K.A  your shoulder. I go over this action in depth in this video but just to add to your understanding of why this is important, when you allow your arms to internally rotate in chaturanga, the elbows will wing out to the sides. When the elbows do this you will be putting more pressure in the outer wrists which could cause pain and discomfort. In addition when your elbows fall outward your shoulder blades will tend toward retraction and elevation causing unwanted movement and bringing the body down to the ground rapidly. One thing I want to mention is that if you take your hands wider your elbows will also go wider, simply track the elbow directly over the center of your wrist regardless of the width of your hands. The wider your hands go the more you will recruit your pectoral muscles to help with stability.
  2. Depression of the Scapula - this will provide more stability/less movement at the scapula and help to avoid over activation of the pectoral minor which tends to be cranky in many yogis. in addition it will help prevent the collision between the clavicle and the humerus that can happen when too much upward tilt occurs.
  3. Protraction of the Scapula - this is the number one action that will slow down the decent or allow for a halt in chaturanga. Again I will stress that when I mean here is that you are engaging the muscles of protraction (serious anterior) to try to create the action, even though the shoulder blades are retracted.

It is one thing to try these actions out, and another to work on them over time, and build strength accordingly. Have patience with yourself when working on new things, with repetition and practice you will develop the body awareness,  and you will build the appropriate strength.

The next video set to be released in January and it will provide you with specific exercises to help you get these actions into your body, so stay tuned.

If you are wanting to to the next step in personal development as a yogi and/or yoga instructor, the Mentorship Mastery Program is the perfect way to strengthen your knowledge, build your confidence and move forward along your path. The mentorship is like life coaching but with the added element of education for yogis and teachers. Depending on your desires we will cover anything from anatomy, to sequencing, injury recovery, emotional freedom, to financial grounding and ease. Set up a consultation with me personally by emailing Matt@TheYogiMatt.com. We will jump on a call and see if taking a journey together will support your growth and overall potential.

 

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Chaturanga Alignment: 3 Necessary Actions for the Shoulders

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The Key To ALL Arm Balances

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Should I Engage My Butt in a Backbend?

In the yoga world, there are so many opinions on alignment, and what muscles "should" or "should not" be engaged. One of the common questions I get is "Should I engage my buttocks in Wheel pose or bridge pose?" I decided it's time to address this question with a video response to help clarify the anatomy behind the posture. 

In the video, I go over the anatomy of Full Wheel aka Upward Facing Bow or Urdva Danurasana. The action at the hip joint in this pose is called extension - this is when your thigh bones go back behind your pelvis - think of the back leg in a crescent lunge pose.   The muscles that create extension at the hip are the Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings and Adductor Magnus. The Gluteus Maximus is the big buttock muscle that most of us see as "The Butt".  To easily answer the question if one should engage their buttocks or not when going into Urdva Danurasana, I would say yes of course. To be more accurate, If you are trying to go into extension at the hip it is incredibly useful to employ the muscles that create that action. 

"Wait, why have people told me to relax my butt??"  The origin of this cue was based on the fact that so many people play our their knees which is a result of external rotation at the hip. One of the muscles that create external rotation at the hip is the Gluteus Maximus...yes it does both actions. So by trying to relax that muscle, you may not externally rotate as much. The issue with that is the over external rotation is mostly a problem if you are using the deep external rotators of the buttocks - this could throw off the sacrum and cause the pinch in your upper pelvis, hip, or low back. 

My personal suggestion is simply to turn on your internal rotators which are you outer gluteus muscles (gluteus medius and minimus), TFL, and Adductors (inner thigh muscles). Don't Worry, You don't need to know these muscles in order to internally rotate your thighs. All you need to do is focus on pressing down through your inner heels and big toe mound. By focusing on pressing into your inner feet you will undoubtedly turn on your internal rotators without compromising the extension at the hip that is gained from the Gluteus Maximus engagement. 

With my mentorship students, I break down the difference between what I call Balancing Action and Fundamental Action. Knowing the difference makes it so much easier to know what is appropriate for yourself in any given posture. A Fundamental Action is any action that is required for the posture to exist. In the case of Urdva Danurasana, the Fundamental Action at the hips is Extension. Without the action of extension, your hips wouldn't leave the ground. A balancing action is any action that is the opposite of the fundamental action, or the opposite of what the tendency is when creating the fundamental action. In this case, when creating the fundamental action of extension at the hips, the tendency will be to let the knees splay out to the sides (external rotation at the hips). A balancing action, in this case, is Internal Rotation at the hips which would keep the knees straight forward. Just to clarify, the direction of your knees isn't the direct concern, it's more about what is happening in the hips and sacrum that is of importance. 

Can you do Urdva Danurasana with externally rotated legs? Yes of course! Will it be good for you? that's a great question, and dependant upon so many factors in your body. My suggestion is until you have a deep relationship with your body and know what is a good sensation and what is not good, simply stick to the balancing action of internal rotation at the thighs by pressing the inner heels down. 

I recognize this conversation is quite technical. If this was challenging to follow, simply watch the video to gain the visual aid as well. Enjoy strengthening and engaging your buttocks! If you are interested in learning more about techniques and Anatomy, lets set up a call to see if the Mentorship Mastery Program is right for you. Shoot me an email Matt@TheYogiMatt.com or use the contact form from the main menu. Enjoy your practice!

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3 Steps to Avoid Shoulder Impingement in Downward Dog

After releasing my last blog about "The Yoga Cue That Could Be Destroying Your Shoulders" I received multiple messages and emails requesting and instructional for downward dog. While I go over this in depth and detail in my video series Handstand Strength Training, I decided I would create and free abbreviated breakdown of the 3 most important steps. 

As described in this video and in my last blog, we run the risk of Shoulder Impingement when taking the arms up overhead while dropping our shoulders down our back. In my experience, I have noticed that "Relaxing" in downward dog is quite often the reason for most shoulder pain and issues, and can easily be rectified with the three cue's I provide in the video above:

  1. Externally Rotate the Humerus
  2. Pronate The Forearms (not directly related to the shoulder but balances out step 1)
  3. Elevate the Scapula

Elevation of the scapula happens when you lift your shoulder blades upward, which happens when you "shrug" your shoulders, or when you excitedly reach your arms up to the sky. Naturally, we would let our shoulders lift when our arms go up but since many instructors cue the opposite its easy develop a pattern that does not serve the health of our shoulders. My suggestion is to strengthen the muscle's up Scapula Elevation (Upper Trapezius, and Seratus Anterior being the primary ones) in order to develop the pattern that can help to avoid shoulder impingement. 

Many people cringe when I suggest strengthening the muscles that lift the shoulders up, saying something like "but my shoulders are stuck up by my ears, aren't I supposed to relax them down." The Short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that muscles hold tension when they are weak. Your shoulders are likely up by your ears because of stress, and where you place your head when staring at your phone or computer screen, however pulling them down will not relax the trapezius. More likely it will cause more stress and the muscle will become more aggravated. Now I won't deny that if you are relaxing emotionally while you do this because you believe it will work then it will still have some positive effect but that's mostly due to a relaxation of the nervous system. Muscles relax when they are shortened, or engaged because that is what they are designed to do. Stretching a muscle can help release tension at times but more often than not I find active engagement or passive shorting of a muscle is far more effective. When a muscle is healthy and strong it is more likely to be able to relax.

Follow the three easy steps to avoid shoulder impingement and you will grow stronger in your trapezius muscles and rotator cuff. If you are looking for more ways to build strength in your shoulder girdle, and want to develop more body awareness check out the Handstand Strength Training video series 

If you have more requests or questions please feel free to shoot me a message, just click the contact tab above. 

 

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The Yoga Cue That Could Be Destroying Your Shoulders

There probably isn't a single yoga teacher out there, including myself who hasn't used the verbal cue “relax your shoulders away from the ears”. This cue can be totally innocent and helpful to point out unconscious
patterns related to stress or posture, but it can also lead to some serious shoulder injuries when the arms are  over head. Shoulder Impingement is common amongst dedicated yogis, and many people have blamed Chaturanga as

the culprit but its become more and more obvious that downward dog is where most students are creating the issue. To be clear, Downward Dog is not the issue, its the way in which many students do the pose that causes shoulder impingement.

When we take one arm up over head eventually the shoulder blade and collar bone have to lift and rotate in order to maintain space in the joint. If you pull your shoulders down while your arms go up you are not allowing the necessary rotation that allows you to maintain space. As a result you will cause a pinching, or friction in the joint space where muscles, tendons and the subacromian bursa run through. If you continue to force this action repeatedly you can expect pain or injury.

To be honest you are probably fine in standing poses simply because you’re not likely to force your arm up high enough to create the compression or impingement. Most people unconsciously bend their elbows when they reach up with their arms in poses like tree pose or warrior one - this gives the illusion or feeling that the arms are reaching up vertically while still keeping their shoulders soft.

On the other hand in poses like Downward dog the shape itself in combination with its relationship to gravity make it real challenging to maintain space in the joint unless you understand how to elevate your shoulder blades toward your ears, and protract them away from each other. These two actions in combination with external rotation of the upper arm bone (triceps/arm pits turn toward face) will create upward rotation and help to maintain space in the joint. In contrast to the cue relax your shoulders many yoga teachers give an amazing hands on adjustment that indirectly creates more space in the shoulders. If you have had your hips pushed up and back or thighs pulled back then you know the feeling, but you probably were sensationally distracted by the stretch in your hamstrings. What actually moves your hips up and back if you don't have the assistance of your teacher is elevation of your scapula - think shrug your shoulders.

When you elevate and upwardly rotate your shoulder blades you will not only bypass impingement but you will increase your range of motion. This is also the key to getting out of the banana back handstand or forearm stand. With these actions you give yourself the opportunity to have enough range of motion or “flexibility” that allows for the arms and rib cage to be at the same angle.This is definitely easier said than done, when you are upside down and have the entire weight of your body you have to be strong enough to elevate your scapula. Picture this, your standing on your feet, you reach your arms up over head and then you shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Then your entire bodyweight is placed on your hands. Your shoulders would want fall down. This is basically what it feels like to do a handstand at first. With the right exercises you will get stronger. If you are looking for exercises to help build strength and awareness in your shoulders I highly recommend The Handstand Strength Training video, which provides amazing exercises to build strength specific to poses with arms over head.

To sum it up, try allowing your shoulders to rise up whenever you lift your arms over head. Watch the video above to gain a clearer understanding of these action and feel free to email matt@theyogimatt.com with any questions.

If you are a teacher and looking to be empowered by anatomy instead of paralyzed by it you will enjoy the Mentorship Mastery Program to develop a strong understanding of anatomy and how to apply it to the yoga practice!

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Detox Flow and Letting Go

Letting go of something that is eating at your heart or soul can seem nearly impossible. Part of the reason for this is that your mind amplifies whatever you focus on. Even though you are asking it to let go of "this" it mostly hears the "this" and not the let go. We all know this because one negative thought triggers another and another until we don't feel good, and then those feelings trigger more thoughts and more feelings and so on. Lucky for us the mind is like a magnet and it doesn't discriminate, it just finds more of whatever you choose to focus on. To let go of something requires that you redirect your energy toward what you are wanting more of. If you are trying to let go of a relationship, focus your mind on the type of relationship you want to have, and the type of person you want to be with, then start looking for those qualities in everyone around you. Soon you will notice that you are surrounded by people who possess all the amazing qualities that you value. You will also see that many people you surround yourself with are not supporting you in a way that feels good, and so you can actively decide to hang out with the people that keep you feeling good and stop hanging out with the ones that don't. Soon you will be hanging around people who you love and admire and one of them will be the person you were searching for. This is just one example.

Here is an example from my own life. I was a musician, in a touring band looking for change. I was depleted, burnt out, and stressed. For a while I focused on trying to let go of these energies but found that I only became more stressed. I eventually asked myself how I wanted to feel. I answered "Energized, Free, Filled with life". I Made this my mantra - every time I felt like stress was coming my way I asked myself how I wanted to feel. My mind began finding ways to bring about what I wanted. I found books about it, I made new friends, and stumbled on a practice called Yoga. Now my life revolves around a practice that helps others feel energize, free, and filled with the essence of life".

The question is what do you want? How do you want to feel on the deepest level of your core?

Practice along with me and the amazing group of students at the 2017 Yoga Conference Germany! Enjoy

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The Key To ALL Arm Balances

Ever wonder what makes arm balances easy for some people and challenging for others? Sure core strength and hip flexibility play a large roll, but they are not nearly as important as this KEY technique that unlocks the magic of all arm balances.

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The Strength That Creates Lightness and Power

Most who practice yoga have come to realize that the practice requires a certain physical strength that doesn't necessarily coincide with the image of strength in our head. Every yogi has seen ta physically in shape gym goer walk in to a yoga class and struggle in his/her first down dog. The reason for this is because there are tons of muscles in the body, and all of them have a purpose. The ones you see on the surface are called the superficial muscles, and their job is primarily to create big movements like swinging a baseball bat, jumping, climbing, etc. While many Yoga postures and transitions require the use of these muscles, the Deep muscles or stabilizing muscles are often most used. In this video I go over the muscle groups that I find are most important for the majority of arm balances.

The muscles I speak of in this video are the Serratus Anterior, and the 4 layers of abdominals (rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis). Serratus Anterior is incredibly important for many arm balances because it creates stability in the shoulder blades, and moves the body away from the ground. In the "Handstand Strength Training" video I give exercises in plank pose to help students develop the strength of this muscle. When this muscles is fully engaged in plank the body is further away from the ground. The same is true in arm balances. Further from the ground begins to feel lighter and easier, and as mentioned in the video above, your wrists will feel better as well. The reason you feel lighter and more at ease when the Serratus Anterior is fully engaged is simple- all muscles have an easier to contracting when they are fully shortened. Think of your bicep muscle- Isn't it easier to hold a weight in your hand when your you hand is closest to your shoulder vs half way down at the "holding a tray" position. Part of this is relationship to gravity but even if you changed the angle of your body that would still be the easiest position for the muscles to be engaged. This is the same reason why its easier to do a little tiny pull up vs going through full range of motion from straight arms all the way up to bent arms. If you are looking to build strength in the Serratus Anterior check out the Handstand Strength Training video by clicking here

The four abdominals have multiple functions including flexion (rounding) of the spine, twisting, side bending, stabilizing, and compressing/lifting inner organs (primarily the transverse abdominis). Depending on the pose, many arm balances require one or more abdominals to engage because of the shape, and because they have the ability to make the mid section more compact. The more compact you feel, the lighter you will feel because all the extremities tend to pull in closer to the center of gravity when the abdominals engage. What I am not going over in this video is the important roll that your legs play within all arm balances. I will be releasing another video on Youtube soon showing you how the legs relate the core. If you are interested in finding out when that video goes up subscribe to my newsletter and I will let you know. Developing strength in the abdominals has long been a part of the fitness industry, but until recently it was purely for visual purposes. Most people associate having a six pack with health, but the reality is that its more important to have core intelligence then strength. A little strength and a lot of awareness go a very long way, much further then a lot of strength and little awareness of how to use it. Developing strength through applied actions such as doing handstand, crow pose, or exercises that produce greater intelligence in your body is what I focus on in my handstand and arm balance practice. As a result not only do I feel strong in my asana practice but my back feels great, and I am able to apply the awareness to other activities that require body intelligence. For my favorite core strengtheners you click here, or if you are looking for free ways to learn, simply search youtube for how to strengthen the 4 muscles of the core (I searching each muscle separately). Anyone who offers an application for the strength and not just the exercise is likely thinking along the same lines of "muscle intelligence" vs strength. Remember you want to know what the muscle does intellectually and know what it feels like in your body. That combination will make it easier to apply later on to your practice!

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Headstand: Neck Relief


Intentional Practice

For many years I split my yoga asana practice in to two parts, on one side I dedicated my learning to the therapeutic qualities and on the other side advancing my practice. It was a while before I realized that they were one in the same and it took longer to realize that “advanced” transition could lead to greater ease and freedom. This video is born out of my understand of what I used to consider to be just an advanced transition.

Lets touch briefly on the neck in headstand. I think we all know that putting our entire weight on our neck could obviously have its dangers. There are also many claimed benefits from it, some of which I agree with from my own experience. Headstand can be extremely empowering and freeing on an emotional level, and beyond that it is a platform to build more strength and stability for the neck. In addition going upside down in general can increase our proprioception (knowing where our body is in space). To be sure we are gaining all the benefits and not dealing with the potential downfalls of having all our weight on our neck, I find it beneficial to learn how to do headstand with our head off the ground. Some would call this forearm stand, some would argue its still headstand arms so its headstand…what you call it is not important, but having the strength and awareness definitely is beneficial.

There are two main anatomical actions that I go over in this video:
Elevation of the Scapula: Shoulder blades raise up toward the ears
Extension at the Elbow Joint: The Elbow straightening.

Elevation of the scapula is the main action in relieving neck pressure because when executed with enough
strength, the head will lift off of the ground. Once you have the strength and control over the muscles that create elevation (mainly the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles) you will then have the choice of how much weight you place on your head. Trying to Extend at the elbow joint can help maintain stability and balance as your elevate your scapula and can assist in rising away from the ground.

The Actions

In the video you will be provided with a visual demonstration of elevating the scapula with headstand arms. While you are reading this you can try elevating your scapula by shrugging your shoulders up by your ears. This action is remarkably easier when the arms are by your side in a resting position than when they are over head and bearing the weight of your body, but awareness of what the action is makes it a lot easier to attempt once you enter the position. Many yoga teachers will shun the idea of your shoulders rising up by the ears simply because it tends to be an unconscious pattern. Remember this a pattern is not necessarily bad, or good, its the unconscious part that is the problem. Another way to look at it is if we hold an equal and opposite pattern of elevated scapula, than our shoulders would be balanced and relaxed. So if you are someone who’s shoulders rise toward your ears on a daily basis here are some things to consider.
Your stress levels: If your shoulders are tensed up it could be an indication that your emotional body/nervous system is more often in the state of panic and your nervous system is sending signals to your muscles to hold tension because “something bad is going to happen” There is no short answer for what to do but one on one coaching could help. I am happy to connect for a Free Skype session to discuss some options with you.
Strengthen the opposite muscles: In this case do pull ups and work on strengthening the muscles of depression.
Strengthen to Release: It may sound strange but usually a muscle holding tension is not tense because it is strong, more likely because it is week. Strengthening it can actually relax it. In this case elevating your scapula will help strengthen the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles, and therefor could lead to releasing your neck tension!

How to Strengthen

There are multiple ways to strengthen the muscles that elevate the scapula and extend the elbow. In the video I offer a way to do so while approaching the pose. Dolphin pose (Down Dog on Forearms) is a great start for the more beginner practitioner. Check out the video, and try the actions to feel it in your body. If you find it helpful and you are looking for more ways to strengthen your inversion practice Click Here to check out my top exercises for the arms, shoulders, wrists, and core!

Want more Free education? Check out Headstand: 3 Ways In

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Headstand: 3 Ways In

Three Ways In

Headstand is a powerful pose, typically referred to as the King of the Yoga Asanas (poses). While the gurus and masters have long been preaching the importance of headstand, modern day anatomist often caution against it. Physically speaking my personal relationship with headstand has been mostly positive, while emotionally there were a couple years of fear around the potential risks. The warnings of many of my teachers, in addition to neck and shoulder pain eventually turned me away from practicing the pose. In recent years I finally discovered the root cause of my neck pain had very little to do with my neck itself and everything to do with an imbalance in one of my rotator cuff muscles causing referral pain. The reason I feel this is important to mention is because when we are in pain we can be so quick to blame that we might miss what is really going on. We see it all the time in modern medicine. Instead searching for the root cause of our problem we focus on the symptom. Let me be clear here, I am not saying if you have neck pain you should do Headstand, I am simply stressing the importance of searching for the root of the pain. Dig deep, keep an open mind, and explore.

So when is it appropriate to do headstand? This question is not easily answered as it depends on many factors but here are some basic guidelines to consider.
1. The State of health in your body: Headstand is most appropriate for Yogis with a healthy spine and disks, consult a chiropractor (preferably one that practices yoga) to see if its right for you. Same goes for Blood pressure irregularities, and of course Pregnancy - check with a doctor. If you have other concerns seek professional guidance. If you feel good and know you are in good health this pose might be your next best friend.
2. Your Level of Practice, strength and body awareness: In the video I mention that there are three levels of entering into headstand; beginner-advanced. Personally as a teacher I feel headstand is for the intermediate level student, so while I talk about the three levels consider that these are meant for the intermediate student. For the advanced Yoga Asana practitioner there are multiple ways in and out of headstand, and for the beginner I feel it is most important to build the following prior to attempting the pose:
 
 

Beginners: Preparatory Strength and Technique

 
 
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  1. Shoulder Strength: From the moment you begin your yoga practice you are likely building shoulder
    strength. If your desire is to move toward headstand, I suggest building strength specific to having your arms over head and in front of you. Downward Dog, Arm Balances, Handstand preparations, Dolphin Pose are all great poses to start off with.
  2. Back Body, Spine Strength: Developing the muscles along the back body and spine will help to stabilize your head, torso and legs when you are ready to work toward headstand.
  3. Neck Strength: Neck strength can be built in preparation. I recommend doing standing yoga postures with hands behind the head, and pressing the head back into the hands. This will also help set the head back which can lead to more optimal alignment of the spine when in headstand, as well as in daily life.
 
For my top inversion strength training exercises, check out my Handstand Video at www.TheYogiMatt.com/Handstand
 

Benefits of The 3 Approaches

While scrolling through instagram and Facebook over the past year or so there is obviously a strong desire to invert amongst yogis. It is beautiful to see the determination amongst practitioners to conquer their fears, and prove to themselves that they can do more then they ever could imagine. That dedication toward results typically comes with hazardous experimentation, and maybe a little bit of (dare I say) Impatience? I am not innocent when it comes to this topic, which is why I wanted to offer what I have learned along the way to help speed up your over all journey, and potentially save you from some of what I have gone through. I know everyone has to go through their own journey, and I know some of you out there are indeed looking for guidance, and are excited to learn. So if you are interested in the techniques and tools that will develop and empower your practice, I have created a video highlighting three challenging yet highly effective approaches toward headstand. Each one builds strength for the next, so my suggestion is beginners really master the first one without lifting the feet off the ground, and advanced practitioners use all three as drills to build body awareness and strength.
 

The 3 Approaches

 
  1. Half Tuck: The Half tuck teaches the shifting of weight from the feet to the head and arms while not demanding as much body awareness and hamstring flexibility. The first step is simply learning how to point the foot that is on the ground in order to shift your weight. In the video I use a block as a method to get around tight hamstrings. You may stack more than one block so long as you feel stable. The second part of this is to tuck your second leg into your body and balance in a “tuck” position. This may be highly challenging, but keeping your legs in a tuck has the benefit of being low to the ground. Lower center of gravity is easier to balance and therefor can be a safer place to learn balance. I would personally say that while there is always a risk when balancing upside down, the risk is less than full headstand.
  2. Full Tuck: One you find repeated success with the tuck position and feel comfortable holding it for more than a minute you might try coming straight into a tuck position rather than one leg at a time. This is more challenging on many levels but mostly it requires greater flexibility in the hamstrings, and a stronger sense of proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). If this entrance is feeling great, the second aspect of it is to start extending at the hip joint, bringing your knees upward. How high up to bring the knees will depend on your level of comfort and balance.
  3. Straight Leg Press: Going Straight into a headstand through what is called a pike position in gymnastic and acrobatic language, is definitely the most challenging. it requires tremendous body awareness, low back and buttock strength. It requires that the hamstrings are both flexible and strong. I highly recommend getting comfortably tucking all the way up and being able to hold a straight headstand for over a minute prior to attempting this.
 
Note: For all three approached be sure to have a teacher around to support you and be your eyes for what you cannot see.
 

Beyond the Entry

Getting into headstand is just the start to the journey, holding the balance while breathing steady and keeping your mind focused is the real exciting and beneficial part. I love to focus on my spinal curves while upside down, finding the most enjoyable balance. I also love to play with taking pressure off my neck which I will go over in my next blog and video!
 
To get started with your strength training and development of body awareness visit TheYogiMatt.com/Handstand. If you know someone that would benefit from this information please share the blog on social media, or email. For questions please feel free to reach out to me directly: Matt@TheYogiMatt.com

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#1 Tip To Advance Your Practice

Advancing Your Practice:

There are multiple reasons why we practice asana, but most of us would agree that the primary one is that we feel better after afterwords. Asana offers us an opportunity to get to know our body and mind on a deeper level because it demands our full attention. You can't mentally check out while holding a balance posture, you must stay present. Its that type of focus that allows us to advance in so many ways.

The issue for most yogis is that they are not provided with a focal point for their mind during their practice, and therefor they quickly reach a plateau that seems never ending. 
 
Some great teachers will guide their students to focus on their breath, parts of their body, intention, or mantra, but most teachers would rather not get in your way…and so they say nothing at all. On one hand its nice when our teacher lets us have our own experience but on the other hand, we are often seeking guidance from those we trust, and would love the input from out teachers. I’d like to invite

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you to focus your mind on something specific in your practice! In this blog, and the corresponding Vlog that goes with it, we will direct our mind to a specific method of practice. I have found that for those of us that want to advance our physical practice it is highly beneficial to approach the asana in a certain way.

 
What does it mean to advance your physical practice? You can place whatever meaning to that you’d like of course but for the sake of getting on the same page, I am referring to an increase in strength, flexibility, and/or body awareness.
 
The Method:
Approach the simple posture with a complex mind. Use your mind to ponder, wonder, and explore your body. Take a simple posture like lunge pose for example, and study how your body is reacting to the shape. Ask yourself, what muscles are naturally engaging? What muscles are stretching? What muscles feel relaxed? By asking yourself these questions, not only are you training your mind to focus on your physical body, and the sensations but you are developing the awareness that there are many possible options available to you. Know your options is what is required when approaching more complex postures, or dynamic movements. If you do not know how to voluntarily engage your adductors (inner thigh muscles) while in a familiar, simple posture, you will not be able to activate them when it comes to a challenging posture. Watch the Youtube Video I have posted hear to see how I explore different muscle groups within a simple lunge posture. In the video I also go over what I call the "Four Key Movements of The Body
 
Four Key Movements:
  1. Squeeze in: This can be any movement where the extremities are moving or trying to move toward each other, or more specifically toward the midline of the body. It can also mean the front body contracting inward toward the center of our core - a full tuck position or balasana childs pose. In anatomy terms I am referring to Adduction, and Flexion of the body.
  2. Push Out: This is the opposite engagements or movements- away from the midline or when the front body expands like you are stretching out after a good nights sleep. Anatomically speaking this is Abduction and Extension of the body.
  3. Turn in: When the Extremities Rotate toward the midline of the body
  4. Turn out: When the Extremities rotate outward away from the midline.
 
In addition you have side bending and twisting. Side Bending is a push out on one side and a squeeze in on the opposite, while twisting the spine is a rotation along the central axis. My suggestion is to start with the four key movements as they will provide a strong platform to work with
 
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If you are looking for one on one guidance, inspiration, and customized practice based on your specific body, check out the Mentorship Mastery Program. If you are wondering if this program is right for you, lets set up a free session to discuss your personal goals, obstacles, and intentions for your practice.

 
Short and Simple:
By exploring the multiple options within simple poses you will gain tremendous insight about your body, and the possibilities available to you. The simple truth is when you focus your practice in this way, more advanced postures will become inevitable. The Engagement of the various muscles groups within the foundational poses of the practice will build a relationship between your mind and body. You will become stronger, and gain greater flexibility because the health of your muscles will increase. When You engage the muscles that are stretching you will gain a greater elasticity that will give the muscle the ability to stretch further like a new rubber band. Your range of motion will increase, and you will gain the ability to intentionally activate muscles making it easier to hold poses longer and make smoother, more controlled transitions. Try the suggestions I provided in the video. If this approach intrigues you, set up a free call with me about your practice. If you have questions please send me an email: Matt@TheYogiMatt.com. Focus your mind, and you will advance your practice!

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#1 Tip for Stiff Neck and Shoulders

Since I was a little boy I lived my life like a quest to fulfill my need to express the deep passion inside me. for most of my life I have been met with this statement by so many along the way; “I wish I could…” or “I wish I was…”. The statements are always a saddened declaration that they will never be as good at whatever it is they wish they could do or be. For most of my life I was frustrated, I didn’t understand why people didn’t simply go after what they wanted. I began understanding it as I came to adulthood and realized the path of passion is not the easiest path to stability, financial wealth, or independence. I began to notice that many people stop following passion because they value stability more. Others are simply fearful of failure so they never try. Others don’t know how to even start. Here is what I can say, if you truly want something deep inside, do put it on a shelf for too long because it will eat away at your soul and before you know it you will wake up one day realizing your life has passed you by and you feel unfulfilled. So the real question to be asked next is, what are you doing now that is leading you to what you ultimately want later?

Along the same lines people often talk about their aches and pains, and have no idea what to do about them. The only outlet for pain of the body is either to complain about, or take a pill to numb it. Due to a multitude of reasons Many people complain of neck and shoulder pain. The reality is many people are having to live with constant aches and pains, simply because we don’t know where or how to start doing something about it now to lead to relief later. So yes the bigger conversation here is about looking at the aspects of our life where we are not satisfied be it our body, relationships, family, work, etc. and take steps toward the freedom we are all craving. Taking the steps can sound daunting but once you take your first one, we all know after that we starting jogging up.

Back to the Shoulders: We can get into all the reasons why such as computers, cell phone and so on but the list could go on all day. The key to unlocking anything in the body is developing strength through range of motion. If you think about it most of us are stuck in one position all day long and everything in us conforms to that shape. Then suddenly you react to some change in events, get up and then the tweet hits you. It’s no surprise from the outside looking in why that would happen. Some of our muscles fall asleep, some are hanging on for their life to try and pull you out of your posture and it’s like your body freezes. Then you break through the mold you put yourself in. That break is sudden and it shocks all the systems in your body. So what can you do? Where can you start? I have included one of my favorite MP3’s of the year from my shoulders workshop at the Frankfurt Yoga Conference. Best part is that it’s completely FREE to you! These MP3’s are a part of a collection of all the workshops that I have taught around the world in 2016. I plan to release the entire collection for sale next week for anyone that finds it useful to get in your practice anywhere you are. There are Arm Balance Workshops, Hips, Shoulders, Twists, Back Bends and so on. If practicing a for free is not an option today or this week, here is my number one tip to keep your neck and shoulders feeling awesome!

Tip: Before sitting down and assuming your standard posture, go through some range of motion for the shoulders and neck until you feel heat build up. Specifically, do the back stroke with each arm. Start slow but speed up to build heat. Focus on fullest range of motion, without the weird neck and jaw tension that will tend to come up when doing something like this. When the body is warm it is more malleable, and less likely to stiffen or tense up. To many of you this will sound ridiculous and “probably” not going to work. The question is, is it worth the 3 minutes to give it a try? After sitting for 30-45 minutes repeat the 3 minute exercise (set a timer on your phone if you need). Try this throughout your day and email me back how you are feeling after one day of doing this, I am excited to hear your results!

Your free MP3 Download (streaming requires plug-ins)
https://drive.google.com/open?id=0ByL-cz7o1KOBOXRXT1ljX0UxSjA

5 Steps to Develop Your Brand and Business

image1-4I recently had the unique pleasure of being interviewed by YogaCrush who asked me about my journey of becoming an international yoga teacher, and what advice I have to offer teachers who are looking to build their brand and business. Here are the key points I would offer anyone trying to make a career from their passion.

  1. Of course you first have to Know Your Passion and what you want to offer. In the interview I mentioned that “A lot of people are experts and don’t realize it. They’re experts at something but they are so busy comparing themselves to everyone that they don’t realize they have something unique to offer.” Some people don’t know what their passion is and some have so many ideas that they can’t pick one to offer. Either way if you ware to be a teacher you have to pick something and stick to it for a long enough period of time to build momentum. Over time you will be able to add other interests into it but you must first choose one thing to focus on or you will struggle to focus your energy. To know your passion- start a simple practice of asking yourself every day: 1. What you do you love in your life? 2. What are your strengths? 3. What makes you unique? 4. What comes easy to you? 5. What challenges you? I recommend before you ask yourself these questions each day that you sit down and let your self close your eyes, preferably in Nature or a space in your home you consider special to you. Take 5-10 slow breaths through the nose and bring your attention to your body. Then sit and try and let your mind rest in the awareness of the energy that runs through you- it is ok to acknowledge that you are thinking, but try to watch the thoughts instead of getting involved in them. You will notice that you are thinking constantly, just keep bringing your awareness back to the breath and the sensations of your body, and try to acknowledge the depth of energy that exists inside. You can time this process starting with 5 minutes a day. After you sit, ask yourself the 5 questions.
  2. Declare Your Intention. Once You know What you want to offer it is important to than shift your questions to one simple yet often challenging question: Why? Most people don’t know why the act a certain way and as a result you run the risk of getting lost along the way. When you ask yourself the WHY on a regular basis, you give power and momentum to your actions. In addition many people are driven by a feeling of lack inside which is often hidden and doesn’t reveal itself until they reach their goals only to find out they are still feeling unfulfilled inside. Then they face the hard fact that they may have wasted the last 10 years of their life doing something that didn’t fulfill them or bring them happiness. The opposite can be true for the entrepreneur that knows why they are dedicating their life to the path they have chosen, every action will feel fulfilling, and no matter what the outcome they will be no disappointment simply because they feel fulfilled at every step of the way.
  3. Master Your Craft! Once You decide WHAT, and WHY its now time to dedicating your time to being the best you can be within your craft. Do not confuse this with being better than everyone else, that will only feel terrible and put you at odds with everyone who shares your interest. Instead be the best version of you by honing your studies in the areas that interest you the most, and the areas that challenge you as well. When you set your focus in this way there is room to stay connected to everyone in your same field and you will be able to come up with creative collaborations rather than reject and compete. The more you find ways to connect yourself to others verses separate yourself the more momentum you will build. Your own uniqueness will set you a part on its own. So focus on what makes you the best teacher YOU can be.
  4. Develop Your Brand. After You have honed your craft and have had plenty of time letting your teaching settle, you eventually will feel a comfort level in what you are offering. NOW it is time to package it to make it easy for new students to know what you are offering. This is usually the hardest part for Yogis- to take this massive practice with many facets to it, and then someone how distill it down to the very essence of what you are offering. I HIGHLY recommend you interview students and ask them why they come to your classes, and what is unique about what and how you offer the practice of yoga. Once you start to get a handle on this you can begin the process of writing blogs, creating social media posts, creating images, and a website that all scream this unique style that you have created. It is important to know that you don’t have to limit how you offer the practice but rather this is a way to help students feel they know what they are committing to when they sign up for your class, workshop, retreat or training.
  5. Think Inside and Outside the Box. Lastly watch your friends and teachers who are successful with what they are doing and copy them. I believe it was Igor Stravinsky who said “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.” Don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel when you are setting up your business- great business models are all around you, just follow someone doing something well and literally do as they do. Once you have established an organized business be it online, or traveling workshop teacher, or yoga studio, you will inevitably be flooded with ideas and before you know it your business model become unique and absolutely effective for you.

For Those of you that want to listen to my story and how I came to teach yoga, as well as my tips for yoga teachers specifically you can listen to the Yoga Crush interview Here

MentorshipMasteryProgramIf you are interested in one on one coaching for social media, or honing your craft as a yoga teacher check out the Mentorship Mastery Program or send me a personal email Matt@TheYogiMatt.com to set up a FREE consultation to see if this program is right for you!

 

 

 

 

IMG_5175Are You looking to develop a technichally powerful practice to influence your teaching? Or are you wanting to finally understand and be able to  integrate Anatomy into your classes, workshops, and teacher trainings? You will love the Fall  5 Day Teacher Training at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY. For details and registration Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Reasons To Strengthen Your Wrists

Yoga and various forms of fitness have long been addressing areas of the body to strengthen. Perhaps the Most popular are the Abs, and Buttocks and thats because strengthening these areas not only helps most people feel good but they are also associated with looking good in most cultures. Many areas of the body are often over looked even though many people experience discomfort in them, especially as we age.  As I teach around the world, one of the areas of the body that seems to be neglected and causing discomfort across the age groups are the Hands and Wrists.

1.Health of Your Wrist. 

The number one reason to strengthen anything in your body is to feel good. If you are a Yogi, Acrobat, or Breakdancer you are no stranger to being on your hands, but simply being on your hands doesn’t necessarily increase strength or health of the wrists. I define health of the muscular system as balanced strength, and range of motion. We often define our strength by the muscles we can see or the actions we can do, and the problem with that is many of our muscles are not visible from the outside. To address the deeper muscles of the body, you have to first learn what they are and what their roll is in supporting your body and its functional movement.

While my personal Yoga practice has brought me tremendous body awareness, I am continuously open to various forms of movement and exercise in order to discover ways to keep my body in balance. I remember many years ago thinking Yoga was all I needed to keep me feeling good- and that was true for many years…until it wasn’t. This is normal of course- if you start something that is physically or emotionally healing for you its likely because it helps to reverse your patterns and bring about balance.  For me when it comes to increasing health of my muscular system I seek out the muscles in my body that are underused, or misused and train my mind to become aware of them, and my body to use them. The seeking process starts in my yoga practice, and then I apply my new awareness to other movements like pull ups, chopping wood, playing hockey, dancing, or something as simple as chopping vegetables. I do my best to practice “Yoga” (presence) in all actions so that I can discover what is feeling good and where does my potential exist. After I discover new ways to move and create balanced strength in my body I then revisit my yoga practice and find ways to include my new found strength and awareness. For me, I spend tremendous amount of time in Handstand so I have designed wrist strengtheners for my self that can be applied in many of my yoga poses like plank and down doge, that keep me feeling good and actually make handstand far easier…which brings me to number two.

2.Functionality

Take a day and acknowledge all the things you do with your hands/wrists. Maybe you are like me and there are some obvious things like handstand, arm balances, downward dogs, planks, pull ups, push ups and so on.When You are strong in your hands/wrists you will be amazed at how much potential you will unlock in your body. The very first thing I teach in my Handstand workshops and trainings is how to use what I call “The Breaks” which is wrist and finger strength, and that awareness alone opens up a world of possibility for people. In addition to your yoga practice look at the other ways in which we use our hands and fingers. Texting, typing, eating, reading, chopping, filming, drinking, holding, changing closes, shampooing, high fiving, picking that thing up, and the list goes on. It is no secret that those of us that have one or two hands use them for nearly everything we do. Coming from an italian family I can say our hands don’t even get a break when we speak 😉 Most of us, present company included don’t pay attention to something until it is causing us pain or discomfort, and at that point it is a much longer journey back to ease than if we address imbalances early on. The work of a Yogi, or mind body practitioner is to try and become more present in body and mind which includes appreciating what is going well, and look for ways in which we have room to grow. If you are not appreciating your strengths you will be scared to look for where you are weak. Use your yoga practice and your presence in your daily life actions to appreciate where you are already strong, celebrate those areas, and have the courage to see where you can grow. Don’t be fooled, this method won’t prevent you from inevitable aches and pains or injuries but you will become so aware of your body that when things happen you will have the skills to asses what your body needs to return to the state of balanced. When your the muscles of your hands and wrists are in balance you have greater available functionality to enjoy all that you do with your hands without the distraction of aches and pains or lack of ability.

3.Longevity

Lastly, it is in our nature as a species of this earth that we grow older, and while we have no control of this, we do have a choice about how we take care of ourselves. Obviously certain health issues are beyond our control, but using that as an excuse not to take care of yourself is an easy way out. Many of us have friends, parents, grand parents that we wish would live a healthier life, and take control over their health. It is always easier to see other peoples lack of actions then it is to see our own. If you don’t take control of your health now you will not take on the responsibility as you get older. Pattern yourself now, in the same way we help our young ones to develop health patterns like brushing their teeth and taking showers. Get in the habit of appreciating your current health and taking care of yourself to maintain health. With the subject at hand, develop your strength of your wrists/hands/fingers so that you have the skills to keep them healthy as you age.

 

Putting it into Practice

Approaching health in the body can be overwhelming, knowing where to start can be a scary unknown, so easier to simply avoid it until your body screams loud enough for you to listen. But as we all know there is another way. Start small, focus on the strength of your fingers, then the wrists. Develop the skills to get to know your body by directing your attention to understanding one area. Developing the skills to become present to the hands will translate to every other section of the body. Here is my recommendation: Observe all the possible movements of your index finger. Then, choose one movement and apply resistance (using your other hand). To give you a head start ill give you a specific exercise to try right now.

  1. Look at the back of your left hand and try to pull the back of your hand toward you bending at your wrist joint, otherwise known as extension in anatomical terms. Your will likely see or feel muscles engage along the side of the forearm that you are looking at.
  2. Next simply take your other hand and create a resisting force by attempting to push your left hand into flexion. With your left hand resist until you feel these muscles are forced to work harder, now you are developing strength.
  3. Take this approach to other actions of the wrists, and fingers.

If you are looking for more guidance in strengthening your hands and wrists check out the Handstand Strength Training video program, where I share my favorite exercises that not only increase your ability to access arm balances and handstands but could also bring about great awareness and balance in your wrists. In addition I always encourage researching youtube for the wealth of free knowledge that is out there. If you are in a place of pain try and find people that can help you understand your body on a deeper level. There are specialist in bones, muscles, the nervous system, energy lines and so on, and being open to learning from everyone will give you the best opportunity to heal. Most of all take action and take control of what is controllable, and do your best to breathe through everything that is “out of your hands.”

I am always available for a free Skype or Phone Consultation to help you figure out what is appropriate for you and what your next step might be.  If this intrigues you and you want to learn more there are numerous ways to continue your study with me:

  1. Mentorship Mastery Program
  2. Asana and Applied Anatomy Training Oct. 2-7
  3. 2017 Yoga Immersion and Retreat to Spain

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3 Essential Tips for Yoga Teachers

3 Essential Tips For Yoga Teachers3 Essential Tips for Yoga Teachers

The practice of Yoga has become widely popular across the world and as a result more and more students are becoming teachers. The demand for quality teachers is growing as students are falling in love with the path and continuously looking for more ways to learn. How does one become a great teacher, when they themselves are just a student of the practice? Questions like these are appropriate but only if they serve to evolve your teaching and help you grow. Feeling a lack of confidence is normal, and a natural part of the process when transitioning from student to teacher, and it may take years to build confidence so don't let it throw you off the path. Any good teacher/student has the desire to grow into their fullest potential and if you are self aware its easy to see that you are not where you want to be yet. You can further develop your ability to see yourself by going deeper and seeing both your potential and the beauty of who you already are. Here are my 3 most essential tips to help you grow into your potential as a teacher, and settle into a place of humble confidence.

 

 1. Be the most advanced student. 

Many yogis have shunned the word “advanced” out of fear that it somehow creates a divide amongst students, which goes against the whole idea that Yoga means Union. For me unity is not something we are striving for but something that already exists and our work as yogis is to become clear enough that we feel that unity within everything we do. I believe the real issue is that people identify and define themselves by their proficiency at what they do, and that is a recipe for separation. But you can recognize your level of proficiency at something without mistakenly believing that it has any bearing on who you truly are. Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced are simply ways to communicate our proficiency within any given subject, task, game, activity etc. I can confidently say that Michael Jordan is far more advanced than I when it comes to playing the game of Basketball and yet at the core of our being he and I (and you) are still a part of the one energy that runs through all things. So can you be advanced at Yoga? Here is how I define an advanced student of modern day yoga: One who is open minded and seeking to learn and grow from all of life’s experiences regardless of how challenging they might be. The advanced practitioner observes what stands in their way from experiencing Freedom in their mind and body, and take actions to break through those barriers. The advanced student has the capacity to hold their attention on what they are doing at any given moment. What does an advanced student mean to you? After reading through the rest of this blog take time to contemplate, and write down what you feel it means to be advanced. Working with my definition, being the most advanced student means showing up to every yoga class, or life situation with full presence, focus and humility. Be ready to learn from everyone that you interact with, and from every situation regardless of how joyous or challenging it may be. Practicing anything in this way will allow you the highest level of proficiency possible for you. When you are willing to observe what holds you back you will have the opportunity to take actions to break through the obstacles. Observe what challenges you, and take the necessary actions that will turn your weakness’ into strengths. In terms of teaching as yourself:
 
•what aspects of leading a group of students through the practices challenge you?
•What are your Strengths?
•What can you do to make your challenges or weakness’ into strengths?
 
Learn from everyone and everything, and seek out teachers, friends, situations, trainings to help you develop the skills that will allow you to access your fullest power as a teacher.
 
 

2. Be completely authentic. 

This may sound obvious, but most teachers in their first 3-5 years of teaching struggle in showing themselves to their students. Inevitably your teachers have instilled an image or idea of what a yoga teacher looks like, and you are likely trying to live up to that. Many teachers are trying so hard to fit in the box of what their teachers vision of a great teacher is. On the other side many teachers define the quality of their teaching by how many students show up to their class. This is of course inevitable at some point despite how much you try and pretend its not true. Better to just admit to it so you can take the steps to get beyond it. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you have the need to be liked, or loved, or validated by others attention, it makes you human. Now of course that is not an excuse to be a slave to your insecurities, but rather an acknowledgment that we all have the desire to belong, to love, and to be loved. The basic need for love gets distorted in so many ways when you are not loving and feeling loved, and if you let the feeling of lack dictate how you teach you will have a great deal of trouble attracting students because on a subtle level the class will be more about you than it will be about your students, and they will feel that. You have to  do the inner work that connects you to the Source of Love within you, so that you are inspired to give love and help others connect to what you are connected to. Develop a meditation, contemplation, or intentional journaling practice that helps you connect to the ultimate source of love within you, and you'll begin to notice that everyone you come across will be attracted to your energy and want to be around you more often. When this comes about your work will then be to stay humble, and stay in tune with your deep intention to share the practice of yoga. Think about the teachers that are popular, there is something magnetic, and carefree about them. The secret is that they love themselves in a healthy way, and because of that they can let themselves be seen by others. Here are some questions to ask yourself each day to develop a sense of self love that will lead to authenticity.
 
•What is unique about you?
•What can others depend on you for?
•What is one of your strengths as a teacher?
•What aspect of your life do you want to cultivate more positivity in, and how can you get there?
•What is one quality of your personality that brightens other peoples day?
 
 
Be yourself and continuously evolve what it means to BE you. Offer that to your students.
 
 

3. Continuously ask yourself why you are teaching.

 
This could be the most essential question you ask yourself since it could lead you back to tips 1 and 2. It is so important to revisit the why behind teaching for you, or even the why behind anything you do. The why is what brings you inspiration and fuels your passion. When you are inspired and passionate you transmit what you have to offer rapidly and effectively. So take time to dig deep and uncover why you want to share the practice of yoga, and remind yourself each day. It will change over time and so be sure to ask yourself periodically especially if you are feeling uninspired for a period of time. Ask yourself what is the experience you'd like for your students to have before, during and after class.
•What can you do to help facilitate that experience?
•Are there parts of your teaching that could use more training in order to create that experience?
•Is there a teacher that you know of that holds a similar space for their students that you can learn from?
 

Settle into Your Path

Growing into your full potential is a never ending path, seeing as your potential will expand with you as you grow. Get comfortable walking this path of never ending evolution so you can feel confident where you are at this very moment, and at the same time excited to continue your study. When you settle into walking along the path of being a teacher, you will feel grounded in your being yet still open minded and ready to unfold the mystery of what else is available to you.

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3 Easy Steps to Creating the Life of Your Dreams 

3 Easy Steps to Creating the Life of Your Dreams


Creating the life of our dreams, and the life we deserve is not only possible, but is probably easier and more accessible than we thinkimg_4177.jpg
It is important to know that we are not the only one who wants more in life.

It is completely natural to have strong desires and to feel pulled toward them, this is the essence of growth, change and expansion. Whether we want a significant other, more money, a job, owning a home or car, raising a family or contributing something meaningful to this world, the steps to get there are the same.
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5 Practices for Healthy Shoulders and Neck

Most of us spend the majority of our day at a computer, using our phones, eating, reading, cooking, washing dishes, etc. What all of these daily activities share in common is the position of our arms. They are down by our sides, rotated inward (medial rotation), and as a result there is often a narrowing of the collarbones or front of the chest and dropping the head of the arm bone forward. While all of these activities are perfectly normal when done for short periods of time, they can form patterns in the body that can lead to pain and discomfort of the shoulders and neck. When you hold these repetitive patterns in your body the simple practice of yoga could help or could actually make things worse. If a student practices in a way that reverses all their patterns and creates balance then of course their yoga practice is serving them. More commonly however, students will practice in a way that is “easier” because the body is always looking for the path of least resistance. Easier typically means that the muscles that are already used to working will do most of the work and those that are weak will tend to do as little as possible. While ease is what we are ultimately looking for, it’s important to know that our patterns in both mind and body will always be easier than developing strength that supports our overall well being. For example most of us brush our teeth everyday and we don’t get bent out of shape that we are loosing 3-5 minutes of our day. On the other hand, meditating for 3-5 minutes or cooking for yourself, or going to the gym can feel like a burden. The major difference is that brushing your teeth is a pattern that you have cultivated for many years and therefore not doing it would be harder than doing it. Going outside your comfort zone or your patterned behavior can feel like a struggle regardless if it’s physicality, daily responsibilities, diet, etc. In short, doing what challenges you might be harder in the moment, but it makes you stronger and can bring about ease later. By changing our relationship to challenge itself, we can start to see opportunities to grow rather than obstacles to avoid.

Finding Balance in the Practice of Asana

In terms of the asana practice, if you simply make shapes with your body without deliberately engaging your muscles, your body will engage what it is used to engaging (internal rotators) and your down dog will take on the alignment of your everyday posture. Many people will go into downward dog and let their shoulders internally rotate, and further destabilize their rotator cuff muscles (external rotators). This is often perpetuated by cues that teachers give repetitively such as press your chest back, or let yourself relax into the pose. These cues are meant with positive intent and absolutely necessary for some people in the room who are super stiff, have no range of motion in their shoulders, and are over effort-ing and creating excess tension in their body. After some time practicing, the stiff practitioner gains range of motion and usually keeps going in that direction until range of motion becomes destabilizing which eventually turns to pain, joint compression, bursitis, or a torn rotator cuff.

It is balance we seek and there are so many ways to achieve balance. Know that the body is alive and can be sculpted for optimal health. Discovering what is optimal for you is a lifetime of exploration, and that is the privilege of what it means to be human and a being of nature.
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Reversing your patterns

Assuming you hold the typical patterns of internal rotation of the arm bone, narrowing of the front of the chest/collarbones, and dropped shoulders in the front, here are 3 ways to begin the reversal of your patterns.

  1. Practice externally rotating your arms all the way when in warrior II.  Try this right now: take your arms out to your sides and rotate the palms face up. Move your hands forward a few inches in front of your chest. Keep your hands there and lift your shoulders up, and then back (keep hands in front). Then move your shoulder blades down your back. Maintain this structural alignment and try to rotate your arm externally so the palms attempt to face behind you- watch your biceps roll to see that the action is at the upper arms not just the forearms. Once you feel the muscles along the back of your shoulder and behind the arm pit activating, then hold for 7-10 slow breaths.
  2. Handstand and downward dog are some of the best poses to reverse your patterns when done with external rotation, and with the head of the arm bone back. When your arms are overhead there is an automatic reversal of many patterns simply because most are formed with our arms down by our sides. It is important to note that when you lift your arms overhead, they will naturally internally rotate. To balance out the internal rotation we have the opportunity to engage the muscles of the Rotator Cuff by trying to externally rotate. To get a stronger idea of how to externally rotate the arms over head while in downward dog, I highly recommend checking out the Handstand Strength Training video series which will give you a full downward dog tutorial for the upper body. This will include visual close-ups and pin pointed verbal cues to guide you into the pose with proper shoulder stability. To give you a quick understanding, come to downward dog and try to rotate your arm pits and triceps toward you face.  Your biceps will rotate toward the front of the mat, and you will feel the same muscles you felt in warrior II from the previous exercise.
  3. In Chair Pose, or Warrior I, take your arms up overhead and press your palms together firmly. Press the pinky side edge of your hands together stronger then the thumb side. Try to rotate your outer arm pits forward, or think about rotating the hard part of your elbow forward so your triceps turn toward each other more like you did in downward dog. Often I will recommend a slight bend in the elbow to make this more accessible, especially if you are tighter in the shoulders.
  4. Pull Ups, like Handstand, pull-ups tend to be balancing simply because the arms are overhead. This is a big one for the Rotator Cuff, and shoulder blade stabilization. If you can’t do a pull up, do a slow decent from the top down- climb up to the bar on a chair until your arms are bent, then let yourself down as slowly as possible. This is Called Working the negative. Of these five practices, Handstand and Pull-ups are my top recommendations.
  5. Seated Rows, or Reverse Fly’s are a great way to strengthen the back body, specifically the middle trapezius and rhomboids, to help balance out the shortening that happens in the chest muscles from everyday activities. Strengthen the back body and you will help your everyday posture. Or, you could just play more tug of war with your friends 🙂

Strengthening the Rotator Cuff and developing the strength to hold your shoulders in a more optimal place frees up much of the tension that exists in the neck. Healthy shoulders = healthy neck! When you decide to approach your body from the perspective of balanced strength, you will soon see the longer lasting ease that comes from it. If you are interested in integrating Rotator Cuff strength into your yoga practice along with core, and wrist strength to help reverse your patterns you will love the Handstand Strength Training video series. While the series uses handstand, the real focus is on developing balanced strength of the core and upper body.

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The 4 Secrets of Handstand

The 4 Secrets of Handstand

Handstand has been a craze of the past few years in the yoga community, and there seems to be a gap between those that can do it and those that can't. I would like to bridge that gap for some of you by giving you what I consider to be The 4 Secrets of Handstand. First I will say that there is no magic handstand pill, and there is no way around putting the time and dedication into developing the strength of your body and balance while on your hands. However, I would love to help you avoid wasting your time by directing you to the most important areas of the body to focus on in order to set you up for greater success when practicing the balance of handstand with a trained coach or teacher.

The Secrets Revealed:

1. The Hands
Lets break up the hands into two parts, the fingers, and the wrist. Developing strength and resistance in your fingers is the number 1 necessity to balance a handstand. To give you a better idea of this, stand on your feet and try and lift up your feet, just balancing on your heals. If you did it, you noticed that it was pretty challenging! Many people are balancing handstand in the heals of the palms making it a tiresome and ineffective approach. Putting more weight forward toward your fingers is the key, but being able to resist the leaning forward with the strength of your fingers is what provides the "wall" of balance.

Second, The Wrists. Every joint in the body is a place for potential movement, and when balancing a handstand, you want to minimize movement and maximize stability so that you are not struggling to balance a constant moving object! Developing wrist stability can be super challenging. For my top ten favorite strength training exercises for handstand, including wrist strengtheners, pick up the Handstand Strength Training Video Series

HandstandSTV2. The Elbows

Perhaps one of the most hidden secrets to handstand that is not imperative to balancing a handstand but extremely helpful is the next joint up front he wrist; the Elbows! A soft rule of thumb is that when things move outward they also move downward, and when things move inward they also move upward. In the case of the elbows if you bend them outward your body will fall downward toward the ground, just like when you start in plank pose and begin doing a push up- you bend your elbow outward and the body goes downward. Strengthening your triceps specifically to hold your weight upside down can be a powerful anti gravity technique!

3. The Shoulders

The Shoulders are incredibly complex but to make it as simple as possible lets revisit the idea of stabilizing your joints. Again, a joint provides a potential place of movement in the body, and the shoulders have a large range of potential movement. The main actions to stabilize this movement and gain shoulder integrity are external rotation of the upper arm bone (humerus), and protraction
of the shoulder blades (scapula). There are many ways to strengthen these actions, and in the Handstand Strength Training Video Series I have chosen what I feel are not only the most accessible, but absolutely the most effective exercises for all levels of practitioners. Choosing exercises that not only strengthen the muscles but build your proprioception (ability to know where your body is in space without visually seeing) is important when considering where to focus your training.

4. The Core

There are many joints of the spinal column where potential movement can occur. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with movement, we definitely want mobility in our joints for our everyday life, however when approaching something like handstand we want to focus on stability. To be balanced in the body ideally we have full range of motion in our body, and we have joint integrity- the ability to be stable at anytime. So for stability in the spine in relationship to handstand we need to have strength in our abdominals, specifically the upper fibers of the abdomen. When the arms go over head, the tightness of the shoulders will tend to put the body into an arch position, making it very hard to find a straight handstand. When the back arches, you have to counter balance your weight in order to stay up. This doesn't mean you can't find balance this way, many people do but this is partly when for those people handstand is inconsistent. When you balance in an arch position, the shape of your arch will depend upon many factors, and will be different everyday, and often changes in the matter of seconds, so you are constantly having to recalibrate where the balance is. When you strengthen your core, and learn to find "straight" in your body, the balance point becomes much more predictable, and you'll be able to be in your handstand with much less stress. Just practicing crunches and sit ups will not do the trick, as they will not build intelligence in your body. Core strength for handstand is very specific and is most effective when your arms are over head. Check out The Handstand Strength Training Video Series to get what I find to be the top ten most effective strength training exercises for becoming masterful in your handstand. Pre-Order today and you can take advantage of the discounted price of $9.78, and you will get access to two more highly effective strength training exercises!

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The “How To” of Mastery

Long before Yoga came along for me I was struggling with mastering music. I had a huge vision, lots of inspiration, tons of passion, and all the time in the world to achieve my goals...and still fell short. No doubt I was still having fun, but there was a burning to get somewhere and a constant frustration that I wasn't making any progress toward it. Somewhere along the path I picked up a book titled "Effortless Mastery". The concepts in that book were too progressive for me at the time, but I did dabble in trying some of them on for sure. Little did I know that while it didn't help my approach to music so much, it certainly impacted my yoga practice and teaching career that was about to begin.

Toward the last year of playing music professionally I started to apply what I call, The Steps to Mastery. In just one year, I improved my playing more then I did in the previous eight. So what are the steps to Mastery? Its quite simple, its literally the approach that while you have an entire stair case in front of you, you master stepping up the first one. By Master I don't mean if you can step up the first step you are good to go for the next one. I mean master every which way you step up. When living in NYC I took this literally for myself and many private clients to help heal torn hamstrings, and low back issues- some of you reading this are probably laughing remembering our private Yoga session that consisted of standing in a stair well and stepping each foot up targeting specific muscles each time. The concept presented in Effortless Mastery is that whatever you master you do not forget. On the flip side, everything else is forgotten with time. Many of you have mastered a way of tying your shoes, and if you spent some time you could break it down into easy steps for someone else to learn how to tie their own shoes. And You would ask them to repeat the steps that are hardest to them until its a masterpiece. Similarly this is how I approach the asana practice. I do my best to break down the body, and the asana into small digestible pieces, master piece by piece so as not to forget how to step up the previous steps. This process requires patience because someone else might be at the top of the stair case while you are learning the difference between using your calf, and your buttocks on step one. The difference is when you are ready to climb the stair case you will know your body so well that whatever step comes your way you will be able to decide the best approach, and take the appropriate actions necessary to climb with grace. This is no secret, you probably have seen it in many movies, but too often we don't actually apply it. One
great example is in Karate Kid, Mr. Miagee makes Daniel Son paint the fence, sand the floor, wax on and wax off in a very specific way repetitively until the action are second nature (Mastered). While Daniel throws a fit of frustration because he wants to learn Karate, Mr. Miagee shows him how those actions are now so well engrained in his body that when he throws a punch at him, Daniel doesn't have to think he simply does the wax off motion and blocks the punches repetitively. Cute example, but tons of wisdom in that approach. The question you have to ask your self is are you ready to master your body, and your asana practice? Are you willing to find the patience to take one step at a time while everyone around you jogs up the stair case making you look like a constant beginner? Are you willing to do what it takes to really "Get It" in a big way?

**
Master Your Body, Master Your Practice:

1. 5 Day Full Body Breakthrough- 7 Audio Workshops recorded live at The 2016 Yoga Immersion Audio,  recorded this year in Nicaragua.

This 5 Day Full Body Breakthrough will help you to
1. Practice at home with the energy of a classroom
2. Advance your yoga practice
3. Keep your body safe and feeling good
4. Understand Anatomy

2. Mentorship Mastery Program : Master Your body with personal care and attention.

1. Master Your Goals
2. Master Your Body
3. Advance Your Practice
4. Establish A Safe Self Practice
5. Feel Great

Are You wanting to dive into the potential of your body but are unsure what the steps are to get there? The Mentorship Mastery Program is effective in helping you take the steps to master your goals. I will help you stay on track, reevaluate your practice, refine techniques, and evolve your body awareness.

 

FulBodyBreakthrough

Advice to Those Wanting to Teach 

How can you prepare to serve the world with the teachings of yoga?

When you feel the urge to do a teacher training, or any immersive experience, this is typically accompanied with a feeling inside. That feeling is like being magnetic, pulling you closer to the path that your heart longs to be on. Because this is so emotional it is hard to keep our mind aligned with the feeling…the mind becomes a chaotic mess. There is nothing wrong with this type of mess, this is similar to an artists pallet, starts off nice an neat and then when things start happening the pallet becomes a mess of different mixed colors. It’s not the pallet but the canvas that matters, the pallet is there to serve your your ability to create an experience upon the canvas, and the canvas is there to serve your creative flow of energy. Among this whirlwind of creativity, what is most important is the deep intention inside for why you are being pulled to the canvas, or teacher training to begin with. Get in touch with the deep desire inside that is driving you towards this path, the path of learning, the path or service, the path of humility. Being clear on this will make the entire road ahead more exciting and inspiring.

Yoga at The White House 

To Serve each other is our greatest gift.

The other day I had the opportunity to bring Yoga to the whitehouse with some amazing Yoga Instructors from around the country. We brought the positive vibes that we have all cultivated through our dedication to our yoga practice and service. It was wonderful to see the Obamas and how much they really enjoy seeing other people smile and have fun. I am grateful to be a part of a global community that dedicated itself to feeling good, and acting with kindness.

 

Trust and Dog Tricks 

Happy new year! It’s hard to believe that life can get better than this, but I know from experience that when I focus on Joy, Happiness, Freedom than it is inevitable that life only can get better. 2015 was a year for me to appreciate my life and everything that I have already and also recognize that this is only the start of my beautiful life to come. Yes there will be the downs that life brings, and I will have challenges ahead that I will wish were not in my way, but I will get through them as gracefully as possible and continue to create a life that fulfills my Joy and the Joy of all that surround me. I am committed to be the best I can be and share the experience of life with anyone that wants to share it with me and my amazing family @dancinbecka and @gurutito. 
This video took several times for Tito to build his trust in me but he did it! I went super slow so he felt safe: a lesson in building others trust this year- don’t expect people to trust you show them you are trustworthy. Lots of love to you all in this new year!

  

New Video! Sold Out: Nicaragua

Good day! Nicaragua is sold out but please check my tour schedule, a few more dates will be added in Europe and the US soon, but there are many already up on the events page! 

I am excited to share a new video I put together of my practice the other day featuring some handstand, and arm balance transitions. Please share the video with friends and help me spread the world about my teachings and the inspiration of yoga itself.

Thank you for your support, and please feel free to reach out about your practice any time via email (contact form on this site)  or Facebook message. 
Enjoy: http://youtu.be/E2hJmJKfUKk

 
Flyer by Brett Michael Figliozzi 
Yogis, for social media design contact Brett at brett.figliozzi@gmail.com

New Video! Sold Out: Nicaragua

Good day! Nicaragua is sold out but please check my tour schedule, a few more dates will be added in Europe and the US soon, but there are many already up on the events page! 

I am excited to share a new video I put together of my practice the other day featuring some handstand, and arm balance transitions. Please share the video with friends and help me spread the world about my teachings and the inspiration of yoga itself.

Thank you for your support, and please feel free to reach out about your practice any time via email (contact form on this site)  or Facebook message. 
Enjoy: http://youtu.be/E2hJmJKfUKk

Inner Growth: Community, Alone Time

Alone time can be so powerful. For me It is a time  to reflect on my experiences without need to act or react, just simply listen to my mind, body and tune into the source of spirit within. When I take the time to be with myself I am more able to share the best parts of me with the world, because there is a sense of clarity that comes from the burning of monkey mind, and shift in attention to higher Self. It is as if you realized that for a while you were only looking at one dot in a painting, and suddenly you step back and see the bigger picture, the dot both makes sense and seems far less important than before. Have you had this experience in life- a sudden shift in perspective changes everything, and nothing all at once?  In contrast to alone time it is equally powerful to spend time in community. If you are willing to see it, everyone around you becomes a mirror. In each other’s eyes We can see both our untapped potential, and our vast radiance of beauty that shines from within. Everyone around us can become a reflection of both our persona and our Higher Self. Fear of judgement tends to keep us from looking in the mirror of truth, but with courage from ourselves, and compassion from those around us, magic can happen.

The past month I had the chance to lead the 19th AcroYoga Teacher Training. Every time I dive in with co-teachers, and students- who I consider to be my friends and family- I grow so much for the best. It is so humbling and inspiring to be a part of a community of powerful people, all looking to learn from each other. My biggest take away is that I can still empower and support others in their transformation while eve as  I am in the process of deep learning myself. When I started teaching yoga it seemed like those that were teachers had it all figured out. As the years have gone along I have recognized that life is a constant evolution and I will never have “it” all figured out. To be vulnerable enough to not Know, AND to be clear enough to see the beauty and wisdom that I have to offer to others…that is the balance.

AcroYoga Immersion

Happy to announce that my next AcroYoga offering is coming up this November in Washington DC. I will be teaching a 5 day AcroYoga Immersion (solar) with my first Mentor, and amazing friend Chris Loebsack!   Early bird registration ends Oct. 14! Register now to get your discount 🙂

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Communal Transformation

This past week at AcroYoga Teacher training has been incredibly powerful. It’s truly amazing to come together and live in a community of people that are open to self inquiry and personal growth. It’s even more exciting when they are all such loving people that want to also dive into their bodies and play!  The students are growing in huge ways and it is obvious in their practice teaching demos each day. Our teaching team as well, we are growing so much from the process of sharing this material. When you are with a team of 6 folks that are commited to bringing out the best within them, and absolutely open and wanting feedback as to how to do so it becomes a pressure cooker. We burn away all the nonsense that gets in the way of totally living from our heart. I love this process even though it stings at times. I love being in a community that is courageously vulnerable. 

Really excited for this November’s AcroYoga Solar immersion in D.C where we get 5 days together! Pre register by 10/14 and save $100! 

http://www.boundlessyogastudio.com/1114-1118-2015-dc-solar-immersion.html