Fascia and Flexibility

Most people believe that by stretching muscle groups, they will improve their overall flexibility, but that’s not totally how it works. Fascia, a protective casing around isolated muscles, is responsible for how flexible you actually are. If the fascia is pliable and soft, then your muscles are able to stretch more. But if your fascia is tight and under-worked, it becomes almost like thick, brittle plastic and prevents your muscles from stretching to their full potential. Left in this state, it also can lead to serious exercise-related injury.

There are 5 common muscles (or muscle groups) that often suffer from hard, thick fascia:

Hamstrings

Hamstrings are the worst. The fascia that surrounds this muscle group is often super tight and inflexible, due to sitting or standing too much, as well as from not stretching properly after intense workouts. These suckers are persistently tight, and require daily attention.

One of the best hamstring stretches, is ‘legs up the wall,’ or Viparita Kirani. Simply lay on your back, facing a wall, with your bum pushed right up to the wall, and your legs straight up. Holding this position for a couple of minutes every day is great for your hamstrings, and also helps to recycle old blood that tends to pool in our feet when we stand and sit too much.

If this stretch is too easy for you, and you can’t feel a stretch, try doing a standing forward fold, or Uttanasana, instead. (Pictured below.)

Forward Fold

Hips

Hip soreness and inflexibility is a frequent complaint among people who engage in physical fitness. Often, the fascia surrounding the hip socket is so tight, that it prevents natural rotation, which in turn contributes to a tighter lower back and hamstrings.

(See how that’s all connected?!)

Sitting with your feet together, knees out wide, is a great hip-stretching pose. You can do this two ways: you can assume an extended child’s pose (Balasana; pictured below), or you can simply sit up straight, on your bum, with your feet together in the middle, and knees out to the side, making sure you maintain a long spine and good posture (Baddha Konasana – Butterfly pose)

Either way, your hips are being stretched.

Other great hip openers include pigeon pose (Kapotasana) and frog pose (Bhekasana).

Parallel Yoga

Lower Back

Many people don’t notice how tight their fascia is in their lower back, but if you ever receive lower back massage, it’s typically painful and difficult to maneuver.

This is because of your tight core fascia.

The lower back is a hard one, so to properly stretch and work the fascia in this region (as well as the next region), we recommend using a foam roller. Foam rollers can be purchased for around $40, and they’re designed to work in a pressure-and-release type of way. That is, you place the roller on the base of your lower back, and then very slowly roll your body over the roller, holding in particularly sore or painful spots.

This type of fascial stretching isn’t nice feeling; it can actually be painful. But once that roller is removed, you can feel as instant release of tension as your fascia softens.

This works. You can purchase a foam roller at our studio, or you can also try using a tennis ball to relieve fascial tension.

Foam Roller

Quadriceps

Like the lower back, quads can be difficult to stretch to the point of fascial release. Again, we totally recommend using a foam roller to help achieve the type of softening that will allow your muscles to stretch properly.

Laying on your stomach, place the roller just above your knees. Using your arms, slowly roll back so that your legs move across the roller. Pause at particularly tight spots, and breathe through the discomfort. The more painful this process is, the more you generally need to do it. Tight, plastic-like fascia needs to be stretched, because allowing it to get worse can contribute to exercise-related injury.

A great yoga pose for helping the fascia surrounding your quads, is dancer pose (Natarajasana).

Glutes

Finally, we have the glutes. This muscle group is huge, and it has an equally huge job when it comes to maneuvering your body. Often people who have sore lower backs think that the lower back itself is the culprit. In actual fact, tight glutes can totally contribute to lower back pain!

Two fabulous poses that help to soften the fascia in this area are pigeon pose (Kapotasana) and figure-4 (Eka Pada Utkatasana). Deep lunges are also beneficial, and if you can hold them for more than a minute, your body will love you!

figure 4

By consistently working on softening and stretching our fascia, we can make huge strides to achieving better flexibility. If you’re interested in attending a yoga class that is absolutely fantastic for improving and toning your fascia, try restorative, or better yet, yin. For our class schedule, see HERE. For more on fascial stretching, click HERE.

Namaste!

Love, Parallel Yoga.

4 Yoga-Inspired Smoothie Recipes

If you’re practicing yoga on a regular basis, chances are you’re a fairly health-conscious person. So at Parallel Yoga, we’ve come up with 4 smoothie recipes fit for a yogi! The following smoothies are delicious, nutritious, and full of yoga-inspired goodness.

Please give them a try and let us know what you think!

Green smoothie

Green from A to Zen

As the name may imply, this smoothie has everything in it to get your body to where it needs to be. It can serve as a full meal replacement, and because the nutrients are blended, it can be absorbed and used by your body almost immediately. (No heavy digestion necessary!)

Between this smoothie and your deep, conscious breathing, you’re giving your body an excellent start to the day. Throw a little yoga class in there, and your body will love you. Go find your zen with this smoothie.

Ingredients

  • Handful fresh spinach
  • 1 kale leaf
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • ½ cup frozen pineapple
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 scoop unsweetened hemp protein powder (like Vega)
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds and/or shredded coconut (to garnish)

Method

  1. Combine first 6 ingredients in blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Sprinkle with chia seeds (or coconut) to garnish, and enjoy right away.

 Banana oatmeal smoothie

Breathe & Banana

This banana-heavy smoothie is chill and full of protein and potassium—a mineral imperative for great heart health, and for facilitating the conduction of impulses in nerve cells.

“Deficiencies of potassium have been linked to an increased risk of hypertension, kidney stones, osteoporosis, carbohydrate intolerance, stroke and cardiovascular disease.” (1)

This smoothie is a great heart helper!

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana (peeled)
  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp. almond butter
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp. chopped walnuts and/or a sprinkle of oats (to garnish)

Method

  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Garnish with a walnuts (or oats), and drink immediately.

 Raspberry smoothie bowl

Yin/Yang Smoothie Bowl

Sometimes you want smooth, and sometimes you want a little crunch. This smoothie bowl gives you the best of both worlds!

Ingredients

  • 1 frozen banana (peeled)
  • 6 frozen strawberries
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ½ cup vanilla soy milk
  • 1 tbsp. chopped pecans (to garnish)
  • 1 tbsp. Pepita (pumpkin) seeds (to garnish)
  • 1 tbsp. hemp hearts (to garnish)

Method

  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients into a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix).
  2. Blend until thick and smooth, adding a little more soy milk if necessary.
  3. Spoon into a bowl, and garnish with pecans, pepitas, and hemp hearts.
  4. Eat with a spoon, and love every second of it.

*If you want even more crunch, feel free to add some granola.

 Smoothie

The Tropi-Calm

Similar to Breathe & Banana, the Tropi-Calm is a calming, muted smoothie that is high in vitamin C and iron—both of which need each other to be absorbed properly. Think of this smoothie as centered, balanced, and perfect for restoring harmony in your body.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 1 banana
  • ½ cup frozen pineapple
  • 1 mandarin orange
  • 1 cup pure coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened, shredded coconut (to garnish)
  • 3 chopped dried apricots and/or slice of orange (to garnish)

Method

  1. Blend first 4 ingredients well.
  2. Pour into glass, and garnish with coconut, apricots and orange slices.
  3. Drink immediately!

References:

1- http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/potassium-good-body-6475.html

 

Yoga for the Brain

Any yogi out there knows that yoga works to tone muscles—all muscles—even muscles you didn’t know you had. (Am I right, or am I right?!) BUT: yoga is also a brain toner. Although today’s society places enormous value on being physically fit, a happy and healthy life is about achieving and maintaining a solid degree of mental health, too.

You might not see it, but our brains need fitness!

Yoga is amazing for working on the state of our mental health, and for many reasons. These include the following:

The very nature of yoga is mentally calming.

Think about it: yoga is a slow practice, with many poses held for a minute or longer. You are encouraged to breathe, clear your mind, and to focus on yourself. There is often calming, meditative music accompanying the class, and no one is forced to do anything that might be outside of what might be realistic for their own body.

If you come to class with your mind racing, you can pretty much bet money that it will not be when you leave, not that we’re encouraging gambling.

Yoga for the Brain

Yoga incorporates physical poses with mental strength and stability.

Often while being talked through a specific pose, the instructor will ask students to clear their minds, focus on the pose, breathe through it, and to acknowledge then send away outside thoughts not pertaining to the moment.

This builds mental strength.

When you can recognize a random thought, and mentally be capable of pushing it away for the purpose of maintaining a clear and positive mind, that’s amazing! By practicing yoga, we learn how to control negative thoughts and how to create and seek positive ones.

Honestly, it’s like free therapy with a side of stretch.

It forces you to breathe, and take a minute.

For those of us who are a little (or a lot) type-A, we sometimes need to be told to chill. We value lists and productivity and usually forget to take time to just be.

Yoga helps with that!

Think of savasana. Unless you want to be busted getting up and leaving in the last 5-10 minutes of your class, you have no choice but to lie down, get comfortable, and zone out. And? It’s considered just as valuable, if not more, than the rest of the class was.

Savasana

Many poses allow for increased blood circulation to the brain.

Poses such as forward fold, downward dog, wheel, and others inherently increase blood flow and therefore oxygen to the brain. By being in a position where your head is physically below your heart, your brain reaps the rewards of extra oxygen circulation.

I mean, if our brain was where our feet are, we’d probably all be geniuses and very mentally healthy. Yoga helps us switch it up every once in a while!

Here’s the bottom line: yoga is not just a physical practice—it’s a mental one, too. The more you attend yoga, the stronger you can become everywhere. We might be a little biased at Parallel Yoga, but we think yoga should be covered by our medical plans. Right?! (Maybe we should all lobby for this…)

Namaste. Go feed your brain some yoga!

3 Big Reasons You Should Take Care of Yourself First

Even writing this title made me initially feel kind of selfish, because somewhere along the line, we’ve been taught to take care of others first, and ourselves second. But lately, I’ve been learning that this is a recipe for disaster. Because as much as you might want to make sure every little thing  is perfect for everyone else, the fact is, it will never be close to great if you’re exhausted, resentful, and unrealistic about how much you can take on.

It’s exactly like you hear in every single airplane spiel you’re forced to endure before taking off: in the case of an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first; help others around you second. Here are 3 reasons why practicing self-care is not only necessary, it’s critical:

burn out

If You Don’t, You’ll Burn Out

Sure, you may attend every PAC meeting out there, make homemade scones for breakfast every morning, and throw the best dinner parties on your block. But have you meditated lately? Or just sat and consciously breathed for a few minutes? Or attended a yoga class?

Running around and making everyone else’s life easy and breezy may be fun, and you might enjoy the praise, but you will burn out. Make sure to take the time to get proper rest, eat nutritious meals, and do a little soul searching once in a while.

If you don’t, you’ll feel it sooner or later.

Good Mental Health is the Foundation of a Good Life

No one can improve this but you—you need to make a specific, conscious decision to be mentally and emotionally healthy. Everyone strives for physical health, but what about mental health? Mental health is more important, because if you do encounter a physical health problem down the road, good mental health allows you to maintain a positive attitude and make good decisions for yourself.

To make sure you stay on the path to good mental health, practice it daily. Write in a journal every night. Be thankful. Show others that you’re grateful for their love and support. Attend yoga classes regularly, and do other forms of exercise, too.

Working out definitely lends to increased physical health, but even more important, it helps to strengthen your mind.

Earthy background and design element depicting the words "We are

You Teach Your Children and Partner to Respect Themselves

When other people see you make the consistent and conscious decision to take care of yourself first, they will naturally want to do the same. Show your family that meditation is a worthy practice. Cook great, healthy food and eat it regularly. Teach your children how to close their eyes and breathe in deeply to help calm themselves, or even just to feel better.

It’s so important that we practice what we preach around our families; it’s the only way to ensure that good self-care habits are routinely part of our family life. The last thing we want to do is teach our kids how to be stressed out or grow up needing to be viewed as perfect. So don’t! Instead, show the people around you (the ones you actually love and care about) that you value self-care.

Namaste.

6 Things to Consider Before Buying Your First Yoga Mat

When you found yoga, you got excited, right? Most people who come to the studio for their first time are amazed at what yoga really is, and what it can help them accomplish. Mostly reputed to require bendy bones and fascia made of Jell-o, people are delighted to learn that they don’t need to be flexible, and expensive yoga gear is not required. You can simply show up in your old sweatpants and t-shirt, borrow a mat, and follow directions while listening and modifying poses according to the wills of your own body.

Pretty rad, right?

But after a few classes, and once you begin to feel really comfortable with the idea of incorporating this invaluable practice into your life on a regular basis, most people want to invest a little and buy their own yoga mat. While it may seem that all mats are created equal, we are here to let you know that they are not.

(Sorry!)

Here are 6 things we wish we’d known before we purchased our own mats—so read up, and you’ll ultimately save yourself some coin

Not all mats are created equal.

It’s true—they’re not even close. Before you purchase your mat, there are a handful of things to know about the difference of yoga mat quality. These days, you can pick up a mat almost anywhere, but do you want to grab a $20 mat from your grocery store?

Nope.

Why? Read on…

Mat

Buy brand name (aka: spend some coin).

Yep—we said that. We can personally guarantee that when you pick up a cheap mat from Wal-Mart, you’ll be replacing or modifying it within mere months. Less expensive mats break down faster, and are usually made from chemical-smelling plastics, like PVC.

Brand name mats are better, because aside from using better quality materials, that yoga brand knows yoga. They know what yogis need in a mat, and they care about making sure their product represents their brand. Like any brand-name product, it will cost more, but in the long run, it’s a better investment.

Check out this awesome Manduka mat HERE.

Go for thick, not thin.

If you buy a thin mat, you will feel like you’re practicing on hardwood. Even Child’s Pose will hurt the inside of your knees. Look around the studio next time you’re in: if the class is full, we would estimate about 20% borrow a studio mat to place under their own to make it more comfortable.

Thicker is better.

Try it before you buy it.

Honestly—throw the mat on the floor of the store, and get busy. (Doing yoga.)

Test for thickness, stickiness, and texture. While keeping in mind that as your yoga mat breaks in, it will develop more of a grip, try and determine whether or not it feels right. If you’re spending the dough, you want to make sure you’re happy with it.

yoga mat

Think about the environment.

This tip will sound kind of weird, but when you purchase a mat made from eco-friendly, recyclable materials, it will usually break down faster. Although definitely trendy, cork mats don’t last long at all, and 100% cotton mats are not even close to slip resistant—not what you want to discover while in Downward Dog.

The best course of action is to buy something that will be durable; something that will last a long time. It creates less waste, and will ultimately be better for the planet.

Match your mat to your practice.

When purchasing a mat, you’ll want to consider what type of yoga you typically engage in. Yin? You want a pretty thick mat. Hot? You want a mat with lots of texture to give you more grip while you sweat.

That kind of thing.

At Parallel Yoga, we sell mats that we KNOW are quality—our instructors use them, and we can personally endorse their effectiveness and longevity. If you have questions about them, ask us. We want you to know what we know about props and products that will affect your experience in our studio.

Because ultimately, the outcome of your practice depends on the entire experience, not just how well you were able to relax in Savasana (which also depends on the comfort of your mat).

Namaste!