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Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #11: December 2013

Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend Ambitious yogis – all good things must come to an end. As we wind down what has been an amazing year of fun, games and amazing workouts, we will also begin the cool down phase of our Ambitious yoga sequence. This month’s pose is a great hamstring, spine and shoulder stretch that allows the body to relax after an active series of poses.

After all of the hard work you’ve put in this year at Ambitious Athletics, don’t you think you deserve a little R&R? Enjoy taking things easy over the next couple of weeks. To get you started, here is Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend:

Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend

Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend

1. From standing, move down to the floor and come to a seated position with your legs fully extended in front of you, heels, ankles and big toes touching. If your hamstrings feel very tight, you can always keep a little bend in the knees throughout the pose.

2. On your inhale, extend the arms up toward the ceiling and hold this position for a couple of breaths. Feel the core working to keep you upright.

3. As you exhale, begin to bend forward, hinging at the hips and reach for your feet. If you have tight hamstrings, grabbing for the feet may not be possible. In this case, feel free to use a yoga strap or belt as an extension of the arms by looping the belt around the backs of the feet.

a. Optional: If you have very tight hips, consider sitting up on a pillow or blanket to allow the pelvis to tip forward slightly, facilitating the forward bend.

4. On your next inhale, pull on the feet or strap as you lengthen through the spine, extending the chest toward the toes. In this pose, length in the spine is more important than depth in the pose. In other words, don’t compromise the integrity of the spine by rounding the back in an attempt to grab the feet. Use the extra space provided by the strap to allow you to keep a long spine as you extend the torso toward the toes.

a. Advanced: If you have more flexibility through the hamstrings and hips, you may be able to rest your forehead on your shins in the forward bend. But don’t force it – this advanced movement is overrated and forcing it could cause you to misalign the spine and overstretch your hamstrings.

5. Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. With every inhale, lengthen through the spine. With every exhale, relax into the forward bend even more.

6. Breathe.

Thanks again for your dedication in 2013!

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Healthy and Happy 2014!

Namaste,

Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #10: November 2013

Vrksasana/Tree Pose We’ve spent the past few months building strength and flexibility, but with just a couple months before the new year I’d say it’s high time we give some love to another important component of your practice: balance. Why? The truth is that strength and flexibility are nothing without balance. Don’t believe me? Let me put it this way: what good are your toned quads and hammies if you can’t walk in a straight line without falling over? Trust me on this one.

As we age, balance is one of the skills we need most, but often one of the first to go. But before you despair over this cruel irony, know that there’s something you can do about it. You know what they say … practice makes perfect! :)

That’s why the November Pose of the Month is … (drumroll please) …

Vrksasana/Tree Pose Optional: Stand at the wall for added support

1. Begin in Tadasana at the top of your mat. Spread through your toes to widen your foundation and root down firmly through your feet.

2. Raise your R knee in front of you so that it is in line with your R hip (nearly at a 90 degree angle) and slowly begin turn the knee out to your R side, hinging from the hip. From there, place the sole of your R foot on the inside of the L thigh OR on the inside of the L calf, if you have tight hips.

3. Create stability in the pose by pressing the R foot into the standing L leg as much as you are pressing the standing leg into the foot. Maintain this central force toward the midline of the body throughout the pose.

4. Take your hands to your hips and check to make sure they are level from side to side. You may find that the R hip is raised slightly. If that is the case, lower the R hip, so that it is in line with the L one, ensuring that the torso is stacked directly over the hips.

5. Now that the lower body is in the correct position, we can begin to incorporate the arms. Lucky you, there are options!

a. Option 1: Bring your palms together at the center of your chest in prayer position and actively press them in toward one another.

b. Option 2: If you’d like more of a challenge, raise your arms toward the ceiling, being careful to release the shoulders down away from the ears.

c. Option 3: If you are really feeling ambitious, turn your gaze up toward your raised hands.

6. Whether you are looking up or straight ahead, focus your gaze on one still point for the duration of the pose to maintain stability.

7. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Breathe.

8. Return to Tadasana and Repeat Steps #1-7.

Remember: Balancing is a day-to-day thing and it is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. If you fall out of the pose, jump right back in and simply recognize where your body is today. Just have fun with it. After all, tomorrow is a new day!

Happy Turkey Day, Ambitious Yogis!

Namaste, Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #9: October 2013

Utthita Parsvakonasana/Extended Side Angle Pose One of my favorite yoga transitions is from Virabhadrasana/Warrior 2 to another, more intense hip opener: Utthita Parsvakonasana/Extended Side Angle Pose. But keep in mind that Side Angle Pose does way more than just open your hips. It also strengthens and stretches your thighs, ankles and knees, lengthens your torso and benefits overall core strength.

Another importance fact about Side Angle Pose is that it can be modified for almost any practice level, allowing all practitioners to reap the physical benefits and making it a constant feature in many yoga classes.

For all you yogis with achy hips and legs, this one’s for you!

Utthita Parsvakonasana/Extended Side Angle Pose Optional Props: One Yoga Block

1. From Virabhadrasana2 /Warrior 2 with your R knee bent to 90 degrees and your left leg straight, begin to exhale as you extend both sides of your torso forward toward the bent knee and rest your R forearm on your R thigh. Make sure that your torso remains long and does not collapse toward the floor.

Advanced Tip: If you have more flexibility in your hips, consider placing your block on the inside of the R foot and slide your hand down to rest flat on top of the block. If this is still too easy, remove the block and place your hand directly on the floor on the inside of your foot. Be sure to maintain the integrity of your spine (read: keep your torso long) throughout the pose. If you notice that depth in the pose causes the torso to collapse toward the floor and the back to round, return your forearm to your thigh as in Step 1.

2. Depending on what variation you’ve chosen for the R arm, press your forearm or upper arm into the R leg to help open your hip even more toward the wall behind you and use this movement as leverage to help you open your chest toward the wall in front of you. Maintain that constant pressure against the leg to keep the stretch consistent.

3. On your next inhale, raise your L arm toward the ceiling, so that your shoulders are nearly stacked on top of one another, and look up toward your L hand. If you have the flexibility in your shoulders, continue this movement by reaching the L arm over your head in the direction of your R foot and turn your gaze to the inside of the L elbow.

4. Ground your L foot firmly into the floor/mat and feel a line of energy running through the foot, all the way along the outside of the L leg, through your torso and out through your left fingertips. Continue extending your upper body toward the R as you maintain the connection with the ground through your L foot.

5. Hold the pose and breathe for 30-60 seconds.

6. When you are ready to come out of the pose, raise your L arm toward the ceiling and press down firmly through both feet, as you use the L arm to lift yourself out of the pose on your inhale, returning to a Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2 position.

7. Return to Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2 on the L side and repeat Steps 1-6.

For more information on Extended Side Angle Pose, visit: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/749.

Namaste,

Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #8: September 2013

Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2 The perfect follow-up to the heat-building Sun Salutes are standing poses that promote strength and balance. Once of my all-time favorites is Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2. Why? It’s a hip opener and, as all of you with tight hips will attest, you can never do too much hip opening. But most importantly, it just makes me feel like an all-around badass – “Virabhadra” is the name of a fierce warrior, after all!

Virabhadrasana 2/Warrior 2

1. From Tadasana, turn to face the long side of your mat and jump or step your feet wide apart – approximately wrist-width distance, which means that your ankles are underneath your wrists when your arms are fully extended to the sides. Feet should be parallel to start with both legs straight.

2. Turn your R foot out to the side, so that your R foot heel is lined up with the arch of your L foot.

3. Exhale and bend your R knee to 90 degrees, so that your thigh is parallel to the floor. Check to make sure that your knee does not go beyond your ankle. If it does, your stance is too narrow and you’ll need to widen it slightly to ensure that the knee is stacked over the heel. Press down firmly with the outer edge of your L foot.

4. Now take your hands to your hips for a moment and check to make sure that they are level from side to side and that your torso is stacked directly over top of them. The tendency is for the torso to lean toward that R thigh, which causes the R hip to dip lower than the L hip. If that is happening to you, simply pull your torso back so that shoulders are stacked over the hips and lift the R hip slightly so that the two hips are aligned. Extend your tailbone toward the floor.

5. On your next Inhale, lift your arms to shoulder height and extend them in opposite directions, so that they are parallel with the floor and strong. Broaden across your collar bones and turn your gaze toward your R thumb. Breathe.

6. Hold the position for 30 seconds to 1 minute – whatever is comfortable for you.

7. When you are ready to come out of the pose. Extend the R knee and return the R foot toward the front of the room, so that both feet are parallel.

8. Repeat Steps 1-7 on the L side.

For more information on Warrior 2, including its history and health benefits, check out this article: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00538/Warrior-II-Pose.html.

Namaste,

Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #7: August 2013

Surya Namaskar /Sun Salutation A

(Special thanks to Ambitious yogi, Natalie, for modeling this month's pose.)

Now that we’ve perfected Ambitious Yoga Poses #1-6, it’s time to continue our practice and build a little heat in the body with Sun Salutations. Surya Namaskar (stemming from the Sanskrit words surya – “sun” and namas – “to adore”) is a dynamic asana sequence that syncs movement with the breath and efficiently takes your body through a series of poses that combine strength, flexibility and balance. In other words, in less than 30 seconds and 12 poses, your mind and body are in a better place than they were when you started out. Yep, I wish I could package this drug and sell it! J

Ready to get started? Let’s move you from Runner’s Lunge (Ambitious Yoga Pose #6 – you’ve sure been there a long time!) to get you into the starting position.

From Runner’s Lunge: Step your back foot forward and straighten your legs to transition into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). From there, allow your head, neck and arms to relax completely. Keep your knees slightly bent and turn your gaze toward your navel. Slowly begin to roll up to a standing position one vertebra at a time.

Now you’re ready to read on for Sun Salute A broken down into 13 easy steps:

1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): Stand with your big toes touching and your heels slightly apart. Lift and spread your toes and then lay them gently onto the floor to widen your stance. Rock back and forth gently to try to stack your weight evenly over every joint (knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips, neck over shoulders). Lift your kneecaps, drop your tailbone toward the floor and lift your chest, widening across your collarbones (think “proud stance!”). Your chin should be parallel to the floor. Bring your hands down by your sides and turn your palms to face forward. Breathe.

2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute): (Inhale) Raise your arms and extend them completely toward the ceiling, palms facing one another, while relaxing your shoulders away from your ears (no hunched shoulders, please!).

3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): (Exhale) Hinge from the hips and fold forward, leading with the chest as you reach for your toes (or your shins, thighs or whatever else is accessible). For many yogis, legs will be straight, but feel free to bend your knees as much as you need to in the forward bend – particularly if you feel pressure in your lower back. Bending the knees allows the pelvis to tilt forward, which is exactly what you’re looking for in the pose.

4. Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend): (Inhale) Lift your chest to create a flat back. Some uber flexible yogis will be able to do this with the hands on the ground, but for most of us I recommend bringing your hands to your shins to allow you to get full extension through the spine.

5. Runner’s Lunge: (Exhale) Bring your hands to the mat and step your R foot back into a Runner’s Lunge position, keeping the back leg straight. For more details on the Runner’s Lunge, check out Ambitious Pose of the Month #6.

Advanced Tip: The Jump-Back. Feeling Ambitious? Skip poses 5-6 and jump straight back from Uttanasana (Burpee-style) into Chaturanga Dandasana, but be sure to brace your core as you do so to protect your lower back. Not sure you are ready for the jump-back? Test your confidence and jumping ability first with the jump-forward (see Advanced Tip 10b.).

6. Plank Pose: (Inhale) Step your L foot back to meet your right foot to find yourself in a Plank Position. Arms are straight and perpendicular to the floor with your shoulders stacked over your wrists. Press down evenly through all 5 fingers of both hands. Lift through your chest and widen across your shoulder blades, as you slide them down your back for support (again, no hunched shoulders!). Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels to engage your core. To keep your legs engaged, press your thighs toward the ceiling and reach your heels away from your body, as if you were pressing them into the wall behind you.

7. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose): (Exhale) Maintain the plank form as you begin to lower yourself halfway toward the floor (just like a reverse push-up), hugging your elbows in toward your ribs the entire time (imagine you forgot to put on deodorant and are trying to keep it from your fellow yogis!).

8. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog): (Inhale) Begin to shift your body (still in a strong plank position) forward a couple of inches until the heel of your hands is in line with the base of your ribs. At this point, slowly begin to flip your feet over, so that the tops of the feet are pressing into the floor and extend your arms, lift your chest toward the ceiling. In the completed position, you want your hands stacked under your shoulders with your arms complete extended. Your chest is lifted with your shoulder blades pressing into your back. The tops of your feet are pressing firmly into the ground, so much so that the tops of the thighs lift away from the floor. Extend your tailbone toward your heels, which are hips-width distance apart. Gaze is forward.

9. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog): (Exhale) From Upward Dog, lift from the lower abdomen as you begin to pike your hips up toward the ceiling to create a triangle position with the body, as you flip your feet over one by one. Continue with Steps #3-7 of Downward Dog from Ambitious Pose of the Month #5 .

10. Ardha Uttanasana: (Inhale) Step your R foot forward between your hands, followed by your L to transition into a forward bend position and return to a flat back position as we did earlier in the cycle (See instructions for Step 4).

Advanced Tip: The Jump-Forward. If you’re interested in getting your feet wet with the jump-forward and jump-back, this is the place to start. Instead of stepping the feet forward to Ardha Uttanasana, shift your weight forward into your hands, brace your core and hop your feet forward (just like a Burpee) between your hands instead. Give it a try – the first two or three times you may have to take a few hops to get the whole way there, but eventually you will develop the confidence you need to conquer the jump-forward every time.

11. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): (Exhale) Relax into a forward bend position as we did in Step 3.

12. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute): (Inhale) Swing your arms out to the side like airplane wings and lead with the chest as you come up to stand with a flat back. Raise your arms over head and return to Urdhva Hastasana (see Step 2)

13. Tadasana (Mountain Pose): (Exhale) Return to Tadasana (see instructions Step 1).

Repeat 4-5 times and enjoy the sensations arising in your body (that’s Sun Salute-goodness for ya!).

A note about breathing: As you get started, you may need to take several breaths per movement (that’s ok!), but eventually your goal will be to take one breath per movement as indicated below. When in doubt, remember this yoga rule of thumb: just breathe!

Read on for more about the history and philosophy behind the Sun Salutation.

Namaste,

Emilie

Yoga Pose of the Month Rewind: Get Your Om on with Poses #1-6

Hi Yogis! Have you been able to fit a little “me time” into your action-packed summer schedule? I know, I know … it’s easier said than done, right? With work, birthday parties, carpool, traffic jams on 95, we’re lucky we even eat dinner! I just got back from a week and a half in the Outer Banks with my extended family. Fourteen people in one house, including four children under the age of 8, isn’t necessarily synonymous with “me time,” but I found solace where I could. Waking up to see the sunrise and partaking in a little sound side yoga was just what I needed to unwind.

You can find inner peace in your daily routine, too! To help you get started, this month we’re recapping the Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month into a 6-pose series sure to help you find a little R&R in your every day. For a little added inspiration, the scenery is from my recent trip to the beach.

Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

Emilie

January Durgha 3-part Breath in Sukhasana

February Sukhasana Twist and Lateral Strectch

March Cat/Cow Tilts

April Balasana (Child's Pose)

May Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)

June Runner's Lunge

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #6: June 2013

Runner’s Lunge For all you runner’s out there (it’s ok, I won’t tell Carmen!), aches and pains in the hips, thighs and calves are your daily companions. This month, I’m going to give you the cure for what ails ya (unless you’re this woman and then there’s no turning back). Appropriately called Runner’s Lunge, this yoga pose is one of my absolute favorites and it’s one of the most effective ways of stretching out those hips and legs after you’ve put some miles on them. Let’s get started!

Runner’s Lunge

1. From Downward Dog, lift your right leg high behind you on your exhale and hold the leg in this position for three breaths, as you drive the left heel toward the floor. Try to keep the weight balanced evenly in both arms.

2. On your next inhale, bend the knee and bring the right foot forward between your hands so that your knee is over your heel (this is important to protect the knee).

3. Lay your torso down on the right thigh, while keeping the spine long and reaching the chest forward (no rounded backs here).

4. Sink into that right knee bend, as you press the left thigh up toward the ceiling and drive the left heel toward the floor. Keep in mind, your heel won’t touch the floor, but you’ll want to keep the leg active to get the full benefit of the stretch.

5. Now that you’re in the general position, it’s time to perfect the pose. To deepen the stretch, imagine that you are reaching your two legs in opposite directions. The right knee drives forward as the left heel drives back. Now choose your gaze. If your neck feels good, look forward. Otherwise, look down toward the floor a foot or so in front of you. Breathe.

6. Having trouble keeping the spine long? Consider using two blocks under your hands to create a little more space in the upper body.

7. Hold the pose for 5-8 breaths.

8. On your next exhale, step the right foot back into Downward Dog.

9. Repeat steps 1-8 with the left leg.

10. Want to kick it up a notch? Add a little core work to the equation. After Step 1, inhale the knee forward to the nose. Exhale it back. Repeat this 5 times before you move on to Step 2. Repeat on both sides.

Happy Trails and Namaste!

Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #5: May 2013

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) Spring has sprung, yogis! And for that reason, we are springing into action with our Ambitious Yoga Pose for the month of May. Balasana is nice and all, but it’s time to really get things moving with one of the all-time greatest yoga poses and one you’ll never take a yoga class without: Adho Mukha Svanasana, most commonly known as Downward-Facing Dog – that’s Downward Dog to all you yoga faithfuls out there. Why do people love it? Because it literally does it all – it calms the mind, strengthens and stretches the arms, legs and spine, energizes the body and turns your perspective (literally!) upside down. Let’s get started ….

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog)

1. Without moving the hands or knees, transition from Balasana to all fours (Table) position. Lucky for you, Balasana is the best pose to transition into Downward Dog from. Why? Because your hands and knees are already the perfect distance apart. You shouldn’t have to move a thing! But just in case – hands should be shoulder-width distance apart and slightly ahead of your shoulders and legs are hips-width distance apart.

2. From Table, on your next exhale curl your toes under and press your hands and feet into the floor as you lift your hips up and back. Your body should know form a triangle position with your sit bones (the pointy bones at the base of your bum) as the highest point.

3. Press your hands actively into the floor through all five fingers to straighten your arms completely and continue that length through the base of your spine. Imagine you are pressing the floor away from you. If your shoulders feel tight, feel free to take the hands a little wider apart and consider angling your fingertips toward the corners of your mat to create more space in the shoulders.

4. Similarly, if your legs feel tight, step them a little wider apart to create a little more space in the hamstring and calves. Because we are still early in the sequence, feel free to keep a bend in the knees to release any tension in the legs and allow you to balance the weight more evenly between the hands and the feet. For most people – especially those who are newer to yoga -- Downward Dog is extremely challenging, because tight hamstrings make it difficult to shift the weight into the legs, meaning that the majority of the weight must be carried by the upper body. Bending the knees helps reduce that imbalance.

5. Allow your head and neck to completely relax. Your gaze should be between the shins.

6. Now let’s open up through the hamstrings and calves by “Walking the Dog” – bending one knee as you straighten the other one and continuing to peddle the feet back and forth. Continue here for a few breaths.

7. Now that we are in the basic position, let’s make a few small adjustments to improve the pose.

a. Upper Body: Slightly rotate the biceps toward your ears (“like they want to tell your ears a secret!”) as your firm your shoulder blades against your back and draw them down your back toward your tailbone.

b. Hips: Lift the hips up and back and reach your sit bones to the place where the wall and ceiling meet.

c. Lower Body: Now that you are a bit more warmed up, press the thighs toward the wall behind you and reach your heels down toward the ground, straightening your legs without locking the knees. Note: the heels do not have to touch the ground. Everybody (and every body) is different!

8. Practice holding the pose for different lengths of time. If you are newer to the pose, 20 seconds might be enough. If you are more experienced, try holding for 1-3 minutes. Whatever amount of time you choose, just breathe and enjoy!

Namaste!

Emilie

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #4 (April 2013): Balasana (Child’s Pose)

In March, we completed the six movements of the spine with Cat/Cow Tilts. This month, we’ll continue opening up the body with one of my all-time favorite poses that gently stretches the lower back, hips, thighs and ankles. What’s unique about Balasana, otherwise known as Child’s Pose, is that it’s safe to practice any time of day and at any point in class – whether you’re warmed up or not. In fact, most teachers will also encourage you to return to Balasana any time you need a timeout during your practice. Short of breath after a cycle of Sun Salutes? Take Balasana. Hips sore after holding Chair Pose (Utkatasana) for more than 60 seconds? Balasana is your new best friend.

In Bikram yoga, they even say that Balasana (what they call “Half Tortoise Pose”) is the equivalent of eight hours of sleep. Pretty cool, huh? Now while I’ll never encourage you to trade sleep for Balasana, I can confirm that stress relief and reduced fatigue are among its many benefits.

Ready to give it a try?

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

1. From all fours, bring the toes together to touch and take the knees wide apart. How wide your knees must go will depend entirely on how tight your hips are. Feel free to adjust throughout the pose, as needed. A good rule of thumb is that the tighter the hips, the wider the knees.

2. Begin to reach your hips back toward your heels as far as they’ll go. If you have a lot of flexibility in your hips, it will feel as if you are sitting on your heels. If you have tighter hips, there may be space between the hips and heels. Both options are ok.

3. Extend the arms out on the floor in front of you, palms facing down and bring your forehead down onto the mat.

4. Keep the pose active by pressing the floor away from you with all five fingers of both hands as you continuously reach the hips toward the heels. As you do this, feel the active stretch from the hands on the floor all the way through the arms and the length of the spine.

5. Check in again with the hips. If they are feeling tight, take your hips a little farther apart and see if this adjustment allows you to reach the hips toward the heels even more.

6. Now let’s turn the attention toward your breath. As you inhale, feel your back expand. As you exhale, feel the back contract. Continue here for several breaths, breathing into the back of your torso. With every exhale, you may find that you are able to release the hips even farther toward the heels.

7. Modification: If you want to make the pose more passive, bring your arms down by your sides, hands by your hips and allow you palms to face up toward the ceiling. Breathe.

Even the seemingly simplest poses can feel challenging at any given time depending on where you are mentally and physically. If you remember nothing else, remember to be content in whatever position you find yourself today and know that with continued practice you will deepen your postures over time.

Namaste!

Emilie

Need to catch up on this 2013 Yoga sequence? Here are the links to pose's 1-3

January #1: Sukhasana (easy seat)

February #2: Sukhasana Twist and Lateral Stretch

March #3: Cat/Cow Tilts

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #3 (March 2013): Cat/Cow Tilts

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #3 (March 2013): Cat/Cow Tilts Happy March, everyone! Spring is almost here and we can finally say goodbye to those stiff and achy bodies that seem to be an inevitable part of the winter months. But there is one pesky area of the body that always seems to cause trouble no matter the time of year: your spine. Whether it’s your upper back, middle back or lower back, there’s probably not a person among us who doesn’t get a backache every once in a while. After all, the majority of us sit at desks the majority of our days and that can’t be good!

What is good is that there are certain things you can do to improve your spinal health AND, as luck would have it, I’m about to tell you how.

Did you know that there are 6 movements of the spine? You better, because you already did the first four in February’s Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month. The first two involve lateral movements, otherwise known as side bending left and right. The next two are twists, which you can also do in both directions. And last but not least – just in time for March’s Yoga Pose of the Month – there’s flexion and extension, also known as forward bends and backbends.

The next pose in your Ambitious yoga sequence wraps up the 6 movements of the spine and, I will add, is one of my absolute favorites.

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #3 (March 2013): Cat/Cow Tilts

· Transitioning from Yoga Pose of the Month #2 (Sukhasana), place your hands on the mat in front of you and begin to walk your hands forward, rolling over your legs and coming to all fours.

· Keep your neck in a neutral position to start in line with the rest of your spine.

· Hands should be underneath your shoulders and your knees should be underneath your hips.

· Maintain tone in the abdominal muscles by hugging the naval in toward the spine.

· As you inhale, life the chest and sit bones (those pointy bones underneath your bum) up toward the sky, arching through the back. This is Cat Pose.

· As you exhale, press the hands into the floor and begin to round through the spine, raising the spine up toward the ceiling as high as you can. This is Cow Pose.

· On your next inhale, transition to Cat Pose again.

· On your next exhale, return to Cow Pose.

· Continue moving on your own, transitioning to Cat as you inhale and Cow as you exhale for at least 8 complete breaths.

· When you are finished, end on all fours with a neutral spine.

If you can remember to move your spine in these 6 directions at least once every day, you are on your way to improved spinal health, posture, flexibility and more.

Enjoy and Namaste!

Emilie

AthleAmbitious Yoga Pose of the Month #2 (February 2013): Sukhasana Twist and Lateral Stretch

I hope you’ve been enjoying your pranayama breathing technique since January’s Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month. Now, it’s time to move on with part two of the sequence. But before you get up from your “Easy Seat,” we’re staying put in Sukhasana and adding a couple more movements that are proven to benefit your body from a physiological, musculoskeletal and mental perspective. Specifically, we’re adding in twists and lateral stretches, which:

· Improve flexibility, spinal mobility and posture

· Stimulate circulation

· Cleanse and massage organs and glands (e.g., stomach, kidneys, liver, spleen and pancreas)

· Support digestion

· Aid concentration and focus

· Eliminate tension

· Improve breathing

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started.

Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month #2 (February 2013): Sukhasana Twist and Lateral Stretch

1. Remain seated at the top of your mat in Sukhasana (Easy Seat), lifting through the chest to create a long spine, hands resting comfortably on the tops of your thighs.

2. Notice how the weight is distributed on your sit bones (the pointy bones underneath your tush). If you are leaning to one side or the other, try to balance the weight evenly front-to-back, side-to-side.

3. On your next inhale, extend the arms straight up overhead.

4. On your exhale, begin to twist to the RIGHT, placing your LEFT hand on your RIGHT knee and your RIGHT hand behind your back for support. Think of the RIGHT hand like a kickstand, with the goal of keeping your spine as long/tall as possible.

5. With every inhale, lengthen the spine more (sit up nice and tall). With every exhale, deepen the twist, while still keeping the sit bones balanced evenly on the floor. Pay particular attention to that LEFT sit bone, which may try to come along for the ride with your upper body as it twists RIGHT. Don’t let it! Take 3 full breaths here.

6. On your next inhale, come out of the twist, returning your upper body to face center and extend the arms straight up overhead.

7. On your exhale, begin to twist to the LEFT, placing your RIGHT hand on your left knee and your LEFT hand behind your back for support. Again, think of the LEFT hand like a kickstand, supporting an upright spine.

8. With every inhale, lengthen the spine. With every exhale, deepen the twist slightly, while still keeping the sit bones balanced evenly on the floor. This time, try to maintain contact between the RIGHT sit bone and the floor. Take 3 full breaths here.

9. On your next inhale, come out of the twist, returning your upper body to face center and extend the arms straight up overhead.

10. On your exhale, release the RIGHT arm toward the floor, placing the palm down flat and reach the LEFT arm over your head toward the right side of the room. You should feel a deep stretch all the way along the LEFT side of the body. Is that RIGHT shoulder hunched around the ears? If so, release the shoulder down toward the floor creating a nice long spine that extends all the way through the neck.

11. On your inhale, think about filling that LEFT side body with air to deepen the stretch. Notice if that LEFT sit bone is starting to rise up from the floor. Don’t let it! Try to extend the sit bone down toward the floor to keep the weight balanced between both sit bones evenly. Take 3 breaths here.

12. On your next inhale, come out of the side bend, lifting both arms up toward the ceiling.

13. On your exhale, switch sides, releasing the LEFT arm toward the floor, placing the palm down flat on the floor and reaching the RIGHT arm over your head toward the LEFT side of the room. Remember to release that LEFT shoulder down toward the floor to keep the neck long. Now, you should feel a deep stretch all the way along the RIGHT side of the body.

14. On your inhale, think about filling that RIGHT side body with air to deepen the stretch. Extend the RIGHT sit bone down toward the floor to keep the weight balanced between both sit bones. Take 3 breaths here.

15. On your next inhale, come out of the side bend, lifting both arms up toward the ceiling.

16. Exhale, release the hands toward the floor.

17. Uncross your legs and cross them the opposite way, with the opposite shin in front.

18. Repeat Steps 1-16 with your legs crossed in this way.

Helpful Resources:

· Article: Let’s Twist Again, Yoga Journal

Namaste,

Emilie

Valentine’s Day Promo: Say “I Love You” With Buy One Get One Yoga Deal

Ambitious Athletics is feeling the love this Valentine's Day by offering you and a significant other or friend the opportunity to take advantage of our Tuesday morning yoga classes with a one-time BUY ONE GET ONE HALF OFF deal. Now through Feb. 14, you can buy one drop-in yoga punch card (includes 8 one-hour classes) for $120 and get the second punch card for $60 (a total savings of $60!). Additional details follow:

WHAT: Tuesday Yoga at Ambitious Athletics is an athletic 60-minute Vinyasa Flow class that targets areas of the body involved in athletic development. Some days we’ll emphasize core work and shoulder opening and other days we’ll target hips and hamstrings, but we always work the entire body with a full range of postures designed to improve your strength and mobility.

WHERE: Our Woodley Park Location (DC Aikido Japanese Martial Arts Studio, 2639 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite-104; directly across the street from the Woodley Park Metro)

WHEN: Classes begin at 5:45 a.m. sharp (Important: doors lock at 5:40 a.m., so all participants are encouraged to arrive by 5:30 a.m. to avoid missing class)

HOW: Click here to take advantage of this amazing deal today. Select “Online Store” then "Series & Memberships, and choose the promotional offer from the list.

FINE PRINT: Offer expires on Feb. 14. Deal is open to new yoga students only. All punch cards expire 4 months from the date of purchase.

Namaste,

Emilie

Introducing the Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month: Your Key to Inner Peace in 2013

Happy New Year, you Ambitious people, you! Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? Maybe they include “getting stronger,” “eating better” or “exercising more regularly” – all of which are extremely important to your health. But, have you ever considered adding “making more time for ME” to your list? For all you super Moms and Dads and workaholics out there, “me time” is probably not something you are super familiar with, but believe me when I tell you that taking a little time out every single day is one of the single best things you can do for bodies – inside and out. What’s more, taking a much needed time out will actually make you even better at confronting the rest of life’s challenges – whether that includes the terrible twos, challenging clients or that coworker who always has some problem (business-related or personal!) for you to solve.

Not surprisingly one of my favorite ways to find a little inner peace is on the yoga mat. No matter how hectic my day gets, I always try to squeeze in a session – whether it’s 90 minutes or three. From a quick post-run sequence to a bedside sun salute (jammies on, of course!) to Pranayama deep breathing at my desk, I always feel better for adding a little yoga to my day. You will too!

To help you get started, we are launching the Ambitious Yoga Pose of the Month – a monthly write-up in which I will highlight one amazing yoga pose, its benefits, modifications and more. The best part is that when pieced together, the yoga poses will create a sequence that you can use at home when you need a little “me time” or just a good stretch.

The first pose of the month is actually a two-fer and includes a Pranayama deep breathing technique in a simple seated position. “Prana-what,” you say. Pranayama translates simply to “breath control.” But before you think I’m asking you to complete some David Blaine feat, pranayama does not challenge you to hold your breath. It teaches you how it more efficiently and effectively. In the yoga world they say that if you can control the breath you can control the mind, so think of pranayama as your secret way of quieting the mind, dealing with stress and telling your busy world to “hold on a sec.” You’re welcome!

Ambitious Pose of the Month (January 2013): Durgha 3-Part Breath in Sukhasana

1. Start seated at the top of your mat in Sukhasana (Easy Seat).

2. Place your hands comfortably on the tops of your thighs and sit up nice and tall.

3. Close the eyes and focus the attention on your breath. Try to deepen every inhale and exhale, releasing any tension in the body as you exhale.

4. Once the breath is steady, take one complete inhale and exhale. At the bottom of the next inhale, begin to take the inhale in 3 parts (like filling up a class of water), starting at the bottom of the torso and moving your way up.

5. Breathe a little bit of air into the belly and hold it.

6. Breathe a little bit more air into the ribcage and hold it there.

7. Breathe a little bit more air into the chest and hold it there.

8. Exhale it all the way out.

9. Repeat Steps 5-8 on your own – holding the air briefly after each part and following with one long exhale – for several cycles (anywhere from 10-30 complete breaths).

10. Once you are finished, allow the breath to return to normal.

11. Keeping the eyes closed, check in with the body and notice how you are feeling. Do you feel a bit calmer and more relaxed than when you started? Is your breath more steady?

Namaste,

Emilie

Relieve Holiday Stress by Flipping Life on Its Head

It’s that time of year again: the holiday season is upon us. And as much as we all love the lights and 24/7 tunes, it’s no secret that the holidays create their share of stress, as well. Finding that perfect gift and spending eight hours straight with your in-laws may translate into a nagging cold, aching bodies and cluttered minds. But have no fear. There is a solution. Turn Your World Upside Down

To clarify, I am not suggesting that you make any drastic life changes. Drastic life changes and stress don’t mix, so return the sports car, cancel the move to Europe, don’t profess your love to the girl you met last night at the bar. When I say “turn your world upside down,” I mean practice yoga inversions.

Afraid of going upside down? Don’t worry. Inversions can simply be defined as any pose where you heart is higher than your head and they range in complexity from Balasana/Child’s Pose to Pincha Mayurasana/Feathered Peacock Pose. The good news is that ALL inversions share the same benefits.

They:

• Reduce stress Yes, the holidays are stressful, but an easy way to reduce stress all year long really is the gift that keeps on giving!

• Relieve pain in the spine and overworked muscles Tired of sitting at your desk for 8 hours a day? Inversions reverse the effect of gravity and relieve compression. Body a little beat from 100 burpees? Inversions give your body the R&R it needs to recover for 100 more.

• Improve circulation Think about those salmon swimming against the stream of water. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could help them get to their destination by changing the flow of the water? Think of inversions as doing just that: helping your blood to get where it needs to go.

• Strengthen bones, ligaments, the core and more Are you a lefty? Imagine if you decided to start throwing with your right hand? Your body may be pretty strong right side up, but upside down is a whole other ballgame. Inversions challenge the status quo and make you stronger in the process.

• Improve posture, balance and concentration Balancing on your head in Headstand isn’t easy and requires discipline and poise.

• Enhance immunity It turns out standing on your head can keep colds at bay, too!

• Combat insomnia Inversions have a calming effect, meaning you’ll catch your Zs easier and with fewer interruptions.

• Change your perspective – literally! You don’t have to change your beliefs to change the way you see the world.

I know what you’re thinking. Where do I sign up, right? But before you jump into a handstand before finishing this article, a quick word of caution. All inversions are not for everyone (for example, many inversions are contraindicated for people who are pregnant or menstruating, or have neck injuries, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart conditions and eye problems. For that reason, I highly encourage you to only practice inversions under the supervision of an experienced yoga teacher who can guide you through the process, including the preparatory poses that prepare your body to go upside down.

That said, I will leave you today with one of my favorite inversions that nearly everyone can do anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

Vipariti Kirani/Legs Up the Wall Pose

So what are you waiting for? Move that end table away from the wall, kick up your legs, and flip life on its head for a happy (and stress free) holiday season!

Namaste,

Emilie

Real Men Do Yoga

Attention fellas and ladies who know fellas. It’s time we cleared the air about a commonly held, but rarely discussed, yoga myth. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just for ladies. Dudes need yoga, too. Don’t believe me? Just ask any one of the millions of men around the world enjoying the innumerable physical and mental benefits of yoga.

There’s actor Matthew McConaughey, who attributes his lean muscle mass to his yoga practice. Did you see those abs in Magic Mike? Or musician Sting who credits his 20-year practice for keeping him fit (with guns a blazin’ at 60, I might add) and stress-free. Oh and then there’s LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Sean Burke, Tom Brady and the entire roster of the Philadelphia Eagles who count yoga an essential part of their training regimens. And that’s just the beginning.

So what is it about this ancient discipline that keeps these real men saluting the sun? For starters, yoga:

• Improves athletic performance. The increased flexibility and range of motion generated through a regular yoga practice translates into greater efficiency in all athletic movements – from longer strides to higher jumps. As an added bonus, yoga teaches you to synch movement with breath, meaning a little less gasping and a little more working out.

• Reduces muscle cramps and tightness. Giving your muscles and joints a little TLC on the mat allows you to shorten and ease recovery time. Wouldn’t you like to stop saying “man, I just don’t bounce back the way I used to?”

• Builds strength. Just because you are using your body weight, doesn’t mean you aren’t building strength. Sure, big biceps and lats say “I pump iron,” but they aren’t necessarily a sign of total body strength and control. Yoga builds strength gradually and evenly, so you know how to activate the right muscles when you need them. In particular, yoga targets the often neglected core, which is an essential element of any athlete’s arsenal.

• Prevents injury. Looser muscles and lubricated joints mean your body is ready to combat whatever comes its way – whether that’s an unexpected tackle in a flag football game or one of those famous Brick Monster’s in Georgetown that have a way of sneaking up on you.

• Reduces stress. Whether it’s through meditation, pranayama breathing techniques or the postures themselves, yoga teaches you how to shut out the crazy world around you and take some time to chill.

• Improves mental focus. Yoga requires patience, discipline and your total concentration. A wandering mind during Handstand, for example, could be your invitation to an unwanted face plant. Regularly challenging your mind to shut out external stimuli and turn your focus inward is a hard earned skill that you can turn to again and again on and off the mat.

One thing is for sure. All of this goodness doesn’t come easy. Yoga can be tough – especially if you’ve lived a life of gym-going with little interest in stretching. I’ll be honest when I say that there is no one who breaks a sweat faster, breathes heavier or grimaces more often than the yogi who walks into his first yoga class. But, you know what they say: no pain, no gain. A little investment of your time now, can reap big rewards later. So the next time your wife, girlfriend, lady friend or significant other asks you to join her for a yoga session, remember: real men do yoga. Are you one of them?

Namaste,

Emilie

You’re Invited to Tuesday Yoga at Ambitious Athletics

The team at Ambitious Athletics is excited to announce that our weekly Tuesday morning yoga sessions are now open to the public! This means that all friends of Ambitious Athletics can now take advantage of the many benefits of yoga whether or not you are enrolled in one of our current bootcamp packages. Here’s the scoop:

• WHAT: Tuesday Yoga at Ambitious Athletics is an athletic 60-minute Vinyasa Flow class that targets areas of the body involved in athletic development. Some days we’ll emphasize core work and shoulder opening and other days we’ll target hips and hamstrings, but we always work the entire body with a full range of postures designed to improve your strength and mobility. Be prepared to sweat!

• WHERE: Our Woodley Park Location (DC Aikido Japanese Martial Arts Studio, 2639 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite-104; directly across the street from the Woodley Park Metro)

• WHEN: Classes begin at 5:45 a.m. sharp (Important: doors lock at 5:40 a.m., so all participants are encouraged to arrive by 5:30 a.m. to avoid missing class)

• WHY: Incorporating yoga into your regular fitness routine will do wonders for your body – inside and out! Yoga counts among its many benefits: increased flexibility and strength and improved posture and balance, all of which lead to a reduction in injuries. And if fewer injuries don’t put you in a good mood, yoga surely will through its stress reducing effects. Tell me you can’t spare an hour for all of these benefits!

• HOW: To take advantage of this awesome opportunity, visit https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/ASP/home.asp?studioid=22533 and click "online store" at the top right corner to purchase your Ambitious Athletics Yoga Punchcard, which gets you eight 60-minute yoga classes for $120. Can’t come every week? Don’t worry about it. Every card expires four months from the date of purchase, so you have the flexibility of coming to class when your schedule allows. Once you’ve registered online, you will pick up your punchcard at your first class.

Please contact us at info@ambitiousathletics.com with any questions. We look forward to seeing you there! Namaste. Emilie

How Yoga Will Not Wreck Your Body: 4 Tips

Hi AA friends, Many of you may know me as the friendly neighborhood yoga instructor at Ambitious Athletics, which is why it’s appropriate that my first blog post would be on … well … yoga! ☺

In this week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine, you may have seen the column “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” by William J. Broad, which offers the perspective that yoga is inherently risky, providing several examples of students who have suffered injuries and other ailments as a result of their yoga practice. I encourage you to read the column, if only to ensure that your only perspective on the article isn’t my own.

As you might have guessed, I had an immediate reaction to the title of the article, but not just because they were criticizing my line of work, but, more importantly, because, as a student of yoga for many years, I have been practicing precisely because of all the amazing benefits yoga brings me … from increased strength and flexibility to peace of mind and, most importantly, fewer injuries – not more.

As I dug through the article, it got me thinking about how the negative yoga experiences shared in this column came to be and what words of wisdom I could share with all of you to ensure that you only see the good side of yoga (as I do). What follows are my best recommendations for reaping all the benefits that yoga has to offer and ensuring a safe and rewarding experience every time you hit the mat. I can only assume that the students whose stories were featured in the NYT piece weren’t operating with these tips in mind:

How Yoga Will Not Wreck Your Body: 4 Tips

1. Listen to Your Body. The most surprising part of this article was the suggestion that yoga cause injuries and ailments in practitioners. I mean, yes, Savasana can sometimes feel like an out-of-body experience, but this isn’t The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You are still in control of your own body. Right? For that reason, only you can know your limits. Enter all poses with great care and, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. A good teacher will always offer modifications for poses, so never feel like you have to go into headstand just because everyone else is doing it. This leads me to …

2. Don’t Let Your Ego Takeover. In yogic philosophy, we talk a lot about the ego and, in the simplest terms, how the ego can often stand between you and your goals. It’s not about getting rid of your ego (you can’t, we all have one!), but it’s about getting out of the way of your ego and not letting it drive your actions. In the great words of Carmen Sturniolo, if you’re going to compete with someone “compete with yourself.” Yoga is challenging enough when you’re focusing 100% of your attention on what you are doing. Don’t worry about how great Morgan’s Warrior 2 is or how far Melissa can bend into Patchimottanasana/Seated Forward Bend. When the ego takes over, that’s when someone gets hurt.

3. If You Don’t Know, Ask. This is an important one. At Ambitious Athletics, whether in yoga, with a resistance band or on the TRX, we pride ourselves on offering clients very clear direction when it comes to alignment and proper form for every exercise. And we repeat those instructions over and over and over again – not because we like to hear ourselves talk, but because your safety is our #1 priority. But, not all teachers and coaches have the same philosophy. In fact, in some yoga classes, the instructors will simply tell you the name of the pose and nothing more. My personal opinion is that classes of that kind are for the more experienced practitioner … someone who might as well already be a yoga teacher, because they know every pose, including alignment points and actions, by heart. If that doesn’t sound like you, I would encourage you to seek out teachers whose classes focus on proper form and alignment. But if nothing else, when in doubt, ask your teacher or coach for more information. Your bodies will thank you.

4. Mix It Up. I am stealing this one from Carmen’s last post, but I think it bears repeating. Variety is the spice of life, people. Mix it up a little and your bodies will thrive. I know I differ from other instructors here, but I would never advise a client to make yoga his/her only form of exercise. A regular yoga practice is an essential part of a well-balanced fitness program thanks to its measurable impact on the body and mind (think improved strength, flexibility, breathing, posture, mood and more!), but it isn’t a substitute for strength training and cardio. After all, isn’t yoga all about balance anyway?

In short (because I know this post wasn’t), Practice Safe Yoga! What did you think I was going to say?

Namaste, Emilie