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Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Recently I was looking for a new yoga class. I visited a local yoga place, hoping to get a gentle, basic hatha yoga class. The class was okay, but the teacher spent more time talking than she did having us relax and rest in the poses. Which was not actually relaxing.  So I went online and found a really great basic class on Amazon! After an hour going through the poses on a yoga mat in front of my very own television, I decided the video was worth sharing, for those of you that want to do yoga on your own in the comfort and warmth of your own home. many yoga classes are great in person, but I was happy to find this video for days that it is to cold to leave the house, or when you want a yoga class but your favorite teacher is not teaching that night!

 

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Yoga For Beginners: Poses for Strength, Flexibility and Relaxation is a basic yoga  class taught by Kanta Barrios, a Spanish yoga teacher. The class is taught by the ocean on a wooden pier. Barrios teaches in English, and when she has you hold each pose or she transitions between poses, the video shifts to pictures and sounds of ocean waves. Very relaxing and calming! One thing I like about this video is that she does not have you hold the poses for very long, so it is easier for those new to yoga to participate. Barrios only speaks about the poses and relaxation, she does not intersperse her class with ideas about her view of the world. It’s just pure yoga and it is very calming!

Barrios has other yoga videos on Amazon and once you master the first Beginning yoga class, you may want to check out her Yoga for Beginners: From Basics to Expansion class. Both classes are free with Amazon Prime, but are available on DVD from her website as well here.

Kanta Barrios, yoga teacher

Kanta Barrios, yoga teacher

More about Kanta Barrios from her website here. According to her website, she currently teaches at two studios in Dublin, Ireland. if that’s too far for you to trek to check her out, try her online or DVD classes!

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By Sue Shekut, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

This next week, the Rooted Center in Wicker Park, located at 2221 W North Avenue, # 1W,  is holding their first membership drive. Drop in this week to express yourself through visual art, movement, drama, creative writing, expressive writing and/or music all week…for free!

Rooted-Features

And every Sunday from 1-2:30pm, Rooted offers free self-care playshops! Register here to participate in a free Self-Care in the city Playshop.

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What is the Rooted Experience?

When I met Rooted’s founder/facilitator,  Shruti  Sekhri, last week, she noted that Rooted does not provide therapy, but facilitates a way for people to experience connection through creative expression in a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere.  She calls her center, “A gym for the emotions.” The website calls the Rooted Center, “A gym for the emotions where Creative Arts are the weights.”

You do not need to be an artist, musician or writer to join or drop in to the Rooted Center.  The purpose of creating at Rooted is not to produce a piece or art of music, or movement, but to experience the process.

Who May Benefit from the Rooted Center?

According to the Rooted Center’s website, people who may benefit from the Rooted experience include those:

  • Wanting to take care of your soul and emotional well-being so you can rejuvenate and create personal resilience
  • Feeling stressed out from work-life off-balance or difficult events in life
  • Going through a transition in your life (e.g. relationship changes, new to the city, new parent)
  • Feeling creatively stuck or just in a rut and looking to explore new ways to get more out of life
  • Looking to find your path in life – to figure out what you are passionate about
  • Seeking genuine connection and wanting to be part of a community

Rooted schedule and sign up info here.

Try out Rooted next week and then let us know what you thought of your experience in the comments below!

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By Susan Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Many years ago, I started practicing yoga. Back then, doing yoga at work was seen as “odd” or unusual. Now yoga is so mainstream that apparently working at Huffington Post allows young office workers to balance work and yoga by performing asanas at work. Click this link for a true yoga at work photo series entitled,  “These Photos Prove You Really Can Do Yoga Anywhere.” Check it out!

I am a big believer that seeing is more effective than telling when it comes to body movement. HuffPo, seems to agree. Watch the video, “5 Yoga Poses To Get You Through Your Midday Slump At Work,” to learn how to do some yoga poses at work. The HuffPo Desk Yogi demonstrates Seated Cat Cow, Seated Twist in your chair (Which requires no chair arms or this won’t go well), Mountain Pose (Side stretch), a forward bend with flat back at your desk (L pose), and a standing forward fold (Forward bend). Personally I could do with out the shots of the desk and twigs and flowers in this video, but it is  a quick look at easy poses most anyone can do to improve flexibility and release tension.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

An article about the neurological aspects of yoga and how we can use yoga to train our minds to react less to physical stress caught my eye today.  Alex Korb, Ph.D. wrote a great post “Yoga: Changing the Brain’s Stressful Habits” in his blog, Prefrontal Nudity. His main premise is that yoga is designed to stress our bodies and make us uncomfortable, not calm us. However, the idea is that WHILE you are stressing your body, moving into different yoga poses, you actively seek to breath deeply, focus on the present and basically fight your body’s innate stress response. You literally train yourself to be calm in the face of physical stress and discomfort.

A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been a yoga practitioner for many years and I find that the regular practice of yoga is a great way to learn how to be “in the moment” in your own body.  The point of yoga is not to show how flexible we are or to improve our range of motion (although that can be a nice side effect). The point is to give our bodies wonderful movement and train our minds to calm down and focus on what is going on in our bodies in the here and now.

My favorite teachers are the only that give helpful directions for where to focus our minds as we move our bodies. Following the instructions of these teachers has made me far more aware not only of my body, but of how I can make subtle adjustments in my posture, my movements to achieve a deeper stretch, a more balanced pose.  When in downward dog pose, I had an instructor tell us to focus on widening our fingers, putting more weight on our palms, trying to move the skin of our shoulders backward, lengthening our spines and moving our heels toward the back of the room. Like a crazy game of Twister, trying to maintain all these directives without falling over takes a lot of mental concentration and physical stamina. And while I am trying to do all these things, the usual “chatter” in my mind is quieted because I can’t think of anything but my body while I am trying to perform all these tasks! Meanwhile, I get more fit, my body feels great and I have an inner sense of calm I can draw from when life gets hectic!

Here is a nice example of an instructor giving multiple directives to focus on when going into Dogward Dog pose.

Do you practice yoga? Have you ever tried it? What benefits do you get from yoga? If you practice yoga, what are the most helpful things your yoga teachers can do to help you calm your mind?

Who is Alex Korb, Ph.D?

Alex Kolb Ph'D.

Alex Korb Ph.D.

Dr Korb is a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA. He earned a BS in neuroscience from Brown University in 2002, and his Ph.D. at UCLA in 2010.  He is a consultant with BrainSonix Inc., a company developing therapeutic focused ultrasound neuromodulation for treatment of mental and neurological disorders.  His other research interests include using measurements of brain activity in depressed patients to predict antidepressant treatment response.  Outside of the lab he coaches the UCLA women’s ultimate frisbee team, where he uses his knowledge of brain and behavior to unlock their peak performance.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

This last week, the web has been a  buzz about an article in new York Times Magazine about “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” The article is well worth the read. In it, the author, William J. Broad, explores some of the recent news about serious injuries than can occur from doing yoga.

As a long-time yoga practitioner and as a person that has been injured doing yoga, I found this article welcome and extremely helpful. I admit, part of my own ego is stroked when I read others finally voicing the same “radical” opinion I’ve had for years, namely that yoga, like all exercises, is not 100% benign. Yoga can hurt you. When doing yoga, you really need to be mindful of your own body and not blindly following directions of your teacher or others.

I first tried yoga in grade school in grade school when my art teacher gave a series of extra curricular classes and told us she used yoga to help her stretch on breaks during long car rides.  Years later I turned back to yoga as an adult to help combat my muscular tension from sitting at a computer all day. It was amazing–I felt better, stronger and, since I was already flexible, doing yoga only increased my flexibility. Which was great…at first.

When I came to Chicago about 20 years ago, I was taking advanced Iyengar classes (BKS Iyengar is a yoga guru of sorts, teaching in India for years and with a  book out used by many Chicago yogis, Light on Yoga). Many of the classes I took where taught by Iyengar devotees, who tried to not only emulate Iyengar’s structural approach, but also his militant and almost fanatical demeanor. This teacher said that, according to Iyengar, “The pose is more important than the person.” I don’t know if Iyengar actually said that, but since this teacher did, I was not surprised when I soon got injured in his class. Along the way I met other experienced yoga students that told me to be careful and not overdo it as they had also experienced injuries doing yoga. Yoga, like all forms of exercise is not without some risk.

The Expert About Your Body is You

One of the biggest lessons I learned from my yoga teachers me was not so much how to do each pose perfectly. Instead, after experiencing a few injuries, I learned that I know my body better than any teacher, personal trainer or guru. And if something hurts, no matter what the teacher says, I won’t do it. In fact, I am rather picky about which yoga teachers I will take classes with. I let them know at the start of class that I do not want them to touch me or “adjust me,” a common practice in yoga classes I have taken. Adjustments are meant to be settle touches to a limb or your back to show you how to get in better posture and alignment. But many teachers I’ve taken classes with tend to push too much or too aggressively. It becomes an ego thing. “How far can I push my students?” And for students it can become, “how flexible can I be” or “I must work very hard even if it hurts just to be a good student and do it “right.” It’s yoga, not Mathelethes!

Know Your Experience Level and Don’t Over Do It

Yoga is supposed to be relaxing and allow you to really focus on your body, your breathe and connect with your body, not contort or injure your body (although injury does make you connect with your body pretty quickly!). When I do yoga now or recommend yoga to my clients, I show basic standing poses, some side bends and simple forward bends. AND to make sure they have a doctors clearance to do even those poses. I don’t advocate shoulder stand or headstands or even back bends for beginners. For some, these posts may be OK. But they are fairly advanced and, as the New York Times article shows, these poses can cause SERIOUS damage and injury, not just to your spine but to your brain. Who wants a stoke?

Yoga is Not a Rapid Fix–It’s Meant to be a Lifelong Practice

Another problem with yoga is the Western approach to it. We want to get rapid results, so we use maximal effort, as though yoga is a hammer and our body is the nail. Fitness isn’t about cramming in maximal effort into a short period of time to check that exercise off out list of goals. Fitness is an overall body balance of cardio, strength and flexibility. We can improve our cardiovascular fitness, we can improve our strength, we can improve our flexibility. But we can’t get the body we want by trying really hard. Our natural frames and muscles are made the way they are made. A man’s hips will not open as much as a woman’s because he is not made to birth babies. When men say they are not flexible, I say of course not! Stretching and yoga can help improve your flexibility, but you don’t need to be able to turn your body into a pretzel. Yoga can help increase flexibility but not beyond what is natural for your body type, frame and gender. It’s about improvement and feeling better, not about getting a gold star for most flexible!

Yoga is Meditative, A Way to Calm and Focus Your Mind

If you practice yoga, approach it as a time to relax and unwind. Treat each class as thigh you have never done yoga before (beginner’s mind). Really watch your teacher and tell him or her if you are not comfortable doing a particular pose. Modifications may be suggested or you may need to sit that pose out. That’s perfectly OK! Enjoy the rest between poses and be happy you are spending a few minutes away from your phone, email and workplace!

Practice yoga gently, not while hyped up on caffeine and adrenaline. A yoga session is meant to CALM your nervous system–it’s not Grand Theft Auto on Xbox. Some of my clients and many people I’ve spoken to don’t like yoga precisely for this reason–they can’t relax enough to benefit from gentle yoga because it makes them nervous to be that calm and focus on their breath and bodies. They need constant stimulation and the idea of “just laying around” or breathing actually stresses them out. But a really good yoga class, in my experience, is both gentle on your body (not easy or lame–yoga is a workout!) and so mentally active that you don’t have time to be bored. By mentally active I mean that during a good yoga class, teachers I’ve had are constantly calling your attention to an area of your body and having you focus on that. For example, in downward dog, a teacher may tell you to really open your fingers wide, put your pressure on the palm or heel of your hand, move your shoulders away from your head, attempt to pull your ankles away from your body towards the wall (not trying to put your heels on the floor though). Along with other directions. To avoid boredom and get a good yoga practice in, focus on these instructions, try to follow them and pay attention to your body. How does each movement feel? Are you breathing or holding your breath? All these details serve to not only make your yoga practice more physically comfortable, and give your body a good workout, but they also serve to give your active mind something to focus on beyond the next task on your  do list.

Lastly, I don’t think that yoga is evil or that you should not do yoga. But when doing yoga, use your brain! Make sure the spots are comfortable for you–not easy, just not damaging your body!) Then, you can relax and enjoy the positive benefits of yoga…without causing damage to your body or your mind!

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Where can you get unlimited yoga and fitness classes Chicago for $49 a month and $1 down? (Discount applies until November, 2011. Then the initial processing fee goes up.)

The Lincoln Park Wellness Club at the Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park!

Whole Foods Market Wellness Club Yoga Room Equipment Awaits You In Lincoln Park

And how many yoga studios in Chicago also offer:

• Free cooking  and nutrition classes?

• A 10% discount on over 4000 items in the grocery store?

Last time I checked, none. And yes, I am a Wellness Club member. And happy to say I have already gotten discounts on my groceries, had several discounted massages and I am a  yoga  fan!

Stop by the Wellness Club at the Lincoln park Whole Foods Market at

1550 N. Kingsbury, Chicago, IL 60642

on the Mezzanine (Balcony) over the in store restaurants. You may just run into me there!

For more info, click here to go to the Wellness Club webpage.

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State Street circa 1907

State Street circa 1907-pre mass-produced cars! Image via Wikipedia

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

OK, so it’s just for a few hours for one day. But it sounds like fitness fun for all you urban hikers!  Check out “Open Streets on State Street.”

When: Saturday, October 1, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Where:   State Street from Lake to Van Buren

On Saturday, October 1, State Street will be transformed into the ultimate urban playground—allowing pedestrians only to play, walk, bike and enjoy healthy recreation in a car-free environment. Open Streets on State Street is presented by Chicago Loop Alliance and Active Transportation Alliance. It will include activities such as a modular skate park, free yoga classes and breakdancing demonstrations. Plus, several Loop businesses are teaming up to offer special discounts for one day only at area restaurants, retail destinations and cultural institutions.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit OpenStreetsOnStateStreet.org or connect on Facebook or Twitter @OpenStreetsChi.

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