Off Your Mat

Bringing yoga off your mat into your life, one pose at a time.


2 Comments

The Book Lovers Pose

I love my first downward facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) of the day.  My hamstrings open up.  My back stretches. My neck loosens. It’s a relief.

A woman in the yoga position downward facing dog

The perfect morning

I remember my first introduction to down dog. I walked into my gym and noticed a yoga class was just starting, I thought it would be a nice alternative to the treadmill and jumped in. After our warm up, we stayed in down dog for an extended period of time.

After a few minutes, my muscles were trembling, I was sweating and I didn’t know what was supposed to be rejuvenating about the pose.  Then, it was as if my body had an epiphany and downward facing dog became a wonderful place to be. By the end of that class, I yearned for my next down dog.

Now, it is my go to pose when I need to relax, stretch and re-center myself.

I feel the same way about picking up a book.  Reading was paramount when I was a child.  As a girl, occasionally, on very rainy days, my mom would keep me home from school so we could spend the day at the local library.  After she selected her book , we would go to the children’s section and pick out a stack of colorful books for me. That crooked pillar of books looked like a pile of presents just waiting to be opened.

We would settle into a quiet corner with a large window where the rain drummed and read for hours.

Since then, I have always been reading something.

Opening a book gives me the same mindful relief as settling into down dog.  My mind goes quiet, muscles relax. I can be anywhere, a subway, an airport, a waiting room, a hospital bed, jury duty or any other of life’s holding patterns and if I have a book, I’m fine.

I always have my eye open for something else to read. Recently I discovered a great reading list on open culture that inspired me to curate my own book list.

Over the years, there are certain books that painted such vivid images, birthed such perfect characters or captured such truthful moments that they became part of my personal lexicon. I never let them go.

So this week, I have featured them in a new page called My Favorite Books.

I invite you to visit.

If there is a book on that list you haven’t read, I hope you pick it up.

On the other hand, if there is a book you don’t see on that list, tell me about it in the comments. I’m always in the market for my next read. Enjoy.


1 Comment

Office Yoga: The Workplace Pose

Here at Off Your Mat, I focus on finding moments when the philosophy of yoga can support everyday thoughts and tasks.

There are many places on the internet where you can find a more literal interpretation of taking yoga off your mat. It has recently been explored by social media darlings like Hilaria Baldwin (pictured below). It is a wonderful thing, but not everyone is comfortable calling attention to themselves in the name of health.

Hilaria Baldwin executing a first class airplane pose to the delight of her fellow passengers.

This week I’m focusing on taking asanas into the workplace in a practical manner that is applicable to an everyday business.

I’m not suggesting lotus pose on your desk or back bends down the wall. That would be cool, but it might not reflect your workplace culture.

office yoga

This beneficial pose could be interpreted as attention seeking behavior in a typical office.

I’m addressing the moment you realize your shoulders are hunched, your brow is furrowed and you can’t remember the last time you took a deep breath. It is the moment when your mind is out of touch with your body and you need to make a connection.

Here are three simple asanas you can do to alleviate stress and support your body without creating curious inquiries from neighboring co-workers.

1) Breathe

woman-breathing

Closing your eyes protects your brain from visual stimulation and allows relaxation.

Attention to breath is essential to yoga practice. There are many forms of Pranayama. My favorite breathing exercise is Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal Breath). This means inhaling and exhaling for an equal count.

Take a seated position. Ideally, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your eyes should be closed. Sit up straight and inhale for a count of eight. Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of eight, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat at least 3 times. You can shorten or extend the count to your comfort level.

yoga-breathing

Best time to do it: Anytime.

Suggested times: Before public speaking, after handling a customer complaint or between classes.

Benefits: Releases endorphins, relieves stress, lowers heart rate and increases focus.

Tip: Feel silly closing your eyes? Pick a singular non-moving point of focus, maybe on the wall or where the wall meets the ceiling. Let your eyes rest on that spot as you breathe.

2) Stand

Are you making phone calls? Stand up. Do you have hours at the keyboard ahead of you? Take a 2 minute break and stand up.

tadasana1

Its called Tadasana (Mountain Pose). If you are wearing high heels, slip them off. Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides. The crown of your head and your feet should be aligned. Imagine there is a string attached to the top of your head pulling your spine straight. Roll your shoulders back and allow your shoulder blades to slide down your back away from your ears. Look straight ahead. Make sure your hips are slightly tucked under. Activate your quadriceps. Breathe deeply.

Best time to do it: Anytime.

Suggested times: While on the phone, at the copier, or standing in a lunch line.

Benefits: Strengthens abdomen and legs. Helps to relieve sciatica and supports the plantar fascia.

Tip: Often we sit out of habit. Set a reminder on your calendar or cell phone to remind you to take Tadasana pose once every hour.

3) Twist

Bharadvājāsana is a seated spinal twist.  Sit with your feet flat on the floor, keeping your spine straight, slowly rotate your torso to the right, placing your left hand on your right knee and planting your right hand behind your right hip. Keeping your hips facing forward, look over your right shoulder. Remember to keep your arms and spine straight, staying in the twist for at least three slow breaths. Repeat on the left side.

Best time to do it: Before lunch or an hour or so after eating.

Suggested times: Mid-morning or late afternoon. Instead of a second cup of coffee, take a twist.

Benefits: Detoxifies by massaging internal organs, improves digestion, stretches spine, shoulders, and obliques.

Tip: Recovering from a big weekend? Use spinal twists to wring out leftover toxins in your system and drink plenty of water afterwards.

Let me know your favorite workplace pose. Share in the comments or send me a tweet at @gray_sara.

 


2 Comments

Father’s Day: The Remembering Pose

When I started this blog I committed to writing a post once a week. It has never slipped my mind.

Until this week. I totally forgot to write.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of something to write. It was that I didn’t even remember to write.

When I did think of it, I had the same feeling as remembering an appointment a half hour after it was supposed to happen. I was shocked by my own absent-mindedness.

It was Father’s Day weekend and I had forgotten that I wanted to write about my dad.

dad and sara

I was lucky to have a great dad.  I was unlucky to have lost him at 18.

It has been a long time since I have seen him.  The decades since his sudden death have smoothed some of the edges of my grief.  Thinking about him no longer creates an instant constriction of my heart and throat, now it is more of an eye watering ache.

I might have forgotten the task of writing, but thinking of dad never slips my mind.

I have a hand full of jewel-like memories that never fade.

Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, my kid arms wrapped around his neck while we rode waves into the beach. Playing on his office floor, listening to him “talk business” on the phone. Visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York City with him and running in the whale room. Sitting on his shoulders watching the Philadelphia Mummer’s Parade. Sailing around Townsends Inlet in his tiny sail boat, The Blue Baron. Listening to him answer the house phone and chat with my friends as if they had called for him.

And then, there was his ridiculous sense of humor.

xmas 1982 (2)

He went to great lengths when it was time to be silly.

dad coach

 

I was lucky to have a great dad.

That is one thing I will never forget.

 


Leave a comment

The Good Intentions Pose

Samuel Johnson

“Hell is paved with good intentions.” -Samuel Johnson

One of my favorite yoga practices is setting an intention before class.

I consider it a personal indulgence to be able to give my practice a meaning. The purpose is to use your intention to support you through the challenging asanas. It can take on any incarnation you give it. A mantra. An image. A dedication. It can be a place to dig a little deeper to go farther than you have before.  Or it can give you the permission to take it easy and not judge yourself. It’s a beautiful, mutable thing.

I taught yoga to students in an after school program in Camden, NJ. It was at the same high school where I taught English. Before practice, I would give them the option of sharing out their intention. They loved it.

I did too. It was an interesting window into teenager’s hearts.

My Amazing Students

pure hearts

Their intentions surprised me. They went big, setting intentions for their lives in that quiet little class. They shared goals that initially struck me as impossible to accomplish in yoga class and really having nothing to do with yoga at all. Intentions of degrees, fame, life-long comfort and wealth flowed from them in a river of youthful hopefulness.

It gave me pause. But instead of meddling, trying to drag the focus back to yoga related intentions, I let their dreams flower. Who am I to judge what inspires and motivates?

I realized my class was a safe place for them. It was a moment that they had complete control over the goal they wanted to set. Like most teens, my students didn’t always get to pick their goals in other parts of their day. I feel privileged to have been there to listen.

There was a lesson in that for me. Have there been times when I judged my own dreams? Have I adjusted my own intentions to fit my surroundings? Sure I have.

If I had to guess, I would think we all do that from time to time.

Even though I was the teacher, those students taught me a valuable lesson:

Don’t let good intentions, obscure the true intention.


1 Comment

Garden Yoga: The Planting Pose

Gardening and yoga have a lot in common.

They both require focus, effort and sweat.  They both nurture a meditation where your mind can unravel and create.

They both can surprise you with spaces and places you did not expect.

For the past two years we have planted a garden.  I sprout the seeds in my kitchen bay window.  Much like my yoga practice, I have a routine.

It starts with seeds, coconut fiber growing pellets and some water.

sprouting Collage

 

I fashion mini greenhouses that end up looking like this…

IMG_20140516_113001_752-1

 

The window fills.

IMG_20140523_114042_852

 

They look pretty cool close up.

Close up seedling Collage

 

After a couple weeks they break free.

IMG_20140529_091330

Tomatoes. Snap peas. Jalapeno. Purple carrots. Yaya carrots. Zucchini.

 

The greens don’t need the mini greenhouses, they go straight into the soil.

seedling greens

Beets. Spinach. Arugula.

 

In the beginning of May the window seedlings find a home in the garden.

Snap peas. Tomatoes.

Snap peas. Tomatoes.

 

Everyday these plants will reach for the sun.  They will expand, flower and offer up food.  It is amazing and one of my favorite things to do.

Just like my yoga practice.

How does your garden grow?

IMG_20140523_124620

Buddha & Cilantro