Off Your Mat

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


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The Practice of Having Fun: The Work Pose

In a world where technology has made things so easy, I’m always interested when someone takes the longer road to accomplishing a task. It isn’t always necessary but it is refreshing.

I spend my days like most people in my part of the world, tapping the screen of my phone, instantly connecting and communicating, pressing buttons for heat, lifting faucets for water. Life is easy. However, I still enjoy sitting down and hand writing a letter or growing my own food from seed or playing the telephone game using two paper cups and a string with my daughter. It requires some work but it’s so much fun.

I appreciate when someone decides to shy away from cutting edge technology and try something a little old school.

Kiesza2014

Kiesza

In light of that, I’m sharing a video called “Hideaway” by an up and coming star named Kiesza. Her music could be classified as techno-pop or house. The amazing thing about the video is that they shot it all in one take. Like Dillon’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or Weezer’s Sweater Song or Feist’s 1234 before it, the artist lets the camera roll through one full performance. No cuts, no edits. It is what it is.

In the video we follow Kiesza dancing down a NYC street. In her choreography she pays homage to early Madonna, Michael Jackson, and if I’m not mistaken, Solid Gold dancers. We even get treated to a little roger rabbit, running man and What’s Happening? ReRun style pop and lock. This girl knows her stuff and executes her moves beautifully.

I challenge you to watch this and not smile. Whether Kiesza’s music is your cup of tea or not, the amount of coordination, technique, talent and joy that went into this video cannot be ignored. It obviously took work.

The end result reminds me that a bit of extra work can be so much fun.

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The Smile Pose: A Happy Practice

Are you happy? I hope your answer is yes. However, given the ups and downs of life, you might not find yourself happy at this very moment. Here’s the good news. Happiness is just a smile away.

In studio practice, I will find myself lunging into a deep warrior pose. The class will be holding for a very long count. The room will become intense with trembling quadriceps and focused pranayama then the instructor will say, “Remember to smile!”cardio-yoga-art

The first time I heard that I thought it was a joke.  I assumed the instructor was being pithy, poking fun at our collective effort.

That wasn’t the case. There is a real physical benefit to smiling when you are under physical or emotional stress. Go ahead and google benefits of smiling and you will find article after article giving you reasons to turn that frown upside down.family yoga kid smile

Here are four reasons to smile:

1) Smiling lowers stress and anxiety

Smiling during times of stress might seem counter intuitive, however studies show that it can be beneficial. When recovering from a stressful situation, study participants who were smiling had lower heart rates than those with a neutral facial expression.

2) Smiling releases endorphins

Endorphins are hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system that have a number of physiological functions. They result in feelings of euphoria and a higher pain threshold. So, when you find yourself stuck, stressed, or uncomfortable, remember to smile. It might not change your situation, but it can make you feel better.

3) Smiling strengthens your immune system

Smiling increases your body’s production of white blood cells that fight illness. One study found that hospitalized children who were visited by story-tellers and puppeteers who made them smile and laugh had higher white blood cell counts than those children who weren’t.

4) Fake it until you make it

Paul Ekman, PhD, a psychologist who is an expert in facial expressions, taught himself to arrange the muscles in his face to make certain expressions. To his surprise, he found himself feeling the emotions that he was mimicking. When he raised his cheeks, parted his lips, and turned the corners of his mouth up, he felt happier.

He conducted a study examining the feelings brought about by forced and spontaneous smiles. Whether the subjects smiled spontaneously or on purpose, the activity in their brains was virtually the same. They felt happy.

So there you have it. Maybe the key to happiness is much more simple than expected. Next time you find yourself feeling stressed or blue, remember, a smile can be the quickest path back to happiness.