I got an email this morning saying that that a company who makes mobility devices for people recovering from foot and ankle surgery found a three year old video we did on Ankle and Foot Exercises and put it in their blog. There are 19 other videos in that blog that address healing and conditioning the ankles and feet through yoga to improve your health and your yoga. Interesting to see the variety of approaches, and to find the common threads through many of them. Here’s to happy feet! And keep dancing!
One of the areas that I hear the most complaints about is pain and stiffness is the neck. And it’s not surprising when you consider the amount of weight it is holding up. The human head can weigh 8-12 pounds and even more if one has long hair. Not to mention all of those heavy thoughts some of us carry around. I was blown away recently to see Bobby Lee, the fantastic bass player and vocalist of the band SOJA swing his long dreadlocks around by circling his neck for an entire song while keeping the bass line pumping. In a future blog, we will discuss building neck strength
In this blog, we present some simple exercises to help improve posture and restore mobility to the neck and back. Often, pain and stiffness in the neck is related to the lower back and to the shoulders. Thus, doing some spinal waves as you see in the first video below can help open the neck. Start with you feet facing forward, shoulder width apart, and push down with the inside of your feet while you slightly bend the knees, pull out with your ankles and knees and tuck your pelvis. Then let the wave ripple up from feet through the knees as you push your hips forward. Feel the wave travel from the tailbone through the entire spine all the way to the neck. The more fluid this movement becomes, the more easily you will feel you neck release and the more space you will feel in your spine and neck. You can even do the wave from a sitting position by tucking your pelvis and letting the chin drop forward, and then the tilting the pelvis and letting the wave roll all the way up.
These two quick and easy sequences will help relax the muscles that support the head and neck, improve mobility and range of motion and give you some tools to improve your overall spinal health and posture. They are great to do before and after your practice, whether that is strength training, sports, yoga, or sitting at the computer. Choose one or both to try for a few days and see how you feel.
Back in March, I promised I would post a beginning foot sequence, and several people have since written to request such a routine. So, this week we took a few minutes to film a sitting and standing foot and ankle warmup and conditioning sequence to help develop mobility, flexibility and strength in the feet, ankles and legs. The sitting sequence also incorporates an opening pelvic tuck and arch that leads to a spinal wave from the pelvis to the neck. As you begin to practice these movements regularly, you will notice that you feel the connections go from the feet and ankles, up through the knees, and into the upper legs and lower back.
Either or both of these sequences are a great way to warm up before yoga, running, hiking, martial arts, dance, skiing, basketball…you get the idea. In addition to working with the muscles, connective tissues, and bones of the feet and ankles, this work also activates the stretch receptors in the muscles and joint-supporting ligaments to update your proprioceptive map and improve balance and coordination.
These two sequences are quick and easy, and hopefully will provide a good basis for you to develop your own variations to best serve your needs. The “melting over a tennis ball” that I demonstrate at the end of the standing routine has proven to be very useful for helping to heal all kinds of foot issues including plantar fasciitis. It is especially effective when done regularly in combination with the other exercises.
Special thanks to Richard for videography and cat wrangling. You will notice Merry the Cat licking her chops as she makes a cameo appearance during the sitting sequence. The goat butter treat kept her occupied for just long enough.
As the kale has started to come ready at the farm, I thought it might be useful to share a few tips on how to prepare and enjoy this nourishing and versatile vegetable. We are so lucky to have organic kale of several varieties available all year around. But it is especially yummy fresh from the garden. First step is obtain the freshest kale possible in your area. Farmer’s markets should be getting it soon. Many groceries have it as well of course. Check out this curly and lacinato kale in the garden.
It’s so much fun to pick that we ended up with more than we needed for last night's meal, so I stuck it in water alongside a few flowers and this is how it looked the next day. Just like basil and other herbs, this is a great to way keep it fresh. And since it has not been refrigerated, it retains that fresh from the garden taste. Refrigerating is also an excellent way to keep it fresh, especially if it has already been cooled.
One of the first things I like to do is make a veggie stock while cooking. It’s a great way to use the stems of the veggies that you may not want to serve, and it makes a lovely mineral- and vitamin-rich tea to sip while cooking. The one pictures here has celery, two kinds of kale, collards, a bit of carrot, red chard, and turmeric. One of my favorite ways to prepare kale is to bake it with some spices and olive oil. In this case, I used a stone pot and added fresh ginger, garlic, turmeric and Himalayan salt along with the olive oil. Covered the pot and baked at 375 degrees for about twenty minutes. Then returned it uncovered to the oven after adding a half cup or so of the stock that had been simmering on the stovetop. This keeps the kale from sticking, adds yummy flavors, and allows the kale to crisp up a bit on the top. Buon appetito! Other options with the kale are carrots to add a little sweetness, turnips (purple-top in the picture below), and beets (yum – golden beets!).
And when tomatoes come into season in the summer, the combination of acidity and sweetness complements kale and other greens such as collards and dandelions nicely.
Present to so many blessings in my life today: the opportunity to practice and teach yoga, getting my car back from the repair shop, having clean water to drink and nourishing food to eat, having a healthy kidney and pancreas. Wait, there’s something special about this day. 19 years ago on this day my donor’s family generously gave his organs to me and numerous others so that we could have healthy lives. To my donor I send infinite gratitude and love for this precious gift. I never had a chance to meet my donor before he shuffled off this mortal coil, but parts of him live on in me. Every moment of every day serve as a testament to him and his family’s generosity.
If you haven’t thought about organ donation, please consider the question and share your thoughts with your family. It is a gift you can give them to help them make the right decisions to respect your wishes.
Filmed a couple of short videos in my backyard in San Jose a couple of days ago in response to a few requests for moves to help manage and hopefully eventually eliminate sciatic issues. As you will see, it was a beautiful northern CA day for a backyard yoga practice, surrounded by peaceful bamboo and assisted by Merry the cat, pictured here practicing her version of Jaṭharaparivartanāsana (Belly Revolving Pose).
I put it up on Facebook and got a lot of positive responses. In particular, I was touched by one of my students who reposted them. Her lovely testimonial made my day.
“This is the woman whom I credit fixing my back to. Prior to meeting Barb, I thought that I would live my life in excruciating pain. Now I am nearly 100% pain free on most days, as long as I do what I’m supposed to do! I always thought there would not be a cure, and there wasn’t a doctor in the world who seemed to be able to help me except with drugs, which did absolutely nothing. Yoga was suggested to me many times but I pooh-poohed it because I could hardly move, so why would I go to a yoga class. Thank goodness I went anyway and just did what little teensy bit I could do. After five or six classes I started to be able to bend over further than just my shoulders — let me tell you, it was flippin’ hard work and I bet I said the F word more times in those classes than I should have. Yoga works, people. Find an instructor and go. Tell them what you are dealing with, don’t try to keep up with anyone but yourself, and if you feel like you are being pushed to do more than you feel you can, then find another instructor. Keep on trying.”
I am inspired every day by the progress and diligence of my students, and thankful for the opportunity to share the practice.
Beautiful sunny day, and spring is bursting out all over. Luckily, the dusting of snow last week didn’t cause the blossoms on the pear and peach trees to drop. Now hopefully there will be plenty of fruit for the deer and the people come summer. Cabbages and lettuces are ready for picking, and veggie starts just started to peek through the dirt this morning. Good day to plant more seeds of good thoughts, words, and deeds. Namaste.
As we enter into April,with apple and pear trees showing us their blossoms with promise of fruits to come, I’m happy to see the rainy weather prediction for thirsty northern California. And also happy to announce that I’m teaching a new evening class starting tonight. For those of you in the south bay area, would love to see you. 7:15pm Almaden Yoga. It’s a wonderful time to plant some seeds for transformation. And have fun doing it. Look how happy Marilyn is practicing Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty inspiring. Namaste.
I am inspired every day by the commitment and accomplishments of my students. So, I thought it would be fun to share a few things that I heard from students this week in a couple of blog posts. This one is about bunions, but also about establishing a strong foundation for practice and life, and about standing on our own two feet to be who we are meant to be in the worl
“Look, Barb, my big toes are touching!”
When we come into Tadasana (Mountain Pose), I tell the students to stand with feet together, big toes touching, feeling rooted into the ground. When I first met Heather, she had bunions which prevented her from bringing her toes together. After almost two years of practice, she suddenly noticed that her big toes touched. “I thought I was doomed to have feet like my mother’s, especially after all the dancing I have done. You said that bunions can get better, and now look!”
The feet are the “pad” or foundation of our standing body, upon which we build our alignment, balance, and movement. All of the work that we do to build strength, mobility and flexibility in the feet and ankles provides a strong foundation for our practice and our lives.
I remember when I first started working in the business world, wearing high heels all day, and soon noticing aches and pains in not just my feet but also my low back. I began to notice how many women had that “my feet hurt but I feel like to have to wear these shoes” look. And then we all started wearing exercise shoes while walking and taking the bus, and only donning out high heels when we absolutely positively had to.
Even if you are still wearing heels (hopefully just occasionally and hopefully not too high), foot exercises can help keep them healthy and pain free. I will post a video of a good beginning foot sequence soon. Yours in health and happy feet.