Digging into Sun Salutes for Your Home Practice

Have you ever seen those crazy yogis on Instagram or Facebook — the ones who post amazing pictures of their postures out in the world or in their home? You may think that is what it means to have a home practice; however, it really doesn’t have to be so complicated. In my previous post about cultivating a home practice, I mentioned that a great way to start your home practice is with five Sun Salute As and five Sun Salute Bs. I want to help you with alignments for these Sun Salutes so you don’t feel lost and scrap your home practice.

You do not have a teacher at home to help with your alignment. Now, more than ever you have to pay attention to your body (Click here to read about pain or discomfort). The most common tightness that students suffer from can be; hamstrings, hips, lower back and shoulders. Remember we want to create space in those tight areas, to help open them up! Below are a couple of modifications to help with tight parts of your body while you do your Sun Salutes.

Tightness in your lower back

~ Separate your feet two fist distance apart, in your tadasana. You want to keep your feet parallel while you separate your feet. This foot positioning should be maintained while you do, forward folds, extending your spine in your forward fold, and utkatasana. While you keep your feet parallel, your knees might start to push outwards. To keep this from happening, imagine your feet have four corners and push down through each of those corners to make a strong foundation. As you push down into each corner of your feet, you want to engage your inner thighs with a internal rotation and keeping your knees in a neutral position.

~In Down Dog you will want to bend your knees to take pressure out of your lower back. The main focus here is creating extension in your spine.

Tightness in your Hips and Hamstrings

~In your Forward Folds, I want you to change your thinking about getting your legs as straight as possible. The yoga isn’t always better the closer your head is to the ground. To enter your forward fold, try entering with bent knees, taking pressure out of your lower back caused by tight hamstrings and hips. As you descend in your forward fold, keep your back flat and extended.  Once you enter your forward fold, bend your knees connecting your quadriceps and belly. This keeps great extension in your spine. Keep this connection as you slowly extend your legs. Once you lose that belly/quadriceps connection you want to stop and reconnect. With your lower back, you want to pay attention to what your body is telling you because there is a difference between pressure and stretching!

~In your Down Dog you want to keep your knees bent, just like I mentioned above. A great way to enter down dog is from extended child’s pose. You keep that extension in your spine as your life into down dog.

Tightness in your Shoulders

~The shoulder muscle complex is a tricky thing and I am looking at different ways to help open them up. I think if we change the thought process of the use of our shoulder in sun salutes, this will help with the mechanics of your shoulders opening them up. My thought process of asanas if using strenght to find flexibility and flexibility to find strength, applies greatly to shoulders. (Here is a video with a couple of exercises that will help with opening up your shoulders)

~Chaturanga is normally entered in from high plank unless you are jumping back. There are a couple ways to move into chaturanga and what I want you to concentrate is how you use your shoulders while you descend into your version of chaturanga. I have been guilty of this cue and this is a common cue that is given. The cue is; as you descend into chaturanga hug your elbows into your body. That creates separation in your shoulders from your arms. Instead of moving your arms to keep them close to your body, we will use your shoulders to keep your arms close. To do so, before you descend from high plank, think about expanding through your collarbone, then drawing your shoulder blades towards each other and down the back. Keep that activation as you descend into your version of chaturanga. Now as you descend try to go as slow as you can to really engage your rhomboid muscles! (Here is a video on improving your push ups or chaturanga)

~Upward Facing dog, first make sure you are pushing into the tops of your feet to lift your knees off the ground. This will help when you push into your hands to take pressure out of your shoulders and to help open your collarbone. Here is a big thing to remember, when you push into your hands the muscles that helps with pushing is your triceps not your shoulders. Your shoulders are stabilizers not pushers. To help engage your triceps think about pushing into your knuckles of your hands to take the pressure out of your wrist. Another way of thinking about this is trying to lift your fingers off the ground as you push your hands into the ground! Now as you engage your triceps think about engaging your biceps at the same time (like a reverse bicep curl)! This helps to create a strong foundation to help open and engage your shoulders. Once you have that foundation created, open your collarbone by drawing your shoulders together and down your back as you move into your upward facing dog.

Now try each of this alignments for each posture slowly first and listen to your body. Then once you get these alignments down start to speeding up!

Cultivating a Home Practice

After getting hooked on yoga in college, I came home for summer vacation one year and missed my practice. I wasn’t very familiar with any of the area yoga studios and, honestly was a broke college kid so I didn’t have money to try some out, so on the recommendation of my yoga teacher at school I picked up Power Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch and started practicing at home. That summer, using the book, I was able to piece together the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga. By the end of the summer, I was doing the primary series six days a week for about ninety minutes each day. As a college student with a part time job, this was fairly easy to fit in my schedule.

These days, things are different. I have a full time job, a side hustle, a baby, and a family so time is at a premium. I know the biggest obstacle for starting a home practice is the thought that you need to do a sixty to ninety minute yoga practice to get anything beneficial out of it. However, that is not the case a home practice is great for students and teachers alike and you can start one if you have fifteen to thirty minutes to spare a few days a week.

Ok, you found the time, now what do you practice? During a workshop I took with Beryl she mentioned that if you don’t have time to get a yoga practice in all you have to do is Sun Salute A and B. In the beginning of Ashtanga Primary Series you start with five Sun Salute As and five Sun Salute Bs.

 

Here is the easiest home practice:

  • Five Sun Salute A and B takes approximately fifteen minutes.
  • You can end your practice there, or if you have extra time add a standing posture, standing balancing posture or seated posture of your choice based on how your body is feeling.
    • Twists are good for loosen up hips and lower back.
      • marichyasana c
      • revolved high lunge
      • revolved easy pose
    • Standing postures are good for leg and foot strength. Also helps with hip and lower back tightness. They will also help with tight hamstrings.
      • Warrior 1
      • intense side stretch
      • extended triangle
    • Balancing postures are good for overall balance and stability of your body.
      • Eagle Pose
      • Tree Pose
      • Dancer Pose
    • Seated postures are good for target specific areas of your body!
      • janu sirsasana a
      • bound angle pose
      • open angle pose
  • Take two minutes at the end for Savasana

 

Stay tuned for more to come, as I will give short little sequences to suggest for home practices! You can also take my homework assignments from facebook and add them to your home practice.

 

Workshops, Semi-Private Classes, Private sessions!!! Oh My!!!

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I found yoga in college. I took a yoga class for one-credit and it was taught in a classroom style. I learned the basics of the breath and Bandhas, broke down the basics of the postures, and even talked a little about the philosophy behind yoga. As we progressed through the year the teacher made sure we had an understanding of not only the postures but the alignments and the benefits of each posture.

My weekly classes are semi-modeled on this. I try to pick postures to focus on in my classes and break them down to help my students grow. I can’t always get to all my students because of class size, or  because I have to hurry off to my next class, but I try to make sure my students know the correct alignments and ways to do the postures.  However, there are things that students can do to help themselves learn more about specific postures and sequences. The benefit of this is growth in your practice, and more importantly, safety.

Workshops are a fantastic way to learn about a posture or sequence, try out a new type of yoga, or learn more about the philosophy of yoga. Workshops usually focus on one thing and attract others who are interested in learning more about that “thing” and they are usually a little longer than a regular class.  This means there is plenty of time for the teacher to go over the little details and there is more time for question and dialogue. Workshops usually have an attendance limit based on how many people can fit in the yoga room.

Tip: If you don’t see a topic covered by a workshop, or you just want to know more about something, don’t be afraid of asking your teacher or the owner of the studio that you go to for a workshop on that topic. I guarantee you are not the only student in that studio who has thought the same thing.

Similar to a workshop, a semi-private workshop is a series of classes tackling a sequence or series of related postures. A good example is headstand. You could take four to six weeks (one class per week) to tackle that one posture. Attendance is also limited to five or six people so that you can really deep dive into the posture with like-minded students who are along for the journey with you.

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If you are looking to grow in your practice or have a difficult schedule private sessions are fantastic option.  Think about the times you have walked into class wanting to tune up your jump backs or try floating back and the teacher just plowed through the postures. Private sessions are the perfect way to get the one-on-one time to work on that. Private sessions are convenient because you only have your schedule and the teachers schedule to worry about. Often, the teacher can come to you or use the yoga studio if there isn’t another class schedule.

Tip: If you are worried about the cost of a private session, talk to the teacher and see if they would let you bring in one to two friends to split the cost!

As a yoga student, you should remember that the studio and teacher is there for you to learn. Do not be afraid to ask a teacher or the studio owner to work on something specific.

Have you been to a workshop, semi-private workshop or private session before? What is your preferred way to learn the postures?

If you liked this post check out Why should you do a workshop?

For more yoga tips and helpful resources like me on Facebook and to follow my daily yoga adventures follow me on Instagram.

 

 

Comfort vs. Pain

When many people think of yoga words like peace, bliss, and relaxation might cross their mind. People don’t often think of sweat, worn out muscles, or discomfort as parts of a yoga practice. However, some yoga classes are tough as H***. In these tough classes the word pain might even come to mind; however there is a difference between discomfort and pain.

More athletic yoga practices are tough because you stretch your muscles in ways you aren’t use to. As your muscles start to release you move onto new muscles that you definitely aren’t use to working. No matter what your experience level, as you deepen your yoga practice you push the limits of what your body is used to. As this happens you might hear a little voice in your head that tells you to stop (click here to read my blog post about ego). This voice wants you to think your discomfort is pain.

Here’s an example, when you expand a rubber band it always wants to snap back into its resting state. Your muscles are the same way. Now, take a strongman competitor and think about how big their muscles are. They spent years lifting heavy weights and continually contracting their muscles. If they were to take a yoga class, it would take a lot of effort for them to expand their muscles. Their muscles are used to be in a state of contraction, and want to snap back into their normal state. The act of expansion is pushing against their norm for their body so they will feel discomfort.

Don’t get me wrong it is possible to feel pain in yoga and that is bad! You will need to listen to your body and determine if what you are feeling is discomfort or pain. The idea of discomfort on the physical plane is the when your body is pushed out of its resting state. The idea of yoga is self discovery of how your body works and moves. As you move through your yoga journey you need to be able know the difference between pain and discomfort. Examples of pain could be the feeling of throbbing or pinching which could be commonly caused by bone on bone action. Pain is how your body tells you something is wrong. This could mean that you are doing a posture wrong, you pushed yourself too far in a posture, or you are not ready for a posture.

As you pay attention to what your body is telling you then you can start to understand what the difference is between pain and discomfort. Remember to breathe through discomfort and think about fairy dust and butt farts. This will help you grow in your practice.

Do you have a particular posture where you feel discomfort vs. pain?

If you liked this post check out Why Yoga?

For more yoga tips and helpful resources like me on Facebook and to follow my daily yoga adventures follow me on Instagram.

Why should you do a workshop?

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Before I was a teacher I was a student, and the great thing about yoga is that I am forever a student. Just because I received my 200 hour certification does not means I am wiser than every student in who isn’t certified. Actually, I learn the most from my students! If you have never made it to a workshop my hope is that I can convince you to try one!

Workshops are a great way to gain additional knowledge on specific postures or different aspects of yoga that you are trying to improve on. In most yoga classes you either plow through the postures, or you might not see the same postures for a month or two. Plus in a studio class it might be hard to ask the teacher a specific question during or after class, because other students might already have their ear or the teacher is already heading to his/her next class to teach.

When I was a new yoga student I took a  bunch of workshops. For example one of the workshops I took was all about working your bandhas. This was a workshop that specifically worked on bandhas and how to activate them in a bunch of postures, which is difficult to teach in an everyday yoga class.

Another workshop I took was about Kundalini Yoga. I have always loved deepening my knowledge in asana work and learning about different forms of yoga is a great way to do this. I have always shied away from the softer practices, so I thought I would take a leap a try this Kundalini workshop. I was skeptical at first, but the instructor was amazing and greatly increased my knowledge on breath work and meditation! What I learned from this workshop helped my greatly improve my asana work.  So, I eventually took two more!

Most people think that you can only take workshops for the well-known, nationally renowned yoga instructors which can be hard to come by and expensive. However, that is not the case. If you do your research, you will often find that local yoga studios offer workshops regularly with their teachers. Sometimes these workshops are offered at the normal drop-in rate if you register which is a great deal for students to learn the ‘right’ way to do a posture or sequence or explore a new type of yoga.

I encourage everyone in 2017 to do some research and try to take a workshop or two to help deepen your yoga practice! If you are in the Philadelphia or DC metro area, you can take one of my upcoming workshops (click here for my schedule) or check out the yoga group on Facebook that lists out many of the workshops being held at all the local studios.

I hope to see you at one of my workshops!

Have you taken a workshop? How did it help your practice?

Don’t forget to follow my yoga journey on Instagram and Facebook.

Why Yoga?

Whenever I tell people that I am a yoga instructor I almost always get the same response — a very confused look and a very surprised WHAT!? There is a disconnect between the many reasons that people actually to do yoga and a lot of reasons why people THINK other people do yoga. Some people have a preconceived notion that you either have to a) be a hippy whose ultimate goal is enlightenment or b) have to be super flexible and at least be able to touch your toes. Those things might be true for some people, and being flexible is certainly helpful, but not necessary in order to benefit from a yoga practice.

I’m not here to convince you that once you roll out your yoga mat in your next yoga class that you will have this ultimate connection with the universe that will let you know how to touch your toes.  Here are some questions I want you to think about if you haven’t tried yoga.

  1. Have you ever drove home from work and mysteriously forgot the last five minutes of your drive?
  2. Have you ever had a workout session that you couldn’t concentrate on because your mind was jumping around to everything else but your workout?
  3. Have you ever bumped into someone, something or just total missed what was right in front of you?
  4. Have you ever at work or at home was just in the zone and got a lot of things done on your to do list, then the next day it just seems impossible to concentrate on that to do list?

If you answered yes to any of those questions then yoga can definitely help you out. If you answered no to all the questions, well you are better off than most but yoga can still help!!

A yoga class can be a scary thing especially to a beginner or even an experienced beginner. You walk into a class and it either seems intense or you find yourself watching Cirque du Soleil. Everyone in the yoga studio was a beginner at one time and was just as scared as you are, even the teacher had to start somewhere!

The most simplistic answer I think I can give for why you should do yoga, is to pay attention. That is what all those questions above have in common and I find that most mistakes in life happen when we do not pay attention. Meditation is simply practicing concentration or paying attention. The physical exercise is an added bonus.

I know life can be tough and cause a lot physical strains on your body. A yoga class is a moving mediation, the postures you go through in any tradition or level of class are designed for you to pay attention to your body (and not the yogi on the mat next to you)!

The next class you make it to listen to the teacher for the posture cues then just concentrate on your breath. Don’t think about how much your hamstrings are yelling at you. Just pay attention to your breath and acknowledge whatever pops into your brain, then breathe it a way!

Easy enough, give it a shot a let me know how it goes!

Don’t forget to follow my yoga journey on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Tonics and Elixirs

It was about a year ago when Northern Virginia got hit with a blizzard, and I got extremely sick. This wasn’t going to work for me because my son was about two months and my wife was about to go back to work. I probably bought out CVS’s cold supplies and was still sick for about a month. That was a lot of cold and flu medicine that I made repeat purchases on. I might as well have had a weekly subscription on Amazon!

I decided to try some more natural remedies since the over-the-counter stuff just wasn’t doing it for me. Fortunately some of it helped and now I am converted to a natural remedy believer (hey — if it works!!) Below are the tonics I use when I start to feel under the weather!

Fire Cider

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Fire Cider was the fist step in my conversion toward natural remedies. It was about midway through my sickness last year that my wife’s friend told her about Fire Cider and Oregano Oil. My first thought was I don’t want to try this hippie crap, but I was desperate. I begrudgingly drove to MOMs organic and bought the ingredients. The dosage was three times a day of one tablespoon of Fire Cider and four drops of oregano oil. At the end of the second day I felt better than I did the first couple of weeks taking the over the counter medicine. This hippie crap is not hippie crap, it is an excellent tonic that saved money and most importantly WORKED in the long run!

 

Brad’s Prevention Tonic

 

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I found another great tonic from BonAppetite.com, called Brads Prevention Tonic. This tonic is great for taking when you are in the beginning stages of your sickness.

Ingredients:

  • 1 2″ piece peeled ginger
  • 1 1″ piece peeled turmeric (optional)
  • 1 sprig mint, lightly bruised
  • 1 sprig tarragon, lightly bruised
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 full dropper Quantum Cold & Flu Liquid Extract (about 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1 full dropper elderberry liquid extract (about 1/4 tsp.)
  • Splash of unsweetened cranberry juice (not from concentrate)
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

The Golden Elixir

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The last tonic I’m going to talk about is a morning tonic I use. The base of this tonic is warm lemon water, best drinking it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.  Here is the recipe that I got from yoganonymous.com, and the changes I made to it:

Ingredients:

  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp raw honey
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Pinch sea salt (I get a little fancy with pink Himalayan Sea Salt)
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

For an added punch I add one teaspoon of Moringa to make this tonic more of a morning tea. I add a tablespoon and a half of this to a cup of water in the morning on an empty stomach.

These are three great tonics I use to try and stay healthy what are some things you have tried!

 

An Impromptu Ego Lesson

img_5180Several years ago, after I finished teaching a yoga class, an older gentleman who brought in his son to take the beginner yoga class after mine started to talk about why yoga is excellent for people. In particular why it is good for managing the ego. It ended up being a fairly long in-depth conversation that I have not forgotten to this day.

I have sat on this lesson he gave me and have thought about it in each yoga class I have taught. I did not have a tape recorder or a scribe, but I wanted to share in my words what resonated with me and how I think it applies to yoga.

The ego is a fantastic tool, mechanism, or organism inside your body that helps you survive. It is great for self preservation as it wants to keep you comfortable and hates change. If you are comfortable at all times, you are not stressed or in pain. To the ego this means you are doing a great job at surviving. Sounds great, right?

However, the ego would rather have you lay on the couch or do the bare minimum to get through life. It will also hold you back from taking risks or trying something new. You may see someone do anything you want to do. But you don’t want to try whatever that thing is for the fear that you may try and fail. The result may be embarrassment which the ego does not like.

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I have taught the same multi-level class for the last eight years, occasionally I can see the ego take hold of students. This is why I always talk about YOUR practice and not paying attention to what others are doing. Students who don’t feel that they can do what other students are doing may get discouraged and stop taking class or they try harder without paying attention to their bodies and get hurt because of ego.

Sometimes the ego will make you back out of a posture because they feel discomfort and mistake it for pain. Your ego wants you to think you’re in pain so you get back to your comfort zone.

My yoga teacher has always told me to find comfort in the discomfort in your yoga postures. The ego doesn’t want change it wants to stay stagnate and comfortable. Yoga attacks the ego by helping you learn the tools to find the comfort in the discomfort.

I never saw the man again after that conversation, but I am very thankful for his wisdom.

 

 

Creating Beautiful Transitions: Jumping Back From Tripod

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In 2016 I talked with my students about, and practiced, building a strong foundation in each of our postures. In 2017, we are going to take the foundations we built and create beautiful transitions! Here is an example of a vinyasa I will be teaching in new year!

Taking Vinyasa from Headstand:

The best variation of headstand to learn jumping back from is tripod. Set your foundation in tripod by pressing into the knuckles of your hands taking the pressure out of your wrist (or think about lifting your fingers off the ground). Draw your elbows towards each other; as this happens, draw your shoulder blades together down your back. Ideally you will engage each of these alignments at the same time, but if not try engaging each one individually.

You have two options for you set up for jumping back

  1. Pike position: keeping the strong foundation in the above step, next you will lower your legs parallel with the floor. If you have a tight lower back or tight hamstrings (like I do in the picture) you can bend your knees. Bring your legs parallel with the floor and shift your hips towards the back of your mat. Hold for 5 breaths.
  2. Touch up position: keeping the strong foundation from step 1 and lower your feet until there are a couple of inches off the ground and hold for 5 breaths.

The Descent!
Jumping back from pike position or touch up position you want to land into Chaturanga and not high plank. Your arms are already in your perfect Chaturanga position! To descend, don’t slide your head off the ground as your feet fall! Try to lift your head off the ground up to possibly 1 inch! Use your strength to move into Chaturanga with control.
Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!

My 2017 Teaching schedule

Sunday
9am @ Beloved Yoga Reston
1045am @ East Meets West Yoga

Click here for information on my upcoming workshops (more are in the works for this year!)

Welcome to Dan Castan Yoga

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My name is Dan and I have been teaching yoga for about eight years. I have learned a lot in my eight years of teaching and I want to share my love of the practice with everyone. I started this blog to keep my students updated on my schedule as well as provide useful resources for those who want to deepen their practice.

I am currently teaching at two studios:

  • Beloved Yoga Reston
  • East Meets Yoga Center

Check out my schedule page for my schedule and come to a class!

I hope you will follow me on Facebook, which I regularly update with my schedule and useful information I find.

See you soon!