HOW HAMSTRINGS AFFECT YOUR YOGA PRACTICE AND THE HEALTH OF YOUR BODY.

Supta Padangusthasana is the number one asana to increase hamstring flexibility and to relieve lower back strain.

Any of you who have participated in my yoga classes knows that I love to make you stretch those hamstrings. But do you know WHY? I’m sure I have mentioned some of the benefits but I also know that sometimes what we hear goes in from one ear and immediately out from the other ear without leaving a memory mark in that important space between your ears: the brain. So let’s dive a little deeper into the hamstring muscle and recap some of those benefits.

One of my missions is to help people make yoga part of their daily life by teaching simple poses and short sequences that actually create change if you just practice them consistently. You don’t need to bend yourself into a pretzel in order to have a healthy body.

But let’s get back to the hamstrings. 

Hamstrings job is to extend the hip and flex the knee but if the hamstrings are too tight they can’t do that job properly. Due to the big amount of connective tissue that hamstrings have, it takes a lot of time to make them flexible. We need to hold poses for a minimum of one and a half minute to two minutes in order to release and stretch connective tissue. I say it again: consistent practice is the key. A lot of patience and regular practice is needed to make your hamstring flexible. It’s not enough to lift your legs up into Supta Padangusthasana once a week in a yoga class but you should do that once (or even twice) a day. Might sound a lot but the good news is that actually, it takes only about five minutes of your time a day. We all have five minutes, right? 

In a yoga class, we do different types of asanas that can be roughly put into four categories: standing poses, inversions, twists, backbends, and forward bends. Different asanas require strength and openness in different parts of the body. Hamstring strength is essential in backbends and hamstring flexibility is necessary in forward bends. This means that in order to do those poses effectively and safely you need to have strong and open hamstrings (among strength and flexibility in other parts of the body as well). Important to note here is that we need both: flexibility and strength. Flexible but weak hamstrings can lead to hamstring origin strains or tears which results in pain while sitting, stretching, and using the muscle. Now we don’t want that.

Open hamstrings allow the spine to fully lengthen in Adho Mukha Shvanasana (the downward facing dog).

Imbalanced hamstrings can lead to a limited range of motion and even serious injuries. For example, tight hamstrings pull down on the sitting bones which can lead to nagging low back pain. I find this to be one very important reason why we should keep those hamstrings open by stretching them daily. 

One of the key messages of yoga is:

“Future pain can be avoided.”

You just need to know how.

So how do you actually notice the state of your hamstrings in your yoga practice? Trikonasana and Adho Mukha Shvanasana are two very good poses where you can actually feel the effects of tight hamstrings in your body. In Trikonasana tight hamstrings can lead to compression on side of the back and overstretch the other side. In Adho Mukha Shvanasana on the other hand tight hamstrings pull on the sitting bones causing the back to round. If you do a forward bend like Janu Shirshansana and your hamstrings are tight, the sacrum tips backward creating a lot of strain to that area which in a long run can lead to injury. 

Trikonasana (the triangle pose) gives a nice stretch to the hamstrings.

Important to note here is also how gender affects the flexibility of the hamstrings. Women have an advantage toward flexibility because of the hormone relaxin which is produced especially in childbearing and birth to allow the pelvis to open. Relaxing helps to loosen the ligaments of the pelvis. Also during menstruation, this hormone is being released to make the connective tissues more flexible. This makes those menstruation days a perfect time to practice hip openers! This doesn’t only increase flexibility but hip openers also help to relieve cramps. Men on the other hand have testosterone which increases bulk and leads to tighter hamstrings.

So as you can see, we don’t (or shouldn’t) practice yoga just for the sake of a perfect pose but for the sake of a healthier and more enjoyable life! Keeping your hamstrings flexible and strong allows you to enjoy your daily activities with ease. That’s the only thing that truly matters. Being able to do fancy yoga poses is something extra where you can also physically challenge yourself but it shouldn’t be the driving force of your practice of yoga.

If you would like to learn ways to keep your hamstrings (and your whole body) healthy I welcome you to join my yoga classes in Gattikon/Thalwil or book a private yoga class where we can together create a practice that serves your specific needs. Private yoga classes can take place online or offline.

Sometimes in yoga group classes and in private sessions we hang in Adho Mukha Shvanasana to traction the spine. This is an amazing release for the whole spine, and hanging in general, is crucial for the health of the back.

Raw, orange infused chocolaty energy balls

If I would need to choose just one snack/dessert to eat for the rest of my life it would be these choco balls! My dear friend Eva Kiviluoma had prepared these as a snack for us a few years ago to eat during our little road trip to her summer house in Finland. When she opened the snack box the car was filled with delicious smell of orange and cacao. After the first bite my taste buds were totally in love!

I’m now sharing the original recipe by Eva here in my blog so that you too can enjoy these healthy, nutritious, and yummy little balls whenever you feel like you need some extra energy. They are super easy to make and you can easily vary the recipe depending on what you have in your cupboards.

I’m a big fan of using 100% pure food grade essential oils in food because they intensify the flavors and take my cookings into a whole new culinary level. They are also super handy on those times when you would really need a certain herb or fruit mentioned in the recipe but forgot to buy it. I often replace lemon or orange peel with the essential oil or add a little bit of lime essential oil to woks, a drop of cardamom to hot cacao, clove essential oil to ginger bread cookies and so forth. In these choco balls I used orange Vitality essential oil from Young Living to give these balls an intense orange flavour. If using essential oils in cooking is new to you you’re welcome to contact me for any questions you might have. The most important thing to know is that the essential oil you’re using is 100% pure and classified as food supplement. Young Living is the only essential oil company that has a whole essential oil food supplement line with oils you can ingest. Just drop me a message if you would like ti know more or read how I use the oils in my daily life.

How it looks like in my spice cupboard 🙂

But now, the recipe!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 400g of dates 
  • 5 tbls coconut oil
  • 5 tsp raw cacao
  • 0,75 dl oat flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt or himalayan salt
  • 8-10 drops of orange vitality essential oil (or the peel of one big orange)
  • Grated coconut to decorate

HOW TO PREPARE:

  1. Melt the coconut oil if not liquid already.
  2. If using dried dates, soak them for about one hour
  3. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together with a spoon. Then, with a stick blender, smash and mix the ingredients to create a smooth paste. 
  4. With the help of a tablespoon take small amounts of paste and roll into balls. 
  5. Roll the balls in grated coconut.
  6. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

Checkout also my cardamom infused power balls with sesame seeds recipe.

Cardamom essential oil gave a nice twist to these power balls with sesame seeds. If you don’t have cardamom essential oil you can always replace it with dried cardamom. More about it in the recipe.

Postnatal Yoga

“A mother who is able to nurture herself is able not just to love her baby unconditionally but also to perceive and receive her baby’s love” -unknown

Inner strength – inner peace – inner smile.

Becoming a mother, no matter if it’s first, second, or more times, is a life changing experience and the first months with a newborn baby can be intense. During this time it’s easy that the mother puts her own wellbeing aside and concentrates 100% to her baby. While there’s no doubt that babies should receive their mother’s undivided attention, love, and care, it’s as important that the mother takes care of herself as well. When the mother feels loved and cared for she will have more energy to take care of her baby as well. If the body is constantly achy, mind is agitated, mother is under stress, or she feels tired all the time she will eventually have less energy to look after her little one. This is why I feel it is so important to offer a welcoming space for women and their babies where they can focus for a moment on their own wellbeing while their little ones are either resting or included in the practice. Postnatal yoga classes are also a great place to meet other mother’s who are in the same life situation, to share and connect with like minded people.

One of the core principles of postnatal yoga is to ‘mother the mother’. This means that the focus in postnatal classes is to help mothers care for their babies with greater ease, to offer mothers simple techniques to get better rest in short periods and to sleep better between night feeds. Postnatal yoga classes help mothers to regain ownership of their bodies after birth and the pregnancy months.

In postnatal yoga classes we use breathing, movement, balance, and relaxation to allow mother’s body to recover from childbirth to its full potential. It’s all about gentle progression – there’s no rush. Slow progress creates long lasting benefits and a strong foundation for physical and mental wellbeing to flourish. There is a reason why hey say:

Nine months of pregnancy, nine months postnatal.”

Some of the benefits of Postnatal Yoga:

  • strengthening the basic structure of the body through simple practices and micro-movements
  • tones the abdominal muscles in depth for ‘closing the body’ after birth
  • strengthens the pelvic floor muscles
  • promotes relaxation
  • supports postnatal hormonal balance
  • gaining strength and stamina
  • relieves stiffness in the shoulders
  • renewal of energy
  • bonding between mother and baby
  • positive feelings and interaction
  • quietening of the mind

Postnatal yoga class at Plasma Yoga in Wollishofen Zürich is starting in May 10th. More info and sign-up.

Yoga retreat in Spain in October 2021

I was beyond excited when my dear friend and yoga teacher Tove Palmgren announced her big news: WE’RE GOING TO SPAIN! Last year, right before the Covid-19 craziness truly began in Europe, I had a great honor to assist her at her annual yoga retreat in Centro Santillan in Malaga. After all the uncertainties brought by the global pandemic, she finally announced the dates for this year’s yoga retreat and asked me again to join her. So amazing!

Would you like to join my teacher Tove Palmgren and myself for a week of yoga, meditation, and more in beautiful Andalusia, Spain on October 17-23?

I took my yoga teacher training under Tove’s professional and loving guidance and have been practicing, apprenticing, and learning from her ever since. She has over 30 years of experience in practicing and teaching yoga. In 1988 she was the first person to begin practicing and teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in Finland. She has studied with several world-famous teachers including John Scott, Aadil Plakhivala, and Savitri, and in 2012, she finished 2000-hour yoga studies and graduated from the Purna Yoga College. On top of all that she has taken several therapeutic yoga teacher trainings with Aadil Palkhivala both as a participant and her assistant. She has an impressive resumé! But, all these studies wouldn’t mean so much if she didn’t also happen to be an amazing human being with a big heart and the ability to inspire people to live a more fulfilling life through the complete practice of yoga.

Her meditations are some of the most beautiful and transforming once I know. her calm, loving, and confident voice takes you immediately into your inner life and allows you to connect with yourself on a deeper and more meaningful level. She’s fun and inspiring to be around because of her great sense of humor and intelligence.

But now, let’s get into the yoga retreat itself.

The center has taken lots of care and measures to make it safe and pleasant. The number of participants is limited to 10 at the moment. Everyone will have their own room with an ensuite bathroom for the price of a shared! Each participant will receive a full set of personal props to keep throughout our time there. The rooms are spacious, clean, and decorated with good taste. Each room has either a balcony or a terrace with beautiful views. You can read more about the safety measurements here: https://santillanretreat.com/covid-protocol

There are numerous common spaces both indoors and outdoors where you can read, contemplate or socialize. The premises and surroundings are absolutely gorgeous and the view over the Mediterranean breathtaking. There is a saltwater pool where you can swim or just relax and read on the comfy sun chairs under the warm Spanish sun.

Santillán is set in a secluded location high in the hills about half an hour from Malaga airport. The airport is easily accessible from all parts of Europe and beyond.

The center is amazingly beautiful and has a large yoga room fully equipped with props and a large yoga wall. The room is full of light coming from the big windows and has a spectacular view over the hills toward the Mediterranean. In the mornings you get to wake up together with the sun in this beautiful space and absorb the magical atmosphere of the sunrise.

The excellent food is lovingly prepared from local produce, most of it grown organically on the premises and varying according to season. The menu is mainly vegetarian, with the addition of fish, if wanted. Allergies and food sensitivities are catered for. All the meals are just delicious! Simple, tasty, fresh, and made with love. I got so many new recipe ideas and lots of inspiration for my cookings.

We will have daily asana classes, meditation sessions, and talks. There will also be time to hike, swim in the saltwater pool, read or really take it easy, to rest and allow the yoga to take effect. You have the possibility to book massages and other treatments for an extra charge. Last year I took one heavenly massage and one very powerful singing bowl treatment.

All the details, how to book, testimonials, and pictures from the past retreats can be found at https://www.tovepalmgren.com/yoga-retreats

It would be amazing to have you there with us!

Fainè – Chickpea flatbread

This is for all the chickpea lovers out there!

It was love from the first bite ❤

This protein and fibre rich chickpea flatbread is so ridiculously easy to make that even if you’re not exactly a wizard in the kitchen you will succeed in this one for sure. It’s fast, easy, and nutritious vegan friendly flatbread that happens to also be 100% gluten free. With different toppings you can turned it into a quick & filling lunch or if you’re craving for something sweet do as my mother-in-law does: spread Nutella on top 😀 The only limit is your imagination and your taste bud’s preferences.

What I love especially now in the springtime, is to put fresh & raw veggies on top (radishes and chives are in season here in Switzerland at the moment). I usually spread lemon flavoured (all you need is a drop of 100% pure food grade lemon essential oil) cream cheese but today I decided to experiment with a creme fraische sauce and it turned out to be delicious! If you don’t have any lemon essential oil you can use a lemon flavour from the supermarket or freshly grated lemon zest.

This recipe is for a baking tray with a diameter of 31 cm (I used one that is 28 cm and that worked perfectly as well). When you pour the liquid dough on the baking tray the thickness of it should be between 5mm-10mm.

Without further talks, here is the recipe that was given to me about ten years ago by an acquaintance during my vacation in Italy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 200g chickpea flour
  • 550g water
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

HOW TO PREPARE:

  1. Heat the oven to 260 degrees (or whatever is the maximum temperature of your oven).
  2. Mix the chickpea flour, water, and salt in a bowl to create a smooth liquid without any lumps of flour. 
  3. Add one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into the mixture.
  4. Grease a baking tray (I recommend using a non-stick baking tray. Otherwise place oven paper on top of the baking tray and pour the oil on the top of the oven paper.) with 4-5 tablespoons of oil. Then, pour the chickpea mixture in it.
  5. Place the baking tray in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the surface of the chickpea flatbread turns into a golden brown colour. The chickpea flatbread needs to be well cooked from inside as well.
  6. Use the grill set up of your oven for the last 5-10 minutes to create a more crusty and toasted surface but be careful to not burn the flatbread!
  7. Once ready, remove the flatbread from the oven and sprinkle some salt and black pepper on top. Let it cool down for about 5-10 minutes.
  8. Add your toppings or eat it ‘au naturel’; It’s delicious either way!
Creme fraische spread, radishes, and chives topping.