Blog

Calm the mind through the practice of restorative yoga and conscious breathing.

Every single restorative yoga pose is like a little boat floating on calm waters. 

We live in a world of constant stimulation. Our senses are repeatedly bombarded with information, noise, lights, opinions. Just by opening our phone we suddenly have the whole world in front of us pushing its news, facts, and so-called truths into our awareness. Our mind immediately starts to process all this data and create its own stories and beliefs. We can easily lose ourselves in the flood of information without knowing anymore what thoughts are truly ours and what thoughts have been implanted into our minds by others. This creates confusion and separates us from our true selves.

In order not to become externally referential and lose ourselves, it is important to learn how to attain an internal frame of reference so that we can let our true nature blossom. If we live only from the mind, our true self will wither. But if we let our inner wisdom blossom, we can train the mind to be a loyal servant.

Take a habit of practicing meditation, conscious breathing, and restorative yoga poses daily so that you can shift from living from the mind to living from the heart.

“We are not our thoughts, but the thinker having the thoughts.”

Aadil Palkhivala


Oftentimes it’s in the evenings right before going to bed when all these thoughts start running through our minds making it difficult for us to fall asleep. We might experience our minds being more active and we can feel that it’s difficult to switch off the thoughts. Taking a habit of dedicating 15-30 minutes each evening before going to bed to practice restorative yoga and breathing is a great way to quiet the mind and soothe the nervous system. It will not only help you to fall asleep faster and sleep better but also strengthen the connection to your intuition. It’s a way to become more of who you truly are.

My favorite evening routine is to practice Viparita Karani, Balasana, and 1:2 breath. This little routine takes me about 20 minutes and it gently carries me into the lalaland in no time! Read until the end where I share how to practice the 1:2 breath.

Viparita Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose)

Nothing prepares the body & mind better for a good night’s sleep than a few restorative yoga poses right before going to bed. Viparita Karani is definitely one of the best ones to calm the nerves and set you off for a peaceful night.

It removes tension in the brain,
relaxes the eyes,
releases tension in the diaphragm,
and frees the legs.

After resting and breathing deeply in this pose for 5-10 minutes (or more) one can truly feel the quietness in the mind, freedom of the breath, and deep relaxation in the whole body.

The supported version of Balasana (the child’s pose) is done by lying on a bolster (belly and chest supported by the bolster) and with a pad under the forehead.

Balasana is a great pose for introspection because it calms the frontal brain, the part where our thinking mind is located. Releasing the frontal brain downwards quiets the mind, allowing you to go inside. Inhale to connect with your heart center and exhale to consciously let go of your thoughts.

1:2 BREATH

The purpose of this kind of breathing is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system with the help of a long exhalation. The longer the exhalation the calmer you will become and the calmer you are the easier it is for you to fall asleep. The most simple way to bring yourself into a state of calmness is to lengthen the exhalation. It’s so very simple.

It’s a bit like counting the sheeps but more effective. Instead of just counting the sheeps, you count the length of your in -and exhalation with an aim to make the exhalation longer. The counting keeps the mind focused on the breath and the long exhalation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which brings your whole being into a state of relaxation.

Take a comfortable supine (lying on your back) position in your bed, close your eyes, and allow your whole body to sink down. First, just feel your breath flowing in and out through the nostrils and allow the breath to be smooth to increase the sympathetic response. Now, inhale counting until two and exhale counting until four. You can increase or decrease the number of the counts depending on your individual length of breath. Important is that you count the breaths and that the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation. Continue breathing in this way until you feel tired and ready to sleep. You might also fall asleep without even realizing it 😉

Enjoy a peaceful sleep until the sun rises again the next day.

If at any point the breath becomes harsh or just simply uncomfortable then please get back to your normal breathing. There should never be any force and the breath should flow smoothly and easily in and out through the nostrils.

To learn, experience, and better understand these and many other yoga poses join one of my group yoga classes in the Thalwil area or book a 1:1 session (in person or online) where we can dive deeper into your specific needs. Let’s get you on the mat!

Is there such a thing as ‘no time to practice’?

When the first lockdown started in Switzerland I spent a lot of time outside with the kids and most of the times I was able to fit a short yoga practice to those outdoor moments. Kids were sometimes running around (and under) me but that’s part of being a mom and it just brought a smile on my face.

The last time I visited my doctor he showed me a graphic of how much exercise is enough to support health. According to his figures an average person needs 30 minutes of cardio exercise three times a week and about 30 minutes of strength training twice a week. Now that doesn’t sound impossible right?

I often hear people saying that they don’t have time to practice yoga or do any other forms of exercise. This concept of the lack of time is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot and often especially after becoming a mother (nine years of contemplating) and it’s a theme that regularly comes up in private and group yoga classes. People from new mothers to busy corporate workers often come to me to learn simple yoga poses and sequences that they can easily fit into their otherwise busy life. Most of them are complete beginners in yoga and others have already gained some experience but are lacking regularity in their practice.

The other day I did a quick 15 minutes practice while my oatmeal was slowly cooking on the stove and it reminded me of this theme and about a video I shot in Umbria this summer (check out my Instagram for the video). I felt a sudden need to write about this topic a bit more profoundly because the fact is that many of us don’t always have a lot of time in our hands to practice yoga or exercise. There’s time but just not so much of it. And this is what often fools people to believe that nothing can be done.

Ardha Uttanasana can be done anywhere! All you need is a wall or anything else where to put your hands on and enough space behind you to step the feet back. This is an asana I do almost every day!

On those days when life is busy, I personally focus mainly on yoga sequences that I know by heart; like the classical Surya Namaskar, the Purna Yoga morning series, or hip series. These sequences on their own, or combined, offer a pretty complete yoga practice. You can get a lot done in half an hour (or less) if you know what to do. That morning it took me only 15 minutes to flow through the Purna Yoga morning series and three rounds of the classical Surya Namaskar. And it was all done during downtime. I could either sit and stare at my porridge until it’s ready or get on my mat and practice. I chose the latter.

We all need a few simple, easy, and effective sequences in our back pocket to get us through those busy days without having to sacrifice movement. This saves you the time and mental energy of having to think too much or for too long about what to do when you already have a long line of things waiting to be done. If you really want to practice every day (or maybe every other day), you can! Make it your priority and you will find the time to make it happen. Become aware of your own habits and thinking patterns. Is it really so that you have zero time to practice or is your mind just coming up with excuses to not practice? What is the real problem?

If you keep telling yourself, day after day, that “I don’t have time to practice” you will start believing that time is the issue when most of the time it’s not the time that’s the problem. Maybe you were too tired, lazy, sad, didn’t feel like practicing, or simply didn’t know what you should do or what you need. Be honest with yourself so that you can fix the real problem.

When we really want something we create time for it. We find a way to make it possible, to make it happen, to make it work. We just need to want it badly enough. For me, my personal yoga practice is one of those things. The benefits of practicing are far greater than giving in to the illusion of impossibility and skipping the practice altogether just because the circumstances are not ideal. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

The desire to practice becomes stronger than the excuses. This is where the mind starts to look for and see solutions instead of problems. It turns obstacles into possibilities and leads you in the right direction.

Meditating at my happy place on top of the Grappa mountain in Italy.

In the past, I’ve sat countless times on my yoga mat trying to figure out what I should do there. I had taken a myriad of yoga classes as a student but still didn’t have any idea how to practice on my own so I just ended up wasting the little time I had on thinking what to do. In the end, I didn’t do anything and ended up feeling frustrated, annoyed, and hopeless. I don’t want my students or you to feel like that which is why I teach you right from the beginning simple, easy, and effective sequences and poses that you can effortlessly incorporate into your daily life. I explain what are the benefits so that you can pick up the ones that you need right at that moment. This is one of the reasons why we practice for example the classical version of Surya Namaskar in almost every class. We do that so that you can feel the amazing benefits of the sequence in your body and learn the sequence by heart. Most of my students come to classes once a week but in order to cultivate all the benefits of yoga, you need to practice regularly. I want my classes to provide you with tools you can take home with and practice there until we meet the next time.

“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your illness.”

Unknown

Change your mantra from ‘I don’t have time’ to ‘I will make time.’ For a few days, keep a track of your day and write down everything that you do from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. This way you can have a better picture of how much time you spend on different things. I’m sure you will find at least 15 minutes each day to do yoga or other types of exercise that supports your wellbeing. Get into the root of the problem so that you can find a solution.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana done on a bench in a forest during a hike in Italy.

I dare to claim that time is not the real issue but that the problem lies somewhere else. By being honest to yourself you can find the real problem and work on it. And guess what, oftentimes Yoga offers you the exact tools to work on your real problem. Whatever your problem is, getting on the mat to move, meditate, to breathe will help you find a solution. You just got two flies with one hit!

If you know what to do and why you do it, the when will follow.

“Well planned is half done”.

I believe that DAILY MOVEMENT IS POSSIBLE. As long as you’re not too strict about where it happens or how long it lasts. A little goes a long way.
I do my best to not let myself be limited by the outer circumstances but rather try to make them to my advantage. With a little bit of creativity and an open mind one can do a lot even in the weirdest places and limited amount of time. I’ve ran around a playground for 30 minutes just to get my running workout done while the kids were doing their own things. Not because I had to but because I wanted to.

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.