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.

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!

SURYA NAMASKAR, AND WHY IT SHOULD BE A PART OF YOUR LIFE!

Surya Namaskar, a sequence that has been moving human bodies all over the world for over 5000 years! It is perhaps the most ancient series of poses practiced by human beings, which must mean, that there is something pretty powerful in the classical version of the Surya Namaskar.

In my opinion, this sequence is a lifesaver for all people living in our modern society that is based on long hours seated in front of a computer screen. 5000 years ago, or even only 100 years ago, life was naturally moving human bodies in their everyday lives. Nowadays, different kinds of vehicles are moving us from one place to another which drastically reduces the steps taken by our very own feet a day. The less we move our bodies the more tension, aches, and slugginess we experience in our physical form. Regular high and medium intensity level movement helps us to stay healthy and keeps our metabolism active throughout the day. 

Flowing through the Surya Namaskar is like the easily accessible antidote to the disease of inactive life. Practicing this sequence is doable almost anywhere you are and to all fitness levels! All you need is a yoga mat and enough space to lay that mat on the floor. No props, only the symphony of your body, mind, breath, and soul.

I teach the classical version of Surya Namaskar in almost every class because it’s such a powerful sequence that brings great benefits to your whole being. Let’s go through some of the benefits of this ancient sequence.

  1. Strengthens the whole body.
  2. Releases lower back tension. The extension and flexion of the spine stretches and strengthens the lower back.
  3. Opens the hip joints. Sitting on chairs all day tightens and damages the hips. Practicing Surya Namaskar does the opposite: it opens the hip joints in extension and flexion bringing back tier natural movement.
  4. Makes the whole body feel vibrant. The constant strengthening and opening movement of the body, guided by your breath, makes the whole body feel alive!
  5. Brings clarity and focus to the mind. By freeing your body from the tension you free the mind from tension. By strengthening the body you strengthen the mind. By uniting the mind, body, and breath your brain gets stimulated in ways that bring harmony in your whole being.
  6. Frees the breath. The whole sequence moves in one plane; from a backbend to a forward bend. Each backbend opens the chest and the diaphragm making more space for your breath to flow freely. Each forward bend opens the back of your body creating more awareness and space in the back of your lungs.
  7. Helps you to set intentions. Look deep within and find your intention for the day. Then, get on your mat and with each inhalation breath your intention into your whole being, and with each exhalation let go of what is no longer serving you. The more often we repeat a thought the more it becomes a part of who we are, and the more likely it will manifest in our life.
  8. Gives you a good amount of health promoting exercise in a short time. In only five minutes you can flow through a few rounds of Surya Namaskar and start to feel its energizing effects.

Pretty impressive benefits, right? And those are only a few of the key benefits of this unique sequence. I absolutely LOVE Surya Namaskar and couldn’t imagine my life without it. I’m on a mission to introduce this amazing sequence to as many people as I can and to help them make it part of their daily life! This mission has already started a few years ago when I started teaching yoga but on the 31st of January my mission takes one step forward: I will teach a Surya Namaskar online workshop where YOU will learn this sequence step by step and challenge yourself by aiming to practice 27 rounds of the classical version of the Surya Namaskar. Are you in?

MORE INFO ABOUT THE WORKSHOP

SIX BENEFITS OF PRACTICING YOGA ONLINE

Online yoga stormed into our lives with the speed an intensity of a massive wave last year and it looks like it will continue its success story in the year 2021 as well. Practicing yoga online isn’t a new concept, I was taking online yoga classes already 10 years ago, but after Covid-19 put our lives upside down and sort of forced us all to find new ways of working out, online yoga became part of daily life for many of us.

To be honest, at the beginning I was very reluctant to start teaching online mainly because it was new territory and because the style of yoga that I teach is very alignment based so seeing and adjusting my students is an important part of my classes. Through the computer screen, I can’t do hands-on assisting and until I managed to connect my laptop to a big screen I barely was able to even see my students to give more precise verbal corrections. Doing the practice while teaching also offered its own challenge. When I teach at a studio I never do my own practice because I am there for my students. My 100% attention goes to my students so that they can have the best possible experience and evolve in their own practice.

But, as we all know, challenges are there for our growth. If I could choose, I would teach most of my classes offline in a studio but I must say that after turning the challenges into victories I actually like teaching online as well. It’s different but it can be an amazing experience and online yoga classes will be part of my weekly schedule even after I can get back to teaching in a studio. Here are my top six benefits for practicing yoga online:

  1. ONLINE YOGA SAVES YOU TIME

Since all you need to join a yoga class online is your laptop/smart phone/tablet, you can basically start practicing exactly where you are! No need to travel to the studio and spend time in traffic. You can use that extra time on things that you normally don’t have time to do. Maybe you call a friend with who you haven’t spoken for a long time, spend some quality time with your kids, catch up on work, go for a walk in nature, or whatever you feel like doing. Maybe have a short power nap to boost your energy levels before taking a class.

2. YOU CAN PRACTICE IN THE COMFORT OF YOUR HOME

I’m sure you’ve had that moment right at the end of Shavasana where the teacher asks you, with a soft voice, to start slowly “waking up” but you don’t want to get up just yet. Well, if you’re at home you can just continue resting in Shavasana as long as you like. Besides that amazing benefit, you also don’t have to be carrying your yoga stuff from one place to another. Just get changed in your own home, enjoy the practice, and take a long warm shower afterward. No hurry, no stress, longer-lasting yoga bliss.

3. YOU GET A RECORDING OF THE CLASS FOR FREE

This is one of my favorite benefits! I mean how amazing it is that you get to retake the class you attended basically for free!? You pay for one class but actually, you get a few more. The recording will be available to you for three days and during that time you can watch the recording as many times as you want!

4. YOU GET TO DEEPEN YOUR PRACTICE

If you used to practice yoga once a week now you have the possibility, with the price of one class, to practice yoga at least four times a week! Taking the same class a few times gives you an invaluable opportunity to deepen your yoga practice and better learn the nuances of each asana. Mastering an asana or your practice doesn’t happen overnight or in one class. Practice makes perfect 🙂 As one of my favorite quotes says:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. -Bruce Lee

5. HELPS YOU TO MAKE YOGA PART OF YOUR DAILY LIFE

Practicing yoga at home by attending an online yoga class helps you to associate your home as a great place to practice yoga. It will be easier for you in the future to start practicing on your own as well and make yoga a part of your daily life. This is a great opportunity to create your own sacred yoga space that is dedicated to your wellbeing. When the space is ready with all the props you need it will be easier for you to get on the mat and start practicing.

6. YOU NEVER HAVE TO MISS A CLASS AGAIN

Did something unexpected happen and you couldn’t make it to the class? No worries, you will receive the recording of the class and you can watch it & practice with it when it suits the best for you.

Even if you are an advocate for practicing yoga in a studio (just like me) I would say those are pretty valid points to consider especially in times like these when online yoga is our only choice. It’s either that or nothing. I encourage you to give it a try. I will still be there guiding you, holding the virtual space for you, giving as many verbal instructions, and offering corrections as well as I possibly can, and there is always time for questions and answers and connecting with the other students after the class.

If you got interested and would like to give the online thing a chance then please do check out my schedule and sign up for a class. You will not regret it!