Pose of the Week: Utthan Pristhasana

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Utthan Pristhasana, also known as lizard pose, is a deep hip opener and lunge variation often practiced once the body is fully warmed up. This pose helps to strengthen your leg muscles and improves flexibility in the hips and groin. I like to start by placing a block under my forearms and gradually come down to the mat working with my breath to deepen the stretch. I have tight hips from running and cycling so this is both a welcome and dreaded pose.

Getting into the pose: Starting from lunge pose, place your hands on the inside of your left foot. Gradually sink your hips forward and down possibly lowering your forearms to the mat. Shift your weight into the outer edge of the left foot to ease the hip open. Maintain a long spine and open chest. Placing a block under the forearms is a great option if flexibility is restricted.

Alignment cues: Extend the heart forward, lengthen the spine and draw the shoulder blades together to avoid any rounding in the back. Use your block for your forearms if they do not rest comfortably on the mat. Flex the left foot to protect the ankle and knee. Curl the back toes under and lift the back knee for a deeper stretch. Listen to your body and breathe.

Benefits:

  • Opens the hips, hamstrings, groins and hip flexors

  • Strengthens the inner thigh muscles on the front legs

  • Opens and releases the chest, shoulders and neck

  • Prepares the body for deeper hip openers


Pose of the Week: Anjaneyasana

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Lunge or Anjaneyasana is a great pose to stretch the hips, open the chest and improve balance. It is found in many yoga practices and accessible to all levels. As a runner and triathlete, I have tight hip flexors and this pose allows for a gentle stretch of the psoas and serves as a preparatory pose for deeper hip openers.

Getting into the pose: Starting from downward facing dog, exhale your right leg forward and rest your left knee down on the mat. Place your right knee over right ankle and left knee directly behind left hip. Inhale your arms and torso up, reaching fingertips towards sky with palms facing in or interlacing fingers overhead with triceps aligned with ears. On an exhale, allow your hips to settle forward and down to deepen the stretch in the front of the left leg and psoas. To exit the pose, plant the palms on the mat and step the right leg back pressing into downward dog. Repeat on the opposite side.

Alignment cues: Lift the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Draw the tailbone down, relax the shoulders and shift the gaze up as you reach your fingertips up and back for a slight backbend. Press the top of the left foot and shin into the mat. Option to curl the back toes under and lift the left knee for crescent lunge.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteus muscles

  • Stretches the psoas and hips

  • Relieves sciatica pain

  • Expands your chest, lungs and shoulders

Pose of the Week: Ustrasana

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Camel Pose or Ustrasana in Sanskrit was first introduced to me in Bikram yoga. I attended a Bikram class everyday for a month and was very close to entering the teacher training program. I decided to take a different path and still love the discipline, series of poses and HEAT this particular practice delivers. Camel pose is a backbend and big heart opener which may leave you feeling a tad dizzy. Doing this pose forces me to get calm and find comfort in the discomfort. Use camel pose to increase spinal flexibility and open that HEART.

Getting into the pose: Position yourself kneeling with knees hip width and thighs parallel to the mat. Place you hands with fingers pointed downward on the top of your buttocks. Use them to spread the back of your pelvis and lengthen the tailbone down. Lean back and grasp your heels with each hand. Keep the chest lifted and hips and thighs pressing forward as you breath into your backbend for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To exit the pose Imagine there is a string connected to your sternum lifting you up as you rise to kneeling with head coming up last. Rest kneeling with palms facing down on thighs for 3-5 breaths.

Alignment cues: Lift the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Option to curl the toes under to elevate the heels and avoid compression of the lower back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your head in neutral or drop it back without straining the neck. Keep your hips stacked over knees and chest lifted.

Benefits:

  • Stretches the chest, abdomen, quadriceps and hip flexors.

  • Improves spinal flexibility, posture and back strength.

  • Creates space in the chest and lungs thereby increasing breathing capacity.

  • Stimulates the kidneys and aids in digestion.

Pose of the Week: Urdhva Dhanurasana

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Wheel Pose or Urdhva Dhanurasnana in Sanskrit reminds me of my childhood. Maybe it’s because I did gymnastics for a short stint and that was part of the training. As an adult, I find it to be a challenging pose that requires strong flexible shoulders more so than a flexible spine. My wheel has improved over the years and I look forward to standing up and dropping back with continued practice. I love teaching this pose to beginners and witnessing the awe on their faces the first time they successfully press up. I encourage you to practice this pose to challenge yourself while perhaps channeling your inner child.

Getting into the pose: Position yourself laying on the mat with knees bent and feet hip distance apart and parallel with the outside edges of the mat. Bring your feet towards your buttocks so that fingertips brush the heels. Place your hands next to your ears with palms facing down and fingertips pointed towards shoulders. Inhale your buttocks off the ground. Continue pressing into your feet and hands as you move your hips up and shoulder blades against your back. Option to release down to the crown of your head, walk your hands back towards your feet and lift back up to increase the backbend. Other variations include lifting a leg, rocking back and forth and extending the legs out straight in front of you.

Alignment cues: It is important to keep your feet and knees parallel to the mat rather than splaying them out to the sides. This forces you to use the strength of your quadriceps and adductors as well as the opening of the hip flexors to support the pose thereby eliminating compression of the lower back which can lead to injury. Squeezing a block between your thighs can aid in proper alignment.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the arms, wrists, legs, buttocks, abdomen and spine. 

  • Stretches the chest and lungs.

  • Stimulates the thyroid and pituitary glands.

  • Improves stamina and focus.

Kindness

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Kindness 💜 There’s a man who stands on the street corner along my running route in the mornings. His jovial disposition and long white beard remind me of Santa Claus (without the large belly and red suit). Every morning he stands on the sidewalk waving and smiling at passing cars, some of which return the greeting with a honk. And every morning we exchange a high five and a quick hello. Today he told me he liked my sharp shoes which had flashing lights for running in the dark. I used to think that I made this stranger’s day with our interaction but upon reflection I now find that he makes mine. He’s the first person I make contact with each day and his kindness is a reminder that you don’t need to know someone’s name or story to have a meaningful connection. At the gas station following my run I noticed that the man next to me was having trouble starting his car. Instead of rushing to get onto the next daily task, I stopped and asked if he needed help. I gave him a jump for which he was thankful. I think it was the high five from the old man that made me stop and practice kindness to the stranger at the gas station. Kindness is contagious and passed on. If you can be anything, be kind 💜 

Pose of the Week: Natarajasana

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Dancer Pose or Natarajasana in Sanskrit is another name for Shiva and his dance symbolizes cosmic energy. It’s a beautiful and graceful pose that really tests your balance. Finding your edge in this pose usually involves falling out of it. So…fall out of the pose and get back in. It’s a metaphor for life. Fall down eight times and get back up nine. And while you’re at it - bring on the cosmic energy!

Getting into the pose: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight into your left leg, lift up on the knee cap to keep the standing leg strong and bend your right knee. Bring your right heel towards your right buttocks and grab the inside of the food with your right hand. Kick your foot back into your hand while hinging forward and extending the left arm out in front of you. Continue to kick your foot back and up while reaching your arm forward to maintain balance and increase the backbend. The stronger you kick back, the deeper you will be able to get into the pose.

Alignment cues with right leg back: Find your drishti (one non-moving point you can fix your gaze on) to establish balance. As you kick back, square the hips keeping your right hip in line with your body rather than opening up to the right side. Allow the right shoulder to open and lift your chest as you continue to kick back and up. To avoid hyperextending the standing leg, fully engage the leg muscles and put a micro bend in the knee. FOCUS.

Benefits:

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest

  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen

  • Strengthens the legs and ankles

  • Improves balance

Keto Q&A with Dr. Casey

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Dr. Aaron Casey is my chiropractor, a friend and the owner of Casey Chiropractic in Colchester, CT. He is a huge proponent of the ketogenic diet and hosts regular workshops at his practice about the health benefits of following a keto diet.

I have been following a ketogenic diet for the last year to augment brain health, reduce inflammation in my body and use fat as a predominate energy source.

I sat down with Dr. Casey to discuss some key points about the diet and better understand its recent surge in popularity.

Q: What exactly is the ketogenic diet in simple terms? 

A: The ketogenic diet is eating 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% or less carbohydrate to change our body’s metabolism to burn fat as a primary source of fuel instead of sugar. When your body is in the state of burning fat you can actually access and use the stored fat in the body. 

Q: You are an avid tennis player, business owner, husband and father to three children under the age of 7. How has this diet affected your overall health and supported your busy life-style? 

A: My wife and I have been on the keto diet for about 6 months now. We have found our energy levels have improved, we've lost weight and our food cravings have stopped. I would say my mood is generally better and my sleep has improved... at least when the kids are sleeping through the night. 

Q: Is keto for everyone? 

A: It is for most people, but not all. Type I diabetics should not try this diet. (Type II diabetics should absolutely consider this diet). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with their doctor before attempting this diet. People on medications for high blood pressure or Type II diabetes need to monitor their medications with their doctor as the need for these medications can change rapidly with the diet. 

Q: What are the main benefits of keto? 

A: The reduction of carbohydrate in the body and the switch into ketosis can greatly influence the treatment and prevention of many "modern" diseases.  To name a few keto is great for Type II Diabetes, chronic inflammatory diseases, Chronic neuro degenerative diseases (Alzheimers) and  cardiovascular disease.

Q: What are some of your favorite resources on ketogenic diets and recipes?  

A: I direct people to dietdoctor.com. It's a great resource that is very user friendly and an easy introduction to the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. Also, YouTube has a plethora of talks/lectures available. There are several great cookbooks as well. Quick and Easy Ketogenic Cooking by Maria Emmerich is an example of a great starter recipe book. 

Q: In your opinion, is this just a fad or does it have staying power? 

A: I do believe this is going to change the way many people eat for a lifetime. The science and benefits of the diet are strong and the diet is manageable in the long term for most people. There's very little "suffering" on this diet. The foods are very satisfying and most people experience decreased appetite and better food control as cravings also decrease significantly. 

Q: When can I come over for dinner? 

A: ASAP! Bring the zoodles.

Easy keto meal: Eggs with Avocado

Easy keto meal: Eggs with Avocado

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and it is not my intention to push particular diets and/or eating habits on individuals. I am fiercely passionate about health and wellness and exploring different ways of optimizing health and performance through exercise, diet and other mediums. I believe that every individual is unique and advise that they follow the diet that meets their needs and allows them to be their best self.

Pose of the Week: Arda Mandalasana

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Runner’s lunge is Arda Mandalasana in Sanskrit. It is not just for runners as the name suggests however it is a pose that I like to do after a track workout because of the deep stretch it provides in the hip flexors. The hip flexors drive your leg forward and if they’re too tight, they’ll limit your extension thereby shortening your running gait. Tight hip flexors can also cause muscular imbalances and warp your posture.

Getting into the pose: There are different ways to get into runner’s lunge. Extending the leg back from standing forward fold or bringing the leg forward from downward dog are options. In this case, transitioning from standing forward fold, step the right leg back as your hands frame the front foot. Press into the ball of the right foot while extending the heel back and down to lengthen the calf muscles.

Alignment cues with right leg back: Keep left knee stacked over left ankle. Right leg is straight with muscles engaged and hips level. Spine is long and gaze is forward creating one line of energy from the crown of the head to the right heel. Engage the core muscles and use your hands to stabilize the pose and gently guide the sternum forward. BREATHE.

Benefits:

  • Stretches the hip flexors (upper groin area)

  • Strengthens the legs and arms

  • Improves balance

  • Develops strength and stability in the lower body

  • Relieves indigestion and constipation


Yoga for High School Students

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I had the opportunity to teach yoga at a Wellness Fair hosted at my high school yesterday. It’s so great that the school promotes health and wellness to its students and faculty. Building awareness and creating healthy habits at a young age is so important. I was grateful to share my practice with the students and teachers and was surprised at how smoothly things went in a room full of coed teenagers unfamiliar with yoga.

I was fortunate to grow up with healthy role models. In the 80’s, my parents joined the gym and worked out regularly on Nautilus equipment. I would accompany them frequently and test my strength on the machines. I always wonder if lifting at a young age had anything to do with being the runt in the family…but whatever. What’s important is that exercising and eating a balanced diet of unprocessed foods was the norm in my family and these healthy habits that are so foreign to many come so naturally to me.

I hope that schools continue to host wellness fairs of this kind offering various pathways to healthy and happy life-styles. Everyone deserves to be joyful, healthy, peaceful and at ease.

Pose of the Week: Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana

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Bound extended side angle pose or Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana in Sanskrit is a variation on extended side angle. By binding the hands behind the front leg, this variation allows a greater opening of the shoulders and chest, lengthening of the spine and strengthening of the leg muscles while challenging your balance.

Getting into the pose: Transition from extended side angle (feet are positioned 4 feet apart. Back toes are pointed in at a 45 degree angle while front foot is facing forward. Right knee is bent at a 90 degree angle with knee cap aligned over heel. Right hand is on the inside of your right foot and left arm extends overhead with fingertips reaching forward). Weave your right arm under your front thigh and bend your left arm behind your back to clasp the opposing wrist.

Alignment cues with right leg bent: Keep knee in alignment with ankle and moving in the direction of the right pinky toe. Keeping the spine long, rotate the chest up as you roll the top shoulder back so that it stacks over your front thigh. Draw belly towards spine engaging the abdomen. Gaze up to support the spinal twist and opening of the chest and shoulders. Keep the collarbones wide and maintain a strong base in the legs. BREATHE.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens your legs and ankles

  • Builds core strength

  • Opens the hips, side waist, and shoulders

  • Improves balance

  • Stimulates digestion and circulation

  • Builds focus


Natural Cure

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As a child growing up with a backyard surrounded by miles of untouched woods and beaches within walking distance, playing outdoors in nature was as natural to me as breathing. During the school year I could be found playing in the woods from the moment the school bus dropped me off up until dinner time. During the summers, my days were filled swimming in the sea, searching crevices for blue crabs and building sand castles. To this day I make an effort to spend time in nature for its ability to bring me balance, peace and relief from the stresses of modern day life. Read more about how time in nature benefits you and easy ways to access this cure-all.

Pose of the Week: Viparita Virabhadrasana

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Viparita Virabhadrasana, otherwise known as reverse warrior, commonly follows Warrior II in a vinyasa yoga sequence. To me this is a very pretty pose. One of my favorite cues for reaching the front arm overhead and back is to reach the finger tips forward, flip your hand and paint the ceiling with your palm. The imagery of painting the ceiling with your palm is quite graceful, fluid and pleasing to me. I’ve only heard one teacher use that cue which I occasionally borrow when instructing students – thanks for that! Since starting the pose of the week series, I’ve noticed that my favorite poses tend to have a side bend component and warrior stance to them which is the case with Reverse Warrior. I hope you like it as much as I do! 

 

Getting into the pose: Feet are positioned 4 feet apart. Back toes are pointed in at a 45 degree angle while front toes are facing forward. Heel of back foot is in line with heel of front foot. Front arm extends overhead and fingertips reach back with palm facing down to get a stretch in the side body. Front knee is bent and front thigh is parallel to the mat. Back let is straight and back arm is resting on the calf.

 

Alignment cues with right knee bent: Continue to bend your right knee as you reach your right arm and fingertips over your ear and back getting a deep stretch in the right side body. Gaze up at your fingertips and slide your left hand down your calf being mindful to avoid the knee joint. Left leg is strong as you pull up on the knee cap. Press weight into the outer edge of your left foot. Avoid collapsing in your left side body and create space between your left shoulder and left ear. Breathe into the side stretch.  

 

Benefits: 

• Strengthens and stretches the legs, groins, hips, and the sides of the torso and waist.
• Improves flexibility in the spine, inner thighs, ankles, and chest.
• Increases blood flow throughout the body, reducing fatigue and helping to calm the mind.

 

Track Workouts. Reaching Your Yoga Edge.

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My approach to fitness is well-rounded. I swim, bike and run as part of my triathlon training regimen and practice yoga to increase flexibility, build strength, calm my nervous system and connect within.

One of my most important and effective weekly workouts takes place on the track. Read more about how track workouts can quickly boost your fitness level, burn fat and build muscle. And always balance these intense workouts with a calming yoga sequence.

Pose of the week: Utthita Parsvakonasana

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Utthita Parsvakonasana (try saying that in yoga class!) also known as extended side angle. This is another one of my favorite poses for the glorious stretch you get from the heel of your back leg to your front fingertips. As the entire side body lengthens, I like to think I’m adding at least an inch of height to my frame. It’s good to dream!

Getting into the pose: Feet are positioned 4 feet apart. Back toes are pointed in at a 45 degree angle while front foot is facing forward. Extend arms out to the side parallel with the mat, bend right knee at a 90 degree angle (knee cap aligned over heel) and place right hand on the inside of your right foot as you extend your left arm over your head with fingertips reaching towards the front of the room.

Alignment cues with right leg bent: Back leg is strong, press back heel down as you reach through the front fingertips. Left hip is slightly forward and upper torso rotates back to the left to open up the chest. Left arm reaches back over left ear with palm facing down. Gaze at left fingertips and avoid sinking weight into the right hand. Use the right arm as leverage to align the right knee with ankle. BREATHE.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens and stretches the legs, knees, and ankles

  • Stretches the groin, spine, waist, chest and lungs, and shoulders

  • Stimulates abdominal organs

  • Increases stamina

There you have it!

My love of butter coffee is strong.

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I start each morning with a cup of butter coffee (sometimes referred to as bulletproof or keto coffee). Its ingredients provide an immediate energy boost, stimulate my metabolism, optimize brain function and keep me satiated until early afternoon.

The three ingredients in butter coffee are grass-fed butter (substitute ghee if dairy-free), MCT oil and coffee. The ROI in terms of health benefits of each is pretty outstanding.

Grass-fed Butter: Rich in omega-3s, CLA, beta-carotene, antioxidants, and vitamins A, K, D & E.

MCT Oil: Medium-chain triglycerides increase cognitive function and energy and boost the metabolism.

Coffee: A great source of antioxidants and essential nutrients.

Let’s get started:

After brewing your coffee, pour the single serving into a high speed blender (I use the ninja bullet) and add 1 tablespoon of grass-fed butter and 1 tablespoon of MCT oil. Blend to a creamy consistency, pour the finished product into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Brace yourself for more energy, improved brain function and optimal digestion.

Combine this with a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting and you will be well on your way to feeling, performing and looking like a superhero. But more on that later…

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*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and it is not my intention to push particular diets and/or eating habits on individuals. I am fiercely passionate about health and wellness and exploring different ways of optimizing health and performance through exercise, diet and other mediums. I believe that every individual is unique and advise that they follow the diet that meets their needs and allows them to be their best self.


Pose of the Day: Trikonasana

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Trikonasana, also known as triangle pose, is my all time favorite standing asana (A Sanskrit word for a yoga posture, if you want to get all fancy). Casually weave the word trikonasana into a group conversation at a party and see where it takes you. Just a random suggestion.

Getting into the pose:

Position legs 4 feet apart. Right foot points forward as left foot is in at a 90 degree angle. Align right heel with left and stretch arms out to the sides and parallel to the mat. With legs straight and muscles engaged, shift hips back, reach right arm forward and place your right hand on your shin, ankle or around your big toe in yogi toe lock.

Alignment cues with right leg forward:

Reach through both fingertips (energy moving in both directions), left hip slightly forward, lengthen the tailbone towards the back heel, pull up on right knee cap, twist the torso to open up the chest and heart. BREATHE.

Benefits:

  • Stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles

  • Stretches the hips, groins, hamstrings, and calves; shoulders, chest, and spine

  • Stimulates the abdominal organs

  • Helps relieve stress

  • Improves digestion

  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause

  • Relieves backache, especially through second trimester of pregnancy

  • Therapeutic for anxiety, flat feet, infertility, neck pain, osteoporosis, and sciatica

There you have it folks!