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How to use a Yoga Strap

The yoga strap is a wonderful prop to add to your yoga practice. Using a yoga strap is not just for beginners, although beginners certainly get the most benefits. There are many reasons to use a yoga strap:

  • It can enhance your experience of the pose, allowing you to worry less about achieving that “perfect pose”.
  • It can make it safer and more accessible to you.
  • If you have restrictions or tightness, a yoga strap can help a lot. 

You can find a yoga strap at stores like Target, Lululemon, Walmart, and other online-only stores Amazon and the Yoga Outlet store. They are usually pretty affordable. Alternatively, you can use a belt or towel, the downside is that these options won’t be as comfortable or as long as a yoga strap. 

The straps are usually:

  • about 1.5 inches
  • 6 feet in length or longer
  • made of cotton fabric, making them durable and machine washable
  • have either metal D-rings or a plastic buckle (to make loops)

Ways to Use and the Benefits of Using a Yoga Strap

1. Extension Tool

To create “longer arms” to hold yoga poses, for instance, forward bending stretch poses on the floor. Wrap the strap around the arch of the foot or use a strap loop when keeping one leg extended and the other bent.

2. Measure and Activate Certain Muscles

For example, in a forearm plank when you have your forearms parallel to each other, use a loop around your forearms (no wider than shoulder-distance apart). This keeps your hands from accidentally creeping in or turning out. So with a strap, make the loop the length of shoulders. Make sure it’s tight because you are going to actively pull your arms away from each other to maintain that shoulder-distance measurement.

3. Modification Tool

Use a yoga strap in your intermediate-advanced poses like Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose. Use a strap, a loop if you like, around the arch of your foot and extend the leg. This helps you keep your back straight during the pose and gain more flexibility in the hamstrings!

To modify a pose, if you are pregnant for example, you add a strap to cover the area where you would have previously folded tightly in half. In boat pose, for example, you can wrap the strap.

4. Maintain Alignment

You can maintain correct alignment while still doing with the help of the strap stretch poses.

5. Make Loops 

Loops with the strap allow you to hold with only one arm. Try Dancer’s Pose with a strap loop around the arch of the foot.

6. For Reclining Poses

You in performing reclining poses requiring flexibility like pigeon pose on your back.

7. Binding Tool 

To perform yoga binds, when you bind the arms around you in a pose, often an advanced yoga pose with many health and spiritual benefits. For example, in Bird’s of Paradise Pose you can replace the handclasp in the leg bind by clasping a strap.

8. Shoulder Tool 

Great to stretch the shoulders, chest, testing and increasing your shoulder mobility. Instead of clasping your hands in a pose, hold the strap. This helps you keep length in your spine and safely stretch the arms. For example, hold the strap with both hands and stretch overhead. Also, try stretching side to side with this hand position to get a different arm sensation.

As you can see a yoga strap is a great tool to keep you safe, flexible, and smart when doing yoga! Get one to match a pair of cute yoga leggings and start practicing. 

Why Drishti Is Important

“Find your Drishti!” your yoga teacher calls out. Find my what? You think; What part of the body is the Drishti? 

The Sanskrit definition of Drishti is “sight” or “focused gaze.” It is meant to help you develop your concentration and keep your attention on the pose, not on outside stimuli. It stops you from looking at what is going on around you; what your fellow yogis are wearing, the squirrel running around a tree outside the window, or how much better the person in front of you is at balancing in Tree Pose. Our attention follows wherever our eyes go, and Drishti tells us where to send our gaze for maximum focus.

Drishti In Yoga

Many yoga poses have their own point of Drishti, or area that you focus your attention on while holding it. In Ashtanga style yoga, there are nine focusing points that you can turn your attention to, depending on the pose you are in: 

  • Nasagram Drishti – The most often used Drishti, located at the space just beyond the tip of your nose. Mainly used for sitting postures. 
  • Ajna Chakra Drishti – The space between your eyebrows (like in Reverse Warrior)
  • Nabhi Chakra Drishti – Navel (like in Downward Dog)
  • Hastagre Drishti – Hand (like in Triangle)
  • Pahayoragrai Drishti – Toes (like in Seated Forward Fold)
  • Parshva Drishti – Far to the right (like in most twists)
  • Parshva Drishti – Far to the left (same as above)
  • Angushtha Ma Dyai Drishti – Thumbs (like in Upward Salute)
  • Urdhva Drishti or Antara Drishti – Up to the sky (like in Warrior I)

When practicing Drishti, it is important to keep a “soft gaze.” It means that instead of tensing up and staring so to speak, keep your eyes light and hold your point of Drishti softly as if it were a living thing and you do not want to smother it. Drishti is very useful in balancing postures when you focus on an unmoving point in front of you. Keeping your attention on something stationary helps you ground your mind and thus your body. Drishti also incorporates the inner gaze, which is used in Savasana to find points of tension and release them. Again, use a soft gaze to examine your body and see where you need to give it a little TLC. 

Drishti In Life

Drishti might be used most often in yoga, but you can use its philosophy in your everyday life too. We could all use a little more Drishti, especially when our society moves at such a rapid pace and the slightest distraction diverts our attention. We are also encouraged to practice multitasking, which has been proven to benefit absolutely nobody. 

Where is your point of Drishti in your life? What should you be giving 100% of your undivided attention to? Which direction should you be looking, and why is that place important? Perhaps you’ve become distracted by the promise of a booming career but have left your family life by the wayside. Maybe you’ve been thinking that finding your soulmate will complete your life, but you’ve forgotten to take care of #1. In any case, use the single-point focus and concentration you learn in yoga and let it guide your gaze in life. 

3 Essential Guidelines for Choosing the Right Yoga Mat

A yoga mat is one of the most essential items for maintaining a steady yoga practice, whether you prefer to practice from the comfort of your own home or in a yoga studio. It gives you a safe and clean space to practice without concerning yourself with the hygienic properties of the floor beneath you. Ultimately, this is the reason that yoga mats are so crucial to the practice, but safety plays a large role in choosing the right one as well.

What guidelines should you consider when you purchase your next yoga mat? Whether it’s your first one or your fiftieth, don’t forget to review these reminders before you start shopping.


Size

While most of the big-box stores will only sell one-sized yoga mats, some yogis will need a different size. Particularly if you are very tall, you may require a mat that has a few extra inches to either the length or the width. This allows you to practice a comfortable stance that is more appropriate to your size and body structure so you can move deeper into the practice over time.

These sizes can be difficult to find in stores that only sell generic equipment so consider shopping for special sizes online or at a shop that specializes in yoga equipment.

Padding

Yogis who have been practicing for a while may already know that they require some additional padding on their mat. Hard surfaces in yoga studios or at home have the potential to cause sore joints in certain postures. For example, many yogis may need to slip a blanket under their knee in a low lunge to protect the joint from unnecessary pain. A yoga mat with thicker padding could prevent the need for this additional action and can save you some hassle as you move through your sequence.

Material

Yoga equipment is constructed from any number of materials, all of which will certainly have their own advantage. Yogis may be more interested in a mat created from recycled materials or a cloth mat made in another country that supports a local economy. While there are certain ideals that can be represented in the materials selected for a yoga mat, it plays an even bigger role in your safety.

Select a mat first for the grip that it provides to your skin. This is critical for moving through postures safely without sliding uncomfortably deep into your stance. Some yogis may find that a traditional mat works sufficiently for them, while others prefer the feel of a fabric mat to help absorb excess sweat.

The work required to maintain and clean your mat should also be a large consideration in whether or not a mat is right for you. You want something that you can either wipe clean with an all-purpose cleaner or rinse with a mild detergent and water. By opting for a mat that you can clean regularly, you are investing in something that will last you and your practice for a long time to come.

Tailor Your Attire

I’ve always loved to style. I also don’t recall the last time I wore something just the way it came from the store, without embellishing it a little. You might be like me and like to express your feelings through your wardrobe. Like Carrie from Sex and the City. Or you just might get bored of your nice but rather simple clothes. There are plenty of easy and inexpensive ways to make them pop.

For example, bring a little bit more oomph to your yoga pants by adding some zippers to the side or in the back of your legs or add them the area where the pockets normally are. You could add sparkles in shapes of your preference or decorate it according to the season. If you’re feeling more daring and creative you could even make some cutouts at the knees, thighs, or on the calves. You may also opt to add some lace or mesh underneath for a more subtle yet classy look.

Shirts can be easily personalized by drawing on them with textile pens which are usually inexpensive. You may also consider cutting off the sleeves, making holes to create a pattern, and many other ways. Some would also jazz it up by gluing on different ornaments. These are usually made from excess fabrics, or what we commonly know as patches. The sky is the limit to your creation. Make sure the shirt stays functional though. My current favorite styling technique is cutting out shoulders and embellishing them with feathers, rhinestones or excess fabrics.

Some shirts look great asymmetrical, so fixing only one side works well. While others are better symmetrical, in which case fewer decorations should be added, unless you’re going for a more dramatic look. Open shoulders also optically broaden your statue, squaring them with hips and nicely shaping your body line. Even shoes can be upcycled easily by switching out laces or adding some bling to them.

What I believe also works beneficially in order to keep my wardrobe decluttered is that I try to go through all my clothes once per season and throw out what I know I’m not going to wear anymore. There are plenty of charities that take used clothes, or you can even decide to sell them. But I also know that there are always a couple of pieces that despite the fact that I’m not going to wear them anymore, I cannot part ways. So, DIY-ing is the perfect way to use them until they literally fall apart.

On the opposite end, there might be pieces which are too worn out to look presentable in but are also very difficult to let go. I then also like to take measurements of those favorite items (it just so happen that those are usually shirts) and re-make models of them on paper, so I can later cut out new (or used) fabrics and make new clothes. When doing so just don’t forget to account some extra for where the seams go. That way the shirt (or another item of clothing) lives on, and I look a little more becoming in it.

Styling is an art in itself and personalizing your clothing items means that you’re going even a step further. Make sure what you wear exposes your attributes and hides your possible flaws. Also, feel comfortable. But first and foremost, feel comfortable in your own skin. Then creating will come naturally and you’ll exude more confidence no matter what clothes you have on. Let your creativity run wild and enjoy your masterpieces. It is nice to be complimented once in a while.

Eco Friendly Yoga Mats

Have you decided to go for a yoga mat instead of pulling off those asanas on the solid floor; but at the same time, you feel like applying the principle of ahimsa or non-violence outside the yoga studio? Well, congratulations for your dedicated and conscious yoga practice! It is time to discard all the PVC, lead, furans, Phthalates, cadmium, and dioxin that usually come with the regular yoga mats and start checking out other options that are in line (or in some cases seem to be in line) with you values and yoga practice.

Yoloha

Mixing cork and recycled rubber for most of their mats, as well as affirming that their production does not harm trees by using 100% recyclable materials; this brand is coming up with unique and cool yoga mats that are hard to beat.

Yogasana

Bringing you a mat straight out of India, this brand offers great natural hand-woven cotton yoga mats in a range of different colors that promise to last you at least 15 years. The most interesting peculiarity about this manufacturer however, is the fact that the entire production process is completed by hand; not having to rely on electricity and consequently fossil fuels when making it.

Suga

The one-half surfer and other half yoga practitioner behind this brand grabbed neoprene wetsuits and turned them into nothing less than quality yoga mats. Now offering two different yoga mats, this brand continues to set an example of corporate sustainability and social responsibility.

Jade Yoga

This family owned brand was one of the first ones in the U.S. to come up with a solution for the slippery yoga mats. Ever since the year of 2000 they have focused on manufacturing PVC free natural rubber mats for the different kinds of yogis; offering from lightweight products all the way up to extra wide and extra thick ones.

Barefoot Yoga

With a variety of natural rubber, jute fiber, and hybrid eco mats this brand is suitable for those who wish to compare different yoga mats without having to visit more than a single store.

Manduka

One of the mats that have been receiving a lot of attention are those of Manduka. Mats manufactured by this brand are not made of natural materials, but of a relatively new synthetic component called PLUSfoam®, which is 100% recyclable. Although it seems to present an attractive alternative, it is important to take into account that the presence of phthalates, lead, or similar toxic substances is not mentioned or denied by the brand or PLUSfoam supplier; which in the end seems to be quite unreliable.

Prana

Similar to the yoga mats just mentioned above, the 100% Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) with which this brand’s mats are made raises a lot of doubts and questions regarding its environmental responsibility. Despite the fact that this brand loudly affirms the eco-friendliness of its yoga mat, it simply does not manage to convince at first or second glance.

Understanding Hatha Yoga for Beginners

Brief History

Although Hatha yoga has existed for almost 5,000 years, it remained disorganized for much of that time. It was a disorganized practice undertaken with varying and often contradictory beliefs and techniques. However, in the second century B.C., a man by the name of Patanjali developed one focused idea of Hatha yoga. This changed the perception of the practice, leading to the opening of yoga schools.

The first yoga school opened in 1924 in Mysore in India. This was after many years of development until then. The first time Hatha yoga was taught in the United States in 1947. This was when the first yoga studio opened in Hollywood. Since then, the teaching of Hatha yoga has expanded greatly.

It has since become one of the most widely practiced types of yoga. In fact, most of the currently known styles of yoga come from Hatha yoga. It is considered the basis of all yoga. Beginners in yoga are encouraged to learn their basics by taking a Hatha yoga class before proceeding to any other practice.

Hatha yoga is a style that focuses on uniting the body, mind, and breath. Practitioners learn how to do basic poses, various techniques of relaxation, and yoga terminologies. Unlike most other types of yoga, Hatha is considerably slower with more time being spent on learning breathing, seating in meditation, and holding poses. However, it is important to note that the styles of teaching could vary depending on each tutor and the design of a class.

The Constituent Parts of Hatha Yoga

One of the greatest contribution of Hatha yoga came from a yogi named Swatmarama. He compiled all the wisdom that had been developed thus far into the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika (HYP). In this volume, key information about such Hatha yoga techniques such as Asana, Shatkarma, and Pranayama is shared. The HYP has four chapters set out as follows.

The Asana

This section of the book offers information on physical postures and recommended diet when doing yoga. Included in the postures is the seating positions that one should be in when meditating.

Shatkarma and Pranayama

Shatkarma addresses what is basically known as the six-fold cleansing techniques. They are Dhauti, Basti, Neti, Trataka, Nauli, and Kapalabhati. Pranayama on the other hand addresses how to control the breath. The literal meaning of the word is the stretching and expanding of Prana. Prana is controlled when one controls breath.

Mudra and Bandha

These are two aspects or principles in Hatha yoga that can help in the preparation of a spiritual hopeful in achieving Kundalini.

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Samadhi

After following the trainings listed in the above three chapters, a person’s flow of Prana becomes more natural. The mind becomes calmer and more peaceful. This helps a practitioner to achieve the state of Samadhi, which is total adoption.

The basic theory of Hatha yoga is to help a practitioner achieve the state of raising the Kundalini Sakti. According to yoga teachings, this is the infinite power that lies at the base of the spine of each individual. In fact, the term Hatha is the combination of two terms, Ha – may mean the sun, active, heating energy, and Tha – meaning the moon, passive, cooling energy.

The Similarities Between Yin and Restorative Yoga

Taking time to reset with a soothing and mellow yoga class is one my favorite ways to feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle the world. Deep stretching and focused breathing help relieve stress and realign the body. When deciding which classes to take when you want to zen out, yin yoga and restorative yoga are both popular practices focusing on this. Often these two styles are interchanged, and while they do hold similarities, they are, in fact, two separate entities. Here’s all you need to know about the commonalities and differences of yin and restorative yoga.

The Similarities

Yin and Restorative yoga are both extremely rehabilitative in nature. Think deep stretches held for longer periods of time. Over the course of a 75-minute class, you may only move through 6-8 poses. Both practices focus on opening the body by working slow and steady. Lay back, and settle in.

The Differences

Restorative yoga is intended to be as little work as possible. A multitude of props are used to support the body in various postures. Bolsters, straps, yoga blocks and blankets – even the wall work to provide a sense of comfort. As you remain in the given poses, you’ll notice your muscles start to soften a little; your joints start to loosen up; you can sink a bit deeper. But don’t get confused, my friend. You’ll notice all of these things happening during yin yoga also. The difference is that it might take more work and it will take you into deeper layers of your connective tissue… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back to restorative. As you move through a restorative class, its nature is soothing and healing. You can allow your mind to drift off, maybe right into sleep.

Bottom line: During restorative yoga you’re realigning the body and resting the mind through a comfortable series of poses held for at least three minutes each.

In contrast to Restorative yoga, Yin yoga takes a bit more mental toughness. Here you’re similarly holding poses for an extended period of time. However, as stated above, you’ll be working deeper into the connective tissues. Rather than being completely supported in a position, you split the support between props and actual effort. Here’s the perfect example. Pigeon pose feels great… for about 30-60 seconds. After that it begins to get a little uncomfortable and you start to get fidget-y; your mind starts to say “Just move out of it; you don’t want to be here anymore. Next move, please!” Enter: mental toughness. Yin yoga incorporates mentally pushing through these moments as you move through the layers. Your brain fires to assist you through three to five minutes of sinking deeper—even when you get the urge to wiggle around.

Both practices are perfect if you’re looking to chill out and loosen up, and many times both styles of yoga are integrated into the same class. Give them both a try, and see which you prefer. But fair warning, you’re going to leave class feeling very relaxed and on a bit of a yoga high – which isn’t a bad thing, trust me.