Injuries and Mindful Recovery

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It starts slow, just a little ache, nothing too serious, surely not enough to qualify as an impediment. But then that small ache starts to get a little worse. And a little worse. And a little worse. And then suddenly, or so it seems, that little ache is a full-blown injury.

Growing up as both a soccer player, and runner, I was conditioned to push through pain; to ignore the small aches and sorenesses so that I could perform in games and races. So that I wouldn’t miss a practice or a workout, or a long run. This was fine, for a while. I made it through my high school running career without too many serious issues, but college was another story. With the increased mileage and pressure to perform, I was injured within just a few months.

I would continue to go through a cycle of being healthy and then being injured for the next two years, until I delved deeper into my yoga practice and learned how to listen to my body—how to catch the signals it gave me and prevent serious injury.

Yoga teaches you how to draw inwards, how to pay attention to those aches and pains, and know what they’re telling you. From there you’re left with the choice to acknowledge or ignore them.

A few months ago, I suffered a minor wrist injury: a mild form of wrist tendinitis. I know exactly how I incurred this particular injury and I felt it coming for a while before I really chose to do anything about it (a bad habit that I’m still working on). However, the improvement here for me is that I’m not totally broken; sure, I’m wearing a brace to reduce the amount of stress on my wrist, but I don’t have a stress fracture, and I still have a functional hand. This may not seem like a success to most, but as a runner, I would quite literally run myself into the ground, to the point of physically being unable to walk without pain, much less run, before admitting that something was wrong. Through yoga, I have learned that the small nudges my body gives me are significant signs that I need to tone it down a notch (or five).

As an athlete, I grew to adapt the mindset that pain was inconsequential, and through yoga I have begun to re-wire this in my brain so that I may prevent serious injury.

But nobody’s perfect. I certainly am not. And once in awhile, everyone gets an injury. So how can we recover from these ailments mindfully?

  1. Rest

Rest is the most important step you can take when injured because it allows the body to heal and recover. Though it can be frustrating to take time off, it will not slow your progress. In fact, you are much more likely to recover more quickly by resting early on, rather than pushing yourself until your breaking point.

  1. Listen to your body

You body will give you cues in the form of pain and discomfort. If something hurts, don’t do it. Let these cues establish your limits, and then stick to them. Avoid activities that aggravate the injured area.

  1. Focus on what you can control & be routine and dedicated to your treatment

Ultimately, you can control how fast your muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments repair themselves. You can do a lot to aid in their recovery, though, and this should be your focus. Whether it’s stretching, icing, heating, or just taking time off, be dedicated to the things you can control.

  1. Look at the bright side

There is always a silver lining. What positives are coming from the time you’re taking off? Is it giving you more time for another hobby that you love? Or maybe causing you to focus on other aspects of your life that you want to improve? Find the positive aspects in your situation and focus on those, rather than letting your brain fill with pessimism and negativity.

  1. Use “off-time” productively

In the time you’re taking off because of your injury, find things that you can do to be productive in other ways. Maybe organize your desk, or get caught up on work you’re behind in. Finding a productive use of your time will just you satisfaction and help dull the frustration of being injured. 

  1. Adapt

“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” Know that set-backs don’t last forever. You will recover and be back to your old self, but the process takes patience. Be content with where you are and the things that you can do in the present moment to better yourself.

  1. Visualize your recovery

The brain is powerful, and visualization techniques can prove to be very effective in improving your mood and outlook on life. Visualize your recovery. See yourself healing and getting better, rather than ruminating on the fact that you are injured. By maintaining a positive outlook, you’ll be more motivated to take the necessary steps you need to recover.

Once I realized that there was probably something going on with my wrist, I stopped practicing wrist-intensive asanas, and began avoiding workouts that involved placing weight in my wrists. I ordered both a brace and compression sleeve off Amazon, and started icing the affected region after teaching my morning yoga classes.

Initially, I was frustrated with this injury, because it meant no more arm balance practice, and it made it difficult to demonstrate poses to my clients. But I found that through this injury, my cueing has necessarily improved. Furthermore, I’ve been using the time I spent practicing arm balances to infuse more folding and opening poses into my practice, as well as to work on my pincha (forearm stand). I have also been adding more restorative sequencing into my personal practice, which is translating into more energy off of my mat.

By finding and focusing on the silver lining of the whole tendinitis situation, I experience much less frustration, and a lot more satisfaction with the practice that I am able to accomplish. Moreover, the milestones I am reaching in the other areas of my practice are significant, which is exciting and definitely worth the “time-out” from arm balances.

Injuries suck, but they are generally temporary. Just think of it as a nudge towards a different direction from the universe, and always find the silver lining.

 

With love and light,
Nicole

Facing Adversity

 

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“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

Adversity comes to us in all forms. Whether minor or serious, adversity elicits a reaction. And although we cannot control the challenges and obstacles that the universe decides to throw our way, we can choose the way we react to them.

Bad things happen, and they will always happen. No matter how much positive energy you manifest or radiate, bad things will happen—they have to because without the challenges we wouldn’t notice the good parts of life, the bits worth living for. If everything was perfect all of the time, we wouldn’t feel success. Without failure or mountains to climb, there would be no motivation to improve, grow, or climb.

So adversity exists, rampantly. It exists personally, within our self and relationships with others. It exists in work, and it occurs in nature. In the most accessible forms, adversity presents itself as tension, stress, fatigue, and illness; it presents itself in our perceptions of ourselves, challenges in our relationships with others, and in the ways others perceive us.

We can’t control the adversities we face. We can control our reactions. We can choose how we process the challenges we face. We can choose to view adversity as an opportunity for growth and positive change, or we can let it break us.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s often extremely difficult and painful, but if that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t grow. In order to grow from an experience, you have to be challenged; you have to learn. If everything were perfect and easy all of the time, there would be no adapting or learning. Without adversity, life would be stagnant.

And so the universe challenges us. It throws obstacles in our path and watches to see how we deal with them. By understanding that we can choose our reactions to these situations, we give ourselves the power to decide what direction our life takes. We get to decide whether the effect is positive or negative, and this choice is largely determined by choice.

If you relent to the challenge, just roll over and let the stampede take over your life, you’re not going to grow. You’re going to get stuck in a cycle of negativity, which benefits no one. When you dwell in negativity, it manifests. When you constantly expect and manifest the worst-case scenario, you create a vulnerability to that situation. You allow yourself to be trampled.

If, however, you decide instead to face the challenge head-on, observe the adversity and use it as an opportunity to grow stronger, you will lead a more gratifying life. If you choose to face adversity from a place of positivity, you will be more likely to succeed in overcoming it.

Before yoga, I struggled with how to deal with adversity. Through yoga, I have begun to change this. I have come to the understanding that I can control my reaction, that I can choose how I react to the negativity that crops up in life, and it has drastically transformed the way I see the world.

So next time the universe throws adversity in your path, stand up and work against it—know you can choose to be positive. You can choose to take the challenge and turn it into an opportunity for brilliance.

 

With love & light,
Nicole

Different Types of Yoga & Which is Best for You.

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Different studios use different terminology for class names, and sometimes it isn’t always as cut and dry as labeling classes as “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, and/or “Advanced”. Even for seasoned yogis, the various designations can seem confusing, so here’s a quick guide to the different kinds of yoga asana practice, so that you may determine which are most appropriate for your personal practice.

  1. Hatha

In Sanskrit, “hatha” defines “any yoga that teaches physical posture.” However, today, Hatha Yoga generally refers to a slower moving class where the asanas are held for several breaths. Although it is often considered a more gentle practice at studios, Hatha sequencing can actually incorporate more difficult or challenging poses.

Hatha classes are typically accessible for all levels of yogis due to the longer held poses and the amount of cueing that instructors give. 

  1. Vinyasa

Vinyasa classes focus on coordinating one breath, to one movement. Because of this, they are often faster-paced, higher-intensity, and consequently, more challenging classes. The sequencing of VInyasa classes varies, and the transitions betweem asanas follows a “flow”—they are all connected.

  1. Iyengar

Iyengar Yoga is alignment based, and utilizes a lot of props to ensure correct alignment in each pose. Instructors cue heavily to make sure students can adjust to asanas correctly. In Iyengar, asanas are also held for long periods of time.

Typically, Iyengar yoga is divided into different levels for different levels of experienced yogis, allowing you to choose the level that is appropriate for you.

  1. Ashtanga

Ashtanga yoga is organized into a series of six specific sequences of asanas. This sequence is the same every time you practice (aside from your personal growth) and poses are held with the intention of building heat in the body.

  1. Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga is practiced in a heated room and the class structure varies based on the instructor. Because of the heat, you are able to sink deeper into the different poses, however it is important to remain mindful to avoid overstretching.

  1. Kundalini

Kundalini Yoga focuses on the awaking the “kundalini energy”, a latent feminine energy that lies coiled at the base of the spine, through a regular practice of meditation, pranayama, mantra chanting, and asana. Also called the “yoga of awareness”, Kundalini works to spark the creative spiritual potential of its practitioners to maintain moral values, honesty, and exhibit compassion and consciousness towards others. While Kundalini focuses on similar values as the other types listed here, its physical practice is unique in terms of the asanas practice, as well as the use of pranayama and mantra chanting. 

  1. Yin

In a Yin Yoga practice, asana are held for minutes, rather than just breaths. This slow-moving class is meant to have a meditative quality, and it targets deeper connective tissues and fascia, which helps restore length and elasticity. Props are used in this practice to help support the body and easy it into deeper postures.

  1. Restorative

Restorative Yoga is similar to Yin, except asanas are held for much longer, up to 15 minutes at a time. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to relax. Also like Yin Yoga, a Restorative practice involves generous use of props to provide support in each asana to allow for deeper release.

Hope this helps next time you’re exploring MindBody looking for a class to take! As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

 

With love & light,
Nicole

How to Begin a Regular Yoga Practice

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“Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it.” ~ K. Pattabhi Jois

Starting new routines can be intimidating, whether it’s a new diet, or new fitness program. However, the beauty of yoga is that beyond being sure to practice safe alignment techniques, there really is no right or wrong way to practice. Sure there are traditional sequences and postures, but there is also a lot of room for creativity and personalization.

Ultimately, your success in starting any new routine relies on a firm decision to start and remain dedicated to that routine.

My own start to yoga was fairly rocky. It took me a while to really infuse a personal practice into my schedule—there are only so many hours in a day, and often, especially in my early college years, other priorities would take precedent.

It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I really developed a truly regular practice. After I quit my collegiate running career, I delved deeper into my yoga practice, and though it wasn’t easy at first, it eventually became a natural part of my routine.

Yoga can easily become a part of your routine too. It make take some work upfront, but adding a personal yoga practice to your life will prove to be far more rewarding than labor intensive.

First, there’s no such thing as being good or bad at yoga

Yoga isn’t a competition, and it is not judged. Yoga is a practice, a process. It’s about exploring your personal capacity and finding growth. Every time you get on the mat, you are improving both physically and mentally.

  1. Start with a quiet space.

Whether in your bedroom, in the kitchen while the coffee is brewing, the garage, a guest room, the living room—find a space that gives you peace and roll out your mat. Begin in a seated position or lying down and give yourself a few moments to get connected with your breath, and with your body. How are you feeling? What is tight or tense? Focus on these areas and deepen your breath. See if you can begin by finding some loosening and softening.

  1. Decide on a path.

How you are feeling will determine what type of yoga you should practice. If you’re full of energy and ready to sweat, you may lean towards a vinyasa-type session, whereas if you’re tired and lethargic, yin or restorative may be more appropriate.

  1. Set your intention

This sounds lofty, but it’s simply deciding on a focus for your practice. Whether it be something specifically related to your yoga practice, or something that you can carry with you off of the mat. A few popular suggestions are patience, gratitude, strength, love, and peace. Just find something that speaks to you, that you can dedicate your time on the mat to.

  1. Start with asanas (poses) you love.

Move in a way that feels good. As you get warmed up, begin with asanas that you enjoy and feel confident in. Then, if you’re feeling it, work towards poses that are challenging for you. By starting with the accessible asanas, it will seem less laborious to roll out your mat and practice.

  1. Move through a complete practice.

Move in every direction: from side-to-side, twisting, inverting (turning upside down), folding forwards and bending backwards. When you incorporate all of these directions, you activate the body completely, resulting in a full practice.

  1. End in savasana (corpse pose)

Traditionally, the whole point of asana practice it to prepare the body for meditation, which makes savasana a crucial and integral part of any yoga practice. Every time you get on your mat, try to spend at least 5 minutes in savasana, even if this is the only yoga you do all day. The benefits of savasana are numerous, the foremost being the fact that it allows you to relax and silence the mind. 

Resources that can help you design your personal practice:

  • Yoga classes.
    Whether at a local studio or online, take some classes from a Registered Yoga Teacher. By going through community practices or even watching YouTube videos, the instructors will be able to inspire your sequencing, which will give you ideas for your home practice and keep it from getting stale.

To find a studio in your area, I’ve found the most helpful tool to be the MindBody app, which is free and allows you to make an account where you can streamline you class registration and save a list of “favorite” studios. The app also allows you to see and sign up for classes and workshops.

As far as online videos go, there exists a wide variety. Many yoga teachers provide free sequences online (I have some coming soon!) on their YouTube pages or websites. There are also monthly subscriptions you can sign up for that will give you access to teaching for a small monthly price.

  • Don’t overthink it.

Yoga is all about letting go of everything off of your mat and drawing the awareness inwards to the body and breath. Be mindful of alignment as you practice, but don’t overthink it. Ultimately it’s more important to do what feels good to your body, and to find freedom in your movements. 

  • Be present.

When you are on your mat, let go of everything else. Live in the present moment. Let go of your to-do lists and everything that doesn’t relate to your practice. Take your time on the mat to listen to your body and your breath.

  • Be patient with yourself.

Progress and growth don’t happen overnight. It’s personally taken me years to get where I am in my current practice. Yoga is a journey, and as such, takes time to explore and fine tune. Love your practice for what it is now, and let it transform you over time.

How to stay consistent

Once you begin your practice, the challenge then becomes how to remain consistent. The best method I can recommend for this is to pick a time that you will practice at home at least three to four days a week. Even if for only 15 minutes, carve out that time for you to find your flow. Schedule it into your day, and make it a priority, just like brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast. Infuse your practice into your daily routine and it will quickly feel like a seamless transition.

I hope this helps any of you who are considering starting a home practice, and that it even provides some inspiration for some of you seasoned yogi’s out there.

As always, feel free to contact me or comment with any questions or concerns.

With love & light,
Nicole

What I’ve Been Up To & This Week’s Affirmation

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It’s been quite a while since the last time I posted here, so I figured I’d let you know what I’ve been up to the last few months!

We moved
In December, Brandon finished his training in Quantico and we shipped out to Pensacola, FL for flight school. Having grown up as beach kids in Virginia Beach, we’re loving the warmth and being back by the coast!

I found two new yoga homes
I’m now teaching regularly at Yoga Zone LLC in Pace, FL, a new studio that recently opened in September. I also sub classes at Breathe Yoga and Wellness Center in Pensacola, FL.

We adopted a kitten
Hazel is our spoiled little ball of fluff. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen far more than one picture of her. She is leash trained, and probably the best lil’ snuggler in the universe. 

I injured my wrist
I’ve somehow ended up with tendinitis—probably due to a combination of teaching so much and dedicating more time to my practice.

Looking at it all summed up on this small list, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but the last few months have sure felt busy. Either way, I’m happy to be back in a place where I can dedicate more time to writing!

 

Which brings me to this week’s affirmation! Gratitude. 

Gratitude is a feeling that derives from connection; connection to others, to the universe, and to the present moment.

Developing a regular gratitude practice has the power to increase feelings of inner peace, mindfulness, and to attract positivity.

This works because by focusing on all of what you are grateful for, you inherently draw yourself into the present moment. It also forces you to think in a positive perspective, allowing you to see the silver lining in the worst of situations, consequently helping in times of high stress.

Gratitude opens the heart and mind to new possibilities by acknowledging and being thankful for what you already have.

So, this week, let your focus be on the affirmation:
I am grateful for all I have.

As you practice, journal, meditate, whatever your pick, focus on this affirmation.

Take time out of each day this week to focus on all the things you are grateful for, even within negative situations.

This morning, for instance, I am so grateful for the yogis that come to practice with me, for my friends and family that support me no matter what, and for all you who take the time to read my blog. (:

What are you grateful for?

 

With love & light,
Nicole

P.S. Looking for some inspiration? Months ago I wrote about several different ways you can add a gratitude practice to your daily routine. Check it out! (:

Immerse yourself in nature.

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“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” -Khalil Gibran

I look at the ocean, and I see immense power, and transformation. When I float on the surface, I can feel the pull and release of the tides, and I know that at any moment I could lose control.

I remember the times this has happened, the moments I dove just a little too late and the foam caught my ankle, pulled me deeper and dragged me across sand and shells. Sometimes, I was released instantly; others, the ocean held me there down, reminding me of my place.

There’s an eerie sense of calm in this; in relinquishing control to a natural force so powerful; in knowing that you are not in charge of what happens next. As the foam tossed me around and my lungs burned, part of me questioned whether I would make it back to shore–and then I was launched to the surface; breaking through, exhilarated, gasping for air, and grateful for the sun’s warmth.

I have always felt a deep connection to the ocean, and to nature in general. Part of this, I think, is attributed to spending most of my childhood in a beach town. However, since my yoga and meditation practices have grown, I have felt this connection to nature deepen.

Yoga is the practice of building connection: to breath, to movement, to each other, our surroundings, and ultimately, the universe. As we become more in touch with our breath, and delve deeper into our inner awareness, we achieve a greater understanding of ourselves. It is through this awareness that we begin to connect to the external: the people, organisms and environments that surround us.

My yoga practice is teaching me the arts of connection and being present. Every time I go to my mat, I learn something new about myself, and about my relationship with the universe. But ultimately, I feel the senses of connection and belonging; of being apart of something bigger. So when I dig my toes into dirt, look out over a valley from a rocky summit, or float on the ocean’s surface, I know that my cells vibrate at the same frequency; that I belong where I can breathe wild, fresh air and feel the sun on my shoulders.

When we immerse ourselves in nature, we get back to our roots. We begin to understand the system from which we were born, and we garner respect.

It’s important to experience this immersion—to realize where you came from. We are a part of the system, not above it. On some level, this is forgotten on a daily basis. We get absorbed with materialism and our concrete towns, and all the other things that seem to be more important. But in nature, we are small. Compared to oceans, the mountains and the trees, we are nothing, and we are reminded of that; reminded that we are one species on this planet. We are reminded that we have the power to better or worsen it. From nature, we gain strength, and more importantly, perspective.

Being surrounded by these forces brings out the part of me that is still wild and untamed; the part unexposed to social pressures and expectations. It summons creativity and courage, bliss and awe. Nature is my muse, and from her I have an endless expanse of inspiration to draw from.

So, go for a walk, or exercise outside. Make a point of watching the sun rise and/or set. Read a book on a park bench, or collect shells from the shoreline. Breathe fresh air. Be inspired. Immerse yourself in nature; return to your roots.

With love & light,
Nicole

 

Developing a regular gratitude practice.


It’s that time of year again. The Christmas music is blaring from storefronts, little towns are decorated to the nines, the Starbucks red cups have been release and advertisements about Black Friday and Cyber Monday plague the Internet and fill up your Inbox. Thanksgiving is quickly approaching.

We all know Thanksgiving is about family and friends and loved ones; about taking time out of our busy schedules to celebrate the things we are grateful for; to focus on what we have, not what we lack.

But what about the rest of the year? Where does all of that gratefulness go?

Life gets busy, and before you know it, you’re slammed with work again and caught in the doldrums of a never-ending to-do list. You begin to dwell on unsavory obligations and frustrating experiences; always striving to get that next latest, greatest thing.

But it’s time to take a step back from all of that. Thanksgiving isn’t the only time of year to dedicate to gratitude, though it is a good place to start. In fact, by developing a regular gratitude practice—setting time aside each day to think about what you are grateful for—you inevitably begin to focus on the positive aspects of life, rather than dwelling on the negatives. This, in turn, has many benefits; some of which are increased levels of general happiness and satisfaction, and a greater likelihood of having better relationships.

Although it may seem impossible at first to designate time out of an already busy schedule to simply sitting and thinking about what you’re thankful for, it’s really not so difficult. All it takes are just a few moments a day to start, maybe just five minutes while you drink your coffee in the morning, while you eat your lunch, or as you get ready for bed at night, to pause and scrawl down something you are thankful for. As this becomes a more regular practice, it will become easier; another habit apart of your daily routine.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Pledge to practice. Be determined. Designate a specific time everyday that you will dedicate at least 5-10 minutes to thinking about the things you are grateful for.
  2. Sit down and start. “I am grateful for…” what? Start with easy things: the sun shining through the window, your morning cup of coffee. And then from there begin to grow. Begin to pay attention to specific moments throughout the day that you feel thankful, the moments that make you smile.
  3. Write it down. Take pen to paper and make it real. Whether in gratitude journal, on a sticky note, or a slip of paper you stick in a jar, take time every day to write down at least one thing you are grateful for.
  4. Be Present. Remind yourself throughout the day that you are full of gratitude. In the moments that make you smile, pause and say it to yourself, “I am grateful.”
  5. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and summon the feeling of gratitude. Visualize something important to you, something you are grateful for, and hold onto the warmth it provides. Let that warmth spread through you and really embody it. Let your thoughts drift, and truly focus on this feeling. Allow yourself to dwell on this for at least 5-10 minutes a day.
  6. Spread the love. Share your practice with others. Go beyond your personal practice, and let those you are grateful for know it. Write a friend or family member a letter “just because”. Send a fun postcard to a faraway friend. Treat them to coffee. By passing on these small acts of kindness, you will increase the presence of gratitude in their life.
  7. Nobody’s perfect. Life happens. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not 100% consistent in your practice. Everyone has off days, and even off weeks. Just commit to restarting, and set time aside to do it.

 

So, I challenge you to try it out. Even if just for one week, commit to beginning a gratitude practice, and then just notice and observe any changes you feel. All it takes are 5-15 minutes a day. 

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu

 

With love & light,

Nicole