Why Shoulderstand is So Good for You!

by Angela Clark

IMG_3087 (1)Before I go into the benefits or shoulderstand, let me just say this: shoulderstand was one of those poses that when it came up in class (and 15 years ago it always came up in class), I would feel the dread overtake me.  It never felt good, I struggled to keep myself up without all pressure going into my wrists, and oftentimes my back would seize up after I came out of the pose.  I would try everything - blankets, belts, bolsters- and it never felt good. But, like a good student, I continued to practice and finally found a way that made shoulderstand feel good.

So, all that is to say – I get it. I understand if you feel like shoulderstand is not all it’s cracked up to be.

But the benefits–well, they’re undeniable.

First off, shoulderstand is an inversion, which means it’s great for helping move the lymphatic system along, which can only be moved by gravity and muscle movement. The lymph system is responsible for waste removal, fluid balance, and helps the immune system. It also helps the blood passing through the veins of the lower body and limbs move back towards the heart.

Shoulderstand will help to strengthen the upper body, including the shoulders and those muscles around the upper chest cavity that assist the diaphragm in breathing.  This will help you to take a deeper breath and in doing so, will help your central nervous system to relax.

It can also help relieve tension headaches due to tightness in the upper trapizius muscles.

Of course, there are contraindications to doing this pose too. If you have a loose retina, unregulated high blood pressure, or herniated discs in the cervical spine, it is recommended not to do shoulderstand (but you can always do legs up the wall also known as Viparita Karani, which is a more restorative version of the pose that does not require any pressure around the neck).

If you want to explore shoulderstand more deeply, I’m teaching Integrating Our Shoulderstand & Pranayama this Thursday evening at 7:30pm at Mala.  Space is limited, so sign up in advance!

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The Meaning Behind Malas

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When we decided to open a yoga studio we sat down and contemplated what was important to us, and community was number one on our list. We named the studio Mala, after the rosewood beads that we each wore (and still do) for so many years.

We love the idea that the practice is the steady thread on which you place the beads of experience that comprise your lives. Malas represents the threading of each individual to the practice, and that although we each have our own sticky mat, we are connected to one another.

Malas or japa malas are traditionally made out of rudraksha seeds, rosewood, or sandalwood, but can also be made out of gemstones. A typical mala is made up of 108 beads, or a smaller number divisible by 9. There are many reasons for the number 108 (read some of them here!). There are 108 earthly desires, 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra, the number is divisible by both odd and even numbers, and more!

We use our malas for meditation, and the longer you meditate with them the more power they absorb. When your malas break they say that you’ve worked through some karmic pain, so take it as a good sign! (And you can always restring them!).

How do you use your mala beads? Let us know in the comments! 

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How To: Spring Cleaning Without Chemicals

by Angela Clark

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I love spring - the promise of new beginnings, bright colors, and fresh scents. I like to take inspiration from the season and make my home crisp and clean, too. However, I tend to run into one big problem - a lot of cleaning products out there are full of chemicals we don’t want in our homes. So where does that leave us? How do we keep our homes clean and smelling fresh without using toxic chemicals?

The answer? Essential oils! I love using essential oils to help disinfect my home and keep it smelling good.

Here are a few blends I use all the time. You may find some work better for you than others, but that’s the beauty and fun of creating your own cleaners. (Bonus tip: check out Steph’s post about cleaning your yoga mat with oils, too!)

 A few precautions before you get started:

  • Essential oils are very concentrated so you should dilute them with white vinegar or water, and keep them out of reach of children.
  • If you are pregnant or nursing, check to see if any of the oils you want to use are contraindicated.
  • Some essential oils can strip varnish off furniture and lemon can bleach surfaces. Always do a small test spot first!
  • As with anything you try for the first time, try small batches to make sure there are no allergies or reactions to any of the oils.

All Purpose Spring Cleaning Spray (Version 1)

  • 1 cup white vinegar (You could also use ½ water and ½ vinegar)
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 7 drops citrus essential oil

All Purpose Spring Cleaning (Version 2)

  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil (and/or clove bud – both have great antiseptic properties)
  • 7 drops lemon essential oil
  • 5 drops clary sage essential oil

Spring Cleaning Scrub

This one is great for the bathroom where mold can build fast! Also, If you find the tea tree oil to be too strong for your nose, add in a few drops of a citrus.

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • enough water to form a paste
  • 10-15 drops of tea tree oil

Do you have another favorite natural cleaner? Let us know in the comments!

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Reflections from Puerto Rico

We are back from a wonderful retreat at Casa Grande in Puerto Rico, and are so grateful to the amazing yogis who shared their practices with us over those magical four days! Lauren Ginsberg wrote this beautiful piece about her first day with us, and we wanted to share it with you. Thanks, Lauren!

High Line to Through Line

We are on our mats but instead of car horns we are listening to birds, roosters and intermittent rain as Steph prepares us for an intensive and relaxing few days together and alone on this amazing retreat in the mountain rainforest of Puerto Rico.

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We settle into our first afternoon with a perfect post-travel practice followed by wonderful food and getting to know new friends - including Jose who grows some of the root vegetables he includes in his dishes.

Following a deep sleep we begin our day with a delicious coconut cornmeal polenta, fruit and amazing coffee.

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Digest and repeat, we are back on our mat. Steph invites us to reflect on our practice, to consider the through line which connects our practice from the mat to our everyday lives. Through standing and balance poses we direct our attention to our jumping jack muscles. Those glutes we are often overworking help us develop the stability in our pelvis and hips which support our spines. My ah-ha moment.

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While true life is always changing, there are certain periods of greater change which call for a different attention. My own recent experiences of such change have left me at times unbalanced and uncentered.  So here in the gorgeous green landscape I am fortunate for the opportunity to pause and find my jumping jack muscles…and some stability from mat to life and from mountains to city. The beginning of a wonderful weekend.

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The Yogi Next to You: Briana Aguilar-Austin

Tree smilingMeet BRIANA AGUILAR-AUSTIN!

1. What’s your yoga story? 

I started practicing yoga in 2002 and immediately loved it! Yoga has been the perfect physical and mental complement to my long distance running. As one of my first teachers, Christina Hatgis, was an incredible influence on my yoga path, I am so excited to join the Mala community!

2. What pose do you want to do all day? What pose could you never do again?

I love trikonasana (triangle pose)! The extension of all four limbs, length in the torso, and openness of the chest make me feel like my entire body is expanding. It is the perfect pose after a long run.

I have always really struggled with hanumanasana (split pose). Of course, if I practiced it as much I practiced trikonasana, it’d probably come a lot easier to me! Because of a past injury, it is incredibly challenging. However, this taught me how great props are - uing blocks, straps, and bolsters can really help the body move toward more challenging poses.

3. What are your biggest yoga obstacles and how do you overcome them?

In 2010, I tore both of my hamstrings during the NYC Marathon. I was unable to run or practice yoga for months. Yoga shifted from a purely physical practice into one that was deeply healing. It took months of physical therapy to practice again, and when I returned, I couldn’t do many of the poses I had been able to do before. Rather than being competitive with myself, and thinking, “I used to be able to do this,” I had to honor where I was at. Yoga helped me heal, and I become both mentally and physically stronger because of it.

4. What was the last Dharma talk or quote that resonated with you?

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” I have used this quote for Dharma talks occasionally. I think it embodies what it is to be challenged. Often growth and change occur because of these challenges, in whatever form they present themselves. In yoga class, there are poses we hate. However, by practicing poses that are difficult, by persevering through our difficult times, we can grow as yogis and people!

5. If you could practice anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I would love to practice yoga more in Central and South America. I practiced outside in Nicaragua and it felt so refreshing! Practicing underneath the crisp, blue sky, with warm breezes and the smell and sounds of the ocean made me feel so connected to the environment.  I will be in Honduras for two weeks in April and I will definitely practice there! I’m very excited to feel so connected to a more naturalistic environment again.

6. How has practicing yoga shifted other aspects of your life?

Practicing yoga has grounded me. I have generally been focused on what is ahead and where I am going. Yoga has helped me slow down and focus on the journey, as opposed to just focusing on the destination. It has been liberating! All aspects of life have become more enjoyable. I relish the everyday moments. There are few things so beautiful as a walk through Prospect Park, a jog over the Brooklyn Bridge, kayaking in the Hudson, the aroma of freshly baked bread at a favorite bakery…these moments make life so lovely!

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