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!

Posted in THE YOGI NEXT TO YOU | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Christina’s Favorite Post-Cleanse Recipes

cleanse

by Christina Hatgis

Our spring juice cleanse kicked off at Mala last night! We partner with Heartbeet Juicery to spend three days detoxing, going inward, and taking time for ourselves. One of the great things about a cleanse is that for three days, you don’t have to spend any time thinking about grocery lists or what you’re going to have for dinner – everything you need has been prepared for you. While cleanses can be challenging for other reasons, thinking about whether you have enough eggs for your gluten-free muffins is not one of them.

The flip side is that breaking a cleanse and reintroducing real food can be nerve-racking. Here are three of my favorite (easy!) clean-eating recipes to help you gently break a juice cleanse, or just introduce as fun additions to your healthy eating repertoire. Enjoy!

Cream of Squash/Pumpkin Soup

 1 cup squash/pumpkin

¼ cup white onion                            

½ clove garlic                            

1 tbsp butter or olive oil              

½ cup coconut milk                            

1 cup vegetable stock              

pumpkin seeds for garnish              

 1. Cut the onion and the pumpkin or squash into medium size chunks.

2. Chop the garlic.

3. In a heavy pot, add the oil/butter and sauté the onion and garlic on med-high until they are translucent.

3. Add the pumpkin chunks and sauté for a couple more minutes.

4. Add the stock and let it cook until the pumpkin is soft.

5. Once the pumpkin is soft, blend either with a hand held blender, or in a regular blender blender and pour back into the pot. (Be careful if using a countertop blender –  seal and secure the cover with a dishtowel so as not to get burned!)

6. Add the coconut milk, let it boil just once, and season with salt and pepper.

Serve really hot and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds.

EASY QUINOA SALAD

I make this with leftover cooked quinoa and whatever vegetables I have on hand, so experiment with the veggies you have in the fridge. There is lots of flexibility in the proportions and make sure you gauge how it’s coming together before adding more of anything. I like a fair number of veggies in mine.

Cooked quinoa

Cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved depending on size

One or two scallions (depending on how much quinoa you have and how much you like scallions), chopped small

1 or 2 carrots, peeled and chopped small

A handful of haricot vert, chopped small

Celery stick, chopped small

½ avocado, chopped

Mixed greens

Season with extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper – or your favorite vinaigrette – and mix well. Serve on a bed of greens. Baby spinach, arugula, baby kale are all great options!

Pineapple/Avocado Smoothie

1+ cups pineapple chunks (frozen or fresh)

½ avocado

1 inch peeled ginger

2 cups coconut water

Squeeze or 2 of lime

Blend up well. Enjoy!

If you try any of these recipes, we’d love to hear what you think! Do you have another favorite post-cleanse idea? Let me know here!

Posted in MORE WITH: CHRISTINA, TODAY'S JUICE, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Tree Pose Can Make You a Kick-Ass Runner

by Steph Creaturo

SC Tree CloseI love tree pose, or Vrksasana. Its symbolism – finding steadiness among shaky ground – and its deceptive simpleness. I especially love tree pose for runners.

Running is a one legged sport. Unless we run or do yoga, we’re not standing on one leg for any length of time as an adult. Which is a shame, because there is no better way to build functional balance skills. In addition to strengthening our balance, tree pose also sharpens our mind and its ability to focus.

“Too many times I have given up on my goals mid-race, only to realize afterwards they were well within my reach, had I maintained my faith,”  local running star Michael Cassidy wrote in his amazing Let’s Run piece after the 2013 New York City Marathon. Cassidy articulates the mental fatigue that every runner is all too intimate with.

Part of that deep runner faith comes from the ability to skillfully work with our thoughts. Notice I didn’t say empty the mind of thought, but work with it. Too many times, great runs have been acquiesced to thoughts and the many forms they take – too tired, too hungry, too sweaty, too early, too whatever.

Regular practice of tree pose provides me with a ringside seat to my mind and just what happens when the pose doesn’t go my way. Do I hit eject? Do I get frustrated? Do I push harder to “get” the pose? Or do I take a pause, recalibrate, and start over? Just like a chef regularly sharpens his most important tools, I must regularly sharpen my ability to mentally focus. This pose, more than any other, regularly sharpens my ability to focus and teaches me how to regain it when I get distracted with things like “Why the hell am I doing this?” at o’dark thirty in the morning in January.

TREE BASICS:

As with running technique, stay with form to cultivate a strong tree pose that can withstand the most challenging attacks on the mind (The ping of a new text message! A new Kardashians episode! And so on and so forth).

SC Tree Pose 21. Start in mountain pose, placing your heels under your sitting bones. Keep the outer edges of your feet as parallel as the yellow lines in the middle of a street.

Try using the wall! By gently but firmly placing your fingertips into the wall, your center of balance is established before you challenge it.  Using props allows us to align from a steady place. 

2. Shift your weight to your right foot, then bend the left knee and raise it to the height of your hip. Turn your left knee out to the side while keeping your hip points even with each other. Place the bottom of your left foot either above or below your right knee (not on the inner knee). On your exhale, draw the back of the navel towards the spine and fix your gaze at one point in front of you.

3. Hold for five breaths, then release your left foot to the floor with control and repeat on the other side.

If you fall out of the pose, get right back into it. Otherwise, you’re sending a message to your brain that it is a-ok to quit when things are hard for you. Those little messages add up over time to create an ethos and a pathos – tree is a great place to challenge that on a daily basis.

Key benefits of tree pose for runners:

  • Strengthens the muscles of the standing leg’s foot, ankle, and hip
  • Teaches us to resist gravity by drawing the chest skyward while pushing our standing leg’s foot downwards
  • Builds functional balance skills by challenging our center of balance
  • Teaches us to stand on one leg with confidence
  • Builds mental focus when we can’t control a situation. When we practice tree, we have no idea if we’re going to fall or not. It’s like running – we can train and train, but we can’t control the weather on race day.  We just have to go with it.

Try adding tree pose to your cross training 3x each week for a month. We’d love to hear how your balance (both in your mind and on your feet) shifts from a steady practice of being unsteady.

Visit us later this week for three versions of tree that up the challenge level in the body and mind and are great to practice when prepping for a big race. 

Posted in MORE WITH: STEPH, Uncategorized, YOGA FOR RUNNERS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovery Yoga for Runners: On the Floor!

by Steph Creaturo

*This is a re-post for all of you who ran the NYC Half yesterday! Congratulations & wishing you a speedy recovery!

If you ran a fall half or full marathon – first of all, congratulations! I hope you feel amazing about your accomplishment, no matter your finishing time or what happened on the course. (Because something always happens on the course, right?)

At this point, you may be cycling out of a long training mode. Many of us who love to run spend much of the year in training mode (myself included).  Being in training mode is important, but equally important is being out of training mode. Coach Jenny nailed this so well in this Runner’s World blog post – there is certainly the temptation to race all year long.  I get it – I am one of those people who needs to run like she needs to breathe. But I also want to be running when I’m 80 years old and that means being strategic with my training, racing, and recovery.

Post-NYC marathon, I’m using my yoga practice as one way to rejuvenate my body. Here’s a sequence that emerged in the week after the marathon, as I logged a lot of time on the floor with a tennis ball.  These are the muscles I need to stretch and release in a more focused manner. And, because I’m on the floor the whole time, there’s less impact on my body than endurance-orientated or heat-building poses (think standing poses). Lastly, I think I like this sequence so much because its also helping the central nervous system come down from such an amazing – but huge – experience.

Now, these aren’t traditional “build a campsite” restoratives, complete with bolsters and sandbags and other awesome props.  I thought about using all the stuff, but I was too lazy to get off of the floor and get my props out of the closet. And, it’s actually still in heavy rotation, even as I get back to more active practice and running.

I don’t set a timer or a set number of breaths – generally, more holding equals more release – but for me, part of this is just going by how I feel. Here’s my suggestion: commit to an even number of breaths on each side and maybe take three to five more breaths in a pose than you would in class.

I’d love to know what you think in the comments – let me know if you try this or what you’re doing at home to restore & recover!

1. Roll Calves and Hip Rotators with Tennis and Golf Balls: Great for kneading those deep knots! For the calves, place a tennis ball on a yoga block, then roll the tennis ball along the length of your calf. Be careful by your achilles tendon – stay on the muscles. When you’re massaging your hip rotators, either a tennis or a golf ball works – just make sure you stay clear of the sacro-iliac joint.

Rolling Out the Calves

Roll Out Hip with Tennis Ball

2. IT Band/Outer Hip Stretch, inspired by reclined hand to big toe pose.

IT Band Stretch

3. Good Old-Fashioned Hamstring Stretch: Make sure the quad is engaged to protect the hamstring!

Hamstring Stretch

4. This is a Tricky Twist, inspired by Pigeon pose, but is nicer on my knees! Not everyone will “feel” it (depends on how tight your IT Bands are). I love it because it helps to stretch my super-tight hip rotators without putting pressure on my knee.

First, pull your knee to your chest, then roll thigh at hip joint. Then, move into ankle to knee pose for a deeper hip rotator stretch. Finally, take your ankle to knee into a twist!

Ankle to Knee Twist

Ankle to Knee Twist, II

5. Windshield Wiper Legs, taking the legs all the way to the ground

Windshield Wiper Legs

Windshield Wiper Legs, II

6. Quad Stretch on Your Side. Some of you may draw the heel towards the glutes (think Hero’s Pose on your side), some of you will move the heel away from the glutes (think Bow Pose on your side) – it really depends on your quads/knee. (If there is any pull at the knee, hit eject immediately!)

Quad Stretch on Your Side

Posted in MORE WITH: STEPH, YOGA FOR RUNNERS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Smoothie: Fuel to Recover & Race

by Steph Creaturo

IMG_0879Wednesday was my last run before the NYC Half-Marathon on Sunday. I came home decidedly starving, as I do when a race is four days away. I’m a gluten and dairy-free runner – and sometimes plant-based, depending on the time of the year. The no dairy/no meat works great for me, but the no gluten makes fast refueling tricky – I can’t just grab a piece of toast. (Of course, I could just eat toast, but have you tried gluten-free bread?)

oompa-loompa-2During marathon training last year, I had to get creative around refueling when it came to carbs – without relying on highly-processed foods. A happy discovery: my love of the high carb, delicious sweet potato. At one point, I ate so many that my husband said I was beginning to look like this:

Spring running season has reignited my love affair with the sweet potato. The carbs in sweet potatoes are perfect for a day like today, when I’m focused on recovering from today’s run and fueling for Sunday.

During half-marathon training, the daily carb-fueling formula that works for me entails consuming 5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. This smoothie gives me about one-third of what I need to hit my daily carb goal. It delivers on the carbs and my house smells like there is a pie in the oven – all good things.

IMG_0881How does it taste? Sweet and spicy and kinda like a sweet potato pie. The only thing I love more than sweet potatoes is dates – and I’m all out. Next time!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups of peeled sweet potatoes
  • 1 or 2 medium apples
  • 2 cups of cashew, almond, or any other non-dairy milk
  • 1 banana
  • 3 tbsp of hemp protein powder (I use Nutiva Hemp Protein Powder)
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon (I dose on cinnamon when training – my joints appreciate its anti-inflammatory properties.)
  • 1 tbsp of coconut oil
  • ¼ to ½ tsp cardamom
  • ¼ to ½ tsp of nutmeg
  • To taste: sea salt and maple syrup or honey. Try adding a couple dates!

WHAT TO DO:

Smother sweet potatoes, apple, and peach in cinnamon, sea salt, and melted coconut oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Add to a Vitamix or high-speed blender with ice, non-dairy milk, protein powder, and spices, and blend until smooth. Find your favorite glass, put your feet up, and enjoy!

What’s your favorite go-to recovery drink? What do you do for carbs when you are training? We’d love to hear your best tips! (And follow us on Instagram to keep up with me and the rest of the Mala runners during the race this weekend!)

Posted in MORE WITH: STEPH, TODAY'S JUICE, Uncategorized, YOGA FOR RUNNERS | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment