Going with the Flow

One of my very best traits as a human is the ability to harmonize with others (vocally and otherwise!) However, recently I’ve begun to realize that inner harmony is an even greater skill, and definitely one needing honing in me. Balancing my own inner energies requires the skill of awareness on a deep, deep level. Learning to heed the need for rest, and recognize when something is not good for me are two biggies. 

Letting go of the need to do everything, be everywhere at once, and get it all done requires constant effort (or ease, actually.) And then there is cultivating the ability to ask for what I need from others, clearly and compassionately. Setting boundaries has never been easy for me, but now that I realize their importance I’m getting better at it.

When I’m harmonizing on the inside, not pushing myself through pain or low energy to try and “get it all done,” my emotions are calmer and my mind is also more tranquil. It’s then that the harmony of being with others and really listening (without interrupting) – and connecting with that divine flow of life energy that surrounds us every single minute becomes an absolute joy. 

Achieving this state of inner and outer harmony is only possible for me through a very regimented self-care routine. If I stick with my routine, I can really GO WITH THE FLOW so much better. And the type of yoga that is best for me is actually NOT the vigorous vinyasa that I used to do, but a more gentle type that helps me cultivate this constant awareness both on and off the mat. And that’s what I like to teach, too.

I think that’s the great journey of our lives: getting to know and heal ourselves, learning to listen, and striving for balance every single day – both within ourselves and with others around us.

Written by Ann

Yoga for Everyday Movements

Following Our breath: Staying safe throughout the day

A few nights ago, I learned a valuable lesson while picking up after our dog Lucy. I had been eager to return to my desk to record a few thoughts tied to this post you’re now reading: staying safe as we move through our everyday routines. And wouldn’t you know it, as I bent over, plastic bag in hand, I felt that familiar twinge in my lower back…I shook my head in disbelief and quickly corrected my posture, bending the knees and straightening the back…It was almost comical. Here I was, preaching the importance of proper posture and alignment, and then committing one of the cardinal sins myself…But that is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Building awareness and then informing our movement and mindset with that awareness. It actually sounds a lot like yoga when we’re tuned into a sequence…but what about off the mat, when we’re hammering away at our keyboard or picking up after Lucy? Where can we find that awareness before our lower back joins the discussion? Well, that is where our breath enters the picture…

Research shows that when we pay closer attention to our breath, we can not only relieve stress, but also sharpen our focus in the present moment. Our breath is always there for us and provides the ideal cue for us to pull our heads out of the past or the future, even if it is just to focus on picking up after Lucy. What’s important is that we stay safe during these everyday movements that we normally handle on autopilot…climbing in and out of a deep sofa or easy chair…checking our blind spot when changing lanes on the highway…lifting that bag of groceries out of the cart. As strange as it sounds, our breath can help us pay closer attention to what we are doing in these everyday moments and stay safe, so we can continue doing everything it is that we love doing, or even not love doing so much…

This series of short video tutorials slowly walks you through several basic everyday movements, highlighting how the breath provides us valuable cues on safe posture and alignment. We firmly believe that with practice, you will find yourself paying closer attention to not only these different movements, but also how you are feeling in the moment. It all comes back to following the breath, our gateway into the present. Please let us know what specific movements you would like to see featured in this series, and until next time, stay safe and keep breathing!

1. Everyday Yoga: Getting in and out of our chair

We get in and out of chairs dozens of times every day…in living rooms, offices, kitchens and bathrooms…it only makes sense we take a closer look at this movement to make sure we’re doing it safely. We can all too easily lose our balance, even with chairs we’re familiar with, leading to serious outcomes…in fact, 50% of folks over the age of 65 don’t survive beyond one year after suffering a hip fracture. This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support safely getting in and out of just about any chair you can think of. And as we do so, we’ll also gently tone the core muscles in our back, hips and midsection.

2. Everyday Yoga: Picking Something Up Off the Ground

So, imagine you’ve dropped your keys trying to get into the house, or maybe the dog has left you something to scoop up on your nightly walk…your mind is somewhere else as you bend over and suddenly feel that pull or pinch in your lower back. We have all been there…in fact, 80% of Americans experience significant back pain in their lives. One third report that it impacts their everyday activities, including sleeping! This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy forward bend, which can also help us build strength and flexibility in our core muscles of the back, hips and midsection. 

3. Everyday Yoga: Looking Over the Shoulder

Imagine you’re checking your blind spot on the highway…or you hear Interstate 95 in the Philadelphia area is one of my most learned mindfulness teachers. I owe so much of my progress in deep focused breathing to the drivers and potholes of this notorious stretch of highway. As I pay closer attention to my breath, I get plenty of practice in managing my stress levels, anticipating the next unexpected move of another motorist, and also turning more safely to check my blind spots. Looking over our shoulder seems like such a simple everyday movement, we rarely pay much attention to it…that is until we pinch a nerve in our neck as I did myself several years ago. I was sitting in my office and quickly turned my head as a colleague walked in the door. I immediately felt a sharp shooting pain down the right side of my neck and shoulder. It was months before I could move my head freely in any direction…This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy twist, which can also help to relieve back pain and tension

So let’s stay safe doing what we love doing (or maybe not love so much…) by paying closer attention to how we move through our daily routines. Think of it as yoga for everyday living!

Written by Brian

Yoga for Healthy Aging

Swarthmore Public Library – February 5th 2-3pm – FREE – Join us for a combined lecture and movement session, safe for all bodies. REGISTER HERE.

Age is not a disease. It’s a state to which we aspire. Yet slow-moving age-related changes such as loss of muscle mass, kyphotic posture, and lack of flexibility can leave us feeling frail, off balance, and unable to live as independently.

photo by Ben Zuckerman

Often the very thing that many of these age-related changes react positively to is activity – and the RIGHT activity. And when we make lifestyle changes to counteract the effects of aging, it helps us find a sense of control over what may seem like an overwhelming decline. Yoga is one such activity, found to counteract many age-related changes that reduce your health span.

Whether you’re looking to strengthen bones + muscles or improve flexibility and balance, there is a safe yoga practice for every level of fitness and mobility. While we may not have control over certain aspects of the aging process, we do have control over our lifestyle and activity levels. Beyond the physical postures, the mind/body connection created during yoga helps foster awareness and acceptance towards our aging bodies so we can practice safely and with compassion towards ourselves. 

Ann and her grandmother, Ellie

About the instructor: Ann Grace MacMullan, E-RYT 200, has been teaching yoga to older bodies for almost 5 years. Her oldest student was her grandmother – at age 98, she was one of the most active participants of her chair yoga class! She now teaches a range of ages and mobility levels in her Gentle Yoga, Chair Yoga, and Balance classes in the Wallingford-Swarthmore community.

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Thursday December 12th, 10-11:15am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church / $25

There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance.

While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. Pre-purchase your spot by clicking below – credit card and PayPal accepted. Or bring a check or cash to class, but email to hold your spot: info@teamsunwellness.com

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (E-RYT 200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Yoga for Your Feet

“The ability to stretch our toes like fingers and to create a wide, healthy, open space between each and every toe is not some vestigial ability available only to a chosen few.”

-Mary Dunn, quoted in Yoga for People Over 50

Toe Exercises – Start Your Practice

Students often laugh in disbelief when I ask them to do these Toe Exercises, since many of us have really lost a lot of coordination in our toes. By creating space, strength, and flexibility in our toes, we are both widening our base for increased stability and using the whole of our foot for better agility. Try it by watching the video above, or following these guidelines:

  1. Take off your shoes.
  2. Pick all your toes up off the ground and spread them as widely as you can. Is there space between each toe? You can practice creating space between the toes in any yoga pose. While you’re off the mat, you can intertwine your fingers between your toes and manually create space.
  3. Now, try pressing just your big toe into the earth, and lift up all the little toes. If the big toes want lift up too, manually override that by using your fingers to keep the toes down.
  4. Now try pressing all the little toes into the earth, and lift up the big toes. Again, if your toes are not cooperative, use a manual assist with your fingers.
  5. Go back and forth between lifting just the big toes, and just the little toes. Keep practicing every day and notice the difference!
  6. Advanced Toe Exercise – try pressing the big toes down and the little toe, and lifting all the toes in between!
  7. Finish up by bringing as much space between your toes as you can.

Got Foot Problems?

By age 40, about 80 percent of the population has some muscular-skeletal foot or ankle problem. By age 50 to 55, that number can go up to 90 or 95 percent. Walking and yoga may help reverse foot problems. According to Suza Francina, author of The New Yoga for People over 50, “the combination of walking and yoga is the supreme way to rehabilitate your feet.” She recommends walking barefoot as often as possible, as well as doing various toe stretches like the ones in our video above that encourage opening space up between the toes where we have lost dexterity due to the confinement of wearing shoes. In addition, many poses done in a regular yoga practice stretch and strengthen the feet and legs too, and experts say they can provide benefit beyond treating common foot problems like plantar fasciatis, fallen arches, bunions, and many more.

“I recommend that all my patients start yoga immediately. When you treat foot problems with yoga, you end up treating back pain, hip pain, all kinds of structural problems. Not only does it stretch out the muscles and lead to a greater range of motion, but it helps heal the root issue of inflammation as well.”

Robert Kornfeld, holistic podiatrist

The anatomy of your foot is a marvel, a miracle. Da Vinci called the human foot a “masterpiece of engineering and work of art.” With 200,000 nerve endings, 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments in each foot, we mere mortals are able to execute highly precise movements.

“The sole of your foot has over 200,000 nerve endings in it, one of the highest concentrations anywhere in the body. Our feet are designed to act as earthward antennae, helping us balance and transmitting information to us about the ground we’re walking on.”

-Adam Sternberg, New York Magazine article “You Walk Wrong”

Mountain Pose – The Foundation

The feet are our foundations, our basic connection to the ground upon which we stand. When we “root down” during various yoga postures such as Mountain Pose, it is an invitation to bring awareness to your feet first, and then legs. Walking upright, we need to feel the ground in order to feel balanced. With every step we take, healthy feet allow us to move with confidence throughout the diverse terrain of our daily lives.

You can do this pose anywhere. I prefer to practice it on a yoga mat with bare feet, but try Mountain Pose while standing in line at the grocery store or talking to a friend. Stable, alert, and upright, this foundational pose begins with a sharp awareness of our feet. Start with your feet and work your way up the body.

Enhance Your Balance – Calf Raises Exercise

  1. Bringing movement into our Mountain Pose, we rise up onto our tip toes, and rock back onto our heels.
  2. Whether you incorporate simple arm movement, or hold onto a chair for this simple exercise, you may start to feel the structure of the foot more acutely.
  3. Notice where you place most of your weight as you rise up – is it on the inside edges of the feet, where there is more structural support, or on the outside edges? Can you rise up and hold for a beat?
  4. Try connecting your breath – inhale as you lift, exhale as you ground down – and relax into any micro-movements that show up in order to find the edge of your balance.
  5. Doing this easy exercise every day, I have developed strength in both my feet and lower limbs, and brought a newfound awareness to my feet that has greatly enhanced my balance.

Try Tree Pose

Tree Pose can be practiced using the support of a chair!

Tree Pose (Vrkasana) is one of our favorites poses, so we were thrilled to learn that Tree Pose may help slow advancement of a common foot problem – bunions. According to Robert Kornfeld, “Yoga can’t reverse bunions that have already formed—only surgery can—but practicing certain poses can slow their advancement.” He recommends practicing balancing poses like Tree pose in which the foot with the bunion is grounded and the other foot is lifted (of course we have to do both sides if we’re practicing any standing pose!) He says this will engage and strengthen the peroneal muscle of the standing leg that runs all along the outside of the lower leg, and tucks under the sole of the foot. That “grounding force” can help override instabilities that make the bunion worse. And Tree Pose can have many other benefits too, such as improving overall balance and focus. Check out our video:

Going Barefoot – for Optimal “Grounding”

Image from Wheels of Life

“The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections.”

– Walt Whitman

One study concluded that prior to the invention of shoes, people may have had healthier feet. I like to joke that one of the reasons I became a yoga teacher was so that I could go barefoot. In truth, I do need all the grounding I can get, and feeling my naked feet touch the earth provides me just that. According to one of my favorite books on the Chakras, much like a lightning rod protects a building by sending excess voltages into the earth, grounding protects our bodies from becoming overloaded by the tensions of everyday life. So, take off your shoes, root down, and practice as much Yoga for Your Feet as you desire. I’ll leave you with this poem I penned on the feet:

Ode to My Feet
 
Hello feet! I haven’t paid you much heed
And yet there you are, my two trusty steeds
Bearing my weight day in and day out
In today’s class, I’d like to give you a shout out.
 
Each foot contains 26 bones,
And has not one but three arches! I learned through my Iphone.
The 107 ligaments spread throughout its base
Allow us to balance, to spring and to pace.
 
Such precision required to move through our days
Is often ignored until there is pain
Whether bunions, arthritis, or gout, we may know
That an injury in the metatarsals is likely to grow.
 
Without proper care, the offset is dire
And can travel to knees, backs, and hips like wild-fire.
 
If your arches have fallen, walk barefoot they say
And try grabbing things with your toes – start today!
Build strength in your feet and your ankles with cues
To distribute weight evenly - stability rules!
 
The foot is a marvel with its myriad bones
Each doing its job to carry us home.
So appreciate yours, take good care and be smart,
Like Da Vinci who pronounced them “a work of art.”

More Tips:

  • Try picking things up with your toes
  • Distribute your weight evenly as you walk or in any yoga pose
  • Go to the doctor if you notice new pain in your ankles or feet

Resources:

4 Yoga Poses to Fine Tune Foot Stability and Prevent Injury, Yoga Journal

You Walk Wrong, NY Magazine

Shod versus unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans?, Science Direct

Foot Anatomy, MedicineNet

Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith, PhD

The New Yoga for People Over 50, Suza Francina

Anatomy 101: Strengthen Your Big Toes to Build Stability, Yoga Journal

Yoga Poses for Bunions, Ask the Experts, Robert Kornfield, DPM – Yoga Journal October 2015

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: BEN

“I always feel better after a yoga session than when I started.”

  • Name: Ben
  • Age: 77
  • Length of Practice: 18 months
  • Most Gratifying Pose: Warrior 1
  • Most Challenging Pose: Transition out of Down Dog
  • Pets: 1 Cat, Pumpkin (who invariably appears to encourage us during triangle pose!)
  • Favorite Excursion on Bike: FDR Park & the Philadelphia Navy Yard

Dedication

I count Ben among those students I most enjoy teaching. He never takes a pose off. His combination of enthusiasm and discipline allows us to explore the healing and revitalizing power of each posture. He epitomizes the ancient yogic principle of tapas, the inner fire that inspires us to “leave it all on the mat”

Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar

Self-Acceptance

Ben’s consistency in no small part can be attributed to an understanding of his own thresholds and range of movement on any given day. He stays within himself and is comfortable making adjustments to account for “the usual suspects” in his knee and hip. He works with what he brings to the mat and his calm focus provides a solid foundation for building strength and flexibility. He offers this advice to students just starting their journeys on the yoga path, “You would be surprised at how beneficial practice can be if you give it a chance and stick with it.”

Presence

Ben enjoys regular time on the bike and tennis court and believes yoga facilitates his active lifestyle. I believe his mindset here is critical. Yoga is not an end into itself, but rather a gateway through which we can continue doing everything it is we love doing AND with greater awareness. Beyond building strength and flexibility, simply paying closer attention to our breathing can help us perform almost any physical activity more safely and efficiently. After all, we don’t stop breathing when we roll out of Savasana!

It has been an honor to join you on the path, Ben!

The Self-Care Mindset

Seated Meditation and Mindful Movement for All Levels

Wednesday October 2nd 6:00-7:00pm / Swarthmore Town Center / Fresh Air Fitness in Central Park ampitheater – Donation based


We invite you to “put on your own oxygen mask first!”

With the breath as the key to our self-care toolkit, we’ll be exploring simple tools to manage stress, become more present, and foster self-acceptance.

These include seated breath awareness and breath control exercises, breath-connected movement exercises, and a guided mindfulness meditation to finish it off.

Practicing these tools helps develop a mindset that encourages self-care. No experience in meditation or yoga needed. Bring a cushion to sit on, a blanket for your lap if we’re outside, and an open mind. All ages and levels of experience welcome.

Donation-based – pay what you can.

In case of inclement weather: inside Borough Hall

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Saturday September 7th, 10-11:15am
  • Swarthmore United Methodist Church
  • Donation-based: pay what you can

There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance.

 While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean we have to blindly believe that our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. This is a donation-based offering, so please feel free to pay what you can. Suggested donation is $20, but if you have limited funds, don’t let that stop you from attending for free.

EMAIL OR CALL TO HOLD YOUR SPOT!

info@teamsunwellness.com / 917.837.2014

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Student Spotlight: Carol

We feel really strongly that yoga is for everybody, and yet the images of people doing yoga don’t tend to represent our own bodies or those we teach. So we decided to start a new blog series highlighting our own students, in an effort to shine light on regular people doing yoga and what that might look like. Plus, we wanted to learn more about our wonderful students outside of the classroom! Our first spotlight is on Carol, who was kind enough to come into our home so that we could get to know her a little better. Carol is so motivated and consistent in her practice, she inspires all of us to show up!

C is for Carol and Consistency

  • Name: Carol
  • Age: 68
  • How Long Practicing Yoga: 4 years consistently, 20 years sporadically
  • Favorite Pose: So many feel good!
  • Most Challenging Pose: Boat Pose
  • Sun Sign: Pisces
  • Pets: 2 cats, Diva and Misty
  • Favorite Sweet Treat: Dried Fruit
Carol holds her plank pose for 2 minutes every day!

I first met Carol L. in the fall of 2017 while teaching a Hatha Yoga series run by the Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes organization. Since then, she has attended roughly 115 yoga classes with me and a few workshops!!

“Compared to most other exercises, yoga is the best for allowing you to move at your own pace and accepting your limitations. It gives the best benefits without stressing joints and muscles. And it helps with self acceptance.”

-Carol L.

Carol gets to the mat about 5 hours a week and on top of that, logs a lot of miles on her treadmill for cardio.

“Yoga just makes me happy. Even thinking about doing yoga makes me happy. I’m more flexible, stronger and my balance has improved. I also have reduced much of my stiffness and back pain. I experience sciatica much less often, and when it does come on, it lasts a much shorter time.   My balance has improved.

-Carol L.

See you soon on the mat, Carol! Stay tuned for more Student Spotlights!

Intro to Yoga with Team Sun Wellness

We are so excited to announce a new yoga class we’ll be teaching together in our South Philly neighborhood – Intro to Yoga at DiSilvestro Playground! Meets the first 4 Saturdays in June from 10:30-11:30am. Price is $45, which includes a yoga mat! Or drop in to one Saturday for $15, mat not included.

For the first four Saturdays in June (1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd) join Team Sun Wellness at DiSilvestro Playground’s indoor space for 4 gentle one-hour yoga sessions aimed at beginners, but open to all levels. During our sessions, we’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated, and standing postures and the transitions between these poses – adapted to your level. Our accessible sequences are designed to create balance between mind and body by connecting the movement with breath. Blocks and straps provided to help safely attain or deepen poses. Class size limited to 25.

Registration is being handled through Disilvestro (1701 S. 15th St Philadelphia, PA) and all the information can be found here: REGISTRATION FOR INTRO TO YOGA WITH TSW

About the Instructors: Ann and Brian formed Team Sun Wellness in 2015, joining forces to help people of all ages and walks of life take care of themselves through mindful movement and focused breathing. Both certified yoga instructors, Ann and Brian are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga – physical postures, meditation, and breathing – to populations outside the typical yoga studio space. We offer affordable classes in community and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice…and we have fun while doing it!