Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Pilates is a system of slow, controlled exercises intended to strengthen your body’s core stabilizing muscles while improving their natural flexibility. Joseph Pilates defined his method as “the complex coordination of mind, body and spirit”. Each exercise flows into the next at a smooth controlled sequence, reflecting the way that your body engages muscles and joints dynamically during movement.

What are the benefits?

The slow controlled movements condition muscles, helping them to strengthen and elongate in an even, balanced manner. In particular, Pilates concentrates on the abdomen, back and pelvic girdle region: the core muscles used to stabilize the body. This aids posture and keeps the hips and spine supple.

The exercises use gentle, lengthening motions to increase the body’s flexibility, taking pressure off joints and reducing soreness, pain and fatigue. The stretching motions also pump vital nutrients to the muscles and joints, improving joint lubrication.

Unlike yoga which promotes deep breathing through the nose, the basic rule for breathing while practicing Pilates is - breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth. Breathing whilst concentrating on your exercise is an integral part of Pilates exercise. Pilates require you to coordinate the exercises with inhale and exhale patterns, and use the breath to initiate and support movement. Pilates breathing involves the contraction of the abdominal muscles. Keeping the abdominal muscles deeply pulled in, and taking a great big inhale at the same time, can seem like contradictory directions. When the abs are pulled in properly, they protect the spine and act like a supportive corset for the whole trunk. Knowing how to breathe well while keeping the abs contracted gives us extra support throughout an exercise. Furthermore by engaging the abdominal muscles in the daily process of breathing, it helps to develop the body’s core. The Pilates breathing techniques also work towards relaxing the body by unraveling the tension and stress present in the body.

When I first started doing Pilates, I felt some soreness in my abdomen. My teacher told me that meant I am working the correct muscles and as my abs strengthened, the soreness will go away.

Pilates complements your yoga practice as it helps to strengthen your core muscles. Having a strong core will enable you to have good core stability which makes it easier for you to do poses like Crow, Chaturanga, Handstand, Headstand, Jumping Forward, and Boat Pose. Many practitioners are stronger in the arms and legs which lead to them overworking the external limbs, relying on them instead of the center of the body. When we don’t use our core strength, we put more stress on the lower back, shoulders, joints and hips.

Pilates is low impact, making it suitable for people of all ages. The lack of bouncing and jarring also makes it ideal for people with joint problems or weak muscles. Recent research finds that Pilates is not only great for sculpting a strong, lean body — but also for preventing and treating low-back pain.

Click here to watch free videos on a series of beginner pilates exercises.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Do you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS? IBS is a collection of symptoms that cause physical pain and emotional stress. The main symptoms of IBS are commonly characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Women are at least twice as likely to experience IBS as men. Due to fluctuating levels of hormones, women are more likely to experience IBS symptoms during or around the time of their menstrual periods. Younger to middle-aged adults are most likely to experience IBS. In fact, half of all people with IBS will first develop symptoms before they are 35 years old, with 90% of IBS sufferers developing symptoms before age 50.

Some experts believe that IBS may be caused by a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract. But other health conditions that can cause IBS symptoms include: celiac disease (intolerance of gluten from grains), chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia (widespread bodily pain), and temporomandibular disorder (jaw pain and discomfort). In addition, psychological conditions, such as panic disorder, depression and anxiety have been associated with IBS and gastrointestinal distress.

Serotonin (a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages in the body) can affect IBS symptoms. Ninety-five percent of the body's serotonin is located in the gastrointestinal tract. If levels of this important neurotransmitter are off balance, bowels problems and IBS symptoms can result.

Some people’s bowels are just more sensitive. Although you can’t change the sensitivity level of your large intestine, you can learn what commonly triggers your IBS symptoms, and try to avoid these triggers.

Eating small, frequent meals actually decreases your risk of experiencing IBS symptoms. In contrast, being overweight, eating certain "trigger" foods (such as alcohol, barley, caffeine, chocolate, coffee, milk products, rye, soda, and tea), eating large meals, taking certain medications, being overly stressed and lack of physical activity can contribute to symptoms. Learn more about Eating With Irritable Bowel Symptoms.

Individuals with IBS should slowly increase their fiber to 25-35 grams per day by including a variety of grains such as wheat, rye, barley, oat, farro, kamut, couscous, soy and quinoa. Always eat soluble fiber first, whenever your stomach is empty. Make soluble fiber foods the largest component of every meal and snack. Foods rich in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, pasta, rice, potatoes, French bread, sourdough bread, soy products, barley and oat bran. Never eat insoluble fiber on an empty stomach, in large quantities at one sitting, or without soluble fiber. Foods rich in insoluble fiber include: wheat bran, whole grain products and whole wheat products.

Gentle, moderate and/or mind-body workouts like yoga, stretching, Pilates and walking are some of the best exercises for someone with IBS because they help reduce physical and mental stress. Yoga encourages deep, rhythmic breathing; stretching reduces the production of stress hormones; and Pilates connects the mind, body, and spirit, which can help you manage stress more effectively. High-intensity exercise can actually increase the body's stress response, so it's a good idea to keep your exercise intensity moderate.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there are several complementary and alternative therapies that may be very effective at treating IBS. Research has shown meditation, psychotherapy, exercise, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and nutritional supplements to be effective.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yoga Practice During Menstruation

Menstruation can be a challenging time with symptoms like cramps, heavy bleeding, low back pain and pelvic discomfort. Most of my fellow yoginis told me that they usually will not do any yoga during menstruation. I have read that it is ok to practice yoga during menstruation as the yogic postures, deep breathing and meditation help to cope with the pain and discomfort.

However, a gentler yoga practice is recommended during menstruation with poses that encourage a state of groundedness to alleviate the mental and emotional heaviness of menstrual symptoms.

The following poses are recommended to provide relief and alleviate pain during menstruation.

Forward Bending Poses
- Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend Pose)
- Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose)
- Balasana (Child’s Pose)
- Baddha Konasana (Seated Cobbler’s Pose)
- Gomukasana (Cow’s Face Pose)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose)
- Upavisthakonasana (Seated Wide Leg Forward Bend Pose)

These poses apply a light massage to the pelvic and abdominal region without causing collapse to uterine veins. This massaging effect can alleviate heavy bleeding and cramps.

Twisting Poses
- Lying Two Knee Spinal Twist
- Seated Twists

These poses aid in relieving back ache and cramps.

Supported Back Bends
- Setu Bandhasana (Spinal Lift or Bridge pose) with support
(block placed under the sacrum and crest of the hips)

This pose alleviates pelvic discomfort while generating a relaxed state.

Supported Leg-Only Inversions
- Viparita Karani (Inverted Two Leg Stretch or Inverted Lake Pose)
placing legs up against a wall as if in Staff Pose while pelvis remains on floor.

This pose relieves pelvic discomfort and improves circulation of veins and lymphatic vessels in the legs.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

This pose relaxes and calms the nervous system and balance emotions.

We are asked to avoid inversions during menstruation but since there are no studies or research that makes a compelling argument to avoid inversions, it is up to you to make a decision. I myself have done shoulderstand and halasana during my period and did not have any problem. You can see how you react to inversions as menstruation affects each woman differently and can vary from cycle to cycle. However, if you do not feel comfortable, I would advise you not to do the poses. Also note that if your energy and strength is low, performing physically challenging vinyasa and power yoga may result in poor execution and a loss of integrity. Pay attention to your body and discover what works and what doesn't!

Click here to read article from Yoga Journal on Inversions and Menstruation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yoga Breathing - How You Compromise Health When You Forget Yoga Breathing

by Heather Greaves - the Self Care Expert and Body Therapies Yoga TrainingYoga Breathing is an intrinsic part of your yoga exercise. Let's look at the impact forgetting to breathe has on you in 4 different areas. Then we'll examine the benefits of yoga breathing in any sitting pose. (Experience this for yourself as you are sitting reading this article.) When you practice at home, you have to remember to breathe without the reminder of a yoga teacher. I hope by understanding the importance of breathing in a yoga pose, you will be inspired to practice yoga breathing, on and off the mat.

If you are holding a yoga pose, difficulty increases unnecessarily.

There's a building of pressure within the body, unnecessarily and unconsciously.

The yoga pose is experienced as being heavier than it could be.

Your ability to observe and feel your body is compromised.

Yoga Breathing

When holding a pose there are actually many options for breathing that produce varying effects that span the range from relaxing to energizing. Today let's look at breathing completely as our example, while maintaining a regular rhythm. To breathe completely, first exhale fully gently drawing the abdomen in towards the end of the exhalation. Then relax the abdomen and inhale fully, slowly.

Benefits of Yoga Breathing

1. Reduces muscle tension - As the breath expands the ribcage, muscles from the shoulders to abdomen can relax more and more. The breathing from the diaphragm can relax even the muscles of the organs within the body; especially the stomach and intestines.

2. Increases energy, improves circulation, and reduces fatigue - The body itself works less to receive an ample supply of oxygen. The words prana, chi, ki are used for life energy. Exhaling completely removes stale air and allows even more life energy to nourish all cells within the body.

3. Decreases perception of pain - If there is pain in the lower back while sitting, a deep breath can reduce tension in that area, and certainly the perception of pain anywhere in the body.

4. Calms the mind - The long slow exhalations that are part of our yoga breathing technique today reduces the chatter in the head and quiets the mind.

5. Increases intellectual alertness - You become acutely aware of what's happening within your body, how correctly you are holding the yoga pose, the amount of tension in your legs and shoulders, where your focus is, what subtle adjustments can be made to enhance the pose, how you feel in the pose.

"It is only in the space that our thoughts and our feelings enclose that our happiness can breathe in freedom - Maurice Maeterlinck"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Using Props for a Better Yoga Practice

What are Yoga Props? Well, it is anything that can help you achieve better alignment and expand your practice. It can be a yoga block, a strap, the wall or the sofa. During our class yesterday, Lila put it as using your environment, which we did when we made use of the swimming pool ledge as support for some of the poses.

Props can assist you in your practice, especially if you're feeling awkward, inflexible and unstable with a posture. A wall, a firm table or a chair make great supports for balancers. Practicing the Triangle Pose with the support of a wall and chair helps lengthen the spine and open the chest.

Props can also be used to make postures more challenging; to safely stretch farther; to work in a deeper, stronger way; and to expand, open, and blossom in a pose. Placing a block beyond your reach can help you stretch your muscles even further, increasing flexibility. If you're having trouble completing some of the poses, consider using props to help you reach the correct position. Using yoga props helps support the muscles and minimize strain so that you can continue practicing without injuring yourself.

Some good props are bolsters, ideal for forward bends and lying back-bends. In the latter, they can support your neck or back, so that you do not strain too much against the drag of gravity initially. Similarly, you may use a small stool for standing forward bends, reaching to touch it instead of the floor, if your spine is stiff. In seated forward bends, a bolster or a cushion plays the same role. A belt, scarf or a tie are all good props for leg raises and bound poses.

A good prop for your yoga practice is to begin by using a thick telephone book to give you the needed extra height. Day by day, tear one page out of the phone book so that you can very gradually adjust your body to handling the alignment of the yoga pose all on your own.

Click here to learn more about Yoga Props and how to use them.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Home Yoga Practice

Just finished reading the article on Think Outside the Studio:Guide to Starting a Home Yoga Practice and would like to share some of the interesting points from it.

A good reason to have a home yoga practice is that you do not have to fight traffic to reach your class on time as twenty minutes of yoga at home is often more beneficial than driving, parking and paying to practice for an hour at a studio.

Comments from Rodney Yee, a 25-year yoga veteran on home yoga practice.

"Nothing replaces the home practice," "Listening is the practice of yoga; it's so important to go into your own body and ask it to be your teacher. It is a time when you can find your own rhythm. It is where the genuine knowledge arises. "Going to classes has many benefits, of course," he acknowledges, "but I have observed time and time again that it is when people start to practice at home that the real insights occur."

When I teach classes, I can tell just by watching who is practicing at home and who is not," says Yee. "People who are not practicing at home simply try to fit their bodies into my instructions as if they were following orders .... They are concerned mainly with whether they are doing it 'right.' But people who are practicing at home are inquisitive about instructions and test them out in their own bodies, asking themselves, 'How does this feel?'"

At home, you can to learn to listen to what your body needs that day, move at your own pace and develop intuition about what sequences or kinds of yoga poses you want and need to do most on any given day.

Rodney Yee also gave this piece of advice.

"As you practice your first poses on your own, try to cultivate an attitude of playfulness and acceptance," says Yee. "Being present during your practice means allowing yourself to be aware of whatever physical sensations, emotions and thoughts are currently arising. Be creative and spontaneous. If you approach your practice with a sense of curiosity, rather than self-judgment or competitiveness, you will find it easier to motivate yourself to practice — and you'll be more present when you do practice."

Having learned the importance of a home yoga practice, I am trying to build up my own home yoga practice as I am only going to private classes 2 days a week. I am still waiting for Be Yoga Sanctuary to open (heard from Azmi that the studio will only be opening in March 2009), I still need to go to a studio for an energetic workout. I have been doing a 30-minute routine before I go to bed. I normally do some hip and shoulder opening poses such as legs-up-the-wall pose, reclining big toe pose, reclining bound angle pose. I find that I am able to sleep much better after I do the yoga practice as these are restorative poses and help to calm the mind.

Click here to read an article on home practice from Yoga Journal.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tribal Style Belly Dance with Nanci Traynor

I received this invitation and would like to share with anyone who is interested.

Tribal Style Belly Dance classes are coming to The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLpac) in May.

You can try out the class for FREE during the KLPac trial class as follow:

Date: Saturday, 7 February 2009
Time: 3.00 - 4.00 pm
Location: KLPac

Tribal Style Belly Dance originated in San Francisco in the 1960’s. The movements of this style are based on traditional dance from North Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Tribal Belly Dance builds unity, creates feminine strength and gives a sense of belonging. The movements are improvised and performed in a group.

Nanci Traynor has a special ability of simplifying movements so all students can understand.

For more information about Tribal Style Belly Dance or to be put on the waiting list, please contact:

Nanci Traynor

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bring International Attention to Malnourished Ethiopian Children

The effect of drought and rising food prices in some parts of Ethiopia is headline news, yet few people know the truth of the situation.

A recent United Nations crop assessment found that at least six areas of eastern Ethiopia have seen a near total crop failure because of inadequate rainfall. The UN also announced that the country-wide drought is likely to continue well into 2009.

Children are the most vulnerable to nutritional deficits and the first to succumb when there is not enough food to go around. The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 75,000 children under the age of five live with severe acute malnutrition. And 25 to 50 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition are likely to die if they don't receive proper treatment.

But there is hope for the children of Ethiopia. UNICEF-supported therapeutic feeding programs have been set up around Ethiopia following the establishment of a national protocol for severe acute malnutrition. This approach has revolutionized the treatment of malnutrition in Ethiopia, leading to a significant drop in mortality rates for malnourished children of all ages.

The time to act is now! Help bring international attention to the plight of these children. Please sign the pledge at care2petitionsite and help to spread the word around.