4 Meditations for Those Who Don’t Meditate: Using Movement, Art, and Nature to be Mindful

The idea of meditation can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 4 ways for the “non-meditator” to creatively begin a meditation practice that don’t just involve sitting still in one place. Meditation, when considered as part of your yoga practice, means more than just thinking or contemplating; meditation allows you to escape from the ordinary waking state of your mind to, instead, not actively think. If this sounds rather difficult to do, that’s because it is. The mind finds ways to just churn out those thoughts, especially at moments where you are still. If you are new to meditation and the thoughts of sitting still on a cushion do not perhaps immediately appeal to you, here are ways to meditate that involve art, movement, and smaller spaces of time for true relief from thought. Consider these your gateway meditations to longer moments of stillness and freedom from any worries of the mind.

1.  Visit a museum or art gallery during a time that it is likely to be more quiet. Besides avoiding the crowds, visiting a gallery or exhibit during off hours allows you to more easily pause at something that is of particular interest to you, to absorb details, actually read any historical or informational signs, and just generally slow down to enjoy the experience. In our fast-paced world of information, we tend to not look at paintings or art as we did a hundred years ago, with a reflective, contemplative eye. Allow your eyes to lead your meditation on the pieces you like best—look at colors, shapes, scenes. What are you drawn to? Allow yourself to stand in front of any art as long as you like. For a more thoughtful though not entirely meditative addition to your trip: bring a notepad and pencil (if allowed) and take notes on your favorite aspects of the experience, whether noting names of favorite pieces or artists, interesting facts, or smaller details of a sculpture or painting that stood out to you.

2.  Visit a botanical garden or park. Again, try to go during non-peak hours so you’re able to better focus on your surroundings. Let yourself explore and wander at leisure. Find a favorite plant or space within your outdoor setting. Pause there, and breathe, relax your face, and let yourself enjoy being where you are. This is also great to do in the middle of a trail run if you climb any sort of height—give yourself a moment of reflection at the top.

3.  Alternatively, create your own garden space in your home—whether inside or outside. If you have a yard, find a corner where you can create some calming landscaping or grow flowers. Ideally, your outdoor meditation corner is somewhere peaceful and fairly private. Take your time and be mindful of your surroundings as you cultivate your garden; let yourself focus on what you are doing. After your garden is complete, this becomes a space for you to relax. If you have no designated outdoor space where a garden will fit, grow one inside your house! Houseplants are actually one of the most effective ways to eliminate indoor pollution (move over, electronic air purifier!), and you can easily arrange them in an indoor corner to create a peaceful nook. Use your time spent watering your plants as time to be mindful and present. Whether you build an indoor or outdoor garden, this space can serve as your mini-retreat for future meditations. Visit it and release your mind from having to think about anything.

4.  Add meditation to the conclusion of your home yoga practice. Take advantage of your more calm physical and mental state after yoga to sneak in some meditation. Savasana only really works after some more physical asanas—if you just lie down in the middle of the floor in the middle of the day, you are not likely to feel quite the same as when you do so at the end of a yoga session. Do this meditation before your reclining savasana, and you may find meditation is a little bit easier to do than you might have thought; keep a seated posture so you do not fall asleep but can remain awake but relaxed. Ahead of time, set up your space, ideally quiet and lit in a calming manner, whether with candles, a string of lights, or sunshine. Sit on a folded blanket or cushion. Try sitting cross-legged, or just straight back on your heels, or perhaps even try virasana (hero’s pose) where you sit your bum directly between your heels. If you choose virasana, remember to keep your knees touching in order to protect them. You can always take a less intense version of virasana by sitting on a block between your heels rather than the floor. Once you’re seated, close your eyes, and progressively relax your face, your eyes, your jaw, and travel down your body until you are fully relaxed. Pause and breathe here. After a few minutes, lay down for your savasana.

Even a minute of meditating is better than none. Whether you plan a meditative visit to an art gallery, museum, park, or garden, or create your own garden space, life has an infinite number of possibilities for spaces and times to be mindful, calm, and free. Along with your more movement based meditations, try incorporating a seated meditation into your yoga practice.

4 Daily Strategies to Keep Technology from Running Your Life

In this day and age, we rely so heavily on technology to plan out our days and do our jobs. While not suggesting you disable your internet connection, this blog offers imaginative and simple ways to ensure technology helps your life, but doesn’t run it for you. You may have heard of taking a full-fledged technology “time out”; instead, implement any of these ideas on a daily basis as a more effective long-term strategy for keeping real humans, not screens, at the center of your life.

1.  Keep your phone away from mealtime, especially if you are out to eat.

Let’s be honest: checking your email on your phone while you eat your lunch is not going to help you answer emails that much faster and it certainly won’t make your lunch taste any better. Especially if you are lucky enough to have the company of other people at your meal, spend time with them. The phone will always be there—they may not! This is one realistic way to give yourself consistent mini-breaks from what feels like the endless barrage of information coming at us from our phones, whether from email or social media or elsewhere. Need additional means of protection from your phone during dinner? Just turn it off! (Simple but effective!) Bonus: whatever you are eating will probably be much more enjoyable too.

2.  Don’t walk and look at your phone at the same time unless you absolutely have to.

This might, unfortunately, be a modern epidemic, and I am unfortunately just as guilty as the next person in participating in it. When I was in college ten years ago, I could merrily ride my cruiser bike all over campus with nary a bell ring to alert a passerby. Today, riding my bike around the college campus where I teach has become a somewhat terrifying experience, precisely because no one is paying any attention to where they are walking. (An aside: I used to text as I rode my bike in college because my phone had elevated buttons for all of the numbers. For better or for worse, this is no longer possible with the more prevalent touchscreen phones!) While maybe we’ve always been on the lookout to get work accomplished as we walk, technology has made it all too natural to just slip out the phones for entertainment at all of our “in between” times, of transit and of waiting. Multitasking on the go can help you accomplish more and finish your work more quickly, but if you don’t really need to be on your phone, try enjoying your natural surroundings instead. Let yourself daydream, and don’t let technology dictate those daydreams for you.

3.  Use your workout time as your time away from technology.

If modern life has any time that really permits you to escape from your laptop and phone, that might be your time designated for your workout. You can’t check your phone while you’re biking or running, and definitely not while you’re swimming! If we are supposed to be connected and plugged in at all other moments of the day, it is somehow more socially accepted that we didn’t get back to someone right away because we were off on a 15 mile run or in the middle of yoga class. When about to begin yoga class, don’t bring your phone to your mat (I’ve seen this happen more than once!). When you want to go for a bike ride on the trail, bring your phone for emergency communication purposes only. While your body gets a workout, give your mind a rest from everything else.

4.  Use a sleep app to ensure you don’t check your phone once bedtime hits.

I’m very aware that this one might sound a little ironic; I’m suggesting you run a phone app for the entire night as a means of sidestepping technology overload. However, this tip helps you avoid using your phone when you should instead be in bed asleep.

Once I put my sleep app on, I am not able to check my email, social media, look at photos, or otherwise use my phone for easy entertainment or procrastination from sleeping. This is because your phone has to be placed face-down and pointed towards you in order to monitor your sleep patterns. Seeing your sleep patterns can help you learn how to get better sleep. For instance, it might be good to know that you sleep more deeply on the days you work out in the afternoon, rather than the morning (or, it might be the other way around for you!). If nothing else, seeing a graph of your sleep is quite interesting.  

The app I use (Sleep Cycle, for those wondering) also takes up the entire screen once I start it. Technically, with Sleep Cycle running, I could probably just swipe up to get to the other apps within my phone, but when I set the app, it instead just encourages me to put the phone down and just go to bed. If I ever had trouble sleeping before I had this app, I might get up and go look at my phone to read articles—this never worked well as a way to get me to go back to sleep, but I did it anyway. Using a sleep app prevents any occasional mid-night phone usage; it keeps you away from your screen and tucked into your bed.

In today’s world of over-connectedness, give yourself designated times to unplug; your body and brain will be happier for these small daily efforts over the long haul.


Making Time for Yourself: 3 Ideas to Trade Your Night Out for a Restful, Rejuvenating Night In

Getting out of the house and going off on an adventure with friends can be a great way to recharge, but don’t underestimate the restorative power of staying home alone! I am a person who loves company, and I would consider the most enjoyable aspect of my jobs to be interacting with other people. That said, I don’t need any convincing of the value of staying home alone. There’s something to be said for cultivating a balance between company and alone time—I had days during grad school where the only person I spoke with was the person at the checkout counter for dinner. That can be very difficult. Alternatively, after an energetic day of working while teaching, talking, and writing, sometimes there’s nothing so valuable as a little peaceful time at the end of the day. Whether you’re recovering from a long day of work or a challenging workout, here are 3 ideas to have a glorious night in. You schedule dinners with friends, so choose one of these when you next schedule your very own night in.

1.   60 Move, 60 Rest.

Balance out your night in by beginning with an hour-long yoga workout. Clear out a nice space for your mat and do something to make your yoga practice extra inviting— use a spray with tea-tree oil to clean your mat before you begin, collect some pillows to use as props for some concluding restorative yoga, or light some scented candles and turn the lights off to make your environment more calming. Take the time during your yoga practice to pause in any poses that feel especially good to you at that moment; let your body have what it needs, whether that is a more energetic or more relaxing practice. Do your own yoga practice, or, if you’d rather not think at all (which is sometimes quite nice!) follow along with a sequence from a magazine or an online video—I’ve created a few streamable yoga workouts if you need some help with that too!

After your hour of movement, use your yoga props, whether these are your pillows collected from around the house or your traditional yoga blocks, or even some additional blankets, to set yourself up in a restorative asana like viparita karani, aka “legs up the wall,” or baddha konasana, bound angle pose. Now, begin your “rest” period of the night in. The idea here is to find a more “yin” yoga pose in which you will be extremely comfortable for 5-10 minutes before you just bundle up in your blankets. While in your yin yoga pose, do something restorative for your mind: read a book of short stories, a magazine (keep in mind it doesn’t need to be super intellectual—it can be just a fun one that you like!), or turn the TV or Netflix on for your favorite show or a movie. If you need ideas for yin yoga, see December’s blog for ideas and visuals for “legs up the wall” and “bound angle pose”—these two are especially good for TV watching and reading respectively. I like doing this because I inevitably stay a lot longer in the passive stretch because I’m enjoying reading/watching something. This would also be a great time to do pigeon pose for a little longer on each side. Alternatively, have a mini-nap in your yin pose, and then jump into your pile of blankets for reading/watching whatever you’d like.

2.  20 Core, then Spa!

If you’re feeling as though you need a shorter little burst of activity before you relax for the night, try 20 minutes of core work! Grab your yoga mat for a mix of planks and crunches, or your medicine ball for standing core work like the “woodchop” exercise. Abs/core targeting movements are great in that they’ll get you warm quite quickly, and a little can go a long way towards making you stronger if you even set aside twenty minutes once per week.

After your workout, give yourself a home spa night! Plan ahead by getting some great smelling bath products for yourself, take a long shower, paint your nails, or use that 10 minute long hair treatment mask for which you would not normally have the time. Take as long as you like.


3.  Somehow, Someway, Take A Break!

The idea behind a fun night in is to do something other than what you normally do in order to give yourself a break from the usual routine. Routines are wonderful because they make you more efficient and help you accomplish everything from smaller daily tasks to larger long-term goals. However, breaking free of your set schedule can help you to recharge, approach your everyday life with more vigor and energy, and give you useful space to reflect. This can also be additionally reenergizing if you let yourself have a full night just for you.

Use your dinner as a way to “take a break”; especially if you typically cook, give yourself a break from doing the dishes, and instead pick yourself up a meal to-go, or have a favorite restaurant deliver your dinner. From there, give yourself permission to “take a break”—I recommend avoiding the internet, email, and other social media as best you can. Instead, plan on watching a movie, bundle up in all of your blankets and drink some tea, do a little gentle stretching, or take time to otherwise enjoy your night in any way YOU really want.

Just as you schedule the necessities of life, take time at the start of the new year to be sure to schedule time that is just for you. Spend a night in, relax, rest, and recharge for all the exciting adventures in the year to come.


How to Survive Winter Running

As a native Pittsburgher, I saw my fair share of crazy snow while growing up, but it was really my years spent running in South Bend, Indiana that taught me everything I ever needed to know about running in the cold. Anyone who has run around the campus of Notre Dame will know about the “South Quad Wind Tunnel” that kicks into high gear during the end of fall semester and can last into April. Wherever you may live, a smart approach to running in sub-par conditions can help you not just survive winter training, but come out of it with even better fitness.

Without further ado, here are my best tips for braving those flurries.

1. Effort over pace.

Construct workouts that demand a particular effort more than a particular pace. While I tend to be very low-tech and just use a regular watch on my runs, if you’re someone who monitors pace regularly, try to take that watch reading with a grain of salt, or, just for winter, use a watch or setting that will display only your total time run rather than pace. Wintery road conditions are likely going to slow you down, but there’s no need to let this discourage you. The traction of snow can actually work like sand to make certain muscles work harder.

Remember that the cold makes it more difficult for your muscles to warm up, so give yourself extra time to get moving rather than forcing a specific speed that was appropriate during the perfect 50 degrees of fall.

2. Try an off-track interval workout as a way to work around cold or unideal weather conditions.

Working out on the roads instead of the track can keep the scenery more interesting and allow you to be more flexible in your route—possibly avoiding ice as you go. A fartlek (“speed play” in Swedish) is a common running workout that works especially well in winter or during your base building months.

Here are a few ideas for interval workouts.  Include a warmup and cooldown of 10-15 minutes for each.

Workout A (30 min.): 5 rounds of 3min. fast, 3min. easy

Workout B (31min.) : 10 min. fast, 10 min. easy, 5 min. fast, 5 min. easy, 1 min. fast

Workout C (26-39min.): 4-6 rounds: 90 second fast, 5 min. easy

3. Accessorize and Smart Overdressing!

Most runners know that it’s common sense to dress for weather conditions. However, here are two related tips to make sure that actually happens.

Tip #1: Organize your winter running accessories. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spent 10 minutes just searching for some running gloves or a hat. Put all your winter running accessories in a bin and keep spares specifically in your car.

Tip #2: Smart Overdressing. This is most useful for days when you’re already rather cold and really do not feel like becoming more cold by running outside. Overdress for the first 10 minutes of your run, then loop back to your starting spot to drop off your outer layer. Alternatively, dress as you normally would for the current weather conditions, but begin with a 5-min. warmup inside, whether on the elliptical or with core work, so the outside air feels possibly more refreshing rather than bitter.

4. Don’t neglect hydration and stretching just because the temperatures are cold.

Once back inside, stretch while your muscles are still warm from exercising, then be sure to change into dry clothing. While you might not feel as thirsty when it’s 15 degrees outside, you still need to hydrate. If a cold drink is less appealing, try to follow up your typical source of electrolytes with a hot beverage which will help prevent you from becoming chilled post-workout. A coffee or hot chocolate is also a great post-run reward for braving the cold!


5. Have an alternative indoor workout ready to go.

If the temperatures are just extremely cold, I like to try to run outside for just a shortened time and finish off my workout at an indoor track or with some yoga. (I always feel better being outside even for just a little bit.) However, if roads are truly treacherous and icy, have a go-to alternative planned as back-up, whether a spinning class or a session on the elliptical or treadmill.

With a little resourcefulness and planning, winter workouts can help you stay in shape and actually enjoy the change in temperature. Focusing on a hard effort more than pace, dressing smartly, keeping up with essentials like hydrating and stretching, and being flexible and creative with your workouts, will ensure you not only survive but succeed through the winter months of running.


5 Yin Yoga Poses to Calm and Restore

During the hectic holidays, be sure to give yourself a little time to just breathe and be. Most yoga today is considered to be “yang”—centered on movement, sweating, strengthening and stretching your muscles. In contrast, yin yoga stretches your connective tissue through longer, passive holds. Yin might be seen to require a bit more patience; one must be content to be still, breathe, and wait. However, yin is also extremely calming and restorative; once you find yourself in a yin posture, it usually doesn’t take any convincing to keep you there! The fun of yin is also how the feel of the stretch changes the longer you hold it. You might not feel much in the first 30 seconds, but will notice your body releasing in different ways the longer you let yourself pause and stay in the posture.

Here are a few of my favorite yin poses to calm, relax, and restore my body. I find I get more out of a yin practice when I’m already a bit warmed up; rather than trying these first thing in the morning, settle into these poses at the end of a long day. When it’s dark outside, try these fire-side. This sequence takes 20-30 minutes depending upon how long you hold each pose.

1. Diamond Pose Forward Fold.

From seated, connect soles of feet. Slide feet as far away as they can go with still staying comfortably connected. Now stack up cushions or blankets immediately behind your heels. Inhale tall through your spine, then round gently until your forehead rests on the blankets. Pause 3-5 min.

2.  Banana Pose.

Lay on your mat. Scoot your feet towards the bottom right corner of your mat. Cross feet at ankles so that left foot is on top. Stretch your arms up to the top right corner of your mat. Relax. The aim here is to feel a stretch all along the left side of your body. Pause for 3 minutes, then switch sides.


3.       Supported Bridge Pose.

Place a yoga block (or a more firm pillow) under your sacrum. (Reminder: your sacrum is the big bone just above your hips; this is lower than your lower back.) Gently tuck shoulder blades under your back, allowing palms to rest up towards the ceiling. Rest down into your block. Breathe here for 3-5 minutes

4.  Legs-Up-the-Wall.

Sit sideways next to a wall. In one smooth motion, swivel legs up the wall as you let your head and torso rest on the floor. If you find you’re still too far away, wiggle one side of your bum, then other side of your bum until you are right up against the wall. Again tuck shoulder blades gently under your back and allow palms to rest up toward the ceiling. Pause 5-10 minutes.

5.  Legs-Up-the-Wall Middle Split.

From your standard legs-up-the-wall, let legs drop out to the sides into a middle split. This one is an effective way to work on your middle split, especially if this is normally a challenging posture for you. Allow legs to fully relax. Pause for 3-5 minutes. To exit the pose, press heels back together to come back to regular legs-up-the-wall, then bend knees to bring them into your chest, and roll off to one side. Allow yourself to take as much time as you need as you come down off the wall. I like to take a few extra breathes on my side, once off the wall, before pressing back up to seated.

A yin yoga practice can calm, center, and restore your body and mind. Give the above sequence a try, and notice the difference in your body before and after. End your December night with some yin; awake refreshed and peaceful the next morning.

Kiawah Island Marathon 2017 Race Report


Heading into this year’s Kiawah Island Marathon, I was feeling much, much better prepared than last year. Throughout fall of 2016, I went back and forth between doing the full or the half distance at Kiawah, and really only decided “what the heck, let’s just do the full!” the week of the race. Last fall, I was teaching three first-year writing courses, at least 4 fitness classes each week, and otherwise just working quite hard both with Runners Love Yoga and being on the academic job market. All things considered, last fall I actually did a great job of training, but long runs didn’t really happen—I’ve tended to be very low mileage as a distance runner anyway, but you can read more about how that turned out actually quite well last December right here!

My Training This Fall

This year, I can’t really say I miss being on the academic job market at all (note to the rare academic on the market who could be reading this: it will be JUST FINE. I am in fact massively relieved to have all those hours that would be spent on job materials back in my life! There are plenty of other rewarding jobs that involve teaching and writing that are out there for you!). I do miss my English lit students, but I’m now teaching two yoga courses for credit at UVa, and I’ve found this to be a very fulfilling way to still be in the college teaching environment, and actually perhaps have a greater impact on college students’ lives. Mentoring and helping students was one of my favorite aspects of my job before, and teaching college yoga very definitely allows me to do that. Besides the five UVa yoga sessions each week, I’m also teaching four classes at IM-Rec Sports as well as two Runners Love Yoga classes at Formula Complete Fitness, so this added up to about 11 total fitness classes per week (9 yoga, one combined yoga/cycle, and one cycle class)! I was initially unsure whether this was too much, and jokingly told my friends that I’d either be the most tired or fittest person ever from all of this! After the first two weeks of the new schedule back August/September, during which I was indeed a little tired and dealing with a new commute, my body adjusted—thank you, body, for your insane natural endurance!—and my work in fact probably helped me to be the fittest as well as the most relaxed I’ve ever been. I was also doing more yoga than I usually am able to during the semester!

Below: with my UVa yoga classes!

With my schedule shifting towards the exercise-side of things, this made it a lot easier to actually run some miles during the day. I moved my off day from running to Monday, since that’s the day I teach a 45 min. cycle class, and every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I ran immediately after my UVa morning yoga class. On Wednesdays, I ran with my run buddy Courtney right before teaching an afternoon class. And so, within my normal work week for the first time in YEARS, I truly had a designated time for each run. This was also quite an efficient way of doing things: I felt very productive being essentially done with the bulk of my working out by mid-morning. Had I died and gone to heaven?  This was so much better than being half-dead while grading 400 papers (not hyperbole) and making an adjunct-like wage and always running in the dark!

While from 2013 until this August, my average weekly miles were very much right around 30 (yes, THIRTY, you read that right), I decided to try cautiously upping that this fall. In previous marathon buildups, I sometimes hit what I thought was right around 40 miles a couple times, but I hadn’t run regularly with a Garmin, and I began doing that for all of my runs this fall. (I know now that I was likely overestimating my past mileage since I thought I was going faster than I actually was! So, I was actually probably running less than 30 miles most weeks!!) Running with a Garmin is actually great: knowledge is indeed power. I still very much go by feel, but—and this is where a yoga mindset helps!—I wasn’t going to let it get to me if I was out there and “by feel” meant 10:00 minute miles. I really don’t pound any of my runs by myself, but made an effort for my Tuesday longer run to be around 8:30 pace. The Garmin helped me accurately know my mileage and my speed and kept me on track for when I wanted to be sure my regular runs were a little faster (and again, by a little faster, I mean in the 8-something per mile range, though with Courtney, we would sometimes hit the 7-something per mile range). From mid-August until race week, my weekly miles were significantly higher than they had been in the past: 35, 32, 42, 36, 37, 43, 37, 36, 46, 47, 54, 42, 50, 36, 30 (week of race, includes marathon). I sketched out what I wanted my mileage to be weeks in advance, but left room to play it by ear too. I wasn’t sure whether actually hitting 50 would be way too much for me, so I initially just had planned on being in the mid-40s. I also did a legitimate 20-miler by adding on to a half marathon race that I used as a workout!



Marathons are kind of nervewracking, especially the couple days before. As I texted one of my best friends, “is there anything more nerve-wracking than the day before a marathon?” Luckily, this was my sixth marathon and the fourth time I had run Kiawah. Being on familiar ground was very helpful. I also knew this was a good chance to win a marathon; that was on my lifetime running bucket list of things to do! However, it is a marathon, so you never know what can happen. Until you’ve won, you haven’t won yet. Phillip as usual was a massive help with on course hydration and nutrition. As usual, we planned on GUs at miles 6, 12, 17, 20, and 23 along with a drink to hand off. (See “9 Insider Tips to Make Marathon Race Day Go More Smoothly” for Phillip’s super pro method of attaching a GU to a drink!)

During past marathons, I tend to, being the endurance athlete that I am, get “stuck” at whatever pace I start at. Knowing this, and helpfully reading my past blogs and training logs, I knew I wanted to go out at 6:20-something pace. This worked great, and I settled into a good zone where I was comfortably churning out even splits. I would actually even say that the first 4-5 miles felt a little harder until I really got into a rhythm, and then I was much more comfortable. Kiawah is a smaller race, so at times I had no one around me, but luckily I had at several different points, small packs of 1-4 men to run with.

I had remembered that the full merged with the half course, but I hadn’t quite remembered how truly difficult this was to navigate all of the half walkers! For a couple miles in the middle of the course (possibly 10-13 or so, though I can’t be sure, see map of both here so you can get the general lay of the course), and then from about mile 21 to the end, the full merges with the half, but as a full marathon runner, you end up running into those walking the half marathon! This results in a good bit of weaving on an already windy route—indeed, there are a lot of turns on this one even if it is very flat! Subtract the hassle of weaving around a bunch of people walking (quite honestly painful at 23 miles when sudden turns hurt), and this is a really great course. I in particular enjoyed running around the Sanctuary Hotel near the oceanfront—there was a DJ there and a crowd of people cheering that gave me a good, needed boost at that point. From about mile 19 or 20 on, I ran alone. One male runner had been right behind me from probably 10k to about mile 15, but at miles 14 and 15 we had picked it up to consecutive 6:17 and 6:15 miles. (We had just broken free of the half walkers.) I didn’t want to keep running that fast, so I let him go, which turned out to be a good move as I passed the poor guy at about mile 22 and finished two minutes ahead of him. Conservative is the way to go here, and I think this is one moment where just a little experience at this distance helped me rein everything in. Around mile 18 or so, my inner right quad started to get a little cramp, while the rest of my body felt totally fine. By the last 3 miles or so, the rest of my legs were hurting a bit too, so I just ran as fast as I could without risking anything blowing up. Versus other marathons I’ve run, I felt a lot better at the very end; the higher mileage and longer runs very much paid off here. I also ran a 4:30 PR, so that was a lot of fun! AND, I know I can chop more time off of this distance—with my new training, I’m only going to get stronger. Now I just have to decide when my next one will be….

Below slideshow: Running into the finishline, after the race with Phillip, bravely jumping into the cold pool aka ice bath

Below slideshow: after the race, enjoying some recovery yoga, exploring the Middleton Place Garden where we also bought a camellia to take home!, enjoying some Jeni's ice cream even though it was freezing outside, breakfast on Sunday

Only 5 Minutes to Spare? 3 Quick Yoga Sequences for Core, Energy, and Restoration

December can be a happy time of year reconnecting with friends and family over the holidays—but it can also be one of the busiest and most disruptive to your typical day-to-day exercise schedule. Don’t let decorating and holiday parties get in the way of your workout routine. Instead, deploy these yoga sequences when you’ve only got 5 minutes for a workout, or when you need a short reprieve from helping Santa wrap all those presents. Depending on what you most need within a particular moment, here are three 5-minute sequences for:  A. a stronger core, B. more energy, and C. a peaceful mind. Who knows, once you give yourself a 5 minute break, you may find you’ve got time for even a little more yoga.

Sequence A: 5 minutes to a Stronger Core

(Sequence Summary: Half Boat Extensions --> Reverse Tabletop --> Either Full Boat or Half Boat Extensions)

1. Begin in half boat pose (ardha navasana) by planting your bum on the ground. Lift your legs so shins are parallel to the floor. Bring hands into prayer in front of your chest. Gently lean back through your upper torso but stay tall through your spine by pressing your collarbone into your thumbs.

2. On an exhale, extend arms so they are also parallel with the floor. On your next inhale, press through your feet and reach arms forward to lower body to a “hover” just a couple inches above the floor. On an exhale, come back to the starting position. Repeat 5-10 times, maintaining good form.

3. After your last repetition, release feet to the floor and release palms 6-inches behind your bum. On an inhale, send hips to the sky to come into a reverse tabletop (ardha purvottanasana). Allow your head to gently rest back. Pause for a couple breaths here. Try gently shifting weight from palms to soles of feet; this open up the fronts of your shoulders.

4. On an exhale, drop your bum back to the floor to come back into your half boat. Feel free to continue with the half boat extensions as describes in step 2 OR extend your legs into full boat (navasana) only if able to remain tall through your spine. Relax your face as you pause for 3 breaths here. On an inhale, lower limbs so you again “hover” a couple inches above the floor. Exhale to rise back into your full boat. Repeat these full or half boat extensions for 4-7 rounds. Again end with your reverse tabletop as a way to relax.

Sequence B: 5 minutes to More Energy

(Sequence Summary: Warrior I --> Warrior II --> Reverse Warrior --> Reverse Triangle --> Triangle --> Low Lunge)

1.  From standing, step your right foot back into Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Remember that hips should be squared off to the front of the mat as best you can (i.e. send your right hip forward so it meets the left). Reach through your fingertips but relax shoulderblades down your back. Back foot is out at 45-degrees with toes pointing forward. Press the outside edge of your back foot a little more into the floor for a deeper right hip and leg stretch.

2.  Open your arms by sending left arm forward and right arm backwards to come into Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II). Back foot now opens slightly to a 60-degree angle. Send your gaze over the front fingers but keep reaching all the way through that back hand.

3.  Flip your front palm open, reach forward, and “scoop the air” up and back to come into Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana). For now, maintain the bend in your front knee. Press your left elbow towards the sky and think of opening up the left side of your body. On an inhale, keep your upper body the same but now straighten your front leg to come into reverse triangle. Pause and think of reaching all the way down the left side of your body, from toes to fingertips. Breathe and stretch!

4.  Now keeping legs just how they are, inhale to reach forward and down with your left palm, letting this carry your torso towards the front of your mat. Keep tilting until left palm or fingers lightly rest on your left shin. Just like in Warrior II, keep reaching through both arms. Reach through your right hand, which is now directed towards the sky—this helps take weight out of your bottom palm. This is triangle (trikonasana)! Pause and breathe here, keeping gaze neutral or looking up towards the top hand.

5.  Bend front leg knee. Fluidly release left palm or fingertips to the outside edge of your front foot, then release right palm or fingertips to inside edge of front foot. Pause for a breath in your low lunge (anjaneyasana), then step back foot up to meet your front foot at the top of your mat. Relax in a forward fold with knees slightly bent. Grab opposite elbows with your hands. Keep hold of elbows as you gently roll up bottom to top of your spine. Once at standing, release hands to the sky, and step back to Warrior I, to begin repeating the sequence on your second side.

Sequence C:  5 minutes to a Peaceful Mind

This restorative sequence helps the mind to calm and relax, especially before bedtime.

(Sequence Summary: Bound Angle --> Stargazer --> Head-to-Knee Forward Bend --> Bound Angle)

1. Begin at seated. Connect soles of your feet to come into bound angle (baddha konasana). Press your palms behind you to pick up your body and move it closer to your feet. (Only move as close as is comfortable.) Grab your feet with your hands. Inhale tall. Exhale, and staying tall, press your collarbone forward. Inhale and exhale again, this time allowing your upper body to round into the pose. For extra restoration, use a yoga block under your forehead or even stack up a bunch of cushions or pillows if you need more height or do not have a block on hand. (Try this! It is wonderful!) Close your eyes and relax your face. Pause here for at least one minute.

2. Inhale to gently lift your forehead off your props and come back to seated. Extend your left leg, keeping right leg bent as it is with knee dropping to the side. Connect right sole of foot with upper left thigh. Now inhale to send right palm up and back, planting palm just behind your bum. On your next breath, reach up through your left fingertips and send hips to the sky to come into stargazer (parivrrta parighasana). Press left sole of foot and right shin into the floor.

3. Exhale to release your bum back to the floor. Inhale to reach both hands tall, and square hips towards extended leg, to set up your head-to-knee forward bend (janu sirsasana). Exhale to fold forward and reach fingertips towards extended left leg. Relax into the forward bend. Inhale to gently come back up, and switch legs for your second side of stargazer to janu sirsasana.

4. Finally, end with another long, restorative bound angle pose as in step 1.

Taking a little space of time just for yourself is a great way to make the holidays more relaxing and enjoyable, rather than stressful. Once you’ve taken your own yoga time-out, teach the sequence to a friend or family member to share the holiday yoga spirit!




Get Rid of Shin Splints for Good: 4 KEYS to Eliminate and Prevent Shin Splints

Shin splints have been the boon of many a runner, especially those in the midst of either a more intense or a greater volume of training than usual. The little muscles in the fronts of your shins are just not used to the repetitive impact of that many foot strikes. Luckily, shin splints can be eliminated and prevented with just a few key exercises and healing measures.

I had shin splints first during one high school track season; this was my first and most intense bout of shin splints, I think mostly because I was a newer runner. All subsequent shin trouble that I experienced in college was far less severe and lasted only a few days at a time. I don’t want to say that shin splints are just a rite of passage for new runners, as that is not true, but I do know a lot of my fellow running friends had similar experiences of a bad case of shin splints early in their running careers. Regardless, shin splints results from too much trauma to your poor little (and likely neglected) shin muscles.

During my high school shin splints, my mom and I developed a hot/cold treatment where I would get to just sit in a chair in the living room and my poor mom would bring me buckets of either extremely hot or extremely cold water. Besides the whole shin splints thing, this was really a rather nice treatment—I got to just chill and watch TV while my mom switched out the buckets! (As the oldest of four children, I promise that I was not always this spoiled!) Over the years of my running, I’ve accumulated a whole slew of additional tactics—not dependent on a mom filling buckets—to prevent and treat shin splints before they cause any real interruption to your training.

For anyone experiencing shin pain, hang in there. We can make this go away for good. Read on below for four comprehensive goals to keep in mind when treating shin splints. Target all four of these and you will be well on your way to happy shins. Towards that end, below I give you highly specific exercises to accomplish each of these general goals and ultimately heal and strengthen your shins. These are all the exercises that I have both relied upon myself and shared with others to successfully treat shin pain.

1.  Stretch your shin muscles.

a.)    Before and after running, trace the alphabet with your big toe. (Do this from standing, one foot at a time.) This loosens up all the muscles in the fronts of your shins. (I first heard about this from the cross country coach at Greensburg Central Catholic when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school—it works!)

b.)    You could also make a concerted effort during any yoga practice to do some ankle circles—just trace some circles with your big toe. I like to do this while in downdog with one leg extended towards the sky, so I’m getting some additional leg stretching at the same time.

c.)     Finally a great yoga pose to stretch your shins and the fronts of your ankles is virasana. From a kneeling position, bring knees together and keep them together throughout the pose (knees always together here!). Roll both calves outward, and then immediately sit between your heels, not on your heels. If this is too intense, sit on a rolled up blanket or a yoga block instead of directly on the floor. Pause for a minute here, then gently walk hands forward to come to hands and knees, and windshield-wiper heels side to side to stretch out calves. (Hover over the slideshow for additional tips on how to use these poses to stretch your shins.)

2.  Strengthen your shin muscles.

Any sort of dorsiflexion exercise will help strengthen those smaller shin muscles too. Here are two simple ones to do:

a.)  Wall dorsiflexion: Stand with your back to a wall. Use one of your feet to measure from the wall to the end of your toes. Now with your back still to the wall, step both feet that distance from the wall. Keeping your heels in place, just lift and lower your toes a couple inches from the floor back to the floor. Aim for at least 20 reps. You want to pretend like the floor is hot--be quicker in your movements to and from the ground, and instead pause with feet lifted. (I learned this one at Bucknell Cross Country Camp, at their indoor fieldhouse, in approximately 2001. My college teammates also probably remember seeing me do many, many reps of this in the weightroom!)

b.)  Weighted bench dorsiflexion: Sit on the edge of a bench and use your hands to support a LIGHT--maybe 1-2 lb.--weight on your foot. Heel is planted on the end of the bench to allow for your foot to freely move up and down. Pivoting from your ankle, lift and lower your toes. Just do 10-15 reps, but be sure to do both sides. Support the weight on your foot throughout this exercise, and do this while wearing shoes! (Hover over slideshow for additional tips for these exercises.)

3.  Eliminate inflammation.

a.)  Traumeel, now under the name “T-Relief” is an anti-inflammatory cream sold at Whole Foods and it totally totally works. I had shin splints in college, put this on at night, and in the morning was seriously all better. I recently bought some for my running buddy who was having foot trouble and now her foot is fine too. This fall, one of my yoga students was having such intense shin splints that she was having difficulty walking without pain. I told her about this stuff, she went out and got it, and then sent me an email the next morning saying that she agreed with me that this stuff was magical—she was great! Note: T-Relief is in NO way paying me to say this.  This stuff just really really works. I am not the sort of person to be buying into “magical creams” but for knocking out some inflammation, I don’t think you can beat this stuff.


b.)  Hot/cold treatments: ideally, you have an ice bucket with water as hot as you can handle and another with water as cold as you can handle, and you alternate between these for 15 min. at a time, ending with cold. An easier version of this would be to visit a hot tub (find one at your gym) and bring a big bag of ice with you. First, throw the ice bag on your shins for 7-8 min., then sit at the edge of the hot tub for 8-10 soaking your legs, and repeat. Just keep the ice on long enough for your shins to get numb feeling (usually 7-8 min. or so).

Lastly, another simple option is to fill small dixie cups with water, freeze these, and then peel back the top of the cup until you get to the ice--use this as an ice massager for your your shins.

4. Support your shins.

Consider getting some compression socks to help support your shin muscles while they heal. Whatever brand you get, choose one that measures by calf circumference rather than shoe size. When not running or racing, try wearing any kind of slightly taller socks with some kind of slight compressive quality to the fabric—even this small amount of support will be helpful while your shins are acting up.

Last but not least, don’t stand up for 4 straight hours at your first Notre Dame football game and try to do a long run at Bertrand the very next day. Yes, I did this my freshman year, was practically hobbling at mile 3 or so of our Sunday long run, and had to be picked up by my coach in the van. While I was not exactly experiencing shin splints, I did not realize how much you actually do use your shins to stand up! Use a little bit of common sense—don't stand up for four straight hours before a long run, be sure you have appropriate shoes for your foot type, etc.—and along with the suggestions above, get running faster than ever without interference from your shins.

10 Indoor Circuit Exercises to Crosstrain After Dark

You’ve arrived home from work but have yet to work out. Outside, the pitch-black darkness and freezing temps call you forth; it is time to go on a run or drive to the gym. Inside your home, however, you are now comfortable and warm. The thoughts of venturing off into the dark frigid air to get your endorphin rush are not even remotely appealing (though if you change your mind, definitely read my last month’s post “8 Safety Tips for Running After Dark”). No matter! You can easily complete a workout from the comfort of your own home with a little creativity and very few props: glider discs (or a homemade substitute), a medicine ball, a light set of hand weights, or nothing at all. Read on for 10 indoor circuit exercises to do after dark.

Try combining the exercises below into a circuit by:

  • Doing all exercises in order 2-3 times
  • Completing just the odd or even numbered exercises today; save the other half for tomorrow.
  • Complete all odd numbered exercises, then all even numbered exercises, THEN repeat again.
  • For a leg and ab workout, complete Exercises 1-4, 6-7.
  • For an arm and ab workout, complete Exercises 3-10.
  • Or try any combination of exercises that you like!

1.  Glider Disc Lunges

Equipment needed: Ideally, glider discs which come in varieties for various floor types, from hardwood to carpet. If you don’t have gliders, substitute a worn-out dish cloth or small rag or t-shirt that will slide easily on the floor. If using your own homemade discs, you also need to find a smooth floor.

Stand with your hands on your hips and one foot on a glider. Smoothly extend your glider behind you to come into a lunge, then bring the glider-foot back in to come back to start. Repeat 15-20 times, then switch sides. Be sure to keep your non-glider foot firmly planted on the ground.

2.  Glider Single Leg Squats

You can also try single-leg squats using the glider; this is a great variation on this movement because it works the same muscles while providing a little extra support to your legs and ensuring you maintain good form. Single-leg squats are notoriously difficult; gliders make them easier to perform. Again, stand with one foot on a glider. Your non-glider leg is the one actually doing the squat! Send your glider foot directly out to the side, while you keep weight in your standing foot and sink your bum back into a squat. Use your arms to help drive the motion of your legs. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch sides.

3.  Medicine Ball Squat and Press.

Equipment needed: medicine ball.

Stand just wider than hip-width. Hold the ball close to your chest. As you come into a squat, keeping weight in your heels, extend your arms to press the med ball away from you. Come back up to standing, and again bring the ball back into your body. Repeat 10-15 times.

4.  Medicine Ball Wood Chop.

Again, stand wider than hip-width. Moving smoothly, bring the ball towards the outside of your right foot, then drive it up in the air to the left. (Think of making a motion as if you were chopping wood.) Continue this motion, twisting down to the right and up to the left for 10-15 rounds, then switch sides.

5.  Medicine Ball Tricep Extension.

From standing, bring the medicine ball over your head. Pivot from your elbows and exhale to let the med ball drop behind your head (and don’t bump yourself in the head!). Inhale to bring the ball back up.

6.  Medicine Ball Ab Twist.

Sit on the floor with your knees bent so feet are just a few inches off the floor. Holding your med ball, twist smoothly side to side, bringing the ball from the left to the right and back again. Note that you don’t need to actually tap the floor with the ball; you might find you engage your core more by hovering the ball just above the floor as you move. Repeat 20-30 rounds.

7.  Plank.

Support yourself on either your palms or your forearms. Be sure your hips are in line with the rest of your body. For an added challenge, try picking up one leg then the other behind you. This doesn’t need to be a big movement; just aim for a couple inches or so. Stay here 30-60 seconds.


8.  Triangle Pushups.

From a normal push-up position, connect the ends of your thumbs and first fingers to form a triangle shape. Only do as many as you can with maintaining great form and feel free to do these from your knees if you need to! Aim for 15 or :30 worth of push-ups, whichever comes first.


9.  Front, Side, and Back Dumbbell Raises.

Equipment needed: light set of hand weights in the 5-10lb. range.

From standing, lift your weights straight in front of you until they hit shoulder height, then smoothly lower. Repeat 10-15 times. Then lift your weights straight to their respective sides, then lower. Repeat 10-15 times. Now, lift your weights straight back—here you will likely only raise the weights to about a 45 degree angle. Again lower, then repeat 10-15 times.

10.  Bent-Over Dumbbell Row.

Stand with knees bent and upper body slightly forward. Be sure to keep your back flat, rather than rounded or arched. Let arms drop to full extension with weights, then bend elbows to bring weights to your chest. Throughout the movement, keep elbows pointing behind you, rather than letting them go to the sides. Repeat 10-15 rounds.

No need to skip a workout just because it's dark, or you're too tired to drive to the gym; try just five minutes of your own indoor circuit workout and feel your energy levels go on an upswing.

8 Common Sense & Quick Safety Tips for Running at Night

With autumn, we move into a season of changing colors, pumpkin spice lattes, and—unfortunately—shorter days. As our daylight time decreases through the fall, you may find that your evening 5-miler, once concluded in the warmth of the sparking sunshine, now begins at the purple-skied brink of dusk or even later, in the coolness of total night. During the week, I often run to and from teaching an evening yoga class; as the fall season wears on, I notice the way home becoming increasingly darker and cooler. Running at night can be exhilarating, but it can also be a little dangerous if you find yourself unprepared. I prefer running on a sunny fall day any day over running at night, but if your schedule only allows for evening workouts, here are a few ground rules for staying safe.

1.  Be sure that traffic can see you.

Wear reflective, bright clothing. Run against traffic so that cars can’t sneak up behind you, or so you can jump further off the road if a driver seems headed for you. For those who often run at night, you may want to invest in some of the new, better technology out there, such as an LED-powered high-visibility vest made just for running in the dark.

2.  Run on safe roads.

Even with reflective clothing, certain roads are safer for running, period, than others. Use common sense here—if you know drivers tend to speed on certain roads or sections of a road, or if you know of uneven surfaces, be extra alert or avoid running there altogether if possible.

3.  Run in a safe, well-lit area.

While I could have easily grouped this with the safety of the roads themselves, this deserves its own point: be sure you know the area where you are running. Avoid any areas with known crime. If you are traveling and in a new city, do not run at night in an unfamiliar place; find a gym with a treadmill, whether it be in your hotel or nearby, or skip your run for that day altogether.  (I will do absolutely anything to avoid a treadmill, but even I have hopped on one when I’ve had to travel for work and can only run late in the day …If I can handle the treadmill, you can too!) If you ever feel unsafe while running, trust your intuition and get out of there. If you see someone lurking on the sidewalk ahead of you, find a way to cross the street so you don’t have to run right past them, or just turn around.

4.  Bring Mace.

I used to tell my mother that I would just “run away” from potential predators. This is in fact not the best escape plan, despite my ability to throw down a mile in low 5-minute range. Bring some means of protecting yourself. Mace is not expensive and you can get it at anywhere from Dick’s Sporting Goods to the pharmacy.

5.  Plan or be familiar with your route.

Running at night is probably an especially bad time to get lost. Exploring is a lot of fun, but don't go off on an epic adventure at nighttime.

6.  Use a headlamp if needed.

Along with making sure traffic can see you, also ensure that you yourself can see the road! Now is not the time to trip over an unexpected pothole.

7.  Don’t wear headphones!!

This is huge for safety: with headphones on, you cannot hear your environment, but you also look like a distracted, easy target for any suspicious characters.

8.  Bring a running buddy if possible.

Safety is found in numbers. Of course, you may be running at night (or the early morning) because your schedule is otherwise rather booked; if running at an unusual time means you are also forced to run alone, be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back.

Once Daylight Savings Time begins, your PM run may suddenly be all in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop running! Plan your route, find a buddy, bring some Mace, and stay safe.

And of course, don't forget to stretch just because it's dark when you get back!

Supported Shoulderstand: Tips for Practicing

If practiced safely, shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) offers a plentitude of benefits—including promoting thyroid function, restoring your legs through the inversion, and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to calm you. Traditionally, this pose comes near the end of your yoga practice, but it can also be quite useful as a stand-alone pose for promoting feelings of relaxation anytime.

Note that if you have any neck issues, you may want to instead practice “legs-up-the-wall” (viparita karani) instead. Everyone in shoulderstand, no matter what variation, should keep their gaze straight up to the ceiling or on their legs in the air—this protects your neck. You should not look around or turn your head from side to side while in this pose. As with any yoga pose, you should continue to breathe and listen to your body during your practice.

Some teachers recommend placing a firm blanket under your shoulders while in this pose. In this variation, your head hangs off the blanket and instead rests on the floor. I actually find that this throws my balance off while entering the pose, and can put additional pressure on my neck rather than relieving it. Please do what works for you—remember that every BODY is different!

Shoulderstand: The Basics

1)  Setting up the Pose. Begin on your back. Gather knees into your chest with arms along your sides to start. Now, begin to rock back and forth gently. Gather up enough momentum that you can rock your hips up, placing palms on your sacrum (big bones above your hips) as you do so. Here, your thumbs wrap around to the front of your body for additional support. Once you’re here, pause and take a minute to set up your arms—wiggle elbows a little closer together behind you so that they’re not out at your sides. This will give you greater support once you do send your legs to the sky. For now, as you set up your arms, just let knees rest towards (or maybe even lightly on) your forehead.

2)  Shoulderstand: Now, extend legs to the sky. Keep gaze up at your toes and DO NOT turn your head. Gently reach through the ball of each foot to keep a little energy going upward. Connect the big toe mound that sticks out of the side of each foot as you reach.

 Remember to keep your gaze right up at your feet; in other words, your head stays still here and you should NOT turn it from side to side.

Remember to keep your gaze right up at your feet; in other words, your head stays still here and you should NOT turn it from side to side.

3Exiting the Pose: Traditionally, plow pose or halasana, and then fish pose, or matsyasana are practiced after exiting shoulderstand. You should get comfortable practicing shoulderstand and plow before also adding fish pose. 

Keep your palms supporting your lower back as you lower legs over your head.

a.  Plow Pose Modification: If your feet do NOT comfortably hit the ground or remain in the air, keep your palms supporting your back (shown in the first image above). Another modification here is to find a solid chair (something that won’t slip!) and use the seat as a prop for your feet to rest upon. You should test the distance of the chair from your mat by rolling into this version of plow pose first, before your shoulderstand sequence, and then adjust the position of your chair relative to the mat as necessary. Pause and breathe, then keep palms supporting your back as you carefully roll back to a reclining position.

b.  Plow Pose (second image above): If your feet DO hit the floor, then release palms alongside your body. You may like to try pressing heels away from you (farther from your body, towards the wall now behind you) to get a deeper stretch through the legs. Pause and breathe here.  

Finally, Moving from Plow to Fish: The exit from full plow pose works very well to set your body up for fish pose. Use your palms as “brakes” controlling the speed of your legs as they float back down from over your head. Move smoothly with control—press into your palms. As your legs float back down, you’ll hit a spot where you feel like you want to arch your back (when legs are about 45 degrees from the floor). When you get there, DO arch your back and PRESS into your elbows and forearms in order to pick up your head, tilting head back into the backbend. Keep pressing into elbows and forearms—no weight whatsoever is on your head here. To come out of fish, press into elbows to again pick up your head and lay it back down.

Note that you should probably get comfortable in regular plow pose without any modifications before practicing fish pose.

Shoulderstand is a powerful pose that offers many benefits if you practice it safely, continue to breathe, and listen to your body. Once you are comfortable in shoulderstand, try counting your breaths here—add a breath or two each time.

3 Prep Poses to Help with Splits

A split (otherwise known as hanumanasana) can be a very intimidating pose, especially if you don’t come from a dance background. If you weren’t a dancer in childhood, never fear! I wasn’t either, and couldn’t do anything even closely resembling a split until a few years ago! Splits are very manageable with time and a consistent practice, but perhaps even more so than other poses, they also demand that you respect your body on that particular day. After running my December marathon, I didn’t do anything remotely near a split for two months; this was just too far beyond where my body was ready to go in terms of hamstring flexibility. If you are working towards a full split, here are the poses and mini-sequences that I have found most effective both for warming up specifically for a split and for progressing from not-quite-a-split to a true one over the past few years. Try these once you find yourself generally warmed up within your yoga practice, and you’ll be sliding into that split sooner than you thought possible:

1.  Wide-legged forward fold with a flow from side to side.

After warming up, set up your wide-legged forward fold. Be sure toes are slightly pointed inward to protect your knees here. Pause and relax your head and neck, and take whatever hand/arm placement is working best for that moment. Here are some of my favorites: 1.) you can just grab opposite elbows and press them gently towards the floor, 2.) walk your hands through your feet, so that fingers are pointing the opposite direction as your toes, or 3.) wrap the first two fingers of each hand around each big toe to connect with your respective thumbs, and then use your grip to gently pull yourself towards the floor. After you pause here at least 5 breaths, check to be sure you are really relaxing your head. Nod it “yes,” or “no,” or both. (Truly relaxing is usually more difficult than you might think!) Now, use your breath to flow from side to side, from one leg to the other, as if your head is a dead weight and a pendulum swinging through the same plane. Inhale, and on your next exhale, let your head swing to the right leg. Pause and breathe here, then inhale to center and exhale to the left, to again pause and breathe. Take your time, and go side to side at least 3 times.

2.  Low lunge to half split.

This sequence is a key prep one for splits. In your low lunge, be sure your front knee is just above your front ankle and not jutting too far over it. Also be sure you’re not right on top of your back kneecap; if that’s the case, scoot your back foot farther back. In your low lunge, relax the quad or front of your back leg. Use your hands for support as needed. Inhale, then on your exhale, walk your hands back towards you, letting toes lift up off the mat, and shifting hips back so that front leg is straight. Flow back and forth from your low lunge to your half split. Keep in mind that you can totally stay working your half split if you’re not at a full split today. Another way to make your half split more intense: once in the pose, inhale your spine tall to come up out of the pose through your upper body, then exhale to refold over your leg. You will almost always get a deeper stretch through your calf.

3.  Middle split legs-up-the-wall

This pose is a wonderful yin way to work on your middle split, since gravity will always pull you to just the right place for you, and slowly work you deeper into the pose. You do need a good-size clear wall (which can actually be surprisingly difficult to find, in my apartment at least!). First sit sideways next to the wall, and then in one fluid motion, swivel legs up the wall as you drop to your forearms and then rest your back on the ground. If you’re still not against the wall, wiggle one side of your bum, then the other, until closer. Now, just let your legs slide down the wall. Pause and breathe 2-5 minutes, and then use your hands to carefully bring legs together, before bending knees and rolling to one side to come off the wall.

Splits are a challenging pose that require you to listen to your body but are a helpful addition to your yoga practice. With the right warmup and a good dose of patience, you will be in splits and enjoying the benefits of all of the prep poses here too.

5 Tips for Running Through the August Heat

For many runners with an upcoming fall marathon or cross country season, August is a month of intense training and base building miles. Having a great month of running in August can cap off your consistent foundation of work built through June and July and ensure you are ready for the racing season ahead in the fall. However, for many areas of the country, we are in the midst of what is also the hottest and most humid month of the year—the last thing any of us runners want is to have our training derailed by conditions that are beyond our control. (And, make sure you're taking in enough iron right now--training at a greater intensity in the heat can make you more susceptible for anemia issues in the fall.) A well-planned and commonsense approach to working out can protect us from injuries, but the same actually goes for dealing with the heat and humidity of August.

Stay cool and train smart to run your best through late summer with these five tips:

1.  Train during the cooler parts of the day, and schedule longer or more intense workouts around cooler days of the week.

If your schedule allows for any kind of flexibility in when you run, try to aim for the cooler parts of the day for your efforts, like early morning or evening. If that advice feels a little obvious, what might be less so is the idea of scheduling your whole week of training around the weather forecast. Look ahead to the upcoming week’s anticipated daily highs, and work around them if possible when planning your more intense or longer efforts.

In the summer, I’ve moved my long run from its normal weekend slot—which also happened to coincide with the balmy upper 90s—to a much cooler weekday morning. I’ve even spontaneously extended a regular weekday morning run into my week’s long run if I happened to feel good and the weather happened to feel cooler. Sometimes these spur of the moment, (literally) on-the-run decisions enhance your training through more chill temperatures but also a more “chill” and less stressed approach to training as a whole. Learn to be flexible with the timing of your week’s workouts. You also might find along the way that you enjoy the untraditional Thursday long run more anyhow!


2.  Always pack an extra—preferably cold!—drink, and keep extra clothes for post-run in your car.

Again, this does involve just a little bit of planning, but it’s worth it! Throw your electrolyte-filled beverage of choice into the fridge the night before, but while you’re at it, toss a second drink in there too and bring both to your run. I never regret having that second drink! This is especially true if I’m driving to and from the trail—drink number two always comes in handy on the drive home. Alternatively if I’m running from home, I can always save the bonus drink in the fridge for the next day if I don’t get to it. Weather is extra warm? Throw some extra ice in there, or even better, throw your drinks in a mini-travel cooler so they stay chilled while in your warm car. If you are headed out for a longer effort, consider planting drinks along your route or carry some form of hydration with you. If driving or otherwise traveling from home to your running spot, pack an extra t-shirt or a light change of clothes so you don't get chilled on the drive home. I have a spare sweatshirt that I just leave in my trunk as my designated post-run wear (even more handy if you stop at the chilly grocery store!).

3.  Along the way, incorporate some heat training to better withstand the warm temps.

Of course, use common sense—don’t just jump into a 10 mile run in 95 degree sunshine—but a little training in the heat makes you a stronger runner. This can especially come in handy if you are planning on a race with a late morning start time or in a warmer location than where you live and train. The runners competing in Rio, especially those racing the marathon, have purposefully sought out warm and humid training conditions to better prepare for their race at the Olympics. Remember that your body adapts very well to whatever weather you regularly train in. Weather is very relative: what is hot for a Texan is relatively scalding for a New Englander, and what is hot for the New Englander will feel cool to the Texan. (Since living in Virginia, summer temperatures that fazed me back in Pennsylvania no longer do so.) Rather than always being the enemy, the heat is sometimes a useful training tool! Recently, research has suggested that training in the heat can be even more effective than running at altitude. Do a few short easy runs during a time of day when the air is a little warmer to start; this helps you adjust better to the heat when you might have to face it at a race, and to perform better when you are subsequently in cooler temps. Remember that for your hotter runs, go by effort rather than pace!

4.  When running in the heat, be safe by wearing sunscreen and running with a buddy!

Hydrating well may be the most obvious heat training tip, but protecting your skin and being sure you stay safe while running should also be high on the list. Save a drawstring backpack (or even a reusable shopping bag) and use this for running essentials like your drink and sunscreen to ensure you don’t forget them, and then establish a routine of always bringing your “running essentials” bag. Get a sunscreen that can handle all your sweat too! (My dermatologist recommends Blue Lizard.) Last but not least, be sure you have company on the track or (especially) on the trail if running while the thermometer reads sky high. Running buddies don’t let each other suffer heat exhaustion!


5.  Run with wet hair!

If the weather is intensely warm and your hair type permits, try showering right before your run so your hair is wet during your workout. With really steamy temps, I like to rinse off and put my hair into a bun on the top of my head—this then feels like running with a cool sponge on my head and helps to cool me off. A quick braid also works well. Even if my hair is dry by the time I’ve finished, I’m glad to have started with this extra bit of coolness.


Training in the heat, when done smartly, can enhance your performance rather than harm the length and consistency of your runs. Get out there and enjoy the sunny trails!



Dreaming of a Summer Vacation? Go for a Workout!

Summer is my favorite season. The air is warm, the running layers are light, and sunshine predominates instead of snow. Summer is also synonymous with vacation; for students and teachers, summer means a break from the daily grind of school, and for many families, summer is a time to get together or to travel. Summer feels like a vacation from many things that can wear us down just a bit—the warm summer breeze means not just a change of the weather, but a chance to shake up our routines. Both summer and any kind of vacation offer a chance to break free of old, now commonplace paths of being, thinking, and movement, and find new ones that make us happier and put a bit more pep in our step.

Vacation is a state of mind that you can take with you anywhere. It is carefree, effortless, spontaneous, and relaxed. You may not immediately think “workout” when you think “vacation” but applying this more chill, “go with the flow,” adventuresome way of thinking to your workout is a great way to keep it a mini-vacation for the body and soul, instead of a chore that you have to do. Working out, like vacation, is something you do to stay healthy—don’t ever let it be something that weighs you down. I love my workouts. They invigorate all my other thinking, doing, and being that I have to do in my non-workout time. They make me happy—just like going on vacation.

Vacations are great privileges for the mind since you’re able to think about something besides work or whatever might be burdening you—or maybe they just give you a little extra time to daydream. Often when I run or practice yoga, I enjoy having a little quiet time all to myself. You can only be productive so many hours out of the day or so many days out of the year; both vacations and workouts allow you to take time to recharge, become more creative, solve problems or maybe enjoy thinking about nothing at all.

Now that we’ve reflected a bit on the beauty of vacationing and working out, and on how these two seemingly disparate activities are actually not as separate as you might think, here is a mini yoga workout, aka a “vacation,” for your quads. Maybe you think about your quads a lot, or maybe you think about them very little at all—wherever you fall on this spectrum, I hope this little workout allows for a little extra stretching and strengthening of these muscles outside of your usual routine.

1.  Set up your Chair pose / Utkatasana.

Begin at the front of your mat with big toes together and a little half inch gap or so between your heels. Bend your knees and lower your torso to the fronts of your thighs. On an inhale, sweep your hands back so fingertips are reaching towards the back of your mat. Reach our through the crown of your head as you reach through fingers. On an exhale, sweep arms forward, letting them carry your torso up. Sink your bum down as if coming to sit in an imaginary chair. Squeeze knees gently.

2.  Chair Pose / Utkatasana Mini Flow.

Staying in your chair pose, inhale onto your tippy toes. Bring hands into prayer at the front of your chest for support here. Exhale and stay on toes, but sink deeper through your hips. Repeat this: inhale higher onto toes, exhale deeper through hips for at least two more rounds. After you’re as high as you can go, release heels to the ground and stay low through your hips. Pause and breathe for at least three rounds. On your next exhale, press all the way up to standing.

3.  Transition to Lizard Pose.

As gracefully as you can, on your next exhale, step right foot to the back of your mat. Inhale to extend hands and arms tall, then exhale as you reach hands forward and all the way to the floor at the front of your mat.

Wiggle left foot outside both hands. Release right knee and top of right foot to floor. (Step back foot farther back if need be—just be sure you’ve got a less than 90 degree angle from front of your back thigh to the floor, i.e. not directly on top of back kneecap). Point left foot out 45 degrees, and roll to pinky-side edge of this foot. Use your left hand to gently press on your left inner quad.

4.  Lizard Pose Quad Stretch.

Now bend your back leg knee. Reach back with your left hand to grab your left foot—gently kick your foot into your hand, OR pull your foot closer to your bum, OR alternate between these two movements. If grabbing your foot is difficult, try wrapping a yoga strap (or even a scarf!) around your back foot so that you can use your hand to help with the quad stretch.

5. Switch sides!

First, release left hand back to the front of the mat, and release left sole of foot down.

Option A:l If you find yourself more on the limber side today, now step your right foot up to the front of your mat to a squat, then step left foot back to begin the lizard quad stretch on your second side.

Option B: Alternatively, step your left (front) foot back to downdog first, then step your right foot up to begin the lizard quad stretch sequence.

Give your legs a vacation by offering them a new yoga routine. July is a great time to get outside and let elements of summer vacation refresh all aspects of your life. If the snow makes us want to stay inside, the sun makes us want to go outside and play and move. Happy working out and happy vacationing!

(PART 2) Preparing for Race Day: 8 Tips for a Fast, Fun Race Day Experience

The sport of running is a great way to move and push yourself, explore a new city or trail, workout with friends or alone, and sleep more soundly and live with more energy. Running generally adds some pep in your step, so why not take it one step further and run in a race? Whether you’re a novice or veteran of the sport, a race of any distance can reinvigorate your running routine.  (If you need some further convincing, see the previous post "8 Reasons to Road Race".)

You’ve signed up for a road race. You’re registered, and are ready to run. Now what? While certain elements of your race day situation, such as the weather, may be out of your control, you can do a lot to ensure race day itself goes smoothly. The following has a lot of advice which will be especially helpful for new racers--and a tip or two for the pros.

1.  Set out your race day outfit and pack a race day bag the night before.

Look at the weather forecast and choose your outfit accordingly. This should ideally be something you’ve worn before, so you know you’ll be comfortable, able to move well, and won’t get any chafing (this last point is especially important for the longer distances!). Bring a spare set of race day clothing just in case. You never know—someone could spill a Gatorade all over you as soon as you get there; while this is unlikely, a backup set of race clothes will make you feel more prepared and as a result more confident. Set out your entire outfit in a good spot in your room the night before. I recommend keeping this near your race day bag just so you don’t forget anything.

If you might be dealing with rain or inclement weather, pack another change of clothes in your bag for after the race—this way you can change and head straight to post-race brunch without going home first. Regardless of the weather, include appropriate layers for warming up and cooling down. Even if the race will be warm, bringing a long-sleeved top and pants is always a good idea; you may up end staying around for post-race activities and you don’t want to be chilled from getting sweaty or if you end up at an air-conditioned restaurant. For winter races, inside my race bag, I leave a big plastic closeable bag full of bonus accessories like gloves, hats, and arm warmers just in case.

2.  Bring a water bottle with your favorite pre-tested workout beverage.

Don’t show up without a drink (or two) which you’ve used regularly before. While the race will nearly always provide water after the event, you don’t want to start dehydrated. If you’re traveling to the race, the bonus drink almost always comes in handy on the way home too.

3.  Know what and when you’re going to eat for your race day breakfast.

Once you find something that works, stick with it! You should ideally test out your intended breakfast for a morning run ahead of time. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so what works for your running partner may not work for you. Generally speaking, bananas and peanut butter are good foods to try, as are oatmeals, toast, and certain protein bars. Stay away from citrus fruit and apples which can upset your stomach. Have coffee if that is part of your typical morning routine. The golden rule of race day is to not try anything new, clothing, nutrition, hydration, or otherwise!

4.  Have your pre-race timing down! Know where you’re going and take the traffic and parking situation into account. Arrive with enough time to both warmup and pick up your race day packet if needed.

Maybe this race starts down the street from your home and the travel situation couldn’t be simpler. But, maybe it’s in a new part of town. Put the correct destination into a navigation app the night before so you’re not scrambling to figure out where to go.

Sometimes running events, especially the larger ones, have packet pick-up the day before the event. If this is an option and you can conveniently get your packet ahead of time, do that to make race day itself more straightforward. Otherwise, just be sure to arrive to the race with plenty of time to get your packet. (Most races will also advertise when packet pick-up opens on race day.) Your packet will have your race day bib, which gets pinned to the front of your shirt or shorts, and any other race day goodies like a t-shirt included with your registration.

(Occasionally, for large events, you should be aware that sometimes NO race day packet pickup is available; you can ONLY get the packet in advance. Of course if this is the case, definitely get your packet ahead of time and make sure you’ve got the hours of pick-up correct! The race organizers usually do a wonderful job of communicating all of these details to you through emails ahead of time, so this will all be information you have ready at hand.)

5. If your race has a bib number, pin it on diagonally for the best fit!

Pin on your bib by starting with one of the top corners. Then pin on the opposite bottom corner, pulling the bib taut as you do so. Finally, secure the remaining two pins. Presto! Your bib will be straight and not billow out awkwardly as you run.

6. Warmup! Cooldown!

If you’re running a marathon, you don’t actually need to warmup; instead just be sure to keep the first couple miles the slowest of your race since you’ve got quite a way to go. For all other distances, go for a little 10-15min. jog to get moving beginning at about an hour to 45 minutes from the race start time. Stretch after your warmup too.

Likewise, don’t neglect your cooldown; even 10 minutes of jogging around will go a long way towards decreasing any post-race soreness.

7. Know your race day goals.

Whether you want to hit a particular pace, negative split your miles (i.e. run faster as you go), finish, or win, have some idea of what you’d like to accomplish by racing. Just having this in your mind goes a long way towards actually achieving that goal.

8. Have fun!

Being able to complete and compete in any race is an awesome thing. Go you!

Part of having a successful race day is being flexible if something doesn’t go exactly your way—even athletes at the Olympics have to contend with interruptions to the perfect race day scenario. That said, just a little bit of planning and preparation can ensure you arrive at the finish line without a hitch. Have an outfit ready to go, know where you’re going, what you’re eating, and give yourself enough time. Don’t try anything new on race day, have a goal in mind, and go out there and get ‘em!

(PART 1) Why race? 8 Reasons to Sign Up for a Road Race

I love running, but I love running races even more. Having completed an average of 40 road races each year since 2013, signing up for and competing in a race feels like second nature. However, for someone just getting into running, the very idea of registering for a race may be understandably intimidating. A beginner may not know what to expect from the race day process or the race itself. However, if you never try, you’ll never know! And like the anecdote goes, we tend to regret the things we did not do more than the things we have done. While any sort of running routine benefits your health and spirit, completing a race—no matter what the distance—gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy that cannot be gained from daily runs alone. Whether you've never raced or are looking for that extra push to sign up for that 5k on Saturday, here are just a few of the reasons to add a road race to your calendar.

1.  You get your workout in early on a weekend morning.

The overwhelming majority of road races are on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Without a race, I would probably be sleeping in. With a race, I’ve just completed a quality workout and am ready to take on the rest of the day by mid-morning at the latest! This is a great way to “add” hours to your weekend—days that otherwise tend to go all too quickly. Having raced in the morning frees up tons of bonus time to do more fun weekend activities, not just because I’m up earlier, but because I then don’t have to take any other time out of my day to workout. If your race involves traveling to another city, this can also be an opportunity to see other places that you’d otherwise never explore.


2.  You usually come away with some goodies like a T-shirt, post-race food, etc.

While this varies from race to race, most will give you at minimum a cool event t-shirt and some type of goody bag. Races of half marathon length or longer usually give you a finisher’s medal. Both t-shirts and medals can become a means of motivating you. Collect enough t-shirts to make a t-shirt quilt, or try to beat your medal total from the previous season. Other goodies are specific to each race and can become something to look forward to year after year. I still remember my green Shamrock sugar cookie from after last year’s Virginia Beach Shamrock Half. Another example: the Haven 8k in Charlottesville is famous for its post-race breakfast of homemade baked goods and an array of beverages…which brings me to my next point!

3.  You can benefit a charitable cause!

Lots of local races support local causes. The Haven 8k helps the homeless to get housing, but so many other races benefit other important causes too. Last year I ran the Tinkerbell Half through Team AFSP and raised more than $1000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Find a local 5k that gives back to your community; there’s no better way to get your rush of endorphins this weekend. Help yourself and help others! For longer races, you can often gain entry to a sold out race by racing to benefit a charity too.

4.       You get a more intense workout that you otherwise would have.

Even if you’re already a weekend workout warrior, a race is an excellent way to push yourself. Most of my regular runs are done at a fairly casual pace. A race shows me what I’m actually capable of.

5.       Races are a great test of fitness and a great way to goal set.

Once you’ve got a race or two under your belt, it becomes really fun to try to beat your previous times. There is a magic in going faster than your body has ever gone before over a specific distance. Year to year, track your progress over the same course. Racing conditions can vary year to year with the weather, which adds another element of intrigue to the whole racing experience. I ran a race this year called the Frostbite 15k in a snowstorm; the year before, we all raced in the worst rain I’ve ever experienced. Most races won’t involve a deluge of rain or snow, but when it does happen, you feel very proud of yourself for having braved the elements and experience a unique camaraderie with other runners.


6.  You will have fun whether you go with friends or by yourself!

Even if you go to a race alone, you will end up making a bunch of great running friends! This fall, two men who were also out racing the same half marathon ended up collegially pacing me to a top three finish for women. The help from my new friends made that race and my good placing even more special. If you attend enough local races, you will end up seeing some familiar faces. Runners are a wonderfully welcoming community of people. Races also provide an opportunity to workout with your friends. Even if you don’t race side-by-side, you can still brunch together afterwards!

7.  You will almost inevitably run a new route.

A change of scenery is good for you. Sometimes I end up running the same old loops on the same days. Besides forcing me out of my comfort zone in terms of how fast I’m running, a race gives me an opportunity to explore new roads and routes.

8.  The actual process of race day is easier than you might think.

If possible (and it usually is), register online for the race ahead of time. Especially if you’re new to racing, give yourself a little extra time to get ready on race day morning. Plan on arriving an hour ahead of race start to give yourself adequate time to park, use the restroom, and pick up your registration packet. Your registration packet will most likely contain your bib number, which is the number you pin on the front of your shirt, and any other race goodies. With about 45 min. to start time, go for a short 12-15min. warmup. Stretch, and you’re ready to roll! Have fun and go fast!

Road races are a rewarding, fun, and an invigorating addition to the usual workout. With warmer weather upon us, you likely have lots of options coming up on the local race circuit. One of these would be a great place to start.


RLY Elite Team Feature: Holly Z.

At Runners Love Yoga, we want more runners to do yoga, but we also want more yogis to find running! Holly, a longtime yogi, ran her first half marathon this fall. Holly is a member of our RLY Elite Team as well as the Communications Manager for Project Yoga Richmond, which aims to bring yoga to the entire Richmond, Virginia community through outreach programs and pay-what-you-can classes.

She is a University of Virginia alumna--and she took my short course on the Global Short Story back in 2013! Wahoowa! Holly is also a creative and talented potter--you can often spot her making new pieces on her Instagram @hollyzajur. So much of the fun of both running and yoga is the sense of community you get from both--we're excited to feature Holly here as the first of our "meet the running yogis"!

Name: Holly Zajur

IG handle: @hollyzajur

Hometown/Current City: Richmond, VA

Favorite hobbies or things to do besides yoga and running: Ceramics, writing, coloring, and climbing trees!

What got you hooked on yoga? Any pivotal moments or experiences in particular?

Stepping onto my mat for the first time made me feel like I was dipping my toes into something that I could become fully submerged in. I remember that at the end of my very first class I was so entranced that when I came out of savasana, I was siting up facing the back wall, instead of the instructor! I unrolled my yoga mat for the first time in high school and in that time of teenage angst, yoga allowed me to connect with my true self, while recognizing that we are all a part of something else. It continues to teach me to this day.

 Holly in bakasana (crow pose), one of her go-to yoga poses.

Holly in bakasana (crow pose), one of her go-to yoga poses.

Do you have any go-to poses?

Bakasana always reminds me how to lift myself up and smile!

When and/or where do you like to practice yoga best?

I love an early morning practice. Just me, my mat, and the smell of coffee brewing. In that time, I am most able to show up for myself and slowly come alive.

A close second is in the sunshine under a tree after a run, those practices are always a little more playful and fun!

What is your favorite race distance and why? Alternatively: do you have a favorite race that you always do?

Honestly, I am pretty new to racing! I ran my first ever half marathon this fall, which I loved, but the running world is still pretty new to me!

Where is your favorite place to run and why?

My favorite place to run is Shelby Bottoms Park in East Nashville, TN because it was where I learned to love running. I moved to Nashville on a total whim, and towards the end, I knew it was time to go, but I did not know where or how to make my next move. I was feeling stuck, and all I could do was run. Running allowed me to take control and to explore, but it also provided a way for me to recognize my capacity to do anything. I always hated running before, so the fact that I was now doing it for fun and for long amounts of time really made me believe in myself.

What’s your favorite running workout?

Yikes, I think I need to find one!

Tell us about your most memorable long run.

My first half marathon was this fall right after the 2016 election and towards the end of training I was feeling discouraged both physically and emotionally, but running through the streets of Richmond, Va that crisp fall morning, I felt hope. Running and yoga are seen as an “individual” practices, but to me, that could not be further from true. From signs to live music, and SAG stops, the entire city was working towards a common goal, to support one another to the finish line. When you are running, at some point, a voice inside your head is going to want you to quit, but the people around you are what get you through the doubt at those long distances. Running that race demonstrated the ways your community can help you push through when you don’t believe in yourself and the beauty that happens when community comes together to support one another.

What season do you like running in best? Tell us why.

Spring. You get to your environment come to life through trees and their blooming leaves, and even in the smiles you see on the faces of people you pass on the streets. There is a sort of magic to start running outside and seeing the way everything, and everyone, slowly de-thaws and comes to life! Plus, springtime is when I first started running, so there is this special nostalgia to it.

Run and practice yoga to connect with your community like Holly, and check the RLY blog soon for additional features as we connect the running/yoga community online too!

All photos of Holly courtesy of J&D Photo (website, Facebook, Instagram).

Growing Your Vrksasana / Tree Pose

Whether you’re in a time crunch or just in need of a one-minute yoga break, look no further than tree pose. This is the perfect asana to sneakily do while brushing your teeth or taking a break at the water cooler. Most yoga poses reveal interesting complexities when broken down into their essential elements—tree pose is no exception. Upon first glance, vrksasana may appear relatively simple, but it’s also a pose that can really wake up your sense of balance. As I tell my students, some days you’ll find a bit more wind in your branches than others! Additionally, vrksasana can illuminate differences between the left and right side of your body which you otherwise may never have noticed.  

Spring is now upon us—the weather is warming, the trees are beginning to bloom, and the seeds of the May flowers are being sown. What better time to root your own body in a new variation of tree pose? Whether this is the first or hundredth vrksasana you’ve planted, here are a few tips and variations to make this your most solid tree yet. Read on for tips to ground your tree, and variations for your leg, arm, and gaze placement within the pose. Here we work from the roots up!


Start by shifting weight into one foot. Gently bend opposite knee, then pick this leg off the ground. Bring the sole of this foot to…

a. Anywhere on your lower shin (NOT on the knee). Notice if the knee of this leg is pointed more forward, and try to send it straight out to the side to help open up your hip. Concentrate on pressing the sole of your foot into your standing leg, but also gently pressing leg into sole of foot.

b. Anywhere on your upper thigh (again, not on the knee!). Just as before, try sending knee out to the side and concentrate on mutual pressure between sole of foot and standing leg.

c. Your opposite hip for half lotus. Only do this variation if you don’t have any knee issues or you know you’re comfortable in a seated half lotus. Wedge your heel towards your opposite hip bone, keeping the foot slightly flexed. Your knee of this leg should be able to remain pointed down towards the floor with leg fairly relaxed.



Once you’ve got your vrksasana roots planted, it’s time to grow your branches. The hands and arms present many opportunities for creativity in this pose.

a. Try bringing palms together into prayer. Let the thumbs rest lightly against your collarbone.

b. Grow your tree branches by extending palms to the sky and reaching through your fingers.

c. Bring palms behind your back for reverse prayer hands. Here, the pinky-side edges of palms are against the back. This is also a great stretch for the wrists.

d. Eagle arms. Take an eagle and throw it in your upper branches! Combine the arms for eagle pose with the legs of tree. Cross right elbow under your left, then (if possible) continue to wrap right palm around to connect with left. Here, press elbows gently away from you to get a nice stretch through the upper back, between the shoulder blades. Switch sides after a couple breaths; unwind your arms and wrap back up by sending left elbow under right, and wrapping left palm around to connect with right.


The gaze is a way to make your tree pose more progressively challenging.

a. Look down at a spot on the floor to help stabilize your tree. (Avoid looking at other windy trees!)

b. Send your gaze up.

c. Finally, perhaps close your eyes just for a breath or two.

Just like the many species of trees on Earth, you can create so many different variations of vrksasana by playing around with different options for your legs, arms, and gaze. Similarly, just like the natural trees change with the seasons, so too might your own tree pose. Remember that every day is different, and that “windy” days are fine when they happen.

In your next tree pose, feel the stability of your grounded foot. Let that base help you to be strong and grow tall through the rest of your pose. Breathe and enjoy being a tree!

5 Ways to Spice up Your Plank Pose

Holding a plank position may be a well-known and effective way to strengthen your core, but it doesn’t have to be as boring as you might think. Sure, a certain appeal exists to holding a plank for new length of time, and it’s hard to not feel strong when you’ve just held a plank for a minute longer than usual. (In college, I held my forearm plank for a personal record of 6:22. Before you get too impressed, my little brother regularly holds 30+ minute planks.) Whether you are trying planks for the first time or adding more time to your already stable plank, here are ideas to spice up this go-to core move.

I recommend doing planks on your forearms with hands clasped, rather than on your palms, as this helps take stress out of your shoulders and lets you concentrate more on your core. Be sure your bum is low and in line with your shoulders. Use a mirror or a friend to periodically check on your form.

1.  Leg lifts.

From your forearm plank, gently lift one leg then the other to “walk out” your legs. No need to lift your legs super high—even just a couple inches is very effective. Prioritize quality of movement. Repeat 10-20 times or for up to a minute.




2.  Dolphin plank.

In your forearm plank, inhale to send your nose over your clasped hands. Keep hips low. On your next exhale, send hips up and back, sink back and press through your heels, coming backwards into the starting plank position. Continue this motion of inhaling nose forward over hands, exhaling hips up and back to return to start. Notice that this is one plank where your hips do come up, rather than remaining in line with the rest of your body the entire time. Repeat for 5-10 rounds, or up to a minute.

3.  Dolphin plank with leg lift.

This is a more advanced variation of a regular dolphin plank. As you inhale forward, reach one leg high to the sky. As you exhale back, return your leg back to the plank position. With this leg lift, try extending leg as high as you can. Repeat 3-6 rounds per side, alternating legs. Be sure to use your breath to help you move.






4.  Ninja plank.

This plank is usually more accessible on your palms just since you’ll have more room to move your legs towards your arms.  Begin on your palms, being sure to keep good form with hips in line with the rest of your body. On an exhale, bring your right knee to gently tap your right elbow. Inhale to send leg back to starting position. Repeat on second side. Prioritize quality rather than speed of movement. Repeat for 10-15 rounds per side. This is a great “grande finale” to your plank series, but it also works well when integrated into the “plank on palms” segment of the series below. Enjoy!


5.       Combine your plank skills for a mini yoga flow!: begin in forearm plankà cycle: [sphinx pose --> forearm plank with hands unclasped --> plank on palms].

Plank, while a relatively simple exercise, offers plentiful options for introducing creativity into your ab and core routine. Once you are comfortable with dolphin plank, you can even add that to the concluding plank-based yoga flow described in number 5. Planks and other core moves are also a great add-on to the end of a cardio or strength workout. Next time you come in from a run, try one or all of these!


Practical Advice for Making Time to Workout

Where there’s a will, there is most definitely a way. No matter what your job, you can always carve out a little slice of time for yourself to exercise. Planning your workout ahead of time, no matter how short or long it may be, is half the battle of actually doing it. Leaving a workout up to chance allows excuses to creep in—“I’m too tired,” “I should really do X, Y, or Z instead”—while mapping it out dedicates a specific space and time to YOU, which is just as important for your long-term health and success as nearly anything else you could be doing then anyways.

Plan out your week in advance. Take 10 minutes whenever you have it, but preferably on the Sunday before the work week starts, to map out your workouts. Take a piece of printer paper, a page in a journal, or whatever you’ve got, and draw yourself a chart with a box for every day of the week. Know that this Thursday is going to be especially busy? This lets you work around that—move your longer workout to a different day. Commit to any fitness classes you want to attend before or after work, or write down which days you’ll head to the gym, track, studio, or trail. Be sure you’ve got a little variety in the intensity of your routine—i.e. don’t schedule your two longest runs of the week on back-to-back days. Have a rest day or active recovery day which includes easy cross-training. Put your weekly schedule in a special place where you can find it and see it.

Find what you love and mix it up! Be sure your workout is something you actually enjoy! Find an activity you truly love, whether this is a Zumba class, lifting weights on your own, or going for a walk during the lunch break. Also be sure to give each activity a chance! (Everyone out there who says they hate running has not run consistently for a long enough period of time—or they need orthotics or better running shoes!) Variety can prevent your routine from ever being monotonous, as can having a friend accompany you to the gym. Figure out what works for you—whether this is a balance of fitness classes and nature trails, a room full of fellow exercisers on spin bikes, or being peacefully alone on the track after a long day of work.

Make the most of your time. When constructing your weekly workouts, know when you’ll have bigger and smaller chunks of time available and make the most of these accordingly. Plan bigger workouts when you have more time, or plan on tacking on bonus core work on the day you know you don’t have to be home from the gym by a specific time. Alternatively, on your busier days, do what you need to do to still get a workout in—sometimes this might just be 15 minutes of yoga right when you wake up. Make your workouts a reward within your week. For example, if you know you especially dread Monday mornings, plan a Monday workout that you’ll really enjoy. If you are working with a somewhat unpredictable schedule, have a set of workouts from which to draw during the week—come up with a bodyweight or medicine ball circuit to do in your living room. Figure out what the limitations or strengths of your particular schedule are, and find a way to work around or with them.

Have a goal in mind. Know why you’re working out, whether you just want to lead a healthier lifestyle or are training for a specific half marathon in April. You don’t necessarily have to write this down, but know within your heart what you’re training towards.

Log your workouts. A training log can be a really satisfying tool! I love writing down my workouts—it almost feels like the act of writing them down is part of actually doing them, or makes them real. It is also very enjoyable to look back on a month’s worth (or more!) of workouts to see what you’ve accomplished! Make this fun. Use some cool pens or markers, and include as little or as much detail as you want. Buy a nice journal that you find writing in pleasant!

Life is too short to waste time! Plan your workouts so they can make you happier and healthier and enhance (and probably lengthen) your life. With a mindful and creative approach to your individual schedule, you may find that your jam-packed weeks actually allow for a good bit of exercise. Along the way, you may also find your newly planned workouts give you more energy and zest to handle the rest of your crazy non-workout day too.