Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Please Visit Our New "Om"

Thank you for reading!  After nearly three years, OmGal.com has a shiny, new hOMe.  No longer located on Blogger, we've created a clean, unique, and user-friendly design, just for you!  Please visit by retyping www.omgal.com into your browser or clicking here.  (Be sure to change your bookmark).    

I'd love to hear your feedback on the new site, and I am so grateful for your support.

Om Shanti,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Seated Yoga for Head of the Charles Athletes & The Rest of Us

In honor of the athletes who participated in the Head of the Charles Regatta this weekend, in Boston, I wanted to share a simple seated yoga sequence to relax tight shoulders, stretch the entire spine, and massage abdominal organs.  For those who didn't row (skull?) in the world's largest two-day rowing event, this short sequence is also very beneficial.  For one, it counterbalances computer hunch by improving posture and opening the upper back . . . Not that you ever slouch at your desk, right, OGs?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Advanced Backbending Series: Wheel to Handstand

You know I would bend over backwards for you, right, yogis?  Or, in this case, I'll show you how to bend over backwards.  The video, here, is an advanced sequence that I enjoy a lot, so I thought I'd share it.  Please note: it's important to be highly proficient at wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana) before attempting the first stage, which is simply to lift one leg and place your foot against a wall.  Over time, you'll transition into handstand, initially, with the help of a teacher or spotter.  For backbending tips of all levels, see 6 Tips for Safe Backbends.  

If there's a pose or sequence you'd like to see broken down on video (beginner or advanced), please post a comment.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Om Gal Gear: My Multi-Tasking Skirt-Scarf Thingy

Multi-tasking can be good, like meditating while the water boils for a pot of tea, reading on the elliptical machine at the gym, or emptying the dishwasher during a commercial break.  However, it can also be a terrible idea.  Texting while driving, answering your cell phone during yoga, or using your yoga class as a bendier, sweatier version of Match.com.

When it comes to clothing, I'm a believer that multi-tasking is great.  For instance, while studying abroad in college, I bought a piece of fabric in Kenya.  First, I hung it on the wall in my dorm room, then I wore it as a sarong.  Next, it became a tablecloth, and, finally, a scarf.  Snicker all you like about a gal who wants to wear a tablecloth around town, but I call it being "resourceful."  (Shhhh, if you're quiet you can almost hear the exasperated sigh of Om Mama).  

Fast forward a couple, a few, 10 years, and I am still pulling off (and putting on) the same creative dressing antics.  My latest inspiration is a skirt-scarf-thingy that I bought at lululemon a couple weeks ago.  Ever since, I've been incorporating it into my wardrobe on and off the mat.

It was an added layer of warmth, as a skirt, while climbing Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire.

Then, it came in handy as a disguise when I had to run from authorities.  Kidding . . . It was a useful hood to block the wind at the top of the mountain.

Naturally, it makes a nice scarf.

It also works as a vest, which Om Gal intern Megan thought was pretty nifty.  (She took this photo). 

For those who get chilly in sivasana (body temperature tends to drop during meditation), it's a cozy, light blanket.  

Or a meditation shawl.  

What do you think, OGs [om guys and gals]?  Which function is your favorite?  When is multi-tasking good?  When is bad, very bad?  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I've Been Shot During Yoga & KO'd on a Golf Course

Last week, I thought I was being shot at during a yoga class.  It’s embarrassing, but I can explain.

It was a special class featuring a live DJ, and my mat was positioned near the speakers.  While DJ Mantra was making some technical adjustments, something backfired or short-circuited, which caused a huge kaboom!  I swear it sounded like a gunshot.  From downward facing dog, I hit the deck and reflexively curled up in a ball, protecting my head.  Good instincts, right?  Except for one crucial fact: I WAS IN A YOGA CLASS.  Not a war zone.  Not on a hunting trip.  Not stranded in a back alley in gang territory.  Not, even, visiting a movie set where gunfire is simulated.  A yoga studio: where the most violent crimes against humanity include leaving your cell phone on and flatulence.  

My dear friend, Chanel Luck, who was teaching class, found the whole scene highly entertaining (who could blame her?), but, although ridiculous, she'd probably tell you it wasn't totally out of character to those who know me best.  In other words, I'm great at making a fool of myself.  It's not a frequent occurrence, per say, but when I humiliate myself, I do a really thorough job, especially in athletic settings.  

There was the time, as a teen, when I got stuck in a rowing machine while admiring a cute boy at the gym.  My T-shirt snagged under the seat, rendering me trapped, and the gym staff had to use scissors to cut me free.  The back of the shirt had a giant chunk missing afterward, so I told people I'd been attacked by a shark.  

More recently, I nearly knocked myself unconscious while golfing with Om Bro, my Dad, and my then new beau.  We'd just teed off in a friendly tournament, when I hustled back to the cart.  Unfortunately, the roof of the cart was precisely my height, so I slammed my head full-force into the cart, falling flat on my back (thank goodness for the semi soft landing of a manicured green).  My Dad and beau were stunned in silence.  From the ground, in my KO'd state, I could only hear my brother, exasperated and more than a little amused, "Rebecca, are you serious?"  

Yes, I am serious.  A serious klutz.  A serious hazard to myself, even in sports and activities with as little contact as yoga, indoor rowing, and golf.  Sad, isn't it?  So, now that I've shared some of my more colorful, more embarrassing moments with you, it's your turn, om guys and gals.

Tell me about your most embarrassing yoga or athletic moment.  I have a feeling there will be a lot of anonymous comments on this one . . .

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Columbus Day: 6 Pioneers Who Changed the Yoga World

The following is a list of people whom I'd call the great pioneers of modern yoga-- teachers who changed the shape of the yoga world, from a "flat" existence in one corner of the map, to a rounded, global experience by countless cultures and people. 

6 Pioneers of Modern Yoga

Patanjali (150 B.C.E.): Like Christopher Columbus, Patanjali is sometimes credited with "discovering" yoga; however, the truth is that people had already been practicing yoga for centuries before he collated the sacred teachings into an organized text called The Yoga Sutras.

Krishnamacharya (1880): Krishnamacharya believed yoga to be "India's greatest gift to the world," and through his teaching and, later, his disciples (Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar among them), he further developed the practice and disseminated it to a larger audience.

Paramahasna Yogananda (1893): Author of the book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda moved to the United States in 1920 and is thereby credited with being the first Hindu teacher to make his permanent home in America. Yogananda had a brother who was also an influential yoga teacher and the guru of Bikram Chouhury, a popular and polarizing figure within the yoga community today and the first to franchise a style of yoga practice.

Pattabhi Jois (1915): The late Pattabhi Jois was one of Krishnamarycha's most recognized students. The creator of ashtanga yoga, Jois was the first yogi to accept Westerners as students at his ashram in southern India. Some of these students included Norman Allen, Sharon Gannon and David Life, of Jivamukti Yoga, Doug and David Swenson, Tias Little, and many others.

Maharishi Mahesh (1918): Perhaps best known for his mentorship of The Beatles and other celebrities in the 1960s, the Maharishi was the most visible yogi to travel and teach outside of India in his day.

B.K.S. Iyengar (1918): Like Jois, Iyengar is also part of Krishnamarycha's lineage. The living legend turns 92 in December. His books are among the most influential, accessible, and articulate yoga resources on the market. He trained several of modern yoga's top teachers including Boston's Patricia Walden.

For A Guide to Different Styles of Yoga, click here.

Quote: John Lennon

We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant.  You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself.  You've got to keep watering it.  You've got to really look after it and nurture it.
-John Lennon (former Beatle, who would have been 70 today).

Night blooming cyrus, a rare blossom, nurtured by Om Mama all year.  It blooms once annually, at night, for just a few fragrant hours.     

Friday, October 8, 2010

Step on a Crack; Don't Break a Yogi's Back: 6 Tips for Safe Backbends

Safe backbends keep the spine supple, heart open, and core strong, among many other benefits.  When done correctly, these poses energize and detoxify the body, leaving yogis feeling cleansed and revitalized—no master cleansing required.  Whereas a forward bend is calming and introspective, a backbend is opening and awakening.  Last weekend, I held a workshop that focused specifically on backbends, called: Fall Head Over Heels.  

On the heels of the workshop (sorry, you know I'm a sucker for a good pun), I've been answering a lot of questions regarding backbends, such as upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), shown above, bow (dhanurasana), camel (ustrasana), wheel (urdhva dhanurasana), and more advanced variations, including transitions from wheel into camel, drop-backs, and more.  To help make your poses more accessible, safe, and advanced, I've compiled some key backbending tips to keep in mind.
  • Solid foundation: Every asana must begin with a steady and relaxed foundation.  In upward dog (shown above), my ankles and feet are relaxed, while my thighs are squeezing and lifting, helping to alleviate any pressure in my low spine.  My hands, too, should be well-aligned (shoulder-width distance apart) and rooting strongly into the earth.  My right hand, for example, should be flatter to the ground, here.  (Shame on me).    
  • Strong legs: After intense backbending, I tell yogis that, if anything, their legs should be sore, as opposed to their backs.  Before I reach backward in the pose below, my legs must be wide awake.  The front thigh is driving forward, while the back leg is, again, squeezing and lifting.  

  • Tucked tailbone: This is very important for the safety of your lower back.  Tucking your tailbone helps lift and lengthen the spine upward before it bends back.  
  • Supportive core: Think of your core as a supportive, broad belt (like the type worn by UPS workers or body builders).  Its job is to protect your spine.  The abdominal work often incorporated into yoga classes today helps to support poses such as backbends, along with inversions, in particular.     
  • Relaxed shoulders: My male students, especially, are sometimes perplexed by backbends.  They know they're strong enough to do them but often struggle with accessing poses such as wheel or king dancer (below).  The magic ingredient for these backbends is space and flexibility in the shoulders.  More muscles in your upper back and shoulders (likely found in om guys, buff gals, swimmers, and others) leads to less flexibility.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing (be proud of your strength!); however, it will hinder some of your backbends.  Aim to open the shoulders before attempting deep backbends, and in any backbend, focus on dropping your shoulders down.  This will also create space and safety for your neck . . .  

  • Safe cervical spine: Keeping your spine safe during backbends is the utmost priority.  For this reason, the tailbone tucks, the mid-spine lifts, the shoulders drop, and the neck remains long.  It can be tempting to crank your head back in upward dog or wheel, for example, but this doesn't provide any discernible benefit to the pose.  Over time, it can hurt your all-important neck.  In most cases, try aiming your eyes/gaze (known as drishti) straight ahead, rather than overly up or down.

Focus on these tips and you'll be able to open your heart and energize for the weekend ahead and beyond.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Style Saturday: I Heart Hats

A few years ago, after working late at a magazine in Boston, I hovered in the doorway of my boss's office to say good night.  Unfortunately, I scared the crap out of her.

"Jesus Christ!" she gasped.  "You look like broccoli."

She had a point.  I was wearing this hat.

It's come to my attention, recently, that I have a thing for hats.  Along with broccoli hats, I am fond of:

Boyish hats . . .

Bohemian hats . . .

The flower is real, a gardenia from Om Mama. 

Championship hats . . .

I went home and cried after this photo was taken.  It was my first official night of Boston Marathon training: 9 miles, up Heartbreak Hill to Kenmore Square, in sub-zero temperatures, and I knew it was only going to get worse.  My hair was partially frozen beneath my 2004 Sox hat.

En route to the gym. 

While not wearing a Patriots hat, per say (of course I need to represent all 3 of my teams), this photo was taken at Gillette Stadium with my marathon training partner, Cara, in October 2009.  Yes, really . . . October, and yes, that's snow.

Fedora hats . . .

On Vinita (left), Livity.  Me: Billabong.

And, the newest addition: Ear-flappy hats . . .

Purchased at the first Ibex store, Newbury Street, Boston.

I'm not sure why I dig hats so much.  It might be an unhealthy obsession, or a creative form of self-expression.  (Thoughts, om guys and gals?)  For now, I'll chalk it up to a harmless vice to protect me from the elements this fall and winter.  Hats off to October & happy weekend, all!

Friday, October 1, 2010

We All Want Only One Thing in Life: Happiness

People who inspire me tend to illustrate how similar we all are, rather than how different.  They reveal what is most special inside each one of us, instead of insisting that they are more special than the rest.  They are leaders who unite, rather than divide.  Teachers who speak with integrity, as opposed to ego.  Spiritual guides with grace, and without grandiosity  Friends, relatives, and neighbors who do selfless, substantial, soul-strengthening things when no one is looking, all day long, just because . . .

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai, for example, will often tell audiences that we are all the same.  We fundamentally want only one thing in life: To be happy.  In the video below, taken last year when he was in Boston, the Dalai Lama explains that our best chance for being happy is by, first, being present.  He offers that by continually distracting and overstimulating our senses (with TV, music, etc.), we run the risk of being dependent on these experiences and sad when we do not have them.  This leaves us feeling "lonely" and "uncomfortable," he says.    

So, today, I'd like to turn it over to you, readers . . . What makes you happy to the fully present core of your being?  Let's enumerate all the ways, large and small, triumphant and trivial, in which we feel grounded, joyful, creative, supported, and calm.  Happy Friday!