Monthly Archives: October 2014

Discover #27 ways yoga improves your life: Strength and Focus


According to NPR, an estimated 20 million people practice yoga in the U.S. Featured on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2012 on was William Broad, a New York Times award-winning author and writer of the book, The Science of Yoga. Broad’s book has done a lot to push yoga even further into the American limelight in recent years, as it takes a Western approach to analyzing the risks and rewards of yoga. Some say Broad’s book is controversial for his exaggerated descriptions of various yoga masters, his criticisms of the yoga instructor certification process, his outright discussion of the potential dangers of yoga. Because of this I am debating reading the book, but I might pick it up for another reason: Broad synthesizes and discusses of the scientific benefits of yoga. He says that yoga can improve your focus and strength, stating “the benefits start to accrue… It’s like putting a little bit of money in the bank every day or every month. The payoff comes as these things start to multiply.”

I think he’s right. And so do a lot of other people that have been practicing yoga for over five thousand years. Broad is just another person doing what master yoga teachers like Shiva Rea, Maty Ezrati, Chuck Miller, Particia Walden, John Friend, and Rod Stryker have been doing since the 60s and 70s: trying to make yoga accessible to the masses here in the U.S.

Focus on Strength

Simply practicing for 30-60 minutes a day for one week, I am beginning to feel stronger and more stable in my yoga. Most yoga poses focus on body alignment, and help increase blood flow throughout the body. Poses that focus on balance or abdominal tension can help strengthen not only the core, but the entire body. Not only does yoga increase body strength in a well-rounded way, it increases body awareness as well. And the benefits of increased strength include everything from more energy to decreased risk of arthritis! One study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that just 75 minutes of yoga up to three times a week can help to significantly decrease the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Focus on Breathing

Yoga is more than just strength-training though, and because it is slow and controlled, it takes a lot of focus. You have to focus on the things we normally ignore about our bodies: breathing, alignment, balance, and tension. In yoga one of the ultimate goals is to maintain a focused, steady breathing rhythm known as ujjayi breath, but to do it in a natural way, not forced. It takes a lot of concentration and at first there were quite a few poses I couldn’t do without maintaining ujjayi breath. One week later and I can already “breathe through” some poses that caused me trouble a few days ago, but there are still many more that cause me to fall out of my steady breathing. This is the ongoing challenge that is being and doing yoga, and it requires much focus and patience. Even when you master a pose, it can become a challenge again if you attempt to hold it for longer periods. Master yogis are often able to comfortably hold poses for hours at a time!


But for now, when I’m not doing a yoga vinyasa (set sequence/flow of poses), I’ll just focus on maintaining my breathing with correct posture for 5 inhales and exhales. Even if you don’t know any routines, you can hold the yoga poses you know and focus on holding them for at least 5 full ujjayi breaths. For those of you who are not familiar with ujjayi breathing, here are the basics from

  • In any position, breathe through the nose and allow the breath to become calm and even.
  • Gently contract the epiglottis until you hear a soft hissing sound on the inhale and exhale. The action is similar to what you would do to fog a mirror, except the mouth is kept closed. Basically, you’ll sound like Darth Vader as you breathe.
  • Keep neck muscles, mouth and tongue relaxed.

Alanna Kaivalya

Focus on Balance

Drishti is the sanskrit word loosely translated to area of focus, or place to look. Drishti can offer many benefits including its balancing effect. If you’re relatively new to yoga like me, you might have tried to hold tree pose for 30 seconds only to fall out of it every 5. Yoga teaches you that this is okay; you simply and without judgment get back into position, but drishti can offer you more stability to remain in poses longer. Most instructors will tell you to focus your eyes gently downward at a point near the top of the yoga mat, or about 5 feet in front of you because this has a relaxing effect, but you can focus wherever you like really. When I’m doing either a particularly challenging or boring posture I find that my gaze wanders in an unconscious attempt to dissociate or take myself out of my body. According to Ali Washington – author of The Perception Diet:

What you are doing when you start to incorporate drishti into all of your postures, those that are old and familiar as well as those that are new, is training your mind to stay with the present moment. You are teaching yourself how to stick with experiences as they are happening even when they are slightly (or more than slightly) unpleasant. This builds up your ability to do this in life. The gift of focused, present attention in every day life is invaluable in problem solving, communication, and general living. By training your mind to stay with your practice, you will be training your mind to stay with your life. This is direct mindfulness training built straight into asana [asana means yoga poses].

Ali Washington

This ability to stay calm and focused, breathing through difficult postures and keeping my drishti gaze fixed, is very important to someone like me who tends to become overwhelmed by stressful situations. Often when I find myself stressed I will flit around, multitasking inefficiently until I eventually get through it gritting my teeth or break down emotionally. During these times I have been able to draw on my yoga practice for assistance. Even when I don’t have time to do yoga I can still breath, and I can still focus my attention mindfully.

Drishti in yoga means a place of focus for your eyes, but the philosophy of drishti encompasses much more. In our daily life drishti is like our point of view or our vision. Having a clear vision for my life, where I want to go and who I want to be is the first step in creating drishti in my life. This is where I am generally lacking in life, even though I know I am wealthy in many other regards. As you know if you read my “About” Page, my ongoing journey this year has been to discover what I truly want to do with my life, and so this couldn’t apply more. I want to continue working to apply drishti to my everyday life.


Focus on Attention

A Portland-bases Yoga nonprofit organization known as Yoga Calm has been offering opportunities for teachers, counselors, and parents to integrate yoga into their children’s daily routine. Since 2002 they have been offering research-supported yoga-based movement and breathing, social/emotional games, relaxation activities and storytelling for the classroom setting. This especially interests me as a teacher at a school where many of the students have issues with attention and concentration. Many of my students suffer from ADHD, anxiety disorders, and emotional issues, and I think yoga could have a tremendous impact on their ability to learn and take in information. I have already learned that one of my students with ADHD is much more receptive and retains more information when he is engaged in something else simultaneous to our lesson. You wouldn’t think that going for a walk, playing catch, or even playing a computer game WHILE teaching would be beneficial for him, but it is. I can already see the ways yoga could help each and every one of my students, the problem is making time for it!


One of the coolest things is that evidence for yoga in schools is coming from right here in our own backyard. Research conducted in Minneapolis Public Schools says that programs like Yoga Calm that integrate yoga into the regular school day have had the following benefits:

  • Boost in attendance rates
  • Increase time on task – specifically reading time
  • Decrease behavioral referrals and thereby time out of the classroom
  • Improve feelings of community – #1 predictor of High School graduation (Search Institute)
  • Improve auditory comprehension in students
  • Ability to transition between classes more effectively
  • More quickly exhibit on task behavior
  • Improve ability to demonstrate reflection in writing
  • Lower classroom volume by 21db leading to less teacher redirection
  • Improve direction following, imitation, and choice making in early childhood after calming activities
  • 100% awareness in students on how to self-calm in 4th Grade classroom

Action Based Research, MPLS Public Schools, 2007

Here is some other research that has found positive benefits to yoga.

These links were found at

#6: Visit 6 New Places: Hinterland Vineyards

Visit #6 New Places

Back in September Remy and I took a restful and rejuvenating weekend trip to…

Willmar, MN.

Believe it or not, we went there on purpose. Our impetus for this mini-vacations was a Groupon for a wine tasting and vineyard tour at Hinterland Vineyards. I was caught by surprise by Remy’s purchase and excitement, because the only time I’ve ever been to Willmar was for gymnastics camp in 7th grade. But it was a nice small town with quite a bit to do.

Our first night in town we had a blast at the vineyard and even got to meet the owners, who came out at the end of the night and drank with us around the fire. They weren’t much older than us, which got us excited about our own potential to own our own business.


After getting our second tasting pour, and our FREE BOTTLE OF WINE!, we stepped outside the bar/bottling room into the beautiful vineyard. The weather was just perfect for a stroll through the vines, which were literally sagging under the weight of all those luscious grapes. I tried one and was surprised to find out that wine grapes are sweet and delicious to eat on their own!

I learned that the University of Minnesota started a breeding program for cold-hardy grapes in the 1980s, and that today there are at least 6 varieties of grapes that can be grown for wine here in Minnesota! Frontenac is the most popular breed here, and also the variety they grow at Hinterland Vineyards. For more about cold-hardy grapes, visit the University of Minnesota Grapes Website: 


We also got to keep our wine glasses with the Hinterland Vineyard logo! We would definitely recommend this place! The owners really make it worth the trip, and they also serve some great food out of a food truck behind the building!


The visit dissolved all our stress for the week, and the wine put us into a great frame of mind! It was a great trip overall! We also got a chance to go go-carting and mini-golfing and walk our dogs around the lake during our time in Willmar. If you go to Willmar check out Hinterland Vineyards for sure, and for a little adventure try the Big Kahuna Fun Park in nearby Spicer!

#23: Yoga every day for a week…

This week I did yoga every day for 7 days!Yoga_Silhouettes

I’m not completely new to yoga, but neither do I have anywhere near a “regular practice”… so this week I decided to give myself a “yoga kickstart” so to speak. Before this week I’ve taken a total of 4-5 yoga classes in the last 5 years and I’ve done some sun salutations from a yoga book Remy has. I may know my way around a yoga mat a little bit, but I know very few poses and only one sequence. I love the idea of yoga and I’ve always wanted to learn more, so this week I did yoga and learned about yoga each and every day. One week of yoga has already increased my confidence, decreased my anxiety, and inspired me to do more yoga!

It was definitely a new PHYSICAL experience for me! I went to two classes and did the other 5 days at home. I loved the classes, but they can’t always be worked into my schedule, and they cost money. Luckily the studio two blocks from my house offers a number of donation yoga classes where you can pay what you can. I also used the Daily Burn yoga workout for an hour 2 of the days. Both of those 60 minute sessions were estimated to burn around 300 calories! The other three days I only did yoga for 15-30 minutes, and even these short sessions left me feeling better afterward.

Most people this of yoga as passive stretching, something to do to warm up for exercise, but it is so much more than that! Yoga can BE exercise, as well as stress relief. Yoga is exercise because it takes an incredible amount of balance and muscle tension to hold yoga poses with correct posture. Some poses also require an intense amount of balance!



(Cannot do this… yet 😉

The other way yoga is more than just stretching involves the breathing. Yoga sequences are best paired with careful and deep breathing, from low in the belly; much like you do when you relax! Imagine doing something psychically challenging while still trying to keep your breath steady and you’ll begin to understand the true practice of yoga.

The practice of yoga is not religious, but it CAN be spiritual, if you want it to. Many yoga studios in the U.S. have removed most or all of the spirituality so that people of all religions and backgrounds can feel comfortable attending. Yoga was rejected for many years in the U.S. because people saw it as religious and “weird,” but recent research has done a lot to promote yoga for everybody! Even the American Osteopathic Association is on board, stating:

“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins, a board-certified osteopathic family physician and certified Kundalini Yoga instructor. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.”

According to Dr. Nevins, other physical benefits include:

  • Increased flexibility

  • Increased muscle strength and tone

  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality

  • The maintenance of a balanced metabolism

  • Weight reduction

  • Cardio and circulatory health

  • Improved athletic performance

  • Protection from injury

Aside from the array of physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which has been known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”

The Huffington Post article on yoga quotes some heavy hitters in the world of research, including Harvard University, University of Oslo, Norway, and University of Washington. According to these and others, yoga can boost your immunity and sexual performance, ease your migraines, help you sleep better, and fight your food cravings, but you’ll never know if it’s true until you try!

As you can tell, my week of yoga has also inspired my desire to learn about it! I’ll leave it at saying I feel great, and I already feel my body becoming more flexible and steady after one week! Who knows what a few more weeks will do! My next post about yoga will sure to include more of what I’ve learned! Look for my next post later this week!


Do you do yoga? Do you hate yoga with a fiery passion? What benefits or downsides do you see to it? Post questions or comments below!

#21: Amazing Thailand

Try 21 New Restaurants:
Amazing Thailand

Yesterday Remy, Remy’s mom and I went to Amazing Thailand in Uptown, Minneapolis.

amazingthailand2The decorations were both very lavish and very Thai! I felt like I was in Thailand inside that restaurant – and there was so much to look at. 


Our food came in no time and was D-E-licious! Remy and I shared spring rolls, the Amazing Curry with tofu, and the Spicy noodles. The Amazing Curry was good but very peanut-forward. My favorite dish was the spicy noodles! It was so cool: large, flat noodles covered in a tasty nose-running sauce and tons of vegetarbles on top! I wish I had taken a pic, but here’s one of us instead!

photo (1)

I give this restaurant 5 out of 5 stars! Their vegan menu was pretty fantastic, but they had plenty to please most meat-and-potatoes Minnesotans too!



#2: Take 2 Classes: Bollywood

Bollywood Dance 

Three weeks ago I signed up for Bollywood Dance Class, and finally last week we had our first class!


Bollywood is one of the largest film producers in India, and one of the largest centers of film production anywhere in the world. Bollywood is a play on words combining Bombay and Hollywood. Often mistakenly understood to encompass the whole of Indian cinema, Bollywood is only a part of India’s large and thriving film industry. Nevertheless, Bollywood is sure the most popular form of Indian cinema in the U.S. Most people have heard of or seen the over-the-top, emotion-conveying dances that characterize  Bollywood dance. Even “So You Think You Can Dance?” features Bollywood fusion dance every now and again.

So where does Bollywood Dance Come From?

Bollywood style dance is a fusion of many different influences, old and new. Dances vary greatly but are tied together through their representation of Indian culture. Bollywood dance includes elements from ancient Sanskrit dramas, regional Indian folk theatre,  Parsi theatre, Hollywood musicals, and western television like MTV.

I have always been drawn to the fast pace and expressiveness of Bollywood dance. So when I ran down the list of Minneapolis Community Education dance classes  and saw Bollywood there among the fray – I knew I had to take it! My teacher Mystic Siren, photographed below, was an excellent coach for beginners.


Having only taken one dance class before ever, and finding myself way behind the class when it came to learning choreography, I was excited to take a class for beginners. Everyone was on the same level and grateful when the footwork started real slow. I was able the master the steps in half time before she picked up the pace. For the first class we just learned some basic steps and hand gestures, but I had a great time. If you want to get a glimpse of Bollywood Dance, check out this music video for the song Chammak Challo from the movie Ra One. I have’t seen the movie but I love the song – and you might find the singers voice familiar, because it’s Akon!

I can’t wait to keep learning, and luckily I have 8 more weeks to soak it all in! Wish me luck!