Five Ways to Have a Better Day

With my recent travel mishap, I’ve been thinking about moods and emotions and the power we have over them. I must say, I have the ability to become gruuuuumpy.  Nine times out of ten it’s because I’m hungry or tired and once I realized this correlation, I was amazed at how easily I could control my mood for the better.  It’s like once I recognized the problem, I was able to address the effects of it even if I couldn’t immediately solve it. Admittedly, some days I have no idea what the problem is. I wake up and wish I were still sleeping. It could be attributed to something in my work life or maybe my student loan bill is due or maybe my personal relationships are troubling me, but whatever it is, an easy solution isn’t always present and I just want to lie under the covers for a few more hours.  Ultimately that makes me feel even worse.  Ignoring the day is no way to go about creating a happy life. It’s important to check in with yourself, acknowledge your pitfalls, but ultimately to shake them off, get out of bed, and get on with your day.  Easier said than done, right? I hoping these five ways to have a better day will have you up and at ‘em before you remember what’s troubling you.

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Take a moment and a mantra – Take a few deep breaths. I’m talking deep, belly breathing, breaths. Choose a mantra for the day and remember to talk to yourself like you would someone you love. If your bestie was having a rough day, what would you say to him or her? Decide on a few wise words or a mini goal for instance: I am compassionate, I will use my actions to help others feel loved today, or whatever you think you need to hear and repeat that three times. I try to think of whatever I’m dreading for the day, maybe it’s completing a project or a deadline, and gear my mantra towards that goal: I’m creative and productive. My work is valuable and appreciated. Whatever you need to hear, say it to yourself, don’t wait for someone else to acknowledge your struggle or congratulate your triumphs.

Call an amigo – Even though I’m not really a phone person, talking to a friend or family member helps immensely.  Sometimes we all fall into a funk and we need a familiar voice to pick us up a little bit. It’s okay to reach out when you’re feeling stuck, chances are the person on the other end of the line has been there or is dealing with something else at that very moment.  You could be doing them more good than you know.

Spend five minutes enjoying nature – It is proven that a few minutes outside will improve your mood. Don’t wait until lunchtime to sneak a moment in the sunshine, go outside right now.  Spend five minutes taking in your surroundings.  Listen for birds, insects and frogs.  Notice the trees that you see.  Can you name any of them? Acknowledge the growth and decay all around you and appreciate both. Enjoy the absolute absurdity that is life on earth.

Drink Michael’s Secret Stuff – Drink a big glass of water, tea, coffee, kombucha, fruit juice, whatever is your favorite go to beverage, gulp it up.  Offer your body a bit of hydration to kick start your day. Water has the amazing ability to improve your mentality and energy levels.  If you’re fueled up, you’ll certainly function better so start with a big glass of h2o. Oh and if you didn’t get the Space Jam reference you need to reevaluate your life and re-watch the movie 😉

Work up a sweat – Get the blood flowing. Even if you start your morning with one sun salutation, your body will thank you. Stretching and sweating releases endorphins, which in turn improve your mood. When we’re feeling bummed, the last thing we want to do is go to the gym, but you don’t even have to take it that far. Simply lie down and do thirty crunches or hold a plank for thirty seconds.  After that try twenty lunges or squats, there is no way you’ll regret slipping in a few seconds of exercise and who knows, it may turn into an hour of sweating and stretching.

If that’s not enough, here’s a valid excuse to watch cat videos, which will definitely cheer you up!

Image by the loveliest lady
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Bedtime Stretches To Relieve Lower Back Pain

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

liveseasoned_sp15_BedtimeBackYoga-19 Ohhhh lower back pain and pressure. How many times have I groaned, moaned and cursed at you?  In fact, here I sit, back throbbing and hips aching, worrying about my future.  I have to admit, I don’t stretch or do yoga each day like I should and it’s evident in the way I feel when I lay down at night.  While these eight bedtime stretches are not a cure for lower back pain they help sooo much! Instant relief.  My tightly, tangled ball of rubberbandy back muscles relax into alignment and allow some comfort before bed. If you’re in the same back pressure out your ass predicament, go stretch out!

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Become a Woods Warrior

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

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Become a woods warrior.  Nope, not the kind that wields a sword, instead the kind that smiles peacefully and stretches deeply.  Warrior pose is also known as Virabhadrasana (vira=hero, bhadra=gentle, asana=pose).  You can be a warrior anywhere, but I believe the woods to be the calmest and most inspiring space for these stretches.  There’s nothing like holding warrior one while you gaze up at your fingertips and see the tops of tall trees swaying in the wind.  You have the overwhelming sense of feeling grounded yet flexible like those limbs.  Then comes warrior two where you can pause and gaze miles past your fingertips.  The forest gives you ample spaces for exalted (reverse) warrior so you can stretch and lengthen until you’re as limber as the trees that surround you.  I love looking down at my environment in warrior three.  It gives me time to take in the dry leaves and tiny bugs as I breathe, balance, lengthen and stretch with all I’ve got.

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After recently completing a month-long yoga challenge, I was a little bored with the warrior poses.  I was eager to move on to harder, more intriguing postures, but I realized that isn’t the yogi way.  It’s important to be present with each pose, no matter how many times you’ve practiced.  The more you appreciate the present, the more space you create for improvement and appreciation.  Of course, the same is true with life.  The more we focus on the task at hand, the more we come to contribute, improve, appreciate and love what we’re doing.  So even if you’ve practiced warrior one, two, and three a thousand times, try them all again and appreciate their presence in your life and your ability to stretch and strengthen your body.

A few tips:

  • Wear stretchy pants or shorts so you can practice your fullest expression of each pose.
  • Pick a relatively flat and non-slip surface.
  • Move into each pose slowly and with intention.  Think about each part of your body in order to achieve the proper alignment.
  • Breathe deeply and evenly through your nose.  If the pose seems tough, focus on your breath.
  • Try each pose for a couple breaths and then go back and hold them longer if you’d like.
  • My form isn’t perfect so don’t just peep at the pics – read through each warrior before practicing.

 

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Warrior One

  • Stand up straight with your feet together, arms down by your sides, and palms facing forward.  Inhale and as you exhale, step your right foot forward about 4 feet.  Reach your arms upwards (perpendicular to the floor) as you rotate your palms to face each other and actively reach through your fingertips towards the sky.  Breathe as you roll your shoulders down and back into their sockets.
  • As you inhale, make sure your heels are aligned and turn your back foot (left) out 45-65 degrees to the left (anywhere from 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock). Exhale and rotate your hips and torso to face forward while grounding into your back leg.  You’ll probably have to pull your left hip forward and your right hip back.  Try to square your pelvis as much as possible, this is difficult (especially if you have tight hips like myself) and won’t happen overnight. I like to bring my arms down for a moment, touch both my hips and direct them towards the front of my invisible mat.
  • Keep your back foot firmly planted and as you exhale, bend your right knee over the right angle so the shin is perpendicular to the floor and your thigh is as close to parallel as possible.  You may have to scoot your front foot forward a little bit if your knee is tracking over the front of your ankle (you never want that to happen). Your back leg should be straight and your heel should be touching the ground.
  • Anchor yourself firmly with both legs, even though your front leg is probably burning a little more, your weight should feel equally grounded.  Inhale as you reach towards the sky, look up at your fingertips and those beautiful trees and reach some more.  There can be a slight bend in your back.  You can also bring your palms together overhead and spread your fingers if you’d like.
  • Relax into warrior one with strength, breathing deeply for thirty seconds to a minute.  To release, straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

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Warrior Two

  • Starting from warrior one (with your right foot forward), rotate your left arm back and your front arm forward so they create a straight line (parallel to the ground).  Keep a tall spine and feel strength radiating from your core.  At the same time rotate your hips and your back toes outward.  Your shoulders should be stacked directly over your hips and your left toes should be pointed towards the left side of your invisible mat (perpendicular to your right toes) .  The heel of your front foot should line up with the arch of your back foot.
  • Sink lower into your lunge and exhale while relaxing your shoulders.  Just like in warrior one, the weight should be distributed evenly in your legs, which means the outer edge of your back leg is pressing firmly into the ground.
  • Even though you’re actively reaching forward and backwards with your arms, they should be slightly relaxed not rigid.  I like to imagine a string tied to each middle finger, knowing I could sway my abdomen forward and backward if someone came along and pulled either string.
  • When you’re properly aligned, look out over the edges of your front fingertips.  Keep your gaze soft and your face relaxed.  Hold the pose for thirty seconds to a minute all the while breathing deeply. To release, rotate the arms upwards and the back toe and hips forward to return to warrior one and then straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

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Exalted or Reverse Warrior

  • Starting in warrior two, simply rotate the front palm towards the sky and slide the back palm gentle down your back thigh.  Inhale the front arm towards the sky, reaching and lengthening the front side of your body while your back hand extends lower on your thigh and eventually calf.  You don’t want to put any weight on your back hand, instead use your abdominal muscles and right hand to lengthen and raise your heart towards the sky.  Gently gaze up at your fingertips while keeping your neck relaxed.
  • Deepen the lunge in your front leg and breathe deeply for up to thirty seconds.  To exit, return to warrior two, warrior one and then straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.
  • *If you’d like to go into a half bind in reverse warrior, bring your lower hand around your back and place your fingertips in your front hip crease.  Make sure you keep a deep lunge and your upper body uplifted.

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Warrior Three

  • Starting from warrior one, simply (ok nothing is simple about this pose) tilt your upper body forward about 45 degrees and simultaneously straighten your front leg while you gently push forward and lift your back leg.  The goal is to look like the letter T.  Your hips should be squared towards the ground.  Stretch your arms forward so they’re parallel to the ground while you flex your back foot and push backward.  I like to imagine a wall directly behind me that I’m pushing against with my heal.  You don’t want your shoulders to sink below your hips so engage your core muscles and lengthen your arms while you gaze at the ground.  Hold this for up to thirty seconds, which is a major challenge, and gently release back into warrior one. To release, straighten the front leg while bringing the back leg forward to meet at the front of your invisible mat.

 

Now you’re well versed with warrior and equipped to take your calming strength out into the woods.  I hope you enjoyed a magnified look at these important postures.  I’m sure you’ll find yourself in one, if not all four, of these poses during any vinyasa class.  And remember that everyone’s body looks and works differently even though we’re all made up of the same parts, which means everyone’s warriors will differ slightly.  Embrace yours, whatever it may look like today and leave it in the woods when you’re finished.  It may look different tomorrow, embrace that too!

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Lower Body Woods Workout

Want more yoga and exercise? Become a woods warrior, try this lower body workout, then end the day with bedtime stretches that relieve lower back pain. Check out my 200hour yoga teacher training experience and read about the school I attended here.

live seasoned lower body woods workout-1 copy            Growing up, I’ve always been involved in some type of activity, whether it was playing tag with my neighbors, going backpacking with my father or running around on the soccer field.  Because of this, my legs have always been the biggest part of my body and I admit, I used to feel a little insecure about it.  Struggling to squeeze into skirts and skinny jeans that my friends easily slipped on with their cute little bird legs and knobby knees.  Now that I’ve grown up a little bit and realized that Barbies and models are far from average, I love my muscular legs.  Are they proportionate to the rest of my body? Sometimes no, but it’s cool, thunder thighs are where it’s at.  They take me everywhere I need to go, even if it’s twenty miles from point A to B, I know they’ll carry me.  Climbing up a volcano? Yep, they were there. Walking three miles home from class carrying a twenty-pound camera lens? No biggie.  Taking dozens of photos while frozen in the same pose for an hour during this tutorial? No problem they say!  They even requested a yoga class afterwards. They’re that good.  So, after years of self-doubt and twirling in the mirror wishing they’d shrink up a bit, I decided it’s time to give my legs some love and some more exercise.  Time to cherish those limbs and treat them right.  This lower body workout is really basic, but can be easily modified if you’d like it to be a bit tougher.  I designed it to be easily remembered and equipment free that way you can add it to the end of a hike or a walk.  These moves target your thighs (especially the inner thighs), glutes, calves and even your abdominal muscles.  Read through all the exercises so you’re familiar with proper form.  You’ll find a concise workout routine at the bottom of the post.

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A few quick tips:

  •             Wear sneakers or supportive shoes
  •             Stretch out for a couple minutes before you begin
  •             Breathe consistently throughout each exercise
  •             Engage your muscles, especially your abdominals
  •             You are your own trainer.  Do what feels best for you. Don’t push it unless that’s what your body wants.
  •             If you’re not accustomed to strenuous exercise, consult your physician before you begin.

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Basic High Lunge

  • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  Engage your abdominal muscles and step forward with your right foot until your knee is bent at a 90° angle.  Your thigh should be parallel to the ground or as close as you can get to parallel.  Your need should be directly over your ankle, never over your toe.  Your left heel will naturally rise off the ground.  There should be a slight bend in your left leg.   Stand up, bringing your back foot to meet the lead foot and switch legs.  Continue lunging forward for a total of 20 lunges.
  • Modification: Bring your hands in a prayer position and use your abdominal muscles to twist slowly to the left and then the right.  This strengthens your core and improves balance.

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Calf Raise Three Ways

  • Super simple, but don’t let that fool you, these work and you’ll feel the effects instantly.  Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  Rise up onto your toes and count one Mississippi, two Mississippi and lower down.  Repeat twenty times and do a quick set of ten. Rise up, down, up, down as quickly as possible.  Make sure your rising up on your toes as high as is comfortable.  Now point your toes in towards each other and repeat, twenty slow, ten fast.  Finally, point your toes away from each other and repeat again, twenty slow, ten fast.  Your calves should be on fire at this point.  No need to wear heels to have defined calves anymore.

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Basic Chair Pose

  • If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you’ve probably done chair pose.  Stand up straight with your feet hip’s distance apart and your arms raised over your head.  Simply exhale and sit back as if you’re sitting down in an invisible chair.  The goal is to have your thighs parallel to the floor.  Your knees will protrude over your feet a little bit, but your weight should be in your heels.  I lifted my toes in the photo above to demonstrate that, but you should keep your feet flat on the ground. Keep your chest and arms lifted, look up and keep breathing.  Count to ten or twenty and stand up straight.  I like to sprinkle in chair pose between all of the other exercises.
  • Modification:  Instead of feet shoulder length apart stand with your feet together and challenge yourself to bring your thighs parallel to the floor all the while keeping your chest and arms lifted.

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Lunge Rollover

  • This is very similar to a high lunge. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder length apart.  I like to hold my hands at my heart’s center in a prayer position, but you can also hold them overhead or down by your sides.  Engage your abdominal muscles and step forward with your right foot a little further than you would for a regular high lunge.  At this point, your knee should be behind your ankle.  You are balanced on the ball of your back foot.  Roll forward onto your toe, which propels your body forward so that your knee is now directly over your ankle.  Your knee should never be over your toe.  That is why you take a bigger step in the beginning. Rock back onto the ball of your foot, that’s one repetition.  Roll forward slowly onto your toe again and back, that’s two.  Complete 15 on each foot.

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Prayer Squat

  • Stand up straight with your feet a little wider than shoulder’s length.  Engage your abdominals and bring your hands in a prayer position at your heart’s center.  Lower down slowly until your thighs are parallel (or as close as you can get) with the ground and your elbows touch the insides of your knees.  Keep your weight in your heels and as you lower your knees will track outwards instead of forwards.  Your knees should never track out over your toes.  Slowly rise back up.  Repeat 15-20 times.

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Squat Walk

  • First make sure there are no strangers around because this is one sure-fire way to creep them out.  Take a wide stance with your legs with your toes pointing outwards; I like to pretend I’m making the letter A.  Then squat down so your thighs are parallel with the earth.  Keep your head and chest lifted and take 6 small steps forward and 6 small steps backward.  You should feel it in your inner thighs.  Continue six-steppin’ for about a minute.

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Speed Skater

  • Stand up tall with your arms at your sides.  Bend your left knee with your toe pointed towards the ground.  Keeping your back straight, lean forward bend your right knee and kick your left leg out behind you.  Your fingertips should be pointing towards the earth and your right knee will track over your foot a little bit, but never past your toes.  Pretend you’re speed skating in place.  Do 15 reps without letting your left leg touch the ground and repeat on the other side.

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Tree Squat

  • Find a tree with a smooth surface.  Make sure there aren’t any poison vines growing on it and lean with you back against it, thighs parallel to the earth.  Sit up tall and count to thirty.
  • Modification: Try lifting one leg for 15 seconds and then the opposite for 15 more.

Lower Body Woods Walk Workout      1-3 sets

  • Basic High Lunge x20
  • Basic Chair Pose 10-20 seconds
  • Calf Raise Three Ways: Slow x20 Quick x10
  • Lunge Rollover x15 each leg
  • Prayer Squat x20
  • Squat Walk 40-60 seconds
  • Speed Skater x15 each leg
  • Tree Squat 30 seconds

 

There are dozens of modifications for each of these moves, but rather than overwhelm you I thought it’d be great to start simple and go from there. You’ll see these basic exercises being built upon in future posts.  Exercise doesn’t always mean putting on bright workout clothes, paying for a gym membership and fumbling around with machines.  Sometimes the most effective workouts are the simplest because we’re more likely to be consistent.  I hope you’ll try out some of these moves this week while you’re out walking around or hanging out at home.

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Finding February’s #winterhigh

I love the roller coaster ride that is our yearly trip around the sun, fully enjoying the rush of each new season, but without fail, somewhere in the middle of February, I start to lose my winter cool. By this point, winter just seems like it’s going to go on forever, the days that I used to refer to as crisp have turned to bitter cold. The evenings that were dark and cozy are just too. darn. long {and still very dark}. Over the years I’ve developed a few tricks for fighting the February blues.

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  • Do an exercise reality check. We all know that regular exercise is a true mood booster – releasing endorphins, improving our immune system, and warming up our cold winter bones. Moving is a regular part of my routine, but somewhere in the dark of winter, my step loses it’s spring; I may not move as much or with as much intensity as usual. To get my exercise mojo back, I shake up my usual routine ~ try out a new walking route with the dog, take my camera and spend some time photographing the stark winter landscape of our local parks or favorite hiking trails, and possibly most important is to get out in the early to middle of the day (see my next point). If I really can’t bear one more walk in the cold, then I hit up my favorite yoga studio for a few extra sessions of hot vinyasa flow.

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  • Find the sunshine! Sunshine exposure helps our bodies to produce serotonin and melatonin, two chemicals in our body that work to regulate our circadian rhythms. So getting some sunshine for even just 10-15 minutes each day may raise our mood and help us to get a better sleep at night!

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  • Eat the rainbow! Just as with my exercise, I may find myself in a food rut, and the best way out is through experimentation. And, just like exercise, there are direct links between our diet and mood. This is the time I turn to my cookbooks for a bit of inspiration, focusing on veggie and protein heavy recipes. I received Jerusalem: A Cookbook this Christmas, and it has just the right sort of full-flavored dishes I’m looking for. Take advantage of those long dark evenings to experiment in the kitchen!

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  • Start a new {colorful} project. As fellow knitters know, February is not a time to start knitting that grey afghan or a black sweater, it’s time to break out the colorful yarn and knit yourself some yellow leg warmers.

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  • Take a vacation!… but not yet. This is the perfect time to plan your next vacation. Research has found that you receive the largest boost in happiness from planning and anticipating, not from the actual vacation or time after you return! Whether it’s a weekend get-a-way or a trip abroad, schedule that vacation now and give yourself something to look forward to!

Of course, sometimes I also curl up with a good book, some hot tea, and ride out the February storm. What are your tricks for keeping the mood light and your heart warm when winter just won’t quit? Share your #winterhigh with us!

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