Heads Up! A Smart Phone Epidemic

Smart Phones.kimbersurfboard Don’t let them slow you down.

I’m excited to share this blog with you, as I’ve been traveling the world with my surf board over the past several years and am now integrating my knowledge and experience of health and happiness in the big city of San Francisco!

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in the windows of a local coffee shop on the busy street of Geary. Taking moments to pause from studying and pondering, I observe the passersby. Per the usual these days, the majority are entrenched in their phone enjoying conversation or with their head straight down in full blown text mode.

What’s the problem, you ask? What better way to pass the time walking from one place to the next by catching up on correspondences, right?

Well, besides the obvious hazard of walking through crosswalks with no attention toward oncoming traffic, the sad truth is that often in this day and time we are so caught up in our electronics that we forget to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. At that moment, something else occurred to me, illuminating the very real risks to our bodies, alignment, and mobility that being caught up in smart phone land poses….

As a yoga teacher, health advocate, and athlete, I teach and practice alignment. I recently began a Yoga Therapeutics training with Harvey Deutch, a superb physical therapist and yoga teacher, at San Francisco’s Yoga Tree yoga studios. Harvey has taken his knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, kinesiology, rehabilitation, and yoga, and blended them into a safe yoga class deemed “Yoga Therapeutics”. 

One day in our training, a student and patient of Harvey’s joined us so that we could observe his body in movement and question him about the pain he was experiencing, his past injuries, and so on. As we had recently studied the optimal natural curvatures of the spine and various disorders and dysfunctions of the spine, upon this man’s entrance I immediately noticed the kyphosis of his thoracic spine (upper to mid back).

Kyphosis is a condition in which there is an excessive curvature of the spine, comkyphosis spinemonly referred to as hunchback. Kyphosis causes the appearance of poor posture and can cause back pain, chronic muscle fatigue, stiffness in the back, and a loss of mobility.  This loss of mobility creates difficulty in our daily tasks (such as difficulty getting up from a chair, or out of bed), and may cause the loss of balance or a feeling of being “off-balance”, which increases the risk of falls and injury. As it becomes more extreme, it also limits the amount of space in the chest due to the excessive curvature of the back, and thus the compression of the front body, which can create difficulty in breathing. Severe Kyphosis is even associated with diseases like osteoporosis and scoliosis.

So why do I mention the excessive amount of smart phone use and subsequently the condition of kyphosis in the spine? Because as I observed those passersby in the window, nearly EVERYONE I saw exhibited signs of kyphosis!  Even those not staring down at their phones and walking normally displayed a forward head. While there are plenty of other daily activities we partake in that also contribute to this forward head posture, i.e., staring at a computer, driving, slumping in your chair, and so on, none of these activities have us looking straight down like staring down at our phones in our hands (therefore it is safe to assume that texting has a greater impact on our spinal health than most of our daily tasks!

In my feeling of shock at the real risk this poses for longterm effects on our health, I was inspired to write this little article in hopes to bring awareness to the issue, and to provide some solutions for reducing, and even reversing the effects of kyphosis on the body. Most fortunately, yoga is a great way to realign our spines into a proper curvature!! Below is a therapeutic exercise, as well as a few asanas that can be practiced alone, or integrated into a full yoga practice to rediscover the feeling of optimal spinal alignment.

Supported Backbend

The goal in this exercise is to counteract the kyphosis, with the help of a bolster or a rolled up towel, and regain a healthy curve in the spine. We can do this by reopening the front body. When we are in a kyphotic state, the front body becomes compressed, and the muscles shorten. To open and lengthen the muscles of the front body, lie on your back on the floor, knees bent with the soles of your feet on the floor and hips’ distance apart, and place your bolster or a rolled blanket under the mid-back, just below the shoulder blades but not as low as the lower ribs.SimpleBackbend-150x150Open your arms to the sides, creating a 90-degree angle at the elbows. Keep your knees bent so that the lower back doesn’t overarch. So long as you don’t feel pain, or pinching in the spine, stay in this supported backbend for two to five minutes and breathe normally. When you are ready to come out of the posture, gently hug your knees into your chest and roll over off of the bolster and onto your right side. Stay there for just a moment to allow the body to recalibrate, then slowly push yourself back up to a seated position.

Salabhasana

It is equally important to strengthen the back body after stretching the front body.  Salabhasana (Locust Pose) is a simple exercise that strengthens the erector spinae, the muscles that hold us upright. Lie face down on the floor with your arms by your sides.salabasanaPress your toes into the floor, engage your belly muscles (think about pulling your belly button into your spine and then upward towards your heart, this will engage your core) and lift your chest three to four inches from the floor. Keep your pubic bone pressed into the floor to protect your lower back from overarching. Protect your neck from hyperextension by keeping your gaze on the floor just ahead of you rather than on the wall in front of you. Hold the pose for several seconds then release the entire body back to the floor. Work towards holding yourself in Salabhasana pose for 30 seconds and repeat it three or four times.

Tadasanatadasana

Now for the simple, yet highly effective pose to help integrate your awareness of your alignment back into your body and into your daily routine. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), feel your legs extending down into the earth and your spine lengthening upward. Remember where the bolster/rolled blanket pressed into your mid-back? See if you can find that same feeling of opening in the chest, without allowing the ribcage to pop out (keep your core engaged) and lift up from there. Feel newfound space opening in the upper lobes of your lungs. Be sure to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.

So while owning a smart phone has its’ obvious advantages, don’t allow it, ironically, to take away your mobility! We must bring great awareness to our posture in everything that we do daily so that we aren’t creating problems and pain for ourselves in the future. 

Head’s up, people! And remember to take the time to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.

Top 12 Yoga Poses for Your Feet

A yoga routine for your feet is like a splash of cool water to the body…. Refreshing.

Here are my top 12 favorite yoga poses for feel good feet. You can practice them in this sequence (1 – 12) to rejuvenate your feet… and in turn, your entire body and mind.

Let’s get those feet feeling good.

  1. Diamond seat (Vajrasana)
  2. Mermaid seat (Bharadvajasana)
  3. Cobbler seat (Baddha Konasana)
  4. Wild Side Plank (Camatkarasana)
  5. Tripod Downward Dog (Tri Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  6. Hand Under Foot Pose (Padahastansana)
  7. Standing Hand to Foot Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
  8. Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karnai)
  9. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
  10. Rock Pose (Pavanamuktasana)
  11. Half Boat (Ardha Navasana)
  12. Relaxation (Savasana)

&… Wake up with wiggling toes!

feet pedicure

Can you decipher my stick figurine cheat sheet, below?

Leave me a comment and let me know how it goes 😉

Feet Feel Good

Soup Is Love! A Mulligatawny Soup Recipe

Guess what one of my favorite meals is right now. (I’ll give you a hint – it is not pineapple pizza.)

I say right now because my diet changes according to my lifestyle – whether I’m busy at work, traveling, detoxing, etc – and depending on the season.

Right now, my favorite meal SOUP!

Soup is always good when it is winter or when you’re sick, but the healing benefits of soup are SO GREAT, I want you to really consider increasing the amount of times you eat soup in any given week.

In Austin we have The Soup Peddler.

Back in the day, the Soup Peddler was one guy making batches of soup in his kitchen and peddling it around to friends on his bike. His soup delivery service was so appreciated, the Soup Peddler expanded into a full commercial kitchen, with drive-up locations… and of course personal home deliveries.

The Soup Peddler coined the phrase “Soup Is Love.” And, by the way, he practices yoga.

Here is a Step-by-Step guide on How to Make My Favorite Soup at Home:

The Soup Peddler’s Mulligatawny
2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil
2 medium white onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp curry powder
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 cups red or green lentils, rinsed
2 14-oz cans coconut milk
6 cups water
1/2 cup cauliflower, cut into florets
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic
2 Roma tomatoes
1 cup spinach leaves (my addition)
Salt to taste
Garnish: plain yogurt

  1. Heat the ghee or olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat and saute the onions and carrots. When the vegetables soften and begin to release their juices, about 10 minutes add the curry and stir well.
  2. Continue to saute 2 minutes longer, then add the potato, lentils and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Add the water as necessary to keep a soupy consistency.
  3. After about 20 minutes, when the lentils are soft, add the cauliflower, apple and celery. Cover with more water if needed and bring back to a simmer.
  4. In a blender or food processor, puree the olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and spinach.
  5. Stir the puree into the soup and season to taste with salt. Cook for 5 more minutes and serve. Garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt.
  6. Enjoy!

Upward Bow / Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) – Yoga Pose

Upward Facing Dog - Learn Yoga w/Courtney Bell

“Sometimes life invites you to dance, to sing, to open your heart & fall backwards into an arch, like a rainbow of light through the sky.  Life is meant to be celebrated, practicing Upward Bow prepares us for, perhaps even guides us towards, these moments of ecstasy and joy.” – Courtney Bell

Upward Facing Bow (sometimes called wheel pose), is an intermediate/advanced backbend benefiting both mind and body.   I find this is especially useful having spent much of my life sitting in front of a computer.  Upward Bow gives length to the vertebrae, increasing your spine’s flexibility & strength.  Take a moment…  Interlace your fingers with your hands above your sit bones, now slowly raise your hands.  Do you feel your chest opening and more air entering your lungs?  Upward Bow opens your chest and strengthens your lungs (remember to BREATHE deep and forget the world around you).

Benefits of Upward Bow (Wheel) Pose

  • Opens & Strengthens the chest and lungs
  • Builds strong, toned arms, wrists, legs, buns and abs
  • Stimulates the Thyroid & Pituitary glands
  • Increases energy & counteracts depression
  • Therapeutic for back pain, asthma, heart, mind & body

 

 

Headstand (SIRSASANA) – Yoga Pose

Yoga Pose Stick Figure

“One of my favorite yoga poses is Headstand”

When done correctly, headstand activates many muscles, including those of the arms, core and upper back.

 

 

 

Benefits of Headstand

  • Refresh – Headstand stimulates your face, mind, scalp & body with fresh nutrients and oxygen.
  • Improve Circulation – Adrenal glands are flushed and detoxified, creating more positive thought.
  • Drain the Feet – Headstands allow any fluid trapped in your feet to drain (which decreases the onset of varicose veins).
  • Strengthen Core – It takes alot core strength to hold a Headstand for long periods of time.  Bust out those six pack abs and get to work!

 

Leave a comment if you have any questions!

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Cosmic Dancer – Yoga Pose

cosmic-dancer-yoga-pose-2

Cosmic Dancer used to be in my dreams.

And you know what? If I had stopped practicing, it would have remained there, in the world of non-existence… Completely unreal.

 Yoga teaches that our 3 facets are

  • Existence
  • Awareness
  • Bliss

If it sounds a little esoteric, well, that is because it is.  And, it is good to be a little esoteric sometimes!

I think so, at least, because it allows us to weave dreams and ideas that are beyond our present reach into existence.

One of the many blessings yoga practice bestows on us is the realization of dreams, and the transformation of pieces of ourselves into a discovered wholeness.

Holding onto my foot in space behind my head is not an accomplishment; it’s a landmark.

 

It took many years of dedicated practice and transformation, not only from non-existence, but from non-belief.

Then a few years of hesitation and possibility, followed by another few years of conscious movement and persistent action before I landed in this standing balance pose.

It’s called the Cosmic Dancer (Natarajasana), and symbolizes the unity between the real and the unreal, and the potential within our human nature to continue manifesting our dreams and discovering ourselves.

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What are you pulling into the realm existence?

 

Keep dancing my friends! Keep making room for yourself to grow.

– Courtney

Happy Half Moon! – Yoga Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

Courtney Bell - Half Moon

Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) – Yoga Pose

Half Moon is one of my all time favorite yoga poses because… It’s FUN!  Expanding the sensations of joy, freedom, security and wonderment, Half Moon Pose keeps one hand and one foot planted on the ground as the body unfolds up, out, and over into the sky.  It is great for creating stability in your hands and feet!

The picture shows the “Foot-to-Hand” backbend variation.

Yoga Tip:  Keep your gaze on the ground when you are beginning.

 

Looking for More?  Watch Yoga Videos & make sure to check out the healthy life tips!

Intention and Intuition

Oil Candle Flower on water

What’s the secret to following an intention through to actualization?

When an intention is too head-strong, latent beneath ego, it dies out quickly like a single match with no candle or fire wood to keep burning.

The intuitive mind is like the oil beneath the wick, breath into the fire, and earth surrounding the flames.

It is what allows us to keep burning, so to speak.

During this season of transition from autumn into winter, I am thinking more about how to keep the flames of inspiration alive. For every body, it is different, as we are all unique in our constitutions and movements towards health and wellbeing.

“Practicing yoga allows us to bring balance to our physical body, and clarity to our mental chatter. This instills the gift of knowing our highest self, the part of ourself that feels deeply the truth and the way towards lasting happiness and life.”

 

Einstein Quote - IntuitionToday, this gift of intuition allowed me to:

  • Move in a way that warmed my bones to start my day
  • Eat in a way that nourished my energy
  • Connect with those around you in a way that supports each other.

I encourage you to celebrate the small choices that you make each day that create a healthy impact for you and others, because those are the moments that will continue to shape our spirits.

What food choices are you incorporating today, to sustain you? What movement choices are you making today, to keep you healthy? What relationship choices are you making, to enrich your family and community?

As you pay attention, you gain presence.

Keep tending the flames of your own inner fire ~ it’s time to focus on the small things that serve to burn the bright light.

Namaste ~

Courtney Bell