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All posts by Andrea Ferretti

10 Creative Ways to Inspire Your Yoga Practice This Summer

When summer rolls around, yoga practice can fall by the wayside — the longer days mean we spend more time outdoors, we travel, those of us who have kids deal with changing schedules. So, to keep you inspired, Jason and I are doing a six-episode summer podcast series!

For episode 1, we offer 10 creative ways to inspire your yoga practice this summer. You can listen to the episode by clicking here. And, we took notes for you, which you can find below.

1. KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET

Most of us are accustomed to a 60-90 minute studio practice, so it’s easy to feel like a 15-30 minute practice isn’t worth it. But Jason makes the point that doing a little bit every day can have a big impact and he uses the slightly gross but still apt metaphor of brushing your teeth. Is it better to brush your teeth for a few minutes each day? Or better to go to a dentist once a week for 90 minutes? Bottom line: Take advantage of and value short practices!

2. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU LOVE

If you have a consistent, longstanding home practice then it makes sense to work on poses that challenge you. But if you’re new to home practice, emphasize poses you love. You want to make doing yoga something you look forward to and something that’s fun, not a chore. Another Jason metaphor: If you’ve never cooked at home, would you teach yourself to cook by starting with your least favorite dishes or your most favorite?

3. BE FLEXIBLE WITH THE TIME OF DAY

There’s a longstanding recommendation to practice yoga in the morning. And for most of us, this makes sense — we start the day off feeling clear and the day doesn’t get away from us. But when your schedule changes, it’s important to be flexible and fit your practice in when you can. Jason almost exclusively practices at night when his schedule is throwing him a curveball. If he’s teaching weekends or trainings, he does light evening practice to stay connected.

4. BE FLEXIBLE WITH INTENSITY

If you typically practice in a studio, you’ll probably normalize a certain degree of physical intensity and a different intensity won’t feel as valuable. But if you want your practice to be “portable” and accessible to you when life throws your curveballs (like when you’re traveling or when you’re sick), then you have to be willing to do a moderate intensity practice from time to time. Remember that a key component that differentiates asana practice from other physical endeavors is that it’s not just about pushing through — it’s about tuning into how you’re feeling and creating an appropriate response.

5. DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO REPLICATE A STUDIO CLASS IN YOUR HOME PRACTICE

We’ve touched on this in the previous tips, but think of it this way: The difference between going to a yoga studio and practicing yoga at home is like the difference beteween going to a Michelin-star restaurant and eating a home cooked meal. You’re not only going to eat at fancy restaurants and you wouldn’t judge a home-cooked meal on a standards of a well-trained chef.

6. TRY AN ONLINE PROGRAM

YogaGlo has a new series of online programs that are amazing (if we do say so ourselves). You can select a program that you want to do and then schedule the weekly classes into your calendar and it will email you reminders. Jason and several other teachers like Amy Ippoliti, Stephanie Snyder, Claire Missingham, and all have programs on YogaGlo that you can check out.

7. USE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE AS A COMPLEMENT TO YOUR SUMMER ACTIVITIES

Spend more time outside hiking, biking, or swimming in the summer? Then use them as a muse for your practice. Instead of working toward peak poses, do poses that balance out the hunched position of the upper back while you’re on a bike or the tightness in your quads from hiking.

8. PRINT OUT SEQUENCES FROM OUR SITE

Find inspiration around you! Here are sequences from our site that you can download and practice with:

FOUNDATIONAL SEQUENCES

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar A)
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar B)
30-Minute Whole Body Sequence
30-Minute Morning Sequence
Evening Wind Down
Immune Booster
Two Core Yoga Routines
Ease into Urdhva Dhanurasana
Open into Hanumanasana

SEATED POSES

Quick Hip Openers
Fold into Lotus Pose
16-Pose Sequence to Help You Progress in Compass Pose
Parivrtta Janu Sirasana

INVERSIONS

The Perfect Shoulderstand Prep
Refine Your Headstand
A Shoulder Opening Sequence to Forearm Balance

ARM BALANCES

Twist into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I
Pigeon + Chaturanga = Eka Pada Galavasana
Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose)
Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow)
Build Your Vasisthasana (Side Plank)

9. VALUE CONSISTENCY

The most important component of a physical or fitness regime is consistency. You truly don’t need to do big huge intense practices; you just need a consistent ongoing relationship with your body and breath. You need to come back to it time and time again.

10. TRY SOMETHING NEW!

If you’re practice is feeling stale or stuck, try a new class or a new teacher or a new studio! It can really freshen things up and give you a new perspective and rekindle your interest in the practice.

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Drop the Technique. Just Dance.

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana

I typically think of Jason as the contrarian in the family. He’s insightful and he excels at communication – especially when it goes against the grain. Last week, Jason wrote In Praise of the Quiet Class, a piece that talks about how, contrary to modern yoga norms, he’s never played music during yoga class in his 20 years as a teacher.

And as I read it, I found that my own inner contrarian was rising up to meet his contrarian. So, I wanted to add my voice to the topic. You see, I truly enjoy and value taking yoga classes with music from time to time. So much so that I interviewed Stephanie Snyder for the podcast this week to talk about how she does it so skillfully.

Stephanie talks thoughtfully about why she includes music in class: Chanting and playing music help facilitate rhythmic breathing. Music can be a great bridge for folks who aren’t ready yet for complete silence. And it can evoke emotion that can draw people into themselves and into a more inquisitive, receptive state.

You can hear her talk about all this more articulately than I on the podcast. But what drew me to stay up late on a Monday night writing this for all of you was the following little revelation that I can’t shake.

Drop the Technique and Just Dance
I studied ballet through my whole childhood. By the time I was 12, I was dancing seven days a week and spending all day Saturday and Sunday training and rehearsing. When you take a ballet class, you begin with the technique at the barre. You meticulously warm up your feet, ankles, legs. Eventually, you move to the center of the room and continue honing your technique – pirouettes, arabesques, more tendus. You drill and repeat, drill and repeat.

Then, at a certain point, you learn a piece of choreography and you DANCE. You let go of the inner critic that hounds you about your knock-knees or your pronated feet and you put all of the steps together and you express yourself through your body. It’s FUN and the music is beautiful and there’s a levity in the room that fuels everyone simultaneously.

Clearly, there’s a place for that single-pointed focus on technique just as there’s a place for letting go and dancing. The closest I’ve come to that feeling of letting go of my inner taskmaster during yoga is in classes with music. I love technique-oriented yoga classes. They hone my focus and affirm to my ego that says, ‘You’re trying really hard therefore you are doing something right in your life!’

I also love classes with a good playlist because they allow me to drop my technique and just be in my body moving, breathing, and doing the yoga poses that I’ve drilled and repeated for the past 20 years. During certain times in my life or even certain times of day (like after a long day of work and commuting), I want to drop the technique and just dance. I want to forget about my fussy wrists and my crappy backbends and I want to move and breathe and express – even if, especially if nobody’s watching.

Like Jason, I know there’s a place for both quiet and music-filled yoga classes. And if you only practice to music, I implore you to consider adding a few minutes of pranayama or meditation in silence to the beginning or end of your day or your practice session.

But if you’ve never tried a yoga class to music? Or if you had a bad experience 10 years ago? It might be worth trying again. You might just unlock some moving, breathing, emotive part of you that’s not of the mind, but of the moment.

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Essential Sequence: Wake Up and Flow

Morning Yoga Sequence

Full disclaimer: when it comes to the morning, I’m a coffee first kind of guy. Yoga is a close second. But, it’s second nonetheless. It wasn’t always this way, but nothing is permanent. So, if you’re like me and you prefer some liquid inspiration to get yourself on the mat first thing, don’t judge yourself. Once you’re ready, here’s a solid, get-up-and-go practice.

This is a pretty simple, straightforward sequence. You don’t need to revolutionize the future of yoga sequencing before noon. You just need to ease into your body, get moving, turn upside down a time or two and chase the cobwebs away with some backbends.

The sequence starts with three opening postures — Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, and Ardha Uttanasana — to slowly stretch the back of your body. Then, you transition into Sun Salutations. I have “Surya Namaskar A” listed here, but you can do any style of Sun Salutation that you like. I take my first couple of Salutations incredibly slowly. It wasn’t always this way, but, again, nothing is permanent. Take as many as you like and move at whatever pace you prefer.

Next, you’ll jump into a progression of standing poses. I like to practice Warrior II-based postures prior to Warrior I-based postures, because they’re easier for my hips. This is the order that I’ve chosen for this sequence, but I don’t have a black and white rule about it. I used to, but nothing is permanent.

After you’ve done a few openers, done as many Salutations as you fancy, and worked through your standing postures, it’s time to get upside down. If you’re not practicing Handstand, you could do Half-Handstand with your feet at the wall. Or, you could omit the inversion entirely. If you have a few tricks up your sleeve and want to do additional inversions or arm balances, go for it.

The sequence concludes with Bridge Pose and Upward Bow, followed by Supta Padangusthasana. My backbends feel even tighter in the morning than in the afternoon. It’s always been this way — some things never change. Supta Padangusthasana grounds you after your backbends and rounds out the sequence. A brief Savasana or Seated Meditation is a nice way to fully close the practice. Usually, I include these, but I’m honest enough to tell you that sometimes I don’t. Once in awhile, it feels like I spent the entire morning sequence trying not to feel like a corpse.

OK, enjoy your practice!

PS: For easier practice at home, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you a free printer-friendly PDF download. If you are already on our newsletter list, you still have to enter your email to receive the sequence.

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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Pranayama Ninja

viloma pranayama

Hey everyone!

I have been so busy working on the Yogaland Podcast in the past year that I haven’t had much time to blog. I miss it and I miss you! I have grand plans to get back to it and to create more content this year that will serve you.

For today, I’m going to share something straight-up and simple that’s transpiring for me lately. Here goes: As the working mom of a preschooler with a husband who travels constantly, I can say that unequivocally, it’s my practice that keeps me sane and balanced. (Can I get an “Amen!”)

And so. I am making this commitment to myself and to ALL OF YOU(!) that this year I am NOT completely tossing my practice aside during those times when my schedule becomes excessively wacko or “I don’t have enough time.” I’m gonna try to be a self-care ninja and craftily fit it in where I can.

Lately, I have been surviving on pranayama. When things are going well in my life, a standalone breathing practice is the first thing I toss out the window. It’s not conscious — it’s simply that I’m breathing mindfully during asana and calming my mind during my meditations. So, it seems like it’s all covered.

But when things get exceptionally busy (and I won’t bore you with the details but I’ll just say that a kitchen leak has kept us out of our house for SEVEN WEEKS), pranayama is a godsend. It feels like the perfect bridge between asana and meditation. It channels the prana through my body (like asana) and it settles my energy and thoughts (like meditation). It feels so familiar — because after all, we breathe all day long! But it also feels so special to just take a few minutes to witness this simple act that keeps us alive and ticking.

Here’s the other thing: It’s so portable. I have done pranayama practice during long meetings! Alone in my cubicle! During tense dinners with family! On boring dates! But, admittedly, if you’re just starting out, it’s best to set aside 5 minutes of ideally quiet, alone time to practice.

Lately, pranayama has given me an energy buzz when I need it, a sense of warmth in my heart when I feel cold and paralyzed, or space between thoughts when I’m anxious. There are SO MANY pranayama practices – some are more energizing (like kapalabhati) and others more soothing (nadi shodana). For me Viloma, aka Stop-Action Breath is my go-to to cultivate evenness and balance.

When you do Viloma, you either inhale in three parts and exhale completely. Or do the opposite: You inhale completely and exhale in three parts. (You can also inhale and exhale in three parts.) It might sound confusing, but in practice it’s incredibly simple and soothing. I prefer to start with the latter approach because it’s easier to access and it tends to be more grounding. Here’s how:

PRANAYAMA FOR BUSY PEOPLE


1. Set a timer (that’s not too loud) for 5-6 minutes.

2. Find a comfortable seat – either cross-legged on the floor or on a chair with both feet touching the ground. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart.

3. Take a minute to deepen your inhalations and exhalations and to just “warm up” your breath.

4. Then inhale completely, feeling your belly, diaphragm, and ribs expand.

5. Now exhale one third of your breath. Pause. Exhale two-thirds. Pause. Exhale completely.

6. Repeat this cycle until your timer rings.

THE APPROACH
As you inhale, try not to force the breath. Make each part of the exercise light and easy. Feel the beauty and simplicity of the life force in your body. As you exhale, imagine a sense of grounding and rooting through your tailbone into the earth. If you feel strain at any point, return to simply watching your breath.

For some people, it helps to retain the breath for just a few seconds before the exhalation. I tend to do this in the last few minutes, when I’ve warmed up a bit. It’s definitely not something to force. Ideally, when your alarm sounds at five minutes you’re breathing a little more deeply and feeling more clear, grounded, and energized.

Hope this makes your day a little better. And I’d love to hear what your go-to pranayama practice is in the comments below!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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I am a reformed pastry fiend. I distinctly remember having my first croissant as a child during a family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was unforgettable and I was forever hooked. The problem is, I am no longer a string bean of a girl, growing taller by the day. And simple carbs leave me feeling hungry 40 minutes later.

These days, I love baking with almond flour or coconut flour. They’ve got more protein, fewer carbs, and they feel dense (in a good way). This recipe is based on the Almond Muffin Mania recipe from nutritionist and chef Rebecca Katz. Sofia and I have made them several times and Jason loves them so much, they’re gone within 24 hours! They’re also refined sugar-free.

Sidenote: I did a podcast with Katz about cancer-fighting foods that you can listen to here. This recipe is from her cookbook, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes 24 mini muffins
A quick note: I’ve tried these with pumpkin puree and also with canned pumpkin. I try to steer clear of cans because there are often traces of BPA found in cans, but I was able to find one that said it was a BPA free liner. (Let’s hope it was the truth!) The canned pumpkin has a better consistency for this recipe. If you use pumpkin puree, I suggest straining some of the liquid out and omitting the milk.

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup canned organic pumpkin or organic pumpkin puree
1/4 cup organic milk, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk
2 organic eggs
1/4 cup unrefined virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I use TCHO disks 66% baking drops roughly chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a mini muffin tin by generously oiling each cup.

Combine the almond meal, spelt four, baking powder, coconut palm sugar, and salt in a bowl and stir with a whisk until very well combined. Separately, combine the pumpkin, milk, eggs, oil, vanilla, and spices and whisk until smooth. Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well with a rubber spatula. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups filling each about three quarters full. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until muffin springs back when touched in the center. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then gently run a knife round the sides of the muffins to loosen them before turning them out.

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