Saturday, April 11, 2015

5 Simple Stretchs If You Sit All Day

By Dani Ibarra~ YogaWorks Teacher Trainer, Instructor and Mentor

1.  Start lying down with feet as wide as mat and knees touching.  Allow inner thighs to release towards floor, this opens the low back/sacrum.  Hold 9 breaths
2.  Drop knees to left and place left foot on right knee to gently stretch out hip flexors.  If you experience pain in the knee lower the foot back down to the floor.  Hold 5 breaths and switch sides.
3. Dynamic Bridge Pose.  Step feet hip width distance apart and parallel.  press feet down and lift hips up, extend arms overhead, exhale everything back down to floor.  Repeat 6-8x

4.  Supta Baddha Konasana- bring soles of feet together and open knees apart.  This externally rotates the thigh bones and opens the hips.  Support thighs if needed, you can also elevate the feet on a pillow to release low back pain
5.  Low Lunge-step right foot in between hands, stacking knee over heel.  Extend left leg back on diagonal and allow the hips to melt forward. hold 5 breaths.  Repeat on other side
 *If lunges are not available to you due to knees injury or extreme tightness then move to a wall, stand and hold ankle stretching thigh muscle and knee down towards the floor.  Hold 5 breaths and switch sides.  Use a strap if unable to reach foot.
*The timing for these poses can always be modified according to your ability.  Always listen to your body and remember, YOGA SHOULD NOT HURT!  If you experience any sharp negative sensation come out the pose and check your alignment. 

Thanks for reading! Namaste' Sweet People

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Yoga for Sciatica Pain

 By Dani Ibarra ~ YogaWorks Instructor, Teacher Trainer and Mentor

The sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body which runs down the back of each leg.  When a disc is compressed it begins to bulge.  Depending on the extent of the bulge, it could press up against the sciatic nerve. When this occurs it may result in low back, hip and buttock pain and can eventually move down the back of the leg causing weakness, tingling and even numbness.  

Disc compression occurs for numerous reasons, therefore being mindful about posture and how to sit properly in a chair could be a simple way of preventing future problems from occurring.  When the pelvis gets pulled into a posterior tilt the tailbone tucks under the body causing the low back (lumbar spine) to flatten.  Over time the flattening of the spine may cause compression to disc areas L4- L5 and L5-S1.  Since the spine starts to curve at this juncture and bears the most weight, these discs become more easily prone to injury.   

When sitting for long periods of time be sure to sit far back into the seat of the chair, so that the pelvis can remain neutral.  Think of your pelvis like a bowl, where you don't want anything spilling out of the back of the bowl.  When the pelvis is in neutral alignment, the sitting bones will press evenly and the spine can maintain it's natural curves.  Keep your thigh bones parallel and your feet flat on the floor.  Maintain Tadasana, "Mountain Pose", not only when you're standing but when you're sitting at your desk, driving your car and especially when sitting on long flights.

Another way to prevent sciatica is to GO TO YOGA! Yoga is all about creating space and freedom in the body.  Finding the right yoga class is important and I would recommend staying away from fast moving flow classes when your sciatica is fired up.  Avoid holding deep standing and seated forward bends because this may only aggravate the area. Keep the knees bent if you are in classes focusing on these particular postures. Having lived with sciatic pain for almost a decade, I have explored many yoga poses to help alleviate my pain.  These are a few of my favorite postures that continue to keep this area pain free.  They work for me...maybe they'll work for you!

20 min Sciatica Buster~ Sequence #1

Traction Stretch:  Press thigh bones away as you inhale and expand the chest towards your chin.  Move sitting bones apart- this is a very subtle action. *Additional action if appropriate, press foot into floor and lift pelvis about an inch off the floor while moving thighs away, this will intensify stretch (Hold 9 breaths on each side)
Thread the needle:  Move legs slightly off center, rest one arm on a block and press opposite elbow into front thigh. Continue to move sitting bones apart to create more space.
 (Hold 9 breaths on each side)
Supine Gomukasana:  Cross one thigh over the other, hold under the shins, flex feet as you press front thigh into back thigh.       (Hold 9 breaths on each side)
Supta Hasta Padangustasana 1:  Place a large loop in the strap and take it under your ribs and around your heel bone.  This is a nice variation if you have wrist issues, it can actually be done without holding onto the strap.  Keep leg vertical and tighten the strap until you feel the thigh bone being pressed down into the hip socket. (Hold 9 breaths on each side)


Supta Hasta Padangustasana 2:  Open the leg to the side while keeping the opposite hip and buttock grounded.   Keep the strap around the rib cage just under the chest. 
(Hold 9 breaths on each side)

Supta Hasta Padangustasana 3:  Cross the leg over and twist, hook thumb into hip crease and move hip away from your waist. (Hold 9 breaths on each side)

Balasana- Great for stretching low back and hips.  Bring big toes together and knees slightly apart. You'll get a great shoulder opener with the hands on blocks, press base of thumb and index finger down as you firm outer upper arms (triceps) in towards the bone.  (Hold 1-2 minutes)

Viparita Karani-  Add a bolster or sand bag to weigh the thigh bones down into hip socket. (Hold 3-5 minutes)

Supta Baddha Konasana- Support the spine with either a bolster or pillow, use blankets to support the head and legs.  This pose will gently extend the spine, open the shoulders and hips, great for woman during menstrual cycle.  This pose is recommended for sciatica and it's a great pose to end your practice with.  (Hold 5-10 minutes)

If you're looking for a slow and gentle yoga practice I am currently teaching 7 Therapeutic/Restorative classes per week at Valencia and Pasadena YogaWorks.  My schedule of classes and upcoming Teacher Trainings can be found on my website  

For more yoga tips you can follow me on FB and Instagram-  Dani Ibarra Yoga 

Hope to see you on the mat! Namaste' Sweet People

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Being flexible doesn't make you a better person

Being flexible doesn't make you a better person? I heard this in a yoga class many years ago and I remember how it stopped me in my tracks.  You mean I don't have to strive to be more flexible than the person next to me?  This was a mind blowing concept because my whole life I worked extremely hard at becoming more flexible because it meant I WAS in some ways better.  If I can kick my leg higher and hold an extension chances are I would be chosen over the next dancer...that's what I told myself anyway.  Rewiring how I thought about flexibility took a long time and if I'm not careful my body can easily push past that intelligent edge just out of habitual patterns or samskaras which are deeply embedded in us all.

It takes a lot of effort for a bendy person to pull back.  For me I always felt like I wasn't working hard enough if I wasn't pushing to the limit. Little did I know I was only causing harm by overstretching my joints, muscles and ligaments.  When someone is hyper mobile in their joints they are extremely flexible.  In order to feel like they're getting something out of the pose the tendency is to push themselves to the edge of the stretch unaware of the potential damage this may cause to their knees, elbows, shoulders, neck and low back.  It always feels good in the moment but repetitive stress injuries (RSI) have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it.  Haven't you ever experienced waking up one more morning and out of the blue you're injured? Something hurts but you can't remember doing anything to yourself the day before?  This doesn't only happen in your yoga practice, just the way you move through your day can have a major impact of how you feel and can attribute to the imbalances in your body.  How you stand and hold your posture, how you sit in a chair, how you pick up heavy objects is all connected to how you feel on a daily basis.

Learning the importance of good posture throughout the day and practicing yoga from a place of integrity also comes with age.  Being 42 I feel the difference in my body and I'm experiencing how much longer an injury takes to heal as I get older.  We spend the earlier years of our life thinking we're invincible.  We train hard, work hard and for the most part beat the heck out of our bodies,  athletes, dancers, performers, gymnasts, etc.  It wasn't until I hit a point somewhere in my early thirties where I started desperately trying to put myself back together and I hear the same story with many of the amazing people I work with.

I often tell my students that you don't have to be flexible to do yoga.  For many people this seems to be the very first thing they become concerned with and immediately they write off the idea.  This fear that yoga is all about twisting your body into a pretzel while standing on your head is simply the farthest thing from the truth.  Yoga is for anyone at any stage of life and what happens on the outside means nothing.  It's not about touching your toes or about putting yourself into fancy shapes, it's about calming the fluctuations of the mind. We use the body as a way of getting us to a calmer state within but Yoga is all about the mind.

When it comes to flexibility I would much rather work with a stiff body over a bendy body.  It's much harder to pull someone out of pose because they will absolutely think you're ruining their pose.  In a class setting you can't really give a long explanation and this often causes confusion.  I clearly remember a time when I thought a teacher was crazy when they turned my arms "correctly" in down dog. It was much harder to do it their way and when they walked away I would just go back to my way... clueless about alignment at that time I ended up with a lot of wrist and elbow issues for many years. What a stiff body lacks in flexibility they make up for in stability. A bendy body has the flexibility but they lack the stability needed around the joints to prevent injury.  We teach all about this stuff in teacher training; how to modify, how to strengthen and how to prevent injuries.  

So the next time you look over at that person whose overly flexible and wish you looked like them I hope you keep all this in mind.  Just because you can go that deeply in a pose doesn't mean you necessarily should. 
"Your practice today should not affect your practice tomorrow."
Namaste' Sweet People
xoxo Dani


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How Teacher Training Changed My Life

I had just been laid off from my job as an elementary school teacher due to tons of CA budget cuts and I was faced with the question, now what? I had been practicing yoga for about 9 years on and off and I knew I really enjoyed the practice, but could I really teach yoga for a living?  I was fairly new to living in California and was unaware of YogaWorks at the time.  I was practicing in a small studio and after class one day I built up the nerve to ask my teacher, Steve Walther, if he could recommend a teacher training. Without hesitation he said "YogaWorks, they're the best." So I went home, looked them up online and literally signed up that night for the upcoming.  Little did I know at the time my trainers would end up being the founders of YogaWorks, Chuck Miller and Maty Ezraty.  At the time the trainings were 8 weekends back to back.  I had no idea what I was signing up for and felt a bit lost most of the time.  I was constantly being adjusted and realized I had been practicing everything wrong for nearly a decade.  To say the least it was a very humbling experience.  But what I learned in that training truly changed my view of what I thought yoga was.  Having come from a dance background I was very drawn to yoga because of my love for movement though I never fully understood how the body worked until my yoga training.  Had I been introduced to yoga as a teenager I strongly feel my dance career would not have ended in so many injuries.  I learned the value of alignment, not only on a physical level but also how it affects the energetic and subtle body layers.  It didn't take me long to realize that yoga was much more than chaturangas and arm balances, and the more I learned the more I realized I didn't know.  My first training opened my eyes to the other 7 limbs of yoga and since then I've spent the past 11 years exploring all aspects of yoga.  

We're all drawn to the physicality of the practice at first.  I think it's safe to say that a majority of students have the desire to nail handstand in the middle of the room or aspire to do challenging arm balances. Some students just want to do as many chaturangas as humanly possible in a 75 min class. There's nothing wrong with setting asana goals but there's so much more to the practice that goes untaught in a group class simply because there's just not enough time.  What I valued most about being in a training was the time it gave to allow things to unfold.  I may not have understood a word of Chuck's philosophy lessons back then but it laid a foundation and I was able to revisit the material over the years.  I also cherished the time I got to spend with my peers.  As adults we don't get any opportunities to go away to camp and make friends.  Being in a training often felt like a mini vacation away from all the daily responsibilities of life and the bonds made in sacred space may possibly last you a lifetime. 

After completing my first 200hr training I started teaching in a gym, which lead to a country club, which lead to small studios and eventually I was able to open my own studio.  After completing 500+ hours of training I became YogaWorks certified and began down my path to becoming a trainer.  This training will be the 9th training I've taught over the past 6 years and sometimes I still feel like the more I know the more I don't know.  I'm always growing, always learning and I enjoy sharing my experiences.  I try not to take myself too seriously and I'm as open and honest as I could be with my students.  My goal as a trainer is to make the information as clear as possible so my students walk away feeling confident about sequencing the postures safely and there's an understanding of how the body mechanics work without making it overly anatomical. 

My first training opened doors for me that I didn't even realize at the time were a possibility.  I'm often reminded by this quote "When the student is ready the teacher will appear".  This has always been true in my own experience and I'm inspired by these amazing opportunities and grateful for all the students that have touched my heart along the way.  Whether or not you decide to take a teacher training I hope your yoga journey brings openness and healing to your heart, clarity to your mind and joy to your life.

Namaste' Sweet People
xoxo Dani

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Importance of Balancing Your Practice

For some people the thought of coming to a gentle or restorative class is just simply not part of their “workout plan”.  A large percentage of students want to come to yoga to get their sweat on and get a work out so they can either loose weight, get stronger, more flexible or attain a certain pose.  I hear these things all the time from students and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting these things out of your practice.  The truth is you may sweat, lose weight, get stronger, more flexible and do fancy hard poses. The importance of finding balance is taught throughout all yoga texts and one of my favorite yoga sutras teach about the importance of finding balance in every pose. There needs to be an understanding that in order to be doing yoga correctly the practitioner must learn to balance the strength of the effort with the ease of the breath and each pose should feel comfortable.  This concept is know as  Sthira Sukha Asana and it applies to our entire yoga practice and eventually weaves into our all aspects of life.  This concept has been a game changer for me and I emphasize the importance of incorporating this into every class I have the privilege of teaching.

In every pose there must be repose.  When the practice is 100% physical are we really finding balance or are we just burning ourselves out.  If a student is only practicing upper level flow classes how much time is given for restoring and rest? Savasana is said to be the most important pose in the practice yet time after time I’ve witnessed only 1-3 minutes allotted.  Technically is takes 8-10 minutes for the body to even settle down let alone drop in for a deep relaxation. 

While training and mentoring aspiring teachers I make it a point to teach the value of giving students at the very least 5-7 minutes because we’re all basically exhausted most of the time. Our society is moving at a such fast pace and our nervous system is often working on overdrive just from the pressure of life and driving and having constant contact at your fingertips all day long with emails, texts and social media.  Everyone is typically overworked and most people don’t get enough sleep at night.  I know this to be true because I witness countless people fall asleep within the first 2 minutes of class if I start them on their backs.  We don’t need to do more postures at the end of class!  We need to rest longer so our nervous system has the chance to make the shifts needed to promote the healing process. Otherwise all we’re doing is adding more burnout to our already burnt out system.

Recently a student came to my restorative class and asked how she could make the poses more challenging.  I was very surprised by her request and as kindly as possible explained to her that we’re not trying to chase a stretch in a restorative practice, in fact we’re trying to do just the opposite by letting the body release and let go.  We all need to learn the importance of simply being instead of always constantly doing.  I believe this is a learned behavior and some of us need to reprogram that thought process.  Being soft doesn’t mean you’re being weak, it means you’ve advanced enough in your practice to know when to slow down and be kind to yourself.  The advanced practitioner is often the one seen in child's pose and unfortunately some students only see the significance of slowing down when an injury has finally occurred.

Typically it’s said that the way you approach and move through your practice is how you approach and move through your life.  If you’re being aggressive on your mat how are you in relationships?  If you’re pushing too hard in your postures how are you treating yourself off the mat? How are you treating others? It’s an interesting concept to contemplate and reflect upon. Incorporating a gentle or restorative class into your weekly routine will only enhance your practice, your energy and your life. So if you’re one of those people that has to keep going because you think you’ll fall apart if you stop, I’m here to tell you that you won’t fall apart.  Give yourself that time to connect and relax and value the idea of just simply “being”.  It might just bring a sense of peace to your life that you never intended or expected.  Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Feel free to leave me any comments or questions.

Namaste’ Sweet People
Xoxo Dani

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Self Care Tips for Yoga Teachers

Yoga Teachers Need Nurturing, too! 
  • When you're tired take a nap
  • Try to sit first thing in the morning 5-20 min to clear your mind listen.  Insight Timer is a great app to use for guided meditations
  • Daily restorative pose soothes the nervous system, pick your favorite and try it for 2 weeks /15 minutes a day.  Results are amazing!
  • Essential oils can be used throughout the day to pick you up or calm you down.  In my purse I carry this wonderful little bag of chakra oils along with some of my favorite young living oils
  • Don't place a ton of pressure on your self to have a strong flow practice every day, listen to your body and practice accordingly
  • My home is my sanctuary, surround yourself with inspiring quotes, mantras, yummy soy candles and anything else that brings peace to your environment
  • Depending on my mood, I will either end my shower with a sugar scrub, or self massage with Coconut Oil for the summer months and Sesame oil for the winter months.  Coconut oil is cooling, Sesame oil is warming and sugar scrubs are just down right awesome!
  • Get a pedicure every once in a while so you don't have to worry about people always looking at your feet.  Gels last longer :)
  • Create a list of things that fill you up spiritually, emotionally and mentally and be sure to do one of those things every day. Could be listening to music, painting, dancing, writing, reading, hiking, gardening, etc.  This keeps your soul happy
  • Listen to your body, if you're having a rough day it's OK not to give a ton of adjustments, honor your energy and be aware of how much energy you're giving out, the worst is when you feel depleted
  • It's OK to say no at times when asked to sub, especially if you're already teaching 15-17 classes per week
  • Spend time in Nature breathing in fresh air 
  • If you use music in your classes be sure to create playlists that inspire you
  • Have a hobby that's not yoga related, we tend to wrap our entire world around yoga
  • Don't forget, we can't take of our students if we don't properly take care of our selves 
"Self care is a divine responsibility.  It is not self indulgence, it's self respect"  

Namaste' sweet teachers, keep up the amazing work!
xoxo Dani

No Mirrors, Less Judgement

Understanding Prakritti can help us deal with change.

 Just imagine going through one whole day without seeing yourself in a mirror. How much more confident would you be? No added pressure, no worries about how you looked and no reminders of how quickly life is passing by. According to yogic philosophy we suffer because we cling to things that are constantly changing. Most everything in life falls into Prakritti translated to that which is always changing. Human beings, nature, our homes, cars, money, etc are all are part of Prakritti.  When we can accept that nothing ever stays the same we can reduce our suffering especially when we wake up and find a new wrinkle on our face. When we can accept that everyday our body is in a different state this may reduce some of the expectations we place on ourselves. Learning to accept the things we have no control over, accept the things we cannot change may help us overcome some of the fears that come along with change.  We won’t be surprised when the car breaks down or the house needs repairs or we find a new wrinkle if we remind ourselves that we’re all part of that which is always changing. 

On many occasions students have asked why there aren’t mirrors in most traditional yoga studios. Yoga is about creating a sacred space of moving more from the external toward developing a relationship with the internal place of non-judgment.  Mirrors take away a piece of that inner experience, I’ve lived this first hand during my years as a dancer.  When you’re in front of a mirror for long periods of time it’s very easy to slip into all sorts of self-judgment. You begin to compare yourself to everyone else in the room and very quickly develop insecurities that may not have been there before.  You become fixated on all the physical aspects of yourself that you don’t like or wish you could change which can lead to many negative and even harmful thoughts. 
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice designed to calm the fluctuating thoughts of the mind and bring inner peace, acceptance, compassion and healing to the practitioner. By not having mirrors in the asana room the individual is able to find alignment from an organic place rather than using their eyes to make adjustments and self-judge.  With the guided instruction from a knowledgeable teacher the student is able to deepen their practice from a place of non-judgment and non-competitiveness and move into a place of pure acceptance and eventually a deep sense of inner peace.  In my opinion this is one of the most priceless gifts you receive from a yoga practice, learning to accept our body for what it looks like and feels like on each given day can be life changing. Understanding Prakritti can help us deal with these changes and as a result this can reduce some of our suffering that naturally come with change.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Please leave any comments or questions below.

Namaste’ Sweet People
Xoxo Dani