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Amy Ippoliti

I Banned Headstand for Life...Until I Didn't

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I Banned Headstand for Life...Until I Didn't

Standing on my head?

Yeah - I hung out far more on my head than on my feet as a child.

Yoga only normalized my obsession with being upside down on my noggin! I mean, salamba sirsasana is known as the King of Yoga Poses because of its exhaustive list of health benefits.

I spent most of my early years on the yoga mat on my head - ten minute timings, headstand drop overs, endless tick-tocks, surfing gravity from headstand to various arm balances, and of course mandalasana, where you walk (or jog!) around your head in both directions.

About 7 or 8 years ago I started cycling more frequently, and developed some neck issues which I cleared up by refitting my bike. In that process I had gotten an x-ray to make sure everything was okay.

The x-ray revealed degenerative discs in C5 and C6. I was devastated.

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When I saw the diminished size of my discs, all I could think of was the compression I might have caused by standing on my head all those years. I surmised that the "head forward" posture I'd adopted from using a smart phone and computer could not have helped either.

Right then and there I made a decision to stop standing on my head forever and dropped the pose from my practice.

In yoga trainings, I would still teach headstand, but gave all sorts of disclaimers about how the game had changed in the modern world and now you need to be extra cautious with how technology has impacted our cervical spines. I told them about my discs. I gave everyone ample encouragement not to practice the pose.

But then in January of 2017, all of that changed with a phone call from Glo.

Glo had been getting a lot of requests from members asking for classes on headstand. Since I was such a stickler for alignment they thought I'd be the perfect teacher to create a headstand program and would I do it?

Of course I was like, "Nope. Thanks for the invitation, but I don't do headstands. I wouldn't be able to demonstrate."

Glo prodded a little - was there any way I'd reconsider? Would it be in the realm of possibility for me to try headstand again?

After 7 years of not doing it, I thought to myself. "No way."

But then it all came flashing back to me -- I had made that decision on my own with no professional input.

Had I made up a story about my neck? Maybe I should go see one of Boulder's top physical therapists and revisit the topic?

I told Glo I would think about it and get back to them and promptly made an appointment.

At the appointment, I told my PT about my C5 and C6, explained my decision from 7 years earlier, and my current dilemma.

The first question he asked was, "when you got the x-ray, did you have any pain or problems in headstand?"

"No," I replied, feeling a little silly.

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He then went on to tell me about a muscle called the longus colli that sits on the anterior surface of the vertebral column, between the atlas and the third thoracic vertebra. He said that when we stand on our heads, that muscle switches on and actually stabilizes your C5 and C6.

"Oh, wow," I said, feeling increasingly even sillier, since that is exactly what my C5 and C6 had needed my whole life!

I immediately knew I had indeed made up a story, created a belief based on my x-ray, and that trying to stand on my head again was probably a good idea.

We agreed he'd do some body work on my neck and shoulders and then we could give headstand a try in the exercise room if I felt comfortable.

Sure enough I stood on my head while he observed my neck with a watchful eye. As soon as I was up, he said "your neck looks perfect, just pull your throat back a little".

I felt fine. And when I came down, I still felt fine.

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For a week or so I kept practicing headstand until I got the confidence to tell Glo yes, I will do it. And the rest is history!

Not only did I film the program, but I have been practicing headstand and many variations of headstand ever since and my neck has never felt better.

And so I am thrilled to share with you my latest program on Glo, Highway to Headstand - I hope you enjoy it and it gives you the courage to try this inversion!

Perhaps it might also inspire you to let go of any stories you've told yourself about what is possible...

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Yoga Goals: Reinvent Your Wheel Pose

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Yoga Goals: Reinvent Your Wheel Pose

YOGA GOALS: REINVENT YOUR WHEEL

When I was a girl I spent a lot of time upside down in wheel pose. It was natural, painless, and took no effort.

In practice as an adult, we would do relays, racing each other through the studio — and we had conversations while doing timed one-minute holds!

Being able to get into wheel pose became a key to my well being emotionally as well as physically. It just puts me in a more uplifted mood. And lord knows we need a little reprise and sunshine right now.

But then, after spending two years working with a shoulder impingement (not from yoga) I had to lay off my wheel obsession for a while and abstain.

When my shoulder finally got better, my wheels felt totally horrendous! My body was so tight, I could not even talk while holding the pose and couldn’t wait to come down.

The good news? The extreme tightness definitely gave me insight into what it might feel like for those who have always had a hard time with wheel for whatever reason. We all have our assets, and back bending may not be one of yours - you’re still a good person!

Feeling this tight in wheel for me was unusual, but it got me thinking — through my own struggles in getting back to a comfortable wheel — about how I could open my body back up gradually so it could get closer to that pose.

And so I’ve been teaching a practice specifically designed to work toward wheel pose, opening the chest, the triceps, and the fronts of the hips along the way.

My goal for all yoga enthusiasts is to be able to do wheel pose…and still be able to talk.

Why is this important? Why set it as a goal?

Wheel is one of yoga's quintessential back bends. It provides a gateway to other advanced back bends, but more importantly, even if you never get there, the prep work has amazing benefits on its own!

Whether you take this pose to its full expression, or continue to build a solid foundation, you will stand a little taller, feel a little freer, and move about the world with a more open heart.

More Benefits of Wheel Pose:

  • Better posture

  • Longevity in your spine

  • Spinal health

  • Uplifted mood

  • Generous heart

Preparation to Work Toward Wheel
Here are just a few of the kind of stretches and poses you’ll want to focus on in your practice to get closer to wheel pose.

Stretch the Triceps

You can incorporate a tricep stretch in a standing pose like Warrior 2.

You can incorporate a tricep stretch in a standing pose like Warrior 2.

Open the Chest

Cobra with your hands elevated on blocks is takes part of the weight off your arms so your shoulders and chest can open more easily.

Cobra with your hands elevated on blocks is takes part of the weight off your arms so your shoulders and chest can open more easily.

Open the Hip Flexors

Poses that open the quads and hip flexors should be practiced almost daily if you want to have a wheel pose that doesn’t feel gripped with tightness!

Poses that open the quads and hip flexors should be practiced almost daily if you want to have a wheel pose that doesn’t feel gripped with tightness!

If you’re curious about pursuing wheel pose and the poses that will open your body up in the process, you might be interested in my program on Glo.com: Reinvent Your Wheel!

This is a workshop-style program and will help you gradually work towards full wheel, using complimentary poses, props and modifications along the way. There are just three thirty minute classes that progress in level from 1/2 to 2 and you can choose to move forward at your own pace, repeating any of the practices as needed.

Overall I hope that you’re feeling more positive about working toward wheel pose! Leave a comment with your progress!.

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5 Surprising Things You Can Do to Instantly be a Better Yoga Teacher

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5 Surprising Things You Can Do to Instantly be a Better Yoga Teacher

Seven years ago, if I asked the average yoga student whether they were interested in supplementing their local yoga classes with a yearly yoga retreat abroad, a big yoga conference, or a summer festival, the answer would have been a resounding “HELL, YEAH!”

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m certain that if I asked that same question to an average yoga student, I’d get a puzzled look, followed by a “No, probably not. If I taught yoga, maybe I would?”

Increasingly it seems that yoga events like weekend workshops, retreats, festivals, and conferences, which offer more in-depth opportunities to study and practice than ongoing classes, are much more highly attended by yoga teachers than yoga students.

Have you noticed this trend too?

As someone who loved attending workshops before I became a teacher, and who has witnessed non-teaching students radically change their lives after being on retreat or attending a conference, it saddens me that such a large percentage of our yoga students are not attending supplemental yoga events.

And it begs the question: why?

Let me be frank with my theory on this:

  • Only a small minority of yoga teachers convey to their students that yoga is a practice rather than an activity.
  • The majority are not doing this. A lot of well-meaning teachers are leading exercise classes with occasional sprinkles of feel-good, self-help sound bites, not yoga. (Before you jump on me and say that "yoga is anything you make it", please keep reading...)
  • The majority of yoga teachers are not teaching their students how to embody their practice on the mat in their day-to-day lives.

I know I’m generalizing, but if this is the majority, would a student value traveling abroad to deepen their practice by doing five hours of yoga a day? Would they schlep to a ski resort in order to learn from senior teachers and keep company with other students on the spiritual path?

Probably not.

Yoga teachers, on the other hand, value supplemental yoga because their teacher trainers have taught them that yoga is more than just sweating and stretching.

Yoga teachers also know how different and incredible it is to practice yoga for more than 60 minutes - sometimes up to 3 hours on the mat.

So, how is this message not getting to our students? And why are we depriving them of this experience?

Let me be frank again.

I think it has a lot to do with the messaging propagated by well-intentioned yoga teachers on social media.

There are far too many posting things along the lines of “Yoga is anything you want it to be.” or “Yoga is what you make it".

So. much. NO.

Yoga has a history, a timeline, a lineage, and yoga is connected to a vast body of knowledge. It's way more than 'what you make it'. It's grounded and rooted in something much larger.

That doesn't mean we can't live our own version of yoga, but my hope is that we honor yoga's roots, study hard, and get time with its elders whenever we can.

And while 60 minutes is enough time to drop the occasional yoga bomb here or there (and please do!), it is not long enough to impart the depth and breadth of yoga.  

So if you teach yoga, please step up and start telling people what yoga is. It’s your dharma (duty)!
 

Here are 4 Things You Can Do to Instantly Be a Better Yoga Teacher:

  1. Define yoga and share the definition at the beginning of class. Refer to the definition throughout the class. A simple way to define yoga to your students is to translate the word yoga which comes from the root “yuj” - to connect, to unite, to bring together. Then, having contemplated the definition, share what that means to you personally. Does it mean being more conscious and aware of our interconnection with nature and other beings? Does it mean being more responsible or present in our relationships? How does the practice on the mat relate to that? Can you make a link between how we place our feet on the mat to the sensitivity we bring to our relationships with loved ones?
     
  2. Share the yoga teachings! Give your classes themes. Tell your yoga students about the Yamas and Niyamas. Describe the five elements and how they are part of the microcosm of the body as a reflection of the macrocosm (Dude, whoa). Break down a sutra from Patanjali. Talk about “beginner's mind.” Om with them. Translate a mantra and chant it. Discuss what it means to be present or aware. Articulate how stunning and beautiful it is that we exist (I mean, consider the breath!). Get them thinking about how we are part of something as vast as this universe - and because we know this, now we get to choose what we're going to do about that! How do we want to live a life of meaning?
  3. Teach them how to be a great yoga student - Help them cultivate curiosity and a sense of wonder. Encourage them to ask questions. Pause every now and then to help them pay attention to how their body feels right after a pose. Ask them to feel. Make it safe for them to challenge you so they learn it’s OK to think for themselves. Ask them how they feel so they will be seen and heard, and then do the same for others! When they come with questions, be there for them 100% so they are rewarded for their curiosity.

  4. Show them how to take their yoga off the mat - Invite them to bring what they are learning about themselves on the mat as a training camp for the real world! Invite them into a self-reflective process. Who are they when faced with challenging poses, or when they fall out of an arm balance? Do they laugh at themselves or engage in negative self-talk when they stumble? Does resistance arise for them with certain poses? When they have a breakthrough moment, are they ready to channel that success into their lives? Chances are the way they are on the mat is how they might be off the mat - do they want to work on that?

It's our responsibility as yoga teachers to convey that yoga is more than just a physical activity and that it’s more than just “what you make it”. Yoga is an embodiment of what we do on the mat, brought into a life of meaning, service, and skillful offering.

Teach this and change the world.

 

 

 

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The Unexpected Life Hack to Help You Excel in The New Year

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The Unexpected Life Hack to Help You Excel in The New Year

We live in a world that’s addicted to quick solutions, easy fixes, and anything brand new.

We want to hear the most recent podcast, to have the newest iPhone, and we can “Google that s**t” to get instant answers.

In a culture of instant gratification, it’s become increasingly difficult to remember that we’re part of a world that is made up of repetition of the ‘same old - same old’. We forget that nature itself repeats itself - it’s recursive:

The sun comes up every day and then sets.

The moon cycles monthly.

The deer in my backyard mate every November and give birth the next June.

Every 365 days we celebrate the holidays and then find ourselves on January 1st planning our next year.

Here we are, welcoming another year of life, and honestly it feels new, but it also feels the same - an annual repetition.

Does that seem like a let down? Well, it could feel like a let down if, like most of us, you’re addicted to the Smart phone, your feed, or how many likes you got on your Instagram post.

So here’s the life hack.

Recognize that everything repeats itself and start getting back to craving repetition and baby steps like a child.

Remember when you were a kid (or if you have kids now you’ll totally get this) and you asked your parents to read the same bedtime story book to you every single night? You didn’t care if you heard it over and over again! And god forbid they skipped a page, you noticed and called them out on it!

I think I’ve seen The Little Mermaid and the Lion King about 50 times because my little sister wanted to watch it every single day when I was her caretaker.

Kids crave repetition. And they need it to learn and become masterful at life

When you read a book a for the second time, you are a different person than you were the first time around. That's what makes repetition interesting and not boring - it’s who you’ve become in between!

For example, it would be ridiculous to do one yoga class and then say, “Yep, I’ve mastered yoga -  been there, done that!”.  

Practice is practice - it’s not about completion and accomplishment, it’s about process and self discovery through, you guessed it, repetition.

If you’ve got a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) to grow bigger this 2018, it’s important to let go of the idea that you can reach that goal quickly without serious commitment, repetition, perseverance, study, and practice.

Any BHAG I've ever reached or art form I've mastered has come about from the repetition of baby steps and chunked down daily actions.

My 500 Hour level yoga teacher training students often share that they want me to give them more new material in my trainings. While I certainly strive to share new information that they’ve never heard before, I remind them about the importance of repetition too.

To become a great yoga teacher and yogi, you have to ‘lather, rinse, and repeat’ in multiple scenarios across a timeline of study until things are so familiar they become part of you. It’s why we encourage our students to repeat the same module topics multiple times if they want to!

Once you come to terms with the fact that mastery requires repetition, you will be aligned with the recursive nature of the Universe and mastery of your goals will be right around the corner.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Happy New Year, everyone!

If this resonates, leave a comment telling us about something you got really good at through repetition!

 

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Turmeric Spiced Tahini Sauce

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Turmeric Spiced Tahini Sauce

It's an honor to have Stepfanie Romine, co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook (and one of the most fun and innovative plant based chefs ever) in my kitchen again. She shared this turmeric spiced tahini sauce recipe, which made the whole kitchen smell like chai and definitely got us all salivating!

We used the sauce as a winter dressing on a bed of spinach and roasted sweet potatoes, but the sauce itself if very versatile - the subtle spiciness is a match for any roasted root veggies, garam masala (this is now a must-have spice in my collection!) and simple cooked grains or beans. The chai flavor of Gaia Herb's TurmericBoost pairs well with creamy tahini and tart lemon juice. Tahini is also a great source of protein, calcium, and minerals.

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Ingredients
1 teaspoon Gaia Herbs TurmericBoost Restore
¼ cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric for color (optional)
½ cup water, divided
Fresh mint or basil, chopped (optional)

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Instructions - and watch VIDEO below!
Whisk together the TurmericBoost, tahini, lemon juice, salt and turmeric in a small bowl. The tahini will thicken. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, until mixture reaches the desired consistency. Sauce will thicken upon standing and after being refrigerated. Thin with more water as needed. Refrigerate for up to four days.

Serving Ideas:
Serve over salads or garam masala roasted sweet potatoes. This sauce is also delicious on garlicky sautéed kale and in quinoa bowls.

Serves 2-4.

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Props
Small bowl
Whisk/fork
Measuring cups/spoons
Knife
Bowl/plate for veggies or quinoa
Cruet/tiny pitcher for serving dressing

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Nature is Abundant, If You Let Her Be

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Nature is Abundant, If You Let Her Be

There are a few places on earth that are teeming with such abundant life that it overwhelms and astonishes. It's been a long time since I experienced that level of ample life energy. My visit to the Galápagos Islands years ago comes to mind.
 
And then, while I was on break leading teacher training on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, we travelled to Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, and my faith in copious wildlife was restored.
 
In 2016, as a result of rising water temperatures due to climate change, the Great Barrier Reef suffered mass bleaching of coral, and tragically, it is said that two thirds of this extraordinary wonder of the world is now dead. Lady Elliot Island is in the southern part of the reef where water temperatures have not risen quite as high, so we felt extremely lucky to have had the chance to spend time observing the living coral and natural diversity still thriving there.
 
It was nesting season on the island, and every bit of greenery was covered in thousands of busy nesting marine birds like Noddy Terns, Bridled Terns, and Red-Tailed Tropic Birds sitting on their eggs. The island was aflutter with bird calls, swooping wings of nest material being transported through the air, and bird poop...a lot of bird poop!
 
All we had to do was look out our bathroom to see a Noddy Tern on her nest, just 6 inches from our window! They were quite literally everywhere.
 
There was no signal on the island so our iPhones were used solely as cameras to document the wildlife and natural wonder. I couldn’t be happier ditching emails and Instagram for the chance to spend all day watching the birds building their nests and tending to their eggs, spying on the chicks who’d hatched, and walking the island’s shoreline looking at shells and nesting sea turtle tracks. In between we'd jump in the water 3-4 times a day to snorkel in the stunning coral gardens, teeming with every kind of fish, black tipped reef sharks, giant groupers, and mulitple sea turtles every session. On our boat ride, we saw two different stacks of mating sea turtles in less than 15 minutes on the water.

Taro Smith, ever ready with his underwater camera rig, snapped these shots of me in the reef.

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The living coral that remains in the Great Barrier Reef is definitely worth fighting for. I feel more called than ever to make the case that we all can do better when it comes to cooling off our planet.
 
The Earth’s atmosphere is really such a thin layer, and human generated greenhouse gases are easily trapped, which warms the planet to dangerous levels. We can do so much to stop producing Co2. Below are some immediate actions you can take!

Please leave more ideas on how we can contribute to global cooling in the comments below so our community can learn from each other!

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Use Your Bike, Public Transport, or Carpool
Instead of your using your car to get around town or commute to work/school, invest in a bicycle, helmet, and a lock and avoid gas emissions. Use the public transportation system in your city and arrange to carpool to work and events rather than bringing your own car.


Unplug Your Gadgets
Are you someone who always leaves your phone charger dangling from the wall? Do you leave your cable box powered on? Or forget to put your computer on sleep mode? Adopting these practices can save you $100 each year on your energy bill and significantly reduce emissions!


Change Your Light Bulbs
Switch all of the lights in your house to compact fluorescent bulbs. One bulb can reduce up to 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution during its lifetime. If every house in the U.S. made this switch we could reduce the electricity spent on lighting by 50%.


Filter Your Own Water
Packaged plastic bottled water is decimating the planet, particularly the oceans and marine life. Beyond the environmental tragedy of the plastic waste, consider just how far your water was transported before you bought it which burns countless fossil fuels.


Adjust Your Curtains and Thermostat
If you keep your house two degrees warmer in the summer and two degrees cooler in the winter you can save a ton on your energy bills. Always use a programmable thermostat so you’re system is never left on too high or too cold but cycles back to a conservative temperature. Be mindful to keep your curtains open during the day in the winter to let in sunlight, and close them at night to hold in warmth. During the summer, close the curtains during the day to keep out extra sunlight and open them at night to moderate the temperature, or even open them to let in a cool breeze.


Buy Local, Organic Food
Food is transported 1,500 miles on average between the farm and the supermarket and organically grown produce helps make our soil healthy. Healthy soil has been shown to actually sequester carbon. Yes, organic food is more costly, but if enough of us purchase it the prices will come down. Consider eliminating other purchasing habits such as take-out coffee or paper towels, to make room in your budget to support organic farms.


Plant a Tree
One of the most efficient ways you can cut your carbon footprint is to plant a tree. Trees provide shade and oxygen while consuming carbon dioxide. A single young tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. That amount will increase to 48 pounds annually as trees grow. Just one 10-year-old tree releases enough oxygen into the air to support two human beings. Better yet, plant a fruit tree to help provide organic food for you and your family.


Cut the Beef and Dairy
It takes a lot of resources to raise cows, particularly if you buy beef from somewhere like Brazil, where it was grazed on land that used to be tropical forest. Deforestation and the methane produced by farm animals is a top contributor to carbon emissions and climate change.

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