5 Days to More Calm: Yoga

Black Mom's Guide to Calm

Today’s topic for 5 Days to More Calm is yoga!

Yoga literally means “union” and can be defined as a “physical, mental and spiritual practice.” (Yogapedia). Although some say it originated in ancient India, some of yoga’s earliest manifestations were found in ancient Egypt (aka Kemet).

I first heard about yoga back in 2007 during an internship, but I didn’t start practicing consistently until 2014. I initially began as a way to snap back after having Nailah, but it eventually became so much more. I started feeling more grounded and centered; I noticed I was in the present moment more often, and I had a sense of inner peace, all of which made me fall in love with it. Yoga is now a tool I use almost daily for my inner peace and to also connect with myself and Spirit.

Some other benefits of yoga:

  • Improves flexibility and strength.
  • Can decrease stress levels and anxiety.
  • Helps you become more mindful (i.e., more present).
  • Increases your energy levels.
  • Improves heart health.

A few types of yoga you can try are:

  • Hatha (more gentle and good for beginners)
  • Vinyasa (generally faster than hatha with more movement)
  • Hot yoga (practiced in a heated room; encourages detoxification and enhances flexibility)
  • Restorative (holding supported poses for 5+ minutes for deep relaxation)
  • Kemetic (the ancient Egyptian system of yoga enlightenment)

Of course, you can find a local studio or gym that offers yoga classes, but if you feel more comfortable practicing at home (due to COVID-19 or just because that’s your preference), here are some tips to get started (you can read the entire blog post here):

  1. Set an intention. Why do you want to start your yoga practice?
  2. Create space. You don’t need a room of your own or a she-shed (but if you have one, use it!), just enough space for a yoga mat and maybe some calming tools like incense, candles or crystals.
  3. Make time for it. If you need to, put a reminder in your phone, put it in your planner or on your schedule. Consistency (however that looks for you) is key.
  4. Find an online teacher or YouTube videos. Yoga Greenbook provides information on Black yoga instructors.
  5. Remember it’s a practice. Be gentle with yourself. Do the best you can. Also remember: Yoga is for every body!

Want to get monthly Yoga PDFs and discounts on upcoming classes? Learn more about how you can join the subscription service on Patreon!

 

5 Yoga Common Yoga Myths And Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them

Black Mom's Guide to Calm

If you’re here, you probably already know how much I love yoga. In the time that I’ve been practicing (four years), it seems that more and more people are getting into and trying yoga, which I think is awesome, especially when I see women who look like me. However, although there are many, many Black women doing yoga, there are that many more who won’t even try it for a number of reasons.

Below, I’m sharing some of the most common myths about yoga and why you should stop believing them so you can start experiencing the amazingness of yoga:

1. Myth: You have to be flexible.

Truth: This is probably the top excuse I hear from people about why they can’t do yoga. Although you may need some flexibility to execute certain poses, it’s definitely not a requirement — especially when you’re just getting started. And the more you practice yoga, the more flexible you become. So, you have to first get started!

2. Myth: Yoga is about fitness.

Truth: Yes, there are many physical health benefits of doing yoga including weight loss and toning, but those are not the only — or main — benefits of having a practice. Yoga brings you peace of mind, can make you happier, and increases your self-awareness.

3. Myth: Yoga is a religion.

Truth: Although yoga has spiritual roots, it has evolved a lot since then. However, yoga can be a spiritual practice because in my experience, it allows me to feel more aligned and one with Spirit. And it can do the same for you, no matter what religious or spiritual practices you have.

4. Myth: Yoga is too hard.

Truth: Okay, so yoga can be a bit challenging, especially in the beginning and/or if you don’t exercise regularly. But, in my opinion, the challenge is worth all the amazing benefits; and besides, when you create a consistent practice, it becomes easier.

5. Myth: Black people don’t do yoga.

Truth: Only seeing thin, athletic-looking White women doing yoga on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram may lead you to believe that yoga just isn’t for us. Fortunately, I’m seeing more and more Black women — and men — practicing yoga. And because of all we deal with as Black women (in our personal lives and on a systemic level with sexism, racism, and misogynoir), I think we, as a community, are the ones who can use it the most, which is why I do what I do.

Ready to begin or become consistent with your practice? My book, The Black Girl’s Guide to Calm.

7 Reasons You Should Start Doing Yoga

Black Mom's Guide to Calm

I’m sure by now y’all know how much I love yoga. I’m always encouraging people to give it a try because it’s been a life-changing practice for me. Here a few reasons I think you should start doing yoga — like right now (after you finish reading this, of course):

Reason #1: Yoga improves your flexibility

This is probably the most obvious benefit of doing yoga. You might not be able to reach your toes in your first class or feel very flexible, but as you practice more often, you’ll see that you’re able to do poses you never thought you could. And with your increased flexibility, you’ll likely notice your aches and pains disappearing, too.

Reason #2: It perfects your posture.

Not only can poor posture make your tired, it can also cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems. When your head is balanced directly over an erect spine, your neck and back muscles don’t have to do as much work to support it.

Reason #3: Yoga makes you happier.

According to one study, a consistent yoga practice improved depression and led to a significant increase in serotonin levels (which is believed to affect your mood) and a decrease in levels of monoamine oxidase (an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters, which communicate information throughout the brain and body) and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Reason #4: Yoga brings you peace of mind.

Practicing regularly slows the mental loops of things like fear, disappointment, desire, and frustration, which can cause stress. And if you learn how to quiet your mind, you’ll likely live longer, too, since stress is connected to several health problems like migraines, high blood pressure, lupus, and heart attacks.

Reason #5: Yoga can ease physical pain.

Several studies have shown that asana (yoga poses) and meditation, or a combo of the two, reduced pain in individuals with back pain, arthritis, and other chronic conditions. Plus, when your pain is relieved, your mood improves, you’re more likely to be active, and you don’t need as much medicine.

Reason #6: It helps you release tension in your limbs.

Stop, and notice your body now. Is your face scrunched? Are your shoulders up by your ears? (Confession: Mine were). Is your jaw clenched? These habits, that we’re basically unconscious of, can lead to chronic tension, muscle fatigue, and soreness in your shoulders, neck, arms, wrists, and face. And this can make you more stressed and make your mood worse. By practicing yoga, you’ll notice where you hold tension (for me, it’s mainly my shoulder area) and ultimately learn how to relax those areas.

Reason #7: It gives you inner strength.

A regular yoga practice can help you make positive changes in your life. Personally, it’s made me more self-aware, which has made me more kind, less judgmental, more optimistic, and just an overall better version of me. And I’m continuing to evolve.

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.”

 

#CalmTip: Practice Camel Pose

 

Black Girl's Guide to Calm

Heeey! It’s a new month, and that means it’s time for a new yoga pose. This one is a favorite of mine: camel. According to YogaOutlet.com, camel pose (ustrasana) can be emotionally moving and energizing.

Benefits of this pose:

  • Stretches your neck, chest, abdomen, thighs, hip flexors, groin, and ankles
  • Strengthens your back, gluteal muscles, and triceps
  • Massages and stimulates your organs and chakras of the abdomen

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by kneeling upright with your knees hip-distance apart. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the floor.
  • Rest your hands on the lower part of your back, letting your head come back if it feels okay for your neck.
  • You can stay there, or you can take the full expression of the pose by reaching back and grabbing a hold of your ankles or feet (you also have the option of doing one side at a time). Your palms should rest on your heels with your fingers pointing toward your toes and your thumbs holding the outside of each foot.
  • Keep your thighs in line with the floor with your hips directly over your knees. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
  • After releasing, immediately come into child’s pose so you don’t get lightheaded or dizzy.

Tips

  • Don’t force yourself into the pose; practice a modified version until you can get into the pose safely. If it’s difficult for your hands to reach your feet, tuck your toes to elevate your heels.
  • If it’s still difficult to reach your feet or ankles, place yoga blocks on the outside of each foot and put your hands on them.
  • Create length in your vertebra; don’t collapse or crunch into the pose.
  • Move into it slowly and move within a pain-free range.
  • Don’t bring your head so far back that you strain your neck. Keep it extended and comfortable throughout the pose.

“If you don’t bend, you’ll break.” – Unknown

How to Start a Home Yoga Practice: 5 Things to Do

 

Black Mom's Guide to Calm

As I shared on my Facebook page last week, one of the best time investments I make weekly is practicing yoga, and yoga at home in particular. The main reason I love practicing at home is I can do it when it’s most convenient for me, and I still get to reap the benefits like less stress, and feeling more centered and connected to myself and Spirit.

If you’ve been wanting to start a home yoga practice, here’s how to get started:

1. Set an intention.

Why do you want to start doing yoga? What do you hope to gain from it? Whether it’s because you want to get physically stronger, lessen your stress, or learn how to be more mindful, write it down on a piece of paper of note card, and put it near your practice space so you’ll remember your intention.

2. Create a space.

It doesn’t have to be an entire room (it can be in your bedroom or living room), and it doesn’t need to be fancy or elaborate. You just need enough to space to lie down, reach your arms out and up, and it should be (relatively) distraction-free.

3. Set a schedule.

Plan your home practice just like you would for a class at the studio or  gym; whatever you use to plan your days (a planner, calendar or an app like Evernote), write “yoga” down; that way, you’ll be more consistent with your practice.

4. Choose a teacher for guidance.

You can practice on your own, by free-styling or finding sequences on sites like Pinterest, or have an instructor/coach guide you through (like *ahem* yours truly) a session.

5 Hold yourself accountable, and reward yourself.

If you reward yourself for being consistent with your practice, you’re more likely to make yoga a habit. According to research, habits are formed “through a cyclical process that, when repeated overtime, becomes automatic. Psychologically, you’re creating new pathways in the brain when you introduce a new activity into your life.”

The cycle’s elements are: trigger, action, and reward. Your space is the trigger; the action is the practice; and the reward (which might be the most important aspect) can be something as simple as placing a star or smiley face on your calendar or checking off “do yoga” on your t0-do list. Having an accountability partner helps you stay accountable, too.

(By the way, with my 1-on-1 coaching sessions, you’ll have me to help you stay on track with your yoga practice).

“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way.” – Cybele Tomlinson


 

#CalmTip: Start Your Home Yoga Practice

Black Girl's Guide to Calm

Because it’s International Yoga Day, today’s calm tip is to start your home yoga practice. Practicing in a studio is amazing, but doing yoga at home has its benefits as well (and is what I’ve been doing for the past two years). According to researchers at the University of Maryland and the National Institutes of Health, students who practiced at home reported more positive mindfulness, subjective well-being, and better sleep. Here are a few more reasons to consider a home practice:

It’s super convenient. You can fit it into your schedule more easily because you can practice whenever is best for you: morning, afternoon, or night. This is especially helpful if you have children or a tight schedule.

You can more easily focus on certain areas. For instance, if your shoulders and neck are tight, you can focus more on asanas (positions) that concentrate on those body parts.

You can practice for as little or as long as you need to. Most yoga classes in a studio last an hour, which is great if you want to/can dedicate 60 minutes of your time. When doing it at home, you can practice for as little as 5 or 10 minutes.

It’s only about you. If you’re in class, it’s easy to compare yourself to how the next person is doing and be in your head about if you’re doing a pose perfectly. At home, it’s just you, so it’s easier to focus on yourself and doing your best.


Start your home yoga practice with my free yoga workshop! It’s happening Friday at 7PM Eastern; sign up here.