Tag: yoga

Summer core prep with the Side Plank yoga pose

Vasisthasana = “best, most excellent posture”

Vasisthansana or “Side Plank Pose” is a very rich core exercise indeed. As summer approaches and we want to look our “bikini” best, time to add Side Plank to your routine.

Most summer athletic sports require a strong core and flexible side waist. Think, reaching for a football pass, keeping your balance on your mountain bike while ripping up a tricky trail, or max length for free style swim. Side Plank will strengthen your Serratius (deep side muscles) and Latissimus Dorsi (the big group of outer corset muscles that span from your shoulder blades and wrap around your side waist to pelvic region). This pose will also strengthen wrists, shoulders, arms and legs, while creating flexibility in your hips. I will give modifications for those with injury in the arms.

Let’s Play

  1. Start in Down Dog and tune into your breath. Once your breath is steady and engaged, then start your practice. This will help you stay focused.
  2. Roll forward to Plank Pose
  3. Move your right hand underneath your nose on the mat, and spread your fingers wide like a pancake. IF you have injury in any part of your arm, please drop your bottom knee on the floor to support your body weight from here on out.
  4. Carefully roll to the side, opening hips and stack your feet on top of each other, lifting the hips as high as you can, reaching the left hand straight up to the ceiling.
  5. If you are feeling fresh, lift your top leg a few inches off the other while lifting hips. This will increase your balance and strength practice.
  6. Hold Side Plank for 5-10 breaths and repeat on opposite side.
  7. Rest in Child’s pose with hands by hips for 10 breaths before moving into the rest of your practice.


  1. Drop bottom knee to the floor, and keep it there.
  2. Rest on forearm for side plank instead of wrists, to protect injured parts.
  3. Engage your core, and lift kneecaps for max focus on strength. Stay like a board, not sagging in the hips, shoulders, etc.
  4. BREATH!

Side Plank is one of my favorite poses to build the core strength and awareness for more complex poses and inversions. I am available for private Yoga coaching at Seattle Athletic Club, if you have any questions about this pose or want to enrich your on going practice!

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Side Kick Kneeling

Pilates Exercise of the Month: October 2012Purpose: This advanced exercise concentrates on the waistline and hips. Emphasis is also on balance and coordination.

Begin in a kneeling position. You should be centered on the mat, facing the long edge of mat.

  1. Place one palm down on mat directly under your shoulder and in align with your hips. Fingers pointing away from you.
  2. Place the back of the other hand in front of your forehead with your elbow up to the ceiling.
  3. Straighten your top leg out (parallel to floor) along the mat in line with your body, making sure your center is firm.
  4. Lift your outstretched (top leg) leg up off the mat, hip height & balance.
  5. Inhale; for 2 counts; flex your foot and kick your leg forward reaching leg further on second count. Make sure you are not breaking at the waist. Imagine kicking a ball suspended in front of you.
  6. Exhale; swing your leg behind you stretching as far behind you as you can without rocking back and forth; gently pointing the toe.
  7. Complete 4-6 sets of kicks on one side; repeat the sequence on other side.


  • Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your waist.


  • Remain perfectly still in your upper body as you perform the kicks.
  • Keep your elbow to the ceiling so that shoulder & chest remain open during exercise.
  • Navel is firmly pulled into the spine.
  • Keep head lifted and aligned with your spine.
  • Don’t sink into your neck or shoulders.


  • Start with small kicks front & back. Concentrate on your balance & control before engaging in larger movements. If you have a bad knee, or wrist injury, skip this exercise.

Wielding Optimism

Optimism can shape our reality. Our ability to look at a situation and discern whether the outcome will be good or bad is skewed by experience. If we experience a negative outcome and approach every situation that follows with skepticism, our beliefs of a negative outcome become re-affirmed. It is then easy to start to look for that negative in everything. The reality is in the eye of the beholder.

Training the brain to be positive is like training the muscular system. Recent research on neuroplasticity shows that as you develop new habits, you can rewire the brain. So, what does this mental workout entail?

Find your personal strength- Recent research has shown having an “Oprah moment” of psychological growth in response to a traumatic event in your life is possible if coupled with specific action. In other words, the belief “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” can only be accurate if a personal betterment of self is associated with it. According to, “Post-Traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Side,” by The New York Times, recent studies done on trauma survivors show positive change in relation to renewed appreciation, better relationships, and more spiritual satisfaction.

Meditation – This concept has been brought up in past blogs, but transitioning from internal dialog to awareness can bring deeper clarification of our perceived reality. Learning to be present and experience with our senses while observing our reaction to it is crucial to breaking the cycle.

Controlling memory – You can cultivate positive energy by changing the stories you tell about the events in your life. This goes back to being the observer and noticing how you process your experiences.

BREATHE – Controlling your breath will reduce anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. A lot of our physical habits/ reactions can negatively impact our mental state and visa versa.

Control the external environment – It seems like common sense, but find the things you enjoy participating in and make it more of a routine. Research suggests people are attuned to context when they are experiencing positive emotions. When you spend more time allowing yourself to see the good that surrounds you in even the smallest of details, you can train your brain to recognize the positive, or evoke positive emotions in response.

Visualization/ modifying the senses – Using a visual to imagine every time you notice your thoughts going in a negative direction can divert your thought pattern. Try envisioning a stop sign, which can give even more motivation to control that negative thought path, or visualizing something funny (i.e. a purple elephant in a tutu). This is like self-induced semantic priming, where you are evoking a reaction to a situation when it occurs later in your life.

You can also get a theme song. I’ll never forget one summer I took an accelerated summer course in organic chemistry that was so grueling. And, I remember one kid would sing to himself, “You’re the Best,” by Joe Esposito as his theme song. Let your song be a reminder you can choose to redefine what is possible.

Write a gratitude journal – Reflecting on all you have to be grateful for leaves you with true appreciation. This as a regular practice should keep everyone thankful & optimistic. More importantly, it keeps you realistic. Life is hard and every human being has a collective of both positive and negative experiences that help shape your personality. Recent research suggests an optimal ratio of positive to negative being 3 to 1. This to me seems an arbitrary demonstration of our need to have balance in every aspect.

Psychologist Martin Seligman proposes in his book, “Flourish,” a new well-being theory. He believes there are four pillars of well-being, including: positive emotion induced by happiness, satisfaction, and engagement; meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. We can all flourish by reminding ourselves to view optimism as training our brains.

If you have questions about this posting, or would like ideas on beginning a new workout regime, please feel free to contact Personal Fitness Trainer Amber Walz.

Develop your core with Yoga

Do you want a strong core? Check out this twist…

A lot is said about the Yoga Practice for “flexibility” and it’s true, “Range of Motion-use it or loose it”…but did you ever think about the other half of that? Strength.

Healthy low back needs flexibility around the hip flexors, adductors, hammies and lats….but all those stabilizer muscles need to be strong too, on a deep level.

Lunge “hands free” Twist is an excellent way to develop Core strength and practice what I call “stealth” yoga, when you are doing more than one pose at a time with out even knowing it. Lunges of course strengthen the whole leg, and stretch quads/adductors, and with the addition of a Core stabilizing twist, Ba BAM!!! Ballistic power and flexibility under pressure.

Let’s do this:
First, step onto your yoga mat in lunge position, heel of back foot up, equal weight on both feet. As you breathe in, place your hands in “prayer pose”, keep your hands to your chest and gently start the twist toward the bent knee direction. Keep lengthening your spine, and drop your shoulders. But here’s the key “no touchy” your knee with your elbows, this is all about developing core strength and flexibility with JUST your core, not “yanking” with your hands…Each time you inhale, pause at the top of the breath, actively pull your belly button to your spine ( what ‘s really happening is the central tendon in your diaphragm is pulling that muscle down, giving you space and strength to twist) then exhale and deepen thee twist…take your time, 5 breaths or so on each side.

You will definitely create internal heat from working this pose, and you’ll be amazed at how sore you feel from this simple but very effective way to add a strong “hands free ” twist to your yoga practice. Excellent for golfer’s, footballers, squash players and anyone who goes from a relaxed state to requiring ballistic strength and energy as soon as the alarm goes off.

The Power of Proprioception

All athletes will face the danger of getting injured during their sport. This is why we train the muscles and practice the movements. By practicing, we help provide the body and mind with the confidence that we can perform the tasks required of us. One of the largest components to this sense of confidence is proprioception. Proprioception refers to the sense of a joint position in relation to the rest of the body. This allows our body to know where we are in space; more specifically, while we are moving in relation to the rest of the body as well as the environment. The more balanced our body becomes; the more efficient our movements will be, making ourselves stronger. Once the body can control the hips and spine, the primary muscles can take over to perform the power required. The true key to any sport is efficiency. Can I prepare my body for any type of movement that may occur during performance? Can I avoid getting hurt while still going all out and not holding anything back?

Balance training will do much more than make you less clumsy. Along with strengthening your hip and ankle stabilizers you will become more agile, developing the ability to control and change your center of gravity throughout movement. Again, this is why we train and practice just shy of maximum effort. The body loves to learn through trial and error. You have to start to lose your balance before the body can learn where it needs to step up and activate. Hiking provides a perfect example of this type of proprioception. While the start of the hiking season might require that your entire attention remain focused on the trail to avoid falling, after a few hikes, you start to notice that you are more confident in your ability to adjust to the terrain by foot feel alone, thus making you less focused on the trail below you and allowing you to look up and enjoy the scenery. This helps to establish your connection with your surroundings and will, in turn, help with your balance.

Proprioception can be incorporated into your regular workout routine easily. When standing performing front raise exercises, try standing on one foot. This causes the body to become more unstable and will recruit different muscles to help find the balance point. When that becomes too simple, try closing your eyes. Try keeping your eyes closed through an entire yoga class, or pilates mat session to see if you can feel where your body is in space, focusing solely on your movements. Try a yoga class that focuses on balance training or arm balances. This will teach you which muscles to engage and which muscles to relax to help become more successful. Once the neural pathways are developed, the body can use these movements as tools to help their efficiency on the court, out in the woods, or even in the pool!

Meditation and the Brain

OHMMMM… With the stress of modern life most people seek some sort of retreat. Often times this manifests as a vacation adventure, internet search, blog or book, television show or movie. This does in a sense allow a break to enjoy life, but have you actually allowed your brain to completely shut off?

Meditation is said to help us realize our emotions as we deal with the suffering and joy of life, bringing to the middle (a balance in the present moment). Meditation is seeing the mind and differentiating parts of an experience (the present and the perception). Many cultures have a form of meditation, most are familiar with Buddhist meditation. Brahma meditation focuses on loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Vipassana meditation quiets the mind through concentration and mindfulness.

When we intentionally shape our attention through mindfulness, we induce long-term changes in brain function and structure. This is neuroplasticity- how the brain changes in response to repeated experience.

Psychologically, there are often problems stemming from too much rigidity or chaos that meditation can bring balance to. Common psychosomatic disorders that are alleviated through a meditative practice are: anxiety, binge eating, mind chatter, compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, drug addiction, chronically relapsing depression, and perceived stress (to name a few).

Through regular practice, there is improved self-perception, confidence, optimism and self-control. Look at meditation as kindness to yourself and your own life experience. When it comes to choosing a meditative practice that is appropriate for you my advice is to explore options. There are several guided meditations (visual- i.e. chakra meditation), focus meditations (for example candlelight and Hamsah- third eye meditation, or breath meditation), also deity meditations (for example Brahma or Jana- nature meditation). Chanting is often times used to maintain or heighten a meditative state, and yoga asanas and breath work are used in preparation. Zen meditation is one of the most disciplined styles, and you can always start with disconnecting with outside distractions by being outdoors in nature away from other people.

However you choose to start a regular practice is your choice and comfort level. There is always room for your practice to deepen and take new forms. In modern society, meditation may be one way to bring harmony and balance to your busy life.

Yoga for Ailments

While studying Ayurvedic medicine (holistic medicine from India), I quickly realized how intertwined yoga is in this system. There are several different types of yoga, most focus on meditation. Hatha yoga is a branch that integrates physical asanas; this is what most westerners are familiar with. A pioneer in Hatha yoga is Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar. Iyengar yoga is known for it’s intense, rigorous style; however, Iyengar founded his practice off of the belief that yoga can heal. I wanted to highlight a few asanas that can be done to alleviate common ailments that he has recommended, and coincide with what I’ve learned through my studies.

For heart and circulation asanas that are effective, inversions are a great choice and have multiple health benefits.

Salamba Sirsasana – This pose requires a lot of muscle activation to maintain. It has a vigorous effect of the circulatory system, helps alleviate insomnia, and is said to relieve symptoms of colds, coughs and tonsilitis. It is not a good idea if you have a migraine, cervical spondylosis, an ear/ eye infection, have had dental work recently done, or shoulder impingement.

Be sure to maintain core/ body contraction as if holding a plank position, elongate the body pushing energy toward the ceiling, and shoulder blades back and down.

Viparita Karani – This pose is a passive alternative. It’s another inversion that improves circulation and heart function.

Elevate legs against a wall with hips touching the wall. You can use one or two bolsters supporting the lower back. The bolster should also be flush with the wall. If you have neck issues, a good modification is to roll a small towel up and put it behind the neck to maintain the cervical curvature.

Viparita Dandasana – This pose is similar to fish pose. It’s a great chest opener and spinal mobilizer.

Climb into a chair backwards, lie backwards giving your lower back and hips support. Use a bolster off the ground, hang your head down to the floor touching the crown of your head to the bolster. You can stack multiple bolsters if you have reduced extensibility of the lumbar spine.

For digestive issues several different asanas will improve peristalsis and digestion.

Utthita Parsvakonasana – This pose opens the hips and mobilizes the lumbar spine.

Open both hips aligning knees properly lunging into front leg (thigh parallel to the ground). In the side bend make sure to reach through the fingers creating length in the spine and not place your weight on the hand that’s on the ground.

Utthita Marichyasana – This pose is an intense torso and leg stretch.

Place a chair or high stool against a wall. Stand with the inside foot on a chair and twist toward the wall, place both hands flat on the wall and wrap your opposite elbow around the outside of your knee. Remember to keep chest open and look over your shoulder.

Stress and immune system health are generally important for everyone to focus on regularly to maintain quality of life.

Supta Baddhakonasana – This pose requires several props, but is really effective.

Align the bolster parallel with your spine touching the tailbone. When positioning the strap, place it low around the back of your hips level with the sacrum and use blocks to touch your knees down to if necessary.

Adhomukha Virasana (downward- facing hero pose)- This pose has a calming effect and is similar to Balasana (child’s pose).

When lying over the bolster, you can use a rolled up towel under the hips if you have reduced ankle and knee flexibility, and a rolled up towel to rest your head on for comfort.

Some of you may be familiar with these asansas from a traditional or restorative class. Now, you can look into self-healing from a holistic standpoint, as well. Having a qualified yoga instructor help you perform these asanas for the first time is important. Please contact Personal Fitness Trainer/Certified Yoga Instructor, Amber Walz, or any member of our yoga staff for details on how to begin.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Bridge

Bridge Pose
Setu= Bridge
Bandha= lock, or bind

Welcome to Seattle winter, brrr, are you ready?

To keep the internal fires stoked, a strong yoga practice that includes a little external heat, and back bending is a great way to stay healthy as cold sets into our joints.

Bridge pose is a simple and easily performed backbend. For intense athletes like you, back bending is key to healthy low back and hips.

Let’s Begin:
To start, warm up with a few Sun Salutations or 10 minutes easy pace on the Elliptical or Treadmill machines. Gather props, such as block and blanket if wanting a more restorative pose. Lay down supine on your mat, and begin by drawing your knees up to your chest and with feet at least hip width apart, set your feet firmly down on your mat. I like to begin with “Dynamic Bridge” before settling into the pose. If you have tight hips, feet are as wide as your mat to begin. Push down on your feet; inhale, as you raise your hips and arms up off the floor. Hold for one count, connect with your core and inner thighs, Exhale, and slowly release everything to the floor. Do this 3x’s. Lift your hips the final time, and leave your arms on the floor, push into your feet again as you shimmy your shoulder blades together. As you hold the pose, soften your glutes, and connect more with your inner thighs. This will take the pressure off your low back, and allow for lengthening in the front body. Hold for 5-10 breaths, release.

If your traps and pectoral muscles (major muscle group that contains your chest and upper back) are tight, I suggest you lengthen your arms toward your feet instead of clasping your hands behind the back, otherwise to increase intensity, lift your hips as high as you can and clasp your hands. Be sure to continue lengthening your neck away from your chest so you can breath naturally.

Restorative Variations:
If you have injury in neck or back, or need to relax instead of effort try these restorative alternatives.
1. As you lift your hips, slide the block under your tailbone for support and fold your weight over the block.
2. Roll the blanket under your neck for support
3. Roll the blanket long like a burrito, and lay supine on the roll with your legs straight on the floor, or knees bent if you have low back pain. The roll will lift your chest and shoulders and put pressure on the back of your lungs in a very calming slight backbend variation of Bridge Pose.

Counter pose:
To relax the back after any back bending, twist, or a gentle forward bend. If you have tightness in the hamstrings, roll your blanket under your knees before you forward bend.

Winter Health Tip, from Yoga wisdom:
Most of us contact with winter viral infections, and to stay on top of your health, try a Neti pot; an ancient ayurvedic method for health in winter. A Neti pot looks like a small teapot with a long snout, that you set inside one nostril as warm, slightly salty water pours through your nasal passages, back of the throat, and blows out the other side. You can buy Neti pots from local yoga boutiques, or use a method I do at home. First thing as you waken (before coffee, sorry) mix a tiny dash of salt and warm water in your hands, then slurp up your nose while closing the glottal muscles of the back of your throat. Blow out mixture forcefully. Ok, so the first few times you may feel like you are drowning, but hey, what’s good for you isn’t always fun the first few times. Remember broccoli? Yeah, now you love it!

For extra winter credit, oil up your nose with either sesame or olive oil, after the Neti process.
Let me know how it goes!

Yoga is Hard Core!

Most people associate yoga with flexibility and mental relaxation training, but rarely make the connection that Yoga Asana (poses) are great abdominal strength training too! If you need a break from “crunches”, take a little journey with me as I explore two powerful “hard core” poses from the yoga asana sequence.

Plank Pose and Dolphin Plank are two very powerful strengtheners for both the abdominal core and hip flexors. Plank has the added benefit of strengthening the chest, arms, back and triceps, which traditional sit up don’t do. Keeping your torso strong will help prevent a sore back, and helps you move your limbs with more grace and awareness away from the spinal medium.

The strength training from Plank will also help for more challenging yoga poses like Head and Handstand for the advanced practitioner, and if you are an athlete, a strong core translates in to explosive power and injury prevention and quicker recovery.


To begin, find Down Dog on your mat, and make sure your fingers are spread wide and you have a strong connection between the floor and the power moving up your arms, lifting the shoulder blades up your back.

Plank is, moving the shoulders forward from Down Dog, so your shoulders and elbows are in a direct line above your wrists, and your body is straight out behind you like a board.

To prevent “sagging” in the hips, tighten your kneecaps, activate your inner thighs and push “away” from the floor with your feet and hands. Your hips should be about level to shoulders.
Since the breath (prana) in yoga is so very important, as you hold this pose for 5-10 breath cycles, fill out your rib cage with new oxygen like a balloon. This newly oxygenated blood with give you energy and focus to hold the pose, and train you to breath deeply while under stress.

Dolphin Plank:

Dolphin Plank is similar to Plank with your forearms on the floor instead of hands. This is great if you have wrist issues or shoulder injury.

Start on hands and knees, in Cat/Cow, and lay your forearms on the floor, palms facing down, fingers wide, and elbows and wrists as wide as your shoulders. From there push back off the floor to either a Down Dog Dolphin or walk your feet back behind you so you are straight like a board, same as Plank.

For more intensity in both poses, join feet together and lift one foot at a time off the floor and hold up for the 5-breath cycle. Then switch. To strengthen Glute Medias, lift the foot, keep the toes pointing down, and open the leg out an inch or two. SLOWLY!!

To modify, set knees on floor and press belly button actively up toward spine so you won’t sag in belly.

As always, all Yoga Asana and other similar movement disciplines are best under the guidance of a certified instructor or coach. Come try one of my classes at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and I’ll show you this and a whole lot more! Monday/Wednesday from 6:00 – 7:00pm.

PS…. in case you didn’t realize, Tonja is one of the senior yoga instructors at Seattle Athletic Club, conducts classes for the Seattle Sounders, FC and has conducted classes for the Seattle Seahawks, Rat City Roller Girls, and members of the Luna Cycling Teams. She is also a Lululemon Ambassador, and has taught yoga internationally in Thailand, Vietnam and Croatia. She is looking forward to her up coming trip to Oaxaca, Mex. to teach and practice her Spanish skills. She is a certified Thai Yoga practitioner and mixes a wonderful blend of Thai Yoga and passive yoga stretching for a total body feel good tune up, in her private practice. She is ever grateful for the lessons her students teach her , and always curious about way to make yoga accessible for all.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Ardha- Half (twist)

Let’s Do the TWIST!!
Ardha- Half
Matsyendra- Lord of the Fishes

Twist Benefits

  • DeTox’s liver and kidneys, relief for stiff upper back, neck and shoulders, energizes the spine, stimulates digestive fires, and some relief for sciatic discomfort.
  • You know that feeling when you stand up and stretch after a long period of sitting? Ahhh…you can almost feel it!
  • That’s what twisting feels like for your back and internal organs. Monday yoga practices at the SAC, I have been dedicating to the concept of detoxing the body from toxins. Twisting is one of the best ways to use your yoga practice as a tool to feel healthy from the inside, out.

Seattle Yoga StudioTwist it UP!

  1. To start, grab a blanket and fold it firmly under your sit bones, there by elevating your hips, and tilting your pelvic bone forward for more flexible ease in the hips.
  2. Bend one knee, then; step the other foot over the top of the “bent knee” leg. If you have supper tight hips, you can modify by stepping the foot near the ankle.
  3. Exhale as you lengthen the spine and twist the torso towards the bent knee-as if you are wringing out a dishtowel. Keep lifting up through the spine and avoid collapsing the chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute for max twisting benefits.
  4. Counter twist by lying on your back for Bridge Pose or Happy Baby.
  5. There are many variations of twisting poses in a yoga practice. As always I like to plug our wonderful staff of teachers at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown who come up with there own variations of the Twist.

About Tonja Renee Hall
Is a yoga instructor at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and for professional sports teams. She uses her 10 years teaching experience here, internationally and in many disciplines of dance, cycling sports, and equestrian sports to inform her teaching. She uses humor and discipline to encourage her students to reach for their personal best. To schedule a private yoga lesson, please refer to her website www.tonjareneehall.com or contact Anna Miller, Group Exercise Director at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown.