FP How We: Yoga

FP How We: Yoga

A home office journey through the deep healing that is yoga…

This post comes to you from Elizabeth Sitzler, senior teacher and head of the mysore program at the Ashtanga Yoga School of Philadelphia.

One of the only “necessaries” for practicing yoga is a focus on bodily awareness and breath-connection. That focus allows us to investigate the concept of Vinyasa – the linking of breath and movement. Since Vinyasa is one of the foundational aspects of Ashtanga yoga, my goal is to emphasize breath and movement in all classes. This particular sequence was rooted in the primary and secondary series of my Ashtanga practice, which are designed to provide grounding energy, or apana, deep healing, and cleansing of the nervous system, through the use of breathing, posture and gaze.

On August 3rd, I had the pleasure of joining the Free People community at its home office to teach a one-hour, Ashtanga-inspired Vinyasa yoga class. The team had created a beautiful space for practice, decorated with tall plants, soft candlelight and a special Free People touch, which provided a tranquil atmosphere for the students.

Class began with several rounds of cat-cows. Cat-cows are done to open the hips, spine, chest, and shoulders, and serve to bring attention to our bandhas, or internal energy locks. On an inhale, we entered cow pose by arching our back, tilting our pelvis forward, and dropping our head back. On an exhale, we transitioned to cat pose by rounding our back, tucking our pelvis, and dropping our head down.

Next, we heated the body by flowing through 5 sun salutation A’s and 3 sun salutation B’s, then transitioning to standing and balancing postures, including two standing forward bends, triangle, revolved triangle, side angle, revolved side angle, wide legged forward bend, pyramid pose, standing big-toe hold, tree pose, chair pose, a vinyasa with an optional exit through crane pose, warrior one, warrior two, and reverse warrior. The benefits of these postures include opening our spine, hamstrings and hips, as well as strengthening our quadriceps and core. These postures are also nice because they detoxify our bodies, provide a grounding energy, and prepare us for seated postures and back bends.

We opened the seated sequence with staff pose, to lay a foundation for what was to come. We did a seated forward bend, table-top, head to knee pose, seated spinal twist, bound angle, and boat pose. This specific sequence includes highlights from the primary series of Ashtanga yoga. The benefits of these postures are similar to those in the standing and balancing section, and further serve to prepare the body for back bending.

The peak of our practice was our back bending sequence, which included locust pose, bow pose, and a vinyasa forward from downward facing dog to enter the option for either bridge or upward bow pose. Back bends, which serve to energetically awaken the body, open our front (specifically the heart) and strengthen our back. After our back bend sequence was complete, we took a supine twist on each side and another seated forward bend to release our spines. Finally, I closed our practice with viparita karani, an inversion. Inversions are extremely restorative and improve our circulation. After many breaths while inverted, the group took savasana, or final rest.

 

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FP How We: Eat Pretty

FP How We: Eat Pretty

Our monthly home office wellness series turns within, as we talk all things Eat Pretty with Jolene Hart …

This post comes to you from Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Jolene Hart.

As a health coach and author, I help my readers and clients look and feel their best via the beautifying powers of food and self-care. Together we look beyond the surface of the skin, into the various ways we nourish our beauty — beginning with our meals and extending to mindset, movement, energy, sleep, and all of the unique needs of our individual bodies in each season. Beauty, as you’ve heard before, is so much more than skin deep, and I love watching my clients build a dynamic and very personal lifestyle of beauty that reflects that, supporting their lifelong beauty and wellbeing in the process.

I shared my approach to beauty with the Free People Home Office this month, amidst vases of wildflowers, linens hand-dyed to match the covers of my Eat Pretty book series, and an abundance of fresh lemons (one of my absolute favorite skin foods) for beauty food inspiration. A sunlit space, the glow of a summer afternoon, and a room filled with the magical creative energy of FP employees made this event so special!

Whenever I share my work, I also tell my personal story, almost a decade’s worth of skin issues, and my exhaustive search for a product, prescription, or treatment that would heal them. Not only did I make it my job to figure out why chronic eczema and cystic acne were taking over my skin, it actually was my job to give beauty advice, as I was working as a magazine beauty editor at the time. After several years spent seeking and testing promising skin treatments and services, my skin was unchanged. Desperate, I left my magazine post and used my journalist role to search for answers — delving into various fields of study including Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, genomics, aesthetics, dermatology, and integrative nutrition to learn more about our bodies and our skin. My own frustrating experience inspired my second career as a coach and my beauty nutrition-focused coaching practice Beauty Is Wellness, and that personal journey has kept me passionate about eating for beauty every day of my own life.

During my visit, I challenged the Free People staff to rethink their own approach to beauty, beginning with their meals and extending to the sources of energy in their lives that influence their own mindset, stress, and emotions. We named some of the qualities that describe a universally ‘beautiful’ person — vibrant, energetic, fresh, glowing — and I asked the group to use those qualities as a guide when choosing their own meals. The foods we eat break down to become our bodies on a molecular level, so choosing foods naturally high in energy, vibrancy, and freshness strongly adds to the visible beauty of our bodies, even as it supports optimal physical function.

I shared other qualities that are essential to keep in mind when choosing foods for beauty — qualities like seasonality, anti-inflammatory value, and color — and explained the vital role that blood sugar balance plays in achieving radiant, youthful skin, balanced hormones, good moods and your healthiest weight. One simple strategy that I believe all women should know to support their blood sugar balance is to eat a meal that satiates the body and provides slow-digesting energy. To achieve this, it’s ideal to include a combination of protein, healthy fats, and abundant vegetables on your plate every time you sit down to a meal. This illustration of an Eat Pretty plate, taken from my book Eat Pretty, Live Well, helps visualize what those foods might look like together.

 

 

Above all, I encouraged the FP team to listen closely to their bodies, by watching their skin as well as their energy, digestion, hormone balance, and stress levels, to find the foods and the habits that best support their beauty and body. We’re all uniquely made, so it’s important to recognize our own needs by seeing and feeling those telling manifestations in our bodies. I’ve found, as have so many of my readers and clients, that building a lifestyle that supports your beauty from the inside out not only helps you look and feel your best, it teaches you so much about your body in the process.

So many thanks to the amazing FP staff for inviting me to share this message, and for providing so much creative inspiration as always!

+ Want to learn more from Jolene Hart? Check out these articles here and start your journey to healthy living today! 

Photo by Magdalena Fountoukidis.

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FP How We: Meditate

FP How We: Meditate

Our monthly home office wellness series turns within, featuring best practices meditation from two of our very own…

Unlike the hosts of our previous FP How We sessions, you are both full-time FP employees. Can you talk a little bit about how your paths brought you here? 

J: I was always into the mysterious… ancient secrets in yoga, chanting, numbers, letters, astrology, etc. My love for design was once separate but, as I dove deeper into my spirituality, I realized everything is connected. The good and the bad. How we do one thing is how we do everything, weaving it all into a work of art… we are all creative beings.

K: I’ve always been interested in and curious about the non-physical world, ever since I was a little girl. As I grew into my teens I was always attracted to the mystical, delving into astrology, tarot, always yearning to know more about the deep mysteries. It wasn’t until I was out of college, and working full time at Free People, that I started falling in love with yoga. At first, it was just a couple days a week in a local gym, but the instructor was fantastic and took me deep inside myself, especially during Savasana. After I had my daughters I became much more committed to yoga and joined a local studio. One day I dropped into an Ashtanga class and fell deeply in love. As I progressed through the years with Ashtanga, I realized I was getting so much out of the sitting pranayama (breath work) and stillness at the end of the sequence. It seemed I had to push my body to all its edges and limits to achieve this bliss of spacious awareness, I felt light streaming through my body — I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. A few years later, I moved away from my Ashtanga teacher and had a hard time keeping my practice going. I also began suffering from some pretty serious illnesses and had knew I had to limit my energy output so I could help my body heal itself. I started doing guided meditations to help ease my stress and anxiety and realized I could access this spacious awareness state through my consciousness. I knew I needed to dive deeper into meditation and signed up for a teacher training program.

Was wellness always a part of who you are? Tell us about that journey.

J: As a kid I endlessly played in nature. I knew there was a life-changing wisdom there. The trees alone are full of metaphors on how to exist, deeply rooted in the ground while stretching up into the heavens. As I got older and more conditioned to social norms, I struggled. Stress began to break down my body and I started to develop health issues. On a crusade to heal naturally I realized it wasn’t about the food itself. It was about my emotions, self-esteem and connection to my true self. You can eat all the super foods in the world but, if you are full of guilt and shame, who cares what size you are or who likes you. Until you see that your value is an accessory to something greater. In this knowing I have been able to liberate myself from many issues and am truly enjoying life. Spiritual or not, to me these are the basics of life.

K: Absolutely. When I was younger it manifested mostly in preferring a healthy diet & regular exercise. I loved to go to aerobics classes with my mom in high school, hiking the national parks with my family, and was even the captain of the cross country team in high school. In college, I craved good vegetables, when the cafeteria was filled with junk food. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I realized that importance of mental & spiritual heath as a significant component to overall wellness for me. I realized that ALL the choices I was making, not just my food & exercise, were contributing to living a fulfilling life. I realized I needed to look deeper into my stress, anxiety, and emotions as well as develop a deeper connection to the Mystical world that I’d been curious about since childhood. As I’ve had some illnesses over the past few years, I’ve also realized how lacking our medical system is right now in terms of preventative or vitality enhancing focuses, so have turned to so many other healing modalities to help my body be well again including Herbalists, Ayurveda, Energy Medicine, Acupuncture, Diet/Food as Medicine, Self-Love, Breath-work, Mantra, Yoga and Meditation.

And how did you two find each other?

J: I’ve been at Free People for 9 years. Kristal not only interviewed me, but hired and trained me! We have been working together ever since. We always compared notes on our latest obsessions — in the beginning it was yoga to nutrition, then deeper esoteric studies as we progressed. It’s been a Joy to grow alongside each other and inspire as we go along… blessed be!

K: Yes, so much JOY! We have said so many times how grateful we are that we were brought together to support each other on this journey. I totally think it was fate. We were meant to work together on many levels in this life.

What does meditation mean to each of you? What does your personal meditation look like?

J: Meditation, to me, is a practice of knowing yourself. No wonder it is so hard in the beginning, all your demons rush forward to be released the moment you sit down. Personally I was overwhelmed by this. I explored many different styles of meditating, loving something from each. I now have custom built a practice for me, something I recommend to everyone. This includes a prayer, mudras and breathing always. Other times I may add dance, chanting or yantras. I strongly feel as we grow what we need reveals itself… so cool!

K: Meditation is essential to me. It helps me stay connected and in-tune with my higher self, my true self. It helps me stay present and available for the people in my life. It also inspires ideas, helps me process my day, and release anything I no longer need to hold onto. It helps me ‘see’ where I am stuck, where I am clinging, and where I need to let go.  I usually wake up around 5am, have a cup of tea and head out to my little yoga/meditation/sacred space. I typically read some inspiring pages or verses of poetry while I finish my tea, I then meditate until about 6am, when during the school year it’s time to wake up my girls. I typically just follow my personal silent meditation, and when I’m feeling I’d like a guided practice, I choose something from the myriad of options on the Insight Timer App. I’ve also began incorporating a few mudracs that I learned from Jess that shift my energy quickly. I also do occasional longer sits on the weekends, as well as go to group meditations, womens circles or retreats when I can. I also like to get into a meditative state during physical activities, like hiking, walking, yoga, and dancing. Like Jess said, there are so many ways to get there!

I bet most of us do not know about mudras – can you give a quick explanation of what these are?

J: Mudras are essentially hand yoga. Each finger is linked to an energetic meridian in your body (what they use in acupuncture) as well as a neurological pathway in your brain. You can literally change your state in 3 mins. As I mentioned above, when I began to meditate I found it overwhelming unless I had just performed yoga. Why? Because I had so much energy that needed to move. Learning mudras allowed me to clear and channel this energy with intention and purpose.

Favorite crystal (no pun intended, K):

J: Its hard to have a fav. I’d say selenite is my go-to. I’d love one of every color.

K: I always go to quartz because it’s an amplifier and clears, helps me to move energies quickly. I love so many, though.

Morning or night?

J: I practice every morning, but I’m a nighttime person. I get super psychic at night.

K: Morning for me. I feel sparkly in the morning. I love sunrise. I am so sleepy at night.

#1 inner beauty go-to:

J: Mudra & Adi Shakti Mantra.

K: Heart openers using meditation, yoga, mudra, movement. I think nothing creates beauty more than an open heart and a peaceful presence.

Biggest hope/dream for women everywhere:

J: To Self Realize and know their own power. To embrace each other rather than compete/compare.

K: Totally Agree. Also owning their cycle, realize the sacredness of their moon time. We are the instruments of creation.

What does free mean to you?

J: Boundless Self Expression.

K: Liberation From Conditioning.

 

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