4 Counterposes to Help Balance Your Practice

A counterpose in yoga is a posture that helps neutralize the body after performing a particular pose.  Its purpose is to restore balance in the body, especially in the spine and pelvis.  Very often a counterpose will integrate the action of the preceding posture, but in a neutralizing (and sometimes opposing) manner.  For example, after performing Cobra Pose (a gentle backbend), one possible counterpose would be Table Top Pose (which returns the spine to neutral).  Another option would be Downward Facing Dog Pose (which encourages lengthening and neutralizing the spine.)   Counterposes help us avoid injury and imbalances in the body, and most of the time, they feel good too.

Below are a few of my go-to counterposes (along with the poses they are countering):

1. Backbend/Knees to Chest

After practicing any kind of heart-opening pose, such as Wheel, Camel, or Bow Pose, the tendency is to want to take the body into a complete forward fold.  But moving back and forth between the two extremes can cause strain in the body.  A preferred counterpose would be a posture such as Knees To Chest, which gently stretches and neutralizes the spine:

To Perform Knees to Chest:

  • Lie on your back, with your legs and arms extended.  Exhale and draw both knees into your chest.  Clasp your hands around your knees if possible. 
  • Keep your back flat on the ground.  Draw your tailbone and sacrum downward, lengthening your spine.  Gently tuck your chin and gaze toward your knees.
  • Hold for 20 breaths.  Slowly release your knees and lower your feet to the ground.
 Wheel Pose

Wheel Pose

 Knees to Chest Pose

Knees to Chest Pose

2. Forward Fold/Upward Plank Pose

Forward folds, such as Paschimottanasana, are wonderful for stretching the back side of the body, including the spine and hamstrings.  A perfect counterpose would be one that gently opens the front side of the body, such as Upward Plank Pose (Purvottanasana), which stretches the shoulders, chest, and ankles:

To Perform Upward Plank Pose:

  • Begin seated with your legs extended and your hands a few inches behind your hips. Your fingers should be pointing forward, and your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale and press your hands and feet down firmly down into the ground as you lift your hips upward. Raise your chest toward the sky, and keep your spine in a straight line.  Try to press the soles of your feet into the floor. Keep your leg muscles engaged, but don't squeeze your glutes.
  • Hold for 10 breaths.  Slowly lower your hips to the ground to release.
 Seated Forward Fold

Seated Forward Fold

 Upward Plank Pose

Upward Plank Pose

3. Headstand/Rabbit Pose

Headstand is commonly one of the first inversions that students learn.  Having the forearms and head on the floor provide a stable foundation for this inversion, but very often there's a lot of weight & pressure being placed on the head and neck (especially with beginners). Rabbit Pose is a wonderful way to counter that, however it's a also a pose needs to be performed carefully, to ensure that there is no strain in the neck:

To Perform Rabbit Pose

  • Begin in a kneeling position. Lean forward to place the crown of your head onto the ground (as close to your knees as you can.)
  • Reach back and grab hold of your heels (or ankles or calves) and begin to lift your hips as you lean forward slightly.  You'll start to feel a nice stretch along the back of your neck, but make sure to keep it gentle, and be careful not press your head down too hard.
  • Hold for 5 breaths.  Slowly lower your hips down to release.
 Headstand

Headstand

 Rabbit Pose

Rabbit Pose

4. Balasana: The Universal Counterpose

Child's Pose is a resting pose and therapeutic posture that can help relieve back and neck pain. Its is a calming counterpose that can be performed at any time during a practice because it helps to restore balance throughout the body.

 Child's Pose

Child's Pose

To Perform Child's Pose:

  • Begin on your hands and knees.  Widen your knees slightly while keeping the big toes touching. Lower your seat down onto your heels. (You can keep your knees together if your hips are tight.)
  • Exhale and lower your torso down between your thighs.  Rest your forehead on the ground, and extend your arms long, with the palms facing down.  Lengthen your body from your hips to your armpits, and soften your lower back.  Keep your eyes closed.
  • Hold for 30 breaths.  Inhale and sit up to release.

Costa Rica Calling... Pura Vida in Peninsula Papagayo

 Oropendola Waterfall.

Oropendola Waterfall.

Winters on the east coast can feel impossibly long, especially by the time March rolls around.  This year the season seemed almost endless.  In addition to the usual snowstorms and frigid temps, we also skipped our annual trip to Florida and instead made two arctic expeditions (one to Iceland and another to Norway).  Now I'm not complaining - I enjoyed every moment wandering through snow-capped Scandinavia.  But let's just say that when the opportunity arose to visit Costa Rica's sunshine-filled "Gold Coast", there wasn't a moment of hesitation in my Vitamin-D deprived mind.

This trip to Peninsula Papagayo was special for a couple of reasons.  I was travelling with my sister (a fellow yogi & beach lover who I don't get to see often enough), and we'd be visiting the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.  I'd visited the southern coast a few years ago, and found it so extraordinary that I couldn't wait to explore the northern region.

 Yoga at Andaz Papagayo Beach House

Yoga at Andaz Papagayo Beach House

We flew into the Liberia Airport, which was an easy 20 minute drive from our hotel - the beautiful Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.  The exceptional staff greeted us with fresh fruit drinks and gave us a tour of the grounds.  The luxury resort is large - there are two pools, three restaurants (all of which offer vegetarian options), two beaches, a fitness center, and a spa all on site.  There's also a third beach and a fourth restaurant at their Beach House property - a short 10 minute shuttle ride from the main hotel.

Between all of the relaxation opportunities and the local water activities (kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling, just to name a few) there was almost no reason to venture off the hotel grounds.  But we couldn't pass up a trip to Rincon de La Vieja National Park.  The incredible hotel staff not only arranged a private car to drive us, but also packed a picnic basket filled with fruits, veggie wraps, water, and juice for our little adventure.

 Oropendola Waterfall

Oropendola Waterfall

Rincon de La Vieja was about an hour drive away. The beautiful 35,000 acre National Park is centered around two volcanoes (one dormant and one active), and is home to tropical dry forests, waterfalls, and local flora & fauna.  There's an array of trails and activities to choose from once inside the park (there's a small entrance fee).  Some of the more popular options include a scenic 10-km hike (great for spotting local wildlife like monkeys, armadillos, & tropical birds), relaxing in the Rio Negro natural hot springs & volcanic mud baths, and an exhilarating flight through the treetops on a series of zip lines. We decided on a shorter hike that would take us straight to the stunning Oropendola Waterfall.  The 20-minute trail led us through the woods, down a swinging narrow staircase, and to a platform that sits by the base of the 82-foot high waterfall. We were amply rewarded with a refreshing swim in the turquoise pool, surrounded by lush scenery in every direction.

One of our favorite experiences at Andaz was taking the Barista Class offered at the hotel.  The hour-long lesson is devoted entirely to coffee (one of Costa Rica's primary crops and natural treasures), and was given by Luis Herrera, the hotel's skilled barista and a passionate expert.  Luis explained everything from ideal bean growing elevation  to the preferred grind, and described the many different techniques used to brew coffee. He demonstrated how each manner affects the flavor & caffeine level of its cup.  It was really interesting to learn so much about a drink I enjoy every morning, and of course even more fun getting to sample some of the best coffee I've ever had.

I left Costa Rica feeling both rested and rejuvenated.  Perhaps it was the incredible massage at the Onda Spa, or maybe it was the swimming and daily yoga on the beach, but somehow this trip turned out to be the perfect mix of adventure, relaxation, and fun.  Until next time Costa Rica, Pura Vida.

 Hiking through Rincon de La Vieja

Hiking through Rincon de La Vieja

 Barista Class at Andaz

Barista Class at Andaz

 Spa Day at Andaz Papagayo

Spa Day at Andaz Papagayo

 Sunset yoga in Peninsula Papagayo

Sunset yoga in Peninsula Papagayo

* I was welcomed as a guest of Andaz Costa Rica Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Lisbon: A Perfect Portuguese Stopover

 Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon

I often find, when planning a trip, that deciding on a destination is my biggest challenge. There are so many incredible locations that I have yet to see, and my wish-list only seems to get longer with each passing year.  So when I learned about TAP Air Portugal's Stopover Program, where you can spend up to 5 days in Lisbon or Porto on the way to a final destination (150+ to choose from), it felt as though my travel prayers had been answered.  I would finally have the chance to explore Lisbon, a city that’s been on my list forever, as a complimentary stopover on my way to Paris.

 Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Aerial view of Portugal's western coast

Getting to Lisbon was easier than I anticipated, thanks to TAP Air Portugal.  I took a non-stop overnight flight that seemed to go much faster than its 7 hours.  The crew was accommodating and friendly, and dinner on board was delicious (I ordered a yummy vegetarian meal).  There was also plenty of in-flight entertainment options to choose from, I decided on this year's blockbuster 'Wonder Woman’ before falling asleep for a few hours. I woke up just in time to catch a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean right as we began our descent into Portugal.

 Pink Street in Lisbon

Pink Street in Lisbon

My Lisbon adventure began moments after checking into my hotel, the posh Pestana CR7.   The hotel is a perfect blend of old & new, in a beautiful historic building that’s been renovated with every modern amenity. It’s conveniently located just around the corner from the the Praça do Comércio, where I sampled some snacks at the festive Christmas Market.  Also within walking distance was the colorful Pink Street in Cais do Sodré, which was even prettier in person (so much so that I couldn’t resist taking a quick yoga photo right in middle of the street!)  From there I made my way to the popular shopping boulevard Avenida da Liberdade, (I always seem to make my way to the shopping area!) and enjoyed a tasty Pastéis de Nata - a popular Portuguese pastry - at a local bakery. Afterward, I went for a stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets of Alfama.  This is really where I began to fall in love with Lisbon, its charm and beauty so apparent in this historic district.  A friendly local suggested I head over to Cacilhas, on the other side of the bridge, for dinner and sunset.  I don't think I could have asked for a more perfect way to end my first day in Lisbon.

 Admiring Lisbon 

Admiring Lisbon 

The next couple of days included more exploration of the city as well as a road trip out west to the delightful town of Sintra.  Getting lost in Sintra's scenic roads was the ideal way to discover some of the renowned landmarks that lie in this region.  Nestled among lush hills were extravagant mansions, hidden towns, and Disney-style castles; it’s no surprise that this is where Portuguese nobility would spend their summers.  It would be hard to choose a favorite spot in Sintra, but some serious highlights of my visit there include the  Pena Palance, the Quinta da Regalaria, the Palace of Monserrate, and the Centro Historico (just outside of the Sintra National Palace).  Each place was truly more beautiful than then next, but one magical moment that will forever stay etched in my mind was watching the sunset from high above the oceanside cliffs of Cabo da Roca.

From the pastry shops of Lisbon to the Sintra mountain range, my heart is full from this incredible adventure.  Many thanks to TAP Air Portugal for the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of the world before heading to Paris, my final destination.  It feels as though I've only just begun to discover all that Portugal has to offer, but I know in my heart that I will be back again.

Until next time, Portugal...  Xx

 Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

Cabo Da Roca, at sunset

 Yoga in Sintra

Yoga in Sintra

 Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

Exploring the beautiful Palace of Monserrate

 Pena Palace

Pena Palace

 Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

Praça do Comércio Plazain Lisbon

 Handstanding in Sitra

Handstanding in Sitra

* In cooperation with TAP Air Portugal

All photography by Nathan Rose Photography

Fall-ing for Yoga, 4 Poses To Help Balance Your Autumn Practice

The leaves have started to change color, the days have grown shorter and cooler, and pumpkin spice lattes are now back on the menu... fall is officially here.  My personal favorite way to welcome autumn includes cozy sweaters and a new pair of booties (not to mention a little extra Netflix time).  But there is one additional thing I've added to this year's list, and that is to balance out my yoga practice with a few key poses for fall. The ones I've listed below really help my body transition through the season more gracefully.  Oh, and there is one more thing I forgot to mention - a cute new yoga outfit always makes coming to the mat a lot more exciting.  The one I'm wearing in all of the photos here is by Sam Edelman, and it couldn't be more perfect for this fall!

1. Get Grounded

It turns out that along with the change in weather, it's also quite common to experience some extra nervous energy during this transitional season.  Practicing grounding poses, including this Chair Pose Variation can help the body feel stronger and more centered. 

 

 Chair Pose Variation

Chair Pose Variation

  • Separate your feet about the width of your mat, with your toes turned outward.
  • Ground your feet firmly into the floor as squat down, lowering your torso onto your thighs and keeping your hips in line with your knees.
  • Extend your arms forward.  Reach them all the way toward the front of the room as you reach your hips all the way back.
  • Keep your core engaged and your belly lifting up.
  • Squeeze your triceps inward toward your ears and press your palms away. 
  • Hold for five breaths, then release and repeat 3 more times.

2. Build Heat & Feel Energized

Though its tempting to just stay in and hibernate as the weather cools down, it's important to get the body warmed up to combat the stiffness that often accompanies the cold.  Incorporating energizing poses, such as Bridge Pose (or any heart-opening pose) is a great way to build heat in the body.

 Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose

  • Begin lying on your back, with the knees bent, with your feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides.
  • Raise the hips up toward the ceiling and either interlace the hands together or leave the arms down by the sides of the body. 
  • Keep the neck in neutral as you continue to life the hips higher.  
  • Hold for five breaths, then lower and repeat 2 more times.

 

3. Cleanse & Detox

Fall time is, unfortunately, often accompanied by cold & flu season. Spending extra time indoors only helps germs to spread faster.  Yoga twists, such as Revolved Triangle Pose are a great way to boost the body’s natural detoxification process by helping to flush the toxins from the body and promote cleansing on a cellular level.

 Revolved Triangle Pose

Revolved Triangle Pose

  • Begin with your feet about 2-3 feet apart, and align the right heel with the left heel.  Pivot your right foot out 90 degrees and turn your left  foot slightly inward.
  • Reach your left arm up toward the ceiling,  Hinge forward from your hips, keeping length in the spine and open your torso to the right as you place your left hand to the outside of your right foot.  Use your right hand, if necessary, to draw your left hip back so it stays in line with your right hip.
  • Lengthen your spine and roll your right  shoulder back as you extend your right arm upward. Reach the left fingertips toward the ceiling.  If possible, turn your head to gaze at your right thumb. 
  • Hold for five breaths, then slowly release and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time

4. Rest & Restore

Restorative yoga poses help us disconnect from the frenzied pace of daily life.  The slow pace and deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect on our minds and bodies.  Studies have shown that this type of relaxation, including poses like Legs Up the Wall, can help fend off depression, provide higher quality sleep, and improve mental health.

 Legs Up the Wall pose

Legs Up the Wall pose

  • Begin by sitting with the right side  of your body against the wall.  Using your hands to balance, gently swivel your body to the right as you lower your torso to the floor and bring your legs up onto the wall. 
  • Rest your shoulders and head on the floor.  Wiggle your body from side-to-side to scoot your sitting bones closer to the wall. Let your arms gently rest at your sides, or place your left hand on your heart center, and your right hand on your belly.
  • Close your eyes and stay here for 5-10 minutes.  Notice your breath as you lie here.
  • Slowly release by pushing yourself gently away from the wall as you slide your legs down and return to a seated position.

* Outfit worn throughout is by Sam Edelman

Mykonos and Santorini, a Magical Summer Getaway

Although it had been on my bucket list for a few years, this summer was the first time I had the opportunity to visit the gorgeous Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini.  My excitement to finally travel to this picturesque part of the world was high.  Of course I'd seen photos of these stunning locations online, and while I was a bit skeptical about whether they'd be as beautiful in person, they in fact, did not dissapoint. 

 San Marco Luxury Hotel & Villas in Mykonos

San Marco Luxury Hotel & Villas in Mykonos

Our trip began in Mykonos, where we stayed at the photogenic San Marco Hotel.  Our room - a Junior Suite with a sea view - was open, light, airy, and very comfortable.  We even had a small balcony with a seating area facing the beautiful blue Aegean waters.  The hotel also had a relaxing seawater pool, two restaurants, and a complimentary shuttle service to and from town numerous times a day.

We took one of these shuttles to town, where we walked around the charming cobbled streets with its pretty shops, watched the sunset with the famous Chora Windmills, and enjoyed drinks and a delicious dinner by the water. 

 Sunset by the Chora Windmills

Sunset by the Chora Windmills

 Moonrise in Mykonos

Moonrise in Mykonos

After an incredible time in Mykonos, we headed to Santorini, just a short stop away by high-speed ferry.  With almost 2 million visitors annually, Santorini is Greece's most popular island, and for good reason.  Its beautiful beaches, spectacular scenery, stunning sunsets, and delicious food, make it one of the top vacation spots in the world. 

 The Red Beach, Santorini 

The Red Beach, Santorini 

One of our favorite places in Santorini was The Red Beach, located in Akrotiri village.  It is truly an eye-catching sight, with its red volcanic rocks overlooking the blue sea, and shores made of colorful sand and pebbles.  Another favorite (though very crowded) area was the picturesque village of Oia.  Situated at the top of an impressive cliff, it offers a spectacular view of the island, with it's charming pastel-colored houses and famous blue-domes.  There are plenty of shops and restaurants there, though if you're looking for a more lively crowd, head to Fira where you can find the island nightlife.

From their sapphire waters and whitewashed houses to their colorful sunsets and charming neighborhoods, the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini are two of the most beautiful locations in the world.  A visit to either of these islands is sure to be an incredible, memorable, and very rewarding experience.

 Sunset over Oia, Santorini

Sunset over Oia, Santorini

 Santorini's magical sunset (photography by Kimonas Ptiniotis)

Santorini's magical sunset (photography by Kimonas Ptiniotis)