Photo Editing Apps - My Three Favorites and How I Use Them

So you finally got your boyfriend to snap a picture of you balancing in Bakasana, or maybe you had to bribe your daughter to photo-document that newfound Natarajasana… but now what? How do you take that pretty yoga pic and make it pop a little more before sharing it with your friends on Insta? Having to edit my own yoga pics for the last few years means I picked up a thing or two about doing just that. Below are a few of my favorite photo-editing apps to help bring your photos from Blah to Ahhh! in a matter of minutes.

Snapseed – This is, hands-down, the app I most often use for editing my photos.   After importing a picture, I start out by selecting the ‘Tune Image’ feature. This is where I play around with the Brightness, Contrast, Ambiance, Highlights, and Shadows to see what looks best. Because every photo is unique, the way I adjust these settings always varies from image to image. If I want a darker, more mysterious look I might use the Vignette tool, and if ‘light & airy’ is what I’m after I’ll probably increase the Highlights a little more. Another feature I like to use is the ‘Details’ tool where I can sharpen or soften a photo depending on its mood. Snapseed offers so many editing options and is quite a powerful little app, so spend some time experimenting with it to see what style and look you like best.

Snapseed: Tune Image

Snapseed: Tune Image

Snapseed

Snapseed

VSCO – There’s good reason why this app has been around for so many years and still remains popular with creatives. With VSCO’s expansive selection of filters and artsy vibe, it’s long been a go-to for myself and many others. There are a few presets I tend to favor (like ‘A6’), but I always lower the intensity (usually to about 30%). I also tweak the ‘White Balance’ & ‘Skin Tone’ settings, where I might add some warmth to an image, or perhaps take some redness out of my skin (if I’m resembling the tone of a tomato).

VSCO

VSCO

VSCO

VSCO

Afterlight - Dusty Overlays

Afterlight - Dusty Overlays

Afterlight – Admittedly I don’t use this app nearly use much as the previous two, but it can come in handy with a photo that needs a little something extra. Afterlight has a nice number of built-in filters, but the features I like best are their overlays, ‘Dusty’ and ‘Light Leaks’. Dusty, which includes more than 10 options, is perfect if you want to add scratches or grain to your photo for a vintage vibe. Light Leaks, which has over 30 adjustable overlays to choose from, is great for achieving that sought-after retro look. I never use both at the same time, and I generally lower the intensity of the overlay to about 50%, which gives the image a nice subtle-kick.

One final word of advice: the key here isn’t to mimic anyone else’s style, but to find your own. That’s the beauty of creativity - we each have a unique viewpoint to share. Experiment with your images and editing, play around with different perspectives and proportions, but ultimately find a style that best represents YOU.

PS. If any of these editing tips helped you, tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #yogawithriva so I can see the final result!

Tis the Season... for Tissues, Hot Tea, and De-Congesting Yoga Poses

Ahhh December… the sparkly lights are all up, the holidays are just around the corner, and cold season is in full swing. For most of us, coming down with the common cold is a nuisance that doesn’t really cause a major disruption to our daily routine. Even so, its symptoms can certainly take a toll on our body, leaving us feeling achy, congested, and more tired than usual. The following 5 yoga poses are the perfect mini-sequence to help open your chest, clear your sinuses, and provide some much-needed relief:

1. Supported Downward Facing Dog (using 2 blocks)

Adho Mukha Svanasana is a mild inversion that aids circulation. It opens the chest and airways, which allows the sinuses to drain. The yoga blocks used in this variation provide support to the head & neck, creating a more restorative sensation in the posture.

Supported Downward Facing Dog

Supported Downward Facing Dog

1. Come onto all fours with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.  Place 2 blocks stacked directly under your belly, with the bottom block on its lowest height, and the top block set to its highest height.

2. Tuck your toes, shift your hips back, and straighten your legs, coming into Downward Facing Dog. The blocks should end up directly under your forehead. Lower your forehead down onto the top block and allow it to rest there.

3. Hold for five to ten breaths, then lower down to release.

2. Supported Forward Fold (using 2 blocks)

Uttanasana reduces stress and relieves tension in the spine, neck, and back. It allows for fresh direct blood-flow to the head, helps to clear out blockages, and is considered therapeutic for sinusitis. The yoga blocks used in this variation provide support to the head & neck, creating a more restorative sensation in the posture.

1. Begin standing with your hands on your hips.  Place two blocks directly in front of you, one stacked on top of the other, both at their tallest height.

Supported Forward Fold

Supported Forward Fold

2. Exhale and lengthen the front of your torso as you bend forward at the hips. Press your heels down toward the floor as you reach your sit bones upward. Spin the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Don't lock your knees.  

3.  Gently lower your forehead to rest on the top block. With each inhale lift and lengthen your torso.

4.  Hold the pose for 10 breaths.  To exit, bend your knees, place your hands on your hips, and return to standing.

3. Plow Pose

Halasana is a calming stretch that can aid in sleep, which is often affected by a cold. It can provide relief for both sinusitis and headaches.

1. Begin lying on your back, with legs extended, arms down at your side.  Palms should be flat on the ground.

Plow Pose

Plow Pose

2. Inhale and use your core muscles to lift your legs and hips up toward the ceiling.  Align your torso so that it’s perpendicular to the floor.

3.  Slowly lower your legs and feet over your head and down toward the floor.   There should be little or no weight on the lower neck.  Keep a slight bend in the knees if you feel tension in your legs or back.  If your toes don’t yet touch the floor, support your back with your hands.

4. If you can rest your toes comfortably on the floor, straighten your legs completely and move your tailbone toward the ceiling.  Interlace your fingers and press your upper arms firmly into the floor.

5.  Bring your hips over your shoulders.  Lift your tailbone and soften your throat.

6. Hold for 5-10 breaths.  To release, support your back with your hands and slowly roll down, one vertebra at a time.

4. Fish Pose

Matsyasana is referred to in a traditional yoga text as the “destroyer of all diseases.” It stimulates the thyroid gland and opens the chest & throat, which helps improve breathing & reduce congestion.

1. Begin lying on your back, with legs extended, arms down at your side.  Palms should be flat on the ground.

Fish Pose

Fish Pose

2. Inhale and press your elbows & forearms into the ground as you raise your chest, creating an arch in your upper back. Lift your shoulder blades, upper torso, and head up from the floor. Then slowly lower just your head back down onto the floor. Either the back of your head or the crown of your head will rest on the ground (depending on how lifted your back and chest are).

3. Keep pressing through your hands and forearms. There should be minimal weight pressing into your neck.

4. The knees can be bent or straight. If they are straight, make sure to keep the muscles in your thighs engaged.

5. Hold for five breaths. To release the pose, exhale as you lower your torso and head to the floor. Draw your knees into your chest for a few breaths.

5. Headstand

Sirsasana is often referred to as to as “the king of all yoga poses”. It improves circulation, strengthens the lungs, and is said to be therapeutic for sinusitis. Headstand is an intermediate/advanced inversion, so if this posture is not a part of your regular yoga practice, perform another inversion such as ‘Legs Up the Wall’ which helps soothe the mind and body.

1. Begin on your hands & knees, then lower your forearms to the floor with your elbows directly under your shoulders (you can clasp each hand around the opposite elbow to ensure that your elbows are the right distance apart).

Headstand

Headstand

2. Clasp your hands, interlacing your fingers, and place the crown of your head on the floor. The back of your head should rest gently at the base of your thumbs.

3. Raise your hips & straighten your legs. Slowly walk your feet in closer to your head until your hips are over your shoulders.

4. Now bend your knees, and begin to draw one knee in toward your chest. If you feel balanced here, lift that foot up from the floor. If you feel totally balanced with the first leg lifted, raise the other leg so that both feet are off the floor. You can keep the knees bent, or extend the legs straight (this will make the balance more challenging).

5. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then slowly lower one leg at a time to release.

Wrist Support: 5 Poses to Help Stretch & Strengthen your Wrists

Whether you're new to yoga, or a seasoned practitioner, there's a good chance you've experienced wrist tenderness at some point in your practice.  Many of the postures we regularly perform - Crow Pose, Wheel Pose, Chaturnaga, and even Downward Facing Dog - have us bearing weight in the delicate wrist joints.  Misalignment in these poses, or lack of necessary strength and flexibility, are some of the major reasons our wrists can feel sore during or after a practice. 

Poses that bear weight in the wrists

Poses that bear weight in the wrists

Incorporating targeted stretching & strengthening exercises into your routine is an effective way to alleviate wrist soreness and help prevent injury.  Below is a sequence of 5 poses to strengthen and mobilize your wrists as well as reduce tension in the surrounding areas (such as the hands, fingers, and forearms).

1. Wrist Circles

Wrist Circles

Wrist Circles

  • Curl your hand into a fist with your fingers wrapped over your thumbs.
  • Tightly clench your fists as you rotate your hands in a circular motion. Make the movements slow and deliberate, bringing your awareness to the muscles of your wrists.
  • Circle each wrist ten times before switching to the opposite direction.

2. Hand Under Foot Pose

  • From Mountain Pose begin to fold forward.  Bend your knees as much as necessary so that your belly connects with your thighs.
  • Place your hands on the ground with your palms facing upward.  Slide your hands under your feet until your toes are touching your wrists. 
  • Play around in the pose by shifting your weight forward and pressing the toes into the muscular part of the palms.  Your knees can remain bent, or you can straighten them for more of a challenge, if you feel comfortable doing so (make sure your hamstrings are properly warmed up first).
Hand Under Foot Pose (with bent knees)

Hand Under Foot Pose (with bent knees)

Hand Under Foot Pose

Hand Under Foot Pose

3. Upward Bound Finger Pose

Upward Bound Finger Pose

Upward Bound Finger Pose

  • Begin seated with your fingers snugly interlaced. Place the back of your hands on top of your head with the palms facing upward.
  • Slowly begin to straighten your arms as you raise them up toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep the muscles in your back and neck relaxed.  If you feel any tightening in the shoulders, back, or neck, pause and soften them before continuing.  
  • Once the arms are fully extended, slowly lower them back down so that your hands return to the top of your head with the palms facing upward.
  • Repeat this 5 times.  You can also perform this exercise by extending your arms straight out in front of your chest, and then returning your arms back above your head.

4. Table Pose Wrist Stretch

Table Pose Wrist Stretch

Table Pose Wrist Stretch

  • Begin in Table pose, with the hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and the fingers pointing forward.
  • Slowly begin to rotate the hands outward in a semi circle until your fingers are pointing back towards your body.
  • Hold for 6-10 breaths.  For a deeper stretch  you can gently ease the hips back and shift more of your weight into your heels.  You should feel a very deep opening in the wrists and forearms.  Take care to only go as far as feels right for you. 

5. Reverse Prayer Stretch (Phalen's Test)

Reverse Prayer Stretch

Reverse Prayer Stretch

  • Place the backs of his hands together at chest level, with both wrists completely flexed.
  • Press the hands firmly together (from the knuckles to the fingertips)  for up to one minute.
  • NOTE: Pain or tingling along the inside of the wrist may be an indication of carpal tunnel syndrome (always consult a medical professional first if you're experiencing any unusual pain).

Montego Bay, a Perfect 3-Days in Paradise

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

Sunrise Beach at Half Moon Resort in Jamaica

I'm not really sure what took me this long to book a trip to Jamaica.  It's got all the things I dream about on the dreariest of New York winter days - endless crystal blue beaches, reggae music, Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, and the friendliest locals.  The best part?  Its all just a short 3.5 hour flight from NYC.

I'd been excited for my tropical getaway from the moment the tickets were booked, but upon landing in Montego Bay I quickly realized I was in for a real treat. I was greeted at the airport by one of the Club Mobay VIP hosts, a hospitality service that escorted me through immigration & customs, expediting the whole process down to mere minutes.  Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in a shuttle that was headed straight to my hotel, the beautiful Half Moon Resort

Just 15 minutes later I was already at the hotel, being warmly welcomed by the staff and given a brief tour of the grounds. It's easy to see why Half Moon is one of Jamaica’s most luxurious resorts.  Some of the countless amenities on its sprawling 400-acres include over 50 pools, 3 restaurants, a cafe, 5 bars (including a swim-up option), 2 miles of private beaches, a stunning Spa, 11 tennis courts, 4 squash courts, basketball & volleyball courts, an 18-hole golf course, an equestrian center for rescued racehorses, and a standalone children’s village. 

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Catching the sunset at Half Moon Resort

Views for days in Montego Bay

Views for days in Montego Bay

I spent my first two days in Jamaica taking full advantage of the hotel's many on-site activities and relaxation opportunities.  Long walks on the beach, Hobie Wave sailing, paddle-boarding, and practicing yoga in the outdoor cabana were just some of the ways I was able to stay active while enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean.  Down-time meant reading on my balcony, chatting with other guests in the swim-up bar, or indulging in a 90-minute massage  at the tranquil Fern Tree Spa.

Paddle Board Yoga

Paddle Board Yoga

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Hobie Wave Sailing at Half Moon Resort

Every evening the hotel slips a piece of paper under each of the guests' doors listing a variety of both on and off site activities available the following day.   Some of the options included tennis lessons, scuba diving, a hike to a local waterfall, and zip-lining through the jungle.  I decided to treat myself to one of the off-site excursions on my last full day in Jamaica:  Rafting on the Martha Brae River.

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

Rafting down the Martha Brae River

The hotel arranged for transportation to and from Rafter’s Village (about a 30-minute drive in each direction). Once there, I had a short wait until a raft was available, but the time passed quickly as I enjoyed a complimentary fruit punch while listening to some live music by the outdoor bar.  The raft ride itself was one of my favorite Jamaican experiences. Each bamboo raft is poled by a local guide as you peacefully drift down 5 kilometers of lush, jungle-lined river.  The friendly guides make the ride even more enjoyable, as many like to talk about their beautiful country, of its local flora & fauna, or the meaning behind the colors of its flag.  Other guides enjoy serenading their riders with a few reggae songs, and some, I found out firsthand, may even let you have a go at poling the raft down the river, should you decide its something you'd like to try (tip: you should, it was fun!)

My time in Jamaica included everything I had hoped for and more: sun-filled activities, plenty of time for relaxation, new experiences, and fun adventures.  The only thing I would change about it for the next time, would be to schedule a trip that is much longer than just 3 days.

* I was welcomed as a guest of Half Moon Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

All photography by Renee Choi Photography

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.