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.

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.

Magical Mexico, Where to Go For Your Next Getaway

I'm not sure what took me so long to plan a trip to Mexico, but I'm glad that when I finally did, it was to visit two of the most charming and beatufiul towns, Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita.

My home base throughout my trip was at the gorgeous Xinalani, an exclusive Yoga Retreat Center about 20 miles south of the airport in Vallarta.  Xinalani is nestled into the mountains on Quimixto Beach, and has the most breathtaking views overlooking the ocean and the jungle. My room, the Eco Chic Suite, was like a little oasis, complete with a private terrace, seating area, hammock, open-air shower, and mosquito netting surrounding the bed.  I'll admit I was a bit apprehensive about sleeping in a room that was partially exposed to the outdoors, but with the shades lowered at night, the soothing sound of the ocean was the perfect soundtrack to drift to off to sleep.

With it's twice daily yoga classes, beachfront bar lounge, assortment of spa treatments, and the delicious food, there was no real reason to leave Xinalani, but my wandering spirit urged me to venture out and explore some nearby highlights and neighboring towns.

Beachfront relaxation at Xinalani

Beachfront relaxation at Xinalani

Hammock happiness at Xinalani

Hammock happiness at Xinalani

One of our first outings included a 20-minute horseback ride to a local waterfall. Once there, you can swim in the water, or have a seat at the quaint little cafe adjacent to the waterfall.  It's the perfect place to relax and enjoy a cold drink or snack while taking in the stunning scenery.

Chasing Waterfalls in Quimixto.  Photography by Nathan Rose  Photography .

Chasing Waterfalls in Quimixto.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Another day-trip involved a short boat ride up to PV for breakfast, and then an hour cab ride north to Sayulita. I'd heard about the charm of this small town, but words simply don't do justice to describe the magic of this enchanting neighborhood.  With it's natural beauty, vibrant streets, and the adopted village trademark of Love, Sayulita is a place like no other.  One could wander it's colorful corridors for hours, never tiring of it's sights and sounds - the abundant artwork, flag-decorated roads, delicious food, assorted shops, popular beachfront, and medley of pretty hotels to name a few.  My only regret is having only one afternoon to spend in this fairy-tale village.

In Sayulita, at the charming Petit Hotel Hafa.  Photography by Mandy Martini

In Sayulita, at the charming Petit Hotel Hafa.  Photography by Mandy Martini

Rooftop lounging at the Petit Hotel Hafa in Sayulita, with Mandy Martini, Paige Rene, and Sergio the dog.  Photography by Nathan Rose  Photography .

Rooftop lounging at the Petit Hotel Hafa in Sayulita, with Mandy Martini, Paige Rene, and Sergio the dog.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Street art in Sayulita

Street art in Sayulita

Xinalani Retreat

Xinalani Retreat

Ocean View Room at Xinalani 

Ocean View Room at Xinalani 

Quimixto Beach

Quimixto Beach

Beach Yoga in Quimixto

Beach Yoga in Quimixto

The Bar Lounge at Xinalani Retreat... always an abundance of fresh fruit and a pretty place to relax.

The Bar Lounge at Xinalani Retreat... always an abundance of fresh fruit and a pretty place to relax.

Handstands in Sayulita

Handstands in Sayulita

Between the incredible hospitality at Xinalani - the friendly staff, delicious food, fun activities like Salsa dancing lessons - and our enjoyable excursions to explore nearby attractions, this trip could not have been a more perfect getaway.

It helps of course to have some pretty awesome travel-mates, which luckily was exactly what I had. This trip would not have been the same without these two lovely souls, Mandy Martini and Nathan Rose.

Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Amor Boutique Hotel in Sayulita.  Photography by Nathan Rose Photography.

Getting Started, What You Really Need to Begin a Yoga Practice (Hint: it's not Flexibility)

‘I’m not flexible, I can’t practice yoga’ – does that sound familiar?  Despite all of the bendy and twisty photos you may have seen, the truth is that you don’t have to be flexible, or able to stand on your head, to practice yoga.  In fact, being inflexible is one of the best reasons to begin a practice.  Most of us aren’t born with the ability to touch our toes to our heads or balance on our hands, but with time, patience, and practice, you can develop the strength and flexibility to get there.  All you really need is an open mind and the willingness to try. 

So how do you go about getting started?  The first step is learning about the different styles of yoga and then deciding which one is the best fit for your needs.  Below is a breakdown of some popular yoga styles:

1.      Ashtanga – a rigorous style that follows a specific sequence of postures, always practiced in the same order.  Try this if you’re looking for a physically demanding practice, and enjoy routine.

2.      Bikram – includes a series of 26 postures (again, always in the same order) performed in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity.  Give this 90-minute practice a go if you love the heat and are prepared to sweat buckets.

3.      Hatha – a broad term referring to any practice that includes yoga postures.  In general, a class labeled as Hatha includes basic yoga postures, and isn’t too rigorous.  If you’re looking for a more moderate practice, this is a good place to start.

4.      Hot Yoga – similar to Bikram in that the room is heated, but different in the sequence of postures.  Try this style if you want to sweat a lot but are looking for a deviation from the classic Bikram class.

5.      Restorative –A restorative class is both relaxing and revitalizing, but requires no effort to get into or stay in each pose.  Props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks are used to support the body in a series of passive stretches.  If you’re looking for something mellow and tranquil, this is it.

6.      Vinyasa – literally meaning ‘flow’, vinyasa classes will have you moving fluidly from pose to pose with a focus on the breath.  The sequence of postures is almost never identical from class to class.  Give this style a try if you like a challenge but dislike routine.

Once you’ve decided on a style, the next step is determining where to practice.  As a beginner, it’s always ideal to start out in a private or group class, where a teacher can provide guidance and give hands-on adjustments.  Also, there are little to no interruptions in a classroom, unlike a home-practice.  But if the cost of a studio is a deterrent, there are a number of fantastic resources available online which provide virtual classes taught by highly qualified teachers.  Monthly memberships to these websites are often equivalent to the price of a single class at a studio. 

What you’ll need for class: comfortable clothing and a yoga mat.  The mat doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s there to provide cushioning and traction while you move into and out of the postures.  Some studios provide mats, but it’s nice to have your own, especially if you plan on practicing at home.  As for props like blocks and straps, those are generally provided by the studio, but if you’re doing a home practice it’s not a bad idea to have these helpful items on hand. 

Congratulations, you're almost ready to begin.  The last, and perhaps most essential thing to have, is the right attitude.  Being open-minded and eager to learn are far more important than the brand of your yoga mat.  Realize that the practice will be challenging, humbling, and also rewarding.  Don’t compare yourself to others, and allow yourself to enjoy the process of learning.