The full pose, which is suitable for intermediate students, will be described in the Full Pose section below. First we'll practice the leg position only, which should be accessible to most experienced beginners.

Begin on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist; at the same time angle your right shin under your torso and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right shin will now rest on the floor. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and descending the front of the thigh to the floor. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip.

The right knee can angle slightly to the right, outside the line of the hip. Look back at your left leg. It should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left), and rotated slightly inwardly, so its midline presses against the floor. Exhale and lay your torso down on the inner right thigh for a few breaths. Stretch your arms forward.

Then slide your hands back toward the front shin and push your fingertips firmly to the floor. Lift your torso away from the thigh. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward; at the same time, and lift your pubis toward the navel. Roll your left hip point toward the right heel, and lengthen the left front groin.

If you can maintain the upright position of your pelvis without the support of your hands on the floor, bring your hands to the top rim of your pelvis. Push heavily down. Against this pressure, lift the lower rim of your rib cage. The back ribs should lift a little faster than the front. Without shortening the back of your neck, drop your head back. To lift your chest, push the top of your sternum (at the manubrium) straight up toward the ceiling.

Stay in this position for a minute. Then, with your hands back on the floor, carefully slide the left knee forward, then exhale and lift up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). Take a few breaths, drop the knees to all-fours on another exhalation, and repeat with the legs reversed for the same length of time.

The full pose, which is suitable for intermediate students, will be described in the Full Pose section below. First we'll practice the leg position only, which should be accessible to most experienced beginners.

Begin on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist; at the same time angle your right shin under your torso and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right shin will now rest on the floor. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and descending the front of the thigh to the floor. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip.

The right knee can angle slightly to the right, outside the line of the hip. Look back at your left leg. It should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left), and rotated slightly inwardly, so its midline presses against the floor. Exhale and lay your torso down on the inner right thigh for a few breaths. Stretch your arms forward.

Then slide your hands back toward the front shin and push your fingertips firmly to the floor. Lift your torso away from the thigh. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward; at the same time, and lift your pubis toward the navel. Roll your left hip point toward the right heel, and lengthen the left front groin.

If you can maintain the upright position of your pelvis without the support of your hands on the floor, bring your hands to the top rim of your pelvis. Push heavily down. Against this pressure, lift the lower rim of your rib cage. The back ribs should lift a little faster than the front. Without shortening the back of your neck, drop your head back. To lift your chest, push the top of your sternum (at the manubrium) straight up toward the ceiling.

Stay in this position for a minute. Then, with your hands back on the floor, carefully slide the left knee forward, then exhale and lift up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose). Take a few breaths, drop the knees to all-fours on another exhalation, and repeat with the legs reversed for the same length of time.

By Richard Rosen

Take enough yoga classes and you'll eventually hear one of your teachers quote from the Yoga Sutra, which is the guidebook of classical, or raja (royal), yoga. Written at least 1,700 years ago, it's made up of 195 aphorisms (sutras), or words of wisdom. But do you know anything about Patanjali, the person who supposedly compiled these verses?

The truth is that nobody really knows much—not even exactly when the sage lived. Some practitioners believe he lived around the second century BCE and also wrote significant works on Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine) and Sanskrit grammar, making him something of a Renaissance man. But based on their analyses of the language and the teaching of the sutras, modern scholars place Patanjali in the second or third century CE and ascribe the medical essays and grammar to various other Patanjalis.

Like many tales about the world's spiritual heroes, the story of Patanjali's birth has assumed mythic dimensions. One version relates that in order to teach yoga on earth, he fell from heaven in the form of a little snake, into the upturned plans (a gesture known as anjali) of his virgin mother, Gonika, herself a powerful yogini. Here he's regarded as an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king named Remainder (Shesha) or Endless (Ananta), whose coils are said to support the god Vishnu.

It seems odd to us, in this time of superstar teachers with their eponymous schools of So-and-So Yoga, that so little is known about Patanjali. But anonymity is typical of the great sages of ancient India. They recognized that their teaching was the outcome of a cooperative group effort that spanned several generations, and they refused to take credit for themselves, often attributing their work to some other, older teacher.

Do you respond to stress with a fiery growl or a cold shoulder? Yoga can transform your reactions, improve your health, and help you embody grace under pressure. By Kelly McGonigal

Meet Mark: When something stressful happens, he feels energized. His heart races, his senses heighten—he even feels as though his thoughts speed up. Mark prides himself on his ability to face problems head-on, but he admits that it's becoming difficult to turn this intensity off. Lately he's been feeling more on edge than on top of his game. He's developed headaches and insomnia, and he's beginning to wonder if they're related to stress. He'd like to feel better, but he can't imagine himself changing his full-throttle approach to life. Without stress, how would he ever get anything done?
Mark's wife, Sue, doesn't feel energized by stress—it exhausts her. She feels so depleted by stress that she's begun to cut back on the things that generate the most stress, such as planning big family gatherings. To maintain her composure, she tries to walk away when conflicts arise. She's even considering leaving her challenging job to find something less intense. Sue proudly sees in herself the ability to "just let things go," which she's been cultivating through her yoga practice.
But even though she's simplified her life, she's been feeling depressed. She has a nagging feeling that her attempts to be stress free are getting in the way of fully living her life.
Mark and Sue are characters based on real people, and are designed to represent two real responses to stress—one or both of which may seem familiar to you. As Mark and Sue are discovering, stress is inescapable, but it is also paradoxical: While excess stress can take a toll on you, the very things that cause it are often the same things that make life rewarding and full. Take a moment to think about the pressures in your life: family, work, having too much to do. Now imagine a life without those things. Sound ideal? Not likely. Most people don't want an empty life; they want to possess the skills to handle a busy and, yes, even complicated life.
The good news is that you can develop ways to navigate through stress so that it isn't troubling and traumatic at every turn. When a stressor arises, you don't have to go to extremes the way Mark and Sue do. You can learn to respond with just the right blend of inner fire and inner calm. I call this the "challenge response," and you can develop it through your yoga practice. In fact, studies suggest that yoga may condition the nervous system to bring you into balance whether you need more calm, like Mark, or more fire, like Sue. Add to that yoga's ability to change your mental perception of stress, and you can transform your entire experience of the dreaded "s" word. Imagine feeling capable of handling whatever life throws at you, without having to panic, overreact, or plan your exit strategy.

Stress Lessons
To begin changing the way you react to stress, you'll need to understand how it typically affects the body. If your mind interprets a stressful event as an emergency threat, it triggers an immediate response in the autonomic nervous system. Your stress response kicks in and activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Your body is flooded with hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, which heighten the senses, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and focus the brain's activity. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for physical relaxation and emotional calm, becomes overwhelmed by this sympathetic response. With the sympathetic nervous system in charge and the parasympathetic overwhelmed, you are primed to respond with energy and focus, but also with anger, anxiety, and aggression.
Humans developed this primal reaction, known as fight-or-flight, so they could effectively fight off or flee from life-threatening danger. This important survival mechanism is useful when you need to slam on the brakes to prevent a car accident or run away from an attacker. But it's overkill for most of the conflicts and challenges we face day to day.
While it's easy to view life's hassles as a threat to your expectations, sense of control, or ideals, it's better for your health to temper that perception and instead see each stressor as a challenge you can handle. Even if an emergency exists entirely in your imagination, or if the threat is only to your feelings, it can still trigger the fight-or-flight stress cycle. Over time chronic stress takes a toll on the body and brain, leading to all kinds of health problems, including insomnia, depression, chronic pain, and cardiovascular disease.
Running Hot and Cold
The alternative to a knock-down, drag-out, fight-or-flight stress response is the challenge response. The challenge response allows you to meet a stressful moment with exactly what is needed: first, the ability to see a situation clearly, and second, the skills to respond without becoming overwhelmed. If Mark could do this, he wouldn't suffer from stress-related headaches or insomnia. And if Sue could do this, she wouldn't feel the need to hide when things get hairy.
When stress strikes and you engage the challenge response, your nervous system will respond differently. To understand how, imagine that the autonomic nervous system is like a faucet. The knob that controls the hot water represents the sympathetic nervous system, and the cold knob represents the parasympathetic. When you go into fight-or-flight mode, it's as though you crank up the scalding-hot water and turn the cold water down to a mere trickle. If you develop the challenge response, the hot water continues to run as it normally would, and you turn down the cold water just a little bit. In other words, you have just enough heat to face the stressor, but you haven't completely removed the cooling influence. Once the challenge is successfully met, the parasympathetic nervous system reasserts itself (that is, the cold water increases), bringing you back to your everyday state of balance.
Bradley Appelhans, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine who studies how the body responds to stress, underscores the importance of the parasympathetic nervous system in guiding the challenge response. "When we aren't stressed, the PNS acts as a brake on our physiological arousal. In times of challenge, we rely on our PNS to quickly remove the brake, so that we can achieve the state of increased emotional and physiological arousal needed to deal with stress. But we also rely on the PNS to keep that arousal under control, and not let the fight-or-flight response manifest in full force."
In other words, if you generally handle stress well, your parasympathetic nervous system, not your sympathetic, is in charge of increasing arousal and readying you to face your stressor. That may sound like a trivial detail, but the consequences for the mind and body are significant. It's like the difference between a dog walker extending the leash of her dog to allow for more freedom and the dog breaking free from the leash and running amok. When the PNS pulls back, allowing for just enough SNS engagement to sufficiently cope with the challenge, you have the ability to act without an exaggerated, unhealthy fight-or-flight response. The mind focuses, but it also stays open enough to see alternative solutions and opportunities.
The Heart of the Challenge
There is a method for measuring how well one's autonomic nervous system responds to everyday, nonemergency stress. It's called heart-rate variability, and it reveals whether the SNS or the PNS is in charge of how a person responds to stress.
Scientists have long known that with every inhalation, the nervous system shifts a bit toward sympathetic activation, and the heart beats faster. With every exhalation, it shifts toward parasympathetic -activation, and the heart beats more slowly. People whose heart rate differs widely between inhalation and exhalation are said to have high heart-rate -variability—which is a good thing. It means that the nervous system has the flexibility to go from an engaged or aroused state to a relaxed state quickly, and that the SNS does not have unhealthy control over the body. High heart-rate variability—both at rest and in the face of stress—is considered an indicator of a person's physical and emotional resilience. Low heart-rate variability is associated with an increased risk of stress-related disorders such as cardiovascular disease and depression.
Mark is a classic example of someone who has low heart-rate variability. He is stuck in a state of chronic sympathetic activation in his everyday life, which reduces the flexibility of his heart rate. When he experiences stress, his SNS goes even further into overdrive, in part because it is unbalanced and unchecked by the PNS. For someone like Mark, building the challenge response will mean retraining his mind and body to let the parasympathetic system be in charge while he's at rest, and eventually when he responds to stress, too.
Sue is able to relax—but only if she disengages from life's stressors. She needs to develop the ability to get fired up enough to meet a challenge without feeling completely overwhelmed by it.
A growing body of research on heart-rate variability and yoga provides evidence that the practice can help people like Mark and Sue in their quest for healthier stress responses. One of the first studies was conducted at Newcastle University in England and published in 1997 in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation. Researchers found that six weeks of practicing hatha yoga increased the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming side) without decreasing the influence of the sympathetic (the arousing side). Researchers took 26 healthy but sedentary adults and randomly split them into two groups. One group was given an aerobic exercise program, the other a yoga regimen that included two 90-minute sessions per week with breathing, poses, and relaxation. In the week following the six-week intervention, the yoga participants were reported to have higher heart-rate variability (and a lower resting heart rate, another indicator of well-being) after the study than before. The aerobics group showed no significant changes.
A second study, done by researchers at the University of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and published in 2007 in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, suggests that even a single session of yoga practice can encourage the nervous system to find flexibility and balance. Researchers hooked up 11 healthy yoga practitioners to instruments that recorded their heart-rate variability over 24 hours. During that time, participants did 60 minutes of active Iyengar Yoga poses and 30 minutes of restorative poses. Heart-rate variability increased during the yoga session, and—as in the previous study—this change was driven by the increased influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, not by changes to the sympathetic system.
In other words, after yoga practice, participants weren't just more relaxed; they were in a state of autonomic balance and flexibility driven by the parasympathetic—which is exactly the type of balance and flexibility that predicts greater resilience to stress. This study provides promising evidence that a yoga practice can prepare you to meet life's challenges, not just recover from them.
Tapping into Calm
How do we explain why participants in the aerobics group didn't derive the same benefit as the participants who learned yoga? Better yet, how do we explain the results from the study that was based on a single session of Iyengar Yoga?
Kerstin Khattab, MD, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and one of the researchers in the Schleswig-Holstein study, believes that the key is yoga's dual demands on body and mind. "Some of the poses in our study, such as Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) or Sirsasana (Headstand), are likely to cause a strong sympathetic nervous system reaction. But as you learn to hold these poses with a calm mind, focusing on the breath, the poses become a training in how to remain calm in stressful situations."
In other words, the physical challenge of a pose becomes the equivalent of a stressor. If you do aerobics, which has no direct breathing or mindfulness component, the physical challenge can trigger a full-fledged stress response in the body. But when physical demands are met with mindfulness and steady breathing, as they are in yoga, the nervous system responds differently: It maintains activation while keeping an underlying sense of calm. It remains skillfully engaged but without going into full-fledged fight-or-flight mode.
The great sage and codifier of yoga, Patanjali, must have been aware of the power of asana when he wrote sutra 2:46, Sthira sukham asanam: Postures should embody steadiness and ease. If you can find both elements in the midst of a stressful arm balance, you're not just training your mind. You're enabling your autonomic nervous system to imprint that response and therefore allow you to return to it during everyday stress.
At first, you will need to very consciously tap into this response during your yoga practice by focusing on your breathing and thoughts. But with enough conscious practice, the rehearsed challenge response can become an ingrained automatic response—on and off the mat.
Yoga also trains the nervous system to return to balance quickly after a challenge response. By alternating strenuous poses with gentler ones, yoga conditions you to move easily between states of challenge and rest. Letting go of all effort in Savasana (Corpse Pose), for example, seals in this flexibility, because the pose teaches the nervous system to let go once the challenges of your practice have been met.
Leave your Comfort Zone
Just showing up to any yoga class is not enough. If your stress style tends toward fight-or-flight, and you huff and puff your way through Power Yoga classes and leave before Savasana, you probably won't transform your stress response. Practicing that way just makes yoga another arena where you engage in your usual stress-response style. For people who move through life in full emergency mode, the starting place to learn balance is typically Savasana. This pose teaches you how to put the usually suppressed parasympathetic nervous system in charge and give the hypercharged sympathetic nervous system a rest.
When one of my students, Monica Hanson, first came to yoga, she was a self-described type-A executive in her early 30s. The idea of relaxation was terrifying, and she could not imagine how relaxing could possibly help her handle real-world stress. "I was afraid that if I let go of the tension, I would fall apart," she says. "Tension was the glue that held me together."
Her first experience in Savasana was anything but relaxing. Her emergency response fought to stay in control. "I was sweating and shaking. My heart was racing. I wanted to run away," she says. But underneath the anxiety was a sense of being fully alive and yet calm—something that Hanson had never felt before. This taste of how her mind and body could hold such opposites was the beginning of her stress transformation.
After seven years of consistent yoga practice, Hanson says tension is no longer what holds her together in stressful situations. Instead, she can feel the calm beneath the storm even if she still she gets the urge to fight or run. "Yoga has taught me a whole new way of being. In stressful situations, I have literally heard my teacher's voice in my head say, "Be present. Breathe into the tension. And I do."
Stay in your Experience
For someone like Sue, who easily finds bliss in relaxation but avoids stress, developing the ability to stay present in the midst of difficult situations—but without trying to fight against or escape from them—is key. Rather than trying to hide from challenges, Sue has to learn to believe she can handle them. As Amy Weintraub, founder of LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute and the author of Yoga for Depression, puts it, "Sometimes it's important to not simply remove ourselves from the stressful situation, but to feel it in our bodies. Acknowledge stress. Meet it. We can stay present without being controlled by it."
For one of my students, Julie Good, a 38-year-old physician and mother of two young girls, the great teacher was Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose). When she first started yoga, it was her least favorite pose. "My strategy was to grit my teeth and tolerate it, tense my whole body, and try to hold myself up off the floor." Although her resistance was an attempt to avoid the intense sensation in her hip, the effect was quite different. "It was agonizing."
One day, when Good explained why she hated Pigeon Pose, I encouraged her to stop fighting it. Good says, "I had been trying to protect myself by resisting. I thought, 'If I let go, it's going to get worse.' But I let go, and it got better. When I wasn't resisting, I learned to breathe into the discomfort." By staying with the pose, she learned that she could choose to stay in a difficult situation and the discomfort would dissipate.
Find Your Fire
To feel empowered to deal with stress head-on, Sue also needs backup from her nervous system. She needs more participation from the sympathetic nervous system; she needs the energy and drive that the arousing side provides. A new pilot study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that yoga may help facilitate this type of response.
Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that a regular yoga practice decreased the dominance of the parasympathetic system for some people. But there was an important difference in this study: The 17 adult participants were all clinically depressed. The participants practiced Iyengar Yoga three times a week for eight weeks. At the end of the study, 11 participants were in remission from depression. The 6 others did not fully recover.
When researchers compared the participants' heart-rate variability before and after the eight-week intervention, those who had recovered showed a small increase in sympathetic activation and a decrease in parasympathetic influence. Researchers believe it's possible that yoga practice helped the participants shift from a withdrawal from life to active engagement. This shift was reflected in—and may have been caused by—the change in the nervous system's balance.
The point of all of these studies? According to David Shapiro, a professor of psychology at UCLA, "Yoga helps balance the two systems as needed by each individual." That means that if you go through life in emergency mode, yoga will actually awaken your relaxation system. But if you have a tendency to become paralyzed in the face of challenges, yoga can work to shift your body and mind toward active engagement.
Study Yourself
Keep in mind that no matter how well you condition your nervous system, you also need to change the way you perceive stress. You can start this process by practicing svadhyaya, or self-observation. "There is a connection between how you experience a forward bend and how you react to the world," says Elissa Cobb, a Phoenix Rising Yoga practitioner and the author of The Forgotten Body. Take Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), a pose that can produce strong sensations in even the most flexible practitioners.
One common response is to ignore sensations and force yourself forward, fighting against your tight hamstrings. Another is to come out of the pose to avoid the challenge entirely. Both strategies are variations on the same theme: fight-or-flight. In all likelihood, they create tense muscles and rapid or held breathing—not to mention a total lack of joy.
Paying attention to how your body and mind react to the "stress" of Paschimottanasana or any pose offers clues about how you typically react to stress in your life. By training yourself to actively observe while staying calm in poses, you'll be able to do the same thing when difficult sensations, thoughts, or emotions arise in the face of stress. Instead of going into your habitual reaction mode, you'll notice what's happening while staying present enough to choose an appropriate response.
When it comes to transforming your own response to stress, it's tempting to search for that one pose or breathing exercise that will work its magic. But there isn't one magic pose. The process is a gradual exploration rather than an easy solution. "If you're practicing yoga every day, you're preparing for what life brings. You don't have to have a strategy for what yoga technique you'll use in a difficult situation." According to Weintraub, when challenges arrive, they will begin to flow through you but not overwhelm you. "When life hits, it doesn't explode or roll over us. We're not so caught up in the stress of it, but we're present for it."
This is the real story of how yoga can help you manage stress. It doesn't just provide ways to burn through stress or escape from it. It doesn't only offer stress-reduction techniques for anxious moments. It goes deeper, transforming how the mind and body intuitively respond to stress. Just as the body can learn a new standing posture that eventually becomes ingrained, so the mind can learn new thought patterns, and the nervous system can learn new ways of reacting to stress. The result: When you roll up your mat and walk out the door, you can more skillfully take on whatever life brings.

Celebrate your natural radiance with four Ayurvedic self-care rituals that nourish body and spirit. By Niika Quistgard

Each morning across India and beyond, people offer prayers to the resplendent, full-breasted goddess Lakshmi. Adorned in a rich red silk sari with copious golden ornaments and a full head of gleaming, long dark hair, Lakshmi Devi's luminous skin, full face, and deep magnetic eyes signal her irresistible enchantment. She is beauty.
All of Lakshmi's radiance arises from a dynamic relationship between the inner and outer Divine. She attracts positive energy, and she radiates it, too. Two of Lakshmi's four soft, plump hands hold gorgeous, fleshy pink lotuses—those rare, sacred flowers that grow through mud and water toward the sun to offer their lush splendor and heavenly scent. Her other hands dispense an endless stream of gold coins and blessings. Confident in ever-present abundance, Lakshmi has plenty to share—and she reminds us that wealth, beauty, and fertility are always available to us through life's energetic bounty.
It's only natural that we would wish to be as beautiful and blessed as Lakshmi. Such desire—far from being simple vanity—shows a positive self-regard, a knowledge that on some level, we too are creations of the Divine. And isn't presenting our best self to the day—feeling healthy, spiritually full, and gorgeous—a lovely offering we can make to the world?
Of course, you needn't actually look like Lakshmi. According to the wisdom of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and longevity and the sister science to yoga, true beauty is what naturally arises from simple acts of reverent self-care. When you undertake your daily health and hygiene routines with the knowledge that you are a precious, unique manifestation of life's energy, you embody Lakshmi's spirit.
These Ayurvedic self-care practices designed to support the healthy functioning of your skin, hair, eyes, and feet will kindle your radiance from head to toe. Moreover, each is an opportunity for you to care for your body as a sacred manifestation of life itself. When you honor yourself and your body in this way—no matter your age or genetic attributes or personal style—the vitality, grace, and generous luminosity of the goddess will shine forth through you.
Feet: Give Some Good Vibration to Your Foundation
We all know how good it feels to get our tootsies rubbed. But foot massage as a facial? Yes, says Melanie Sachs, an Ayurvedic lifestyle counselor and the author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care.
"Foot massage can relieve eye strain, relaxing and opening the face and allowing our beauty to shine through easily," she says. Her words are backed up by the classical Ayurvedic text, the Ashtanga Hridaya, which identifies four major nerves in the feet that connect to the eyes.
Holding and massaging your feet with your own hands can help reintegrate the subtle energy pathways flowing between the upper and lower body. And well-massaged feet connect more completely with the earth when you stand or sit with your feet on the ground, giving your whole being a more stable and relaxed foundation. Plus, says Sachs, "Well-oiled feet are also more protected from cracking and peeling, reducing chances for fungal and bacterial infections."
How to: First, create a foot soak that meets your current needs, using one of the following recipes:
To Cool Down: Fill a foot tub with cool water and mix in a tablespoon of honey and a handful each of dried lavender and fresh rose petals. You can also use lavender or rose essential oil. This will soothe the mind.
To Warm Up: Fill a foot tub with lukewarm water and add 1 teaspoon of ginger powder. This will invigorate the body and increase circulation.
To Relax and Rejuvenate: Fill a foot tub with very warm water and add 3 tablespoons per gallon of Epsom salt. This will reduce any swelling and alleviate fatigue.
First Soak: Submerge your feet, relax for 10 minutes, then remove your feet and pat them dry. Next, give yourself a foot massage, using sesame, olive, or coconut oil. Apply the oil generously throughout your massage.
Then Touch: Starting with your right foot, massage in circles around the ankle. With your left hand, squeeze down from the base of the calf muscle all the way to the heel bone, 3 times. Holding the heel, pull back on the ball of the foot, flexing and stretching several times. With small circular movements, massage the spaces between all the toes, pinching the webbing between finger and thumb. Glide your thumbs up and down the grooves between the tendons on top of the foot.
Now turn your foot over so the sole is facing you and hold it in both hands, with your thumbs just under the ball of the foot. Press your fingers into the top side of the foot, stretching the base of the toes apart. Then use your thumbs to "milk" each toe, sliding from the base over the tip of each toe several times.
Next, massage vigorously from heel to toe using the heel of your hand. Walk your thumbs along the outer edges of the foot, along the arch, and deeply into the edge of the heel. Use your knuckles to massage the arch to relieve back tension.
Hold your ankle with your right hand and the top of your foot with the left, rotating the foot clockwise, then counterclockwise. ("It's a spinal twist for the foot!" says Sachs.)
Grasp your big toe and rotate it fully, as if you were drawing a large circle with the tip of the toe. Then rub the toe between the palms of your hands to ease neck pain and tension, and the base of your little toe to ease shoulder tension. Finally, using the flat palm of your left hand, massage the entire sole of your foot in a figure-8 pattern.
To finish, slap the sole of your foot a few times. Then press the palm of your hand to the center of the sole of your foot. Feeling the subtle energy at this marma (pressure point) encourages a healthy flow of apana vayu, the grounding, downward movement of vata, the Ayurvedic air principle. Repeat the entire sequence on the left foot.
Almost Done: Finally, rinse your feet with warm water, dry thoroughly, and slip them into clean cotton socks, which will allow your feet to feel protected, soft, comfortable, and responsive. Let a smile drift upward to your face.
Eyes: Wash Away Cloudy Vision
Our eyes both perceive and reveal our beauty. A regular eye-washing practice can leave them clear and bright, says Dr. Geetha S. R. Harigeetham, the house doctor at Rasa Ayurveda, a women's clinic in Kerala, India (full disclosure: I founded and direct Rasa Ayurveda). Also, she notes, bathing the eyes can help rejuvenate tiny muscles that have been taxed by hours of computer use or driving.
Harigeetham recommends infusing your washing water with triphala. The Ayurvedic herbal powder—made up of the amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki fruits—is a blood purifier and whole-body rejuvenator and has properties that support the ophthalmic nerves and eye muscles, she notes.
After the washing, consider applying the dark eyeliner known as kajal (also known as kohl). "Kajal reduces glare in bright light, sharpening the vision, and encourages the growth and darkness of eyelashes," Harigeetham explains. If you choose an Ayurvedic herbal formulation—such as the Shahnaz Husain Kohl Kajal Eyeliner, which contains almond oil and flower extracts—you'll also be nourishing and strengthening the tissues around the eyes, she says.
How to: First, prepare the triphala infusion by boiling 1 teaspoon of triphala powder in 1 cup of water for about 10 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool completely; strain thoroughly.
First Bathe: Wash your face with cold water. Then, using a cupped palm, bathe each open eye with cool triphala water 3 times. Rinse the face with a bit of pure water, and pat dry.
Then Cover: Layer organically grown rose petals, cucumber slices, or cilantro leaves over each closed eye. (Choose whichever you like; all three are cooling and refreshing to the eyes.) Place a cotton pad over each eye; then tie a band of muslin cotton or a bandana around the eyes to create a loose blindfold.
Look Around: Lie back in Savasana, relax, picture something beautiful, and begin to do 5 cycles of each of these 5 eye exercises with your eyes closed:
  • Rotate your eyes clockwise.
  • Rotate your eyes counterclockwise.
  • Move your eyes in a figure 8, looking to the upper left, lower right, upper right, lower left.
  • Look straight up and then straight down.
  • Look left and right.
Then Rest: Now, relax and breathe for 20 minutes. Re-lease the blindfold. Immediately direct your vision to a beautiful sight, object, or photo that makes you feel calm and connected. If you're using kajal, apply it now.
As you transition back to your day, allow your vision to remain "soft," letting the scene of the world come to you with effortless focus. If possible, avoid harsh lighting. Let your inner vision come forward.
Hair: Care for Your Crowning Glory
For thousands of years, Indian women have kept their tresses lovely with sumptuous scalp oils made from coconuts, herbs, flowers, and spices. Scalp oils promote thick, lustrous, healthy hair. But they're also used to ward off colds and flu, relieve headaches, keep you cool in hot weather, and repair frayed nerves. Rubbing warm oil into the sensitive and receptive scalp area is a deliciously calming experience that helps protect the mind from the overstimulation of daily life.
You can use plain coconut or sesame oil, or pick up a ready-made herbal oil. Incorporating traditional Ayurvedic botanicals like brahmi and bhringraj, this artisanal hair oil supports a healthy agni (metabolism) in the scalp—the site of hair growth. Either way, you'll feel pampered and centered as you treat your hair to decadent conditioning.
How to: First, brush your hair thoroughly and wash out any hair-care products. Then, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil in a metal spoon over a flame or an aromatherapy diffuser. Your scalp is more sensitive to temperature than other areas of the body, so carefully test the oil temperature for safety and comfort by trying a few drops on your inner arm.
Rub It in: Apply oil to the crown of your head, working downward and outward with your fingertips. Massage your scalp using a pinching motion, bringing the fingertips and thumbs together, then releasing. Move hands forward and back, then side to side, covering the entire head.
Next, make small circles on the scalp with your fingertips, maintaining an even, enjoyable pressure as you work from the hairline back to the base of the skull. To finish the massage, rub your open palm in wide circles all over your scalp.
Take a Moment: Finger-comb the oil through your hair and leave on for 15 minutes as you relax. Gently shampoo with a mild cleanser, towel dry, then let your hair finish drying naturally. If you feel inspired, add ornaments or fresh flowers to it.
Face: Show Your Face Some Love
Our skin keeps us in constant connection with the textures and energies of our world—so it's no wonder our faces reveal so much about our mental, emotional, and physical status. "When we care for ourselves well, our authentic beauty reflects in our skin," says Ayurvedic aesthetician Evan Healy, founder of the eponymous all-natural skin care line.
To keep facial skin glowing, Healy recommends giving yourself a wonderfully uncomplicated flaxseed facial. Grind flaxseeds in a coffee grinder, or buy a preground meal such as Bob's Red Mill. It's all good, according to Healy: "A flaxmeal facial paste is pure simplicity and great for every skin type."
The concentrated essential fatty acids in flaxseed moisturize and protect the skin, she explains, and the texture of the hulls stimulates circulation; cleans away dirt, sweat, and excess oils; and sloughs away dead skin cells. Plus, the flaxseed—like all seeds—packs prana, or life energy. Releasing prana to your skin energizes and vivifies.
To increase the healing benefits, Healy recommends that you follow your facial with a nourishing turmeric-yogurt mask.
How to: Prepare the nourishing mask by mixing 2 tablespoons plain yogurt with 1/3 teaspoon honey and a pinch of turmeric powder. Set aside.
Scrub Gently: At the bathroom sink, splash water onto your face. Then mix a little warm water with 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed to form a light paste. Apply a thin layer to your skin and massage in circles all over your face, spending some extra time gently scrubbing any oily or rough areas. Rinse well with cool or warm water. (Never hot! Hot water stresses delicate facial skin and strips away protective oils.) Pat dry.
Relax Into the Mask: Next, spread the yogurt-turmeric mixture evenly over your entire face. Lie down and relax for 10 minutes, taking full, deep breaths and making a conscious effort to release any tension you may be holding in your jaw or forehead.
Seal in the Goodness: Rinse with cool water and pat dry. If you'd like, follow with a spritz of rosewater or other aromatherapy facial spray, and apply a moisturizer or serum, such as Evan Healy's Pomegranate Repair Serum. Finish by patting your damp face with clean hands to "seal" the good effects of your facial into your skin. Your natural glow is all the makeup you'll want!
"When we care for ourselves well, our authentic beauty reflects in our skin."

Warm your body from head to toe, and calm overwrought vata, with an Ayurvedic massage. By Kelle Walsh

ayurveda oil massage
The Ayurvedic practice of abhyanga, or warm-oil massage, is a soothing treatment for overwrought vata. As a self-care treatment, it's traditionally done in the morning, before bathing, and is especially useful as a daily ritual in the winter months, says Graciella Zogbi, a Vedic health educator at the Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa in Iowa. "Vata by its nature is dry and cold. With abhyanga, the warm oil penetrates the skin. Its lubricating quality is the complete opposite of vata, and it's balancing on that level."
Abhyanga is also used to help direct ama (toxins) from the tissues to the organs of elimination. Done regularly, Zogbi says, it can improve circulation and digestion, relax the nervous system, nourish the skin, create feelings of groundedness and focus, and increase ojas, or radiance, which results from good digestion and strong immune functioning.
Plan to spend at least 10 minutes massaging the entire body after coating it in oil, and then resting for at least 10 minutes before washing the oil off. (If you don't have time to rest and let the oil sink in, try lubricating the body in oil before beginning the massage to give it more time on your skin.)
What You'll Need:
  • 1 to 3 cups organic sesame oil to generously lubricate the body. (If you have a strong pitta in your constitution, you may want to substitute organic olive oil.)
  • A metal saucepan to heat the oil
  • Towels
How to Do It:
    1. Heat the oil on the stove until it's warm but still comfortable to the touch.

    2. Massage your body with the warm oil, moving from the head to the feet. Begin with the outer folds of the ears, then massage the head (if you don't want to get oil in your hair, do a dry head massage), and work downward. Use circular motions on the joints and use a gentle circular clockwise motion over the heart and abdomen. This, Zogbi says, is a way to coax erratic vata in the direction it's supposed to move. On the torso, massage inward following the direction of the ribs. Massage straight up and down on the arms and legs. Finally, thoroughly massage the feet.

    3. Sit comfortably on the edge of the tub or lie on a towel on the floor and relax for at least 10 minutes, allowing the oil to penetrate the skin. You can also sit in a warm bath.

    4. When you are done, wash the oil off using a gentle cleanser.

Limit sugar and salt

If you succeed in planning your diet around fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you may find yourself naturally cutting back on foods that can get in the way of your healthy diet—sugar and salt.


Sugar causes energy ups and downs and can add to health and weight problems. Unfortunately, reducing the amount of candy, cakes, and desserts we eat is only part of the solution. Often you may not even be aware of the amount of sugar you’re consuming each day. Large amounts of added sugar can be hidden in foods such as bread, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, fast food, soy sauce, and ketchup. Here are some tips:
  • Avoid sugary drinks. One 12-oz soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, more than the daily recommended limit! Try sparkling water with lemon or a splash of fruit juice.
  • Eat naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter to satisfy your sweet tooth.

How sugar is hidden on food labels

Check food labels carefully. Sugar is often disguised using terms such as:
  • cane sugar or maple syrup
  • corn sweetener or corn syrup
  • honey or molasses
  • brown rice syrup
  • crystallized or evaporated cane juice
  • fruit juice concentrates, such as apple or pear
  • maltodextrin (or dextrin)
  • Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Maltose, or Sucrose


Most of us consume too much salt in our diets. Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to other health problems. Try to limit sodium intake to 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day, the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt.
  • Avoid processed or pre-packaged foods. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen dinners contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.
  • Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food meals are loaded with sodium.
  • Opt for fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables.
  • Cut back on salty snacks such as potato chips, nuts, and pretzels.
  • Choose low-salt or reduced-sodium products.
  • Try slowly reducing the salt in your diet to give your taste buds time to adjust.

Add calcium for strong bones

Calcium is one of the key nutrients that your body needs in order to stay strong and healthy. It is an essential building block for lifelong bone health in both men and women, as well as many other important functions.

You and your bones will benefit from eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, limiting foods that deplete your body’s calcium stores, and getting your daily dose of magnesium and vitamins D and K—nutrients that help calcium do its job.

Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Take a vitamin D and calcium supplement if you don’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet.

Good sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy: Dairy products are rich in calcium in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Sources include milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Vegetables and greens: Many vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are rich sources of calcium. Try turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms.
  • Beans: For another rich source of calcium, try black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, or baked beans.