Many books have been written about this. My understanding is that it was an oral tradition handed down from teacher to student. Usually, it was a one-on-one apprenticeship. Then with the advent of exercise to strengthen the Indian Military, a combination of gymnastics from the British and Yoga were melded together by Krishnamacharya to create a form of yoga that has evolved by individual and geographic influences.
This photo below illustrates the whole tree of yoga (comes from The Spirit of Yoga by Kathy Phillips) See our lineage on the left top quad from #10 out.
I was trained in the Iyengar Method. BKS Iyengar, 1918 – 2014, was a student of Krishnamacharya, 1888 – 1989. Other notable students who went on to form Ashtanga: Pattabhi Jois, 1915 – 2009; Viniyoga: TKV Krishnamacharya , 1938 – 2016; and a variation of Hatha Yoga: Indra Devi, 1899 – 2002, who brought yoga as a form of exercise to Hollywood in 1948.
Look them up on Google for a better idea of how they took yoga on to another incarnation from what the Sage Krishnamacharya started.
I was trained by Jeff Logan primarily. Some of you know him well. He was trained by Mary Dunn who was trained by BKS Iyengar personally. His generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for yoga was to my benefit and hopefully yours if you study with me. I also had three very special mentors: Carol Burns, Brooke Myers and Priscilla Gilmore. All of them had a chance to study with BKS directly at one time or another. Some went on to study with Ramanand Patel. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without the 3 of them and Jeff.
Another strong influence of my teaching has been Rodney Yee. He is based in Sag Harbor now. The Pandemic made it easier for me to study with him on a more regular basis by zoom. I enjoy his teaching as he blends philosophy, asana and humor of the spirit together into a rich dance of yoga. He also was initially Iyengar trained after being a ballet dancer. It’s no surprise that many of the Iyengar teachers started off in dance which is also rigorous.
So that is where you come from in yoga. It is good to know where you have come from to look ahead and see where you are going.
Holidays are a time for reflection in our household. We make time to find those family members or friends that need a place to hang their hat for a while and stop the momentum of unconscious living. Ideally we use it as an opportunity to really see each other despite the labels of pecking order, politics or past experiences.
Yoga, this amazing practice that I am forever grateful to have found, taught me to be with what is right in front of me. I also began to choose being with the kind of people who would hold me accountable for living in the present.
I was always in a hurry in my 20’s. I was constantly planning the next thing, dreaming of when this success or event would happen. Or, I was resolving what just happened that I didn’t like. Rarely was I really in the present to enjoy what I did have then like youth, energy, opportunity, both parents and a brother still alive. I had to live life for a while and experience the ups and downs before I could even begin to sit in the present and relish what I had both small and large.
So you might ask, where, when and how do we carve out time and space to reflect and be in the here and now?
One answer is just living life. Nothing to do extra – just be. This process teaches us how to cherish the time we have. Through the experience of gain and loss and love, I am less likely now, way beyond my 20’s to see how I was dragged forward grasping for my epic experiences or people no longer in my life. It was a hard lesson then: that all things pass. Just like our breath.
Another answer would be to just pick a time each day to reflect – similar to brushing our teeth before bed. Start with just 5 minutes to sit in a quiet corner of your house (and yes, sometimes that is a bathroom break) Close your eyes and listen – feel your breath. Slow it down and start to notice any sensations or sounds. Outside noise will eventually go silent, if the mind let’s go of the hook of any reaction this sound has. Let’s say - a loud relative that just can’t stop making small talk, or a baby crying that isn’t yours, or the refrigerator squealing and blame it for the reason you can’t quite hear your own breath. All of this energy going towards wishing it to stop or thinking of sways to make it stop. Sound a wee bit familiar?
Personally, when I ignore this essential nurturing, of being still, it is a bad habit. Just like snacking when I have busy mind. I give in to rolling the same thought around over and over and over. I could stop and do this simple thing above. Sometimes I do. Other times I don’t. Why????
It it is easy to say I will stop this, akin to any other negative habit. Declare I have the will power, but the real success is when we find the benefit ratio changing in the favor of new and more nurturing ones. And practice. New pathways discovered in the stillness.
May this Holiday season give you pause, in a good way, to appreciate and taste all the flavors of your life.
Are we conscious or unconscious? Is our head in the “future” (too far forward)? Is our head in the “past” (too far back)? Or are we “present”?
I love the inventiveness of pharmaceutical commercials. Last night I saw this new shot of all these people doing daily tasks with their eyes closed. There was a warning that “it” could wake up at any time! And then you see someone’s eyes PoP open….(btw “it” will be revealed at the end of this writing)
We can awaken at any time. We don’t have to wait until we have practiced 6 months or 6 years until we awaken to the senses of the body or more balance in our physical or mental state. That is the beauty of yoga. That is the beauty of every day when we do wake up and open our eyes – literally. Having said that, like yoga, staying awake takes practice. We can fall asleep again for the simplest of reasons.
This is why the repetition of moving the body with the breath is so important. If we coordinate planting our feet as we breathe out, and lift, expand and lengthen as we breathe in, then when we breathe involuntarily the rhythm of breath can direct our bodies movements with grace. So, we can be unconsciously conscious!
In addition, as we get more accustomed to noticing the layers of our physical sensations and mental movements while on our yoga mat, we do become more aware of the subtleties of our experiences in life off the mat!
Perhaps in this way we keep our “eyes open and on the ball” or perhaps we are moving into practicing Pratyahara. It is literally defined as withdrawal of the senses. Unlike a turtle pulling it’s head into it’s shell and shutting out the world, it’s more about being aware without having to react to whatever pulls at us.
As Pema Chodron says: “Don’t Bite the Hook”!
In our practice this week, we will look at how we position our head in sideways poses and have reminders to coordinate actions of our breath and body.
What I think of first is how I didn't see it coming and second of how much I hold tension or stress is in my neck.
Yoga can teach us two things: awareness of how we hold ourselves and how to correct to be in the best position possible for our bodies to create freedom.
Follow these 3 actions to find yourself freer!
1) Begin your practice seated and bring the heels of your hands to the top of the thighs with your fingers towards your knees. Reach the inner elbows back without squishing your shoulder blades together.
2) Add a lift of your side body as you inhale. Lift the pits of the arms. Drape your arms down from that lift like a rich tapestry that has some weight to it.
3) Keep the lift of your sternum and drop your chin to your chest. Then take - ever so slightly your chin towards the opening of your ear. Then return the chin to parallel to the floor.
Are you more at ease? Are you lighter in the neck?
Twists in addition to the standing poses done correctly and on a regular can be the difference between waking up with a stiff neck and waking up feeling younger than your years.
This week I will open class with more of the simple ways we can keep ourself free and easy and not have the world on our shoulders!
As we deepen our senses through our practice, I like to cultivate the term “seeing without looking”. What do I mean by that? We don’t have to literally see with our eyes to visualize what is happening. We don’t have to glare at out kneecaps to lift them more, we can feel it.
The textural information from touch (and sound) is rich. Why don’t rely on it more?
Our vision is a dominant driver. In being sight focused (pun intended), we can miss layers of constructive information about where we are in space. How our feet are placed on the floor, the sound of our breath can all work as a symphony to make our movements easier and fuller.
This is one of the reasons we do not practice in front of a mirror. It is a whole other experience to learn our poses from the outer body to the inner. It is distracting and disorienting. Try a few poses in front of a full mirror next time you are at the gym.
We want to cultivate from the inner body outwards. This is a unique orientation to develop this whole-body practice. If we can soften our gaze while on our mats, the opportunity to bring online other sensory systems becomes easier.
Alignment yoga does have a set of rules for the shape of the pose. It can be easy to get into the trap of wanting to do the same pose as someone else. We each are built differently, have varying skills and anatomy. It is ultimately more important to look for the sensation of the pose to bring us even-ness, and open-ness not one of forcing or compressing.
Look to open your other eyes this week. Soften to eyeball to see more fully!
These lovely items don’t seem to be the best designed part on our body. Often, they creak crack and down right make us make noise!
So, this week we will take a look at them. Simple anatomy has the femur/thigh bone from above, the tibia and fibula/ shin bones from below and a cap / patella to cover the area from harm. Ligaments, tendons and muscles traverse this area in all sorts of ways that boggle the mind to comprehend a way to heal this complex area.
If we step back from the literal and look at the outward appearance of our legs, we can use yoga to slowly make our way back into alignment, to reorganize how we load weight from our feet to our hips.
Hyperextension, bow legs, knock knees, and knees that cannot fully extend are all imbalances that will put too much strain on the knee and ultimately cause pain and degeneration.
I personally have used yoga to reorganize from a very hypermobile knees and slight knock knees. I have worked with bow legs and those recovering from knee surgery. Yoga isn’t surgery, but keep in mind that the weight of the body, habit and time can do a lot to alter how we hold ourselves.
Summertime has me barefoot much of the day (or at least exposed). Fall insists on me covering them with shoes and occasionally light socks. Frequent articles discuss the pros and cons of shoes, especially running shoes with all that support and cushion. The dialogue is if the feet are so well designed, why do we need so much cushion and reinforcement?
Look at your feet, feel them, wiggle the toes! They are such an amazing invention, right? But how much of the time are they touching what we are on? As we deepen our awareness to the sensitivity of our body, let’s start with our feet. Release them and explore different textures. Naked feet can give us better balance and feedback. I guarantee you won’t accidentally step heavily on any family members human or otherwise if you feel for what you walk on.
I was recounting today with my husband how long it took to heal my achilles tendon (18 months). I remember how I had to wear shoes inside the house. Countless times I mis-stepped! Puppy paws, or slippery steps, I couldn’t get my bearings or balance with all of that rubber between the soles of my feet and the floor. Keep in mind that studies show the feet become less responsive if they are constantly in shoes. Have you ever worked in steel toe shoes? It is an extreme example of course, but I loved introducing a retired telephone pole worker to yoga – barefoot! It was a pleasant shock to his system to articulate his feet.
On the other side of the spectrum, we can watch our close cousins in the chimp family, their feet are almost as articulated as our hands.
Now I am not mandating that we need the same sensitivity or articulation to appreciate our feet more, but I am saying that we can move and mobilize better with our feet out of restraints! Free Them!
You have taken the first step with your yoga practice. Yet before it gets too cold, walk barefoot more often. This week we are going to work with awareness of our calf muscles to create more mobility in the feet. We will explore poses to free our heels and release the ankles.
Observe the drawing for more specifics and see you on your mat!
You though I meant electric vehicles, right? LOL (kidding aside I think they are a good thing).
I want to bring your awareness to state of mind, Your state of mind.
In Sanskrit, Viksepa sounds just like it is; a scattered state. Ekagrata means single focused or concentrated citta (consciousness). There are actually 5 states of mind as described by many yoga texts, but I want to concentrate on these two.
On any given day we can be thrown off balance. It can occur while doing a challenging yoga pose, or if we squeeze too much into our day’s schedule. Viksepa!
Return to the breath to recapture a more balanced state of mind. Ekagrata!
Having said that there is a bit more than just finding your breath, it is looking deeper into practice.
Let’s start with the obvious – not falling over and hitting the ground or your mat. We are generally not accustomed to taking our time. We are constantly rushed or compressed. Our 24 hour news cycle, work schedule, family schedule can promote the feelings like there is no time to reflect or pause for anything. Or that life is speeding up exponentially and there is no way to stop it, and yet there is.
It's Practice. Consistent Practice - Abhyasa. Start by coming to your mat on a regular basis. Even 15 minutes can make a difference in your mindset. Sometimes it’s a great retreat or a welcome time for reflection. But sometimes it can be boring, dull, and uninspired. (especially if you are at home). Videos may help quiet the scattered state of mind, but the energy of a live class always helps me keep on point, corrals my focus into the present moment. I feel like I am a part of something bigger, connected. I find too that following a rotating lesson plan works too. I don’t feel like quite the loose molecule. The postures and the breath combine to calm the mind and soothe the nervous system without willing it so.
It is helpful to look at the big picture too: Asana and Pranayama are the 3rd and 4th limbs. Concentration / Dharana and Absorption / Dhayana are the 6th and 7th limbs.
What can we focus on? How can we move out of Viksepa, our scattered state? We can notice the sensations of the body, or watch the process/instructions of getting into and out of a pose, or what the mind produces in terms of the thoughts that “IT” creates. Remember – we are not our thoughts. Can we come to the “ah ha” moment that they are just a passing thing? Can we identify these as just thoughts and not hold onto them then the next moment comes and goes with peace and calm and Ekagrata.
I chose these two disciplines from the Yama’s to bring into my personal practice this week. I think of aparigraha as non-clinging in addition to non-grasping. Some of the poses that I have loved so very much over the last 20+ years, I have had to let go of. Head Balance is the main one.
Due to how I am structured in my neck, I had to give up completely for the first 6 months of this year, but now occasionally do this posture when I feel great (but regret the resulting migraine after).
How do I continue to do what I love when it doesn’t love me anymore? (sidebar – my childhood girlfriend chortled when I said standing on my head is my happy place).
The truth (satya – another yama) is that I am fighting to keep it in my practice. However, in order to practice ahimsa for myself, I may need to let go of it. I know I am living in the denial stage of it – trying to negotiate and control the effects by doing it less, lol.
Now isn’t the idea of yoga to use the poses as a vehicle to samadhi? And that practicing yoga isn’t about the poses, but the learning? In this case yes because I have had to take a hard look at how a body changes as the years roll on. I am not sure just yet what I will discover about myself in this process. I do know that it is deep work – lifelong work. Yoga is like that.
We haven’t discussed the Yamas and Niyamas too deeply in a while. For easy reference, here they are:
Yamas: the societal disciplinesNiyamas: the individual disciplines
Ahimsa – non harm Saucha – cleanliness, purity
Satya – truthfulness Santosa – contentment
Asteya – non stealing or coveting Tapas – disciplined work
Brahmacharya – discipline of Svadyaya – self study
speech, body and mind
Aparigraha – non coveting Isvara Pranidhana – dedication to God or grasping something larger than the self
I invite you to take one (or two) and see how they show up in your practice or your day to day.
These are two Sanskrit terms that appear as we dive deeper into the philosophy of yoga. Prakrti is defined as nature; Purusa is defined as clear awareness or seeing.
We find many dualities in life: good/bad; left/right; up/down; breathing in/breathing out. Many of us live in the gray area of the in between and could be judged as “I’m not quite sure where I fit”.
Perhaps that is the nature of being human. There are 3 gunas to describe our nature: rajasic – having a fiery or active nature; tamasic – having a slow or plodding nature; and sattvic – having a clear or balanced nature.
An aside: The first time I heard these terms, I was in an advanced workshop and I mis-heard prakrti for property. So, I was thinking of “things” like a house or car – you know, property! Little did I know, I was pretty close, but not quite.
If we fast forward from the gunas, prakrti and purusa, an Asana practice can give us glimpses into our true nature and offer us a way to balance things out to where we do see more clearly. Ultimately this is what Samadhi, the eighth limb of yoga is…. seeing things as they are, living more often in a place where one has clarity or awareness = purusa.
Purusa is also defined sometimes as “seer”. In this respect, somehow, we could potentially just witness our lives and what life brings us. A quality of experiences without judgement, categorization, aversion or fear.
We can begin to move toward this freedom by cultivating our practice to observe without judgement. Your tight hip or shoulder might just be that: a tight area. Not bad or good, it just is.
This week let’s start to cultivate this way of “seeing” as a tool to become freer. to be with things as they really are.
Mondays offer me time to dig deeper into my yoga studies. Yesterday, while reading a more recent translation of the Yoga Sutras, I began to wonder: How does asana cultivate the 3 limbs of yoga above?
My current asana practice begins with the focus on the sensations of the body (dharana) then cultivate a balance between effort and ease in my body and my breath. Once I arrive at this place stillness occurs and time seems to stop. My thoughts are quiet and I surrender into the posture. (absorption). The active practice becomes a dance of attention and absorption. At the end of the practice in savasana, I am able to fully let go and the physical integration has time to occur. I am in a state that is different than while doing poses. It is a place of no words or things or thoughts. There is a simple clarity to all things. (samadhi)
With a consistent asana practice day after day, week after week, I become more aware of the sensations of my body and my breath. I am more grounded. My ability to focus on the task at hand is easier. The opportunity to redirect the mind is clearer and easier. I don’t always have to be a slave to my mind racing with what just happened and what is ahead.
This is how yoga over the last 26+ years has given me great freedom with more opportunity to enjoying my life. May you find it as well. Little by little; pose by pose.
Getting to the root of a practice is not so daunting.
Asana (the Pose) is a touchstone that I always begin with. We so often live in our heads so the sensations of the body are a marvelous tool to release us from the trappings of the mind. (and living from the neck up) As we know from experience, they also release us from subtle or not so subtle imbalances. That’s the hook that keeps us wanting to dig deeper.
There are layers and layers of yoga to discover.
One source to start with is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Defined in this text are the 8 limbs of yoga. They are listed below. I have 6 of them listed in pairs. This is because in the learning of each they balance and inform the other. Those listed in a single state are facilitators or results of the prior.
Then see how they show up in your life. See what they teach you. I can say for myself, that the best piece of advice I received, is to use them in a spiral rather than linear fashion. It is possible to see the layers of your existence through these 8 rich lenses to gain a perspective that can be expansive and freeing.
For the legs the feet are the start. 4 points. Plant evenly. Lift the arches.
Easy enough in Tadasana yet we find more challenges as we go lower to the earth in our standing poses and sit without the floor to push into.
The position of the feet is first. If they are too flexed or too pointed in a seated pose, we don’t activate the thighs in a way that will fully release the hamstrings.
In a standing pose, keeping an even balance of weight between the inner and outer edges plus keeping a lift of the arch is a big give and take. Some of this is being aware of what we can lift in the leg in addition to support the arch lifting, some of it is strengthening or awakening the arch.
This week we will have the focus on these lovely vehicles that often get ignored and abused in shoes. (Until the pedicure!) Let’s play with our toes, roll on a tennis ball, or strengthen the arch with a towel.
Pada means leg or foot in Sanskrit. So have fun this week playing with the padas!
Ever feel stuck in your practice? Perspective needed, thank you!
I hit a brick wall this week. Physically it was my back. Mentally it was too many thoughts.
So, It turns out that my whole spine and pelvis was out of whack due to a combination of things. I couldn’t free up despite the assistance of yoga. I needed my go-to person – Dr. Keri!
Her expertise and skills are in an area I could never do for myself. I try to adjust self with poses, with chairs, with belts. Didn't work. Sometimes we just need help. Sometimes we just need to stay still and breathe.
Stillness gives us enough space to listen and feel. Still enough to observe how heavy I am on my leg bones. How jammed up I had gotten. Posture isn’t only about how we hold our shoulders but as Dr. Keri says, it’s hard to tell if the top (of the spine) is just that or if the adjustment needs to comes from the base….
In my case, the puzzle of my pain was about an imbalance in the base. If one's chest isn’t lifted or the legs aren’t enrolled to support the lumbar, compression can occur in the hip socket and radiate into the pelvic region. Some of us are too stiff so the pelvic bowl isn’t landing on a seated surface properly. Some of us are the opposite and in being too flexible, this region isn't stable enough leaving our our pelvic bowl compressed, or rotated forward on one side.
Approach your poses this way – If you are stiff, use the breath and move slowly back and forth to loosen up the area of the hips. If you are too easy into a deep pose and feel no stretch or challenge, look to create strength in that area asking yourself “how can I contain or strengthen the action here?”
Our exploration this week may give you an opportunity to see where your blind spot is and to be still there…. without angst or judgement.
I have been asked so many times if cracking joints while practicing yoga is a good thing or a bad thing….
Generally, when we practice yoga, we are stretching the muscles there by creating more space in the body for more movement in the joints.
So, “when you crack your neck or any joint in your body, the capsules around your joint are stretched. These capsules contain fluid, and stretching them allows the fluid to put less pressure on the joint. When you crack your neck, the facet joints stretch, which lets fluid spread out in the joint capsule. Once the fluid becomes gas, your neck joints pop. It usually isn’t harmful”
As noisy and as shocking as a crackle seems we will come to be more comfortable with it as we increase the skills of pose alignment and sensory awareness in the subtleties of our body.
I could give you even more details on the medical process of releasing gas, but why? I think the best way to practice yoga is to be informed to a certain degree anatomically, then use that to inform your senses.
I have a family member who is too smart for their own good and researches everything (and I mean EVERY thing) as if to be a specialist in the area of discourse. All of this information can squeeze the joy out of having a conversation or more importantly in exploring the moving body.
This is why I like to teach (and practice) where I start off reading up on a new pose or part of the anatomy and then tinker with it - imagine.
FYI: Leave overthinking behind when you come to your mat, and discover the wonder.
Imagine what it feels like to do your practice with ease. What would that look like? Feel like? I then explore where the current experience of my restricted anatomy and let go into the imagination – or the Awe of feeling.
I know – you are probably saying well, sometimes it doesn’t feel so great. If that is the case you are pushing it and need to back out of that action (better known as the ego of the pose). Instead, move into sensation and watch that your mind doesn’t label it as bad or good quite so fast.
Like a loud crack as “bad noise”!
In fact, that crack could wake you up to the present moment.
Most people gravitate towards what comes easy to them. I know that I do. I can be lazy, or turn a blind eye to some sequences that include postures that challenge my shoulders/neck too much. (leading to a string of headaches).
So how can I get a full physical asana practice in if I am reluctant to plank, push up pose, and other arm balances or suffer from too long of a head balance?
A full, well-rounded practice must include all the poses on a regular basis, right? Foundational poses are essential to unlocking the more extreme poses but they can be equally difficult in that their repetition can lead to boredom.
In teaching others, I am forever vigilant to keep it fresh so my students are challenged and successful in each and every practice. Thank you for that! It is in my tinkering that I have learned how to get creative within the pose and within the sequencing. I love this aspect – getting under the “floor boards”.
New to the experience of yoga – just feel the effects of the pose and follow the sequencing as set out by your teacher or tradition. Cultivate a sensitivity to what occurs with a slight variation of movement within each pose, each sequence.
As you advance in skill, rather than turn off the senses as you “think you know where it’s going”, dig deeper. What else can you feel, sense, visualize occurring within your physical body? Look to understand what slight adjustment will open or strengthen the pose....reflect and correct. And do, do respect the end of practice rather than zoning out. Use savasana as a time to let go and integrate your experience on whatever level (outer body, inner body, mindset, breath)
Rinse and repeat. Wait till you get curious (not just bored) and then…..
Then, begin to play. At home practice the pose several times, in several different ways. Or, do your practice with one focus. This could be with the play of different positions of the feet, or arms or timing or breath.
Looking to get the effects or build strength without injury? Do the pose in a way that adds less stress to your body (or mind). You are the artist now, get creative!
This week we will cover some of the basic sequences . Once these make sense, you may find play comes naturally - born perhaps out of boredom = creative mind/creative adaptation of poses. If you want to dive deeper, there is a course I developed for some dedicated students with those 8 sequences here.
Sequencing boils down to this:
- Opening – focus and centering. - Stability and Strength – standing poses. - Inversions – reversing the effects of gravity - Focus of the Practice – seated, rotated, backbends, forward bends, core, arm balances, restorative, breath or just being present. - Closing – cool down and integration with savasana.
Wherever you are at, look below your floor boards this week and beyond.
Have you ever gone into a pose only to come out of it (or fall out of it) and ask yourself: “what was that?”?
I have countless times. It seems that I like to go unconscious just at the wrong time. Perhaps it was a thought about what needed to be done later, or a thought I knew where I was going (right? – lol).
We do create a groove of “body wisdom” which is to say the benefit of repeated and continuous practice of asana can create a deep knowing or integration as BKS Iyengar says in his chapter “The Depth of Asana” in The Tree of Yoga.
As a beginner we will scratch the surface of a pose, learning where the parts go, then we can operate on a deeper level of integration with the addition of more subtle senses, then we return to a place of repose where there is no forced action just balance and stability.
There are 2 poses this week you may come across in your practice that needs more attention given to the sitting bones. It is very easy to jut the buttock bone of the lead leg of the pose backward. If we contain it then the thigh is in a place where the hip is open and the spine is long and the legs get the appropriate action. If our hand is too low, we will force or jamb the hip and the spine leaving the leg in an awkward action.
Ardha Chandrasana, Parighasana, Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, and Virabhadrasana 2 all need your attention.
Let’s see if we can let go of the ego of having our hand lower to expand the greater benefit of the overall pose!
Why do we feel so great after yoga? Is it the physical or the mental release?
The mainstay of my practice for many years has been the Inversions (sirsasana - head balance, salamba sarvangasana - shoulder balance, adho muka vrksasana - arm balance and pincha mayurasana - forearm balance).
It goes like this: I roll out my mat and into childs pose I go. Breathe – in – out. The great ahhh sounds off silently in my mind. Then a downward dog. I can feel the lengthening of the back of my legs, a strength of my arms. Evenness, equanimity, whole body sensation.
As I slow down into myself with another childs pose, I feel more length to my back body, depth of hips and folding. The door begins to open into the quiet pause of my busy day. Next is head balance which brings great focus, stimulating the control center of our physical presence, waking me up to be present and light. I feel the frustration of “what’s next” melt away leaving only the present moment.
Then depending on the day, I will move into arm balance or forearm balance to release my neck. Arm Balance is a challenge of body and mind. As I rush to balance, I realize – again - my impatient nature of mind. I needed the wall a little longer to be more in tune with the pinpoint balance required of this pose. Some days are easier than others, but always exhilarating and it affirms the strength that 20 plus years of practice has given me. Very grateful.
And the queen of inversions – Shoulder Balance comes next. Taking the time to set up props and my position on them creates that pause that mimics respect for the long-standing method of alignment and detail in this practice. I don’t rush, I take my time. Plow pose first – the extension of my legs getting longer and longer. Feels like there is more space to exist, more time for me to be, no more rushing. Up into the full pose – a rush of good endorphins? Perhaps. Truly refreshing to be upside down, as all of my organs get to play with gravity differently. Light of heart I become. Light of body and my mind is quiet. There is only inhalation – exhalation and the pause in between.
May your day offer ways to create that pause where there is more room to just “be”.
Yoga can certainly provide greater range of motion but it can be complicated if one has a long-standing habit or injury.
There are several principles to work with to find the right key to the puzzle of your body.
If we are able to release holding or gripping, certainly the area will be more open. Extension from that tight area will take less effort. What do we do about it if there is no release? Think about a cork not coming out of a very fine bottle of wine.
You don’t want to yank on it, it will break apart. You don’t want to be to passive, nothing will happen. If we gently, but firmly, move it back and forth while lifting…voila! The genie in the bottle is released.
In areas that we are stretching, say a hamstring, try contracting in the area of the stretch rather than looking to engage the agonist muscle group more.
Normally,in the case of a hamstring, we contract the quadricep muscle (the agonist) to release of the back of the leg.
We can also ground the back of the leg into the floor to bring greater containment of the hamstring muscle group and engage the quadricep muscle group more. Then freedom occurs and a forward bend deepens without the collapse of the chest.
Equanimity in the sides of the body or the pose is another object of study. Use the senses of sight and touch to move from one side to another, move in and out of a pose until you feel the body equally engaging and releasing.
Childs Pose is an easy place to play. Think of a big ole’ grandfather clock and how it’s pendulum swings: right-left-right-left and so on. We can reach the right then left then right then left as we equally ground the legs back and buttock bones down. Add the breath and see what release/freedom you can find in this way.
So, let’s play and explore and be a free bird on our mats!
I hear about balance often. Generally, in terms of losing it.
According to the NIH, we begin to lose these stability skills in the range of 40-50 years old. One in 3 people will experience a fall each year after the age of 65!
This could be due to vision, vertigo or new medications. Those things we have not too much control over. The other reason – when the body loses strength and coordination due to inactivity or aging - we do have some say in.
What is the key? In Yoga I say: “find your edge and practice there”.
I heard a story from some of my teachers about BKS Iyengar. The tale involves learning how to do head balance in the center of the room. He said something to the equivalent of “practice as if you were on the edge of the Grand Canyon”.
I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, but it does illustrate how we put a bit more focus into something if the consequences are greater.
We want to stay grounded, so be in your feet. We want to extend, so follow the breath. Inhalation: we take upward movements. Exhalation: we move downwards or ground.
In balancing poses we want as much extension as possible to feel as if we had “sky hooks”. This involves cultivating strength and or containment.
Remember your last tree pose. If your foot slipped down the opposing leg, you don’t have enough containment. Fall over? Focus on extension of the limbs and possibly open the groins, quads, or the knees more.
I find the sweet spot for most people is when the individual practices at a level above normal (where my mind keeps running its endless commentary). Where the stretch of the body and the sensation of breath can keep me in the moment. In doing so we have the potential to operate at a place that allows us to be challenged, but still maintain a sense of mastery.
How often do we push ourselves too far too fast? It’s where we get injured.
How often do we think too much while practicing? It’s how we fall over in head balance.
The key? Find that place – the edge - where we can balance between effort and ease; up and down; unstable and stable. Let’s explore the postures with that focus this week.
A pause, refreshment, renewal. An opportunity to be more aware and awake. Isn’t that what practicing yoga is all about? To wake up to the joys of this embodied life?
Physiologically speaking we could say that breathing oxygenates the blood and is essential to life.
The yoga tradition has a deeper meaning. Prana means life force, that energy that makes us alive. If we are just breathing for the oxygen but not the essence of this wonderous life, what then? We are existing.
Years ago, I had the unique opportunity to work with the bariatric unit at Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation center. Many were at least 300 pounds overweight. Yes, morbidly obese. Quite a few had themselves attached to large oxygen machines. They needed help simply to breathe to stay alive.
And what happens when the tank becomes empty? And the facility is understaffed and a change of tank is delayed? I had been teaching them the ujjayi breath as if it were push-ups for the lungs.
When I came in one week, one of my students, beaming, said: “I used that breathing technique you taught us! It really works!!!” Apparently, she ran out of oxygen in her tank and it took about an hour to get it replaced. She was so thrilled that she was able to keep her sense of calm and by breathing in a slow even pattern, she could take a breath and not panic.
That is really why I teach – to give each and everyone of us an opportunity to enjoy the freedom that yoga provides – the littlest things can be great.
We take the postures to open the trunk area so we can be prepared to take a deeper breath, so as you move into your poses this week, see what you can capture in the ribcage so that taking a deeper breath in is not such a “stretch”.
Shrug your shoulders. Were you holding too tight in the traps? We often don’t realize the position we’re in until discomfort appears. So being more wholistically aware of the entire shoulder girdle and when to stop doing the poses with your head is important both physically and metaphorically.
When I was growing up, I lived near Richardson Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. Since it was still in a time where we were unsure of what Russia was going to do, air raid drills “duck and cover” style was the norm. Alarm, march single file to the white painted concrete block halls to squat pasasana style - heads tucked inwards and our arms covering our heads. How small could we make ourselves in that moment. It seems like simpler times then, when we could clearly identify what our threats were. The lift of my shoulder blades toward my ears stayed with me as a protective response – even back then.
So in our “fight or flight” response, contracting inward is ingrained. It stays with us.
How do we release these areas of holding from unconsciously tightening with each day of more in the news cycle, family discord or rising prices? (I can’t blame it on holding the kitchen phone in the crook of my ear anymore!)
We release it with awareness, repeated movements in our practice to create a new groove and really let go in that area of un-comfortability. Then we can create and strengthen new ways of holding ourselves. Don’t be too discouraged if this is your area that just won’t let go. We all have one and it is going to be tough here since the area is a meeting point of nerves, motion of our arms and head.
So, let's look at some basic structure. This is where I always start.
Shoulder Blades, Collar Bones, Cervical Spine and Skull.
In the shoulder blade region, we have 4 rotator cuff muscles that can easily get impinged under the hook on the top of the shoulder blade. If we slump at the screen, our head and arms are thrusted forward and lock up the free movement of all listed above.
How the thigh bone rests in the hip socket seems to be of great confusion or trouble to a big swath of people over 35.
This week we will take a look at how we can create more space in this area. Ideally this will let you stand a bit better, feel more supported with less pain and use your body more efficiently. (less muscular action)
The seated poses need to have the weight in the sit bones (see attached)
When we are standing we need to use the intelligence of the neutral pelvis found in a proper seated position to be maintained - for the most part.
First we observe. As such simple awareness brings great clarity. Then we can explore new ways of positioning the thigh bone into the hip socket that is not so different from what you are used to. And then voila! You have potential to use your legs with greater access to the strength that is already there and build upon it.
For example, in Trikonasana- some of us need to rotate the thigh more - some of us less.
So it does take some time to know when the foot is planted correctly (that's from last week), how the ankle is positioned (also last week), then the knee and on up. Most of us don't need to work so hard, others need to simply be aware, others need to wake up areas that never "arose" to the occasion.
So, the question becomes: What is good for our feet?
Yoga poses can bring the feet back into a more balanced position and strengthen them. If the feet are not loading properly then it can affect how your ankles, knees on up the leg works and feels. Practicing yoga also offers the opportunity to re-sensitize our soles to the original design/purpose of our feet to sense what is beneath us and to respond with grace.
What you may know about me is that I have a phrase I use to return to myself in any conflict. I generally say to myself “find my feet and feel my breath”. These words have come into play many times over the years. Yet it is more than just feeling grounded.
Anyone who has had nerve damage in their feet knows that if you are not able to feel your feet, your balance is compromised. Anyone who has sprained an ankle, toe or tendon in the foot, knows the offset of actions to avoid reinjury can lead to other imbalances or injury on up the chain of the leg. So do not ignore them or take those lovely feet for granted!
This week I hope to expose you to how you stand on your feet, in a good way, that allows you to feel more connected to the earth and stronger in your stance.
It is the little things that I find so important in my life, not the big bang I was looking for in my youth.
Before I leave you a few questions...
Can you feel your toes individually?
Did you know that we have 3 arches in the feet? Lateral, medial and transverse? Pop quiz – which one do we normally think of when we say arch of the foot? (laidem – spelt backwards).
Walk in the sand, the grass, on pebbles and notice the sensations and how smart they actually can be!
I do love them! They are the bones of my practice even before the standing poses. The dramatic reset of my outlook is palpable.
I have used them for others, in a milder form, to calm the mind in the midst of panic attacks. So we can experience dramatic shifts with these poses.
The breath is also a powerful tool. Some of you may have experienced this last week with the use of a ratio of longer times for your exhalation vs inhalation in savasana.
Let us take a look at the similarities:
While upside down, and in the more challenging head, arm or forearm balance we need more focus, thereby the mind has to drop the misc chatter.
In addition, when the head is grounded in any pose, it is supported and the seeming pulse of fluids into the head lessens. We don't necessarily need to close our eyes – save that for savasana. For those of us new to inversions (or “topsy turvy” poses as BKS Iyengar names them in Light on Yoga), the rush of blood to the head can be disconcerting or just downright uncomfortable. So having your head grounded in standing forward bend/Uttanasana or wide leg forward bend/ Prasarita Padottanasana we can start to regulate the baroreceptors that are a neurological response to this sensation and slows the process down so it isn’t such a literal head rush!
As the NIH defines it, the
“Baroreceptors are a type of mechanoreceptors allowing for relaying information derived from blood pressure within the autonomic nervous system. Information is then passed in rapid sequence to alter the total peripheral resistance and cardiac output, maintaining blood pressure within a preset, normalized range.”
As I said to my son recently, don’t focus so much on the medical definition but trust that the body will regulate itself and enjoy the ride!
So I could tell you all about how head balance/Sirsasana stimulates the pituitary, or that shoulder balance/Salamba Sarvangasana bathes the lymph nodes in the neck area with fresh blood. This is all very interesting, yes? Again, just enjoy the ride.
Feeding my mind and relying too much on my intelligence or book smart is what I depended on and fed at the expense of my health prior to yoga and some of the magic and awe of pure experience was lost then.
I choose to now become an acute witness to my human experience and be open to the awe and wonder of finding more subtle ways of being...and to just enjoy the ride!
Most of the time we think of asana as posture, but it really means seat in Sanskrit. Looking at the root of Yoga the thrust of the practice was to prepare the body for meditation. To sit.
The sitting bones are at the root of our seated poses. So let us look at the musculature surrounding our sitting bones on the base of the pelvis. When we sit on the floor, we want to be right on top of them. There are many layers underneath us. We just call them our “glutes”. But there is more to the eye and include:
The gluteus maximus, the biggest muscle and it attaches to the side of the sacrum and femur. It is for extending and externally rotating the hip joint. It moves you forward as you walk and run.
The gluteus medius, which sits part way under the gluteus maximus and connects the hip bone to the side of the upper femur. It helps you externally rotate your leg when it’s behind you and internally rotate your hip when your leg is in front of you.
The gluteus minimus, a smaller muscle under the gluteus medius. The minimus helps you abduct, flex and internally rotate the hip.
Then there are the “deep six” or “lateral rotator group”. One of those is the piriformis. This is a tiny little muscle that can have a big effect on how easily it is to sit.
So, in this day and age we sit way too much and these glutes get weak. In our practice of poses we can strengthen them in Virabhadrasana 3/Warrior 3; Setu Bandha/Low Bridge; Salabhasana/Locust and Utkatasana/Chair pose.
We can play with these easy to include poses this week.
I was reading an article in the Atlantic magazine last night. The author wanted to change her personality. (I laughed!)
How often as young people, have we wanted to re-make ourselves? Even now, wanting to change an old habit or way of thinking can make us feel like a human rubberband. Our basic nature is strong and the old ways can hang on….
Yet, I present to you today, if we are consistent and look for the subtle change or shift, rather than the big bang, our efforts will triumph.
The one thing I had to learn is that it takes a daily choice to do anything worthwhile. Rinse and repeat. Continuous re-commitment. This can be applied to relationships and our yoga practice.
There is a term in our quality of yoga practice that we can apply this week. Abayasa. It means consistent practice in Sanskrit.
This week we will be working with twists as a way to gracefully move into backbends and chest opening poses. Rather than thinking of all the poses I need to get “loose” enough to reach a foot or the ground!
I encourage you to pick a time and place to do your yoga at least once a week. (don’t worry about length of time – start small – be successful)
Have a yoga buddy to show up and say hi to on zoom or in person. Recommit to your classes or home practice.
Stick to a routine and you will be amazed how much easier it will be to come to class despite the good weather that is coming our way. You will be freed from a heaviness of step, and heart and be surprised at how many benefits there are.
Easier step, deeper breath, stronger legs, less ache, clearer head, and more.
Foundation of foot and leg action is developed in the standing poses.
It is easy to go too narrow in our stance and/or rush too far into the pose that we lose space in our hips or overwork our legs or back. Unbalanced actions occur too easily if we rush in or over think it.
Simply speaking: “Less is More”. At least that is what Mies Van der Rohe used to say about architectural design. Not only did he design the Seagram building in midtown Manhattan, but one of my favorite Bauhaus residences, The Farnsworth house seen here.
Do take a look at its simple elegance as we simplify and find the elegance of our poses this week.
This morning I opened my daily email from Tricycle magazine. It is a quote that reminds me to pause and look below the surface of the words as they are strung together. It was very poignant for me this week.
“We are able to see the unknown only when we go beyond time. That is why the poetry that comes from this unknown territory cannot but - be wild,fresh, and alive, like a leaping carp”
by Ok-koo Kang Grosjean, “Like a Leaping Carp”
You could apply this to so many different things. Personally, many of you know that times at Amba are changing. If you don’t know, the Amba building is closing next week and the last class at Amba East is Saturday. I am taking just my classes to a new location – Amba West. I’m still on Jericho but instead of Terry Rd, I will be at Old Willets Path. Just a few minutes different time wise…..
Yet, after 21 years of teaching in one location, I have to imagine the possibility of being able to take my energy from running a studio into being a sole proprietor again. With this new space (larger) and covid waning (please), I can see the fruits of my experience going more into just teaching. My ideal is to continue to reach more people both new and well practiced in yoga. So time and space feel very fluid for me now…..
Let’s take this back to our mats…. Can you remember your first yoga class? Could you imagine that you would be able to move your body in such a way? That your mindset could be different? Perhaps this calmer, steadier, more balanced mindset is a byproduct of your yoga?
My favorite is when someone can do a pose they never imagined, but with a few simple steps they are in the posture they couldn’t see themselves ever, in this life, reside in with ease!
Could you imagine being so aware of how you sit or breathe? Or how your body is constructed from the layer of the skin down to the bone?
All is possible through returning to your mat day in and day out.
Egg Hunts can be searching for treasure, especially if you are 7 years old.
We look for the gold, the jewels, the treasure.
This past Holiday weekend had a powerful line up. First Passover, symbolizing the release from slavery. Then Easter, symbolizing rebirth. I think there are similar treasures to be found in a consistent practice of yoga.
Learning about the inner workings of our bodies through yoga can bring on greater health. A by product of this physical healing includes an ease of mind.
The sequence of poses are designed to bring our bodies back into balance. We become less distracted by our physical complaints. Standing poses are for strength and stability of the legs. The seated poses are for grounding. The forward bends for calming. The backbends are to reverse our collapse in the chest that strains our lungs and organs (the hidden jewels).
These organs: Heart, Lungs, Stomach, Liver, Spleen, Gallbladder, Pancreas, and then small intestine, large intestine can go largely unnoticed until we experience pain. Why wait until then? Human nature. Turning that on it's head, we can use it as an opportunity to empower and educate. Here is a practice that specifically addresses some abdominal imbalance:
Keep in mind that the practice sequences I teach rotate for a reason. In this Constant repetition of the same poses would become dull and boring. So in this method we have just the right amount of familiar poses to root us and enough to keep us alert.
Pranic breathing practices focus a great deal on the timing and quality of the inhalation and exhalation. How often have you observed the “pause”?
Early in my practice I thought that I was controlling my exhalation in a simple breath. As defined by one of my go-to yoga anatomy books, it’s a relationship of two cavities. The Thoracic and the Abdominal. The abdominal cavity does not change its volume (unless you drank a gallon of water, had a large meal, etc), but the thoracic does. The diaphragm separates the two. They both change shape. The abdominal cavity changes shape as we breathe (think balloon). The thoracic cavity can expand both in shape and volume (think accordion).
So, when we breath in, it isn’t that we are pulling air in, but we increase the space of the chest cavity and the air pressure decreases. Air flows to the lower air pressure, ergo, inhalation. Crazy right? Basic science!
Then as the diaphragm relaxes, it springs back to the smaller shape and air flows out. It’s one reason why we recommend not compressing the abdomen during the exaltation process in pranayama. It goes against the movement of that amazing membrane between the two cavities – our diaphragm.
Anatomically, there is some information for you to digest. In addition, I think the more important opportunity here is in the observation of the subtleties of this action including the pause between the inhalation and the exhalation. Let it be soft and you will find a greater depth of breath. Even find more space in your mind!
Another two thoughts I will leave you with to explore further that continue to release us from working against our natural rhythms:
- Observe the way you feel in between differnt postures. Do you pause and reflect?
- Pause during your day outside your yoga practice.
This way we can be more present with our day, our companions, our world. Let’s learn from yoga how to see the beauty around us
It is disorienting to return home after a month away. I am a bit off balance to find items I haven't seen since February. Thankfully Spring is on the way and getting on my mat to practice grounds me.
For me, Spring is a time of shedding the weight of clothing or heaviness of spirit. We can look for a lighter load and as the crocuses pop their heads up from the ground in my back yard and we can look for a renewal of all that grows in the increasing sunlight - even us!
How can yoga help us? In so many ways you answer….
I am thinking specifically of grounding, returning to the source of my practice with over 20 years of continuous practice (Abhyasa in Sanskrit), and a renewal of energy.
Abhyasa : effort, willpower, practice. Vairagya : letting go, acceptance, detachment. This contradictory theme of effort and letting go is a thread that is woven through the entire Yoga Philosophy. And it's in the continual dance between effort and letting go that the secret of Yoga is experienced.
I found this online and thought it poignant. If we hold on to something too tightly, we cannot let go. We loose our balance. If we get too attached to having 2 feet on the ground, balancing on one foot can be a frightful if not leaden process. Dancing between the two can free us up physically and mentally.
This week we will explore some of the poses that challenge and ultimately free us from being too set in our ways by taking flight onto one leg. Just like Florida Flamingos!
Different kinds of practice can give us the opportunity to examine our breath. Saturday, we had a typical restorative practice where we included poses that allow us to rest quietly for a time - supported by props in order to create the space in the body and mind. Use this space to notice and explore the patterns of our breath as it naturally appears unconsciously and then direct it consciously.
We can make any class a bit more restorative by the effort we put into the poses or the props we add to create more ease and availability to that particular pose. Over lay the breath and you have another layer of transformation.
Our breath patterns deeply effect the nervous system. Slowing down the rate of inhalation/exhalation can move us from a stress inducing place to a more healing one.
When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response, says Dr. Richard Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of “The Healing Power of the Breath.”
When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated. “If you breathe correctly, your mind will calm down,” said Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and Dr. Brown’s co-author.
So the scientific can support the experiential!
The standing poses we do promote the opening of our chest cavity and thereby gives us a better environment to release and expand our breath. There are traditional pranayama (breath patterns) that I have taught in the past: Ujjayii, Viloma and Nadi Sodhana. You can find many other simple and effective styles online recommended by others in the medical community for better health and wellbeing.
Here is one to try outside of your yoga practice suggested by Dr. Brown:
If you have the time to learn only one technique, this is the one to try. In coherent breathing, the goal is to breathe at a rate of five breaths per minute, which generally translates into inhaling and exhaling to the count of six. If you have never practiced breathing exercises before, you may have to work up to this practice slowly, starting with inhaling and exhaling to the count of three and working your way up to six.
Sitting upright or lying down, place your hands on your belly.
Slowly breathe in, expanding your belly, to the count of five.
I know that Monday’s aren’t everyone’s favorite day of the week, but then it’s all about how we look at things, yes?
The reality is our lives are continuous. But the mind labels Monday – at least for most of us – as the start of a burdensome thing…
Perhaps it is looked upon as the start of an unknown work week, argh - school, again, to the diet – or just getting refocused…..
Could we look at Monday as just another opportunity to open our eyes, breathe, move and take in the world around us to see it for what it really is and not place a dramatic label on it?
What are your labels or assumptions in Yoga? Too hard or too easy, not enough or too much? What if we just felt our breath and stayed in the moment? Took each opportunity to be present and come alive fully? This is a challenge for a life time, yes?
YES I say! I am still catching myself with labels – you are not alone!
Return to your yoga practice for clarity: if we go to our mat and in our pose listen to the body (and especially the breath) we will know how to find that place where we are enjoying the work and the ease. To a greater extent we repeat certain poses often to experience the progress and the intimacy of nuanced movement. Then we have new poses to take us outside our comfort zone. It is there that the opportunity for growth and strength can occur. I am referring to both the body and the mind.
In any situation, our evaluation of the moment may categorize reality as “hard” or not. However, if we dig a little deeper, it may not just be that. There is choice and room to breathe in every situation. There can be ease in the work whatever that is. The lesson here is to pace ourselves. The simplest yoga practice can be an opportunity to learn just that.
Then these lessons can be applied daily to simple challenges or more difficult ones. For example, today we went to an amazing new place in Bradenton, FL - the Robinson Preserve. Warm for us, but hot for our almost 11-year-old pup Abby. I could have trucked on faster and longer, but we had to listen to her breath to know at what point she was moving out of ease – enjoying the effort - and into a place of working too hard in the heat. Returning to us, as individuals we have more tools. We have both sensations of muscle and breath in our postures to tell us when to continue or pause for a less effort filled movement.
Two questions we can ask ourselves this week as we practice:
- Where is the action of strength in this pose?
- Where is the action of opening?
In this way we can find equanimity or effortless effort.
There are five obstacles (on the path to Samadhi): ignorance, ego, desire, aversion, and fear of death.
The kleshas are defined as:
Avidya = ignorance
Asmita = “I”-ness; ego
Raga = desire or attachment to pleasure
Dvesha = avoidance, aversion
Abhinivesha = attachment and fear
So, on a simplistic level you could think of them as states of mind like anxiety fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc. These trappings of the mind obscure us from our true nature and ultimately living our lives to the fullest.
This may sound very heavy as a concept. Consider this: if you follow the whipping up of one of these emotions, say anger, it is easy to be attached to the strong emotion of holding a grudge or righteous indignation. What purpose does that really serve? I am not saying to ignore the emotion, just not allow it to take you on Mr. Toad’s wild ride.
Since our reality it is always a manifestation of our mind, we can drop the drama and just feel the feeling. It generally passes very quickly.
So in your practice this week, notice what feeling from the body (or the mind) and watch if you run off with it or if you can observe it for what it is.
I hope to hear that some of you are practicing on your own while we made our way to a new southerly location for March….Long drive, glad we stopped to stretch!
Have you ever wondered about the effects of the poses? Why we have some poses every practice and some appear grouped together but occasionally? Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar has a section in the back for general sequencing and remedial poses. If we practice enough the patterns come through and make more sense.
Standing poses are generally first to create stability. They strengthen the legs and open the body with great extension. Then come what I call the focus poses. Depending on them we do our inversions before or after.
Forward bends are excellent for calming the mind (especially if one’s head is grounded), lowering the blood pressure and aiding in digestion. Janu Sirsasana, Parivritta Janu Sirsasana are especially helpful for my low back as they offer an opportunity to both twist and extend the spine!
Opening and strengthening the shoulders is a nice balance and we can do that with Gomukasana releases and returns the arm bones into a better position to then support our weight as we lift up into Lolasana.
Some of the abdominal poses not only strengthen our core to protect the spine, but they also fire up our organs related to digestion.
This week we will go through these basic practices that I started out with at home and continue to teach as a spring board to more advanced poses. There will be an opportunity to see where you hit your “wall”.
Challenge is good now and again, especially in this time of change where we are surprised by how easy or difficult something simple might be.
Generally, in Yoga, I find it’s a little bit of both.
Svadhyaya is defined as action of looking inward or self-study.
Abhyasa is defined as a consistent or continuous practice.
These are two Sanskrit terms that guide us in Yoga. How do we use this concept of self-inquiry in our yoga practice?
The possibilities are endless. At first, we may not know what questions to ask. This is where a skilled teacher can be helpful. Listen to their cues.
Different questions can direct our attention. Easy to spot topics are:
Where do you feel your breath? Is it even? Is it smooth? What are the movements of the body that happen naturally on an in-breath, on an out-breath?
Where is the full action of limb? Is there an even balance of direction of L/R, in-out, front/back?
Take a specific area of the body and watch it’s action in each pose to open or strengthen. For instance, is the knee firm and not locked? Is the thigh lifted or, arm rotated? What direction does my pelvis need to be here? Tilting forward, back or remaining in neutral?
On our own, as we become more familiar with the poses and sequences, we can begin to find our own questions that lead us with curiosity inward and outward.
I have found it to be a wonderful adventure if you take a sensation from a pose and see where it takes your mind body experience.
If we practice consistently, it is so much easier to find more groves on the record of our practice becoming familiar and we go onto the next track, song or number. Our concentration deepens and we become steady in body, mind and perhaps even character.
Is it a Heart Happy Week? Salmon, Chocolate and Red Wine….
Or perhaps some expansive rib cages? Let’s dive a little deeper.
Thematically we can look at poses for the heart, but really practicing yoga on a regular basis is the best thing.
The next best thing could be inversions of some sort as it reverses the flow of blood to the limbs and flushes out our organs different than twists.
Consider this: your toes are the farthest away from your heart. To pump blood all the way from your toes back up to your heart takes the most energy…however if we do legs at the wall or any other inversion that has our legs above our heart this process is performed mostly with gravity. Easy on the heart muscle! Upon finishing the pose, and standing up again, our legs are fully flushed out!
Another consideration: anytime your head is below your heart, you get a similar renewal. Poses like Adho Muka Svanasana/downward dog, Uttanasana/standing forward bend, Chatush Padasana/low bridge, Prasarita Padottanasana/wide leg forward bend are generally available to all yoga practitioners. The head is filled with a fresh supply of blood and flushes out our important glands of the thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, hypothalmus, etc. Again, once we resume an upright position, these parts of the body effected by the renewed wash of fluid will feel refreshed, including your mindset!
Final consideration: crashing into our front chest can compress all the organs in our rib cage – the heart and lungs especially. If we maintain a well rounded practice of opening and strengthening the front shoulder region while enrolling the postural muscles on the back body we can be balanced in our upright posture creating more space for the normal function of heart, lungs and digestion.
This week we will explore many of these poses. And if you pick a few simple ones to do regularly, then we may be unencumbered by our winter jackets and ready to lighten our load both physically and mentally.
An Approach to Practice: It is generally sought out to bring balance into our lives.
Over the last 20+ years I have had many students come to a yoga class with specific stories about why there are coming to Yoga. The details are varied but the reasons as are the same: to find balance in the experience of themselves.
A seeking out for solutions. This can be compared to the idea of evolution – an outward movement.
As a person new to yoga, we are very attentive to finding the quick fix to stress, pain, tightness, etc.
Most of you that I see on a weekly basis have been practicing for some time now. That which you learned as a new student certainly has integrated into your movements by now and that which you struggled with before coming to yoga has evolved, yes?
In reflecting on my own experience with yoga, I can see that making peace with my physical body brought me freedom. I wanted to be stronger and leaner. I wanted to trust my instincts rather than rely on outside opinions. Become more independent that I was already. Yoga actually gave me something different, more applicable to daily life, a deeper trust that the change can occur without so much pushing and that it was easier when joined by other like minded companions.
I am sure my early teachers could see the urgency and eagerness I brought to my poses. I didn’t want to sit still. I wanted to catch up quick. I wanted to move and push. Solve the problem.
Throwing everything at it doesn’t allow room for graceful transition. Practicing Yoga was a way to stop and reframe my world. I didn’t know it at the time but the poses were working out the kinks of all that and I didn’t even need to focus on how I was going to change things. Observing and breathing. It makes the process seem magical but it’s not really. Yes, it is spoken of as a science, a method. If you are curious, go anywhere to read more about the 8 limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.
Some of these limbs focus us inwards, some outwards. Together they chip away at the dullness of the body and the mind.
This all sounds very vague and lofty right? Especially if you have never studied the 8 limbs. How do I proceed?
Try for now my suggested steps below during your next individual class - at home or with a teacher. See if it brings greater clarity if only of a certain pose….
Arrival:Observe at the outset what is showing up first on the mat. Is your practice a habit or a mindless routine? Are you just concious of nagging pain? If you can, bring exploration without judgement to your answers.
Focus:What is the sequence to be? If you are in a class the teacher should provide this. Where does your extra care need to go to? (meaning: what adjustment to your body or mindset needs extra reminding).
Reflection:Are you giving yourself enough time to just be in the pose with a sense of listening quietly, observing? Are you breathing? Or are you rushing through each pose looking for what’s next? Right foot turns out, left foot in…are they all in your awareness or is only the last body movement conscious….aim to unify the whole body with an even breath pattern.
Acknowledge:The things that you are doing and those that you are not. Be clear that you are making choices here to move deeper (or at all). Aim to refine, observe and enhance your actions rather than ignore them.
Keep in mind: you may need a day to mindlessly practice, just follow. This is a choice. Or a time to let yourself play around with a different option in your pose. This is another choice. Give 110% or 25% effort. Again – choice. It is all okay if you let it be.
Conclusion:Winding down in the practice/or a pose. Learn when to stop pushing yourself too far. Find what needs to let go. On the other hand, also learn what needs to awaken. This is where balance and ease surprisingly appears.
Savasana: The true time to leg go and breathe. Go inwards without care to the outside. You have nowhere to go and nothing to do - if only for a brief time.
I offer these suggestions for any class you practice in. May they give you more clarity and understanding that yoga can be more than poses.
Ever see a blade of grass come out from the smallest crack in the concrete?
How is this possible?
Or perhaps it is knowing how to see the avenue of expansion; allowing for the possibility to move beyond….
Yoga can teach us these lessons. In our bodies, in our mind, in our spirit.
We use asana to explore our outer bodies, the gross anatomy of limb and trunk. Observing the sensations of the body we can move inward, through the sheaths, towards the innermost aspect of self. This can mean many things. BKS Iyengar discusses these layers at length in Core of the Yoga Sutras, chpt. 14.
Think of 3 layers: the outer, the inner and the innermost. This is the simplest way to explain the terms he uses gross, subtle and causal. Add mindfulness to our experience of asana and listen, watch, and learn about these different aspects.
Take the body for example. This is the annamaya kosa. Skin is the “gross sheath”, muscle the “subtle sheath” and the bones the “causal sheath”. In the pranamaya kosa, our respiration is the gross, the circulatory system the subtle and the nervous system the causal. There are several sheaths that we can associate with the mind, but for this writing I will mention the Intellectual Sheath – vijnanamaya kosa where the internal mind is the gross, intelligence/buddhi (not book smart more of a sense of “knowing”) the subtle and the I-maker the causal.
How do I make sense of this? I just wanted to stretch….
We can focus on these layers or not, since the grass blade of evolution will pierce through our dullness anyway.
First is being exposed to the concept. Then you may find that you are already familiar with a layering of your own body.
Next, we take the time to reside in the poses to discern a hint of the sheaths. Notice how when we move our physical body, temper our patterns of breath and watch the fluctuations of our mind we can experience the shifts as the practice evolves from one pose and then another and another so that by the end you have become different.
You can view the body, our great vehicle of transportation, in 3 parts: Legs, Trunk & Arms. In this fashion we may overlook the fact that as much as we would like them to be and integrated whole, it isn't until we study the "in-between" that we can fully experience them as a whole (I will discuss how to integrate these 3 parts into one body at another time)
The "In-Between" of the knees, elbows and waist have such range of motion and it is easy to be out of place. Knees especially! I have many of you who have specific sensation in this area that you wonder if there is any room for improvement? Yes, there is. This week we will have sequences to examine your own specific joint of the knees and how to strengthen, open, maximize your range of motion that a consistent yoga practice can offer.
Proper leg alignment, strengthening and stretching the quadriceps, and stretching the calves will go along way to greater range of motion (and deeper forward bends!)
First off there is the attachment of the hamstring and calf. Each cross over the back of the knee before insertion and origin. So if we over stretch the muscle you can feel it on the back of the knee.
Second to consider is that if you quadriceps are not lifting in the front of the leg including the patella (knee cap), it will leave the hamstring in a position of always contracting – never releasing which it needs in order to lengthen!
Third, if we are in a bent leg position and the knee is not properly aligned over the heel/middle of the foot, torsion could occur and effect the lateral ligaments/tendons.
Fourth, if we never stretch the quadriceps, the knee will never reclaim full range of motion (barring injury, replacement, reconstruction, arthritis).
Fifth and lastly, if we are hypermobile in the knee joint, the muscles, ligaments and tendons are too loose and can jamb the front knee region. Usually caused by weak quadriceps.
If you would like to read further, I have attached another of Julie Gudmestad’s clear articles on the topic. (Thighs Matter)
We are continuing our focus this week with some foundational ideas. Last week we found greater strength in utilizing the strength of our hamstrings in a few poses (Purvottanasana, Virabhadrasana 2).
Thinking about foundation, I thought of our skeletal system. Without that, we would be rather liquid! There are two specific bones that provide us an amazing opportunity to load weight on. Typically we may think of our hands, feet and sitting bones. What bones do you think of?
Scratching your head? It's those big bones on our back body, th sacrum and shoulder blades.
First, the sacrum. It is 5 vertebrae of our spine fused together. When we move into supported bridge pose, we place a block under our sacrum. The action of your feet to lift the pose is then shifted into this bone. If we are more in tune with the outer tips of the sacrum, we can stabilize and deepen our twists. (see attached)
Now, the shoulder blade. If we are doing heart blocks, we can place the entire blade on a block (with a higher block for the head). It lifts the chest and other than the weight of the legs into the floor, the greatest sensation is in our blades. In addition, we can direct the turn of our trunk with them in the standard standing poses. With this refinement it allows the shoulders to come into a brilliance of alignment and the whole pose/body comes alive.
Who wouldn't want that? So let us explore these two bones in our practice this week. They are already there to support us, let's use them.
I have no “re-solutions”. I prefer to think of this as a time to not look back but look forward.
Let us lighten our load and renew our commitment to living each day fully without the burden of past doings. Going back to my mat, day in and day out is my practice, my way to keep me looking up – out – and forward. I offer that to you. We can look at this time of a fresh new year for building upon the foundation of what we/you have accomplished already.
Backing up, let’s take a look at these words….
Re-solutions, Re-new, Re- awaken, Re-boot, Re-commit. It almost implied in root word that there were things not quite “completed”, or a goal was “not quite met”. I see how easily my perfectionistic side is fed by these terms. I hope some of you can relate too.
This month we are going to build on our current foundation of basic poses and refine them. Look to make them simpler, easier and more integrated as a whole. We can also look at each practice as complete in itself too.
So look at this simple sequence below and let me know if any of these poses are ones you turn away from (or rush through). I would love to give you insight to create more strength/ease in your poses.
The way to do that is to slow them down to a pace where we can deconstruct them and then find your key that unlocks the body and brings integration.
Let’s get grounded! Too much is unsettled in the world with the Pandemic offering another variant….
Cancelation – gather or not? – again with the testing - how much food for holiday dinner – happening or not?
Sound familiar? It's a Ping Pong of the mind!
Plans always change. My schedule used to be very set as an architect and a new Mom. Almost like a superstition I would check off my to-dos. If they got done, I felt like I was in control. BUT I didn't know if I would get off in time for my commitments to self. I didn't know when I would have to drop things to pick up a sick child. Sometimes the list was thrown out. Epic fail! I had unrealistic expectation of what was to be.
How much do you cling to your routine to give you a sense of control? Maybe we can learn to let go if we switch around the order of our poses without feeling like you are breaking the rules? Or if we understand most everything is in flux.
Learning from our practice we can stay grounded despite our attachment to things going our way. Do mix things up so you aren’t sleepwalking through your precious practice.
For example, if you stand in Tadasana/Mountain Pose right now and look to be still, do you find movement? It’s hard not to. If we stiffen to eliminate that movement, we become stiff and frozen. This is unstable and unsustainable. We could be easily pushed over and fall straight to the floor.
So what if we look to be steady within the constant shifts instead? If we are buoyant in our joints it allows for fluidity. If we move with our breath we are not brittle. We can find freedom from exploring the give and take of our natural movements.
What immediately comes to mind is when I commuted to work on the NYC subways. I used to see if I could ride all the way home without holding on - at all from 14th street to 86th on the Lexington line. I could never lock my knees there. I had to sus out which way the train was rocking. Up and down or left to right. To be successful I would need “ride” the waves of movement. A fun game and a challenge. Can we bring this fun challenge into our postures?
That’s what we will look at this week to find as an experience in our poses.
My recipe: breath + alignment + gravity surf + play.
IF we are out of alignment in our poses, it will take more muscular work to simply stand.
IF we lock out our joints of the knees or elbows might make sense but it will make us heavy and sunken in the whole body.
IF we move with our breath (another action of give and take – always in flux) add a lot of alignment and a little bit of muscular effort.
That is the recipe for this Holiday Season.
Peace and Namaste,
I will be taking a break from Friday Dec 24 - Jan 7. Look for a Tidbit on Jan 10th, 2022!
After a week of exploring our hips, we can now move into our shoulder girdle. This area of the body is cinched together with muscles, ligaments and tendons. It isn’t exactly a “ball and socket” like the hip. The 3 bones we have to cap off our trunk are the collar bones, shoulder blades and the upper arm bone. Now I like to add in the sternum too. It isn’t so much that it is part of the shoulder, but it is greatly affected by the other end of the collar bones.
If we collapse our upper arms forward, the shoulder blades come around to the front body more and the collar bones come closer together and the sternum has only one place to go – down. Down into the abdominal area leaving less space for you to breathe.
Simple positioning plus awareness is a great start to any reorganization. I always like to see what is under the “floor boards”. (see attached photo)
Let us branch out – literally – to our limbs this week.
If we are not stable in the extension of the arms or legs, we can find the rotational movement muddied. If the trunk is not buoyant and expanded, we can sink heavily on these wonderful joints of the hips and the shoulders.
This may in turn contort the extension of our spine!
Let’s take a common example…How are you holding yourself right now?
I am assuming that you are seated. Is the tailbone turning under? If so, then you will be in a position to shorten on the front spine and loose space in your front hips. Can you feel this?
It can be very subtle! The first step is to be aware of the unconscious holding of the body. Come to the edge of your chair and find your feet beneath your knees. Now press down into the floor with your feet on an exhalation and experience some clarity! Place your hands on the table (shoulder width) and spread the appendages of your fingers like we do in down dog. Do you feel a reset or a lift in your chest as you take a breath in?
When we take this simplicity into our practice the potential of could give us freedom or we could still find a restriction. Let us look at the femur better known as your thigh bone.
The head of the femur looks like a fist and it fits into the very small area of the hip socket. It is one of the true ball and socket joints in our bodies. We all have a different shape to our femoral head and neck. So that would lend some of us to have a very easy time to those outward hip rotations in full lotus! (see the attached for a visual). This is why it is so important to look for ways to lengthen out of the joint area and then explore how to rotate cleanly and to the right degree. If you are flexible, it is easy to over rotate. If you are stiff, it is easy to get discouraged and feel no progress.
Do not despair but keep to task at hand of listening to body sensations and subtleties in tandem to the movement of the breath.
Simple moves can support the extension of the limbs and the extension of the limbs can support the extension of the chest!
Here on the East Coast it is clear this change of seasons. Growing up in California, it was not as apparent. Yoga can be as subtle as the change of seasons in California. Warm, warmer, coolish.
When I lived in San Diego there was a pattern to the weather. We had a foggy overcast when I went to the car to drive to work. Our architectural office was in a fully glazed corner spot of a tower that faced northwest in the small area of downtown that generally had no more than 5 or 6 stories to its buildings. At around 11 o’clock we could always count on the sun coming out so that by lunchtime when we went out to the plazas to eat our lunch it would be warm and sunny. The day would roll on and the earth would heat up. By late afternoon we were baking in our office with shades down. It isn’t till the very end of the day that things would wind down and the cloud cover would roll in from the water cooling us off like a gentle mist from some exotic island.
Sounds just like my practice (well without the exotic island). We often start with poses that will clear the fog from our bodies and bring consciousness from where we think the center of the universe is (brain=ego) into our tissues (thoughts without a thinker). Then after a downward dog or two, I stand. That’s when I know have returned to a more integrated self.
More awake, more alive.
Currently, my practice includes many inversions and they come before the standing poses. Head balance, arm balance, forearm balance and shoulder balance. They all have a purpose in awakening and calling attention to the systems of the body. Those systems centered in the head, neck and throat areas. With the variations, we challenge the limbs to enroll! Then it’s on to the standing poses to strengthen the legs, the trunk and the arms. They are the poses that assist us knowing where we are in space, to release the excess energy stored by our busy or stressful lives and to open the trunk to allow our organs to do what they are meant to do.
Especially to let us breathe more deeply. Yes, just take that breath to pause in the day and remember the balance created in our practice. Then we return to the ground to begin to open deeper in twists or backbends or more contained arm balances to wring the tissues and to further release us from the chitta vritti – that fluctuation of the mind that always offers up something for us to worry or add to the list of have tos.
So, if the practice is rich, we are well enlivened in every cell. We release into Savasana. We observe the subtle discoveries of this day’s practice. And we can let go. Nothing to do but breathe in and breath out. Feeling our own breeze from our own exotic island.
Thank you for being a part of this Sangha, this Yoga Community. My life would be very different and not so rich in texture and wholeness were it not for you all showing up.
Peace, Namaste, and Giving Thanks this Thursday,
ps. most of the yoga practiced in the west is a physical practice. It all falls under the broad definition of Hatha Yoga.
"Ha" means sun, "tha" means moon. So our practice is like the cycle of a day. The sun rises, the fog burns off, the sun warms and heats the earth, the sun sets and the earth cools.
Let our Traditions be Fun and if they are not, make up NEW ONES!
What is fun to you? What brings you Joy? The awe of a burst of color in the sky at sunrise or sunset?
The laugh of a young child when they discover the bounce of a ball for the first time?
The jaunty step of your dog when she is off leash at the beach?
All of these lift my heart. I find that anything like that can be made into a tradition. I drink my coffee after feeding our local birds on the back deck and if the weather allows, I sit and meditate each morning with them. We take our Abby to the beach as often as we can to take her for a long walk off leash. Her ears flap in the breeze as she gallops along.
As I describe these things, I feel lighter, brighter, more open in my heart. Perhaps that can be a guide as we choose new traditions and keep the ones that lift our hearts.
In our practice we can get stuck in thinking that we have to bring the same instructions or exact positions to the poses each and every time. If you feel heavy in your pose or dead in your heart, this is not the way to practice. Look for the lightness of being. Mix it up with a different action or refinement to make your pose a little lighter a more even engagement of the body.
As I heard so many times from my teacher Jeff: “Effortless Effort”
Daylight Savings Time has ended..... Wait, what time is it? Really.... The Change of our clocks is the intersection of mind and body. What is correct? A surreal time of disorientation where we have the opportunity to open ourselves to the awe and wonderment of being a kid again. Rather than the fight, I choose to have fun with it.
Thursday I had the great fortune to take myself to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC to see the Global Surrealism Exhibit. I have always loved Salvador Dali's work, but had not known too much about the origins of the movement or how far it stretched across the globe. The interesting surprise for me was how much of it was about cataloging dreams and looking to access the unconscious mind.
The practice of yoga can lead us to leaving the constructs of our waking mind, the mind that says follow the clock, the rote instruction of what is known and adventure into the unknown to explore other areas of observing, feeling, perceiving our world. We just started to shift our awareness with the concept of fascia last week. The idea that we are not a machine but an organic interconnected everchanging organism that has potential to reorganize our bodies movements for a stronger, more graceful, lighter way of being.
That the simple act of doing our practice can teach us how to become more aware of ourselves and the environment around us. To see the world, our thoughts, differently. Sometimes this process is glacially slow. And sometimes in the great pleasures of just being we don't have to have a goal to practice. WE JUST SHOW UP day after day, week after week to have fun, to practice and play yoga!
This week and next, I would like us to just play with the idea of change coming without us working so very hard and without a goal as we head into the holidays, beginning with a most wonderful holiday, Thanksgiving. One without the pressure of gift giving or getting. It's about gathering with others in community, to share a meal, to share ourselves.
Let our practice prepare us for being aware of the little things, the subtle things that so many people miss as they rush through their day. And let us be grateful.
In conclusion, I must say that I am grateful that this Yoga Tidbit continued. It has me exercising a muscle of sharing deeply about yoga and to show up for all of you!
Besides, what is better than doing yoga with friends? Especially animal friends at home?
Have you just wanted to Let go? Last week I suggested you not hold on so tight. Did you? Could you? Perhaps not all the way….
Yes, most of us would prefer to take risks with a safety net. Well I have a surprise for you. Have you ever heard of fascia? (Not the board that wraps around the edge of your roof.) Etymologically speaking the latin root means “band, bandage or swathe”. Fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches to, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs. There is your safety net!
We can practice the pose from the aspect of moving limbs in place and constructing the body parts into a proscribed form, but have you ever accidentally found them lining up on their own? That the pose felt like the whole body was participating even though you thought that it was “supposed” to be a pose to stretch the hamstring?
This is a relatively new way to look at practicing yoga for many. Especially if you have been trained to look at Gray’s Anatomy for educating the mind on the pieces of the body. Yes, there is integration of the poses as we finally make our way into the last breath or two as we hold before coming out, or in savasana, but have you ever dedicated your practice to being in a place of integration first and pose second?
I can remember when I was exploring a soft gaze, what that would be like for me and how it would affect my balance if I just didn’t focus so hard with my eyes. (I am nearsighted by the way.) At the time I was so used to contacts that taking them out was very disorienting. So, I took the 1 day I had off each week and practiced without my glasses on. At first, I fell over quite a bit, but it made a big difference in going inwards. I could more easily find the sensations of my breath. The tell-tale signs of when I was about to overstretch an area of my body or force a joint. A lot of juicy information!
I invite you this week to let go of your pre-conceived notions of what a pose is supposed to do for you and just feel. Let the fascia be the sensory organ you listen to. It has so many nerves it can be as sensitive as your skin (1)
It is well equipped to tell you a great deal! Do experience the sensations, beneath the layers – reach all areas of the body by softening your gaze, listening to your breath and letting the body move into the pose from a place of openness and freedom as well as restriction and tightness. Share the wealth I always say.
Don't Hold On So Tight! Yes, I feel it too. The chill. The chill in my fingers as I walk our exuberant 10-year-old pup in the afternoons. The chill at night on the sheets as my neck hits the pillow.
I know we focus a great deal on our shoulders and neck because they often bark after too much work at the computer, around the house or in the garden. Did you know how we treat our hands (or ignore them) greatly effects our neck?
This week we will be looking at the subtlety of unconscious holding in the arms and by slow attentive movement perhaps, perhaps release the patterns of our habituated movements. Have you ever attended to or observed the line of your forearm into the back of the hand, or how your finger pads hit the keys? Have you ever caught yourself gripping a utensil when making dinner or using a tool in the garden or house? Have you wondered why your wrists hurt in Downward Dog or after gripping a belt in a pose?
Much of the grip of our hands carries up through the arm and into the neck. Why do we do this? It's not quite so necessary to force our way through our day.
While I was being trained to observe the body for Pranayama (subtle breath practice), one of the key things I remembered to look for was that the thumb was fully relaxed. If this wasn't the case, tension could carry all the way up through the arm into the neck and would tighten the brain. This is counter productive to the process any restorative practice in general, let alone a highly refined practice of various pranayama patterns of breathing.
On Mondays, I do my online study. Today's workshop of the week was about the nature of fascia and how new studies about it’s influence on fluid movement and healing of our bodies. Julie Gudmestad, PT and well-respected Iyengar Yoga Teacher presented. She is a master at many things and I always enjoy her insight.
At one point she discussed how we can unconsciously create patterns of movement around a joint that is restricted. Because of this clever adaptation, the area will never quite heal unless we go slowly back into the area of origin to strengthen &/or open it.
For instance, if a "hip" is the original area of injury, weakness or impingement then the joint above and below will begin to compensate. The muscles movement around the "hip" will then become creative in it’s enrollment of other muscles or body distortions to accomplish what ever task. This results in a knee or SI joint becoming painful over time and the hip never regains its strength or opens as it should.
So, as we run up against the limitations of our joints this week starting in the wrist/hand region, I will introduce to you one of many ways to slow down and open up the fascia, connective tissue and muscles that have not been habituated to move your arms around.
Who knows where this will take us? It might take us into the hips! BUT the principle is the same....one has to slow down first to refine the skills of observation then recreate new pathways of movement and once this is established can begin to move with more grace, speed and instinct.
Fall is Here. Transitioning can be more graceful with the Tools of Yoga.
I felt a dramatic change over the last 2 days, in terms of the temperature and my mindset. The pumpkins and fall decorations are out front, my warmer sweaters have been dug up from underneath my shorts for wearing and my slippers are currently on to keep my arches and achilles supple.
Before the colonization of India by the British it was the primary system of medicine. There are 5 elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth. According to this system, everything are made up of these elements. As humans we are one of three Gunas or constitutions. They are Vatta (fire and water), Pita (ether and air) and Kapha (earth and water). So, depending on how balanced we are or what we are made of, we transition from Summer to Fall with ease, a slight hitch, or a big bump.
Don’t be surprised too if your digestion is a little off or if your joints are achy or if you feel a bit dry. This is all part of moving into the early fall season. It makes sense this week to focus on poses to lubricate the joints and stimulate digestion. Forward bends and Twists are universally great for many things but you will see how they can be used specifically for digestion and releasing the joints along the spine and into the neck and shoulder region. (which can bear the brunt of the cooler winds). In addition we will cover some poses that are prone on our abdomen like cobra and locust. Often, they are thought of as backbends but because of the nature of compression on the floor, they can stimulate the digestive tract and strengthen the abdominal wall.
I look forward to showing you how no matter what sequence one picks; you can always direct the focus to your specific area of interest. Or better yet, come with beginner’s mind and just open up to what ever discovery/sensation that comes our way moment by moment, breath by breath.
Lift up your arms and stretch! Yes, right now, stretch.
Did you take a deeper breath in? Generally, when our side body stretches and the intercostal muscles have a chance to soften and stay supple with movement, we can breathe better.
Now, take a gentle stretch to the right and then the left. Stay lifted on both sides.
This is just one of many simple movements that we can take throughout the day to support a more open upper chest. A more supple thoracic spine. These simple movements are building blocks to create a better environment to breathe deeper, to allow space for the vital organs to work more efficiently, and for us to enjoy our life more - with less effort.
Do you ever notice how your mood changes as you lift and open your chest? Once the arms draw back in their coordinated movement, with the collar bones and shoulder blades (a bit like the three amigos) the sternum naturally lifts out of your chest cavity. If you do this more, the muscles on the front body won't be so stiff and tight. We won't continue to slump and draw the bottom ribs into our trunk which compresses the breath (your diaphragm resides at the line of your bottom front ribs). We can support our lower back in feeling lighter and lifted. Our neck feels more supported since it is floating more over the tailbone and isn't falling forward.
One of the best poses to start with to open us up and give us better strength and awareness is Bridge Pose. Try it every day this week and see what kind of opening you have by next Monday.