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.