Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas The Night Before Christmas.....

Here we are on the eve of another major holiday. As I type this, I'm sure the malls and parking lots are packed with last minute shoppers. And once those prized packages are purchased for friends, family, co-workers, and kids, they still have to be wrapped, right? Holiday themed paper, decorative ribbons, and brightly colored bows to complete the package. Then, of course, placing the precious gift underneath the Christmas tree ready to be unwrapped to thankful eyes in the morning.

So, for this holiday blog entry, we pay tribute to the bow on top of the newly wrapped gift. It symbolizes the time and effort put into buying or making the gift inside. Let's top your holiday season with Bow Pose.

Bow Pose actually is named after and resembles the bow that is matched with an arrow, not the bow on top of a gift. But since it's Christmas, when I think of a bow, I think of that bright red ribbon resembling a flower that brings life to the wrapped treasure.

Start by lying on your belly on your yoga mat. If you need extra padding, use a blanket or towel underneath you. Since Bow Pose is a backbone, you want to be mindful of your breath to protect your lower back. Take a few deep Ujjayi breaths to engage your core muscles. When you inhale, create a lengthening in your entire body: point your toes to help lengthen your legs and feel the crown of your head extend forward. Your arms are down by your sides. As you exhale, feel a tilting of your pelvis in order to create support in your abdominals and space in your lower back. With this same exhale, your pelvis is gently pushing into your mat and at the same time feel like your belly button is pulling away from your mat. Continue this breathing effort several times to experience a greater connection to your core body.

Next, bend your right leg and reach back with your right hand to hold onto your foot. If you're able, do the same with the other side. This will put you into a full Bow Pose. Continue the same breathing effort to help support your back as you are in the pose. To modify the pose, since this is a deep posture, do one leg at a time. For example, when you're holding onto the right foot, the left hand can extend out in front of you with your hand or fingertips on the floor to help support the pose.

Bow Pose, like many backbends, can be considered a heart opener. (If you haven't already, read the previous blog entry to learn more about the intention of a heart opening yoga pose.) Bow Pose, since you are resting on your pelvis, can aid with digestion and lower back muscle strengthening. Further, it acts as a stretch for the abdomen, chest and neck.

Whether you're in the full posture or in the half posture, think of yourself being on top! You've made it through another holiday season which can tend to be engulfing and exhausting. Celebrate your accomplishments and the gratitude of making it through another year. Spend time (on top) with your family and friends this Christmas. Enjoy!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Open Your Heart

As we rapidly approach another Christmas holiday, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on this as a season of giving.....and receiving. Whether you're hitting the sales at the mall or crafting a homemade sweater for a loved one, keep in mind the intention of this holiday season: give from your heart. By the same token, when your next door neighbor gifts you with (another) fruit cake, receive the gift with your heart. I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't really matter what is given or received as gifts, just as long as the intention is heart focused. This yoga practice will prepare your heart for this special time of year.

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Backbends in yoga are typically known as heart openers. Camel Pose is a good introductory pose for moving into deeper backbends or heart openers.

Start by kneeling on your mat. If you need more padding for your knees, please feel free to kneel on a blanket or fold your mat underneath your knees to provide more support. Gently push your hips forward so that your hips are directly over your knees. Maintain this alignment through the entire pose.

For a modified variation of Ustrasana, place your hands as fists on your low back. Gently push inward: this will maintain your hip to knee alignment. And gently press downward at the same time: this creates space in your low back since you will be moving into a backbend. As you are doing this with your hands, inhale deeply to feel a spinal extension as if you were lifting yourself off the floor. Another way of experiencing this sensation is to lift your heart and chest toward the ceiling. (If it feels alright on your neck, look up.) On your exhale, carefully and slowly lean backward. The sensation here is to feel like a pole vaulter; you are lifting upward to create length and height, then you soar over the imaginary pole. Continue this series of breaths and movements and feel how it puts you deeper into this modified version of your backbend/heart opener.

For a more advanced variation of Ustrasana, rather than placing your fists on your low back, sit back onto your heels then hold onto your heels with your hands. With a strong inhale, lift your heart upward as you rise up from your heels. On the exhale, gently press the hips forward. Continue this breath and movement sequence until your hips are aligned over your knees.

Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. Keep your breaths strong and intentional. Think of opening your hearth as an invitation to receive good things coming into your life. Also, experience this posture as a way to give of yourself openly and honestly.

As a counter posture, move into Child's Pose (Balasana) for 10-20 breaths. Here, hold onto the intentions you have set. Also take the time to reflect on this season of giving and receiving and set the intention to do so with an open heart.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Let It Grow! Let It Grow! Let It Grow!

From A Seed to A Tree - Let It Grow

Have you ever had an idea that just sat in your mind, but never really became a reality? Are you holding some wonderful, creative, and thoughtful ideas right now that would benefit you, your family, your job, or your community right now? Then why not plant your seed of an idea and allow it it to

Your practice today will help you focus on your idea so that you can begin to nurture it into fruition. Start by coming to Child's Pose on your yoga mat. Here, take a few moments to become acquainted with your breath. These can be gentle easy breaths as you guide your mind and body into your intentional yoga practice. Keep your eyes closed as you place your forehead on the mat. This posture allows one to move deeply into themselves. Further, it allows the mind to clear and opens the internal eye. Here is where you can begin to think more intently on your idea or dream. Create a clear picture of your vision in your mind's eye. Imagine that while you are in this pose, body is like a seed that you have planted into the earth.

If you're able, experience the feeling that would accompany the act of completing the task and bring your idea to life. The next yoga sequence will be a series of movements that walk you through the growth and nurturing of your idea.

First, rise up to Hero Pose. Keep your hands lightly on your thighs, sit up tall, open your eyes, and take a soft easy gaze forward. Imagine you are looking ahead at your path toward growth and manifestation. Walk your hands out in front of you until you are on your hands and knees. If you'd like, proceed with a series of Cat and Cow Poses to help move the breath and your body. Allow the flow of breath to create a rising energy within you as you continue this sequence.

Second, move the hands slightly forward so you can lift your hips and knees into a Downward Facing Dog Pose. Hold this posture for five breaths. From Downward Facing Dog, shift your body so you are now in Plank Pose. Your shoulders are positioned over your wrists and your legs are strong and straight behind you. (For a modification, feel free to place hour knees on the floor.) With an exhale, lower your body toward the ground to Chaturanga Dandasana. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog. Here, imagine that your idea has sprouted and the new plant is breaking ground. Your head is the delicate stem of the plant desiring to reach toward the sunlight. From here, return to Downward Facing Dog.

Inhale to lift your right leg up behind you. You can think of this motion of the body as a means to reach toward the sky asking for the resources you need to inspire the growth of your plant - your idea. The sun and the rain help a plant to grow. Think of the people and other reliable resources that will help your idea to grow. With your next exhale, bring the right foot up to the top of your mat so you are now in a lunging position. Rotate the back (left) heel to the floor to create a solid connection to the earth, then rise into Warrior One. Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths. Imagine your plant - your idea - really experiencing growth at this point. Your feet act as firm roots in the earth from which this idea came. As your arms lift over head, see and feel your idea grow into its greatest manifested potential. Inhale here and on your next exhale, bring your hands back to the mat. Lift your left heel off the floor then step forward so you are now in a forward fold with both feet at the top of your mat. Think of the folded body as the strong trunk of a plant or small tree that is ready to blossom. Leading with the mid-back, slowly roll upward one vertebrae at a time until you are standing tall. Continue the flow of breath as your arms reach toward the sky. Then bring your arms down by your sides. You are now in Mountain Pose. Here, your idea is fully maturing and growing.

Because both feet are firmly balanced on the floor, your idea has established strong roots. Now you are ready to finish this portion of your sequence by moving into Tree Pose. Keep your right foot rooted into your yoga mat, then slowly lift your left foot and place it on the inside of your standing leg. Hold here with your breath for at least 5 breaths. To move deeper into the pose, either bring your hands to heart center or reach your arms overhead. Experience the strength and balance of your body. As your arms extend upward, imagine they are the branches of the tree reaching upward and outward, reaching to those who want to enjoy the pleasures of this work of nature.

Your idea can be the same as the growth of your tree: extended upward and outward to reach those who will benefit from it's strength, it's shade, and it's fruit.

Set your left foot down and bring your hands to a prayer position. As you lower your hands to your heart space, think of the benefits of your manifested idea that are moving in you.

Feel free to continue with a Sun Salutation so you can repeat the sequence on the other side. As you flow through this series, continue to see and feel your ideas and dreams come to life.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Slow Down

Earlier this week, Salt Lake valley was buried in about 5 feet of snow. Needless to say, I was up early one morning, shoveling snow from my driveway and sidewalk. It also meant a slower commute to work as the roads were still slick with snow and ice. Everyone else was driving more slowly, too. (Thank goodness.)

Sometimes, it is a very good idea to slow down. Weather like this is a good reminder for us to pay closer attention to our actions as well as the actions of others....particularly when you're driving.

Another way you can slow down and move throughout your day more calmly is to pay closer attention to your breath. If we really took note of the flow of breath, we may find that we breath shallowly. We rarely take deep breaths and if we do, we have to do it consciously. But because we breath involuntarily, our breathing style can be pretty sporadic. In times of stress, for example, we may even STOP breathing! That's right, we actually stop breathing....momentarily, of course.

Let's take a moment, especially as the weather is changing and we're entering into another busy holiday season, to slow down the pace by paying close attention to the breath.

Find a comfortable sitting posture. This may be on the floor on your yoga mat or even sitting comfortably at your dining room table or on the sofa. Close your eyes and begin to take note of your breath. You don't have to do anything special with your breath at this point...just realize that your breathing. Breathe with intention.

You are welcome to keep the breath easy and light or you can engage your Ujjayi breath to raise the energy and intention of the breathing effort. To engage the Ujjayi breath, inhale through your nose while engaging your throat muscles to move the breath. Feel breath rise and expand your lungs and extend your spine. When you exhale, draw your navel in toward your spine in order to hold the breath high up in your body. Keep breathing like this for 5 more breaths.

Now begin to pay attention to the pace of your breath. Using a slow count (1...2...3...) count the pace of your inhale. Do the same with the exhale (1...2...3...). Notice how many beats it takes to draw in breath and how many beats it takes to release breath. They may or not be the same. If they are not the same, take the next few moments of this breathing exercise to bring your breath into balance. You may need to increase the pace of your inhale by one or two beats or slow down the pace of your exhale to match the inhale. Do what ever feels right to bring your breath to balance. By doing this Pranayama exercise, you are completely mindful of your breath. This is a great practice to bring more attention and intention to your everyday life.

Continue your Balanced Breath for 5-10 breaths. After you are done, notice how you feel. Do you feel light? Relaxed? Less hurried? If yes...then good work. Namaste.