Friday, December 30, 2011

Resolution

Well, we’ve made it through another year. Can’t believe how quickly the time went. Soon, we will be stepping into a whole new year. As you well know, people at this time of year make New Year’s Resolutions. Have you made one? I’d like to suggest a few things to you if you’re still thinking about a resolution for 2012.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to make New Year’s Resolutions, try this one. If you have made the choice to continue living a healthy life (mind, body, and spirit) be sure to look at the things in your life right now that allow you to continue along that path without too many obstacles. One thing that I did a long time ago, which made a big difference in my life and my life journey, was stopping taking the newspaper and watching the evening news.

It was probably back in 1994 or ’95. It was when the O.J. Simpson trial was being televised. I remember that it was all over the news, people were so drawn into the experience, and it was all people talked about. I remember thinking, “I don’t even KNOW O.J. Simpson. Why would I want to know about his business? I don’t KNOW if he killed his wife or not. Should this even matter to me?” It was then that I decided to not follow the trial on television. I found that it had no positive impact in my life. Further, I decided to stop watching most news programs and stopped taking the newspaper. I’ll tell ya, after taking that step, I noticed that I was more positive in my outlook on life. The news can be so depressing and negative at times. It really served no significant purpose in my life.

So, as a New Year’s Resolution, why not try watching LESS news and watch more programs that are motivating, inspiring, and life changing.

Here’s the other option. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like to make resolutions, perhaps try this instead. Sit down and think of something that you did THIS year. For example, donated to charity, helped out at your kids’ school, or bought lunch for a friend. As a resolution for 2012, perform that same gesture again. Simple.

Overall, make it an inspiring year. Try new things along with some of the old things. Just continue to live the life you WANT to live. Move positively forward on your life path.

Namaste.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Uplifting

This can be a very busy time of year for most people. Christmas shopping, holiday parties, decorating the house, traveling, visiting relatives, and the list goes on. There's hardly any time to sit and rest. But since it IS the giving season, why don't you give yourself the gift of rest....at least for a few minutes!

Just taking a few moments for yourself, especially during the next few days, will be very beneficial to you. It may just be the quick relaxing moment you need to get through the holidays.

We will practice Ujjayi Breath. It is the breath that we typically use while practicing yoga. When translated directly, Ujjayi means "victorious," but I often add to the definition "vibrant" and "uplifting." This certainly should be an uplifting time of year, so why not practice this way of breathing as a way to relax AND rejuvenate.

Start by sitting comfortably on your yoga mat. Close your eyes and just take a few deep breaths to settle into this moment. I will describe one way you can practice Ujjayi Breathing.

Imagine for a moment that your breath "lives" in your belly. With the uplifting, vibrant, and victorious breath, you will move that breath upward into your chest, lungs, and heart center. The action of Ujjayi breathing is developed by gently constricting the throat slightly to create some resistance to the passage of air. Try this...open your mouth a bit and "pull" in breath through your mouth. You might feel a cool air hit the back of your throat. Now breathe out as if you were fogging a mirror. This air may feel warm as it leaves your mouth. Keep doing this for a few more breaths. You will notice that light constriction of the throat as you breathe in and out. Now, try breathing in the same fashion, but with your mouth closed. This is Ujjayi Breathing. The sound you make is often called the Ujjayi Sound. It may resemble the sound of an ocean wave.

Now that you have engaged this style of breathing, use this method to move breath from your belly up to your chest. You will find that breathing this way allows you to take slower, longer, and deeper breaths. As you inhale, feel the breath leave your belly and rise up to fill your lungs. Hold onto this uplifting sensation by engaging your Abdominal Lock (Uddiyana Bandha, oo-dee-YAH-nah BAHN-dah). This will engage your abdominal muscles so the breath doesn't "fall back down" into your belly. Keep breathing this way: filling your heart space with this vibrant and victorious breath. Feel it's warmth and energy move through you. Take at least 20 breaths or just sit for a few minutes (3-5 minutes) practicing this yogic breath. Notice how you feel when you are done.

You can do Ujjayi Breath ANYTIME, really! You don't have to do it just when you're practicing yoga. Do it while driving, or shopping, or cooking (but keep your eyes open!) It's healing, calming, relaxing AND energizing, motivating, and inspiring. Sounds like Christmas to me.

Namaste.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Modify

Can you get head-strong like me sometimes? How about allow your ego get the best of you? I know, when that happens to me, I tend to hurt myself or move in a direction on my life journey that is sometimes not very pleasant. It’s more like straying AWAY from my original life path. I often have to remind myself to slow down, take it easy, pay attention, follow my heart, rather than follow my head. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

There are some yoga poses that can teach us to pay more attention, to be more present, so that we are treating our bodies with kindness, keep us on the original life path, and even reduce the risk of physical injury. One such pose that I teach often in class is Extended Side Angle Pose. When done properly, one can experience hip opening, a side body stretch, practice core strength, and good alignment. When done without integrity, we sometimes miss the benefits of this posture. To work into this pose, it may take a simple act of modifying.

If you open up a Yoga Journal Magazine, what we see are wonderful yoga models demonstrating dynamic postures. For some, this can be intimating, thinking, “I could NEVER do that.” With that in mind, one may never experience the benefits of yoga and never step into a yoga class. For others, looking at those picture-book poses may create the mindset that that is the ONLY way to do the posture to experience benefit. But more often than not, when one tries to replicate those poses, they may not get the fullest benefit from the pose or they may even harm themselves. The poses in Yoga Journal are great PICTURES, but not every body can do those postures in the same way. We have to remember that when practicing yoga, we are allowed to modify the pose to fit YOUR own body.

Extended Side Angle Pose (Modified)
This is actually one of my favorite poses to do and to teach. You can really gain some great flexibility performing this posture over time. The secret is...take your time. Move gently into the pose. Start with modifications of the posture then eventually ease yourself deeper into the posture over time.

Start in Warrior Two. This is a pose of strength and confidence. Be very aware of your own strength, yet stay humble and gracious for that strength. Don’t allow ego to take you too much into your head in regards to your own strength.

For good alignment, be sure your upper body is straight and tall and your legs are extended equally from your center. With your right foot in front, be sure the knee is bent (moving toward 90 degrees) and the knee is stacked directly over (or slightly behind) you ankle. The back (left) leg is straight with the entire foot pressing into the yoga mat. Your arms are extending outward and are parallel to the floor. Make sure there is energy moving all the way through your arms and out your fingertips. Your focus is over your right hand.

To move into Extended Side Angle, start reaching out over your right leg (perhaps toward a wall out in front of you). Your torso will begin to angle. Be sure to keep your hips and feet solid. It’s just an upper body movement. Keep moving along this plain. Imagine your back is up against a wall. Slide along that imaginary wall. When you cannot move forward anymore without pulling away from your imaginary wall, turn your arms so your right hand is extended down toward the floor while the other is reaching up toward the ceiling.

The Common “Mistake:”
The Yoga Picture Books often show the model touching the floor with their palm while the other is extended up toward the ceiling. (They’re often smiling, too!) What happens if YOU bring your palm to the floor? What did you notice? What often happens is you begin to pull away from the imaginary wall. The body begins to bend over (like you’re sitting back into a chair)....out of alignment from the original pose. Your butt will stick out, you’ve collapsed into your hips, and the top of your head is pointing off to the side rather than staying in line with your front knee and toes.

The Modification:
Instead of THINKING you HAVE to touch the floor, try this modification. Once you begin to reach out over your right knee (remember, your back is still up against the imaginary wall), bend the right arm at 90 degrees, then rest it lightly on your thigh. Then extend your left hand toward the ceiling. This modification will keep you aligned and in the full integrity of the pose, AND you reap the greatest benefits here. (Now you can smile!)

When the body is aligned this way, your back will stay against your “wall,” the top of your head is pointing in the same direction as your knee and toes, you experience more opening in the inner thighs and hips, and strengthen your core body. Over time, you may not need to rest your arm on your leg. As your body continues to open and release, you’ll find that you’ll start to reach down and actually touch the floor. (Just remember that you really NEVER HAVE to touch the floor, though.) I have not read in any yoga rules books that suggest that you HAVE to touch the floor in this pose. You MAY eventually touch the floor which is just a sign of your progress. Stay humble. Stay gracious.

Do the pose on the other side for balance.

Namaste.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Go Wild!

Sometimes we just have to have a little fun, right? We can take things so seriously sometimes. Even yoga. Keep it light. Have fun. Be spontaneous. Just go out and do something crazy and totally different today. Buy a frosty from Wendy's, eat some fruitcake, sprinkle bacon bits on your chocolate ice cream, AND color your toenails pink.....with green polka dots!! (Yes, I'm talking to you, Justin!) It's time to step out of the box.

To symbolize your spontaneity, try this yoga pose at home. The pose in Sanskrit is called Camatkarasana, but we commonly call it Wild Thing or "Flipping The Dog" in yoga class. It is essentially a one-armed twisted backbend! Let's try it.

Start in Downward Facing Dog. Use this pose to set your intention. Take a few deep Ujjayi breaths. Think of something playful and funny. Don't worry about what you HAVE to do today, think about what it would be FUN to do!

Be sure to press your hands firmly and strongly into your yoga mat. Feel the straightening and strength of your arms. Hug them a little closer to your head. This will help with stability. Continue this lengthening sensation while extending your spine in this inverted pose. If it feels difficult to straighten your back, try bending your knees a bit so that you have mobility in your hips. That will allow you to push your hips farther up and back - lengthening your spine. Because you will eventually will be moving into a back bend, you want to have a full extension of your back and spine first.

Next, lift your right leg. Continue the lengthening sensation as you raise your leg. Reach with your toes toward the back wall or ceiling. Now bend the leg that is in the air. Bring your heel down toward your back side. Lift your knee higher so that it is higher than your hips. With your left heel pressing firmly down toward the floor, twist the body open toward the right side of the room. Be sure to keep your hands solid on the ground as you twist open. The next step is to carefully step all the way over until your right foot is on the floor. Once planted, turn your other foot around so all ten toes are facing the back of the room. Keep both feet securely on the floor so you have a strong base. Your right hand will come off the floor when you step over. Extend that hand toward the ceiling. You're now in Camatkarsana. Hold for 5-10 breaths.

To get out of the pose, exhale strongly and flip back over and return to a Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog. If you'd like, complete a sequence by stepping your right foot up to the top of the mat, set your left heel on the floor and lift up into Warrior One. Exhale and place your hands on the floor on either side of your front foot, step the right foot back to plank pose, and lower to Chaturanga Dandasana. Inhale to Upward Facing Dog. Exhale to Downward Facing Dog. You're now ready to repeat Wild Thing on the other side.

This is a fun and dynamic posture. Because it is a backbend, it is also a heart opener. Perhaps view this pose as another way to open your heart, to express yourself in a new and fun way. We can easily get caught in our ruts and routines. Even in yoga! So take a step into the wild side and explore a flavorful new part of yourself. Have fun!

Namaste.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Slow Down

As we approach another holiday season, it seems like things begin to get a bit more hectic: company parties, holiday shopping, entertaining family, decorating, etc. Because there seems to be so much to do, we tend to rev up our pace in order to keep up and get it all done.

So, as a challenge, in the midst of all the chaos, can you take the time to s l o w d o w n ? ? As your "to do" list gets longer by the minute, realize and accept that you may not be able to do ALL of those things on your list in one day. Give yourself the permission to postpone some of those things for another day. Instead, be sure to give YOURSELF the time you DESERVE to take care of yourself. Take a moment to breathe, stretch, have a cup of tea, read a magazine article, or something that you enjoy that would be relaxing and rejuvenating. Better to have the strength and energy to pursue your long list of "to-do's" rather than feel like you're dragging your feet and trying to keep up.

For today's practice, let's simply move through one Sun Salutation slowly,, then finish in a seated or reclining posture to give you that simple gift to yourself of slowing down during this holiday season.

A Slow Sun Salutation
Start in Mountain Pose. Take a moment here to get in tuned with your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply so your mind and body can relax completely.
Inhale to extend your arms overhead. Take your time breathing in and lifting your arms. Slowly count to five (1.....2.....3.....4.....5) as you move into Extended Mountain Pose.
Using the same pace of breath, exhale to Forward Fold.
Inhale to lift slowly to extend your spine.
Exhale and step both feet back to Plank Pose.
Lower very slowly to Chaturanga Dandasana.
Inhale and lift into Upward Facing Dog.
Exhale into Downward Facing Dog.

Remember, move very slowly through this sequence. There is no rush. If you'd like, move even slower...perhaps a slow count of 7 or 10 as you breathe and move. The idea is to take your time, move slowly, and not feel the pressure of time at your heels.
After Downward Facing Dog, feel free to move into Child's Pose then a seated or reclining posture to complete your practice.

Hold onto this new sensation of relaxation. Carry it with you the rest of the day and evening. If you're able, take moments throughout the day to take slow deep breaths. Use this exercise as a reminder that it is ALWAYS good to give back to yourself and to take care of yourself.

Namaste.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Embrace Your Being

We have just moved through another Thanksgiving holiday. It is certainly a time to be grateful for all that we have in these challenging times. As you sat around the dinner table with family and friends, I hope you were able to take a few minutes to think about and speak aloud all that you are thankful for: health, family, a job, a home, good friends, etc. I also hope you took a moment to be grateful for YOURSELF.

As we give thanks, we talk about the people in our lives who have been our support, our rocks, our saviors. But don't forget about a VERY important person. That person is YOU. If you didn't get a chance to thank yourself, use this home yoga practice to be grateful for who you are.

Why would you thank yourself? You may be too humble and modest to admit this, but you are an important figure for many others. You take care for your children, people count on you at work, you made someone smile this morning, you gave a homeless person your spare change, you let someone go in front of you at the grocery store. These may be small measures, but you make a difference in many lives. Be thankful that you were able to be there for all those people. YOU took the time. YOU made the effort. YOU ARE special.

Eagle Pose
This is an interesting pose to do because it can represent many things. As a yoga pose, it involves balance, binding, focus, and core strength. When I think of the symbol of the Eagle, I think of some Native American traditions that view the Eagle as the seer of all things. As it soars overhead, it represents strength, endurance, and vision. The Eagle also represents the East and this direction symbolizes the renewal of life and rebirth. So, as you practice Eagle Pose, perhaps embrace the physical and metaphysical representations of this profound figure. Perhaps see yourself as the visionary, the holder of strength, and the catalyst for change and renewal.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose. Set your intention as you take a few deep Ujjayi breaths. Inhale and extend your arms overhead. As you exhale, lower you arms slowly and bring your right arm behind your left arm, crossing them at the elbows. Once crossed, lift your arms so your forearms are in front of your face. As best as you can, intertwine your arms; wrapping them up until your hands and fingers are also intertwined.

Now, lift your left leg and cross it over your right leg. Make sure to wrap them in a way so there is no space between the hamstring and thigh. Sit back a bit into a Chair-like Pose. You will now be balancing on one foot. If you're able, wrap your left foot around your standing leg. (If you are unable to do that, just let the foot hang to the side, or even place a big toe on the floor if you need more stability in this balancing posture.)

Hold onto this pose tightly. Squeeze the arms together tightly as well as your legs. Think of this as a way to embrace yourself: hug your very being and acknowledge all that you are. For more sensation in this pose, lift your elbows so your triceps are parallel with the floor. Further, push your elbows forward so that your back broadens. Yes, these movements add more sensation to the posture. Think of this as a way to deepen the connection to yourself.

Although your arms are in front of your eyes, gaze THROUGH your arms. Be the visionary that is able to see through/past obstacles. Practicing this pose also helps you to master focus and attention. After holding the pose for 10-15 breaths, release the bind and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.

Remember, it is very important to acknowledge and pay homage to yourself. Be thankful for your gifts, strengths, and talents. You have been placed on this earth for a purpose. Live up to your truest potential and share those gifts with others. You'll find that those others will be coming up to YOU thanking YOU for being who you are.

Namaste.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Inner Strength

Within the yoga sequence, The Sun Salutation, there is a pose called Chaturanga Dandasana. It means "Four Limbed Staff Pose." Now the name of the posture really has nothing to do with what I'm writing about this week! But it is a pose that physically works your upper body and core strength.

Strength is actually what I want to write about. Sometimes we think we are not strong enough to do certain things. Maybe at the gym, you struggle with doing pull ups or bench presses with heavy weights. How about more on an emotional level: you think you're inadequate or not good enough to do a certain task. You think you lack the skills or intelligence to perform in a presentable fashion. You fear, perhaps, being judged or criticized. When you harbor those feelings, you tend to shy away from engaging in those activities. And when you step back, you do not allow your SELF to live up to its highest and truest potential.

The challenge is to really KNOW that you have the strength and ability to do anything you set your mind to. Still don't think you are strong enough to take certain risks in your life? That's ok. Sometimes engaging in a yoga practice can test your strength. We often discover that we ARE strong enough to do challenging poses on the mat. If we can do them there, we can probably take that strength OFF THE MAT and find that we DO have the ability to step forward into our highest potential; to do the things we THINK we're unable to do.

This leads us back to Chaturanga Dandasana. It is a very challenging pose when held. We often just flow through this posture right into Upward Facing Dog in the Sun Salutation. But what would happen if you could actually hold the posture? Let's find out.

Chaturanga Dandasana: Four Limbed Staff Pose
Start in Mountain Pose and begin the Sun Salutation sequence.
Inhale - lift your arms over head; reach upward toward the sky.
Exhale - Swan Dive forward to touch your toes; feel free to bend your knees as you fold forward.
Inhale - lift up halfway to Monkey Pose; extend your spine so that you experience a flat back.
Exhale - fold forward to touch your toes then jump back to Plank Pose.
Inhale in Plank Pose to gain strength and stability.
Exhale - lower yourself to Chaturanga Dandasana by bending your elbows and lowering yourself in a straight line down toward the floor. Do not touch the floor! Hover, if you can, just a few inches away from the floor. Be sure to keep your elbows hugging in toward your body to maintain a strong connection to the pose. Hold for at least 10 breaths!

Complete the Vinyasa;
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog
Then come to Child's Pose to rest.

If you're able, complete the sequence one or two more times. Each time, you may find that you get stronger in the pose.

Here are some tips to remember while in Four Limbed Staff Pose. Keep the whole body engaged. Feel like the very top of your head (your Crown) is moving forward while the heels of your feet are moving back. Keep your core strong with exaggerated exhales. (Even feel free to breathe out through the mouth.) Draw your belly button toward your spine to engage your core muscles. Scoop or tilt the pelvis to engage your abdominal lock. And again, be sure to keep your elbows hugging tightly toward your ribs.

Yes, this is a physically challenging pose, yet it taps into our emotional connections to inner strength as well. Develop and experience the strength that is ALREADY inside of you. Sometimes we just have a dig a little deeper inside to find it. IT IS THERE!

Namaste.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Honor Your Truth

The Yamas and the Niyamas are yoga's ten ethical guidelines that comprise the first two limbs of yoga's eight-fold path. The second Yama is called Satya which means Truthfulness. In my yoga classes this week, as well as in my Life Coaching sessions, I have been using this concept as a working theme: to be honest with yourself, to express yourself freely and truthfully.

When you are experiencing joy and love in your life, you probably express it in your smiles, kindness towards others, even while dancing! These feelings are true expressions of yourself, so why not share them. Even when you're feeling sad or depressed, don't be ashamed of these emotions; share those feelings, too. We sometimes think it is rude or not polite to express feelings like sadness or anger. We are socialized to be kind; to keep a smile on our faces. But when we are feeling down or out of sorts, it is expected that we keep those emotions hidden. When we have to put on that mask to cover the darker emotions, we are not truly being our selves. We are not practicing our emotional truthfulness. Now, I'm not suggesting that when you're angry you go out and tear down some walls or beat up your neighbor. No, what I'm suggesting is that if you are feeling these darker emotions: anger, unworthiness, jealousy, worry, betrayal, etc., it is ok talk about them with a friend. It is ok to acknowledge to yourslef or a family member that you are feeling a certain way. It is even ok to feel frustrated and maybe take that frustration out on a pillow or playing loud music. One shouldn't have to deny their feelings. When we are able to be honest with our emotions, we are practicing Satya, truth and honesty toward our selves.

This next yoga pose can help allow some of those uncomfortable feelings to come up. It is important to recognize that we have many emotions: light emotions like appreciation, joy, and happiness, as well as other emotions like the ones already mentioned. Realize your WHOLE self. Pigeon Pose will put you in an uncomfortable posture that focuses on opening the hips. This area of the body is said to hold a lot of emotional energy. Holding Pigeon Pose can sometimes release these emotions. As you take a moment today doing this pose, understand and appreciate the emotions that might come up for you. Who knows, you may laugh hysterically for no reason. Or you may have a nice emotional cry when holding this pose. But guess what? It's all OK! You're just showing your honesty.

Pigeon Pose:
Since you will be holding this posture for sometime, you may want to have a timer or stopwatch handy so you won't have to worry about how long you are in the pose. Start on your hands and knees. Slide your right knee up toward your right wrist. (I would suggest, also, taking the knee slightly to the outside of the wrist. It will take you deeper into the pose.) Move your right foot up toward your left hand. You'll form about a 45 degree angle with this leg. Meanwhile, the left leg will be extending straight out behind you. Using the knee and toes of the left leg, creep the leg farther back. This, too, will take you deeper into the posture. With your hands by your side pressing into the floor, inhale to extend your spine longer, as you exhale, slowly bring your torso down toward the bent leg in front of you. Take a few seconds to adjust and move deeper into the posture until you can finally rest without moving. Set your timer for at least 3 minutes. This may not seem that long, but Pigeon Pose is an intense posture. As mentioned, it can raise energies and emotions in you that have been stored within. Resist the temptation to move. Try to stay absolutely still until your timer goes off. Just notice what comes up for you. Maybe nothing. Maybe the flood gates will open. Who knows. All you have to do is notice them and honor them. No need to judge the emotions that you have. They are a part of you and they don't negate your existence. (Be sure to practice this pose on the other side.)

When you complete your practice, be sure to take care of yourself afterward, especially if darker emotions emerged. Remain quiet, read a little, have a nice cup of tea, take a slow stroll, or whatever feels right for you to move forward. As you are in this nurturing space, remember to Honor and Appreciate all parts of you.

Namaste.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Step Into Your Higher Being

Mini Blog Entry from Peru

For the past two weeks, I have been traveling through Peru with a group of people seeing the many sites and learning about the extraordinary history of the pre-Inka time. Our guide has been a Shaman, but in his native land of Peru, he would be called a Paco, which means Healer. Not only have we been the typical tourists seeing the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, but we've also have the opportunity to sit with our Paco and do some healing work with plant medicine.

During one of our journeys, it was revealed to me that it was time to step into my higher being. What does that mean? And how do I do that? It came to me that I have the ability, strength, and talent, to express myself more openly and freely. This expression will be reflected in the work that I do (Life Coaching, teaching yoga, etc.) and how I relate to people (i.e. my friends, colleagues, and families.) How do I know how to do this? While on my journey, I saw the image of a Bear. In some cultures, the Bear represents Wisdom. Wisdom is found when the Bear goes into quiet hibernation for the winter. In his sleep, answers of Truth are revealed to him that he will be able to share in the Spring. What I learned from this journey that it is important to take time to move into that silence. Settle into my quiet cave at times to allow my dreams to generate which will be later revealed and expressed.

It is not necessary for YOU to go to Peru to do this kind of self exploration. You don't necessarily need to have a Shaman or Paco take you on a plant medicine journey to have these things revealed to you. As you continue to practice yoga, whether it's in a studio, gym, or at home, you can have answers revealed to you. Take the time to sit in stillness. Focus on your breath. Find and feel that quiet within you. Create a space within your mind and heart that allows your Truth to be revealed. As you practice this quiet time regularly, it really doesn't need to be more than 2 or 3 minutes a day, you can experience this clarity. Information will come to you which will guide you along your life journey. As you move forward, you may find that you are stepping into a Higher Sense of Self, your Greatest Potential, your own Higher Being.

Namaste.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Many Paths. One Destination.

Mini Blog Entry from Peru

As I travel to Peru, I have the fortunate pleasure to be with people from many walks of life. Fifteen of us traveling to a distant land. Fifteen strangers with the desire to visit a new place and experience brand new adventures. Fifteen people of different genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ages, religious backgrounds, and even different countries of origins. On the exterior, it looks like we are a by divided group. However, as we come together and learn of our intentions on this vision quest, we come to find that we have very similar intentions. Many of us come to Peru to find a deeper connection to ourselves - to delve deeper into our truest identity.

It is like this with yoga. There are many styles of yoga: Hatha, Bhakti, Karma, Raja, and many other ways to practice. I recently read in T.K.V. Desikachar's book, The Heart of Yoga, that although there are many styles of yoga, they all lead to the same place. These many spokes of the wheel all lead to the center intention: Enlightenment. It really does not matter what style of yoga you decide to practice, just as long as you DO practice. We are all headed in the same direction. So if you choose to sit and practice Pranayama or experience dynamic movement and poses in an Ashtanga Vinyasa class, you are headed in the same direction. If you decide to sing devotions to Siva in Bhakti Yoga or sweat in a 106 degree studio while doing Bikram Yoga, you are heading toward the same goal. Our paths may be different, but the destination is the same: finding your Truth. Connecting to your Divine Being.

Just practice. Namaste.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Temple of the Moon

Mini-Blog Entry from Peru During this amazing trip to Peru, I have had the opportunity and privilege to visit the northern coastal part of the country to a valley area called Moche. Here, archeologists have discovered pyramid-like structures that were first thought to be just mountains. After revealing what was underneath the dirt and sand, they found great pre-Inkan civilizations. One portion has been named The Temple of the Moon and it appears to have the shape of a pyramid. What is most remarkable is the history surrounding the structure. To put it simply, a layer is created that becomes the foundation of an empire for the reign of a king. Within this layer are rooms, sleeping quarters, and ceremonial spaces. The people work and live to serve their king and take care of their community: they work and create pottery with images that symbolize their existence and activities. Once the king perishes, this whole layer is completely covered in stone. Every room is filled and every wall is covered with another layer of brick. Then another layer is created with an amazing and artistic fresco marking the end of the era. A new era and new king is symbolized by the creation of the next layer on top of the one that was just covered. Again, great rooms and ceremonial spaces are designed. At the end of the empirical cycle, this layer is also covered and creates the new foundation for the next empire. As the cycles continue, what remains now is a 7 or 8 layered pyramid. Each layer being larger and more grand than the previous. The idea is to live and experience the inner growth of the people and to bring themselves closer to God. We can do the same in our daily lives. As we live our lives, we grow, we change, we shift. We plant strong roots creating a strong foundation beneath us. We continue to have a link to the past as we hold true and strong in the present. As we mature, we grow out of our old ways. We bury those old ways and build anew. Upon these new and strong roots, we live and experience our new lives. We create for ourselves a new and expansive existence. Just like these pre-Inkan people, our life progression is an evolution. We are moving toward enlightenment: a greater connection to the Divine and God within ourselves. As you practice yoga, you are shifting and changing. The process is slow and gradual, but the journey is toward the same destination of greater connection to Self. Namaste

Friday, October 14, 2011

Savasana

A friend of mine sent this to me...

"The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered 'Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.'"

I was struck by this quote and was aware how true this is. We spend so much time working, sacrificing our own health, that we forget to actually LIVE. We ultimately forget to live in the PRESENT because we are so concerned about the future...something that essentially does not exist.

When practicing yoga, we are encouraged to remain in the present moment while focusing on our breath and postures. But even in Hatha Yoga, we are still in motion as we flow from pose to pose. I thought it would be appropriate, therefore, to focus on a yoga pose where the body and mind are in stillness: Savasana.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This pose is typically done at the end of a yoga practice. After having moved through your poses: twists, backbends, lunges, balances, etc., the body then is ready for rest, peace, and relaxation. The asanas (poses) get us more in tuned with our bodies - with ourselves. It is essentially the "work" that reflects the daily activities of our lives. When we come to Savasana, our work is done, and it is time to relax - to be still. I would hope that we are practicing the same thing in our everyday lives: find moments of peace and stillness in between our active and busy schedules.

In response to the Dalai Lama, I thought it appropriate to take a moment and practice that stillness. Take a break from work and the acquisition of money that compromises our health. Take a break from worrying about the future to savor and appreciate the present.

Lie flat on your back on your yoga mat. If necessary, use cushions, bolsters, or blankets in order to find complete relaxation while you lie in Savasana. Your legs are straight out in front of you, your torso is straight, your arms lying relaxed at your side. Your neck is in full alignment with your spine, and your eyes are closed. Allow your feet, legs, hips, back, and shoulders to fully relax and become one with the yoga mat - one with the Earth. This seems like an easy pose. On the surface, it is. But it is also considered one of the more challenging postures in yoga because of the intention: to be in stillness, to be present. When our bodies get relaxed like this, our minds tend to go into overdrive; it begins to think about things from the past and things in the future. It has a difficulty time remaining focused on the present. To help you, focus MORE on your breath. Breathe in a way that allows you to feel your breath and hear your breath. When you breathe with such intention, it is difficult to think about other things. This practice keeps the body and mind in the present moment. Stay here for as long as you like. It is also okay to set an intention here. It may be as simple as an intention of Peace and Stillness. Or maybe you're searching for Clarity and Ease. Whatever it is, keep it simple so that the main "work" here is to be in complete stillness.

Remember what the Dalai Lama teaches us from the above statement about humanity: live and enjoy the present.

Namaste.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Joy & Happiness

Sometimes our days can be so hectic: full of appointments, responsibilities, obligations, meetings, and more. A lot of the time our days are structured around calendars, day planners, kids' soccer practice, and PTA meetings. With our lives being so full, we often miss the spontaneity in our lives. There is absolutely no time to go out have fun on a whim because you already have something scheduled to do. With all of this over-scheduled living, we miss the essence of the actual word: living. The pose I am featuring here is to help remember the joy and excitement that we all need in our lives on a regular basis. Think back when you were a kid. Yes, we had school and homework, but think of all the fun you used to have with your siblings and neighborhood friends. Just pure fun: playing tag, building sand castles, riding your bikes. Pure bliss. Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana) The Sanskrit for this pose translates to Blissful Child, so this posture is to remind us of the simplicity of the child's life. Remember to be playful and spontaneous when life gets too complex. Lie on your back and bring your knees toward your heart. Set your intention here: ask for joy, peace, bliss, and happiness in your life....then smile! Keep it simple. Hold onto your bent knees with your hands then open your knees and feet wide. You will begin to feel a stretch in the inner thighs. Happy Baby Pose is a great way to provide release to tight hips, inner thighs, and backs. Hold here for a few breaths then take your feet up toward the ceiling. Your knees will remain bent and your legs wide. The bottoms of your feet will face the sky. Reach up and hold onto the bottoms of your feet from the inside of your legs. Gently press the feet downward. Your knees should be outside of your shoulders and moving toward the floor. The gentle press will create more of an opening in the inner thighs. You are now in Happy Baby Pose. You have formed a posture that you may have seen babies actually do! To provide more sensation, press your lower back toward the floor as well. This will further extend the spine and open up the hips. Remain in this pose for as long as you like. Breath (and smile) while you hold the posture. When you are finished with the pose, lie in Savasana to end your home practice. Keep in mind the desire to bring more joy and happiness into your life. The pose may encourage you to free up your schedule a bit so you can leave some room for a little fun. Go see a movie, take a walk outside, catch up on some gossip with a friend on the phone. Do anything that will bring a smile to your face. Namaste

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Finding Your Flow

There is a style of practicing yoga that is called Vinyasa. One way of interpreting Vinyasa is "to flow." When yoga poses are sequenced together in a fluid way and is guided by breath, it is often referred to as Vinyasa. With this style of yoga, one can experience a flow with their breath and body. Personally, when I teach yoga, it is usually in the style of Vinyasa. It reminds me of being a choreographer as I guide my yoga dancers through a series of poses and breath. It is a wonderful way to find your own personal rhythm. Have you been feeling a little disjointed, disconnected, or even clumsy recently? Does it feel like things are not flowing the way that you'd like at work, home, or school? Perhaps some yoga breath and Vinyasa flow will bring you back to a rhythmic pattern that is more balanced. A classic Vinyasa yoga flow is the Sun Salutation, so why not move through several series of the Sun Salutation to regain a sense of fluidity and balance. Start in Mountain Pose. Bring your hands to heart center. Begin your yoga breath and set your intention: to bring rhythm back into your life. Inhale: extend your arms overhead Exhale: fold forward, touch your toes Inhale: lift up half way to a flat back, extend your spine Exhale: plant your hands on the floor and jump back (or step back) into a high plank pose Inhale: hold plank and feel the strength in your entire body Exhale: remain straight and strong bend your elbows, and lower your heart to the floor Inhale: lengthen your arms to lift the upper portion of your body forming a back bend (Upward Facing Dog) Exhale: lift your hips toward the sky until your body forms an inverted "V" shape (Downward Facing Dog) Inhale: hold the former pose Exhale: jump (or step) both feet back up to the top of your mat Inhale: extend the spine to a flat back Exhale: fold forward Inhale: stand up all the way with your arms extending over head Exhale: bring your hands back to heart center Repeat this as many times as you like. And although this is a classic sun salute, you don't have to feel confined to this particular flow. Why not create your own rhythm and do your own yoga flow. Do what ever feels right for your body. In fact, do not think too much. Just allow the body to move freely. Need some inspiration? Turn on some music and play your favorite song. Allow the music to inspire you. The idea and intention here is to be yourself. Express yourself authentically. We can be inspired by our favorite things or guided by structure. Either way, allow your body to flow. I don't normally do this, but I wanted to let you know of a yoga retreat that is coming up that I am co-facilitating with a colleague. It is called A Rhythm Yoga Winter Retreat held at Alta Lodge in Utah December 9-11, 2011. The intention of the retreat is to discover and experience your own personal rhythm. We will do that on the yoga mat as well as on the ski slopes! For more information, go to www.RhythmYogaRetreat.com Namaste

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yes! You Can! (Part 2)

Last week's blog entry introduced you to an intense pose: Handstand. Continuing on that theme, this week's yoga pose is another intense pose: Chair Pose. Now, I know that Chair Pose doesn't sound as intense as standing on your hands, but the way that you perform this pose will certainly bring a little more excitement to your practice. Chair Pose is a standard pose that is seen and performed while flowing through the Sun Salutation Series B. But there are some things you need to know about Chair Pose. Yoga instructors call this posture Chair simply because it LOOKS like you're sitting in a chair. (It also resembles the shape of a Thunder Bolt which is another nickname for this posture.) Being IN Chair Pose, however, does not mimic actually sitting in a chair. The Sanskrit for this posture is Utkatasana which translates to intensely fierce or powerful pose. While holding this pose, you will certainly experience the intensity. Let's start with your intention while standing in Mountain Pose. With your hands at your heart center, bring to mind some challenging circumstances you may have had to manage in recent times. Maybe you were faced with situations that seemed nearly impossible to get through. While in the middle of the situation, you may have even thought to yourself, "how will I ever get through this?" No matter how challenging an event may be, remember that you have the power and strength to make it through. You WILL see the other side of the situation. After you set your intention of KNOWING your inner strength, power, and endurance, inhale to extend your arms toward the sky. Exhale and sit back into "chair pose." While you bend your knees, you will hinge your hips and sit back as if you were sitting into a chair. Keep your arms extended upward past your ears. Now....hold this posture for at least TWO MINUTES. Yes, that is a long time, but do your very best. Resist the urge to move or drop out of the pose. Remember your strength and ability to get through challenging situations, Here are some things you can do to help maintain Utkatasana. Recall the resource of the breath. Allow yourself to take deeper (and perhaps audible) breaths here. Inhale to maintain a full length through the arms and spine. Exhale to engage your core - draw your navel in toward your spine. Be aware of your foundation: secure your feet firmly into the floor. (You may want to shift some weight back into your heels so that you do not force too much pressure into your knee joints.) Imagine you have a block between your thighs and squeeze it. This will give you more strength in your hips to stay solid in the pose. Your arms and shoulders may get tired, but keep the breath strong and remember you CAN do this. It's ONLY 2 minutes! I can guess you have been in worse situations for longer periods of time, right? Complete your 2 minute intense pose by standing tall with an inhale - arms still extending toward the sky. Exhale to bring your arms down by your side. You're done. Stand here for another minute or so to allow the body to relax after this powerful pose. Smile! You did it! It may not have been easy, but you got through it. Remember that you can do the same thing off the mat. Use your inner strength and resources to get through those moments in life that seem nearly impossible to get through. Trust yourself. You CAN do it. Namaste.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yes! You Can!

An amazing and dynamic pose to add to your yoga practice is Handstand! Yes...Handstand! Don't think you can do it? Afraid that you might fall? These are common statements when a pose like Handstand is before them. This posture can be a great way to face your fears and accomplish something you thought to be impossible. In Sanskrit, the word for Handstand is Adho Mukha Vrksasana. This translates to Downward Facing Tree. As you attempt this pose, you might want to create the image of an upside down tree in your mind to help guide yourself into the posture. A tree that is right side up has its roots planted securely into the earth. The strong trunk of the tree is sturdy enough to withstand many challenges (i.e. wind, rain, and even the occasional squirrel or woodpecker!) The branches of the tree, although strong, are flexible, as they rise high into the sky. The only direction a tree wants to move is upward. We can take this image of the tree, turn it upside down, and still have the same structure. While in Handstand, the hands become the roots, so you'll want to create a strong foundation with straight arms while in the pose. The torso resembles the trunk of the tree. While engaging a strong core, your body will remain firm and sturdy like the tree trunk. The legs, feet, and toes, will reach high toward the ceiling acting as branches ever wanting to move upward. To begin the pose, start in Downward Facing Dog near a wall. (Use the wall to help hold your balance once you are in the pose.) Perhaps it is here that you set your intention. Maybe you're wanting to move forward with something that feels completely new or foreign to you and you're a little afraid of the unknown. You're not sure how things are going to turn out. Sometimes we have to act with a little blind faith. Trust that everything is going to be okay. Know that you have a secure foundation, that you are a strong individual, and you are flexible when the unexpected twists and turns come your way. The ultimate outcome is that you have done your very best to move upward. While in Downward Facing Dog, keep one foot on the floor while lifting the other. The foot on the ground will be used as your "launching pad" to help lift yourself up into the air with a kick. The other leg will be used as a "rudder" to help guide your body upward into an extended structure from top to bottom. The rudder will also stop you from falling over because it will land on the wall. When you're ready, using a powerful exhale, kick yourself up into the posture. You may want to start with a few light hops just to get the feeling of lifting up into the air and balancing on your hands. When you have gained trust in your body, perform a stronger kick to bring yourself all the way to the wall. Once you have both feet against the wall, root down in the floor with your hands so your arms are straight. (You may also want to hug the arms toward each other to feel even stronger in this Handstand position.) Engage your core so that your torso is also extended. Finally, since your heels may be against the wall, keep your feet flexed to feel the lengthening sensation of your legs along the wall toward the ceiling. Hold the pose for at least 10 breaths. Complete the pose by bringing one leg down, then the other, and come to Child's Pose. Stay here for as along as you need to re-orient the body, mind, and breath. Remind yourself that you ARE able to accomplish feats that may seem daunting to you at first. But with patience and practice, you WILL reach your goals. Namaste

Friday, September 2, 2011

Potential


"Open yourself up to your greatest potential." That could certainly be a person's mantra or motivational quote that they have taped to their bathroom mirror! It could also be the intention behind any yoga practice. But what does it really mean? I have often defined yoga to my new yoga students as the practice of finding greater awareness of self by focusing on breath and movement. When you focus on these areas, you find and feel a clarity about yourself that seems to open many doors. You find that you have greater strength, ability, focus, balance, integrity, peace of mind, and the list goes on. Yoga can be the practice that opens the doors to many possibilities. One can start simply and easily to find those inner openings; to discover your own greatest potential.

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
Also called Cobbler's Pose, named for the Indian cobbler as he sits and builds shoes, this yoga posture is essentially a hip opener, but can also demonstrate that inner potential one seeks to discover. Start by sitting on the floor and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Draw your heels closer to your pelvis. Your knees will naturally drop down to the side. Don't worry if your knees do not touch the floor. They don't need to. If your hips are little tight, this is great pose to begin that release. Hold onto your toes, ankles or shins so that you are able to sit up tall with an extended spine. (Feel free to practice this pose sitting against a wall. You can also do Supta Baddha Konasana, or Reclining Bound Angle Pose which is done lying on your back.)

Once you have established the pose, set your intention. Perhaps you want to be more extroverted or be able to speak your mind more freely and with confidence. Maybe you feel stuck in a rut and want to find a way to move forward; created a change in the old routine. When our minds and bodies are opened, we can see the possibilities; the doors begin to open. Cobbler's Pose can guide you toward feeling more alive, free, and open.

Hold here for 10-15 breaths. Allow the natural release and the opening to occur. If you focus on the exhale, this can assist the release of any tightness in the inner thighs and hips. Further, if your intention is to open yourself up more, then this, too, will happen with the practice of this pose. Remember your initial intention and experience the revealing of your natural potential.

Namaste.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Inner Strength

Sometimes we can experience a lack of strength in some life situations. You feel like you couldn't manage a difficult job at work, you didn't feel you had the strength to help a friend in need, or it may be you just couldn't push that heavy weight at the gym this morning. What ever it is, sometimes we would like to feel stronger. Often, too, we look for strength from the outside....someone or something else is going to give us the strength that we need or desire. You go to your clergy person to seek guidance; you read about a new device or technology that will improve your memory; you try a new supplement that will give you more energy in the day. All of these are external ways to improve strength AND they can be very effective. One thing to remember, though, is that strength can come from within. YOU have the power and strength within YOU to achieve better direction, memory, or health. Believe in yourself and the power comes.

The pose for your home yoga practice is a modification of plank pose. You will do it on your forearms which brings more attention to your abdominal muscles. Often when we focus on core strength, we think of our abdominal muscles. A reminder that your core incorporates the entire trunk of your body. In yoga we often focus on the low back and abdominal muscles. This is one such pose.

Start by coming to your hands and knees on your yoga mat. Gently lower yourself so that you are on your forearms and on your toes. Create a strong straight line with the entire body. (If you need to, it's ok to lower your knees to the floor, but keep your core body engaged.) Be aware if your low back is sinking or if your rear is lifted to high in the air. Create a sturdy table-top-like posture. This will involve engaging your core muscles. Do so by titling your pelvis AND feel your belly button pull up to your spine. This will be easy to do when you focus on your exhales. When you release the breath, also feel the tilting of the pelvis and the navel pulling upward toward your spine. Here, you are engaging an abdominal lock so you can feel solid in your pose. Also, feel the forearms hug together as if you were a squeezing a ball between them. This is how you experience inner strength: hug toward your center.

I tell my students that when you hug/hold inward, you create more strength inside of you. Imagine a person climbing up a pole. The tighter they hold on, the longer they will remain on the pole and perhaps the higher they can climb. Once they loosen that grip, they fall. Holding this plank pose can be the same; be sure to feel a sensation of holding onto your mid-line - your spine. Hold this pose as long as you can. If you happen to have a timer, 30 seconds to 1 minute would be quite effective. Or take 10-20 breaths. Afterward, come to Child's Pose to relax the entire body. Here, remind yourself of the strength that you hold within you. You'll find that you can climb higher and reach all of your goals.

Namaste.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alice In Wonderland


Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words "Eat me" was beautifully marked in currants. "Well, I'll eat it," said Alice, "and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key....." She ate a little bit,..."now I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye feet!".....
Just then her head struck against the roof of the hall: in fact she was now more than nine feet high, and she at once took up the little golden key and hurried off to the garden door.
Poor Alice! It was as much as she could do, lying down on one side to look through into the garden with one eye; but to get through was more hopeless than ever..."


This, of course, comes from the classic tale "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll. It's an intriguing story of a little girl's travel through an obscure land of characters and escapades that could certainly leave your head spinning! I chose this passage because there is a pose I sometimes teach in my yoga classes that reminds me of this moment when Alice eats the small cake and grows too large for the room in which she's trapped and cannot get out. The pose itself is a twisting posture and it also helps to open the back of your shoulders.

As an intention, we can borrow from Alice's dilemma: she is stuck in a small space and must figure out a way to escape. Have you ever felt bound, stuck, or trapped in a situation where it is a challenge to move forward? Perhaps this pose can symbolize that experience with the further intention that this situation does not have to be permanent. You WILL discover the proper solution to the problem so you, too, can escape from the tight enclosure.

First, come to your hands and knees. Your hands will be directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Slide your right hand forward about 1 foot, move it a few inches to the right (it may even move off of your mat), then turn your hand counter clockwise so your middle finger is pointing inward (about 10 o'clock on an imaginary clock.)

Second, begin to slide your left hand behind the right. (We sometimes call this "thread the needle.") Your left shoulder will come to the floor. Meanwhile, the right arm will form a right angle as you lower yourself closer to your yoga mat. Continue to slide the left hand and arm through this little "doorway" you have created. Move as deeply as you'd like into this posture. You may feel a stretching sensation in the rear portion of your left shoulder. You are also a creating a twist in the spine. (Be sure to continue lengthening your spine in this twist to experience the greatest benefit. Lengthen by feeling your hips move toward the back of the room as the crown of your head continues to move forward.)

Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths. In this posture, you have created a simulation of Alice in her 9-foot state trying to pass through the tiny door to enter the garden. Return to your intention. You know that there are good things (like Alice's garden) on the other side of this door, but at the moment you feel trapped. However, you have the resources (the key) to eventually pass through this door. Remain positive and patient. As you clear the mind (perhaps using deep cleansing breaths) you will create an opening from within. You'll soon notice that your situation is not that dire. You will eventually see clearly that you CAN move forward.

After the desired breaths on this side, carefully release the pose and repeat it on the other side. Use the breath as your tool, your key, to unlock the trapped feeling you may have inside. Explore the potential and possibility of the garden that awaits you.

Namaste.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Turn Things Around

Ever find yourself in a rut? Going through the motions of the same routine day after day? Maybe it's time for a change. Or perhaps begin to look at your regular routine in a new way. This home yoga practice introduces a simple maneuver that will change the perspective on a common yoga pose as well as your perspective on life.

This simple sequence of poses will allow you to look at yourself and your everyday life in a new way. Start by standing in Mountain Pose. Here, set your intention. Be mindful of your daily routines and the desire to shift and/or change to bring a fresh look to what seems mundane.

Sun Salutation
Inhale to extend your arms over head. Extended Mountain Pose.
Exhale and Swan Dive to Forward Fold.
Inhale to lift up half way. Be sure to extend your spine and lengthen your neck.
Exhale and jump or step back to Plank Pose.
Inhale to continue lengthening your spine and legs in this posture.
Exhale to lower yourself down to finish the push up (Chaturanga Dandasana).
Inhale to Upward Facing Dog.
Exhale to Downward Facing Dog.
Inhale to lift your right leg into the air behind you.
Exhale to step your right foot forward near your right hand. Lower your left heel to the floor to ground yourself.
Inhale, extend your arms forward, and rise up into Warrior One.

You will remain here in this pose for a few breaths. Gather yourself. Be aware of your posture, your breath, and how you're feeling in the pose. Be sure your feet are well grounded into your mat. Your right knee is bent at 90 degrees and directly over your ankle. Your torso is facing forward. Your Dristi (gaze) is forward and your arms are extended directly over your head.

As you gaze forward, be aware of what you see in front of you. Bring to mind your daily routines. Recognize how common things seem to be because you are always looking in the same direction or doing the same thing repeatedly. Now, without turning your head, be aware of what is happening behind you. Start by focusing on your left leg. It is straight and strong while the outer edge of the foot is pressed firmly into the earth to secure your stance. The awareness of the leg and foot alone only gives you a partial awareness of what is happening behind you. Follow the next set of instructions to change the position of the posture and your perspective.

Extend your right leg so it is straight. Turn your feet all the way around so that your left foot is now pointing to the back of the room. (You will also need to turn the right foot at the proper comfortable angle.) Bend your left knee until it is at 90 degrees and directly over your left ankle. Your arms will remain extended over head as you make this transition. Now you are in Warrior One facing the back of the room.

The pose is relatively the same, but your view is now different. Perhaps your life can resemble this shift. Our routines can be the same everyday, but we can view them differently. Open your eyes to things you may not have noticed before. Open your mind to new ideas.

After holding here for about five breaths, windmill your hands to the floor on either side of your left foot. Slide your left foot back until you are in Plank Pose. Finish the flow....

Exhale. Chaturanga Dandasana.
Inhale. Upward Facing Dog.
Exhale. Downward Facing Dog.
Hold for 5 breaths.
Jump or step to the top of the mat.
Inhale. Extend the spine.
Exhale. Forward Fold.
Inhale. Stand up all the way to Extended Mountain Pose.
Exhale. Lower your hands to heart center.
You are still facing the back of the room. Hold here to contemplate this new view from a familiar stance.

(Feel free to repeat the entire sequence until you are facing the front of the room again. Or you can simply end your practice here.)

Life does not necessarily have to be boring and mundane. Bring new life to your routine. It can be easy to turn things around.

Namaste.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do Your Best

I've been doing some more reading about some common yoga poses and came across an interesting story about Side Plank Pose. But before I get to that, I want to mention that when I work with students individually or with students in a group yoga class, I'm not too concerned if the poses they are performing are absolutely perfect. I just invite my students to do their very best. I offer cues for better alignment and breath flow so that the student feels comfortable in their yoga postures.

Recently, I have been working with several students who are new to the yoga practice. One of their main concerns is if they are doing it "right" so they don't look "stupid." I encourage them to not worry too much about "doing it right." The yoga postures are new to them, so it may be challenging at first. I provide plenty of visual and audio cues to help them through the process. The idea is for them to learn the basic concepts to get a general feeling of some of the poses and to experience the yoga breath. Modifications are also demonstrated to help guide them into poses. If they continue to practice yoga, they will see a natural improvement. Again, all I ask is that they do their best. Put in the effort and the time, and they will experience the wonderful benefits of yoga.

I ask only the same thing of you here with this blog - just do your very best. Set an intention, try a pose, and experience a success.

The pose I was reading about was Side Plank Pose. In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, it is Vasisthasana (vah-sish-TAHS-anna). Vasistha literally means "most excellent, best, or richest. I thought it would be the perfect pose to write about if you're new to the yoga practice. Yoga can be challenging. It takes energy, strength, effort, and time. But when done with intention and you do your very best, you will have a successful yoga practice.

Even if you're a seasoned practitioner and you're dealing with things in your life right now where you don't feel quite as adequate or confident in yourself as you'd like, consider practicing Vasisthasana. Perhaps you're working on project at work and you're having trouble getting motivated or you're stuck. Or maybe you made a mistake while answering a question at school. Or maybe you didn't "feel like your normal self" around your family or friends. All of these scenarios can make you feel a little down about yourself. Remember, though, that we ALL make mistakes, get stuck, or say things we do not intend. Overall, we are still trying to do our very best on this life journey. Remind yourself of that as you practice Side Plank Pose.

Side Plank Pose
Start in Plank Pose. It is basically the top of a push-up. You may also place your knees on the floor as a modification if you feel you do not have the upper body strength for this pose. Plank is a very dynamic posture and can add great upper body and core strength. Be sure to feel an energetic movement forward through the crown of your head. At the same time, feel an energetic movement through the heels of your feel. It should feel like you are extending in opposite directions. Further, be sure to engage your core by drawing your navel up toward your spine on an exhale. Maintain this bodily sensation as you move into Side Plank.

Keep your right hand on the yoga mat as you open your body sideways. Your left leg will be stacked on top of the right and your left hand will be reaching up to the ceiling. (Modify the pose by placing your right knee on the floor directly under your hip to help support this posture.) In this posture, feel free to stack your feet (the inner edges of your feet will touch), or stagger your feet so one is in front of the other for greater stability.

So that there isn't too much pressure in your wrist and shoulder, gently push your pelvis forward on an exhale and lift your left hip up toward the ceiling. You will create a bit of a bend in the body that will send energy and strength down the legs and core body so that the arm does not take the load of this pose. If you are able, left your left leg up so it is parallel with the floor. Keep extending that leg and foot toward the wall to maintain energy in the leg. Also, feel the right inner thigh lift up toward the left inner thigh. This, too, provides great stability for the pose. In this "star" shape, you are now in Vasisthasa - the most excellent and best pose! Hold for 5 slow breaths, return to plank, then proceed to the other side.

While in Side Plank Pose, you will feel the entire body shine; it is fully engage from head to toe. The energy you experience while performing this posture can help you in everyday life situations. When you're down, confused, lacking self confidence, or you don't feel motivated, re-energize your body, mind and spirit with this excellent posture.

Namaste.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Get Up! Move Forward!


It's summer time and it's time to get out and enjoy the pleasant weather and get back to nature. No more time for just sitting around! Get out and enjoy life! Practice this next pose as a reminder to be playful, live a little, and have some fun out there! Life is too short, right??

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
This is a very common pose that is within the familiar Sun Salutation. It is a pose that offers upper body strength (arms, shoulders, chest), hip flexor opening, and a back bend to increase low back strength. Also, practice Upward Facing Dog as an intentional pose to remind us to get up and move forward. Take action over your own life and see what is waiting for you out there.

Start by sitting in Easy Pose (a crossed-legged position) on your yoga mat. Set your intention with a few breaths. Clear your mind, think of something you'd like to do today. Perhaps do something you haven't done for a long time or try something that is brand new to you. After you have set your intention, roll over and lie on your belly.

Place your hands along the side of your body so your thumbs are able to touch the lower two ribs. Your elbows will be bent and be sure you can press your elbows in toward your body. Also, press your hands firmly into the floor to create a strong foundation. This is the set-up for the pose so that you can move into it safely and effectively. You may notice (especially is you're able to see yourself in a mirror) that the bend in your arms form a right angle. This is ideal to lift up into the pose.

Extend your legs out behind you on the floor. The tops of your feet will be pressing into the mat and your toes pointed toward the back of the room. With an inhale, press your hands into the floor to lift your upper body off the mat. Fully extend your arms. Your shoulders should pull down away from your ears. As you lift, also lift your hips off the mat. This will help protect your lower back since you are in a minor back bend.

This could be the end of the pose, but let's make this a little bit more dynamic! You have already done the action of GETTING UP by lifting your upper body into the posture. Now it is time to MOVE FORWARD! As you press your hands fully into the floor, feel as if you are dragging your body forward. Allow your heart to open and move toward the wall in front of you. Squeeze your shoulder blades behind you for added support, strength, and movement. As you "drag" yourself forward, press the tops of your feet into the floor so that your knees also lift away from the mat. It will feel like you are in motion while performing this yoga pose. Keep your gaze forward. See what you'd like to achieve for yourself out in front of you and move toward it. Hold for at least 5 breaths. Complete this pose by returning to the floor or moving into Downward Facing Dog. From there, place your knees on the mat and sit back into Child's Pose. Practice Down Dog two more times.

Don't get stuck in old routines. Try something new. Be playful! Have fun! The intention behind this pose can guide you toward your greatest potential.

Namaste.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bowing To The Pyramid


In some of my yoga classes this week, I have focused on hamstring stretching. There are some great yoga poses that help with lengthening the legs and experiencing greater flexibility. One such pose is called Pyramid Pose (or Parsvottanasana in Sanskrit). It offers a variety of benefits and a great pose to do for a home practice with an intention.

Pyramid Pose
Because this is an intense hamstring stretch while practicing this posture, it is also about balance, focus, lengthening, extension, and honoring.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose with your hands at your heart. Close your eyes. Take time to set your intention. If you've been feeling a little off balance lately, or need more direction, focus, and concentration in your life right now, this is a great pose for you. Further, if you've been lacking some self-confidence or have not given yourself proper attention and care lately, this pose will also help to honor yourself.

Inhale and extend your arms over head. Exhale into a forward fold. (Feel free to bend your knees as much as you need to so you can touch the floor or your toes.) Inhale to extend the spine, lifting up halfway (Monkey Pose), then exhale to lower back down. From here, lift your left foot and place it directly behind your right foot (about 1 1/2 feet behind the other). Have all ten toes pointing directly forward. It will feel and appear as if you're standing on a painted line on the floor. (If this is too challenging to maintain your balance, simply step the foot out slightly.) Root back into your heels (try lifting your toes.) You legs are completely straight.

Lift to extend your spine, as if moving into Monkey Pose, and hold this position. Feel free to keep your fingertips on the floor. If you cannot reach the floor, then use a block or two underneath your hands to help maintain this posture. If you can hold your balance here, reach your arms directly behind you. They will be parallel to the floor. Engage your core (abdominal muscles) by exhaling and drawing your navel into your spine. This will help you with the balancing portion of pose. Feel as if you have a pair of hands holding onto your hips that are gently pulling you back. This will help to square out the hips. As you feel the imaginary tug on your hips, resist the pull by continuing to extend your spine forward. Here, you will feel an dynamic stretch in your hamstrings. You can even use your own hands on your hips to create that light tug. Further, this is a balancing pose, so take care to focus on your breathing in order to bring full awareness and concentration to your practice. This is one variation of Pyramid Pose.

To go deeper into this pose, place your hands on the floor on either side of your front foot. (Use blocks if needed.) Fully extend through the spine with an inhale, then, as you exhale, draw your heart closer to your extended leg. This may heighten the sensation of the lengthened hamstring. Also, you are practicing an honoring to self since you are literally bowing downward. As you hold this pose (for 5-10 breaths) be sure to acknowledge your strengths, talents, and traits.

Release out of the pose by extending the arms forward lifting up with an inhale. Exhale, and step forward, bringing your feet together to Mountain Pose, then bring your hands to heart center. Repeat the sequence to do the other leg.

If the outer portions of your legs, particularly down by your shins and calves, get tight, this pose helps to stretch this portion of the leg. This pose also helps strengthen your back and tones your abdominal muscles. Experience the well-rounded benefits of this pose and any yoga pose. There are certainly physical benefits, but also remember the very important emotional and mental benefits.

Namaste.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reunion

I am currently in California to attend my high school reunion. It has been 25 years since my graduation. Wow! Where has the time gone?! Needless to say, I will be surrounded by some of my good friends from the 1980's to share stories, families, food, and laughter. Also, while I am visiting the Bay Area, I will get a chance to visit my immediate family and friends from my neighborhood. It will be a grand reunion.

I write this because it reminds of the definition of yoga. The Sanskrit word, yoga, literally means "yoke." I have also heard the ancient word interpreted as "joining" or "union." As we practice the asanas (postures) we move and breathe with the intention of joining Mind, Body, and Spirit. The yoga postures are the vehicles that help us to begin that journey.

As a celebration of the yoga practice, as well as the re-union of friends and family, I offer to you a home practice that reminds us of the unions we have established in our lives.

Bring to Mind those that are important to you: good friends, family members, classmates, yoga friends, work colleagues, etc. Bring to Mind those that have been great influences in your life. Create vivid pictures of these people in your Mind's eye as you set your intention for your practice. Perhaps you want to thank them or send good intentions their way.

Practice 3-5 Sun Salutations to bring movement to your Body. The complete Sun Salutation offers stretches, backbends, forward folds, strength, stamina, and cleansing to the Body. This physical discipline allows for greater connection to ourselves as well as greater opening, awareness, and deeper connections to others.

After your Sun Salutes, simply sit in a cross-legged posture (Easy Pose) and become more mindful of your breath (Pranayama). Here, sit in stillness having set your intention and moved your body. In stillness, you heighten the work of the Spirit within you. With this raised energy, you truly see your authentic Self and how you share that Self with your outer world. The Spirit within that is allowed to come to the surface through intention yoga practice is what your friends and family see: it's your Truth.

So, in celebration of your Yoga, Your Internal Union, and your Union with others, move through this simple practice and be thankful for those people closest to you who see you for who you really are.

Namaste.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blissful Child


At the end of the yoga classes that I teach, I like to offer an opportunity for some restorative poses before resting in Savasana. One of those poses is Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana or Blissful Child). It is a wonderful pose to practice especially if you have tight hips. The hip area is one part of the body that we may store lots of emotional tension. As you move into this posture, perhaps bring to mind any stressors that you'd like to release. Happy Baby Pose, may help in the progression toward that release.

Further, just thinking of the name of the pose, Blissful Child, can be a great reminder of the carefree lifestyle of the child. Young children generally have little or no stress. Recall that time in your life and bring it to the surface as you de-stress in this yoga pose.

Happy Baby Pose
Lie flat on your back and bring your knees toward your heart. While holding onto each knee, gently open the legs toward the outside of your body. From here, lift your feet into the air while keeping your knees very bent. Reach up from the inside of your legs to hold onto the bottoms of your feet. (If you cannot reach your feet, hold onto your ankles instead.) Gently press downward so it feels like your knees are moving toward the floor just outside your body. You may begin to experience sensation in your hips and pelvis as a stretch or release. The pose is appropriately named: it resembles babies lying on their backs as they unconsiously raise their feet into the air. Sometimes, they even have a smile on their faces!

As you're able, press your lower back down toward the floor. This will bring more sensation to this pose, thus, more release. Meanwhile, your entire back and head are on the floor. Hold this pose for 10-20 breaths. It is very healing and relaxing. Complete your practice by resting for a few minutes in Savasana.

Namaste.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Power Comes From Devotion


I enjoy reading the stories behind some of the yoga postures that we do in class. Having read the story brings more meaning and depth to the pose and to the entire practice. One can move into their own yoga practice with greater intention.

I recently was reading about Hanuman, the Monkey God. The story goes....a demon king had abducted the wife of the king of ancient India. Rama, the Indian king, order his troops to rescue his wife, Siva. During the battle that occurred in this pursuit, Rama's brother, Laksmana, was gravely wounded. The only way that he could be saved was with an herb that grew in the Himalayas. But the distance was so far; how was Laksmana going to be saved in time. Hanuman, a great devotee to Rama, said he could complete the task. He took a mighty leap from the south of India to the Himalayas. Once there, he did not know which herb to return home, so he rasied the entire mountain, took another mighty leap back to India, and the brother was saved.

This story tells us that with great devotion, one can accomplish the impossible. YOU have the power to overcome any obstacle when your desire to help is combined with reverence and respect.

Hanumanasana
The pose is an intense hamstring stretch; you're essentially doing the splits. You made need at least three blocks and a blanket to help guide yourself into this pose. This pose embodies Hanuman's devotion and giant leap to save his king's brother.

This pose, while using the props, is best done with a yoga mat on a hard wood floor. Start by coming to your hands and knees near the top of your mat. Have a blanket (or towel) on the floor in front of you. Have a block on either side of you and one at hand's reach to use later.

Place your right heel on the blanket or towel in front of you. (Your knee can remain bent.) Then place the nearby block underneath this leg. Place your hands on the blocks on either side of you. Very slowly, begin to slide the blanket directly forward. This will begin to extend the front leg. As you slide forward, your rear leg (with the knee still on the yoga mat) will also extend. Move slowly and carefully. Take small movements forward and let each movement be supported and guided by your breath, particularly your exhales. Your front leg will eventually rest on the block so as not to hyper-extend your knee. Take 5 to 10 slow deep breaths here. When you're ready to move out of the pose, simply slide the extended leg back toward your yoga mat. Do the same on the other side.

If you are very flexible, you may not need the props. Further, if you have been working on this pose for awhile, try this little tip. You may find that you can go deeper into the pose when you produce an inner spiral (rotation) with the front extended leg. That is, the leg at the point of insertion in the pelvis, rolls inward. See if this allows you to create a deeper splits.

With Hanumanasana, you experience a moment where you accomplish something that seems nearly impossible. Transfer the same thought and idea to your everyday life. If you are faced with great obstacle, remember Hanuman's love and devotion for his king. That respect, honor, and love, allowed him to achieve what seemed humanly impossible. You may be surprised at the power you hold within yourself.

Namaste.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Back To The Basics


I had the pleasure and privilege to spend a weekend among other yogis with Jonny Kest. Jonny has a yoga teacher training program in Michigan and has a profound way of uniting his students as he gifts to them the foundations of the yoga practice and principles. He helped me to remember the origins of yoga as well as the many benefits of the practice. I was certainly humbled in his presence.

Jonny Kest is a classically trained yogi and reminded his students of the foundation of the practice. He showed his trainees how to teach the Ashtanga Vinyasa Surya Namaskura Series A. We even attended one of his classes and experienced the Primary Series of the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice.

To break this down for you, and why I am writing about this in my blog, is that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga sets the stage for many modern styles of the yoga practice. Ashtanga (meaning 8 limbs) was first made known in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. He saw the eight aspects of yoga as limbs of a tree. He states that "wisdom and spirituality unfold in the same manner as a tree grows.....every tree in the forest has the same goal; to reach the light."

K. Pattabhi Jois is the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. He was taught a particular system of yoga by Krisnamacharya. This system has been handed down to thousands of students around the world and continues to be the hub for the basic yoga practice. Jonny Kest is a student of Pattabhi Jois and has continued this tradition.

Surya Namaskura is simply the Sun Salutation that we all know very well. The asanas (postures) in this series are designed to energize the entire body as it flows with the breath. The is the basis of Hatha Yoga. The Salute to the Sun is the basic foundation of Hatha Yoga, so I thought it would be beneficial to remind ourselves, not only of the history of Vinyasa Yoga, but the basics of our yoga practice and how it can thoroughly effect and change our lives and how we view it.

Surya Namaskara A (The Sun Salutation Series A)
(This text is taken directly from "Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual" by David Swensen, an acclaimed Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga instructor and practitioner.)

Samasthiti - Stand with both feet together. Legs active. Spine long. Engage the bandhas. Breathe deep.
One - Inhale raising both arms. The lungs should be full just as the hands touch. Gaze at the thumbs.
Two - Exhale fold forward taking chest toward your knees as you look toward your toes.
Three - Inhale lengthen your spine as you take your gaze to the horizon.
Four - Exhale step or jump back. Lower down while gazing straight ahead.
Five - Inhale straighten the arms and roll onto the tops of the feet. Knees lifted. Toes pointed.
Six - Exhale as you push the hips up. Lengthen the spine from your sacrum through the top of your head. Press the heels toward the floor and lift the kneecaps. Gaze at your navel. Engage the bandhas.
Remain here for 5 deep breaths.
Seven - Inhale as you either jump or walk the feet forward. Lengthen the spine and take your gaze to the horizon.
Eight - Exhale fold forward taking chest toward the knees and gaze toward your toes.
Nine - Inhale raising both arms high over the head until palms touch. Gaze at the thumbs.
Ten - Exhale lower your arms in preparation for the next Surya Namaskara or Vinyasa.
Repeat this series 5 times.

This sequence should sound and feel familiar to you. It is the foundation of our yoga practice. Remember, also, in your daily life that we can wander away from our humble beginnings, sometimes forgetting our roots. It is important to often stop, turn around, and look back at where we came from. It helps us to see our growth and our progression forward on this life journey.

Namaste.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wring It Out

In the last blog entry, I discussed Fish Pose, it's story, and how the posture is related to self healing. Staying on that same theme, I thought I'd write about another type of pose that can also help with healing: twisting poses.

Whenever I instruct a twisting pose in a yoga class, I have the students imagine that they are a wet sponge ready to be wrung out. When a sponge is wet, it is typically heavy - saturated with a substance that is ready to move out. When one wrings out a sponge, all the water is released, leaving it light and virtually empty - ready to absorb new content. Hold onto this image as you practice this next pose.

Twisted Chair Pose (Parivritta Utkatasana)
As usual, start your practice in Mountain Pose with your hands at your Heart Center to set your intention. Perhaps you have been sitting heavy with thoughts, worries, aches, pains, and concern that you are ready to release. Think of those ideas and sensations as the water in the saturated sponge.

Inhale to extend your arms overhead. Exhale and sit back into Chair Pose. Keep your arms extended alongside your ears. Sit back as if you are sitting in an imaginary chair. Shift your weight back slightly so the weight is in the heels of your feet. (You should be able to lift or tap your toes easily.) Also, your knees will begin to move to be more aligned over your ankles. (This will also take pressure off the knees and shins.) Next, bring your hands to Heart Center.

With the next few breaths, remain in this pose to further elongate the spine. With each exhale, draw your belly button up toward your spine engaging the Abdominal Lock. When you are ready, exhale and begin a slow twist to the right. You want to be sure to make this a full abdominal twist to simulate wringing out the sponge. Here are some things you can be aware of while moving deeply into the pose:

1) Be sure your feet are still firm on the floor with an even weight distribution between them. Notice if you have rolled to the inner or outer parts of your feet when you twist.

2) Look down at your knees. Be certain that your knees are still aligned with one another. If you are twisting to the right and your left knee shifts forward, then you have moved out of alignment and have decreased the fullest twist possible. (Feel free to use a Yoga Block between your thighs to help stabilize your feet and knees.) If your knees remain aligned, this also means your hips will remain aligned ensuring a full twist rather than a simple turning of your body to the right.

3) Move slowly. There is no need to wring out the sponge all at once. Use several breaths to reach your fullest depth of the pose. Inhale to continue lengthening through your spine and twist a little bit more when you exhale. (Remember to draw your navel in toward your spine.) Keep moving like this until you have reached a full twist. Hold the pose for an additional 5 breaths.


Return to Chair Pose then Mountain Pose. As you unwind from this twist, imagine the wet sponge is now free of it's contents feeling light and newly absorbent. Repeat the pose on the other side.

It is easy for us to walk through our days, weeks, even months feeling heavy with pressure and stress. We become saturated with these feelings and can no longer absorb any more leading to feeling overwhelmed and burned out. Practice this twisted pose to relieve yourself of these burdensome circumstances.

Namaste

Friday, June 10, 2011

Destroyer of All Diseases


I've been doing a little reading about some yoga poses and came across a story about Matsyasana or Fish Pose. Matsya means fish and is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. Vishnu is said to be the Source/Maintainer of All Things In the Universe. He could also transform himself. In one story, Vishnu takes the form of the Fish and overhears The Lord Shiva, who holds the key to the Universe and unlocks the mystery of Yoga, tell his wife about his discovery. As Vishnu, in the form of the fish, listens to Shiva, he becomes enlightened, thus, Vishnu becomes the first student of yoga.

Matsyasana is also known as the "destroyer of all diseases." Another story states that the world was becoming corrupt and was going to be destroyed by a great flood. Vishnu transformed himself into a Fish and is said to have saved the world from the great flood. Thus, the Fish Pose has restorative value for the human body particularly if one lives with back and/or neck pain. The nature of the pose provides spinal health which can aid in physical and emotional health. This story intrigued me and inspired me to write this blog entry.

As you set your intention, be aware of any physical pain or discomfort that you may be experiencing lately. If you're experiencing discomfort in your back or neck, this pose will provide great benefit. We often find ourselves in a constant state of hunching over: sitting at our computers, driving, etc. Your intention may simply be to add relief to your body. Allow the pose you're about to practice help move you toward greater relief.

Matsyasana: Fish Pose
Start by lying flat on your back on your yoga mat. Be sure your legs are straight out in front of you and your arms are alongside your body. Shift your body in order to bring both your arms completely underneath you. You may need to squeeze your shoulder blades together to help with this sensation. Your arms will remain straight: your hands (palms facing downward) will be underneath your buttocks. Point your toes to continue extending your legs. With an inhale, lift your chest/heart. Keep your bottom on the floor. You are actually arching your back. In order to help lift your chest, push your elbows into the floor. Once your head is off the floor, carefully allow it to drop back. Rest the very top of your head on the floor. You will be able to see the wall behind you - it will be upside down! Restrain from putting pressure on your head and neck. The sensation of staying in this pose comes from the lifting of the chest. You are now in the posture.

Remain in Fish Pose for at least 5-10 breaths. In the posture, you have created a minor back bend (often used as a counter pose after practicing Plow Pose.) As mentioned, it can bring relief to the back and neck. It further provides a re-alignment of the spine after being hunched over all day! If you do have regular back or next pain, practice this pose at least three times a week. If you experience other ailments, try this pose since it is said to be the destroyer of all diseases.

Namaste.