Friday, January 28, 2011

Radiate & Shine

From January 20th through the 30th, Park City, Utah hosted another Sundance Film Festival. This event draws many independent film enthusiasts from film makers, actors, and movie-goers. As you stroll down Old Main Street, stand in line for last minute movie tickets, or enter the Eccles Theater for the closing night film, you may run across some familiar Hollywood stars. Yes, Sundance can be glamor and glitz, but it's an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to display their works for the chance to be recognized and become a celebrity.

Now, what does this all have to do with yoga? Well, have you ever thought about being a star and being recognized by your biggest fans? You may not be a Hollywood Star, but perhaps your are already a celebrity in your own realm.

Take a moment today to acknowledge your own talents, strengths, skills, abilities, and attributes. In what way do you get to display your gifts? Are you a school teacher sharing knowledge with your students? Are you a doctor that helps to heal those who are sick? Perhaps you're a parent who sees after the livelihood of your children. All of these, in my eyes, are Star-Quality Roles that YOU play everyday. Sometimes these roles, though, are under-recognized, but SHOULD be highly praised. You are a Star!

To celebrate your celebrity status, we will move into Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). This pose reminds me of a 5-pointed star that radiates light and energy. Just as you serve others in your respective everyday roles, you, too, can shine like a star.

Begin your practice in Mountain Pose. Take a minute or two to find your breath. Calm and ease your mind to become more present with yourself. In your silence and stillness, call to mind all your talents and strengths. Let them come to the surface with each breath.

Inhale and raise your arms overhead to Extended Mountain Pose.
Exhale to Swan Dive to a Forward Fold.
Inhale, extend your torso/spine to Monkey Pose.
Exhale, return to Forward Fold.

From here, place both hands on the floor. Shift your weight onto your right foot so that you can now extend your left leg up behind you so that it is parallel with the floor. Continue to fully extend your left leg back as far as it will go. Likewise, extend your torso/spine forward so that the crown of your head is leading toward the wall in front of you. (It may feel like you're doing Monkey Pose, but just on one foot.)

Your grounded right foot should feel firm and solid on the ground. Try to straighten the standing leg as best as you can. As you extend your spine, you may find that you can lift your hands off the floor. But keep your right hand on the floor next to your right foot and reach the left hand toward the sky. This will open your body to the left side of the room. Keep the energy of extending your limbs in all these directions, just like the 5-pointed star. Also, rotate the body enough so your left hip sits director over your right hip. You are now in the Half Moon Pose. (Use a block underneath your right hand if you need less of a stretch on your standing right leg.) Hold the pose for at least 10 breaths. Repeat the pose on the other side.

While you hold the pose, experience your brilliance. With ALL that you do in your everyday life, feel how your energy radiates to others: your family, friends, students, co-workers, kids, and even strangers. When you allow your skills and attributes to rise to the surface, others see and experience your stardom and want to be in your presence. They want to feel your radiance and want to bask in your energy. That's the true sign of an adoring fan. Recognize and acknowledge the star that you are.

(May I have your autograph?)


Friday, January 21, 2011

Bring New Life To Your Routine

Are you stuck in a rut? Do you do the same thing day in and day out? What's that old saying..."variety is the spice of life?" Well, how about adding a little spice in YOUR life! Sometimes our lives can seem routine, rote, and even boring at times. So, is it possible to take that same (boring) routine and make it a whole new experience? How can you bring life, energy, and SPICE to your life journey?

Let's begin on the yoga mat. Even the routine on the yoga mat can get a little rote; particularly the Sun Salutation. It is a basic flow that can feel pretty repetitive at times. You can spice up the flow, however, by focusing on different aspects of the sequence: the pace of your movement, the depth of your poses, the intensity of your breath. All of these (and more) can bring new life to your routine.

Let's take a particular yoga pose Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana) and bring new life to this posture. Start by coming to a Warrior II pose with your right foot in front (leg bent at 90 degrees) and your (straight) left leg in back. Be sure your hips are aligned and can experience the hip opening effect of the posture. Your upper body should be nice and tall as if you were standing in Mountain Pose. To move into Extended Side Angle Pose, reach and move your right arm forward out over your knee and foot. This will put your torso at about a 45 degree angle.

For the first version of this pose, simply place your right hand on your thigh while you extend your left hand toward the ceiling. In this modified version of the pose, you can really focus on proper alignment of the hips and keeping your heart open to the side of the room without feeling like your heart/chest is falling down toward the floor. Remain here for at least 5 breaths.

Now, to add some variety to the pose, begin to take it deeper by placing your right forearm on your thigh. This may intensify the pose. Because it may feel more intense, be sure to keep your focus on the breath, the depth of the new variation of the pose, and stay in tuned with your alignment. Be mindful of this new sensation. Remain here for another 5 breaths.

To complete this side, now take your right hand and place it on the floor next to your right foot. This, too, should change the sensation of the pose. Feel the extended stretch as you have now moved deeper into this angled hip opening pose. Remain here for 5 breaths. The pose itself, has not changed. It is still Extended Side Angle Pose, but YOU have the ability to change the intensity of the pose. Going deeper, for example, may provide more opening and release for tight inner thighs. Going lighter (with your hand on your thigh) may help you with alignment, balance and focus. Repeat this series on your left side.

Imagine doing the same thing with other routines in your life. YOU add variety and change to your life experience to bring more intensity or lightness - whatever your heart and soul are needing at the moment. Here are some very simple examples: take a different driving route to work; don't put cream and sugar in your morning coffee one day; re-arrange the furniture in your bedroom; order something new at your favorite restaurant; attend a yoga class taught by a different instructor. Once you've added some spice to your life, write a comment in this blog about your experience.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Be Kind To Yourself

Every Tuesday morning, I teach a yoga class called Soft Flow. The premise of this class is based on a yoga principal called Ahimsa (uh-HIM-saw) which means non-violence. Ahimsa is the first of five restraints yogis are encouraged to practice. Ahimsa is the awareness and practice of non-violence in thought, speech, and action. It promotes the practices of compassion, love, understanding, patience, self-love, and worthiness. I particularly like the aspect of self-love or kindness toward yourself. This is what we practice in Soft Flow.

As we move from pose to pose, we move slowly with intention and attention. The idea is to be fully aware of the postures you are in, as well as take your time to move deeper (as the body is able) into any particular pose. If we simply take our time as we progress deeper into our physical bodies, the body will, in turn, respond kindly.

For example, if you are in a lunging posture (i.e. Cresent Moon Pose or Anjaneyasana), you can move deeper into the pose one breath at a time. As you inhale, fully extend the rear leg back by pushing the heel towards the floor and extend the arms higher into the air. On the exhale, bend the forward knee more (only by 1/2 an inch) to move deeper into the pose. Try this as your home practice on each leg.

When we force our bodies by moving too quickly, forcefully, or without intention, this is a shock to the physical self which may result in injury or pain. If you are looking for greater flexibility and you want to maintain flexibility, the slower you go, the better and long lasting the results. Move too fast, and the body reacts rather than responds and flexibility is not attained or it is only temporary.

You can do this with any yoga posture. Practice slowly with intention and attention which translates to being more kind (non-violent) to yourself. You are practicing Ahimsa. This principle, of course, works off the mat, too. When you carry negative self thoughts or put yourself down, you are practicing Himsa or violence toward yourself. As part of your New Year's resolution, practice kindness and self-love.

To read more about yoga principles and philosophy, a good place to start is understanding the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances). They are the first two limbs of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Together, they are ten guidelines for leading a healthier and happier lifestyle. They bring spiritual awareness into a social context.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Start Simply

If you're like most people this time of year, you may have made a new year's resolution. What did you choose to start or do differently this year? Paint the house. Go to the gym so you can lose 20 pounds. Build a backyard deck. Have a healthy breakfast every morning. All of these goals and intentions are well and good, but sometimes we can set our standards too high and except too much from ourselves. As we start these missions, we begin with good intentions, but sometimes realize that the goal feels overwhelming or even unattainable.

Let's all experience success this new year. Keep your goals, but set smaller more attainable goals that lead you toward the finish line. If you're wanting to go to the gym to lose 20lbs, set a more attainable goal by stating to yourself: "I'm going to the gym TODAY and I will do 20 minutes of cardio on the treadmill." If you set a more realistic goal, you're more likely to achieve it. Set mini-goals for your larger goals and intentions.

As a home yoga practice, let's focus on something very simple yet very important to the yoga practice: the breath. In order to become more flexible, strong, and well grounded with yoga, one must begin with breath. Start simply. Breath is the foundation of any yoga practice. So before you hit that Bikram Yoga class for the first time, why not begin with something you KNOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE.

Sit on your yoga mat or even take a comfortable seat in a chair. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breathing. Just be aware of the fact that you are inhaling and exhaling. Breathe in a fashion so that you can hear your breath and feel your breath. It takes effort and attention to breathe deeply, and by doing so, you are bringing a greater awareness to yourself. THIS IS YOGA. Stay focused on your breath for 1 or 2 minutes. That's it. That can be your yoga practice for the day. It's that simple.

As a challenge or perhaps as a resolution for 2011, take the next 5 days and do this very simple breathing exercise. It ONLY takes a minute and you will have COMPLETED YOUR GOAL of doing yoga for the day.

Let us know how you're doing with your yoga practice by submitting a comment on this blog. In the meantime, have a wonderful day.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Out With The Old, In With The New

Happy New Year! Namaste!
For many people, starting a new year means creating a New Year's Resolution: something that you intend to do differently in your life. Or it may be something you'd like to give up (like smoking) or do more of (like go to the gym). Sometimes in making a resolution or doing something new in your life, it may also mean letting go of something else. This home yoga practice will help you to let go of the old to bring in the new.

The focus of this practice will be hip openers. It will feature two poses: Three Legged Downward Facing Dog and Cobbler Pose.

Let's start this practice with a Sun Salutation to bring you to your first pose. Stand near the top of your yoga mat in Mountain Pose. Place your hands at your heart, close your eyes, and set your intention (your new year's resolution). Perhaps bring to mind the thing or things you no longer want to do, say, or think. Using the power of your breath, exhale as a symbol of releasing those things. As you inhale, think of things you now want to pursue, gain, and experience in your life from this day forward. Proceed now with your Sun Salutations following the sequence below.

Mountain Pose
Extended Mountain Pose
Forward Fold
Plank Pose
Chaturanga Dandasana (Crocodile Pose)
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog

Once you have made it to Downward Facing Dog, hold this posture, and focus on your breath. Feel secure and grounded in this pose: be sure your hands are fully connected to the yoga mat and your heels are drawing downward toward the floor. (Take a very small step forward with both feet so your heels just about touch the mat.) Also, be sure your hips are high with the sensation of moving them toward the wall behind you.

Inhale to lift your right leg up toward the wall behind you. You really don't have to lift it very high, just be sure the leg is straight with the effort of extended it toward the wall. Keep pressing your left heel toward the floor to maintain your secure connection to the earth. Now, bend the extended leg; bring your heel down toward your back side while lifting your knee as high as you can toward the ceiling. Open your hips and torso so you are now facing the right side of the room. This is your Three Legged Downward Facing Dog, but with a bit of a twist. Think of this pose as a hip opener. Try to stack your right hip directly over your left hip. Your left leg is very straight with the heel pressing down toward the floor. Hold this posture for 5-10 breaths. Come out of the pose and repeat on the other side.

We can think of hip openers as postures that help us to release stress, tension, tightness, and even negative thoughts and feelings.

From Downward Facing Dog, bring your knees to the floor, then take a seat on your mat bringing your legs out in front of you. Draw the bottoms of your feet together while moving your heels in toward your pelvis. The knees will fall open to the side. Hold onto your feet and sit up nice and tall. This is Cobbler Pose, more formally called Bound Angle Pose. This, too, is a hip opener and you are invited to hold this pose for several minutes. Use this time to move into yourself and re-examine your intentions for the new year. Create a vivid picture of yourself in your mind doing and saying the things you want in this new year. As the hips are open, you can feel release, and also a sense of experiencing gain: call in those things you want to be and achieve for yourself.

Feel free to remain in this pose or simply cross your legs (Easy Pose) to complete your practice for today. Hold onto your intention. Let it expand into how you want to live in this new year of 2011.