Friday, March 25, 2011

Balance In Motion

In my yoga classes this week, I have carried a running theme throughout each one: Balance. I’d like to offer a home yoga practice that continues to carry that theme, so you can experience Balance in your day.

Take a moment to set your intention. Contemplate your last week or month and pinpoint any thoughts, feelings, are life experiences that have left you feeling imbalanced. Perhaps you feel overworked without much rest and relaxation. Maybe you’ve been wanting to pursue an idea, but haven’t had the motivation to start. Or you’ve been having difficulty concentrating; your mind chatter seems to be louder than usual.

If you have experienced any (or all) of these, set your intention to bring Balance back into your life. Start today to quiet the mind chatter so you can concentrate, relax, and move forward.

To begin your practice, sit in a comfortable seated posture on your yoga mat. Close your eyes and take notice of your breath. Breathe so that you can feel your breath and hear your breath. Once you are aware of your breath, notice the pace of your breath; take notice of the pace of the exhale and the pace of the inhale. Slowly count to yourself as you draw in breath (1, 2, 3, ….) and release the breath (1, 2, 3, ….) If the two halves of the breath do not match, manipulate your breath so that the pace of your exhale matches the pace of your inhale. Once you have established Balanced Breath, take a few more breaths to create Balance within your body and mind.

For your yoga practice, you will begin with standing in Mountain Pose. Reconnect to your Balanced Breath then move into the next pose: Tree Pose. While standing on one foot, place the opposite foot against your inner standing leg. Your arms are extending overhead. Spend up to 10 breaths on each foot. Maintain the balance of the pose as well as the Balanced Breath.

Next, move into a Crescent Lunge. One leg is in front of the other in a lunge. Your front leg is bent about 90 degrees. Your back leg is extended behind you. Your heel is lifted off the floor. You arms are extended toward the ceiling. Your entire body is facing forward. Be aware of the balance in this lunging posture. Spend at least 10 breaths on each side.

Your next pose is Warrior III. While standing on one leg, the opposite leg is extending out behind you, parallel to the floor, and both arms are extending forward, also parallel to the floor. (If you need to have your hands on a wall in front of you, that is fine.) Hold the pose on each leg for 5 breaths.

Holding these poses establishes a deeper connection to physical and mental balance. Sometimes, however, we are unable to find a significant amount of time to sit or stand still to experience this re-integration of balance. We are more often on the run taking care of our life duties. Try this next sequence as a way to put balance into motion.

Return to the Crescent Lunge with your right foot forward. On an exhale and using a slight push from the rear foot, launch yourself into Warrior III. Inhale to extend your body longer in this pose. On the next exhale, move into a Tree Pose. Lift your upper body so you’re facing forward while bringing your left foot to your inner standing leg. Hold this pose for 10 breaths. Finish this sequence by bringing your foot to the floor and your hands to your heart. Hold here for an additional 5 Balanced Breaths. Proceed with the other side. Try practicing this entire sequence 2-3 times.

Don’t worry if you stumble or fall. This is a part of practicing balance in our lives: sometimes we fall. Keep practicing so that you can achieve balance more often in your daily living.


Friday, March 18, 2011


The Yoga Sutras, written around the 2nd century by Patanjali, is an attempt to define and standardize Classical Yoga. It is composed of 196 sutras (sutra = thread) that read as verses and forms the structural framework of the yoga practice. The Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed (Astanga) path that leads one to completeness; a path leads to the connectivity to the divine.

In the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes about Supernatural Abilities and Gifts (Vibhuti Pada). The verses begin with the importance of meditation as a particular limb that brings one to the connection to the divine:

III, 1
the confining
of thought
to one point.

III, 2
depends upon this
foundation for directing thoughts
into a continuous flow
of awareness.

To practice this method of meditation, I want to introduce the practice of Candle Gazing. I have taught this simple method of meditation in several yoga classes and my students have been amazed at the results they received. One mentioned, "I let go of some old emotional baggage...the candle triggered something and I started to let go of old issues." Candle Gazing (Trataka) is an ancient Indian practice that is said to help focus the mind, improve concentration, and is very calming.

Here's how it is done:
Light a candle and place it on a low table. Sit on the floor in a comfortable meditation posture (like Half Lotus or Easy Pose). The candle flame should be at eye-level while you're seated. If you are new to this practice, you will start your candle gazing at 30 seconds per round. As you grow more accustomed to the practice, you can extend the time you gaze at the flame.

To begin, stare at the candle flame for 30 seconds without blinking. (Although you cannot look at a clock, just get a sense of how long 30 seconds is.) You may have the urge to blink or your focus may become blurred during the exercise. Whatever happens, keep your attention on the flame. After 30 seconds, close your eyes for an additional 30 seconds. An after-image of the flame may still be present in your mind's eye. Focus on this "internal flame." After about 30 seconds, repeat the candle gazing. Do this for at least 3 rounds. At the end of your last round, place your cupped palms over your eyes and let the eyes relax in this new darkness. This is called palming.

This exercise can be done with any inanimate object and be done just about anywhere. (Try doing it at your desk and stare at the tip of a pencil.) The idea is to focus your vision and your mind. The result is a sense of calm and relaxation. Try it when you're under stress. Better yet, include it in your regular morning daily routine to start your day. You may find that you have a sense of calm throughout the entire day. Try it for a week and let us know how you did.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Take Action

Have you ever been in a situation where you have an idea, thought, or desire to do something? Perhaps you're wanting to go on a nice vacation with your family. Or you feel motivated to do start going to the gym. Or you tell yourself that you're going to TRY to stop smoking. All of these are good intentions, but have you moved forward or taken action with any of these plans? Perhaps today is the day to take that step.

The focus on your home yoga practice will be on Boat Pose (Navasana). This is a typical core strengthening posture, but it also gives energy, power, and focus to the third Chakra: The Solar Plexis. This center of energy is about taking action; putting our plans into motion.

As mentioned in the previous blog entry, create an intention before your yoga practice. Stay focused on that intention while you practice and perhaps throughout the day so that it will manifest into reality.

Perhaps you DO want to take a family vacation, start going to the gym, or quit smoking. Set your intention and begin your practice.

Sit on the floor. (If you have issues with your low back or tailbone, you may want to sit on a cushion or blanket for extra padding.) With bent knees, raise your feet off the floor. Hold onto the back of your knees with your hands. Use this posture as a way to lift yourself up so that you have an extended spine. You want to have a straight back in this pose. You will form a V-shape with your body (even though the knees are bent.) Also, lift your head slightly, so that you are looking up at the upper half of your room rather than having your chin tucked down into your neck. The shins are parallel with the floor and flex your feet to keep your legs fully engaged and active.

The focus of this pose is in your abdominals so mindful breathing will be key here to stimulate this area of your body. Inhale to fill your lungs with air. At the same time, lengthen your spine even more. When you exhale, be sure to keep the extended spine, AND draw your belly button in toward your spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Repeat the breathing effort and maintain the pose for at least 10 breaths. If you are able, release your legs and extend your arms outward. Maintain the strength and stability of the pose. After your tenth breath, relax the body and bring your feet back to the floor. Allow your core muscles to relax for a couple of breaths. If you desire, repeat the pose two more times.

As you hold your strength building posture, bring your intention to mind. While in this pose, you are drawing energy to your third chakra. By raising this energy, you are charging this energy center so that you can move forward, take action with your desired idea. Not only will you experience the manifestation of your objection, but you'll get a nice set of abs, too!

Tell us about your experience in Boat Pose.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Have An Intention

I've been reading several yoga history books to increase my knowledge about the history, philosophy, language, and practice of yoga. One of the books that I am currently reading in my self-study is "The Heart of Yoga" by T.K.V. Desikachar. He is the son and primary student of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a prominent yogi credited with being a driving force behind the resurgence of Hatha Yoga. He wrote "The Heart of Yoga" as a guide for anyone wanting to develop and heighten their personal yoga practice.

In the first chapter of the book, he discusses the meaning of yoga. When translated, yoga means "to unite." The author reveals another meaning of the word yoga - "to tie the strands of the mind together."

What Desikachar is saying here is that yoga practitioners, should direct their thoughts toward the yoga session before actually practicing the physical aspect of yoga. That really is the intention of this blog that I've created: have an intention before you practice yoga. I find that when you have set a goal, a directive, or an intention before and while practicing yoga, the benefit of the physical practice is more profound.

As you prepare for a home yoga practice this week, sit for a moment and contemplate an intention. Perhaps it is something you'd like to accomplish today or something you would like for your community. The intention behind your practice can be ANYTHING. There is no limit. There is no right or wrong. Whatever you decide is the directive and goal of your practice is strictly yours and meaningful.

Some examples:
I want to have a joyous day.
Bring peace to my children today.
I ask for abundance today.
I want to feel relief from the physical pain in my back today.

Once you have set your intention, start your practice in Mountain Pose and proceed through 1-3 Sun Salutations. Be mindful of your breath, your body movements, and hold onto your intention throughout the entire practice. Try this for the next three days. Let us know how it felt to practice having tied the strands of your mind together.