Friday, April 29, 2011

Open Your Heart - Wheel Pose

Backbends in yoga are considered heart openers. On a day-to-day basis, we can find our body postures in a constant state of "forward folds." Think about it: sitting down at desk hunched over a computer, cycling, weeding the garden, or other body positions like this are all "heart closers." Doing heart opening postures not only can improve your posture, but they can have an emotional benefit as well.

Think for a moment about your life experiences in the recent past. Have you ever felt sad or depressed? just got dumped by your significant other? got ripped off on a financial deal? All of these situations can bring a sense of hurt, violation, or betrayal. All of these can be very challenging emotional situations to manage. After experiencing such events, it may be difficult to trust; your heart may even feel broken. These may create a "closing of the heart." As a means to help mend your heart from that sense of betrayal, yoga backbends may help you to re-open your heart and teach you to trust again.

This home practice will describe Urdhva Dhanurasana (which literally translates to upward facing bow). This pose is commonly called Wheel Pose; it is a full backbend. If you are new to this pose, a Bridge Pose is a good alternative.

Start by lying on your yoga mat on your back. Bend your knees so you feet are flat on the floor. Be sure your heels are relatively close to your back side and your knees and feet are hip distance apart. This will give you a strong foundation when you rise into the backbend. This sense of connection to the earth is actually a good starting point for the mending heart. You want to feel safe and secure before you move forward in being able to trust again.

Next, place your hands up by your shoulders. Your fingertips should be pointing toward your shoulders with your hands pressing firmly into the floor. To help get the hands secure on the mat, squeeze your elbows together toward your head. It is important to have your fingertips point TOWARD your shoulders rather than have your hands and finders UNDER your shoulders. If your hands are underneath your shoulders, you will not have the best alignment and strength to lift yourself up into the backbend. With you fingertips pointing toward your shoulders, your elbows will be directly over your wrists creating a right angle. This will give you better leverage to rise into your posture. Again, you want to have a strong foundation before you rise into this dynamic pose.

Your core body must also feel secure before rising into the Wheel Pose. As you lie on your back, begin an intentional breathing practice. When you inhale, arch your back. Your bottom will remain on the floor while your low back lifts away from the floor. When you exhale, strongly press your low back into the yoga mat. Your navel will move closer to your spine and your pelvis will naturally tilt to engage your low abdominal muscles. Hold this posture as you continue breathing. With each exhale, continue to tighten your lower abdominals as a means to support your back when you eventually rise into your backbend. Engaging your core body is another practice of finding strength within yourself when you are faced with challenging life obstacles.

When you feel ready (perhaps after 5-10 breaths) lift your hips toward the sky. You are now in a modified Bridge Pose. Even as you lift your hips toward the ceiling, continue to engage your core body as if you were still lying flat on your mat with your lower back pressed into the earth. This will keep you lower back open and spacious so you don't experience binding or pinching in your lower back muscles and spine. Again, if you are new to this style of pose, feel free to remain here for the rest of your practice.

In this modified posture, check in with your body to be sure your feet are still planting firmly into the floor as well as your hands. When you are ready, press your hands deeply into the ground in order to lift your head off the floor. Let the very top of your head rest lightly on the mat. This is another variation on the pose. On your next exhale, press your hands firmly into the mat so you can lift entirely off the floor. You are now in a full backbend. Hold for at least 5 breaths and up to 10. Root your feet and hands firmly into the earth: feel grounded and connected. Allow your heart to expand and open. Be mindful of all the love that IS in the world and absorb that gift: you truly deserve it.

When you are ready to come down, tuck your chin in toward your neck. Lower yourself slowly so that you land softly on the back of your shoulders. Proceed to come all the way down to the floor and lie in Savasana for at least 20 breaths. As you are in your relaxation posture, think about ways you can continue filling your heart with love, gratitude, and appreciation.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Find Your Inner Dancer

Have you ever wanted to be on "Dancing With The Stars" or "So You Think You Can Dance?" Well, even if you have two left feet, you still can become a dancer in your yoga practice. To me, dancing is simply free movement of the body. It may be movement to music or just walking down the street. Both can be considered dance. It doesn't necessarily have to be about holding a beat or moving to choreography. Dance can be thought of as being free in your own body and moving as you please.

The aforementioned television reality shows are composed of choreographed dance movements to music. But have you ever just turned up your stereo and freely danced about the house to your favorite song? Allowing the rhythm of the music move the energy within you? THAT'S DANCE! What ever steps you make up to no particular beat is YOUR choreography. How you move makes you special and unique. For your home practice, you will hone in on your inner dancer and raise that powerful energy.

Dancer Pose or Natarajasana is a one-legged balancing pose that strengthens and lengthens your legs, opens your hips and shoulders, and also contributes to inner focus and balance.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Bring your feet together so that the inner edges of your feet as well as your knees and inner thighs are touching. Be aware of your balance as you stand on two feet. Be sure your feet are rooted strongly into the earth and you maintain an internal connection with your legs. Bring you hands to heart center and bring focus to your breath. After about 5-10 breaths to establish your connection within, bring your arms down by your side. Then, kick your right leg back while keeping your inner thighs connected. Reach back with your right hand and grab hold of the inner edge of your foot. (Your thumb will be showing on top while the rest of your fingers will be wrapped around underneath.)

With an inhale, extend your left arm overhead. Make sure your inner thighs are still connected. Your gaze is still forward. Exhale to establish a strong connection to your core then slowly begin to tip forward. Your right knee will start to slide away from your left knee, but be sure it remains in this alignment and does not stray away from your center. Meanwhile, your upper body is leaning forward while maintaining a straight spine. If you are new to this pose, stay here and continue your breaths. Your focus will be slightly forward. Focus on something out in front of you that is not moving. Concentrate on your stillness, balance, and internal energy. Further, focus on the unique individual that you are.

Dancer Pose is a standing one-legged backbend, so If you'd like to go further, follow these directions. While still moving your right knee toward the back of the room, start lifting your toes up toward the ceiling. At the same time, feel your heart lifting as if it is moving up toward the ceiling as well. This will naturally put you into a back bend. Again, be sure your right knee does not stray away from your center. Continue to move along the same alignment. Hold for 5-10 breaths in your Dancer Pose variation. When you are done, return to Mountain Pose to regain your original balance then proceed to follow these instructions on your left foot.

Nataraja is another name of the Lord Shiva and his dance symbolizes cosmic energy. Become the lord of your own dance! (Nata = dancer, Raja = lord or king) Move forward in your life journey with grace, energy, balance, and focus. Namaste.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dharma - Your Life Purpose

In the ancient scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of dharma - your life purpose. He tells his student warrior, " is better to do your own dharma poorly than to do someone else's well."

This, I believe, is good advice. We can certainly get caught in our lives wishing that it resembled SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE! "I wished my house was as big as hers." "I like her style. I'm going to dress just like her." "If only I had a job like his." When we find ourselves in these thoughts, we are slowly moving away from our True Authentic Selves. If we take a moment in stillness and silence, we reconnect to that True Self. Know what it is that makes you uniquely You! Discover what it is that you are able to do. Not only what you are ABLE to do, but what you LOVE to do. What is your Passion? Often, it is this Passion that grows into your Life Purpose - your dharma.

How may times have you gone to a yoga class and the person next to you is more flexible than you, or can hold a pose longer than you, or is wearing a cooler outfit? Yoga is not about comparing or competing. We have the opportunity to share our energies in a community, but the yoga practice is really for YOU. It is your moment, your opportunity to journey deeply within yourself to discover your dharma. Krishna says that your dharma "need not be lofty, but should be something that feels right to you, and something that in one way or another makes a contribution."

Perhaps your passion is working with children, or photography, or cooking, or singing. The list is endless, but tune in and find out what it is that moves you. That talent may end up to be something that is worth sharing with others around you.

In your home practice, simply sit in stillness. Focusing on your breath. Allow the time with self be a personal journey inward to uncover your talents, passions, and life purpose. This is something you can do everyday. The more you move within, the more you discover about yourself. Also, when you return to the yoga studio, continue this inward journey. Don't let the more flexible or finely dressed yogi next to you distract you from your personal work. Return to your breath and unleash your Authentic Self.


Friday, April 8, 2011


Ever find yourself moving throughout your busy without taking a moment to rest? You wake up one morning, knowing you have a busy schedule, and the moment your feet hit the floor from the bed, you're off and running. Typically it's non-stop: get the kids to school, go to work, attend business meetings, a yoga class at noon, more meetings, more deadlines to complete, take the kids to soccer, go grocery shopping, pick up the kids, cook dinner, clean the kitchen, prepare tomorrow's lunches, and MAYBE sit for 30 minutes to catch the evening news. Before you know it, it's 10:30 and you're in bed only to find that you have to get up the next day and do it all over again.

It seems the only time we allow ourselves to rest is when we go to sleep. You've been constantly moving for 15 hours and you only give yourself 6, MAYBE 8 hours of sleep. Are you providing your body and mind enough down-time to recuperate? This home practice reminds us that it is very important to take intentional rest time throughout our busy days.

T.K.V. Desikachar, in "The Heart of Yoga" reminds us to take a much needed rest during dynamic yoga practices and even between poses. "There is no rule to follow regarding rest," he says. "...if we need a rest, we take one." An example is to move into a dynamic posture like an intense backbend (dhanurasana) then into a counter pose like a seated forward fold (pascimatanasana).

Wheel Pose / Bridge Pose
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Be sure your knees and feet are about hip-distance apart. Your heels should be relatively close to your backside. If you plan to move into a full backbend, Wheel Pose, place your hands up near your shoulders with your fingertips pointing toward your shoulders. If you plan to move into Bridge Pose, simple place your arms along the sides of your body on the floor.

With an intentional exhale, press your lower back into the floor. This will tilt the pelvis and engage your core to support your backbend. With your next exhale, lift your hips into the sky. If you're moving into Wheel Pose, press your hands firmly into the floor with your elbows hugging closely to your head and lift your upper body off the floor until you are in a full backbend. If moving into Bridge Pose, lift the hips on the exhale then squeeze your shoulder blades together underneath you to help support the pose. Hold your backbend for 1 minute or 10-20 breaths.

Slowly and carefully lower yourself down to the floor when you have completed your breaths in the backbend. Lie flat on the floor in Savasana for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Afterward, draw your knees in toward your chest and gently rock yourself up to a seated posture.

Seated Forward Fold
This pose was highlighted in the previous blog entry. Feel free to re-read that entry or proceed from here. Extend your legs straight out in front of you and sit up nice and tall. Extend your arms overhead with an inhale and on your exhale, while hinging from your hips, fold forward bringing your heart closer to your legs. If you're able, reach out and touch your toes. If you are unable to reach your feet, simply rest your hands anywhere on your legs. Hold this pose for 1 minute or 10-20 breaths.

Both of these poses can be intense, but are counter poses to one another. If you start with a forward fold in your home practice, finish with a backbend to help counteract the intensity. More importantly, be sure to rest in between each intense posture. Lying in Savasana (Corpse Pose) is a perfect relaxing posture.

Use this home practice as a reminder that it is important to take intentional rests throughout the day to help counteract the intensity of your busy schedule. For example, before you get out of the car to step into the grocery store, sit in your car for a minute with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. After sitting at your computer for several hours, stand up and stretch the entire body (perhaps Extended Mountain Pose) to help counter the sitting sensation. Instead of watching the evening news, take a few minutes to practice Candle Gazing (read blog post "Concentration" from March 18th.)

There are many things we can do to counter act the wear and tear of our busy lives. Sometimes it just takes a minute or two to give yourself the gift of restfulness.


Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Sense of Calm

In your home yoga practice today, you will focus on the Seated Forward Fold (Pascimotanasana). There are many benefits to this posture. You'll experience a lengthening through your hamstrings and a stretch for your entire back. This seated posture also provides a sense of calm and ease in the body and mind.

Let's start in Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sit on your yoga mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Flex your feet to fully extend your legs. Sit up nice and tall. Assist this spinal lengthening by placing your hands next to your hips. Push your hands into the floor as if you are going to lift yourself up off the floor. This creates a lightness in your hips and low back. Further, it allows the torso to lift out of the pelvic bowl releasing any tension or tightness in your hips and low back.

Roll your shoulders back and down as you sit up even taller. Take a few deep breaths here. Fully engage your body. As you inhale, feel the continual lengthening of the spine and legs. As you exhale, draw your navel in toward your spine engaging your core and abdominal muscles. This will help the support of your entire body. Remain here for at least 5 breaths.

On your next inhale, extend your arms upward toward the ceiling. As you exhale, be sure to keep your core engaged, then hinge forward from the hips as you now move into your Seated Forward Fold. At first, your spine will be straight, but the further you go down, your back may begin to naturally round. That is ok. Once you are in the forward fold, continue the sensation of lengthening the spine and deepening the fold. Here's how to do that.

Still in the forward fold, slightly lift the torso on an inhale and feel as if you are moving forward toward the wall in front of you. This will extend the spine. As you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles, then lower yourself deeper into the posture. Do not feel that you have to rest your chest entirely on your legs. That is not the goal. The intention here is to feel sensation in your body and create a stretch sensation in your legs and back. As long as you are doing that, you are doing the pose correctly.

As your remain in your posture, set your intention. Perhaps you would like to experience more relief in your physical body. As you exhale, experience that relief. Notice how tension leaves your body. Perhaps you want to experience some emotional release. This is a very good pose for that. Because of the folding sensation, you are bringing attention and energy to the first three chakras. The second chakra (just below the belly button) is our emotional center. The more we breathe into this space, the more energy we raise. Use this exercise to help bring new life to this part of your being.

After spending some time here (maybe 5-10 breaths) gradually return to Staff Pose to re-extend your spine. Next, lie flat on the floor in Savasana to complete your entire practice. While here, experience a full sense of calm, release, and relaxation.