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.


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.


Friday, July 15, 2011


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.


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.


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.

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.