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.


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.


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.


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.