Monday, November 28, 2011

Embrace Your Being

We have just moved through another Thanksgiving holiday. It is certainly a time to be grateful for all that we have in these challenging times. As you sat around the dinner table with family and friends, I hope you were able to take a few minutes to think about and speak aloud all that you are thankful for: health, family, a job, a home, good friends, etc. I also hope you took a moment to be grateful for YOURSELF.

As we give thanks, we talk about the people in our lives who have been our support, our rocks, our saviors. But don't forget about a VERY important person. That person is YOU. If you didn't get a chance to thank yourself, use this home yoga practice to be grateful for who you are.

Why would you thank yourself? You may be too humble and modest to admit this, but you are an important figure for many others. You take care for your children, people count on you at work, you made someone smile this morning, you gave a homeless person your spare change, you let someone go in front of you at the grocery store. These may be small measures, but you make a difference in many lives. Be thankful that you were able to be there for all those people. YOU took the time. YOU made the effort. YOU ARE special.

Eagle Pose
This is an interesting pose to do because it can represent many things. As a yoga pose, it involves balance, binding, focus, and core strength. When I think of the symbol of the Eagle, I think of some Native American traditions that view the Eagle as the seer of all things. As it soars overhead, it represents strength, endurance, and vision. The Eagle also represents the East and this direction symbolizes the renewal of life and rebirth. So, as you practice Eagle Pose, perhaps embrace the physical and metaphysical representations of this profound figure. Perhaps see yourself as the visionary, the holder of strength, and the catalyst for change and renewal.

Start by standing in Mountain Pose. Set your intention as you take a few deep Ujjayi breaths. Inhale and extend your arms overhead. As you exhale, lower you arms slowly and bring your right arm behind your left arm, crossing them at the elbows. Once crossed, lift your arms so your forearms are in front of your face. As best as you can, intertwine your arms; wrapping them up until your hands and fingers are also intertwined.

Now, lift your left leg and cross it over your right leg. Make sure to wrap them in a way so there is no space between the hamstring and thigh. Sit back a bit into a Chair-like Pose. You will now be balancing on one foot. If you're able, wrap your left foot around your standing leg. (If you are unable to do that, just let the foot hang to the side, or even place a big toe on the floor if you need more stability in this balancing posture.)

Hold onto this pose tightly. Squeeze the arms together tightly as well as your legs. Think of this as a way to embrace yourself: hug your very being and acknowledge all that you are. For more sensation in this pose, lift your elbows so your triceps are parallel with the floor. Further, push your elbows forward so that your back broadens. Yes, these movements add more sensation to the posture. Think of this as a way to deepen the connection to yourself.

Although your arms are in front of your eyes, gaze THROUGH your arms. Be the visionary that is able to see through/past obstacles. Practicing this pose also helps you to master focus and attention. After holding the pose for 10-15 breaths, release the bind and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.

Remember, it is very important to acknowledge and pay homage to yourself. Be thankful for your gifts, strengths, and talents. You have been placed on this earth for a purpose. Live up to your truest potential and share those gifts with others. You'll find that those others will be coming up to YOU thanking YOU for being who you are.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Inner Strength

Within the yoga sequence, The Sun Salutation, there is a pose called Chaturanga Dandasana. It means "Four Limbed Staff Pose." Now the name of the posture really has nothing to do with what I'm writing about this week! But it is a pose that physically works your upper body and core strength.

Strength is actually what I want to write about. Sometimes we think we are not strong enough to do certain things. Maybe at the gym, you struggle with doing pull ups or bench presses with heavy weights. How about more on an emotional level: you think you're inadequate or not good enough to do a certain task. You think you lack the skills or intelligence to perform in a presentable fashion. You fear, perhaps, being judged or criticized. When you harbor those feelings, you tend to shy away from engaging in those activities. And when you step back, you do not allow your SELF to live up to its highest and truest potential.

The challenge is to really KNOW that you have the strength and ability to do anything you set your mind to. Still don't think you are strong enough to take certain risks in your life? That's ok. Sometimes engaging in a yoga practice can test your strength. We often discover that we ARE strong enough to do challenging poses on the mat. If we can do them there, we can probably take that strength OFF THE MAT and find that we DO have the ability to step forward into our highest potential; to do the things we THINK we're unable to do.

This leads us back to Chaturanga Dandasana. It is a very challenging pose when held. We often just flow through this posture right into Upward Facing Dog in the Sun Salutation. But what would happen if you could actually hold the posture? Let's find out.

Chaturanga Dandasana: Four Limbed Staff Pose
Start in Mountain Pose and begin the Sun Salutation sequence.
Inhale - lift your arms over head; reach upward toward the sky.
Exhale - Swan Dive forward to touch your toes; feel free to bend your knees as you fold forward.
Inhale - lift up halfway to Monkey Pose; extend your spine so that you experience a flat back.
Exhale - fold forward to touch your toes then jump back to Plank Pose.
Inhale in Plank Pose to gain strength and stability.
Exhale - lower yourself to Chaturanga Dandasana by bending your elbows and lowering yourself in a straight line down toward the floor. Do not touch the floor! Hover, if you can, just a few inches away from the floor. Be sure to keep your elbows hugging in toward your body to maintain a strong connection to the pose. Hold for at least 10 breaths!

Complete the Vinyasa;
Upward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog
Then come to Child's Pose to rest.

If you're able, complete the sequence one or two more times. Each time, you may find that you get stronger in the pose.

Here are some tips to remember while in Four Limbed Staff Pose. Keep the whole body engaged. Feel like the very top of your head (your Crown) is moving forward while the heels of your feet are moving back. Keep your core strong with exaggerated exhales. (Even feel free to breathe out through the mouth.) Draw your belly button toward your spine to engage your core muscles. Scoop or tilt the pelvis to engage your abdominal lock. And again, be sure to keep your elbows hugging tightly toward your ribs.

Yes, this is a physically challenging pose, yet it taps into our emotional connections to inner strength as well. Develop and experience the strength that is ALREADY inside of you. Sometimes we just have a dig a little deeper inside to find it. IT IS THERE!


Friday, November 4, 2011

Honor Your Truth

The Yamas and the Niyamas are yoga's ten ethical guidelines that comprise the first two limbs of yoga's eight-fold path. The second Yama is called Satya which means Truthfulness. In my yoga classes this week, as well as in my Life Coaching sessions, I have been using this concept as a working theme: to be honest with yourself, to express yourself freely and truthfully.

When you are experiencing joy and love in your life, you probably express it in your smiles, kindness towards others, even while dancing! These feelings are true expressions of yourself, so why not share them. Even when you're feeling sad or depressed, don't be ashamed of these emotions; share those feelings, too. We sometimes think it is rude or not polite to express feelings like sadness or anger. We are socialized to be kind; to keep a smile on our faces. But when we are feeling down or out of sorts, it is expected that we keep those emotions hidden. When we have to put on that mask to cover the darker emotions, we are not truly being our selves. We are not practicing our emotional truthfulness. Now, I'm not suggesting that when you're angry you go out and tear down some walls or beat up your neighbor. No, what I'm suggesting is that if you are feeling these darker emotions: anger, unworthiness, jealousy, worry, betrayal, etc., it is ok talk about them with a friend. It is ok to acknowledge to yourslef or a family member that you are feeling a certain way. It is even ok to feel frustrated and maybe take that frustration out on a pillow or playing loud music. One shouldn't have to deny their feelings. When we are able to be honest with our emotions, we are practicing Satya, truth and honesty toward our selves.

This next yoga pose can help allow some of those uncomfortable feelings to come up. It is important to recognize that we have many emotions: light emotions like appreciation, joy, and happiness, as well as other emotions like the ones already mentioned. Realize your WHOLE self. Pigeon Pose will put you in an uncomfortable posture that focuses on opening the hips. This area of the body is said to hold a lot of emotional energy. Holding Pigeon Pose can sometimes release these emotions. As you take a moment today doing this pose, understand and appreciate the emotions that might come up for you. Who knows, you may laugh hysterically for no reason. Or you may have a nice emotional cry when holding this pose. But guess what? It's all OK! You're just showing your honesty.

Pigeon Pose:
Since you will be holding this posture for sometime, you may want to have a timer or stopwatch handy so you won't have to worry about how long you are in the pose. Start on your hands and knees. Slide your right knee up toward your right wrist. (I would suggest, also, taking the knee slightly to the outside of the wrist. It will take you deeper into the pose.) Move your right foot up toward your left hand. You'll form about a 45 degree angle with this leg. Meanwhile, the left leg will be extending straight out behind you. Using the knee and toes of the left leg, creep the leg farther back. This, too, will take you deeper into the posture. With your hands by your side pressing into the floor, inhale to extend your spine longer, as you exhale, slowly bring your torso down toward the bent leg in front of you. Take a few seconds to adjust and move deeper into the posture until you can finally rest without moving. Set your timer for at least 3 minutes. This may not seem that long, but Pigeon Pose is an intense posture. As mentioned, it can raise energies and emotions in you that have been stored within. Resist the temptation to move. Try to stay absolutely still until your timer goes off. Just notice what comes up for you. Maybe nothing. Maybe the flood gates will open. Who knows. All you have to do is notice them and honor them. No need to judge the emotions that you have. They are a part of you and they don't negate your existence. (Be sure to practice this pose on the other side.)

When you complete your practice, be sure to take care of yourself afterward, especially if darker emotions emerged. Remain quiet, read a little, have a nice cup of tea, take a slow stroll, or whatever feels right for you to move forward. As you are in this nurturing space, remember to Honor and Appreciate all parts of you.