Warm-Up Yoga Sequence

Here’s a sequence based upon a holiday Saturday Slow Flow class that’s nice and gentle. It can be used as a primary practice on days when you have missed yoga-ing for a while, as a warm-up to a more intense physical practice, or on days when you need to nurture yourself a bit more than usual, i.e. when you are sick,  mourning, or very tired or sore. It’s important to practice something on those days as well.

1. Cat-Cow, Cheetasana (Bent arms flowing cat-cow), Lat stretch, ChildPose

supta three

Supta Padangusthasana

2.Supta Padanghustasana 1,2, 3(Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch). Use strap as needed.

 supta two at wallcompressed

 

 

Threadtheneedlecompressed2. Reclining Through the Hole stretch. Dorsiflex (lift toes toward ceiling) foot on thigh. 

 

 

 

Kneeling Lunge3. Kneeling Lunge, High Lunge

 

 

 

4. Setu Bandhasana Sarvagasana (Bridge) Use block beneath sacrum.

Setu Bandasana Sarvangasana

 

 

 

 

Reclining Cross-Legged Twist

5. Reclining Cross-Legged Twist

 

 

 

Yoga Mudra ArmsYoga Mudra Arms side view6.  Yoga mudra arms, while sitting. Clasp hands behind back, stretch them towards floor, then exhale and lift them towards ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths. Release.

 

7. Marichiasana 3Marichiasana3

 

 

 

 

 

Camel8. Camel

 

 

Reclining Pigeon9.  Pigeon

 

 

Legs Up The Wall

10. Legs Up The Wall

Using Our Feet

Have you noticed an area of your body that has become “numb” or dysfunctional over time? Perhaps it was due to an injury or to sub-optimal posture, or simply because your awareness had drifted away and other parts of your body had taken over the function of the original area.

The toes, feet, and ankles are often areas that lose dexterity, strength, and mobility over time of dis-use or un-use. Sometimes an injury that occurred when we were children or teenagers, such as a broken foot or sprained ankle, comes back in the form of osteo-arthritis in our later years.

In yoga class, we have been working to develop awareness of how our feet, especially the soles of our feet,full of energy-sensitive chakras and plenty of touch-sensitive neurons, can aid us in the yoga poses. our lowest extremities can help the way we walk, stand, and, balance. Developing strength and flexibility in our feet should be a priority as we age.

 

 

Embodied Intelligence

What happens when the body wakes up achy and tired? When practicing yoga is the last thing on the mind? After a strenuous practice last night compounded by a sciatica flare-up, I woke up in precisely this shape this morning.

Fortunately, there are many faces of yoga and that is exactly the day NOT to skip practice. I sat on the mat and began a short meditation.

And then listened. For what the body prompted. It wasn’t the practice I thought I should do. But then it rarely is. After a couple of shoulder stretches, the tightness in my shoulders softened. A mindful forward fold released my cranky back. I continue to be amazed at what intelligence is embodied within.

With the achy muscles residing, I was able to continue. Not much more, but enough. Just what my bodied needed.Today.

The practice that started out tired and achy became an affirmation of listening within. I settled into the knowing that I have much to learn. A practice I need to return to often.listneing

Beginner Yoga Sequence A

Virasana  Hero/heroine Pose

1. Centering ~ Spend a few moments coming into your body. Sit in Hero or Simple Cross Legged Pose with a lifted spine. Use a block, cushion or several books beneath your hips to encourage the pelvis to tip forward. Begin observing where you are grounded and where you are lifting. Invite an intention into your heart. Connect with something greater than your self. Be with your breath for at least five minutes.

Spinal Waves1 2. Cat-Cow~ Invite the spine to move freely in sync with the breath. Exhale and tuck the pelvis and the head toward each other while lifting the abdominals and arcing the back — like a cat! Then, as you inhale, release the belly while lifting the sternum, head and sitbones. The torso is now in a ‘U’ shape. Keep the arms strong.

Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch with blanket

 3.  Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch- reclining on your back (may be done on a bed) draw left knee toward chest to lift and loop strap, tie, belt, or blanket over sole of foot. Press the lifted thigh back; press the thigh on the floor down. Extend through the inner ankle as you draw the 4th and 5th toe towards you.

Part 2: Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch B, rotate the thigh strongly frsupta two at wallcompressedom the hip joint to turn the knee and upper leg towards the floor.  Do not go further than where you can keep the opposite hip down. Use your abdominal and the thigh muscles of the foot on the floor to help do that.

4.  Mountain ~ Stand tall, with feet parallel, arms at sides. Third toe pointing straight ahead, check that heels are not turned out. Lift and spread toes then release them. Knees face soft and gaze straight ahead, parallel to the floor. Charge legs.Shins forward. Thighs press back. Lengthen back of neck. Upper arms rotate away from you. Soften shoulders and belly. Invite breath throughout torso. 

5. Mountain with lifted arms ~ Continue from above but then drawing arms out of the shoulder sockets, stretching in a T position ….as you lift them overhead, release shoulders down towards kidneys. Soften as you gaze ahead. Feel the energy moving and radiating from your solar plexus and through your arms as well as the legs .

6. Forward Fold ~ May be done with bent knees. Release uttanasanabelly, shoulders, face. Tuck chin. Lift sitbones. Press soles of feet into floor. Release deeper with every exhalation. Stay for several breaths if it feels right to you. To come out, bend knees, and lift heart. Rise from the strength of the thighs.

 

Rabi Tree Pose 2011

.Tree ~ Begin in Mountain.  Raise right leg as high up the inner left leg as you can. Find a position for the foot  pressing on the leg that you can remain in for 5 – 10 breaths. Press standing thigh actively into sole of foot. 

Tree with arms downInvite the breath to flow freely. Hands can remain hanging at sides, palms turned out if shoulders are tight.  Gaze soft and parallel to the floor. Radiate energy from your naval throughout the body.

Repeat on other side.

Alternate: Face wall or stand at a right angle to wall and press fingertips onto wall until balance begins to develop.

triangle8. Triangle ~ Return to Mountain. Step the feet 3- 4 feet apart. Turn back foot in, front foot heads straight in the direction you will lean.  Heel of front foot is in line with arch of rear foot. Stretch out from the back hip as you lengthen the spine and release front groins deep into the body. Drop front arm down onto floor, block or chair beside front shin. Rotate and open your heart center. Breathe and observe energy moving from the heart through the arms, legs, and crown of head. Stay for a few breaths. Invite joy into the pose and into your life.

Alternate: If shoulders are tight, leave top arm on hip.

Nan standing reverse namaste

9. Stand in Reverse Namaste, smile. Press palms together. Move hands up back as high as you comfortably can. Honor the divine within.

Alternate for tight shoulders: Press thumb to sternum in front of chest or Hold elbows behind back.

child pose, head supported on block10. Child Pose ~ Big Toes together, knees wide, spine long, tail dropping on or toward heels. Arms may be folded, with forehead resting on forearms. Stay for a couple of minutes as comfortable. Feel breath moving along the back of the body from tail through crown of head and vice versa.

Alternate: forehead on book or block, arms extended (pictured).

legsupthewallcompressed11.  Legs Up The Wall ~ Hips at least a few inches away from wall, especially for tight hamstrings. Arms in cactus or, if shoulders tight, at sides of body.  Invite brain to rest on back of skull. Invite organs to relax and rest on back of body. Use eyebag to promote deeper rest.

If your thoughts wander, acknowledge them but then nudge awareness back to observing whatever sensations arise, moment by moment.  As your focus turns inward, the outer stresses will fade away.  Invite soft breathing or chant mantra (such as the 2013 mantra :-) if mind is racing.

Stay for at least ten minutes, twenty is better!

carolyn savasana

12. Rest in Relaxation Pose ~Spend a few moments lying down quietly and honor the work you have done to sustain yourself and our world. It’s time to practice Be-ing, not do-ing.

Rotate arms outward from shoulders and turn palms up towards ceiling. Lift legs one at a time, a couple of inches off floor and let them release down and relax away from each other. Use folded blanket beneath head and neck if necessary for support. Cover yourself with a blanket and darken room or use eyebag to promote deeper relaxation.

Marie legs on chairAlternate:  Use rolled blanket or bolster beneath knees to assist lower back release (pictured above). 

OR Lower legs on back of chair (pictured to left).

NAMASTE.

 

 

Is yoga a religion?

Duke Gardens LotusThe debate over whether yoga is a religion has always struck me as odd. Kinda like saying that prayer is a religion. Yoga is a practice. For many folks, it’s simply a practice of physical-mental fitness and therapy. Nothing wrong with that. There’s no denying the long list of benefits that can be enjoyed through a consistent practice.

Yoga also creates harmony in the body-mind-spirit that is otherwise so often elusive in our daily lives. We feel that unity of being with pleasure. Thus yoga becomes the catalyst for further development of the whole self: our spiritual, mental, and physical selves. This may mean diving deeper into our own religious heritage or working with a meditation instructor. It may mean working with a life coach or therapist. It could also mean making that medical appointment or losing weight. It could even mean clearing the garage clutter.

Yoga creates a desire in me to be a better person. Not in a constant frenzy of self-help laden with heavy doses of something’s-wrong-with-me-that-I-need-to-fix-so-I-can-attain-nirvana’  mindset, but in the action of relaxing into living fully and wholly my LIFE. In living the life I was born to live. Healthy in all levels of being.

That is the lotus in the pose.

Standing on One Leg

Hast Padangusthasana r Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,  Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Hasta  Padangusthasana or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Tough not to focus when standing on one leg! Today’s To Do list recedes from consciousness while I affix my gaze at a point beyond my big toe.

How easily and quickly falling out of balance happens when attention wavers.

Just one of the perks of Hasta Padangusthasana, or Standing Back of the Leg Pose.

Practicing poses that cause the mind to open into full awareness, rather than the incessant, and often repetitive chatter that usually occupies the neurons, is how yoga brings BodyMindSpirit into oneness.

If only the ‘easy’ poses are practiced, whatever they may be for you, then bringing the mind and awareness into the endeavor will be a huge challenge.

Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2 Sarah P.Duke Gardens Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2
Sarah P.Duke Gardens
Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

When I practice poses that take me to the edge, poses where I really have to center and move mindfully. When that happens, no matter where I may be or whom I am with, I enter a YOGA pose.

The difficulty with daily life is that it is too easy to stray into action without the mind connecting. OR to get into working/acting from the head, without engaging the body.

 

 

 

July Meditation

Orange Daylily Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Orange Daylily
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

The garden tips in shadows and an overabundance of vegetables. Yet blossoming among the old stalks of July’s proliferation, are striking flowers. Beauty becomes the fading violet color on a Monarda going to seed or a single coral rose bending toward light.

My being flows in and out of this creation. I am one moment the created, another I am the creator. When life becomes rich in juice, I am both, singing without care for the distinction.

            What is practice? There are infinite ways of practicing the yoga poses. Sometimes the pose is hidden in life. Finding that the pose is life becomes the ultimate centering practice. Mindfulness.

As practice “seasons” yoga informs activities which are seemingly unrelated to time on the mat. Tapas (fire, determination) and sukha  (joy, ease) play out moment to moment, no matter what activity is engaged.

So many ways we stretch beyond the physical. The way of strength, the way of holding and letting go. The way the breath informs everything.

            Sometimes the best practice is not physical.

Yoga is, after all, about the mind as well as the body and the heart.

Just becoming even slightly aware of what is going on up there in the place inhabited with a thousand chattering monkeys, is a profound practice. When breath takes me there, I roll in light and shadow.

Am I ready for what may be found? Can I allow myself to become that single coral rose blossoming amid the dried out stalks and petals in the garden? Am I ready for nirvana? It floats  in the very next inhalation. It may arrive in that still pause, the moment between exhalation and inhalation when the monkeys quiet in awe, and simple existence becomes total awareness of being.

 

The Flower of Yoga

Tree pose beside flowering eldersFor many years, I see-sawed between practicing sitting meditation and asana practice. I was gaining insight into my Self with both kinds of practice. Mind, Body, Heart, were all developing, albeit unevenly.

I could (and did) spend hours a day in sitting practice, to the point of neglecting the needs of my body, my family, my friends. I would continue this way until the niggle within grew, strongly suggesting that I was neglecting my asana practice. Then I’d kick up my asana practice. I was growing more and more comfortable simply being in my body, as well as growing stronger and more supple. New levels blossomed in poses I’d thought were unattainable for me, and so, working even harder, I’d push forward, sometimes to the point of bodily injury.

Both practices yielded many benefits, but I was left feeling chronically unsatisfied with my practice and with myself. If asked about my home practice, I would say as much because I truly felt as if it hardly existed. A sense of incompleteness in my life never lifted. I was a bud that refused to bloom.

Gradually, over time, I developed curiosity about why I couldn’t seem to settle. Was I more of a meditator, or more of a yogini? As I did this, I asked myself questions about what was most needed to fulfill my dharma, my reason for being here now.

The answer led me deeper into meditation in daily life. Meditation in asana practice. Yoga in the kitchen. Meditation while unloading the dishwasher. Yoga in the shower. Meditation while weeding. Walking meditation. Yoga in the garden.

Learning to connect the messages from my senses, the outer world, with my mind, the inner world — I glimpse union. The unfolding of the flower of yoga.

B.K.S.Iyengar tells us in his insightful book, The Tree of Yoga, The Classic Guide to Integrating Yoga Into Your Daily Life, that the flower of yoga is Dhyana or Meditation. It is the union of the outer path of our asana (messages from our senses) and the inner path of asana (messages from our mind). They must both become balanced. When imbalanced, and we’ve all seen advanced practitioners fall this way, even though they’ve practiced long and achieved a high level of ability in sitting meditation or yoga asana, they do not realize the calm bliss that comes only from the full flowering of yoga.

As I (happily!) settle into deeper union of life and yoga, paths heretofore unseen come into view. The garden blossoms. There are more flowers. The journey continues :-)

Easy Yoga

Have you ever wondered how your teacher could hold a pose for sooooo long? How did s/he not appear straining or tired while you felt as if you could collapse into a ball of jelly? The secret is knowing how to correctly move into the asana.

Intelligent yoga asana is alignment based.The skeletal structure of the body lines up in ways that optimize  and minimize or focus muscle use, thereby minimizing energy consumption, and stress. This greatly reduces injury. When in correct alignment, the pose feels right and the yogi can enter the blissful state of sukha despite the effort involved in holding a posture.

It all begins in the feet. Knowing how to lift the arches and neither pronate (dropping the ankles inward) or supinate (dropping them outward), how to spread the toes and distribute the weight on the four corners of the soles (root of big toe, root of pinky toe, inner and outer heel) will take you on many effortless miles of living and walking.

Over and over and over we work to re-pattern the way we stand, sit, walk, and lie down. Observing the habits that have developed since birth, studying photos of folks in indigenous cultures, and then looking at folks we come across in our daily lives can teach us reams about correct posture. I’ll go more into that in a future post.

Today I wanted to give local runners (and others interested in simply trying the barefoot lifestyle) a heads up of Barefoot runner, Ken Bob Saxton’s appearance at 795 Waterman Road, Forestville, 3 PM on Sunday, June 23. (716-679-8544 for more info.). He’s giving a multimedia presentation of how to go barefoot without hurting yourself. And then they may just do a 5 K country run, barefoot, of course.

And Lee has blog, Chautauqua Barefooter that describes his shoeless journey.

Here’s to alignment in life, love, and yoga.  Here’s to living easy, loving easy, yoga-ing easy. Seamless, interwoven threads of the journey.

And with the warmer weather, what a delight to spend more time sans shoes:-)

 

Yoga, The Refuge

The practice of Being rather than Doing offers fulfillment on many levels. My yoga  often serves as a refuge to hustle-bustle, grief, stress and struggle of everyday life. Whether it’s an achy back, sore legs, overwhelmed mind, or a tired heart, I know that practice will ease the suffering.

Over the years, this has lured me into a deeper and deeper embrace of a formal, on-the-mat asana exploration. The path to wholeness and health. This is not a bad thing! The moment I land on the mat, feelings of delicious relief swirl through me. Now I can settle into BEING, opening my heart, linking my heartmindbody, and connecting with forces only the inner eye sees; the inner ear hears.

Conjure the stillness of post-savasana, or the centeredness of pranayama, or the contentment you felt after a fav yoga class. Then, despite whatever ails you today, how many parts of you hurt, how cranky or tired you are, head to a mat. Begin with your most beloved yoga pose, and let the bliss flow.

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As your practice deepens and cycles through the seasons of your life, the boundaries between the refuge you experience on your mat and in the world will slowly dissolve. Moments will gradually grow where life itself is centered in a sweet contentment that is its own refuge, no matter the circumstances. These are the moments when yoga and life are one and the same practice. Observe and recognize that they too will pass, but observe as well that those moments are the fruit of heading to your mat day after day, year after year.