Category Archives: yoga

All yoga-related posts.

When will I get it?

New students often ask, “When will I get yoga?”  implying a time frame, say in a year.   New students in the studio often show up saying that they are “experienced” yogis and they are ready for an advanced class when, in fact, they’ve only taken one session with another teacher.  Fast results are the American Way! It’s a part of our mindset, for better or worse. The new student signs up for one class per week and believes she’ll look like Christy Turlington in no time.

The reality is that though many students of this ancient art experience life/body -changing moments after only one or two classes, many more find results of practice only after several months of  dedicated effort.  The results are often stunning, don’t get me wrong.  But they do take time and effort.

I like to think of my yoga practice operating  on a geologic timescale.  B.K.S. Iyengar, who practiced five hours per day until he died at 95,  “Got it” after many many years of rigorous daily practice.  Above is a video from the Ann Arbor Y in 1976, thirty-eight years ago when Mr. Iyengar was 57! Below is an interview thirty years later,with Charlie Rose.  If you scroll past the George Clooney interview, you’ll reach Mr. Iyengar’s inteview.

Mr. Iyengar died today after giving the world his body and mind.  I’m saddened by his passing,  but endlessly grateful for the insights and teachings he shared for so many years.  They’ve changed my life in deep and dramatic ways.

If you have a pain in the butt . . .

If your pain is located smack dab in the center of your buttocks cheek, and is giving you trouble sitting and going up stairs, you very well may have a tight or inflamed piriformis muscle.  It is a deep muscle that enable external hip rotation.

Here is a video by the posturedoc that explains a way to relieve the symptoms of a tight piriformis. It’s  how to do Chair Pigeon Pose correctly. If you are my student, you will know this is highly recommended since we go over it in class frequently.  Even if you don’t have a tight piriformis, it”s a great pose to stretch the hips.

 

A consistent practice of stretching that muscle (including  Happy Baby, Thread the Needle, and Pigeon) will go a long way towards preventing further occurrences.  As always, though, get advice from your medical practitioner and Don’t OVERDO!

Here is a video stretch by an osteopath from UK that demonstrates clearly two stretches. Though he does not call them by their yogic names, I can tell you that the first is (don’t laugh) Gas Relieving Pose, and the second is the third part of Supta Padangusthasana that is not often taught and if it is, is taught in a slightly different version called, Rock The  Baby.

Siren Call of Retreat

A SWIRL OF WHITE FLOWERSWho says you need to go someplace expensive to re-center and refresh yourself? Who says a monastery or ashram is needed?

After traveling in Europe that involved some intense genealogical study, I have embarked upon a one week retreat. I did take breaks while overseas and I meditated a lot while traveling. Click on the following links if you would like to read further how I practiced away from home:

I chanted Lovingkindness mantra for myself and others in need.

 I practiced gentle yoga everyday.

I even went on a little pilgrimage, and 11 mile hike, chanting lovingkindness most of the time. Afterwards, I needed a backbend.

After I returned home however, I found I wanted to bring those practices into my everyday life, not just my “traveling” life. The siren call of retreat rang in my soul.  It’s a time to re-group, re-center, and reconnect with my life. And yes, admittedly, I want to detox … that German chocolate, wine, and bread needs to go. I need to return to a more vigorous practice. OUCH! My body needs to adjust.  And that can’t be rushed or I’ll end up injuring myself.

The game plan is to spend more time exercising, yoga-ing, including daily savasana,  reading or listening, art-ing, writing.  Cutting back on socializing and going out.  Even talking is on the back burner! Sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?

For five days,  I’ll try to post daily to let you know how it’s going.

Perhaps you’d like to join me? If even for a day or an hour. It’s a tried and true yogic practice and in my experience, yields delicious rewards even better than German chocolate!

 

 

Supported Backbend

Supported Backbend on bed
Supported Backbend on bed

After hiking the St. Wendel pilgrimage trail for a ways, then the Teiffenbach Pfad in St. Wendel, Saarland, Germany, a bed backbend was a must! This works after a hard day of gardening or whenever the back feels achy. Backbends raise energy, so be prepared for a surge of energy afterwards. Be sure to exit the pose carefully, drawing the knees up towards the chest and rolling on your side to release the spine. You an use a footboard or headboard during this maneuver to assist your return to standing.

 

Hot Yoga!

(c) 2014 barefootphotos
(c) 2014 barefootphotos

With the temperature tipping 97 degrees Fahrenheit in Mannheim,  and no AC in our apt. , a cooling pose like supported shoulderstand on the couch really helped. Not only did it take the swelling out of my feet, it deeply rested and cooled my body and mind. Ahhhhh…

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. (Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch). Use strap as needed. First take left leg by using a tie or a strap around foot as much as necessary.

 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. Supported 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. or standing, 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

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 moment, and I become 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” through experience and time, yoga informs activities which are seemingly unrelated to our being 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.