Maple leaves in Chautauqua county NY (c) 2012 barefootphotos
6AM: woke up and since I had done supta padanghustasana 1 before falling asleep,I drew up both legs for urdhva pascimottanasa for 3 minutes, then Happy Baby. Thought about the relationship of HB and Supta 2 with the outer rotation of the leg in the hip socket.
Then a series of twists: supine cross- legged, crocodile, revolved belly, half supine virasana, gentle bridge 3.
Was going down to the studio at 7:30, but then S. skyped me from Poland. People first. Karma yoga in action. LOVE. Asana Practice could happen later.
After our call, I cleaned the studio and picked, prepping for the 10 AM class.
I’ve been reading student meditation journals most of the afternoon, so still have not returned to an asana practice.
This evening, though, I took a break and meditated with one of Susan Piver’s 20 minute guided practices. susanpiver.com If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you subscribe to this very accessible meditation teacher’s online OPEN HEART PROJECT. Susan’s got me thinking about the soft front body and the strong back body in meditation posture. How there is no boundary. How they exist simultaneously. How awareness shifts from one to the other. How difficult it is to hold them BOTH in awareness. But in a strange way, it’s comforting to know they are both there. Both.
10 PM In the studio for a two hour session. Pigeon (still difficult on left side as it activates the sciatica), Half handstand, Wide angled seated forward fold with twists, cobbler pose, Downward facing dog pose,sphinx, bow, camel. Really paid close attention to camel as I looked up several articles online regarding alignment. Kept repeating as I played with alignment.Headstand for 4.5 minutes, Child pose with close attention to maintaining hips resting on heels and releasing spine into front of body. Shoulderstand and a quiet Legs Up The Wall, hips on the shoulderstand stack of blankets. Connecting the soft front of the body with the strong back body.Comforted, I was satisfied and went to bed.
Carolyn with chickadee in Buffalo, NY (C) 2012 barefoot photos
A student spoke up before we began class this morning, with a hopeful look on her face, eyebrows raised, Do you really practice every day?
She was getting ready to go to herwinter residence and hoping I’d let her off the hook.
I smiled. I discussed how my practice had grown and changed over the years.
Until a wise student shared, Yoga is not a practice; it’s a lifestyle.
DONG! Bells went off in my head.
I became inspired share my personal yoga journal with you on a more regular basis. I’m committing to daily updates to give you a sense of the day-to-day life of one yogini’s struggles and awakening.
7AM: alarm, listening to the news in bed, practicing reclining back of the leg stretch (supta padangusthasana 1,2,3), and cross-legged revolved belly pose
7:15 AM on mat in studio, practicing gently due to the slight flair up of sciatica I’ve been experiencing lately: reclining hero (supta virasana), pigeon (rajakapotasana), kneeling lunge to splits with big bolster support (hanumasana), tree (vrksasana), standing half-lotus forward fold (ardha baddha padmasana), dancer (natarajasana). Immediate connection to a nonverbal, physical knowing with one leg held behind up behind me while my opposite arm extended in front of me. The feeling of moving my body confidently in this space created joy.
8:15AM: Trotted upstairs to celebrate with a cup of decaf because I was able to enter dancer without the aid of the wall for the very first time. EVER.
This is what keeps me motivated to continue day in and day out through all these years. I’m continually learning and experiencing new ways of being in this very body that is mine for a short time on earth. And I say YES to that.
After teaching the YOGA for 50+ class, I accompanied my son to the airport to say good-bye after a lovely visit of nearly two weeks. On the way home, Mike and I headed to a favorite bird watching spot in Buffalo to take our minds off of the emptiness and sense of absence we felt.
It was a stunning October day that would break all previous records for warmth in Western New York. Surrounding ourselves with so much beauty dissolved our heavy hearts.Happiness bubbled inside me as I held my hand out for the glorious chickadees and nuthatches that landed on my outstretched fingers.
Eye contact with these creatures led me into a non-verbal state of pure joy. Rather than connecting from the inside to the out, as usually happens during savasana, a connection happened as I reached my hand and heart out to my avian neighbors.
I connected with that deep inner knowing that is always present and available. This connection is also YOGA practice. No sticky mat necessary!
Some experience it like yogini Prabhavati Dwabha, helping children in rural India. Reaching outward and finding herself. Every single day.
How do you practice connecting with your inner knowing?
Today’s meditation: Naming the myriad ways that yoga is already present in my life.
Most of us spend considerable time sitting at a desk and/or working at a computer and let’s face it, our necks and shoulders get really cramped and tight. Depending upon your particular line of work and your physical condition, those knots can begin tying up your mind as well as your shoulders. The antidote for me is frequent yoga breaks.
Today I gave a short demonstration for area workers of some yoga stretches that can alleviate Desk Stress. Here are two poses that will help yo release that tension. It’s a very brief, mini introduction to yoga in the workplace.
OFFICE YOGA Stretch and Relax while at your desk!
Arms Overhead –Great for releasing shoulder and neck tension that occurs during computer work.
With hands clasped together, turn palms toward knees. As you inhale, raise arms overhead. Continue softly breathing as you press through index finger mounds. Release shoulders towards kidneys. When ready, exhale and release arms.
Seated Spinal Waves -If you are feeling stiff and achy, try some spinal waves. The spinal waves gently move the spine releasing tension throughout the back of the body. As tension and knots are released, energy can flow in unimpeded waves of healing and rejuvenation throughout your entire system. Try them anytime you need a quick pick-me up during the day.
Sit with your buttocks on the middle of the seat with your ankles falling in line with your knees. Inhale and lift the spine. Place your hands palms down on your thighs. As you exhale, round the back draw the tail forward while pressing the navel towards the spine to engage your abdominal muscles. Tuck your chin gently stretching the back of the neck. Invite the shoulders to roll forward, away from the spine. Inhale and reverse the curve of the spine, lifting the chest and drawing the tail down and towards the back of the chair. Lift the chin and stretch the front of the neck. Roll the shoulders back and squeeze the inner shoulder blades toward the spine. Stretch the front of the torso as you release the belly. Lift and open the heart center.
Kathleen commented that “It is not about the “stuff” but about being with each other and spending time with those that we love. It is also about taking time for self.” Both thoughts I want to hold close to my heart during this new year. Spending time with those we love, and I include MYSELF among the beloved, is a core practice. Any nigglings of alienation dissipate when I am present to love. Self-doubt, one of my “corrupting nigglers” also wears thin in love’s presence. In the presence of love, I know who I am ….and feel good, spiritually and mentally healthy, and whole.
For K., A copy of Esther Myers’ book beautiful and honest book, YOGA & YOU Energizing Yoga for New and Experienced Students, is awarded. Esther passed away in 1994. Though I was never fortunate enough to have a class with EM, her struggle with breast cancer as well as her honesty describing the daily ups and downs of yoga practice continue to inspire me. Fortunately for us, her teachings live on in this text. Kathleen, I hope you enjoy, learn, and your practice is inspired in 2011!
Perce wrote that it was during a yoga practice (don’t you love those little epiphanies that arise out of nowhere during practice ~ I sure do and they remind me that my BRAIN needs yoga as much as anything else) that she realized she had many items already on her shelves that her family would enjoy. Don’t we all, Perce!
Thanks for the reminder to look around and mentally, or in your journal, inventory, your assets. There are so many gifts already in our possession, from the “stuff” we own, such as the jewelry you mentioned in your comment, to the personal characteristics we’ve developed over the years, such as an ability to listen and be present to another person.
For you, a book that was on my shelf: Mira Mehta’s How To Use Yoga, A Step-by-Step Guide to the Iyengar Method of Yoga, Relaxation, Health, and Well-being. Perce, I hope the precision shown in the writing and the clear photos in this book will assist the alignment and sukham (happiness) in your practice.
Practicing yoga postures without breath awareness sustains physical benefits such as increased flexibility, deepening strength, improved balance.
Seeds at Watson Lake, Prescott AZ (barefoot photos)
When breath becomes an integral component of asana, the mind focuses and can achieve the single-pointed awareness so often mentioned by the ancient sages.
Breath awareness is key for deepening yoga practice because it links the mind-body into a unified being. As it anchors the mind to the physical movement (or non-movement), it awakens the body’s intelligence, as B.K.S. Iyengar says.
Mindful awareness then turns the practice from a purely physical level into meditation for the practitioner.
Breath awareness is also key to opening into more mindful awareness of life itself. When my thoughts or emotions start to spin out in their all too often merry escapades, I find that checking in on my breath can slow the wild energy down and I can more easily glimpse the reality I am experiencing sans whatever emotional or mental machinations surrounding said reality.
A simple practice for increasing your conscious awareness of your personal breath patterns is to simply notice the breath and then give it a short name, such as rushing breath, or lazy breath, or not-breathing (yes, breath holding is more common than you might think), or hyper-ventilating.
Checking in with the breath, once per day, will increase your mindful awareness of the moment. As a bonus, you may find, as I have, that breathing FEELS good. Through continued practice, I have found a beautiful relationship developing with my breath. It’s a marriage that gives me much pleasure.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the dog days of summer have settled in with a big ole lazy heat wave. Who wants to move when the air is so heavy? Yoga class today? No, thanks, set me in front of my fan with an icy latte and a spicy novel. It’s good to slow down in the heat, even if that means giving ourselves permission to laze around.
At some point though, the novel ends, and the body calls for movement, despite the sweltering weather. Recent research shows SITTING to be a major culprit in health decline. So I’m heading to the studio, no matter how strong the sun is today. No matter how lazy my mind tells me that I am.
I’ve been working on supta padanghusthasana (reclining leg lift) which is a foundation pose. It’s a forward bend that is practiced lying on the floor with the back of the body completely supported. Even if my back is achy or slightly injured, I find I enjoy the stretch and release of this particular pose.
With both knees bent, I reach for the big toe of my left foot with the second and third fingers of my left hand. Those are the “peace sign” fingers for all you lovers of hamstring release. Stretching the left leg, reaching the toe pads toward the ceiling, lengthening the inner ankle bone up and away, I soften my shoulders, my hips, my belly, my face and gaze gently up at my big toe. Maybe I curl my mouth into a half-smile. Just for the heck of it and because I need to remind myself that I am inviting my hamstrings to release with non-forceful effort.
Sometimes I practice with the foundation foot pressed into a wall. It’s amazing how that can ground the femur. Then I can invite the groins to release deep within. Sending my awareness into the places I tend to hold and then slowly breathing into that area. The lifted leg slides a bit closer toward my shoulder. Perhaps I’m able to grasp that ankle today. The lower back responds to the stretch by softening and dropping. I imagine my brain dropping onto the back of my skull as my thinking slows.
And then, for fun, sometimes I practice while in legs-up-the-wall pose.
There are the variations, beginning with supta padangusthasana two: Turning the leg out from the hip so that the knee begins to look toward the floor, I draw the raised leg away from the body and up towards the shoulder.
Supta Padangusthasana #2 (barefoot photos)
Or Supta padangusthasana three which is not an official pose but delivers a strong stretch all the way around the hip. I swing the lifted leg back to the center; switch the hand grasping my foot, and invite my body to roll onto the side as the foot drops onto the floor and I release the opposite arm away from me in a “T: position. With a strong exhale into the shoulder blades, I tuck the other shoulder under my body and release the upper hip away from the leg
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog, aka DFD, is a pose I could never give up, at least not willingly. There are so many delicious benefits: the back enters a lovely traction, stretching out whatever has kinked up, the shoulders are invited to open and receive a stretch, the arms strengthen with every breath, the backs of the legs lengthen, the soles of the feet and the Achilles and calves stretch luxuriously, the heart center opens, balance is encouraged between the upper and the lower body, the upper spine and tops of the shoulders soften and then I breathe and practice my endurance or move into a flow with three legged dog, and pigeon OR plank pose and upward facing dog OR side arm balance (vasisthasana) OR forward fold and chair pose….Ahhhhhhh, the variations and mini-sequences keep the pose fresh and the mind attentive.
At least once per season I teach each of my groups a DOWNWARD DOG CLASS. An entire class focused on DOG. Barking optional. No one ever complains. I’m in my element and so are my students. We have the luxury to REALLY examine our strengths and weaknesses in DFD. Why not? Check out the depth of BKS Iyengar’s dog! It becomes clear how much room there is for development ~ I know there certainly is lots of ways to “grow” my dog. This year I’ve been working on endurance and strength in Dog. Try holding it for five full minutes. I’m not there yet and the question remains: Is it my mind or my body that is holding me back?
Here are some notes from my journals:
DFD: Find the central axis and can you make it longer breathe into that area that is tight
DFD: Partner practice putting thumb in acromium process as you lift and rotate arms outward—can do this sitting
To reset shoulders, do Viparita w/ big rolls under forearms and sandbags on armpits
To teach external rotation of shoulders:
#1 head on block
#2 Thumbs and fingers on wall at floor level
#3 Ace bandages wrapped on upper arms
#4 Arms on blocks (also good for wrist issue people)
#5 blocks under forearms to help lift forearms
#6 Squeeze block between legs to rotate inner thighs rotate in….resist at ankles….stretch big toe to outer heel
Dog makes a suitable basis for home practice. Listen to your body and mind as you develop a deepening awareness of this beautiful pose. The physical or mental areas where you have difficulty present possibilities for growth in the pose. You may wish to pay attention to these areas during preparatory practice for DFD. For instance, if your shoulders are tight, you probably want to embark upon a couple of shoulder openers before you attempt Dog. If your back has been bothering you, warm it up first with cat-cow and a twist or two. If your hamstrings have not been stretched for a while, supta padanghusthasana is in order.
If you have been practicing for any amount of time, you’ve probably asked yourself, what is the goal of all this mat-work? Is it to become a bit more “bendy?”
My answer is that BENDY is an offshoot of a good practice. You should begin to see real changes in your everyday life after a couple of months of yogic practice. The people around you should begin to notice that YOU HAVE CHANGED.
I remember quite vividly, Mike saying to me that I had become a “kinder, gentler” version of myself. HUH? answered. It took a while for me to recognize the SELF that was emerging. How beautiful and wonderful to evolve. Truly this is a gift.
The world is evolving as well, just as individuals are moving through samsara on journeys filled with peace and love. I share with you an amazing video of two rock stars in my world: an interview by Boulder’s green blogger yogi, Waylon Lewis on his elevision with eminent Buddhist scholar, Robert Thurman. They tackle the question, Does the Dalai Lama matter? and in the process discuss world peace, Tibet, Buddhism mixing it all up with some humor and light. I don’t know what Waylon did to Bob, but the usually staid teacher was in rare form, telling silly jokes that of course the Laughing Yogini LOVED.
Happy Fourth of July to American yogins everywhere.
Beyond the flashy fireworks and barbecue festivities, this is a day to reflect upon the meaning of freedom and to celebrate the birthday of our country. Revolutionary War soldiers certainly felt as if Colonial powers were impeding their lives and their freedom. For many of us however, the celebration is checkered by a history that was often cruel and pocked by the nether aspects of humanity. For instance, the culture and political community that existed on the continent was nearly obliterated.
How can we reconcile the shame with the pride?
Have you taken time today – even ten minutes – to ask WHO AM I while sitting in silence and listening towhateverburbles into consciousness? I feel truly free when connecting with my SELF, the Source of energy and life itself. Does the past impede your present life or can you free yourself to live truly open to this present moment? Have you ever felt truly free?
Some thoughts to pepper your practice:
Do you feel constricted in your life?
Can freedom be achieved in every single asana? What is the key?
Is there a place or a practice that helps you move and act beyond shame and pride? Do you even think that this is possible? How does this relate to freedom? Is freedom a worthwhile endeavor? What do you consider more important?
What are the chains keeping you from living the life that is YOURS?
Is personal or spiritual freedom possible without political freedom? What price are you willing to pay for each of these liberations?
How can a sense of lightness, humor, and joy infuse the challenge of becoming more free?
When I watch the fireworks tonight in Swansboro, North Carolina, I’ll think of the struggle for personal/spiritual freedom that this community is dedicated to and I’ll clap for y’all at the first appricot squiggle bursting overhead.
Continuing the discussion on the triad of yogic practice: FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH, today’s post focuses upon BALANCE in our practice and in our lives.
Many students, particularly elders, join a yoga class because they wish to improve their BALANCE. This is not surprising because during every decade of living we lose considerable ability to BALANCE. Unbalance is due to several reasons, the most prominent being loss of muscle mass. It’s easy to see then, that building STRENGTH is a critical component of developing BALANCE.
Having said that though, there is considerable difference among students and for a variety of reasons, younger students sometimes have worse balance than elders.
Maybe we need to question the essential existence of BALANCE in the world and in our lives. What is BALANCE exactly?
Is balance an achievable state or a momentary state?
Is BALANCE a construct of the mind?
Is physical balance different from mental or spiritual balance?
Can one be achieved without the other?
Is BALANCE synonymous with enlightenment?
Is BALANCE possible without flexibility or strength?
In the type of meditation I teach, vipassana, the heart of the practice is being present with mindfulness and equanimity. In vipassana we use sitting on a cushion and walking meditation as our two primary forms of practice, but we also emphasize that the practice happens in each moment of your life, not just during the times of formal meditation. The same is true for hatha yoga; the time you spend on the sticky mat is your formal practice, where you learn to strengthen and stretch your body and to concentrate your mind. However, the deeper intention of yoga is to create a state of fluidity and flexibility in body and mind such that you can handle the inevitable physical and mental stresses and strains that arise in your life. If you practice with this intention, it doesn’t matter what your poses look like.
Having thus returned to our SELVES (if you’re not there yet, please breathe, rub your ears, feet, hands, feel and acknowledge the grounding points of your BODY), we recognize that BALANCE can definitely improve with daily hatha yoga practice. Nearly all of the standing poses (The warriors, triangle, standing forward bend, standing wide-angled forward bend, right angle, half-moon, the standing “revolutions”) as well as what we typically call the BALANCE poses (tree, dancer, standing big toe pose) provide development of our physical balancing skills.
Does our mental or emotional outlook affect how we “perform” the poses on any given day? There is some truth here, but how much? Yogic Lore, and my first adult teacher, repeatedly said that yes, indeed, if we are feeling agitated, our tree pose will be wobbly, we’ll sway in triangle, etc.
My experience,however has been otherwise. Sometimes it’s the pose that brings me into balance on monkey-mind days!Sometimes, placing my body in a very precarious position, pushes my mind – and heart – to settle down and focus so my body can remain upright.
I’d always felt that BALANCE was one of my weaker skills, but I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve gained flexibility, coordination, and strength, especially in the hip and thighs, that my BALANCE has shown remarkable improvement.
Concurrently, as I’ve strengthened the connection with my core, my inner being, the balance I feel in my life -off the mat – has undergone remarkable transformation. For many years, I felt as if I was not leading “my” life. Now I know, and it’s with a deep, often unconscious, knowing that I am the compassionate creator of my own life.
Balance resides in the being. What happens outside is another question.
Meditation & Asana Practice: To take your balance further, practice the above-mentioned poses, and observe how your emotional and mental states effect the physical pose. Do you enjoy greater balance in the morning or in the evening, on still versus windy days, in summer or in winter, in a class or when alone. How much do energies outside of your SELF affect you?
YOGA JOURNAL activity: five-minute free write on balance in your life, recording some of your observations from practice. Feel free to share some of your reflections with other yogi-nis in the comment section on this page.