Category Archives: yoga

All yoga-related posts.

Do you really practice every day?

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 her winter 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.

Breath Awareness

A beautiful way to bring yourself home to your own beautiful presence is through centering awareness in the breath.

This is the very first and most important practice of all breath work. Before beginning to consciously control the breath, it is important to grow the awareness of how the breath is moving, or not, in this moment. We practice without criticizing, without judging, and without creating stories about the path the breath is currently on. When critical voices begin yammering inside, honor them as a part of you, and then, with kindness, come back to the breath. As judgments arise, name them simply, and come back to the breath. As thoughts flow through the mind, allowing them to flow, rather than holding on and developing them, enables awareness to gently sit in the breath.

If you would like to be guided in a Breath Awareness Practice, here is a short video.

How Much Do You Believe in Yoga?

The following video was shared with me by a dear yoga student today. As I watched, my own practice as well as my teaching, grew truly inspired. And yet, there was a tiny nagging voice that asked, Do you really believe? Even after all of these years of practicing, studying, classes, teaching, I questioned my own belief in the transformational power of yoga.

How large is my capacity to change? How strong can I grow? How large is my faith? Can I move forward without becoming burdened and worn down by feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, and self-recrimination?

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient sage advises us to study and concentrate upon the qualities of an elephant  to gain strength (Sutra III.24). In the video, we watch the transformation of a human being, from burdened and weak to fast, and strong with a much wider capacity to live a bigger life, to express his own life force. How important it is to the development of faith to see examples of transformation in living beings!

May you also be inspired. Would love to hear your story!

 

Office Yoga

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.

Repeat 10 times.

© Carolyn Kieber Grady 2012  

     

Hurray for Woman Power

Yoga is about learning to channel energy. Using your power involves channeling your energy. Not recognizing your power is perhaps the easiest way to negate the energy at your disposal. This tribute to women who have transformed their own energies into action to change the world in big and small ways is inspiring for all of us, men, women, children, elders alike.

Though International Women’s Day is March 8, I am inspired by this video TODAY. It really supports my intentions for the year 2012. How about you?

Carolyn’s Tonglen Video

Holy Smokes. There’s been a huge shift and I have finally created a perfectly imperfect meditation video. My first ever. Oh such wonderful new areas for me to grow and improve upon.

Thank you to my sis (in law) who is bravely battling cancer. You have inspired me. And inspired healing in circles known and unknown.

Blessings to all of you who are still hanging out at BarefootandUpsideDown. Would love feedback regarding this new adventure.

Community in Sound

This morning in class after we chanted OM ~ and the class is becoming less self-conscious and more vibrational as they grow accustomed to chanting ~ a student remarked how “good we sounded” as we had reached that exquisite blending of voices ~ that community of OMs.The experience reminded him of the Virtual Choir he’d seen on You Tube.  Eric Whitacre, the composer and conductor speaks in the following TED video of what the process of group singing meant to him. He said that the first time he sang in a choir he realized that he was part of something bigger than himself.

In yoga, we’d say that we ARE something bigger than our conception of our individual selves. This is the beauty of chanting before class. We acknowledge and surrender to that energy, that grace, that love.

It is from that space that we twist and turn ourselves in the poses and that we sit quietly in breath work or in meditation or savasana. This is true whether we have chanted in a hall with hundreds of yogis or if we chant silently to ourselves while practicing. This is the sound of the universe. Of the primal energy that flows everywhere. The vibration that is.

In class at Panterra on Tuesday night, we were fortunate to have sitar player, Justin Scarimbola strumming his instrument while we fell deeply into savasana. As one note fell away, another appeared, then another and another. The evening raga grew a little “on edge” as daylight was fading to dusk and the notes picked up steam, coming faster, more insistent and then sliding back into quietude. The music took my mind along on its journey. Afterwards, I felt that somehow, I saw the world a bit differently. Time and space shifting in their tides just as the Indian raga grew louder, softer, faster, slower, smoother, rougher.

Today is windy and hot. Yesterday was hot and still. It’s all labile, change, flux, even when it seems to be static. Do not stay stuck, the music, the chanting, like our practice tell us.

We are capable of so much more love than we realize.

MANTRA for today: May I open to unknown capabilities within myself today.

Elder care and yoga practice

Rolling Brook Restorative (barefoot photos)

I am so sorry dear readers that it has been sooooo long since I’ve posted.

This is the thing, my father-in-law who moved into assisted living in Fredonia last fall, fell out of bed and clunked his noggin’ at the end of February. Ten days of hospitalization were followed by a transfer to a nursing home-the locked dementia ward. This man, who two months ago was enjoying homemade dinners and classical music concerts with us, can no longer walk, barely eats, is in diapers, has leg sores, and hardly knows who his son is, much less who I am. At nearly ninety years old, where is the dignity? What effect does my yoga training have on my response to his suffering…and the family’s grief and suffering?

Well, the first thing I rely upon is the breath. I take long sessions of ujjayi to assuage the grief that he is leaving us.

The second practice I engage in is TONGLEN meditation. I will write a page about that soon. Fortunately for me, my teacher, Mahala of ten thousand bodhisattvas dot com offered a Tonglen class shortly after Ben went into the nursing home.  Did the universe know that I needed this? I can hear my yoga teacher muttering karma, carolyn, karma!

As a caregiver of a ninety year old with end stage dementia, I now know that I need to learn how to take care of myself first because at present I am suffering from a very nasty case of the flue, probably due to exhaustion. So restorative yoga, here I come. The third practice. Pull out the bolsters and blankies, cause I’m resting, deeply. It’s the core practice of compassionate caregivers.

Savasana, aka corpse pose

Savasana, corpse pose (barefoot photos)


I am an experimental yogini. Lately, I have been approaching savasana, the pose of deep relaxation that I “do” at the end of my asana practice to see what I can learn from ten or twenty or thirty or sixty minutes reclining in a prone position.

The physical aspects of savasana are quite simple: stretch out on the floor on your back, roll the palms up to face the ceiling, allow the legs to flop away from each other, gently lower the eyelids, part the teeth slightly, cover yourself with a light blanket, place an eye pillow on your eyelids, use a folded blanket beneath your head and neck and a bolster beneath your knees, if you’d like. There are other variations and possible supports that can be used to induce a greater level of comfort, but I’ll cover those in another post.

Here are my journal notes after a savasana “lab:”

10 minutes: a sudden drop into physical relaxation. The body felt as if it were melting into the floor

13 minutes: another drop deeper ~ a deeper release down

17 minutes: Oh, now this drop felt nearly blissful ~ a tumble into bliss ~ so lovely

I was shaken out of it when hearing voices upstairs talking loudly and I picked up the phrase: “She’s really in bad shape.” Felt my mind turn on with adrenaline ~ thought maybe I should get up ~ racing thoughts, but felt my body still relaxed, so decided to drop back down into the deep relaxation, knowing the alarm was set and I could get up in three more minutes. Later note: this was an amazing realization: that I could CHOOSE whether or not to relax deeply!

20 minutes: the alarm rang and because I had already “come back” a good way, I decided to remind myself to come back s-l-o-w-l-y and resist the urge to run upstairs and find out what had happened (what had happened was in fact, a continuing deterioration of an 86 year old relative’s condition, and certainly not an emergency in the immediate sense of the word)

I’d love to hear of your experiences in savasana!

Meditation Journal, breath

Snow Shadows (barefoot photos)

A rambling excerpt of a practice journal entry that I thought might be of some use . . .  .

December 15, 2010, Wednesday morning, 9:10 AM

Just meditated with soft ujjayi breath for an hour. Shocked when I opened my eyes and realized how much time had passed. That happens so often. The timeless place opens and I enter.

Mind wandered. Thinking about the blog and books. But kept coming back to Breath.

Disengaging from the heaviness of the body, even the entanglement of the mind.

Breath is so light and free. It is always here, always available, as much as I want it. A gift I need to be present to.

A tool for growth rest healing love.

Breath teaches me to love my essential self, my core, my self dis-embodied and de-minded, essential, free, perfect, and imperfect.

Breath is eternal and brings me into eternity.

Breath is who I want to Be.

Breath is who I am.