Category Archives: yoga

All yoga-related posts.

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.

Transformation Meditation

Black Pine boughs with snow.  Fredonia NY  (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Black Pine boughs with snow.
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

For those of us living in the cold North, where snow and wind blow often during the winter months, the signs of thaw and retreating snow cover are visual reminders of not only seasonal change, but can also remind us of the daily transformation that occurs in or lives.

Pine Boughs  Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Pine Boughs
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

Practicing a visualization meditation using the melting snow and greening landscape can help renew and focus our desires for radiant health and well-being.

If it is warm enough outdoors, you can try this practice outside. It’s helpful to change up your routine and take your practices into different environments. You may be surprised at what distractions arise, at how your awareness shifts, and the shifting quality of awareness.

Begin by settling yourself into Meditation Position. This should be a position that you can sit in comfortably for fifteen- twenty minutes.

Practice with eyes gently closed.

Notice the Place you are in. Invite the place to fill your awareness and your being. Invite your being to fill the environment. Take a couple of long slow breaths through your nose feeling the connection of your self and your environment. Allow this enlarged self to settle in your heart center peacefully.

Notice your Physical Self. Settle awareness in the body as you practice observing without judgement, growing compassion and love as you scan your self. Be here for a few moments or minutes, as you wish.

Bring awareness to the Breath without trying to change anything about the breath. Just try to observe the individual nuance of every single breath as it arises, during its fulfillment, as it recedes, perhaps as it pauses, and as it transforms into the next breath. Don’t rush. Take as much time as you like with this phase of your practice.

If you are continuing to relax, and it feels right to continue, imagine your environment as it was covered in snow, with individual shapes blurred and softened beneath the white fluff. Be here for a few moments, as it feels right.

Next imagine the snow thawing and receding from tree limbs and rooftops. Imagine the air warming your skin; the brilliant sunlight dancing in your eyes. In your mind’s eye, invite the green buds of spring to push through the crust of the earth and for some of those buds to blossom into flowers of myriad colors.

If you are ready to take this a step further, imagine your own deepest desire for your life as if it were a dormant seed lying deep within your being. Feel the way you wish to protect that seed and how you’d like the light to reach it. Imagine banks of snow that might be impeding the seed from sprouting, to melt and dissolve. As you do this, touch in with your desire for this seed to fulfill its destiny.

Silently speak to the seed and offer  warm words of encouragement. Watch the snow melt even faster as you do this. Observe the way the seed begins to set little white roots and wiggly green leaves as more and more light and warmth reach it.

Continue giving this plant of your deepest desires some love in your own unique expression. Feel warmth spread throughout your being as you do this. Be here for a few more moments.

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take a couple of deeper abdominal breaths before moving into your day.

Whenever you can, touch in with this beautiful, growing desire that is within you, whether it’s radiant health, or beautiful relationships, or healing, or flourishing creativity, or a life of overflowing abundance; whatever it is, let it become the central force motivating your actions and shaping your days.

White Tara Thangka, Chautauqua County, NY (c) 2012 barefoot photos

White Tara Mantra during Hurricane Sandy

White Tara Thangka, Chautauqua County, NY (c) 2012 barefoot photos

After a mass request from Garchen Rinpoche to recite the White Tara Mantra for all those who are suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I created this video, so that you may join me and learn the chant too.

 Please sing along or recite silently as you learn the phrases. Listen to the sounds of the syllables mindfully as you utter them.  And feel the vibration of each part in your body.

If you prefer to recite a prayer to Tara, here it is, from His Eminence Garchen Triptrul Rinpoche: Lord Atisha’s Homage and Supplication to Tara

Om.
Homage to she who protects from the eight perils!
Homage to she who blazes with auspicious splendor!
Homage to she who blocks the door to evil destinies!
Homage to she who guides on the path to the higher realms!
You have continually accompanied me.
Pray protect me evermore with compassion!

Strong and Soft

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.

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. Those knots can begin tying up your mind as well as your shoulders. The antidote for me is frequent yoga breaks.

Here are a couple of poses that will help yo release that tension.

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.

Shoulder Release behind back –  The anti-hunch-back pose! This pose not only opens the shoulders, but also the tight areas of the front of the upper chest. It teaches the shoulder blades to move separately from the thoracic spine. It may safely be practiced every day.

Sit with your buttocks pressed all the way back on the chair, your feet planted on the floor and your heart open. Inhale and lift the spine.

Reach both arms behind you, roll the shoulders back, and clasp your hands in a cupped position. If this is not possible or too intense of a stretch, use a strap between the hands.

On an exhalation, draw the hands down towards the floor. Do not project your lower ribs to do that. Only go as far as you can while maintaining a lifted spine.

If you can go further, on the next exhalation, draw the arms up and away from you. If that is not possible while sitting in your chair, go ahead and stand up.

Soften your gaze and be here for 5 – 10 breaths.

Release your arms and gently shake them to release tension.

      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.

Chair TwistA lovely rejuvenating pose to refresh lagging energy and juice the spinal disks.

Sitting in a chair, ground the soles of your feet on the floor, sit slightly forward in the chair and lengthen the spine. Press the sit bones down to flatten and elongate the lowest part of the spine. Take your right hand on the back of the chair and your left hand should turn outward with the back of the hand resting on the side of the side of the right thigh. As you exhale, rotate your torso to the right. Invite the head along for the ride without any straining of the neck. Take several breaths as you continue deepening the twist. Unwind and repeat on the other side.

Chair PigeonA fabulous hip opener that is sometimes called the anti-sitting pose! 

Sit in the chair with feet planted firmly on the floor and spine long. Pick up the right foot and place the ankle on the left thigh, toes pointing forward, right knee dropping towards the floor.  There is now a triangular shape formed by the thighs and the right lower leg. The right knee may not drop very far. If you feel the stretch in the hip, you know you’re on the right track. If you feel discomfort or pain in the right knee, that’s a sign that you’ve gone too far. Practice this pose less intensely. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable, you can increase the stretch by lengthening the spine folding forward. Perhaps you’ll even be able to rest your forehead on your desk so you can take a brief cat nap with hip opening as a bonus! Meows optional.

        Seated Cross Legged Twist - Practicing a variety of different twists will help to focus flexibility in a variety of areas of your spine. Seated Cross-legged twist is very helpful for the lower spine. Compare how it feels with Seated twist. Where do you feel the strongest twist?

Sit on a chair with knees hip width apart and ankles lined up with knees, toes pointing straight ahead. Cross the right leg over the left thigh. Invite the inhalation to lift the spine

On the exhalation begin to rotate the torso towards the right. Visualize the twist emanating from deep inside your core while fingers of breath are gently turning the body

On the inhalation, Hold the back of the chair with the right arm and place the left arm, palm rotated away from the body, alongside the right thigh

On the next exhalation counter-rotate the head so that you are looking over the left shoulder. Keep your gaze soft and chin in line.

On every inhalation, continue lifting the spine.On every exhalation rotate a little deeper. Do not lock the hips as you twist. Imagine a fluid body. It is!

After ten breaths repeat on the other side.

       Seated backbend (Hands beneath hips) - Begin to compare the posture of folks in their seventies, their eighties, their nineties and those centenarians you meet. What happens to the spine? Try to incorporate daily back bending into your life. It will help to keep the front of the body open, facilitate more complete breathing, renew your energy, and lift your mood to boot!

Sit on front end of a chair with knees hip width apart, ankles lined up with knees, and toes pointing straight aheadPlace the palms of your hands (as much as possible) beneath your hips, fingers pointing towards your knees

On an exhalation through the nose, release the sit bones down onto the seat of the chair. You should feel the lower spine grow a little longer.

On an inhalation lift the vertebrae one after the other, moving up along the spine

On the next exhalation, lift the sternum (breastbone) and chin up towards the ceiling. Roll the eyes upwards. Do not hold the breath at this point, continue breathing.

On the next exhalation, release the shoulder blades down the back towards the kidneys

On the next inhalation continue lifting the spine and pressing it forward into the front of the body

On the next exhalation release the sit bones and the belly

Continue rotating through these checkpoints as you breathe into the backbend and feel the front body opening.

When you are done, slide the hands out from under the hips, place them on the thighs and sit quietly observing the effects of the stretch on your spine, heart, and breath.

Repeat all or any parts of the office yoga sequence as often as necessary while you’re working.

     

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?