Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yoga is

...about the experience, not performance.
...creating a synergistic relationship among the body, the mind and the breath.
...about finding your center and expanding from there.
...about letting go of whatever doesn't serve you.
...more than asana, more than breathing, more than study, more than just getting onto your mat. But some days can be about any one, two, three or all.
...guided self-study.
...practice, not perfect.
...exercise for the body, the mind, and the spirit.
...loving for everyBODY. But not everybody will love it.
...about the process, not the pose.

Your comments welcome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Restorative Yoga - Chill time you just HAVE to try

One of my favorite specialty styles is Restorative yoga. In one class, we started with three narrow pranayama bolsters, two blankets, an eye pillow and two blocks. Added as we went: 2 more blankets, 1 sandbag, and a strap.

We utilized a timer with a quiet chime at 30 seconds before the 10 minute mark to indicate the time to take three breaths to bring back awareness and prep to move to the next pose.

The poses:
Asana 1 - Salamba Bharadvajasana (supported twist of the sage Bharadvaja). This one is also safe for prenatal so long as it's fully supported and the body doesn't twist too deeply. Set up the bolsters stacked in line with pelvis, at hip, feet to other side. Lift up to extend spine, gentle start to twist, reach hands down to and around bolster and relax torso front (if possible, else side) on props. To increase twisting, turn head to side away from legs - then sink deeply - no holding! Change sides after 5 minutes.

Asana 2 - Salamba Supta Baddhakonasana (supported reclined bound angle pose). Two stacked bolsters, one folded blanket on top, another top blanket folder to 1/4 or 1/8 size to support head. Additional blanket at bottom of bolster for tailbone support. Student reclines onto stack, one block under each forearm for support during this nice heart opener. Feet together, knees wide, a long rolled blanket or towel (straps can be too constricting) put on top of feet then wrapped around and under the shins to support the legs. 10 minutes.

Asana 3 - Salamba Balsana (support child's pose) Students leave Asana 2 and turn around to face the stack. with knees wide, then draw stack close in to groin, realigning the pieces to make appropriate room for belly and bust. Sore knees may require another bolster under groin through to back of body, and/or a blanket folded and placed between calves and  thighs. Face rests in a u-shaped folded blanket, or between two smaller pranayama bolsters in a V shape. Blanket over feet/back. 10 minutes.

Asana 4 - Viparita Karani (legs of the wall) . Large bolster parallel to wall (or double rolled up yoga mats) with a blanket on top. Students sit next to one short end with back to the support, lay down on their side, then roll their hips on to the support. Support may need to move a few inches from the wall or more to allow legs to relax up against wall. Thinly folded blanket under head for cushioning.  Prenatal students Some students may want a strap around the mid upper thigh to help hold legs upright (esp. in cases of hip flexor laxity or sore knees), and some may want a weight (sandbag, or block) on top of feet to seat the femurs into the pelvis snugly. Arms away from body, palms up. 10 minutes. Prenatal students over 23 weeks modify with stacked bolster to provide at least 20% angle of torso to floor, and distance from wall to allow legs to not strain, or even calves placed on the seat of a chair or three additional stacked bolsters.Sore knees may require another bolster under groin through to back of body, and/or a blanket folded and placed between calves and thighs. Face rests in a u-shaped folded blanket, or between two smaller pranayama bolsters in a V shape. Blanket over feet/back. 10 minutes

The Ending: Savasana with support. Supine position, bolster/rolled blanket mat under the knees, thin folded blanket under the head. Eye pillows options. 10 minutes or more - this is a great time to indulge in some Yoga Nidra!

The Results: Try for yourself and see :)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Try New Things

So you woke up in a mood, and really wanted to get to your usual active vinyasa class to work out some stress, but the class was cancelled. Or had a sub. Or, you always decompress at that Tuesday night candlelit restorative class but it's full. Or, it's raining and you wanted to take a run. Or it's cold and you wanted to swim. The universe doesn't always cooperate to "allow" us to do what we want in terms of our self-care rituals. And there the lies the rub - the RITUAL. When ritual becomes compulsive, compulsory, obsessive, or unbending, it has shifted into HABitual and (should be) a sign to us that perhaps our kapha dosha is out of balance, or simply, we have gotten into a rut and need to switch things up.

So today, drop into a yoga class you've never tried before. Or take a walk instead of a run on a new trail. Or just sit for 10 minutes and meditate if you don't have time for a full class. Observe the differences in your posture, your attitude just having shifted your perspective, having concentrated on (learning) something new. It will make your "regular" practice that much more rewarding!

But, I'm not flexible.

Folks seem to fall into four (broad) categories. (ok it's more than four, but bear with me on this):

1) those who do yoga and are happy to talk about it

2) those that like the idea but sheepishly laugh and say "Well, I hear it's good for you but I can't even touch my toes/I'm not flexible/I have injuries."

3) those that maybe tried yoga, but now shrug their shoulders and say they can't because "It was too boring/it was too hard/it was too hot/it was too weird/I hate all that quiet time meditating/breathing."

4) those who roll their eyes and give you a crossed-arm down glance while telling you they "DON'T do yoga."

Let's acknowledge that Group #4 would be a hard sell, and frankly speaking if someone is dead set against even TRYING yoga, there's no point in trying to convince them (it's like politics).

Group 3, well, might not be ready, and are set on the idea that any kind of regimen is to be faced with a frown. They MIGHT be interested in taking a class if someone they really admire would go with them or tell them about a place they recommend. Still, I take no pleasure in trying to convince someone that yoga is wonderful. You either feel it or you don't; if the mind doesn't want to accept the idea, no amount of honest conversation is going to work (maybe some subliminal advertising or mass marketing on the level of soft drinks and pharmaceuticals, but that's getting ever so slightly away form the core values in the tradition).

Group 1 is a no-brainer. Group 2, now there is a group that I love to talk to. Today alone I had 10 people walk up to me at a health fair and say, verbatim, "I hear it's good for you but I'm not flexible."  My response is one of two depending on the vibe I get. Humorous answer: You're EXACTLY the type of person that would get the most benefit from a practice! Metaphysical answer: Ah, yes, but are flexible in the mind?

Both are equally valid for the type of yoga I practice as a student and as a teacher. The classes I love to take are those that impart some piece of ancient wisdom, some insight into yoga, some opening of a window (no matter how small) in my mind that lets in some fresh air, and lets out some old non-functional habits. A class that reminds me of nice it is to have my body WORK, not necessarily 'workout' but simply hold me up, sustain me, breathe, stretch, balance. I love to be able to offer that type of opportunity to my students - to learn something new, to take new information with them to their next class (no matter the instructor or studio) so that their practice deepens. And even those classes that are a "workout" that teach me how to pace myself, how to observe how I feel, how to lead with the breath, how to quiet the "monkey mind." (Hot tip: Did you know the definition of yoga? In Sanskrit it's "yoga chitta vritti narodaha." In English that's "Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind").

I couldn't touch my toes when I started practicing yoga. Pigeon pose was torturous. I cried quiet hot tears more than once in Savasana. But I kept practicing. There was a deep seated joy in finding out how my body could move, even when my body was wracked with inflammatory pain, even when my heart was breaking and depression was around every corner. When I was able to embody a sensation of new strength, or new balance, or new relaxation, or new movement, I celebrated. When I was "stuck" I just worked on the quiet meditation, and let the tears come and go as they needed. I let my open-minded heart show my mind the way...and let go of (some) archaic, destructive, detrimental and/or limiting ways of thinking.

Group 1, don't get into a yoga rut. Keep being flexible in your mind, keep trying new classes, keep continuing to learn. That's what it's all about. We say "we all come to the mat for different reasons but leave with some of the same benefits." Don't limit yourself by forgetting to come to the mat not just with your body, but with your whole being!

Group 2, there are so many of you (us) out there. GIVE YOURSELF THE CHANCE to experience something. Don't be shy. Don't hold back. Ask questions, Seek out teachers that appeal to you. It's a process, but like that other old saying "the journey...starts with a single step," let's say "the practice starts with a single breath."

What is this Yoga Thing

Challenge question - how many of you go to a studio to practice yoga? Go ahead, raise your hand, no one is looking. But how many of you swing your body into Ashtavakrasana, or Balasana, or Tadasana (eight-bent limbed balance pose, child's pose, standing mountain) and just zone out, thinking about your job, or your grocery list, or your toenail polish, or the leaky faucet you have to fix? How many (of US) get grumpy when you have a substitute teacher? How many (of US) get upset when we fall out of tree pose, or our hamstring is too tight to allow a deep down-dog?

First and foremost I want to say one thing: swinging you body into a pose, zoning out, worrying about life, getting grumpy or frustrated - THERE is NOTHING inherently wrong with experiencing those things. That's life!

But I have to tell you something - if you experience those things but never move beyond them, never "forgive" or PAUSE or zone back in... then yeah, you're still doing ASANA but the actual YOGA... that's getting left out. If we never improve the practice beyond just moving the body, we are missing the bigger picture - the conscious activity of joining together the breath, the mind AND the body to create this cooperative experience people for 6000 years have called YOGA.

Yoga, real yoga as I'm learning it, takes patience and a jarring loose of the notion that you, and your body, and your mind will automatically know what to do, inherently succeed (if you are used to be very athletic) or dismally fail (if you are not). Real yoga, takes training, and practice, and patience, and awareness of when you ARE in a yogic place, and when you have strayed.

We (teachers) often say "come back to the breath." But what do we mean, exactly? For myself, I need to be reminded that I want to be in a place during my practice (and in life in general) where I am AWARE of my breathing and that I can control it. If I'm flowing through a sun salute and I'm panting like a down-dog on a hot summer day and falling over, you can be sure that not only am I not in control of what is happening I'm pretty unaware of it as well, and quite possibly focused on simply surviving much less "doing yoga!"

So how do we turn that moment back into yogic one? Well, how I do it may differ from what works for you, and for my son, and for my companions. But for me, just the act of realizing I'm way OUT of the moment is enough. It's a start anyway.

That my new friends, is what defines MY yogic moment. The act, the forgiveness, the awareness. The body. The mind. The breath. Not just one, but all three. The sanskrit "holy trinity" the above, the below, and what connects them.

Asana is great - a good sweat, or a good restorative posture will do a body good. And course asana is a big part (like, a third, or one of 8 limbs depending on how you slice up your Hatha pie) of YOGA in and of itself. But asana independent of awareness (aka sans mindfulness), well, that's just exercise. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. But if you want more, you'll need to practice. It can help to practice with teachers that also admit to being human, that understand the struggle, and offer you the space to find your path and hone your awareness.

So work on abandoning relegating this "thing" we call yoga to the category of just exercise. You may be surprised to find out it really is much much more.