Archive | Recommendations

On Balance

Yoga Journal features his terrific article on balance and balancing postures, called Plumb Perfect. I highly recommend the piece.

I met the author, Roger Cole, during my restorative training class. He is very knowledgeable and presents information clearly.

When we balance, we align our body’s center of gravity with the earth’s gravitational field. Quite literally, we place ourselves in physical equilibrium with a fundamental force of nature. But we can’t achieve this harmony by remaining absolutely still. Instead, we must refresh our balance moment after moment. The sustained effort to center and recenter, when successful, brings not only our flesh and bones into balance but also our nerve impulses, thoughts, emotions, and very consciousness. Hence, we feel calm. Equilibrium brings equanimity.

I’ve heard balance described as a dance with gravity – a dance which requires responsiveness and sensitivity to your partner.

He breaks down the success of balancing into three components

  1. Alignment
  2. Strength
  3. Attention

It’s worth the time to read the full piece.

Best Meditation Products: Dharma Crafts

Dharma Crafts offers meditation supplies and support. I love this catalog and the web site is terrific too – with all sorts of freebies – a page of “Buddhism Basics.”

Right now, they are featuring gifts of “loving kindness” for Valentines Day.

I also recommend subscribing to their newsletter, In the Moment. You can do so by clicking here.

Finally, they have really terrific written pieces on Buddhist teaching, including how to meditate, all of which are helpful.

Methods and Attitudes for 2006

In January, the onslaught of advice on how to quit smoking, quit eating, quit this that or the other can be overwhelming.

So I have a few items to bring to your attention.

Phillip Moffitt highlights the distinction between goals and intentions in The Heart’s Intention, a thought provoking and helpful essay. The subtitle is – Setting objectives is not the same as making goals. Confusing the two can lead to unnecessary suffering. And Moffitt offers practical wisdom.

At this time of the year, I look again at the yamas and niyamas – the first two limbs of yoga. These are guidelines of conduct that are as important to yoga as the poses (asanas). For specifics about the yamas and niyamas, click here.

The yamas set forth values on how one is to treat others and the niyamas outline how we our to treat ourselves.

In some parts of India, a new yogi would not be allowed to even roll out their mat to do the physical postures until these values were studied and embodied in every day conduct. For me, they provide a starting point as I set my intentions for the coming months.

Donna Farhi’s discussion on how to apply the yamas and niyamas in contemporary life is the best I’ve encountered. This can be found in the introductory pages of her second yoga book, Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness.


Corpse Pose – Playing Cemetery

Yoga is primarily thought of as a type of movement, but yoga is more than that. These notes aim to expand your knowledge beyond the physical practice of yoga and provide “stretches for your mind and soul.” The stillest of yoga poses, savasana, provides the clearest connection between the physical and mental benefits of a consistent practice.

How do you play Cemetary?
A favorite childhood game was Cemetery. Everyone but the cemetery watchman would play dead and the watchman watched for anyone who moved the slightest bit. If you did, you were out. The last one who successfully maintained stillness (or at least undetected movement) got to be the watchman in the next round.

My siblings and I quickly learned that lying on the stomach better protected your interest – eyelids flickered and regularly caused elimination. Occasionally, someone would actually fall asleep and snoring would be cause for dismissal, too.

Yes, my mother was brilliant to teach the five of us a game in which to win you had to be quiet and still. But we enjoyed the game immensely and played it all the time and even shared the game with playmates. As rowdy and lively as we could be (and we could be!), we were naturally drawn to this game of being still and quiet.

What is savasana?
Most yoga classes end with shava-asana or savasana, which means corpse pose. The object is to play dead (but on your back, not your stomach)

In this asana, you lie flat on your back with the feet slightly parted and the palms face up. The eyes and the mouth are closed. Sounds simple? The goal is to then relax the entire body with a slow, rhythmic breath that engages the diaphragm. Most find this challenging.

In fact, in a study on the medical effects of savasana, three weeks passed before the subjects adequately mastered this pose for the evaluation to begin. The tendency to hold onto tension is difficult to relinquish. Some area of the physical body throbs for attention. And once you master the relaxation of the physical body, the mind rattles on and beyond. In this pose, you strive to quiet and subside the consciousness.

All yogis – even advanced ones – encounter days when relaxing the body or mind is very difficult.

Often times, in this still, quiet pose emotions arise. One of my yoga teachers shared that tears arose every time she did savasana one summer. Her relationship was ending, and by August, she was ready to do what was true to her heart. All the savasanas allowed her heart to speak to her mind so she could act with clarity and allocated time for mourning so she could act with courage.

So why do we do savasana?
Iyengar says we do this at the end of our practice to remove fatigue.

This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both the body and mind. (Light on Yoga, p. 422).

The pose also serves to transition out of the practice of yoga back to the rest of your life. In a lovely essay by poet Tara Bray, she searches for the origin of corpse pose while she reflects on the death of her mother. (Shambhala Sun, July 2003) I think she uncovered some truths about the pose:

  • Death shows us how to live and then we die. Savasana: we stop, and we remember who we are.
  • Mystery. Perhaps that’s the answer…Trust in what cannot be completely known. Mystery. Savasana. Death.
  • And maybe Savasana is like coming to the edge, the border between one world and another so you can remember what it means to be alive.

In savasana, you achieve ease, lucidity and as Bray put it, There [in Savasana] is a certain vividness. The pose may be outwardly still, but the inside is fluid and all sorts of wonders arise.

Meditation and Writing

As a writer who meditates (or a meditator who writes), Natalie Goldberg’s short essay on how to keep a meditation practice going very much intrigued. She compares writing and meditation, speaks of the “monkey mind,” and acknowledges the challenges of maintaining a meditation practice.

I always enjoy reading her work, but check out this piece in Yoga Journal by clicking here.

Guided Yoga Nidra by Local Yoga Teacher

Last month, I discussed yoga nidra. Robin Carnes, whose CD is reviewed below, reminded me of the purpose of doing yoga nidra:

While relaxation is a worthy outcome in and of itself, the true purpose of yoga nidra, as with all forms of yoga, is to help us access the actual experience, not just the concept, of our Oneness with all creation. It helps dissolve our separateness and experience our connectedness.

Well put and captured in both of the guided yoga nidras reviewed below. Robin also brought to my attention a short, helpful piece on yoga nidra from a recent issue of Yoga Journal. To read, click here.

Yoga Nidra by Robin Carnes A short introduction outlines the purpose and practice of yoga nidra. Ms. Carnes teaches at a local DC area studio, Willow Street Yoga Center, in Takoma Park.

In her introduction, she captures the state of being in yoga nidra as a “hovering between sense consciousness and sleep consciousness.” Two guided yoga nidras follow.

Her confident voice calms and comforts. As you set your resolve (your sankalpa) for your yoga nidra, she encourages you to conjure an image that captures your intention – something or some way of being you wish to bring to fruition in your life.

Then, as traditional she guides your awareness around your body in several layers – sometimes specific small parts of the body (each finger), other times larger areas (whole leg). She directs you to be aware of the surface of your body (the skin in specific areas), channel your breath, wash colors through your body or conjure images of landscapes (tree, mountain, cloud) or objects (rose, ball, tunnel).

New to me, Ms. Carnes brought an “awareness of sensation” and suggested I feel my body first heavy then light, cold then hot.

The second nidra at 42 minutes is slightly longer the first (27 minutes), but both are excellent and authentic.

Judith Lasater once said to me,

that you don’t do restorative yoga, it does you

Robin Carnes said the same of yoga nidra “you don’t do it, it does you.” And when yoga nidra is done doing you, you free great! This rewarding CD is $15. To purchase, contact Robin Carnes at
rdcarnes@starpower.net or 301-587-1835.

Shiva Rea’s Drops of Nectar

This 2 CD set is subtitled, “Yoga Relaxation for Rejuvenation and Healing.” Last month I describe yoga nidra and the steps to achieve that yogic state of rest. Only one track on these CDs is a formal yoga nidra, but it’s a delicious 19 minutes.

Shiva Rea (her website here) is known for her integration of dance and yoga, but this CD demonstrates her talent for going deeper in another way. Music underscores her voice and the nidra track opens with “a sea of Oms” chanted one over the other while she encourages you to “become one vibration with the sound.”

She directs you to imagine your body looking down at yourself, as if outside of yourself, set an intention, sankalpa, and then leads you through a brisk survey of the body. She also brings attention to each of the chakras “brightly flaring” and connects the image of your heart to other living beings to foster a sense of connectedness.

Throughout, simple tones of music, graced with bells that sound like wind chimes, support the experience just as much as the surface underneath your body. Her guidance may be confusing if you’ve not perused the liner notes; she presumes you know the location of the chakras and familiar with certain terms.

But as excellent as her guided CDs are, her liner notes are more outstanding. She presents additional information concisely and clearly to enhance your practice and even includes helpful photographs.

The rest of the tracks include information on how to do a Moon Salutation, Chandra Namaskar, a cleansing breath exercise, Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, and several guided Corpse Poses, Savasana – one inspired by the moon, another by a Rumi poem and another by a sunset over the sea.

To purchase, click here.

Magazine Articles of Note

Judith Hanson Lasater wrote an informative, reflective essay on pratyahra, which is the yoga practice of withdrawing the sense. (Yoga nidra is a state of being, pratyahra is an action) Take the time to read her essay, Return To Stillness; In a world of information overload, the yoga practice of pratyahara offers us a haven of silence. Click here. http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/459_1.cfm

Yoga International featured a woman who teaches yoga and who, like me, has fibromyalgia. Her experience closely mirrors my own. Click here to read about how yoga helps alleviate the symptoms. http://www.yimag.org/features.asp?articleid=3. In three respects, my experience diverged from the woman featured:

  1. On days when crutches or wheelchairs are necessary I don’t see how headstands are – but the monstrous disease does wax and wane.
  2. She doesn’t address how still, “restorative” poses are very difficult and challenging when in pain. Sometimes the body is better off moving because pain in a warm body in not as gripping and breathtaking. Other times, restorative postures are alternated with more active postures. Yoga teaches you to be aware of your body and responsive, whether you’re dealing with an illness or not.
  3. She also speaks of “flare-proofing” with certain precautions. In my experience, there is no flare-proofing. The behavior she outlines is still important; you do your best to minimize damage from the random onsets. But sometimes the bad times just hit and wreck havoc. Her sense of control and “proofing” again flare-ups belies her acceptance of surrender.

To read of my own experience with yoga and my disease, click here.

If you have any suggestions for future nilambu notes, please feel free to email me at cass@nilambu.com

How To Return to Stillness

Judith Hanson Lasater wrote an informative, reflective essay on pratyahra, which is the yoga practice of withdrawing the senses.

Some definitional clarification:
yoga nidra is a state of being
pratyahra is an action

Take the time to read her essay, Return To Stillness. In a world of information overload, the yoga practice of pratyahara offers us a haven of silence.

Click here.

Yoga and Chronic Illness

Yoga International featured a woman who teaches yoga and who, like me, has fibromyalgia. Her experience closely mirrors my own. Click here to read about how yoga helps alleviate the symptoms.

In three respects, my experience diverged from the woman featured:

  1. On days when crutches or wheelchairs are necessary I don’t see how headstands are – but the monstrous disease does wax and wane.
  2. She doesn’t address how still, “restorative” poses are very difficult and challenging when in pain. Sometimes the body is better off moving because pain in a warm body in not as gripping and breathtaking. Other times, restorative postures are alternated with more active postures. Yoga teaches you to be aware of your body and responsive, whether you’re dealing with an illness or not.
  3. She also speaks of “flare-proofing” with certain precautions. In my experience, there is no flare-proofing. The behavior she outlines is still important; you do your best to minimize damage from the random onsets. But sometimes the bad times just hit and wreck havoc. Her sense of control and “proofing” again flare-ups belies her acceptance of surrender.

To read of my own experience with yoga and my disease, click here.