Archive | Yoga Poses

For Your Yoga Playlist

If I were still teaching this song, My Valentine, would be on my playlist. I love it!

I can easily see the choreographed vinyasa – moving into ardha chandrasana – with a feeling of certainty we can fly!

I just love that new ballads like this are being written, and yes that it’s Paul McCartney.

I love even more that Diana Krall is on the piano, and she is barely mentioned. Her albums are great too! (And she is married to Elvis Costello).

Their performance at the Grammy’s last night was awesome.

Mixing Yoga With Other Activities

This essay, Yoga Addict’s New Mantra: “Mix It Up” from the New York Times is cute. I also like it because it doesn’t make out yoga to be the end all and be all of everything.

Plus she describes astanga yoga this way –

It is widely believed to have been created for adolescent boys and tends to attract former drug addicts and Type A personalities;

which made me laugh out loud.

I will never forget the time I brought a girlfriend in Chicago to an astanga yoga class. The workshop was being held over a weekend and the first class was held Friday night. We met at a wine bar and as she slogged down not one but two classes of wine, I suggested gently she might now want to do that.

And at about the 20th jump through she sat in danasana and looked at me with a look that asked – “what did you get me into” We still laugh about that. I don’t think mixing it up is a recommendation for mixing astanga yoga with a cocktail!

This author, Deborah Schoeneman, after a decade of astanga yoga and a better practice than most, then added a private trainer. This is her story of what she discovered.

6 Ways Yoga Can Relieve Seasonal Stress

  • Stop and breathe. Simply taking a moment to consciously breathe can alter your nervous system. Try to breath into your belly which will help to release the diaphragm. You can do this any time any where any time during the holiday season when you are feeling tense or anxious. (The hard part is often remembering to do it!). Here are six common breathing mistakes and how to spot habits that aren’t maximizing the benefits of the ‘life force’ – oxygen in the body.
  • Enter the yoga pose called “Instant Maui.” This marvelous creation is Judith Lasater‘s – the preeminent restorative yoga teacher in the US. You lie on the floor on your back and place your calves on the seat of a chair. You may need to raise the level of the chair if your calves are not parallel to the floor. You can do this with blankets or towels. The thighs should be perpendicular to the floor so that you have 90% angles at your hips and knees. You can place a blanket or soft pillow under your head and, if you have one, a sandbag over your shins. And a blanket over all of you. The restorative pose got its moniker because it “instantly transports you to Maui.” Well, it does feel pretty good.
  • Listen to music. I’d avoid the carols that pervade the stores and go for something different, different melodies that will catch your attention. Classical or opera can alter your brain waves (See Oliver Saks terrific new book, Musicophilia :Tales of Music and the Brain). Really listen to the music and don’t just play music as background noise. Be mindful and try to limit the multitasking. See if you notice your breath altering to match the rhythm of the music. (This is why you might want to try calmer music).
  • Put your legs up the wall. This yoga pose, also known as Vaparita Karani, is terrific to do after shopping. The action of inverting the legs improves the circulation. Don’t worry if you’re hamstrings are too tight that you can’t get your butt to the wall. Just move your butt away from the wall. Also, if you don’t have a yoga bolster, you can use stacked towels or even have the whole torso flat on the floor and still benefit from the pose. Yoga Journal offers a picture and complete instructions.
  • Enjoy a guided meditation. At busy times like these, meditation can be challenging as lists of things to do dance as rambunctiously as sugar-plums in a child’s head on the night before Christmas. One solution is to try a guided meditation which can help you keep your focus. Here’s a whole page of free guided meditation that range from five minutes to an hour and guided by Tara Brach of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington.
  • Place a roll under your upper back. This is a modification of savasana or corpse pose, which you can read about here. The roll (which can be a blanket or a towel) goes under your back at the base of your scapula. The purpose is to counteract the forward curvature of the upper back and to open the front torso for the breath to move freely in and out of the body. The diameter of the roll depends on what you can tolerate. If the pain of unfolding your back muscles is too intense, try a smaller roll.

If Yoga Means Union, How Does the Disassembly of Loss Recover Through Yoga?

If Yoga Means Union, How Does the Disassembly of Loss Recover Through Yoga? I forget this often, but my yoga began because of death. A man I’d been seeing introduced me to yoga, and he and his family had begun to do yoga to deal with their grief after the death of a brother and a sister. For more on how my path started, click here. And so my path has circled back and again I was curious what yoga resources I could find to help me and what yoga says about grief.

I could not find much. I found one article from the December 2005 Yoga Journal, The Longest Goodbye. This essay deals with thoughts and perspective. I was more interested in doing than thinking and so more curious about my physical practice and how to adapt the poses and sequence them. I even called the International Association of Yoga Therapist. And they sent me a bibliography that also seemed sparse in this respect.

One of my own teachers gave me guidance. When you experience a loss or multiple losses, your heart is tender. So intense back bending, which exposes the chest and the heart, is not recommended. Child’s pose, supported forward bends, face down corpse pose – all support the broken heart. It felt right.

The effect of back bending on emotions is well documented in yoga. See Emotions in Motion. If any one has any information to share regarding yoga postures and grief, please pass along. Meanwhile, I will continue my research.

The French essayist Montaigne wrote, “We must learn to endure what we cannot avoid…”

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.

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.

Upcoming Classes

Tues. March 22nd
Core Strength Class (Special time 6 to 7:15 pm)
Benefits: Opens the full range of motion of the shoulder joint; brings attention to the alignment of the upper body in preparation for handstand; strengthens and extends the leg muscles.

Friday March 25th
Backbend Posture Class (12:30 to 1:45 pm)
Benefits: Lengthens the hip flexor muscles across the front of the hips (which will improve the position of the pelvis and may alleviate lower back pain); opens the shoulder and upper back muscles; improves posture; strengthens and invigorates the whole body; improves respiration; energizes the nervous system; can counteract depression.

Tues. March 29th
Balance Postures Class (5:30 to 6:45 pm)
Benefits: Fosters a lightness and agility as well as endurance; muscle tone increases; improves coordination and concentration.

Wed. March 30th
Twists Postures Class (5:30 to 6:45 pm)
Benefits: Maintains suppleness in spine and shoulders; can relieve pain in the neck, shoulders, and back from sitting at a computer; increases energy level; tones and massages the abdominal organs and improves digestion.

Tues. April 5th
Seated Postures Class (5:30 to 6:45 pm)
Benefits: Stretches spine, shoulders, hips, hamstrings and groin; stimulates liver and kidneys; improves digestion; can relieve mild depression, anxiety, fatigue; therapeutic for high blood pressure, insomnia, or sinusitis.

Wed. April 6th
Backbend Postures Class (5:30 to 6:45 pm)
Benefits: See above.

Tues. April 12th
Supine and Prone Postures Class (5:30 to 6:45 pm)
Benefits: Stretches the abdomen; increases mobility of the spine and hips; strengthen the back, arms and legs; stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for breathing and digestion) and therefore can be deeply soothing.

All About Sun Salutation

Here Comes the Sun by Richard Rosen is a delightful and enlightening article, chock full of information and instruction regarding the sun salutation. Richard Rosen is the author of THE book on yoga breath: The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama.

As the sun returns to us, this first week of spring seems an especially appropriate time to remind ourselves about the origin of this basic yoga sequence called Surya Namaskar. Surya – sun; namas – salute (same root as namaste which means literally “I salute you.”)

Here’s a sample –

The outer sun, they (ancient yogis) asserted, is in reality a token of our
own “inner sun,” which corresponds to our subtle, or spiritual, heart. Here is
the seat of consciousness and higher wisdom (jnana) and, in some traditions, the
domicile of the embodied self (jivatman).

It might seem strange to us that the yogis place the seat of wisdom in
the heart, which we typically associate with our emotions, and not the brain.
But in yoga, the brain is actually symbolized by the moon, which reflects the
sun’s light but generates none of its own. This kind of knowledge is worthwhile
for dealing with mundane affairs, and is even necessary to a certain extent for
the lower stages of spiritual practice. But in the end, the brain is inherently
limited in what it can know and is prone to what Patanjali calls misconception
(viparyaya) or false knowledge of the self.

To read the full article, click here.

Your Back – the Upper West Side of the Body

Before Olmstead ever laid out Central Park and created an East Side and a West Side in Manhattan, an east side and west side divided the human body. The east side in yoga is the entire front of the body. The west side is the entire back of the body. These designations presume that you meet the rising sun and face east. The sun sets in the west, on your back.

In yoga, you always look forward to the new day.

Note that even the word “back” is a flexible word. In English the word “back” can act as a –

Noun: backbone; turn your back; on your back; back of the crowd
Verb: Back up; back your allegation; backed by supporters
Adjective: back draft; back pack; fullback
Adverb: stay back; roll back; sit back

Just as in language, the back of the body is often taken for granted though it’s very versatile.
Also never really seen, the back is essential. The central nervous system is central to all the systems of the body. The spinal cord carries messages through out the body and is protected by the vertebrae of the back. Further, the back comprises the largest and most dense area of muscle in the body. A healthy back is a vital part of vitality and yoga increases muscular strength and flexibility of your upper west side.

Seated forward bend is a basic pose in yoga. Health clubs commonly use this posture to evaluate flexibility. In yoga, seated forward bend is called Paschimottanasana, which translates as intense west side stretch pose:

paschima = west;

ottana (uttana) = intense stretch;

asana = pose

Properly done, the entire west side of the body is intensely stretched. Popular activities such as running and lifting weights make us strong but often at the expense of a flexible posterior. Yoga complements and balances the results of these actions.

In sports the fullback is a defensive player. Taking care of your back with yoga is an affirmative defense against illness. A strong and flexible back

  • Ensures the health of your vertebrae,
  • Protects your spinal cord, and
  • Lubricates your central nervous system for the smooth running of your entire body.