February 8: Deep within the Inner Thighs

Heavy breathing, gentle pulsation, and surrender.

I couldn’t help myself.  Yoga is sexy.

The trick to opening the hips, hamstrings, inner thighs, and quads is diligent deep work.  This means breathing steady and deep, through overwhelming intensity, and staying alert to the requests and information the body is offering.

Asana Practice: If you have a part of your body that is persistently tight, set an intention to open it every day.  I recommend choosing a part of the body to open each month and remaining steadfast in your determination for that period of time.

This last month has been dedicated to the inner thighs, last month was the psoas.  Simple repetition can yield results, but repetition has the added benefit of educating the participant.

I naturally change-up my practice and incorporate new things each day.  By setting an intention to open up a particular body part for a month, I experiment with different sequences in order to learn how this body part operates. You learn how your body operates and begin to open the Pandora’s box that is the body.

Make a list of the movements and body parts that feel limited in your practice. Then, set goals for opening each one of them over the course of the year.  You will be amazed at how opening the hamstrings one month informs you how to open the side body the next, or how opening the psoas can teach you about the inner thighs.  Enjoy the adventure and discovery that can be present without ever leaving your yoga mat.

Lesson Learned: Focus on one part of the body, or one action, for an entire month, and experience a new awareness and depth to your practice.  The deeper your breath and dedication to your intention, the more intimacy you will begin to experience with yourself.  There is nothing sexier than basking in the depths of your inner being.

Posted in 365 Yoga Study, Solo Practice, The ART of Yoga | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

February 7: Activate

The intensity of your practice is completely within your control.

If you ever find yourself in a lethargic pose or want more sensation, ask yourself, “where can I activate.”

I am blessed with natural tightness, so the first several years of my asana practice were very intense and exhausting. I rarely found surrender or relaxation within yoga, even restorative postures. However, lately, as my body finally shows signs of objective openness, I’ve noticed certain postures losing their intensity.  I gained perspective on what yoga feels like for the naturally flexible.

Everyone benefits from active asana.  Whether you are open or tight, the more engaged and awake your body is, the more integrity your practice will have.

Asana Practice: The next time you practice yoga, set the intention to  “activate” and “brighten” and watch your practice transform.

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February 6: (Fifteen Minute Fix: Yoga in Workout Shoes?)

Technology creates an illusion of perfection, but perhaps we are missing out on the beauty of the universe by manicuring our imperfections. Perhaps by creating false stability we are actually desensitizing ourselves and removing a cue to a deeper understanding.

After a workout in the gym, instead of “stretching” I practice 15 minutes of yoga.

Over the years I’ve taken notice of what yoga feels like on the days I keep my shoes on, versus the days I practice in bare feet.  Both are informative, but having bare feet allows more receptivity and helps honestly reflect your clarity of center.

The pose  “Samasthiti (Equal Standing) is a command to attention, to stand in balanced stillness. It is the practice of standing with equal, steady, and still attention.” You may also hear this pose instructed as Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Mountain pose “is the posture that invokes Samasthiti. … They are the same.” (http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/2431)

Asana Practice:  Try doing Mountain pose in shoes, and then try doing it again in bare feet.  Notice the difference.  Perhaps your shoes, if they are orthopedically designed, provide support and allow you to feel balanced.  Can you find the four corners of your feet in the shoes you are wearing?  Are you able to press in to the ground? Notice whether your shoes encourage the proper spiral of your leg muscles?

[As an aside, this exercise is useful for determining whether your shoe choice is helping or harming you.  I have known people to become both healed and severely injured simply by their choice in shoes.  Don't underestimate the health impact of your shoe choice.  It can make all the difference in the world.]

When experiencing Mountain pose in shoes, notice if the shoes drop your heels below your toes, or raise your heel above your toes.  How does this affect the curve of the spine?  How does this inform the lifting of your knee caps or the turning down (often called “tucking in) of the tailbone?

Take a moment each day to feel your balance in Mountain pose.  Begin to allow different flooring, different shoes, etc to influence this pose.

Most of us stand every single day.  Therefore, we can feel our body in mountain pose daily without much effort. For many lineages, this is the first asana taught.  You can learn all of the key actions of yoga asana simply while standing.  Feel your feet ground down, while energy shoots up and out of the spine.  Feel your energy squeezing in towards the midline, while the shoulders and lungs expand.  Feel how the energy of the body pools in towards the heart.  With attention and focus, this one asana can bring you to the source….again and again.

Lesson Learned: Simply by standing we can experience the beauty and education of yoga asana.  Practice the act of standing in attention everyday.  Connect to source by feeling the directions of prana (or life force) move through you as you find focused awareness in Mountain Pose.

Posted in 365 Yoga Study, Fifteen Minute Fix, Focus: One Asana at a Time | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

February 5: Bliss (The way of the solo practice Vol I.)

It’s amazing how far you can travel without leaving your yoga mat.

Asana Practice: I just spent the last two hours on an epic asana journey. Alone in a dark house, moving through subtle energy, listening to the Desert Dwellers Pandora station.

 

 

There is an old saying that you can never step in to the same river twice.  I like to add to this, you are never the same person stepping in to a river.  After a good asana practice I rise from savasana as a different person than when I arrived on my mat.

 

Life Story: Over the last several months I have been doing a solo home practice nearly every day.  This intimate time with myself has become a time I cherish.  The days that I have to cut it short, or leave it out, feel incomplete. The experience of being alive doesn’t feel as rich or as tangible.

The last few weeks have been very busy and I have been spending more time meeting friends for yoga class or rushing through quick practices to open the body.  Today I basked in the opportunity to feel in to new places of my body and watch as my psyche surrendered to the divine.

A long two-hour practice takes you in different directions than you will find in shorter sessions, even multiple sessions.  The body begins to trust that it can fully surrender deep in to the source and that it won’t be ripped away prematurely.  The longer my practice the more elegance I find in my transitions and the more I become one with the air around me.  The breath becomes graceful and whole, lifting your spirit and diving you deeper in to the depths of your Self.

As I approached my closing postures today, folding over a deep, seated forward bend, I felt honored to be embracing myself, and grateful for the chance to feel in to my own energy.

 

Fun picture taken of me by my friend a few days ago.

 

 

Lesson Learned: Take the time to feel in to your Self by engaging in a long solo practice. Do your best to avoid distractions or to have an agenda.  Stay engaged and allow the breath to guide you.

 

 

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February 4: Weight Lifting as a Compliment to Yoga (Vol I)

Strength training can compliment and be informed by a yoga practice.

http://www.womansday.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/galleries-slideshows/workout-like-the-biggest-loser/close-squat-with-an-overhead-press2/47354-1-eng-US/Close-Squat-with-an-Overhead-Press_slideshow_image.jpg

Weight lifting can help overcome asana obstacles, especially for arm balance and power oriented postures.

If you find yourself struggling with a particular asana or a particular type of asana (arm balance, deep lunges, etc), ask your teacher if s/he notices a weakness in your practice.  Perhaps you need to work on your core or your upper body strength.  Maybe your lower back or quads need extra attention.

Incorporate strength training in to your health routine and give extra attention to the areas of your body that are holding you back.

Weight Lifting: I recommend doing 18-22 repetitions with a lighter weight for the first 2-6 weeks of any new strength training exercise.  Increase the weight you are using gradually over time (every 3-6 workouts), and maintain high repetitions.  The goal is to max out (or become too fatigued to do another repetition) by the 20th rep. I am a strong proponent of only increasing weight by 2.5-5 pounds and waiting until the current weight choice is clearly manageable before increasing your weight.

Asana Practice: Chaturanga Dandasana is a difficult pose for many people.  The transition from Chaturanga into Upward Dog, can be even more precarious if core or upper body strength needs improvement.  A proper Chaturanga looks like this:

www.yogajournal.com

If this pose or the transition to Upward Dog is difficult for you, come down on your knees and do Chaturanga push-ups.

Multiple repetitions of the same action increases strength.  If you can’t hold a pose properly, you may be injuring yourself.  Make a difficult pose easier by taking a modification, then hold the pose longer or do a transition over and over. You will reach the peak pose quicker and with more integrity.

Lesson Learned: Hit the gym 2-3 times a week in order to strengthen parts of your body that are holding your asana practice back.

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February 3: Yoga Etiquette (Vol I)

When is it appropriate to correct someone’s asana practice?

It can be quite painful to watch a fellow yogi doing a posture incorrectly.  It can be even more challenging to watch someone doing yoga in a way that  is causing them harm. (e.g. Doing upward dog with your toes tucked under, putting pressure on the lower back).

When is it appropriate to say something?

Over the years I have made comments to strangers about how to improve their asana practice or avoid injury.  In return, I have received many different reactions from people.  Most people are excited for the attention and for an opportunity to learn. Others, are embarrassed and feel judged for doing it incorrectly.

My advice is to know the audience you will be speaking to.

As a young woman, I have found that I am most likely to receive a negative response from an older man.  It has become my policy to only speak to men between the age of 35-55 about their practice if I am first spoken to or directly receive a question.

I receive the best responses from women over the age of 40.  So long as I am careful to smile, introduce myself as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, and ask if the individual is interested in some free coaching, I have never received a bad reaction.  This demographic is usually eager to learn something and excited to be getting free information (at least from a fellow woman).

I almost always avoid speaking with people who appear to be in a bad mood.  This is just common sense.  Think about your own experiences.  The times when I am least responsive to learning and guidance is when I am already in a funk.  Why would I expect anything different of other people.

However, if it appears someone is in a bad mood because they are confused about how to do a pose, I am quick to offer suggestions.  In this circumstance, prefacing advice with a joke is a nice way of  breaking the ice.  For example, if someone is struggling with headstand, I will throw in a story of accidentally somersaulting across a yoga room.  People can relate to you if you tell a story that coincides with their fear.

Just to clarify, it is rarely, if ever, appropriate to correct someone’s asana practice during a class. My suggestions are intended for moments outside of a yoga classroom, for example in a stretching room of a gym.  The only time that conversation is appropriate in a yoga class is when a teacher breaks a class in to groups for a workshop moment.

For many the idea of correcting someone’s asana practice feels like an intrusion of their privacy.  I recommend respecting your own comfort zone.  However, I truly believe we are all on this planet together and are here to help each other get through this thing called life in one piece.  If you feel called to help someone, and it appears that they would be receptive to such assistance…go for it. Just be ready, you might not get the response you are expecting. You may even find yourself confronted with a new lesson, such as not taking the response of others personally.  Alas, often the times when we believe we are the teacher in a situation, we become the student.

Lesson Learned: If you have good intentions and a clear instinct, respond to the call and help those in need.  You might just make a new friend.

Posted in 365 Yoga Study, Yoga Etiquette | 5 Comments

February 2: Mythology and the Evolution of Asana

A momentary glance at yoga in the West…

As the world shrinks and common mythologies become antiquated, asana takes on new dimension.

During the time of our ancient ancestors, we lived among small numbers of people, and while the cosmos seemed infinite, the world around us remained confined and comprehensible.  As technology increased our understanding of the world and our capacity for travel, we began to see our planet as large and diverse.  We fought to preserve what we believed in and created rich stories to educate the younger generations on our understanding of the universe.

But times continue to change rapidly and the scientific west is increasingly saturated with the spiritual leaders and mythologies of the East. The ego is strong in the West and I watch as it begins to lash about, fighting the concept of egolessness and nonattachment. For those of us finding asana in the West it can be difficult to fully focus (or occupy) the mind with the rigid and formulaic practices that originated in India.  Many of the newer forms of asana pulse with an animalistic intensity.  For me they more directly EMBODY the pulse of kundalini shakti.

Nearly every form of yoga connects me to the subtleties of my true life force.  I am grateful for the forms of yoga, like Shiva Rea’s Prana Flow, which allow my body to dance to the sacred pulse within.

Asana Practice: This entry was inspired by a lovely class taught by Mary Taylor (lover and asana partner to Richard Freeman, www.yogaworkshop.com), in the traditional ashtanga form.

Mary Tailor, www.yogaworkshop.com

I feel so grateful to have learned yoga initially in a form connected to India.  I believe in first connecting with the past before engaging in the moment, s0 that we can more richly understand the soil and cobble stone we walk on. I first learned ashtanga yoga before I moved on to more contemporary forms like Shiva’s Prana Flow.

I recently watched a documentary by Joseph Campbell, titled “The Hero’s Journey,”  within which, he described how many of the world’s populations throughout the past, have shared a similar message.  A message that informs the listener about the divine and how to reach enlightenment.

Joseph discusses how the Mayan, for example, created a creation myth that helped describe true spiritual awakening.  He also described how the science and technical understandings of any day in history are woven in to the mythology of that time.  This is an important point.  This provides an explanation for why today’s people often find it difficult to connect with and understand the mythologies of the past.  Creation and other spiritual stories throughout time were not describing historic truths.  Rather, they are using their understanding of reality to create an elaborate and aesthetic backdrop for the universal story of spiritual awakening and self growth.

available on netflix at: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Joseph-Campbell-The-Hero-s-Journey/60022238?trkid=438403#height1379

It is my belief that as we begin to see the world as a unified whole, a new mythology must be called forth in order to help guide individuals of our time.  We can save time for our fellow brothers and sisters by translating the mythologies and teachings of the past.

The modern western world moves quickly and has a willful and wild understanding of their physical bodies.  In order to develop an equally strong spiritual understanding, it is important to develop physical outlets for the expression of the divine.  It is my belief that the west will wake up the fastest by advancing physical embodiment practices that are dynamic expression of the divine.  (See a video of Shiva Rea’s Trance dance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRou8B31Hic).

http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/wysiwyg/image/X_Smaller_Shiva_Acacia.jpg

Lesson Learned: When an old form of yoga feels like simply a whisper, and your heart yearns for a heave beat, connect to your ancestors.  Their whisper will teach you how to sing when the time is right.

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February 1: Dropping Expectations

Don’t let expectations ruin your experience of the beautiful unfolding of the Now.


Human beings are smart creatures.  We see patterns and can develop and live by detailed rules and routines.  Establishing order can help us feel grounded and can create efficiency. But, expecting order can also create dissatisfaction and un-comfortibility when the unexpected rears its head.

The naked truth is that we are a part of the natural environment and as such are subject to the chaotic whims of nature.  We don’t expect to control the weather, or at least we shouldn’t, so why do we expect to be able to control all human activities such as traffic or a yoga class?

One possible answer, is that science has allowed us to inflict our will onto traditionally natural phenomena.  Plant growth is a great example.  Consider for a moment, a field of corn.  An image of uniform plants, all the same height in ordered rows comes to mind.

But, this isn’t how it always was.  It took the will, effort, and money of countless human beings to create this order.  And despite best efforts, it doesn’t always go as planned.  Plants find a way of returning to a more natural chaotic systems and humans must find ever more advanced ways to keep nature within a uniform box.

Once we accept this reality, that life by its very nature is chaotic and unpredictable, we are able to shed light and humor on unexpected moments.

Asana Practice: For many of us yoga is a sanctuary.  In my corporate days I remember rushing to class with a sense of desperation.  I KNEW, if I just made it to my mat I would be able to make it through the week.

I would hand select the studio and teacher to fit my schedule and desires, put the class in my schedule book, and make it just in time to greet the teacher in samasthitihiBut what if something goes “wrong!”

We have all run late for a yoga class. We have all suffered a moments disappointment to find out our favorite teacher is on vacation.

Can you think of times when your yoga experience didn’t meet your expectations?  Maybe the person sitting next to you had a burritos for lunch or you were cramped against a wall? How did you respond to the experience?

We can’t control the world, but we can choose our reaction to it. In moments like these, I find a deep breath goes a long way.  I can choose to let these moments ruin my day or create anxiety, or I can take a moment and find something optimistic about the change in circumstance.  Almost always, my choice of perspective dictates the quality of my experience.

Having a positive attitude and going with the flow, has allowed me to find the perfect new teacher,  to make a new friend,  or has given me a much-needed lesson on patience or compassion.

Just recently, I missed a class I was looking forward to for a week because of a huge snow storm.  It took me a minute to accept the change in circumstances, but once I did, I realized I could use the time to catch up with a close friend who was in need of companionship.

Lesson Learned: Embrace each moment with love and understanding.

Don’t throw away your planning book, there is value in order and efficiency. However, when the natural fluctuations of the world around you force a change, do your best to respond with positivity.

There is something greater in the world than the plan we impose on it. If you can embrace the beautiful unfolding of the now, you can experience the oneness of the universe.

This image can be found at: www. josephinewall.co.uk

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January 31: Inversions (Vol 1: Easy and Restorative)

Need a change in perspective? Turn the world upsidedown.  Gotta love inversions!

Richard Freeman Rocks!

A little bit about myself: In May of 2001 I broke two vertebrae in my cervical spine.  Yoga is one of the secrets to my incredible recovery.  In the last couple of months a discomfort in my body has revealed itself as a potentially pinched nerve (bone spurs from my injury).  In order to heal myself I am taking several months off of any “upper body intensive” asanas.

Understand, I love being upside-down.  Inversions are my mind alteration of choice.

Me at Burning Man 2010.

It has been really hard on me to forgo handstand, crow and all the other lovely arm balances that flip the world on its head.  But no need to fret.  I have a trick up my sleeve.

Asana Practice:

“Viparita Karani” (pronounced vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee), also known as “Legs up the
Wall Pose.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sara-avant-stover/everyday-yoga-5-steps-to_b_126987.html

Sara Avant Stover wrote a lovely piece on this pose in her newsletter. Here it is:

“HOW TO PRACTICE:

1. Sit on the floor with one hip pressed right against the wall.
If you are not on carpeting or a bed, spread a mat or blanket
evenly underneath you.

2. Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up
onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto
the floor.

3. How close your hips are to the wall here will depend upon
how open the muscles are in the backs of your legs. If you are
more flexible, your sitting bones will be close to the wall.

If that feels like a strain, back your hips away from the wall so
that your legs are more than 90 degrees away from your torso.
Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them
vertically in place.

4. Rest your arms slightly away from your side, palms up. Close
your eyes, cast your gaze downwards toward your heart.
Breathe smoothly and evenly through your nostrils. Let your
belly expand and contract with the breath.

5. To come out, bend your legs, press your feet into the wall,
and roll to one side. Rest there for a few moments before
using your hands to press back up to a seated position.
Enjoy!

Try this effective respite in the midst of your work day (after
lunch is a good time), after traveling, or when laying on your
bed before you go to sleep at night. All you need is 5 minutes–
but if you have 10 or 15, that’s even better!”

Sara is the founder of The Way of the Happy Woman.  I adore her newsletter.  Check it out at: www.TheWayoftheHappyWoman.com.  She teaches about meditation, yoga and does a program called Life Balance for Women.

Look for more Inversion Blog entries in the “Inversion” category.

Please offer any feedback. I’d love to receive questions or requests regarding the content of my blog.

Blessings,

Katie

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January 30: The ART of Yoga

As you rest in the gentle pulse of observation, focus your mind on willful elegance.

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/product/PE39/

The more you accept yourself as a soul, playing the role of being YOU, the greater your access to creative expression, and the finer your art.

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4097/4937166168_b477d233bf_z.jpg

Asana Practice: Every moment of a practice is important, not just the poses. You are your greatest masterpiece. Just as a teacher tells you to watch the grace of your transitions, I remind you that every second of your life is a willful decision and expression of your Self.  The glance you share among practitioners, the way you park your car.  The way you hold your body, and the thoughts that move through your mind.  These are all the ART of Yoga.

If given the choice wouldn’t you choose to mimic and inspire the divine.

Lesson Learned: The practice of asana trains us to focus on every detail of every moment. As we sew together the pieces of our life work, we practice and perfect the ART of Yoga.

This entry was vaguely inspired by the book, “Why is God Laughing: The Path to Joy and Spiritual Optimism,” by Deepak Chopra.  While I usually enjoy Deepak’s teachings, I only marginally enjoyed this book.  However, the strengths of this book rest in its simplicity.

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