YOLY Challenge #50: Open to Receptivity

For the month of June, which is traditionally the month of love, we will get to the “heart” of what matters, our Self.

But first we need to open the door to receptivity.
doorway-981803__340To be receptive is to accept a signal, an idea or even another person into your life. For receptivity to occur, it is imperative that your heart and mind be open. This ability to see things differently requires flexibility. Not everyone is amenable or disposed to receiving what others have to share. Therefore, in order to fully receive, you may have to give up something that you already possess.

This is especially fitting for yogis who want to prepare and purify themselves to receive the teachings of yoga. Releasing your subjectivity, blockages and negativity will give you space for a lifestyle that is happier, healthier and compassionate or love-filled.

At this point in our Year of Living Yogically, we know that there is more to the system of yoga than the postures themselves. Time and again, the posts refer back to the Eight Limb System of yoga which includes:

  1. Yamas (restraints)
  2. Niyamas (observances)
  3. Asanas (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breathing)
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (contemplation)

Maybe you have already incorporated some of these techniques into your own practice.

This week your challenge will be to review the eight steps and find the area(s) that you feel need enriching. Simply use the Topic bar on the right to click on the category you would like to read more about. Understanding each step in the eight-fold system will help you become more conscious of your true nature.

We have two weeks left in this journey. The next challenges will be the icing on the cake that will, hopefully, feed you for many years to come.

Namasté friends!

If you would like to start at the beginning of this year-long challenge please click here.

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YOLY Challenge #48: Be Strong & Serene

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How do we keep ourselves physically challenged yet safe?

For yogis, this involves two key words – “sthira” and “sukha”.  In sanskrit, sthira means strong, stable, steady in focus for mind and body. The ideal counterweight is sukha or that feeling of ease, relaxation and serenity – no matter how strenuous the pose may be. Once you are able to keep the concepts of sthira and sukha in balance, your practice will be at its utmost and your risk for injury greatly reduced.

For this challenge, apply sthira to the gentle flow below:

  • Balasana with arms extended
  • Vrksasana
  • Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
  • Supine Revolved Belly Twist

On the following day, incorporate sukha into the more rigorous practice below:

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana 1 or 2 minute hold
  • Utkatasana to Utkatasana Twist
  • Virabhadrasana I to III flow
  • Sarvangasana

Repeat the practices as needed on subsequent days.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there…”. -Rumi

YOLY Challenge #45: Honoring Transition

Happy May Day!

In ancient times, this day celebrated the season of fruitfulness and the coming of summer for many northern hemisphere cultures. The festivities may have included a maypole –padstow-736149__340 thought to be the symbol for a tree that represents new vegetation. More recently in the U.S., this type of celebration is usually only seen in schools as it is taught as a tradition stemming from the European cultures. Nowadays, and by coincidence, May Day is associated with protests and marches promoting change for the rights of workers and immigrants.

Symbolically, the month of May is connected with movement, balance and change or transition.

A big part of life is experienced through transition. Our bodies and minds go through many phases as a result of maturation, education, connections and societies’ conventions. And, as we “go across” these passages, we attempt to keep a steady footing on the other side. Some of the transitions we encounter can be smooth when we learn to adapt and accommodate. But many times, the shifts we undergo create havoc and can be harmful.

The same is true for our yoga practice.  While we may master specific poses, or at least feel confident and comfortable practicing them, the transitions into and out of these poses may not be as composed. Knees, hips and feet can easily move out of alignment and, with repetition, be injurious to a yoga practice. This is especially true when we do vinyasa yoga, a form defined by linking postures in a flowing routine.

So, our challenge this week is to be more aware of our transitions; since this is the season for transformation.  Let’s break down the elements of our practice and tune into the spaces between the poses.

  • Find a resting place to digest your experience as you practice. As you progress through your daily practice, return to Tadasana (mountain pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) or Balasana (child’s pose) to realign with your breath and get back in touch with your intention.
  • Work on your balance.  Repeatedly insert Vrksasana (tree pose) between other standing postures to hone your alignment and your perception.
  • Try linking one posture with another.  Start with a downward dog/plank combination or try to move from warrior I to warrior II.  Study the principles of alignment for these various poses, as instructed in Iyengar yoga for example, to make certain the transitions are healthy ones for your joints.
  • Practice Nadi Shodhana This breathing technique will balance and clarify your mind so that you can transition well off your mat. Use caution as any form of pranayama can be a powerful force.
  • Transition to the ground. When you complete your standing poses, find a posture for converting to the floor such as Uttanasana (forward bend) or Prasarita Padottanasana (wide angle forward bend).
  • Allow yourself time for transitioning at the start and end of your practice.  Initiate your practice with seated breath awareness and/or an invocation. Before jumping up to start your day, give yourself permission to close the practice with a quiet acknowledgement in a simple seated posture.

Hopefully, these tools will not only enhance your practice but make you more aware of the metamorphosis that is yoga.

Namasté.

YOLY Challenge #44: Unfurl Yourself!

The final week of April is upon us. And all around are signs of new beginnings, new openings and new creations; from the buds in the trees to the baby calves in the fields.

This week, I encourage you to take these signals of Spring and apply them to your yoga practice.

Each day as you roll out your mat, mark the action as a starting place for unfurling your body.  Dedicate yourself to expansion, to clearing out those winter cobwebs and stimulating new growth.

Expand

Back bends are capable of generating many openings. The front body, heart center and lungs, as well as the abdominal area all benefit from the practice of back bending. As a result our posture improves and we are able to pump blood and nutrients more effectively throughout the body, expanding our lung capacity and unblocking our digestive system.

Clear Out the Cobwebs

The cooler temperatures keep us bound both literally and figuratively. In shedding our winter coats, we remove old deposits and unbind ourselves emotionally. The simplest forms of back bending are known to trigger release and improve clarity.

Stimulate New Growth

When we make space for ourselves physically and mentally through back bends, we give the body room to flourish.  We discover that we have the capacity for more energy to flow within. With this newfound energy, we experience greater joy in our lives.

Sounds amazing doesn’t it?

Although back bends are the perfect opportunity for unfurling yourself, this task is not taken lightly. In general our bodies are resistant to opening. We are fearful of bendingfronds-290848__340 back into the unknown and exposing the front of our bodies. This is instinctual. Think of the way many animals behave in nature. The “underbelly” holds critical systems without which we could not survive. So we protect and naturally draw inward. Therefore, we should begin a back bend practice slowly so that the action is easily accepted by the body. Like the fern in the forest, you will be unfurling yourself open, bit by tender bit…

So let’s get started!  The following poses are fine to do alone or along with your usual practice.

Day 1:  Restorative Back Bend Create a small roll with a blanket to place underneath the body just at or below the shoulder blades. Lie supine on the roll (your arms should stretch out just above roll). While it may be slightly uncomfortable at first, your body should accept the opening.  If it is too intense, try bending your knees or decreasing the height of the roll. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.

Day 2: Ardha Salabasana or Half Locust Lie on your stomach.  Keep your pelvis and legs on the floor and as you inhale begin to lift your torso up off the mat.  Be sure to draw your shoulders away from the floor and keep your head in line with your body to avoid overstretching the neck. Keep your arms extending along your sides and press your fists into the floor, thumbs toward the body. You can either keep the movement as a flow; inhaling as you lift and exhaling as you descend or maintain the lifted position, breathing as you hold.

Day 3: I call this one Purvottanasana Prep or Reverse Plank Prep From a seated position, place your hands behind you so that your fingers are facing forward just outside and behind your hips. Bending the elbows, exhale and allow your front body to collapse and sink back.  As you inhale, straighten your elbows and press your sternum forward to expand the front body.  Repeat for several rounds. You can make slight adjustments or increase the action by bringing your hands further back.

Day 4: Setu Bandha or Bridge Vinyasa This posture flow begins with a gentle pelvic tilt. Lie on your back and bend your knees.  As you inhale, arch the lower back, keeping the sacrum/tailbone area connecting with the ground.  Exhaling, press that same lower back area into the ground.  Bit by bit, increase the lift of the pelvis and begin to roll the shoulders under to lift the belly and chest further off the floor.  Once you have flowed sufficiently, begin to decrease the height of the lift graduallly until your sacrum returns to the ground.  Spend some time in constructive rest pose with your feet spread widely apart and your knees resting together.

Day 5: Urdhva Hastasana or Upward Hands Pose Begin standing in Tadasana or Mountain Pose. As you inhale, lift your arms up from the sides and bring them up above the head. Lifting from the sides of the body, gently draw the upper back forward, looking upward if it is appropriate.  Exhale the arms back down to your sides.  Repeat for 5 breaths.

These are wonderful postures to begin opening up the front body.  Proceed with awareness and utilize the breath to deepen the effects.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Do You Have a Yen for Yin?

All of us do whether we know it or not.

Our fast paced worlds yearn for a yin-like existence; one that is slower, more reserved, sensitive and quiet. Because most of the time we live in a yang domain that is full of activity, fluctuation, and intensity.

In yoga, a yang practice is certainly a dynamic one. More vigorous practices are usually labelled as ashtanga, vinyasa or power but yang yoga can be any style that is connected with active major muscle movement.

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On the contrary, yin yoga is associated with passive movements that are held longer. The specific yin poses are designed to bypass the large muscle groups and delve into the deeper connective tissues; the areas concerning the ligaments, the bones, or the joints. These connective tissues are the more sedentary elements of the body that provide stability and subtle movement within the hips, pelvis and lower spine.

Although a yin yoga practice can be restful, it is not to be confused with a restorative practice. Great awareness and a keen focus should be taken when performing these poses. Sharp sensation or pain is to be avoided at all times. Over-extension and overexertion can lead to dire repercussions for these tissues due to their slow healing times.

Yet, the benefits are plenty.  The object of Yin Yoga is to stress these deeper tissues through traction as opposed to active stretching. By bringing yourself near the edge of your limit and holding for a significant length of time, you are fully stimulating the ligaments and the joints to provide greater opening, suppleness and health.

“The essence of yin is yielding. Yang is about changing the world; yin accepts the world as it is.”   – Bernie Clark

YOLY Challenge #41: Clear Way for the New

This is the time of year when we dust off our patios, transition our closets and open up the house to let the spring breezes inside.

April is the month for clearing out and opening up. The word April is derived from the Latin word aperier, which means to open. The word “open” has quite a lot of synonyms. path-2074522__340It can mean unfastened, loose, uncluttered, vulnerable, receptive, honest, stretched out, spread out, open to debate, objective, available, free, clear or a beginning.

I am dedicating this week to opening up to some new ideas. A fresh perspective is always a good plan. So, let’s take on some new tricks for looking at our yoga practice this spring.

Try A New Trick for Your Dog: Decompress your shoulders & wrists. Experience Adho Mukha Svanasana with your hands on blocks slanted against the wall.

Get a Partner: Attempt a couple of poses in a more receptive way with the aid of a friend. Alternate drawing each other into Paschimottanasana (sitting feet to feet and holding hands). Or, take on Back-to-Back Virabhadrasana II (stand back to back and hold arms to guide each other into the full posture).

Diffuse Your Environment with either the calming oil of lavender, the invigorating scent of lemon or the illuminating aroma of frankincense. You can combine the essential oil with water and lightly spray the practice area or use an essential oil diffuser.

Explore the Concept of Mudras: Discover a new way of expression by incorporating hand gestures into your practice. The Chin Mudra is a good place to start. Touch each thumb and index finger together and rest the backs of your hands on your lap at the start or end of your practice. This gesture symbolizes your connection with the universe and is an effective way for opening to the earth’s energies.

Incorporate or Eliminate Music: If you usually use music to guide your practice, stop playing it this week. On the other hand, if you normally practice in silence, try on some gentle meditative sounds. My favorite is the music of Liquid Mind.

Maybe you will fall in love with one of these new methods and incorporate it into your practice. Perhaps the ideas will inspire you to continue on exploring for fresh alternatives. Either way, stay open for April and be receptive to the breezes that blow your way.

Welcome all possibilities…

 

YOLY Challenge #40: Making a Joint Effort

There certainly is strength in numbers.  Take joint ventures, joint commissions, joint statements, joint maneuvers or joint peace talks. The joint effect of most things is stronger than the result of standing alone. background-478072__340

There is also strength in forming a joint connection between two things such as mortar between bricks or a wood joint that links the ceiling to the floor or a knee that connects the lower leg to the upper leg. They all work to create a thing that is stronger, more complete, more effective than the single component.

Your challenge for the week is to apply this principle to your yoga practice.  We’ve explored strength through alignment, now we will investigate the balanced effort of flexibility and strength.  This is critical for the health of our joints. Hips, shoulders, elbows, spine, knees, ankles, wrists, and even the fingers and toes all benefit from this “joint concept” of  mobility and stability.

Focus on one area each day this week to create joint mobility and stability. Be sure to warm up with a gentle sun salutation prior to beginning these sequences.

Hips    Stabilize: Warrior III Mobilize: Eka Pada Rajakopatasana

Spine   Stabilize: Utkatasana  Mobilize: Cat/Cow

Shoulders   Stabilize:  Elbow Plank  Mobilize: Gomukasana/Garudasana

Wrists   Stabilize: Balasana to Half Dog (with correct hand position)  Mobilize: Reverse Namaste

Ankles   Stabilize: Ardha Chandrasana  Mobilize: Malasana

Knees   Stabilize: Parsvakonasana  Mobilize: Virasana

Toes   Stabilize: Tadasana (spread toes away from each other) Mobilize: From Vajrasana, lift forward, curl toes under & sit on heels.

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