YOLY Challenge #46: Balancing Energies

Balance is a deep subject. There are so many levels to consider. We may look to balance ourselves through yoga but in reality what we are actually striving to balance is our energies. The basic nature of ourselves. We want to be calm yet alert, active but stable, open and centered, lifted and grounded, receptive yet detached… the list can go on and on.

There is a sanskrit term that labels the idea of balance. It’s called Samana. Samana is defined as “equal”, “like”, “staying in the middle” or “straight”.

Samana also describes one of the five vayus or winds. A vayu is an energetic component with a distinct flow or function. The samana type of energy moves from the periphery to the core and unifies (or balances) the upward energy called prana and the downward energy named apana. cascade-1845987__340Since samana vayu is the meeting point between the upward and downward energies, it is called the “balancing air.”

The samana vayu also governs the digestive fire which burns brightly when prana and apana unite. Twists are the yoga postures that most relate to this blend of upward and downward energies. When we rotate the spine, we essentially energize our digestive systems.

Another connection to samana is the practice of samavritti or “same wave” breathing. It is a simple method of matching the length of the inhalations to the length of the exhalations. A nice time to practice samavritti is upon waking as it provides an energetic effect. It’s the perfect preparation for an early morning meditation!

This week, strive to cultivate your samana vayu by bringing your sense of alertness into balance with your ability to remain calm.  As you lengthen, ground and as you stabilize, find ease. Take in what you need and release what no longer serves you.  Incorporate twists and samavritti into your daily routine.

You can also apply this practice to the various segments of your “life wheel.” Look closely at the amount of energy you spend on your job, your health, your hobbies, your family or any other areas in your life. Reflect on how these energies can be more balanced.

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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 #43: The Art of Releasing Tension

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As we progress through life, we periodically encounter times of stress and bouts of physical, mental and spiritual imbalance. Although this blog primarily focuses on the system of yoga, there are various modalities available for releasing tension – methods that can direct us back to balance so that we may reconnect with our true nature. Most of these techniques complement the practice of yoga, making its effect even more beneficial.

Jin Shin Jyutsu is one such method of healing. Known as the Japanese art of harmonizing life energy, it is a noninvasive approach to restoring the body that utilizes energy channels or meridians to unlock stress and pain.

The sessions involve light touches on certain areas of the body that correspond to specific energy pathways. Although many times a practitioner facilitates the flow of energy for re-opening, it is the participants themselves who are the true intuitive healers through this sensation of touch.

Jin Shin Jyutsu has the potential to correct many imbalances that we experience. There are several flows or holding sequences that are centered around the organs of the body and the major meridian channels. These are best introduced with the help of a practitioner. Currently, I am undergoing sessions for assistance with trigeminal neuralgia at A Spa For You here in Sedona.

There are also basic finger flows that can be self administered.  Your challenge this week is to use the chart below to locate any area(s) that may be valuable and healing for you.  1bfb56fbfa169d2397ec937e068a4ea0

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YOLY Challenge #42: Don’t Super Size It!

hamburger-19264__340When you hunger for something, you want it, you need it, in fact you may not be able to function without it.  Your mind becomes attached to that “thing”. You may think that you want it with all your heart, but you really want it with all your intellect.  Your mind is the possessor here, not your eyes nor your ears. In the end, this can make you scattered, obsessed, and completely unaware that others may be affected by your desires.

Through yoga, we can address this attachment, this extreme possessiveness, with the concept of aparigraha. Aparigraha is the 5th yama or abstinence in the 8 fold path of yoga.  For a review click here.

In sanskrit, the word aparigraha is broken down into graha = to take/grab, pari=all sides & a=against. So, aparigraha means “against taking all” or non-greed.

But it’s not just about hamburgers. We can certainly have attachments to physical things but we can also be possessive on an intellectual or verbal level.

This week’s Year of Living Yogically challenge is to find freedom through non-attachment.

Here are some basic methods for practicing non-attachment or aparigraha:

Practice Yoga Joyfully – Practice what you love.  Be honest about what you need from your practice.  Don’t overdo and strive for poses that you feel you should do because you would be “less” without attaining them.

Simplify – Only possess what you need.  Some objects such as excess clothing, gadgets for the home and collections are only cluttering your space and take up time to maintain.  Go through a closet or even a drawer and begin to discard.

Listen – Be open to what others have to share.  Pay attention that you don’t talk too much and hoard conversation.

Eat Less – Use your own judgment here.  It isn’t about dieting.  Its about consuming. As you fill your plate, take a bit less than you normally would.  If you are still hungry after a few minutes, take a little extra.  Be more objective about how much you eat.

Let Go – This is more intellectual than physical.  Allow your mind to give up and relax once in awhile.  Remember, if there is one thing we can count on it’s change.  Give yourself permission to flow down the river without grabbing onto the logs that block the current.

When we practice non-attachment, we are learning to clear the mind so that the act of possessiveness does not occlude our life force. We can (and should) still enjoy “things” in life.  But, not to the detriment of others or at the risk of becoming unbalanced.

In the end, non-attachment opens the way to freedom for the soul.

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