Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Hold Your Ground

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“Just being low down in a room tends to clear the mind. Maybe it’s because being on the floor is so foreign to us that it breaks up our habitual neurological patterning and invites us to enter into this moment through a sudden opening in what we might call the body door.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

This week, we will begin to explore the individual poses of yoga or the asanas. This is the 3rd limb of the yogic system. Although it is self-evident that a steady yoga practice will involve the postures themselves, in the vast scope of yoga the asanas have a specific role to play. The intention of asana is to bring attunement (or greater awareness) to our instinctual responses. For that reason, many of the poses derive from animals who, by nature, are strongly instinctive.

The other main purpose of the asana limb is to balance the energy or prana within our bodies. Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Hold Your Ground”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Is This Too Much?

Remember the most essential aspect of healthy yoga is going inward and growing more mindful with each breath. Let us not get distracted by “getting better” at yoga with our drive to achieve more. Instead, let us focus on deepening our relationship with our bodies in a way that is empowering and mindful.

One of the most difficult yamas (restraints) within the 8 limb-fold system of yoga to define is brahmacharya. 

Literally, it means celibacy. However, it can also be defined as non-sensuality, which is the detachment from fulfilling the senses. 

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When we dwell over objects of the senses, we tend to develop attachments. And, attachments can cause us to become imbalanced. Excess is almost always harmful.  Ever hear of too much of a good thing?
Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Is This Too Much?”

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 #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.