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!

 

 

 

 

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…

 

Alfalfa Sprout

Many of my students know that I love the poetry of Danna Faulds. She is a reflective writer who shares her loving perspective of yoga and nature in her works.

Lately, I am reading some poems from her book, One Soul, in our classes.  Here is a perfectly appropriate piece for spring and our March theme of strength and energy.

Alfalfa Sprout

I am so ready. Squeezed inside this tiny seed, I am coiled energy, waiting for water and light, waiting to breathe, waiting for the green of me to come forth. Compact potential, waiting to unwind, waiting to find my way out, waiting for a rebirth into something far different than I’ve been.th It’s time. I know it’s time. Oh, have you ever seen anything as lovely as this shoot, this root reaching out and down, drinking life in? To create a leaf worthy of being eaten is a full-blown miracle to me.