When I think of the Anusara principle of calf loop, I think of playing with drinking straws as a child. I’d take the straw out of the glass and bend it back and forth. The straw would end up with a horizontal crease where it was bent — not quite a break — but the place where it bulged at the bend would prevent the straw from serving the purpose of enabling liquid to be drawn up through it. When our knees (or our elbows for that matter) are hyper-extended, I think it disrupts the energy flow from the periphery to the core, weakening the pose, and breaking the integrity of the alignment.
As one whose legs started out bowed (though less after over six solid years of working “shins in/thighs out”), my natural tendency is to hyper-extend. I find that using calf loop, I do not hyper-extend. Calf loop (also called “shin loop”) has us draw energy from the base of the shin, up the back of the lower leg, and loop it through the top of the shin and then back down the front of the leg. We wouldn’t ever start a pose thinking about calf loop, but in the flow of a pose, after the major principles are activated, including muscular energy, we can enhance muscular energy and the integrity of the alignment of the knees by focusing on calf loop. When I practice calf loop, I find that it lifts the calf muscle and draws it more firmly into the top of the shin, and moves the top of the shin forward. These actions do not bend the knee, but firm the muscles behind the lower leg, including the calf and the popliteus (which is the muscle behind the knee that flexes the knee) to the bone.
What is tricky — especially for those who tend to hyper-extend, is that getting the knee in proper alignment feels like bending the knee. If we have been out of alignment, changing our stance will feel strange and perhaps “not right” at first. The sweet subtlety of practice (whether trying to expand our ability to do poses, heal and injury, or live in better alignment overall) is learning what is true integrity in a pose and what is habit, what will serve and enhance and what does not.
Night-time temperatures forecast for the low 30sF next week. I’ll be eating some big salads in the meantime.
Of my friends on facebook, several reveled in staying inside because of the rain yesterday. Others complained about being unable to do things that would have been better on a dry day. Reporters and anchor persons seemed to think it newsworthy whether the rain will impact football or baseball games. How about telling us whether the rain we are getting is optimal for the native flora and fauna and how it is impacting the farmers? We seem as a society to have forgotten the relationship of the weather to food.
I think this is one of the most spectacular years for fall foliage that I can remember. The world seems to be pulsating with an ecstasy of color. I am beside myself with joy just walking around (especially when I have my camera with me). I hope you are getting the opportunity to be outside; the work commute is definitely a great time to be able to look around (especially if some of it is walking).
Expand the inherent joy in witnessing and experiencing the transformation between summer and fall, partaking in the abundant harvest, and accepting the sweetness of a more introspective climate by practicing forward bends with twists, restoratives, and inversions.
To deepen the revelry and to find respite when needed, come join me and pretty wonderful group of people on Tuesdays at William Penn House or Saturdays at Willow Street Yoga (level 2 at 8:30 and Gentle/Therapeutics at 12 noon) on a drop-in basis.
This month’s Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga, which is on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, will be a special treat. Whether you are preparing to travel or to host guests or to have a quiet weekend to yourself, a long, sweet, easeful restorative practice is just right. Feel free to bring early, out of town guests and family. To register, please go to the workshops page at www.capitolhillyoga.com.
If you’ll be in town for Thanksgiving, I hope to see you, along with friends, family, and guests of all age and yoga ability, at my 7th Annual Thanksgiving Day Fundraiser to benefit Oxfam. It’s from 10-11:30 on Thanksgiving Day in the beautiful and spacious Willow Street, Takoma Park Studio. As has been my practice, I will be matching all donations over the suggested donation of $20.
For more information about the classes and workshops and to catch up on the blog, please visit the website at www.rosegardenyoga.com.
Peace and light,
As I walk around the neighborhood seeing all the pumpkins on stoops, like Proust with his madeleines, I remember the scent of roasting pumpkin seeds and the salty taste on my tongue, and I return to the place of my childhood. My mother wasn’t much for holidays, but she very much enjoyed arts and crafts projects. The jack-o-lantern, was something then that showed up when we were little kids. I don’t think there was ever a jack-o-lantern carved when we did not eat the seeds. Part of the project was cleaning the seeds, oiling a cookie sheet, spreading the seeds out on the sheet, salting them, and roasting them until golden, and then enjoying the seeds as a special salty treat. I think it unlikely she has decorated a pumpkin at home since I was in early elementary school, but if she were to do it now, in addition to roasting the pumpkin seeds, I am sure she would decorate the outside instead of cutting it into a jack-o-lantern, so that the pumpkin could also be used for soup or pie.
About a week ago, maybe even a little earlier in the month, daylight savings time started feeling artificial. My body started insisting on sleeping nearly an hour later, and I found that I wasn’t really using the hour of light at the end of the day. It was time to go inside and cook or read or otherwise move inward. When we change the clocks this weekend, I will already have shifted, and the clock will feel as natural as living by a clock can feel. Part of the refinement of a deeper yoga practice is learning to pay attention to such subtleties, to learn what is most optimal and when, both time of day and time of year. This applies to asana practice (i.e., when to emphasize forward bending v. backbending),what we eat and how much, and what kind of activities we choose.
When I was meditating this morning, the last lines of Keats’ ‘Ode on A Grecian Urn’ welled up in my thoughts: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” How odd, I thought, for this to appear, as if out of nowhere. I have been contemplating this week on what it means to be refined, but not in the way of an aesthete. Rather, as I have been concentrating on the Anusara alignment principle of “ankle loop,” I have been thinking about how deepening our practice with repeated exploration and study we are able to refine our understanding and the flow of energy within us so that we can be more connected to ourselves and each other.
As I understand the essential structure of the Anusara principles, the “loops” are really tertiary principles. The primary principles are those of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which are the principles of how we practice. The secondary principles are the fundamental physical and energetic principles — “opening to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, organic energy.” The loops serve to refine the secondary principles. Ankle loop, for example, which starts at the base of the shin bone, travels down the back of the heel and then back up through the arch, energizes the foot, lifts the arch, supports our stance and helps us focus muscular energy. When we are feeling challenged finding as much muscular energy in our feet and legs as would be optimal for a full expression of the pose, we can use ankle loop to refine our understanding and practice of muscular energy in the legs. Keeping in mind the primary principles of practice, though, the refinements should also always lead us towards the heart and not just get us into details. Getting more sophisticated and refined, likewise should not lead us to disdain for that which is unrefined.
Funny, then, that the aesthete’s call to beauty should arise in my meditation while I have been consciously thinking about refinement. What does it mean to appreciate and study refinements, but still honor and delight in a novice’s full expression of “attitude, alignment, and action” as much as an impeccably aligned and skillful pose that does not reveal a yearning for spirit? Beauty may be truth, and truth beauty, but what is “beauty?”