Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

Discussion of physical aspects of yoga (on and off the mat)

Affirmation and Iccha Shakti (Pelvic Loop 2)

Instead of being able to walk into the office with the first thing scheduled a regular 10am conference call, this morning I have to be across town to appear on a panel discussion with the Director of my Office.  This means I have to leave the house at least an hour earlier than I usually do.  As I am heading into a more stressful workday than a typical one, skipping meditation and my morning walk would not be optimal.

I made sure I was out of bed the minute I got my wake-up call (currently Vedic chanting).  It was the will to practice (the embodied, stepped down version of iccha shakti, which is the ultimate will to being) that got me into meditation cushion.  It will be getting out of the house 20 minutes earlier that will give me the time to walk to a more distant bus or metro stop so that I feel invigorated and refreshed before the talk.

Sometimes we do not get into poses because we lack the will to do so.  Keeping pelvic loop engaged requires will.  Some people naturally love the feeling of keeping the buttocks engaged, the pelvic floor lifted, and the belly toned.  Others (myself included) have to develop a keen sense of will to keep the lower torso engaged, to keep with and enhance the intensity of sensation and concentrated action.  The more I practice, the more will I have to stay engaged because I have experienced that the challenge of staying intensely engaged is worth the lightness and freedom that ensues.  For me, this is true in my yoga and meditation practice and in nearly everything else (which includes, sometimes, having the will to rest and relax).

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Pelvic Loop (and self-affirmation)

I contemplated long and hard about how to teach the Anusara principle of pelvic loop.  If students are already tending to bring the tops of the thighs forward, without doing enough inner spiral enhanced by thigh loop (which together take the tops of the thighs back and apart and brings curve to the lumbar spine), it would not be helpful to invite them to engage in an action, which if done as a primary movement, will tend to take the curve out of the lower back and bring the tops of the thighs forward, making movement even more limited.

Even if we have the tendency to tuck the buttocks and tailbone too much, we are not necessarily engaging out core, and pelvic loop, when done in proper sequence, really helps us to affirm and find our own strength — and no one should miss out on the opportunity to do that.  So crucial to thinking about pelvic loop (especially being myself a reformed  “tucker”) are the following:

1.  The loops are bilateral and can move separately.  This means it is not just bringing the whole of the pelvis forward by a single, central big movement of the tailbone, but using the muscles on each side of the pelvis independently to engage pelvic loop.

2. Although ultimately, all of the principles are done at the same time, they are also done sequentially.  A student said last night that doing pelvic loop in a seated position made her feel “lifted up away from the ground.”  Once I said to remember that part of “opening to grace” is settling and getting heavy, and we always do “open to grace” first, she was better able to understand how to refine her seat with pelvic loop.  Instead of lifting her thighs and pelvic bones, she left her bones heavy and drew her muscles in to firm the buttocks, tone the pelvic floor muscles, and lift the belly to support up-rising energy in the spine, which gave her a sense of power and upliftment, even as she kept a feeling of being rooted to the earth.

3.  Last week I wrote and taught about using “thigh loop” to get out of our own way, to choose actively to tip the longest bones in our body into the back plane of our body so that we have more range of movement, freedom, and flexibility in our pelvis and low back.  Only after we have made the physical and energetic shift of thigh loop can we really tap into and affirm our own power.  If we are still jutting forward (literally and metaphysically) then when we try to tap into power, we will just get more in our way.  When we have gotten out of our own way and moved into the back body, then we can better find our power.  We still start in the back body, but we affirm the spaciousness and freedom we have created and are able to find a place of empowerment and soar.  For example, it is my experience that taking the thighs back and apart is a big part of what gets us into arm balances, but firming the buttocks and engaging the pelvic floor and lower belly muscles that keep us up and give us the ability to choose where to go once we get there.

4.  Off the mat, it may be nice to get out of our own way, but then what?  Shedding or moving what is blocking or inhibiting us is not for the purpose of having nothing, but so that we are then able to affirm the worth of our own being and find our own power so that we can be more joyous and more generous.

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Serenity Saturday, Oxfam Fundraiser, and Thanksgiving Week Classes (web version of newsletter)

Dear Friends,

I hope you weathered Ida and are enjoying the glorious days that are following her cleansing rains as we move into the first of the holidays.  Although I may have some thought-provoking questions about the historical basis for our Thanksgiving Day, I love taking the time as a society to get together to remember, to heal, and to share the abundance and give thanks for all that we have.  For me, one of my greatest sources of gratitude is the practice of yoga and our wonderful community.  Please join me for a gratitude-filled week of inner abundance:

Serenity Saturday:  November 21st, 3pm-5pm at Capitol Hill Yoga

Oxfam Yoga Fundraiser:  Thanksgiving morning, 10am-11:30am, at Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park

Class Schedule:  All open classes will be held as usual Tuesday, November 24th at Wm. Penn House (6:30pm) and Saturday, November 28th (Level 2 at 8:30am, Gentle/Therapeutic at noon) at Willow Street, Takoma Park.

Regrets:  No house group practice, Wednesday, November 25th.

More details on the website at www.rosegardenyoga.com.  To register in advance for Serenity Saturday, please visit www.capitolhillyoga.com.

I look forward to seeing you soon and sharing the joy of the holiday season.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Getting Out of My Own Way (and thigh loop)

A couple of years ago, I took a brilliant class with Desiree Rumbaugh in which she used the theme of “getting out of our own way” to lead us to a place to better integrate our shoulders.  As I was practicing with the Anusara principle of “thigh loop” this week, I was reminded of that class.  We’ve all been in the situation where our habitual mindset, physical posture, life style, or emotions get in the way of our finding more freedom and happiness.

When our thigh bones move into the front plane of the body, the forward movement keeps us from opening our hips more fully and from getting into deeper and stronger poses that require our hips to be open (in fact, out of the way).  When we take our thigh bones back, we physically have more freedom, more range of motion and are better able to access the deepest places of power and openness that allow us to soar on the mat.  I’m working on it on the mat as a great reminder to get out of my own way off the mat.

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A Reason to Get Out of Bed

Today, when I was trying to burrow more deeply under the covers when invoked to wake by the usual sounds, I thought about the way young children or pets are eager to get out of bed and to get you out of bed, even if it is for nothing more than to say good morning or eat breakfast.  The moment they open their eyes, the day looks promising.  At what point does bed (even if we have had enough sleep) come to seem more desirable than getting up?

I am not particularly eager to go to work today — things are rather stressful at this juncture on my project.  I do know, though, that sitting for meditation is always good.  I also know that on the days I practice fully in the morning, my day is more enjoyable no matter what happens.  Knowing that I have the time and space to practice if I wake timely is always a good reason to get out of bed and is what drew me out of the comfort of lying under the covers this morning.

Now that I am done with my practice, I can also enjoy what spectacular weather is on offer today.  An added bonus.

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Calf Loop (and enhancing the integrity of the energy flow)

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.

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Web Version of November Newsletter

Dear ,

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,

Elizabeth

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Ready for EST (and another aspect of refinement)

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.

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What is Beauty? (and “Ankle Loop”)

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?”

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