Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

The Exquisiteness of Order (Winter Theme)

By order, I mean how things are arranged in space or time.  Even chaos theory presumes order in that sense.  On and off the mat, there is a certain order to things that is optimal.  We do not plant seeds and then till the soil.  Or think of the difference between peeling and chopping vegetables and then cooking them or cooking them and then peeling and chopping them.  One or the other is not necessarily wrong if you do not have a specific dish in mind, but which you choose will dictate the results. Once you have gotten started in the sequence, though, the path shifts and is partly set.  To reach an exquisite rather than a disgusting result, the next steps are ordered by the initial choice.

If only one musician is playing a single note, then there is no possibility of discordance.  Add more musicians and more notes and who plays what notes when can mean cacophony, a catchy tune, or an extraordinary and ecstatic work of art.  None of us are alone and none of us are playing just a single note, so in the great fabric of our being, it is best to understand how to make music.

Sequencing on the mat is more subtle than what poses should be done in what order in a particular practice to emphasize backbends v. forward bends and twists to be able to do the strongest poses with the least possibility of injury, as important as that is.  The order in which we apply the Anusara principles not only aligns the physical body, but brings symmetry to the physical and energetic bodies, helping us to feel more in harmony in everything we do on and off the mat.  I am, in this, a decent musician and not Bach, but the more I pay attention to the optimal sequence of things (keeping in mind that over most things we have no control as to when, whether, and how they happen) and the more I learn and appreciate the exquisiteness of order, the more I feel, understand, and experience the subtleties and joys of harmony.

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Happy New Year (and “Flow Into Grace”)

May your new year and decade be abundant with peace and light.  For locals, please join me tomorrow at Capitol Hill Yoga (suitably mid-afternoon for those who like to revel until the wee hours on the eve) for “Flow Into Grace” a special intention-setting all-levels flow practice, followed by yoga nidra.   Register on line at Capitol Hill Yoga or just come and register in person.  Hope to see and hear from you all soon.

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Holiday Greetings and Schedule (website version of e-newsletter)

Dear Friends,

Hope you all enjoyed the big snow.  I missed seeing Saturday regulars and drop-ins with the snow canceling the last day of Willow Street classes and December’s Serenity Saturday.

If you are in need of a little last minute, holiday yoga, come join us tonight at William Penn House, 6:30 pm, all levels class.

For a great way to begin the year, on New Year’s Day itself, come to Capitol Hill Yoga for “Flow Into Grace” a heart-opening, body-shifting (gently), and intention-setting workshop with a combination of all-levels flow and yoga nidra.  To register, please visit, www.capitolhillyoga.com.  Late night revelers welcome; it doesn’t start til mid afternoon!

I’ll be taking my own holiday break so no Wm Penn or house classes next week, while I am in NY visiting friends, family, and enjoying the delights of the city.

Wm. Penn and house classes resume the first week of January.  That week is also free class week at Willow Street Yoga Center (www.willowstreetyoga.com).  I’ll be offering 8:30 am level 2 and 12 noon Gentle/Therapeutics on Saturday, January 9th.

If you were registered for Serenity Saturday in December, call Capitol Hill Yoga to switch your registration to New Year’s “Flow into Grace” or January’s Serenity Saturday (January 16th).

May you all have healthy and delightful holidays whether traveling or staying at home.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Yoga Alignment for Snow Shoveling

When out shoveling (see photos from tonight here), use these Anusara alignment principles as a mantra to keep yourself doing them:  shins in, thighs out, tailbone tucked, upper arm bones integrated into the shoulder socket, shoulder blades hugged to the back of the heart.  Oh yes, arm bones integrated, shoulder blades onto the back of the heart.

Afterwards, try a few slow sun salute variations to reintegrate and align.  Follow with vipariti karani (legs up the wall), supported supta baddha konasana (supported reclining bound angle pose, and a few hip openers of choice.

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Coming Snowstorm (and Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

As I think about whether I will be able to get up to Willow Street to teach my last classes of the session, how much shoveling I will need to do , whether the next forecast storm (middle of next week) might create challenges for my planned trip to NY, etc, etc, my favorite (well, in the top 10) sutra of Patanjali, sprang to mind:  heyam dukham anagatam, 2.16, which means roughly:  the pain that has yet to come can be avoided.

I have several translations/commentaries of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in my library.  All have a different spin on what this means in practice.  What I know is that it is at least partly about being in the present and taking things as they come.  One should still practice and plan.  By practicing and planning, we are better prepared for inevitable pains and challenges.  (For those of you who are giddy with excitement with the thought of a “white Christmas,” this Sutra still helps.  Part of the pain that can be avoided is disappointment when expectations are not realized the way we hoped they would be realized.)  Once we have prepared in a healthy way, though, there is no point in agonizing about what might come, in being in pain in the present because of the possibility (or even inevitability) of a future pain.

The snow seems inevitable.  I am charging my camera battery.  I’m picking what is probably the last of the chard and the baby leeks from the garden, and I am getting ready for Serenity Saturday restoratives.  As long as I can walk to the studio — eight inches is just plain fun, not impassable — I’ll be there with a warm and full offering.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my day instead of worrying about the potential barriers to enjoyment.

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A Trip to the Spa, Restorative Yoga (and Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga)

A few weeks ago, when I was planning how to use my “use or lose” vacation time, recognizing that I could not take a long vacation because of the pressures of a project that is supposed to go fully public at the end of the year, I scheduled a long spa treatment for this afternoon.  When I woke up and reviewed the day of the week and the month to remember what was on the schedule for today, I remembered my spa appointment, and the thought of surrendering to luxury and relaxation brought a big smile to my whole being.  I got up and meditated, did a little asana, and started getting ready for work.  I will shortly walk into the office and work hard to make it possible to leave early without stress.  I planned this mini-retreat for myself because I know I get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the parties and the expectations of the holidays and that some time out would help keep me in good cheer for all that was to come.

I have also been doing lots of restorative yoga in the evenings before bed — especially after a day when there has been a party — just to settle down and let myself release all the chatter.  If you are feeling like it is all a little too much (whether you think the holidays are the best or end up with challenges, it can still be a bit much), take some time to practice vipariti karani (legs up the wall) and a few of your other restorative poses.  If you’re in town, do join me (friends, family, and guests welcome) at Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga for two blissfully uninterrupted hours of restorative yoga.

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Opening to Grace (the beginning and the end)

For the fall session, we have been examining in detail and in sequence how each of the Anusara physical alignment principles can deepen our practice and awareness.  It is my practice to start each session with the overarching principles of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which invite us in every moment, on and off the mat, to invoke an attitude of grace, to use the precision of alignment to refine our practice, and to use the cultivation and refinement of the principles to express in our poses and actions, the ultimate attitude of grace.  Last week we explored how the actions of skull loop serve to refine organic energy and enhance the strength of reaching out and making offering, while ultimately drawing our gaze softly back to the heart.

Here I am, just in time for the holidays, intensely busy at work and overfull with all sorts of other commitments, feeling blessed to have this reminder to come back to the beginning, to soften, to open to the grace of the season, and not to get helplessly caught up in the details and the demands (though those are inevitably present).

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The Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin (and Iccha Shakti)

I went today with my younger sister and brother-in-law to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Even with only a few of the warriors and photographs of the site, it is possible to imagine the sheer magnitude of the vision of thousands of these life-sized images living underground at the tomb of the Emperor.  I then thought of how vast must have been the Emperor’s yearning for power and the wildness of his vision of this extraordinary tomb for it to have become manifest.  Trying to expand my imagination to understand the reality of such ambition and creativity I thought of the principle of iccha shaktiIccha shakti is the very will of consciousness to be, to creatively manifest, to become diversified embodiment out the universal.  Ego and will are not themselves bad, but our very freedom allows us to choose a path that is out of alignment with the principles of joy and unity.

The Terracotta Warriors show the immense possibilities of exercising will.  In their very existence and the manner of their coming into being, they evidence both enormous cruelty and disdain for life and a wondrous manifestation of human creativity, collaboration, and effort.  One of the goals of yoga, in teaching us the possibilities of our own freedom and creativity, is to lead us to choose a life that is progressively better aligned with nature and with all of beings.  This is the path of one who practices, and I find it ever a challenge.

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Using Your Head to Connect (and skull loop)

I think one of the most wonderful things about the Anusara principle of skull loop is that it uses the head to bring mind into connection with the body.  Far too often, staying in our heads or using our mind can disconnect us from the body.  Skillful practice of “skull loop” reminds us that the head is part of the physical body. Skull loop, like all the loops, is a refinement that typically would not be the focus of alignment after not only the major principles (open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy) are set in the pose.  It is also the refinement that generally would be done last in most poses because of its distance from the foundation of the pose.

I rarely work skull loop as a focus without also concentrating on shoulder loop and the relationship between the two.  Both start in the upper palate.  While shoulder loop acts to integrate us and draw us in by hugging the shoulder blades onto the back of the heart as a refinement of muscular energy, skull loop helps us to reach out and serves as a refinement of organic energy — inviting us to extend more fully out of the crown of the head.

Even though skull loop helps remind us how much organic energy — a reaching out with offering that goes all the way from the focal point (more on that another day) out through the periphery, including the head — can empower us, skull loop also has a sweet and subtle reminder to come back to the first principle.  Skull loop starts in the upper palate and goes up the back of the skull to the crown of the head.  That initial action is what helps with organic energy, and when done powerfully, it can really give a lot more strength and lift to a pose.  The second part of the loop softens the forehead and lower eyelids, bringing our inner gaze (drishti) back to the heart.  Skull loop thus shows us both that the head is physically an powerful and important part of the movement of the body and that no action of the head is complete unless it brings us back to the heart and the ultimate purpose of our actions and offerings.

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