Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

Six Hours of R&R (A Simple Extravaganza)

I woke completely refreshed this morning, even though it was a very long work week, I taught two classes yesterday, I have lots to do today, and it promises to be a stressful work week coming. The sense of well-restedness is thanks to the six (or was it seven) hours of nurture I gave myself at the end of the day yesterday.

First I walked to a late afternoon appointment with my wonderful massage therapist, Patrick McClintock. My walk to see Patrick  is a beautiful walk 14-block walk through Capitol Hill. I strolled home afterwards, stopping at the grocery store to pick up soy milk and a couple of other items I like to have in the house (no more than I could carry easily), then walking through Lincoln Park on my way home.  Taking my time on my walk, I visited with a few dogs and neighbors who were out.

For dinner, I made a stir-fry of tempeh and radish greens (greens and herbs came right out of the garden).

  • In peanut oil (or other oil that can take high heat; not olive oil with asian flavors); slice a clove or two of garlic, mince some ginger, saute until garlic is translucent; add sliced onions and saute until translucent (when you add onion or onion parts depends on whether you are using onions, green onions, or scallions — white onion or onion parts go in before the greens, green parts go in after bitter/firm greens or with tender greens); add diced tempeh (or tofu or leave it out and add minced toasted nuts right before serving); saute until onions and tempeh are turning golden; splash with rice wine vinegar and Braggs liquid amino protein or soy sauce; quickly stir to integrate flavors; add greens and fresh herbs from the garden; saute until wilted; add splash of sherry, white wine or water; saute until liquid has evaporated. Serve with any grain or asian-style noodles.

After dinner, I read for a bit. Then I gave myself a mini-facial and pedicure. At twilight, I sat out back with an herbal infusion made from mint and lemon balm from the garden and watched the moon rise — it was a glorious moon.

I followed this simple, extravaganza with a long practice of restoratives, supine poses, and forward bends, and took my savasana into bed for the night.

Maybe you cannot fit in this much, and I do not do this much R&R in a single block every week — some Saturdays I want to go out on the town. Try to make part of some of your weekends (especially critical if you, like I, work six days a week, not five)  restful without having to go away — perhaps including one of the Serenity Saturday workshops at Capitol Hill Yoga when you can.

Share

What Wakes You Up in the Morning

A little after 5 this morning, the sound of the unexpected rain brought me out of my dream state.  I was not ready to rise, so I realigned myself into a good savasana and just listened — following no other thoughts — until the morning musical awakening arrived at 6.

I could have thought of it in this language:  the rain woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep, but I was still tired so I lay in bed until the alarm went off.

Hotels, I think, were on to something when they started offering “wake up calls,” though the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of an intense dream can be shocking.  When did we start naming the sound we use to bring us from dreaming to waking “the alarm?”  What perspective does it give to our day to think we need an alarm to start it?  Why not at least “alert” or “signal” for the days when the only technology (think about that piece of it) was a jarring sound?

I have been thinking a lot about what wakes me up since Becky passed away.  For 21 years, either Henrietta or Becky was lying on or next to me purring before any electronic signal could go off.  They knew when it would go off and every morning sought a little petting (and then food) before they heard any signal to start the day.  They incorporated it into their rhythm and created a good waking routine around my schedule.

Some of my waking with the cats instead of the electronic sounds must have been me ready to be shifted from sleeping to waking by the cats’ attention, because I am still waking 10-20 minutes before Bose technology utters an automatic sound (usually yoga chants) to make sure I get off to work.  I also know from conscious attention to the effects on my sleep from when and what I eat and what I put into my day and until how late, that when I am keeping my eating, practicing, and sleeping schedule steady, I have no need to be called awake by something outside myself to start the day.

Share

Yoga Appropriate Office Attire (and freedom)

Unless you have to wear a uniform, there is probably a little flexibility in what you can wear to work (aren’t we lucky to live such a bountiful lifestyle that this is a dilemma).  A tie might be required, etc, etc.  You can always choose, at a minimum, to have clothes that fit properly and allow some freedom of movement.

My choice to be comfortable rather than “lawyerly” in my office attire except for special occasions possibly has impacted my career, but it is salutory for me on a day-to-day basis to wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather (when we dress inside for the weather outdoors, we need to use less energy for heating and cooling; wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone to do this) and allows for freedom of movement (this includes shoes).

When I pick out my clothing, I want to be able comfortably take a full breath (think waistline), easily raise my arms overhead or interlace my hands behind my back (how do the shoulders, chest, and back fit), do uttanasana (coverage, waist line, tightness around the legs, back, and shoulders), and run for the bus (tightness of clothes and shape of shoes; forget heels).  If you need to wear a jacket, there still is nothing stopping you from wearing a shirt underneath that allows for free movement nor having the jacket properly fit.

There are a lot of ways our choices can enhance freedom rather than constrain it.  Choosing to wear comfortable clothing (which usually is better able to be cleaned at home than at the dry cleaners — helps the environment) and comfortable shoes (which helps avoid bone deformation and possible surgery — good for you; good for the environment), is just one of many.

Share

Standing Poses with John Friend

If you are looking for a good way to practice and enhance your standing poses, please check out this video by John Friend.  If the link doesn’t work for you, go to Yoga Journal on-line and go to their videos section.

I never cease to marvel at the wonders of technology.  I never cease to be grateful for my teacher and the teachings.  Don’t take anything for granted.

Share

15 Minutes of Yoga in the Morning

Here’s a good way to invite in the day (if you have more time, do longer holds for the various standing poses):

Balasana (child’s pose) with hands stretched out.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)

Dynamic movement between downward facing dog and palakasana (plank pose).

Uttanasana (standing forward fold) to tadasana (mountain) with hands on hips to rise.

Standing sun breath.

Modified sun salute series (tadasana, uttanasana, (A) lunge on both sides with uttansana in between,  adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana; (B) virabhadrasana I on both sides with uttanasana in between, adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana; (C) parsvokonasana on both sides, adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana).  Add trikonasana and ardha chandrasana if you have time.

Handstand or half handstand.

One more sun salute variation, with eka pada rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) on both sides.

Seated twist and forward bend of your choice.

Seated meditation (five minutes or more).

Have a great day!

Share

Balasana (child’s pose)

Whenever I am studying with John Friend, and we are invited to move into balasana I recall as story he told of seeing Gurumayi move into the pose.  He told us of the reverence with which she did the pranam — the bowing forward to touch the earth as she went into the pose.  I like to start my asana practice with balasana because it reminds me to honor the teachings, the history of the practice, my teachers, and myself for coming to the mat.  I think of the name of the pose, and I am reminded of the wonder (abhuta) of being embodied.  I think of how children marvel and delight at everything they encounter.  It is all new for them, but we can cultivate the sense of everything being new and wonderful.  When we cultivate a sense of wonder, it brings us to the other meaning of bala, which is strength.  For our lives will be stronger and fuller, if we can approach each pose on the mat, and each moment on and off the mat, with wonder and interest.

Balasana is also a good way to start the practice because it is a sweet, gentle way to open up the hips, groins, low back, and shoulders.  It is a good way to shift from more active poses towards savasana because, as a forward bend, it is inward-going and quieting.

Share

Scary Asana Poses (and how they can serve us)

It is a good thing, I think, to do what one can to prepare for eventualities, to take reasonable precautions.  It is not optimal, though, to allow fear and anxiety prevent us from living fully each day.  I choose to continue to face fear and discomfort in my asana practice, as well as just doing the poses for which I have an innate affinity.  I practice poses that bring up fear, dislike, discomfort, and general aversion.  I do not ignore my fears and discomforts.  I learn why I have them; I practice more assiduously the preparatory strengthening or stretching poses that will give me more support in the deeper poses, so that I can be in a place where I know when my fears are appropriate cautions and when they are unnecessary anxiety.

By practicing the poses that are scary and uncomfortable and learning how to stay grounded, present, and even joyous while doing so, I have learned a lot about how to live in away that optimizes my health (physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial) and the health of those around me, without letting fear, worry or discomfort about dangers, limitations, and pitfalls limit my ability to live fully and generously with a care for the suffering and joys around me.  Yes,  I took extra care to wash my hands last night right before I started teaching a pre-natal class, but I cannot stop going out and enjoying the spring days or getting my work done for fear of swine flu; I am currently healthy.  I am not going to stop supporting local businesses because there is a recession; I still have a steady job and have no reason to curtail my spending, and I have always lived within my income.

Share

Why Practice; Why Teach

Last night in class, I asked why people continued to come to class.  “To see how I can expand,” “for the community,” “for the delight,” “for relaxation,” were some of the answers.  Orie asked me what led me to teach.  The first reason I gave (and the one that was the primary reason for entering teacher training) was that I had been so inspired by what yoga had offered me that I wanted to share it.

The second reason I gave was that teaching helps keep me disciplined about my practice.  I cannot abide hypocrisy, and so, I feel compelled to try my best to practice what I teach.  I do not always embody fully the teachings in my own life and practice, but I am always trying.  Knowing how the teachings and practices have shifted me and witnessing how the teachings inspire my students, leads me to continue to study, to practice, to try and align better on and off the mat.

Today, with a day of stressful meetings and phone calls ahead, it will be a good day to try to live the practice.

Share

Savasana

When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana.  It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated.  For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming.  After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.

Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice.  The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.

When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes?  Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding?  Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment?  Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?

Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses.  I would agree.

Share