Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

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.

Share

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.

Share

When to Get a Hug (and shoulder loop)

It has been my experience that there are times when a hug feels like too much or not right or that it will not ease what hurts.  First there is a need for an openness of heart, a little intrinsic brightness, some recognition of worthiness to receive the love, before a strong embrace feels right.  In Anusara, we are taught to practice the opening, brightening, expanding principle of “opening to grace” before we draw in with the embrace of muscle energy.

“Shoulder loop” helps us refine muscle energy and by drawing the shoulder blades onto the back of the heart and then lifting and expanding the chest, it can be incredibly powerful and healing.  My experience with shoulder loop, though, especially when I have active shoulder or neck pain, is that if I am at all collapsed, if I am not doing maximum “inner body bright” shoulder loop feels OK, but it it is much harder to access and receive.  When I open to the possibilities by radically filling with light and energy, especially around the back of the heart — in a word, meeting the possibility of embrace from the inside out — then the embrace of shoulder loop is almost instantly healing and empowering.

Share

Website Version of December Newsletter

Note:  If you would like to receive newsletters or previously subscribed, but changed your email or have not been receiving emails, please resubscribe directly through the website or send me an email and I’ll try to get you on the list.  I do get some mysterious bounce backs.

I hope this email finds you well.  I’ve been enjoying the decorative lights outside and candles inside as we move towards the Winter Solstice.  Even with the excitement of the holidays, it is a great time to turn inward, to pause and refresh our remembrance and recognition of the light inside us all.

Many thanks to all of you who came to the Thanksgiving Oxfam class (in spirit as well as in person).  Thanks to the generosity of Willow Street and all of you, we raised almost a $1,000 for Oxfam.  All of you who come to regular classes help support the Wednesday night practice being 100% for charity.  All fall, in recognition of one of the biggest issues of our day, the charities selected have been health-care focused, and I’ll continue that for December.  If you have any suggestions for cause of the month for 2010, don’t hesitate to share with me.

Workshops:

December Serenity Saturday: Give yourself or a friend or loved one a holiday gift of sweet relaxation at the next Serenity Saturday, which is December 19th, 3pm-5pm, at Capitol Hill Yoga.  Do a little local shopping or dining at Eastern Market and then join us for the delight of a deep restorative practice.  To register, please visit www.capitolhillyoga.com.  $5 discount if you register more than seven days in advance.

New Year’s Day Workshop: Flow into grace with an all-levels asana practice, followed by yoga nidra from 2-4 pm on New Year’s Day.  Suitable for the well-rested and late-night revelers alike.  Go to www.capitolhillyoga.com to register.

Classes:

Needing a little extra yoga or to get back into the swing:  come drop in at William Penn House on Tuesdays at 6:15 for all-levels or at Willow Street on Saturdays (level 2 at 8:30am and gentle/therapeutics at 12 noon).

Holiday Schedule:

Willow Street is on break from December 21st through the end of the year.  I’ll be teaching through December 19th and then teaching free classes as part of free class week on January 9th.  Yes, there will be class at the William Penn House on Tuesday, December 22nd, but alas no class on December 29th.

As always, please visit the website at www.rosegardenyoga.com to get more information on classes and upcoming workshops and to enjoy the blog.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

Share

Thanksgiving Week Sequencing Gift (and Kidney Loop)

My students this fall and those of you following the blog know that I have been teaching the basic Anusara physical principles of alignment in sequence as the focus of my weekly classes.  I did not set out to do so at the beginning of the session, nor did I pick it just for this week, but it just so happens that using my session theme and sequence brings us to “kidney loop” for the Thanksgiving week.

John Friend’s  Anusara Teacher Training Manual explains that kidney loop  starts in the core of the abdomen, just below the navel.  It flows up the back body to fill and open the kidney area to the bottom of the shoulder blades, moves forward through the top of the diaphragm (heart focal point) to the base of the sternum, and then down the solar plexus to just below the navel.  The act of opening the back body at our core before engaging the front body helps enhance and refine the physical aspects of the fundamental Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.”  By opening the back body, we open to the unknown, to that which is greater than ourselves, to untapped sources of power.  Opening in this way, draws in and strengthens the front body and helps us find our own inner power.

Among other things for me to give thanks is the very beauty of this magical sequencing moment:  What better way to celebrate and honor the tradition of Thanksgiving than by recognizing that we are not fully in charge, by opening in such a way that we are not hardening, demanding, or constricting ourselves, but rather are seeking an opening of the spirit that can bring us to a place of recognition and empowerment.

Share

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).

Share

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.

Share

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

Share