Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

Making the Bed (and Sauca)

I have noticed over the years that I sleep more deeply and peacefully if I have made the bed before getting into it again.  Smoothing out the sheets and the covers and fluffing the pillows after waking, releases the energy of the dreams from the previous night.  This helps make sure that each returning to sleep is a new experience, an opening to the possibility of entering a wonderful state.

The principle of sauca (cleanliness or purity) invites us to be clean and clear before and as part of our physical and meditative practice and all our living.  Imagine trying to practice yoga on a dirty mat and going into savasana (corpse pose/final relaxation) on a tangled blanket.  Would you think it possible to become deeply relaxed?  Probably not.  If we want our space smooth to lie down for a yoga pose, how could we not need the same for a good night’s sleep, for a planned visit to another state of consciousness?

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World Wide Knit in Public Day (and Vikalpa Samskara)

World Wide Knit in Public Day is this weekend — June 13th (and 14, 20, and 21).  What will you be knitting?  I have started a pair of leg-warmers.  The pattern was really for ankle warmers, but I have chosen to make them longer than the pattern suggested.  The nice farmers who raise the sheep, spin and dye the yarn, and sell it at the Dupont Fresh Farm Market, called them “yoga socks.”  The yarn is beautiful.  The sample pair looked like something I would want on my feet in colder weather.  The project was small enough to tuck into my carry bag.  Definitely a go for summer knitting (unlike the three-quarter finished mohair shruggy that has become a lapful of furry stuff).

“Why are they so short?” I asked.  “We had originally designed them to be longer, but our teacher said we might need to grab our ankles?” they explained.  “When would you do that, when it would not matter whether you were touching fabric instead of your skin,” I puzzled out loud, not out of criticism, but really wanting to know, thinking maybe in Pilates.  The farmers could not really think of a reason.  I bought an extra skein along with the kit to make the — oh, let’s call them footless socks — calf height.  The yarn has a bit of a stickiness to it, so they are not slippery.  They will be good to wear for yoga.

I’ve never knitted on double-pointed, size 2 needles, in the round before, though I happened to have four in the house (picked up at a yard sale for a $1 a decade or two ago and put in the sewing box).  I tend not to knit from patterns for whole projects.  So I had a little learning to do.  The pattern did not explain how to use the double-pointed needles; that knowledge was assumed.  I am not used to the contraints of following a pattern.  Doing so, on occasion, though, forces me to learn a new technique.  It took my a couple of hours to get into the rhythm, but now I’ve eased into the project.

I sometimes seek the same type expansion with cooking.  Though easily able to cook something delicious without a recipe with most ingredients, sometimes I pick out a complicated recipe just to expand my skills in the kitchen.

Yoga, most of all, benefits from a combination of free exploration and attentive development to the knowledge imparted by a teacher.  We are most full and expanded when we combine experience and teachings.  We receive the teachings and then we practice again and again to make it not just our own experience, but part of our being.  This process is called vikalpa samskara.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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