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POSING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #6 April 6, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Baseball, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Each body has its art, its precious prescribed
Pose, that even in passion’s droll contortions, waltzes,
Or push of pain–or when a grief has stabbed
Or hatred hacked–is its and nothing else’s.
Each body has its pose. “

– from “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…” by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

In Man and Crisis, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset wrote, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” The same concept applies to yoga. Some yoga teachers can watch someone practice and recognize what style and tradition the person normally practices. Some teachers, master teachers, can tell what other activities a person does besides yoga and/or what occupied the majority of their time when they were a child. Still other teachers (again, master teachers) can look at a practitioner in a pose and describe certain psychological and emotional aspects of the person’s personality and life.

I’ve witnessed teachers do all of the above. And, it’s fascinating! It seems magical! But, what quickly becomes obvious is that these teachers aren’t magic – they are simply describing what they see in the body. Our biology is our biography, because everything we experience has a place in the body and in the mind. Therefore, everything we experience is in us and in our poses.

Consider, for a moment, the first pose you loved to practice. Ask yourself why you loved that pose and remember how you felt in that pose. Consider how that pose (and you in that pose) reflected that particular time in your life. Now, consider how the pose, your body, you, and your life have changed over time. You can do the same with the first pose you hated to practice.

You can do the same with a pose you barely consider important to your practice, even though you do it on a regular basis. Write down your thoughts and then have someone take a picture of you in the pose. When you come into the pose, really focus on how you practice the pose. Notice what you notice when you look at the picture.

“Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Take your time to balance the effort and relaxation inherent in the pose. Watch the breath. Pause and take in the landscape that is your mind and your body in this present moment.

When you move into Table Top – hands and knees to the mat with shoulders over elbows and wrists, hips over knees – or into a seated position if that is more accessible, move as if you are taking a leisurely stroll. Take your time, and pause to get the lay of the land. Double check your alignment. Press down so that the shoulders and shoulder blades are even with the rest of the back and your belly is firm. Engage your locks (bandhas) if that is part of your practice. Notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. So that, as the breath gets long and fine and deep, the movement gets richer – whatever that means to you in this moment.

Pause with the spine back in Table Top position and then move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit up on a blanket or a block if you have a lot of tightness/stiffness in the back of your body. Press your heels down into the ground, flex the ankles so the toes reach for the nose, and then spread the toes. At the same time, fire up your thighs and engage the quadriceps (the four muscles at the top of your things) in order to lift the knee caps into their full extended position. Press the sit bones and hands down (with the hands next to the hips). If this engagement is too extreme, bend knees or place the hands behind the hips (but still wide enough to just barely be outside of the hips).

As if they are seeds you are planting, push your shoulders and everything touching the floor, the mat, or a prop down into the earth. Allow your heart to blossom. With your eyes on your nose, watch your breath and notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Engage your locks (bandhas) as described yesterday’s practice. Changing as little as possible, lift the arms over the head, with wrists in line with the shoulders, and turn the palms up so that the finger tips point towards the wall behind you. Extend the elbows and, as much as you are able, rotate them towards your nose. Keeping the shoulders down the back, push the whole body down to lift the heart and the arms up. If this is too much intensity for the shoulders, modify by bending the elbows to 90 degrees and extending the wrists rather than flexing them. Again, notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

NOTE: If you want to skip the arm balancing below, move back into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and then repeat the arm positioning above before moving into the Sage Twist. Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall.

For the arm balance Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), return to Table Top – engaging as you did at the beginning of the practice. Curl your toes under; then use your arms and legs, hands and feet to lift your hips up in the air. Check to make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Notice if you feel lighter or heavier when your feet are spaced further apart. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes.

If you are staying off of your wrists or need something to minimize stress on the shoulders, bring the elbows to the mat when you are in Table Top and lift your hips up for “Dolphin Dog.”

No matter which variation you choose, notice how and what you feel (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically). Downward Facing Dog is simultaneously an arm balance and a standing pose; a forward bend, as well as a back bend; and an inversion. The only category missing from the pose is a twist (and, some would say, a hip opener) which you can add in several different ways. Just explore, play. Notice if you access some aspects of the pose more than others. Notice how you feel about the suggestion to explore, play.

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

Move back into Staff Pose. Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend or extend both, as needed, and lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Allow your whole self to take up space. Notice how it feels to breath, to live, in this space.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at one of the donation-based classes listed (April 7th and April 28th).

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.  They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

Side Note: Although, I’m not the girl in the picture, I met Gwendolyn Brooks around this same time. She smiled, signed a book, for me; said words I don’t remember. What I do remember was feeling joy and the sheer power of her presence. I also remember wondering how in the world so much power, beauty, strength, wisdom, and intellect could be contained in such a small body.

## do yoga. share yoga. help others. ##

 

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2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #4: IS THERE A WAY TO MODIFY…? April 10, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, pro, Science, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Women, Yoga.
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2 comments

“I’m not very flexible and when I do yoga, every pose seems to stretch/work the backs of my legs. They are definitely my limiting factor. Is there a way to modify poses, down dog for example, to work/stretch other muscles?” – YogaNovice

YogaNovice’s question about modifying a pose, like down dog, in order to work/stretch other muscles required a little follow-up, because (a) I’m not familiar with the practitioner’s body or practice and (b) the words “stretch” and “work” convey different engagements to me. However, even before asking some follow-up questions, my answers came down to intention and alignment.

Before practicing a pose, consider the purpose of the pose in general and then the specific purpose of the pose within the sequence. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward bend, an inversion, and includes a slight back bend. It can be used to strengthen the limbs of the body, alleviate pain and stiffness in the legs, ankles, feet, arms, wrists, and shoulders – while also helping a practitioner engage core muscles. In vinyasa, it often feels like the least strenuous pose and therefore becomes a re-set moment. As an inversion, it can be exhilarating, since the head is below the heart, but does not require pressure on the head and neck. I refer to it as “a full body stretch” – and yet, all the benefits of the pose may be lost if the pose is misaligned.

As my friend Tom Bushlack pointed out in a recent post on alignment (and misalignment), B. K. S. Iyengar and his Light On Yoga are the first resources many people in the West mention when discussing alignment.  Other great alignment resources include Leslie Kaminoff and his Yoga Anatomy, as well as Dr. Ray Long’s series of books. Many of these may be a little much for a yoga novice and, therefore, I also recommend Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. Ultimately, however, the greatest alignment resource is practicing with an anatomy-focused teacher (like Matthew Sanford or the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions).

Alignment-focused yoga offers the opportunity to use props for better engagement. So, rather than muscling into a pose and experiencing strain or injury, props enable a practitioner to find the balance between effort and relaxation and to, as Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras (2:46 – 2:48), cultivate a steady (or stable), easy (or joyful) seat (or pose). A person could use a wall, blocks, blankets, an extra mat, a strap, and/or another person in order to find more balance in pose.

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

Here’s a practice to help YogaNovice find more ease in Downward Facing Dog. Read through the sequence before practicing it, and remember to check with your health care practitioner before starting any new exercise. Each step below may be practiced in 1 minute increments.

  1. Establish what your body feels like when standing in a neutral (spine and hip) position, like Tadasana/Samasthiti (Mountain Pose/Equal Standing).
  2. Establish what your body feels like when the spine is in neutral Table Top (on hands and knees, with shoulders and elbows over wrists and hips over knees) versus when inhaling into Cow Pose (spinal extension), exhaling into Cat Pose (spinal flexion).
  3. If it is accessible to you, move into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. Release/relax.
  4. Sitting on a block or blanket (for extra support) and with your hips and back against a wall – or sitting on a chair with spine in a neutral position, lift your arms overhead with fingers pointed toward the wall (palms will be facing the ceiling). Play with how the arms and back feel when the legs are fully extended versus when the legs are slightly bent (at the knees). Once you’ve established a leg position that feels like balanced effort, then, play with how the arms and back feel when the arms are fully extended versus slightly bent (at the elbows). (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.)
  5. Stand, facing a wall, with feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart and arms extended at shoulder height so that the fingers barely touch the wall. Then, maintaining the established arms’ length, flatten the palms and fold until the back is “parallel” to the ceiling. Now, notice how it feels when the knees are bent versus straight, (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.) Next, experiment with the arm position to find balanced effort. Don’t forget: Balance comes from all accessible limbs sharing your body weight!
  6. If it is accessible to you, move back into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. This time, curl the toes under and actively press the hands and feet down while actively extending the spine into a mini-back bend. Relax after a few breaths.
  7. From Table Top (on hands and knees with a neutral spine), curl the toes under and lift the hips up into an upside down “V” for victory, with spine and thighs pressing towards the space behind you. Now that you’ve moved into the shape of Downward Facing Dog, active the pose as follows:
    • Make sure middle fingers are pointing forward (with fingers spread wide), pressing into the thumb and first finger (so there is less weight on the outer wrist). As much as you’re able, maintain the hand position and rotate the elbows towards the knees.
    • If experiencing wrist issues, use a wrist guard or return to hands and knees to set-up Dolphin Dog.
    • As you lower your head and shoulders, make sure big toes are parallel to each other. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, Iyengar recommends placing feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart. Note that in an actual Iyengar class, Matthew Sanford has commented on how people have their feet too close together – in part, because we’re often practicing someone else’s alignment (versus our own body’s alignment). (This kind of individual instruction is why practicing with an alignment-focused teacher is invaluable!)
    • Spread the toes and let the heels reach towards the earth, but don’t focus on pressing/forcing the heels into the earth. Bend the knees, as needed, to achieve the previously experienced lightness of balanced effort. (Extreme knee flexion may mean you bring knees to the mat and practice an active Puppy Dog.)
    • You’ll find in an Iyengar practice that props may be added under the head, heels, and hands to provide support. A teacher can provide hands-on assistance to encourage the hips to lift as the spine extends.
  8. Release/relax in Balasana (Child’s Pose) with toes pointed behind the body and arms resting by the hips. If Child’s Pose is not accessible, lie on your back.

Yoga requires patience and dedication. In the Yoga Sutras (1:12 – 1:16), Patanjali emphasizes that mastery comes from combining abhyasa (repeated and consistent practiced) and vairagya (non-attachment). Consistently practicing the above over a period of time is one way to experience abhyasa; practicing any of the steps above as an alternative to practicing Downward Facing Dog as it appears in a book or a magazine is a form of vairagya.

YogaNovice AMS

Thank you, YogaNovice, for helping me fulfill my 2017 Kiss My Asana commitment. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out one of the classes at Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

 

Please consider joining the yogathon by making a donation, joining the team, and asking a question.

### JAI JAI GURU DEV (SHINE ON) ###