Some days you just need a good reason to get out of bed and onto your mat. Lately, our impending move is motivation enough to rise and shine but when I need incentive to honor my practice first, I turn to dedication. This is my way of easing into the day, especially if it’s going to be a busy one.
This week I began each practice with a special dedication to stay focused on my greater purpose. Here are the seven different themes I chose to reflect upon.
Over the last few weeks I have relaunched my yoga practice – choosing to begin as a new student and establish a fresh daily yoga routine. I have started simply with sitting with my breath first thing in the morning and reflecting on the true meaning of yoga.
As a word, yoga (or yuj) means to bind, join or yoke. I love this definition as it plainly specifies a very important concept – connection. The connection of our breath to our bodies and minds and the connection of our energies to the universe.
Now I am excited to begin each day and reconnect to my practice and the foundation of yoga. However, I have found that in order to acquire any new connections, I first have to clean my slate. I need to allow for a fresh perspective; one that isn’t influenced by a prior practice or of what I presume to know.
This week I have been reflecting on a quote from the poet/calligrapher Kohad:
I cast the brush aside
From here on
I’ll speak to the moon
Face to face.
By reflecting on these words, I can receive what it is I seek in this new phase of my yoga practice. Like the waning moon, I will slowly dissolve my old state so that I can begin anew.
Here are my reflections for Week #1. The book’s first challenge provides us with a baseline to forge ahead in creating or reestablishing a personal yoga practice. No matter where we are coming from or where or we are going, regardless of the stage of life we are in and despite the types of burdens or expectations we hold onto – we are all starting here.
We begin by inviting ourselves to stand open. Although it appears simple, this first step is the most complex because it has many layers. In order to be clear, you must peel away the coverings that bind you and make you rigid. Like the stalk of lemongrass I used in my cooking this week – you need to eliminate the hard shell to access the soft core.
For myself, I am meditating on releasing my burdens by placing all of the guilt, anger and resentment I currently possess into an imaginary backpack. Each morning, I visualize myself carrying the backpack up a big grassy knoll, taking it off my shoulders and setting it down. Turning away from it, I imagine lying down on the cool, inviting grass. Then I visualize myself rolling wildly down the hill like I used to do as a child. It’s a wonderful way to release and let go!
One last note, this past weekend, I started reading a book that was gifted to me by one of my students called Drinking from the River of Light by Mark Nepo. I came across a passage that is so relevant to our studies that I would like to share it with you:
“We can work long, hard hours with a dull mind or a calloused heart. Or, we can pause to sharpen our mind and refresh our heart. These efforts to be clear and touchable are part of the practice before practice.”
Enjoy your week and the clarity you receive! ☮️
And, please leave your comments and insights below so we can truly share this experience! 🙏🏼
Lately I have been enjoying the benefits of essential oils in dozens of ways for my health and well-being. It seems only natural that I would start to incorporate the oils into my yoga routine. Today, I will begin a series based on the use of essential oils in yoga practice. I’d like to connect this usage to the more subtle aspects of yoga, specifically the chakras or energy centers.
In the past, I have posted frequently on the concept of the chakric system. Many books and articles explain how each chakra can be balanced or pacified. There are seven chakra centers that follow the body from its base to its crown. If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of the chakras, click here.
We will begin this series with the muladhara or root chakra. It’s the first chakra and is located at the base of the spine. It literally gives us our foundation and grounds us to the earth. Within yoga there are many poses that can help an individual to feel more grounded like tadasana (mountain pose), balasana (child’s pose) and various other seated and standing postures.
Chakras can also be influenced by the use of essential oils. When combined with the yoga postures, the benefit for this subtle energy system can be incredible.
In discussing the particular oils associated with a specific yogic quality, I will refer to the Young Living essential oils that are found in the Premium Starter Kit (see below). For the purposes of grounding, I suggest the blend Valor.
This is one of my favorite oils. Valor is composed of a mixture of oils, namely black spruce, camphor wood, blue tansy, frankincense and geranium. Interestingly, as an oil chosen for rooting, three out of four of its ingredients comes from trees! This may explain why this oil blend supports my “wobbly” personality so effectively.
Valor is also known as the “chiropractor in a bottle” for its effect on the bones and alignment. I’ve heard stories of how worthwhile it is for those who experience chronic back pain or scoliosis.
In addition, Valor can promote positivity and encourage confidence. Qualities that are definitely required if you want to feel more connected or grounded. Therefore, Valor may be helpful in cases of attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity since it is able to generate a considerable sense of peace and gentleness.
I would begin by placing a couple of drops of the oil on a damp, warm washcloth that you can apply to the bottoms of your feet. If you just use 2-3 drops you should not experience any oiliness on the practice mat.
If you are new to essential oils and want to get started incorporating them into your yoga practice, you can register with Young Living here and get your Premium Starter Kit. In the month of October, YL is offering free shipping for these kits. Once you are enrolled, I will be connecting with you directly to provide reference sources and helpful advice.
As a yoga teacher, I know that a personal practice is the ultimate way to magnify all of the benefits that yoga has to offer. I also know that building and sustaining a home practice can be difficult and challenging – just like developing healthy eating habits can be. In my classes and through this blog, I have tried to design small yoga “bites” that are easy for students to digest and incorporate into their daily lives. But a blog is not the greatest reference for organizing content since it is written in a designated time with posts that are disassociated from other posts.
Looking back, I wished that I had a home practice resource for myself – one that would slowly and steadily introduce new concepts to build a personal yoga practice that was fulfilling and consistent. Since I was pretty positive that others would also appreciate a tool to develop their own regular yoga routine, I set a goal to generate a home practice book. The content was pretty much already available since I had been blogging frequently over the past three years. I had already written a great deal about my experiences, teachings and research on topics such as postures, breathing, philosophy and many other yoga related subjects.
My idea was to arrange the book into 52 chapters – one per week for a year. In this way, a new task could be presented and practiced for a full week to build a steady, life-long commitment. The concept of gradually setting up a practice plan with small, enjoyable doses of yoga was the key to my objective.
I also wanted the book to represent the complete system of yoga. So I built the content based on all eight limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. But I also thought that the book should address some of the more subtle aspects of yoga including the chakra system.
The book needed to include the foundational elements one needs to develop a home practice, the supporting features (the 8 limbs) for practicing yoga and some ways to invigorate or strengthen the practice once it was built. I saw it as being ideal for students who are beginners yet also great incentive for those more advanced practitioners who have always wanted to formulate a true home practice. I also viewed the text as an excellent tool for teachers who were looking to generate new life into their classes.
After many months of planning and developing, I am happy to report that the book is ready! Or, at least the kindle version is. I chose to do it all myself so that I could control the daily tasks of creating, formatting and marketing the product and it took a while to produce. To be honest, the writing aspect was the most fun for me. I had that accomplished nearly a full year before I started exploring and implementing the book’s layout and construction. I hope you will click on the link below to check it out!
If you are a practicing yogi, you know what a sun salutation is – a set of postures linked together in a particular sequence. Although there are slight variations, most sun salutations include plank, chaturanga dandasana, upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Chaturanga dandasana (or 4-limb staff pose) is that tricky transitional pose that occurs between plank and upward facing dog. It takes awareness, alignment and strength to avoid injuring the shoulder joint. The question is, should everyone be using it?
Well, how else can you get to the floor? Sure, you can start in 1/2 plank or ardha phalakasana to make the transition easier. However, it still takes good alignment and overall strength to get safely to the floor. It also requires full body awareness – and that is the key.
In class, we learned this week that neck tension can result from shoulder joint rigidity, any area of tightness in the upper back, spinal misalignments or even issues with the hands and wrists. Due to the neck’s ability to move more freely than the rest of the spine, special attention must be given to maintain the alignment of the cervical complex.
At all costs, only move the neck to the extent that you feel comfortable. If a teacher asks you to lift your head in a pose, only do so if your neck permits the action and it feels pleasant. Think in terms of lifting your chin rather than releasing your head back. This will help maintain the integrity of your cervical curve.
Depending on your particular cervical structure, you may need to protect your neck in certain yoga postures. Headstand and Shoulderstand in particular come to mind. Although these are known as the father and mother of yoga asanas respectively, if they are not practiced with awareness and adequate preparation, they can do more harm than good. Having appropriate shoulder strength and knowing the angle of your neck’s curve are important precursors to practicing these poses.
Performing posture variations will help you to judge whether a pose is suited to your body type and can help you gain the strength to go further when (and if) you are ready to proceed.
In lieu of Headstand, try working in Forearm Downward Dog. This will tune up your shoulders and upper back to facilitate the strength and endurance for future headstands. Walking your feet in toward your head will keep you challenged and on the path. Forearm Plank is another good variation. From both of these preparatory postures, you can easily rest on your knees when you need to take a break.
To move toward Shoulderstand, Bridge pose is the ideal forerunner. Again, you can build this up slowly by increasing the lift of the hips over time. To get even more height, place your feet on a folding chair to form a Half Shoulderstand. When moving more weight toward your neck and shoulders, use caution. Avoid moving your head from side to side and do not elevate it with a blanket.
The Energetic Neck
The neck is a direct channel from the heart to the head and, subtly, energies flow from one region to the other. So, keeping this pathway tension free is paramount to preserving the health of the energetic body.
In the words of Nischala Joy Devi:
“The neck is a super highway passing messages from the head to the heart and the heart to the head. When the head and the heart agree, the neck is like an open freeway moving energy along at 60 mph. If the head and the heart are at odds, the freeway gets jammed and the neck stars to ache. Ideally, our heart and minds should have equal input so we can make balanced decisions – allowing the neck to be free from tension.”
We often hear people complain of back problems. In a culture that sits in chairs, sofas and cars, we are especially vulnerable to low back issues.
Yoga helps to educate and bring awareness to this tender and highly susceptible area of the body called the lumbar spine.
The lumbar spine is normally comprised of five vertebra that sit between the upper back (thoracic spine) and the sacrum (click here for last week’s discussion). As you can see in the drawing, the position of the lumbar spine sits directly behind the abdominal area. Unlike the sacrum, it’s highly mobile and can rotate, flex and extend, making it, and the muscles that surround it, candidates for injury and pain.
To supplement my classes for this week, I would like to look more deeply into the sacrum. This triangular segment of fused vertebra located at the base of the spine attaches the lumbar or low back to the pelvis and legs via the hip bones and other supporting musculature. Through its connections, the sacrum is ideally positioned to be a prime stabilizer for the body.
We have studied the sacrum for its ability to anchor the hips. Each connected to its own leg and foot, the hips tend to act independently, and, most often, asymmetrically. Between each hip and sacrum, there sits a slender connection – the sacral iliac joint – which takes the brunt of the movement between these bones. It is critical, therefore, that we identify any significant asymmetries and honor them to prevent stress and dysfunction.
Exploring the grounding quality of the sacrum can help create awareness for the pelvis and the entire body. As you lie on your back, you can better sense the weight of the sacrum against the floor and may even feel the discrepancies between the two sides of the body through the hip bones and their relationship to the floor. Often times, a hip that sits forward of the other will feel lighter and less rooted to the floor.
Try supine variations of standing poses like Vrksasana or Tree pose to get a better sense of your hip alignment and its range of motion. Then, strengthen the musculature that adheres to your sacrum and hips, namely your gluteus group and piriformis, through postures such as Salabasana (locust) or reverse tabletop. And finally, be sure to honor the stability the sacrum is built for by supporting it. In Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or Bridge pose, use a block to brace the sacral bone. Or, explore Viparita Karani, the ideal pose for grounding the base of the spine (if you locate the legs directly above the hips).
I love that the original word sacrum comes from the Greek translation of hieron osteon or “sacred bone.” This is because the Greeks believed that the sacrum was the home of the soul. Hieron can also mean temple and makes sense in that the sacrum is the back wall of the pelvic cavity which holds the organs that produce life – the ovaries and uterus. Another fun fact comes from the ancient Egyptians who believed that the sacrum was the last bone to deteriorate in a buried body.
Cherish the magical feeling of strength and unity that your sacrum was designed for developing!
For the past few weeks, I have been providing an assortment of Yoga Vitamins – sequences of yoga postures and breathing techniques to nourish your body, mind and spirit. To be the most effective, a daily yoga vitamin should consist of six essential ingredients: centering & opening positions, standing & focus poses and inversion & relaxation postures.
This week I will give you the “prescription” for a healthy bone sequence. This is an enriching yoga vitamin – one that targets the joints and moves the spine in all directions to combat osteoporosis and arthritis.
Yoga Healthy Bones Vitamin
Centering & Breath Awareness: Start with a Supine Full Body Stretch to lengthen the muscles. Incorporate Bananasana to stretch the spine and breathing muscles.
Opening Poses: Down Dog and Plank (repeating this set of poses is a great for upper body strength and linking movement with breath). Then, proceed to Side Plank and Reverse Plank to focus on arm bones.
Props: This sequence of poses may benefit from the use of blocks to support a comfortable seat and assist with the standing postures.
Essential Oils: In general, any woodsy oil such as cedar, fir or pine will connect to the bones. Wintergreen, lemon and Rocky Mountain Oil’s Joint Support help to ease bone bruises or joint weaknesses.
Music: A great artist for grounding is Anugama.
If you want to check out another Daily Yoga Vitamin prescription, just click on last week’s post.
And if you have anything else to add, I’d love you hear your comments!