Taking the Middle Road

During this past week, I have been considering the concept of moderation. It is so easy to fall into habits and extremes – mostly when it comes to diet, sleep and work. Many of us choose to see things as black or white, yes or no, never or always, right or wrong, too much or not enough…the correlations are virtually endless with this idiom which makes it understandable and relatable in many situations. Deep awareness and dedication are required to keep steering ourselves toward that middle road.

I have taken my yoga practice in moderation this week by applying the principles of yin yoga. When doing my initial research for teaching many years ago, I stumbled across the term “Goldilocks principle” or “position” as defined by Bernie Clark. It means just as the storybook explains, not doing too much, nor doing too little, but doing what is just right. Yin yoga is a very good practice to hone the concept of moderation. It permits you to judge for yourself how deeply you would like to descend into a posture. It is good preparation for knowing the difference between “stressing” the body and “pushing” the body – keep in mind that stressing the connective tissue is the intention behind yin yoga.

In general, yoga has taught me that too much flexibility is just as damaging as too much strengthening – one can lead to instability and the other, rigidity. You need to practice with both principles in your sights in order to be healthy and balanced.

If you have never heard of yin yoga or are unfamiliar with the asanas of yoga in general, then consider the concept of moderation with other activities that you do on a regular basis. An interesting examination would be to measure how much you overload the senses with screen time. This is a very common way that we tend to unconsciously overdose ourselves.

The remedy to balance and get back on the middle road is to generate awareness. I find spending time walking outdoors to be the best treatment for avoiding extreme routines. Communing with nature is equalizing, centering and definitely gives me a wiser perspective. It allows me to think more openly – in technicolor, rather than merely black or white.

As promised, I am now using this blog to supplement my new book, Yoga Posts: Building a Steady Yoga Practice One Day at a Time. This week’s post refers back to Chapter #11: A Modicum of Moderation. If you wish to start at the beginning of our journey, please look to my first post.

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Hold Your Ground

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“Just being low down in a room tends to clear the mind. Maybe it’s because being on the floor is so foreign to us that it breaks up our habitual neurological patterning and invites us to enter into this moment through a sudden opening in what we might call the body door.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

This week, we will begin to explore the individual poses of yoga or the asanas. This is the 3rd limb of the yogic system. Although it is self-evident that a steady yoga practice will involve the postures themselves, in the vast scope of yoga the asanas have a specific role to play. The intention of asana is to bring attunement (or greater awareness) to our instinctual responses. For that reason, many of the poses derive from animals who, by nature, are strongly instinctive.

The other main purpose of the asana limb is to balance the energy or prana within our bodies. Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Hold Your Ground”

Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Is This Too Much?

Remember the most essential aspect of healthy yoga is going inward and growing more mindful with each breath. Let us not get distracted by “getting better” at yoga with our drive to achieve more. Instead, let us focus on deepening our relationship with our bodies in a way that is empowering and mindful.

One of the most difficult yamas (restraints) within the 8 limb-fold system of yoga to define is brahmacharya. 

Literally, it means celibacy. However, it can also be defined as non-sensuality, which is the detachment from fulfilling the senses. 

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When we dwell over objects of the senses, we tend to develop attachments. And, attachments can cause us to become imbalanced. Excess is almost always harmful.  Ever hear of too much of a good thing?
Continue reading “Support A Steady Yoga Practice: Is This Too Much?”

YOLY Challenge #48: Be Strong & Serene

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How do we keep ourselves physically challenged yet safe?

For yogis, this involves two key words – “sthira” and “sukha”.  In sanskrit, sthira means strong, stable, steady in focus for mind and body. The ideal counterweight is sukha or that feeling of ease, relaxation and serenity – no matter how strenuous the pose may be. Once you are able to keep the concepts of sthira and sukha in balance, your practice will be at its utmost and your risk for injury greatly reduced.

For this challenge, apply sthira to the gentle flow below:

  • Balasana with arms extended
  • Vrksasana
  • Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
  • Supine Revolved Belly Twist

On the following day, incorporate sukha into the more rigorous practice below:

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana 1 or 2 minute hold
  • Utkatasana to Utkatasana Twist
  • Virabhadrasana I to III flow
  • Sarvangasana

Repeat the practices as needed on subsequent days.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there…”. -Rumi

YOLY Challenge #46: Balancing Energies

Balance is a deep subject. There are so many levels to consider. We may look to balance ourselves through yoga but in reality what we are actually striving to balance is our energies. The basic nature of ourselves. We want to be calm yet alert, active but stable, open and centered, lifted and grounded, receptive yet detached… the list can go on and on.

There is a sanskrit term that labels the idea of balance. It’s called Samana. Samana is defined as “equal”, “like”, “staying in the middle” or “straight”.

Samana also describes one of the five vayus or winds. A vayu is an energetic component with a distinct flow or function. The samana type of energy moves from the periphery to the core and unifies (or balances) the upward energy called prana and the downward energy named apana. cascade-1845987__340Since samana vayu is the meeting point between the upward and downward energies, it is called the “balancing air.”

The samana vayu also governs the digestive fire which burns brightly when prana and apana unite. Twists are the yoga postures that most relate to this blend of upward and downward energies. When we rotate the spine, we essentially energize our digestive systems.

Another connection to samana is the practice of samavritti or “same wave” breathing. It is a simple method of matching the length of the inhalations to the length of the exhalations. A nice time to practice samavritti is upon waking as it provides an energetic effect. It’s the perfect preparation for an early morning meditation!

This week, strive to cultivate your samana vayu by bringing your sense of alertness into balance with your ability to remain calm.  As you lengthen, ground and as you stabilize, find ease. Take in what you need and release what no longer serves you.  Incorporate twists and samavritti into your daily routine.

You can also apply this practice to the various segments of your “life wheel.” Look closely at the amount of energy you spend on your job, your health, your hobbies, your family or any other areas in your life. Reflect on how these energies can be more balanced.

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YOLY Challenge #45: Honoring Transition

Happy May Day!

In ancient times, this day celebrated the season of fruitfulness and the coming of summer for many northern hemisphere cultures. The festivities may have included a maypole –padstow-736149__340 thought to be the symbol for a tree that represents new vegetation. More recently in the U.S., this type of celebration is usually only seen in schools as it is taught as a tradition stemming from the European cultures. Nowadays, and by coincidence, May Day is associated with protests and marches promoting change for the rights of workers and immigrants.

Symbolically, the month of May is connected with movement, balance and change or transition.

A big part of life is experienced through transition. Our bodies and minds go through many phases as a result of maturation, education, connections and societies’ conventions. And, as we “go across” these passages, we attempt to keep a steady footing on the other side. Some of the transitions we encounter can be smooth when we learn to adapt and accommodate. But many times, the shifts we undergo create havoc and can be harmful.

The same is true for our yoga practice.  While we may master specific poses, or at least feel confident and comfortable practicing them, the transitions into and out of these poses may not be as composed. Knees, hips and feet can easily move out of alignment and, with repetition, be injurious to a yoga practice. This is especially true when we do vinyasa yoga, a form defined by linking postures in a flowing routine.

So, our challenge this week is to be more aware of our transitions; since this is the season for transformation.  Let’s break down the elements of our practice and tune into the spaces between the poses.

  • Find a resting place to digest your experience as you practice. As you progress through your daily practice, return to Tadasana (mountain pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog) or Balasana (child’s pose) to realign with your breath and get back in touch with your intention.
  • Work on your balance.  Repeatedly insert Vrksasana (tree pose) between other standing postures to hone your alignment and your perception.
  • Try linking one posture with another.  Start with a downward dog/plank combination or try to move from warrior I to warrior II.  Study the principles of alignment for these various poses, as instructed in Iyengar yoga for example, to make certain the transitions are healthy ones for your joints.
  • Practice Nadi Shodhana This breathing technique will balance and clarify your mind so that you can transition well off your mat. Use caution as any form of pranayama can be a powerful force.
  • Transition to the ground. When you complete your standing poses, find a posture for converting to the floor such as Uttanasana (forward bend) or Prasarita Padottanasana (wide angle forward bend).
  • Allow yourself time for transitioning at the start and end of your practice.  Initiate your practice with seated breath awareness and/or an invocation. Before jumping up to start your day, give yourself permission to close the practice with a quiet acknowledgement in a simple seated posture.

Hopefully, these tools will not only enhance your practice but make you more aware of the metamorphosis that is yoga.

Namasté.

Balance Your Strengths

ladybug-1599010__340 Still talking about balance it seems… with the equinox and the strengthening theme we’ve got going for this month, equilibrium has been on my mind.

Since my students and I are headquartered in Sedona, our temperate climate gives us ample opportunity for enjoying the outdoors year round.  Whether its tennis, golf, hiking or biking, it seems that we all have a specific activity that we gravitate to.

However, it’s important to remember that each of these activities can evoke a bias, taking us away from our equilibrium. Tennis and golf tend to generate right and left-sided asymmetries while hiking and biking have a tendency to create front body vs back body imbalances. If performed regularly, these actions can develop habits or patterns of movement that may overuse and under use specific muscle groups. 

Therefore, it is pivotal to learn how to balance your strengths.

Yoga is a wonderful exploration into symmetry and a great educator for any imbalances you experience; whether they are activity related or structural.  As you delve further into its practice, you will find that the planes of symmetry: front/back & left/right become more obvious. It’s interesting how adept you can get at identifying your body in sides or segments!

For me, this developed as a result of the training I received via the Iyengar method of yoga. Specifically, Iyengar yoga is taught with precise alignment principles that provide a greater sense of harmony and balance within the body. Once the sense of alignment is established, it is easier to picture your body in different sections working together.

Some years ago, I attended a workshop with Ramanand Patel. During Savasana, he presented an awareness visualization that brought me to a whole new level of body perception. It was the first time that I literally experienced myself in two halves. It felt as though there was a wall between my right and left sides.  Looking back, this may have been more evident to me because I have a scoliosis (which truly does create two different sides of the body). But that’s for another post.

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In addition to providing awareness, yoga’s alignment principles will make you stronger. With correct positioning in postures, bones can be stacked vertically or lined up laterally so that the muscles can be more productive. A great example of this is in Urdha Mukha Svanasana or Upward Facing Dog.

If the wrists are stacked directly under the shoulders, the posture feels miraculously stronger than if the hands are set forward or backward a few inches.

Similarly, if one of your joints is misaligned or any of your muscles or connective tissues are unstable, there will be a decrease in the overall capacity of that area – be it the hip/leg, shoulder/arm, or the back body. But it doesn’t stop there. This weakness will need to be compensated for somewhere else in the body which can create yet another zone of instability. 

So, listen to your body. Don’t ignore nagging pain and look for ways to level your tendencies. In general, you will find that Yoga is the ultimate balancing act.

In whatever position one is in, or in whatever condition in life one is placed, one must find balance. Balance is the state of the present – the here and now. If you balance in the present, you are living in Eternity. – B.K.S. Iyengar

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YOLY Challenge #39: Join Spring’s Balancing Act

Today we mark the the occasion of the spring equinox. A distinctive time of year when the length of day and the length of night become equal. Along with the autumnal equinox – it is the only period when we reach a point of true balance.balancing-rock-1273567__340

This is an auspicious time for tuning in to your surroundings. Think of it as an opportunity to become more modulated with nature.

Listening to the new bird songs of spring this past week has already set the stage for me.

It’s the perfect time to do some “garden meditating” or maybe a restorative posture on the patio. Even if your climate isn’t ideal right now, try to spend some time outside today to take advantage of this portal and attune to the harmony of nature.

If this is your first visit to the site and you would like to begin the Year of Living Yogically Challenge – start here!

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