Mar 31

Morning Sequence

It seems everyone is on the move this week!  I have heard from so many of my regular students that I will not see them in class due to travel to places such as Turkey, Columbia, Trans-Atlantic Cruise, Costa Rica, California and Mexico (my peeps really do get around!)  Travel is wonderful.  It provides a new perspective on life and a break from routine.  Yoga tells us that if we do the exact same thing every day we create ruts (samskaras) that get deeper and more ingrained over time, making us more rigid and resistant to change, so I am happy to hear of all this exploration.

Unfortunately, I also hear how hard it is to get back to the Yoga practice after a week or two in trains, planes and automobiles.  The body starts to tighten up after just a few days away from the mat, but there are steps you can take to retain the flexibility of your body and the freedom of your breath even when there is just not time to make it to class.


Morning Sequence for those days you can’t make it to class:

It should not take more than 15 minutes, but will hopefully provide you with an opportunity to breathe and stretch and stay connected to your personal practice even when your vacation or your busy life makes it impossible to get to class.

You do this before you get out of bed, so there is less chance of the desire for coffee, sight-seeing, or everyday distractions to derail your good intentions to keep Yoga in your life.

While still in bed, stretch and yawn in any way that feels good to your body.

Hug the knees into the chest—if bed is really soft watch out that this doesn’t hurt the low back.

Roll to your side and put the feet down on the floor.  Sit at the edge of the bed with your feet solid on the floor.

With hands on knees start to move the torso in a gentle wave like (cat/cow) motion to the breath.  As you inhale through the nose lift the chest and roll shoulders back, as you exhale through the nose pull the belly in and round the spine.  Do at least ten full breaths with this mini cat and cow movement.

Then with a neutral spine, interlace the fingers with the palms facing in front of you and inhale and bring the hands above the head and stretch the palms toward the ceiling.  Hold for 5-10 full breaths. Reach up with pinky side as much as the thumb side.  Lower the hands down.  Change the crossing (move the pointer one over) and repeat.

Come to stand.  Find a dresser or wall space to face where you can position your hands at about hip height.  Then start to walk your feet away from the hands hinging at the hips until you come to an “L” shape with the body.  Bend the knees as much as is necessary so that feet can be under the hips and the torso parallel to the floor.  Keep your arms straight and your ears between your biceps in this supported version of Down Dog.  Breathe 10-15 deep breaths here.

When done walk the feet back toward the hands and slowly come up to stand.

Find a firm, and solid Tadasana (mountain pose) stance.  Draw the right knee into the chest and balance on one foot—if you are feeling wobbly stay by a wall, if you are feeling brave transition into Tree or Eagle pose –stay 10 breaths—Change feet.

Make sure you have room to spread your arms wide.  Stand in Tadasana.  Inhale and sweep the arms around and up overhead.  Exhale and fold over the legs (bend the knees as much as you need to fold over without strain).  Inhale put the hands on the shins and reach forward with the crown of the head.  Exhale fold over the legs.  Inhale and push down into the feet and come up to stand arms out to the side and then up to the ceiling.  Exhale back to standing, arms alongside the body, mountain pose.  This is a half sun salute.  Do at least 5 rounds.

Come back to where you were sitting on the side of the bed—but don’t sit yet!

Stand with feet and legs together, back facing the bed and then bend the knees hovering just above sitting.  Chair pose.  Make sure the knees don’t go past the toes and sweep the arms up and overhead.  Lift up through your chest more than you think you can.  You are sitting in an imaginary chair with your seat just a few inches above the bed.  Breathe well for as long as you hold the pose.  Hold the pose for at least 30 seconds and then a little bit longer each day to build strength and stamina.

When you can’t hold any longer sit down on your bed.  Take a deep breath.  You are now ready to get out of bed for real and start your day!

Nov 04

Uncoloring Not-Useful Thoughts

(A response to “Women’s Flexibility Is a Liability in Yoga”)

William Broad and the NY Times are at it again —providing a few wise words about practicing restraint in Yoga, but hiding them amid scary headlines and sensational accounts of “unbearable pain” and “costly operations”.

Here are the salient points I pull from this article…

Yoga can renew, calm, heal, strengthen, lift moods, lower the risk of heart disease, increase flexibility and balance, counter aging, and improve sex

The benefits are many, and serious dangers tend to be few and comparatively rare

Extreme bends can result in serious wear and tear…if done without an understanding of the mechanical limitations of the joint

Pushing through the pain is not smartlisten carefully to your body

The above are all calm and rational considerations—but calm is not the feeling you are left with after reading this article because of the colorful descriptions of potential injury.

If I were to write an article meant to counsel Yoga practitioners, I would offer the following advice: if you are in a class where a teacher aggressively urges you past the point you feel comfortable, stop immediately.  If you are unable to breathe and listen to your body’s responses, you can injure yourself. If you forcefully strive to be the best or the bendiest, and get hurt, you may harm yourself in a Yoga class, but to be clear, that is not the practice Yoga in which you have engaged.  Once breath and self- awareness get obliterated by ego, you have moved to different activity that goes against the very tenets of a true Yoga practice.  Carelessness of this sort can be harming in all pursuits including Yoga and also in day-to-day living.

What is particularly disturbing about this article is the congregating of middle-aged female Yoga practitioners and dancers into the same club.  Dancers routinely spend years forcing their bodies into extreme shapes to achieve specific choreography, and yes, unfortunately, this leads to a myriad of injuries including hip replacements.  Dance is an art form, which often requires those participating at a profession level to achieve a range extending far beyond the norm.  Yoga, when practiced properly, discourages this treatment of the body and urges us away from extremes.

I wish this article had simply reminded us that  some women, particularly those whose bodies have more inherent flexibility, may be tempted forgo using their muscles in the asana practice, and abuse their range of motion in an unsupported way if trying to achieve a poster image of a posture, and this can cause problems.  Then the author could have advocated for finding an authentic Yoga class where the teacher emphasizes breath and an individualized practice to suit age, range and body type—and that would have been great advice.  Unfortunately, calmly dispersed sensible information doesn’t sell papers, nor does it induce the adrenaline jolt of picturing your daily Down Dog leading to hip replacement surgery!

The author has chosen his words and images to generate a strong fearful reaction.  This endeavoring to color the readers’ minds goes against the very principles of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Sutras advise that Yoga itself is practiced specifically to minimize the sort of colored thought patterns (Kleshas) that disturb the nervous system in an unwarranted way.  It is in the second chapter on practice (Sadhana Pada) in Sutra 2.2 that he gives us…

samadhi bhavana arthah klesha tanu karanarthah cha

The fancy Sanskrit words are simply advising that we get off the mental roller coaster of highs and lows born of ignorance, ego, attraction, aversion and fear if we want to find peace.

William Broad and the NY Times should consider how much ego and addiction for readership went into the crafting of this article.  We as readers should resist allowing them push us toward a reaction of aversion and fear, and then we would actually be practicing Yoga (most of which is practiced safe from physical harm off the mat) and find ourselves a bit closer to Samadhi, or the tranquility of mind, that we are all seeking.


Sep 25

What is Vata Season?

truffpark12-06About mid-September, you may have heard your Yoga teacher mention “Vata Season” but what does it mean? Is it good or bad, and what should you being doing during this funny sounding time of year? The fact is it is the normal progression of the calendar as we move away from summer’s heat and the cool winds of change begin to blow, and you only need to be aware of these shifts of temperature and humidity, and notice how external changes may be playing on your own energy. Vata is one of the three Doshas—along with Kapha and Pitta. The three Doshas are states of being in the environment, and present in all beings and even inanimate objects. All three, at ever-changing ratios, are affecting our energy at any given time. Doshas are studied in the science of Ayurveda which endeavors to strike the right balance of Kapha, Pitta and Vata. The Doshas are best understood when we consider which of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) make up each Dosha.

Kapha is composed of earth and water, and like mud represents the heaviest and most dense state. Days when we can’t get out of bed to come to class and we drag through life at a snail’s pace usually mean Kapha is charge. Pitta is the combination of fire and water. Think a pot on the stove at a rolling boil emitting a lot of steam. Pitta folks get things done and often push themselves and others harder than they really need to. Those of you who felt this mornings practice was a bit on the wimpy side and you didn’t get to sweat enough; your Pitta may have been up. Vata is made up of air and space. It is the lightest of the three Doshas and when someone says “her head is in the clouds” you can bet that Vata is the guiding force.

This morning’s class included poses to balance the effects of Vata season. We started in Supta Badakonasana where we focused on a longer exhale than inhale, then moved into Potted Palm really feeling the floor under our hands and sit bones. Balancing in table top with opposite hand and leg extended forced us to root down with the parts of the body on the mat. This led to core work to build heat and we were off and running—well, actually we were moving slowly and deliberately to counteract the winds of autumn and break the cycle of go-go-go that is Vata.

As the season’s change it can be informative to know a little about the three Doshas and try to maintain balance to avoid feeling edgy, off kilter, and eventually unwell. When the weather moves toward cold and windy (like it was this morning!!) it is nice to seek out the opposite on our mat, through our diet and in our approach to life. If Vata gets too high, an Asana practice that keep us grounded, with poses that we hold for a long time to build some heat, is perhaps more useful than rushing through Sun Salutes and Vinyasas which will put more movement into our already over-busy systems.

As the leaves dry and crackle, drink more warm, or room temperature liquids, to stay hydrated. As the city comes alive after summer break and you are urged to work harder and do more, try to carve out time to rest, meditate, and be still even for a few minutes. Add some heavier foods to your diet—and don’t get nervous about the carbs. If you are maintaining a regular schedule (this is important at this time when Vata can induce flakiness!) and coming to class, where we might be holding a chair pose for a really long time in order to feel the earth beneath our feet you will be burning plenty of calories.