Today’s expression of yoga looks more like gymnastics than that of 50, 30, or even just 10 years ago. Each time you pull up a social media feed, you see a new yoga pose. One that you didn’t even think the body could do. One that you feel you have to immediately get on your mat and try. While this new pose may look like a new pose, it most likely is a derivative of an older pose, practiced in a traditional yoga body. What is a traditional yoga body? One that practiced yoga in a time when chairs were not available to the common person. A traditional yoga body sat cross legged to eat, to read, and to study. A traditional yoga body didn’t sit at a desk most of the day, rather this body was in a squat to perform work. The traditional yoga body didn’t use a car as transportation, but rather the body; the traditional body walked to get here and there.

So let’s look at a modern yoga body. Today most folks are using a car or mode of public transportation, from Uber to subways, to get from one place to the next. Most people don’t walk or bike to work, but sit for hours in commute. Most jobs today are office or desk based, very few with standing desks or floor desks in which the body can sit cross legged or stand with natural posture. Physical laborers are no longer using the squat to perform tasks. Sitting in a chair produces stiff spines, limited femur rotation, tight hips, and slouching. Cell phone use, computer use, and other tablet use has caused a severe increase in postural problems and carpal tunnel syndrome. Sitting at a dinner table in a chair, slouched over a cell phone, wolfing down food in a hurry or maybe zoning out on the TV while cramming food in is a bit of a 180 when we think about sitting cross legged on the floor to eat dinner slowly.

So with these two comparatives, the glaring difference that we see is the effect on the physical body. Physical bodies have changed since the physical practice of yoga become popular in India in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Adjustments and alignment in the traditional yoga practice are applied to those traditional bodies that have open hips, flexible spines, upright posture, and mobile bodies. So why are we looking at new postures, or even old postures for that matter, with a modern body and getting frustrated when it doesn’t work? Why are we taking old adjustments and alignment of postures and cramming them into modern bodies, and blaming yoga when injuries occur? Why aren’t we teaching more anatomy, science, and evolution when we train teachers or when we teach our students?

Yoga teaches non-attachment, yet adheres to a different set of rules when we talk about ancient alignment, adjustments, philosophies, and applications of the yoga practice. Yoga schools, branches, and organizations are so attached to old principles and theories that we are injuring modern bodies and psyches with this bizarre attachment. Yoga is being prescribed by doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors. I wonder if these medical professionals adhere  only to ancient texts and principles in the medical field. I wonder if these service providers blatantly ignore technology and modern advancements in medicine. I really don’t wonder this though, because I know that’s not the case.

When practicing or teaching yoga, remember what body you are working with. Actually look at the body before you; experience your somatic practice rather than the aesthetic practice; remember that we don’t become better people because we can put a foot behind our head. The physical practice of yoga can be a powerful tool in mobility and longevity. Most of my students coming into my studio are either doctor referred or looking for mindfulness. Hearing these goals is exciting and really hopeful. We are taking the practice of yoga from one of physical attainment or achievement to a deeper somatic experience that is healing and strengthening on all levels.

Now it’s up to yoga teachers to continue to educate themselves on the body, how our bodies are evolving, and how yoga fits into these bodies. Not the other way around. We should be teaching people, not poses.

Crane pose is one of the most approachable arm balances in yoga with its many adaptations and modifications. Using crane as a way to build focus, discipline, and strength in our yoga practice sounds great, but how do you get there? Work, practice, and persistence.

Start by building wrist and arm strength

In table top pose, take a cat stretch with the core sucked in and the back gently curved. Staying in this cat stretch position, protract and retract the shoulder blades. Only moving the shoulder blades, you squeeze the muscles in the upper back to pull the shoulder blades away from each other and then squeeze them back together, hugging the spine. This simple, yet heating movement will strengthen your core, shoulders, and wrists.

tt retraction           tt protraction

Plank and chaturanga (four limbed staff pose) are the go-to postures to strengthen the arms, shoulders, wrists, and to start heating the core.

plank          chaturanga

Core stability and strength are important when preparing for crane, so take some time to work in a boat pose (navasana) or two. Boat has many fun variations that will keep the practice fresh; next time you move into boat and feel like you could use a new perspective when it comes to core work, hug your knees to chest, but make sure you squeeze up tight into a little core ball. This is a progression to crane pose in a supine position, which is a great modification for those suffering from wrist pain or injuries. Dynamic movement is helpful when working the core, so play with slow yoga bicycles in half boat, maybe even pausing with one leg stretching up to the ceiling, reaching your hands up toward your toes without scrunching up your shoulders.

navasana        boat ball        bicycles

half boat hand to foot

Moving onto your back, pull your knees in to your chest and start to lift up your head, nose to knees; stretch your arms forward as in boat pose, but keep your knees squeezed in using your deep core muscles and hip flexors. Next, take your arms straight up to the ceiling, and open your knees so that each knee can snuggle in toward the hollow of your arm pit. Keep squeezing those knees in and stretching your arms up to the ceiling. This is crane pose, just with a different view, supta bakasana (supine crane).

reclined crane

Practicing Bakasana

When it’s time for you to take your crane into flight, use blocks or some sort of support under your feet to lift up those heels. You want to squeeze your heels in toward your booty, squeeze knees into the arm pits, and use your hip flexors and deep core (just like you did on your back) to pull it all together. Start with bent elbows to build up more wrist and arm strength, and remember to keep your gaze forward if you didn’t come to crane to somersault.

crane on block

If you practice tripod headstand, this is another great way to work your way toward crane. If you start in tripod set up, you can peel your head off the floor by rolling over your forehead, and slowly begin to move into crane. Sometimes this is less scary than risking face planting when moving into crane from a squat; if your head is already on the floor, the fear of falling is eliminated. Rolling up into crane from tripod adds on to your core and arm strength.

When you feel like you can hold crane for 5 smooth breaths, start to play with straightening your arms, pushing your shoulders over your fingers using your strong core. The wrists will be at an awkward angle in classical expression of bakasana, so take your time to strengthen and stretch out your wrists before and after practicing this demanding posture. Have fun with your progress in this posture, enjoying every step without rushing.

tripod        crane prep        crane

I was listening to a radio program this morning discussing exercise, fitness, and health regimens. The topic of running came up, and the hosts were discussing why they run. I’m not a huge fan of running, so I couldn’t honestly relate to their feelings toward this exercise, but I could apply their discussion to my yoga practice.

The funny host says: “I run so I can eat a bag of jelly beans.”

The serious host says: “That’s so funny, because when I run all I can think about is that I’m doing this for my kids, my family, my husband…:” I called Bullshit on this one, and passive aggressive bitchery, but whatever she wants to tell herself.

Their discussion, and my own judgement of the discussion, did get me thinking how some Yogis really like to judge other yogis for their “intentions,” or their “reason” for doing yoga. Let me just say that I don’t think we need a reason to practice yoga, but even more importantly, there need not be rationalization to any one else as to why you practice, or how you practice.

That being said, as I was driving I did come up with a quick list of reasons why I practice yoga. My first reason was not for my kids or my family. In fact, they didn’t even make it on the top 5. I find it hard to believe that someone actually straps on a pair of running shoes and bounces up and down on hard pavement thinking the whole time “I’m doing this for my kids and my family.” But in her defense, and the runner who runs to eat jelly beans, so what? At least they get out there and run.

Just for fun, not that it matters, right???….but, My number one reason for practicing yoga is for physical benefit. Yes, I said it. I don’t practice yoga to become one with my inner light. I practice yoga for a tight ass and to reduce cellulite. Did you know that inversions are like botox for your backside?! At least that’s what I heard one time in a yoga class. I truly appreciate the benefits of my yoga practice beyond the external gains, it’s not just physical for me, but those reasons just didn’t make it to the top 5, YET.

If I go around spouting that the only reason I practice yoga is to reach ultimate samadhi, #1, everyone would know I was full of shit; #2, I would be misleading my students and the yogis that come to me for honest advice and help with the yoga practice; and number #3, I would be doing a disservice to myself and my practice. One day these intentions will change, and when that happens, it will be from a place of honesty and love for myself and my practice.

As of today, my top five reasons for yoga-ing:

  1. Physical fitness
  2. Digestive and metabolic balancing
  3. Mental and emotional strength
  4. It feels damn good
  5. I love doing handstands and arm balances; they are fun, and since it’s not really socially acceptable for me to go to the park and flip around on the kids’ monkey bars, I stick to my mat so i don’t get arrested for bizarre behavior

Tomorrow these will most likely change, but that’s how we humans do. We change. The key is to embrace it and be ok withe where we are. However, why-ever (is that a word?), how ever long, how ever spiritual…just do some yoga so you can feel good, inside and out!

I love to teach advanced postures to all levels of students so that every practitioner, at his or her own pace, can LEARN how to move into advanced postures. In my Advanced classes, I guide yogis into their expression of advanced postures. And who’s to say what is advanced and what is intermediate, or even beginner postures.

We are all students, learning the entire span of our yoga practice, from beginning to end. The point of the Advanced class is to offer guidance on where to begin in a posture such as eka pada sirsasana (foot behind the head), or how to take it a step further for the person who has the range of motion to do so.

Maybe a yogi has the ability to move into a fun arm balance, but has no idea of where to start. If there is limited range of motion or a medical issue preventing a classical posture expression, we find another way to express the posture with the same benefits. It will be tough and challenging, and it might seem impossible at times. Nothing in yoga is mandatory, but anything is possible.

Advanced postures are practiced with progressions, they are taught with modifications and different expressions. Each yogi moves on to the next progression when ready. So when I say I teach advanced yoga classes, I am saying I teach your level of advanced yoga. What is your advanced? I always ask this of my students.

The point is to be aware of your limitations and to challenge yourself to break through limitations and blockages; to build strength and create space for the possibilities. More often than not, the challenge is mental and not so much physical limitation. We get in our head and tell ourselves we could never do that. I’m too old, or too inflexible. So practice more, and push yourself a little bit more.

Go to your edge, and that is advanced yoga. Know when to stop at your edge and not go to the point of risking injury, and that is advanced yoga. Back off and take the modification that doesn’t pull your shoulder out of socket, and that is advanced yoga. Get on your mat, even when you feel like you are too old or too inflexible or too tired to “do it,” and that is advanced yoga.

I was recently listening to a podcast about functional movement, and the topic of furniture free living came up. I snickered and judged for about 2 minutes. But then I closed my eyes and imagined myself sleeping on a wool topper on the cool floor, and the sensation of feeling taller and stretched out, not waking up in the morning in fetal position with my hand asleep and my back aching. I envisioned myself working at my desk without an imaginary knife protruding from my upper back and neck area.

I Untitled-5fantasized about my family sitting around the fireplace on a shag rug with funky Moroccan floor cushions and meditation pillows, reading books, playing guitars, drinking hot tea… I also pictured my 14 year old daughter telling me that I’ve officially lost it. So, I have some work to do. I need to figure out how and where to to start.  I am looking for the easiest and most realistic approach to this shift in functional and mindful living.

I’ve researched why I would consider furniture free living. I’ve found that it is expected to improve quality of life with the benefits promoting cleanliness, free movement, and overall health including improved circulation, digestive health, and even going so far as to claim fixing a slipped disc. So, as any rational adult today would do, I turned to Pinterest to see what I could find. I didn’t find much, but I know it’s out there.

Sitting on cushions to eat and sleeping on the floor isn’t in any way a new concept. I’m on a mission to find some proven benefits, successful transitions, and how to convince my family I’m not nuts.

Here’s where I’m starting:

  1. Where do I start? Bed, work desk, living room?
  2. What about the kitchen table?
  3. What about the dogs?
  4. How do I convince a 14 year old that this is normal? What about when she has friends over? I don’t want to socially traumatize her.
  5. Will this be efficient in the long run? I work from home.
  6. Is this going to cost me my first born (if so, this would solve #4)?
  7. What do I do with the furniture that I’m replacing? What if this sucks and I have to go out and buy all new furniture?
  8. Have I completely lost it?

To be continued…

 

 

I had a few resolutions lined up to choose from this year.

1. Be a better “accountant”

2. Be a better mother

3. Be a better Yoga teacher

4. Implement at least 4 of my big ideas in my ‘Book of Big Ideas’

5. Screw the resolutions and eat lots of cake

Which one did I choose? I haven’t decided yet. I think I might eat some cake while I ponder if I’m really that bad of a mother or yoga teacher or…well, I actually am a really bad book keeper, so I’ll just avoid that one for now.

Yesterday in yoga class, our teacher said that resolutions imply that we need improving; can we instead think about all of the great ways we tried to better ourselves last year, and then keep trucking this year. Well, when she put it that way, I decided I will keep working on being a great mother, keep working to offer my students the best yoga and yoga studio I can, and to get those darn books balanced and really impress the heck out of my accountant.

What I’m really focusing on is gratitude for my efforts everywhere: past and future efforts; in yoga and at home; in business and in having fun. I’m going to live this year like it’s the best year yet, and keep trucking!

Keep trucking yogis, and have an awesome 2016!

When things happen that aren’t in your control, it’s really easy to feel sorry for yourself or feel defeated. Why me? Why can’t things ever go right for me? As I walked out of my Yoga studio tonight, I felt a little defeated. I thought we had fixed our furnace problem, but it seems to be still inconsistently working. I walked past the buckling floor in the corner and the leak in the ceiling, and told myself to leave these things where they are, they don’t belong with me outside of work. These are just things that happen as a business owner. Maintenance and repairs are definitely not glamorous.

When I think of how far we have come as a yoga studio, I am immediately grateful and realize the good does outweigh the frustrating. When I walked into my warm house after leaving the cold (well cold to me at 67 degrees) studio and heard the kids laughing and Christmas music playing, I realized that a stupid furnace can be fixed, a leak can be patched, and a floor can be repaired. I am not thrilled about the work and the cost it’s going to take to make these things happen, but at the end of the day I realized that things ARE going right for me. I am lucky to have my family to celebrate the holiday season with new and old traditions.

I went to bed with a feeling of peace and satisfaction knowing that these “problems” I will face in the morning are just things that I simply can not control. I will walk into the studio tomorrow with gratitude that I get to work with amazing yogis and help them along their yoga process of health and happiness. I am grateful to be a part of this Yoga community and to be able to share my knowledge and passion for the practice. I am grateful to be able to walk anywhere at all and enjoy the simple things in life. Even more so during holiday season, I feel an extra sense of empathy and compassion for anyone struggling with illness, loss, or grief. It is my hope that all of you have a happy and healthy holiday with family and friends.

On behalf of all of the teachers and staff at Studio Seva, we wish peace and joy to everyone this holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

 

Sometimes we get into some precarious positions in the yoga practice, and we notice that our jaw or our brow is trying to help us in the postures. Crazy eyes are often seen in an intense yoga practice in which the dristi, or the gaze, is emphasized in every posture. By the end of the practice, your gaze has become a laser beam burning a hole through your toes.

When you start to notice your head is more involved than your body, you know you have switched over to front-brain induced yoga. When we practice from the frontal lobe, we’ve lost our connection to the inner sensation happening in the yoga practice. The ego has taken over, and we are focusing on external products of asana. What can we do to shift back? Know the signs of brain driven yoga and how to redirect to inner sensation:

  • Eyes: direct your gaze from the back corner of your temple near your ear, rather than from the front corner near the front brain. This will automatically soften your brow and face, including your jaw and teeth. Dropping your gaze back from a deeper center will guide your practice from a deeper inner sensation. 
  • Skin of brow: the Ajna Chakra, or third eye is associated with your brow. The Ajna Chakra provides perception beyond ordinary sight. If this area is pinched or furrowed, one is likely confused or not seeing clearly. When this happens, the eyes will narrow and clench, and the gaze is directed from the front brain only, reducing sensation to ego experienced. 
  • Clenched teeth = clenched brain. Your jaw isn’t going to hold your arms up in warrior postures or your legs in boat pose. This isn’t a habit unique only to the yoga practice. Notice if you are clenching your teeth at work or driving in your car. Practice hollowing out your cheeks to soften the jaw and release the grip of your teeth, eventually releasing the grip of your mind.
  • Tight throat or tongue: the throat is associated with the Visuddha Chakra, the purification wheel. If you can relax your tongue, you will relax your throat. Considering the connection between your tongue, throat, and brain, you can relax your mind simply by softening the tongue and relaxing the back skin of the neck. Use an exhalation to do this, and you will notice immediately a softening in the entire neck and throat area. 

Starting with the gaze, focus from a deeper area of sensation. Peripheral sensation is fleeting and only indicative of what is happening on the outside. If the practitioner can experience a more somatic practice, one of deeper inner sensation, the transformation and magic of yoga can fully happen.

"Just act like that foot is not in your face. Inhale and try not to grimace from the smell, exhale accept the foot as a part of the journey."

“Just act like that foot is not in your face. Inhale, and try not to grimace from the smell; exhale, accept the foot as a part of the journey.”

I’ve been studying Hindu mythology recently and have found some powerful parallels between how we approach the yoga practice and how myths are perceived and honored by Hindus and intellectuals alike. India’s mythology seems to be filled with more elements of magic and miracles than most other mythologies, which is why I find it so intriguing. The Buddha taught his followers to be skeptical and to test everything in life before believing, and even then only believing based on personal experiences. With so many attestments to magical and miraculous experiences in the yoga practice, I caution my students to use his or her own filters and decide, based on personal experiences, what is true.

Yet, even the most intellectual of people still have room for imagination, for myth. What I’ve learned in my studies of mythology, specifically Hindu mythology, is that one does not have to “believe in” the details of the myth, but be open to the many variations of the story. Most myths have several versions with an overwhelming amount of details, much like a yoga practice. These details and variations have evolved through the believer’s need for identity. Myths can provide answers to questions about origin, purpose, meaning, morality, and destiny. Isn’t this how we are taught to use our yoga practice?

With so many variations and details of Hindy mythology, the possibility expands for these myths to turn violent, with otherwise “good” characters going bad or evil. The reader, or the listener, has to be alert to hear the true answer that is being taught from the many versions of these myths. The true answer can be found in part by our true identity guiding our interpretations. Along the way, the stories will change, the variations will evolve, and the details might transform. This is what happens to all of us in a Yoga practice, and really in any lifestyle practice that we participate in to heal or purify.

As imperfect humans, practicing life and yoga daily, we can never say we know all about life or yoga, or anything for that matter. Even with a mastery at a macro level, there are always surprises. Just like interpretation of Hindu mythology, each of us applies our beliefs, studies, and practices in our own unique way. We must stay humble and acknowledge that every being is the authority in his or her own path and application of life. What we believe in our yoga practice is true and of our own volition. With our own path to follow, we don’t judge the path of others.

The myths and stories of Hindu mythology are alive and ever changing, unlike other mythologies, for example, Greek mythology. This living power is the same guidance that yoga provides in our path and our route of self-identification. We are alive within our own practice and within our own stories and myths. As your practice grows, so will your body, mind, and spirit. Staying humble and honoring your personal growth will forge further evolution, the ever living power of your yoga practice.

Today in class we practiced Garudasana (Eagle Pose) with focus and deep concentration. Some days we have better balance than others or feel stronger in our postures. This is a pose that will be impacted by these daily shifts. To practice around any challenges that may appear, it is important to focus on the breath and the drishti, or the spot where your gaze falls. Make sure your breathing is steady, full, and moving in and out of your nose. Use the Ujjayi breath to maintain focus. Breathing with soft contraction of the whisper muscles will produce the quiet hushing sound you can hear in your throat as you exhale.

Once you find the pace of your breath, notice where your gaze falls. Having a steady drishti, or focal point, will help to quiet the brain as well as help to maintain your balance. Wherever your gaze goes, your shoulders go, so keep that gaze focused in the appropriate spot. In Garudasana, the gaze should be past the tip of your nose, with your chin level parallel to the floor.

When you start to wrap up your legs, bend your base leg from the contraction of the quads and the hip flexors rather than the knee. The deeper your knee bend, the easier balance will be. Of course this is going to fire up your standing leg more, but this is how we build strength in this posture. If the knee of your top leg is in pain, avoid tucking these toes around the back of your standing leg. Use a block on the floor next to your base leg instead. Squeeze the touching surface areas of both legs into each other, and keep engaging your base leg quads and hip flexors to maintain depth.

Finish the posture with wrapping the arms up. Take your time to find steady balance first. Whichever leg is on top, that same side arm goes under when you wrap up your arms. Start by placing elbows in line, then either grab opposite shoulders for a modification, or continue to wrap up the forearms. Place the palms together, or grab the opposite thumb with the hand of your bottom arm. Lift your elbows so your triceps are parallel to the floor, and pull your thumbs away from your face until your forearms are parallel to the wall in front of you.

Engage your core to help maintain your balance. Balancing postures are all about physics and weight distribution. All of your movements originate from the spine and proceed throughout the largest joints, the shoulders and hips. Keeping your core engaged will keep your spine aligned, in turn, you move your limbs with purpose and control. Don’t forget to keep the drishti steady and your breath moving. Focus on the sound of your breath and the ease of your mind to keep building on your balancing postures.

garudasana

Garuda is known in Hindu mythology as the king of birds and the celestial vehicle of Vishnu. In the Vedas, Garuda’s wings were considered the vehicle to the realm of the gods (often this was considered “the self” or the deepest level of self-consciousness and all reality). Another version of Garuda was of a shapeshifter able to go wherever he pleased with the ability to stop the world’s rotations with the wind from his wings. Many mythic versions of Garuda exist, merging together to form a depiction of a sun eagle with power and divine appeal. [Williams, G. (2003). Handbook of Hindu Mythology].