Saturday, December 15, 2007


Rodney Yee has this wonderful quote in his book Yoga: Poetry of the Body. I can’t remember the precise quote so this is paraphrased, “There is no such thing as perfect alignment. But there is always a more intimate conversation you can have.” I love that quote! I share it all the time with my classes, especially in Tadasana. That pose has changed more for me over the years from that quote than any other. I encourage my students to converse more and more intimately with their body in the pose. How can it change? How can you feel your alignment on an even deeper level? Of course, there is always more to do to balance the feet better and to make sure the pelvis and heart are over the feet. What about your heart? Can you feel your heart over your feet? Can you feel your eyes over your feet? Encourage the more intimate level of conversation and see what they find!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Teaching From Auto-Pilot

Do you have an “auto pilot” setting for your teaching? I know there are times when I find I have taught a portion of a class without even thinking about what I taught (like driving to the store without consciously driving to the store!) There are certain poses in which we have a tendency to say the same thing each time we teach it, sometimes we even say the directions in the same order as well! Students may become lulled into class and stop being conscious about being on their mat as well. They can be thinking about their grocery list in Trikonsana and their cluttered desk in Adho Mukha Svanasana. Nothing is new to grab their attention.

Sometimes repeating the same things can be helpful. I bet you have experienced finally “getting” what your teacher has been telling you each and every time she teaches a pose. And getting the same direction on many different levels. (Tadasana and Adho Mukha Svanasana are two poses in which I feel I have found several levels of the same direction from my teacher!) Other things are so important they are essential to mention every time. And still other times, the pattern might be comforting. I like to say the same thing each time students return from Savasana because I think it helps their minds stay relaxed, there is habit in it.

Think about it for yourself. It helps keep me very conscious as I am teaching. Am I saying the same thing because I am on auto pilot? Because it is important? Because it is comforting? Or because there are many levels to the direction?

Jo’s Gems: Ustrasana Variations

I recently had the privilege of studying with Jo Zucovitch at Mind Body Solutions. She is an amazing, open-hearted teacher that gave me many great gems. I have a few I want to share with you over the next few posts. This post is for Ustrasana. These variations are incredible for opening the heart and really getting a lift in your chest. In the two weeks since I learned them, I have felt a tremendous opening in both my chest and my upper back. I hope you enjoy them too!

The first is better if your student is really tight in the chest. Turning the palms out, rest them on a bolster (or bolster with blanket or two as you can see I have in the photo). Be sure you have enough lift that you can really press through your arms. Use the press to lift your chest and roll your arms open even more. Look forward so you can see your chest and watch as you lift it up more.

The next variation won’t be possible with a student who is tight across the chest. Have her repeat the first variation if this one is too deep for her. Lace fingers behind your back. With an exhale, roll the shoulders back and down firmly. If you cannot straighten the elbows and keep the fingers laced, this pose is too deep for your shoulders. Continue with the first variation to prepare for this one. If you can keep your fingers laced, turn the palms down by taking your thumbs down your buttocks. (This move can be confusing because you can go both ways with the hands. If you go the other way, the shoulders will hunch, though.) Then go back to the bolster and again, use the bolster to get the lift in your chest.

After these variations, by the time you get to full Ustrasana, it will seem easy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Silent Class for Thanksgiving

Awhile ago I wrote about teaching silent classes. As silent class is one in which I do not speak for the entire class. I demonstrate the pose, then they do them. It is an incredibly power class. I taught silent classes tonight as a gift to my students before the holiday. I don’t teach them very often (it is hard for me to be silent! ☺ ) so I sometimes forget just how powerful the classes are. Students are drawn into the silence and their minds truly slow down. Savasana in a silent class is deep and wonderful. I normally only teach a silent class with my advanced students. Tonight I taught it to intermediate students with a few beginners. I wasn’t sure how they would feel about it. I was amazed at how much they embraced it. They loved the experience and could really feel that their Savasana was deeper.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quick Twists Tip

Want a fun exercise for helping your students go more deeply into twists? Have a partner run her finger up the student’s spine. We have a tendency to twist in the same part of our spine every time we twist. (It is usually around your lower ribs at T11 and T12 and L1.) We can twist in other parts of the spine, though, it just takes finding them. When someone takes her finger up your spine, you are able to “feel” more spots where you can turn more deeply. If you have chairs, do the twist in the chair. If you don’t, I find Maricyasana I to be the easiest pose to do this exercise in.

Have the student come into whatever twist she is doing. (Since you are already using partners, have the partner put her hand on the student’s head so she thinks about lengthening as she moves into the pose.) Once she is in her deepest twist, have the partner take a finger to her lower back, just above the sacrum, and slowly slide the finger up her spine, vertebra by vertebra. Have the partner go slowly enough that the student can integrate the touch and see if she has access to any twist there. Be sure to do both sides. Your students will be absolutely amazed at how much more deeply they are able to go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Teaching Surrender

According to Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, the last of the yoga precepts is Ishvara Pranidhana. Translated many ways, the one I use the most is “surrender” or “letting go”. Here is a great way to help students understand the concept. Using partners, have one student move into Maricyasana III. Maricyasana III is a twist in which one leg is straight out and the other is bent with the foot next to the thigh. Then you twist into the bent knee. Have the student twist to the right first, into the right knee. Have the partner place her hands on the front of the right shoulder and on the left shoulder blade. Get a good solid grip so the student in the pose gets a good feeling of being completely supported. Now, have the student in the pose release and allow the partner to support her. It is much trickier than it looks and is a great lesson in learning surrender. Those who tend toward control in their life will keep holding themselves in the pose and not be able to release into their partner's hold as well as those who can surrender or let go and trust well.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More Alignment

In yesterday’s post, I talked about encouraging students who hyper-extend their knees or elbows to feel both sides of their joint equally to sense correct alignment. This idea can be used in sensing alignment of the body as well in seated poses and in Tadasana. Sitting where you are now, extend from the sit bones up and out the top of your head. Now, if you exaggerate the ribs coming forward (thereby lengthening the front of the body more than the back) do you feel more of the front body than the back? Reverse the action and round through the back (while still lengthening and not collapsing). You feel your back body more.

Now come back to the center and lift through the middle. We can lose the alignment of the torso in the lower back, chest, and head so make sure you have an equal awareness on the front and back of all of those areas. Can you feel it? When you have it while you are sitting, do it in Tadasana.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Help with Hyper-Extension

Here is a tough one – how can you help students who hyper-extend knees and elbows to feel alignment? Here is an idea that works for those who are already quite aware of their bodies (and sometimes beginners too). Tell your students they should be able to feel both sides of their joint equally. Try it. Fully straighten your leg right now and then press back on the knee. Even if you don’t hyper-extend, you probably feel the back of the knee more than the front. You definitely feel the back more if you are hyper-extending. (This action should produce pain, but if you have hyper-extending the joint long enough, the pain receptors basically wear out). Now slightly bend the knee just until that point when you feel the front as much as the back – you are now aligned. Do it for you elbow too. I love to use this one for myself in Tadasana – I hyper-extend my elbows. When I stretch my “elbow pit”, I can feel it strongly, but then I lose my elbow (the other side). When I release the joint so I feel both sides equally, my hand just lights up because the energy can get to it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our Responsibility to our Students

I had a student years ago who, still to this day, holds the record for being the tightest student I have ever worked with. She had tension everywhere. She studied with me for around seven years until I moved away and in those seven years I never saw a visible improvement in her flexibility. Yet she was one of my most dedicated students. She only missed classes when she was out of town, even coming in with sickness or injury.

For the first two years she was with me, I realized I was trying to “fix” her. Of course, I had the best of intentions. I wanted her to feel good in her body; to feel the release that comes when you finally let go of whatever you are holding onto. Even with the best of intentions, though, wanting to “fix” someone has too many emotional attachments and their yoga becomes more about you than them. Which is exactly what happened to me.

After the first two years, I began to feel that I wasn’t a good teacher; that I wasn’t serving her since I felt I couldn’t get through to what she needed. (And by the way, that was my assessment of what I thought she needed.) Then it occurred to me – she was not only coming back, she was very regular. She was obviously getting something from class and from me that was serving her. Why did I think I wasn’t helping her?

From that wonderful experience, I learned not to “judge” a student’s experience by her advancement in the art. A student’s lack of flexibility is not a reflection of your teaching. Yoga is so much more than what your body looks like in the poses. We do not know what our students’ experiences have been in life. My student obviously experienced some type of trauma in her life (or past life) to cause so much rigidity in virtually all of her joints. It is up to her to release, not me, and forcing it on her could cause a release before she is ready. It is especially not up to me to judge her experience. Our job is to hold an open, loving space for our students to do their own work, to feel safe to explore themselves, not to “fix” them.

When I finally allowed my ego to fully remove itself from the situation, it was that space that I provided for her that served her so beautifully to gently experience her body on a new level. Perhaps her work with me prevented her body from tightening further, perhaps I planted seeds that are just now germinating. Truly it doesn’t matter because I know I gave her a safe space in which to explore. Be that safe space to your students. You needn’t be attached to their progress. Let them decide their progress while you let them unfold at their own pace.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mudra for Your Voice

Mudras are ways of placing your body, specifically your hands, to direct the energy flow to a particular area. The Anjali Mudra we use at the end of class (palms together in front of your heart) increases the energy flow to your heart center – a lovely way to greet others and express gratitude.

Here is a mudra I use to increase the energy flow to my fifth chakra – the throat chakra – to help make my voice more resonant (sound better) before class. It is powerful. I can feel the energy in my throat instantly. I use it briefly at the beginning of class when my students are still laying to relax and breathe and then again during their Savasana. I especially like to use it then because when I am silent for awhile, sometimes my voice can be scratchy when I first start to speak again.

To do the mudra, place your left thumb across the palm of your right hand. Wrap the fingers of your right hand around the thumb. Place your right thumb on the pad of the middle finger of your left hand. Hold your hands at your heart level. Can you feel the movement in your throat?

Removing the Obstacles

“Breathing happens to us when we remove the obstacles we have erected to its free movement.” Donna Farhi

I love this quote. I read it in Donna Farhi’s Breathing Book when it was first released years ago (a fabulous book, by the way!) and it still touches me today. Such a simple, and completely accurate way of looking at our breath. It just happens when you remove all the obstacles, it isn’t something you impose on yourself. When he was carving his masterpiece, The David, Michaelangelo was reported to say that all he did was simply remove the marble what wasn’t David.

That is what we are doing in our own personal evolution. We are just peeling away what isn’t us to reveal our true selves. We aren’t changing who we are. We aren’t trying to be someone else. We just have to allow who we are to shine by removing what isn’t us.

Look at your life now. Are there habits that you have that deep down you know doesn’t represent your true self? Do you do activities that don’t represent your true self? Do you have acquaintances that don’t represent your true self? Do you do things that don’t fit who you are? Take a moment now and pretend you are Michaelangelo and remove a little bit that isn’t you. Remove a few obstacles you have to your free movement. Ahhh...freedom. Doesn’t that feel better?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

“I’ve Been in the Final Pose"

“I’ve been in the final pose. There is nothing there. There is no hurry.” My very favorite quote by Ramanand Patel. If you have ever had an opportunity to study with him you know about his dry humor. It comes at you when you least expect it and when you need it most. My class received this quote when we were all struggling, and I mean struggling, into a hard pose. As I recall, it was a pose that made us wonder if Ramanand had any ligaments when he demonstrated it for us. In his dry, light-hearted humor, Ramanand came out with this quote to lighten us all up. It worked and I have used it numerous times since.

Our students (and ourselves!) need to be reminded, sometimes frequently, that the goal of their yoga practice is not the final variation of the pose. (To be honest, there is never a final variation. There is always some way to modify the pose and move more deeply energetically if not physically as well.) Yoga is about challenging our bodies, not about harming them or being violent. So forcing ourselves into the pose is contrary to the goal of yoga. I’ve have been in many of those “final poses” over the years and have been amazed to find that there isn’t a dramatic difference between them and the preparatory poses I did for years to get me into that pose. (And, just so you know, there is no fanfare and no parade – although sometimes you wish there was!) And, being in the pose before you are truly ready will only serve to eliminate any benefits of the pose anyway. “I’ve been in the final pose. There is nothing there. There is no hurry.”

Monday, August 13, 2007

Aligning pelvis in Savasana:

Here is a quickie adjustment you can make in Savasana to help some of your students find a more comfortable position and a more relaxing Savasana. Have you noticed that when you lie down flat to move into Savasana your pelvis wants to tip anteriorly, creating a stronger lower back arch? In Savasana you need to consciously tuck the tail a bit to be in the neutral position the lower back needs to release fully.

For about 20% of your students (my guess based on my experience), their psoas, the deep hip flexor muscle, is too tight to be able get a good enough tuck to release the back. When you watch, they can keep their pelvis neutral/level with the floor until their legs are almost fully straight. As they take their legs that last little bit, the pelvis tips and the lower back pops up. (I am in that 20% of people). With the lower back over-arched, tension creeps in, whether or not they are aware of it. I still don’t feel tension – which is why I never noticed for the first decade of my practice. What I do feel now is that the energy flow isn’t there when my back is arched.

All you need to do to help them is to place a folded blanket under their thighs. Ahhh…heaven.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Is Non-Greed Possible?

One of the philosophical precepts in yogic philosophy is aparigraha,or non-grasping. It is also translated as not reaching for things or non-greed. I want to share a thought with you. I think “non-grasping” is a much harder concept to grasp (interesting choice of words! :-) ) than people first realize. I notice how often spiritual writings speak of not wanting anything, detaching completely from desires, as a step toward self-mastery. Please understand that desiring is part of the human consciousness. As long as we are in our physical body, no matter how high our consciousness goes, we will desire something. (Sri Harold, a God-realized being, often refers to the trials he still encounters as part of his human consciousness.)

I am sure you have noticed your desiring has shifted as you have evolved. You probably no longer see things or other people as the source of your happiness. You may have detached from your work, you belongings, etc. But now you may desire more quiet in your life, less clutter, more free time, a higher consciousness. It is okay to not know what you are desiring right now, but please do not allow the illusion that you have no desire because that is not possible. You may have a more refined desire, but it is there nonetheless. The key to our desire is to not let it be a source of suffering, which would be an attachment to the desires, and that is where aparigraha fits. In trying to deny our desiring we suffer. When desiring is a source of suffering, we are held back in our growth. The purpose of desires is to propel us into more growth. We don’t want to be complacent, we want to constantly desire to evolve further in love, in compassion, in our spiritual awakening.

Here is a great quote from the manifesting works that I feel describes this idea well.

“We would describe the sensation of desire as the delicious awareness of new possibilities. Desire is a fresh, free feeling of anticipating wonderful expansion. The feeling of desire is truly the feeling of life flowing through you. But many people, while they are using the word desire, feel something quite different. Desire for them, often feels like yearning, for while they are focused upon something that they want to experience or have, they are equally aware of its absence. And so, while they are using words of desire, they are offering a vibration of lack. They come to think that the feeling of desire is like wanting something that they do not have. But there is no feeling of lack in pure desire.” (Hicks-Abraham)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Learning When to Adjust

Each pose we do should leave us feeling complete and wonderful. If we come out of a pose craving another pose, then something was amiss in the first pose. If you need a Balasana (Child’s Pose) after Ustrasana (Camel Pose) to release your lower back, there is something that needs fixing in your Ustrasana. If you need to lie flat on your back after Salambha Sarvangasana (Shoulder Balance Pose) to release your neck and upper back, your Salambha Sarvangasana isn’t aligned perfectly. If you need to arch your back backwards after Uttanasana, it is your Uttanasana that needs work.

Now, let me add a caveat, this is not to say your body may not need balancing after certain poses. It is infinitely wise to do some forward folding after back bending to elongate the hamstrings which are contracted in back bends. It is also helpful to calm the energy. But, my point here is, while balancing is helpful, if you need a pose after another one to help you release tight areas, or just crave it to feel more complete, you know you need to align the pose better, there is someplace to work.

So, watch your students when they come out of poses. If you need to help half the class release their backs after doing a backbend, know you have work to do in that pose to help them learn to get the pose out of their backs. If you find one student holding her lower back after Uttanasana and leaning back, help her to get her pose into her hamstrings and out of her back.

Using Yoga to Find our Center

At the center of your being you have the answer;
you know who you are and you know what you want.
- Lao Tzu

As Lao Tzu says in this month’s quote, we all have the answer to what we want at the center of our being. Our challenge is quieting our outer being enough to hear what the center has to say! We have become so disconnected with our center, though, that voice inside of us, that we can’t hear it and, even if we are hearing it, we often do not trust it. Yoga helps us clear away the clutter and unclog the connection with our inner self. Then you can listen more effectively and have an inner knowing that what you are hearing is your truth.

But your yoga will aid you in uncovering your inner self only if your practice is balancing you. Otherwise your practice may only serve to bury your inner self more deeply within your physical consciousness. If you are someone who tends toward busy-ness and adrenalin, chances are you crave power yoga and ashtanga. You feel great sweating and getting a great workout. But that type of yoga, for you, is only keeping you entrenched in the way your mind likes to function and your practice is not balancing yourself. If you tend toward lethargy you may crave more of a restorative practice. Again, doing something restorative when you already have those tendencies will keep you stuck in that tendency, not uncover your inner self.

Being a recovering stress-aholic, I loved a strong workout with my yoga. I also know that when I do too strong of a practice, I can feel the adrenalin begin to return and that begins to feed the stress in the other areas of my life. Think about your own tendencies. What would balance you? Pay attention to your practice. Are you feeling balanced when you are done? Or are you further feeding where you are comfortable? Yes, there is a good chance that the very best practice for you is not the one you really want to be doing!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Help Your Students Feel Their Energy

Many students, especially beginners, don’t realize they are feeling their energy when they are. They confuse the feeling of their energy with the feeling of their physical body. Here is a great series of poses that will help your students get the sense of their energy versus their physical body. In fact, some of my very beginner students who are not yet even connected to their bodies well have gotten this exercise.

Have your students begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Have them really feel the pose so they can compare how they feel now with how they will feel in a moment. You will then do a series of standing poses. You will do one pose to the right and then a different pose to the left. Then another to the right and a different one to the left. Here is the series I do. There is no magic to the order. Just be sure to remember what you did so you can repeat the series the other way when you are done to balance out your energy. What is great about this order is all the poses that may need a block are to the right so your students don’t need to move it.

Turn your feet to the right and do Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). Then turn your feet to the left and do Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose). Then to the right do Parsva Konasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). To the left do Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose). To the right, do Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose). Finally, to the left, do Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose). Return to Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Take a moment and ground your pose (as best you can!) Feel the imbalance? Quite significant. There is a feeling like you are tipping or twisting to one side.

We purposely created an imbalance in the body. The imbalance, though, is mostly energetic. We used all the major muscles on each side of the body so physically we are relatively balanced.

Be sure to do the series to the other side to balance your students out!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Reversing the Cycle of the Breath

Here is a wonderful exercise for letting go. I often use it as a visualization for Savasana in my classes. I find it especially helpful in a restorative class.

In our culture, we view the cycle of the breath as beginning with an inhalation and ending with an exhalation. There are cultures in which they view it going the other way, beginning with an exhalation and ending with an inhalation. For your Savasana, encourage your students to use this image of the breath. Have them first exhale, releasing whatever they are holding on to, creating space in their body, mind, and heart for something new. And then have them inhale and bring in wonderful new energy to fill those spaces.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

To Repeat, or Not Repeat, That is the Question:

I think we have a tendency to say the same thing each time we teach a pose. The same words come out for getting students into Tadasana, Downdog, etc. so students may begin to stop hearing us. They can be thinking about their grocery list in Trikonsana and their taxes in downdog since what you are saying is so familiar.

And yet, sometimes repeating the same things can be helpful. I bet you have experienced finally “getting” what your teacher has been telling you each and every time. Or understanding it on a deeper and deeper level. Other things are so important they are essential to mention every time. (Like, “Fold from the hip hinge when you forward fold.”) And still other times, the pattern might be comforting. I like to say the same thing each time students return from Savasana because I think it helps their minds stay relaxed, there is habit in it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gazing Up

I have been working quite actively in the world of manifesting and the Law of Attraction for several years now. The premise of the law is you get what you think about, whether you want it or not. So if you are feeling negative, you get more negative in your life. (The main theme in the entire Year of Living Compassionately was learning how to consciously do things to bring more positive in your life.) Feeling joyful is the key to manifesting whatever your heart desires. I have an easy process for uplifting your mood – lift your gaze.

I was in an intensive earlier this year with Jo Zucovitch, a wonderful Iyengar-style teacher based in San Diego. She gave this very simple direction throughout the weekend and I was amazed at its power. Just lifting your gaze lightens your mood, your energy, and lifts your consciousness. It is one of the reasons we so much desire to look up in Trikonasana even though it may be straining our necks. Looking up just feels good!

Try it on yourself and try it in your classes. Be sure to lift only your gaze, not your chin.

Asteya: Non-Stealing

“We fail when we steal from ourselves – by neglecting a talent,
or by letting a lack of commitment keep us from practicing yoga.” - Judith Lasater

How about this quote for a thought? In my Advanced Study group we spent the past two months considering the yama, Asteya, or non-stealing. The yamas are part of Ashtanga, or the eight-fold path to a yogic state. The yamas are the first rung and refer to the way we act with other people. (The other yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, moderation, and non-greed.)

Over the years of teaching the yamas, I find Asteya is the one people most easily gloss over, thinking only of the material, physical items. Most of us don’t steal objects directly from others. There is so much more to Asteya, as this wonderful quote from Judith states. Have you ever considered not doing your practice as stealing from yourself? Take a moment to think about what you are stealing. What are you missing? What are you not sharing with the world because you are not doing your practice?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Finding a Neutral Pelvis

Did you know there are only two positions for the human body in which the pelvis is completely free and not being tugged on by a muscle? The two positions are vajrasana/virasana (sitting on or between your heals) and table position (being on all fours.) In any other position, sitting, standing, or laying down (whether on your back or front), the pelvis is being pulled by muscles off its neutral position thereby making it nearly impossible for a yoga practitioner, especially a beginner, to find what neutral is for him/her.

So, how do you teach students how to feel a neutral pelvis? Put them in virasana on a block. In Virasana, we sit between our feet. Put the block lengthwise underneath your sit bones. The block will make Virasana comfortable for most students. If a student still feels discomfort in the knee, add a block or place a blanket under the block. The benefit of using a block is the hardness of the block helps the student really feel her sit bones. If the blanket is over the block, that feeling will be lost.

Feel your sit bones on the block. Take a deep breath and close your eyes to bring more awareness inside. Slowly tip the pelvis forward, stop when you begin to feel the lower back harden. Bring the pelvis back upright and slowly tip the pelvis back until you feel the abdominals harden. You will not have to go far either way. Your neutral position is somewhere between these two points where both the abdominals and the back are soft and not gripping.

Then have your students lengthen from the sit bones through the top of their head. Have them do it slowly, moving the extension up their body from their sit bones. Have them pay attention to maintaining the pelvis in its neutral position while lengthening, without creating hardness in the abdominals or the back. (We have a tendency to create hardness as we lengthen by lengthening the front or back body faster than the other thereby tipping the pelvis.)

Now your students can experience the neutral pelvis, and its effect on the posture of the torso, and can bring that experience into other poses.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Silent Class

Here's an idea for a class for you. Do a silent class (or perhaps for part of your class.) I do an entire silent class for my advanced class about three times each year and they love it. The benefits are two-fold. First, they get to do yoga with the wonderful energy of the room and a class (I know I experience a deeper practice when I am in a class) and be listening to their own body, not the constant chatter of the teacher. My students find the class quite powerful. You could even do a portion of your class silently.

How do you teach it? I have them watch in a neutral pose (Dandasana or Tadasana) as I demonstrate the next pose. Then I say, “in” and they work their way into the pose. I then say, “out” and they come out. If we are doing a two-sided pose, I only demonstrate one side. When I say, “out” from the first side, they pause in the inbetween position with their feet apart and parallel and then I say, “in” for the other side.

I always make sure to make the class well-balanced with standing poses, backbends, twists, and forward folds. We end with their inverted poses. It is an interesting experience your first time.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Yielding: Part II

Last time I discussed Donna Farhi’s concept of yielding as it relates to daily living. Now let’s bring it to the mat. It is particularly useful to learn how to do it on the mat since what we do there is reflected in our daily lives. If you find your energy is either collapsed or propped in your life, practice yielding on the mat to help you bring yielding into your life.

The concept of yielding refers to being able to use gravity to ground yourself and still lengthen your physical without losing the groundedness of your energy. If you are a teacher, play with these exercises with beginners. I am amazed at how often they get this and it is rewarding for them to realize they are beginning to connect with their energy.

First let’s do it sitting. You can do this sitting on the floor or on a chair. Begin by slumping. Yes, you heard me correctly. I know it isn’t aligned, but it can dramatically connect you to your grounding ability. Go ahead and slump. Did you notice that you felt heavier as you slumped? You aren’t actually heavier; you are just grounding your energy or letting it drop. Now, the goal is to begin to align your body and lengthen without losing the weight in your sit bones.

I find I need to align from the bottom up. If I bring my attention to my upper back prematurely, I lose the connection in the grounding. First, tip your pelvis upright, then align your lower back, then open the back of your heart, feel it fan open and bring your head into alignment. Do all of this without losing the weight in your sit bones.

Now let’s do it standing in Tadasana. Be sure you take your shoes off first, grounding is much more effective without shoes. Come to standing and find your Tadasana. Balance your weight between the four corners of your feet to align yourself over your feet. The standing equivalent of the slumping to ground your energy is bending your knees. Just bend your knees and feel the weight in your feet. Now align just as we did sitting, from the bottom up. Straighten the legs, draw the tailbone toward your heals, open the back of your heart. Are you still grounded in your feet?

Now practice this concept in all the poses you do. How does it change in other seated or standing poses? What about in inversions?

Once you have read the information about Yielding on my blog and perhaps listened to the Audio blog. Take the process into Vrksasana or Tree Pose. Tree Pose is the natural extension of Yielding. With the roots going deeply down and the branches reaching high into the sky. What often happens is as people create their extension; they lose the grounding (just as I discussed in the blog). Use the concept of Yielding to maintain your ground as you extend.

Yielding: Part I

Something I have been considering lately is what it means to be fully present. In her book, Yoga Mind Body Spirit, Donna Farhi discusses the concept of "yielding". She describes it as a way of being that is perfectly balanced.
The concept is easier to understand when you consider the extremes. On one side you are collapsed, that is the student who is new and doesn't yet understand lengthening. On the other side is "propped". This propped student forces extension on him or herself, looking military in stance. Neither position feels good nor conducts energy well. The balance is yielding. Yielding is being able to feel the ground firmly and extend without losing that contact.
I see this as a fabulous metaphor for life. When we are collapsed, we are not engaged in life. We may be stuck in the past or just "sitting on the couch eating potato chips". When we are propped, we are forcing life, trying to make things happen that aren't ready to happen. We are pushing toward the future.
Which do you do? I find people have a tendency toward one way or the other. Where do you fall? Whatever you do in life will show up on your mat in your practice as well...Next time I will discuss how to transfer this to yoga poses.


I had an interesting experience this spring I would like to share with all of you. I had been considering the topic of detachment and curious about what it really means. I understood it in an academic way, but I was yearning for a deeper experience and understanding. Leave it to the universe to provide!

I had planned many things for the spring, for expanding the website, activities with the kids, my own practice, and, of course, classes and trainings I was teaching for which people were counting on me. Then I got sick, really sick. It took me five weeks to fully recover and during that time, the rest of my family came down with the illness as well.

During that time, I kept thinking of the things I had scheduled and wanted to be doing. I found myself saying, “I’ll be better by Saturday so I won’t have to cancel that meeting.” I had so much resistance to my lack of control over being sick! (“Hmmm”, I thought, “could this be my lesson in attachment?”) Then Saturday would come along and there was no way I was well enough yet to attend. That occurred week after week after week. During that time, I cancelled a day-long training, a weekend spiritual retreat, untold classes, and my daughter’s birthday party (we rescheduled it three times!)

When I finally released to the reality of the situation, and I mean literally relaxed the resistance in my body, I realized my attachment to my responsibilities. I also got how that attachment was affecting me and holding me back. I was seeing from a limited perspective – “I have to do this or people will be disappointed.” Rather than trusting the process, that there was a lesson involved, and I was going to be greater because of it and knowing that people understand (and continue living their lives quite happily with out me. ☺ )

I am still working on this one. I recently had a “set back” in which I became caught up in my responsibilities again. I needed to let go and be with the flow of what was happening, but I resisted and remained attached to my plan. I became full of adrenalin and very stressed. I am still feeling the effects in my body and mind almost 2 weeks later.

When I am not attached, it feels like I am floating in the ocean. I just allow the movement of the current to take me where it wants me to go. That may sound as if I am limp and not engaged in life. On the contrary, it makes me very engaged and dynamic. When I allow the flow of life to move me, I am in harmony with my surroundings and what the Universe wants for and from me. I feel the guidance I am receiving from my higher self. When I resist that flow, it is because my mind feels it knows better than the Universe and I become hard and unbending. I feel the discord in my heart and soul.

So, now the question is, how do we become detached? Do you even know what it feels like to be detached? I know I didn’t fully feel it until this year. According to the Yoga Sutras, the key is your practice. Moreover, maintaining your practice for a long, uninterrupted time. Being dedicated to it. Trust me, it is well worth your effort. The feeling of detachment is glorious!

When we give up attachment to everything, including the little self, then we find wisdom, power, and freedom. —Harold Klemp