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