Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sitting with Dignity

“Sitting down to meditate, our posture talks to us. It makes its own statement. You might say the posture itself is the meditation. If we slump, it reflects low energy, passivity, a lack of clarity. If we sit ramrod-straight, we are tense, making too much of an effort, trying too hard. When I use the word ‘dignity’ in teaching situations, as in ‘Sit in a way that embodies dignity,’ everybody immediately adjusts their posture to sit up straighter. But they don’t stiffen. Faces relax, shoulders drop, head, neck, and back come into easy alignment. The spine rises out of the pelvis with energy. Sometimes people tend to sit forward, away from the backs fo their chairs, more autonomously. Everybody seems to instantly know that inner feeling of dignity and how to embody it.”

Remember Wherever You Go, There You Are? by John Kabat Zinn? I recently pulled my old copy off the shelf and opened it at random. This entry was what I read. I love the thought. What does it mean to you? My computer dictionary defines dignity as: “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”. Mmmmm...doesn’t that thought feel good?

I have begun practicing the idea when I am preparing to begin class. I sit before my students as they do their breathing. I sit with dignity, imagine grace coming through me, feel gratitude for the opportunity to be a teacher, and then I use the Mudra I described in a previous blog post to open my throat chakra and make my voice more resonant. Then, and only then, do I begin.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Savasana and Surrender

The last of the niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to the Divine. It is said that if you practice the first yama, ahimsa or nonviolence, and surrender you needn’t practice anything else. They cover the range of spiritual practice. Do you practice surrender with your class? Our culture is centered on control, being on time, eating what you should, exercising, being organized, making sure our children behave, it is everywhere. We do our students a disservice if we don’t teach surrender in our classes.

With surrender is the process of letting go, releasing control. It is in true surrender that we learn about faith and trust in the universe and the inner knowing and trust in our own process.

The very best poses for teaching about surrender are Savasana (Relaxation Pose) and Balasana (Child’s Pose). These poses teach letting go fully, releasing. Frequently you can feel you are still holding tension, holding on to something, in these poses. Encourage your students to fully release their bones. Common pockets of tension in both poses are between the shoulder blades, the lower belly, the lower back. Also, in Savasana, we often hold the ribs up, keeping tension in the kidneys.

Another helpful surrender technique is exhaling. Exhaling is the letting go or surrender part of the breath. Have students focus on exhaling, releasing tension, letting go, and watch them melt into the glorious present!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hamstring Help

I have been having this discussion with Nadine over at Just Breathe and she recommended we blog it since it might help you as well. It began with my blog entry on Dandasana on a block and then it went on from there…The best part is I started that blog with saying how I finally decided in September that I was ready to completely move beyond my injury and was open to the lesson it had to teach me. Apparently my lesson was to shut up and listen because answers keep coming at me…Thank you, Nadine!


Did you try the Dandasana on a block pose? We need to chat -- one hamstring injury to another!


Ooh, tell me more....
Does dandasana on a block help build stability? My main problem is that my hips have become so flexible in the forward direction, that my sitbones tend to flick up and my lower back overarch, unless I am really concentrating on my alignment, and of course, I am not always, especially when demonstrating! I just want people to get the gist quickly, so bad. So the injury heals, it flares up, heals flares up. I will take any and all advice! It works best for me so far to do a lot of work on strength and stability in the hips - esp the hamstrings, loose bastards, so I do a lot of locust etc.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts Laura!



Interestingly, our problems are similar, yet not. I have hamstrings that are very tight (yogically speaking, that is. I went to a doctor about my pull and he brought my leg easily to 90 degrees and proclaimed me healed. He walked out before I even had a chance to say, “uuhhh....”). The reason I ask is we can exchange notes. I can share what I have learned for my self and I would love to hear what you do.

Here is a list of what I do:

1. I learned how to hold the attachment of my hamstring. I contract
at the tendon right at the sit bone. I do that while lengthening
the rest of the hamstring. If you stand in Tadasana and
isometrically push one leg back, you can feel the necessary
contraction. (Sometimes I put a strap a the top of my thigh to
remind myself to contract.)
2. I do the dandasana I shared on my blog. REALLY helpful for
learning how to ground through the errant sit bone. Yes, I think
it does help build stability. As I mentioned in the post, you
feel the bones so you can tap into keeping them aligned. It
isn’t about the soft tissue anymore. You won’t flick the
sitbones either if you are in the bones.
3. I do seated forward fold with the extended leg heal up on a
block (and sitbones on a blanket). I can’t explain it, it just
4. I also ground well when I forward fold in seated positions to
not do what you mentioned doing in your email – flick those
babies up. Teaching is tricky. Not only do I do moves quickly, I
often exaggerate the movement so students can really see what I
am doing.
5. I also do LOTS of strengthening. I love bridge, too for
strengthening “that” area.

Okay, any ideas for me? Thanks for sharing!!

Have a spectacular evening.


Hey Laura!

You have pretty much covered all bases, I think. This is just about what I do: I can elaborate a bit, but there is nothing you aren't doing, that I know about! I really appreciate the reminder to be present even when teaching, since this is my problemo...

The reason that propping your foot up on a block helps, is that it 'locks' the femur into the pelvis and prevents over-rotation. I didn't figure this out for myself, read about it in Yoga for Wellness by Gary Kraftsow! Funny, most of the time we are trying to get people to move
their pelvis around the thighbone more, not less. As to strength: I also love bridge, moving dynamically in and out of it, then holding the pose. I do the same with baby locust, lifting chest,
arms, head and alternate legs, in and out with the breath, then both legs together.

I have found that getting stronger in my core - lower back and belly - has helped a lot with the 'floppiness' so I also practice urdvha prasarita padasana every day. Since I am tight in the front of my hips, I have found also that regular and assiduous stretching of the hip flexors and quads helps balance the hips - basically mine are overstretched and weak at the back and the
opposite at the front. My favourites for this are warrior 1, warrior 3 (also really good for contracting the hamstrings) and some pigeon variations. Moving in and out of pigeon forward fold is another good back strengthener, I find.

My last thing is this: it seems that the injury shows up in the hamstring but sometimes comes from over stretching the entire hip area - including aggressive hip openers, and if you do less of this, it helps. I have found this for people whose knees trouble them too, actually!

I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that most yogis spend too much time on flexibility and not enough on strength...

Thanks for all the help!


Hi, Nadine.

Fabulous! Thanks for explaining why foot on a block works. I love knowing why I am doing something — especially the physiology behind it. Thank you for that info. (I was going to call it a “tidbit” but it is so much more for me.)

I was thinking about your comment about getting our students to move their pelvis around the thighbones more, not less. You know, as I understand it, the injury occurs over time because the femur is not rotating tight within the socket, being “locked” in, but protruding out ever so slightly to be out of alignment. Apparently, many Iyengar practitioners are suffering from hip joint problems. I think it has to do with exaggerating the movement and the femur coming out a bit. (Hence what you telling me makes perfect sense.) It was part of my problem too. I thought the pain was from stretching the scar tissue in my hamstring, but it was pain in my joint from using it incorrectly for years.

As for your hip flexor, also add releasing the psoas. Are you familiar with Liz Brock’s book, The Psoas Book? She also had an article in Yoga Journal a few years back that is available on the YJ website. The psoas needs releasing first before stretching and it can drastically shift your hip flexor tension. Strengthening it will also transform your Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. (Everyday? You are amazing!! And I am inspired...) I have a YJ article written by Richard Rosen on that pose in which he talks about the psoas too. It was written in 1995 so I would guess it didn’t make it to the website but you can check. It is excellent for describing how to use the psoas and not the abdominals for the lifts.

Do you move in and out of pigeon forward fold with your arms overhead? Or just with out using your arms? I am curious how to do it to use it for strengthening the back. I do Salabhasana (locust) with arms overhead. Wow is that one amazing! It really helps get into the lower trapezius.

Ooohh...I am just moving through your entire email and responding as I go and just got to the part about too many hip openers. That is what I was talking about with the hip injury! Another recommendation to help “bring in” the femur is to do a practice with a strap running through your mid hip — just across the top of the femurs — the greater trochanter. Use the strap to draw the femurs in (it is subtle. It is easy to contract in the buttocks, but the action is lower, at the top of the thighs.) This action is especially important for seated forward folds and standing poses like Parsvottanasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. And, yes, the issue affects the knee as well.

Peace and miracles of the hip joint...