Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West): Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West) is a challenging pose for many people. When the legs are used well, the torso can become lighter and the fold easier. Learning how to use the legs well both physically and energetically will help you be in a stronger pose. In this pose I will discuss a few ways to learn how to use the legs well.

Using the legs well refers to engaging them. When legs are fully engaged, the body can be lighter. To feel this more strongly, do the opposite. Sit in your usual Dandasana (Staff Pose) and then relax the legs. You will notice your torso slumps a bit. More specifically, your heart drops. The action in your legs keeps the heart open. Now that you know what happens when you relax the legs, can you imagine what happens when you actively and effectively engage them? Here are a couple of poses to use to work on creating this awareness:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose): A traditional way to feel the action in the leg is by placing a block between your thighs in Tadasana. Placing your feet as close together as you can will engage the inner thighs strongly. (Often this variation is also used to teach the internal rotation of the thighs. Be careful there, that direction is not useful for everyone. I am asking you here to just engage the legs, not do a rotation.) A very different Tadasana! Feel the legs (especially the inner thighs) fully engaged. From the strength of the legs, let the torso extend effortlessly. Let it be light. Remove the block and hold the feeling.
• Standing poses – Now do any standing poses, focusing on keeping the back leg fully extended and working. It may help to place your back heal at a wall to give you something to engage into.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) with mat behind legs: Stand at a wall with your feet about six inches from the wall. Have a mat that is folded in quarters behind your legs. Be sure the mat is below your sit bones. Fold forward into Uttanasana. It is a bit awkward with the wall and the mat so your fold may not be graceful! Hold onto the mat with one hand. Now, once in Uttanasana, firm the legs up, using the mat to ground them to the wall.

Now return to Dandasana. Can you feel the engagement of the legs? Next time we will find the energetic line in the legs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West)

This pose challenged me for years. It wasn’t until I realized that it was my lack of stability in my legs (from first chakra issues) and my discomfort with my present, that I found the root of the issue. Interestingly, I always assumed it was my hamstrings that were the issue. Of course, once I worked with the first chakra issue and the fear of the present, the hamstring issue dissipated!
Forward folds are all about surrender and being fully present. Letting go of the past (back body) and gently using the front body (present) to breathe and trust. When our legs aren’t being used effectively and efficiently, the torso needs to make up for the lack of support and works harder than necessary. The added gripping makes the fold more effortful and one can only surrender when peaceful and not gripping, especially in our gut, our fear center. The key to this pose is working the legs just enough, without gripping, to give your Dandasana a strong base. Then the torso can be light and the fold a surrender. To work the legs effectively and efficiently, one needs to tap into both physical and energetic lines. I will be writing about some ideas around this thought over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Residual Awareness

I know I have written about this idea before. It is a thought that seems to frequently come up in class. One of the benefits of yoga is we become aware of our bodies, more conscious of what is going on in our bodies (shoulders are tight, stomach is off, back feels great today) and what we are doing with our bodies (I hold tension in my jaw, sit so my back is tight, stand with more weight in one hip than the other.) This awareness continues for awhile after class. The more conscious a student is and the longer he/she has studied yoga, the longer the residual awareness lasts. Remind them of this benefit. Encourage the awareness to continue by giving them something more to think about after class.

• Do you need to change the height of your rearview mirror after yoga? You have created more space in your joints.
• Can you lift your rearview mirror more so you need to sit taller in the car to use it?
• When you stand doing dishes or brushing your teeth, do you grip your lower back? Release it and breathe.
• Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) in the shower.
• Do 10 full breaths in bed before going to sleep.
• Find your sit bones while sitting at your desk.
• Smile at yourself when you are going to brush your teeth and shout, “I love you!” to yourself.

Any other ideas?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Limitations are Merely Self-Imposed

In tonight’s class I taught, I had an interesting thought I shared with my students. Do you often go into a pose assuming it will look exactly as you did it last time? I am guessing there are a few poses in which you do. Personally, basic standing poses such as Warrior II and Triangle Poses are my weak spot. I just plop myself into my usual position and hang out there until I think it is time to go to the other side. I don’t even try to take myself more deeply. I just assume my pose will look the same today as it did yesterday and it will tomorrow.

When I realized what I was doing, it made me think. Where else in my life do I just plunk myself down and assume I have gone as far as I can go? There are so many places we can limit ourselves in what we have – happiness (really, test yourself – being happier than you are comfortable with can be incredibly uncomfortable and we usually only allow it for brief periods), love, money, career, health, even the number of vacations or where we go on our vacations! Where in your life do you feel a bit stale? Is it time to blow past a self-imposed limitation? You see, the irony of physical limitations is they are primarily perceived. What I mean is you can move beyond your “wall”, which is, in fact, merely a speed bump. Our flexibility is tied mostly to our consciousness. If you think you are tight, guess what? You are right! If you think you can loosen up and move past your inflexibility or weakness, guess what? You are right, too. If you think you can move past your current health crisis, guess what? You are right! Maybe it is time to blow past a few of those limitations and experience the joy on the other side…Then you can guide your students to the other side as well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Surrender Quote

I am reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle with Oprah and over two million people. With my study around surrender this year, this quote struck a chord.

“Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary, your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen. If no action is possible, you rest in the peace and inner stillness that come with surrender. You rest in God.”

A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

Grievances With My Body

I have been reading and fully enjoying, along with Oprah and well over 2 million others, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. What a powerful book!

“The past has no power to stop you from being present now.
Only your grievance about the past can do that.
And what is a grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.”
(A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle)

I read this quote this morning and it struck a chord as a teacher. How often do we see our students (and ourselves) stuck in the past when doing yoga. “My bad shoulder/knee/hip.” “My weak core.” “My tight hamstrings.” “My tension and stress.” “I can’t do that pose.” “I will never be strong enough/flexible enough to do that pose.” When you think about it, these are merely grievances, baggage of old thought and emotion. When we continue to label our body with old thoughts, we keep the body stuck in the old consciousness. As teachers, we can guide our students into a new awareness, to begin seeing their body fresh each day.

How? Teach the same old pose in a brand new way. Instead of focusing on the hamstring stretch in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), focus on the contraction of the quadriceps. Instead of speaking of “releasing tension”, speak of “creating space”. You can also encourage them to change their language to a more compassionate speech that leaves space for growth. Instead of “my bad shoulder”, try “I am still learning what my shoulder has to teach me.” (Speaking from someone who had hamstring pain for 13 years, it was this shift that finally guided me to the other side – very powerful!) Or, “I am learning what I need to create space in my hamstrings.” I also find breaking down a difficult pose into bite size pieces makes it less scary. Language is incredibly powerful! Moving past our grievances opens us up to a brand new life!