Monday, October 20, 2014

The Buddy System

I consider myself a "yoga buddy". After all, there is nothing particularly earth shattering or groundbreaking that I am doing with Kate Beckinsale, other than showing up, being a listening ear, and lending a helping hand. You can be that for someone too, as well as ask a buddy to be that for you. Life is all about relationships. Relationships with humans, with our bodies, with ideas, and so forth. In a way, the word "yoga" means "relationship". Yoga is the union and relatedness of  two opposing forces. Light and dark, masculine and feminine, strength and vulnerability. It is a constant dance of opposites emoted in the physical form.What better way to explore this dance than finding your body in relationship to another being's experience of the body?

I employed the help of my friend, and sometimes assistant, Lauren. In reality, we needed a third entity to capture the following photos. Let's call the third entity: neutral. Positive, negative, and neutral. (Luckily, good old Apple Mac Air was there to capture our posturing. Big brother lending a helping hand and a watchful eye – one of technology's most useful aspects.) Big Brother and I have an interesting relationship in my own mind...but that's another blog post for another time... Bottom line: getting into these postures within a 5 second timer was by far, the most challenging aspect of these shots. If you are trying this at home, all you need is a buddy, the willingness to explore, and a sense of humor. 

1. Seated Twist
  • Begin in a seated cross legged position, facing one another. Smile at your partner  for a moment. 
  • Take a deep breath and extend your breast bone away from the sacrum, as each buddy twists to the right while reaching the right arm behind your back to hold your partners left hand. 
  • Just as you would in a regular twist, take an inhale to lengthen your spine, and exhale twist and wring out your spine. After 3-5 breaths, unwind and repeat on side 2. Twists are intense and detoxify the body, so this should be done after a warm up. Rest in savasana beside each other afterwards. 

 2. Two Chairs

  •  Stand back to back and link elbows.
  • Press against your partner's back and walk your feet forward, while keeping the sacrum and spine touching each other until you are in a 90 degree seated position.
  • Hold for 5 breaths and feel the dynamic energy when you are pressing against the other and breathing. 

3. Assisted Butterfly or Cobbler Pose

  • One person sits with a straight spine and soles of the feet together, while the knees fan open.
  • Inhale, and while gripping the feet, lengthen the spine and fold forward.
  • After several breaths, the assistant may gently press on the inner thighs.
  • Maintain communication to make sure the assisted feels in control of the pressure. 
  • Release and switch partners. Give and receive.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Living In the "I Don't Know"....

When I was a girl, I had to be savvy. My parents were young (mom was 20, dad 23), and I was the first born. Sometimes I'd call myself "the experiment". Since mom and dad were children themselves,  I felt that I needed to have it together and know all the answers. Soon, my precocious maturity was praised by, and even entertained the adults. I was now expected to "know". At least that's how I felt.

I will never forget this one bus ride I took with my friend Melinda Morgan. We may have been in the first or second grade. The cut off shorts, which were long enough to be a skirt...were, I thought, called culottes. That's what my mother told me. On the day I wore this apparel, I heard Melinda use an alternate word: gauchos. After hearing this word several times, and finally from a pretty close friend, whom I thought I could trust, I had to find out the answer. I remember working up the courage to blurt out, under my breath, "what are gauchos?" Only Melinda didn't hear me. That was as far as it went, but even speaking it aloud was progress for me. I do not like to not know.

Imagine my frustration when confronted with open ended questions, or something called: process. The idea that I don't know the answer to the question of my own future can cause me to feel anxious. How will I approach writing my next book? Will I ever fall in love with someone I can settle into? How does my story end? Being in a state of staying open and teachable requires presence in the moment, and delight in the discovery. How do I get curious about and live my own process, without the anxiety?

Yoga provides me with an analogous space. I make progress on my mat when I approach my process with an open mind. This is why I love to take class from a variety of teachers. Each person has a slightly different take or experience, and when shared, it might strike a new revelation in my perception. Recently, I had the opportunity to take class with one of my old teachers from the mid-eighties. Baron Baptiste was a teacher I found in my teens. Although yoga had been a household activity, I found Baron when I was a gym rat, on my own terms. His approach resonated with me, and he was not much older than I. I was taken with his lazy LA accent, and his investigative approach. Little did I know that one day, he and I would be peers. His success as an instructor was foundational for many, and I had no designs on becoming a household name myself. Had I "known" the end to the story, perhaps I would have been far less teachable. Last year when I attended his class, I was tempted to explore something I have not tried in a long while: inversions. Due to several herniations in my spine, I choose not to go upside down because I know that it creates compression in the spine. This class, which I took in Hawaii, felt safe to me. Why not start from scratch and play like a child? I hadn't had any back issues for years! So I did. I played with going upside down, and finding my balance as I had in my youth. I did not know that my body would be able to deeply explore in the positions. It was not planned, or an aspiration, but became possible solely by curiosity. I felt such joy playing in the arena of the unknown, that this joy outweighed any wisdom I thought I'd have from the experience. I am so glad I did. Perhaps the key to living in the "I don't know," is to stay curious like a child. To live with a sense of wonderment.

Each day is new. We cannot say what will arrive in the next hour, moment, or breath. The only truth for me is " I don't know". In an effort to control or plan for the future, I may pretend that I have it all figured out, or that I am the one making the plans. One thing is for sure, no matter which decisions I make, God or the unifying force that connects us all, is running the show. The best I can do is breathe, play, be open, and teachable. This is living!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Relationship with the Body

Imagine your most intimate partnership. What does it take to cultivate that relationship? Attention, listening, spending time, giving encouragement, working with special circumstances, commitment and of course love. Perhaps you are able to provide some, but not all of these qualities with varying degrees of finesse. Perhaps you have other requirements or special gifts that you add to the mix. Regardless, healthy relationships require a variety of actions in order to work and acquire trust in the other.

Now consider your relationship to your body, after all, this is the only "one" that you have for this entire lifetime. That is a guarantee. Your body has been with you, ever evolving throughout the years, and will be with you until the very end. This relationship should be a priority and may require an upgrade, if you are not already treating it with the same sacred energy you wold treat the love of your life.

I, myself, have been on a lifelong journey with regards to my own relationship to my body. In my childhood, I became prone to perfectionism, comparison and worry, which translated into a sense of being a slave driver or even a non-participant in the pleasures of being an earthly human. In my early twenties, I decided to "let myself go", and allow perceived imperfection and even absence of care to take the drivers' seat. What if I became the very thing I feared? Soon I decided to become "the thing" and love myself as is. I spent some time simply being imperfect and loving it. In my thirties, I started to speak lovingly about my body aloud, and lead others to do the same. Without effort, and much to my surprise, my body fell into place organically. In my forties, I became known for a level of aspirational health and that emanated from a balanced relationship with my body. I embodied freedom and discipline, two sides of the same coin... Give and receive, open and close... As I head towards my fifties (okay, I have a few years to adjust), there is a sense of surrender and letting go of all that I know. This body will not last forever, as no relationship really does. Everything is ebb and flow, and all that lives and grows must pass. So what will be the next lesson in my journey?

For now, I allow it to unfold. This year has been so humbling: my eyesight not quite the same. I had to buy those 1.5 magnifying glasses at the drug store! A few spots of skin that alarmed my dermatologist enough to get them tested. Perhaps less sun worshipping? Who knows where my choices will take me.
Yet, the pattern is indicative of change. Ever-evolving and dynamic as all relationships are. Today is not yesterday, said a wise man to me.

Commitment to my body. To caring for and loving my body. Through thick and thin. All in.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yoga Month: Mind Your Mid-line

Mind your mid-line. Balance brings with it the illusion of steadiness. The constant energy of extension in both directions, brings awareness to the mid-line of your body. When balancing, the key is core strength. Consider the core of an apple that runs through the middle of the fruit. Your core is actually the mid-line that runs through the entire center of your body. When you are balancing, notice the differences on each side, and where is your center. For the last blog of yoga month,  I have chosen to highlight the balance postures from the Bikram series of poses here: 

1. Bikram Chair Pose is extra challenging, for it requires the yogi(ni) to elevate onto the toes,  lowering the hips, while maintaining a straight spine. The key is squeezing the knees together at the midline. 

 
 2. Eagle Pose is amazing for the lymphatic system, and the key here is to squeeze everything at the center as much as you can. This targets all of the major joints in the body. You will notice that the more you squeeze, and involve yourself in the pose, the easier it is to do.
 3. Extended Leg, Head to Knee pose. This requires immense focus and flexibility. Notice if one side is different than the other. We all have imbalances in our bodies, and it's important to find out where they are. You may not ever be fully balanced, yet you can work with what you've got. Imagine straight lines of energy reaching out through and energizing your legs.

 4. Dancer's Pose. This Pose looks effortless, yet the key is to press the top of the foot into the back hand as hard as you are reaching forward. It's the opposition that will create the relationship of balance.
 5. Warrior 3. The gazing point and breath are key here. Again, reaching equally forward and back will create a dynamic, energetic pose. The stillness of the gaze will calm and focus the mind, while the breath gives you the connection to steadiness. The mind is not reliable, your breath is.
 6. Tree Pose. What better way to explore and become conscious of the midline, than palms pressing together in prayer. This is vital to the pose and to your stability.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Balance: Don't be afraid to Fall!

From SELF Magazine 2006. It helps to have a friend support you. Two Trees.
As Fall literally scatters its leaves in my path, I am reminded that yoga is a reflection the of what it means to fall. We can use this analogy when in a balance pose, like Tree Pose....finding the relationship of opposites is the key:extension as we reach, while rooting into gravity's earthbound pull is the first lesson. Inevitably, as we grow and this posture becomes easy, it is natural to want to stretch ourselves further. Turn the gaze upwards, or maybe even close the eyes and take a leap of faith into the dark! Notice in the pose, when you have no point of focus, it is much harder not to stand steady, and fall you may! In fact, the point is to fall!

Stowe Vermont on a Sunday walk.
Life goes in cycles, the seasons change and the leaves turn beautiful colors only to die leaving naked branches. Uncovered, exposed, bare... inviting renewal. How many times in life have I stood in perfect balance? For a moment it feels like I have it all together. My personal and professional life are in sync and bearing fruit, my family is running along smoothly, there is money in the bank, food on my plate and my body is healthy. This lasts for about a moment. I am extending myself with a fixed and relaxed gaze, consciously breathing when WHAM! SPLAT! I have fallen again. I begin anew, yet the experience I have gained during the fall remains in my muscle memory. I try again. The fall has given me new insight and experience.

 If there is one gift balance poses have given me, it is the willingness to fall out of a pose. Had I not fallen multiple times in Crow Pose, I would never have found that delicate balance of strength and relaxation that brings me the steadiness I have today. "Let's try hollowing the chest and rebounding off of the mat this time." "Let's try setting the gaze forward." "Let's try perching upon a brick to get the knees a little higher upon the triceps." Once I had mastered that to the best of my ability, how can I play and get out of my head enough to jump back right into a low Plank from Crow?

I am not a person who enjoys falling. I prefer to feel in control and masterful. Letting go of my beautiful leaves that I have watched sprout and grow feels like a loss, especially when they shimmer in crimson and gold just before the Fall! I am challenged cyclically to watch and be in relationship to nature, so that I can become like a tree.Yoga is a place where I can practice what I must learn in life. Patience. Persistence. Letting Go...and most importantly: "Don't be afraid to fall!"

Why not go down stream. Learning to let go and Fall....

Monday, September 15, 2014

Eight Limbs: Simplified

Many of us know the physical practice of yoga, commonly referred to as "asana". Traditional yoga engages more than just our physical body, but is an eightfold path. These guidelines are aspirational and something to keep in mind as you bring the physical practice of yoga off of the mat. I observe myself through the lens of these guidelines and find myself falling off balance, practicing imperfectly all the time. I know where to go to reset myself. Just as my pose may not perfect in one session, neither is my mind or spirit, but with my gaze is set in the right direction, over time I find my spiritual alignment and my energy moving fluidly with practice. 

Here is a simple breakdown of the eight limbs:

  1. Yamas: This is like the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Practice nonviolence, being truthful, not stealing, restraint, and noncovetousness.
  2. Niyama: This is spiritual hygiene. Embody: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self study and surrender to spirit. 
  3. Asana: This is the physical practice: "Your body is your temple". We learn concentration and discipline. This is the one I am really good at!
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises. The mastery of breath control is so important. The breath is the bridge from the mind to the body, and is the pathway of the emotions. When we gain mastery of the breath, we strengthen the mind and learn to detach from the emotions in a healthy way. 
  5. Pratyahara: Detachment means that we observe, but pull our focus inward so that outward circumstances are not the basis for our contentment. "It's an inside job".
  6. Dharma: This is our spiritual purpose. We learn to detach from our thinking nature, by learning one pointed focus. This may mean stopping the mind for a moment.
  7. Dhyana: A sustained period of concentration when the mind stops.This is very advanced and comes with practice. It comes from regularly sitting.This is the one that  I must remind myself to practice imperfectly. Like any muscle, it strengthens with consistency. 
  8. Samadhi: Awakening! This can be translated in so many ways. Enlightenment is beyond time and space. If you could pull far away out of time/space, body/mind...you are already awakened. The ultimate moment of bliss is available to all. 
While these guidelines may seem lofty, when we look at life through this lens, we can always return to good, clean living. When we fall off, we always have a place to which we can return. This is the yoga.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Yoga Month!

Yoga practitioners have chosen to celebrate yoga in September. Since yoga is best used as a daily practice, I promote its importance to your health and well-being all year long. If you haven't incorporated yoga into your routine yet, this is a great month to give it a try. Since there are a variety of  styles, I encourage you to try several different types until you find the one that works for you. Yoga balances your body and can support you in the ways you need.

Yin Yoga: This style of yoga is slower. The poses are held longer and is passive. The focus is on allowing the tendons and ligaments to stretch. This is a good style for those who are very tight or for those who have a very active exercise regime, for it will balance the muscle conditioning.

Kundalini Yoga: This style is based on moving the life force energy through the body with active breathing and movement exercises. Many of these yogis adopt a yogic lifestyle and your teacher may wear all white and a turban. Great exercises for energizing and moving energy and is for the open minded and open hearted.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga: This Hatha Yoga style connects the breath and movement in the dance of Sun Salutations, and sequences of poses strung together with the Sun Salute or Vinyasa. It's great for people who like movement. It's terrific for overall conditioning and toning and is the cardio version of yoga.

Hot Yoga: This is an offshoot of the Bikram series which is a series of set poses done in a heated room. Bikram style can be great for people who like doing the same set routine daily. This series does not require much upper body strength, so may be a good option for those with upper body injuries. Hot Yoga has taken the heated room aspect of Bikram Yoga, but varies the poses. This can be great for those who love to sauna or sweat. It creates a feeling of difficulty without too much complexity.

Restorative Yoga: Uses props and allows the body to be completely supported and relaxed, which enables the nervous system to restore itself. This is like nap time. You will never feel more relaxed than post-restorative class. I highly recommend.

Iyengar Yoga: This style of yoga focuses on proper alignment and uses props to allow this alignment. This will open the flow of energy in the body to be free. Iyengar was considered the father of Western yoga. I would like to pay my respects to B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away in August at age 96. When I was a child, my father found the book Light On Yoga and passed it along to myself and my brother. Certainly Iyengar was a model example of yoga as a way of life.

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure that which cannot be cured."
~ B.K.S. Iyengar
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