From dawn to dusk
Paschimottanasana, the Boundless pose of this month, is a fun asana to explore as a way to cool down — from hot weather, a vigorous asana practice or, in any season, our stressful lives. Forward folds are inherently soothing, reflective and restorative, though this one can be challenging for those with back issues or tight hamstrings. More on that later.
I wrote about this pose on this blog nearly exactly a year ago as my teacher training course was ending. We were studying the forward folds about at the point they are typically introduced in a yoga class, two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through. I began to wonder about the name: stretch of the western aspect of the body, the back side. And its companion pose, if you like, purvottanasana, stretch of the eastern or front body — also known as upward-facing plank or “my shoulders are screaming.” I don’t know the Sanskrit etymology of the two poses, but I like to think that the extroverted purvo is the “hello, world!” sunrise pose — the sun rises in the east, and we greet the day with our front body, so I think this heart-opening move can get us charged up to do so (and certainly the bent-knee version is a good option). That would make paschimo the sunset pose. After living in our front body all day, moving into various face-to-face encounters with others and having perhaps a sense of constant forward motion, the forward fold gives us the chance to unwind and greet the dusk of the day — or an asana class. Reflecting and letting go at the same time. Turning our backs to the world in a thoughtful way.
With these compass-point poses, you might be wondering where north and south are on the body. In the “Light on Yoga” description of paschimo (pose #67), Mr. Iyengar says the crown of the head is the northern point; the feet, the southern part. But that leaves out the left and right sides of the body. So for my class this week, I am planning to emphasize side-body actions and poses with a purvo (pose #72) and a paschimo in there for good measure. To get deeper benefits out of paschimo and take any stress out of it for those with lower-back or hamstring issues, we will rest the head on a generous stack of blankets. And hold. And cool. And unspool.
i am so super excited bc i just figured out how to play a Bb bar chord on my guitar. i credit this to Leah Barr and Michael Vetter’s yoga classes which I went to this week! they totally shifted my awareness into my fingertips. i am telling you – i could not play this chord last week, and i haven’t practiced ANY guitar since my last failed attempt. yayeeee for fingertips and yoga. yay for bar chords! leah and michael are so awesome!
from “Prologue: Camel”
I carefully lifted out of the pose and spoke up: “Uh Fran? When I’m doing the pose, I have this feeling in my chest, kind of a scary tight feeling.”
Fran was adjusting someone across the room. She had a way of looking like a thoughtful seamstress when she made adjustments: an inch let out here, a seam straigtened there, and everything would be just right. She might as well have had pins tucked between her lips and a tape measure around her neck. Without missing a beat or looking up, she said, “Oh, that’s fear. Try the pose again.”
Fear. I hadn’t even known it was there.
interested in becoming a teacher? comment, and i’ll reply to you. it will change your world!!
interested in membership, ditto, above.
sign up for leah and michael’s classes! and
p.s. pls come see my band play at velvet lounge on august 8th.
Fold as naturally as the sun
The thing with pachimottanasana, or seated forward fold, is that it takes almost as much stability as paripurna navasana, or boat pose. I wrote about boat pose last month. Take a minute to look at both poses in the links to Yoga Journal, especially the legs. We could accurately say that the stability in the legs is quite the same in both poses, but the (re)pose in the spine is different.
In the spine especially, we are looking for a non-doing-ness as much as we’re looking for doing. Seated forward fold shows this perhaps this best of all yoga poses other than savasana, or corpse pose. The concept in Taoism is called wu-wei, or the natural timing of any action. Inasmuch as we are lifting the breastbone and calming the breath down in boat pose, we are doing the same actions in seated forward fold. Except we do this as we elongate the torso over the legs rather than away from it into space.
Seated forward fold is about letting go, about letting your own psychology of action be revealed to you in the minute or two you hang out in this pose. Most people find seated forward fold challenging, because it’s a shape — like navasana — that we hardly ever do. Sitting in chairs, oops, is our main daily action that makes extending the legs out on the floor and folding over so hard!
I recommend spending the hotter moments in July cooling down with this ultimately nourishing, calming, and (yet) spinally challenging pose. When you hit a wall, i.e., when you feel like the only way you could go “further” in the pose is by forcing the body into more “length”, relax. Seriously, observe any tension in your shoulders (and therefore) your spine, and relax. R-E-L-A-X. Spell the word out to yourself and by the time you hit “X” notice that you’re in a different pose.
Let your body forward fold this month as naturally as the sun comes up to roast you every day.
have you read poser?
Boundless offers a yoga book club as part of our monthly membership. This month our yoga book is Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Poses by Claire Dederer. It’s book about how 23 yoga shapes relate to a woman’s life experience, as a mother. It’s been selected as a book of the month on Amazon earlier this year, and it continues to receive very passionate reviews.
It’s interesting to think of yoga shapes as having themes – this is the premise of the book. In my practice, a shape could have one theme one day, and the next day, another theme. I can’t, for example, say all my forward folds have a “relaxing” theme. I have days when folding forward is a humbling introduction to my own tension. Perhaps it is the paradox and the paying attention that is the theme? I like to think that finding the mystery in your poses – the points of change (and even confusion!) in your body, supports the joy of asana. I can’t wait to read Poser, and I’m very excited to offer you our member updates on the blog about book club!
yoga in the a.m.
i wanted to let you know that we have an amazing group of women teaching early morning yoga each week. come in to studio on tuesday, wednesday, or thursday at 6:15 a.m. to check out valerie lanham, leah markowitz, and katie myer’s early morning yoga classes.
a cute message from val: Come out Tuesday morning to join an engaging group for early morning yoga! This is really the best time of the day to practice, a loving way to wake up your body. I began taking the 6:15 am class at Boundless when it began. When the teacher of many years left, I took over the class and have been teaching it for the last three years. People who take the class say things like, “I was much more aware during my day, I had more energy and wow I should do this every morning.” Give it a try, you can even show up in your PJ’s!
and cute message #2 from leah markowitz: The sun is already streaming in your bedroom window, so why not admit that you’re awake, hop out of bed, and do some yoga! Come join the Wednesday morning 6:15 class for an energizing and conscious way to start your day! You’ll stretch, strengthen, and even smile, all the more prepared for whatever else the rest of Wednesday may bring.
katie myer is a wonderful new teacher at studio, and she teaches the thursday morning class – and she says: Join us Thursday mornings for Anusara-Inspired yoga at 6:15am. Anusara yoga is a hatha-based school of yoga that combines a life-affirming philosophy with principles of alignment. Start your day with an uplifting and mindful practice designed to help you play your edge while you honor your body. You will move into your day more centered in your heart and open in your body, able to take on whatever comes your way with grace and purpose. See you on the mat!
um. what’s better than a music festival with outdoor yoga? correct. nothing! that’s why wanderlust is explosively spreading like wildfire all across the nation. please take 2 seconds to learn more about this incredible event. this year has already boasted events in new york, san francisco, pheonix, and dallas to name a few. upcoming fests are scheduled for: vermont, chicago, north lake tahoe, santa monica, and squaw valley.
be there or be square. and when ya coming to dc, wanderlust?
The focus of my practice in yoga right now is finding the balance between softening and striving. As a person who has done well to embody our culture’s values of doing, achieving, and working hard all the time, in my yoga practice (and my life) I have to consciously focus on the not-doing and not-achieving to find balance. Which makes navasana (boat pose) a particular challenge for me. Unlike tadasana or down dog or many other yoga asanas, it’s a serious challenge for me to find softness and full acceptance of my body – exactly as it is – while doing navasana.
Boat pose is a fairly unique posture in yoga because, unlike almost all the others we do regularly, in navasana we can see most of our exterior bodies. In forward folds, back bends, balances, and twists, we’re usually either looking out beyond our bodies, or at the ground, or maybe down at our shins in forward folds. But in navasana, I find myself peering out at my toes, and then inevitably my eyes drift down a little to take inventory of my pose. I look to see how high I’ve brought my legs (compared to yesterday or compared to the student across the room from me or compared to Mr. Iyengar), and how straight they are, and how much I’m trembling. And I try to remind myself that it’s not about accomplishment, but then my legs start really shaking and I wish I were better at this pose.
And navasana really can bring out the achiever in all of us, since our boats can vary so dramatically. Some of us look graceful like the models in the yoga magazines, with bright, tight legs up in the air – I like to imagine these are the fancy yachts of navasana. But for a lot of us, the more appropriate boat for the occasion – for our body on this day – might have our knees bent, our shins parallel to the floor, maybe even our palms wrapped gently around the back of the thighs to help lighten our opening heart and chest. It can feel like a much lower navasana status – like we’re relegated to the rowboat instead of the race boat.
But of course this is where yoga practice comes alive. If I can let go of hierarchy and remember to practice ahimsa – non-harming, including non-harming of my own body – then my yoga practice feels real. This is the gift of navasana. It reminds me that the pose is simply a teacher, and that the true practice is finding both strength and softness deep in my core and in my heart and in my mind, the places my wandering eyes cannot see.
Don’t rock the boat, baby
On Navasana or Boat Pose
Now that I’m pregnant with my second child, I especially miss boat pose. It is a pose of strength, grace, and calm.
Most of us don’t feel that way when we practice it. Even as a teacher, I feel myself getting tense on the students’ behalf when I instruct, “Straight legs! Lift your chest! Soften the shoulders!” This pose is challenging because it deals directly with the core body that remains so woefully unattended as we sit in chair, cars, couches, and other “slouchy” pieces of furniture. Were we to practice Mountain Pose, Staff Pose and even Half-Standing-Forward Fold, Navasana or Boat Pose would feel more easeful and steady as asanas, or poses, are meant to feel.
And yet, we love to hate this pose (or vice versa) because it *is* so challenging and makes us sore the next day. We learn from it that we need to strengthen our core and loosen up our groins, because both take a beating when we practice this pose with rigidity and fierceness, rather than focus, steadiness, and grace.
Think of how you feel when you’re sitting in a boat in calm waters. It’s so relaxing! This is literally the steadiness that your muscular body wants to offer your breath and nervous system in Boat Pose. So keep trying this pose, this one that we all love in June anyway as it’s so close to bathing suit season! Even a little bit of work in it pays off — just like a nice trip to the lake does!
work trade at boundless!
boundless is looking for students who are interested in various styles of work trade with the studio, in exchange for yoga classes. please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details!