Posts Tagged ‘Asana’
A post about discipline
Every morning, my alarm clock goes off at 6:01 a.m. Why 6:01? I don’t really know, except that it’s at least after 6 a.m., so doesn’t seem so awful. Every morning, I take our wonderful hound mix, Penny, out for a walk a little before 7 a.m. When the early morning walk first became my job, I felt like the task was too intimidating. I’m ashamed to admit that Penny got very short walks for a few months — much less than she needed — because I was worried about how much time taking care of her each morning would add to my morning routine. However, over the past year walking Penny every morning has become not only something I am willing to get up early to do, but also something I look forward to. I love the fresh air, being in nature, and alone time with my furry girl. It takes something really extraordinary for me to not give Penny a proper long walk first thing in the morning.
I feel the same way about my yoga practice at Boundless. I will be the first that admit that there are some days when getting to the studio or practicing at home is a major challenge — wrapping up conference calls, remembering my yoga clothing, turning off the television, not making after work plans — these are just a few of the obstacles that can get in the way of unrolling my mat. To this list I could certainly add laziness, tiredness, and many other excuses. Patanjali writes about these and other obstacles to a yoga practice in the Yoga Sutras. But Patanjali also writes that by digging deep, focusing, and practicing perseverance — what some might call discipline — we can overcome obstacles and reap the full benefits of our practice.
So what does this mean? For me it means that sometimes, I really am dragging myself to class, just like some mornings when it’s cold or raining, I have to force myself to give Penny a proper walk. But I always feel better after I practice yoga, just like I always feel like the day gets off to a better start when it begins with a nice walk with Penny. It also means that while one practice might not be the best effort I could ever give, the act of at least showing up and engaging in a class helps move me toward a deeper understanding of my mind and body. Every practice — no matter how much of a struggle it may be to get there, or to relax and focus — helps me grow as a practitioner. There aren’t any shortcuts to lasting change or to perfecting a certain pose. On and off the mat, we are all the sum of the cumulative effects of hundreds of tiny decisions and lots and lots and lots of practice.
This is the time of year that many of us are thinking about discipline — giving up a bad habit for 40 days, for example. But I also like to think about discipline in a positive way — and to use positive habits to reinforce slow, but sure, change. Commitment and
discipline will get you through the rough patches, and help you earn the rewards of regular, ever deepening yoga practice. We’re trying to make it easier than ever to commit. One way to deepen your commitment is through membership at Boundless. Sign up today!
Learning to listen
Since starting Yoga Teacher Training at Boundless, I’ve often stood in awe of my classmates as they describe the subtle movements of muscles and bones that they experience within poses. Before the training began I’d expected that the greatest challenges would be physical, but as it turns out my most significant difficulties so far have been in learning to listen to my body.
In the past I had predominantly attended classes in the more flowing, Vinyasa style. After 2 months of intensive immersion in the alignment focused classes at Boundless, I’ve now begun experiencing yoga in a very different way. While I still love the graceful transitions of Vinyasa, I now realize that I never had enough time to learn to listen to my body as we rapidly moved from pose to pose.
During Vinyasa classes, I realized, instead of focusing on sensations of the body, I would frequently zone out, losing myself as I transitioned through poses that frequently ran in predictable patterns. Muscle memory became the driver and my mind released, bringing about a relaxed, meditative state.
My classes at Boundless typically feature much more unpredictable series of poses, and each session is designed to elicit epiphanies of sensory experience and muscle control. We disentangle the experiences of each muscle group, learning to use specific muscles while releasing others. At the same time, through our practice we develop a conscious awareness of the complex relationships between the bones, muscles, and connective tissue which bind them together. As a result of this intense focus on the actions (and sensations) that comprise each pose, our yoga evolves alongside our knowledge of our self.
Upon discovering the contradiction between the mental surrender of my Vinyasa practice and the self-consciousness I’ve been striving to foster at Boundless, I’ve nearly completely stopped attending Vinyasa classes. Since changing my focus over to alignment-based classes I’ve been excited to find that I’m slowly becoming more attuned to my physical experiences. There’s still much to be said for the fluidity and grace which define Vinyasa, however, and I looked forward to the point at which I feel I’m ready to once again give in to the mental surrender of a flowing practice.
Ah, August, when a not-so-young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of school supplies.
I can’t help it. More than two decades after graduating from college, I still feel the pull of the fall-to-spring academic year and pine to be a returning student. I was in Staples the other day for I don’t remember what and got caught up in the racks of notebooks. Ah, so much blank paper — at once a writer’s worst nightmare, but also a symbol of promise and possibility. Should I get college-ruled or regular? Spiral-bound, or those old-timey black and white notebooks with an inflexible spine? Wait … I don’t need these, I thought. Ooooh, look, a shiny 3-D cover with unicorns and rainbows! I don’t even like unicorns! They freak me out! I try to pull myself out of my reverie but then get a glance of all the unused pens and pencils, ripe with ink and lead, and feel sad and empty.
The beginning of a new school year means a fresh start, and don’t we all need one from time to time? The problem is, most of us don’t get to take summers off. The rhythm of the traditional U.S. school year is still in my DNA, though, and I find myself thinking as March rolls around, where’s my spring break? Or at Christmas, where are my two weeks off? I don’t think the 180-day academic year prepares us for the real world of full-time work and adult responsibilities, but that’s another matter. It is important for kids (and grown-ups) to have down time, both constructive and restorative. How else could we greet new challenges and a new set of, let’s say, classes and opportunities to learn?
I consider myself a chronic student. I have a master’s degree and take classes in other fields here and there. I salivate over course catalogs and wish I could be signing up for a nice buffet of subjects. I miss libraries and the smell and heft of books, the simpler, less digital and ADD-addled world organized by the Dewey Decimal System. (I don’t, however, miss statistics class, blue books, footnotes or the financial aid office.)
But instead of being forced by state laws to regenerate every fall, when much of the natural world begins to shed and prepare for hibernation, I find that I need to create fresh starts for myself. And what better way to explore new beginnings than through yoga? We can shed old skins any time. Press on those boundless boundaries. You can take sessions of classes, sample from different studios and styles — experiment with the extra-curriculars that can help build and feed a home practice. Yoga teaches us that every day, every practice, every pose, every breath can be a fresh start. Even if you’ve done downward-facing dog a thousand times, you can try to approach each one as if it’s your first. Be open to new possibilities and exploring your body, mind, heart and soul. And don’t worry about being graded! No one cares. Through yoga, we can revise and reinvent ourselves all the time. As one of my guided meditations suggests, inhale possibility and awareness; exhale extraneous caca and rigidity.
And we can take the lessons of yoga into our lives. I’m not saying that’s easy: On the contrary, it can be very hard to, let’s say, wave and smile at drivers who cut you off instead of giving them a special hand gesture. But we have choices. We can stop in between the inhalations and exhalations and evaluate. Reassess. So each yoga practice can be like homework, not just for yoga, but for life. We encounter tests large and small all the time, and the truth is that we do get graded in various areas of our lives, long after we leave school. Yoga can help us be prepared for such challenges, if we pay attention. Let me repeat: Based on personal experience, this is not easy. But it’s an option. And it gets somewhat more natural with practice.
And although I’ve had some fantastic teachers in school, yoga and life over the years, I think the most profound lessons are those we learn for and teach ourselves.
A new, empty notebook is a lot like an unoccupied mat: full of possibility. Although I don’t think our minds can ever be totally empty, it’s nice to think we can try to wipe away what we no longer need and build on past lessons, as in algebra. A clean blackboard. Solve for X. Get unstuck. Open your mind and heart, get on your mat.
P.S.: I lied. There will be a quiz later. A really big one.
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.
Beginning Yoga 1/11 and 1/18
Last week I taught the stride poses in basic asana (how to lunge and do Warrior 1), and last night I taught the wide legged poses, Triangle, Warrior 2, and Side Angle. Also wide-legged standing forward fold.
The point of asana is to cultivate a more measured breath in a better organized frame.
I look forward to seeing my students next week! We’ll be lying around on the floor a lot, to review the stride- and wide-legged standing poses through this pose. We’ll also be doing seated forward folds.
Rediscovering My Mat
Recently, a number of things in life have sidetracked me from yoga. I was on a great pattern of practicing daily, after setting a personal goal of a daily yoga for 30 days. I far surpassed that goal and just kept going, stopped counting days, enjoying the “me” time that I was carving out of every day. Then life simply didn’t allow for it. Or perhaps I allowed my schedule to take over, right? Still, this past weekend and week, I have gotten back on my mat, and I shouldn’t be surprised that I am stuck in all sorts of places in my body. Adho muhka svanasana (down dog), a common pose that you’ll do in most classes, is less accessible to me. The pose tells me where I need to breathe, relax, and focus – and wow, my shoulders are unforgiving. This being yoga week, I hope that others start to (re)discover their mats too. It’s wonderful to hear about the first timers coming to class, hungry to learn. It reminds me of when I started yoga, the thrill of that first sirsanana (headstand), the desire to do every pose without props because I thought using props was a crutch. Ha! Now I own blocks and straps and use them in every home practice. And now, after a few weeks out of practice, I need props more than ever. I am humbled by what my body does, and does not, remember.
Thank you, Owen
Owen’s review on Yelp makes me think we should start Yoga for Guys again.
Owen, I’m so glad you’re having this experience with us. Namaste.
yoga and scoliosis
liana’s class 4/21