Posts Tagged ‘yoga and healing’
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.
Desk Jockey Spine Straightening, 1
A friend, John, asked me over the weekend what to do about the pain in his low back. This happens often, because so many people have back pain. John’s problems come from years of sitting slouched in school and work chairs. And all the other chairs. Different from Angela’s back, John’s back is seized up and tight in his quadratus lumborum, which is extremely common for guys.
Following are literally the A, B, and C of the problem, and the two things John can do — five minutes a day! — to alleviate or remove the pain in his back.
A: The low back and butt have become one. The above-mentioned quadratus muscles become weak and tight, and as they are the hamstrings of the back, they tighten all the way to the backs of the knees. Think of how you look sitting in a chair (better yet, feel it).
B: The low belly and inner groins are dropping away from the spine. Everyone who owns a chair deals with this. The belly organs need to lift away from the pelvis via the abdominals and better action in the thigh bones: We need to stand through the pelvis, on the legs. What we do today is collapse into the pelvis and on to — almost all of us.
C. The outer hips/thighs grip to try and bring the belly and groins back in. This area is also to a degree an extension of the low back and butt. However, the body is very intelligent as it seeks to solve its own problems before it tries to get your attention. In this case, the outer hips/thighs are gripping in an attempt to make the abdominals engage so that the belly and groins move back into the body.
All desk jockeys need to do #1 and #2 to lengthen their spine and feel better in their back and posture overall. Five minutes a day, with conscious breathing, and a regular class with a well-educated yoga teacher is all it takes.
for weak and/or injured backs (for angela)
A bright new student of Boundless recently asked me what to do about her back problems. A few years ago, she injured her back and has “babied it,” which has led her to become weak in her the core and tight at the site of the injury and around it.
Angela is not that different from more than 90% of Americans. With a tight back and weak core, her problem is exacerbated every time she sits down in any chair or seat — as long as she sits without thinking about what she’s learning in yoga class.
I told her I’d post a few stick-figure shapes to help guide a 10-15 minute practice at home a few times a week. This work, coupled with regular yoga class attendance (twice or three times a week ideal), is the best investment anyone can make in the healthy longevity of their spine.
Here they are:
In a previous post I suggested a couple of after-swim poses, which I did again yesterday, and which felt great again.
Yesterday, after an all-night bender with the daughter, I was exhausted and honestly interested in splashing around in the pool instead of trying to keep up in the Medium Lane. (That organization, by the way, seems to keep people sane in an East Coast Pool. Otherwise, Grandpa with the snorkel isn’t in the way of Type-A-even-in-water-Guy lapping everybody in .5 seconds).
So it was Grandpa and me. He, with the snorkel and flippers, and me, with the bags under my eyes and a kickboard. This Pitta woman has a hard time slowing it down, and later, in yoga class as my teacher instructed this pose and this pose and this pose, I was, again, in the slow lane.
I am slowing down, of course, because I just had baby, and the first of the problems in a postpartum body is a weak core. Add bouncing baby 10+ hours a day, and you’ve got a tight neck and shoulders, and often, low back pain.
These physical issues, though, sound like a lot of America. So it occurred to me yesterday, as I observed the others — from pool to yoga classroom — speeding past me and creating shapes beyond me, that there are advantages to slowing down and looking around.
Slowing down gives you the opportunity to create a reality with (probably, but not always) more intention, and in the asana (pose) context, it gives you the chance to observe more deeply what what’s really happening in your body. To be sure, John Schumacher was instructing poses deliberately and slowly, and most of the class had few problems manifesting his information. But what worked for me in class, especially, was watching the others make these shapes based on his instructions, and to imagine that information ultimately making its way into my body.
I will find these shapes soon by taking it slowly. You will, too.
practice is the goal
Last week I was working with a new client. She’s 52, and she’s been practicing yoga for a long time. It shows in her attention to the detail of the poses, and, as important, in her ability to find meditation and stillness in her daily life.
As we discussed what it takes to revive a stalled yoga practice, she said, you know, I need this work with you to get restarted for 2010, but I’m so grateful that I actually do know how to quiet my mind. She went on to say:
I wasn’t sure I ever believed that you could just turn your mind off, but then, after practicing for these years, I’ve figured out that, yes, you can. It just takes practice.
She stated this fact so simply, without any drama, discomfort or complaint. She said it better than any teacher I’ve ever had, in fact: You can still your mind without any real issue — you just have to keep at it. It isn’t a drive-through experience, and it cannot happen while you are moving, unless you have figured out how to meditate while you are actually still, sitting, for a little while. Then you can be anywhere — walking, in conversation or relationship with someone, in a fast-paced vinyasa class — and you can observe whatever is happening at that moment and be still in your heart with it.
Yoga teaches that the heart is the true mind. I believe that my client was talking about being at peace when she talked about “turning off” her mind. This was a powerful teaching for me, and I am grateful to share it here.
I wish you a still and peaceful 2010, filled with practice and gratitude.
ooh i’m so tired!
This is one of the things I hear during the Fall a lot. More so than Winter, even though during those colder months there is less light to go around.
This makes me think of yoga. I can say without a doubt that at 37, I feel younger and more alive than I did at 23 — then I was busy working on Wall Street, running to the gym, and then running home to go out, or to go home and hang out in front of the TV. I felt exhausted all the time, and even training for a marathon didn’t seem to help.
Over time, I’ve learned that my body needs certain shapes, and certain relaxation tools, to keep it running smoothly, energetically, and happily. These shapes and relaxation tools come directly from yoga: They have aligned my skeleton, muscles, and nervous system (i.e., how I think and feel) in such a way that I conserve energy when it feels good and makes sense, and I expend it when it feels good and makes sense.
Running a small business at 9 months pregnant, I still work as many hours as I ever clocked at JPMorgan or Merrill Lynch, but the difference is that my skeleton and nervous system aren’t working as hard to hold me up, move me from place to place, and let go as they settle me down to sleep at night. Even 40 lbs heavier than I was in January, the only thing bothering me occasionally are my knees, and that’s because they are still adjusting to the weight they are temporarily bearing from above.
During the Fall, when it becomes obvious that your body is going into hibernation, it’s a very good idea to stick with a yoga practice in order to observe how your body is holding you up. Learn how to conserve energy, learn how it moves through your body — be interested in where you are efficient and where you aren’t, and explore your body from there. These are essential “wellness” tools for any body wanting to feel more alive, and less encumbered.
missing the point
This article in today’s US News and World Report is about how conventionally grown produce has the same nutrient value as that grown organically.
But read 50 words in and the article get weird, particularly in paragraph 6 where “conventionally grown” and “traditionally grown” are described as synonymous. Um.
The other crazy aspect of the report is this statement:
The review zeroed in on 162 studies that dealt with the nutrient content of foods. Only 55 were of what the researchers considered to be “satisfactory quality” — a strong indicator that, overall, the science on the subject is not up to snuff.
So why was this news, if only 34% of the reported study was considered scientifically viable, and when someone else asked these questions at the end?
“There are so many variables,” she said. “Where is something grown? Where is it shipped from? How long was it on the truck? There are going to be variables in terms of nutrition just from production methods.”
My guess is that soundbytes in the 24-hour news cycle make money, versus more complicated studies that don’t yield easy results or descriptions.
gasp in, breathe out
One of my graduating TTs is writing a paper on asthma, yoga, and medicine. We just had a very interesting talk about how to reconcile the medical approach to asthma, and the yogic approach to breathing.
My perspective is that while there are other factors — genetics, environmental pollutants and allergies, immune system — one of the main things that causes asthma is stress. This is the same for most if not all other diseases.
The purpose of yoga is to still the mind, which can only happen after layers of stress have been recognized, dealt with, and released by the practitioner. This is not a simple, linear, or even one-time process. It involved a lifetime of observation, and finding and trusting qualified teachers to help you shake the stress out of you.
Once you know how to shake it off, you always know how to shake it off. That’s how embodied knowledge works.
Pertaining to asthma, yogic breathing (pranayama) is a remarkabe way to take stress out of the body. As stress leaves, the nervous system approaches what it knows to be equilibrium, and breath panic calms down. I believe that all asthmatic patients should explore pranayama with a qualified practitioner, at least in conjunction with their medication if not in replacement of it. This is a good book advocating the same thing.
Marma Therapy this Saturday
The branch of Ayurveda known as Marma Therapy bears the closest relationship to the physical practice of hatha yoga, and yields deep insights into how the asanas work on specific pressure or ‘marma’ points on the body to address specific therapeutic issues, resolve imbalances in the doshas at the root of those issues, and provide support for one’s specific constitution or ‘Prakrti.’
— Foundation in Ayurveda: Doug will give a brief and accessible overview of the nature of the doshas, how they function in our body according to our own individual constitution, and the kinds of therapeutic issues that arise from imbalances in the doshas that hatha yoga specifically addresses. We’ll of course look at how this process of ‘imbalance’ works, and what the process is by which we restore ‘balance.’
— Overview of Marma and the Specifics of Sequencing — the influence of classes of asanas upon the doshas through Marma: — we’ll look at the ‘big picture,’ organizing our understanding of the benefits of the various kinds of poses according to their effect upon the marma points stimulated by the poses — and in turn, the effect of that upon the doshas.
— Specifics: — Then we’ll get specific about a number of therapeutic issues, including those tied to breath and emotion, and provide some specifics about the poses, practices and sequencing that can be used to address them.
- Support Materials: Doug will be providing printed materials to maximize your experience of the training, as well as to use in following up on what you’ve learned, whether in your own practice or teaching.
We still have a handful of spots open for this workshop. Click here to read more about Doug and/or to register for the workshop.
last night i was at an anniversary party and had a few glasses of champagne. the mood was celebratory (local business = success!), the music consistently danceable (de la soul and prince!), and the people watching and food delicious.
i slept well, but not well enough, of course, to get up and do my pranayama practice, which is a goal for tuesdays. instead i slept in and wished i could sleep more. my body was recovering from that bit of alcohol, technically a poison that the body has to work harder to remove in order to return to “normal.”
a learning for a yogini aiming to be consistent in her practice above all else, when she still loves champagne and a good dance party.