Pose of the Week: Firefly

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Model: Lacey Grillos 

Firefly

TITTIBHASANA

“It is through the body that your realize you are a spark of divinity.”

~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Pose Benefits:

  • Strengthens arms and wrists
  • Opens and stretches groin, hips, back, and legs
  • Improves balance
  • Tones abdomen

Asana Breakdown:

Begin in a squat with your feet positioned less than shoulder width apart with your slightly arms firmly planted between your legs. Walk your hands back as far as you can, fingers pointing forward. Engage all five knuckles as you gently begin to tilt your torso forward. Carefully begin to lift yourself off of the floor and extend your legs forward. Keep your inner thighs as high on your arms as possible. Straighten your arms, hollow your chest, and widen your shoulders to get as much lift as possible, then spread your toes apart. Slowly begin to lift the head upward. Breathe — see if you can hold this pose for at least 15 seconds, then release.

 

References:

http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/firefly-pose/

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Yoga for PMS

Here’s one for the ladies! ❤ We’ve all been there. They are so so painful! here is a sequence to help relieve some of your period pains.

For more information on things you can do to get rid of/relieve menses pains, recipes, and more follow the link here

Pose of the Week: Triangle

trikonasana

Triangle Pose

TRIKONASANA

Benefits:

  • Relieves stress & anxiety
  • Aids to back tension and pain
  • Strengthens thighs, ankles & knees
  • Stretches abdominal muscles that assist better digestion.
  • Good for sciatica, osteoporosis, & flat feet

Asana Break Down:

Begin in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), straighten front leg and extend forward, hinging your torso over your front thigh. Allow your front hand to find a block, shin or the floor. If your hands are placed on the floor, make sure your hand is firmly placed palm touching the ground or remain on your fingertips without compromising your thumb. Some people even like to allow their hand to free float by their shin or ankle, using their core muscles to maintain the integrity of this asana. Allow your other hand to reach towards the sky.

Next, we want to align the body by twisting deeper in the pose. To do this, imagine someone was pressing into your hand that is in the air and encouraging you to twist your lower ribcage forward. Head should align with the line of the spinal chord. Draw shoulder blades closer to one another and check your torso’s alignment over your front leg. Often, people will puff their chest forward and either collapse their ribcage or put their body dramatically off balance. Make sure the center of your torso aligns with the center of your front leg. Allow there to be a mirco-bend in the front leg so that you don’t hyper extend. Back hip muscle should descend down towards the ground. Allow the back body to lengthen. Take your gaze towards the sky.  ❤

Yoga for Sleep

It seems to me that the busyness of our lives seems to take hold of us into the night. This can make it hard for us to fall asleep or have good sleep. As requested by a friend of mine, here are pm yoga techniques to help you fall asleep and stay asleep:

Yoga Sequence

Meditation

The best way I have found to relax the body is through meditation. After a long day, take time to sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair. Put on a tape and listen to your favorite meditation (mine is Deepak Chopra, which you can buy on iTunes or listen to for free on spotify) or sit in silence. If you don’t have much time, set a timer. This goes for any point during the day when you need to schedule rest, even if it is for only 5 minutes, take time to sit with yourself. Allow the mind to become focused and calm. You do not have to worry about trying to make all the thoughts in your head stop. Just take a moment to take the back seat view of them, just observe them. Focus on your breathe and let that be the foundation of your awareness.

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ~Old Zen Saying

Candle Gaze

Light a candle by the side of your bed level with your third eye and look at it until you blink. Once you blink, blow it out. This will set an action of drawing the mind into the meditative state and set an intention that it is now time to sleep.

Reclined Breathwork

There are two things that can be done here.

  1. Lay on your right side. Take 7 deep, long breathes. Switch to the left side. Take 7 deep, long breathes. Return to the right side and take 7 deep, long breathes. Most people fall asleep before they finish this routine.
  2. Bellows Breath: Bellows breath, also known as Bhastrika, can best be described as a the bellow used to fan the flames of a fire. To begin this pranayama, lay in a comfortable position, sit up in your bed or on the floor. Begin by taking in a deep breath and then exhaling forcefully through the nose. Continue to breath this way 10-100 times before bed. Generally start with 10 of these breathes. Once you have done 10 breathes for a week you can move to 20. Once you have done 20 breathes for a week you can move to 30 and so on.

Yoga Nidra

When I am having a hard time falling asleep, one of my favorite things to do is listen to a Yoga Nidra meditation. The word Nidra means sleep and Yoga means union, so really this translates into Union with sleep. It is a systematic method to relax the body and calm the mind. Here’s a link to one of my favorite ones:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfIikxpis9s

Pose of the Week: Extended Puppy Pose

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Extended Puppy Pose

UTTANA SHISHOSANA

The body is my temple, asanas are my prayers.”

~ BKS Iyengar

Benefits of the Pose:

  • Relief spinal & neck tension
  • Relieves chronic stress, tension, and insomnia 1
  • Strengthens arms, hips, and upper back 1
  • Opens shoulders
  • Opens heart

Asana Breakdown:

This is a great gentle stretch and restorative pose. It’s very simple and easy to get into. In a Yin practice this pose is referred to as anahatasana, which means heart-melting pose 2. To get into it, begin in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana) and drop down onto all fours, checking your alignment of shoulders, wrists, knees, and hips: Shoulders should be stacked above wrists, hips above knees. Extend your arms out in front of you. Keep your arms active, being sure that they don’t touch the ground. Curl your toes underneath you. Allow the head to relax, coming to the floor, a blanket, or a block. Allow the collar bones to spread away from one another.

As the chest opens up, allow your heart to melt towards the floor. Notice, the tendency here is to compromise the lower back by dropping the ribcage too low. Take a moment here to wrap the ribs in closer like they were going to fold onto the sternum. Tailbone should descend here, activating Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. To activate these locks within the body, feel as if you tightening a belt a notch or two tighter than usual, causing the belly to move upward and in.

Bandha-Basics

Image from: http://bluezeliayoga.com/tag/uddyana-bandha/

Ultimately, this is a yummy pose and should feel really safe and comfortable to the body, take a moment to get settled into the pose, making micro adjustments to find your sweet spot. Find your breath here and breathe deep. ❤

Sources:

  1. “The Health Benefits of Uttana Shishosana (Extended Puppy Pose) | CNY Healing Arts Wellness Center & Spa.” CNY Healing Arts Wellness Center Spa The Health Benefits of Uttana Shishosana Extended Puppy Pose Comments. CNYHA, 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.
  2. “Extended Puppy Dog Pose – Uttana Shishosana | GaiamTV.” Gaiam TV. Gaiam TV, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2015.

Pose of the Week: Dancer

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Dancer

NATARAJASANA

Benefits of the pose:

  • Strengthens balance, core, ankle, and legs
  • Develops proprioception
  • Opens heart
  • Opens Shoulders
  • Stretches and strengthen low back

Asana Breakdown:

To get into this pose, begin in Samasthiti, equal standing, begin by placing all of your weight onto one leg, lift your opposite leg by bending the knee and allow your hand to find the top of your foot. Find your drishti here and extend the hand that is not holding the foot towards the sky. Imagine your body like a balancing scale as you begin to hinge your body forward. As you extend forward, lift your bent leg towards the sky like an archer’s bow. Lift and spread through the heart, while also allowing the tailbone to descend. ❤

Variations of Dancer:

Dancer can be achieved in a variety of energetic ways, to get a deep hip stretch, but take away the challenge of balance, feel free to go to a counter, ballet bar or a wall. Another approach is to rap a strap and loop it around your foot. This can get you deeper into the stretch or allow you to take away any strain you may feel in the arm that is holding the leg. If you have severe hip, knee or leg issues, you can come onto your stomach bend one knee, reach for it with one or both hands, and once again extend your leg towards the ceiling.

Mythology of the pose:

This pose exemplifies aspects of Shiva Nataraja, the lord of destruction. We often think of destruction as a terrible thing, however Shiva can be a liberating force of destruction, causing the death of ignorance, shame, malice and so on. Even more so, dancer is appropriate for this time of year because destruction causes rebirth and change.

As we enter into Fall and the change of seasons, we can honor the divinity and Shiva-like qualities within us all. Like Shiva, Natarajasana encourages us to turn our gaze within and find balance, ease, grace and joy no matter what kind of change we face around us in our day to day life.

Pose of the Week: Garland Pose

malasana

MALASANA

Garland Pose

Benefits:

  • Opens hips
  • Heart opener
  • Strengthens legs
  • Opens & Strengthens ankles
  • Develops core

Asana Breakdown:

This is not one of the most difficult poses, but it is so powerful and is one of my favorites. I love coming into Malasana: using it as a transition, a rest, and a heart opener. It’s pretty basic to get into, however, every body is different and some people do experience a bit of difficulty when they first get into it. To start, get into Mountain Pose (Tadasana), heal toe your feet as wide as your mat, take your hands to heart center, and squat down. Allow your elbows to line up with the crux of your knee, feeling the sensation of your hands being pushed together while your elbows push gently into your knees. Allow the heart to lift and spread . If you find any pain here you can place blanket or a block underneath you to achieve a more restorative rendition of this posture.

Asana Variations:

  • Place a block or a blanket underneath your sit-bones.
  • Place one hand on the ground and open up to one side by lifting the other arm off the ground. Do this on both sides.
  • Take a side bind/twist. Rooting down through both feet, wrap one arm in front of your leg while the other comes behind your back. Both hands should meet behind the knee. Do this on both sides.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! Let me know if this was helpful or if you have any pose requests bellow! ❤

 A Response to Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

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My mornings are very similar to those of Darren Main: The alarm goes off before the sun arises: it’s time for practice. I’m awake, but my eyes have not yet opened. I begin to weigh out how badly I really want to practice today. I think to myself, maybe I’ll sleep a little bit longer instead…. This thought never wins out. Eventually I get out of bed and turn a regular living room into a sanctuary lit with candles and incense. After my practice, I feel infinite and peaceful, as if nothing could shake me of this truth. But just like Main, the world hits me with a harsh reality. Whether it’s conflicts at work, a sour conversation, or just a multitude of little things not going my way, the ego flares up and the momentary bliss is gone. This is the life of the Urban Mystic: a spiritual practitioner and devotee who has one foot with spirit and one foot in the physical world.

This state of being between two worlds sets the grounds for Dharana, one of the eight limbs. Dharana translates into concentration. It has been described to me that one who embodies Dharana is like a candle flame that flickers in the wind and then continuously comes back to center. As yogis of the modern era, we are asked to do the same. The world continuously will distract us from our path, but we must choose to recenter ourselves as the flame within us bends one way or the other.

For me, this is one of the most important concepts in Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. It reminds me of one of my favorite excerpts from Nichala Joy Devi’s book The Secret Power of Yoga:

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.

The lotus flower has long been a symbol for the unfolding of spirituality. It is one of the most elegant illustrations of the meshing of our human and Divine natures. 

The lotus seed is planted and grows in muddy waters, below the surface of the lake, far from the light. Though the light is murky and clear, the flower blossoms by drawing energy from within. As the bud passes through the muddy waters, it lifts its face to the sunlight and finally emerges. Miraculously, not a trace of soil remains on the flower. It lives in the mud yet it is not affected by it….

Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodahah. Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart” (Devi 16).

We see from both Main and Joy that the ability to draw the attention back comes from continual practice and focus within. No matter how hard it can be to get out of bed or to take a breath in the midst of a heated moment, as yogis we have the opportunity to continually choose between the two words: like the lotus flower whose blossoms face the light, but whose stem is rooted in the darkness. From our position we see that both light and darkness have created out beauty, our strength, and our faith. We are living examples of the lotus flower. It is our choice to be affected by the mud or to shine our face towards the light, to drift from our path or to continuously choose to come back to it.

Sources:

Main, Darren John. Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 2002. Print.

Devi, Nischala Joy. The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras. New York: Three Rivers, 2007. Print.

Photo credit: Damiane McMillen

The Sweetness of Eden

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Inspired by my simple, nutritious and delicious breakfast of apples, almond butter and honey, I thought I would share a journal entry I wrote about two months ago. Fruit inspired!

8/2/15

I am beginning to become more lucid in my thoughts. I noticed my ego was present in my practice. I noticed what it said, what it wanted, how it maneuvered, and how it made announcements that were not truly in alignment with my being and true soul.

My soul wishes for peace, while my ego wishes for war. My true soul wishes for love whilst my ego wishes for greed, lust, and envy. My true being appreciates and enjoys life with gratitude. My ego likes to mock, gossip, and create chaos and havoc in my life; ruthlessly, without considering the consequences.

Iyengar talks bout how the ego wants to create and recreate pleasures, no matter the consequences, but that is only partially true. Yes, the ego is an addict who solely wants to eat the fruit it remembers as sweet, even if it has rotted the next day. But within that repetitive want is a natural disease waiting to happen. If we eat the same fruit day after day we will not grow, our digestion will become weak, and out thoughts narrow. Repetitive want and seeking pleasure is an egoic misnomer. There is no way to recreate a moment or a sensation that has passed, for it no longer exists. Therefore, we lead a life full of pain and suffering, seeking every corner for the pleasure that once was, even if it ultimately leads us to insanity.

I was moved today by my practice, for I was able to observe the ego and allow it to rattle out its fallacies. Without judgment, I allowed each thought to rise and fall, but I was sure to police any thought that was not true and conscious by rephrasing, rewording, and by reminding myself what my truth is so I could continue to grow in my practice instead of eating rotten fruit.

The True Purpose of Yoga

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Hello All!

Often when people find out that I practice yoga, one of the first responses is, “Oh that’s so wonderful! I wish I could do that.” The statement is often followed by me saying something to the effect of, “Well, why can’t you?”. The reply usually has something to do with not being flexible or strong enough.

I wanted to bring this into awareness because the idea that yoga has anything to do with capability or, rather, flexibility is delusional. Can you breathe? Yes? Great. You can do yoga.

Our culture has saturated our minds to believe that the practice that has so little to do with competition, value judgements, and image, is, in fact, all of these things.

It comes from a distorted idea that yoga’s true purpose has to do with flexible, hot, trendy-dressed, acrobats who sit in a hot room for an hour or so and basically do really intense stretching and contortions, with maybe with a little more focus on the breath than usual. THIS. IS. FALSE.

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit language and translates into the word “yoke” or “union”, meaning to unite the bodies (of which there are five: physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, and bliss), mind, and spirit. It has absolutely nothing to do with Lulu Lemon pants or getting into a full Hanuman (splits). In fact, in yoga there is something called the Eight Limbs. The Eight Limbs function as a “Code of Conduct” for yogis and the practice of asana (poses) is only one of the Eight Limbs.

Additionally, while the limbs offer yogis guidance, there is the question of what they are guiding us to? If it’s not the toned body or sexy yoga instructor, what is it?

Often the next belief is that the purpose of yoga is enlightenment.

We see the eighth limb is Samadhi, often referred to as ecstasy or being one with the eternal. This, too, is not the goal. One does not practice yoga for the Physical Body nor does one practice yoga solely for the Bliss Body. Again, the purpose of yoga is not to strengthen our own desires to obtain a certain image of ourselves or perception of the world. These are, in fact, only the side effects of yoga. Therefore, we see a culture worshiping the chest and not the treasure.

Well then, what, pray tell, is the treasure?

Patience. I will get there.

Does anyone ever wonder why we practice Savasana (corse pose) at the end of every class? Why laying down is so, so important that every single teacher in every single lineage, home practice, or studio does it repeatedly, every single time, without fail?

So that we can take a nap because we’re really tired after our exhausting hour of stretching?

No, I’m sorry. That’s not it either.

Does anyone ever wonder why it is considered to be the most important pose? Why laying on the ground for five minutes is more important that down dog or a vinyasa, which most classes, including some of my own, do a hundred times in a hour?

It is said that the yogi practices Savasana to prepare for death. This idea is often taken quite literally, however, it took me a long time to understand what it meant on a deeper level. The truth is that yogis adhere to the knowledge that every second is death and rebirth. Every moment is wilting to blossom into a new one, every season is changing; constantly moving towards death and in the very same breathe moving towards new life.

We see this in every corner of our lives. Take for example oxygen: Billions of years ago, oxygen was introduced to our atmosphere. Cells quickly had to evolve to process this new element. Many couldn’t and perished, however, those that were able to lived on. Interestingly enough, this one element is what allowed single-celled organisms to evolve into complex organisms, that over the course of another billion years lead to us. But with this new found evolution also came decay. You see, oxygen, itself, gives us life, but it is also the very thing that causes us to age and eventually die.

And here. Here in this knowledge lies the truth. The truth that from the moment we are born, we are terminal. So we face death in the corner of every day, knowing someday it will greet us. Some people accept this as the sole truth of reality: every body and every thing dies. This is often looked at as a very sad thing, but yogis, on the contrary do not. We see death as a cycle of life, in line with the law of physics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed.

And so what does death really have to do with yoga? Do we just lay in Savasana so we can feel what it will be like to lay in our graves?

No.

For those of you who are familiar with Hindi mythology might recognize this linguistic clue: Savasana (pronounced Shiv-Aw-San -Nah) auditorally sounds a lot like the name of the God Shiva. Shiva is known as the destroyer, but also the creator. Here, we see again both life and death spouting from the same seed.

So now I will tell you: The true truth of yoga, unmasked by any marketing scheme religious, propagandistic, or the like is that yoga’s true purpose is freedom and ultimate liberation. Why is Savasana the hardest pose? Because death is the ultimate liberation. Because it is preparing for death in life. Death before death has occurred. The death is not one of pain, but one that causes the ability to renounce all pains and all things, and then renounce the renouncer of all of these things.

Imagine a moment, after a yoga class where you lay down and suddenly, you are no longer aware of whether or not you are in a yoga studio, you have no idea what you’re wearing or what magazine you saw it in, you have no attachments to your belongings, your friends, your family, your joys, or your sorrows. You are able to, for the first time, be completely capable of being present and allowing the present to leave and continuously show up again and again as a new gift. This state is completely aligned with the universe. You know all of your needs are met. You are whole. You are God remembering Self once again.

page1_blog_entry383_1 life and death