Pose of the Week: Dolphin

dolphin

Dolphin

MAKARASANA

Benefits of the Pose:

  • Relieves mild depression, headaches & back pains
  • Helps to calm the mind
  • Relieves symptoms of osteoporosis
  • Strengthens shoulders and abdominals
  • Stretches Hamstrings
  • Opens Heart
  • Preparation for forearm balance

Such a beautiful posture, amazing for alignment and strengthening the body to prepare for forearm balance. To get into this posture, begin in table or Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down ward facing dog). Once you have come into alignment in your preparatory posture, come down to your fore arms. Hands can come together into prayer, lay flat on the floor, or gently be clasping one another. If hamstrings are tight, you may take a bend in the knees. Otherwise, root though your ankles, allowing them to press into the floor. Allow the collar bones to lift and spread as shoulder blades draw near one another, chest beams towards the knees. Head hangs heavy. ❤

Please feel free to leave any questions, comments, or recommendations bellow.

Pose of the Week: Upward Facing Dog

Photo Credit: Lily Russo

Upward Facing Dog

URDVHA MUKHA SVANASANA

Benefits of the pose:

  • Strengthens arms, shoulders & wrists
  • Stretches spine, lungs & shoulders
  • Tones stomach muscles
  • Helps relieve mild depression and fatigue
  • Opens chest

Asana Breakdown:

To get into this pose, begin in low cobra. Firmly press your hands into the ground as your arms lengthen. Draw shoulder blades onto the back as the collar bones begin to lift and spread. Feet are together, big toes touching, tops of the feet touching the ground. Hips, thighs and shins are off the mat. Chin can gently tilt towards the ceiling.

Sources:

“Upward-Facing Dog.” Yoga Journal. Cruz Bay Publishing, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

Pose of the Week: Hanumanasana

Lord Hanuman Pose

HANUMANASANA

Benefits of the Pose:

  • Stretches groin, hips, & thighs
  • Opens Heart
  • Strengthens & improves functionality of abdominal muscles
  • Increases flexibility of hips when practiced frequently

Asana Breakdown:

This pose requires great flexibility and strength and definitely requires a bit of a warm up before getting into it. Personally, I keep this posture till one of my final poses, to ensure that I don’t hurt myself and can get the most benefit out of the asana. For preparation, I like to start off in Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Hanuman/Half Splits). To begin, start in Downward Facing Dog. Inhale one leg into three legged-dog, exhale step it in between your legs and bring your back leg down to the floor. Begin to straighten the front leg, allowing your foot to come off the floor, resting on your ankle. Begin to melt your heart closer to your knee and breathe here. This is the traditional prep pose for Hanumanasana.

Once you feel comfortable here, you can begin to ease your front leg forward and extend your back leg on the ground behind you. Straightening both and coming into full Hanumanasana. Here, you want to square your hips as much as possible. So let’s say your left leg is forward, take your attention to the right hip and begin to draw it closer to the front and allow for an external rotation in the the back leg. Lengthen the spine and allow the collar bones to lift and spread.

This can make the pose uncomfortable. The best way to ease int this pose from grace here is to use your hands as leverage and pull your groin a few inches off the ground. Drawing the thighs in closer together, you will begin to get deeper into the pose as well as your hips. Practice here, until you can comfortably remain in the traditional expression with integrity. From here, you can start to play. Options including, bending the back leg and grabbing the foot, reaching arms up over head or leaning forward over the front leg.

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

puppy pose

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

dancer

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