Pose of the Week: Eight Angle

Ashtavakrasana.jpg

Eight Angle

ASHTAVAKRASANA

Pose Benefits:

  • Strengthens Arms, Wrists, Shoulders and Abdomen
  • Stretches Legs
  • Improves Balance
  • Tones inner Thighs

Asana Prep:

No doubt this is a more challenging asana and it is important to make sure you are fully warmed up to practice. To prep for this asana, I like to sit in staff and come into a “rock the baby” motion. Take your knee in on hand and your foot in the other and gently begin to twist your torso, rocking your leg back and forth as if it were a baby. If there’s more available, you can cradle your leg in your elbow creases. Repeat on the other side.

Asana Breakdown:

When you are fully warmed up and ready to begin, start in staff. Making sure your pelvic floor is tilted forward and your spine is erect. Begin with your left leg. Prop it behind your left shoulder. Firmly rooting your hands directly underneath your shoulders, make sure all five knuckles are connected to the floor. Move your weight  from your bottom to your wrists so that your sit bones comes off the ground. Now your right leg should be extended while your left leg sits above your left shoulder. This is a great place to begin and may be where you find yourself pushed to your edge. However, if there is more, hook your right foot to your left. Extend both legs and deeply bend your elbows so that your arms are parallel with the floor.

Food for Thought:

As you may notice, I am smiling in this photo. For me, this asana is not always an easy task, however, a teacher of mine once said that when you are in the midst of struggle, especially in an asana — but also in day to day life — try smiling and notice how the asana changes. So I encourage you to find the posture that pushes you and move into the meditative, nonattached mind, and smile. See how it changes your practice and how it changes your life from day to day. ❤

Pose of the Week: Crow

Crow

Crow

BAKASANA

Benefits of the pose:

  • Strengthens Upper Arms & Wrists
  • Increases Focus
  • Works Core
  • Stretches Upper Back
  • Tones Abdominal Organs

Asana Breakdown:

To get into this pose, begin in malasana firmly place your hands directly in front of you. Rooting down through your first three knuckles, begin to lift up onto the balls of your feet. As a beginner, you can begin to rock back and forth hear. Perhaps, holding the pose for only a second or two and then coming back to the ground. Allow the knees to draw in closely to the armpits as the shoulders move over the wrists, aligning with the middle finger. Draw your feet close to your glutes as you begin to work towards gradually straightening the arms. Once the arms are completely extended, you move from Crow to Crane! ❤

Pose of the Week: Eagle Pose

Eagle (behind)

Eagle

GARUDASANA

Pose Benefits:

  • Increases balance and proprioception
  • Increases flexibility
  • Open Shoulders and Hips
  • Relieves back ache & sciatica
  • Asthma

Asana Breakdown:

Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Beginners may want to practice next to a wall. Slowly and gently begin to bend your knees, rooting into the left leg, allow your right leg to come off the ground crossing over the left. Some people have the flexibility to hook their right foot behind their thigh. If that’s not in your practice, don’t fret! Simply crossing over is just fine. Begin to sink deeper into the hips, cross the left hand over the right, mirroring the pattern of your legs. Allow the collar bones to lift and spread, breathe deeply here. Connect with your core, tucking your tailbone. Find your drishti (gazing point) and begin to left your elbows so that they align with your shoulders. Another variation is to fold forward so that the knees and elbows touch.

Eagle (profile)

A Change In Perspective

  

“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).

I am happy to report a change in my life. For the past two months or so, everyday has seemed to bring new horror and drudgery, leading me into the shadow-self. It didn’t take much, just a few changes and suddenly I was able to see the beauty around me and the amount of abundance I have to be grateful for.

There were so many people I encountered in the last two months that were so blissful and grateful for the life they had. I saw them and thought to myself, I want that kind of bliss and contentment. It’s hard to feel happy all the time or even grateful for one thing in your life. Yogis are often painted as figures who see the world in technicolor all of the time because they are supposed to have some mystical secret told to them by the yoga gods, but that’s not true. Yogis are human, just like everyone else. We each have the opportunity, like the lotus flower, to be affected by our circumstance, to blame what has come before. However, we can also choose to see each day anew and gather strength from within. Instead of looking at all of the mud we are surrounded by, we can take our gaze to the sun; to the infinite.

So today I shed gratitude for all of the circumstances of my life, they bring to to new depths and new challenges, but they also bring me to new heights and new joys.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

-John Lennon

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.

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.  ❤

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.

The True Purpose of Yoga

sky

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