It happens to all of us and for so many reasons: we haven't moved enough this week, or yesterday we did too much; yesterday we had too much sugar, one too many glasses of wine or not enough water or even sleep.
For me, this morning, it was the insistent soreness of the epic hike our daily romped turned into when I found a new warren of trails in my wayworn stomping ground. The foothills I usually take one by one beckoned me to take them groups at a time, and with the smell of desert phlox beckoning I blissfully wandered over hill and cactus dale - until I took my phone out to take this pic and realized I had a meeting in less than an hour online!
Needless to say, the return hike was brisk and I took a few short cuts, so ended up on my behind down some scree. But I made it back with 8 minutes to set up the computer and go!
At nearly 50, I think I've used up more than my quota of butt sled rides down granite scree. I woke up a little creaky this morning. And the story in my head sounded like the one my clients tell me that makes me cry, "I'm sore... maybe I should just lay here a little longer. Maybe I should move less today..." There it was, unbidden but clear.
Don't get me wrong - if you're really sleep deprived and could get more sleep by staying put, then by all means. Sleep trumps almost everything in my book (and in any good healer's book). But if you're really just lying there awake, marinating in your stiffness, then this post is for you. And me. And anyone who occasionally overdoes the things they love in life.
If you've ever watched Gil Hedley's "Fuzz" speech (he's a ground breaking anatomist), you know what this feeling comes from and that it's pretty accurate: metabolic and functional byproducts of living, moving and doing what we do get a little stagnant overnight and seemingly glue our insides together. Hence we wake up feeling like the tin man without an oil can.
Here's the kicker, though: that story? It's just a story. The best thing you could possibly do, all else being equal, is trundle out of bed, drink a couple glasses of clear water as you roll out your mat and begin to practice. I know it's a shocker but the answer is still.... yoga. Maybe you move a little slower, focus even more than usual on breathing and the gentle joy of movement, start with sacral pumps and let the water and breath do their work. Or maybe you start to feel like you again and go for the sweaty Sun Salutations. Whichever way you go, you'll be glad you did.
As the man said, "Practice and all is coming." Life, breath, joy, wholeness amidst all of life's fragments, inspiration, tears and above all, presence. All.
I'm off to take my own advice. See you on the mat _/|\_ Christine
Are you still doing sit ups and crunches?
When you understand and feel in your own body what true core strength is, you'll never do another sit up again.
Modern life brings us many conveniences through computers and through cars. These are the 2 nearly ubiquitous experiences of modern adult (and more and more, child) life. Both create what's come to be known as "desk hunch" - shortened hamstrings, psoas, head forward posture, with a coincident loss of the curves of the spine, space for breathing and even, over time, for proper circulatory function.
You come to yoga, go to the gym, hike, run, walk, bike in part to reverse this pattern. Sitting has become, as many of you know, "the new smoking" because of this pattern.
Sit ups and crunches work in a single plane, bringing the rib cage toward to the thighs, and very few people are able to complete even a set of ten without bringing the shoulders forward and chin down. Does that shape remind you of anything? Perhaps the graphic above? Don't practice that shape!
You come to yoga to practice getting the body into shapes that make you feel great.(Check out this post on the "Power Pose" phenomenon for more on that!) And there's a reason they do: they access your true core.
Most "core" workouts target the muscles that join the front ribs to the front of the pelvis (the rectus abominus) and the ones around the sides (the obliques). These muscles are important but they're only a part of the story. And the story can be too short: you can engage, strengthen and buff out these muscles and never engage the deeper core. That's why I call them the vanity abs. Like beautiful skin, their health comes not from focusing on them and applying efforts on the surface; their health comes from paying attention to what they draw upon. In the skin's case, proper nutrition and hydration, and in the core's case, accessing the deeper, unseen and too often unfelt muscles that yoga refers to as "locks" or bandhas and the other muscles that connect to them and form functional groups. The locks aren't key locks, but rather locks like on rivers that when closed create strength (or lift) further upstream.
The pelvic floor is known in yoga as the "root lock" (mula band), the respiratory diaphragm (also a muscle) is the "flying lock" (uddiyana band) and the vocal diaphragm and muscles around it, jalandara band. The first two are our concern for this article. The respiratory diaphragm is actually part of your core and the pelvic floor is actually part of breathing, and both are integral in the body knowing where it is in space and maintaining balance.
The pelvic floor and respiratory diaphragm are joined by the psoas, which originates along the front of the spine just where the respiratory diaphragm is ending and in situ, they are nearly indistinguishable. The psoas then moves diagonally down and forward to attach inside the pelvis, from where it takes off for one more trip diagonally down and inward to attach again inside the upper femur (leg bone).
This complex is what I refer to as the "c" of the core, because it makes that shape inside the body in movement. The c attaches to all the other abdominal muscles - including the vanity abs.
The result is that you cannot engage the deep core (the c) without engaging the vanity abs - but you can - and workouts often - do it the other way around.
Yoga focuses our attention and awareness on the deep core and offers a multitude of ways to engage and strengthen these deeper core structures without compromising their flexibility, which is equally as crucial as being able to access their strength.
Would you like to experience true core bliss in a class? Just come to any class this month, where our focus will be on deep core in every pose. Out of town? - no problem! Simply comment with "True Core, please!" to receive a complimentary yoga audio class you can keep and take over and over.
Workbooks for the following workshops will also be available for purchase after the workshop - comment "workbook" to be notified when these are released.
In person workshops are held at OMA from 1-3pm on the Saturdays indicated. One workshop a month is included in Unlimited Memberships (both Freedom and Committed)!
When you remember your last yoga practice, what images do you have?
Do you remember the feeling of being in the poses? So well you could recreate the pose?
Or do you have in mind an image of your teacher or the person next to you or the screen from which you were practicing?
When you turn your senses inward (pratyahara) you begin to register not only how the poses make you feel and how having practiced yoga makes you feel all day, but you remember the poses in your body.
While for some, it may take an extra moment to process spoken instructions without a demo, it's worth that moment and effort, at least for a percentage of practices. That moment, that "extra" moment... that's the moment of dropping in and inhabiting your body.
Yoga is defined by the 8 limbs outlined by Patanjali in the Sutras, the work that all lineages acknowledge. 2 of these limbs are "focus" and "concentration" which, together with "flow", make up "samyama" - or meditation.
Have you ever heard your teacher encourage you not to compare yourself to the next person, to focus on your own mat? Rather than looking around to see if you're "doing it right," listen and feel how it feels in your body.
When you listen, you listen. You focus and you focus on your body in space, engaging parts of your body that may have forgotten how to engage.
Listen for at least one practice a week. See how it changes your practice and your day. Share your experience in a comment below and join the movement!
One of the most important lessons I got in teaching yoga had nothing to do with my teacher training.
I was volunteering at the North Valley Senior Center here in Albuquerque. Those yogis taught me about community, practicality, triumph and longevity. And one of my lessons came at a moment of my own failure.
Yogis of every size, shape and experience level were a part of this class and over months I taught them basic Sun Salutations and variations.
Or so I thought.
After about 9 months of twice weekly 90 minute classes - and most of these yogis were very dedicated - I decided to come in and ask them to begin the Sun Salutation series on their own so I could come through for individual feedback and consultation. I stood at the back of the room and awaited the flood breath and motion.
Only a trickle flowed. A hesitant, confused trickle of people looking at one another and making motions - some of them related to Sun Salutations, but mostly shrugging of shoulders and Scooby faces.
I had failed them.
All I had taught them was to look at me and follow. True, this alone had gotten them to some pretty cool places; the stories of mobility and activity regained through the practice had awed me and moved me to tears. But following meant they were reliant on me or some other teacher. I knew from teaching Philosophy at Mizzou and EMS at UNM's EMS Academy that real learning leads to independence, not dependence. Indepent, successful, inspired people return for more from interest and commitment. Reliant people cannot make the most of their efforts and miss out on everything you have to share.
This wasn't a popular philosophy with the studio where I taught and I realized I would have to break some pretty sturdy molds to create a teaching practice with this philosophy. But those dedicated yogis of the North Valley Senior Center were up to be my guinea pigs - they loved the practice and when they learned that I believed they could have independent practices, they flourished.
I didn't perfect my style while I still volunteered there, but I began. I'm not much for perfection but I'm on fire for revision. Responsive iteration is what I like to call it: put it out there, see how people respond, respond to how they use it, how they stumble, how they triumph. It means you're never done, but I dig that kind of work.
I did start a blog where I shared each week's practice plan with alignment tips and recorded my very first audio. Tech has come so far that now I can record every single class within minutes post it for followers. I can create special classes for busy people to nurture their classes. And design special practices for individuals.
And what North Valley Senior Center Yogis taught me is that seeing someone else practice doesn't help you learn very much after you've got foot and arm placement. Learning to listen - to respond to how things feel as you try them, to feel your own body in space without matching it to someone else's, to imagine how words correspond to feelings and actions in your body - is the project of yoga. When you listen, you feel. When you feel you connect and you possess what you do. You can repeat it, change it, ask questions about it because it's really yours. It may not be perfect, but it will be perfectly yours. And you'll revise it next practice - that's what practice is: vision, revision, feeling, reponding, revision.
That's why I share only audio. Have your practice, don't watch someone else's. I'm listening - what would you like me to hear?
"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
A brand new, fresh year. Someone told me yesterday that they love January because everything seems so possible for him. Here in the deep, dark of winter we make time for one last hurrah on New Year's Eve (even if that's just watching a ball drop or clinking glasses with sparkling water before going to bed at 10pm) and then wipe the proverbial slate clean as we awaken the next morning.
But what slate? What's changed? People make resolutions every year and a dismal number are still connected to them just 6 weeks later at Valentines.
Often we imagine that by saying something, maybe buying a new pair of shoes or equipment, we can squeeze our eyes shut real tight, ball up our fists and click our heels three times to arrive where we said we wanted to go.
But what if we had more important places to go? What if the thing we chose was really just the tip of the ice berg - or even a distraction from the root of what we intended to change? More importantly,
What if you're already whole and complete?
If you're already whole (spoiler alert: you are.) then the best thing you can do is connect to your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt desire, and plant that seed in the nurturing soil of your embodied consciousness, visit it often and allow for organic transformation over time. A year is a good span to live with.
You have a two step plan to get started, but don't worry, you'll enjoy these steps. You can rinse and repeat often over time, and here's the kicker: you'll want to.
Step One: Practice Yoga Nidra 61 points relaxation with enough time after to rest and listen to your heart, body, wisdom, journal if that's your thing. The deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth may arise as a feeling, words, images. Just listen. Whatever you come up with - and if it seems like nothing, that's okay - you can't do this wrong - state it positively. Whatever is true "I am whole." "I am relaxed and open to new experience." "I am listening." These are simply examples, the possibilities are endless.
Step Two: Come back another time, remembering your expression of your heartfelt truth. Repeat Yoga Nidra 61 points and silently repeat your heartfelt truth in the stillness you've created through the practice.
A Sankalpa is more than a wish, a resolution or a petition. Rather than imposing a goal on your life, you allow a deep longing, heartfelt truth, to arise and then you actually pay attention to it. In listening, you commit to taking actions that this longing calls you to.
The heart center - the place where people rest their hand organically when making a decision, where joy can sometimes be felt as a leap and loss can feel like an actual cavern - is called "Anahata" in Sanskrit: unstruck. Like a bell. Like your original nature before the ups and downs of this life gave you habits and grooves, armor and vices. Like you.
Connecting to this sense of original self, a self without agendas or pretensions, is a matter of peeling back layers, in yoga and Sanskrit called "Koshas." Think of these as layers of how we learn to relate to ourselves. In Sanskrit, from the first to connect to to the final, here's what they're called and what it means:
You can turn them into questions to guide your practice and, in Yoga Nidra, you can bring them into awareness and learn how to deeply listen for your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth, that thing that lies under all the other things. In January we'll be working with the questions in classes, they're very simple and you can use them at home and in other activities:
Yoga Nidra can be practiced alone or after practice and we'll be approaching it in Savasana often this month through the 61 points practice. Technically, Yoga Nidra is the state of mind and the practice is a method for creating it, though people often use the term "Yoga Nidra" to refer to the practices that can lead to it.
There are many recordings you can use to guide you in the 61 points practice and sustaining awareness in the stillness it creates. You'll receive a free Yoga Nidra Guided Imagery Meditation when you sign up for the newsletter at the top right and you can use this to get started. We'll use this during New Year's Day YinYasative Celebration as well as the Restorative Workshop on Saturday, when we'll have plenty of time to take this journey twice in a restful, supported, even pampered environment. We'll practice a version at the end of most January classes.
Leave a comment and share how your experience with 61 Points Practice or Yoga Nidra and inspire others!
Pratyahara means sense withdrawal, and goodness knows we could all use some during the holidays. By attending to internal sounds you powerfully engage your relaxation response and give your nervous system a welcome break.
Bumble Bee Breath can be done reclining or sitting up and can be as simple as humming while you exhale with your eyes closed. The vibration in your body is a focal point for attention and letting go. You can add a mudra that emphasizes the internalizing of the senses, too - just listen to this short audio instruction and let me know how it goes for you.
Music in the background by Bill Bruedigam of Taos Winds - "Green Tara," with permission.
To successfully dissolve shoulder stress from computer work (ahem!), driving and just plain life, you really need to work through the whole body. It's all connected, so to really drain off the tension, you've got to get every limb, every muscle and every cell into the act.
We almost always start with a Yin pose - long holds without warming up, targeting the fascia, focusing on spaciousness and breath - and a great one for shoulders is Anahata. Then we move into a full body warm up and some targeted shoulder work - both strengthening and stretching, working with opposing muscles and always connecting to the breath.
Locust Pose is often overlooked in dealing with neck and shoulder tension, but its addition here after some sun salutations is key to really inhabiting and releasing those holding patterns. Dolphin and side plank are more intermediate moves, so might not be given in all classes. The standing series should now be accessible to everyone without provoking tightness in the shoulders. We finish with a glowing camel, a great quad stretch in Supta Virasana and a bit of Restorative even before fully releasing into Savasanahhhhhh! Enjoy! Comment if you try some of this series and let me know how it goes!
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled; the trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over an let the beautiful stuff out." ~Ray Bradbury
Imagine an hour long vacation that fills your well with fresh, new, clear energy. That's restorative yoga class. Someone today remarked that yoga would never be the same without someone supporting them completely in every pose, taking them on a renewing meditation journey and even a little release in final supported twist.
When and how do you include restorative yoga in your life? Comment below and share your experience and favorite modifications!
"Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time." ~B.K.S. Iyengar
I've become quite enamored by alternating Dangling and Squat a couple of times and then moving to the foot poses in Yin practice. Not only do the meridians and many fascial lines get efficiently targeted this way, it feels amazing and I'm noticing pretty remarkable results. I've never known how much of my inability to squat flat footed was due to bone structure and how much due to soft tissue - because of birth defects, the bone structure in my legs is rather idiosyncratic - but I'm experiencing more opening than I though possible.
Try it for yourself and tell me in the comments below what you notice and how you feel!