How Long?

Isn’t this the question we’re always asking when we’re unsure of ourselves, feel revealed or scrutinized? Like…. how long should a first kiss last? How long do you wait for a late date? or a professor versus TA? How long do you sit with uncomfortable silence? How  long do you stay on hold? How long before this line moves?!?

And, yogically, how long do I hold this pose? This breath, this pattern, this technique, this “om”, this thought…

The answer is the same, of course: listen to the situation and it’ll tell you. But, while we’re becoming expert listeners (because that’s the whole game, right?) there are some guidelines.

Five breaths. I like timing poses by breaths because it’s naturally tuned to your body and you don’t need equipment and it keeps your attention where it’ll do the most good.

Sometimes, though there are reasons to go shorter or longer: discomfort that you can’t just be curious about, shock (which amounts to the same thing), exploration, desire.

So, if you get into a pose, technique, note that shocks you with what it reveals (pain, sorrow, blinding light), kindly retreat and set it up again later.

Maybe it’s a two breath per pose day because you woke up late and just need your yoga jazz on.

Maybe you’re luxuriating and want to go for ten – this can be really yummy in down dog. Or maybe you thought you were aiming for five, but every fourth breath something moves in a really juicy way you want to encourage and savor.

Go for it.

What we’re really asking about is, how do I listen to my body?  and the answer to that is you practice. You just keep coming to the mat, shoot for five (or any other arbitrary number you think suits you better) and see what happens. And get ready to be surprised by yumminess you didn’t know was right there on your own mat, just waiting for you.

Go look now!

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Yoga Every Day!

Yes, right now even! Try it right now!

Do four moon salutations – that’s just two on each side… and change how you feel right now, with no equipment, whatever you’re wearing, in less than five minutes. It’ll change your perspective. Give it a try.

Need to see how they’re done? No problem! Of course! https://yogaguide.wordpress.com/2006/07/05/moon-salutations/

Try one… see if you’re able to stop ;>

Yoga as Metaphor

You might have noticed my idea of yoga is very expansive. So expansive that it could encompass nearly every area of life. This is intentional, and in line with my understanding of the Yoga Sutras and the Ashta-anga – or eight limbed path – at the center of the second Book.

I had this impulse though before I ever read the Sutras.  When I am very invested in something, it permeates the artificial divisions of life. It was that way with Academic Philosophy at one time, and has been that way with Paramedicine. The endeavors become uber metaphors which then subsume everything else.

But with yoga, this is more than a personal idiosyncracy, even neurosis.  The part of yoga that is most familiar to us as Westerners is the physical part, particularly the asana. The names of the poses are revealing, sometimes fun, sometimes puzzling. But also a clue: there is meaning more deeply embedded than just “oh, this one stretches your shoulders.”

When we hold our bodies, even challenge them to find specific positions we open up to physical and emotional experiences we are able to avoid in the day to day of our lives.  These experiences hold pieces of meanings that it is our life work to put together. Leaving them dormant won’t keep them silent, because experience has it’s own internal drive for expression. But consciously creating a space to discover what we literally hold within ourselves can enhance everything else we hold dear in our lives.

How are you relating to yoga in your life? Are you enlivened by your answer to that question? Does your answer make you curious? Does it bring up emotion?

The last paper I ever presented as an academic was  a promisory for a theory of structural metaphor as a non-sentential theory of truth. It was an unconscious Dear John letter to my life as an academic, because of course all of that discourse occurs sententially. But the impulse was correct, I think. 

Human beings are meaning making machines. Our freedom is made meaningful by the fact that the building blocks for the meanings we create are our physical, everyday experiences, tying us to an intersubjective world that doesn’t answer to our whims.  Having a yoga mat and an idea of how to use it as a labratory can make the our humanity so much more comprehensible by acting as a place to discover things about how we are all the time because it’s how we are in our core, under all the fat, lace and dirt. 

With yoga as laboratory, life can become a prayer, the way I’ve always known it was meant to be. A big, complicated, joyful, interesting, tear sodden, hilarious, tragic, epic prayer.

Listen to your body: do yoga!

Yes, yes, yes! you can do yoga every day!

One of the most frequent searches that lands people on this blog is “how often to do yoga” or “how many times to repeat…” or “can i do yoga every day.”

Now, how you include yoga in your life is the real point of creativity. I know Ashtanga yogis who have a quite regimented practice for an hour and a half to two hours every day except full moon. I know yogis who attend one class a week and pay attention to their breathing on certain cues. One is at stoplights, one sets aside time at the same time each day.

What has worked for me is dispensing with pre-ordained plans, but making an encounter with the mat unavoidable. In this way, I sit down and listen and follow the signs that arise. So some days it’s quiet & gentle, some rather vigorous. Some days all chant, or all pranayama. I follow my curiosity and passion and usually have something I’ve been meaning to try, or a concept or technique with which I’m playing so this brings me to practice and practice brings me to myself.

Today I have a rather virulent case of the flu, so yoga is special, very low key. When I first got up I thought I’d go for a walk, take some Ibuprofen, do a podcast class & hustle off to work. Boy was that plan a bust.  My fever was so raging I was shaking and sweating and I realized that curtailing the work my immune system was doing would only make the flu last longer.

It’s such a commonplace, but the truth runs deep: yoga means union. So the first yoga I did today found me. I wrapped up in a blanket, then piled on four more, til I was immersed in the sound of my own breath. Have you noticed a deeper quality to your breath when you are fighting infection? Becoming profoundly connected to that rhythm, the feeling, sound, being so exhausted that the breath usurps your entire consciousness for a few minutes, this can actually be a gift. It helped me realize that fighting my own immune system would prolong and complicate a battle I really just needed to turn myself over to.

So my practice on the mat has been really restorative: quiet, gentle attention oriented pranayam, vitparita karani, lots of bolsters. Forward folding for slowing and comforting the mind, backbending for stimulating and supporting the immune system. And of course lots of water, sleep and vitamin C.

I look forward to getting back to my surya namaskar, shoulder opening, heart opening, inverting, playing, sweating practice. But even on a day like today it’s good to go to the mat and find out what I’ve got. Union means finding out what’s there before beginning to make demands, and then to desire and do things nurturing for what you actually find.

So, yes! come to the mat, find out what you’ve got today and indulge it with yoga. Whether it’s asana, pranayam, meditation, mantra responding with integrity to the needs you actually find in that moment of stripping away is really the beginning of your yoga.

p.s. updated uncle

So, the storm has settled and the clouds have begun to blow away. No, I don’t “hate my f-ing job”, but I do laugh at reading what some others have written on the topic. And sometimes I need to. And I must admit, it’s a reality check. The things that trouble me are real and not administrative concoctions that someone could eliminate if they took two seconds’ thought. And because I know the people I work with and for take far more than two seconds’ thought. When I read what people write under the above title, I realize I’m checking things off: “oh, that does sound horrible! oh, well, at least I’m not dealing with that! oh, why does he go back!” And it makes me realize, I know why I go back.

I did come home last Sunday unable to stop crying and scared because I knew that if I had to go back to work the next day I wouldn’t be able to go. Thank goodness for the 40 (ish) hour workweek, huh?

Is this burnout? maybe. Is this PTSD? perhaps. Is this life? most definitely. Does this mean I can’t do the job I love so much? definitely not. It does mean I really need my yoga.

There’s a certain amount that a person can take at a time. There are some things when seen, the only – and I mean only – human response includes crying, although our role may require it be after the fact. There are things which if you can comprehend fully, I don’t want inside your head.

But my not being one of the ones who responds won’t stop them from happening. And being there is a priveledge I don’t plan to surrender soon. The years have shown I have an odd talent for it. And sometimes, in fact most nights, I can think of a moment, a small moment, where something I did mattered. And some nights I get to do a lot more.

And some days and mornings I cry, and sometimes I cry so much I don’t know if it’ll stop. And those days I wonder if I’ll go back. And I know someday the answer will be no. Not because I can’t, but because my heart’s flown elsewhere. And I’ll follow it then. But now, I’ll follow it back to the streets.

Fall & yoga

Breath a Sigh - LEPCD18 Cover

Breath a Sigh – LEPCD18 Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Sunday 6 October 2013): In this post I mention “3 part breath” which is a staple of many practices. I no longer teach breath this way, opting for a more observational approach, which I find more consistent with well-being, anatomy and the Sutras. For a really great story about the difference see this video from Leslie Kaminoff’s anatomy course website. The bulk of this post is about kapalabhati, so it remains in tact. Do you teach “3 part breath”?  Why or why not? Comment and join the conversation.

So, the actual asana. Haven’t written so much about that lately. I once took a workshop with Richard Freeman (yes, if you’re a regular you’ve heard this before in which he said all of yoga could happen for us in Mountain, or Staff pose. The rest is just to distract, wear out, and discipline the […]

Not that there’s not a lot to love on the mat. It is the cause of hand and leg bending after all, which is a joy unto itself. And the more open our bodies become, the more freedom I notice we each find in our lives. And there really is something good about finally finding yourself in that pose you never thought you’d do. It may be monkey mind, but it’s a good monkey!

So with the blazing yellow of the trees just beginning to trace the New Mexico landscape, I’ve added some pranayama to my teaching. In addition to our usual friendly yogic three part breath attention, we’ve added Alternate Nostril Breathing, and depending on the day & class Skull Shining Breath beforehand.

Skull shining breath is a fast, exhale focused belly pumping breath, really excellent at creating heat, clarity & focus. If you make a diamond by joinging your thumbs and forefingers, then place it on your abdomen by putting your thumbs in your navel, you’ve framed the portion of your belly you want to be engaged. It’s the transvere abdominus, and you pump breath out in short bursts, allowing the breath to flow back in passively before pumping it out again. A slow set is one per second, fast 2 per. What keeps this from being pathological hyperventillation? Well, I actually tested myself on 300 rounds of Skull Shining Breath (Sanskrit: Kapalabhati) on our capnography at work. I maintained a constant 32-35 mm Hg with good waveforms. Translation: it’s the CO2 retained by not exhaling fully that makes you pass out with hyperventillation. By focusing on deeply generated full exhalations, you maintain a balance of offloaded toxins and invited nourishments.

Start with three rounds of ten, the first at a pace of one per second. Go faster or increase your pace only as you feel comfortable and confident.

This is a great waker upper in the middle of the night, and heat generator for winter camping, among many other things.

Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, takes this fired up breath and balances it by directing it in & out of each nostril, well, alternately.  We know from experience and scads of research on EMDR as well as cross patterning that stimulating the halves of the body alternately assists the nervous system in sorting information. Alternate nostril breathing is also really great for allergies, at least in my case.

Take your right hand and bend in the first and second finger. Place the thumb against the right nostril and inhale smoothly, slowly (say, to a count of four if that’s comfortable) through the left. Close off the left with the ring & pinkie (both nostrils are compressed right now) for  a retention of comfortable length (you might try one equal to the count for the inbreath). Release the right nostril and exhale – smoothly and slowly for the same count as the inhale – through the right nostril, and observe a rest, or kumbacha of the outbreath, at the bottom, allowing your spirit to reside in the emptiness, for a comfortable period of time, again you might try another count equal to the inbreath.

Then inhale right nostril, compress it (the left is still compressed from before, so both are closed at the top); practice a comfortable, non-straining retention at the fullness again, release the left nostril and exhale smoothly, yes, for the same count, resting in emptiness at the end of your outbreath.

This was one round and it won’t take as long to do as it does to read about. Do about four rounds to start and add as you become familiar and comfortable.

We’ve also been doing more twists and sided poses, compressing the organs and flooding them with luscious nutrient and oxygen filled blood and prana upon the release.

Does your practice change with the fall? Do you consciously plan this? Is it something you intuitively and naturally fall into?

Whatever you’re doing, make it yoga… and breathe, open, find the metaphor, embrace your meaning.

Share Your Shoulders!

Ever woken up to find that things aren’t as you thought they were? Well, I recently realized that my shoulders had become two wings of Fort Knox – solid, impenetrable & immovable. Now, just at the beginning of summer I remember grasping my hands behind my ribcage, one elbow skypointing, the other earth. Now, I need a strap, and progress and has  meant that I can touch my fingers after a minute or so.

How this happened is a matter for introspection, for sure. Some combination of stress & inattention is sure to be the culprit. I have been awfully focused on my hips….

So some attention is in order. I found a really intense shoulder opener while going through back issues of Yoga Journal (August 05) to toss out. It’s step one in their master class.

You need a chair & a block. I’ve found that a chair with a leather or fabric seat makes it easier than the slicker seats. The block you squeeze between your facing hands to maintain a constant distance between forearms & elbows. Kneeling in front of the seat of the chair, place your elbows as close to the edge as you can and begin to walk back on your knees so your hips move away from the chair, til your back is parallel to the floor with all its natural curves. Keep the rib cage in alignment with the pelvis creating ample room for your kidneys.

Allow your head to hang and then allow your shoulderblades to cascade off the back. For a final stretch, bend elbows so that you touch the block to your upper back.

I’ve found that this so proufoundly released the lateral musculature – latisimus dori, rhomboids, subscapularis, teres, etc – that when I was done my traps and neck muscles unwound like cut ropes. Makes me wonder what all I’ve been storing so greedily in there. I’m sure I won’t miss it!

So there’s my shoulder revolution…. leave a comment and share your favorite shoulder opener. Is it one of the traditional moves that keeps you mobile and ready to embrace the world? Or do you have a special twist on an old fave? Whatever it is, leave a quick description and know you’ve done your part to encourage more and grander hugging in the world!