Kapala-mula-bhati in the morning: breath + posture = happiness

Bhati

Bhati (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Or should that be “Kapala-mala-bhati”? You see, this morning I lingered over coffee with my Darling Hubs longer than I’d planned and so ended up with 20 minutes or so for practice. What’s a girl to do???

 

 

This is the week of the mad scientist for me, evidently  so I decided the solution would be to combine. I usually begin seated Japanese style with breath observation and then mix in some technique, moving slowly to sacral pumps and up to full Sun Salutations through Malasan (Squat pose).

So I started in Malasan and moved quickly to Kapalabhati, one of my winter morning go-tos because it is warming and creates wakefulness. It was strange at first: the pelvic floor is stretched in Malasan and the transverse abdominus is released. Generally they work in concert during Skull shining breath, and this position privileges the transverse abdominus and restricts the interlocking muscles of the pelvic floor.

It took a few rounds to get the feel of it, but I liked the added stabilization of the torso created by my elbows pushing the insides of my shins and visa versa and it created a different level of connection to the structure of the pelvis. Kapalabhati in this position took more effort and my usual 3 rounds of 100 wasn’t as breezy as usual, but still steady. I think what I like the most is that it helps discriminate between perception of sensation in the pelvic floor and low belly.

Paired with Mula-lifts at the end of practice, this made for an excellent exploration of pelvic sensation and motion. “Mula-lifts” are what I call a version of leg lifts that I learned from Ally Hamilton of Yogis Anonymous (my current fave online source). Instead of lifting the entire sacrum off the ground and contracting the front of your belly, as you would in most fitness leg lifts, you’re really going for a very small – maybe 2 inch – lift of the tailbone from the floor, with the toes pointed straight up to the ceiling and your belly pressing down toward the floor. The focus is specifically on the pelvic floor and not the abdominals.

What do you do when you realize you have limited time for practice? Are you a combiner or a simplifier? Or are you tempted to do what I almost did: “Oh, I only have 20 minutes, better just leave it til later…” I’m so glad I didn’t! Just remember to get your Savasana in. That’s the best part!

 

 

Meditation Helper

MHP

Timers are a fantastic way to create a container (my current favorite notion, thanks Jen Louden) for your practice, and have been mentioned a couple of times in posts and comments lately, so I thought I’d say something about the one I use and love. I’ve tried half a dozen or more over the last six months (when I started using aps… I know, I’m behind!) and this is my go-to. I use it for my personal yoga and meditation practices as well as classes, private lessons and even meetings. People love it when I not only end on time but a pleasant meditation bell concludes the discussion period.

Meditation Helper Pro is the easiest to use, most elegant, pleasant, modifiable and effective timer I’ve used. My top three criteria for a meditation timer:

  • pleasant, real-sounding bell
  • infinitely modifiable for length and intermittent bells
  • easily modifiable for same

Meditation Helper Pro meets all of my criteria. The wizard makes it easy to create and save or modify a program, the standard bell is my favorite and available on the free ap though on the pro ap you can use others or ringtones from your phone. I have a simple 20 minute profile, an evening meditation profile with bells every 2 minutes and a double bell 2 minutes before the end. I have a 75 minute profile for class and 30 and 60 minute presentation profiles.

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Meditation Helper Pro will even remind you with a custom message (mine says “Sitting makes you happy.”) and keep a log for you so you can view your patterns and make adjustments. Are you a data freak? This is the ap for you. Do you just love elegance and simplicity in the tools you use, so you can get down to what you’re doing? This is the ap for you. Do you need a pleasant interface and sound to continue using a timer? This is the ap for you. Go to the ap store and try it out. Let me know how it goes? Leave me a comment below, let me know what you use and love!

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Home yoga practice: it’s the simple things that matter

“Just do it” doesn’t  usually work when it comes to the home practice of yoga. Chances are, if you have an established home practice, you are “just doing it” and not spending time wondering how to get there, and what gets you to the mat every morning (or evening or lunch or saturday or whatever) isn’t some grunting force of will, but a draw born of experience: the experience of how you feel when you’re there, how you feel on days when you get there, how you felt that day when you didn’t.

 

English: All Solutions By Yogi Tamby Chuckrava...

You don’t have to look like this guy to do yoga at home. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you’re wondering how to start – or start again, though, white knuckling it could undermine the very reason you’re planning to do yoga at all. Try these actions instead and find out how good life is when you yoga on your own:

  • If you’re practicing in the morning, bring  your morning cuppa into the yoga space with you. Whether it’s water, coffee, tea or vodka (just kidding, really… yoga before drinking) sometimes this can create a nice transition. Instead of having to finish your current routine before you roll out the mat, use your current routine to find comfort with the one you’re creating. You can sit and take a sip or two of hot morning yumminess while on your mat and absorb the loveliness of your new practice. 
  • Choose a simple signal to begin and end your practice. Whether you have a fancy bell to ring or start the same music every time, simply having a repetitive action that you associate only with coming to your mat can be powerfully settling. I have come to look forward to ringing the lovely bell of compassion my MIL sent for Christmas at the start and end of practice. It sends a wave of “Okay, you’re here now, until this bell rings again” and allows me to sink in to simply doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing and letting that be fresh  and new and not pre-planned.
  • Plan the beginning and end of each practice. This creates a container of sorts and can free you up in between. I begin sitting in vajrasana with breath observation (also how I begin all classes) and end with a selected sequence of finishing poses (as a recovering Ashtanga Yogi there are a few things I’m incapable of doing without). You can begin in  Mountain Pose and end with Bridge before Corpse Pose 
      If you know what you’re going to begin and end with, you may find it easier to let go.
  • Use a template. There’s no reason you can’t plan or have your practice planned for you. Wondering “what am I supposed to do???” or “what should I do next???” or whether you’ll remember that great pose from class can all trigger a massive round of monkey bars for the mind and before you know it you’re a stress ball instead of a bliss monkey. Choose three to five poses you want to focus on and write the names or draw stick figures out before hand. A note from yourself, to yourself. If you want examples, I posted some early versions on this blog, and if you want help just leave a comment. This is one of my favorite things 🙂

Leave me a comment below with your favorite tip for making it to the mat or letting me know how these tips work for you! Home practice is my passion and I’d love to know about yours. Namaste.

 

 

 

The key to home practice: Desire before Duty

A little pink never hurt anyone

Image by Darwin Bell via Flickr

Committing to home practice is such a transformational step that it’s very easily turned into a goal, an item on the to-do list, a get-through-to-get-done: in short, a duty.

And setting aside the time on your calendar or to-do list can be an effective method for keeping this promise to yourself. But how to maintain the practice mind and not slip into goal seeking?

Here’s what I mean: One morning you set your alarm a little early – 20 or 30 minutes to start – and feel triumphant because you kept this promise to yourself. And the practice, short though it was, transformed your day and was filled with moments of sunlight and inspiration. Three weeks later, the alarm rings again, you find yourself on the same mat with the sunlight streaming in, but can’t keep from pushing yourself through the poses you’re working, measuring your progress from yesterday, and none too flatteringly. What a way to start the day!

What happened to that first morning’s lightness and joy in the practice? What happened to that blinding insight from the Bhagavad Gita, something about releasing the fruits of action, putting your heart in but non-attachment to outcomes?

If the “goal” is to meet yourself on your mat every morning, you’ve satisfied “duty” by arriving. Before you do anything, ask yourself one question: “What do I really want?” Maybe it’s more sleep. Fine, take legs up the wall, or yoga nidra. Maybe you’re feeling a backbend. Cool, warm up with some gentle heart openers like sphinx and cobra. Or maybe you need a good laugh or cry. Nice, that’s pranayam.

You might even find that when you follow it, your desire changes, transforms into something that supercedes goal, need and thought.

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. ~Upanishads