Drawing In

I tried this as an experiment recently: Sivasana at the beginning and end of class.  I’ve decided that it’s an advanced practice.

Doesn’t sound tough does it? It’s like nap time at the beginning. But have you watched three year olds who just came in from recess try to lay down? It’s like that pop-up gopher game where you’re meant to pop the puppets back down with a soft mallet. Monkey mind most active.

What a tremendous testament to our practice. Sivasana is nearly torturous for many at the beginning, and almost always luscious at the end. What’s changed? The embodied mind.

If you want to try this practice of playing dead both before and after, I suggest that you give yourself some structure for the beginning. Begin by noting sensation in your extremities. Really pay attention and feel it. Then pay attention to your sensation in your core (if you can find any at this stage, you’re particularly in touch that day). Then with each breath draw the sensations from your arms and legs and neck into your core. Now, I’m not suggesting you draw in pleasure or pain, just the unnamable raw sensation, unjudged. Some might call it energy. But it’s very concrete when you locate it within your body: the sense you have of your own body. Use your breath to draw it in.

Finally, draw all your attention to sensation down to your low abdomen and feel it expand and contract with each breath. By relaxing and contracting the low belly when breathing you are mechanically & chemically signalling your “slow down” nervous system to wake up. That’s right, wake up to slow down. There are all kinds of opposites that come together on the mat.

Restore by Release

Take ten minutes tonight and try one or two of these poses. All are restorative, meaning you support yourself in a position facilitating physical release and you surrender to the pose over time, usually about five minutes. Prepare your surroundings with candles, music, scent. Use a folded hand towel for an eye pillow. Focus on your breath. Begin by allowing the belly to expand in every direction, opening the abdomen to allow room for your organs as your diaphragm pulls downward. After a few minutes of focusing on your belly, imagine your breath beginning just in front of your sacrum, inhaling the breath rises along a channel in front of your spine until it swirls in your head. Exhale, the breath flows down the same channel, exiting in front of your sacrum.

Supported Balasana (Child’s Pose): sit with your feet folded under your buttocks, knees wide. With a bolster or blankets folded in front of you for support, hinge your torso forward and lie your belly and chest on the support, arms alongside. Turn your head to one side. Feel your body move as you breathe.

Supported Bridge: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor hip width apart. Raise your pelvis up, having support (bolster, stack of blankets, block) handy to place under your sacrum or pelvis. Allow your torso to slant gently toward your shoulders on the ground. Arms angle down from shoulders to hands open to the sky.

Setu Baddha Konasana (Bound angle pose): Sitting upright, perhaps with hips elevated on a blanket, place the soles of the feet together in cobbler or butterfly pose (this was a favorite of mine when I was a little girl… I remember doing it with my Mother). Arrange the bolster, blankets or pillows behind you so that you can recline your torso with your arms opening down from the shoulders, palms releasing upwards. If your knees are above the ground, support them with blocks or soft blankets.

Vitparita Karani (Legs up the wall): Place a bolster or a stack of three folded blankets 6-8 inches away from the wall. Sit on one end with a shoulder toward the wall, facing away from the stack. Place opposite hand on floor and rolling down to your back swing your legs up parallel to the wall. Your tailbone will sink into the space between the support and the wall. You may keep your legs up or open them out to a great “V” or place the soles of the feet together in cobbler or butterfly. Arms angle gently down, again, from the shoulders, hands realeasing toward the sky.

Finish in Savasana, or Corpse pose, on your back, legs apart, feet flopping out, arms out a bit to the side of the hips again, hands open to the sky, eyes closed. Keep returning to breath. Breathe. Breathe. Let breath breathe you. Namaste.

Yoga Nidra

Guided Relaxation including Yoga Nidra

Here is my holiday gift to all of you, available for your pre-holiday stress relief and practice.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient technique sometimes called yogic sleep. It is said that 20 minutes of yogic sleep is as good as three hours of your normal sleep. Now, my sleep isn’t so normal, so I haven’t had a good basis for comparison. However, I can say this 17 minute guided meditation certainly prepares me to be open to my world even if my sleep has not.  Students say they use it daily, some others when they need a lift.

I recorded this last year as a gift for my Classes. The voice is mine, the script I wrote reflecting on some of the techniques I’ve learned that help me.

Let me know how you use it and how it works in your life. Most of all, do some yoga every day!

Namaste

(background music off Tandava)

Meditation, Restoration

From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing:

“When body and mind are one, the wounds in our hearts, minds, and bodies begin to heal. As long as there is separation between body and mind, these wounds cannot heal. During sitting meditation, the three elements of breath, body and mind are calmed, and gradually they become one. … When there is oneness of body and mind, the breathing serves as “harmonizer,” and wee realize peace , joy, and ease, the first fruits of meditation practice.” (p. 45)

A note for Tuesday nighters: last night we started adding sitting meditation after our asana practice. Also an “off the mat” pose you can use at the office or grocery, on a hike or while doing the dishes.  As ever, I want to support you in taking your yoga into your world in idea, word and deed. Most of all, in energetic stillness.

Also remember, next week is the much sought after “Restorative Tuesday”! We have some luscious deep letting go to engage!

Namaste

:I bow to the gentle power & fierce beauty of you

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.

Truth in Practice

   There’s truth in what we call practice. Abhyasa. Practice. Meeting the mat, what you bring, what you loose.

Another restorative practice today after indulging in lots of chanting along with Sonia Nelson via her CD of Patanjali’s Sutras. I’m getting excited for a Sanskrit workshop on Sunday and hope that seeing, hearing, saying and stumbling through some on my own in the days leading up prepares the ground.

I’m in the midst of what sometimes seems a very difficult decision career wise. For the second time in my life I’m considering moving to a less prestigious, lower paying position because it supports a grander vision. Career suicide some would say.   Soul support, is what I think.

At least it’s what i know when I leave the mat each day after asking for, listening for guidance on which way to turn.

I love this translation of I.21 by Mukanda Stiles (whose workshop I get to go to in Chandler in less than two weeks – so excited!) so I’ll leave you with it. Time to meet a man about a job 🙂

“For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting.”

Echoes something a Monsignor told me once when I was very small, but very absorbant. 

May you follow your passion and your wisdom today, absorbing and radiating love, truth and beauty.

Restoration

 Ahhhhhhhhhhh…. 

Besides a weekend with my hubby, I’ve had a pretty vigorous daily practice for weeks now. Amazing and life-restoring as this is, I’m craving balance. A couple of weeks ago my partner remarked to me “your dan tien is low” (the ex-massage therapist – how does he know?!? does he have a tienoscope???). He was right. The really focused firey vinyasa style yoga has been a blessing, but today, my own tienoscope says restorative yoga it is! Bramacharya at work: preservation of life force.

The difference between restorative & any other style of yoga is both intensity of effort and duration in poses. Rather than working with muscular opposition, hugging in, radiating out, spirals, loops, etc you create a space for your body to melt into the pose. The time spent in both preparation and melting can more greatly emphasize the already meditative possibilities in asana practice. It’s useful to warm the body up to the practice with chandra namaskar – moon salutaions. There’s a jpeg of Chandra Namaskar from a year or so ago on my other blog – yogaguide.wordpress.com.

Even more than usual, its helpful to work near your minimum edge  when entering intentionally restorative asana. Rather than finding the maximum opening of the hip or shoulder joint and supporting it there, find the very first place you feel what might be tension. Let it resolve before moving deeper with breath and intent. Do this until you find a spot with a little more edge than that first, and support the body at that edge, allowing the opening to happen gradually and enjoying the support you’ve created for yourself.

As always, your breath is crucial – smoothness is key here. Notice all parts of your torso, as their expansion in every direction (not just forward) is part of drawing the breath fully into your lungs as well as emptying. Notice the pauses between breathing in & breathing out, rest in the fullness and release respectively.

Some poses I’m looking forward to after a bit of reading and warming movement are side lying over bolsters, wide legged forward bend, supported balasana (child’s pose), supported reclining virasana, shoulderstand, supta baddha konasana (reclining cobblers pose w/ feet together, torso draped back over nice, plump bolster) and vitparita karani – legs up the wall.  Ahhhhhhh…

Do you ever indulge in the gift of restorative asana?  My ideal is to  have at least one practice a week like this (obviously, in three I haven’t lived that ideal… I’ll have to pay closer attention). What are your experiences with staying in supported poses for extended periods of time?