In praise of Sun Salutations

It took me about 3 years to finally feel comfortable doing Sun Salutations.  I would squint and puzzle and squish my face through the series a few times and then plop back into the hot springs. I’d struggle with synchronizing my breath and figuring out whether I should breathe in or out as I stepped back and how long I should stay in Downward Facing Dog.

Then it “clicked” for me one morning, and it became my new addiction. What a remarkable feeling, bending forward and backward, upside down and right side up.

Then I learned the drshti for each pose, and how to jump back, and then I found the bandhas through the glorious repetition and flow. When I learned that there were mantram for each of the “stations” in the cycle, I was over the moon! There’s no part of my mind or body that this wonderful series doesn’t wring and wash out, and leave better than before.

Whether you put a plank before or after your dog, throw your warrior in for “B” versus “A”, go slow or fast, the beauty of the series is that once engaged, the flow will teach you where and how to go, will lead your breath in the right direction and your mind into peaceful water. The series can be fast or slow, exercise or meditation – or both, few or many, sinewy or rigorous – infinitely modifiable, portable and indescribably subtle.

My favorite place for Sun salutations is on a particular mesa overlooking the hoodoos outside Chaco Canyon, with my YogaPaws on and no one else in sight – and out there you can see a long, long way.  That’s just about tied with the plateau above Angel Peak  behind the Orwellian sounding “Land Farm”  – another story.

The YogaPaws turn a good core workout into an amazing experience of solid, centered energy and reveal how much work the yoga mat regularly does in yoga poses. It’s a revelation.

So now you know where I’m off to for the next for week or so. There’s another post queued up, and it’s a good one – a link to my new favorite meditation. I’ve gotta go get me some Sun Salutations right now – then you’ll find me somewhere lost among the hoodoos. No phone, no computer, no talking. Just walking, yoga and land. Ahhhhhh.

Stepping Forward

Sometimes moving forward is a matter of just letting go, and at times it seems we have no choice – the sweep of time, the press of activity can be like an airport walking ramp leaving us lusting for a moment to stop and savor, reflect and process.

But other times, stepping forward takes conscious planning and determination, a bit of knowledge and even some practice and preparation.  This is the kind of moment for which the flow from Downward Dog to the lunge in Sun Salutations can prepare us.

It might seem like leg strength is called for here, but underlying the graceful sweep of stability is core strength. One of the most important muscles in bringing the thigh into the core is the illio-psoas, which connects the lower spine, the pelvis and the femur by attaching to each. The functioning of this deep, long muscle structure is supported by the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor.

One of the small experiments that helps me and my students learn about this web of connectedness in the core of the body is “puppy dog”. Start in child’s pose, a very active version with the wrists and elbows lifted, pushing the hips back onto the heels with the toes turned under. Pay attention to pressing into the thumb and first finger of each hand, lift the knees two inches off the floor, pushing the hips back and a little up.

Notice which muscles you use at first: most folks feel this in the legs or arms. Connect to the breath and pull your abdomen toward your back, drawing up the pelvic floor. Feel your pelvis tilt forward even as you reach back through your tailbone.

Take frequent breaks, this is a new way of moving so it can wear you out. You want to approach each change with an air of awareness and study, as if trying to catch all the subtlety in a new and complex flavor. As always, practice consciously and kindly – as I’ve said on my other blog… force cancels yoga and pushing doesn’t burn up samskara – it drives it deeper.

Repeat puppy dog several times bringing your attention more and more to your belly and pelvic floor. Try to feel as if you are lifting your entire torso up and backward with your core muscles.

Another exploration I’ve found helpful is to reach one leg at a time up & back for a one legged Down Dog. This stretches the psoas, accesses the consciousness of the opposing muscles, and in conjunction with the consciousness gained in puppy dog can lead to smoother, more conscious and aware sweep-throughs of the leg in the transition to  lunge.

Then you can step forward with the other foot and practice that sweet surrender in a luscious forward bend before rising up.

Practice mindfully, aware of the metaphor pervading your intention and motion.  What are some ways you could use more strength, intention and planning in moving forward in your life? Where do you need to nourish strength quietly? Where can you focus on your core and create more beauty and awareness for yourself and those around you?

Take the small steps, the moments of minute study and feel the microcosmic changes that build force to transform your life!

(post copied from my blog journal –

Stand at the top of your mat….

That’s it. Just stand, but stand with everything you have. Stand intentionally. Stand in your own arwareness.

I’m putting out a challenge to us all: students, teachers, sometimes yogis and gee-I’ve-been-thinking-about-trying-that-at-home folks.

Once a day, roll out your mat (or, if you don’t have one, clear out a space in the living room or on the grass). Stand. In Tadasana (Ta-Da!) (mountain pose).  That’s it.

If you feel like bustin’ out  some moves from that last yoga class or video, knock yourself out. If you feel like putting on a podcast, look up Hillary’s or Elsie’s (they’re on wordpress).

Breathe, pay attention to bandhas, hug your muscles to your legs, center your rib cage over your pelvis. Connect to the floor through your feet. Notice and play with the position of your sternum relative to your shoulders. There’s so much to do right here.

I’m doing this to to encourage us all to meet ourselves on the mat regularly. Leave a comment & say how long you want to join the experiment. Leave comments on your experiences.

Unroll your mat, unfurl your heart, unleash your voice. I bow to you. Namaste.

Every Two Days

My husband said I should call this “If you don’t go to yoga class, you’ll probably die alone.” While you may meet someone at yoga class, I want to motivate you to get your yoga on every couple of days to build awareness, strength and connection. Now, I am a yoga teacher, so I don’t mind if you come to class every two days. But you can take Tree pose in the grocery line, do DownDog in the park and follow it up with Camel against a tree to bring your mind back into connection with the heart and body any time.

You create your muscles and your body and your body contributes to your consciousness which determines how you move and create your muscles. And your muscles are “remodelled” every two days.

The remodelling process happens first by breaking down the structure that you used and then by rebuilding it to meet the demand again. Each part takes about 24 hours. So, in 48 hours you have new muscle. But then if you don’t use it, yep, you guessed it, you start to loose it. In about 2 weeks significant loss will occur.

So, if you feel like you’re treading water in your practice, try busting out your favorite moves from class last week while your waiting for your coffee. You’ll notice a difference in the moment and    in a few days and  in class next week. And, hey, you might just meet someone who notices you  doing yoga!  (information drawn from Julie Gudmstead’s recent article for Yoga Journal Online)

Sunny Salutations!

Happy & Prosperous, Peace-full New Year to Everyone!

We ended last year confident in our new ability to move in a gentle version of Surya Namaskar. In a world we know will bring us newness, change and challenge stability is created through consciousness.

I invite you to make Surya Namaskar a part of your daily practice. As a remarkably complete exercise for stretching and strengthening, it also engenders openness of heart, groundedness, lightness, shining, reaching – all the seemingly opposing qualities we seek to fully integrate our world, our work, our practice, our emotions and thoughts, our joy and suffering. Allow your practice, your yoga to be your touchstone for awareness. Cultivate your witness consciousness through this amazing practice.

Yule Yoga

I am honored and endlessly pleased by our classes together, and extend my deep gratitude for your wisdom and presence as we finish out this year. Our biweekly classes have gotten underway at a new time and our new routine seems to support and connect us.

Months ago, at the end of summer, we began to learn Surya Namaskar – Sun Salutations. Feeling like a forgein dance step, it cast us into our doubts and uncertainties in and about our bodies, our space and our minds. This last class we collectively swam through Surya Namaskar as if it were our own private, familiar swimming hole! What a tremendous emblem of transformation for each one of us, and what a gift to take into the cool & dark end of the year, into the freshness of each new moment symbolized by the New Year. You are each one and collectively amazing!!!

As we take a two week break to honor the efforts of our lives, I have some resources to share. I will have tomorrow at our last class of the year a CD I’ve made of the Sun Salutation we’ve done in class as well as an extended Yogic Relaxation to go with your Savasana. Perhaps this will inspire you to practice your own yoga, in your own way, in your own space, with or without the words on the CD. If you aren’t at class tomorrow but have been a regular yogi at any time this year, I will leave a copy of the CD at the front dest of the North Valley Senior Center for you to pick up whenever it’s convenient.

I’ve also found this website you might enjoy perusing I did, and think they have some valuable insights and programs.

Remember in every moment, in all you do, in everything you are
you are present, you are free, you are whole.

In gratitude, in peace and in celebration
I wish for you that
you are free from danger
you have mental happiness
you have physical happiness
you have ease of wellbeing.

(The part of me that is sacred and universal recognizes and smiles to that same part of you)