Yoga Asana & Weight Loss

Yes, it’s January and the usual topics rear their heads. I’ve railed against marketing yoga for weight loss as much as a stretching routine. I’ve waxed mildly philosophical about contentment & acceptance as more transformative focuses than self-improvement. And yet… And yet.

Weight loss is no superficial matter. Being overweight increases infalmmatory processes in the body, as well as risks for all the major causes of death and disability: heart disease, vascular disease, stroke, diabetes.

Moreover, feeling overweight compromises how we are in the world, what we allow for ourselves and what we imagine. I’ve written here about quitting smoking, I’m writing a memoir about sober vinophilia, and I still write occasionally about my icey fascination with adreneline and extremes. So why not write about my experience with yoga and weight?

Weight has always been a sensitive topic for me. I started serious weightlifting when I was a young teenager & still feel safest, most at home in a spare, bright room full of metal and benches and bars and sweat. When things go really bad, I go to the gym. Because of having built a physique more muscular than the average woman, I’ve often heard extreme assessments of my appearance. Whether appreciative or derisive, it’s always felt intrusive, like someone commenting on your religion.

And of course through the years age, divorce, career change, night shift & the poignant stresses of living have taken their own tolls adding padding here & there, only to be shed as I process the emotions and memories they embody.

And this is where yoga comes in. My practice has given me the structure to observe the relationships between the shapes I embody and ideas, emotions, sensations and experiences I am processing. Yoga specifically addresses how we process and digest energy, specifically our food, emotions, rest and desire. Through breathing, circulation, motion and rest we can intentionally influence the efficiency with which we process our life experience. And this is the most important thing about weight, because even yogis die and in the end it’s always the heart that stops. Even yogis age, and in the end the face is never the same as it was when we were born. Even yogis struggle, and in the end stress shares the same physical processes regardless of where it is born.

From my own observation, weight stores emotion. Sometimes this is benevolent: we may not be ready or have the resources to process it we will soon possess. And the more thouroughly we process, the more time it can take, but the more we will understand and the freer we will be. When I was raped during my teacher training three years ago, I began a slow weight gain that was resistent to all my diet and exercise attempts. As that weight dissolved this last year, I was sometimes awash in emotions that were clearly out of context for my current existence. They were remnants washed out in the process of renewal. Cultivating witness consciousness (which is palpably and functionally different than disassociating), staying connected to breath and listening to my body for the poses and seats that would best support my activity were crucial in caring for and supporting this part of my process.

The weight that I carried wasn’t always comfortable, but it was often comforting. Loosing it wasn’t always comfortable, but my lighter body feels at home in my world. I lost thirty pounds during 2008, which is a steady & sustainable rate.  As important as the physical activity in yoga is the constructive rest and meditation. The eight limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) are as necessary to yoga practice as to an octupus.

Overall, daily practice and meditation are crucial. Even if it’s just a moment on the mat, the imprint that I carried into my day was sustaining. What I did on a given day was based on a general structure which I refined over the course of time, but tailored each day to my needs. My sleep patterns were stabilizing, my food habits were changing, my practice varied depending on my health, my cycle, the time I had set aside, emotions, work demands and classes I was prepping.

What I recommend for students who are designing a practice with weight stabilization in mind is first to be clear about what emotions and meanings you anticipate processing. Be open for change, and stay grounded in your overall process. For some drawing and journalling help with putting a particular day’s events in the larger context of their life. Remember that your practice is ultimately supporting you in digesting your experience and that no emotion, no day or night or wash of feeling is definitive of anything. It is information, it is color and you can be present for it and be the space and awareness of it.

I begin my own practice with breathing and pranayama. Kalabhati & Stomach Churning are particularly mind clearing and energy producing. They are also helpful for generating warmth on a cold morning, or on a camping trip. I follow these with 20-30 minutes of sun salutations beginning slowly and meditatively, feeling every centimeter of motion exquisitely with every cell of my body and working up to crisp motion in concert with breath.

Standing postures with lots of twists and revolved poses felt integrative, strong and cleansing, and by Fall I was closing with Sarvangasana, or shoulderstand, for 5 minutes each day, followed by Halasana, or Plow, a final twist & squeeze. After a luscious Savasana I like to practice Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, before silent meditation, focusing on my breath. Some chanting brings me nicely into the rest of my day.

That’s what I’ve devised. I’ve recently read Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga with great pleasure and he has a routine at the end which has many of the same elements. I wouldn’t recommend diving in without a teacher, because no amount of reading will enable you to transition between postures or guage your readiness like a teacher. But if you have experience or a teacher to guide you, either through private or group lessons, it’s a well rounded program, and regardless, the thoughtful first chapters are valuable for the clarity & simplicity of his explanation.

I continue to observe the changes of my body and mind through my practice and while I’m now at the weight I was before, my body continues to grow slimmer and more muscular, though of a different  density than my 145# benching days. (Yeah, I actually used to loose boyfriends because I could bench more.)  I regard this as evolution, information, experience and contribution to the wisdom I seek. I invite you to share your story, plan, experience or struggle through comments or email. Remember, it’s all Gunas acting on Gunas (Bhagavad Gita) or loosely translated, “It ain’t nothin’ but a thing. Another thing.”

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Inspiration, Instruction and Ideas for Daily Practice: Awaken in Every Moment

 

  YogaEveryDay:

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weekly newsletter: inspiration and tips for including bliss in your day, every day

 

 

  “Why do you run towards that which you have never taken a step away from?” ~Dogen

 

 

 

New yoga class times – different locations!

Sunday evening at YogaNow! 6pm, stay after for Sangha, chanting and mediatiom  (Sangha suggested donation of $10)

Starting 5/17: Saturday Morning Mixed Level class at YogaNow! 7:30

Starting 5/19: M-W-F Morning Mixed Level classes at Ripple Effect 7:00 

Starting 5/30: Friday Slow Restorative at YogaNow! 4:15

 

Send me your yoga class wish list!

I’m adding classes and locations starting in late May. I already have some newly scheduled classes listed above, but I want to know about your dream class: time, place and format. Be as general or specific as you want!

 

off the mat: 

Office Yoga:  Once an hour stop for a moment of breath. Remember the heart opening exercise from last week, roll your shoulders onto your back, relax your eyes, temples, jaw, tongue and neck. Find a rhythm and depth in your breath, expanding your belly, chest and shoulders, releasing in the reverse order, and observing the pause at the top and bottom. Return to work with increased clarity and vigor! 

                                                                                                 

A New Earth:Chapter 7 “Finding Who You Truly Are”

Gnothi Seauton: Know Thyself

 

 Eckhart Tolle’s newest book is called A New EarthI have been asked to host one of the discussion groups for his ongoing web class in conjunction with Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. You can find my official site at YogaEveryDay.Gather.com with articles and comments. You can write your own article and respond to others on this website as well as join the live discussions held Tuesdays on ANewEarth.Gather.com (you do have to be a member… it’s free to sign up). I’m leading discussion this coming Tuesday, April the 8th at 10am MDT and then again Tuesday , April the 22nd and 29th 5pm MDT. 

Of course you can always check in on yogaeveryday.  wordpress.com for my reflections on reading and daily practice or yogaguide.wordpress.com for class and practice guides.

 

Asana of the week: or in this case, lots of ’em!

 

Surya Namaskar:  Begin in mountain, standing with your hands folded, thumbs touching your heart. Exhale, drop hands, Inhale circle overhead, perhaps lifting your heart for a gentle standing backbend. Exhale, dive forward into a forward fold, knees bent so your belly rests on your thighs. Inhale, extend your head away from your tailbone, rolling shoulders onto your back looking forward. Exhale, step back with your right foot into a lunge (drop your right knee for more ease in the pose). Inhale, lengthen the rib cage away from the pelvis. Exhale, step the left leg back to plank, top of a pushup. Drop your sternum between your shoulder girdles, bringing your shoulderblades together on your back (again, drop knees for more ease). Inhale length, bringing belly toward spine, exhale down to knees – chest – chin (inchworm).Inhale, roll your shoulderblades up and onto your back, pressing  your low belly and tops of feet into ground, raise your head and shoulders away from the ground for cobra. Exhale, pressing into the thumb sides of your hands & rolling your toes under, lift the hips back and up, turning your sitting bones to the sky for downward facing dog. Take five, luxurious breaths and on your fifth exhalation, bring the right foot forward between your hands for a lunge on the other side. Inhale lengthen your tailbone away from your head. Exhale step left foot forward next to right for a forward fold. Inhale, circling the arms up and out come up with a flat back (belly toward spine!) to upward hands, looking up, open heart. Exhale hands back down midline to your heart. Stay here until your breath normalizes, repeat, starting with left foot back, ending with left foot up.

 

Mountain

uphands

forward fold

flat back

lunge

plank

inchworm

cobra

downdog

lunge

forward fold

uphands

Mountain

 

Try 20 minutes of sun salutations in the morning and see how supple and energized you feel!

 

Pranayama of the week:

 Begin with three part yogic breath (above). At the end of an exhalation bring your imagination to your tailbone. Now, imagine on your inbreath that you can drink your breath up your spine from tailbone to skull. Feel the breath on your soft pallette at the back and top of your throat, pulling it upward, sipping the breath up your internal core. Exhale, feel it drain back downward. Feel an energizing connection between your soft palette and pelvic floor. Try for a minute, increasing if you want, any time you want relaxation, connection, awareness.            

 
My mission is to inspire and support you in your daily yoga practice. Relax! Remember, It’s all yoga: you’re always breathing. Sometimes you even know it! For questions, comments, to find out more about practices or ideas mentioned here or how you can get more yoga into your week, call me, Christine Stump, at 505-506-0136 or email me at yogaguides@gmail.com. Namaste.

 

Fall back into your Self

Yesterday my practice was crunched between writing and dog walks and getting off to work, quick sun salutations to warm and move me. The familiarity helps me connect to contentment and stay open for the surprises of my body and my day.

I’d just finished writing on Gather about the pain body Eckhart Tolle talks about, so this way of relating to pain and perceived burdens was much on my mind. As I entered the rhythm of practice and my mind began to clear of such entanglement, I rose from the forward bend at the end of a cycle, arms circling wide, dropping my tailbone to raise my heart. The heaviness of these thoughts lifted and I sensed them as a cloud gathering from my root, up my core and coalescing in front of my third eye. As my hands rose and I lengthened my side bodies in Urdva Hastasana I felt lightness and clarity. And as I brought my hands together in front of my third eye to trace down my midline to touch my heart, it was as if my hands had come together to form a knife’s edge which dissipated the cloud.

Try it for yourself, intentionally imagining what weighs on you as a cloud in front. Standing, circle your arms up and out, coming together and slicing through the pea-thick murkiness. See how you feel.

In some cultures the Self is believed to live in the back of the body, around the spine. I was told this when I first had the bodily sensation of falling back into myself years ago. As if I’d been living out in front, disconnected, and becoming present felt like finally coinciding with myself. Fall back into yourself today. Take a quiet moment, ask what will bring you back. Even if you’re not sure what the “right” answer is, try your first idea and see how it feels, if it gives you another idea, or if you just want to stay with the feeling you’ve now found. Fall back into your Self today, again, and again.

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 – yogaeveryday.wordpress.com)

Stepping forward

Sometimes moving forward is a matter of just letting go. Ishvara Pranidanana – trust, surrender. Sometimes 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 perhaps even some practice and preparation – Tapas and Svadyaya.  This is the kind of moment for which the flow from Downward Dog to the lunge in Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) can prepare us.

It might seem like leg strength is called for here, but really what we call on for the graceful sweep of stability is core strength – all the deep structures supporting the back and the connection between the torso and hips/legs.

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 being connected to each. The functioning of this deep, long muscle structure is supported by the abdominal muscles – the rectus in the front middle, the obliques forming Vs on the torso, and the transverse encircling the lower abdomen – as well as the structures of the pelvic floor (these are accessed in mula bandha) and the erector spinae along the spinal column itself.

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. Paying 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 move your attention into your abdomen pulling it toward your back and pulling the pelvic floor in, feeling the dog tilt (slightly forward) in your pelvis even as you pull your tailbone in & forward.

A word of reminder: 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!

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).

http://hillarysyogapractice.wordpress.com/

http://elsieyogakula.wordpress.com/

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.