Posts Tagged ‘Yoga Practice’

Do You Have a Yoga Butt?

I recently saw an ad for Old Navy.  The question was, “Do you have a yoga butt?”.  The answer – buy the pants and then you would.

If I take the ad as a reflection of what’s in, then I need to ask myself:  Do I have a yoga butt?  Do I want one?

Its no news to anyone that we are a culture obsessed with our appearance.  The ads that surround us testify to that fact.  Though having a yoga butt may not be my personal issue I am not immune to the wish to look good.

I can laugh at this ad but at the same time know I’m part of this culture that wants to stay youthful.  But the question arises: is that enough?  If it is, then buy the pants or do enough yoga to have the desired objective – a yoga butt.

Still the question persists and I ask: Am I missing something?  Is it enough to have an attractive body?  Is this why I practice yoga?  For me the answer is no, this is not enough.  This last week I read a short work from Rachel Naomi RemenEverything Has a Deep Dream.  You can read the full text at the end.

She says “There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness in everyone and everything.”  She encourages us to befriend life and to “uncover something that is already happening in us and around us and create conditions that enable it.

I like this reading.  She says in her few words truths that I hold dear. For me, she speaks to the deepest meaning of Yoga.

When I come to my yoga practice I am a friend to myself seeking this seed of greater wholeness.  I am coming with the intent to create the conditions for ‘what already is’ to unfold.  In moments of stillness,  I know deep in my bones that all is with me right now, there is nothing else to get.  I say this last statement not out of a hubris of self aggrandizement, but from a place I have touched occasionally that knows without thought that I am complete, fully realized, and that I could not be anything else.

Do I live in this state of awareness, enlightenment?  No.  The Tibetan Buddhist teachings tell me that complete enlightenment is my natural state, that I am already enlightened.  The fact that I don’t experience this are the veils that cloud my vision.  My “avidya”, ignorance and misperception, that fool me into thinking I’m separate, a part of the whole, not wholeness itself.  So I walk the gradual path.  I come to my yoga each day, I carry it with me, and I pick it up when I have dropped it and lost my way.

Do I want a yoga butt?  Do I want enlightenment? Absolutely, I want it all (I’m a baby boomer)!  The joke is, if I’m ever in the experience of enlightenment, there won’t be a Linda to know if she has a yoga butt.

Everything Has a Deep Dream


I’ve spent many years learning
how to fix life, only to discover
at the end of the day
that life is not broken.

There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness
in everyone and everything.
We serve life best
when we water it and befriend it.
When we listen before we act.

In befriending life,
we do not make things happen
according to our own design.
We uncover something that is already happening
in us and around us and
create conditions that enable it.

Everything is moving toward its place of wholeness,
always struggling against odds.

Everything has a deep dream of itself and its fulfillment.

Rachel Naomi Remen

Keep Dancing

Heritage of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:  2.5  Ignorance (avidya) is misperceiving permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure (sukha) in suffering (dukkha), an essential self (atma) where there is no self.

What is the perfect pose, the perfect instruction, the perfect practice?  Where am I going with my yoga practice, what am I getting, who am I pleasing?  In my old age what will I have?   So easy to get lost, to forget the clarity of a moment, to fix an experience, become bored with routine.  Dukkha

A spiritual teacher of mine once told me that our happiest moments often hold the greatest suffering because we refuse to see their essential impermanence.  Avidya

It is wonderful to feel strong, be flexible, to have health and vitality, to move one’s body into extraordinary positions.  Sukha Yet the question arises like the song of Peggy Lee’s:

“Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing”.

The song has notes of despair but it is also possible to hold that idea as a way of working till I live in the direct experience of enlightenment.  Where I don’t see permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure in suffering, an essential self  where there is no self.  So if I am not to fall hopelessly into the mire this sutra speaks of, what does it mean in the context of yoga to keep dancing?  Could I hold dancing as the gradual path?

I experience the joy of a yoga pose.  I love the feeling of my heart center in Trikonasana, the stretch over my back hip and the reach of my top collar bone and arm.  I like how grounded I feel in Downward Dog, the texture of the mat under my hands and feet.  There is power in the Warrior poses and sweet surrender in Uttanasana.  I can do Handstands until my arms will no longer hold me.  Head back, chest open in Ustrasana or snug as a bug in Child’s pose.  I like to hear and feel my spine adjust in Jathara Parivartanasana and sit in the quiet of Gomukhasan legs.

There are lots of poses I don’t care for.  The ones where my body flounders and my mind finds little rest.  But some I have come to like as we have become better acquainted.  Is this dancing?

I like the moments of connection, when insight connects disparate experiences into a whole as vast as space.  For a moment there is direct perception.  An instruction I thought I understood gains a depth I hadn’t experienced before and I think, “Oh, that’s what they meant?”  Or something I read revels a profound insight.  These moments of clarity are fleeting.  Soon I fix them with my thoughts and they evaporate into a memory.  Is this dancing?

I am never tired of my yoga practice.  It does not bore me or seem of little value.  I am always learning something.  If not about my own practice directly then something new about my students which in the end informs my own study.  It is so wonderful to see another’s body and communicate in such a way that they share the perception.  For a moment our eyes join and the veils of separation lift.  I experience love in these moments and hold such gratitude for my students.  Is this dancing?

Patanjali speaks of the pitfalls, the subtleties of ignorance.  When I think I’m clever, or my practice is about accomplishment, when I think I am teaching and feel separate from my students, I am in the state of ignorance.  The shades of this ignorance are vast.  Occasionally I wake for a moment, but in general, I work within ranges of distorted perception.  But in the moments of lucidity when the veils lift I experience the freedom Patanjali speaks of.  I believe it is these moments which inform my experience, let me know what is possible, and keep me dancing.

The Horse Ride

Heritage of Yoga

Hatha Yoga Pradipika: Describe my most significant experience in my yoga practice.

The Horse Ride

Floating.  Floating like a mist above, around and through my body.  I am not out of my body nor in it.  The Rap music pulsing through the window from the house next door, beating the waves of the soft breeze.  Not here, not separate, just present.  No words to describe, just present.

Was it only this morning I was experiencing a moment in my childhood?  Deep in the trauma of an event.  Images, sensations merging with memory.  Remembering.  I knew this happened.  Heard the stories, believed the power of yoga to release memories, trauma held in the cells.  How appropriate I muse, cells.  Little prisons holding captive events too painful to face in the moment.

How many times had I told the story of crying even at the thought of the big backbends, Urdhva Danurasana, Wheel pose.  Watching others lift effortlessly, their arms and legs unfolding as their spine lengthen into an arch.  Up they went in one smooth movement while my own body struggled to find the strength to lift and then could barely hold the pose.  They made it look so simple.  Fluid motion, not chunky and straining like my own.  Then the fear I felt each time before backbend practice and the relief when it was over.  Relief that barely covered the disappointment.  Relief  that this part of the week was over (1).  I had made it through without falling apart.  I wouldn’t have to face that pose again.  I could go home and maybe from time to time try it again.  Sometimes it seemed like I was making progress, but always the dread.

I told my students that it was because of opening the heart.  It was a big heart opening pose.  That wasn’t it, I knew that now.  True it had taken a long time to shed the layers of clothes I wore covering my chest and shoulders.  I could do that now, wear sleeveless tops that left my shoulders bare.  That was the clue I never grasped.  I was always so sure it was my chest I was hiding.  Big breasts I thought, too vulnerable.  It wasn’t big breasts, it was shoulders.  Bare shoulders that exposed my secret.

Ten percent less mobility in the left arm my teacher had told me.  That was good to know.  Reasons why it was hard to do some asanas.  The accident I would say.  I broke my left arm as a child, no physical therapy in those days.  An event that was hardly a blip in my family history, not anything anyone would recall years later.

Knowing I had to work that arm had made improvements.  I stood straighter and learned to do handstand and other poses.  Yoga had taught me to find a core strength and work from that awareness.  But still the fear, dreading each time I had to attempt wheel pose again. I knew now,  my body had finally released its secret.

I wanted to ride the horse, Beau Crest El Dorado Genius, Elmer for short.  Funny, I was afraid of big horses and Elmer was a big horse, sixteen hands at least.  Somehow that day was different, I wanted to ride him.  My sister had been riding him that morning and I wanted a turn.  The stirrups were too long but my sister wouldn’t help, too much trouble.  I got on anyway.  It was just around the track, it would be ok.

What spooked him?  A car, other horses, I don’t remember.  The reins pulled away only the ends in my hands.  Bouncing on the saddle, barely staying on.  I watch the cars on the freeway on-ramp as I passed them.  Dreamlike, details in slow motion as Elmer moved at a dead run.  Then the sharp turn into the trees, still on.  The fence, ready to jump but he stops and I fall hard onto the packed ground.  Then lying on the cot in the dark, cool room off the office.  Someone is rubbing horse liniment on my shoulder.  My red and white seersucker blouse open.  Embarrassed, there are men in the room and I am a young girl.  Someone calling my mother.  Maybe they’d asked, “Do you want your mother?” “Yes”,  I would have answered.  When my mother comes she is angry.  She hadn’t wanted to drive to the stable this morning.  I sit in the back seat of the Ford station wagon.  Was I crying?  I can’t remember.  Mother asks, “Do you hurt?”  It doesn’t hurt but I say, “Yes, it hurts.”  We go to the doctor where the x-ray shows a break at the top of the humerus.  I feel relief.  There is now a justification for wanting her to come get me.

I wear a cotton ribbed stocking that goes around my body and holds my arm to my side.  Left hand sticking out as the shirt sleeve hangs loose.  Then the hives whenever my skin is exposed to the sun.  Strange they all think but don’t make any connections.

Present time. My friend is with me.  She holds me and we gently rock as I tell the story.  Sobs shake my body as the images pass.  The betrayal of love.  Love I, the child, expected, wanted, but couldn’t ask for.  The holding, cuddling and care I longed for from this new mother, new sister.  I wanted to belong to this family I had gotten since the death of my birth mother.

I am floating.  Floating in Savasana.  The events of the morning are gone.  There is no quality, no texture, just being.  Maybe it’s a beginning.

(1)  The Summer Intensive in Berkeley, CA is a week long yoga practice where backbends were generally done on the Thursday of the week.

Sacrifice

Heritage of Yoga

Sacrifice:  What it means to me and how it relates to my yoga.

Sacrifice begins with the idea that I am giving up something of value to gain something I believe to be of greater value.

I give up that which is small for that which is great.  At any point the elements of this can range from the mundane to the esoteric.  My view can expand from the immediate to beyond the boundaries of birth and death.  Yet the acts that I perform may not be different to the external eye.  So to gain a deeper understanding I must examine my view and my intentions.  I must return to myself rather than the actions or objects of my sacrifice.

When I think of what sacrifice means to me I believe it is my aspiration to find in the living of my life the constant offering of my personal agenda to the experience of wholeness.  My wish to relinquish my sense of self as separate.

Taking the idea of sacrifice to my yoga practice, I think of the rituals that weave through my life.  If I hold yoga as the asana practice that I perform and teach, then I think of the many actions which carry the elements of sacrifice.  I can hold the taking off of my shoes as the beginning of the ritual that makes the transistion from one state of awareness to another.  The stepping out of my everyday life into the world of carefully intended action.  In this action I am choosing to give a certain amount of time in pursuit of an attentiveness that brings a feeling of well-being.  As I move through my practice I choose one asana over an other to gain mastery in a certain direction.  I pay attention to the placing of my body or the movement of my breath to observe a particular so I can better understand where my trouble lies or know the value of a particular movement.

As a teacher I both hold the space of the ritual of sacrifice and am a participant.  Taking our shoes off establishes the container in which we practice.  The asanas we practice and the instructions become the path of our ritual.  In this space we offer our time and energy to gain insight and inspiration.  We see ourselves in each other.  As we travel the path of yoga together we notice how what we want from our yoga changes as our practice gains depth.  But the ritual of sacrifice falls short of our intentions if we do not allow it to expand beyond our mat.

When I hold my yoga practice as my life, the rituals of sacrifice broaden into life lessons and realizations.  Small insights illuminate larger patterns of behavior.  After years of fear, anger, frustration and a sense of defeat around certain poses I let go of accomplishing them.  My small mind had clung to these emotions and blocked any curiosity or sense of wonder.  Speaking the truth about these aspects of myself that I would rather not admit, allowed me to sacrifice my pride to gain honesty.  When I am honest I can see how I limit my experience and place these limitations outside myself.  Telling the truth gives me room to grow.

To me this is the role of sacrifice in yoga.  To sacrifice that which binds me to a limited self.  If I hold my yoga practice as my accomplishments then all my rituals of sacrifice are small and do not bring me to my greater goal.  If I hold my yoga practice as a path of awareness that permeates my life, then even the small rituals of sacrifice carry me to greater understanding.

Working Shins In Thighs Apart

January 2010

Shins In / Thighs Apart is a movement sequence from Anusara yoga.  In this action the legs are stablized while creating space in the pelvis.  With the complimentary second movement of rooting the tail bone a stable pose is created.

Let’s look at the components of these actions.  You will need a hard foam block.

  • Stand in Tadasana with a hard foam block between your upper inner thighs.
  • Bend your knees slightly, lift your toes.
  • Press the mound of your big toe down and let the outer edge of your foot lift.  Feel how the muscles of your outer shin have firmed to make this action.
  • Let the foam block roll slightly towards your back body (this will increase your lumbar curve).  Then engage your inner thighs away from the midline as if you were trying to drop the block.
  • Allow this action to re-balance the weight through your feet as you set your toes down.
  • Use your core abdominal muscles to root the tail bone as you straighten your legs.

Another way to work this action:

Make a loop in a yoga belt and place this around your thighs, just below the mid thigh.  Make it snug enough that you can press against it.  Keep your outer calf firm as you use the belt to press into, then lengthen through your tail bone to complete the action.

A short routine:

Tasasana

Chair pose

Forward Bend

Dog

Plank

Cobra

Locust

Plank

Dog

Walk your hands to your feet – Forward bend

Tadasana

Use Shins In/ Thighs Apart to balance your knee in standing poses like Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II, Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana), and Triangle (Trikonasana).