Tag Archives: Yoga Practice

Holding Space

holding spaceHolding space means that we are present for others or ourselves. We hold space by witnessing “what is,” without distraction, desire, or judgment.

“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions” – T. K. V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga 

Desikachar describes this as an aspect of pratyahara. Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, is the withdrawal of the senses from any distractions and a sharpening of them toward the object or purpose at the same time.

As teachers, we may have a class plan prepared, with a theme, education, asana sequence, breath, and mudra practices, etc. We walk into the class and sense the energy of the group, and our carefully prepared plan goes out the window. What happens next, for me, is a moment of panic followed by a moment of grace in which an internal shift takes place. The distractions—my plan, my ego, and my desire to control—slide to the side and get put on an energetic shelf somewhere. Holding space for the class becomes my focus; I settle into the space and respond to the needs of the students so they can explore their bodies, their breath, and the workings of their minds based on where they are instead of where I wanted to them to be. It’s a “going with and being in the flow” kind of feeling of total calm and focus at the center while right action comes through. Both are happening at the same time.

Excerpts of www.yogauonline.com article, Holding Space in Yoga Class: What the Yoga Sutras Can Teach Us by: Beth Gibbs, MA, E-RYT 500


‘medium’ and ‘breathable’

Partly it’s going to be based on your mood, or your feeling at the time. It’s going to be based on what the posture is demanding. The point is, the breath is breathable. It’s varying. Guruji, he said that the breath is a medium breath. Which meant that it’s not too long and it’s not too short. It’s not like your best pranayama each vinyasa position — if that was the case, it would take too long; it would become forced, unnatural.


breathing in yoga

inhale_exhale

The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.

Many accomplished yogis will tell you that minding the breath is central to the practice of yoga. But take a tour of a dozen yoga classes in the West and you’re likely to discover just as many approaches to pranayama. You may be taught complex techniques with daunting names like Kapalabhati (Skull Shining) and Deergha Swasam (Three-Part Deep Breathing) before you even strike your first pose. You may find breathing practices intermingled with the practice of the postures. Or you may be told that pranayama is so advanced and subtle that you shouldn’t bother with it until you’re well versed in the intricacies of inversions and forward bends.

So what’s a yogi to do? Breathe deep into the belly or high up into the chest? Make a sound so loud the walls shake or keep the breath as quiet as a whisper? Practice breathing techniques on your own or weave them throughout your existing asana practice? Dive into pranayama from the get-go or wait until you can touch your toes? To help answer these questions and sample the range of yogic breathing, we asked experts from six yoga traditions to share their approaches to pranayama.

read more…

Excerpts of Yoga Journal article, Six Views on Breathing in Yoga, by Claudia Cummins


crane or crow?

bakasana_yogi_toes_inc

The two names for the asana come from the Sanskrit words baka (“crane”) or kak (“crow”), and asana (आसन) meaning “posture” or “seat”.

While different yoga lineages use one name or another for the asana, Dharma Mittra makes a distinction, citing Kakasana as being with arms bent (like the shorter legs of a crow) and Bakasana with arms straight (like the longer legs of a crane). In the west, practitioners often mistranslate the Sanskrit “Bakasana” as the English “Crow Pose”.

From Wikipedia


sthira sukham asanam

sthira sukham asanam

Yoga Sutra 2.46 The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless, as well as comfortable, and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)

  • sthira = steady, stable, motionless
  • sukham = comfortable, ease filled
  • asanam = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means “to sit”)

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers us the opportunity to look at all symptoms, all physical pain, as areas of weakness that need attention and one-pointed perseverance to understand and ultimately overcome.  Here, he is reminding us to go into our pain or discomfort and to use it as an access point to better know the self. Patanjali invites us to meet all that arises, not as an obstacle, but as a messenger that alerts us to a new discovery about ourselves and names persistent practice as the means to getting there.

Patanjali describes asana as “steady, comfortable, and relaxed” and states that the yogi should be able to hold the body in posture for a long period of time without feeling instability.  This is the ultimate goal of asana practice but it doesn’t happen overnight and few of us get there without meeting some challenges along the way.  We inevitably will run into those parts of ourselves, physical, mental, or emotional, that are weak, compromised, or asleep.  Finding stability, comfort, and ease in posture takes time, commitment, and perseverance.  It requires us to accept exactly where we are before we slowly, through consistent and persistent practice, open to a deeper potential. If we push through injury or painful sensation we are acting violently towards ourselves, causing further damage to the physical structure and further disturbance to the mind.  This is not Yoga.

When we are willing to listen to the body’s signals physical pain and injury can help teach us how to most intelligently approach our bodies, our practice, and our lives.

If Yoga is, in its essence, the awakening to the inner reality of our being, than everything we encounter along our path is a messenger that brings us back to a deeper understanding of who we are. So stay interested and curious.   Be willing to face all you encounter.  Modify as necessary but never stop practicing.

As Gurujii (Pattabhi Jois) always said:. “ Slowly, slowly…Do your practice…and all is coming.”

Excerpts from Sthira Sukha Asanam by Devorah Sacks

Yoga Sutra quotation from http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-24648.htm


yoga benefits for cancer patients

yoga benefits for cancer patients

Studies have shown that a structured yoga practice during cancer treatment can radically improve physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Additionally, according to a Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, yoga reduces stress and anxiety which in turn reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and eases respiration. What’s more, patients who practiced yoga were also less sensitive to pain than subjects who did not, and therefore better able to tolerate treatment.

Beyond purely the physical, research at Duke University has also shown how yoga, along with meditation, can alleviate depression, anxiety and insomnia to help patients become “emotionally fit.” Medical research is revealing what cancer centers and yogic practitioners have long known, namely that “patients at all stages of health, including cancer survivors, can benefit from yoga. And the benefits are both physical and emotional.”

Here are four ways cancer patients can benefit:

1. Yoga Helps Manage Depression, Fear and Anxiety:
Depression and an acute fear of death can be prevalent in patients suffering through the emotional strain of a cancer diagnosis. Undergoing invasive or rigorous treatments may also heighten anxiety. Research has revealed that “Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”

In other words, guided breathing exercises enrich the respiratory system to regulate nerves that can deeply calm both mind and body. Yoga activates this relaxation response and can thus help relieve feelings of anxiety. With the aid of supported inversions to increase circulation and guided meditation/deep breathing to let go of grief, fear, and foreboding, you can actually re-pattern and calm your stress cycles.

2. The “Mood Boost” Effect:
It’s a fact — exercise produces endorphins and endorphins improve your mood. A regular yoga practice, no matter how gentle the movements, allows the body to release endorphins so you can instantly experience a positive boost in mood.

Several studies also suggest that yoga can increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating the nervous system and managing your mood and outlook. In addition, a regular yoga practice can boost self-esteem because you feel better about your appearance, strength, and overall physical condition.

3. Help to Manage Physical Pain:
Beside the well known and painful physiological side effects of cancer treatment, emotional stress can also produce physical pain. Moderate, appropriately modified physical activity aids in managing the physical pain that can be experienced during treatment, and research has shown that women who practice yoga specifically when in recovery report reduced pain and stress.

4. Yoga Community Can Provide Support:
A support system is crucial to coping with the emotional toll of cancer, not only for those suffering from the disease but for their loved ones as well. There is great value in the support of community for those in any stage of remission, meeting and talking with others who understand what you’re going through. Whether it’s a group setting or an online meet-up, engaging with others in a similar situation can provide a sense of normalcy and security.

So, even if you’re not in treatment yourself but have a loved one who is suffering, yoga can serve as a way to help you both deal with your emotional stress. You can take a class together or even practice at home with online videos. Either way, the calming effects of yoga provide a physically and emotionally beneficial activity you can do with each other, allowing you to connect on happy and positive terms.

Excerpts from Huffigton Post Article 4 Ways Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Yoga by Lorna Borenstein


teaching yoga

backbend birds

“My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.”

Tim Miller


why internal rotation of the legs is misunderstood

Right femoral triangle highlighting femoral neurovascular anatomy © Kryski Biomedia

Right femoral triangle highlighting femoral neurovascular anatomy
© Kryski Biomedia

In yoga, we have a love affair with internally rotating the legs. Down dog: turn the legs in. Standing forward fold (uttanasana): turn the legs in. The list goes on. It goes to the point of where internal rotation of the legs is seen as a panacea–a cure-all for aches, pains, misalignments and imbalances– and external rotation of the legs, as a consequence, is seen at best as mostly undesirable.

The reality, as always, is quite more nuanced than that. Simply mechanically turning the legs in, which in my opinion has little to do with the muscles of your inner thighs (also known as the adductors), produces a bunch of unintended consequences.

Further, simply turning the legs in like that, from the outside if you will, strains and compresses the femoral triangle–home of  the femoral nerve, femoral artery, femoral vein, femoral ring/canal (lymph nodes, drainage). The femoral triangle is basically the armpit of the thigh. Its boundaries are: the inguinal ligament (your hip crease from hip point to pubic bone), adductor longus (one of inner thigh muscles), and the upper portion of the sartorius (from the hip point to where it meets the adductor longus on its way down and in to the inner knee).

Some of you will say that it’s not about turning the legs in (and it definitely isn’t), but about taking the inner thighs back. I don’t disagree. But I would venture to say that when most people hear the instruction to take the inner thighs back, they will turn their legs in from the outside like I described above. In other words, they will simply internally rotate their legs.

It’s quite a bit more subtle than that. The inner thighs activate from the ground up, more specifically from the lift of the inner arches of the feet via the tibialis posterior muscle.

So, for example in down dog or uttanasana, with the feet on straight and about hip width apart, draw from the balls of the feet back towards the high point of the arch right in front of the heel and lift that energy up into the inner thighs and the core of the pelvis. Then, ground down through the outer heels without losing the lift of the arches and resist the inner thighs away from each other without changing the position of your feet/heels. The pit of your belly will probably hollow out and lift by itself, your low back will feel broad and supported, and your hips won’t grip.

Excerpts from Why Internal Rotation of the Legs is Misunderstood by Anna Karkovska McGlew


erich schiffmann – moving into stillness

moving into stillness

The Peace Within

You imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed. Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in – when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you are doing.

From “Stillness”, the first chapter of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann


yoga lesson 1: just show up

balasana just show up

When renowned Ashtanga practitioner/instructor, David Swenson was in Seoul for an Ashtanga workshop, he said something like this:

“The hardest part of yoga is to just show up.  Once you are there, the rest happens.”

He went on to say that if you just get up, put on your yoga clothes and stand on the mat, you’ve accomplished something. What naturally tends to happen is that once on that mat, you figure you may as well do the sun salutations which lead to the standing series and then a few sitting poses—and it just keeps going. Sharing this piece of advice through his gentle, humble and kind demeanor, David’s message stuck for me.

Yeah, there are days when I feel heavy or lethargic or just “don’t wanna.” By just showing up, I find that I move beyond my projections and end up feeling great after the practice. Guess that’s what Swenson meant when he said, “I’ve never regretted practicing.”

Just show up. Seems simple. In what other areas of life can this be applied?

  • Communication with your spouse is currently challenging. Just show up; keep trying to find ways to understand one another.

 

  • You’ve just finished eating a donut at a meeting while you’ve pledged to a new diet. Just show up; from this moment on become more mindful of your snack choices.

 

  • That project, book or blog post didn’t get the feedback you anticipated. Just show up; keep working at it. If there’s passion behind what you do, it will get noticed.

I don’t expect those days when I just “don’t wanna” will vanish. It’s very human to have lapses in motivation. But having the intention of moving forward—of rolling out the yoga mat, so to speak—is the first step that may lead to more.

Excerpt from Elephant Journal Article My First Yoga Lesson: Just Show Up by Christine Martin