Yoga in Focus

Each month I pick out a theme for my yoga practice. I focus on that aspect at least once a week often two days a week and leave the rest open. The reason why I started this is that it helped take me out of my comfort zone. Because sometimes you have to pick sequences that are not your favorites.
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Creating a well rounded home practice includes asanas that are not in your top ten. By pushing yourself out of your favorites you start to grow and improve your yoga practice. Some of these are things I am not good at or can even do fully. I try to cultivate a practice of joy in the moments of struggle or just sheer absurdity of it. Laughter makes any of the versions of paralyzed mermaid pose frankly more fun. Or when your arms are ready to fall off in an intense kundalini yoga kriya, laugh it makes it better. It may not change what you can do but it feels better.

January tends to be yoga that focuses on cleansing and de-toxing after the indulgence of the holiday season it feels good to support your liver and kidneys with yoga. February is a more subtle month there isn’t a big need after that January cleanse month.

What came to mind this year is heart openers and solar plexus. Why these two choices? I am starting with the second. It is still on the dark side where I live, not a lot of light yet. More light than there was a month ago but the days are still short. Focusing in on the navel is a great way to tap into the power of the Sun and your own personal power. It brings out the light in you.

Heart openers because this is the month of Valentines Day when many end up feeling like crap. Its a weird holiday that places so much emphasis on being in a romantic relationship. It also makes people feel lonely and loser like for not being able to participate. But what it comes down to is you need to love and like yourself and remain open to love, the world, and opportunities. Heart openers are going to help you do this. They also work through emotional issues since they open up the heart chakra.

Pairing up the heart with your will means you align yourself in love. The choices you make will come from the gut and the heart. That makes it a wonderful, powerful, and awesome place to live.

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Weekly Groove: Reverse Triangle

Yoga has poses that we love, hate or love to hate, reverse triangle. Holy moly this one pose I’ve worked on for years and years, than I worked some more on it. Its only been in the last couple of years that I have started to find ease and space in it. There is still much concentrating on the breath to stay focused it is a complicated asana that twists us in a way we don’t use much.

Reverse triangle may be difficult but my IT Band loves it. This pose and the foam roller keep my IT band happy. It remains one of my foundation poses for any standing sequence I do and that is why it is this weeks groove.
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The 8 Limbs of Yoga

There is more to yoga than just the physical practice or asana.  The yoga boom has instilled us with the perspective that yoga will get us the body we want but often lacks the other aspects of yoga.  Let’s take a look at the 8 Limbs of Yoga and how we can start to incorporate them into our lives.
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Yama represents the universal morality.  There are five yamas. They are
ahisma  or compassion, often referred to as non-harming, satya or truthfulness, asteya do not steal, brahmachyra  or control of the senses, aparigraha or non covetousness.

Incorporate it – Pick out a new yama each week and focus on it.

Niyama  is personal observances.  There are five of them and they are: sauca or cleanliness, santosa  is contentment, tapas the direction of our energy, mindfulness is a good example of a tapas, svadhyaya or contemplation, and isvarapranidhana or devotion to the divine.

Incorporate it – Focus on a niyama for a week.

 Asana is the physical practice of yoga and the one we have the most exposure to.  It will detox you, create strength and flexibility, calm, release, and increase circulation to name a few things.

Incorporate it – practice 3 to 5 times a week.  Even a short practice will make a difference.

Pranayama is the expansion of the life force via the breath.  Negative emotions often rear up when starting to learn pranayama.  This practice will help you control your mind and emotions.

Incorporate it – When feeling stressed focus on long deep breathing.  Want something more formal?  Sit for five minutes and focus on the breathe.

 Pratyahara is the control of the senses.  We become used to the barrage of information that we constantly receive from hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching.  This aspect helps us not to be distracted by them.

Incorporate it –  Sit quietly and let thoughts and sensations occur.  Acknowledge them and let them go. This technique is simple yet powerful.

Dharana is focus or concentration.  Another way to think of it is will power and the more you develop it the stronger it will get.

Incorporate it – Sound is an easy way to start pick out a mantra or affirmation.  On of my favorites is Sat Nam, truth is your identity.

Dyhana is meditation or total absorption.  Meditation is where tuning into the divine really starts. We become more who we are and integrated into the universe.

Incorporate it –  After asana practice sitting in stillness and letting the mind quiet, let it nurture and renew you.

Samadhi is transcendence or union with the divine.  This is the ultimate attainment of yoga, the divine union.  It also makes me think of the saying, “before enlightenment chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment chop wood and carry water.”

Incorporate it – Use savasana, relaxation pose to learn how to surrender and let go.  Be at peace and at one with everything and everyone.

Backbends

Let’s talk about one of my favorite things to practice back bends. I love them. I read somewhere that no one craves backbends but I beg to differ with that opinion. I crave them they feel good. How they open and stretch the front of the body, yum. It feels so good and invigorating.

As much as I love back bends I also urge caution when starting to practice them. You do not want your lower back to feel as if it is being crunched or hurting. If that happens back out of it. It is about lengthening not how much you can bend your back or how deeply you can get into the bend. You want to create space in your back not compression. Modify if you need to backbends are challenging physically and emotionally.
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Backbends can be intimidating we tend to think of Wheel or Bow pose which look spectacular and think, there is no way I can do that. Lucky for us there are phases and plenty of other backbends that are not as bendy. These often get called baby backbends as they are accessible to almost everyone. See the picture above which is a great example of a baby back bend.

Backbends open the heart and let us work through our fears in a safe place, open up to open up. Backbends will move you on an emotional level fear, anger or sorrow can surface. More than one person has cried during or after a backbend practice. The release of what we hold onto can be very powerful. Most of the time you are just going to be facing the pose not your issues.

Learning to calm your mind and not freak out while in a backbend will translate into being able to control your emotions and not live in fear. Backbends let love be the motivator in your life and help you to live fearlessly.

Yoga Mats

Why You Should Practice Yoga.

A lot of people start yoga to stretch or as a recovery workout  and yoga works very well for that.  But it can help in a few areas we struggle with, such as sitting too long, over eating, and changing  your mood.  A few things yoga can help……..

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1.  Help alleviate back pain. There are many causes of back pain and one of them is sitting in a chair working at a computer.  Sitting for long periods of time shortens the hip flexors and pulls the front of the body forward. Yoga will help you open the front of the body, build abdominal strength, and can free up your hips which will all help alleviate back pain.  If you have a back injury be careful, consult a doctor, and seek out a good teacher.

2. The breathe is so important.  Shallow breathing stimulates the flight/fight instinct and makes one feel panicky, long deep breathing changes that.  Taking a full, deep breath calms and soothes, along with giving you a good hit of oxygen. Notice how you breath when you are upset or angry and then start to breathe deeply.  It becomes harder to hold onto those emotions once the breathe pattern changes.

3. Mood! Yoga is a natural mood elevator.  It will change bad moods into good if you give it a chance.  In a good mood use yoga to enhance it and maintain it.  Work it out on your mat so you don’t have to work it out on  yourself or someone else.

4. Mindfulness.  Yoga can help you be more aware of behavior patterns you want to change.  Being mindful attunes you to you and your desires and passions that you might even be aware of.  Mindfulness helps to reinforce positive patterns you want to keep and grow.

5. Meditation is a subtle creature that works on all levels.  Being still and quiet is an activity that isn’t seen too much in modern life.  Make time for stillness and open up your life.  Don’t be put off by mind or body chatter that is part of the process.  Meditation can take many forms so experiment with it.  It can be done at your desk, while walking, driving, so many places and activities that can be turned into a form of meditation.

Opening Up With Yoga

Yoga can change your life. Sometimes you don’t even see it happening other times you do. That change is not on the schedule you might want it to be. But it is there, on the outside or lurking below the surface. The change can be the goal of taking a bad mood into a good mood. I used yoga to help me with overeating when I was working on not binging. But one of the most powerful transformations I have seen that stays with me and reminds me how power practicing yoga can be was when I was in college. This blog is about a young college student who went from being closed off to the world to being open and bright.

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I don’t remember her name but I can picture her in my mind. She was in one of Susan Ann’s yoga classes. Susan Ann taught general yoga at the University of Utah and was my first yoga teacher and inspiration, but this is not her story so enough on her. One girl in my college yoga class was very collapsed in on herself. Her shoulders slumped forward which put her head out of alignment, but most of all she was very closed off. She didn’t smile much and did not invite you to come talk to her. She looked like an interesting person but unapproachable. I remember thinking how uncomfortable it must be to have ones’ shoulders slumped forward and neck jutting out, like a vulture.

Over the course of the semester she started straightening out and not slumping forward She went from someone who did not engage, to talking with other students in the class. As the semester progressed she was brighter, more open and gained two inches in height by standing up correctly. How we hold ourselves directly applies to our life: how we see ourselves and how others see us. Someone who is folded up on themselves is perceived as closed off. It sounds corny when talking about yoga opening one up but it is true.

Yoga helped this young student move forward. She turned out to be a very interesting person who started chatting with a few of us who would talk briefly before and after class. She was excited about how she had changed and grown two inches. She will always have a place in my heart. Namaste.

Yoga Extras: Blocks and Straps

Favorite Yoga Websites

As much as I love books, I use online resources a lot for my yoga practice.  One of the main bonus of online resources is they are often easy to search and access.  That search aspect is very nice when dealing with periodicals.  At one point I had ten years or so of Yoga Journal’s around the house but you have to remember which issue and find the name of the article, so much easier to search for it on google or the website.

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Yoga Journal is probably the most known yoga resource out there.  They have been around for awhile now and have wealth of knowledge on their website.  If I don’t know I start here.  One of my favorite sections is the Home Practice  area.

Yoga Dork is a site that covers the serious and the lighthearted. It keeps a finger on the pulse of yoga and what is topical.  As a result you will see thought provoking posts along with ones that will make you laugh.

Elsie’s Yoga Kula.  If you read my favorite blog sites you saw this one coming.  I fracking love Elsie, love her.  Elsie has put out some of my favorite podcasts and they are free.

More than once I’ve found myself reading Yoga and Health Archive A-Z on Ravi and Ana’s website.  There is a ton of info tucked into that section and it has helped me expand my kundalini yoga practice.  How to modify a pose, an idea on how to help tight neck muscles, and so much more.

3HO is a kundalini site.  Need a mediation this is my go to.  It is a good source for the teachings of Yogi Bhajan who brought kundalini yoga to the west. It also has info on mudras, chakra, and pranayam.

Yoga: Why I keep practicing.

It seems like I’ve been doing yoga forever.  It is one of the first activities that I tried and stuck with.  I love that one can find it everywhere these days and it is no longer relegated to the metaphysical bookstore on a shelf between Alistair Crowley and Isis Unveiled.  I can’t remember why I wanted to start practicing, it just got in my head and I tracked down what I needed to get started.  Once I started I knew I liked it from the very beginning.  It made me feel better all around, mind, body, and spirit.  Yoga felt like coming home.

 photo DSCF2018-3.jpgWhat has yoga done for me and why do I keep doing it? I get stuck in my head a lot, I’m a thinker and my yoga practice has balanced that out for me.  It get’s me out of my head and into my body, it also helps integrate them.  Working out in general is a good stress release but yoga changes my mood faster and gives me the skills to cope when things go sideways. Being able to realize your breath patterns while angry and change how you are breathing is powerful and can change a negative situation into a good one.

Yoga has helped me rebuild self esteem and have the awareness to know when and what damage I am doing to myself and stop it.  Yoga has helped me love myself and stop negative thoughts from getting to me.  Don’t get me wrong I still have fat days and bad days, but it helps to put those days in perspective.

One aspect I didn’t really think yoga would bleed over into is running.  Yoga has helped my running in ways that running more would not have.  First off is recovery and maintaining range of motion which is what I expected.  What I did not expect was full diaphragmatic breathing and breath of fire to help make breathing easier while running.  Running can be uncomfortable at times and yoga has helped me know when to push on and when something has gone beyond uncomfortable.  When you are learning to run it all feels bad for the most part and yoga helped me separate I am going to hurt myself pain from, oh my god this sucks.

The main reason I keep practicing yoga is that I love it and all the other benefits are the icing on my yoga cake. What do you love about yoga?