What is meditation to you?

A dear friend is just beginning her Yoga journey and she asked a question about meditation. She wondered if listening to music could be meditation. It’s a great question. Don’t we all wondered at the beginning of our journey how the hell we are ever going to be able to ‘sit here’ in meditation. The mind wanders away, off to ‘God knows where’ and you can actually feel your eyes looking around (even with closed eye lids) and you desperately want to tap your fingers or wiggle your toes, it’s all you can think about! OK maybe that was me, but you get my point. Meditation is hard! But I also believe that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Meditation comes in many forms.

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We always picture it as a guru sitting in lotus, fingers in a mudra, being completely still and totally quiet – Well that’s one way.

Dance (asana practice) is meditative, singing (mantra), breathing (pranayama), walking a labyrinth. All can have meditation like results – You have to ask yourself “what is meditation”. Meditation is the practice of ‘stilling’ the mind, allowing the mind a deep, quiet space where nothing distracts us. Meditation is about relaxing, but relaxing so that you can hear what is being said; To you, from within you. Pretty powerful stuff.

Swami Rama says….” In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you. Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.”……. I believe that we can be ‘doing’ and still be in a meditative practice. If we are singing, dancing, ect ect and that is our single focus, the only focus of our mind, is it not then an inward focus? Are we not fully engaged and alert to that one thing we are doing, not focused on the outside world? Well then that is a kind of meditation. And in our world we find it very difficult to completely quiet the mind, at least when we are beginning a meditation practice. So these other ways to practice meditation are a good beginning, the beginning of learning to cultivate stillness.

What is meditation to you?

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Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

5 Poses to Do Every Day

Sthira Sukham Asanam     Patanjali  Yoga Sutra 2.46  

5 Poses to do Every Day!

Oh come on, it wont take you that long.
I know it’s hard to schedule 90 minutes in your day for a yoga class, trust me I know! But we all have 10 minutes for a few yogic things to do at home and remember your home practice doesn’t have to be a complicated 90 min Hot class.

Just roll out your mat & spend a few minute’s in each pose listed, focus on your breathing, on being comfortable in the pose & remember try to feel a sense of freedom in the pose. Don’t get caught up in how it looks, but instead bring your awareness to how it feels. The important thing is to move and articulate the spine in all directions allowing for energy movement and to help with back pain & stiffness. Remember our teaching of Sthira (stability) & Sukha (ease, freedom). Take time in each pose to notice where is the balance between being grounded and stable (Sthira) and being free, physically and mentally?

1st pose is Mountain (Tadasana) –Mountain pose is about taking the time to ‘come to your mat’, in the physical sense as well as a mental & emotional sense. Stand in Mountain pose and turn your attention in. Start to make a connection with your breath and just focus on the quality of your breathing. Tadasana is about rooting and grounding your practice with your intention for coming to the mat. This is the time to reflect on your body (how do you feel, how much energy do you have & what does your body need). Draw energy up from the ground into your feet (Sthira), feel that relaxed energy filling your core body (Sukha). Take 5 breaths.

2nd Pose Forward Fold – Forward Fold from an anatomical perspective is about folding from the hips, stretching your hamstrings and lengthening your low back. It’s always a good thing to relax your back body, but your mind and emotions benefit too. A forward Fold relaxes the mind, soothes the central nervous system and calms the senses. While in your Forward Fold look for the Sukha & the Sthira. Where do you find stability and freedom?

3rd is modified crescent lunge – Why modified instead of full crescent lunge? Because most of us will be doing this sequence either first thing in the morning or right after we get home from work, so we are dealing with cold, tight hip flexors. Although if you want to do the full version all the same principles apply. Raise your arms only after you have drawn up the front body, being careful not to thrust the ribs forward, but rolling the body up one vertebra at a time. Play with shifting the Sthira between the Left foot in front and the Right knee behind, find a balance between those 2 points of contact with the mat. The Sukha in the pose might be in maintaining a calm easiness in the arms overhead, so relax those shoulders. Repeat on the other side.

4th is Twists seated or supine – If you aren’t comfortable (sukha) in seated twists please lay on your back for supine twists. Sitting in Sukhasana (simple crossed legged position) Inhale drawing the arms over head lengthening the body then rotate to the right and bring the arms down. Stay for 5 breaths and come to the center and repeat on the other side. It really is that simple. If laying on your back, draw your knees over your body on the inhale then exhale as you lower them to the right, keeping the left shoulder on the mat. Then repeat on the other side.

5 is Sphinx or Cobra  – Spinal extension (back bend) is an important thing to do every day. Most of us are desk jockeys or at least we sit a lot, so it is necessary to length out the front body. Maybe start with baby cobra and move with your breath. Inhale as you lift up (Sukha) and exhale as you lower down. Keep the hips, legs and feet connected to the mat (Sthira).

6 is savasana –  Yep, Savasana. Taking the time for stillness, even just a few minutes, each day is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Corpse pose requires a stillness of mind as well as your body. It gives your body a chance to return to normal, helping you to reap the benefits of your practice. Corpse pose is the bridge between your practice time and the rest of your life. Take the time to cross that bridge and take the calm, restorative, energetic properties of your practice into the rest of your life.

 

Om Shanti

~C

A journey through the Bandhas…..First stop Uddiyana

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We talk a lot about Bandhas in yoga so let’s explore them in more detail.
There are 5 major bandhas in the body and this is my definition of The Bandhas “the bandhas are subtle and refined uses of muscular awareness to promote strength in the physical body (think Uddiyana Bandha in planks) but to also redirect and to efficiently use energy throughout the body.” The Bandhas help us to move with grace and to better incorporate the principle of Sukha   (effortless work) in our movements.

The main point to understand is that while we talk about the bandhas as individual events or areas of awareness (i.e. belly or pelvic floor ect) nothing in the body happens in isolation (well very little). So when we talk about say, Uddiyana bandha and we talk about activating the belly and deep core line it isn’t just the drawing in of the belly that we are talking about. And truth be told most teachers will tell you to Pull the belly in and up (guilty as charged) but that really isn’t correct because if that’s all we do then we can’t breathe right?…Go ahead, suck the belly in to the spine (think trying to pull on your skinny jeans) and then try to lift it up… what happens to the breath? Nothing right?! ‘Cause you can’t breathe! And you know if you aren’t breathing it isn’t Yoga. Lets try this instead…take a smooth deep breath in….. Notice the soft expansion of the rib cage, not just the lift in the front near the sternum but the movement around the sides and maybe even into the back pf the ribs, try to keep the rips expanded and then exhale by pressing the belly into the body BUT leave the spine neutral, you may even feel a bit more expansion of the rib cage and the feeling as if you are bringing the hip points towards to mid line of the body and guess what you can still breathe! Another important point is that the body isn’t just what you see in the mirror i.e. the front of your body….It helps to think of your ‘core’, your torso as a tube.  A circular body of wondrous activity, of energetic flow, of Pranic movement. And just as muscular engagement helps move lymphatic fluid through the body so can muscular contraction (and flexion) aid in the movement of prana.

Of course that’s just Uddiana Bandha, there are 4 other major bandhas ….

Uddiyana Banda (Belly seal)

Mula Bandha (Pelvic Floor seal)

Hasta Banda (Hand seal)

Pada Bandha (Foot seal)

Jalandhara Banda (Throat seal)

We will talk about the others soon but for now go explore the bandhas and relax and be  at ease throughout your poses, no struggling, no gritting of the teeth and no holding of the breath. It’s all about the Sukha Baby, effortless work. If you’re struggling you are trying too hard. Namaste my Lovelies

Om Shanti

~c

Because breathing matters

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A recent conversation with a yoga student went something like this…..

My Client: “…But the problem is when I slow my breath down the movement gets slower too”

Me: “Hows that a problem?”

Client: “Well, it’s not really yoga if I go too slow. I am supposed to move fast to get anywhere, right?”

Me: “Where are you trying to go? What are you trying to achieve? Yoga can be so slow you don’t move at all, and that might be a more restorative practise, Yoga can be fast paced, jumping, hoping, one breath/one movement. And it looks like it’s moving fast right? But it only looks like that on the outside.

Yoga no matter how fast it looks on the outside  should still feel slow and subtle on the inside. Sometimes when you move fast or without control, no matter what you’re doing, you can create tension in the body, clenched jaws, tight tummies, your fingers clutching at the mat and that translates into tense breathing. So even if your yoga is fast paced, keep the breath smooth and easy, (it’s all about the Sukha baby). Try and find that balance within yourself of Effort and Ease and then on the inside you become very still, even while moving.
That’s balance….. That’s Yoga!

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Yoga virgins…this one’s for you!

213287732322384514_B5Qdfm7p_bTo all the yoga newbies out there, there are a couple of things I really want to tell you…..

keep coming to class,

keep trying new things,

keep practicing (remember we call it yoga practice not yoga perfect)

and the next time you are in class look around (and yes, even up front at the teacher) everybody started right where you are right now…Everybody!! Talk to the folks that are doing ‘stuff’ in class you think you could never do, I bet you’ll find out they haven’t been doing this yoga thing very long. Learning Yoga, is about learning to express yourself, learning yoga is learning understanding, about who you are and where you’re going. This is Yoga. A never-ending journey to be who we are right now. It is not now, nor has it ever been about trying to put your foot behind your ear, Let me say that again! Yoga is not about tying yourself in a knot, that’s gymnastics not Yoga, but hey if you can that’s Great! ’cause I sure as hell can’t. Baby I don’t bend that way!

So when you take a Yoga class, remember, that practice is an opportunity to wake up our body, shake loose the stiffness and dump that junk we carry. And it’s never too late to wake your body and when the body is awake the Spirit very quickly follows and when the Spirit is awake there isn’t anything you can’t do.

 carry-om

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Exploring Parivrtta Sukhasana

Parivrtta – to turn around or revolve 
Sukha – with ease, pleasure, bliss
the ever-present Asana – pose, posture

As we move into any version of seated twists, try not the use the arms to create the rotation, instead lift through the torso using the breath, rotate using the obliques and then release the arms (wherever they land) to hold you securely in the pose.
Sukha baby Sukha… move with ‘ease’ not force….

There are two schools of thought regarding seated twists, 1) keep the sit bones firmly anchored and the pelvis still or 2) move with some rotation in the pelvis allowing for movement in the twist.

Now most teachers seem to pick one or the other. But really you can do it both ways, it just depends on what you want (need?) from the pose.

When you are firmy anchored, you need to achieve even more lift through the bandhas to avoid torquing the lumbar spine and creating real problems in the sacrum. Anchoring allows for isolation in the obliques and other specific muscles in the torso and while that limits your range of motion,  it builds a great deal of strength, And that’s good, right?

When doing the 2nd version, you’re allowing some mobility in the pelvis and sacrum and your body is moving in a more ‘real world’ i.e. funtional way. Think about sitting on the floor playing with catch with the dog or a child and the ball rolls a little past you out of reach, so you rotate the torso, reaching the arm back, the navel center rotates in the same direction as well and you lift the left hip taking it with you as you move, this type of movement uses more muscles, less isolation and gives you better range of motion. Well that’s good too.

Just remember either way you do the pose, you need to keep the arms out the equation. Don’t use them to tug or pull you into a pose, that’s using unnecessary force. I think it is Judith Lasater who says ‘dont use the arms as weapons’. Remember it’s all about the Sukha.

Twisting poses,  from the simplest sage twist to most elaborate binding twists, are nourishing for the body. Twists massage and stimulate the organs, improve circulation and digestion. Twists help to restore a more natural range of motion to the spine.  They also……

  • Stimulates the liver and kidneys
  • Stretches the shoulders, hips, and neck
  • Energizes the spine
  • Stimulates the agni (digestive fire) in the belly
  • Relieves fatigue, sciatica, and backache
  • Helps with anxiety, stress and tension

A version of  ‘Sage Twist’  Bharadvajasana showing the fluidity in the pose

A point to remember, if you have arthritis in the spine or scoliosis please seek the advice of a qualified teacher before doing anything other than the simplest of seated twists.

Have fun exploring this in your next practice.

My dear friend Lori and I doing a partner version of  Parivrtta Sukhasana

  

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Vriksasana……….Balancing Tree

Trees are pretty amazing. They are able to dig deep and still manage to stretch up to the sky. They develop deep roots systems while always growing and expanding into new territory. But they are only able to maintain those deep roots and continue to expand if they have balance. Even a strong Oak tree might fall if its balance falters.

Tree pose… Vriksasana, is a standard, relatively easy pose (key word being relative). It’s usually the first balance pose we learn in yoga because Tree pose teaches us the basics of what we need for most balance poses. And of all the balance poses I believe it teaches us the most about life.

So Lets discover our roots.

Begin in Mountain pose, put your right foot on the inside of your left thigh, toes pointing down, then bring hands to heart center or over head……that’s it. Go ahead give it a go……….. Well how’d you do? Did you waiver or wobble? Be honest, did you fall out of the pose? Often times in a class setting we aren’t able to really ‘teach’ a pose and balance pose especially have nuances that help you find balance. Its like telling someone “oh just stop _____ (fill in the blank), you can do it” or “hey just go do ______, you can do it”; without the tools, techniques or tips some people will struggle with balance poses.

So here are some tips & techniques to help you find your balance.

Find your ‘Drishti’.  A Drishti is a single point of focus. The concept of Drishti is a whole post in it’s self, but in asana practise it usually refers to a gaze point. In Tree it might be the end of your nose or a spot on the wall or on the floor, or even your breath, try to let your drishti be a soft internal gaze, not a hard stare that creates tension in the body. It also helps to find the drishti before you move into the balance pose.

Engage & Energize your Bandhas….Pada Bandha, Mula Bandha & Uddiyana Bandhas are very active in tree pose. Begin by lifting through Pada & Mula Bandha and drawing in & up Uddiyana Bandha create core activation which helps to length the body ‘up’, as if with each breath you grow taller.

Be aware of your Breath. Your breath should be steady, soft and smooth. Ujjayi breath helps you to maintain stability and focus. If you begin to struggle with the pose it will effect your breath.

Tree pose teaches us many things, it teaches us physical balance, encourages body awareness and is a great strengthener for the feet and legs.  From practicing Vriksana we learn to stand on our own, to always reach for the heights and sink our foundations deep, while at the same time being flexible enough to move and dance in the moment. We become strong like an Oak tree but flexible like the willow, moving through life able to adjust to changes with a calm mind and peaceful spirit.

But above all from balance poses we learn patience, we learn to let go frustrations and surrender to the moment, we come to understand that a balanced life comes from being stable, strong and resilient, no matter what the wind blows our way.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Advice from a  Tree

By  Ilan Shamir

Stand tall and proud
Sink your roots deeply into the earth
Reflect the light of your true nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The energy and birth of spring
The growth and contentment of summer
The wisdom to let go the leaves in the fall
The rest and quiet renewal of winter

Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

Just a thought

The power of Yoga isn’t in your ‘core’ or in your legs. It isn’t in pushing into the perfect pose. Yoga isn’t about rushing to the finish. Yoga is what is in your heart & in your head. Yoga is an understanding that only through practice do we become steady. Knowing that, you know that there isn’t a ‘finish’ line, that each day is fresh and each time we come to our mats, it’s a new practice. And that’s when Joy begins to flow.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

there’s more than one way to skin a pigeon….

https://blissbodysoul.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/viva-la-pigeon/

I appreciate everyone reading my blog about pigeon pose, but a dear friend sent me a message on FB and asked about the position of the foot and some other folks texted & emailed similar questions. So I took some pictures  last night showing the different foot positions in pigeon.

The main question was “is the foot supposed to be flexed if it’s tucked under?”…. and well, no it’s not. If it’s tucked under then you can’t flex it, and if it’s tucked under then you dont need to. 

Getting your position right  (right for you that is) in pigeon has several factors that affect it, how tight or open are your hips? What level of toque are your knees able to take? And hows your core strength?

As you come into Pigeon (we are on the Left side) you want to bring the Left knee forward BUT angled out towards the Left hand. Not dead center of your hands. By taking the knee on an angle your Left foot usually ends up somewhere under the RIGHT thigh. Now assess the pose from here before you go any further…. hows your hip? Is it pretty close to the mat? High up in the air or somewhere in between? Also begin to have a conversation with your knee. Because you can, very slowly and in stages, take the left shin forward, as if someday that shin will be parallel to the front edge of the mat. As the knee creeps forward over time (weeks, months, years perhaps) that’s when you begin to flex the foot. As the knee makes it way forward there is more torque and flexing the foot protects that knee.

So here are the pic’s, neither is wrong, it just shows the example of when you need to flex the foot.

 

 

 notice the knee slightly angled and the foot under the thigh

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

on this one the knee is further out and forward, notice the foot

 

 

**and yea we need new carpet or maybe I should just vacuum…nahhh

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Viva La Pigeon

No! Not those pigeons…….

Pigeon Pose!

That glorious, wonderful, can-be-oh-so-painful pose!

But really, who doesn’t love pigeon pose… or at least have a love-hate relationship with it. I love Pigeons, seated, supine, King pigeon, melting pigeon and the ever wonderful….twisted pigeon.  Pigeon pose is a great hip opener (esp for IT band & Piriformis issues) back bend and chest opener, depending on how you interpret & implement the pose. The pose most seen in class is Rajakapotasana (Raja meaning ‘King’, Kapota meaning ‘Pigeon’, asana means ‘pose’ or ‘seat’). To get into the pose;
1. From the Table or Down Dog (DD is best if your body is cool with that), bring the right knee forward toward the right wrist and bring the right foot a little over to the left. Slide the left leg back, lowering the hips towards the floor.
2. Rest hands or fingertips lightly on the floor,  inhale and reach the crown of the head up, creating length in the spine. Exhale and sink the hips a little lower. Press the heart center forward and release any tension in the shoulders.
3. Go only as deep into the posture as you can while still maintaining full deep breathing. Hold for 3-6 breaths.
4. To come out of the pose; gently support your weight with the hands as you slide the right knee back into Table or step the right foot back into Down Dog. Best pose/counter pose EVER. Pigeon to Down Dog…Yummy.
5. Be sure you do the other side… i.e. Left knee towards left hand ect..
A few tips for Pigeon;
     *use those prop guys, pigeon is an essential pose, use the props to keep it accessible for you! Place a folded blanket under your hip if there is a lot of space between you  and the floor, it will help support you
     *let your breath be your guide, if it’s shallow or shaky you might be too deep in the pose or struggling to hard, just back out a bit
     *keep the foot of the forward leg, flexed. That activates the muscle in the shin (tibalis anterior) that helps tp protect your knee
     *pigeon can be tough if you have knee issues, there are alternatives, such as supine or seated pigeon.

 a lovely example of supine pigeon, perfect if the full version is too much for your hips or back

 seated pigeon, great if up have very tight hips, knee issues or just have trouble getting up and down from the floor.