The Magic of Slowing Down

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So this Article talks about something called ‘conscious movement’ …. Like it’s a new thing…..

Yea, well its not a new thing, but it is a great article highlighting the magic of slowing down.

Anyone doing yoga, pilates, TaiChi, and many other types of movement that require an attention to detail, has known about this for a long time. Back in the day, it was referred to as ‘Functional movement’ and ‘Everyday Exercise’ and of course a slower more precise movement based exercise like ones I have already mentioned were thought of as something you do once in a while to stretch or as exercise for older adults who had physical limitations preventing them from doing ‘real exercise’.

Let me be clear that when I say precise or talk about details, I am not referring to any thing akin to perfection or to the idea of a perfect alignment. I am talking about the precision or attention to detail that comes from simply slowing down enough to feel the pose or the movement.

I haven’t given what I teach a fancy name or label, I just call it yoga or movement. But even when I was still teaching STEP and other forms of aerobic exercise I taught a slower version, a more mindful way to move. And although the Mindfulness movement is fairly new (in the main stream anyway) that’s what we are talking about, Moving Mindfully.

One of my wonderful teachers calls it Subtle Yoga and I like that. It speaks of a softer, gentler way to move. A subtler approach to movement. But in our fast-paced culture where everything must be faster, harder, bigger and more complicated for you to get any real results this style of movement is overlooked or worse its degraded as something not worth doing. I remember when STEP first became a ‘thing’, it was everywhere in the late 80’s and early 90’s and it was taught (and I was trained this way) as a slower way to do aerobics that had you stepping up and off of a platform to around 125 BPM, but by the mid to late 90’s the normal BPM had jumped up to 135+… setting people up for all kinds of injuries. I had a few loud conversations with gym managers and other instructors about my classes. I kept the BPM’s well under 130 and I still do today, when I get a chance to teach. I have also taught Pilates and in classical Pilates, and in a style of Pilates known as The Method, precise movements require you to move slowly, Mindfully, but again the fast-paced folks weren’t sweating enough, so it morphed into something else looking more like boot camp classes. And guess what, people got hurt.

“Extreme soreness has become a celebrated experience in our culture, but pain is often an indication that you’ve gone too far, too fast.”
― Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement

And the same thing has happened in yoga. Yoga 50 years ago wasn’t taught in hot rooms with jumps and hops and crazy positions. Oh there were some crazy poses, well my hips think their crazy, but they were held for longer and they were taught over years, to students who practiced daily, that’s every day guys, yep people can do yoga every day… Just sayin’….. What has happened over the last 20 years or so is that our culture has once again taken the deliberateness and precision out of yoga and now everything is vinyasa. Fast paced movements designed to keep the heart rate up and burn calories. 

So what’s my point? Well there are good reasons why we need to move with more attention to detail. Moving more slowly actually allows you to recruit more muscle fibers. Moving deliberately takes a lot of momentum out the movement giving you a chance to feel how you move, to live for a moment in the foundation of the movement. In a slower paced practice, you can take time to notice the breath, to move with the breath. In a subtler practice you allow the body to move in a more natural way, increasing strength and pliability more slowly, therefore more effectively.

And the practice of moving more deliberately increases the flow of Prana through the body. Due to stress, lack of movement, poor diet and even aging, the body can become stiff. It becomes heavy and dense. And when that happens the movement of Prana, vital life force, is inhibited.

One of the reasons we do a yoga asana practice is to free up the physical body. To release tension and allow more freedom of movement, and when the body is free from tension then Prana flows more freely.

Moving slowly and holding poses for longer periods of time encourage a deeper level of relaxation. Holding a pose or a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds may feel like a stretch or that you are relaxing muscles but in reality, while the muscles may relax a little often times the connective tissue can actually begin to resist the stretch. If the posture is held for 2 minutes or longer, the belly of the muscle will begin to release and lengthen, and the connective tissue can then release old stuck energies and the result is more permanent elasticity and flexibility.

And along with that increased flexibility the Prana can begin to move and to release the mental, physical and energetic blocks in the body.

And I have nothing against a hot sweaty practice, or a practice that is intense and hard, but if that’s all you do you are missing out on creating greater balance in your body as well as your mind and spirit.

So know and understand that a slower style of yoga along with restorative yoga, practices that seem simple are not at all “beginner’s yoga, they can be quite challenging.  These practices offer significant returns on the investment of your time and more importantly your attention.

These practices may seem simplistic, but they are incredibly profound.

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Try slowing down and let me know what you think

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Rock your Paripurna Navasana

 Rock the boat

Let’s talk about Paripurna Navasana aka Boat Pose, just a few quick tips for finding balance and connecting to your core strength.

In Sanskrit, “paripurna” means ‘full’, or ‘complete’, “nava” means boat, and “asana” means pose;  Full Boat Pose.

This is one of those poses that can truly challenge people even those that have been doing yoga for some time.

Getting Into Full Boat Pose:

Sit on the floor with knees bent, feet flat, and legs together. Slide your hands a little behind your hips, and lean back slightly on your ‘sit bones’ without putting to much weight on your hands.

Draw the navel center in and up (uddiyana bandha) and lift your feet a bit off the floor.

Try putting your hands on your thighs and make sure your front body stays open and that your back does not round. Try to maintain length in the spine throughout this pose.

Draw your shoulder blades back to open your chest and broaden through the collar bones. Keep the knees at about a 90 angle, parallel to the floor.

If you’re stable and comfortable you can slowly begin to straighten your legs.

Now, try reaching your arms forward alongside your legs, palms facing down. If you are unable to raise your arms while in Paripurna Navasana, you can gently hold the back of your thighs.

Breathe steadily and hold for a few breaths.

Taaa Daaa Boat pose!

Have fun with this and let me know how you do~

Benefits of Full Boat Pose:

  • Tones and strengthens your abdominal muscles
  • Improves balance and digestion
  • Stretches your hamstrings
  • Strengthens your spine and hip flexors
  • Stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and prostate glands, and intestine

bost cropped If I look very serious here it’s because I set the camera on a timer and I set the timer for what felt like 20 minutes LOL

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Heart and Breath of stillness

“The heart has no limit in regards to the body’s shape….If you want to know the shape of the human heart, simply take a look at your fellow human and behold the human heart before you”….. Gil Hedley

Our heart like the rest of our body is steeped in movement. It is movement.

Yes, it squeezes and releases, it physically moves blood throughout the body. But what other adjectives could you use to describe the human heart? I bet most of the words you thought of are descriptions of movement… the heart Pushes, Expels, Draws in, Squeezes, Contracts, Relaxes, Pulsates, Beats, Circulates, Pumps. Take a moment and sit perfectly still, feet resting on the floor and the body relaxed. Now put your hand over your heart and feel the heart, feel the beat and notice that you aren’t really completely still. So while on the outside you seem to be completely still, there is still movement in your body, and you are aware of that movement because you can feel it with your hand and consciously you know the heart beats.

But on an energetic level, the movement of the heart is much more subtle. The heart is filled with spirit and life, it continuously dances with the body and its favorite partner in the breath.

Gill Hedley, a wonderful anatomy teacher, talks about the dance of the heart and he even has an amazing, quirky video about it and I love it! But for me, I tend to think about hows things move together, how things move physically and energetically together. So when I think of a dance or the dance of the heart I think more about how it dances with the rest of the body.

In particular the heart and breath dance together, they could and can dance alone, but never for long, for without the breath, the heart couldn’t beat for very long and without the heart, the breath couldn’t move oxygen along the river of energy to reach out to all the body.

When healthy body moves, take walking as an example, all of its parts move together. The legs propel us forward, the arms swing by your side, there is an up and down motion as well, as the feet come away from the ground and then set back down. You may even have a slight sway side to side. Your head may bob. And your feet, oh the movement in your feet alone as you walk, well that’s a whole post by itself. Your heart beats faster, your respiration increases, your blood flows with more force, your body temperature increases and you sweat.

Walking is never just about the legs.

And a movement is never about only the body. Or only the body parts we see. When you peel away the layers you find movement everywhere. In the muscles, the joints, even the bones have movement to them. Blood flow through veins and arteries and the Breath brings draws in oxygen. The cells inside us move through out our body and within the cells themselves there is movement. The body dances with itself all the time.

All movement is a dance that is constantly happening not just physically but mentally and spiritually.

And it begins with the breath and the heart. Together they take to the dance floor and in that dance, you find a rhythm. The heart and lungs share space in our body and as we breathe, they dance creating a sense of rhythm and making room for each other. They change shape to allow each the other to function, each breath and each beat of the heart they are inseparable.

My friend Amber and I went to Nashville to listen to Gil Hedley lecture (it was amazing, He is amazing…Got a little FanGirl thing going on I admit) and after the lecture, we grabbed a bit to eat and chatted vigorously and enthusiastically about what was in the lecture and well as in our  own practices. You see Amber is a skilled body work expert and Neuromuscular Therapist, she is skilled in many different aspects of massage therapy and me I am a skilled Yoga therapist and teacher. And this is how I summed up the work we do…

Bodyworkers facilitate movement for those who can’t…. And Yoga Therapists, facilitate stillness with movement and facilitate movement within the stillness.

Stillness in movement?? Movement in the stillness?? What does that even mean?

I mean that when we dance with the heart we create stillness in the mind and when we become still we can dance with Spirit.

You need to learn to tune in deeply to the body and begin to listen to the stillness within the movement and then notice the stillness that resides in the movement. This, for me, is meditation. I have never been one to sit quietly in meditation, I try… Oh, how I try to be still, physically still… not a muscle moving, like all the great Gurus of the world … it’s torture and I die a little inside every time…Every damn time. But over the years as I would try yet again to sit in meditation I would say to myself ‘be still’ … ‘stop fidgeting’  but over time I began to notice that if I would just wiggle my toes or watch the movement of breath and listen to my heart that I was moving, that even in the stillness I was still moving. And then I began to incorporate the movement of the body with the movement of breath and I could slip away into the place of stillness in the mind even though the body was moving.

You see even in the stillness of the body I was moving and within the movement of breath and beats of the heart, I found stillness.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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Hello new yogi’s!

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To 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 at everyone with you in class ….We all started right where you are. Yep even the teacher was a yoga virgin at one time. Everybody started right where you are right now…Everybody!!

Talk to the people on the mat next to you, the ones that are doing ‘stuff’ you think you could never do, I bet you’ll find out they haven’t been doing this yoga thing very long. But they kept coming and they kept trying and they are still here doing things they were certain they would never be able to do. 

But please know that learning Yoga is so much more than just learning the poses. Yoga is about learning to express yourself and learning yoga is learning understanding, understanding who you are, where you are now and where you’re going.

That’s 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! Because I sure as hell can’t. Baby I don’t bend that way!

So when you take a Yoga class, remember, that your yoga practice is an opportunity to shake loose the stiffness, dump that junk we carry and wake up the 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.

Om Shanti

Cheryl

More off the mat chat

I’ve been talking about the concept of taking Yoga off the mat. I want to delve a bit deeper into that concept. Yoga has the reputation, certainly in the West, of being ‘only’ a fitness regime, a physical health program. And that’s part of it for sure, but at some point you realize that yoga is something else. Your practice then becomes so much more. And that’s when the real struggle begins, because you start to question things in your life. And that can make the people in your life uncomfortable. It can make you uncomfortable.

Odds are when you first come to yoga, whether through a studio or a gym class or even online it was through the lens of the physical practice, the asana practice, and so for many that’s all yoga is, only a bunch of postural exercises.

But after a while yoga begins to take on a different meaning, you start to recognize something in your practice that you can’t quite put into words.

I tell my students all the time that yoga will slowly worm it’s way into your life, it will start to move you in ways you hadn’t expected. Slowly and over time your yoga practice becomes your own…. Not your teachers practice, not your friends but your practice. Even if it looks similar on the outside, on the inside it’s unique. It’s intimate and subtle and you find yourself looking at the rest of your life through that now intimate and subtle lens.

You may change behaviors in your life, like drinking less or eating differently. You may stop smoking or maybe you start going to the gym or the park to exercise. You may stop participating in conversations with friends that marginalize other groups outside your own. Your prayer or devotion time might now start with an asana practice. You start to find the subtleties of yoga in the way you wash the dishes, in the way you actually listen to someone when they talk. You may also look at yourself differently. You may see your beauty, where before you saw only flaws. You may start realizing your strength is in the very same places that others had only seen weakness.

Yoga off the mat is an ambiguous phrase but the truth is yoga will change you and you will reflect that change in your life. As your practice grows so will you, you will blossom and flower into a new, better version of yourself.

For me Yoga is the basis of my life, it is the foundation of who I am and every single day yoga reminds me of where I come from and how I can continue to move forward. If I never get on the mat again, if for some reason I never do the movement practice again, yoga will still be an integral part of my life. It is how I breathe, it is how I move, it is how I face the challenges of life, and it is the foundation for my relationships, my relationship with my students, with my friends, my family and with God. Yoga isn’t about perfection it’s about reaching deeply into myself so that I can then reach higher and find the better parts of me.

Yoga is my spiritual practice.

Yoga doesn’t take away the responsibility of our daily existence, yoga doesn’t teach us to run away but instead to be grounded and rooted in the experience of life so that we can see the beauty in our daily lives.

Om shanti

Cheryl

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It’s all about the Sukha Baby

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‘Sukha’…… Approach your yoga practice (and life) with the understanding of Sukha.

Sukha translates as ‘easy’, for example ‘sukhasana, or easy pose’ but in our yoga practice (and life) it means so much more. In our modern western way of life ‘easy’ almost means lazy or to do something without any thought. ‘No problem’ we say, “its easy peasy”. But Sukha is actually work, but it is work that requires very little effort. So Sukha = Effortless Work. A student of Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami Srivatsa, says that sukha is ‘No Pain with Gain’. Read that again, NOT ‘no pain no gain’ (this isnt the 80’s) But ‘No Pain With Gain’. Whoa, can you do that? Can you really stop forcing your body into Chinese Acrobat positions and still be doing Yoga. Of course you can! Teachers are all the time saying ‘if it hurts don’t do it, but thats not the whole story. It isn’t just don’t get hurt, it is about trying to do poses without force, without strain and stress. Remember Yoga is about de-stressing not creating more stress. Feel how different it is to move out of pain instead of into pain. What a concept!

And like all of Yoga we can take these teachings off the mat and intertwine them into our lives. Matthieu Richard, a Buddhist monk and the author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill defines sukha as: “the state of lasting well-being that manifests itself when we have freed ourselves of mental blindness and afflictive emotions. It is also the wisdom that allows us to see the world as it is, without veils or distortions. It is, finally, the joy of moving toward inner freedom and the loving-kindness that radiates toward others.” So perhaps we can take that idea of No pain with gain into other aspects of how we live. When we are having a heated discussion with our spouse or partner, turn down the heat and apply Sukha, and see if you reach a mutually beneficial conclusion without the pain of arguing. Maybe you are stressing over how to ask for a raise at work, apply Sukha, see if your calm mind and presence can help you to better articulate the whys of you getting a raise. There are countless ways to bring Sukha into our lives.

So the next time your in bridge pose (or living your life) think about how you can use Sukha …..Effortless work. 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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