May 2006

The sun blasts in the window and wakes me up at 6:00. I lay there for a minute with my eyes scrunched tight and then I decide to make use of the time. I can escape for a few minutes into the sunlight before my day officially starts. I sneak out of the house while my family sleeps. I walk up the hill to the cell phone tower field. I make my way to the peak of the hill so I can sit and look down at the Bedford Basin in morning sun.

I come over the crest and a family of deer are standing on the other side in a hollow. They’re the deer our neighbours see whose yards back onto the woods. I’ve seen deer tracks in the snow on the road in the early morning. They are a posse of three females that wander the streets at night munching on people’s tulip bulbs. They hide during the day in the alders in this huge field with the cell phone towers.

They stare at me. They’re tame enough to stay, but wild enough to be cautious. They keep staring and then one gets bored and licks the neck and ears of another who keeps watch. I watch the deer and they watch back, their big ears alert like satellite dishes. The bored one steps around a little, her white tail tall and straight like a car antenae. I sit and look at the water. I become part of a sea of bright sunny green. I’ve found a little space of wildness in an ordinary weekday. I feel blessed.

So once the day is complete, fuelled by our a.m. yoga session, we want to bring it back down for a relaxing snooze. Often our hips and low back really take on the stress of the day. Rosie stands at her job and I sit at mine, so I know there are evenings where we’d both want to spend extra time loosening out the concrete that gathers there. I’ve added in a few Options for babying that area.

Easy 1/2 Moon - Bring feet to hip width apart. Place a hand on your hip and slowly sweep the other hand up to the ceiling so your torso stretches long and then allow it to curve over your head, bringing a gentle stretch to the long side of your body. Pause for a couple of breaths, bring your arm back down with awareness before changing sides.
Ragdoll – tuck your chin, place hands on thighs, bend your knees a bit and roll down until you’re in an easy Forward Bend. Plant your hands on the floor for support so you can sway your hips. Take a few deep breaths here letting gravity work it’s magic on your lower back. Then ease your hips down to the mat for Option: a Squat. Point your toes out and spread your knees bringing your hands to prayer position. Hold your elbows to the insides of knees if that feels OK. Let your hips relax, keep your back long and take a few deep breaths here.
-Bound Angle - come to sitting, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, tuck them in close to your body. Hold onto feet or ankles and stretch your spine straight. Relax your knees and let them sink down towards the mat.
Shoulder Rolls - come into an easy seated position (cross legged) and do some slow Shoulder Rolls in both directions. Then bring your feet to the mat with knees bent, tuck your chin and outstretched arms roll down onto your back.
Twists - bring your feet off the mat so that your knees are bent at 90 degree angles. Bring your arms to a T position. Drop both knees over to one side and hold. Keep shoulders relaxed on the mat. Change sides.
Knee Squeeze – squeeze your knees into your chest. Stay for 3-5 breaths. Option: cross one knee over the other and squeeze both knees into your chest. Change legs and repeat.
Reclined Bound Angle or Legs Up The Wall Bring your feet together in Bound Angle position, let your back relax into the mat, bring hands palms up. Or, move your mat to a wall, sit next to the wall and then gently bring your legs up as you let your upper body come down onto the mat. Keep a slight bend in your knees so you relax. In either pose, stay for 5 long soft breaths.

Come back to a seated position. With hands in Namaste give thanks for one thing from your day. Thanks Rosie. Have a good sleep.

My friend Rosie asked if I could suggest a few yoga moves she could do in the morning or the evening before bed. I’m going to split them up because energizing moves are ideal for the morning and ‘winding down’ moves are best for evening. Stay tuned for the evening set tomorrow.

If you’re anything like me, some a.m.’s I have no energy and need to respect that. Other mornings I *could* have more energy if I just choose to do more energizing type moves. So the suggestions below are for Rosie’s lower energy days, but I added options for each that are energizing and will make you feel positively perky.

-Sit & Breath – Sit in an easy pose, close your eyes and center. Sit and just notice your breath. Notice the state of your body, mind and spirit without judgement. Set an intention for your day. Option: take a few 3-part breaths that fill up your belly, then ribs, then chest with a long slow exhale.
-Opening Breaths - touch your fingertips lightly together at the center of your chest. Then with a deep inhale through your nose, open your arms out wide to either side. Let the movement of your arms open your chest. Press your chest and face upwards gently if that feels OK. Then exhale back to the first position. Repeat 5 or so times. Option: after warming up with the first couple breaths, put more emphasis on your inhale filling your nose/lungs right up with a whoosh of air as you move your arms into the open position.
-Side Bends – place one hand to the floor next to your hip and sweep the other up to the ceiling until you feel a stretch up the long side of your torso, then curl your arm overhead so you fill out a “c” shape. Hold for a moment, change sides, and then repeat it again Option: bend from side to side with your breath (inhale one arm up, exhale it down, change sides).
-Twists - sit with back straight, place your hands on one thigh and twist your shoulders in that direction. Let your neck stay relaxed. Hold, change sides and repeat. Option: twist side-to-side with your breath (inhale and then exhale into the twist, inhale back to center, change sides until your spine feels energized).
-Ragdoll - place your feet hip width apart and parallel on the mat, keep your hands planted on the mat as you press your tailbone up to the ceiling. It’s important to keep knees bent, you just woke up afterall. Keep head and neck relaxed. Sway your hips a little and take a few deep breaths. Press gently into any spots that feel stiff and compressed. Take two more breaths and use the exhales to try to relax deeper into the stretch. Then place your hands on your thighs and roll up slowly, one vertibrae at a time to standing, keeping your chin tucked until last. Option: roll back down with your exhale, come up again with a deep inhale. Keep hands on thighs for this or add arm motions, sweeping them wide and stretching up into Extended Mountain with the inhale. Repeat.

These are just a few poses that don’t take long to do, but they’ll get you centered and loosen up your spine and hips. From here you’ll be warmed up enough to do some standing poses, or to simply start your day. Thanks Rosie. Namaste.

I heard a talk by Dr. Ravi Ravindra who’s a Sanskrit scholar. He was talking about Ahimsa which is usually translated as non-violence. But he said a more accurate translation is ” non-violation”. It’s an important difference because violence has external indicators but violation doesn’t. It’s like the distinction between physical violence and say, emotional abuse. It’s tough to ignore a black eye, but the other might be tricky to detect and easier to dismiss or ignore.

Ahimsa Off the Mat

So if we look at Ahimsa off the mat, we may not be “beating ourselves up” but what about not asking for what we need? What about not taking time for ourselves? What about not getting enough sleep? Or not taking a lunch break. These things seem small but it’s really a violation of our needs. And ignoring our needs is a badge of honor in our go-go culture. You tell people you took a nap and you might as well confess that you panhandle on Tuesdays. It’s like Anne Lamott says, “I believe that sleep and rest and self-care are radical acts”.

J and I always laugh – we’ve used work as an excuse to say, cut a family visit short, because god forbid you’d confess you need some R&R time. Who would think that was OK? But work? Oh sure, see ya’, it’s been fun.

Ahimsa On the Mat

So when we consider Ahimsa on the mat, from a non-violence perspective we say, hey if I’m not physically hurting myself then it’s all good. But if we take the non-violation view we have to look deeper. What about when we ignore our need to take the modified option for a pose? What about when we stay in a pose longer than our body wants? Or do Sun Salutations when we should be doing Legs Up The Wall?

We can’t be compassionate with others until we learn to be compassionate with ourselves. Thank god we have the mat to first practice noticing our needs, and then maybe responding. Here’s to being a well-rested well-cared-for radical.

At the weekend yoga conference I went to a teacher’s session Robert Weber hosted on cueing. His point was that when you rely on demonstrating the poses, students simply try to reproduce your version exactly instead of learning to fill out the pose with their own unique body. This is a great reminder as teachers not to demo to beginners the full expression of a pose that we’ve gotten to over years of practice. We want to make yoga accessible and instead we scare the living daylights out of newbies that way.

Robert’s approach is to often not demo at all, just talk the students into the pose. I’m not completely onboard because beginners who aren’t auditory learners just aren’t going to follow the verbal instructions well. Although I guess if the teacher is not demo’ing they have plenty of opportunity to walk around and help people. The other issue I have is that with cueing only the class can get really wordy and you want to offer space to just be in the pose. It’s a question of balance I guess, and does depend on the level of the class.

*Anyways* we did a cool thing – we did yoga with our eyes closed. It was amazing. The simplest thing was so challenging. How do you get your feet into parallel without visual guidelines? What does parallel *feel* like?

We did a Sun Salutation B and I felt like a uncoordinated teenager. I had to really let go of my standards of preciseness when I couldn’t see my hand placement for Plank/Chaturanga. And then getting into Triangle was a trip – I didn’t know if my feet were lined up. It felt wrong but I assumed it was just because I felt dorky trying to stand up with my eyes closed. When I got into Triangle I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff. I had to keep my “gaze” at the horizon. I was convinced if I “looked up” at my hand I’d fall flat on my back.

Ain’t yoga grand? I love it that I can still find scary edges and cliffs.

I can’t wait to do this in my yoga classes. I’ll probably wait until people are in a pose and then ask them to close their eyes. I really suggest trying it out. It makes me realize how much mind stuff is generated by our sight. With eyes closed you’re forced to really feel the pose from the inside out.

I wanted to add more to the ‘Drop the Rock’ idea because I started thinking about how this shows up on the mat. When we haul rocks around it literally causes tension in our bodies – we can feel the effects of the weight in our shoulders, neck, back and hips. It’s no accident that when I do a good hip opening session I feel 20 pounds lighter. It’s like I’ve managed to let go of a heavy weight that’s so familiar I don’t notice it on a daily basis.

And that’s why dropping our rocks is so hard. Someone said to me once “Well that’s me, I’m a worrier” and I thought – why would you want to hold so hard to that identity? But that’s just me, I’m not a big-time worrier and it doesn’t look like any fun at all. But we cling to what’s familiar, even if it doesn’t serve us. Thankfully the yoga mat is a safe place to practice dropping our rocks. It can help us practice letting go so that off the mat we can ask – What would this look like if I wasn’t a worrier?

So what yoga rocks do we hold onto? What about our expectations of what we’re going to do in a pose before we’ve even checked it out with our body? What about comparing ourselves to others? What identities do we bring to the mat? Are we likely to say ” I’m ‘strong’ so I’ll take the most strenuous option even though my body is screaming for mercy with only 4 hours sleep-time last night”?

Letting go is important because the rocks we hold onto are like barriers between us and the present moment. They’re like panes of glass between us and the ability to freshly experience what’s happening. When we let our yoga be about pre-conceived expectations it keeps us apart from the sensory experience of each pose. Erich Schiffmann calls it the “feeling-tone” of the pose.

It’s all that subtle sensory information we can open to when we’re not clutching our rocks for dear life. When we let go we can listen to the muscles of our back leg in Warrior 2 humming in A sharp. We can really take in the sweetness of a juicy Forward Bend. Triangle turns the brightest shade of blue. And we melt into Child’s Pose like Pistachio ice cream.

Man, I just love Anne Lamott – she writes about real stuff in such a down-to-earth and wise way. Here’s an excerpt on Letting Go (a favourite topic of mine). When Anne was dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, trying to figure out what to do, a friend called after an AA meeting in Hawaii:

The Drop the Rock meeting was based on the understanding that left to our own devices, we — as a species — tend to lug these big rocks around. They are the rocks of our concerns. Everytime we get up, we reach down for our big rock and then we lug it out the door, down the stairs, and roll it into the back seats of our cars. Then after we drive someplace, we open the back door, get out our rock, and carry it with us, wherever we go. Because it’s our rock. It is very important to us and we need to keep it in sight. Also, someone could steal it.

So these Hawaii drunks suggest that you practice dropping the rock. That you put it down, on the ground at your feet. And that you say to God, to Mary, to Pele, Jehovah, Jesus, or Howard: “Here. I’m giving you the rock. YOU deal with it.”

When I heard this, I realized that more than anything, I wanted to put down my rock. My psychic arms ached from carrying it. I got my note out of the God-box, and I re-read it, and then I folded it back up and said to God, “Here. Look at me — I am putting down the rock. It’s in your hands now. RSVP.”

Maybe it’s about turning one’s attention from what’s holding us enthralled. Maybe it gives us a little room and a sense of fresh air, and with that comes some kind of healing breath. Maybe it gets us to stop looking in the one direction where we think the mountain is going to rise up before us, and so instead, with our minds free to wander and bob, we notice pathways and even airy glades we hadn’t seen before. I do not have any idea how it works, only that two weeks later, I woke up from a very clear and specific dream, and I smiled in joy, even though I was full of fear, because I knew I was going to keep the baby. And I did, and we have been abundantly provided for every step of the way.

In my own life I’ve been travelling, life has been busy-crazy and disorganized but I’m spending all weekend at a yoga conference anyways. Reading this is timely – it’s not one boulder for me right now, it’s an armload of pebbles and I’m committed to dropping each one into the dirt. I’m going to say ‘whatever’ to the laundry and dandelions and to-do lists and the rellies that are coming for an overnight on Saturday and breath. I’m going to feel free to wander and bob. I’m going to absorb as much yoga-goodness as I can.

Here’s a good flow for sessions when you’re warmed up and feeling energetic:

High Lunge - do a Sun Salution and after Down Dog come bring your right foot forward into a High Lunge. Keep your hands on the floor on either side of the foot or for more intensity, bring them up Warrior 1 style. Stay for a few breaths pushing your weight into your back foot and relaxing your hips.
Side Plank - then bring your hands back to the floor and use them to support your weight while you scoot your right foot back so it’s under your hip bone. Pivot your toes toward the side of the mat. While you keep your left hand planted on the floor under your left shoulder, pivot your body and left foot to the right, stretching your right hand up to the ceiling. This may feel a bit clumsy the first time, but it’ll be one smooth motion with a bit of practice. Now you’re in a modified Side Plank, with your right foot helping keep your hip raised so your body is in one straight line. Go to a full Side Plank by straightening your right leg and stacking it over your left.
Revolved Lunge - To come back, bring your right foot back to the floor under your hip, bring both hands to the floor and scoot your right foot back between them (knee should be safely over your ankle). Come up on your toes as you activate your back leg so you’re in a High Lunge again. Keep your left hand planted next to your right foot and twist to the right, raising your right arm to the ceiling for a Twisted Lunge. Sorry I can’t find a picture of this one, but your arms are in a t-position, left hand on the floor with your torso twisting right, toward your thigh.

Transition with a Plank, Cobra, Downward Facing Dog and complete the flow on the other side.

Can you imagine having a 2-3 hour-a-day practice? (insert amazed head wag here) I highly recommend catching the interview with Ana Forrest over at Yoga Peeps. It takes a couple of minutes to download but it’s worth it. My favourite quote (especially since I just had a milestone birthday) is:

“We can build healthy muscle tissue or we can rot”

It’s inspiring to hear the story of the personal obstacles she’s overcome to become the amazing yogi and teacher that she is. Did I mention the 2-3 hour-a-day practice?

After warming up with a few Sun Salutations, start another and after Downward Facing Dog work in this flow, holding each pose for 3-5 breaths:

Warrior 2 – then straighten your front leg and tip your ‘t-arms’ into,
Triangle – then bend your front leg again, bring front elbow to knee, or your hand to the floor for,
Side Angle – then swivel your toes so they face forward, make sure your front knee is safely over ankle for a,
High Lunge – keep your hands on the floor or stretch them up for more intensity. To transition, bring hands to the floor on either side of your front foot and drop the outside of your lower leg onto the mat for,
Pigeon – rest here for a few breaths.

Then transition in the Sun Salutation (with Plank, Cobra, Downward Facing Dog) to the other side.

I find that these poses flow really nice. While it’s a string of very active poses, you also get a restful break with pigeon at the end before starting the flow on the other side. It’s a good hip opener. I hope you enjoy it!

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