August 2006


I read somewhere about Smile Meditation and came up with an interpretation for Savasana. If if feels weird to smile while you lie down in Savasana consider that the act of smiling releases serotonin and endorphins. It’s guaranteed to make you feel good. Here’s how it goes:

– Get into Savasana pose and take a few deep belly breaths. Relax your body into the mat and focus your attention inward.
– Smile just a little. It doesn’t have to be a toothy grin, just a little smile that you can hold without effort.
– Feel that smile radiate into your body. Inhale the smile into your lungs. Smile at your heart. Smile with gratitude at your kidneys, your stomach, your liver (right side ;-)). Smile at your bones and your muscles.
– Give your smile a color and feel the color spread from your head down into your torso, down your arms to the fingertips, down your legs to your toes.
– Relax further as you feel the color permeating warmth into your skeleton and muscles. Feel your body sink deeper into the mat.
– Immerse yourself in the feeling of being completely calm, still, safe, relaxed for as long as you like.
– When you’re ready to transition, deepen your inhales a little, make your exhales long.
– Bring tiny movement back to your fingers and toes.
– Roll over onto your right hand side and pause for a couple of breaths.
– Come back up to sitting.

While we usually appreciate our bodies for what they can do or how far they can stretch, Smile Meditation seems like a good way to be grateful for our bodies just because.

My two year old son usually has a little Hot Wheels car in each hand when he’s running around the house. And he doesn’t leave the house without at least one. For some reason here in Nova Scotia they’re called Dinky Cars, or Dinkies. And while I thought that was kinda dorky name, I gotta say, it is easier to say than Hot Wheels cars.

Last night I was heading out to run an errand and he ran after me to the front door. I figured maybe he had issues with my leaving. But he handed me a dinky, a little yellow Nissan. He’s started handing us dinkies even if we’re leaving the room. He can’t imagine how we could go on our way without one – he sure doesn’t.

The other day his little cousin was crying so he walked over and handed her a dinky. A red Corvette, and it helped.

I just love the idea that security and comfort could be so easy to hold in your hand. I also love that he finds it so easy to give.

A couple weeks ago I was salsa dancing, or actually “salsa watching” and my friend was salsa dancing. What a fun spectator sport that is! I realized that while the technical stuff is important the huge distinction I saw between the seasoned dancers and the newbies was the ability to make it look really easy.

I think being a female is probably tougher in salsa dancing because men lead so women do the moves, but in a responsive way. I noticed that the seasoned dancers do that *and* bring an ease and comfort to the moves. It looked like they were having fun and not saying in their head “and spin and turn and uh-oh what the heck are we doing now!” Which is what I’d be doing.

And I thought about how it’s the same quality we want to bring to the yoga mat. Not for spectators but for ourselves – that loose quality of ease should be on the inside. And of course there’s the technical stuff in yoga too, but if you can get through the review of the 2 or 3 elements of the pose that get you there, the rest of the time can be spent being responsive to it. Finding the firm and the soft. Like in Tree where your standing leg is working, but you might sway like a sapling as you enjoy the balancing. The effort and the comfort. Like in Triangle where you’re putting out energy to be there, but you relax into the twist, opening your chest and torso up and up. The doing, but also the responding. As you patiently feel for your body to open and then drop deeper into the pose.

I went to a Bikram class one time and the teacher yelled at a young 20-ish guy that his backbend pose sucked because of video games. “You can’t do too many backbends,” she said. You gotta love the sargeant approach to teaching yoga hey? But regardless of her delivery, her message was bang-on. Our culture is designed to keep us sitting for as long as possible, whether it’s in the car, on the couch, at a desk working or playing we need a good backbend as often as possible.

But sometimes you don’t have the time to warm up for, or the energy to do, a Bow or Camel pose, you need some easy options too. Here are three:

– Kneel down into Hero pose. Put your hands on the floor behind your hips, fingers pointing toward your hips. Let you head relax back as you lift your chest toward the ceiling and your hips away from your ankles. My arms are a little short so I feel this mostly in my shoulders, if this is true for you too, try making fists or tent your fingers if they’re strong enough so that you can get more height in your hips. This will move more of the stretch into the front of your body. Stay for 3-5 breaths.

– Here’s a variation on the first – sit with legs straight, place your hands on floor behind your hips, fingers pointing toward your hips. Let your head relax back, puff your chest up. Lift your lower ribs away from your hip bones. If you feel more energetic, bend your knees them over your ankles for Reverse Tabletop. Keep working the lift in your hips, keep head relaxed.

– When you’re ready to relax try this one, it’s kind of a gentle supported Fish pose for your back – lie back with legs straight or in Reclined Bound Angle. Grab the cushion from your couch, because it’s usually the shape that will fit perfectly under your upper torso. For this one your shoulders and head are not supported so that they can relax toward the floor. Arms are away from your body, you might want to try a palms-up T-pose resting on the floor. The cushion supports your upper back to open your chest and stretch the front of your shoulders. Make any adjustments needed to make it more comfortable. Stay here for 5-10 minutes.

Even if you’re doing a few minute of morning yoga to get warmed up for your day, try to work in some easy backbending poses. These poses help work against the sitting ‘slump-asanas’ that we find ourselves in the rest of the day, and make you feel more energized and positive.

I was doing an audio CD from Erich Schiffmann the other day and he says that we gather tension unconsciously but release it consciously. In Savasana he asked us to try to make our toes feel more relaxed and our nose, as well as the more obvious spots in our body that need relief from tension. It’s an interesting thing to try – feel your toes droop or melt into total relaxation. It takes practice just like anything else.

Sometimes tension is daunting. I gather my tension between my shoulder blades and have a rock-hard knot on the left side. I’ve only become aware of how *dismayed* I feel when I’m conscious of a nasty knot. Why do I respond that way? Part of it is that it’s uncomfortable and I resist it because I know it’s hard work to get rid of. But it’s also a wake up call to do something differently in my life, and I’m generally too stubborn to want to do that much.

But sometimes I wonder if my dismay is just a way of holding it tightly. Maybe if I can soften my approach to my own tension, it would be easier to loosen the knots. Until then I’ll practice *melting* away the knot in my back….and I’ll visit the massage therapist tomorrow ;-)

Here’s another post for hips. This flow goes deep into the hips and is a good way to end your standing posture session.

From a Sun Salutation either at the front of the mat or from Downward Facing Dog go to:

Wide Leg Forward Bend - with your right foot closest to the top of the mat. Make sure the insides of your feet are parallel so you get the stretch right into your inner thighs. When you do this pose the second time for the other side, put your hands in yoga mudra position. To transition, come back to standing and turn your feet to face the front of the mat. Then sink your hips down into,
High Lunge- make sure your front knee is safely over your ankle. Keep hands on the floor, your knee or bring them up overhead for more intensity. Stay for 3 deep breaths. Bring hands down to either side of your front foot, bring your back knee to the mat and let your foot flatten out for,
Low Lunge- let your hips relax into the pose for a breath. The bring your hands to prayer and twist right for Prayer Twist. Hold for 3 breaths. Release your hands down to the mat. Drop your right lower leg to the mat for,
Pigeon- and stretch your left leg back behind you. Rest here for at least 3 breaths. Then shift your weight to your right hip so you can bring your back leg forward and get into,
Bound Angle - for the second time in this pose, move feet 6 inches away from your torso and let your pelvis tilt forward. Keep your back straight. This moves some of the stretch into your lower back.

From here you’re good to go into some back bending and forward bending poses.

I downloaded the Hip Opener sequence from Yogi2Go and got through 2 of the 4 segments on the weekend. I’d recommend it – it’s a good Vinyasa flow session and just doing half made my hips feel alive. Jeanne includes alot of detail so it’s a good refresher on the refinements of each pose. Also, she did some fun things I haven’t done before.

Jeanne did Temple pose, which I hadn’t heard of but found it’s similiar to Goddess. Using the same lower body position (toes are pointed out a bit, knees are squeezed open so they’re roughly over ankles) she has you use your hands to roll your thighs open to deepen the hip stretch. Then you dip one shoulder down and press back/open the opposite one, hold and then change sides.

She did another variation on that too. You’re in the same standing squat position. Then Jeane has you bend forward so that shoulders are the same level as hips. Hands are on the floor. Then she has you lift your right arm and reach forward, stretching the right hip back and hold. Reach forward with the left and hold. Then do both and hold. Yowza!

I’d recommend Hip Openers and plan to go through others from the site. For $10 it’s good value for your yoga library.

I waited in line for 3 hours yesterday morning at JFK and didn’t know why. I checked all my liquids in my luggage as instructed. I drank my juice and waited. I watched the boarding time pass for my flight. Then I watched the departure time pass and I still waited. When I got to security I watched a woman in the first class line-up yell at someone behind her who she didn’t think should be there. There were bins of sun tan lotion, shampoo and skin stuff behind the x-ray machine.

When I got home someone filled me in on what had happened in London. Then I understood. I wasn’t sure whether I was better off being ignorant or whether I’d wished I’d known.

I think Canadians sometimes feel removed from the terrorist violence in the world. Who’d want to bomb us? If they did we’d probably apologize for it.

I got home skipped work and took my son to the beach.

I felt kinda raw all day today. I sang “Om Mani Padme Hum” to my yoga class during Savasana. I’d never felt comfortable enough to sing for my work class. Today I didn’t care, even though my voice wavered. I had to listen to tracks 2 and 3 of my Joe Henry Trampoline CD over and over in the car because they had the right vibe. I had to bury my head in work sometimes. I had to connect with people I care about at other times.

I had to clean my fridge of stuff we’ve been ignoring and buy fresh ripe fruit.

My Mom and Dad called from BC. They called to check in because they knew I was in New York and they were worried. They told me they were on their way to Bella Coola for the weekend and I got to tell them to have a good trip.

I’m grateful to be home safe. I wish peace to all beings. Peace.

I’m a bit of a Type A person so I constantly need reminders like these from Anne Lamott:

I am militantly and maternally on my own side……how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful, tender wife I am to myself, what a loving companion. I get myself tubs of hot salty water at the end of the day in which to soak my tired feet. I run interference for myself when I am working, like the wife of a great artist would: “No, I’m sorry, she can’t come. She’s working hard these days and needs a lot of downtime.” I live by the truth that “No” is a complete sentence. I rest as a spiritual act.

Actually say no to something because I need some downtime? That would be a militant act for me. I’ll have to don the camos and try it.

The robin is back. She came earlier in the season and took up residence in last year’s nest, tucked under the yoga room deck. She laid eggs, hatched them, fed the three chicks and then kicked them out and vacated the nest herself. It’s a few weeks later and she’s back. She’s fiercely sitting on new eggs. She watches us suspiciously through the windows. She never leaves, she just moves round and round on those eggs. She *is* serious hardcore committment.

Seeing her watch me reminds me about the things that I need to do more fiercely in my life. She reminds me that there are places where I need to do less frittering. Places that need to be protected more ferociously. She reminds me that the things I want to hatch in my life are delicate and need special protection until they’re grown.