January 2007


I was playing around with twisting and found two versions i really liked. 

Start by trying them out in a warm-up.  Sitting cross legged, put your left hand on the outside of your right leg.  Extend your right arm straight, horizontal to the floor, and twist at the waist to the right.  Change sides.  Then bring your left arm to the outside of your right leg again and extend your right arm up, reaching your hand toward the ceiling for a more vertical twist.  Open your chest to the wall in front of you and look up at your hand. 

These twists are useful in all kinds of poses.  You can either hold them or exhale into the twist and inhale back to center.  Here are few:

– Come into a High Lunge with your right foot forward first and add the twists.  Do both horizontal and vertical twist to the right.  Then lunge on the other side to do the left.  

– After holding Warrior 1, stay in the same lower body position and twist from there.

– Bring feet a couple feet apart, toes pointing out (a.k.a. Goddess Pose feet ;-)).  Bend your knees, let your hips sink and add the horizontal version twist.  Then the vertical.  If you’re holding the twists, you made need a break in between the horizontal and vertical.  So add a vinyasa (Plank, Cobra, Down Dog) or hang out in Wide Leg Forward Bend for a couple breaths. 

– Come into Chair and add the twists, keeping your lower body in position (hips and knees centered).  For the vertical twist, drop your left hand to the floor between your feet and stretch your right hand up from there.  If you’re holding and need a break in between the twists a Standing Forward Bend is nice here.

Your back will feel loose and energized with these! 

I’m reading Fierce Conversations and something she said made me stop in my tracks.  She talked about removing the ‘buts’ from your language.  So what if I said – “You’re an accomplished yogi, but….”.  Notice how the ‘but’, in fact you can hear it coming, totally negates the first part.  I might as well have not said it.  In fact I would have been better off *not* saying it because it makes the first part a joke.  Yeah yeah sure sure.

Her point is that you’re identifying two realities and the ‘but’ basically removes the first as being a possiblity.  Not very affirming to the person who lives in that reality right?  And removing realities, is not a good place to be having a conversation from.  You’re saying there’s no common ground.  She suggests replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’, so you allow both realities to exist. “You’re an accomplished yogi and…..”.  Feels much better right?

I liked her point because I try to notice when i’m being an either/or person.  And ‘but’ screams either/or.  Let’s face it, it’s easier to see the world in black or white and ignore the grey stuff.  But the fact is there’s a heck of a lot of grey.  Grey involves more work, but worthwhile stuff always does right?

‘Both and’ is a more accurate representation of the world.  And that’s what removing the ‘buts’ does.  It recognizes that something may be true for you, something may be true for me, they may not be the same thing *and* we’re going to find the common ground.  Now that’s the start of a productive conversation.

I wanted to say a bit more about the self-care rituals, or niyamas from the last post.  These rituals are about regulating ourselves and our environment to keep us moving toward who we really and where we want to be. 

My father-in-law went through a period of being totally committed to some serious weight-loss goals.  As he started losing weight he found that a few chronic health issues disappeared.  He stopped being short of breath.  He could walk without pain and stiffness in his knees.  He was totally amazed that there could be real-live benefits to not eating whatever he wanted.  When he chose less freedom on one front, he gained more freedom on another front.  And the second freedom simply became more important.  It was the big-picture goals that helped him keep his perspective on a short-term urge for chocolate.

But this takes considerable self-knowledge.  What supports me?  What doesn’t?  What do I want to be nurturing in my life? 

A friend of mine is a nurse and works long hours.  When she finishes her week’s shifts she hibernates, turns-in, and works on fully recuperating before going on to do some fun things with friends before her shifts start up again.  This is non-negotiable for her.  She knows she needs that time if she’s going to be healthy.  Period. 

How many of us have the self-knowledge to create the space for ourselves that we need?  Because we all need it, somewhere.

I think of them as good habits but the hope is that they become so engrained they’re like rituals. 

Keeping up with my exercise and yoga is one for me.  It burns off the sludge so my mind and body can run smooth.  It makes life feel managable and doable.  It makes me feel clear.  When life is tough, that ritual is like a drug for me.  It can get bad, like I’m “jonesing” or “chasin'”.  And then there are other times when the connection isn’t there and it’s all I can do to get myself to the mat or outside in running shoes for whatever movement I can possibly muster.

And when it’s hard to do, it’s good because it just reminds me of what life’s like without my rituals.  They give me a sense of control when things are nutty.   And they convince me just by the sheer fact of my doing them regularly that it’s important to treat myself well.  It’s like the good kind of vicious circle – I do them to treat myself well and because I treat myself well, I gotta keep up with them.  Doing the ritual is my way of agreeing. 

I’ve concluded that I’ve got to give back to myself if I want to give to others.  If the well is empty I’m not going to be any use to anybody.  

My friend told me she’s starting taking her camera everywhere so she’s ready when the muse hits.  It struck me that our rituals and habits can be about anything we want to make more juicy in our lives.  Creative health needs support too, and it often exercising our creative muscles is the best sure-fire way of getting new inspiration to do more. For my friend, carrying her camera is like setting her intention to look at things with a fresh mindful eye.

Yesterday I listened to a workshop Dr. Robert Svoboda gave for the Yoga Spirit folks.

He calls these healthy rituals Niyamas, using the term in a more broad sense than we usually think of it.  His examples were lemon juice in warm water every a.m. if we know we tend to have an acidic body, or meditating for a few minutes every a.m.

He said that the way we look at them varies based on your dosha.  I thought this was so interesting.

Kapha types need to understand that their tendency toward inertia means that if they start heading in a particular direction it’ll give them momentum to continue.

Vata types need to understand that any positive regular habits are very good for them.

Pitta people need to understand that they won’t think they need them, but they do.  Especially rejuvinating niyamas like gentle yoga that balance their firey nature. 

Whatever your dosha or need, I hope you find a healthy ritual to perform this weekend.

Ever get to the cushion for a little a.m. meditation and your body feels like it’s made out of bricks?  And 80 year-old achey, creaky bricks at that?  And because we’re mind/body connected kinda folks, hitting the pillow in that state means you’re going to sit there feeling like a creaky ol’ curmugeon whose family has stopped visiting. 

Sometimes it makes sense to get your body parts moving first so that it’s easier to relax and chill out.  If this seems like cheating to you, like feeling crappy is a great challenge, then get back into your horsehair shirt and stop reading!  If not, here are some suggestions.

When you get to your cushion check out what body parts feel like they were poured full of concrete while you slept.  Then based on what you find, try these:

Neck – if it’s stiff, let your chin drop down to your chest.  Keep your back straight, completely relax your neck and let the weight of your head stretch the back of your neck for a couple of breaths.  Then slide your chin along your collarbone moving the stretch.  Come up on one side with your ear directly over your shoulder (face forward).  Slowly move back and head to the other side.  Repeat until your neck feels looser.

Shoulders – if they’re stiff do some slow shoulder rolls.  If you were sleeping on your side and feel like your chest has caved in,  clasp your hands behind your back, straighten your arms and lift them gently away from your hips.  Hold here to stretch your chest and shoulders.

Back – if your back needs a stretch start with your hands on your knees.  Round your back, pressing your navel into your spine as your drop your chin.  Hold for a moment and then lift your gaze as you press your chest forward.  Repeat both moves until your back moves freely. 

Then side bend by placing your right hand on the floor next to you and lowering your right shoulder toward it.  Keep your left shoulder back.  You’ll feel the stretch up the left side of the spine (your spine should look like a big letter ‘c’ to someone behind you).  Change sides and repeat. 

Then lastly, twist.  With a straight back, press one shoulder back, using your hands to hold you in the twist.  You should feel it all the way down your spine and change sides.  Repeat. 

Hips – if your hips are tight, bend your knees, move your feet apart and drop your knees to one side and then the other, windshield wipering back and forth them until your hips feel looser.  To stretch your ‘sitting’ muscles, bring the outside of your right foot to the top of your left thigh.  Your left leg is bent – enough that you feel a stretch in your right hip, but not so much that it makes your pelvis want to roll back, keep it vertical.  Hold for a couple deep breaths and then change sides.

Do as many of these warm-ups as you need to get your body loosened up for sitting meditation.  You’ll breath more freely.  You’ll feel more loose, calm and comfortable.  

May all the thoughts you let go of, be happy ones.

So my HoneyBunny does an annual trip to the Lush store for me for Christmas.  I’m serious about my baths and let’s just say their Floating Island bath melt single-handedly keeps me happy and scale-free throughout the winter. 

Last year he threw some Smitten hand cream into my stocking that I used at work.  I’d lift off the plastic cap, bath my hands in almond yumminess and life was good.   I finished it off right before the holidays and reported that someone should let Santa know I’m ready for more.  Santa rocks – he came through for me.

So I bring my new pot of Smitten to work, try to lift off the lid, but it doesn’t just snap off like the last one.  In fact there’s a little lip under the lid on this jar, so I couldn’t really get under it.  So I started grabbing office supplies to peel the lid up.  I finally peel the, now dented, lid off and discover – it’s a screw top.  The Lush folks have redesigned the packaging and it *never* ocurred to me to try to just twist it off.  Ha!

So because I try to see the teacher in *all* things, even moronical moments like this – I wondered how many other blind spots do I have to things in my life? 

How many other things do I assume are x because they’ve *always* been x.  Or heck, they were x once and I just decided I didn’t need to look any farther.  I decided I didn’t even need to check for y, or that outlier, z. 

It’s so easy to do in yoga too – how often do you just dive into a pose rather than ease in mindfully to see what’s fresh, interesting or different there today? 

Here’s to be open to the snap-off’s *and* the screw-tops in life.

 

Here’s the last kickin’ it post.  I figure you’re either really strong now or you’re really sore and have promised never to read this blog again :-) 

  1. Get into Chair pose and add lifts.  These are slow – drop 3-4 inches bringing your thighs close to parallel to the floor and then slowly come back up again.  When you’re ready to rest dive into Standing Forward Bend for a few breaths.  Come back into Chair for a variation.  This time, bring your arms to a T-position, palms facing forward and slowly twist from side-to-side.  Focus on maintaining your posture, core muscles contracted.  It doesn’t matter how far you twist, just use those Obliques to get you there.  When you’re ready to rest, dive back into Standing Forward Bend.  
  2. Kneeling with knees hip-width apart – do a variation of the first.  Bring your arms to a T-position, palms forward.  Lean back a few inches and exhale into a twist.  Inhale back and change sides.  Do 5-10.  Rest in child’s pose.
  3. Bring your lower body into Goddess position (feet spread, toes pointing out, knees bent) but bend forward with a flat back and stretch your arms out in front of you.  So you’re bent at the hips, holding your torso straight.  Hold for a couple breaths.  Then bring your fingers to the floor, poking your bum out behind so that your knees stay roughly over ankes.  Lower your butt a little more if you can, while you hold the position for 3-5 breaths.  Standing Forward Bend is a good rest after this one.
  4. In a seated position, cross your ankles with knees bent and lift your legs off the floor.  Hold your arms forward for balance, or for more challenge, stretch them up overhead without letting your lower back round.  Press your navel into your spine and breath while you hold.

Hopefully you can do these and keep it playful instead of punishment.  When all else fails play some good tunes.

Here are 3 more nice sweeteners for your yoga session to build heat, and your strength. 

  1. In Plank or upper push-up position, lift your right leg up 3 or 4 inches squeezing your butt, then bend the knee and press it into your chest.  Contract your abs as you do this, so you feel like you’re curling your lower torso, tucking in your tailbone.  Repeat 5 times with your breath, then change sides.  Go slow and focus on the extension with a full inhale and tuck in your knee tight with an exhale.
  2. Lunge your right foot forward.  Start with both arms up overhead to your left, then let them sweep down in front to the outside of your right leg turning your torso as you twist.  Hold for 3-5 breaths and change sides.  A variation with more balance challenge –  start with straight legs and arms up and then drop slowly into the lunge as you twist.  Repeat 3-5 times with your breath and then change sides. 
  3. Get into Goddess pose but make it active by straightening your legs as your straighten your arms up overhead and then sink back down into the posture.  Let your hips sink low with your exhales, keeping your knees pressed out over your ankles.  Do 5 of these, then bring the insides of your feet parallel and fold forward into Wide Leg Forward Bend to rest and stretch the muscles you were using.  Repeat the process if you want doing variations on Wide Leg Forward Bend (adding yoga mudra arms, holding your big toes with your elbows out etc.)

Make sure that your new year’s resolutions or whatever is motivating you to work harder on the mat is not just about abusing yourself or beating yourself up for indulging over the holidays.  Ahimsa starts with ourselves right?  I like to think it’s more about finding balance – rediscovering and using those muscles that I sat on during vacation :-)

 

I’m not big on regrets.  I did my thing, I likely used my best judgement at the time, so I live with it and move on.  Like the rumnogs I enjoyed over the holidays for example.  I had a great time.  Loved every one of them.  So no regrets – but – the question I’m asking myself these days is how do I get my butt back in gear so that I can lift it in Plank pose?  Can anyone relate?

So this topic’s going to be at least 3 parts (we’ll see how many I come up with).  These are little additives for your yoga sessions, designed to kick it up a notch.

These additives are not classic yoga, but it shouldn’t feel like aerobics class either.  Keep the movements slow and deliberate.  Be mindful of what you’re doing and don’t just get the reps in.  The key is to work at your own level, mix in resting poses and enjoy some good solid stretching at the end so body *and* mind are in a happy place.

  1. Mix in a Lunge with your Sun Salutations and try it this way.  Lunge with your right leg forward first.  Bring arms into a t-position.  With an exhale twist right, then inhale back.  Keep your exhales nice and slow, twisting as far as you with a straight spine.  Repeat for 5 and then change sides.  Add a Plank/Cobra/Down Dog flow in-between if you like.  Need more?  Do it again and hold the twist for 3-5 breaths before changing sides.
  2. When you’re getting to the end of your standing pose session, pause in Plank and rock on.  Rock forward and back on your toes, just little movements, to make it more interesting.  Be mindful of your posture here – keep your navel tucked in, your tailbone curled down toward the mat and your shoulder blades pressed down your back.  You’ve done enough when you’re not holding your posture firm.  But if you feel like you still have more juice, just drop to your knees and hold the easier version Plank for 3 more breaths before relaxing down to the mat.
  3. Start in Reverse Plank or for an easier option, Reverse Tabletop so your knees are bent and ankles are underneath your knees.  Let your butt drop 3 inches, then squeeze and lift back to the beginning position.  Try 5 of these.  Go slow, stay focused.  Don’t push your hips too far, keep them in line with your body to protect your lower back.  If you have enough energy for both poses – try Reverse Plank, rest in a seated Forward Bend for a few breaths, then do Reverse Tabletop.