Thursday, February 26, 2015

February 24 Restore Series


Whee feel the exhilaration!

This week's blog is the traveling kind.  I am still reliving my recent trip to Pura Vida in Costa Rica. You may or may not be readying yourself for a late winter/early spring vacation but these tips are useful anytime of the year that you are traveling.  The first is a yoga sequence that I created for the airplane.  Try these at home in your own simulated airplane seat (you know the one where your thighs touch your neighbors and there is no leg room to speak of).   Secondly, I will present some tips from our yoga wizards at Yoga Journal for what to do enroute and when you get to your destination to arrive and stay balanced.  Enjoy and if you are taking off on your very own journey, don't forget your journal.

Airplane Sequence
(try a massage for the feet and back with a tennis ball) 

Seated
*Breath 3-part* Sit up tall and align ankles under knees, hip distance
apart. Breath deeply in to the belly filling up, exhale and empty out.
Next breath into belly then rib section (feel expansion in the ribs),
exhale and empty.  Breath into belly, ribs all the way up to the clavicle
or even the throat, exhale from top to bottom. Repeat as many times as you
want. Stop if you get dizzy and come back to normal breath. Calms, aids in
digestion, moves organs.
*Neck Stretches*
*Cat & Cow* (Spinal movments with pelvic tilts) Opens up constrictions in
the back, gets the blood flowing, lengthens spine, opens up chest and
throat.  Sit with feet firmly planted on floor, ankles stacked under knees,
hip distance apart. Stack head over shoulders, crown of the head lifted.
Hands on knees, on an inhale, arch the back belly pressing forward,
lifting chin. Exhale and round the back, chin drawing into sternum. Repeat
at least 10 times more if you feel tight or it just feels good.
*Seated Twist* Same seated position as above. Bring right hand to left
knee, on an inhale, lengthen crown of the head up, on an exhale, twist from
upper back, repeat 3 times on each side.  Brings fresh blood to the spine,
rejuicing the discs, detoxifies (releasing airplane air), spinal adjustment
and aids in digestion (if twisting more from the belly)
*Seated Heel and Toe Lifts* get the blood moving in the legs, alleviate
stiffness, reduce swelling. Sitting in seat as above, lift heels at least
10 times and then toes. Move with breath, inhale lift, exhale release.
*Seated Hip Circles* Same seated position, slightly away from back of
seat. Circle in one direction, full breath for each rotation at least 5
times, then other direction.
*Figure Four* (hip opener) Same seated postion, place right ankle above
left knee or below, breath deeply for at least 4 breaths. Switch sides.
          Standing
          *Heel Lifts* Find a spot where you can stand holding onto a wall and on
          an inhale, lift heels, exhale return down. Great for swelling.
*Hip Circles*
*Side Bends* If possible, inhale arms or one arm to the ceiling, bend to
the side for 4 breaths, inhale center, exhale switch sides.  Even having
the arms by your side and bending to one side will lengthen the side body
and stretch it out.
*Warrior 1* Need a wall or back of seat. Face wall, hands at shoulder
height, step one foot back, front leg is bent at 90 deg angle, stretch out
back inner thigh through the heel, breathing full deep breaths. Switch to
other side.

There are so many others I could share with you but this should give you
an overall feeling of wellness, rejuvenation or allow you to take a nap on
the plane.  One of my students actually gets some of her fellow traveling
mates to do them as well.  Who knows who you'll meet!!!
Travel Suggestions

  • Your Gut - to prevent stomach upset (even if the food is delicious organic and whole) try Probiotics or flax seeds mixed into smoothies, yoghurts.  Bring some powder mix-ins like coconut water powder, seeds or dried fruits blended with local fruits and veggies for a smoothie on the road. Drink plenty of water or bring foods like grapes and celery with high water content.
  • Practice Like the Locals - find a local yoga studio to continue your practice, even if language doesn't transcend, the practice may.
  • Take-off and Landing - Find some time in the airport before your flight to move the spine and lengthen the body.  Does the airport have a yoga/meditation space or maybe a little nook tucked away where you can practice. After landing, see if you can carve out a few minutes to do some stretching and movement to get the circulation going. Legs up anything is very helpful after the flight to drain the legs and quiet the mind. Get out in nature as soon as you can to ground yourself as well. 
  • What to Pack - besides the healthy snacks, if you have room, your mat, perhaps a meditation image that serves you, essential oils to stay calm and relaxed through whatever travel adventure awaits you. They can also help in staving off viruses (orange, clove, birch and cinnamon oil).  
  • Routine - travel may seem anything but.  Bring with you a comforting routine from home. Maybe it is washing your face, or having a glass of water by your bed and a favorite book.  Maybe it is a shawl that you wrap yourself in.
  • Attitude - remember you are traveling to a place that is not your home turf and the reason for travel is because it is different. If things don't go smoothly, your practice will come in handy as you let go of expectations and receive what is happening.

The Breath
Lions Breath (Simhasana)


Sit comfortably either in Sukhasana (Easy Seat) or on your heels. Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Then simultaneously open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out, curling its tip down toward the chin, open your eyes wide, contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct "ha" sound. The breath should pass over the back of the throat.
Some texts instruct us to set our gaze (drishti) at the spot between the eyebrows. This is called "mid-brow gazing" (bhru-madhya-drishti; bhru = the brow; madhya = middle).Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose (nasa-agra-drishti; nasa = nose; agra = foremost point or part, i.e., tip).
You can roar two or three times. Then change the cross of the legs and repeat for the same number of times.
Benefits: Useful for people with bad breath, relieves stress and can be used when you need to ease a tense situation, relieves tension in the chest and face, move stagnation in sinuses.
(Yoga Journal)

The Poses
Seated Forward Fold (in Chair)

Props: chair or stool, bolster, blankets, neck pillow
Benefits: lengthens spine, centering, aids in relaxation response,
aids in moving digestive process, grounds through feet and seat

Bring chair or stool close enough to the wall where you can sit
in mountain pose and lean bolster at an angle against the wall.
Place blanket on seat of chair and one for the bolster. Add any support for your forehead so neck stays long.



Seated Twist (in Chair)

Props: chair or stool, 2 bolsters, blankets, neck pillow
Benefits: aids in releasing the spine, digestive process, remove toxins, maintain normal spinal rotation, releasing tension in shoulders and back. Opens chest.

Bring Chair or stool close enough to the wall where you can set in mountain pose with one hip along the wall side. Place blanket on seat of chair. In this pose, we set one bolster horizontally and one bolster vertically on top of bottom bolster. We added blankets and neck pillows to support the head in the twist. Outer hand on opposite knee, Inner arm and hand relaxed. Switch sides after 5 minutes or so.

Grounded Cuddled and Cradled (Savasana)

Props: enough blankets to cover, ground and cradle the head, eye pillow
Benefits: Comforting, supportive, keeps warmth in , grounding to feel head cradled and feet touching the wall or blanket, relaxes musculature and pelvis, gentle chest opener and lengthens spine and legs.

Facing wall place a rolled up blanket against wall which feet will rest on. Add any blankets to support low back and arms. Cover your body with a blanket for warmth. The head cradle is made using a blanket tucked around the crown of the head. Add an eye pillow.

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 17 Restore Series


Closing my eyes I transport myself to the warm greens of Costa Rica, the morning sounds of macaws, parakeets and one crazy rooster, and the ultimate sunrise which unfolded before the world everyday.  I am so grateful for this trip and all that presented itself.

One thing that presented itself was my impatience. As any vacation/retreat goes there is a transition to be made.  Without even realizing it, I was masking impatience for my transition to be over and to feel completely relaxed and in "vacation mode".  I think part of the transition was my stomach converting over to insanely good organic, fresh food.   The other transitional phase involved my mood.  I was still keenly aware of myself trying to fit in with the group dynamics rather than just being myself.  Patience was not present.  I kept thinking "When will the transformation begin?".

It did happen but it wasn't forced or planned.  Maureen casually asked me if I wanted to try out a Sound Healing session with Becca.  She mentioned that I could leave if it wasn't for me.  Well, two amazing hours later, I emerged like a butterfly from its cocoon.  I spread my wings and felt the sun's rays on my face,  energy coursing through every cell in my body.  Was this my transformation that I thought was imminent?  That thought did enter my mind but soon after I took some long deep breaths to find my presence and the present.  "I am here that is all." was my next thought.  Perhaps the transformation never ends and never begins, it just is.

The Breath
Kapalabhati (Warming Breath)  Brrr... it is cold out there, try this breath to move the circulation, remove stagnation and get the heart pumping.
Kapalabhati or “shining breath” is a yogic breathing technique that releases stress and toxins from the mind and body. It consists of a series of forceful exhalations followed by passive inhalations. Here is how to perform Kapalabhati*:
  1. Sit comfortably in an upright posture and rest your hands on your lower belly.
  2. Draw your navel to your spine in a quick motion, forcefully expelling all the air from your lung. The primary movement is from your diaphragm.
  3. Allow your lungs to fill naturally, with no effort.
  4. Perform this cycle ten times, then allow your breathing return to normal and observe the sensations in your body. Repeat these cycles of ten movements three to four times.
Contraindication: Do not practice Kapalabhati if you are pregnant.
The Poses
Wide-legged Supported Forward Fold

Props: bolster, two blocks, 4 or more blankets
Benefits: releases the pelvis which can help release tension in the buttocks, hips, belly and lower back.  Quiets the organs of digestion and elimination. Opens lower back area. As head rests on bolster, releases tension in frontalis where we hold stress in contracted state. Cooling and calming to overall body and provides a nice transition from day. Can help with sleep.

Depending upon the length of your torso, you may or may not need the blocks under the bolster.  A double-folded blanket folded over one more time adds height and comfort.  Place as many of these as you need on top of the bolster. Cushions and pillows are also good.  You will straddle the props bringing them in as close to your body as possible to support you as you forward fold.  Rub hands together to warm up the hands and gently cup them over the eyes and rest on the elbows on the bolster. Avoid too much pressure on the eyes.  To lesson any strain in the lower back, sit on a single or double-fold blanket.  Can add blanket rolls under the knees. Stay for 5 to 10 minutes. 
*note that for some students the breath can be constrained. Practice belly breaths to begin with.

Reclined Bound Angle, minimal support (Baddhakonasana)
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props: bolster or firm pillows,  or rolled-up blankets,  one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow

Set up blanket lengthwise on mat, add neck pillow to top. Place pillows or rolled up blankets on either side to support legs. Recline over bolster or pillow and bring soles of the feet together, with bent knees, open legs to either side.   Strap can be added to contain the legs and deepen pose.  Place around your midsection and other end goes around edges of feet. Tighten so that legs get a feeling of being held up.  Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment.  Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.

Nesting Pose
Props: blankets, bolster
Benefits; Nurturing, sense of security, well-supported pose to regulate the nervous system, good for when you are feeling anxious, keeps body in alignment, supportive for the spine, hips, shoulders, head.  Allows for optimal healing and sleeping position. nurturing, sense of security, optimal for sleeping

Create a big enough folded blanket to place between the knees to align the legs in Tadasana. Add a folded blanket to rest your top arm on. Recline on a side that is comfortable, resting your head on a blanket. A neck roll can go under the ankles for support.  Bolster can rest along spine for further support and grounding. Finally, cover yourself with a blanket from head to toes.  Sink down with each long exhalation.  Mantra to accompany pose "I am safe, I am supported".

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February 3 Restore

5 Minutes of Peace
Our household has grown to two cats.  Oreo and Maxine have not been the best of friends since Oreo's arrival 3 weeks ago but we feel that even these 5 minutes of peaceful coexistence is enough.  Enough to actually feel that it will work out okay for all parties.

Something else that doesn't come easy is practicing compassion for ourselves.  We are hard on ourselves and less forgiving for our transgressions. I think that if we are ultimately loving toward ourselves, we can be genuinely loving toward others with a completely open heart.  


What if you set your intention for the day with some of the Metta Meditations below?  Try these out, and possibly journal about how your day went, what was your relationship with yourself, others?  Write a meditation on a stick note and place it on your mirror for an extra reminder to be kind to yourself.  Love Ya!


This won't come easy to practice love and kindness to others and to self, but the key word is Practice.  First thing in the morning, set your intention to practice Metta Karuna.  Some of the following verses may help you in this endeavor.



Waking this morning, I smile
A brand new day is before me.
I aspire to live each moment mindfully.
And to look upon all beings
with the eyes of kindness and compassion.
May you, and all other beings, be happy and 
free from suffering.

Or meditate and reflect upon your heat, acknowledge how it feels (open/closed, receptive/defensive). Repeat this Metta verse.



May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I be safe from harm
May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness
May I experience ease and wellbeing in my mind, body and spirit

And after your asana/yoga practice, sit quietly and send affirmations to your heart, someone close to you, someone you have difficulty with, all beings everywhere.


May I/you be protected and safe
May I/you be healthy and strong
May I/you be happy and at ease
May I/you care for myself/yourself wisely




May I/you be at peace

The Breath

Sitali, the Cooling Breath
This yogic breath will help calm the mind and soothe the emotions such as anger, anxiety and frustration. Also good for fevers or when you feel overheated. Will give you a feeling of contentment. Regulates digestive and sexual energy and detoxifies.
Open mouth and curl your tongue like a taco. 
INHALE through the curled tongue. Close mouth and EXHALE through the nostrils. Continue this cycle.
Sit up with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair. Hands in gyan mudra ( pads of thumb and index finger touching)


Practice this breath for 3 – 11 mins bring contentment into your life.
The Poses


Supported Bridge
Props: 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth, strap for legs
Benefits: Expands the chest muscles, opens the lungs, balances the glands, quiets the nerves and releases tension in the nervous system, increases oxygen intake to the brain, can stimulate the immune system (thyroid)

Make two stacks of two double or triple fold blankets on top of each other.  Placed the two stacks end to end. Height and width of blankets can be adjusted for your body.  Sit down straddling one of the stacks and carefully lower yourself down onto forearms, swing your legs on to other stack and lie down. Neck roll is placed at top stack, lower shoulder and head to floor.  Neck is supported by neck roll and head is completely flat on floor with forehead and chin on the same plane.  Arms stretched out to the sides. The stacks of blankets should be long enough for the entire body to be resting on including the feet.  Option to put strap around calves if the legs are rolling outward.  Stay for up to 15 minutes. Roll off blankets slowly and bring knees to chest with some movement.


Supported Forward Fold (or Seated Childs Pose)

Props: bolster, blankets
Benefits: gently stretches the back, hamstrings, ankles. Grounding. May aid in digestions, feel more connected to breath and body and lessen feelings of anxiety.

Fold over one blanket to sit on and slide a bolster or stack of blankets under the legs behind the knee joint. Placing enough blankets on your thighs so that your head is supported with room to breathe through your nose. Bring your arms to a comfortable position. Stay with breath and let your body melt into the supported. 10-15 minutes. Stretch your body anyway that feels good after the pose is complete for you.


Reclined Bound Angle
Version with Legs Straight
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow





Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week's class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees)  Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment.  Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.

Friday, January 23, 2015

January 20 Restore Series

A Portal to Being Present
I have this crazy feeling of claustrophobia in my walk-in closet at home.  It matters not if I am alone or there is someone else in there with me, I still can feel it.  My forays into the closet have to happen quickly or a tightness begins around my throat.   

Surprisingly, when I think of a wide open space as in the mid-west prairies, I also get a claustrophobic and tightening feeling.  I need to have an ocean at least 2-3 hours away.  So how is this related to restorative yoga?

I have discovered through my own restorative practice and via the feedback from students and teachers that restorative yoga can also hold its own surprises.  A completely supported and what may seem a comfortable pose can cause the most excruciating sensations somewhere in the body. Conversely you may be in a pose that is not aligned and be relaxed.  Everyone is different. Their bodies and minds are different.  This is why the practice needs to fit each person where they are.

For the beginner restorative student, there may be the expectation that this practice will bring on instant relaxation and perhaps certain poses do.  It is a process of unfolding and may take time.  This is why we offer the restorative class in a 4-part series.  Over time we build layers and layers of tension in our bodies, stressful thoughts in our minds, and emotional reactions in our hearts.  The unfolding takes time and effort, and there may be discomfort along the way.

One pose that gets me thinking about this unfolding is the Reclined Bound Angle Pose.  This is one of my students favorite poses as it supports the spine, is a gentle hip opener and heart opener, and easy on the breath.   On the other hand, I have the most intense pressure in my neck and face when I am in this pose.  I want to jump out of it in the first 5 minutes.  And then I breathe evenly and observe the sensations and not judge or form opinions around them.  Five more minutes pass may pass and the sensations subside.  I can feel my body say "Thank you" as my limbs relax and my bones get heavy. Tiny shifts happen.   It is a far cry from what this pose presented to me two, even 5 fiveyears ago. It is still not an "easy" pose today but I remain present to all.

The Breath
Breath of Joy - Conduct your own Joy
From standing mountain, inhale and bring arms out in front, continue to inhale as you swing arms horizontally by your side, then continue with inhalation as you again swing arms out front, finally exhale as you forward fold and arms come down towards the floor. Repeat at least 6 times and on the final exhale, hang there limply enjoying the energy you just created through breath.  As with any breath, if you begin to feel lightheaded, return to a neutral position and your normal breath.

The Poses
Lumbar Wrap
Props: 1-2 blankets
Benefits: supports low back, grounding, gentle hip opener, supports release and relaxation.

Open blanket so that you have a longer rectangle, fold this rectangle over approx. 4 times, smoothing each fold so no creases appear. Lay on your back with the blanket in the lumbar region, legs stretch out. Arms by your side, palms up.  Add a neck roll or blanket for head and cervical spine.  Option to bend legs with knees touching, feet wide to take any pressure off of the low back. Stay for 5 minutes or however long to let go. 


Savasana on Belly (Bent Leg)
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: gives lumbar spine support, ease strain on sacral ilium area, good for digestion, full release of the body to gravity with low back pain. Return the body to a state of balance after your practice.

Place a double or triple folded blanket under your abdomen as you belly down on the mat. One leg extended, other one bent at a 90 angle.  Fold arms under head and rest forehead on them or send them to a Goddess position.  Modify arm/head position for most comfort.

Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)


Props: 1-2 blankets, strap, eye pillow, blanket for warmth, neck roll, a bolster for behind legs
Benefits: increases circulation and helps venous and lymphatic flow from the lower body; relieves swelling and fatigue in the legs; helps relieve muscular skeletal stress in pelvis; quiets the mind and can help promote ease in meditation and sleep.

Begin with using a double-folded blanket to be placed right above sacrum (see photo), setting it approx. distance 6-8" from wall (adjust in pose). Sit down on the blanket with one hip pressed right up against the wall. As you lower down, swing your legs up the wall. Once in the pose, you can adjust distance to wall, angle of legs to all, blanket and placement of legs all for comfort.  Hips and tailbone will be in space between wall and blanket. Arms rest by your side, palms face up or variation with Goddess arms (photo above).  
Variations: To ground legs, blanket or sandbag to hang from soles of the feet.  Strap can be placed around calves, so you lose the feeling of holding up legs.  Tight hamstrings or really uncomfortable with legs directly up the wall? Try a bolster angled into the wall to rest legs on, add blankets for more support or move hips further from wall.  Another variation is Legs up on a Chair or on a bolster with blankets on top to bring knees into a 90 degree angle.

Friday, January 16, 2015

January 12 Restore


Inspiration, what a beautiful word. Inspiration as defined by a medical dictionary, the drawing of air into the lungs.  As defined by Merriams, something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone
: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something
: a good idea
...a force or influence that inspires someone.  Could this be the prana energy or chi that the breath embodies?

I feel that the drawing of air into the lungs does inspire me, my ideas, my creativity.  The act fuels my desire to create.  Just like the cycle of breath, inhalation to exhalation back to inhalation, there is a cycle of breath to creation.  An idea, a glimmer takes hold, then it grows in embodiment and quite possibly the idea passes from the inception to fruition which may spurn on more ideas. So when I focus on the breath flowing in and out, I can make the space for my ideas to cycle in and out. Maybe some of those ideas stick, maybe they pass on through.  However, when the breath becomes disjointed, shortened, erratic, it is like a stop gap to those ideas.  I get stuck. some ideas may still be born but they become lodged like my breath and my body.


There are a few breathing techniques that may inspire us to generate more ideas.  1) Controlled breathing where you breath in and out for the same count, perhaps adding to the count on the exhalation as you are able to, 2) alternate nostril breath (nadi shodhana) and 3) retaining the breath for as long as you can and then exhaling fully and completely.  This will improve mental clarity, balance the two hemispheres of the brain and relax the mind.

For an additional method to facilitating creativity, try this short meditation in the morning on the visualizing your intention and creativity.

Breath
Peace Breath


Steady flow of breath in and out at an even rate on the inhalation and exhalation while silently saying these affirmations (can create your own affirmations depending upon what you need).

Breath in Peace, Breathe out quiet
Breathe in Quiet, Breathe out stillness
Breathe in Stillness, Breathe out Balance
Breathe in Balance, Breathe out Light
Breathe in Light, Breathe out Love
Breathe in Love, Breathe out Peace

Lions Breath (Simhasana)


Sit comfortably either in Sukhasana (Easy Seat) or on your heels. Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Then simultaneously open your mouth wide and stretch your tongue out, curling its tip down toward the chin, open your eyes wide, contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct "ha" sound. The breath should pass over the back of the throat.
Some texts instruct us to set our gaze (drishti) at the spot between the eyebrows. This is called "mid-brow gazing" (bhru-madhya-drishti; bhru = the brow; madhya = middle).Other texts direct the eyes to the tip of the nose (nasa-agra-drishti; nasa = nose; agra = foremost point or part, i.e., tip).
You can roar two or three times. Then change the cross of the legs and repeat for the same number of times.
Benefits: Useful for people with bad breath, relieves stress and can be used when you need to ease a tense situation, relieves tension in the chest and face, move stagnation in sinuses.
(Yoga Journal)

Poses

Childs Pose
Props: bolster, two blocks, 2-3 blankets
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind.  Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum

Place the two blocks at either the lowest or medium height, equidistant from each other bolster lengthwise on top of blocks. A s-fold or triple fold blanket on top of bolster.  It may be more comfortable without blocks.  Legs straddle the props at one end, and lengthen body over them. Head will rest on props.  Additional blanket(s) may be used behind knees. Ideally props should extend all the way to the pelvis area but this may not be the case with your body structure.   Stay here for 10 minutes to begin with, rotating head side to side. 

Modify as needed with a chair or as a straddle.


Reclined Bound Angle on floor, minimal support (Baddhakonasana)
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems. 
Props: bolster or firm pillows,  or rolled-up blankets,  one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow

Set up blanket lengthwise on mat, add neck pillow to top. Place pillows or rolled up blankets on either side to support legs. Recline over bolster or pillow and bring soles of the feet together, with bent knees, open legs to either side.   Strap can be added to contain the legs and deepen pose.  Place around your midsection and other end goes around edges of feet. Tighten so that legs get a feeling of being held up.  Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment.  Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.

Nesting Pose
Props: blankets, bolster
Benefits; Nurturing, sense of security, well-supported pose to regulate the nervous system, good for when you are feeling anxious, keeps body in alignment, supportive for the spine, hips, shoulders, head.  Allows for optimal healing and sleeping position. nurturing, sense of security, optimal for sleeping

Create a big enough folded blanket to place between the knees to align the legs in Tadasana. Add a folded blanket to rest your top arm on. Recline on a side that is comfortable, resting your head on a blanket. A neck roll can go under the ankles for support.  Bolster can rest along spine for further support and grounding. Finally, cover yourself with a blanket from head to toes.  Sink down with each long exhalation.  Mantra to accompany pose "I am safe, I am supported".

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January 6 Restore

It is beautiful how much life is filled with moments where we decide to act and then realize how those actions affect others.  This morning, I was on my way back home, when I spied a bird floundering in the road.  I kept driving but right away I knew that when I got home, I would turn around and return to see if the bird was still in the road.  I found a box at home to put the bird in and returned to the place on the road. That decision happened in a millisecond.   But the affects of my decision could potentially last a lifetime. I got out of my own head and went to someone else's aid and I stretched my heart a little more open to encompass all creatures big and small.  I am not looking for kudos or "Atta boys" in my testimony but I've come to realize that even the smallest gesture of kindness, compassion can alter a life (good or bad).   I hope I made that difference to this little bird as it took its last dying breaths.  As it lay warm in my bathroom, I spoke to it, telling it that it was okay to let go. One final breath and it peacefully rested. Thank you little bird, thank you split second decision.

So we begin our practice again, welcoming our dear friends back and new friends in to our community.  Each decision to come onto your mat and into your practice, no matter how hard or easy, makes a difference. You may feel it physically, or in your emotions or even mentally. This blog is yours to explore the many poses and breath techniques available, the inspirational articles and meditations.  This week's inspiration at the bottom of the blog highlights Sankalpa or Intention. Please feel free to comment on the blog about what you see or send me a private message.

The Breath
Equal Breath
1:1 Breath or Equal Breath
Find a comfortable seated position or laying down. Focus in on your breath, becoming aware of its pattern before beginning this breath. Make a conscious effort to inhale and exhale for the same count (2 to 3). Find a calm, steady awareness of the breath, the feel, the temperature, the way it enters and exits the body. Practice this breath anywhere. Continue this for 2 to 3 minutes. 

The Poses
Chest and Belly
Benefits: Very grounding, allows glut, thigh and low back muscles to relax while supporting the low back, can stimulate digestive system, ease anxiety
Props: 1-2 blankets
Place a blanket horizontally on your mat or floor. Lay down on the blanket with one edge of the blanket at top of thighs and the other end at low ribs to support the low back. Make any adjustments to height of blanket for comfort.  Another blanket can be used for your head. Extend arms out to sides then bend elbows at 90 degree angle (Goddess arms), turn head to a side. When you need to turn your head to the other side, do so as you inhale softly.

Revolved Abdominal Twist
Props: bolster, 3 blankets, 1 extra blanket for warmth and or laying on lower back to ground
Benefits: Gentle twist for the spine (quadratus lumborom) Releases stress on the back muscles and a stretch to the intercostal muscles. As muscles relax, breathing is enhanced.

Set one bolster lengthwise on your mat.  Depending upon your comfort, height can be elevated with blocks under bolster. Lay one blanket on top double-fold and one double-fold at end of bolster where your right hip will go. Sit next to bolster with your right hip touching it, bend knees, left or top ankle can lay in arch of right foot or other comfortable position for feet. For added comfort, place blanket between legs. Lengthen body over bolster, laying bent legs in one directions and upper body facing down on bolster. Arms drape down sides of the bolster.

The Inspiration
Sankalpa

Give your New Year's resolutions a yogic twist—set an intention and infuse the new year with positive change.
By Catherine Guthrie
A new year's resolution is a noteworthy concept—start off the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You're fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You're unhealthy.) Call Mom and Dad once a week! (You're ungrateful.) Why not celebrate this new year by trading in your tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead?
POSITIVE POWER A Sanskrit word, sankalpa means "will, purpose, or determination." To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it's like a New Year's resolution with a yogic twist. While a resolution often zeros in on a perceived negative aspect of ourselves (as in, "I want to lose weight, so no more chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese"), a sankalpa explores what's behind the thought or feeling ("I crave chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese when I'm feeling stressed or sad. I will set an intention to become conscious of this craving and allow my feelings to arise and pass, rather than fill up on fats").
EFFORT COUNTS A sankalpa also praises the nobility of the effort rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong. "New Year's resolutions leave me feeling guilty and mad at myself for not keeping them," says Wendy McClellan, a yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. So, last year, in a conscious effort to reject the resolution rut, she taught a special New Year's Eve yoga class and encouraged students to look back and let go. Her intention, or sankalpa? To open her heart to new possibilities. "An intention has much more of a global sense than a resolution," she says. "It helps me be softer with myself." With a sankalpa, the self-loathing that comes from dwelling on past transgressions can begin to dissolve. In its place is an exercise in effort and surrender—create an intention and open yourself to the universe.

Sankalpa Setting


LOOK INWARD For several days, set aside time to write in a journal and meditate. Mull over your typical resolutions. How do they make you feel? Anxious? Unsettled? Incomplete? Now contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year's journey more joyful and worthwhile?

REPHRASE IT Create a short sentence or phrase for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of "May life bring me only happiness and joy this year" consider "May I be happy and open to what life brings me."
BE FIRM BUT FAIR Change doesn't happen overnight. When you stray from the essence of your sankalpa, don't berate yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself of your intention. But be firm in your resolve—it's a good idea to incorporate your sankalpa into yoru daily routine. Use it as a mantra during pranayama or meditation practice; post it on your computer, phone, or mirror; or simply say it to yourself quietly before going to sleep. —C.G
Catherine Guthrie is a writer and yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, and a regular contributor to Yoga Journal.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

November 18 Restore Series


Brrr...Baby it's cold out there.  Deceivingly cold. From my warm house, I see sunshine, plenty of it.  So I go for a walk, round a corner in the neighborhood and wham the wind hits me.  Now I am warm again and grateful.  Grateful for the warmth of my home but also grateful for my brisk walk outside.  I appreciated soaking in nature with all of its mighty thrust.  What can you do to stay active this winter, while still honoring the season, where hunkering down is natural and necessary.

Here are several practices to illuminate your winter. Compliments of several yoga teachers from Kripalu.

Visualizing the Light Within (Todd Norian)
(Meditation to build heat)
Visualize a candle flame in each of your chakras, starting at the base of your spine, and moving to the sacral region, navel, heart, throat, forehead, and crown of the head. Then visualize the candles glowing in both palms and on the soles of both feet. Now imagine all the flames simultaneously aglow.

Warming Breathwork (Erin Casperson)
Practice Kapalabhati, or Skull-Polishing Breath, a series of short, sharp exhalations and passive
inhalations done while pumping the belly. "Kapalabhati is a warming breath that clears the cloudiness from the mind while stoking the internal digestive fire," Erin says. It is also good for clearing the sinuses.

Daily Warm-up (Sarajean Rudman)
Move your body to the point of breaking a sweat everyday. "This can be a vigorous yoga flow, or perhaps dancing, some kind of calisthenics or martial arts, or a jog if it isn't freezing out, " says Sarajean.

Breath the Air (Erin)
Each morning when the sun comes out, I make sure to go outside and breathe, even when it's freezing cold or cloudy. Exposure to the morning light keeps us aligned with our natural diurnal rhythms, she says.

Move Inward (Miriam Greenspan)
Welcome the introversion that this season naturally encourages. "Just as the winter brings with it col and frost, many people in this season find their hearts constricting a kind of interior winter weather," Miriam says. "While tis can feel distressing, it's actually a signal to bring our attention inward."

The Breath
Ujjayi Breath (Victorious Breath)
A breath to center you, help with focus. Energizing and warming to the body. Great for better respiratory function.   Another benefit may be humidfied air going in, dust particles going out of the nostrils and lungs. Supports releasing feelings of frustration or anxiety.

Air is drawn in through the nostrils (inhalation) and the back of the throat (glottis) is slightly closed which moves the air down the trachea and into the lungs more efficiently creating a warmth.  The exhalation releases from the lungs and travels up the trachea through this smaller opening out of the nostrils.  The sound closely resembles an ocean wave moving into the shoreline or for Star Wars fans, Darth Vader sound. Don't tightly close the back of the throat in this breath, better a gentle close.

The Poses
Legs up Variation
Props: 2 bolsters, 1-2 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: drains fluid from the legs, releases pelvic floor, chest and shoulder opener, back of legs get a gentle stretch


Place one bolster horizontally on mat (for the knees) and one vertically (for the feet, ankes and lower legs). Arrange a triple-folded blanket horizontally (lumbar and thoracic spine area). Recline legs over the bolsters and lower the upper body on the blanket. Adjust so that the tips of the shoulder blades are right above the blanket. Add neck pillow under neck and move arms to Goddess position if comfortable for  your shoulders. Otherwise, they can go by your side or stack hands on top of your belly.  10 to 15 minutes, dropping the weight of your body on the exhalations.

Reclined Twist
Props: bolster, 2-4 blocks, 4 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras: blanket for warmth
Benefits: Allows breath to come in to the rib cage and belly more freely. Detoxifying. Can reduce high blood pressure. Relieves fatigue and insomnia.  Safe for a Prenatal twist.

This can be a very prop intensive pose but once you are in it, it is worth it.  Begin with right side of body, place the bottom of your right foot against the wall with leg extended. Left leg is bent at a 90 deg. angle and propped up with two blocks and a bolster with maybe a blanket on top. at least two blankets, S-fold blankets, and/or pillows placed along spine for support, lengthwise.  Extend your left arm out to the left side and lay it on a smaller stack of blankets either s-fold or triple-fold out to your side.  Right arm extends out to the right.  This means the left arm is at a higher elevation than right. Head can remain neutral to ceiling or turn to one side.   Extra blankets can be placed in spaces that need more support.  Neck roll for cervical spine and eye pillow.
*we are digging placing the arms in Goddess pose (not pictured) so try that one out as well. Place blanket support under arms. 

Surfboard


Props: blankets, including one for warmth, stuffed animals or eye bags for hands
Benefits: gently stretches the lumbar spine and para spinal muscles, and gives a release in the diaphragm, quiets the mind and comforting. Gives a sense of security.  

2 bolster fold blanket placed lengthwise on mat on top of each other. One blanket at end of mat for ankle support. Make roll for ankle support. Rest of that blanket fills in gap where shin does not meet the floor. Make sure no blanket is on knee. This supports the knee in the pose.  Top bolster folded blanket roll towards you in a wider roll to fit in chest and shoulder area. One more blanket folded so that its height is the same as the two bolster folded blankets. Come to all fours straddling the props, release to forearms and then fully recline on props.  Ankles rest on small roll at end of mat, shins supported by the rest of that blanket. Rest the rest of your body at hip crease on the bolster fold blankets and lay chest on wider roll of top blanket. Head rests on additional blanket at top, turned to the side. Arms come out to the sides, releasing shoulders down the back and away from the ears. Placing an eye pillow or stuffed animal in palms as they face floor is very grounding and comfortable. Additional blankets for pillows tucked in as needed with student to create boundaries or make more comfortable.