Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

Yoga for Great Sex, Part 2 October 27, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Last time, we talked about yoga’s physical benefits for your sex life. Today we’ll talk about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga and how they can help improve your connection with both your partner and with yourself.

First, yoga opens the heart. Practicing yoga increases our capacity for love and compassion. Having a more open heart allows you to connect more deeply with your partner. It also allows you to be more compassionate with yourself. Many people, especially women, are overly critical of themselves in sexual situations, constantly thinking about their bodies in a negative way, worrying about whether they’re doing it “right”, but developing more compassion can help such people to let go of that negativity and worry and just enjoy themselves.

For many people, yoga leads to increased confidence. You have a healthier, stronger, fitter body, so you feel more confident and more attractive. Yoga also helps us become emotionally stronger and more in touch with our true Selves, leading to an inner confidence that shines forth. And confident people are sexy!

Yoga and meditation teach us about awareness and mindfulness, and help us develop the ability to be present right now. This is a really important skill in the bedroom, too. For the person who has a tendency to worry about how she looks or what she’s doing during sex, focusing on being present right now can help her to set those worries aside and just enjoy the moment. And for the person who is easily distracted (who finds her mind wandering off, thinking about what she needs to get at the store tomorrow), cultivating that mindful awareness can bring her attention back to the present moment where it belongs.

Yoga also reduces stress by helping us to truly relax. Stress is one of the major factors that keeps us from wanting to have sex in the first place, and from fully enjoying it when we do have it. But in yoga, we consciously relax the body and release tension. When we’re able to do this in the bedroom, that enables us to have more fun and build a better connection with our partner.

Later on, I’ll post about some specific yoga poses that have hidden power to benefit our sex lives (I’ve already covered Cobbler Pose), as well as a sample sequence you can do to get warmed up for a fantastic romantic evening. For now, here’s a quick sampling of some common types of yoga poses and what they can do for us:

  • Heart-opening poses, like cobra, camel, or bridge, help us to develop compassionate hearts
  • Standing poses, like the warriors or triangle, contribute to the overall health of the body and help to build strength, heat, and energy
  • Balance poses help us learn to focus on mindfulness and being present
  • Poses that involve squatting strengthen the pelvic floor
  • Relaxing poses like child’s pose or legs-up-the-wall help us learn to calm our minds and relax
  • Savasana, of course, is the most important pose in yoga as well as for improving your sex life, because savasana teaches us how to relax, how to be in the present moment, and how to be comfortable with the stillness within yourself, which is what will allow us to connect deeply with another person

In yoga, we learn that true happiness comes from within. When you’re practicing yoga, you’re in touch with your spirit and able to open your heart and share yourself with another person. Sex then becomes much more than an experience of momentary physical enjoyment, when two people are able to share not just their bodies but their true Selves.

 

Relaxation Sequence July 22, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:37 pm
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For last month’s homework, I had to prepare a relaxation sequence – the sort of thing I’d say out loud during savasana at the end of a yoga class. Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to imagine me saying this aloud in a calm, soothing voice.

Let’s start getting ready for savasana: do any last pose or twist you need to do, then come down to lie on your mat. Make sure you’re warm enough, arrange your clothing so nothing’s bothering you, and we’ll prepare the body for relaxation.

First, flex your feet: curl your toes, really tense the feet… and relax them.

Now tense your legs: engage your calf muscles, squeeze your thighs, really tighten… and relax.

Tighten your tush, squeeze it hard, really flex… and relax.

Now squeeze your belly, tighten your abs, pull it really tight… and relax.

Curl your hands into fists, squeeze them hard, flex the arms, tighten the arm muscles, push… and relax.

Pull up your shoulders, squeeze them up toward your ears, really press hard… and relax.

Now squeeze your face: scrunch up your nose and mouth and forehead, really squeeze… and relax.

Release all the tension from your body, and feel your whole body relax. Feel the floor holding you up. Let your body be heavy; let yourself just sink down into the floor and rest. Let your mind rest too: just watch your breath move in and out, in and out. Let all your worries go for just a few minutes and luxuriate here.

Savasana

I’d give the students several minutes to relax in savasana. Then I’d invite them to begin to bring movement back to the body – wiggling fingers and toes – and to roll onto one side, then up to a comfortable seated position. After a moment of meditation, we’d all say “namaste” and the class would be over.

 

Meditation introduction June 30, 2011

Recently I talked with a friend who mentioned having some medical problems. I said I’d heard that yoga could help with the problem she was experiencing (because really, what else do I talk about these days), and she said, “I tried yoga once in college but I couldn’t get into it! That last pose – the instructor kept saying we had to make our minds TOTALLY BLANK. And I just can’t do that!” I wanted to hug my poor friend because she got cheated so badly! Here’s someone willing to give yoga a try, who could really be helped by it, who’s been turned off from yoga because of bad and inaccurate teaching. I wish I could give her old instructor a talking-to! Instead, all I could do was tell my friend I hoped she’d give it another try with a new teacher and that it might be different for her this time.

Contrary to what a lot of people may believe, meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank. The mind is never blank! Anyone who says that to practice meditation we need to make our minds completely blank is dead wrong. Our minds are like crazy drunk monkeys, careening around from one thing to another. Meditation, savasana, pratyahara, the pranayama breathing exercises I did last month – it’s all about calming down the monkey in our brains and training it to do what we want it to do. It’s still a monkey – it’s always going to be a little crazy! But you can teach the monkey to listen. Meditation isn’t about making the mind a blank, because that’s impossible; meditation is about working with what you have and learning to calm your monkey down.

The first step in meditation is to give your mind as little to worry about as possible. Sit in a comfortable position, arrange your clothing so nothing’s bothering you, take off your sweatshirt or put on some socks, blow your nose, drink some water, shut the door, tell your family not to come in for a few minutes. Eliminate the distractions before you get started, so that once you start, you can stay put. Before meditation, do some yoga poses: they keep the body limber and healthy, so that when we sit for meditation, we can be still for a while without the body distracting us. (I got a reminder of that this morning, when I skipped yoga and went right to meditation, and my back ached the whole time.) You could also take a walk, which allows you get some fresh air and some exercise, refreshing you before meditation. Try reading from a sacred book or inspirational text to get in the mood for spiritual practice. It’s also good to do some pranayama breathing exercises like alternate-nostril breathing: this slows down your breathing and gets the mind starting to focus on the breath.

When we sit down to practice meditation, our crazy monkey brains are going to be bored. They’re going to want to do anything other than meditate. If you sit down and try to just make your mind a blank, your mind will fight you! It’ll make lists of everything you need to do after this, it’ll wonder what happened to Kristin who sat next to you in third grade, it’ll replay every embarrassing moment with every past sweetheart, it’ll remind you to call your mother. But if you give the mind something to do, something to focus on, it won’t have a chance to do all those things, and this makes the whole process easier.

The simplest thing to do is just to focus on the breath. Make the breath quiet and calm; on each inhale, say to yourself “inhale”, and on each exhale, say “exhale”. You could also try working with your breath energy: inhale “peace” and feel peacefulness flooding through your body; exhale “love” and imagine your love and compassion going out to all beings in the world. Choose any concept or word that resonates with you. You’ll get distracted at some point, because that’s what happens, you can’t avoid it. Don’t get angry or upset, as that just gives your monkey brain more ammunition to work with. When you get distracted, just accept it calmly and start over, bringing it back to your practice, inhaling and exhaling.

There are a few other meditation practices that I’ll share with you over the course of this month. What’s key is to remember two things. First, meditation is hard work, requiring a lot of self-control and self-discipline. Second, anyone can meditate. Not just Buddhist monks in orange robes, not just really holy people, but everybody. The more crazy stuff you have going on in your life, the more you probably need to meditate! Be open to learning, be gentle with yourself, and pretty soon you’ll start to enjoy those quiet moments.

 

June Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday: pratyahara, meditation, and teaching practice June 29, 2011

In Saturday’s teacher training class, we continued our discussion of relaxation and moved on to pratyahara and meditation.

Pratyahara refers to the drawing-in of the senses. It’s a gateway to higher levels of consciousness, which makes sense when you think about it, because it’s our senses that distract us from meditation and spiritual practice. We want to look out the window, we hear a strange sound, we adjust our clothing or shift around, something smells funny, and it all leads to distraction, whether you’re in a church or on your yoga mat. Our senses exist to protect us and help us to survive, but in the modern day and age, we rarely need to rely on our senses for survival anymore. Drawing in the senses, blocking out the outside world, can help us to focus on our meditation or spiritual practice.

J gave a great talk on meditation as well. Meditation begins with concentration, and we actually start meditation right in the middle of yoga practice as we concentrate on our asana postures. Then we take that concentration and apply it to focusing our minds. This month, I’ll be talking a lot about concentration and meditation as I practice these things every day. Here are this month’s homework projects:

  • Read the book Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran
  • Read book II of the Yoga Sutras (we’ve read some of this; just need to finish whatever we haven’t done yet)
  • Practice meditation daily
  • Keep a journal of my meditation practice; write a reflection paper based on the experience
  • Write up a guided relaxation sequence
  • Pose of the Month write-ups: two backbends

When I first heard the homework assignments, I was excited because I’ve wanted to do more with meditation for a long time. Then J began to talk about how important it is to practice meditation every single day, always at the same time and in the same place. This month, F and I are going to be moving to a new home – there won’t be a same time, same place for a while, at least not every day. As J talked, I began to feel discouraged before I even began. I asked J for advice, and he said, “Then practice meditation sitting with your boxes.” He said not to let the situation get in the way of my practice, and to focus on appreciating the boxes – after all, they mean we’re moving to a beautiful new home! I felt so much better and was glad I’d said something.

Saturday’s class was a big help to me because I always feel like I’m doing meditation wrong. I read a lot of books by Buddhist monks and other spiritual authors, and they always say that it’s difficult to calm the mind, but I figured, a Buddhist monk has no experience with the insanity going on in my brain. I thought I must be terrible at meditation because I keep getting so distracted. Now, though, I feel a little more reassured that getting distracted is part of the experience – that’s just what happens, and it happens to everybody. I’m not doing it wrong, and I’m actually doing it not too badly. I have a variety of meditation exercises to try this month, and I’ll share them all with you here.

At the end of Saturday’s class, we did some yoga teaching practice. J told us to pair up, but my pair decided to join with another pair into a group of four. This meant that none of us got quite as much teaching practice – instead of teaching half of the time, we each taught a quarter of the time – but the experience more than made up for this. It was really good to work with my classmates and hear their voices as teachers. We’re all getting much more confident! We also had the freedom this time to teach poses that aren’t necessarily part of J’s or N’s usual repertoire. Sarah gave us some challenging standing poses to do, and I taught some of my favorite seated poses. We’re all getting there! I don’t know if I’ll have time to practice teaching on friends and family this month, but I hope I get the chance soon.

 

June Teacher Training Weekend: Friday: relaxation/savasana discussion June 28, 2011

Friday night was the start of our fourth teacher training weekend. This month, our topics were relaxation, pratyahara, and meditation; on Friday we talked about relaxation, and savasana in particular.

In Western culture, we tend to rely on external things in order to relax: TV, computers, music, video games, alcohol, social events, all kinds of things that are external. We fill our lives with these things, telling ourselves that they help us to relax, but really when we depend on external things to help us relax, we become unable to relax without those things. In yoga, all you need to relax is yourself. Relaxation in savasana is an active, conscious process, but one that relies on nothing but your own mind and body.

Savasana, or corpse/rest pose, is the final pose at the end of a yoga class. After working hard and exerting yourself throughout your yoga practice, you come down to the floor, lie on your back, let your feet flop open and your arms rest and your eyes close. Although it’s an easy pose physically, savasana is said to be the most difficult of all yoga poses, because it’s here that you lie still, quieting and slowing down your mind. For many people, it’s incredibly difficult simply to be still; for others, it’s hard to release all the tension that builds up in the body. Many students come into savasana but can’t keep their eyes shut, can’t stop moving (maybe scratching an itch, maybe adjusting their clothing, maybe just moving around), can’t quiet the mind. I’m a victim of this too as much as anybody.

What I learned on Friday night is that savasana, like any yoga pose, needs to be practiced actively. In most yoga poses, you’re active physically; for example, in Warrior 2, I’m always thinking, is my knee right over my ankle, is my back leg straight, am I pressing through the back foot, are my arms high enough, is my core balanced, are my abs engaged. Even when I’m just holding the pose, I’m actively working to improve my posture. In savasana, you do the same work, but you do it just in your mind, working to observe the breathing and observe the mind, to let the body relax, and to learn to enjoy being still. In yoga asana practice we exert conscious effort; in savasana we enter conscious relaxation.

As a yoga teacher in training, it’s important that I learn how to teach savasana. If even I still have trouble surrendering and relaxing in this pose, then my future students certainly will. Many yoga studios, and especially yoga teachers at gyms and fitness centers, do not really teach their students how to relax, so this is crucially important for me to learn.

Savasana is valuable because it allows the body to truly relax. Did you ever have a night where your dreams were so vivid and so engaging that, when you woke up in the morning, you felt like you didn’t get any rest? The mind interprets dreams as if they’re really happening, so all night long while we dream we’re still working. In savasana, when it’s done correctly, you can properly, consciously relax. J told us about a past teacher of his who never seemed to sleep, because he got all his rest during savasana so that he didn’t need to sleep at night. That’s a little extreme, but savasana or conscious relaxation can give us that little bit of extra rest to help us feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s problems.

On Friday night, we talked about all these aspects of savasana. We did a little basic stretching, and then N put us into a deep relaxation. She used a 61-point relaxation exercise and talked us through it. We all left the yoga center on Friday night feeling profoundly relaxed and calm. I got a great night’s sleep on Friday night (although at least one of my classmates reported a restless night, as if the deep relaxation had thrown off her usual rest patterns). The experience made me think a lot about my usual practice of savasana, and ways to consciously improve my experience of this pose.

 

 
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