Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pose of the Month: Pigeon Pose May 20, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:10 pm
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Pigeon Pose - FoldedPose Name:

Pigeon Pose (One-Legged King Pigeon)

Sanskrit Name:

Kapotanasana (or, more fully, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Steps:

  1. Begin in downward-facing dog.
  2. Step the right foot up toward the hands, and lay the right leg on the mat: right knee behind right hand, right foot in behind left hand. The right heel should be in line with your left hip point.
  3. Lower your body down onto the floor. Straighten the left leg and lengthen it straight behind you; uncurl the left toes and press the top of the left foot into the floor.
  4. Bring your hands back alongside your hips. Pressing your hands into the floor, breathe in and rise up into a gentle backbend.
  5. Lengthen your spine. Make sure your weight is distributed evenly over both hips.
  6. Fold forward over the right leg. Keep your spine straight and don’t hunch your back. You can rest your hands or elbows on the floor in front of you. If you’re able to bend more deeply, rest your forearms on the floor. You can cross your arms and rest your forehead on your hands, or stretch your arms straight out and rest your forehead on the floor.
  7. Breathe slowly and deeply as you relax into the pose. Don’t push yourself – let gravity pull you deeper into the pose.
  8. Press palms into the floor and come out of the pose, pressing back into downward-facing dog. If you are able, curl your left toes under and press back while bringing your right leg straight up into one-legged dog.
  9. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Pigeon pose is a deep hip opener and stretches the thighs, groins, and psoas. Stretching the piriformis muscle can relieve sciatic pain.

Contraindications:

Those with hip or knee problems should practice this pose gently. Those with lower back problems may want to omit the backbend. Pregnant students should take care with any forward-bending pose.

My Experience of Pigeon Pose:

I love pigeon pose. It’s a pose that just feels good! I love the feeling of my hips opening in this pose. When I practice pigeon, I always feel I can just relax and enjoy the pose. My mind feels calm and relaxed in this pose. I also feel a sense of achievement that I can bend forward and rest comfortably in the pose.

Pigeon is also challenging – I’ve been working on the royal pigeon backbending variation, but my hips and low back aren’t quite open enough to move deeply into the backbend. I have a long way to go before I’ll be able to bring the back foot up to my head! I love that pigeon still has challenges in store and provides a deep stretch no matter what the level of the yoga student.


Pigeon Pose - Side

 

Veg-adventures: can my food touch your food? May 19, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:10 pm
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Last week F and I had a good conversation that clarified things for both of us about my meal choices. The inspiration was a pizza restaurant; the question, could I split a pizza with F if there were meat on his half. My automatic response was that I’d really prefer not to, so we got two separate pizzas and spent the meal talking it over. F thought that it’s a little extreme when vegetarians freak out over meat touching their food; your meal didn’t contribute to an animal’s death just by being near some meat. I explained that, for me, it’s not just about causing the animal’s death, it’s that I don’t want to take any part of that death into my body, so if prosciutto grease got on my side of the pizza, that would bother me. It was interesting to talk over the distinction between “I don’t want my choices to cause another creature’s suffering and death” and “I don’t want to consume any product created by a death”. F understands where I’m coming from a little better now and my choices make more sense to him, and I feel like I’ve clarified my views a little for myself.

We also talked about vegetarian behavior (for lack of a better word). F’s opinions had been formed after an experience he’d had at an Ethiopian restaurant with a group of friends. The server had placed several foods in the center of the table all on a big piece of bread for everyone to share, because that’s what they do at Ethiopian restaurants. It happened that some of the meat was touching some of the veggies, and two of his vegetarian friends got angry and stormed out of the restaurant. That’s a pretty extreme reaction, which explains why F had thought vegetarians were unreasonable on this topic – he had seen vegetarians acting in a pretty unreasonable way. I told him that in that situation I’d just take my scoop of cheese and chunk of bread from the side that wasn’t touching the meat, and moreover, I’d do so without saying anything about it. The different foods weren’t prepared together, so the whole meal isn’t contaminated just by the presence of the meat on the table, and I don’t see a reason to make a big deal of it (unless I specifically asked for separate dishes, or everything was all mixed up together).

Most of us know a “vegetarian saint” type of person: the guy who can’t get through a meal without mentioning his preferences 18 times, or the girl who acts all holier-than-thou about how your dinner killed a cow. Those people are really into being vegetarian, and that’s fine, but I just don’t see a need for all that. My diet choice is for myself; if my friends ask about it, I’m happy to share, but I go out for dinner with my friends to enjoy their company and have fun, not to proselytize. If you’re going to eat out in restaurants and share food with others, you have to kind of go with the flow, and that goes double for ethnic restaurants, where you’re dealing with someone else’s culture. I have the right to order and receive food I can eat, but I don’t need to talk about it all night or go overboard with expressing my needs.

 

Pose of the Month: Chair Pose May 18, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:41 pm
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Chair PosePose Name:

Chair Pose (also known as Awkward Pose or Fierce Pose)

Sanskrit Name:

Utkatasana

Steps:

  1. Begin by standing in mountain pose (tadasana) with hands in prayer.
  2. Breathe in and reach the arms overhead. Either keep the arms parallel, palms facing inward, or press the palms together.
  3. Breathe out and bend the knees deeply so that it looks like you’re sitting on a chair. Try to bring the thighs to be parallel to the floor. Press your knees together and keep them facing straight forward – don’t allow them to fall out to the sides.
  4. Tuck your tailbone under (this protects your spine).
  5. Balance your weight evenly over your feet. You should be able to lift and flex your toes – if you’re pressing all your weight into your toes, redistribute!
  6. Tuck the chin slightly; roll the shoulders down the back; keep the spine straight (don’t hunch!). Engage abdominal muscles to help support you in the pose.
  7. Keep your breath steady and even! Bend your knees a little deeper and stretch the arms a little farther.
  8. To come out of the pose, breathe in and straighten the legs, rising up. Breathe out and bring the hands down to prayer in front of the heart.

Benefits:

Chair pose builds heat in the body and works and strengthens the legs, especially the thighs, as well as the extended arms. Chair pose can improve balance and is also good for the feet.

Contraindications:

Contraindications include headache, insomnia, and low blood pressure. Those with knee problems should take care to keep knees aligned properly in this pose to avoid injury.

My Experience in Chair Pose:

Chair is one of my least favorite poses to do. My thigh muscles always burn and it’s very uncomfortable to stay in the pose. In addition to the burning muscles, the pose also makes my ankles hurt. I almost always have these experiences of discomfort, even when I practice the pose regularly, which I find discouraging – it’s nicer when I can see myself improving, even if it’s just a little bit at a time. With chair pose, I often feel defeated before I even begin.

Of course, this pose is awkward to do and it feels awkward to hold. With so many things to remember in the pose, I find it difficult to relax or find any ease in the pose – it’s all work. I also worry that I’m missing something and not doing the pose correctly. In hatha yoga class, I’ll look around and it always seems as though everyone else is bending deeper than I am, and then I feel embarrassed.

I need to remember that it doesn’t matter how anyone else does the pose. Looking at other can inspire me to push myself further, which is good, but it shouldn’t make me feel badly about myself. If I can only bend a little bit that day, that’s okay. Also, I should keep in mind that I am tall, and, practically speaking, someone shorter is going to look as though they’re bending deeper in the pose, since the shorter person already has a head start, so to speak. If I’m looking at the tops of my classmates’ heads in chair pose, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole class does the pose better than I do. We all have different bodies and it doesn’t do any good to compare my chair pose with anyone else’s. What matters is staying focused on my own experience of the pose and practicing tapas to stay with the pose, continually working to improve.

 

Pose of the Month: Hero Pose May 17, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 6:17 pm
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Hero Pose - SeatedPose Name:

Hero Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Virasana / Supta Virasana

Steps:

  1. Begin by kneeling on the floor.
  2. Spread the feet just wide enough apart that your tush can fit between your heels. Keep the inner knees close together, and the tops of the feet flat on the floor. Try to bring your tush to rest on the floor.
  3. If your tush doesn’t hit the floor, just sit up straight and breathe into the pose. Don’t force your tush down – opening the hips is more important than getting down to the floor.
  4. If you feel discomfort in your knees, you can place a pillow or block under your bottom for support. If you feel discomfort in your feet, you can try rolling up the edges of your mat under your feet for more support.
  5. If you can sit in the pose comfortably with your bottom on the floor, you can begin to bend backward. Use your hands for support on the floor. Engage abdominal muscles to avoid overextending your back. If you’re flexible, you may be able to come down on your elbows or even flat on your back.
  6. Work on relaxing into the pose, remembering to breathe.
  7. Come back up to a seated kneeling position. Gently bring your legs around to a cross-legged position.

Benefits:

Hero pose works to stretch and open the knees, hips, and feet. The pose can improve digestion and relieve gas and the symptoms of menopause. The more advanced version adds a deep backbend, which is beneficial for spine health: when done properly, the pose can be helpful for sciatica and lower-back pain. Backbends are heart-opening poses, which decrease depression, improve functioning of the lungs, and improve posture.

Contraindications:

Contraindications include heart problems. Students with knee or ankle problems may want to modify or avoid this pose. Those with back problems should avoid the backbending variation.

My Experience of Hero Pose:

Hero pose has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I liked the challenge of the pose and the stretch through hips and thighs. Over the years it’s been exciting to make progress in this pose – being able to sit my tush on the floor, to increase the backbend I was capable of, and eventually to lie on the floor with my arms extended. It was very satisfying to finally find a sense of ease in this challenging pose, to be able to lie back comfortably and just enjoy the stretch without being limited by pain or pressure. However, with my current schedule, I’ve had less time for yoga, which has led me to focus the time I do have on standing poses and meditation. I began to practice hero pose less frequently, and so I lost some of that flexibility that allowed me to relax deeply into the pose. My knees started to bother me, and I’ve had to work more gently and thoughtfully with the pose than I used to. It’s become a goal of mine to regain that former flexibility and ease and to maintain it as I get older.

Hero Pose - Reclining Version

 

Beginners’ One-Hour Class Sequence May 16, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:12 pm
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The sequence below would be appropriate for a beginners’ one-hour class. I practiced and timed this sequence earlier this week. For most poses, I held the pose for a count of seven of my breaths (a beginning student would be likely to have shorter breaths than I do; my breath tends to be shorter than N’s or J’s, so they’d probably count each pose at five breaths to my seven, while a beginner might count eight or ten breaths, or just hang on until it’s over!).

  • child’s pose
  • rabbit pose
  • cat/dog tilt
  • side stretches
  • downward dog; transition to standing
  • half sun salutes X 4
  • class sun salutations with lunges X 2
  • mountain pose
  • vinyasa (transition to wide-leg standing poses)
  • warrior 1
  • warrior 2
  • radiant warrior
  • triangle pose
  • revolved triangle
  • head-to-knee pose
  • pigeon pose
  • one-legged downward dog
  • vinyasa
  • repeat wide-legged standing pose sequence (warrior 1 to pigeon) on the other side
  • vinyasa; transition back to mountain pose
  • tree pose
  • paschimottanasana (seated forward fold)
  • if time allows: cobbler pose
  • if time allows: seated twist
  • if time allows: camel or bridge
  • inversion: legs-up-the-wall or shoulderstand
  • fish pose
  • sivasana
  • brief meditation
 

Vegetarianism: Further Restaurant Adventures May 15, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:31 pm
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I can now confirm officially that Quiznos wins over Subway. Quiznos’ veggie sub includes sauteed mushrooms and guacamole. They also have a veggie wrap. Now I know which sandwich shop works better for me!

F and I went to a fancy Mexican restaurant last Saturday, where I had my first “this ought to be vegetarian but isn’t” mishap. We ordered the elote appetizer: a corn and cheese dish that was amazing. After we finished, F asked the waitress about the ingredients, and it turned out that the corn was cooked in chicken stock. This wasn’t indicated on the menu, so there’s no way I could have known. I’m not going to guilt myself about this.

This made me think about how much I can control what I eat at a restaurant. At home, I know exactly what goes into my meal and how the food is prepared, but not at a restaurant. If I want to eat out sometimes (and I do), all I can do is to do my best not to eat meat. Sometimes accidents will happen, like at this Mexican restaurant. I don’t know what goes on in the kitchen – maybe my portobello sandwich is cooked on the same grill with F’s hamburger, or right in the same oil. If so, there’s nothing I can do about that. I try to choose restaurants that cook in healthy ways,and I order meat-free food at those restaurants, but I can’t micromanage and control every aspect of the cooking process. I can ony do what I can, and then let go of the results.

This incident also made me think of a friend of mine who’s been vegetarian since childhood and has never eaten meat. Once we went to a Mexican place together and she accidentally ate something that had been cooked in chicken stock, and it made her sick because her body just didn’t know how to process it. I’m nowhere near that point, but I may just email the restaurant to suggest that they add more information to their menu. No one wants to go out for a nice dinner and get sick afterward. This is also a reminder that I need to be careful at Mexican restaurants; my sister-in-law, who works in the food industry, says that most Mexican places cook their rice in chicken stock. Now that I know, I can be more careful in the future.

 

Pose of the Month: Plank Pose May 14, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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Pose Name:

Plank Pose

Sanskrit Name:

I could not identify a Sanskrit name for this specific pose.

Steps:

Plank pose is most frequently practiced during sun salutation (surya namaskar). For brevity, my instructions below begin with downward dog.

  1. Begin in downward-facing dog pose.
  2. Shift your weight forward so that your shoulders are directly over your hands. Arms are straight; legs are straight, with toes curled under. Look straight down at your hands and keep your fingers spread wide.
  3. Keep your tailbone tucked and your body straight. Activate the core muscles in your abdomen to help hold you up.
  4. Keep your breathing deep and even. Focusing on your steady breath will help you stay strong in this pose.
  5. Slowly lower down to rest on your belly.

Benefits:

Plank pose works arm muscles and tones core muscles. It builds heat and energy in the body while building strength.

Contraindications:

Plank may be difficult for students with wrist problems or carpal tunnel syndrome. These students can instead practice dolphin plank, which puts less pressure on wrists by resting the forearms on the floor.

My Experience of Plank Pose:

I have always hated plank pose. It makes me feel weak and helpless. I’ve been practicing yoga for over eight years – I do plank all the time and I work out with weights, but no matter how much muscle I build or how strong I think I am, plank is always really difficult for me to hold. Whenever it becomes too much and I have to drop my knees to rest, it feels like a failure.

I think I need to change my attitude towards plank pose. So far, I’ve always approached plank with the idea that if I just worked harder, I would be strong enough to do the pose well. I think I need to let go of that idea and learn to appreciate my plank for what it is: a challenging pose that makes me work. When my arms shake in plank, that doesn’t mean that I’m weak, and needing to drop my knees doesn’t make me a failure. If I can approach plank with a feeling of acceptance about where I am with the pose, my experience of the pose (and hopefully my enjoyment of it) will improve.

Plank Pose

 

Yoga guidelines: when to eat? May 13, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:28 pm
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Let’s talk about food. The yoga guidelines that N & J gave me include #5, “Practice on an empty stomach.” I find this remarkably difficult, partly because I’m always hungry, and partly for practical reasons.

Before starting teacher training, I usually practiced yoga in the morning before work. F and I would get up, make breakfast, eat together, and then I’d do yoga while he took the first shower. Our usual breakfast is a bowl of cereal and a fresh fruit smoothie, so it’s not a heavy meal, but it’s still definitely a meal. Only occasionally did I find that the food was sloshing around in my belly or otherwise making yoga practice uncomfortable. I’m just the kind of person who needs to eat first thing in the morning, period. If I get up early and don’t eat right away, I’m likely to feel ill. It’s just the way I’m built, so for me if I’m going to do yoga in the morning I need to eat something first.

Now that I’m doing the training, I still sometimes practice yoga in the morning, but I also go to hatha yoga class after work at least one day a week. This throws my whole schedule into disarray. Instead of getting up early and doing yoga, I’ll now take the first shower and get to work early, so that I can leave early, so that I can eat something for dinner before going to a 6:15 yoga class. The 6:15 class runs until 7:30, which in reality ends up being closer to 7:45, and by the time I collect my things and drive home it’s after 8:15. Add time to prepare myself a healthy meal and it’d be after 9 PM by the time I was eating. My usual dinner time is around 7:00-7:30, which is smack in the middle of yoga class. I cannot wait to have dinner until after 9 at night. First of all, I would be starving and exhausted, and secondly, it’s not really very healthy to eat a meal before going to bed. Researchers say that it’s best to finish eating before 8 PM. I feel like my only option is to eat at 5:15 or so.

I brought some of these concerns up at the last training weekend. N says that, ideally, we would practice yoga on an empty stomach, but really you just don’t want to have a very full stomach when practicing. I can appreciate that; nobody wants to go out to a nice restaurant and then practice yoga, or practice yoga on Thanksgiving night. You can’t stretch when you’re stuffed, it’d be too uncomfortable. N further said that, ideally, we would all make lunch our main meal of the day. I have to say that, unless sandwiches and pre-packaged frozen meals are one’s idea of a “main meal”, that it’s really hard to make lunch the main meal of the day while working a full-time job. No matter what kind of job it is, if you’re in an office or a hospital or a factory, you just can’t cut out for 2+ hours at midday to go home and cook yourself a healthy lunch. There are many good things to pack for lunch, yes, but it just doesn’t feel like the “main meal” to me if I’m not cooking something. And financially, it’s not feasible to buy a hot meal for lunch every day, and eating out is proven to be less healthy than cooking at home anyway.

This turned out to be a pretty grumpy post, which wasn’t my intention. I just feel frustrated by the constraints of being a yogini in the world, I think. As J says, it would be easy to do yoga if you lived in a cave or an ashram all the time, but it’s hard to do yoga in the world. Living in a cave or an ashram, you could certainly arrange things to have lunch be your main meal of the day and set up your yoga practice to fall conveniently at an appropriate interval of hours after eating. But that’s a lot harder to do in the world, when you have to consider work schedules and commute times and, god forbid, dropping off small people at activities like soccer practice. You eat when you can, is what I’m saying, because we have to eat, and you fit your yoga in when you can, because you deserve to have your yoga. You try to be careful about what you eat before yoga (a salad or a pork chop? let’s go salad), but sometimes you just have to do your best and that’s all you’ve got.

What are your thoughts on this? I’m really interested to hear what you have to say about how you structure your day and fit both healthy eating and yoga into your schedule.

 

Pose of the Month: Tree Pose May 12, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:28 pm
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Tree Pose - FrontPose Name:

Tree Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Vrksasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in mountain pose (tadasana) with hands in prayer.
  2. Shift your weight onto your right foot, and slowly lift your left foot off the ground.
  3. Place the left foot against the right leg: against the thigh or against the calf, but not against the knee. If you feel wobbly, it’s okay to place the left foot at the right ankle and rest your toes on the floor for stability.
  4. Press your left knee out to the side.
  5. Let your gaze rest on an unmoving spot in front of you.
  6. When you feel steady, you can lift your arms up.
  7. Remember to breathe!
  8. Slowly lower your arms down and your left leg to the floor. Shake out your legs.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

Benefits:

Tree pose improves balance. It also works the muscles in both the standing leg and the bent leg, as well as in the arms if arms are extended overhead. Can be beneficial for those with sciatica and flat feet.

Contraindications:

People with balance disorders should take care and practice tree pose near a wall for stability and support. Headache and low blood pressure are also contraindications. Those with high blood pressure should not raise the arms overhead.

My Experience of Tree Pose:

I love tree pose for several reasons. It’s a pose that I can do well, and it feels good to do the pose. At the same time, tree pose is always challenging, depending on what my balance is like on that particular day. In tree pose, I have to rely on both physical and mental balance, and if either are off that day, it makes the pose more difficult. However, when I am physically and mentally balanced, I get into tree pose and feel like I can stay there all day. I love how practicing tree pose makes me focus my mind. It’s a pose that always makes me feel peaceful and centered, balanced and strong.

 

Yoga and Wrist Health May 11, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:01 pm
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Here’s a link to an interesting little article about yoga and wrist health: Floating, Flying and Balancing: A Guide To Yoga Wrist Care and Proper Alignment.

Since I’ve experienced wrist pain associated with yoga poses in the past, I find it interesting to check out what different people have to say about this. For my wrists, I bought a wrist brace from Walgreens – just your basic carpal tunnel style brace, but it kept my wrist immobilized and allowed it to rest, and after a few days, it felt much better. I also found generic wrist supports (again, from Walgreens) to be useful when experiencing mild discomfort. I now have two of the generic wrist supports and a wrist brace for each hand (the braces are hand-specific, while the supports can be wrapped on either hand). I don’t usually have problems now but at least I have something to fall back on if pain flares up.

Waiting for pain to happen isn’t the best idea, either, though – we should try to prevent the pain from occurring. The article above gives some good tips for keeping wrists healthy. I’ve thought about getting these wrist-assured gloves that are supposed to be very helpful for poses that put strain on the wrist. One of F’s yoga classmates has a wedge that she puts under her hands in downward dog and other wrist-intensive poses. The wedge looks to be more cost-effective than the gloves, but the gloves might be a little more versatile. So far, though, I’m glad I haven’t needed either of them.

Have you ever experienced wrist pain, either in a single pose or in a chronic way? How did you treat it?