Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pose of the Month: Cobra Pose July 17, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:14 pm
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Pose Name:

Cobra Pose

Sanskrit Name:



Cobra pose is frequently practiced as part of the classic sun salutation sequence. If you are practicing cobra during sun salutation, you’d move through the sequence until you come to plank pose, then gently lower your belly down to the floor. Cobra can also be practiced independently: begin by lying on the floor on your belly.

  1. Place the hands lightly on the floor, palm down, under the shoulders. Hug the elbows against the body. Legs are active but relaxed, with the tops of the feet resting on the floor.
  2. Press the legs firmly into the floor. Using only your back and abdominal muscles, lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
  3. Press your shoulders back, opening your chest. Check on your elbows, making sure they are tucked back, keeping your forearms parallel to each other. Close the eyes or gaze at an unmoving point on the floor in front of you.
  4. All the effort of the pose should be in the back, not the arms – you should be able to lift the hands up off the floor.
  5. For a deeper variation, press through the hands, begin to straighten the arms, and lift yourself into a deeper backbend. Extend the neck and stretch the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
  6. Breathe deeply, extending further into the pose on each inhalation.
  7. To exit the pose, gently lower yourself down to rest fully on the ground. If you’re practicing sun salutations, exhale and press back to downward-facing dog.


Cobra pose is a backbend and chest opener. It keeps the spine healthy and expands the chest.


Those with lower back problems should be very gentle with this pose, practicing only the basic pose and not pressing with the arms. Those with wrist problems may want to practice a different backbend like sphinx that puts less pressure on the wrists.

My Experience of Cobra Pose:

The vinyasa yoga classes I attended in the past emphasized practicing upward-facing dog during sun salutations, so I rarely practiced either sphinx or cobra before coming to East Eagle Yoga, and never really understood before that these poses could substitute for upward dog in a sun salutation. Since beginning my practice at East Eagle, I’ve really enjoyed playing with these poses, especially because upward dog tends to make my back hurt if I hold it too long. At first I felt like I was taking a step backward by choosing cobra over up dog, but now cobra pose has become a really good alternative for me – as a gentler backbend, it allows me to work my back muscles without my arms forcing me into an uncomfortable posture. Also, practicing cobra at the beginning of my practice warms my back up and prepares it for more intensive stretches later on. I like the feeling of opening in my chest that I get when I do cobra pose. Even more, I like the feeling that I’m protecting and strengthening my spine.

Cobra Pose


Meditation Round-Up July 15, 2011

Filed under: checking in,meditation — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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This month has been incredibly challenging on a personal level. Two days after our last teacher training weekend ended, my husband and I bought our first house, and since then, we’ve either been packing, moving, arranging for repairs, spending hours looking for tools we never needed before at Lowe’s, learning how to do yard work, and just plain settling in. I haven’t had any time for reading other than when I’m on the train to and from the office, and my personal yoga practice has suffered too. Add to that the fact that this was a short yoga month with just three weeks between teacher training weekend sessions, so it’s been difficult for me to complete all my homework this month, and with all the chaos, difficult to see whether the meditation was having any effect in my life.

However, I do feel like I’ve made some progress with meditation this month. I have meditated every single day: even if I was just sitting down for four minutes in a room full of boxes, I still did it. Most days, I was able to do a little yoga or basic stretching before meditation, and every day I’ve done some sort of pranayama before meditation. I feel really glad that I’ve been able to make this a priority.

During this month, I’ve practiced either counting meditation or passage meditation. When I know I only have a few minutes, counting meditation has been a good option because it only takes a few minutes to count down from fifty; it’s like a built-in timer. For the most part, I have been able to keep my mind relatively on track during counting meditation; I’ve had some distractions, but never so much that I lose my place in the count. I’ve become amazed by how many thoughts I’m able to have between exhales! Staying focused on the breath and the count is difficult, especially with so many tasks on my mind this month, but I’ve mostly been able to stick with it.

I’ve also practiced passage meditation. With so little time available to read spiritual books or to meditate at all, I chose a line from a Rumi poem as my passage and have just stuck with that – it’s short enough that I feel like I can get somewhere with it in the few minutes I have available to meditate, but long enough that there’s good spiritual content to get somewhere with. Meditating on the passage has been interesting in different ways. Occasionally I’ve caught myself daydreaming in the background while the words of the passage float on the surface; once I found myself getting sleepy and substituting in other words and images that weren’t part of the passage. Overall, though, I find the passage technique to be really helpful for me in relaxing my mind and having something to focus on. The passage technique has also led me to consider different interpretations of my passage. For example, it occurred to me that one phrase that I had thought was about worship could just as easily be about service; I realized that another phrase that I’d thought was about natural physical beauty could also be interpreted as being about kindness. These realizations have carried beyond my meditation practice and led me to consider how I practice service and kindness in my life.

I’ve also found myself thinking about more spiritual topics this month. Usually when I’m moving, I get very caught up in the physical tasks that need to be done, and I have been caught up in those things, but I’ve also been thinking about more spiritual concepts. For example, I reflected on patience: how slowing down is mentioned in almost every text we’ve read, and how slowing down and being patient can help us in our daily lives. I also did some thinking about striving for excellence, and reflecting on how teacher training has influenced my thoughts, opinions, and actions in this realm. My reading in the yoga sutras this month has also affected my spiritual reflections. I’ve also been thinking a lot about practicing non-attachment (especially as I pack all my worldly possessions into boxes and carry them around).

Overall, in spite of all the personal challenges in my life this month, I feel good about the time I was able to create in my schedule for meditation practice, and I’m happy about the progress I’ve made. I look forward to continuing the journey.


Yoga philosophy in practice: dealing with shadows of the past July 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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The other day I was confronted by a photo of an old boyfriend/crush. One of my Facebook friends still keeps in touch with this guy, and had posted a group picture from a recent event. I have to tell you, he looked good. He got taller since high school, for one thing, and he’s obviously been working out (it’s summer, so no shirt in the photo). He grew into a nice-looking man. I found myself feeling a little regretful and wanting to post a comment on the picture where he would see it.

This sort of thing happens to us all the time, whether it’s somebody popping up online or whether you run into him at the grocery store (of course while wearing your grungiest sweatpants and with spinach in your teeth). Or maybe it’s not an old flame but a former friend who did you wrong, or that girl who always beat you at everything from classroom grades to homecoming court. When people we had strong feelings about in the past resurface in our lives, it can bring up a lot of those old feelings. How do we respond when these situations arise?

First, I try to practice satya, or truthfulness. When I saw that photo, why did I feel regretful? Where did the impulse to contact him come from? Well, thinking back, he was the one who broke things off with me. Part of me wants him to see how well I’m doing, see how great I look, maybe feel a little regretful himself. See what you missed, Mr. Blast-from-the-Past! But that’s kind of vengeful, isn’t it? And when I examine that impulse to get in touch with him, I have to question what the motivation is. Hello, happily married now! I obviously don’t want to date him again. From what I’ve seen, it looks like he grew up into a genuinely interesting person, someone I would have liked to have had as a friend, but if I try to think about it realistically, that would be pretty weird. There are plenty of other genuinely interesting people out there whom I’m also not friends with, and it would probably be better all the way around if I tried to meet some of them if I want a new friend. Plus, I mean, I really like my life. My life isn’t missing anything by the lack of this person’s presence.

Now I’ve examined my feelings and I see that, although the feelings themselves are a valid response to the situation, there’s no need to act on them or reach out to this person. The next step is to practice non-attachment. I’ve recognized that I still have some feelings bound up in my past relationship with this person, and maybe it’s time to let that go. I’ll never truly know how he felt about me back in the day or what, if anything, he thinks of me now. That’s okay. I might selfishly wish to know that, but I accept that I never will. I need to try to let go of my attachment to the things that occurred in the past. At the time, I wasn’t happy with the outcome, and I would have liked to change it, but looking back, the things that happened all those years ago led me to becoming who I am today. If things had gone differently in the past, I might not have ended up where I am now, and that would truly be something to regret.

Once we let go of the past, we can try to let go of our attachment to results as well. For me, I don’t ever expect to contact this guy or to hear from him. That’s a part of my life that’s over, and I do wish him well. Instead of feeling regretful when I see a picture of him on Facebook, instead I can decide that I’ll be glad to see him looking happy and enjoying his own life. Namaste, dude. Maybe you’re in a similar situation, but after examining things you decide you will reach out and contact the person. At that point, you can let go of the results too. Maybe he or she will write you back, and maybe they won’t, but you did what you needed to do and now you can move on. Employing some yogic philosophy can help us deal with these situations more maturely and come away feeling more satisfied, not just with the situation itself, but with our own behavior too.


Yoga Humor: Empty Your Mind July 13, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:57 pm

These guys are really good at meditation!

(Copyright Thaves,


Counting Meditation July 12, 2011

Filed under: meditation — R. H. Ward @ 1:50 pm

Here’s a meditation practice I’ve really been enjoying this month. Practicing counting meditation is simple and only takes a few minutes.

First, before beginning any meditation practice, sit down in a comfortable position with a straight back, adjust your clothing so nothing’s irritating you, and arrange to be left alone for a few minutes; consider doing some stretches or pranayama breathing exercises to calm the mind. To begin counting meditation, close your eyes and inhale deeply. On the exhale, say the number 50 to yourself. Exhale fully and deeply. Inhale again, and on the next exhale, think the number 49. Continue counting backwards on your exhales. As you relax into the practice, your breaths may become shallower, and that’s okay, just keep breathing slowly, continue to observe the breath, and count down. When you get to 20, you can begin counting both inhalations and exhalations (i.e., inhale, exhale 21; inhale, exhale 20; inhale 19, exhale 18, inhale 17…). When you get all the way down to 1, exhale and open your eyes.

I like this practice because it gives my mind something to focus on. I have trouble sitting in meditation and simply thinking the words “inhale” and “exhale” with each breath; I find that I get distracted very easily. Counting meditation is a little more interactive and gives the mind something to do. The other plus is that it’s a self-timing practice. Meditation takes only as long as it takes you to count down from 50. If you have trouble sitting still for a long time, doing counting meditation may help you to stop looking at your watch every 23 seconds; if you’re on a schedule trying to fit in meditation in the morning before work, this is a practice you can do without having to set a timer (as long as you can trust yourself not to fall asleep).

You’ll still get distracted during counting meditation just like in any other meditation practice, but as long as you can keep bringing it back to your awareness of the count, you can continue counting down. If you get so distracted that you lose your place in the count, then you should stop and start over from the beginning. (I’ve never had to start over, although I’ve become amazed at the number of thoughts I can have between exhales.) You can also swap the order around and count both inhalations and exhalations from the beginning, and change at 20 to counting only exhales. Or you could count only exhales the whole time, or count both inhalations and exhalations the whole time. Give the practice a try and see what works for you!


Letting the beauty we love be what we do July 11, 2011

Filed under: meditation,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 2:04 pm
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My meditation practice this morning reminded me always to act with love and kindness no matter what’s going on. I’ve been practicing the “passage meditation” technique that Eknath Easwaran describes in his book; the passage I’m working on right now is a line from a Rumi poem. The passage reads:

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

I chose this passage because for some reason it moved me very deeply, and meditating on the passage has been both pleasant and instructive. Until this morning, I had been thinking about “the beauty we love” as external sensory beauty, like a song or a sunset, and I’d been interpreting the poem as saying that we should try to incorporate the feeling of that beauty into our daily lives. Today, repeating the line to myself, I realized that “the beauty we love” can also mean simply kindness, gentleness, and peacefulness, and that when we love these things, they can become a part of “what we do”.

F and I have been in the middle of moving for the past two weeks; it has been grueling and stressful and messy, and exhausting both physically and mentally. In the midst of all that, it’s easy for me to become grumpy, but instead I want to try to cultivate gratitude: gratitude that we were able to buy a nice house, gratitude that we had a beautiful apartment for the past two years and the means to fill it with so much cool stuff, gratitude that I’m doing this with an amazingly wonderful partner, gratitude for the good friends who carried heavy boxes when they were expressly told they wouldn’t have to carry heavy boxes, and gratitude for our parents, who take us shopping at Lowe’s for home improvement materials and freely give their time and energy to help us.

When I am tired and sweaty and filthy, and itchy from my dozen bug bites and the thick layer of bug repellent chemicals on my skin, and annoyed at the fact that the seller didn’t disclose that our yard is apparently some sort of wildlife sanctuary for virulent nasty little bastard insects, I can work on being grateful to have a big yard and strong arms to work with. (I’m working on practicing ahimsa towards the bugs, but that’s a little harder.) When I can’t stop thinking about the million things I need to do this week, at home and at the office and to prepare for my upcoming yoga weekend, I need to practice acceptance of the fact that the train broke down and there’s nothing I can do about it but sit there on the broken train and wait, and practice non-attachment to the results. It doesn’t do any good to blame myself for not getting ready in time for the early train, or for not planning better or packing better; I am where I am right now, and blaming and whining won’t do me any good, but making the best of things will make me more content with the situation. In all of this, I’ll get there when I get there. In the meantime, I can try to make my chaotic, messy life into something beautiful by my actions.


Yoga Humor: Staying Positive! July 9, 2011

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:52 pm

I might not be around much this week, since we’re moving and won’t have internet at the new place until next Friday. So I bring you… yoga comics!

(Comic copyright Lippy,


Practicing Patience, Patient Practice July 8, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:29 pm
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The other day in the car at rush hour, I was stuck at a red light behind a guy in a jeep. His mind clearly wasn’t on the the road. First he vigorously dug around on the floor on both the passenger side and all over the backseat, all while letting his car inch forward bit by bit as cars progressed through the light, barely glancing ahead as he did so. Then he leaned out the window to fix his hair in the side mirror. When the light turned green, he was all ready to move forward, only to throw his hands up in frustration when it changed to red before he made it through the intersection. When he did finally make it through, he stomped on the gas going up the hill… only to have to stop at the next light. Watching him, I couldn’t help but realize that I know I act like that all the time, but how silly it looks to see it! I had a much better experience in traffic that day than the guy in the jeep did, partly because I was entertained and horrified by his antics, and partly because I spent the time practicing patience.

I have always had a really difficult time being patient. As a kid, if I wasn’t good enough at something to do it right the very first time, I just wasn’t interested. Patience? Practice? Nah. Everything to do with reading and books and school came naturally to me, so that’s what I did and that’s what I got better at, and I decided sports were stupid. I could have been good at sports too if I’d wanted to be, if I’d practiced hard, but I wasn’t interested in being patient. I didn’t understand that good things come to those who wait; I wanted good things right now.

Many of the different texts I’ve read so far in yoga teacher training have emphasized being patient, slowing down, using time more mindfully. Mr. Easwaran includes a whole chapter on slowing down in Passage Meditation, because going slower allows us to think through our choices before we decide, helps us remember to be kinder to others. All the pranayama breathing techniques I learned last month emphasize that the breath should be slow and deep and even; the breath and the mind are closely related, so if you slow down the breath, you calm the mind too. Calm minds generally make better decisions, and calm people are often more content.

In the yoga sutras about the yamas and niyamas, we read about asteya (non-stealing), which includes being generous with our time. If we stop rushing around and leave when we need to leave to get to our destination on time, we’re going to have a much more pleasant experience. Don’t be distracted thinking about the next thing, but focus your attention on what’s going on right now. Sometimes what’s going on right now may be boring, but if we’re patient, we may learn something useful.

It’s important, too, to practice patience in yoga class. We can only do what our bodies are able to do that day. Sometimes I can get my leg straight in revolved triangle, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I feel strong enough to hold side plank pose comfortably; sometimes, no matter how I modify it, I wobble around. When we see someone demonstrate an exciting new pose, of course we want to try it right away, but our bodies might not be ready for that pose, or it might be hard to get the hang of it on the first try. We have to be mindful of our limits as we practice, be patient with ourselves, and not force our bodies into postures that could harm us. A patient practice is a healthy practice.


Kleshas July 7, 2011

Filed under: yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 9:29 pm
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In the yoga sutras, Patanjali identifies five “kleshas” or obstacles to achieving enlightenment. These kleshas are ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and fear of death. Each of us has these five obstacles rooted in our minds, but by following the teachings in the yoga sutras, we can learn how to push the kleshas down so they have less power over us.

Ignorance is the first and most important of the kleshas. By “ignorance” Patanjali doesn’t mean simply not knowing something; if I held up a banana but you’d never seen one before, you won’t know what it is or that it’s good to eat. Patanjali isn’t talking about that sort of normal ignorance, he’s talking about ignorance on the spiritual level. Our world, our posessions, even our bodies are changing all the time, but we keep on trying to view these things as permanent, trying to make them be permanent. We blind ourselves to the fact that things change. The only thing that doesn’t change is our true Self, the innermost Self that doesn’t age or get sick. We say, “I’m tired” or “I’m sad”, even though it is the body that gets tired and the mind that feels sad, not really “I”, our true unchanging Self. When we remain ignorant about our true nature, this prevents us from making progress on our spiritual path. Ignorance is the most important of the kleshas because once you remove it, all the other kleshas fall away too.

Egoism is the second klesha. We fall victim to egoism when we confuse our true Divine Self with the individual self. We all have a tendency to get caught up in our egos. We insist on looking at the world from our own limited perspective, not thinking about how others feel or what we can do to help. To remove egoism, we practice humility.

The third and fourth kleshas, attachment and hatred, go hand in hand. We tend to focus on our likes and dislikes, disregarding what’s truly healthy for the body and for the spirit in order to pursue pleasure or avoid discomfort, but pleasure and discomfort are both momentary. Of course we want to enjoy pleasant experiences to the fullest, but it’s important to keep an awareness that they only last a short time. When unpleasant situations come up, we should face them head-on, knowing that the challenge will make us stronger.

The final klesha is fear of death or clinging to life. Because of our egos and our attachments, we’re afraid to leave this world. It’s hard to get around this one – I for one really like my life and don’t want to give it up any time soon. But what I think Patanjali is getting at here is that everyone someday must die and there’s nothing we can do to change that, so why suffer needlessly with worry? Patanjali thinks we should practice acceptance: love our lives while we’re here, but go forth unafraid when the time comes.

These five kleshas hold us back, keeping us focused on the material world and preventing us from achieving enlightenment. So how do we combat them? Practicing the yamas and niyamas seems like a good plan. Patanjali specifically recommends three of the niyamas: tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (spiritual study), and ishvara pranidhana (surrender, faith, devotion). This makes sense: spiritual study is an obvious way to combat ignorance, and practicing surrender would certainly help the fear-of-death thing. (And tapas, of course, is good for everything.) There’s also a lot in the yamas that can help. Practicing satya, or truthfulness, can be a reminder that everything changes except our true Self. Asteya, or non-stealing, and aparigraha, non-greed, remind us not to cling so tightly to material possessions, and ahimsa, of course, reminds us to put others first and be kind to all. When I first read the yoga sutras about the kleshas, I felt down – here’s yet another thing to worry about – but putting it in the context of the yamas and niyamas, which I already understand, helped to make this complex spiritual concept feel more manageable. I’m already working on this!

For more on the kleshas, and how you can use backbending yoga poses to work with the kleshas in your life, check out the great article “Fear No Backbend” by Hillari Dowdle in the June 2011 issue of Yoga Journal (84-91, 114).


Being the Best July 6, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 10:07 pm
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One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is what it means to be the best. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a thing about being the best – maybe it’s because my generation was always told we could do anything, maybe it’s because as a child I learned quickly in school and got used to being praised. Whatever it was, it meant that whenever I was good at something, I wanted to be better, wanted to conquer it (or at least to feel like I could conquer it if I weren’t so busy conquering other things). In middle school when I got straight As in everything but science, in which I got a B+, instead of accepting that as good enough, I studied hard and pulled the grade up. In high school, I took geometry and algebra II at the same time so I could catch up and do AP calculus my senior year. In college I did exhaustive library research for all my papers, filling my dorm room with stacks of inter-library loan books. In everything I’ve chosen to pursue, I’ve always challenged myself to excel, to be the best.

Of course when it comes to yoga I do this too. A slow hatha practice wasn’t enough for me, I had to push myself in a tough vinyasa sequence. If there was a complicated, difficult pose, I was going to work hard until I could do it. A beginners class was fine for beginners, but I was an advanced student. When I decided to do my teacher training, this focus came up there too. Of course I would want to teach advanced classes, being that I was so advanced myself.

Through the teacher training program and even just in practicing at EEY, I’ve experienced a major attitude shift in my personal practice. When I signed up for teacher training, I thought that the classical hatha program wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, and I was a little sad that I wouldn’t get to do the more vigorous vinyasa practice that I liked, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still teach vinyasa after I was certified. What I’ve found is that a classical hatha class challenges me in completely different ways than a vinyasa class does.A few weeks ago, I went to a vinyasa class at a different studio for the first time since starting the TT program, and it was too fast for me: I missed having time to linger in each pose and really appreciate how my body stretched. I built up a sweat, sure, but I didn’t feel my muscles burning the way I do in hatha class. Having to hold the pose a little longer works the muscles differently.

The TT program has also made me more humble. I’ve realized that a lot of poses are hard for me such that the most basic pose is all I can manage, and I can’t even think about the more challenging variations; there are many ways in which I could be stronger, more flexible. There’s a lot to learn for everyone in a beginners yoga class, no matter what level you’re at, and I’m finding that I really enjoy beginner yoga class because it helps me stay strong on the basics. I’m learning that I don’t have to be the best at yoga – that there’s not even a “best”, only what my body is capable of doing today.

What I’ve really learned is how much yoga is a part of my full life, not just a workout. I crave my yoga time not just because it feels good physically, but because it keeps me calm and centered. I don’t need to do fancy poses or wrap my leg around my head because it’s not about that. I don’t know if I realized that as much before I started TT. I wanted to be a yoga teacher because I love yoga so much and I really want to share yoga with everybody, but I noticed that teaching advanced vinyasa classes doesn’t so much jive with the “sharing yoga with everybody” mission. Sharing yoga with everybody means teaching beginner classes, period. I’ve always said too that I want to teach yoga to older people, but older people often have physical problems that mean they need the most basic level of beginner yoga. There was a disconnect in what I saw as my mission, and I can see that now. I’m really excited about teaching yoga to people who’ve never done it before, and I’m much less interested in teaching advanced level classes. I’ll teach ’em, of course, but I’m psyched about working with beginners. Being “the best” teacher doesn’t have anything to do with how flexible I am compared with others. To be the best yoga teacher I can be, I just have to share my passion.