Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pose of the Month: Cobbler Pose October 20, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:34 pm
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Pose Name: Cobbler Pose or Bound Angle Pose

Sanskrit Name: Baddha Konasana

Steps:

  1. Begin by sitting up straight in a cross-legged position.
  2. Press the soles of the feet together and bring the heels close to the body.
  3. Sit up tall on your sitting bones and use your hands to pull any flesh away from the sitting bones.
  4. Make a basket with your hands and clasp them around your feet.
  5. Sit up nice and tall. If that’s as far as your hips can work today, that’s okay – just focus on sitting up nice and tall and opening up the hips.
  6. If your body allows, bend forward over the feet while keeping a flat back. Don’t hunch your back to get your head to your feet – your goal should be to bring the navel towards the feet.
  7. Engage the mula bandha, the muscles of the pelvic floor, to move deeper into the pose.
  8. As you inhale, lengthen the spine; as you exhale, bend a little deeper. Walk your hands forward on the ground if you wish.
  9. Relax and let gravity pull you forward. Take several slow, deep breaths.
  10. Come up slowly and return to a comfortable cross-legged position.

Benefits:

Cobbler pose opens the hips and promotes greater flexibility in the hips. It increases blood flow to the pelvis and opens the root chakra, which helps to energize and cleanse the sexual organs.

Contraindications:

Those with hip problems should work gently in this pose. Pregnant students should take care in any forward bend and modify as needed.

My Experience of Cobbler Pose:

This month, working on my presentation about yoga and sex, I learned a lot about cobbler pose, so I thought I’d feature it as a Pose of the Month. Practicing this pose can really pay off in the bedroom, since it opens the hips and really engages the pelvic floor muscles.

I’ve always liked this pose, and over the years I’ve made a lot of progress with how far I can bend forward. Still, some days I can’t get very far, so this pose always reminds me to work gently with wherever my body is today.

Cobbler Pose

 

Listening Meditation October 19, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:37 pm
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In the book The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche provides several different, simple meditation techniques. One of my favorites is his meditation on sound (pages 151-152).

Come to rest in a comfortable seated position as for any meditation. Let your mind rest for a few moments in a relaxed state, and then gradually allow yourself to become aware of the sounds happening near you. Depending on your location, these could be sounds like cars driving past, airplanes overhead, the hum of the refrigerator, birds chirping, or just the sound of your own heartbeat and breath. You may want to play a recording of natural sounds or some soothing music, and that’s fine too. Listen to the sounds happening around you. Don’t try to identify each sound or focus on a specific sound – just be aware of the sounds you hear without assigning meaning or value to them. Be in the present moment, cultivating “a simple, bare awareness” of each sound as it comes to you.

You may only be able to focus on the sounds around you for a few moments before your mind wanders, and that’s okay. When you catch your mind wandering, just bring it back to a calm and relaxed state again for a few moments, and then bring your awareness back to the sounds. Alternate between resting your attention on sounds and letting your mind just rest in a relaxed state.

One of the things that I find challenging about this meditation is listening to the sounds without assigning meaning to them. For example, meditating after a rainstorm, I heard the sump pump kick on in my basement. Immediately I recognized it as the sump pump and realized that water must be coming in the basement, and the fact that the pump kicked on meant that my basement would stay dry. All of that meaning occurred to me when I heard the sound. I’ll also often hear my husband moving around upstairs, and when I hear his noises, I can’t help but smile since I do kind of like him a lot. But working with this meditation, we’re trying to open our minds and listen without generating the emotional response. Building that skill fosters in a small way the sort of non-attachment that is the goal of yoga and meditation.

The monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh also writes about sound in his book Peace is Every Step. He notes that a bell is sometimes used in meditation practice, as a call to stop the mind from wandering. The sound of the bell brings you back to your true Self. Hanh suggests that any sound, even an unpleasant sound, can have the same effect if we let it. Hearing a siren, or a barking dog, or the sump pump kicking on, we can think to ourselves, “Listen! Listen! This beautiful sound brings me back to my true Self.” I love this idea. We can separate the fear, annoyance, or frustration we usually feel when we hear an unpleasant sound and instead feel peaceful. “Listen! Listen! This beautiful sound brings me back to my true Self.” I want to think that all day long.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Fear October 17, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:34 pm
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Welcome back to our ongoing series on using yoga techniques to deal with strong emotions. Today we’ll be talking about fear. Like anger, fear can arise suddenly and powerfully. The way we respond to fear can have major consequences in our actions, our dealings with others, and even in the way we set goals and plan for the future, since fear of failure can be paralyzing. How can we combat fear?

Patanjali would tell us to think of the opposite, positive emotion when fear comes up. Many people think the opposite of fear is courage or bravery, but that’s not really true – courage is taking action despite your fear. The greater the fear, the more courage is needed!  The opposite of fear isn’t bravery, but rather faith. Think about it: common fears are that others will fail us, that we will fail ourselves, or that an unpredictable disease, accident, or disaster will befall us. But by cultivating faith, we can reduce those fears. We can develop faith in ourselves, that we’ll work hard and live up to our potential to achieve our dreams. We can have faith in others, trusting that other people will do their jobs, act with integrity, and not let us down. And above all we can put faith in a higher consciousness. It can be God or science or nature or the universe, or simply faith in an unchanging reality beyond the ever-changing physical world. That sort of faith can give you the strength and determination to push past your fears, because you truly believe in something larger than fear.

Think of someone you know with an unshakeable faith in something. Most of us know a person like this. We’ll see such a person persevere through the worst of circumstances, because they truly believe that there’s a plan and a reason in all of it and that they’ll emerge from the hardship better than before, having gained something they needed. Their faith enables them to have great courage.

Now think of a time when you were truly brave. Maybe you did something you didn’t expect to do, or you did something without thinking. It doesn’t have to be something dramatic – it could appear quite small and ordinary to a casual observer, but for you it was an act of courage. How did it feel in the moment when you committed that act? And how did it feel afterward when you made it through?

When you feel fear, call to mind that moment when you were brave. Remind yourself of how resourceful and courageous you can be – that you do have the ability to face your fears. Cultivate that faith in yourself, and see how it helps you move forward.

 

Yoga & Sex: Article Round-Up October 14, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:28 pm
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In the course of my research for my presentation, I’ve found a lot of articles about how yoga can benefit your sex life. Many of these articles lean towards the prurient (“The 10 Poses That Will Make Him Ooh!” sort of thing), but despite that most of them have some really good content. Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Improve Your Sex Life with Yoga, on Gaiam’s website, by Kate Hanley:

A nice overview of how yoga can improve your sex life, discussing many of the specific benefits (sensuality, confidence, energy, intimacy, better orgasms), and describing two specific yoga poses that help boost sexual enjoyment.

Yoga Positions for Better Sex, in Prevention, by Nora Isaacs:

This article starts off by criticizing ancient yogis for practicing abstinence, which really turned me off. There’s no need to start the article by belittling another culture’s spiritual practice. I don’t think anyone should ever belittle anyone else’s spiritual practice, there’s just no excuse for that. However, once Isaacs got past being a shallow Westerner, she got into some of the important physical benefits of doing yoga: increased flexibility (particularly in the hips), strengthening the pelvic floor/root lock, getting in good physical shape just in general, recharging and relieving stress, and yoga breathing. She describes each benefit and then gives instructions for a pose that provides that benefit. Isaacs uses quotes from a yoga studio owner in California and from Jacquie Noelle Greaux, the author of Better Sex Through Yoga, so she’s consulted some experts. The article ends with the assertion that doing yoga with your partner will deepen your intimacy, get your energy flowing, and spark your creativity in the bedroom. (See, good content! Why’d she have to start off with that nonsense?)

Want Better Sex? Do Yoga, in Psychology Today, by Michael Castleman:

A good discussion of why yoga is good for sex, suggesting that yoga may help to treat sex problems where Western medicine (such as psychological counseling, sex therapy, and medication) falls short. Castleman focuses on relaxation, anxiety/stress relief, and improved blood flow, citing studies that have shown yoga to help in these areas. Recommended for Castleman’s more scientific approach to the subject.

Yoga for Better Sex: 9 Yoga Moves to Put Your Mind and Body in the Mood, in Prevention, no author listed:

Despite the silly title, there’s actually some good content in this one. The writer cites Ellen Barrett (author of Sexy Yoga) repeatedly, but as we’ve already seen, Barrett knows her stuff. This article lists the promised nine poses, with photos and descriptions for each detailing why each pose helps in the bedroom. I particularly like that the last pose listed is savasana!

 

 

Hip-centric Sequence October 13, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:40 pm
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One of the students in my little yoga class has tight hips despite a lot of flexibility elsewhere, so I came up with this sequence to challenge that student a bit. (And then, of course, he got stuck at work and couldn’t make it to class, but we went ahead and did the sequence anyway last night, and I liked it well enough that I’ll pull it out again later!)

  • child’s pose
  • cat/cow and curving side stretches
  • down dog
  • down dog twist
  • 5 half salutes
  • 2 full sun salutations (first time, regular high/low lunge; second time with lunge twist)
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • radiant warrior
    • triangle pose
    • half moon
    • wide-legged standing forward bend
    • goddess pose
  • standing sequence other side
  • tree pose
  • seated poses:
    • squat
    • cradle
    • cobbler
    • forward bend
    • seated twist
    • pigeon
  • bridge pose
  • savasana

I particularly loved doing goddess pose last night. It was fun to teach, and it just feels empowering to do. I think I’ll be pulling this out more often!

 

Yoga and Emotions: Anger October 12, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:03 pm
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This month we were going to talk about yoga and how it can help us deal with strong emotion. Let’s start off with anger, since it’s a biggie! Anger, and its companions frustration and annoyance, come up often in daily life. Maybe there’s someone at work that you always seem to clash with; maybe you had a fight with your partner, or your child accidentally broke a keepsake you treasured; maybe there’s a lot of traffic on the highway or you got pulled over for speeding. There are so many little moments in our lives that can lead to anger! And as we all know, when you’re angry, the person who suffers the most from that anger is you. When we carry anger around with us all day, it can have effects both physical (tight shoulders, tense neck, upset stomach) and behavioral (inability to concentrate, likeliness of lashing out at others, decreased enjoyment of activities). When we feel angry, it upsets the calmness we’re trying to cultivate in the mind by practicing yoga. So how can we deal with our anger in a healthy way?

First, don’t pretend you’re not angry. In order to deal with the strong emotion, you first have to acknowledge that you’re experiencing it. Then, keep yourself from responding instantly. When we’re angry, we want to act right away, maybe yell at the other person for what they’ve done wrong, but yelling isn’t going to do anything to correct the problem – it’ll probably just make things worse, upsetting the other person and only prolonging the anger in you, working you up further! So start trying to rein in that impulse to take action right away. If you can do this, that will give you a chance to decide if the instinctive action is the best one.

A little breathing can do wonders to calm the mind. When you feel yourself getting angry, try taking a long deep breath, then another one. Maybe try some pranayama: diaphragmatic or three-part breathing can be incredibly calming. When your mind gets angry, that signals your body to produce adrenaline, getting your whole system worked up. Slow deep breaths have the opposite effect, calming the body, which in turn soothes the mind.

Now that we feel a little calmer, how do we deal with the anger that’s still lingering? As Patanjali says, when negative thoughts arise, positive ones should be thought of instead. So what’s the opposite of anger? Kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. When you feel angry, direct your thoughts towards an image that always makes you feel tender and loving – maybe it’s a flower, your mother, or your baby. Refocus your angry thought on something positive.

Combat the anger by developing compassion. Remember that, while you are suffering in this situation, the other person is suffering too. Try to see the situation from his perspective or imagine what she might be feeling. Compassion reminds us that we’re all alike, every single person: all seeking a way to be happy and safe. If you can look at the problem from the other person’s point of view, you may be able to respond not out of a place of anger, but from a place of compassion. That will help everyone to have a better experience and a happier day!

 

Four Primitive Urges October 11, 2011

Filed under: yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:25 pm
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Many yogis, including Swami Rama, talk about the four primitive urges, also known as the four fountains. Every animal experiences these urges, and humans aren’t exempt! These are the basic needs that every creature wants to have fulfilled. Almost any problem you may experience can be related back to one of the four primitive urges at the root level.

  • Food

Who doesn’t need food? The desire for food naturally occurs in the body when we become hungry, but sometimes the urge to eat can begin in the mind, when we use food for more than just physical nourishment. Food can be comforting, calming, soothing; it can help us procrastinate, it can get us excited, or even make us sick. The next time you reach for a candy bar, consider whether you’re truly hungry or whether you’re trying to fill some other emotional need. As a yogi, one’s food intake shouldn’t be more or less than what the body needs for fuel, so both overeating and starving yourself should be, well, off the table. Also, your diet shouldn’t pollute your body or agitate or your nervous system (hello, coffee!). We’re all guilty of indulging now and then, but in general, following the guidelines for a sattvic diet will help to keep the primitive urge for food in check.

  • Sex

Although the need for sex is a physical need, the desire for sex typically begins in the mind and travels to the body. For example, you might be in a perfectly normal mood but then happen to see a sexy scene in a movie, which stimulates the mind and which in turn arouses the body. The body was just fine; it was the mind that got you worked up. As yogis, we try to keep a balanced state of mind in relation to sex, following the yamas and niyamas to use sexuality appropriately and enjoy it in a healthy way.

  • Sleep

Every living creature needs sleep, but we can definitely get too much of a good thing! Laziness is said to be the greatest of the sins that undermine progress, not just in yoga, but in whatever you do in life. Laziness is covered under the yamas and niyamas, as well as in the nine obstacles to mental clarity, the Gunas (as tamas), and is mentioned often in the Bhagavad Gita as an obstacle to performing your duty or dharma, which of course is a major part of yogic philosophy, so laziness is clearly a major issue! The Bhagavad Gita also says that yoga is not for those who sleep too much or sleep too little – in yoga, we seek to find a balance, not depriving ourselves of the sleep we need to do our work and function in the world, but not giving in to laziness and lethargy either.

  • Self-Preservation

The instinct for self-preservation is where our “fight or flight” response comes from. In essence, this urge is rooted in fear: at the base level, fear of death, which is included among the kleshas as an obstacle to achieving enlightenment. On a figurative level, self-preservation includes fear of losing something we have, and fear that we won’t get what we want or need. Among the many things we try to preserve are our physical body, attractiveness, social standing – anything that contributes to our mental concept of ourselves and how we want others to perceive us. Trying to preserve these things is a natural instinct, but in yoga we work to remove our attachment to the things of the physical world, because only the inner true Self stays unchanging.

We need the four primitive urges to survive, but as we seek spiritually, we must recognize how they influence us and keep the urges working in appropriate ways, not limiting us or holding us back, but only pushing us forward to achieve our potential.