Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

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.

 

Pose of the Month: Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold June 26, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:59 pm
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Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 1

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 2

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold 3

Pose Name:

Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold

Sanskrit Name:

Prasarita Padottanasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in mountain pose (tadasana). Step your right foot back into a wide-legged stance. Your feet should be approximately 3-4 ft. apart – about the length of one of your legs.
  2. Point both feet towards the side wall and face the wall. The feet can be parallel or slightly pigeon-toed, but should not angle outwards.
  3. Placing hands on hips, come into a slight backbend, extending the front line of the body. Then keep your front torso long while bending forward from the hips.
  4. As your torso begins to come parallel to the floor, drop your hands to the floor right below your shoulders. Begin to walk your fingertips back  between your feet. If you have the flexibility, walk your hands back until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor and your upper arms parallel. Be sure to keep the arms parallel and don’t let your elbows wing out to the sides. If it’s comfortable, rest the top of your head on the floor.
  5. For an alternate stretch, you can grab the big toes with the first two fingers and thumb of each hand; wrap hands around ankles; or clasp hands behind your back and lift the arms up.
  6. Press your weight into the whole foot: don’t let the weight rest in the outside edges of the feet but press through the inner foot, and keep your weight balanced between ball and heel. Breathe deeply, continuing to extend and bend deeper, keeping the back flat and the front of the body long.
  7. Bring your hands back to center, right under your shoulders. Slowly walk your feet in until they’re hip-width apart. Bend the knees, clasp your hands around opposite elbows, and relax, shaking your head to release tension in your neck.
  8. Slowly roll up to standing, one vertebrae at a time, keeping knees bent. Your head should be the last thing to come up. Close your eyes and breathe here for a moment before returning to your practice.

Benefits:

Prasarita increases strength in legs and feet and stretches inner legs and the backs of the knees. Forward folds are beneficial for digestion and the internal organs, and can help to calm the mind. The pose can also be helpful for mild backaches and headaches.

Counterindications:

Students with lower back problems or knee problems should take care and work very gently with this pose. Pregnant students should be careful in any forward bend. Those with balance problems may want to practice at the wall and should come up slowly; those with low blood pressure should move very slowly into and out of the pose to avoid getting dizzy.

My Experience with Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold:

Prasarita has always been difficult for me – I find it painful on my outer calves and outer ankles, and also on the backs of my knees. Because of this discomfort, I don’t usually practice prasarita at home, so I decided to challenge myself by choosing this pose to work on this month.

I was surprised to find another source of discomfort in this pose that I hadn’t known about: I realized that the pose makes me uncomfortable because my head is so close to the floor. I know that many yogis come into headstand from this posture, and I don’t yet have the confidence to do headstand away from the wall. I think prasarita makes me uncomfortable for this reason, because it brings me close to a pose that makes me nervous.

Practicing prasarita this month more intensively hasn’t caused any great changes in my experience of the pose – I still feel pain in my legs, and I still feel uncomfortable in the pose. However, I think I have a better understanding of my feelings now and can work more mindfully on the pose in the future.

 

books: Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami Buddhananda June 25, 2011

Filed under: books — R. H. Ward @ 1:58 pm
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Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami BuddhanandaMoola Bandha: The Master Key describes a system of muscle exercises and locks that lead to a release of pranic energy in the body and ultimately to spiritual enlightenment. Swami Buddhananda defines a “bandha” as a bind, restraint, or lock. The idea is that “by locking or contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of ‘unlocking’ goes on simultaneously on mental and pranic levels” (2). By working with bandhas in conjunction with pranayama breathing exercises, a variety of physical benefits are said to occur, calming the heart rate and blood pressure, harmonizing the function of bodily systems, and creating a sense of relaxation. Bandha practice is also said to improve flow of pranic energy in the body, activating the chakras and leading to the release of kundalini energy and to heightened states of consciousness.

The most important of these muscle locks or bandhas is moola bandha, or perineal contraction, the subject of this book. “Moola” means root or foundation, and moola bandha refers to the contraction of the muscles at the “root” of the spine/trunk at the perineum. The physical contraction of moola bandha is useful in treating problems of the lower abdomen such as digestive or sexual disorders. However, moola bandha also involves a spiritual/psychic contraction of the mooladhara chakra. This has the effect of activating our latent sexual energy and channeling it upward for spiritual awakening.

The first half of the book gives background on bandhas and moola bandha in particular, as well as on mooladhara chakra and kundalini energy; it situates moola bandha in the context of ancient scripture, discusses physical aspects and pranic effects of moola bandha, and describes how moola bandha can be used in a therapeutic context. Thus prepared, the reader can move on to the second half of the book, which details several practices of moola bandha, including specific instructions and illustrations. This provides the real meat of the book – everything that came before is simply building to this point. The section on practices opens with techniques appropriate for any beginner, then moves on to gradually more advanced techniques as the aspirant progresses in her practice. Attention is paid to the anatomic differences between men and women as applied to the practice of moola bandha, making this book a good resource for truly any spiritual seeker.

(From a personal standpoint, I realized while reading this book that I won’t be making any forward progress on my spiritual journey, at least not through moola bandha, until I can get over my inner 12-year-old boy. This book is about clenching all the muscles in pelvic region! The author uses words like “heighten”, “sensitivity”, “stimulation”, and “contraction” all on the same page (65). Kundalini energy is depicted as a big snake. The beginner practices instruct one to focus on the genitals – really focus your awareness intensely, breathing into the genitals – and then to contract and relax the genitals rhythmically. After this practice, one is intended to go on to meditation. Meditation! After sitting and focusing intently on the genitals, contracting them rhythmically, who’s going to be in the mood for meditation next? (The short answer here is: probably not me.) On the other hand, improved muscle control in the genital region can’t really ever be a bad thing, so I figure I’ll try out the exercises. Whether it leads me to becoming a calmer, more enlightened person or not, my husband won’t be complaining.)

 

Pose of the Month: Ardha Chandrasana / Half Moon June 24, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:42 pm
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Pose Name:

Half Moon Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Ardha Chandrasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in a wide-legged stance, right foot facing toward the front of the room, arms spread wide. (For example, it can flow nicely to go from a wide-legged pose like Warrior 2 or Triangle pose into Half Moon.)
  2. Cartwheel the arms down so that the hands come to the floor on either side of the front right foot. Walk the hands forward a bit, about 6-12 inches in front of the foot.
  3. Press into the hands and the right foot, straighten the right leg, and lift the back foot off the floor. Try to lift the left leg to hip height.
  4. Extend actively through the left foot to keep the left leg raised up strongly, but don’t lock the left knee.
  5. When you feel steady, lift the left hand off the floor. You can bring the hand to your left hip and open the chest; to go deeper, raise the left arm straight into the air.
  6. Now you’re balancing on your right foot and right hand, with your left leg and left arm making the shape of a half moon. Most of your weight should be on the right foot, with your hand just providing balance as you need it.
  7. Breathe here. Focus your gaze on a point in front of you, and use your ujjayi breath to help balance. If you feel steady, you can raise your eyes up to look at your left hand.
  8. Bring the left hand down to the floor, then gently bring the left leg down. You can come back into your wide-legged stance, or you can bring the left foot together with the right foot at the top of the mat.
  9. Come back up to standing, bringing hands to a prayer at your heart.
  10. Complete the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Ardha Chandrasana is excellent for improving balance. Because it works the standing foot strongly, it’s good for the health of the foot. The pose also benefits the core muscles and improves strength in the raised arm and leg. Half moon pose can also help with conditions like indigestion, constipation, menstrual pain, fatigue, and backache.

Counterindications:

Half moon pose may be quite difficult for someone with balance problems. Such students can try to practice the pose at the wall for added stability. This pose also puts some strain on the standing leg, so those with leg injuries should take care. If you have neck problems, keep the gaze focused on the floor and keep the neck long and even. Low blood pressure is another counterindication for this pose.

My Experience with Half Moon Pose:

I’ve hated half moon pose for years. I tend to dislike all the forward-bending balance poses: half moon, warrior 3, and standing split are all very uncomfortable, so this month I decided to challenge myself and practice half moon regularly. I’ve even been practicing the pose in the kitchen while cooking dinner! In addition to my home practice, I also attended N’s Tuesday night class several times this month, where she had us do a series of balance poses strung together, including half moon. These sequences were really difficult for me – when doing one or two balance poses and then coming down, I can do well, but several all at once without a rest was challenging.

I think that one thing I don’t like about poses like half moon is that the forward bending action makes me feel off-balance. In poses like tree or dancer, I’m standing up tall and can see what’s going on around me, but in a forward-bending balance, I’m relying on just my leg, and if I fall, my head is a lot closer to the ground. I wobble much more in half moon than I do in an upright pose like tree, even though in half moon I have two points of contact with the floor. I think the change in my center of gravity, plus the discomfort of trying to balance while bent over with my head close to the ground, have combined to make me dislike half moon pose and the other poses like it.

Working on half moon pose this month, I feel like I’ve identified why I don’t like the pose as well as the areas where I feel physical discomfort – the pose seems to put a lot of strain on my standing leg, for example. After practicing the pose frequently this month, I do feel stronger and more balanced in it. I want to cultivate a feeling of lightness and ease in the pose. Before this month, I didn’t like the pose so it was never a part of my home practice; from now on, I want to continue to practice the pose regularly and see where it takes me.

(Photo artistry by F. The yoga room is too small for him to fit all of me in one shot, so he took a bunch and collaged me together.)

 

Pranayama Round-up, part 2 June 23, 2011

Filed under: breath,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:50 pm
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Seated Meditation

Back to pranayama: the continuation of my post from Tuesday.

Alternate nostril breathing: I found this breathing technique to be the most difficult and the one I least wanted to practice. Now that I use Flonase spray and a Neti pot regularly, I get more and better airflow through my nostrils than I ever have before in my life, but alternate nostril breathing still somehow made me feel like a stuffed-up kid with a cold. One nostril almost always felt very clogged, and practicing the breathing technique never seemed to help; it usually seemed to make the clog more pronounced. Usually by the end of nine rounds of alternate nostril breathing, I feel like I’m gasping through my clogged nostril, and it’s always a relief to breathe normally again. This technique was not enjoyable to practice and never really got better over the course of the month. On a practical level, I often found it difficult to remember where I was in my breath count, too, which of course is a sign that my mind isn’t quiet enough, but I still found it hard to count the rounds of breath accurately until I started counting on my fingers. I know that I should persevere and continue practicing alternate nostril breathing, but without it being an actual assignment, I’m not sure that I will.

Summary: Overall, I did enjoy the pranayama exercises this month. Some of the techniques were physically difficult, and as always I had trouble calming my mind and keeping it calm, but I did enjoy the practice and often found time to incorporate it naturally into my day (although pranayama is much harder to do in tight jeans). Practicing before bed seemed to help me to sleep better, or at least it helped me fall asleep more quickly. Also, and most importantly, I think the pranayama practice improved my overall mood this month. A lot of good things have happened in my personal life this month, but also some stressful things (like buying a house) and not-so-good things (like a car accident and my husband being injured after a fall). I think ordinarily under such circumstances I would be more stressed out, more worried, and more tense, but this month I’ve mostly been pretty serene, and I’ve been able to be a good support to my husband. In the kitchen the other day, he told me that I seemed really happy and together lately. The cause of that positive energy could be the many good things that have happened counter-balancing the stressful things; it could also be the warm weather, since I know I am always happier in summer and sunshine; but it could also be the pranayama practice. It might be a combination of all of these, which seems most likely. Since it’s very possible that the pranayama is helping me to be a calmer, happier person, I don’t really want to take a chance and stop doing it! I’m glad to have one more tool in my arsenal to help me deal with stress (and with cold and bad weather when the time comes again). I will do my best to keep finding time for pranayama practice, even alternate nostril breathing.

 

Pranayama Round-up, part 1 June 21, 2011

Filed under: breath,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 9:01 pm
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This month, my homework was to practice pranayama exercises (diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate-nostril breathing) every day, and to keep a journal of my reflections and observances. Overall I felt like this was pretty difficult for me, because I still have trouble observing myself internally without altering the behavior I’m observing. In terms of pranayama, that meant that while I was sitting there breathing, I’d be wondering if I’m doing the breathing technique correctly, wondering if I should be feeling calmer right now, and wondering if I’ve felt more calm over the past few weeks. I know that pranayama practice and meditation are supposed to be two different things, but for me right now they sure look and feel the same: I’m sitting quietly on the floor paying attention to my breathing and trying not to get distracted.

So. The stats for my breathing. I can do stats. Since the last teacher training weekend, I neglected to practice breathing on 4 days, but I did practice on 26 days. I may not have been really engaged every time I practiced, and my practice sessions may have been shorter or longer in duration, but I did some sort of pranayama practice on 26 of the past 30 days. I feel proud that I accomplished this.

I’ll talk about each pranayama technique in order. I did try to practice them in this order in each session, but there were times when I skipped one or another technique, and at bedtime, it seemed to make more sense to practice them in the opposite order (alternate nostril first, then three-part, then diaphragmatic). Also, I strove to practice ujjayi breathing during all the pranayama techniques; this seemed to help me get a deeper stronger inhale, and it also helped me to inhale at all through a clogged nostril during alternate nostril breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing: I struggled with this during the course of the month. I kept thinking that I wasn’t doing the technique correctly; diaphragmatic breath is supposed to be a deep lung-filling breath, but as I experienced it, using just the diaphragm to breathe and not the chest didn’t fill me up enough. I often found myself yawning or sighing with relief after a round of diaphragmatic breath. I did discover that diaphragmatic breath seemed easier and more comfortable when I was lying on my back, and so it was pleasant to practice it at bedtime. After continued practice, I do think I’ve improved in my practice of this technique, and my seated practice has become more comfortable and satisfying, but even up until a few days ago I was still experiencing shortness of breath after practicing. I think I need more work on this.

Three-part breathing: By far this was my favorite technique to practice. This technique combines the deep diaphragmatic breath with chest and clavicular action to really fill up the whole lung. I found it really satisfying and calming as well, and I often practiced this technique on its own (for example, between emails at work, or on the train). At the beginning of the month, I sometimes felt dizzy or light-headed after 10-15 three-part breaths, but that feeling faded. I do sometimes feel the need for a yawn or deep sigh after practicing this technique, but not nearly as often as with diaphragmatic breath. I found that this technique was not comfortable to practice while lying down (this is why it made more sense to me to work in backwards order at bedtime – I did the seated practices first, then laid down for diaphragmatic breath).

In part 2: my experiences with alternate nostril breathing (the technique I felt most conflicted about) and my feelings about how the pranayama practice affected my life and my attitudes over the past month (because I think it did)!

 

Ayurveda: what’s it all about? June 14, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:49 pm
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One of my assignments this month was to complete an ayurvedic questionnaire and explore the results. My first response was, wait, back up, what’s ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an alternative form of medicine traditional in India, with a history going back thousands of years. It’s a system of healthful, mindful living based on the concept of balancing three elemental energies called doshas: vata (air/wind), pitta (fire/water), and kapha (water/earth). Ayurveda holds that each person has different levels of these three doshas, and poor health comes from an imbalance in the doshas. Balancing the doshas, in a unique way for each individual, will lead to better health. This balance can be accomplished by focusing on diet (to improve metabolic system, digestion, and excretion), exercise, yoga, meditation, and even massage. In balancing the doshas and living in moderation, it’s thought that the body, mind, and spirit will also come into balance, improving the health of the whole person.

Each person has a unique distribution of the three doshas. Each person has some of each, but often one or two doshas are more abundant; by examining your physical attributes and personality (for example, in a quiz like this one), you can find out which is your dominant dosha. Your dosha levels can fluctuate, affecting mood and health, which is why it can be helpful to bring them back into alignment and balance! I took N’s ayurvedic questionnaire and came up almost equal in vata and pitta, with a very low level of kapha by comparison.

Vata, the air or wind element, is characterized physically by a thin, delicate body type with low body fat. A vata person is sensitive, jumpy or unable to sit still, easily overwhelmed, flighty, often runs late, easily confused. A vata dominant person who is well-balanced will demonstrate the most positive traits of this type: sharp, quick thinking, creative, while an unbalanced vata person could experience gas, bloating, lack of focus, spaciness, dry skin, nervousness, sleeplessness, and worry. A vata should avoid low-fat, raw, or cold foods in favor of warm, heavier foods.

The pitta element combines fire and water. Physically, a pitta type is medium-framed and well-proportioned; personality traits include being focused, organized, “type A”, workaholic. A pitta person tends to need to eat regularly and gets cranky when she misses a meal. When balanced, pittas are productive, organized, energetic, enthusiastic; unbalanced, pittas become agitated, irritable, and overly competitive and may experience diarrhea, rashes, and perspiration. Pittas should avoid overly spicy foods and red meat, choosing sweeter foods.

Finally, kaphas are earth and water types: physically larger or big-boned, not necessarily overweight but able to gain weight easily, and can be powerful athletes when in shape. Kaphas are grounded, stable, solid, slower moving, sensual. Balanced kaphas are reliable, dependable, calm, even-tempered, and peacemakers, while unbalanced kaphas can be lethargic, depressed, dull and sluggish, congested, and overweight. Kaphas should avoid fatty and heavy foods, dairy, and red meat, and choose lighter grains and proteins.

I think my results are pretty accurate. There were a few questions I could have answered differently, but doing so wouldn’t have changed the overall balance. I have a lot of vata and pitta characteristics. At my best I have the quickness and creativity of vata and the focus, organization, and productivity of the pitta. At my worst, I get the vata’s spaciness, dry skin, nervousness, lack of focus, and worry, and the pitta’s irritability and rashes. I definitely have the pitta need to eat regular meals (as F’s family can attest; I’ve started packing snacks for myself when we visit because they just don’t seem to eat on a schedule!). The food recommendations for vata and pitta are a little contradictory (the above is just a summary) but on both lists I see things that really appeal to me and that I’ve been naturally drawn to: lighter proteins, creamy soups, mashed sweet potatoes (vata), and fresh lime, dark leafy greens, sweet vegetables (pitta). My yoga teacher N is an ayurvedic practitioner, and I’m considering having a session with her to look at these things more closely.

Interestingly, I made F take the questionnaire with me, and he came up almost completely balanced among the three doshas. Looking at the descriptions, F has many characteristics of each dosha: he’s stronger in vata and kapha than pitta, but all three were within four points of each other. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. Apparently I have a well-balanced husband.

 

books: Science of Breath: A Practical Guide, by Swami Rama, et al. June 12, 2011

Filed under: books,breath — R. H. Ward @ 6:49 pm
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Science of Breath, by Swami Rama, et al.This slim book provides a practical introduction to the yogic concept of breath and how to utilize it to link body and mind. With chapters written by Swami Rama and by medical doctors, the book explores both Eastern and Western perspectives for a well-rounded view of the topic, helping the reader to understand first the mechanics of how and why we breathe before delving into the yogic breathing techniques.

The Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1 give background on the breath and explore the rationale behind focusing on breathing. Prana, or life energy, is defined and discussed, and the authors describe the benefits of developing a deeper awareness of our breath.

In Chapter 2, Dr. Alan Hymes explains the physical mechanics of breathing: what respiration is and why we do it, how the lungs oxygenate the blood, which muscles are involved in inhalation and exhalation, and how those muscles work. Hymes also explicates the differences between diaphragmatic breathing, thoracic/chest breathing, and clavicular/shallow breathing. The chapter reveals how breathing, a seemingly simple process, is actually a complex and vitally important function for the body.

Chapter 3 by Dr. Rudolph Ballantine details the anatomy of the nose, nasal cavity, and sinuses, and how these areas shape the air currents we breathe and the odors we smell. Ballantine gives strategies for keeping the nose healthy and functioning properly, including nasal wash (neti pot) and alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanam).

Chapter 4, written by Swami Rama, expands upon how to regulate the breath and use it to control energy in the body. Rama likens the mind to a kite on a string: when the string is held skillfully, you can guide the kite where you want it to go, but until you learn to control the string, the kite will flap around directionlessly. Like a kite’s string, pranayama is a tool we can learn to use to control the mind. Rama states that there’s a reciprocal relationship between breath and mind. We’ve all observed that a certain mood (for example, anger, fear, or passion) can result in a change on one’s breathing pattern; the converse is also true, that consciously changing one’s breathing can affect one’s state of mind. Rama explains, “By consciously making the breath deep, even, and regular, we will experience a noticeable release of tension and an increased sense of relaxation and tranquility” (84). Rama goes on to offer a series of breathing techniques that one can use to achieve this result.

Overall, this is a useful book for anyone interested in pranayama and meditation. The photos and diagrams throughout the book are quite useful for understanding the medical anatomic concepts and the physical yoga positions described. The medically focused chapters on respiration and nasal function are particularly helpful for readers more used to Western science than Eastern philosophy, making the book a good stepping stone towards further reading, but the book is highly worthwhile in its own right as a comprehensive discussion of the function of breath.

 

thoughts on doing posture write-ups June 7, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:52 pm
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This month we’re supposed to do posture write-ups on any two standing poses. So far, I’ve chosen the poses I want to write about: wide-legged standing forward fold, and ardha chandrasana. Both of these poses are very challenging for me in different ways. However, I’m still struggling with the idea of observing and discussing my own experience of the pose.

The first month, with the forward folds, writing about my own experience was really difficult for me. Last month, we had to write up our most and least favorite poses, so it was much easier because we were picking poses that we actually had feelings about. Now we’re back to “pick any pose in this category”, and when I think about the regular poses that I do well (for example, triangle pose, or warrior 1), I can’t for the life of me think of what I feel in these poses. When I try to pay attention when I’m doing the pose, I have no problem noticing how my body feels, but I don’t see anything specific related to that particular pose going on in my mind. Other than anatomic things (like having to be careful of my knee in triangle pose), I feel pretty much the same no matter what pose I’m doing. Calm, strong, distracted, tired: it just depends on my mood that day. No particular pose really stirs up anything specific for me. Having to do this exercise is really frustrating, it feels fake to me, I feel very resistant to it, and I will go out on a limb and say I kind of hate it.

So, this month, I am picking two poses that are challenging for me, because if a pose is physically challenging, I can talk about that and be excused from talking about my stupid monkey brain and how it’s not doing anything useful. However, this is still problematic because I just decided a few days ago which poses I would write up, and so I haven’t been practicing them all month, so I still might not have anything good to write about. I did the “I don’t have anything to write about so I’m writing about that” thing the first month and I don’t know if I can get away with it again, although in a sense, if that’s still where I’m at with this, then that’s a valid place to be. I’ll be interested to see what comments I get back from last month’s assignment, maybe that’ll help.

 

Pose of the Month: Side Plank May 29, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 6:45 pm
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Side Plank - Back View, Unmodified
Side Plank - Back View, Knee DroppedSide Plank - Back View, Foot Planted
Pose Name:Side Plank

Sanskrit Name:

Vasisthasana

Steps:

  1. Begin in downward-facing dog. Shift your weight forward into plank pose.
  2. Place your left hand directly under your face.
  3. Rotate the left foot to press the outside edge of the foot against the floor, and stack the right foot on top of the left.
  4. If this version of the pose is too challenging, there are two variations you can try. Either variation will add stability to the pose.
    • You can drop the left knee to the ground and keep the right leg extended with the inside edge of the right foot on the floor.
    • You could also keep the left leg extended, but bend the right leg and plant the right foot on the floor in front of you.
  5. Once the feet are settled, open your body to the right and extend the right arm straight up overhead, supporting yourself just on the left hand and left foot (or variation as appropriate).
  6. Keep the body straight. Try to make the body one long straight line from the outside edge of the foot to the top of the head. Engage your core muscles to hold yourself up.
  7. Hold the pose and focus on your breath.
  8. To come out of the pose, drop both knees to the mat. Press back into either downward dog or child’s pose if you need a rest.
  9. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Side plank greatly strengthens the arms and core muscles. It’s also helpful for improving balance.

Counterindications:

Those with wrist problems may want to avoid this pose, as it places a lot of pressure on the wrist; working with dolphin pose and dolphin plank, or just resting in child’s pose, may be good alternatives for these students.

My Experience with Side Plank:

Side plank has been challenging for me for some of the same reasons that regular plank is challenging: I have to rely on my arm strength to hold me up. However, side plank is even worse because in this pose I have only two points of contact with the ground (one hand and one foot, instead of both hands and both feet). So in addition to putting pressure on my wrists and wracking my weak arm muscles, side plank requires me to balance precariously on an arm that I know to be untrustworthy. It’s no wonder that side plank is a constant struggle for me. When I try to practice the pose without dropping a knee, my arm shakes and I can rarely hold the pose for more than a few breaths. Even with dropping the knee, the pose requires a strong conscious effort to focus on my breath and keep my breathing slow and even.

With side plank, I don’t feel the disappointment and frustration that I feel when practicing regular plank. Regular plank seems like it should be achievable but stays just beyond my reach, while attaining a solid side plank is clearly pretty far down the road for me. It’ll be a long time before side plank will be a pose where I can find the line between challenge and ease.

Right now, side plank is all work. I try to practice the pose dynamically, dropping a leg down when I need to rest and raising it up again when I feel able. I learned a different modification at an anusara studio last summer – rather than dropping the bottom knee, now I can try bending the top leg and planting the foot out in front, which requires more work than having the knee down but still adds stability. Having a few different techniques for modifying the pose gives me more confidence that I can eventually conquer it.

Side Plank - Front View