21st Century Yoga #everydayposer

A friend of my daughter just got back from an extended trip to India. He brought her a couple of cool gifts, one of which she stuck onto the dash of our car. I don’t like car time, but I might just have to spend a LOT more time looking at this:

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It’s a solar powered prayer wheel. It happily spins all day long glowing brightly in the corner of the windshield. It is maybe the best way I can imagine to enhance the driving experience. Ever.

But, maybe the best part of all is the instructions that came with it:

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Hard to read in the photo, but I wanted to prove that I didn’t make this up–so if you doubt me, maybe zoom in and look very carefully.

Instructions

1. Banned by the compulsory rotation forcibly cone.

2. If the solar lenses and base surfaces have dirt, please dry, clean cloth wipe gently. Do not add any cleaner is wiped. 

The back of the instructions go on to just as clearly describe what a prayer wheel is and how it works metaphysically–not too difficult a task at all to do in a foreign language.

So. My fellow students going through the Whole Body Alignment training come from many backgrounds, including midwives, physical therapists, yoga or pilates instructors, people with bad hips, people that love science, and I’m sure many, many other areas as well. You can imagine that we all talk in different languages and have subtle (or not so subtle) differences in expressing what we mean to our clients. We probably know what we mean, but in complexity do express is not correct use.

In a recent discussion online (we have a *secret* facebook page), a yoga instructor asked about the cuing often used in yoga to “press into the 4 corners of the feet.” This is an instruction I personally used to employ as well, but no longer. It was a long and thoughtful thread and I appreciated reading everyones’ translation of what that cue should mean or why it is useful or just plain wrong. Since the teachings of yoga originate from the same place as my new solar prayer wheel, maybe, just maybe, something has been lost in translation. Another thing to consider is that premodern yoga teachings were directed toward a very different population.

Which is why I no longer use that cue. I see loads of bunions and crooked, gnarly-looking toes which speaks to me of TOO much pressure already in the front edge of the foot. So my instruction is to back weight into the heels and go from there exploring the movement sensations of the front and sides of the foot. Other cues which I find no longer pertinent include “lift your kneecaps” since many people cannot lower them, and “tuck your tailbone” since most of our population already has a posterior tilt to their pelvis. Pressing, pulling or tucking something already engaged in that activity is too much effort in one direction. Physically and metaphysically, yoga is essentially about balance. Therefore, I need to understand the forces in the lives of my students–right now and in our cultural setting–that affect them in a negative way and introduce a practice that remediates imbalances in body, mind and spirit.

Yoga has and continues to evolve. The tenets remain that were laid down in the Sutras of Patanjali, but the way we practice today is far different than thousands of years ago. If you would like to know more about the changes in modern yoga practice, I highly recommend Mark Singleton’s book, Yoga Body.

As teachers, we need to evolve yoga language and practice to guide our students toward physical and mental liberation so spirit can be fully experienced. That can only be achieved by knowing their current physical condition and mind set. Culturally, there are many commonalities, so this is becomes easy to discern as we observe our students practice. It is also helpful to actually know your students–not to teach to such a large class that you aren’t aware of their personal limitations. And then we must learn the language of instruction that compulsory clarity do not body distort.

Everyday Poser–Walking in the Snow!

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Here is what my neighborhood looked like this morning. Usually when things go winter around here, I get asked (told?), “you didn’t walk TODAY did you???”

Yes. I walk everyday. Walking is the best pose you can do for your body, yogis. And walking on varied surfaces is important for all kinds of reasons. Mostly this morning, my lateral hip muscles got a bit of challenge. These are called the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Which always makes me want coffee. But I had it before I left the house and I LOVED my morning practice of “walkasana” in the snow. See:

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Everyday Poser-Hip Thrust

No–it’s not an anti-Rocky Horror’s Time Warp blog. I love takin’ a step to the right. And the title, Everyday Poser, is a new # for my blog (I don’t know what to call that number-thingy, but I know it works on Twitter and stuff). I will occasionally have a longer rant (if you know me, you know I like that old soap box!), but I’m going to up the frequency on blogging and start with a series of shorter blogs with a daily practice tip to put yoga into your life everywhere. These blogs will begin a long and exciting process of becoming a Restorative Exercise Specialist. I’m super-excited to start this learning adventure and share my experiences over the next year! Let’s go Everyday Poser Possey!

#1: Here is me thrusting my hips (thanks to Sigrid for the photobomb)

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#2: Here is me with my hips over my heels in proper alignment
IMG_1194The first “hip thruster” pose is something I find myself doing in the kitchen constantly. It seems as if I am taking a load off and freeing my arms to work harder. But if you compare it to the aligned hips over pelvis pose, you can see my mid back is straighter and my shoulders are more anchored into their sockets. Also my belly isn’t going to directly eat that apple–my ribs and stomach are stacked and supportive. Notice how you are standing next time you are in the kitchen!

Walking on Water

stand up paddle board on the bayou

One path I never really dreamed of traveling was walking on the water. I taught swimming lessons for years and know pretty well how to interact with the dynamics of the aquatic environment. I understand pull, drag, eddy, and slipstream. I can find my center of buoyancy and float without effort or tuck and throw my body into a flip. All of these actions happen IN the water, however.

Out of the water, I have studied movement through dance, running, weight training and yoga for the past 30 years. I feel pretty confident on my feet–and even on my head. If my balance isn’t quite perfect, I know how to adjust to seek better alignment. All of these actions happened ON solid ground, however.

You know, sometimes our lives turn topsy turvy. Sometimes the ground under our feet becomes less firm. Sometimes we feel like we are under water and out of control. Sometimes we lose our center. David Emerson’s states in his book, “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga,” that “a ‘center’ is anything around which we organize ourselves physically, somatically, psychologically, and/or emotionally. In this context, a center can be our family, our job, our religious views, our community, or our health, as well as our ideas about the world, our psychological profile, and more. The center can also be internal, at the core of our bodies.” When we lose our external organizational centers, we must find that internal one or risk losing our sense of balance and control.

That ability for me was recently tested as I headed out for my first session of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Our instructor taught us the basics of the board, how to paddle, and then took us through some basic yoga poses. I was challenged to find my physical center and keep it engaged, strong, and constantly adjusted to an environment that was unlike anything I had experienced before. The “ground” beneath me constantly moved. I had to compensate for the instability without overreacting. It was like nothing I had done before.

And yet, I have done this before. When my first child was born, sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and under-experienced, I had to find that center, that strength, and that balance. When a friend was suddenly killed on the sidewalk by a car, I felt the solid ground below me slip away. But also when I fell in love for real. When I opened my own business; the dream I had been working toward for 30 years and the most frightening, thrilling ride I have ever been on. These situations tested my stability–physically and otherwise.

Recently physicists tried to find out when energy becomes mass–the so-called “god particle.” Our bodies also have seemingly opposing states of being. At some point we move from somatic (thoughtful) nervous activation to the autonomic nervous system. We don’t have to think about making our heart beat. We don’t have to think to pull back from a hot flame. Can we, like the physicists, understand the forces that create this energy?

Out there on the water, floating and balancing and trying to find my physical center, I discovered strength. And fearlessness. I tried, I fell, I got wet. I tried again. And you know what? I had an absolute blast. It was not only okay to do fall in, it was fun! I kept it up until I could do some of the moves that at first seemed impossible. Maybe I wasn’t actually walking ON the water, but when I did balance on that SUP, it certainly felt miraculous. And I found my source of strength and balance that lies deep within the core of my being.

I don’t have to be a physicist to understand that at some point, that sense of centering and balancing my mass–my physical body–creates a sense of centering and balancing my energies–my subtle body that operates without my awareness. Like the old story about the guy that prayed to win the lottery, but never entered–we can’t really expect miracles without doing everything possible at our end first. When we discover our center under duress, we also discover our source of power and stability. From there, maybe we become a little more fearless, a little less needful and more self-sufficient, and we learn to live life more fully. With a firm sense of our core strength, we know it’s going to be okay if we take a risk. Maybe we fall in. And maybe a miracle happens, too.