Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Bobby and I would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. I'll be taking a short blog break until the New Year but look forward to discussing lots of yoga goodness in 2010.

Thanks so much for your support in 2009. We can't wait to practice with you and learn from you in the New Year.

Lots of light and love,
Meaghan and Bobby

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chakrasana - Wheel Pose

I've been toying with posting a "how-to" on Chakrasana (aka Urdhva Dhanurasana) for some time now but my ego's response to my not-so-perfect physical form in the asana was holding me back ;)

Today I'm throwing ego to the wind and offering these photos as a descriptive tool to perhaps help you learn a little about your own backbending.

Chakrasana (Wheel Pose) aka Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)

Before practicing this posture be sure that the body is warm and loose. A good warm up sequence would include:

Cat Lift & Cat Tuck
Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation) x 3+
Uttanasna (Forward Fold)
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Dhanurasana (Bow pose)
Setuasana (Bridge pose)
*be sure to follow each of these deep backbends with a counterpose such as Pavan Muktasana (Wind Release pose) or Reclined Spinal Twist

To begin Chakrasana lie on your back and bring the heels of your feet as close to the sitting bones as possible. Place your palms just above the shoulders, fingers pointing down the body. Feet should be hip width apart (as in Bridge pose) and hands shoulder width apart. Find a deep connection to the Earth with each foot and hand.

The forearms should be about perpendicular to the floor. Gather the shoulders and elbows so both are active and engaged. Do not let the elbows splay out.

Begin to move into the posture by scooping the tailbone up and lengthening the spine off the floor. Press into the inner edge of the feet to do this (keeping the knees hip width apart). Press into the hands and lengthen the neck, placing the top of the head on the floor. Take a couple of deep breaths.

To move deeper, press firmly down through the inner edge of the hands (the first finger and thumb) and inner edge of the feet. Keep the upper arms parallel and shoulders gathered. On a strong exhalation straighten your arms, lifting your head off the floor.

Once the arms are straight, bring your awareness into the legs. Continue to press into the feet and gather the knees so they don't splay out. Keep the buttocks firm, but not clenched. The tops of the thighs are active and strong . Feel the tailbone lengthening toward the knees. The belly and chest are broad and the neck is long, crown of the head reaching toward the floor. At the same time you continue to press into the hands (especially the base of the first finger) and straighten the arms.

Continue to breathe deeply, staying in the pose only as long as you can comfortably breathe.

To come out of Chakrasana
Tuck the chin toward the chest and slowly bend the arms to take the back of the head to the floor. Roll the neck and spine along the ground slowly until the full back is resting on the floor. Hug the knees into the chest in Pavan Muktasana. Follow with Reclined Spinal Twist in both directions.

Things to look out for:

1. Feet and knees splaying out. This often happens as we focus attention on the strength required in the arms to lift the head of the floor. Keeping the feet and thighs parallel to each other brings additional strength to the pose and actually reduces the amount of work for the arms. It also protects the low back.

2. Clenched buttocks. The underside of the body should be firm but not clenched. Clenching can actually compress the low back. Instead, feel lower body strength come from the tops of the legs and the connection between feet and floor.

3. Lifting UP in the posture rather than lengthening the spine. Once the arms are straight we tend to feel we should life up higher from the hips and belly. This approach won't lead us to freedom in the pose. Instead of imagining the belly lifting up, feel the spine lengthening in both directions: tailbone reaching to the knees and head and neck reaching to the floor. This elongation will allow the spine to bend more deeply and thus, bring us deeper into the pose.

This posture stretches the chest and opens the heart. It strengthens wrists, arms, shoulders, legs, abdomen and buttocks. Chakrasana stimulates the endocrine system via the thyroid and pituitary gland. It is a very energetic pose, increasing vitality and reducing depression.

Some contraindications of the pose include:

-wrist or back injury
-high or low blood pressure
-heart problems

Such a strong pose should be worked on in short spurts. The arms can tire easily, making you less stable in the pose.

Perhaps this posture will be a fun challenge during the holidays...when the deep backbend is accomplished stress and tension melt away. Joy and freedom take hold instead.

Feel free to chat with me about your Chakrasana experiences here on the blog or at the Studio!


Monday, December 14, 2009

Yoga is Union

Most people in the West are introduced to yoga by way of yoga asana, or physical postures. But the practice of yoga is much more diverse than that. In fact, yoga is actually a lifestyle more so than a 'thing you do' - it's philosophy is something that permeates the lives of dedicated practitioners.

One of the magical things about yoga is that this permeation begins in trickles. Just a few yoga classes are enough to stir up your soul and create open space for the teachings of yoga to seep into. The philosophy of yoga is accepting of this slow absorption; there is no expectation that students dive into the practice and adopt the teachings immediately. For most yogis the practice means different things at different times in their lives. And some teachings will be more relevant to one person than another. In yoga, this is ok; it's all part of one's life journey.

To begin learning more about the path of yoga we must first explore the meaning of the word.

The English translation of yoga is "union". Since the ultimate goal of yoga is enlightenment, union refers to uniting the physical, worldly self with the True Self, the Absolute or a Collective Consciousness.

The concept of union also makes it's way into other, more literal parts of yoga. You may hear a teacher asking you to unite the body, breath and mind in triputi. Or you may hear reference to the fact that "we are all one", i.e. we are united with those around us. For the most part, people who practice yoga in the West, do so as householders. Meaning, they incorporate the teachings of yoga into their lifestyle while working and living their lives as usual. In this common scenario each of us seeks a type of union between the modern world we live in and the ancient, yet still relevant, teachings of yoga philosophy.

Perhaps the next time you sit for meditation or asana practice you can ponder the word yoga, union. What type of union are you seeking? What type of union do you experience through yoga? This contemplation on the meaning of yoga may leave you with more questions than answers but that curiosity is, afterall, the reason you're on this path...

Meaghan :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Random Gifts of Kindness

With the holidays approaching we don't have to look far to see shoppers rushing about, looking for Christmas gifts for their loved ones. While this tradition is exciting and fun for us all, it's also nice to step back from frenzied shopping and think of gifts that cost little or nothing. Bobby wrote a lovely article in this month's newsletter called Random Gifts of Kindness in which she offers a great list of free or inexpensive gifts we can offer to those around us. I'm reprinting that list here and inviting all of you to add your own ideas in the comments section below.

1. Write a letter of thanks to someone who has touched your life.
2. Give someone an IOU for baby sitting or some other helpful action that you can provide.
3. Put money in an almost empty meter.
4. Pay for the items of the person behind you in a drive through.
5. Save that parking space next to the mall entrance for someone else.
6. Scrape the ice off the car next to yours or shovel someones driveway.
7. Choose not to pass on any gossip you hear for the rest of the week... the season?
8. Forgive someone.
9. Make a casserole for someone who has a new baby or lives alone.
10. Donate clothes and toys.
11. Pick up some litter.

Namaste and happy gift giving!

How Often Should I Practice?

Most people who practice yoga hope to find something special within their practice. And so they should! Yoga, in all it's many manifestations, can be absolutely life-changing. Whether you are seeking a form of physical therapy to aid in injury recovery or are looking for a more meaningful, spiritual life, yoga can lead you there. However, a key question that we all consider at one time or another is "how often should I practice?".

The easy answer is about three times per week. Three yoga classes each week is enough to feel the physical and mental benefits of the practice. It's also enough to incorporate yoga into your weekly routine, making it a part of your life.

The more complicated answer is: you should practice yoga every single day. Yoga is very different from an exercise regime - yoga is actually a lifestyle. It's a comprehensive system designed over thousands of years to cultivate peace and wellness - not just during your 75 minute yoga class, but in every moment of your life. We can be mindful in performing all actions, breathe deeply throughout the day, feel gratitude for the life we have and take care of our bodies and minds. This is the practice of yoga.

So if you find yourself wondering if you are practicing yoga with enough regularity, broaden your scope of thought to not only include the yoga asana classes you attend, but the way you carry yourself through life. Are you aware of your body and breath? Do you practice compassion and mindfulness? Is your physical yoga practice trickling into your everyday life to make you a more calm, loving person? You may not notice these things happening right away, but yoga will eventually steep into your being and manifest itself in a multitude of ways.

Om shanti,