This Week in Yoga: Precision & Stability

Hi, Yoga Friends,

If you practiced in the studio with me a couple weeks ago, you might remember our focus was precision and stability.  Precision is the quality of being accurate, and stability refers to firmness, solidity, steadiness, secureness, & strength.

Being precise about how we position our base, the foundation of any yoga pose (made up of any combination of our feet, knees, hands, forearms, head or sitting bones) has direct bearing on the amount of stability we experience during the time we’re there.  Giving each posture a good amount of time (or breaths) allows us to be mindful about where we place what, and in what way; and it also allows for curiosity and experimentation so that we find the best expression of a pose for our own unique body.

Given enough repetition, whether in the same practice session, or over weeks, months, or years, this precision and stability lead to knowledge imbued with wisdom and confidence.  Acumen is the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, and aplomb refers to self-assurance when in a demanding situation.  These are the fruits of a dedicated yoga practice.  There’s a beautiful sweetness about moving from pose to pose as if it is what you were born to do.

However, nothing is permanent.  So, regardless of where we happen to find ourselves at the moment, not only will our circumstances change, but we will 20190224_1623087729673856989822429.jpgchange, too.  This is practice in nonattachment, which is an acknowledgment of humility, impermanence, and letting go of control.  There are nice things about nonattachment; for instance, when things feel ridiculously difficult and overwhelming, it won’t necessarily be that way forever.  Alternately, there are challenging things about impermanence:  when life feels smooth, easy, and sweet, we know it probably won’t remain at this height always.

This is why it helps me to think of balance as a verb.  Instead of viewing it as a state of ease, equilibrium, stasis, and perfection, I practice balance dynamically, as an action, moving back and forth between extremes, honing in on what feels like center when and where appropriate and beneficial.  And this is my invitation to you ~ consider balance as a verb; bend and straighten your standing knee in warrior III; sway back and forth often (as much as possible, really) in tree pose; find yourself forgiving 20190202_1354094077344601718753753.jpgand gentle when you drive all the way to your dad’s house and then realize you’ve forgotten the key that will allow you to prep for the sale on his behalf.  Move between your extremes and find what feels like center to you; rest there for as long as it lasts; and when the ground beneath you shifts, shift with it; when your center slips, slip with it, precision & stability, acumen & aplomb radiating from you like the beacon of light and love you are.

 

This Week in Yoga: Enough

Happy Kindness Week, Yogis!

There are pink and red hearts everywhere I look.  Valentine Boxes in various stages of construction are scattered throughout the dining room.  We even turned our Christmas Tree into a Valentine’s Day Tree.  My kids are practicing random acts of kindness this week at school; they are encouraged to notice kindness in all its manifestations.  I’m encouraging them to be kind to themselves, too.  20190210_2138322584084601616207001.jpgAnd you know, that’s not always easy for us, as adults. Metta Meditation can really help.  One form of this practice, also known a Loving-kindness meditation, begins by offering love, compassion, or kindness, safety & health toward yourself, then toward ever-widening circles of people, such as family, friends, village, community, and so on, until you finally extend this benevolence toward the entire world.

Another way of practicing kindness toward ourselves is — you guessed it — on our yoga mat; and I don’t only mean that getting on your mat to practice is a gift to yourself and a way to perform self-care, though it is.  I’m actually referring to the practice of acknowledging yourself as being enough, doing enough, and accomplishing enough.  We all hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations at times, sometimes always; and often, we set higher expectations for ourselves than we would anyone else.  So practicing seeing ourselves as enough can be a soothing balm to our own weary soul.   There are times we need to treat ourselves as a sacred partner, offer ourselves gentleness, forgiveness, and understanding, as we would to a dear friend.

This week in yoga we will practice enough by not forcing the body into any pre-conceived “perfect” version of a pose.  We will practice enough by not overdoing it or underdoing it.  We will practice enough by encouraging the voice in our head to speak with softness and praise for simply being our truest self.  Our focus will be on feeling the shape from the inside, rather than assessing the shape from the outside.

20190118_1029251336529539349316204.jpgBe in Warrior Pose for the sake of feeling alive rather than having your front thigh parallel to the floor, or your arms perfectly extended.  Be in Half Moon Pose near the wall or with a block for the adventure of it rather than the achievement of it.  Try old and new poses alike from the perspective that you are already enough, no matter what the voice in your head has learned to tell you.  You are already enough before you even step onto your mat.  It is only that getting on your mat and moving with the breath clears all the dirt away.  It’s the unearthing of jewels like this that keeps us coming back.  That’s the beauty of a yoga practice:  the shining, glimmering rediscovery that we are already enough, just as we are.

 

This Week in Yoga: the Shadow Side

Yes, I’m finally on track(!), which is why you’re seeing a new post so soon.  This week in yoga we are practicing breathing into the shadow side of our poses.

There’s a lot to be said about studying the shadow side of things, including ourselves, but for the purposes of this piece, we’re going to keep things simple and focus on asana.

Quite simply, breathing into the shadow side of a pose means mentally directing your breath into the area of the body that is most obviously folded, scrunched, twisted, or otherwise contracted and shortened.  For instance, in Standing Crescent Moon pose, you are stretching the sides of the torso, one at a time.  So when you are reaching up and over to the right, the left ribs are opening, and when you are moving to the left, you are creating space between your right hip and your right lower ribs, lengthening the side waist.

A common cue for this shape is to breathe into the side you’re leaning away from to facilitate even greater opening.  Equally as beneficial is to breathe into the side you are reaching toward.  Necessarily, when we lean to the right, the space between the right ribs and the right hip shortens.  Instead of encouraging a collapse of the right side waist, cuing the breath into this space, the shadow side, invites awareness, length, and balance.  It invites growth and a new perspective, a completely different experience of your body in the posture.

Try this with Triangle Pose, Reverse Warrior, and Cobra, 20190105_102252185532183156179852.jpgand notice how your experience is different; note any new sensations that might arise.  Additionally, breathing into any space or any side of the body that is not obviously expanding or opening is a very rewarding way to practice asana and pranayama.  Breathe into the lower back in Camel pose; direct the breath into the back ribs in Mountain pose; or focus on the belly in Seated Forward Fold, lifting the front ribs away from the hips.

On a related note, for some really sweet fun try breathing “backward” in Cat/Cow.  The traditional practice is to inhale into Cow, lifting the tail and chest, and then exhale into Cat, rounding the spine, tucking the tail and chin.  However, breathing into the space between the shoulder blades in Cow pose offers such a sweet opening, I wonder why I don’t suggest it more often.

Happy Practicing,

The Catholic Yogi