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

This Week in Yoga ~ Unfolding

Hi Yogis,

Last week in yoga (I know, someday I’ll catch up) we worked with the concept of unfolding.  In a mat-based yoga practice, this means two things:  1) we allow the pose to unfold during the course of several breaths, and 2) within the pose unfolding, the body unfolds, as well.

For instance, when practicing Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle pose), instead of leaping into a pre-conceived “final” version of the pose on breath #1, we start gently by simply reaching to the side with straight legs, both arms parallel to the floor.  On breath #2, we lower the front arm, pressing the back of the hand gently into the inside of the front thigh, or, resting the palm on a block, while the back arm drapes behind the lumbar spine.  Breath #3 will take the fold at the hip deeper, if that seems wise, and the bottom hand closer to the floor.  20190110_0715412322849988521377645.jpgThe top arm is invited to reach upward, and the gaze is directed to the ceiling, side wall, or floor.  Breaths #4 & #5 will offer the space to remain, back out, or go deeper into the pose.  In this way, we take the pose in stages, which allows the body to warm up to the shape without any pressure to find the edge.  Only by the final breath(s), if it seems wise to do so, will we explore the edges of the pose as they manifest uniquely in each of us.

During practice, we unfold the pose and the pose unfolds the body, so that by the end we might feel like we’ve arrived in a totally new place, not just “regular old triangle pose.”  The fuel for all this unfolding is the breath. It is in each inhalation that the body expands and creates space, and in each exhalation that the body stabilizes and grounds.  In this way, the breath acts as “the great unfolder,” a beautiful thing to experience.

Happy Practicing,

The Catholic Yogi