The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.

 

Firm and Pleasant November 12, 2009

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you…while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  – John Muir

This morning a group of students and staff from Past Tense Studio (see “Services” page) went for a Yoga and Meditation Hike in Rock Creek Park.  We first walked chattily to our starting point – a bridge crossing a particularly rocky and rumbling section of the creek – then settled into our practice.

It’s not hard to do Asana in plain sight of the public eye when surrounded by the Autumn beauty of Rock Creek – a true refuge where one can completely forget the rush and trash of city life.  We opened our journey in a strong and engaged Tadaasana (see instructions below), breathing the deep three-part Deergha Swaasam breath (see “Tips-n-Tools,” Sept/Oct focus), and inviting the mind to soften into the neutral space of the present moment.

Flowing through our Sun Salutations without yoga mats, in jeans instead of yoga pants and with sneakers instead of bare feet, I felt a surprising authenticity.  Simple connections – face raised toward the warm fall sunlight, ears filled with the sound of rushing water, bare hands pressed into the cool concrete bridge – forged a humble oneness of human and nature.

For our hike, we explored our senses, one-by-one (one of my favorite styles of meditation, as many know!).  After exploring sound (crunching leaves underfoot and weepy children passing by), smell (wet earth as well as runners’ cologne), taste (indeed, I could taste fresh air) and touch/feeling (limbs swinging freely, bodies heating on the uphill climb), we paused at a peak of the trail to transition to the sense of seeing.

Taking advantage of the elevation and view, we practiced Netra Vyayamam (see instructions below), circling our open eyes around the periphery of the sockets, taking in the closest details and stretching our gaze to far off vistas.  As we walked back to the bridge, we gradually activated and enlivened each sense, reaching our starting point in full sensory awareness.  To close, we stood again in a firm Mountain Pose, and allowed the senses to soften back to neutral, releasing all effort, resting in the here and now.

Sounds like a lot of work for a walk in the woods, eh?

This balance of effort and ease is the essence of yogic living.  In the Yama and Niyama – yoga’s first two limbs – it is the skilled practice of ethical living while exercising compassion and love for our humanness.  In Pranayama, it is the healthful benefits of deliberate breathing; in Yoga Nidra, it is a conscious restfulness; in Dharana, it is concentration toward the meditative state of Dhyana.

And in Asana, it is the engaging of structure to find stillness in a pose.

In the text “Raja-Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda translates Sutra 2:46 as, “Posture is that which is firm and pleasant.”  For the months of November and December, our yoga classes, meditations and field trips (see “Services” page to join us!) will explore this fusion of effort and ease…a fusion that inevitably leads to deep, profound rest…a rest that we all need during the holiday craze.  Visiting, shopping, eating.  Family time, financial stress, physical imbalance.

Read below for tips to reach restfulness.  Try (just try) to let go of pushing, straining and reaching.  Engage as much as possible, breath the deep three-part breath, fine-tune, then surrender into stillness.

Let’s take refuge in yoga.

shavasana-3

Savaasana is the ultimate resting pose!

BI-MONTHLY FOCUS: November/December – Rest

“When you have succeeded in controlling the body and keeping it firm, your practice will be steady…  This is the only real rest you can give to the body.”  – Swami Vivekananda, “Raja-Yoga,” Sutra 2:46

Here are two exercises for practicing the balance of effort and ease, leading to rest.  Enjoy!

TADAASANA – MOUNTAIN POSE

Tadaasana is a standing pose and a foundational posture for other Asana or yoga movements.  One can apply Tadaasana’s principles of alignment to any pose.

  • To engage Tadaasana, stand tall with the arms by the sides.  Scan the body from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head.
  • Stand with the feet parallel and a little bit apart (aligned with hip bones).
  • If the knees are locked, unlock them; allow them to relax.
  • Tighten the quadriceps – the long muscle in the front of the thighs.  The knee-caps will raise, safely straightening the legs.
  • Bring the awareness to the hips, pelvis and “sit bones” (aka ischium – the two bones at the base of the buttocks).
  • Imagine the sit bones reaching down the backs of the legs toward the heels; allow the hips and pelvis to float above the legs.
  • Feel the grounded sensation in the lower half of your Mountain Pose.
  • Bring the awareness to the spine.
  • Inhale a deep three-part breath from the tailbone, through the backs of the ribs, up to the shoulder blades.
  • Exhale, release the shoulder blades toward each other and down the back.
  • Inhale, breathe into the front, sides and backs of the ribs, filling the lungs like a barrel.
  • Exhale, open and extend through the sides of the ribs.
  • On the next inhale, reach the crown of the head to the sky.
  • Exhale, close the eyes, breathe, find stillness.
  • Rest.

NETRA VYAYAMAM – EYE MOVEMENTS

Netra Vyayamam tone the optic nerve and stretch the eye muscles.  The exercises can be practiced to rest the eyes from staring at computer screens, studying, driving and so on.  When practiced outdoors, they allow the depth of focus to stretch.  Try the palming described at the very end to relieve eye strain anytime.

  • Sit (or stand in Tadaasana) with the spine long and the crown of the head reaching toward the sky.
  • Close the eyes and breathe deeply in three parts.
  • Gently open the eyes and bring the gaze to the top of the vision.
  • Begin circling the clockwise, exploring the edge of the eye socket, stretching without straining.
  • Inhale as the eyes circle from bottom to top; exhale from top to bottom.
  • After three slow, fluid repetitions, return to the top of the vision.
  • Close the eyes, center them and relax.
  • Repeat circling counter-clockwise.
  • If outdoors, explore the range of vision, from the closest objects to the farthest vistas.
  • After completing three repetitions in each direction, keep the eyes closed, and rub the palms together at the heart center.
  • Generate heat in the palms from the friction.
  • Cup the palms over the eyes and allow them to drink in the darkness and warmth.
  • Rest.
  • As the heat begins to dissipate, gently sweep the fingertips across the eyelids.
  • Gradually open the eyes.
  • Rest some more.

Please visit the “Tips-n-Tools” page for an archive of these instructions.