The Urban Yoga Den

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Abundance: Season of Light December 20, 2011

Filed under: Holidays,Inter-Faith,Spirituality,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 6:04 pm
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A friend recently mentioned Jesus as “the reason for the season;” but these days, I see December in a whole new light.

Yes, Christmas is obviously the most widely observed, celebrated and marketed holiday of the month. But as a yogini who thrives on the concept of unity, I choose to set my sights on the cross-cultural, inter-faith, in-common presence of light.

Naturally Winter’s days have become shorter and shorter, the sun lower and lower, the clouds denser and denser, the indoor hours longer and longer.

Yet despite this thickening darkness, December continues a ritualistic season of light that began in late Autumn with Diwali – India’s festival of glowing lamps and the celebration of good’s triumph over evil. I’m guessing there are infinite Winter holy day rituals that involve some sort of spark. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, some have been observing Advent by lighting a candle daily. This week, the eight days of Chanukah begin, observing yet another victory of light over dark. And, Solstice arrives, representing the shortest, darkest day of the year…while also signaling the lengthening of days and leaning toward Spring.

So within this season of darkness, we are surrounded by light or the promise thereof.

Although I was raised Jewish, my mom and I held an annual tradition of driving around our city each Christmas eve, enjoying the holiday decorations. Even my dad, who now lives in the Bible Belt, acts like a thrilled little kid when he sees the amazing displays in his neighborhood.  Personally, I’ve grown to love the super-wild, twinkling, flashing, moving lights – I am always inspired by their spirit.

In my own home, I light more lamps during the day, I burn more candles at night and I try to keep it fairly warm and cozy so my inner light also glows. Plus, who can ignore the cheery brightness of people excited by the holiday season? Even though the stress of shopping and running and partying can make our inner light burn out at times!

So perhaps the reason that this season became so popular is indeed the observance of Christmas. Still, without diminishing the unique importance of each Winter holiday, I like to dwell on this abundantly light-filled, unifying aspect of the season and its many holy days. And so I wish you…

Happy Holidays, everyone! OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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December Focus: Abundance December 4, 2010

Snowflakes are falling on the homepage of WordPress. I’m listening to Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1” in which young lovers dig a tunnel from house to house after the neighborhood is buried in snow. And outside, for real, it’s finally Winter cold.

I’m fasting today. Liquids only.* There’s nothing like an empty body for writing about fullness! In this week’s yoga classes, we are introducing the new monthly focus of Abundance. Having just wrapped up a month of Gratitude reflections, we have an easy task, right? Perhaps we could list loads of stuff we appreciate in and around our lives. Perhaps we feel full of and surrounded by abundance.

At some point during this month, we might look ahead to the New Year and envision our intentions and goals. What will our “New Year’s Resolutions” be?

I’ve already made my 2011 New Year Resolution. Actually, I’ve made a resolution for this final month of 2010 – to NOT set intentions for 2011 and instead, to focus on the abundance of the present moment.

A friend recently responded to my resolution to not have resolutions by sharing “I find if I just lean into this moment with love, everything else sorts itself out.”

How often do we make space – internally/mindfully and externally/physically – in order to allow new or unexpected and maybe even unwanted things to flow in and enhance the abundance that we so forcefully cultivate through planning, goal listing, intention setting?

Can we expand, lengthen, release in order to create space?

Can we gently nurture that space with positive thoughts…even love?

Just asking.

Back to that concept of emptying the body to reflect on fullness. It works, it really does! In order to invite authentic abundance, I must make room. Yoga practice so beautifully offers us a platform for psychological reflection, expression and growth. “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – Yoga ceases the disturbances of the mind. Its eight-limb process is designed to offer ethical considerations, then regulate physical discomfort and external distractions so we have room to be mindfully present with what is.

When we make room, we can see that “what is” is all we need.

The following quote from writer and yoga teacher Max Strom popped up on Facebook recently; and it reminded me to make space for an abundance of anything. If I cultivate space (vs. holding back or holding in or holding tight), I can see that even the unexpected or “unwanted” can bring contentment. I must remember – if happiness does not manifest immediately, more will be revealed.

“We hold back from life so much. We literally refuse happiness because we demand to have it in a certain way – and this precludes our getting it.” ~ Max Strom

We had abundant snow in DC last year! Maybe this Winter it will – again – afford us the unplanned space to explore the new, embrace the unexpected, work with the unwanted.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. h*

* “Liquids only.” My liquid fast, for two reasons, admittedly includes one mid-day miso soup with lemon juice, turmeric powder, fresh garlic and seaweed/spinach. One, I have to take my Holy Basil (aka Tulsi) supplement with a meal. Two, I am hypoglycemic, therefore the miso’s protein and greens’ amino acids balance my blood sugar. All ingredients facilitate continued cleansing. Other than this, throughout the detox I drink: room-temperature water with cayenne, lemon, honey and electrolytes; and fresh ginger root tea. Upon awakening, I drink one cup of classic India spice tea with clove, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, etc.

 

Let Your Heart Bloom Open January 13, 2010

Hunched and hidden hearts, don’t let the cold weather shut you down!

Our Bi-Monthly Focus for January/February yoga classes is HEART.  For the 1st month, we’ll focus on the Anatomy & Physiology of opening the heart center despite our tendency to scrunch up during the winter.  For the 2nd month, we’ll explore and perhaps counteract the emotional/psychological consequences of that classic winter shut-down.

Despite your tendency to shrug forward against the bitter cold, let your heart bloom open.  How?  Start by wearing a warm hat and scarf!  Then, take a brisk walk to your closest yoga class and give the following four heart-opening tips a try.

TAKE IT FROM THE TOP

To have an open heart, one must first have a good head on his or her shoulders.  What I mean is, you must float your head above your neck so your ears hover directly over your shoulders (vs. in front of the shoulders due to a jutting or downward-tilting chin).  Think of the Alexander Technique direction to “free the neck” then allow the crown of the head to extend out of and up from the spine.

The crown of the head is that flat-ish spot in the center-top of the skull where you would place your King or Queen crown so it doesn’t fall off.  This is different from where you would place your tiara (toward the hairline) or a yarmulke (toward the back of the skull) – although I always suspected that the Jewish yarmulke (pronounced “yamaka”) plays the same role as any prayerful head wrap, protecting the 7th chakra energy and also maintaining humility; so I feel a little confused why we place it so far back on the head.

Anyway…

Anatomically, the crown of the head is the point where your spine would pop out if it continued through the top of your skull. Any profile in a basic anatomy book can illustrate this.

To begin our heart-opening process, please stand in Tadaasana (Mountain Pose) with your arms resting at your sides.  Begin your deep three-part breath (aka Deergha Swaasam, described on the Tips-n-Tools page), remembering to let each exhale be long and thorough, all the way down and out of the lower lobes of the lungs and belly, and your inhales strong and complete, through the rib cage and up to the collar-bone.

Now, inhale and reach the crown of the head toward the sky, hovering your ears over your shoulders.  Maintaining that alignment, relax on the exhale.

BAD TO THE BONE

Gliding our way down the cervical spine, we then broaden the collar-bone to create space for the upper lobes of the lungs and top ribs.

To do this, stand in Tadaasana with arms resting down, and press your palms into the sides of the thighs.  Line up your middle finger with the seam of your pants – or where that seam would be if you had one on your yoga capris.

Inhale and continue to press the palms flat.  On the exhale, curl open the upper arms.  Biceps curl out and away from the ribs while triceps tuck under and toward the side body.  As you exhale thoroughly to the belly, the shoulders and collar-bone will naturally broaden and you will feel like a proud yoga soldier.

FILL UP THE BARREL

Next, we have to create space for the heart’s doors to open wide.  They are swinging doors and like the rib cage, they need room to move forward, sideways, backward, all around.

I like to describe the rib cage as a big barrel, imagining myself actually filling up a big cavernous barrel as I breathe through the Deergha Swaasam.  The lungs also expand forward, sideways and backward.  Plus, they are longer than most realize – beginning as low as the upper abdomen, expanding through the ribs and reaching up to the collar-bone.

So let’s fill up the barrel!  Inhale into the belly, ribs then collar-bone.  Hold the breath in the rib cage and explore the expansiveness surrounding your precious little heart.  Then exhale, maintaining that expansiveness, particularly in the side body.

THAT SINKING FEELING

Fourth and finally, we return to the most simple instruction for opening the heart.

Inhale and reach the crown of the head toward the sky.  On the exhale, move the shoulder blades together then down the back. With the head high, the collar-bone wide and the side body long, the blades easefully sink into place.

BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE…

…but you don’t have to hunch the winter away.  Hold your warmly capped head high, wrap that scarf around your perfectly aligned neck and follow your heart down the street.

See you in class.  OM Shanti.

(Jan/Feb Heart Focus instructions are archived on the Tips-n-Tools page.)