Welcome to Yogi Sticks!

Do you know your Gomukasana from your Adho Mukha Svanasana? Is your Vrksasana all it can be? And how do you feel about Supta Baddha Konasana? Do you know what I'm even talking about?

Sometimes the Sanskrit - however beautiful it sounds - is not very helpful. So, to encourage my students to expand their yoga practice into their home, I sketch the poses we practice during class on a chart and add the Sanskrit and common name. Hopefully, this is a useful tool to help them along in their yogic journey. I also troll the internet, books, and journals to find interesting articles about yoga and the yogic lifestyle.

Sit and Be Fit

The following is a yoga practice for those of us trapped behind a desk for too long each day. The poses are designed for use in a chair. I hope they bring comfort and energy during your day!

Pranayam (Breathing Practice)

*Sipping Breath: Inhale 4 sips of air through the nose. Exhale 1 long breath through the mouth. Repeat at least 3 times.

*Ratio Breath: Inhale to the count of 4 through the nose. Pause to the count of 4. Exhale to the count of 8. Pause to the count of 4. Repeat several times.

Asana (Postures/Movement)

*Neck: Trace the face of an imaginary clock with your nose, slowly, several times. Switch direction and repeat again, slowly.

*Neck: Drop the right ear to the right shoulder. Keep left shoulder down and away from the head. Hold several breaths. Repeat on the left side.

*Shoulders: Roll shoulders forwards and backward, using fluid movements, several times in each direction.

*Shoulders: Extend the right arm straight across the chest. Grasp the right arm just above the elbow with the left hand. Gently pull the right arm into the chest, keeping the right shoulder down. Hold for several breaths. Switch arms.

*Wrists: Extend the right arm in front with the palm flexed (like the “stop” gesture). Interlace the fingers with the left hand and gently pull the right fingers back. Release and point the right fingers down. Grasp the fingers with the left hand, and gently pull again. Repeat on other side.

*Back: Grasp the back of the chair’s seat with both hands. Roll the shoulders back to extend the collarbones and open the chest. Pull as much as is comfortable with your hands to initiate a mini-backbend. Then, reverse the curve by grasping the front of the seat with your hands between your thighs. Keeping the arms straight, curl the chest toward the pelvis, the spine to the sky. Repeat with the breath – inhaling hands behind and exhaling hands front.

*Side Body and Hips: Raise both arms to the ceiling, keeping shoulders down. Grasp the right wrist with the left hand. Now lean to the left, feeling the ribs open on the right side, being sure to keep the heart facing the front. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat on other side.

*Spine: Cross the right leg over the left so the knees are very close together. Place the left hand on the right outer thigh, the right hand on the back of the seat or chair back. Inhale, sit up tall, and twist to the right. Start the twist with the belly button and let it creep up the spine, finally ending with the neck. Hold several breaths. Slowly release. Switch sides.

*Hips: Cross the right ankle over the left thigh. Place the right hand on the right knee and left hand on right foot. Slowly lower your chest toward your calf. Hold several breaths. Switch sides.

*Groin and Hips: Scoot the sitting bones to the front edge of the chair. Open the knees wide, feet flat on the floor. Keeping a flat back, fold forward into the space between the legs. Let go of the head – shake it ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Hold for several breaths. On an inhale, roll up one vertebra at a time.

Savasana (Meditation)

Sit upright with feet on floor and hands resting one on top of the other, palms up. Close your eyes and feel the breath as it moves through the nostrils, focusing on the tip of the nose. Sit quietly for a few minutes, just feeling the breath explore the new openness in your body. Namaste

2-24-10 Hip Flexors

What are most of us doing the majority of time during the day? Sitting. And sitting. And driving. And typing. And sitting...All of the non-activity shortens our hip flexor area, so the practice today was designed to stretch that area (including the iliacus, quadratus lumborum, and psoas). This involves thigh (quadricept) stretches and backbends - which come from a lengthening of the hip and a rising of the heart. There are many great references to these poses (camel - ustrasana, warrior 1 - virabhadrasana 1, pigeon - kapotasana, and bow - dhanurasana) on the net from places like youtube and yogajournal.com.

Tonight's class thought: We must move from an external reference to an internal reverance.

2-22-10 Inner Thighs

We under-utilize our legs in so many yoga poses (and life in general!): we hang in our joints, we sink into our hips, and we selectively use the muscles that are already strong (and thus, probably, overused). Tonight's practice sought to find our inner thighs, and more importantly, tap into these muscles to improve our postures. Use your feet and legs to plug into the energy of the earth - tap into it! And if your legs are off the ground in an inversion, use the same musculature to engage them in the air. As they say in Wicked, "I think I'll try defying gravity"!
The quote from practice: "Re-examine all that you have been told...dismiss that which insults your soul." - Walt Whitman

Savasana and the Drunk Monkeys

This was originally posted on my sister's website (http://www.unlikelyyogi.com/). She is an awesome yoga instructor in Parker, Colorado:

One of the most misunderstood poses in yoga is savasana – corpse pose. Lying still, doing nothing, just being and observing the moment, staying aware and allowing the world to do what it is going to do – it is extremely challenging. It’s hard to truly let go physically after working hard and in the middle of a strange room closely surrounded by other people. Then mentally, trying to keep the mind focused and aware of the moment. As an instructor, it’s interesting to watch the class while in savasana. There is always a lot of twitching, people looking at their watches wondering how much longer, tapping arms and legs, and looking around. Some don’t even try to relax, they add in stretches or just walk out. Even after explaining the purpose of savasana, some still think they have better things to do. And maybe they really do. But, most likely, the Drunk Monkey Mind has taken over.

What is a Drunk Monkey Mind? Picture a drunk monkey swinging from branch to branch. The monkey is here and there, randomly flying about. Our thoughts do the same thing. One thought leading to the other, the thoughts getting louder and louder until we’re completely distracted and unaware of anything that is actually happening. During a yoga practice, the Drunk Monkey Mind is the most observable in savasana. This is because we have nothing on which to focus our thoughts. When the drunk monkey thoughts appear, we are no longer in the moment, our bodies stop relaxing and savasana seems like a waste of time. And at that point, it really is.

So what to do? Remember that savasana is a yoga pose just like any other. It requires concentration. It requires practice. It requires patience. The pose looks easy but it’s very hard. It’s yin and yang to the extreme.

Here are some ideas that I like to use while practicing savasana:

1. Savasana is not about daydreaming, sleeping, remembering, planning, spacing-out, or creating visions. It is simply about being in the moment and observing the moment – which is focused awareness – which is meditation. Being in the moment is easy when you have something to do, like a challenging pose or anything else that requires your concentration. But think of the physical yoga practice as training wheels. The poses keep our minds on track and steady. Then, in savasana, we try to keep that awareness without the pose – without the wheels. That’s usually when our thoughts fly off course and become drunk monkeys.

2. If you’re having trouble quieting the mind, try focusing on the breath. Our breath is always in the moment, it’s always happening right now. Feel the coolness of the inhale and notice the warmth of the exhale. Try to keep your awareness with the flow both in and out. Yes, this is another form of training wheels – any guided meditation is. But guided meditations are not as powerful of training wheels as a physically challenging yoga pose. They can be used as a gentle step towards unassisted awareness.

3. When you’ve realized that you are daydreaming (and you will), don’t get frustrated, just start again. What do we do with any other pose that might prove to be difficult? We relax and start over. Do the same thing with savasana. Come back to the breath, settle and enjoy. No worries.

4. Realize that you are not your thoughts. Sometimes strange thoughts come up during savasana and it’s easy to worry about what they mean. They don’t mean anything. They are blabber created by your mind to try and distract or entertain. Your mind is bored. It’s like a child wanting attention. But you, the real you, is one step deeper inside and you are separate from your thoughts. One image that I love is that your mind is a perfect blue sky and your thoughts are the clouds. In savasana, we are trying to let go of the clouds and go deeper into the sky.

5. Don’t give up. If you find savasana boring and/or frustrating, look at it like a challenge. You can multi-task and complete 50 things in an hour… But can you relax for 5 minutes? If you can’t, that might show an imbalance in your life. We’re used to the go-go-go lifestyle but that catches up to us and then we can’t let-go. Then we can’t relax or sleep or enjoy the moment – any moment – because we’re always thinking. The internal monologue won’t stop. So keep practicing. I guarantee if you keep trying, your body and mind will eventually give in, give up and relax. And that’s the healthiest thing we can do.

6. Yes, savasana means corpse pose. I had one student tell me she didn’t like practicing savasana because she didn’t like thinking about death. Savasana isn’t about death or practicing being dead. But if the name makes you think about death, then use those thoughts to realize the importance of now. We only have the moment. The past is over and the future doesn’t exist. And in savasana, we are trying to mentally be in the now. So if anything, savasana is practicing being aware of our lives, of our moment and not existing in a continuous daydream. Use the image of death to more fully live.

Some instructors don’t include savasana with their class, or they only allow a few moments for the pose. I don’t agree with this. A yoga class should be balanced in all aspects. Rest should be just as important as work, mentally and physically. And when you are working, see if you can find rest at the same time. Yin and yang work together continuously – find both and find that balance.

2-17-10 Shoulderstand

Shoulderstand, Sarvangasana, is called the Queen of all yoga postures. Why?
*Restores energy
*Reduces tension
*Calms breath
*Relieves asthma and migraines
*Strengthens the immune system
*Flushes impurities
*Stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid (these regulate the
flow of energy through the body
*Stimulates the control mechanisms in the heart and arteries
along the outside of the neck that monitor blood pressure
*Positively affects the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the spinal
cord and brain, fluching regions where fluid has pooled

In the drawing, note how the different muscles are colored. The darker the blue, the greater the contraction. Similarly, the darker
the red the greater the lengthening.
To prepare for this pose, we utilized the wall in poses like Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) with our shins on a block along the wall, and Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) with our heels on the wall. We also worked through several chest opening asanas, shoulder stretches, and leg energizers.
Remember to ALWAYS have space under your neck - that is why we used numerous blankets under our upper back. And using a wall along your back body as you learn this pose is invaluable.
The quote for tonight's practice was from Aadil Palkhivala: "The world may care about what we are. Our hearts care about who we are."

Chakras - Chapter 2

I've been asked for more information regarding the chakras, so here you go! (Thanks for asking, by the way...) Much of this information comes from Judy Kovatch, a teacher at yoga4all studio.
Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning "wheel". Tibetan yogis identify seven major chakras and 122 minor chakras. Each of these major chakras, or energy centers, correlate to an endocrine gland and major nerve ganglia branching out from the spinal column. The chakra wheels are spinning horizontally, like CDs. To picture this, imagine you are above a person's head, looking down. The chakras are inside the body, near the spine, spinning parallel to the earth and horizon.

Tibetan lamas believe that the only difference between old age and youth is the spin rate of the chakras. Ideally, all seven chakras should spin rapidly at the same rate. Aging occurs when activity is blocked or the spin is slowed in one of more of the chakras, so life energy cannot circulate. The key to vibrant health is the speed of the chakra's spin. If the spinning is in harmony, prana is delivered to the endocrine system, and then to all the organs in the body.

2-15-10 Building Stamina

Practice on Monday was designed to remind us that yoga is a balance between flexibility and strength. Tonight's class helped us build stamina and focus on our ujayi pranayam (victory breath) while in challenging poses. In the sketch above, when you see "3 arms" written, it means to hold the pose steady and use three different arm positions, staying in each for a couple breaths. The first arm position is with the arms extended along side the hips, kind of stuck to the sides of the body. The second position is more like wings, with arms at chest level and opening out with the backs of the hands reaching toward each other behind you. And finally, the third position is with your arms extended along your ears, reaching up (but don't hike up your shoulders!).

Quote for the class (and one of my favorites): "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Back on the Beach

Just a quick note that I'll be teaching in Indian Shores again. You can find class at the community center (next door to Salt Rock Grill on Gulf Blvd) on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:00. It's only $6 and I'll be subbing for Tom through March 4th. I look forward to seeing you there!

Meditation, anyone?

I've been asked for suggestions on introductory meditation books. Here are a few:

The Joy of Living : Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Meditation for Beginner's : Jack Kornfield

Breathing, The Master Key to Healing : Andrew Weil

Breath by Breath : Larry Rosenberg

Local libraries carry most of these, not only in print but as an audio version as well. I would also suggest checking out the iTunes store for dozens of free meditation podcasts. And lastly, there is Buddhist meditation class at the Yoga 4 All studio (http://www.yoga4all.com/).

Remember that reaching a meditative state is the purpose of our yoga practice. When the body is settled, the mind can settle as well.

2-10-10 Spine Care

Poses are not always what they seem - sometimes the simplest poses make the most difference. This is the case for poses we practiced tonight, like Rock the Clock (while on your back, knees bent, slowly tilt your tailbone from the 12 o'clock position to the 6 o'clock several times, then from 3 to 9 several times, and then go around the clock face). This movement acts as a pump for our spinal oils, moving them up and down the spine, bathing it with these most precious oils. Subtle movements can provide huge benefits - remember it is a yoga practice, not a yoga performance!
Quote from the class: "It is not death a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live." - Marcus Aurelius

Thank you, Indian Shores!

I wanted to take a moment to thank the wonderful students in Indian Shores that I've had the privilege to teach for the past month. It truly was an honor to work with you. Your enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, and I believe the opportunity helped me grow as a teacher! I look forward to practicing with you again, soon. If you have any questions, concerns, funny yoga stories, please drop me a line. Until then, I wish you all the best life has to offer. Be well. Be happy. Be at peace.

2-8-10 Core Stability

Oh, how we love to hate doing "core" work! It's such a crucial part of our health, but such an effort to strengthen. Remember to use your abdominal bandha (energy lock) to protect your back. Check this out in the photo below: see his belly pulled in and under his ribs? Also, try to keep your upper body open - no collapsing in or leading with the neck into poses. And, most importantly, BREATHE! I wanted to include this illustration of downward facing dog to emphasize how everything is active, even in seemingly static poses. There is always lots to do!
Quote for the practice: "Trust. Your difficulties will make sense someday - steel, to be tempered, must enter the fire; grain, to be bread, must enter the mill." -Aadil Palkhivala

2-3-10 Chakras and Inner Focus

Tonight's practice was designed to stimulate and realign your chakras. Chakras are energy centers of your body - like spinning wheels connecting different energy channels (called Nadis). Even if you aren't interested in chakras or other yogic philosophy, this series of poses provides a well-rounded yoga practice. On the sketch above, I colored dots in the squares to denote which chakra we were focusing on: Red (root, tailbone), Orange (pelvis), Yellow (solar plexus), Green (heart), Blue (throat), Indigo (third eye), White/lavendar/gold (crown).

Here is a representation of your chakras:
Each chakra is represented by a sound, a symbol, a color, a physical trait, a spiritual/psychological trait, and the list goes on and on. Check out the "chakra" entry on http://www.wikipedia.com/ or Google "chakra" to learn more (be forewarned, there is a lot of information!). Also keep an eye out for a workshop on The Five Tibetans at the studio (http://www.yoga4all.com/). It is practice focused on realigning your chakras that only takes a few minutes everyday - very intriguing. Judy Kovatch offers the workshop every few months.

Today's quote is from Washington Irving: "Great minds have purposes. Little minds have wishes."

2-1-10 Sciatic Nerve

We have all experienced back pain, and most of us have had to deal with sciatica. This usually feels like a shooting pain through one buttock and radiating down the leg. Often, sciatica is caused by a pinched sciatic nerve (one of the largest nerves in the body) and the piriformis muscle usually is the culprit.

This drawing illustrates how closely the sciatic nerve and piriformis muscle are related:

As you can see, any tightness of the piriformis muscle can impinge on the sciatic nerve. So, in practice Monday evening we spent time stretching the area as well as building strength and stability.

Quote for the practice: "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." Freidrich Neitzche