Friday, June 22, 2012

Every Day Inversions - Tips From Others

I was blessed to take four wonderful classes in the last two days - the first from my amazing teacher, Eileen, the other three I took today at the Iyengar Yoga Studio in NYC (I am writing this on the train home).

So here are some tips from the experts:

- reach the legs off of the hips - think of lifting the legs up to the ceiling to take some of the weight off of the arms and head

- when first learning to kick up into headstand, do not let your buttocks hit the wall - that impact could cause you to damage your neck. Practice first with Eka Pasa Sirsasana (plant the head and forearms on the floor and raise one leg then plant it on the floor. Repeat. Practice this for some time before learning to kick up.)

- extend the index fingers to access and lift the upper arms up to the ceiling

- if your arms often roll out on headstand, tighten the forearm skin prior to kicking up. Here is how: drop the elbows to the mat and extend the forearms forward while contacting the mat with the elbows only, extending the skin of the forearm.


- after you have been working with shoulder stand for some time, try to do the pose with the hands on the shoulder blades - bringing the thoracic spine in to broaden the chest

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everyday Inversions - Slowing it Down

For the past few days I have been slowing down my variations. My hypothesis before trying this was that if I took longer between variations, with slower transitions, my inversions would be more calming/more quiet.

I suppose I was right. I do feel that slowing down made the poses more internal than moving at a faster pace, but it did not feel as calming/quieting as staying in headstand without variations. No duh, Paul. I suppose this was a no brainer, but I had to try.

I told Arunji about my holding of headstand for a prolonged period of time every day. He told that there was nothing wrong with doing this, but warned me about becoming addicted to the pose.

While I do not feel any major attachment to shoulder stand, I feel like I am drawn to a headstand practice. I do prefer when the pose has a more calming/quieting effect. Perhaps my experimenting with variations is for the best. I think that approaching the less comfortable is a strong practice - every now and again we have to step out of our comfort zone.

I was reading Light on Life the other day. In the book, Iyengar was saying that having a more comfortable practice does not make that practice better than an uncomfortable practice. Just like in life, we have to approach the difficult and the comfortable as though they are equally good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Everyday Inversions - from a Master Teacher

I took a short break from my regular routine because I was attending a workshop from a Master Yoga teacher from India (H. S. Arun). He is known for using props creatively, especially chairs.

Accessing headstand in these ways was helpful in creating integrity. On the first day, we utilized the chair to align the spine in urdhva dandasana (headstand pike - as pictured), then eka pada sirsasana (headstand with one leg
lowered). Using chairs in these poses in incredibly helpful
for training the body to hold these poses and creating a long torso.

The second day, we utilized the chairs to bend backward
in headstand. The chair back was extremely helpful for
guidance, while the chair seat was there to press into to

I was also blessed to have him stay at my house Friday night before taking him to the train on Saturday morning. We had great discussions - especially concerning asana practice. He explained that poses should be held for extended periods of time - like 3 rounds of 5 minutes for
Downward Facing Dog, or even building up to 15 minute Parivritta Janu Sirsasana!!! I will be working on this next month :-).

With this change in my routine, I decided that I would work on other variations of headstand and shoulder stand when I got back to my normal routine. So, yesterday I decided to do 8 minutes of headstand variations and 8 minutes if shoulder stand variations.

I was surprised how quickly the time passed doing variations. Since I started this experiment, I thought that I should wait to do variations, instead building time in standard headstand and shoulder stand. I guess
I was mistaken - I am ready.

I am surprised I did not come to this conclusion sooner. I always
tell people that I learned to really hold headstand by doing
variations. It taught me balance better than holding headstand alone - it forced me to learn balance and made my head stand practice more fun.

I held each variation for about 20-30 seconds. I moved from head stand to revolved headstand (twisting my torso). Then I opened my legs into a split and twisted the torso again. I did the same with bent legs then I started doing one legged variations - lowering one leg straight down, then the other, then one leg to the side, then the other.

I was inspired by Arun and his use of back bends in headstand (as you can see in the attached pictures) so I decided to do drop-backs from shoulder stand to bridge pose - so fun!

One thing that I noticed, however, is that holding these variations for short periods did not give me the same quiet mind that holding the poses for extended periods gave me. Tonight I think I will hold these variations for longer to see what happens.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Continuing with Every Day Inversions - Moving Inward

As the days go by, I continue to headstand/shoulder stand on a daily basis.

Two days ago I tried to go for 10 minutes each. I am not sure if I am getting tired or I lost my nerve, but I decided to come down from headstand at 7 minutes. I then proceeded to work with halasana and karnapidasana instead of shoulder stand, as my ego was a bit bruised. For me, I am not sure if others feel this, when I get tired or shaky my mind begins to panic a bit. Typically I can talk myself into working through it, but on Tuesday my mind got the best of me and I came down. I think I also "walked" into headstand with the wrong intentions. I went into the pose with the purpose of "excelling" or "breaking a record," which is not the point. I rushed into the pose without allowing myself to enter the pose mindfully.

With the previous day's lesson in the back of my mind, I approached an 8 minute headstand and shoulder stand on Wednesday. Beginning my practice with a more mindful approach allowed me to stay in and be comfortable. I realized that after being in the pose for some time, my focus became less sharp, if that is the correct word. No longer was I staring at my drishti (focal point), I was instead gazing at it with a softness. My breath periodically took me over and I was able to stay quietly in the pose. It became quite spiritual.

My mind-state changes when holding these poses. Eight minutes starts to feel quick and my thoughts get quiet. It is a different part of myself that I tap into at that point - not really accessible at other times. Holding these poses makes it quite easy to calm myself and be inside of myself. The effects stick around for some time as well. It is easy to stay internal and quiet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Every Day Inversions

I decided to try a new challenge. BKS Iyengar says that there are two poses one should do everyday - Sirsasana (headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). I began an everyday headstand challenge one week ago and have worked my confidence up to 8 minute headstands. After day 2 of doing 8 minute headstands, it became clear that I needed to balance out my headstands with shoulder stands.

Today I did my 8 minute sirsasana followed by 4 minute plow and 4 minute shoulder stand and feel very balanced. Why didn't I do this sooner?

So why the challenge? I felt like I was loosing confidence in these poses, which I considered to be 2 of my strongest. I felt wobbly and unsure. I was also beginning to feel off balance and uneven. So, what better way to fix this than with dedication and experimentation.

There is so much time to experiment when doing the pose each day. What I learned about headstand is that I can loose myself in the pose. I will continue to have moments when I am not centered on my axis and realign myself when needed, but attending to the body can slip away.

One thing I do want to comment on - lightness. I have heard others say that headstand can feel very light, which is the product of practice. While I have started to feel the lightness, it can be a bit scary when I realize it. Feeling light in the pose snuck up on me today without warning and I almost fell onto my desk. I thankfully got through it and was able to stay secure.

Perhaps I should try away from furniture?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bursts of Wisdom

I have a theory that we receive wisdom that sticks with us in small bursts. This wisdom also comes in pairs, or threes, or fours - almost never alone. Today I had a day where I received many little bursts that just stuck with me. Perhaps this is because we have to be ready or open to teachings. Perhaps we have to be exposed to the same teaching over and over again until it finally sinks in - once we get that teaching in, the floodgates open and we are open to other teachings as well. Or, perhaps these teachings come to us when we are ready to receive them.

Today I was reading an article from a professional journal and at least 10 yogic principles jumped out at me.
  • "Thoughts can either be productive or prohibitive" or as I know it, "vrrityaya pancataya klistaklista" of Sutra 1.5.
  • Create a mental mantra
  • Spend more time enjoying your world and less time worrying about how unworthy or untalented you are
  • Really listen. Turn off your automatic response. Just listen.
The article then had me. I was listening. It reminded me of the new goal I set for myself this year: Deepen your practice. Until recently, I have been unable to find the time. That is when the last lesson popped out:

"Time passes at a predetermined rate no matter what we do. It is a question not of managing the clock, but of managing ourselves with respect to the clock." .

Ok. I am listening.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adventures in Vegetarianism - 1 Year Later

It has now officially been one year since I embarked on the vegetarian adventure. I can safely say that my life has changed quite a bit. I didn't realize how much until a friend asked me if I have noticed any differences.

After thinking about it, I realized that there have been many positive changes:

First, I feel much less anxious. Around the time that I decided to go vegetarian, I was battling what was the worst bought of anxiety I have ever felt. I was starting to shut down personally and even felt physical effects that were threatening my health. While the first few months were difficult (getting my sea legs), my body acclimated to the new diet and the physical effects of my anxiety have disappeared and I have calmed substantially, making my anxiety much more manageable.

Second, I have a great deal of additional energy. That being said, just like eating meat, there are times when I eat too much and feel a heaviness that can slow me down. Even vegetarians can eat heavily. When eating intelligently without meat, I feel lighter and have a great storehouse of energy - even more than I had originally felt or expected.

Third, eating outside of the realm of my "typical" diet has opened me up to trying many new things and eating foods I would never have tried before. Vegetarianism has been the gateway drug to healthier living - including adventures in growing vegetables and herbs, making my own herbal tea, cutting sugar, and more. 

That being said, I still feel new to the meatless world. I am still surprised on occasion by foods that have dehydrated chicken as an ingredient. (Why would anyone want to dehydrate a chicken? just saying). And I still struggle with a few things - for example eggs. I am considering the removal of eggs from my diet, but am ignorant of what food products contain eggs. I am, however, encouraged to learn more and continue to make healthy decisions. Overall, I am incredibly grateful for the decision and look forward to continuing with the adventure.