You can’t log on to Pinterest or Facebook without getting bombarded by inspirational quotes. Social media becoming a tool to spread good will and encouragement. But, here’s a question to ponder — why do people post those quotes? Is it because they really want to share the positive energy with others, or are they doing it for themselves in the vein of ‘write it down make it happen’, or is it for a sense of accountability? After all, if you’re going to blast it to the universe that you’re this spreader of positivity, you’d darn better be positive!
I suppose the answer is, all of the above.
I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who tends to post more than a few of these feel-good messages. She explained that her Facebook timeline is usually a pretty good indication of the type of day she’s having. The more motivational messages, the worse the days she’s probably having. Her theory here is that if she puts it out there, the words serve as a source of encouragement in her own mind.
We went on to talk about her bad days, and specifically something she posted recently about giving someone else the power to ruin her day.
This is where the yogi in me kicked in.
I suggested the idea that just as somebody else’s behaviors are taken with a certain meaning and given meaning based on our own thoughts, so too are motivational quotes. We are drawn to and assign maning to these quotes based on our own thoughts at that moment and how they can apply to our own lives. All of this is counter to the teachings of yoga about non-attachment.
Yoga Sutra 1.12 says:
Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tat nirodhah: These thought-forms are mastered through practice and non-attachment.
Explained, this says that it is through two things, (1) the practice of yoga and (2) the practice of non-attachment, that we are able to control the rippling thoughts of the mind. In other words, if you can separate yourself from action that take place outside yourself, then you can gain control of your mind and ultimately reach a state of peace – or samadhi.
Of course, nobody is saying non-attachment is easy. Sometimes just putting happy thoughts in our heads and even posting them on facebook seems a whole lot easier! But, for one, this is temporary, and, second, it’s really just sort of a band-aid and doing nothing to actually help you deal with the reason you need encouraging thoughts.
Here’s another way to think about non-attachment. It’s the idea of reality versus our story. Something happens, and we assign meaning to it. In the case of a comment or a shrug by someone else, it’s usually a negative meaning. In the case of positive affirmations, it’s a meaning that encourages us to cheer up and think happy thoughts. Either way, the meaning is colored by our minds.
The idea of non-attachment takes the meaning out and allows us to look at whatever event is driving us to the affirmation as simply an event, void of meaning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying affirmations are bad. In fact, they’re great. They serve a wonderful purpose in helping us average humans who still struggle with non-attachment, find positivity in challenges. And the fact that they’re blasted all over Facebook with people sharing positivity with others is super encouraging. But, what I am saying is that if we’re seeking the words of others as a way to find happiness, well, that’s about as bad as looking to others to find happiness within ourselves.
And with that, I leave you with this quote from Maya Angelou, that, yes, I applied meaning to and it seemed apropros:
Have you ever been lying in bed and suddenly think, ‘I’d like to be doing half moon right now.’
Or, sitting on the couch just watching tv and think, ‘A handstand would feel great at this exact moment.’
Or, how about sitting at work and suddenly getting the urge to get into a forward fold.
I don’t know about you, but it seriously happens to me all the time. Then it occurred to me, since I really cleansed my internal body and eat only pure foods, any cravings tend to be a sign of what my body is lacking. Is it possible the same relationship translates to yoga. When you’ve trained your body about the power of yoga, does the mind crave certain postures that it knows would ease whatever is ailing you??
With that theory, I started thinking about the different postures I was yearning to do and the benefits of each, then sought the common denominator. And, lo and behold, not that it was any surprise, but they all have been praised for their benefits of easing anxiety.
In addition to the ones above
- Standing forward fold
- Half moon
here are a few other ones:
- Bridge pose (lay down, bend your knees, lift your hips)
- And, of course, the mother of all calming poses, seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana)
Now, because I’m often the master of the obvious, I’ll point out that just the postures alone won’t do the trick. Just doing something may get the ball rolling, but then there’s the breath and really focusing on the pose.
WHY THEY WORK
The way I see it, Cat/Cow, Half Moon and Bridge, share the element of heart opening. The more open your heart, the more you’re able to breathe deeply, which then creates a sense of calm.
And the more you focus on opening and breathing, the more effective the postures will be. So here are a few tips to get the maximum opening benefits…
- With the wrists under the shoulders and the hips over the knees, focus on elongating the spine from the heart to the crown of the head and from the heart back to the tailbone.
- As you lift your chest for cow, think about sliding the shoulder blades down the back and pulling your heart through your arms while you inhale and fill your lungs. Keep the neck pulling back and the crown of the head reaching for the sky. Keep the arms active energetically drawing towards each other and the thighs rotating inward to open the hips.
- On the exhale round your back and draw the tailbone and crown of the head toward the earth. As you do, keep your shoulders away from your ears and expand the back body. Your arms should still be drawing towards each other energetically and the thighs internally rotating.
- Continue with deep inhales and exhales.
- It’s always easiest to get into this from Trikonasana. Jumping ahead and assuming you’re in the posture, starting on the ground, ground all four corners of the foot. You might find a microbend in the knee of the standing leg will help with stability.
- Moving up the body, stack the hips on top of each other as if you’re standing between two panes of glass.
- The leg in the air should be in line with the hip as if you were standing on the wall. Keep the foot flexed and engaged. Despite there being nothing actually to push against, imagine you are standing at a wall and pushing against it. That will engage the entire leg.
- Moving back up the body, once again lengthen the spine – heart to tailbone and heart to crown of the head.
- Now, the part for me that’s most powerful, opening the body and heart…. Reach the hand you’re not using for balance toward the sky to brighten the pose. As you do this, keep turning the heart to open the body. Make sure as you reach the fingers skyward, that you’re keeping your should engaged in the shoulder joint and shouldblade is moving down your back. You will feel so much more room to breath and continue to expand the body.
- It’s easy to let the side of the body closer to the floor to shorten, don’t forget to continue lengthening the side body too.
- TIP: If you’ve never tried this with your floating foot against the wall, give it a shot. It’s surprisingly awesome – and with the extra support, you may just get that bottom hand off the ground too!
I always forget how great this feels, until I do it in a class.
- It’s so easy to just lift your hips and then do nothing, but then the benefits will be, well, nothing! One key for me, the shoulders. Wiggle them under the body, and, if you can, clasp your hands. Continue to pull your shoulders under you to open the chest.
- Don’t forget, there’s another half of your body too that needs attention. Keep the thighs engaged and pulling towards each other. They’ll naturally rotate internally by doing this, which means more room for the tailbone. Tuck it under.
- Then there’s the feet. No duck feet here. Keep them straight on and pushing into the earth.
- TIPS: If you have any concerns about your neck, put a folded blanket under your shoulders.
- AND, try a block between your legs, you’ll be forced to squeeze them together to keep the block in place, making the posture incredibly energetic.
So, next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed, get off that couch or out from behind the computer and try one of these postures.
They work. I promise.
Have you ever noticed how powerful messages that you really need to hear keep repeating themselves?
A few months ago, coincidentally right after I got a speeding ticket, someone at my acupuncturist’s office repeated a favorite – and profound – quote to me about the healing process. She said, “slow down to hurry up.” Meaning if you take the healing process slowly, it is likely to happen in less time than if you try to rush through it in a way your body isn’t ready for. By rushing, you will only cause more damage.
Then, today, the same message repeated itself, and, of course, the timing couldn’t have been more apropos.
I heard Allan Hamilton, M.D., a neurosurgeon and author of Zen Mind, Zen Horses, talking on NPR. One of the questions he was asked was about his quote regarding moving slow to move fast. It was the same sort of idea, telling patients that a treatment or therapy will take potentially a longer period of time than it really is likely to. By doing that, they don’t expect quicker results and they can be more patient with their bodies.
It occurred to me how many places in our lives this can be applied.
I am currently in a situation where I have a particularly hectic month coming up. I oversee special projects at the 24 hour news channel where I work. This includes political coverage. That means 2012, being an election year, would be quite busy regardless of other events. Now, add to it that the Republican Convention is in our city; and, suffice it to say, that ante just went up by a magnitude I can only begin to imagine.
There are plenty of people I work with who are excited about the event and the onslaught of 50,000 people to Tampa.
Me? I really want it over!
Don’t get me wrong, it will be exciting. But one thing I’ve learned about politics is that it can bring out the extremes in people. Politics, for all the good it is intended to do, somehow reaches deep down and finds the most emotional chord possible in people and tugs on it hard.
People get mean. And, thanks to electronic communication which allows for some anonymity – or at least faceless communication – people are not afraid to say what they think… forgetting that there’s someone on the other end hearing it or reading it.
It’s this part of politics that I really struggle with… and I can only imagine what that’s going to mean for the RNC coverage.
This has brought up in me a feeling of just wanting to get it over with. More than a few times lately I’ve uttered the line, “Is it Sept. 1 yet?” (for those of you lucky enough to not know, the RNC is Aug 27-30)
Then this morning, after hearing that interview it occurred to me Sept 1 is almost a full month away! 20-something days now. A lot can happen in 20-something days and by living with this mindset, I am living so far from the present and turning a blind eye to the possibilities and beauty in front of me. Instead, I am so focussed on these 20-something days being over.
The result of which is likely going to be:
1. A feeling like it’s really taking forever
2. Missing out on what’s happening in front of me
and, most importantly,
3. A reduced ability to really plan and put attention where it needs to be in order to create a good outcome.
Reality is, I can’t make those 20-something days go faster or slower. There are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. The more I wish each one of those seconds gone, the less time I’m going to have to set myself up for success. The more I focus on getting past it, the more I’m setting myself up for something less than excellence.
Time is what it is. Every second is a gift and only by being present in each and every second, can we really make the most of it.
Time is fragile. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and you can’t bring it back.
Nobody ever said being present is easy. It’s why we practice yoga… and then practice some more… and then practice some more, because being present will make the future that much better.
Ok, so I’ll admit… I may be a little presumptuous to 1. consider myself a runner, 2. say that yoga has officially ‘helped’ my running in the long-term sense, but what I can say with certainty, is that it did help my run today!
I used to run. At my best I could do about 9 miles without completely wanting to collapse and I did manage to finish a half marathon. It was an amazing sense of accomplishment, not to mention I was in probably in the best physical condition of my adult life.
And then, age hit. Or, maybe not age, but life snuck in. I wasn’t treating my body with the care that I probably should have considering the demands I was putting on it between running, yoga and a high-stress job in an insane work environment. My hip started to hurt. Then my toe started to throb regularly. Eventually, I threw in the towel, gave in to the aches and pains, and I put away my running shoes.
Lately though, I’ve had an aching desire to get out there and get sweaty. Or maybe it’s just that as much as yoga keeps my mind and parts of my body toned, my leg muscles seem to be wasting away and my the size of my thighs seems to be increasing.
So, on the weekends when I can get out on the road before the heat turns St. Pete into a sauna, I’ve been tying up my sneakers and attempting to run.
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been easy. I struggle. A lot. And I walk. A lot.
Today, though, I tried to incorporate some lessons from the mat to get me through the run, and lo and behold, they helped.
1. Shoulders down the back, expand the heart forward. That’s been the greatest lesson I’ve taken from doing so much Anusara style yoga. The heavy concentration on sliding the shoulder blades down the back and extending the heart forward. It opens the chest and allows you to breath deeper. In life it helps to calm the mind. By applying it while running, I found it helps you take in more oxygen, breathe deeper and not get so winded.
2. Lengthen the body – top of the head toward the sky, ground the feet. Another really important lesson on the mat and on the road. Doing it in yoga helps keep you grounded. Doing it in day to day life does boosts your confidence. And doing it while running helps with posture. I find myself looking down and hunching over when I run. Normally, to get out of this habit, I end up just trying to look ahead, but I reazlied that by focusing on lengthening the body, I stand straighter and flow better.
3. You are a warrior. I recently completed a few Kathryn Budig practices on yogaglo that focused on strenght called “Summon Your Strength” and “You are a pillar of strength”. Part of the class had us holding warrior and goddess poses for an extended period of time until our legs were burning. And, if I recall correctly, Kathryn talked about persevering through the challenge, to feel what your body was doing and to push through it. She also talked about simply being present in the moment and focusing on the challenge at hand. When the run got especially challenging today, I started to think about Kathryn’s message, turned my mind inward, and went with it.
What I discovered is that I was able to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going.
In the end, I still have a long way to go with my running, but by applying these tips continuously, I can see where yoga will not only continue to impact my life positively, but it will impact my running positively too.
Practice, practice, practice… on the mat, in life, and on the road.
I used to think yoga was just about stretching. Whether it was forward folds to open the hamstrings or trikonasana to stretch the side body or utthita parsvokanasa, for, I was never really quite sure but always figured it was so painful it had to be doing something!
But lately, since I’ve been doing more alignment based yoga, I’ve noticed something different in my practice.
It’ s not just about stretching, it’s about opening.
By opening, the muscles naturally loosen. But, it’s not just the muscles that get the benefit. The whole body expands and gets lighter and more open.
Take trikonasana (triangle pose). As someone with a chronically tight hip and psoas, this was always one of my favorites. All I could think about in this posture was stretching that muscle as much as possible. The sensation (translation: pain) felt so good!
But lately, I’ve approached the posture differently, and not only have I felt more open, but I feel like I’m getting the benefit in more than just the one part of my body. Instead, by opening and not stretching, it becomes a whole body move.
(for the sake of explaining this, I’ll focus on the right side)
To start with, as always make sure the feet are grounded through all corners, especially the big toe ball and energetically pull your feet toward each other.
Next, tuck the right hip under and try to stack the left hip on top. You’ll feel your torso instantly start to open toward the sky. Continue to open the ribcage toward by bringing the right side under the left side up and continue that motion as you pull the shoulders down your back behind your heart. You’re heart will just naturally expand and reach forward the more you do this.
Now, the arms. Depending on the style of yoga you practice, you’ll either reach the fingertips behind the calf (anusara/iyengar) or grasp the big toe with your peace fingers (ashtanga), or maybe even in front of the shin. Lately, I’m partial to using the forearm against the calf as an opposing motion to open the hips.
As you extend the right arm toward the ground, feel as if you’re reaching for a star. The motion should be equal in opposite directions. The goal is to feel the body opening even more by doing this. Don’t forget the shoulders. As I said above, make sure they’re staying out of your ears and are continuing to move down your back.
Finally, the crown of your head. It’s easy to forget about your head in this posture. I’ve found the more I think about my head, the more I really feel the benefits of this pose. While your chest is opening toward the sky, think about lengthening both side bodies by reaching the crown of the head toward the front of the room.
It’s a lot to think about, but I can speak from personal experience when I say looking at the posture as a heart opener and torso lengthener as opposed to just stretching the psoas has completely changed the experience. I think I need to go do it right now!
Eat, Pray, Love is one of life’s guilty pleasures… kind of like watching, well, just about anything on Bravo.
Elizabeth Gilbert tries to sell herself as an every-woman struggling to deal with the upsets in life, coming to terms with the bad decisions she’s made and looking for a way to put her life on a more positive path. But, seriously, who gets to travel the world for an entire year without worrying about how it’s going to be paid for?
I, personally, spent 3 days in Rome and nearly went broke and would give my left arm to spend months at an Ashram in India!
All that aside, though, I see Eat, Pray, Love as a well-written story of a woman who is sharing her experiences and her very personal, sometimes raw emotions. She’s just lucky enough to be able to search for herself in some of the most incredible places on earth!
Is the book a litle self-serving and does she sometimes sound like the only person who has struggled with bad relationships? Sure. Do I see myself in her at times? Sure.
Did I finish Eat, Pray, Love feeling like there’s hope out there for me despite my, some might say, not-so-great decisions? Definitely. Did it speak to the yogi in me and the power of learning meditation and Eastern philosophies from the masters? Absolutely.
Eat, Pray, Love is a not a deep, life-altering autobiography that will have you ready to take on the world, but it is a light, easy-to-read, enjoyable story that had me smiling at the end and at least feeling a slight lift in my step and a more optimistic outlook on the future – not to mention it has me jonesing to travel even more!
I have been in desperate need of a new mat.
I lost my beloved Manduka few months ago and in the meantime have been using an old but decent mat that I had. But, that mad has seen better days – and, to be honest, was a bit too squishy for my liking. My practice style has changed lately and I had very specific requirements in my new mat:
1. I wanted something grippy but not too sticky
2. I wanted something that wouldn’t get slippery if I did a sweaty practice
3. I wanted something cushiony but not squishy that I would sink into
4. I wanted something that would be reasonably decent on carpet
5. I really didn’t want it to be quite as heavy as a Manduka – which, to be honest, I didn’t love as much as the rest of the world seemed to.
Like I generally do with a purchase like this, I researched, I agonized, I read reviews and I pondered the pros and cons. After contemplating Jade, Manduka and Lululemon primarily, I was pretty sure I had my mind made up and ventured off to the Lululemon store.
I walked in, told the “Lulu educator” what I was looking for and she led me over to the wall of mats with a few different ones available to try out. In hindsite, I probably should have tried more than one, but once I’ve got my mind made up, it tends to be more about making me question that one decision than to consider other options. So, I rolled out the The Mat, tried a few different poses, and compared it against the checklist in my head.
Thickness – check. It was not too thick, not too thin. I felt grounded but didn’t feel like I was just standing on the gound with nothing between me and the floor.
Stickiness – check. I tried trikonasana and parsvotanasana and didn’t slide at all. Then I tried pivoting my feet and I could without feeling stuck. Perfect on the grippy scale.
Sturdy – check. Definitely not flimsy like so many non-Manduka mats are. This one had some substance to it.
Technology – check, check! Very cool concept. It’s made of natural rubber and absorbs the sweat, but interestingly, it’s also antimicrobial so that the sweat it absorbs won’t turn into funk.
I chose a color, which was possibly the hardest part because there are so many pretty color options! Paid for it, and hurried home to try it out.
Other than a bit of an odor right out of the gate (which, btw, has already dissipated after just a few uses) it was AWESOME!
I tried both an anusara and a vinyasa practice with standing, sitting, twisting, arm balances and all… and it answered the call like a dream.
It may not have the lifetime guarantee of Manduka, but it also doesn’t have the uber-hefty price tag. At about $68, I’d say The Mat is right on the money for a serious practitioner.
If I had to name one downside of The Mat, as a pink toenail polish wearer, I probably should have gone with black instead of the super cool gray/crazy green color I went with. Don’t get me wrong, the color makes me happy to look at… but the smudge of polish I already got on it trying to do hanumanasana makes me very sad… I’ll just look at it as a test to make sure I’m focusing on my practice and quieting my mind, and not obsessing over the pink smudge.