Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let's talk hips...

We've all either been or seen that student in yoga class that has tears flowing down her (or his, but I've definitely seen it more from the ladies) face, just to overhear this student say to their friend after class, "Those hip openers really got to me today."

Yup, the hips, the keeper of our emotions.

The hips are part of the pelvic girdle: the ilium (back part of the hip bone), the ischium (uppermost & largest part of the pelvis), the iliac crest, the pubis and the hip joint. Not counting the numerous ligaments, membranes, and cartilage that also comprise the pelvic girdle.

The hip joint is a synovial joint between the acetabulum of the hip bone and the head of the femur. This joint is what allows the movement of the hips in yoga asana. You can find flexion (decreasing the area between the bones of a limb at a joint), extension (increasing the area between the bones of a limb at a joint), adduction (bringing in closer to the midline of the body), abduction (bringing away from the midline of the body) and rotation through this joint.

It's no wonder emotions & stress can find a place to hide in this area of the body! Ever notice how tight people's (or your) hips get?

Here are a few poses to help you loosen and open those pesky hips...tears are optional!

Be sure to warm up with several rounds of sun salutations and standing postures like Warrior 1 & 2, triangle pose and extended side angle (all of which are standing hip openers).

Anjaneyasana or low lunge: step your left foot back, extending the leg long, with the knee to the floor, top of the foot comes to the floor. The right leg is bent, foot pointing forward. Walk your hands up the right knee, inhale and lift the chest, find some length in your spine. Hook your thumbs in front of you and inhale your arms up, lifting the chest and exhale, lunge into the right leg. Take 5 breaths here. Exhale your hands down and switch sides.

Baddha Konasana or cobbler's pose: Sitting on the floor, draw your knees in towards you with your feet on the floor. Open your knees wide and bring the soles of the feet together. Grabbing onto the big toes, open your feet so that the soles of the feet are directed up towards the sky (if available to you). Draw the heels in as close to the pelvis as possible. Inhale, lift your chest and look up. Draw the naval towards the spine and exhale, lead with the chest and chin (helping to maintain a straight spine), draw your heart center towards your toes. If your elbows are resting on the insides of your thighs, you can gently press down and back. If your hips are tight (your knees may be lifted pretty far off the ground), you can put blankets or blocks under your knees to relieve some of the pressure from your hips. Take 5-8 breaths in this position and come up and on inhale. Repeat, but for the second pose, round the spine, drawing the 3rd eye or forehead towards your toes. Take 5-8 breaths here and then come up on an inhale.

Agni Stambasana or fire log pose: You may also have heard this pose called double pigeon.
From baddha konasana, stack the right shin on top of the left. Ideally, the heel of the right foot will be just past the left knee. Both feet are flexed. If the hips are tighter and you have quite a bit of space between the knees and the hips, you may put a blanket or block in that space until your hips become more flexible. If this is enough for you, place your hands on the floor directly behind you and breathe. Or, I like to press my thumbs into my hip creases here, give it a shot, it may feel good to you, it may not. If you would like to go farther, inhale, lift your chest, draw the naval in and exhale, walk your hands in front of your legs, folding forward. Try to draw your chest past your legs. Take several breaths in this position and then inhale, slowly come up. Switch sides.

These are just a few, for some more poses that help out your hips, check out this page at Yoga Journal:

As a reminder, everybody's body is different. For some, their hips are already pretty open and these poses seem easy. For others, it can take a long time to get the hips open. Just be patient with yourself and keep trying, they will eventually become more flexible. Listen to your body and don't force anything.

Happy practice!


Monday, February 27, 2012


This painting is one of my very favorites ever to be created. Painted by Frederic Edwin Church around 1860 "Twilight in the Wilderness" is a combination of many outdoor spots that Mr. Church loved about America. (If you're a Clevelander, it is housed at the Art Museum)

I noticed "Twilight in the Wilderness" in my late teens and became obsessed with it as I grew up. If there was a first moment I meditated it was while I viewed this painting.

The museum was kind enough to position a bench directly in front of it and when my life went out of whack I would make my way there, plop down and stare into this oil covered canvas wilderness. Seeking out each little sparrow, creature, rock, ripple, and pigmentation that took me away from the things that were bothering me. Yes - the space I found in that landscape helped me to find space in my mind and in my life.

That space is meditation. For me I found it in a painting, maybe for you it's petting your dog, swimming for hours, practicing on your mat in the park.  Most people think meditation is a hard practice, but in truth, it's simple - just like most truths often are. It's accepting the fact that we need to let go to move forward.

And until we learn to control our minds, we can't ever be fully in control of our lives.

Spending all our time trying to control the things outside of us won't change how we feel or who we are. Taking that path is like painting your house in order to fix a fracture in the foundation.

Paint may look pretty, but the if the foundation is cracked its only a matter of time before you have many more problems with your house.

Meditation helps mend wounds. It allows us to see what needs to be fixed and what we can leave behind. It can help fix the fractures in our foundations, which will allow us to paint everything else the pretty colors we love.
The chaos in our minds, the karams and baggage we carry with us from day-to-day, year to year, life to life, is only as big as we ALLOW it to become. Assumptions we make about things, people, experiences accumulated and grow into monsters that keeps us up at night. They fester into worry and rob us of, well, us.

When we silence our mind we can find space between those thoughts, and then we can see what's real and what's a shadow of nothing.

No, the first time you sit you won't be able to make it 60 minutes with freedom, but you can make it for 5 minutes and then the next time you'll make it 6 minutes.

So whats the secret to meditation? The "trick" we're all looking for is persistence. Don't give up on yourself because the first time is hard. Keep trying and working and follow these few steps:

#1 - Find a quiet spot, one without a TV, that is not a path of traffic and isn't by a phone. If you're cell phone is with you - turn it off. You don't need it for 5 minutes. (& if you have children, find someone to watch them so they won't come looking for you.) And sit.

Find a comfortable seat with your legs crossed. Place a pillow under your butt to elevate your hips closer to your knees. Sit with a tall spine. Image your spine is an antenna and it should be erect, with your shoulders on your back, so your intentions can float up and away into the air and off like a cloud.

[Note: if you have back problems, knees problems and sitting like this hurts, find a comfortable spot to lie down. NOT ON YOUR BED - YOU WILL FALL ASLEEP. Meditation is NOT sleeping. Meditation is that spot between sleep and being awake.]

#2 - Follow your breath. We breathe every day. Our bodies take in the vital air we need to stay alive and never once do we consider that it's happening - day in and out. Watch your breath. Watch the inhalations. Watch the exhalations. Which are longer? Are you breathing from your chest or your belly?

Allow your breaths to grow longer - breathing in to a count of 4 and exhaling to a count of 4. Drawing the breath evenly and constant. Image it flowing throughout your entire body. Down your arms and legs. Into your fingers and toes. Breath into your sore back and tired shoulders.

Begin to count your breaths. Each number is a full inhale and exhale, and as thoughts pop us - because they often do - just come back to #1.  See if you can make it to #10, and if not this time, maybe the next - but keep breathing.

#3 - Mantras. These words, these prayers, help us concentrate on something else, something bigger than our daily lives. They move our energies toward something positive - health, love, faith.

#4 - Guided Meditation - when we're new a meditating and finding the strength to quiet the mind is a daunting task, using guided meditation is a wonderful way to begin and a useful tool to continue. My very favorite guided meditations are from Meditation Oasis. Mary Maddox is a beautiful spirit. They have free podcasts you can download onto your ipod so you can go sit in the  middle of the woods (if you'd like) and let go.

These 4 steps will help you add meditation into your every day. It is suggested you meditate at the beginning of the day (and after time at both the beginning and the end) - but I think you should meditate when you can. Maybe on your lunch break, maybe for 5 minutes before you go to bed.

The most important thing is to do it.

As your practice builds you will begin to notice the days you didn't meditate. You will notice that change almost immediately.

Meditation is give yourself the love you deserve and the time you need to be the complete you that you deserve to be. Be love, be free, be you to the best of your ability.

Always smile because it's a gift we can share with strangers and loved one.

The light in me honors and respects the light in you.

Shanti! Shanti! Om....

Friday, February 24, 2012

Walking our own path

"No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path." ~the Buddha

The story of the Buddha is one of the most famous of all men. Born into a life surrounded by luxuries most only dream of, one day - after finding blinding passionate love and having a child - he gave it all up to follow a spiritual path.  It took him 6 years and almost dying for him to reach nirvana - and when he finally did, he did it on his own.

In that idea is the most beautiful and revolutionary idea. It is the idea, the inside of all of us, lies the answers to everything our soul is searching for. Inside of our own human shell, we already have the truth, the answers, enlightenment. All we have to do is stop and listen to it. 

We live in a world that tells you the only way to know your true path is to have others show it to you - a guru, a professor, a boss, friend, parent - they have been given to us to lead us to our true nature. Maybe they are here for support, but the truth is until we stop to learn ourselves, we can never really move forward. 

To know thyself and to love thyself is a freedom no one can ever give us. This is something we can learn. We can learn to say "I love you" in the mirror and mean it, we can learn to move past the past and we can learn to embrace who we are in this moment. All we need to do is to face ourselves with the knowledge we are human and flawed and that is ok. 

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pratyahara: the silence within

In yoga there are many things to learn. The asasna are the third limb of yoga and before them come the yamas and niyamas. Two paths to talk about the restraints and practices in our every day life.

The first two paths of yoga are there to help us set a structure for how we are to live our life, because when we do not have structure we fall apart. Chaos creeps in and we can get lost - distracted by shiny objects in life.

Asanas help us to keep our temple in shape and pranayama teaches us to use our breath to use that strength internally as the asanas help us use it externally.

Today I would like to talk about Pratyahara - the 5th limb of Yoga - which is the control or withdraw from the senses.

In our modern society we are over stimulated from the moment we wake to the moment we go to bed. Television, computers, smart phones, radios and everything else in between - our mind never has a moment to breathe. Suddenly we are unable to follow our gut, because we can't hear it any more. Shiny objects that distract us from what's inside.

I the silence that lies inside of us are all the answers and the truths to what we have been asking all these years. Seeking answers out of our own being will only generate more questions, lead to confusion and steer us from the path we were destined to follow. Because the truth is, we really are all here for a reason - we all have purpose and yes, there is room for all of us.

Those moments of fear we all have, that voice in our head that says things like, "But there are 27 others who do what I do! There is no room for me!" that voice in your gut, the one you hear when you practice Pratyahara will answer, "But you are you and that makes it different. No one can life the life you are meant to live. Just you."
Stepping away from the self, from the noise, from what you think you should be doing and helps you see who you really are. Meditation, pratyahara, washed away the worry of every day life.

Yoga Sutra 2.54: "When the senses withdraw themselves from objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff, this is pratyahara."

Yoga Sutra 2.55: "Then follows supreme mastery over the senses."

Through the practice of pratyahara you will bring all of your senses in control - this control will lead to the freedom to be happy all the time. No longer relying on temporary happiness brought to us by food, television or even sex - we can find the true voice inside.

To quote Sri Swami Satchidananda, "If we have that control, [over our senses], we can do whatever we want, find peace and joy within and share the same with all humanity."

Spend 30 minutes a day to sit in silence, allow the mind to drift and find that inner peace that lies in all of us.
Have a blessed week! The light & strength in me honors the light and strength in you.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Find the calm in your inner storm

"Do not fear mistakes. There are none." ~Miles Davis

A friend posted this quote on Facebook last week. Words of wisdom from the late great Miles Davis. We've all had those days where nothing seems to go right.

The question is, do you feel a pattern of criticizing yourself when this happens? Or perhaps, you blame others when things aren't perfect on your plane of existence? For a yogi, one of the things we try to achieve/learn/practice is to take whatever situation arises and find a way to be content in that situation no matter what. Your contentedness is at your inner core and what happens around you does not disrupt that core.

Easier said than done...perhaps. Had I seen that quote just a few days earlier when mishaps and imperfections and inconveniences occurred on my plane several days in a row, I would not have believed it. The more I beat myself up about things or got upset with outside forces, the more things went "wrong" or the worse I felt.

I knew that if I was truly practicing being a "good yogi" I would need to find a way to say "swaha" and let it go. That's what I tried to do. Breathing exercises and asana practices helped in the moment, but then I would come back to the issue and become stressed out again. Finally, at some point, I said, "It'll all work out the way it's supposed to work out.", out loud to myself and like magic, my mind settled down, my shoulders lowered away from my ears and it actually did work itself out. We all make mistakes, but that's what makes us all perfectly imperfect.

"Sthira sukham asanam."~Patanjali's Yoga Sutras II.46
The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful.

Find that calm steadiness inside regardless of whatever the storm around you may be and you will find joy.


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Journey

Life is a journey, time passing by us woven into the bridges that connect one portion of our life to the next. Sometimes we look moments we loved so dearly and lift them up so high we create a fear of letting go, convincing ourselves if we do, all the joy and love in our lives will slip away or bad moments are destined to repeat themselves.

These fears can cripple us, stopping us from moving forward, discovering the people we are destined to be.
When we hold onto those moments, a wall is created, separating us from the rest of the life we were intended to have. An island is formed and we sit in that memory as if it were the present while the rest of the world spills forward onto the next destinations. We can no longer search for anything, because to hold something new, we must let go of the old, making room in our heart and soul for change.

We must evolve into the next version of ourselves, one that is stronger and more diverse than the last.
Appreciating an idea, or a moment, adds layers to our lives, guiding us forward along the path of our life. Each step brings us into the present allowing us to be the person we were born to be. A person that loves themselves and others, regardless. A person that can see beyond the boundaries of their limitations. Someone that knows what the answer to “are we there yet” really is.

Are we there yet? It is true, the journey is more important than the destination. Just as it is important to be moving on that path and not trapped in an opinion, memory or fear that moving forward will bring sorrow and death, because the answer is no. If you’re reading this, then no, you are not there yet and that means you still have time.
Let go of the things that are holding you back: the past, resentment, anger, fear. Look at them from a different angle to get perspective, accept the situation for what it was and keep moving. Life will take you to the end regardless of what you did or didn’t do on your journey, you may as well enjoy yourself along the way.

The moment you finally let go, is the moment you are truly free.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Let Go

Living in a fast pace world builds stress, compounds problems and teaches us how to move past issues before they have ever really been dealt with. We are inundated with facts, images, sounds, smells - our senses so over loaded we can't even decipher between two objects, let alone emotions and what is worse is we have grown accustom to looking at life like this and accepting it as how life is meant to be.

But it's not.

The more items we put into a bucket, the heavier it becomes. Items on top begin to crush the items on the bottom - some times crushing those items, rendering them useless. Broken shards of yesterday crunching and pulverizing into a fine powder that coats every other item around it.

This is what our lives become when we don't take the time to stop and deal with the life we have. The clutter becomes a distraction and the dust of a past life holds us in place - we can not be the person we were meant to be.
Memories and traditions of yesterday, muddled with odds and loose ends leave pot holes in our lives that trip things up, create doubt and bind us to something that should be long gone.

But when we stop, when we relax, and I mean truly relax - face the issues, accept what we need to and find the closure to move forward our bucket becomes light again. Empty space is  left to be filled with new experiences, memories, ideas and life.

Letting go doesn't mean failure, forgiving yourself doesn't make you weak and living for today really is the easiest way to open your heart.

Love - love yourself enough to lighten the load of your life. Love yourself enough to understand it's okay - being human is very much okay.

Slow down or even stop. Turn off your phone, computer, television, satellite radio and listen to the ambient sounds around you, or better yet - listen to the ambient noises inside of you.

Know that sometimes physically doing nothing is the right thing to do and simply let go.

Breathe-in "Let"
Breathe-out "Go"