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We  move up through Earth and Water, two downward flowing elements, to Fire… the element of empowerment, action, will, autonomy. This week, we challenge our definitions of power by shifting from the power we know in external forces, power OVER something, to our power within, that which transforms US and ignites our own lives with purpose. Power does not have to be associated with war, power plays, and money. Power is living authentically and consciously.

The Right to Act, to be an Individual

Our third chakra, manipura (lustrous gem) chakra, transforms the inertia of matter and movement into willed activity. Just as movement requires mass, action requires both of the above. We build past simple instinctual chakras to a chakra that helps build self-sufficiency, individuation, and autonomy. Now that we have seen what the world has to offer, and we feel safe and at home in it, we can start to change it by confronting uncertainty, taking on challenges, and transforming.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” ~Gandhi

Proactivity

Located at the solar plexus, manipura chakra is a source of energy. It is the spark that we need to make our own decisions and fulfill our own destiny. The expression of this energy within is action. Action requires desire from the second chakra and intention from the chakras above. These meet in the middle, where we find will in a healthy third chakra– the spark that will set everything alight. Excesses in this chakra create reactivity; deficiency creates inactivity. A balanced third chakra makes us proactive– and confident enough to be.

“Increased excitation is perceived as an urge to organize feeling into action.” ~ Stanley Keleman

Ego & Self-esteem

In spiritual and esoteric practices today, ego is a popular “thing” that we are told to transcend, to avoid. Although letting go of this ego is an important step in attaining universal consciousness, we cannot get there if we do not first have a healthy ego to support this transcendance. Ego helps to unite the unconscious self and the world around us, it helps us make decisions and orient our energies towards a goal. Excessive escape from this ego can be equally detrimental as excessive attachment to and limitation by our ego. Ego and self-esteem must be nourished, and it is through the third chakra that we do it. If we think of the first posture we take when we are feeling low in confidence, we see the collapsed mid-section, shoulders slouching forward, belly deflated, defeated. A healthy ego and self-esteem are important to empower us to make the right decisions, change things where needed, and integrate with the world around us.

Manipura Chakra Homework: Make a list of activities in your daily life, and reflect– which ones energize you? Which ones leave you drained? Consciously increase your time with the activities that leave you feel energized, motivated, and confident this week. Make this decision on your own, and make sure you are listening deeply to your body. Sometimes that which we first think of doing is not that which we need.

Wear yellow.

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Since the theme today was pleasure, emotions and flow, we really tried to “lose our minds and come to our senses”. We started class by evoking thoughts of pleasure, whatever pleasure means to each of us, individually. These thoughts were to guide us back to joy throughout the practice: during a challenging pose, with our eyes closed, when we lost our focus. We flowed through sun salutations on our own time, our own breath, letting our bodies lead the poses instead of our heads. We built up heat to get the fluids running through our bodies– softening us to the possibilities of our practice.

Although structure and form is always important to keep us safe (as we learned in the last class), once we felt safe, stable, and secure, we allowed ourselves to become creative, to bring movement into our postures, and to adapt with change. High lunges were taken to a different level once arms were waved side-to-side like the branches of a tree; flows from Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) to Dancing Warrior (a.k.a. Reverse Warrior) to Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) brought us into a mindless rhythm that connected us to the water element within.

As hips are ruled by the water element, we started opening our hips in balancing poses: starting with Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and moving into Standing Half Lotus, we let the heat of our moving practice flow into the hips to soften all the tension that is held here– more specifically, emotional tension. Whether we fully progressed to the forward fold (Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana) in this pose or not, whether we came into a full squat with half lotus legs or not, we were to listen to our bodies and come into the most natural, unbinding version of this pose– the one in which breath flows freely, knees are not screaming, and safety is first. Note: progressing too far in this posture without being ready is a one-way, first class ticket to blowing out one’s knees. DO NOT push yourself to accomplish a version that does not feel right. Please read this wonderful article about knowing your limits.

We wound down with some Pigeon Prep (a deep, wonderful, sometimes emotional opening for the hips) and a variation of Krounchasana (Heron Pose) with a twist! And finally, we let our minds and spirits float away in a much-needed savasana. We awoke with the fluidity, flexibility, and lightness needed to flow into whatever currents life brought each of us next.

As we move up the chakras, we find ourselves at a chakra we visited once before: Svadisthana (sweetness) chakra, the second chakra. One of my personal favorites, this chakra is in charge of movement, flow, emotion and pleasure. During our Muladhara chakra week, we concentrated on consistency, stability, and safety– this week we counterbalance this and we encounter change. Like all polar opposites, we need both to live a balanced life: consistency brings meaning to consciousness, change brings stimulation and expansion. Just as the little oak nut needs roots to prosper, it needs an equal amount of growth and change. It, like us, needs both earth and water.

The Right to Feel, to Have Pleasure

Now that our basic needs for place in the world and security have been addressed, we move ahead to our other, equally important needs. As with the feeling of grounding of the first chakra, our society often also has issues with the second chakra. Pleasure, fun, and desire are often looked upon in an imbalanced way– they seem to be equally suppressed and abused. Denying ourselves of our guilty pleasures (whether it is watching American Idol, eating ice cream, or taking a nice long bath with candles, all by ourselves) is a common practice, especially in our busy lives. With careers, families, to-do lists and obligations, who has time for pleasure? Failure to nourish the second chakra results in a blockage here– and imbalances can be seen at both extremes. Suppression easily leads to excess– bingeing on two tubs of ice cream, a night of excessive partying and alcohol, promiscuity. Then, the guilt cycle begins.

Guilt: Blocking the Flow

“Unhealthy guilt is an autoimmune disease of the soul that causes us to literally reject our own worth as human beings.” ~Joan Borysenko

As we move into early “toddler-hood” and out of infancy, the world becomes a little bigger to us. We gain the ability to move around a little, see past ourselves and our parents… in short, we are introduced to the wonder of all those other exciting things in the world: colours, tastes, sounds, smells… life! In turn, we must be encouraged to explore (within safety, of course), to feel, to experience life. Guilt begins if we are made to feel that what we are experiencing is wrong. Although guilt, to a certain degree, is quite healthy and helpful to establish boundaries, excessive guilt leads to dysfunction and lack of flow to our second chakra. Guilt is a teacher when it guides us, but a demon when it binds us up.

Thus, counter to what we may think is “mature”, “civil”, and “acceptable” as adults, we must continue to explore our senses and appreciate the pleasurable things in life. From time to time, we must escape our minds and stone-set beliefs and listen to our hearts. It is healthy to catch the flow and fluidity of life from time to time.

“Lose your mind and come to your senses.” ~Fritz Perls

Svadisthana Chakra Homework: This may not sound like homework, but for some of us, it does take some effort… you must do something you love this week. Take a bubble bath with scented candles, flower petals, your favorite music… buy yourself a piece of your favorite chocolate cake and eat it with the one you love (or alone, of course)… dance around your living room like you’ve never danced before.

Wear orange.

This week in practice, we reclaimed our roots by celebrating the strength and stability of our legs. Although the practice was basic, we tried to connect to the feeling of our feet on the earth, the support of our legs, and our grounding in each pose.

Our feet were the stars in today’s practice– we started by giving them a much needed stretch by sitting on our knees, sitting back on our heels, toes curled under. The weight of our upper bodies helps to stretch the many muscles in our feet to reawaken the blood flow and sensation. With enough time, a stimulating foot massage would have also been a fantastic way to do this as well.

Next, a practice consisting of warming sun salutations and strong standing poses splattered with a healthy dose of grounding child’s poses reconnected us to a sense of security and trust in our bodies. We incorporated lots of warriors- including a Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) transitioning into an equally challenging Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) to tone up the full leg and practice balance. Extended Side Angle Pose (Parsvakonasana) was explored with our eyes closed: we looked at the effect of our grounded feet on the extension and stability we could feel in the pose.

Lastly, some heart opening backbends. Backbends? In a grounding practice? Just like in life, it is necessary to find safety and security in any situation. We used the strength of our legs again to help open our heart (safely) this time in Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). By keeping our thighs grounded in this pose, our upper bodies can open more deeply, safely, and with strength (as opposed to wild abandon). Then, once our bodies gained trust in the process, the full pose was explored, with thighs off the ground, hearts wide, and bodies feeling safe… and ready to completely open in joy!

Rooting down, to rise up!

If you were to think of the opposite of “grounded”, what would you think of? It is probably a bad sign if you see yourself, rushing to and fro, as you might typically do on a typical day. However, it is also something very common in our society– many of us have lost our “grounded-ness”, and with the disconnect within, struggle to reclaim it.

The Right to be Here, to Have

The first chakra (muladhara, or root) is responsible for keeping us grounded, keeping us safe. It is developed in utero and through our infancy. We learn, through these early stages, what our primal needs are and how it feels to have them met (or not met). This is where we claim our right to be here on this earth, the right to reside in the body we have been given, and the right to have our needs met. When our needs are met, we feel safe, secure, attached to our roots, and positive about our presence on earth. The opposite is fear and disconnect– fear of loss, of change and of others; disconnect from ourselves, from our roots, and from others.

“Scared is what happens when the sacred gets scrambled.” ~Anon

Holding Firm

All chakra imbalances have their roots here, at the root. It is a fundamental need to obtain nourishment, security, and feel at home– both on this earth and within our bodies. We grow from the ground up, and we only feel safe to grow and develop if these conditions are met.

“The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood it’s ground.” ~Anon

Thus, before anything, we must feel safe. We reclaim our roots by reconnecting to our bodies and practicing presence and acceptance within. We assess and confirm our solid foundation– in yoga, the stability of our feet and legs on the earth; in life, the support we have around us and the strength we have within. Then, when our bodies and minds are convinced that they belong and that they are in good hands, we can grow, change, and live.

This week, we are reaffirming our security and safety, we are reconnecting to our bodies, and we are nourishing our roots so that we may be in a better position to progress.

Muladhara Chakra Homework: Give yourself a foot massage… or two… or three. Those roots work hard for you: show them your appreciation and reconnect.

Wear Red.

As today’s goal was to reawaken our bodies to yoga after a little break, this is exactly what we did. Being gentle, and mindful of the messages our body was sending, we flowed through a well-rounded practice of standing poses, balance poses, and grounding hip openers and twists to revitalize our cells and prepare for a yogic “Spring Cleaning”.

A Cat-Cow?

Starting with Cat-Cow sequence, we reconnected with our breath while reintroducing space and movement to the spine. We moved through sun salutations to limber-up our muscles and joints, introducing some agni(fire)-building Utkatasana and a Twisted Side-angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvokonasana) at the end. A Twisted Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana) helped us get even more freedom through the upper body… and more heat in the thighs!

We revisited the Cow again, but in another form with Cow-faced Pose (Gomukhasana) with the help of a belt to open up our triceps and shoulders. This made Eka Pada Rajakapotasana Prep (Pigeon Prep) MUCH sweeter, when it was time!

This practice was about agni (fire), twists, releasing those common blockages that we see, especially in the Western World (ahem… hips, shoulders…)… but most of all, that reconnection between breath, body, and mind.

Welcome to the new session of “Journey through 2010”! Through the next ten weeks, we will be taking a deeper journey into the benefits of living and practicing yoga. In celebration of our beautiful, varied spring thus experienced (what is spring without a sprinkle of all four seasons?), we will be embarking on a late spring/early summer cleaning of our bodies, minds and spirits. And what better way to do this but with yoga?

Why do we clean in the spring? Or, perhaps, a better question may be: why do we FEEL like cleaning in the spring? There are many possible origins of this process: the cleaning practices of Persian New Year (Norouz, which falls on the first day of Spring), Passover cleaning (and the cleansing of the home of all chametz), or, in colder climates, the fact that dusting was most desirable in early spring as one was able to open windows and doors to air out the house (but not yet be bothered by insects!)… to name a few. However, I’m more interested in that deep urge we all feel to begin cleaning as soon as the sun emerges after a long winter… that motivation that seems to be reawakened by the birdsong… that extra fire in our bellies that moves us to spend Saturdays emptying every shelf and cupboard and reorganizing (well, not all of us, I suppose… I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have not completed my spring cleaning yet… I have, however cleaned out our old computer and hard drive! More on that later). For me, there must be more than just a logical/cultural explanation to it.

The spring season is very significant in many cultural and traditional medical practices. Spring (and fall) are important cleansing times in Ayurvedic Medicine. These seasons are also significant in Chinese Medicine, as they are manifestations of the transition between Yin and Yang, and vice versa. All in all, springtime is loaded with potential: potential to grow, potential to rebalance, potential to detoxify the body. Ayurvedic medicine suggests springtime for cleanses as it is an ideal time to rejuvenate, in keeping with Nature’s own calendar for rejuvenation. As the snow melts and the ground thaws, fluids of the body can move more freely and thus, the buildup of winter can be easily flushed away. However, this is not a threat that I expect everyone to break out their kitchari recipes… and PLEASE do not decide to try any dhauti practices without a support group and a knowledgeable facilitator… (link that describes this ancient cleansing practice is NOT for the faint of heart). (Instead, here is a link with a great article about a GENTLE form of cleansing through spring/early summer!)

How are we going to be cleaning house? As I cannot use my annual experience of spring cleaning as comparison yet, I will be using my computer clean-up as the analogy today. Funny that this machine, which tends to often be the bane of my existence and a cause of many of my energetic and physical blockages, ends up being a decent comparison to our bodies. First question: how do we know when the computer needs a clean-up? It begins with some sluggishness. Music is not playing as smoothly as it used to, YouTube becomes less fun as the videos become choppy… soon enough, your PC and/or Mac (probably less likely) starts acting so stressed out that it cannot handle more than one program at a time. Slow, inefficient, and cluttered with junk (and yes, unfortunately some trojans and malware our security software didn’t catch), my computer was giving me the signs that it was time to do some deep cleaning. Before we decided to just do away with it, I knew it was more humane to weed through our files, reduce clutter, backup anything important, and reformat.

Now, unlike computers, this process is not as quick when it comes to  our bodies… or at least it shouldn’t be! We have to work WITH our bodies. We need to let nature do it’s work– we have the ability to heal ourselves deep within. We need to do something sustainable, healthy, and fun. Quick fixes are not permanent solutions. We do need to weed through our files, find the blocks and clear them out to set the right conditions for our reformatting; this takes time. The healthy habits that we pick up along the way are what slowly reformat our cluttered bodies and minds. It is true that diet and environment and lifestyle play a part as well, but there is so much we can do with a simple yoga mat, our breath, and movement.

This week, we connect to our bodies again. We set the stage for our cleansing journey. We feel the energy that courses through our subtle channels within. We use our breath to open us up; we use visualization to smooth the flow. We agree that yoga enhances this peaceful, humming feeling within that we feel in Savasana at the end of practice. Starting next week, we begin our “Journey through the Chakras”, as we systematically approach our cleanse from the bottom up (literally).

Take from these lessons what you wish… but however you practice, the universal goal is to make you feel renewed and free. So enjoy… and have fun!

What does “living yoga” really mean?

Yes, yoga is a way of relieving stress. We can all attest to this. by calming the mind, taking it off of “flight” mode and into a more focused space, we give ourselves that hour to clean house. in addition, the physical activity and opening is always good for us.

On a deeper level, yoga opens our energetic bodies. The things we cannot see are sometimes those that have the biggest effect. We can all fell the difference after class, that intangible feeling while laying in Savasana, the body grounded and alive. Not only is this the physical effect of increased circulation, re-oxygenation, and elongation of the structures within, but also the effect of energy flow. this is what helps us combat blockages, or dis-ease, in our body.

Yet, there are other ways we live yoga. Besides the physical postures we learn (and can practice, even at our desks, throughout the day!), the breathing techniques (which help especially in times of anger or frustration), and the stress relief that ensues, there are key lessons that we learn and cultivate through this practice. If you scan through our themes of the last 10 week-journey, you may recognize a few overarching ideas to help us flow through life with more grace and joy…

  • For ourselves: we learn to live fully, to cultivate happiness, by:
    • living gratitude
    • cultivating the ability to step back and gain perspective on life
    • tuning into, and accepting, our own bodies, strengths, limitations–
  • For others: we become better in our relationships, by:
    • allowing us to better understand and accept others through self-reflection
    • cultivating presence
    • practicing non-judgement

This class, we celebrate all we have learned, and all we have to learn through yoga. this class, we resolve to LIVE YOGA.

This week’s theme was a personal glimpse into my life… I would not usually discuss personal things like this on such a blog, but it was very relevant to my choice of themes this week. Although this was not on my original list of resolutions, it seemed very appropriate that I would “spontaneously” add it at the last minute.

I am most probably described as a more “stable” rather than “spontaneous” person. I have never really been one to pick up and leave on vacation without arduous planning, nor do I even feel comfortable ditching an evening’s plans for a night on the town. i have never had a surprise party, as i think my loved ones fear that I may not even be surprised (trust me, if it was a good secret, I would). and i also know that, for me, this is probably due to a fear of losing control. Yet, the week of this class, I found that losing control could actually give you much insight and perspective into life, freedom, and your emotions.

I was utterly surprised by my 8-year partner/sharer of life/companion/best friend/lover, and now, fiancee, with a proposal for marriage. You might say, “Eight years? Didn’t you see it coming?”… and to be honest, I did not see it being this much a surprise. But there I was, in tears, in the middle of a restaurant after a romantic Earth Hour Anniversary Dinner, overcome with surprise. At the mercy of my happiness and of my tears. And for once, I was okay with this lack of control. I felt more in the moment than I have in a long time. Being surprised, having a spontaneous change dropped into my life…. these were welcomed, and joyful.

Finding joy and adaptability in many different situations is one of our goals with yoga. We become flexible in body and mind. This is why this week’s theme “spontaneously” became “spontaneity”. Embracing all life has to offer and going with it’s flow is the epitome of freedom… even when life throws us a fast one! There IS a time and place for spontaneity… even for a control freak!

*I apologize that it took me so long to get this up here… in consequence, I was not able to post an Asana column for this week! So sorry!*

In our “Room to Breathe” class, we used heart openers and twists to open up our chest cavity and our spine to enhance this “room to breathe” within our bodies. We stretched out our spines and opened up our hearts, creating space within the physical body, enhancing movement through our energetic channels, and encouraging that big, clear, empty blue-sky mind to appear.

By starting with elongating poses such as Crescent Moon(s) (see here and here for the two versions we performed) and Cobra, we started stretching out our rib cages and creating space and heat to further open our hearts.

From here, we started twisting– remembering to always twist from the tallest spine possible, we wrung out our bodies to increase the blood flow and oxygen delivery to all organs, all muscles, all joint spaces and tissues. Starting with simple partner twists, we progressed through standing pose twists (like Parivrtta Parsvokonasana) and into luscious seated twists (like Marichyasana).

And what are we accomplishing by twisting and getting our bodies all bound up? Well, exactly the opposite. More room for expansion, dissipating tension, and liberated minds.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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