Asana, Yoga for Everyone

Yoga Myth Busters : “I’m Not Flexible Enough To Do Yoga”

If I had received a secret yoga power for every time I’ve heard that statement, I’d be enlightened by now. As yoga teachers, we shake our heads in frustration when we hear it, because that’s as illogical as saying I’m too dirty to take a shower. It’s precisely because you’re inflexible that you need yoga.

yoga-cartoon-too-stiff-to-do-yogaCan’t touch your toes? Perfect! You’re an ideal candidate for yoga. If anything, you could benefit even more from yoga than the naturally flexible yogis, whose bones and joints genetically slot into place with minimal effort. Your stiffness means you’ll really feel the positive effects as your body starts to experience relief from being tight.

Ultra-bendy yogis can also easily injure themselves through hyperextending their joints, or going too deeply into a pose. Lucky you, Mr or Ms Creaky Joints—the more inflexible you are, the quicker and louder your inner alarm will ring when you’re reaching your limits, and so you’ll stop (if your ego is in check) and avoid injury.

Yoga isn’t about an end goal that culminates in a glamorous photo of an impossible pretzel pose, anyway. If we did manage to tuck one foot behind the head, does that make us a better person? Of course not.

What does make us feel better is releasing tension in the body, easing the mind from the busyness of the day, and taking long, relaxing breaths.

Ready to take your rigid limbs to the mat, then? Good. Some tips along the way:

  1. Patience. Cultivate buckets of it. Without patience, you may force yourself too far into a pose, and cause injury.
  2. Experiment and find a yoga class where you fit in, with an experienced and encouraging teacher who understands your body type.
  3. Don’t give up after one or two classes. I’m naturally inflexible and I promise you, with regular practice, it does get easier—to the point that it can become seductively addictive, because you feel so good during and after yoga.
  4. Explore. Be curious, instead of judgmental, about the physical mechanics of your body and how and when it feels challenged. What happens if you relax a bit in the poses, instead of trying so hard? Are you holding your breath instead of breathing with ease?
  5. Warm up before yoga, especially if the weather is cold. Try a short walk, or arrive ten minutes early to do some simple stretches.
  6. Avoid comparing and competing—with yourself as well as with others. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the mat next to you. As long as you’re in the zone of safe alignment, measured breathing, and no pain, you will benefit from your practice.

gumby-yogaGo for it! Get your stiff and inflexible bod over to a yoga studio, recognize and smile at the other kindred spirits who can also hardly touch their knees, let alone their toes, and ease into some stretches that will make your muscles, joints and soul sigh with gratitude.

Namaste.

[as published in Today’s Yoga Magazine]

Asana

Solstice Sun Salutations With Mantras

Have your sun salutations become so routine, that you’re repeating them like an automaton? The winter or summer solstice is the perfect time to remove the robot from your Surya Namaskar and revisit this ancient ritual of greeting the sun.

On the solstice, celebrate the dawn of a new day, and choose to do a sun salutation sequence where the sun is symbolic of the light within you. In essence, this sequence of yoga poses is a humble adoration of our higher wisdom. When we do each pose with this devotional approach, we are reminded of just how precious each day is.

Below is some inspiration for practising one of the traditional 12-step sun salutation sequences, choosing a devotional mantra to the sun for each pose.

Enjoy! (And see here for an interesting summer solstice article I found, on celebrating the light of consciousness within).

  1.  Tadasana (Mountain Pose).  Mantra: Om Mitraya Namaha (Salutations to the friend of all).Solstice-Sunrise

  2.  Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute).  Mantra: Om Ravaya Namaha (Salutations to the shining one).Solstice-Sunrise

  3.  Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Mantra: Om Suryaya Namaha (Salutations to the dispeller of darkness, the beautiful Light).Greet-the-Sun

  4.  Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). Mantra: Om Bhanave Namaha (Salutations to the one who illumines, the bright one).Solstice Sunrise

  5.  Phalankasana (Plank Pose). Mantra: Om Khagaya Namah (Salutations to the one who is all-pervading, who moves through the sky).Solstice-Sunrise

  6.  Ashtanga Namaskara (Knees-Chest-Chin Pose). Mantra: Om Pushne Namah (Salutations to the giver of strength).solstice-sunrise

  7.  Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). Mantra: Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha (Salutations to the golden, cosmic Self).Beach-Sunrise

  8.  Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog). Mantra: Om Marichaye Namaha (Salutations to the Lord of the dawn).Solstice-Sunrise

  9.  Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). Mantra: Om Adityaya Namaha (Salutations to the son of Aditi, the cosmic Mother).solstice-sunrise-beach

  10.  Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Mantra: Om Savitre Namaha (Salutations to the one who is responsible for life).Sunrise-paddle-board

  11.  Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute).  Mantra: Om Arkaya Namaha (Salutations to the one who is worthy of praise and glory).Sunrise-beach-walk

  12.  Pranamasana (Prayer Pose). Mantra: Om Bhaskaraya Namaha (Salutations to the Source that leads to enlightenment).Sunrise heart cloud

All photos were taken at sunrise in Delray Beach, Florida, where every day is a beautiful celebration on the beach 🙂

The yoga poses I used are a fairly traditional Surya Namaskar sun salutation sequence, but there are many variations. How do you practice sun salutations and what is your favorite sequence?

Asana, Yoga in India, YTT Yoga Teacher Training

Poop, Pray, Move [Part 3] – with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert

MOVE …

Parivrtta-Trikonasana-Revolved-Triangle
Easing into Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana) at Kailash Tribal School of Yoga

I’ve been condensing two months of extensive yoga studies in India into 5 key areas, to simplify maintaining this healthy lifestyle, back home. Part 1 and Part 2 covered the Poop and Pray part, and now we add Move.

Surprise, surprise … in India, yoga is not typically an exercise you come to perform on your mat three times a week – it’s a way of life; more than just a workout.

Asanas (the physical yoga postures) are not yoga. They are a part of yoga. Here’s a perfect analogy, from our teacher, Yogi Sivadas: “It’s like touching a thorn on a rosebud and thinking that is all that a rose is – you’ll say ‘rose is prickly’ and you’ll miss out on smelling the perfume, because the flower hasn’t blossomed yet. If you only do asana, you won’t find the hidden beauty of yoga, which is inner peace.”  The true beauty of  yoga is hidden beyond the asanas.  The asanas are a way of purifying the body and when the flower unfolds, we experience the hidden beauty within. A sort of yoga perspective on “Stop and smell the roses”.

Rose-beauty-yogaOf course, we were on a yoga teacher training program, so we were smelling the roses AND we were touching the thorns; we were doing asanas.

Every day.

Twice a day.

Four hours a day.

Here’s the difference. We didn’t approach our asanas with the kind of fervid and fanatical drive that we so often see in yoga. Yogi Sivadas’ constant message was, “slow down, take your time, feel your breath, always be mindful about what your body needs, rest when you need to”. We listened, and ironically, our bodies became stronger and more flexible through a path of ease and mindfulness, as opposed to a grim determination to muscle our way through countless vinyasas and pretzel poses.

“Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position. Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, lessening the tendency for restless breathing, and promoting an identification of oneself as living within the infinite breath of life.” – The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Patanjali reminds us that calm and measured breathing is a critical part of healthy yoga movement, even when we are doing challenging poses. In fact, especially when we are doing challenging poses. That’s the barometer for whether we are overdoing it. Throughout our yoga asanas, we keep connecting again and again to the breath; breathing fully and allowing a smooth and even breath to feed the body and calm the mind.

We also learnt it’s not necessary to hold a pose at its maximum, for as long as possible. I’m not a physiotherapist nor a physiology nerd, but if the muscles fatigue to the point where they’re no longer doing a good job of holding the pose, we can end up stressing the joints (NOT good!) And if we then lock the joints to maintain a pose on behalf of fatigued muscles, we’re not engaging and strengthening the muscles – instead we can end up compressing the joints (NOT good!) Finally, when we’re straining and forcing the pose, the muscles become tighter, instead of stretched. The tighter they become, and the more we push into the stretch? Perfect combination for injuries to happen (yes, here it comes again … NOT good!)

Yogafunnies-flexibilityI’ve been practicing a less zealous form of yoga for years (often being encouraged to do more, hold it longer, “work to your edge”) and yet I’ve still suffered injury in the hamstring attachments and I’ve overstretched ligaments at the back of my knees. Even when I felt I wasn’t overdoing it. Are you a knee hyperextender? Don’t know? See this excellent article from Julie Gudmestad and find out.

I love my asana practice. It makes me feel alive, it calms my mind, it connects me to my breath. After my  time in India, my asana practice is both strong AND therapeutic, a place of even more ease. I’m being kinder to my joints, I’m aware of my heartbeat and breathing, and any time I feel the need to do MORE, I pause and ask myself if what I am already doing is enough, and can I still feel the relaxation in the effort?

And when the answer is yes, I know am in that perfect place to experience the unfolding of the rose flower and inhale the heady scent of yoga.

Next up: Part 4 of Poop, Pray, Move … what else do you think is fundamental to a healthy yoga lifestyle?