Monday, October 27, 2014

the sweet spot of yoga

I was happily in student mode this weekend, participating in a virtual yoga workshop. For five hours Saturday and Sunday, Sarah Bowker, Meghan Skirha and I virtually joined our teacher in California, a student in Virginia, and another in Europe. Technology is amazing, yes?

I wanted to share something with you that I believe is a great skill for your yoga on and off the mat. In the Yapana methodology we explore holding patterns in relation to breathing, asanas, gravity, and movement. 

These are propping, collapsing, and yielding.

When we are propping in a yoga pose we are being overly rigid in our body. You might think  of a big giant boulder, or a big piece of furniture. It is hard for the breath to move through the body. In fact, students often are holding their breath when they are propping in their pose. Typically, when this happens a student is relying on his/her strength alone to hold them in the pose. 

When we are collapsing we are dropping the weight  of the body into the earth without maintaining a connection to the structure. There is little structure and stability in the body and the breath is more often shallow. Typically, when this happens a student is using too much flexibility and not enough strength.

The Yoga Sutras speak very little about actual asana (postures). What the sutras do tell us is that we are cultivating  effort (which equates to strength) and ease (which equates to the sweet feeling we get from a juicy stretch). It is the balance between those two that creates a healthy posture. A posture that enlivens and awakens. One that can bring more balance back into body, helping us to grow stronger in some areas of our body while opening up in other areas. 

This brings me back to the the third holding pattern, yielding. When we are yielding in a pose, there is a beautiful balance between strength and flexibility. When one is yielding in a pose you can almost see their whole body pulsing with breath. This is the sweet spot.

Does this show up off the mat? Yes, most likely. 

Do I have any Type A personalities reading this note right now (if you even have time to read it ;) ? We are the strong, dedicated, focused ones that can will our way through most anything and everything. Effort is a superpower.

Do I have any totally carefree, "it'll happen when it need to happen" folks reading? You might be a bit scattered and not so focused (and boy, I bet people adore you for it too). Ever feel like you are floating away, mentally or even physically? Ease is a superpower.

It is the combination of the two and the ability to yield, that gives such beauty, shape, and form to ALL the postures of your life.

What do you think? What is your natural superpower and could you benefit from cultivating the opposite energy a bit more? 

Lastly, here is a photo from our virtual classroom this weekend. Pretty cool, right?

Monday, October 20, 2014

yoga lessons from the spinning bike

I took my first spinning class in over a decade yesterday. Since my love affair with yoga began I've been content to stay glued to my mat. Alas, two back to back pregnancies, and everything that goes with love and loss and nursing and literally using my body to care for another left me wanting to challenge and use my body in new and different ways.

Spinning class in my mid 20's felt much different than spinning class in my late 30's. It was a much greater challenge for my body, but my mind knew exactly how to work for my greatest benefit.

I found myself smiling through much of the class (even when my quads were on fire) because I just felt so appreciative of the ways in which yoga was informing my experience on that spinning bike, and that's what I want to share here. 

I think you might get some value because the beauty of the yoga practice is that it translates to so many areas of your life.

1. The power of visualization:: We use visualization often in yoga class. I love that this is encouraged in spinning class. One image came to me spontaneously during class as we were pedaling up an imaginary hill. Just when I was wondering if we would ever get to the top of the never ending hill, an image of my daughter popped into my mind. I saw her joyfully standing at the top of the hill, arms open, waiting for me. I got a burst of energy and climbed that hill, feeling pretty awesome. What image can inspire you to move through your day or a task with more energy, grace, love, or joy?

2. Where's your focus? In yoga class we use a drishti, which is a place where we direct our eyes in order to direct our focus and regulate our energy. In spinning class I used only two spots to focus my attention, one while I was seated and another when we came to standing on the bike. Doing so helped me to stay connected to the moment, my experience, and give me more energy. Where is your focus today? Is it where you need it to be?

3. Mind your breath:: Yoga is just as much about the breath as it is the poses. It's so easy to pay attention to your breath in yoga and forget about it most other times. I made sure to make my breath a focus and priority on that spinning bike. I know it made a huge difference in my experience. Your breath is your best friend, especially during challenging moments. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

4. Its all about the sweet spot:: In class I always talk about effort and ease in our poses. This balance of strength and sweetness can balance out most things in life, I do believe. There was a lot of effort on that spinning bike, but I made sure to find ways to access ease. Sometimes it was mindfully relaxing my upper body while letting my lower body go to work. Other times I felt a sense of ease when a song came on during a particularly challenging moment. How can you find some sweetness and ease during a hard task?

What do you think? How does your practice on the yoga mat translate and inform your life off the mat? I'd love to hear.