Friday, February 21, 2014

So many variations - update on personal practice

Image compliments of
Is it too early to think about crocuses in bloom?

At training, as we pulled our bodies apart and experimented, close to the last day I did a twist a little too far and strained an SI ligament.  I've been caring for that dear sacrum issue since I returned with a steady practice involving supta badokanasana, bhujangasana with krama inhale and chanting, and vimanasana.  I've also ditched bikram for swimming for the moment.  All the asymetrical standing work in that series is not for me right now.

Today I added in a variation of supta parsva padangusthasana.  Lying on your back, you have one foot on the floor close to the hips, and one leg outstretched.  Hug in the bent leg and put your same-side hand on that inner thigh.  With opposite hand on opposite hip, holding that hip down to the floor, you open and close the bent leg out to the side.  When you're "open" you can then extend and straighten that leg which helps the knee.  I did just a small number of reps on each side.  This really gets to that area of my right outer hip that I want to bring awareness to longterm, but I have to be careful the asymmetry doesn't bother the sacrum.

I returned to badokanasana to even things out and make the sacrum happy.  Then back to bhujangasana with krama inhale and chanting, legs opening more and more after a few repetitions.  Vimanasana with no external rotation then with external rotation to delve into the hip.  It was a nice practice!  I love my new short practices... my yoga snacks.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My passion is on the mat

image compliments of
(Ha!  I wish that's what my yoga space looked like.)

I've returned from yoga therapy session one at AVI!  Thirty four of us traveled to the mountain top to the Mount Madonna Center to find our new Sangha (community of practitioners).  We spent two weeks pulling ourselves apart and exploring the structure.  We also delved deeply into the therapist-client relationship and used each other as guinea pigs.  We were blessed to have Gary Kraftsow discuss yoga sutras that are especially relevant to yoga therapy and the client relationship.  The staff was knowledgeable (to say the least.)  The training was very well organized, and my fellow classmates brought a high level of professionalism and open curiosity.

My takeaways are so many.  I feel my head is actually larger for all the knowledge that was dumped in over eleven days working 6am - 9pm.  For me, the most fruitful part of my training was Gary's discussion of Sutra 1.17, about the different ways of knowing (or concentrating upon a subject, in this case, the client and his or her condition).

Here's SwamiJ's take on it - slightly different in language than Gary's, but it's good to have a reference!

1.17 The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds, 1) gross (vitarka), 2) subtle (vichara), 3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and 4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.(vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah)
  • vitarka = gross thought or reasoning
  • vichara = subtle thought 
  • ananda = bliss, ecstasy
  • asmita = I-ness, individuality
  • rupa = appearances, nature, form 
  • anugamat = accompanied by, associated with
  • samprajnatah = cognitive absorption, lower samadhi
Though there are many different levels of cognizing/understanding/merging with/knowing about the client and his or her condition, I will limit my discussion to the difference between vitarka and vichara.  Vitarka can be taken as "figuring it out" with the muscles of the mind (of course, this does not not literally mean muscles... I know that much from my anatomy study!)   When you put your mind to a problem and furrow your eyebrows to think your way to the answer, that's vitarka.  If you notice, when you go into your mind to turn the wheels, you actually step away from present awareness.

Vichara, on the other hand, is more like an intuitive connection with the object of focus... sort of like you go to it and into it by being present with it.  I think of it as a more "neck down" way of connecting that's best supported by coming into the central channel through breath and letting your awareness absorb what is around you.  (This is contrasted with vitarka, which seems to me to be a very "neck up" form of processing.)

I've been raised with a strong focus on intelligence and the power of the intellect as a tool to solve problems.  However, I am, at nature, a more intuitive person.  I feel, in many ways, that my head gets in the way of my heart.  My intellect is powerful, no doubt, but my heart is where the magic of this work will benefit others most highly.

The path to the fulfillment of my dharma 
travels directly through my heart.

It was amazing to work in triads, with fellow trainees, to learn the art of intake interviewing, developing session goals and prioritizing client issues, to assess through movement and stillness, to craft an intervention, and to help the client understand it.  Working in groups of three, we always had an impartial observer present, to give feedback and to notice the bigger picture.

It became clear to me, after taking my client through an absolutely adequate assessment session, THEN hearing Gary's thoughts on vitarka/vichara, that I was trying to vitarka my way through the assessment.  And I had a clear sense that that was not what Gary was doing in his case studies with students in our class - which were amazing to watch.  I was trying to "get it right" and "figure it out" without relying on and trusting in the Yoga Vidya, the living body of knowledge I have access to.  The teacher who taught the first teacher, and everyone in the lineage since then, is always at my back when I can calm and quiet myself enough to listen.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Yoga Therapy Training Trip Starts Tomorrow Morning

image compliments of
A new dawn will be breaking for me tomorrow.  I'm off the the American Viniyoga Institute Yoga Therapy Training.  Since completing my 300-hr teacher training with them last March, I've been saving everything.  Every morsel of money, every scrap of vacation, every favor I can earn to enable myself this two week learning experience.  This is the first session of four, and I'm letting go of calculations on the rest of the training just to savor the reality that I made it this far.

When I graduated last March from the teacher training, four years after completing my Bikram certification, I was unemployed.  Blessings now that I have a stable government day job that affords me the ability to follow my passion.  I'm attending the training to fulfill my dharma, to give yoga therapy to those experiencing suffering, who are asking for relief.  One of my goals in the training is to put myself first - to act as my own client.  I have a ways to go before I will be in the position to open my own practice.  I want to pay for this program and have another kid so that locks me in for a few years of quiet building.

During this next period I hope to negotiate time for myself and tend to my needs for bodily movement, proper nutrition, and crafted care suiting exactly who I am each day.  I hope to bask in the sunshine of self love.  It has been a long time coming.  My warm buds of tenderness are starting to grow inside my heart with the chant I've incorporated into my life:

Atma Hrdaye - Let my life force be linked to my heart
Hrdayam Mayi - Let my heart be linked to the truth within me
Aham Amrte - Let this truth be linked to the Eternal
Amrtam Anandam - that Eternal which is unending bliss

It's been a week of real ups and downs as I feel I'm bursting at the seems of my capabilities.  Working at 100% on many fronts to manifest this trip has been draining physically, emotionally, financially, etc.  I thank all the many people who have made this journey a reality.  I like to think of the many people who have supported me as I help someone with the tools of yoga therapy, knowing that they have paid into this gift.

At my day job, numerous people come to me with complaints and ask for help.  I'm "on call" and can at least talk to anyone who asks for help.  My ability to help may be limited, but if someone is really serious, we arrange for paid sessions outside of the workplace to keep things legitimate and out of the realm of the risk managers.  Namaste... thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yoga For Sleep with Ellen Fein - starring me :)

Ellen, Jen and I shot this last year.

Please share and enjoy...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My goals in 2014

image compliments of ashcash
My goals for 2014:

I do The Work in writing when things get tough to handle at least five times in 2014.
I give myself a Reiki treatment at least once a week in 2014.

I attend both sessions of Viniyoga Therapist Training in 2014.
I say no to two "extra projects" at my day job in 2014.

I easily wear size xx clothes in August of 2014.
I easily wear size xx clothes in December of 2014.

Here's hoping!
(And planning, and activating...)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sitali Pranayama practice with a friend

Image compliments of
Usually, I post a picture of a flower.  Today it's bergamot, a wonderful citrus used often in aromatherapy.  I have "bearing fruit" on the brain.

Last night I shared some time, in practice, with a friend.  In preparation for my yoga therapist training with The American Viniyoga Institute, I've been asked to work with three different people over the course of four sessions to develop a home practice.

A dear friend has volunteered to step into my lair (insert evil laugh here).  We spent our first two sessions together developing a rapport, and building a vocabulary of Viniyoga asana.  Viniyoga is incredibly special in many ways but I'll focus on the training it takes to understand movement as an extension of the breath.  We have a seven posture sequence that we've crafted together.  The initial intention was to address tightness in the hips and psoas.  As we work together, I sense other needs, bubbling below the surface.  I rely heavily on my intuition.  I pick up on a general "flavor" from an early conversation and feel a path stretching out before us.  However, at any one point, I'm continually setting aside that path and listening for new clues, new cues.

What is most important to me is being present and listening to the words and feeling the feelings of the person I'm with.  The words that I give in return are spontaneous, though rooted in the tradition through my teacher.  It's a joy to have the rigorous training that allows for complete freedom and confidence in this work.

Last night I did something very special.  I initiated my friend into pranayama.  (This ain't no Bikram pranayama, for any who do that practice!)  I gave her the "entree" of a breath technique called Sitali pranayama.  Entree means that I gave my friend just some of the instructions that accompany this technique.  We did the tongue curl and ujjayi exhale but skipped the head lifting.  This technique can be done with exhale through alternate nostrils as well.  These aspects (head tilting and alternate nostrils) will be added our pranayama practice next week.

Here's a nice rundown on the technique from Yoga Journal by Kate Holcombe:
The Cooling Breath
Sitali Pranayama is often translated as "the cooling breath" because the act of drawing the air across the tongue and into the mouth is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. To practice Sitali, you need to be able to curl the sides of your tongue inward so that it looks like a straw. The ability to curl the tongue is a genetic trait. If you can't, try an alternative technique called Sitkari Pranayama, which offers the same effects.
Benefits: Can improve focus; reduce agitation, anger, and anxiety; and pacify excess heat in the system.
How to: Sitali Pranayama: Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your shoulders relaxed and your spine naturally erect. Slightly lower the chin, curl the tongue lengthwise, and project it out of the mouth to a comfortable distance. Inhale gently through the "straw" formed by your curled tongue as you slowly lift your chin toward the ceiling, lifting only as far as the neck is comfortable. At the end of the inhalation, with your chin comfortably raised, retract the tongue and close the mouth. Exhale slowly through the nostrils as you gently lower your chin back to a neutral position. Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.
The most rewarding part of the session, for me, was giving someone a teeny tiny anatomy lecture on the way the breath works inside the body.  The balloons, the meat bag, the fact that we don't "drag the air in" to our bodies... we actually expand the musculature which creates a small vacuum effect.  The pressure inside the chest cavity is lower as the intercostals and diaphragm contract, which means the air all around us just rushes in to fill the space (equalizing the pressure).  On exhale, everything returns to neutral (not contracted), which pushes the air out as the chest cavity gets smaller.

It's truly enlightening to learn how the air around us nourishes us without our effort.  It can create a new sensation of the activity inside.  I saw this knowledge change my friend's practice completely - bringing it out of the head and into an intuitive, body-sensing exploration.

Talking about the anatomy at the beginning of the practice allowed us to sink into the practice and stay inwardly directed as we moved from asana (through a brief savasana) to pranayama, sitting in chairs.  We brought the knowledge from breath in movement to breath in structure, allowing my friend to feel deeply. I noticed my friend feeling the natural expansion that makes the head feel a little bit like a bobble head (I LOVE this... the head starts rolling around on the top of the spine as the spine grows taller...).

Then we brought a gentle ujjayi to the breath, making the slight constriction in the back of the throat that makes the breath gently audible, like an ocean sound.  Finally, we took the air in through a curled tongue, and out through ujjayi contraction in the throat while the tongue folds back on itself to re-wet.  This allows the air coming in through the curled tongue valve to be cool and moist, bringing a sense of calming and wellbeing to a student with a naturally wonderful, strong, fiery and intense pitta constitution.

I've been a little bit of a wuss when it comes to teaching pranayama, choosing to work with people who've already had some instruction.  This is my first time bringing the practice to someone who hasn't touched the stuff - though she had an experience of breath practice with someone a long time ago, it's not something that's really in her vocabulary.  What made it a good fit was her willingness to learn and discover uncharted territory.  When someone is hungry for tools to help herself, the learning comes quickly.  What a pleasure it was to watch the breath blossom and the mind still.

I give thanks for my position as a conduit of this knowledge and tradition.

Edited to add the testimonial:

Anna's gentle, caring and intuitive guidance during our yoga training sessions raised my personal experience with yoga to a higher level than I could have ever imagined.  I am so grateful for the skills and gifts that she offered to me during our practice and I have been able to develop them into a powerful regular practice that not only helps keep my back issues under control but has also connected me to other levels of myself.  Anna beautifully combined the teaching of the physical postures and actions with the energetic and spiritual insight into the practice as well as encouraging me to be comfortable in creating things in my practice that feel right for me.  I have learned so very much during my short time with Anna and am so impressed with her gifts.  I love that I hear her voice in my head during my practice "there's always room for expansion".  Thank you so very much Anna, and I would be honored to work with you anytime!

Monday, October 7, 2013

My pleasure to teach: Viniyoga asana, pranayama, sutra chanting, and meditation

image compliments of
In a recent substitute teaching venture, I had the chance to teach a full, deep practice.  The asana instructions were minimal as I taught a group familiar with the positions, and moving with the breath.  We could wrap the experience in the deeper aspects of yoga practice, such as Yoga Sutra study and chanting.  The intention of the practice was to encourage an open and frank experience of meditation, with full preparation.

I, myself, have a difficult time with meditation.  It's becoming a less squirmy thought for me, as I put it into practice more, and experience a deeper peace more willingly.  However, I need a great deal of encouragement through proper preparation to drop into the pocket sans resistance.

We explored Sutra 2.11
SwamiJ quote:
2.11 When the modifications still have some potency of coloring (klishta), they are brought to the state of mere potential by meditation (dhyana).
(dhyana heyah tat vrittayah)
  • dhyana = meditation
  • heyah = to be overcome, reduced, abandoned, destroyed
  • tat = that
  • vrittayah = operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms of the mind-field
I've heard a very short and sweet translation of this sutra.
Deep meditation burns the seeds of suffering.
                                                    My teacher - Gary Kraftsow  
I shared how difficult meditation is for me, and how, at the same time, I have a great deal of conditioning and habits that do not serve me (don't we all?).  Instead of battling the habits like a warrior, I've decided to turn things over to my practice.  Using a regular practice, I am trusting in the power of the practice and letting go of my identity as a battle warrior.

We practiced some asana after chanting the sutra together.  I used a three posture sequence (with variations) that the students were very familiar with.  Most had used it at some point as a home practice.  It is designed by Ellen Fein and can be found here:

We added some standing postures.  The sequence focused on right/left/together variations to prepare for Nadi Sodhana, a breathing practice through alternate nostrils.  I chanted the sutra at different points along the way, and the practice conculded with vajrasana, bringing us down to a seated position.  We did five minutes of Nadi Sodhana, which the students already knew and had practiced recently (this is such a rarity!!)  Some of use used chairs, some used a supported seated position.

To begin meditation, we used hand-counting to do a round of yoga sutra chanting, sort of like a mantra japa practice.  I reminded them of  the sutra in Sanskrit and in English, and invited them to use what worked for them.  Also, I encouraged them not to let "getting around the hand" to be a race, and to take full and even breaths between repetitions.

After some time of unstructured meditation, we came out and released into savasana for another five minutes.

It was such a gift to work with this group.  The instruction was minimal.  It was a very deep learning experience for me, to see what happens when you can create a true Sangha.  I hope to be able to continue to support this group in practice.