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Starting your day with Grace


How do you begin your day?  Slamming the snooze button, racing out of bed to beat the clock, lingering in the yumminess of the dawning light?  How you start your day impacts your entire experience of it.  Ya know the old adage, "got up on the wrong side of the bed?" Starting rough is a hard one to recover from, so here are a few quick suggestions to make your emergence more easeful.

  1. Wake up and give thanks. The minute that the alarm sounds or the light penetrates through your dreams, feel grateful that you get to breathe, see, taste, feel another day. Don't think about the grudges or challenges, don't contemplate the bills or the list, for just one moment be grateful that you are alive, then turn off the alarm and roll out of bed.

  2. Be aware that you are a part of a much bigger process. As you blink your tired eyes open, acknowledge that there are thousands of others in the world doing the same thing. Wearily waking up to look another day right in the eye. You are not alone, you are, in fact, an integral part of a huge waking family of earthlings. All species and genders, all ages and experiences, waking up to participate in life. Just like you.

  3. If you are blessed to have a window to look out of when you first awake, then pause for a moment and look. Take in the fact that the world is an amazing place. Beauty is all around, and unfolding for you in every moment. Whether it's trees, water, highrises, train tracks or interstates, the world outside of your window is nothing short of a miracle. Begin your day in acknowledgement of it.

  4. Admit that you are a miracle. Upon waking, take a deep breath into your body. Be present with the literally hundreds of processes taking place in your body at the moment you breathe. Feel your lungs, your muscles, your bones. Feel your heart beating and the blood rushing through your veins and arteries. Before you start thinking about all of the aches, pains and worries, be present with the miracle of you.

None of these choices take more than a few seconds.  None of them will make you late or behind.  None of them need to be spoken or shared.  All of them have the potential to shape your entire day into an experience of beauty and grace.  Simply by acknowledging the power of Grace in your first waking moments, you begin to shape and form a day that offers you unending positivity.  And, even if a heinous day unfolds, you can carry with you the memory of your waking moments as refuge.

Be warned.  This is a practice.  It's a practice of remembering (smarana) in the deepest sense.  You work to remember every day.  You slow down your reactive response to waking, and you receive a slower rousing, one which invites the flow of beauty into your life.  There will be the mornings, where out of habit, you race out of bed and forget, and at some point in your day, you will remember.  On those days, use the moment of remembering to plant the seeds of grace.  And see what happens.


Pose of the Month: Hanumanasana

Many of the asanas in our repertoire have a fascinating mythology behind them.  Perhaps one of the most well known stories is the one of Hanuman, the monkey king and loyal devotee to Lord Rama, who lept across the sea from India to Lanka to reassure Ram’s wife, Sita that she will be rescued.  He is represented in Hanumanasana (Seated Splits) as making that great leap of devotion, and as we practice we are often called to embody that devotion in ourselves. But, for many of today’s modern practitioners, the idea of devotion is a foreign one.  Many yogis in the west can understand the theory, but cannot quite experience the practice.  Maybe one of the biggest hurdles is feeling comfortable offering that much of your heart to another, often unseen and unproven, object of worship.

So, rather than project a contrived feeling of devotion, we can use Hanumanasana to uncover an experience that is unique to all of us, one through which we can enhance our practice and ultimately unite our individual understanding with the universal essence of devotion that lies within all of us.  Hanumanasana is an intermediate to advanced experience of asana when practiced in it’s fullest expression, but there are a plethora of ways to experiment with this pose that provide a foundational experience of its extremes without compromising safety or accessibility.  When we delve in to the practice of Hanumanasana, we dive deep into the experience of our physical self, which can open a pathway to observing the deep essence of the highest Self within.  

There is a perfect essence inside of each and every one of us.  Sometimes we forget that it is there because of all of the distractions and layers that we pile on top of it.  As we practice yoga, we begin to get glimpses of that perfection within, flashes of insight that may express themselves as a sense of ease in a challenging or stressful situation, a feeling of joy without a discernible origin, or an overwhelming experience of calm within the cyclone of our everyday lives.  When these glimpses of our own essence flash through our awareness, we can use them to hone our understanding of devotion, an expression of deep love and commitment and an unshakable loyalty to the ever-present source of perfection in ourselves.

In Hanuamanasana we unite to seemingly contradictory actions to create a challenging expression of expansion and growth.  In this pose, we combine the forward flexion action of the front leg with the extension action of the back leg and the work of balancing the sacrum and spine between these asymmetrical actions.  The hamstrings of the front leg are powerfully lengthening, and action which can be more safely balanced by eccentrically contracting providing a stabilizing action to the sometimes over mobilized joints of the knee and hip.  The back leg should be in powerful internal rotation with strong action in the back foot either with the ankle in dorsi flexion or plantar flexion depending upon the comfort of the back knee.  

This pose offers a deep stretch on the hip flexors of the back leg, primarily the psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris, sartorius and tensor fascia lata.  For people with tight hip flexors, this can present a real challenge.  Modifications abound for this pose that range from several different ways to use blocks and bolsters, to working your way into the pose slowly and accessibly from a low lunge position.

This pose is equally challenging to those practitioners who have tight hamstrings.  The front leg is in full extension, lengthening all three muscles of the hamstring group, the gluteus maximus, and the gastrocnemius and soleus of the calf.  Again, myriad modifications exist here to make this pose accessible and safe as you unwind the layers of tension and restriction that have been perched on our experience for an extended amount of time.

The fullest expression of this pose is full spinal lengthening, with all of the muscles around the spine supporting this action.  When the full pose is achieved, the breath is unobstructed and the spine is stable.  In exploring Hanuamanasana, it is best to find a modification that allows for these points to be at the top of the list of experiences, more than the deep stretch of the hamstrings and work of the hip flexors.  In using this pose to explore the concept of devotion, we don’t seek to push or force anything upon our body or ourselves.  We approach the experience with grace and poise, so that the beauty of our essence can shine through.

Through the patience that is required of our bodies and our minds, we begin to unfold the knowing of our own light.  Instead of cursing ourselves for not getting it, we learn to honor our individual experience, to love where we are at, to be loyal and truthful to what is happening in this moment.  By enduring the this slow unfolding of possibilities, we over and over again practice giving honor and devotion to our highest Self.

Ultimately when Hanuman was challenged to see the objects of his devotion inside of himself, he ripped open his chest, revealing that Ram and Sita lived inside of his own heart.  This is the definitive understanding of devotion, that the object of your deep love and the knowing of your highest Self are not separate but one in the same.  Classically, our path is to first put all our focus on an object, and then concentrate until we become the object of our focus.  So too is the path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga).  By placing all of our focus on the divine, whether it be in external form or the essence of our own hearts, we will then merge with this object and become that which we seek.  The practice of Hanumanasana provides an opportunity to explore this very possibility.

Copyright, reprinted with permission.

Teaching Yoga is a Conversation

When Yoga teachers step into a room to teach a yoga class, they have a plethora of choices before then.  They can use a well researched and practiced script to guide the students toward an amazing asana, they can wing it and hope that what they know will come together in some decipherable way, they can choreograph a beautiful flow of movement and music, or they can show up for the conversation that is bound to unfold if they just listen.

Both students and teachers participate (knowingly or not) in a continual exchange of unspoken communication. Students are sending signals about how they are feeling in their minds and their bodies.  They are communicating the emotions that sit on their heart.  Even if no words are spoken.  The job of a teacher is to be sensitive enough to "hear" these messages and skillful enough to adjust their classes to the needs of the students. 

My teacher used to say, "meet the students where they are, then take them where you see that they can go."  Often this means that we are meeting them at the end of a long workday or in the midst of physical or emotional pain.  Many yoga students will choose to remain private about the distractions of their life, coming to yoga to seek solace from their stress and pain.  However, there is a powerful communication happening even through the silence.  As teachers, we must learn to hear the frequencies and impulses that arise from each student in our classes so that we don't railroad them with our "plan." 

This exchange results in a conversation of sorts where it is as important to "listen" to the needs of our students as it is to direct them toward a goal.  Listening in a yoga class happens in the spaces of silence.  As teachers, when we are instructing a movement or refinement, we tune our eyes toward the ease or effort of our students.  We listen intently to the flow of their breath.  We tune in to the way they are expressing discomfort.  Each of these nuances speak an unspoken language of receptivity or resistance.  As teachers learn to listen, they can skillfully adjust even the most grandiose class plan to respond to the silent feedback from their students.

Students have an essential role in the conversation, too.  The way the instructions of the teacher are received and integrated, as well as the level of tuning-in during the spaces of silence, are the opportunities to participate in the conversation.  The more present the student is in the class, the more they will experience having their needs met by their teacher. And, the more this exchange flows back and forth from student to teacher, the more likely everyone is to have a profound experience that takes all involved "where they can go."  

Just like the conversations in our lives, the more open, receptive, compassionate and honest we are, the deeper and more fulfilling the communication becomes.  The science of Yoga is a powerful tool to take us to the place of infinite possibility and their are many guides out there ready to lead us.  Let's begin the conversation.