Monday, November 29, 2010

Intention of Week 7 - Perfecting: Always Be Happy with the Smallest Improvements

Sankalpa - intention

Set an intention, and see what happens.

All ideas have been taken from B.K.S. Iyengar's book, "Light on Life", p.54-61

We often hear no one is perfect, which I know in my case is true, but we all seem to strive for perfection, then are greatly disappointed in ourselves when we fall short of our expectations.
Mr. Iyengar says "Let the goal be to reach Perfection, but be content with a little progress toward perfection every day."  This is a better way to reach a goal, as he says that over ambition can be destructive of sustainable progress.  Sometimes our body is willing, but our mind is weak or sometimes the mind is willing but the body is weak.  We must learn to listen to the body and mind and as B.K.S. says, let the intelligence and the soul make the true decision, for this is where real willpower and dedication is found.

"Long uninterrupted practice of asanas and pranayama, done with awareness, makes the foundation firm and brings success."  This is really the only way to embark on the path of yoga and the path of life. 

The thing I think I took the most from this section is when Mr. Iyengar writes about how practitioners of the asanas alone often forget that yoga is for cultivating the head and heart.  When practicing yoga we need to bring friendliness, compassion, gladness and joy into our hearts.  So, if you fall in headstand, laugh it off, don't be so serious with yourself.  Be dedicated to your practice, but light in your heart.

Pam Nelson

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Morning Yoga Routine 1

Good Morning! 

Below are a few pictures with brief explanations of only some of the great morning yoga poses you can do.  This has been designed to only take 10-15 minutes, so you don't feel rushed in the morning.

Seated Meditation - Sit cross-legged on a block or bolster for a few minutes to begin your yoga practice...even if it is a short practice.  Release the shoulders down the back, away from the ears.  Let the knees release from the hips and keep the chest lifting up towards the ceiling.  You can use the strap crossed at the back and then coming around the front to help keep the shoulders releasing back and down.  Focus on the breath.
 Seated Twist - place a block behind you and rolling the left shoulder back bring the hand onto the block with fingers cupped.  Keep the tailbone descending and spine ascending up towards the ceiling.  On the exhalation begin turning from the lower back towards the left, sweeping the right hand to the outside of the left knee.  On each exhalation keep moving up the back twisting a bit further until you reach the shoulders and head.  Return back to centre and repeat on the other side.
 Back Release - Come to lying on your back.  Lengthen the spine on the mat and hug the knees into the chest.  Keep the abdomen, throat and eyes soft and the shoulders releasing.
 Lying Twist - Spread the arms out in line with the shoulders and cross the right leg over the left.  Exhale and release the knees to the left side.  Keep the abdomen soft and moving to the right as the knees release to the left.  Inhale to bring the legs back up.  Uncross the legs and repeat on the other side.
 Modified Bridge - Lying on your back bring your arms to your sides, palms facing the floor, knees bent and feet close to the body and hip width apart.  Keep shoulders releasing from the ears.  Inhale and bring the arms over head to the floor.  If your shoulders are really tight and the arms don't press into the floor keep your arms at your sides.  Then see picture below.
 Inhale and press into your feet and arms and lift the hips up towards the ceiling, drawing the tailbone up and compact the outer hips in.  Exhale, release back down.  Do two or three more times using your breath to help warm up and gently massage the spine.
 Cat - From the previous pose, roll over and up onto your hands and knees.  Bring your hands under your shoulders, spreading your fingers to distribute the weight.  Keep your knees under your hips with your shins hip width apart and parallel.  Press firmly into the floor with your hands and shins, lengthen your spine and inhale arch your abdomen towards the floor, tailbone up towards the ceiling, chest open and looking up.  If you have lower back issues keep your back flat.
 Cow - Exhale, tucking your tailbone under and your chin to your chest.  Draw the abdomen up towards the spine.  Release the head between the shoulders and keep the shoulders moving down the back.
Puppy - Keep pressing into your hands and shins and on the exhalation turn the head to look towards your hips (or your tail!).  Repeat on the other side.
 Urdhva Hasta Tadasana - Stand with the feet together or slightly apart and parallel.  Press firmly into the big toe mound, little toe mound and heel.  Distribute your weight evenly front to back and side to side.  Press the thigh bones back and lift the kneecaps towards the hips to engage the quadriceps muscles.  Inhale, raise the arms up overhead, keep arms parallel, palms facing each other.  Make sure the shoulders release down the back and the collarbones broaden towards the shoulders.

 Ardha Uttanasana - Exhale, bending at the hips placing hands on blocks.  Keep the legs active, the spine concave, thighs pressing back, shoulders releasing back and down.
Uttanasana - on your next exhalation soften the abdomen and release down to a full forward bend.  Keep the knees bent if you have lower back issues or if you bend more from the waist then the hips.  The forward bend should be from the hips.
Lunge - Inhale looking up and step the left leg back.  Keep the front knee over the front ankle.  Press out through the back heel and lift the back thigh up towards the ceiling (back leg should be straight).  The hands are on the blocks to help keep the chest open and the shoulders moving back and down.
Step the back leg forward and repeat ardha uttanasana, uttanasana and then lunge on the opposite leg.  Come up to Tadasana (standing mountain pose).  You can repeat this sequence many times to warm the body up even more.
Adho Mukha Svanasana with chair - Downward Facing Dog with chair - Press your palms into the seat of the chair, keeping hands shoulder width apart.  Step feet back so you can lengthen spine completely.  Bend the knees at first to get the length to the spine.  Keep the shoulders moving away from the ears and lift the hips up towards the ceiling.  Straighten the legs if you can and press into the feet.  The tailbone should be in line with the back of the heels.  The feet are hip width apart and parallel.  Press the thighs back, lift the kneecaps up.  The abdomen should be soft.

Inhale back up to Tadasana - Mountain Pose with arms at your sides. 
Stay for a few breaths and enjoy the new vitality you have brought to you day.


Pam Nelson

It is easy to see the faults of others, harder to see our own faults.


Quotes like this always remind me of the Yamas in yoga - the first being ahimsa - non-harming in thought, speech and deed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Intention of Week 6 - Pain: Find Comfort Even in Discomfort

Sankalpa - intention

Set an intention, and see what happens.

All ideas have been taken from B.K.S. Iyengar's book, "Light on Life", p.47-54

The idea of any type of pain is a difficult thing for most of us to think about.  People try very hard, in various ways to block pain out.  There are so many distractions out there that it is hard to stay in the present moment, but B.K.S. Iyengar writes that we can use pain as our guru, or teacher, to learn from so that later pains can be avoided.

"As we experience pleasures happily, we must also learn not to lose our happiness when pain comes." writes BKS Iyengar.  By learning to find comfort even during trying and uncomfortable times we will learn to move beyond our pain.  This is true not only on the yoga mat but off the mat as well.  Our yoga practice helps us become aware of how much pain the body can bear and how much affliction the mind can tolerate.

Mr. Iyengar teaches though that this should not be the "grin and bear it" kind of pain, which he espouses is just calisthenics and is the wrong attitude.  The goal is not to hold a posture at any cost or try to achieve a pose prematurely, but to do the asanas (postures) with as much possible intensity of intelligence and love.  To do this a student must learn awareness in their own body to know the difference between "right" pain and "wrong" pain.

Pamela Nelson

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Benefits of Headstand - Salamba Sirsasana

Recently a student asked why I liked doing headstand.  I am never good at spur of the moment answers to think of all the benefits, but what came to mind immediately was confidence.  I always feel more confident in myself after coming down from headstand.  There are of course many other benefits.  Mr. Iyengar says that Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand) gives one balance and poise, both physically and mentally.

This pose is called the king of all asanas.  In Light on Yoga, Mr. Iyengar describes how the skull encases the brain, which controls the nervous system and the organs of sense.  The brain is the seat of intelligence, knowledge, discrimination, wisdom and power.  Inversions help to support the body and clear the mind.

Turning ourselves upside down allows for more blood to flow to the brain cells, rejuvenating them, increasing our thinking power and clarifying our thoughts.  Proper blood supply to the brain helps to balance the pituitary and pineal glands in the brain.

The circulatory system also benefits from this pose helping people to resist getting colds, coughs, tonsillitis, cures halitosis, decreases palpitations and increases warmth to the body.

The digestive system improves with this posture and can help those who suffer from constipation when done along with Salamba Sarvangasana ( supported shoulderstand).

So although inversions like headstand can be a bit intimidating they are important poses that can have a great effect on our well being when done with proper alignment and care.

Cautions:  Do not practice this pose if you have high blood pressure, cervical spondylosis, backache, headache, during menstruation or pregnancy.  Do not start with this pose if you have low blood pressure.

Pam Nelson