Autumnal Equinox: Rhythm and Ritual Through Yoga

The autumnal equinox marks one of two specific positions of Earth during its year-long orbit around the sun where the celestial equator (the spatial projection of the plane between northern and southern hemispheres) passes through the center of our solar star. In these equinox positions, our planet’s axis is directed neither toward nor away from the sun and the boundary between light and shadow is perpendicular to the equator.

During this significant, albeit brief, moment of cosmic equanimity, the planet is divided into approximately equal parts night and day, hence the word “equinox” with Latin roots meaning “equal night.”

Read the full article here, complete with a regenerative practice for the autumnal equinox, inviting you to surrender to your inner gravity and navigate the upcoming seasonal transition with grace.

Still Listening

I heard this song today while I was savasana-ing after this practice and it made me smile uncontrollably as my eyes filled with happy tears.  The lyrics are so simple, but they effortlessly articulate the reason why I practice, to let distractions melt away and really listen to whatever it is I need to hear.

"Still Listening" - Lucky Brown

Do you hear voices in your head?
That talk and sing to you in bed?
And do those voices give you thoughts,
'bout what is good and what is not?
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening I'm still listening]

Do you hear a voice that makes you laugh?
Or one that knows your secret past?
Is it sure or does it doubt?
Does it whisper, does it shout?
[Well I heard some things but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

Do you listen for the voice?
Or is it drowned out by the noise?
It's just the voice that you listen to,
But don't always do what it tells you.
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

It's the voice you hear everyday and sometimes wish, would go away.
But if that voice should ever fall silent,
Be quiet 'til you hear it again.
[Well I heard some things, but I'm still listening. I'm still listening.]

Svabhava Mudra

I have been focusing a lot on the power of sankalpa (vow, intention) as of late.  Where it becomes more than just some arbitrary thought we have at the beginning of a practice.  It goes beyond that.  It's an idea, notion or concept that forms in the heart and mind that we have infinite determination to fulfill. 

san = a connection to our innermost essence + highest truth; kalpa = rule to be followed above all others.

With this focus on sankalpa I found myself practicing anjali mudra again and again.  And it reminded me of a courageous practitioner that I met about a year ago while teaching at Google headquarters.  Not only was English not this woman's first language, but she was also blind.  Yet, every evening, she showed up, heart open, ready for practice.  Her practice was completely unique because it was informed by her internal vision.  She would hear the words and then create the shape from the inside out.  Each time I invited the class to "bring your hands to your heart in anjali mudra", this woman would wrap her arms around herself in a gentle heart hug that has stayed with me ever since.   She was the first one to teach me svabhava mudra, the shape of our innermost essence.  This sequence is inspired by that wonderful woman and the teaching she offered me selflessly through her embodiment. 
 

Wave Therapy

Today I was in need of wave therapy.  Waves of breath, waves of the spine, waves of practice.  I am still working through some lower back pain and limited range of motion in spinal extension, so I needed the practice to be slow and fluid. 

These waves are what I love vinyasa krama, the idea of setting a pattern in the body, exploring it with breath and building on it to a peak shape or pose.  The body begins to open in receptivity so that each krama or stage reveals something deeper.  There's an intuitive intelligence to the order which is the spirit of vinyasa, to place in a special way.

Relative Stillness

I have been perplexed by the notion of stillness these days.  Even in meditation where I am as still as I will ever be as a human being, I experience movement.  I feel the vibration of my heartbeat, faithfully undulating through my body, sometimes so strong it seems I might fall over.  And so I wonder, is anything ever completely still? 

At the microcosmic scale, the atoms that make up all matter are buzzing around constantly.  Even materials that are not alive in the way that we define living things, are vibrating and seem to have a quantum pulse.

So what does it mean to find stillness

For me, it is about relative stillness.  It's the quietude that arises as a result of deeper breathing.  It's an an effort to be present and tune into the universal rhythm that awakens inside.  Stillness is not necessarily the absence of movement, but perhaps it's the alignment of the energetic body with the physical body.  In stillness, there is freedom from distraction and we find the release of disturbance.  Stillness is that sweet feeling when you're no longer swimming against the current, but you're in the flow.  

In the end, isn't that the essence of yoga? We employ the practice as an entry point to relative stillness. 



Relax into Receptivity

I always begin my practice (especially on the days when I am feeling heavy or tired) with relaxation.  Whether I am lying down or standing tall, I start by focusing attention on my natural breath in a conscious effort to relax.  This tuning into the breath is not done in an arbitrary way, but in a deeply intimate and intentional way.   It always blows my teeny tiny brain that no one else can breathe for me nor can anyone ever know what it feels like to breathe with my lungs.  If it's not personal, what's the point?

This ritual "dropping in" to the flow of practice happens intuitively, I never thought to question why I do it.  This week however, I had a student ask me why I always begin in this way, why we don't just jump in and start moving.  Don't get me wrong, sometimes, this immediate action is necessary.  Particularly to meet the body (or more likely the brain) where it is.  For example, if you're coming to the mat in a rush, having just just barely made it on time after working until the last possible second or after dropping the kids off at school, perhaps you're not exactly in a place to peacefully ease into your yoga.  Nevertheless, even just 3 conscious breaths can make a difference. 

Whatever your opening ritual is, it can transform your state of mind and the quality of your energy.  It can be the difference between walking off the mat feeling refreshed and walking away feeling more wound up than when you arrived.  If we allow ourselves to relax into receptivity from the beginning, there's an opportunity to experience the exquisitely subtle layers of the practice that we might otherwise miss if we're not paying attention.  Instead of attacking the poses from the outside in, receive the practice from the inside out. 

When we're relaxed, we're in a better mood.  And when we're in a better mood, we can approach even the most challenging poses in a more playful way.  The practice below aims to relax the body first and then explore the patterns that create stability and power in adho mukha vrksasana, handstand.

6 Movements of the Spine

After a week of intense backbending and progressively moving deeper into full splits, my spine was starting to feel a little overworked.  I had a dull ache in the sacroiliac joint on one side and was experiencing tightness in the erector spinae muscles that support the vertebral column.

This practice was the antidote. Circulating through flexion/extension, lateral flexion/extension and spinal rotation, the end result was a spine that felt refreshed. 


Dreaming + Doing

This  practice was an exploration of balancing the upward and downward currents of the subtle energy body.  Using the breath and the bhava of each pose, this sequence is designed to be both grounding and energizing so that you feel calibrated and steady.

For more on the subtle energy currents and how they affect our ability to create and communicate, check out my latest blog post, The Energy of Dreaming and Doing on allyoucanyoga.com.  Here's a sneak peek:

"Soul is embodied spirit and spirit is liberated soul. The beauty here is there is no hierarchy. Soul is not in service to spirit, nor is spirit bound by the soul. Instead the two are mutually divine and in an infinite dance."

Bhumi Bow - Earth Day Celebration!

In the chakra system of energetic anatomy, the base of the spine embodies the earth element, bhumi.  The pelvis can be thought of as the earth of the body, connecting the trunk to the legs and supporting all forms of movement.  This practice is a dedication to the earth both within and without - an expression of deep hip opening through forward bends, bowing in respect to this sweet little planet we call home. 

H A P P Y  E A R TH  D A Y!

Yoga: Don't Do It, Be It

What is Yoga?

I always like to start a practice by closing my eyes and observing my breath.  The breath contains so much information about what is happening inside the body, but I'm usually too distracted to receive it. That's why I need the first few moments of tuning in and connecting to the breath so that I can drop into the yoga.  But what does that even mean?

Since I am a bit of a linguistics nerd, it helps me to understand where the words in this practice actually come from.  I find the language of it all to be fascinating and so telling of the original intent.  The word, "yoga" comes from the root word in Sanskrit, "yuj", meaning union or to yoke.  In the modern yoga world, we use the word as part of an action - "do yoga", "practice yoga", or as one of my dearest Japanese friends likes to say "play yoga".  In reality though, yoga is about being, not doing.   Yoga is a state of connection, it is the union of your inner and outer awareness.  From Leslie Kaminoff, yoga is "...any time that your body, your breath and your mind are doing the same thing at the same time".  The beauty of this definition of yoga is that you can have it anywhere.  You can be yoga while you're running, while you're waiting in line or doing laundry.  Yoga doesn't require that you put your foot behind your head, but if your breath is open and expansive, your foot is moving in that direction and your mind is willing it to happen, then you have the yoga.  You're not doing it, you are it.  You may not ever reach the full expression of all of the physical shapes, but at least you are in a state of yoga.  Which is the whole point of the practice.

What this also means is that we can be in the physical practice without any yoga at all.  Is the mind wandering?  Is the breath absent?  If so, then there is no yoga even though the outer shape may be in alignment.  Don't let the body do it alone, let the practice be a collaborative effort.  Check in often: where is my mind?  where is/isn't my breath?  This way, you invite yoga onto your mat and you can start to explore yoga in other areas of your life.  How can the mundane become infinitely interesting by aligning the body, breath and mind? 

Practice

This sequence, "Revolve", focuses on revolving the spine by oscillating the limbs in coordination with the breath.  When the breath participates in the revolution of the spine, it can leave the body feeling refreshed and energized.  The alternative is forcing the spine to twist using only external effort.  Here, we explore a combination of both internal and external forces.  The waves of this practice cycle through progressively deeper twists to massage the internal organs and strengthen the spine with backbends and hanumanasana to unravel at the end.