Sunday, July 28, 2013

Definitely a Stretch

It was definitely a stretch (of my interests) to attend a Power yoga class in Santa Monica. I knew the class would not be paced or styled to my preferences, but it was the studio my friend had enthusiastically chosen for us. Keeping an open mind came in handy while the studio filled up with the latest yoga fashions and serious looking faces. A woman in the bathroom was using large handfuls of paper towels just to open the door and avoid contamination. I thought about waste and wondered if I was doing that with my time. I made a silent vow that I would not do anything injurious for the sake of keeping up.
The studio described in "Oasis" blog post
To my delight, the class began with a lengthy child's pose. Ahhh. Worries about what may or may not happen in class washed away. Only the feeling of my forehead touching the floor seemed to matter. We moved into Sunbird, and after that, it was all vigorous flow for another 85 transformational minutes. No, this was not my usual way of practicing. Yet, I found the entire class to be beneficial and exactly what I needed that day. I had to redirect my focus a few times to include only my experience, not the woman on my left who might be throwing her knee out trying to keep up. One man rolled up his mat and left shortly after class began. I felt relieved by his brave act. Sometimes getting out of what feels like a dangerous or unhelpful situation is the best possible answer. That man was practicing yoga by choosing to leave. I hoped that everyone there had the wisdom needed to make it through safely and honorably. Then, I let go of my distracted concern for others in order to stay present for myself. If we can not mind our own selves, what makes us think we can skillfully mind other people anyway?

The yamas and niyamas emphasize being truthful not only to others, but to ourselves. Truthful about what feels right and what doesn't. They also emphasize non-possessiveness. There were a few moments when I wanted to execute a complicated pose just to have it and "prove" myself. Fortunately, inner wisdom directed me towards surrendering ego and excess. Life, like a power yoga class, sometimes hands us things we couldn't have thought of for ourselves! We have a chance to creatively stretch in every situation that rolls our way.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Circle Yoga

Circles in yoga
Before the start of any yoga practice, I like to survey the premises for possible yoga props. Walls, tables, belts, sand bags, and chairs are among some of the usual yoga prop choices. I rarely miss the chance to use steps, boulders, trees, shelves and anything else that can help expand or support a yoga posture. When I spotted a hula hoop from across my friend's living room, I knew it would be the guest prop for my practice that day. It was the perfect size for holding above my head, which made for nicely energized arm raises. Then, it became a noticable stablizer for First Warrior pose, as I lightly touched the hoop at my side for greater balance and strength. The hoop helped me to avoid over efforting. I felt encouraged to find a deep place in the pose. This deep place wasn't overly concerned with outside appearance or striving for perfection. This deep place was where sensations were noticable. At the sensation level, there is nothing more to "do". I finished the hoop practice with some twists. As I held the circle at shoulder height, parallel to the floor, my sitting twist was encouraged to spiral honestly and evenly. Nothing to prove, nowhere to go, the hoop seemed to say.
I wondered why it felt so natural to make use of the hula hoop in yoga. Maybe the symbolism of a circle brings a needed balance to all of the lines, rows, rectangular mats, and angles that typically stand out in yoga poses and class settings. I'm inspired to bring more circles and spirals onto my mat and into my visions. Circles represent infinity, unity, and wholeness. At the end of my practice, I sat inside the hoop, feeling a welcomed reminder that we are all in the circle of life.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"No Longer a Stranger"

Sunset at Big Sur
I'll be on the road today for 4 hours with people I have not yet met. Zimride matched me with a driver going to where I'm heading, in exchange for a reasonable fee agreed on in advance. In addition to my slightly lighter luggage (I had fun giving things away the last few weeks), I will be bringing along trust, patience, and gratitude for this rideshare. I'll let you know how the internet hitch-hiking pans out.

A very long drive later, and I'm happy to report that Zimride brought me to my desired location! I suggested to the driver (a mother with her 10 year old son) that we take the scenic route. She agreed without hesitation and off we went. To our unplanned surprise, it turned out to be a much longer trip then calculated. We marveled at the sunset in Big Sur, and then tried to comprehend the many hours of driving still ahead. I heard her son muttering from the back seat, "I don't think this was worth it."  I was in silent agreement, as I remembered quite suddenly about my tendency for car sickness. The motherly instincts of the driver, noticed my discomfort, and graciously offered me the driver's seat. This helped only somewhat. Luckily, conversation flowed easily. It felt amazing to meet people that I may otherwise never have know, and share an experience together. I noticed all of my preferences and aversions arise (radio stations, perfumed hanging trees, air-conditioning temps), and then found comfort in a remembered Lao Tzu quote, which I repeated in my mind; "The road is not difficult for those who have no preferences."
The boy later confessed that he had been nervous about hosting a stranger in the car, adding that I was "no longer a stranger." We had bonded over the discomfort of car sickness, counting artichoke stands, lengthy alphabet games, and more. Summer vacation with strangers had shown me, we really are all related.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Third Eye Clarity

This past weekend brought work as a zen rock gardener, bamboo trimmer, astro turf raker, and debris removal assistant, all in the splendor of a sunshine filled day. It also brought awareness of the organic matter I was continually stirring up and inhaling. This, quite naturally led me into a mid-afternoon fantasy about irrigating my sinuses!

Neti Pot Demonstration
Whether you are a gardener, painter, have summer allergies or just finished sweeping the patio of pet hair, you will probably notice that your breathing becomes less than optimal after these activities. Air conditioning is another summer breathing irritant. It can create an overly dry and cooled environment which noticeably reduces the proper balance of your own nasal filtration system. The practice of rinsing your nasal passages with salted water will restore a proper breathing environment and a bring a sense of overall clarity to your mind & body! I'm convinced that the wisdom center known as the 3rd eye chakra is stimulated and refreshed by this soothing action as well. 

For those of you who already know how to use a neti pot, this is just a reminder to get it out and put it to use this summer. I love being a self-appointed spokesperson & coach for this effective yogic technique. I’d love to hear about how this practice has made a difference in your life.

Neti Instructions:

You could use a handmade ceramic neti pot, or just find a bendable cup for the task. Use a measured ¼ teaspoon of non-iodized salt and add it to your chosen vessel. Stir is a small amount of hot water to dissolve the slat. Then add cold water until the temperature is luke warm or slightly cool. Stir the solution again. To begin, tilt your head to one side, pour the water into the higher nostril while breathing only through your mouth. As you pour the water into one nostril, it will flow out the other side. If not, adjust the tilt of your head and try again until it pours easily.

Need more encouragement? Click the link below to find a handout describing the history, practice, and even more reasons to practice jal neti:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pretzel Yoga

Slinging pretzels in San Francisco
     Traditional health care benefits do not usually accompany untraditional lifestyles, but there is hope that occupational happiness is good preventative care. At times, my "happy to be teaching yoga" habit asks to be supported by other odd jobs. This is not a problem, since I enjoy a varied work life. For some of us, occupational happiness means putting our skills, interests, and open minds into a hat for fate to choose. This past week I was offered something new in the gig department. I spent July 4th at Fisherman's Wharf behind a pretzel/churro cart. It was hard to stop smiling that day. Every person I encountered at the stand was kind, polite, and surprisingly grateful for their $3 snack. I felt like a summertime Santa Claus.

Have you ever had a chance to be playful at work?
The gig reminded me of one I had enjoyed as a kid. Twice per year, my uncle arranged for my brother and I to sell roses on the streets of small Minnesota towns. It was also reminiscent of years spent in the restaurant world. It's the kind of work where 10 hours pass quickly, due to the constant action. I spent the 5th of July on a couch recovering from all of the interaction, but was ready to go again yesterday for one more pretzel gig at the Alameda Antique Fair. It was amusing to watch people walk by with parasols, dressed in vintage dresses and suits, etc. Folks wheeled carts around containing giant plastic reindeer and many other oddities. I felt right at home. We are all so unique!

There is no doubt that yoga helped me through the slinging pretzel days. Mountain pose helped me avoid slouching, and the straining effects of leaning to one side. Breath awareness kept my energy level high and nerves calm, even when surrounded by mini-mobs of customers. Anytime I had a few moments to recover, I found a yoga pose, usually something addressing quads and low back. Just for fun (and upper back relief) I took full eagle pose a few times too, the one most associated with looking and feeling like a pretzel.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cooling Wave Breath

Fisherman at Pacifica Pier
Try this breathing visualization with a chilled eye pillow to cool down in the summer heat:

First, Picture how all of the oceans are connected. There is no telling where one ocean stops and another begins. Now, become aware of your own divine body of mostly water, and imagine that there is no separation between yourself and any other body of water. As these fisherman stand on the shore, they are connecting to nature because they tooare nature. Replenish yourself and your surroundings with the awareness of your breath as connecting energy. Feel how the ebb & flow of your natural breathing pattern mimics the rhythm of the waves; extending to shore, then returning back to a limitless source. As you exhale, imagine your breath as a wave washing to shore, extending to touch your surroundings. The cool inhale returns us to our expansiveness, an ocean within ourselves. All of life energy circulates, as waves, as breath, as divine consciousness. The ocean and the wave are clearly inseparable, just as we are to the breath, and breath is to all. Watching the breath like this, we may start to feel contentment in "going with the flow."