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Teacher Training Video--Beijing Intensive
Video: How To Recruit the Legs in Plank Pose
Yoga Sleuth Testimonial
(Full disclosure: both the broccoli rubber band idea and the "Try this at home this week" suggestion come from Iyengar teacher Carrie Owerko...)
Monday, May 27, 2013
Monday, May 23, 2011
The Yoga Sutras devote only three aphorisms—less than 1% of the text—to asana, to posture practice. These three tell us that posture should be stable and easeful, that stability and ease is to be gained by consistent effort, and that practicing postures in this manner brings about “the strength to resist the shocks” of life’s vicissitudes. (I quote here from Charles Johnston’s 1912 translation.)
Truly, we use asana to hone the skill of remaining undisturbed in destabilizing situations. This point was driven home during a recent morning practice in
I can report that body and breath remained fairly even throughout the experience. The mind on the other hand? It was—as usual—beset by a torrential cascade of thoughts and impressions, some relevant to the incident and others seemingly unrelated . . . all while holding a yoga pose for a mere forty-five seconds on the eighth floor of a building during a freaking earthquake.
The idea is that through consistent, effortful practice, the mind too learns to keep its equilibrium despite external circumstances. So that nothing—not even a shaking of the very foundations below us—can rock the proverbial boat.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
In yoga, we use the physical postures as a tool to quiet the mind. The connection between the gaze and the mind is, of course, figurative—we focus the gaze to direct our attention. But there’s a physiological connection, too. The “eye is actually a part of the brain which grows outward to the surface of [the] body during embryological development” (Irene Dowd, Dynamic Dancing 43). In other words, when you look at someone’s eye, you’re actually looking at their brain. Talk about a window to the soul!
Thought waves, the fluctuations of the mind that we learn about in the Yoga Sutras, are productions of the brain. (At least, according to modern science. Traditional texts on yoga locate both the mind and—for want of a better translation—the soul in the heart, but that’s another discussion.) We can’t still the fluctuations of the mind at will but we can voluntarily fix the eyes on a gazing point. That is, we can physically stabilize a part of the brain. In so doing, we employ drishti as a method of quieting the mind.
Try this during your next asana practice: each time you come to down dog, latch your gaze to a point between your shins or up at your navel. How does committing to the drishti in just this one pose impact the overall effects of your practice?
Friday, September 10, 2010
For example, try this: come into vasisthasana (side plank). Lift your top leg a few inches above your bottom leg. Look up at your top hand, then down at your bottom hand. Repeat a few times. The muscles of your core had to prevent your spine and pelvis from moving around and knocking you off balance. If they successfully stabilized the center of your body, you were able to move your head and appendages freely without falling over. (You can get really funky with this experiment: try whipping your top arm around as if you were about to throw a lasso . . .)
We practice yoga, the Sutras tell us, to stabilize the fluctuations of the mind. For now, let’s view the mind as the core of consciousness. Yoga philosophy discusses organs of perception, through which we take in information about the world around us, and organs of action, through which we interact with the world around us. The organs of perception and the organs of action are essentially the mind’s “appendages.” Building stability in the mind, the core of consciousness, allows the appendages, the organs of perception and the organs of action, to function more efficiently. We then perceive the world from a place of improved steadiness and operate in it with more grace.
Of course, it’s easier to build core strength than it is to stabilize the fluctuations of the mind, so we start there.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Extension (bending backward) is much more readily available in the lumbar spine (the lower back) than in the thoracic spine (the upper back). This is due to the orientation of the spinous processes (the bony protrusions you feel when you touch someone's spine). The spinous processes in the lumbar region are short and are oriented posteriorly (toward the back). Those in the thoracic region are longer and are oriented downward. When you move into spinal extension (a backbend), each thoracic spinous process butts up against the one below it, limiting your range of motion. This explains why my thoracic spine looks kind of flat, rather than arced, in the photo.
Look at the image (from Judith Hanson Lasater's Yoga Body) to the right of the photo. Note that the spinous processes of the lowest three thoracic vertebrae (labeled T10, T11, and T12 in anatomical terms) aren’t as long as and don’t slope down as far as the other thoracic spinous processes. Their exact shape and orientation vary from individual to individual, but the shorter they are and the less they slope down the more hyper-mobile this region will be. As you can see in the photo, like most human spines, my thoracic spine doesn’t bend backward very much. Like most trained yoga practitioners, I've learned to elongate my lumbar spine in a backbend. HOWEVER, I am fairly mobile in the region of T10-T12 (we can infer that those spinous processes are short and don’t curve down much) and my mobility there manifests as a sharp angle in my backbends. (Notice also that my ribcage is displaced to make room—my lower front ribs are a bit “puffy.” If I knitted them together, I’d have a more even arc in my backbend.)
For a really extreme demonstration of this phenomenon, go to http://esutra.blogspot.com/2006/01/yoga-girl-video.html. (And, no, I CANNOT do that. Not even close.)
Monday, June 7, 2010
Before you answer, try two experiments: First, stand in tadasana (feet together, legs straight, arms down by your sides) with your eyes closed. You started to waver, right? Second, stand in vrksasana (tree pose) on a bolster or a couch cushion. Your ankle vacillates back and forth, doesn’t it?
Here’s my definition of balance: making constant movements in order to create stillness, or, put slightly differently, seeking stillness through movement.
As you’ve just discovered, this holds true on the physical level. It applies just as aptly to the non-physical.
The second yoga sutra says yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah, yoga calms, or stills, the movements of the mind. Chitta is the mindstuff; the vrttis are the fluctuations, or movements, that constantly beset it. The Sutras recognize that most of us can’t resolve the vrttis into stillness on command. So they recommend a process of replacement—we methodically substitute more and more refined movements for the rambunctious ones that regularly disturb our balance. It’s not that we come to stillness; instead we learn to reside in a state of balance—one that is produced by closely guided movement.
In essence, this is what you’re doing when you undertake a balancing posture. In order to create a semblance of total-body stillness in vrksasana, the muscles on either side of your shin and ankle make constant adjustments. It’s through these movements that you find balance in the pose.