If you have ever felt your muscles shutter with the shakes, you’ll understand the challenge that is this week’s yoga practice.
I was ready for a “yoga workout” this week. I scoured videos and landed on the glorious Yoga with Adriene’s Deepen & Flow practice. It sounded like the right fit as the summary listed “cultivate some heat!”. Heat equals hard working yoga in my world!
The practice took me through some challenging low lunges and quick(er) flows of downward facing dogs and planks. I had thought most of the challenge was done when we transitioned into a standing balance sequence. It was unique and novel and I loved it!
Let me spell it out…
I was guided into chair pose by sending the hips back first followed by bending the knees. It felt like more of a traditional squat but was happy to lower my butt towards the ground. The pose transitioned into a single leg stance with the ankle of one foot onto the thigh/knee of the supporting leg. Kind of like a figure four position or modified pigeon pose. If that wasn’t challenging enough, without touching the raised foot down to the floor, move the lifted foot back by pressing it back into Warrior III pose.
Maybe if you do it once.
But we repeated it three times!
By having the hips and knees flexed, it allowed the body to be “closed” initially then transitioned into an “open” position into the Warrior III. The gluteus maximus of the support leg plus the core needed to be engaged to allowed the flow of the poses together.
And where was the shakes, you may ask?
By the third and final repetition, “crazy prana [was] running through the body” and the support leg shook! So much so that the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings all had a fun dance together!
I haven’t felt that muscle shake feeling since participating in a Barre class…if you don’t know, that is was happens in barre classes! Fighting it doesn’t work, moving through the shakes is what works the muscles best.
Now this sequence was a "full body experience”!
It was a combination of balance, strength and stamina all rolled up into one! Something to keep in mind for future teaching as a “simple” way to challenge a class - combine three poses into one and repeat, repeat, repeat.
I know I sure got the work intended!
I've been really blessed to practice with an awesome teacher at Lotus Soul Gym. She has been in tune to our group's needs, even asking what we want from our practice at each class. And without fail, she always asks the class to make a silent intention for the practice.
My usual internal response to her direction is one word. Peace, rest, energy, love - something like that. But this week my intention was "to feel my practice". That being, physically engage with the body during each pose.
Now, you may think, come on Lisa, isn't that yoga through and through.
But honestly, how often do we just go through the motions and neglect being present in each distinct movement we do in yoga?
Lots - I bet.
So my goal was to stay focused on what muscle, joint, etc. were being utilized during each asana. In a sense being mindful in my practice.
A recent article on mindfulness, which my yoga intention ellicted, discusses how the physical body aids in noticing and regulating the wandering mind.
Since our teacher initiated a practice that fit our need(s), she provided a sequence of asanas that possibly was the most difficult one of all (i.e., hitting those tough spots that we knew needed work!)
Pigeon pose hit up the external hip rotators and my back...
Warrior III hit my legs hard...
And well plank, hit my core strength on multiple occasions as we practiced plank (and multiple variations) many times!
I had to stay extremely focused on my body and in the moment or I was lost. Especially with Warrior III...where I almost fell over!
I love the challenge that yoga provides both physically and mentally! I learn so much about myself and hope one day to provide this great favour to others as a teacher.
And on a final note, this week's practice makes me think of this song...
Time is one of my barriers to yoga practice these days. It is probably the most often "excuse" I hear as an exercise physiologist when encouraging people to be physically active. I can definitely relate now with a newborn and toddler!
This week I was able to insert some impromptu yoga into my visit to the park. With a warm, sunny day, a walk to the park was in order. I perched my stroller beside a park bench (don't worry, hubby was with toddler) and started my practice.
In the five or so minutes I had, I used the park bench to support three to four poses. As I recently wrote, using a chair (or park bench) can be very supportive to multiple poses. The two poses that gave me most what I needed were downward facing dog and modified pigeon pose.
It just seemed natural to fall into downward facing dog. My back, shoulders and chest have taken a beating of sorts lately especially with late, late night feedings. The park bench was the perfect height for hand placement and as I pushed my hips back, I soon realized I was at the lip of the play ground surround. This allowed for my heels to drop below the level ground which was ideal for a deeper calf stretch. Ahhhh...
Fold forward with one leg on the bench, I moved into modified pigeon pose. One leg at a time I was able to give my tight hips a nice release thanks to the park bench.
So, in my mind, I won't use time as an excuse as I did fit it...and every bit counts, right?
Practicing what I preach!
How many yoga asanas that can be done in a chair?
In my early days of practice, I would probably scoff at using a chair, let alone any other prop, with the mentality that it isn't challenging enough. But over time, I've come to the conclusion that yoga can be many things, to many people, at different times.
Considering my aspiration is to teach yoga to the physically inactive and possibly chronic diseased, it only makes sense that a chair would be foundational to practice. And, taking it once step further, my ultimate aspiration would be to include yoga therapy in my practice as an exercise physiologist.
Whoa! More on that in the future...
A chair provided a great foundation for my practice this week. Having to modify asanas is the name of my game right now so let me explain what I experienced this week!
I'm the first to pronounce that I love spinal twists. Now, getting on the floor is not pretty these days so I was able to do a spinal twist from a standing position.
By placing my one foot on the base of the chair at a ninety degree angle. I placed my opposite hand on the bent knee and the other hand on the hip. By adding some torque, I rotated my spine away from the bent knee and viola, there was my twist! Now granted it was the same deep stretch I get when doing a reclining spinal twist on the floor (Supta Matsyendrasana), but it fit the bill.
The other two poses that were supported this week were downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and modified pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) stretch. Both allowed for well supported pose with the chair (downward facing dog my hands were on the front base of the chair and external hip rotator I simply sat in the chair and completed the pose).
So, consider, what yoga asanas would benefit you this week in a chair?
It's one thing to learn all the physical poses in yoga, how they are "performed" and their Sanskrit name but there is a whole other side of yoga - the philosophy of practice.
Over the last couple weeks, I've come across the word "tapas" in my reading and while participating in various yoga DVDs. It stopped me in my tracks because I thought "tapas" meant food, appetizers to be exact. What does that have to do with yoga?
Well, like many words, there are multiple meanings and definitions for one single word. So in fact it can be used on a restaurant menu but also in the context of yoga philosophy.
I had to know more...
And in drops Patanjali again as Tapas is found in his writings. It is under his second limb of the eight limbed yoga system otherwise known as the Niyamas, or suggested observances. Tapas is referred to as austerity.
Okay, so sounds like non-indulgence. I've found others write about tapas as discipline or the means of doing the work. The word "tapas" in Sanskrit means "heat" and has been referred to the "fire within".
So how does this all fit?
Judith Hanson Lasater wrote it well on her website:
"This is the spirit of tapas: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others. Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment. Ultimately nothing is more difficult than consistency. "
My many weeks of working on downward facing dog may be an example of tapas for me. In Yoga as Medicine book, Timothy McCall writes that downward facing dog is a good pose to build tapas.
Also, for me, pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) this week and quite frankly, every time I practice this pose, it takes not only physical energy but mental toughness to get through holding the static hip stretch.
But others argue that it isn't about being pushed in a pose that works on tapas.
Regardless, the presence of this word popping up over and over the last while fits into others areas of my life. It has me thinking that I've been building tapas as a parent and as an individual wanting to contribute in this world.
Lots of single parenting lately due to circumstance beyond our control and what.I.hope.will.have.huge.impact-type project (not yet revealed!) that has been taking up a place (and space) in my mind and heart for a while. Both have pushed me and being consistent in vision and awareness has been key.
As with anything that is worth it, being consistent and enjoying the process (even when it sucks - ya pigeon pose, I'm talking to you!) is essential.
So, bring it on! How are you building tapas?
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.