I am super grateful for the chance to attend a workshop this weekend with Marcia Langenberg. So lucky because she only had four of us and we got to really focus on a couple interrelated topics. Topics I have a very superficial understanding of so you can imagine how interested and keen I was to learn.
The workshop was named simply Pranayama. But I'll tell you it was much more than that. We dove deep into what the breath is able to do within a yoga practice.
Relaxation - check.
Settling of the mind - check.
Changing ones habitual behaviors - what?!
I would have never thought that this was what concentrated breathing could do for me. Of course I recognize the power of the mind body connection with yoga practice but it had never occurred to me how pranayama would also influence the mind. Makes complete sense but I had never put two and two together. We dove into the topic of Samskara. A word I recognize in written form but honestly can’t say I knew what it meant.
Samskara are those ideas, thoughts and habits that we all carry. Yoga philosophy believes that we are all born with certain samskaras. Samskaras can be both positive (like good dental care) and negative (like poor self talk). Depending on the samskara, it can either keep you in a rut or move you forward in life by limiting suffering. By breaking down the sanskrit word, SAM means accumulation and SKARA means to act. Everyone builds and grows certain behaviours which dictates how we ultimately live.
This drawing demonstrates that both positive and negative samskaras exist and will always exist. It is with yoga that the quantity of each is influenced (i.e., yoga can help weaken the patterns of the negative samskaras).
Talk about a new way to self-reflect!
What are my not-so-great samskaras?
Good thing that I asked because we discussed all the “triggers” we can use to help identify our samskaras. Potentially not a comprehensive list, this is what we came up with: Body + Breath (physical self), Mind (mental, our rational thinking it out self; psychological, emotional), and Spiritual. Needless to say, they are multiple arenas where I could find some negative samskaras. But let me give you a context for the week leading up to the workshop and what I was feeling just before diving into my own samskara…
I can’t lie. It’s been a more challenging week. First and foremost, my grief encompassed me. Although, not ready to think about the anniversary of my grandma’s death, I breezed through the day back in February that she past. However, her birthday, March 14, was much more of an emotional day for me. I even anticipated it a week in advance. It is surprising how grief can come back like an ocean wave. I had been “in check” for the last six months yet, the month of March is much more difficult than I ever expected.
The physical symptoms of grief. Or what I think is the cause of my physical discomforts this month. Ya, I’m busy and yes, my body likes to react to force me to slow down. But this time was different. My GI system basically stopped working. Drink lots of water, eat fibre rich diet, exercise, get enough sleep…all done. Yet, the nausea of constipation was almost unbearable. My head went into a tales spin trying to figure it all out. Was it a problem with my pelvic floor injury? I finally realized that my emotions we on high alert as the grief rolled in.
So sitting in this workshop, I was ‘bunged up’ so to speak and only just making the connection to my emotional state and the state of my GI system. When asked what one of my samskaras was, I fought back tears and only said it was much more emotional than I thought.
However, it was probably the best example of my rut. Not the grief part, but HOW I chose to deal with life’s stresses. Keeping it all in. Not expressing my true emotions to myself and in some cases, if appropriate, to others.
Cue the mind blowing explosions!
We didn’t explore my samsara example any further. Recognizing that none of the other women in the room are psychologists, we just let it lay.
But for me, it was clear what was going on.
Not something I can solve in one pranayama practice but something to further explore with my new found knowledge of samskaras and using the breath to work through them.
Since the workshop was only four hours, we wrapped up with more useful concepts around pranayama. We even used the hand counting technique I learned in my workshop with Rosemary Jeanes Antze. I realized that a pranayama home practice would be super beneficial for me. Not just as a future yoga teacher but JUST FOR ME. Maybe a little gift to myself. Because as we learned in the workshop, “Give it up” - let the pranayama do the work! And I can’t argue with that!
Two helpful videos I found on Samskara are also listed below.
Another excellent session with senior teacher, Paula Carnegie Fehr, from Red Deer this weekend. Focusing on all things anatomy and yoga.
This workshop’s primary focus was on the skeletal and muscular systems. The handy skeleton was working overtime as we all poked and prodded, twisted and turned, and moved the bones every which way to see how yoga asanas would work. I have been loving the use of the words stability and mobility. It amazes me that the knowledge I already have is coming alive in a yoga scenario. What parts of the body allow for stability? And what parts of the body allow for mobility? It is easy to make these reflections outside of a lab and on the floor of a yoga studio.
The skeletal system is HUGE for yoga. Yes, you’d think the muscles are paramount, but with this weekend’s practice it has become more clear to the intricacies of alignment via the skeleton. Dare I say, the skeletal system is what makes yoga asanas happen.
Here are some of my light bulb moments from my yoga anatomy work…
I’d always recognized the importance of foundation. I’ve been working on mine for years. However, I believe there is always something to be learned on how we are placed on our mat. Two specific areas of the skeletal system that, let’s be honest, don’t always get my attention - the hands and feet - are so intimately linked to a good foundation.
We played with multiple ways the feet hold us up in space, from a standing to a lying position. Initially, we worked on the foot placement during a forward fold. I can fully admit that the practice of tadasana at my last workshop shook me a bit. My partners watched as my left foot supinated and literally my left big toe didn’t even touch the floor. Exciting insight! I took this to my tadasana today to only watch how things change with the feet facing outward, inward or in neutral position by rotating the thigh at the hip. On self reflection, I soon realized that if I want length through my sacralillio (SI) joint, I am better to position my my thighs slighted rotated outward (laterally) or in a neutral position. The length across my back was so welcomed.
How did I know?
We palpated the SI joint with our thumbs (thumbs up anyone?) and felt as the joint moved and flatted between the two ilium bones.
The second way the feet played into my foundation today was in table top position (Bharmanasana). I had been conscious in the past about pressing the “shoelace” side of my foot down into the floor but never took the time to feel what actually was happening. Looks can be deceiving. What looked easy was tremendous effort into my hips. I had no idea that by pushing my feet down, it helped activate my hip abductors and it too helped to lengthen through the SI joint.
My SI joint loves me!
Now talk about the neglected and well worked part of the skeletal system! How often do I work to take care of my hands? Dare I say never.
The work we did was extremely valuable as I think it can be said that the hands are crucial to asana foundation but never really considered.
At least not in my body!
Yes, I’ve thought about pressing my “finger prints” into the mat from time to time but always struggled with getting my thumb down (thumbs up again!). We tried a basic flat hand approach to placement, which to be honest, was quite uncomfortable. Then Paula suggested tenting our hands slightly and slowly placing only the outside edges of our hands on the floor. Soon I realized that in fact, this was something I never considered. By doing so, the middle of the hand stays ever so slightly lifted off the ground. The lift protects the flexed wrist but provides a super stable foundation.
Clearly, not me.
Now to the thumb. I asked Paula about my thumb. I was demonstrating something fairly different with my hand than my fellow yogis. Since she was aware of my anatomy knowledge, she simply said, contract your thenar (thumb) muscle. And like magic, my body did what I asked and my thumb flattened (mostly) to the floor.
Awareness and intention are powerful things!
All in all, the thumbs showed up multiple times during practice so I would be remiss if I didn’t give them an additional shout out.
After our lunch break, Paula led us through a meditation with mudras. What showed up? A thumbs up. We placed our hands in a thumbs up position and sat with our hands on our thighs. One fellow teacher wanna-be even reflected that the position just felt good and that things were “all good”. We proceeded to supinate our hands so that the thumbs faced outwards. This opened the chest and I thought it was a time to dump out what I don’t need. To follow, we pronated our hands and the thumbs landed inwards where I felt a charge of energy. This energy flowed between my thumbs…can’t explain that one!
The “thumbs up” mudras, similar to shiva linga is known for energy charging. Maybe there is something to the energy I felt through the two thumbs! But more like merudanda mudra, a mudra focusing on breath.Much more to learn about the mudras!
All in all, I’d give this workshop a thumbs up, literally,
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.