It's been balmy if not tropical here in Edmonton this week. And all I think about is the crystal blue waters of the ocean rather than the brown ripples of the North Saskatchewan river!
It seemed fitting in this week's practice that I dabble in dolphin (Makarasana) pose, which makes me think of visits to southern climates or tours on a cruise. One of the coolest things I've ever seen is a large pod (yes, this is what a group is called) of dolphins swimming in the waves next to the cruise ship I was on. Such lovely animals that glide effortlessly in the water.
Now, my dolphin pose may have not been effortless or lovely this week BUT I gave it a try!
Initially, I had thought dolphin pose was a variation of downward facing dog. However, with further exploration I soon realized it is actually a precursor to a inversions such as a headstand. The amount of force applied to the upper body, particularly the upper back musculature, is tremendous (try holding the pose for a while!) So, when you don't feel like trying an inversion, dolphin pose might be just the next best thing.
According to Yoga Journal, the benefits of dolphin pose are:
Furthermore, in Timothy McCall's book, Yoga as Medicine, it is recommends to do dolphin pose when one has carpal tunnel syndrome as there is less pressure on the wrist and the weight of the body can be held up by the forearms.
I have rarely done this pose in practice. But from what I've found, it has great value. It might be my answer to inversions for now. As you may have noticed, I've never written about them yet!
I hope dolphin pose will help me move into inversions effortlessly,
Do you ever feel like life is rocking you out of control one minute than its smooth sailing on peaceful waters the next?
In this week's practice, one pose stood out from the rest, which represented this exact feeling - bow pose.
Bow pose ( Dhanurasana) is a prone back bending pose. I have been doing this pose for years and can remember the "early days" of this pose as challenging. As with downward facing dog, I had an early distaste for this pose...maybe just because it was hard!
I was quite excited to realize bow pose was part of the sequence of practice in Rodney Yee's Power Up Yoga DVD. The practice was what I would say on the faster side for me but when I realized we were heading into bow pose, I thought things must be slowing down for a moment.
I came tummy down onto my mat ready for a great back extension hold. Clasping my ankles, I lifted my chest and thighs off the mat and began to steady myself into the strength and calm of the pose. I had just balanced myself via my ribs and front of my pelvis (read: "smooth sailing") when he cued to role to the right.
I'm going to role in bow pose. Really?
Okay - I let go of my balance and tipped to my right (I may note, still holding my ankles!) Whoa - what a sensation of imbalance and some strain (read: "rocking out of control"). I was pleasantly surprised that I "fell" into a wonderful, releasing chest stretch for the right pectoral muscle.
When cued to roll to the left, I was eager to move and get the equally beneficial stretch for the left pectoral.
Once I rolled back into upright bow pose, I thought to myself, that just wasn't that bad.
Moving past status quo, in anything, can actually be good and even beneficial.
Oh yoga, you teach me so many lessons beyond the physical.
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?
During this week's practice I worked through multiple sun salutations. And it occurred to me that I'm not sure if I am doing downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) correctly.
Now, this has been an ongoing question in my mind because whenever I transition into downward facing dog from either the plank or hand and knees position, I always feel out of position.
Typically, I move my feet forward to feel like its the right position. In the last six months or so, I've also tried keeping my feet planted in place and moving my hands back instead.
How far apart should one's feet and hands be during downward facing dog?
Interestingly, Yoga Journal talks about different types of "dogs" - long versus short. Depending on the flexibility in the shoulders, mid back, hamstring and calves (the main areas being taxed during downward facing dog), it will depend what type of downward facing dog you will do. Makes total sense - you are as good as your weakest or in this case tight or flexible link!
It is a battle of body parts! Based on my assessment, two parts of my body fit well with long dog whereas other parts of my body align with short dog.
Flexible shoulders = short dog
Flexible mid-back = short dog
Flexible hamstring = long dog
Tight calves = long dog
I guess this is a bit of a disclaimer, but Yoga Journal suggest to "rather than be concerned with a rigidly defined and "proper" Downward-Facing Dog, explore all its variations...emphasizing different parts of the body in any given sequence." Hmmmm...
I dug deeper and found a few more handy resources on downward facing dog. One focusing on the lower body, one focusing on the upper body and one just focusing on technique and variations. All good reads!
But I still haven't answered my original question. Is it because everyBody is different?
Do you know the answer?
Maybe I'll find the answer in a future post,
With my goal to practice the yoga poses I journaled about over ten years ago and reflect on how they feel today, I headed into three more poses this week. To be honest, I struggle with a home practice (read: it's not exciting by myself or when it's not lead by anyone else, AND setting time aside to go through poses correctly and slowly is tough to do). I really still appreciate being taught yoga in some format instead of just doing it on my own.
But I did practice three more poses on my own (I added corpse pose to the end as well). They were the following:
Hero Pose (Virasana)
With this pose, I had to page through my various books to remind myself what this pose is all about. Based on the book Yoga for 50+ by Robert Rosen, it is a sitting pose with the legs parallel to the thighs. It is likely that you've seen a child sitting in this exact position. And you might recall thinking, Ohmygoodness - how is he/she sitting like that!?!
I completed the pose for five breaths (approximately the 30 seconds recommendation). But in reviewing what I wrote 11 years ago, it just didn't seem to fit. Again back to the books (the class manual to be exact) and there in the schematics is the hero pose but it looks more like a warrior I pose. What?!? Well, needless to say, I just did both versions. Here's what I wrote many years back:
"At the start of the movement, I allowed myself to become focused by doing five diaphragmatic breaths. During the pose, I began to warm up and became hot. I realized that I was warming up my body after all it had been resting during the night. My muscles did not seem to be tight and the stretching of the hamstrings was not difficult."
I was very fortunate to travel to Mexico this past week and enjoy the sun, beach, and ocean. The resort we stayed at offered outdoor yoga classes. I knew I had to participate in at least one class. By the end of the week, I had attended three!
Practicing outdoors is a new experience for me. I would highly recommend it, not now in the dead of a Canadian winter, but when the weather and/or location permits. It is a feast for the senses and it is a whole other type of practice.
My five senses were on high alert through the downward facing dogs, tree poses and corpse pose. The first sense that was heightened was the sense of touch. The coolness of the wet grass we practiced on to the pressure of sand pressing back on my fingers on the beach, the sense of touch kept me engaged with my practice. The sense of sound resonated with the rustling of the palm trees and the crashing of the waves. And the smell and taste of the salty Sea of Cortez was moving in and out with every breath.
It was in practicing outdoors that I was encouraged to keep my eyes open. In my regular practice I typically have my eyes closed. Well, this certainly was not the case. Sunsets of pink, orange and red allow for such an inspired practice. Watching the waves crash into rocks on the beach bring power and strength to a warrior II (virabhadrasana II) pose. The teacher even said, "draw energy from the moving water". How amazing is that!!!
It is in these moments of yoga that really invigorate my soul and gratitude to the world around me. As I become a teacher, it is my hope to bring this sort of energy and experience to the mat even when not on the coast of Mexico.
To many more outdoor yoga classes,
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.