Hip-hop artists debate the realness of their art. What constitutes real hip hop? There is something in the essence of this debate that I appreciate; a continual questioning of what makes the art authentic, true. So I borrow the framework of this questioning when I think about the proliferation of hatha yoga – asana practice - in the western world today. What is real yoga?
The teachings from the yogic mothers and fathers of the sub-continent - spiritual practitioners, innovators, and cosmic luminaries – illuminates for us the true core of yoga and its path is to practice with the intent of experiencing deep infinite stillness, consciousness. Sharon Gannon captures this perfectly with her statement, “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state.”
The Yoga Sutras, in which Swami Patanjali codified the teachings, science and practice of yoga is estimated to have been written in the second century CE. This Classical era text provides 196 threads of yoga wisdom from practices which historians estimate to have been taking place as early as 3000 BCE. As early as 3000 BCE! In the first few sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind in which the Seer abides in his natural state (Sutra 1.2 yogas citta vrtti nirodhah, Sutra1.3 tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam). Paramahansa Yogananda’s beautiful prose inAutobiography of a Yogi echoes the same, “Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of spirit.”
Yoga, in western mind, is widely synonymous with asana practice; a series of physical postures or poses. Asana or Hatha yoga practice aims to liberate the bodymind through physical transformation, asana and pranayama practice to achieve deep stillness. The Yoga Sutras’ single reference to asana,commonly translates to asana is a stable, firm and comfortable position (Sutra2.46 sthira sukham asanam). The etymological root of asana guides us to the essence of the practice; ‘as’ means ‘to stay’. Yogi masters know, practice and impart this. Iyengar and Ashtanga lineages hold poses for a minimum of five breaths. Hridaya, yin, and restorative yoga hold poses in excess of five minutes on the short side. Sri Dharma Mittra continually reminds his students to remain steady and feel comfortable in an asana. He cautions that an obstacle to progression is not staying in a pose long enough and instructs us to perform the pose according to our own physical condition. (You are likely going beyond your condition if you lose stability, firmness and comfort!)
Stillness of body, stillness of mind. Real yoga.
To me, the diversity of asana practices today is a beautiful unfolding of the yogic way. Each lineage and practice, when infused in the spirit of these ancient sutras, offers the bodymind an opportunity to transform and move toward stillness. And, the diversity makes yoga accessible, it lets us gravitate to what we like, what resonates.
How does your yoga asana practice bring you toward stillness?Bio:Jen Divis is a traveller. An archer by nature, she is happiest when exploring the beauty of the world -- its cultures, peoples, nature and of course, yoga traditions and practices. Her inner swimmer has a healthy respect for the technical and alignment focus of the Iyengar lineage and her whole being loves any practice that works to create inner peace. She is RYT-200 certified from Yoga District studio of Washington DC.
No Classes Easter Sunday
Regular schedule for the rest of the weekend.
Due to weather the YIn Workshop scheduled for 10:30 AM today is canceled. We will reschedule when it warms up.
1. Yin Yoga
This Saturday from 10:30 to noon Shannon is teaching a special Yin Yoga workshop. Like a regular class, but just this one time. Those of you who have been coming to my classes have been getting a tiny taste of Yin Yoga. The simplest description is that you hold poses in as relaxed a way as possible for a looooong time, like 3 to 5 minutes. You get a deep stretch that's just not possible with the shorter times we normally hold poses. I went to my first Yin class over 10 years ago and it permanently changed the way I practice. If you like yoga and have been curious about meditation, Yin yoga is the perfect combo of the two. I put a check in both columns when I practice Yin, meditation and asana. I often break the rules when I practice Yin (shocking, I know) and altenate between the passive Yin style and the more active/engaged Yang style that we typically practice. Yin has been a fundamental part of Shannon's yoga for a long time as well. I practiced with her and some of her friends once. They spent a good deal of the time socializing! Yin can be nice like that. Even though it can feel very "serious" when in a class, it lends itself to a very informal atmosphere, which Shannon is good at setting up.
And don't be mislead. Yin yoga is NOT Gentle Yoga or in any other way "easy". It can be very challenging and thus, very rewarding. Think pigeon for 5 minutes. You start to get bored around minute two, then by minute three you can hardly endure the sensation! It's fun. Give it a try. I'm sure Shannon will also set up a nice play list.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This exercise forms the foundation of a good yoga breathing practice. I've been doing three rounds at the end of every class and will continue to do this for a while. It's super good for us and if we want to get the full benefits from this ancient practice of yoga (and why wouldn't we?!) then incorporating the breathing exercises is important. Here is a nice web-link describing alternate nostril breathing if you're interested in more information.
3. Speaking of meditation, I'll be teaching a meditation class tomorrow night (Wednesday Feb 18th) at Elite Wellness Group at 6:30 PM. The meditation I teach is a mix of practices, that I would claim are fun: standing, sitting, moving, maybe chanting, maybe alternated nostril breathing....This class happens once a month on the 3rd Wednesday.
This is adapted from an earlier blog post on Yin Yoga by Shannon
I'd been practicing yoga for over a decade the first time I sat down in a yin class. An hour and 15 minutes later, I left class and said to my friend Claudia, "I've never felt so good in my life... That was the best yoga class, ever." She agreed. The next week I had the same reaction, and the week after that, and the week after that. Very quickly Yin bacame my primary form of practice and still is. I think it is the perfect practice to balance our very hectic and stress-riddled lives. So if you've been wondering what this Yin-business is all about this workshop is your chance to find out.
The main thing to know is that the practice is goverened by three basic principles:
- Find your edge
- Become still
- Hold for time
Simply put, this means that you go into a pose to the place where you begin to feel resistance and sit with that, moving gradually deeper. You are able to deepen gradually because in Yin you hold the poses, sometimes for as long as 10 minutes. This can be very challenging both mentally and physically, but it creates a deep stretch that leaves you feeling like you are walking on clouds. Most Yin poses are seated poses - nothing crazy, but the more you do the poses the more your body opens to them giving you the flexibility to reach more advanced variations, so it is a practice that works for beginners as well as advanced practitioners. Wherever you are in your personal practice, Yin will meet you there.
If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.
image by June Molgaard of Shannon in the half-lotus vatiation of Tree Pose
Like all standing balance poses tree pose can be challenging. But in some ways it’s easier than others because by extending the lifted knee to the side, you stabilize the pelvis and automatically engage the pelvic floor. When done right, tree pose creates strength in the legs, pelvic floor and abdomen. David Coulter says in Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, “...tree pose is both grounding and centering, and ... it will generate a sense of deep calm and endless patience.”
Brian says: I’d add that it’s also uplifting, at least for me. I find that after a nice stable tree pose I end up feeling...”lighter”......and maybe even taller. My breath feels slower and deeper. I’m calmer.
Tree pose is also an entryway to lots of fun, cool and challenging poses. For instance, a next step could be to put the raised foot in half-lotus, then do a standing forward bend. If you get that far, next squat down on one heel into tip-toe lotus. (My pose in the Rise and Shine Challenge). From there, an arm balance. Come to my class and I’ll show you.
Tree Pose Benefits:
- Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles, and spine
- Stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders
- Improves sense of balance
- Relieves sciatica
Tree Pose Warnings:
Avoid this pose if you have:
- Do the prayer hands variation instead of raising your arms overhead if you have high blood pressure.
Modifications for Tree Pose:
Beginners can try tree pose on the wall to get a sense of balance. Even advanced practitioners can benefit from a wall now and then. It can help to get the alignment spot on.
You can also increase the challenge at any level by closing your eyes.
The photograph in this post is of half-lotus tree pose - one of the fun advanced variations Brian mentioned earlier. For the basic version, press the sole of the foot into the inner thigh and hold the hands in prayer position.
If you're new to OWY Focus Pose of the Month:
This a way to give our students a way of expanding their yogic learning and deepening their understanding of specific asanas. These poses will not necessarily be included in every class, but you may notice the focus pose, support poses and counter poses recurring in different classes with different teachers representing their own personal perspectives. We hope that this will give students a chance to more thoroughly learn poses from a variety of vantage points.
Yoga and Body Image
by Keelie Webb
Body image is how you see yourself and how you feel about it. Take a moment before reading any further and make a list of adjectives to describe your body. Go on, don’t be scared…
Now pick your favorite asana and take a picture of yourself…
Did you do it? Analyze your list and photo with a gentle heart. For far too long, we have been bombarded with mass media messages and images that tell us to look a certain way. The yoga movement has not been able to escape these patterns and it has become very apparent to me that many people who are interested in the benefits of yoga are too scared to show up—this is mostly because they have preconceived notions of what they should look like or what knowledge they should have before attending their first class.
Here’s a glimpse into my journey: I began taking pictures of myself in a variety of asanas and posting them on social media last year. At moments, I felt fear. I felt egocentric. I felt anxiety. This has strengthened my practice and my ability to feel comfortable in my own skin. Analyzing my image and my feelings about the way I look has taught me to appreciate (rather than scrutinize) where I am in my daily practice. From there, it has taught me to appreciate the beauty in others without that nagging, jealous, yearning urge to look like them. It has given me a very brave talking point from which I can begin to encourage others to celebrate their physical and mental body. Before I started practicing yoga I thought I knew and loved myself, but my exploration has truly offered a deeper layer of understanding. I am so proud to be me, to look like me, to feel like me.
My advice for you: SHOW UP! Get on your mat and practice like you mean it, from the inside out. Let go of body image concerns that are swirling about in your head. Notice the next time that you think or say critical words to yourself. Label it as negative self talk, and then let it go. Notice the next time you feel jealous that someone next to you can achieve a certain pose that you have difficulty with. Label it as jealousy, and then let it go. Learn about whatever it is that is holding you back from truly appreciating and honoring your body, and then let it go. An uplifting yoga practice that strengthens you physically and mentally is yours for the taking.
When we asked yoga teacher Keelie Webb if she'd like to write a guest blog post she enthusiastically said yes and suggested Yoga and Body Image. Keelie has a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education, a Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural and International Education. Her thesis focused on Identity Development Among Hispanic American Adolescents.
Keelie teaches the Thursday at 6:00 AM Rise and Shine Yoga Challenge. In her own words: "My inspiration for the Rise & Shine class is to create a community of supportive practitioners who are focused on themselves in a positive way. Rise & Shine does not simply stand for getting up early and practicing physical asanas, it is a cultivation of awareness towards the physical self and the journey of its’ dynamic relationship with the mind."
So check out the Rise and Shine Challenge class this Thursday at 6:00 AM and start your own journey. See you there! -Shannon