Bhujangasana

Punxsutawney Phil, North America’s most famous groundhog, isn’t the only one emerging from winter-time hibernation these days. As the days grow just a bit longer, we, like the crocuses and other early-blooming bulbs, are all eager to emerge from our season of more time spent indoors and come outside to soak up the sun for a few extra minutes each day.

As always, it seems, there’s a perfect asana for that.

full cobraIn bhujangasana, or cobra pose, we imitate all the other flora and fauna who are just beginning to emerge at this time of year, and while we’re at it, we can begin to compensate for all those hours spent sitting indoors this winter, with an energizing pose that can help alleviate depression and back pain and send us into spring and summer more upright.

Jason Crandell, writing for Yoga Journal, offers a step-by-step approach to cobra, which leads practitioners from sphinx to more advanced versions of cobra, providing us with a clear path for our practice of this asana this month. He begins with this important piece of advice:

sphinx“Here’s a way to radically rethink your backbends: Size doesn’t matter. To reap the physical, energetic, and therapeutic effects of backbends, you don’t have to create the deepest arch. Just think of creating a smooth, even arc in your spine. Rather than searching for intensity, search for evenness. You’ll know you’ve found it when your lower, middle, and upper back all have the same degree of sensation.

Cobra Pose and its variations may seem like small movements—they’re sometimes referred to as baby backbends—but they set the foundation for deeper backbends because they teach you how to work your legs, pelvis, and belly. When Cobra is done correctly, your legs provide the power and support for your spine to gracefully extend, and your pelvis and belly act together to decompress and support your lower back, which has a tendency to overarch. As you practice each variation of Cobra, be patient and curious. Observe how your spine feels and savor the sensations in your body.”

For Crandell’s full article, including detailed instructions for sphinx, low-cobra, cobra, and beyond, click here.

low cobraThis month, as Crandell leads us from sphinx to cobra and beyond, what will you discover? We’re eager to hear about it. Come back here throughout the month and share your experience with  cobra — and its influence on the rest of your practice, here in the comments section.

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Focus on Shadow Yoga

catherin halcomb labarberaCatherine Halcomb-LaBarbera, E-RYT 500, a regular member of the SDY teaching team, has been teaching yoga in San Luis Obispo for 17 years and first started teaching Shadow Yoga courses nine years ago. This month, she shares how she came to Shadow Yoga and why she is so committed to teaching that style.

What brought me to Shadow Yoga?
I came to yoga a strong but stiff person. I was first introduced to Iyengar Yoga in the early 90s and even went to study with BKS Iyengar at his institute in Pune, India in 1996. In fact, when I arrived in India at the Iyengar Institute, I was afraid Mr Iyengar might kick me out – since I was still struggling to touch the floor in uttanasana! My studies were good, and of course the foundation I learned from Iyengar Yoga is forever valuable, but the stiffness I encountered day in day out was ever present and unyielding…

shadow yoginiThen, in 1994 I started taking classes with Zhander Remete – the founder of Shadow Yoga. He was teaching Iyengar yoga then, but he also introduced us to warrior forms in a way that had more movement and spiraling actions, and I could feel the way the energy and power was supposed to be cultivated in my body even though I was stiff! Not only this, but in a very short time working this way, my complaints of stiffness were disappearing.  Later, these warrior forms became part of Shadow Yoga. What I learned is that when I used the arms, legs and torso properly, the tensions of the body eased; therefore, flexibility became a more natural state, not something I was struggling to achieve. After more than 10 years of doing yoga, I was seeing change! I think if it weren’t for this, I may have lost heart in the practice. Shadow Yoga shows students how to use their legs and arms properly, how the energy circulates in the body, how to breathe with ease, and how to tame the mind. This is the basis of my personal practice and what I teach.

So what exactly is Shadow Yoga?
Shadow Yoga is Hatha Yoga. What makes Shadow Yoga unique is the focus on the preparation of the students before the practice of asana. In the Shadow Yoga School, there are three fixed forms or sequences that students learn and practice before taking any seated poses (asanas). These fixed forms are called preludes. They vary in level and intensity – beginner, intermediate and more advanced. The first prelude form works mainly on the skeletal system and the breakdown of excess muscular tension. The second prelude form works on coordination and how to circulate energy in the body. The third prelude works on precision and refining the breath. All three prelues build strength, flexibility, and coordination. Together and individually, these preludes establish the correct foundation for each yoga practitioner so that yoga practice becomes fruitful.

shadow prelude drawings 1

Teaching Shadow Yoga allows me to provide my students with concrete skills which they can utilize in their own practice. These fundamental elements are not some “secret formula” that only the teacher can know.  These are skills that anyone who applies him- or herself can cultivate.  I often see remarkable progress in students who have practiced yoga for many years and who have found themselves still struggling.  I have also witnessed an amazing speed of development in “new” students when working in the Shadow Yoga style.  The drop-in style class I teach at SDY gives students a taste of this preparatory work without having learned a particular prelude yet. Join me Monday nights at SDY 5:30-6:45PM for Hatha Yoga – Shadow Style.

For a more detailed description of Shadow Yoga and the founder of Shadow Yoga, Zhander Remete, please visit www.shadowyoga.com. For more information about Catherine Halcomb-LaBarbera please visit www.catherineyoga.com. To see clips of Shadow Yoga in action, check out this video on YouTube.

remete“…Yoga is designed to remove the excess of habitual living in order to free this energy so that it can be directed towards a higher order of living. Every human being is endowed with this potential, but usually its presence is masked by the fluctuations of the conditioned mind. The mind only becomes aware of this power when it stops projecting and attains a steady and concentrated state. The perfection of this state is the goal of yoga, but, if there is to be a chance of success, beginners must be pointed in this direction from the beginning. The key lies in the right preparation.”
~ Zhander Remete, founder of Shadow Yoga.

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My Favorite Holiday

Welcome to February everyone.

With the arrival of this lovely month comes with it my favorite holiday. This holiday is most often overlooked, as it really doesn’t change the routine of a person’s day much at all, unless of course you want it to. I’m talking about Groundhog Day.

Groundhog-Day-Movie-Poster-1328212196For any of you who saw and ultimately loved the 1993 film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, you might know why I like Groundhog Day so much. For those of you new to this film, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Bill Murray, is a frustrated weatherman covering the Groundhog Day celebration and finds himself living the same day over and over again. The reason I like this concept so much, is because as a young child when I saw this film I loved the concept of living the best day I could on Groundhog Day with the possibility that I might have relive that day over and over again. What this usual meant was an excuse to build a fort, eat candy, and play all day with my friends.

At this point in my life, it gives me a free pass to do whatever I want every year on Groundhog Day.  This means no chores, no obligations, just a day of treating myself to what I want without rhyme or reason. This year, I’ll most likely start my day off with a yoga class, go on a bike ride around my small town of Santa Margarita, eat delicious food anywhere I want (maybe Roxanne’s café), buy myself that skirt I’ve been eyeing for about a month now, get a manicure, and end the day with a delectable dinner with my partner. That way, regardless if I don’t wake up the next morning doomed to relive it for eternity, I can still smile a bit of satisfaction that if this spell were cast on me I wouldn’t mind because I had the best day ever.

This Groundhog Day what will you do for yourself, how will you treat yourself to what you want?? Because who knows, you may have to relive it over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Observe, Balance, Assess, Correct

imgres-3As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been re-introducing myself to yoga while adjusting to the healing process of an elbow injury. I have been finding articles around this topic that have helped me tremendously. This particular article is very instructional and supportive to any yoga practice, regardless if you are dealing with an injury.

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(This article is re-posted from Yoga Journal)

My 2013 resolution: Stand up straight. It feels hypocritical to be a yoga teacher and have such poor posture. Happily, as a yoga teacher, I have the tools to fix it. These same steps can work for you if you’d like to use your home practice to address an imbalance, whether it’s physical or emotional.

Observe the patterns. First, I must assess the patterns that have brought me to this point: a structurally exaggerated upper-back curve compounded by functionally using my body in ways that encourage this slump forward: running trails (especially with a water belt around my waist, which causes me to lift my elbows as I lower my head to choose my footing), riding a bike, and, most insidiously, sitting at the computer. This has led to overtightness in the front of my body and overstretch in the back.

Balance strength and flexibility. To find a sweet spot of balanced posture in my upper back, I need to stretch the front of my torso and strengthen the back. The stretching must precede the strengthening, so that any strength work I do isn’t working against tightness in the front. To stretch, I’ll practice supported, passive backbends, like Matsyasana (Fish Pose) on a bolster and on a block. These are quite pleasant. Then, to strengthen, I’ll work active backbends, which aren’t so much fun. The hardest ones for me are the prone ones, and these are the ones to start with. I feel like a baby struggling and grunting through “tummy time” as I work a low Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Salabhasana (Locust Pose) and its variations, and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). But diligent practice yields results. Throughout, I get the chance to observe the shifting play of thought as I enjoy the passive backbends and have to apply myself to the active ones.

Assess and adjust. Periodically, I’ll stop and observe the patterns that affect my posture as they are playing out in my daily life. Am I slouched on the trail? Am I sliding back into my usual computer posture? When I see the patterns recur, I’ll take steps to adjust: lift my sternum, lengthen my neck, engage my upper back, and appreciate the moment of self-awareness.

Following this cycle—observing the patterns at work, acting to move toward balance, and assessing and correcting—allows us to bring the mindfulness yoga teaches into our daily lives. Apply it as you move into 2013.

Also, to mix things up, I wanted to include a video I found on Yoga Journal. To watch the video on Motivation-Activation Flow Practice on Yoga Journal, click here.

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Showing Up

YogaAshramSometimes getting back into yoga after a long recess away can be so challenging. I remember a professor once telling a group of students, the biggest challenge we will face consistently in our lives is showing up. I find that incredibly true. I can have the intention all day, every day of the week to go to yoga because I know it will give me x, y, and z in return, but this all means nothing if I don’t actually show up to class.

Doesn't that look comfy?

Doesn’t that look comfy?

In an effort to show up, I was able to try out a class I had never been to before at Smiling Dog, the Restorative class with Kevin Hauber. What was great about this particular class, is that it allowed me to ease back into yoga in a slow way with complete mind-body awareness. Kevin started the class out, as many yoga instructors do, asking if there are any injuries or areas of the body that he should be aware of prior to starting the class. I informed him of my elbow injury and he gave me some quick advice if it became a problem and what alternative poses I could do to lessen the weight on my wrist and elbow. Class was wonderful. We worked on our hamstrings doing some partner stretches that I had never done before and really enjoyed. The overall feel of class was thoughtful and gradual. It was the perfect dose of yoga I needed to reinvigorate my desire for it in my life. From now on, I’m making a solid attempt to show up.

Minestrone Soup

Every one needs to know how to make a good pot of delicious, warm, restorative soup. This one is a staple for me during the winter months and can be made vegan, gluten free, or not.

minestrone-soup-recipes-hearty-minestrone-de

Ingredients (serves 5-6)

  • ½ lb of spicy Italian sausage (optional)
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 cups of marinara sauce
  • 1 veggie bullion cube
  • 3 cups of vegetables (I used asparagus, cauliflower, and carrots)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • couple grinds of black pepper
  • ½ cup of small dried pasta (I use brown rice fusilli, and add more than ½ cup cause I like a lot of pasta in it)

Brown and crumble sausage in a large soup pot until cooked through. (Also, optional if you don’t want it vegan). Drain if a lot of fat remains in the pot. Add in vegetables, water, marinara sauce, bullion cube, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through. Add in pasta and simmer, uncovered until done.

Note: pasta will soak up some of the liquid as it cools, so may need to add more water or broth while reheating.

 

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Back to the Basics

imgresAs I mentioned in a previous blog post about a month or so ago, I broke my elbow and was unable to practice yoga for some time. Introducing yoga in bits and pieces over the past month has been helpful, but I am ready to throw myself into the practice in a more ritualistic way once again. As you can imagine working with a healed injury is a difficult process, and for me it is important that I allow my body to adjust back to yoga in a supportive and kind manner. Thus, I’ve gone back to the basics.

BAS_249_01_fnl_sizedDownward dog is an amazing pose. This particular basic pose was one of the hardest for me to adjust to as it puts a lot of stress and weight on my wrist and arm. That being said, I wanted to make sure I understand the importance of downward facing and how to ease into it. This is a wonderful sequence I used at home to get me ready for the basics in the studio.

 A brief excerpt from the sequence found on Yoga Journal

“Even if you don’t have time for a full home practice, do Downward Dog every day for 1 to 2 minutes. Use the pose as a daily check-in: Notice where you are limber, tight, or fatigued, and observe what feels different day by day. Take the opportunity to settle your mind and connect to your breath.

Step One: Child’s Pose

Explore the range of movement in your shoulders by stretching your arms in Child’s Pose.

Set It Up

Begin in Child’s Pose with your big toes touching and your knees wide apart; rest your forehead on your mat.

1. Stretch your arms in front of you with your hands shoulder-width apart.
2. Press your hands strongly down into the mat and lift your forearms up.
3. Gently roll the outside of your upper arms down and feel a widening across your upper back, establishing external rotation in your shoulder joints.
4. Press your inner hand and thumbs down, to create internal rotation in your forearms.

Refine: With your fingers spreading, check to make sure the creases of your wrists are parallel to the front edge of your mat. First, press your hands strongly down and lift your forearms up until you can sense your shoulders connecting to your shoulder blades on your back. Next, from your shoulders, rotate the outer arm muscles down, spreading your shoulder blades apart. You may notice that your inner hand becomes less grounded as you do that. In that case, press down more firmly with your thumbs and inner hands.

Finally, firm your forearms toward each other to straighten your elbows, and press your upper arms out to create a dynamic strength in your arms.

Finish: Now press your hands into the mat as if you were trying to push it away from you. You’ll feel a bit more space in your shoulders, and your spine and hips will elongate away from your arms. Take a full breath into this length and then rest.”

As you can see this sequence starts with child’s pose and then eases into downward facing dog with a variation pose.

In going back to the basics on the mat, I have also gone back to some basics in the kitchen. This particular recipe is for roasting garlic. What I love about roasting garlic is that it not only makes your house smell amazing, but it adds such rich delicious flavor to whatever you use it with, and you can use it in pretty much anything.

 

Roasted Garlic Recipe 

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Process

  1. Heat your oven to 400°F (200°C).
  2. Lop off the top 1 cm or so of each head of garlic, being sure to expose every clove.
  3. Place the head of garlic on a square of aluminum foil, in a cupcake tin, or some other small oven-safe container.
  4. Sprinkle with lots of salt and pepper (and a few sprigs of fresh herbs if you have ‘em) and drizzle generously with olive oil, then wrap up the square of aluminum or cover the container you’re using with aluminum foil.
  5. (Alternatively, if you enjoy peeling garlic or have pre-peeled garlic cloves, you can place all the peeled cloves into a container that will fit them snuggly, coat them in olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and proceed as normal. As long as you’re not doing a ton of garlic at a time [e.g., an entire loaf pan’s worth], it should take the same amount of time as a normal head of garlic. If you’re roasting a large amount, stir it occasionally and check for doneness by smashing a clove — it should be as soft as room-temperature butter. You can also do this with the garlic head tops that you cut off in step 2.)
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, then remove or unwrap the foil and bake for an additional 10 or so minutes until the garlic is golden brown and soft all the way through. You can place the heads on a baking sheet if you’d like, to make sure the cloves caramelize on the sides as well as on top.
  7. Remove from oven and the garlic sit until it’s cool enough to handle, then either use a small fork to remove the cloves from their little pockets or just squeeze the heads like a tube of toothpaste to extract the roasted garlic. If there is any excess oil, drain it into an airtight container. You can store it with the garlic, or separately.
  8. Store the garlic in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should last about a week.

 

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Resolve to Evolve for the New Year!

Hello wonderful smiling dog family!!

I found this amazing article on Yoga Journal that I have come back to again and again in thinking about this new year of 2013. I usually try not to get wrapped up in the new years resolution idea, as it usually ends in a guilt-fest about a month down the road when I realize I’ve gotten off course. What I also dislike is the focus it has on looking at the negatives within your life and needing to change them. What is great about this particular article is that I feel it comes from a place of positive reinforcement. What it may do for you is something different, but it is definitely worth a read.

Resolve to Evolve

(From Yoga Journal)

 

v1526A new year’s resolution is a noteworthy concept—start off the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You’re fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You’re unhealthy.) Call Mom and Dad once a week! (You’re ungrateful.) Why not celebrate this new year by trading in your tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead?

POSITIVE POWER A Sanskrit word, sankalpa means “will, purpose, or determination.” To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it’s like a New Year’s resolution with a yogic twist. While a resolution often zeros in on a perceived negative aspect of ourselves (as in, “I want to lose weight, so no more chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese”), a sankalpa explores what’s behind the thought or feeling (“I crave chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese when I’m feeling stressed or sad. I will set an intention to become conscious of this craving and allow my feelings to arise and pass, rather than fill up on fats”).

EFFORT COUNTS A sankalpa also praises the nobility of the effort rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong. “New Year’s resolutions leave me feeling guilty and mad at myself for not keeping them,” says Wendy McClellan, a yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. So, last year, in a conscious effort to reject the resolution rut, she taught a special New Year’s Eve yoga class and encouraged students to look back and let go. Her intention, or sankalpa? To open her heart to new possibilities. “An intention has much more of a global sense than a resolution,” she says. “It helps me be softer with myself.” With a sankalpa, the self-loathing that comes from dwelling on past transgressions can begin to dissolve. In its place is an exercise in effort and surrender—create an intention and open yourself to the universe.

Sankalpa Setting

LOOK INWARD For several days, set aside time to write in a journal and meditate. Mull over your typical resolutions. How do they make you feel? Anxious? Unsettled? Incomplete? Now contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year’s journey more joyful and worthwhile?

REPHRASE IT Create a short sentence or phrase for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of “May life bring me only happiness and joy this year” consider “May I be happy and open to what life brings me.”

BE FIRM BUT FAIR Change doesn’t happen overnight. When you stray from the essence of your sankalpa, don’t berate yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself of your intention. But be firm in your resolve—it’s a good idea to incorporate your sankalpa into yoru daily routine. Use it as a mantra during pranayama or meditation practice; post it on your computer, phone, or mirror; or simply say it to yourself quietly before going to sleep. —C.G.

Catherine Guthrie is a health writer and yoga teacher in Bloomington, Indiana. Find her at catherineguthrie.com.
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On and Off the Mat: Pratyahara

Asana, the physical practice of yoga postures, is what brings us together at Smiling Dog Yoga. We return day after day, week after week, to our mats and to the studio because of a shared set of core values. We share a commitment to unite body, mind, and spirit through our practice. But for Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, asana is only one piece of the yoga puzzle. For Patanjali and other ancient yogis, pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, is another key piece.

116Judith Lasater, author and yoga teacher since 1971, wrote a wonderfully personal piece for Yoga Journal on her experience with pratyahara that expresses well both the challenges and rewards of taking on this traditional yoga practice, noting, “In a world of information overload, the yoga practice of pratyahara offers us a haven of silence.”

Lasater begins her piece with this anecdote:

“During my first few months of yoga classes, the teacher taught us to backbend deeply during the first step of Sun Salutation. Not only were we encouraged to bend backward deeply, we were also taught to drop our heads back as far as we could. Occasionally a student would pass out in the middle of the movement. Luckily, no one ever hurt themselves in their fall to the floor. I was intrigued to discover that other students in the class perceived the fainting not as a physical problem, but as some form of spiritual event.

back-bend-progressionFor many years I’ve suspected that this sudden fainting—this withdrawal from the world—was not a spiritual event at all, but simply a physiological one. People probably fainted because taking the head back can momentarily block the vertebral arteries in the neck, reducing the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain. As I look back, however, I think my fellow students’ confusion mirrors the confusion we all have about the yoga practice of pratyahara—about what it means to withdraw from the senses and the world.”

To follow Lasater as she moves from confusion to clarity, defines what it means to her to withdraw from the senses of the world, and shows us all how to unplug in a whole new way, click here for her full article.

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Sukhasana

“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older / the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated” writes T.S. Eliot in “East Coker”. In our asana practice, we have a few “homes”: balasana (child’s pose) is one, sukhasana (easy cross-legged pose) another. These are poses from which we start, both literally in our yoga classes, and also more figuratively, in our lives. These are positions our bodies formed long before we knew to call them asanas. Indeed, as we grow older, the world becomes stranger and more complicated, but somehow, returning to child’s pose or easy pose, in class and in life, always feels a bit like coming home.

little sukhasanaBeginners in yoga often begin with these poses because they are already part of our body’s muscle memory. We have been here before, our muscles say. There is the familiarity of home (even if our hips insist that it is a very distant familiarity!). Seasoned practitioners return again and again to these poses throughout our classes as a grounding point: a place, a position, a pose, in which to steady ourselves. A point of contrast with the more complicated asanas and patterns that precede or follow that moment of repose and return. But also, we return to these poses as a starting point: a place, a position, a pose, from which to begin again.

Claudia Cummins, writing for Yoga Journal, captures that duality of both grounding and beginning inherent in sukhasana and gives detailed instructions for the pose, worth reading even for those for whom sukhasana has become second nature:

“Ideally, yoga practice cultivates these dual qualities of steadiness and vitality, of both comfort in the here and now and openness to the transformation that lies ahead. The classic seated posture Sukhasana (Easy Pose, alternately referred to as Pose of Happiness) is a great starting place.

Whether or not you choose to start a meditation practice, simply coming into the shape of Sukhasana offers an introduction to states of mind that are quiet and more meditative. When the body feels balanced and the spine is aligned properly, prana (vital energy) flows freely, we breathe more easily, and our mind comes to rest. Sukhasana helps us settle with comfort and acceptance in the present moment while opening up with enthusiasm toward life around us.

Set Yourself Up With Care

supported sukhasanaTo begin, fold a thick blanket or two into a firm and steady support about six inches high. Position yourself on the edge, with your sitting bones on the blanket and your legs outstretched in front of you on the floor. Fold the legs in toward your body, separating the knees, crossing the shins, and slipping each foot beneath the opposite knee.

Relax the feet so their outer edges rest comfortably on the floor and the inner arches settle just below the opposite shin. You’ll know you have the basic leg fold of Sukhasana when you look down and see a triangle—the two shins together form one side, and each thighbone creates another. Don’t confuse this position with that of other classic seated postures in which the ankles are tucked in close to the sitting bones. In Sukhasana, there should be a comfortable gap between the feet and the pelvis.

In the beginning, tight muscles and poor sitting habits may cause you to tuck your lower pelvis and rest your weight on your tailbone. This, in turn, causes the lower back to round, the heart to collapse, and the head to drop forward into a depressed, couch-potato slump. There’s nothing comfortable or uplifting about this position! So let’s build a steady, balanced foundation for the posture.

Create a Fine Throne

sukhasana manInstead of sitting like a sad dog with its tail tucked between its legs, roll the pelvis forward and rest on the sitting bones. To do this, place your hands on the blanket on either side of you, press firmly downward to straighten the arms, and lift the pelvis off the blanket. Gently untuck the base of your tailbone and lower yourself back down. Release your arms to settle down onto your sitting bones. Don’t overarch your back and poke your ribs forward like an enthusiastic gymnast, but do make sure you’re not letting the chest sag and the lower back round.

Notice how as you tilt the pelvis forward, the natural curve in your lower back is emphasized, your back waistband is drawn gently inward and upward, and your belly grows spacious. To be clear about this action of the pelvis, you might like to alternate a few times between the two ways of sitting—the slumped, tired, tailbone—tucked version and the lively, uplifted one. Do you notice how such a simple shift in your body can change your mood and your state of mind?

If your experience is anything like mine, when you tuck your tailbone and collapse your spine, a sense of dullness and inertia washes over you and the world begins to look a little gray. By comparison, when you situate yourself firmly on your base so the spine can assume a more neutral posture, the mind clears, the clouds part, and the sky returns to blue. Sitting this way demands a little more energy and enthusiasm, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Now return to the legs, the foundation of Sukhasana. Shift the weight toward your right side and use your hands to externally rotate the left thigh, turning the inside seam of the top of your leg upward, toward the sky. Opening the thighs in this way will help release reluctant hip muscles and should relieve any strain on the knees. Repeat this action on the second side.

If after you make this adjustment, your knees remain higher than the top rim of your pelvis, come out of the posture, increase the height of your blankets to create a more elevated throne for your hips, and sit in Sukhasana again. If this still doesn’t remedy the problem, sit in a chair instead. In the beginning, finding stability and steadiness while seated is more important than forming the classic shape, and you will feel happier if you’re wise enough to use all the props you need.

Refine and Release Into the Pose

Once you’ve found your firm foundation, invite the lower half of your body from the pelvis downward to release into the ground with a big sigh of relief. Let gravity pull both the pubic bone (at the front of the pelvis) and the tailbone (at the back) gently toward the earth. At the same time, relax the hips, knees, and ankles.

Being able to manage all of these actions may take some time, but with practice, the pose will foster a delightful sense of presence and comfort in the world. And the more profoundly you are able to settle downward, the more you will invite a paradoxical buoyancy to emerge from within. Imagine raindrops falling downward from the brain into the pelvis, and then summer vines spiraling upward through the spine toward the sun. It’s as if the rooting action through the base invites a lightness to rebound up through you, creating spaciousness and joy in the upper half of the body.

Continue to feel a sense of fullness in your heart as you broaden across the top of the chest. Spread the collarbones as if you were sporting a medallion on your breastbone that you wanted to shine brightly toward those around you. At the same time, let the upper arm bones be heavy to help release the shoulders downward.

Rest your hands comfortably on the thighs and relax your fingers. Keep the elbows in line with the shoulders so the upper arm bones remain perpendicular to the floor. If you’re looking to feel a little more earthiness in the pose, turn your palms to face downward. If you’re seeking brightness, try turning the palms upward instead.

headless sukhasanaIf your spine is in healthy alignment, with your weight balanced on the front edge of your sitting bones and your breastbone rising up, it is likely that your head will be positioned directly over the shoulders instead of slipping lazily forward. If this isn’t the case for you, reassess the situation and adjust your position.

Relax the shoulders toward the hips and imagine a magnet in the crown of your head being pulled upward toward a magnet in the sky. As you do this, the back of the neck will lengthen and the head will be pulled in line with the spine. Keep the head in a neutral position as you look forward with quiet and receptive eyes. Rest here for several breaths, enjoying the opportunity to be in the pose with a quiet body and easy heart.”

To read the rest of Cummins’ article, click here.

In the month ahead, we invite you to come home. Come home to sukhasana. Greet it with all the familiarity of home, and also all the promise of a new start. And then come back here, and share your experience of a daily focus on sukhasana. Does it help you find comfort in the present, enthusiasm for what lies ahead? Stability or vitality? Today one and yesterday another? Or, as Cummins and Eliot promise, the possibility of both at once? We’re eager to hear from you.

sukhasana

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Are you Sweet, Strong, or Spicy? Part Three: Spicy

imgres-4As we approach the new year, I can’t help but look back on this incredible year and think of all the amazing things I have been introduced to. It was in 2012 that I discovered Smiling Dog Yoga studio and with it a variety of yoga classes I had never heard of before. Granted I had taken yoga in different forms throughout my schooling, but this was one of the first experiences I had feeling connected with a studio and the community that surrounds it. Let’s just say I was officially hooked. Now as we bring 2012 to a close, I can’t help but think of all those priceless parts of my routine that I want to take with me into the new year. Namely, my one or two days of the week regime where I start with a hatha class in the morning and end with a yin class in the evening, or trying out a new instructor once a month to mix up the bag of yoga style. What are those precious parts of your yoga routine you want to continue with into the new year? Is there something that itches at you to try with 2013?

shilpa_shetty_yoga_pics111Something that might tickle your fancy to start in the new year is spicy vinyasa. Now, as many people have been wondering with this series, what exactly is spicy vinyasa. What I have come to identify it as a yoga routine that really heats up your body and brings that sassiness out in you. As every class is different and unique in its own way, I believe it comes with staying present and moving with the heat that builds naturally in our bodies. When I was in a vinyasa class with Roxanna Banta, I felt my core insides slowly begin to warm up and decided to run with that feeling of heat and almost turn yoga into a spicy dance. By the end of the class I was fired up and embodied that through the night. What kind of spicy classes have you had?

To get the blood a boiling I paired this post with a spicy yogi recipe. Enjoy getting warmed up and have a wonderful new year! See you in 2013!

Curry Coconut Tofu Soup

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CURRY COCONUT TOFU SOUP
makes 4 servings, 9oz or so each
inspired by Cooking Light’s Fiery Tofu and Coconut Curry Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 60g yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 60g shredded kale, divided
  • 1 14oz can light coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 180g cauliflower florets
  • 1-2 tablespoons of thinly sliced pealed ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala, divided
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • a dash of salt
  • 9 ounces extra firm sprouted tofu, cubed
  • scallions, sliced for garnishing
  • a dab of chili garlic sauce

Soup, there it is:

In a big pot or a big wok (as I have lamented 1000 times already, I have exactly two pots in my arsenal of shitty kitchen equipment meaning everything I make can be made in a big wok), heat up your coconut oil. Toss in the onions with a ¼ teaspoon of garam masala and sauté a bit until the onions soften. Add in the garlic and grated ginger and cook for about 30 more seconds or until the garlic is fragrant but not at all burnt in the slightest nope never.

Toss in about half of the kale and continue to stir fry just until it wilts a bit. Add in the cauliflower, ginger slices, vegetable stock, and coconut milk. Season with the remaining garam masala, curry powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Salt and adjust the spices to taste.

Bring everything to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer for 25 minute or so.

Add in the tofu and the remaining half of kale (two slightly different textures of kale in one soup? I’m for it!) and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serve with some sliced scallions and hot chili garlic oil if you’re into living dangerously. And maybe some peanuts, why not. Unless you are alergic to nuts. That would definitely be a good example of why not.

For more on this recipe, check out this link.

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