All posts by Erica

Double Day

I actually did a decent sequence this evening in the park. I’ve been doing way more breathing exercises and meditation than “actual poses” lately, so it felt great to stretch. Although it’s always weird to practice in a crowded Brooklyn park, you feel so many eyes on you (even if they’re not). Here’s the part that flowed really nicely:

  • Prayer Pose (standing, w/hands together)
  • Forward Bend w/hands interlaced behind back
  • High Lunge
  • Bound Revolved Side Angle
  • Bound Revolved Half Moon
  • Airplane (low lunge with forearms on ground)
  • Hamstring Stretch (from low lunge, sit hips back on heel and stretch front leg)
  • Half Moon (circling arm forward and leaning onto front leg to come up)
  • Dancer’s Pose
  • Full Dancer’s Pose (both hands over head to grasp toe)
  • Prayer Pose

Then the other side. Tree into Flying Crow was also a nice transition. And I held a Handstand, unsupported, for 2 whole seconds :)

The nice thing about the park is that I can jog to warm up, so I don’t have to do Sun Salutes! I really hate them most of the time. Which means I’m doing them wrong…

Spending 3 hours doing yoga today… who’s underemployed???

Morning Practice

Since I got back from the retreat, I’ve actually kept up a morning practice. I always do pranayama:

  • 3 rounds Breath of Fire (60, 75, 90 reps, and 60, 75, 90 second retentions)
  • 5–10 rounds Alternate Nostril Breathing (inhale 4, hold 16, exhale 8 )

Sometimes I add my favorite sequence ever: the Kundalini Spinal Warmup. It is great for days when you can’t bring yourself to practice vinyasa, or you’re really stiff, or you’re tired and can’t think, or your back hurts, or you have shoulder problems. Sitting in easy pose:

  • Hands on knees: Flex spine forward and back, with Breath of Fire (20 seconds – 2 minutes)
  • Hands on shoulders, elbows out: Rotate spine side to side, with Breath of Fire (20 seconds – 2 minutes)
  • Hands clasped in front of heart (Bear Grip), pulling on each other: Rock alternate elbows up and down, with Deep Breathing (20 seconds – 2 minutes)
  • Hands still clasped in front of heart: Inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. Raise clasped hands above the head. Inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. (3 times)
  • Hands on knees. Inhale and hunch shoulders up to ears; exhale and drop them, with Breath of Fire (20 seconds – 2 minutes)
  • Hands on knees. Tip chin to chest; inhale and roll head around in a circle, lifting from the jaw as it reaches the back. (5 times clockwise, 5 times counterclockwise)
  • Sit on your heels (Rock Pose) and interlace your fingers above your head, index fingers extended to the sky. Close the eyes and focus between the eyebrows. Inhale and think Sat (truth); exhale and think Nam (named), using Breath of Fire. (2 minutes)

I always skip the last one for some reason.

Another great wakeup exercise is Spinal Jump Rope. Sitting in Easy Pose, with the hands on the knees:

  • Focus on the navel. Gently start to spiral the lower back clockwise, making each loop a bit larger than the last. Inhale circle it forward and exhale circle it back. Visualize the navel like a sparkler tracing a circle in space. Continue for a couple minutes, then gently slow back to center and do the other direction.
  • Focus on the heart. Same as before, but making gentle circles with the upper back.
  • Focus on the throat. Same as before, but making gentle circles with the neck.

I did this a few weeks ago and couldn’t stop. My spine got really warmed up and the movement became completely unconscious. I was like a circling Sufi or something. Really weird.

Today I added 5 Sun Salutes; we’ll see if that sticks.

Shooting the Sequence

The Space

Today I was an art director, alignment coach, hair assistant, styling assistant, and fluffer (of a ponytail). Sabina, Brian and I did a photo shoot for our new yoga book at a beautiful studio on Hudson St. Over 100 poses, and we finished right as the parking lot was about to lock up. Funny how that works.

I got home and practiced a little, to stretch out:

  • Talking on the phone pose…
  • 5 Moon Salutes (it was dark out)
  • Scorpion (inspired by Sabina’s 3-in-a-row rockness)
  • Child’s Pose
  • Toe Stretch
  • Diamond
  • Reclined Hero
  • Candle
  • Seated Forward Bend
  • Easy Spinal Twists

Then a candle meditation for about 15 minutes, which made me realize I should post and track my hours tonight.

Retreating Meditations

I feel really centered, and for the first time I have an understanding of what that phrase is trying to express. I just returned from a 10-day yoga retreat, and it’s as if my scattered self has been swept into a much neater pile.

I went to the Sivananda Retreat in the Bahamas. It’s a quick, direct flight from NYC, so I’ve been there 3 times in the last 2 years. The daily schedule is meditation, kirtan, lectures, and yoga practice twice a day, with the middle of the day free for the beach or optional lectures. I love this schedule and have adapted it for my freelance life now that I’m back — albeit with much smaller doses. I’m trying to stick with 30–120 minutes of meditation/pranayama/yoga in the morning, 3–6 hours of work midday, and a couple hours of housework, socializing or reading at night.

The theme of the last weekend was “Deepening Meditation.” I am trying to maintain a regular meditation practice, and there were some helpful ideas in the meditation lectures:

  • It doesn’t matter what you choose to meditate on. The most important thing is that you like the object you’ve chosen; your fascination will help to bring the mind back from its distractions.
  • That said, you will eventually gain deep understanding of this object, so don’t pick something trite.
  • Sivananda once said “I pity the fool who attaches to non-representational ideas of the infinite. Images, whether abstract or personified, are the door through which you will gain understanding.”

Here is a nice series of short meditations from Onkar S. that bring the senses under control (aka pratayahara). We did this series in a small group, and each person had a different favorite. The whole series takes about 20 minutes, but it felt like 5 minutes. These exercises are good for everyone to do occasionally; they will strengthen your silent meditation as well.

  1. Choose a picture or a beautiful object. Focus the eyes near its center. Notice all the ideas, associations, and questions that come up. Notice the feelings and emotions that come up. (In yoga the mind is also considered a sense.)
  2. Light a candle and place it at eye level. Focus the eyes on the flame. When your eyes tire, take short breaks to close the eyes and visualize the flame between the eyebrows.
  3. Light a stick of incense. Close the eyes and focus the nose on the smell.
  4. Close the eyes and repeat the word OM. (This sound vibrates your whole head: throat, soft palette, and lips.) Focus the ears on the vibration between the eyebrows.
  5. Use the thumbs to close the ear flaps. The index fingers gently close the eyes, the middle fingers rest outside the nostrils, the ring fingers and pinkies close the lips. The symbolism, not the position/pressure of the fingers is most important. This is yoni mudra. Focus on the sound inside the right ear (for reasons unknown).

Onkar also spoke briefly on pain while sitting. (He teaches “Yoga for Pain” courses.) He said that the biggest point is to accept the body, and not fight it. Most often, we are angry at the injured part of the body, which only makes it contract further. Each part of the body has something like a mind, like a child, and we have to start a dialog with it. “Hello, foot, how are you doing? Is it ok if I put you like that? Oh, you hurt a little? You need a little massage? I’d hurt too if people were stepping on me all day!” When we fight the body — “I want you to be flexible! Go!” — we start a war. When we accept the body, the pain softens.

Here’s a basic overview of silent meditation:

  • Find a comfortable seated position, with the hips higher than the knees. Even if you can do Lotus, sit on a pillow to help the knees.
  • Gently straighten the spine by lifting the crown of the head. I often practice sitting against a wall, so that I know I am straight and I learn the correct sensation. The abdominal muscles can then relax. The chin relaxes slightly towards the chest.
  • Let the eyelids relax, so that only a slit of light is seen at the bottom. Let the eye muscles relax so the eyes are hanging downward.
  • Focus the attention (not the eye muscles) on the point between your eyebrows, or the right side of your heart; whichever is your natural tendency. You can imagine the breath moving in and out of this spot like a dolphin.
  • Repeat the mantra OM OM OM OM OM and feel the vibration. (This can be done out loud at first, to get the attention of the mind, but the memory of the sound works just as well.)
  • If thoughts enter the mind, let them flow straight out the other ear without attaching or judging or responding to them. Listen to the space between the thoughts instead, and return to your fascination with the forehead or heart.
  • If you notice your mind has wandered off for a while, just estimate how long it was gone and then return to your focus.
  • Let yourself fall into peace. You cannot force meditation, it is a state like sleep. You can only practice the habits that lead to meditation.

It took me 2 years before I could even sit at all. Before that my mind would jump with thoughts of “Why am I doing this? Nothing’s happening! I need to… I’m so bad at this! This is stupid!” until I gave myself a panic attack and jumped up. It was more helpful for me to do yoga poses, or play the drums, at that point in my life. But whatever minutes you spend practicing concentration are slowly adding up, and eventually meditation becomes more attractive. You start to get a physical buzz, and a clear mind, and you start to feel this way in your daily life as well. I went to a 45-minute silent meditation a few months ago, and it relaxed my jaw, which I hadn’t been able to close for 2–3 weeks. So you might persuade yourself to practice by knowing that there will at least be physical benefits, even if you aren’t feeling anything.

Confucius called it the great learning:

  1. Awareness
  2. Stopping
  3. Stillness
  4. Quietness
  5. Vitality
  6. Wisdom
  7. Achievement

This sequence is explained really well in a “How to Meditate” PDF based on many types of meditation.

Traveling Yoga

I went to see my family this weekend. I love to practice on their patio, but it was super hot (in the 90s) and I didn’t fit it in. I went for a long walk with my sister and her dog, then with my mom and her dog, and I did the Kundalini video once, so I kept up the meditative movement if not the Vinyasa. And my hip felt great in class last night, so it seemed to appreciate the rest.

(That brings the total for last week, Monday–Sunday, to 2 classes, 2 DVD sessions, 2 walks… and some horseback riding.)

I find myself confused about what to do amid minor changes in environment. Carpet versus hardwood floors. Lamps versus windows. AC versus none. This is a drawback about spontaneous or flexible practice. If I was an Ashtanga devotee, I’d be doing the same thing every day, regardless of the space. But in my parents’ house it’s laid out for another type of lifestyle, so I have to find a space and schedule amid that. I did manage one 45-minute meditation at my sister’s house, when I woke up at 9 it was quiet and perfect there. I’m a little undisciplined right now, overanalyzing which type of yoga to do, and ending up with none. It’s like an attempt at Butoh dance, which takes the shape of whatever environment it’s in. This idea seems appropriate for yoga — I’ve always thought Vinyasa is so popular in NYC because the speed and the challenge is a perfect match — but I think it’s a little too unformed for me right now.

I will say that Raviana’s AM/PM yoga was perfect when I went to Israel (I did it every day and had no jet lag at all) but I had loaned the DVD to a friend. A short series in the morning, to get your breath and energy moving, and a short series at night, to de-stress and clear the mind, is ideal.

A Simple Sequence

Here is my practice sequence from last week. I’ve been trying to rest a hip strain (the massage therapist and acupuncturist said it needs 4-12 WEEKS of rest), so this gentle sequence from Dr. Amrit Raj was much appreciated. (He was in town for a “Yoga & Ayurveda” workshop at Exhale.)

This is a light sequence, safe for anyone. We did about 10-20 reps each one. The numbers in front are just my mnemonic device. Start off sitting, with legs extended.

10 – Flex toes about 10x (inhale point, exhale flex)
9 – Flex feet about 10x
8 – Circle ankles about 5x each way
7 – Flex knee about 10x each side (clasp foot, bend knee to chest, then straighten leg)
6 – Flex hips about 10x (butterfly position — inhale up, exhale forward)
5 – Round spine and roll forward and back about 10x
4 – On stomach, hold bow pose about 30 seconds
– Rock forward and back about 10x
– Rock side to side about 10x
3 – Clench fingers about 10x (sitting, with arms extended up)
2 – Flex hands about 10x
1 – Circle wrists about 5x each way
0 – Circle shoulders about 5x each way (with arms bent, hands on shoulders)
1 – Turn neck left, right, up, down about 5x
2 – Turn eyes left, right, up, down about 5x

Then 5 minutes of alternate nostril breathing
Then 5 minutes of meditation

I did this every morning last week, and by the middle of the week a chronic charley horse in my foot was completely gone.

Out of Practice

Since I’ve been working full-time for the past 2.5 years, I’m feeling a little out-of-practice. I kept practicing at least 2-3 times a week during that period, but that’s really not enough for a yoga teacher (so I gave up my last class a few months ago). When you’re practicing 5, 6, 7+ times a week, you don’t have to demo a pose in order to feel it and give good instructions. Your muscle memory is so strong that you can look at a student and know what they’re feeling. You can teach a class without any planning, because at each pose you know what would feel right next.

Now, I’m feeling heavy and scatterbrained. My muscles ache in just about every pose. My ego is obsessed with how I compare to others in the room. I sit down but can’t focus; my brain is still practicing multi-tasking.

So this week, my first off, I’ve gone to 2 Vinyasa classes at my local studio, and done a Kundalini DVD. It’s nice to let someone else plan the sequence; I can just focus on 100% effort (and accommodating my hip strain). I just have to conquer the first hurdle — getting there — on my own, and they can lead me through the rest.

Yoga Log

I’ve quit my day job and started this yoga log. I’ve been practicing yoga about 7 years now, and it’s still hard to keep up a regular practice sometimes. Mine has evolved considerably according to my lifestyle, job, diet, and location.

When I first moved to New York it was strongly athletic, very fast paced (Bikram, Ashtanga, and Atmananda) — those were the only classes that really seemed to clear my stress. Kundalini also provided a fun alternative. Later, I wanted to slow down and study the poses in a bit more detail, so I tried Iyengar, Sivananda and more traditional Hatha. Now I’m back to Vinyasa and Kundalini. The current goal is to alternate Vinyasa days (sweat, stretch, strengthen, shine) with Kundalini or Pilates days (core and gland balance) or restorative sessions as desired. There’s a lot to say on each of these styles but I will address each one later.

There are a few somewhat unrelated blogs that have inspired this effort. Half of Me, Dress a Day, Jane in Progress… It’s amazing how a simple story from someone’s daily life can inspire your own. Monkey see, monkey do. So I thought a blog might help me practice more, help me notice more about my own practice, and provide ideas for anyone else out there trying to live a healthier life, or to use yoga for transformation.

Yogi Bhajan (the man who brought Kundalini yoga to the West, and who can be seen on the Yogi Tea boxes) said that women should break a sweat every day. I think it’s true, and for everyone.

This is kind of a cheesy entry but it’s a start.