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Helm of the Heart

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Category Archives: foundations

Yo. It’s Aimee.

I’m not even a teacher, but I still feel like I totally just went on Spring Break of my own. In our time apart, a lot has happened. Most notably, my boyfriend and I got a puppy (yay!) and I did my first headstand (triple yay!). Which, I knoooow, might seem strange for someone who practices asana as regularly as I practice. (btw, “asana” is Sanskrit for “posture” and corresponds to the physical yoga poses we practice) (I’m making that distinction now to plant a seed of inquiry in your heads… “Why didn’t she just say yoga? Is she being pretentious or informative? I NEED TO KNOW OR ELSE I WON’T KNOW IF I CAN TRUST HER TEACHING!!!”) (I’ll fill in the blanks soon, I promise)  And, to be fair, it wasn’t a headstand so much as a supported headstand, but still. Big stuff.

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I realize perhaps some of you may also be thinking that Salamba Sirsasana is one of the more supported inversions, and that a lot of beginner yogis find it MORE comfortable than others to pursue on the outset of their inversion practice.  So. It would stand to reason if I can stand on my hands in a handstand or gracefully glide into a forearm stand without any trouble, why can’t I rest on the crown of my head with a wall behind me??

The answer is I dunno (full disclosure: the answer with me is often “I dunno”).  There’s a bunch of reasons why I’ve been reticent, I think. For one thing, I have a history of back problems that goes back (ZING) to an injury that happened in high school. A grave, grave circumstance which explains a lot about my confidence in my physical capabilities.

 

 

 

 

… Oh, you wanna know details? Uh… well… here’s the thing… I was totally doing something super athletic and badass, guys, I swear…

 

Well, I definitely was NOT rehearsing choreography for a community youth theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… And CERTAINLY NOT attempting a CARTWHEEL into my DANCE PARTNER’s arms…

 

 

………….

 

Okay, so yeah. I royally effed up my back doing a stupid cartwheel. And I can’t even consider it a dance injury, because anyone who’s met me will agree I’m nooooo dancer. I’m not even kind of graceful… to imagine me potebure-ing my way across a room with mirrors is actually hysterical to me and my loved ones. My gawkwardness transcends art. So, all through high school and college, I was really scared to do anything that would compromise my neck or back, which was a bummer because I really am athletic at my core. I just sort of resigned myself to be that weird drama girl who sometimes couldn’t turn to the right or left without moving her ENTIRE TORSO in the desired direction. No. Big. Deal.

But guys. Yoga changed this for me. And not in the I-woke-up-one-day-and-finally-had-the-courage-to-follow-my-dreams kind of way (if that even exists). It was more of a I-finally-accepted-that-I-couldn’t-do-a-headstand-before-but-maybe-tomorrow-I-will-be-able-to-and-if-not-tomorrow-maybe-the-next-day sort of sitch. Like, I just sort of accepted that I might not be able to do something. And that was weird. Especially for a perfectionist like moi.

And you know what? The minute I took all the pressure off the pose and just accepted that it was just as possible as impossible and as impossible as possible and as GAAAAAHHHH MY BRAIN HURTS…

Sitting on my knees, I calmly interlaced my palms about 8 inches away from the wall and came into a downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana for you Sanskrit buffs). I then gently dropped my forearms shoulder-width distance apart from one another (creating a two-sided triangle of sorts with my arms).  Next, I very very veeeerrry gently set my head on my mat, cradling the back of my head in the space created by my interlaced fingers, realizing the caution I was exhibiting is not unlike the caution one might exhibit when cradling an eight week old puppy’s head in his/her palms, which made me smile as I thought of trying to flip my 8-week old puppy at home on his head… and the subsequent biting and barking I’d incur (but he’d look SO CUTE!).

And then I fucking sat there for a bit.

“Well, what the fuck now, oh brave one?” – Me, to Me. c. 2012

And then, just like it was my fucking JOB, I made that headstand my little bitch. I methodically, with purpose, bent my knees slightly, started walking my feet in toward my face, keeping my forearms firmly rooted in the mat. I stepped my feet closer and closer to my face as I inhaled and exhaled. On a very specific inhale of my choosing, I proceeded to hop my right leg up, ever-so-lightly into the air. First hop: no dice. Second hop: BOOM. The force from my right leg lifting up had enough oomph to allow my left leg to follow suit and, before I knew it, my legs were up against the wall and I was upside down as fuck.

PANIC set in as I realized I hadn’t ever gotten this far… where do I go next?? But being the good little yogi student/teacher I am, I knew the fundamentals of proper alignment for inversions are as follows:

Keep your shoulders above your wrists and elbow creases, and your hips above your shoulders. Your navel should feel like the central point through which a long line of energy travels from your ankles down to your head, thus creating a center of gravity, or a folcrum (heyyy, physics!) at your navel.

So I adjusted my weight, being very very verrrry careful not to put any unwanted pressure on my neck and spine… starting first with my forearms, making sure they were parallel with each other and directly below my shoulders. Then, feeling whether my hips were directly above my shoulders (they were!), I eventually extended my legs up long, so that my ankles were directly above my hips. I spread my collarbone wide and opened my shoulders by rolling them back and down, opening my heart space. Lastly, I pointed my toes to feel pretty and long and dancer-like (making sure to revel in it for a few breaths) (GAWKWARD). I then carefully came out of the pose setting one leg down on my mat at a time, light as a feather.

Boom. No spinal injury, no neck pain. If anything, I relieved a little pressure.

Do I suggest you do this at home? Perhaps after a couple of glasses of pinot greege while Real Housewives of Who Gives a Shit plays in the background? Absolutely not. You should try this asana in the comfort and safety of a yoga class with a licensed teacher present to guide you through it.

But I do want to encourage you to not let go of possibility. I want to encourage you to believe in possibility, especially of the non-immediate sort. It all goes back to that Faith crap I was droning on and on about it my last post… con fidence = with faith. Being okay with not getting something the first couple of times, or first couple hundred times. Having the confidence that it will happen eventually, whether “it” is a headstand or a handstand or a dream career or weight loss goal or personality alteration or emotional expression or a developed ability to turn the channel away from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding instead of watching two full hours in a row of it. With commercials. Whatever “it” is:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”  –Henry David Thoreau

Let go of attachments and explore possibility; life will become easier, I promise. That’s exactly what being upside-down is all about~ making the seemingly impossible possible. Incidentally, so is life.

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Yin yoga is delicious

We definitely emphasize Hatha yoga in our western culture, which is very active and physical. I know that I thoroughly enjoy a vigorous Vinyasa Flow or heated Power Flow class and the refreshed feeling that washes over me after I twist out toxins from my body and leave with a lovely yoga glow.

This type of yoga class is “yang” yoga. Yang is characterized as hot, light, masculine, fiery, extroverted, rapid, and associated with the sun.

On the other side, yin is characterized as cool, dark, feminine, passive, introverted, slow and associated with the moon.

Yin and yang are not opposing forces. Yang has a little yin, and yin a little yang.They compose a dynamic system that works together in each of us, although we tend to emphasize yang side in our society. We constantly strive and are always pressing outward for more. I would describe myself as being much more yang than yin, but I have found that encouraging a little more yin in my life has done WONDERS for me.

Let’s take yin yoga as an example. Many people confuse this with restorative yoga, and although it can certainly make you feel restored, it is challenging on a whole different level than our rapid, energized yang classes.

In yin yoga, you are typically on the floor or seated for the entire class. Instead of “holding” postures, you sink into them gradually, releasing the fascia and connective tissues. The fascia is generally overlooked but has an incredibly important role in our muscle health. They bind our muscles together and ensure proper alignment in our blood vessels and nerves. They transmit forces applied to the muscles evenly (like the pressure on your knees when you run) and lubricate the muscles so that they can stretch and move with ease.

Releasing tension in the fascia will allow your muscles to change shape and lengthen. You maintain postures in yin yoga for a longer period (usually around 3-10 minutes) so you really get to release the fascia and not just the superficial (yang) muscles groups. These postures promote muscle elasticity and will help to prevent injuries, especially for runners.

During my first yin class, it became quickly apparent how challenging it is to hold poses for such lengths of time. Trying to clear my mind and actually meditate is another story entirely. But I walk out of yin classes feeling like I just got a massage.

I do my best to practice yoga everyday. I typically do vigorous yang classes five days out of the week and yin classes twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays to give my body a rest from all the vinyasas. Also, I have staff meetings on Tuesdays and I typically need to find my center after those.

If I have a headache, cramps or any other mild discomforts, I now know that practicing 15-20 minutes of yin yoga will relieve my pain far more effectively than ibuprofen.

This page has a ton of yin yoga resources, lists of yin asanas and videos to walk you through them.

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys2_2.0_yinyoga_asanas.php

If you are going to practice at home, make an event of it. Light some scented candles or incense and dim the lights. Play some soft music.

Happy Yoga-ing 🙂

Tips for emerging yogis

Someone asked me about some inexpensive/time efficient ways to start practicing yoga. This post began as an incredibly long comment, but I figured there are more people interested in ways to start practicing yoga without spending a ton of money.

Tara Stiles has a ton of free videos on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/TaraStilesYoga

I really like her because she is very good at giving simple instructions and she has fun little sequences like “Morning Waking Up Yoga” and “Couch Yoga”. She is great for beginners because she doesn’t use Sanskrit names, just simple, easy to understand English. I know she has DVDs that you can buy, but there is a wealth of them for free online 🙂

These videos are a great place to begin, but I highly recommend that you also take a class every once in a while. It is helpful to have a teacher to adjust your alignment, provide modifications, and to discover new poses. Also, I really love the energy of a class full of people and find that I tend to work a little harder/longer.

Furthermore, I find that I am easily distracted at home. One of my favorite things about yoga is having time to myself to spend in my mind and body. I know those moments are especially rare for many people, especially mothers with little ones! Perhaps find a yoga buddy and make a date out of it, that way you can carve out some time to not only spend on yourself, but to see a friend.

As for general tips for beginners, it is important to have a lot of compassion for your body. If you are in a class, don’t feel weird about taking a rest in child’s pose (see the above picture). I still do this ALL the time. Even after continual practice, I still have off days, but yoga is definitely not a competitive sport.

Essentially, the most important part of yoga is the breathing. It amazes me what a difference it makes, being conscious of your breath for a few moments. This is a great resource for breathing techniques:

http://yogayak.com/all-videos/the-full-yogic-breath-with-retention/

“Yogayak” has a ton of other free yoga resources, too.

I hope this is helpful and please do not hesitate to comment or ask questions!

Why dudes should do yoga.

Yoga is beneficial for everyone. I want to highlight a few reasons why guys should give yoga a whirl. I see waaaay more ladies than men in yoga classes, and I think this is because men feel uncomfortable stepping outside of the comfort of gym culture.

Personally, I’m not into that beefcake look where you can lift a ridiculous amount of weight but can’t touch opposite shoulders. Not only do I not find it attractive, but I believe that part of fitness is health and getting your body to do more for you with ease.

1. Yoga is a full-body workout.

Yoga opens and stretches virtually all parts of your body. A good class will build gradually, increasing in intensity, stretching and strengthening every part of your body. There are muscles I never knew I had before practicing yoga. So none of this over worked arms with chicken legs. BALANCE. And aesthetically speaking, balance and symmetry is desirable.

2. The girls/boys

Okay so if you are not looking for a girlfriend or boyfriend, it’s still gravy. You will meet some lovely friends in the yoga community. But if you are looking for a special lady or fellow and you are interested in finding a person who has some depth and respects their body, this is a good place to look. Yoga studios are great places to look for a fit and happy people in general, (friend or otherwise) rather than a bar or somewhere where you dumb down your senses and there’s a lot of posturing and bullshit. Depends on what you are looking for!

3. Fun date

This is a potentially inexpensive (relatively speaking) date that would be fun and challenging. Also, a great way to share an experience that you can talk about afterwards over a smoothie or coffee. Easy ice-breaker! Maybe pick a gentle class to start if you sweat a lot 😛

4. A great compliment to your routine

If you life weights, run, play sports, WHATEVER, this is a good companion. Yoga will increase your flexibility and prevent injuries. I’ve noticed that since I started practicing yoga, I heal faster and I don’t tweak my muscles or joints hardly ever. So add a class or two a week.

If you are nervous about trying yoga for the first time, watch some youtube videos and practice at home before going to a class so that you have an idea about what to expect. Any good yoga class will honor you wherever you are on your own unique path, so don’t be shy. Just tell the teacher that you are new to yoga before the class, and make them aware of any injuries you have, old or new. Most importantly, have fun!