Monthly Archives: September 2007

“the reason of hand and leg bending”

For one,

the reason of hand and leg bending is muscles.

Nerve impulses sent to muscles

to contract and release,

ions releasing and traversing

allowing Z plates to rachet together,

release one another, to come together again.

But why the impulse? why the message?

Isn’t this always the question?

Perhaps it was a flower, or a baby,

perhaps a shock leading to collapse in tears,

legs bending, hand to face, shoulders sob.

or maybe it was longing, deep and elemental,

the one meditation and observation

hasn’t yet uprooted,

the one underlying some of the stickier joy in life.

Or maybe it was the jitterbug.

for dancing, hands and legs bend.

Or maybe it was for the pure, clear joy

of hand and leg bending just so they can release,

And bend again.

I write a lot about the psoas because it’s been such an important structure for me to pay attention to in my own practice. I’ve struggled with hip pain for more than 20 years and trace it back to structural abnormalities (I was born bow-legged and pigeon toed and had surgery, casts and braces to correct it 40 years ago) as well as poor training as a young runner and weight lifter (teen age girls probably shouldn’t put 400 pounds on barbells for a lift, nor is it wise to run middle distance and marathon in the off season, just in case¬† you wondered about such things ūüôā

Yoga has revolutionized my¬†embodiment in so many ways, and one is to allow me to study how I use my illiopsoas. The psoas gets stretched in any backward bending, some more than others, and it gets worked whenever we bring knees toward chest. Tightness or injury in this muscle can mimic lots of other injuries and even create bizarre symptoms. True injury is debilitating for a time… I’ve learned you even use this muscle to get out of bed!

One of the most subtle stretches for the psoas is Warrior I РVirabhadrasana I. From mountain, step one foot back 2 to 3 feet. Your hips remain forward, so it helps to inner spiral the femurs and push into the feet to bring the hip of the back leg forward, and the hip of the front leg back. The femur of the back leg is naturally drawing the pelvis under and forward; resist this by engaging the abdominals to move the rib cage back in space and over the pelvis. Tuck your tailbone. 

Breathing in, raise the arms overhead by the ears or in “I give up” if your shoulders are tight.

Breathing out, bend your forward knee. Check in with the hips: if you had headlights on the front of each pelvic crest, would they both be pointing forward? Press into the feet, engage the inner & outer hip muscles, engage mula bandha and your core to find alignment, then relax, smile and shine!

Because of the psoas’ pull on the pelvis and low back, this is an outstanding preventative and sometimes help for low back pain. Try a backbend (bow, bridge or cobra perhaps?) before and one after and see if you can tell the difference in your openness and ability to radiate.¬† And radiate love, truth and beauty!

… this was a search that led to this blog. So I think that if someone is in need enough to type this in, they deserve an answer: forward folds in general will help move bowels and specifically child’s pose (balasana), wind relieving pose (on your back, pull your knees into your armpits) and happy baby pose. Hope this helps!

Sometimes people have difficulty processing that I am both a Paramedic and a Yoga Teacher. To me, it’s the most natural thing in the world.¬†The yoga actually allows me to be who I need to be on duty, and like anyone else, my life gives heft to my yoga practice.

In an emergency, you really don’t want the person who is wrapped up in it all with you, who is afraid of offending the power structure, who feels your pain. You want someone who knows what to do, when to do it, and remembers their authority comes with power and is calm enough to use it wisely¬†while treating¬†you with dignity.

What is an emergency anyway? I remember when I rented a lovely little house down in the valley from a wonderful woman who took care of the place herself and the sewer backed up. Not just backed up – two inches of sewer water on¬†the lovely brick floor. When she came over to see what was to be done and I wasn’t screeching like a barn owl, she thanked me for remaining so calm, because so many people would react differently to an emergency. Emergency? I asked… no, this isn’t an emergency. It’s a problem, but the steps for remedy are clear – not pleasant, but clear.

Does this even apply to life and death situations, or even life and limb? Of course. Even more so.¬†If another medic on scene is about to screw up a code or give the wrong medication, give or withhold the correct amount of electricity, abdication of my knowledge and authority, of a certain amount of reason and calm will never make me more of a Paramedic. Responsibility comes with power; courage is something we cultivate and choose. Getting wrapped up in the emergency designation is always, from what I’ve observed, a way to cope with lack of knowledge or self-possession. It’s an ego trip.

I guess the thing is that we all have situations to handle. Sure, some have weightier consequences, are more or less pleasant. But what yoga helps me remember is that “emergency” is contextual. If you have a plan and the power to change a situation, then if you have the courage to execute, it’s never your emergency.

Sometimes moving forward is a matter of just letting go. Ishvara Pranidanana – trust, surrender. Sometimes it seems we have no choice – the sweep of time, the press of activity can be like an airport walking ramp leaving us lusting for a moment to stop and savor, reflect and process.

But other times, stepping forward takes conscious planning and determination, a bit of knowledge and perhaps even some practice and preparation РTapas and Svadyaya.  This is the kind of moment for which the flow from Downward Dog to the lunge in Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) can prepare us.

It might seem like leg strength is called for here, but really what we call on for the graceful sweep of stability is core strength – all the deep structures supporting the back and the connection between the torso and hips/legs.

One of the most important muscles in bringing the thigh into the core is the illio-psoas, which connects the lower spine, the pelvis and the femur by being connected to each. The functioning of this deep, long muscle structure is supported by the abdominal muscles Рthe rectus in the front middle, the obliques forming Vs on the torso, and the transverse encircling the lower abdomen Рas well as the structures of the pelvic floor (these are accessed in mula bandha) and the erector spinae along the spinal column itself.

One of¬†the small experiments that helps me and my students learn about this web of connectedness in the core of the body is “puppy dog”. Start in child’s pose,¬†a very active version with the wrists and elbows lifted,¬†pushing the hips back onto the¬†heels with the toes turned under. Paying attention to pressing into the thumb and first finger of¬†each hand, lift the knees two inches off the floor, pushing the hips back and a little up.

Notice which muscles you use at first: most folks feel this in the legs or arms. Connect to the breath and move your attention into your abdomen pulling it toward your back and pulling the pelvic floor in, feeling the dog tilt (slightly forward) in your pelvis even as you pull your tailbone in & forward.

A word of reminder:¬†take frequent¬†breaks, this is a new way of moving so it can wear you out. You want to approach each change with an air of awareness and study, as if trying to catch all the subtlety in a new and complex flavor.¬†As always, practice consciously and kindly – as I’ve said on my other blog… force cancels yoga and pushing doesn’t burn up samskara – it drives it deeper.

Repeat puppy dog several times bringing your attention more and more to your belly and pelvic floor. Try to feel as if you are lifting your entire torso up and backward with your core muscles.

Another exploration I’ve found helpful is to reach one leg at a time up & back for a one legged Down Dog. This stretches the psoas, accesses the consciousness of the opposing muscles, and in conjunction with the consciousness gained in puppy dog can lead to smoother, more conscious and aware sweep-throughs of the leg in the transition to¬† lunge.

Then you can step forward with the other foot and practice that sweet surrender in a luscious forward bend before rising up.

Practice mindfully, aware of the metaphor pervading your intention and motion.  What are some ways you could use more strength, intention and planning in moving forward in your life? Where do you need to nourish strength quietly? Where can you focus on your core and create more beauty and awareness for yourself and those around you?

Take the small steps, the moments of minute study and feel the microcosmic changes that build force to transform your life!


Search Views
Lovely dogs, get on your knees, bow your 1

I think my favorite is the lovely dogs as I’m surrounded by them. I’ve looked on the internet for a camel pose quote, to no avail…. but I do wonder what it is.¬† I also wonder whether feet jeans thumb was looking for hitchhiking information…

¬†In other non-sequitorial news…

sometimes yoga begins with just sitting quietly. Sometimes this feels like a revolution.

More important than Repetition: Frequency. No, not the REM song… but imagine a sin wave (the trig function…not a sudden eruption of immorality): each complete wave is a cycle, a bleep. Radio frequencies, sound frequencies of all kinds are described in Hertz (or megahertz) – cycles per second.

Each wave of practice, each cycle is complete unto itself. Perhaps it’s a day, perhaps you’ve committed to a cycle of days devoted to a single practice. What’s more important is regularity of these cycles. Some will be lower amplitude, some higher, some briefer, some longer. Regularity, return, that’s what’s important. Return. Return.

In radio the lower frequencies are on the AM dial … fewer cycles per second (or day, or month for our metaphor). But these cycles reach farther. Sometimes it takes care and attention to tune in, but sometimes it’s worth it.

FM radio sends out higher frequency and more signals, but they can peter out between cities and often contain the louder more cacophonic music.

I like listening to both. Sometimes the AM calms me down, sometimes the FM dials me in. One way or the other, I listen every day. Return.

“How many times do I repeat…” comes up a lot in the list of things people searched to get to this blog.¬† Here are some guidelines I use … perhaps other people will chime in with their own.

First, what is the purpose of repetition?¬†¬†I can think of several reasons I’ve had… meditation, heat production, increasing flexibility, devotion, finding flow… Each reason calls for its own guidance.¬†

On the low end, sometimes I’ll repeat poses or vinyasa twice on each side because I find more release on the second round. If¬†I hold an asana, come out and then find¬†my way back into it, I often find more opening on the second repetition, even more than simply holding the posture for the same total length of time.

In the Ashtanga series, you begin a practice by repetitions of Surya Namaskar A & B at least four times each (I’ve been taught differently by different teachers, perhaps an Ashtanga Teacher will give us specific guidance) for the purpose of creating heat in the body, often referred to as Tapas (this is a small aspect of tapas – heat, focus, fire). I have taken this into my own practice and often will start my standing practice with at least four repetitions of whatever¬†version of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) I’m currently exploring, simply to create heat in my body and focus in my mind. I’ll go to twenty if I’m looking for a particularly cardiovascular sweat.

Finally, the traditional number of repetitions for either Surya Namaskar or Mantra Repetition is 108. There are myriad explanations for the specialness of this number, some are very mathematical (resolution into the Pi function), some rely on symbols attached to numbers it is divisible by… The one that has meaning for me is that the heart chakra¬†according to¬†Indian physiology has 108 nadis – or energy channels – running out of it. So, when you repeat something 108 times you are energizing each one of these connections, paying special attention to the connectedness of the body.

In the end, as with everything else in life and yoga, repetition has more to do with conditioning the body or creating a state of mind. The number is a bit arbitrary except that it’s something you set as a signpost for yourself. You bind yourself consciously to something meaningful of your own choosing: this is and leads to true freedom.

Remember Moonymaid’s full formula: Rhythm, Persistence, Patience. Even more important than the number we choose: ¬†how we conduct ourselves towards ourselves on the way.

I’ve missed this journaling and the seemingly haphazard but wonderfully rich¬†intersections with others’ lives it affords. I’ve also enjoyed the absence of a need for description. Sometimes this is laziness, avoiding second-order awareness; sometimes it breeds clarity when we return. Fingers crossed for clarity!

In the meantime, visited the grandfathers at Chaco, hiked and yogad, though not as much as I’d have liked. Contracted a powerful illness (passed with rest) and with the absolute dearth of shade in the desert canyon, decided to recover at home. Friends have been married and my husband left for and has returned from business overseas… his first trip “over there”, so a real event for us!

Quick updates on yoga topics: yoga paws are really fun & creative. Wouldn’t rely on them for everyday, and for my sandy, woody more rugged purposes could be more durable, but they really afford a whole new range. One thing to note: without the tension of the mat between hands and feet in poses like Down Dog you are forced to rely even more than you ever thought you could on core muscles – really rocked my thinking & I’ve been teaching more core & more off the mat.¬†

I’ve laid off the uddiyana bhanda & camel pose for a bit, though I’m getting ready to revisit. I had some sort of powerful GI ickiness and my tummy really just wanted to be taken care of, not churned and stretched. My theory is that the Uddi & the Camel have been gently dislodging detritus in my koshas and I’m processing slowly.

I’ve been subbing a lot this summer, too, in addition to my two classes. It’s an intriguing play on ownership, newness, verbal instruction and letting yoga come through me… that may be its own entry. Human foibles are so funny when they’re mine ūüôā

With compassion, with feeling, striving for clarity, diving in the same muck we all make & find, signing off for now. Going to go play in the muck.