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Aligned Warrior I

strength in the engagement of the legs translates into core strength

Alignment sounds so very boring and technical, and yoga is almost always an expression of joy, a time to relax and let go into the present, and to be, sink into our bodies and discover our present moments.

So why bother talking very much about alignment, except in teacher training? I mean, obviously teachers should know something about alignment, but do we really need or want to interrupt the flow of class with it?

Yes! As a teacher, I attach great importance to speaking poetically about alignment and bringing out the metaphor of aligning with our inner truths, even exploring the duality that the concept implies. Alignment is absolutely the core teaching of, in and about yoga pose, because without attention to alignment of joints, planes and limbs, the poses only reinforce the very habits – samskara – we are in yoga class to unravel, unknot and unlive. In the absence of attention to alignment, we are not only unsafe mechanically, but we are grinding the grooves of our habitual responses ever deeper.

Let’s look at a simple pose, like Virabhadrasana, Warrior I. One foot forward, one back, hips square to small edge of mat, arms up. Simple, right? Simple, but not easy.

Misaligned Warrior I

back leg is falling asleep and the hips have no energy!

The back leg reaching back has a tendency to fall, bend at the knee and generally “hang out”. When we energize and straighten it by engaging the muscles 360 degrees to center, what happens in the pelvis? The hamstrings and the hip flexors – iliopsoas – are opposing one another. By engaging that back leg, we tug the hip flexors, which sounds great, right – stretch is good. But what are we likely stretching?

More likely, we’re stretching the abs, not keeping the core engaged, compressing the low back and simply tugging the front of the pelvis down a bit. Why, How? The back femer, reaching back, brings with it the attachment of the hip flexor, which stretches as much as it can. Cool. But it’s a deep and not easily sensed muscle. What happens when it gets to it’s maximum? it tugs on the interior of the pelvis, the next place where muscle meets bone. Hmmm. There’s another section that crosses to the spine, and this is in turn stretched by the pelvis careening forward, but only to its limit. Beyond that, the belly pooches and the tailbone comes up. The low back in between gets crunched like a sandwich in a brown bag at the bottom of your backpack. Ouch.

And this is probably a familiar progression if you do any office work or driving at all, because the hip flexor is in it’s relatively contracted position for long periods of time. This is familiar, this is habit. This is what we’re here to bring attention to. And alignment allows us to do so.

What if you felt the alignment of your ribcage and pelvis in Mountain – the pose that looks suspicously like just standing there only with great attention – with a neutral pelvis by placing your thumbs at the bottom of your ribcage and your fingertips on the top of your hip bones. Now, step back into Virabhadrasana I, back foot turned at about 45 degrees, keeping the same alignment between hips and ribcage. Quite a revelation, huh? Notice where you feel engagement to preserve your alignment. Notice where you are tempted to fly out of alignment for the “look” of the pose.

Alignment is everything because awareness is everything. Whether you understand it from technical anatomical terms or from putting your hands on your ribs and hips to feel when they move, the awareness is what yoga is all about. Without it, you’re a Rhinestone Warrior.

Poll time! What’s your pet peeve yoga-ism? Some phrase you’ve heard in yoga class that makes you go “Huh? Are you Kidding?” And of course they aren’t – that’s the funniest part ūüôā

Have you been asked to “Bloom your sitting bones” and thought you’d rather Bloomin bloom bloom, if you only knew what it meant?

Leave your favorite – or least fave! – yoga-ism in the comments below and I’ll do my best to de-mystify or at least de-sanctify it! Sometimes, we just need to take it all a little less seriously, so we can get on with the parts that really matter.

Having made some pretty drastic changes to my career life this year, I’m reflecting daily on what abundance and success mean to me. For real. I’ve been part-time as a Paramedic now for a few months,¬†focused on building a practice as a teacher and a business as a yoga camping retreat facillitator.¬† My two careers are remarkably complimentary and the life I’m crafting is pretty much what I used to imagine when I was a girl. Pretty Cool.

I knew I’d move slowly, deliberately in my building. I knew that like learning yoga, building a practice and a living is best done one brick at a time. I don’t know about the rest of you teachers out there, or entrepeneurs of any stripe, independent, free-thinking crafters of service and beauty, but one of my most determined demons is named “Enough.” Is there enough, do I have enough, do I do enough, do I know enough, Am I enough, will there be enough? Enough knowledge, classes, time, strength, patience.

And the answer every day has been “yes” and that¬†shrinks the demon a bit, but this demon drinks from a deep well, the¬†well of emptiness that is at the center of being a human being, the one we identify with our fears, traumas, shortcomings and failures until we learn that it just is and that that’s Ok. But it really is part of being human, so it remains. And by sitting with it, calmly and persistently I’ve learned the meaning of abiding and of love.

And today I got to dance with it in the park, and we both forgot it was a demon. I’m working on building an outdoor yoga class in a park near my house, so Tuesdays at Noon I go the park and practice. So far it’s been alone, which is only a problem if you were hoping it to be different. I’m promoting it and have garnered interest, but so far I’m alone. More experienced teachers tell me this is part of the building experience. I wonder if I should make it earlier (Albuquerque is rather warmish at Noon, and it’s monsoon season, so it’s what passes for humid in the desert), should I go to a park in a more upscale neighborhood ( we are decidedly working class here in my ‘hood), should…. I should do yoga, I decide.

And I’m about to flip my dog on the second side when I look up and my eyes meet the lovely grey eyes of a little girl watching – she later tells me she’ll be 10 in September – one arm tucked behind her back, hand wrapped in front of her opposite elbow, legs entwined, head cocked to the side. We both smile. I flip & ask if she’s ever done yoga. Once. She joins me in downdog and we laugh at the name. She follows me into pigeon and her sisters and friend join us. We’re all doing pigeon, except for the youngest who is bouncing into people and grass like the park’s a mosh pit, giggling all while, and we join her as I teach them what to call pigeon in Sanskrit, our heads bouncing from side to side as we sing-song through “Eka-pa-da-ra-ja-kap-o-ta-sa-na”, little mosh darling falling down among us.

And I think, “This is IT. This is what I want, this is what I do. This is enough. This is more than enough. This is everything.” And even my demons laugh and all fall down.

I tried this as an experiment recently: Sivasana at the beginning and end of class.¬† I’ve decided that it’s an advanced practice.

Doesn’t sound tough does it? It’s like nap time at the beginning. But have you watched three year olds who just came in from recess try to lay down? It’s like that pop-up gopher game where you’re meant to pop the puppets back down with a soft mallet. Monkey mind most active.

What a tremendous testament to our practice. Sivasana is nearly torturous for many at the beginning, and almost always luscious at the end. What’s changed? The embodied mind.

If you want to try this practice of playing dead both before and after, I suggest that you give yourself some structure for the beginning. Begin by noting sensation in your extremities. Really pay attention and feel it. Then pay attention to your sensation in your core (if you can find any at this stage, you’re particularly in touch that day). Then with each breath draw the sensations from your arms and legs and neck into your core. Now, I’m not suggesting you draw in pleasure or pain,¬†just¬†the unnamable raw sensation, unjudged. Some might call it energy. But it’s very concrete when you locate it within your body: the sense you have of your own body. Use your breath to draw it in.

Finally, draw all your attention to sensation down to your low abdomen and feel it expand and contract with each breath. By relaxing and contracting the low belly when breathing you are mechanically & chemically signalling your “slow down” nervous system to wake up. That’s right, wake up to slow down. There are all kinds of opposites that come together on the mat.

“Self-possessed, Resolute, Act

without any thought of results

Open to success or failure,

This equanimity is yoga.”¬† ~Bhagavad Gita 2.43

Practicing the yamas and niyamas while diving into new endeavors is a unique kind of challenge, I’m finding. New endeavors are exciting, energizing, but can be anxiety provoking. We’re breaching new territory, breaking old patterns, creating new (hopefully more conscious) ones.

Anxiety has a way of encouraging me to reach for old familiar patterns. And grasping is familiar. My way of grasping, though has a drivenness to it, an insistence on white-knuckle motion forward that can look like fearlessness, while it’s entirely the opposite. Some of my friends go into caves when they’re confronted with new and challenging situations, some run the other way, some go into their heads… there are as many ways of sheltering ourselves from the stress as there are people.

But there are equally many ways of remaining vulnerable, open, unconstructed in the face the exhillerating beauty we have – we often forget – invited into our own lives. For me, the yama of aparigraha – nongrasping – is key to returning over and over again to this open heartedness.

This week has been a blast for me. I’m teaching more this week than ever and have two workshops over the weekend. I’m swimming in yoga, and it feels good. And sometimes, when I take the bird’s eye, outsider’s view, I’m terrified, humbled and wonder if I’m stark raving mad. The nattering nay-bobs of negativity chatter away and doubt seeps in any crack and crevice. What if… what if no one comes? what if i have nothing to say or do? what if i freeze? what if i’m not …. enough?

And so I was able to write the quote above from the Gita by heart – not because my memory is full of such wisdom, but because I’ve read, said, written and embraced it so much this week it’s written on the inside of my forehead and transcribed into my soul.

Possessed by Self, resolute : Act. Prepare, practice, investigate, live in the moment, till the ground, plant the seeds, and, when the moment becomes ripe: Act. Then, the consequences are secondary, not even on the same plane. If you inhabit the place of the Self, the consequences aren’t even personal, they’re just action and reaction working themselves out, a play of energies to be observed and then… Act again.

 

 

From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Transformation and Healing:

“When body and mind are one, the wounds in our hearts, minds, and bodies begin to heal. As long as there is separation between body and mind, these wounds cannot heal. During sitting meditation, the three elements of breath, body and mind are calmed, and gradually they become one. … When there is oneness of body and mind, the breathing serves as “harmonizer,” and wee realize peace , joy, and ease, the first fruits of meditation practice.” (p. 45)

A note for Tuesday nighters: last night¬†we started adding sitting meditation after our asana practice. Also an “off the mat” pose you can use at the office or grocery, on a hike or while doing the dishes.¬† As ever, I want to support you in taking your yoga into your world in idea, word and deed. Most of all, in energetic stillness.

Also remember, next week is the much sought after “Restorative Tuesday”! We have some luscious deep letting go to engage!

Namaste

:I bow to the gentle power & fierce beauty of you