Pose Breakdown – 15.08.20 – Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Child’s Pose, or Balasana, is a foundational pose that has so many interesting variations.  If we are tight through the extensor muscles on the top of the foot, then we curl our toes.  If our hips are tight, then we can use our elbows or a block to elevate the hips to comfort.  We can also leave our knees in line with our shoulders or take our knees to the edges of our mat.  Our arm position can be forward … to the side … or to the rear of our mat.  With all of these beautiful variables to fit so many unique body types, child’s pose allows for an opportunity to rest, relax and check in with our physical body.  Therefore, child’s pose should be our pose in the moment and not one that is predefined as we enter.  The guide below from Yoga Journal should be one that we explore rather than submit to.  Enjoy learning about our body each time that we sink into child’s pose, balasana.

Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.

Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.

Lay your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. Feel how the weight of the front shoulders pulls the shoulder blades wide across your back.

Balasana is a resting pose. Stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Beginners can also use Balasana to get a taste of a deep forward bend, where the torso rests on the thighs. Stay in the pose from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lengthen the front torso, and then with an inhalation lift from the tailbone as it presses down and into the pelvis.
(http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/child-s-pose/)

Health Benefits (http://www.yogabasics.com/asana/child/)

    Benefits: Child pose calms the body, mind and spirit and stimulates the third eye point. Child pose gently stretches the low back, massages and tones the abdominal organs, and stimulates digestion and elimination.

    Contraindications: Recent or chronic injury to the knees.  Ask for a modification if pregnant.

Pose Breakdown – 15.07.28 – Knees to Chest (Apanasana)

Knees to chest, or Apanasana in Sanskrit, took patience for me to realize the benefits.  As an athlete turned Yogi, I wanted to feel strength being built in each posture.  Warrior 1, Warrior 2 … Warrior YES!  It wasn’t until I connected with my breath that I started to feel my erector spinae (long group of muscles traveling down our back) lengthen.  In my body, as with most of us in Western society, as we lean forward at a desk, in a car or holding a cell phone, we strengthen our back but become deficient in our core.  Knees to chest offers us an opportunity to take our tight back muscles and release tension.  This allows for the removal of chronic pain and the chance for us to build a more helpful core.

Start with a sitting position on the ground with your feet flat, spaced at a distance greater than your hips-width. While inhaling, bring your arms forward. While exhaling, let your torso fall slowly to the ground and lie flat on your back.

Now increase the length of your torso by extending your arms further. After that, pull in your knees close to the chest and clasp them with your extended hands. You should look as if you are hugging your knees. Your shoulder blades should be relaxed and collarbones should be spread wide.

Now rock your body from one side to other as your relax your lower back. You should insert your chin in between your knees in order to protect your posterior neck. You may also use a blanket beneath your head if you experience a bit too much discomfort during the rocking portion of the pose.
http://www.lovemyyoga.com/knee-to-chest-pose.html 

One modification that can be helpful for those of us with sore knees is to place the hands behind the thigh instead of on the front of the knee.  I usually cue this in my classes as it is a safer approach.

Health Benefits (http://www.lovemyyoga.com/knee-to-chest-pose.html)

  • Eliminates painful lower back.
  • Helps alleviate gastro-intestinal pain and the physical pain associated with menstruation.
  • Relieves constipation.
  • Reduces tension in the lower back and aids in removing the sciatic nerve pain.
  • Helps resolve Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Pose Breakdown – 15.07.18 – Standing Mountain (Tadasana)

Standing Mountain, or Tadasana in Sanskrit, is one of the five foundational poses that has evolved for me over time.  In my first ever Yoga class, I remember standing with my shoulders hunched forward and feeling as if time was being wasted.  As I grew in my awareness of my physical body, I began to discover dynamic tension.  Dynamic tension asks us to investigate the pulling of our muscles in opposite directions.  My Standing Mountain went from letting my shoulders hunch forward and my mind becoming bored to a posture that brought beads of sweat to my forehead.

Challenge ourselves to stand upright, feet hips distance apart and spread our toes wide.  Pressing into our mat with our entire foot we begin to activate dynamic tension and disobey gravity here.  Soften the knees enough for a tiny bend (no one wants to be that person at a wedding that falls over from our knees being locked out) and let our belly be pulled in toward our spine.  As our shoulders roll back, let our fingers become active in reaching toward the floor.  The crown of our head reaches skyward allowing our spine to lengthen.  Continue to cycle our consciousness through these different points of emphasis.  Hold the posture for five full breaths.  How do we feel?

Feel free to repeat for fewer or more breaths as we feel necessary.  This posture can also be completed in a chair at home, work or even in our car (please keep both hands on the wheel though if driving).  Always investigate and ask how we feel :).  Who knows what we might learn about our body.

Health Benefits (http://www.yogajournal.com/pose/mountain-pose/

  • Improves posture
  • Strengthens thighs, knees, and ankles
  • Firms abdomen and buttocks
  • Relieves sciatica
  • Reduces flat feet

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PERFORMANCE YOGA – 05.25.15 (Love the Grind!)

Grind is defined as “to reduce (something) to small particles or powder by crushing it.”  Crushing it … a phrase that any athlete loves to utter or hear spoken about them.  Whether it is crushing the crux on a boulder problem in climbing, taking an 0-2 hanging curve ball into the seats or that lob in tennis that is at the perfect height to smash, the moment when we get to crush is exhilarating.

Grind is also defined as “to move with difficulty or friction especially so as to make a grating noise.”  With all of the amazing moments listed above, what is not shared is the number of failures.  The number of times we had to move through difficulty to come to the same scenario again and again and hope for a new result.  How do we eliminate from our minds the number of times we’ve fallen at that same move on the boulder problem?  How do we eliminate from our minds the number of strikeouts?  How do we eliminate from our minds the number of overheads that have sailed long or wide?  We grind.

Through athletics and through life, we grind.  Each of us deals with difficulty.  So how do we eliminate the negative thoughts when in moments of despair?  We hold true to ourselves and bring it regardless of the past.  The present is for the grinders.  Those of us that choose to press on in the face of repetitive frustration.  Here’s to the grinders that never give up on themselves.  You are worth it!  Now go do it!  Welcome to the grind …

Love the Grind!

“There is always a way to get the job done – even when you are struggling in one area of your game.  Figure out how to close the deal on that day!

When you are struggling with your driver in golf, win with your short game.  When your shots aren’t dropping in basketball, be a glove on defense.  Step up your game rather than throw in the towel.  Refuse to quit even when a scenario seems bleak or hopeless.

Use these acronyms … UBE – “Ugly but Effective” or GBD “Good Bad Day”

Keep your head in the game and grind it out!”

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

PRACTICING THE POWER OF NOW – 1.22.15 (Finding the Life Underneath the Life)

Physical and psychological problems of the body require space to heal.  The space is necessary for something new.  The new occupies the space and provides what is needed to regain homeostasis.  Sounds simple, right?  Ha!

There is truth to the idea of creating space in the Now.  When we release past thoughts from the psyche and allow them to not hold power over our life story, we have space.  When we release future thoughts from the psyche and allow them to not hold power over our life story, we have space.  When we take deep breathes in an asana like Warrior 1, we elongate muscle tissue and have space.  The space created offers us the necessary room to grow.  

Throughout the day today, let’s find space.  

Practicing the Power of Now – Find the Life Underneath the Life

“When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution.  So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.

Listen to the sounds; don’t judge them.  Listen to the silence underneath the sounds.
Touch something – anything – and feel and acknowledge it without judgment.

You are leaving behind the deadening world of mental abstractions, of time.  You are getting out of the insane mind that is draining you of life energy, just as it is slowly poisoning and destroying the Earth.  You are awakening out of the dream of time into the present.”

BOOK – “Practicing the Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle (BUY ME!!!)

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 12.9.14 (SAUCHA – Purity as Relational)

As with all things, there is a superficial layer and a layer that goes much deeper.  There is the epidermis on the surface and then the dermis as we dig deeper anatomically.  Purity is the same way.  On the surface, we might initially think of physical purity in the sense of cleanliness and sexual purity.  As we head farther down, we start to look at purity on an emotional and spiritual level.  Our purity is relational.

As a middle school educator and a human being, I see different levels of understanding regarding purity.  It doesn’t matter the level of maturity, we all experience relational purity.  When we sit down for a family meal, interact with a neighbor, get rear-ended at a stop sign, or even get into an argument with a co-worker, these are all moments of relational purity.  We have an opportunity to bring our past or our present into the moment.  If the past attends, then we might stain an amazing opportunity.  If the present attends, then we have an opportunity to experience joy, love, peace and who knows what else!

Our past can cause us to want to fix the present.  We act as if there is something wrong with the moment.  The moment is the Now and is free from the past.  Allow this moment to be free of our past and read below with an understanding that we have the freedom to think and feel however we’d like.  We don’t need to be fixed and we don’t need to fix others..  We’re already beautiful and so are the people we interact with.  We can strive to be pure with the Now and interact with it with our true self :).  Each moment is new!  Namaste!

SAUCHA – Purity as Relational

Purity is not our attempt to make something different than it is; rather it is to be pure with it, as it is in the moment.  We fail this guideline in any of our attempts to change, judge, criticize, alter, control, manipulate, pretend, be disappointed or check out.

When our thoughts or actions are presumptive like this we actually stain the purity of the moment.  When we find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam, disappointed with our meal, tripping over messes in the house, or dealing with a crabby family member, we are invited to simply be with these times in a pure way, not to judge them as impure moments.

So stop imposing our staleness on things.

Matthew Sanford, speaking from the experience of an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, says,

“I am not afraid of my sadness.  My sadness is an incredible gift that allows me to be with people who are suffering without trying to fix them.”

Being pure with all the pieces of ourselves increases our staying power with our own suffering, intimacy, joy, boredom, pain and anxiety.  We become safe with ourselves, and we become a safe place for others.  We become a person who can comfortably and compassionately sit with another without the need to fix them.

PERFORMANCE YOGA – 12.8.14 (MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – Self-Talk: Feed the Good Wolf)

I’m was never a professional athlete.  I was never a collegiate athlete.  I’m the kid that worked his tail off and didn’t amount to much in the eyes of ESPN or FOX Sports or even the local paper.  I worked hard to support my teammates, to make my family and friends proud and for the simple love of competition.  At age 33, I still participate as much as I can.  This year saw me get back into USTA tennis and continue playing beer league hockey.  Sports will always be a part of my life and I love it :).

The mascots I’ve had over the years have been a Yellow Jacket, Red Raider, Camel (shout out to Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC), Panther, Bullpup, Old Hole, Ice Hole and an All-Star (my current school of Allen Jay Preparatory Academy).  I have yet to be a wolf.  Until I read the passage I included below, I never thought of such an analogy.  I never thought about the lasting effects of negative thought.

Scientific Proof That Negative Thoughts Harm Health

I’m here to remind or tell you for the first time … feed the good wolf.  Yoga has allowed me to focus on the Now.  And in the Now, there are so many opportunities to accentuate the positive aspects of life.  Within athletics and life, there are so many NEXT opportunities.  The next practice, the next game, the next failure, and the next success are always available in the Now.  Feed the good wolf.  Feed the positive thoughts in the moment and see what happens.  Let the other wolf starve and die.

MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – Self Talk: Feed the Good Wolf

There is an old Cherokee legend known as the tale of the two wolves.  A grandfather explains to his warrior grandson that there are two wolves within each of us:  One wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive.  These two wolves fight for control over us.  The grandson is curious and asks, “Which wolf will win?”  The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

If thoughts determine feelings, then feelings influence performance.  That being the solid-gold truth, learn to think more positively about yourself and your game.

FIRST.  Learning to identify your own negative and self-defeating thoughts.  Typical negative thoughts an athlete can have include “I suck at this,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t belong on the team.”  We all have these thoughts at times, so take a moment right now and identify some common negative thoughts about your athletic capabilities that run through your mind while you are at practice or in a game.

SECOND.  Challenge these self-critical thoughts with encouraging statements.  Mentally beating on yourself does you no good.  Instead, gain clear control  of your thinking process.

Repeat these two winning steps to build mental muscle, improve your mood, and advance your athletic performance.

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 12.2.14 (Saucha – Purity as a Cleansing Process)

Are your days busy?  Do you feel like society puts an emphasis on “the more you get done, the more productive you are”?  I do.  All around us there is an emphasis on “multitasking.”    It isn’t healthy.

Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You

I always attempt to put as many fun things in my calendar as possible.  It is a blessing and a curse.  In a busy day, there can often be no time left for the moment.  My busy day often leaves me with a messy kitchen and student work from my day job strewn about my classroom and coffee table.  And it stresses me out.  Do you have the same issues going on at home and work?  

Purity isn’t simply a physical term.  When applied to our mind, our home and our work, it becomes a life saving word.  I bought into the idea that chronic multitasking was essential for success.  As I’ve become older, I’ve realized that I don’t have a truly horrible memory.  I don’t focus all of my energy on the present task in the present moment.  I don’t take time to purify my mind.  I am guilty of this at home and work as well.  I allow other areas of my life (love for hockey, Android cell phones, nerdy TV shows like “Brooklyn 99” and other such hobbies) to pull at my attention.  I am excited about the opportunity to reflect on Saucha throughout the month of December.  My mind and sanity truly need it.  How’s your sanity? 🙂

Saucha – Purity as a Cleansing Process

The jewel of Saucha, or purity, carries a two-fold meaning.  First, Saucha invites us to purify our bodies, our thoughts, and our words.  As we purify ourselves physically and mentally, we become less cluttered and heavy; purification brings about a brightness and clarity to our essence.  Second, this guideline has a relational quality.

Taking steps to cleanse and purify ourselves will look different for each of us.  Cleansing doesn’t have to be earth shattering or weird to begin to work its magic.  It might take the form of increased physical exercise, or increased water intake, a day of fasting on fruit and juice, or perhaps a day of cleaning out closets.  Maybe we will choose to spend a day purifying our tongue so that we speak nothing of harm or untruth for the entire day.  Whatever form purifying takes, it always begins with an intention to “lighten” the load we are carrying.

Maybe your body is carrying poisonous toxins from a poor diet.  Maybe your mind is carrying the heavy baggage of victimhood or unforgiveness.  Maybe your home and workspace are full of clutter and junk.

Clean your body!  Clean your mind!  Clean your living and work space! 🙂

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele

PERFORMANCE YOGA – 12.1.14 (MASTER THE MENTAL SKILLS – MENTAL IMAGERY PART 3)

Hmmm … practice?

Years ago I can remember laughing like the majorly of the public did listening to Allen Iverson discuss practice.  In my youth, I found it hilarious.  In my youth, I became conditioned to a game performance being the symbol of attention and acknowledgement.  Mainstream media conditioned me to this.  

We go to our mats with different intentions.  For me, I initially went for vain reasons.  I wanted to be stronger, fitter, more flexible and free from injuries.  I went to full yoga classes because I could feel eyes on me.  I could work hard and have my hard work seen by others.  We’re all human and we want the attention.  However, it is what we do in solitude that defines us.  Michael Jordan had this great quote.

I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.

Michael Jordan

Where a major difference lies between professional athletes and amateur athletes isn’t in the physical makeup.  It rests between the ears.  Our ability to sit down in a quiet place for 10 to 15 minutes at a time is so crucial.  I’m here to tell you how significant it is because I had no grasp of it years ago.  I went through my teens and twenties without any idea of the mental side of life.  We attract what we want (whether we’re conscious of it or not).  If our goals and thoughts are positive, then you’ll see a positive change.  If we stay submerged in loathing and self-doubt, then there is only a negative change to manifest.

Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.

Steven Pressfield

So will you take 10 to 15 minutes today to recharge and focus on what is positive that is and could be happening soon in your life?  Or will you focus on the negative and draw loathing and self-doubt closer to you?  I vote keep life symbol and throw up a huge smile :).

Mental Imagery – Visualize to Actualize

Mentally practice two or three times each week for about 10 to 15 minutes per rehearsal.  Select a specific sports skill to further develop, or work your way through different scenarios, incorporating various situations.

Mental practice sessions that are shorter in length are also beneficial.  Good times include during any downtime in your schedule, the night before a competition, as an element of your pregame routine, and especially as part of a preshot routine.

Let’s conclude our discussion with a mental practice exercise.

Sit up in a chair with your back straight (rather than lying down on a bed or the floor, as this can make you sleepy).  Let your eyes close and become aware of your breathing.  Take a few slow, deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth) to clear your mind and relax your body.

Begin by creating a mental picture of your environment, progressively including all of the sights and sounds.  Pay particular attention to the physical sensations in your body, such as the spring in your ankles and knees, whether your breathing is heavy or relaxed, the weight of the racquet or ball in your hand, and the texture of the ball as you spin or bounce it.

Now fully see, feel and enjoy executing this skill throughout each moment of the movement.

Challenge yourself to do this exercise successfully three times in a row with full focus and a positive result.  If you visualize missing the basket or hitting the ball  into the net or if you lose focus, keep repeating the process until you can visualize yourself doing it right straight through.  This will further anchor your physical self to a gold medal performance.

BOOK – “The Champion’s Mind:  How Great Athletes think, train and thrive.” by Jim Afremow  (BUY IT!)

YAMAS AND NIYAMAS – 11.25.14 (APARIGRAHA – How Many Bags?)

I’m excited!  It’s vacation time!  I’m fortunate to head down to Myrtle Beach, SC a little later today with my amazing parents.  Mom decided it was time to try something a tad different for Thanksgiving and I’ll all for it.  So I’m faced with this question – just how many bags am I taking?

The question is both literal and metaphorical.  In the literal sense, I have yet to pack and am left with two potential tracks to follow.  Take everything that I “think” I will need during the trip or pack lightly with an openness to the moments that will transpire.  I can take as many of the possessions as possible, but how might that affect the trip?  Do I dare limit the amount of bags I pack or do I load up the Element?

In the metaphorical sense, I could easily pack my past, current and future thoughts.  I could take all three of those bags with me on the trip.  My past does help to provide a picture of who I have become, but it is the present moment that truly defines me.  Do I need to take my past and the vision I want for the future with me?

So as we embark later today, those questions and these come to my mind.  In the physical realm, do I need the weight of possessions during my trip?  In the metaphorical realm, do I need the weight of my past and the expectations of my future during my trip?  Pack light, leave the past and expectations, and enjoy the moment.  Sounds like a good mantra for the week.  Just some thoughts :).

Have a great time this holiday with friends and family!
HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Just How Many Bags are you Taking?

The day before we were to leave, I said, “Ashly, we have to make plans.”  “Grandma,” she said, “that’s the whole point of getting away; make it easy, don’t take anything, not even plans.”

I found myself stunned at the simplicity of her understanding of retreat time.  In my mind I reviewed the large amounts of packing and preparation that had always burdened my retreat time.  Exited at the opportunity, I leaped into this new challenge before me to “taking nothing with me.”

In fact, how many suitcases full of expectations, tasks, plans, resentments, and unforgiven moments was I toting around with me every day?  Even airlines know to charge a fine when we pack over the limit I thought to myself, and yet I wonder how many of us are packing over the limit every morning and wearying ourselves through the day with this heavy baggage?

This craziness we do to ourselves is as silly as if we carried a heavy load of bricks around all day and continued to add more to our pile.

Pack light for the journey.  Strip yourself to raw nakedness and vulnerability.  This is the invitation of nonpossessiveness.  Are we up to the unpacking?

Book – “The Yamas and Niyamas” by Deborah Adele