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“Allow commitment toward your path to fuel your determination. Turn the obstacles on your path into stepping stones. Let nothing deter you from your happiness – see your path clearly.” ~~ Ritu Ghatourey

Ahh…summer is fast approaching, and many of us are getting summer fever. It’s that time of year to get our yards in shape, go on vacation, relax, catch some sun and have fun.

Many times, our good intentions end up with us having TOO much to do, and we end up more stressed than relaxed. Sound familiar? I know it is for me. Each summer, it seems like I take on too much “stuff”, the result of which is that my commitment to my own yoga practice ends up suffering.

I’ve been practicing yoga since 1999. And through my yoga journey, I have seen the consistency of my practice wax and wane — not just during this time of year, either.  Just as with anything in life, it’s sometimes hard to stay dedicated and committed to something you love when other distractions come up or get in the way.

However, this summer, I am really going to try my best to maintain my commitment to do my daily meditations and maintain my regular yoga practice on the mat. I might have to reduce the amount of time I spend on these things than I do now, but I’ve seen so much growth in myself this year, and I know it’s because I got more serious about these things and really invested the time in myself. I can’t lose those gains. I won’t.

Now, will I beat myself up if things don’t go as planned? No. I’ve learned through my experiences that you can’t judge yourself too harshly. There will be days when I find it hard to get on the mat or concentrate on meditating, as my body and mind may just not have the energy or enthusiasm needed on that given day. And that’s OK. But if I listen to my body, I know I’ll be able to figure it out. Maybe my planned Vinyasa practice might have to change to a more restorative practice. Or maybe I change the amount of time I’d planned on to something more manageable. As long as I am listening to, and honoring, my body and mind on that given day, all is good.

It’s all about balance, and if we can remember that, it will be much easier to meet our commitments. Obstacles will be thrown at us from time to time, and it’s how we respond to  those obstacles that will determine our success. 

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali mentions effort and surrender. Without both of these aspects, our practice can get out of balance and collapse (i.e., your body gets too tired, or your mind gets clouded by anxiety or dullness). So make sure to take the time to find your balance, and be OK with the fact that you may have to be a bit more flexible in your plans in order to maintain your commitment. When you find this balance, you’ll be able to see your path more clearly and will be able to more intuitively practice in the way that’s right for YOU.

Namaste,

Melanie

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“An advanced yogi or yogini takes time to set up their pose – they do it mindfully and don’t rush in.”  ~~ Desiree Rumbaugh

Chaturanga
(Photo courtesy of Yoga Journal)

Over the years, I’ve been to a variety of yoga classes, as I think it is very important to try a variety of styles and teachers. In my opinion, no matter how long you’ve been practicing, you can always learn something new when you try out different classes and teachers.

One of the most important things that should be taught in a yoga class is proper alignment. However, it is amazing to me how many classes I’ve been to where alignment is barely mentioned. I always cringe whenever I go to a class like this, ESPECIALLY if there are new yogis in the room. For a new yogi, practicing yoga poses with proper alignment can mean the difference between injury and health.

The following, excerpted from Golden Yoga, says it so well:

Alignment, in the big picture, refers to your body’s relationship with gravity. Gravity is pushing down on us all of the time. Think about it for a moment. Gravity is literally pushing down on you right now. We don’t notice it because it is happening all of the time. But your body is dealing with gravity right now. If you lean your body to one side, just about 2 or 3 inches, and hold that position, you will start to get tired. If you consciously sit up straight you will feel a bit lighter. It’s no mystery. When the body is in good alignment, you feel lighter. When it is out of alignment you feel heavier. If you stand a pole on its end and align it perfectly, gravity’s pressure will hold it up; if the alignment is poor, it will fall. The same is true in the body.

Alignment, in the smaller picture, refers to your body in relation to itself. If you lean your body to one side, just about 2 or 3 inches, and hold that position again, you can feel the muscles on the side you lean away from begin to tense. Those muscles are keeping you balanced in the field of gravity. If they didn’t activate at the same time you lean, gravity would push you to the floor. Nobody has perfect alignment. We all lean a bit to one side more than the other, we all have one waist that is a bit shorter than the other, we each have one shoulder that sits more comfortably. Some imbalances come from overuse (use of one side or area in a specific movement that we repeatedly perform at work or sports, or even sleep), some from injuries, while others arise from simple mis-use of the body. For each imbalance, we also have a balancing mechanism, something that responds to the imbalance to keep us from falling over. These are called compensations. The smaller picture of alignment involves the whole interplay of imbalances, compensations, further imbalances, etc. all within the single body. If one shoulder is pulled in to the neck more than the other, the ribs will have to compensate. When the ribs shift, the pelvis twists, and then the foot turns. Each movement is brilliance; without any one of them the body would succumb to gravity’s pressure and fall. Although the body is balanced, it is a compromised balance, a state where many of the muscles and joints are constantly working against a subtle (or not so subtle) lean, or twist.

When we practice the asanas with the intention to bring the body into greater alignment, we address the imbalances and compensations in the body. We address the compromised balance that the body is used to dealing with, and change it to an intelligent balance; one that works with gravity rather than against it.

Also, when you are in proper alignment in your yoga postures, you can actually optimize the circulation of blood, lymph and cerebrospinal fluid throughout the body. But without proper alignment, you can sometimes get the opposite effect, cutting off circulation and/or making an existing condition worse.

If you’re a healthy person, you may read this and think you’re exempt…why worry about alignment so much if you’ve got no issues? Well, I can tell you from personal experience, IT MATTERS. Think about Chaturanga, for instance. This pose is notorious for causing shoulder injuries, and it’s improper alignment that is likely the cause. For those of you who have been practicing yoga for quite some time, you probably know the “slither” approach to Chaturanga.

When coming into Chaturanga from a Plank position, you need to maintain all the muscle support that is involved in Plank, but then move slightly forward on your toes as you come into Chaturanga. This means your elbows will end up over your wrists, and your shoulders will be over your fingers. As you lower down, make sure you keep your upper arms back and your elbows close to your body. Approaching the pose in this way keeps the arm bones in a safe place, and allows gravity to bring you down in a way that keeps your shoulders safe and injury-free. You’ll know if you’re out of alignment if your shoulder blades poke out instead of lying flat on your back, or if the fronts of your shoulders are sore the next day.

When you take the time to put effort into proper alignment in this pose (or any pose, for that matter), you will notice it becomes much easier to surrender to the benefits of the pose.

So how does this translate into your life off the mat? Well, if you put in the effort needed for any situation…the effort to listen and notice the cues presented to you along the way, then you’ll begin to notice the signals that tell you whether you’re on the right or wrong path. Surrender yourself. Surrender so you can loosen your grip on preconceived notions, so you can better hear and respond to the cues and signals coming at you. When you can do this, when you can truly surrender and just experience what your effort brings forth, you may find that your destination is greater than you ever thought possible. In any case, it will be the destination that is right for you.

“Life teaches us the greatest lessons and gives us the best gifts. We may not have control over all the tests, but you can either let the lesson devour or empower you.”
~~ Allyson Partridge

Trikonasana_248

(Photo courtesy of Yoga Journal)

It constantly amazes me how empowering the practice of yoga can be for people. When you truly allow yoga to permeate your mind, body and spirit, it provides you with an inner calm and the ability to stay grounded – no matter what life throws your way.

I’ve had a yoga practice for a number of years – since 1999. But as I look back over the years, I have to be honest…many times (OK, most of the time), I was simply stepping on my mat to get in a good workout and maybe relax a little. While that’s not a TOTALLY bad thing, I certainly wasn’t reaping all the benefits I could from my practice, and eventually, I could feel that something was missing. Especially because the things I was teaching to my students – those concepts that are the philosophy of yoga – were things I wasn’t always doing myself. Talk about feeling like a hypocrite!

However, as I’ve mentioned in many posts recently, I’ve been working really hard over this past year to be more diligent with my practice. And I don’t just mean stepping onto my mat and breaking a good sweat. I’ve incorporated new styles of yoga, regular meditation, and making time to take workshops and connect with other teachers regularly. What a difference this has made for me! The more I do these things, the more grounded I feel. This has allowed me to deal with personal crises with a steadiness I never would have been able to before. Of course, I am by no means perfect in this concept yet – I still have a lot of growing to do in this area. But as I get better and better at managing difficult situations, I feel more empowered to keep taking chances that will benefit my life in the long run.

We’ll be working in class this week on poses that will help cement this concept of connecting to inner calm by staying grounded. We’ll be focusing on standing and balancing poses that develop the muscular action of grounding into the earth through strong legs and rooted feet. Poses such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Warrior poses, Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), Eagle Pose (Garudasana) and Dancer Pose (Natarajasana).

Triangle Pose is one of my favorites when practicing this concept. It looks deceptively easy, but it’s way more complicated than many think because it involves a large amount of lower body stability and upper body extension, requiring strength and flexibility. When done correctly, there is a complete sense of evenness in the body, which eventually translates into a steady and even mind. And when this happens, it’s easy to see how yoga begins to become part of your life off the mat.

Do you have a favorite yoga pose that helps you feel stable and grounded? One that provides you with that quality of inner calm every time you do it? If so, I’d love to hear about it. What is it about the pose that you love? What aspect of the pose gives you that sense of stability and calmness?

If I don’t see you in class this week, try practicing some of the poses I mentioned above on your own. Take the time to play around with them in order to find the variations that help you achieve that sense of inner calm through stability. Practice these poses enough, and you may find you’re able to face any difficult situation thrown at you with that same sense of steadiness.

Namaste,

Melanie

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