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Archive for the ‘Yoga pose of the week’ Category

Natarajasana...you can reach the right arm back and pull the foot closer to the head, but I wanted to show the beginner pose which is great for strengthening biceps/triceps!

Natarajasana...you can reach the right arm back and pull the foot closer to the head, but I wanted to show the beginner pose which is great for strengthening biceps/triceps!

So I’m heading down to Connecticut today to visit my Aunt and cousins. My cousin Heidi and my Aunt Linda have been running very successful dance studio in Connecticut called Ballet Ecole for many years, and have recently opened a new studio named “Pirouette, Pilates and More“. Both are classically trained and unbelievable dancers who inspired my love for dance. They also both love yoga!

So in honor of them, this week my pose will be…

Dancer’s Pose or Natarajasana

The pose is a dedication to Lord Shiva...Lord of the Dance...(photo: https://i2.wp.com/media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper344/stills/77yq1o51.jpg)

The pose is a dedication to Lord Shiva...Lord of the Dance...(photo: http://media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper344/stills/77yq1o51.jpg)

Nata is the Sanskrit word for “Dance”, while Raja means “king”…so the pose actually means “Lord of the Dance” and sometimes attributed to the Hindu god Shiva.

Lord Shiva is one of the primary Hindu Gods. He is depicted in many manifestations, including Shiva “The Destroyer” or as the “internal dancer”. Depending on the day, or what my mood is, sometimes I call upon different visualizations of his character to help me reach he pose’s fullest expression. For instance, if I am coming up against some major obstacles in my life or day, I will visualize my self as the “destroyer” in this pose. Full of power, my body becomes my own bow and arrow and I am ready to take on the world!

The thing I love about this pose is that it literally activates, utilizes and strengthens your ENTIRE BODY.  From your ankles, thighs, hips, biceps, shoulders, triceps, lower back…everything benefits. The places I usually feel it most are my thighs, lower back biceps, shoulders, and a deep stretch in my hips.

The pose has also helped me recover from a  sever sprained ankle. The ankles are strengthened and challenged to support your entire body in this pose in an awkward way.

Internally, your lungs expand, your kidneys are massaged for better functioning, your spine is challenged in flexibility and your abdomen is activated. Obviously this pose helps strengthen your ability to balance and focus.

In Ashtanga yoga, which is the main type of yoga  I practice. Using a mudra in the extended forward hand helps this focus.

This pose is a wonderful ‘heart opener’, to the point that once you relax into your fullest expression, you really feel like a free warrior spirit release in you…almost like you are invincible. You really dance in this pose!

To practice Natarajasana

  • Stand in Mountain Pose.
  • Inhale and shift your weight onto your right foot firmly, and lift your left heel backwards to your left buttock as you bend the knee, press your thigh bone back and pull the knee cap up to keep the standing leg straight and strong .
  • with your left hand- grasp the outside of your left foot or ankle. Lift your pubis towards your navel, and press your tailbone towards the floor.
  • Begin lifting your left foot up, away from the floor, and back, away from your torso. Extend the left thigh behind you and parallel to the floor. Stretch your right arm forward, in front of your torso, parallel to the floor, while pressing the thumb and index finger together.
  • Press your shin towards the back wall using thigh strength to elevate your trunk upward. Engage your core to protect your back.
  • Focus on a spot far in the distance and engage ocean breathe.
  • Remain in this posture for about 5-10 breathes.
  • Release, sweeping the forward arm up and back and repeating on the other side. Perform each side twice.
  • Remember to always practice this new poses for the first time in the presence of a seasoned yoga teacher!

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As promised, this week I’m bringing you the “King of all Asanas” according to B.K.S. Iyengar…

Eagle Pose, or Garudasana (sometimes spelled Garundasana)

Eagle pose....the King of all Asanas

Eagle pose....the King of all Asanas

Much to many yogi and yogini’s surprise…Garudasana doesn’t actually translate to “Eagle”… Garuda actually translates to something along the lines of “all-consuming fire of the sun’s rays” or “devourer of serpents“. Eagles, being large birds of prey, represent those translations.

Garud, the devourer of serpents, helps Lord Vishnu defeat demons

Garuda, the 'devourer of serpents', helps Lord Vishnu defeat demons

In Indian tradition, Garuda, being such a devouring serpent, helps Vishnu in the fight against demons, Asuras and darkness.  Garuda is the “king of birds” and therefore, his pose is the “king of all asanas”, or poses.

When you think of an eagle, what kind of images come up?… Piercing and extended vision, monstrous and yet graceful wingspan, discerning taste in prey and stealthy speed, absolute control over the skies?

Eagles have vision that extends to a three mile radius and double vision to focus on objects a mile away, while they can also rotate their heads 270 degrees. They can even see some ultraviolet color spectrum in addition to their full color vision.

Lord Vishnu and Garuda...courtesy of himmapan.com

Lord Vishnu and Garuda...courtesy of himmapan.com

Because of these talents, Garuda became the vehicle of Vishnu, used for his unparalleled perception, precision and strength. Garuda is the liberator of one from obstacles.

Garuda‘s pose can help you liberate yourself from obstacles, focus your vision, and increase your grace of power and strength.

A dancer performing a Tibetan dance of the Eagle... courtesy of earthlink.net/~rfriend11/Het-p2.jpg

A dancer performing a Tibetan dance of the Eagle... courtesy of earthlink.net/~rfriend11/Het-p2.jpg

The eagle represents freedom and strength in other cultures (obviously the U.S.) as well. Native Americans, Mexicans, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tibetans…etc., all find inspiration in the eagle’s gifts.

The pose channels the part of one self needed in taking control of one’s life, of one’s will power. It increase your ability to focus and channel your positive energy toward building lasting connections to your body and relationships around you.

Love this artistic interpretation of Garudasana...photo courtesy of

Love this artistic interpretation of Garudasana...photo courtesy of Gosia Janik

As I mentioned in a previous post about kayaking, this pose is fantastic for balance. It strengthens your shoulders, calves, ankles, sciatica, thighs, hips and shoulders.

To practice:

1. Start this pose in Tadasana, or mountain pose.

2. Inhale deeply as you raise your arms over head, like your spreading your eagle-like wingspan up.

3. Exhale as you bring the arms sweeping down, squat, bring right arm under left arm and bind, while you bring your right leg OVER your left thigh and wrap your right foot around your left calf.

4. Take 5 deep Ujjayi breathes as you focus forward. Triceps parallel to the floor at shoulder level as shoulders move back, separate and move down away from the ears. Hands move your forearms out perpendicular to your biceps. Squat deep in the pose, releasing the hips, controlling your balance with you core, straight lower back, tucked tailbone, and strong ankle.

5. Take one last deep breathe, exhale and then inhale as you release, swing the arms up again and repeat on the opposite side. Perform each side twice.

The pose helps reduce asthma, lower back pain and fibromyalgia, and urinary problems.

This pose is also a fantastic pose for men. It is a powerful and confidence boosting pose that doesn’t require a tremendous amount of flexibility at first, but actually helps increase flexibility in the shoulders and hips, where men generally are more tight, especially athletes. It also improves stamina, control and endurance during other athletic activities…and I’ll let your mind wander…

Try these unique designer patterned yoga straps for Eagle pose, and other poses...they actually convert to normal belts!

Try these unique designer patterned Koshas yoga straps for Eagle pose, and other poses...they actually convert to normal belts! At http://www.yogaaccessories.com/Koshas-Artisan-Yoga-Belts_p_122475.html#

Sometimes, when men (and women) are first starting this pose it is hard to wrap completely up. So just cross your leg over the opposite thigh and hold it, no need to wrap the foot under yet. And for those tight in the shoulder, use a yoga strap…extend arms straight out, parallel , at shoulder height and hold a strap with tension between your two hands.

Beginners with knee problems may want to avoid this pose until they have strengthened their knees through other poses.

Also, if you are having trouble balancing at first, try the pose with your back against the wall.

Also, please practice any new poses for the first time in the presence of a seasoned yoga practitioner!

This pose is usually placed in the midst of a standing series of Warrior poses and sun salutations. Afterward, I like to do a heart opener like Cow face pose, gomukhasana, or flow into Headstand, sirsasana, to really strengthen my back further! I also enjoy leaning forward, extending my wrapped leg back and going into a warrior III from there- that’s a big balance buster!

Also, try this pose while lying on your back, lifting the arms and legs to meet one another (head up), holding for 4 breathes and releasing. Alternate a few times on each side and your abs will be screaming, in a good way!

For more information on Garuda, the mythical figure, click here.

For more information on this pose, check out Yoga Journal or B.K.S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga”…available here.

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Paripurna Navasana: “Full Boat Pose”

Boat pose...

Boat pose...Paripurna Navasana

Take advantage of this human boat;
Free yourself from sorrow’s mighty stream…

– Shantideva: “The Way of the Bodhisattva” –

Skill level: Beginner

Because it’s summer, and we all love the idea of spending our weekends out on the ocean, especially now that the weather is nice, I decided “Boat pose” would be a great way to help us create our own vessel to physical strength and inner calmness.

Boat pose is all about endurance and vitality. It teaches us to breathe through challenges in our lives while remaining strong in our core…in our inner being.

Whenever I need an energetic boost in the morning, or a little confidence if I am feeling shaken, I use Boat pose as an instant adrenaline shot. It increases my brightness and warmth of body and spirit.

Boat pose teaches those who try it to become self-sufficient, creating one’s own vessel, one’s own inner rescue ship, in times of need.

Boat Pose is one of those old tried and true poses that has descendant poses and exercises in everything from Ballet, to core training, to Pilates. The pose cuts right to the core and helps build strength in your arms, lower and upper back, shoulders, hip flexors and quads.

The pose helps with intestinal problems, bloating, thyroid  and kidney problems.

Weaknesses in your body and mental state become very apparent, very quickly  in this pose… so don’t become discouraged if you notice you may that have as strong of abs, or legs as you thought, or if you are unable to hold the pose as long as you wanted to. This pose will quickly become a favorite in your practice to help build strength in some of these hidden muscles, and train your brain and spirit to stay the course.

(photo courtesy of yorkmeditation.co.uk)

(photo courtesy of yorkmeditation.co.uk)

To get into the pose follow these simple steps:

1. Sit on the center of your yoga mat Pull in your legs and grab your upper legs on the back side below the knees. Tilt your upper body backwards so that your lower back carries your weight and the entire upper back is aligned in a straight perpendicular line.

2. With the help of your arms, hands on the back your thighs, pull your knees in close to your chest while remaining upright, balancing slightly tilted back on your tailbone. In this position, be careful t not get lazy, keep your upper back from arching forward and remain engaged in your core, lifting up towards the sky.

3. Extend your arms so they are parallel to the floor.

4. Stretch your legs and feet together, legs extended out at a 60 degree angle.Stretch tops of the feet so they are almost pointed but spread the toes t a flexed position, really pushing the energy out through the legs and out through the tips of the toes.

5. Keeping the back as straight as possible, pulling the shoulder blades together back and down. Bring your arms along the body parallel to the floor and focus on a particular spot for your balance. I like to focus at the space between my ankles.

5. Cultivate Ujayii breathe…”ocean breathe”

6. The aim in this pose is to remain open in the upper chest, letting your heart feel like it is moving forward, while you remain steady and strong in your core, constantly pulling those abs in. Don’t stick your chin out, but keep your spine aligned, moving shoulder blades down from the ears, down the back.

After getting into the pose, try to remain with an open-heart and strength, and ask yourself to remain in this state for as many breathes as possible before coming down and relaxing for a few breathes on your back. Try to do about two rounds of this.

Notice which parts of your body are having the hardest time enduring, or which get sore quickly. That will help you tailor your practice to build strength in those specific areas.

7. You can make the pose more advanced by lower the legs even further until the shins are parallel to the ground. Also you can twist slowly from side to side while up in Boat pose to maximize the abdominal strength training.

8. Afterward, lie on you back in savasana (corpse pose) and meditate on the challenge that your just endured.

Do not strain yourself too much if you feel you need to come out of the pose. But keep strong, lifted and endure as long as possible. This pose helps brighten your spirit and increase your ability to be bold in the face of obstacles.

Enjoy!

Note: if you have lower/upper back problems, consult a yoga practitioner before beginning this pose.

couples Boat pose is also a great way to overcome obstacles in your relationship and stay the course with your partner....photo courtesy of quacquac.org

"couples' Boat pose' is also a great way to overcome obstacles in your relationship and "stay the course" with your partner....photo courtesy of quacquac.org

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Dwi Pada  this morning out back!

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana this morning out back!

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana: “upward facing two-foot staff pose”

Is it just me, or did Monday come extremely quickly this time around?

The gorgeous weather gave me an opportunity to have a jam packed weekend of sailing, yoga and socializing, leaving me a little worn out, dehydrated, and yet extremely content and desiring more weekends like this past one.

It’s Monday’s like these, however, where my mind skips a few mindful moments and heads straight for the following weekend, not appreciating, or opening my heart to the enjoyment i can get out of a normal Monday. I begin  losing a bit of my prana, or life force and motivation, for the week’s tasks.

So this week, I decided to focus on a pose that will give you all something to look forward to practicing, even on a Monday.

It is an advanced modification of a pose I featured last week, and yet it feels surprisingly natural and not as difficult as you would imagine.

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, or “upward facing two-foot staff pose”, is a remarkable and yet overlooked pose that many do not get to experience because it is not featured in class often.

The pose may also be called “inverted staff pose” or “headstand backbend”.

There is a fantastic step by step instruction of the pose starting from upward facing bow (or Wheel) pose, chakrasana or urdhva dhanurasana (I featured last week here).

From Chakrasana to Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana

  • Once up in chakrasana, take a large inhale,  press into your palms and lift your head and shoulders off the ground, placing the crown (top) of your head on the mat. Then lower your elbows to the ground on either side of your head in front of your face, and interlace your hands behind the back of your head.
  • When you feel stable throughout your body, carefully walk your feet away from you while straightening through your legs. If you can, press the soles of your feet firmly into the ground so you can lift your chest and hips higher.
  • Inhale five deep breathes slowly, or even more if you can hold it. When you feel the need to come down from the pose,  then walk your feet back in, place your palms flat on the floor, and lower your hips back to the ground. Bring you knees into your chest in to release your lower back. You can rock back and forth massaging your lower back on the ground.
  • Some great poses to do after this pose are child’s pose, Balasana, downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and some slow spinal seated twists, like Half “Lord of the Fishes” Pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana.

You can also enter this pose through “bound headstand”, but because it is a somewhat challenging pose, I like to enter through chakrasana.

This pose is a “heart opener” and is also wonderful for women’s reproductive systems. It rinses out the spine and strengthens the legs, glutes, back and arms.It relieves coccyx pain and it is a mood enhancer, lifting sad and anxious emotions.

If you couple this pose with sirsasana (which I featured a few weeks ago here) the pose cleanses the mind of negative thinking and has an extreme soothing effect on the brain and emotions.

The pose really brings your prana back in full force, especially on a Monday, when the week is looking extremely long. Samadhi, or bliss, comes easily after the completion of this pose as you come down, releasing all the tension and fear you are holding, especially in your hip flexors, lower back and shoulders.

I like to do this pose as one of the last in my practice. Coming down from it I do a few more poses to stretch my back out, some seated twists, etc. Then  I lie back into savasana and let the pose work on my brain chemistry a bit, letting the endorphins and confidence I get from this pose fully wash over me.

Note: do not try this pose if you have wrist, neck, or back injuries. And remember, do not try this pose for the first time without the guidance of a seasoned yoga teacher. Also, for more info, check of B.K. S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga” available at most book stores and amazon.com.

Now for a treat

perfect smoothie after a long morning yoga practice...recipe below

perfect smoothie after a long morning yoga practice...recipe below

I also like to start off my Mondays, and most summer mornings with a good cleansing smoothie with fruits that are in season. After doing back-bends and twists, eating something easy to digest and that will cleanse your further is a good idea.

The best part about making smoothies is that it allows me to throw in some herbal supplements and extra minerals/vitamins that I normally hate taking on their own, such as Ginkgo and iron. If you buy these supplements in the powder capsule form, just crack open a few into the smoothie and blend!

Watermelon has a remarkable cleansing and detoxification characteristic...especially when already broken down in a smoothie

Watermelon has a remarkable cleansing and detoxification characteristic...especially when already broken down in a smoothie

For a Monday morning, to cleanse further, I use a lot of watermelon because it has a very good detoxification effect.

Freshly shaved ginger root reduces symptons of nausea like a miracle!

Freshly shaved ginger root reduces symptons of nausea like a miracle!

Also, if you feel nauseous often after yoga in the heat, or if you are not used to eating liquid meals, cut up some fresh ginger root and throw it in. It tastes delicious and fresh, while it calms the stomach…a miracle worker!

Here is one of my current smoothie recipes using some summer fruits and some local ingredients…

Alex’s Protein and Fruit Detox Smoothie

(makes about 3 servings)

1/4 cup organic low fat vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup of water

2 cups of ice

1 cup of frozen Cascadian Farm frozen mixed berries

Cascadian organic frozen fruits are by far the bext frozen fruits out there...and trust me, Ive tried a lot of frozen fruit!

Cascadian organic frozen fruits are by far the bext frozen fruits out there...and trust me, I've tried a lot of frozen fruit!

1/2 banana (i save the other half for a snack mid-morning)

1 cup fresh organic local blueberries

a splash of low sugar organic soy milk

1 cup fresh Watermelon

1 tsp. freshly shaved ginger

2 tbsp. protein powder…I like Aria women’s whey and soy protein

Aria womens protein is a great all natural supplement to help build muscles after yoga, especially for vegetarians! Available at any major supermarket

Aria women's protein is a great all natural supplement to help build muscles after yoga, especially for vegetarians! Available at any major supermarket

Vega Smoothie infusion (find it at Whole Foods) is also really delicious!

Vega Smoothie infusion (find it at Whole Foods) is also really delicious!

Also add in Whatever supplements you take for the day… I take a few capsules of Ginkgo, fish oil, and maybe some bone strengthening supplement.

Blend, garnish with some fresh fruit…. and enjoy!

If you have any smoothie recipes you would like to share, e-mail or comment with the recipe and I’ll share it on my blog!

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Chakrasana…wash away the weekend’s toxins in Wheel pose

An early Monday morning Chakrasana (or Urdhva Dhurasana) Wheel pose out in the backyard...mid-modification with the heels off of the ground

An early Monday morning Chakrasana (or Urdhva Dhanurasana) Wheel pose out in the backyard...mid-modification with the heels off of the ground

After a wonderfully sunny and eventful weekend filled with July fourth barbeques and fireworks, I am sure most of us are in the need of one word…DETOX.
Well, you are all in luck, because I have the perfect detox pose for you today…
 

Chakrasana

The name of this pose comes from the Sanskrit term chakra, meaning ‘wheel’, and asana, meaning ‘pose’.
An alternative name for this pose is Urdhva Dhanurasana, stemming from the words ‘elevated’ or ‘upward’, Urdhva’, and ‘Bow’, Dhanur.

The picture above is actually a deepened variation on the pose in which the heels lift off of the gound, while the tailbone presses towards the sky and the feet walk closer to the hands and then the heel release back to the ground after.

Wheel pose acts as a cleansing tonic for the body.
This exhilirating pose has actually become a part of my daily morning practice, after surya namaskar, because it increases confidence, clears my head and soothes my mind, leaving me filled with vitality for the rest of the day.
The pose is very popular in Kundalini and Hatha yoga, in which the pose may be held for upwards of 3 minutes. When held this long, the full respiratory and meditative benefits may be received.

When just starting out, I recommend practicing the pose about 3 times, consecutively, per practice. Push up into the pose and hold for a few breathes, increasing the time you stay up each time. Breathe deeply when up in the pose through the nose using ujjayi breathe, or “the ocean breathe”.

Use Ujjayi Breathe, the ocean breathe, in this pose to cleanse and revitalize....each new breathe is a new wave (photo taken by my dad while visiting me in Cape Town, South Africa last Spring...thanks dad!)

Use Ujjayi Breathe, the ocean breathe, in this pose to cleanse and revitalize....each new breathe is a new wave (photo taken by my dad while visiting me in Cape Town, South Africa last Spring...thanks dad!)

When coming down, release to the ground slowly, close your eyes, and lie down for a few breathes with knees remaining bent and hands on your stomach.

Notice and perceive the sensations through your body and if you see anything mentally. Sometimes, coming down from bow can be a clarifying experience for certain thoughts, visualizations and emotions.

Release the old toxins in your body and create something new and beautiful in wheel pose... (photo courtesy of worldofstock.com)

Release the old toxins in your body and create something new and beautiful in wheel pose... (photo courtesy of worldofstock.com)

The pose tones your digestive and respiratory systems, helping to release toxins out of your body. Doing chakrasana frequently can help your reproductive system and increases flexibility in your spine, hip flexors, wrists, elbows, biceps, triceps, legs, glutes, and shoulders. The pose improves physical and mental stamina, especially if you hold it for longer periods of time, and can help prevent osteoporosis.

The pose  is a mood enhancer and can help treat symptoms of depression, while it aides in the function of the thyroid and pituitary gland.

An advanced variation on this pose is Eka Pada Urdhva Dhanurasana from the Sanskrit words for ‘one’, Eka, and ‘foot’, Pada. It is performed by shifting the weight onto one foot and lifting one leg to a 45 degree angle, or higher, and holding for a few breathes.

For a visualization of how the more basic  pose should be done at abc-of-yoga.com… click here.

You can also find variations of this pose in B.K. Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” in the section on the Viparita Dandasana Series. To order the book from Amazon, click here.

The philosophy behing Chakrasana:

The pose invokes the “Wheel of Life”  from Hindi and Buddhist culture. The Wheel of Life is present in everything from Hindi texts, to the theory of the energy chakras, to visual art in Tibetan mandalas. The Wheel of Life, or Devanagari, in Ayurveda represents the balance we must find within ourselves and all the elements in our external and internal world. 

The Devenagari  Wheel of Life

The Devenagari "Wheel of Life"

However, in Tibetan  Buddhism, the Wheel of Becoming, or  Bhavacakra, can be understood as the cycle of samsara that we repeatedly experience until enlightenment and nirvana is reached, and we can escape it.

The Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Becoming or Cycle of Samsara

The Tibetan Buddhist "Wheel of Becoming" or "Cycle of Samsara"

In both interpretations, the visualization of the wheel is represented through spokes. In Ayurveda, the spokes are filled with different elements to be balanced, while in the Tibetan understanding, the spokes represent the six forms of unenlightened existence.

Former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Losang Samten, working on a sand mandala of the Wheel of Life

Former Tibetan Buddhist monk, Losang Samten, working on a sand mandala of the "Wheel of Life"

A practice some Tibetan Buddhist monks partake in is the creation of beautifully intricate mandalas of the “Wheel of Life” made with sand, and then the destruction of them. It is a practice of no-attachment to one’s achievements. I was fortunate enough to witness a creation and destruction of a “Wheel of Life” sand Mandala by former monk, Losang Samten.

Visit Losang Samten’s official site here.

A close up of Losangs work from www.tusconcitizen.com

A close up of Losang's work from http://www.tusconcitizen.com

The Self is the hub of the wheel of life,

And the sixteen forms are only the spokes.

The Self is the paramount goal of life.

Attain this goal and go beyond death!

Prashna Upanishad

Note: To [prepare for the pose, warm up with other spinal flexibility related poses (such as Bow and Bridge). You will not want to do this pose if you have had injuries to you back, shoulders, elbows, or wrists, or if you have carpel tunnel, a headache, high blood pressure or heart problems. Always attempt a new pose in the presence of a seasoned yoga instructor!

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sirsasana on the porch this morning...definitely puts even the weather in perspective

sirsasana on the porch this morning...definitely puts even the weather in perspective

After a great  evening of wining and dining with friends at the Gaslight in the South End of Boston (fantastic food…and there’s free parking!) the other night, I came home to find that my beloved 2 1/2 year old weathered Macbook was not responding to me, or anything! Silent freak-out ensued and my whole technological addiction was revealed in the following 5 minutes.

I have admittedly developed a strong attachment to many many physical and material things in my life, and my computer is definitely one of them. It has been my little buddy through trips all over the world and through stressful all-nighters at college. She never let me down.

But after a few minutes of freaking-out and wondering if the Apple store would fix it with an expired warantee, I said to myself,  “Okay, Alex, get a grip…and some perspective…its a computer“.

We all have our inner voices and urges challenging our nervous systems, claiming things in life are more important than they are, or that challenges and problems are too difficult to overcome.

Especially in these times when we don’t know what’s around the corner, and small things, like paying the rent on time, or trying to keep a job, seem insurmountable compared to last year.

That’s why I chose Headstand this week.

This particular headstand is part of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Sirsasana Cycle and is Salamba Sirsasana II Five.

Ancient texts call sirsasana the “king of all asanas”. According to Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga”, a healthy brain is the key to a healthy ruler of a country, or just a person in general. The brain was the first part of the body to emerge in this world and is the center of all “intelligence, knowledge, discrimination, wisdom, and power”.

Harmony, mobility and discrimination of emotions and reactions are governed by your brain. Practicing this inversion will help blood flow from the regions below your diaphragm to your brain to increase energy and clarity. The pituitary and pineal glands gain more blood which helps with our vitality and energy and it keeps the body warm!

This pose calms the mind and helps relieve stress and mild depression. It also helps  to strengthen the arms, legs, and spine, lungs, abs, digestion, relieves menopausal symptoms, and helps with asthma, infertility, insomnia and sinusitis.

The best part of this pose is that the world turns upside down in just a few seconds. We become self-reliant and balanced in our victories and losses, pains and pleasures, because we can see the horizon in a different way. Things that once seemed overwhelming, frustrating or problematic, suddenly do not seem as dire. My computer, for example, becomes just a machine, or that flat tire becomes a thing of the past.

see the opportunities present in every challenge, not everything is as it appears...

see the opportunities present in every challenge, not everything is as it appears...

Inversions also help us conquer fear. The pose itself is a bit of an ego boost as we support our entire body weight on a place we don’t usually carry anything. Suddenly the things around us do not seem familiar, but we feel larger than them. We feel if we can conquer this pose, we can conquer anything.

Lord Ganesh is the Hindu god that removes obstacles... take a little statue of him to keep you blanaced, especailly when you travel...

Lord Ganesh is the Hindu god that removes obstacles... take a little statue of him to keep you balanced, especially when you travel...

Along with this, there is another Sirsansana in which the forearms (not the hands) are on the ground. This pose is a bit harder to balance and ascend to, but it is incredibly freeing. There is nothing separating your head from your view. For this post I choose to share the second one in Iyengar’s sequence because it helps strengthen your arms and is good for people just starting out. It’s also easier and more fun to play around with your legs once you get up there!

umm...right...maybe one day...for now Im okay with the help of my arms

umm...right...maybe one day...for now I'm okay with the help of my arm, then again, no fear!

I used to study voice lessons (operatic style) until a few years ago. When I first began, I always viewed the notes in my range as incremental, increasing to heights I wouldn’t dare to reach. When I would go for an extremely high note, my vocal chords would tighten and of course I couldn’t get the note out properly. Finally my teacher literally threw a book at me. It was called “A Soprano on her Head” by Eloise Ristad and it changed the way I sang.  For a few weeks straight I would  start off new pieces, or challenging sections of pieces, by going into a handstand against the wall and singing it upside down.  Suddenly, I couldn’t tell which way was up, which way would I would have to reach for a high note, and all of the notes came freely out of my relaxed vocal chords. Amazing! Instead of the high notes appearing as insurmountable mountains, they flowed through my mouth with ease. If you are interested in reading the book….click here

In this book by Eloise Ristad, yoga inversion principles and singing go hand in hand!

In this book by Eloise Ristad, yoga inversion principles and singing go hand in hand!

Note: women who are pregnant, menstruating or anyone with high blood pressure should not try this pose, or do it only accompanied by a yoga instructor. Also, do not stay in this pose for longer than 5 minutes, and do not start off your yoga  practice with this pose. If you have neck/back injuries, the same applies. Always try a pose like this with a knowledgeable yoga teacher first!

For more info on this pose, read B.K.S. Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” or click here for some basic info.

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Me doing upward-facing dog upward-facing dog

So every week I will post a “Yoga pose of the week”, one that has some relevance in my life, or those in the context around me.

I chose Urdha Mukha Svanasana this week, or as many know it as upward-facing dog because it is my favorite pose in the surya namaskar sequence (or the sun salutation).

As a Massachusetts native, and living there now, the weather for this past month has been HORRENDOUS. It is June 22nd, freezing, windy, with torrential downpours. This may leave our joints achy, Vitamin D deficient, lethargic and screaming at the sky and ourselves asking, in our bitterly Bostonian tone, why the heck we decided to live in New England in the first place.

While this is not a cure for the weather, it is a cure for the bad-weather blues, and surya namaskar is a salute to the sun. There are many variations on the whole sequence which I’ll get to in a later post, or you can research, but upward-facing dog is one of those “Ah HA!” moments in my morning practice where I finally wake up!

As my arms flex I push the floor away feeling empowered, strong, lengthening my awkwardly long legs, opening my chest to the sky…my back bends and I feel …well basically it makes me feel AWESOME.

This simple little pose  is the little engine that could! It stimulates your organs, gets the digestive system going, relieves depression, fatigue and pain of sciatica. It increases your lung capacity, strengthens your quads, abs, back, triceps, biceps, and stretches out your hip-flexers…which feels oh so good.

If you are just starting yoga and want to try this pose it isn’t necessary to bring your thighs off the floor, that will come with more strength in the arms and flexibility of the spine, just take it easy and enjoy the opening of your heart chakra to the, seemingly invisible as of late, sun.

My favorite part of this pose is that my dog, Magic, an 11-year old grumpy little black poodle, LOVES doing it with me, and he really does it! I’ve been trying to get a picture of him doing it, but he’s a quick little one and is a little camera shy….one day I’ll sneak attack him…

For more information on how to do upward-facing dog check out… yoga journal or purchase B.K.S. Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” at Amazon.com…it really is the “bible” of modern yoga, my go-to for any asana info, and a must for any yogi’s library!

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