From the Secret Lives of Yoga Poses Archive  2008 – 2009

Sep 9, 2008 – Shiva the Destroyer

Purification, Destruction, and Tapas – Reporting From the Center of the Compost Pile

I dreamed last night that we lived in a big house. It was on fire, and though I did put it out, we lost one of the chickens.

This morning, I googled the “meaning of fire in dreams” and found a whole host of possible interpretations, including purification and destruction, of course, and also activation (of plans or goals) and anchoring (security). That I put out the fire would suggest, according to mythsdreamssymbols.com, that I “will overcome (my) obstacles in (my) life through much work and effort. ” That we lost the bird represents, well, loss.

It reminds me of the yoga principle of tapas. Tapas means heat, and is sometimes interpreted as physical heat, like in hot yoga, but more often as the heat generated by one’s commitment, passion, and self effort toward a goal, specifically spiritual goals. This is the transformational fire of the yoga practice, the fire that the yogi is said to be forged in, as steel is forged.

Not surprising that my subconscious would be processing these archetypes now, considering the triadic feats of opening a yoga studio, going back to my home town to get married, and organizing and hosting this grand event with Darren that have consumed me this summer. I imagine that my bout with the flu has been a part of all this transformation too. The letting go part.

Siva, who you might know in the form of Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, is sometimes referred to as the great Destroyer, but I’ve the term modernized into “the Great Composter,” evoking the irrevocable partnership of change and growth with death and loss. Incidentally, if you ever put your hand in the center of your compost pile, you will find it to be hot.

And at the center of the compost pile, it can be hard to distinguish the fresh clean scraps of produce and yard waste, from the rotting wormy garbage, from the moist, rich, sweet smelling earth that is the ground for new life.

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From the Secret Lives of Yoga Poses Archive posts from 2008 – 2009

Strengthen – Developing Self Awareness 

(To schedule a private session with me online, contact me here)

Our Bodies As Ourselves

Conversations about developing self awareness are usually focused on non physical aspects of the self – our minds, emotions, personality, and so on. But many people, myself included, have accessed profound revelations of self awareness through the body.

The body is the self, too. Physics tells us that the body, like any other material thing, is energy, vibrating at the exact right frequency to elicit its specific density, and to create its individual form and fabric. Seen in this way, it’s seems to me that our muscles are no less our true selves than our deepest dreams and desires. We may be more than our bodies, but certainly we’re 0ur bodies, too.

Embodiment is a gift. Developing self awareness is a way to show appreciation for that gift.

Our Bodies are Our Interface

Our muscles give us our shape. They are the part of us that translate who we are to the world, even to ourselves, in the language of the senses. Other people are able to be aware of us in an immediate way because of our physical presence. And in the pulsing, reflective manner of the universe, this is true for awareness of ourselves as well.

Did you ever hear of The Invisible Man? Not the Ralph Ellison one – it was also a book by HG Wells, and what I remember is the television adaptation from the seventies. The hero was a scientist experimenting with invisibility, who accidentally turned the formula on himself. The show opened with him painstakingly cloaking himself from the ground up: socks, long pants and sleeves, shoes, gloves. He had to have some kind of material covering, some kind of substantial outer layer in order to appear to the world, and to himself. The most powerful moment of the sequence was when he wrapped his face in bandages, effectively assuming the identity of someone terribly wounded, maybe burned, or marred in some way. This was a vivid image for me as a child because I could relate. I think we can all relate to the experience of feeling unable to show our self to the world, unable to see our self accurately reflected back in the faces of the people around us. It is the feeling of invisibility, and it hurts. The invisible man healed himself by showing himself, even as he showed himself to be in need of healing.

Developing self awareness is like the secret life of developing awareness of your body. Awareness of your body comes from using it, moving it, feeling it, and paying attention to it. In the yoga asanas, or postures, we wrap our muscles around our bones to heal the wounds of invisibility from the inside. In this way, getting stronger can be an act of self love.

Developing Self Awareness with Yoga

 In yoga poses, awareness is key. In the style of yoga that I practice and teach, the awareness exercises we do with our mind, moving ever outward from our innermost experience to the very edges of our physical form, are met with the awareness faculties of the body moving inward from the edges. This practice is sometimes described as “yang” practice, in contrast to yin yoga, which utilizes the body in a resting state. When we contract our muscles we stimulate our proprioceptors, which tell our minds about the shape of our bodies, and where they are in space. With conscious practice of yoga poses, you can use the developing strength of your muscles both to fortify your interface through which you engage with the others, as well as to enhance your self awareness on a deeper level.

This information is meant to inspire you, and to encourage you to begin your own life-affirming practice of yoga. A safe and rewarding yoga practice can only be ensured by the guidance of a well trained, real live teacher. 


To schedule a session with me online, contact me here. 

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From the Secret Lives of Yoga Poses Archive 2008 – 2009

Tadasana – Mountain Pose

(To schedule a private session with me online, contact me here)

Mountain pose builds steadiness and confidence, as well as self awareness. This pose can be a usefull tool to bring light into the dark places, or the blind spots, of your inner vision. It also teaches us the strengthening principle of balanced muscular engagement as applied to facilitated stretching, and the actions described below can be applied to every pose in your yoga practice.

Goddess Wy'east

Mt Hood, called Wy’est by the Multnomah people

The Secret Life

Mountain Pose, or tadasana, is the fundamental standing pose. It’s the earth of the poses – eternally, effortlessly present. When I first began practicing yoga, it seemed like a non-pose to me. Like just standing still. But as the yogic practice of awareness began to sharpen my perceptions, this unassuming posture took on life. The life of myriad plants and animals making their home in the shoulder of the great rock. The life evoked by the sounds of soft wind in deep valleys. Practicing mountain pose is practicing peace amidst the glorious chaos of our lives.

Perhaps because I was a child of the seventies, I tend to lend the pronoun “she” to all expressions of nature. But I understand that historically in India, the mountain is associated with Siva himself. This is in part because the upward thrust of the mountain’s shape corresponds with the upward pointing triangle that is a symbol for what’s sometimes called “liberating” energy, which moves away from the earth and our manifest, embodied experience. The archetypal association with Siva also speaks to the steady, enduring quality we sense when beholding a great mountain from afar, such as in the picture of Mt Hood, above.

I love the Hindu image of the Goddess as the river, running down the surface of the mountain, further embedded as a metaphor for Siva’s dreadlocks, providing the complimentary earth bound, dynamic, manifesting current. As with any symbol or archetype, you can play with it. We can pull apart these energies in theory only – in matter they are deeply, irrevocably interwoven.

Mt. Hood is called Wy’east in the Multnomah language of the native Chinook, and is considered a he, although not all mountains are. Wy’east is considered to be one of two sons of the Great Spirit.

The Pose

1) Stand with your feet at hip width, pointing straight ahead, with your arms at your sides. Let your knees be straight but not locked, and bring your weight to rest evenly on all the corners of your feet. Let your head float comfortably at the top of your spine, in anatomical neutral position. You can think of this as looking right at the back of the head of the person sitting in front of you on a city bus.

2) Begin with softening, and filling up. This is to ensure that your self effort will be seasoned by an awareness of what is beyond yourself and whatever activity you are doing at the moment. Settle your weight into your feet as if you trust the earth to hold you, and let the breath come in, and lift you and support you from the inside. Let it rustle the leaves of the bushes and trees on the mountain.

3) Now, engage your muscles. Really, it’s is as simple as that. Sometimes we call it hugging in; this gentle engagement is the first step in a process called “facilitated stretching”. Starting at your feet, begin to slowly hug your muscles in, around the supported, filled up feeling. Nestling the muscles in close to the bones will calm your nervous system, ensuring your body that someone (you) is making sure all the parts are being kept secure. Believe it or not, this a step toward lengthening your muscles and opening your joints. Keep hugging your muscles in, around your ankles and legs, your hips, your belly and chest, your arms and hands and fingers, your whole body. Then, from deep in your belly, root your feet into the earth, and extend out in all directions like a star.

Try not to overdo. Don’t clench your bones, hug them. And please remember to continue breathing. The trick to finding your center is finding the middle. The middle point between the softening and surrender, and the strengthening and effort, is Yoga.

The Sanskrit name for Mountain Pose is Tadasana. It is also sometimes called samastithi, or Equal Standing Pose.

nataraja statue like noah's

Related Post: Foot Help – For All the Poses in Your Life

To read more about facilitated stretching, check out Dr. Ray Long’s blog, here.

This information is meant to inspire you, and to encourage you to begin your own life-affirming practice of yoga. A safe and rewarding yoga practice can only be ensured by the guidance of a well trained, real live teacher. 


To schedule a session with me online, contact me here. 

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From the Secret Lives of Yoga Poses Archive

soleoffoot

Foot Help

For All the Poses in Your Life

(To schedule a private session with me online, contact me here)

It’s amazing how understanding how to work your feet can help you move comfortably in your entire body. Your feet are literally your foundation, and just like with a building, if the foundation is weak or unsteady, the whole structure will be compromised and even collapse. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s true. The way we walk on our feet can relate to the health and functioning of our knees, our hips, even our back and neck.

Our feet were designed to grab and feel the earth, and make constant subtle muscular adjustments to ensure our balance and to take us where we want to go. The muscles in the feet inter-relate with muscles in the legs, hips, back, all the way up to the neck and shoulders. One fourth of the body’s bones are in the feet, and there are roughly 70 muscles that move them around. And yet, largely due to our habit of wearing hard-soled shoes throughout our waking hours, our awareness of these muscles and our ability to move them is very poor.

Whether you are doing yoga poses, trying to relieve pain from fallen arches, or build ankle strength, read the foot help often. I mean it. You can come back to this page and read the instructions for foot help every day. How many years have you been building the walking and stepping and standing habits you already have? It’s going to take at least a few perusals of this page, and then regular practice and the guidance of a good teacher to build your new, healthier ones.

Mapping The Corners of your Feet

If you’ve been to many yoga classes, you’ve probably heard the instruction to “root into all four corners of your feet.” I remember hearing that, too, and gazing suspiciously at my own shallow arched, paddle shaped ones. I certainly didn’t see anything resembling a corner. Later I came to understand the four corners of the feet as follows:

The big toe mound, or the ball of the big toe, the inner edge of the heel, the little toe mound (ball of the foot, little toe side) and the outer heel. In that order.

*Anatomically speaking, the feet have only three points of contact with the earth, with a slight lift between each two points when properly rooted. Those would be the big toe mound, the little toe mound, and the heel bone. I have played with these two maps in my own body and practice, and find that rooting the two lateral edges of the heel separately offers a broader and more nuanced awareness of the muscles of my leg. That said, there’s a time for nuance, and a time for brevity, and the three corner approach creates a summary stability that can be very helpful in practice. If I were you, I would get to know both.

Make sense? Good.

Now:

1) Stand up and place your feet hip distance apart, pointing straight ahead. You can follow the instructions for mountain pose, or simply feel the weight on your feet for a moment. Really feel them, notice if you have more weight on the inner edges or the outer, the front of the feet or the heels. This is an opportunity for developing self awareness. Make your legs strong, but don’t lock your knees.

2) Lift the toes and spread them as much as you can. Can’t spread your toes? Neither could I, once. It’s absolutely learnable. Your toes have forgotten how to move because you never ask them to. Give them a chance. If you learn to spread your toes, you might just learn to lift your arches, make your ankles strong, or your knees, maybe even your back!

3) With your toes lifted, press down into the the big toe mound, the inner heel, the little toe mound, and the outer heel, in that order. When you do the third corner, the little toe mound, reach across and spread your toes again.  If you are working three corners, do big toe mound, heel, little toe mound. Make the foot wide. Keep pressing down into all corners of the feet at the same time. and then release the toes again. It’s good to root the toes, but if rooting the toes lifts any of the corners, let the toes be light for now, until your foot and ankle strength are more balanced (the toes can be clenchers).

You may feel your arches lifting. That’s good. Sometimes, even fallen arches can be corrected over time through proper foot work.

Tadasana Foot

For a yoga pose to be harmonious, we have to cultivate inteligent action of our feet. That’s obvious enough for the standing poses, but believe it or not, the same is true whether you’re on your back, as in eye of the needle, on your belly, as in cobra pose, or even standing on your hands, or on your head! Fortunately, there is not much to remember. Once you learn how to map the corners of your feet while standing up, you have learned how to work the foot in many of the other poses in your practice.

Sound confusing? Try this. Sit in a chair and place your right ankle on top of your left knee, open-cross-leg style. Make sure there is some inward curve in your lower back. If not, draw the top of your sacrum in and up toward your spine. Now imagine there was a floor attached to the bottom of your right foot, the one that is across your knee, and root into it just the way you would when standing. Take care that you could stand on that foot, if you had to – that the sole of the foot is basically perpendicular to the shin. Like if you unscrewed your lower leg at the knee and removed it, you could place it on the floor and it would not topple over.
This orientation of the foot is called Tadasana Foot, and understanding it is key to safe knees in your yoga practice, especially while practicing any poses that open the outer hips.

When worked properly with good alignment, tadasana foot heps to ensure that the knee is in good alignment, stretching and engaging evenly on both sides, even when it is not in contact with the floor. This is especially important as the rest of your parts begin bending and twisting every which way in the yoga poses. That’s when foot help becomes knee help, and ankle help, and hip and back help, and so on. The knees are especially vulnerable to over stretching – so work your feet with great care and steadiness.

Related Post: On Ardha Chandrasana – or – What I Did on My Summer Vacation

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This information is meant to inspire you, and to encourage you to begin your own life-affirming practice of yoga. A safe and rewarding yoga practice can only be ensured by the guidance of a well trained, real live teacher. 


To schedule a session with me online, contact me here.

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