Saturday, January 31, 2009

Finding Freedom in the Present Moment

In 1974 Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center Towers. For him it was being a poet – writing in the sky. His art was a passion that called for him. He did not seek it or choose it. It chose him.

”Passion is something that knows no bounds”, says Petit. “You cannot calculate every step of your life. Living intensively is difficult.” Philippe did not think of the consequences of walking the wire between the towers.

He did spend 6 years planning the event. He had to figure out how to get the wire and cables to the top of the towers secretly. There was the problem of how to get the wire from the top of one tower to the top of the other tower. Guidelines had to be secured but not in the usual way because the wire was ½ mile above ground. This was the planning that Philippe did. But he never planned the actual walk. He did not think about the fear of walking on a thin wire high above the ground. That part was reserved for complete concentration of living in the moment. He believes you need to leave room for spontaneity, intuition, surprise and improvisation.

He did think that he wanted to do something magnificent. He knew he needed all of his body and mind to do the impossible. There was not one inch of energy to think of anything else.

“Once I am on the wire practicing or performing, I align well the balance of the heart with the balance of the body. You ask me in life, is it lined up? Is it comparable? I would say no. In life my mental balance doesn't exist much because I am too scattered by loving too many things” says Petit. “Well, it’s a mix. I devour life with an impetuous joy, and I’m trying to be happy. But I am sometimes very unhappy, because many things don’t go the way I want, and I am very critical of my own work. So, I am not perpetually happy, but I am a joyful energy of living, and that is with me all the time.

“If I had been walking briskly to the other side, and claim I did it, and go down, and become rich and famous, then it would have been a completely different event. The fact that I stayed there, dialogued with the seagulls, I stayed forty-five minutes, I did eight crossings, and I did all those choreography, laying down, forgetting where I was, makes it obviously some kind of strange theatre in the sky.

“There are moments where things are very delicate, or that the elements are against me, a strong wind or some problem with the installation of the wire, and so I have to be very careful, and I am conscious of what is about to go wrong, but I cannot be fearful that it will be very dangerous for me to be fearful. I have to be fully aware of what’s going on, and fully involved in a way that people on the earth do not carry their life. I have to hold my life in an absolutely intense way.”

The art of living in the moment is where we align with the Divine. It can be free of fear and full of joy. It is not something that lasts. It comes and goes. Like everything in life – there is a pulse, there is change, there are the opposites coming together to define each other. We need to forget to be able to remember. It is the passion in remembering that sets us free.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Core Awareness

Think of the word “core”. What does that word mean to you? It is a simple basic word with a lot of power behind it.

Core can refer to:
  • our abdomen – strengthening that area of our body

  • our gut – having that “gut” feeling when you know something without conscious thought

  • a basic, essential, or enduring part (of an individual, a class, or an entity)

  • the essential meaning or gist (the core of the argument)

  • the inmost or most intimate part (honest to the core)
The core of our emotions is our heart.
The core of the solar system is the sun
The core of the earth and sun are hot fiery places bursting with energy and power
The core of an atom is its nucleus
The core of a fruit contains its seeds – the creation of life – something necessary to continue its existence.

When we have a strong core, we move with more ease through life. In yoga we want to move from the core. Remembering to engage the core protects our backs, roots our foundation, allows more opening in the chest.

Engaging the core does not mean hardening or tightening the core. It means to send attention and power to the core, but to also allow for movement and softness. We use the power of the core to lift and expand. Over and over again we strive to find the balance of effort and surrender, moving inward and moving outward, pulsing with our inner breath and the breath of the universe.

Take a moment to sit or lie down quietly, close your eyes and feel your breath.
  • Think of a core ideal for yourself – something that you aspire towards.
  • Think of a core value – something you would hold sacred, something that motivates your life.
  • Think of a core idea – something that inspires you, something that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning.
  • Think of your core, your essence. Who are you? Where is your bliss?
  • Think of your core quality – what do you embody in your life, in your interactions with others? Patience? Forgiveness? Generosity? Compassion? Nurturing? Kindness? Acceptance?
The word “Coeur” in French means heart. The word “cor” in Latin means heart. Core has a connection with our belly and our heart. Both work in tandem to give us support and expansion. Both are essential to live with freedom and purpose.

Use some of these thoughts to set an intention for your day, your week or whatever time-frame you want. Feel the sweetness of the belly engaging and the heart opening. Feel the power of being present in this moment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bhujangasana - Cobra

A cobra gets its power from its lower body, raising its head to observe and be ready for action. Its upper body is full and flexible.

Note: Start practicing cobra with the chest much closer to the floor than shown in the photo above. If you feel any lower back pain, lower your chest and re- lengthen the low back.

Cobra has many therapeutic values:
  • Strengthens the spine
  • Stretches chest and lungs, abdomen, shoulders and abdomen
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Helps relieve stress and fatigue
  • Soothes sciatica
Basics of Cobra:
  1. Place feet hip width apart and parallel to each. other. Press the tops of feet firmly into the floor.

  2. Activate legs by hugging shins towards each other without physically moving the legs. This creates strong muscular energy in the legs that set the foundation for cobra.

  3. Lengthen the lower back by inner spiraling the legs (send top of thighs toward the sky) and scooping the tailbone (send tailbone towards feet and lift energy up into the belly) and firming the belly.

  4. Press into the hands and isometrically draw the hands back toward the hips.

  5. Inhale lifting the chest forward and up from the back body keeping the shoulders strongly engaged on the back.

  6. Keep the chest open and full. Use your breath to inflate the ribs expanding the whole diaphram outwards. Feel the breath lift the chest. Shoulders should not be close to the ears.

  7. The bottom of the pelvis is the focal point of cobra. From the pelvis extend back towards the heels and lift up through the chest and the top of the head.

  8. On the inhalation firm the back of the shoulder blades into the back to lift higher.

  9. On the exhalation extend the chest forward.
Embrace the openess of the chest and the integration of the shoulders onto the back in cobra. This is the feeling you want to bring into all your yoga poses. This is the energy you want to use to empower your life.

Short video of cobra

Friday, January 16, 2009

Effort and Surrender

"Effort and surrender are like two wings of a bird. Both are necessary for a smooth and joyful flight." - John Friend (founder of Anusara yoga)

For many people the idea of effort is easy to accept. “No pain, no gain” is a familiar motto. But too much effort is like a horse with blinders. You cannot see what is around you. You are not open to possibilities. A bird has to make an effort to fly south for the winter. But if it did not surrender and use the power of the wind it would never make it. When paddling in white water, there is an effort and a vision to get to the bottom of the difficult rapid. But the paddler needs to surrender to the power of the water, see where the current is flowing and find the line that uses the energy of the water to make it safely to the bottom.

Surrender is often defined as giving up completely to the power of another. But in yoga we look at a “sweet” surrender. It is more of a softening to the moment, a release of tension, a belief in the idea that we are truly supported and cared for, an acceptance and love of our inner being. We can’t fly without surrender. Effort without softening is over-effort. We need to accept that we cannot control everything. There are things beyond our knowledge and control. If we dance and play with the Universe there is harmony. If we fail to surrender there is discord or conflict.

"Don't be attached to doing the poses - be attached to feeling good." Desiree Rumbaugh (internationally known Anusara teacher)

When effort and surrender combine the result is pure ecstasy. If we approach our yoga with a playful attitude the balance of effort and surrender becomes easier. The ego may want to perform a particular pose but the body or mind may not be ready. If we try to force the pose with our will, we may cause injury. It is easy to cling to physical ideals, but our bodies are all different. Even the way the bones are set in the socket can make a pose easy or impossible for us. So instead of forcing your way into a pose, ease and explore your way into it with gentleness and compassion supported with a strong foundation of energy and desire.

"The face should be relaxed and the eyes soft in every pose. Advanced practitioners will express more of the state of surrender and freedom than effort, while beginners will need to focus more on effort and discipline. Effort without a sense of surrender can lead to violent and constrictive action and therefore to injury." B.K.S. Iyengar (great yoga master)

Hatha yoga is the physical practice of asana (poses). The word “hatha” means sun and moon together and the word yoga means “union”. The opposites complement and complete each other. Use the inspiration of the brightness of the sun and the softness of the moon to move into and out of your poses.

Working from your center gives your pose its power. Playing the edges helps to rediscover your center. Yoga is dynamic. It pulses with the breath and with the beat of nature. There is always a new discovery, an awakening if you remain open to it. Bring this energy and attitude into your life and feel your life blossom.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Paying Attention

When we set an INTENTION that sets things in motion. The universe steps in and conspires to bring that Intention to fruition. It makes things happen for us in the direction of that Intention. For the New Year we set an Intention for the coming year. Having a core Intention for the year is a wonderful way to build a particular attribute or quality in our lives. With every yoga practice we can set an Intention for that practice. This can help enhance our bigger Intention.

But we also need to pay ATTENTION. We want to pay Attention to our Intention, to how we are bringing that Intention consciously into our lives. Are we remembering our Intention? Are our actions in line with our Intention?

We can pay ATTENTION to the big picture. What is the overall feeling of my Intention? We can pay Attention to the smaller details. How do I integrate my Intention into my life? Are my thoughts in line with my Intention? How did that last action feed my Intention? Did I LIVE my Intention today? Or did I forget? How does that feel? Does it feel different to live by my Intention than when I forget to live by my Intention?

Our Attention will come and go like the seasons. We are part of Nature so there is always an ebb and flow. So we gently bring our Attention back to our Intention without judgment; just knowing that this is a process like everything else in our lives. If we live without Attention and are totally consumed by distraction, then our lives may not be fully what we would like them to be. There are so many distractions in life giving us a challenge to keep our Attention aligned with our Intention.

In our yoga practice we set an Intention. We want to be conscious of that Intention throughout our practice. That is part of our Attention. Our physical alignment is tied to our alignment with our Intention. So when we pay Attention to our alignment that feeds our Intention. We can bring our Attention to our foundation, to our breath, to our core, to our periphery, the lines and loops of energy in our body. All these keep our Attention focused in a positive way instead of the negative mindless chatter that we sometimes unconsciously fall into.

Take a moment to sit quietly. Bring your Attention to your foundation. Feel your sit bones connecting deeply with the Earth energy. From there feel the breath rise and bring your physical body into alignment. Feel the breath create a lightness and openness in your body.

Bring your Attention to your neck and shoulders. Move the top of the throat back and lengthen your neck until you feel that place of balance and ease.

Bring your Attention to your fingertips. Notice that outmost place on your body. How does that feel? Can you bring your Attention to that detail? Does it make you feel more alive?

By paying Attention to the details of your yoga practice you will begin to see how these details and principles apply to all the poses: balanced action, foundation and expansion.

When we pay Attention to what we want, we create our lives. When we pay Attention to what we fear, we become a victim. So notice where your Attention lies. Place it with your Intention, your ultimate vision. Where Attention goes, energy flows.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Mountains are a symbol of strength and stability. They have an inherent grace and grandeur. In Asheville we are surrounded by the soft, ancient and sacred Appalachian mountains.

Mountain pose is a pose we do everyday without thinking about it. It is our foundation; our home base. We can always return to Tadasana to center ourselves and start over. We can use the principles of Tadasana in our daily lives: create a foundation, remember our core, set our alignment and expand outward with grace and wisdom. Let the mountains be our inspiration for this pose and our alignment with our own inner beauty.

Basics of Tadasana
  1. Ground deeply and evenly through the 4 corners of the feet (big toe mound, inner heel, little toe mound and outer heel). Lift up through the arch of the foot.

  2. Keep the energy of the legs strong. Hug the muscles to the bone, feeling energy spiral from the ankles up to the inner thighs opening the back of the pelvis. Feel the natural curve in the low back.

  3. Draw the tailbone downward and lift the belly up. Imagine an energy loop connecting these actions. So the energy of the tailbone draws toward the heels but then rounds upwards lifting and creating tone in the belly.

  4. Breathe in fully and deeply expanding the breath into the back of the body. The breath expands into the chest naturally but we want to consciously send the breath to open the back so the rib cage expands in all directions.

  5. Inhale feeling the breath lift the shoulders and lengthen the side body and spine. On the exhale softly place your shoulders onto the back feeling the chest open and freedom between the back shoulder blades.

  6. Take the top of the throat back lengthening the back of the neck and feeling the top of the head being drawn upwards. This movement should bring the head in line with the shoulders so there is no muscular tension in the neck. Most people carry their heads forward of the shoulder so the muscles are strained keeping the head lifted.
Benefits of Tadasana:
  • Improves posture Strengthens thighs, knees, and ankles

  • Firms abdomen and buttocks

  • Relieves sciatica

  • Reduces flat feet
You can use the principles of Tadasana when you are sitting at your desk, driving your car, walking your dog, jogging, waiting in line, just about anywhere. It is the awareness of bringing the heels, knees, hips, shoulders and back of the head into alignment that will allow our bodies to heal itself. This opens energy channels, puts less constant strain on the muscles and gives a sense of ease and freedom of movement.

When you have the proper alignment your body should feel light and open. When you begin to notice your habits of standing you can start replacing poor habits with good habits. This can decrease hip pain, back pain, flat feet, neck pain and tightness of breath.

Video showing Tadasana

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

New Year is a cycle representing a new beginning. We actually have this opportunity at every moment but it becomes extremely potent at the beginning of the new year.

It is easy for our society to run around and be busy. It is difficult for most people to pause and take the time to relax, breathe and be introspective. The New Year gives us the tradition of making resolutions. It is familiar to put more things on our “to do” list.

New Year’s resolutions often start off with a bang only to fade quickly. So instead of making a resolution to “DO” something, try making an INTENTION to embody a quality that will make your life richer and easier. Think of any quality you would like more of in your life. A quality that feels right to you. We all possess these qualities but some of them lie more dormant than others. By setting an INTENTION and bringing this quality to our ATTENTION and PRACTICING this quality, it can become more manifest in our being.

We are human BEings but we usually act and think of ourselves as human DOings. It is not what we DO that defines us. It is our BEINGness that defines us.

The quality or attribute you choose can be anything. Here are some suggestions:

























In the Moment





























So take a moment to fully FEEL this quality become part of you. Allow yourself to imbibe this quality like sweet nectar. You are what you believe. Give yourself the gift of believing in the best that you can be. Let your actions follow your intentions. Live fully in the present. Empower yourself and enjoy each moment.