Saturday, March 28, 2009

Learning from the Lotus

The lotus flower emerges from darkness into light with grace and beauty. It lives part time in the murky water where it thrives and replenishes itself. The lotus needs the murky waters to stay alive. It is not afraid of the dark. It honors the power of darkness and the power of light.

As a sacred symbol it represents strength, perseverance, resilience, prosperity and beauty. It symbolizes the human condition. Although we often face hardships and times of difficulty, we can rise above these situations and use them to become a brighter, fuller, more enlightened being.

When the lotus emerges from the murky water it unfolds slowly one petal at a time. It does not rush or explode open in a burst of passion. Its inner beauty is revealed in the stillness. When you look with awareness at each petal you can see the complexity in its simplicity. The myriad of patterns in each petal look similar but there are subtle differences that begin to reveal themselves. Each petal has its own beauty. Each petal is necessary to complete the lotus flower.

The lotus blossoms with the rhythms of nature. It is connected to a bigger energy that goes beyond its beauty and connection to the water. From the center of the lotus a golden stamen emerges with a sweetness that pervades the senses. We can meditate on this golden center rising up our spine and filling up our hearts with radiance and love. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin can inspire us to accept our imperfections as the source for attaining liberation from our limiting thoughts and habits.

As we practice yoga and live our lives, we can use the image of a lotus flower to accept the gradual openings and revealments that life offers. We can accept and honor that we will return to the darkness. The rhythms of nature require darkness and light. Patience is necessary and beauty will be revealed. Imagine as you feel new openings in your chest, hips, hamstrings, quads and in your attitudes that these openings are like the blooming of the lotus - gradual with a purpose. We have an invitation to be the lotus and see the possibilities of freedom and expansion coming from our darkest moments.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Here comes the sun...

The Vernal equinox marks the first day of spring. The days and nights are of equal length - a perfect balance. What a special day of the year! When our life is in balance things are easier. There is a lightness in our hearts and our physical body feels better. However perfect balance never lasts. It is a place we seek but it is impermanent. We feel the balance, but then we shift to imbalance. The equinox only lasts for a day. Then the days become longer than the nights. The cycle of nature continues. But we can find balance in many forms. It comes and goes continuously.

Spring is a time of new growth: flowers bloom, trees burst with buds, birds return from their winter habitat, animals shed their winter coats and bears come out of hibernation. It is a time to sow seeds. Nature plants her garden and we can plant a garden in tune with nature. We can plant a metaphorical garden as well as a physical garden. We can plant the seed of a new intention or a new idea. We can connect to the flow of nature to help us with our journey.

One of the spring rituals is spring-cleaning. It is a time to clean out the cobwebs, get rid of clutter, and get into those places that we tend to forget. There is a surge of growth and new energy in the spring that makes it a great time to clear out what we do not need and plant something new.

The spring equinox marks a time when the days begin to become longer than the nights. The sun’s energy is more active than the moon. Tune into that feeling of a fiery energy balanced by a soft radiating quality.

As much as we can see the physical beauty of spring, we can feel the energy of spring, we can feel the spring fever. The warmth of the sun is balanced by crisp, cool air. It is a new beginning but it is also part of a cycle. Everything new comes from a place of renewal – from an ancient source.

As you practice yoga, feel the sensation of spring in your body. Feel the connection to the earth. Feel the breath being constantly renewed. Feel the energy of the sun building in your heart chakra and radiating outward. Allow this feeling to bring your poses to a new level. Allow the energy and renewal of spring to make every pose feel like it is being given a new life, a new adventure.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Using Obstacles Creatively

Obstacles can be annoying, a challenge or an absolute blast. On the river a rock creates an obstacle for the flow of water. Depending on how close the rock is to the surface of the water, there are various features that are created. A rock way below the surface might create a small wave. A bigger rock closer to the surface can create a bigger wave. When the rock is just below the surface of the water it creates a hole. Rocks that are above the surface of the water create eddies, a calm spot or relatively calm spot, where boaters can stop and take a break.

For the beginner, the rocks in the rivers can create difficulties. Beginners hit rocks, get stuck in holes and flip on eddy lines. As a paddler gains more skills these same features create interesting challenges where the paddler can learn control and begin to use these features to make river running easier. The advanced paddler takes these obstacles to a whole new level where the challenges become fun and a way of playing with the water. Surfing a wave in a kayak connects the paddler with the energy of the river in an ecstatic dance.

Some obstacles change with our skills and attitudes. However some obstacles need to be avoided. For example in flood stage on a river the same rock creating a friendly hole can create a hole that would be dangerous to enter. So we need to be honest about what we can handle. We need to be aware of our skills and listen to our fears. Are our fears rational or habitual? It is our sensitivity and awareness that will lead us to our truth in that moment.

Yoga helps us to recognize our obstacles. As we become more aware of our breath and balancing the muscular and organic energy, contractive and expansive energy, we learn the skills to change our obstacles or overcome them. First we need awareness, then discipline, practice and patience. Some obstacles will shift more quickly than others. Some obstacles will remain things we need to avoid. But all obstacles are teachers. They help us define our edges. They push us into recognition. They help us become more sensitive and strong.

Listen to your breath. Sometimes stillness is our obstacle that we seek to avoid. But stillness is where we find our center. It is where we become more alive. It is where we find replenishment. Sometimes a task or person may be our obstacle. The question to ask is what can I learn from this. How can I find compassion in this situation? How can I use this obstacle become more open and honest with myself? Life often unfolds in mysterious and unexpected ways. But being open to the journey is where we find our true peace.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Pigeon is a great hip opening pose.

Basics of Pigeon:

1. Start in Down dog. Bring right leg forward with right knee stretching toward right wrist. If possible keep the right knee wider than the right hip. If this causes pain, bring the right knee in line with the right hip. (But the right knee should not be to the left of the right hip.)

2. Extend the left leg back a few inches making sure the back leg is in line with the left hip and the left ankle is straight (not curved in). Your right foot should be in front of your left hip.

3. For a deeper stretch the right shin can be more parallel to the front of the mat and farther away from your left hip. For a less intense stretch the right foot can be closer to your left hip.

4. Keep the energy of the legs strong. Hug the muscles to the bone, and hug both legs in toward the midline. Press the right foot strongly into the floor. This action will protect your right knee. If you feel any knee pain come out of the pose.

5. The back foot can be flexed with toes tucked or flat with top of foot pressing into the floor. Either way the back leg should be strong and energetically drawing in toward the midline of the body.

6. Draw the tailbone towards the heels 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.

7. 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. Come up on your fingertips.

8. 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.

9. Fold forward resting your forehead on the back of your palms. Keep the legs strong. Draw the right hip crease back to deepen the stretch.

Pigeon is a pose that gradually unfolds. Use your breath to go deeper into the pose and visualize your hips opening. You should feel a deep stretch on the outer hip of the bent front leg but no knee pain. Feel the bold energy and resourcefulness of a pigeon.

Notice that the principles of lifting and engaging the belly, keeping the shoulders on the back, keeping the back leg in line with the hip and playing with the breath are the same principles we use in Tadasana, cobra and all our poses.

Video showing Pigeon

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The inherent beauty of the moment

Last Sunday snow flurries were coating the earth with soft white snow. The temperature dropped, the roads were icy and the trees shimmered against a penetrating azure sky. Now one week later the temperature touched 74 degrees, the snow has melted and gardens are being planted.

Change is constant: in subtle ways and in ways that are too obvious to miss. But the commonality is the inherent beauty of each moment, of each event, of each person, of each experience. In Tantric philosophy this beauty is called shri. It is a life- affirming energy that pulses inside of us. It connects us with everything.

We forget things. We forget our keys, we forget our shri. We will always lose sight of shri and then reconnect. We need the change, we need to be reminded of the opposite of shri to appreciate what we already know. So we experience what appear to be opposites, but the opposites complete and compliment each other.

When we connect with the rhythms of nature, the journey seems easy. When we become too rigid and lose our connection, the journey becomes difficult and painful. Sometimes we are filled with the beauty of the moment, totally immersed in shri. Other times we need to step back and find a different perspective when times are tough. Shri is always there. It is our awareness and perspective that shifts.

That is why we turn to our breath in yoga. The breath reminds us of our connection with shri. The breath is at peace. The breath connects us with a higher power, a divine energy that is breathing us. We only need to join in the dance with our awareness.