Travel Off the Beaten Path

Yoga

In Search of Savasana

b2ap3_thumbnail_InSearchofSavasana3

Savasana, as many know, means corpse pose in Sanskrit (sava= corpse, asana=pose).  It is the pose most commonly used to end an asana practice.  It is “intended” to be the ultimate relaxation pose, from which we are meant to arise feeling rejuvenated in mind, body and spirit.   Yet, how many of you out there have put your bodies into savasana and felt anything but relaxed and mindful?   I definitely relate to this and know of many of my students who can as well.

So my question is what is savasana about really?  What is more important:  the position of the body or the alignment of the mind with the body?

If you look at the definition of Savasana in Wikipedia or on the Yoga Journal there are thorough and well written descriptions on how to get your body in the “traditional” savasana position.   Often times you will hear the direction to place arms and legs at a 45 degree angle from the center line, heels together, toes relaxed apart and so on.  But again, when you do this with your body do you feel like you are in your most relaxing position?  Not necessarily…

For far too longI have felt I was trying to squeeze my body into a cookie cutter shape called savasana…

I have tried…and tried…and tried some more to place my body exactly as various teachers have described to me.    I understand they are trying to align my body for optimal energy flow through my body, but what if this results in tension, mental and physical to hold a position?  For far too long I have felt that I was trying to squeeze my body into a cookie cutter shape called “savasana”…why?  For what purpose?

Now what? That at least is the question that had been buzzing through my mind.  Something had to change for me to find savasana, the pose of ultimate relaxation.

b2ap3_thumbnail_InSearchofSavasana2Then, of course, as I am ending a class and guiding to my students into savasana it hit me like a freight train.  Who says your savasana pose has to look any way in particular.  The goal and purpose of the pose is relaxation, both internal and external.  It is a time for the body to take what has been infused into it during the practice and do something productive with that information.  So perhaps it is time to let go of our “traditional” definitions of savasana; isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing anyway – letting go?

So next time you find yourself “setting up” savasana and your body and mind are fighting it – try something different.  Shake out your limbs…wiggle your bum…sway your shoulders…roll your head back and forth a little.  See where body ends up.  Then breath and notice.  Notice where you are still holding…holding onto energy, tightness, emotion, stuff…and breath into that space that distracts.  And as you exhale, imagine that distraction deflating as a sail with no wind.

b2ap3_thumbnail_InSearchofSavasa1_20141001-153647_1Be Curious.  Be Adventurous.  It is your body your practice! 

Let me know what you find on your little adventure with savasana!  #InSearchof Savasana  !

And always remember, every time you step on your mat it will be a new adventure!

Namaste,

Tiffany

4 Poses to Help Maintain Holiday Cheer Amidst the Chaos

The holiday season is here once again! Christmas is now less than a week away! Another chance for families to gather together and celebrate, eat and be merry. I LOVE getting together with my family.

There is the chaos of bringing multiple branches of family together under one roof.  There is the family politics to navigate.  There is order to keep among the kids, as well as cooking, cleaning and holiday cheer on top!  It is CHOAS, not to mention limited personal time or space.

Really, don’t get me wrong; I really do love holiday gatherings with my family.  I just need a way to find calm amidst all the chaos in order to keep my holiday cheer going.  Of course I turn to my practice for a little self care.  I have found that taking 10 minutes out of my day to practice a few poses along with some breathing and short meditation supercharges me with holiday cheer (cheesy, yes I know).  I could even do them in bed!

I practice this in bed right when I get up because it is the most efficient time for me and a great way to start my day.  But by no means is this a mandatory time or place to bring this practice… just an alternative if you can’t find a space for a yoga mat anywhere.

Pavanamuktasana ~ Wind Removing Pose

Set-Up (single let)
Begin by lying on your back and exhale your right knee up to your chest.  Interlace the fingers all the way to the webbing and place this grip on your shin just below your knee joint.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Wind-Removing-Pose-Single-Leg-Side-View

Keep the back of your head grounded as you shrug your chin to your chest and look down the centre line of your body.  Press the tops of your shoulders away from your ears, shoulder blades grounded beneath and elbows hugging into your waistline.

Into Pose
Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs up as much as you can.  On the exhale, also through the nose, begin to pull your knee joint down towards your armpit.  Stop when you run out of breath.  Maintain the compression you have gained as you take another breath (tuck your chin in even tighter to the chest as you inhale).

Again on the exhale continue to pull the knee cap down towards the armpit.  I like to imagine I might one day nestle my knee cap into my arm pit one day.  Your leg should not get stuck on the top of the rib cage; it should be grazing the outside edge of the right side of the rib cage. Repeat inhale chin in, exhale pull the knee in for 3-5 rounds.  Release right let down and repeat on the left leg.

Double-leg Wind Removing
Bring both legs up to the chest and wrap your arms around your legs to grab opposite elbows (if this is not possible then grabbing forearms or wrists works as well).  Keep back of head grounded and chin shrugged into chest.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Wind-Removing-Pose-Double-Leg-Side-ViewTake a full breath in and on the exhaled begin to hug your legs straight down into your chest and torso for the complete exhale.  Hold your legs where ever you have hugged them into as you take another deep breath in tucking chin in tighter (fabulous stretch for neck from base of the skull to tops of the shoulders).

On the next exhale continue to hug your legs into your torso.  Inhale maintain the compression in hips, exhale continue pulling.  Do this for 3-5 rounds of breathing.

Slowly release legs to the floor and enjoy the sensation of blood rushing back into the hip joints to flush out the crud.

Note: It is pretty normal for most, especially when we are not warmed up, to feel a pinching sensation in the hips.  Don’t be frightened of the sensation.  Use your breath to try and work through it slowly.  However, if you ever feel a piercing pain back off.  Sensation good, pain bad.

Benefits

• Nourishes your digestive organs to help keep them happy and you regular
• Massage the thyroid gland which helps to support a healthy metabolism
• Stretches the back of your neck from the base of the skull to the tops of the shoulders
• Compresses and detoxifies your hip joints so they don’t feel quite so achy

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana ~ Modified Bridge Pose

Set-up
Lie on your back, knees bent with feet on the ground hip width distance apart.  Check your feet are parallel to one another and heels as close to your sit-bones as physically possible.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Bridge-Pose-Side-ViewPress the back of your head gently towards the ground, chin off of chest.  Place your arms alongside your torso, palms facing down, shoulder blades ground and tops of shoulders pressing gently away from your ears.

Into the Pose
Feel your feet and arms touching the ground; take a breath in and on the exhale press through your feet and arms to lift the hips and pubic bone up off the ground until thighs approximately parallel to the ground.  Your bum will likely engage but do not let it be the driving action to lifting the hips and pubic bone.  You do not want to tuck your tailbone.

Check that your head remains gently pressing down to the ground beneath it, chin off the chest, and tops of shoulders continue to press away from your ears. Again in this pose you should again feel a great stretch in the back of the neck.  Your shoulder blades should also still be ground so you feel an opening sensation in the front of the chest.

Keep your hips, knees and ankle joints all in one line.  Hug in your inner thighs, press down with the inner edges of feet your fee and engage your quadriceps to help with maintaining the alignment here.

Remember not to over use your gluteus muscles (bum muscles) otherwise you may end up tucking your tailbone. Instead focus extending your tailbone away from your head, stretching and decompressing the spine.

When you find your edge (where you feel your legs working and neck/should/chest stretching and a lot of space to fill your lungs with air) hold the pose for 30-60 seconds. Stay connected with your breath. The moment that you start holding your breath, your muscles will no longer want to work for you.

To Release
Slowly roll the spine back down to the ground and extend the legs out.  Take several slow deep inhales and exhales before moving on to the next pose.

Benefits
• Great counter for wind removing, which compressed the hip joints, as it stretches the hips, which encourages increase blood flow to the stretching region
• Stretches the chest, neck and spine
• Stimulates the abdominal organs, lungs and thyroid
• Calms the mind by sending blood with higher oxygen levels to the brain

Supported Reclined Twist

Set-Up
Bend your knees and place feet flat on the ground.  On an exhale, lift your knees so they stack above the hip joints and lift you feet so your ankles are in line with your knee joints with shins parallel to the ground.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Recline-TwistInto the Pose
Bring your right hand to the outside of the left knee joint.  On an exhale, slowly guide your legs over to the right hand side of your body until your right leg is resting on the floor with the left leg stacked on top of it.

If your left hip is not stacked above the right then shuffle your hips to the left so you can comfortably line your left hip atop your right.

Take your right hand and place it on top of the outside left knee joint.  Inhale your left hand straight up towards the ceiling and on the exhale slowly lower it down to the ground on the left hand side of your body.  You should end up with your finger tips in line with the top of your shoulder or below the shoulder joint, not above the shoulder joint.

Gently turn your gaze over to your left hand.  If you feel discomfort in the neck as you look to the left, bring the back of your head slightly more towards the right before turning the head to look to the left.

Now focus on taking full lung breaths in and on the exhales relax your left shoulder down and use your right hand to gently press the left knee down. Hold on the inhale and work deeper on the exhale.  Complete at least 3-5 rounds of breathing.

To release and move to the other side: bring your gaze back to center.  Bring your right hand beneath your right knee joint and on an inhale slowly guide your legs back to center.  Then place your left hand to the outside of the right knee and, with your exhale, slowly guide your legs to the left and repeat above.

I hope this little mini practice is helpful to you during your holiday celebrations.  Share these poses with your family and friends and help spread holiday calmness as well as cheer!

How to Build Your Strength of Mind

b2ap3_thumbnail_crowposeThe practice of hatha yoga focuses on strengthening the mind as well as the physical body.  Even though both areas are important, mental strengthening is often forgotten in this physically focused practice. How does it happen? How can you strengthen your mind as you strengthen your body?

Think about the last time you fell out of a pose.  

What was it that caused you to fall?

It’s likely that when you began your yoga practice, you fell out of poses often.  You lacked the physical strength or flexibility to successfully hold a pose.  But you practiced… over and over and over again.  You built up strength and flexibility one muscle strand at a time.  Through the practice of returning to the mat, over and over again, you began the process of strengthening your mind, whether you were aware of it or not.

Now, poses are getting easier, yet still you find yourself falling down now and then.  The cause is likely your mental focus.  The moment you go from thinking about engaging your inner thigh muscles in a crescent lunge to thinking about your weekend shopping list… BOOM! you are on your bum again.

In order to work deeper into a pose, you must focus your mind pointedly on what you are doing in that moment.  (I have found in my own practice that I am often unaware of my meandering mind until I fall on my bum.)  The mind is not so different from the body in this sense.  The more you practice honing your mind to be in the present moment, the easier it will become to stay away from meandering thoughts.  Your mind will grow stronger as you nurture and grow your mental focus.

Through mental persistence combined with your physical practice, you will continue to strengthen your mind.  Yes, there will be times when you will get frustrated with your practice… it happens to everyone, even teachers.  Instead of giving up, you can choose to come back to the mat.  The practice of returning to the mat, even after a rough practice, will nurture and strengthen your mental persistence.  You will always have proverbial “wrenches” thrown into your practice, but your continual return to the mat will strengthen both you mentally and physically.  That is how life works and life will reflect itself in your practice.

Each return to your practice will bring a new lesson, a new way to grow, heal or strengthen your body and mind.

Enjoy the journey!

What strategies do you use to focus your mind when you are on the mat?

3 Yoga Poses to Prevent Body Aches on Long Car Rides

I began writing part two to last week’s blog post when I remembered – Thanksgiving is this week! Then I quickly realized that I have a 10 hour drive ahead of me to get to my Thanksgiving feast in New Jersey.  My body ached just thinking about the drive… sitting… getting stiff… sitting some more… getting stiffer!

So, instead of sitting down to write my blog post for today, I walked outside and sat in my car. I sat and thought about what I could do to avoid/prevent the onset of the dreaded road-trip body freeze.  The first question I had to answer was: which parts of my body would be the most aggravated by sitting in a car for an extended period of time?  

I narrowed it down to three areas: 1. Neck/shoulders  2. Hamstrings  3. Spine

Whether you are the driver or the co-pilot in charge of keeping the driver awake, your body isn’t moving around very much.  Lack of movement causes the body to begin to seize up and get cranky.  The solution: MOVE YOUR BODY!  Especially the three regions that really start to hurt the most as we sit cruising along with millions of other travelers.  Obviously, this is easy for passengers to do throughout the ride, but for the driver, you will have use your potty breaks and gas stops to make this happen.

Back to me sitting the car.  Three trouble zones meant I needed at least three poses.  I flopped around in my car for a bit trying out different poses and getting some strange looks from passersby.  Finally, I settled on three poses that only take about 5 minutes to achieve a good counter to road-trip body freeze.

b2ap3_thumbnail_EagleArmsGarurasana Arms – Eagle Arms

This is a great shoulder opener and posterior neck release.

In some versions of Eagle Arms you are taught to pull your arms off your chest.  However, in this version, I want you to focus on hugging the arms into the chest while floating the chest into the arms.

To set it up, wrap your left arm under your right elbow and either interlace your fingers together making a fist, or if you have tight shoulders grab your right thumb with your left hand.  Regardless of your grip, keep your thumbs aimed at your face.  Relax the tops of your shoulders back and down away from your ears.

Now, take a deep breath in to lengthen the spine and float the chest bone up into your arms.  On the exhale, hug your arms into your chest. Repeat this for two or three breath cycles and then hold this pose at your depth for two or three breath cycles.

You should feel a lovely stretch between the shoulder blades, beneath the shoulder blades, and from the tops of the shoulders through the backside of the neck to the base of the skull.

If you would like to get more neck stretching, keep your arms where they are, take a breath in, exhale look gently to the left left, inhale looking left, exhale back to center. Repeat to the right side. I recommend adding the neck twist once you have taken a few breaths in the heart of this pose.


b2ap3_thumbnail_PaschimotanasanaPaschimotanasana – Leg Stretching Pose

The focus here is stretching out those pesky hamstrings and compressing/massaging the front of your hip joints, especially your hip flexors.

To set it up from the co-pilot seat: kick your heals up onto the dashboard (depending on your leg length you may need to adjust the seat), keep your sit bones on the car seat, bend your knees as much as needed to grab the outer edges of your feet just below your toes.

Open your upper chest, relax the top of your shoulders away from your ears, flatten your upper back and engage your lower bell muscles/pelvic floor muscles (the muscles from your belly button to your pubic bone).

Moving into the pose, take a breath in to lengthen the spine and on the exhale begin to press your knees down and heals forward.   Keep your spine long and chest open…no arching of the spine or concaveness of the chest.  If you are able to straighten your legs and engage your quads, the very gently pull on the sides of your feet.  Say hello to your hamstrings.

Repeat 3-5 rounds: inhaling to lengthen spine, exhaling slowly lengthening hamstrings.  NOTE: Do not hyper extend your knee joints.  Just press the knees down until you can engage your quadriceps.  When your legs are straight with engaged quads then your hamstrings are likely pretty open. Focus on lengthening and decompressing the spine.  Remember, some discomfort or intensity of sensation is fine to work through with your breath.  Feeling acute jabbing pain or the sensation something might pop… back off!

b2ap3_thumbnail_SeatedSpinalTwistSeated Spinal Twist

Remember, your spine is not warmed-up so I want you to take it slow and not too deep with this twist.  Twisting is a wonderful way to massage and detoxify your internal organs and spinal column as well as nourishing them when you release the twist.  Remember: the happier the spine is… the happier the rest of your body will be!

Start by sitting cross-legged with your left leg on top.  Sit up nice and tall so you can feel your sit bones pointing straight down into your car seat. Take your right hand and place it on the top of your left knee.  Take your left hand and wrap it around your lower waste with your palm facing out.  Look gently over your left shoulder.   With your inhale press your sit-bones down to lengthen your spine and back of the neck towards the roof.  With your exhale, engage your lower abdominals/pelvic floor and gently use your right hand on your left knee as leverage to slowly twist the spine.  Repeat 3-5 times on each side: inhale lengthen spine, exhale twist spine.

I hope these poses help during your drive as much as I am counting on them to help me stay loose during my drive to Turkey feasting!  Please share your car-yoga poses, these or others that you practice on long car rides on the Wandering Spirit Yoga Travel Facebook page.  More proof to the world that you can take your practice everywhere and anywhere!

Hot Yoga: Heaven and Hell – Part 1

b2ap3_thumbnail_Hot-YogaHeavenand-HellPart1I am a hot yogi at heart.  Hot yoga is what started my love affair with yoga and it is the first yoga I was trained to teach.

Since becoming a teacher I have come to appreciate a love many different lineages, styles and flavors of yoga out there.  There seems to be a never ending evolution of yoga flavors these days which both excites and concerns me, but I diverge (perhaps a future post).

When I sat down and thought about what to write for this week I felt compelled to write about what it was with hot yoga that I connected with where so many other yoga classes had fallen short with me.

I teach hot yoga from the Ghosh Lineage.  For those of you who don’t know who Ghosh is, he is the man that originally trained Bikram, the HOT name in the hot yoga world.  If you mention that you practice hot yoga most people’s typical response is, “oh you mean like Bikram yoga.”

My practice did begin with the Bikram series and so I start there.  What hooked me, and what I believe hooked so many others – is the focused direction of how to get into and out of the poses and where I should be feeling things during the poses. There wasn’t the infusion of spiritual philosophy to confuse directions of how to get into and out of poses that I had always found so distracting and annoying.

I also did not feel judged by the teachers in any way. For what I could or couldn’t do in the poses and whether I held any spiritual belief in yogic philosophy (although now it is funny to me how much I am enjoying learning about yogic philosophy… I simply wasn’t ready then).

It was a pure asana practice.  I felt physically challenged. I felt that I had a lot to learn about the practice, and through practice I learned a lot about myself, whether I liked or not.

I am sure there are some of you saying that there are plenty of other lineages that have detailed asana direction, so why HOT yoga.  There are a few ways to answer that.

Firstly, I had been sampling so many flavors of yoga for the previous 5-6 years and just getting really frustrated. When I found what I felt to be a good fit for me, I ran with it.  It has been 8+ years now that I have followed this yoga path and in the past year I have finally been ready to venture out and see, sample and practice what else is out there in the yoga world, and I am have fun doing it now.

Another reason the heat made sense to me is that I came into the yoga with a lot of tightness from many years of playing sports and the heat helped me to open up and get into my areas of injury and pain. This allowed me to rehab my body from the inside out.  It has not always been the most pleasant process, but it has been the most effective and the least invasive.

Lastly, I love the heat because I sweat.  I don’t mean just sweating in the hot yoga room, but I am just generally a sweaty person.  Even when I took unheated classes, I sweat way more than the average person… so in the hot room I just blended in.  It was great!  No more feeling embarrassed about my profuse sweating, because everyone else was also standing in their own puddles.

So, now that you know my story of attraction to yoga… stop and take a moment to think about your story. What is it that really got you hooked into yoga?  Share your stories in the comments below or on the WSYT Facebook page so others, teachers and students alike, may learn from them!

Connect With Us

Travel With Us

Call us: 919-348-9946

Send us an email

Check out our retreats