Breathe in Moonlight

Waxing Crescent Moon (NASA, International Spac...

Waxing Crescent Moon (NASA, International Space Station, 02/28/09) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Since we began having new moon circles at the True North Yoga studio, I’ve been reconnecting to the lunar cycle. I’ve always noticed the moon in the sky, when it’s visible, but I went through a period of not noticing mindfully. Over the past couple of years I’d forgotten how the moon speaks to my spirit and I’m glad to feel it’s pull again.

During the last full moon I was guiding a yoga class into deeper breathing when I was struck by how the moon’s cycle mirrors the cycle of the breath.

Try this:

Sit comfortably and lengthen your spine. Breathe in and out through your nose. Make each breath a bit deeper, a bit longer, until you are using all of your lungs.

Notice your inhale. Notice how the lungs fill slowly, taking in more and more air until they are full. The inhale is like the waxing moon, growing from a sliver in the sky to an orb.

Pause at the top of your inhale, holding your breath in gently. This pause, with your lungs at their full capacity, is like the full moon hanging in the sky for a night. Savor it’s power and sweetness as your body takes in oxygen.

Slowly exhale, noticing the emptying of your lungs. The exhale is like the waning moon, gradually releasing all of it’s energy and light as it shrinks to a crescent.

For a brief moment, pause at the bottom of your exhale. Notice the emptiness, like the lack of light in the night sky during the new moon. Be aware that the emptiness is ready to be refilled, and with an inhale begin the cycle again.

At our new moon circles we revel in the emptiness, for the moonless night signifies a readiness to begin. It is the time of potential unmanifest. When the moon is new on March 11, pause for a brief moment and invite in all that you are ready to create in your life.

And when the moon is full, breathe in moonlight and savor the sweetness of your creative power.

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Put Me in Down Dog

Downward-facing Dog on the rocks at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

Downward-facing Dog on the rocks at Split Rock in New Russia, NY

A day without Adho Mukha Svanasana is like a day without sunshine. I’m a down dog addict. I could hang out in downward-facing dog all day, or for five minutes, whichever comes first.

While teaching yoga I’ve noticed some people would happily hang out in down dog with me, but others look like they’re counting the breaths until I tell them to move on. Some bodies look natural and relaxed, with their backs extended, shoulders neutral, heels dropping and necks loose. But some bodies don’t get it. Their backs round, their shoulder blades end up somewhere near their ears and their legs will never be straight. Some others never stop moving, unable to find a comfortable stillness even for one breath.

Adho Mukha Svanasana is a tricky pose to practice and to teach, requiring strength from the arms, legs and shoulders as well as flexibility throughout the back body. Ray Long wrote an excellent article on the mechanics of downward-facing dog for My Yoga Online, well worth a read if you hope to hang out in down dog all day or even if you’d just like a relaxed moment in the pose.

Every time I get on my mat (or anywhere I can practice), barring injury or a nasty sinus infection, I find myself in down dog. I often end up there even if I intended to keep my practice gentle. It feels good to be there. Besides, they say if you can hold downward-facing dog for five minutes, you can do a handstand. It hasn’t worked yet, so I have to keep trying.

What’s your “I could hang out here all day” asana?

Note: Ray Long’s The Key Muscles of Yoga is the anatomy book I chose for the True North Yoga teacher training program. I recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about anatomy and yoga.

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Meditation Cat and Yoga Dog

Meditation Cat, doing what she does best

Meditation Cat, doing what she does best

My favorite meditation position is sitting in Ardha Padmasana (half lotus) with my hands in Dhyana Mudra. Dhyana Mudra represents an empty bowl, symbolic of a pure, free, empty mind, which the universe will fill with whatever is needed. I must need a cat, because, more often then not, as soon as I close my eyes my hands and lap are filled with a purring ball of fur. She might sleep and allow me to quiet my mind, or she may demand that I pet her 108 times. It’s okay with her if I add an appropriate mantra, such as “this is me petting the cat” or “the cat is in charge.”

My yoga mat is attractive to the other quadrupeds in my house, too. One dog in particular, a border collie named Morgan, can’t resist the call of the yoga practice. She waits for me to settle into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) then flops on my mat between my hands and my feet, insuring I’ll be holding down dog for a long time. Oh, and while I’m stuck there she’ll lick my face, because there’s nothing like Ujjayi breath through dog spit.

Later Morgan will snuggle into my side during a supine twist and probably stay through Savasana. Sometimes dog number two grabs the other side. I’ll admit it’s nice to have dog snuggles on cold mornings.

I wonder why my four-legged family members make themselves part of my practice. Do they sense my calm energy? Does the peace I radiate draw them to me? That’s what I tell myself. But, honestly, I suspect they’re making sure I don’t practice through breakfast.

Do your pets join you on your mat?

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The one thing you need to do to have a really fabulous holiday season

Sometimes you have to give yourself a subtle reminder to get on your mat.

Sometimes you have to give yourself a subtle reminder to get on your mat.

It’s that time of the year. There’s shopping and decorating and holiday parties. There’s family gatherings and festive meals. There’s spiritual rituals and secular traditions. And it’s all fabulous…on paper.

The upcoming holiday season looks wonderful on glossy magazine covers and in thousands of new pins. All the recipes look yummy and gift-buying guides are full of inspiration.

All we have to do is make time for the holiday hoopla. And pay for it.

Got your holiday stress on yet?

I’ve had some pretty miserable holiday seasons. And I’ve learned one very important thing from them. It’s the thing that has kept me from driving head-on into a house trimmed with perfectly straight icicle lights, right through Santa and his eight light-up reindeer.

Before you deck the halls, trim the tree, wrap the gifts or stuff the turkey, take this little piece of advice.

Get on your mat.

Unroll your yoga mat every day and practice, even if that means twenty minutes in Viparita Karani (Leg Up the Wall Pose) while tears run down your face because you are going to have to choose between the toy your kid really wants and paying the rent. (Been there, done that.)

Take ten, twenty or thirty minutes a day for yourself to recharge. Not only will you feel less like strangling an elf, but in a moment of clarity you might just figure out how to get those antlers to stay on your dog’s head.

The truth is, in this time of giving, the greatest gifts you can offer are your presence and your inner light. And you won’t find either one unless you crawl out from under that pile of tinsel and cultivate your own serenity. Trust me, when your youngest finally climbs into Santa’s lap and smiles instead of running away screaming about the scary red man, you’ll want to be here and now. Practice, so you’ll be ready for the really fabulous stuff that comes in moments, not in boxes.

And however you celebrate the return of the sun, I wish you a holiday season full of peace, joy and Adho Mukha Svanasanas.

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Yoga to Say “Thank You”

The Thanksgiving holiday reminds me to be grateful for the opportunity to attend last weekend’s workshop at Kripalu. I am particularly grateful to my yoga students, who graciously gave up their weekend yoga classes so I could take the trip to Massachusetts.

A big take-away from the weekend workshop was insight into my own mental, spiritual and emotional needs. Not surprisingly, considering my latest career choice, I discovered that I am more confident and better at integrating information when I’m moving. It’s no wonder that in my corporate job I fell asleep in business meetings and seminars and never remembered a thing that was discussed.

This got me thinking about Thanksgiving dinner, when my minister brother, whom I love very much, starts the meal by saying grace. It’s nice to express gratitude for food and family, but when he speaks with his well-trained preacher voice I tend to zone out. (Nothing personal, bro. It’s just hard to sit still and listen without my mind drifting away.)

What if we pushed our chairs back from the table and did a moving prayer of gratitude? Moving prayers are nothing new. Dancing has been a form of worship for millennia. The Sufi Whirling Dervishes certainly pray that way. Yoga teacher Seane Corn teaches how to bring prayer into yoga practice in her “Body Prayer” classes.

My chair yoga class helped me work out a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s based on a chair adaptation of a half Sun Salutation.

A chair yoga prayer of thanksgiving.

A chair yoga prayer of thanksgiving.

Reach into the sun’s energy. Sitting near the front of the chair, inhale and reach both arms overhead.

And offer it to the earth. On the exhale, fold forward and lay your belly on your thighs, reaching your hands to the floor.

Open your heart to receive the universe’s grace. Bring your hands onto your knees, inhale and lift your heart, peeling your chest and abdomen off of your legs. Look ahead and press your heart forward through your arms as your spine extends. Lift your chin slightly.

Bow in humble gratitude for abundance shared. Holding your knees, exhale, drop your chin and round your back.

 

This works very nicely with a standing half Sun Salutation as well. You can speak the prayer or simply hold the words in your mind as you move. Flow through the sequence as many times as you need to feel it becoming part of you.

Another benefit? All that forward folding will massage your abdominal organs and stimulate digestion, so your body will be ready for that big plate of sweet potatoes, turkey (or tofu) and corn bread stuffing.

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Start your morning in Happy Dead Baby Bug

My son, Tristan, and I practice yoga every morning. Our current favorite pose is Happy Baby, which looks like the “pose” babies get into when they play with their toes. Some teachers call it Dead Bug pose. Tristan calls it Happy Dead Baby Bug. Whatever he calls it, it’s a great morning hip opener.

Image courtesy of Yogi in My School

Image courtesy of Yogi in My School

To get into Happy Baby (aka Happy Dead Baby Bug or, in Sanskrit, Ananda Balasana), lay on your back and bring your knees over your chest. Grab the insides of the soles of your feet. Keeping your thighs close to your chest, bring your feet over your knees with your feet flexed. Your knees should end up outside your arms. Gently draw your knees down into your armpits. If your tailbone starts lifting, press it back down onto the floor. It’s fun to rock from side to side. If you have enough space, rock all the way to one side then back to the other.

Start your morning playing happy dead baby bug. Your hips will love it, and it’s hard not to giggle like a happy baby. Or a bug. Whatever.

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