Exploring Snake Energy: Cobra Pose

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Family, one of India’s venomous snakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

For a good part of my life I echoed Indiana Jones whenever I encountered snakes. My less-than-friendly feelings toward snakes started in ninth grade, when a classmate presented an oral report on their care and feeding, including a demonstration involving his pet snake and a live (for a short time) white mouse. After I crawled out from under my desk, I decided I was very fond of rodents and not at all fond of snakes. I also decided I no longer had a crush on the young man who did the presentation.

Twenty years later, when my daughter held a snake at a petting zoo, I decided it was time to get over my distrust of snakes. I’ve taken time to learn about snakes and have new respect both for their place in our eco-system and their symbolism. I still jump when one startles me on the trail, but I no longer dislike snakes.

Snakes represent transformation and healing. They are re-created each time they shed their skin. By tapping into snake’s energy you can shed the past and emerge into a fresh, new life. Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, carried a caduceus, a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. The caduceus has become the symbol of modern physicians. If a snake appears in your dream, be on the lookout for new wisdom, healing and changes ahead.

In yoga, snakes represent Kundalini, a Sanskrit word for the sleeping feminine energy thought to be coiled at the base of the spine, waiting to be awakened through asana and meditation. When aroused, Kundalini rises up through the major chakras until it reaches the head, completely transforming the individual along the way.

Practicing like a snake in the grass.

Practicing like a snake in the grass.

Practice Bhujangasana, or Cobra pose, to explore the transformative energy of snakes. Lie face down and stretch your legs back, feet hip-width apart, and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and hug your elbows to your sides. Keeping your pelvis pressed into the floor and straightening your arms as you make space to do so, lift your heart. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, draw your lower belly slightly off the floor and lift the top of your sternum. Draw your ears away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck.

You can hold Cobra for a number of breaths or experience snake’s movement by rising with each inhale and lowering with each exhale. When the pose feels complete, rest your head on your hands for a few breaths before moving on to a twist.

For the record, although I have made peace with snakes, there are no pet snakes in my house. I’ll stick to my bug-eating lizard, and let the cat deal with the rodents.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Turtles and Stardust: Experiencing a Shamanic Journey

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carol...

Photo of a Florida Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri). Taken in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite my endless exploration of all things spiritual, I had not, as of last Saturday morning, experienced a shamanic journey. I’m not sure how I avoided it for so long, considering that I’ve been in the company of shamans a number of times. I really wasn’t trying to avoid the practice; there was just never a good time to try.

True North Yoga hosted a shamanic journeying workshop last weekend, so I finally got my chance. While being led on two journeys I experienced intense physical sensations, including floating, falling and dancing. And I saw turtles.

When I first got my Medicine Cards I pulled my seven totem animals. Turtle was the first card I pulled out of the deck, and is my totem in the East, or the guide to my spiritual challenges. But I haven’t seen the turtle card for quite awhile.

Turtle represents Mother Earth in the cards and in a number of cultures. Hindu and Chinese mythology (and Terry Prachett‘s Discworld series) describe the world as being supported by elephants standing on the back of a turtle. Native Americans call North America “Turtle Island.” I wasn’t surprised to find turtle in a vision in which I was guided to connect to the earth.

Besides representing earth, turtles might also represent the lunar cycle, protection, perseverance and longevity. Turtles have been around 200 million years or so. They are wise old souls.

In my vision, turtle was stepping deliberately, to the drumbeat, and stirring up stardust.

I’ve had a couple of days to consider what turtle means for me, besides the obvious earth connection. A few web authors suggested a need to slow down, to practice patience. Others point to turtle’s ability to withdraw, to hide in its protective shell. Both explanations are fitting, but neither feels complete.

Turtle pose adaptation.

Turtle pose adaptation.

This morning I led my yoga class into turtle pose (a preparatory adaptation of Kurmasana) and as we were holding the posture I thought about turtle’s ability to draw inward. It seemed to me it wasn’t so much about fear as withdrawing into perfect stillness, which sounds like Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses, the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. Perhaps this is something I’m being called to practice.

Sitting on my desk is a wax turtle, meant to be a candle but unlikely to ever be burned. It was sent to me by an internet newsgroup acquaintance, someone I never knew in real life. If you remember newsgroups, you know I’ve had this turtle candle a long time. (If you don’t remember newsgroups, just know that I accessed the newsgroup with a computer that had dual floppy drives to accommodate both sizes of floppy disks. If you don’t know what a floppy disk is, please don’t tell me. It makes me feel old.) I received this turtle because the person felt I should have it. It has represented earth on my personal altar many, many times. I don’t remember how the turtle candle came to be on my desk today, or how long it’s been sitting there, but I’ve decided it can stay. It seems to belong there now.

Now if I could just find some stardust…

Enhanced by Zemanta

Too Tired to Say I Can’t

Bakasana (crow pose)

Bakasana (crow pose)

My long-time yoga teacher, Tracey Ulshafer of One Yoga and Wellness Center in East Windsor, New Jersey, often told us that breakthroughs in her yoga practice happened when she was too tired to tell herself she couldn’t. After having plenty of my own exhaustion-inspired breakthroughs, I’ve taken that to heart and shared it. My first lift-off into Bakasana came at the end of a long vinyasa workshop that followed a sleepless night of riding trains to New York City and back. (Don’t ask.)

Like pushing through the “wall” when running, at some point during a physically demanding yoga practice your body decides thinking is using too many precious resources, and redirects them to your muscles. Your brain still works, it’s just gone on autopilot. And you don’t have the energy to say “I can’t.”

I’ve been exhausted for months thanks to an inner ear issue, and I haven’t been asking much of my body. For weeks I’ve been relegated to supine, non-dizzy-making poses. And, since it’s still pretty cold here in the North Country, most of those supine poses have been practiced under my fluffy quilt…which is on my bed.

Anyway, today I did something my feisty life coach Annie tells me to do sometimes – I took a “f*ck it all pill” and had myself a real, physical, sweat-producing yoga practice. I practiced Surya Namaskar with no dizziness, no nausea, no ear pain. Woohoo! Then I took advantage of my recovering equilibrium to play with a home practice sequence I tore out of Yoga Journal months ago and promptly put someplace I’d be sure to never see it again, until I had some time on my hands and cleaned my desk.

I was enjoying myself, thinking of ways I could adapt the sequence for my varying levels of flow classes until I wore myself out too much to think. When the paper said Bakasana, I flew. Then I read the next step. (Yes, while balancing on my hands I was reading from the magazine page. Yoga does have its perks.) It said to draw my chest forward and float my feet back into Chaturanga Dandasana. Countless times before, when a yoga teacher said “jump back from crow,” I quietly put my feet down and stepped back into plank.

But today I taken a “f*ck it all pill” and I had made myself too tired to say “I can’t.” So it did what it said. And it worked…almost. I went a bit sideways and only one foot found my mat. But the second time it worked just fine. And the third, and the fourth. Then my brain woke up and sent me into Balasana.

When my forehead hit the floor, a big chunk of something (use your imagination) slid down the side of my throat. I swallowed before I realized what I was doing. Gross. But when I swallowed, my ear didn’t make the crunching sound I’d gotten used to hearing. So I swallowed again, just to be sure. I’m not positive it opened completely, but something definitely changed in my ear.

At the Colorado Yoga Journal Conference a few years ago, David Swenson told us that we would, at times, be visited by the yoga fairies who would sprinkle us with fairy dust and we would suddenly be able to do whatever asana had been eluding us. He also pointed out that the yoga fairies had a sick sense of humor, so after achieving that challenging asana, we’d probably not be able to do it again the next day. So I won’t be surprised when I wake up tomorrow and my ear is cracking and I can’t jump back from crow to low plank.

But today, when I was too tired to say “I can’t,” I had it.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta

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.

Enhanced by Zemanta