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Close your eyes and salute the sun within

Saluting the sun with my eyes closed during a recent trip to Florida.

Saluting the sun with my eyes closed during a recent trip to Florida.

I’ve tried to estimate the number of sun salutations I’ve done in my lifetime, but my brain gets stuck at something more than one hundred. The number must be somewhere in the thousands. Yet I never tire of practicing sun salutations. Each round is different. The practice is like walking the same path every day and seeing the subtle changes in the natural world. If you’re mindful, there is always something new to notice.

Yes, repetition can get boring, but there are ways to create variety in the practice: changing where you put your mat or taking it outside, focusing on the movement of one body part one day, another the next, or, as I did this morning, practicing with your eyes closed.

My body knows how to do a sun salutation, no question. I don’t need to think about the sequence of movements; I simply do them. Sometimes my body ends up on automatic pilot and my mind goes off pursuing its own agenda. By closing my eyes I am roping in the wayward thoughts and bringing the focus back to what my body is doing. Without being able to see where I’m going, I need to be very aware of where my body is in space. Proprioception, usually automatic, becomes a conscious process. And my mind is wrapped up in lifting my foot off the floor here and setting it down there and way too busy for silly thoughts.

This is what it means to be present.

And there is an added bonus – when your eyes are closed, the only way your mind can decide you’ve gone far enough into a pose is to feel it. During my practice today I surprised myself with a huge standing backbend. At least it felt huge, and that’s really all that matters.

The next time you are on your mat flowing through sun salutations, close your eyes and open up to a whole new practice within.

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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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