Need to freshen up your practice? Here are ideas from our recent classes and newsletters!

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome,  indescribably magnificent world in itself."  
Henry Miller
A BREATHING PRACTICE:

This time, let's work on unequal count breathing (Vishama Vritti Pranayama in Sanskrit) in which either inhale or exhale is made longer. Today we will do a longer exhale. It's actually considered an intermediate practice but it's a really good de-stressor for anyone, and can be made easier or harder depending on the count number. Simply inhale and exhale at a 1:2 ratio. For example inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8. Try 4:8, 5:10, 6:12, and so on. Just keep breaths even and steady, with ease and comfort. If you find yourself running out of air before the count is done, drop to a lower count and try again.

Remember, EXHALATION=RELAXATION. This is because to make inhalation happen, muscles are contracting; diaphragm, abdominal muscles, intercostals, and neck and clavicle muscles. These muscles relax on exhalation, giving us a sense of rest and relief. Long exhalation activates our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and that relaxes us. So give it a try... count to yourself at any comfortable speed, Inhale-2-3-4, Exhale 2-3-4-5-6-7-8, and increase the count as you like.

POSTURE and BALANCE:

Let’s practice the most basic standing asana, Tadasana (Mountain). It’s not only the foundation for all other asanas, but also is essential to maintain good posture as well as physical and mental balance. 

Practice standing against a wall. Feet can be together or up to hip distance apart, four corners of soles pressed evenly into floor, toes splayed and pointing forward. The backs of heels, sacrum, and scapulae touch the wall. Keep the crown of the head directly over the pelvis and chin parallel to the floor. Allow the arms to hang naturally, thumbnails facing forward. 

Close your eyes and feel your body from the inside out, evenly balanced on both feet. Take a few breaths deep into the belly and relax. Keep the mindful awareness of this asana as you move through your practice. Experience Tadasana in all asanas.  Then continue to find Tadasana throughout your day as you move through activities. 

Tadasana works to maintain health and the natural curves of the spine. With proper posture, lungs have space for optimal respiration, abdominal organs are kept correctly stacked so they work efficiently, the body feels energized, and the mind experiences a state of well being
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EYES CLOSED BALANCE:

Find your Tadasana and stay there for a moment, noticing how your body and mind feel.  

Next begin to move your weight to your left side, keeping the left leg energized with knee cap lifted, and gently lift your right foot off the floor. Turn your awareness inward and close your eyes. Take 5 slow breaths in this position. Open your eyes and replace your right leg to the floor. Repeat on the other side. Take this to the next level by trying the same thing in your favorite balance pose, such as Tree or Eagle. 

In balance postures, three systems work to help us not fall over. One is the vestibular system, or the inner ear canals, which send spatial information about motion, equilibrium, and to the brain. Another is the proprioceptive system. Sensory receptors in muscles and tendons tell the body how to vary muscle contraction to adapt to a situation. Lastly, we have the visual system. In yoga balance, we are accustomed to finding our drishti, our point of focus. When we close our eyes, it would seem that the other two systems must keep us standing. Most people quickly topple over when they first try eyes closed balance. A key is the drishti, which is often a non moving point across the room. But it can also be an internal point instead. Try putting your attention on the tip of your nose or the third eye with closed eyes. As we find our internal drishti we are also actively practicing the fifth limb of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, pratyahara, or inner attention.

LION MIND:

First let's visualize another animal -- a dog. If I wave a bone in front of a dog, he becomes totally caught up with it. It's suddenly like nothing else exists but that bone. If I throw the bone, he races after it. If I throw another bone he runs right after that one too. And then one more. The dog reacts instantly to each as if he doesn't have a choice. But, if I wave a bone in front of a lion and then throw it, what does the lion do? Likely he watches but doesn't run, keeping his eyes open and his mind fixed on the bigger picture of his surroundings. 
 
Our lives are filled with bones these days, coming to us in many forms that we can simply call distractions. By not following them, we remain observant but non-attached and able to discern clearly when action is advantageous. Then when we do act, it is a high quality action.
 
So, this month's challenge is to practice keeping a lion mind!
 
Practice as you go through yoga asanas! Turn awareness inward. Focus on breath, movement, alignment, and how you feel in each posture.
 
And then keep practicing all day long! Maybe you're driving your car and hear your phone ring with a text alert. Maybe you're working on your computer and an ad pops up for an enticing clothing item. Or, maybe someone says something you hear as negative. Or, what else? The number of distractions is infinite. But whatever form a distraction takes, there is an oh-so-tiny moment between the thing that happened and your reaction. In that instant a choice is possible. You can choose not to be the dog running after the bone, forgetting everything else, but instead to see the bigger picture and act or not from a place of power and focus.
 
Practice lion mind on and off the mat all day long!