Dreaming of Hanuman

My dreams are usually pretty vivid.  When I wake up, I can normally recount the dream, complete with sensory details and emotions.  I’m a fairly lucid dreamer as well; I know when I’m dreaming, I can sometimes change the course of the dream with a bit of effort, and I can wake myself up if things aren’t going well (like if some crazy beast monster is chasing me).

However, last night’s dream was neither vivid nor lucid.  I can only remember one thing, and I was fully convinced that I was not dreaming.  This was my dream: I was able to achieve full Hanumanasana on both sides, no sweat. 

Photo courtesy Yoga Journal

This is crazy talk for a couple of reasons. First, as a triathlete, I am constantly at battle with my hips, which are more often than not tighter than the hips of an 80 year old woman. It takes serious coaxing and patience to get my hips to cooperate during yoga. However, yoga has been the only thing capable of keep my hips healthy, and aside from a tight IT band every now and then, I can attribute yoga to keeping me relatively injury free. 

Secondly, in my dream, I was fully convinced that my ability to do Hanumanasana was real, that I had been doing it for years, and that it was the easiest pose in the entire world.  Au contraire.  I have never been able to get anywhere close to full Hanumanasana.  In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life where I was even relatively flexible.  I was kicked out of gymnastics as a kid for being too tall and too rigid. 

So, if physically achieving Hanumanasana is nothing but a goal right now, why was my dream mind so convinced that I’m capable of it?  Not to get all psychoanalytical on you, but what is the message of this dream?

I have a couple of theories.  First, Hanumanasana requires intense openness, and a willingness to put aside the impossible.  To echo the story of Hanuman, it is literally a leap of faith.  Perhaps it is time to reestablish a beginner’s mind, to look past what I think is possible and attempt to achieve things I’ve never even considered before.  Maybe the dream is a subtle message to myself to try a little openness. 

Secondly, Hanuman is representative of devotion, as his unwavering devotion to Rama gave him the power to do great things in the name of his beloved.  Maybe it’s time to reassess my loyalties, to honor those who deserve it and fix my attention on loved ones who need my help. 

I suppose if I take the dream literally, it could be telling me to work on my bendiness and make Hanumanasana a featured part of my daily practice.  While this could be a good thing (my hips could use the work for sure), I’m leaning towards a more symbolic interpretation.  I’ve always been more of a Ganesha girl myself, but there’s plenty to learn from Hanuman.


Experimenting with inversions

Okay, we’ve all seen this video at this point, right?

I must admit, that video is the reason I decided to kickstart my inversions practice.  Don’t judge me too harshly.  Yes, it’s sexy and she’s doing yoga in lacy underwear, but there’s also a great deal of beauty and control going on there.  I don’t need to have the lacy underwear, but I would like to harness that kind of control. 

Fueled with a new interest in inversions, I decided to sign up for a workshop that focused on handstand and headstands, with an arm balance or two thrown in for good measure.  The workshop was at a studio I’d heard good things about, but had never visited before.  The space itself was amazing: two large yoga rooms, a meditation center, a massage room, and even a raw/juice bar for refueling after practice.  It’s an amazing yoga setting, and I’m looking forward to getting back there soon.

But back to the inversions.

The workshop completely rocked my world.  There was a large focus on the mula bandha, the “root lock” that is the base of core strength.  I don’t know a lot about the bandhas yet, but I know I was able to achieve modified versions of Tittibhasana and Tolasana where I’d never been able to before.  The mula bandha is deep core strength that goes far beyond six-pack abs, and is vitally important to inversions. 

My favorite inversion right now (since it’s the one I can do without using a wall for support) is Sirsasana II, or Tripod Headstand.  I love this pose.  I get all the paradigm shifting benefits of inversions without having to worry too much about toppling over.  I can also experiment with full headstands while simultaneously having a safe “base” to return to when things get wobbly.  Here’s a link to a pretty good tutorial for Sirsasana II, although I would highly recommend trying to first with an experienced instructor. 

I’m hoping that by the next time I write about inversions, I’ll be rocking a full headstand and a solid mula bandha.

Coming back

A whole lot can happen in the matter of a couple of months.Yogically, I feel I’ve made some real progress.  I’ve established a solid home routine that I actually make time for, which is helping me out in all other aspects of life.  My work towards full lotus is…slow.  However, it’s not stagnant.  I can do half lotus on both sides in relative comfort now, but the whole shebang still eludes me.  I’m confidant I’ll get there someday soon.  I’ve taken an inversions workshop, and I’m loving headstands more than a normal person should.  New perspectives, and all.  I’ve learned more about chakras and mantras, and I’ve incorporated them into my practice.  All in all, yoga has been very good to me.

There’s always a reason why bloggers take a break from blogging, and for me, it had nothing to do with a waning passion for the topic of my blog.  In fact, if anything else, yoga has become more instrumental to my daily life.  Maybe I had to take a break because so much of what I was experiencing was, well, not yogic.  There was a lot of pain, a lot of adversity, a lot of crap.  And while I know these moments of doubt and hardship are the perfect moments for practice, my yoga just wasn’t string enough to deal with it all.  So I retreated.  Hastily.

But in the past few months, my practice has strengthened and so have I.  I’m ready to be back.  I’m ready to try to add something to my little corner of the blogosphere, and maybe help people find their own healing practice.  I’m done retreating.  It’s good to be back.


Working Towards Lotus: From the Ground Up

Yoga Sutra III.13-15: These are called “transformations” because that creates a change in the very condition of the quality of things, whether external elements or internal powers. All these things follow upon a single thing they possess: the fact that neither their stopping nor their starting can ever be pointed to.  The cause for their other stages follows too from the transformation.

The root of things is often a mystery.  What, for example, is the source of inspiration?  it is the thought just preceding the brainstorm, or a simple and momentarily overlooked observation that may have occurred weeks before?  In the Yoga Sutra, Pantanjali suggests that transformation has no beginning and no end, which, in a strange way, is comforting.  The impetus and inspiration for transformation is constantly available and is never ending.  Very cool.

So where did my desire to achieve Padmasana come from?  Well, according to Pantanjali, it’s always been there, just bubbling under the surface.  It came from my desire to improve my meditation practice, which came from a yogic spiritual awakening, which came originally from just using yoga to become more flexible, which came from years of running, which came from…  It could go on and on with no clear beginning.  And where does it end?  Achieving Padmasana will inevitably lead to another transformation, the setting of new goals, and so on.  

While the impetus for reaching full Lotus may come from a desire for spiritual growth and can thus easily draw from Pantanjali, every physical practice needs a starting point.  For me, it makes sense that the foundation of my practice be the foundation of my body: my feet.  Foot and ankle tightness has been a huge limiter for me with yoga in general and with Padmasana in particular.  My feet are long and strong, but years of running have fixed their function, and they’re going to need extra attention if they are to become pliable and compliant.  

Amazingly,  each foot contains 26 bones (which add up to a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 muscles, 31 joints, and over 100 ligament (www.sunandmoonstudios.com).  They have multiple arches, can move in myriad directions, contain more sweat glands than anywhere else in the body, and are associated with balancing the first chakra (again, compliments of http://www.sunandmoonstudios.com).  In short, the feet are pretty dang important, and it’s high time I pay more attention to there.  Therefore, this week, as I began inching towards Padmasana, I focused heavily on my feet with the following poses:

  • Virasana (Hero Pose)
  • Baddha Konasana (Cobbler Pose)
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
  • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
  • Balasana (Child’s Pose)
  • The various Warrior Poses

The result?  My left foot is responding well, but I’ve been able to achieve Half Lotus with my left leg on top for several years now, so this isn’t necessarily surprising.  My right foot, however, is rebellious.  It behaves (kinda) in Hero Pose, but the moment I move into Half Lotus, it cries out, “Um…no!”  Perhaps this is an ankle issue more than strictly a foot issue.  

Now I’m reaching out to you, the brilliant and supportive yoga blogging community: What poses do you suggest for fickle feet?

Asana Saturday: Working Towards Lotus

Remember how a couple of months ago I confessed the potentially embarrassing fact that despite more than a decade of yoga practice, I am most decidedly not the world’s most flexible yogi?  Well, today’s asana discussion whole heartedly supports that truth.  I love the beauty and simplicity of Padmasana, or Lotus Pose.  I think it is graceful in its stillness and I do believe it is an ideal vehicle for mediation.  This is perhaps why I often find myself frustrated that I cannot for the life of me achieve full Lotus.

There are several reasons for my Lotus-less-ness.  First and foremost, I am an endurance athlete, focusing mostly on running and biking, neither of which is good for hip flexor mobility.  Additionally, running can reduce knee and foot flexibility, both of which are crucial for full Lotus.  Secondly, while I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, I think I am at a disadvantage due to my height.  At nearly six feet tall, I have a lot of legs to toss around.  Finally, and most importantly, I have been stuck at half Lotus for so long that I’ve become somewhat complacent and have not given achieving full Lotus the devotion it needs.  Well, enough of that.  I’ve recently made great strides in my meditation practice, and I’d love a full Lotus to go along with it.

However, all this thinking about Padmasana led me to wonder: why Lotus pose anyway?  Why is Lotus so quintessentially yogic, and why is it the ideal asana for meditation?  I did a bit of research, and while most websites simply spouted the same blanket information about meditative practice and benefits during pranayama, a couple of sites had some truly interesting information.

According to yogameditation.com, Padmasana is key for meditation because it ideally aligns the body for effortless sitting.  In order to avoid restlessness and muscular tension, the nervous system must flow through the body unimpeded.  The “undisturbed position of the spine in Padmasana is important in order for the nerve impulses [and the associated cerebrospinal fluid] to flow freely during meditation” (yogameditation.com).  This open, flowing position of the spine also allows for psychic energy to run through the body unchecked, adding to the harmonious mental and spiritual effects of meditation.

The website syvum.com states that Padmasana can reduce excess body fat in the abdominal region.  This claim is backed by yogameditation.com, which states that the cross-legged position of Lotus redirects blood flow to the abdominals, which is beneficial for the digestive organs.  Syvum.com also states that practicing Lotus can help people suffering from insomnia and asthma.

As awesome as the physical benefits of Padmasana may be, Erich Shiffman, the author of Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness (a great yoga primer), reminds us that “sitting in Lotus is not the important point. What’s important is the knowledge you gain in terms of how to open your body and keep it opened. The yoga lies in how sensitively you nudge your edges and tight areas toward greater openness. The postures are the tool you use for this.”  So as I work towards full Lotus, it will be important to remember to be kind to myself, to use Padmasana as a tool for openness and acceptance, and to discover that more often than not, the path and the practice are more important than the achievement or destination.

For the next couple of weeks I will be working on (and blogging about) preparatory poses for Padmasana.  Please feel free to follow along and share your progress too!  Maybe we’ll all reach full Lotus together.

Doing more with less

Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s backlash from our culture’s over the top materialism, but minimalism has been strangely hip for the past couple of years. Ironically, there is a plethora of websites dedicated to all things minimalist (which again, smells subtly of irony), and there are more minislism blogs than you can shake a stick at. One blog even has a list if the top ten minislist blogs of 2011. Needless to say, minimalism is cool, which makes it decidedly uncool to people who profess to be cool, or to those who were minimalist before the boom.

Now, I cannot rightfully claim to be a minimalist in any sense of the word, but after a month of moving, reorganizing, and downsizing, I see the appeal. It’s the same reason I’m drawn to yoga: when it all comes down to it, you really don’t need special clothes or fancy equipment (although stretchy pants and a mat are definite bonuses). All you need is time, dedication, and a little knowledge of the asanas (or a solid yoga DVD). In my other athletic life, I compete in triathlons, which are all equipment, all the time. Yoga provides a solace of simplicity unavailable in other activities and lifestyles, which leads a girl to wonder how much “stuff” we really need.

Which leads me to the point of this post. I normally don’t do the whole resolution thing, but as we spent the last months of 2011 hauling junk from one house to the next, I think a resolution is in order. So here it goes: for each day of 2012, I am going to throw away or donate one non-trash item. This resolution is not a massive overhaul (I’m not going minimalist overnight or anything) which makes it all the more likely that I will succeed. It’s also an immediately noticeable resolution; each day, something is going out the door, making space for more positive energy in the house. Finally, this resolution just feels right: it feels simple, and freeing, and yogic. While others may be striving for more, I will be striving to be happier with less.

Here’s to a simpler, happier 2012.

Asana Saturday (okay, Sunday): Gate Pose

Sanskrit Name: Pahrighasana (par-ee-GOSS-anna)

Yes, I’m a day behind here, but it has been a busy week.  All of life’s most stressful events seem to have culminated during this week, and it doesn’t help that the holidays (which can be incredibly stressful in and of themselves) are right around the corner as well.  For this week’s asana, I wanted to choose a pose that is fairly simple, is something of an “opener” (as in, it opens the heart, the hips, and so on), and can be done as a little “getaway” from the busyness of the real world.  I also wanted something a little different, something a bit off the beaten path.  Enter Gate Pose.

Gate Pose is interesting in that it can be seen as an intense side bend, a hip opener (to a certain degree), and, in my opinion, a heart opener and a safe place for emotional release.  In Sanskrit, “parigha” refers to “an iron bar used for locking a gate,” and the pose itself is sometimes called Gate-Latch Pose.  To me, a latch can either be seen as a way to keep people out, or an invitation to invite them in.  Naturally, I prefer to emphasize the latter.  When we take Parighasana, we can create an invitation for positive energy and openness.  Give Gate Pose a try, keeping your mind focused on drawing positivity into your heart.

Getting into Pahrighasana

Start by kneeling on your knees on the floor, perhaps coming from Virasana (Hero Pose).  Extend your right leg out, striving to push your right foot to the floor.  Keep your right foot and your left knee aligned as you turn your pelvis slightly to the right.

Inhale, bringing your arms up overhead.  As you exhale, bend to the right, allowing your right hand to lower to your right leg.  You may place your hand on your thigh, your shin, or on the floor beside your right ankle, whichever is comfortable to you.  Keep bending right from the hip, reaching the left arm up and over into a side bend.  Be careful to keep your right kneecap pointing up, as it tends to roll towards the floor in Gate Pose.  Also, work on keeping your torso open, as it too tends to fall towards the floor.

Stay in Parighasana anywhere from 30 second to one minute.  COme out of it by drawing the torso upright and bringing your right leg back underneath your body.  Repeat on the left side.

As a bonus, Gate Pose is a great asana for hitting the obliques and the ever elusive psoas.  Try it out between prepping side dishes.

Image from yogajournal.com

Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff