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Archive for November, 2016

Apanasana- Calming and Grounding Yoga Pose

Posted on November 11th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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Apanasana: Knees-to-Chest Pose

“Let it go.” It is a phrase we often hear as encouragement to free our grasp onto sentiments, experiences, feelings, thoughts and distractions that no longer serve our wellbeing. Easier said than done right? While the journey to free our hearts and souls from the burdens of negative or rather disheartening self-talk is a continuous travel inwards taking steady and much dedication, yoga and in particular viniyoga is here to remind us to focus on intention and the natural calming wave-like rhythm of the breath. In particular, apanasana or knees-to-chest pose is an energy freeing pose that focuses on the downward and outward energy flow also referred to as the apana vayus.

When embraced through numerous cycles of a repetitive and constant breath, apanasana releases tensions of the lower digestive systems by detoxifying the entire body. Apanasana also releases back pain and produces a general sense of openness in the body, especially within the hips and internal thigh region. Emotionally and mentally speaking, this detoxifying pose relieves stress, mild depression and anxiety. In his Viniyoga Therapy for Anxiety, Gary Kraftsow conscientiously guides you through the calming affects of apanasana.

To go into the pose that opens up the anterior hip muscles and stretches the lumbar vertebrate, begin by laying on your back with the left leg straight and right leg bent at the knee holding onto the right knee with both hands. As you exhale, strength the naval-to-spine connection by pulling the navel inwards, bending the elbows and and pulling the right knee towards the belly. As you inhale, release and repeat this cycle of breath-guider movement four times. Then upon your next exhalation, bend the left knee and release the right leg to repeat the transition onto the opposite side if the body four times. Afterwards, on your next inhaling breath bend both knees so that you gently hold on to each knee with both hands. On an exhalation breath, pull both knees into the belly, tucking the chin slightly down and consciously pushing the sacrum into the mat. If your hips are tight, slightly widening the distance between the knees is not only a great modification but again, eliminates unnecessary strain on the physical body. On an inhalation, release to the starting position.

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What is Yoga? with Carol Krucoff and Kimberly Carson

Posted on November 8th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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  1. WHAT IS YOGA?

Yoga is coming into union, being united with what is. Through this union, this relationship, we become more intimate with ourselves, with each other, with the natural world. Ultimately, and with grace, we unify with the Essential Truth of Things.

 

  1. HOW DO YOU WEAVE THAT DEFINITION INTO YOUR TEACHING?

Our teaching centers on finding ease and union in body and mind. One of our Principles of Practice is that we teach people, not poses or conditions—which is central to our work with older adults and people with health challenges.    This population can be extremely receptive to the profound benefits yoga offers on all levels—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Unlike younger practitioners, who can become distracted by the desire for a shapelier body, older adults typically have a ripeness for the experience of ease and union.   Rather than focusing on “getting a posture right,” our teaching centers on cultivating awareness and self-discovery and inviting an experience of connection and joy.

  1. HOW DO YOU BRING IT INTO YOUR OWN PRACTICE?

Kimberly: In my own practice, I am focused on listening deeply to not only the needs and requests of my physical body, but also the movements of energy and guidance from the quieter dimensions.  My practice is fundamentally an exploration of who and what I am internally, externally, and transactionally. With regards to the postures, I am primarily focused on maintaining functional ability in my body so that I can comfortably turn my attention to subtler processes of the inner and outer landscapes. Many years ago, I lost interest in pursuing optimal function of the musculature in service of pursuing optimal functioning of attention and awareness. As a result, my posture practice is relatively simple but balanced and is only one aspect of the activities I engage to maintain physical health.

 

Carol:  My practice is not limited to the time I spend on the mat. Rather than “doing yoga,” I’m much more interested in “living yoga,” which means bringing yogic principles—such as kshama (patience) and daya (compassion) into my life on and off the mat.   I’ve found that interweaving “micro-practices” into my day – which I call “Yoga Sparks” — can be transformative, making ordinary activities into sacred rituals and continually bringing awareness to the precious gifts of body and breath.

And as I approach my 60th birthday, my posture practice has also changed.   Honoring the principle of truth (satya), I humbly acknowledge that I am no longer able to comfortably do some postures that I once found easy –such as Tolasana–and that some other postures—such as headstand—are not appropriate for me anymore.   Back in my 20s, my idea of progress in yoga was measured by the ability to do complicated arm balances. Now I view being an advanced yogi as the ability to move through the world with kindness, generosity and wisdom. Having done my share of pretzely “party poses,” my asana practice is no longer a journey toward mastery of harder, cooler postures. Instead, it’s a welcome opportunity to nurture my body, quiet my mind and connect with the divine.

 

  1. HOW HAS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF YOGA’S TRUE MEANING EVOLVED SINCE YOU BEGAN TEACHING?

Kimberly: During the first yoga class I ever attended, a brief and profound awakening of what I would call “witness consciousness” occurred. The last 20 years of my practice has been in service of exploring, understanding and stabilizing that experience. Over the years of this exploration, my practice and teaching has increasingly been drawn towards simplicity and subtlety.

Carol:  Like many people, I thought yoga was a form of exercise back when I first started taking classes nearly 40 years ago. I was a runner looking to stretch out my tight hamstrings and to relieve neck pain and deadline stress from my job as a reporter for The Washington Post.   Over time, however, I began to realize that yoga offered much more than flexibility and stress relief.   I discovered that yoga was a journey of self-discovery and found the lessons I’d learned in tackling challenging postures on the yoga mat helped me navigate more skillfully through challenging situations at work and at home. In addition to stretching my hamstrings and relieving my neck pain, yoga helped me become happier, healthier and better able to welcome whatever arose in my life.

As my physical body has changed with age—through two pregnancies in my early 30s, earning a second-degree black belt in karate in my 40s, then facing some health crises in my 50s—my practice has changed as well. A serious bout of hyponatremia, brought on by drinking too much water during a marathon in Jamaica in 2003, landed me in a four-day coma and gave me a new appreciation for the deeper practices of yoga—particularly breathing and meditation. This near-death experience taught me something I’d known intellectually yet never truly understood: Yoga’s true power lies in its ability to harness the mind for healing and spiritual development.

Then, in 2008, I had open-heart surgery to replace a congenitally-abnormal heart valve and repair a resulting aneurysm in my aorta. My yoga practice proved extremely powerful in preparing for and recovering from my surgery, and it changed according to my needs—some days it was dynamic and energizing, other days calming and restorative.   I discovered that I could even practice yoga in the Intensive Care Unit—although the only posture I could do was Savasana, the “Corpse Pose,” lying still and surrendering completely. Meditation, prayer, listening to chanting on my iPod and visualizing a positive outcome were all useful yoga practices that helped me through this difficult experience and restore me to full health.

 

  1. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOGA THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO CHANGE?

Yoga is not about the form.   Although the various forms of postures, breathing and meditation practices are helpful guides, the deepest teachings and realizations of the yoga tradition are what we discover through and behind the exploration of the forms. Hence, any moment is potentially an asana, a seat of consciousness, rendering life wildly free and inviting.

Another misconception about yoga that we would like to change is that you need to be flexible to practice.   Unfortunately, this misunderstanding keeps many older adults and people with health challenges from trying yoga because they think they are too old, too stiff, too limited—they can’t get on the floor, they can’t get out of a chair. . .etc.

 Physical ability (or inability) does not need to be a barrier to practice!

     The only requirement for practicing yoga is the ability to breathe. 

     It’s a common misconception that yoga requires people to twist themselves into pretzels.  But while advanced postures like headstand may be part of the yoga practice for some people, they are by no means required.  Yoga poses should be selected to fit each individual’s abilities and needs.  For many people, yoga practice involves easy, yet powerful, meditative movements that anyone can do.   “Relax into Yoga” is designed so that anyone can do at least some of the practices.   For example, there is a sequence that can be done in bed, and another that can be done sitting in a chair.

 

Kimberly is a leading contributor to research establishing the therapeutic benefits of yoga and meditation for people with serious health issues. She has developed and taught numerous yoga and meditation programs at Duke University Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) for patients with chronic pain and cancer. Kimberly co-directs both the Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors and the Yoga of Awareness teacher trainings for Cancer and Chronic Pain offered through Duke Integrative Medicine and OHSU. Her work has been published in journals such as Pain, Supportive Care in Cancer, Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, and Behavior Therapy.

Carol is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, where she creates individualized yoga practices for people with health challenges and co-directs the Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors teacher training. A frequent contributor to Yoga Journal, Carol is an award-winning journalist and fitness expert. She served as founding editor of the Health section of The Washington Post, where her syndicated column, Bodyworks, appeared for 12 years. She is author of the book Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain; co-author with her cardiologist husband Mitchell Krucoff, MD, of Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise; and creator of the home practice CD, Healing Moves Yoga.

Find our more about Relax into Yoga the DVD and the new book release Relax into Yoga at www.relaxintoyoga.com

 

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Sukhasana

Posted on November 7th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

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Sukhasana: Seated Easy Pose

Whether it’s been a long day or week filled with joyous times or a few more bumps along the path than preferred, we could all use more moment of serene peace, reflection and gratitude. An ideal asana for meditation, Sukhasana or seated easy pose supports your journey of surrendering and becoming the witness to such an emotional, mental and physical release.

To come into a comfortable and cross-legged seated meditative pose, feel free to sit on a chair or a bolster to alleviate any sense of discomfort in the hips, lower pack or tailbone region. To create a sense of effortless ease, preparing your mind, body and soul to release all worries and outside influences, place blankets under the knees making it easier and more comfortable to sit in Sukasnana for longer periods of time. Bring your attention to your intention for the practice and present moment of stillness. Notice your thoughts, habits of thoughts, and if you feel distracted just notice it, but do not allow such distractions to overwhelm you and bring your attention to alignment: the long extension of your spine, neutrality in the back of your neck as your crown reaches up towards to the sky.

The asana’s relative ease on the knees allows your hips to open without discomfort. You are welcome to sit in this pose for any length of time, but if you practice Sukhasana on a regular basis, be mindful in alternating the crossing of the legs. Physically, the benefits of Sukhasana include strengthening the upper back, knees and ankles. Emotionally and mentally, Sukahasana when practiced with diligent and gentle pranayama work, calms the mind and nervous system achieving a sense of internal peace.

To help you safely strengthen and stabilize your thoracic and cervical spine, Gary Kraftsow guides you through an intentional and progression-based sequence in his Viniyoga Therapy for Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders DVD.

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The Foundation of Steadiness and Ease in Yoga

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

 

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By Sarah Powers

Patanjali’s linked concepts of “sthira” and “sukha” — steadiness and ease — can help structure your teaching. Learn how situating your instruction between these two poles can help your students find harmony.

In describing the qualities of asana with the adjectives “sthira” and “sukha,” Patanjali uses language very skillfully. Sthira means steady and alert–to embody sthira, the pose must be strong and active. Sukha means comfortable and light–to express sukha, the pose must be joyful and soft. These complimentary poles–or Yin and Yang co-essentials–teach us the wisdom of balance. By finding balance, we find inner harmony, both in our practice and in our lives.

As teachers, we need to help our students find that balance in their practice. Our instruction should assist them in an exploration of both sthira and sukha. In practical terms, we should begin by teaching sthira as a form of connection to the ground, and then move to sukha as a form of lighthearted exploration and expansion. In this way, we can teach from the ground up.

Manifesting steadiness (sthira) requires connecting to the ground beneath us, which is our earth, our support. Whether our base is comprised of ten toes, one foot, or one or both hands, we must cultivate energy through that base. Staying attentive to our roots requires a special form of alertness. Our instruction should begin there by helping students cultivate this alertness at the base of a pose. I will demonstrate this form of instruction for Tadasana, the blue print for all the other standing poses. The principles of Tadasana can be easily adapted to any standing pose you wish to teach.

In all the standing poses, steadiness comes from rooting all sides of the feet like the stakes of a tent. We need to teach students with high arches to pay particular attention to grounding their inner feet, and show students with fallen arches to move their ankles away from each other.

After rooting the feet, we move up, reminding students to draw the kneecaps up, the upper inner thighs in and back, and the outer sides of the knees back. This allows students to notice whether their weight feels evenly distributed between the right and left leg, the front and back of the foot, and the inner and outer thighs.

Next we should remind our students to adjust the pelvis, allowing the weight of the hips to be above the knees and ankles. This often requires them to draw their weight slightly back in order to allow the point of the coccyx to face down. In this alignment, the tailbone is not tucked nor lifted, but merely directed down between the fronts of the heels. Those with flat lumbar spines will need to allow the tailbone to move slightly back, moving away from tucking, while those with over-arched backs will need to encourage the tailbone to draw slightly in.

We should then instruct our students to lengthen the side waist, lift the top of the sternum and relax the shoulders down the back, aligning them over the hips and ankles. They should bring their heads above their shoulders, aligning the chin in the same plane as the forehead. Finally, they should relax the jaw, allowing the tongue to float freely in the mouth and the eyes to soften.

Once our students have attended to steadiness, the other qualities of alertness and comfort become accessible. They are now ready to bring their hands into Namaste position and reflect on their motivation before beginning their practice.

Encourage your students to view this grounded base as their home base, the foundation from which they can create, explore, and at times expand. From there, they can navigate to a place of ease or sukha. Just as steadiness requires and develops alertness, comfort entails remaining light, unburdened, and interested in discovery. By teaching this quality, we encourage a balanced equilibrium rather than impose rigid rules for alignment. This helps students develop a natural respect toward their bodies and themselves, while encouraging them to fully inhabit their bodies. They can then learn to move away from commanding their bodies to perform poses, and instead breathe life into them from the inside.

With sthira and sukha as the points on our compass, we can organize our teaching and help our students enjoy exploring their places of limitation and liberation in every pose. As a result, regardless of your students’ individual abilities, their practice can focus on celebration and refreshment.

At a deeper level, the way we practice and teach yoga poses mirrors the way we live the rest of our lives. As we reflect on our practice and our teaching, we can use yoga as a tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us. Sthira and sukha can then become not only tools for teaching or understanding yoga, but also principals that help guide the way we live.

Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes.

First Published in Yoga Journal Newsletter, September 2005

 

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

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 SARAH POWERS

An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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Shakti and Chi

Posted on November 2nd, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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Chi is constantly circulating through our meridians but the vast potential of Shakti lies dormant in the first chakra at the base of our spine. The relationship between chi and Shakti can be likened to the liquid and solid wax of a burning candle. All the chi presently circulating through the body is like the liquid wax rising up the wick and being burned. The solid wax of the candle is the sleeping Shakti energy being held in reserve.

In traditional language Shakti is said to be sleeping. But sometimes Shakti awakens and infuses us with the energy needed for new or powerful events. A sexual orgasm, the growth of a fetus, and the incredible transformations of puberty are all manifestations of something more than chi, they are manifestations of a partial awakening of Shakti.

The sacred power of Shakti is vital to the tantric yogi. Practicing asana and breathing exercises can harmonize the flow of chi in the meridians, but to open the chakras requires something more than chi— it requires energy of greater strength and subtlety. Shakti must awaken and add her energy to our efforts. Shakti is awakened by intensely focusing our chi into a chakra, bandha practices help to achieve this.

Excerpts from: Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice — 10th Anniversary Edition by Paul Grilley.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

 

Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.

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Yin/Yang Yoga – Find Power in Stillness

Posted on November 1st, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

De Jur Meditate

By Sarah Powers

Do you find sitting for meditation uncomfortable and difficult? Or feel that while you’d like more balance and depth in both yoga and life, your asana practice often seems more focused on achievement and attainment than on gaining inner harmony and peace?

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, it was a similar feeling that led Sarah Powers, now one of America’s leading yoga teachers, to explore ways to achieve greater harmony in her body and to feel more at ease in it when she sat for meditation. The result is what she calls “yin/yang yoga”, which combines passive and active asanas with pranayama and meditation into what for her is a very deep, integrated and satisfying practice.

When Sarah began teaching at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1980s, one of the other teachers there, Paul Grilley, led classes in “yin yoga.” Grilley had studied with Taoist teacher Pauly Zink and Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, an internationally renowned Japanese yogi, Shinto priest and expert in Indian and Chinese medicine. Yin yoga uses long, passive holds to work on the deep, dense connective tissues of the body- the tendons, ligaments and cartilage – which are difficult to energize and open. Sarah used to take Paul’s class after her ashtanga practice and liked the deepness of his approach. So she began to look into it.

The reason for her interest was the fact that despite an intensive practice in Iyengar, viniyoga and ashtanga styles of yoga, Sarah was still not able to sit comfortably for long periods of time in meditation. While her active asana practice had increased her strength and flexibility, she found that after she cooled down she felt stiff and unable to rest deeply in the core of her body.

Reaching Deeper

As she studied yin yoga, Sarah learned that it had its greatest benefit when practiced before more active asana practice, not afterward. When we work actively, the pranic flow and circulation are directed into the muscles and superficial connective tissues. By comparison, a long-held passive pose practiced while the muscles are not yet warm allows the energy to reach the deeper connective tissues of the joints and the corresponding pathways of the meridian system. (The meridian system is composed of energy channels) The prana (or life force) stimulates and tones the joints, deep connective tissues, increasing the supply of fluids to them, making them less dense and enabling them to stretch appropriately.

As a result, we become more flexible, our joints become “juicier,” and energy blocks along the meridians are removed, enabling the organs to function better. And because the influx of prana works on the nervous system too, we become not only calmer but also more focused.

“If you never go into the deeper connective tissue,” Sarah says, “it becomes denser and less flexible-more yin-making it more difficult to go deeper into asanas and uncomfortable to sit in meditation..

For me, the purpose of doing yoga is to feel more at home in my body. I’m interested in having harmony in my body and in enabling energy to flow freely to all channels, joints, muscles and organs. Yin yoga enables me to reach levels of my self I otherwise could not get to.”

Pushing Your Edges

Sarah finds that the passive yin approach gives students a new edge to work with in their yoga practice -the edge of just being in a pose without trying to get anywhere in it. “Yin practice takes you deeper into where you are, not out to where you think you should be,” Sarah notes. “This approach challenges us to rethink what asana is about. It marries meditation and asana into a very deep practice. Some people, especially beginners, are not interested in or willing to do this -to sit inside their discomfort and just watch their reactions instead of trying to fix or change the pose. Yin yoga challenges you to sit in the pure presence of awareness. It’s hard in a different way than active asana practice, but in a way that’s more profound and satisfying as well as more beneficial to the deeper tissues.”

This doesn’t mean that Sarah has given up her active asana practice. In fact, she is continually working on deepening her yang practice, too. “We learn how to be still, but we also have to utilize our muscles and express ourselves energetically,” she says “The goal is a sattvic [pure] balance of tamasic (passive) and rajasic (active) energies -a beautiful marriage of yang and yin, effort and surrender, ha [sun] and tha [moon]. The practice of yin/yang yoga helps us learn about stillness in movement and the flow in stillness.”

Sarah finds that her yin practice has helped to facilitate and deepen her yang practice. “The ability to surrender to that yin practice becomes deeply engrained in you and carries over into your yang practice,” she says. “This keeps you from ‘overefforting’ and trying to push yourself into various poses, which increases the likelihood of injury. Plus after yin practice, you find that there is already more energy flowing at deeper levels, so you are more flexible and require less warm-up. As a result, you go deeper with less effort.”

Cultivating Wholeness

Sarah’s meditating has been primarily in the Buddhist traditions. She has studied in the U.S. and Asia with highly distinguished teachers – most notably, Jack Kornfield in the vipassana tradition, Toni Packer in the open awareness of the Zen tradition, and the Tibetan reincarnate lama Tsoknyi Rinpoche in the Dzogchen path of effortless clarity. Buddhism has given her a clear map to the mind and helpful tools for getting into silence and stillness.

She is also inspired by the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj of the Advaita Vedanta, school of Indian philosophy based on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita that emphasizes non-duality and holds that liberation is attained through a dissolution of all individuality. She uses these tools in her workshops because she wants to share them with others and help them experience the power of stillness that she finds in yin/yang yoga.

First Published in YOGAChicago, Sept/Oct 2001

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

powers

 SARAH POWERS

An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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