Tag Archives: yoga article

Manhattan Setu Bandhasana (Bridge!)

(still very behind on this series, but always fun to take a look back at where I was four months ago …)

Oh, New York.  America’s bridge to her slightly more sophisticated sister (if only due to age), Europa.   Where the weak and weary masses were once so welcome, they came by the boatful to build themselves a shiny new American life.  Boasting over 800 spoken languages, it’s the most linguistically diverse city in the world.  The selection of gustatory delights is pretty impressive as well . . .

Herself on the eve of New York's worst hurricane in who knows how long, 2011

Where you can catch a subway 24 hours a day, where countless authors and musicians have sojourned for inspiration, and you can bet money you won’t be disappointed with your bagel or pizza order.  8 million people living in 305 square miles of sea-side urban sprawl  If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

My favorite personal New York story (so far) was the time my best friend and I went to see a free showing at Showtime at the ApolloI’ll preface the whole thing by noting we were 17 years old at the time!

We arrived in Queens when it was already dark and the line to get in went for blocks and blocks and blocks.  Blocks of chicken joints and pawn shops.  And we were the only non-African-Americans in sight.  We felt pretty cool.

As we stood in line, taking it all in, this little Puerto Rican chic comes up to us and asks if we wanna get into to see the show early.  At first we thought she was trying to steal our spot, but then her camera crew caught up with her and we decided it was worth a shot.  So she takes us back to the venue, snaking in and out of massive crowds, leads us over to the entrance in the back and straight into the building.  We were in!

Shot from inside the Apollo, back in the day...

Alright ladies, we’re gonna sit you down, and after the amateur show we’re gonna bring the cameras round and ask ya’ll what you thought.  Sound good?

Totally in awe, we were taken to our ninth row seats and enjoyed an hour of the worst dancing, singing and standup we’d ever seen.  Oh, the hilarious things we wanted to say!

That ventriloquist guy should see if he could maybe switch positions with his dummy, cuz it could hardly get any worse!

Was that a song she was singing or an imitation of a woe-struck chicken?

But when the big cameras and lights caught up with us after the evenings (rather embarrassing) performances, we could hardly muster, “Yeah man, that was cool.”

Ah, to be 17in the Big Apple.  So much sass and so little sophistication!

Thankfully, after the embarassing encounter with the bright lights of entertainment, we were treated to Montel Jordan’s dancer being taken away in an ambulance from an asthma attack . . .

. . . and Lord Tariq and Peter Guns getting one better than a standing ovation: the in-house impromptu partay.  Everyone in the joint got up, rushed the stage and got down to their anthem . . .

This leg of the Friends and Family Tour takes me back to the world’s culture capital to visit the very same friend – as well as a former colleague and soul sister from Japan.  I actually ended up re-connecting with a surprising number of old friends and acquaintances, part of the reason why I chose to explore bridge pose (setu bandhasana) just under the Manhattan Bridge.

Ze Pose

In its basic form, bridge, Setu Bandhasana (or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), can be done by any beginner who isn’t suffering from a major neck concern or back issue.  Start with the feet hip distance apart, knees bent, hands just a few inches from the heels of the feet, arms parallel to the torso.  Tuck the tailbone and press the lowerback into the earth to start feeling your core muscles.  This also helps to protect your lower back further into the pose.

Two bridges on a sunny NYC day

On an inhale, lift the hips and press the feet into the earth, as if you’re trying to straighten the knees.  To bind in the pose (the ‘bandha’ part of the Sanskrit name) shimmy the shoulders down until you can grab onto the ankles.  Hold here for as long as it’s comfortable.

For intermediate practitioners, the pose can be explored more deeply with all sorts of variations and props.

  • Try lifting one leg perpendicular to the earth.  Press the foundation foot evenly through the ball and heel.  The raised leg is straight, hips square – and you can play around with pointing the toes, balls, and heel of the feet to see which position feels best.
  • Shift the direction of the toes and heels clockwise and counter clockwise to experience how that affects the physical sensations in the pose.
  • If your balance is feeling solid, bring the lifted leg out to the side of the body until it’s parallel to the earth.  This should work the inner thigh and core, as well as your overall sense of balance.

This pose is great for the thighs and core, but you can also engage the arms and shoulders by actively pressing the palms into the earth as you lift the hips.  You may even opt to interlace the fingers and press both hands firmly down, walking the shoulders closer together.

For a more dynamic vinyasa version, inhale as you raise the hips up and arms up and behind the head.  On the exhale, bring the hips and hands back to their original positions. Continue with your own rhythm to your heart’s content!

It sounds kinda cheesy, but sometimes a yoga practice can really act as a bridge over troubled waters, so I couldn’t resist adding this song to the post.  Enjoy . . .

A few shots from around what could possibly be the next place I call ‘home’ . . .

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Gettin’ Down(dog) in Baltimore

It’s not the first city on most people’s “must see in America” list, but Baltimore has a lot more to offer than whatever you’ve seen on The Wire.  No, it’s not all drug deals and corrupt cops up in here, despite the series’ realistic aesthetic and gritty dialogue (gotta love it).

Baltimore’s undergone a major evolution in the last ten years, and most of the city has a surprising charm, in architecture, quirkiness and down-to-earth vibe of the people.  Not to mention America’s biggest free art festival – Artscape!

Two of my dearest friends are currently calling this city their home, so it was a definitely a “must see” on my Friends and Family Tour list.  I spent the week visiting my host’s favorite munching spot and taking in some local Bikram (in the white-trash-funky Hapden) and Hatha (both of excellent quality, though the receptionist at Charm City Yoga was so uptight, I wondered how accurate the name of the studio really was . . . ).

In the featured image, we’re perusing the free art outside one of the many art schools in the city . . .

When I found this odd little dog statue, I couldn’t help but bust out in a downdog myself (I assure you, the postures in this article series become a lot less literal in future!).

Since I’m writing this article from my second go at a yoga teacher training, I’ll share with you a report on the posture I did in my first teacher training course in 2007 at The Yoga Connection in Tucson, Arizona.  It may be far too much detail for the non-yogi reader, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

(AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)
adho = downward
mukha = face
svana = dog

A stabilizing inversion, downdog balances all 7 chakras and all 5 ayurvedic elements.
Preparatory Poses
  • Plank Pose
  • Uttanasana
Basic set-up
  1. Ask if anyone has migraines or high blood pressure; ask if anyone has wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.
  2. Come onto the floor in Table Pose (on your hands and knees). Set your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders; they should be about shoulder-width apart or wider.
  3. Stretch out as though you were going into child’s pose and pause before your tailbone touches your heels.  Feel that stretch from the palms of your hands, up your arms, down your back and to your tail bone.
  4. Now, back into table, spread your palms, index fingers parallel or slightly turned out, and turn your toes under.
  5. Draw the upper arm bones more deeply into the shoulder sockets and spread the shoulders apart as you press the lower arms toward each other.
  6. Curl the toes under and on the exhale, slowly lift your knees away from the floor. At first keep the knees slightly bent and the heels lifted away from the floor.
  7. Lengthen through the arms and spine, creating a straight line of energy from the wrists to the pelvis.  Press into the earth, engaging the hands.  You will feel your triceps contract, and a stretch in your latissimus dorsi.
  8. Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders.  Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone, creating space between your blades and your neck.
  9. Keep the head between the upper arms, or let it hang like a fruit, gaze toward your navel.
  10. Do a few small cat-cow sequences to find the perfect balance in your neutral back line.  If you have tight hamstrings, please keep your knees bent and your pelvis tilted slightly toward the navel.
  11. As necessary, start to “yoga walk” or “walk the dog,” knees bending with the breath.
  12. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of your pelvis and press it lightly toward the pubis. Against this resistance, lift the sitting bones toard the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins.  Really feel that lift of your sitting bones to the ceiling.  You should be feeling a deep extension and lengthening through your body’s V-shape.
  13. Breathe into the pose.
  14. Now, if you’d like to move into full extension of the pose, with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees if you can, but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis.
  15. You will be feeling a stretch in your hamstrings and the biceps femoris.
  16. If you like, activate the chakras at the balls of the feet by spreading the feet wide and drawing energy up from the earth.
  17. (With each inhalation, envision the pranic energy entering your Chandra chakra and spiraling down into your Vishuddha, Anahata, Manipura, Swadhistana and Muladhara chakras, pausing at the kriya center, then spiraling back up.)
  18. Allow any sound to emerge as the throat opens, releasing energy from the neck and head and relaxing the nervous system.
  19. Allow deep stillness to spread throughout the nervous system even as the body remains active, and know this place of balance and integration is a part of the process.
  20. At this point, you have three options.  Option one, if you are ready to release from the pose, please do so slowly and mindfully, dropping your knees to the ground and moving into child’s pose.  Option two, you may stay in the pose, breathing deep into all the corners of your body.  Option three, if you’d like more of a challenge, step your right foot closer to the center of the mat, in alignment with your head, and lift your left leg, engaging the gluts, keeping your hip square with the earth.  It doesn’t matter how high you get here, but feel the energy shooting out of your body from your tailbone, energizing your gluts, hamstrings and ankle, and shooting outward at the ball of your feet. When you are ready, slowly release the left leg (same on other side).
The pose is sometimes entered into from supine pose, and calls for the crown of the head to touch the earth.
Modifications & Props
  • Arm Prop: To get a feel for the work of the outer arms, loop and secure a strap around your arms just above your elbows. Imagine that the strap is tightening inward, pressing the outer arms in against the bones. Against this resistance, push the inner shoulder blades outward.
  • Shoulder Prep: If you have difficulty releasing and opening your shoulders in this pose, raise your hands off the floor on a pair of blocks or the seat of a metal folding chair.
  • Dolphin Variation: practice with the forearms on the floor, parallel to each other.
  • Eka Pada: To challenge yourself in this pose, inhale and raise your right leg parallel to the line of your torso, and hold for 30 seconds, keeping the hips level and pressing through the heel. Release with an exhalation and repeat on the left for the same length of time.
Variations
Deepen the Pose

To increase the stretch in the backs of your legs, lift slightly up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Then draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, lifting actively from the inner heels. Finally, from the height of the groins, lengthen the heels back onto the floor, allowing the outer heels to touch the ground first, then the inner heels last.

Partnering/Adjustments
  • A partner can help you learn how to work the top thighs in this pose. First perform Adho Mukha Svanasana. Have your partner stand behind and loop a strap around your front groins (or they can use their hands), snuggling the strap into the crease between your top thighs and front pelvis. Your partner can pull on the strap parallel to the line of your spine (remind him/her to extend the arms fully, and keep the knees bent and chest lifted). Release the heads of your thigh bones deeper into your pelvis and lengthen your front torso away from the strap.
  • A partner may also stand in front of your back and press down (gently at first) onto the hips, ground your feet deeper into the earth.
  • For a more intimate adjustment, have your partner lie down onto your back.
Common Mistakes
  • Concentrating on straightening the legs too much
  • Not engaging back muscles
  • Wrenching of the neck
  • Rounded lumbar area
Benefits
a.      Physical
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
  • Calms the brain and nervous system
b.      Psychological
  • Helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Creates integration and balance between the upper and lower body
c.       Spiritual
  • Energizes all seven chakras
Contraindications/Cautions
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome or any wrist/shoulder pain, start with modifications
  • Diarrhea
  • Pregnancy: Do not do this pose late-term.
  • High blood pressure or headache: Support your head on a bolster or block, ears level between the arms.
Subsequent Poses
  • Standing poses
  • Uttanasana
  • Headstand

References:

Yoga Journal (www.yogajournal.com)

Yoga Teachers’ Toolbox, Joseph and Lilian Le Page

Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar

Proven Benefits of Meditation

Meditation.  Dhyana.  Sitting quietly.  Focusing.  And then …

There’ve been so many times at the ashram, just in the first week alone, where I’ve thought to myself, “Wow, if some of my friends could see what I’m doing, I’m sure they’d ask the question, ‘And you’re paying them to do that!?’”

Like Karma Yoga, a practice meant to humble the aspirant and encourage transcendence of egoic motivations.  The students of the teacher training (me and 30 others from around the world) are the keepers of the ashram, seeing to all its aesthetic – and hygienic – requirements.

Basically, we do the chores.

DSC06136
Main meditation hall, also used for asana practice (and pre-class shenanigans).

For one hour a day, we carry out assigned tasks like sweeping (to choice tunes, if I have anything to do with it!), gardening, scrubbing the bathrooms or administrative duties (lucky buggers).  Selfless service, baby.

We also meditate twice a day for thirty minutes.

Pay someone so you can sit in silence for an hour?  Say what?!

Or even if you are open to meditation or have had, at some point, some practice with meditation yourself, it may be a little tough to get going with a regular practice.  Busy schedules, lack of discipline, or even a touch of skepticism may all be factors.

But with the right technique and a lot of practice, the benefits are truly priceless.

Check out just a few of the scientifically proven ones, as outlined by Rick Hanson, PhD and Richard Mendius MD in their book “Buddha’s Brain” (order/layout is altered slightly, and number 10 is not from the book):

1. Strengthens the immune system (Davidson et al. 2003; Tang et al. 2007)

2. Decreases stress-related cortisol (Tang et al. 2007)

3. Increases grey matter in the

  • Insula
  • Hippocampus (a/b: Hozel et al. 2005, 2008)
  • Prefrontal cortex (Lazar et al. 2009)

4. Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in prefrontal regions strengthened by meditation (Lazar et al. 2008)

5. Improves psychological functions associated with these regions, including

  • attention (Cater et al. 2005; Tang et al. 2007)
  • compassion (Lutz-Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2008)
  • empathy (Lazar et al. 2005)

6. Lifts mood by increasing activation of the left frontal regions (Davidson 2004)

7. Increases the power and reach of fast, gamma-range brainwaves in experienced Tibetan practitioners (Lutz et al. 2004)

8. Helps a variety of medical conditions, including

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • PMS
  • Chronic pain (a-e: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)

9. Helps numerous psychological conditions, including

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders (a-d: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)

10. Improves focus.

I’d been looking everywhere for a book that cites medical studies done to prove meditation’s benefits and after reading this last year in Abu Dhabi, it has to be in my top 10 non-fiction reads at the moment.  A few months back, I blogged about Buddhist techniques to help you feel more alert – definitely handy for those days when you wish the alarm never went off!

If you’ve never tried meditation before, give it a whirl for just five minutes a day, and increase the minutes as your schedule and practice allows.  Here’s a great website with several meditation techniques so you can choose how to get started!  With some time and dedication, you’ll start to feel and see results that will help you live a longer happier life.

And that is definitely worth paying for!

Shanthi

Yoga Lovin’ Updates!

I’ve been spending some time developing my yoga site, Yoga Lovin’, complete with new photos taken by photographer friends and a few more articles in the feed.   Keep in mind, it is a work in progress!

Some of the Around the World in 30 Asanas articles will be unique to the ones posted here. Yoga Lovin’ features the Garudasana in Honolulu article (which I didn’t publish here) and a much more yoga-oriented form of blabber.  In addition to articles, you can find some info on yoga classes I teach and (once I’m settled) community outreach.

The site will also be home to a little series there called Confessions of a Hedonist Yogi, which is particularly relevant during this Friends/Fam Tour!

Any comments are more than welcome!  I’ve already had requests for more photos on the homepage … anything else?

Namaste, ya’ll ;o)

Yoga Mat Culture on Elephant Journal

To read the full article, click here!

A little appetizer . . .

Within minutes of laying down my mat carefully on the cold cement floor at my teacher’s tiny studio in the back alleys of Varanasi, he walked right across it, leaving a foot-shaped trail of dust, dirt, and a healthy dose of dried up cow poop.

Hm.

Here comes the ‘yogi in a cave’ voice – this time with a hint of desperation in her tone:

Just let it go.

We’re all One anyway, right?

Now you’re closer to Mother Nature.

None of these words of wisdom in the back of my head could stop me from sifting through my bag for the package of wet wipes I always keep on me in sanitation-challenged countries. “One” or not, do I really want poop on my face?

To read the full article, click here!