Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inside- Out

"I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside!"

The above quote from Jalal ad-Din Rumi, 13th century Sufi mystic and poet.

This month, so far (and it's not half over!) has represented a shift in the way I see myself. If you'll allow me a moment to indulge...

On June 3-4, I and my fellow Rolf Gates 500 hour graduating class presented on Fundamentals of Vinyasa Flow practice at Blending the Rhythms: Inspiration and Flow, a two-day asana, meditation and kirtan event in Virginia Beach benefitting Wounded Warrior Project. Our goal was $10,000... after expenses, that's almost exactly what we raised!

Friday night I presented a piece on Mountain Pose alignment. Here's what I presented:

Yoga practice, when practiced with right effort and in full integration, can begin to correct and align imbalances physically, in the muscles and connective tissues of the body, as well as awaken the energies of the body that might have lay dormant. Feeling aligned energetically may give us an immediate connection to our truth.

We may feel more at ease; we feel both grounded, stable, secure, but also comfortable enough in our own bodies to soften and open to the possibilities that each day brings us, with steadiness, with comfort and with joy. Right alignment/right effort creates ease in a posture, just as right action/right effort creates ease in life off the mat.

Let’s focus on balanced action as we move into Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. I’ll be highlighting the corresponding energy centers (or “chakras”) as we move up the body in order to awaken our awareness of how the body and its energy work together. For additional reading on the subject I recommend works by Caroline Myss and Anodea Judith.

Begin by standing at the front of your mat with your arms at your sides.

Feet: Feel your feet. Press down on the inner and outer edges of your feet as if you were spreading X’s on the soles of the feet. Feel the places that your feet connect to the mat, the floor beneath that, and the earth beneath that. Steadily lift the arches of your feet. As you do, feel the entire leg engage-- the shins, calves, thighs, backs of the legs. Keep a small bend in your knees to soften the knee joint and engage the muscles supporting the knee. Press the inner thighs back.

Hips: As you lift the arches of your feet and engage the legs, slightly lift the front of your hips. Allow the tailbone to drop, but create balanced action in the pelvis by continuing to press the inner thighs back. Feel the stability in your low body. Feel anchored, rooted and balanced.

The feet, the legs and the base of the spine correspond with the first, or Muladhara chakra. In this energy center lie our basic connections to the earth beneath us, to the groups or “tribes” with which we identify ourselves. A healthy, balanced root chakra means that we can stand firm; that we feel like we belong, like we are in the right place.

The hips and lower abdominal organs correspond with the second, or Swadisthana chakra. In this center lie our relationships to people, and to elements of our immediate environment: food, money, partnerships, work, and anything we create in our lives. A healthy, balanced second chakra indicates healthy, balanced relationships to these areas; that we are creative, that we interact respecfully, that we are good partners.

Belly: Place your hands on your belly just below the spot where the right and left ribs meet at the center. This is the solar plexus chakra, the Manipura chakra. In this center lie those aspects of ourselves that we define as truly “us”: our wants, needs, inclinations, personality traits, goals, intentions and our will power. A healthy, balanced third chakra means knowing who we are and what we want to accomplish; and that we have the will to accomplish it. Draw the belly in slightly and lift the belly up toward the ribs. Feel a slight heat build in this area. Keep this, and release your arms by your sides.

Heart, shoulders and arms: The fourth or heart chakra, Anahata, represents our capacity to feel and experience emotions. It has a special element: air. It is into and out of this heart center that our breath flows. A healthy, balanced fourth chakra indicates that we are willing to feel and experience all the emotions that come up-- not just the so called “good” emotions like love, gratitude, forgiveness, and joy, but also the tricky and often problematic emotions like envy, anger, shame and guilt-- and to manage them in a way that brings us and others ease. Please lift the shoulders and roll them down the back, allowing the lower tips of the shoulder blades to move together behind your heart space. Elongate the side ribs. Roll your palms forward and gently spread the fingers. Feel the heart lift and open. Breathe deeply. Balance the opening of the heart by drawing in the low ribs, engaging the solar plexus as the ribs move toward the hips and the navel softly pulls in and up. Marrying the third and fourth chakras in this way is an indication of our will to experience and endure bravely and honestly all that might come our way, no matter how it may make us feel.

Throat: The fifth or throat chakra, Vishuddha , represents our ability to express ourselves, but also to allow others to express themselves. To engage the throat chakra, bring your attention to the back of the throat. Draw the jawline back slightly and lift the muscles at the back of the throat. You will feel a slight constriction of the breath. This is also how we engage Ujjayi or Victorious Breath which we frequently use in our practice. Hope will explain this further in a little while as we begin our asana practice. Another way to engage and balance the throat chakra is to make some noise. So let’s inhale, open our mouths, nice and wide, and exhale loudly, filling the room: AAHHHHH! Let’s repeat twice more. Close the mouth; notice how you feel. Listen for a moment to the subtle sounds of others breathing around you. A healthy, balanced throat chakra means you are able to speak your truth, but also to allow others to speak theirs.

Brow: The sixth or brow chakra, Ajna, represents our vision, not just the ability to see physically, but to connect to our intuition and to follow it when appropriate. For example, what intuition told you to register for this weekend? How did you envision the experience? If you are able, close your eyes; or, just drop the lids slightly and gaze out over the bridge of your nose. What images or thoughts come to mind? Open the eyes again. When the eyes are open in asana, it’s important to establish a steady gaze point during our practice, which helps us focus on our mats. We are then able to move in the direction of our vision and remain steadfast in practice. Learning to trust your own intuition and follow your vision, as one of my fellow graduates, Amy Perri, so beautifully stated, is to be inspired to live in spirit, your spirit, allowing yourself to be guided from the inside out and to trust enough to take action in the direction of where you are being led. Which leads us to the final point of focus: The seventh or crown chakra, the Sahasrara.

Crown: Lift and extend the spine by bringing the crown of the head up slightly, as if you are growing an inch taller. The crown represents the ability to connect to spirit that is both of ourselves and much, much larger than ourselves. What we find though, is that when we are in balance in the other chakras, when our relationships to others, to ourselves, to our emotions, our words, and our ideas are all in balance it’s so much easier to feel connected, supported, a part of something greater; to feel gratitude; to have faith; and above all, to live our lives for the greater good. Yoga gives us the means for balancing our bodies and our energies so that we can live skillfully in this world, fulfilling our dharma, or our duty, in this lifetime.

Feel and breathe into right alignment. Mountain pose appears in some way at every moment in our practice, so let’s create an intention to find this alignment again and again. Feel balanced, steady and comfortable; the body is challenged physically, but open and relaxed energetically.

Following a presentation on working together in Tree Pose, our asana practice started, and I led centering and warmups ending in Sun Salutations.

Our group presented to 100 people (including Rolf and all our fellow teacher trainees). Just prior to our presentation, out in the hallway, I asked John Yax, co-owner of Hot House Yoga who so graciously hosted our program these past 16 months, to give us some encouraging, relaxing words. He looked me square in the eye, and said, "It's not about you. It's about what you can do for them. Don't be selfish; remember that." This hit me really hard. What a simple concept that completely takes the pressure off!

This weekend there were two events that I was so lucky to be able to share: Project Yoga Richmond's free community class yesterday at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and my free class at lululemon athletica Short Pump today. I just kept reminding myself of John's words: It's not about you. It's about... them.

Honestly, there was a time not too long ago when the mere thought of teaching a group of this size would probably have made me pee in my pants! But it truly is an honor and a privilege. When I teach these days it comes from such a genuine desire to serve that I can't imagine anything else motivating me. If anything outside of this idea does move me, it's so that people will know what Project Yoga Richmond is all about (though occasionally, like today, in my haste to get class underway I will forget to talk about it) so that we can achieve our goals...

Anyway, my life these days seems to be all about living from that place inside myself that is just dying to get out. Being the person I was meant to be... Paige Elenson, founder of Africa Yoga Project, talks about the moment she was visiting Kenya and jumped out of her comfort zone to practice yoga with some native Kenyans she'd never met... and that 'jumping out' led her to meet herself head-on. My life has come full circle lately to the realization that for me to meet myself head-on, too, I must also let the door swing wide open, step outside my confines, and greet the person I see there on the other side with open heart and open arms. At the same time, greet the world with that same open-wide heart. It's truly the only way!

The top photo is from today; the second photo is our students from the Museum event, in Savasana.