How am I doing with expressing myself clearly? Am I speaking from head or from heart?
If we speak only from one or the other, something is missing. I listen to all the voice rising up, calling out, asking to be noticed. Sometimes it is overwhelming. I wonder if our social justice movement is at an adolescent stage, which will eventually pass on to wisdom, and we will look back and know the true truth, that which speaks from both heart and head.
The heart, anahata, when supported by strong self, by creative self, by foundation, neither over-gives nor over-takes. Compassion is in balance. When we speak from that space, our words convey a sense of understanding the other, even when we disagree.
The head, ajna, is the seat of intuition. When we communicate from intuition, the sense is different from when we communicate from thinking mind. From ajna we are able to intuit, feel into, the collective. Communication from this space carries a knowing beyond thinking.
Visuddha connects head and heart. The breath, entering the nose, rises up to almost touch ajna, then descends through visuddha and into the lungs in the space of anahata. When we speak from a connection to these two, our voice, our words, carry an energy, a clarity, a presence, on par with the greatest speakers of freedom of our time. Lincoln, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Maya Anjalou, and so many more.
This country was founded on Freedom of Speech and on Democracy. Neither can be truly lived unless the head and the heart are connected.
I have so much more to say, but I will pause here. Another story for another day.
Yesterday on Facebook, I posted, "The 'depth' of a pose is not only the physical aspect of the pose. It is the AWARENESS you can hold within that pose, and your ability to yoke each layer of your human experience. (Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanomaya, Anandamaya, Atman)"
I was asked to expound on this... so here goes!
This comes directly from my study and experience of Yoga.
Yoga = yoke, union.
What are we uniting, what are we yoking together?
In my experience, we are yoking every layer from which we can experience this human existence.
What are those?
In yoga, those layers are explained as Koshas, or illusory layers of existence:
Annamaya - the physical
Pranamaya - the energetic, often shown through our breath
Manomaya - the mind at the level of emotions
Vijnanomaya - the mind at the level of wisdom, thoughts
Anandamaya - the layer of bliss (without reason or cause)
Atman - true self, essence, universal
Because we are embodied, we experience existence in all of these ways. In the Yoga practice, we are taught to deepen awareness. Awareness of what? Awareness of existence. Awareness of the here and now. Awareness of what shows up in each moment.
When we can yoke together each layer as it shows up in each moment: mind, energy, emotion, though, bliss, spirit, THEN we are fully living this human existence.
But how often can we actually hold, truly hold, all of that? And for how long? That is the practice.
So when we practice Asana, it is only as a means from which to practice. To deepen. To become aware. To even become aware of what we are aware of. Moment to moment. That is the practice.
That means, the "advanced" asana, or the deepest expression of the pose, is not necessarily the outward, or physical, expression. To see only that is to miss the deeper meaning. The advanced asana is the one where within the shape of the pose is held awareness of every layer of experience: physical, energy, emotion, thought, bliss, spirit.
How are YOU doing with that? And, has the outward shape of your pose gone so far that you've lost sensation of the deeper layers? Has it not gone far enough to tap into them?
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2.46 teaches, "sthira sukham asanam." Or, the posture should be a balance between effort, "sthira," and ease, "sukha." To me that means, if we achieve that balance, we are then best able to heighten awareness on all the layers of experience while holding the pose.
Mr. Iyengar says, "the pose begins when you want to get out of it." I believe he is correct, because only when you find that edge of wanting, does something else happen.
The interesting thing is, this ties in precisely with what I am practicing in Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. I am facilitating your deeper connection to every layer through which you experience this existence, in order to allow your inner wisdom to arise, and true healing to happen. If you are interested in a session with me, get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy your practice! <3
Call me a traditionalist, but I believe in this pose.
It's a funny thing to feel defensive about a pose.
And I feel that many poses in yoga are getting a lot of flak these days ... this pose is bad, that pose can hurt you, oh, and this one exceeds normal ROM (range of motion) so therefore don't do it!
Why? Are we afraid? Snowboarding is dangerous, and yet people less aware of their core do it. You can definitely hurt yourself running, and yet people do it every day, and we don't tell them not to. Does a yoga teacher need a physical therapy certification to teach yoga?
Is there not a wisdom inherent in the body? Isn't tapping into that wisdom a part of the practice? What is to be learned from these challenges? And aren't we told often enough what to or not to do... literally, prescribed to? Where can I explore my own experience, make my own choices, with some guidance?
To me, Yoga Asana is an exploration of Self, with the starting point being the physical experience. From there, deeper layers become more accessible... energy, emotion, intellect (the Koshas). Deepening AWARENESS of all aspects through which we experience this human existence.
That means, all poses, all ROM, are on the table to explore!
Virabhadrasana I... why?
Well, on a physical and anatomical level, Warrior I offers an opportunity to lengthen the inner thigh on the back leg in one angle of extension and external rotation. Doing so prepares the back leg for Warrior II.
Crescent lung is often touted as a modification of Warrior I, but I disagree. Crescent, or High Lunge, lengthens mostly the top of the thigh and hip flexors. The leg is not exactly "neutral" and in fact a very slight external rotation of the back thigh is optimal for stability. However, the leg is closer to neutral. Warrior I offers 1 degree of rotation more, and is something in between Crescent Lunge and Warrior II. (I have more to say on Crescent Lunge, but that for another post!)
Jason Crandall teaches a "Warrior 1.5," which is somewhere between Warrior I and II. I see this as also beneficial, as it is 1 degree of rotation more than Warrior I, again preparing the back leg for Warrior II.
Beyond the physical, the awareness, strength, and stability that come from engagement in the Warrior I pose are just excellent places to explore the deeper layers of your experience. You can hold the pose for a long enough time to allow the story to play out. It is hard, and it is stable with the right engagement.
So, I really like Warrior I.
Virabhadrasana I... why not?
Oh? Yes it is hard! Maybe that is called an "edge?" Mr. Iyengar says, a pose doesn't begin until you want to get out of it. Growth begins at the edge. A good therapist is not there to pat you on the back and tell you good job, rather she is there to support you at the edges.
What can you learn from your experience of doing something that is "hard?" Can you stay long enough to allow the story of your body to play out? To tap into your inner wisdom?
Is it a story of frustration? A story of exhaustion? A story of sensing pain, and learning how to negotiate that pain – is it harmful or helpful, and how to move with or around it, depending on what that pain is telling you?
Guess what, it is ALL welcome. What else?
I can't square my hips.
SQUARE your hips? Are hips square? Why are "square" hips the "definition" of the pose? Is it wrong to allow the hips to be not square? What if "squaring" is a direction and not a destination?
Note: Even Mr. Iyengar says NOTHING about square hips in this pose.
If you WANT to square your hips as a destination, you have to step your back leg really wide, and narrow in terms of the distance from front to back foot.
This creates a good deal of stability. This is a good pose variation for pregnancy, for larger bodies, or for an older population. It is also a good pose variation for injuries to the knee or the SI joints. At least temporarily, because hopefully your body will heal, as bodies do. At least to an extent.
Is that what YOU need in your practice? Then do it! And do it with the knowledge of your own body, of your own inner experience, and that overrides anything a teacher might tell you. To me, when practicing with that level of awareness, you are an advanced yogi!
Now, what about approaching "squaring the hips" as a direction, but not a destination? Then your back hip does not come as far forward, and ideally not far enough forward to put a torque on your back knee.
Torque on the back knee? Isn't that bad?
Let's talk about torque on the back knee. You will know there is torque on the back knee by feeling a twinge or pulling on the medial knee (inner knee). If you tend to be quite mobile, it is likely you are doing this without knowing. Muscular engagement is your friend. Muscular engagement supports any shape, when applied.
If there is a torque, then isn't the pose about figuring out how to NOT torque the back knee? And what is to be learned in that process of discovering how not to do something that causes you harm?
To address torque, let's go to the foundation of the pose.
Explore. What if you angle your foot forward more? 45 degrees is an average... again, a direction, not a destination. Go to the point where your toes angle forward and you can still press down through the back heel. Again, this is a direction, not a destination. The back heel may come up, you are just pressing down as best you can. Press through the pinky side of your foot and actively lift the inner arch, engaging the inner leg line. Does the engagement relieve the sensation of torque? (Yes? No? Maybe? All valid answers.)
How are you doing so far?
So, are you saying that yoga is an exploration? That all the cues I have learned are a place from which I am to explore my physical self?
Yes, that's it. Good. Let's go on.
Now look at the front knee. Is it coming out directly from the hip socket? Is it angled inward or outward? Can you simultaneously press your knee to midline (engage your adductors), and pull your hip back (engage your abductors)? That co-contraction should also aide in this direction of "squaring" the hips, and in stabilizing the front knee.
Good? Let's keep going.
Come a little higher, into the torso. What's happening there? There is a slight twist AND a back bend. Are you "dumping" in the low back? (I often joke that this as a "co-dependent relationship with your low back, which WILL take all the curve if asked to do so, it is so accommodating!)
Try this: Draw the fronts of your ribs in, thereby engaging the support of your abdominals, lengthen your low back, then move from the bottom back ribs forward, and top of shoulders backward. The action is similar to that of Locust pose or Utkatasana.
What's happening now?
Is it still hard?
Is yoga hard? Is life hard? Do you work to figure it out, find your way through, accept what is, let go of wanting what isn't?
Ok then, we're getting somewhere.
April 23rd - Virabhdra: Auspicious Hero @ Kindness Yoga Hilltop
Virabhdra, the auspicious hero, was created from the lord Shiva’s dreadlock when he threw it to the ground in anguish after learning of his love and wife, Sati’s death. Ordered to avenge her death, Virabhdra killed all the guests at the dinner. When Shiva saw the bloody mess, he felt remorse, and miraculously healed all the guests.
Have you wondered why such a peaceful practice includes bloody battles and poses for warriors? What is it we are battling? What are we preparing for, and how can Yoga Asana help us along the way?
In this 90 minute workshop with Kristen Boyle, we explore the three Warrior poses of yoga, cultivating the warrior’s mind in preparation for the battle against ignorance, ego and injustice.
I am often asked for advice in what to do in different yoga teaching situations. It still surprises me, but I am always honored that I am seen as someone with something valuable to say. I have been teaching for 10 years, so I guess I know something. I don't know everything, I will readily admit.
Tonight I received a call from a teacher, not new to yoga or to teaching, but new to the teaching environment she was in. She is teaching a class that is open to the public, in a hospital setting. She is struggling because of the range of ability in the class. Some are quite able to do the poses, while others need a chair or the wall.
First of all, that is quite a challenge, as a yoga teacher! That means, you might need to demonstrate a pose three ways. And, remove any opportunity for "vinyasa" transitions between poses. You are pretty much teaching poses as individual poses.
All that is fine, but you have to be clear on your expectations.
This teacher is fully capable to do this. Her frustration seemed to be more with finding a way to motivate the students. Especially the ones with limited mobility.
This is a challenge to any teacher! What I rely on is:
1. create community
2. name the elephant
3. set expectations
To create community, you need an introduction. When I am teaching a class with an obvious difference in accessibility to the poses, I like to ask each student to introduce themselves, then to comment on how long they have been practicing yoga.
This serves to level the playing field. One student says "this is my second class," and the person across the room who is also in their second class now wants to make a connection. Also, because a few might say, "I've been practicing for 10 years, and enjoy honing in on my practice," the newer students now have a perspective on how they might progress, and will not be as susceptible to comparison.
Naming the elephant... this one, after the introduction, is easy. State simply and matter-of-factly, "we have a class of diverse levels." You can ease any tension by saying, "none of you are new to life."
Finally, set the expectations. By this I mean, tell your students what you will be doing in the class. I.e. in this situation, perhaps stating that you will be demonstrating various levels of the pose. One with a chair, one at the wall, and one on the mat. That the pose is the same, no matter the level. You will demonstrate the pose, then ask them to choose their variation. Then you will proceed to offer cues that will guide them into a deeper experience of the pose. Here, you can iterate that the depth of yoga is not the depth of the pose itself, but the depth of experience within the pose.
It is always a challenge to teach a class with multiple levels. Even more so when some of the people are feeling defeated in their bodies and abilities, even before the class has begun. While I am extremely aware of the sensitivities a student my have in entering a yoga class, I have found that the less I allow my own insecurities to get involved, the more I state what I observe in a matter-of-fact manner, the better able my students are to accept their bodies and their practice, at whatever level they find themselves.
I hope this has been helpful! Please leave a comment, or contact me directly with whatever thoughts you may have.
Love to you all!
In October I attended a month-long intensive training with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. This is just one quarter of the complete training, I am currently seeing clients with the guidance of a mentor, as an intern with the program.
One of my assignments is to tell my story.
So here goes...
Telling my PRYT story is something I do differently in each conversation. I teach at a large Yoga studio in Denver, so I am in contact with a wide variety of people.
I begin with listening to the person I am speaking with, and to what they are saying, the language they are using, and what story they are telling me. What is present?
Then, I choose from the depth of my experience as a human and as a yoga teacher, to tell my story.
Often I share that I have been teaching for a long time, a decade to be exact. I share that Yoga has sustained me through some very difficult times. And profoundly so. Sometimes it was only when teaching yoga that I felt "out of" my own misery and anxiety. I share that I have always been aware of the power of Yoga to heal, but through my own experience, I have come closer to knowing.
I acknowledge all the healing that is happening in the public yoga classes that are attended by so many, and remain curious to why. In that curiosity, my desire to know more and to offer more deepened. I wasn't sure yet where I would find it.
One day last spring, I attended a workshop with a PRYT practitioner (Liz Keltner) that was being offered to the teacher training team at Kindness Yoga, and what she taught use so resonated with the knowing I wanted to bring forth, that I immediately looked up the Phoenix Rising program, and signed up for the very next training!
The techniques I am learning in Phoenix Rising have changed my yoga teaching in the studios, by giving me new insight and approach to what is happening for my students, or clients, right there on their mats.
The techniques I am learning have also given me a framework to help my private clients to explore what is happening now.
I am truly excited and inspired to continue this path, with the acknowledgement that so much healing is already happeneing, and that some will have a similar desire as I had, to explore deeper, to seek more, to see how Yoga can truly offer them the space from which their inner wisdom can arise and become their own guide, where stories can be completed and processed, and true healing can come to being.
My kids have experienced Trauma. Capital T. (Surprised?) I removed myself from the situation 1.5 years ago, but they continue to be exposed. While they both show the signs, it is my son who is particularly noticeable. No, my children are not rude or misbehaving, they are just dealing with too much to be polite to you. They have a deep distrust.
This scenario is more common than you know, and its effects are more detrimental than you want to hear.
It's true. And it happens. To people like me and you. This is not just the uneducated, the "lower classes" (god I hate that concept) the poor. It's in the high conflict homes, everywhere.
Hurt people hurt people. Period.
So why am I posting this picture?
Because my son's childhood was taken from him.Not by war or death or rape. It was taken even though we had that ideal nuclear family. (And I accept fault as well even as I may seem to accuse.) Because his playfulness disappeared.
But the miracle of children is that they can still heal.
Step by hesitant step, his playfulness is returning. It still must be tempered, the fine edge between playful and the disrespect that he has learned, from modeling, and as survival and perhaps cowardice.
But when he plays, when I see him as a 7 year old, I am happy. His childhood isn't lost. It exists in drawings of superheroes. In silly jokes. And in fantastical comments that he'd like to marry Annie, his nana's dog. In these childlike fantasies, I know my child is still there. I just need to keep loving him in the best way I know how, and helping him to heal.
I rarely make anatomy posts... mainly because I am not an anatomy expert. Though I do heavily consult anatomy in preparing my yoga classes. I have an understanding of kinesiology (how the body moves) from my experience as a dancer, which also informs my teaching. I try to work with concepts that I can easily pass on to my students.
For the past few weeks I have been teaching flexion and extension of the thoracic spine in all of my yoga classes. Not in an obvious way, and not that everyone gets it, but in a way that the ability to move the thoracic spine plays a role in every yoga pose. The thoracic spine is key in posture, and underlying every yoga pose is posture.
We start every class with a block (or blanket) under the thoracic spine to bring openness and awareness to this area. To stretch through the chest and pecs, to reverse, or rather bring more pliability to the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine. Throughout class I bring the students' attention back to this space in various poses.
What we all know about posture, but try not to listen to is, through the aging process, and accentuated by our western culture, working at desks, driving a car, sitting, and not moving, our thoracic spine over time rounds forward. Forward head posture. A rounding of the upper back, a flattening of the low back. Tightness in the shoulders, pecs. And, weakness in the muscles of the thoracic spine.
Now, how does this relate to yoga? In every way!
* Strength, and extension, in the thoracic region plays a role in Tadasana. Posture, baby!
* In Backbends, especially if you are going to bring the depth of the bend out of the lumbar spine (low back) where we tend to dump and it hurts. A misconception of backbends is that people who go deep are "just flexible". That is onlyhalf the answer. And many are not as "flexible" as you think, because if they are truly bending safely, they are using muscular strength - yes, strength in the upper back too - to extend the spine to the back!
* Twists! A tendency in twists is that we compensate for lack of mobility by bending, essentially curving the spine. I use the analogy of the spine being like a Maypole, straight and strong, and we want to twist like the ribbon around the pole. This is by no means an anatomically correct idea, but it is a visual that seems to make the connection. So, the area where I most often see this bend happening is in the thoracic spine. When We make this connection, lift and elongate through the thoracic spine, we strengthen the muscles of the upper back, and are able to twist more deeply and safely.
* Forward Folds... want to get into those hammies without compromising the lumbar spine? Did you know that people with tight hamstrings (especially those who cannot sit on the floor with a neutral pelvis with legs extended in front) are at greatest risk for lumbar disk hernia because of the pressure put on the spine? Yea. So, if you are that tight, first sit on a folded blanket. Then, use your core strength (yes even here!) to sit tall. As you lean forward with a straight lumbar spine (IF you lean forward) keep your chest lifted. That means, use the strength of your thoracic spine to lift up! This keeps the stretch in hamstrings, not in the spine. (And yes, if you are lengthened in the lumbar spine, and not pulling yourself deeper, then you can round forward, but notice how the stretch changes. Not so intense in hamstrings, perhaps really intense in the upper back and neck!)
Pay attention. Awareness. Know thyself. That is all. In my lifetime of study and 8 years teaching yoga, if I were to whittle what yoga means to me and what I teach in each of my classes down to the essence, that would be it.
And in paying attention, so much wisdom is available to us.
Now I go from this philosophical concept to a very real-world, tangible thought:
June 26, 2015 - the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage nationwide.
WOW! What a landmark event in American history! Yay US!
This is not what I mean by paying attention... here it is.
Facebook created this splendid little App where all of us could click and change our profile picture to rainbow colors to show our pride in this landmark ruling.
I did it. My friends did it. We all celebrated how our newsfeed was showing up rainbow, how proud we were of this! Yay US! Yay support of all people in LOVE! The world felt GOOD!
Then today, July 1, 2015 - this from the Conservative Post:
Everyone Who Changed Their Facebook Photos To Rainbow Just Got DUPED
Which states that, "Over a million people changed their facebook profile pictures to a rainbow filter in support of gay marriage. New reports reveal that the “Celebrate Pride” tool may not have been the best idea… According to Daily Mail, this tool was actually Facebook’s way of performing psychological testing on their users."
And people are offended by this!
Why be offended? We can only be offended if we aren't Paying Attention.
Facebook is a gigantic social experiment, and it's the largest ever. If I were a social scientist, I'd damn well be using Facebook for research. So for me, it comes as no surprise.
Then the question is, was I harmed in this?
Again, Pay Attention. If I am aware, and if I know myself, then I can easily say, Ahhh, No.
What changing my profile picture did was show my alignment with people of all colors and identities to find, feel and seal the deal of love in whatever way is meaningful to them. What it did was, allow me to see - visually see - my tribe. We are after all a visual culture. Seeing my newsfeed fill up with profile pics decorated in rainbow colors, wow, that was grand!
What it might have done was, piss off a few of the non-supporters, and well, because I Pay Attention, I weighed out the pros and cons of changing my profile picture, and then I made the CONSCIOUS CHOICE to change it, because, well, I want the few non-supporters I know to see clearly that I do not agree with their stance. Not that I wish to cause a debate or alienate them, but I am also not here to please them, to placate their fears. And, I align with equality on all fronts.
In the end, every action has a consequence. The more we Pay Attention, the more we become Aware of the consequences of each action, the more we Know Thyself, the more CONSCIOUS CHOICES we can make. And conscious choices are usually the better choices.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.
This quote reminded me of the Hindu story of Hanuman. Hanuman, the monkey god, was so devoted to the Lord Ram and his wife Sita, that when Sita was kidnapped by the demon King of Sri Lanka, Ravana, Hanuman made the "great leap of faith" across the ocean to rescue her.
In this way, Hanuman is a great friend, a "masterpiece of nature". But there is another angle.
Hanuman, lost in his monkey-mind, often forgets his gifts, his power. There is another character in the story, a man called Jambawan. Jambawan to Hanuman is like Samwise Gamgee to Frodo (for all you LOTR fans out there!). When Ram asks Hanuman to make this great leap, and Hanuman says "oh gee, Ram, I don't know if I can!" Jambawan is the one who says, "Hanuman! You have all these great gifts! You are strong, you are flexible, you are powerful, and you CAN do this!"
Jambawan is, in this way, his own masterpiece of nature, by being the one who reminds Hanuman of his greatness, while remaining humble. But, Jambawan, by reminding Hanuman of his greatness, allows Hanuman himself to become the masterpiece of nature. To live in the fullness of his powers. To do the thing most challenging, yet most awesome.
Who in your life is your Jambawan? Who reminds you that YOU yourself are a masterpiece of nature? Who is your reflection?
Kristen is the creator of Indieflow Yoga and Yoga For A Cause. She lives and teaches in Denver, Colorado