Finding Your Warrior Within

warrior quoteThree poses that to me, form the backbone of my yoga practice are the Warrior poses: Warrior I, II, and III. You might wonder, with yoga being such a introspective, calming, and gentle way of life, from where does this Warrior theme arise?  When I am in any of the Warrior poses I have a sense of inner strength and calm that filters through my whole body, my mind, and my spirit.  I envision myself as strong warrior, ready to fight for and protect my sense of self, and who I am.

In Sanskrit the name is Virabhadrasana means “hero friend”.  Vira is hero, bhadra means friend.  Virabhadra is a fearsome warrior formed from the hair of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva pulls hair from his head in anger and despair when he learns of the death of his wife, Sati, caused by Sati’s father.  Shiva weaves his hair into a warrior, who he names Virabhdra. Shiva sends Virabhdra to slay Dhaksha, Sati’s father, and others who were accessories to Sati’s death.

In the end Shiva realizes his wrong doing and Virabhdra restores life to Dhaksha and others he had slain.  Virabhdra becomes a great warrior, serving and protecting Shiva.

Warrior I, II, and III poses  are representations of the image of Virabhadra as he wages his war against Dhaksa!

warrior i

Warrior I is the image of Virabhadra thrusting his way up through the earth to conquer Dhaksa, his sword held high above his head with both hands.

To come into Virabhadrasana I, start in Tadasana, Mountain Pose (standing tall, arms by your side, shoulders down away from your ears, fingers spread wide, knees and thighs flexed, sacrum tucked), step your right foot back, placing it on a 45 degree angle.  Bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle, making sure your knee is stacked over your ankle.  Adjust your hips, pressing your right hip back and your left hip forward.  On an inhale, lift your arms up over your head, maintaining a tall spine with a slight back bend, fingers spread wide.  On your exhale, lower your shoulders away from your ears.  Hold for 6 – 8 breaths.  Repeat on the opposite side.

warrior iib

Warrior II replicates Virabhadra when he has Dhaksha in his site.

To come into Virabhadrasana II, start in Tadasana, step your right foot back, placing it on a 45 degree angle.  Bend your left knee to 90 degrees, again stacking it over your ankle.  Turn your body to face sideways, with a tall spine, raise both arms out to shoulder height, and turn your head to look forward, your drishti (your gaze) follows over your right finger tips.  Hold for 6 to 8 breaths.  Repeat on the opposite side.

warrior iiiWarrior III embodies Virabhadra as he slays Dhaksha, cutting off his head.

Virabhadrasana III is a balancing pose.  Come to Tadasana and focus your drishti in front of you several feet away.  Reach your arms out in front of you at shoulder height, then begin to lift the left leg at the same time slowly tipping forward at your hip creases.  As your torso lowers and you lift your left leg , allow your ‘drishti’ to slowly drop, as well. When you are in the pose your gaze is down to the ground. To assist you with balance, press through the heel of the lifted foot.  Breath.  Work to keep your hips parallel to the ground. Don’t worry about how high your lifted leg is, you will be able to lift higher as your balance improves.  Hold for 6 to 8 breaths. Repeat on other side.

When we take any of the Virabhadrasana poses, we strive to embody the inner qualities of Virabhadra: those of empowerment, courage, and clarity. Try these Warrior poses and find your Warrior within!

Reference: http://www.shawyogadc.com/shaw-yoga-blog/what-warrior-pose-means

Getting a Great Start to your Day!

insiya_2

How do you start your day? Finding routines that spark positivity and optimism can really set the tone for our day.  I recently watched a video blog on a site called Sixtyandme.com: How Changing My Morning Routine Changed my Life! http://sixtyandme.com/how-changing-my-morning-routine-changed-my-life/

The suggestions were:

  1. Don’t Press the Snooze Button!  Get up as soon as your alarm goes off. Welcome your day with open arms, rather than putting it on hold.  Pressing that snooze button may subconsciously indicate that you are hesitant about getting up and getting your day started.
  2. Make your bed! This simple ritual, signals the end of the night, and the beginning of a new day; putting your brain in order, and tidying up those dreamy cobwebs!
  3. Take a few minutes with your coffee, tea, or hot water and lemon, to write what you are grateful for. Acknowledging those things in our life for which we are grateful can help to develop a positive outlook, and remind us that while we may have difficulties, there are things in our life that are good.
  4. Write affirmations: positive affirmations.  I have three that I say, and now write down every day:
    1. I am strong.
    2. I am healthy.
    3. I am wise.

Come up with your own.  How do you want to see yourself?  Which of your characteristics are important to you?  Maybe you are persistent – you never give up.  Maybe you have a terrific sense of humour that carries you through your life in those difficult moments.  If you’re not sure what your character strengths are, have a look at the VIA Institute’s Character Strengths Analysis, http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths.  You can take their Character Strengths Analysis for free! After each affirmation, you may want to  include how that affirmation relates to your day ahead or your life, right now.

5.  Keep a ‘Worry’ list.  Every day, write down the things that are worrying you. Writing them down, gets them out of your head and onto paper were you can see them more objectively, and not carry them with you – draining your energy.  This was suggested as a morning activity, but I think, if you are short on time, this is a perfect evening activity too, which could lead to a more restful sleep.

6.  And finally – take some time to meditate.  Meditation can be a great way to start or to end your day.  It helps you to stabilize and bring clarity to your mind. Through meditation we start to understand our mind, how it thinks, what it thinks, and that our mind will engage us in a nonstop, never ending loop of activity, that is often of very little benefit.

7.  I would only add one more item to that list – move! Find the time to do the warm up suggested in my last blog, Warming it up, and then meditate.  Moving with your breath first, will help you to find focus, as you meditate.

How long will all this take, you ask? Well, depending on how many times you press the snooze button now, you may not have to set your alarm any earlier!  You just get up when that alarm goes off.  If you are not that much of a ‘snoozer’, you may need an extra 15 to 20 minutes.  Alternatively, do some of these things in the evening before going to bed. Make your ‘Grateful’ and your ‘Worry’ lists at night, just before bed, and do the lion’s share of your meditation in the evening, with just a few minutes to centre yourself after you move in the morning!

If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!  How do you start your day? Leave your comments below!

Yoga quote for motivation

 

Warming it up!

easy posy side opener

Last time we began to lay the foundation for a strong yoga practice with meditation.  How did it go? If you are like most of people, and if you are new to meditation, you may have found your mind jumping, and wandering all over the place.  Maybe you felt frustrated and  said, “Meditation isn’t for me!  I can’t sit in silence, doing nothing, I can’t even focus for a minute on my breath.”

And that is a typical reaction… It takes time to get used to the fact that your mind will wander, and that with your awareness, you will guide it back to the breath.  Meditation requires consistent practice, precision, (placing the mind), and gentleness (guiding your wandering, turbulent mind back to the breath, back to the present, and back to the now), to see the positive outcomes.

Other than the most obvious effect, that of calming the mind, meditation has a host of benefits!  I, personally, can speak to one of those benefits.  I have been practicing meditation for 3 years now and my mind still wanders (#%*__#!).  I haven’t reached the point of sitting for more than 15 minutes at one time.  When I go on vacation, I can’t always keep up my practice, but when I started meditation and yoga, I had high blood pressure.  Not dangerously high, but 138/90 or so, as opposed to the normal blood pressure rate of 120/80.

I have lowered my blood pressure.  And while I still take a low dose medication, my blood pressure, in the morning is now below normal, whereas before, it was high. The article , Current Perspectives on the use of Meditation to Reduce Blood Pressure (1), in the International Journal of Hypertension, further discusses meditation as a mind-body intervention for high blood pressure.

What’s Next?

We start our yoga practice with a meditation to focus the mind. As I mentioned in my first blog, yoga is about connecting our mind, body and spirit and the way we do that is through the breath.  In yoga each movement connects to an inhale, or an exhale.  In most cases, as you open or expand your body, and/or extend your spine, you inhale, which of course, expands and opens the lungs, and the diaphragm, fueling the muscles, joints, fascia, and brain with oxygen.  As you contract your muscles, or fold your joints and therefore deepen the pose, you exhale, releasing spent oxygen in the form of carbon dioxide and toxins.

Remembering the inhale and the exhale and using that deep breath to sustain your transition from one pose to the next, and the holding of a pose for any length of time, fuels your body and mind and helps you to get the most out of your practice.

Before engaging in any physical activity to is important to warm up the muscles, joints and ligaments so that injury doesn’t occur.  Today I’ll introduce you to three yoga asanas or poses that you can use to begin warming up your body.

Child’s Pose

A wonderful pose to start in.  Child’s Pose replicates the primary curve (Thoracic curve) of our spine, which the fetus maintains through out it’s nine months in utero.  On your yoga mat, come down to your hands and knees.  Separate your knees mat distance apart and bring your big toes to touch.  Reach your arms out long in front of you.  Begin to sit your hips back towards your heels with your arms outstretched in front of you.  As your hips move back, bring your chest toward your mat and bring your forehead down to touch the mat.  Continue to press your hips back and tailbone down towards your heels as you reach your finger tips over head, on your mat.  Hold here for 3 to 4 long, deep breaths.

To find a side stretch you can keep everything below the waist in the same position, but walk the fingers, arms, and hands over to the right.  Your torso, from the waist up, neck and head will follow.  Hold for 3 to 4 breaths, and then come back to centre.  Repeat on the left side.

Remaining in Child’s Pose, but to find a stretch in your triceps, first place 2 yoga blocks (or books), one on either side of you, by your elbows, bend your arms at the elbows and bring your hands together in an Anjali Prayer Mudra , over your head.  Bring your elbows up on the books or yoga blocks.  Hold for 3 to 4 breaths.

Cat/ Cow Pose

A pose to warm up the spine.  Cat encourages our spine to expand and extend that primary Thoracic curve.  From your Child’s Pose come back to all fours in your Table Pose.  In Table, as in other poses, be sure to stack all your joints: so your shoulders are over elbows, elbows over hands, and hips over knees.  In this manner joints are not stressed or pushed out of alignment.  You keep your body safe. To come to Cat Pose begin to round the spine, pulling the tailbone down and bring your gaze toward your thighs – as you move into Cat, exhale!

Then, transition to Cow Pose, which encourages the two secondary curves of your spin: Cervical and Lumbar.  Begin to press the tailbone up at the same time as you hollow your spine and lower your belly towards the floor.  If your neck is up for it, bring your gaze, or your ‘drishti’, up.  If not, it is fine to gaze down towards the earth.  Transition from Cat to Cow, as you exhale and inhale, four to five times.

You can find a stretch for each side of your body by returning to a neutral Table position and then ‘look’ over your right shoulder as you exhale, return to centre on an inhale, and repeat to your left.

Downward Dog Pose

Downward facing dog, Esther Ekhart

Downward Dog is one of the most ‘famous’ and well known yoga poses.  Downward Dog extends and opens the spine, brings blood to the brain, strengths the biceps and triceps, the hands, legs, and the feet.

From your Table pose begin to slowly lift the tail bone, pressing it up and back.  As you do so, the legs begin to lengthen.  Press your palms into the floor, getting rid of any pockets of air between your palms and your mat.  Often the direction in a yoga class is to ‘walk your dog’.  This simply means to press one heel toward the floor, as you raise the other heel.  Your heels may or may not touch the floor:  wherever you are is where you are supposed to be. As you continue to walk your dog, your heels may come closer and closer to the floor. You may also come right up on your ‘tipey’ toes, bringing your heels up over your toes and then pressing your tailbone up and back, encouraging your spine to lengthen even more!

To finish this warm-up comeback to your Child’s Pose and breathe! Continue to focus on that beautiful breath has fueled and sustained you.  Take a moment to thank yourself for taking this time just for you!

This has been a very simple warm up, but if your are new to yoga, it is a great place to start, and a way to become familiar with synchronizing your breath to your movement and aligning your joints.

Next time we will look at a way of starting your day that can bring positive energy to your mind and body, that will get you started on a great day!

Until then, Namaste!

Roxanna

Reference

(1)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303565/ , published online 2012 Mar 5. doi: 10.1155/2012/578397

Be Here Now!

Meditate

“Yoga takes you into the present moment.  The only place where life exists.”

Unknown

The mind loves to run off in different directions: one minute following a thought of plans for the upcoming weekend; the next moment replaying an argument with a spouse, a friend, or a colleague from 2 weeks ago. One moment pulling you in this direction, the next moment in that direction.

“And if it is my mind doing the pulling”, you say, “it must be important business! Business that I must think about and take care of.”

But is it, really?  What has happened in the past cannot be changed.  You can mull over situations, or things you have said that may have worked out extremely well for you, or things that have gone very poorly.   It is in those poor situations, that you may more often get ‘stuck’. Your mind will replay that situation in an endless loop.

That kind of ‘thinking’ can become worry, and obsessive worry can lead to depression.  Worry is an important process, so long as it does not become incapacitating.  Worry keeps us alive and has done so over the course of humankind’s history.  It encouraged our ancestors, as it does us, to protect ourselves from danger.

So when you find yourself preoccupied with a worrying thought, this is when you need to take the reins!  Stop the loop, reflect on what it was about that situation that did not go well, and think about how you would do it differently the next time a situation like that comes up.

Learn from your mistakes.  Do you need to apologize for your actions or your words? Do it!  You do need to forgive yourself for whatever you did that has created these obsessive thoughts.  Forgive yourself and move on.

depression_anxiety

At other times your mind may be preoccupied with the future. “What will happen if…I don’t get that job?”  “How will I ever … get everything accomplished at work before that deadline?”  “What if I don’t make enough money… to pay all the bills?”

Constant worry about the future can lead to anxiety.  If it makes sense, think through the the situation and make a plan of action.  Take the reins and use your worry effectively.

With your mind always wanting to run back to the past or skip off to the future, how do you live in present? One way is by focusing your mind on the breath and practicing yoga.

Yoga is about connecting the breath with your movement. It’s about acknowledging your body and what it is able to do at any any given moment, being comfortable with that, honouring that, and then challenging yourself, as you see and feel fit (pun intended!).

I always start a yoga practice with meditation.  It helps to calm the mind and bring it into the present moment, so let’s start there.

To start sit in a chair, or if you feel up to it, sit on the floor on a pillow or meditation cushion, slightly raising the hips above your leg and feet.  Sit in “easy pose’ (legs crossed), sit tall, elongate your spine, slightly bow your head.  Your hands can rest on your knees, palms down to ground yourself, or palms facing up, accepting energy from the universe.

Begin by taking some long deep breaths, inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth.  We will call these ‘cleansing breaths’.  Take about 5 or 6 cleansing breathes – there is no right or wrong, only what feels right to you.  After your cleansing breathes, you may wish to allow your eyes to close.  You can keep them open, with a soft gaze.  Open eye meditation is called Mindfulness Meditation or Shamatha.  The principle behind the open eyes is to be aware of the present moment.  If this is too overwhelming or distracting, gently close your eyes.

Bring your attention to your breath, notice your inhales and exhales, feel the breath as it enters through your nostrils, fills your lunges and expands your belly.  As you exhale, feel your lungs as they relax and the air as it passes out through your nostrils. Continue to focus on your breath.

Your mind will wander, that is a given, and it’s okay.  You may become lost in a thought for seconds or minutes at a time, when you notice your mind has wander off, simply guide it gently back to your breath.  “Gently” is the operative word in that sentence.  There is no getting angry with yourself or feeling frustrated. This is what meditation is: placing the mind (on the breath), noticing it has wandered, and gently guiding it back to the breath.  Think of a child who has wandered off the path, into the forest, which holds animals, trees, birds, and flowers.  All of these exciting and beautiful sites capture the child’s attention at one time or another, and likely many times as you walk along the path together, but you take the child’s hand and gently guide her back to the path. This is how you guide your mind back to your breath.

Try this seated meditation for 2 to 3 minutes.  Over the course of a week, try to mediate 3 to 4 times and extend the time you practice to 5 minutes.  See how that feels. I hope it feels great!  Please let me know!

Over the course of the week, when you are engaged in everyday activity and notice that you are caught up in thoughts, bring your attention to your breath, even for a minute.  This will help you to refocus, get back on track and pay attention to the present – the only place where life exists!

Next time, we will start to warm up the body!

Reference

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., Psychology Today, What, Me Worry? Why Worrying Does More Harm Than Good,

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201304/what-me-worry-why-worrying-does-more-harm-good