Namaste - Does Everyone Really Have a Light?

"Does everyone really have a light?  What about my ex and murderers?  Do they really have a light?"

Ahh, the frequently quoted phrase at the end of yoga classes.  Yoga teachers frequently end class something like, "namaste, the light in me honors the light in you".  This is appreciated by most students, but has left one of my students questioning the light in some folks that they've met.  I'll attempt to respond.

I like this definition of namaste  

I honor the place in you where the entire Universe resides, I honor the place of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where, if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us
— Ram Das

So yes, my answer is that light, or place is in everyone, but not everyone resides in that place.  It may be very well hidden.  Yoga, spiritual practices, and meditation are just a few ways to connect with that place.  Not everyone resides in that place, although many of us are attempting to spend most of our time in that space.  

Until the next time - Namaste


Reader Question - Slouching

Reader question #2, "I find that when I sit, my top half is behind my base and I have to compensate by slouching.  Is this a strength issue or a flexibility issue?  What positions or exercises would you recommend to be able to sit straighter from the lower back?"

This reader is very aware and has recognized that the slouching is coming from his lower back.  The individual bones of the spine work together and  take an S shape.  The neck and low back (cervical and lumbar spine) should have a slight lordotic, inward curve, while the upper back (thoracic spine) maintains a slight kyphotic curve (the opposite).   When one area moves, the adjacent area compensates by moving in the other direction.  Quite often, we are involved in work, driving, or just lounging, and our weight shifts to our ischial tuberosities (the bones in your butt that you sit on), low back tilts back, and upper back and shoulders round forward.  Sound familiar? 

 What Happened?

I believe that slouching can be the result of habit, muscular imbalance, weakness, inflexibility, and often is a combination of these issues.  I'll address how to sit with good posture, a few seated yoga moves that you can do at a desk during your work day, and 2 yoga moves that can easily fit into your workout routine.  For maximum benefit, I recommend finding an alignment based yoga class, and incorporating the use of a Yoga Wall if one is available in your area.  A well constructed class will help you  discover the length in your spine, and the strength and flexibility to maintain it.  I'm measuring a full 1.5 inches taller since I started getting serious about my yoga practice.

What is Good Posture?

If you're sitting right now, notice the area that is holding your weight.  Most of us keep our weight  back on the Ischial Tuberosities.  

1. Place your feet flat on the floor, or adjust your chair so that this is possible.

2. Begin to shift some of your weight toward your pubic bone.  You should notice a return in the lordotic (inward) curve of your lower back.

3.  Place your hands on your lower ribs, and lift that area away from your pelvis by engaging your spinal muscles.  You should feel like you're sitting taller.  

4. Widen your shoulders.  Move the heads of your shoulders back, and allow the bottom tips of your shoulder blades to push in toward the back of your ribs.  This should decrease the kyphotic, or forward curve.

5.  Move your head back and up.  Ideally, your hips, shoulders, and ears are perpendicular to the floor.

For my body, proper posture generally means that I'm not leaning back against the back of my chair.

Desk Yoga

1. Seated cat/cow pose.  On an exhale, arch your back like a halloween cat, your weight will be back on your sit bones (ischial tuberosities).  You may stay here for a few breaths, or take the opposite movement (cow) on your next inhale.  Shoulders & tailbone will be back, while your heart moves forward.  It is your choice if you want to hold these as static poses, or move with your breath.  Continue this for at least 30 seconds. 

2. From a tall sitting position, raise your right hand toward the ceiling, and place your left hand on the chair at your side.  Lift your right hand, shoulder & ribs, while sitting heavily in your hip.  Breathe deeply, noticing the length in the right side of your body.  Hold for several deep breaths, and repeat on the opposite side.

3.  Place your hands on your knees or desk.  Shift your weight so it is even between your sit bones and your pubic bone.  Lift your ribs to extend the length in your spine.  Without moving them, pull your hands and shoulders back toward your body, your chest will move forward, shoulders back, and the muscles in your back will be engaged.  If this moves thrusts your lower ribs forward, engage your core just enough to pull them in and up.  Do not hold your breath.  Hold this for 30 seconds or more.  

These poses, as well as getting up for frequent walking breaks, should help you to loosen up stiff muscles that occur with extended sitting.

Additional Yoga Options (for strength and flexibility)

I believe that core strength and upper back mobility are vital for good posture.  Here are a few poses to try.

1. High Plank - Start on your hands and knees, and find that same length in your spine that you've been working on while you're sitting.  With your hands shoulder width apart, keep your shoulders wide, with the pits of your elbows pointing forward.  Press the bases of all of your fingers firmly into the mat or floor.  You have the option of keeping soft elbows if you hyperextend, or if you have a hard time pressing your 2nd finger into the floor.  Bring your feet back to the top of a pushup position.  Remain strong through the legs, with your heels pressing back.  Remain long through your chest, and avoid allowing your low back to sink toward the ground.  You should take your knees down as necessary.  I'd rather you take shorter holds and use modifications with proper form.  Work your way up to longer holds.

2.  Bridge Pose - Lay on your back with your feet in front of your hips and knees pointing toward the ceiling.  Place your arms at your sides, bent at the elbows, with your fingers pointing toward the ceiling.  Begin to roll up, starting from your tailbone.  Keep the legs strong, and press into your feet and arms.  You'll end up in a backbend with your head, shoulders, and feet supporting your weight.  Knees, feet, and hips should be tracking in a straight line.  Lift the breastbone, and keep the length in your spine.  You may place a support (yoga block) under your hips for a supported version of this pose.     

In Conclusion

Awareness is the first step in correcting poor posture.  It has taken your lifetime to get to a less than desirable posture, and will take some effort to correct.  Concentrate on your foundation (where your weight is), length in your spine, and the position of your head and shoulders.  Good posture is a sign of strength, confidence, and openness, and who doesn't want that?  


My head could be back a little, but I'm still practicing too.

My head could be back a little, but I'm still practicing too.

Lotus Pose - Reader's Request

I put a question out on my facebook page, wanting to find out what subjects interest my readers.  I received an enthusiastic request for information on full lotus pose.  I will honor this request, but do not routinely teach lotus in my classes due to potential knee stress. 

Many people have attempted to demonstrate this pose when they learn that I teach yoga.  Way too often, the demonstration involves yanking their ankles, rigid thighs remaining immobile as they pull their ankles onto their knees, ouch!  Please do not attempt any yoga poses that involve holding your breath and yanking!  Yoga always involves the breath!

My son's attempt at lotus pose, age 7.

My son's attempt at lotus pose, age 7.

The lower legs and thighs must stay in healthy alignment in lotus pose.  Knees should flex and straighten, but should not be forced to move from side to side.  If you have any knee pain while attempting these poses, please back off.  The pose is not the goal, and no prizes are given out for placing your feet on your thighs.

There are people who find lotus pose comfortable from day 1, and many who work very hard for years in attempt to perform this pose.  I will write this with the assumption that you have already warmed up with a standing practice.

Begin with reclined pigeon pose.  Start on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor.  Place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above your knee.  If you feel a stretch here, pause & breathe, otherwise, bring your left leg toward your chest.  Repeat on the opposite side.  

Rock the Baby - from a seated position, bring your right arm on the outside of your right knee, and your left arm around the outside of your right foot.  Your hip will be in an external rotation.  Bring your leg toward your chest, stopping when you feel tightness or you begin to hold your breath.  Repeat on the opposite side.

Easy Pose (known to the children as Criss Cross Applesauce) - Sitting in a simple cross legged position can be a challenge for many people.  Using a few blankets or a block to raise the hips above the level of the knees can make a world of difference in this pose.  This is a great place to begin seated meditation.  Repeat with the opposite leg in front.

From Easy Pose, progress to Half Pigeon by placing your right  foot on your left thigh, with your heel near your hip.  Your left leg can remain under the right thigh.  You have the option of using a blanket under your hips to maintain back comfort.  Repeat on the opposite side.

For Full Lotus Pose, begin in Half Lotus Pose with your right foot near your left hip.   You can always stop here.  Next, take your left shin/calf in your hand, lean back, knees elevating off the floor, and pause.  I find it to be more comfortable to take the time to consciously relax my left knee toward the ground at this time.  This can be the end point of the pose for several practices if you have discomfort.  When the left knee and thigh release toward the ground (the pivot point being the hip, not the knee), attempt to bring the left foot on top of the right leg near the hip.  Lean to a neutral position once again, knees moving toward the floor, legs can remain slightly active by pressing engaging the muscles as if attempting to press the feet in opposite directions.  Blankets or props under the hips and knees are optional.  Sit in a position that allows you to keep a tall spine.  Repeat on the other side, as this is an asymmetrical pose.  

Start out slowly, maybe holding the pose for 20 - 30 seconds, and working up to 5-10 minutes of seated meditation (which can be done in any seated pose).  

In conclusion, take the movement from the hip, keep the knee safe by maintaining the alignment of the lower and upper legs, and don't forget to breathe!





Yoga dependency?

While discussing dependency with a coworker,  I stated that I don't want to be dependent on anything, coffee, alcohol, etc.  She challenged me with "you practice yoga every day, so you're dependent on that".  I guess I am, but I have  been pondering the statement since our conversation.

Can one be dependent on yoga?  Well, to some extent, my answer is yes.  I am also dependent on water, food, air and sleep.  Most days I do hit the mat for at least 20 minutes.  Sometimes I'm lucky, and I take an all day yoga workshop.  On the days when I'm not in physical practice, I attempt to maintain a yogic outlook during my daily activities.  Yoga helps me connect with who I am, and I love seeing that yogic bliss after a student has had a particularly good practice.  Sharing that moment is my reason for teaching yoga.  

Yoga offers substantial benefits to the practitioner.  Call it dependent, or call it being a yogi.  Yoga offers numerous benefits.  My students and I have experienced many benefits including, but not limited to increased strength, increased flexibility, improved sleep, decreased pain, decreased anxiety, stress management, improved balance, improved posture, decreased anger, decreased fear, and decreased visits to the chiropractor.  Who wouldn't want to be dependent on something with that many benefits?  

Yoga classes are generally very nurturing environments.  The goal is to learn to meet yourself where you are right now.  There is no competing with others, and no pose that you have to reach.  Yoga can challenge you, or bring you to relaxation and restoration.  Often times, both are experienced in the same class.  If you're not a regular yoga practitioner, find an experienced teacher & start feeling the rewards for yourself.


Namaste - Beth