Sunday, December 21, 2008

Michael Gannon @ the Yoga House

Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop with Michael Gannon at the Yoga House in Edina, MN. This was not one of my better workshops on a personal level - I was coming off of a bad head cold and was very concerned about an impending snowstorm that would keep me from attending the second day.

Saturday's workshop was interesting. Michael spent the first hour discussing and having us practice breath krias - or cleansing breath. Krias are quite varied and can include: breathwork, neti pot, digestive cleansing from both ends, various nose cleaning, to mention a few. He focused on several variants of Greater Uddianya Bandha. I was fine as long as we didn't do too much alternate nostril breathing, one side of my sinus cavity was stuffed tighter than a stuffed animal.

From there we moved into the Primary Series and the Secondary Series. Usually I am thrilled at any opportunity to work on this sequence, but by the time we moved into second series, I hit a mental wall and my system just shut down on me. I had no strength left. None. Zippo. Nada. Nothing. Very frustrating.

So I'm not sure what I think of Mr. Gannon. I liked the discussion and practice with the krias, but because I was only able to go one day and I was not feeling well, it is hard for me to say if I liked his style.

This weekend is also going to make me leery of attending workshops in the winter for a while. While the Cities weren't impacted by this snowstorm (which was predicting 30mph winds and significant snow), Duluth was and it was a potentially horrendous drive home that made me leave Mpls a day early. But perhaps it was for the best, since I was able to just recuperate the next day, curled up on the couch with a nice hot cup of tea and the cartoon Madagascar as the snow blew and swirled outside.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bhagavad Gita (part 3 of 3)

In this third part of the Bhagavad Gita, we move into Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion or identifying with the Divinity. The final chapters bounce around a little, but the common theme continues to be focusing on the importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development.

Chapter 11: The Cosmic Vision. Krishna reveals to Arjuna his full nature as God of the Universe. This is both terrifying and illuminating at the same time. In the end Arjuna asks for Krishna's forgiveness for past transgressions.

Chapter 12: The Way of Love. God can be loved as merciful father, divine mother, wise friend, passionate beloved or mischievous child. I really liked how this embodies seeing God in All.

Chapter 13: The Field and the Knower. This was a bit more complicated chapter as we returned to the concepts of Prakriti (matter) and Parusha (spirit). Again we are reminded to remain free from selfish attachment.

Chapter 14: Forces of Evolution. This chapter looked at the nature of prakriti (the basis of the world of mind and matter) through the gunas: tapas, rajas, and sattva. All three gunas are present in any given personality and it is a mix of all three that colors our experience.

Chapter 15: The Supreme Self. The Self does not become God when liberated from it's mortal journey - we become a part of God. We are drop of water returning to the ocean, but we are not the ocean itself.

The last three chapters are titled: Two Paths, The Power of Earth and Freedom and Renunciation. We are encouraged to be fearless and pure, to be pure in our faith and to continue to renounce the fruits of our work or labor.


Now I am still greatly summarizing this amazing piece of literature, but I wanted to give you a feel for the essence of the book. What I really liked about this work was it didn't come across as preachy - a soldier is faced with the mortality of the battlefield and he is seeking guidance. His charioteer, who reveals himself to be Krishna, tell him/us what we need to do to reach the Divine. Simply put, harder in practice.

If you are interested, Yoga North Studio will be offering this workshop series again starting in January:
Sunday, Jan 11th, 6:30-8:30pm
Sunday, Feb 15th, 6:30-8:30pm
Sunday, March 15th, 6:30-8:30pm

Friday, December 5, 2008

Focus Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

It’s the beginning of the month and almost the end of the year (can you believe it?!?) so I figured this is a great time to talk about the next focus pose: Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose).

I used to dread this pose when I first learned it. I felt crunched and over stretched all at the same time - and then add in the one side was more open than the other. Uff. It was just darn uncomfortable. But with practice (and years) I’ve come to really like this pose: a combination of a deep stretch through the hips and a nice long stretch through the ribs.

One item of note - I like to come into a Virabhadrasana B (warrior II) posture first to allow students to establish the wider stance.


From Tadasana, on an INHALE, step or jump open to the right, bringing the feet about 4 feet apart.

EXHALE: to Warrior II

INHALE: expand through the arms and shoulders, lengthen the spine

EXHALE: reach or stretch for the horizon, look at where you are going, and move from the hips and waist. Either
a) bring elbow to knee, and left arm overhead
b) extend hand to floor, and left arm overhead.



Strongly anchor down the back foot, feeling the floor between the pinky toe and the heel.

Front knee is moving toward 90* or knee is behind ankle. If knee is in front of ankle, widen your stance. Keep the knee inline with the foot.

Sink down through the hips. The tendency in this pose is to keep the tush in the air.

Press the cheek upward into the triceps. Gaze can be straight ahead, up toward the ceiling or up toward the palm. This will depend upon the flexibility in YOUR neck and shoulders.

I like to cue extending the arm toward where the wall meets the ceiling - not straight up like Trikonasana, but not straight ahead either.

HOLD for 5 breaths. If you mentally work through the “checklist” above, that should be about 5 breaths.

EXHALE: to Warrior II

INHALE: straighten the right knee, rotate around, and EXHALE into the opposite side.

Repeat as above, returning to Tadasana at the front of the mat on an exhale.


Not so bad, no?

Like Utthita Trikonasana, the focus of this pose in on just about everything: legs, ankles, hips, rib cage, lungs, shoulders, spine and abdominals. Benefits include strengthening the thighs and calves, knees and ankles while stretching hips, shoulders, ribcage and spine. Don’t we know it!

I strongly suggest that one take their time when moving into this pose - I like to cue students to EXHALE into level 1 - elbow to knee, find their foundation, and THEN move into the next level if it is appropriate. To often people are in a rush to "get into the pose" and they don't allow themselves a moment to find the foundation, find their breath and subsequently injure themselves.

Next focus pose: Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved extended side angle)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Adjustment Clinic: Inversions, Balances, Backbending

I had the opportunity to carpool down to Minneapolis this past Saturday for this workshop:

Adjustments Clinic for Yoga Teachers & Trainers:
Inversions, Balances, Backbending and Seated Poses


Yoga Center of Minneapolis
Saturday, November 221:30 - 5:30pm
led by Tanya Boigenzahn

I had a wonderful time! It was a relatively small class, probably about 17 people of varying experience: from folks who have been teaching for a while to students who wanted to know more about adjustments. I was disappointed to find out that this was actually workshop #2 in a series, but happy to find out there may be more.

Tanya leads a very fluid, open, and dynamic class. She first finds out what the class composition is and then structures the class around requests. This group didn't have much in the way of specific requests so Tanya started right off with balance poses, moved briefly into downdog, then onto inversions and backbending. We ran out of time to go over seated poses, so hopefully she will incorporate that into a future workshop.

She would have someone come up front to be the "beginning student" and go over the basics of a pose and how she would approach adjusting someone in it. Then we would break into groups of two or three and practice on each other. This is what I liked, being able to give and receive feedback.

Much of the session was a review for me, but I also learned so many new and neat things that I filled up 3 pages with notes! Tanya took pictures of us during the session and will send us the handouts afterwards - I liked this approach as well as this way she wasn't confined to a set lecture and can really personalize the notes when she sends them out.

This was also my first time at this studio and it was just lovely! It is situated in the old warehouse district in Minneapolis (off of Hennepin and Washington Ave for those of you familiar with the area). High ceilings with the big wooden beams and old glass window fronts. I love old architecture. I felt very comfortable visiting; there was someone at the desk to greet us and show us where everything was. The other students were from the area - Tanya knew about 1/2 the class already - but I didn't feel like I walked into someones clique.

I look forward to being able to visit this studio again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bhagavad Gita (Part 2 of 3)


I decided to take a yogic philosophy workshop this Fall on the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most beloved texts in India. I discussed our first meeting here. We had our second session recently where we moved the discussion away from who the characters represented (our ego and the divine) and delved into the meaning behind chapters 3 - 10. I am summarizing greatly here other wise this would be a very long post indeed.

Chapters 3-6 discuss “Selfless Action” or Karma yoga. I must admit, I had a little chuckle because I’ve been watching off and on My Name is Earl, where Earl figured out that bad things happen to him because he’s been a bad person. He drew up a list and is trying to rectify all the bad things he’s done, often with quite funny results. But I digress.

Karma yoga is defined as, “the way of action”. Also: we reap what we sow; law of cause and effect, or our actions determine our destiny.

It is here that we learn a couple key lessons - Do not avoid work, but perform those duties without selfish attachment to the fruit or outcome of the work. And, we must act in selfless spirit, with out ego involvement and with out getting entangled in whether things work out the way WE want.

I particularly liked these passages:
(3:19) Act selflessly with out any thought of personal profit.

(3:35) Stick to your own Dharma and don’t worry about someone else’s Dharma.

Chapter 4 is titled Wisdom in Action and focus’s on how wisdom is the goal of selfless action and knowing is the fruit of doing.

Chapter 5 is titled Renounce and Rejoice and we come back to how it is essential in karma yoga that the selfish ego not expect gratification from work. Here the Gita emphasizes that nobody is more important than anybody else.

In Chapter 6 we start to see a shift in philosophy from karma yoga to jnana yoga (self knowledge), where the character Arjuna (our ego) asks, “Who is the true yogi?”. It is in this chapter Krishna tells Arjuna what the true yogi looks like, but also advises Arjuna to take up meditation to train the mind to be one-pointed or in other words, fixed upon God.

This is to prepare us for Chapter 8 - Eternal Godhead. In the yogic understanding it is about understanding death. All this is to practice one-pointedness in preparation of death so one can die consciously, focused upon God.

As illustrated in (8:5) Those who remember me at the time of death will come to me. Do not doubt this.

Chapter 9 - The Royal Path. To paraphrase, the purpose of life is to realize God and until this happens, the soul cannot escape creating more karma which has to e worked out, however long that may take.

Like I mentioned, I am greatly summarizing. I may have to come back at a later date and go through each chapter one at a time. This is an absolutely fascinating study.


The version we are reading for this session is by Eknath Eswaran, copyright 2007.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Musings from Austraila



As one who has great difficulty in slowing down, and as a practitioner of Ashtanga and vinyasa flow, I found Shiny Yoga's recent blog posting rather apropos: Slowing Down is Not a Waste of Time

And it's not always about the poses either. We need to learn to slow down in our day to day activities. I learned this the hard way in 2005 when the Husband and I found out he would be deployed to Iraq that Fall for 18 months. I had just started teaching yoga and I spent my summer running around teaching classes (while working full time at my regular job) and telling everyone, "I can't do this! I can't do that! Husbands getting deployed! I need to spend time with him!" But yet, I kept taking on more while saying I would spend time with him before he left...

...and then he was gone. And 18 months turned into two years. Heck of a way to learn to slow down - after the fact. But slow down I did, I was forced to. And now there is a chance he'll be going back for another year and this time I am paying attention to my actions and activities and making the effort to connect before it's too late.

For me, it was learning how to knit. Really. I'm not pinging around the house doing this and that when I am knitting. I am sitting there, minding my stitches, often next to the Husband while he watches TV or upstairs with him while he's on the computer. That was what he wanted - for me to just be there.

So as we move into this holiday season with the "must do's" and "have to's", stop and take a look at what you are doing. Seriously. Just stop for a moment. Grab a cup of coffee and the calendar. What can you do to slow down and reconnect with those around you on a more meaningful level?

Slowing down is never a waste of time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Chutes and Ladders


Do you remember the game from long ago, or for those of you with kids, maybe you have it in your closet - Chutes and Ladders? If memory needs to be jogged, it’s where you follow a road with your game piece and every now and then you get to climb up a ladder and every now and then you fall down a slide. First one to the top wins.

I’ve decided the yogic path is kinda like Chutes and Ladders.

We have all made a commitment of some kind when we stepped on this path - some of us have decided to see it all the way through, others of us travel along for some duration and have parted ways for a while.

But when it comes right down to it, we are all on the same board, the same path. Some of us have traveled farther ahead, while others of us seem to keep landing on the darn chute square and sliding down. But the important thing is to get back up, dust off the trousers and move forward. How does the “game” end? I suppose, in keeping with the analogy, with enlightenment or samadhi, but that might be getting a bit more philosophical than I care to on a Monday ‘cause then I’d need to discuss karma and dharma and reincarnation and Eastern philosphy....

Try this: a yoga class is a lot like Chutes and Ladders.

Some days we struggle with our bodies, trying to morph them into a form a flexy-bendy yoga instructor up front is demonstrating. They make it look so easy - head dropping back, the spine long, shoulders opening, and it seems so obvious when they say engage Moola bandha. Yet when we go to attempt said asana, our shoulders become inflexible, our neck feels crinked, the spine’s not moving anywhere and you’re quite certain moola bandha is something only found on a sacred cow. You think to yourself, I’m slidin’ down the chute, man!

But other days, wow, other days we come to the mat and our center is right there. Our breath seems to miraculously pick us up and place us in the pose. We gain an inch reaching into that forward fold or back bend or we’re rock solid in a balance pose and we think, cool! I’m climbing up the ladder today!

But that thought process is reversed - the days we feel “off” should be our ladder days, because that’s when we need to be most aware of what our bodies and minds are doing and that is what yoga about. The yoga path is not about “getting it”. It's bringing one pointed focus to the mind. It’s about understanding the journey along the way.

And that is when we truely start moving up the ladder.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Flowing or Muscling?

(2008 Le Tour de France)

In the last couple of weeks over the course of a couple of discussions, the concept or idea of “muscling” ones way through an ashtanga or vinyasa session has come up. I am familiar with this from my own practice, and I see it in others. Part is our competitive nature - we gotta keep up with Nancy in the corner and Joe on the mat next to us. Part is we feel we Gotta. Get. Through. Darn it. Or, I’m gonna get into this pose if it kills me! But this drive, this push, is just the opposite of what we need to be doing.

For one gal I was talking to, her enlightenment, so to speak, came from an unexpected place - a workshop focusing exclusively on core strength. She realized during the workshop that she powers her way through life, and thus, she powers her way through class. She found, that by letting go of the drive when she steps on her mat, her practice actually improved.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Let’s reason this out:

The ashtanga system, and to a degree a vinyasa flow class, is about a moving meditation. If we are powering our way through, are we really meditating? No, we are focusing on getting into the next pose, not on where our breath is and it is the breath that matters.

If we are powering our way through a session, are we truly relaxed? Probably not. We are subconsciously tensing our muscles to push ourselves into the posture rather than letting go and letting the body flow into the next asana. A tense muscle is going to remain rigid and inflexible and more prone to injury.

Some signs that you might be pushing rather than flowing are: clenched jaw, grunting, face is pinched and neck muscles straining, shoulders keep moving toward the ears, ujjayi breath is tight and strained or completely gone and your thoughts are on the clock rather than on your breath or drishti.

So what can you do to build awareness?
Smile!
Listen to your breath
Ride the practice as you would ride a wave - smooth, bobbing up and down gracefully with each inhale and exhale. .
Move your shoulders away from your ears.
Smile!
and, lastly, enjoy yourself. If you enjoy the session today, it is more likely that you will continue to enjoy it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Focus Pose - Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

It’s Focus Pose time again! It’s been a while, I know, but I’ll make an effort to come back to poses more frequently. For those of you tuning in this week, I have been breaking down the standing sequence of the Primary Series (Ashtanga) pose by pose, breath by breath.

Currently, I have reviewed (if you click on the “focus pose” link under “Labels” it will take you to these):
Tadasana
Suyra Namaskara A
Suyra Namaskara B
Adho Mukha Svansana
Urdva Mukha Svanasana
Plank Pose
Padangusthasana
Padahastana

This brings us up to Utthita Trikonasana - Three Angle or Triangle - pose.

There is SO much happening in this asana. We are stretching our calves, shins, thighs, hamstrings, hips, groin, and the chest as we twist gently through the spine. We are strengthening our obliques and ribcage.

Because there is so much going on and so much that can be talked about, I am going to focus on moving into this one mindfully. A great place to work on breaking down the pose bit by bit is a regular hatha or Ieyengar session - which I strongly recommend taking. These classes truly compliment a regular Ashtanga or Vinyasa practice.

From Tadasana, on an Inhale, we step or jump to the right about 3feet. This stance will depend upon your flexibility. For those with more flexibility through the hips, legs and torso, a wider stance is appropriate. Not so flexible, keep the stance shorter. The right foot points straight back, left foot is coming in at an angle.

Inhale the arms wide, opening through the chest, shoulders, back and hips.

Exhale, stretch long toward the horizon. The tendency here is to reach for the knee/shin/ankle/floor first. THEN let the lower arm gently drop down to wherever it rests without trying to force your way down farther. Avoid leaning or resting on your leg - keep the lower palm open and along side the knee or calf to work the obliques and prevent injury to your knee. This helps keep the whole pose active and energized.

By stretching long first, you find where your body’s strength and flexibility lie and you can work safely into the pose.

By stretching long first, we avoid collapsing into the waist, ribcage, and shoulders.

Inhale, gently open into a twist, left arm moving toward the ceiling, fingers together. IF it is not comfortable to raise the left arm, bring the hand to your waist, elbow moving upward.

Gaze is up toward your raised thumb, straight ahead or, if necessary, down at the floor.



(Picture from here.)

While we are holding the pose, let’s bring our awareness to the front/extended leg. Gently rotate the knee so the kneecap is moving in the direction of the pinkie toe. This gentle outward rotation protects the knee over the long term. Press down equally through the ball of the foot and the heel. Let the toes be soft.

Bring your awareness to your rear leg. Press down actively through the whole of the foot, feel the mat from the heel to your pinkie toe and under the ball of the big toe. Again, toes are soft.

Please note: in the picture the model is actually practicing a very wide stance of this pose. In the Ashtanga practice, I prefer to see the fingers of the front hand in line with the toes or grasping the front toes.

Inhale, lift STRAIGHT up, reverse the foot position, and repeat on the opposite side for 5 breaths.



Even though the poses are held for 5 breaths, use each breath to bring awareness to an aspect of the posture. For example, on an inhale, expand through the shoulders and chest to deepen the twist (note, I did not say move farther down the leg!). On an exhale, check in with the legs and feet. Explore where you are physically and spatially with each breath. Next inhale, lengthen out through the crown of the head as if you are trying to touch the wall ahead of you.

Again, there are numerous ways to approach this posture. Please take a moment and check out Brenda's comments on Grounding Through the Sit Bones.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bhagavad-Gita (Part 1 of 3)


By Eknath Eswaran.

I haven’t taken a philosophy workshop in a while due to life circumstances, but this one not only worked out financially, but time wise as well. Sunday was the first meeting and it was a group of about 15 who gathered at the studio on a very blustery, misty night. I am excited to be delving further into this ancient and revered text and so far I have not been disappointed.

To summerize greatly, the Bhagavad-Gita takes place on an ancient, but very real battlefield. The story actually begins in the great text known as the Mahabarata, but we pick up the battle here in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna, one of 5 brothers, is leading an army into battle against his upsurper uncle who has banished Arjuna and his brothers for the last 12 years. The uncle was to be regent until Arjuna’s brother came of age, but he decided he liked the power and refused to reliquish the throne. Arjuna, the warrior, is fighting for the rightful heir, his older brother.

On the eve of battle, Arjuna has asked his charioteer, Krishna, to show him both armies. As they ride by, he observes his uncles, cousins, former mentors and teachers. Arjuna is overcome with despair, for how can he justify fighting against family, friends, mentors and teachers who will only be slaughtered in the coming fight? There can be no good outcome from this battle, and Arjuna throws down his arms. Krishna must convince Arjuna to choose the right path.

While on one level this seems like a fantastic story (and it is that), on a much deeper level this is an analogy of the “battle” between our ego and our spirit . Our spirit here represents the Divinity found in all of us. Through Arjuna we witness the struggle between the ego and the spirit/Divinity as Krishna guides Arjuna.

The First Chapter sets the stage as described above. We are introduced to the characters, plot and the setting. It is here Arjuna loses his courage and refuses to fight.

In the Second Chapter Arjuna asks Krishna to be his spiritual guide. Krisha goes on to explain that only the gross physical body may be killed, but the eternal self is immortal. Krisha tells Arjuna to get some kahunas and stand up and fight as is his duty as a warrior.

These passages in particular have resonated with me:

(2:40-41) On this path, effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear. Those who follow this path, resolving deep within themselves to seek me alone attain singleness of purpose. For those who lack resolution, the decisions of life are many branched and endless.

(2:47- 48) You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the fruit of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world...as a man established within himself - without selfish attachments and alike success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of the mind.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kudo's to Hugger Mugger

A while back I did a post on the lack of male models in yoga advertising. This generated some interesting comments from others in the yoga community (online and in my classes) about how it is not just a lack of male representation, but also of other ethnicity's, ages and body shapes.

Can you imagine my delight and surprise when I opened my mailbox (well, I had to wait till I got in the house because it was dark outside) and there was the most recent issue of Hugger Mugger with this cover:



Now this is what I like to see! In case you don't receive their catalog, on the inside, they had a little blurb about each person from the cover - how long they have been doing yoga, why they started, where they are from, where they work and what inspires them.

I can relate to this group of people. I work. I do yoga. I enjoy the benefits I've gotten from doing yoga. I don't wear the most fashionable outfits (I live in MN, it's winter 9 months out of the year especially by this big Lake. Boots, down jackets, hats and mittens are spoken here.)

Has anyone else seen any other company, magazine or advertising showing everyday folks promoting yoga lately? Maybe we could generate a Kudo's list...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to Basics - Ujjayi Breath

The Ashtanga practice uses what is known as the Ujjayi breath or "Breath of Victory" during the course of the practice. I have found this also incorporates well into a Vinyasa Flow class, as well as aspects of a Hatha session. New students are always a bit perplexed by this "noisy" breath - I know I was. In my very first yoga class, I was bemused why the instructor was breathing so loud. I was doubly bemused when she kept doing it in subsequent classes. Finally, I said something to my acquaintance about how I was loving the class but didn't know why the instructor kept breathing so loud. She laughed and explained to me that the instructor was using the Ujjayi breath.

Recalling my experience, I now try to make a point of "bringing back the basics" every so often so newer folks aren't perplexed like I was. From Yoga Journal I found this short article:

Ujjayi Breath
Yoga Journal.com
by: By Aadil Palkhivala

The Ujjayi breath is the breath of victory. In this type of pranayama, the lungs are fully expanded and the chest is puffed out like that of a victorious conqueror.

The sound of Ujjayi pranayama serves two purposes: One, it stimulates the nadis, or energy channels, in the sinuses and at the back of the throat, which, in turn, promotes mental clarity and focus. And two, it provides a sound to latch onto, so that the mind can become more still. When the sound oscillates, the mind too is oscillating, and the student can hear this.

During the inhalation, I teach students to imagine a hole in their throat that they are breathing through, thereby creating the sibilant sound of pranayama. The inhalation should rub against the back of the nasal cavity and throat. During the exhalations, I ask my students to imagine that they are saying "ha" without the "a," and to feel the breath rubbing against the frontal sinuses as it leaves the body. Both inhalation and exhalation must be done with the mouth closed, through the nostrils only.




In my classes, since we live by Lake Superior, I compare the breath to the sound of the waves gently crashing on shore - smooth, rhythmic, calming. I also cite the sound of the wind moving through pine trees.

The loudness of the breath is debatable - I've had instructors encourage a loud breath and other's who've said it should be soft. A louder breath tells the instructor that the student is breathing and not holding their breath or perhaps is working too hard and straining. A softer breath focus's the attention of the practitioner more as they have to closer attention to hear it. Either way is appropriate, the important thing is to continue to bring awareness to the breath and keep the breath smooth and flowing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Suyra Namaskar with Intent

This was supposed to be my post last week, but I had limited access to a computer and less time to write. But I have a quiet moment right now so I can finish. My inspiration came from a class I was finally able to attend - I used to be a regular, then my schedule changed (actually the Husband was sent to Iraq for two years) and then they made the class registration only. I wasn’t able to commit to such a regimented schedule at the time. But, at long last, I made it to the session. I am always so inspired by the instructor, Joe. He is such a wealth of information and knowledge. This past Friday mornings topic fits well with my “Back to the Basics” theme.

Surya Namaskara - Salute to the Sun. More than just an asana.

Have you ever wondered about why this sequence - be it Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga or other variation - is called Salute to the Sun? Why is it typically done at the beginning of a class and not the end?

Surya Namaskar is a prayer to the light within us and outside of us. It is a way to honor that light which represents the Divinity in whatever aspect is right for you. By doing it at the beginning of class, we bring an intent to our mat, a focus to our session as we start to move into the practice.

Look at the sequence - we inhale in as we raise our arms over head, then exhale in humility as we either forward fold or move through plank pose. Again, we inhale toward the sun in exultation in our Urdhva, then exhale once again toward the ground in Ardho Mukha Savasana, in humility, then we reverse, always inhaling toward the sun, and exhaling in honor of that light.

It is said that doing Surya Namaskar with out intent just make this a gross physical practice.

I don’t know if I agree with the statement that doing Surya without intent makes it like any other physical practice. I attended a workshop a year ago where the instructor handed out sheets with a chant to Vishu. Over the course of the weekend we would chant the five lines at various moments. On the third afternoon, he had us go around the room one by one and chant this on our own. The first 7 people got to use their sheet, the last 25 had to turn their paper over. He reasoning was that no matter how badly we bungled it (and it was badly bungled) we were still tuning into everyone else who chanted it as well.

I guess that’s how I feel, that the movement speaks for itself. I know the connection with the light/Divinity/myself is greater when there is intent, gratitude and honor, but just like attempting the chant, I’m still connecting with the greater whole. It was a good reminder on Friday morning, as the sun was just starting to rise over Lake Superior and brighten the room, to be reminded to bring intent to my practice.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back to the Basics

(Root Chakra)

I love the start of Fall because it brings the beginning of a new session of classes and I love the enthusiasm and energy a new session brings. There are my regular students, glad to be back after a two week break or longer if they’ve been out for the summer connecting with family. There are the new students, a bit anxious about a new teacher and new sequence, and still excited to be there.

I also love the opportunity with a mixed class to return to the basics. As a year progresses and we get caught up in “doing the next thing” or working toward the next level, we tend to lose site of where we came from. I think it is very important to come back to those foundations to review what it is to build the pose from the bottom up.

Sounds tedious, I know, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a strong, stable and grounded base. If your foundation is solid, your pose will be energetic and engaged and you can focus on working on the subtle energies and alignment rather than teetering around trying to find your outer balance. A strong pose also means less injury.

But what are the basics in an ashtanga or vinyasa practice? Many things. For now, I’m looking at these:

Ujjaiyi breath - breath should be smooth and full. If you are gasping for breath you are perhaps working too hard, if you cannot hear your breath you are perhaps not working hard enough. Try and keep the inhales and exhales equal.

Bandhas - I have been re-thinking the bandha’s since the workshop with Matthew Sweeney. So many types of yoga focus in on “lifting” the bandha’s and “engaging” the bandha’s when perhaps it is not appropriate to do so, especially in such a vigorous practice as a vinyasa flow or ashtanga. So, in coming back to the basics, I have been focusing in on lesser uddiyana bandha - the gentle contraction of the lower abdomen to protect the lower back as we move in and out of the forward folds.

Drishti - where are your eyes during the posture? Find a place to focus the eyes in each and every pose. This means don’t worry about your toes during your forward folds, eyes are looking outward, awareness is inward.

Postures - start each and every pose from the floor up. Build from the hands, feet, and sit bones and work outward from there.

So take this time as the class begins to reassess your postures, your foundations. As one of my favorite instructors likes to say, "Come to class with a beginners mind." and see where it takes you!

Namaste!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Lessons from Kanga and Roo

Out of curiosity I was watching the RNC last night for a little bit after the Washington-NY football game had just finished. The convention is being held Mpls-St.Paul where I lived for 25 years before making my way north, and I wanted to see what kind of speaker McCain is. The husband had watched Sarah Palin the night before for the same reason. We watched for fifteen or twenty minutes then called it a night.

So why am I bringing up the 2008 Presidential Campaign on a yoga blog? Well, as Kanga said to little Roo, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think we all learned this in kindergarten. I couldn’t help but think back on the blog I posted on Satya (truthfulness).

I had stated, "Buddhism, for example, has Right Speech, meaning ones actions should be absent of false-hoods, harsh words and useless chatter. Non-violence and truthfulness go hand in hand. Can you be truthful without harming in speech and action? Can you observe without being judgmental? Useless chatter - gossip perhaps? While the target of idle talk may never hear, it is still harmful to be speaking about another in a negative manner."

So why is it okay for our potential political leaders at all levels - from city, county, state all the way up to national levels, to be verbally bashing their opponents? I feel so bombarded and mired down in half-truths, untruths and negativity that I just want to move to Canada! An argument could be made that this is what makes the United States political process so great - the freedom to say what you want. Free speech at its finest.

I had also tuned into MPR, which is very enthusiastically covering the DNC and RNC, but the bit I came upon was the author of the Politifact website talking to the MPR host about the ‘truths and falsehoods’ in the speeches. Now this was fascinating! There is a website where someone is checking the facts behind the bold statements in all the speeches. There is a little meter that shows how true or false something is and an explanation why.

But all cool websites aside, what I would really love to see, is a campaign - any campaign! - where not once do the opposing candidates say a bad thing about the other person. To focus solely on what they have done or intend to do. Now wouldn’t that be inspiring? As practitioners of yoga, we strive to speak and behave with truthfulness and non-violence. Practitioners of Buddhism work toward Right Speech, which should be absent of falsehoods, harsh words and useless chatter. We try and teach our children to “play nice”. We frown upon bullying of any kind. So why is it okay in a political arena? I don’t think gentle and wise Kanga would approve.


Grounding Through the Sitbones has a somewhat related and very interesting post this week.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Power of Movement

(Photo: Matthew Sweeney, Ashtanga, Australia)


I had an absolutely fascinating and reaffirming experience this past weekend - but I need to back up a bit to tell the whole story. This Thursday past I led three yoga classes - my usual two Vinyasa sessions and one beginning Hatha. I confess, I overdid it. By Friday my triceps, deltoids and shoulders absolutely ached. No, they downright hurt. Saturday morning I gamely went forth and met up with the “Saturday Regulars” for our Ashtanga session. I had to modify the first 10 sun salutations - my arms protested loudly at any attempt to do otherwise. But I kept moving.

They continued to chatter at me through the first vinyasas, but I kept modifying and moving. It wasn’t until I came to Navasana (boat pose) that I realized, that while still a bit achey, my arms didn’t hurt anymore! There was a tiny background ache, but nothing like when I started.

I have experienced this before in a workshop setting, where I am doing a lot of intensive yoga in a very short period of time - often starting with a Friday night session, two or three Saturday sessions, and two or three Sunday sessions. By the time I get to the Sunday morning or afternoon session, the body just doesn’t want to move anymore. Bits and pieces ache. The mind is full. Physically and mentally I want to be done NOW! But there I am in Samasthti, about to move through another sequence, the mind and body going “oh, not again...”.

And the Sun Salutation begins, and the breath moves, and the body flows... and by the end, I don’t hurt.

This power of movement amazes me. The body’s inclination is toward stillness - the muscles hurt, it’s achy, so avoid movement till everything feels better. I cannot stress enough to counter this tendency - get off the couch and move! A gentle walk. Some basic stretches. Maybe a shortened or modified sequence. I feel the recovery period is quicker and it’s more restorative for the body; the blood starts flushing out the muscles and the toxins that have accumulated.

One final story. I led a mixed level beginning Hatha class as a sub. There was a gentleman in the session who worked construction. I challenged the class a bit more than their regular teacher and heard back through the grapevine the following week that he claimed he had to take off two days from work because he couldn’t move. (In case you think I was a yoga fiend or something horrible, the rest of the class did say they enjoyed the session.) I can’t help but think, he a) should have done the modifications I offered (but that’s another story) and b) if he had only gotten up and moved the next day, he would have felt a whole lot better.

So I say unto thee, get out there and move!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is Western Yoga Sexist?

I had an interesting conversation with a student practitioner this week. He noticed a flyer that had yet another female model and commented that it would be nice to see a male model on, well, just about
anything. As our conversation progressed, we noted that female models are the standard - to my recollection Yoga Journal has not used a male cover model in the 5 years I've had a subscription, I have not seen a male model on Yoga International or Yoga Fit, the other two magazines I occasionally pick up. To the best of my knowledge, I have seen one poster advertising a Yoga Journal Convention with a guy on it - but that was one out of 3 or 4 they do yearly and I haven't seen any since then.

He went on to extrapolate that when he's out on a date or talking to other gals, he has to get to know them - and their attitudes toward yoga - before telling them he does yoga because they might take it the wrong way. I found that simply appalling.

How ever did yoga shift to this female dominated presence? And why such negative attitudes towards guys doing yoga? Or guys modeling yoga?

Let's review the history of yoga here folks:

It's from India.
It's over 5000 years old.
It was practiced by guys. In some sects, you could only practice if you were a Brahman, a renuciate, or a young male.
Women were not allowed to practice yoga until the early 1900's and even then many were discouraged from doing active postures.

Krishnamacharia was the first to be willing to teach a woman (1920s), and he was a harsh taskmaster. Indra Devi had to prove she could handle anything he challenged her with, and she exceeded her teachers expectations and went on with his blessings to become a world renown yoga instructor.

Pattabhi Jois began teaching women in the late 1960's early 1970's.

Even in India today, classes are predominantly male with most female students from other countries.

As we talked, I also pointed out that the majority of weekend workshops (Ashtanga based) I attend are led by male instructors: David Williams, Doug Swenson, David Swenson, Manju Jois, Govinda, Matthew Sweeney. Upcoming workshops are again, male dominated: Michael Gannon, Michael Hamilton, Govinda. My favorite in town instructor is a guy. I've attended only two workshops (again, Ashtanga based) led by women. I know there are fantastic female instructors out there: Kino MacGregor, Beryle Bender Birch, Nancy Gilgoff all come to mind, but they are in a minority.

I popped over to the YJ website and perused their yoga photos. 98% are women. I googled yoga photos under free clip are. Again, predominately women. I begin to understand why guys don't want to do yoga in the States. They are constantly bombarded with pictures of young uber flexy-bendy women in their fashionable outfits doing pretzel poses. I can see where a guy would draw the conclusion that a yoga class is going to be full of flexy-bendy gals and there is no place for a lumpy stiff-as-a-board middle aged-fellow who just wants to get in shape. Ya know, all that marketing turns me off too.

So I come back to my main question, why is it so unpalatable to have a male model on the cover of a magazine or a flyer? Afterall, guys do yoga too, and have been for 5000 years.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

10 Guidelines - Satya (truthfulness)


Life is constantly giving us little lessons - whether we learn anything from them is up to us. Recent adventures to Denver reiterated my need to go back and review - again - the 10 Guidelines to Rightful Living. I think these Guidelines are truly fascinating - Christianity has the 10 Commandments, Buddhist have the Noble 8-Fold Path, Paganism sums it up with one sentence - how nearly all major religions and philosophies have Guidelines for proper spiritual and ethical behavior. At least I find it interesting and someday would like to know what the others have.

When I last wrote about the 10 Guidelines, also known as the Yama’s and Niyamas, I discussed Ahimsa (non-violence). Here’s a quick review of the rest:

Yamas (or self restraints)
Ahimsa - non-violence
Satya - truth
Asteya - non-stealing
Brahmacharya - chastity or walking with the divine
Aparigraha - non-attachment

Niyamas (or observances)
Saucha - cleanliness
Santosa - contentment
Tapas - self discipline
Svadhyaya - self study
Isvara pranidhanani - surrender to the divine


The definition of Satya in Sanskrit means:
Satya ("truth/truthfulness"): truth, a designation of the ultimate Reality; also the practice of truthfulness, which is an aspect of moral discipline (yama)

Buddhism, for example, has Right Speech, meaning ones actions should be absent of false-hoods, harsh words and useless chatter. Non-violence and truthfulness go hand in hand. Can you be truthful without harming in speech and action? Can you observe without being judgmental? Useless chatter - gossip perhaps? While the target of idle talk may never hear, it is still harmful to be speaking about another in a negative manner.

Satya is presented as one of the Five “restraints”, to recognize and carefully consider what our words and actions (not all truths or non-truths are spoken) may impart. Paganism, for example, just says “And if it harms none, do what you will.” And we’ve all heard the words from our childhood, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” But now the difference is we are being asked to put this into practice, so our words, thoughts and deeds match our intent and actions. That we become aware of how our behavior affects us and those around us. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Give it a whirl for one week and see what you discover about yourself.

As a final thought, I’d like to leave you with this quote:

Judith Hanson Lasiter writes in To Tell the Truth (Yoga Journal.com)
“When we experience a person speaking from satya, we resonate with those words. Hearing words that express truth helps us to experience a deep recognition that unconsciously we already know the truth. Upon hearing such words, we feel that some deep, essential part of us has been seen, hear, and understood.”

For further reading on the Yama's and Niyama's please check out these:
Yoga Journal
Yoga of the Heart (will have to come back and add the author!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Focus Pose(s) - Padangusthasana and Padahastasana

Oh my goodness! I have been quite remiss about getting back and breaking down the Primary sequence! So many interesting things to talk about. I do really enjoying working my way through the Primary Series pose by pose. It's a great way for me to really review the asana and break it down to its essence. I am always amazed by something new I learn.

I was still hoping I could pin down the Husband and have him take a few pictures of me in the poses this month, but no luck so far. Our schedules have been crazy busy and he's been swamped with homework. Barely anytime to do garden and yard stuff much less fart around taking pictures.

So far in our review of the Primary Series**, we've discussed Suyra Namaskar A and B, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana and plank, and now were moving into the Standing Sequence with Padangusthasana:

Pada = Foot
Angustha = Big Toe

and Padahastasana:
Pada = Food
Hasta = Hand


After completing Surya Namaskar B and coming back to Tadasana at the front of our mats for Padangusthasana :

Inhale: step or jump the feet 8-12" apart.

Exhale: hands to waist.

Inhale: lift the sternum and look up (a small backbend only if it's comfortable for you.

Exhale: forward fold to grasp the big toes with two fingers.
MODIFICATIONS - Level 1, grasp behind knees; Level 2, grasp behind ankles. Both level 1, 2 can keep a slight bend in the knees. OR if you know you hyper-extend your knees, keep a slight bend in your knees.

Inhale: look up toward the horizon, and,

Exhale: lengthen the crown of the head toward the floor as the elbows move toward the ceiling.



Hold for 5 breaths. DRISTI - Nose

We move right into Padahastasana:



Inhale: lift the sternum and look up.

Exhale: slide the hands under the feet, palms touching soles, toes touching the wrists.

MODIFICATIONS - Level 1, grasp behind knees; Level 2, grasp behind ankles or stay in Padangusthasana. Both level 1, 2 can keep a slight bend in the knees. OR if you know you hyper-extend your knees, keep a slight bend in your knees.

Inhale: look up toward the horizon, and,

Exhale: lengthen the crown of the head toward the floor as the elbows move toward the ceiling.

Hold for 5 breaths, DRISHTI is Nose.

Inhale: look up toward the horizon.

Exhale: hands to the waist (keep the spine lengthening) and,

Inhale: come all the way up, adding the slight backbend if it's comfortable for you.

Exhale: step or jump back to Tadasana (samasthti)


Some important considerations - keep the back lengthening by keeping the shoulders moving away from the ears. We have a tendency to "hunch" or "round the back" in both of these poses.

For some, focusing on the nose makes them dizzy (if you wear glasses for example). Then pick a focal point at the back of the room or slightly behind you on the floor. The important thing is to pick a drishti and keep your gaze there.

You can deepen the stretch gradually (and keep your attention in the pose) by exploring the area around you on the inhales, and exhaling, move into that new space.


It is also important to keep uddiyana bandha engaged here to protect the lower back - plus, by keeping the abdominals engaged, you give yourself room to fold.

Keep your weight over the balls of your feet. We have a tendency to lean back in this pose. As an experiment, try doing the pose against a wall to see where eventually we want to be.


Benefits of this pose:
Tones the abdominal organs
Increases digestive activity
Helps relieve gastric troubles
Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and anxiety
Stretches hamstrings and calves
Can help relieve headaches and insomnia


**I practice and teach what I call Contemporary Ashtanga rather than the Traditional Mysore Ashtanga. It's the same sequence, but without the chanting, Sanskrit counting and a few minor differences in poses.

(All photos from YogaJournal.com - pose finder.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Appropriate Poses"

Picture from: yogabeginnings.com


"Appropriate Poses" seem to be a theme lately in my reading and from the workshop I recently attended. One magazine article (sorry, I don't recall which one at the moment), placed a strong emphasis on not doing poses until you are ready for them. I understand the view point of the article - you don't want to be attempting poses beyond where you are currently working for safety and injury prevention.

And this is true. A beginner should not be attempting certain "advanced" poses -for example, inversions - until they have grown in body and balance awareness and strength. There are certain poses a person should not attempt if they have issues with injury without the assistance solid foundation poses. For example - neck and shoulder injuries.

This is a two part awareness, I feel. One, it is the blossoming awareness of the practitioner. To know what your body is capable of - that a stiff back and shoulders are not suddenly going to open up and permit you to do a full wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) overnight. That if you have problems with balance in standing poses, you are not going to be rock steady in headstand. It's the understanding that you may have to set your ego aside for a while and work on the basics of the postures. Ah! Therein is the yoga practice!

And the second part is the awareness of the instructor. They can see from the outside how you and the rest of the are moving. Over time they learn how your body moves, where you are tight and what you could use more practice with. When the instructor comes over and suggests you move back a level in the pose, they most likely saw a need for work on the basics. Yet, they may very well come over and invite you to move into the next level, seeing that your body has responded to something and it's time to start pushing boundaries a bit.

And that comes round to "appropriate poses". First, I completely agree for myself and my students, I/we shouldn't practice poses beyond our capabilities. I don't want to hurt myself and I certainly don't want a student to injure themselves.

However, how can I advance my practice and that of my classes, if I don't explore the next level? In the true traditional Ashtanga series, we would not practice beyond the primary series. In fact, most of us would only be practicing up to Marichyasana D and then we would all be done because we don't have the shoulder and hip flexibility to bind. But there are so many other postures out there that can assist in increasing flexibility and strength! You know, I've never done well with someone telling me "you can't do this because tradition says so".

I also believe by gently exploring the next level, you can learn what you need to work on to move into that next pose. Maybe it's shoulder strength. Maybe some more hip openers. Or core strength. You step back, work on a variety of poses and come back to that challenging asana at a later date and re-assess then. The important thing here is you RECOGNIZE you are not ready. You RECOGNIZE you need to work on some foundation poses first. And you RECOGNIZE your ego needs to be patted on the head and told "not today".

So I say, go forth and explore, but with awareness and mindfulness, and see where your practice will lead you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Matthew Sweeney Workshop, Sunday July 13

I have my notes with me now and I can quick recap a couple of points from Saturday’s session (this was the full primary series with the jumpback workshop in the afternoon) that I will be bringing back to my practice and classes:

Do the EXACT same thing on both sides for symmetry.
Govinda urged this as well when I attended his workshop. This is a long-term approach to the practice. If always work on the side that is easiest (ie - looser) and do not bring the tight side to that same level, it puts your body “out of wack” so to speak. It is highly recommended you do the exact same thing on both sides. Which means you are catering to your tight or weaker side and bringing it into alignment with your loose or strong side.

No more “watching TV” pose for Marichyasana B and D.
Apparently this does nothing to work on those hips. Do modified seated pigeon instead.

To further work on those hips, do baddha konasana against a wall.
Start with 5 minutes and work up to half an hour. Counter balance with hero’s pose (supported as needed) for 10-15 minutes maximum. Further, if you cannot bring your knees flat in baddha konasana, it is not recommended to do the Marichyasana poses B and D.

When you become strong in a posture, your chances of hurting yourself are less.

It was recommended that if you cannot do full lotus in garba pindasana, to work on hip openers instead.

Okay, I think that’s enough re-capping. I took more notes than I realized!


Sunday’s sessions were just as fantastic as Friday and Saturday. We started with the Standing Sequence of the Primary Series and moved into the Secondary Sequence. He moved us through about ½ of the Secondary Sequence, then stopped, went back and began breaking down each posture individually. I really appreciated this approach. It allowed me to get a feel for how each posture flows into the vinyasa and then into the next asana. Then I was able to see what the modifications were for each posture.

This then moved right into back bending: from the floor and down the wall. Much to my great surprise, I was in no way sore after doing an hours worth of backbends. We worked on a variety of techniques and methods to move into and out of backbends safely, and a lot revolves around the use of ones thighs. Now those ached by the end of the day!

Sunday afternoon we looked at headstand and handstand. His message here was: “The bits in between are more important.” Matthew also felt that you need to have established jumps in the vinyasa’s before you can work on HAND stand. He demonstrated....wow...this guy can truly float.

But back to headstand. He emphasized three levels:
1) Rock to lift over hips. Keep knees bent. Work here.
2) Curl over hips. Keep knees bent. Work here.
3) Lift over hips - now with straight legs.

This was rather a sub-theme throughout the whole weekend - make everything a progression. It’s a journey where you don’t know where you are going to end up so you might as well enjoy the ride.

I know I certainly enjoyed this workshop!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Matthew Sweeney Workshop, Saturday July 12

I left my notes at home so I’m doing this from fuzzy memory. Saturday morning we began by moving right into the Primary Series. He has taken significant instruction from Pattabhi Jois and teaches the most current version of the Primary Series. It seems surprising that something of such long standing tradition changes, but his yoga shala is called the Mysore Research Institute after all.

And it was subtle things - less breaths to move into and out of several postures, the elimination of bakasana (crane pose) around navasana (boat pose), no more handstand during navasana, no leaning back before moving into forward folds. For me they were small things - I do not yet have the strength to move from navasana into handstand and back; I didn’t learn the sequence with the bakasana (though I do use crane pose as a modification pose for bujapindasana - many students hips just don’t allow them to move into bujapindasana); and now that I’ve been practicing for a while, less breaths to move into and out of postures seems more natural to me.

We went through the whole sequence, then he spent the last hour breaking down the sequence and why we do what we do when. He expounded on his - Pattabhi Jois’s - philosophy about the Primary sequence. Then (thankfully!) we broke for lunch. I was hungry!

The class reconvened for a two and a half hour breakdown and discussion on the jump throughs and jump backs in the vinyasa system, including chakrasana (the rollback). This ties in with the slight change in hand placement we learned in the Friday evening class - the need to keep the shoulders open to allow you to move through.

This was perhaps the most intense part of the weekend (or a close second with Sunday morning’s class). So much to try and do! Keep the shoulders back and relaxed, use the thighs and abdominals, watch where your drishti is, keep the hands firmly planted on the ground. I thought Matthew did a great job of breaking each movement down and building it back up again. I came away with a great many things to work on and some very tired quads and shoulders. An afternoon very well spent.

I’ll expound on some of Matthews thoughts on philosphy in my last posting about the workshop weekend when I have my notes in front of me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Matthew Sweeney Workshop, Friday, July 11

How to begin? Like he did, with this quote: "When you stop trying to get someplace in your yoga practice, that is when you start practicing yoga."

This is not the first time I have heard this, but for some reason it stuck with me this weekend.

Or how about this one: "It's not how you practice, it's what you practice."

A good saying for the sequence Matthew was about to take us through.

Friday night Matthew introduced the Moon Seqence. This is an alternative, complementary practice to the rigors of the Ashtanga practice for Full Moon, New Moons, the woman's cycle or for whenever the practitioner feels they need a more restorative practice. This is also supposed to be good for Friday nights, as it encourages rest. HOWEVER, this sequence is NOT intended or meant to replace the Primary series.

What is this Moon Sequence? This is a passive sequence, utilizing some key points: instead of a sun salutation (or salute to the sun as he calls them), you do a moon salutaion. There is a greater emphasis on the hips and the vinyasa is done while laying on the back. The ujjayi breath is softened, closing the eyes during the seated portion of the sequence is encouraged (but still stay aware and with the breath) and all postures are done with the left side first.

This sequence did indeed feel very restorative. Initially it was odd to be doing everything on the left first, but after a while it felt very natural. All the hip openers were lovely, and I certainly did feel them the next morning. But in a good way. He warned folks that they may feel more tired after doing the practice, but I didn't notice that (mind you, I had a three hour drive to the Cities, after getting off to a late start, it was 95* and humid once I got there, and I had to wait-out a fast moving, very severe storm after the session got done so I didn't get to my sister's until after 9:30pm. Long day.) I CAN say, I slept rather well.

I really look forward to learning this Moon Sequence. I can really see the advantages of this in the Ashtanga practice.

Stay tuned for Saturday and Sunday's workshop report!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Yoga for Every Day

It is not uncommon to think of yoga as something that is relegated to a studio or fitness center or even the community ed room at your local school or church. We start or end our “workday” there, feeling good that we made it to our session. But when we walk out of the session, we are often done with yoga - but think about it, yoga can be brought beyond that studio or room in all sorts of small, subtle ways.

You can bring a variety of breathing techniques to your day – the Ujjayi Breath to focus and center yourself before, during or after a meeting. Or maybe you are feeling chilled, warm yourself with ujjayi breathing. Bhastrika breath to invigorate you in the middle of the afternoon doldrums. 2 to 1 breathing to calm yourself down after a confrontational or stressful phone call. How about going for a walk or a run? See how smooth and even you can make your breath with each stride.

You can add in the bandha’s while out working in the garden or cleaning house. Combine the breath and the locks as you vacuum, mow the lawn, or shovel snow (ooo, I said the “snow” word!). As you are bent over raking, hoeing, or pulling weeds, bring your awareness to Uddiyana bandha to protect your lower back. Check in with Mula bandha to add additional support.

Just getting back from a swim? Run? Bike ride? Find a spot on the grass and do a few sun salutations to stretch out and re-connect with a calmer breath. Playing with the kids? Teach them up-dog, down-dog, snake, seal, pigeon, crane, chair, the warriors – make it a game to see how many they can remember, like Simon-Says.

Yoga doesn’t have to be relegated to just a room. It can be brought to your daily life in all sorts of fun and unique ways. And that is just part of the beauty of a yogic practice. I'm sure there are other ways that I'm just not thinking of. If something you do comes to mind, feel free to post it in the comments section.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Workshop Opportunity


Matthew Sweeney is coming to the Yoga House in Edina, July 11-13.

This should be a fabulous weekend!

Just who is Matthew Sweeney? From his website:

Matthew's knowledge of Yoga encompasses 20 years of practice and 14 years experience as a teacher. His education includes Shiatsu massage, Yoga therapy, Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Matthew's teaching combines the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga with the therapeutic needs of each student. He provides an individual approach to the Mysore method and is renowned for the attention he gives to both novice and advanced students.

Matthew is widely regarded as one of the world's most advanced exponents of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga as taught by Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois. His Asana practice includes "Advanced B", or 4th Series. He studies regularly at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore India where he completed "Advanced A", or 3rd Series in 1996.

After many years of Ashtanga practice Matthew has developed his own unique Vinyasa sequences which he promotes and teaches as suitable alternatives to the standard series. These unique Vinyasa classes are conducted to encourage students to apply a therapeutic approach to their personal practice and to encourage a creative and adventurous heart.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

David Swenson Demo

This recording was from August 17, 2007, at the Yoga House, Edina, MN. I didn't realize the demo had been recorded and posted until just recently. I attended two sessions from that workshop weekend - absolutely fantastic.

David Swenson Demo.

And since I was parusing youtube in awe and facination (do you relize just how MUCH is on there?) I found a couple other things to draw your attention to. These are from David's Primary Series Video.

Here is a video of the Sun Salutation as done by Mr. Swenson. Please note, he has the ablity to go from up dog to down dog by pushing backwards. Watch here.

And I've always liked this bit: Swenson on Ashtanga Flow.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bhastrika Breath

So last week we looked at Kapalabhati breath. This week I’d like to take a look at bhastrika as a comparison.

Remember, kapalabhati is a strong exhale with a passive inhale. The hard thing about kapalabati is that inhale. The tendency is to just sort of skip it or not fully utilize the inhale which leaves one rather short of breath at the end of the cycle.

Bhastrika breath is the “bellows breath” - a strong exhale AND a strong inhale. Like a bellows. And, like a bellows, you are fanning your internal flames. Air is pushed in and out of the lungs, generating heat within the body by vigorously working your cardiovascular system.

So why is this breath so great? What’s the big deal? The pumping action of the breath squeezes blood in and out of the digestive organs, tones the liver, spleen, stomach and pancreas, thus increasing digestive capacity. It's working the abdomen and the lungs.

How do we do this? Bring yourself to a comfortable seated position - a simple crossed legged position, kneeling, half lotus or full or even sitting on a chair. In all positions, avoid hunching the shoulders or rounding the back. If you are in a chair, sit on the edge and don’t lean against the back. Hunching and rounding compress the abdomen and inhibits the breathing motion. It is very important to keep the head and truck erect throughout the practice.

Take a long, slow, deep inhale. This ensures there is plenty of oxygen to begin with to counter exhaling more than inhaling. Remember, the exhales and inhales should be equal - attempt to coordinate the movement of the diaphram and abdominal muscles so air moves in and out like a bellows.

Begin slow. One recommendation is one breath every three seconds. There should be minimal movement of the chest and shoulders - only the abdomen. Make the breath smooth, without jerking or stopping. This breath can be quiet, or with sound. It is recommended to start with a rate of 20 breaths per minute up to 3 to 5 minutes. If you feel the need to take a deeper inhale, do so, and begin again.

Some benefits of this practice are: it clears the nasal passages, sinuses and lungs. It massages the abdominal organs. It stimulates the liver, spleen and pancreas, which then activate the intestines and it stimulates the cardiovascular system.

This is just a beginning look at pranayama with kapalabhati and bhastrika. There is more that can be done with these two practices, but it’s important to start at the foundation, the ground floor, before moving on.


I did not find a demonstration video that I liked on Bhastrika, but I did find this: B.K.S Iyengar on pranayama.


Sources: Tempering the Mettle,Michael Grady; Stroking the Fire, Michael Grady; Yoga International Publication. Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kapalabhati Breath

It has been one of those weeks where everything seems a bit off kilter - so I thought this would be a good opportunity to clarify the breath (pranyama) exercise I was attempting to convey to my Monday class - kapalabahti breathing. I told my poor students it was bhastrika...similar, yet very different.

Kapalabahti pranyama - what is it and why should we do it?

Kapalabhati is a series of rapid strong exhalations, followed by a passive inhalation. This practice requires the practitioner to develop the ability to relax the abdominals quickly and completely after each exhale, and to keep the diaphragm relaxed throughout.

This pranyama can be practiced during a regular asana session. It is recommended to do after the postures and before nadi shodhanam (alternate nostril breathing) and meditation. Kapalabhati is energizing and cleansing and it enhances the practitioners sense of energy and awareness. This is noted to be a good practice for late afternoon or after work but before the evening meal and not recommended before sleep.

Why is it cleansing? Kapalabhati actively moves metabolic wastes from the tissues and into the lungs where they are expelled. The strong exhales increase the volume of air passing through the lungs which increases the flow of blood. When metabolic wastes are decreased the bodies tissues release additional stored waste into the blood which has a cleansing effect on all tissues and organs.

Why is it strengthening? Kapalabhati encourages increased cardiovascular activity and it requires focus on the abdominals and spine. The abdominals are used in a vigorous yet controlled manner and the spine assists in keeping the head and torso strong and erect. The contraction through exhaling gives the organs a lovely massage which stimulates the digestive system and increases blood and lymph circulation - which means a healthier digestive system. And, the exercised abdominal muscles are less likely to pop out from loss of vitality. Sounds good to me!

How is this practiced?
Find a comfortable seated position - this can be crossed legged, half lotus or full lotus. Even sitting upright in a chair is acceptable. Head, neck and truck are erect with the sitbones moving down into the ground (or chair). Do not lean back into a wall, slouch or collapse through the torso.

Begin by just connecting with your breath, breathing in and out of the nose. Once comfortable and centered, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales slightly to establish long regular breathing.

At the end of an exhale, strongly contract the abdominals and force the air out through the nose. Use only the abdominal muscles - a good way to envision is to try and bring your belly button back toward your spine. This is the only part of you that moves.

Immediately inhale. Relax the abdominal muscles and allow the diaphragm to return to it’s natural position. We do not actively inhale here - this is what is known as a passive inhale.

Start this practice off slowly. Begin with 10 rounds per cycle, three cycles per session. Each cycle is separated by regular, even breathing until equilibrium is re-established. Increase as confidence and ability grows.

Make each exhale forceful with out straining. Think like a bear “woofing” it’s warning, or a deer snorting to alert others around it. Short, explosive exhales.

The rhythm of the breath should be like the ticking of a clock. It is recommended to begin practicing at a rate of one exhale per second. Increase when you feel comfortable.

Always practice pranyama on an empty stomach. If you feel any pain, are pregnant, have high blood pressure or heart disease, please forgo the exercise.

For your viewing enjoyment, I have found selected a video from YouTube: Kapalabhati Breath


Happy Breathing!

Sources: Tempering the Mettle,Michael Grady; Stroking the Fire, Michael Grady; Yoga International Publication. Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Modifications

Modifications. People seem to dislike doing them. A lot. To paraphrase Gollum, "We don't's like'em, we does. Nasty modifications." I think it is because modifications are perceived as a sign of weakness. A non-verbal confession admitting they can’t do this aspect of the pose while their neighbor can. Doing a modification when the rest of the class (or so it seems) is doing the full expression of the asana is embarrassing.

So why do we offer modifications? Why do modifications?

One, it allows the practitioner to build the pose from the ground up. All poses should start from a firmly grounded foundation, allowing you, the practitioner, to find your center - your center of balance and your breath. This allows the practitioner to build strength and flexibility over time. As David Swenson likes to say, there is always someplace to work towards. I say, don't be in such a rush to get there.

Two, injury prevention! I can’t stress this one enough. Yoga, especially the Ashtanga practice, can be intense on the joints and muscles and only the practitioner knows their body best. Wonky knee(s)? Modify the pose to prevent over-extension or aggravation. Carpel tunnel issues in the wrists? Modify to prevent strain on an already sensitive spot. Rotator cuff problems? Go easy on that shoulder. There are many places to work from and still be able to progress in the practice.

Three, recovery from injury, surgery or pregnancy. The body simply isn’t capable of jumping right back into a practice after an injury, surgery or pregnancy. It needs time to recover and to rebuild. By returning to the foundations for the pose, the practitioner can safely work their way back. As the body re-learns the muscle memory and regains strength, the practitioner will see their practice grow. Granted, this depends on what your injury was. The practitioner might *not* return to the full level they were working on pre-injury, but by coming back to the foundation and working from there you will have a safer and more fulfilling practice.

Four, it allows the practitioner to build strength over time. I lead a beginning/intermediate Ashtanga class with a wide variety of students from all walks of life. Modifications are a huge part of this class and I see the desire to be at a higher level, but their bodies just don’t respond yet. Frustration sets in, because “they can’t do that”. It. Takes. Time. Look at how far you've come in the practice, then look at where you want to go and then, ask yourself, how do I get there? Patience is a must and it all comes back to number one: build the pose from the ground up.

And sometimes, the practitioner just has to admit to themselves that they will not be able to do X, Y, Z pose because of previous injury, short arms, excessively tight hamstrings, whatever. However, this does not mean they should abandon all hope and stop practicing right then and there. Practicing yoga means the practitioner understands that this is where their body is and this is where they need to practice.

Modification’s aren’t about what "can’t" be done, but are an acknowledgment that you, the practitioner, know where you need to work to move to where you would like to be. It is an acknowledgment that you can set your ego aside and practice each pose precisely where you need to be that day. When the instructor comes around and suggests you move into a lower level, it is because they see your body from the outside and can see that perhaps today, this is not the place for you to be working. Too much potential for injury.

However, next week...is a different week.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Still Slowing Down

It appears that I'm not the only one with thoughts of slowing down. The following is an article by the co-director of Yoga North Studio where I am fortunate to be able to teach and study. Deborah writes so beautifully that I had to share.

(Picture taken at Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV)


"On a recent visit to a friend's home, I was entertained with her 16 month old son. He was quite pleased with himself, seemingly aware that his vocabulary and motor skills were increasing daily. He would run to a toy, pick it up briefly, and then drop it, quickly proclaiming "GO!" and off he ran to the next thing, repeating the process with a new toy. The morning was a delightful flurry of "Go", "Go", "Go", as he ran from one toy to another.

I couldn't help but think that what was so charming on this 16 month old, becomes deadly to those of us whose lives look like a similar flurry of "Go". It's almost as if we wake up in the morning and jump out of bed with thoughts of "Go, Go, Go" replaying themselves in our mind as we rush from one activity to the next, creating a jagged trail of activities. In this process we wreak havoc on our nervous systems, create scatteredness and lack of focus in our minds, and rob ourselves of any chance at real joy and delight.

Contrast this image with the breath. The breath is the glue that holds our body, mind, and spirit intact while we have this experience of human life. It is a truism in Yogic thought that if you know the breath, you know everything. On a less philosophical side, the well-known Dr. Weil has said that if he had to limit all of his advice to one thing, it would be to learn to breathe well.

A breath which facilitates a clear, healthy mind and a vital, healthy body is deep, smooth, slow, without jerkiness, without pause, and quiet. If the breath is shallow, jerky, or chaotic, it is a sign that we are out of integrity with ourselves. Somehow we are engaged in our "going" in a way that is harmful to our well-"being".

The breath is an amazing tool for beginning to bring our lives into integrity. By paying attention to the breath, we can notice when we are pushing ourselves too much. By consciously practicing a breath that is slower, deeper, smoother, without jerks or pauses, we can begin to impact our health and the well-being of our lives.

Can you imagine if the breath led our movements, rather than the command of "go"? Can you imagine what a life lived a little slower and deeper, without jerkiness might look like? The next time you begin to rush off to another thing, check in with your breath first. Let the breath guide you into a life lived in more integrity with your own body, mind, and spirit."

--Deborah Adele, Duluth News Tribune, June 1st, 2008

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Flow and Alignment

I come from a studio that is steeped in a strong tradition of alignment that focuses on moving into each pose with intent and awareness, assessing where the breath is, while internally adjusting this or that. Safety and appropriate level of practice as the student moves through the postures is stressed. However, I practice a tradition that emphasizes moving, following each breath, holding the posture for 5 breaths (or less if I’m doing vinyasa) and moving on.



In the workshops I’ve attended on the Ashtanga tradition, alignment is infrequently addressed. David Swenson is the only instructor I’ve attended that has even touched on it during a session. I have observed in other instructors that the focus is on the movement, the breath, bandha’s, and drishti and alignment is secondary - that alignment will come as the body gains flexibility.

So how as a student, a practitioner, and an instructor do I reconcile these two aspects? One tradition wants methodical alignment, one tradition wants meditative movement. Is there place for both? I think so, and in doing so, I think I have a stronger, safer practice because of it.

I believe I’ve mentioned before, that in the most traditional form of Ashtanga you would do only the Ashtanga practice under the guidance of an instructor and at home. The instructor monitors the student and when the instructor feels a pose or series of poses has been mastered to their satisfaction, the student is allowed to progress in the sequence. The individual would not be allowed to start Second Series until several key poses in Primary Series have been mastered.

In an Iyengar class, poses are taught from the ground up (foundation), emphasizing internal and external alignment and it may very well take half an hour or an hour to work through a pose. Poses are also held longer. I have heard, for example, in a traditional Iyengar class that a person is not allowed to do Salamba Sirasana (supported headstand) until they can keep their head off the floor enough to slip a piece of paper underneath. A traditional Hatha class is similar, focusing on individual poses that may target an area for the session (forward folds or hips for example).

I enjoy both of these forms and have determined there is place for both. When I lead an Ashtanga or Vinyasa class, I level the poses to encourage people to move into a place that is appropriate for them (or me, if I’m doing the sequence on my own). It’s the old adage here: you crawl before you walk, walk before you run, etc. How I approach poses is: what do I need to do to safely get from Point A (where I am working) to Point B (where I want to be).

I enjoy working outside of the Ashtanga sequence and I encourage others to do so as well: a Hatha or Ieyngar class focuses on the poses in such a way as to allow the body to gradually learn where it needs to go while utilizing and exploring a wide variety of poses not found in the Primary Series. This translates into a safe, strong, practice that builds confidence. A Vinyasa class helps with the breath and stamina necessary to move through an Ashtanga sequence, which also helps build strength and confidence.



So yes, I believe there is place for multipule traditions. Go, enjoy, and see what happens with your practice.

Pictures are from lovetoknow.com >> yoga poses

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stop and Smell the Flowers - The Practice of Slowing Down



I was contemplating what I wanted to do for this weeks post, when inspiration came to me from an unlikely place: Lolly-knitting Around

When was the last time you slowed down? Have you noticed how much we rush from place to place? We buzz from work to home to the kids soccer practice to the grocery store to the cabin to the meeting to the kids piano practice to the luncheon to the relatives to Target to walk the dog to...

STOP! Take a BREATH! Take two! In fact! Take several!

One aspect of yoga is the state of slowing the mind down, but the question arises, how can we slow the mind down if the body is running on automatic? Personally, I think the two go hand in hand.

Point of observation: I spent a lovely weekend up in Grand Marais doing a bit of hiking and hanging out. Nothing encourages hanging out more than when you are camping and it is 52* and raining. Thankfully, we were in a camper. One has a cuppa hot tea and perhaps another, you play some cards, contemplate the fog, read a book, let the dogs out to piddle and have another ‘cuppa. Life. Slows. Down. However, when I pulled into the drive way Monday evening, I found myself winding back up again: everything had to be unloaded, the laundry done, the dryer’s busted, quick run the vacuum around, unpack the hiking bags and suitcase, gotta check e-mail, put dishes away. How do we manage to lose that calmness so quickly?

For those of us to practice the Ashtanga series or a Vinyasa flow, it seems almost contradictory to try and slow the mind down when we are moving and flowing from asana to asana, but that is what the Ashtanga practice is in part designed for. Recall the purpose of the ujjayi breath: a controlled breath that acts as a focus for the mind...to calm the mind down. A set sequence where we are focusing on the pose we are in for 5 breaths.

In many yogic traditions, asana is done to help calm the body before a meditation practice. For if the body is calm, then the mind can focus on internal aspects rather than that foot falling asleep.

There are other ways to slow down: one of my favorite is on a beautiful afternoon, after I’ve come home and let the dogs out, I just sit on my front steps and watch the birds in the yard. Gardening is another favorite (specifically, pulling weeds or cultivating). You just can’t hurry when you are gardening. Recently I’ve taught myself how to knit. It’s amazing how calming this simple activity can be - I feel productive, yet my breath slows, I’m watching my stitches as they grow into the project, my mind is counting the pattern...and I’m suddenly aware that an hour has gone by and I am content to sit for another hour. It’s a beautiful place to be.



I’m not saying I’ve mastered slowing down by any means, but I’ve come a long way. What ways have you found to slow down?

“Yoga is the cessation of the fluxuation of the mind”. Pantanjali

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Focus Pose - Suyra Namaskar B

In picking the next focus pose, I had a bit of a conundrum - if I pick a single pose as part of Suyra Namaksar B as I've been doing - I would be repeating it in again in just a few short weeks. Padangusthasana (forward folding), Utkatasana (Chair) Virabhandrasana I and II (Warriors) all show up again in the standing sequence. I decided to wait to break down those asanas and touch on Surya Namaskar B as a whole sequence at this time.

Suyra Namaskar B is where the body really starts to generate some heat and is often the most strenous part of the series for a student. Depending on what tradition of the Ashtanga practice is being taught or the time limit of the class, Suyra Namaskar B will be repeated 3 times or 5 times.

The important thing is to follow the breath, making each movement match the inhale or exhale - full, smooth and without strain. At the end, I've included a couple modifications if you are initially finding moving through this rather strenuous.

There is no break between Surya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B. When finished with the first, one moves right into the next.

Starting from Tadasana;



Inhale - reach down, touch the floor with your finger tips then sweep the arms overhead to come into Utkatasana (chair pose). Alternately, one can just "sit" into chair as they bring the arms overhead. There are two mind sets on how to move into this first chair - they are both correct. Either variation, Drishti is straight ahead or up at the thumbs. Often it is a matter of what is more comfortable for the students neck.

Exhale - come into a Forward Fold THEN straighten the legs. No matter if your hands are on the knees, shins, ankles or floor, the back remains long and shoulders blades are broad. Try not to round the shoulders toward the ears. A little bend in the knees always acceptable. Drishti - nose.


Inhale - all levels: look up toward the horizon. IF your hands touch the floor, you can either come up to the finger tips or palms can remain on the floor. Drishti - horizon.


Exhale - Walk, lunge or jump back to a plank position, elbows remain by ribcage and lower yourself to the floor (called "Chataranga"). Level 1: come into plank, bring knees to floor and lower down. Level 2: straight legs come all the way to the floor. Level 3: straight legs, lowering to 1" from the floor. Drishti- nose/floor.

Remember ! While in plank, the wrists must remain below the shoulders* and the feet flexed and strong. Have the feet hip distance apart so as one moves into Ardo Muka Savasana the feet are in place and the foundation remains solid. In all levels, the abdomen is gently engaged to support the lower back.


Inhale - Move into Cobra or Up-Dog position. This is a small backbend - keep the ribcage moving forward through the arms, the sternum is lifting upward, shoulders are opening and broad, shoulder blades moving down the spine. This motion applies if you are in a cobra position (Level 1) or a full up-dog (Level 3). Drishti - nose or ceiling.

Exhale - lift up through the hips. Press the thighs toward the back of the room. Keep the hips lifting. Hands are pressing fully and firmly into the mat. Heels are sinking toward the floor. It’s okay if they don’t touch, but don’t stand on your tippy-toes. Remember! DO NOT MOVE THE HANDS AND FEET. I cannot stress this enough. The hands and feet are our foundation, which was set when we moved into plank position. This foundation, if set correctly, gives us the correct alignment for the entire salutation.


Inhale - Right foot comes to the right hand. Left foot presses completely into the mat. Envision the space between your pinkie toe and your heel anchoring you into your mat. Further inhaling, your arms sweep forward and up, palms touch, hips moving forward. We do not hold this pose...

Exhale - sweep the arms back down and plant the hands on the map. Step the right foot back into a plank plank position(chataranga) as reviewed above. One exhale should bring you from Warrior I down to the floor where on your next...

Inhale - Move into Cobra or Up-Dog position.

Exhale - lift up through the hips, rolling over the toes or flipping the feet, to move into Down Dog. We do not hold this pose...

Inhale - Left foot comes to the left hand. Right foot presses completely into the mat. Envision the space between your pinkie toe and your heel anchoring you into your mat. Further inhaling, your arms sweep forward and up, palms touch, hips moving forward. We do not hold this pose...

Exhale - sweep the arms back down and plant the hands on the map. Step the right foot back into a plank plank position(chataranga) as reviewed above. One exhale should bring you from Warrior I down to the floor where on your next...

Inhale - Move into Cobra or Up-Dog position.

Exhale - lift up through the hips, rolling over the toes or flipping the feet, to move into Down Dog. HOLD FOR 5 BREATHS. Drishti - toes, knees or belly button.

Inhale- LOOK up between the hands, bend the knees and walk, lunge or jump (float) the feet forward. The feet DO NOT need to be in a straight line with the hands when they land. Lengthen the spine as the gaze continues toward the horizon.

Exhale- come into your Forward Fold. Drishti - nose.

Inhale- sweep the arms alongside the body and overhead as the sitbones drop down into chair position.

Exhale- Straighten the legs, sweeping the arms actively along side the body to return to Tadasana.



This is where the body really starts to generate heat and is often the most strenuous part of the series in my opinion. Depending on what tradition of the Ashtanga practice is being taught or the time limit of the class, Suyra Namaskar B will be repeated 3 times or 5 times.

Some suggested modifications:
If you are just starting out, you can move into half dog when you come to the down dog for 5 breaths. This is a great place to re-connect with the breath and to take out some of the "aerobic" aspect of the sequence.

A beginning student can also take a high lunge rather than coming all the way up into Warrior I. This is especially true if bringing the leg fully forward is an awkward motion at this time.

If you are feeling short of breath, remain in Tadasana for one cycle following the breath and envisioning each movement. Join in on the next set.

I was hoping to start taking my own pictures now that the snow is gone, but the weather didn't cooperate this week. All pictures are from pose finder feature at Yoga Journal.com.