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)