Tag Archives: freedom

Five Spring Clean Decluttering Tips

photo (86) (1)1. Start small.

If Decluttering seems overwhelming start small..  Pick one drawer, on basket, one pile, or one room.  Break it down to something that is achievable.  Even a small corner of opened space will create new energy in your home and your life.

2.  Look for paper clutter.

Paper clutter comes in many forms.  Junk mail, catalogs, newspapers, magazines, even books.  Be ruthless with the paper clutter.  Ask yourself if that piece of mail is necessary and if it is file it away in an appropriate place. Go through your filing system quarterly or at least yearly to eliminate things that no longer need to be saved.  Can you archive anything online instead? Books you don’t read?  Donate them to your library.

3.  Give away gifts you don’t want

This is a tough one for people.  Almost everyone has been given gifts that they don’t want or need.  Out of guilt we hold on to them.  That guilt can way us down tremendously.  Give yourself the permission to let go of old gifts.  Give them away to someone else.  Shed the guilt.  You won’t hurt your aunt’s feelings.  And if you do, she will get over it.

4.  Ask yourself, “Is it sacred to me?”

One point of point decluttering is to only have things around you that you find meaningful and sacred.  By eliminating the unnecessary and the never used, you can reveal the things that do hold importance to you.  And most of them won’t be things. Clear out to create a sacred space.

5.  Let go of “just in case”

Keeping things for just in case scenarios is very tempting. We have the fear that the minute we get rid of something will be the minute we need that thing.  In actuality this is rarely ever the case. Let it go and make space for the new.  Don’t reinforce to yourself that there is a lack or scarcity in the world that you need to be prepared for.  Instead, grow your social connections, your family and friend time.  These are the resources that will really matter.

How Making Things Easier Has Made Life Harder

  “Stira Sukham Asanam”.  The pose is steady and comfortable. These few words from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have been a large influencing factor in how yoga asana is experienced.  As a student and as a teacher we seek to find the balance of effort and ease in a pose, the balance of strength and softness.  Asana specifically means the seat, or seated postures, so the asanas as a whole can be thought of as a way to prepare for sitting in meditation.  I liked the way one teacher explained asana as to, “sit in the seat of the self”.

Being able to sit comfortably for meditation requires a certain steadiness in the body and openness in the hips.  When the body can sit in this way the spine naturally aligns and the ability to breathe deeply is enhanced.  The head gets to rest comfortably over the neck and spine.  The mind can feel clear and alive.

But for all of our efforts in the west to make sitting in chairs comfortable, we have totally lost the plot.  We haven’t made sitting comfortable, we have weakened the very muscles needed to support the body in order to sit.  We have stiffened the muscles and joints.  And thanks to computers (which I happen to be sitting in front of as I type), our heads are  craning forward and the neck is uncomfortable, the shoulders sloping, the chest collapsing.  ouch!

The "easy chair"

The easier we make sitting, the harder it actually becomes.

I think this phenomenon translates into many areas.  I recently read a great book called, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.  He investigates the ultra runners who can run 100 mile races over trails and mountains.  His interest began with a simple question, “why does my foot hurt?”  he was experiencing, like so many people, countless injuries from running.  His intrigue led him to find tribes of people who run with hardly any injuries, and hardly any shoes.

His argument, which is highly compelling, is that running injuries began with the invention of the running shoe in the 70’s (thank you, Nike).  The over cushioned heel allows for a heel strike as you run, a completely new concept for running. Before that, the natural way to run would be a mid to forefoot strike.

Nike Shox Turmoil

If the name doesn’t just say it all.  This is the  over cushioned super heel of the Nike running shoe. It quite possibly spurned a whole generation of running injuries by teaching us all to heel strike. Not only that but these shoes weaken the muscles and the structures of the foot so that over time your foot has lost the ability to do what it was designed to do.  Run.

Stira Sukham Asanam.

The pose is firm and comfortable.  Not just comfortable.  A feeling of ease comes from strength and foundation.  It doesn’t really work the other way around.

When we experience discomfort we strengthen and grow.  That is how the body works.  We have to challenge the muscles, tissues, and bones to some extent to build their strength.  The mind has to be challenged to stay sharp as we age.

This was going around facebook earlier in the week and it really rings true:

I will leave you with a video for fun.  Cell phones: The prime example of making life “easier” gone wrong. Communication at your fingertips…blessing or curse?

Namaste!

Intentions are Set: Helping Students Learn to Fly

It has taken me a little while to set some 2012 resolutions.  But then it struck me in my first week back teaching.  I want to help my students learn to fly, at least in the yoga sense.

Why?  Because it feels so good.  It is empowering when you start to do things you didn’t know how to do or even more, didn’t think you could.

I want to help people get that up lifted feeling.

A dash of physics, a little practice (ok, a lot of practice), and the ability to pick yourself up when you fall.

Need a little inspiration?  Check out this Equinox video of LA yogini, Briohny Smyth.  Holy moly, I hope you like underwear.

“Yoga is the resolution of opposition” -Maty Ezraty

Opposition including Roots and Rebounds Yoga is made up of opposition. To lengthen something you must pull it in two directions. In our asanas we focus on rooting down into the floor through our hands and feet and then rebounding away in the other direction creating length and strength. There is also an opposing muscular action in the arms during arm balancing poses. We look for muscular counter actions to stabilize us and give us a locked in feeling. While the upper arms externally rotate away from the ears the forearms are rolling inwards. This helps give us a strong downdog and handstand. Another opposite is the balance of apana and prana in the body. Apana is a downward energy and prana is an upward energy. We must have these in equal measure to feel both grounded and light.

Bone stacking When we use bone stacking in our favor, the muscles don’t have to do all the work. We can be supported by the alignment of our bones and joints. In some of our arm balances we will look at this bone stacking as a fulcrum whereby we look to shift our center of mass.

Shifting your center of mass The center of mass is somewhere around your hips and pelvis. In all the arm balances, inversions, and jumping we are really working with shifting this center of mass (your hips, pelvis, ‘tail’), until we find a point of balance. This leads me to…

Dude where’s my core?Yes, the ever elusive core. The “core” consists of deep abdominal muscles (the transverse abdominals), the obliques (the sides of waist), rectus abdominals (your 6 pack abs), and the pelvic floor. If we think of the core not only as our midsection but also the trunk of the body than we can include muscle groups here like the lats, traps, serratus anterior and so on. The core is our power center. If we use opposition, roots and rebounds, stack the bones, and shift the center of mass, then our last stabilizing factor for flight is to use the core. In yoga this is often called using the bandhas (inner body locks), engaging the deep abdominals in the low belly and lifting the pelvic floor. These bandhas also play a role in creating prana in the body, that upward flow of energy. All of these things lead to lift-off.

“Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory” – Pattabhi Jois

Let it Go: Why Savasana is So Hard, and Steve Jobs was So Right

Photo Courtesy Rene Carrillo

Dead body pose. Corpse pose.  Savasana.

For some of us this seems to come so easy.  Lie there and be still.  Relax.  Release.  Give over to the moment. Ahh

But for so many, this pose is hard. I don’t want to close my eyes.  Why Am I laying here?  This is a waste of time.  My face itches.  I am hungry.  Are my shoulders in the right place? I wish the teacher would stop talking.  I’m bored.

We resist change and transformation because something has to die in order to give birth to the new.  We must ‘die’ in the moment of savasana to let the new being take shape. I think the fear is that if I let go of what I think I am, what I think I know, then who am I?

Letting go is one of the lessons that we get from death.  We realize that we actually have so little control after all.  Not one person in the history of the world has escaped it yet, and none of us ever will.  So how does one take this lesson of dead body pose and turn it into something less morbid and depressing?

I recently re-watched Steve jobs’ Stanford speech, posted through TED on “How to live before you die”.  Well, he certainly did. Watch the video below for his full speech, even more prophetic now he has passed. In a nutshell:  Trust your gut.  Follow your heart.  Be led off the well worn path…and trust that the dots will connect in the future. Never settle, and do what you love.  Lastly, ask yourself each day, “if today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And if the answer is no too many days in a row,  you have to change what you are doing.

When you live with the knowledge of your own death,  you have nothing to lose.

So die to the moment.  Give yourself to savasana.  Let go of what does not serve you.  And wake up to the new you, the best you every day.

I was cycling home today and I saw a girl on a bike nearly run over an older couple.  She yelled at them because she had a green light and they were in the road when they shouldn’t be.  The man told her she was going too fast.  And she got angry with them. Here is a perfect example of where needing to be right is just so wrong.  When did our humanity become prostrate to being right? Let it go.

Let it go. Let something die in order for something else to take shape. Give yourself the five minutes you get in savasana. And live before you die.

Make it or Break it: A Look at Injury and Yoga

Just about 10 days ago now I broke my big toe by dropping the patio umbrella stand on my foot.  This all happened just an hour after failing my UK driving test.  Now sometimes you have to really look for the lesson in it all.  But this occasion was starting to feel like a life lesson practical joke.  And in fact, I found myself transitioned from crying over my failed driving test (yes, I am 30 and have had a US license for 14 years) to laughing like a mad person holding a foot wrapped in a  reddening tea towel. In such a short span I went from my bustling little life, to one immobilized.

“Slow down already and get back in the moment”. This was the obvious lesson I was gleaning from the events.  I couldn’t drive, cycle, walk, run, anything!  I could just barely hobble to the bus after a week.  And healing can be an exhausting experience!  My body seemed to be sending all it’s life force to my foot to gently “gum” the bones back together as the doctor claimed would happen.

Another lesson, “Don’t take your healthy, fit body for granted”. Yoga with a broken toe is difficult.  And I know there are far worse injuries and ailments to have. Luckily I love to be upside down and could practice headstand for as long as I wanted, as the toe was being elevated. “Look for what you can do, not what you can’t”.  And then I got over zealous and started kicking up to handstand while trying to keep my foot protected.  And deep down I knew I was missing the point.  This wasn’t taking it easy, this wasn’t resting, this wasn’t letting my body repair.  This was more madness!

Lastly, “Yoga isn’t the postures”.  I love the postures and I love the feeling of freedom and strength and joy I get from sweating, and backbending, and handstanding. But that isn’t it.  It can’t be it.  Because that is temporal.  I think yoga has to be something more eternal.  It has to be the thing, the spirit, the essence, the breath.  The body will always come and go, wax and wane, with injury, illness, age and so on.  The yoga is the bit of joy that can swell the heart and be shared.  And injury can be our window to take a closer look at what yoga is really about…

so be kind to yourself, kind to others, and steer clear of patio furniture.

See You Later Twenties

Snail

Today is the last day of my twenties.  I am assured that the thirties, aside from hangovers, are much improved.  When I started blogging a couple of years ago it was actually under the title of “Quarterlife Crunch”.  As it payed homage to the journeys of a post-college 20 something in the otties (egads!).  I changed it pretty quickly to my Down Dog Blog, once I realized that my life did in fact have more focus than I thought.

Entering a new decade of life I am taking stock of the last one.  As a constant declutterer I am often all too eager to chuck it out and move on.  I think an important part of decluttering is actually taking a look at what we are letting go of . What we leave behind is as important as what we take with us.  And in one sense I suppose that what we leave behind is the legacy, the impact, the imprint.  But I really mean what we shed and let go of. The world is to be embraced. We can’t hide from the world. But as we let go of what does not serve us the world become s a truer reflection of its best self, because ultimately it is a reflection of us.

I accidentally stepped on a snail the other day and heard the devastating crunch of its shell body.  Peter assured me it would live on as a slug.  I feel slightly bad for changing the course of the life of a snail into that of a slug.  It was unintentional, but it had an impact non the less.  Isn’t that just the way it goes?  All these years I have been impacting people and things in ways I probably don’t even perceive or think about.

As I leave my twenties, I am leaving behind some self-editing, self-judgement, and self-restraint.  But somehow seeking to balance that out with a refined perception of the world, so I can have more consistently thoughtful behavior.  I have an impact, for better or worse, as each one of us does, whether we choose to accept it or not. So I am left thinking today, as I sign off to my twenties…

“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”

                                                                                                                                                             – Mary Oliver

Tutorial on Yoga’s Crow (Bakasana) and Crane

Crow is one of my favorite poses.   This pose is a foundational arm balance pose.  When you get this one, many other arm balances and even handstand start to fall in to place.

Just below is an absolutely awesome video on the physics of crow and crane pose. This video does a good job of talking about the center of mass and the bone stacking of the forearms (elbows over wrists).  Other things to keep in mind are:

Hands shoulder distance apart, fingers spread and the space between the index and middle finger aims forward.

Tailbone scoops under and there is a round to the spine.

If the kness are on the outside of the arms they need to squeeze in toward the the triceps and the arms need to press out toward the legs as well.  (opposition)

Don’t forget your bandhas!

The video below, I shot a few months ago after my blog post “yoga home practice makes progress”.  It is a  step in the goal I had set for myself, to do a handstand press, the crow to handstand transition. When coming into handstand from crow you need to find the crane position.

Crane Preparation

In crane, the arms straighten.  In order to achieve this:

Take the hips higher.

Place the knees into the armpits.

Hands as they are in crow.

Think bandhas and center of mass.

Almost there with the handstand press, hope to post a video shortly!

Remember to have fun!

Friday Morning Meditation

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast? said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s the same thing,” he said.

-The Tao of Pooh

Photo courtesy Rene Carrillo

Breakfast has become my favorite time.  I sit in our conservatory looking in the back garden at the birds and the neighbor cats that wander through our cat trails. I drink a coffee that was made from a pod and eat a croissant covered in butter.  The day hasn’t really started at this point and I resist the urge to open my computer for as a long as I possibly can.  Because once I open it I can’t get back to this first moment of the day again.  The morning is a fresh, unspoiled place to just sit, meditate, or think of nothing, and to savour the first cup of coffee.

What could possibly happen in the course of the rest day that could be better than this time?  I suppose everything, and nothing.  It is this time in the present moment that the birds are enough, the sky is enough, the sunshine is enough, my croissant is enough.  The moment is complete.  And for the rest of the day there might be glimmers of this, but mostly I will be reaching, working, planning, plotting, thinking, grasping, accomplishing, relaxing, and so on.  But this morning, the completeness seems to linger.

Making Room For Change

Rut? Or water finding its way via the path of least resistance?

I noticed recently my own resistance to change.  I always thought of myself as a person who embraced change.  I like new scenery, new adventures, and non-traditional employment.  I also noticed, that all new things, if they remain in our lives long enough become habitual, systematized, and squashed into place. What was once new and free to expand can become something that needs to be understood, labeled, and filed away. There are new things flowing into our lives all the time, we need only open our eyes to them.  These new things can be an expansion of our truest nature and they can also be a diversion from that path.  How do we open ourselves to expansion and still protect ourselves from the scary trek down the wrong path, or almost worse, getting ourselves stuck in a rut?

1. We don’t get to keep what we have by squeezing it more tightly.  We only risk squashing the very spirit of what made it beautiful in the first place. If you love it let it go?  Perhaps this is true for many things:  Sports, hobbies, jobs, people, animals, projects, businesses, clothes…Is any of it really ours to have anyways?  We constantly can feel the pains of loss when we have squeezed something very tightly and seen it slip away.  When we love something we can let it grow, and we can only do this by knowing that it is not ours to keep anyways.  It is a gift, or a moment, or something that is temporarily in our care. And in this way, life is beautiful, and not one moment to be taken for granted.

2.  Life is filled with signposts.  At one point I read Deepak Chopra’s book on Synchrodestiny.  It has to do with the connectedness of things and beings.  The idea is that the universe communicates to us via coincidences and synchronicity.  When we start to look for the coincidences we see even more of them and they are the illuminations along life’s path.  Seek and ye shall find.  Then your own creative process in life happens to be a joint project between you and universal energy.  Can’t say I dislike the idea. Here is a really nice post on synchronicity and creativity from KCThreads.

3.  Don’t worry.  Your ‘path’ always has a way of finding you.  Things seek the path of least resistence. Occam’s razor:  The simplest answer is usually the correct answer (my over simplified definition of course).  A rut is only a rut if you sit there and get stuck in it.  Otherwise it is just some water molecules’ path of least resistance.

We have to grow, and let go, and look for signs to make room for change in our lives.

Yoga doesn’t hurt either.