Tag Archives: striving

Yoga Home Practice Makes Progress: Press Handstand

In February of this year I posted a blog about having a yoga home practice.  I had made a yoga corner in my house, which is still relatively uncluttered.  I set off to working on things I love.  Well, that mostly entailed handstands.  I set the goal back in February to be able to do a press handstand.  Below are the videos of my progress.

I was thinking about what the changes were in order to be able to facilitate press handstands.  I just read this great blog post by YogaDork on the serratus anterior in chatturanga.  Find the whole article here.  The serratus anterior muscle attaches the ribs and and the scapula.  When you engage this muscle you can keep the shoulder blades from winging up or out.  You can actually feel a wrapping sensation around the sides of the ribs and the strength in the shoulder girdle.  When you couple this with the triceps wrapping out around the upper arms you get a a very stable foundation.  Kick in the deep inner core muscles and you are away.

Also, if you don’t have one already, try the Yogitoes uStrap.  This strap has a little  bit of stretch but it gives enough support that you can find the engagement of the serratus and triceps.  Really useful little tool. With its help I learned the crow to handstand transition, which I think is a useful first step for pressing to handstand.

I think the key to these kinds of poses is practice, practice, practice and a bit of faith.  You can’t necessarily predict the point where you will be able to go from not being able to do something to actually doing it.  Massive change is often the result of many little micro changes that you hardly even perceive, spread out over time.  I pressed my hands into the floor quite a lot to not go anywhere. Earlier in the year I blogged the growth of an amaryllis plant.  I recounted that there were weeks of staring at dirt before anything happened.  Then there were weeks of plant growth before a spectacular bloom.

Get to know your serratus anterior, and have some fun!

See You Later Twenties


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

Being Content with Burning Desire: Santosha and Tapas in Life

Photo courtesy Rene Carrillo

Lately I have been coming back to my study of yoga to fuel my yoga teaching with something more than asana and ujjayi (to this day I still can’t spell this word).  I am incorporating more varied types of pranayama to see their varied effects.  I am also interjecting the thoughts of the Yamas and Niyamas into class to see how they mingle through the flow. I admit that it does sound like I am doing a bit of an experiment.  But really, I think large concepts, or even simple ones,  are best to be offered for contemplation rather than preached.

This week, I have been ruminating on santosha and tapas.  These are two practices to be observed according to Patanjali’s eight-fold path.  Check out a cool depiction of it here by Alison Hinks.  Santosha, simply put, is contentment.  It is the non-striving, non-pushing, non-pulling, “it is what it is”- ness.  It is living with what you have, finding the simple things pleasurable, loving the one your with mentality.  Not always easy, but I can see the freedom in it.

Tapas, on the other hand, translates to “heat”.  It is the fire that burns inside each one of us.  It is the higher purpose, the spiritual desire, the deep zeal and zest we have for life, for yoga, for making the world and ourselves better.  It is the feeling of alive-ness.

Santosha…tapas.  Tapas…santosha.

I think for my entire adult life I have been swinging from one branch of this tree to another.  In western culture we are raised to desire and acquire.  And whether through nature or nurture, I have deep longings  and things that make me come alive, just like most of us.  I also find it ever so liberating to take the given situation and be content with it.  Not just accept it but genuinely find some simple joy in it.  To be content means your are in the present moment, neither looking forward nor back, and that is in fact the only moment in which anything actually happens. It is the here and now.

Perhaps it is impossible to achieve our desires without being contentedly lost in the present moment. The best athletes and artists are in “the zone” during peak performance.  And we all stand in amazement.  Their zone, their flow, is the present moment.  It is really being in it, so much so that time falls away, breath becomes deep and smooth, and the heart beats to a new rhythm.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about this phenomenon in his book, “Blink”.

The thing that makes you come alive will be the vehicle for contentment, not because it leads you to your destination but because it allows you to be lost in the present moment, and one experiences content in the present.  Conversely, being content, being present, will allow you to passionately create, work, live, and breathe.  And in this way I think these two ideas, santosha and tapas, are a positive feedback loop.

As for yoga…Iyengar has a lovely quote, “yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.” Yoga stokes the fire, and it also teaches us to sit, to find the comfortable seat in any situation.

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.

Yoga Home Practice Makes Progress

Thanks to my Yogi Toes “uStrap”, I managed to get from crow to handstand.  I had tried this transition previously and found it hard…nay, impossible.  But some self practice paid off today.  I am wondering what other things I can use this little strap for.  I think the gentle support it offers helps the shoulder girdle stay stable. I think this transition will help me with my aforementioned home practice goal of pressing from forward bend to pike handstand.  Right now, when I press into the floor not much happens, just like the first time I tried the crow to handstand transition..

Cool Tool

Needless to say, I am really enjoying my home practice, self practice, and time to play!  Setting challenges and goals has been a roller coaster of expectation meeting reality.  And I am taking the ride…

Deep Stretch

My yoga class today promised me a deep stretch.  Why on earth does anyone need a deep stretch?  For some reason I am completely drawn to treating my body like saltwater taffy, working it into longer and longer pieces.  Is this compulsion normal?  You can relax into a stretch or you can pull yourself into a stretch with your arms pulling and your scapula wrapping the outside of your back.  You can guess of which I have done more.
I have a certain relationship with my hip flexors and my hamstrings.  Some days the relationship is: I hate them and they must be beaten into submission.  Well, that’s most days.  I long to do splits and to sit in king-pigeon pose with my head resting on my foot, a big yogic smile stretching across my face as God showers sun beams down upon me.  If I could just stretch more, if I could just stretch harder, I could…
I could what?
Unlock the hidden mysteries of my hips?  I think actually Shakira is right, hips don’t lie.  Well hers definitely don’t.  They can “not lie” to you in just about any language too.  But mine don’t lie in other ways.  Mine seem to be holding 28 years of unclaimed emotions.  Spending a yoga class “opening” my hips is just about the biggest tension reliever I can think of.  But doing yoga certainly isn’t the only way to accomplish that.  There are other obvious ways like…riding a horse?  As my Psoas gets worked so does my stress and my emotional sensitivity.  In fact all sorts of emotions can bubble up to the surface.
The result is: I am forced to deal.  Deal with what exactly?  The discomfort.  I have to quite literally sit on my discomfort.  I have to just sit there and be ok with it.  Sit there and struggle with it.  Sit there and sweat over it.  Sit there and be pissed off about it.  Sit there and forget about it.  Asana is the physical practice.  It is to “sit in the seat of the self”.  And that seat isn’t always comfortable but I sit there.  And at the very least I am being with myself, in an honest way.
I can stretch by pulling and I can stretch by just sitting.  The activity of sitting into an uncomfortable pose is actually more intense than the activity of pulling and straining into a pose.  The rest of my life seems to be a tender balance of being able to sit with the uncomfortable bits and being able to pull myself out of them.
So when do you sit and when do you pull?  Sometimes we are ebbing and sometimes we are flowing.  And other times we just want to grab a branch and pull ourselves out of the river for while, have a siesta on the shore, and get swept up a bit later.

Sit and Watch the World go By

Who sits and watches the world go by? It is the smoker at the café. It is the job seeker at her laptop. It is the man who has retired, having worked too hard all his life, slightly broken now. Watching the world is what you do when you stop feeling like you need to be somewhere else. Perhaps it happens in fleeting moments. Perhaps it comes as one day in many. But if you have never stopped to watch the world go by you live in a constant state of reaching. And reaching implies that you have not attained. And if you have not attained then perhaps you live in a constant state of discontentment. What happens if you accept that there is nothing to attain? Do you stop endeavoring?

There is a new wrinkle on my forehead, a crease that marks one long line of worry. You cannot get rid of those lines with creams containing retinol. The only thing to do is release the furrow in ones brow. The tension must be let go of. I find myself rubbing my crease to encourage my brow to relax. I find myself breathing a little more slowly so not to get anxious. I find myself releasing the need to attain something that I can’t even quite define, but that I know keeps me up at night. But I can’t release it.

Once I think I have let go, I rediscover the need to strive again, to reach, to attain, to achieve, to be something more by definition. The crease on my forehead is still there. Maybe I will buy the retinol cream. But it is not the wrinkle, it is the cause of the wrinkle. And thinking about my wrinkle makes it worse. It feeds it, giving it power.

Return to being a Zen cow. Master the art of non-attachment. Take more yoga classes. Start to become obsessed with the new muscles in my shoulders. That looks nice. I will go more. This is not non-attachment. This is not being unlinked to the result. This is not being in the moment. This is not anything close to enlightenment.

Sit and watch the world go by.


I sit and watch the world go by. One minute, one cup of coffee, one yoga class, one day, one week, one paycheck, one month, one season, one quarter, one birthday, one holiday, one death, one birth, one year, one life, at a time.