Like a mountain, it’s important to have a firm base, and prominent peak. Let’s start of with the base and explore weight placement in our feet. Take notice of the three weight-bearing parts of your feet; your heel, the ball of the foot at your big toe, and the ball of the foot at your pinky toe. Once you’ve acknowledged these parts, lift your toes for an upward stretch and plant them, then raise you heels. With each raise, front and back, you should feel the front and back of your calves activate.
Then, make your feet firm, flat and forward. Your feet may be touching, but you can also keep them separated if you choose, hip distance apart. Check to see if your hips are aligned with your legs, which should be aligned with your feet, and then let your tailbone drop. This will extend your lower back, which will in turn, lift your chest. Remember that the formation of mountains are caused by lateral movement, so bring your shoulders back and center them between the front and back of your body. This should free your upper back a bit, allowing the head and neck to feel buoyant.
Mountains are recognized for more than just their height. You’re not just going to resemble a mountain by being vertical. Feel the slow expansion and movement inside of you and take note of the symmetry in your body, yet acknowledge each individual physical plane; your left, your right, your front and back…In doing so,you can move slowly by rocking back and forth. Think of how even though mountains are solid structures, they too move, over time, in very subtle ways.
Now find your stillness. You could to concentrate on your dhristi and gaze forward. In On the Road one of Jack Kerouac’s characters named Japhy often meditated on mountains and thought that, to him, ” a mountain is a buddha. think of the patience, hundreds of thousands of years just sittin there bein perfectly perfectly silent and like praying for all living creatures in that silence and just waitin for us to stop all our frettin and foolin.”
My job keeps me on my feet for long periods of time. Sometimes there’s downtime during my shifts, but because I must be ready to step into action, I’m not always allowed to sit down for it. Practicing mountain pose throughout these lulls not only helps the time pass, but makes me more aware of my own posture and stance. So take advantage of situations like that too. Idle time can always be transformed into positive periods of meditation. You can make a resting pose out of periodic standing.
Speaking of peaks, here’s a moving and humbling video of time-lapse shots capturing the ethereal, yet rugged surroundings of the Matterhorn peak in Switzerland. Feel free to watch, standing up, in Tadasana.
Two serpents intertwining around a staff topped with wings.
This imagery comprises the caduceus, an attribute of Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods. Take away the wings and one snake, and you’ve got the Rod of Asclepius, the symbol for the Greek god of medicine. But who came first, Hermes or Asclepius, and why are their staffs so similar?
Perhaps Hermes was the precursor, as some myths say that Hermes delivered Asclepius, who after birth, became an apprentice in the art of medicine. Modern medical institutions have adopted both the staff of Hermes and the Rod of Asclepius for their logos, but there is a strong debate on the usage of former, for Hermes also carries the reputation of protecting gamblers and thieves.
But we shouldn’t shy away from use of the caduceus. It’s symbolism is much to similar to other formulas. For instance, the two braided snakes resemble that of the double helical structure that makes up DNA. It also corresponds with the structural energies of Kundalini yoga. In Kundalini, there is a powerful Shakti force that lays dormant at the base of the spine, awaiting activation through awareness, practice and meditation.
This Kundalini force is depicted as a serpent, reposing in a coiled base three times around the spine. When activated, this force travels through three channels, or nadis; the sushumna, the ida, & the pingala. These nadis are identical to the parts of the caduceus. The sushumna, like the staff, is vertical and straight, traveling in parallel motion with the spine. The ida and pingala channels twist together like that of the two snakes, intersecting at a handful of point, or chakra centers.
The sushumna is the stabilizing and grounding core, connecting the base with the crown. Each of the chakras are situated along the column of the sushumna. Kundalini moves upward through this pathway. The Ida and Pingala nadis work together in polarity and duality, just like Yin and Yang. Ida, the left channel, represents feminine and lunar energy as is connected to emotions. Pingala on the other hand is associated with masculine and solar energy as well as mental and physical endeavors. Kundalini energy has the potential to activate when both of these nadis are in balance with each other.
Only depicted with the right-sided snake, the Rod of Asclepius is somewhat lacking. Medical advancement definitely focuses around the physical realms, but the healing process cannot be complete without emotional attributes. Is it a coincidence then that the pairing of these two snakes of the caduceus are extremely similar to the channels of Kundalini, a power that has great potential to not only heal, but raise the awareness of our consciousness?
Chiang Mai is known as the “New City”, but it’s built around a square mile of ground called the Old City Center. There are over 300 wats scattered about the area of Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, and over 50 of them lie within the parameters of the Old City. What is a wat exactly? It’s a Buddhist monastery school that’s also commonly called a temple. Can you imagine 50 temples in one small area, all with their own individual decor, personality, and purpose?
I briefly visited Chiang Mai last month during a trip to Thailand, and stayed with my friends in the Old City Center. There were three stunning temples sitting just a few streets apart from each other. Right along her alleyway was Wat Kuan Kama, or what we called the Horse Temple, due to the flanks of golden horses positioned around the wall. Down the road there was a huge sitting Buddha overlooking Wat Morthean, and directly opposite was Wat Moklee. A temple with a sparkly mirrored wall sat a couple of blocks west. Each wat had a wall around it’s parameter, creating a distinct separation of space between temple grounds and the city streets. Boundary walls are a standard architectural design for wats in Thailand, so those enclosures adorned with equine icons and resembling rectangular disco balls carried both form and function.
I didn’t enter too many wats for I felt a little intimidated. They’re beautiful pieces of architecture, but they’re also very sacred. I felt stuck in a “look don’t touch” mentality, out of respect and for not feeling knowledgeable enough to fully appreciate and understand the wats. At least I adhered to the dress code; when entering temple grounds, the etiquette is to cover your shoulders and knees (no shorts and no tank tops). No shirt, no sleeves, no service, as it’s rude, but when you’re on temple grounds, definitely remove your shoes.
There are other “don’ts” that I picked up while asking friends how to behave in a temple. One of them was to always bow at the image of Buddha and to never have your head higher than the Buddha, whether it be a statue or painting. Also, never, never, never show the bottom of your feet to anyone, and don’t use that part of you to point at anything. The bottom of your feet is seen as the dirtiest part of the human body in Thailand.
It would of been nice to spend more time exploring the wats, but it was hard to pack 300, let alone 3, into just one day in Chiang Mai. The ornateness of each wat, from its wall to its shrines, was almost overwhelming. Some wats had hand-painted panels depicting passages from ancient texts, and those alone sparked so much curiosity. There were many statues of various animals and characters around the temple grounds, and I wished to know more about each of them. The temples in Thailand have so much history and living stories inside their grounds, from the stone carvings that have stood the test of time against earthquakes to the monks making their everyday offerings and practicing their rituals. It’s a wonderful things that Thailand offers secular visitors a chance to experience their sacred grounds.
For those of you who have been known to wake up in cold sweats because your life feels dangerously akin to George Clooney’s in “Up in the Air,” this post is for you.
One of my favorite things about my current job is how much I get to travel. It is also the greatest challenge to my personal commitment to leading a healthy and active lifestyle. No matter how good my intentions are to maintain a workout routine and nutritious diet while on the road, I have a hard time sticking to it. Honestly, it’s hard to find time between meetings and emails to fit in your fitness. And when your job involves networking events and client dinners as mine does, it’s not always so easy to resist temptation when the friendly waiter offers you another yummy cocktail or the dessert menu.
So how do you avoid blowing all your hard work in a week or two on the road? Find balance.
First of all, do what you can, when you can. Over the course of the last two weeks on the West Coast I managed to go for two runs, attend one yoga class, do a 30-minute yoga podcast, fire-up my Jillian Michael’s “Butt & Thighs” DVD twice, and get my ass kicked in my first TRX circuit training workout (so much fun!). Not bad, but not my normal regime. Each of these activities took 30 minutes to an hour–i.e. long enough to maintain my fitness level but not so time-consuming that they threw off my tight meeting schedule.
Second of all, be compassionate with yourself. It’s easy to start feeling guilty for a few days without a workout or splurging on that delicious huevos rancheros with a side of bacon at breakfast, but cut yourself some slack. Always keep in mind that life is to be enjoyed–remember moderation–and stressing won’t do you any good. In fact, it activates Cortisol, a hormone found in your body which makes you store fat, in particular around that muffin top/love handle area–fun fun! So relax because we all fall off the horse at times. The important thing is that you don’t throw in the towel just because you let yourself indulge a little in that bomb brunch or red velvet cupcake. Rather than wallowing in self-judgment after an indulgence, get up and go for a long walk or skip the elevator and take the stairs. Balance.
Finally, be creative. While it is important to work physical activity into your busy days and be forgiving of occasional gluttony when you’re on the road, it’s also important to take advantage of opportunities to be good to your body. Case in point, San Francisco International Airport’s “Yoga Room.” Not every airport or city will have a tranquil space devoted exclusively to yogis just after getting through security, but when it’s there, you best use it! Since I always travel with my yoga mat as carry-on–and tend to be in Lululemon pants and slouchy tops on my travel days–I was prepared to capture this golden opportunity and get in 45 minutes of playful flow before heading to my gate. My 5+ hour flight back to DC was so much more manageable having had the opportunity to move and stretch beforehand.
Whatever you do, wherever your busy life takes you, be kind to yourself—both in body and mind. You’ll come home feeling much happier, relaxed and prepared to take flight again.
The yoga teachers training program has matured me instantly. Studying the Sutras, Meditating and Practicing Asanas all at the same time, which I had never done before, has made me feel a sudden upliftment. I feel more comfortable with my mind, body and soul. It has brought a certain calm in me and I feel control over myself. I feel like my body is safe for my soul to reside. With all the command you need over your body while doing the asanas and all the discipline you need over your mind to meditate and all the focus you need on your soul to understand and apply the sutras, I am confident I now have the knowledge and tools through the Eight Limbs of Yoga to take care of myself. I feel assured that my body is capable of peace. This revelation is HUGE. It is necessary and has made me feel very powerful. I would love to see people around me benefit in the same way I have from Yoga.
The teacher’s training program has opened new doors for me. For the first time, I am seeing Yoga as love. Before, it was just a way to make my body look better. But now, I feel like I am doing so much more for myself than just changing how my body looks. I am teaching my mind and body and soul that they can love and harmoniously care for each other and pass on that energy of love back into the universe.
The training program has made me aware, that all these revelations I am having are revelations others could also experience. Yoga activism is an important part of the training and I learned a lot from the various speakers who talked about their work with army troops and their work with kids in Haiti. I discovered the various ways in which I can contribute to society through yoga. I learned about the need and the use of yoga in communities. I soaked up information on what it means to do yoga. I learned that I can trust my mind to operate my body to treasure my soul and keep it safe. I don’t see my body as something I have to constantly worry about wearing and tearing. I now see it as a safe (a treasure box) for my soul to dwell, reside and be at peace.
The training is powerful because it has made me value myself more and made me value everything around me. All these personal changes I am experiencing in me are worth experiencing for many more bodies and souls out there. Whether its underprivileged children in Haiti or army troops, we all deserve and want calm and peace within ourselves. I hope to keep yoga and its continuing education as part of my daily life from this point on. One of my favorite authors said, “My advice to anybody is: Get born”. As a follow up on the same lines, I would like to say, ‘My advice to anybody after getting born is: Try Yoga’.
Cicadas, spiders, moths, and mosquitoes all come with the territory of summer in the District. Some insects, like cicadas and crickets, provide months of ambient song, impressively resonating over the bustle of city noise. Their presence is rather pleasant, as they for the most part keep to themselves, letting their music add to the summer’s sweltering atmosphere.
Then there’s the array of insects, that are just a plain nuisance. Our culture has it made that the indoors and outdoors are completely separated. There are huge strides to prevent outdoor pests from coming in, (even when you’re outside) whether its hiring an exterminator, wearing bug spray, or simply swatting the gnats out of existence. These precautions are quite opposite of Ahimsa, the first Yama of the from the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which is set to practice compassion toward all living things.
But how do we practice compassion toward pests that swarm our legs the moment we step outside? With all the scare of West Nile and Lyme Disease, shouldn’t we defend our bodies from entities that could potentially carry parasites and disease? Our own well-being is absolutely important, but keeping it in check means blurring the lines on Ahimsa’s fundamental principles when dealing with more insignificantly small life-forms.
I’ve heard a lot of people comment that being outdoors would be more enjoyable if it weren’t for all the bugs, especially mosquitoes. What’s their purpose of existence anyway? Well, to be fair, if we’re going to question the existence of a moth, a mealworm, or a mosquito, then we should also question the existence of everything else out there, from clouds to buildings, to our very selves.
Existence in its very self is full of things that are bothersome. There are plenty of people who frown upon bad weather for instance. It’s raining, and it hinders them from wanting to go outside, just as much as the fear of mosquitoes. The thing is, if we shy away from doing things because of hopes to avoid the annoyance of little things, from bugs to raindrops, then we miss out on the larger picture. All those little things add up to create the whole.
It takes an extreme amount of awareness and practice to break the habits of negative thought and action, but it helps to give it effort over time. Educating yourself about the patterns of cyclic things like insects and rainfall can help you become better at understanding and accepting things around you. Know how to positively deal with and remove frustrations and concerns that are around you, and vice versa. Ahimsa is all about practicing non-violence, which encompasses pure action and pure thought. Being annoyed by your environment for petty reasons causes just as much internal struggle as a little prick from a bug bite would. By accepting and embracing things around you for what they are, and for going with the flow of everyday life, you’ll find more peace within yourself.
Throughout our day to day lives, we experience an array of emotions. Some are positive, like hope, happiness, and affection, while others, such as anger, loneliness, and despair, are negative. All of them are quite normal and inevitable, and often times we forget that everyone experiences these emotions at some point in their lives. We tend to embrace positive emotions for all good reason. Being content contributes stronger to personal well-being than being annoyed, as excitement has to the potential to yield more positivity than anguish or apathy. Positive emotions just feel like the norm, and when an individual isn’t experiencing one, it leaves plenty of room for other emotions to creep in.
When you experience an emotion like boredom, the initial reaction is to try to get rid of it. by finding something to fill your time with. Perhaps you find an engaging activity to move you from boredom to curiosity, or maybe you look for the easier route of a simple distraction. We’re always trying to change our emotions when they don’t sit well with us. Often times people who experience anger act upon it in as a way to let out their rage, or they suppress it internally as a way to cope with it. These methods don’t allow any room for healthy progress though. It only fuels the seed of anger even more. You would never try to suppress feelings of ecstasy or gratitude, but only try to extend their experience, so why should you neglect negative emotions?
A healthy way to deal with these not-so-pleasant emotions is to recognize them simply as what they are. They are feelings – they are not you – and they will pass in time. They will also pass easier with mindfulness. It’s easy to ruminate on an emotion. “I am angry, and this makes me angrier!!” But those sort of thoughts just make the emotion swell in size even more. We don’t seek out anger, it comes to us, it resides in us, and, in sequence, it leaves us. It extends its stay when we give it attention or when we hid it deep within us.
These negative emotions might feel like intruders, but instead of getting defensive, take a moment and try to observe them. Is there a reason why they feel so massive and uncontrollable? Is there a pattern to their arrival and stay? Are they triggered by something in particular? Once you try to understand a certain emotion, you’ll begin to know how to deal with it when it comes back around. No one wants to feel angry or depressed, and no one really wants to acknowledge it. But those feelings are normal, and with positive attention, from mindfulness, meditation, and other methods of well-being, one can harvest the benefits of focusing on positive emotions, and keep the seeds of negative ones from sprouting out of control.
I came home last night a bit drained from a long day, but luckily my beautiful wife was already home and she’s a bigger KD fan than I am… the house was full of rich sound of Krishna Das’s voice. … Continue reading
“C’mon, little guy, hold still!” a child commanded toward a frantic African shrew in a display case at the zoo. “I just want to get your picture!” The child toted a digital camera that was set and ready to shot an automatic flash photo, but the subject in question couldn’t stop pacing about in its case. “I don’t think he knows how to hold still,” the child’s mother stated. “Let’s move on to another animal, why don’t we?” But before they did, the child snapped a blurry photo of the shrew, just because.
What makes us feel the need to document every sight? Since when have viewfinders and screens become our drishti, the point of our gaze? Osho dubbed this phenomenon as “Kodakomania”. There’s nothing wrong at all with the use and embrace of this technology, but when the use of cameras and computers become more of a habit, they also become a bit of a hindrance. The focus becomes more about getting a satisfying image rather than observing the subject itself.
The zoo is an interesting place to notice this…when a lion springs into action, everyone immediately reaches for their cameras to catch the moment. It’s a tempting thing to do, because, really when do you see a lion in movement? Or any animal besides a squirrel or a starling, at least in this city? But to have the habit and desire, which is becoming almost instinct, to take a photograph of the moment is really takes away from the moment itself.
Establishing presence is a strong focus in yogic practice. How do we find the balance between life on-screen and off-screen? It’s tough to say, as situations vary from person to person. Perhaps reflecting on this topic could help mediate a balance of some sort. First off, what draws us to the urge of taking a picture of something? The subject itself. Its essence captivates us, and therefore, we feel a need to capture it, as to remember in some way and to share.
But there is much more to notice from a subject or an experience that can be seen and appreciated without the use of a camera. Ever seen the movie “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”? There’s a scene where she’s staring at the sky with the painting master and he asks her what color the sky is. She only gives him one color, but he says something along the lines of how there’s much more than that, yellow, white, grey, and blue. By taking a moment to see something for more than it is, you’ll notice all the details that come with it. That in itself is a beautiful way to use of establishing presence and drishti.
Yesterday I packed up my car, and hit the open road for what Google maps told me would be a 7 hour drive from Washington, DC to South Carolina. Ten hours later (thank you traffic!), I pulled up outside my parents’ house, exhausted, but thrilled to see them. Stepping out of the car, I knew that the many hours sitting in the same position might leave my body feeling stiff the next day. Along the route I incorporated some stretches, and before bed last night, worked my way through a few long and lazy sun salutations, lengthening from head to toe. Whether going on a road trip, taking a long flight, (or even sitting at a desk for many hours!), here are some ideas to counter all that sitting.
Before heading out:
1. I find that before I have to sit for a long period of time, it helps to get active – a quick run, bike ride, or brisk walk – to get the blood flowing.
2. Pack some props – I have a small pillow in the car that I can place at my lower back as I start to feel my spine crunching/hunching.
1. Move through a few cat/cow postures when stuck at a light or sitting in traffic. Round through the upper back, dropping the head to lengthen through the neck on the exhale. On the inhale, draw the chest forward, arching and opening the front of the body.
2. Focus on lengthening the spine – root down through the sits bones and feel as though someone is pulling a string up all the way through the crown of the head.
3. Remember to breathe – long, cleansing deep breaths send new oxygen through the body, help to dispel fatigue, and can reduce frustration. And if you are in the car on your own, try a few lion’s breaths – deep inhale through the nose, open the mouth, allow the tongue to stretch out and down, as you audibly exhale. Ahhhhh…
4. I find driving, especially long distances, to be time for meditation.
Post travel (or a long day at the office):
1. Find tadasana/mountain pose, standing straight, lifting up out of the hips, rolling the shoulders back and down. On an inhale, stretch the arms up over head, until the palms are touching. Reach up, look up, feel like rib cage expand. Allow the fingertips to lead the upper body into a side stretch, being careful not to collapse forward (if leaning to the right, roll the left shoulder open). Repeat on each side.
2. Adho Mukha Savasana, or down dog, is an all around, feel good pose. It not only calms the brain and body, it also opens the backs of the legs (which have been in crunched up all day!) and the upper back.
3. I love a gentle inversion in the evening, such as Viparita Kirani, or legs up the wall, to relieve cramping and fatigue in the legs.
Another road trip from SC to Boston is coming up next week. What are some of your favorite ways to keep the body calm and relaxed on a long trip??
*photo from jwblogisticsandtrucking.
The diverse family of DC yoga teachers at Yoga District are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone through a huge variety of yoga class types, from vinyasa flow to restorative and beyond. Most Yoga District teachers are graduates of Yoga District’s nationally-attended 200 hour teacher training program. All Yoga District classes focus on coordinating breath with body movement to promote flexibility, strength, and peace of mind. We strongly believe in yoga as therapy, so catch one of our classes whenever you need a healthy dose of self-care.
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The Yoga District 200 and 500 hour teacher training certification programs, registered by the Yoga Alliance are unique in their emphasis on diversity of teaching styles studied, personal attention, and trauma sensitive yoga. It's no coincidence that Yoga District is regularly voted the leading studio in the nation's capital, and that most of its classes are taught by graduates of its training program. As a full time yoga school, small group trainings are led up to eight times a year by a dedicated faculty including Jasmine Chehrazi, contributor to the Harvard Karma Yoga Project teacher training, teacher training faculty at George Washington University, Yoga Alliance Standards Committee Advisory Board Member, Yoga Activist Founder, and Yoga Service Council Advisory Board Member. So take your practice and community involvement to the next level by joining a training. There's a reason why our graduates call the training "transformative."
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