Making Friends With Props

FRIENDS WHO PROP YOU UP
Friends Who Prop You Up

How do you view yoga props? Do you see them as yoga studio objects used only by those who need them? Let’s challenge our opinions, and subsequent use of props, in the spirit of building a fuller, supported, yes, even dare I say, more robust yoga practice!

What would be different if you could move from “prop judgement” to “prop embrace”? At times, blocks, bolsters, and blankets may seem like materials that hinder rather than help your yoga class experience. Unhealthily challenging oneself by trying to force a position often trumps finding ease, stillness, and breath in the midst of a pose. Embracing props may allow the mind to rest or body to extend in a pose. Props can promote better alignment, use of body’s anatomical wisdom, and actually experience ease more fully. Let’s illustrate this concept of support and ease a bit closer.

Sukasana, or Easy Pose, provides a perfect example. It’s the familiar cross-legged position we often start or end class with, or use for seated meditation. In spite of the pose name, for many, finding comfort in the hips and knees is challenging here. So, why not sit on a block, blanket, or even bolster in order to elevate the hips? This simple method allows the calves, knees, and ankles to move naturally toward the earth through the benefit of gravity. Perhaps the greatest benefit of prop use here is for belly movement. That is, the abdomen can now relax more, therefore helping the breath to move down the torso and fully expand. Try this yourself: sit first in Easy Pose on the carpeted floor or a mat, drop the shoulders, straighten the spine, and notice the breath for 8-9 cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Now, sit on the prop of your choice. Practice the same breath exercise. What do you notice?

Like a theatre prop, a yoga prop can be seen through the lens of helping to create an experience. Even though we are not in a play production or performance in a yoga class, we are, indeed, intentionally building a compassionate atmosphere of body and mind restoration. So, the next time you come to class, invite yourself to pick up a prop you’ve never used, or ask the teacher to help you use it in a particular pose. Demonstrate your courageous self and move towards flow and discovery in a familiar pose, in a new, perhaps more open way. Namaste.

Growing Wings

Altitude Attitude
Altitude Attitude

 

How do your thoughts limit your life? What if you acted “as if” you really could accomplish a dream?

In A Year Of Living Your Yoga, author and teacher Judith Hanson Lasater suggests we take time to listen to ourselves in order to move closer to what matters most to us. She provides the self-reflection prompt “What would I do if I believed I could?”

Practice and Plan

  1. One way to move closer to making dreams actionable is committment to time, even 5 minutes, and practice a form of meditation that you like. Then, write down the answer to Lasater’s question. Record your thoughts in a voice memo if this feels more like your style.
  2. Next, write down or speak one small, measurable step that you can accomplish today that will bring you closer to what you want. This could be as simple as sharing your dream with someone who you know will be supportive. Or, it may be putting your words somewhere you can see them everyday. Be creative, make this yours.

We all experience limiting thoughts and beliefs. We can choose to pay attention to them and move closer to who we really are, which is, according to yogic philosophy, the true goal of yoga.

Two Ways to Rest The Mind

valley of the mind
valley of the mind

 

Way #1:

When’s the last time you got outside for a hike around your every day habitat? Even if you walk for 5-10 minutes, you reap benefits and create space for yourself. Especially when overwhelmed with to dos, or thinking through a problem. Here are some measurements behind that. In fact, research suggests that shorter, more frequent walks bring more benefits than long treks. Walking provides healthy habit building, exercise, stress reduction, lowers blood pressure, creates a state of flow and ease to the day. There’s only so much we can ponder things. Our minds need a break, a rest, the natural world to gaze upon. So what if you can’t go on a 5 mile hike in the mountains today? Why not just go out your door, or to a nearby park? How about taking 10 minutes during lunch to get outside? Even if it’s in your work parking lot, you will benefit.

savasana
savasana

Way #2

When you return from a 5 or 10 minute walk, lie down on the carpet or a mat for 2-5 minutes. Or, you can lie down outside. If you have an office chair, sit comfortably there with the spine straight and belly relaxed. Get comfortable. If you really need to rest, just do it without the walk. If you lie down, try resting on the back, with a rolled blanket under the knees to support the lower back. Bring breath into the belly, soften the muscles of the face, jaw, and tongue. Place your palms up. Close your eyes. Endeavor to stay awake and focus on the movement of breath. Count the breath if you like. This helps give the mind a focus. Breathe in for 2, out for 4. This is 2:1 breath, and deeply relaxing for the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming system of the body.

So, 10-15 minutes later, how do you feel? What do you notice about the body and breath? What do you notice about the problem you faced? What’s changed? What new perspective seems available?

Befriending the Vagus Nerve

extending branches
extending branches

 

How do you connect with the wisdom of the body? How do you tune into stress and turn the dial to another station of the mind? Learning centering and grounding practices will open doors for you to go inside and help you live more fully outside in everyday life and relationships. We all need regulation in our lives, and there are accessible tools that our body provides us if we tap into them. Often this only takes a breath or two, so read on…

Basic knowledge of our anatomy and physiology grows understanding of ways to access increased well-being and calm—specifically, the wisdom of our good friend the vagus nerve, a powerful regulatory highway from the central nervous system to the heart and abdominal organs. The article The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure by athlete Christopher Bergland provides rich, translatable information. Read it, digest the information, and practice one technique both during quiet times (even brief ones–often the most valuable) and a situation you find challenging. Observe how you can learn to befriend the body under stress and modulate responses.

I love this short video! I even felt my body relax just watching Sara Lee of vaguspower demonstrate how to stimulate the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing.