Alignment as the Earth Element:
I just spent 3 weeks in our Blissology Yoga Teacher Training course meticulously breaking down the intricacies of each yoga pose; reveling in the immense joy from how small adjustments to the pelvis affects the stability and stretch in a pose or how adjusting the tone of the muscles of the shoulder joint ‘just so’ enables the proper connection of arm bone to shoulder socket to makes the pose therapeutic and more relaxing.
Notebooks and journals out, our neurons are firing excitedly as we see all kinds of new patterns of yoga alignment. The primary purpose of alignment I stress over and over again is “to protect the joints of the body by using the soft tissues to create an upward lift against the compressive force of gravity in the most relaxed and efficient way possible.”
It is so therapeutic to do the yoga poses in this way and the heeling benefits are massive. We all remark over and over again that even though most people think about yoga as merely increasing flexibility, intelligent yoga alignment is about how to train the body to maintain a posture in gravity so that the joints can function better now and when as we age. It teaches us not just a better triangle pose but related to any activity we do activity we do: how have better posture while jogging or how to minimize stress while performing “sitting-on-our-rumps-at our-office-desk asana.”
That said, as wonderful as yoga alignment is, I personally feel it is only the 101 level. There are two more major frontiers to master. In my own journey, I felt like understanding alignment so well was helping my body in so many ways. Now in my 46th year, I can honestly say from what I have learned from my teachers and my time on the yoga mat that if I had my 21 year old, so called “athletic prime” body back, I would truly be bummed because I can move so much better now. I am not just talking flexibility. This is one component, for sure. I am talking about straight up agility. I feel like my “spidey-powers” of quickness and fluidity of movement have increased as well.
Long ago, I knew being a contortionist was not my physical goal in yoga. I wanted to be able to perform my sports, especially surfing better. Because my “alignment-based vinyasa” yoga practice was on a grid where we face the front of our mats (sagittal plane) or to the side of our mats (coronal plane) I was always on a grid. This helped me heal back and knee injuries that nagged me in my twenties.
Yoga was making me more flexible, which helped so much on my surfboard but I still felt rigid. My shoulders remained stiff in my turns. Surfing demands a combination of fluidity and “snappiness.” I was loosing my fast twitch muscle fibers in from only practicing yoga.
Enter the Water Element:
In my work with alignment I started to view this as the earth element. Improving my relationship with gravity so joints can function better and for longer. I was becoming more flexible but not more fluid. How did I know? Just turn on the music and my hips could move through a wide range of forward and back but I was stuck on a grid and couldn’t move well in spite of my flexibility. When I surfed my shoulders still remained on a grid and didn’t get loose. I needed to find the grace of a ballet dancer, the ease movement of a tai chi master, the explosiveness of a karate master, I needed to explore the movement of animals and fuse traditional yoga with surf, snowboard and skateboard moves.
Oddly, I gave myself permission to return to my roots of yoga. When I didn’t know a fraction of what I know now but I had the pure intention of loosing up my body for a day on the water after camping out on various beaches. In 1988 I learned surfing, yoga, meditation and tai chi for the first time. I was just dabbling in all of them but as I watched the beauty of the sunrise and the incoming swell, I would move in a way that seemed to best prepare my body and mind for day ahead and get the kinks out.
I talked to a surfer who had amazing form in Mexico one year. “How do you surf so well, I asked him. He told me that he thinks “como los pelicanos” on the water. It hit me, I was strong and flexible but I needed to develop wings that could sore. I needed to find softness in my arms and shoulders. I went back to exploring techniques that master energy like tai chi and developed hand patterns there. I explored the softness of Feldenkrais, Somaticas, Body Mind Centering and Body Mind Psychotherapy.
I became obsessed with fusing my yoga with not just stability and flexibility but fluidity… that brings us to the next exciting subject of our next Bliss Blog: The Fluid Body…
Posted On: September 8, 2014 | 2 Comments »
The two main excuses for why we miss yoga is that 1) Yoga takes too much time and 2) Yoga is expensive. Throw those excuses out the window because this routine is free and takes only 18 minutes. Think about that. 18 minutes is nothing. Everyone has this time. Just eliminate a little bit of time on social media and on email and voila: You will have time for yoga! Get off of the internet and on to the “innernet!”
This is a short and sweet yoga practice meant to provide opening, centering and core strength. It includes a short savasana (relaxation) and meditation because that is what makes the physical yoga practice so powerful.
You will feel loose and free all day. Aside from this you will feel more productive and free and in touch with the most joyous side of our consciousness. You have arrived at the right place. No more excuses, press start now and “At Least do This” Yoga!
The Routine: Centering> Sun Salutations > Triangle > Revolved Triangle > Crow Pose > Boat Pose > Seated Forward Fold > Double Pigeon > Savasana (Relaxation / the real yoga) > Closing Meditation
Posted On: June 27, 2014 | No Comments »
Surfer’s Triangle is an incredible pose. There are some similar poses out there which have popped up in the last few years but this one I love because it is a mack daddy stretch for the psoas, oblique muscles, and chest muscles. That is, when it is done right. When it’s done wrong, it can be a back cruncher especially at the Sacroilliac Joint.
But after reading this, you will have the knowledge to make this not just therapeutic but outright ecstatic!
It is important to understand that this pose is really a combo of a side bend (opening the side waist), a back bend (opening the hip flexors + abdominals) and a triangle pose (opening the hamstrings and adductors.) Because it is not a linear pose where we are facing either straight forward towards the front of our mat or to the side of our mat, it will find muscles that you are probably not used to stretching but feel amazing to loosen up.
A Hybrid of Surf and Yoga and so practical for all Sports: One other note, take a look at Kelly Slater’s bottom turn (I flipped the image to match our photos, he’s not surfing goofy foot) to see where the name and the feeling comes from. If you are interested in yoga that fully increases your range of movement like I am, you will love getting off the frontal and sagittal plane that we normally face in yoga.
1) start with the right foot forward as per triangle pose and the left foot back, facing the long side of your yoga mat.
2) turn the right foot to the right a little and bring the weight to the outer right foot.
3) keep the right hand on the right thigh as for the preparation pose in the lowest photo (photo 2, figure 1) below.
4) sweep the left hand over the head and backwards
5) press the sternum away from the back left heel
5) Only if it feels comfortable, bring the right hand down to the floor.
HERE IS THE KEY TO NOT INJURE YOURSELF! Remember, you need to never at anytime think that getting the hand on the floor is the goal.
The goal is to keep the pelvis and chest leaning away from the imaginary vertical pole you are holding (figure 2) and to not collapse towards the floor (figure 1)
Take a look at the picture below. I shot this on a NY Subway because I wanted to demo that the idea is not to collapse your body weight into the floor which overly compresses the spine (Photo 1, figure 1) – Instead emulate what I am doing in Photo 1, figure 2 – that is, imagine the top left hand holding a bar and lean the chest and pelvis AWAY from the bar the left hand is holding.
Take a look at the pink vertical line I’ve placed in the photos. Notice in Photo 1, figure 1 on the left, the pelvis is behind that line. In Photo 2, figure 2 on the right, it is in front of it. As a very general rule, always have the pelvis in front of the line of the heels. When it falls behind it is much higher risk.
What you want to do it stay in the preparation for the pose in Photo 2, figure 1 below rather than collapsing towards the floor as in Photo 1, figure 1 on the left above. Notice even in the more moderate version of the pose my pelvis is in line with the heels.
Keep it therapeutic and juicy! Make the adjustments to keep the stretch in the key places outlined above (hip flexors and obliques.)
To see this pose in a yummy flow check out page 4 of this routine or download our new Earth Body Yoga video. Let’s rock it soon together and find some deep joy with this sweet pose!
Posted On: June 25, 2014 | No Comments »
Crow pose is a deeply invigorating pose… unless you don’t know how to do it, that is. Then it’s a terrifying journey into the fear of falling face first on the ground with no hands to brace you. Luckily, there is a way to finesse this pose. Once you see the technique you will realize it isn’t a big labor of Hercules and definitely not terrifying. Here goes:
1- Set up phase: (Photo 1)
Start in a squat placing the hands on the floor shoulder width distance apart.
Bend the elbows and place the knees on the back of the upper arms ideally way up near the armpits. A common mistake is to not bend the arms and place the knees on straight arms so they just slip off. It’s like rock-climbing with no toe hold.
Lift the hips higher than the shoulders and make sure your gaze is forward about 10 inches in front of the hands
2- Lift off phase (Photo 2)
Remember this pose is a counterbalance between the weight of the hips and the weight of the upper body. Have fun. Keeping the hips high, start to lean the weight of the shoulders over the hands. Relax, you won’t fall on your face if you use the arms and fingertips. At the point where the hips come forward need to gather the inner elbows in like you had a “Suzanne Somers Thigh Master” between the elbows and use the finger tips.
Notice how the angle of my forearms has changed from photo 1 to 2, in photo one they are about 80 degrees relative to the floor but in photo to the have shifted to 90. This is another big key.
Try lifting one foot up and if you are feeling it, lift both. Channel your inner child and find some “Wahoo!” Oh yeah, don’t forget to breathe.
3- Full pose (Photo 3)
For the full pose, the arms straighten as your head and shoulder shift even further forward
Keep riding the “in and up force” by activating the feet and hands and still squeezing your imaginary Suzanne Somers Thigh Master between your arms and legs. You will feel lighter, develop core stability and it’s impossible to be in a bad mood after a good crow pose. Enjoy!
Posted On: February 21, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Thanks for the epic day yesterday. So great to meet you all and I am super inspired for the next few days.
It was great to explore Relaxation (the Hammock Principle) in class.
In case you wanted to clarify, the Five states of Being in Blissology Yoga are:
1) Quiet Mind 2) Heart Wisdom 3) Thinking Mind 4) Inner Fire 5) Joy Body
You’ll get all of this in a (massive) manual today in our afternoon session.
As for today’s Journal Questions. I am sure you were freezing when I asked it so here it is again.
1) What is Love?
Is it simply a chemical experience like an increase of Oxytocin and Dopamine as modern science tells us or is it really an energy that exists in the universe that we tune into as the mystics tell us?
Most people interpret Love to mean romantic Love but is there something more universal? What is the common thread (if any) between Romantic Love and Universal Love?
2) Question 2 has to do with Relaxation.
What is your definition of relaxation? How do you personally know when you are relaxed?
3) Is there a connection between Relaxation and Love?
To understand this question, maybe ask yourself the inverse: If stress and tension are the antithesis of relaxation, does anything happen to our experience of Love when our minds and bodies are tight and stressed?
Looking forward to discussing this today after Erich Schiffman’s session (10:40 am). I hope everyone has thawed out after our reading on the beach. Of course, the night we go to the beach Happy Birthday again, Veronica! Next one to celebrate is Dylan’s birthday on Monday, although Alissa may take the attention and get the waiters to sing to her Cafe Gratitude style…)
SO STOKED for this great day! Expect a very technical and deep afternoon from 1:45-5:30pm and a nice flow class at 6-7;30 pm – we can head out for a dinner together after that for some of the high prana goodness here in Venice!