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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

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This past summer, I found myself in a social situation with another yoga teacher. Someone at our table was asking her about her classes, and she was testifying to their toughness: “Come to my classes and I’ll kick your ass,” she said.

She seems like a nice person, and so I chalked her response up to youth, enthusiasm, and misguided marketing. (I even wondered if I should write this, because if she sees it, I don’t want her to feel chastised. We simply have different viewpoints.) (more…)

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This is a question that students have asked me:

Sometimes, after a deep practice with lots of backbends, I feel irritable and snappish. Are the backbends making me angry?

Backbends open the heart center (the anahata chakra) and this has different effects on different people. Some people cry or feel blue, some become energized to the point they have trouble falling asleep (no backbends right before bedtime!), and others may find themselves feeling irritable, or like they’ve just contracted sudden-onset PMS. Still others may feel wrung-out and wobbly.

The reasons for the variety of responses are probably as numerous as the responses themselves:

Some people have lots of stored emotion in their heart center that is released and accessed through postures that open the heart center. Others may have experienced physical trauma in this area. Tightness through the chest and the back of the body can be a protective response.

Backbends are physically and emotionally complex. They require trust and faith, because you’re bending backwards into the unknown. They require lots of muscle work and breath control. The configuration of backbends stimulates the endocrine system at the back of the body, the kidneys, and more specifically, the glands on top of the kidneys called the adrenals. The adrenals are instrumental in activating our “fight or flight response”. They release hormones that have an impact on our heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar, among other things.

Here is a longer essay I wrote about opening the heart center.

So my answer is this: Yes. I think backbends could (in the short term) make you feel angry, or more specifically, make you release pent-up anger.

My advice:

  • Don’t give up the backbends. If you’re having a strong reaction to them, chances are you need them, and need to work through your reaction to them.
  • Make sure you warm up thoroughly before you begin backbending.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar before your practice.
  • Don’t eat for at least two hours before your practice.
  • Don’t backbend when taking antihistamines, diet pills, energy-boosting supplements, or after using inhalers, or other medications that can raise your blood pressure and speed up your pulse.
  • You might consider avoiding deep backbends when you’re already feeling irritable, or feeling the symptoms of PMS.
  • Pay special attention to your cool-down poses (I like several twisting postures after backbends, because they tend to calm the nervous system, and also supported forward bends) and consider including a restorative pose in your practice.
  • Extend Savasana (Final Relaxation, or Corpse Pose) and give yourself space to feel whatever comes up for you.
  • After practice, avoid caffeine, sugar, and hot, spicy foods until you feel “level” again.

I hope this helps!

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning that my dear friend Shelby once tried to talk her way out of a speeding ticket by patiently explaining to the officer that she had just come from a yoga class that had focused on backbends… it didn’t work. Even here in Northern California.

Namasté.

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With everything that life has sailed my way the past few months (most notably new work in addition to teaching), it’s been hard to keep this blog current.

Still, the essays in the archives on YLS continue to have relevance. Rest assured I haven’t abandoned the site.

Earlier this week, while enjoying the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, I learned that one of my favorite “end of class” poets, Kay Ryan, has been named the next Poet Laureate of the United States. I call her an “end of class” poet because — as my students know — I like to read a poem at the beginning of savasana. Her short, tight poems, which one critic likened to mousetraps, are clever, thoughtful, and inspiring.

This is what she had to say to The San Francisco Chronicle (read the story here) in the wake of her appointment:

“Poetry should leave you feeling freer and not more burdened. I like to think of all good poetry as providing more oxygen in the atmosphere. Poems just make it easier to breathe.”

How perfect is that for yoga?

Here is an essay I wrote last year about opening the heart center. It was inspired by Ryan’s poem “Chinese Foot Chart”.

Namasté.

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visvacomic1.jpgI know I’ve said in previous posts that I’m an advocate of trying new things.

At the beginning of the year, I suggested to my students that they choose a pose and work toward it throughout the year, breaking down the components and building their skills along the way. It’s important to have a sense of humor and lightheartedness in doing this. The yoga mat is no place for grim determination (we have our desks and highways for that!). I think that in the practice of yoga, it’s important to have curiosity and a sense of exploration that reaches beyond the things we do over and over again in yoga classes. One of my favorite yoga concepts is “lela”… the happy, creative life force. So in that spirit, I bring you my adventures with Visvamitrasana.

Namasté & Blessed Be.

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pinetip1.jpgI grew up listening to the music of Kate Wolf, a North Coast singer/songwriter, who described the “golden rolling hills of California”.

It’s true: For most of the year, the hills of Northern California are shades of gold and tan, the colors of field mice, cougars, and deer. But for a brief period in the spring, after the winter rains, and before the sun begins to bake our hillsides, the landscape around my home glows with shades of green. (An artist friend once said he couldn’t paint Sonoma County without a healthy tube of chromium oxide green.) But before the hills green, there is a brief period when it seems we’re awash in yellow. (more…)

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I have to say, I’m not a fan of New Years’ resolutions because I feel they are usually based in self-deprecation.

It’s as though we’ve developed a national tradition of beginning each year by picking ourselves apart, finding a fault, and setting a goal that will focus our attention on that fault, all year long.

I ask you: What kind of a way is that to begin a new year?

(more…)

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I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s post, and I feel the need to add this:

Honestly, I think there is a western preoccupation with getting our ass kicked, and I don’t mean always in the physical sense.

After writing this post, it occurred to me, that many people – and dare I say, especially women – are taught that personal gain somehow comes through feeling inadequate. (more…)

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Recently, I heard someone say that living is the only condition with a guaranteed 100 percent mortality rate.

And, indeed, it would be a rare person who reaches adulthood, even early adulthood, without having experienced the death of someone important to them. (more…)

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Sometimes I think yoga practitioners are firmly divided into two camps: Those that chant, and those that don’t.

Those that don’t often feel self-conscious about chanting, are reluctant to chant something they don’t understand, or feel that chanting will conflict with their belief system. (For more about this, see my previous posts about yoga and religion). And, I recognize that many people come to the mat with a desire for a no-frills, strictly physical experience. (more…)

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I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by Pat Robertson’s view of yoga.

However, I thought that – in follow up to my earlier post, Yoga and Losing Your Religion – I’d share it with you. (Needless to say, Pat and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this, but I’m not surprised by that either.) (more…)

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Several years ago, one of my students brought a woman friend to class. She thought her friend, a Protestant minister, could benefit from yoga.

The woman was very polite during class, but gave my friend a stern little talk in the car on the way home. She couldn’t come to classes, she said, because it would be in conflict with her religion. (more…)

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I think that one of the hardest concepts for new yoga students to get their head around is that asana, or yoga poses, aren’t static.

They aren’t poses to be struck and held; they are a framework for movement, opening, and exploration – no matter how subtle these actions may be. (more…)

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jellyfish.jpegOn the dual subjects of expansion and contraction, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I’m posting this short video of the jelly fish at the aquarium.

Created by Stacy Alexander, the images are set to Ben Harper’s cover of Strawberry Fields. (more…)

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images.jpegRecently, on a fall trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I found myself mesmerized by the movement of the sardines in the large kelp forest tank.

Watching the school expand and contract, I was struck by how this seemed to occur without communication or effort. (more…)

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The adrenal glands sit right on top of the kidneys.

I don’t think anyone is going to argue with what I’m about to say: Americans are obsessed with transformation.

This may be rooted in the Protestant beginnings of the nation, or it may be deeper in the human psyche. But it seems that now, more than at any other point in time, we are culturally fascinated with media images of people who have undergone physical transformation, and the airwaves and print media abound with content focusing on weight loss, plastic surgery, miracle dentistry, and cosmetic overhauls. (more…)

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One of my friends recently took a beginning yoga workshop. She has practiced a little yoga at home and decided she would try it with experienced instruction.

I know she has a physical history of childhood heart surgeries and had recently been spending quite a bit of her personal energy healing some emotional childhood hurts. So I encouraged her to go, but suggested she tell the teacher about her medical history.

Not long after the end of the workshop, I met her for tea. She looked happy and relaxed.

“How was it?” I asked. (more…)

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wpopu0708192.gifA friend of mine – one who obviously knows me well – emailed me this cartoon yesterday…

I found it so funny, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s an “Opus” panel by Berkeley Breathed, and it seems like the perfect follow up to my post about the death of Jerry Falwell. I sincerely hope Mr. Breathed won’t mind the use of his image here.

Namasté.

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It’s funny how once I start thinking about something, the theme seems to reappear throughout my daily experiences.

Not long after I started working on my last post about the western feminine gender polarity of yoga, I was in a class with Tony Briggs at Turtle Island Yoga in Marin County. (more…)

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Historically, yoga has belonged in the domain of men. It was developed by and for male bodies, and often draws on the language of male experience.

Consider, for example, the Virabhadrasana, or Warrior, series of poses, which depict bodies in battle poses. (Click here to see Warrior I, II, and III.)

Yet in the United States yoga studios are overrun with female practitioners. As teachers we are taught to expect less than 20 percent of our students to be men in a general, public class. It would seem that part of the westernization of yoga has been the feminization of it, as well. (more…)

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After my last post about metta, or maitri, a friend posed this question to me:

“Many meditation exercises to develop metta forbid you to focus on someone with whom you’re romantically invoved or sexually interested. Why is this? And, how, then, does metta become extended into intimate relationships?”

I’m certainly no expert in Buddhist or yogic philosophy, but I thought I would share my interpretation, as I shared it with her. (more…)

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