Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ninja skill

Yoga has brought me some very interesting talents over the years. And yes, contortion is one of them. I can squeeze into tight spots that most wouldn’t try. I can also shave my legs while standing on one foot in the shower. But better than that is I have acquired some great ninja skills. Don’t freak, this doesn’t mean that I’m attacking people with nun chucks or anything like that. It just means that I can sneak around like Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” without being noticed. Because of yoga I am more aware of how I move my body which allows me to walk softly and gracefully. This in no way excludes me from the occasional bumped knee or stubbed toe but it definitely lessens my chances of having that awkward moment at the E.R. trying to explain how exactly it is that I need 13 stitches. Yes, it probably is saving me money on my health care cost. I recently attempted yoga on top of a paddle board which reassured me of my great newly acquired ninja skill. How, might you ask am I sure that I have mastered ninja skills? The proof is in the number of times I have snuck up on yoga students, my dog and even my husband. And they were all slightly startled by my presence.

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This idea of walking softly reminds me of an expression I had painted on the walls of my old yoga studio back in Ohio: “live gently, walk softly.” Yoga is a great place to become aware of both of these things. This old studio of mine was on the second floor of a building that had beautiful old hardwood floors. These floors called great attention to just how heavily we moved our bodies. Every time students would step forward into virabhadrasana it would sound as if they were trying to kill a cockroach. Or when they would jump forward to standing, it could sound like they were trying to break through the floor to make a fast escape. This became a great teaching opportunity for me to point out the heaviness of their movements and to educate them on using their bandhas. While doing yoga, the idea is for your movements to not be heard, to become like a superhero that can sneak around, unnoticed. I often joke with my students that this could give them the ability to eavesdrop on their children. Of course, only if necessary. It sure could make it easier playing the role of Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. But generally speaking, walking softly makes you seem like a more compassionate and relaxed person.

Some Buddhist cultures take walking softly to a whole new level, they go so far as to sweep their path every where they go as to not step on any living creature. Most of us aren’t going to go to such extremes but it wouldn’t hurt to become a little more aware of our movements and the impact they have on others and even our-selves. It could do us some good to become more aware of our body language. There was a study done about how many years slouching ages us. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that we look 7 years older when we slouch. Ha, did you just sit up a little straighter when you read that? Another negative to slouching is that you collapse at your diaphragm which is the muscle that facilitates breathing for you. If your slumped over, I guarantee you are not breathing optimally. Imagine what effect that might be having on your mood and energy. Forget that liquid crap – 5 hour energy. I guarantee you sitting up straighter and moving around more will give you energy that you are lacking.

This idea of “live gently and walk softly” is the same as “leave no trace”. When you venture out into wilderness you are to respect it enough to feel no need to change it. Leave things just as you found them, do not leave any trash, do not break any branches, attempt to not wear away the beauty that should be left for others to see. It should be as if you were never there, just as you should never know when a good ninja has passed through. We shouldn’t need to try to change yoga either, but we should try to become one with our environment. Now a days, many people in the yoga community have this need to put their stamp on yoga’s history, to lay claim to something that was a gift to us all by the benevolent God Shiva, as the story goes. Just as the divine mother gave all of us this beautiful earth. All the more reason to live gently, for future generations. All the more reason to leave yoga unchanged so the richness of its history isn’t watered down. Samurai were a bit more refined than ninja’s were. The samurai acted by a code of conduct and they were devoted to serving their king. So maybe a little ninja skill and a little samurai skill could do us all some good.

People are clomping around as if they are Frankenstein. If you’re scaring small children with your mannerisms and behavior, there is a problem. I often say to my students that the expressions they make while doing yoga should never frighten a small child. I remind them that if someone accidentally walked into the yoga room they shouldn’t think it’s an anger management meeting. From the way we move our bodies, to the way we breathe, to the expressions on our face, we should apply the softly and gently approach.

I love how sometimes students are forced into walking softly when they choose to skip savasana. Yet I am never surprised that some people can’t pull it off. As they clang, jingle and stomp their way out of the yoga room. I have always thought two of the most unattractive qualities are being oblivious and irresponsible. Yoga is great for changing both of these behavioral problems. I’ve heard it said in a much more poetic fashion than this, but once yoga awakens you, you can’t go back to sleep. Meaning once your awareness has moved into your physical being (niyama) and outward towards others (yama) you can’t undo those positive affect’s its bound to have. This is a blessing and a curse, but I can’t imagine living any other way. So I live gently and I always try to walk softly. Matter of fact, I like to try to practice it, in the most literal sense possible by walking around the yoga room when they are all peacefully tucked into savasana. Every now and then a creak in my knee or ankle gives away my movement, but for the most part I have mastered being a yogi ninja.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

36 backbends, 1/3 of the way there.

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“Life is a great big beautiful three-ring circus. There are those on the floor making their lives among the heads of lions and hoops of fire, and those in the stands complacent and wowed, their mouths stuffed with popcorn.” -Christopher Hawke

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Bending the light backwards.

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Arching with the morning light.

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Sometimes backbends feel like you’re in a tight spot.

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Backbends can be a heavenly experience.

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Bow! Wow! Wow! Yippee! Yo! Yippee! Yay! It’s another great day for backbends.

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“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” – Bruce Lee

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“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the inessential.” Bruce Lee

Crazy ideas are great! They are what keep life juicy. In Ayurveda it’s called “ojas”. We all could use a little more juiciness, right? You know how awful it is when you’re eyeballing a piece of fruit sitting on your counter, just waiting for it to ripen to perfection. You finally take a bite, only find its spoiled and all dried up. That’s what happens when you sit on ideas for far too long. They go bad, from all the ways you talk yourself out of moving forward with them. Well, this is one of my recent crazy ideas, which is a small part of a bigger one. I’d like to share with you what I have learned so far. I am only 36 pictures in to the plan of taking 108 different pictures of backbends, all over the place. I’m at the 1/3 of the way there mark, like the 1st 1/3 of the sound of Aum, aaaaaaaaaah. I’m hoping there is a shift in the next third and a final explosion of insight in the final third. Just like we have to create that verbal sound of “A” way in the back of our throats, I had this idea brewing in the back of my mind for a while. The courage I needed to do it finally moved forward out of the dark shadows of all my doubts. One of my students inspired me to take this journey. Everywhere interesting that he went he did a headstand and snapped a picture of it. Now that I am 1/3 of the way in, I’m slightly wishing that I had chosen a pose like headstand (Sirsasana) or downward facing dog (Adho mukha svanasana) to photographically journal, instead of wheel, as I am a natural forward bendy kind of girl. The word natural and backbend don’t belong together in my case. Too many years of running, or too much comfort in protecting myself. I’m not much of a risk taker, I am more a creature of habit. I find comfort in the consistencies in my life. For me, forward bending has always been consistently easy. Backbending (Urdhva dhanurasana), however, doesn’t have much consistency. I am sure you will see that in my pictures. I hope you enjoy the photos. If you’d like to check out all of them, you can follow me on Instagram @catherinewoods. I’m really starting to enjoy the challenge of finding interesting backdrops, trying new shapes with my body and sharing quotes. But maybe next time I get a crazy idea like this I’ll do 108 child’s postures (Balasana)

So here is what I have learned so far.
1) Not all surfaces are conducive for backbends
2) Backbends are cruel without the proper warm-up
3) Bending your spine in the wee morning hours is for the young, and I mean like the 8-year-old gymnast, not the 42-year-old runner/yogi. (However I prefer to shoot these pics in the morning as I do not care for an audience and the morning light is beautiful. So for that reason, I must suffer. Art is an expression of suffering, sometimes.)
4) Some places and or surfaces are very scary to lift yourself up off the ground in a vulnerable, belly exposed position.
5) Backbends on treacherous surfaces drive the point home of sutra 2.46 Sthira sukham asanam. First and foremost sthira! Steady! Then ease comes.
6) Since I am doing most of the pictures as selflies this has made repetition a great teacher. My teacher, Tim Miller taught me the benefit of repetition years ago with backbends. He has a way of inspiring you to do 12 backbends.
7) Pictures always speak louder than words. I have become immensely informed by my photos as to where I need to do some work and research. Try it, you will see things that you might not yet be able to propriocept.
8) From sharing my photo’s, so far to date (By what people have chosen to share with me privately), I have inspired 3 random people to try to do a backbend and to keep them incorporated in their practice. (I’m finding backbends in some yoga communities are becoming a lost art)
9) My lazy habits are being exposed, my external hip rotators overwork, while my internal rotators underwork. My cervical spine is stiff.
10) I have learned that I am a dreamer, that I believe I can fit into tight places and do things my body has never done before. Not only am I a dreamer, but I’m not afraid to leave my comfort zone after all.

Questions I am wondering if I’ll have answered at the end of this 108 photographic journey
1) Will my backbends improve in such a way that I will be able to do tic toc’s?
2) Will I understand my psoas better? And get better movement and expression through it?
3) Will my body require less backbend preparation to experience a good, comfortable and correct backbend?
4) Will I be able to grab my heels in Kapotasana, by myself?
5) As I have been enjoying finding murals to use as a backdrop to my photo’s, I wonder if I will finally make some room to start painting again. Long before being a yoga teacher, I was an artist. I admire each and every one of the artist I have used in my photos. They have embodied the “Go big or stay home.” mantra with their art and I thank them for that.

I think at the pinnacle 108, it will just be a landmark. I imagine at this point that I have caught some sort of backbend bug. If you were to talk to my students this wouldn’t be a surprise, as I have been driving home the numerous benefits of backbending for years now. I now feel like I am on a mission to find the most unique expressions of backbends and the most unique backdrops to accent the experience. I intend to be 80 years old and still standing up out of Urdhva dhanurasana. Join me. I promise, it will be good for your health.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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