Monthly Archives: December 2013

I sea life is urching you.

I feel giddy with excitement whenever I find the skeleton of a sea urchin that has washed ashore. This is such a big deal to me that I actually have a little sea urchin dance that I do that my husband just shakes his head at. I think the fact that their shell is less than a millimeter thick and is delicate beyond measure leaves me feeling blessed to have found it. It’s quite a miracle that it managed to wash ashore in one piece when you think about the power of the ocean and its constant rhythm. Wave after wave thrusting into the sandy surface with the yanking force it has of pulling all back out to sea that don’t resist. I feel like each and every one I find is a sacred gift from the earth, something to be cherished. I have a bowl filled with their little delicate bodies. When I stare at this bowl I always come back to this one thought “What yoga does for me is a lot like what that urchin has gone through in its life to end up in my hand.”

A sea urchin skeleton, Sullivans Island, SC.

A sea urchin skeleton, Sullivans Island, SC.

This tiny little creature when it’s alive moves about the bottom of the ocean seeking just one thing – algae. It’s their version of “samadhi”. Nature has a beautiful way of giving all creatures a fighting chance against their natural predators. Sea Urchins are covered in sharp, pointy spines similar to a hedgehog. They are sometimes called the “hedgehog of the sea”. They move about by these tiny feet that suck water in and out creating their locomotion. They don’t like to be ruffled too much by the ocean, so they tend to like tidal pools. Their life goes on until they are caught by a predator or captured for food, as they are consider a delicacy in some circles. But if their life continues and they die of other causes, they will eventually make it to shore looking nothing like their original, living, breathing form. Their spines are gone, their body hollowed out, and they are an exquisite beauty of perfectly balanced geometric patterns. The lightest touch could break them, yet somehow they manage on occasion to make it ashore in one piece. Their demise allows them to become beautiful art in the eye of the beholder. All are not so lucky, some wash ashore and bust into pieces, looking like tiny remnants of a broken christmas ornament. This skeleton was their home, it was their castle, it was their place of knowingness.

Photo by Julie Wynne from Oceanic National Geogrpahic.com

Photo by Julie Wynne from Oceanic National Geogrpahic.com

I feel like I’m starting to look like the living breathing form of sea urchin with spines sticking out of me warning all to stay back. Then I head to a yoga class. After I practice I end up feeling like the washed ashore skeleton, what once was prickly, with spines clearly telling all to stay back is now transformed. Yoga has a way of removing the spines I feel like I am arming myself with. It has a way of gutting me of my insides and leaving me open, spacious, and beautifully balanced.

Life has a way of making us feel like we need armor, like how the sea urchin has its coat of sharp spikes protecting it. We tend on occasions to mumble and grumble through life shooing away opportunities for friendship, or adventures based on our perceived threat that these will disturb our comfort with the status quo. We can either prickle our way through life, or we can give in to being more porous, delicate and light. We are creatures of habit and always will be for the most part. We aren’t going to buy a different brand of toothpaste every time we run out, we don’t tend to go to bed at a different time every night, nor do we change habits like how we brush our teeth, or what our morning rituals are. We like routine, we fall comfortably into patterns. However, not all our patterns are working for us. Some of these patterns can start to look a lot like those prickly spines. Keeping out opportunity for growth.

As the opening invocation of Ashtanga yoga says the “samsara halahala”. Not all our patterns are worth keeping not all our cycles are worth repeating. The sea urchins know that in order to go on making an impression in this world even after they die, the best way to do that is to change. It leaves behind a very unique and different version of itself. We are able to do the same. Shed off your layers, your patterns and expose the most minimalist version of who you are: not so weighed down with pins and needles, but light and balanced. Next time you chant the opening prayer see the sea urchin in your mind as it is in life, and then as it is in death. Let it inspire you to quit being so bristly. Keep yourself open and try to become comfortable feeling hollow. Keep trying to stay whole, instead of shattered. Hold strong to your essential self and discard what isn’t essential. Remove the halahala – the poison, like how the poisonous spines of the sea urchin do not wash ashore with it, they release and let go of its old form, so should you.

Try to be delicate, but invincible. Be light, but solid. Be beautiful, but humble. Let others appreciate your beauty, but don’t be attached to your form. Be focused on the one thing that drives you, but don’t be threatened by those that might try to take it away. Move with the current, but be just as content to settle in one place. Be willing to release, so that you can change. Be comforted by the fact that your true self is always there, it is the shell. You are unique, different and beautiful. Stop letting life urch you. Quit being so prickly. Trust me, I have seen the beauty of what yoga can do. It can cleanse you of your history and leave you feeling washed ashore, restful and hollow. But being hollow isn’t bad, things that are hollow let the light shine through.

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

The sign says “pull”.

Have you ever found yourself pushing against a door and it won’t open because it’s a door you pull- not push? Do you find yourself chuckling when you realize there’s a sign right in front of you – “PULL”? I find people behave this way in yoga too. Which is, they use the wrong energy to try to achieve a particular result. I see people pushing their hips back while they should be trying to pull their hips forward. I see people pulling themselves up into headstands but not remembering to push down into the floor. I see people pulling themselves forward with their arms, but not pushing down through their legs. It seems a little bit like trying to get people to pat their head and rub their tummies. Why can’t we do two things at once? I thought we were the great multi-tasking society of highly evolved people. Seeing the way people practice yoga always makes me question how effective they really are at multi-tasking? If we can’t push and pull at the same time, we are truly missing the beauty of our universe. It’s made of opposites and it’s how we use these opposites that will truly make us successful.

The space shuttle get’s lift off by pushing down against the earth. It all begins with the way we push down, in every posture. It’s in the downward effort that you get upward momentum. It’s in the setting of your foundation that the posture is constructed. I see the opposite of this all the time in yoga, particularly with headstands. Pushing and pulling are both necessary to stay inverted. You should pull your legs above you using your hamstrings, but all the while keep pushing down with your forearms. Then once you’re there you need to push your thighs back but your hips forward. You need to pull your ribs in, and push/broaden your shoulder blades out. All of the poses we do have opposites at work. Downward dog you push with your arms and pull with your legs. In upward dog you push with your arms, pull with your back, you push with your quads, and pull with your inner thighs. This goes on and on. When you start to look for the duality and learn to use it effectively, the posture will start to stabilize. You can be damn sure that if you are not stable in an asana then you have not yet found this balance of the opposites. As sutra 2.46 says “Sthira sukham asanam”, first – steady yourself. Balance is crucial, it’s why a ship has ballast that keeps it from tipping over to one side, and why a plane can’t land if it is tipping to one side. Even my car tells me when it’s out of balance by sending an alarm when one of the four tires is not equal to the others.
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Let’s look at things that you have probably experienced to help you understand this application of opposites. The first thing I think of is a swing – if you pull to hard with your right arm it immediately makes you swing crooked. How about this… why does someone limp? Because one leg is doing more of the work. Injury or weakness sets in motion a change in their gate. It’s like trying to push a grocery cart with one hand, or riding a bike with one hand. You can do these things, but you should notice that you have to do twice the amount of work and twice the amount of correcting. Where if you would use duality to your favor, you would be exerting less effort. You’d be more efficient and hence experience better balance. Harmony comes through equally applying effort and resistance to all your muscles that are set up as pairs.

You have two groups of muscles – the agonist and the antagonist. The antagonist resist what the agonist is trying to do. When the antagonist resist equal to the effort, the movement is smooth and balanced. The sooner we come to realize this the easier life becomes and the more we learn to ride the duality gracefully. It plays out like this – the Quadriceps oppose the action of the hamstrings and vice versa. Just like the opposite of being lazy, is hard work. Duality exists everywhere. Because it’s such an ingrained part of our life, we forget how these forces can work together harmoniously.

If yoga students would take a greater interest in the way their body works, they would find themselves in a state of auto-correction all the time. They would see that the adjustments that their teachers are making can be made with their own applied effort of the right muscle. As things go, there is either an excessive amount of energy or deficient amount. Tightness is too much energy, where as looseness is too little. Here is an example from one of my most favorite yoga asanas – Urdhva Dhanurasana; if your quadriceps are stiff and tight which means they are short, and at the same time your hamstrings are weak and slack it is no surprise that you would struggle to get up off the ground. And that is just one example, keep in mind you have 640 muscles in your body. Take that idea and apply it to 10/12 more pairs of muscle and then you might begin to understand this amazing kinetic chain that you walk around in all day. This might give you a better understanding to why upward bow is difficult, but not impossible.

When our body is in harmony it feels easy to be human; to be alive, vibrant and capable of some of the craziest looking yoga asanas. At 42 I am still surprising myself. I am still taking risk with my self implied limitations. The space shuttle has put astronauts out there to explore uncharted territories and to continually make new discoveries. Your body is capable of shuttling you to new discoveries. It is in the space of disbelief that you will find that you are pushing yourself into new territories.

Pattabhi Jois was said to have much “Gravitas, meaning his energy pulled people towards him, that what he was putting out was magnetic. Find something that is powerful enough to rotate around, the way the sun is powerful enough to keep our planet in orbit. I have found that Yoga is my sun. It keeps me moving, it keeps me illuminated and well balanced. Yoga is my anchor and my engine all at the same time. I can PULL myself back down to earth with yoga or I can PUSH myself to shoot for the stars. But it’s only going to work if I know how to push and pull myself in all manners of speaking.

Good luck and I hope you find lift off in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

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

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