Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great Courage, Mighty Enthusiasm, and Full Strength

Happy New Year!! I have a new blog If you would like to continue to follow my blog you can subscribe to it on the new site. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you in 2011!!

During my 20 plus years of Yoga study, I have had the joy and challenge of practicing under a great variety of circumstances. I used to practice religiously outside in Chautauqua Park, Boulder Colorado in the icy winter, pre dawn darkness wearing full winter clothes including hat and mittens. On the other hand in Mysore, I had my 'spot' in the back right corner of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois's original shala, the spot where I showed up every day for an entire year to learn the 3rd series. And more recently I had magical, centering experiences practicing in temples in Southern India while shooting my primary series DVD. In this week's post I want to tell you about the unlikely, ghetto style spot where I currently do my daily Yoga practice and how I've come to so highly value that unsavory spot.
I live in a slumlord managed, falling apart Philadelphia brownstone row home. I have three house mates, two cats and our two main living rooms are crammed full of recording and musical gear. My living situation lacks space. In fact there isn't a consistent spot in any of the rooms to lay down my mat for practice. However if I time it right, there is one spot in the entry to the house just inside the front door, the thin carpeted floor is far from clean, there is precisely enough space for my mat between the door, two crumbling walls immediately on either side and a vent on the floor in front. I have to practice in the very early morning hours before dawn-- enforced Brahma Muhurta practice time!- ( between 3 and 6am --the most auspicious time of day to take practice)!! At that time everyone else is asleep and the chances of traffic needing to tramp across my yoga mat is reduced.
When I do seated postures in this cosmically designated, exclusive spot, my gaze naturally falls along the back wall of a vintage piece of recording gear that sits there. Down near the base of this large wooden box is an old bumper sticker that reads: When All We Ever Wanted Was To Learn, Love, and Grow. My attention has been rather forced on this little sticker, and my mind has begun to ponder it, to puzzle through it, and chew on it with zen 'koan' like curiosity. I see it as I would a dream, a coded message from my inner depths to my ego, the small self who frequently likes to go 'negative' in response to all manner of experience.
Scores of unknown brilliant people with talent and creativity have succumbed to some form of negativity within themselves only to turn away from or misdirect their inner gifts, to give up or quit. Jack Kerouac had this to say in his legendary novel The Dharma Bums: "I was very devout in those days and was practicing my religious devotions almost to perfection. Since then I've become a little hypocritical about my lip service and a little tired and cynical. Because now I am grown so old and neutral…..But then I really believed in the reality of charity and kindness and humility and zeal and neutral tranquility and wisdom and ecstasy, and I believed that I was an old time bhikku in modern clothes wandering the world…".
This is a sad and tragic statement, a statement that could be coming from any of us. We can become tired, 'grown so old and neutral' and lethally cynical. There is so much about our lives that can bring us down, give us reason to become bitter, to give up and stop trying to create and grow and transform, to say a fundamental NO to cosmic Goodness, to Wisdom, to ecstasy, to the symbolic life within us where the Sacred is created and brought to the light of consciousness.
Like Kerouac I remember a younger more innocent time in my life. A time when being positive came more naturally, I had more youthful exuberance, more joie de vivre, and more unquestioning optimism about my spiritual quest. It was before a jaded, at times surly voice entered the stage of my mind, a negative voice that can zap my resolve to respond with care and love to my experience. This tired attitude can cause me to complain and whine about people or things and give way to anger, apathy, judgement, envy, self doubt, pessimism or isolation.
This turning away from spirit, affirmation, and meaning can lead to perpetual negativity, to suicide, drug abuse, obesity, consumerism, apathy or paralyzing cynicism. Many of us are spiritually hiding either too jaded or afraid to seek depth and meaning within ourselves with enough passion to 'break through' and learn to share our visions with others. How many of us are working at things with our whole heart, working on creating and being part of something greater that we could all share and benefit from?

There are many people with their eyes open whose hearts are shut.
And what do they see?

This line from a Rumi poem points out that in order to open my heart I have to see beyond 'matter', beyond the rational, beyond the seeable and be able to translate my experience of matter into something personally meaningful to me. My outer experience must become symbolic to me, giving me signs and messages that point me to inner direction, spiritual direction. I practice Yoga to be able to continue to believe in those qualities Kerouac felt he had lost, qualities of 'charity and kindness and humility and zeal and neutral tranquility and wisdom and ecstasy'.
Each day's practice holds the key, gives me the renewed possibility for my full expression of 'living, loving and growing'. Practice is essential because often when challenging circumstances arise, even though I'm not directly conscious of it, all I see is 'matter', my heart closes and I'm not able to access it. That is why I need to be involved in 'sadhana' (spiritual practice) to open my other eyes and really see the heart and Spirit of things beyond matter. From the same poem a few lines later Rumi says:

If you are not one of those light filled lovers
(ie if you see only matter)
restrain your desire-body's intensity.
Put limits on how much you eat
and how long you lie down.
(ie do Yoga)

Presently my practice space sucks, it's cold, unkempt, cramped and it's available for only a limited time each day. But I love that spot; I cherish it when I'm alone and silent at 4am and able to practice. My effort, sweat, concentration, and surrender are the qualities that prevent me from giving in to negativity, to cynicism, doubt, lethargy and worse. I am reminded that it doesn't matter where I lay down my mat, it can be anywhere. Almost all variables are nullified when I make my start in Surya A. It doesn't matter that the floor is dirty or the walls are peeling or that I'll be interrupted by inner gremlins that have an aversion to concentration and breath.
Practicing Yoga causes me to continue to say YES to my real life, the life within, its inner meaning and how that meaning finds expression in outer forms, even when my habit patterns continue to tell me to say NO to my inner life. Yoga gives me the power to respond with more openness and love when I'm feeling like closing my heart.
When we've practiced Yoga for a significant period of time, time enough to be transformed from the inside out, there is a force that develops in us, a strength that causes us to want to keep making the effort to heal and transform ourselves, our relationships, and our world-- no matter what inner or outer circumstances we find ourselves in.
"The following qualities are found in the bodies of every Yogi: great courage, mighty enthusiasm, and full strength."---The Siva Samhita

Monday, December 6, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Dropping Back (PT 3)

Namaste! I'm pleased to offer Part 3 of The Asana Kitchen's drop back series. I encourage you to get out your mat, warm up your back and practice along with the video and instructions. This time I've also included written notes to supplement the video!
After this I'll have one more post before the New Year. Thank you for following my blog by watching my videos and reading my writings. I'm excited for another year of sharing Yoga with you all. If you have benefited from my blogs I'd appreciate you sharing them with your Yoga friends through any of the social media channels. I'm available as a resource to you and your Yoga community. I would love the opportunity to work with you in person. To invite me to teach at your studio, please send me your contact information and we'll make it happen! Be sure to check back for my last post of the year because I'm going out with bang...! Hari Om!! Jai Ma! Enjoy! David

Review of Alignment Principles for dropping back and coming up:

The arms vertically, actively reach up palms facing each other
Lift the upper spine upwards and curve it far forward into the body.
Move the sacrum forward into the body causing the hips to move forward. Resist the forward movement of the hips by grounding the thighbones, make the thighs powerfully firm and stabilize the legs.
As you start to go back reach up, out and over.
Continue to lift the chest and curve the upper spine up and forward into the body. Keep the legs straight and firm as long as you are able. The stronger and more flexible you are the less you'll ever have to bend your knees when you drop back.
As you drop back, touch down, stabilize the arms, land with as much control as possible, and then let the body sway slightly further in the direction it was already going. Use momentum to rock forward as you prepare the legs to support the weight of the spine. Keep the head back, keep your eyes fixed on a spot between the hands.
Lead with your chest, try to lift and curve the spine creating the exact same action that helped you drop back. Project your spine and hips forward until you feel your legs underneath you supporting your curving spine and head. Keep your head back until the very end finally bringing the head up when you are standing upright.

*Use the wall or other props as is necessary to create a healthy, sustainable step by step progression for learning to utilize the alignment principles.
*Don't go for 'too much too soon'. The true enjoyment and benefit comes from flowing with the dynamic, rhythmic play safely within the limits of your body. Not in reaching an end goal. Use your alignment knowledge to know where your particular edge is.
*Be patient allow several months or however long it takes for the proper knowledge and body intelligence to come to you in order to master this life affirming, dynamic move.

***Note about the pelvis as you set up to drop back: rotate the pelvis in a slight backward tilt (like a gentle tuck, but not a tuck that flexes the lumbar spine)
achieve the feeling of this backward rotation by imagining the pelvis as the paddle wheel of a mississippi steamboat. (the axle passes through the hip joints). Imagine the paddle wheel turns in a counter clockwise direction, moves up and over from front to back.
*****Also note lengthening the coccyx means cultivating a sense that your vestigial tail is actually a real tail with length and weight. Imagine that you have a tail like a monkey or a great cat, a tail that has weight and dangles down behind or between your legs. Let this feeling of having a tail ' drag' the back of the pelvis downwards towards the earth. This action helps awaken uddhyana and mula bandha's.

Additional Notes

Focus on the drop back first as a way of getting started. Dropping back is generally easier than coming up.

First get ready action, for the significant play of forces you are about to set in motion. Center your self as though you are about to surf, to catch and ride an ocean wave, it's THAT kind of readiness--poised ready to respond, to execute, and balance.

Go through your set up progression (see above) to ensure maximum opening of the chest and thus maximum participation of the upper spine and in order to optimize the use of your legs.

Clearly center yourself over your foundation even as your center of gravity shifts forward as you go back.

As you reach up and over make sure you take the head back and look for a spot on the wall, pad or ground, a spot between the hands that will help visually orient you to prepare you for landing.

There should be a tiny bit of give in your landing for softness but keep the arms straight.
If you let the elbows bend and give way to easily you'll increase the chances of bonking your head upon landing.

Once you have the feeling for dropping back, think about coming back up. Initially a fair amount of rhythm and momentum can provide you with the extra surge you need to come up.

In order to use momentum effectively you have to attempt to come back up utilizing the motion that was generated when you dropped back. When you drop back your body's weight will be going down and back towards the wall (even though you have lifted your spine up and forward in opposition to this) In order to come back up, you want to let the body continue in the direction it was already going for a little longer. Keep the arms straight and let the body move in the opposite direction than you want to go to come back up. This step is key to creating momentum to push off and come up. You drop back, touch down, let the body sway slightly further in the direction it was already going then prepare the legs to support the weight of the spine. Keep the head back, keep your eyes fixed on your spot between the hands.

Lead with your chest, try to lift and curve the spine creating the exact same action that helped you drop back. Project your spine and hips forward until you feel your legs underneath you supporting your curving spine and head. Keep your head back until the very end finally bringing the head up when you are standing upright.

1) use the wall:
A) as an effective, safe way to begin.
B) as a way to progress step by step while staying in control of some of the important alignment principles.
C) to help you work with your fear of dropping back.
D) to feel of the essential role of rhythm in learning to drop back and come up.
2) Use firm foam pads
(as shown in part's 2 and 3 of the series. the pad dimensions: 2" high 12" wide 24" long)
A) when you can drop back with wall and are able to get most of the way to the floor.
B) when you've become comfortable enough using the wall to skillfully and rhythmically drop back and come up with clear breathing
C) when you want to focus more on learning to come up.
D) when you can drop back and come up from the floor but want to refine specific points and work with aligning the legs or get the feeling of keeping the heels more grounded.
E) when you want to use less momentum to come up.
F) when you want to soften your drop back landing.


*Contemplate the role of the earth and the importance of feeling grounded when working on drop backs
*Find the earth through the legs and then trust the earth! Trust the legs!
*consciously lower your center of gravity so that you feel physically closer to the earth.
*work with imagery to enhance the stability of the legs in your posture. Imagine that the feet and legs have thrust up through the earth similiar an outcropping, an island that has thrust up from the ocean bottom.
*learn to lift and curve the spine forward into the torso in order to use the support of the legs to center your self and control your speed dropping back and coming up.
*use momentum and rhythm to invite the entire body to participate dynamically in dropping back and coming up.
*co-ordinate the rhythm of the breath with sweeping rhythm of the skeleton
* feel an ascending, uninterrupted curve through the length of the spine.

*gaze over and down at a spot on the ground between your hands leading with the eyes on the way down and allowing the eyes to follow on the way up.
*proceed confidently, knowing that you will be able to execute the move. Hesitation causes you to interrupt the rhythm and gives you the message to close the chest and not to rely on the foundation of the posture.

To purchase pads go to the Friendly Foam shop
You need 24"L x 24"W x 2"H If you mention you need a yoga prop, with those dimensions, and say you want the firmest kind of foam they will understand.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Dropping Back Parts 1-2

Greetings! I'm excited to offer parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part Asana Kitchen video series answering our most popular question to date: how to successfully drop back into a back bend and then stand up! Part One looks at the principles of dropping back and standing. Part Two addresses the problem of the heels lifting going down and the feet splaying out when coming back up.
Get out your mat, warm up your back and try to do what I have presented in the video's. You will benefit more by doing rather than simply watching and then trying to remember what to do the next time you practice.
Regardless of your level of experience, I recommend you watch and work with both video's because each part contains important basic information for more beginning students and subtler, nuanced information for more experienced students.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interview on Prescribing Yoga

I recently did an interview on the blog Prescribing Yoga and I would like to share it with all of you. It has some relevant information on the practice that I feel would be beneficial for each of you. I would also like to thank Christina Palmer for having such an amazing and informational blog as well as asking me insightful questions regading Yoga and the practice.

How did you first learn about yoga?

I was sixteen and working as a bus boy. The dishwasher was really into metaphysics, supernatural phenomenons, UFO's, conspiracy theories, etc, and one day he told me about Yoga. That afternoon he took me to the local park and showed me Surya Namaskara. From that point on I was practicing Sun Salutations.

Tell us about the path your yoga practice has taken.

In 1991 I placed 4th in the Seattle Marathon after training rigorously for a few months and my body became completely tight and so I went to an Iyengar Yoga class. I got hooked and started going everyday. Eventually, I found two important teachers who lit the fire of Yoga in me and helped me to choose to make Yoga my life path. Then in 1993 I saw a video of Pattabhi Jois teaching his students (Freeman, Chuck and Tim) and saw in the Yoga Journal that he was coming to LA. I went and studied with him for one month. Then in '94 I went to India and was there almost continuously for two years. At the end of that time Guruji certified me. I went back to Seattle and for ten years ran the Ashtanga Yoga School always returning to India nearly one or twice a year to work with Guruji.

On one of my first visits to India I discovered singing and started practicing Bhakti Yoga by way of music. I now consider myself a practitioner of both Bhakti and Hatha Yoga.

For the past few years, I have started to make a more organized and conscious choice to share what I'm learning through social media: dvd's, cd's, and blogging. All of these media outlets are pushing me to go deeper into teaching as a service and to share what I have been given. And that's where I continually see my future leading, continuing to practice, study and share what I'm learning.

Who have been your greatest yoga teachers and why?

Marie Svoboda, who taught me about the process of going into an asana and that what is most important is the process not the end. She also taught me about rhythm.

Aadil Palkhivala, who still teaches in Seattle. He is a senior Iyengar teacher and taught me to think creatively and therapeutically about the body. And how to endlessly refine an asana. He also taught me how to appreciate when a magical atmosphere arises in a class.

Ramanad Patel, who teaches workshops worldwide and taught me about combining Bhakti Yoga and asana work in a class.

Pattabhi Jois, who taught me everything... how to stand on my own and how to be a complete anchor. And how to be yourself. And how much power we each have. Guruji wasn't playing around or putting on an act.

What motivates you to practice every day?

How much better I feel when I practice. And how alive I feel. And how I can finally feel my life force really flow. And the mental places that I go when I practice. The concentration that I can achieve. And also the physical benefits.

Why do you practice Ashtanga yoga?

Because Ashtanga Yoga is the only type that can adequately allow me to work with my energy the way that feels right to me. I like how physical it is. I also like the concept of Vinyasa and how working with patterns of the breath is the center of the practice.

What is your daily routine like?

I am always busy and doing things. I don't like to feel that I'm wasting my life. I don't consciously keep a schedule but my day is always consistent. If I have to teach Mysore class I wake up at 4AM and practice. Sometimes I can squeeze in some classic Indian scales. I teach at 7AM and when I'm through I go home and eat a whole grain breakfast (sweet brown rice cream, oatmeal, cream of wheat.) Then I either sing again or I begin my writing for the day. At this time I am also double tasking by cooking a macro meal (pressure cooking brown rice, slow cooking vegetables, burdock, Kimpira). But either way I will be singing or writing until I eat at 3PM. This is when I usually take a two hour break. A break usually involves some reading, a cat nap or helping my partner Joy on her film projects. But at around 5PM I start revving up again, answering emails, sometimes Joy and I will film, but most days I'm writing until its time to sleep at around 10pm. I don't need a lot of sleep, never have.

Tell us about your diet.

I practice a wide macrobiotics. Because I'm not sick so for me the macro diet does not need to be narrow. But I also have a Yin disposition and therefore, am inclined towards Yin foods (sugar, alcohol, caffeine) so I have to be very conscious to eat the Yang foods my body needs in order to be balanced. The most hearty Yang foods are short grain brown rice, burdock, turnip, daikon, carrots, and then cooked for hours. One of the things I love about the macro diet is that you do put a lot of energy into making the food but in the end you have an amazingly tasty and healthy dish. Its not like you spend hours in the kitchen making Fettucine Alfredo, where the result is tasty food, but also super high in fat.

What are 3 pieces of advice you would give serious yoga practitioners about their diet?

I've said it before: The diet is the final frontier for a Yogi. Its a lot easier for people to acclimate to waking up and going to bed earlier, or being more physically tired throughout the day, but eating a proper diet is really challenging. My advice is more on how to transition into a healthier diet.

#1 Be kind to yourself when your transitioning into a healthier diet. This is where most people have trouble. If you start off too extreme… cutting out everything you enjoy and just eating brown rice and turnips, you will probably not hold the diet. It takes a long time to change your diet so transition slowly. In the beginning eat the occasional slice of cheese and slice of cake.

#2: Get onto whole grains. Buy a pressure cooker and a grain meal and learn to use them. The food tastes a whole lot better.

#3: Most importantly, make a very careful study of how the food you eat affects your practice. You really have to study this because you want to have an optimum practice each day. This means you have to feel when your body system and digestion is ready to practice. So when your practicing take note of how you feel and what it was that you ate yesterday. And then if you observe carefully and long enough your practice will teach you what you need to eat.

What advice do you have for people interested in starting a yoga practice?

I'm biased but I think that Ashtanga is the best practice. And the way to learn Ashtanga is to find a teacher who teaches Mysore. Sign up for the month and follow their instruction. If you can't get access to a teacher then a dvd can do it. Also, make an intention within yourself to honor your body. If you want to start a Yoga practice you need to realize that Yoga is a large path. There's a lot to it. Its a discipline that takes several years to understand and get established in, and in the beginning, you don't have to understand very much of it. You only have to make a start. Start small and simple and see how you feel and see where that takes you. And continue to feel what's happening and value what you feel. Don't do too much too soon. And be careful not to get swept away by your ego trying asanas that your body is not ready for because you can get hurt.

What advice do you have for people with busy schedules who must maintain a home practice?

1: Have a consistent time that you practice.

2: If you only have the energy to do ten minutes, five minutes, one Sun Salutation, then just do that. Again, you have to be kind to yourself. Because that one sun Salutation will carry you onto the next morning when you may feel like doing the entire Primary.

How has your practice changed over the past 10 years?

My body has aged. I've slowed down some. I value breathing and simplicity much more. My focus is way deeper, way more subtle, as well as my breath. I still love practicing but for very different reasons. Now, I love the very moment that it's happening rather then what I'm going to get out of it when I'm done.

How do you see your practice changing over the next 10 years?

I don't know what's in store and I'm happy about that. I only know that I will be doing it and it's bound to get deeper and take me to new places that I've never gone. And I'm excited about that.

What is your biggest fear?

I tried to just think of one but this is what came out: That for whatever reason people can't relate to my experience. That I haven't gone deep enough. That I haven't applied myself enough. I'll run out of time before I've gotten the chance to really find my wisdom. That I can't face and accept my ugliness and join in healing around that.

Who have been the most influential people influencing your health habits?
Pattabhi Jois
Marie Sbavoda
Macrobiotic teachers (AnneMarie Colbin, Herman Aihara, Michel Abehsera)
My mom

If you could tell a room of thousands of people one piece of life advice, what would it be?

You have an incredible reserve of life force within you that is meant to be positively channelled to heal yourself and the world. So face whatever demons that block you and use your power to heal and move life forward.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell your 25-year old self?

Don't be afraid. You have so much power and so much talent just go for it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


In this new post I speak about the concept action in asana, action as a catalyst to the revolution within you. There is a wide range from (superficial to deep) of what constitutes action in asana. At times cultivating action may mean that you activate specific muscle groups to move your bones and achieve dynamic alignment of the skeleton. When you lengthen your hamstring muscles in a forward bend, you must contract the quadriceps muscles in the front thighs. The action here is to engage the opposing muscle group to achieve a dynamism between agonist and antagonist muscle groups.

This action works the hamstring safely but also shapes the leg intelligently and leads to the deeper, more subtle action of pressing the thigh bone further into the leg. (called grounding the femur). Grounding the femur ensures that the femur sits comfortably in the hip socket and helps optimize the transfer of weight from the pelvis through the legs, feet into the earth. Grounding the femur puts you in touch with the musculature of the pelvic floor and helps awaken mula bandha.

At first cultivating action in asana may seem like something small, tedious or doing a lot of work for little or no results. But the effort you put forth to activate certain opposing muscle groups or to properly align your skeleton in each posture serves as a foundational pillar of your health, progress and growth. That effort helps you to better cleanse and work your body safely and sustainably, it sharpens the mind, gives extraordinary powers of concentration, and opens you to the interior limbs of ashtanga yoga.

The internal basis of action in asana practice is to train your senses to remain awake to the inner feelings of the body. You develop highly tuned sensory receptors that reach throughout the inner field of the body. These receptors bring back energetic information that helps you become aware, helps you penetrate to even the most remote regions of the body. You develop special eyes that see inward, special ears that listen within and most importantly a special 'skin' that helps you feel within. As the senses become 'purified' and internalized you become more conscious better able to harness life force and direct it where you find flow and harmony.

When you begin to work with actions in the body you go to a deeper level to perceive the pattern behind the movements of seemingly unrelated parts. Your skeletal, respiratory, psychological, nervous, digestive, circulatory---all of the major systems of your being both conscious and unconscious begin to act together. This leads you to comprehend a universality that connects and aligns the entire field within you.

Then instead of each breath, posture or transition feeling singular or disconnected or otherwise separate from the whole, the practice becomes one continuous expansion into greater awareness where the folding and unfolding movement patterns draw forth your deep, intuitive body intelligence.

This may sound abstract or complex but actually it's very intuitive and simple like when you have an instantaneous dawning insight, an 'aha'. It's also like learning to get the knack of how to do a difficult posture. The biggest trick of all is to learn how to stay oriented inside your body through your changing mental states, for long enough to really observe and to transform your unconsidered, gross motion into powerful movement that is born from intelligent awareness.

When your practice is centered in the foundational patterns of postures, your ideas of what constitutes an advanced posture will get upended. It is how you go about even the most basic posture that determines its depth. The limitless extent to which you can optimize your breathing and align your postures reveals the wisdom and layered depth contained in each asana.
You find the advanced asana has less to do with how bendable or strong you are, and more with the way you perceive action and the play of opposites. You learn how to align your self and work with (not against) the physical limits of your body.

Creating action within a posture leads you away from placing too much importance on an end goal for your asana. This helps you work safely as you go further. You tune in plainly to your present circumstance and direct your consciousness along positive, active channels in order to invite opening and transformation. Through action you gain the knowledge and skill to go beyond either unfocused, mindlessness or endlessly engaging with and getting caught in your continual stream of moods. You get better at transcending the range of your mental turnings, your enthusiasms, zeal, hardships, skepticisms, fears and such states that obscure your wisdom and appreciation.

The value of action in asana practice is found precisely in that it gives you ways to positively channel your fire, the passionate energy within you that needs expression. By investigating the action required to align a posture you are investigating both how to expand more into your joyous consciousness and how to respond positively to the obstacles that you encounter within yourself.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Shoulderstand Series (Pts: 1-6)

The subject of this asana kitchen post comes from Patty in LA:

David, please help me with shoulderstand and explain why it's important.

This post on shoulderstand is a six part video series. I believe that shoulderstand is such an important posture that six videos are needed to give justice to the incredible asana. I invite you to dive into the series and take time with the videos really giving the pose the time that its benefits demand.

The first 3 video's include discussions on the following aspects of the posture: 1) A talk on the importance of the posture 2) The value of supporting the shoulders with a pad 3) How to use a pad

The last 3 videos are meant for you to study but will be more useful if you get out your mat and do the exercises. They include
4) How to create a sound a foundation 5) Ways of working in the posture 6) An intro to the posture using the wall (for beginners, review, and/or teachers). I've also included some written notes to supplement the video's.

Please let me know what you think of this post and I welcome you to email your asana questions to Enjoy! David

When you are standing upright the feet and legs are your base and connection to the earth. In shoulderstand your foundation, your source of grounded skeletal support is in the shoulder girdle, arm bones and muscles of the fingers, hands, forearms, upper arms, and shoulders. The arms and upper body (not including the neck and head) form a basket like support structure that can powerfully and effectively bear the weight of the body. The ability to utilize this foundation effectively depends upon the proper positioning of the spine in relation to the arm bones and shoulder girdle. The elbows need to be approximately parallel to each other and you must lift up the spine so that ideally neither the upper spine nor the neck touch the ground.
If the foundation is not set up skillfully and thus doesn't bear the weight of the body adequately, then neck problems could result. The elbows splaying out and the spine falling toward the ground are two signs of a faulty foundation. Using a firm pad under the shoulders can make it easier to establish a sound foundation that will ensure that the proper parts of the skeleton will receive the weight of the body. I've found that nearly every student can learn to work more safely, enjoy the posture more and expand the possibilities for exploration by supporting the shoulders in Shoulder Stand.

3 Keys To a Sound Foundation

1) Set up your posture with care and skill. Position the upper arms as close to parallel as possible. Do this by going into plow, straightening the arms behind you and interlocking the fingers. Tip to one side and roll the opposite shoulder under, then tip to the other side and repeat. Do this a few times on each side. See if you can feel the shoulders move under and the elbows move closer to each other.

2) Bend the elbows, push the "J" of the hand into your back. (The "J" is the "J" shape formed by the web space between the thumb and index fingers). Walk the hands down, push the "J" of the hand into your back, flatten out the hands and make the fingers face straight up. Spread the fingers to make the hand 'basket like' to catch and receive the weight of the body.

3) Come up into the posture. Orient your self according to the feeling of hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders. The cervical spine and head are not meant to bear weight. Make sure you are aligned so that the proper parts of the body are bearing the weight.

6 Keys for How to Work in the Posture

1) Open the chest by lifting the spine. Make the spine disappear into the front of the body. Its a feeling like the torso gets blown forward and wants to leave the hands behind.

2) Periodically walk the hands down and push the "J" of the hand into your back, flatten out the hands and make the fingers face straight up. Spread the fingers to make the hand 'basket like' to catch and receive the weight of the body.

3)Align the body clearly along the vertical axis. At a gross level, bring the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders into vertical alignment. At a more subtle level achieve this vertical line by working with breath and activating opposing forces within the entire body: lift the arches of the feet as you suck the knee caps and quadriceps up. Anchor the thigh bones deep within the upper leg and move the sacrum into the body more. tune into the lift of the perineum as you exhale thoroughly.

**Keys 4 and 5: Activate a play of opposing forces by observing breath

4)Create Jalandhara bandha as you inhale by lowering your gaze and resting the brain so that you seal your mental prana within the torso. Feel the passive brain and downward cast eyes work together to energetically contain the expansion of the chest and thus keep your mind and senses absorbed within the torso above you. Also feel the flow of the in breath cause the spine to move upwards and deeper into the body. Use breath to blow the legs and feet upwards. Release the throat.

5) As you exhale feel the transfer of weight from above down into your foundation. As though the weight of the body falls vertically down along the central axis to be caught and firmly supported by the awaiting foundation. As you finish breathing out, activate the pelvic floor and Uddhyana Bandha to energetically 'catch' and re direct the flow of the out breath so prana remains within the torso. Contrast this downward feeling by lifting and curving the spine into the body more.

6) Watch the play of these opposing actions within the entire body and their relationship to the opposing patterns of inhaling and exhaling.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Intensity: Finding the Balance

Hello Students,
I am on a remote island on the Andamman Islands and when the internet connection is available it is only dial up! I have had this post ready for the past week but variables have made it impossible to get it posted. Needless to say, I'm having an amazing time swimming and practicing in a yoga room up in the jungle. Its truly incredible to have this time to study and practice. I feel very fortunate. This time has made me think a lot about the intensity of practice and the struggles we daily go through for our Yoga calling. Please enjoy and I hope to have another post for you in the next week.

Yoga seems to be asking for an ever increasing commitment from me in order to progress. Whether due to Kali Yuga, aging, unclarity, or reasons unknown, frequently what I gave yesterday to get results, doesn't feel like enough today.

I personally want to practice with fresh intensity everyday, yet I also know the challenges of maintaining a steady, serious practice. Yoga gives me everything--!-- from the food I eat and clothes I wear to the deepest sense of purpose and connectedness. I feel the benefits from my skin to my depths; I know how good I feel when I practice thoroughly. I even day dream about practice when I'm not practicing: about how good the challenge of Yoga is, the connection, the discipline, the focus, the physicality and how steeped with intensity I'm going to be when I step on my mat the next time.

But strangely often when its time to practice, I feel like there's still an outward pull, something that causes my monkey mind to take the stage or my body to lack the necessary power. Whether its an injury or a heavy physical state or mood, a thought I can't get out of my head, or some fantasy that arises and fools me into thinking it's more interesting than the actions in the asanas, the flow of the breath or the inner silence. This juxtaposition of intending to really go deep in practice and then not feeling able to tap or sustain the intensity gives practice a mirage like quality. It can feel like true, in depth practice is ever receding, staying just out of reach.

However, I also feel that I can be extremely self critical, to the point of not necessarily having proper perspective on the depths of my efforts during practice. There is a built in dissatisfaction in yoga practice. As if my effort will never be enough. So how can I be realistic about the effort I do put forth? How do I accurately assess whether I practice too intensely or too mildly and in either case effectively? And what level of mildness or intensity is right for me at this time? How do I know the difference between being too hard on myself and fooling my self? If I'm too intense, I'll injure my self or I'll be overly critical of myself, and I'll be striving for the wrong reasons and having no fun doing it. If I'm too mild and let too many other things get in my way, then I'll squander my best opportunities for diving in to self knowledge.

How many hours a day is really enough? Is it one, two, three or more hours? How many series are enough? How much focus is enough to truly take me inwards? To purify my mind and body? To know Spirit? How can I continue to progress, to go further inward to discover further truths about who I am, what connects me to this world without thinking I need to give up everything and retire to a cave, without getting overwhelmed and giving up, or striving on in some distorted way that perpetuates harmful self criticism or self hatred?

To answer these questions I will need to create a practice that is able to alternate between serious, sustained, willful effort that includes intense struggle, pain and hardship. And on the other hand I'll need to simply open and enjoy and let go. I'll trust that the Lord, The Awakener, The Power of Goodness, or my perfect Self brings to me the exact set of circumstances and experiences that will enable me to grow even if I feel stuck or don't understand its outer workings moment to moment. Ultimately I will create a balance between actively and willfully making progress happen and allowing progress to happen in its own way, on its own time.

To achieve this balance between serious effort and trusting the Source requires a rigorous sorting through of my constantly fluctuating mental states. This working with my mind involves inquiring into my questions, joys, flights of brilliance, doubts, rage, sadness, judgements, assessments of reality, etc. To work with these fluctuating states is the foundation of the focus that leads to understanding the mind's limited role in helping me to progress. As I focus during practice my mind can shine with intelligence, can lead me to express the most creative and profound art and show me the way to kindness and spiritual wisdom, the pinnacles of consciousness. Or my mind can also become grandiose and can lead me to think I'm better, smarter, more powerful than I really am. Or my mind can also be extremely negative or savage and unruly, can attack me, lead me to undervalue myself and my dreams. Either an inflated or deflated mind can sabotage my efforts to grow and transform. With a wrong bent of mind, I can lose even basic perspective about the quality and balance of my practice. These inconsistent mental states require me to cultivate a vigilance, an inner trust, a long term commitment to listen and feel within.

Listening and feeling within involves a certain 'heart donkey' work in doing long periods of zen koan like, inward turning puzzle solving that takes the form of active thought and struggling for answers on how to progress. This effortful work alternates with suspending willful striving, receptivity, trust, and letting go enough for answers to arrive on their own. Largely Yoga is about the relationship I develop with my own mind, its entire range from brilliant to brutish. And as I struggle, sort through, let go, and clear my mind, then my connection to the Source can take the lead. Practice that is defined as 'time spent on the mat trying' can provide the perfect opportunity for such reflection. Eventually I will win a solid base of psychological stability, I'll gain enough mental power to see through the ignorance of the mind, be able to ride the variety of mental and emotional twists and turns, see beyond the forms created by the mind, enjoy the emptiness and silence within, experience my continuousness with everyone, and the flowing, singing, rhythmic dance that everything is inextricably swept along by.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Should a 'pitta' (fiery) type do Ashtanga Yoga?

Greetings! for this weeks post I answer a question that someone sent me about the compatibility of a fiery temperament and ashtanga yoga. Enjoy!

Hi David, My name is Emily, I am newly recommitted ashtanga practitioner and pharmacy school student in Salt Lake City. I have been lightly studying Ayurveda and yoga for 6 and 12 years respectively. I am always reading suggestions that pittas should do a cooling practice rather than such a heat inducing
practice such as ashtanga. What are your thoughts on this? I have tried many styles of yoga with several teachers, but I am always drawn back to this self-practice.

Thank you for your message Emily.

I think that idea about pitta's needing to avoid heat inducing practices such as Ashtanga is largely bunk. You'll have to pardon me but I get a bit worked up on this subject. I really do hope my answer helps you. I don't think enough people realize what kind of fire, grit and intensity it takes to crack the small self open and access the hidden treasure of fearless freedom within. There is always someone that will try to contain or cool things, to 'mellow' things or 'balance' them or bring them to the center where the middle ground is. I personally don't want the middle ground. I don't want reason or reasonable. Reasonable arrives and eventually looks and feels like Walmart, Capt Crunch, continuous streams of ads for things that don't offer us an honest place of really looking at ourselves. I say bring on the fire, let's burn this stale, safe, known, fearful place to the ground. Give me spiritual danger, give me the edge, give me something that makes me sweat, makes me breathe, makes me open inside, and feel truly alive. Give me enough fire to face my apathy every day. Give me enough fire to burn my petty mind that continuously spins out just the right type of nonsense to hook me into fear, judgement, and insecurity. Give me enough fire to care more about what's inside me than any other thing. The following is an excerpt from a Rumi poem where God tells Moses: 'I want burning, burning. Be friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression! Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.'

In order to open spiritually, I believe each of must discover our gifts and strengths and then really use them to the full extent that we are capable of. To me being a pitta type and thus having an endowment of fire means you must use your fire, celebrate and develop your fire and see how far your fire can take you. Of course you can over do fire and imbalance your self. For example you could drive your self in practice, work etc, become hot headed, walk around continually angry or stressed or frustrated, and thus thwart your higher purpose. But also fire might be the very key, the essential element that leads you into creativity. As Rumi said fire is your friend. Can you explore the extent of your fire and simultaneously learn how to balance it? I am a lover of Ashtanga precisely because that practice takes me beyond my reasonableness, further than my neat, tidy boxed up world into a fiery, fluid, earthy world of possibility and insight.

I use a saying that goes: 'every system of knowledge is also a system of ignorance'. This statement applies to any system one might adopt for health or soul work; it says that each system, no matter how wise or seemingly complete will be erroneous and will not, if followed blindly, lead you to the end of the path. Both Ayurveda and Ashtanga are amazing systems of knowledge, but both have their 'blind spot's or weaknesses. And anyone who uses these systems will also have their own system for using them and thus will bring their own set of strength's and weaknesses. However I'm not saying not to adopt a system just because it is also inherently ignorant. I'm saying think and act for your self in accordance with what you experience, discover, and what you're drawn towards. Though experts and 'common' wisdom are important sources of guidance, listen to your own feelings, intuition, and inner promptings concerning the unfolding of your sacred, inner world. If you keep feeling that there is something significant for you within the Ashtanga system, then I'd listen to that feeling. The trick is to get to know the system and your own tendencies and then work at it passionately with soul and creativity.

Since you are a pitta type and you like Ashtanga, you may choose to practice it in a more yin or receptive way when you feel like it-- for instance don't practice in too hot of a room or in the sun or in the middle of the day. Do less vinyasa between seated postures or hold postures longer. Finishing postures are known as 'cooling' so you could spend more time with them. Also it could be helpful to keep your brain passive and relaxed while practicing. In short, there are many things you can do to decrease fire in practice, learn what works for you day by day. Hari Om! David

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Floating in Surya Namaskara

For this weeks post I'm introducing a new section called: 'The Asana Kitchen'. In it I'll explore the intricacies and problems related to asana and the physical practice. In order to make it more useful to you, I'd like to hear from you, write me or send me a video of a posture or a related aspect of practice that you would like some insight into. Recently I received this question: "I would like to be able to do that straight-leg jump to standing in Namaskara A and B, as shown but not really taught by John Scott in his video. You know how you and John Scott can finish the last part of the Namaskara by jumping to standing -with straight legs? I want to learn that. Do you have any advice or vid clip training?
Mahalo plenty as ever for everything,
Scott M
Redmond USA

See the video and look at the review notes below for my answer. Enjoy! David

Written notes for 'floating and getting the classic ashtanga yoga flow look and feel in your practice.

1) Intensive regular practice is essential to building the type of strength necessary to 'float'. Really use the video exercises presented in this post. You may have to practice the rocking exercise over a period of months to gain the necessary strength to see results. Keep contemplating the concepts that the exercises are based on; concepts such as lifting up the belly to create a distinct uddhyana bandha action, and the role of rhythm and breath in creating flow.

2) While setting up your jump from down dog orient on stretching back (away from the direction you are going to jump) and orient on the out Breath. As you lengthen back and crouch, study the movement of the diaphragm and the connectedness between diaphragm and the accessory muscles involved in exhaling. These accessory muscles reach down into the legs, pass through your center deep within the pelvis, travel along the front of the spine, and up into the upper torso. When you crouch can you feel this network of muscles as web like, integrated, guiding your exhalation and preparing your body for dynamic action? Each breath can potentially bring tone to and activate your core muscles. Once activated these foundational muscles enable you create slow motion flow during practice.
Additionally, during the set up activate the upper body in opposition to the direction and action of the belly and hips. The hands press down into the earth and forward away from you. The arms lengthen and tone in order to make ready to bear your weight.

3) When you work with ujjayi during inhalation by narrowing the glottis, you create resistance to the in flow of breath. This resistance causes the breath to lengthen, become smooth, and to flow evenly. These are exactly the qualities you want to cultivate in your leap from down dog to standing. as you spring forward inhale and 'float' your legs and feet under you by creating just enough muscular resistance through the arms.

4) When you approach the landing, The ability to 'float' is enhanced by sensing the arrangement of your bones. Use your mental power to kinesthetically orient your self within and feel the support of your skeleton. From the set up in down dog through the feather light landing with straight legs, sense that the skeleton has it's own unique rhythm. Cultivate movement that flows from your skeletal rhythm, movement that enables your bones to better support your posture.

5) Don't underestimate the power of imagery for helping you to achieve physical results; experiment with the idea: 'if you can picture it clearly you can do it'.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Guru Purnima: Take Practice!

For the past week, Joy and I have been discussing Guru Purnima and what it means to the daily Ashtanga Practice. We decided to film some of our discussions and share it with all of you. Happy Guru Purnima and Happy Moon Day!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Developing Practice with Yoga Images

As a way of developing my understanding and going deeper into my Yoga practice, I collect and study myths, stories, and pictures of Indian deities. This week I've provided a few images and written some reflections on their possible meanings. These images are full of devotion and often connected to sacred stories that contain Yogic teachings. I've found that studying Yoga imagery and stories clarifies and shows the depths of the basic techniques of ashtanga practice: asana, pranayama, bandha, vinyasa rhythm, dristi, japa mantra, and meditation. Using Imagery allows you to withdraw inwards with more ease during practice. The myths and images of Yoga are meant to help create internal maps that show how to orient within the body to optimize awakening consciousness.

The scenes convey Yogic symbols that are powerful visual cues that are meant be absorbed within the body and within the deeper mind. They are purposely not meant to be absorbed in a merely intellectual manner, that is why they are presented as stories and images, and why they make so much sense as they occur to you when practicing. Using the stories and imagery helps you absorb the deepest aspects of practice but also there is a fun aspect to it, contemplating a story or an image is playful, sleuth like--absorbing, and fascinating; It's vexing and enlightening to muse over possible meanings and applications to practice. My hope for this post is to spark a curiosity in you, that you'll become steeped in the imagery of Yoga to the point that when you're practicing these images will arise from within your posture, from within your flow, from within your receptivity and concentration and guide you into how to orient your self with more wisdom, ease and soul.

I love this image because it gives you a playful, powerful, accurate image of an Asana's flow. Yoga postures are about striking firm, clear, rooted positions and becoming fiercely immovable. But also when you find 'the immovable spot', there is such a fluidity to it; it's much more like a ride than becoming immovable like a statue. But perhaps most important is I want you to take this picture literally, what if you were in the sea working on your seated asana's riding on an amiable fish. What would you feel? You would have to connect to the ground in an entirely different way. You would have to connect to the ground as not static--but in motion-- alive and with a fluidity not unlike the course of fish swimming in the sea. Depth in asana work requires you to tune into this kind of subtle motion of the ground under you. The image of riding a fish is a perfect analogy for how to tune into the 'fluidity of rootedness'. The earth is constantly in motion under your feet or seat and this will effect how you do your asana work. If you can become aware of this vibratory movement it will effect your entire practice. I also appreciate that this work was carved centuries ago, and thus shows that the animal energy and flow aspect of asana practice is ancient yet continues to thrive, is still developing, and will be passed along to the future generations of passionate Yoga artists.

This image must be unique in connecting seated asana's with swimming fish!--until now I never quite made the connection that fishes swimming in the sea are serious Yogi's!

According to the yoga sutra's when thoughts or feelings cause attraction or aversion within me, forces go into play that obscure my ability to discern and really be present. When I learn to concentrate and settle my mind then I see reality. During the times the mind is not settled, I don't see reality, but instead I identify with the various thought patterns. My mind continually spins out reality obscuring patterns. Even though their qualities are phantom like and illusory, somehow I'm repeatedly fooled into thinking that these patterns are substantial and real. Identifying with thought patterns translates into me reacting to sensations and experiences in automatic and habitual ways rather than with receptivity, flow, and with what is appropriate at this very moment.

It seems so simple to wake up, to see, to be alive and to respond creatively in each new moment. And yet the image of Durga riding a tiger shows how difficult it really is to live in a state where my mind is settled and I see things as they really are. Consider the tiger she's riding. The tiger represents illusion, desire, aversion, the powerful, root forces that cause the reality obscuring patterns of consciousness. The forces that cause me to misperceive reality are as powerful and dangerous as a wild tiger.

And the triumph of seeing through my illusions is on a par with taming and riding a tiger. As a goddess Durga has conquered illusion within herself, she has made peace with the forces within that cause thought waves to spin forth. This image reminds me of the mastery that can come to me so naturally when I orient as I'm meant to. Energetically Durga represents the source, wisdom, the hidden knowledge lodged in my heart. Her image shows me that my animal powers are meant to serve my heart wisdom. She shows me the proper relationship between the energetic forces within me where my Self (Durga) commands and (the tiger) my mind and senses serve my heart.

Symbology of the weapons:
Trident: symbol of the 3 guna's the primary strands or qualities (sattva, rajas, tamas) that make up all material phenomenon. Durga has achieved the ultimate Viaragya (detachment) in that the guna's do not push or pull her any direction. she has gone beyond the guna's and thus she can conquer even the most fierce demon.

The sword: the sword is a symbol for discrimination. Progress in Yoga means being able to think clearly and to see things with accuracy. Often in my lack of clarity, I misread my experience and so my mind causes me unnecessary pain. I place value on things that are not worthy and I undervalue the treasures that are right in front of and within me. My deep Self as Durga wields the sword of discrimination and thus is able to cut through this fog of ignorance.

The severed head: The real Self in my depths is fierce and symbolically severs my head from my body. This means my ego, my wrong ideas's about who I am and the petty self absorbed feelings and thoughts that normally rule my inner world must be killed. The locust of power within has to dramatically shift from a small ego centered place to a deep, large, powerful center that creates and embraces my self and others and realizes everyone's integral part in the cycles of existence that lead to Consciousness.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Root of Mulha Bandha: Catch It!

This week I asked my friend David Keil to explore Mulha Bandha. Many of my students find Mulha Bandha challenging and confusing to understand. David's article will clarify some of the questions that keep puzzling you and hopefully will help you apply the all powerful bandha towards your practice. If you still have some questions after you read it please don't hesitate to ask a question and I will answer it for you.

"Take it up.... your anus" - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Guest blog by David Keil

The bandhas are perhaps the most difficult aspect to grasp in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. For me personally, I think I know what they are. But then I look back at my little life as an Ashtangi, amazingly at 11 years now, and realize, I thought I knew what they were 10 years ago. Then just 5 years ago I understand them even more differently than I do today. My experience of them has changed over the years and will continue to as I'm guessing your experience of them will.

As an anatomy teacher I do try to bridge the gap between the subtle esoteric aspects of the energetic system and the practice of yoga and put it into western terms of anatomy. In the area of bandhas, I am careful to not too strongly make it into a physical anatomical thing. Instead, I acknowledge that bandhas are both, energetic and physical as is our entire body. We are not just energy, not just emotions, not just spiritual, not just thoughts, not just physical, but all of these at once.

To discuss mulha bandha we talk about the pelvic floor, some people say Perineum and others use the term PC muscles which stands for Pubo-Coccygeal muscles. This web of tissue at the base of our torso container is actually a diaphragm - defined as a ring of tissue. The opening at the base of our bowl shaped pelvis is more or less circular and filled with thin layers of muscles and fascia, creating a trampoline of tissues. Like many other places in the body, the pelvic floor is layered. Technically the perineum lies under the pubo-coccygeal muscles with a layer of fascia between.

Contraction of these muscles is often associated with the mulha bandha. Great debate comes from whether you should be contracting the middle or the back portion of these tissues and far be it from me to jump into this one too deeply, other than to say, Guruji (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) always talked about controlling your anus. The translations that I've seen of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which has an entire chapter on Bandhas and Mudras, often say the same thing. That is, mulha bandha is a contraction of the anus.

As it turns out the PC muscles are actually part of the levator ani... which means elevator of the anus. Technically this would be more closely related to what we're after. Therefore to this anatomist, it makes more technical sense to use PC. But that's just me, in the end, what matters is that you have the experience of what is created, not the technical details.

If the bandha is an energetic component of who we are, what part does the actual muscle have to do with the bandha anyway? Personally I describe the pelvic floor and contraction of it as the pathway toward mulha bandha. In other words, it's the physical contraction that does two things. First, it creates a conscious mental relationship with mulha bandha and it seems that prana follows thoughts, so if you're thinking of a part of your body, you are in essence sending energy there. Second, is the contraction of the PC muscles which stimulates the energetic center. Hence, creating the mulha bandha.

There are of course physical changes that occur when performing a contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. They often fit into the descriptions given of the core muscles. There are debates about what the core muscles are, which ones should be included etc... but the pelvic floor is almost always part of that conversation. Remember that the pelvic floor muscles are at the base of the spine filling the circular like hole at the bottom of our pelvic bowl. The back portion of the bowl is created by the sacrum which links to either side of the pelvis at what we call the SI (sacroiliac) joint. Just off to either side of the sacrum, in essence filling in the sides toward the back or the bowl are the piriformis muscles.

Think of the spine rising up out of the back of the pelvic bowl, towering above its foundation at the pelvis. Almost like balancing a broom upside down in the palm of your hand. Certainly there are other muscles that help stabilize this column as it rises, but at its base, its foundation, are the PC muscles. To see the effect of these muscles in helping balance the spine, imagine for a moment that you tightened your PC muscles so much that it started to make your coccyx touch your pubic bone (not possible by the way). If the coccyx, and therefore sacrum are moving toward the pubic bone it means that there is movement at the SI joint and the spine is falling backwards above the SI joint.

If the muscles let go completely then the opposite would happen. No tension to hold the sacrum in place and the towering column of the spine would start to fall forward and the coccyx would be moving away from the pubis. The point is that the PC muscles help to create stability of the pelvic bowl and the spine that rises from it. Of course, no muscle, or in this case group of muscles, lives in a vacuum. There are other muscles (and ligaments) that help maintain the integrity of the pelvic bowl and the stability of the spine, it's just that these muscles are at the foundation of it. Therefore physically these muscles are about stability and support of pelvis and spine, and perhaps, root the spine, or are at the root of the spine. Mulha = Root.

There is another effect that happens when contracting these muscles. You should be able to feel this yourself quite easily especially on a strong contraction of the PC muscles. This effect is that you should also find that lowest part of your abdomen also changes in tension. You may want to close your eyes for a moment and do a few contraction of these muscles to see what other parts around the area contract. People may experience it slightly differently. Some may even feel a contraction in their lower back as well between the top of the pelvis and ribs which would most likely be a result of the transverse abdominus (the deepest of the oblique muscles) as it connects to the vertebrae in the lumbar.

There is still one more direction to go with this interlinking of subtle and gross aspects of mulha bandha and the pelvic floor. What better force to interlink them with than breath. You might say that breath is the ultimate link between subtle and gross. It's most subtle aspect as Prana or life force animates our physical bodies. This feeds us both energetically and then if we take just the smallest of steps toward gross, prana presents itself in the form of oxygen molecules which nourish and sustain all of our more gross tissues, be they nervous, muscular, or skeletal. Everything in the body relies upon it.

When the diaphragm contracts it compresses the abdominal contents and puts a downward pressure on the pelvic floor and if unrestricted, also pushes the abdomen out. You can give it a go yourself by closing your eyes and take a big breath or two. You should feel the further you go to the edges of your inhalation that there is more and more abdomen moving and pressure into the pelvic floor.

The diaphragm above is putting pressure on the diaphragm below (PC). The energetic purpose of mulha bandha is to prevent the escape of energy, specifically prana vayu or downward flowing energy. By contracting the pelvic floor muscles you prevent the downward movement of these muscles when breathing. You are literally stopping a downward physical force. The gross side of the subtle purpose of mulha bandha.

I'd love to follow this thread and tell you all about the muscle that is most likely associated with uddhiyana bandha and the effects on breathing there but it would be off topic. You'll just have to demand another guest post from this yogi bent on anatomy.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dynamically Transition in Standing Postures

I don't know how many times I see practitioners lackadaisically transition from one standing posture to the next. The transition of the standing posture is the gateway to a dynamic Trikonasana or Parsvottanasana. Transitioning between the postures needs to be panther like and full of expression. When done correctly you can soar through the air, be poised to land lightly, and have your body fully prepared for your standing posture. The child like spring that happens adds an additional amount of enjoyment to your practice. So the next time you are jumping into Uttitha Parsvakonasana really spring like a tiger and fully express yourself. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Real Progress: Ageing and Ego

Greetings! I'm teaching this week in Olympia! I'm happy to be able to share Yoga with so many dedicated, serious, and beautiful people even if I miss the philly crew but I'll be back soon! Below I have posted three videos from various discussions and talks I have given the past year. The first one discusses ageing, the second one discusses our egos and daily practice, and the last one is a response I gave to a woman who was struggling with progress in her practice.
May each of us go within with devotion and prayer to find and share our Yoga...enjoy! David

David Garrigues on Ageing and Ashtanga from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

David Garrigues on Ashtanga Yoga: The Ego and Practice from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

David Garrigues on Get Ready for Practice from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

David Garrigues on Jump Back from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Greetings! This weeks post features a video on how to jump back between seated postures. The options that I demonstrate follow a progression from easiest to mastering the jump back. I suggest you play around with the variety of versions, find one that works the best for you at this time, and then work from there into the progressively more difficult steps. Here's a few additional tips to keep in mind as you practice it:

#1) memorize the set up position:
lift up the feet and knees
extend the arms forward just in front of the hips
empty the lungs and coil the body in anticipation

#2) This is the biggest key:
all of a sudden with a burst of power push the hands down in front of the hips inhale
decisively suck the feet and thighs up towards you
Immediately lean forward

#3) Bend the elbows:
pivot on an axis exhale
keep the thighs and feet sucked up as high away from the mat as possible

#4) Project the chest forward:
thrust the legs back
arrive and stop in a clean cetvari (Caturanga Dandasana) and smile
draw the shoulders back away from the mat 6 to 7 inches position the hips very low to the ground
cultivate a strong uddhyana lift of the belly
hug the thigh muscles to the bones
keep the head up gaze slightly forward

Pay particular attention to the flow of the breath (presented in bold and italic). Due to my upcoming schedule constraints I'm now going to begin posting every other Sunday. As always I encourage you to share your comments and questions with me either via the blog comment section or an email. I really appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for your sincere dedication to the practice, to holding the mirror up up to your self each day anew, and thank you for including me in your beautiful journey of Yoga. Enjoy!!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sri K Pattabhi Jois says, "All can take practice."

"Ashtanga Yoga is a practice for young Indian boys." Unknown

"Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice but only a lazy man can't take practice." Sri K Pattabhi Jois

This week's video post is part of conversation I had about the potential for Ashtanga to reach a wider audience and the necessity to cultivate an adaptable, inclusive model for the sharing of Ashtanga. Many people have been misinformed about who can do this practice. Nearly anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can learn Ashtanga safely with care and intelligence. And if you are already practicing you can develop a practice that will nourish and support you for life.
Sri K Pattabhi Jois believed the Ashtanga practice could serve anyone and everyone. He exuded a love and passion for the method. Through his teachings he ignited the spiritual growth of all kinds of people from all different stages of life. These people did not fit into a single category. If you came to him the only circumstance that mattered was your willingness to learn. He would individualize and adapt his teaching to suit your particular circumstances. Ashtanga Yoga is a treasure, a potent path that leads to Self knowledge. As interest in Yoga increases and more people take up practice, it is essential to interpret and adapt the method to include a wider audience so that more people can join in and be part of this beautiful practice.

Ashtanga for Everyone from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

In the Ramayana when Ravana abducts Sita, he speeds her away in the aerial chariot known as Pushpaka 'flowery'. Ravana had stolen this sweet ride from his cousin Kubera the God of wealth. The pushpaka is made of flowers, contains a palace and can carry unlimited passengers. After Ram, Laksman, Hanuman and the entire host of monkeys and bears destroy Ravana, Ram reclaims Puspaka and they all ride home together in style.
Metaphorically Ram defeating Ravana represents victory of Self over ego driven worldly life. The pushpaka symbolizes the truth that there is a seat for everyone on the chariot that leads home to the Self. Ashtanga Yoga, like Pushpaka, can carry as many as want to ride (not like a motorcycle where maximum capacity is a family of five!)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ashtanga Foundations Diet Part Five: Whole Grains

Greetings! This week I return to the importance of the connection between diet and practice with a fun video where I take you into my kitchen and show you how I make chapati's! The video has humor but don't let that obscure the importance of this post whose message is that whole grains are meant to be in the center of your diet. As always I appreciate your questions, comments, and feedback. (Click on photo to enlarge captions) Enjoy!

Ashtanga Foundations Diet Part Five: Whole Grains from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

GK: From Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries to Chapatis from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Simple Food is Tasty from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Chapati Recipe (yields 6-12 chapatis)

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups flour
extra flour for dusting
small portion butter/ghee/vegan spread

water with
sea salt

add 1 1/2 cup WW flour
mix into a dough

Knead dough for 3-7 minutes
adding flour as
necessary to prevent ball of
dough from sticking to
cutting board

preheat skillet on medium high
slice off small section of
dough and roll out into
a thin round. place carefully
into skillet. cook until little
'bubbles' form in the dough
flip when ready and either
finish over open flame or
within the skillet.

enjoy piping hot as is or with your
favorite spread!

With this cooking I enter
the heart of the matter,
I enter the intimate activity
which makes dreams materialize.

Edward Espe Brown

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Puzzle of Pain

Students often complain about and share their pain with me. Universally people want to reject pain and wish it away. Every time I work with someone in pain I wish I could just take it away, and yet, over the years I've seen people be forced to rise up and work through their pain. I marvel at the courage, strength, transformation and healing that can take place due to pain. Pain often has complex origins that defy simple explanations, remedies, and its voices speak to all dimensions of your being, physical, mental, and spiritual. Pain slows you down, restricts your movement, forces you to change your routine, demands that you find different patterns to explore, compels you to focus on unexpected aspects of practice, aspects that otherwise, you wouldn't necessarily choose to go into.

Resisting pain can frustrate you and challenge your resolve to practice and thus it is essential to see that the obstructions that appear in your path, whether physical or mental, are meant to be there for your learning and growth. Somehow you have to trust the process, let go and see the potential openings, the advantages and new directions within the hardship. This is how you find your way deeper into your practice.

For example, when you are hurting, you learn how to practice more gently, you become more humble and less ambitious and goal oriented. Pain also forces you to deal with frustration and the arrogance of thinking that your little conscious mind knows exactly how to go further along your path. Also you are inclined to be more caring, tender hearted, more open, vulnerable, and happier with less. Also, when you are a little down and slightly blue, you become more serious about important matters. You increase your ability to withdraw inwards and cultivate a mental attitude that is more empty and purposeless.

Ganesh is the lord of obstacles, a mascot of Yoga, a rotund, elephant headed, winking, fun loving prankster who loves laddo's (yummy indian sweets) and rides a rat. Since he's in charge of obstacles, he's intimately involved in your Yoga practice! Whenever you encounter an obstacle in your practice, Ganesh the sly trickster is either the instigator and/or the remover of it. He deals in every phase of obstacles: creating, sustaining, and removing them. According to his assessment of your spiritual needs, he plays with obstacles to keep you on track to your secret heart.

He occupies a special place in your heart because he lightens the load of spiritual discipline. Looking within is often painful and unpleasant, in fact, facing your shadow and ugliness is much of what stands between you and Self knowledge. Ganesha portrays an image of playfulness and lightness, through his intervention, you confront and transform the pain, grief, anger, and other heavy blockages within you. His image, his habits, and even his vechicle all contribute to him disarming his devotees, catching you off guard with enough paradox and humor to set an optimal mood for you to tackle your darkness with empathy and grit.

One of Ganesha's main celestial weapons is the noose. The noose symbolizes a physical and mental lassoing of your person, a yoking that happens to you when you become dedicated to a daily practice. This yoking involves tapas (heat, friction, discipline in service of Spirit). Each technique in ashtanga adds tapas, generates energy, and functions in a specific way to bring awareness to your movement and your mental activity. Working physically with asana builds cleansing heat and makes you strong and flexible and able to stay in chosen positions for increasingly longer duration. Bandha's are 'locks' and are used for 'sealing' the torso in order to stoke the internal fire and gather Prana (life force). Vinyasa can be defined as sequential, sacred movement and posture performed with seamless concentration. Dristi is training your self to maintain your gaze where you choose.

You use these techniques like you use a pressure cooker, with attention and care. You utilize discipline, mental power, intention, intuition, and skill to go within and tap your resources. You apply pressure to your self, with the intention of generating creative energy to pierce through and perceive reality. It is important to use caution when working with life force in these ways. It is essential that you take the process seriously and care for and respect your self. It takes tremendous power to courageously look within at your anger, greed, at your various forms of ugliness. And then Instead of condemning your self, or hiding or perpetuating the negative thought patterns, you use your life force to generate simple consciousness, love and empathy. You forgive your self and go to the deep place where you see how unnecessary those patterns are.
And if you get the recipe right, you win the freedom to choose how to share the infinite gifts you've been given.
Here's a line from a poem by Rumi:

Stay in the joy of now
The way is usually downward,
through humility and grief into union.

That center is a flowing spring,
a love and clarity.

I've included a story of how Ganesha is in the right place at the right time to help Shiva and out wit Ravana, the 10 headed demon who represents negative ego. Note that when you practice yoga, you up your chances of being in the right place at the right time ~enjoy~

For her daily prayer ritual Ravana's mother had a small statue representing the mark of Shiva (called the atma linga). Even though the statue was virtually worthless, strangely someone stole it. Ravana preposterously promised her that he would replace the cheap statue with the actual atma linga that belonged to Shiva. To accomplish this nearly impossible task, Ravana traveled to the vicinity of Shiva's home on Mt Kailas and performed severe tapas. He eventually won a boon from Shiva. He asked for and was granted the atma linga. Shiva warned him that whereever he set the icon down it would remain there permanently. So Ravana traveled along towards home. Out in the middle of nowhere he found he had to answer the call of nature. Looking around for something to do with the atma linga, he spied a cow boy tending his herd. He shouted "hey you! come over here. Hold this for me and under no circumstances let it touch the ground. I'll be back shortly". The cow boy (who was Ganesh in disguise!) agreed with a sly smile saying "I will hold it for 30 minutes but not longer." Ravana disappeared and failed to make it back in exactly 30 minutes. Ganesh set the linga down and it began to sink into the ground. Ravana came dashing up and tried in vain to lift it back up. The linga turned into a cow and then completely sank and disappeared into the ground. Ganesh laughed and went on his way. The atma linga stayed in that spot and to this day is a sacred holy ground in India called Gokarna (Cow's ear).