Week 2: January 8-14, 2018
January 8, 2018
Upward Facing Dog (Up Dog), “Urdvha Mukha Svanasana”
“My goal in life is to be as a good a person as my dog already thinks I am.” ~ Author Unknown
Namaste Peacebank Challengers!
Two of the most common poses practiced in a vinyasa flow class are Downward Dog and Upward Dog. We do not find it a coincidence that we are energetically asked to mirror our incredible furry beings. Dogs and people come into our lives and teach us life lessons on love and loss. Our Dogs teach us so much in life with their unconditional love, gratitude, acceptance, enthusiasm, trust, loyalty, persistence, compassion! My dog is my world and my teacher; she brings a special kind of joy to brighten our home. She reminds me of the important things in life:
*To slow down and take time to smell the roses!
*To unplug and get fresh air and exercise out exploring in nature everyday while taking in the energy of the trees and all the beauty that abounds!
*To stretch regularly: her up dog and down dog are constant reminders of how much yoga helps you to release and feel good in your body!
*To take time to cuddle with your loved ones, give them kisses and show how much you care for them with unconditional love!
*To be happy, playful and enjoy this precious life!
Like loyal dogs, we yogis return to our practice day after day, again and again. Dogs love routine, making them excellent role models for us. Something in us is drawn to love and follow our inner teacher. Can you bring those qualities of loyalty, love, and persistence to your practice of upward facing dog?
Upward-Facing Dog is a back-bending posture that stretches the chest, torso and spine, while strengthening the wrists, arms, and shoulders. By strengthening and opening the upper body and chest, it improves posture and can be therapeutic for asthma. Upward Dog creates suppleness in the back torso and abdomen, which stimulates the abdominal organs and improves digestion. It also firms the buttocks and thighs, helping to relieve sciatica. The backbend energizes and rejuvenates the body, providing relief from fatigue and mild depression. Maybe back bending can help you energize and even replace that morning espresso as an antidote for that afternoon slump?
Upward-Facing Dog is an important part of the traditional Sun Salutation sequence and is often practiced many times during Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Power Yoga classes. It can be used as a strength-builder and also as a step toward deeper backbends. You can also practice this pose individually, holding it anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, breathing easily.
Lie prone on the floor. Stretch your legs back, tops of the feet on the floor. Spread your hands on the floor under your shoulders. Hug the elbows back into your body. Inhale and press your inner hands firmly into the floor and slightly back, as if you were trying to push yourself forward along the floor. Then straighten your arms and simultaneously lift your torso up and your legs a few inches off the floor. As you lift forward and up press the tops of the feet firmly into the floor and thighs and the pubis engaged with a forward and up action. Belly is engaged as you extend and lift in the chest, wrapping the shoulders back and down and lifting tall through the crown of the head. Release back to the floor or roll over the toes engaged and lifted in the belly, leading with the hips to bring you back into Down Dog with an exhalation.
For Cobra (milder version): On an inhalation, begin to straighten the arms to lift the chest off the floor, going only to the height at which you can maintain a connection through your pubis to your legs. Press the tailbone toward the pubis and lift the pubis toward the navel. Narrow the hip points. Firm but don't harden the buttocks. Thighs/ shins stay on the floor and lift through the chest and crown of the head.
For both variations stay firm the shoulder blades against the back, puffing the side ribs forward. Lift through the top of the sternum but avoid pushing the front ribs forward, which only hardens the lower back. Distribute the backbend evenly throughout the spine.
Do not practice Upward-Facing Dog if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, or a recent back or wrist injury. Women who are pregnant should also avoid practicing this pose after the first trimester, as it can create too much strain on the round ligaments and lower back.
Always work within your own range of limits and abilities and listen to and love your body as unconditionally as our dogs love us.
Lorraine and the peacebank family
January 9, 2018
Warrior II, “Virabhadrasana B”
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy
Good morning Challengers,
When I started practicing yoga nearly 20 years ago, I came to the mat strictly for the physical challenge. I was always an athlete; running marathons, cycling centuries, etc. My mom encouraged me to try. I wanted the next hardest thing. I FELT like a WARRIOR. I was in my mid-20s and unstoppable. But the truth is, it has taken the 20 years and lots of patience and time to truly appreciate the sense of power from Warrior 2. The expansion, the alignment, the fierceness. Perhaps it was being diagnosed with a significant illness two years ago. Perhaps it was that my body wasn’t always the strongest. Ultimately, I kept coming to my mat though. I kept practicing Warrior 2. Then I finally felt it. True, deep, power. Patience & Time. (& Longevity & Devotion).
We invite you today to sit in this wonderful pose two or maybe three times longer than you normally would. Notice what comes up. See if you can quiet down any mental chatter and give yourself the time and breath to truly feel the pose and its benefits. Tune in to how powerful and strong you are and invite yourself to hold this patient space for yourself and others through the rest of the day.
To come into this pose from Tadasana – Step one foot way back on your mat. A big wide stance. Front toes face forward. Back heel plants down. Hips are open (facing) one side of the room. Traditionally this pose is front heel to back arch alignment. Both thigh bones are rotating AWAY from the midline of the body. This will align the front (bent) knee and encourage the outer edge of the back foot to stay connected to the mat. Arms out parallel to the earth. Gaze over front middle finger.
There are variations like Reverse (or Exalted) Warrior. But my personal favorite adaptation or modification is to have your back knee down. All other elements remain the same. While this is a little gentler on the legs, the practitioner is still upright and working. I also enjoy doing Warrior 2 over a metal folding chair. This makes it possible for ANYONE so they can reap the benefits without fear. Position a metal folding chair outside your left leg, with the front edge of the chair seat facing you. As you bend the left knee to come into the pose, slide the front edge of the seat under your left thigh (taller students may need to build up the height of the chair seat with a thickly folded blanket). Repeat with the right leg bent.
The benefits of the Pose strengthen and stretch the legs and ankles, stretches the groins, chest and lungs, and shoulders. It stimulates abdominal organs, increases stamina, and relieves backaches, especially through second trimester of pregnancy. It is therapeutic for carpal tunnel syndrome, flat feet, infertility, osteoporosis, and sciatica.
Jenniferlyn and the peacebank family
January 10, 2018
Extended Triangle, "Uttitha Trikonasana"
"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship”
– Louisa May Alcott
Good morning Challengers,
When I think of Triangle pose, I remember when I just returned home from my first teacher training at Kripalu Center for Yoga in Lenox, Massachusetts. I was 7 months pregnant at the time and a little unsteady to say the least. I fell down a flight of wet stairs outside my house in Seattle. Luckily Ben (my son) was just fine in utero, but I broke a bone on the top of my left foot. It was such an unusual break because my bones were quite soft as my body prepared to give birth. After getting off crutches and having surgery where doctors put a metal screw in the top of my foot, I gingerly returned to my mat. Triangle pose was the MOST DIFFICULT. The extension required on the top of my front foot in the pose was excruciating. I had no idea Triangle would be one of the poses in my life (so far) that I would have to EARN. Working on the pose for weeks and weeks… never giving up, I was learning how to deal with my new body. This was after my fall, surgery and giving birth. I was rediscovering who I was and how my body had changed. Now, 15 years later, Triangle is one of my all-time favorite asanas. I worked hard for it.
We all have poses that enter into our favorite and least favorite categories, and most often our least favorite are the poses we need the most. This is where the chaos erupts, the mind starts to chatter telling us all the reasons we should not do the pose or come out of the pose sooner, and this is where the true yoga begins. Take a look at your practice today and maybe identify a few of your favorite and least favorite poses. What are they telling you? Do you like to be in continuous movement and you find stillness a challenge? Do you love a challenging pose and get bored with a basic pose? Do you love hip stretches and despise hamstring stretches? Then give yourself some time to ask why and see if you can get to the root of the chaos and invite some ease, balance, and gratitude for the lessons of the pose.
To enter into Triangle pose from Mountain pose at the top of your mat, step one foot way back. This is a wide stance. Front toes point toward the front of the room, back foot is planted down, toes slightly forward. Front leg is straight and begin to lengthen the torso forward over front leg. Front arm can be placed on the mat inside or outside of front foot, on a block inside or outside front foot, or even on your front shinbone. Top arm reaches straight up to the sky. Gaze is either down at front big toe, or up to top hand.
If it does not feel comfortable to touch the floor with the bottom hand or fingertips then you can modify/adjust by supporting the palm on a block, your shin, or your thigh (avoiding the knee joint).
If you are looking for a more challenging variation, try stretching the top arm toward the ceiling, stretch it over the back of the top ear, parallel to the floor, maybe adding the bottom arm parallel as well for a fiery core version.
There are many benefits to this wonderful pose that stretches and strengthens the thighs, knees, and ankles, stretches the hips, groins, hamstrings, and calves; shoulders, chest, and spine. It stimulates the abdominal organs, helps relieve stress, improves digestion, and helps relieve the symptoms of menopause. It relieves backache, especially through second trimester of pregnancy and is therapeutic for anxiety, flat feet, infertility, neck pain, osteoporosis, and sciatica.
Hope this pose soon becomes one of your all time favorites!
Jenniferlyn and the peacebank family
January 11, 2018
“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it’s what you learn on the way down.” – Jigar Gor
Good morning Challengers,
A quintessential yoga quote and posture! All poses are tools to use in the process of Svadhyaya (self-study). We often talk about taking your yoga off the mat and into the world. Everything that comes up on the mat gives us a chance to experience and practice how to react with more love, compassion and acceptance. We often experience getting upset at ourselves for falling out of balance, for not being able to perform a pose as well as we have done in the past, for having mental chatter, for comparing ourselves to others, the list goes on. Yoga is referred to as a practice because it gives us the chance to self-reflect and examine these thoughts. We are able to practice self-acceptance and love, non-judgment, smiling when we fall out of a pose, and cheering on fellow yogis when something fun is accomplished. We learn to breathe through uncomfortable poses and situations, to engage and surrender at the same time, and to be fully present in each and every moment. Use your yoga today to practice all of the qualities you would like to embody off the mat, such as joy, peace, ease, gratitude, and a lightness of being.
While Warrior 1 is a commonly practiced posture, it is actually quite difficult. Hips are both facing forward, which requires an external rotation on the front thighbone and an internal rotation of the back thighbone. In other words, both legs are doing similar but completely different actions. At the same time, we must find energy or fierceness in the back leg so the outer edge of the foot stays grounded. There’s so much to think about in this asana, but the truth is, in the process we are being guided to learn about something deeper, something INSIDE ourselves. Perhaps it is perserverance in the process, strength in the pose, or the ability to adapt in an unexpected way. Something to consider.
To find this pose, from Mountain pose or Tadasana, step one foot back. Traditionally this is a heel to heel alignment. Meaning if you draw an imaginary line from your front heel you should eventually intersect with your back heel. Some practitioners feel more comfortable and the pose is much safer for the knees with the back foot out closer to the edge of the mat, so feet are hips distance, giving the hips more room to rotate forward. Hips face forward, back toes are turned a quarter turn toward the front. Front knee is bent and stacked directly above the ankle, with all five toes facing forward and the knee directly in the center. Arms are up. Palms can come together and shoulders relaxed. You can also have arms shoulder distance apart. I like to lift energetically through the back arch of the foot, to ensure the outer edge of the foot is connected to the mat. By rooting into the inner ball of the front foot the inner thigh engages, the belly hugs to the spine and slightly up toward the chest to ensure the core is engaged and the heart is supported. Lengthen through the back of your head so the chin does not jut forward and enjoy the warrior strength!
Many of us find it very difficult to keep the back razor edge of the foot grounded and the lower back lengthened in this pose. As a short-term solution, raise the back heel on a sand bag or blanket, or move to High Crescent Lunge with all ten toes and knees facing forward.
Common mistakes occur in the alignment of front knee buckling in, rounding in the back, and slouched shoulders.
Benefits of the pose include stretching the chest and lungs, shoulders and neck, belly, groins (psoas). The pose strengthens the shoulders and arms, the core when properly engaged, and the muscles of the back. It also strengthens and stretches the thighs, calves, and ankles.
Notice what you learn in your pose today and take it off the mat and into the world!
Jenniferlyn and the peacebank family
January 12, 2018
Warrior 3, "Virabhadrasana III
“Travel brings power and love back to your life” - Rumi
Good morning Challengers,
If asked what superpower we would take if offered, many of us might choose to fly. For the love of travel, exploration, freedom, weightlessness and new experiences this superpower would bring so much to our lives. Every time I take flight in Warrior 3 I am reminded of how this pose allows you to hover between earth and sky, take flight within your own body, and experience this strong but weightless sensation in the body. In the way we approach travel and flight, what if we brought that openness and exploration into our everyday events and even into our yoga practice. Could we make everyday feel fresh and new, notice every experience teaching us something different, and bringing us back to loving our everyday moments?
One other wonderful quality of this pose, and it’s funny to say, but this pose photographs really well in my opinion. It is powerful and it isn’t too too hard. So I choose this pose as a social media picture often. In fact, I have done this pose in front of cameras in Utah, The Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Bali, and I am sure I will give it a try in Bhutan. I always feel like I am flying, like I am strong, and that I can hover for a moment in time in this new place. When I lead yoga retreats all over the world, I have to admit – it is nice to have photographs of myself doing yoga in these magical places. I do love this pose and hope you do to!
To enter into this pose from Mountain pose at the top of your mat, step one foot way back. This is a wide stance… and bend the front knee – Crescent lunge. From the lunge position, stretch your arms forward, parallel to the floor and parallel to each other, palms facing each other. Exhale and press the head of the right thighbone back and press the heel actively into the floor. Synchronize the straightening of the front leg and the lifting of the back leg. As you lift the back leg, resist by pressing the tailbone into the pelvis. Don't allow the torso to swing forward as you move into position; instead, as you straighten the front knee, think of pressing the head of the thighbone back. This centers the femur in the hip joint, grounds the heel into the floor, and stabilizes the position. The arms, torso, and raised leg should be positioned relatively parallel to the floor. For many students the pelvis tends to tilt. Release the hip [of the raised leg] toward the floor until the two hip points are even and parallel to the floor. Energize the back leg and extend it strongly toward the wall behind you; reach just as actively in the opposite direction with the arms. Feel the back lifted leg dial internally toward the midline of the mat to help even hips/low back – extend the pose to stretch longer from fingertips to heels. Back toes should be pointing to the earth. Core should be working very hard.
There are some wonderful modifications and adjustments as balancing in this pose can be very challenging. Prepare for the pose with a chair or even two blocks positioned in front of you, just a bit in front of your sticky mat (face the back of the chair toward you). When you stretch your arms forward take hold of the top of the chair or let your fingertips rest down onto the blocks. As you rise up into the full pose, push on and slide the chair away from you and use it to support your arms or maybe try getting a little lighter on the hands if on a block. Try to hold the chair as lightly as possible.
For a variation, you can change the position of your arms. Try holding the palms to prayer or stretching the arms out to the sides, like the wings of an airplane, or reaching them back, palms facing up, along the sides of your torso.
Virabhadrasana III strengthens the ankles and legs, the shoulders and muscles of the back. It tones the abdomen and improves balance and posture.
Jenniferlyn and the peacebank family
January 13, 2018
Boat Pose, "Navasana"
"Sometimes we are taken into deep waters, not to be drowned but to be cleansed." - Unknown
I think it is so important to remember that even among the challenges, the hard parts, we must keep our sights high and acknowledge the beauty in the challenge. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. Whether that be physical, mental or spiritual, open your heart to it and watch yourself flourish. Pushing ourselves to a place we have never been before can be scary, but so worth it!
I was lucky enough to adventure to Machu Picchu a few years ago and trek the Salkantay trail with one of my best girl friends. Through days of hiking at high altitudes, using outdoor bathroom facilities, sleeping with giant spiders, and traveling through a massive rain storm, I learned more about myself, perseverance, and the strength we all carry than I ever had before. There was a point on our hike, about 10 miles in, that we needed to cross through a flooded part of the mountain during a downpour. The water was up to our thighs!!!! The guides we had hired did not want us to get our feet soaked, so they had us hop on their backs as they carried us across the river. They were in sandals, about 4’10”, maybe 115 lbs and the strongest, happiest men I had ever met. We were all laughing hysterically at the craziness of the situation and with our broken Spanish we managed to tell them they were our heroes. I learned an incredible lesson from these powerful strong warriors, when faced with an impossible situation - smile, roll up your pants, and dive into the storm of life.
Use this wonderful boat pose to strengthen the core and navigate the storm that sometimes arises during a challenging pose. To start, bend your knees from a seated position and focus on finding a balance point between your tail bone and butt bones/sits bones. Hold onto the back of your thighs and engage your abdominals by lifting up and in at the navel. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Extend through the balls of the feet. Lift your chest and your gaze high, elongating your spine.
Variations include one leg lifted to table top with the other foot down and grounded, keeping knees bent holding both legs as you lift to table top, or maybe extend legs long. Variations with the arms can include releasing hands out or reach high, clasping your ankles or yoga toe lock on the big toe. This can also be done with a strap around the feet!
With love and gratitude,
Nina and the peacebank family
January 14, 2018
“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished” -Ming-Dao Deng: Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony
I love this quote, and the way it encourages finding such peace and power in just being yourself in all your flaws as well as your accomplishments. Acknowledging that we are complete and perfect in exactly who we are and the path that we are on. It is useless to compare your path and light to someone else, for the sun and moon shine in their own time.
Half moon is this incredible pose of strength and balance, yet it asks you to be still and surrender and trust your center. A perfect balance of yin/yang, sun/moon, and masculine/feminine. We often talk about finding harmony in a yoga pose and bringing that harmony into our everyday lives. Journaling or self-reflecting at the beginning and end of every day are incredible ways to take a look at how in-or out-of-balance we are. If, by the end of the day, you notice you have been sitting in sun energy, maybe you spend the rest of the evening resting in moon energy or you devote more time the next day toward moon-like activities. If you are feeling a bit lethargic and unmotivated maybe, you look to some sun activities to bring balance back.
Sun energy is fast moving, constantly shifting, strong, determined, filled with "To Dos", stress, power, adrenaline and determination. Some activities to bring balance to sun energy could include taking a warm bath with your favorite relaxing oils, settling into a book, enjoying a relaxing cup of herbal tea, going to a restorative yoga class, meditation, journaling, sitting in nature, getting a massage, taking a nap, or doing something for yourself that refills your cup.
Moon energy is slow and steady, still, filled with surrender, soft, forgiving, quiet, relaxing, easy, rejuvenating, stagnant and open to the flow of what arises. Some activities to bring balance to moon energy could include going on a walk/run/hike, cleaning out a closet, cooking a meal from scratch, going to a vinyasa class, starting a new hobby, challenging your body or mind.
To get into our half moon pose we first tune into our drishti (a point of focus/gaze). It is nice to come from Warrior 2 to get into this pose swiftly and in a steady way. Start with your gaze down and steadily shift your weight into your forward leg keeping your hips stacked open. Place your bottom hand on a block or your fingertips to the earth to find your second point of balance. Flex your back foot firmly, lifting your heel in line with your top hip. Engage your core through every movement and keep it strong once you arrive into the pose. Feel free to use a block under your bottom hand, to stack your shoulders on one another and keep your shoulders in line with your hips.
Variations include starting with a block under your front hand, playing with touching your bottom hand to the ground, or floating your hand from the earth maybe to your heart as the picture shows. Another way to play is to alter your gaze: down, side, or up. And if you would like to add a challenge, bring your top heel to your seat and clasp hold of your ankle with your top hand, pressing the hips more forward and bowing the heart open. Triangle pose is a great pose to stay grounded if you are needing to feel a bit more rooted today.
Best of luck in finding your balance this week!
Nina and the peacebank family