Balance as Breakthrough

A lot can be learned from a good tree. Vrksasana helps to improve balance and the ability to center and focus, which can be very helpful for running as it helps prevent injury and improve overall performance.

There are many ways to approach tree, from resting the bottom of your foot on the opposite ankle while using the wall for stability to placing the bottom of your foot on your opposite inner thigh with arms outstretched and eyes closed.

Moving gradually through the variations of this pose provides an opportunity to explore limitations and capabilities. At any point, if you feel challenged then tune in to identify what is happening in your body that may need special attention.

What I love best about this pose is that it quiets the mind and encourages inward gazing to pinpoint where there may be imbalances or weaknesses that need to be addressed. Runners can learn a lot from these slow quiet practices of drawing inward and strengthening the mind’s ability to identify what is happening in the body.

Don’t under-estimate the power of this pose to prepare you for miles on your feet, the subtle shifts require attention and care.

Tree can also be fun with friends, simply touch the tips of your fingers together in a circle while in the pose. The subtle shifts can represent a strengthening connection and build trust and a stronger bond. Also, experiment with swaying tree by moving your arms gently overhead for an added challenge.

Since there is no such thing as mastering tree pose, you can keep this asana in your repertoire of movements and come back to it again and again, each time experiencing slightly different sensations in the body.

Enjoy. OM.

 

Go with the flow

flowThis book – Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – was on my reading list for as long as I can remember and it did not disappoint. It is a book about yoga… it is a book about running… it is a book about life and how to find happiness.

Not the superficial kind of happiness that leaves you feeling hollow but the deep-down rock-your-world happiness. In one word – flow… it’s all about flow.

Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as ‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’ (Sound familiar, ultra running friends??)

He cautions that problems can arise when people are so fixated on what they are trying to achieve that they don’t derive pleasure from the present moment (the golden present!). Here he starts to uncover the secret to contentment in life…

Many beautiful concepts in this book center on the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances. Again, meaning of life stuff and reminiscent of many foundational yogic philosophies that connect state-of-mind and perspective with inward bliss.

So many profound truths in this book, here are a few:

  • We create ourselves by how we invest our energy
  • Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it
  • To improve life one must improve the quality of experience
  • The meaning of life is meaning: Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life

When I read this passage, I put the book down and cried happy tears for a while because it perfectly describes the flow experience that I have had difficulty relating to others who aren’t familiar with or who don’t regularly experience ‘flow’…

Flow helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general

And…

The self becomes complex as a result of experiencing flow. Paradoxically, it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows.

All truly dedicated yogis/yoginis and runners and lovers of life know what this is all about, but it helps to refine our thinking around the flow experience and this book explores every dimension in-depth.

Check it out!

OM

 

 

Why start with OM

Friends, I have a new blog to share yoga practices that can help and support runners and people who are new to yoga. Please visit and sign up to get emails.

Why start with OM? I believe that the greatest benefit of yoga for runners is meditation and pranayama (breathing) practices to build a foundation for developing a stronger mind-body-soul connection. Asanas (poses) flow more freely from this deep connection, and running becomes a moving meditation and celebration of the self.

Starting with OM is a reminder to tune into the golden present. Most yoga classes start with a simple OM chant or a moment of peace through silence. The OM discipline is profound and life-changing, and while I’ve only experienced it briefly in my life… I hope to explore how to instill a greater commitment to OM through practice.

My next exploration will be following the Daily Schedule that is used at Yogaville for one week. So, here it is – The Daily Schedule:

5am – 6:15 Morning Meditation

6:20 – 7:50am Hatha Yoga

Noon meditation (30 minutes)

5pm – 6:30 Hatha Yoga

6:30 – 7pm Meditation

And of course, no alcohol, no caffeine, no sweets and vegetarian or vegan diet. I will be journaling everyday to record my experience. I have followed this schedule at Yogaville, but I’m interested in assessing the effects of the Daily Schedule integrated with my life in Arlington, which is very different than my life at Yogaville.

Looking for others to join, let me know if you are interested! Ooh and sign up for my newsletters, please and thank you!

Hari OM.

The god bone

It was a big weekend with Doug Keller at Sun and Moon, was kicked off with a deep dive into the sacred sacrum or ‘god bone’ as some call it.

So many new things to me, embarrassed to say that at first I thought he was talking about mutation to describe the tip or tilt of the sacrum, but in actuality he was talking about a nutation (the tailbone tips up and lower back arches) and counter-nutation (the tailbone tips down and lower back is in flexion).

We learned to scrub the sacrum – lying on our backs, knees bent and gently dragging the sacrum on the mat upward, feeling the flat portion of the sacrum.

Here’s why it’s important to understand the sacrum and how it works (especially if you are a runner) – it is a point of origin for many injuries (this is my definition, Doug Keller never explicitly said this). If your sacrum is locked and tight, then it causes problems in your hips, spine, knees… you get the drift.

Unlocking it is subtle, quite simply… do yoga. There are many poses that can be helpful in unlocking the sacrum, particularly back bends, cat/cow, twists, etc. But most importantly, draw your awareness to your sacrum by learning to scrub your sacrum and feel your sits bones.

Keller described the sits bones as the little feet in your lower glutes that you feel when you sit up very straight. Movement can help keep the fascia or connective tissue surrounding the sacrum “juicy” (technical term). If it’s juicy, then it can freely move within your pelvis and therefore protect you from injury.

Many running injuries are linked to a chain reaction throughout the body and the key is to find the origin of the injury rather than solely addressing the symptoms. Pay attention to the sacrum and surrounding tissue, fascia or connective tissue throughout the body, and the IT band. While most runners are familiar and aware of the importance of caring for the fascia and IT band, it’s important to include the sacrum for pre-hab and re-hab as well.

Jai Doug Keller!

OM. OM. OM.

regard all dharmas as dreams

This is the card that I pulled today from Pema Chodron’s Compassion Cards – Regard all dharmas as dreams – with this explanation:

Whatever you experience in life – pain, pleasure, heat, cold or anything else – is like something happening in a dream. Although you might think things are very solid, they are like a passing memory. You can experience this open, unfixated quality in sitting meditation; all that arises in your mind – hate, love and all the rest – is not solid. Although the experience can get extremely vivid, it is just a product of your mind. Nothing solid is really happening.

Here’s why this is important to understand – a regular meditation practice can help alleviate the suffering from the fluctuations of the mind. Raja yoga – or the yoga of meditation – helps us escape these fluctuations by recognizing that these states are temporary and that change is constant, and, through practice, let go and release the grasp our thoughts have over us.

There is a great story about this in one of Mark Nepo’s books, The Book of Awakening. A master points to a boulder and asks his disciple if the boulder is heavy, which of course he responds affirmatively. Then the master explains that the boulder is only heavy if you pick it up.

We all pick up the boulder throughout our lives, and meditation can be helpful in breaking the cycle and putting down the boulder.

Recognizing your true dharma can be helpful in breaking the cycle.  While there is no exact translation of the word dharma in English, it is generally accepted as your truth or your reality.

Many times in my life, I’ve wanted my dharma to be ideal and my path to be clear. In other words, I was going to graduate college, find the perfect job and meet the perfect man and we were going to have an amazing life together. This was not my dharma.

There had to be lessons and truths presented to me so that I could learn and grow. These lessons became the gifts that were given to me, although initially they presented challenges, struggles and failures.

If you are stuck in the fluctuations of the mind, identify the lessons and focus on the lessons. Let go of everything else.

Life is a state of constant change, yet our minds want to stay with permanence. Even if we want something to change, we don’t expect it to change. We suffer because we believe it is permanent, when in reality it is only temporary.

Recognizing the choice that we have to control our thoughts to relieve suffering and encourage growth is the real work of meditation.

One of my favorite meditation practices these days is to flip my thinking. If I want to be pessimistic and negative about something or someone, I try to flip the thought and be optimistic and positive and meditate on how this feels to shift the perspective. Rather than allowing a flood of thoughts and emotions to come up, I focus on a simple recognition.

As an example, I was passing a young woman on the street who I saw roll her eyes at me. As I approached her, she kindly said hello and I realized that the eye rolling was not directed at me and it was my imagination that she was hating on me. This simple exchange had deep meaning for me in not allowing myself to jump to conclusions when I have so little information.

Identify a simple exchange that you’ve had and meditate on flipping this thinking and recognizing the lesson. Regard all dharmas as dreams and let go of grasping.

Start with OM.

 

 

 

 

 

right effort

The yamas are the principles of ethical behavior for everyday life in our relationships with others and with ourselves, as written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras outline the theory and practice of yoga.

Once you become familiar with the yamas, they grow and evolve with you as your life grows and evolves. When I was first exposed to the yamas, the principle that affected me most deeply was that of brahmacharya, or right effort.

Slowly throughout our lives we’re given lessons that guide us toward right effort, although the natural inclination is to cling, grasp and strive for what we want. Right effort speaks to the habit of stepping back, starting with OM, and easing our way through the journey.

It is easier said than done, just as all the simple yet profound lessons in life.

If you want to feel this in your body, sit on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you. You may want to sit on a rolled up blanket if it is easier. On the exhale, slowly fold forward. This is paschimottanasana, seated forward fold. The tendency in this pose is to strain to reach your toes. The tendency is to strive to stretch as far as you can reach.

Yet this is a relaxation pose. In order to best feel this pose, bend your knees and rest your torso against your quads, then slowly straighten your legs and stop just before you begin to feel like you are straining. Now breathe deep and with each breath, you may find a bit more space to straighten your legs a bit more with each exhalation.

Now forget the pose and feel the experience. Let the breath breathe you and let go. Release. Resist the urge to grasp or cling to what you feel your perfect pose may be, just let the pose be whatever the pose is. Let your body be wherever it is today. Let yourself be.

The feelings that we experience in this pose – resisting the urge to strive and adopting the right effort – is a wonderful metaphor for life as conserving our energy and efforts and focusing on ease and finding more space in the body will help us find the true benefits that we are seeking.

Now apply this to your life right now. What are you grasping for? What do you want that you are not getting? What are you striving for? Step back and start with OM. Let go of the need to grasp.

One of my favorite quotes is ‘what we seek, we are’… I believe it’s Rumi. Whatever you seek in the world, you must first find within yourself before you ever find it outside of yourself. In different terms, if you never find love within yourself then you will never find love in the world. If you never find compassion within yourself, then you never find compassion in the world.

Step back and start with OM. Apply the right effort to whatever you are doing and avoid grasping, clinging and striving. This is what we can learn in seated forward fold, to practice right effort. This is brahmacharya.

meditate

Attitude is everything, particularly for runners. Attitude and outlook can be improved with intentional effort.

Meditation can be loosely described as intentional effort that can lead to greater peace through self understanding and increased mental focus and clarity.

Yogic philosophy provides a wealth of insights to build a meditation practice and develop a more optimistic, positive attitude that can benefit your running performance.

There are a variety of guided meditation exercises that can help guide your performance. From using guided meditation to visualize the big finish and challenges that may be presented during a race, can help you prepare in advance and overcome them.

Since everyone is unique, I can guide you through these exercises individually that will work best for you. Generally, it is more helpful to first be guided through these exercises working with someone. We call this ‘yoga nidra’ or guided meditation.

Once you have experienced the positive effects of this guided meditation exercise, you can work with it on your own as you incorporate it into your relaxation and breathing practice.

Learning key concepts from yogic philosophy can also help to improve the mental game by releasing yourself from mental attachments that can hinder performance and prevent you from negative spirals. Since everyone is unique, I recommend discuss this directly so it is appropriate for what you need.

In addition, working with a mantra can help to improve flow while running and keep you focused and strong. Mantras are personal so choose a word or phrase that is empowering and makes you feel positive. The repetition of the mantra is key for creating a flow state while running and blocking any negative thoughts from creeping in.

There are various meditation practices that can be helpful, and can be combined with breathing practices that create a deeper and richer experience.

In her book, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with your Mind, Pema Chodron opens with a quote from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to describe the practice of meditation:

“The principle of nowness is very important to any effort to establish an enlightened society. You may wonder what the best approach is to helping society and how you can know that what you are doing is authentic and good. The only answer is nowness. The way to relax, or rest the mind in nowness, is through the practice of meditation. In meditation you take an unbiased approach. You let things be as they are, without judgment, and in that way you yourself learn to be.”

Being present is a practice that takes time to cultivate. If you are new to meditation, it can be frustrating if you feel that you are not doing it right or feel that you are not good at it. Let that go.

Listen to this brief audio clip of Pema Chodron sharing the key to meditation as she discusses how to develop the right mindset for meditation and steps to begin a practice.
I’ll be sharing more resources and suggestions for building your meditation practice here, so follow me and get ready to experience the limitless and expansive now.