Ah, yoga. Rather, OHM….AUM….HMMM. Yoga, as pretzel-y, crunchy, tough, intense and impossible as it may seem or physically appear, is based on simple, basic concepts: aquainting yourself with your breath and creating an alliance with the body and the mind. In Sanskrit, yoga means “union”.
We spend so much of our lives taking for granted the “inhale” and “exhale” that are crucial to our well being. Yoga provides us with an opportunity to open our minds and access our lifeforce while also enhancing the breath’s expanding ability to open our minds as well as strengthen our bodies.
This column will focus on the physical nature of a posture (also called, asana) as well as provide alignment insight to the newbie while offering creative approaches to one’s already-established practice. Allow yourself time to consider and create a personal practice. This is a time that is dedicated to yourself – but also a chance to give your generous efforts, with grace and energy, to the greater world. This is may act as a contribution to our own well being and that of others.
Consider your practice as a pathway to your daily outlook and inner well being: the freeing of the body (asanas) and the mind (meditation). In our “this-is-NYC-fast-paced-mania-I-have-no-time” terms, this means not only accessing and creating space in your lovely corpus (loosening tight spots, lengthening muscles and feeling good in your spring wear) but also freeing your mind to deal differently with stress-enduced/pursuit-driven/endless hard-work filled days and the myriad of complexities in our daily relationships with others. It is also your chance to have a quiet and private time for yourself to allow for some kick-ass self-study and the possibility to build links for positive change within and around you. Together we will find that taking even 15-20 minutes during your day to create a dialogue with your soul, via the body, will make a small yet revolutionary difference in your world. We will work from the inside out using yoga, dance, movement, visualization and other forms to inform.
I encourage you to delve into with an open-mind AND a sense of humor! Let the Sanskrit names trickle form your tongue, let yourself feel the sublime subtlety of being present. Take your time. Creating a personal revolution filled with sincere integrity starts from within.
Creating a Space
Designate a small space on the floor as your working area. You may also want to light a small glass encased votive candle, place a small item such as a photo or momento as a daily offering to your personal area. Keep it real. Once settled, we will practice a few minutes of sitting.
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Letting all the sounds and activity around you slowly fall away, we bring our focus to our breath. Do not change your breath, just observe. Allow yourself to ride on the in and out breaths. Let yourself notice the qualities of the breath – fast, slow, shallow, how and where it flows through the upper body. Counting no less than 30 inhale and exhale pairs, allow yourself to experience the varieties and qualities of your own breath. Try and sit still – no fussing around, no scratching or adjusting your nightie. Just let yourself be – observe – count without too much extra thinking. After you have reached 30 (minimum) breaths, reach your hands overhead, interlacing the fingers, shoulders down and away from your ears. Repeat 15 more inhale/exhale breathing pairs with your eyes open but with a soft focus on either one point in front of your or on your special item on your ‘altar’. Let your thoughts flow in and out of the mind. Do not control them or let them take you away from your present state. Just let the thoughts come through and watch them, in your mind’s eye, slide away or dissipate. Remember to count and keep your attention on the quality and richness of your breath.
When you are finished, give a little ‘scrub’ to your head and back of your neck. Let your shoulder’s stay relaxed and keep space between your ears and shoulders. Shake out your hands and come to standing.
Our first posture- “Mountain Pose”
Feet together, both big toe joints and heels touching.
We will allow the floor beneath us to support out stance. Heels and ball of feet rooted into the ground. Lift all five toes of each foot to energize the front and back of the legs and sole of the foot as they extend up into the hip sockets. Let the three-dimensional bowl of the pelvis calmly dangle at the base of the long spine. Let your belly stay soft, feel that you can, with your breath and mind’s eye, soften and widen the back of the pelvic girdle. Let the rib cage relax and open along the spine, lower, mid and upperback. Feel the top of your head moving in opposition upwards from your solidly planted feet, skull easing upwards. Let your ear canal open, eye sockets deepen, jaw loosen. Relax your underarms. Feel your fingers fall from your elbows and wrist, while energetically connecting fingertips to the ground. Feel the support beside you, within you-using your ever-present breath as your guide. Do not fuss. Let all the actions and sensations happen from within.
Counting the breaths, now that you are settled and have taken time to scan your entire body and connect to the space around you, we will use the same concepts as in the sitting practice-using the breath as an opportunity for expansion, stability and strength. Let yourself stand while counting 25 breaths. Imagine yourself as the image of a solid living powerful mountain. Take a moment to walk around and resume your stance –taking time to scan the whole body again as a living skeleton supported by the floor, letting your muscles fall gently from each bone. Enjoy your own ‘architecture’: your bony structure. Feel the breath encourage support around the organs and the joints. Feel yourself as a malleable, fully functioning organism. Let your brain go. For this short time, don’t think too hard, worry or have expectations. Let this short time become an inward journey.
Bring your hands together at your chest and bow your head to bring your waking awareness building efforts to a close.
Sitting quietly and standing firmly Your resilience, restraint and composure coupled gently with subtle observation a and awareness informed by your breath a positive beginning to any type of physical or personal space.
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Julie Tolentino has maintained a 15 year professional danec career and 10+ year practice of Yoga, including Astanga and Bikram. She teaches a semi-private yoga/stretch course and is sole proprietor of Clit Club in Exile’s Tuff Titty, Fridays at B Bar.