Hello! New to the blog?
Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
Click on the link below to find a list with the most popular and useful articles on this blog to learn or expand your yoga practice.
The Dance of Shiva is a form of moving meditation rescued by Ukranian Yoga Teacher Andrey Lappa. The practice starts with two basic patterns, horizontal and vertical. Each pattern consists of 4 simple arm positions. In the Dance of Shiva the practitioner moves the arms between these four basic positions.
This practice is very helpful in cultivating
As usual, as we practice we:
Throughout all the movements the palms of the hands try to remain facing up as if holding tea cups and trying not to spill. Also, each arm-hand avoids crossing the vertical mid-axis of the body.
The four arm positions for the horizontal pattern:
Dance of Shiva Horizontal pattern position 1
Dance of Shiva Horizontal pattern position 2
Dance of Shiva Horizontal pattern position 3
Dance of Shiva Horizontal pattern position 4
We start with the simplest pattern, Forward pattern, moving from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and then returning to 1. Notice that this creates a horizontal spiraling motion. Just as in learning anything else, we start really slow to clarify all of the movements. For instance, we can try to ensure that the movements of the arms include harmonious movements of the shoulder blades.
Then we can explore a second pattern, Backward pattern, moving from 1 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. Gradually we can expand to a third pattern where one arm moves in the forward pattern (1-2-3-4) while the other arms moves simultaneously in the backward pattern (4-3-2-1). Notice that this pattern can be done alternating the arms, so that the arm that starts with forward pattern then performs the backward pattern.
Throughout all the movements the palms of the hands try to remain facing outward as if pressing against imaginary walls to the sides. Similar to the horizontal pattern, each arm-hand avoids crossing the vertical mid-axis of the body.
The four arm positions for the vertical pattern:
Dance of Shiva Vertical pattern position 1
Dance of Shiva Vertical pattern position 2
Dance of Shiva Vertical pattern position 3
Dance of Shiva Vertical pattern position 4
Just as we did with the horizontal pattern, we start with the simplest pattern, Forward pattern, moving from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and then returning to 1. Notice that this creates a vertical spiraling motion. We start with slow movements to clarify the pattern, and just as we did with the horizontal movements we favor movements of the arms that include harmonious movements of the shoulder blades.
Then we can explore a second pattern, Backward pattern, moving from 1 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. Similar to the horizontal pattern, we can expand to a third pattern where one arm moves in the forward pattern (1-2-3-4) while the other arm moves simultaneously in the backward pattern (4-3-2-1). Here as well the arms can alternate patterns.
In this video you can see examples of the horizontal y vertical patterns combined in the Forward, Backward and Alternate patterns. You may also see an example of a leg movement pattern.
As with any other practice, after the practice take a moment to notice its effects. Sense the effects at the physical level through experiencing the sensations in your body. Also, notice the effects at the mental level, for instance, was the series of movements interesting enough to capture your attention so that you were not thinking about anything else? At the emotional level, were you able to practice without having to judge yourself when you got distracted or confused?
Consider practicing these simple patterns with consistency until they seem quite easy and can be done slow or fast. As usual, trust that taking small manageable steps will provide benefits. When the practice gets easy enough that you can do them at different speeds, it may be time to add variations to continue growing. For example, it can be fun to play with combinations of starting points, such as one arm starting at 1 and the other starting at 2 and following the patterns outlined above (both arms forward, backward, alternating).
If you like this practice, there is a very complete DVD on the Theory and Practice of the Dance of Shiva by Andrey Lappa on Pranamaya.com.
I hope you find this practice enjoyable and that you share any questions and discoveries you make along the way.
In Sanskrit many words have a whole set of meanings. For instance, some of the meanings of the word yoga include: junction, union, putting together, connection and relation.
Even when we think about yoga from the most superficial perspective, just looking at the body, we can see that it makes sense to use the idea of relationship when we think about the physical aspect of yoga because it brings up ideas such as creating a harmonious relationship between:
Even more interesting is to notice that in yoga we are also cultivating efficient interrelationships between:
As we deepen our inquiry we cannot fail to notice that yoga is about the relationship that we have with ourselves because sooner or later the tools of yoga will help us notice:
Moreover, as we continue exploring in more directions we come to realize that the relationships we have established with ourselves interpenetrate with the relationships that we have cultivated with the people and the environment around us.
So the next time you think that in yoga you are just trying to stretch your muscles, consider inviting yourself to expand your definition so that you can access the full depth of the practice that will enable you to savor the complete experience of developing inner-connectedness and then moving from that inner-connectedness to interconnectedness.
Peace and joy!
Often people assume that yoga is about cultivating extreme flexibility. This assumption may be related to the media’s tendency to favor images of extremely flexible people in highly dramatic postures. However, it is more accurate, appropriate and useful to understand Yoga as a complete and integrated practice for cultivating balance in body, mind, breathing and emotions.
Since our body is constantly monitoring what we do, it takes note also of what we are not doing. So, if we choose not to move much, our body adapts according to our patterns of movement as well as our lack of movement.
When we consider the health of our joints we can keep in mind that each joint has a specific range of movement that can vary according to how much we use that joint. Here is where yoga as balancing may be useful. There may be some joints that we tend to use a lot, they may stay mobile and, if we overuse them, they may deteriorate a bit faster. Conversely, those joints we do not use much will tend to lose some of their mobility.
This video offers a very easy and simple sequence of movements to help us keep our joints healthy by maintaining the natural range of movement in our joints. You can see this brief, 10 minute sequence as a way to remind our body that we want to keep our normal range of movement. It is important to keep in mind that it is not necessary to make these movements extreme. On the contrary, by enlisting our attention and awareness, we may use this practice as a journey of exploration into healthy movement patterns. Explore these actions with ease and curiosity and please remember to keep your breath steady, smooth and continuous.
As usual, you can interpret any sign of pain as a message from your body indicating that that type of movement may not be appropriate for you at this time. As usual, after you practice it is a good idea to hydrate well and also to pay attention to the effects that you notice in body, mind and attitude.
I hope that you enjoy this practice with a gentle smile.
One of the many perks of being married to a linguist, is that it is easier to be aware of the importance of the words i use. In addition, as a teacher, i am very interested in using language appropriately and concisely. In addition, an essential part of yoga practice is to study our own mind, its actions and patterns (svadhyaya). So, I really try to pay attention to the words i hear and use. Often i hear expressions like: “i don’t have time for this.” As i pay attention i notice how interesting it is to explore what is meant by such an expression. I don’t have time for this seems to be used when we find an “obstacle” on our way to some destination. We are so motivated to get where we are going that we feel it would be much better, and much more efficient, to not have to deal with some unexpected distractions along the way.
This expression, i don’t have time for this, implies that we have much better things to do with our time. Often, when we use it, we are pointing out that there is something out of our plans, often something we see as negative because we have specific expectations and plans leading us in a different direction.
From the yoga perspective, if we understand that yoga is to be fully present, the practice is to actually give our attention to what is happening right in front of our eyes. Remember that our expectations are seeds for future frustrations and that those expectations will color our experiences as positive or negative. Furthermore, when we recognize that we are always only in one specific time, right here and now, in this moment, today, then it makes sense that it is important to clarify what we have time for.
One suggestion would be to make sure that we have a clear intention that motivates our hearts to move along the path that fulfills our intention. When our intention is very clear, it is much easier to decide what deserves our attention because we know if our actions are aligned to our intention. Along the way, as we recognize that we have very limited (if any) control over the world outside (ishvara pranidhana), we can learn to accept what comes our way. These “distractions” we claim to have no time for, offer us opportunities for clarifying our intention, for cultivating humility and flexibility and, quite often, those same distractions carry the gift of insight into the quality of our participation in this moment.
The next time you hear yourself say: “I don’t have time for this” i may suggest to pause and feel what is happening inside of you. Then take a soft and long breath, and perhaps ask yourself, what is my attitude right now? How does it help me to move towards my intention? What deserve my time and attention?”
I hope these ideas are useful on your path to greater joy, compassion and fulfillment.
Yoga, when practiced with integrity, guides us on a journey towards increasing clarity and ease. Along the way, as we gradually fine-tune our sensitivity, questions emerge, especially questions such as, how can i know if what i am doing is right or wrong? If we are fortunate, we can seek the assistance and advice of a trustworthy source, somebody with knowledge and first hand experience of this process, our teacher or teachers. In the Yoga tradition, the Guru, or teacher, is that knowledgeable guide assisting the student in moving from a state of darkness, limitation or restriction to greater clarity, freedom and ease.
If we are fortunate enough to have access to a good teacher, we will probably find that the teacher will suggest a technique or practice to help uncover some misconception or limitation. Then, once the restriction is identified, we may gain more clarity towards life affirming choices. We will probably notice that the teacher will not make a decision for us, so we are still in charge of making our own choices.
So, how can we know if we can trust ourselves? Very often we hear instructions in yoga classes directing us to listen to the inner teacher, inner wisdom or inner guidance. Yet, as we pay attention to what is happening inside, we often find a never ending monologue with varying opinions on what we are doing as well as on many other unrelated things. Which of the voices/opinions is our inner teacher? Is it the voice that is saying to try harder? Is it the one that is comparing what i am doing with what the person next to me is doing? Or, is it the part that is thinking about my to do list or what i should have for dinner? For most of us, it seems like we are having to make decisions constantly, and the inner chatter is more often an obstacle than a guide.
My suggestion is that the majority of us, if not all people, are equipped with an internal compass offering us subtle guidance on a regular basis. One of the characteristics of this inner guidance is that it is gentle and not forceful. Consequently, external noise and distractions combined with our internal chatter may distract us, thus, making it less likely for us to notice and even less listen to that inner guidance. To verify that you have access to that inner compass, take a few moments to think about a recent decision you made (it doesn’t have to be a big decision) where, after you decided and acted according to your choice you went: “I knew this was not a good idea” or “I knew I shouldn’t have done that.” That knowing offering a light tap or inner nudge is our inner compass.
When you have to make a decision, you may get a gentle nudge, a feeling that prompts you to lean in a certain direction or to take a specific choice. It doesn’t usually come with words, that is why some people call it the silent whisper of the heart. This gentle guidance, just suggests or points without forcing or struggle. It feels like a gentle offer. It is a suggestion and not an order, so we can always make whatever choice we want, even if that means ignoring the whisper of the heart. Frequently, we might notice that if we have an expectation or if we are attached to one of the options we have, the suggestion we receive will probably be met with resistance on our part. In those cases, we will start coming up with arguments, explanations and justifications for taking a different path of action from the one suggested. I often think about a silly example to illustrate how this works: You are having dinner with friends at one of your favorite restaurants and you notice something inside of you indicating that you may have already eaten enough. However, you have not had dessert yet and this place serves one of your all-time favorite desserts. Even though you have noticed the inner signal that you have eaten enough, you may hear yourself coming up with justifications, some like: this week i have really worked very hard and i deserve a reward, or today i walked longer than usual, or i had a very small lunch today. You may even ask your friends for their suggestions or opinion. So, you convince yourself to override the internal advice. You get your dessert and eat it. By the time you get home or the next morning you will probably notice the effects of overeating the night before and you may hear yourself saying: “i knew i shouldn’t have eaten that much”. To clarify, the inner teacher offers an option, we can listen or ignore, and in the end we always have to make a decision. No matter what decision we make, we will have to deal with the consequences of our action.
You may be asking, so, how do i learn to trust my inner guidance? Think about the many times you have felt that gentle nudge telling you to do something. Now, notice how many times you have chosen to ignore that nudge and you have ended up saying, “I knew this was not such a good idea!”. Probably, every single time. In contrast, think about how many times you have chosen to listen to that internal suggestion and have been glad you did. Most likely, every single time. Moreover, consider if the suggestions you receive ever work against you and the evidence from your own life will show you that the inner guidance you receive always works to your own benefit –even if you do not understand the logic behind it at the time. If your inner guidance offers you options to your own benefit every single time, why not give its suggestions a fair a chance the next time? Most likely you will not regret it.
I might add, that you can combine the approach suggested in the previous article about not trying to predict the future with trusting inner guidance.They work quite nicely together.
As always, I hope you find this useful.
Yoga can be understood as both the state and the tools to meet ourselves right when and where we are. However, for most of us, any time we attempt to meet ourselves where we are, we find that it is quite difficult for us to be fully present because our mind is usually preoccupied with never-ending thoughts, ideas, plans, memories, regrets, fears, etc. In other words, it is difficult for us to be fully engaged with the moment we are in because our mind is already filled with other, seemingly more important or pressing, matters. For instance, every time we try to practice some aspect of yoga, we may notice how it takes some time for us to overcome the tendency of our mind to continue moving in the direction it was moving. It is important to note that this is absolutely normal, particularly when we consider that we have been training our mind to keep running tabs on an ever expanding list of things.
Of course, every time that we notice our mind’s pattern we can choose to feel frustrated by our lack of mind control. Instead, the yogic way could be to try to notice what is it that we are choosing to give our attention and energy to. Once we identify this tendency or pattern, we can determine if it is helpful or not. If the activity helps us feel more balanced, vibrant and integrated, we can choose to keep the pattern. On the other hand, if the pattern is not helpful we can try to notice it and to drop it.
One fascinating pattern i have noticed in my own way of thinking and acting is the habit to predict what will happen. Upon noticing how prevalent this pattern was in me, i decided to be curious about it and to explore the pattern itself to establish, through direct experience, if this tendency to predict contributes or not to enhance the quality of my participation in my own life. What i have found, is that i have NEVER EVER been accurate in predicting the future. Even when running a simple test, like trying to predict what will happen in a few hours, i am just not good at it at all. When i look back, i am keenly aware that i would have never been able to predict my life and how it has unfolded.
In addition, the tendency to want to predict how things will go has less than desirable side effects. First, it generates expectations, also known as switching into “should” mode. Once, i have made up my mind about what i think will happen, i notice that my mind starts generating statements about what should happen. This is would be a logical development, and it would be useful, if only i were good at predicting. But, mind you, i am not good at predicting at all! Second, each prediction very easily generates an assumption that, “since i think i know what will happen, i do not need to pay attention.” Thus, the prediction also becomes a recipe to not being present, which contributes to not paying attention and to not noticing the connections between my actions and their effects.
Upon considering this simple idea: i have a tendency to predict what will happen, I learned that i am not good at it. Furthermore, i learned that my predictions generate expectations and their related frustrations as well as a tendency to not be present. This is clearly a pattern, indeed a habit, that is certainly not useful, and, honestly, a waste of my energy. So, i have been in the process of turning this pattern around, first by paying attention and noticing every time that i try to predict the future. Then, i pause and take a breath and i remember that it makes no sense to do something that has never worked.
So far, it seems to be working, and the energy that i don’t waste on predicting and frustration is available to me to be more present in whatever i am doing. Of course, as with any other habit cultivated over a long period of time, there is a tendency to switch into prediction mode, especially when we are distracted or tired. At those times, it is helpful to persist with patience and kindness towards ourselves.
Upon further reflection, I have come to realize that accepting and embracing that i am not good at predicting is actually essential to witnessing the newness and uniqueness of life as it blooms right in front of our eyes at every single moment. What an amazing gift! I am very happy that I am not good at predicting.
I am curious, are you good at predicting?
In yoga, we are interested in observing accurately, that is withholding judgment, and just trying to be clear on what is actually happening. However, often we get so involved in the minutiae of our daily lives that we may lose perspective. For instance, sometimes an email message at work can generate a lot of reactivity inside of us, including worries, fears, anger, anxiety, etc. This is where yoga can be helpful, as soon as we notice some reactivity, we lengthen our spine and then we focus on our breath making our exhalations softer and longer. Then we may ask ourselves, how important will this message be in 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 1 decade? By doing this we are offering ourselves a pause to zoom out so that by changing perspective we can notice if the pattern of thought we are engaging in may be helpful and balancing or not.
One of the obstacles that we may find when implementing this technique is that we may have an expectation that the shift from the previous way of thinking and feeling to the new approach of zooming out, should happen easily and quickly. If we examine this assumption, we can understand that it is not based on reality. Any pattern we have adopted has probably been part of our way of doing things for a while. This means, that we have used the pattern many times and that we may not even be aware of the pattern itself. In that case, the first step is to recognize that the pattern is there. The next step is to have the attitude of a curious observer just trying to find out if the new way of doing has any effects. The key is to try the new approach with gentle persistence. The more consistently we use the new pattern the more aware we become about this new and more helpful option. Gradually, the new pattern is more easily available than the old one, until the old one is not an option any more. It is really helpful to remember that it will take some time and not to give ourselves a hard time about slipping into the well-rehearsed way of doing.
The other potential obstacle is that we may become frustrated when we notice how deeply entrenched the old way of thinking, feeling and being is. Keep in mind that every time we notice that we are using the old pattern, we are actually becoming aware of the pattern. Since we may not have been aware of the old pattern before, being aware of the pattern is a positive change in itself, it is movement in the right direction! Again, gentle persistence over time will help us turn the pattern around.
When we change our perspective we can see many things that we may have ignored before. We may also notice if we are blowing things out of proportion. Creating this space of awareness in our daily lives provides a door to explore other alternatives. As we implement this simple technique we can try to pay attention to its effects. Consequently, we will be able to determine if this change is an intelligent change or not.
I invite you to try this application of the yoga Sutras (2.33 Pratipaksha Bhavanam) and let me know what you find. I hope this technique is useful to you.
When we approach something new, we often just try to grasp the general idea of the activity. As our knowledge and experience on the topic grow, the more we focus on details and subtleties. However, it can happen that deepening our focus may result in losing a wider perspective. For instance, as we first start practicing yoga postures, it is difficult, for most of us, to understand the detailed instructions that we receive. For instance, it may feel that we are barely capable of staying in the posture without holding our breath, so it seems truly impossible to try to internally rotate this or that while stretching the sole of the foot lengthwise without losing the tone of the inner arch of the back foot. As we make our practice more consistent over time, we may get so immersed in the minute details of the posture that we may forget to have a detached attitude and a soft gaze.
As i observe people around me, i notice a seemingly general tendency in the place where i live, where many people, in spite of enjoying many comforts, such as having a choice on what to eat and a warm space to shelter themselves from the rain and cold weather, seem to find it difficult to keep a gentle smile on their faces. I find that for many of us, our daily obligations and our jobs often become all consuming turning into a source of tension and stress.
As humans it is normal to develop patterns in our ways of moving, breathing, feeling and thinking. We are fortunate to be able to use some of these patterns in response to the stress of challenging and difficult situations with a general sense of alertness to help us focus on the task-at-hand, our survival. Of course, since the body has limited energy, it has to be intelligent in its allocation of resources. So, when we feel threatened, non-essential systems are made into a low priority. For instance, resting, restoring, maintenance and digestion are put on hold for a more convenient time. However, if that more convenient time does not come, the useful skill of alertness and reaction, can get out of control and deplete our energy.
One of the most common requests i hear in yoga class is a request for practices conducive to relaxation. I know that deep relaxation is a necessary and well-deserved reward to counteract our existing circumstances and bring us closer to balance. However, it is not surprising that our tendency to overdo, has become so entrenched, that it carries over into our yoga practice. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how good it feels to get a good workout and to feel the intensity of exploring the limits of what we can do. However, it is not uncommon for people who feel overworked, overextended, stressed out and sleep deprived, to come into the practice of yoga and to continue pushing themselves into more tension and stress. Sometimes this intensity can be the result of getting too caught up in the details of the practice and forgetting that balance is a fundamental aspect of yoga.
It could be argued that one of the essential concepts in yoga philosophy is discernment (in Sanskrit: viveka). Discernment is the capacity to see, feel and sense with increasing clarity the distinction between what is helpful and what is not helpful, what we can and cannot do, what is too much and what is too little. One suggestion that may be useful is to make our practice into a gentle and playful dance to help us explore doing more and then doing less, helping us fine tune our ability to modulate intensity between low and high according to our context, circumstances and to what we need. In this way, we can engage our mind more in our practice and to grow in our ability to sense with clarity and attentiveness the effects of each deliberate choice we make. Consequently, we will notice that our practice is also helping us hone the skills to notice the effects of our approach to working, living our lives and doing everything that we do. In brief, my suggestion is to ask ourselves more often:
We often ask ourselves, how do i know if i am trying too hard or not hard enough?
I would suggest that we find these answers by observing our mind, feeling the emotions in our heart and sensing the general state of our bodies. If your mind is more open, focused and clear, if your body feels supple, resilient and capable of doing what you need it to do and if your heart feels more gratitude and more love, you are probably on the right track.
Receive my sincere wish for vibrant health, peaceful mind and a loving heart,
Meditation is good for us, at many levels. More and more studies indicate that meditation can have beneficial effects on our bodies, minds, emotions and overall health and well-being. It appears that meditation may even contribute to slow the aging process. For me, meditation is coming to meet myself underneath the hustle and bustle of my surface level mind. It feels good to meditate, because it calms the mind, gives us a break from our habitual ways of thinking, moving, breathing and feeling. That’s the reason i practice regularly.
Meditation is simplicity. The video below is a simple and effective meditation session to relax, calm and rest your mind.
In meditation it doesn’t matter how many times we get distracted. We keep returning to our focal point. Gradually our atention and patience grow stronger. After the practice, notice how you feel. If you feel a bit better, consider giving yourself the gift of meditation regularly.
I hope that you enjoy this meditation session with the video filmed in Sunset Beach, Florida, USA
Recently, at a social function i was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised. My wife and i were talking to somebody we had just met and eventually this person mentioned that she liked yoga. I asked her about her practice and could not believe my ears when she said that her favorite aspect of yoga was Pranayama, the breathing awareness practice, and that she practiced her pranayama exercises 6 days a week for an hour each day. I found her response truly inspiring because it is quite unusual for me to meet people with a consistent pranayama practice.
It seems rather obvious that our breath is essential to our life. Some of the benefits from breathing consciously include:
With so many benefits, i would think that more and more people would be interested in tapping into this FREE resource for improving our quality of life, well-being and overall health.
In yoga, in my opinion, the two single most important elements in the practice are awareness and breathing. Yoga without one or the other is robbed of the tools that make yoga powerful and transformational.
Unfortunately, very often i hear from students:&lquot;i really don’t know how to breathe&rquot;. Also, often during class i notice that not everybody is clearly attuned to their own breathing process, and ability. I know that making the breath the keystone of my yoga practice, has had a powerful effect on the quality of my practice and on the quality of my life, attention and energy level.
If you are reading this right now, you are breathing well enough to stay alive. The question is, are you breathing efficiently and to your full capacity?
You can test your breathing awareness pretty easily:
Observe your breath without changing the way you are breathing at this moment notice:
If you answered yes to all the questions, it is likely that you have a good level of what i call Breathing Intelligence.
If you answered no to any or all of the questions, i would submit that you can benefit from simple and easy breathing exercises.
For instance, you can try these simple ideas for a few minutes each:
In a comfortable position, relax your belly and allow your belly to move freely in response to each inhalation and each exhalation. It is important to remain relaxed and to breathe without forcing or agitation.
Keeping your breath relaxed, try to minimize the interruptions or pauses between the inhalation and the exhalation.
After a few minutes of trying the exercises above, notice if your mind got a little bit more relaxed and if you feel calmer and with less tension. I you found these simple ideas helpful, i would like to invite you to give yourself the treat of conscious breathing for a few minutes every day and notice the effect these simple, free exercises have on you, your mood and attitude.
There are other easy breathing exercises you might enjoy:
To increase your breathing intelligence, you may also be interested in attending the upcoming workshops:
BREATH FOR HEALTH & VITALITY: Introduction to Pranayama 1 & 2
For more information and to sign up:
Yoga Etc, 727-644-4554, 3338 Tyrone Blvd. St Petersburg, FL 33710