My yoga practice

 

 

One of my friends, Peentz, asked these two questions of our Yoga Sutra study group:

• Do you practice the 8 limbs of yoga as defined in the second chapter of the Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras?
• Do you carve out specific time each day for practice?

For me the simplest answers are Yes and Yes. Here is a longer answer. Ever since I learned about the Yoga Sutras, I became really interested in learning more about them. In the last decade I have been trying to answer the simple question: Can the Yoga Sutras be applied today?

Once I made a commitment to follow yoga as my main system for living a fulfilling life, I keep revisiting a fundamental question: What is Yoga? Over time the definitions have changed, with some definitions staying the same for a good while and others lasting only a few weeks or months. At this point, the definition that seems more direct, complete and comprehensive is Yoga is Presence. At any point I can use the definition to check if I am fully aware of where I am and what I am doing. Inevitably, as I check in during my day, I have noticed that some of my tendencies, inclinations and ways of being can be either an obstacle to be fully present. In other cases, some of my ways of being serve as useful ways to move towards being present. Why is this important? Because I am interested in enhancing the quality of my participation in my life, to contribute my presence to the world with greater clarity, kindness and compassion. There are always reminders that I am still learning. This is where I have found that a consistent practice is very helpful to diminish obstacles, inefficiencies and distractions on the journey to presence.

For several years there have been two aspects to my practice. First, there is my daily formal practice and second is the practice of showing up to my life to the best of my ability. These two aspects of the practice act synergistically, each one provides feedback and reinforces the other. In addition to presence, there is one idea shared by my formal and informal practice, Range of Action. In my opinion the guiding value in many societies, particularly in the society I live in, is the concept of “MORE.” It is prevalent in our economy and in how marketing works, by selling us the idea that we are not enough, not strong enough, not beautiful enough, not intelligent enough, not rich enough, not flexible enough, not traveled enough. The list seems never ending. When I believed the idea that more is always better, my internal life seemed to always have a low-level anxiety that influenced everything I did, what I felt, what I thought and how I interacted with others. No matter how hard I tried, I still ended up feeling that I was never enough. It was exhausting and unhelpful. Once I stop believing in the notion of more as the guiding principle to my life, I could recognize the abundance and richness of life everywhere. Rather than trying to accumulate more possessions and experiences I recognized that it is, at least for me, more important to focus my energy on the quality of my participation in my life. The quality of my participation is closely related to the idea of Range of Action. Everything in the world has a natural and organic range of action. Thus, we can experience enthusiasm and dejection, sadness and joy, ease and discomfort, vitality and exhaustion. And, since we are not digital beings, we are not limited to 0 or 1, to either feeling joy or sadness. We are lucky enough to be able to feel a wide range of emotions and sensations. Range of action applies to our emotions, our breath, our muscular engagement and to our mental activity. In both aspects of my practice I am curious to exploring a healthy range of action at the physical, mental and emotional levels. In the process of exploring it becomes obvious that these aspects of ourselves articulate elegantly to enable us to respond intelligently and appropriately to every situation and interaction that we find ourselves in. Presence and Range of Action are the guiding principles of my practice.

Formal Practice

In my daily formal practice, I explore the natural range of action in my joints, muscles, breathing and capacity to focus. I use the following yoga techniques in my explorations:

• Mindful movement of the main sections of my spine
• A concentration and coordination practice called the Dance of Shiva.
• Agni Sara
• A selection of postures (asanas) moving slowly from one to the next (vinyasa). The guiding principle for my postural (asana) practice is movement of the spine according to all of its natural directions. These spinal movements are complemented by the actions of the shoulder girdle and hip girdle. I complete this portion of the practice with corpse posture (shavasana). In my physical practice I modulate the level of muscular engagement to facilitate circulation, so that it tends to stay within a 40-75% muscular engagement.
• A systematic breathing (pranayama) practice including traditional breathing techniques (ashvini mudra, kapalabhati, bhastrika, shitali, dirgha puraka, dirgha rechaka, nadi shodana and some retentions.
• Yogic meditation, usually mantra recitation (japa).

After my practice, if time permits, I also try to chant a portion of the yoga sutras. Although I know that some scholars speculate that the yoga Sutra may not be a text that was transmitted orally, I find that trying to chant and memorize the Yoga Sutras is an amazing way to enhance my memory and my ability to concentrate.

I see my practice as a way to enhance function in body, breath, mind and emotion. Thus, my goal is to feel energized after my practice and never sore or exhausted. In the last couple of years, I developed the habit of going to my computer after practice to write my own understanding of the yoga Sutras of Patañjali. During my day I usually will try to read something related to yoga, especially related to philosophy and anatomy to enrich my understanding and my teaching. I see my daily formal practice as my own laboratory to clarify what yoga is for me through my direct experience.

Daily living

The second aspect of my practice is my attitude as I participate in my life, this is intimately linked to the precepts offered by Patañjali, the yamas and niyamas . Before I wake up in the morning, I give thanks for being alive and for having another day to try to be the best version of me that I can be. I also try to set my intention to practice gratitude, compassion and presence in my interactions with the people that I encounter. During my day, some of the questions that I use to remind myself of my intention include:

• Am I present?
• Am I doing what I think I am doing?

I also try to attend to my tendency to add comments and judgments of whatever happens. In other words, instead of making up my mind about whatever might be happening, I try to pause to pay attention to what is actually happening withholding judgment. Sometimes, as on the days when I have to drive for a while between my classes and my private sessions, I listen to podcasts or lectures related to yoga and other times I chant, either devotional chants or the Yoga Sutras. Most of my days revolve around yoga, because I really love how yoga has enriched my life. Of course, as a happily married man, I make sure that I spend time every day with my lovely wife, because it is a lot of fun to be with her and to learn from her. And of course, like many other people, I still have to wash dishes, clean, do laundry, cook, update my website, etc. Fortunately, since my job is teaching yoga, I have many opportunities to pay attention and to try to apply what I have been learning over the years. My goal is to participate in all my activities with a friendly attitude and a smile on my face, if simply because it makes everything more enjoyable in my life.

Peace,
rubén

 

 

More Yoga resources in English and Spanish coming soon

Namaste,

It has been a few months since I posted something on the blog. As I continue working with students individually, in group classes, in workshops, retreats, teacher training and mentoring I continue finding areas where students and practitioners have relevant and useful questions that can help us grow in our understanding and in making our yoga authentic. Most importantly these questions always suggest the need to bring authentic yoga into our lives. Over the last few months I have been exploring options to contribute through my new website: www.rubenvasquez.com and a new YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/RubenVasquezYoga

I am currently developing new content also for the blog so that I can provide more resources both in English and Spanish. Please stay tuned and if you wish to stay informed of new developments join my FREE mailing list.

Thank you to all my teachers and from my heart love, joy, health & prosperity to you,

rubén

 

January 2012 Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

January 2012 Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica - Enero 2012 Retiro Yoga en Costa Rica

As suggested in every practice is a retreat , when we remove distractions our practice helps us notice our habitual ways of moving, breathing, thinking and feeling. These habitual ways of being tend to limit our level of awareness and clarity. Certainly making each practice into a retreat is a valuable tool for all of us. Obviously, the power of actually withdrawing away from our usual surroundings is unsurpassed because our awareness heightens in response to a new environment and circumstances. In January this year I felt very honored and grateful to guide a yoga retreat to Costa Rica. Our group soon came together with a heartfelt sense of camaraderie and friendship clearly inspired by the beauty of the pristine rainforest, the welcoming people and atmosphere, the inviting practice spaces as well as the delicious food prepared and served with much love. I am happy to announce that we will return to our yoga haven in Costa Rica in January 2012. If you are interested in letting go of the stress and tension of the year and to start 2012 feeling refreshed, balanced and invigorated this retreat is for you:

  • 5 nights/6 days retrea
  • Arrive: Sunday January 1st
  • Begin: Monday, January 2nd
  • Return: Sunday, January 8th
  • Cost: US$1299

This is a retreat that is tailored to participants at all levels, so that each person’s level of practice benefits from a gradual natural unfolding. You are welcome to read some of the reactions to this year’s retreat.

For more information, visit http://stpeteyoga.com/retreats/CostaRicaSamasati2012.html or call 727-894-9642 / 727-458-8664.

Enjoy the day!
Namaste,

 

 

10 minute Yoga practice

Movement / Movimiento

If you would like to practice at home, here is a 10 minute practice session that can be adapted and modified according to your needs. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )

Suggestions

Read the suggestions and the instructions and print the diagram for reference. Keep in mind these suggestions that may help as you practice:

  • Use ujjayi breathing throughout the practice.
  • Synchronize your movements with your breath.
  • Make each pose a perfect balance between relaxation and stability.
  • Keep in mind that that there is never pain in Yoga practice.
  • Remember to relax your face, gaze and shoulders.

The practice

  1. Centering – Start lying down on the floor on a folded blanket or Yoga mat with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your arms resting by the sides of your torso. Let go of whatever is not in the present moment by focusing on the natural rhythm of the breath, noticing your level of energy, and paying attention to any sensations that emerge. After a few breaths, switch from natural breath to ujjayi breath for both the inhalation (IN) and the exhalation (EX) without forcing.
  2. As you inhale lift your arms up, taking the arms over and down to the floor by the sides of your head. On exhalation return your arms to the initial position. Repeat 5 times.
  3. Apanasana – On exhalation, lift both feet off the floor rest each hand on its corresponding knee and bring both knees toward your chest without forcing. Inhale pushing your knees gently away from the chest. Repeat 4 times.
  4. Dvipada Pitham – Return your feet and arms to the floor. Align your heels with your sitting bones. As you inhale press both feet firmly on the floor and lift your hips and arms. When the hips reach the highest point the arms reach the floor by the sides of your head. On exhalation, return the arms and hips to the initial position. Repeat 4 times.
  5. Chakravakasana – Roll around bringing your shinbones to rest on the floor and draping your front torso on your thighs while stretching your arms out in front of you. Separate your hands as wide as your shoulders and spread your fingers while pressing them on the floor, this is extended child pose. On inhalation press the hands on the floor and come to your hands and knees keeping the knees directly under your hip joints, flatten your upper back and look forward. On exhalation, return to the extended child pose. Repeat 4 times.
  6. Vajrasana – From extended child pose bring the backs of your hands to rest on the back of your pelvis. As you inhale lift the ribcage and arms and come to standing on your knees with your arms lifted over your head. When you exhale return to the modified child’s pose with the hands on the back of the pelvis. Repeat 4 times.
  7. Ekapada Ustrasana – Lift from child’s pose to standing on your knees, bring the right foot forward so that the right heel is directly under the right knee. Rest your right hand on the right thigh while allowing your left arm to hang by your side. Inhale bending the right knee and lifting the ribcage and left arm up. On exhalation, return to the starting position. Repeat 4 times and then repeat 4 times with the left foot forward.
  8. Tadasana – Stand straight, with your feet firmly planted on the floor, keeping the body weight equally balanced between the front of the feet and the heels. Also, balance the body weight between the left foot and the right foot and allow your pelvis to be level, that is, not tipping forward or back. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down. Take 3 deep breaths and feel the sensations in your body.
  9. Urdhva Hastasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting both arms up in front of you as far as it is appropriate for you. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed and maybe try to initiate the movement from your navel. On exhalation, return to Tadasana. Repeat 4 times.
  10. Ardha Chandrasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting your arms to the sides and up, as you exhale tilt your pelvis to the right side taking the right hand and arm towards the right thigh while keeping the left arm moving over the head and to the right side. Inhale lifting both arms up and exhale tilting your pelvis to the left while taking your left hand and arm down towards the left thigh. Repeat 3 times.
  11. Ardha Uttanasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting the arms all the way up over your head. On exhalation tilt forward at the hip joints leading with your chest while opening the arms to the sides until your torso is parallel to the floor. If you feel tightness in the back of your thighs bend your knees to release tension as you fold forward. Inhale returning all the way up and on the following exhalation return to Tadasana. Repeat 4 times.
  12. Virabhadrasana I – From Tadasana, inhale taking a comfortable step forward with your right leg and lift both arms up. Press firmly with both feet on the ground, exhale bending the right knee towards a 90 degree angle. When you inhale press the right foot on the floor straightening the right leg. Repeat 3 times. On exhalation return to Tadasana.
  13. Ardha Utkatasana – From Tadasana, inhale lifting both arms up (Urdhva Hastasana). As you exhale bend your knees as far as it is comfortable. Inhaling, press both feet on the floor to return to Urdhva Hastasana. Repeat 3 times. On the final exhalation, return to Tadasana.
  14. Sukhasana – Sit on the floor with your legs crosses for 3 full breaths, noticing the sensations in your body.
  15. Urdhva Prasarita Padasana – Recline onto your back resting your hands and arms on the floor alongside your body. Bend your knees and lift your feet of the floor. As you inhale, lift both arms up continuing the movement until the arms rest down on the floor by the sides of your head. At the same time stretch your legs up to the sky. On exhalation return to the starting position. Repeat 4 times.
  16. Jathara Parivarttanasana – Inhale spreading your arms to the sides at shoulder level while keeping the knees bent. On exhalation keep your shoulders in contact with the floor while dropping the knees to the right side. Inhale returning the knees to the center and on exhalation drop the knees to the left. Repeat 4 times.
  17. Apanasana – On exhalation, lift both feet off the floor, rest each hand on its corresponding knee and bring both knees toward your chest without forcing. Inhale pushing your knees gently away from the chest. Repeat 4 times.
  18. Savasana – Lie on your back with legs straight and heels 2-3 feet apart and your arms resting on the floor, each hand a foot away from the body and the palms facing up. You can also lie on the floor with your knees bent and the arms to the sides and the palms facing up. Relax completely, letting go of any control over breath and body. Rest observing your breath quietly for at least 12 rounds of effortless spontaneous breath.

 

Diagram of 10 minute Yoga practice

10 minute Yoga practice/Practica de Yoga de 10 minutos

Make it YOUR Practice

This sequence is only a suggestion. Of course, since Yoga is a path of self-learning always adapt and modify the poses and the number of repetitions so the practice is perfect, not too much and not too little, for you. This can be a good way to start practicing at home and to supplement any classes you attend regularly.

Noticing the effects

See what happens when you practice 2 or 3 times a week for 3 or 4 weeks. Observe how you feel before and after your practice. There might be differences at the physical, mental and emotional levels. What do you notice? Do you feel different in any way? What does your practice do for you? Do you notice any differences in how you feel or behave during the day? Do you feel that you have more or less energy? Does practicing affect your mood or the way you sleep?
Answering these questions gives you insight on your practice and on its relationship to your every day life.

I hope you enjoy your practice!
Namaste.

Simple guided meditation with Rubén