FREE Video: Yoga postures for Lower Back Pain, Hip Flexibility and Thigh Flexibility Breath

 

Yoga Postures to Release Lower Back Pain

This is a brief 12 minute video to help release tightness and tension from the lower back and to help increase mobility and flexibility in the hip joints and thighs. This session can be practiced in the morning, after exercising, at the end of the day or in preparation for sleeping. Patient persistence is the way of yoga, and it is IMPORTANT to remember that creating pain, forcing, numbness and tingling are not part of Yoga.

If you have chronic pain please consult a health professional before starting any exercise program.

After the practice you can check if you feel better than you felt before the practice, this is an indication that the practice is working and that you are practicing correctly.
I hope you enjoy the practice and its benefits

Namaste.

 

Free Yoga Classes in September at New Tampa Regional Library

I am glad to announce that thanks to the support of the New Tampa Regional Library and the The Friends of the Library of Tampa-Hillsborough County I’ll be offering FREE classes at the New Tampa Regional Library in September. Starting tomorrow, every Thursday (8, 15, 22, 29), 6-7pm, a Yoga for Well Being class for students at all levels.
Bring your mat, comfortable clothing and let’s breathe and move together.

Location: New Tampa Regional Library 10001 Cross Creek Blvd, Tampa, FL 33647-2581. Telephone: 813.273.3652

5 minute easy and effective chair Yoga practice (excellent for the office!)

5 minute easy and effective chair Yoga practice (excellent for the office!)

Those of us who spend a lot of time sitting every day, for instance in front of our computers, driving and watching TV, often start noticing weakness and tension in the lower back as well as in the upper back, shoulder and neck areas. Certainly it is best to take frequent breaks, as often as every 30 minutes, to stand-up, walk around and move our body and counteract the habitual position we maintain for long periods.

Here is a simple 5 minute chair Yoga session to help you revitalize and refresh yourself even while sitting. Remember that the it is essential to be aware of the breath and of the quality of our participation.(If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )

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If you sit for long periods of time, you can try this practice once of twice a day, noticing its effects on your body, breath, heart and mind. Enjoy!

Namaste.
 

 

6 Basic Principles for Practicing Yoga Poses

Path / Sendero

 

Basic Principles

As I unfold my mat every morning I try to find different ways to ensure that the practice remains alive, fresh and enjoyable. In the process of creating my DVD Yoga: Here + Now I tried to create a list of basic ideas that would be useful to people starting to practice. As I reflected on these ideas, I was interested in presented some clear, simple and easy to follow guidelines that could be applied to all styles of Yoga. I hope that these basic principles might be of help in being fully present in your Yoga practice:

  1. The breath is the integrating axis of our practice. Our breath is continuous, fluid and comfortable, without any abruptness
  2. Synchronize all movements with each inhalation and each exhalation
  3. Each posture has a firm foundation, so the parts of the body that are in contact with the floor press down firmly
  4. In each posture we balance strength and flexibility, so we activate our muscles as much as is appropriate, without forcing and without pain
  5. We respect our body, mind and breath. In each pose, at all levels, we do as much as we can without doing too little and without doing too much
  6. We make our practice enjoyable, so at the end of practice we are relaxed, energized and calm
  7. I am aware that there are always ways to get clearer. It would be excellent if you could shared your experience in trying to apply these principles in your practice so that I can continue learning. Thank you!

    Namaste.

     

Yoga video for beginners in English AND Spanish: Yoga Here + Now

Yoga Here + Now/ + Yoga Aquí + Ahora

Great news!

I am very happy to have time to write on the blog again. This time I would like to share the great news that my first Yoga video for beginners is finally ready! This video, one of the only videos for beginners produced in both English and Spanish, is the result of the generosity of my family, the continuous support and help of many friends, teachers and students. Thank you very much for all your help and support, special thank s to Camilla, Luz Vi & Adolf, Adri & Carlos, Natalia, Daniel Medina and Nicolás Ospina and everybody who made this dream come true. I really hope that the video will be useful to people who want to start practicing Yoga at home.

This DVD is a complete practice designed with beginners in mind. It includes:

  • 7 different sessions ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • 1 special session focused on relaxation, breathing and meditation, particularly useful to release stress.
  • Basic principles spelled out in easy-to-understand language.
  • Bilingual edition, in both Spanish and English.
  • Guided pranayama (breathing) and meditation practice in each session.

Video Samples

Pranayama

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Ujjayi Breath

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Asana Practice I

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Asana Practice II

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Asana Practice III

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More information

For more information and to order the DVD: www.yoga-here-now.com

Namaste.

 

 

Slowing Down for Greater Awareness

Fountain Statue/Estatua en la fuente

According to the Yoga Sutras (II.28), the classical text on Yoga, the various Yoga practices enumerated by Patanjali gradually result in diminishing impurities, blockages and obstacles while at the same time unveiling greater knowledge, clarity and awareness. Thus, integrating these practices into our lives helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves so that we can discern between what is essential and what isn’t. One possible application of this is to use that greater clarity to affirm our connections to the ever-present, ever-changing web of life all around us. In this post a simple suggestion to increase our level of awareness.

Formulas

In our daily lives we often recognize patterns in our circumstances, actions and their consequences. When we are pleased with the outcome of a particular set of actions in a specific setting, the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation we feel inclined to repeat our previous actions in order to replicate our desired outcome. This is a rational and effective way of learning. Consequently, over time, through trial and error, we create useful formulas or scripts to guide our actions toward the results we expect. Along the way, whenever it is possible, we generalize our observations so that our formula or script can be applied in more situations and contexts. Gradually, we gather these formulas to help us navigate many situations and to move through life with more ease.

Acting mechanically

Many times we use these formulas or scripts to save time, because by using them we feel as if we don’t need to analyze, as we regularly do, our setting, conditions and intentions before taking action. The longer we use a formula, we are more likely to ignore the particulars of a specific situation and assume that the formula will render the expected outcome. However, when the formula we have developed, learned or inherited is applied mechanically, that is without being mindful of our circumstances, needs and options, we might be surprised when our, previously effective formula, does not lead us to the results we have grown to expect.

Usually, the transition from mindful application of our formula to its mechanical use unfolds very gradually, almost imperceptibly. A simple example might help us see this more clearly. For instance, in asana practice, our useful laboratory for experimentation with self-awareness, we may notice that a particular sequence of poses seems to always have a beneficial result on our body, breath, mind or spirit. So we choose to practice the sequence diligently and with honest effort over a period of time. However, as time goes by, since our previous experience indicates the effectiveness of our sequence, or because we feel that we already know the sequence and how to perform it, we assume that we already know the outcome of our actions and focus on the outcome instead of paying close attention to the moment-to-moment experience of the sequence. As a result, we may overlook the feedback we receive constantly from breath, body, mind and heart during our practice. Thus, we choose, consciously or unconsciously, to give up our ability to respond to the particular aspects of the present moment experience, perhaps with unexpected outcomes that may not be necessarily beneficial. In some cases, obtaining unwanted or painful results motivates us to return to mindful conscious action in our practice.

Gradually cultivating imbalance

Many of us frequently feel that the pace of our lives keeps getting faster and faster, or that our lives keep getting busier every day. It is not surprising that many of us want to find shortcuts and formulas to help us save time. In many cases, we move toward mechanical action to save time by not having to pay attention to our moment-to-moment experience. For instance, when we need to walk from point A to point B, we just walk without paying too much attention to the details of the task at hand, because we need to get to our destination. Consequently, we may not be able to notice that we might be putting more weight on one foot or leg than on the other, or that we twist our pelvis slightly to one side with every step. As we repeat this action over and over again, we gradually, and unconsciously, cultivate a physical imbalance. Furthermore, that strong focus on results usually requires that we ignore the feedback we constantly receive at all levels, in our breath, bodies, hearts and minds. Hence, it is not surprising that, in order to capture our attention, the feedback we receive tends to grow louder, gradually moving from mild discomfort towards pain.

Slowing Down

As it was mentioned at the beginning of this post, Yoga, through a wide range of techniques, helps us move towards greater clarity and awareness. One simple way to increase our clarity is to cultivate our ability to observe. When something moves fast, it is difficult for us to perceive with clarity the event and its characteristics. Slowing down our actions gives us enough time to notice what is happening because it forces us to pay attention to what we are doing. As we mentioned before, we can start by focusing our attention on our breath as a way to immerse in the present moment. Then we can observe the complexity of even the simplest action. For instance, slowing down considerably our pace when walking will help us notice with greater clarity the way we lift each foot the ground, how we move the leg and foot forward and we plant the foot on the ground again. As we continue this process we can compare the two feet. We can also notice how the pelvis, shoulders, arms and head move with each step. In this process we may start recognizing patterns that affect our gait and its level of ease and smoothness or lack thereof. Then we can choose consciously if there is anything we need to do to make our gait better. Along these lines we previously suggested to slow down our pace when eating to enjoy our food more and to improve our health, which aligns with some of the ideas in the slow food movement.

Slowing down in controlled settings

It seems we find ourselves at a crossroads. On one hand there are multiple demands on our time, energy and attention, requiring of us to focus on results, thus ignoring the minute details of life around us. On the other hand, slowing down seems to be a good way to gain a better understanding of our circumstances and actions, thereby facilitating a more mindful participation in life.

Clearly, slowing down all of our actions is not practical for most of us. However, slowing down the pace of some of our actions can be an excellent way to focus our attention on what is truly important. My suggestion is to continue using our Yoga practice as our laboratory for exploration. Slowing down the pace in our asana practice is a simple change that works at multiple levels. It can help us notice where we tend to be less mindful. It also requires us to breathe more consciously, thus improving our connection with the breath and perhaps even our breathing capacity. In addition, it may help us notice where different aspects of our practice need more integrity. In addition, slowing down our pace, strengthens our mind by making it stay focused on the myriad aspects of every pose. Moreover, practicing at a slower pace helps to improve our patience and can make our practice safer as we are paying closer attention to the feedback we receive from breath, body and mind. Finally, all of these benefits will eventually start emerging also beyond our yoga mat.

I hope these ideas are helpful in your journey towards greater clarity.

Namaste

 

5 minute yoga practice to ease into sleeping

bedroom / habitacion

The main objective of yoga is to integrate all aspects of our being in the present moment. Often we find that in spite of, and perhaps because of, our efforts to bring about this integration, at the end of the day we might find ourselves tense and unable to fall asleep. A common recommendation to help us fall asleep is to establish a relaxing routine before going to bed.
Here is a simple 7 minute relaxing Yoga practice to help you ease yourself towards a restful night. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )
Once you are ready to go to bed, wearing comfortable clothes in a quiet dimly-lit space in your bedroom follow these steps:

Restful Mountain

With your back gently resting on a wall, stand in mountain pose, feet hip-width apart, feet parallel.
Shift your body weight gradually from one foot to the other a few times. Find your point of balance, where your body weight is equally distributed on both feet and legs. Close your eyes and observe your breath for 5 rounds of natural, spontaneous breath.

Easy Forward Bend

Step away from the wall and inhale lifting your ribcage up without any strain. As you exhale, bend forward allowing your knees to bend as much as it feels right for you. Point the crown of your head towards the floor and reach with each hand for the opposite upper arm or forearm. Allow your eyes to close and your lower back to get long effortlessly. Let go of the experiences of the day as you continue breathing comfortably.

Gentle Twist

Recline on a blanket on the floor with your back and back of your pelvis resting with ease on the floor. Bend your knees and separate your feet a little bit wider than your shoulders. Allow your arms to rest a comfortable distance away from your torso. Inhale expanding your chest and, on exhalation drop your knees gradually to the right without any strain or effort. The next time you inhale return to center and on the following exhalation drop the knees to the opposite side. Repeat a couple of times. The last time, stay with your knees to each side for 3 or 4 breaths, focusing your attention to this process. When you are done return to center.

For the last two parts, move to your bed.

Connect to your Breath

Lie down on your back with your knees slightly bent. Close your eyes. Observe your breath and gradually start to soften and lengthen each exhalation. Do these for 5 to 10 rounds of breathing and then let go of any control over your breath.

Gratitude

Lying on your back, stretch your legs out and make your self as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and from your heart appreciate and give thanks for all the love, goodness and abundance in your life. Allow your face to soften and bring a gentle smile to your face reflecting the gratitude in your heart. Immerse in this sensation and relax completely.

Diagram of 5 minute Yoga practice for sleeping

5 min yoga for sleeping

I hope this practice will help you sleep better and more easily.

Namaste.

 

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Special Class – Total Yoga Experience: Asana and Beyond.

Yoga is much more than physical exercises. Yoga is a complete system of practices that create a deep-rooted sense of stillness & awareness. The Total Yoga Experience is a unique class that offers students at all levels an experience of Yoga that integrates body, breath, mind & spirit. In this class we will work from the outside in, from the outer body into more subtle aspects of our being.

The Complete Yoga Experience consists of:

  • Asana- physical postures that synchronize movement & breath
  • Nidra- guided relaxation for deep release and clarity
  • Pranayama- breathing exercises for focus & concentration
  • Chanting- for breath awareness & concentration
  • Meditation- sustained focus & concentration for stillness

This practice is an integrative exploration of diverse traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques. . For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

Date: Saturday, August 23/2008
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 horas
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/ $40 at the door
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, registered with Yoga Alliance.
Studio: St. Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com
Address: 275 16th St. N. 33705, St. Petersburg, FL – map
Phone: (727)-894-YOGA

 

 

Inspired Practice

Arboles/Trees

Ujjayi breath

One type of breathing that is especially helpful in focusing our attention is called ujjayi. Ujjayi, meaning victorious, is a type of breath in which we constrict gently the back of the throat. Ujjayi breathing produces a sound in the throat similar to the sound of the ocean. Using ujjayi breath during asana practice helps to anchor our attention on the continuous and smooth movement of our breath.

Learning

The easiest way to learn ujjayi breath is to:

  • Open the mouth and breath through the mouth as if trying to fog a mirror in front of us, the sound is clearly audible in the back of the throat
  • Relax the neck, soften the jawbone and mouth and breathe like this a few times until it feels that the breath is flowing smoothly
  • Gently bring the lips together
  • Keep breathing smoothly through the nose while listening to the sound of your breath
  • Check that no tension is emerging in the face or neck

Movement and sound

When learning ujjayi breath, there may be a tendency to make the sound of the breath louder than it needs to be. Keep in mind that we are using the sound for focus and feedback, so just make sure that you can hear it. As we become familiar with this way of breathing, we can allow ujjayi breath to become the main axis of our asana practice. In other words, we anchor the practice on the integrity of the breath, always paying attention to the quality of each inhalation and each exhalation. When the flow of breath is firmly established, we can choose to let the breath initiate the movement for optimal synchronization between physical movements and the movements of the breath. In essence, if we cannot hear the movement of our breath there should be no physical movement.

Ujjayi advantages

Using ujjayi breath in asana practice has numerous advantages:

  • Focuses our attention on the present moment
  • Helps us verify that our breath is smooth and continuous
  • By constricting the passage of air, it helps to strengthen our lungs
  • Gradually increases lung capacity
  • Strengthens our abdominal muscles
  • Helps to improve concentration
  • Brings a meditative quality to our practice

As in any other aspect of Yoga practice, there is no need for forcing our breath when performing ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath should always have integrity, i.e. the breath is not forced, or strained, and it does not collapse either. On the contrary, our ujjayi breath should feel comfortable and smooth throughout the practice. Using ujjayi breathing helps us develop awareness of and sensitivity to the qualities of our breath, thereby fostering awareness and sensitivity in our Yoga practice. Moreover, bringing our attention to the breath gives us insight on our own physical, mental and emotional states. As a result, we become better able to adjust our breath to suit our needs and circumstances in our Yoga practice and in every day life.

Enjoy the sound of the ocean in your throat the next time you practice Yoga.
Namaste.

P.S. For an excellent article on breathing:
http://www.movingintostillness.com/book/yoga_breathing.html

 

Is there somebody else practicing Yoga on your mat?

Lluvia/Rain

Is there somebody whispering in your ear?

I recently remembered a video about Ben Zander, a truly inspirational teacher. In the video (at 3:10)



he says that, generally, a musician on stage is not alone, that there are two people on the stage, one trying to perform a musical piece and somebody else who whispers in the musician’s ear: “you didn’t practice enough….do you know how many people play this piece better than you do?…….here comes the part that you messed up the last time…” and many other disruptive words.

When we practice Yoga on the mat, we may find disruptive voices emerging in our practice. For instance, we may hear our personal assistant who continually goes over a list of phone calls, appointments and pending tasks, or the cook absorbed in planning the meal we’ll have after practice, or the competitive coach urging us to outperform ourselves or the person next to us, or the image consultant striving to bring our attention to the style, color and appropriateness of other people’s attires.

This is the most important moment

In the video, Zander underscores the importance of being present when he says: “This is the moment, this is the most important moment, right now”. I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, I feel that there are no other moments. We are here and now and we cannot be anywhere else.

In another video (2:10)



Zander says that a total transformation takes place when we see that “we have been hiding, taking ourselves away, not taking risks by sitting in the back row of our lives”.

To me, the transformation Zander talks about is activated by being fully present. Immersing ourselves in the present moment makes us realize that all the voices that try to draw us away from this moment are keeping us from seeing clearly that every moment brings with it the knowledge and resources needed to respond in a life-affirming and most appropriate way to its specific questions and challenges. Thus, it is essential that we are attentive to this moment.

Befriend your body and mind

In my opinion, Yoga practice is an appointment we create with ourselves so that we can learn more about who we are. However, our minds and bodies, with ther inclination to follow habits, may sometimes be disruptive, bringing our attention away from the present moment. Although exerting control is one possible, but not very conducive, approach to focusing our attention, I prefer Vanda Scaravelli’s approach. Vanda Scaravelli wrote in Awakening the Spine, we must give our bodies: “clear directions dictated not by ambition, duties or reactions, but by precise and lucid perception of what we feel. If we are sensitive to the requests of the body, it will responde spontaneously in an unexpected, effortless way. We must create a relationship, make friends with our bodies as well as with our minds.

Thus, instead of seeing our body and mind as potential obstacles that need to be controlled by force, we can choose to befriend our body and mind so that we can enlist their help to support our intention of learning and developing sensitivity. Paying full attention and being curious to learn is enough motivation to be fully present. As a result, our yoga practice helps us discover and integrate the myriad relationships between body, breath, mind and heart. When there is integration there is no room for distraction, there is only room for doing things for real. When this happens, even for just one second in one pose, the practice is transformative as we see the possibility of expanding this approach to everything we do. Consequently, everything we do becomes the best expression of who we are and, thereby, it will be unique, genuine, creative and innovative.

The next time you feel that there is a distracting presence sharing your mat, choose not to take a back seat in your practice and gently invite your mind and body to contribute that energy into the process of self-discovery. As we practice this more and more, we will become better at participating fully and actively in our Yoga practice and, perhaps, also in our lives.
Namaste