Radiance Point

Pods/Capullos

Mindful Practice

Among Yoga practitioners there are often enlightening discussions about the appropriate level of the practice or the right balance between the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the practice. I believe that each person’s Yoga practice is a reflection of his or her own ideas, bodies, body histories, beliefs, emotional states, interests, etc. For instance, in asana practice, the practice with most easily observable external signs, closely watching two different people’s expression of the same pose or the same sequence of poses will reveal subtle and not so subtle differences. In addition, each person’s own practice varies from one day to the next. Some days we wake up feeling energetic and ready for a physical challenge and other days we feel like staying in shavasana (corpse or relaxation pose) the whole day. Of course, we are in charge of our own practice, that is, we are responsible for making mindful decisions about how our practice should unfold each day. Nevertheless, as humans, we have a tendency to want quick answers that work in all cases, rules of thumb that, particularly in this day and age, make us act more efficiently. Unfortunately, many times these rules of thumb become shortcuts that keep us from thinking. For instance, some times a physically demanding practice is exactly what we need to feel energized, whereas other times a restorative practice is the right thing to do given what we have planned for the rest of the day. In either case, being fully aware of how we feel and what we need is the starting point for a mindful practice, that is a practice that is perfect for what we need at that time.

Types of Practice

Mindful practice does not necessarily mean serious or boring. Mindful practice can be a lot of fun. An excellent example of mindful practice is the type of Yoga that Erich Schiffmann practices and teaches, often called Freeform Yoga. He gives a succinct and helpful explanation at the beginning of this video:

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However, if one feels compelled to practice according to a different structure, such as following the same specific sequence of poses every time, the practice can be done either mindfully or mindlessly. For instance, there are numerous examples of beautiful, intense and mindful Yoga practice following a tradition with a regular sequence of poses, like Ashtanga Yoga, as can be seen in this video with David Swenson:

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There is nothing intrinsic to the type of practice that will make it more or less mindful, more intense, challenging or fun than the other. Instead, in my opinion, it is the quality of our participation that makes the practice deep and intense. The depth and intensity of the practice are a result of the level of integration of body, breath, mind and spirit.

Radiance Point

My own way of seeing mindful practice in action is what I call reaching the Radiance Point. Some of the words associated with the idea of Radiance are delight, pleasure, joy, warmth, brightness and glow. In our asana practice, our expression of any pose moves along a continuum between softness and firmness and strength and flexibility. The Radiance Point refers to all aspects of the practice, breath, concentration, physical challenge. For example, we can choose to be in a pose with more softness than firmness, more firmness than softness or we can strike the Radiance Point, the perfect balance between softness and firmness. In other words, at the Radiance Point we are going neither beyond nor below our capacity and ability. The Radiance Point, most likely, almost certainly, will change from one day to the next, because it will be influenced by how well rested we are, what we ate recently, how we feel mentally and physically, etc. Obviously, the more we practice a certain pose, the Radiance Point will vary according to our evolving level of ability. We know that we have reached the Radiance Point in our practice when we experience a sensation of grounded lightness, balance, joy, delight and glow.

The Quality of Our Attention

We all practice Yoga for different reasons and with different objectives in mind. However, I assume that for all of us, our practice –whether it is expressed through asana, pranayama, Yoga Nidra, meditation, or any other way — regardless of the style or level of it, is a practice that leaves us energized, relaxed and balanced. The quality of our attention to the practice is what keeps it from becoming a mechanical repetition of techniques or poses. The quality of our attention, how mindful our practice is, helps us develop the sensitivity needed to fine tune and integrate the different aspects of our being to reach the Radiance Point. I think this is what Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra II.46 is about: Sthira-sukham-asanam, the pose is at the same time steady and comfortable.

Namaste

 

Relaxing at the end of the day

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In these times when it seems that our lives continue becoming busier and busier, relaxing at the end of the day is much needed. Here is a simple and easy suggestion that might help you let go of the day and release stress.

Preparation

This pose can be practiced upon arriving home or in preparation for going to sleep. Place a folded blanket on the floor against a wall. Take your shoes and socks off and wear comfortable clothing.

Legs up the wall – Viparita Karani

Legs on the wall \ Piernas en la pared

  • Start sitting on the folded blanket with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and the wall to one of your sides (either left or right) so that the outer side of your hip joint is close to the wall.
  • Using your hands for support, recline on your back while lifting the legs up and turn so that the back of your thighs are resting on the wall.
  • Make sure that your lower back and the back of your pelvis (sacrum) are in contact with the floor. Allow your arms to rest on the floor beside you with your hands separated one foot away from your pelvis. This is the pose, legs up the wall – Viparita Karani. (See the picture above).
  • Now, we’ll use our breath to relax and to bring awareness to the pose. Without making any changes, notice the subtle movements of your breath. Notice the sensations that accompany each movement of the breath. Do this for several rounds of breath.
  • Gradually, focus your attention on the exhalation. For several rounds of breath, each time you exhale let the thoughts in your mind drift away.
  • Now, focus on the inhalation. Deepen your inhalation without forcing while observing closely the sensations in your body.
  • Notice if there are any specific sensations in your body that require your attention as your continue breathing comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and let go of any control over your breath. Just relax.
  • Stay in this pose for several minutes.
  • When you feel ready to come out of the pose, mindfully bend your knees toward your chest.
  • Roll to one side and slowly come into a comfortable sitting position.
  • Take a deep breath, notice any differences in how you feel now as compared with how you felt before doing this practice and enjoy the rest of your day.

An alternative option

If ,for any reason, the pose does not seem comfortable, you can do this practice resting on the floor with your knees bent and your legs supported by a chair as indicated in the image below.

Legs on chair \ Piernas en la silla

Either pose can also be an excellent way to relax your legs and lower back after walking or after spending a long time standing up or sitting.

Taking time at the end of the day to relax, gives us the opportuny to connect with our inner silence, so that our minds and bodies can release tension and get a well deserved break. Many people find that doing this exercise before going to sleep help them sleep more soundly.

Have a wonderful practice!
Namaste.

 

Five minute simple Yoga practice at home

Flowing water / Agua fluyendo

In a previous post we talked about Yoga as a practice. The reason to practice is simple, to feel more at ease, energized, relaxed and in peace, or as Diane Cesa puts it, to become intimate with yourself.
One of the canonical texts of Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, states that reaching the state of Yoga requires both consistent practice and detachment from the results of the practice(I,12). Consistent practice gradually deepens our understanding of ourselves while detachment prevents us from reaching beyond our ability.

5 minutes
However, practicing regularly is challenging for many of us. I like the 3 recommendations that Eugene offers: setting aside Yoga time, taking baby steps and relaxing. A common excuse for not practicing is that we don’t have enough time. So, here is my suggestion, find 5 minutes a day to move mindfully and with breath awareness and see if it makes any difference to how you feel.
This is a 5 minute simple Yoga practice suitable for most people. (If you have not read the disclaimer yet, please do. )
Keep in mind the 10 guidelines to start practicing.

Three Options
You can do this simple practice standing, sitting on a chair or sitting on the floor. Choose one of the three options and see how it works for you and remember to make sure that you do not feel any discomfort. You can also alternate between the three different options, paying attention to any differences in how the practice feels.

Starting Poses
Standing – Mountain pose
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.
You can read an excellent and thorough set of instructions on mountain pose written by Erich Schiffmann.

Sitting on a chair
Use a firm chair and sit on the forward part of the chair, resting your hands on your thighs. Rest your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, with the knees directly above the heels. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down.

Sittting on the floor – Easy pose
Feel the clear contact between the sitting bones and the floor, cross your legs and rest your hands on the thighs.Make the sitting bones heavy and reach up through the crown of the head to lengthen the spine. Soften the shoulders and roll them back and down. If you are not used to sitting on the floor, use a folded blanket under the sitting bones to make the pose more comfortable.

The practice
Read the instructions below at least one time, then print the diagrams to use as a guide.

Centering – 1 min.
Always start your practice by centering. The time in centering is a time where you set the tone for the practice. In other words, let go of whatever is not in the present moment by focusing on the natural rhtyhm of the breath and noticing your level of energy, and paying attention to any sensations that emerge. After one minute, switch from natural breath to deep inhalation (IN) and deep exhalation (EX) without forcing.

Arch and Round – 4x
IN tilting your pelvis forward, rolling your shoulders back and down, arching your spine and expanding your chest. EX tilting the pelvis back, rounding your spine and allowing the shoulders to round forward.
Repeat 4 times.

Arms Up and down – 4x
IN lifting your arms forward and up. EX floating your arms forward and down.
Repeat 4 times. Change the crossing of the legs.

Side Stretch – 4x
IN lifting your arms to the sides and up. EX stretch to the right side, floating the right arm down while lifting the left arm up and over your head. IN return to center with both arms lifted, and EX stretch to the opposite side.
Repeat 4 times.

Gentle Twist – 4x
IN lift the arms up, on EX turn your upper body gently to the right bringing the arms down with the left hand moving towards the right sitting bone and the right hand moving to the right and back. IN lift the arms up and return to center and twist to the opposite side on EX.
Repeat 4 times.

Forward Fold – 4x
If you are sitting on a chair, IN make your spine long by pressing the sitting bones down. EX slide your hands down along the legs and fold forward moving the torso down towards your thighs. Stop when you find the first sign of resistance. IN return the spine to vertical sliding the hands on the thighs.
Repeat 4 times.
The last time you fold forward, melt your torso on the thighs and stay there in a passive and relaxed position for 4 rounds of IN and EX. This should feel very comfortable and restful.

If you are standing or sitting on the floor, come to your hands and knees (table pose) placing your hands directly under your shoulder joints and your knees directly under your hip joints so your thighs and arms are parallel. IN stretching your spine along a straight line that connects the crown of your head to your chin to your breastbone to your tailbone. EX bringing the sitting bones toward the heels, separating the knees if necessary, moving into child’s pose. IN pressing your hands and knees down on the floor returning to table pose.
Repeat 4 times.
The last time you are in child’s pose, stay there in a passive and relaxed position for 4 rounds of IN and EX. This should feel quite comfortable and restful.

Corpse pose – 1 min
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.
In corpse pose, you let go of any control over breath and body. You can enlist the help of your mind to witness the soft and smooth flow of your breath at a natural, effortless pace allowing yourself to loosen more and more. There is no need to think about anything, just observe your breath quietly.

Finish
After you are done relaxing, roll to one side and take one deep breath, slowly moving towards sitting. Sit comfortably for a couple of breaths and notice the effects of your practice on your breath, body and mind.

Pay attention to the effects
If you do a 5 minute practice every day or several times a week, you might find that each day the practice is different. Some days you might feel more energetic so you may move faster or you might make your muscles more active. Other days you might feel like moving very slowly. Or, perhaps there are days when you feel like staying in the relaxation pose for a long while. The idea is for you to adapt your practice to your needs by adding, substituting and/or modifying the movements suggested here. This is how your practice evolves, by doing it, observing the effects and making it work for you, so it is perfect for what you need.

Diagrams
Chair Yoga – 5 minute Yoga practice

Chair Yoga 5 min. practice

Standing – Mountain pose – 5 minute Yoga practice

5 min. Yoga practice Mountain pose - Practica de Yoga en 5 min. en posicion de la montana

Sitting – Easy pose – 5 minute Yoga practice

Yoga 5 min. Easy Pose - Posicion fácil

Enjoy your practice!
Namaste.