Today is one of those days that is more beautiful on the inside than the outside. In NYC it is raining and gray. At times the rain is very heavy, at times it is a drizzle but the sun is nowhere in sight. This is something we cannot control. So we get up, we amble over to yoga class, we breathe into our bodies, we stretch what is tight, we lengthen what is short. All the while we revel in the possibility of what could be (a sunny day perhaps? springtime soon?). We dream indulgently about what potential there may be for our yoga practice, about what new sensations we might feel and what level of depth we may permit ourselves to explore. Or maybe we don’t…some of us use Sundays to go to church, read, sleep, catch up on work, clean, shop, see family, rest, restore and anything and everything in between. In any case, Happy Sunday to you. It is a beautiful day no matter rain or shine.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a photo shoot last weekend with a photographer named Sharon Goldberg. You can find her work at http://www.iliketotakepictures.com She is very talented and the photo shoot was as smooth and easy as it gets. Minimal makeup, natural lighting and one “outfit” – if you can call a leotard an outfit – and in an hour we were done. You can click on the photos for a larger version. Here is one of my favorite pictures:This is a version of Eka Pada Koundinya II, or as I like to call it in my head, “that arm balance that I really like doing”. Many thanks to one of my favorite teachers Derek Beres for letting us play with this pose in his class. If we are never given the chance to fly, how will we ever leave the ground?
We moved through the shoot, as you can see there were no mirrors. There was no chance for that (sometimes loud!) voice of self doubt to ruin what ended up being an amazing experience. Here is “two-legged inverted staff pose” (dwi pada viparita dandasana): I have my forearms underneath my head while my head is still above the floor. This pose requires flexibility in both the hips and shoulders, and should be attempted after a very thorough warm up, and should not be attempted if you are not able to hold wheel with your palms flat, elbows straight and feet parallel for 5 full breaths. If you can hold your wheel in this way comfortably for 5 full breaths, try extending your legs. Do this by lifting through both your thighs and hip flexors, making sure not to crunch or add pressure to your lumbar spine. Once you have mastered that variation, you can try placing your forearms down. This is a very advanced pose and should not be attempted by a beginner, or someone with injuries or loss of integrity to the major joints/ligaments/tendons/fascia of the body.
Here is a variation of wheel pose. This one requires strength in the hips to allow for the extension of the leg: I will admit that if you look carefully, my bottom foot is a bit turned out, or externally rotated. I have the flexibility in my hips and lower back to accommodate for this, but ideally my foot would be parallel, ensuring that my lower back remains neutral. This cannot be overstated! If the lower back positioning is compromised, we are putting ourselves at great risk for herniated disks, ligament damage and possible nerve pain. Having all the flexibility in the world is not useful if you hurt yourself! We have to take care of our bodies and respect their limitations, be in awe of what they can do, and enjoy the journey as we figure it all out.
The final two pictures are similar, in that they are variations on low lunge. Low lunge, or anjaneyasana, is one of those poses that once the basics are understood, the potential for creativity is limitless. Here is how I played with it:
In this version I simply reached back with my right hand as if I might grab my left foot while extending my left arm towards the sky. There is very minimal pressure on my back knee because I am using my left butt muscles to support the stretch in my left hip, rather than sink down to my back knee. I am also using the opposition of my top arm to create lift and stretch from the long line of connective tissue that encases my thigh, hip, torso and chest. If you are new to this kind of variation, you can try using a blanket or other form of support under your back knee. Be mindful of the pressure you apply and be sure to lengthen in multiple directions -up, down, forward and back.
The final photo I will share is another low lunge variation. In this one I admit, my dance background crept into the room and I felt a softness come over me, as I twisted and gestured, Sharon in her brilliance was able to capture a moment that emanates both stillness and movement:That is it! That was my photo shoot. I was nervous and excited. I found myself on various points of the emotional continuum that is one end fear and the other end ecstasy. Looking at the pictures, sharing them on the blog, sharing them on twitter and facebook, teaching my wonderful students this morning, I have come towards delight and ecstasy – I felt fear, I embraced it, I was vulnerable and I survived! That is yoga:)
If you would like to check out the photos on facebook , here is the link:
“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.” (O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966)
“Things do not change. We change.”(Henry David Thoreau, Walden)