The Moment When Your Hands Touch in Royal Pigeon…

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As I’ve mentioned, I started doing yoga at Core Power Yoga. My favorite class was their “Hot Power Fusion” and it was basically the same sequence every time, not quiet as structured as Bikram’s classes–but close. I always loved the part where we got to Sleeping Pigeon (Eka Pada Kapotasana).

It was near the end of the sequence and I was usually pretty exhausted by the time it came around so for me it was a signal that class was close to over. I think I liked it so much because it’s so nice to just sink in and let go, especially when you know you earned it. You work hard in class and then you get to pigeon and, unlike most other poses, the more you relax the deeper you get into it. Some of my instructors tell you to show gratitude towards yourself for just showing up for your practice and I usually struggle to do that… except in a well earned Sleeping Pigeon.

And then one day a substitute instructor at the gym I went to led us into Royal Pigeon (Rajakapotasana) and I remember that my exact first thought was “I had no idea this was even a pose!” One of my favorite things in yoga is learning about new poses, I was especially thrilled to try something new with Pigeon.

I managed to get my back arm around my outstretched leg and reached my other hand for the sky. He mentioned that to go further in the pose you could reach your hands to touch behind your head with the disclaimer “…and if you give me a few hours I could maybe get into that, I’m just not naturally a back-bendy person like some of you.”

I couldn’t see how it was even possible to do that. Well actually I’m sure I could have seen it if I had looked around the class, but what I really mean is I couldn’t feel how it was possible from the perspective of my own body. It felt to me like there wasn’t anywhere further to even try to stretch for…

Then one day in the back of a used bookstore where my favorite class meets once a week, the instructor called for royal pigeon. So I set up my legs, got a great hook around my left leg, stretched up and back and back and back… and I was surprised to find my left hand with my right. Seriously surprised. I was so shocked I whispered “OH MY GOD” to my yoga buddy next to me and he looked over with a jealous shake of his head (but he got my attention earlier that class when he got his heels to touch the mat in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)–which he knows is a goal of mine–so I didn’t feel bad).

It was a phenomenal feeling. Even better than learning about a new pose is getting into a challenging one for the very first time. We did the other side of pigeon (I’m happy to say I got in it on the right too) and then a few final poses before ending the class. I burst out with enthusiasm immediately after “namaste”, probably saying “Oh my god!” a few more times and was so happy to find that another student (who I’d seen getting into pigeon in front of me) had never done it before either and shared my exact same feeling.

What I’m saying is I had NO IDEA that I am also a back-bendy person until I got into that pose so easily that day. I had never tried all that hard in camel before and I usually told myself it was because “I’m just not bendy like that” and “it makes me feel sick to bend too far” but really I was just a little bit lazy about it. Now when I go to a Bikram class where we always do camel and I’m happy to say¬† I always try (even when I feel sick) and I can even reach my hands down to touch my heels a lot of the time.

That’s another great thing about yoga, all you really have to do is try =)

The pose I love to hate.

ImageI don’t know about you, but when I’m doing Half Moon (Ardha-Chandrasana) I am nowhere near as sideways as this guy. But even when you’re not this far into the pose, it is by no means easy.

When I first started practicing yoga I went to a CorePower studio that incorporated this pose into their Hot Power Fusion routine every time–and I was never looking forward to it. My arms got tired, I didn’t want to hold my stomach in, and no matter what I did my hips and shoulders would get out of line. And it’s not one of those difficult poses that’s hard to get into but worth it because you look like a badass–like getting into dancer or crow pose–because it also doesn’t look as cool or as hard as it actually is.

So when I started practicing yoga just at home in my room, I surprised myself by regularly including Half Moon in my daily routine. I don’t remember the thought process that lead to the decision, it sort of just naturally worked its way into my sequence after an initial set of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar).

While I never really enjoyed the pose, at some point I started to realize just how much of an impact it could have on my practice. I saw a pin on Pinterest with the quote “If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you” and I immediately thought of this pose. I believe that half moon is likely what helped to tone and strengthen my stomach so much because it was absolutely the pose that was the most challenging for me.

Now when I go to a Bikram studio I am aware every time I walk into the sweltering room that I’m going to have to do Half Moon (and that the instructor is going to make sure I’m not slacking off in it). But I have actually started to look forward to the challenge. I know that no matter how stretchy I get there is no end point in this pose where you can’t go further or where it becomes comfortable–it’s designed to challenge everyone no matter what level they’re at. Which is kind of cool.

I wouldn’t say that I hate this pose anymore, but the love I have for it is definitely in a “I’m excited for a challenge” kind of way that’s propelled by a certain level of dislike for it…

Let’s Talk About “Resolutions”…

Last year my only “resolution” of sorts was that I wanted to be able to do Crow Pose (Bakasana), which is obviously more of a “goal” than it is a resolution so it was kinda awkward to explain to people what my resolution was… But a little ways into 2012 I was reading the blog Daily Downward Dog (one of my favorite yoga blogs) and found a post from the beginning of the year about making doing New Years Intentions instead of resolutions–I thought, “What a better way to explain it!”

I also loved how the word “intention” has so much less pressure riding on it than the weight that comes with RESOLUTION (it’s just a word that always sounds like it’s in all caps and bold, right? So intimidating.) For me the idea of an intention implies that the act of trying is more important than the end goal whereas a resolution is about resolving, or finishing something. I don’t know about you, but “New Years Intentions” just jive better with my idea of yoga as a continual practice and it seemed like a better label for my goals off the mat as well, so I made the switch.

To update you all, over the summer I accomplished my intention of taking flight in crow pose and I was sooo ecstatic, (I’m sure many yogis know the feeling). And then a week later I couldn’t get my toes off the ground. There’s another reason I dig “Intention” over “Resolution”, just because you made it into a pose once doesn’t mean that you’ve reached the finish line, every single time you set up for a pose–any pose, even seemingly simple poses like Warrior or Mountain–you have to work into it, you have to relax your shoulders and realign your hips or whatever the pose calls for your body to do. You never truly “resolve” yoga, it’s a perpetual practice.

I did continue to work on Crow pose and there were a lot of days when I wish I was counting seconds because I was up on my hands so long it felt like a full minute, and there were still days where my toes bounce on and off the ground, but even on those bouncy days I felt like I’d accomplished my intention because I was still trying and I had proven that I had it in me–and that was a great feeling.

So, for the ommtastic 2013 (I was really amused when I realized I every time I write the date I can turn the 3 into an Om–I’m a nerd!), my intention for my yoga practice is duhduhduhduhduhduhduh Headstand! Yep, I’m reaching i a little higher this year… with my toes that is! (I’m a dork.)

So what are your 2013 Intentions (or resolutions, if I haven’t converted you to the lighter side)? I’ve found It helps to share goals with other people, even anonymously over the internet. =)

I’ve Learned to Let Go

I’m a rather atypical yogi in ways. Some ways are really obvious, such as when I had a mowhawk and sometimes wore it gelled up to yoga class. Other ways are more subtle, like when I have hardcore music playing in my car as I pull up to a yoga studio.

I listen to a lot of metal and hardcore music–not exactly the kind of stuff that people play in a yoga class. But when I made my own yoga playlist to use when I practiced at home I ended up adding a few instrumental songs like “An Interlude” by Atreyu and “Even Bad Men Love Their Mothers” by Emarosa. They actually flowed great with the other more yoga-typical tracks that I added and they made my smile when they came up in the middle of an at home yoga sesh because they fit so well I could have played them at a studio without anyone noticing anything out of the ordinary.

But then one day I lost my beloved iPod, Olive Oil. I was crushed! I didn’t know what to do without being able to listen to my music! Luckily my brother had an old nano he could loan me and his taste in music is pretty similar to mine anyway,

A few days later I rolled my yoga mat out across the floor in my room and reached for his iPod. Only then did it hit me that my perfected yoga playlist was gone along with my old iPod. But I had been hooked all day on a pop-punk-hardcore band called A Day To Remember and I realized that I was still kinda in the mood to listen to them. I shrugged, hit play and started my practice.

A lot of people who listen to ADTR use their songs as workout music because the pop-punk is upbeat and fun while the hardcore parts are energizing and aggressive. While this is not exactly what you would look for in yoga “workout” music, I thought it was a nice change. Because it’s something that I really LOVE to listen to I just went with it and it was actually really fun.

If you don’t typically listen to hardcore or heavy music then I’m not saying you would enjoy practicing yoga to it the way that I do, but perhaps there’s music you listen to that doesn’t exactly jive with a yoga class, have you ever tried practicing to it?

Anyway, as I was finishing up I was laying across my leg in pigeon when a line from an ADTR song (not the one that was playing right at that moment, sadly) popped into my head. The line was opening to the song The Plot To Bomb The Panhandle: “I’ve learned to let go.” As I relaxed into the pose I realized that perhaps the reason so many people say it is a very emotional pose is because you have to completely let go of all tension in order to really experience the pose fully. If you have things on your mind that are bothering you it’s nearly impossible to achieve the level of release needed to melt into the floor over your leg. Laying there on my mat I let all of those things on my mind come up, I acknowledged them, and then sent them away.

I learned to let go.

Downward Dog-In-My-Face

I don’t always find the time to make it to a yoga class at a studio or at my gym so on days that I don’t get my butt to a class I try to at least do a few poses at home. I have floor to ceiling mirrors for closet doors so it’s actually kind of nice to practice poses without anyone between me and the mirror; I can really watch and correct my form, not to mention there’s no one else there to see me messing up!
No one else, that is, except for my one year old, rambunctious mini-dachshund puppy! He loves to use poses like Downward Facing Dog as an opportunity to attack my face with doggy-kisses. He also likes to jump up and rest his paws on my face while I’m in poses like Dancer so that he can, surprise surprise, attack my face with kisses; TOTALLY knocking me off balance every time.
When he’s not attacking me with kisses until I can’t breathe he’s usually grabbing his toys and intentionally shoving them underneath my dresser where he can’t reach them. Why would he do that, you ask? So that he can whine until I come over, get on my hands and knees and get them out for him–basically he is a weapon of distraction.
It’s hard to focus on my me time with distractions like this but I try to just to use it as an “extra challenge” to stay focused (and to stay patient with my mischievous puppy). Sometimes because of my puppy or my phone or my roommates or every other distraction that lingers at my house I end up deciding to finish a little earlier than I had intended or just skipping my savasana. It’s sort of a bummer when I feel like I’m “giving up early” so instead of dwelling on quitting I try to just focus on how adorable my puppy is and how much I care about him. That usually helps, I know I can come back to my mat later if I need to, but puppy time is even more important than me time.
Anyone have any suggestions for dealing with distractions when you’re practicing yoga at home?

Today at Yoga, All I Thought about was Yoga

I’ve always had a hard time staying present and not letting my mind wander while I’m on my yoga mat. I get distracted from my practice with thoughts about classes, plans to get things done and everything I worry about during the day. But tonight at my hot yoga class I totally “blissed out”. Sure my mind wandered a bit to the people around me and how steadily they stood in horse while I wobbled on my toes and to my friend on her yoga mat next to me who’s been practicing yoga for a hell of a lot longer than I have, but at least I was in the room and I was keeping in tune with my body in relation to where other people were.

But at many points during the class I managed to temporarily keep my mind from wandering at all. As I leaned into my downward dog I was able to focus my attention to the way my toes were pushing into the mat, the strength in my flat back, and the way I was balanced nicely between my hands and feet, grounded on both ends.

Tonight the instructor focused the class on the first chakra, the grounding  chakra (Muladhar). Centering my practice tonight on the specific topic really allowed me to focus my mind during my practice and I ended the class feeling grounded in both body and mind.

Tonight I was reminded why I practice yoga, and it gave me that last push I needed to finally start this damn blog already.

-Random