RICHARD ROSEN'S ASANA BREAKDOWN - EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA

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EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA(aa-KAH pah-DAH rah-JAH-cop-poh-TAHS-anna)
eka = one
pada = foot or leg 
raja = king
kapota = pigeon or dove 

One-Leg King-Pigeon Pose. The full pose involves a deep back bend, which puffs the chest, resembling that of a pigeon. Included here are three levels of poses, beginning, experienced beginning, and intermediate. The first of these will be described immediately below. The other two will be described in the VARIATION section near the end of this piece. 

NOTE: This pose SHOULD NOT be performed as a warm-up, it should ONLY be performed after sufficient hip openers have been practiced. Suggested hip opening preps are listed in PREPARATORY ASANAS below. 

1. Begin on all-fours, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders. You might want to place a blanket under your knees for padding. Slide your right knee forward just to the outside of your right wrist. At the same time angle your right shin diagonally under your torso and bring your right heel to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right shin will now rest on the floor. Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and descending the front of the left leg to the floor and the outside of your right thigh/buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip. 

NOTE: If the right buttock doesn’t touch the floor, support it on a block or thickly folded blanket. 

2. The right knee can angle slightly to the right, outside the line of the hip. Look back at your left leg. It should extend straight out of the hip (and not be angled off to the left), and rotated slightly inwardly, so the little toe and the center of the knee cap presses against the floor. Exhale and lay your torso down on the inner right thigh, stretch your arms forward. Stay for about a minute.

3. To lift the torso to upright, DON’T push it up with your hands. Lift it by drawing the tail bone down to the floor, use your hands to gently guide the torso upright. Then push your fingertips firmly to the floor. Inhale and lift your hip points away from the thighs. Lengthen the lower back by pressing your tail bone down and forward; at the same time, and lift your pubis toward the navel, closing the space between the pubis and navel. Roll your left hip point toward the right heel, and lengthen the left front groin. 

4. If you can maintain the upright position of your torso without the support of your hands on the floor, bring your hands to the lower rim of your rib case. Lift the rim, moving the back rim faster than the front, be sure not to push the front ribs forward. For this beginning pose, keep your head in a neutral position, look straight forward. To open your chest, lift the top of your sternum (at the manubrium) straight up toward the ceiling. 

NOTE: If supporting your torso upright without using your hands is difficult, there are two alternatives to try: 1) perform the pose facing a wall, with the front knee close to the wall. To lift the torso upright, press your hands to the wall in front of your shoulders; 2) perform the pose in front of a yoga chair, then use the chair seat to support the torso. 

5. Stay in this position for a minute. Then, with your hands back on the floor, carefully slide the left knee forward, turn the back toes under, inhale, and lift up and back into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana). Take a few breaths, drop the knees and return to all-fours on another exhale, and repeat with the legs reversed for the same length of time. 

- BENEFITS
Stretches the thighs, groins (and psoas), abdomen, chest and shoulders, and neck 
Stimulates the abdominal organs 
Opens the shoulders and chest 

- CONTRAINDICATIONS
Ankle injury
Knee injury 
Tight hips or thighs 

- MODIFICATIONS & PROPS  
It’s often difficult to descend the outside of the front-leg hip all the way to the floor. Use a thickly folded blanket to support the hip. 

- VARIATION 
1. Modified full pose. From the leg position described above, bend the back-leg knee, bring the heel as close as you can to the back torso, then reach back with the same-side hand, and with the arm parallel to the floor, hold the ankle. The off-side hand continues to support the upright torso. Stay for a minute or so, then release and repeat on the other side for the same length of time.

2. Full pose. Snug a yoga strap around your left foot with the buckle on the sole side. Perform the preliminary leg position described above, strap laying along your left side. Bend the left knee, take hold of the strap and sling it over your left shoulder. Then holding the belt in both hands, stretch your arms upward toward the ceiling and pull gently on the belt. With the arms more or less parallel to each other, slowly and GENTLY walk your hands down the strap toward the left foot. Don’t pull on the strap. When you’ve reached what feels like a reasonable stretch, stop and hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Release with an exhale, repeat on the other side. 

- PREPARATORY ASANAS
Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana)
Serpent (Bhujangasana)
Cow Face (Gomukhasana)
Bridge (Setu Bandha)
Recline Hero/Heroine (Supta Virasana)
Recline Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Tree (Vrkshasana)


- FOLLOW-UP ASANAS
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is actually the first in a series of four, increasingly difficult Pigeon poses. In each of the three successive poses the forward leg is placed in a slightly different position. In the second variation the forward foot is standing on the floor just in front of the same-side buttock, with the knee angled well forward of the heel. In the third variation the forward leg is in Ardha Virasana, while in the fourth the leg is stretched straight forward of the pelvis. Other possibilities (leg position only): 

- ADVANCED TIP
The lift of the lower back ribs (as described in step 4 above) “triggers” the lift of the arms. From the lift of the ribs (away from the pelvis), push your elbows closer to the ceiling. Feel the length grow along the backs of the arms and along the armpits. Then “pin” the elbows to the ceiling and release or “hang” the rib case toward the pelvis. Go on yo-yo-ing the ribs: relative to the pelvis the ribs lift, boosting the arms closer to the ceiling; relative to the arms the ribs drop, helping to open the armpits. 

- PARTNERING
Your partner can help with the lift of the arms. Perform the pose to your capacity, whether your hands are gripping the foot or a strap. Have your partner stand behind you. He should press his hands against your outer upper arms, just above the shoulder, and lift the outer arms toward the elbows. Release your side ribs down, away from the arms. Keep the tops of your shoulders soft. 


Bend But Never Break: Bhakti Yoga (The Yoga of Devotion)

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By, Gabrielle M. Williams, PhD. 

Like many forms of Asana (physical expression of Yogic principles), Bhakti Yoga represents a type of Abhyasa (regular Yoga practice), or, Sadhana (complete Yoga practice) with both spiritual and material dimensions.  Spiritually (especially in terms of Vedanta—1 of 6 schools of Hindu philosophy relevant to Yoga), Bhakti Yoga is 1 of 4 margas (paths) to attain union with one’s sense of the Absolute.  For some, meanings of the Absolute might be based in spiritual bases.  For others, meanings of the Absolute might be based in scientific principles, referring to organizing dynamics that arrange an “absolute” sense of sentient life. In any case, along with the other margas of Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (Yoga of action), and Raja Yoga (Yoga of self-disciplined practice), Bhakti Yoga is a path that supports our efforts to feel unified in a (too often) dis-unified world.

 

As the title of this post conveys, Bhakti Yoga is the “Yoga of Devotion.”  But, in practicing Bhakti Yoga, what are we devoted to?  Further, what do devotional aspects of Bhakti have to do with achieving a sense of the Absolute?  Well, physically, Bhakti Yoga is a joyous, but quite rigorous practice full of creative sequences that challenge us to continuously regulate breath-body-mind balance. Physically, Bhakti Yoga pushes us to liberate ourselves from habituated ideas of our limits.  In this way, the practice helps us discover unknown reservoirs of energy & mettle that broaden the lens by which we gauge our metaphysical capacities.  

 

On the mat, we draw from these unknown reservoirs of positive energy.  Subsequently, when we’re off of the mat, we know that even if we feel that we have nothing to (materially) give to others, we can ALWAYS give to others a kind, loving word or gesture that is an extension of the boundless positive energy that we discover via the practice of Bhakti Yoga.  This manner of giving of our selves to others is considered by Yogic philosophy to be an enactment of great devotion.  Hence Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of Devotion.  The practice is equal parts exhilarating and effortful in encouraging us to challenge our bodies in ways where—when all is said and done—we know that both our minds and spirits can be bent to extremesbut never broken.    

 

 

RICHARD ROSEN'S ASANA BREAKDOWN

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SUKHASANA (pronounced sue-KAH-suh-nuh)

Easy Pose

Sukhasana is probably one of the easiest asanas around, and it doesn’t take a yoga genius to figure out why it’s so named. Sukha is composed of two smaller words, su, meaning “good,” and kha, meaning “space.” Originally sukha literally meant “having a good axle hole.” It’s plain that, in the days before shock absorbers, pneumatic tires, and paved roads, when horses provided the  motive power for a cart or chariot, the roundness and centeredness of the axle hole was crucial to a smooth ride. Later on the word assumed the meaning of  “agreeable, gentle, mild, comfortable, happy.” I suppose nowadays we’d say of someone who’s sukha that “his head is in a good space.” 

If we dig a little deeper into the Sanskrit dictionary, we’ll find that sukha also signifies, in a philosophical context, the “effort to win future beatitude, piety, virtue” (interestingly, beatitude also stems from a word that means “happy”). This is essentially the same long-term goal as our yoga practice, after of course we flatten our buttocks and improve our golf swing. Describing this effort as sukha though might seem strange; most beginners would admit, if pressed, that their practice is duhkha, sukha’s evil twin, which means, naturally enough, “having a bad axle hole”–much like my 20-year-old Toyota–and so “uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, painful, sorrowful.” 

Duhkha is a word frequently used in yoga to characterize the human condition. We imagine that our lives are sorrowful for all sorts of apparently obvious reasons: we don’t have enough money or friends, our health is poor, the Yankees lost the World Series, the list is endless. But the yogis say that ultimately all sorrow stems from one source, our misapprehension of who we truly are, which they call avidya, “not-knowing” or “not-seeing.” To cite Patanjali (see Yoga Sutra 2.5), we believe we’re limited beings, in terms of time, space, and knowledge, which causes us enormous distress, whether conscious or unconscious. In fact, we don’t “know” or “see” clearly that we’re exactly the opposite, the eternal, unlimited, omniscient, and so joyful Self; in other words, we’re all at heart sukha. Beatitude in yoga, and the consequent end of all sorrow, is the resolution of this not-knowing in the revelation of our authentic identity.

But must the process of ending sorrow itself be sorrowful? It’s not uncommon to hear our practice portrayed in terms of an arduous battle between two opposing forces, one binding us in thrall to avidya, the other seeking to liberate us from our self-delusions. But what about the idea we found embedded in the definition of sukha that our effort toward happiness can itself make us happy? Maybe instead of focusing on the sorrow of our lives and how that sorrow seems amplified by our practice, we can instead keep always in mind the goal, sukha, which is as close to us as our own Self. 

EXERCISE

Assume a familiar asana, one that’s a litte more duhkha than sukha for you. Consciously investigate whatever duhkha you feel for a few breaths. Is there any way in which you might contribute to your own discomfort? Then back out of the position slightly or prop yourself (e.g. with a block or chair); do what you can to transform the duhkha into sukha. How do you feel now? Can you see any way in which you might add an element of sukha to your practice? 

THE POSE

1. Fold a thick blanket or two into a firm support at least four to six inches high. Sit with your topmost back thighs right on one of the firm folded edges, so that you’re sitting more heavily on the thighs than you are your sitting bones. Stretch your legs out in front of your torso on the floor in Staff Pose (dandasana). 

2. Bend your knees and fold the legs in toward your torso. As you do, cross your shins and slip each foot beneath the opposite knee. If you practice this pose regularly, be sure to alternate the cross of your legs day by day. A good rule of thumb (or toe?): on even-numbered days, cross the right shin in front of the left, on odd-numbered days, do the opposite. 

3. Relax the feet so their outer edges rest comfortably on the floor and the inner arches settle just below the opposite shin. You'll know you have the basic leg fold of sukhasana if your legs form a pair of stacked triangles. Don't confuse this position with that of other classic seated postures in which the ankles are tucked in close to the sitting bones. In sukhasana, there should be a comfortable gap between the heels and pelvis. 

4. As always, you should ideally sit with your pelvis in a relatively neutral position. To help find this, rock back and forth on your sit bones, moving back on an exhale, forward on an inhale. At first exaggerate the movement, then gradually slow it down until you come to a stop where you feel just a little toward the front of the sit bones. Check that your pubic bone and tail bone are about equi-distant from the floor.

5. Be sure never to push down on your knees. Let your inner groins release, and the knees, like Mary’s little lamb, will follow. Imagine lengthening your tail bone down into the Earth, all the way to the planet’s core, 3900 miles away. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, and lift the TOP of the sternum. Be sure not to push the bottom of the bone forward and jut your ribs. Let the base of the skull release away from the back of your neck, so your head feels as if it’s floating on the atlas.

6. Either stack your hands in your lap, palms up, or lay your hands on your knees, palms down. With the palms up, there’s a feeling of lift to the torso, palms down helps with grounding the pelvis. 

7. If your feet begin to tingle, be sure to stretch your legs forward and bounce them up and down on the floor a bit. Never try to sit through tingling feet or hands. 

BENEFITS

Calms the brain 

Stretches the knees and ankles 

Strengthens the back 

CONTRAINDICATIONS/CAUTIONS: Knee injury 

PREPARATION: Virasana, Baddha Konasana 



To Sing....or to Sing Out Loud?

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By Tracy Peterson

Mantra is a Sanskrit word that most people have heard before, whether it’s a phrase to repeat out loud or it’s the sticky note posted on a mirror, maybe even a silent repetition of sounds a student hears when they breathe deeply in savasana. Whatever way mantra finds itself into people’s lives, it is adding our sound to the larger sound of life. Everyone, e v e r y o n e, has the universal ability of using mantras. It is one of the most accessible and inclusive practices throughout the world. Every day, in all languages, tones, pitches, and intentions, people repeat mantras such as the Gayatri, Mahamrityunjaya, and even simply the sound of Om. And why bring this ancient practice into your life today? Simply put, mantras are immensely powerful and effective. Just think about when you sing your favorite song or even a melody, the type of energy that starts to course through you has the power to change your whole day. Now imagine adding an intention to sing sacred sounds from the heart and you are on your way to transformational experiences.

Two Sanskrit words, manas and tra, (meaning mind and instrument, respectively) combine to make the word mantra. Literally, the word mantra means ‘mind tool’ or ‘mind liberator.’ I would go even further and say that a mantra gives people the tools to liberate their expectations, fears, and judgments of the mind, to make way for higher intentions for their soul’s path on this earth. It doesn’t matter if at the beginning of a person’s mantra practice they do not know the words they sing, or understand their deeper meaning, the only essential quality of an effective mantra practice is this: to add your unique voice with a heartfelt intention to connect to something beyond yourself. As the mantra practice grows, so will the desire of connecting to the history, understanding, and reasons behind each mantra.

 The first place to begin a mantra practice is to draw in the fearlessness of being heard with your true voice and expression. That means we need to give ourselves boldly into the mantras without the inner critic (or as I call it, the itty-bitty-pity committee) trying to compare you to people on “The Voice”. When we take that flying leap away from judgement into singing simply for the joy of sound, the ability to celebrate our voices, and our perfectly imperfect selves, comes forth.

 Girish, a kirtan singer, wrote beautifully in his book ‘Music and Mantras’:

“Mantra Chanting is…

A practice that allows anyone, including non-musicians, to experience the many life-enhancing benefits of singing.

A way for us to connect with community, to feel a part of a vital, larger whole.

A judgment-free space, where we can come home to ourselves.

A powerful tool for self-exploration, self-improvement, and conscious evolution.

An elevated space where we can activate powerful energetic archetypes that serves us in our lives.

A way for us to get out of our heads, to be liberated from the prison of thought.

An opportunity to connect with the power of a living tradition that stretched back for thousands of years.

A means to directly experience ourselves as vibrational energetic beings.”

 Let us follow Girish’s advice and experience the powerful energy and supreme peace that mantras can bring into our lives. Join me every Second Friday of the month, starting April 12th, as we explore Mantra, Movement, and Meditationin a two hour extended hatha practice. 

Find your mat, find your stillness, and, above all, find your voice!

RICHARD ROSEN'S ASANA BREAKDOWN - GARUDASANA

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GARUDASANA

(gah-roo-DAHS-anna)

Garuda = the mythic king of the feathered race, sworn enemy of the serpent race, half vulture, half human, the vehicle of Vishnu. Garuda is usually rendered into English as “eagle,” though this isn’t its literal meaning. According to Alain Danielou, the word is rooted in gRR, “to speak.” Danielou writes (in The Gods of India, p. 160) that Garuda represents the “hermetic utterances of the Vedas, the magic words on whose wings man can be transported from one world into another  with the rapidity of light...” The Sanskrit-English dictionary, however, derives the word from a different interpretation of the root gRR, “to swallow, devour,” because he was “perhaps identified with the all-consuming fire of the sun’s rays.” 

Eagle Pose

1. Stand in Mountain (tadasana). Bend your knees slightly, lift your left foot off the floor and, balancing on your right foot, cross your left thigh over the right. Point your left toes toward the floor, press the foot back behind the right calf, then hook the top of the foot behind the lower calf. Balance on the right foot.

2. Stretch your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor and each other, and spread your scapulas wide across the your back torso. Cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend your elbows. Snug the right elbow into the crook of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor. At this point, the backs of your hands should be facing each other.

3. Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so the thumb of the right passes in front of the little finger of the left. Now press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, open your palms and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling. Try to turn the tips of your thumbs to point right to the tip of your nose.

4. Stay for 30 seconds to a minute, then unwind the legs and arms and stand in Mountain again. Repeat for the same length of time with the arms and legs reversed. 

- Benefits

Strengthens and stretches the ankles and calves

Stretches the thighs, hips, shoulders, and upper back 

Improves concentration and sense of balance 

- Contraindications: Students with knee injuries should avoid this pose, or perform only the leg position described in Beginner’s Tip below.

- Modifications & Props: Beginning students often find the balance in this pose very unstable. As with all standing balancing poses, you can use a wall to brace and support your back torso while you’re learning to balance.

- Variations: Here’s a challenging variation of Garudasana. From the completed pose as described above, exhale and lean your torso into a forward bend and press the bottom forearm against the thigh of the top leg. Hold for a few breaths, then come up with an inhale. Repeat on the second side for the same length of time. 

- Preparatory Asanas: 

Adho Mukha Shvanasana

Baddha Konasana

Supta Baddha Konasana

Gomukhasana

Prasarita Padottanasana

Supta Padangushthasana 

Upavishtha Konasana

Virasana 

Supta Virasana

Vrkshasana

- Follow-up Asanas: Garudasana is usually sequenced near the end of the standing pose series. The arm position in the pose is particularly useful in learning how to widen the back torso in inverted poses like Adho Mukha Vrkshasana and Shirshasana. Other follow-up poses might include: 

Gomukhasana

Utkatasana

Vrkshasana

- Beginners Tip: Beginners often find it difficult to hook the foot of the top leg behind the calf of the standing leg, and then balance on the standing foot. As a short-term solution, cross the legs but, instead of hooking the foot and calf, press the big toe of the top leg’s foot against the floor to help maintain your balance.