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. 

Spring Cleaning

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Spring Cleaning?

Start with your LIVER

By Kim Lally


Spring ... it's really coming! Longer days, buds on the trees, warm sunny afternoons.... 

Now is the time to do that spring cleaning..... in the home, in your closet, in your body.  But, the closet can wait... first step is to cleanse the Liver. And you are just in time.... as we move into spring, traditional Chinese medicine tells us that the body moves into Liver season. 

The liver is the body’s main organ of detoxification. Everything we eat and drink is filtered by the liver including medications and drugs, food and beverages, even airborne materials.

When out of balance, the liver gets stagnant. Symptoms of this may surprise you....headaches, teeth grinding, eye issues (especially the right eye), feeling hot all the time, pms, fibroids, prostate inflammation, irritability, anger, impatience, hip pain, thyroid issues, toenail discoloration (especially yellow and large toes), waking up between 1am and 3am and feeling restless, an overall feeling of being stuck in one’s life and more....

If you experience any of these -- I, for example, have a perpetually weepy right eye — consider food in this context to support your liver and and gallbladder. Foods have an energetic quality. A food that is dry, like a cracker or hard like a chip, has a contracting or gathering energetic effect. Iced beverages, ice cream or anything frozen also has a contracting effect on our organs. Conversely, fruit juices, fruit (especially tropical), raw salad and oil have an expanding effect*.

Located on under the lowest ribs on the right side, the 3 pound liver is nourished by foods and liquids that have a gently upward energy. Foods have energy? Take carrots – we know in the west that they have Vitamin A and beta carotene, but since they have both a root and green tops, in the Eastern medicine, they have both upward and downward energy. Thus they have benefits for different parts of the body.

Eating foods with upward energy means thinking light and fresh, not heavy. Think green - plenty of leafy vegetables including: kale, collards, bok choy, cabbage, watercress, mustard greens, leek, daikon and carrot tops, radish greens, dandelion greens, lettuce.. you get the idea. They all have an upward energy about them. Beets, sprouts, radishes and mushrooms are also helpful. In addition, fresh herbs like dill, cilantro and parsley are wonderful to support the liver. Whole grains like brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, spelt, kamut oats and wheat berries are all helpful. Try to eat more vegetables to grain proportionally. And don't forget the ginger. 

Avoid foods like crackers, bread, bagels, and cereals, even if made from whole grains, as they are baked and dry, and hence have downward and grounding energy.

Try to incorporate the sour taste 3-4 times a week as that is the flavor that helps release stagnation in the liver and gallbladder. Sour can come from: sauerkraut, Granny Smith apple, lemon, brown rice vinegar, sour plum, cherry and fermented foods. If you do not like the sour taste, usually it means you need it. A little lemon squeezed on your greens will do wonders.

Don't forget to 'clean house' emotionally, too. Our emotions have a very significant effect on the liver. To relieve and support the liver, practice patience and forgiveness. Have compassion and try to let go of resentment. The liver is hurt by negative feelings like anger and holding onto the past. Strive to be free of these emotions. And when possible, get outdoors, go to a park and feel your feet in the grass.

Then, come home and tackle that closet. Show that liver some LOVE and you'll have renewed energy and lightness!

 

RICHARD ROSEN'S ASANA BREAKDOWN - USHTRASANA

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USHTRASANA
(oosh-TRAHS-anna) 
ushtra = camel 

Camel Pose. Camel Pose is a transition between the simpler prone backbends like Locust (shalabhasana) and the more challenging backbends like Upward Bow Pose (urdhva dhanurasana). For this pose you can pad your knees and shins with a thickly folded blanket.

1. Kneel on the floor with your knees at hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs slightly inward, narrow your hip points, and firm but don’t harden your buttocks. Draw your inner groins deep into your torso. Keep your outer hips as soft as possible. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor. 

2. Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down. Use your hands to spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down through your tail bone. Then lightly firm the tail forward, toward the pubis. Make sure though that your front groins don’t “puff” forward. To prevent this, press your inner thighs back, countering the forward action of your tail. Inhale and lift the top of your sternum by pressing the shoulder blades against your back ribs. 

3. Now lean back against the firmness of the tail bone and shoulder blades. For the time being keep your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis. Beginners probably won’t be able to drop straight back into this pose, touching the hands to the feet simultaneously while keeping the thighs perpendicular to the floor. If you need to, tilt the thighs back a little from the perpendicular and minimally twist to one side to get one hand on the same-side foot. Then press your thighs back to perpendicular, turn your torso back to neutral, and touch the second hand to its foot. If you’re not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and elevate your heels. 

4. See that your lower front ribs aren’t protruding sharply forward, which hardens the belly and compresses the lower back. Release the front ribs downward and lift the hip points up, toward the lower ribs. Then lift the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Press your palms firmly against your soles, with the bases of the palms on the heels and the fingers pointing toward the toes. Turn your arms outwardly so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. You can keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. But be careful not to strain your neck and harden your throat.

5. Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. To exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your sternum to come up, not by jutting the chin toward the ceiling and leading with your brain. Rest in Child’s Pose (balasana) for a few breaths.