Have you ever noticed how you feel in different seasons? Both mentally and physically, we tend to respond to the environment around us. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on this concept. It’s rooted in the observation of nature and the unique dynamics to which nature adheres. No season is a more perfect example than winter.
During winter, the temperature is colder and the days are shorter. In response, nature slows down. Animals hibernate, plants and trees grow more slowly, elements become more dense and damp. Every living thing turns within to nurture itself.
In the theory of Yin and Yang common to Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter reflects the utmost yin quality. In TCM, we’re taught to heed the environmental conditions in order to live in harmony with nature. Activity should slow, rests should be extended, and food should come from dense nutrients—perhaps stewed over extended periods of time.
The organ most correlated with this season is the kidney. The kidney houses the body’s original “Qi” (basis of energy). It also stores “essence,” which is the dense form that produces bone marrow and spinal fluid. This correlation makes it is easy to see why the kidney is so important to brain health and bone development in TCM. In addition to being the body’s primary source of yin, the kidneys serve as the “ming men fire” or “gate of vitality.” This gate lies deep between the two kidneys—opening their yang dimension. An equal representation of both yin and yang makes the kidneys truly unique.
The winter is a great time to support the kidney and its related functions. While good nutrition, hydration, and keeping the low back warm and protected during winter are all important, Yin Yoga is an excellent practice to support the kidneys physically.
Yin Yoga’s sustained holds stimulate tendon, ligament, and bone health. Its slow and prolonged movements are in harmony with winter’s yin character, while the active breath helps stoke the inner ming men fire to balance the kidney’s yang attributes.
In that light, Yoga for Relaxation would be the perfect addition to your winter regimen—and help keep you in harmony with life.
4 KEYS TO FOOT PLACEMENT IN STANDING POSTURES
A common misalignment I see in yoga is incorrect foot placement. If not learned correctly at the foundational level, the issue will follow you around in both standing and balancing postures as well as inversions. Incorrect foot placement will lead to hip and knee pain which often goes unnoticed until later, when serious and irreversible damage has been done.
So what is the correct foot placement? Looking at this as a general rule and not a case-by-case basis, I would say that anytime your feet are on the mat, they should face the front—not the common heels in—toes out Charlie Chaplin stance I often see. Hip distance apart (rather than the classical feet together) is a better choice for Westerners—especially if you suffer from sciatic pain and tight hips and hamstrings. When both feet are on the mat in a pose such as Tadasana, the balance should feel even across the feet—without leaning too far forward or too far back. This balance will shift depending on the pose you are doing.
For today’s key tips and video, we will focus on foot placement in standing postures such as Triangle, where the front foot and the back foot perform different tasks. Please pay special attention to number four.
- Have your front foot face the front of the mat as described above.
- As a general rule, you should be able to draw a straight line from the heel of the front foot to the middle of your back foot.
- Pause and explore your practice if you have tighter hips and hamstrings. Take Triangle Pose again but this time draw a straight line from the front heel all the way to the back heel. Does having more space feel better for your body? If so, do your standing postures this way until you gain more mobility in the lower half of your body.
- A common misalignment with long term consequences that I see is not having the back foot turn inward enough. When you look back, you should be able to see all of your toes facing forward. To put this very simply, let’s say you’re doing Triangle pose with your right foot forward. The toes of your left (or back) foot should be facing the front left corner of your mat. The popular (and incorrect) choice is when your toes face the back left corner of the mat. If this misalignment is not fixed, you could end up ripping your groin apart!
Watch the tutorial on YouTube here!
WHAT ARE YOU ENTERTAINING?
I’ve been observing myself and noticing what thoughts I allow into my mind. What mental images and stories that go along with my thoughts do I entertain? Do these thoughts line up with what I want to accomplish in 2019? Do my mental images line up with my bigger picture of staying in the flow of life and not getting stuck in bad patterns of behavior and emotions? Am I helping create my future or hindering my own process?
As I was sitting with these questions and observing myself, I noticed how ridiculous my thoughts can be. Just this morning, while playing fetch with Anjali in our backyard, I heard an airplane go by—is pretty normal where we live. For a moment, I decided that the next thing to annoy me will be airplanes. In the future, I will be annoyed by the noise of airplanes and therefore I will need to move from this little back house that I currently love so much. In the future, I have decided that I will be annoyed! I laughed at how ridiculous this declaration was on this beautiful morning and placed my attention back on the beauty surrounding me.
If you take my yoga class, you know I switch it up a lot—so it’s best if you remain present during the practice. This week I was observing new students take the typical plank-chaturanga-updog series before realizing that the rest of the class was doing something completely different. Physically they were in the class, but mentally they were entertaining something stronger than the desire to be present. In situations like this, I often want to ask them to share the thoughts they’re entertaining. What mental images are they creating? What seeds are being planted in that cranium?
There’s a story about a student asking Socrates how wisdom might be attained. Socrates took the student to a fountain and told him to submerge his head in water—whereby Socrates continued to hold the student’s head down until the poor guy was struggling for air. When the student finally managed to escape, Socrates told him that when his desire for wisdom is equaled his desire to breathe, wisdom would follow.
The gift and the curse of life is that you have the power to choose. The power to create. What are you entertaining in your mind? What seeds are you planting that will one day come to fruition? You must observe yourself and become the gatekeeper of your mind!
Today we are examining hand placement, which plays a major role in the foundation of the Yoga practice. Keep reading for key alignment tips and don’t forget to watch the video!
Poses that require you to have your hands on the floor will either help build your practice correctly or will end up injuring your shoulders.
I often see students try to do more advanced postures like the beloved handstand without understanding the placement of their hands—giving them zero chance of balancing upside down. Let’s start at the beginning of the practice-focusing on understanding what we’re asking of the physical body-and build upon that. Keep reading for key alignment tips. (more…)
At first glance, 2018 seemed like a strange, frustrating year in many ways. A year I couldn’t quite put into words until I received my birthday poem in mid-November. This is a gift I look forward to each year and something that my adoptive father has been writing for me since I was 13. This year’s poem, which you can read below, described what I was feeling in a way that I was not yet able to fully express or understand.
Finding your voice
You think you are free, but there probably isn’t a gesture, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a belief in you that isn’t coming from someone else. Isn’t that horrible? You feel pretty strongly about certain things, and you think it is you who are feeling strongly about them, but are you really? It’s going to take a lot of awareness for you to understand that perhaps this thing you call “I” is simply a conglomeration of your past experiences, of your conditioning and programming… Anthony de Mello, Awareness,
It’s a Herculean effort, to be sure—
not the finding of right words
(let alone right thoughts and actions),
but rather the separating
of those planted by others
from the ones that are unmistakably your own…
For a writer,
It is the most constant
and compelling challenge.
Getting beyond the conditioning
to the core—
and discovering the voice
that is uniquely yours—
is a lifelong journey.
What the great writers eventually discover
is that the secret comes
only to those who listen.
This has been a year
of clearing the way,
diving deep, with courage,
dissolving and re-membering.
You step forth now
in the space between
“no longer and not yet”—
perhaps less sure
but certainly more open.
Engage the Earth’s wisdom.
Allow its energy to lead you
into the stillness
that precedes thought,
and in that place,
free from ingrained attitudes, emotions, and habits,
let the words come
as they will.
And they will.
Upon reflection, I would take three key phrases from my birthday poem that helped define 2018.
- Clearing the way: I have changed my schedule so I can clear the way for my vision. I have cleared the mental thoughts and stories that are holding me back from this vision.
- The “space between no longer and not yet”: this has been a constant theme in my classes this year as I have fought with and finally accepted that I did not know the next steps in my life—and I had to be ok with that. For a Type-A controlling personality like me, acknowledging that a shift is taking place and not knowing what that means and where it will lead is pretty damn scary.
- Stillness: “sit with the question and the answer will come” is an approach I strongly believe in. This year, my soul was restless and I was often uncomfortable in my own skin; I was doing a poor job of honoring the space between no longer and not yet. After returning from a recent trip to Sayulita, I feel as if my heart found the stillness and understood the necessary steps and action needed to get there. Hello 2019!
So I ask you: What are your three power words or phrases for 2018? What did you learn that you would like to take into 2019? What past conditioning is holding you back from your vision? Has your vision for your life changed? What action plan will you create?