Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's a Sign

Last weekend, I attended a silent meditation retreat with two of my teacher friends. On the way there, one of them asked, "If you wake up with a song playing over and over in your head, does it mean something?" We had an active discussion about this, in which I shared a story about a time when that happened to me, and very soon after, it became clear to me that the song really was a sort of "sign" - that it was part of a message that was being sent to me from spirit or the universe or God or however you like to think of a higher power.

My friend's song was Funky Side by Donna the Buffalo and she had heard it recently at a live concert. She played a little of it on her ipod in the car. It had a great beat, but none of us could make out the words, so we couldn't say what the message for her might be, if there was one.

At the retreat, the leader shared with us the story of a sequence of terrible events that she had experienced some time back. Her house was lost in a flood, her father-in-law died and then her mother died, all in quick succession. During this time of heartbreak and loss and confusion, she came across the book, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. She said that as soon as she started reading it, she knew that it held a message for her that would change her life. It was that book that led her to take the training to become a meditation leader.

The 10th anniversary edition of A New Earth with a new preface by Eckhart Tolle. With his bestselling spiritual guide The Power of Now,...

I tried reading that book many years ago when it first came out, but I had no idea then what Tolle was talking about! In the intervening years, I became interested in spiritual self-help and then pursued becoming a yoga teacher. I was exposed to the teachings of Buddha and deepened my understanding of spirituality. When our meditation leader read to us from A New Earth at the retreat, I understood everything Tolle was saying. Not only did I realize how far I had come in my understanding of so many things, I felt that this was a sign that I was now ready to re-read that book to find out what messages it might hold for me in the present - messages that perhaps I just wasn't ready for back when I first tried reading it.

My teacher-friend with the song in her head told us that she really needed that meditation retreat because her mind was on overload. She felt disconnected and stressed out. The retreat helped her reconnect to herself and reminded her to take time for meditation on a regular basis. She said that our outdoor walking meditation was especially powerful for helping her feel her connection to nature and the earth and all living things.

Thich Nhat Hanh on Walking Meditation ..Thich Nhat Hanh is a renowned Zen master and poet, and author of more than forty books

Yesterday, she texted me the lyrics to Funky Side, saying, "I'm pretty sure now that there WAS a message for me and that's why this kept playing in my head." Here are the words:

Funky Side by Donna the Buffalo

In the rain that falls
On jive street
In the truth that forms
On the rising steam
I'm here cleaning my connection
To the forces that be

In a trance of god
On the funky side
In a trance of love
On the funky side

In the shape I'm in
You can see for miles
Shooting through the cloud
On a magic sound
I'm here cleaning my connection
To everything around

The groove is getting deeper
My heart's open wide
So good of you to come along
We'll focus on the main beam
And we'll go to a world in which we belong.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure she was right about there being a message for her.  So often in my life, I've asked God for "a sign" to help me know what to do or to let me know I am on the right track. And often, I would get what I thought was a sign but I wasn't sure, so I'd ask for another one - a sign that the first sign was a sign. I guess I'm not the only one who does that kind of thing, because I came across this and it made me laugh out loud:

This is the sign you've been looking for (neon light, neon art, neon sign)

If only things would always be that clear!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Playing Around with Feathered Peacock Pose on My Lanai on a Tuesday Morning in April

I can't always teach Pincha Mayurasana - Feathered Peacock Pose - at the studio because of class size and limited wall space. It's a forearm balance - yes, that means you will be balancing your body weight on your forearms! So you want students who are just learning it to be near the wall for safety and so they won't worry about falling over. 

This pose would be practiced in the later part of class, after thoroughly warming up the spine, shoulders, legs, arms and back - without overworking the arms. So, some sun salutations to warm up, but not TOO many Dandasanas or Chaturanga Dandasanas, as you don't want to overly tire the upper body.!

Pincha Mayurasana requires shoulder and arm strength for sure, but equally as much, it requires that the shoulders be nice and open. Many very strong people find it difficult to kick into this pose because their shoulders and upper arm muscles are so tight. Bringing the torso upright, so that the hips come above the shoulders, is key to being able to go up. So, as with most challenging yoga poses -this one requires a balance between strength and flexibility.

This pose also has elements of a backbend - some variations take a scorpion-like shape with a deep back arch, others are more upright like headstand. Either way, it benefits from significantly warming up the back body and stretching the front body before doing. I like to practice it somewhere in between - not too upright and rigid; not too big of back-bendy arch. 

I have found that doing a backbend practice first is ideal for working up to Pincha Mayurasana. I begin with a general warm-up practice, then move into various stages of Bridge Pose and Bow Pose and utlimately to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow Pose) before doing this pose. In fact, when I teach this pose to my more advanced classes now, I always pair Urdhva Dhanurasana (first) with Pincha Mayurasana (after). 

This is Urdhva Dhanurasana - Upward Facing Bow Pose. This is my "peak" backbend pose before taking Pincha Mayurasana. After this pose, my shoulders are open, spine warmed and fluid, arms and legs stretched and warmed up.

I've done two variations of Pincha Mayurasana here - the first holding a block between my hands and with a strap around my upper arms to help me remember to keep my elbows in line with my shoulders, and then I've done it again without the block

Come into Dolphin Pose (Like Downward Facing Dog Pose but with the forearms down). Hands hold sides of block - note: pinky side down - this helps create an open position of the shoulders. Strap is snug to outer arms - but not too snug. Elbows at the width of the shoulders.

From here, you walk the feet in until the hips are above the shoulders, and then kick up, bringing your feet to the wall.

You need to press the forearms down and lift the shoulders blades up,to keep from collapsing downward. Tailbone stays long; avoid jutting the ribs forward. Here my torso is upright - hips over shoulders. Knees are back of the hips due to the feet being at the wall.

Now I'm practicing without the block. I've kicked up, feet to the wall. Next I practice bringing the feet away from the wall one at a time.

Here I am balancing in the pose in my preferred way - with a long arch that feels comfortable but is not collapsed in the shoulders or compressing the spine. My feet are away from the wall.

Here, I am showing the pose in a more upright position, like headstand. I'm not quite all the way in it here (still bringing the right foot into place) - my patient photographer was getting tired -- and so was I!