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Downward Facing Dog—The Resting Pose

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If you snickered at the title of this post because your experience of Downward Facing Dog pose is anything but resting, then you are not alone. Virtually everyone experiences some form of struggle with Downward Facing Dog, especially at first. It’s a challenging posture for a range of reasons. Most notably, it takes a lot of upper body strength to hold the posture for an extended amount of time. It also requires specific alignment and modifications to find a steady breath while in the pose. With a few alignment and modifications tips, you will be able to find a more stable posture so that you can more easily build your Down Dog endurance.

 

It all begins with your hands. When you lose the integrity of your hand position, you lose most of the foundation of the pose. That is, when the palms of your hand cup—or when the base knuckle of your index finger lifts off the ground—you lose your steady base and risk injuring your wrists. Instead, be sure to evenly ground all four corners of your palms, paying particular attention to the grounding of your index finger’s base knuckle. Maintain this even grounding during the entire pose and also while transitioning into and out of the pose. Spread your fingers wide apart to help support your body’s weight. At first, it will feel uncomfortable to maintain this activation in the hands, but over time you will come to love the stability it creates.

 

If you struggle with pain in your wrists, hold the pose for one or two breaths and then lower your forearms to the ground to take the weight off your wrists. Over time, you will likely find that you can maintain the full posture for longer and longer periods of time.

 

Next, you will stabilize your shoulders. Shoulder tension is almost ubiquitous, and it continues to occur in Downward Facing Dog. To relieve this tension and create space around your neck, move your shoulders away from each other and down your back. Feel your upper arms turning outward and drawing back into the shoulder sockets. This will create nice alignment of the shoulders while relying on the strong muscles of your back to help stabilize you.

 

From there, bring your awareness to your lower body. If you feel tightness in the backs of your legs and your heels are not on the ground, you likely have tight hamstrings and/or a sensitivity in your low back, both of which are very common. First of all, don’t feel as though you need to get your heels to the ground. For some people this may never happen, and that’s okay. Try bending your knees to relieve low back or hamstring pressure, and to find better alignment in your spine. This will also help to even out your body’s distribution of weight if it was off balance.

 

Once you have found the right alignment, you will want to use bandhas to create a stability that will help you build endurance in the pose. Uddiyana bandha (navel lock) and mula bandha (root lock) will help you find the inner strength required to maintain ease in Down Dog. By drawing your low belly into your spine while at the same time drawing up on your pelvic floor and maintaining the activation of these locks, you will be fully integrated in Downward Facing Dog.

 

Let your breath flow with ease as you settle into alignment, steadiness, and activation. Incorporate these tips every time you come into Downward Facing Dog and you will begin to understand what it means when we say Down Dog is a resting pose.

Sivananda Yoga

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Sivananda Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga brought to the West in 1957 by Swami Vishnudevananda at the urging of his Indian teacher, a medical doctor named Swami Sivananda. Vishnudevananda founded the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres based on Swami Sivananda’s teachings with a mission to spread peace, health, and joy through yoga. To date, there are over 60 Sivananda locations around the world.

Sivananda Yoga integrates four paths of yoga: Karma Yoga (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (eight limbs of yoga), and Jnana Yoga (yoga of knowledge). The entire practice revolves around “Five Points of Yoga”:

  • Proper exercise (asanas, or postures)
  • Proper breathing (pranayama)
  • Proper relaxation
  • Proper diet
  • Positive thinking and meditation

Pertaining to proper exercise, there are 12 main asanas practiced in different variations: Headstand, Shoulderstand, Plough, Fish, Seated Forward Fold, Cobra, Locust, Bow, Spinal Twist, Crow, Standing Forward Fold, and Triangle Poses. Sun Salutations traditionally begin the practice, and Savasana always ends the practice. Some chanting may occur during class.

Sivananda breathing practices focus on teaching deep, slow abdominal breathing to help support the movement of prana, or life force. Relaxation practices are three fold, with a focus on physical relaxation, which can be attained during Savasana; mental relaxation, which can be achieved by bringing proper attention to the breath; and spiritual relaxation, which is achieved by understanding one’s own true nature.

Sivananda’s proper diet is a lacto-vegetarian diet, which is said to bring about maximum body-mind efficiency. Finally, positive thinking and meditation are achieved by following the 14 points of meditation, which outline meditation techniques. Thirty minutes of daily meditation is recommended.

Sivananda Yoga classes are appropriate for all yoga practitioners. The classes tend to move at a gentle pace with long holds for each posture, and provide a well-rounded practice for any student.

Staff Spotlight: Gwen Burdick – Remember When

Gwen

I was eleven years old when I watched Mark Spitz win his seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics. A nearly full-size poster of him in the red, white and blue speedo hung on my sister’s closet door. My father’s stopwatch was always nearby. We were a family of swimmers. Six AM and six PM daily practices were not to be missed. “Train hard, Swim fast, Win” was the prevailing philosophy in our home. Then one day in High School, a gym teacher held a yoga class and, for the first time, I experienced a non-competitive land activity that felt natural. I didn’t know why, but I made a note of it.

Later, as I was receiving a formal education, the “Win” philosophy became “Learn.” Math, Physics, Art, Foreign Language, Biochemistry, even Religion courses were offered and all were thrilling to me. But I noticed that most of my classmates seemed to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I did not. They only thing I knew for sure that I wanted to be when I grew up was wiser. And I began to doubt if any of this knowledge was getting me closer to that.

Grace dawned in my thirties; I met a Swami from the Himalayas. He touched my heart and it opened. I started to feel. He instructed me on a few basic things: posture, breath, food and japa meditation which made sense to me. He spoke to me about service to others and very gently pointed out some of my characters flaws that I didn’t want to admit to myself but knew I would have to address. He told me that the most important thing I could do was to be happy. Soon after he sent me on my way, my daughters were born and, coping with the hullabaloo of motherhood, the importance of Yoga Science and Philosophy became crystal clear.

Today, as I try to integrate what I think I know, I realize that swimming introduced me to the value of pratyahara and pranayama. Academia stirred an interest in the jnana yoga path. Family life gives me a direct experience with the karma and bhakti paths of yoga. Yogananda said “Everything else can wait, the search for God can not wait.” The best advice I can give my beautifully willful, stressed-out and frequently injured teenage girls these days is, “Practice, Study, Serve, and Surrender.” Then just keep going.

Yogi of the Month—Marge Keller

Marge Keller

Seven years ago I retired as a fourth grade elementary school teacher about 20 miles west of New York City. My husband Coty and I live there for five months each year, and we enjoy boating, clamming, and spending time with our family. I have two children and four granddaughters ranging in age from five to 17. Coty and I reunited 20 years ago after not seeing each other for 25 years—we were high school sweethearts. We spend the rest of the year in Port Charlotte and love being able to ride our bikes every day.

I have always loved ballet and have studied it since I was a child. I continued as an adult, teaching it while my children were growing up. After a while, I moved onto yoga, studying Ashtanga and other athletic forms. Then wear and tear crept into my hip. Doctors suggested a hip replacement. I decided it was time to stop running after kids, and come to the comfort and warmth of beautiful Florida.

At this time I had to rethink my exercise because I couldn’t put weight on my hip. First I found Pilates, which strengthened the surrounding muscles. I bought a machine and still do about 40 minutes a day. I also ride my bike a few miles each day. When I found Jennifer, I restarted yoga, but this time gently. Practicing yoga helps me to stretch and calm my mind. This rounded out my exercise regimen. I love my routine—I remain mobile and take no medication.

I take four or five gentle and yin yoga classes a week. I have a love/hate relationship with Annie’s happy hip day, but seriously, these hip poses seem to be specifically designed for me. It’s funny, but sometimes when my shoulder hurts, Jen will do a shoulder class. Yoga practice seems to know what I need much better than I do. There’s always this good feeling of a fresh start after each class. It helps me let go of fretting and carry on. When my kids visit me, they all want to go to The Yoga Sanctuary. It is an oasis of peace and tranquility.

Outside of yoga, I enrolled at the Visual Art Center to learn how to bezel beach glass, and have been taking metal and enameling courses there for six years. I’m inspired by the chakras and the symbols of yoga. I use them in my work. This season I sold my jewelry at the Placida Art Market.

My favorite quote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. Meet me there.”
—Rumi