7 Basics Yogis Must Know

I’ve had a lot more private yoga lessons lately, mostly with people who have never tried yoga before. It really makes you think deeply about what yoga is and the fundamentals that they need to know. Here are a few things that I find myself reinforcing over and over:

Bone stacking – head balanced over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over feet. It sounds obvious, but you don’t know how many times this needs to be corrected. In downward facing dog, you see deviations from a straight line from wrists to shoulders to hips. In Warrior II, people always lean forward.

External rotation of shoulders and arms – Elbows back or eyes of the elbows forward. It happens everywhere in yoga. In Tadasana, forward folds, chaturanga, and planks. Everywhere.

Internal rotation of thighs – Again, everywhere! It is the key to forward folds. It is the key to everything. I have the student place a block between their thighs and then rotate thighs so the block moves backward. It is crucial in so much of yoga.

Engage the balls of your feet – I’m trying to think of when this is not true. It is actually a part of the internal thigh rotation. You especially see this in Marichyasanas. Shoulder stands, standing poses, all forward folds …everywhere. No floppy feet!

Drishti – Every pose has a drishti, or focal point. You usually see beginners looking around during classes. Drishti is so important in finding focus and the direction of energy.

Breathe!!! – It sounds obvious, right? Not so obvious. I come from a powerlifting/Olympic weightlifting background. We hold our breath when we lock in a heavy lift. Not so with yoga. And when we are stressed, we inhale and then breathe shallowly. It is a good way to stay stressed. Instead, breathe deeply and evenly into your belly…always!! Learn to breathe better. Pranayama is a practice unto itself.

Tadasana in every pose – Yes, mountain pose. All that I’ve said so far are expressed in tadasana. Learning tadasana and thinking about it happens in every pose. It may be the simplest and most important pose in yoga. We must have talked about it for hours in teacher training and then hours after in all the other poses. It sounds so simple. I can talk people into the position but they take it for granted. After the first sun salutation, they go back to just standing there. What happened to Tadasana? Learn it; live it!

Glass Half Full

I really enjoy teaching a large yoga class, especially advanced classes that are thick with the sound of Ujjayi breath. You can feel the tapas radiating off their bodies and their drishtis bore into the walls like lasers. I honestly get this feeling in those classes. I walk around matching their breath as I adjust postures. I had a similar feeling when I was a Drill Sergeant in the Army. But instead of a sense of fear, yogis feel a sense of accountability. They are focusing hard on their entire experience. And I’m there to see what they cannot see. I am their mirror.

Patthabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, had a very bold way of making adjustments. I just watched a video last night of him adjusting in Second Series Ashtanga. It was apparent how forceful he was. What is so interesting is that our teacher trainings in the U.S. are focused on our knowledge of human anatomy. We break down muscles, bone impingements, and a host of other body functions. In India, they didn’t have this awareness since their knowledge is based more on energy lines. The shushumna, id, pingala, seven chakras, and other nadis. Patthabi Jois would adjust on these energy lines. Bodies are different and he could clearly see when energy was broken. He had a very intuitive and experienced awareness of his students. I have teachers who often see this brokenness in me.

Since the holidays are upon us, I know that class attendance will be less than usual. I know that the energy I feel in larger classes won’t be there. This morning was one of those days. I had two people in class. So we gathered and talked about what we’d like to accomplish. You can negotiate with a smaller class and give them exactly what they want. We did a harder class and I had my hands on them the entire time. We were able to work on binds and body placement individually. It turned out to be an amazing class. They said the time flew by as if it were only a few minutes. And they likely grew more in one class than weeks or months before. It is the value of a Mysore-style Ashtanga class; when the teacher can adjust and modify to help you grow individually. Some days, your glass is half full; or even brimming over the edges.

Winter Solstice: A new beginning

imageMy season is Summer. I enjoy the changes the other seasons bring, but Summer is my favorite. I enjoy being in the Sun with its life giving energy. I love being active outside and enjoying long sunlit days.

This is why I like the Winter Solstice. The reality is that Winter has only just begun. Cold, snowy, windy weather will be upon us. I’ll be shoveling the snow and wishing for warmth. But what the Winter Solstice means is that the days grow longer. Every day will welcome another minute of sunlight.

Summer is my favorite, but the Summer Solstice is not. It means the days will grow shorter. It means that there will soon be darkness when I go to work and when I leave. My office is without windows, so I could easily go an entire day without sunlight. And that makes me sad. Literally, S.A.D. Maybe its a concocted condition. Sometimes, I think if you can name a disorder, we will gravitate toward what that means. And because there is a S.A.D. (seasonal affect disorder), I think I have it.

A new day has dawned. Six months of days growing longer. And I am happy about that. Bring on the light!