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Category Archives: deepening your practice

Has yoga changed your life? If so, how? Do you take yoga on the road with you when you travel? What is your favorite yoga pose? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your practice, in words, photos or even a video!

A Reflection on the Relationship between Yoga and Knitting

Artwork by Alannah Cavanagh

Artwork by Alannah Cavanagh

I’ve been knitting and practicing yoga now for several years and the more I do of both, the more I want to do of both. Yoga is known for its healing and holistic, life enhancing properties, but knitting? That is not so obvious until you begin to experience, over time, its own unsung, holistic qualities.

Knitting is calming and relaxing. The rhythmic nature of the knits and purls coming off the needles as you practice can be almost hypnotic. Most knitters agree that knitting is like a form of meditation.  It also has a grounding quality, much like you can feel during and after a really good yoga practice.

Knitting also requires concentration. One cannot hold onto one’s ‘story’ and knit. You have to stay present and focus on your stitches. To allow yourself to be swept away with thoughts and emotions is to guarantee a mistake somewhere in your project- your moving fingers are bound to start doing something you are not expecting. Even, regular breathing helps with the evenness of the stitches.

Knitting helps develop patience. It can be frustrating at first when you are trying to learn to knit and then to master other techniques. But going back and sitting down with it, ripping out and starting over to achieve a result you want in a project is necessary. It’s also rewarding, like when after doing a hundred bow poses suddenly one day you reach back, and there are your feet to grab! It all then seems worth it and you don’t get as mad when you ‘don’t get’ a technique

Both practices help keep me humble and keep me real. No matter what I do I feel good at the end of either activity.  Even if it means I had to decide to pull back- taking out my knitting and starting all over or taking a step back in my practice to strengthen my core before trying to grab by foot in Half Moon pose- it’s for my own good, my health.

There is something very grounding and nurturing in knitting and yoga practices, a strength and a tenderness that is inherent in both things.  I read recently another article that knitting aligns well with the Yamas and the Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras.

It’s so interesting… and makes me want to learn more and share more about both knitting and yoga. To that extent, I have become a yoga teacher and immersed myself in the yoga world. I have recently also taken the dip into the knitting world: This Sunday, January 6th, 10am-12pm,  I start teaching Beginner Knitting at my favorite knit shop, Ewe Knit!   (located at 585 Markham Street in Mirvish Village, ph.416-530-4848) Looking forward to seeing you on the mat…or on the needles.

– Written by Scott Fech

Sangha Wisdom.

Missed last month’s Sangha community gathering? Listen here to catch up. Our first Sangha of the New Year will be on Wednesday January 9th (we hope to see you there).

(Source: tumblr.com via Richgeana on Pinterest.)

Let Your Backbone Slide.

The spine has always been a mysterious yet fascinating part of the body to me. It makes me think of dinosaur bones and our connection to all of the creatures and beings that have become before us, as well the ones that surround us now. I see my connection to history—both my familial history, but the larger, global family. And, one of my most favorite cues I use when I teach (and love to hear when I practice) is to bones of the spine, one vertebrae a time.

What a responsibility and what attention and care—not to mention breath—one must bring to the bones of the spine, whether your bringing them down to touch ground, or standing and stacking as you unroll the body to standing.

I spent a morning recently in a workshop with Stacey Hauserman and Heather Cracower about the spine; together, they brought this magnificent structure to life. It was a wonderful refresher on the spine, it’s construction and it’s function—and how it connects to the rest of the body. What was even more amazing to me, as a teacher, and well, as a human, really, was witnessing the new awareness that my fellow classmate began to tap into, in their spines.

Understanding movement in the spine, it’s challenges and what they could do, as practitioners of yoga, to protect their spines from harm. Here are a few things that Heather and Stacey shared with me, to share with you:

1. The instructions given in a led class are not be appropriate for every body and a good understanding of your habitual postural pattern will empower you to modify poses when necessary, to ensure safe alignment and prevent injury.

2. We speak a lot about the concept of a neutral spine and there are many reasons for that: this position allows your muscles to be in their resting position (less strain), there is decreased pressure on your discs, increased joint congruency (improved joint health and motion) and it ensures that weight bearing is through the vertebral bodies and facet joints as intended. Again and again, we need to find a neutral spine alignment.

3. Learning to effectively use our core muscles will help to decrease abnormal motion at the joints, decrease overuse of back and hip muscles which can lead to strain and pain and help to support and stabilize your lower back and sacroiliac joints.

4. The combination of muscular imbalance and repetitive movements (like chaturanga performed during each vinyasa without the shoulder joints being effectively stabilized) can lead to injury.

5. Remember that the spine has natural curves (i.e. kyphosis in the thoracic spine and lordosis in the cervical and lumbar spines) and this is our home base. Work/sport related stresses can create an increase or decrease in these curves, and our goal is to re-establish an alignment that more closely resembles this home base, not eliminating these curves, but making our way back towards ‘home,’ towards neutral.

*Your practice should never cause pain in your body, and if you find you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in the spine, or any part of your body, please talk to one of our teachers or therapists at the studio. We are always happy to help you revise your practice and offer variations that work for you. We want you to practice yoga for life!

~ Written by Bryonie Wise

Letting Go.

Source: via Ellen on Pinterest

I am sitting looking at the bare branches of my service berry tree directly outside my dining room window.

I recall a few weeks ago when I watched as the then orange leaves clung to the branch; I clung with them, not wanting to see them go. It felt too soon to me, and there was a heaviness in my chest at the idea of things being stripped bare again.

This past week, I witnessed another type of letting go as I supported a dear friend who’s father passed away. It was a great privilege for me to hold the space for both my friend and her sister, as they began to move through the unique right of passage of losing a parent. They were strong and vulnerable; appreciating the complex relationship they had with their father and honouring what he’d contributed to their lives.

As I hosted these women, I found myself wondering what it was that I was holding onto, that needed to go and also how I could fully honour what was given.

These questions made me think of the seasonal attunement which Scott speaks about in Restorative yoga classes and trainings; the idea that there is something which needs to be brought to my awareness, or that I need to be more responsive to, which is intrinsically linked to nature and our current season.

The fall is a time where the emotional spectrum moves from grief to courage and the way through that, the paramita, is vigor. For me, this idea of vigor, or the energy that I need to apply to my life, is not simply about being energetic in the world in the form of more “doing,” but is particularly related to how I am “being” in the world. It is a process of stripping away outdated ideas and allowing the associated emotions.

Like the service berry tree, if I consider myself as going back to my bark, letting the energy move toward the ground, then I’ll need to in turn release ideas and feelings which may no longer serve me.

How can I allow space and time for emotions that may want to cling on like that last leaf?

Can I be vigorous in my awareness around what needs to be attended to or expressed, in order for that energy to move through me?

Can I use my breath and my physical practices to help facilitate the process?

As the afternoon sun hits the branches of the tree, it occurs to me that I’m grateful for this new bare bark perspective; there are things which I can see more clearly without the leaves—the birds, the sky and the possibility held in the now dormant buds.

~

Written by Pam Johnson

Pam Johnson is a coach and writer who has a deep love of nature and yoga. You can find out more about her practice at here or on the Octopus Garden Website.

Leap of Faith.

Source: via Reena on Pinterest

“It was the greatest leap ever taken. The speed of Hanuman‘s jump pulled blossoms and flowers into the air after him and they fell like little stars on the waving treetops. The animals on the beach had never seen such a thing; they cheered Hanuman, then the air burned from his passage and red clouds flamed over the sky…”

~ Ramayana, retold by William Buck

“During a horrific battle in Southern India, Rama’s brother, Laksmana, is gravely wounded. His only chance for survival is to be treated with a very specific and rare herb that is found at the top of the Himalayas. Rama is distraught and has little hope that someone could make it to the Himalayas, find the herb and return back in time to save Laksmana. This impossible task falls upon Hanuman; son of the wind, powerful and intelligent monkey god, emblematic of devotion.

Taking a mighty “leap of faith” across the ocean from the south of India to the Himalayas, Hanuman finds himself unsure of the exact location of the herb. He is innately guided to get “bigger around the situation” rather than “getting lost in finding the exact herb” and picks up the entire mountain range and carries it over his head while he leaps back to the battlefield. The healing herb is quickly located by experts and Laksmana is saved. Later in the Ramayana, Hanuman makes another great leap from India to Sri Lanka to reunite Rama and his beloved Sita.”

~ Courtesy of  www.yogasphere.net

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swC1kOHQGu8

Inspired by Hanuman and want to work on leaping over tall buildings? Click here for a great hanumanasana how-to on Yoga Journal (or ask any of the teachers at the studio and we’d be happy to help!)

For more information on Lord Hanuman, click here and here.

just a moment.

tick tock
tick tock
goes the clock;

my heart
dances to the beat,
alive,
in my chest

i close my eyes
so that the rhythm of my heart

can plunge down,
into the soles of my feet;

i reach my arms up to the sky,
and my heart beat,
each drop of blood,
of love,
of breath,
flows to the tip of each finger

alive.
this is being alive.

i swan dive forward,
over the fold of my hips,
so that for a moment,
(just a moment)
i feel that i am soaring through the air

my body
like a water fall,

cascades over my legs (the mountain)
my hips (the cliff)

my fingers touch the earth,
and i know
that i am made of
earth salt love wind fire
and
the moon, the sun, the sky, the stars.

i am each in-breath,
each out-breath

and forever
embedded

in your heart

and you
in mine.

~

Written by Bryonie Wise

Off the Mat & Out the Door.

So, I think I get what yoga off the mat means.

Perhaps it’s as literal as Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana enabling me to bring a plate of scrambled eggs to my hungry three year old chanting for breakfast on the front porch, while I carry my one year old on my hip and balance said plate of eggs atop my mug of tea (I’ll explain).

Maybe it’s because of the little time I currently have for contemplating and experimenting with my practice (read: dashing in and out of random classes at the whim of babysitters’ availability) that I realize how significant yoga truly is off the mat.

Staying with the sense of calm and lightheartedness following practice is like trying to squeeze a slippery bar of soap in your fist, as I switch back into mommy mode and return home to where anything is possible, with two little people under the age of three. And yet, somehow it’s become possible that no “switch” is required.

Perhaps there’s a way in which yoga comes with me off the mat into the world of yogurt smeared on the wall, crayon scribbles on the wall, tantrums driving me up the wall—anything but legs up the wall (which is often attempted for quick rejuvenation and grounding but usually interpreted as an invitation to pile up on mommy—cute…some of the time).

Amidst the frenetic pace of parenting two little people, my latest “Ah ha” moment is a sliver of insight into the multitude of ways one can integrate yoga off the mat.

1. Sit. Being present and a good listener to a toddler having a tantrum and not making it my story or about my emotions triggered within.

2. Breathe. Between the intensely and frequently concurring demands of two small children. Breathing with them during the much-needed quiet embraces throughout the day.

3. Ground. Finding my centre when feeling pulled in inconceivably opposing directions by said demands for food, potty, attention and immediate radar tracking of misplaced favourite truck.

4. Expand. Finding creative alternatives to “no” and the compassion to understand my children’s needs and hold the space for their self expression.

5. Soften. Plans change—quickly and often—moods swing and expectations flop. There’s always tomorrow to not judge myself or others.

6. Savasana. Letting go of what worked and what didn’t, especially when breakfast, potty, dressing, playing, crying, snacking, running, jumping, reading, baking, spilling, screaming only gets you to 9:00 a.m.

7. Gratitude. For the teacher and beauty of light within my children, who mirror my actions and call to attention my strengths and weaknesses every day and make my heart burst with more love than I ever imagined possible.

When we come to the mat with beginner’s mind and discover the guiding intelligence within that helps transform asana from class to class, so can parenting transform when we wipe the slate clean and listen in.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is not one of my favourite poses and therefore not a part of my self-practice—until recently, when a teacher reminded me about the benefits of bringing benched asanas back into play. For Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, all it took was a new entry point (from Uttanasana with belt) and the very palatable cue: gas pedal your foot on the lifted, extended leg (thank you, Rose Riccio).

So, about the eggs: Visualize coming to standing on one leg from forward bend with belt looped around the right foot and balancing on the left leg—and now, gas pedal the right foot. That is what got me out the porch door with babe and breakfast in hand!

By sending the energy out through the ball of my right foot and pushing on the screen door handle, I stepped onto the porch quite intact, except for probably holding my breath. Until my three year old exclaimed, “Mommy! How come you used your foot?”

And then I exhaled and crumpled with laughter from the exertion and surprise of an unloved posture coming to my rescue.

~

Written by Elizabeth Palermo

Elizabeth has two wonderfully energetic little boys. She’s continually amazed by yoga and pregnancy’s transformative powers and enjoys teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga while continuing her training following the completion of the 200-hr yoga education program at Octopus Garden.