Posted on October 3rd, 2013Jason Crandell6 comments
Common wisdom tells you to work on the postures that bring up resistance and challenge you. Yoga apparel bags also tell you to do things that scare you each and every day. Personally, I’m okay with these sentiments—after all, there’s plenty of value in exploring the edges of your comfort zone. As a practitioner and teacher, though, I choose to emphasize the opposite—I choose to indulge the postures that I love with egregious frequency. I encourage the teachers that I train to do the exact same thing. We love the poses that we love for good reasons: they awaken us, they ground us, they soothe us, they challenge us, and they nurture our mind’s ability to focus and settle down. These 5 postures come up time and time again in my classes because I’m shamelessly enthusiastic about them.
URDHVA DHANURASANA – IT SOOTHES ME
Yep, that’s right, I find urdhva dhanurasana deeply soothing. Yes, I’m aware that everyone and their cousin goes on and on about how uplifting and energizing backbends are. But, honestly, my experience is the opposite. A nice, strong urdhva dhanurasana (or 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) actually cuts through whatever narrative my mind is engaged with, focuses my attention, and burns whatever anxiety I may be experiencing. Urdhva dhanurasana is never easy for me, but it’s always settling.
PASCHIMOTTANASANA – IT HUMBLES ME
Paschimottanasana bums me out. I’m always prattling on about integrity of movement being more important than range of movement. Even though I firmly believe this, the first thought that runs through my head when I practice paschimottanasana is, “really, ugh, this is as far as I can go today?” This pose continues to reveal how judgmental I can be toward myself and provides me with the opportunity to let go.
PIGEON POSE – IT GROUNDS ME
The bittersweet release of Pigeon is undeniable. While the big, tension-busting stretch in the outer hips steals the show, the posture has another component that helps produce a grounding effect: the vast majority of your body is laying on the floor when you do the posture. Sure, it’s intense for many, but the intensity is always local. The majority of the body has the opportunity to drop, release, and let go into the floor.
HANDSTAND – IT BALANCES ME
There’s a saying in England that black tea wakes you up if you’re tired and quiets you if you’re unsettled. My experience of handstand is the exact same. If I need an uplifting boost of energy, practicing handstand does the trick. If, on the other hand, I’m over-stimulated 1-2 minutes in handstand grounds my energy and rebalances my mood.
PARIVRITTA JANU SIRSASANA – IT UNWINDS ME
Oh, the poor side body. It can be challenging to access and rarely gets treated to elongation in day-to-day life. Even in asana practice the side-body rarely gets the TLC that the hips, shoulders, core and spine receive. Thankfully, parivritta janu sirsasana digs deeply into the side-body and wrings out tension. When I do this pose I literally have to will myself to get out of it. I want to stay there, nestle in, and take a nap.
These are currently my top 5. How about you?
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.
In this week’s Overheard in Yoga Class, Sianna Sherman shares a beautiful poem by Hafiz and reminds us to approach obstacles with curiosity and fascination – to kiss the journey of our life no matter what it brings us.
Each week we scour the interwebs to bring you amazing yoga articles, insights and stories that we hope will illuminate the power of yoga, the ways in which it can heal and soothe and the ways in which it can make us laugh, smile and learn much more about ourselves than we ever expected. This week’s links we think you’ll love are all about what a regular yoga practice can reveal to you about yourself. Whether you struggle with a particular pose, are intimidated trying a new style, or find that with particular attention and dedication your yoga practice extends off the mat into all other areas of your life.
Yoga is Smarter Than Me – ”It’s pretty humbling when the practice takes over and brings you to that place of not thinking, but totally attending. My body, the next day, is still sore from the movements, and my brain is still reveling in the fact that it lost itself (or perhaps, found itself) in the very thing that it had resisted so strongly.”
Zoom In, Zoom Out – Jason Crandell talks about skillfully directing your attention to your yoga practice.
Parsva Kukkutasana – ”No matter what level you’re at—challenge yourself. It might be more mental than physical, but allow yourself to enjoy this ride. Yoga practice is meant to be enjoyed, so laugh at your flops and shine during your successes and always allow yourself room to grow.”
Yoga = An Opportunity to Change – Tiffany Cruikshank reminds us that yoga gives us the opportunity, at any moment, to change. We simply must be present enough to make those changes.
Fear Me Not, Yoga – ”So ask yourself: how do you wish to live? Yoga can teach you so much about the things you fear the most. Just give it a chance and practice some bravery and open-heartedness. Your entire self will thank you.”
Posted on February 21st, 2012Andrea Ferretti2 comments
There’s been a lot of attention paid to the recent New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.” I’ll admit that I ignored it until days later when I noticed that it popped up on the most emailed list in my New York Times reader. When I finally read through the story, one of the most noticeable aspects was that the author selected the most panic-inducing studies he could find—and they were all from the early ‘70s.
There were several other ways in which I felt the article generally missed the mark, but I won’t go into all of them. I’ll simply say this: Reading this article and noticing how much attention it got in the mainstream media gave me an opportunity to reflect on why I think yoga is so important despite the fact that, like any other physical endeavor, it can lead to injury. (And I’ll be the first to admit that I weathered a few yoga injuries in my early days of practicing.)
So, here goes: after years of soaking in the teachings about how much to externally rotate my thigh and where to place my big toe, the most valuable lesson we can learn from yoga is that we can use the tools to create inner harmony. In other words, instead of getting up and doing a sequence to Forearm Balance five days in a row, you can go to your mat with the intention to create a practice that balances whatever state you’re in at that particular moment on that particular day.
If you’re full of energy and you want to open your upper back, do the aforementioned Forearm Balance practice. But if you’re drained or feeling a bit frayed around the edges, try staying low to the ground in your practice, perhaps focusing on hip openers like a diamond-shaped Baddha Konasana or a supported Pigeon Pose.
Savasana, the final relaxation pose, is critical in any practice, but it’s especially important to give yourself lots of time in the pose if you’re fatigued. A long relaxation at the end of practice has the power to refresh your energy and help you integrate all the work you’ve just done. If you stay in the pose for 15 minutes or more, you can induce the relaxation response, which lowers stress hormones and increases feelings of calm. In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar says this about Savasana: “The stresses of modern civilisation [sic] are a strain on the nerves for which Savasana is the best antidote.”
What’s that you say? You don’t find Savasana particularly relaxing unless you’ve sweated and snorted your way through an exhausting practice? That’s OK. You might not always have those deep, easy, peaceful Savasanas because relaxation isn’t something we’re taught to do in Western culture. It takes practice, just like any other pose. Stay with it, don’t skip the pose! And, with practice, it will become easier to drop in.
I love to riff on Erich Schiffman’s approach to Savasana, which is, in essence a three-part process:
First, relax your body.
In order to fully relax, you need to find the sweet spot of the pose that’s comfortable for you, which means that it’s important to take your time and mindfully set up the pose. If you tend to cool down quickly, cover yourself with a blanket and put on your socks. If your back feels sensitive as you lie back, place a bolster or a folded blanket under your knees.
Once you’ve gotten yourself into position, allow yourself to take up as much space as possible. If you have a neighbor close by and you can’t bring your arms 45 degrees away from your body, you can bend your elbows and place your hands on your torso.
Second, notice how you feel
Bring your awareness to the top of your head and begin to scan through your whole body, noticing where there is tension. Invite yourself to let it go, to relax, and to enjoy the feeling of relaxing.
Third, feel the bliss
Schiffman says that, “As you relax, you will expand. You will begin to feel big, huge, spacious.” This expansive feeling can feel wonderful as it overtakes your entire being. Your thoughts begin to fade into the background and you experience openness, peace, ease. You might even have moments of joy or emotion well up in you. However you are feeling, surrender, surrender, surrender into the experience.
Come out of the pose slowly and gently, rolling onto one side and resting there for as long as you need to before you come up. Open your eyes, keeping your vision unfocused and wide. Enjoy the feelings of inner harmony you’ve cultivated.
An editor at Yoga Journal for nearly a decade, Andrea Ferretti has had the honor of writing about and learning from some of the best yoga teachers in the West. She has been greatly influenced by Sarah Powers, Sally Kempton, Cyndi Lee, and her husband, Jason Crandell. For more of her personal writing, visit her blog, Mindful Living.
We all have our favorite yoga styles. We are creatures of habit that stick to what we know and what we are comfortable with. If you usually flow, try taking an Anusara or Ashtanga class. Who knows, you might fall in love.