My Anusara Trial Part III, The Philosophy

My Anusara Trial Part III,  The Philosophy

Tantra philosophy is the premise of Anusara yoga.  There is no possible way I could do it, or any other philosophy, justice in one 700-word blog. The Anusara phrase, “Align with the divine,” could take up a ten-page blog alone.  So here I will share with you a short introduction of my understanding of this very positive and compassionate way of perceiving life and the world around you.

When I first started doing Anusara yoga, I was confused about the philosophical focus.  There were a lot of American teachers coming to Dublin to do workshops, and while I found the workshops uplifting and positive, I wasn’t grasping the philosophical alignment.

At first I thought that Anusara yoga teachers were telling us to be happy and positive, regardless of our circumstances and surroundings.  While it is well documented that positivity creates more positivity, and smiling makes you smile even more, to be happy and positive all the time did not seem realistic.

The more I struggled to understand the philosophical approach, the more agitated I became. I really admired the teachers, their uplifting effect, and their ability to permeate “Inner Body Bright” at any given moment, but did not always feel that I could relate to this in a genuine way. I became concerned, as I really wanted to pursue an Anusara teacher-training path, but I began to doubt if I could fit into this practice if I didn’t fully feel it within.  At one point, I pinned it to cultural differences: Americans can be much more positive than us sarcastic, dry-witted Europeans.

I remember having a conversation with close yoga friends, saying, “You know, I love Anusara but sometimes I feel Inner Body Blue and I don’t want to feel Inner Body Bright!” I shortly thereafter realised that I was not the only person who was confused by this.

It took me a while to realise that  “Inner Body Bright” is actually a term used to lengthen the torso, and not a term of emotional being!  Although, it should be noted that when one does lift and lengthen the torso, it automatically has a positive reaction on the mind.   Of course, Anusara’s philosophy is not suggesting one to feel happy in a moment of sadness, anger or pain.  Instead, what it teaches us is to feel every moment to its fullest, which aligns to my understanding of Buddhism and Pema Chadron’s teachings.

When we feel an emotion in its fullest, not only do we bring it to the surface, often  it dissipates more quickly than if suppressed.  So instead of suppressing challenging emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, we are encouraged to feel it fully, in our body  and then find some degree of positivity to grow from the experience, instead of becoming stuck in negative reactions.

The focus behind the Tantra philosophy is intrinsic Goodness. It follows, therefore, that Anusara teachers encourage students to look for the good in all things. Out of something ‘Blue,’ they try to find a positive ‘Bright.’  In doing this, it may become less of a struggle to place trust in life and what falls in our path, and learn to go with the flow.  Indeed, the word Anusara means ‘With- Current or With- Flow.’

In an Anusara class you will often hear, “Align With The Divine.” This divinity is our intrinsic quality of goodness, the essence of all beings.  It is our supreme consciousness and the consciousness of the entire universe.  When we align with the divine we move closer to our true nature and find freedom in body, mind and soul, opening to a deeper flow of grace.

On the yoga mat ‘Opening to Grace’ is the first principle of alignment.  Every posture is an offering to unveil your true nature and your true being or to simply to be with your true nature and true being.  It’s a moment to remember your breath, to feel your core centre or your heart and move from within to express the freedom and beauty of the yoga posture on the outside.  Opening to Grace is a reminder as to why we come to the yoga mat to practice this ancient art.  Through continued practice of yoga we find union with our true nature and align with the divine.

In my next blog I want to explore in more detail the Tantra philosophy that dates back to the 8th Century.  This philosophy has changed my relationship with yoga and my outlook on life.  I feel Free.

To be continued…

Be Happy, Be Peaceful, Be Free.

Sinead.

Yoga in Preparation For Meditation

www.hushyoga.com Through continued yoga practice our bodies become healthier, stronger and lighter vehicles for our souls. Our minds quieten as we tune to our breath. We become present as we combine breath and movement. These are all tools to prepare us for Meditation, the essence of yoga.  While I mainly teach Asana yoga, I always begin and end the class with mediation to encourage yoga students to be aware of meditation.  Try to sit and be still even for a few moments a day. Tune into your breath and allow whatever happens to happen. Little by little we quieten the “Chitta Vriti” (the chatter of the mind).  Little by little we strengthening the stillness of the mind.  In time one will find inner peace, contentment and tranquility.

“In practicing meditation, we’re not trying to live up to some kind of ideal – quite the opposite.  We’re just being with our experience, whatever it is.”
– Pema Chodron.

I came across this New York Times article.  Scientists now have evidence that meditation can improve memory, sense of self, empathy, stress and more. Enjoy the read:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/how-meditation-may-change-the-brain/?src=me&ref=homepage

Peace,

Sinead.

My Anusara Trail, Part II…

The Physical Technique

I have had the privilege of practicing with some excellent Anusara teachers. Their knowledge of anatomy, their commitment to their own practice and their approach to explaining philosophy in a contemporary manner is admirable.  In my experience, there is a consistent, high-level of teaching across qualified Anusara teachers, and I think it is their grounding in the ‘Universal Principles of Alignment’ that helps to make this so.  When optimized, the Principles can be applied to every single pose, and can really make a difference. The teachers have a genuine warm and nurturing manner and are very down to earth.  From what I can see, it comes back to their practice, both on and off the yoga mat.

The process one goes through to become a certified Anusara teacher can take years.  It can’t be rushed, done over six months or even a year.  To achieve this honourable accreditation is a commitment to patience, learning through your own practice and training under the guidance of more senior teachers who have been teaching yoga for a long time.

I have tried almost every style of yoga and I can honestly say that I have not come across a similar system in terms of sophisticated alignment techniques, which yet in practice, can be straightforward to implement.   For anyone who is interested in how the body moves, this method work is really fascinating.   As nerdy as it sounds, it gets me excited; I have this “wow” feeling when I see the alignment techniques being used in a demonstration, or when I integrate them into my own practice when attempting postures that challenge me, or when teaching in my classes.

Since I’ve been using the Principles of Alignment in my yoga classes over the past few years, many of my students have been able to improve more quickly than ever before. While teaching a group of beginners in Open Minds last Wednesday, I was again reminded how well this technique works.  The entire class held impressive Warrior 2, Parsvakonasan, Trikonasas, Downward Dogs, plank, and cobra; this method of Alignment is really accessible for every level of yogi.

I can see the beginner’s body react to Anusara-based instructions well.  It’s thrilling to see people do (and feel!) so well after only one class.  I see great potential in all my yoga students and feel enthusiastic for them. I am more and more convinced in this system of alignment.  The possibility to progress is in everyone regardless of age, flexibility or strength.

Even coming from a dancer’s perspective, the Anusara physical technique works.  Especially in modern dance that is more about exploring how the body can move in safe, natural ways, and focuses on creating moving forms from that point.  I’ve been using the alignment techniques as much as I possibly can in dance and find my movement is stronger and more stable.  Not only that, I have little to no pain after a modern dance class anymore, when in the past, my lower back would ache with Sacrum Iliac issues that would extend from my back into my right leg.  I am eager to share this knowledge and look forward to holding workshops specifically for dancers.

I am so grateful to have come across this style of yoga and all the teachers I have met along the way.  I have learned so much, grown and improved as a teacher.   The best part is there is so much more to learn.   It keeps getting more interesting.  I often tell my yoga students that I consider myself a yoga baby – still on the learning curve and really only one step ahead of them.  They smile.

I’m also grateful to all who come to my yoga classes. Without you I’d have no one to pass this information on to.

There is more to come.  My next blog will be about Anusara’s tantric philosophy – Freedom!

…To Be Continued,

Om Shanti,

Sinead.

My Anusara Trail

www.hushyoga.comLast week I attended an Anusara immersion with Noah Maze.  He had travelled from L.A. to teach the first module of a three part, in-depth study of this heart-opening style of yoga.  After completing the 5-day practice, I am more energized and persuaded by Anusara yoga than ever before.

I first heard about Anusara yoga back in late 2006.  At that time I was not aware of its universal principles of alignment, its congruency with tantric philosophy, or its founder, John Friend.   However, even with so little understanding, I was drawn to its beautiful practice.

Parallel to this, I had started to feel my yoga practice and teaching had got a little flat.  While I don’t know exactly why, I think it was simply the yoga version of writer’s block.  I had lost my inspiration and was looking for something to reignite my love for yoga practice and passion for teaching.  A friend mentioned something about Anusara, and in particular, its characterization as a heart opening practice, and that was enough to spark my interest.

I went to NYC in the summer of 2007 to find my yoga buddies all raving about Anusara and telling me I’d love it.  So off I went to Kula Yoga with my pal Carolyn in August 2007 and there began my Anusara trail.

I was immediately engaged in the class.  The teacher gave a heart-warming introduction; the group chanted a beautiful invocation and the class started with an uplifting beat.    The teacher was giving directions in class that I didn’t understand, but I could see how the group responded to these instructions and I learned from watching fellow students.

When the instructor mentioned ‘kidney loop’ I saw everyone lengthen their lower back and draw into their core.   While I listened to many instructions throughout the class, I captured the concept of ‘kidney loop’ internally and this alone made my participation worthwhile. This is probably because, up and to that point, my teaching of that movement would have been, “lengthen your lower back, lengthen between the hip and the rib cage, pull your belly back to your spine, and draw your lower rib cage in.” Whew!  Yet, all she said was “more kidney loop” – amazing!

From that class, I gained the understanding that Anusara yoga has a clever method of language to explain alignment.  I wanted to learn more. That autumn I went to an intensive immersion in Berlin with Bridget Woods Kramer.

From a teaching point of view, the way John Friend has compiled the method of alignment alone is genius.   Each class is centred around the ‘Universal Principals of Alignment’ that not only include the alignment of the physical body, but also aligning to supreme consciousness: Opening To Grace, the first principle of alignment.

I am inspired by the physical system of Anusara.  The alignment techniques work so well that I am enthusiastic and feel uplifted in sharing this knowledge and experience with my students.

The physical alignment and the heart-opening interpretation was enough to draw me to Anusara.  I never expected to gain the amount I have from delving into this fully rounded system of yoga, and my learning curve is still on the up. It is not possible to do justice to this system of yoga in a short blog, so I will be back with more Anusara detail and love.

…To be continued

Om Shanti,

Sinead.

My Breakfast Yoga: Warm Up Sequence

It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote a blog.  Mainly because I have been updating my website with a New Look and haven’t been able to follow up on the blogs I had promised.  However Hush Yoga’s new look is nearly finished and the site is ready for me to post weekly yoga blogs.  I still have some work to do, like changing the menu photo – it’s a bit large, to say the least!!! So I am toying around with other ideas at the moment.  If you’d like to offer any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

So here’s the continuation to the warm up blog as posted below.hush yoga, Sinead in lunge pose

We’ve already sat for a few moments in meditation, focused on breath to centre body and mind and gone through postures such as Child’s pose, downward dog, baby cobra and cobra (as previous post).

Continuing along from the last posture, child’s pose I move back into downward facing dog holding for a 5-7 deep ujjiya breaths.

From downward dog, step your right foot forward to your hands to lunge pose.

In lunge pose stay on the finger tips, lifting chest up and forward while drawing the shoulder blades towards the spine.

The right knee should be directly over the ankle in correct alignment.

The back leg is straight with the thigh bone lifting up towards the ceiling which keeps the leg active and strong.

The left heal is stretching back while the right knee is moving forward, creating length and flexibility  in legs, while the feet are energetically moving towards each other to create strength and stability.  This also helps to align the hips. The right hip pulls back, left hip forward.

The left thigh is rotating inwards, slightly while tailbone moving forward and core muscles should be engaged.

Hold Lunge pose for about 5-7 breaths, step back to downward dog. Hold for 5-7 breaths.  Then step the left foot forward to lunge following the same instructions as above

Move back to downward dog and repeat the sequence in previous blog.

hush yoga, Sinead O'Connor YogaFrom Downward Dog,  step right foot forward to lunge, then left foot forward so you end up in a forward bend.  In the photo I have my legs straight but I often keep knees bent in the warm up sequence until I feel the hamstrings have warmed up.

Viola!  Including the postures in the post below it is a 10 minute warm up giving time to your body and mind to get into the yoga practice.

I’ll be back with more blogs next week.  Unless more website  problems.

Peace,

Sinead

My Breakfast Yoga

This weeks breakfast yoga is all about warming up the body before leading into a strong flowing Vinyasa style practice.

Last week I let you know the main postures I use to warm up the body.  I tend to mix it up from time to time. Here is the first warm up sequence to get you going on your yoga mat.

I always sit and focus on my breath for a minimum of 5 minutes. Often I focus more on the exhale and a sense of my body weight dropping towards the floor with the out breath. However always keeping the the spine straight, with shoulders directly over the hips and the chin parallel to the floor.  This meditation practice helps to ground the body and clear the mind.

Move from this short meditation into a childs pose. Hush Yoga, Sinead in Childs Pose

When in Childs pose begin Ujjaya breathing.  Also begin to connect to the core centre, applying Uddiyana Bhanda and Mulabhanda (drawing the navel gently back to the spine while using the pelvic floor muscles).

Stretch the arms, lifting the whole arm off the floor so only the hand is resting on the floor.  Draw the head of the arm bone back and hug the arms towards each other to create strength and stability.

Move forward onto hands and knees. Place hands directly under shoulders and shoulder distance apart, knees under hips, hip width apart.  Begin Cat, dropping the head and tail bone down to toward the floor while lifting the middle spine up towards the ceiling like a cat.   Reverse into cow stretch lifting the head and tail bone up towards the ceiling while dropping the middle spine.  Maintain a strong connection to the core centre, trying not to let go of the belly, especially in Cow stretch. (sorry no photos)

Move back into child’s pose for 2-3 breaths.

Hush Yoga, Adho Mukha SvanasanaMove into downward dog, keeping knees bent at first, with heals lifting high up off the floor.

Then stretch into the full pose.  You can bend one knee while stretching the opposite heal towards the floor.  This helps to warm up and loosen the calf muscle and hamstring, ( great after a night in high heal shoes ladies 😉 ).  Then make sure you hold a still downward dog for a while, focusing on breath and Bhandas (core centre)


Hush Yoga, Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana

Plank Pose, Hush Yoga From downward dog move into plank pose holding for a few breaths and then lower through chataranga to the floor.



Prepare for baby cobra pose.  Place hands Beside shoulders and lift chest off the floor, with out using in the hands to lift the chest up, so only the back is doing the work.

Hush Yoga, Baby Cobra

It is important to use your core muscles in cobra pose and also make sure the legs are strong by stretching the thigh bone back, spreading toes wide, turning thighs in slightly and moving tailbone forward without gripping the buttox.  Lower to body back to floor.Sinead, Hush Yoga

Move through baby cobra to full cobra however keep the elbows slightly bent, making sure the shoulder blades are moving in towards the spine and the shoulders are pulling down from the neck/ears at all times.

Move back to Childs pose for a few breaths.

Voila!  Ther’s  a simple yet very beneficial warm up.

Over the  next week I will break down the above postures in more detail.

Next weeks Breakfast Yoga will be a continuation from this warm up leading  through a flowing sequence towards sun salutations.

Enjoy your yoga practice.  Be kind to your body, take your time and warm up properly.

Peace,

Sinead.







Be Kind To Your Yoga Body, Warm Up!

Sinead, Hush YogaMost of my regular yoga students may well be familiar with the style of warm up I lead in a yoga class.  My own practice usually includes the same postures, and depending on the nature of the class, I have learned to vary how the warm up sequence can be delivered, with some new additions, and others only used on occasion. Sometimes I encourage students to move in ways that I learned from my dance experience, incorporating soft, gentle, easy positions I have taken from different styles of movement.

The main postures I use for my warm up are:

Childs Pose  (Balasana): stretching the spine and becoming in tune with breath;

Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): stretching whole body backside; deepens bhanda awareness;

Plank Pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana): strengthen legs, core centre and arms;

Baby Cobra Pose  & Cobra (Bhungasana): warms up spine, opens chest, strengthens core centre.

My warm up is the most important part of the practice for me.  It brings me in tune with my breath and body.  It’s like the appetizer before the entrée.  It’s the lead into the bigger – if not always necessarily better – serving. It’s the most precious time on my yoga mat, setting the mood lighting for what is to come.

I like to be kind to my hamstrings, my back and my breath, allowing them space to enjoy their starter before throwing them into dynamic shapes. All too often, one of my dislikes of going to other yoga classes is being thrown into Uttanasana (standing forward bend) as the first move, and shortly thereafter feeling like my hamstrings are about to rip in two.

I may get away with folding into this standing forward bend in the warmer, summer months; however, with the hint of winter and the cold weather now setting in, I would not even consider forcing my body into that pose at the start of my practice; at most, I’d fold down with knees bent, and keeping them that way for quite a while.

When I do get the opportunity to participate in other yoga classes and workshops, I arrive a few minutes earlier, giving myself enough time to warm up in the way that my body prefers, just in case the class begins in a way that is counterproductive.

Om Peace, peace, peace,

Sinead.

Autumn Yoga

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” ~Albert Camus

Autumn, my favourite time of year, is here again.  Well, I love spring too; probably because nature is so noticeably changing at these times.  We are blessed in our beautiful country with the variety of vibrant colours  in Autumn. The colour of the sky changes to a subtle glow while the leaves are intensely rich in beauty.  It’s really a striking time.

Autumn is a preparation, a fall towards winter.  With the force of mother nature letting go of all she has grown and nurtured throughout the year, we, too, can let go of all we don’t need at this time of year.   As animals gather in preparation for their winter sleep, we, too, begin to gather and naturally begin to draw energy inward in prepartion for our short, cold days and long dark nights.

With regard to your yoga practice, hip openers are great postures to benefit the process of letting go, and focusing on the exhale can deepen the effect.  You may remember my previous blog, “Open your hips, release your emotions” where I wrote in more length about the hip opening practice.

According to both Ayurvedic and Chineese medicine, Autumn is a time that the mind can be noticeably active with fresh inspiration.  It is, therefore, vital to clear any unnecessary emotion; to release any stored tension around the upper back and neck.  For this reason, adding upper back and shoulder releasing work to our practice is often necessary.  It will keep energy flowing from your body to mind, and vice verse.

This will help to open the pathway to allow your creativity to flow naturally.  It makes sense to me that Autumn is the time to allow new ideas to surface, with Winter being a time to ponder, allowing what has appeared to sit within, before the coming of Spring allows you to plant the seeds of creativity that have passed the test of hibernation.

However, because the mind can be so active at this time of year, it is time for the “A-type” personality, often characterized by a highly stressed or anxious state, to pay particular care.  To help counterbalance the dangerous effects of these feelings, it is important to do plenty of grounding yoga postures, such as forward bends and, once again, hip openers.  If you can manage a headstand safely, include it on days when you feel it is possible.  This will bring your mind as close to the earth as it can possibly be!

Sitting in mediation for at least 20 minutes a day is highly recommended, but any length of time is better than none!  Sit and observe the natural flow of breath.  Don’t make demands from the mind. Let it think, let it do what it needs to do.  On noticing your mind has wondered to your thoughts, simply observe.  Then gently bring your mind back to your breath, without any judgment.  Be aware of the breath, and focus fully on how it enters and exits the body.

My last advice for the moment is for all us “urban dwellers” to get out of the city from time to time.  Walk in nature, being mindful of the stunning change of season.  Allow the vibrant colours to be absorbed by your body and mind.  Feel the fresh, country air, and try to be fully present in this glory.  Then nature will support you in return, as you will have supported her by simply noticing her beauty.

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Sinead