When experiencing moments of stress, taking a few deep breath’s in a forward fold (Uttanasana ‘OOT-tan-AHS-anna’) will help calm the mind and body. Forward folds give the hamstrings and lumbar spine a deep stretch. By hanging upside down, fresh blood is brought to the brain and gives a refresh sense of well-being.
The first of the chakras from the main system of seven is: Muladhara chakra. Shown on the right, the root chakra, has four petals bearing the Sanskrit letters va, scha, sha and sa. The seed sound in the center is lam. The tattwa of Earth is shown as a yellow square.
Meaning: Literal translation, root
Location: Base of spine, coccygeal plexus, legs, feet, large intestine
Main issues & goals: Survival, grounding, nourishment, trust, health, home, family, prosperity, appropriate boundaries
Basic rights: To be here and have
Meditation is important to me.
For a beginner, it can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. It can be frustrating too because there’s a misconception that you won’t have any thoughts, at all. Just so you know, this is what usually happens for most of us, especially at the beginning.
Here’s the easiest way to start and how I begin every yoga class I teach.
Find a way to sit comfortable, on a chair, sitting up in bed, sitting cross-legged. We aren’t going to be concerned about form right now.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and turn the volume down to a softer level. (Or use a meditation timer app.)
Read through the following and then do at least once a day.
Take a deep inhale through your nose, exhale through the mouth.
Close your eyes.
Breath in through your nose and out through your nose.
Mantra: “As you breathe in, notice you are breathing in. As you breathe out, notice you are breathing out.”
Continue until you hear your timer.
Stop repeating the mantra.
Notice any sensations in your body.
Let your eyelids flutter open.
You are done. Easy right? YES!!
The word chakra [chuhk-ruh] translates as “wheel” or “disk” and refers to a spinning sphere of bioenergetics activity, vital energy, or life force. There are many of these life forces located on different parts of our bodies, major and minor chakras. For my purposes, I will be focusing only on the seven major chakra system stacked along the spine, starting at the base (Chakra One) and ending at the crown of the head (Chakra Seven). These main chakras send energy up and down our body and like any transfer system, it can get blocked (deficient) or spring a leak (excess). There are ways of clearing and healing these elements so that the life force can continue to flow, giving us the energy we need to live each day to the fullest and manifest our true selves.
In a previous post, I talked about Lengthening your spine, and we will expand on that practice here in a standing posture called Mountain Pose (Tadasana ‘tah-DAHS-anna). I consider this pose the base standing poses. Tadasana is where you stand strong and grounded through the legs while lifting and expanding upward with the chest and head. It is the simplest example of “root down, rise up,” completing the cycle of complementary forces.
Whether I’m teaching beginners or practicing on my own, I take the time to guide the class or myself through Tadasana. It’s important to get grounded right at the beginning of a flow class. When the feet and legs are awakened and connected to the mat, there is more stability, awareness and balance as the body flows through the rest of the practice. As the legs are engaged and drawing up energy from the earth, the upper body has the lightness and energy it needs to expand and open.
Here are some basic instructions for Tadasana:
- Standing with feet hip distance apart, toes pointing forward, lift and spread the toes, then press them back down.
- With a soft bend in the knees, rock back and forth on the feet until you feel balanced.
- Engage the muscles of the legs, as if they were hugging the bones, lifting the kneecaps up.
- Draw your low belly in and lengthen the tailbone down, lengthening the low back, without strain.
- Imagine a ribbon tying the low ribs together, so that the chest doesn’t puff out.
- Draw the shoulder blades together, and shoulders melt away from ears.
- Arms are extended and soft, and palms are facing forward as you gently reach up through the crown of the head, keeping the chin parallel with the floor.
If you would prefer an audio version, click here.
The lift in the chest you want to feel is not like your trying to puff it out (or stick out the breasts), it’s the feeling when you practiced lengthening your spine from seated. Take a moment and revisit the seated version, and then practice it standing. Variations are: palms together at heart, arms relaxed by sides palms forward or facing thighs, or part of a sun salutations with arms extended overhead with shoulders relaxed.
A few of the physical benefits are: strengthening the muscles of the feet, ankles, quadriceps, and abdominals; allowing the ankle, hip, shoulder and wrist joints to be in neutral positions, creating space for the lungs to fully expand with air.
You can practice Tadasana any time, any place, any amount of time: while doing the dishes, standing in the check-out line at the store, or taking a standing break while at work. It may seem too simple, and it is, but the benefits of standing taller and aware, breathing in a sense of calm and contentment, give a sense of confidence that comes as we connect the physical body with the spirit body.
The mountain is a symbol of integration of life: fully grounded, yet rising beyond.
“You are only as young as your spine”
“Lengthen your spine” is one of a handful of phrases you will hear in a yoga class. “Breathe,” “root down,” and “rise up” are a few others. “Lengthen your spine” has become a very important one for me because of the muscle activation that needs to happen and the safety it offers in EVERY. SINGLE. POSE. Let’s explore together. I am only beginning to learn about the spine and all its intricacies. I am not an anatomy expert (this guy is).
My current understanding: our spine is composed of discs, vertebrae, spinal fluid and cords, and muscles. It starts at the tailbone and ends at the base of the skull. It is the control system of the body, connecting the brain to everything else. You want to wiggle your toe, you need your spine to send that signal from the brain to the toe. The vertebrae are the support and protection for the spinal fluid and cords, the discs are the cushions that allow the spine to bend and move. As we age, the discs wear down, either getting smooshed or dried up (ouch!) creating stiffness and pain as a result of discs rubbing against each other, or pinching nerves.
Gravity takes a big toll on bodies and spines. We sit. We stand. We run. We hunch over. All that compression and uneven weight distribution over time weighs down the spine and squeezes the fluid out of the discs, think olives becoming oil. Except we don’t want to create oil, we want those discs to stay plump, firm and cushy.
Lengthening doesn’t happen on its own. It takes muscle activation and involvement. Those muscles are…..drum-roll….the core muscles!! “Strengthen your core” is a familiar phrase and just as important as “lengthen your spine.” The two go hand in hand, the body can’t successfully do one without the other. (See this post from Daily Bandha Lengthen torso in forward bend)
Learning what it feels like to activate those muscles is how you will learn to strengthen them. It’s easy, you can do this right now and I’ll give you the steps, just like I give in a yoga class.
- Come to a seated posture, legs extended out in front of you, and be lazy, let the spine round. (If you experience extreme discomfort in the low back or hamstrings, sit on the edge of a folded up blanket or small pillow.)
- Place your palms flat on the ground on either side of you hips.
- Inhale as you press your hands into the ground and notice what happens.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 until you feel something.
- Inhale press your hands into the ground and attempt to drag the hands back (they don’t actually move) and notice what happens.
- Repeat steps 6 & 7 until you feel something.
What did you notice? How did it feel?
As you placed your hands on either side of you hips, you may have noticed how you sat taller, the chest rose, the inhale was deeper, the engagement of the arms.
When you added on the pull back of the hands, you may have noticed the belly button pulling in towards the spine, shoulder blades drew down the back and together, the abs engaged.
Now do the exercise again and after step 6, keep everything engaged and just lift the hands off the floor. See if you can keep the same feeling of engagement and length.
Ta-da! You have learned how to actively lengthen and protect your spine. If you don’t currently have a yoga practice, then experience this every day, multiple times a day, especially when you feel tired or strain in the back. I’ll help you develop a yoga practice, keep coming back or leave a comment! If you do have a yoga practice, see how often you do (or don’t) engage the core muscles before you lengthen in a forward fold, or standing in your mountain pose, or anytime.
Share with me what you think. Namaste!
I am a big believer in practicing what you preach. It can be difficult, don’t get me wrong. It IS difficult. And I am going to toot my own horn today because I deserve it.
I had the opportunity to practice what I preach today.
First lesson, breathing in and through the moment of uncomfortableness because that moment is the only moment that is real. It is the only moment that can be truly controlled. I received some unpleasant news one hour before I needed to show up to teach. I was in shock, heart pounding, and hurt. All I could tell myself was to breathe; deep, steady breaths. It’s what I say to all my students as they are sitting with their hips on the heels, their toes tucked under in the appropriately name “broken-toe pose.” I took deep inhales, and loud exhales, releasing the stress and tension. I listened to my heart
beat pound in my ears, thinking, “I’ll meditate before class.” The Universe/God/Higher Self has a sense of humor. I didn’t get the time alone, in fact, I received the opportunity to work on lesson number two: putting my big girl panties on (being assertive) and dealing with the unpleasantness face-to-face. I, who runs from confrontation. I, who would rather deal with it through email. I, who would rationalize it away. I, who would try to ignore it. I did none of those things this time. I remained calmed and spoke. I remained calm and listened. I remained calm and taught my class. When thoughts of the future presented anxiety and possible tears, I came back to my breath and the present moment. And it worked. It truly worked!
Third lesson, show up on your mat. Instead of going home and pulling the covers over my head, I went to a yoga class. A grounding, challenging yoga class. I rolled out my mat and practiced. I focused on my inhale and exhale, how I moved through the poses, finding my inner strength and peace. I softened into my savasana and found my answer. I found love and peace and forgiveness for the hurt. I was able to authentically send love and blessings. I received peace about what to do that can only come when you take the time to ground and slow down and pay attention. I meditated and gained clarity and excitement about my solution.
Today, I showed up on my mat. Today, I experienced the peace I promise my students. Today, I took the lessons I learn on the mat into my life. Today, I share with you the importance of coming to your mat and live your life better. Today, I invite you to look at what you preach and find a way to live it!!