Dear Sweet Community,
I had such a lovely, but brief, trip to San Francisco and Big Sur. The scenery was, as usual, pretty stunning. While I miss such a beautiful landscape, this trip was mostly about my community. Not only those of you I did get to see, but also those of you I didn't get to see. My heart feels really full with all of you. Upon returning home, I also saw the familiar faces here in Lewisburg. This reminded me of the capacity the heart has to stretch and grow with more connections.
It seems fitting that I use that word "stretch"...
In yoga we think of the word stretch as a physical thing, as if the physical body is the only factor in stretching. However, the physical body is stretching and supple because it needs to yield and grow with the spirit. So todays alignment tip is about heart opening. What does it mean to open the heart both physically and emotionally?
Alignment Tip of The Week:
I love heart opening practices. I love designing them and doing them. Partially because the anatomy of heart opening is so interesting. I will walk you through some basic principles to heart opening that I hope will support you in your practice.
The first thing to remember about heart opening is that it is an emotional state. It is in fact a choice. So entering a heart opener while guarding or retreating from the heart will never work. In a heart opener we are moving towards-not away from.
In all heart openers (aka back bending asana), the heart is exposed. If you lift your arms straight up to the sky and then bend your elbows so you look like a cactus and draw the shoulder blades down the back, you will notice that your heart will open. This is because the shoulders are the doorway to the heart. If the shoulders come up by the ears they will close the front of the heart and the low back will round. If you draw the shoulders down the back then the heart and lower back will arch up and open like you are reversing the letter "c". So backbending is about making sure the shoulders as well as the hip flexors are open. Try taking some sun salutations with warrior I and several rounds of plank to downward facing dog to warm up the shoulders. I also like to do a few lunges to get into the hip flexors. Once the shoulders are open you can move on to back bending.
A really profound exercise to do with someone you love is to face each other standing with your feet hip distance apart. Have this person hover his/her hand right in front of your heart and keep it always one inch away from your heart. Next come back to your cactus arms and lean forward into your toes, feel the pressure in the front side of the body. Take a deep inhale and lift your ribs off of your hips, feel the ribcage widen and the heart puff up. As you exhale, press the elbows back and take a half backbend. Feel your heart press forwards towards this person in front of you, offer them your heart as the rest of you peels away in the backbend. This standing backbend will help you understand how much backbending has to do with heart opening.
The two foundational heart openers are bridge and wheel pose. Both of these poses start the same way: Lie on your back with the feet planted on the earth hip distance apart, the toes turned inwards and heels slightly out. Reach your fingers to see if they can graze the heels. This is because we want the joints to be able to distribute the burden of he backbend.
For bridge pose (setubandha-sarvangasana), rest the arms on the earth and bend the elbows drawing the shoulder blades down the back and then return the hands to rest on the earth again.
-Lift the hips off of the ground.
-Reach your knees away from you and roll the quadriceps inwards.
-Shimmy the shoulders underneath you and possibly interlace the fingers pressing the hands into the floor underneath your hips. Shut your eyes and reach the heart towards the space around you. You are pressing up into the front side of the body but relax your butt.
You may also do this pose with a block underneath your hips to stabilize the low back and make it more restorative. This variation is good for those who have a low back injury or hyper mobility in the back.
Wheel pose (urdhva dhanurasana) is a deeper bridge. For wheel, start the same as bridge send the arms to the sky and pretend you are grabbing a steering wheel, draw the shoulder blades down the back. Bend the elbows and bring your hands by your shoulders. Turn the wrists outward slightly. This will encourage the elbows to come into the ribs opening the heart. Inhale to the top of your head and then exhale straightening the arms. Again, make sure the toes and quadriceps spiral inwards. Reach the knees away and the heart in the other direction. You can try straightening the legs or raise the heels. Imagine you are reaching your heart into the hands of someone you love.
The backbending practice is called "nadi shodhana" in the Astanga series. It clears the Nadi's or energetic channels. It balances the nervous system. A few years ago in an Astanga class, after a very difficult experience in my life, my teacher was spotting me in a standing backbend and he said to me, "Ariel, breathe into your wounded heart with abandon". It was the most amazing experience. I would like to impart these words to you as well, "be in your heart with full abandon"... and do a backbend in the park before it gets too cold!!!
THE MINDFUL PRACTICE
With Ariel Howland and Jason Leddington
A 3day/2night retreat: February 3rd-5th, 2017
Mayacamas Ranch, Calistoga, CA
Every year, after the holidays, do you crave some self care?
Simply put, self care and pampering is what this retreat is all about. Set in the extraordinary scenery of Mayacamas Ranch, nestled in the vineyards of Calistoga, join us on an oasis built just for you...
We will practice some yoga. Yoga which is meant to restore, and vinyasa classes to detox. (4 classes in total with Ariel). Each class will be unique; attending to your body, soul, and deepening your connection to the practice.
We will learn to meditate (2 sessions with Jason). Meditation is a tool for getting all blissed out and learning how to stay blissed out. Jason will be sharing with us tools specifically for stress reduction which you can take with you (*see below for Jason's bio).
We will eat REALLY, RIDICULOUSLY good food. We will chat and have a bonfire; we will build community.
You are welcome to enjoy free time; hiking, swimming in the pool or soaking in the hot tub, go local wine tasting or get a massage!! (because this is your oasis).
WE are so excited to bring you to this deeply calming place. We are equally as excited to attend to you and give you the space to to feel nourished.
Price of Admission:
- $850 Single
- $700 Double
- $550 Dorm (Yikes, sign up now these fill fast!)
TO REGISTER CLICK HERE.
(*Jason Leddington is a philosophy professor at Bucknell University where he incorporates mindfulness meditation into his classes. He has been studying and practicing meditation since 2004. He is currently doing his training in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Method. )
None at this time...
*Remember to check out the other amazing workshops that are happening at the yoga studios:
See you on the mat,