Lift your chin and look forward as you head into the holiday season!Read More
How do we move from physical insights to spiritual wisdom? Making connections between the physical and the spiritual.Read More
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A meditation practice using the breath to look back on the year and listen for what God is saying to you.Read More
I love to travel, but I'm not a very good traveler. I don't like sleeping on strange beds. Sitting in a car or an airplane for hours on end is my idea of hell on earth. I get stiff and cranky. I need room to move. I don't like strange beds. I want my own pillow.
Recently Hubs and I took a very long trip to South Florida. There was family involved, which was wonderful. But it was also seven and a half hours in the car, which was not so good. We took turns driving. I'm no good after a couple of hours gripping a steering wheel, so I literally watched the clock. Every hour to an hour and a half, we stopped at a gas station or a fast food chain or a rest stop. Ten minutes to stretch, walk around, do yoga in the grass or the parking lot. And then back in the car. I survived the trip with a few helpful hints to pass along if you're planning a trip this summer.
Ujayi Breathing while Driving
It's surprising how tense I get just driving a car down the road. Ujayi breathing was a big help with this tension.
Sit well in the driver's seat. Gently tuck the tailbone, lift the spine, tuck the chin, and lean the head against the head rest. Open the shoulders by broadening across the collarbone, externally rotate the upper arms, find your index finger mound at the steering wheel. Keep your grip soft. Draw the shoulder blades down the back. Begin a gentle ujayi breath. Pay attention to the road. It should go without saying that you keep your eyes open, but for those of you who tend to completely zone out when you start this kind of breathing: Don't close your eyes! Just breathe, gently and regularly.
Need help with ujayi breathing? Click here.
My Favorite Stretches for the Parking Lot or the Rest Stop
You don't even have to take your shoes off. Use the car or a post like you would use the wall in the yoga studio.
Half Forward Fold (Parsva Uttanasana)
Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Wide Legged Forward Fold (Prasaritta Padottanasana)
At Your Destination
Be sure you find some time to lie on the floor in a constructive rest position. Lie on your back with a towel, blanket, or small pillow beneath your head. Rest your calves on a chair, sofa, or a low table. If you can't find one that is the right height (you want soft right angles at the knees and hips), place your feet on the floor about 16 to 18 inches from your hips and let your knees fall together. Practice an ujayi breath for ten to twenty minutes. Click here if you need more info on constructive rest.
We will work consistently in classes over the summer on these three shoulder poses. I hope you will incorporate them into your daily routine at home. Our goal is to open the space between the front of the shoulders and the chest.
When we type, read, eat, and drive, we tend to lean forward, rounding the back. This over-stretches the muscles of the upper back and shortens the muscles of the chest. The shoulders roll forward and the inner arms turn inward. With these three poses, we will work toward correcting those imbalances. These poses come from an article by Doug Keller posted at Yoga International. You can read the entire article here, 3 Poses for Neck and Shoulder Pain. You might have to register with Yoga International to read, but it's free and simple.
· Purvottanasana (Upward Plank) Prep (the seated pose)
Sit on the floor, bend your knees so your feet are comfortably in front of you. Hands on the floor about 12-16 inches behind you, wider than your hips, fingers pointing forward. (Use a folded towel or blanket under the heel of the hand if you have wrist pain.)
- Inhale, draw your shoulders back, keep the elbows bent and upper arms parallel.
- Keep the hips on the floor and lift and open your upper chest. You should feel the stretch just below the collarbones.
- As you inhale, press into the index finger mounds, lift the chest, and straighten the arms
Standing Stretch with Arms Behind
Bend your elbows and interlace your fingers behind you. Separate the palms. Hands may rest on the upper buttocks.
- Keep the elbows bent. Square your shoulders so they are not drawing forward.
- Draw the shoulders back and the elbows toward each other.
- Don't try to straighten the arms, instead work to bring the upper arms parallel to one another.
- If this stretch is too intense, place a strap around the hands. See photo above.
- To increase the stretch, keep your chest lifted and draw your hands away from your back.
Standing Shoulder Stretch at the Wall
Stand next to a wall. Feet separated, but parallel. Place the fingertips of one hand on the wall at shoulder height with your arm fully extended. Rest the other hand on your hip.
- Tent the fingertips on the wall. Rotate your arm so the thumb points upward.
- Keep the shoulder aligned with your hand.
- Lift and open the chest with your breath, rolling your collarbones back.
- Twist from the waist, turn just your upper body, extending through your arm to the fingertips, as though your could press the wall away.
My morning yoga routine wakes me up and gets me ready to begin the day.Read More
One of my favorite things about a good yoga class is the savasana at the end. The physical work has prepared me for this stillness. I love finding the pause between the exhale and the inhale and staying there in that deep silence for a moment longer. I love this place of stillness. It’s a place designed for listening. As a Christian doing yoga, the voice I listen for is the voice of a loving Father God. But so many people don’t know how to discern this voice.
I’ve begun teaching a class on Listening Prayer, so I thought I would share some of the tools I use to listen to God here.
The revealed word of God, the Bible, is always the touchstone for hearing God. It is our “central reference point by which all other forms of listening prayer are kept in proper perspective,” as Richard Foster says in Celebration of Discipline. It’s also a great place to begin training yourself to recognize God’s voice.
Begin this exercise with a short verse. I often use Galatians 4:6. And because you are sons (daughters), God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father!”
Sit down and relax. Open your hands as though you are willing to receive a gift. Think about God’s love for you and his presence with you.
Repeat the verse to yourself several times. Pause between repetitions and respond. Whatever arises in your heart, just speak it aloud. You may find you have a question, a request for wisdom or understanding, an expression of gratitude or praise. Respond with whatever spontaneously comes to mind. Then flow right back to repeating the verse. Don’t fret or strive, just continue to repeat the verse if no response comes to you.
Then take a few minutes to be still. Ask God to speak to you. Again, don’t fret. Just allow space and time for hearing his voice.
Practice saying the verse again, as though it was God’s voice speaking it to you. After all, the scriptures are God’s word to you. So hear it like this:
And because you are my son (daughter), I have sent the Spirit of my Son into your heart, (insert your name) crying, “Abba, Father!”
Keep a notebook for recording what you hear. That way you can come back to God’s words to you again and again.
Back bends open the body. Not just the chest, but the heart.
Even the simplest back bends stretch and strengthen the muscles at the front of the chest, abdomen, and legs. Of course, they work on the muscles of the back, too, as they contract to bring us into poses like salabasana (locust pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose), and even virabhadrasana I (warrior 1).
With a focus on the opening chest, inhale and lengthen the torso. Draw the shoulder blades down the back, using the lower third of the trapezius muscle. On the exhale, draw the shoulder blades toward the midline while lifting the low belly in and up to activate the abdominals. Keep the abdominals gently activated as you take the next inhale, continuing to lengthen the torso.
This is a combination of cues that can be used in any back bending pose. Experiment with a few and feel the chest open.
As for the heart opening, I do love this aspect of back bends. I gently lift my face as I open my chest, looking up and out of myself to the Creator, listening for his words to me. As God speaks to us, he often speaks affirmation and love. We learn to listen, to take those words into our open hearts and believe in their truth.
So often we live under a hellish double standard. We have no problem speaking words of affirmation to others and believing their truth. We can tell them that they matter, that they are created in God’s image, that they are pleasing to God. But we turn around and say things to ourselves, like “I’m an idiot,” “I’ll never get it right,” “I’m so stupid.” Things we would never dream of saying to a friend.
We must learn to take those thoughts captive. To hear what is true. To lift our face to heaven and believe the words God speaks to us and about us. Back bends are a good place to start.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. Jeremiah 1:5
Let this be your mantra as you practice this week. Open your heart. Believe.
So many of us suffer with shoulder issues. As you can see from the picture above, the shoulder is a complex joint. It’s a type of ball and socket joint. However, it’s unlike the hip where the ball of the femur bone fits into the socket on the pelvis. The ball of the humerus bone (upper arm) doesn’t have a actual socket to fit into. The end of the collarbone and the shoulder blade come together to form a shelf, called the acromion process. The head of the arm bone glides against an indentation in this shelf and the contraction of the rotator cuff muscles holds it there. This gives the joint lots of movement, but also causes it to be relatively unstable. Meaning it’s easy to injure.
Finding Solutions for my Shoulder Issues
I’ve been wrestling with irritation in my right shoulder for a couple of months. I’ve modified my yoga practice, cutting back on poses that require my shoulders to bear weight, like downward dog, plank, and handstand. Most of these poses can be done from the forearms with elbows bent with similar benefits to the body.
I’ve done my rotator cuff exercises with a Theraband from the physical therapist. And another exercise with another band from the chiropractor. Over the holidays, I took some time to scan through the Internet for yoga articles on strengthening the shoulders and came up with a few that I can recommend.
This one by Doug Keller is an excellent source of information for recovery, but also prevention. I’ve been working on headstand set up at the wall and looking forward to moving to the floor as I feel strength returning.