Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How not to be the best aunt ever, somskaras, and neuroplastcity

Recently, I was playing with my niece, rough-housing a little bit before dinner when she jumped onto my back from the arm of the couch. I spun her around and started dancing around in an half-hearted effort to shake her off. Then I started doing single leg lunges and leg squats.
“What’re you doing Aunt Sarah,” she giggled as she gripped my neck tighter than before.
“Squats!” I stated proudly.
“What’s a squat?”
“It’s an exercise to make your legs strong and your butt more lifted.”
“But you’re already so skinny Aunt Sarah.”
“Not skinny enough-” I responded.

NOT SKINNY ENOUGH?? I said that?! Out-loud?! To a ten-year-old?! Please, excuse me as I realize I’m the worst aunt in history and suppress my desire to off myself.....Okay, suicidal thoughts have subsided. So, what is that? What made me do that? I have spend hours and hours teaching my students that there is no perfect pose, that if you are not your strongest advocate than who will be, your unique body is beautiful, and that you are in this moment already enough.
     If you’ve read any of the previous posts you’ve probably gathered that I believe the universe is always working with you and will give you what you need to grow. I have noticed a pattern recently in myself, and I want to bring it to the foreground of my mind. In the past few months I have had three different people say the phrase, “It’s never enough for you, is it?” At the time I responded to these people in various ways: “Ha!” “Nope!”, “Of course you are/sometimes...”, “Sorry, I have high standards #sorryI’mnotsorry”. But, when this last friend said it to me I had no self assured clever quip to snap back. I hear you universe. Things are often not enough for me, and it breeds discontent.
    In yoga the evolution of a habit is called a samskara. Samskaras are habits of action/thought that get deeper all the time, like grooves in a muddy road. From both a neurobiological and a yogic perspective every time you think or do something you increase the likelihood that you will do it and think it again. In other words, the more I think and say “_______ is not enough” the deeper the pattern will become.
    Scientists and yogis alike talk about the difficulty in creating a new patterns. Luckily, the brain is plastic- like my nieces barbie dolls! Well, not exactly, but if you want to put that barbie doll in the microwave, and symbolically melt your psychological patterns of body-dysmorphia go for it. Or, you can create new patterns!     Neuroplasticity (plastic-brain) means that the brain is capable of change. When you preform a new action neurons (brain cells) create new connections, and the more often you do it, the stronger the neurological link becomes! Pow! Positive samskara. What better way to teach the brain to create new patterns than developing a habitual body practice like yoga? Patanjali, author of the Yoga Stutras, gives the best formula for deepening these positive grooves: practice consistently and over a long period of time. Take advantage of your neuroplasticity. Swami Vivekananda says, “The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits.” Please, excuse me while I practice my new samskara. “I am enough. You are enough. We are enough.”

** FUN FACT! Excuses can often get the best of us when trying to develop new samskaras. “I’m too busy, too sick, too tight, too______.” Yogis believe that there is great value in creative visualization. Imagine you are going through your practice in a step-by-step fashion. The benefit of practicing in your mind’s eye is that any samskara you’ve created through regular practice isn’t weakened by your absence from the mat, it is deepened. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tittbasana (Firefly) pose breakdown

This pose requires open hamstrings, strong arms, and PRACTICE! This description assumes you've warmed the body with a vinyasa flow. 

Step one:  I like to start this pose from Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend). Place your palms on your hips, inhale, pull in your belly and hinge forward from your hips. Place your palms on the mat, or the floor. Engage through your quadriceps to release your hamstrings for a deeper forward fold. Place the palms behind the ankles and take 5 breaths.

Step two: Bend your knees. Engage your belly as you start to drop your hamstrings back onto your triceps. Strengthen the shoulders by rounding through your upper back, while you simultaneously protect the front of the shoulders by broadening through the collarbone. As your weight starts to draw into the arms- think chaturanga- and press the floor away. Elbows in alignment with the wrists.  

Step three: Start with one leg and kick it- kick like you're going to shoot lightening bolts through your toes!

Step four: Kick the other leg! Keep lifting your pelvic floor- shortening the distance between the pubic bone and the navel. To come out- take the same steps backwards!