Free Audio Practice

Here’s an audio practice that combines seated and standing asana. It’s a beginning to intermediate-level practice. Familiarity with moving from sitting to downward dog via crossed legs, and transitioning from wide-footed standing poses to a vertical lunge with the back heel off the floor are prerequisites for this practice.

 

 

The Power of Quitting

by Chelsea Doohan

Quitting gets a bad rap.

From childhood onwards there are few things someone can call you that are worse than “quitter”.

But wait a minute, there are also positive connotations to quitting, right? Quitting smoking or another bad habit sure is a positive thing. And. . . well, that’s actually the only thing I can think of that puts quitting in a positive light. Mostly it’s something we are taught NOT to do, at almost any cost.

So I want to stand up for quitting. I want to encourage you to do it, for reasons I’ll get into below.

Sure, there are times when persevering is a better choice than quitting. But we are so flooded with these stories of quitting=failure and persevering=success, I don’t think I need to write about them.

What doesn’t usually get discussed is what a profound purpose that quitting serves for any of us to function and thrive. This can range from the everyday–you quit one task because it’s time to attend to another, you quit eating because you are full–to the more significant decisions like quitting a relationship or a job that isn’t working.

Sometimes persevering works, but there is often a point when persevering just ends up hurting you and quitting is the skillful thing to do. The yoga of quitting is recognizing when that shift happens.

The yoga of quitting also involves awareness of how it feels after you quit something. If you stay alert in that space, you will possibly notice two things. One, there may be some yucky feelings left over from ingrained beliefs about quitting. Two, there are also other feelings, which might, in contrast, be quite pleasurable. I would describe it as a feeling of relief, spaciousness, and ease.

Quitting one thing opens up space for other things.

This is kind of obvious but also worth sitting with.

I remember a period of time when I was a music student and I played both the clarinet and the cello. I was enthusiastic and dedicated to practicing each one. I was getting better at both.

But I was aiming for the Oberin Conservatory, and there came a time when I just knew I would have to step it up if I was going to get in. There weren’t enough hours in the day to do that with both instruments.

I had to face it: I couldn’t do both. Not at the level I wanted. I had to let one go. I quit the clarinet, and it still hurts to write about it! I was heartbroken at first, but looking back, I absolutely did the right thing.

I was then able to focus on the cello, and I did get into Oberlin. What is more, playing only one instrument opened up a world of pleasure that I didn’t have access to before. I felt spacious, and I could really dig into my cello studies. I immersed myself in the music. I didn’t feel so tense all the time, so worried about whether I was going to be able to fit these two different things into my schedule, always feeling behind on both of them because I was trying to do too much and was spread too thin.

This story might apply to you if you are an achiever. If it is your inclination to do a lot of things and say yes to every opportunity, you might find it refreshing to quit something and feel the spaciousness that arises. The quitting opens up the space, so that other things can take root and grow.

When I really look at it, I realize that before almost any positive change can happen, there is first some little or big quitting that precedes it.  This brings me to my final point for today, which is:

Quitting Is Part of Success.

Like my story shows, quitting something doesn’t have to mean failure. It can actually be a crucial part of success.

Here is another example: Say an olympic athlete wins a gold medal. That’s a big success. Behind and underneath that big success are hundreds if not thousands of both little and big quittings that have made it possible. . . . Everything from the macro level, like quitting other sports or activities to focus on just one, or perhaps quitting eating certain foods… to the micro level, like quitting certain techniques or habits that are getting in the athlete’s way, or quitting certain negative thoughts in order to repopulate the mind with more positive ones.

Another way of saying this is that our brains get really crowded when we try to add new behaviors, thoughts, or habits without first clearing some space for them. Fuller success comes from a more spacious place.

I will share a quotation from Herman Hesse:

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”

Indeed. Letting go (quitting) has the dual quality of being scary/painful on the one hand, but so easy and such a relief on the other hand.

Skillful quitting, like anything, takes practice. Meditation is great for this. Here is a short practice if you would like to experience some of that feeling of ease and relief that comes with quitting.

  • Either on your yoga mat or in some other place where you can sit comfortably, sit in an upright position that you can maintain for a few minutes. Sukhasana (crossed legs) elevated on blankets is ideal, but a chair works well too.
  • Turn your attention inward. Observe your thoughts for several minutes.
  • Then, one by one, quit them. Just say “I quit.” Let them go. They will be there when you need them, but right now, you don’t need them. You can just quit them.

If your mind wanders, don’t worry about it, because you are still practicing quitting. You aren’t doing all the other things you do in your life. You have, for the time being, quit doing those things. Even if your thoughts take over and you can’t manage to quit thinking, you are still doing the practice because you have still quit a lot of things just to be there.

Let pleasure guide you with this. Do you get relief from quitting? or is this an uncomfortable space? If you get pleasure from this, it’s okay to trust that. If it’s difficult to be in that space, be gentle with yourself and maybe start with smaller quittings at first.

We always like to hear about your experiences with practice. If you have a comment, leave it here.

Melting is Messy Business

     

Eric here,

There are a just a few more spots left in the Spring Intensive. With these remaining slots, we can make space for partial attendance. If you’d like to drop in for just one or two days, let us know.

This coming week, another opportunity exists for some extra yoga immersion. In partnership with Jill Blake and Piece of Quiet Studio, I will be teaching 2 special classes on Tuesday the 24th (Restoratives), and Thursday the 26th (Breathing). Both are at 2:00 PM and run to 3:30.

Tuition for these events is a drop-in of $15/$10 for students, or pay what you can. For more information on these events, click here.

And before we get to this week’s post from Chelsea, please note, Ali’s Tues. 7 PM vinyasa is not happening on 3/24.

Melting is Messy Business

by Chelsea Doohan

Here in Massachusetts, everyone is talking about it: The snow is melting!
After the winter we’ve had, this is big news and a big relief.

As much as we love that Spring is coming and the snow piles are shrinking, the residue can be pretty unattractive during this in-between time when the snow is no longer fresh but hasn’t yet disappeared…. 

The remaining piles seem to be magnets for dirt and grime. The more they melt, the more filthy water runs down the streets and sidewalks; piles of grey (or yellow), half-frozen sludge remain for now; and all the run-off from the melting creates lots of mud.  

When I was driving past some ugly sludge piles the other day, I realized that at times something inside a person needs to melt as well, and it can be just as messy. 

I’m talking about big things but also little things, like a knot of muscle in your back, a ball of worry or tension in your gut, or a tightening of your jaw in anger.

Doesn’t it feel nice when those things melt? Well, sometimes. And other times, melting is a painful process. These little things can be covering up bigger things. When it all feels like too much to unpack, a person is more likely to just stay in the stuck and frozen patterns. (At least they are familiar and.)

But melting, little by little, is possible, and yoga can help.

In a yoga class, most of life’s outward distractions get left at the studio door, which leaves you face to face with any inward distractions, and whatever presents itself in your own body and mind. This can be a very uncomfortable place to be. But it is also an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to let go of stuck patterns that have a hold on you. In a safe and supportive class context, it is less unpleasant to engage this process of melting, compared to trying to make these changes on your own.

Remember that sometimes in our bodies–just like an icy walkway–things get messy before they become more ordered and tidy. In the process, it can feel about as lovely as a grimy slush pile.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of beauty underneath it all.

And it doesn’t mean it’s not worth the melting.  

What is Spring without a little mud? What would rivers be without snow melt to feed them?

We need the melting. And we need not fear the messiness of it.

Keep in mind that all that beautiful messiness benefits from a container. One of the important things you get when you purchase a yoga class is that container, a space in which the messiness of melting is supported and even encouraged.

Spring can be such a busy time that getting to a yoga class becomes challenging. But if your life is hectic, now might be exactly when you need the container of a class to support and guide you. A little structure can go a long way.

I invite you to come, with all of your messiness, to one of Solaluna’s studio classes, where teachers endeavor to provide a friendly and supportive space in which to melt and open the stuck parts of yourself.  Click here to see all the schedule information.

As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

Looking forward to a muddy Spring!

Chelsea

Channeling Enthusiasm

The Spring Intensive is two weeks away, and registration is chugging along, just about half-full at this point. If you are looking to jump in, remember that the early registration date is a week away, March 20, the first day of spring.

A few days ago I was having a conversation with Renee Steinbrenner about the first time she participated in an intensive. It was a year or so after she had begun attending classes at Solaluna. There were three things she mentioned about the experience that happen to be relevant to today’s subject.

  • First, she mentioned being a little apprehensive, but excited to do it, and she ultimately surprised herself with how much she could do.
  • Second, she found a feeling of support and camaraderie from the other people participating: “It helped me connect with people and the studio on a deeper level.”
  • Third, she discovered, and continues to find much more motivation and ability to practice at home following an intensive.

These three things all connect to a sense of enthusiasm for yoga, which is the subject of today’s post. We’ll also look at how to handle that enthusiasm when it’s present.

So what needs handling or dealing with when someone is really motivated? Being fired up to do yoga is great when it occurs… What’s the problem?

As it happens, people often fluctuate between periods of interest and disinterest. This is completely normal, but sometimes the cycle back and forth happens in a way that starts to deplete the practice.

Sometimes, exactly in the moments when yoga is most awesome and interesting, the wheel of attention starts to turn the other way. Energy and focus dissipate.

Fortunately, yoga itself offers a lot of insight as to why this happens and how to avoid it. Yoga can help distribute enthusiasm so that it’s more even, with fewer highs and lows.

Being able to do this draws on elements found in the three things Renee picked up during her first intensive:

  • Finding a space that supports healthy challenges.
  • Connecting with community.
  • Gaining inner resources to keep things going.

Enthusiasm can lead a person to locate these things, and they in turn can feed and nourish enthusiasm. Still, this process can sometimes appear mysterious and haphazard. In order to better understand enthusiasm then, we’re going to explore the meaning of a very important Sanskrit word.

Tapas (not a Spanish small-plate meal).

In yoga, eagerness for practice is expressed powerfully in a single word: tapas. It literally means heat, and is often translated as strong desire for practice. More than an abstract idea, tapas is viewed as a substance that may be gathered or expended.

Tapas can wax and wane. Some circumstances and actions support strong tapas while other conditions drain it.

On the draining side of the spectrum, here’s a biggie:

There’s a curious thing that happens to many people when things are going really well, when they are most enthusiastic– they settle back, and let attention get a little hazy…

… and before you know it, the practice is in the weeds and enthusiasm gets drained.

One reason this happens is that enthusiasm requires energy. It has an intensity that can’t be sustained all the time. Taking a break is perfectly reasonable. Yet there are ways to step out of the intensity of tapas without letting go of the reins completely.

This connects to the second reason for depleted enthusiasm.

No Place to Go

Eagerness serves people when it can be channeled into something that fits their interests and abilities. If someone is inspired to expand their yoga but they don’t connect with anything that meets their motivation, then inspiration will dissipate.

A Place to Go

On the other hand, tending to a few elements that inspire and absorb enthusiasm goes a long way toward keeping the practice as steady flame.

In this way, the three elements that Renee discovered during her first intensive are great references in general for figuring out the sort of practice that makes sense for you

If you happen to feel ready to move a step beyond the demands of a regular studio class, if you are interested in connecting with people who share a similar inclination, and if you’d like some help in supporting a home practice when you can’t get to class, then the Spring Intensive is definitely something to look into. To find out more or to register, click here.

 

 

Getting the Full Effect

If you’ve ever tended a garden in the middle of a dry summer, you likely understand how important it is to be thorough with the watering.

When the ground is parched, an incomplete irrigation won’t saturate the soil, which causes roots to grow ever further afield in search of water, stressing the plants. On the other hand, when the soil is fully hydrated, the effect on plants is obvious. They practically glow with satisfaction.

Doing yoga is a bit like watering a garden. If a practice happens here or there, the effects are unlikely to penetrate in the ways that are most supportive.

Of course, what constitutes a thorough, satisfying practice will be different for different people, just as sweet potatoes, corn, and melons all need different amounts of water.

For some, one yoga class per week plus a bit of  practice at home provides valuable and sufficient effect. Other people feel the need for more.

Whatever your current level of practice, it’s worth taking the time to consider, are the effects of your practice penetrating in a way that feels fully satisfying?

If the answer to this question is no, maybe, or not sure, the Spring Intensive could be just the thing to help you gather and receive the deeper effects of a yoga practice. And because it’s three days, rather than the full week of the summer and winter courses, it offers a manageable step up if you are accustomed to attending a studio class or two every week.

Come and quench that thirst. Give yourself some nourishment. Have a look here.

Umm… isn’t that a bit much yoga?

So just as plants can get over-watered, can there be too much yoga? Eleven hours of yoga in three days seems to be a lot.

As I mentioned in the last post, this is a really common question. It helps to understand that we don’t spend the entire intensive doing the most challenging poses possible. That would bun people out.

Instead, the intensive provides a balance of active, meditative and restorative practice. This allows students to fully engage with the practice without generating aggravation or strain. It lets people address a broader spectrum of needs and encourages a full immersion.

Often plants can use a deep watering that really saturates them– maybe you do as well? Take a look for yourself. You can jump in with us or ask any question you may have.

Wishing you well as the weather warms up.

Eric

 

My Introduction to the Alexander Technique

by Jim Froelich

I studied viola in college, and it was there that I met an Israeli violinist who was one of the best string players at the school. He was also an excellent tennis player.

He and I lived in the same boarding house, and I would hear him pick up his violin in the morning and play phrases beautifully and easily, without warming up. It felt like the sun rising.

He mentioned that he had spent time training to teach something called the Alexander Technique. He told us it was a method for doing things more easily. Based on hearing and seeing him play, there was something to this.

While this violinist was a very free and natural player, he hadn’t always been. He talked about his previous struggles: he had asked his teacher how to improve faster, and was told to practice more. He had followed this advice but it hadn’t helped much–in fact, he just felt fatigued.

More Ease

Then he encountered the Alexander Technique, and it transformed his life. His playing improved “on its own” without overwork, and he enjoyed playing more, with less effort.

Interestingly, this technique was not only applicable to music.  He also spoke of tennis shots that he could now return that he previously couldn’t reach.

This young man went on to have a busy performing career.

A Significant Impression

He must have made a real impression on me, because after I transferred to a different school, I perked up whenever I heard this Alexander Technique mentioned, which led me to take Alexander lessons with different teachers. Eventually, I became a teacher myself.

Before starting the Alexander work, I played viola with what I would now call a pressed sound. I was trying to push my way through difficult passages (without fully realizing I was doing this). I was forcing the actions of both my bowing and fingering hands.

I had studied for many years with a viola teacher who played well and emphasized the importance of working harder, even when fatigued. Finally I seemed to exhaust the possibility to improve.

But when I took Alexander lessons, my playing underwent a shift, and I seemed to be able to learn a level of playing that I could not otherwise attain. Fortunately, this time coincided with finding teachers whose approach complemented the Alexander work. My sound became more round and full, and the movements of playing flowed better, and were easier.

In my orchestra work I could stay aware of more things in the moment: hearing my playing, hearing the section and larger groups, seeing the conductor, and adjusting as needed.

Not So Nervous

I was also less bothered by nervousness in performing. The sense of flexible control in my playing had increased greatly.

The lessons in the Alexander work had other benefits as well. I had more energy in general and better stamina, and I slept more soundly.

I have seen similar kinds of improvements in students who have studied with me.

Recently I heard a  student reflect on the benefits of the Alexander Technique. One major problem he described was fear of performing. He also felt confusion about the presence of pain and discomfort: why it was there, and what to do about it.

Finding Solutions

The student said several solutions developed from lessons. He gained awareness of unhelpful and restrictive habits of movement and thinking, and lost his fear of performing, while learning to be more playful about it.

This student had taken only five lessons when this conversation occurred.  I have seen many people benefit similarly.

I sometimes start a lesson by asking what the student would like to do with less pain, better focus, and greater ease. It could be a simple activity such as walking, sitting without discomfort, or moving with more freedom.

Or it could be something more involved such as speaking in public, playing a concerto, or performing a dance on stage.

If you have anything like this that you’d like to look at, consider joining us at Solaluna for the Alexander Technique classes we have coming up at 3:00 PM on Saturday, Feb. 28.

Meditation for Tenacious Thoughts

This week we have a free audio recording for you: a meditation that’s helpful for focusing attention and letting go of distracting thoughts.

A Practice for Focus

by Eric Stewart

This week, I’ve recorded a practice that’s good for developing focus and clear attention. It involves bringing awareness to physical sensations.

Giving yourself a chance to notice simple sensations develops the ability to stay alert for longer periods of time. As you get better at this, you may find that the skill transfers to other areas of your life where attention and focus are helpful.

It’s about ten minutes long and can be done either sitting or reclining.

 

Love That Learning

I’m writing this from New York City, where I’m doing a course  on nerves– using manual techniques to release restrictions around and in nerve fibers, which allows them to lengthen.

The workshop is led by one of my favorite instructors, and I’m grateful for the chance to soak up new information and become more proficient in this very amazing work.

When I started learning these techniques (which were developed by a French Osteopath, Jean-Pierre Barral), I felt like I was all thumbs. As with any skill, it requires time, instruction, mistakes and insights. It also requires curiosity and a willingness to harvest one’s mistakes for deeper insight.

Sometimes in the middle of that process, I’ve wondered if I’d ever gain the skill to be truly effective, and while I am essentially at the level of an apprentice in relation to the teachers who’ve been practicing for many decades, I’m inspired by their ability and have come to feel on a solid footing in my own expression of the work.

The learning process in the nerve work is the same thing people encounter in yoga, music, dance, or in athletics. This learning process is such a powerful, vital thing.

If you are in a learning process with something, and it’s healthy for you, good on you! Keep it up!

If you’d like to find more learning in your life, listen to what speaks to you. Find something that both challenges and nourishes you. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

At Solaluna, we have programs that stimulate and encourage learning in a variety of ways, ranging from styles of yoga and meditation, exploration of movement through Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique, private instruction using yoga and bodywork, and also in-depth intensives and teacher training programs.

Check out our schedule and offerings to see how we might be of service to you in your own learning process. We appreciate when you benefit from what we offer.

Lastly, a big thanks from me to everyone at Solaluna: those of you who subbed my classes, kept things running the past few days, and put out this newsletter. I’m grateful to have a chance to explore and come back with new stuff.

Strength Starts With Support

by Eric Stewart

For many beginning and intermediate students, plank poses and arm balances are among the most difficult asanas to learn. Maintaining strength in the arms and activation of the abdomen can appear to be the key to learning such poses.

Yet when people ask me about these asanas I generally steer away from focusing too much on the triceps and the abdominal muscles, because in my experience there is something more fundamental, something that is a foundation for all the strength, coordination and presence necessary to do any sort of plank, arm balance or handstand.

The Fundamental Thing

This fundamental thing is easy to miss: it’s the support of the floor, or to be more specific, your experience of that support.

In a post two weeks ago, I described how Simple Yoga is about clarifying perception. I related how attending to simple things within asana practice is an essential way to hone perception.

The support of the floor is one such simple thing.

Giving attention to the support of the floor means being present to the sensations of the body in contact with the floor, and being present to sensations of weight and gravity. Sometimes in attempting to do this, both beginning and advanced students alike fall into a habit of abstracting or analyzing these things, which is not so helpful.

Being Here

Instead, this part of the practice is about being with sensation as fully as possible. In doing so, the body and mind shift into a favorable state to build strength, increase flexibility, or develop any other capacity that the moment requires.

This is a different way of looking at strength, a different way of understanding how to expand an asana. With asanas that need a lot of strength, people often end up straining, believing that the effort will lead to progress.

And effort can create progress, but it has limits. In large part this is because effort can end up obscuring the connection with the ground and other supports, which is where the strength begins.

What the Ground Does

If you’d like to see what the ground can do for you, it’s important to assess what your capacity is and work with a practice that is just challenging but not overwhelming. For you this may be a straight-arm plank, full chatturanga dandasana (bent arms), an arm balance such as bakasana (crow) or lolasana (the scales), or handstand.

If you choose a pose where your body is in a long axis such as plank or handstand, make sure that you don’t collapse in your low back . If you’re not sure, you might want to have someone assess this for you.

Whatever you choose, make sure that the pose is not so challenging that your awareness of weight, gravity and tactile sensation gets overwhelmed.

If any of the above poses are too much, you can explore a plank pose with your knees on the ground (starting on a diagonal line that runs from knees thru hips, shoulders and head, and then slowly lowering to the floor). Or you can stand arms-length from a wall with palms on the wall and slowly bend the arms to bring your forehead to the wall.

Working Less to Feel More

Play with working a bit below your maximum effort and use the energy that you conserve to gain more awareness of your body’s experience and your relationship with the support underneath you.

Any asana can be a pathway to more challenging possibilities if you give yourself the time and the space to feel and be aware.

One of the things I love about floor support in asana practice is that it reveals that the practitioner is not alone, which is reassuring because an unsupported arm balance or a chatturanga that has nose-dived into a puddle on the floor might sometimes feel alone and perhaps a little hopeless.

Support Connects

Framing the practice in terms of support provides connection to resources and information outside oneself, yet connected to oneself. The great news is that you’re not alone!

The floor and the ground are always present, and they have so much to offer. The stories they tell sometimes!

They are noble teachers.