Carmine and I enjoyed our first class together with you. We hope that you had a few “Ahhhh” moments to release the layers of stress. Below are the descriptions of the poses that we went through in class complete with photos. Also I’ve included a review of the Equal Breath, Sankalpa and some suggestions for props. Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback from your first class or the blog.
*You will create your very own neck roll to use in class and bring home with you next week.
**Note in all poses, you may want to cover yourself up with a blanket to stay warm.
Props chair, 2-3 blankets, neck roll, eye pillow
Extras Sandbag, Webkinz stuffed animals
Benefits: relaxes the muscles of the lower back, legs, refreshes the legs, relaxes the muscles and organs of the abdomen. Blanket on belly or legs.
Place a blanket on chair so you don’t feel the hard surface. If you need to elevate the body, you can place a triple fold blanket in front of chair, then place your hips on blanket to one side, swing the legs up onto the seat of the chair as you lower your upper body onto the mat or floor. Use a neck roll to support cervical spine. Place a blanket or sandbag on legs to ground you in the pose. Arms release to the sides with palms turned up. Use an eye pillow to shut out any light for ultimate relaxation. An eye pillow or some type of weighted object (I’ve used stuffed animals) can be placed in open palms to move and free up energy. Stay for up to 10 minutes. Your beginning practice may consist of only 5 minutes. Feel the legs drain, the stress melt away.
Props: bolster, 2-3 blankets, block, neck roll, eye pillow
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the best to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!) laying down over these soft, supportive blankets and bolster will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow like water over the rocks in the water.
On your mat, place your bolster where your knees will be, one blanket rolled up, lengthwise where your bra line is (base of scapula), a block for the feet and a neck roll placed for the cervical spine. Lay yourself over these supports. Shoulders rest in space between neck and back roll are, palms facing up.A rolled up dish towel might work for ankle support. Eye pillows can be used to lay across the eyes, in the open palms, along the shoulders. Basically anywhere you need to release some tension which is inherent in tight muscles. In the beginning, stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations – For ankle support, rolled up dish towel; single or double fold blanket under lumbar spine, or a rolled up blanket next to wall with feet on blanket.
POSITIVE POWER A Sanskrit word, sankalpa means “will, purpose, or determination.” To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it’s like a New Year’s resolution with a yogic twist. While a resolution often zeros in on a perceived negative aspect of ourselves (as in, “I want to lose weight, so no more chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese”), a sankalpa explores what’s behind the thought or feeling (“I crave chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese when I’m feeling stressed or sad. I will set an intention to become conscious of this craving and allow my feelings to arise and pass, rather than fill up on fats”).
EFFORT COUNTS A sankalpa also praises the nobility of the effort rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong. “New Year’s resolutions leave me feeling guilty and mad at myself for not keeping them,” says Wendy McClellan, a yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. So, last year, in a conscious effort to reject the resolution rut, she taught a special New Year’s Eve yoga class and encouraged students to look back and let go. Her intention, or sankalpa? To open her heart to new possibilities. “An intention has much more of a global sense than a resolution,” she says. “It helps me be softer with myself.” With a sankalpa, the self-loathing that comes from dwelling on past transgressions can begin to dissolve. In its place is an exercise in effort and surrender—create an intention and open yourself to the universe.
LOOK INWARD For several days, set aside time to write in a journal and meditate. Mull over your typical resolutions. How do they make you feel? Anxious? Unsettled? Incomplete? Now contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year’s journey more joyful and worthwhile?
REPHRASE IT Create a short sentence or phrase for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of “May life bring me only happiness and joy this year” consider “May I be happy and open to what life brings me.”
BE FIRM BUT FAIR Change doesn’t happen overnight. When you stray from the essence of your sankalpa, don’t berate yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself of your intention. But be firm in your resolve—it’s a good idea to incorporate your sankalpa into yoru daily routine. Use it as a mantra during pranayama or meditation practice; post it on your computer, phone, or mirror; or simply say it to yourself quietly before going to sleep. —C.G
Catherine Guthrie is a writer and yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, and a regular contributor to Yoga Journal.
- blankets (the firmer the better), pillows (can be stacked), phone books (instead of blocks), rolled up hand towels, washclothes, stuffed animals, belts as straps, cushions from the sofa (firmer than bed pillows).