It is beautiful how much life is filled with moments where we decide to act and then realize how those actions affect others. This morning, I was on my way back home, when I spied a bird floundering in the road. I kept driving but right away I knew that when I got home, I would turn around and return to see if the bird was still in the road. I found a box at home to put the bird in and returned to the place on the road. That decision happened in a millisecond. But the affects of my decision could potentially last a lifetime. I got out of my own head and went to someone else’s aid and I stretched my heart a little more open to encompass all creatures big and small. I am not looking for kudos or “Atta boys” in my testimony but I’ve come to realize that even the smallest gesture of kindness, compassion can alter a life (good or bad). I hope I made that difference to this little bird as it took its last dying breaths. As it lay warm in my bathroom, I spoke to it, telling it that it was okay to let go. One final breath and it peacefully rested. Thank you little bird, thank you split second decision.
So we begin our practice again, welcoming our dear friends back and new friends in to our community. Each decision to come onto your mat and into your practice, no matter how hard or easy, makes a difference. You may feel it physically, or in your emotions or even mentally. This blog is yours to explore the many poses and breath techniques available, the inspirational articles and meditations. This week’s inspiration at the bottom of the blog highlights Sankalpa or Intention. Please feel free to comment on the blog about what you see or send me a private message.
1:1 Breath or Equal Breath
Find a comfortable seated position or laying down. Focus in on your breath, becoming aware of its pattern before beginning this breath. Make a conscious effort to inhale and exhale for the same count (2 to 3). Find a calm, steady awareness of the breath, the feel, the temperature, the way it enters and exits the body. Practice this breath anywhere. Continue this for 2 to 3 minutes.
Chest and Belly
Benefits: Very grounding, allows glut, thigh and low back muscles to relax while supporting the low back, can stimulate digestive system, ease anxiety
Props: 1-2 blankets
Place a blanket horizontally on your mat or floor. Lay down on the blanket with one edge of the blanket at top of thighs and the other end at low ribs to support the low back. Make any adjustments to height of blanket for comfort. Another blanket can be used for your head. Extend arms out to sides then bend elbows at 90 degree angle (Goddess arms), turn head to a side. When you need to turn your head to the other side, do so as you inhale softly.
Revolved Abdominal Twist
Props: bolster, 3 blankets, 1 extra blanket for warmth and or laying on lower back to ground
Benefits: Gentle twist for the spine (quadratus lumborom) Releases stress on the back muscles and a stretch to the intercostal muscles. As muscles relax, breathing is enhanced.
Set one bolster lengthwise on your mat. Depending upon your comfort, height can be elevated with blocks under bolster. Lay one blanket on top double-fold and one double-fold at end of bolster where your right hip will go. Sit next to bolster with your right hip touching it, bend knees, left or top ankle can lay in arch of right foot or other comfortable position for feet. For added comfort, place blanket between legs. Lengthen body over bolster, laying bent legs in one directions and upper body facing down on bolster. Arms drape down sides of the bolster.
Give your New Year’s resolutions a yogic twist—set an intention and infuse the new year with positive change.
A new year’s resolution is a noteworthy concept—start off the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You’re fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You’re unhealthy.) Call Mom and Dad once a week! (You’re ungrateful.) Why not celebrate this new year by trading in your tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead?
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.