My Favorite Sutra

My Favorite Sutra

My Favorite Sutra

In my first teacher training, we, of course, had to study the Yoga Sutras. I think it was in our first weekend (we came together for long weekends every other month) we were assigned to begin reading this for the next weekend. So I went home, and opened up my copy. Sutra 1.1: Atha Yoga Anusasanam, or Now begins the authoritative instruction of yoga or Now begins the Study of Yoga.

My favorite sutra: Atha Yoganushasanam

My favorite sutra: Atha Yoganushasanam

Wow. Blew my socks off. I couldn’t get past this one. Now – Atha. So this word in Sanskrit carries some meaning. It is used to imply that you are prepared and have been deemed prepared by the teacher. At that time, I wasn’t so sure that I was really prepared. Had I been doing yoga long enough? Was I really serious enough? I was hesitant and a bit taken back by this very first sutra. Another angle as I studied it, took me to the feeling of, well, Now, as in the Eckart Tolle kind of Now. Like, Be Here Now. As in, show up present for your practice every time you come to the mat, Now. Did I have that presence? Was I comparing myself to yesterday, or worried about what I would be able to accomplish by tomorrow. Well, then, I certainly wasn’t in the Now this sutra implied I needed to be to study it. Had this teacher really decided I was worthy, or was she merely trying to fill her Teacher Training? It took me about a month of sitting with this sutra. It is still something that I ritually say to myself each day on my mat as I begin my practice. This sutra still invokes a seriousness, a letting go of what has been in my mind before that moment, so that I can meet myself with appropriate presence, honoring this art and science I am about to practice.
I actually probably make a bigger deal about this first sutra than most people because of the impact it had on me. I think the first sutra was when I realized that I will never lack for something to learn about yoga. Being open, moment to moment to life really is my yoga in a nutshell. And I have to thank Patanjali (if he was a one person) for that!
There is something about the vibration of Sanskrit words that I do feel creates change within me. Yes, I can look up the translations of mantras. There is nothing like the lasting vibration of chanting or singing some of them though. I feel so connected with yogis around the world when I chant the Gayatri at sunrise or the Maha Mrityunjaya at sunset. It’s a beautiful, unifying feeling. It’s yoga, for sure.
I went through a thankfully brief period a couple years ago of waking up around 1 – 2am wide awake. So I just started silently chanting OM over and over on those nights. I did not always fall asleep shortly (though sometimes I did), but it made staying awake much more joyful, and I found that I didn’t feel tired or grumpy the next day. My big tip for anyone who has one of those sleepless nights!

This Asana Yoga blog post was published by Mary Byerly

Utthita Trikonasa

Utthita Trikonasa

Trikonasa adjustment by Mary Byerly of Mary Byerly Yoga

Utthita Trikonasa, otherwise known as triangle pose is considered one of the basic postures, learned early on in your practice.  It looks deceptively simple to do, yet is, in fact,

a complex pose.  Utthita means extended and trikonasa comes from three words:  tri (meaning three), kona (meaning angle), and asana (meaning seat or posture).  So three angles = triangle.  The triangular form of the pose is easy to see from where the legs join to the floor, from the front leg, side body and arm, as well as in the front leg, hand and floor if someone is able to come that far down. The pose is complex because your front leg is opening externally from the hip while your upper body is extending laterally over this leg.  Hamstrings and groins get stretched, abdominals, hips, and back/neck muscles have to work to help hold up your torso (and thus are strengthened), and your arms extend away from each other, opening across the chest.

trikonasana-at-panacea-mary-byerly-yoga

Triangles are a quite solid and stable structure, and this is how this pose can feel when you are doing it in the right position and with the right support for your body.  You may not be able to get your hand all the way down to the ground without distorting the alignment of your legs, hips, and shoulders.  If that is the case, you can use a chair or a block for support under your hand.  If you are just beginning your practice, it is helpful to actually practice this pose against a wall to help guide you in lining up your body.  As with all the postures of yoga, you are unique, and thus there may be unique ways in which you need to do this pose, and describing all those unique ways is beyond the scope of this writing.  So if in doing Trikonasana you find that something does not feel quite right, get yourself a teacher who can show you the best way for your body.

The basic posture is this:

  1. Stand facing the long side of your mat.trikonasana-foot-position-mary-byerly-yoga
  2. Separate your feet 3.5 – 4 feet apart.
  3. Turn your right foot out to face the short end of your mat, and turn your left toes in about halfway.  Line up the heel of your front or right foot with the arch of your left foot.  Ground into the big toe mound of your right foot, and keep your right knee lined up with the middle toes of that foot.
  4. Lift through your thighs to create a feeling of lengthening your torso up in the front, back, and side bodies.
  5. Bring stability into your torso by bringing the tail bone towards the pubic bone, and lifting through the pit of the abdomen.
  6. Bring your arms up to your sides in line with your shoulders, and with your palms facing the ground.  Maintain the feeling of your shoulder blades resting into your back and towards your waist throughout this pose.trikonasana-standing-mary-byerly-yoga
  7. Inhale and feel the lines of energy radiating through your legs, arms, and spine, exhale and extend your right side body over your right leg.  Hinge from the hips and lengthen both sides of your body as you go into the pose.  Bring your right hand to the seat of the chair, a block, or to the ground on the little toe side of your foot.  See the photos for illustration of using props.
  8. If comfortable for your neck, lightly tuck your chin and turn to look up at your left thumb.  If this is not comfortable for your neck, look forward.
  9. Let this pose feel balanced in ease and effort, feeling the stability of the “triangle” as well as the “extended” length of your lines of energy.  Let the muscles of your torso work to hold your weight rather than pushing down into your right hand as you become more accomplished in the pose.  Hold for 5 to 15 breaths, then use an inhale to bring your body back up, turn your feet to the other end of your mat to do the other side.

trikonasana-against-wall-mary-byerly-yoga

Namaste,

Mary

 

 

 

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog

Watch a dog when it first gets up from a nap.  Their front paws extend forward, chest lowers, and they lift up and back through their rear end.  This dog stretch is imitated in one of the quintessential poses of yoga:  Downward Facing Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana (hereafter referred to as AMS).

AMS is such an integral part of a yoga practice because it is so great for our whole body.  The pose builds strength and flexibility in our arms and legs, shoulders and our back body.  Once we have been doing yoga for a while, it can be both a resting pose between a flow practice, and it can also be an invigorating pose, helping us to come into the vitality and extension of our body and mind.

For beginners or those with a lot of tension or tightness in their shoulders, hamstrings, and low back, this pose can be difficult!  So remember to balance effort and ease, and find a variation that helps your body in the best way.  If this is you, using a chair or a wall can help you get the benefits and openings of this pose without having to strain or create injury.  As your body becomes more flexible, doing this pose with bricks is a good transition before going all the way down to the floor.  AMS, when done using a wall or your desk can be a great way to take a break from your computer, releasing tension from your neck and shoulders.

For the classic AMS pose, begin in child’s pose, with your sitting bones on your heels, arms reaching as far forward as possible, shoulder’s width apart.  Come onto your hands and knees, with your knees and feet hip-width apart. Inhale and curl your toes under, exhale and lift up through your sitting bones, straightening your legs and also creating a straight line from your hands to your hips.

If your hamstrings are tight, you will need to modify this pose to begin with.  You will notice this because the back of your legs and/or low back will be screaming, and you will not be able to keep a straight line from your hands to your hips:  your shoulders will be more on top of your wrists and your pelvis will not be in an anterior tilt, but will be trying to tuck under.  So first and foremost, make sure that you are mindfully working with the back of your legs to open and lengthen (that can be a whole other post in this series).  For now, use either a wall, a chair, or blocks to get your hands higher so that you can open the back of your legs and not feel an unpleasant amount of weight bearing in your wrists or screaming from your hamstrings.  At times I see students who do not want to use props and will continue to bend their knees in order to do this pose with their hands on the floor.  While this can get you through a flow class without have to continually move your props on and off your mat, do your work on this pose with props outside of class, please!

In fine-tuning this pose, first press down evenly through your hands and feet, even if your heels do not go all the way to your mat.  Press the pads of your fingers and thumbs into the mat.  Press down also into the base of the fingers and thumbs, especially at the base of the thumbs and first fingers, while you lift from this inner edge of your hands up and into your inner armpit.  Wrap the upper arms (deltoids) and outer armpits down.  Press your shins and thighs back to lengthen the sides of your waist.  Lift from the back of your knees up to help lift and spread your sitting bones, while you also reach from the back of your knee down to your inner heels.  Let your head be in line with your spine between your arms, and keep moving your shoulder blades towards your waist.

Enjoy the energizing and the calming effects of this pose!

Namastè, Mary

adho-muka-adaptation-using-blocks-mary-byerly-yoga adho-muka-using-chair-mary-byerly-yoga-adaptations adho-mukha-against-wall-mary-byerly-yoga adho-mukha-mary-byerly-yogaMary

 

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