Walk forward toward the boundary and past it gingerly, expanding, discovering where it lies. Like warmth spreading in the water, it is not so defined, but a fluid continuance. Swimming in this, the wisdom and the discernment grows. Not so much just an intellectual understanding, but a felt experience.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
everywhere you have been
everything you have seen
everyone who you have been touched by
i can see the light
emanating from your heart
refracting through the layers
your experience has crafted
into a prismatic labyrinth
that leads me back
Aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it, with as little judgment as possible, for judgment just blocks us from seeing it as it is. Directly experiencing the action and the results. Not just with your mind but your whole being. Allowing the experiential wisdom to grow from here. Both of the interconnectedness, and the discernment of the subtle distinctions.
Asana, physical yoga, a laboratory to teach us this in our bodies. Meditation shows us this in our minds. And we can become more subtly aware in our whole lives. Without having to try so hard, just by staying present. Incrementally.
Skill and Trust
From observation I have noticed that the ones that seem to move with the most grace are those who cultivate skill and trust.
If you are only going to do a few warm-ups before heading onto the mountain, this is what I suggest, in this order of importance. They will help your balance, flexibility, strength and endurance. Practice slow, steady breathing to keep yourself calm and cultivate an awareness of what you are doing while you are doing it, and if possible, of what’s going on around you without being distracted by it. Just keep bringing your mind back to the breath. This will serve you on the mountain.
Thanks again to Lauren O’Reilly, Training Manager for Loon Mountain SnowSports.
Figure Four/hip socket, IT band, back, balance – This can be done sitting, even in the gondola! Cross one leg over the other, if possible the knee of the standing leg is just above the ankle of the crossed leg, turning out the crossed leg from the hip socket. Sit deep into it to increase the intensity, engaging the belly and your standing thigh, flexing your crossed leg’s foot. For balance, focus your gaze on an unmoving point to stabilize, and bring weight equally over the standing foot. It can help to roll weight toward the knuckle where the big toe meets your foot.
Forward bend/hamstring, calf, back – Feet hip or shoulder-width apart. Start with knees bent to hinge at the hip socket, elbows on knees, back straight, chin slightly tucked so the neck is an extension of the spine. If it is ok here, take hands behind the calves and tilt forward more, belly engaged, thighs lifting the kneecaps, shoulder blades retracting into the back and spreading away from the ears. Continue lifting the hips as long as you can keep the belly touching the thighs with the back straight. Bringing weight forward to bring the hips over the heels. Lauren has her knees more bent in part to compensate for the forward tilt of the ski boots. It’s fine to keep the knees bent – this will release some of the intensity on the hamstrings so you can hinge in the hip socket and keep the back straight. At some point the lower back may curve slightly, as the belly is pressing into the thighs, to bring the head towards the shins, bringing the stretch deeper into the back. In my first posture the weight is a little back and I’m lengthening my head away from the hips. In the second I’m letting weight rock forward as i draw the head into the shins. Keep the back very straight if you have – or to prevent – any disk or lower back sensitivity.
Cross IT band/IT bands, lateral (outside) legs, lower back, back – For now I only have the pictures in skis, although this can be done in either pair of boots or without. Cross one leg over the other, pressing both big toes to the ground to deepen the stretch. Engage thighs up into the hips. Belly hugs in. Knees can be a little bent especially if this posture hyper-extends the back knee. Squeeze the legs together and bring the front hip back into alignment with the back hip. Back as straight as possible. Do both legs.
Lunge – Thighs, psoas, shoulders, hips, back – This is the precursor to so many great stretches for snowsports. Hone your ability here. Front knee over ankle, although you can see with the forward tilt of ski boots the knee needs to be in front of the ankle. Back leg at an angle rather than having the hips right above the back knee. This protects the knee and deepens the stretch. If it is better for your knee or you prefer for whatever reason you can keep the knee up in the warrior 1 variation like the third picture. Keep the back heel lifted. Telly skiers – you can do this right in your skis.
Pressing the hands on the knees, let the hips relax toward the front heel as the belly hugs in to tuck the tailbone and the shoulders roll back as the sternum lifts up to lengthen the psoas. Enjoy. Squeezing the legs together, slightly inwardly rotate the thighs to turn the torso forward and keep the stretch in the back thigh and protect the back groin. If your back knee is up, straighten the back leg. Front femur draws back into the hip socket. If you feel stable try lifting the arms, the shoulder blades pressing forward toward the sternum to bring in a slight upper back backbend. Resist squeezing your shoulder blades together to keep the upper back wide and open. Its easy to get sloppy there – notice how much cleaner Lauren’s alignment is than mine.
Lunge twist/same as lunge plus front IT band, back inner thigh and twist in the back body – From the lunge take the opposite hand down inside of the front foot. Squeezing the legs together and drawing the front leg back into the hip socket. Front big toe grounds. Belly hugs in to align and anchor the hips. Twisting out of the hips, bottom shoulder rotates under the top, your spine the axis, spiraling the twist through your whole spine rather than letting it stuck in any one spot. Both sides.
Camel/thighs, hips, psoas, shoulders, back – If this is too much, just skip it, the lunge does a lot of the same things. One arm at a time may be more accessible. It is my favorite on-snowboard stretch. Belly hugs in, tailbone tucks down. You can start with your hands on your hips and the elbows squeezing slightly together to open the chest without collapsing into the lower back. This is key – you want the sternum lifting so the back side of the body is lifting too. The one armed version helps this as the top arm is accentuating the lifting up. Hips press forward to arc the body like a bow. Fingers can face forward or back. Try not to collapse the neck either – you have an arc lengthening from the tailbone to the base of the skull in the back-body. I find it helps to breathe into the lower rib area. When you come up, bring both shoulders at the same time, the head comes up last.
Downward dog/everywhere, esp. stretches back of legs, hips and shoulders, strengthens belly and arms – This will release/neutralize your back after the camel and/or lunges and stretch your whole lower back. If it just doesn’t call to you, you could try it with your hands on a wall, fence, chair or table, or your ski poles. If you skip this all together, definitely end with another forward bend.
Pressing weight down into the hands to bring weight back off your shoulders and back into the hips and legs. Approximately equal weight between hands and feet. Feet hip width apart, torso about 90* angle with legs. Engage belly and thighs in and up towards the hip crease to lengthen the spine. Its fine if the knees are bent, that can help you straighten the back. Maybe gently peddle the legs to loosen the calves. Your heels never need to touch the ground. Ribcage hugs in to keep from collapsing into the shoulders and belly. Shoulders draw up into the back while widening away from the ears. So as not to collapse in the wrists, let weight press forward into the base of the fingers, where they meet the hands, especially the knuckle where the pointer finger meets the hand. If you are trying the standing dog, hips are right over the feet.
Finish with another forward bend…and take a few moments to stand where you are or sit if you like, and feel the effects of the postures integrate. Take a few deep breaths, feel the belly expand with the inhale. Of course you could do that on the lift too…
Muy Rapido Chili Con Col (Kale)
I always get excited when I wonder, “What am I going to feed myself?” and I remember that I have all the ingredients for this recipe waiting in my kitchen – which I usually do. With so little effort I can set this chili in motion while I take care of everything else, and with only an occasional stir, it is suddenly ready to feed me. Love. Kind of like baking sweet potatoes, which are, by the way, delicious alongside this dish too,
Pretty much everything is optional here, except the chili powder and the tomatoes, although arguably you could get along without them too and just add other spice. Although then it technically may not be chili…
This is my favorite combo, although garbanzo beans fit in nicely as well. I tend to serve it over yellow corn grits/polenta, although you could have it alone, with cornbread, or over rice. Toppings as far as your imagination will take you.
You may want to go easy on the chili powder and jalapeno at first, as every pepper and powder ends up being a little different. You can always add more spice at the end, but you cannot take it away. Yet you can balance it with grated cheese or sour cream if that’s your fancy.
Play with it! Let me know if you come up with something good.
1 Tablespoon butter or oil
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds or powder
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ – 1 fresh jalapeno, diced
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can corn
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can pinto beans
1 15-oz can kidney beans
2 teaspoons – 1 ½ Tablespoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon oregano
1 Tablespoon red or white wine or apple cider vinegar
3-4 cups kale chopped into bite sized pieces
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Salt to taste
1 1/2 cups yellow corn grits/polenta (I buy Bob’s Red Mill rand in a bag in the gluten free section)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 teaspoon salt
Heat on medium high a pot large enough to fit all of the ingredients. Add butter or oil, once runny add cumin seeds if using. Wait if using cumin powder. Once seeds are fragrant, add garlic and jalapeno. Once softened, add tomatoes in their juice. Let come to an almost boil and then add corn and beans in their juices, cumin powder if using, chili powder, bay leaves, oregano and vinegar. Let cook for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the gravy is as thick as you like it.
If the pot is large enough, you can add the rinsed kale after about 5 minutes to let it cook right in the pot. If the pot is too small, rinse the kale and put it in a skillet with a little water and cook it down. Then add it to the chili.
I like to cook one cup of polenta at a time, as I usually eat the chili over a number of sittings. 1 cup will serve me alone 3-4 times. Depending on how many people you are serving, decide whether to make it all at once or it batches. When it is fresh it is softer and more like a corn pudding or porridge, when it has set it slices. The slices are delicious fried in a little butter, although you can also reheat the slices with a little water in a skillet or in the oven.
For each cup of polenta, boil 3 cups of water with ½ teaspoon of salt. Once boiling add polenta and 1 tablespoon butter or oil. Butter is really good here. Stir and cook for about a minute longer on medium high and then let sit for a few minutes.
Adjust the seasoning of the chili to taste. I also like to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot with a spoon to thicken the gravy. A quick wizz with a stick blender can work too.
Serve a portion of polenta topped with chili and garnish with a few tablespoons of minced or torn cilantro.
Enjoy as is or add grated cheese, sour cream, black olives, pickled jalapenos (a personal favorite), a squeeze of lime, guacamole…
4-5 servings as a meal with polenta
Meditative Hip Opening Sequence
Relaxing reclining sequence appropriate for all levels. Helpful for preparing the body for seated meditation, to calm anxiety, and as a restorative for athletes. Opens hips, It band, hamstrings, calves. I often begin morning or end afternoon classes with these postures.
When needed, keep a calm steady breath. When you can, let the breath breathe you deeply.
Recorded without music so you can practice in the silence or add your own music. If you are just watching the video for inspiration, the first leg is completed at 5:54. If you want to practice along with the video, I do the sequence on both legs.
Moving into Ardha Chandra Natarajasana – Half Moon Dancer
This is an intermediate/advanced sequence preparing for a standing balance back bend, including the transition from a one-handed to a two-handed dancer pose. Start with a few sun salutations of your choice or add this sequence near the end of your practice so your body is warmed up. Watch it once first and then follow the verbal and visual cues as you go through it on your own. There is no music so you can practice in the silence or add whatever music you like. If you have any questions let me know.
Awareness Meditation #1
Three steps to sustained awareness – meditation made easy/easier. A guided meditation you can play with while reading it, and then do it on your own. When you practice it on your own you don’t have to follow it exactly, just utilize the principles of the three steps to help yourself stay present, focus the mind and allow the meditation to arise.
The action is the bringing yourself back, the concentration of the mind. The meditation – sustained awareness – spontaneously occurs.
Be still in a comfortable position you can sustain for a little while, sitting on the ground or in a chair or lying down, with a straight spine if possible. Fair warning – it can be difficult to not fall asleep if you are reclining…
Step 1 – body scan to orient yourself into the body…go slowly with this to really feel sensation in each of the focus points.
Feel breath awareness between your eyes, as if you were breathing in and out between your eyebrows.
Once you really feel it there, bring breath awareness to the tips of the nostrils. Then across the roof of the mouth to the back of the throat. Then down into the lungs, feel the lungs expand and contract with the breath. Feel your heart beat.
Feel the diaphragm descend on the inhale, allowing your whole lungs to fill with air and the belly expand.
Feel a warmth building in your belly, as if you are gently warming in the tailbone. If this is uncomfortable, you can skip it. Or gradually build your resilience to feel the uncomfortability, or even the lack of feeling if there is little or no sensation there. The shadow of sensation. Or intensity of feeling. Noticing, with as little judgment as possible.
Feel awareness spreading from your belly all the way down into your feet. Once again, you can skip this if it is uncomfortable or you don’t feel anything, or you can play with it like you are pulling awareness like taffy down towards your feet. Like a warm river flowing down your legs, through your knees, your ankles and into your feet and out into each toe. Feel your whole legs.
Feel awareness spreading from your belly up to your heart and out into your hands, spreading warmth out into each finger. Feel your whole arms. Then up through your whole torso, neck and into your head and brain. Feel your whole torso and head. And then as far into the entire interior space of your body as you can at once. Grounded just below the navel, the awareness spreading out into your whole body. Stay with this for a little while to allow the awareness to build. Shift from thinking about it to the direct felt experience.
Step 2 –concentration, to sharpen the mind with the ability to focus and relax the mind from its continual over thinking.
Focus awareness to your heart and lungs, and feel the sensation as if the heart was being breathed by the breath. Keep bringing your mind here. The sensation at the area of your physical heart and the pulse of the breath the anchor that keeps you present right here. Stay with this for awhile. When the mind wanders – and it will, no need to fight it – keep bringing your mind back to the breath and the heart with as little judgment and commentary as possible. Over and over again. No big deal, just come back.
Start to feel the sensation of the breath spreading from your heart all the way to the periphery of your skin, and then as the breath spills out, your body condenses back to the center at your heart. Whole body expands as you fill with breath, whole body softens back in as the breath spills out. Little by little control the breath less and less while allowing the breath to stay deep and full. Stay with this.
Step 3 – the meditation spontaneously occurs.
The effort in bringing yourself present starts to sustain itself and you can sit and experience the waves of thought and emotion that pass through you, just as the breath does. Without blocking, without embellishing, without judging. As much as possible. The waves rise from stillness, from silence, crest, peak, and dissolve back into silence, stillness, the space. Over and over again. As we still the mind, our awareness can deepen. This sustained awareness, perhaps meditation, is the result of the concentration of the mind. The anchor of the breath holds you steady, brings you back when you start to drift away. The seeming distractions just a part of the whole experience.
Both watching, and experiencing, with as little judgment as possible. The potential not so much to make yourself feel better, or to deaden or detach yourself from the full experience by simply observing, but to deepen your ability to stay calm, at least on some level, and fully feel what it is like to go through the waves of your consciousness. All aspects – the parts you want to avoid and the parts that are overwhelmingly ecstatic and it is hard to stay grounded in. The dull parts. This is very practical – if we can cultivate the ability to stay present in all sides of the experience of being awake and alive than we better our ability to skillfully respond to whatever comes our way.
The action is the bringing yourself back, the concentration of the mind. The meditation – sustained awareness – spontaneously occurs.
When you are ready to finish the practice, take a few deep breaths and feel the belly expand to ground yourself. Open the eyes and be still a few moments – and by the way, this whole meditation or even just parts, can be done with eyes open, soft focus on the ground a few feet to six feet in front of you. Blink a few times and slowly stretch the body as feels right.
The more you practice, the more likely you will stay calm and present and maybe even skillful in real time when things come up that threaten to throw you off balance.
May we find this as we need it.
Snowyoga – SnowSki Salutation
This series of postures can be done with your skis on, when you want or need the burst of physical energy and mental calm that comes from releasing the tension in tired muscles. You can do these postures individually or in any order. This particular sequence, in this order, flows from one pose to the next – once you get to the one legged postures try them all on one leg then switch to the other leg. In all the postures – make sure you can breathe! Feel free to ask questions if anything doesn’t make sense. With thanks to my lovely model Lauren O’Reilly, Training Manager for Loon Mountain SnowSports.
This standing back bend is enhanced by ski boots – the boots anchor you and the slight forward pitch of the boot helps arc the whole front side of the body into a slight back bend. Plant your poles in the snow in front of you.
(feet hip to shoulder width apart, tailbone tucked – yet try not to squeeze the gluts too much! shoulders roll back as the elbows squeeze slightly together, without constricting the upper back. belly hugs in as the sternum lifts up. care not to collapse in the neck or lower back. the more you bend the knees the deeper the back bend. go slowly at first, and not too far – remember you have to be able to come out of it! the coming out is often where the lower back tweaks. both shoulders at the same time, head comes up last)
Lean forward into your poles and come into a standing downward dog variation to stretch the back side of the body. The slide of the skis can help you play with where the stretch hits you most. The forward pitch of the boots will prevent your legs from straightening, so use the bend of your knees to get deep into your back.
(belly hugs in, straight back, thighs slightly engaged. feet hip to shoulder width apart. belly strength can be pulling the hips away from the shoulders. bend your knees more to straighten the back if your legs and back are tight and the back rounds in this posture. if you are more flexible and tend to collapse into the belly and shoulders, make sure your ribcage hugs in to to keep the back level. shoulders move away from the head and neck to increase the width of the upper back, shoulder blades flat against the back ribcage)
From here it can be nice to hinge forward at the ball and socket of your hip joint, with bent knees and a straight back, into a forward bend. These photos are without skis, but you can see what I mean.
(feet hip or shoulder width apart, equal weight on both feet. knees stay bent with the forward pitch of the boot. belly hugs in, thighs engaged, back straight. chin tucked only so much as to take a hinge out of the neck and make the neck a straight extension of the spine. shoulder blades engage into the back and away from head and neck)
A little ski ballet anyone? This one helps with balance and stretches the legs. Having skis on makes it slightly more challenging and even more useful for ankle positioning and balance when you are skiing.
(in all balance poses, finding a point of focus for the eyes will help your body stay steady. belly hugs in to hold the center as you extend out into both legs, hands and crown of your head. pressing into the standing leg to get the equal and opposite lifting through the rest of the body. equally balanced weight over the standing foot – it can help to roll weight into the big toe side of the foot. She has her hands out to the side although you could take them straight back alongside the body or out in front of you with palms pressed together – just be mindful of were you stick your poles! taking hands to the standing knee can help if it is hard on your standing leg, and planting the poles like in the downward dog variation can aid balance. looking down so the neck is a straight extension of the spine)
This one you may already do. Helps release the calves and hamstrings. Keep your back straight – choose a bent leg over a bent back. The skis assist balance and deepen the stretch in this posture. To go even further you can take one hand to the ski and flex it gently back towards your body, hinging forward at the hip socket if you can keep your back straight.
(back straight, hips over standing heel, balanced weight across standing foot. belly hugs in, thighs engage without clenching. the sensation of the thighs lifting the kneecaps and the arches of the feet. pressing out into the lifted heel and pulling back towards the body with the toes)
This one is a little hard to balance and maneuver, so leave it out if its too much. It may help to plant your poles in front of you at arms length and use them to help balance. You can do it sitting on the gondola or in the lodge with or without your boots on if that works better. Trying it on skis helps strengthen the ankle and assists in balance for actual skiing. It gets deep into the hip socket of the bent leg to release your hips, back and legs, especially the ever difficult IT band. The second and third photo show it done without skis for clarity.
(find a focus point with the eyes to stabilize balance. balanced weight across standing foot. cross lifted leg over standing leg, turning out the lifted knee from the hip socket. this is important – you want the hip to open yet the knee to stay stable. careful not to force the knee is the hip is tight. belly hugs in, sit deep into standing leg. slight lean forward counterbalances weight and stretches the back. both ankles straight and flexed)
Then finally this is one of the the best IT band stretches I know. Releases the hips and legs so they can free-flow in response to the contours of the mountain. The skis help anchor the feet flat, especially as you press into the knuckle where each big toe meets the foot, activating the strength of the inner leg all the way up into your torso, which helps release and stretch the outer leg from the outer hip down into the pinky toe.
(cross the lifted leg to the ground outside the standing leg. squeeze the legs together while pressing the knuckles of the big toes to the ground. belly hugs in, back straight, knees slightly bent – especially because of the pitch of the boots. the hinge forward at the hip socket and not the mid back. sit into it to play with deepening it. keep the elbows on the knees and don’t come as far forward if this is too intense)
Play with it – experimentation helps you find how it is effective for you, and this may change from day to day. Pay attention to the action and the result to learn over time what works and what doesn’t. The more comfortable and resilient we are in the body, the safer we are and the more fun we have in our sport and our life.