Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just Walking the Dog

Thursday's at my job is free yoga.  It is open to the community.  No matter what your practice is, newbie, intermediate, or longtime practitioner, yoga is here for you.   It started when the downturn began with the Michigan economy, as a way to give an hour of solace to those who had suffered job loss due to the auto industry cutbacks, and it has been here to stay ever since.  While our economy is bouncing back, yoga still remains an anchor in the eye of the storm of daily life.   I am a testament to this:  When I practice clarity comes.  Pattabhi Jois used to say, "Practice and all is coming!"  

Ain't nothing to it but to do it!  So let's workshop Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)!

If you you've ever gone to a yoga class, which I'm assuming you have if you're reading this blog, this is a posture that you may find yourself in over and over again.  Sometimes classes are large and it's difficult for a teacher to come around to each student to give corrections and make adjustments in every posture.  So lets talk about what things you may want to focus on doing and feeling in this posture. 

To get yourself into this posture you can start on your hands and knees in table posture, the knees should be directly under the hips and the wrists should be aligned directly under the shoulder.  With  hands that are planted firmly  into the mat, spread the fingers apart .   Make sure that the thumbs are not fully extended, bring them in halfway this will protect your, hands.  Push yourself up and back.

If you look at the picture below you will see that  directional arrows denote that the spine is being pulled in opposite directions.  This means, you want to lengthen the spine.  How do you do this?  Relax the neck and drop the head and press your hind parts up and back.  Keep a slight micro bend in the knees and try not to concern yourself with whether your feet are flat on the floor.  They may or may not touch, just make sure that you are not on your toes, but firmly and evenly on the balls of your feet if your heels don't reach the ground (most people's don't).  You'll want to have balanced weight between all points of contact on the ground, even pressure between the feet and hands so that one part is not taking the majority of the weight, even distribution is the key here.  

Your arms should be rotating outward from the shoulder joint, away from the spine. Relax your shoulder here, make sure they aren't up near your ears.  The movement causes an opening in the upper chest and the shoulder blades slide down the back slightly.  The hips should also be opening out and away from the spine.  By focusing on the above movements you create an opening of the chest and hips and a lengthening of the spine (when the head is released toward the floor and the neck is relaxed).  Engage your abdominal muscles while in this posture and continue to breathe.  Allow yourself to take three to five full breaths (inhalations and exhalations) while in downward dog before moving on to another posture.   

This is downward dog!

This image is the property of

Monday, May 20, 2013

Accepting What Is

I want to be real when I write.  I want to be honest and sometimes what that looks like is not.... Well its not all rosy and bright.  After struggling for a time with some things going on with my daughter, I decided to have her "tested".  I wanted to see if there was something going on with her that I couldn't identify.  The problems we were having were not just your average tweenageer growing pains.  She was not nor has she ever been a defiant child so I know that her difficulties were deeper than the surface level responses that I got from other parents as I queried them about what challenges I was having with my daughter.  Ahkiba has always noticed the fine details of things that people didn't seem to notice in pictures, painting, and murals, but at the same time she missed the overall pictures for the small details.  She's gone to very good schools, but no one ever caught it.  Dare I say that one of the schools that she attended would have probably made it even more difficult to identify her challenges because it catered to a very active style of learning.  So it was not until she changed schools, got into higher grades that some things became more apparent.  Even then it was difficult because she was with her dad for the school year so identifying what was happening with her was damn near impossible on weekend family time.

When she came back home for the new school year, I started noticing (even more) the constant reminders I had to give her about picking up after herself.  And not just your normal messy kid stuff.  But, I would tell her to take her plate, fork and cup to the kitchen and usually one or sometimes two items would make it to the kitchen, but never all three.  Don't let me add, "and take your shoes and book bag to your room too!" at the same time, I'd be lucky if anything made it to its rightful place.

Something was amiss.  I couldn't put my finger on it for quite some time.  But after many conversations with my girlfriend  who had spent countless hours observing the same things that I had seen, she finally said (out of concern and exasperation along with me),  you should get her tested.   This was no easy matter.  We'd spent I'm sure what amounted to hours discussing what the problems were and possible solutions.  She helped me get her very organized from top to bottom. Even after that, no change.  I began making lists of everything she needed to do, and then instructed her to make her own lists, of what she had to do daily.  My thought process was that this would create a sense of ownership and responsibility if it was her duty to be aware of and check her list every day.

It was a source of frustration and aggrivation because I felt like I was doing everything I could possibly think of to help Ahkiba get and remain on track but nothing ever really worked.  In the midst of it all I learned that it takes time.  I could stand to exercise a bit more patience (it is not my strong suite).  But most importantly I had to change my strategy of approaching all that was going on.  In the midst of it all. After talking with her Doctor, she sent us to a therapist and after evaluations by the therapist and teachers, it was determined that Ahkiba has ADHD with inattention.   Having a diagnosis finally I began to read up on it.  I didn't want to overwhelm myself and try to make what her symptoms appeared to be to me fit any particular disorder.  I will admit that having a diagnosis was relieving but at the same time it is a journey to acceptance on so many levels.

Mentally I've been repeating "I have a special needs child".  What image do you conjure up when you see those words?  My child isn't like average children at age 12 she needs a lot more guidance and one on one direction.  At times she can be extremely clingy uncomfortably so at times.  And she has the body of a developed young woman so it doesn't help that her brain function and her appearance don't exactly match. What I have learned is this, "do not compare your child to yourself at their age, don't compare your child to other children at their age.  Your child is unique and you have to accept and work with them as they are where ever they are in this life journey."  That is where I had to begin.

I hope that over this time of growth and learning that I will able to better pick my "battles" so that even while we learn to deal with the stresses of ADHD we continue to build the mother daughter bond that helps her grow into a healthy mature well adjusted young woman whether or not she is still addressing the effects of ADHD.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I must admit.  I haven't been feeling very yogic lately.  There has been so much violence it feels like we've been cast into hell on earth.  I'm starting to wonder if this is hell and we are trying to find a way to see our selves out of it. Is this the crux of our mission?  To free ourselves This earth has been feeling like a disaster area as of late.  Mass killings are coming like a flurry, innocent lives lost, children dying in their parents arms.  For what?  What is the lesson.  People who live their lives to serve other being brutally killed.  Where's the lesson in that?

My heart is raw. it is aching.  I was in a movie theater in Michigan when a mad man in Colorado decided to go on a rampage.  Those people were doing what thousands of people do on Friday nights, go to a movie opening.  That could have been anyone of us.  And what will happen to staunch the blood letting?  Nothing!  He'll get lumped in with all the other mass murderers. We'll forget about him and the lives he has taken and those that he's forever changed. 
(Written after Aurora, Colorado mass movie theater shooting)

How many people have to die before we stop clinging to our guns as the solution?  How many innocent people minding their own business, going about their lives have to get killed at school, at a supermarket, at a movie theater, at a church, at a temple, at a marathon, a subway, at a hotel, or any other edifice before we really do something to stop the unconscionable killing of our own brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, and children?  Who else has to die before we all stand up and take notice and stop it! 

I don't want to die to gun violence.  I've known way too many people who have died at the end of a gun.  Most of them young black men. The first was Lou, he was at a party, a fight broke out, he was trying to break it up and was killed by bullets reigning down on him. The next was Robbie another young boy 15 years old, returning a borrowed jacket when he along with 8 others were forced to lie faced down while they were all killed execution style in what was called Detroit's worst mass murder. There were many others but the one I remember so vividly was 11 year old Derrick my neighbor and my little sisters best friend.  Darkness was just starting to fall  as I sat in the living room with my mom and best friend when I heard shots ring out. So many shots, hard, fast and so disorienting I thought they were coming from all directions and would come ripping through the house and through me at any second.  Eventually after what seemed like many long minutes the shots ceased and all I heard was wailing.  The danger appeared to be over so I ran outside across the street to see if I could help. There was no help to be had as my neighbor, on his knees pleaded with his son, whom as I touched had already grown gray, clammy and lifeless.  No words could escape me. Only disbelief, shock and stomach churning pain that this energetic little boy who was just running up and down the street with his boom box playing Bone Thugs in Harmony was no more.  The sad thing is that I could go on. I could fill up pages with deaths, no murders of young men from 1991 to 2003 that I knew personally. 

A young man on the Melissa Harris-Perry show recently said , "Violence will never cease until we find a way to make money out of peace!" Unfortunately I believe that he is right.  So here is a challenge to all of us peace loving people, let us find a way to make peace so profitable that no one else in our neighborhoods, cities, states, or countries have to die at the end of a gun ever again!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Guided Meditation

It's very interesting that in my 10+ years of meditating I've often said that I don't like guided meditations.  I never liked to sit and practice my meditation techniques with someone talking! It was more of a nuisance and hindrance to my practice than it was instructive.   I guess what I never really thought about is the difference between guided meditations and visualizations. When I want to meditate I want to meditate.  To me that means going into stillness and silence.  I don't want to be visualizing colorful pastures, rainbows, crystals, deep blue seas, or fields of flowers.  I want to have a stable steady posture, with my body relaxed so that the mind can follow.  I didn't feel that visualizations did much to help me in meditation (unless they are specifically focused on the spiritual centers in the spine).

Recently however, I've had a few guided meditations and the most recent one was one of the best meditation experiences I've had in quite some time.  What made it great for me is that it was simple.  We focused on the energy centers in the spine and concentrated solely on them.  We went up and down the spine while mentally chanting Om.  We practiced the meditation techniques together. One of the key parts was to practice together. It's easy to want to "go off on your own" and practice techniques at your own time and pace and not with the group. But there is something to be said for practicing in time with the group. I felt more calm and still. There was an ease of practice with being guided in meditation this time.  And I truly believe in the idea of collective consciousness, a group working together toward the same goal is very powerful.  That is why Christ said, " For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." *   I know that for beginners, group meditation is very helpful because meditation can sometimes feel like an extremely difficult and thankless task (even if you're not a beginner).  It's hard to calm the mind and the body may have jitters.   But there is something to this meditation thing if we give it a chance.

*Matthew 18:20

I hope that as you practice this meditation you enjoy it and feel the bliss!

Here is the guided spinal meditation as given by Paramahansa Yogananda (author of "Autobiography of a Yogi"). 

"Concentrate at the point between the eyebrows, and go up the spine mentally chanting 'Aum' at each of the centers: coccyx (root), sacral, lumbar (navel), dorsal (heart), cervical (throat), medulla, Christ center (third eye). Now mentally go down the spine chanting 'Aum' at each of these centers. Go deeper and deeper in concentration, up and down the spine, mentally feeling the centers and mentally chanting 'Aum'. As you do this, you see that your consciousness is no longer locked in the external awareness of the body, but becomes centered in higher spiritual perceptions in the spine. Relax in God. Don't be tied to the consciousness of the body.  Let your mind go deeper and deeper in the thought of God."

--Paramahansa Yogananda "December 24, 1936 all-day Christmas Meditation", Self-Realization Magazine, Winter 2002, p7

Monday, May 13, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Sometimes we become each others mirrors. We reflect beauty, pain, weaknesses, and triumphs!  We see the best and the worst, yet still we love. We see the terribly flawed and the overwhelmingly good. One does not cancel out the other, but acceptance, plus desire and effort to grow seals the bond of love.  That is a place I call home.  

When you find that home, what will you do to sustain it?  Will you plant beautiful flowers in the soil that you've tilled, and watch them blossom into their fullness and beauty?  Or will you let the weeds that spring up grow and drain the sustenance and joy from all that you have cultivated?

The flowers are of  patience, common interests, love, truthfulness, gratitude, compassion, respect, and gentleness. 

The weeds spring from pride, jealousy, fear, anger, selfishness, fault finding and possessiveness. 

The choice of what grows in your garden is yours. Just keep in mind every day, what am I cultivating?  Before you go to bed at night, tonight and every night, search the spotlight of your mind and determine if you are planting gorgeous flowers that you wish to share with everyone. Or peace sapping weeds that must be plucked and thrown in to the fire that burns away the dross that keeps us from our highest good?

Till the soil, plant the flowers, or burn the weeds?  All of thee above. We are all sure to have some weeds, just remember when you notice them, to be grateful that you have the ability to be honest and introspective so that you may rid yourself of weeds before they overtake your beautiful garden of peace, happiness, love and joy. 

Oh Arjuna,the Kurus and the Pandus what did they? ( paraphrasing from the Bhagavad Gita, my bad tendencies and good tendencies, which ones won out today?)

Feet don't fail me now!

Lots of people that I know have been complaining about problems with their feet lately.  Whether you are a yogi or not it's important to know about this structure that holds you upright all day long.  This is your foundation.  If there's something going on with the feet it will throw you off balance in other areas.  The feet are affected by the weight we carry and the way we carry our weight.

Start to pay more attention to the way you walk (or as we in the massage world call it, your gait).  Is your heel striking the floor first or the ball of your foot?  Look at the bottom of your shoes and see where you have more wear in them.  Are you walking on the inner (medial) sides of your feet or more lateral?  Are you standing equally on your two feet?  Are you distributing your weight evenly as you walk?

Here's some good info on fee from one guy who is an amazing illustrator and another who is an awesome doctor.

From Bandha Yoga:

The Longitudinal Arches of the Feet in Yoga
In most fitness and athletic pursuits, the feet are important due to their weight-bearing function (except in swimming and martial arts, where the feet are used to kick). Yoga practice places more importance on the role of the feet. For example, the soles are thought to be a location of minor chakras. Additionally, precision movement of the feet affects parts of the body that are far removed. For this reason, it is important to understand their anatomy and biomechanics.

In this Scientific Key we study the structure of the longitudinal arches of the feet.

First let's look at the anatomy:
1. The bony arches
lateral, medial, arches of the foot
On the outside of the foot, the talus, calcaneus (heel), cuboid, and lateral metatarsal bones form the lateral longitudinal arch. This is the shallower arch and is the main weight-bearing surface of the foot. Flattening and deepening of the lateral arch occurs through movement between the cuboid and the fourth and fifth metatarsal bones.

On the inside of the foot, the talus, calcaneus, navicular, cuneiform, and medial metatarsal bones form the medial longitudinal arch. This is the deeper arch. Flattening and deepening of this arch occurs through movement between the talus and the navicular bones.
2. The ligamentous arch
plantar fascia, foot arch

The plantar fascia is a fibrous ligament-like structure that runs from the calcaneus to the bases of the toes. Lifting (extending) the toes tightens the plantar fascia and deepens the arches.
3. The muscular dynamizers
tibialis posterior, peroneus longus and brevis

The muscles that dynamize the arches are divided into the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot. The intrinsic muscles originate from and insert onto bones within the foot. The extrinsic muscles originate from the lower leg and insert onto the bones of the foot. In this Key we study the peroneus longus and brevis and the tibialis posterior—three of the extrinsic foot muscles. Contracting the peroneus longus and brevis muscles tilts the foot outward (eversion). Engaging the tibialis posterior muscles tilts the foot inward (inversion). All three muscles can be used to strengthen and deepen the longitudinal arch of the foot.

Now, let's look at these structures in yoga postures.
1. Extending the toes in Padmasana deepens and strengthens the arches.Extending the toes in Padmasana deepens and strengthens the arches
2. Contracting these muscles lifts the arches in Urdhva Dhanurasana.Contracting these muscles lifts the arch in Urdhva Danurasana
The arches can be worked and strengthened in many other poses (especially the standing asanas). Gain awareness of these important structures by gently inverting and everting the feet and flexing and extending the toes in various poses. Always practice carefully and gradually build awareness as you apply your knowledge of anatomy to your practice.

Ray and Chris

For more information on Yoga and anatomy check out the Bandha Yoga site