Have Planets, Will Interpret

I’ll be embarking on a 500 hour training in October that I shall document painstakingly from day to day, week to week, month to month. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and it will be better than Cats.

In the meanwhile, I’m re-immersing myself in astrology.

If you believe we are all connected to one another, and the universe is essentially one and from the same life source, then astrology should be something you at least entertain in terms of validity.

It is the oldest studied/documented science. I believe there has been consistent documentation for just over two thousand years but records up to five thousand years old have been found.

I have been studying since 1994 and do some pretty kick-ass astrological chart interpretations if I do say so myself. I use astrology as a form of self-acquainting, a way for you to get to know yourself and see meaning in your gifts, strengths, flaws, and your path up to this point.

I love, love, LOVE comparing two charts against on another for any kind of relationship, whether it be romantic, parent-child, friend, business partners … it is all so fascinating to me.

I’ve been doing this for so long and see far too many accuracies to think there is any coincidence in astrology.

With this being said, I still have much to learn. And so do you – email HarrelsonCE@gmail.com if you would like your chart read.

zodiac-wheel

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Anger is a Gift

I don’t think anger anger is wrong. In fact, it can be used to serve a higher purpose. But when you hold onto it, and fight anger with anger, it only fuels hatred and separation.

So get out your frustration, scream at the world, throw a few items you won’t regret flinging across the room, and then sit and breathe.

It may even come to a point where you can skip all that hulabaloo and just come to the breathing part.

Emotions are part of the journey – enjoy being human!

Practice

Do you practice yoga and know of other limbs of yoga besides asana? If so, do you catch yourself ignoring some of those limbs, such as non-violence, truth to self and others, and discipline? It’s fine. We’re all a work in progress.

As with crow pose, alternate nostril breath, and meditation – you practice. Keep coming back to the Yamas and Niyamas and see where you can improve. We are human and we are programmed (most of us, anyways) to separate ourselves from others and look at people differently due to certain circumstances (poorer, richer, religious, non-religious, healthy, unhealthy, e.g.).

If you don’t like how it feels to be singled out, then become more all-inclusive. This will take a while if it’s something you’re not used to.

This is where the Yamas and Niyamas come in. I believe practicing these help you connect with everything and stop living life as though it’s all about you.

Trouble breathing fully? Practice. Can’t stand in Warrior II too long? Practice. Keep yelling at people on the road in traffic? Spending your energy on things that feed anger, jealousy, resentment? Practice the opposite. You are in charge of your reactions/responses to the actions of others.

Just stay true and changes come slowly so you can savor them. Enjoy the process!

The Currency is Energy

Your personal currency is your energy. Spend your energy wisely.

What experiences do you “buy into”? What kind of people do you “invest in”? Are they experiences and people that have a positive return, that inspire you to be a better version of yourself, that allow you to be fully you?

No? Then stop spending your energy!

It’s very simple. This can be applied in yoga asana, relationships, workplace and family drama, your personal development, and your reactions to other people’s actions. Think about all the reactions and interactions you had in the last week: How many positive returns did you earn? How many people were enriched by your presence? How many times did you walk/drive/hang up from an experience with negative feelings?

Start writing down daily how you spend your energy. Remember to take into account how you spend your energy physically, mentally, emotionally/intuitively, and then write down what you use to fuel your own body (like food/drink, hobbies, books you read, music you listen to, e.g.). Make this a habit for thirty days.

Become more aware of your energy expenditure, and you may just find you improve it simply by using the journal to become more aware of yourself.

There’s only one way to find out – start tonight before you hit the sack 🙂

Namaste, readers.

Giving Direction in Class

It’s easy to become nervous and speak too much or trip over your directions in class. I use these simple concepts (and often fail, but I am a work in progress) to help direct students concisely:

Verb, Body Part, Direction

Write up a sequence, then write down every cue to transition from pose to pose with this formula. It’s a great exercise for your mind. If you have time, perform the sequence and say it out loud. Remember not to add alignment corrections; this is an exercise to help you tell your students where to go.

This list is short and to the point. Try to find good synonyms once you become comfortable with these words so you can spice up the language.

Words/Phrases to create Action 
  • Press, as in “press your heels”
  • Squeeze, as in “squeeze your right thigh”
  • Push, as in “push your thighs back”
  • Reach, as in “reach the arms skyward”
  • Stretch, as in “stretch the spine long”
  • Lengthen, as in “lengthen your spine”
  • Lift, as in “lift your knee”
  • Open, as in “open your collarbones”
  • Feel, as in “feel your spine elongate”

These are less intuitive. I for one do not like using “rinse”, since it’s pretty misleading and if anything, your CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) is being stimulated to refresh its supply, not actually “clean” and “rinse” itself. Also, the idea of wringing your liver like a dishcloth makes little sense to me. I prefer the idea of “squeezing” one’s liver or spleen, because that is far closer to the truth of what your body does during twists. (I may or may not approach my yoga cues with a Spock-like set of glasses).

  • Rinse, as in “rinse your spine”
  • Wring, as in “wring your liver/spine”
  • Tilt, as in “tilt your chin towards the chest”
  • Tip, as in “tip your shoulders forward”
  • Wrap, as in “wrap your elbows in”
  • Spiral, as in “spiral the underside of your ribs to the sky”

These are mood changers when in the midst of a pose that poses a challenge to the students. It also reminds people to release tension in different ways.

  • Soften, as in “soften your shoulders”
  • Let go, as in “let go of your arms”
  • Drop, as in “drop your head”
  • Release, as in “release the gripping of the jaw”
  • Gaze, as in “gaze gently”

Let’s face it though, guys – you need to develop your own voice. If using a particular word or set of directions doesn’t sound like you or resonate with you, don’t use it! Using these softer, crunchier styles of language have really only developed very recently. I dare you to find a traditional Iyengar or Ashtanga class that uses all of these (or half of these) words and phrases in their classes. Verb, body part, direction makes sense in any teaching setting, but the more “New Age” terms have been picked to create certain moods and elicit sensations in the body and brain. If you like the concepts but not the words, use a thesaurus. Practice “teaching mode” when doing simple tasks like making toast, taking a shower, or getting dressed. Learn how to give simple directions to yourself when doing things that are automatic to you. Seems silly, and you’ll be talking to yourself a lot, but it really helps develop your own voice, just with better editing for the amount and quality of words.

Remember, there is no ONE RIGHT WAY. Pick what suggestions work for you and incorporate slowly. Students tend to gravitate towards teachers that are themselves, even if their personality is somewhat grating. Raw person = authentic person, and if your students don’t like your true personality mixed with yoga, they’re certainly not going to like your fake personality mixed with yoga. And remember, the best teachers are perpetual students. Namaste!

That Awkward Moment Between Birth and Death

It’s called life. And yes, it can get awkward. How much more free and less stressed would you feel if you could never get embarrassed, never feel “stupid” for making a mistake or misstep?

It’s a choice. When you fall over in tree in the middle of class, you can merely set yourself back up and try to pinpoint the problem and fix it, or you can feel bad about falling, as though you’re putting on some kind of show for those around you and you disappointed them, and then beat yourself up about it as you get back in.

A fall, or doing the other side of a pose, or hearing the wrong pose altogether, is merely part of the learning process. Once done, smile at yourself and forget about it, staying mindful of the next step or the next incarnation of the pose.

When you take your day out on a loved one, trip and fall while walking on the sidewalk, and fail to detect an error in an important work email, it’s all just part of being human. If other people seem intent on focusing on your missteps time and time again, that’s not necessarily about you – it’s their inability to move on, to see their own faults, and feel compassion towards the qualities you share. We ALL share the quality of not being perfect – we never will be, and the journey will only end when we take our last breath.

So show up, breathe through every pose, smile when you and others triumph, dismiss the start of disparaging thoughts, and encourage yourself the way you would a child, a partner, a friend or loved one when they endeavor to do something as challenging as yoga. In other words, DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF, and enjoy every step on your path, even the ones that leave you in the mud.

Backbending is Heart Filling

Remembering to backbend with your upper spine can be difficult, as we naturally tend to collapse in our lower back (lumbar spine). In my former life as a gymnastics coach, the anatomically inclined coaches always knew to teach kids their backbends from the upper back (thoracic spine). This of course prolonged the acquisition of many skills, but once the skills were obtained, they were done correctly and safely and the gymnasts could do more repetitions of the skill, therefore increasing muscle memory and instilling confidence for their competitions.

Backbends can be simple – from just standing in tadasana and lifting the heart towards the sky to chakrasana – but even the simplest backbends done incorrectly time after time can increase compression in the lower spine and tighten the muscles around the sacrum, creating a very tight area in and around the joints. Add that to the amount of sitting the average person does, and you can create even more tightness and asymmetry in this area.

Using a block (narrow end if you can) prop it against the wall and put the narrow end of the block between your shoulder blades. Sit against the block and externally rotate the arms (make your palms face up/forward) and let gravity do the work of opening your collarbones and lifting your heart. Keep a light engagement in the pelvic floor and lower abs so as not to compress the lumbar spine.

Do this for as long as you can, or about ten minutes. Take the feeling of the block between the shoulder blades with you as you try some of your favorite backbends. Maybe you’ve been doing them right all along – if so, great! If not, approach your backbends as though you’ve never done them before. Be ok with NOT going as far as you’re used to because you know NOT to use your low back. Always be willing pull yourself backwards from a pose in order to correct form, or some day you’ll find you can’t do the pose at all due to an injury. Most injuries in yoga are caused by the ego. Some are most certainly NOT, but from what I’ve seen over the years and what I’ve done, I can say many of our ouches and chronic pain come from over-stretching, over-doing, and under-aligning all in the name of trying to look like an ideal we have in our heads.

Also keep in mind that bending backwards requires stretching in the front of the body. So, tight quads, hip flexors, psoas, pecs, external rotators of the shoulders, and more can restrict your backbends. Use the awareness that yoga teaches you to recognize if you need to work on any tight areas.

Remember, there is ideal and there is real. Be real. Pose with integrity. And be sure you can breathe while you do it!

Focus on What Is

There are so many yoga asanas I cannot do. So, I focus on what I can do. I focus on what feels good, what feels empowering, and work baby steps to making poses I don’t have. And if I never do lotus or full hanuman, I can still have a fulfilling life. There are other ways to practice yoga. Today, I chose another limb other than asana.

May we always be practicing, as life is the longest practice we have.

Take Charge, Be Human, Be Awesome

Take charge of your addictions – recognize your addictions to fear, sadness, being the victim, being the one in charge, e.g. We have emotional habits, and like anything else we can break them. It’s work, but not impossible. Be thankful for everything and anyone, even those that hurt you, because they teach some of the most valuable lessons.
When I say, “Namaste” at the end of my classes, it is because I am inspired to do so, not because it is what “yoga teachers do”. After teaching I feel super connected to everyone in the room. In my translation, namaste is, “The electrical energy, atoms and molecules, light and vibrations within me recognize the exact same in you.” We are only different based on what we see, and what we see is merely a fraction of what is there.
We are the same, whether you want to admit it or not. Like my dad and I were saying today, it’s one simple rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Just effin’ do it. That includes yourself. Chew on that. And thank you all for being yourselves

Warrior I and Warrior II

In Warrior I, your hips and shoulders will square. You’ll scissor the inner thighs towards each other and internally rotate the back thigh. The front thigh externally rotates and the inner knee is on top of the ankle. I always say the knee itself should point the same directions as toes 2 and 3. Peek at your big toe out of the corner of your eye – you should be able to see it.

In Warrior II, your hips and shoulders are open. You will externally rotate both legs and take out any excessive curve in the lumbar spine. Send the direction of the tailbone straight down (I hesitate to tell people to “tuck” their tailbone or to “scoop” it forward, although sometimes I exaggerate a physical cue in order to get the desired effect). Have the shoulder blades soft, not pinching together, and the arms should have the gentle tension of pushing down on water.

Heel to heel alignment is often touted, although some may enjoy front heel to back arch. Pretend a straight line is drawn from heel to heel and then soften to front sitbone to sit over that line.

Alignment in lunging poses like crescent, the Warriors, and standing asymmetric poses like triangle and such: Knees should not reach past the ankle, especially if the heel is coming off the floor. With a little increased ankle flexibility, you might have some wiggle room and still maintain stability in the knee joint. It’s just a good rule of thumb to keep the knee on top of the ankle when you’re doing standing poses.

The back foot will change angles in WI and WII. WI’s back foot will use a 45 degree angle as a median, but be sure to find a comfortable angle. Some will need a smaller angle, especially if the knees are a bit bowed or the ankle and foot flexibility is lacking. Also, squaring the shoulders may require a gentle twist in WI as many people will not be able to perfectly square their hips in this pose, meaning the shoulder of the back leg may drift back. Use the core/bandhas to gently pull the navel up and towards the opposite armpit to create square shoulders.

Transitioning from WI to WII often requires a lengthening of the stance, meaning the feet get farther away from one another and you take up more room on the mat. WII’s angle gets larger, where the pinky edge of the foot is typically parallel with the back of your mat. Again, if any pain is caused in the knee or ankle, adjust the foot to find comfort. Taking the toes inward can help align/open the hips better for many people. The real test here is to see where you feel the best fluidity in the breath; if the body and joints can ebb and flow with the breath, you likely have found the best alignment for you at that moment.

Be sure to feel equal weight in all four corners of the feet. I like to think of a diagonal line that goes from pinky ball to inner heel and big toe ball to outer heel. Then where the lines of energy crisscross there would be a gentle lifting. The back foot tends to be forgotten in these two poses, and so sometimes lifting the toes can help one gain feedback as to whether they are favoring one side of the foot or not.

Learn the difference between Warrior I and Warrior II, and practice transitioning between the two, back and forth. It’s a common transition in most yoga classes and standing sequences, so practice it with mindfulness and compassion for your body. Happy breathing!