Drawing In and Letting Go
I'm back in New York City for a long stay while I recoup between teaching dates. And I have to say, there's nothing quite like the Big Apple. Yes, it's crowded, not the cleanest place in the world, and oh boy, can it be loud. But it's also really, truly alive.
This city is lived in, that's for sure. It's a constant reminder to grab life with both hands, be who you have to be, and say what you came to say. Most of all, it's a place to experience all that life has to offer, whether it's a rooftop yoga class, a walk on the pier as the sun comes up, voyaging to Ellis Island for a taste of history, or catching one of the hundreds of live shows that artists, musicians, and other performers put on every day.
It's also a lesson in humility. After all, there's no way one could do everything the city has to offer in one day, or even one year. And tonight, sitting on a couch, enjoying dinner with one of my best friends, Bari Koral, I was discussing just that concept.
Bari is a busy singer-songwriter with a skyrocketing career in children's music. I'm a busy yoga instructor. We both are the originators and ultimate directors of our careers, and we are both called upon to be continuously creative. Whatever you are involved in, I can bet that you've got a lot going on, too.
Stress builds the moment we try to do more (or feel like we should be doing more) than we have time to actually give. As we cross the threshold from "I can give this" to "I have to give this in order to succeed, even though I have nothing more to give," we become trapped in a cycle of giving out until we burn out.
Granted, sometimes we all push it a little bit, to get that presentation done, or to take on a project that asks one more late night of us than we'd like. We have kids, which can be as draining as it is joyous; or we say yes to relationships that cycle into their own challenges, like illness or emotional struggle. Even if what we do is our life's work, and we love our interactions with others, there is still no way to be everything for everyone. In yoga, prana, or life force, is also the drawing in that which nourishes us. Apana, literally down breath, is also letting go of things that are potentially toxic. For example, an inhalation is prana, an exhale, apana. Eating healthy food is prana, and excreting the waste created by that same food is apana.
Yoga, first and foremost, is a practice that bring us into a state of inner growth and transformation. It comprises conscious choices you make in every moment that lead you toward an experience of harmony--the balance between taking in what serves you and letting go of what doesn't. Knowing this, you can look around and see where you're being nourished and where you're participating in that which takes a bite out of your ability to love your life and be free. Sometimes you'll be surprised by what you find.
For example, you may think that offering your time to watch your neighbor's child once a week is an offering of support for her, and it is. However, what if those few hours are time you could, and need, to be spending on your own creative projects, or just taking a bath and a nap or a yoga class? Is there someone else in the area that could watch her child properly, or is it forever up to you? If you really think about your life, you may see places that you're taking up the space meant for someone else, and by not giving up your placeholder status (apana), you are actively blocking yourself from filling the spaces that only you were born to inhabit.
It's a fine line, but once you get used to making space to move toward your best dreams, you'll see that the exact right person will step into the void you left behind. Trusting that it will happen, and gathering the courage to make a nourishing move, is a skill and a process.
In the same way, in your yoga practice, seek out opportunities to bring in new energy and stop saying yes to old, limiting behaviors, or habits that aren't quite fitting you anymore. If you've always come up from Low Lunge into High Lunge with a supremely arched back, and you hold the pose with the front of your heart open wide but the back of the heart and the ribs frozen, and your back tight and cranky, perhaps it's time to move into the pose with new awareness. Try coming up by drawing in your belly and front ribs and waving up the front of the spine as well as the back. Now you're not giving everything away through the heart, but equally giving out and giving in.
In each moment, you can ask yourself: "Is this choice serving my health and happiness or moving me away from it?" When you step into your own power whenever possible (hint: it's always possible!), you'll create a wave of wellness, vitality, and goodness that will optimize your experiences both on and off the mat.
Plus, when you balance prana-apana in your daily practice, you're more likely to be sensitive during your whole day. That way, when the scales begin to tip toward draining, resistance-oriented decisions, you can more quickly pull back, choose again, and live with your inner tank on FULL more often than not.
Core Pose: Down Dog Lifts into Down Dog Waves
It's so easy to get imbalanced in Downward-Facing Dog. The heels over-stretch, the back arches, and the hip and shoulder joints become pressured and congested. Dropping your weight toward the floor is going to make the pose heavy. To lighten it up, open your joints and allow your prana to flow along with your nerves, circulation and detoxifying lymph fluid, start with one thing: Lift your heels.
It's counterintuitive, perhaps, but lifting your heels lets a wave of buoyancy move up from Earth to sky, releasing your hip joints higher, engaging the low belly and front ribs slightly upward, lifting the shoulder joints forward and higher, and finally, rippling the spine and crown of your head forward and longer between your arms.
There's a lot to understand about this movement. So, I've included a video this week to teach you how. Enjoy!