New Years Yoga Challenge Week Two: Mindful Movement

“The Buddha himself said, ‘There is one thing that when cultivated and regularly practiced leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? Mindfulness centered on the body.’ ~ The Issue at Hand: Essays on Buddhist Practice, Gil Fronsdal (this book is available as a free PDF if you’d like me to send it to you)

Hi, everyone! Welcome to Week 2 of our challenge, finally!

As several of you know, a few days ago I made a fifteen-minute video of this week’s practice, then promptly discovered I’d cut the whole lower half of my body out of the picture! I’ve had difficulty finding time to re-do it (I blame the upcoming Mercury Retrograde!), and I know it’s hard to follow a written practice. While I try out using a video camera instead of my iPhone for next week, I’ve decided to share some written instruction and a video of a practice I really like from NYC-based teacher Jillian Pransky.

This week (Sun. 1/18-Sat. 1/24), do this or a self-guided practice daily or go to a class of your choice. In your home practice and in class, focus on bringing your awareness fully into your body and breath. Take your time with transitions between poses. Keep your eyes focused on a point (dristi). Last week’s practice was somewhat physically challenging. This one is mellower. Notice how you feel about the differences and the thoughts that arise.

Check in with me once this week to let me know how it’s going, if you have questions, and to get credit for completing the challenge.


Seated breath awareness:

Before beginning the asana sequence, sit or recline comfortably (cross-legged, on your heels, or on your back). Sit up tall, then try to maintain a long spine while relaxing your legs, hips, shoulders, jaw, and face. Breathe through your nose if possible. Bring your awareness to your breath’s movement in and out of your lungs. Notice if your breath feels “stuck” in one area of the lungs, choppy, or short. Consciously deepen and expand your inhalations so that they fill the entire lungs–belly, ribcage, and upper chest all expand. Feel the three-dimensional quality of a deep, full breath. Purposely exhale more slowly than usual, pulling your navel in toward the front of your spine and gently pressing all the breath out of your lungs. Over the next few minutes, try to equalize the length of your inhalations and exhalations. Find a steady, rhythmic breath pace. Be curious and precise with your breath. Maintain this steady rhythm throughout the asana practice. (If you know ujjayi breath, you could practice that instead.)


Asana sequence:

Set up in tabletop position, exhale fully. Check the position of your hands and knees. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, fingers spread wide with weight evenly distributed across the hands. Knees are apart, right underneath the hips.

Cat and Cow: From tabletop, inhale to cow and exhale to cat. Repeat for five cycles of breath.

Downward-Facing Dog: stay for five cycles of breath.

From downward-facing dog, bend your knees and walk your feet forward to the top of your mat. Bring your big toes to touch or bring your feet parallel to each other, about underneath the hips in a standing forward bend. Stay here for three cycles of breath. With a full inhalation, slowly roll up to stand in mountain pose.

Practice one or two rounds of this modified sun salutation or any other variation of the sun salutation sequence that you like. (If you have questions about this, please send me an email, and I can explain in more detail.)

Then, try this six-minute Slow Flow sequence from teacher Jillian Pransky. I really enjoy the breath-focused pace of her cues and the simplicity of the sequence. This sequence ends in mountain pose.

From there, have a seat and practice baddha konasana (cobbler’s pose or bound angle pose) for five long breaths (in this video, the demonstrator does not fold forward–feel free to do so if you like). Bring your hands to the outside of your thighs and press your knees together. Sit with your feet hip distance apart, heels a little forward of your knees, and slowly roll down to your back. Try to keep your feet on the floor and make this a smooth, deliberate transition.

On your back, realign your ankles under your knees and your feet hip distance. Bring your arms alongside your body, palms facing down. Press the backs of your arms and the soles of your feet down as you slowly lift your hips–try to really articulate this movement by first lifting the tailbone, then the low back, then the middle back. Keep your arms next to your body or practice your favorite arm variation. Alternatively, you could choose to flow in bridge pose. Lift up slowly on the inhalation, lower slowly on the exhalation. Use the whole breath for each movement.

Hug your knees in to your chest. With your right hand on your right knee and left hand on your left knee, makes some small circles on the ceiling with your knees a few times in each direction. Then make some larger circles in each direction. Come into happy baby pose. Move around or be still here as you like.

Savasana: rest on your back or with your legs up a wall for several minutes. Get as comfortable as possible (use any available props you have), and give yourself explicit permission to take the time to be still, quiet, and relaxed.

Meditation: Sit comfortably and set a timer for two minutes so you are not thinking about the time. This week, practice with a simple mantra as a point of focus for your mind. As you inhale, silently say the word “let”, and as you exhale, silently say the word “go”. If other thoughts come into your mind, don’t push them away but don’t engage with them, either. Just notice their presence and return to the mantra and breath. (Of course, you can use some other mantra if you have one you like.)

And, for your amusement, “If Gandhi Took a Yoga Class” from CollegeHumor. There are some curse words in this video, so don’t watch it if you’re opposed to that sort of thing, at your desk at work, or take your yoga too seriously. 😉


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