Tag Archives: awareness

Riding the Breath (cross-posted from ReflectionsYoga.com)

Here is a blog post I wrote for one of the studios where I teach, the lovely midtown Manhattan oasis, Reflections Center for Conscious Living. It’s amazing that such a serene and lovely space for yoga and meditation exists in the middle of hustle-bustle Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. That’s one of the things that makes Reflections so special. It’s also where I did my first yoga teacher training, with my teacher Paula Tursi. She taught me a great deal about the breath, in particular, she taught me how to watch the breath, and to use this watchfulness to know when I’m struggling or trying too hard in a pose. Without further ado, here is the text of the post, or you can read it in its original form here.


Riding the Breath

One of yoga’s gifts is the cultivation of witness consciousness. By teaching us to watch, with compassionate detachment, the fluctuations of our minds and bodies, yoga shows us that everything is always arising or dissolving.

We start with the breath and watch its fluctuations, its rise and fall in our bodies. Then we begin to extend our awareness to our bodies, and watch sensations rise and fall in them as we move through the poses. Another way to help us build awareness is to watch our thoughts and the attitude we bring to practice. By checking in with how we’re feeling when we sit in those first few opening breaths of class, we can set a baseline of tone or attitude that we can compare against once practice is over, and then see again the cycle of arising and dissolving.

To see everything as either arising or dissolving helps us when life takes its inevitable challenging turns. Cultivating witness consciousness and compassion towards yourself on your mat can help you bring this same watchfulness to your life. Instead of being caught in the drama of things ending or the exultation of things beginning, what would happen if you took an attitude of equanimity and allowed things to simply settle into place?

For many of us, the idea of letting go of control is very threatening. We have agendas that want fulfilling and we have invested in things turning out such and such a way. When things don’t go as we hoped, many of us suffer twice: once for not getting what we wanted, and twice for having our expectations thrashed. And yet we keep fantasizing into the future and sowing the seeds of our disappointment.

When meeting the edge of a challenging yoga pose, our teachers usually tell us to slow down, approach with respect and awareness, breathe, and feel. Witness consciousness is doing this before every big and small decision, before each potential argument, before each potential disappointment, before each conversation, before we deepen into another yoga pose, in short, always! If we can pause long enough to not barge ahead when a mindful step is a more skillful choice, we may find the rough edges of our lives becoming smoother. Instead of a series of ups and downs, we can learn to navigate ourselves right down the middle, riding the edge with grace and mindfulness.

~Post written by Lola Rephann

Lola teaches at Reflections Wednesday nights at 6:30pm (Foundations 1), Fridays at 6pm (Yin Yoga) and Sundays at 12:30 (Quick Fix)

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Yin Yoga & Meditation

There’s a lot of reasons to do yin yoga. Yin yoga is an excellent counterpart to more active “yang” vinyasa or other physical practices. It’s great to practice yin yoga when you’re stressed out, over-heated, or for women in their moon cycle. Whenever you have been too yang, yin yoga will help re-balance your energy levels and serve as a tonic to an over-stimulated, over-booked life. Yin yoga can help quiet the mind and heal the body. Like all forms of yoga, yin yoga can help settle the mind by bringing awareness into the subtle realms of breath and energy, but yin in particular is well suited as a preliminary practice to sitting meditation. Why is this so?

Yin yoga helps lengthen and strengthen connective tissue (ligaments, fascia, possibly even bone!) by virtue of its “yin” methodology. The three principles of yin yoga are 1) meet your edge 2) stillness 3) hold for time. Once you meet your first edge in a yin pose, you’ll soak there until your body opens enough to allow you to find your second edge. Then you soak in stillness there, holding for time, until another edge appears, and so on.

The attention to detail it requires to follow the three-step path of yin yoga (find your edge, stillness, hold for time) naturally settles the mind. The breath in yin is used as much to invite space in (breathe into an area that feels stiff or congested) as it is a release (lion’s breath is a yin treat; holding a pose for a long time can sometimes feel claustrophobic and lion’s breath is a great way to release excess energy without moving). As the body cools down and the muscles become relaxed, the body naturally requires less oxygen. The breath can become slower and deeper.

The quality of breath that develops from a yin practice makes it a perfect antecedent to sitting meditation practice. Not only will the joints used in sitting (spine & hips) be open and lubricated (yin yoga practice actually helps create more of the substance, hyaluronic acid, that cushions the joints) but the breath and mind will already be well slowed down. A sitting practice after yin practice can go very deep.

I will be offering a workshop on yin yoga on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 at Reflections Yoga in NYC. The focus of this workshop will be on using yin yoga to prepare the body and mind for meditation.

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From the Archives: Oh, My Aching Psoas!

Here’s another archival post from my other blog Metropolitan Observer, where I blogged about yoga and other things before I started this blog. If you’ve been following my posts, you may have noticed I’m just a wee bit obsessed with the psoas, a postural muscle that is part of your core and can basically be summed up as “hip flexor.”

Where does the psoas attach? To the lesser trochanter, a knob on the inside of the femur, shown here in the circle.

Psoas attaches to the lesser trochanter.

The psoas is a long, thin muscle that starts in the posterior (on the back) mid-spine and sort of wraps around to the front (anterior) of your body where it finally attaches at the lesser trochanter on the inside of the femur bone.

The psoas is used in hip flexion and extension, but it is so much more than that. It is a highly sensitive muscle that responds to what is happening around it, having led to some writers calling it an “organ of perception” more than a muscle. The psoas plays a major role in both posture and a person’s gait, and changes in these will affect the psoas, as changes in the psoas will affect both of these in turn.

Here’s an article I posted about a year and a half ago where I first began to gain awareness about this fantastic muscle. If you’re interested in learning more, check out another post I wrote, “The Sensitive Psoas.”


Oh, my aching psoas!

The psoas muscle is not one most people think about, or even know about! But having spent the last two months in an awesome yoga teacher training, I know about muscles I didn’t even know existed! The psoas being one of them. It is a deep muscle that essentially attaches your upper body to your lower body. It starts on your last thoracic vertebrae and attaches to the following four lumbar vertebra. If what I just wrote sounds like Greek to you, the psoas attaches deep within the body, behind your rectus abdominus (the 6-pack muscle), to your middle/lower spine.

Shaped like a hammock or a sickle, it is a spirilic muscle, meaning it spirals. Paula says it is a feminine muscle. In me, today, it is a REALLY sore and stiff muscle. And when psoas is tight, lordosis, or swayback, happens, which I have right now. I’m a mess.

I have this because in kundalini class on Tuesday, one of the kriyas involved scissor kicks for four minutes. I could’ve plugged in more and used my abdominals instead of my psoas (hip flexor) to lift my legs, but when you’re in the throes of kundalini, working through a weird kriya with the intention of releasing negative energy, well psoas be damned! there are more important things to attend to!

But I’m paying for it a bit today. I’m walking funny, I get stiffer the longer I sit at my desk, and I can’t WAIT for yoga tonight to bring some much needed attention to this very stiff part of my body right now. I’ll be doing a restorative class, actually, which holds poses for much longer than in a regular yoga class. I need that extended time in poses to help release this tension. Any movement will be good, but I’ll really benefit from the parasympathetic response that the restorative practice will induce. It’ll also chill me out supremely (parasympathetic response = relaxation response) which is just great as tonight at 9:04pm, we go into New Moon in Taurus and I will appreciate being grounded and calm for my bath-and-gratitude ritual (soak in a bath of sea salt/apple cider vinegar and make a list of 10 things you are grateful for).

Taurus Moon helps us get more in touch with emotional attitudes around abundance. If you are having blockages towards prosperity (however you define that and “what” you are prosperous around), Taurus New Moon is a great time to set an intention for being receptive to abundance! I clearly have an abundance of psoas energy right now, but I am grateful, because I received this due to the determination I practiced kriyas with on Tuesday 🙂

For more info on the psoas, check out this video on MyYogaOnline.com, a cool site with good information for yogis, yoga teachers, anatomy freaks, etc.

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Tantra as path of self-awareness

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Active Feet/Spreading Through the Bones

I went into tonight’s class inspired to get everyone rooting down into their feet to feel how expansive and light they can be…with a strong foundation. I’m not sure the message got across. Maybe it was the heavy after-rain air or maybe it was Monday blues or something else entirely, but class was a little distracted tonight, and that was my first time as a teacher dealing with that level of distraction (that’s for another post: how to respond to what you see reflected back from your students).

So in the spirit of trying again to see if I am more integrated in the lesson the 2nd time around, I am going to attempt teaching active feet here in this blog, albeit in a far less concrete way. See, the feet, when spread, become like energetic little straws, drawing energy into the body and also sending it OUT from the body in a very radiant, directed way. It’s easy to talk about the feet and structurally how they are our foundation and our roots, etc., but experiencing the feet energetically is different.

Although I love the anatomy lesson about the feet, what I really tried to get across in tonight’s class is the energetic component of the feet. Energetically, they can be these expressive, playful things that do a lot more than hold up our bodies.

Try standing in tadasana and lifting all ten toes, spreading them, and then putting them back down on the mat. Take your time. Lift your toes. Breathe. Spread your toes actively and consciously, moving the pinky toe as far away from the big toe as you can. Breathe. Keep your toes lifted! Feel the air circulate in between the toes. Feel the webbing between the toes stretch. Feel the ball of the foot rooting into the ground with a distinct energetic signature and feel the energy vibrating out of each lifted, stretched, expressed toe. Breathe. Now slowly and with awareness, lower the toes, while keeping them spread!, back to the mat. Feel the difference between standing with un-expressed feet, and standing on expressed feet. Feel more connected, more grounded? Maybe feel the minor chakras in the soles of the feet? Do you feel your heart center bounce up as the arches of your feet open? These, and still other!, sensations are the result of active feet.

You can spread the bones in the toes by threading your fingers in between the toes. Try it now. Thread your index finger between the big toe and second toe and keep working until you get all your fingers in there. Not easy, right? Shows you how habitually “closed” we tend to be with our feet. If you think about your feet and the chakras in your feet the same way you do about your heart chakra, you wouldn’t want to walk around with a collapsed, habitually closed 4th chakra, would you? But we almost never think about our feet being “open.” Those Yoga Toes sandals sold in the back pages of Yoga Journal do exactly the same thing as spreading your fingers between your toes does: it creates space in the bones of the feet. Spread your fingers into your toes daily and bunions, hammertoes and other foot foibles will stay away.

In your yoga practice, try active feet. Make a conscious choice to EXPRESS through your feet. Ground down to rise up. In asymmetrical standing poses, like tree, spread your toes and feel the base of the foot widen and become softer. Let that wide, soft base support you. Feel every wobble and bobble as you continuously readjust for balance. In asymmetrical standing poses where you lengthen one leg, like bird of paradise, try spreading through the toes and imagine each toe like a laser beam of energy, coming from your deeply rooted core through your strongly aligned leg, and I guarantee you your standing pose will be brighter, sparklier, and your experience of the asana will move from one of effort to one of expressed joy and radiance.

Since reading Ana Forrest’s book Fierce Medicine, where I was formally introduced to the phrase “active feet,” this has become a de facto part of my practice. I almost can’t imagine forgetting my feet when everything else in the pose is considered, yet think back to how you practice. How often do you let your back foot in Warrior 1 or 2 slouch or just get kind of lazy? How about in forward folds, do you forget or stop flexing your feet and just let your thigh bones yawn open? Or how about in complex arm balances like Eka Pada Galavasana? Does expressing through your toes help you lift your leg? Does it create a sensation of lightness? I have experienced the difference in all these poses by activating my feet and not stopping my asana at the ankle, but being aware of every small detail, down to my sparkly toes.

The simplest and most direct way to experience active, spread feet is in tadasana. Lift all ten toes, breathe, spread them out, breathe, spread them out some more, breathe, now slowly lower your toes back to the mat, breathe, feel the energy rebounding from the sole of your active feet up your legs and into your heart center, creating a more lifted, more connected tadasana. I’d love to hear any feedback on how active feet has made a difference in your practice.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you. And keep those toes sparkly! Namaste.


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Moving into the Bones

a cross-section of bone

Since I received the multiple diagnoses about my skeletal and joint conditions, I have been searching for more information which could help me live a better life with these conditions. I intend to use my personal experience to help others with similar conditions, and thus I am very interested in studying Yoga for Arthritis, Body-Mind Centering, yoga therapeutics, and other movement/healing modalities.

Last week I had a visit with Kim-Lien Kendall, a teacher I met when I was studying at Levitate, which later became Reflections. I always enjoyed Kim’s teaching style and her knowledge of anatomy. I learned a lot from Kim’s classes, and appreciated her fun, exploratory approach to asana that was solidly grounded in deep understanding of anatomy.

I reconnected with Kim when I asked her to recommend teachers for yoga therapeutics, and mentioned my recent diagnoses. She offered me to come to her studio, saying she could help me. We met this past Monday in her private space on W. 27th St. She had a life-size anatomical skeleton in her office (“Jacques,” cast from a male skeleton) where she was able to show me exactly the locations of my bone spurs and worn cartiledges as I told her the MRI and x-ray results. And the best part is…she thinks everything I have is “fixable” and “manageable.” I knew it was manageable, but to think I could fix something? Wow…this was exactly the word I wanted to hear.

We discovered I have several movement patterns that are directly related to the areas of my body that are experiencing wear now. I favor my left side by about 65% and have carried my (way too heavy) bag on that side for years. I sit in the front of my hips, which is where the wearing is in the labrum. Years of wearing high heels have probably contributed to lumbar discs either bulging or (I don’t know yet what the condition of my discs is; still waiting to see the doctor for this report) leaking fluid or who knows what.

As Kim observed my body and movement patterns, she also noticed that I tend to rotate my femur internally and hold it in the top of the socket…again, corresponding to where my joint is worn. With a few simple exercises to “get me into the bones,” Kim palpated the bones of my feet, my sacrum (especially the SI joint, which is so much tighter on the left than on the right!) and my femur to help me connect to the bones.

Body-Mind Centering sees the body as cells that become membranes that become organs (or bones or nerves, etc.) and all of these cell types have different behaviors. Kim wondered what “type” I was. She said she is a “blood type,” and she can look at a person and observe them and generally figure out which of the body systems they are most in tune with. Whether or not I am a bone type, I still needed greater awareness of how I am carrying the bones of my body.

To re-learn movement patterns is called “re-patterning,” and this is some of the work I will need to do as I move forward in life with these various diagnoses. The idea of changing movement patterns through awareness fills me with hope and optimism, not to mention excitement at learning a whole new way in which to understand my body and life.

I am very excited to begin my studies in Body-Mind Centering, and feel that because I am experiencing these things, I will be able to help others with similar conditions. It’s ironic, but not too unlike the course of my life thus far, that I would find my next path in life through injury, trauma, or the perception of loss. In fact, I have gained: new awareness, new understanding, and greater compassion.

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