ADVENTures in yoga

Advent is the Lent’s much cuter big sister, a season of preparation as anticipation and stress and excitement build. Regardless of what the mall displays tell you, it is not yet Christmas, dear ones. We’ve still got a ways to go. Our mantels and bank accounts and, most importantly, our hearts have not arrived in the stable this early. Advent offers us time to get there without whiplash.

 

Each week of this month we light a candle of the Advent wreath in the United Methodist Church, pausing our holiday hurry to concentrate on one aspect of the season, one gift God offers to us in our impatient waiting. To coincide with the candle each week, I will offer a few yoga poses and accompanying playlist you may want to adopt as an Advent practice this year.

Advent Wreath at Galloway

 

We begin with HOPE.

 

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, Dr. Maya Angelou

 

Hope anticipates good things to come, trusting in a future we don’t see. This week, strengthen and restore. We are given the freedom to be patient with ourselves and our bodies wherever they are, because we know that even small things–like itty bitty hands reaching up for a mama from a manger– grow. Pause between poses to feel the changes in your body. Celebrate what you can do right now, enjoying the hope of more and deeper in the days to come.

 

Check out this week’s playlist to get into the spirit of hope as you practice here.

LOVE

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.

-Opening monologue, Love Actually

 

Love is a choice, especially when things get frenzied with the urgency of “___ number of shopping days until Christmas” and cleaning and booking plane tickets and planning out the family meal. Love requires a pause and a breath to actually see those we’re supposed to be celebrating. Why the big gatherings? Why the presents? Emmanuel, that’s why. God is with us, and we re-enact that truth in every conversation and moment of connection. This week, take time to notice your body’s response to the yoga. Notice the changes from the beginning to the end of your practice. Notice how comfortable it becomes to settle into Emmanuel as your breathing slows and deepens. Feel the love.

Playlist for this week’s practice here.

JOY

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

-Excerpt from Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, Dr. Maya Angelou

 

Like our excitement, your practice will build week to week with patience. As the need to focus so intentionally on when to breathe in and when to breath out, when to bend which knee, and how to transition from one pose to the next all fade into muscle memory, we’re freed up to simple enjoy our practice. As Christmas goes closer, here’s hoping the same thing happens. The more we embrace our traditions as a form of emotional muscle memory, refusing to get hung up on the details, the easier it becomes to embrace the joy calling out to us from within them.

Listen to this week’s playlist here.

PEACE

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

– Excerpt from Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, Dr. Maya Angelou

 

Rest. This is the first thing I learned to love about yoga–that I could go to a restorative class and fall asleep in a pose and it was the most beautiful, peaceful few minutes of my entire week. It’s one of the most cited reasons for why people ever go to a yoga class in the first place: to find peace. Don’t worry about trying anything too new or different this week. Just rest, love. Soak it in. Rest.

Listen to this week’s playlist here.

 

Poses to incorporate into your practice this season:

Simple Hip Openers

I’ve been told that most people–particularly women–carry much of our emotion in our hips, meaning stress leads to tighter muscles and shorter movements there. Stretching these central muscles and ligaments eases tension physiologically and emotionally, and it opens up our range of motion for more difficult poses in the future.

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  • Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet on the mat just below your hips
  • Bring the left ankle to the right thigh just below the knee
  • Gently press on the upper left thigh just below the crease in your hip with your left hand               IMG_0063
  • If you’d like a deeper stretch, interlace your fingers behind your left thigh and pull it toward your heart with the left knee bent perpendicular to the ground and the left foot flexed. You can also  straighten out your left leg, bringing your foot to the ceiling if you’d like
  • Take 3-5 deep, slow breaths in and out here, then repeat with the other leg

 

 

 

Downward Facing Dog (Down Dog)

Arguably the most familiar pose in yoga with the exception of the cross-legged Lotus pose, Down Dog is an important connector in yoga, a resting pose to transition from standing to seated and back. In many cases, it helps us flow naturally from one pose to another. It certainly doesn’t feel like a resting pose as you are learning it, but with practice it because almost a security blanket, something we can always return to in practice when we feel stumped about where to go next.

IMG_0050IMG_0050

  • Beginning on all fours, place hands directly below your shoulders on the mat
  • Walking the feet back a little bit if needed, press yourself up by straightening your knees and lifting your hips into the air; use your fingers to claw the mat, taking pressure off of your wrists and palms
  • Imagine your shoulder blades sliding toward each other and down your back toward your hips as you press your belly button in toward your spine
  • Imagine a triangle with a straight line from your hands through your head and shoulder to your hips forming one side and the opposite side moving down from your hips through your knees and into your feet
  • Press  your heels into the mat if that feels comfortable or alternate bending one knee and coming up onto your toes on that foot while straightening  the other leg and bringing that heel to the mat to get your body used to this stretch
  • Take 3-5 deep, slow breaths in and out here

 

 

Plank

Just a few breaths here will tell you that this deceptively simple pose is doing some major work on your abs. Five deep breaths in and out helps build your core strength to help you work up to a variety of other poses.

  • IMG_0051From downward facing dog, shift your weight forward so that shoulders are directly above your wrists and legs are straight
  • Focus on drawing a straight line from the top of your head through your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet; avoid the temptation to arch your back too deeply in either direction
  • If you would like a little less intensity, bring your knees to the ground for supported plank
  • Take 3-5 deep, slow breaths in and out here

 

 

Pigeon Pose

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I incorporate this into almost every practice, feeling my hips noticeably relax from my first breath to my last in this position. It can be a real challenge at first, and it’s not for everyone, but with patience pigeon can help increase the range of motion in your hips and open you up to advanced poses.

  • From downward facing dog, bring your right foot forward and place it on the mat    behind your right hand
  • Walk your right foot over to the
  • left hand and let the knee fall open to the right, touching the mat
  • Lengthen your spine as your focus on keeping a straight line up through the crown of your head
  • If you’d like a deeper stretch, lean forward over your front leg, coming onto your forearms or laying your forehead directly on the mat
  • Take 3-5 deep, slow breaths in and out here, then repeat with the other leg

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste loves. And Merry Christmas!

 

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