Going Through the Motions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently I’ve been down in a dark hole. I struggle with depression on and off, but this was the lowest I’ve been in recent memory. “I know that I have wonderful people in my life and so many things to be grateful for and I am, so what’s my problem”, I will ask myself. Then I feel worse because I have no excuse to be so down in the dumps.

For me, being bummed out is a series of contradictions. I don’t want to go to sleep at night, yet don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t want to do anything, but don’t want to not do anything because that will give me yet another reason to feel bad about myself. I want someone to reassure me that everything is okay, but I’m convinced that it isn’t. Being around people is the last thing I feel like doing, yet it’s when I’m with people that often I feel slightly better, even if it’s temporary.

The worst part is feeling like I’m just going through the motions of my life. There’s still work, responsibilities, and even basic behaviors like taking a shower and emptying the dishwasher. Yet I feel like I’m doing it all with a big cloud of sludge surrounding me.

This brings up another contradiction. I don’t want to be fake. It doesn’t seem very yogic. I don’t like putting on positive, cheery front, if that’s not being true to where I’m at. On the other hand, I still have to hold it together. If I’m leading a volunteer group or teaching a class, I need to be holding a positive space for people. So is it better to act upbeat even if that’s the polar opposite of how I feel?

A wise person pointed out to me, “What if you just were to be where you are? What if you do just go through the motions and accept that that’s where you are right now?” For some reason, this took some pressure off. I still show up. I don’t have to be the life of the party, but I do have to put myself out there and do the best job I can. If I feel like I’m just slogging through it, that’s how it is right now. Going through the motions is a way of keeping hope. Even if I don’t believe things will get better, if I keep doing it anyway, eventually I can begin embodying the effort I’m putting forth.

The fog has started to lift. Yesterday I had the chance to do a long yoga practice. Midway through I found myself giving out a big sigh as a huge block of sadness fell away. I kept going through the motions of my practice, but for the first time in awhile, felt present in my body and okay with myself.

 

 

 

Tip Tuesday: 5 Poses for Easing Back Pain

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

Baby got back (pain)?

You are hardly alone. Here’s a 5-pose sequence to help get you back on your game.

1) Breath work: Standing Uddiyana, 3 rounds
Feet hip-width distance apart, hands braced on mid-thighs, straightening arms
Exhale all air out, while still empty of air, pull belly in & up.
When you need to breathe, release belly, then inhale.
Work up to holding for 10 count

Image credit: Yoga Journal

 

2) Seated side bend w/ neck release
Sit in cross-legged position. Bring right hand about 12 inches from right hip. Inhale, reach left arm up
Exhale, side bend towards right.
Keep length in both sides of waist and expand your breath out into the rib cage. Repeat on the left side.

 

Neck release: Inhale, reach left arm out a foot from floor near left side of hip feel for stretching through side of neck and out through fingertips.
Exhale, relax the neck
Gently release torso to center, use hand to pick head up. Repeat other side.

Image credit: Ann Hyde Yoga

 

3) Abs with a block (or roll)*
Take your block the medium-width way (you may also use a mat that has been folded into thirds and then rolled up) and bring it all the way up between the thighs. Bring legs straight up over hips. If you need to down-level, bring the legs to 90 degrees or work with feet flat on the floor, knees bent. Clasp hands behind the head, elbows in.
Inhale, spread breath into low back.
Hold the breath, curl tailbone up, squeeze block or roll.
Exhale, lift both elbows straight up towards ceiling
Inhale, lay head and shoulders down on mat
Work up to 3-6 rounds

Image credit: Marisha Doan
Only take the thumbs-up variation like Marisha if you really love abs

 

4) Cobra with or without a block
Lay down on the belly. Brings hands 6-12 inches in front of shoulders.
Inhale, press through hands and feet and pull chest forward. Elbows are a couple of inches off the floor.
Exhale, tuck tailbone down towards heels,
With block between ankles:
Place block the long way so it is parallel to the mat. Squeeze onto the block with the inner ankles and big toe side of the feet.
Inhale, press down through hands and feet to pull chest forward
Exhale, squeeze block with ankles and tuck tailbone

Image credit: musasana

 

5) Threading the needle/back release pose
Lie on back with knees bent, hug knees in towards chest. Hook left ankle across the right knee, creating a little triangle (eye of the needle) with left ankle across the right thigh.
Inhale, thread the left arm through the eye of the needle, bringing hands on top of right knee or back of right thigh
Exhale, draw right knee in towards chest
Repeat on the other side.

Image credit: Rory Earnshaw

 

*No block or extra mat to roll? No problem, use two towels and roll them up in the same manner.

Tip Tuesday: Keeping Lower Back Long in Cobra Pose

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

Photo credit: Ambrosia Lifestyle

Cobra pose is a mini-backbend where you articulate more arch in the upper part of the spine, while lengthening out the lower back. I often cue students to “press into the hands and feet to help pull the chest forward.” Arching the chest forward can be a difficult move to feel. “I can feel my shoulders drawing back, but I can’t tell if I’m pulling my chest forward and breathing into my upper back”, one my students related.

One trick that helped my over-archy, banana-like lower back stay long was placing a block between my ankles in cobra. Place a (preferably soft) block the long way, skinny side down in between the ankles and squeeze the block with your inner ankles. Keep the squeeze and bring the hands forward in front of the shoulders. Inhale, press into the hands, and pull the ribs forward while continuing to squeeze the block with your ankles. Direct your breath up into the collarbones and upper spine.

Squeezing the block helps you draw the sitbones (bones at the bottom of the butt) down. It makes it pretty hard to arch from the low back, so it helps re-pattern your body to pull the ribs away from the waist and arch from the upper spine. You can keep a block by your mat and practice this cobra variation anytime.

 

 

Tip Tuesday: Playing With Your Edge in Yoga

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

The Edge (but not the edge in yoga)
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Robert E. Klein)

Frequently in yoga classes, an instructor will talk about “playing your edge” in a yoga pose. But what does this really mean?

A great explanation comes from yoga philosophy. In the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, the second sutra says, “Sthira sukham asanam.” Loosely translated this means, “The posture [should be] steady and comfortable” (Translation: Georg Feuerstein). In yoga, you seek to find that juicy point in the pose where you’re making an effort and challenging yourself, but not pushing yourself beyond the edge of where the breath gets laborious and the pose becomes painful.

Playing your edge is a skill. We have the tendency to vacillate between both extremes: pushing ourselves too hard, sometimes to the point of injury or bailing out amidst a challenging pose. Mentally it can be tough to tell, especially when you’re habituated to either (or both) of these patterns.

One of the questions Ana Forrest received at the Yoga Journal Conference was: “How can you tell if you’re going deeper in a pose because you are embracing the challenge or if it’s just your ego wanting to push further? How do you know when you’re coming out of a pose because you’ve reached your edge or if you are merely avoiding the intensity?” Ana responded that is a process. “As you start getting in better touch with feeling into the body, you begin to discern the difference between where your brain wants to go and where your body thinks it should go. There will be some trial and error as you learn where you may go too far in a pose and tweaking and then you know that was too much or going out of a pose and realizing you were avoiding the intensity.”

So be edgy in your yoga practice. Be cutting edge. Just don’t “edge” your bets.

Tip Tuesday: 3 Poses for Depression

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

As I’ve shared, yoga has some terrific poses to counteract anxiety, but it can also help when you are experiencing the flip side of the anxiety coin: depression. Here’s 3 poses for when you’re feeling the blahs:

1) Sun Salutations: Ana Forrest calls sun salutes, “Yoga Prozac.” Sometimes you just need to move your body with the breath to move energy to lift you out of the hole. For added uplift, put on some fun, upbeat music as you flow.

There are a number of variations on sun salutations. Any version you like will work or you can follow the version in this video. The most important part is moving with your breath through each pose in the series.

 

Image credit: Yoga Journal

2) Elbow to Knee: Abs are a fantastic way to access your power and your juice for life that gets buried in depression.

To get there:

1) Lie on back with bent knees up, feet slightly lower than height of knees, toes active, hands clasped behind head
2) Inhale into lower back, hold the breath and curl tailbone up
3) Exhale and reach both elbows towards left thigh, reach through straight right leg, pull belly down.

Once you’re there:

1) Relax neck into the hands
2) Keep knee over the hip, not rocking forward
3) Stay up and off of shoulder blades

Image credit: Forrest Yoga

3) Dolphin: Go upside down! Going upside down quite literally turns everything upside down. The physical shift naturally shifts your perspective and bring you some uplift (er, upside down lift?) If you have a practice of handstand, this is another outstanding pose for depression (just make sure you do a pose like dolphin or another shoulder-opener before popping up to handstand).

To get there:

1) Bring hands to upper arm to measure elbow distance. Align second finger with elbow or clasp hands out in front of you

2) Wrap shoulder blades in towards armpits, flexing chest muscles

3) Exhale, curl toes and lift hips up into dolphin

While you’re there:

1) Lift up and out of shoulders

2) Reach up through hips and reach heels down towards mat to fire up legs

3) Keep neck relaxed

What poses are helpful to you when you’re feeling low?

Tip Tuesday: Where Do You Put Your Feet in Warrior 2?


Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

The main adjustments I make in Warrior 2 or Virabhadrasana B have to do with the feet. I’m always amazed by how important foot placement is. Often by just making a slight correction with the feet, misalignments in the rest of the pose are corrected. Here’s a few tricks for getting your feet in the right place:

1) Make sure your feet are far enough apart The feet should be three and a half to four feet apart. However, unless you have a measuring tape with you, it can be tricky to tell exactly how far that is. Luckily you have a pretty handy built-in measuring stick. Reach your arms out straight. Your wrists should be over your ankles and this is the approximate distance you want between the feet.

2) Use your back leg If your front knee is bending way past your foot, it could be your feet are too close together (see above). It could also mean you’re not using the back foot, especially if you feel a lot of pressure in the front foot. Push through the outer edge of the foot on the back straight leg to help support yourself and ease the strain on the front foot.

3) Line your front heel with the arch of the back foot If the front foot is too far to either the left or right of the back foot, frequently one hip will be rolling forward with the other hip drawing back. Lining up front heel to back arch helps align the hips (and often solves the problem completely).
Image credit: Yoga Co-op

Tip Tuesday: 3 Poses for When You’re Feeling Anxious

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

What yoga poses do you do when you’re feeling anxious? Your heart is racing, adrenaline pumping, mind chattering away. When anxiety strikes, the following poses help me get grounded, tap into my strength, and quiet the mind.

1. Dolphin pose
Dolphin *seems* like it would just be a pose for arm strength, right? Actually it’s a lot about the legs. If done right, this pose will really help you feel the power in the legs to support the opening in the shoulders.

To get there:

1) Bring hands to upper arms to measure your elbow distance. Line up second finger with the elbow and work with forearms down or clasp hands out in front of you

2) Wrap shoulders towards the armpits so you feel the chest muscle (right where arm and armpit meet) engage

3) Exhale, curl toes, lift the hips up reaching up and out of shoulders.

While you’re there:

1) Keep reaching up and out of the shoulders
2) Breathe, especially into lower back, spreading breath into the ribs
3) Let your inner ankles resist one another, firing up the legs

2. Bridge pose
Bridge pose demands that you not only get into your legs, but also expand your breath out into the chest. The deepening and slowing of the breath necessary for bridge pose helps counteract the short, shallow breathing that accompanies anxiety.

To get there:

1) Lie on the back with knees bent, feet slightly wider than hip-width distance. Bring fingers down towards heels, rotate palms open.

2) Inhale and expand the breath into chest, lifting ribs away from waist

3) Exhale, press into the feet, tuck tailbone, and press hips up

While you’re there:

1) Slow down the inhale, feeling for expanding breath into upper chest, fanning the ribs towards the face
2) Tuck tailbone up
3) Press into feet, lifting and spreading the toes

Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

3. Feet Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) For those times where you’re having trouble falling asleep or you’re waking up before your alarm with anxiety, feet up the wall pose is an amazingly effective solution. I keep a blanket near a little wall space in my bedroom for just those times. A few minutes of breathing here is usually enough to help me switch physiological gears and get back into bed and sleep.

To get there:

1) Sit close to the wall with knees bent, left hip facing close to the wall. Flip the legs up the wall so they are vertical or close to it

2) Adjust hips as you need to, reach arms along floor out by shoulders with palms open

3) Optionally, you can place a folded blanket next to the wall and have this under the hips and torso with head on floor. I actually like to place the blanket over me, if I’m just getting out of a warm bed.

While you’re there:

1) Keep feet active
2) Feel neck and shoulders relax down
3) Breathe! If your mind is particularly agitated, commit to staying for at least ten breaths (and you may find you want to stay longer).

Share any yoga poses you find helpful in combating anxiety in the comments.