Holy Cow! Or Holy Cat?

Friday, June 17th, 2011



Holy Cow! Yoga has blown my mind and changed me radically…again.
In keeping with an exploration of deeper core awareness and stability in my own yoga practice and in the classes I teach (see YogiPod blog post ‘Invitation To Hardcore Yogis’), I am experiencing a radical shift of sustained core awareness which has been my physical weak link forever. It all started earlier this year while touring India with Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher Desiree Rumbaugh and a bunch of other serious hatha (mostly Anusara advocate) yogis. The physical theme of Desiree’s teachings was working with T-12 (the 12th vertebrae in the thoracic region of the spine). Specifically we worked a lot on moving awareness into T-12 and moving T-12 back. In the front of the body the action translates as ‘don’t let your ribs poke out’. It also addresses anterior tilt of the pelvis (sway back). T-12 is the precise point of the most flexible (i.e. weakest) place in my back hence I have a super bendy sway back. Anybody with me here? This hyper-mobile / weak spot has allowed me to get into deep (some might say impressive looking) back bending postures for as long as I have been practicing asana yoga. For the better part of a decade of practice, this same spot has caused me a ‘crunchy’ discomfort in my swayed backbends (including warrior 1, crescent lunge, pigeon, and even seated meditation) which I have largely ignored. For years in my yoga practice I was falsely self programmed to think that back bending postures are supposed to feel (what I now register as) painful. Misalignments in poses eventually spill out and pan out as injury and pain in the body which is the source of a mountain of problems.
For a long time I harbored this pain in my body and misunderstanding of the asana in silence and shame. Who is suffering in their yoga practice in this way? I now raise my hand in a gesture of ‘present’.
T-12 is the ‘ground zero’ of weakness from where ‘sway back’ posture originates. In my body it is one of the major causes of an historically, nearly nonexistent abdomino-pelvic relationship, core awareness, or stability. For those of us who have this body type, It also makes for an unattractive lower belly that just kind of dumps forward. To compensate, we sway backers are familiar with sucking our bellies in which is simply a chronic state of stressful clenching. All of which leads to the alarming state of the inner body of this area which houses the vital organs of digestion and reproduction and hormone production. Stress, weakness, and lack of tone in the pelvis leaves these fragile bodily systems unsupported, ultimately leading to collapse and early dysfunction. Hellacious.
The radical and simple body/mind gateway I have found to bring awareness and strength to the deep core is by changing the way I practice and teach basic cat/cow pose (table-top position on hands and knees. Cow tilt-inhale arch the spine. Cat tilt- exhale deeply round the spine with a gaze back at the navel). The super flexible part of my back allows me a VERY deep cow tilt which I used to exploit with vigor-not a good thing. The weakness at T-12 also loves and craves the highly rounded, strongly rooted cat tilt which fills the void of collapse around my kidneys – a very good thing. The lesson here is: I (and all of you other beautiful sway backed yogis) need not practice or encourage any more flexibility in the T-12 zone (i.e. be aware of and correct cow tilt /anterior pelvic tilt/ sway back in your pelvis in most of your poses). Rather, we need to practice sustained pelvic stabilization or cat tilt in poses. My new way to approach cat/cow is to keep the strong cat tilt of the pelvis and take the movement of cow into the upper part of the spine, chest, and shoulders – where flexibility is needed. Here’s how I do it…on all fours, I broaden my collar bones, deeply melt my heart and keep my arm bones plugged into their shoulder sockets WHILE maintaining cat tilt in my pelvis. It was SO awkward at first. Stuff barely moved. But then I felt distant, unknown, deep muscles, opening up…hello psoas, nice to finally meet you first-hand, I’ve only heard so much about you. After applying and practicing this new action/insight into mindful movement (yoga, jogging, cycling, standing at the sink washing dishes, in line at the P.O., playing with babies etc) for a couple of weeks, I find my tendency to default into sway back is waning. Strengthening sustained awareness is the first step to building physical strength, and that’s where consistent time on the mat becomes vital even if it’s 20 minutes a day. My sway back is changing incrementally, everyday. I am experiencing freedom from a persistent sensation that I now understand to be pain. This is just one of the priceless gifts of yoga practice.
By maintaining stability in my pelvic tilt I am gaining more (hard won) flexibility in my upper back – which feels like a freaking wonder drug. The middle of my upper back has literally been locked up like a concrete and steel bank vault for a long as I have known myself.
The real treasures of my heart: compassion, love, creativity, clarity, freedom, beauty, joy, and a vibrant pulse of life, have also been locked up in there. Fifteen years into asana yoga practice and I am finally understanding what ‘heart opening back bend’ really means. A beginner once more!
The essence of this physical yoga practice is not about how flexible we are or how amazing our poses are, but rather how fully connected to our source we become . This connection to our essence provides stability and sanity and clarity. It is the ultimate aim of yoga. As a result of the consistent faithful practices of mindful movement, skillful breathing, and sincere self- inquiry with the intention to align with the higher Good, we create the conditions for our Light to shine with a sparkly brilliance that illuminates everything around us attracting and encouraging the light of all people to burn as brightly.
Get on a mat and find your Holy Cat!

- YogiPod is written by Melanie Buffett
Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Fairhope Alabama

You Are What You (rep)Eat

Monday, June 13th, 2011

YOU ARE WHAT YOU (rep)EAT

I always hated it when some skinny, more than likely well meaning ‘adult’ would scold me with the ‘you are what you eat’ message. I was an overweight kid. I was tortured by it, and it sucked to hear that I was simply a manifestation of my psychosomatic compulsive over-eating habits. Glad I’m (sort of) over that, right?

We are all essentially on a path of self discovery, or seeking the deeper meaning in life. What ‘I am’ does interest me. It’s an inquiry so vast and limitless that most of the time it’s too abstract and overwhelming.

At this point in my life the tangible context of ‘I am’ –meaning material life or the conditions in which I live, experience relationship, work, play, and create is of great importance to ‘get right’.

It is in this physical/material realm where I understand the wisdom of ‘you are the sum total of your choices’, i.e., most of me is made up of what I consistently take (food, media, environment, the company I keep, etc.).

In yoga philosophy there is the teaching of The Koshas that says the Self (the ‘I am’ ) is made of five layers or sheaths. The first, which is most familiar, is the physical body of skin, muscle, organs, bones, etc. It is called annamayakosha, which literally translates as the food body. The second layer is the energy body of breath and sensation- the movement of the life force within. The third sheath is the stuff of the mind. Next is our innate wisdom. Finally, at our core is the essence of our nature, pure bliss.

So maybe the good folks who came up with the sweet wisdom of ‘you are what you eat’ were yogis disseminating kosha theory of the ‘food body’. And maybe the rest of the message–that habitual choices in ALL aspects of our lives constitutes and determines the condition and shape of our bodies, mental states, daily surroundings, all of our experiences from birth til death– literally our life’s paths. It all boils down to our choices!

Bad habits are like funny little weeds in the garden. They crop up quick and grow super fast. Good habits are much more difficult to cultivate, slow growing, and oftentimes even more slow to produce flowers. It’s like planting a Japanese Magnolia tree. Choosing to nurture the beautiful purple magnolia flower is well worth the wait and comes with lots of weed pulling.

There is no garden without both weeds and flowers. Tending the yard or garden is a constant daily practice of keeping some stuff at bay while simultaneously faithfully cultivating the fruits, flowers, and good grasses. And so it is in life. Of course we all want flowers and no weeds. It’s just not realistic. Indulgent choices without being kept in check become habits. It’s our nature.

It always comes back to staying connected to our natural state of innate clarity moment by moment. Doing so empowers good choices now and helps us to see that our choices and habits up to this moment have by and large landed us in this present context. Once we swallow THAT, take responsibility for it, and make peace with it, then we can fully take charge of our lives from this moment forth.

It is possible to become fit at habitually making good choices that are in alignment with who, where, and what we want to be. It happens only through PRACTICE. For a lot of us that practice begins on yoga mats endeavoring in physical fitness. That journey on the mat has transformed me physically, energetically, mentally, and has reconnected me with deep wisdom and innate happiness (even if just in glimpses). Through asana yoga and meditation my habits have shifted and so have I.

Tangible change does happen, but does not happen overnight. And this is a good thing. Because sometimes we work really hard at ‘right living’ for very long stretches having experienced profound change in a positive direction and it seems an indulgent break is in order…like nothing but a leisure day and chocolate lunch will do. When that’s where I am, I compromise. If the old adage holds true, then today ‘I am’ raw vegan spicy carrot soup AND a dirty chai latte. Kind of like a little bit country AND a little bit rock and roll. Or a joyful mix of weeds AND flowers. A conscious indulgence every blue moon is blissful and is also essential living wholly.

Tomorrow my yoga teaching and studio work and inner light will guide me back to my healthy routine and rituals which I love and which keep me balanced, energetic, and sane day after day, year after year.
An old Jamaican proverb says it all…’I am what I am. I am. I am. I am.’

-Melanie Buffett

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Fairhope Alabama

Invitation To Hardcore Yogis

Friday, June 10th, 2011

INVITATION TO HARDCORE YOGIS…



HARDCORE – “having an intense interest in or enthusiasm for some particular activity, pastime or hobby.”

According to this definition of ‘hardcore’ from urbandictionary.com, I am a hardcore yogi. As a longtime student of Hatha yoga, my current interest/obsession in studious endeavors is deepening understanding, sustaining awareness, and strengthening connection to my core.

The core is not just abdominal muscles. I think of the core like the core of an apple- it runs plumb through the whole of the fruit. The core that supports the human body is not just muscle. The core is muscles, bones, energy flows, and most of all awareness. Awareness too is like a muscle, it needs training for sustaining.

‘Tis the season to jump on the ‘core strengthening’ bandwagon!
Everybody’s doing it! Maybe this is because it’s the (dare I say dreaded?) bathing suit season. Or maybe it’s because fitness enthusiasts and yogis are experiencing that a stronger center and sustained core awareness in exercise and asana practice is helping ward off aggravation in injurious prone joints and lower backs. Perhaps the entire Lower Alabama community simply read the article in May’s issue of Yoga Journal, ‘Beneath The Surface’ by Doug Keller. It’s a brilliant piece on exploring and connecting with the psoas — that mysterious, deep, huge muscle that connects legs to torso and majorly affects the quality of posture– which essentially is easeful, upright, and open-hearted.

The way we carry ourselves reflects the internal. Ultimately and optimally we live from an open heart.

This past week in my regular classes and in teacher training at Yoga Birds we have been exploring and working intensely in the core of the pelvis (a.k.a root lock, a.k.a. mula bandha). Thorough and repetitive action and awareness of this pelvic core focal point is the base of support for constant freedom, lightness, and brightness in the whole central channel of the body- all the way up through the crown of the head.

Using the brilliant and accessible Anusara Yoga method we are creating new insights and neuro pathways in our own mind/body connections by learning alignment techniques to access this ultimate core connection. We are using tools and props like the 3 Minute Egg to train the awareness and actions of the pelvic structures (femur bones/hip sockets/tail bone) to sustain the alignment, integration, and core connection during poses and vinyasa flow transitions.

I have not heard such gut grunting sound effects (which lead to seriously awesome belly laughter) in my classes ever. This is deep, challenging, utterly gratifying work. Folks who have been coming 1x a week are now coming 2x a week. They are experiencing tangible transformation which translates into freedom from physical pain, light, easeful, strong, upright posture, empowerment AND peace. More please!!!

My teaching week is done, and I don’t want to end my core awareness theme. There’s too much more fun to be had here. Everybody is loving the work.

So…..All Summer long, in my Anusara-Inspired Yoga classes at Yoga Birds we, with INTENSE ENTHUSIASM are practicing : breathing, standing, hip opening, back bending, forward folding, balancing, inverting, and vinyasa flowing, with a steadfast, unwavering core connection focus.

Commit to consistent practice this Summer. This is not a challenge. It’s an invitation to reclaim your essential natural physical architecture, free yourself from pain, and achieve optimal, stellar fitness without the sacrifices of straining and battering your body. It’s an opportunity for the transformation of a lifetime.

If you want it, you simply have to be hardcore about it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Yoga Birds