tap into your root

Despite fighting off a hacking cough and raspy voice, I gathered my strength and took part in a workshop this weekend at Trinity Yoga put on by the lovely Jay Fields.

Jay Fields, graceandgrityoga.com

Jay has been one of my most inspiring teachers, and really admire her honest approach to practice and teaching… and geaky love of anatomy and the human body, like me! Jay’s new endeavour, Grace and Grit Yoga, was launched this summer and aims to create space for rawness and realness in the art of teaching yoga so as to create more growth, integrity and humanity in the yoga community. Check it out at HERE!

This weekend we focused on the pelvic floor, or mula bandha (moo-lah bahn-dah), which is the engagement of the energy of the first chackra, muladhara.

mula bandha is a lock, meaning it helps to contain the flow of energy that leaves and enters our body. This area of the body drives our basic needs, creativity, sex and is our  source of power. At its most basic, mula bandha is a muscular lifting-up of the pelvic floormula bandha is engaged using the perineum muscle, at the base of the cervix in women and prostate in men, the movement of the pelvic diaphragm. Tapping into this engagement helps us integrate power and energy, both in our yoga postures and life, between our lower limbs and torso.

Here are a great hip openers to start working into this area of the body:

thread-the-needle or figure-4

Next, engagement of the abdominal muscles is very important to creating a stable pelvic floor… firstly transverse abdominus which is a big thin sheath that lies deep in your abdomen and wraps horizontally around your torso (and is used in coughing, which I’m good at now!).

Also, pyramidalis, which is a small anterior pyramid-shaped muscle that lies between the top ridge of the pubic bone to the navel. engaging it helps flatten the sacrum and gets rid of sway back.

… and what better way to engage these muscles, than plank!

Press your outer arms inward and firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then spread them away from the spine. Also spread your collarbones away from the sternum.

Press your front thighs up toward the ceiling, but resist your tailbone toward the floor as you draw your pubic bone to your navel (using pyramidalis!). Lift the base of the skull away from the back of the neck and look straight down at the floor, keeping the throat and eyes soft.

So, on a physical level, practicing mula bandha draws your attention to the support provided by the musculature of the pelvis. This increases the stability of the pelvis, and, thus a safe environment for spinal movement. mula bandha strengthens the solid foundation of the pelvis and the yoga posture, but it also lifts and compresses the  lower abdominal region and helps facilitate movement. ultimately, mula bandha creates a power, strength lightness and fluidity.

If you’re interested in more, there is a great article written by Jivamukti founder David Life on mula bandha in your yoga practice (see here). much love.

dementia & a daughter’s care

Dementia describes a group of symptoms that impacts normal functioning, specifically with language, memory, thinking, judgment and behaviour.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, a new case is diagnosed every 5 minutes.

AD begins slowly. It first involves thought, memory and language. People with AD may have trouble remembering things that happened recently or names of people they know (more so than normal age-associated memory loss).

In AD, over time, symptoms get worse. People may not recognize family members or have trouble speaking, reading or writing. They may forget how to brush their teeth or do other daily tasks. Later on, personality changes (anxious or aggressive) and confusion (wander away from home) may set in. Eventually, they need total care. This can cause great stress for family members who care for them.

Here is an exerpt from Sunita Pilley’s article in Elephant Journal describing her experiences with her father, Alzheimer’s and a Daughter’s Memory. It’s a beautiful piece about the realities of caring for someone with dementia, as well as making bigger connections. Much love xo.

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I’m doing my daughterly duty with compassion, and even though it’s exhausting, I don’t care. My dad’s comfort is worth it. I just don’t know how my mother does all of this 24/7; I really don’t. Thankfully she has angels in her life.

I don’t know. This sucks. Not just that I have to take care of him, but that I can’t talk to him about anything. I kiss his hands. The same hands that once expertly clipped aneurysms, now gently yet nervously fidget with no stimulation. These are the same hands that used to pick me up when I was a child.

When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, my family didn’t have any emotional conversations about it; I suppose we were all in shock. One day he was a renowned neurosurgeon with over 25 years experience, and the next day he was asked to see a psychiatrist before returning to the hospital. He hadn’t harmed any of his patients, but there was evidence that he was forgetting things enough for people to be alarmed. And when the psychiatrist asked him what year it was, dad said 1993. But it was 1997.

I was barely 25. I thought Alzheimer’s was a disease for old people, like really old people, and my dad was just 63. As a neurosurgeon, he knew the precise meaning of this, as he and the brain were on intimate terms. What tragic irony.

I will never forget the brain.

I felt so sad for him, for his tacit acknowledgement of his forgetfulness, and for his utter certainty that he would never forget the brain. Here was a man who was so passionate about the brain that before medical school, he received a Ph.d in zoology based on his study of, what else, frog brains.

But my dad was more than a neurosurgeon. There was a silent reverence that people had for him that I understood because I idolized my father in a way, even though we had some rough years together during high school. I wish I could tell him now that I knew he was trying his best. I wish I could tell him that he taught me well.

My dad was not a god. He had faults like everyone else, but I choose to remember him, overall, as a very loving and generous personSometimes when I hold his hands, I silently convey all of this to him, and somewhere, beyond the brain, I know he understands.

The early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are the worst. The repeated asking of the same questions can be mind numbingly torturous. It was beyond annoying, and if we didn’t answer him right away, he got crazy angry.

My dad was a constant practice of patience and selfless service.

Dad doesn’t recognize anyone anymore, except my mom and sometimes not even her. The trauma of the diagnosis and the horror of the first five years have come and gone. The rising action and the climax are over. I anticipate the resolution could drag on for some time.

I have learned many lessons from my father not only from his general character and way of being with people, but through stock phrases he was fond of repeating. Whenever my brother and I fought over something, and my father overheard the inevitable, that’s mine, he would remind us in a stern tone, There is nothing called yours and mine here.

My dad taught me the importance of what he called, one-pointed focus, and he gave me the freedom to choose my own path. From him I learned real passion. He was deeply interested in his work, and he studied it voraciously throughout his career. I couldn’t believe those were my dad’s hands. The same hands that used to help my mom fry our family’s constant supply of plantain chips could also delicately operate on a spinal cord. They are a perfect union of working man and artist. And when I look at my hands now, I see not just our physical similarities, but also some greater connection of consciousness between him and I and all things.

staying grounded

during a yoga class you often (too often?) hear the word “grounded“… but what does it really mean?

literally, “grounded” refers to our body making connection with the earth; whether it be the 3-points of our feet (baby toe mound, big toe mound and heel), planting the base of our thumb and index finger in an arm balancing posture, or feeling our entire back-body supported during savasana or relaxation posture.

focus on letting parts of your body relax that make connection to the earth and fell the heaviness of gravity, this helps you to feel “grounded“. And since you were focusing on physical sensation of your body making contact with the earth, the energy of your mind got a bit of a rest too.

grounding not only helps us relax but can reenergize us too. Imagine the hardness of the floor which you are standing on firmly with your feet. Picture how it is supporting you and even pushes back. “Ground reaction forces” is the shock you feel in your joints, the rebound of the ground against your action (ask a runner!).

Grounding” helps us connect to the earth and feel connected (psychologically) to something much larger than ourselves. This helps us remember we are not isolated, but connected to others, and puts our problems in the context of this expansive ecosystem. If we think of our energy moving downwards (as in birth or digestion) it allows us to focus on visualizing an idea (third eye), vocalizing it (throat), creating relationships (heart), centering ourselves (solar plexus) and ultimately liberating the energy necessary to make things happen in the physical world (see teachings of Amanda Zapanta).

Picture a tree

… just like it, we grow both upwards and downwards. You can visualize this by thinking of the sciatic nerve as tree roots that branch down from the spine into the lower legs and heel, awakening the hips and legs. These strong healthy roots are important. As well, using the grounding reaction forces to lengthen our spine and reach up toward the sky with the crown of our heads.

So especially with the changing of the seasons, take some time to feel grounded, strong and secure in your legs and hips. Feel the earth support you and connect to the energy moving downward to your roots. Much love.

(adapted from Staying Grounded by Erica Heinz, Huffington Post, Feb 2011)