Fire represents passion and dedication. In tribal communities, there was one person selected to keep the coals burning to ignite the flame. Fire is sacred, it represents our will, power, and the discipline to sustain any practice. In June, we celebrated the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and wrapped up the 30-Opportunities Virtual Yoga Challenge. We celebrated the concept of fire through our commitment to the challenge with the community we created online.
During the virtual challenge, we connected with the community daily, in the Facebook group. We asked questions, shared highlights from the daily class, and responded to the journaling prompts provided. It was interesting to observe how practitioners adapted the class playlist for the challenge to suit their individual needs.
Fire and forgiveness are key elements for the yoga practice. We develop the capacity to discern when we need more heat and discipline, and when we need more softening and grounding. The major task of the challenge was to be consistent in showing up for yourself, on your yoga mat, every day of the month. What the practice looked like could be flexible depending on what your body and mind desired on that particular day. Balance is essential, in yoga through developing equal parts of strength and flexibility. But more importantly, in our day-to-day lives as we define what self-care looks like and how we show up for what needs to get done in any given moment.
This week on the #PracticeWithClara podcast, we answered your questions that arose during the 30-days. Clara and I dissected specific yoga poses, discussed stability versus mobility in your body, and where to begin if you’re new to the practice. Highlights from this week’s episode are below.
I’m really interested in the whole topic of this evolution in your practice. What have you come up with in terms of various postures or practices that you would not recommend that seem to be very popular or vice versa? What did your personal practice reveal about more beneficial elements and something that we could be doing more of?
clara: I don’t actually teach pigeon pose. I think I teach pigeon once every six months in a regular yoga class. I don’t teach it anymore. It’s actually not super healthy for the knees because you’re in deep flexion and external rotation at the same time.
I teach thread the needle or double pigeon or cow face because, in these poses, generally your knee doesn’t go past 90 degrees. So it’s not as deep flexion at the knee. Less is more. Those of us who are flexible are naturally going to want to go deeper because it feels good. It’s our natural range of motion. And because of this, I’ve had almost every injury in the book. If you are working with a lot of mobility, a lot of flexibility in your body, you actually want to be shortening the poses. You want to be hugging in and up, and drawing up specifically in the inner thighs and outer hips. And those of us who have a hyper range of motion in the shoulders want to go smaller in the movements in terms of the arms. This protects the shoulder girdle. Observing the flexibility versus the mobility in bodies, and what is needed, is one of the biggest learnings for me. In my own practice and as a teacher watching students.
stephanie: What advice would you give for teachers when they’re queuing to the two different bodies?
clara: I have always had this vision that I’d like to have two different yoga classes. One for people who have stability and one for people who have mobility, because the cueing is so different.
The biggest thing is that you look around and then if you see anybody really going forward in a way that doesn’t look stable, you would go and talk to them and give them the why.
I feel like that’s very empowering for the students to know why we are asking them to do something.
stephanie: Always give the why, so people who are listening know what cues are for them or what isn’t for them.
clara: Exactly. Another big learning I’ve had in my own body, as well as teaching, is in the floor series. When I first started teaching my floor series for the lunar part of class, the cool-down would be very extensive.
Classically you go through twists hip openers, forward, an inversion, and then Shavasana, in the practice. What I realized is less is more in everything in life, but specifically in the cool-down series. Now I usually only teach two to five poses in the cool down and hold them for an extended period of time. The reason being that the lunar part of class is to set people up to go into Savasana, to go into deep relaxation. And so you want to take them out of the sympathetic system into the parasympathetic system into what we call rest and digest. And so I think the most effective way of doing that is actually doing less, but holding the poses for a lot longer so that by the time they come into Savasana, they feel very, very relaxed.
stephanie: How do you compliment the body through the solar, active part of class, and the lunar, slower part of the class? Why do you counterpose?
clara: In the style of yoga I teach, Vinyasa yoga, we generally have a peak pose, meaning a pose that we’re working towards. And everything that happens in the solar part of class, meaning the heating part of class, the warmup is to the peak pose where we open and strengthen the parts of the body that need to be prepared to do this peak pose. What happens in the lunar part of class is that whatever was strengthened, we lengthen in the solar part, in the lunar part of the class. So we counter it. So what we call a counterpose is the things that were lengthened, we then shorten. And the things that were strengthened, we release.
I would be interested in going further into the journaling question from the perspective of connecting, to giving to myself, rather than it just being a routine. I really want to practice self-care in a way that is nourishing and not just surface level.
clara: Part of the 30-day challenge is to show up regardless of how you feel and just whatever happens is what happens. The question is bringing up beautifully how there is the shadow side of something becoming a routine.
You’re not thinking about it. This makes me think of The Rig Veda, which is the oldest of the sacred texts of India. There’s one line that says something like, if you just do a mantra for the sake of doing it without any intention behind it, you might as well not do it.
And I feel like this is bringing up the question of how to do something, not just for the sake of doing it, but to have connection through it. How do I stay present when I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing?
Self-care is bringing a sacredness to the mundane. Every action could be an act of self-care, meaning caring for yourself at that moment, regardless of the action. It’s bringing awareness to yourself, and part of the awareness is setting boundaries and being mindful of what’s going on inside of you.
It’s also your intention in doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Self-care can look many different ways. It doesn’t have to be a bubble bath with a glass of wine, it doesn’t have to be a nature walk. Self-care could be lying in bed and sleeping for an extra hour or listening to music or dancing or whatever it is that takes care of yourself.
I’m interested in learning the processes of more traditional practices, chakras, elements, the whole vocabulary. I’m curious if there’s a standard curriculum for yoga or is it varies by type or by region or what your individual process?
clara: There is no curriculum to this practice, which I feel like can be mildly overwhelming. What I found really helpful was to ask my teachers about the books that they read. We have an amazing bookstore here in Vancouver called Banyan Books. It’s beautiful, and one of the coolest New Age bookstores I’ve ever been to in my life.
Peruse and see what speaks to you. My father, who I grew up with always said to follow your nose in terms of what interests you. And there’s no right or wrong way to learn. It’s way more beneficial to move toward the things that move you.
I would like to know more about chanting, how it affects the brain, where it originated, and what mantra is your favorite.
clara: Mantra is of India and the mantra specifically of Sanskrit. With Sanskrit specifically, they thought of how vibration affects the body. So that particular sound, they figured out, affects a particular part of your body.
A lot of the mantras are almost like a prescription for a particular kind of effect in your body. And so the way that they put these particular sounds together is going to create a particular vibration, which is going to make you feel a particular way.
There was a study by Dr. Masaru Emoto on how vibration affects water. He performed a task where he put water in bottles and then he spoke to them. He sang to them, he played particular music to them. And then he took pictures of the water molecules afterward, like after eight hours or 10 hours of being exposed to the sound. There were some bottles of water that he sang to and said loving things too. and the water molecules looked like snowflakes. And then he did other ones where he cursed at them and was really angry when he spoke to them. And the water molecules looked fractured.
Vibration really affects the way that we feel on a molecular level because there’s so much water in us. We are 70% water. From an experiential point of view, I’ve definitely had some of, most, my most transcended experiences by doing mantra.
Mantra has been around since the Vedas dating back to 2,500 BC and probably way before that. A few of my favorite mantras are the Gayatri Mantra, the Tryambakam Mantra, and the Asatoma Sadgamaya Mantra.