Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Why Vegetarian?

By Vedran
Vegetarianism is tightly bound with yoga and is by many considered to be a crucial part of the yoga practice. The practice in this context is seen as bigger than just what happens on the yoga mat. It is taken far beyond – to kitchens, pantries and cupboards. But what does vegetarianism have to do with yoga?

My first steps
Many years ago, I was receiving meditation lessons from one of my first yoga teachers, a tall bearded yogic monk, originally Australian, whose many years in India left an imprint both on his external appearance, orange temple robes and all, and on his vast knowledge of yoga traditions and philosophy. This kind, soft-spoken man gave me lessons and after receiving one, I went out and practiced and after a while, I would be given a new lesson that I would then integrate with what I had learned previously. This was before I ventured into Ashtanga. I had a soft hatha practice, drenched into lots and lots of meditation and philosophy. So, one day, my lesson with my teacher ended by him saying that I couldn’t proceed further before I stopped eating meat. I don’t remember what I answered to that but it was something along the lines of ”okay, I’ll give it a serious thought”. Inside, on the other hand, I felt offended. I felt offended by him suggesting one aspect of how I was conducting my life was wrong and I suppose that I also felt somewhat hurt. His opinions meant a lot to me and knowing that he obviously not only did not approve of something I was doing but that he actually seemed to have defined it as “not good enough” definitely stung. I kind of decided that I did not need those lessons anyway. And who was he to tell me what to eat or not?
Still, after a while I picked up a book on environmental- and health benefits of vegetarian diet. The book (I don’t remember the title or the author) was a bit on the preachy side but the first seeds of the new, non-carnivorous me were cast into the soil. I slowly started educating myself on how to build up a sound meat free diet. I am not the kind of person who goes cold turkey (no pun intended) easily. Or at least I used to not be. I had to learn how to cook proper food. Living on random boiled veggies wouldn´t work for me. And so I started. I picked up tons of cookbooks and experimented with soy products and other types of meet replacements. Sometimes it worked very well, while other things were more in the yuk – department. I don’t do yuk. I love food.
After a while, I got rather good for a rookie and my diet was almost completely vegetarian. And then I visited my parents. My parents live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a beautiful country with lots of beautifully tasting food. Unfortunately, my parents at that time, as most other people in that region, considered meat the only “real” food. Everything else is garnish. You don’t survive on garnish. They couldn’t get my new “fix”. Me a vegetarian? I am already too thin! I resisted for a while and then I broke completely. I woke up while I was in a restaurant with my close relatives and my brother said something like “Check out the vegetarian!”. The “vegetarian” was stuffing his face with minced meat of some sort, greedily devouring piles of the minced body of some animal. I felt so ashamed.
Short time after that, I came back to Norway, where someone served crabsticks at some meeting. They were disgusting. I think I had some. Then I stopped. I stopped, I went vegetarian and I never turned back. This was many many years ago.

The nature of the natural
I have noticed that people often tend to resort to the argument of “the natural” when we need to explain any kind of nonsense we do. Depending on what we need to explain, we depict the natural as desirable or something we need to distance ourselves from. So, while comparing someone to an animal most often connotes that the person isn’t too pleasant to deal with, we turn the argument around when we argue that something we take for granted needs to be the way it is because it is the “nature’s way”. One of those things is that when we kill animals, cut them up and eat their dead bodies, we do it because it is natural. We are at the top of the food chain. We kill because we can and feed on the lower species. Why then do we view it as repulsive when we who live in the political west hear that in some other cultures, they eat cats and dogs? How is that different from eating a cow or a sheep or an elk? Well, it’s not. It is as (un)natural to cut up a rat or a cat or a puppy and then consume their cooked corpse, as it is to do the same to a lamb or a cow, or a horse or what have you. Of course, we could argue that while it is natural to feed on animals, culture dictates which animal species are acceptable as food in a specific region or a given culture. And as far as being an animal goes, it seems like we are not supposed to act like animals when interacting with other humans while in our interaction with the animal species that our culture views as stove-friendly, we do choose to act like a dominant animal species, at the top of the food chain.
The difference is that a lion, a wolf, a bear etc. cannot decide that he/ she will feed on fruits, vegetables and nuts from this day on. We humans have both possibility and capacity to do so. There is nothing natural about us consuming meat of other animals. It is the question of culture, habit and convenience. In addition, the animals we eat are mostly not carnivores. We don’t eat wolves and tigers. We eat mostly vegetarian species, like cows and sheep. We eat them because we chose to. We chose to because there is a whole industry built around slavery, exploitation and ill-treatment of animals. We breed, genetically modify and slaughter other living beings in order to turn them into food. We cut up forests in order to grow crops to feed billions of animals bound for butcher shops and such. How is this an act of nature? If anything, it as an act against it.
To my great disappointment, I heard a renowned American self-improvement teacher say “Vegetarianism – done that – didn’t work”. He went on to say that he used to follow a “strict vegan diet” and that he got fat because all he ate was rice, pasta, potatoes and bread. Since when did stuffing your face with pasta, rice and dough become a “strict vegan diet”?? And then he said something like: “If you’re a vegetarian listening to this, here’s something you probably haven’t thought about: If we stop eating animals, they still aren’t going to stop eating each other! Those animals are going to die anyway! As are we!”. Oh gee, now, this is a well put and revolutionary argument! So, what does this mean? That we might as well start eating each other? A wolf is physically a carnivor and humans aren’t. And a carnivorous animal can’t just change his or her mind, so that the aforementioned wolf goes and has himself a lentil soup. Humans can.
And again – what about the environment? Apparently, it takes about 8-9 cows per year to feed a regular meat eater. Not because they devour these cows in their entirety, but because when you take all the parts of the killed animal in the account that a meat eater consumes during a year, about 8-9 animals need to be slaughtered to meet that need. It takes acres and acres of land and tons and tons of vegetables, fruit, wheat and what not, to feed one cow. So, when you eat this animal, you also eat all that it has eaten. The costs are grotesque! In comparison, vegetarians come practically for free. Check out Sharon Gannon’s “Yoga & Vegetarianism” for more facts.
And here’s the thing: Anything can make you unwell if you approach it in an uneducated way. Research links (check out “The China Study “and “Skinny Bastard” for the REAL hardcore facts) use of meat and dairy to the explosion of cancer and lifestyle diseases on the planet. And this doesn’t fail: The countries with the highest rates of meat and dairy consumption are also the ones most plagued by cancer, obesity, diseases of the respiratory and coronary systems etc. And sure, there are unhealthy, overweight and underweight vegetarians and vegans, but if you do it properly and intelligently, there’s nothing like vegan/ vegetarian lifestyle to make you healthy, energetic and gorgeous. I have been a super herbivore for most of my adult life and I am not overweight – I’m actually in a great shape – I am healthy and full of energy. So, no need here to eat a carcass or two. NOBODY needs this. Nobody.
A fellow yoga student once said: “All in the world is One, so in that way, you might as well eat a chicken or a cow as you can eat a vegetable!”. Really? Go eat your mother or your granny (or both! Knock yourself out properly!) then, baby. Or at least, eat your cat. No? Why not? Oh.
You either value life or you do not. If you don’t, you should start. If you truly value life, why should it be alright or in any way natural to torture and kill an animal and then consume its dead body? No matter what your stance when it comes to differences between humans and (other) animals, these too are creatures that want to live, that try to escape when they know they are in danger, they too get hungry and thirsty and care for their children. They do not want to end up in your wonton soup. If the are there, the chances are quite slim that they volunteered.

In asana practice, we do all kinds of postures with names inspired by the animal kingdom. There’s dog, cat, cow, snake, locust, crocodile, fish, peacock…. When the ancient yogis and rishis designed these postures, they did so by observing the animals in nature. The postures are there as a chance for all of us yoga students to embody the energy of these animals, to connect and hopefully to raise our level of empathy. On an esoteric level, asana practice too deals with your karmic patterns, stuff that is stuck in your body, your bones, muscle tissue, in your mind and in your energy circuits. Seen from this perspective, when you put the suffering, humiliation, torture and death of another creature into your body – because animal bodies are loaded with energy, as are human bodies, and things happen when you enslave, imprison and kill any being - how can this be good for you? It is not good for you, it is sure not good for whomever you have eaten, it is not good for the planet we live on. If you do yoga, if you read books on yoga, have good and knowledgeable teachers, you go to workshops and belong to a yoga community and you still eat meat, there is no other excuse but ignorance or laziness. You’re allergic to soy? Big deal. You can get your protein in gazillion different ways. If you eat a good selection of vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes every day, you will get what you need. You don’t need to shovel in beans every single day.
The phenomenal Jivamukti yoga teacher, Sharon Gannon, writes that the fact that we feed on other animals is a reflection of our slave driver mentality. These animals are born and raised in captivity and the sole purpose of their existence is to be killed and eaten. What if we viewed these animals as nations? If it seems far fetched, well, it shouldn’t be. These are complex beings that – let’s face it – don’t want to die. They die because they get killed. And we do the killing. If not directly, then by buying products that come from the industries that are based on slavery, mutilation and slaughter of other species. We are taught otherwise in our schools and in our society, but the core of the matter is that killing another species for their meat and skin is torture and murder. You want that? No one in their right mind wants that.
And what about the “organic meat” or game, the animals that lead good lives or even live in freedom? Some say it is okay to eat such animals, because they lived well and we also need to “control the population” of this or that animal species. What if we stopped shooting elk? Wouldn’t nature fall out of balance? First of all, where nature is out of balance, it is mostly that way because we pushed it out of balance. Human species has proved ingenious enough to come up with the most creative ideas, when we really want to, so we would surely find a way to keep nature restore balance in nature without needing to kill, if we wanted to. Secondly most hunters do not hunt game because they want to keep or restore balance, but they view it as sport. And what about the “good life in freedom”-thing? Does that mean that it would be more okay to shoot, cook and devour a free, happy human being than a poor one that has lived in captivity most of his or her life? No. It boils down to us arrogantly assuming that animals are things and that we own them. Nowdays, they come packed in nice plastic bags and boxes, all cleaned up, so that we as consumers need not reflect on how that meet got there. The cow or the goat donated it to the supermarket? Perhaps not.
And finally, if you are an ashtangi, or if you practice any type of yoga where you happen to chant a bit, have you ever chanted “Lokha samastha sukhino bhavantu”? In this chant, you wish happiness, prosperity and freedom to all beings out there. Yes, animals too. If you are an ashtangi, you have chanted this in the end of your practice, thereby devoting it to all the beings on Earth (and beyond, who knows?). And then, you go and eat them and dress in their furs? It is not a good feeling being a hypocrite. When we act like this, no matter what, we always know it, on some level. And it will always reflect in your thoughts, in your mind, in your heart, in your body. You can’t be really true to yourself and support killing of others. I know a great, fantastic and globally renowned yoga teacher that eats meat because of allergies to a lot of things vegetarians eat. This teacher says “I am a hunter” and honours the animals getting killed and eaten, their earthly and spiritual roots, their souls. With all due respect (because this is a person I admire greatly), what if somebody slaughtered this teacher’s family or lover and then honoured their souls and thanked them for their meat and skins? Unacceptable. As unacceptable as it is to kill any other creature.
I also heard a global pop star say “I am not vegetarian. I have never been politically correct.” What a pillar of enlightenment this person is. Not. It is not politically correct to be a nazi either. But still most of us wouldn’t want to be one.
To cut the preach fest here, if you are a meat eater and you are contemplating going vegetarian, do it. If you think it is hard, start thinking it is easy. It is easier for you to read up on how to maintain a nutritious and tasty plant based diet than it is for the chicken on your plate to be beheaded and get its legs cut off.

Now What?
Just stop. Stock up on some good vegan and vegetarian books (check out Sarah Kramer’s “La Dolce Vegan” – it’s easy to follow and the food is perfect) and educate yourself. Start ordering vegetarian food in restaurants. If they don’t have anything vegetarian on their menu, tell the waiter to tell the chef to make something. Demand. It works. It’s always a good test of a restaurant, by the way. If a chef can’t improvise forth a vegetarian dish, he is NOT a real chef. Why would you want to pay for something cooked by a sucky chef?
And remember: What you eat, drink and breathe creates you. Physically, mentally and energetically, it creates you. What you consume turns into your cells. The same way you wouldn’t eat just any crap out of your toilet and let your body turn it into your future cells, why would you want a decomposing and festering body of an animal (yes, fish too), to become a part of you. Because it really does become a part of you. And if you think “it’s not decomposing and festering!”, well do you know how long it stays in your intestines and simmers at body temperature? For days! And days and days! Meat! On 37 degrees Celsius! Whereas non- animal food shoots out of you quite quickly (forgive me any mental images this might have inflicted upon you). You feed your body and it uses what you give it as building blocks for a future you. Don’t turn yourself into a dumpster. Try it for a month. Try it for two. If you stock up on some good books, so that you don’t end up living on bread and rice only, you’re probably completely safe. If you do it this way, chances are, you’ll feel too fabulous to ever turn back..
Check your bookstores for good veggie cookbooks or go online and get them, if that is easier. Don’t get the books that demand you fly to faraway places in order to get the ingredients you need. Unless it is easy for you to go get a rare spice on a faraway mountain. In that case, be my guest. There are a lot of great books with simple and phenomenal recepies that you can make in a dash. When I travel, I always carry with me “Vegan A-Go_Go”, a book for vegetarians on the road that enables me to prepare super easy nutritious vegan food no matter where you I am.
So, don’t get stupid. Go veg! ☺

Monday, 6 July 2009

Bhujapidasana - Dare To Be Different

By Vedran

Here’s a thing about the primary series in Ashtanga: after a while, you will slide through about half of the series with relative ease. You know the sequence and even if you are tired, even your muscles are tight or whatever, it will be fine. Breathe in – jump through, breathe out – land and bind, breathe in open the chest, breathe out – fold. You come to navasana , a position that many dread because it’s hard on the core, but as far as the technique goes, it is not terribly difficult. So you do it.
And then it comes: Bhujapidasana, the ”shoulder press” position. At most yoga schools, in the west anyway, it is not unusual to stop beginner classes here and go to the finishing sequences and relaxation after navasana. This is good, as it gives everyone time to work on the basics. On the downside of it, a lot of people will get stuck doing only half primary series for ages, long past the point where they could have challenged themselves further. Or some people will go on past navasana but maybe skip the bhuja pidhasana, kurmasana and even garbha pindasana/ kukkutasana sequences because they seem to be somewhat overwhelming in terms of what they seem to demand of your strength and flexibility. Yet, all of us being aspireing yogis, we know that the yummiest flavour of things comes from playing the edge and ultimately seeing it move.

Beginners: Land outside of the yellow brick road

In one of my favourite films, ”The Wizard Of Oz”, Dorothy and her companions are told to follow the yellow brick road while on their way to meet the great wizard. While their departures off the road caused them more trouble (but more sizzle to the film), the yellow brick road on your yogic path might sometimes turn out to lead into a rut and monotony. After all, the Ashtanga sequences were created to progressively lead you to new levels of body and mind awareness. So, here are a few tips that could hopefully help you to jump off the route of the known:
If you are a beginner in a relative sense – that is, if you are comfortable with the primary series up to navasana, the first thing to munch on when going into bhujapidasana is the landing.
When in your downward facing dog, finishing the vinyasa out of navasana, you jump your feet to the outsides of your hands. In the beginning, you can work first one and then the other shoulder under each respective knee. If this definitely feels like enough you might want to stay here for 5 to 10 breaths and move on to backbends and inversions, i.e. the finishing sequences.
But if the shoulders under the knees part was okay, then you press your knees slightly against your shoulders for stability (as mentioned earlier, bhujapidasana means ”shoulder press”) and try to sit down on your upper arms and lift your feet off the floor. You will probably need to transfer some weight forward, or else the weight of your thighs and bottom will tend to pull you down on your ass. Then you try to cross your ankles and have a taste of that. If this is enough, eather stregth-, balance- or flexibility-wise, you can stop here (for example if you are completely unable to cross your ankles or if you can´t keep the posture afloat) .
If you can go on, you breathe in and on the outbreath, you drop your chin to the floor/ mat, lift your hips up toward the ceiling and work your crossed feet backwards between the wrists, all the while trying to keep them (the feet) off the floor. Most people will struggle with the chin on the floor part, as this is not the easiest posture to keep your back long in. So, if you can only have your forhead or the top of your head on the floor, instead of the chin, this is completely okay. At this point, you might want to slide your hips a bit lower down from your shoulders, as this gives your shoulders a bit more room to open as you go down. This might also make it easier for you to place your chin on the mat, instead of the forhead or crown. And there you have it. You take five breaths here and then ride your vinyasa out of the position. And how do you do that? Still pressing your inner thighs against your upper arms, you breathe in and lift your head up, while your hips come a bit lower toward the mat. You straighten your legs into tittibhasana (it doesn’t have to be the strongest tittibhasana you can do – too much energy in this can drain you before you finish the vinyasa) and as you breathe out, you whip your legs and body back into chaturanga (maybe passing through a very short bakasana, but no fuss if you can’t).

Intermediate/ advanced: Leap into it!

If you have practiced the entrance into bhujapidasana described above, or any other modified version and if you are fairly comfortable with it, you might be ready to take it a bit further. And the way to take it further is to jump into the posture straight from adho mukha svanasana (the downdog). Chances are that in your first few (or many) attempts, your feet will have to touch the floor. No worries. If bhuja pidhasana is an asana you are okay with in general, this is the way for you to enter it. Sooner or later, you will be able to jump in without your feet touching the floor.
The trick is not losing your mind after you jump. Personally, I think it helps to think of, almost visualise, what I am about to do. And the second part of the trick is not to worry if your feet keep touching the floor. Actually, when you jump straight into the posture, the thighs will have a tendency to land in a more correct position in relation to your upper arms and shoulders, compared to what often happens when you work yourself in from standing. Jumping straight in, most of us are unable to jump the thighs high up on the shoulders, so you will not have to think about having to slide them down when you start leaning forward to touch the chin on the floor. Oh rejoice!
The jump-in method makes the position more fun to do. For me, it also made it easier to lean forward and down. One part of it is probably the more correct distance between thighs and shoulders but there must be something else too, as my feet (they’re big!) slide through between my wrists easier. What used to happen was that I had to walk them backwards and then lift them off the floor. Since I started practicing jumping in, they seem to slide without me having to do much (or any) walking.

So, next time you practice….

Next time you practice, given that you are generally comfortable with this position, try flying in instead of the easier version where you enter after landing your feet on the mat. At first, it might seem ridiculous, but come on, this is yoga we are talking about, so what did NOT seem ridiculous when attempted for the first time? Swing your adho mukha svanasana (down-dog)a bit forward right before you jump. This might make it easier. Make flying into the posture the way you practice this vinyasa, even if your feet touch the mat every time. Eventually they won’t. You can also ask your teacher to give you some pointers.
For those of you who practice this position and try entering it in a new way, this could be one of those little things that give your practice a bit more zest.
If you used to stop at navasana (especially if this is what you have done since the dawn of civilization), this might be the time, to give bhujapidasana a try. Try the modified version first and see where it takes you. It might just be well beyond the yellow brick road. And YOU just might turn out to be the wizard!

Thank you

On May 18 2009, Sri K Pattabhi Jois died in his home in Mysore, India. The way I found out was unusual and even now as I am writing this, almost two months later, it seems unreal. I found out after I had held a class and as people were leaving, someone commented on how Guruji had been ill. And then she asked: "Has he died?" I answered: "No, of course not, he's probably fine!". And the girl behind the reception desk said "No, he died today." Unreal.

I haven't studied under him and I had always thought I would someday. I have been fortunate to train with many of his students. All my teachers have been his students, so through them he influenced me. They say he had a unique touch and could train even severely injured people. Alexander Medin, a great teacher, lovely human being and certified teacher once said that what Guruji appreciated was being seen as a regular human being once in a while, amidst all admiration of him as a guru.

No matter which yoga tradition you belong to or follow, K Pattabhi Jois has probably touched your practice in some way. For us ashtangis, he has been and will always be the teacher of us all. Now that his grandson Sharath has taken over as the leader of the Mysore Shala, the teachings of Ashtanga yoga are in the best hands they could possibly be in.

We thank you, Guruji!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better: Yoga And Competition

By Vedran

Your main point of reference in hatha yoga practice is yourself, your body and your mind. But what when the competitor in you leaps forth? How do we balance out our desire to excell with the need to be better than others just for the sake of being superior to someone?

You are on your sticky mat, flowing through your practice, floating through some postures, strugglig a bit with others, just your regular drill. Then your attention turns to the person in front of you, effortlessly lifting up into a handstand or seemingly levitating in her/ his jump-backs and jump-throughs. You feel a pinch of jealousy bubbling inside of you and you put some extra effort in whichever posture you are doing. Then you see the same person struggling in a backbend while you lift off like a yogic god. Self-contentment and a feeling of superiority washes through you while you notice how perfect your ujjayi is in your immaculate backbend.

We have all been there - either feeling inferior because someone else's practice (as far as yoga practice can be "mine" or "yours" or belonging to anyone) looks like Cirque Du Soleil compared with what you are doing, or thinking what you´re doing is better or more correct or advanced than what a fellow practicioner is doing. There are even "Yoga Olympics" being held, where people compete with each other at fields of contortion, flow, grace and what not. When it is a "yoga competition", is it yoga at all anymore, or not? Oh well, who can tell?

Ashtangis might be especially prone to this mode of competitive attitude, as Ashtanga Vinyasa is physically powerful and invites to a certain degree of athleticism. What better chance to sport some good ole testosterone rush and flex some prana driven muscle? Then again, a major part of our training as Ashtangis is exactly not getting carried away by the physical aspect of it all. Knowing the physical vigour of Ashtanga yoga, it is clear that this is one of the most challenging parts of the practice - giving your all, doing your best while doing the hatha practice and still not slipping into

What all of the teachers I have practiced with and under have conveyed to me is that yoga is a non-competitive practice. Because your body is just your own, like a fingerprint, with its very own and unique strengths, weaknesses, wisdom and fields to develop on, it is hard to see how you can compete. Could you compare fingerprints and then judge whether mine looks better than yours? During all my years of practice, I have always seen people generally less flexible or strong than me do one asana or several in a way I really admired. Or if we push it into a more comparative mode - better than me. I remember a guy that attended the same class as me for a couple of years that had the most spectacular utthita parsvakonasana (extended side-angle posture). His muscles were quite stiff all over and he himself probably wouldn´t have called himself an advanced practicioner. But he mastered the sequence he practiced and his utthita parsvakonasana was a thing of beauty. So, would I than be called a better practicioner because I can put my legs behind my head? Or he because of his Yoga Journal-esque utthita parsvakonasana? I doubt that. Because it´s not about what you do but how you do it. Nowehere in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is it stated that enlightenment and mastery is achieved by being the best contortionist. It is about your inner attitude, about observances and how you apply your practice off the mat when you relate to the world and your fellow living creatures. You can be the most obnoxious and rudest individual in the world and still be capable of performing the most impressive asana sequences. Do the sequences and your mastery of the postures make you a yogi? Naw..... Being a decent, honest person that respects the world and its living creatures is as much a yoga practice as your endevours on the mat. Maybe even more?

I remember seeing David Swenson demonstrating the Ashtanga yoga primary series. Before launching into a beautiful, flowing and strong (oh god, so strong!) practice, he said that a physacally stiff person who doesn´t go so deeply into the postures but does them with good breath, concentration, reverence and respect has a stronger practice than the one who is ever so bendy but with scattered attention and constricted breath. The lesson?

Attitude IS everything.

Don't Compete - Create!

The attitude of competition comes from an idea that there isn´t enough beauty, power, strength, affluence etc. for everyone. If you think that someone else's acquirement of the world's physical and spiritual goods can lead to your lack of the same, you will feel the need to compete. And the truth is that there most definitely is more than enough for everyone.
The same applies to yoga practice. As stated earlier, the practice you do is going to reflect your body, your muscles, your skeleton, your internal states. As this is any yogi's starting point, competing is absurd. Your life (or lives, who knows?) has formed you and this is the work you need to do. Comparing this to anyone else leads to futile efforts and spiritual blindness.

Your work is to (re)create yourself, both as a physical being and as a spiritual and sensual entity. This process of creation is through grounding yourself in wherever you are in terms of your own self and your training, being true to the tradition and developing yourself from there. Your work is yours alone. Trying to "take someone on" on your yoga mat is both arrogant and unconstructive, as you attempt doing another person's work. Which you, naturally, cannot do because you are not them. Aren't you a lucky camper now?

Of course, we could set some standards to go by in terms of what constitutes an anatomically perfect asana, or how perfect breathing techniques are done and so on. But then, the practice turns into gymnastics and ceases to be yoga. Yoga is a practice of personal improvement and your own road to becoming a better person, so that you can enrich the world you live in by enriching yourself. You don't improve yourself or the world by trying to make someone else's work seem smaller or less relevant.
Your job is to do your very best and this is a big enough task. You are supposed to excell, but you excell for your own sake and you go on from there. There is enough good stuff ("Love Shack" by the B52's starts in the background) for all of us out there and you have no business making other yogis' practice seem worth less than yours. The only thing you acomplish is diminishing what you yourself are doing.

Plunge Into Santosha

Santosha, the principle of contentment, is one of my favourite nyamas (I shouldn´t have favourites, I know, I know...). Practicing santosha is not settling for second best. It is being grounded in the moment and in wherever you are and recognizing its worth so that you can go on and make it better (or stay where you are if that pleases you). It is the art of appreciation. And you know what they say: "Don't hate - appreciate!". Real contentment is knowing that you are never stuck. It is knowing that good things are going to get better and that the not so great things are going to get better as well. Santosha is loving what you have got and knowing that the power to do anything with everything you want to do anything with is all in your hands.

Where does competing belong in a perspective like this, my dear yogi? Well, it doesn´t. The practice we do is the same practice no matter what we do, as long as we follow a correct method and as long as what we do is done with reverence, respect and lightness of mind and spirit. If you judge your practice or anyone else's, if you compare them and deprecate yourself because the other person is steadier on their head, cut it out now. Being a competitive yogi is like skipping your practice - it weakens you.

What it boils down to is this: In yoga, there is no competition. When you start competing, you stop doing yoga and start doing gymnastics. Which is okay, just as long as you know that your yoga has gone bye bye. Give yourself a break if you don't quite like your forward bends or inversions or whatever. Start liking them, no matter what they look like. And leave other people and their practice alone. Get inspired looking at others, share their energy and share yours with them. Do not put labels.

Roll out your mat now. Enjoy it, dammit! ;-))

Thursday, 29 January 2009

To Be Or Not To Be 100% Raw

Now this one will be a bit off topic but I enjoy some coulinary radicalism, so I thought I`d post it even though it`s not about yoga as such. Many of us aspireing yogis, practice also through what and how we eat. I have never embarked on a raw food trip and the fact that many people get it to work well fascinates
me. A friend once told me he considered trying araw food diet. I thought "Oh God, no!". On the other hand, i always think that when I hear the world "diet". But then I thought I would educate myself. Quite accidentaly, I came across a fab article by Jennie Murphy. So, here it is:

By Jennie Murphy

There are many different ways to eat a raw food diet. There's low fat, high fruit, low fat low fruit, there's gourmet, there's no fruit, there's vegan and non-vegan, superfoods, or not superfoods, supplement or no supplement. There are so many different raw diets to choose from that I often feel for the new person coming to raw… there is so much different advice out there! Many people go through several different phases before they find the style of raw that fits them.

I myself started as high raw and was content with that. I originally did not want to be 100%. I did not want to be vegetarian either. However, in may 2007 I was fortunate enough to be helping out at the Mind, Body, Spirit festival in Sydney. There I met some beautiful people who had health glowing out of them. These people were 100% raw vegan; I've not eaten meat since.

I started out high raw, which was raw breakfast, lunch and two snacks and a salad with my dinner. The cooked portion was quite small. Evening meals were usually gourmet. Then I eventually got to the stage where I had cooked food once or twice per month. I'm still having cooked food once or twice per month but even that has changed. No more is that cooked portion chips or Chinese take-away. If I make myself some cooked food it's steamed veges. On top of a heap of shredded greens.

I'm two years into my raw journey. I'm still not 100% raw despite the perceived pressure to be. The other day I spoke to a lady on the phone. I've had dozens of conversations similar to this one. She was asking "How do I be 100%? I'm an all or nothing girl but this healthy food tastes like (insert swear word here)". I was not surprised as I've heard this many times before.

100% all or nothing. Where does that come from? I'm not sure myself. There are a lot of raw authors who are 100% raw vegan and even 100% raw non-vegan who are great advocates of being 100% raw. "The difference is unbelievable!" they say, "You will be blown away by the difference between 99% and 100% raw. Just try it" and so on. This is probably true. In fact, I believe that it is. There are so many testimonies out there of people living 100% raw lifestyles who are thriving. Whether they do superfoods, no superfoods, low fat, high fat, low fruit, high fruit... there are many, many people around doing various styles of raw and getting amazing results.

Then there are others. Who struggle. They get to X amount of days raw and then go crazy. Emotions surface that are too painful for them to ignore. 'Getting the crazies' is something I have heard once or more to describe how they feel on a 100% raw diet.

I'm one of those people. Recently I did a 100 day raw challenge. After day 35 or 36 I started to get quite agitated. I gave in on day 56, decided that raw food sucked, I could never be a raw fooder, I was too weak to be 100%, I must find another owner for my raw food business and went on a cooked food binge of biblical proportions. As the owner of a large raw food business I felt that I could not hold up my head in the raw community. I was ashamed which is a sad and unhealthy way to be.

It took me five weeks to get back on track. During that time I beat myself up like you would not believe. I lost all happiness about myself, loathed myself in fact, and just had no will power at all left.

During this time I got to talking to others. In Australia it seems we are so focused on 100% that we often forget to enjoy the journey. We are so keen to see some of our own make it that a lot of people try a style of raw for six months and consider themselves gurus! Perhaps this is why we feel pressured to move faster than we are ready. Some raw foodies become so enthusiastic that their approach can appear one-eyed and superior. Which is a shame because they could be quite inspiring.

All or nothing. I had opted for nothing. In fact, I vowed that I would never touch raw food again as long as I lived! Luckily, my loving hubby did not take me seriously.

So, to those who can be 100% and feel sane, hold your compassion, and still be yourselves I applaud you. I hold you as someone to be inspired by. However, if you are not 100% raw, I also hold you as someone to be admired and loved and I am just as inspired by you. As are many others.

100% or nothing? So, if this is you saying this, ask yourself, when you ate mostly cooked food, did you eat a 100% cooked food diet? No fresh fruit, veges or nuts at all? I do actually know a few people who have lived that way. But not many.

If you did not eat all cooked, did you still think 100% or nothing?

Lets look at 'all or nothing' another way. What about fitness? Lets pretend you have never been fit in your life. You have now decided to become a runner! So, do you go and book yourself into the nearest marathon, which, luckily, just happens to be in 4 days time? Or, do you get a training program. Ask around... get your running style checked to make sure you are not going to shred your joints in the first place? Hmmm....

Do you think that fitness and raw food eating should not be compared? I ask "Why not"? Are they are both physical activities? Sure there is an emotional aspect to them both as well, but in the main they are physical.

If you think that eating is more emotional, which it is for many many people including myself, let us look at an example of something else that is about emotional control. Meditation. You have just read about meditation, think it's the bees knees, the answer to all your questions, and have decided that from today you are going to meditate for 6 hours per day 7 days a week. You could probably do it! I'm sure many have. But, for most, you would be better off starting smaller and working your way up to meditating 6 hours a day. Starting with just 5 minutes two to three times per day.

In our society we are not really used to having to wait for anything. Everything is so fast. You want it, there it is. Banks make sure that most people can get a loan just by sneezing on their way in the door so you can buy yourself the latest house, car or handbag. Fast food outlets are everywhere along with microwave dinners to ensure you have a meal in five minutes flat with little to no effort. But going raw can take time folks.

Karen Knowler, a great raw fooder and life stylist from England took 5 years to go raw. Frederic Patenaude says it took him 10 years and he is still learning! Please do not give up after a day, a week or a month because you are an 'all or nothing' person. Have patience with yourself.

Train as you would for a marathon or even a 100 metre race if need be. Set aside time each day, as you would to learn to meditate, to plan what you are going to eat. Are you meeting friends at the local shopping centre and know they will all be at the food court for lunch? What can you pack? Is there a fruit shop nearby where you can get yourself some watermelon or apples while they have their deep fried whatever?

Are you going to a family dinner where you know that you are going to be questioned, even ridiculed by worried relatives about what you are eating? What can you tell them to calm their minds. What compromises are you willing to make? I told my family that I was doing a '8 week detox'. I also told my friends this. It was perfectly true, I was! At the end of the 8 weeks I told them I felt so great I would eat that way until I didn't want to anymore. Only one person objected strongly and I asked her to give me two years, promising that if, in two years I was ill or unhealthy etc, I would change back to eating a more 'regular' way.

Enjoy it! Never feel bad about what you eat. If you are 100% or nothing, then I challenge you to this, enjoy your food 100% of the time. Feel good emotionally after eating 100% of the time. Be YOUR friend 100% of the time. If you have a day that is high cooked, don't feel bad. Enjoy it for what it is, then... move on. Tomorrow is another day. Be raw then. Or high raw.

If you really cannot get around the whole 100% or nothing, but are finding 100% raw 100% of the time is making you 100% miserable, can you try and be 100% raw eighty percent of the time? The other twenty percent you can do whatever you like with! Remember, if 100% is what you want, you don't have to do it overnight. It's extremely rare that 100% overnight happens. Work towards it. Plan it. But most of all, enjoy the journey.

These are some thoughts I have that you may find useful. Or know someone else who does. Take them with you and do with them what you will.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Befriend Your Fears

Shine the light of compassion on all that frightens you to find healing and freedom.

By Tara Brach

Maria described herself, during our first therapy session, as a "prisoner of fear." Her slight frame was tense, and her dark eyes had an apprehensive look. From the outside, she said, her life appeared to be going very well. As a social worker, she was a strong advocate for her clients. She had good friends, and she had been living with her partner, Jeff, for three years. Yet her incessant worrying about how things might go wrong clouded every experience.

When stuck in morning traffic, Maria was gripped with fear about being late for work. She was perpetually anxious about disappointing her clients or saying the wrong thing at staff lunches. Any hint of making a mistake spiraled into a fear of being fired. At home, if Jeff spoke in a sharp tone, Maria's heart pounded and her stomach knotted up. "This morning he complained that I'd left the gas tank near empty, and I thought, 'He's going to walk out and never come back,'" she said. Maria could never shake the feeling that just around the corner, things were going to fall apart.

Maria was living in what I call the trance of fear. When you are in this trance, fearful thoughts and emotions take over and obscure the larger truths of life. You forget the love between you and your dear ones; you forget the beauty of the natural world; you forget your essential goodness and wholeness. You expect trouble and are unable to live in the present moment.

Brain chemistry and genetics may predispose a person to excessive fearfulness, and it can be fueled by societal circumstances, such as the perception of a terrorist threat. Traumatic childhood experiences may also give rise to the trance of fear.

For Maria, the fear took hold in elementary school, when her mother was holding down two jobs and going to night school, leaving Maria to care for her two younger siblings. Her father worked erratically, drank too much, and had an unpredictable temper. "He would barge in at dinnertime, red-faced and angry, yell at me, and then disappear into his room," she told me. "I had no idea what I'd done wrong." When Maria was 13, her father vanished without a word, and she always felt that she had driven him away.

It is understandable that Maria's fear of her father's anger became linked with a belief that her "badness" made him leave. But even if your personal history is not so distressing, you might spend a part of your life worrying about the ways in which you aren't good enough.

Necessary Fears
Fear itself is a natural and necessary part of being alive. All living beings experience themselves as separate, with a sense of "me in here" and "the world out there." And that sense of separateness leads you to recognize that you can be injured by others, and that, eventually, the "me in here" will die. At the same time, you are genetically programmed to keep yourself alive and free from harm, and it is fear that signals you to respond when threats arise. It lets you know to hit the brakes when the car in front of you suddenly stops, or to call 911 if you are having chest pain.

The problem is that fear often works overtime. Mark Twain said it well when he quipped: "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." Think for just a minute about all of the time you've spent fearful and worrying. Looking back, you might see that much of what you fearfully anticipated turned out fine. Precious moments in life—moments that could have been full of love, creativity, and presence—were taken over by habitual fear.

Here's the good news: When you bring what I call unconditional presence to the trance of fear, you create the foundation for true spiritual awakening. In other words, as you learn to face your fears with courage and kindness, you discover the loving awareness that is your true nature. This awakening is the essence of all healing, and its fruition is the freedom to live and love fully.

Unsafe Havens
While the basic experience of fear is that "something is wrong," many people turn that feeling into "there must be something wrong with me." This is especially true in Western culture, where one's sense of belonging to family, community, and the natural world is often weak and the pressure to achieve is so strong. You may feel as though you must live up to certain standards in order to be loved, so you constantly monitor yourself, trying to see if you're falling short.

When you live in this trance of fear, you instinctively develop strategies to protect yourself. I call these attempts to find safety and relief "false refuges," since they work, at best, only for the time being.

One such strategy is physical contraction. When you stay trapped in fear, you begin to feel tight and guarded, even when there is no immediate threat. Your shoulders may become permanently knotted and raised, your head thrust forward, your back hunched, your belly tense. Chronic fear can generate a permanent suit of armor. In such a state, we become, as the Tibetan teacher Chögyam Trungpa taught, a bundle of tense muscles defending our very existence.

The trance of fear traps the mind in rigid patterns, too. The mind obsesses and produces endless stories, reminding you of the bad things that might happen and creating strategies to avoid them.

In addition to physical armoring and mental obsession, there are many well-worn behavioral strategies for reducing or avoiding fear. You might run from fear by staying busy, trying to accomplish a lot, or judging others critically to boost your ego. Or maybe you take the popular approach of numbing yourself by indulging in too much food, drugs, or alcohol. Yet no amount of doing or numbing can erase the undercurrents of feeling fearful and unworthy. In fact, the efforts you make to avoid fear and prove yourself worthy only reinforce the deep sense of being separate and inadequate. When you run from fear and take false refuge, you miss being in the very place where genuine healing and peace are possible.

Bringing compassion and mindfulness directly to the experience of fear will help dissolve the trance, taking you inside to the real refuge of unconditional presence. Compassion is the spacious quality of heart that allows and holds with tenderness whatever you are experiencing. It seeks to answer the question, Can I meet this moment, this experience, with kindness? Mindfulness is the clear recognition of your moment-to-moment experience. Here the inquiry to use is, What is happening inside me right now? Being mindfully attentive means that you are aware of the stories you are telling yourself and the feelings and sensations in your body. You can initially emphasize either compassion or mindfulness in meditation; both are essential when facing fear.

Unexamined Beliefs
One evening, Maria arrived at my office distraught and unnerved. A co-worker was sick and Maria's boss had asked her to step in as supervisor for their team of social workers. Sitting rigidly with her eyes downcast, she said bleakly, "Tara, I am really scared."

I invited her to pause—to breathe and simply be aware of the two of us sitting together. "I'm here with you right now," I said. "Would it be all right if we paid attention to the fear together?" Looking up at me, she nodded. "Good," I said, and went on. "You might begin by asking yourself, 'What am I believing right now?'" Maria responded without hesitation. "I'm going to let everyone down," she said. "They'll see that it was a mistake to ever hire me. They'll want to get rid of me."

When you are emotionally stuck, becoming mindful of what you believe at that moment can be a powerful part of awakening from trance. By bringing your stories and limiting beliefs to light, they gradually have less hold on your psyche. I encouraged Maria to simply acknowledge the thoughts as a story she was telling herself, and then to sense the feelings of vulnerability in her body. I assured her that if the process felt like more than she could handle, we could shift our attention—it's not helpful to feel overwhelmed or possessed by fear. After a few moments, she reported in a shaky voice, "The fear is big. My stomach is clenched, and my heart is banging. Mostly there is a gripping, aching, empty feeling in my heart."

I invited her to check in with the fear, to ask it what it wanted from her. Maria sat quietly for a few moments and then began speaking slowly: "It wants to know that it's OK that it's here...that I accept it. And..." At this point she became quiet for some long moments. "And that I pay attention, keep it company." Then, in a barely audible voice she whispered, "I will try. I want to keep you company." This was one of Maria's first moments of being truly compassionate with herself. Instead of pushing away her feelings, she was able to gently acknowledge and accept them.

Love Lessons
What Maria and all of us need is to feel that we are loved and understood. This is the essence of unconditional presence, the true refuge that can heal the trance of fear. As the Buddha taught, our fear is great, but greater yet is the truth of our essential connectedness.

If you've been wounded in a relationship, the love and understanding of friends are essential components in bringing a healing presence to your fears. You need the gift of this caring presence from others, and through meditations that cultivate compassion and mindfulness, you can learn to offer it to yourself.

And if you've been traumatized, I think it's important to seek the help of a therapist as well as an experienced meditation teacher as you begin deepening your presence with fear. Otherwise, when you allow yourself to reexperience the fear, you may find it to be traumatic rather than healing. In Maria's case, we spent several weeks working with meditative practices that develop unconditional presence. I acted as her guide, and when she became aware of fear, I encouraged her first to pause, because pausing creates a space for you to arrive in the present moment. Then she would begin mindfully naming out loud what she was noticing: the thoughts she was believing, the shakiness and tightness in her belly, the squeeze in her heart.

With whatever was arising, Maria's practice was to notice it, breathe with it, and with gentle, nonjudging attention, allow it to unfold naturally. If it felt overwhelming, she would open her eyes and reconnect to the sense of being with me, to the songs of the birds, to the trees and sky outside my office window.

Abandoning False Refuges
The challenge in facing fear is to overcome the initial reflex to dissociate from the body and take false refuge in racing thoughts. To combat this tendency to pull away from fear, you awaken mindfulness by intentionally leaning in. This means shifting your attention away from the stories—the planning, judging, worrying—and fully connecting with your feelings and the sensations in your body. By gently leaning in instead of pulling away, you discover the compassionate presence that releases you from the grip of fear.

My meditation student Phil got an opportunity to lean in to fear the first night his 16-year-old son borrowed the car. Josh had promised to return home by midnight. But midnight came and went. As the minutes passed, Phil became increasingly agitated. Had Josh been drinking? Had he had an accident? By 12:30 Phil was furious, trying his son's cell phone every few minutes.

Then he remembered the instructions on mindfulness from the weekly meditation class he attended. He sat down, desperate to ease his agitation. "OK, I'm pausing," he began. "Now, what's going on inside me?" Immediately he felt the rising pressure in his chest. Noting "anger, anger," he experienced the sensations filling his body. Then, under the anger, Phil felt the painful clutch of fear. His mind was imagining the police calling with the news that is a parent's worst nightmare. He leaned in, breathing with the fear, feeling its crushing weight at his chest. The story kept arising, and each time, Phil returned to his body, bringing his breath and attention directly to the place of churning, pressing fear.

As he leaned in to the fear, he found buried within it the hollow ache of grief. Then, drawing on a traditional Buddhist compassion practice, Phil began gently offering himself the message "I care about this suffering," repeating the phrase over and over as his eyes filled with tears. Phil was holding his grief with compassion, and as he did so, he could feel how much he cherished his son. While the fear remained, leaning in had connected him with unconditional presence.

A short while later, he heard the car rolling into the driveway. Josh barged into the living room and launched into his defense: He had lost track of time. The cell phone had run out of juice. Instead of reacting, Phil listened quietly. Then with his eyes glistening, he told his son, "This last hour was one of the worst I've gone through. I love you and..." He was silent for some moments and then continued softly, "I was afraid something terrible had happened. Please, Josh, don't do this again." The boy's armor instantly melted, and apologizing, he sank onto the couch next to his dad.

If Phil had not met his fears with unconditional presence, they would have possessed him and fueled angry reactivity. Instead, he opened to the full truth of his experience and was able to meet his son from a place of honesty and wholeness, rather than blame.

Fear's Gift
Several months after we had started therapy, Maria arrived for our session with her own story of healing. Two nights before, she and Jeff had been arguing about an upcoming visit from his parents. Tired from a difficult day at work, he suggested they figure things out the next evening. Without their usual goodnight kiss, he just rolled over and fell asleep.

Filled with agitation, Maria got up, went into her office, and sat down on her meditation cushion. As she had done so often with me, she became still, pausing to check in and find out what was going on. There was a familiar swirl of thoughts: "He's ashamed of me. He doesn't really want to be with me." Then she had an image of her father, drunk and angry, walking out the front door, and she heard a familiar inner voice saying, "No matter how hard I try, he's going to leave me." She felt as if icy claws were gripping her heart. Her whole body was shaking.

Taking a few deep breaths, Maria began whispering a prayer: "Please, may I feel held in love." She called to mind her spirit allies—her grandmother, a close friend, and me—and visualized us circling around her, a presence that could help keep her company as she experienced the quaking in her heart. Placing her hand gently on her heart, she sensed compassion pouring through her hand directly into the core of her vulnerability.

She decided to let go of any resistance to the fear and to let it be as big as it was. Breathing with it, she felt something shift: "The fear was storming through me, but it felt like a violent current moving through a sea of love." She heard a gentle whisper arise from her heart: "When I trust I'm the ocean, I'm not afraid of the waves." This homecoming to the fullness of our being is the gift of fear, and it frees us to be genuinely intimate with our world. The next evening when Maria and Jeff met to talk, she felt at peace. "For the first time ever," she told me, "I could let in the truth that he loved me."

As long as you are alive, you will feel fear. It is an intrinsic part of your world, as natural as a bitter cold winter day or the winds that rip branches off trees. If you resist it or push it aside, you miss a powerful opportunity for healing and freedom. When you face your fears with mindfulness and compassion, you begin to realize the loving and luminous awareness that, like the ocean, can hold the moving waves. This boundless presence is your true refuge—you are coming home to the vastness of your own awakened heart.

Tara Brach, the author of Radical Acceptance (Bantam), is a clinical psychologist and teaches Buddhist meditation at centers in the United States and Canada.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Use Your Core For Crane

Trouble in Bakasana? Check this out!

By the lovely Barbara Banagh:

Bakasana, more accurately translated as Crane Pose, is the most important of all arm balances, since understanding how to do Bakasana lays the foundation for most arm balances. Arm balances are complex, and they reveal how the flexibility and strength that carry newcomers through many poses cannot replace skills mature yoga practitioners develop over years of practice.

Most people who fail at this arm balance have not distributed their weight correctly. The most common mistake I see is students lifting their hips so high that their poses are too vertical—they become diving cranes! Some people get the feet off the floor this way, but then their pose becomes very heavy on the arms. Crane Pose performed in this manner avoids the weight shift essential to understanding this asana and evolving into other arm balances. My feeling is, if you can't go forward enough to risk falling, you won't go forward enough to balance.

First, I want you to feel the abdominal and thigh action that is the core of support for Bakasana. Squat on your tiptoes and bend forward to position your shoulders or upper arms under the shins. (Some folks practice Bakasana with their knees pressed into the armpits—your choice). Strongly lift your head and chest while pressing the arms back against the shins. Without putting further weight on your arms, and keeping your chest lifted, pull your abdomen in and raise your hips to shoulder level. Though difficult, this action gives you a sense of where the real strength of arm balances comes from.

From this position, exhale, push forward from your feet, and move your elbows past your fingers so your arms slant forward. Keep your chest lifted! When you can do this, you will feel your weight shift from your feet to your hands, allowing the body to be lifted and supported by your arms. It's as simple as that.

You can practice this difficult arm movement without the added burden of your full weight by kneeling and pushing your elbows past your fingers while scooping up your chest. If you look at a picture of someone doing Bakasana well, you will see the dramatic angle of the arms you seek.

So remember, use your abs and thighs to keep your hips at shoulder height, push forward to shift weight onto your hands, and lift your chest. When you become adept, refine the pose further by straightening your arms and pulling your feet as close to your hips as possible, letting your hips rise. Most of all, keep practicing!

Barbara Benagh, YJ's 2001 Asana columnist, founded the Yoga Studio in Boston in 1981 and teaches seminars nationwide. Currently, Barbara is writing a yoga workbook for asthmatics and can be reached at

And here`s more:

baka = crane

Step by Step

Squat down from Tadasana with your inner feet a few inches apart. If it isn't possible to keep your heels on the floor, support them on a thickly folded blanket. Separate your knees wider than your hips and lean the torso forward, between the inner thighs. Stretch your arms forward, then bend your elbows, place your hands on the floor and the backs of the upper arms against the shins.

Snuggle your inner thighs against the sides of your torso, and your shins into your armpits, and slide the upper arms down as low onto the shins as possible. Lift up onto the balls of your feet and lean forward even more, taking the weight of your torso onto the backs of the upper arms. In Bakasana you consciously attempt to contract your front torso and round your back completely. To help yourself do this, keep your tailbone as close to your heels as possible.

With an exhalation, lean forward even more onto the backs of your upper arms, to the point where the balls of your feet leave the floor. Now your torso and legs are balanced on the backs of your upper arms. As a beginner at this pose, you might want to stop here, perched securely on the bent arms.

But if you are ready to go further, squeeze the legs against the arms, press the inner hands firmly to the floor and (with an inhalation) straighten the elbows. Seen from the side the arms are angled slightly forward relative to the floor. The inner knees should be glued to the outer arms, high up near the armpits. Keep the head in a neutral position with your eyes looking at the floor, or lift the head slightly, without compressing the back of the neck, and look forward.

Stay in the pose anywhere from 20 seconds to 1 minute. To release, exhale and slowly lower your feet to the floor, back into a squat.

Anatomical Focus
Strengthens arms and wrists
Stretches the upper back
Strengthens the abdominal muscles
Opens the groins
Tones the abdominal organs
Contraindications and Cautions
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Beginner's Tip
Beginners tend to move into this pose by lifting their buttocks high away from their heels. In Bakasana try to keep yourself tucked tight, with the heels and buttocks close together. When you are ready to take the feet off the floor, push the upper arms against the shins and draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis to help you with the lift.

The most accessible variation of Bakasana is a twist: Parsva Bakasana (pronounced PARSH-vah, parsva = side or flank).

Squat as described above, but keep your knees together. Exhale and turn your torso to the right, bracing the left elbow to the outside of the right knee. Work the arm along the knee, until the knee is firm against the upper arm, near the armpit. Set the hands on the floor, lean to the right, and lift the feet off the floor on an exhalation, balancing with the outer left arm pressed against the outer right leg. Straighten the arms as much as possible, though no doubt for most students the elbows will remain slightly bent. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, exhale back to the squat, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.

Modifications and Props
Some students have a difficult time lifting into Bakasana from the floor. It's often helpful to prepare for this pose squatting on a block or other height, so that your feet are a few inches off the floor.

A partner can help you learn to balance in Bakasana, especially if you are reluctant to lean forward and take your feet off the floor. Squat in the ready position, hands on the floor, up on the balls of your feet. Have the partner stand in front of you. As you lean forward he/she will support your shoulders with his/her hands, to prevent you from toppling forward onto your face or head. Stay for a few breaths, getting a taste for the balanced position, yet secure in the hands of your partner.

Preparatory Poses
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Baddha Konasana
Plank Pose
Follow-Up Poses
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Chaturanga Dandasana
Plank Pose
Deepen The Pose
The full pose sometimes causes varying degrees of pain in the wrists. Instead of spreading the fingers on the floor, curl them slightly. This should take some of the pressure off the wrists.

Thank you, Yoga Journal! :-D