Entrain Your Brain

April 19, 2013

Non-local ConsciousnessSomehow years ago I became aware of binaural beats and a vague connection to brain waves. Eventually the concept that meditation, its effects on the brain, the results of those effects in how reality is perceived, and the effects of listening to binaural beats, were similar—or linked in a way to have the same results—came into my general sphere of understanding. Yet, I really didn’t understand it, until now. It’s quite simple actually, so I’d like to explain it.

Since I’ve experienced both ways of getting to the same place, I’ll try to give you both perspectives, and I can say that both work well. I have specific blog entries that deal with how to begin meditating naturally, so I suggest to look there for details on how to do that. Since meditation requires zero outside technology and can be done in a natural environment with only your breath, and your mental focus, it is the clear winner here, and the most rewarding. Binaural beats require a playback device like an iPod and stereo headphones, as well as two working ears, so you’re going to need more than just your physical body as-is, but it is a great way for lazy people that just don’t want to do the work and prefer that others do things for them to suddenly have what looks like a brain that has been meditating. However, non-meditators may not actually be ready for the higher focus of a more synchronous brain and the effects at first could have you feeling like a spoiled child that didn’t get what he or she wanted for Christmas this year. If you fully accept what it means to have a newer, better brain, no matter what you think is happening, and you won’t meditate for whatever reason, strap on those ear buds.

I’ll begin by breaking down brain waves and ranges of operation within broad, understandable definitions. The good news is that brain waves are in a narrow band of low frequencies generally below 40Hz. Beta waves are the black sheep of the list, the ones you want to avoid; Beta waves may be the reason you should start meditating in the first place. From 13Hz to 39Hz, these are called Beta waves, usually associated with active, busy, or anxious thinking and active concentration, arousal, cognition, and or paranoia. However, beginning at 40 Hz and above to the upper limit of brain wave frequency are Gamma waves, associated with higher mental activity, including perception, problem solving, fear, and waking consciousness. Because Gamma waves are above 40Hz, these are not considered meditative ranges. Below 13Hz and down to 7Hz are Alpha waves, the realm of waking relaxation, pre-sleep and pre-wake drowsiness, REM sleep, and dreaming. From 7Hz to 4Hz are Theta waves, deep meditation and relaxation and NREM sleep brain activity. Below 4Hz is deep dreamless sleep and loss of body awareness, or Delta waves. For more detailed descriptions of these ranges, read this.

Way before I’ve tried binaural beats to stimulate my brain into certain frequency ranges, I’ve meditated with great success and the results were high creativity, constant sense of well-being with rational optimism, more detailed sensory feedback from all of the senses, and a strong desire to continue engaging in daily routines that promote meditation as a start to every day. After the first few weeks of aligning the mind into a flowing whole instead of a polarized two halves, you invariably have no choice but to experience your strong connection to everything around you and how the biggest, most obvious defining characteristic of your being is that you are here now and every millisecond is a celebration of that truth by the excitation of every atom or force field around you, including you. You can, for the first time, realize the existence of what some may term spirituality, and it also explains clearly that those who cannot acknowledge spirituality have not yet meditated successfully. Binaural beats don’t have that effect, and probably won’t get you there alone, but if a deep understanding of the universe without words to describe it is not your goal, you can still be highly creative, focus your mind into greater relaxation, rid yourself of anxiety, and prepare yourself for the richer organic experience. Since I am doing both, the experience is triple rewarding because I have the three experiences of organic meditation, binaural beat meditation, and both, or some may even argue that a fourth option is now open to me, none at all.

The experiential descriptives used in the list above are a good guide on how to meditate: want to put your brain into Theta wave ranges? All you have to do is breathe and still your mind while staying awake, not going into REM, and not dreaming. Some people only need that much information, and I may be one of them. For the rest of you, there is still hope. Binaural beats coax the brain into operating in these ranges through entrainment. The phenomenon called frequency following response allows binaural beats to be played into your two working ears, and the brain has no choice but to listen and to move towards the frequency of the stimulus, which in this case would be the range of the meditative brain wave frequencies. I will be creating and posting meditative sound files in the specified ranges of desired brain activity on the cloud for all readers of this blog to access and enjoy, all tested and approved by me with any detailed notes for the listener that I find noteworthy through my experiences with them. Since these binaural beats will also be dressed up in musical tones and recordings of natural sounds that I myself have captured, they may even be played during your daily practice without distraction.
Update: Here you will find a stream of a 30 minute Theta wave sound file. Be sure to listen with a relaxed focus, either with your eyes closed or in an environment that will not visually distract you. I find that lying on your back before sleep while listening to this Theta wave audio is very effective and allows the mind to easily move into restful REM sleep. An alternative would be to either sit in a comfortable meditative position while listening during the day and breathing with focus, eyes either closed or open focused on a point about 6 inches in front of you so that your surroundings are out of focus, or simply lying down as you would for a short nap but staying awake and aware. It is important to listen for the full thirty minutes without interruption.

You can download this file here to keep on your device without the need for streaming.

Better Than The Fist

April 14, 2013

FistWhat I find in general when deciding to add a new entry to this blog is a common impetus: a very simple desire to spread information to those who listen. Most readers probably see the words, take in what they choose, and either get stuck on concepts that apply to their personal lives, and discard the rest from any attempt at comprehension, or the remaining few listen, the people I write for, the individuals I write to.

In many aspects of life, whether job skills, goal management, discipline in any field, I find the same situation when problems and questions arise. I will summarize this recurring lifelong situation that echoes across generations with an analogy that concerns bow technique for cello. There is much distracting misinformation that actually bears almost no importance on bow technique, and anyone that plays a bowed instrument like a violin, viola, or cello will understand and agree with this: how you hold the bow doesn’t matter. However, when one is first learning or problems arise with tone, teachers tend to focus on students using a better hold, if not your best hold. Gregor Piatigorsky, a great cellist, has been reported to have broken his thumb on his bow hand right before a performance, and having no time to go to hospital, performed while holding his bow in a fist. Nobody noticed. People even complimented his tone.

A student may say to a teacher, “when you hold the bow like I do, it still sounds like you. If I hold the bow like you do, it still sounds like me. You must do other things that you haven’t told me.” And so, much of life is all of the things that people do that they haven’t told us. I’m trying to tell you all that I can.

When you take that personal, intuitive journey, pay attention to those small details that nobody tells you that make all the difference and actually have great importance. People will have to tell you something when they are in the position of giving advice or instruction. If the words aren’t simple and common sense, they are more often just rhetoric that becomes the norm, and you’re on your own anyway. Don’t be so quick to feel you need company or instruction. Clear your mind of all the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly clutter, and move ahead with confidence in yourself. Start with anything better than a fist and then listen closely—what you experience then is the only guide you need.

Turn Your World Upside Down

February 6, 2013

Proper movement of the body depends entirely on the manner in which you carry yourself. The feet carry the body and the body directs the feet. –Miyamoto Musashi

From Wikipedia: Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵?, c. 1584 – June 13, 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku,[1] was a Japanese swordsman and rōnin. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書 Go Rin No Sho?), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

Whether you realize it or not,  the world in which we live is a violent place, with vast differences in gradations of violence spread across all society. The more you realize this even in the most peaceful of situations, the easier it is to accept the violence in our lives and live accordingly, not with resistance which causes more violence, but with understanding. Through our individual understanding we can be the diffusers of violence with the purpose of ending it altogether. To give you perspective of the most subtle violence I can now think of, much like the image of Dancing Siva standing on one leg on a dwarf’s back, the world we live in is set up to operate in a way that imposes structural violence onto every waking moment. This is fact, because we live in a world where money is everything if you want to participate, and although millions of people die of starvation and poverty-related circumstances, there are enough resources and technological advances present today on Earth to make sure every single person is taken care of with at least basic needs so that nobody dies. That’s just a start, talking about living and dying, but as we all know there is a large thing called life bookended by birth and death. The dwarf is us humans, and we live our lives laughing and smiling without even knowing the degree to which we are being stomped, yet we carry on with courage. It is no wonder that in the many gradients of violence we face not only psychologically but physically and eventually spiritually, violence toward the human spirit, that we feel we must do something about it. The teachings of yoga deal directly and comprehensively with this basic human need. Because we are all victims of violence, we all need daily care and attention from within to keep the life force as strong and as purposeful as possible.

In this entry I will focus on inversions. Some, but not all individuals will have fear of inversions that will stop them from being done. Others will be fearless, only to be challenged by physical inability at first and little by little the systems of the body will adapt and strengthen enough to hold inversion poses and experience deeper and deeper revelations beyond mere thought and motion, enriching the wisdom of being.

Some of the most subtle poses in which the heart falls below the hips even slightly or for an instant can be classified as inversions while keeping the feet on the ground. Let’s start with a pose that Beryl Bender Birch is known to say has all of yoga contained within it, Downward-Facing Dog Pose, or Adho Mukha Svanasana. It’s considered an arm support pose, and although your arm strength will be challenged, it is helpful to divide your attention among the arms, the legs, and their effects on the spine while breathing deep in the pose. Seeing these three sections of your body working together in this pose is one way not to get lost from the start, and a way to have a eureka! moment even after a long time just going through the motions. I’m willing to bet it is still Beryl’s favorite asana.

Downward-Facing Dog

Illustration by Sharon Ellis

With a neutral spine in position, the hip joint is in flexion, along with the glenohumeral joint, or shoulder, while the knees and elbows are in extension. Once these four main points are enacted, there are many subtle biomechanical adjustments for you to focus on with each inhalation and exhalation: an upward rotation and elevation of the scapula, with abduction for beginners and adduction for advanced students; external rotation of the glenohumeral joint; forearm pronation and wrist extension; ankle dorsiflexion, with the possibility of internal rotation of the hip.

Illustration by Sharon Ellis

Illustration by Sharon Ellis

Neutral spine alignment begins this pose, meaning deep extensors are working with precision to maintain spinal synergy. In the legs, while hip flexion is the desired result, the hip flexors are not what you want to activate to get you there. Instead, that large inner thigh muscle connecting the femur to the hip, the adductor magnus, internally rotates and moves the femur into position. The shoulder joint flexion is assisted by gravity, meaning the anterior deltoids can relax while the posterior deltoids externally rotate the shoulder joints. The scapulae abduct with upward rotation by activating the serratus anterior, shown along the ribcage in the illustration.

Collapse of the shoulder may feel imminent, but the triceps resist this in activation to extend the elbow. Sun salutations employ repetitive downward-facing dogs, and this can lead to injury if there is overarticulation in the wrists or elbows, or similarly internal rotation of the arm at the shoulder joint, so be sure what you do before you’ve hurt yourself unintentionally. The hands, as in the feet, must maintain their arch. Doing so in the foot is what releases the ankle in dorsiflexion, and the carpi radialis and ulnaris should activate to resist collapse of the hand, thereby integrating the whole arm through intrinsic action.

When breathing, understand that in an inversion the diaphragm is in a position that promotes deep exhalation. With focus on your breathing, your world literally has turned upside down: ordinarily, you are fighting gravity to exhale as your diaphragm is being pulled down toward your hips, while inhaling as deeply as possible is comparatively easier, subconsciously taking in easier than letting go or setting free. In an inversion, the opposite is true. This is your chance to exhale as deeply as possible, releasing and purifying, letting go and giving easier than taking in. Take advantage of these moments, these opportunities to do so, as they are less frequent and you have so much to give, so much to let go.

Patience Of The Ages

December 31, 2012

 

SagittariusYoga as a revelation of absolute truth to the individual through personal experience is its greatest attribute, but it doesn’t end there. Most disturbingly, most so-called practitioners don’t even get to the starting line to participate in the race, so to speak. If I had any say in the matter, I would like to change that. This would happen when one is lying prostrate, in full awareness with eyes closed in full relaxation; this only happens when one is no longer there, but everywhere, and everyone, no one person in particular. This happens without thought, so if you are thinking, you’ve failed. This happens in savasana.

zodiac-constellation-800x800One of life’s most important lessons may be the understanding that you are everything that you aren’t. What this means is that through your gifts of consciousness and physical mobility, you are in a very special category of life on this earth with choices of what you can do and not do, and you are responsible for every last one of them. You are not a rock, not a tree, not the wind, yet contained within you are all of these things and more; you are free to move on your own, unlike the rock. You are free to stand up and walk about, unlike the tree, and you are free to stand still in motionlessness, unlike the wind. You can be taken apart, deconstructed, to be like any of these things, and one day you will be. But right now, you are all these things and more.220px-Beit_Alpha

 

Remember that you are not you, you are not only the name and face used to identify you in society, you are everything, and your body is a magnificent gift given to you to free the rock and the tree and the wind to do the things they couldn’t do, even within our personal unique limitations. This gift will not last long, it will be gone like the flash of lightning that leaves its mark in an instant and recedes. Our lives can be summed up as lightning in super slow motion, advancing and receding, touching down onto the earth, rising up to the sky. Now go and do what you are meant to do on this earth.

Tomorrow will be the first day of the new year. I will be with roughly ten thousand other people at Coney Island beach in NY to jump into the ocean and float on the water while I contemplate all of the above and more not with my mind, but with my heart. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Life Is All Around You

August 17, 2012

Are you living it? You can say yes, I’m not judging you. Today’s entry is a more intuitive philosophical expression of the only place anyone can find truth in any aspect of life, namely relationships. Having been lucky enough to experience Western yogic venues like Omega Institute, and then summarily compare that experience with the everyday hum-drum droll of back-to-reality in the bustle of New York City, there doesn’t have to be a changing of gears with regard to behavior if the key concept of strong relationships is left intact. When smiley, glowing, cultish, robed people walk around Omega and places like that, they are in a state of unbelievable (to them) bliss, because they feel safe, secure, confident to let their inner expression of ultimate relationship with every matter particle in existence shine from them with no more walls and barriers to protect themselves from possible attack. I’ve felt this, and it was good, but immediately the question I posed to myself was, “Why can’t everyone be like this, everywhere, all the time?”. And that bothered me, a lot.

You won’t catch me walking wide-eyed in slow motion, smiling at people and things as if I was on rave drugs, but you will get a pretty consistent manner of being from me that won’t change. Last night close to midnight I walked by the Starbucks in my neighborhood, and three young women were talking loudly amongst themselves, one of them more than the others. All three were dressed in all black, wearing nylons and short skirts and seductive makeup, dark hair. The one doing most of the talking seemed annoyed at her disappointment in what the night had previously brought her, and as she shifted her weight around and shook her hair every now and again, she caught a glimpse of me approaching from about 30 feet away. I thought, “Oh boy, here we go”. She kept talking but her words were decidedly more distracted, her eyes quickly darting over at me again while trying to keep her conversation going. As I got close, she couldn’t take it anymore and had to stare up and down and right in my face as she said, “Hey now! Where do you think you’re going?”, and I just smiled back and as I kept walking, with a laptop in one hand and a grocery bag in the other, I replied, “home, where else?”, and shook my head a little. Then it occurred to me that this was the same as every stranger feeling comfortable to say hello and smile to every other stranger as if on ecstasy and LSD in the confines of unthreatening and beautiful nature where everyone is wearing sheets for clothes, a sandal or flip flop or Croc or clog, except this is real life in the real world where everything is an attack on your survival. Sure, this girl may have been speaking from her lustful loins, but I like to think that some smaller, more basic part of her had innocent intentions and she just wanted to say “Hi”, expressing her relationship with the world around her, a person who sees the truth.

About two years ago at a casual meeting on the Upper West Side in a small cafe with, among others, Soren Gordhamer about Wisdom 2.0, we discussed the relationship between people like all of us at the cafe at different tables, strangers, and the lack of relationship, the fact that we are essentially closed off from one another although we all decided to come to the same place, generally at the same time, and sit at different, very separate tables. We surmised that technology would eventually change all this, giving us not the free will we have now to come up to one another and start talking, but the option to shut off and not connect to one another in a world where as soon as we enter the cafe, we are all networked instantly.

I’ve been intently reading a book called To Be Human, which I accidentally left on a plane from Narita to Seattle, Washington. Before I go to a bookstore to purchase it and finish reading it, I have hopes that it falls into the right hands and another person has his or her mind blown like mine systematically was with each page. And, since things happen for a reason, another book has come to me called Positively Fifth Street, an equally enthralling book about life, how just about everyone you know is connected by one of the deepest metaphors for living life on this planet in a capitalist society, namely Poker, and more specifically, Texas Hold ‘Em, the agreed upon purest form of the game made popular by Binion’s Horsehoe Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada beginning in 1949.

When I first caught the poker craze about nine years ago watching it on television, I got to know faces and table personalities of people like Texas Dolly Doyle Brunson, Erik Seidel, Jon Juanda, Chris Jesus Ferguson, among others, and this book is from that exact era and explains in greater detail things I had seen only as glimpses on the screen. Although the point of the game is to stay aggressive and end up with all the chips after knocking everyone else out of the game, it can’t be done without understanding subtle concepts like playing the game without needing anything, as Cool Hand Luke famously drawled, “Sometimes nothin’s a pretty cool hand.” Philosopher John Lukas called poker “the game closest to the Western conception of life, where life and thought are recognized as intimately combined, where free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered moral agents, and where—at least in the short run—the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens.” Poker is also the choice of pushing the boundaries of game theory in Daphne Koller’s robotics program called Gala, short for “game language”. In Gala’s largest possible application, Daphne hopes one could extrapolate from poker to “an automated game-theoretic analysis of complex real-world situations”, defending ourselves from cunning, no-limit assaults of all kinds.

After reading about 40 more pages of this fascinating account of the 2000 World Series Of Poker, predicated by the story of the murder of Ted Binion, I could have fallen asleep easily, but something was pulling me to stay awake because it was really late already, and if I could hold out just a little longer, I could make it to the gym when it opens at 5 am. I did. I warmed up with about 50 pullups with a weighted vest, 50 pushups on one leg and leaning from side to side, then went to put some life back into my body by starting with one of the most difficult exercises I ever do, dumbbell squats followed by other comparatively easier lifts. I did about 16 sets of different exercises in all, with as much weight as I could handle, and finished with dips to failure. At one point I decided that a forward bend would be a good idea, and I slowly bent at the hips, breathed slowly and evenly as I drew my heart to my thighs, placed my fingers under my toes and held the pose for about ten seconds before I slowly came back up and continued the strength training.

On my way out of the gym, a BRINKS security truck pulled up beside me and someone called my name. It was my uncle, and he was just starting work. We caught up quickly and I told him about a dream I had with him, involving carpentry, woodworking, and he said that wood was a good thing in a dream. I then proceeded to tell him the part of the dream where he held a severed head in front of me and shook it until its jaw and face started to come apart and I had to tell him to stop it or I was going to vomit, but he had no reference for the severed head like he did for the wood.

We parted ways, and I walked home at the top of the morning, feeling incredible. I felt similar to what people feel like playing a rush at the poker tables, also described as “having a horseshoe up my ass”. To quote Lou Reed, who was talking about heroin, “When I’m rushing on my run / and I feel just like Jesus’ son”. Before I get too full of myself, I try to remember my relationship to everyone and everything and how that defines living, exposing the truth, the only truth that can be found in life. Remember that for yourself, and if you’d like, do 5 sun salutations, 2 plows, and one headstand.

The benefits of life are brought on and experienced through discomfort — not pain, unease, suffering, or torture, but imposed discomfort. Nothing has been attained from simply being comfortable, and the ways in which you behave in your discomfort expose your character. Reacting outwardly towards others in times of discomfort is a sign that one is conditioned in the behavior of reward and punishment, whereas one who accepts discomfort and adapts the current self to change into a new being is acting intelligently. Yoga is one way to learn intelligence of behavior and character.

Having lost about 3 kg of body weight against my own will recently over ten days due to an insufficient caloric intake and low-protein diet combined with very little sleep and constant running around trying to get in and out of hotels, vans and taxis, and on and off planes in four countries before coming back to the US, I am left wondering if I needed that extra weight. I have since gotten my daily caloric intake back up to 3-4 thousand, but I haven’t gained any of my weight back in over a week. Five years and twenty pounds (less) ago, a friend of mine who saw me lose 60 pounds said I was now a stick. Right now I feel like a stick. This brings me to an extremely subtle and difficult yoga pose called Lifted Stick, which targets the abdominals and makes very good use of the whole body if you allow it to, and as with any yoga pose, very good use of the mind, your perception of self, your environment, time, space, impermanence, intuition, and spirituality — if you allow it to.

Starting in the stick position, depress the scapulae enough to lift all of your weight off the floor. You may have difficulty or even impossibility with lifting the heels off the floor. Try leaning forward slightly while keeping your back in a straight line, with the bend at the hips at around 110 degrees. Knees should be fully extended while using the iliacus, psoas, and quadriceps femoris to lift the thighs, legs, and feet. Place your hands as far forward as you find necessary to support all your body weight, finding that your wrists may be completely ahead of your buttocks when in the pose.

The extended knees will keep the hamstrings stretched to their limits; your hip flexors need to be exceptionally strong to engage the lift of the legs and feet from a floating pelvis; a strong back is necessary to keep you sitting upright in mid-air; your respiratory and pelvic diaphragms need to be strong along with your abdominals to counteract the back muscles in balance; you’ll need excellent strength in the upper body to hold the posture. Good luck in your discomfort.

The heat of the summer is finally upon us, and with this we are forced to wear less clothing in public. This is a good opportunity to feel good about your midsection when at the beach or picnicking in your bathing suit. If you’ve been eating properly and exercising regularly week to week as explained in Part I of this entry, your abdominals should look great or be well on their way to looking amazing, a model of health. If this is not the case, you know exactly why and what habits to cut out of your routine. I will begin to introduce some yoga poses and movements that specifically target the abdominals to build strength, stamina, and endurance to the midsection and surrounding areas. I recommend including one or two of these movements into your regular asana practice and putting them in rotation so you can experience all of these movements within a week and start the cycle again. I don’t recommend only doing these movements and no others as you will gain more benefit from engaging the entire body and including these to target the midsection rather than engaging the whole body and excluding these.

I am a big fan of the Side Plank Pose. Others may know this movement as the Iron Cross. The reason this pose is so powerful is that it challenges your balance, your ability to hold up your own weight on one arm at a time, and it targets the external obliques where things like muffin tops can form. It is classified as a basic one arm balance pose, so if you can’t do it, don’t be discouraged and keep trying; each time you revisit the pose, the body will have adapted and it will become easier with subsequent attempts.

Side Plank

Illustrations by Sharon Ellis 

Like most yoga poses that seem difficult at first, holding this position becomes easy when you find the neutral alignment of the spine and legs with the effortless structural support afforded by the arm position against gravity. If you enter this pose without the notion of struggling, you should naturally arrive at a pretty close approximation of how to hold this pose with minimal effort and therefore the least strain on maintaining balance. This exemplifies the simplicity of the pose, yet the difficulty of achieving it. Breathing can be deep in this pose, but this runs the risk of destabilization. Also, the use of abdominal and thoracic musculature in stabilization of this pose makes deep breathing difficult in side plank. By finding the efficiency afforded in neutral alignment from shoulders through spine, hips, and legs, minimum effort can be combined with minimum breathing that is not too shallow in order to provide the muscles with enough oxygen to hold the pose.

Great, but how do you get in and out of the pose? This is a challenge in itself! I recommend starting in a pushup position. Looking at the diagram above, imagine rotating the body so the chest is facing the floor and both arms are now on the ground holding you up. This moment is crucial, because just as the above illustration shows a neutral efficient position with minimal stress in any one specific location, so must the pushup position start in a neutral position where both arms hold up the body and the biomechanics of the skeletal system against gravity essentially hold you up effortlessly. This pushup position is called Plank Pose. So, to get into Side Plank, we momentarily start in Plank.

But what of the feet? This is another crucial point that must be explained or will cause problems. In an ordinary pushup position, your feet are hip-width apart, and this is where we start. Once you are balancing efficiently in Plank Pose with your spine down to your ankles in a straight line, begin to rotate the body to one side while lifting the opposite arm off the ground. Your feet will naturally rotate and your heels will fall to the side while your feet are still apart, and this will help stabilize you as you get fully to one side and lift one arm straight up to the sky. Once you are successfully in Side Plank Pose in an efficiently balancing neutral position, you can place one foot directly over the other as in the illustration. To complete the pose, turn your head in the direction on the lifted arm as shown.

Because I tend to challenge myself further, I like to add motion to the pose by slightly dropping the hips a few inches, carefully stretching the side that faces the floor while slightly contracting the side facing the sky. Then I bring my hips back up to a neutral position and symmetrically lift the hips a few inches, stretching the side that faces the sky, while contracting the side facing the floor. Do this while breathing smoothly and as deeply as balancing will allow. Then, drop into pushup position and balance on the other side, using the arm that was reaching up to hold up your weight, and repeat the hip dropping and lifting movements while breathing smoothly and deeply. You’ll know when you’ve had enough, and when it’s too much you just might fall out of the pose.

Boat Pose

My next favorite pose that sums up much of what yoga asana is all about and is great for targeting the abdominals is called Boat Pose. This one is particularly difficult for me because my legs are quite long in relation to my torso, and those of you with shorter legs and longer torsos may find this pose easier to some degree, so you can push yourself harder and get better results!

To perform Boat Pose, you will have to start by lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides. Breathe in smoothly and deeply for a few breaths while relaxing physically as much as possible and preparing mentally for exerting large amounts of tension for a short time. These two extremes of going from intense relaxation to controlled extreme physical tension is the essence of yoga asana, and swinging back and forth like a pendulum enables you to reach new, previously unexperienced realms of both extremes. Because yoga asana can be so intentionally strenuous and extremely relaxing, done regularly it can restore health and synergy to the human body where it may be lacking through dysfunction, revitalizing and renewing to a state of youthful strength and appearance.

Still lying flat on the ground and ready to exhale, the only place the body should now bend is at the hips. Keeping the spine straight and erect, slowly start to fold in the middle by evenly bringing your torso up off the ground and bringing your legs up at an equivalent angle. In the meantime, keep your arms in front of you and parallel to the ground. Once you are feeling secure in your balance and are aware that you are continuing to breathe without interruption, take this pose to the next level where you will reap all the benefits of abdominal strength and toning: tense up your abdominals as much as you can while making tight fists with your hands, tighten and tense up the muscles in your legs, and keep a steady breath. Become metal, become steel in this pose, and just as you previously relaxed and prepared for extreme tension, breathe and prepare for extreme relaxation as you are putting yourself into the most tense expression of your body in this position. It is not necessary to express any tension in the face, and it is not recommended to create or express extreme tension in the face, so be aware if you do this involuntarily, and learn to separate the two; expressions of extreme tension need not be expressed in the face at any time in any yoga pose, and throughout this focus and concentration you can carry this practice into other aspects of your life. When you’ve had enough, slowly come down evenly and return to the original lying position, and feel the new depths of relaxation you are able to achieve with the next few breaths. Prepare again and repeat, preferably for a total of 3 to 4 repetitions.

Shoulder Stand

Shoulder Stand is another pose that although is not directly targeting your abdominals like these previous poses, it uses the abdominals and back muscles together to stabilize the body in an inverted posture. The reason I am including it in this entry is that it activates the thyroid in the chin lock position and will push your metabolism forward out of a slump so you can burn extra unwanted fat in the body. The illustration below shows an unsupported version of the Shoulder Stand, but to begin doing this pose you will want to support your back with your hands, and therefore your legs can reach higher straight up, lengthening and standing tall while upside-down. Keep in mind that this pose is not called Neck Stand. Because the entire static weight of the body is resting in the muscles that raise, lower, and rotate the scapulae, these muscles need to be strong enough to support that weight, otherwise the cervical spine will be subject to what the shoulders cannot handle. A related pose is Plow Pose, and it has similar chin-lock benefits with added stretching of the spine extensors. Often, I will first attempt Plow Pose before Shoulder Stand, and in that order Shoulder Stand is both a relief and seemingly easier to endure.

To get into this position, you will start by lying flat on the ground on your back, and with an exhale bring your legs up by bending only at the hips. Now that your two halves of your body are at a 90 degree angle, with your arms at your sides slowly lift your pelvis off the floor and begin to bend your arms at your elbows to bring your hands to the small of your back for support. Continue lifting the pelvis until the hips straighten out once more and the only angle now is the one between your neck and torso at the shoulders. Your chin should press firmly against your sternum as you reach high with your feet and support your back tightly by reaching for the thoracic spine in the middle of your back. Breathe smoothly and deeply while pulling in the navel and activating the gluteal muscles. You should begin to feel the heat that this pose generates rather quickly, and before you come down out of the pose you can expect to be covered in sweat.

 There is a very effective isolation exercise called Prone Iso-Ab, in which you are in pushup position but instead of being on your hands, you are on your elbows so you are lower to the ground, creating a lesser angle with the ground and therefore more stress for the abdominals. The yoga asana that resembles this is called Dolphin Plank Pose, and it is essentially the same movement for the same purpose. Above is an illustration showing a similar pose, called Chaturanga Dandasana, creating the lesser angle not by being on the elbows but by remaining on the hands and lowering oneself down to this abdominal stress position. This pose is really just Plank Pose lowered down, and is actually called Four-Limbed Stick Pose, so you are transforming from a plank to a stick. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 20 breaths at a time, finding first minimal effort to maintain the position without weakness. Then, just as in Boat Pose, attempt to ramp up the tension to become stiffer, most like a stick, and petrify yourself while keeping the abdominals in mind before you relax out of the pose momentarily, lie down, and begin a again.
Belly Twist

Finally, the Belly Twist, or Jathara Parivrtti, is a great way to end your abdominal stressor movements to tighten, shape, and tone that midsection. With the body supported by the floor and the main action provided by gravity, breathing method becomes very important to achieve specific effects. By choosing how to direct the breath, either to the abdomen or the thoracic structures as in mula bandha, extraneous muscle tension can be released from the lumbar region or the costovertebral joints. The twist although is in fact for the belly, the lumbar spine does not twist as it is extremely limited in axial rotation (5 degrees total!) A neutral spine must be maintained, meaning without lumbar flexion for example. Lumbar flexion during the rotation would put pressure on the lumbar vertebrae and discs, particularly loading the T11-T12 disc. Furthermore, spine extension would lift the far shoulder off the floor, compressing the brachial plexus, often resulting in a numbness or tingling sensation in the arm.

Belly Twist  Legs ExtendedWhen doing this Belly Twist with legs extended, there is more adduction of the top leg which can lead to more internal rotation, lengthening the iliotibial band, along with good stretches of the gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus, the piriformis, gemelli, and obturator internus.
Although it is true that this is not a complete and definitive list, it is enough to get one started, particularly at an easy level where most need to begin to sculpt and strengthen the midsection, which includes the spine. With the dietary guidelines from the previous post that tell you how to eat and not what to eat, one to two weeks of regular exercise and invigorating yoga moves like these will greatly surprise you, and quite possibly those around you. Spine health and abdominal strength are very important for sustaining life, and in the next few entries I will focus on specific poses not yet mentioned here that do just that.

As I write this, it is still somewhat cold outside this spring in New York City. If you follow my advice to the letter in this post, and I’m going to try to include as few letters as possible for your benefit, you can have killer abdominals in time for summer. What’s more, this advice will guarantee that you will keep your sexy midline throughout the winter months so that you don’t have to battle your belly fat over and over again. A trim waist is a sign of good health and tells others that you are strong and healthy. Whether you could stand to lose 6 inches off your gut to get into better health or you want to resemble an ancient Greek statue, what I tell you will get you there.

First, I must state that you won’t be able to do it by yoga alone. As a matter of fact, most people who succeed tend to get it done without yoga at all. But, by incorporating specific aspects of yoga that focus on this goal, you will naturally coax your body into a state of constant metabolic health that will be one of the many key angles of attack on your excess body fat to get it done to keep it off permanently.

Diet is the most important element in lowering your body fat percentage which will make or break your efforts here. If you get this wrong, you will have a trim waist, and you will never have six-pack abs no matter how hard you try to do everything else right.  Do yourself a favor and re-learn what you think you know about food if you have a gut right now; what you know is probably completely wrong, or you know what you’re doing wrong and just don’t do anything right. I’m not going to dwell on the subject of diet, because this should be made the simplest part of this multi-faceted confrontation with your fat cells. You know what you’re doing wrong, so stop it. And if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian and you’re fat, I’m sorry but you lose — it will be imperative that you figure out how to get enough protein in your diet so you may want to read my blog entry The Argument for Vegetarianism, Part 2, while focusing on getting all your carbohydrates from vegetables which is what a vegan or vegetarian should be doing; step up to the plate and delete all pastas, breads, grains, cereals, sugars, anything that is a processed simple carbohydrate, or if you gorge on these, start by cutting them down to 1/3 or less of your overall intake. If you’re anything like me, these are the reasons you don’t have abs, so come to terms with that fact and make the change.

The last thing I will say generally about diet is that when the human body has grown fat, many things come together in a sneaky, underhanded way to make it so, and in this entry I will attempt to explain how to unravel those multiple tight bonds that choke the life out of us. A fat, even slightly fat, person is one who can be seen as an otherwise healthy person who is being tied down independently at each limb and is unable to move as freely as possible. As we loosen these reigns and eventually free our tied down wrists and ankles and bound torsos, only then can we create the natural snowballing effect, or exponentially accelerating runaway train of vibrant energy that is a high metabolism that keeps us hungry in true hunger for true foods, those that your subconscious animal mind knows you need, not the foods that your thinking, habitually dependent, corrupted behavioral mind seems to want. This will be accomplished by understanding what your daily caloric intake is, and what percentage of that intake is comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and most importantly what kinds of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. So, as you may be starting to understand, the more complicated you make this, the higher the chances of failure; the simpler you make it, the simpler it will be to eat the right proportions of the right foods and make no mistakes whatsoever. I recommend this, unless you have over a year’s time to make this your goal.

Burn calories. Choose your weapon. Typical failing dieters think that just by eating less, they will start to lose weight. If you stick with it, and basically eat a lot less, a lot healthier, and consume solid, nutritious meals, you will. End of story. This is the Law of Thermodynamics, which in this case states that the only way one will lose weight or body fat is if one consumes less calories (food and drink) than one expends (activity, movement combined with breath). Keep in mind that if you have a slow metabolism and while eating a lot less you consume over 40% of your calories in the form of carbohydrates and don’t burn those calories every day as you eat them, you’ll stay fat. If you didn’t know this, now you know. This is why you see so many skinny-fat vegetarians around. They eat very little, and they eat healthy in general, but they consume too many carbohydrates and don’t burn them off day to day, and that gets stored as fat under the skin. Fat under the skin is exactly what you need to get rid of to have a trim waist, so you must do the opposite of this carb-heavy intake, and you must choose a method of activity that will be ruthless. In choosing your weapon, you have either cardiorespiratory exercise (heart and lungs is what this means), or anaerobic activity that pushes you to a level of constant fat burn, or both. Constant fat burn sounds like the right choice if you ask me, and this means strength training, which is where I come in.

I don’t do cardio. Ever. Here’s why: I don’t need to. I perform strength training movements with a level of intensity (constant elevated heart rate) within a specific amount of time (40-60 min.) to complete a specific range of sets (15-25) in a gym environment three times a week. If I were to perform cardio exercises during that same time frame, my body would begin a cycle of overtraining which leads to exhaustion and injury. This is also how I do yoga, which can be cardio if vinyasa, and as I just stated, I don’t do cardio.

There is a very little known fact called Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC, which can be explained as the elevation of the body’s metabolism after exercise. Your goal will be to maximize this. Built into the variability and your possible maximization of EPOC is the genetic construct that your body has its own objective to expend as little energy as possible. In order to do this, the human body is a highly adaptable organism that readily adapts to the demands placed on it. By maximizing the oxygen consumption needed for the duration of a training session as well as for the recovery from the training session, the body can continue to adapt to greater demands and continue a high metabolic rate during and after exercise to burn more calories at all times, even though the body will adapt to specific demands over time and begin to use minimal energy to perform them. What this translates to is the higher the intensity of the training session, the greater the magnitude of EPOC. Furthermore, splitting the training session into multiple sessions (usually two) of equal time has the greatest effect on EPOC, and therefore the greatest effect on burning calories and body fat reduction.

If you’ve followed me so far, this next paragraph will blow your mind. Fat and glucose are your major sources of fuel for exercise. A fire cannot burn without oxygen, and so for these fuels to be used more efficiently, the body must be able to receive enough oxygen, allowing fat and glucose to be “burned” as fuel. The waste products of this fuel burning are carbon dioxide and water. This is where the importance of your lungs as accessory fat burners comes into play. The amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchanged in the lungs normally equals that used and released by body tissues, allowing us to use these respiratory gasses to estimate caloric expenditure, a method called indirect calorimetry, measured with a metabolic analyzer to detect an individual’s respiratory exchange ratio, or RER. This ratio is the ratio of carbon dioxide produced to the volume of oxygen consumed. It is a known fact that the human body uses the highest percent of its fuel from fat when the body has an RER of 0.71, indicating at first blush that whatever exercises you do, just make sure you’re at an RER of 0.71; this is exactly what I do and therefore suggest for you to do as well. The only problem with all this scientific data analysis is that in the real world the only time the body can be at 0.71 RER is when it is completely at rest.

Mind blown? This means you can’t burn the most fat by doing cardiorespiratory exercise. This means the people that only go to the gym to use cardio equipment to lose fat are doing it wrong. They should say they are just going to the gym to burn a few calories in the hope of burning and losing fat. Getting back to EPOC, you may have already figured it out, but if you haven’t I’ll spell it out for you. If you train three times a week doing weight training at a high intensity for your fitness level, you will maximize the caloric expenditure (oxygen consumption) during your training session by keeping your heart rate elevated for the entire duration of 40-60 minutes, and you will maximize the oxygen consumption (caloric expenditure) needed for the recovery from the training session. This means as you rest throughout the day and during your sleep until you are ready for another 40-60 minutes of exercise, you will attain an RER of 0.71 and therefore burn fat most efficiently. This also means that without lots of rest, you won’t burn as much fat, and with less rest, you will get fatter. Of course, you just have to give yourself a good reason to deserve the rest, and the two aspects of intensity followed by rest neatly sum up yoga in action. Cardiorespiratory training typically stops being effective as soon as you stop performing the cardio exercise, meaning it only works as you are doing it. This is great news for constantly counting your calories burned on the treadmill, but takes greater time management and greater discipline leading to higher possibility of failure, not to mention loss of major muscle tissue (if it’s not in the fat burning RER, it has to burn something) when done for over 20 minutes at a time.

The next entry will focus primarily on yoga poses and related movements that will target your abdominals to strengthen them, shape them, and thereby making your spine happier about not overcompensating for weak abs. Other poses will be suggested solely for metabolic quickening through thyroid activation. Until then, start burning fat, rev up your metabolism, and start feeling healthier and stronger on a cellular level through proper nutrition.

Balance

April 4, 2012

In the celebration of life and movement, let’s go over some of the most beautiful yoga poses that incorporate balance. We will discuss what makes balance so important for health and vitality, and how your balance can and will improve as long as you periodically test your balance and let your body do what it does without having to think about it in your frontal lobe.

Balance training ensures neuromuscular efficiency of what is termed the kinetic chain, or the combination and interrelation of the nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems. In balance training at entry level, very little joint motion is involved, and the goal is to improve reflexive joint stabilization contractions, thereby increasing joint stability. This is achieved by placing the body in unstable environments where it must react by contracting the right muscles at the right time to maintain balance. All entry level balance movements are done standing on one leg, and aside from the rudimentary single-leg balance itself all movements incorporate motion in all three planes: frontal, sagittal, and transverse.

Photograph by Gosia Janik

What this all means is that if you are looking to strengthen your core and are currently working with core stabilization movements that do not require balance, such as the previously described Cobra pose and Two-Legged Table, balance stabilization in conjunction with core stabilization will get you to poses that incorporate both, in combination with breathing to create momentary synergy of these three aspects.

There is much to cover in describing how to properly stay in Natarajasana, or King of the Dancers Pose. It is similar to the poses One-Legged Royal Pigeon and Bow, both of which do not incorporate the balancing aspect but do bind the hands and feet in a backbend. After this is detailed, we will close with beginners Balance Stabilization movements that will build up the neuromuscular efficiency of the entire kinetic chain to make the balance aspects of Natarajasana feel like second nature.

Natajarasana by Sharon Ellis

The King of the Dancers pose is an advanced backbending standing balance posture. You’ll notice immediately that the back is arched upward very much like Cobra pose, and in this pose as well you must find the deeper, more intrinsic back muscles to perform the action of spinal extension. This is because although the movement and mobility is obvious, breathing once you are in the pose is most important, and using the larger superficial muscles like the latissimus will interfere with your breath. Using the deeper spinal muscles also frees up the mobility needed to find the full range of the scapulae. Motion of the spine should be concentrated in the thoracic while the lumbar is stabilized by the eccentric motion of the psoas minor, rectus abdominis, and obliques. The intrinsic extensor muscles of the spine reponsible for creating and maintaining spinal extension are the intertransversarii, interspinalis, rotatores, multifidi, spinalis, semisponalis, splenius capitis and crevicis, longissimus, and iliocostalis.

The arms are lifted overhead, and with the proper scapular motion assisted by the serratus anterior, the humerus or upper arm bone will be just behind the ears with the scapula lifted and coming together to hug the ribcage at the rear. The shoulder joint will be supported by the supraspinatus and subscapularis, so scapula mobility properly gets the arms in position while making sure the glenohumeral joint is not overmobilized and there is enough mobility in the thoracic spine.

Natarajasana Front by Sharon Ellis

In the standing leg, the muscles of the feet and forelegs are active for balance. The hamstrings are lengthened and can work eccentrically to resist tipping forward too far, while the quadriceps extend the knee. The gluteus medius and minimus and the tensor fascia latae work eccentrically keeping the pelvis level.

In the lifted leg, the hamstrings create hip extension and knee flexion, and the vastus lateralis and medialis come into isometric or concentric action to extend the knee, resisting the hand on the foot and increasing hip extension as the pose deepens. The gluteus maximus extends the hip along with the adductor magnus. The legs should be kept adducted and internally rotated to avoid overworking the lumbar spine or overmobilizing the sacroiliac joint.

This pose minimizes the excursion of the diaphragm so it should rarely be held for long durations. With the shallower breathing afforded by the pose, the muscular effort required to maintain the stabilization of anterior and posterior musculature working against each other combined with deep spinal extension soon cannot be met with the demand of sufficient oxygen supply. With the need to breathe deeper, stabilization from the abdominals and diaphragm is lessened, which could lead to a higher risk to the spine and shoulders. For this reason, monitor the breath and the body’s natural requirement for more oxygen as a signal to come out of the pose. Before that moment comes, however, keep in mind what you will be lengthening: the triceps, the latissimus dorsi, the pectoralis major, and the rhomboids in the arms and related muscles. Related to the spine, the rectus abdominis, obliques, and the intercostals (open your chest). The hamstrings and abductors in the standing leg, and in the lifted leg the iliacus, psoas major, and rectus femoris.

To systematically and progressively train your balance, begin with an easy exercise and move on to harder ones. The following exercises are safe and progressive. You can change the parameters on your own to make them progressive in all areas by moving from simple to complex, known to unknown, stable to unstable, static to dynamic, slow to fast, using two arms/legs to single arm/leg, and having eyes open to eyes closed. These exercises can be performed to higher proprioceptive challenges on the floor, a balance beam, a half foam roll, an airex pad, or a dyna disc. By progressing and changing variables like speed of motion, range of motion, duration, frequency, types of resistance (body weight versus dumbbells, tubing, or cable), and body position (Two-leg/single-leg–stable/unstable), you can design a program for your balance training that will keep your kinetic chain reactive to keep you on your feet in any situation.

To prepare for all of the following, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and pointed straight ahead, hips neutral. Lift the chest, retract the shoulders slightly, and tuck the chin. Draw the navel in and activate the gluteals.

1. Single-Leg Balance

Lift one leg directly beside the other with hands on hips, keeping hips and shoulders level. Hold for 5 to 20 seconds. Slowly return to original position and switch legs and repeat.

2. Single-Leg Reach

Lift one leg beside the balance leg, and move lifted leg to the front of the body, hold for 2 seconds. Return to original position and repeat. The leg can be moved to the side of the body and also reaching behind the body as a progression.

3. Single-Leg Hip Internal and External Rotation

Lift one leg beside the other, keeping level hips and shoulders, but this time lift the leg as if you were stepping up to a low stool, so your femur is now parallel with the ground. Rotate the hip of the lifted leg by tracing the arc of a circle with the bent knee to the side of the lifted leg. This is internally and externally rotating the hip of the lifted leg, and hold for 2 seconds. Switch legs and repeat by turning the other knee and hips outward to the other direction and holding for 2 seconds. The spine and hip should move as one so as not to rotate the spine.

4. Single-Leg Lift and Chop

Lift one leg beside the balance leg while holding a medicine ball in your extended arms. If you lift the right leg, hold the medicine ball beside your left thigh. Lift the medicine ball diagonally over the right shoulder, rotating the body so the ball is over the balance leg. Hold for 2 seconds, slowly return to the original position, repeat, and switch legs.

When performing these balance exercises, keeping the hips level will decrease stress to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, or LHC. Make sure to contract the gluteal musculature of the balance leg through all balance exercises to help stabilize the lower extremity. Lastly, make sure the knee of the balance leg always stays in line with the toes. If you struggle with balance, these simple yet challenging exercises will ensure you can handle the intermediate and advanced poses in your yoga practice, as well as every movement you make anywhere you go where your stability suddenly is questioned and needs a reaction.

The Living Corpse

January 20, 2012

“You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.” -Louis C.K.

When was the last time you asked the question, “Are we not all titans and giants, imprisoned in hell”? If it’s been a while, or maybe never, after reading this entry you may want to ask it every day upon waking. Before I get into discussing more physically demanding musculoskeletal postures that are sure to invigorate your neurofascia, I’d like to take a moment to work backwards from what is the most important part of why you got into this whole yoga business, Corpse Pose. In terms of classification and level, it is all about perspective. As a matter of fact, your perspective will either take you on an amazing journey in Corpse Pose, or it will not move you at all, maybe even have you taking a short nap. In other words, it is you, your perspective, your personal involvement, the things that are internal and in the realm of nonshareability among others that will make or break this experience, leaving you fully responsible for what you get out of it. If it doesn’t work for you, it’s not the yoga that didn’t work, but it was you who didn’t show up to the party; depending on your perspective, therefore, lying there like a corpse after your self-imposed intense physical and mental stresses can be very easy if you understand that you are now uniting your mind, heart, and body in a scared trinity that project spirituality as they are overlaid, or it can be very advanced and difficult as you struggle with wondering, questioning, being lost, missing a connection to yourself, and only being able to view it externally as you lie there on your back and breathe. Perspective is what we have as our secret weapon to change absolutely nothing in the physical world around us, the external, yet by changing the internal, suddenly everything changes and the entire existence of all things from our earliest memories to the most now moment is different, in an instant.

Photo courtesy of BonesBob

What is working on your body in lying there as if you are dead, as you can imagine, is gravity. Ah, the ever mysterious gravity, that scientists still cannot grasp fully as a concept in context of our world from the very large down to the infinitesimally small. But you can lay there and ponder it with your mental focus, because, alas, you are not dead, yet. To reiterate the driving force that is your vehicle through your liberating perspective, whatever “gymnastic” demands your immediately prior asanas make on your body in terms of strength, flexibility, and balance, your new challenge here is to release all of the tension from every part of your body AND your mind; if you get this one wrong, you may fool others from a distance, but you’ll know if you are trying to fool yourself or you have been successful in letting go and thereby coming into the full embrace of not just this or that, but all that is. Atheists beware, this may be the most dangerous pose for you, unless of course you are interested in transformation and change. From my personal experience and perspective, the religion in which I was brought up had its own form of Corpse Pose, except you were expected to do it on your knees with your back unsupported, and with your hands folded in prayer in front of your heart. I don’t know about you, but I found that a lot more difficult.

So, what challenges do you face, with your little mind that is definitely going to be flitting about like a little moth in an almost empty closet, looking for that one forgotten wool scarf on a shelf in a corner way in the back, in the dark? You may have a problem with fully relaxing because you think too much about your body. The first thing you will struggle with is that what looks like you lying there symmetrically with your legs and arms straight, palms up, feet falling outward, may not feel symmetrical as your curvy parts of the backside of your body make contact with the floor. Just surrender to the fact that what you may be feeling proprioceptively (the information being relayed to your central nervous system about your environment) may not initially line up with the fact that your body is indeed positioned just right. This way you are now ready to achieve a deep state of emotional and physical relaxation. If you have body issues, meaning you have difficulty or inability to accept your body as it is, this will be the primary reason stopping your progress. You need to accept your body as it is, and not how you wish it to be.

Savasana

You will be breathing, concentrating on your breath, meditating on your back as you release and forget about your body once each and every part of it has been accounted for and systematically relaxed. You’ll know you are there when you get to that last area of your body and relax it; your mind will search for any remaining areas of the body connected to it that still require relaxation, and in finding none, you will feel both weightless and free, while still being in full participation with gravity as you feel your heavy body sinking into the floor as if it is ever more becoming softer, more accepting of your weight, wanting to get closer to you, one with your body. This deep state of conscious relaxation is different from sleep, so don’t sleep! If you can imagine how you breathe when you sleep, in other words breathing without controlling your breathing, that is your goal. Be fully aware of your breathing while not controlling it. The reason for this is your breath has a natural rhythm, and you have to let it run wild in that rhythm. When you are too aware and control your breathing, you cage it, altering its natural rhythm. Set the breath free and let it run wild, and you yourself will step out of your cage and run wild.

How long should this go on for? I like to generalize it to ten minutes, but I obviously don’t set a timer or look at a clock. You know what ten minutes feels like, so prepare for that. Just like all other asanas, when you know you’ve had enough, you just know. Good indicators that you are ready are experiences of having been fully released from conscious, mundane, egocentric reality for a time frame that naturally makes you want to jump back into life as if you have just been reborn into your body to start new. Your mind will start to nudge you to want to come back into being and have new levels of optimism and enthusiasm for the possibilities offered to you in this life. When the physical relaxation feels complete and complimentary to your physical demands that have come before this time, and the mental and emotional release have peaked and come back to a resting state, all three of these aspects will come to a synergy like three key aspects of yourself resting at the bottom of a deep bowl. Your eyes will naturally want to open; the smile on your face is optional.