Sunday, January 1, 2012


Welcome back.  It has been awhile since I last posted here.  But I'm writing now.

Since I completed my 360 (+5) days of Adho Mukha Svanasana last January, my yoga path, my practice, and my relationship with my body have changed.  I'd like to say for the better, but that isn't true. I've been following my yoga path halfheartedly. Like a 10-year-old child who must go on a 3-mile day hike with her parents, my practice has been prone to a lot of stops and starts, grumbling and complaining at times, and then, in the next moment, enthusiastically racing ahead, eager to see what lies ahead. I've lacked direction and focus, and other things have often preoccupied my mind. My inconsistent practice has resulted in diminished attention to and appreciation of my body: its needs and wants, its strengths and weaknesses, its beauty and impermanence. 

Everyday offers us an opportunity to start new, to recommit to paths and relationships from which we've wandered and strayed. This January, I am recommitting to my yoga path, my practice, and my body.  I recommit so that I may regain direction and focus in line with my highest intentions and aspirations, calmness and clarity in my mind, and awe and respect for my body.

"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me...and I'm feeling good."*

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Asana of the Week: Utkatasana, Part II

I love Utkatasana a.k.a. Chair Pose so dang much, I decided to make it my asana of the week for another week!

Ha.  Actually, I still have so much aversion to Utkatasana that I thought I needed to sit with it a little longer.  (That's a yoga joke, see, because Utkatasana is more commonly known as a chair and you sit in a chair.  See?  Ba-da-da!) 

The Thing fears Utkatasana almost as much as I do.
So last week, I did Utkatasana daily as promised, though the frequency and duration varied from day to day.  And I still absolutely find it to be a challenging pose. Reviewing the pose's mental benefits (see the Utkatasana FYI at the end of my last post), I agree that Utkatasana does build focus and stimulates the mind.  A few things my mind is focusing on:
  • Whether or not I can deepen my groin muscles further back and down to get my legs closer to a 90-degree angle
  • Checking my foundation to make sure I'm balanced and not about to tip over and fall on my butt
  • Wondering if I'm over-arching my back, and trying to engage the core and puff up my kidney area to give my back some support and relief, while still moving the torso towards a vertical position
  • Keeping my shoulders down instead of hunched up around my ears
  • Bringing my arms closer to my head while also taking them up and back further
  • Not to looking down, but straight ahead. 
  • Lifting the corners of my mouth. (Well, I should be trying to do this!)
  • Surviving.
Another mental benefit of Utkatasana is that it helps develop willpower.  No kidding.  To sit in this pose for longer than five seconds takes super willpower.  Like with any challenge, some days the willpower is easier to muster than others.  I can be a pretty willful person, but not always.  When it comes to something difficult, I think I could always use a little more willpower to face the challenge.  Thus I'm going to keep working with Utkatasana this week.  Perhaps by the end of TWO weeks of Chair, I'll be able to comprehend how the pose offers the final mental benefit: stress reduction!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Asana of the Week: Utkatasana

AND I'm back!

Here we go...
I'm overdue for a post about yoga in the post-Lasik, post-360 days of Adho Mukha Svanasana, but there's no time for that today. But I did want to get back on the yoga-blogging horse, and I've been thinking about giving myself a new little yoga challenge, so voila: Asana of the Week.  Yes, I know, this isn't the most creative idea I've ever come up with, but I think that it is still a GOOD idea. 

Working with a specific pose everyday for a week is a way for me to really get to know that pose.  If it is a pose that inspires a degree of dread in my heart, maybe this will help me become more comfortable with the pose and more patient with myself.  Also, it is a good way for me to think about the anatomy of a pose, to consider my own body's reception of that pose, to learn modifications, and to find out about a pose's benefits as well as its contraindications. To start my asana o' week challenge off, I've selected Utkatasana, commonly known as Chair pose.

Look, I drew a chair!

Oh, Utkatasana....  Utkatasana is indeed a pose that inspires a degree of dread in my heart.  Rumor has it, it inspires dread in the hearts of many.  Of course it does, because it is kind of hard.  Utkatasana requires strength.  Thigh strength, for sure, because that's where we feel the main burn when in the pose.  But it also requires arm strength and perhaps most importantly, core strength.  See, Utkatasana not only is a standing pose, but it is also a bit of backbend.  Therefore, to prevent lower back compression and injury, it is important to keep the core strong and the arms lifting up.

Not drawn to scale, or with accurate proportions, or with proper alignment, really.

Given my strong yoga/runner's thighs, it isn't terribly surprising that the challenging core and arm work are why I hate on Utkatasana a little now and then. On reflection, these are the issues I have with all backbends.  I have a fear of hurting my back, and I don't like feeling any discomfort there.  So I feel like I'm always on this teeter totter in backbends: engage the core, go up and back, but not too far, so engage the core more, tuck the tailbone, but wait, this is a backbend, so go back, but wait, not too far, so....  Plus, I'm a little lazy about poses where I have to hold my arms up alongside my ears for too long.

Oh yeah, and I can't forget the flexibility aspect of Utkatasana.  To reach that golden 90-degree angle, to sit down and back, flexibility in the hips and groins helps.  If I'm feeling a little tight in my hips, like something isn't quite optimum, one or both of them may just pop back into alignment while I'm trying to sit down and back in Utkatasana.  Happens all the time.  And I appreciate the pose for that.

Anyway, Asana of the Week: Utkatasana.  No matter how long my daily yoga practice times are this week, I will make time to do Utkatasana two to three times. Maybe more.  I will hold it for 15 to 30 seconds each time.  My week with it began on Saturday, so I'll do Utkatasana daily until next Saturday, when I'll select a new pose of the week.  And I will do my best to write about my process with Utkatasna once more before the week is up.  I'd love to hear about your challenges, or your enthusiastic embrace, of this pose.  Also, feel free to nominate a pose for future Pose of the Week, though I'm going to be sticking to the basics for now (i.e. poses I don't need 40 minutes of warming up before executing).

Utkatasana or Chair pose FYI* 

  • Physical benefits: lengthens the spine; strength-building for feet, ankles, calves, knees, tush, and thighs; chest opening; digestive, circulatory, and reproductive system stimulation.
  • Mental benefits: builds focus & willpower; mind stimulation; stress reduction.
  • Contraindications: low blood pressure; insomnia; back injury; knee injury (try the gentle variation with knees bent slightly). 
  • Counter pose: Follow with Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).

*Adapted from Hatha Yoga Illustrated, by Martin Kirk, Brooke Boon, & Daniel DiTuro. Human Kinetics, 2006.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Credits

     And, in the end, the love you take/
     Is equal to the love you make.
     -The End by The Beatles (Lennon/McCartney)

Savasana view from my mat at the cabin

Many, many people have supported me over the last 360 days.  Some of them didn’t even know they were helping me, or what the heck they were helping me with, but I’d like to take this moment and give thanks.

Thank you to all my teachers this year, in particular these regular-Jess teachers: Wendy & Meg at OmTown Yoga and Denise at Seattle Yoga Arts. Also, thanks to these other teachers I’ve had the honor to learn from at some point this year: Michael W., Rainey, Mauricio, Rachel, Grace, Michael S., Ki, Irene, Mike D., Marni, and Megan. 
Thank you to the yoga studios and health facilities where I’ve been lucky enough to practice yoga during this year: OmTown Yoga, Seattle Yoga Arts, OmCulture Studio, Mieko’s Fitness Lake City, Hatha Yoga Center, Brio Health Spa and Fitness at the Grand Mayan (Riviera Maya), The Samarya Center, and NW Community Yoga.
I did yoga on this pier.

I also want to thank the following people for allowing me the space to practice in their homes, yards, or on their hotel bill(!) this year: Dad and Marianne (by my count, you’ve provided 4 spaces for me to practice yoga this year), Mom and Tim, Grandma, Jeremy and Marni, Jay and Jane, Kevin, Jamie, and Lizzy.  Also, I thank your pets for their patience. And I can’t forget to thank the George W. Bush International Airport in Houston.  Good times.

 My yoga mat view from Jamie's yard in Queens in late November!

Thank you to friends I’ve had the honor of practicing yoga with this year, especially Tia for our awesome jointly-led practice at the lake over my birthday, Tae for our side-by-side lake practice, and Megan for taking me to her teacher’s studio for a class and also teaching me herself at another studio.  

On that same note: Thank you to all my fellow yogis and yoginis in yoga classes, specifically Wendy’s 10 AM Wednesday class and Meg’s 5:30 PM Thursday class at OmTown, and Denise’s 7 PM Monday class at SYA.  

I HAVE to thank the other professionals: Dr. Belcher (my GP), Julie at G2 Sports (my physical therapist), and fantastic LMTs Linda at Hills Resort and Kristin at Dreamclinic

So many people have supported me by being flexible with time to allow me to cram in my yoga, or inquiring about how the yoga is going, or reading and commenting on my blog, or just commenting on and “liking” my Facebook link to the yoga blog.  Those people include: Alisha, Alison, April O., April V., Becca, Ben, Bob, Bronwyn, Carolyn, Cele, Charity, Chris D., Chris W., Christine, Cindy, Cricket, Dad, Dane, Dax, Don, Erica, Erika, Erin, Geoff, Gloria, Hilary, Holly, Ingrid, Jamie, Jane, Jason, Jay, Jeremy, Jillian, Jim, John B., John M., Julia, Julie, Justin, Kate M., Kate O., Katie, Kevin, Kris, Laura, Linda F., Linda R., Liz D., Liz K., Liz, Marci, Marianne, Marni, Matt, Megan, Michel, Mike K., Miyu, Mom, Nedra, Peggy, Quyen, Rachel, Ryan, Sarah, Shannon, Sonda, Tae, Tia, Tim F., Tim O., Tim R., Tim Y., Vicki, Wendy C., and Whitney.

Thank you, and thanks so many more people who have slipped my memory at this second.  I thought about ALL of you during my practice today.  Thank you for your pats on the back, your nudges, your interest, and just being great.  I could NOT have done it without you.