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Stop and Smell the Roses

Yoga. The first time you heard the word you probably had visions of one of the following:

1) A swami master in loin cloths sitting in lotus pose and levitating above his mat
2) A long limbed super slender woman twisted into some impossible pretzel while smiling blissfully
3) A room full of people on mats breathing with eyes closed and chanting words you don't understand

Add the word POWER in front of yoga, and another vision comes to mind: A warm or hot room full of fit and toned sweating bodies moving quickly from one pose to another as a maniacal teacher paces the room calling out pose names in sanskrit faster than you can recite your ABC's in English.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. I have no problem at all with any of the above 4 visions. And while I doubt I'll levitate any time soon (and certainly not in a loin cloth) I have been known to attempt pretzel-ish poses, chant with my eyes closed, and sweat in a fast-moving class. There is a time and place for each of these versions of yoga; that's the beauty of the practice! It can be adapted to fit any particular individual, and even the same individual at different times. It's not every day I can do ninety million chaturanga pushups... some days I just need to sit and meditate.

I offer you a challenge here, especially those of you that like to practice version number 4 from the above scenarios; sweating profusely while moving quickly from one pose to the next. Yes, it's a great workout. Yes, you get your heart pumping. Yes, your muscles get warm and stretched. BUT... Sometimes we rush those flows, barely even taking the full inhale / exhale before transitioning to the next. Take for example Surya Namaskar A (sun salutation A). Typically this is cued as follows:

1) Inhale as arms rise
2) Exhale to fold
3) Inhale to halfway lift / lengthen
4) Exhale to fold
5) Inhale to rise again
6) Exhale hands to heart center

This little series only takes 3 full breaths. As you sit here reading this take note of your breath at its current rate and see how many seconds it takes to breath three times. Heck, maybe even set the stopwatch on your fancy smart phone and see for yourself. If you're like me, probably anywhere from 6 - 12 seconds, depending on how shallow you normally breathe and whether or not you started to breathe more deeply when I called your attention to your breath (ha - caught you!). Now reset the stopwatch and take those 3 full breaths reeeaaaaaallllllyyyyyy fully. Concentrate on pulling your breath all the way down into your diaphragm, below the belly button on the inhales. On the exhales let all of your air leave your body completely, pulling your belly in. For me, that took 37 seconds. Over 3 times the amount of time when I was just breathing "normally!"

No imagine that you bring this deeeeeeep breath into your practice while doing that Surya Namaskar A above. Take a full 30 - 40 seconds for each round. Take this a step further into your practice and think about your vinyasa flow. The steps are cued as follows (from a down dog):

1) Inhale into high plank
2) Exhale lower into chaturanga
3) Inhale into upward facing dog
4) Exhale into downward facing dog

None of these poses are actually held as poses - it's just one big transition. I call this the "touch and go" vinyasa. I had a friend years ago who flew small planes, and on one occasion I had the opportunity to fly with him. As we flew around central Ohio he radioed the local small airports and we did "touch and go's" where we came in for a landing, but then just taxied and took right off again. When you flow through your vinyasa are you just doing a touch and go, or are you actually "landing" the poses? To get your body used to slowing down, take a full round of breath in each pose like so:

1) Inhale into high plank, exhale as you hold, inhale once more
2) Exhale into chaturanga, inhale as you hold, exhale once more (imagine there is a bouquet of gorgeous roses underneath you at this point. You don't want to collapse and get poked by the thorns, so just hover and inhale deeply to smell them!)
3) Inhale into upward-facing dog, exhale as you hold, inhale once more
4) Exhale into downard-facing dog

Notice anything different? When we stop and smell the roses as we flow our practice brings new opportunities to the mat. We have a chance to feel each pose more fully we realize that the challenge in some poses, like chaturanga, is in the holding not just the executing of the transition to the pose. We more fully appreciate the muscles of the body holding and supporting us in the pose. We can more mindfully scan our body to ensure proper alignment for injury prevention. And most importantly we give our minds an opportunity to slow down as well. It's hard to let your thoughts wander too much when you're holding that chaturanga!

Give it a try the next time you're practicing alone, or even in class. Don't worry - most teachers won't care if you're moving slower than their cues. Take your time... stop and smell the roses!


By Pam Juliano

I have been practicing yoga since 1999 when I was invited to a class at a local library. Initially trained in the Iyengar style I spent several years in Fort Lauderdale (FL) as a student at the Broward Institute of Yoga. Over the next 7 years I subbed classes and coordinated a children's yoga program while at the same time completing my Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. In 2006 I relocated to Fort Mill where (after a short break from my practice to have another baby) I discovered Vinyasa style yoga and my practice began once again in earnest. I obtained my RYT-200 in Vinyasa Yoga and am excited to be a member of the Om Yoga team! I am mom to two wonderful daughters (aged 19 and 6) and step mom to another two kiddos (aged 13 and 11). I have a passion for healing through movement, meditation, energy, and holistic approaches including essential oils and herbs. On top of that I work part time as a bookkeeper and tax return preparer which keeps my nerdy side satisfied. I truly believe that my purpose in life is to enrich the lives of others through my service to them.


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