Monday, August 21 marks the day the first total solar eclipse will grace North America in more than 25 years and a powerful day for yoga.
Mark your calendars now for August 21, the day the first total solar eclipse will grace North America in more than 25 years, and a powerful day for yoga. A few moments of complete darkness during the day reminds us of our place in the cosmos—that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves—one of the primary lessons of mindfulness practices, explains Kate Russo, a clinical psychologist, eclipse chaser, and phenomenological researcher based in Belfast, Ireland.
“An eclipse strips away all your worries, and you suddenly have clarity about what you want to do with your life,” Russo says. “You feel connected to other people—regardless of where they are from or their political views. It transforms you.”
To celebrate the eclipse, Blakesley Burkhart, a trained yoga teacher and astronomy postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, recommends a soothing and well-aligned Moon Salutation to coincide with the sun, moon, and Earth being in perfect alignment.
Celebrate with a Moon Salutation
Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), then inhale and bring your palms together over your head. Exhale and crescent to your right; inhale back to center. Exhale and crescent to your left; inhale back to center. Exhale to Utkata Konasana (Goddess Pose), taking a wide stance and lowering into a squat while keeping your knees in line with your ankles. Inhale and straighten your legs as you transition to Extended Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose).
On your next exhale, move your hands to the floor or blocks on either side of your front leg for Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch). From here, bend into your front knee and find a High Lunge. Inhale, turn your back toes out, and shift your hips down and over your front ankle, coming into Skandasana (Side Lunge). Inhale back to Goddess Pose and repeat the same poses on the other side, but in reverse order.
Feeling heavy and unmotivated? Sometimes the best thing you can do is make a momentary shift in what you’re doing. Here are some ideas.
There are many things in life that can contribute to making you feel down. Everyone’s life is full of waves: times when the ride feels smooth and times when the ride feels choppy. One of the best things you can do for your overall health is to learn ways to support yourself so that you can feel a sense of calm and contentment more often, even in the midst of many waves of energy. Of course, seek guidance from your doctors and Ayurvedic specialists so they can help you deal with your specific needs, especially if you are noticing your mood is often low and it’s hard to feel content or at ease.
If you’d love to write but something’s holding you back, follow Elena Brower’s tips for finding your flow.
If yoga and meditation are central practices in your life, then you know their potential to help you still your mind and get present. Writing holds the same promise, says Elena Brower, a yoga and meditation teacher in New York City. “Every time I have been in a tough spot or can’t make sense of a particular event, I turn to my journal,” she says. “Once I organize my thoughts, I’m more capable of accessing the lesson that’s hidden within whatever I’m facing.” If you’d love to write but something’s holding you back, follow Brower’s tips for finding your flow:
1. Create a cozy writing space.
Set aside a corner of your desk that you keep clean for journaling, or place a candle next to your comfiest chair to light when you’re ready to start writing. No matter where you choose to write, do it in a space that feels special and inviting.
If the blank page intimidates you, buy a journal that has prompts, such as Brower’s new book, Practice You. It’s filled with instructions and inquiries that will inspire fresh perspectives and help you stay on track with your intentions.
3. Write before, or after, you meditate.
Sometimes Brower writes before she sits—and it helps clear her headspace so her meditation feels easier. Other times, she finds writing comes more easily after meditating. Try both, and see which works best for you.
4. Resist the urge to edit yourself.
“Go ahead and make a mess,” says Brower. If you begin writing from a place of uncertainty, just keep putting down your thoughts as they surface—don’t hesitate to consider what they mean. Instead, “trust that the mess will lead you to order,” says Brower, “and maybe even help you ascertain what to do next
When it comes to yoga practice, one pose simply doesn’t fit all. In Your Body Your Yoga, Bernie Clark lays out a road map for getting to know your own anatomy inside and out and determining what stops you from doing a pose.
In the era of compulsive selfies, celebrating our individuality has entered an unnatural and distorted dimension. Technology constantly provides us with new widgets to cheat on our appearance and to hide our true self behind a filter of pixels. So when you throw yourself into the most sublime Dancer Pose and your toe doesn’t touch the crown of your head, reality hits you in the shape of your tissues and bones. Your body just can’t do this.
This doesn’t make you unfit or unyogic, it makes you human. It is the sobering reminder that we are all different. “You are unique, and that uniqueness is what makes the difference between what ‘everyone’ seems to be able to do and what you can do. There is no pose in yoga that everybody can do, and no one can do every pose,” explains Bernie Clark in Your Body, Your Yoga. When it comes to yoga practice, one pose simply doesn’t fit all.
Integrating difference and uniqueness, represents a complexity that not all societies are ready to accommodate. In a yoga class of five students, it is easy for the teacher to cater to everyone’s needs but that proves more challenging as the number increases. Thus the generalizations that leads them to make are potentially damaging if not taken with a pinch of salt. Insecurities can kick in in a yoga class, though. You may find yourself longing for a more compliant body and fearing that if you don’t perform the “real pose,” you will stand out and be deemed deficient.
“Differences aren’t deficits,” Clark writes quoting geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky encouraging us to embrace uniqueness and to be less harsh toward our quirks. “Why think that because someone else can’t do something, you will fail? There are things you can do right now, there are things that you will be able to do in time, and there things that you will never be able to do.”
If you are curious enough, you can gradually become the best equipped person to understand the unique mechanics of your body. Most teachers don’t actually know you, and they will never understand you as well as you will be able to.
The odd overzealous teacher may even make erroneous assumptions that can harm you. It is essential to take charge of your own practice both on your mat at home and in classes. This involves taking the time to investigate your strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and skills.
Clark suggests an efficient way of mapping your own physical limitations comes by systematically registering your sensations in various yoga poses. He leads this exploration with the interrogation: “What Stops You?’ In other words: what limits your mobility?
Two things can stop you, he explains. One is tension, which is resistance of the tissues to being stretched (muscles, ligaments, fascia), and the other is compression, which is created by contact: bone to bone (hard compression), flesh to flesh (soft compression), bone to flesh (medium compression).
“What stops you lies in the secrets of your unique anatomy,” Clark says. “In your yoga practice, paying heed to sensations of tension or compression invites you to explore your body’s limitations. This in turn will enable you to reach deeper within your range of movement. Fundamentally, you are not working against your body but with your body, regardless of the way you look in a pose.”
Clark searched the nooks and crannies of anatomy to observe where tension or compression surge and described the sensations that correspond to each type of resistance in his book. In this excerpt from Your Body, Your Yoga, Clark explores three poses yogis commonly get “stopped” in and why.
Your practice is inevitably going to change as you age, but whatever you do, don’t give up, say Desiree Rumbaugh and Michelle Marchildon, authors of Fearless after Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga.
Yes, your yoga practice is inevitably going to change as you age, but whatever you do, don’t give up, say internationally known yoga teachers Desiree Rumbaugh and Michelle Marchildon, authors of Fearless after Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga (published by Wildhorse Ventures, LLC, August 2017).
“Many teachers say, ‘Go to the back of the room, get on blocks, don’t hurt yourself,'” says Marchildon, 56, an E-RYT 500 certified teacher who started practicing with Rumbaugh at age 40 with no previous yoga experience. “Desiree gave me this tremendous gift of knowing that as an older student I could do or try to do many things.”
Rumbaugh, 58, a former Yoga Journal cover model and creator of the Yoga to the Rescue DVD series for back, neck, and shoulder pain, says her mission is to help yogis understand that there is no reason to quit yoga as you get older.
“It happens all the time … [as people age] they back off their practice or [just] do meditative practices or restorative yoga. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do … some are just afraid, and I want to yell from the mountaintop that there are things you can do.”
We chatted with these two ageless ladies to get their tips on how you can not only practice yoga well beyond age 50, but even continue to advance.
Rumbaugh says she relied on yoga as her “workout” until she was older, when her personal trainer daughter and son-in-law taught her that it was time to complement her practice with strength training.
“In 2010 when I turned 51, my daughter said, ‘Let’s go to the gym.’ I was bendy, but I couldn’t even run on a treadmill or do pull-ups or anything that required core strength. You need to do some kind of resistance training, some kind of cardio. After 50 it is harder to retain muscle tone. Do [some kind of exercise] you enjoy, every day.”
Marchildon agrees that exercise is important for yogis as they age. “In your 20s and 30s you can get away with eating poorly or sleeping less, but as you age cannot get away with more abuse of your body. You need all kinds of fitness for your body and spirit to soar. I’ve had to supplement much more with weights—5 and 10 pounds twice a week—and add Pilates on the Reformer for my core. The battle is with gravity—the muscles deteriorate, and you need to up your game to stay where you are.”
2. Remember: It’s never too late.
Not only can you continue to thrive as a yogi beyond age 50, you can even advance, Rumbaugh says. “Your body will constantly tell you, ‘You are weak over here, fix this,'” she says.
Marchildon chimes in that she just did arm balances last week that previously hadn’t been attainable for her. “It’s absolutely never too late. You can start at 60 or 70 if you’re willing to do the work. I just came back from retreat with Desiree in San Diego … there were younger people and people all the way up to their 70s, and the ability and most of all the resilience of the students was so inspiring. Not one person gave up or didn’t work to the edge of their abilities.”
3. Practice alignment-based yoga.
Rumbaugh says that after 50 it can be easier to get injured in a standard flow class that rushes from pose to pose, as opposed to an alignment-based style of yoga like Iyengar.
“Vinyasa is wonderful, but it’s not a good place to start as an older yogi,” Marchildon says. “As a flexible person, I would have thrown myself into it wildly and not have done very well.” To avoid injury, seek out teachers that prioritize alignment and know how to place things properly, Rumbaugh advises. This training will help you stay safe in a quickly moving class, she adds.
In Fearless after Fifty, Rumbaugh also shares the inspiring story of how she found joy again after the tragic murder of her son. “You’re just a small speck in the universe, so don’t take your problems so seriously and don’t think you’re the only one,” Rumbaugh says. “You can learn from [your misfortunes] and offer your help to others.”
As you age, you recognize that everyone has been through something, Marchildon adds. “You don’t want to wallow the rest of your life in things that happened in the past. You have to move forward … things that happen to us change us, and with God’s grace they change us for the better.”
5. Find friends.
One major problem that older people face is aging in isolation, Marchildon says—which is a big reason to take a yoga class rather than just practicing alone at home. “If you’re interested in health and vibrancy, get out to a yoga class, find someone else who shares those interests, make new friends,” she suggests.
Taking yoga classes is also a way to stay current and make younger friends, Rumbaugh adds. “The ‘I miss the good old days’ attitude takes older people downhill,” she says.
6. Have a sense of humor.
Life can be serious, but yoga is a chance to remember what it’s like to play, laugh, be creative, and feel like a kid again, Marchildon and Rumbaugh agree. “We take yoga seriously, but we try to take ourselves lightly,” says Marchildon.
Sure, we all want to master the poses, but the “play” element of yoga is less about being “good at it” and more about having fun and trying new things with your body, Rumbaugh adds. “Having a sense of humor, being able to laugh through the tears, that’s what we’re all about,” she says. “It’s the secret ingredient to aging well on the mat.”