Come As You Are / by PJ Monson

2011-08-21 13.36.05

Our guest blogger today is Ashleigh Catsos, a registered teacher with Yoga Alliance.  Ashleigh completed her 200-hour certification through School Yoga Institute in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She teaches both private and corporate classes, and you can catch her subbing at NY Health and Racquet Club or Mala Yoga in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.  Ashleigh is also a writer, actor and director.  For inquiries or to practice with Ashleigh, visit her site at ashleighyoga.com! 

Come as you are. 

Why now is the best time to start your home yoga practice, clutter and distractions and all.

I moved to my Brooklyn apartment four months ago.  Wow, when I say it like that, I realize I should be more settled in than I am, than I feel.  Even now, looking around my new (-ish) living room, I see things that are out of place or that have not yet found their place.  A bit how I feel, in fact.

There is something about me that always wants things to be perfect; my dress wrinkle-free, my purse uncluttered, my casual spontaneous ponytail...premeditated.  Each day, these things out of place in my new home begin to dig at me, which is why, perhaps, it has been so difficult for me to launch my home yoga practice here in Brooklyn.

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Yoga literally means “union”, most commonly in reference to the union one seeks to find between breath and movement during a practice.  It can mean infinitely more than that, however, which is the incredible thing about yoga: union with the divine, union with the inner self, union with the present.  For me, yoga now means connecting my new surroundings and this transition to myself.  It’s about embracing my current state as it is, not trying to disguise it as anything other than what it is – a transition.  It might not be neat, it definitely is not easy, but it is me and, therefore, it is honest.  Today, I cleared a space for myself amidst the clutter and returned to my personal practice and was reminded of the most miraculous thing about yoga: nothing is required other than you, in whatever stage of life you are right now, whatever level of your practice.  And a yoga mat helps.

Here are two of my favorite asanas, or yoga poses, to get you started today:

Exercise 1:  Downward-Facing Dog (Adho MukhaSvanasana)

Adho Mukha Svanasana is one of the poses used in a traditional Sun Salutation sequence, but it is also a great asana to practice on its own, and one of my favorites for stretching out and toning the entire body.  Work up to holding this pose for 1-3 minutes, focusing on deep inhalations and complete exhalations.

A)   Come onto the floor on your hands and knees, placing your knees directly below your hips and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders. Spread your palms, index fingers pointing forward, and tuck your toes under as you take a big breath in.

B)    Exhale as you slowly begin to lift your knees away from the floor and straighten your legs, drawing the tailbone up to the ceiling, your top thighs back and your heels onto or down toward the floor.  Straighten your knees if it is available to you but be careful not to lock them; you may also keep knees slightly bent if tight hamstrings prohibit you from straightening the legs comfortably.  Work from where you are.

C)    Firm the outer arms and press the pads of the index fingers firmly into the floor.  Keep the head positioned between the upper arms while you continue to lift the tailbone up and back to encourage your weight to move out of the wrists.

Exercise 2: Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

Not only is Paschimottanasa a great stretch for your spine, shoulders and hamstrings, but it is a cooling pose that calms the mind and helps to relieve stress.  Again, begin from where you are.  Never force yourself into a forward bend: often, because of tightness in the backs of the legs, a beginner’s forward bend might look more like sitting up straight.  It’s not about how you look, but about how you feel and the least important part of this pose is how deeply forward you can bend. Trust yourself to know when to stop coming forward in the pose, and build from there.  Stay in the pose anywhere from 1-3 minutes.

A)   To begin, sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you, pressing actively through your heels to keep the legs energized.  I like to fold and sit upon a blanket to lift the buttocks slightly, which will help to ease tension in the low back and allow the forward bend to me more effortless.  Press your palms or fingertips into the floor next to your hips and lift your chest toward the ceiling.

B)    Inhale and lean forward from the hip joints, not the waist, trying to keep the front of the body long.  If possible, clasp the sides of the feet with your hands or loop a strap or a towel around the soles of the feet and hold onto the sides firmly.

C)    Now, use your breath to find length and release in the pose.  With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso, drawing the inner groin deeper into the pelvis.  With each exhalation, surrender more into the forward bend.  As you ease into the bend, the lower belly should touch the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and the head last.