It’s a mellow day, gray overhead in an Oakland sky, where I am visiting to attend an incredibly rich and deep 5-day yoga training on the pelvic floor. For many, another typical day, but for the greater Iyengar yoga community, a heart felt and tender day of parting to the venerable Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. Although I never got to travel to Pune to study with BKS Iyenagar, I am one of many thousands whose life has been touched by the ardent, all enduring practice, and as a side affect, teaching, of this man. My ability to access health and heal my body, to gain relief from the turbulence of the mind, to experience compassion, understanding, to know my place in the universe… all stems back to the life and work of BKS.
His website says, ‘I always tell people, “live happily, die majestically.”‘
I feel deeply inspired by what this person has accomplished in just one life.
He delved so deep into this vast subject of Yoga. He has carved a path that we can follow.
I feel for the vast global community of teachers and students who have lost Guruji. This powerful anchor to all this beautiful work and practice, which lives on through his teachings, through all the yoga teachers and students touched by his light… is now passed into the great beyond. He has given so much — so much depth, insight, richness, which we will continue to explore and grow with.
I continue to move though the mundane world today, beautiful in it’s hidden translucence, the nature of the universe carefully obscured in sense and texture. Yet inside I am aware of a light, dispursing. As though in death, some essence spreads out and expands infinitely, and I like a child, reach out in vain to catch hold of a fleeting spark. May the spark always live on in me, and every yoga practitioner connected to BKS Iyengar. For a man I’ve only known through his students, who are my teachers, I say farewell with overwhelming gratitude.
Deepening Alignment: Yoga Workshop with Avery Kalapa in West Virginia!
Most yoga students know alignment is important, but whatIS“good alignment,” and how can you use this awareness to get the most out of your practice? In this fun, experiential afternoon workshop, we will explore what is “neutral:” the archetype of key asanas (poses), through the lens of their functional anatomical architecture as well as how they move prana (life energy). As we learn to move towards neutral, our habit patterns become clear, and we can begin to free ourselves from these often destructive habits and move into greater vitality and freedom, not only in our bodies, but also our minds.
Private Sessions with Avery will also be available. Please contact her at email@example.com to make an appointment.
for more information on the workshop, and to sign up visit
In preparing for my upcoming workshop,“Yoga and the Pelvic Floor: Anatomy, Asana, and Energetics,”I am once again in a place of digging deeper, and becoming amazed at our incredible, vital, tender, strong pelvic floors… how without certain care, our bodies do become problematic in numerous ways as a result of collapse, aging, repetitive stress, and the nature of temporal existence… but that with small, committed, simple practices, with understanding, compassion, and appreciation of our bodies, we can maintain a foundation of vibrant health. Not only do we want healthy enduring function, but we want to be able to sense, enjoy, and explore all the possibilities of this special area. What is your relationship to your pelvic floor? What comes up when you think about it? How might getting in touch and loving your body help you be more in touch and loving with others aspects of your life and world?
Here are 6 things I love about the pelvic floor, in no particular order. (What would you put on your list?)
1. The perineum!It’s so especially soft to touch, yet SO STRONG! The center of the perineum, or central tendon, is an anchoring point for all the surrounding musculature. It is a powerful epicenter of connective tissue where the following muscles insert: the deep transverse muscles of the perineum, the bulbospongiosus muscle, the levator ani, and the anal sphincter.
2. GOOD SEX. The more awareness, ability to relax, and ability to contract our pelvic floor muscles we have, the more we can control, feel, and enjoy when we reach orgasm during sex. In healthy women, asthis study shows, the stronger the PC muscles are, the more powerful orgasms are. In 1952, Dr. Kegel published a report in which he claimed that the women doing his exercises were becoming more easily, more frequently and more intensely orgasmic. However, it is key to not just practice”kegeling” but having a healthy relationship to your pelvic floor, again that important mind-body piece. The combination of healthy tone, flexibility, AND hormonal release (read: ability to relax, feel safe, dip into the parasympathetic nervous system…) is what I come up with when I sawthis studythat shows PC muscle exercises alone don’t improve satisfaction. In the instance ofpelvic pain, for men and women, releasing and relaxing is key. For folks with male genitals, more tone can lead toavoiding premature ejaculation,and delaying and building more orgasmic power.Yoga practicesthat are carried out with mindfulness, and include toning and releasing pelvic floor muscles are a very good way to care for your pelvic floor and your healthy sexual expression.
3.Psoas support. A healthy pelvic floor helps enable the psoas to be long and lush, which helps to enablegrounded femurs, reduce lower lumber compression, release the kidney area,inhibit habituated fear response, allow healthy space for breath and the vital irrigation and function of the vital organs.
4. Avoiding/ Diminishing Prolapse and Incontinence. In both men and women, especially mamas who have given birth, toning the pelvic floor muscles is key for avoiding prolapse and incontinence. If you’ve ever jumped on a trampoline and peed your pants, you know what this story is about. It is very important that the median muscles of the levator ani (the puborectalis bundle) have good tone in order to actively support the bladder, and in ladies, the uterus. Weakness of this muscle is almost always the cause of prolapse or incontinence. As our bodies age, this becomes much more a potential issue. Rather than going down the road of shame and frustration, what if we practice appreciating the amazing job our pelvic floor is doing? After all, it is relatively new in our evolutionary history that we have been walking around with the spine in a vertical axis, and all the weight of our inner organs resting on the pelvic floor. This clever drawing from Eric Frankin’s book Pelvic Power illustrates this major shift. With care, we can strengthen this foundation, our true core, and support our vital organs, inner body length, radiant movement, and energetic resonance.
5. Muladhara Chakra. The pelvic floor energetically relates to our base chakra, Muladhara, the ROOT chakra. Symbolized by the four petals, it makes a square shape which corresponds to the anatomy of the perineum. Energetically: earth, survival, stability/ freedom organization, boundaries, safety, being grounded. When there is balance and vitality here, we feel safe to take up space in the world, we feel at home in ourselves, able to know what our boundaries are, in relationships, in how much energy we can give… in how much we can receive.
6.Mula Bandha.Bandhas are techniques used in yoga to guide the flow of prana, vital life energy, through our being. There are 3 bandhas, and this Mula Bandha, meaning “Root Lock” can be felt as an energetic seal, valve, or lock, that allows the energy pouring down, “apana vaya,” to be contained and sent upwards. This feeds inner body length, an important element for the 2nd bandha, Uddiyana bandha, to be practiced. The multidimensional physical-energetic action of mula bandha is key to creating subtler relationships of freedom and equilibrium in our asana practice. This work can then radiate into our life, nurturing an ability to be deliberate with the way we use our creative energy, with how we live and connect.
Centeredness can be a deep form of self love, acceptance, protection. This work can foster a sense of knowing your own center, your own power.
If you are interested in experiencing some of these yogic explorations in embodied awareness, and you are in or near Albuquerque NM, join me this Sunday May 4th 2-5 pm for the workshop atHigh Desert Yoga. Be sure to preregister online, on the phone, or in person. Or, let me know what you think, here, or on myfacebook page. I love to learn about this topic and am curious what insights you have.
Femur Grounding: Understanding More About This Key to Stability.
MARCH 22, 2014
Organizing the femur in the hip socket isfoundationalto nearly every other action we explore in our yoga practice. Similar to “quieting the mind,” femur grounding is not an action we do, and then it is done, rather it is like a search for a holy grail in that it is a
moment to moment awareness, a sense that develops over time, and that is key to shifting other patterns in the body, nervous system, and mind. The term and concept of “grounding the femur” was taught to me by my primary teacher, Kim Schwartz, who learned it from Ramanand Patel, a student of BKS Iyengar.
I hope you develop awareness of this experiment in hip stability and take it into you day, when you drive, stand in line at the bank, and sit at your workspace. As you play with getting grounded as you move through your life, you will shift away from the habitual/ familiar and into a more free, deliberate, healthy and capable way of being in your body. The ability to experience the following list of actions and releases depend on the femur being grounded. Finding this action alone will not create all the results on this list, such as inner body length, but it is an essential component for these experiences to be successfully explored.
Some Benefits of “Grounding the Femur”
-Ability to relax the inner organs. When the inner organs hold habitual tension, the breath is inhibited and circulation through the vital systems decrease. As the visceral body relaxes both circulation and breath become more full, healthy, and effective.
-The illio psoas can lengthen, which is key to releasing the kidney area and finding balance in the nervous system. If the psoas is tight, this can “pull” on the kidney area, creating restriction and over-stimulating the adrenal glands.
-The neutral curves of the spine are supported.
-The angle of the pelvis allows sacrum to sit in a stable position.
-The ligaments in the groin area are protected from being over stretched.
-The femoral artery, which delivers blood to the lower body, has space; this artery is compressed when the femurs push forward, hardening the groins. Because of this, restless leg syndrome, and issues with numbness and circulation can be assisted by femur grounding.
-The sciatic nerve has healthy support and is not compressed. If the femurs are pushed forward, the sacrum is often destabilized, so the periformis tends to grip up in compensation, compressing the sciatic nerve, (one cause of sciatica) which can be painful.
–The knees are protected from hyperextension, if the knees tend towards this pattern which is damaging for the knee joint over time.
-The bones of the legs transfer weight to the earth effectively, minimizing strain on the joints of the lower body. Femur grounding also helps allow the bones, which are constantly regenerating and reforming themselves, to develop in a healthy, thick, strong form.
-Healthy weight distribution in the feet become possible, allowing the heels to bear the weight of the body so that the metatarsals in the feet can broaden and the toes can spread wide, helping avoid or diminish bunions and other issues in the feet.
-The lower body is stable so that the spine, shoulders, and neck, and head position can also become grounded, spacious, and at ease.
-Inner body length is possible, which creates groin length, decompresses the intervertebral discs, and allows for subtler yogic techniques to be performed effectively, such as the 3 bandhas (energy locks, or valves) and pranayama (regulation of the breath)
-Access to good organization, pelvic floor strength, and the lift out of gravity required for active inversions like sarvangasnana (“no limbs pose,” or shoulder stand) and sirasasana (headstand) and more complex asanas, such as large backbends like urdva danurasansa (upward bow pose).
-We feel supported and centered in the body, which allows us to be more focused, aware, calm, grounded, and available, emotionally and psychologically.
(This list reflects my personal experience and learning, and is not intended as medical advice or treatment. Yoga can be a wonderful compliment to allopathic treatment but if you suffer from a medical condition please consult your doctor.)
Helpful Definitions &Terms:
Femur: The thigh bone. Femur Grounding: The action of drawing the inner head of the femur into the center back of the hip socket.To find an example of this feeling in your own body, stand in tadasana, and hold a yoga block between the upper thighs. Make sure the joints of the legs are parallel. Pull the block back between the thighs, like you are trying to push it back towards the wall behind you. Notice if the knees are trying to do this action,
and resist the calves forward into the shins as you move the inner head of the femur back. This will deepen the groins, align the leg bones over the center of the heels, and increase lumbar lordosis. Now for the other half of the equation: without pushing the block forward, SQUEEZE the block, like you are trying to crush it. This action should engage the upper thighs, bottom buttocks, and the space between the sitting bones, the lateral pelvic floor. Notice how these combined actions create a strong base from which the spine can rise up out of, particularly in the kidney area. Use this as a reference point for the action in the legs in tadasana, as well as many other poses.
Ligaments: Strong, fibrous connective tissues that connect bone to bone. Unlike muscles that engage and release, ligaments should not be stretched out, since they will not “go back.” The ligaments that connect to the head of the femur include the iliofemoral ligaments, which limit hyperextension and lateral/ external rotation, the pubofemoralligament which limits extension and abduction, and the ischiofemoral ligament which limits extension and medial/ internal rotation. The deeper we can organize the femur on the socket, the more these ligaments can do their job of holding this deeply stable joint in place while supporting healthy range of motion. If the organization is compromised, for instance when flexibility without alignment is forced upon the body, these ligaments become over-lengthened, which strains them and makes their job harder, resulting in various individualized patterns of muscular tightening throughout the hips, including sometimes, in the muscles of the pelvic floor, which can alter the symmetry and stability of the pelvic girdle. We want to protect the ligaments from getting stretched so that they can do their job of binding the inner head of the femur into that perfectly formed acetabulum, or, inner surface of the hip socket. When they are safe, healthy muscular and joint mobility will increase in a more healthy, effective manner.
Groin Depth: Occurs from the femur moving back in the hip socket. Untucking the sitting bones or bringing the pelvis into an anterior tilt doesn’t on it’s own create groin depth, but it is the first step in creating space for groin depth to happen.
Groin Length: Occurs because of inner body length. Whereas groin depth is more in the plane of front-to-back, groin length refers to length along the vertical axis. We want both groin length and groin depth, though depth precedes length. Sometimes this action can be sensed as vertical “spaciousness” in the hip joint, where the head of the femur is no longer grinding against the top of the acetabulum. This action is important, when we consider that often when a hip replacement takes place the head of the femur as well as the top frontal region of the acetabulum have to be rebuilt. This inner body length includes length in the kidney area and the lift of the inner walls of the rib cage and sternum. Groin length relates to udyiana, or the 2nd bandha, which translates as “flying up.”
Lateral Femur Grounding: Once groin depth and length have been established, then containing the outer head of the femur, or greater trochanter, in medially (towards the midline) is an important dimension to explore. Especially if you stand with one hip pushed out the the side, possibly with a toddler sitting on top, you may be able to get a sense of the strain this can put on the hip joint. In standing poses, watch for the front leg, does the hip want to “lean out” beyond where the ankle and knee are? Strong thighs and bottom buttocks help to create containment here, so that the tension of compensating muscles groups can release, supporting healthy range of motion and stability.
Adduction: Moves the leg medially, in towards the midline of the body.
Abduction: Moves the leg away from the body. The leg can abduct or adduct either in neutral, external, or internal rotation.
Flexion: In the spine, flexion means the back of the spine is longer than the front, as in a forward bend. In hip flexion, imagine a tiny spine in the front of your hip joint: the front of the hip joint is very deeply folded. During poses with deep hip flexion, inner body length/ groin length is important.
Extension: In the spine, this means the front spine is longer or more open than the back spine, like in a backbend. When we say hip extension, the groin area is lengthening and opening wide. In poses which require this action femur grounding is very important to support the length of the spine.
Neutral Spine: The spine is healthiest and has the most length when it has a curvaceous shape. There are 4 parts of the spine: The cervical (neck), thoracic (where the ribs connect), lumbar (lower spine) and the sacral (5 or so fused vertebrae which comprise the sacrum, and the coccyx at the very bottom). The cervical and lumbar regions curve inward, in extension, and the thoracic and sacral areas curve outwards, or in flexion. So, the intervertebral discs have the most space when they are in their curved shape. The amount of curve depends on everyones unique spine. Ideally, we want to cultivate the deepest lumber extension at the base of the L4 L5, (NOT the kidney area which is more common for most folks) and the deepest thoracic flexion at the mid thoracic region, around T6. The curve of the lumbar echos the curve of the cervical: we want T1 deep, and L5 deep. When one is out, the other most likely is compromised. For many bodies, checking to see if L4/L5 area is in is a good sign that the femurs are back in the hip sockets.
Kidney Area: Describes the physical and energetic area around the T12-L1 juncture, where the fist-sized kidneys are located, tucked up under the back of the lower ribs. Energetically, this area corresponds to manipura chakra, which mean “city of jewels,” and relates to fire, passion, and willpower, and when tight, can create feelings of force, anger, or aggression, leading to fatigue. Kidney gripping relates to over stimulated adrenal glands, as the adrenals are located as thought “sitting” on top of the kidneys.
Asana: A stable, comfortable posture.
Ayurvedic terms:Dosha: in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the three biological humors or energies (kapha, pitta, vata) which combine in various proportions to determine individual constitution and mental and physical disorders. We can look at many things in terms of the 3 doshas: Body types, weather, areas on the planet, foods, types of yoga practice. In sanskrit: “fault, disease.” Vata: Relates to air/ ether, movement, change. People with high vata are irregular and erratic, with appetite and sexual desire varying between extremes. They sleep lightly, are easily disturbed and prone to insomnia. Their speech and movement is usually fast, and they are talkative and enjoy all forms of communication. Their pulse is fast, weak and irregular. They dislike cold, windy or dry environments and feel chilled quickly or shiver easily. Extremities (hands and feet) are often cold, or become cold easily. Mentally and emotionally they are rapid. They gather information or display emotions quickly, or determine swiftly whether they like or dislike something. While they learn quickly and are usually intellectual, their retention is poor. Money is spent quickly and impulsively. They demonstrate high creativity, innovation and sensitivity. In excess, vata can show up as anxiety, feeling scattered, overwhelmed, spread too thin, indecision, rushing around while exhausted, accidents due to multitasking, exhaustion, constipation… ultimately feeling ungrounded.Poses and practices which ground the femur are very effective for quieting vata, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.I regularly teach an afternoon worlshop on femur grounding. Please see my current listings under theclasses and workshopssection to view my upcoming classes.
Benefits of Prenatal Partner Yoga and a Special Opportunity to Explore It!
Prenatal Yogais one of the most effective, safe, and enjoyable ways to increase comfort during pregnancy and prepare for an empowered birth.Partner Yogaoffers a uniquely nurturing way to experience deeper awareness, strength, stability, and release. These two practices combine gracefully and can help to ease discomfort during pregnancy and prepare both mom and partner for birth.
Some Benefits of Partner Yoga as Birth Preparation:
~Increase body awareness, and the ability to breathe through the moment.
~Helps increase confidence in birth partners and their ability to support the birthing Mom.
~Partner assists allow for deeper release and organization in yoga poses, allowing for more effective relief from common issues that arise in the pregnant body, such as back pain, sciatica, leg cramps, leg swelling, acid reflux, exhaustion, stiff muscles, and/or insomnia.
~Explores touch as a gateway for the focus to move away from the mind (where fear resides) and into embodied presence.
~ReleasesOxytocin, which assists in shifting out of fight/flight mode and into the parasympathetic mode, thus increasing feelings of safety, relaxation, pleasure, and connection. This shift is essential for labor hormones to be released and allow for the deepening intensity of contractions to build. Oxytocin is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labor, facilitating birth, maternal bonding, and, after birth, stimulation of the nipples, and lactation.
~Brings awareness to multiple areas of the body at once, helping to diffuse mental tension and refresh thenervous system.
~Allows for increased attention, insight, compassion, and gentle encouragement from the helping partner, which often allows the person performing theasanato feel safe to go deeper, gain new understanding on their alignment, or be able to experience subtle but key actions in the pose.
~Creates a fun, expressive experience of unity and trust between partners, and creates a nurturing time and space to connect with your new baby!
Want to learn more? Join Emily and Avery for an upcoming Prenatal Partner Yoga Workshop Sunday, Feb 23, 2-5 pm atHigh Desert Yoga in Nob Hill, Albuquerque NM. Both mom and partner will experience all poses, so that both can benefit from -and enjoy- dynamic active poses followed by gentle restorative poses. The workshop will include guided partner relaxation, focused connection with each other and your sweet baby, and experiential education about anatomy, the breath, and techniques you can use together to ease labor. Experience the healing, relaxing power of touch. Open to moms and any birth partner – husbands, dads, doulas, midwives, sisters, wives, etc. A great way to honor your journey together!Also open to birth professionals, yoga teachers, and yoga teacher trainees, who are looking for more hands on experience with safe techniques and assisted poses from pregnant moms.
Koshas, Pratyahara, and Restorative Yoga for Detoxicification
In preparation for my upcoming workshop, “Body-Mind Detox with Restorative Yoga,” I am having a fun time exploring how to make some of the more traditional cleansing poses, such as marichayasana II, (pictured below) accessible to folks who don’t have the hip organization that would allow these deep forward bends and twists, which utilize tonifying pressure to release the vital organs. I am excited to explore these adaptions with my students: creative uses of props and self massage to mimic what my heel is doing here to bring deep release, and circulation to visceral body.
In this workshop, however, we will be focusing on more than just physical cleansing. Vedic philosophy discusses 5 koshas, which are sheaths, or “layers”of our subjective being, and our yoga practice can affect all of the koshas. In this afternoon workshop, we will experientially explore, through the lens of the 5 koshas, supported, long held yoga poses combined with guided relaxation, journalling exercises, and breath work as a way to help release toxins, nourish, and heal. We will use guided pratyahara, or “sense withdrawal,” to bring the awareness deep within, honing our ability to sense subtlety. From here we will restore and cleanse. Physically let’s replenish the vital organs, nervous system, hormonal balance, and circulation. Emotionally, energetically, mentally, let’s let go of imbalanced patterns and destructive beliefs.
Then from a centered space, we can create new reference points for being present, non-reactive, and vibrantly alive. Wonderful on its own, or as a supplement to your New Year’s cleansing/ health program, this workshop will leave you feeling deeply relaxed and freed up from burdens of the past.
This workshop will be appropriate for every body. Please wear warm, non-restrictive clothing, and if possible bring a glass/cup you like and a journal. Purified water with organic lemon, chloroxygen water, and blood purifying herbal tea will be available throughout the workshop.
Experience it! Saturday, Feb.1st 2‐5pm
Cost: $40 pre-registered, $45 at the door. (Plus tax)
Register at our studio in Albuquerque NM, call 505.232.9642, or sign up athighdesertyoga.com