RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Prana & Apana

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

In March, in the Northern Hemisphere,
The increasing tilt of the whole Earth back toward the sun
Spills a bowl,
And spilt wind gushes across the landscape.

WIND DOWNSWEEPS into breath.

Prana—it’s “flowering” and expansion—is richly active in each inhalation of breath.  And apana—it’s contraction and emptying—is found, simultaneously, in the inhaler’s down-pressing diaphragm, and in the subsequent exhalation to follow as well.   Exhalation perhaps contracts the navel first, and then the chest.  And in a complete emptying of the breath, the contraction subtly continues downward into the root base of the pelvis.

As relaxation deepens in this intentional pranayama (breath/energy work), the cessation of breath may occur at the completion of exhalation.  Allowing the breath to cease rather than to be held, inhalation can be trusted to begin on its own.  With this first new breath, the mind shifts from directing the body (in intentional breathing) to “follow” the breath cycle.  The breath becomes an autonomic wave, and the mind, a rider.

Inhalation:  It is as if the incoming breath is a soft, slow incoming wave from the sea that gently curls over when it reaches the shore. 

And then, exhalation: It is as if the wave is being drawn back out into the vast body of the sea.

In this process, there is the opportunity for harmony: The “little universe” flows in optimal, graced unison within the “big” universe.

And in this process, the chatter of the everyday slows and perhaps transforms, and our view of prana becomes not only physically expansive but also mentally expansive and profoundly subtle.  And then perhaps, if we are fortunate:

A deep bow to the trees and flowers
To the wind and waters,
And to every event that we touch in our living:
All is our prana.

A deep bow to those with whom we practice,
To all others of our kind,
Who are also our prana.

The light in me bows to the light in you,
And when we come together in that light,
We are one.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Holding Yoga Poses & Spindle Release

From rci.rutgers [Image 022.jpg]

From studydroid [card-4498145-back.jpg]

From Gray938.png

WHEN HOLDING POSES long enough, muscle or ligament tension [contraction] will release and increase the degree of flexibility.  This seems obvious, because it is something that we experience.  However, having a better understanding of what this process is can enhance our use of this process and validate holding poses vs. a more rapid flow.  Restorative and Yin Yoga both hold poses [as well as Soft Power Yoga—a more intensive practice model that is an outcome of Restorative-Yin practice: See an October 2011 Islands Of Grace blog on Soft Power Yoga].   In Soft Power Yoga, participants report rather rapid gains in flexibility in a few sessions that surpasses gains made in a couple of years of popular vinyasa-style flow.

When yoga becomes predominantly a sequence of holding poses rather than a more rapid “fitness” “flow,” ongoing flexibility and strength of the muscles may be rather rapidly increased.

UNDERSTANDING THE MUSCLE/CONNECTIVE TISSUE RELEASE PROCESS: When a muscle is stretched, sensory processes in the middle of the muscle trigger a good thing: The muscle first contracts to try to avoid being over-extended and injured.  Not understanding the muscle release process, the stretch is often pushed to rapidly counter the contraction.  A simplar process occurs in tendons/ligaments, directed by the Organ of Golgi.  Minimally, this makes yoga “work,” and detracts from the heart of yoga that aspires to deepen and open.

“Spindle release” and “lymphatic process” were key transition points for me in the practice of yoga.

In “holding yoga,” as the stretch is patiently sustained rather then quickly brought to an “edge,” muscles may respond as if they “feel safe,” and, when “safe,” contraction may be gradually released.  While muscle is incapable of “feeling safe,” the spindles in the muscle are instantaneously transmitting information into the CNS [Central Nervous System] that can be consciously sensed when more stilled and quiet.  With a sense the stretch being gradual rather than abrupt, spindles “release” and muscle expands.  And as the pose continues to be held, this expansion can continue rather than be aborted for a new pose.  As this practice is repeated, an increased transformation of base flexibility is likely to occur, and is likely to occur rather rapidly.

More than a sense of pushing to an “edge” to force change, a participant consciously listens to the body initially contracting in the area in which the pose tends to focus, and then begins to feel the muscle release [because the pose is deemed to supportive and safe], and then consciously follows the continuing release that I am referencing here as “expansion of the muscle.”  

Rather than needing to get “heated” to get more flexible, simply holding and gradual relaxation into the pose may work to increase flexibility and strength rather rapidly. 

This sense of patiently holding poses also contributes to overall relaxation so that the practice becomes quiet, still, and contemplative, wherein one “listens” to the body.  In a more non-Western esoteric sense, the flow of prana may be enhanced. 

As with any increase in one’s base flexibility, practitioners are also rewarded with a the discovery of new nuances in the body as the body begins to “open” and respond differently.

So overall, in feeling the initial contraction and subsequent release, it is almost as if one can “read” the spindles in the muscles tensing then releasing the muscles.   And knowing that the spindles will tense to protect the tissue and then relax becomes a process that can be directly experienced and used as an effective metaphor in yoga. 

For example, in the base Yin Yoga seal pose [ illustrated, or in my additional variations: adding knees bent up with legs crossed; with legs continuing to be crossed, hands brought in closer (lifting thighs off mat with only knees touching), one can feel the abs and lower back tensing at first to keep the back safe.  But by holding the pose, counting to 30, one can begin to feel a release muscular contraction, and the hips sink toward the mat.  One can consciously continue to allow the abs to release and lower lumbar region and frontal pelvis, bringing the front of the hips and the pubis toward the mat to deepen the flex of the lower back.

From yoga

In all held poses, breathing can amplify the process of directing the release.  It is integral to Soft Power Yoga.  Often, inhaling lifts the area of focus, and exhaling then releases or expands the tissue.  Sometimes, inhalation releases and allows further expansion.   In non-Western tradition, exhalation  can reference the “exercise” of apana, the contraction and extraction of excess energy, as well as the stimulation of kundalini energy that can then move up a central energy channel that transforms body-mind work from being just flexibility and strength to become body-mind-spirit work.  Body-mind-spirit work aspires toward the heart of yoga [and all body-mind practices] to optimize health by expanding one’s identity beyond self.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pushing The River

IN OUR RETURNS to the quietness of restorative practice, we experience relaxation.  Still, there may be a sense of not getting deep enough into listening to the body and to intuition.  And as with many other events in our lives, we may try to “work” at making “progress.”  And the harder we work, the more difficult progress may appear to become. 

The process of relaxation, and listening and quieting is, paradoxically, both easy and complex.  Relaxation is likely to be experienced in the first session, but other gains will be more effusive and elusive. 

If the practice is sustained across time, the difference between where one started and when one is at now may not be noticeable.  And yet, it will be remarkable.  After a time, the view may be akin to having ambled up a mountain and looking back down into a beautiful moraine where the journey first began.

In all gentle body-mind practices, a qualitative change occurs across time.  We may become less reactive to stress and conflict, and yet really not be that conscious of the change.  We begin to know the core routine so well that we begin to flow from one action to another with so many basics not even brought to consciousness.  We flow like a river rather than push the river.

Having become “smoother” and more efficient in our movements, we have likely amped down the rate of our metabolism.   Our eyes might remain closed or soft throughout the practice, and there may be a sense of grace, without having a strong intention to make the practice graceful.  There may be an increased sense of gratitude for everything, rather than gratitude as a state that we intentionally try to provoke in our awareness.

And so, the overall point: The deep practice of a quiet body-mind practice cannot be forced.  To do so may be akin to trying to push a river, or trying to cut a river in half to see what is inside.   Allow the practice to be just what it is, to flow just as it is.  And across time, by returns, it flowers, and is graced.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Burning A Million Years A Second

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Great Calm, A Soft Bow To The Waters, photograph [from a saunter in the woods behind home after a snowfall, with prayer flags as a gift from Kit Kinseth from her past trek in Nepal], 2012

IN A SOFT BOW, our gratitude outreaches to everything we experience, to the trees and to the river to the sparrows and ants, and to others of our kind.  In a soft bow, our radiant body-mind-spirit comes to consciousness. 

Many are so very fortunate in this moment. 

Sometimes we live and work for the narrow, if not wrong, things.  Sometimes we become so righteous and so intolerant and so misunderstanding of events outside of our immanent surroundings.

Today, 2/9/2012, after a few hours of yoga, after picking up Paige from school, as we walked to the car, we watched a gathering of deer on the hillside by the school.  A small bow of gratitude for such a precious moment.

Sometimes, so much “less” than this moment: a bow while washing dishes, or after using the toilet [similar to Zen monk in Japan], or when becoming aware that we have no toothache or some other painful malady [but instead have peace in that moment], or when drinking a glass of water that is clean, or [if we can even begin to even possibly imagine the working reality of so many human beings in this very moment] in not having to live in a large urban slum where one’s occupation may hinge on searching garbage heaps to collect anything useable [with little hope of any change], including the seemingly unusable yellowed cotton ear swabs or used menstrual tools that someone is willing to pay some small amount when mass quantities of recyclable paper and/or plastic are collected, in order barely sustain a large family at far less than subsistence level [meaning early death for many]:

Still, the real discovery is, perhaps, in realizing that we do not have limits, that we are a miracle and that we live in the belly of an oceanus that is a miracle of ongoing creation, that we are a dust speck on a dust speck in the deep abyss of the universe where deep time is, paradoxically, in each moment:


AGAIN, IN A SOFT BOW, our gratitude outreaches to everything we experience, to the trees and to the river to the sparrows and ants, and to others of our kind.  In a soft bow, our radiant body-mind-spirit comes to consciousness. 

Becoming still and quiet, a wondrous door might open:

                                     For Shinkichi Takahashi

Billions of years have gone into contriving my ears.
My fingertips are billion-years-old guide dogs.

Each of my in-breaths engulfs at least a galaxy.
I drink and swallow the wave crest of an ocean.

In such luminous moments
I try to compose verse for sparrows and crows.

They are in no hurry
Do not read and live in no time at all.

I try to offer something 
To that terrain where I inescapably reside.

I fold my scrawled papers
And place them under stones and in cracks in bark

And I bow to that longer reach of myself
That is burning a million years a second.

I have come to believe that my very best life
Exists inside chemistries such as those in fallen leaves.

In time given over to sparrows’ chatter or to the trace of ants
Perhaps a door that we have never considered might open.

From Lance Kinseth, The Infinite Reach,
                                    [unpublished verse]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Namaste: Blessed Journey To You On Your Path Of Life

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Bright Moon/Chogetsu, ceramic bowl, 6.75”w x 2.75h, 1985


I honor the place in you
wherein the entire universe dwells.

I honor the place in you
of love, truth, light, and peace.

When you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
we are one.

--Multiple sources, with no specific author noted.

WE MIGHT BEGIN practice bringing hands together and saying “Namaste,” as well as end practice with it.  And in the beginning of our practice, perhaps we might bring our hands to the forehead rather than to the heart, making it extraordinarily clear that we will show deep reverence to the sacredness of each other with the same reverence that the Hindu tradition of bringing hands to the forehead when greeting elders aspires to demonstrate profound reverence toward them.

In the beginning of practice, Namaste might convey:

“I acknowledge my deep gratitude for your efforts to be here in this moment.”  

I honor your presence as invaluable, and cherish you just as you are in this moment.” 

I will support you to do only what is right for you in this practice to optimize your healing and contentment.” 

“Namaste” [“nah-mah-stay”] can be reduced to being a form of greeting like a handshake, but it aspires to be more than this.  Simply, “namaste” translates as “to bow,”  “I,” “you.”

Fundamentally, with Namaste, we aspire to acknowledge each person’s “being-ness” as inseparable from ourselves.

Symbolically, a variety of meanings are conveyed by the gesture of bringing the hands together, bowing, and saying or sometimes simply implying, “Namaste:”

Touching hands together at the heart level may symbolize many things all-at-once, such as:

  • Hands touching together, “Body and Mind come together”[i.e., become consciously integrated and focused],

  • Activation of agape, “Opening the heart knot,” and “I open the flow of love and compassion,”

  • Acknowledge deep union between participants as children of the Divine:The light in me honors the light in you.”

  • Personal acknowledgement of oneself expressing transpersonal moreness: “My self and Higher Self are one,” and

  • Both in initial greeting and leave-taking, implying, “Blessed journey to you on your path of life.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Walt Whitman, Song To Myself

And so, 

Hands come together: "Body and mind come together."  
"Hands come to the heart."

The light in me bows to the light in you,

And when we are together in that light,

We are one. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spill The Cup

Copyright Lance Kinseth, What Is The Meaning Of Bodhidharma’s Coming From The West, 19”x19, 1997

EVERYDAY DEMANDS and their fast pace can seem to fill our cup to overflowing.  There is no room left for elements for which we hunger.  And even then, with varying degrees of stress, we aspire to do the impossible, to try to keep the cup from overflowing. 

The cup of our breath fills and then spills, drinking in a tea of everything and then releasing it.  Every breath is freshness and release.  Every breath is freedom.  Our breathing is beautiful and natural.  Any yet, the 600 + breaths per hour have little “room”—little presence—in the cup of our everyday consciousness. 

A part of the appeal of body-mind practices is their symmetry with the breath, and for bringing the breath consciously inside the practice.  These practices offer the opportunity to spill our cup, and to see that the tea is simply refreshed, and that nothing is really lost.  When we spill the cup, nothing is wasted.  We drink the tea just as we drink the breath.

And when we finish the body-mind practice, the shift back to the everyday does not have to be abrupt.  By returns to body-mind practice and the restoration we experience there, there can be a growing sense that there is really no end and beginning, no coming and going between body-mind practice and the everyday.  The spilling of the cup can continue, so that there is synchronicity between the practice and the everyday and the breath, rather than abrupt boundaries. 

Our cup of everyday can be wondrous when we drink from it rather than fill it to the brim with no room left.  When we drink the tea that is present, there might be room for a tea comprised one moment of the chatter of sparrows and then, in the following moment, sun-patterns on the wall.  There might be room for the voice of someone right next to us, or for some need in us that calls out to us but for which there has seemed to never be enough room, enough time.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Calm Flow: Entry Into A Landscape Of Delicacy And Power

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Calling Down Moon, 48"x48, 2002

IN THE NORTHERN hemisphere, the lessened activity of deep winter perhaps offers a provocation for slowing and relaxing that can carry forward into any season and, by doing so, opening a wondrous gate into a sense of the world that is real, but from which we can be distracted.

Relax and be drawn into an intuitive sequence of movement,
 as if rafting effortlessly downstream.

Drift and be open to the possibilities evoked by each pose.

Allow this practice offer a provocation, a trigger, to be no more than a cat-waking stretch,
 far more than an answer.

Be outward bound—opening, surrendering—and seed an inner fire.

Allow breath to become a soft rain of waking light.

Suddenly, wake inside a landscape of delicacy and power.

----Paraphrased from Lance Kinseth,
               River Eternal, [NY: Viking, 1989, p. 6]