Monthly Archives: April 2015

this week in yoga: chakras and mantras

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NKO’s recent mural features the crown chakra

Last week I taught four yoga classes in the Puget Sound area. One in the Tashiro Kaplan Community Room in Pioneer Square, one at Laughing Buddha in Mill Creek, one impromtu private lesson with a good friend, and one at the MAHA farm and forest on Whidbey Island where Nko (aka Groucho) and I work-for-stay several days a week.

I’ve been teaching weekly for about 2 months, using the sequences we learned in our teacher training as a framework, incorporating new areas of focus each week learned from other yoga teachers, online articles, spiritual lessons, and sequencing videos. This week I decided to return to my roots. Well… my root chakra, that is.

The vinyasa class we learned to teach at the Mystical Yoga Farm in Guatemala closed with a special focus on the chakras. This sequence activates and “tunes” the seven main chakras in the body with poses and bija (seed) mantras to chant aloud as you inhabit each pose.

Why do mantras with yoga? A few words from mindbodygreen.com:

In Vedic healing and spiritual traditions, specific mono syllable seed sounds or “Bija Mantras” were developed to create balance and harmony in the human body, mind and soul. Each and every part of our body functions at a specific rhythm and pulse and when all our systems are balanced and tuned with each other we experience perfect harmony and health.

So here’s a vinyasa sequence I worked from this week that closes with a kick-ass Chakra alignment that I learned from School Yoga Institute as part of their amazing training:

FINDING BREATH
Finding a comfortable seat, tune into breath, encourage belly breathing, 3-part yogic breathing, kapalabhati (breath of fire), kumbhaka (breath retention), and other breathing exercises as desired.

CONNECTING BREATH AND MOVEMENT
Any sequence that begins to gently stretch the body, tune with the breath, and build heat. I did:

  • Seated (cross legged): forward fold, back bend, side bends, side twists
  • Cat/Cow
  • Table top: lift opposing arm front and leg behind, and switch
  • Downdog (pedal it out), 3-legged dog, Scorpion dog
  • Low lunge with back knee down, prayer twist hooking opposing elbow over front leg
  • Half Hanumanasana (half split)
  • Pyramid (or modified pyramid with back heel popped up)

HEAT
Build some heat with 3 or more repetitions of a sun salutation! I enjoy a fairly classic sequence, moving very slow the first time to find alignment and give beginner cues, and speeding up each consecutive time.

FIRE
I like to throw in something that kind of burns. My first teacher Jamie often invigorates us with a fierce Uttkatasana sequence featuring prayer twists, and heat-releasing “fists of fire”.  After some rigorous sun salutations, this really makes you sweat.

CORE
All of yoga is good for your core, but for this week, I threw in a sequence of plank variations – working on both the front and back muscles of the abdominal corset. (I.e. plank, 3 legged dog, knee to nose, 3 legged dog, knee to right elbow, 3 legged dog, knee to left elbow, etc.)

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Nko crescent lunges to the rising sun (Mystical Yoga Farm in Guatemala)

CLASSIC POSES
I moved through some Classic Poses in the middle of class, i.e. Crescent Lunge (or instead do Warrior 1), Warrior 2, Reverse (Peaceful) Warrior, Extended Side Angle Pose. Triangle. You can do these hatha-style (10 breaths per pose), but a couple of my classes were advertised as vinyasa, so I made this sequence flow by returning to warrior 2 between each pose on the inhale, and exhaling to the next pose, and repeating the whole sequence 2 or 3 times on each side.

Then if time allowed, I added half moon and/or standing split to the end of this sequence for the follow up rounds.

CHAKRA SEQUENCE
wiki_chakrasAfter that rigorous middle section, it’s was time to play!! I invited the class into each of the poses listed below, and invited each person to attempt to make floor contact with the chakra as we chanted that chakra’s Bija Mantra three times together (slowly… one one long breath per chant.) The “a” sounds are pronounced as soft a’s, like the “A” in Awesome.

 

Headstand (or Rabbit for people not yet in headstand)
Crown Chakra: Spirituality
Where is it: Tip top of head
Imagine the color: White/Rainbow
Chant: AUM (Om)

Child’s Pose
3rd Eye Chakra – Intuition/Wisdom
Where is it: Middle of Forehead
Imagine the color: Indigo
Chant: Ksham (pronounced kah-shahm) or AUM.

Shoulder Stand and/or Plow
Throat Chakra – Communication
Where is it: Behind your Adam’s Apple
Imagine the color: Blue
Chant: Ham

Bridge, Wheel or Fish
Heart Chakra – Love
Where is it: Heart Center
Imagine the color: Green or Magenta
Chant: Yam

Happy Baby
Solar Plexis Chakra – Intelligence/Power Center/Self
Where is it: Bottom of Sternum
Imagine the color: Yellow
Chant: Ram

Supine spinal twists
Sacral Chakra – Sensuality/Emotion
Where is it: Belly Buttonish
Imagine the color: Orange
Chant: Vam

Supine (reclining) butterfly
Root Chakra
Where is it: In the space between your hips/groin/pelvis
Imagine the color: Red
Chant: Lam

*SAVASANA*
For a 75 minute class I left 10 minutes for participants to remain in Corpse Pose, allowing all the benefits of the practice (the physical, the emotional, the breath, the chakra work, and any spiritual realizations) to integrate and then float away. Imagining the body sinking into the earth and the thoughts of the mind floating by in the sky, allows freedom from one’s chattering mind and physical sensation. The full relaxation of a body that having worked, and now emerges as a flexible, strong and balanced open vessel. In this space, we more easily shed our attachments, our to-do lists, our stresses and worries, our aches and pains, which provides the opportunity for our souls of pure light and love emerge in freedom, without judgement or worry. This is the real benefit of yoga.

CLOSE CLASS WITH AUM
Before we Aum-ed it out, I asked class to bring their hands in prayer position, to their heart chakra, bowing their third eye toward their hearts, aspiring to find balance between the two.

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Nko's mural at the Mystical Yoga Farm includes a rainbow of the chakra symbols/colors on the right hand side. These are the traditional colors associated with the chakras.

 

24 Hours on the Mountain Loop Highway

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Harpo and her chromedome contemplate Lake 22. After a long wet ascent it was nice to get a bit of view at the top. The wet snow kept up as we descended, making out way back through a growing thunderstorm.

Mountain Loop Highway snow adventure and gear test
April 10-11, 2015
Trails: Goat Lake, Icicle Caves, Lake 22
Miles: 18 more or less
Hikers: Groucho and Harpo

Harpo Sez:

Recently, we ran up to the Mountain Loop Highway (MLH) for an overnight trip to check out our gear/systems for our upcoming Southbound PCT hike. We wanted to test: 1) our base weights; 2) the efficacy of our new 28-degree Mountain Laurel quilts; 3) one of our 2013 dehydrated dinners — to see if the 20 left-over meals we have are still usable; 4) our brand new Steri-Pen for water purification;

Our intended itinerary was to park about 30 miles into the MLH at the Goat Lake trail head… hike 5 miles into Goat Lake and camp overnight under a canopy of cedars. The next morning we would hike out 5 miles and drive 5 miles back down the MLH to the Monte Cristo trail head, hike up to Silver lake and then hike back and stealth camp close to the trail head by the river.

We rolled up to Goat Lake trailhead around 4:00 p.m. The trail was beautiful as always… we last did this overnight trip when we were prepping for the AT hike two years ago. It’s now becoming a tradition! The trail forks after the first 10 minutes – the trail to the right (along the river) is super scenic and peaceful. Although it was raining a bit, our Chrome Dome umbrellas and tree cover kept us relatively dry.

As the the two forks converge the elevation gain kicks in for the ascent to the lake. We arrived alone, with all the discrete stealth sites to pick from, at 6:00pm. We found a bed of needles, rolled out our Tyvek groundsheet and set up our tarp tent sans mosquito net – assuming it was too early in the season for skeets. We almost regretted this decision as a few HUGE mosquitos helicoptered down to greet us, but as temperatures dropped into the 30’s they disappeared.

We slipped something more comfortable – puffers and our new quilts worn as ponchos – our bedtime gear. Groucho rehydrated our 2013 couscous meal while I played on the new Garmin GPS and checked out our elevation, the temperature, and sunset times etc. We’re trying to learn how to navigate via GPS – one of our other PCT projects. We’ve been refreshing our map and compass skills, but GPS offers some new and interesting possibilities for data collection. There’s a lot of info on there if you know how to look for it, but the “instruction manual” Garmin provided for our 62SX is laughable. We’d loaded on some of the PCT waypoints so I was determined the PCT was only 10.4 miles due east, as the crow flies.

Dinner worked out pretty great. Some dried veggie soup mix from Winco’s bulk section took longer to hydrate than than expected, but the beans and couscous mix from 2013 held strong.

Harpo demonstrating a fundamental truth of backpacking -  the only way out of a weight problem is to eat your way out.

Harpo demonstrating a fundamental truth of backpacking – the only way out of a weight problem is to eat your way out.

After dinner we enjoyed half a Franz dark chocolate easter bunny that I smuggled into my gear list as the lights went out. Then, bed.

For the PCT hike this summer we have upgraded to 28 degree quilts from Mountain Laurel Designs. As a 5’4″ female, mine is “regular” size and Groucho at 6′ tall, uses a large. They worked GREAT. My review here.

Around 9:00 p.m. Grouchy felt the mouse run across his face. The exuberance of mice at somebody not hanging a bear bag is uncanny. It ended with one goosing Harpo between the legs. At this point, Groucho hung the food.

At 10:00pm we woke again – this time to the exuberance of youth. A boy scout troupe of 8 arrived in the rain, headlamps like spotlights roving across everywhere. They approched our tarp –
“What is it? A camouflaged dumpster?
No dude, there are people in there!”
They took an hour and a half to find their spots, deploy their own tarps, and settle down.

We awoke promptly at 6:00 a.m. when the scouts realized with the joy of hardy adventurers that they had camped in a rain run off and were soaked. It had rained hard during the night…

Looking around and realized there were 4 – 6 inches of powdery snow. We were super warm and cozy in our quilts, so we dawdled. Finally throwing off our quilts we packed up, put pop tarts in our pockets (we recently discovered the strawberry unfrosted are vegan. What!) and jogged past the scouts crouched around a smokey fire.

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A quick shot of the lake and mountains that surround the basin on this snowy morning. The spot was serene, and it was nice to see some snow in the hills after they were barren a couple weeks ago… Though the lake and mountain behind were invisible in the heavy falling snow.

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This is virtually the same vantage point taken 3 years ago in July on a day hike up to Goat Lake…even a couple of weeks ago the hills surrounding the lake were completely free of snow. 2012 was a more typical snow year in the Cascades…

In the heavily falling snow the trip back to the parking lot was rather magical – again we were happy about having our umbrellas. Then we started driving. The car started slipping on the way to Monte Cristo and the GEO doesn’t have the best record in the snow. Having been often abandoned, we worried it might give up the ghost if the snowfall continued all day and thru the night, so we decided to catch a couple other trails on the way down, and sleep in town.

We descended and the snow turned into freezing rain. We passed the trailhead for the Ice Caves and decided to check them out. Oh Boy! The trail is extremely accessible, only 2 miles roundtrip with virtually no elevation gain – an easy 20 minutes each way.

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Big 4 Ice Caves – practically a roadside attraction, at an easy 1 mile in. Groucho visited these as a child with school groups staying at the nearby Camp Silverton. Ah youth, when they let kids climb inside the caves, before the multiple signs warning of imminent death, the barrier and chain you hafta climb over to get here.

We returned quickly in the sleet and continued back down the MLH and passed my old favorite Lake 22. I hiked this a few weeks ago with dk and 3D, encountering conditions similar to July or August of other years, so we checked it out to see if any snow had stuck following last night’s storm. The 6 mile trail is always impeccably maintained. We passed a bunch of folks along the way, some over prepared for weather, some so totally underprepared it was ummmmm…. This isn’t usually a hike where this would be a problem, but as we ascended it began snowing again as the temperatures dropped and the sky was peppered with early evening lightning. The views at the top were outstanding as we walked the extra mile lake loop before heading back. We found a room at the Arlington motor inn and spent the night in style….