Creative Connections Week 2

Winter Trees
Winter Trees, mixed media, 2015

Students began week two of my art and yoga program called “Creative Connections”.  The focus pose of the week was vrkasana, or tree pose.  It’s always a favorite, and everyone seems to know this pose no matter what.  This group was no exception and was very open to learning more about balance when we practiced yoga.

Why is vrkasana, or tree pose important?

Tree pose is a really good pose for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason is because it allows us to practice a lot of different things within one pose.  We have to be patient, focused, and steady.  If we’re not, our body definitely lets us know because we may lose our balance.

Patience:  tolerance, acceptance, self-restraint.  Vrkasana requires a bit of determination. But it’s also about slowing down and being purposeful with your practice.  It’s not necessary to quickly pop up into tree. It’s important to slow down, notice what you feel, and adjust to make sure you’re not over doing it.  We may know how to do tree pose already and feel like we can balance, however, what knowledge do you lose by not taking your time and being mindful of how you got there?

Being patient also means accepting where you’re at.  Have you ever noticed how you feel when you do tree on the opposite leg?  Well, it may feel different, or you may not feel at ease on one side.  It’s ok, notice what you feel, accept that one side is different from the other and breathe.

Having tolerance is also an important part of vrkasana and all throughout yoga.  Yoga allows us to practice tolerance by being willing to participate.  There may be a time when your mind is sending you all kinds of messages to stop what you’re doing.  Coming back to your breath and realizing that it’s just tree pose, remind yourself it’s temporary, you will come out of the pose and move on to something else.  If you’re uncomfortable in tree pose, notice what you notice, be willing to adjust and practice what you can, knowing that the pose is there to teach you something about yourself.  Balancing is an action, and if you’re in the act of being in tree or falling out of it, it’s all part of the pose and the practice of yoga.

Focus:  centered attention.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  This is a hard one.  I like to look around the room and see what’s going on with everyone, just like the rest of us.  I get interested in what others are doing, I get distracted by noises and what’s going on in the environment.  It’s hard sometimes to be mindful only about yourself, because we care about so many other things.  Some of those things are even thoughts that keep us from focusing on our yoga.  So the next time you notice yourself looking or thinking, check yourself.  All you have to do is notice, call it what it is, and come back to the breath.  This focus can allow us to do really amazing stuff, not just balance on one foot on our mats.

Steady: stable, constant, unchanging.  When we first learned about steadiness, we talked about tadasana,”mountain pose”.  The reason why we started there was to use the simple act of standing to physically feel a connection with the surface beneath our feet.  We actively paid attention to how we were standing and grounded down through to bottoms of our feet so we could feel the whole foot on the floor.  In this way, we created a stable structure to build from.  When moving from your foundation of tadasana to vrkasana we still need to feel that constant to be able to balance on one foot.  To do that, we root down through our one foot, and actively pay attention from the ground up to the top of our head.  In any yoga pose you’re not only noticing your steadiness in the physical pose, but also your breath and in your thoughts.  Notice when your breath changes, or if thoughts come into your mind when you practice.  If it happens, just remind yourself to breathe, and come back to that.

At some point you may notice that practicing yoga mirrors what is going on in your life.  If you take some time to reflect on your practice you can use yoga as a tool to develop self awareness and to give yourself greater insight about the world around you.  Yoga has so many benefits, but the best benefit is that it’s for you.

Tree pose Fitz
Ms. Fitz practicing vrkasana, tree pose.

Om, the mantra*

Om
Om

Have you ever heard the word “mantra”?  Maybe you’ve heard it and had no idea what it meant, but it can be a helpful thing to practice.  A mantra is basically something you say to yourself, and saying certain things can actually help the brain. “Mantra” actually means “sound tool” in sanskrit, so it can even just be a meaningful sound.

You may have heard people in a yoga practice say “Om” or “Aum” at the beginning or end of a practice. Maybe you have been a little curious as to why people say it. It’s a really interesting sound that we don’t hear in the English language much… or maybe we do and it comes out like “um”.   These sounds have been studied and it has been found that saying “Om” can actually help increase awareness.

Sounds are a part of our memory. Just think about it. Can you imagine what “tires screeching” sound like right now? What about the sound of “fingers tapping on a computer keyboard”?  All of those sounds are a part of events that we can connect to. They’re not really sounds of nature, but our brain can remember sounds and what pictures might go along with them.

So, mantras are kind of like that. “Om” is a mantra.  It is said that sounds like “om” evoke movement of energy, and connects to nature.   It could be a sensation that you feel physically or even emotionally. You can actually feel certain sounds in different areas of your body as you say “om”.  Saying “Om” actually taps into a part of our brain that helps us concentrate and gives us a focal point to become self aware.

This mantra actually has three parts that flow into one another and create a smoothness between the three distinct sounds. So if we look at the mantra “Om” it actually as 3 sounds “A-U-M”:

A- (saying the “a” in the word car) your mouth is wide open and you may feel a vibration effect in your body

U- (saying the “ou” in soup) has a different effect that is more narrow and subtle

M – (buzzing sound) can make your whole head vibrate because the mouth is closed

The feelings differ from person to person. The shapes of our mouths, how relaxed we are, or even how we breathe can affect the way it sounds.  It still might be fun to try, just to see what you can notice. It’s good to be curious about it, and it can be fun to learn how to make the mantra work for you. The more you try it, you may be able to improve your mood because it has a positive effect on the nervous system. By practicing mantra we can become more self aware and have greater sensitivity to understanding the emotional and physical parts of ourselves.

So practice saying “om”.  See how it feels to you. Here’s a way you can start:

  1.  Find a comfortable seat, make sure you’re sitting up tall.
  2. Take a few deep cleansing breaths by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth 3 times.
  3. On the next inhale in pause and then as you exhale say the mantra “om” slowly and fully.
  4. Pause for a moment.
  5. Take a deep breath in through the nose and as you exhale say “om” slowly and fully.
  6. Pause again.
  7. Take a deep breath in through the nose once more and as you exhale say “om” slowly and fully.
  8. Pause
  9. Come back to your regular breath and notice.

IMG_9880

*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good.  If you feel uncomfortable stop at any moment.  This is only a suggested practice.)