The British neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert spoke at a TED conference two years ago about The Real Reason for the Brain. He calls himself a “movement chauvinist.”
Alan Little asks me for my secret sauce for loosening up my shoulders: see his comments. He even gives his own his own example. My routines are not rocket science, much more remedial. I am still waking up to my body, probably for the first time in my life, after decades of misuse.
The premise that got me started is that I don’t do anything fancy — just do it everyday, along with my meditation and pranayama practice. These are routines that are equivalent to office yoga — stuff that you can do to relieve tension from sitting at a desk all day.
- The upper torso part of Cow Face pose or Gomukhasana — I have to use a strap to reach between my hands.
- I do a simple pectoral stretch, usually pressing my arm against the wall, and the reverse that by pulling an arm across my chest.
- The clasped hands behind the back of prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend). I do this several times a day, loosening my shoulders and forcing my hands down as far as they will go and then lifting my arms out away from my body. This has done wonders for my mobility of my shoulder blades.
I’ve found two good books with shoulder routines: Erich Schiffmann also has eight shoulder stretches, some with a strap, in his book Yoga: The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness. I can do only five of them. Miriam Austin in Cool Yoga Tricks has a whole section on loosening up the shoulders.
I still can’t do the top half of Garudasana or Eagle pose. My arms and hands simply will not intertwine.
Postscript: here are some other ideas for office yoga: the University of Alberta has some detailed instruction with drawings in Word format. Easy Desktop Yoga has a free video download. Cyndi Lee gives advice in Yoga Journal. And then you have My Daily Yoga, which has some fun graphics.
I wanted to make some things clear about the blog and website. The reason that I’m writing it is not because I have any special knowledge about yoga, pranayama, meditation or life, except for what I have experienced within my body’s skin. I am writing about it because yoga (understood in the broadest sense) is the most important thing happening in my life. I am writing about it with all the contradictions and incomplete vision of a novice.
Erich Schiffmann wrote in Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness:
Yoga is a sophisticated system or achieving radiant physical health, superb mental clarity and therefore peace of mind, as well as spiritual nsight, knowledge and understanding.
When I started fooling around with yoga late last year, I played a trick on myself. I told myself that yoga should be easy and I didn’t have to “try hard.” Instead of following my DVD routine, I switched to doing a much less physically demanding audio CD routine. When I stopped trying hard and began listening to my body, rather than keeping pace with Rodney Yee, I began to have glimpses of what Schiffmann is writing about. I had a similar experience with meditation — I stopped “trying hard” and relaxed into a deeply refreshing restfulness of mind. I said, “Wow — I’ve got to get me some more of this.”
In this whole process, I’ve never really had a “moment of conversion.” It’s been a gradual change in which I’ve learned not to “try too hard” and take myself too seriously. If I did, I wouldn’t be out on a mat in a studio exposing my pearly white legs and my extra gut that cuts off my breath in halasana. I just tell myself that Buddha had a few extra pounds himself, if you judge from some of the statues. I know that I could get a lot more out of my classes if I did not try to keep pace with the others. That’s one of the reasons why I like Sam Dworkis’s advice: The Operative Word of Yoga Must Be: Toward :
Because the word yoga can be loosely defined as union and balance and because the human body can never be perfectly balanced, then an appropriate yoga practice can only move a person toward balance of body, mind, breath, and spirit.
Of course, the coda to this tangent is that if you don’t challenge yourself — what Schiffmann calls “finding your edge” — you’re not going grow in your practice. It just seems that knowing my own psychological makeup, my most risky behavior when I overexert myself and don’t listen closely enough to my body.