Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Real Yoga Abs

Our culture is somewhat obsessed with the look of "six-pack" abs, and some people may hope to obtain them through yoga. But yoga creates supple strength, not hardness. The six-pack look can rob you of flexibility and freedom of movement. Overdoing abs exercises can lead to a flattening of the lumbar curve, creating a weakened spinal structure.

Our society's obsession with flat stomachs has psychological ties too. Many psychologists suggest that when we try to control our feelings, it leads to tightness in the belly - trying to swallow and hold it all in, as it were. Soft bellies seem vulnerable; abs of steel seem invulnerable. But as yogis we are learning to shed the armor we hold around the body. Tension interferes when we try to access the deeper wisdom that rests in the belly. As yogis, we require a supple abdomen in which we can feel the fullness of breath and sense the stillness of our being.

Strong, toned muscles at the core of your body support good health. And it is important to lift up through Uddiyanabandha when practicing. But it is a soft lift; it does not mean we should cultivate a permanent belly cramp, or hold our breath. Think of images of the Buddha, perhaps the world's best-known yogi. In many depictions, he doesn't have "abs of steel", or even anything close to it. Yogis know that chronically tight abdominals aren't any healthier than chronically tight hamstrings or back muscles. We want to develop a balance of abdominal strength, suppleness, relaxation, and awareness in our practice and our daily lives.

Here are four things to think about when working with the abdominal muscles in practice: (1) Movement springs from the body's center of gravity just below the navel; (2) asanas train this core to act as a stable base and fluid source of movement; (3) abdominal muscles should be toned but not tense; (4) the first step in abdominal fitness requires learning to sense this core, becoming familiar with it from the inside.

A basic knowledge of the belly's anatomy is extremely helpful for practice. Abdominal skin is different from much of the skin covering the rest of the body. It has subcutaneous tissue that loves to hold on to fat. It can store up to several inches. The fat-free bellies you see in ads are possible for less than 10 percent of the population. Your skin must be very thin to show muscle, and this can't always be achieved with exercise; it takes the right genes. Being young helps too. Once fat cells accumulate around your torso, they don't go away. You can shrink them. But they will always be there. Too much belly fat is unhealthy, of course. But working too hard to eliminate fat can also cause serious problems. Women can suffer estrogen depletion, bone weakness, and fractures. And psychologically, if you can't love your belly (no matter what shape it's in), you can't love yourself fully! A few centimeters or inches of fat over those muscles don't matter! Most adults, including runners and people of optimal health, carry a slight spare tire around their middles.

So let's focus deeper, thinking about the actual structure of the belly muscles. Right under the skin, a sturdy wall of four paired muscles stretches over the internal organs. On the surface, the strap-like rectus abdominus extends along the front of the body, from the pubic bone to the sternum (chest). On both sides of the rectus abdominus, a thin but very powerful muscle, the external oblique, runs diagonally from the ribs to the rectus, forming a "V" shape when viewed from the front. Running perpendicular to the external obliques, the internal obliques lie just below. These two pairs of muscles work together to rotate the trunk, and flex it diagonally. The inner-most layer of abdominal muscle, the transversus, runs horizontally, wrapping around the torso like a corset. Flexing this muscle pulls the belly inward. The sheath formed by the transversus and the obliques provides strong but expandable support. It protects the soft interal organs, can provide compression that aids in bowel elimination, and is flexible enough for diaphragmatic breathing.

All of these muscles can be exercised by doing yoga. For example, when you are in Navasana (Boat pose), you're contracting the rectus abdominus, drawing the sternum toward the pubic bone. Holding postures like Navasana helps strengthen this muscle isometrically, toning your abdomen without making the muscle less flexible. You engage the upper portion of the rectus in forward-bending posese such as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend). Conversely, you engage the lower portion of this muscle by raising your legs while maintaining a stable torso, as in Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Foot Pose, a.k.a. Leg Raises). To keep the rectus not just strong but flexible as well, it's important to combine contraction exercises with complementary stretching postures like Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose). A strong, responsive rectus muscle will protect your lower back and allow you to sit up tall with ease. But try not to overdo it. Overworking this muscle can not only compromise your ability to do backbends, it can actually bunch up your torso and flatten the natural curve of your lumbar spine.

Next time we'll talk about rotations in regard to the belly muscles, and more about the physical and emotional energy housed in the belly. So for now, we'll say Namaste to our center, and remember that judgement won't build strength and flexibility, but practice will.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

For one who has conquered the mind,
the mind is the best of friends.
But for one who has failed to do so,
his very mind will be the greatest enemy.
For one who has conquered the mind,
Paramatan has already been reached
for tranquility has been obtained.
To such a person happiness & distress,
heat & cold, honor & dishonor are the same.

-Bhagavad Gita

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Golden Rule

"The Golden Rule for life
is that there are no golden rules.
There cannot be. Life is so vast,
so immense, so strange, so mysterious,
it cannot be reduced to a rule or a maxim.
All maxims fall short,
are too small;
they cannot contain life
and its living
Hence the golden rule
is significant, that there are no golden rules.
An authentic human being does not live by rules, maxims,
The authentic human being
simply lives."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote of the day

I wanted to share an exchange I had with my wonderful boyfriend the other night. I said something about Savasana being the "end of class/practice". He responded incredibly insightfully, saying "Oh, but Savasana is just the BEGINNING of practice! That's when you've worked through everything, found your peaceful state, and can then remain in that peaceful state as you extend your practice out into the world."

Thank you, Jer, you are absolutely right. Savasana is just the beginning of true practice.

May you all find inner peace and calm resting within you throughout every part of your day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Devoting our time to what matters

We often complain of having too little time - too little time for work, too little for resting, for playing, and so on. But there is always the same amount of time; what matters is how we use it. Easy to say, harder to put into practice. Where does your time go? Observe, without judging. How much is spent watching TV? How much in the garden? How much feeling grouchy and irritated? How much feeling and demonstrating love? When we look within, it is very easy to pinpoint those things which we should nourish by devoting our time to them. And love lies at the center of them all. But do we make enough time for it? We make time for TV, even for our yoga class, but do we make time to truly be with the person or people we love?

Thich Nhat Hahn says that each morning and evening, maybe when saying goodbye and hello again, we should each hug the people we love and together take 3 deep breaths. That's all. Just a few seconds to breathe together. But the precious, real connection this repeated act creates is a strong loving force in the universe. We must bring about a revolution in how we relate to those we love, and that of course includes ourselves. Yoga practice is a wonderful way to love the self. We must reconnect with our love of others and of life. As the brilliant Shel Silverstein says,

"I will not play at tug o' war.
I’d rather play at hug o’war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins."

.......I know it's silly, but....imagine if the whole world chose hug-of-war instead.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Massage again! $25/hr!

To those of you who emailed me about massage, I'm so sorry if I haven't gotten back to you. I had some server problems and lost a few days worth of emails. So, if you'd still like to take advantage of the Best-Price-in-Town $25/hr massage (traditional table, Thai, or a combo), please email me again at lindsay.yoga[at]gmail.com ....my apologies for that! Namaste.

Dealing with frustration and negativity, continued...

As I've said before, we all deal with frustration, both on and off the mat. This is part of being human. The world is not going to stop creating frustrations for us. What CAN change is our habitual responses to these frustrations. And it is by moving through frustration that we journey forward and continue to enlighten our bodies, minds, and spirits.

A simple, & perhaps an example we can all relate to is getting frustrated in a pose, because it feels too intense, your balance feels off, or you just feel like you can't get it "right" that day. A habitual response in the mind might be "Arrgh, I hate this pose", and a habitual response in the body might be to give up. But most importantly, when frustration wells up it wants you to shift your focus AWAY from what you are doing. This is the yogic challenge here; to keep your focus through the pleasant, the neutral, and the unpleasant. This takes time. We are very habituated creatures. But in order to be free of our everyday suffering caused by the conditioned ("chattering") mind, we commit ourselves to focusing through whatever comes our way.

Here is a secret that not everyone knows. Shifting your focus away from pain (either physical or emotional pain) actually makes it worse!! The next time you incur a minor injury, such as stubbing a toe or finger, try this: instead of concentrating on thinking "OW!" and how to relieve the pain and all the times you felt pain like this in the past and and and.... just drop that, and focus INTENSLY on the hurt finger/toe/area. You will notice that what felt like static pain is actually shifting all the time, ranging from tingles to sharper pains depending on the injury. Take an interest in this impermanence of pain. (Of course, if your injury is severe and/or you are bleeding a lot, please go to the ER or call 9-1-1! ) Keep your focus on your pain as intensly as you can, until you watch it gradually fade to a dull throb or ache, and then disappear entirely. Look at that!! You have just meditated through pain! You are teaching your mind that it focuses where YOU want it to, and not just where it wanders.

The same principal can be applied to frustration. Don't try to push it away. Remain very, very aware of it, in all its details and subtleties. See if it is trying to tell you something, but usually it is just conditioned mind chatter. Whenever things become difficult for us as adults, we have a hard time handling it, because we want to master it right away. But as I've been stressing, mastery takes time. Just think about babies learning to walk and talk.

No matter how severe your frustration and negativity is, don't turn it against yourself. We are all precious beings who don't deserve this terrible kind of self-talk. If you wouldn't say it to a 3 year old child you love, don't say it to yourself! By viewing yourself at war with your body and mind, peace is never possible, because the physical and psychic beings are always battlegrounds. However, a body and mind at peace are able to hear the knock of the Infinite on the door of their souls when it comes. Our goal in life is to be peace, and to spread peace everywhere we go. By working through our own negativity, we can offer others so much more. We're all in this together, so hello fellow travelers, and I hope we can all help eachother out.

P.S. - A big thanks to Shelley for subbing the Full Series Ashtanga class this past Saturday!! I heard rave reviews last time and the students and I really appreciate it! :) -LSD

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dealing with frustration

"My leg just won't bend that way!"
"I've been trying this forever and I still can't do it."
"I'm never going to be able to do that pose."

Our ego/chattering mind likes to throw thoughts like this at us often. And not just during practice; it also likes to get negative beforehand, to convince us to not even go practice in the first place!

Just like wobbles in balance poses, frustration never actually goes away completely. We can just become very competent at dealing with it and breathing right through it.

Yoga is a challenging practice. Learning new things is challening, especially as adults. Because we are grown-ups and we understand what is being asked of us on an intellectual level, we expect to be able to DO that thing instantly. But understanding and doing are different things. You get the pose, it's just your body won't quite cooperate... we've all had this experience. I'm taking guitar lessons (trading them for private yoga lessons, actually) and I know what the songs sound like, I even know where my fingers should go, it's just that they won't always go there! But just like everything, practice over time results in mastery. And the time is going to pass anyhow, so you may as well practice things you'd like to master!

If you're feeling frustrated, stop, take a few deep breaths, and take a moment to think of all the things you've managed to learn to do up until now - everything from learning to crawl and walk and talk to learning to write and drive and maybe paint or build things or any of the complex things you're able to do. Remind yourself of the time those things took. And assure yourself that if you want to master this new skill, you'll one day look back and barely be able to remember when it was so difficult.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My yogis :)

I am always so happy to have each and every one of you in class, and I'm always interested in your questions, challenges, and experiences. My wonderful friend Lauren was in last night's class, and here's a link to her blog entry about it:

(it's her Sept. 18th entry, for those of you reading this after the fact)

I look forward to practicing with all of you again soon!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Taking some meditation lessons from Tibetan Heart Yoga

When we meditate, our minds encounter obstacles. This is perfectly normal. What matters is how we respond to these obstacles. Tibetan Heart Yoga offers us six "flavors" of response when the mind is being unruly:

1. This too shall pass.
2. I cannot control this now, but I can breathe through it.
3. I put this and myself here for purposes of higher learning.
4. Someone else might even find this pleasant.
5. I can transform this problem into the very path itself which I seek.
6. We must live as gardeners, tending with love whatever surroundings we find ourselves in, internal and external.

We can use any one (or more) of these whenever they feel helpful.

When we meditate, we sometimes expect our mind to become instantly still and for us to have an immediately blissful experience. This is not really how meditation works. It is an exercise and a practice, just like physical yoga. It is important to not become too frustrated at the beginning. The mind wants you to become discouraged, because that way it can stay in control and you will drop all this meditation silliness! Do not listen to the mind. Start slowly, and just start to learn to feel still and stable in your seat. Learn to watch the breath. Remember that this takes time. If I could give you the gift of a quiet mind, I would, but all I can do is try to explain and offer different techniques. It may happen slowly, or it may happen in an instant, but you will get a taste of that supreme inner silence and joy. Once you get this glimpse, no matter how small, you have understood that meditation is not about DOING, it's about NOT DOING! Dropping the mind. Dropping the ego. Simply existing in your divine state, taking complete joy in the breath and in the prana, your life-force energy, flowing through your body.

If you have difficulties meditating, talk to your instructor. There are many different methods and techniques to help you. And you will probably find that by becoming a stronger, more stable, more committed meditator (even if your practice is only 10 min. per day), it will greatly benefit your yogic practice as well. TRY THIS: Meditate for just 5 or 10 min. every morning, as soon as you get out of bed. You can set an alarm. Try to notice if it has a calming/positive effect on your morning and the rest of your day.

Life throws enough demands, busy times, and stress at us. As an act of self compassion, meditation can help us calmly and sanely deal with any area of our lives.


For a limited time, I am offering discounted massage sessions to my yoga students, and their families and friends. You MUST mention this offer when scheduling an appointment!

Currently, in town, the price of massage runs anywhere from $65/hour to $80/hour. I am offering One-Hour Thai OR traditional Table massages for $25. This is less than half-price, and if you've been feeling stiff, achy, or tense, either from intense yoga practice or from sitting at school/your office job, schedule an appointment with me and I can help you out!

If you have any questions regarding the differences between Thai and Table massage, or any other questions, comments, etc. please email me at lindsay.yoga@gmail.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pose of the Day: Backbends!

As you probably know, there are many varieties of backbends available to us. Supported Bridge, Up Bow, and Camel, to name just a few. There are also poses like Natarajasana (King Dancer) which have strong backbend elements to them.

No matter which backbend you are doing, keep your butt muscles engaged!! Those of you who practice with me have heard me say this over & over again, but it's because it's so important. Engaging the glutes protects the lower back. Think of contracting the back of your body to open the front of the body to the sky; open heart, long belly, open hips. Make sure to rest in between backbends with the knees in, spine in a reversed position.

What are some potential obstacles in backbend? One is lack of flexibility in the spine. The answer for this is more practice, challenging though it may be! Work closely with an instructor if you have a very rigid (or rigid area of your) spine. Another obstacle is lack of strength, usually in the arms. This needed strength can be built up by lowering down correctly through plank during Sun Salutations. Ask your teacher! Your instructor can show you other ways to strengthen these muscles, as well as how to use a strap to stabilize the arms. Fear can also be a tremendous obstacle here, especially if you have had a less-than-positive backbend experience in the past. As always, be patient and compassionate with yourself. Keep breathing. Backbending can be both physically and emotionally intense, as the heart expands and becomes open and vulnerable. Learn to trust your body, including when to challenge yourself, when to let go, and when to back off. Never hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it!

In general, students start off with Supported Bridge Pose. From there, you will likely progress to Up Bow. Up Bow can take several modifications; once it becomes easily accessible you can begin to walk the hands toward the feet, eventually grabbing one or both ankles. (**This is very advanced!!! Please do not attempt without an instructor!!**) But you don't have to be able to hold your ankles to begin to learn Drop-Backs. These often start with "walking down the wall" into a backbend. This helps us understand how the hips need to shift forward in order to counter-balance the weight of the body as it bends backward. Walking back UP the wall is harder, and requires very strong Bandhas and stomach muscles. Once you get the feeling of having a very stable base in the legs and hips, Drop-Backs without the wall are possible. Have an instructor assist you to a lessening degree, until you are completely in control of the backward descent. Again, coming back up is more challenging and requires Bandhas, belly strength, and a little momentum somtimes :)

Remember, always practice at your own level. Everything comes in time. With that being said, here is an awesome, must-see video to demonstrate the principles I've been talking about:
(thanks, yogabodynaturals.com people!!)

Not fighting the self

We battle with ourselves a lot. We know we should exercise/do homework/clean the kitchen/balance the checkbook and so on, but we don't! It's as if that part of ourselves that doesn't want to is overpowering us.

So, how do we overcome the inertia, the "I don't wanna" feeling, and meet our goals?

Our first inclination is to fight with ourselves. We think maybe if we argue with ourselves hard enough, we can force ourselves into doing the unpleasent thing. Once again, we've been taught that this is how to deal with unwillingness and procrastination. But, since it does not show compassion for the self, it's just another perpetuated myth. Being hard on yourself doesn't work, or if it does, only in a limited capacity. What it DOES do is make you feel bad about yourself! And that's never helpful. We need to move from a positive place.

Instead, try the radical stance of complete acceptance. When you accept that you feel lazy, undisciplined, and unwilling, you will also see the willingness, understanding, and compassionate energy capable of getting through practice/getting the job done, etc.

When your energy is no longer bound up in fighting yourself, there is an awful lot left over. What can you do with this energy? Well, there's yoga, meditation, cleaning, checkbook balancing... with still enough for painting, dancing, playing... anything you like!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"How do I know how hard to push myself?"

The question of how hard to push ourselves in practice is a difficult one to answer, and there are many factors to take into account. First of all, you should of course back off if you ever feel sharp pain in a pose. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we can be so disconnected or competitive that we will push through sharp pain. This is never a good idea. Listen to that pain and release or modify the pose. Call the instructor over if you want assistance.

Intensity, burn, "dull ache", and "dull pain" are sort of a different matter. Again, this is difficult because every person is different and experiences things differently, but normally it is ok to work through these sensations. One can even work fairly intensely if there is a good open dialogue with the body to ensure safe practice. As your practice deepens, it becomes more clear that working through these intense sensations is actually more of a challenge for the mind than the body. As you become more and more able to stay calm and focused on the breath, you will become more able to sit through very intense postures and deepen them.

Staying focused on the breath also helps us learn to drop our competitive nature, and our habits of "encouraging" ourselves with negative thinking (such as: "I could do this last time, so I HAVE to be able to do it right now!"). If we notice that we are pushing ourselves from a negative or competitive place, we should back off a little and observe this, just like we observe everything else that comes up. If feelings of inadequacy come up, we gently observe those, too. All of us have felt negative and inadequate, both on the mat and off. Through yoga, we can learn to remain connected to our divine self, regardless of what emotions are temporarily rearing their heads.

Challenging yourself positively in your practice allows you to move forward. You should practice as if the body were a very precious, priceless vehicle on loan to you (in essence, this is exactly what it is!). Do not take the body, its abilities, or its senses for granted. Do your best in each moment to focus and to maintain a positive attitude toward the breath and the pose. Positivity is like a muscle. If you do not practice it, you cannot draw on its strength when you need it.

We work the muscles themselves very hard during practice. Muscle tremors, shakes, and burning are not necessarily bad things. Sometimes we push through what feel like barriers of exhaustion. As long as we are aware, this is ok. Of course, we should not do things like try handstand for the first time on worn-out arms. But if we are familiar with the poses and practicing safely, we can keep going. If you need an outside perspective, check in with your teacher. He or she can help you determine what is available to you.

We should try to challenge our own individual habits. Ask yourself: "Do I tend to push myself to my limits, at the gym or in other areas of life?" Then perhaps you actually need to learn to be ok with pushing less. Ask yourself: "Do I tend to baby myself when I'm tired or when things feel hard?" If so, yoga is the perfect vehicle to allow you to strengthen your forbearance and stamina.

In the end, only you can decide how hard to push yourself, and this can and should vary with each practice. Just as with all things in life, we must continually seek out that balance between effort and ease.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Falling Asleep Tonight

Try this:
When you fall asleep tonight, use the Savasana meditation. Scan your body, checking in with each area, to see if you can gradually release any tightness until you feel incredibly heavy and relaxed.

Now, imagine you are resting in the hands of God, or the Goddess, or the Universe. Relax down even further. Feeling that which is greater than yourself support you with infinite love and compassion. Feeling unconditional peace and joy, take this with you into your sleep.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Non-attachment in the kitchen

Two dear friends of mine are in the kitchen, arguing about 'non-attachment' over a bag of chips. One claims that non-attachment equals "detachment", unfeeling and uncaring. The other tries to explain that non-attachment still allows us to care deeply; more deeply in fact than if our compassion is filtered through anger, sadness, or other emotions. Non-attachment simply means dropping our attachment to things being a certain way. When we are not attached to the outcomes of things, we are able to find joy and contentment in whatever happens. Of course, if there is injustice or suffering in the world, we must do what we can to alleviate it. But to identify with the source of the suffering, to take it into ourselves and let it turn our minds round and round as we fail to fall asleep... this is simply to create more suffering in the world: in ourselves. My friend arguing against non-attachment is absolutely correct in that we must never become complacent, we must always strive to create a better, more just, and more compassionate world. But his opponent is also correct. Whatsoever we witness in this world, we must practice gentle non-attachment in order not to create needless suffering in another creature (ourselves). This will allow us to move from the position of right-mind, taking the best course of action in the moment to help ease our fellow beings.   

...a continuation of yesterday's post

I ended yesterday's post by talking about recognizing our own habits, and changing those habits that do not fit with the way we'd like to live (and teach others to live) in this world. But of course, recognizing these habits and patterns is very hard, and often painful. Changing them can be even more so.

Many people think that meditation is supposed to instantly clear your mind. But this is not what happens, and not what should happen! Meditation (seated or moving) is an opportunity to witness the mad swirling of the mind in all its glory, and to say "Wow! I had no idea all that noise was constantly going on! I'm going to keep breathing as I watch it quiet down." It's a lot like when you have the TV on for background noise & you stop noticing it - but when you turn it off, the silence has a strong presence of its own.

Recognizing the mind's habits through the use of meditation and awareness practices, including yoga, may bring up many negative judgements about the self. It is very important to not listen to these judgements. They are just old baggage, and they are not in charge. If they were useful, they would have done something useful by now!! (Making you feel bad does not count!)

So what do we do when we see a negative pattern in ourselves? Instead of taking negative blame for it, we can take positive responsibility. This keeps us from blaming external circumstances while still practicing self-compassion. Gently congratulate the self for being willing to learn and change. The Universe is not against you! We are here to learn to overcome suffering, and to extend that knowledge to others.

The sooner you take ownership of the negative patterns in your life, the sooner you can disown them! Nothing in your past exists in your present, current-moment reality right now, so you can make any choice you want to. The past can evaporate into thin air, unless you choose to hold onto it. Ishvara Prandihana, as I referenced yesterday, is the "final surrender". Some take this to mean full, complete surrender to the yogic practice, some use it to mean total surrender to God/Goddess/The Divine, and others see no separation between the two. However you interpret the concept, surrendering to our practice, and breathing through any wobbles or intensity, brings ultimate joy, because there is no more fear and holding back, only engagement in the moment.


You are not your past actions.

You are not your past habits.

You are not how others see you or how they have treated you.

You are not what others have told you your "faults" are.

You are ONLY what you think and do in THIS moment.

And you are divine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breaking out of our Habits

Practicing yoga is a way to break our habit cycles and influence the direction of change in our lives. It's a slow and ongoing process. There is no end to self-development. It's work, step by step. The gift of yoga is that you don't have to jump to the top of the ladder. In fact, you can't; no one can. Just take the first step up. Don't worry about the last step. What is right there in front of you is the next step. So then the next step becomes obvious, achiveable. But if you try to figure out how to get to the top, you may become discouraged and stop trying.

We all reach points, both in yoga practice and in other areas of life where we think, "I give up." We feel it is all too much, we don't have the energy, we are in a rut, we can't move forward. This is a normal experience of being human. What's important is to find ways to move forward anyway, to break out of our rut, to challenge our habits.

The word "svadhyaya" comes from two Sanskrit words: sva, meaning "yourself", or "that which you really are", and adhyaya, meaning "to move forward, to go in the direction of, or return to". Svadhyaya means to move in the direction of your true self, to return to who you really are.
Svadhyaya implies knowing who you are in each present moment, and understanding what is best in your relationships with your partner, children, parents, teachers, students, employees, employers, etc. In asana practice, it's being present with the practice. Svadhyaya is being in "right relationship" with whatever is present.

Svadhyaya is also a form of meditation. Some popular forms of meditation practices have emphasized one-pointedness, or attention, which help us cultivate a focused mind; however, that doesn't necessarily help us resolve our behavior or relationship patterns. We need to challenge ourselves to do that. Thinking of our highest ideals for the world and the way creatures in it are treated, we must look honestly at ourselves and our actions to see if they support our ideals. If they do not, we must practice the yoga of right speech and right action to align ourselves. Alignment in speech and action is just as important as physical alignment on the mat. And when we falter, we try to remain compassionate with the self.

Svadhyaya has to do with self reflection and the journey into who we truly are. Ishvara Pranidhana deals with attitudes and it manifests in the way we handle situations. Do we have an attitude of openness & acceptance? Do we have the internal strength and stability to maintain that attitude of openness in our hearts, even in the midst of suffering and change? We see people every day that naturally possess this heart-opening and connecting ability, and because of that, they are able to be there and help others. Suffering does not have to close us off. It can help us open, to heal self and other. We can break out of the habits of suffering and negativity, and learn how to extend accptance and joy to everyone we meet, in any situation.