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Monday, July 14, 2008

Everday Abdominals

I know how it is. I used to dread doing abdominals, too. They always felt like a weak point for me, and so I avoided abdominal exercises at all costs.

But then to my own joy I discovered that abdominal exercises are built right into the Universal Principles of Alignment, which is to say, if you're doing the principles, you're engaging and strengthening and stretching your abs in every pose.

This is the cool thing. Abdominal exercises need not be something that you only do in isolation, in the same way that a practice of yoga need not be something that you do only on a yoga mat. Instead of isolating the abs, or our yoga practice, from our everyday experience, how can we see that they are embedded in everything we do?


  • Open to Grace: Begin with a passive release with gravity from the pelvis into the earth
  • Muscle Energy: When you engage muscle energy, everything tones, and that includes the abdominal core.
  • Thigh Loop and Inner Spiral: These principles sets the thigh bones back into the hip sockets, and keep the hip flexors soft when you engage your abs. The hip flexors tend to be strong, and they'll easily overwork. It's interesting how your body will try anything to avoid actually working those abs.
  • Pelvic Loop and Outer Spiral: Both of these principles help create more tone in the abdominal muscles. I find that Outer Spiral, which initiates with the waistline flowing back and the tailbone tucking under, creates more of a lift in the lower belly, while the Pelvic Loop, which also draws the waistline back but goes only down to the bottom of the sacrum and forward, engages more the lowest part of the abdominal core. Both principles together will give you an even tone through the abs. Note that the engagement of the abs initiates from the action of the back body (waistline back, tailbone and bottom of the sacrum down and in) rather than a contraction of the front. Of course, the front body does contract, but it's more the fluid result of the engagement through the back body.
  • Organic Energy: Especially when the pelvis is the focal point, the stretch of Organic Energy through the bones of the body will give you tone and length in the abdominals.
  • Tadasana: Believe it or not, even tadasana is an opportunity to work your abs. In fact, if you're truly standing upright, your abs will be engaged to support your stance. Try the tried-and-tested exercise of tadasana with a block between your inner thighs to feel the difference between Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop. Engage the legs, activate Inner Spiral, turning the inseams of the legs back and wide. The block will move back as the tops of your thighs line up over your knees over your ankles. Notice how the belly might tend to distend with the action of Inner Spiral. Now add Outer Spiral, drawing the waistline back and scooping under through the tailbone. (To feel the lengthening of the tailbone, bring one finger to the tailbone and press the tailbone down into your finger.) Notice how the belly lifts with this action. Now do tadasana again, setting up in the same way, but instead of Outer Spiral, add the Pelvic Loop, which initiates by the waistline flowing back and then draws the bottom of the sacrum down and in. (To feel the action of the sacrum, bring one finger to the bottom of the sacrum/AKA top of the butt crack and draw that part down and forward into the body.) This will also tone the abs, but notice how it feels different from the action of Outer Spiral. To me, the tone is much lower from Pelvic Loop, and much more deeply integrated. Now root through the pelvis and legs and stretch your arms overhead, and you'll get a stretch to those abs while they're toned. Yes, this is how tadasana will always be performed in alignment. Everyday abs.
  • High lunge: When you come into the pose, notice the relationship between your back thigh and your belly. If you lift the back thigh to line it up in the hip socket, does the belly collapse forward? And if you try to lift your belly, does the back thigh pop forward? A healthy engagement will have both the back thigh rooting back (into the hip socket) without the belly distending, so keep the power in your back leg and then sweep the waistline back and draw down through the bottom of your sacrum to get the low belly to lift. If the front hip is resting on the front thigh, this signifies a lack of tone through the Outer Spiral or Pelvic Loop.
  • Parsvakonasana: Similarly, the low belly should be toned and lifting in this pose. Work through the principles in order. Getting Inner Spiral established is key to getting the tone in the lower belly without it pulling on your hip flexors or low back. Then once you have the thighs anchored back, draw back through the waistline and scoop under through the bottom of the tailbone/sacrum, especially on the front leg side, until the lower belly lifts up.
  • Thigh stretch (in pigeon pose or anjaneyasana): It's always nice to do a thigh stretch (or more) before doing targeted abdominals, because that allows the hip flexors to soften and release rather than trying to pull you up. So do either of these thigh stretches. Watch in these poses how the belly and pelvis will tend to tip forward as you bring the back leg in. So keep good action in the legs (and especially the top of the back thigh BACK), and then add the Outer Spiral or Pelvic Loop to draw the waistline back and get the length in the lower back with a lift in the lower belly. The front hip should be lifting off the front thigh.
  • Supine abdominal exercises: Doing abdominal exercises in a supine position gives the thighs something to press against (i.e. the floor), and this feedback helps us know when the hip flexors are overriding the abs. I recommend using a block between the inner thighs or knees for all of these, because it helps to de-activate the hip flexors. Between each set do a bride pose (setubandha) to lengthen the front body.
    • Use a block between your knees, and then bend them in so the thighs are vertical (knees right about your hips). Let the thigh bones release down into the hip sockets. Squeeze the block and then turn the inner thighs in and down until you feel the lower back arch lightly. Then lengthen the bottom of your sacrum long and in to the body. From this action, you'll feel the lower belly tone. Now bring your hands behind your head and begin doing little crunches. Yes, little crunches. In fact, you can do them in your head, and it will probably have a strong effect. The key is to keep the thighs released (curve in lower back) and the action of the bottom of the sacrum drawing into the body. The best part (to me) is on the way back down from the crunch. If you keep the tone, as you lengthen down (with Organic Energy, rather than dropping back to the floor), you get engagement and length in the abs simultaneously, and this is what I find really supports posture. Once you've done a few crunches up and down, try twisties (aiming toward one knee and then the other).
    • Take the block between your inner thighs, and bring the legs straight on the floor. Now the floor gives the feedback as to whether the tops of the thighs are indeed anchored down (with Inner Spiral/Thigh Loop). You should have a nice, lordotic curve in the lower back. Then add the Pelvic Loop, lengthening the bottom of the sacrum and drawing it into the body, without flattening the spine. Hands behind your head, and lift up! You can do little crunches, and also twisties (turning from side to side, bringing one elbow to the floor at a time), as long as the thighs stay anchored, the low back keeps its curve, and the bottom of the sacrum draws in. The twists will help you strengthen the obliques, while the straight-ahead crunches will help work out the rectus abdominus. All of them help tone the transverse abdominal muscle.
    • Jathara Parivartanasana: Take the block between your knees again, and bend the knees in to 90 degrees. Stretch both arms out to the sides, palms up. Work through the principles so you have a curve and length in the lower back, then begin twisting by bringing the knees to one side and then the other. Keep both shoulders on the ground (you'll notice that, on the side that you're twisting away from, the arm bone will want to lift off the floor) so that you really are working your abs to do this. To intensify the exercise, try first straightening one leg as you take the knees to the opposite side, and then straightening both legs on both sides.
    • Last one! With the block between your inner thighs and the legs straight up to the sky, bring both palms flat under your butt. Hug in to the block and turn the inner thighs in and down, so you have a curve in your lower back, and then let the pressure of your hands on your buttocks help to lengthen the spine. Then slowly bring the legs down to hover above the floor. Keep the inner thighs released, and the length in your lower back. You can do presses like this, or just release all the way down (one of these is often enough to fire up that rectus abdominus).
  • Parsvakonasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana: Go through some standing poses with this heightened awareness of the tone in the lower belly. REMEMBER that the low belly lifts as a result of the action in the back body, so focus your attention on the tailbone/sacrum action of Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop.
  • Virabhadrasana 3, Standing Splits: These two poses require a strong lift in the lower belly to keep the front hip from binding -- and this lift must come from the back body
  • Handstand: Hopefully handstand will feel a little more easeful after all the work you've been doing. Note that the actions of Outer Spiral/Pelvic Loop are super important for finding balance here. Practice at the wall (set up as close as you can), getting the thighs back and then adding that length through the lower back. See if this new tone helps you to balance.
  • Anjaneyasana/Thigh Stretch: Especially in anjaneyasana and the thigh stretch variation, I find that the pelvis and belly like to hang out on the front thigh. So this is a good place to build a remembrance of engagement through Outer Spiral and Pelvic Loop.
  • Ustrasana: I love all of the backbends for finding tone and length in the abs, but ustrasana is particularly good to feel the length in the belly. Try doing it with a block between your inner thighs, to remind the thighs to stay back while you add Outer Spiral/Pelvic Loop. You'll feel the abs tone even before you curl back into the pose. Use Organic Energy to keep the pelvis rooted while you lift up and out of the lower back/lower belly into the backbend, and you'll get a deep stretch in the abs while they're toned.
  • Cool down anyway you like.

Friday, July 4, 2008

In Defense of Complexity

I just read Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food, which describes how American society turned away from "food" in the mid 1970's in favor of "nutrition." This shift meant that, as a society, we began seeing food more in terms of its component parts (how many calories, how much fat, how much protein, how many vitamins) instead of as a whole that is a richly woven complexity of relationships that are more than we really understand.

The result? America's health problems have only worsened. Because what nutritionism fails to recognize is that the whole is always more than the sum of its component parts; that when two things come together in relationship, they make a THIRD thing (the relationship) which is valuable in itself. Interestingly enough, one study Pollan quotes follows two groups of people: one group eats food, and the other group eats whatever equals the same nutritional value as the first group, using supplements to get the nutrients. They found that the group that ate food were consistently healthier than the group that was fed nutrients.

When you extract substances from their context, they lose their power.

It got me thinking that the Universal Principles of Alignment work like this. Taken as a whole, under the umbrella principle of Opening to Grace, the they form a rich and complex web of relationships that supports health. Taken individually, they lose their power.

More than any other principle, I think that the Shoulder Loop gets taken out of the context of the universal principles, as some kind of magic supplement that will heal. Indeed, it's a powerful tool for creating both stability and opening in the shoulder girdle and neck. But taken on its own, it can actually be detrimental. Without the larger context of Opening to Grace -- that way that we step into the fullness and wonderment at the complexity of ourselves -- Shoulder Loop can flatten the thoracic spine, and even lead to the subluxation of ribs. (I learned this from experience.)

John Friend, in articulating the Universal Principles of Alignment, put them together as a system, where the relationships matter. Opening to Grace is the overarching principle, the reminder of the whole; and it stays present even as we access all of the component parts through the actions and loops and spirals.

Here's how Shoulder Loop works in the greater context of the whole:


  • Open to Grace: Expand with fullness, in recognition of the self as whole. As part of this principle, the back body, including the back waistline and the back lungs, fills with breath. It reinforces the thoracic curve (which is naturally kyphotic) and brings the pranic body to meet the outer body. So when the outer body softens (ie, the heart melts with gravity) it doesn't diminish the inner light, but release onto the greater context of the self as whole.
  • Muscle Energy: The action of Muscle Energy in the upper body will draw the upper arms back and the shoulder blades flat on the back. Again, this is all in a bigger context. The inner body maintains its fullness and breadth.
  • Kidney Loop: This principle reinforces an expansion into the back body. It reminds us to keep the bigger context present, even as we work through specific actions. The sides of the waistline draw back, the back ribs lift, and the front body below the sternum softens downward.
  • Shoulder Loop: The first time I felt Shoulder Loop, it was a revelation. The opening was so big in my heart, that I sought that ecstatic experience again and again in my practice. But the Shoulder Loop must work in synergy with the other principles. As you curl the head back and draw the bottom tips of the shoulder blades down the back and into the heart, keep the fullness in the upper back. The inner body fullness provides a kind of cushion for this deep action. If you lose it, the rib cage moves in too fast, and the shoulder blades chase the rib cage, and the thoracic spine just gets flatter. Even in backbend back, the energy body of the upper back has to meet the powerful action of the shoulder loop.
  • Organic Energy: To me, this principle brings us back into a remembrance of the whole, as it connects all of the component parts back together in their complex relationships.
  • Cat/Cow: It's a good place to feel the expansion of the back body. Try it on fingertips and you'll have even greater access to the "cat" motion.
  • Lunge with cactus arms: This is a simple pose to feel what it's like to hold a remembrance of the whole even as you add other actions. One way to really get it is by contrast (think of the experiments between eating food and eating nutrients). First just pull your upper arms back an squeeze the shoulder blades into the heart. See what that feels like (probably not too good); there will be a flattening of the upper back, the shoulder blades may actually come together and touch, and the sensitivity in the upper back will dull. OK, erase that. Now try it again starting with an inflation inside, and then work through the actions without losing that sense of fullness. Notice how you have more space, and a greater sensitivity. This is what it's like to eat FOOD that's nourishing, rather than nutrients.
  • Adho mukha svanasana: This was the pose that got me thinking about this, recently. There's a form of the pose that creates a deep backbend by stabilizing the arms (with Muscle Energy) and pumping the heart deeper toward the floor (with Shoulder Loop). However, if I forget the greater context of the whole while going into this deep pose, I get a sharp stabbing pain somewhere in the ribs. Basically, it's the outer from moving without a harmonious relationship to the inner form, and this is exactly the kind of overuse of Shoulder Loop that can cause problems. So remember to start with a fullness, even as you soften the heart. And then while you draw the shoulder blades into the heart to deepen the backbend, keep the inner body pressing back up against the shoulder blades. They should meet and be in relationship, rather than the outer form chasing the inner.
  • Cobra pose: Similarly, cobra pose holds the same peril and similar delights. When you expand the inner body, remember that it's not just lengthening, but it's also a circumferential growth. Then draw the armbones back and curl back onto that fullness. When you feel the inner form meet the action of the shoulder blades, it will actually deepen the backbend from a place of holistic integration.
  • L-Shaped handstand: You need a partner for this one, someone whom you're willing to let place their feet on your shoulder blades. Starting on hands and knees with your feet at the wall, hands a leg's distance from the wall, walk your feet up so that they're as high as your hips, and then straighten the legs. The partner will create active shoulder loop by pressing feet into the shoulder blades (gently!) and lifting up and in. As much as the shoulder loop activates, you'll have to keep the inner body full as resistance.
  • Prasarita padottanasana (with shoulder stretch): When the arms are in the back plane, it's very easy to overdo the actions of Muscle Energy and Shoulder Loop, jamming the upper back. Start with a remembrance of the whole, and then keep that as you add the other actions.
  • Virabhadrasana 1/Anjaneyasana: Go for it!
  • Urdhva dhanurasana: It's harder to feel the fullness to the back body in backbends, because the form of the pose is with the upper back drawing into the body. So even before you go up to the top of your head, establish yourself in the first principle. Feel yourself as a whole, and step into the wonderful, complex enjoyment of that. Now engage Muscle Energy, drawing the upper arms back only as far as you can go without losing the fullness on the inside. Then curl your head back to go up. As you pump the heart more open, keep breathing into the back body, so it moves to meet the strong action of the shoulder blades.
  • Upavista konasana and cool downs: Here's the cool thing: When you do backbends this way, with a remembrance of the bigger picture, the bigger context of yourself and your practice, it'll keep you from getting too blown out (giddy, restless), as can happen when we go to open the upper back.

Shiva Manasa Puja: Bringing the Head in Service of the Heart

Students have been requesting a Nerd on the Skull Loop, but I put it off for the longest time while I investigated more what it means to me.

I like how the relationship between the Skull Loop and the Shoulder Loop are such a great symbolic way to practice creating a balanced relationship between the head and the heart. If the head always leads the way, we can end up disconnected. But if the heart always leads the way, without the counsel of the mind, we can easily get into trouble.

The concept of Shiva Manasa Puja gives us a way of framing this dynamic relationship.

A puja is a ritual, or an offering, and in this case it links together the power of the mind (manas) in the worship of Shiva, the auspiciousness that is your very nature.

It's the idea that the mind is not something we have to get out of, nor is it something we have to empty out, nor is it something inferior to any other aspect of ourselves. The mind is a powerful expression of your own essence, and you get the hit of that when you connect it in the way of ritual offering (puja) in the service of your highest self.

This is why, in Anusara Yoga, you'll find that you're always being invited into thinking, and reflecting, and using the power of your mind to deepen your experience. Whenever we use our minds to deepen the inquiry into the nature of ourselves, we are doing this powerful puja.

In the context of a yoga practice, Shiva manasa puja involves using your mind to understand and negotiate the alignment relationships in your body. But it is also about bringing a sharp, interested, inquisitive mind to what you're doing. It's asking taking the time to reflect on your experience and ask yourself to articulate what are the effects of your actions.

Notice how the key in all of this is the power of articulation (matrika shakti), the power to express what it is that you're experiencing. And matrika resides in the throat, the perfect bridge between the physical heart and the head.

Here's how the puja plays out in the Universal Principles of Alignment:


  • Open to Grace: Stand fully in the light of yourself, for you are none other than Shiva, the auspiciousness that is the essence of being. When you take this perspective, the inner body will naturally swell, from the waistline all the way up through the dome of the palate. This means that the sides of the neck also lengthen, bring the head more in line with the rest of the spine.
  • Muscle Energy: This principle invokes the full engagement and participation of all parts of yourself in the puja. In the upper body, the upper arm bones will plug back into the shoulder sockets, but another key action is that the top of the throat (ie, where the hyoid bone sits) slides back. In this way, you make an active connection through the neck between the heart and the head, symbolically yoking them to each other. When you take the throat back, the muscles on the back of the neck tone, and will be ready to support the deeper opening of the heart (in shoulder loop) and the deeper engagement into the head (in skull loop).
  • Shoulder Loop: The Shoulder and Skull Loop both have the same initiation point, in the center of the soft palate (in line with the base of the occiput). The Shoulder Loop flows back and down, drawing the bottom tips of the shoulder blades into the heart. If you try to activate Shoulder Loop without first creating Muscle Energy in the back of the neck, the head will drop back under its own weight, shortening the back of the neck and blocking off prana (a primary cause of dizziness and headaches in backbending). So tone the back of the neck first, and then press actively back through the skull and draw down through the muscles of the upper trapezius, creating an active lordotic curve in the neck.
  • Skull Loop: As mentioned above, the Skull Loop also starts in the soft palate, but it flows back and up, so the back of the skull lifts, lengthening the neck. It crests the top of the head and softens the front of the face down. To me, Skull Loop has a sense of drawing everything into focus, and thus holds a mental acuity. But it also inspires a dignity of spirit.
  • Organic Energy: Once everything is lined up, extend organically from the focal point through the bones. Activating Skull Loop can help you to feel the extension of Organic Energy, since the back side of the loop moves out of the focal point.
  • Tadasana: Stand with your heels and back up against a wall, and then bring your head into alignment over the pelvis and heart, so that the back of the skull is against the wall, too. Then go through the puja of the 5 principles to line up through the upper body. Notice what happens when you add the Skull Loop, sliding the back of the skull gently up the wall. How does it change the tone in your low belly? The feeling of expansion in your back body? Your vision? To ask yourself these kinds of questions as you practice is to do Shiva Manasa Puja, to use the power of your mind to cultivate a deeper awareness of your heart.
  • High Lunge: Start with your hands on your hips, and just expand with light all the way up through the side of the throat. Notice if your head tends to come forward of your heart. If so, this first expansion will bring you back from that forward carriage. Then as you engage Muscle Energy and draw the upper arms back, also slide the top of your throat back. You'll feel the back of your neck engage. Now press back through your skull, as if into some resistance (remember what it felt like to have the wall there) and curl down through the back of the neck (without the head dropping!). Then lengthen up through the back of your skull and NOTICE how that changes your experience. Lastly stretch your arms up and overhead. As you bring the upper arms back behind your head, keep pressing the back of your head back in line with your upper arms.
  • Adho mukha svanasana: In dog pose, as in any pose when the head is below the heart, the head and neck should be engaged in alignment with the spine rather than just hanging out. Feel what it's like in dog pose to just let your head hang. What does it do to the alignment of your shoulders? What about the rest of your body? Now expand with light, all the way through the sides of the throat (including the back of the throat), so that the head and neck are in line with the spine. Activate the muscles of the arms, drawing from the fingertips all the way up into the heart focal point. As the armbones lift alongside your ears, press the top of the throat back so that the head moves back alongside your arms. (I know, this sounds repetitive, but the feeling of the two actions is different, and when you do them together it really works.) From here you can engage the Shoulder Loop and then the Skull Loop. I surveyed the Nerds on what they felt change with Skull Loop, and it ranged from: back body expanded, increased length in the spine, breath opened up, low belly toned, etc... See what it does for you
  • Parsvakonasana: Do this pose in the prep form, with your front arm resting on the knee, and take your top hand behind your head to the base of the occiput (on your skull, just above the neck). Here your hand can provide the resistance for the initiation of the two loops. It's great to learn how to do the loops into resistance, because without, the head can just flop back. When you add the Skull Loop, use your hand to lift up the back of the skull, and feel what happens.
  • Handstand: Go to the wall for this one, with your fingertips very close to the wall. Kick up and rest your heels on the wall so you can focus on the upper body. Start by letting your head hang (it lengthens the neck with gravity), then engage by drawing energy up from your fingertips to take the upper arms back toward the wall. As you do, press the top of your throat back toward the wall too. Now curl back through your head for Shoulder Loop, and you'll feel the upper back engage. Keep that, and lengthen the back of your skull back down toward the floor (do this as an active extension, rather than letting the head drop again) and notice how this will help you to feel more in the back body, and more extension. Organic Energy happens almost naturally when you line up in this way.
  • Sirsasana: The puja is the same in headstand. Just make sure you place your head in a spot that will allow you to create an optimal curve in the neck (not flat, not too curvy, but just right). Notice how the extension through the back of your skull helps to stabilize the pose. After headstand, go straight to downward-facing dog, where you can bring the neck into a neutral alignment with engagement (work it just as we did earlier) after the strong weight-bearing.
  • Salabhasana variations: Because the head and neck lift away from the floor against gravity in these poses, they are a good place to build strength in the back of the neck. Start off laying on your belly with hands on fingertips to the sides (gecko arms). Expand on the inside and then bring your head up in line with your spine. Lift your upper arms, engaging the shoulder blades flat on the back, and then add the loops, and as you extend organically lift your hands up off the floor in line with your elbows. It probably won't be a very high salabhasana, but that's ok. The main thing is to keep the connection between your head and heart through the important bridge of the neck. Notice if the back of the neck shortens (too much curve) or flattens (not enough curve) and balance the loops accordingly. Then extend from the pelvis into the legs and back out of the crown of your head. You can do this pose with gecko arms, or arms alongside the body (hands off the floor) or even hands clasped behind your head. All variations are great to get tone in the back of the neck.
  • Anjaneyasana: This is one pose where, as you go back into a deeper backbend (similar to dropbacks into urdhva dhanurasana) the head can disconnect from the heart. It's heavy, and so it tends to fall back with gravity, so building up the muscles on the back of the neck in those salabhasana variations is a good way to prepare for the deeper backbends. Go through the puja. As you curl deeper back by pressing actively through the back of the skull, keep the length up and out of the back of the skull, which will help you to expand the back body and not crunch in the low back.
  • Ustrasana: I'm always asked by students what to do with the neck in ustrasana. They tend to either try to protect it, by holding the head up (which creates a kind of reverse shoulder loop), or to release fully into the pose, which shortens the back of the neck and, although it may feel OK while in the pose, it makes it nearly impossible to come up in alignment (dizziness, head-rush, seeing stars, and blackouts may follow). Find the place where the head serves the heart, going through the puja. In particular, focus on keeping the back of the neck strong and long.
  • Setubandha: When weight-bearing on the head, you'll often have a greater access to the actions of shoulder and skull loop. Start in the prep pose, and set up the puja here: lengthen and release back. To feel the Shoulder Loop, curl the tops of your ears back and down toward the floor as you press the back of the skull down. This will help to lift the shoulder blades up and into the heart. Keep that and now lengthen the back of your skull toward the crown of your head, so that the weight on your head is more balanced in line with the middle of your ears. Then go up. Feel the place where your head presses into the earth -- it's going to be the same place of balance when we go to sarvangasana.
  • Sarvangasana: The key to sarvangasana is to balance the actions of Shoulder and Skull Loop so that NONE (really, NONE) of the vertebrae are touching the floor. Because of the form of the pose, Shoulder Loop will need the greater emphasis. Find it by tipping the tops of the ears down and pressing back through that part of the skull; this will help lift the shoulder blades up and into the heart (as well as lift the cervical vertebrae off the floor). Keep that, and then balance the weight on your head to a place in line with the middle of your ears (that'll be a good marker for alignment between Shoulder and Skull Loops).
  • Jalandhara bandha: The form of this bandha, with the chin resting on the notch between the collar bones, has an exaggerated length in the back of the neck. But it can feel clear and spacious when aligned with the 5 principles of this puja. Take a seat for meditation, resting your hands on your thighs. Sit tall in the light of yourself, especially lifting through the front of your chest and the sides of your throat. Keep the lift, and slide the top of the throat back. Curl the tops of the ears back just enough so that you feel the gentle flow of the Shoulder Loop down the back of the neck. Now add the Skull Loop. Lengthen the back of the skull, taking the energy up and over the crown of your head and softening the front of the face. Your chin will release down, but there's no need to pull it down or tuck it in; it will just be a natural extension. The skin on the back of the neck should still flow down, even as the skin on the back of your head lifts up. Breathe here with ujjayi breath.