Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Story of Yoga: Warrior Poses

Virabhadrasana is the Sanskrit name for the set of three Warrior poses. Named for the Hindu warrior hero Virabhadra, these poses are meant to increase strength in the legs as well as confidence and mental fortitude.

Warrior I How-to:

1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your arms at your sides
2. Take several deep, relaxing breaths to center yourself
3. Spread your legs out to the sides as far as they can go without becoming shaky in your balance
4. Rotate your right foot 90 degrees to the right, and your left foot about 45 degrees to the right
5. Turn your hips, pelvis, and upper body to the right, so the top half of your body is pointed in the same direction as the toes of your right foot
6. On the inhale, raise your arms up above your head as you bend the right knee to form a 90 degree angle over your heel
7. Breathe! Repeat with the left foot in front.

Tips: You can rotate your back foot forward a bit if it helps you find your balance in this stance. Your back foot should be completely flat on the floor, and you should feel your weight fairly equally distributed between the outsides of both of your feet. Don't let your bent knee extend out over your ankle; widen your stance if that is an issue.

Warrior II how-to:

1. Beginning from Warrior I, lower your arms and stretch them out over your legs, parallel to the ground

2. Stretch the arms away from the the space between the shoulder blades, keeping your torso long and your gaze soft out over the front hand

Warrior III How-to:

1. Starting from Warrior I, place your hands on your hips

2. Shift all of your weight onto your front foot as you straighten your front leg

3. Hinge from the waist and begin to drop the torso forward

4. As you drop forward, raise the back leg until both your torso and back leg are parallel with the ground. If you can't keep your balance, a modified pose like the one shown above may be used.

On top of yoga being fun, relaxing, and making you feel absolutely awesome, there is a long and deep history of its use as well as a dense mythology behind the poses themselves. Now that you know how to do the warrior poses, consider their fabled meaning:

In Hindu mythology, the princess Sati fell in love with and married Shiva, the "destroyer" lord of death, destruction, and also new life. Sati's father, the powerful King Daksha, upholder of rules and regulations, did not approve of his daughter's union with this strange dreadlocked yogi hermit who was known for strange behaviors like taking drugs and visiting cremation grounds.

Shortly after their marriage, King Daksha threw a huge yagna (ritual sacrifice) and invited literally everybody in the world, except for Sati and Shiva. Upon hearing this, Sati suggested that she and Shiva attend anyway, and he declined, not wanting to further incite her father's bad feelings toward him.

Sati decided to attend the yagna alone, and when she arrived, she and her father immediately got into an argument about her husband. Her father mocked Shiva and taunted Sati, much to the amusement of all of the other party goers. Humiliated by this public argument, Sati seethed silently as King Dashka continued to insult her husband and her decision-making in choosing him as a mate.

As her indignation grew, she became determined to cut all ties to this supposed "family" that would treat her so cruelly. When finally she spoke, she told her father that since he had given her her physical body, she no longer wanted to be associated with it. She then walked past her father and sat in a meditative pose on the ground. Closing her eyes, Sati fell into a mystic trance, where she increased her inner fire through yogic exercises until her body burst into flames.

When Shiva heard of Sati's death, he was devastated, ripping out his hair and beating it into the ground. Out of this hair, he then fashioned a fierce warrior who he named Virabhadra. "Vira" means hero, while "Bhadra" means friend. He ordered Virabhadra to go to the yagna and destroy Daksha and all the guests assembled.

With swords in both hands, Virabhadra arrived at the party by thrusting his way up through the earth from deep underground; this is where the Warrior I pose comes from.

As he established his arrival for all to see, he set his sights on his opponent, Dashka, which is symbolized with the Warrior II pose. Moving with swiftness and precision, he took his sword and cut off the head of the cruel Dashka (Warrior III).

Shiva arrived at Daksha's palace to see that Virabhadra had carried out his vengeful wishes. He absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form, and his anger was replaced with sorrow for the loss of his wife.

Looking at the bloody work of his warrior, his sorrow turned into compassion, and he brought Daksha back to life. Overwhelmed by this generous gesture, the now reanimated Daksha bowed in awe and humility to Shiva, which the other guests emulated to honor Shiva for his compassion.

We practice Virabhadrasana not to honor the practice of violence, but to fight our own ignorance and ego. The warrior that we emulate is the spiritual warrior or higher self (Shiva), who battles the prideful ego (Daksha) for the sake of the heart (Sati). Although the ego is forgiven for being selfish, the battle rages on until we reach enlightenment.

So the story goes.

What yoga pose would you like to see us explore next?

Mexicali Products featured on this page (in order of appearance) are batik yoga flags, Thai fisherman pants,and the Mexicali Peace T!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Eco Friendly Gift Wrapping Ideas

photo via Kanu Hawii
Deck the halls with balls of paper may as well be the refrain cheerfully trumpeted by carollers as they melodically instruct us on the key points of successful Holiday decoration and gift giving. Not to be a Grinch, here--indeed, part of the thrill of receiving holiday gifts is tearing their wrappings with abandon in a treasure hunt that involves only one obstacle! However, it's this practice that creates a dramatic increase in garbage going to landfills at this time of year. In fact, a Stanford University study found that Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's than any other time of year, making about 1 million extra tons of trash each week!

Fortunately, there are many ways to retain the fun spirit of unravelling your gifts while reducing your contribution to the Holiday trash heap!

Newspaper is an easy and classic way to wrap presents, but is often seen as the cheapskate's way out. No longer! Get creative and dye it with food coloring, or paint on it with watercolor or tempera paints. Cutting out pictures from magazines, comics, or old greeting cards and gluing them on are another way to make a newspaper-wrapped box look a little more special. Use glitter to make it extra festive, or just draw on it with markers, crayons, or colored pencils! You can also use stamps to make plain paper prettier; one rubber stamp is all you need, or make your own stamp out of a raw potato (this is a great project for kids)!

You can also reuse brown paper bags in a similar way. Just cut along the glued seams and it gives you a big piece of paper to work with. This solid brown wrapping has a nice rustic look that is complimented by a simple, earthy ribbon like cotton or hemp twine.

These are awesome ways to recycle things you already have rather than getting something new only to throw it immediately away (plus, it saves you money). Of course, our very favorite way to give (and receive) gifts is to wrap it in something that is useful and will continue to be used. Put the present that you would have put in one of those glossy gift bags in a reusable shopping bag instead! They come in all kinds of cool colors and styles (we love these ones from envirosax and baggu; they fold up really small and are perfect for throwing in your purse or your pocket when not in use) and will help prevent excess trash far beyond the holidays! Other useful things that make great wrapping are pretty tea towels or cool fashion scarves. Use fun shoelaces as ribbon, or try this awesome (and easy) tutorial for cool personalized pipe cleaner gift tags.

If more traditional wrappings are just irrefutably your style, gift bags and tissue paper can be a more environmentally friendly option than wrapping paper. Simply save the bags and tissue and reuse them next year! Use festive fabric or a square scarf to try a Japanese technique of wrapping called furoshiki (video tutorial here). There are so many options beyond traditional wrapping paper! Let's do what we can to reduce our dependence on disposibility this holiday season, and say Happy Holidays to not just our friends and family, but to our planet as well!