Expanding Your Horizon,
A General Philosophy for
Yoga Poses (and Life)
Inspired by Alchemy and Seagulls

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eagle arms, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses

Hi, I'm Neil Keleher.

In olden days ships had tall masts so that lookouts could see as far as possible. Of course there was a limit to how far they could see and that determined the useful height of the mast (plus there may have been practical limits to how tall they could build a mast) but generally, a mast gave the opportunity to see further than a ship without a mast.

But imagine the earth was flat and there wasn't a useful limit to how tall a mast could be. The problem would then be that of the lookout transmitting information to the people on deck. The higher the mast the further a lookout or messenger would have to climb (both up and down) in order to relay information. Or the more person power would be required. And a taller mast would require a bigger foundation, a bigger ship, and one that was probably more difficult to control.

Enter the advent of radar and ships didn't need really tall masts. But there were still limits.

Detecting Change

A radar could turn more quickly and so could easily detect changes close in but it couldn't see as far. Or it could turn more slowly and so could detect changes further out, but it take the time of a full sweep to detect any changes close in. The ideal would perhaps be a mix, with some radars turning quickly and some turning slowly but then you have the weight of all that equipment.

And so we experiment to find the best speed for a radar dish to turn at, balancing between the ability to sense things as far out as possible versus the ability to sense changes as soon as they happen.

Within ourselves, we have a similiar challenge. Do we focus on things far away or do we focus on things that are close to us? If we sense things from afar we have time to get ready for them.
If we sense changes in things that are close then we can respond as the change occurs.

Focusing On What Is Close Versus What is Far Away

In "The Alchemist", the book by Paulo Coello, this conundrum is illustrated by a story within the story. The story within the story is about a boy who is challenged to look around a king's palace while balancing some oil on a spoon. He either enjoyed the palace but spilled the oil or was so focused on keeping the oil on the spoon that he didn't see the beauty of the palace.

We could view the drops of oil as that which happens within ourselves (our inner environment) while the palace is everything around us.
How do we balance our awareness between the two?

With respect to the boy in the palace with some oil on a spoon, one trick he might have used is to walk for a bit while focusing on the oil but maintaining some awareness of where he was. Then he'd stop to look, while maintaining some awareness of the oil so as not to spill it. Then once he'd enjoyed the sites in that portion of the palace, walk on, again focusing on keeping the oil on the spoon.

Another solution is that he could learn to walk with greater smoothness, minimizing the risk of spilling oil. He could then also practice walking and feeling the spoon and via his connection the oil. He could then still be aware of the spoon and the oil while at the same time using his eyes to see what was around him.

(Perhaps the best trick of all would have been to cover the spoon with his other hand,
and under some circumstances that would be okay,
but for the sake of improving ourselves lets say that there was another solution.)

Upgrading Our Software

True alchemy (or perhaps a version of alchemy) isn't turning lead into gold, but improving our ability to perceive so that we can see more. So that we can sense more. So that we can see the value in what is around us, or become more valuable or precious ourselves because we can see and sense more.

Why is gold valuable anyway? Perhaps a large part of that is because we believe it is so. Perception aside, perhaps something becomes more valuable, or more expensive because of the more things that it can do or because of the amount of work that has gone into making it.

As an example of this, phones are a lot more valuable (expensive) than they were a few years ago because they are more sensitive. They respond to touch in different ways. This requires the use of new technology, improved technology, plus the software that uses it.

We could do something similiar with ourselves, make ourselves more sensitive, upgrade our hardware and our software to be more sensitive to both the world outside of ourselves and the world within ourselves. And perhaps we don't need to upgrade our hardware. Perhaps the hardware is already there. All we need to do is change the programs that run on it. Upgrade them to make use of the sensory date that our body provides us.

(This could be like building a ship with a tall mast (but not too tall) or a radar suite).

And taking a cue from software and hardware developers, we don't have to do this all at once. Taken another queue, we don't even have to do it perfectly the first time. Instead we can make constant upgrades, making little changes gradually so that we can get used to these changes, so that we can get used to using them without having to think about them.

Responding To Change

The one thing that we can directly sense and control (to an extent) is our body. And it is via our body that we sense and respond to what is around us. The better we can feel and control our body the better we can respond.

The things that we respond to our changes, in particular changes that affect what we are trying to do.

If we sense those changes early enough (in space or time) we can respond in such a way that we can continue what we are trying to do.

With the boy walking around the palace with some oil on a spoon, if he learns to feel the spoon and via it the oil, he can look around him while still being aware of the oil. But he can also look at where he's going and so he can spot stairs or turnings and he can adjust his movement so that he can handle the changes in environment smoothly. And here we get back to the idea of the taller mast, or the slower turning radar which can see further away, the sooner we sense changes, the sooner we can make adjustments in our movement to handle those changes without spilling any oil. But at the same time we are still aware of what is close to us.

And for sake of argument, with a tall masted ship, someone high up on that mast may be able to see what is far away but he might not spot something close, or if he or she could, then they wouldn't be able to get the message down to the deck fast enough that they could respond effectively.

Being aware of the spoon and what is around him is the equivalent of having a person high up on the mast and someone on deck. Or it's the equivalent of having both long range and short range radar.

Yoga can be about learning to sense your body and control it. But that isn't the end goal, (unless you plan on living in a cave for the rest of your life.) The idea of sensational yoga poses is to help you learn to better feel your body and control it so that you can continue to do so while doing the things you do outside of the yoga studio or off of the yoga mat (if you use one.)

It's to help you learn to feel your body (sense it) but also control it so that you can enjoy the world around you while continuing to balance the drops of oil on the spoon.

The Alchemist and J.L. Seagull

If you haven't already read it I highly recommend the alchemist by Paulo Coello.
I'd also highly recommend Johnathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

Inclusive Awareness

So what has all of the preceding to do with Expanding Your Horizons?

A higher mast is one way of trying to look beyond the horizon. It's a way of increasing awareness. But the idea isn't just to look to the horizon, it's to sense everything between ourselves and the horizon.

And so that this idea is all inclusive I'd suggest you think of the center point not as your body, but as a dimensionless point within your body. Expand your awareness to include everything between this point and the horizon. Or failing that, learn to move your awareness between these two limits.

Shake Out the Slack

And an easy trick to make "feeling your body and controlling it" easier is to expand it. Make your self feel big. Shake out the slack in your body and add some tension. That tension will not only give you a feel for your body it will also make it more responsive.

Yoga Pose Index and Anatomy Index

The yoga pose alphabetical index is directly below. The anatomy index is below the yoga pose index.

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Hamstring Yoga

Learn how the hamstrings can bend the knees and hips and stabilize them in hamstring yoga on sensational yoga poses.

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Reverse Plank Yoga Pose

Reverse plank yoga pose can be very uncomfortable. Here are some suggestions to make the pose more likeable from sensational yoga poses' Neil Keleher.

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Side Plank Step-by-Step

Some simple steps for working towards side plank so that you can balance more easily and do it with a stabilized shoulder.

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Shoulder Yoga

Shoulder yoga improves shoulder flexiblity and strength by focusing on shoulder and ribcage awareness while stretching or exercising the shoulders

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Rotator Cuff Exercises

These rotator cuff exercises can be done while standing or sitting and can be used as part of a warm up for a yoga class or any other activity where the arms are used.

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Cobra Pose

To work towards cobra pose I use a series of poses to teach my students how to feel and activate their spinal erectors, intercostals, glute max and hamstrings.

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Wheel Pose for Beginners (video)

Here's a look at wheel pose and how you can make it easier to get your head off of the floor.

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Latest Headstand Videos

Some basic headstand preparation exercises plus tips on how to roll out of headstand and how to avoid a collapsed back when lifting your legs in headstand.

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SI Joint Stability Exercises

The SI Joint could allow the sides of the pelvis to act somewhat like the shoulder blades. What are the muscles that then "shape the pelvis" and or stabilize it?

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Yoga Pose Ab and Hip Exercises (Video)

Some floor exercises for hips and abs. One of the key difference in these exercises is the speed of execution. Do them slowly!

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How Do you Go About Improving Balance?

One way is by learning to stabilize parts of your body. Learn how to use tension to stabilize parts of your body so that you can improve your ability to balance.

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Yoga For Motorcyclists

The yoga for motorcyclists is designed to help you become a better rider by learning how to better feel and control your body. The exercises focus on one of the harder (and funner) parts of motorcycling, cornering. You'll learn how body position and posture can shift your center with respect to your bike. And you'll learn how to feel these changes. And that translates to improved body awareness so that you can corner with confidence.

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Glute Max and Hamstring Anatomy

Here's a look at the muscles that work on the back of the knee and the back of the hip: the glute max, hamstring muscles (including the biceps femoris short head muscle) and the adductor magnus long head muscle. I'll talk about how you can consciously activate these muscles and when they are more likely to activate (or not activate).

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Shoulder Stretches

Two types of shoulder stretches: Muscle assisted shoulder stretches use the opposite arm to drive the stretch. Gravity assisted shoulder stretches use body weight to help drive the stretch.

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Yoga for cyclists

Here's both a quick set of stretches for cyclists and a slightly longer set. My assumption is that for cyclists the tight spots are going to be the hamstrings and the hip flexors.

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Hip Stability Exercises

Should you exercise your abs if you've got low back pain? Why work on hip stability while standing instead?

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Twisting Yoga Triangle Pose

Twisting Triangle pose (prvritta trikonasana) can be an excellent pose for working on hip joint stability and core control. By stabilizing the hips first the abs then have a stable foundation (the pelvis) from which to turn and twist the ribcage.

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Active Stretching for Hip Flexibility

Active stretching teaches you two basic techniques for adding muscle power to assist your stretches.

You use either the muscles that resist the stretch or you use the muscles that assist the stretch.

In either case you not only improve flexibility, you work on strength and muscle control at the same time.

Now available on Amazon.

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Mayurasana Yoga Pose for Beginners (video)

Here's a look at how to do mayurasana, including some preparation exercises and also options for balancing in this "arm balancing" yoga pose.

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Tips For Dolphin Yoga Pose

Tips for preparing the shoulders for Dolphin yoga pose.

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