Monday, August 18, 2014

YogaFit Training: Anatomy and Alignment



This past weekend found me at another YogaFit training, this time in Excelsior, MN – Anatomy and Alignment I.  This is the training I wanted to take, that started me on the YogaFit path back in 2013 – YogaFit requires Level 1 training to take this particular workshop.  

Level 1 and Anatomy and Alignment were both taught by Katie, an absolutely amazing instructor.  The enthusiasm she brings to class is infectious and inspiring, her delivery makes what could be a dry topic fun, and she uses a variety of tools to teach.   It was easier to copy her bio from the YogaFit webpage:

Katie has been a Hatha Yoga Teacher for over 12 years. She holds certifications in personal training and group fitness instruction and designation of E-RYT 500. She has done extensive training in using Yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation in promoting positive affect and is a Level 1 LifeForce Yoga Practitioner, a mindfulness-based Yoga program that focuses on the intentional design of Yoga classes to manage mood. She is also a Senior Master Trainer for YogaFit Teacher Training Systems and the creator of YogaFit for Balancing Mood teacher training. Katie has studied Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, and Hatha Yoga at the University of Minnesota and has spent 4 months in Northern India studying these traditions. 

Katie earned her MA at Gonzaga University. As part of her PhD study in Kinesiology, she is minoring in Prevention Science, as well as in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices through the Center for Spirituality and Healing. Her PhD research project examines the efficacy of mindfulness-based Yoga in reducing depressive symptoms in currently mild to moderately depressed women. In addition, she serves as project coordinator for a large NIH-funded randomized trial that examines the efficacy of a physical activity intervention for the prevention of postpartum depression. Katie serves as Graduate Faculty at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in Hatha Yoga history, asana, pranayama, meditation, philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics as well as research methods in Kinesiology.

I could sit and listen to Katie for hours (which, technically, I did…) and would love to take one of her classes at the U of MN.  I bet it would be challenging and inspiring.

As I type this, I’m still reeling a bit from information overload.  Katie admitted she was giving us in two days what she usually gives over a semester in one of her courses.  I thought my knowledge of anatomy was pretty strong, I’ve always been interested in how the body works, but after this weekend I realized just how little I really understand.  Uff…

To recap the training, we began by taking the YogaFit  Seven Principles of Alignment and applied them directly to Anatomy:
1) Establishing base and dynamic tension starting with the feet
2) Soften and align the knees
3) Hinge at the hips
4) Create core stability
5) Align the spine
6) Relax the shoulders
7) “shorten the lever” 

Then it was a review of anatomical and kinesiology terminology, which I admit I’m really weak in. We discussed the planes of the body, what flexion/extension/ medial and lateral rotation/adduction/abduction are in relation to those planes, and eccentric/concentric/isometric contraction.  Next came the bones, joints, muscle groups up to the base of the neck, plus some of the tendons.  Then we put all of those together to understand how the body moves.  That was day one, 8am to 6pm. 

Day two we started at 8am, had a 20 minute lunch, and finished at 4pm.  We reviewed the above terms – lots of review and repetition via group work and 90 minute asana practice – and we applied what we learned to yoga poses specifically.  What is happening when we move into a warrior II, what are the hamstrings actually doing in a forward fold, what needs to lengthen in order to do a heart opener (backbend), what muscle groups support us in our twists, and so on. 



The books we referred to – and in this workshop we actually did use the books – were the Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long, PhD and Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries by Susie Hately Aldous.   Key Muscles is a great book.  I was reading the moment I pulled it out of the box, and this training gave me a better understanding of what I was looking at.  I’ve had Susie’s book for years from a previous training, but until now I never really looked at it.  Again, a deeper appreciate of what I resource I now have. 


The weekend, the instructor, the participants were amazing.  I need to let things gel a bit before I start reviewing the material. This is too important to just set aside, especially since I intend to take Anatomy and Alignment II - which is also taught by Katie - in another year or so. 

If you are serious about leading yoga classes, take an anatomy and alignment class.  If you are in the YogaFit program, this workshop was outstanding. You'll be overwhelmed, but your personal practice and teaching will be better for it. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

YogaFit Training: Level 4 (Minneapolis MBF) - LONG!


This past weekend I was in Minneapolis at YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) conference to attend the Level 4 training.  This is what they consider their most “intensive”, covering four days from 8a till 6p every day.   From my perspective, this was not the most rigorous training I have experienced – my initial Ashtanga Teacher Training and several subsequent weekend Ashtanga workshops fit that category.  In fact, I thought this was a fairly relaxing weekend as far as trainings go. 

I would have preferred to have blogged every day, but in this day of ready internet access, getting a free and open wifi signal in downtown Minneapolis was darn near impossible.  Hotel charged for access in room, and I certainly wasn’t paying for the three hours I would be awake in the room each evening.  We weren’t provided a password for the meeting rooms – though that might have been intentional.  We’re there to focus on training, not our phones.  Minneapolis does provide wifi, but from what I could tell, you needed a secret codeword for that as well.  The standard Starbucks and Caribou coffee shops were inundated with pods and gaggles of teenage girls and their chaperones who were in town for a National Volleyball Championship and not conducive to hanging out. 

So, I’m going from memory a bit here.  

The Level 4 YogaFit session roughly covers:
The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
The Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Yogic Philosophy as relates to Gita and Sutras
History of Yoga
Chanting/Mantras/Mudras
Sanskrit pronunciation (The Language of Yoga by Nickoli Bachman)
Advanced Pose breakdown

I’m going to review by topic rather than by day since we covered multiple – and often the same - subjects each day.   And I’ll do it from what impressed me most to least from my perspective.  Please recall, this is NOT my first workshop or Teacher Training experience; I did a TT200 in 2004-2005 and more worshops than I can list here.  

Ready?  Okay!  Here I go!    

Sanskrit pronunciation  (The Language of Yoga by Nicolai Backman)
For the first time in 10 years, I got a solid breakdown of the Sanskrit language, touching on vowel and consonant pronunciation, spelling and the postures themselves.  Until now, it has been somewhat glossed over or I’m expected to learn the language through call-and-response or by osmosis.   The Level 4 instructor talked us through it visually (we had our manuals in front of us), then brought that to the mat for some call-response work and association, and later, working on looking up the words for a crossword.

This was  introduced early in the weekend, and we just kept building on it. Lots of repetition which I appreciated.  Now I did have the advantage that I knew many of the asana names from the Asthanga sequence, but my pronunciation was sorely lacking. 

One student did ask, Why are we learning Sanskrit when the whole point of YogaFit is to make this accessible and non-elitist to the general population?   And now we’re bringing in that very thing YogaFit wants to avoid?    The response was that yoga comes from a very rich and ancient culture, Sanskrit is an integral part of that history, and as instructors, we should be aware of the root language of the postures we are teaching. 

The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
This was not my first reading of the Gita, and I have led discussion on this well known and quite epic book.  I will say straight-up I am by NO means an expert or even partial expert.  However, out of all the yogic texts I have read, the Gita is my favorite.  I did read the edition required (well, I’m about halfway through it as of this posting) and have every intent of finishing it.  I was a bit disappointed we did not spend more time on Gita – it was just a couple of hours and not really even on the story itself, more the parables Sri Satchidananda included in his translation and explanation.   I was impressed with how many people in the class had taken it upon themselves to read the book. 

The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
My first introduction to the Sutras in 2004 left me more confused than “enlightened”.   Now, after 10 years, it made a bit more sense.  I appreciated the instructor having us read this out loud, and then we tied it in with sub-stories from the Gita.  Where I was at a disadvantage was I opted not to buy the recommended edition (above) because I have three other copies of the Yoga Sutras.  After this session, I might go get Sri Satchidananda’s version. Maybe…



Chanting/Mantras/Mudras
I can’t carry a tune period.  Small animals run from my attempt to sing.  My dogs cover their ears.  But!  I can chant!  I like chanting. I like the call and response. I like the sound. I love the energy.   The instructor tied in common chants and their themes with class throughout the weekend.  At one point, several Levels came together and we did group chanting for about half an hour.  The more voices the better! 

We also discussed the use of mantra in meditation, daily life, and as a chant.  We discussed the symbol and sound of OM.  Again, much of this was refresher for me, but I appreciated hearing it again.

Add into this eclectic mix we learned about mudras (symbolic hand gestures) and how to incorporate them into a class. 

Yogic Philosophy (Kleshas, Gunas)
Not as in depth as some training I had, which I think was ok.  This can get pretty esoteric so keeping to the generalities I think was good.  This provided a base upon which to continue building and gave further clarity to the Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.

Advanced Pose Breakdown - 22 poses with a focus on arm balances and inversions
This is where Level 4 fell short of the mark for me.  YogaFit has a very strong adherence to safety and approachability in their class design, structure and philosophy.   Up until now the poses they picked to represent each level was a reflection of that.   The poses they offered for Level 4 were quite advanced even by the Ashtanga lineage.    In particular Tadasana to Dhanurasana (mountain to bow pose – a drop back) and then in reverse, coming up from bow pose to mountain.   And Vrschikasana (Scorpion) – a "general population" can barely do Pincha Mayurasana (Feather of a Peacock) unmodified and now we're learning this?!  So much for approachability and working with a general population. 

 Vrshtikasana pose; Beautiful, no? Photo from internet
In the 10 years I have been teaching Ashtanga, I have not had one student have the openness in their shoulders or front to do a dropback or pop-up.  I have ONE student in my regular vinyasa classes, and she is an ex-gymnast.   Same situation for Scorpion Pose.   The ONE student at the training who could do these poses was also a ex-professional gymnast. 

The instructor also kept calling poses incorrectly or saying that one name was the same for many.  No, not so!  Since the poses for the Level Four are also found in the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series (and the Language of Yoga reading, which IS the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series) I am quite familiar with most of them.   Kurmasana (tortoise) and Supta Kurmasana (sleeping tortoise) are two different poses with their own modifications.   Uttana Padanasana is NOT Matsyansana.  If YogaFit is going to require using a Sanskrit book, then they should make sure that the poses in their YogaFit manual MATCH THE BOOK. If nothing else, refer to BKS Iyengars "Light on Yoga" manual. 

I was also disappointed at how little time we spent breaking these down.  Maybe a half hour – hour each day for all 22ish?  NO discussion on the contraindications and minimal modifications offered.  I felt that when I did bring up a contraindication for clarification, I was brushed off.   It was as if the instructor felt none of us would actually bring these to a class so why work on them.  Very disappointing.

Deep breath…trying to let it go.  Let it goooo….

In conclusion, a very worthwhile training despite my issues with the posture selection and breakdown in this session.   I still recommend the YogaFit system for someone who might be thinking about embarking on a new journey for personal growth and teaching. 

Next on board will be the Anatomy and Alignment training in August, which is the session that started me on YogaFit path.  I’m looking forward to the training very much.  And I’m signed up for Level 5 next year, again in Minneapolis.  

Namaste!

Monday, April 7, 2014

One

I recently attended a class where the instructor related a story about one of her little boys and breathing, and after mulling it over for several days, I decided I needed to write this one down. 

She said:  When Otto was little and just learning his numbers, he had a bit of trouble getting beyond "one".  He would pick up an object and say "one" and set it aside. Then he would pick up the next object and say "one", and the next toy, "one", and the next, "one"..."one", "one", "one".   For Otto, there was only "one". 

We should cultivate that attitude with our breath - there is only "one".  One inhale, One exhale.  One moment. One Pose. One Breath. Not ten, eleven, or twelve, only One. 

Then I got to thinking, in these days of revealing in our multitasking, that we could cultivate this attitude even farther, to be present with:

One task at a time
One person at a time
One thing at a time

Because it all starts with One Breath. 




Thank you,  Jillian!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Hot Yoga Tips

The last couple of years I have started taking Hot Yoga classes.  Not "Bikram" or Bikram-like classes, but vinyasa flow done in a 95-105* (35*-40*C) room, plus humidity.  My first class left me panting in childs pose on my mat - I was so unprepared mentally and physically and that was compounded by being right by the heater.   Subsequent classes have gone better and this Northern Minnesota gal has come round to the view point that a warm room is definitely a better for a yoga practice.  It doesn't have to be 105* (40*C) per se; but something above 75* (23*C) is really nice.

I've also learned some tips to make class more enjoyable for myself.  Learned the hard way, actually, which is why I've decided to share them.  It seems hot studios just assume you know what you are doing - or at least that has been my experience.  Well, guess what...I didn't know what I was doing!     
Class basics/props:
  • Water. Water. Water.  Drink it!  Drink it! Drink it!
  • Wear clothes that will move the sweat away from your body.  I don't care for full length leggings, it's hot enough already without having my legs completely wrapped!  I prefer BePresent pants because they soak up the sweat, keep me cool, and dry incredibly fast or capris.  Loose tanks or t-shirts will fall down over your face and get stretchy from sweat - use something a bit more form-fitting.  
  • Have a small towel handy to wipe the sweat off your face and arms, or to use in balance poses.  Also works great across the front of the mat for sweaty hands, folded to provide a spot for your head or elbows in childs pose or inversions, and under the heels for forward folds on hardwood floors.  Any non-poofy bathroom towel or kitchen towel works great. 
  • Some kind of yoga mat towel is nice - YogiToes, Manduka, Gaiam all offer either a full mat size towel.  A yoga towel can help prevent hands and feet from slipping once sweaty, helps keep your mat clean because you can toss the towel into the wash (remember to take it out of your mat bag!), and prevents skin from sticking to (or slipping on) the mat in seated postures or inversions.  
  • Water. Water. Water.  Drink it!  Drink it! Drink it!
Technique suggestions:

  • Drop the ujjayi breath.   I come from a lineage (Ashtanga) where you always use the ujjayi breath.  If you recall, ujjayi is a warming breath.  Guess what?  You definitely don't need a warming breath in a 105* (40*C) class!  
  • Exhale through the mouth.  This is a natural way for the body to vent heat - exhale with gusto!  Lion's breath is completely appropriate here.  If embarrassed by Lion's breath, deep sighs when in downdog can go a long way.
  • Make sure your foundation in any pose is solid before moving into the asana. Because you are sweating (a lot), if your foundation isn't grounded, you aren't going to be doing anything but sliding or tipping to the floor.  Keep you and your neighbor injury free. 
  • Practice Asteya (truthfulness) and Satya (honesty) with yourself - if you don't feel good, rest.  Omit a vinyasa, take modification, take water.   
  •  


     

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Yoga is more universal than you might think by Michael Perry (Wisconsin State Journal)

This was in the Wisconsin State Journal, Monday, Oct 7, 2013

Enjoy!  I certainly did, especially after the slow-cooked rice with vanilla-soy milk was a colossal flop this morning and the Husband was reluctant to tell me so.  :)  

Yoga is more universal than you might think

Recently a real-live yogi asked my wife and me for help renaming his yoga studio. Asking a guy like me to rename your yoga studio is the rough equivalent of asking a room full of teenaged boys to come up with an advertising slogan for baked beans, but I agreed to do the best I could, which is to say we lowered the bar immediately.

This all came about in the first place because my wife is a long-time student of the yogic arts. I don’t know if they give out yogi belts like they do karate belts, but if they did I guess my wife would be somewhere at the higher end, say a third-degree rainbow belt or a first degree tie-dye. She was studying before I met her. (As a matter of fact, she was doing yoga in the first photograph I ever viewed of her. In the department of “Hey! Who’s Creepy?” it popped up during my pre-first-date Googling.) She sustains a dedicated practice to this day. Over the past several years she has been studying with the yogi in question, and he’s become a family friend. In fact, we’ve had him over for pancakes. Gluten-free quinoa pancakes sprinkled with essence of dandelion, or something along those righteous nutritional lines, but nonetheless I think you should know that even yogis like pancakes.

I have all the flexibility of a narrow-minded scarecrow, so both my wife and the yogi have tried to get me to try a few poses over the years, but it hasn’t gone well. For one thing, I comport myself upon the mat with all the grace of a concussed cow. For another, yoga requires patience, dedication, and follow-through, and I just don’t think that’s fair.

Nonetheless, my wife hangs in there. One thing I admire about her as a yoga instructor is her dedication to sharing the benefits of yoga with groups of people not normally considered yoga-friendly. For instance, a year or two ago she asked me to help her write some promotional materials designed to lure farmers into attending yoga classes. I was pretty skeptical at first, until I started paging through one of her textbooks and discovered many of the poses were directly applicable to agricultural pursuits. For instance, you’ve got your plow pose, otherwise known as the Halasana. You’ve got your wheel pose, which looks to me like it’d be a good choice if you were trying to locate a grease zerk on the underside of the hay baler. You’ve got your Seated Wide Legged Straddle, otherwise known as the Upavistha Konasana, which would come in handy when dismounting from the tractor or avoiding a charging pig. Then there’s the Awkward Chair Pose, which I would call The Uff-Da, and the Half-Moon pose, which I renamed Farmer Dropped His Pliers. (Some might call it The Plumber.)

I wrote these suggestions up and shared them with my wife, because we are in this together, whether she likes it or not. After reading them, she looked at me in a manner betraying the fact that she has a looong way to go on this whole inner peace thing. Nonetheless, when the yogi called for help renaming his studio, she asked if I had any ideas. After a period of reflection coming in at just under three minutes, I compiled the following list: Languid Yoga. Grunty Yoga. Slippery Yoga. Do We Hafta Yoga. Something Popped Yoga. Oops Yoga. OK Yoga. Holy Yogi Yoga. Nice Tights Yoga. The Yoga Barn. Old Country Yoga Buffet. Posing 4 Posers. Dude-i-o with a Studio. And finally: Rock Hard in Your Leotard.

I submitted the list for review, but didn’t hear back. When I inquired, my wife said she hadn’t found time to respond because she’s been busy developing a new yoga pose especially for me. She says she hasn’t decided what to call it yet. She’s leaning toward Sound of One Hamstring Snapping, but for the sake of brevity may go with The Trussed Turkey.

by Michael Perry  An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. For more of Michael Perry’s writing, visit www.sneezingcow.com. Perry photo by Andi Stempniak, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

YogaFit Training: Level 3 (MBF Minneapolis)


I was able to attend YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) in Minneapolis recently.    You can read about my experience with Level 1Training in Feb here, which inspired me to take the opportunity to attend a full conference.   Level 2 is the previous post.

Level 3 was Thursday and Friday, the start of what was going to be a very full weekend.  The days are well structured and very well run – which is one of the things that I like about the YogaFit trainings.  They give you the class format and they stick to the class format.   It’s a combination of discussion/lecture, movement, and small group work. 

Level  Three emphasizes “Introspection”.  The session starts out with a review of the YogaFit Essence, YogaFit workout, and  Seven Principles of Alignment, and which are all a review of what was introduced Level 1 and Level 2 and will continue to be a solid and integral part of the YogaFit system. 

I already discussed how a training day progresses in Level 1 and 2: discussion, workout, small breakout groups.  Same format here.  I do like the consistency and breaks are incorporated right in.  No need to worry that you won’t get that bathroom run in or time for munchies. 

In two days, we covered:
The Paths of Yoga (Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti)
Meditation
Pranayama
Bandha’s  
The Mind-Body connection (le brain)
Chakras
Level 3 poses and adjustments

I really enjoyed the Level 3 session – it was a group of engaging people and a very knowledgeable instructor.  Still a fair amount of review for me, but not nearly as much as Level 2.   The Chakras were not as hokey as I thought they would be and I actually would have liked a bit more breakdown than we got.  Again, I thought there wasn’t enough emphasis on the poses and adjustments, but that might be my background coming through.  A downside of coming into this training with 9 years of teaching experience – I’m not a beginning yoga instructor anymore. 

I have mixed thoughts on the breathwork – I don’t think there was enough discussion on when to incorporate and how to incorporate the breathwork.  Having done this as part of an Iyengar-style class I used to take, it was very methodical and structured.  What I’m seeing from YogaFit trained instructors in my area is the breath is just ‘tacked on’ in the beginning with no regard to how long or an explanation to the class of why.  It’s done because the instructor was told to do it.   So while I liked the review, the pranayama as taught and being part of a flow class remains questionable to me. 

I’m looking forward to taking Level 4. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

YogaFit Training: Level 2 (Minneapolis MBF)


I was able to attend YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) in Minneapolis this past weekend.    You can read about my experience with Level 1Training in February here in Duluth, which inspired me to take the opportunity to attend a full conference in Minneapolis. 

Level 2 was Saturday and Sunday, a very full two day session.  The days are well structured and very well run  – which is one of the things that I like about the YogaFit trainings.  They give you the class format and they stick to the class format.   It’s a combination of discussion/lecture, movement, and small group work. 

Level 2 emphasizes “Communication”.  The session starts out with a review of the YogaFit Principles, Essence, Transformational Language, “PEP” Language (positive expression) which are all a review of what was introduced Level 1 and will continue to be a solid and integral part of the YogaFit system. 

After about an hour, we transitioned into a “Master Class”, where the instructor takes the attendees through a yoga class incorporating the levels lessons and postures which will be discussed and broken down later in the afternoon or the next day.  I LOVE this hour.  To be able to see and feel how all of the teachings are being pulled together is fantastic.  My only complaint was the instructor turned the lights off in the room.  Being in a hotel conference space, way up in a front corner, and the only light coming from the hallway was not cool.  I get nauseous easily when I can’t see while moving and balancing. 

Once the Master Class is finished, a new concept is introduced (depending on how familiar one is with yoga, it might be a review of a known aspect)  and then we break for lunch. 

After lunch, there is another hour of discussion/lecture - and by this I mean that the instructors encourage a give and take from the group, that it’s not a straight hour of someone sitting at the front of the room reading from the manual - before we break into small groups for pose breakdown.  Class concludes with further discussion on another topic.

Things we covered included:
Yogic Philosophy – YogaFit philosophy, 8 Limbs of Yoga, Yamas and Niyamas
Positive Thinking
Awareness Process
Qualities of an Instructor
Visual/Auditory/Kinesetic Learning (VAK)
Level 2 Poses

My overall impressions – it was a good session.  It was also 80% of a review for me and there is nothing wrong with a solid review.  I am pretty well versed in the poses we covered (and a bit shocked at some they were incorporating at this level.  I don’t do them in my classes unless I have the right group of people), I have a solid grasp of the 8 Limbed Path and the Yamas and Niyamas from my first teacher training and subsequent philosophy workshops.  I should add that I am e-RYT200 and have nine years of teaching experience.

I did think the pose breakdown was way too basic; I thought we should have discussed how to enter/exit the pose safely, the mechanics of staying in the pose and alternatives.   But perhaps that would have been information overload for where the other attendees were at?  Still, now is the time to emphasize this information in my opinion.  

I continue to recommend the YogaFit training system.