Monday, August 22, 2016

Studio Review: Maya Yoga, Kansas City, Mo

A studio shout-out is needed: 

I recently visited Kansas City, MO, for a convention and found myself within walking distance of Maya Yoga - an Ashtanga studio in the Arts district of downtown Kansas City.

I admit, I was a little (a lot?) nervous about trying an Ashtanga Studio, not because of the sequence, but because I have had a bad experience at a different Ashtanga studio whose name I shall not mention.  This other studio was elitist, cliquish, and just unwelcoming.  If you weren't practicing The Primary series in an absolutely traditional fashion, well...go somewhere else. 

Maya Yoga was 180* different.  I was welcomed at the front desk, and when I explained I was just visiting for the week, I was shown the option of a two week trial period of three classes, which was a really good deal!  I appreciate being offered that rather than just being shoved into the pay-as-I go option. 

The studio was warm, brightly light, and inviting.  The other students made eye contact and said "hello", which is nice when in a strange place.  The students talked, joked, and caught up with each other, which *I* like to see because that tells me a community is being developed.  The instructor took a moment to ask if I knew the sequence, explained he added a couple poses, and welcomed me.  Again - nice! 

And I was SO impressed by the class!  Led by John Moran (according to the schedule), he made the Primary series enjoyable and approachable.  He offered alternate places to work while challenging the more advanced practitioners.  Something I really appreciate in a class.   His cuing was solid, flowed, and had a good cadence.   I was ecstatic.  I haven't enjoyed the primary series like that in years.

Next class I took as a Noon class:  Ashtanga "Power Hour", led by Kim Johnson.  This combined part of the Primary series standing sequence with the first handful of poses from the secondary series.  Awesome!  One of those, why haven't I done this?!   Again, the instructor had great cuing, and offered a variety of places for people to work. 

Last class (sadly), was Led Primary Series by Lainie Pasquini.  Room got a bit warmish, probably hit 90* and very humid (not much unlike a Corepower class), and I thought it cool that the instructor did open some windows to blow out some of that stuffy humidity.   This instructor reminded me a bit of myself.  Very enjoyable session and I was sad it was my last. 

So, if you EVER find yourself in Kansas City, TRY THIS STUDIO.   I see why they've earned the recognition they have posted: 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Being Helpful or an Annoyance?

I hadn't realized so much time had passed since my last posting.  I haven't been to any yoga training this year, opting not to attend the YogaFit Mind Body Conference in Minneapolis in June.  I think I was a bit burnt out from all the workshops I attended last year and needed a break from travel.  

This post topic has been bumping around in my head for a while and I decided to update the blog and jot down my thoughts at the same time.

Background:  I'm an instructor and student.  I understand what it's like to be in a room that is quickly filling up, new faces need welcoming and orienting, regulars saying hi and wanting to catch up, people chatting with mat neighbors (building community!), music needs to be started, doors closed and announcements made.  It can get unexpectedly busy

Situation:  I had the opportunity to attend a class recently (yay!) and the above happened.  It was well after the official start of class, I was next to the door, and, as a courtesy, got up to shut the door and turn off the foyer light.  A small thing.  I've done it before and usually get a nod of thanks from the instructor. 

This time I had the opposite effect than what I had intended.

The instructor rushed over, telling me to sit down and that she would take care of it, that I should enjoy being there without doing "teacher" duties. 

The impression I received was one of annoyance, that she wanted to be able to control the door/class setting and I had stepped on her toes.

This made me reassess my actions: 
  • Was I being helpful or inadvertently sending a message about her time or class management?
  • Was I being helpful or impinging upon her need to be in control?  
  • Was I being helpful or causing her undo stress/anxiety because she wasn't accommodating another instructor.
I have no way of knowing with out asking, and our paths rarely cross if at all.  My intent was simply to help: instructor is busy with a full and boisterous class; I'm next to the door, I can shut the door.  

Ultimately, I can only control my actions, motives, and responses and if the above situation arises again, let it be. 

From the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna shares one of the teachings that has always resonated with me: ‘Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Leslie Kaminoff Workshop Part 4: Hands on Assisting Lab

I had the opportunity to attend an anatomy workshop lead by Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, during the week of Aug 3-6,.   This was one of my first yoga anatomy books and it remains a great resource. This was day four of the workshop.

Lots of moving today as we explored some individual movements in morning practice and later, partner assisted movements.  I will be totally upfront here - I don't like partner work.  I understand it's value in a classroom environment as a teaching tool, but I just don't like doing it.  That's my personality quirk.

Today's tidbit - Practice of yoga is about eliminating obstacles that exist in our lives.

In our partner work, we did:

Roll down and roll up exercises.  This comes back to day one of the workshop, where we learned how to focus on the posterior spine rolling down, and to use the anterior spine coming up.  In partner work, we were too look for areas that move as sections, rather than segments.

Standing Stick Fall.  We "fall" into our partners hands in a chataranga dandasana position, maintaining a strong line of energy and engaged abdominals.

Drishti-driven movementYou are well versed in the doctor asking you to follow his finger at your yearly appointment?  Well, expand this to following your partners finger in a wider range of movement that engages the whole body.

I think this exercise has some potential to help alleviate stiffness in the neck, but I also think there are some limitations (contraindications) to preexisting neck conditions and this should perhaps be used with care.  In my humble opinion.

Movement before breath.  We really did explore breath and movement throughout the week, but here we used bridge pose as a "technique for breath release...exploration of all three bandhas".   This is a variation on uddiyana bandha, and should not be overdone.  A couple three repetitions are adequate.

This was an interesting recommendation:  use a metronome in ratio breathing because we tend to naturally speed up on the inhale.  

Also of note, our heart rate naturally speeds up on the inhale and slows down on the exhale.  A variable heart rate is a healthy heart rate.   Which is interesting because the last time I donated blood the phlebotomist commented on my pulse increasing and decreasing.  

Out of the four workshop sessions, Thursday just flew by.  Out of the four sessions though, this was probably my least liked.

Overall, I think this was worth attending even though this wasn't what I was expecting at all.  Upon reviewing my notes for these posts, I learned (or was reminded of) quite a bit.  This is definitely an approachable anatomy session - good for instructors or someone who wants to deepen their own understanding of how their body moves.   I also this this is a good starting point to move into further, more in-depth, anatomy classes.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Leslie Kaminoff Workshop Part 3: Our Articular Selves: Limbs of Locomotion and Evolution

I had the opportunity to attend an anatomy workshop lead by Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, during the week of Aug 3-6.   This was one of my first yoga anatomy books and it remains a great resource.  This is day three of the workshop.

On Wednesday of the workshop we started with our feet.  I finally got a better explanation of the difference between tadasana and samasthti - more so than just mountain pose and pose of equal balance with hands at namaste.

Tadasana (mountain pose) - with feet together, hands beside hips
Samasthti (equal balance) - feet apart (hip width or rooted under the sit-bones), hands at heart or hands at hips.

Though, in all honesty,  I think the definition remains variable depending on who the original instructor was.  In this case, it was Krishnamacharya to Desikachar to Leslie.  Doesn't get closer to the source than that. 

Wednesday's practice involved identifying the three points of contact at the bottoms of the feet and the lines between them:  the ball of the big toe, the ball of the pinkie toe and the heel.  The lines are the medial arch, the lateral arch and the transverse arch.  These three points and the accompanying lines create a tripod.  It is these three points of contact with which you want to firmly root on the ground in standing asana.

I really enjoyed the feet exercises.  I have maintained for years in my classes that our feet are undervalued and we need to stretch and move our feet as much as possible.  And we did just that with a few very basic exercises that focused on moving between each of those points of contact.

One underlying message was:  We've living in an industrialized world; at some point all of us will have some issues with our feet.  TAKE YOUR FEET OFF ROAD!  Ie, move your feet, go barefoot, go barefoot outside!

Another message:  when your feet start working better, everything above will feel better.  

From our feet we moved up our body to the hips, hands and shoulder girdle, spending the most time at the shoulder girdle and the hands.  This also was interesting, and I'm finding lots of tidbits now that I've had time to reflect upon my notes.

For example, to bear weight on the hands (weight bearing meaning bone to bone) the energy/weight transference must move through:
  • wrists
  • radius and ulna
  • elbow
  • scapula
  • acronium clavicular
  • clavicle
  • sternoclavicular joint
  • sternum
  • to the thorasic spine.  
By comparison, to bear weight on the feet:
  • ankle
  • tibia and fibia
  • knee
  • femur
  • hip
  • SI joint
Remarkable.  Lots of little bones and smaller joints have to support us in our hand balances, compared to the solid foundation up which we already stand. 

The days message again was HEALTHY MOVEMENT IS WELL DISTRIBUTED MOVEMENT.  Use more than just one part of your body to move you into your pose.

Next,  Part 4 -Hands On Assisting Lab

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Leslie Kaminoff Workshop Part 2: The Spine as Nature's Masterpiece of Sthira and Sukha

I had the opportunity to attend an anatomy workshop lead by Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, during the week of Aug 3-6,.   This was one of my first yoga anatomy books and it remains a great resource.  This is day two of the workshop.

I found day two to be more engaging than day one, and  it definitely built upon the lessons of the day before.  As I review my notes, I'm struggling with how to describe day two - again, it was that non-linear structure of the class.  There was dialog about the spine itself, there was a soap box rant about Desikachar, there was some personal discussion about what people were experiencing in their bodies...lecture was kinda all over the place. 

So I'll start with a couple definitions:
Sthira - to stand, be steady, stable;  as relates to the spine, protection for the nervous system
Sukha - suk - space,  ha - good,   good space;  as relates to the spine, range and freedom of movement

We again began class with a practice, and this time we did move - it wasn't a lot of movement, it wasn't through a whole slew of postures.  It was a very simple, and very challenging warrior sequence.  Check it out - I think you can probably find it on YouTube.  I will maintain, some of the best asana/vinyasa classes I've been to are the ones who keep it simple.  This was simple and challenging.

Again, practice was followed by lecture.  Some key points from Tuesdays session were:
  • THERE IS NO NORMAL from which we all deviate.  Asana doesn't have alignment, people have alignment.  
  • Alignment is a clear transmission of weight through the bones, though balanced joint space, and this will be different for each person. 
  • If your joints are talking to you, something is unbalanced and needs to change. 
  • Use a little movement from a lot of places; ie, it's not "square the hips", it should be turn the torso (shoulders, sternum, ribs, waist...).
  • The spine is a neutral seeking mechanism due to the compression and tension inherently built in. 
  • Working toward a neutral spine is working to uncover the obstructions that already exist. 
  • There is evidence of wear and tear on the spine as young as 20 years old(!)
  • Restriction in the thoracic spin is there to protect our heart and prevent us from ripping our organs apart. 
  • Roll down the posterior spine, roll up the anterior spine. 
 As I review my notes, more is sinking in.  There was a lot of good, practical, information in this session.

Next,  Part 3 - Our Articular Selves:  Limbs of Locomotion and Evolution

Monday, August 10, 2015

Leslie Kaminoff Workshop Part 1: Breathing as Shape Change

I had the opportunity to attend an anatomy workshop lead by LeslieKaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, during the week of Aug 3-6,.   This was one of my first yoga anatomy books and it remains a great resource. This was day one of the workshop. 

I will be upfront and say that the workshop wasn’t what I or my friend Laura expected.  We went anticipating an “Anatomy Workshop” where we would learn the relationship between X muscles on Y bones and the functionality of  X muscles and Y bones in [these] poses.  You know....anatomy

The workshop was a bit more loosey goosey than that and I haven’t decided if I’m okay with it or not.   I’m a rather linear person when it comes to learning and the presentation was anything but linear.  Leslie seems to work on the principle of here's what the session is, do you have any questions, and then class is built around the questions being asked.  

Which has it's pros and cons.  It does engage the class more, but when you get four or five outspoken people, class becomes tailored to their needs.  Introverted people are not going to be putting themselves forward, extroverted people are going to be asking specific (and sometimes personal) questions.  This can create some interesting dialog, but not always the best for staying on track.

Day One:  Breathing as Shape Change
This was an exploration of breath as space, what happens when you switch the breath when moving (ie – exhaling when you would ‘normally’ inhale during an asana) and a discussion about yoga and the breath as a method to find different ways to move out of discomfort. 

Class started with a practice - if it could be called that - where we did some breath work, the instructor did lot of talking, and we did a lot of listening but not much moving.   I really could have used a practice given the amount we were sitting.

Lecture followed for the rest of the day with an hour and a half break for lunch.   

Key lecture points included:

  • Don’t necessarily lead with the breath, start movement with the breath
  • Engage the student – ask question such as did you know your knee is doing X?  Do you mean for your knee to do X?  Can you do something different with your knee?  It’s the students job to keep themselves safe.  
  • Yoga is not asana, it is not some mystical pursuit of ultimate flexibility.  Which asks the question just how much flexibility does a person need?  There is always a pose you won’t be able to do.  
  • Breathing is the shape change of the abdominal cavity and the spine is the back of the cavity.
This session did lay the foundation for the rest of the week.

Monday, July 6, 2015

YogaFit Training: Level 5

Over the weekend of June 25 through June 28 I attended YogaFit's Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  This was my third year attending, my first year where I didn't stay at the hotel but opted to commute.  While I love staying in downtown Minneapolis, being on-site to take morning/evening classes, and eating out - the cost of staying and parking at the downtown Hilton became cost prohibitive.  So I stayed with family and took the light rail into downtown.

Level 5 training is considered the culmination of the previous four trainings:
  • Level 1 - Foundations of Safety for Personal Practice and Teaching  (Training/Foundations)
  • Level 2 - Communication and Breathing (Communications)
  • Level 3 - Meditation and Hands on Adjustments (Introspection)
  • Level 4 - Sanskrit, Bhagavad Gita, Sutras, Chakras and Chanting (Traditions and Integration)
  • Level 5 - Being Present and Emotional Healing (Being Present)
This session is not as intense as previous sessions, but I say that with a caveat - for some people looking inward and acknowledging what lies within could perhaps be the greatest challenge that person could face.  

This final level was more approachable because there was less poses to learn, no Sanskrit to memorize and pronounce, less homework, less group work (always a positive for my introverted self), the required reading was not as intense, just...less outward expectations.

What we did cover was: 
  • We reviewed the koshas
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  • Seven Signs of Self-Sabotaging Behaviors
  • The movie The Secret
  • and using/reading positive affirmations 
Each day we had a Master Class - a physical yoga class that incorporates that levels poses.  Saturday class was lead by YogaFit founder and director Beth Shaw.  Sunday class was lead by our instructor Sandy.  I always enjoy the master classes because a) they are a good reminder of how a strong, steady and well structured flow class can accommodate a "general population" or mixed group class and b) I get inspiration for my classes.

Required and Recommended reading for this class included:
  • Your Body Speaks Your Mind by Deb Shapiro  (required)
  • Growing the Positive Mind  Dr. William K. Larkin (recommended)
  • Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (recommended) 
I did read Your Body Speaks Your Mind and strongly recommend (if you do this training) get a copy from the library before purchasing. 

Overall, a good training session.  Recommended if you've taken Level 1-4.