Monday, April 7, 2014


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 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)
The Mind-Body connection (le brain)
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.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teach from a Beginner's Mind

I recently attended a hot yoga class in town during their promotion week.  I enjoyed the session immensely: the class pace was good, the instructor had good cues, she was engaging, and she got off her mat to watch her students.  The room temp was a balmy 105*F (40*C) which oddly was not as hot as some CorePower classes I've taken - a difference in humidity I think.  I had a good session.

However, I don't think the two people brand new to yoga - as in this was their first class - did. 

Because the instructor led a class that was appropriate for her, not her students.  She was a small, lithe, little thing.  Her class, was not.  More than once I wanted to go adjust someone, to offer that person a more comfortable place to work, to relax shoulders, put knees over ankles or straighten legs, to lift hearts.  I inwardly cringed as she put people into a challenging variation on warrior III then transitioned to half-moon without any blocks for the the class.  She came to a spot where it was "Free Arm Balance Time!" then went through a slew of arm balances that only two of us could do (myself and my friend) but didn't offer any explanation of what all those arm balance poses were or places to work.  So what did the rest of the class do at that point?  You guess it, sat back and watched in the mirrors. 

One of my biggest peeves - don't give people a basketful of poses and expect that they know what they are!  Especially in what was basically a demo class!  Pick one and offer different places to work on. 

I'm fairly certain she was predominantly YogaFit trained - there is a class flow that is particular to YogaFit and readily identifiable.  I think this is one of the drawbacks of the YogaFit training system (and yes, I've done the YogaFit training) is this tendency to leap into the "fancy" poses without any breakdown.  Rather like the jump forwards/jump backs - always done, rarely broken down.

Which brings me to my title: Teach from a Beginners Mind.  Or, lead a class appropriate for your students.   I know I've written about this before, but class is NOT the time for YOU to be practicing. Yes, you might be very comfortable in any given pose, but your class probably is not.  LOOK at your class.  SEE what they are doing.  And find a place for them to start the pose.  Even if that means going back to the beginning.

Some suggestions: 
  • If doing a demo class, keep the poses to the basics.  Skip the Warrior III's, Half-Moon's, the Arm Balances. 
  • If you have an influx of beginners (beginning of a new session or season), keep the poses to the basics.  Then ratchet back even more.  Even your regulars will benefit from foundational work.  Your regulars should also know that they can work up if needed. 
  • You might be comfortable in arm balances, but most beginners aren't.  These take time to build up to - take the time to build up the foundation.  Pick one asana and work on it, and when the majority of your class is showing some proficiency, then introduce another. 
  • Don't be doing headstands with a beginning or demo class.  Period.
Much of this will come with teaching experience and with follow-up instructor training.  Currently, my community has a HUGE influx of new instructors and well, the classes in the area reflect that. 

And here is where I fully admit, it is hard for me to turn off my teacher's brain when I take a class.  I know I need to be in a front corner where I can't see the majority of the class.   Unfortunately for this session, I was smack dab in the middle of a long skinny room with a bank of mirrors.  Again, I enjoyed class and it gave me something to blog about.

Teach from a Beginner's Mind. Always.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sparrow Studio's, Eagan, MN

I had the opportunity to visit a new studio this past weekend when I was in the Cities:  Sparrow Studios

A studio dedicated to offering inspired group fitness classes.  Inspired is that special “it” that happens when a class harmoniously combines energy, music, movement and community.  Sparrow Studios is committed to offering group fitness classes that blend these elements and give you a workout that delivers results.  It is not enough to plod through an uninspired group fitness class – where you are one of many, the music is off, and you have no idea what muscle you are actually working. You deserve more. The instructor should be engaging, motivating and knowledgeable.  The music should lead you to where you need to be.  The class should deliver the physical results you want.  And there should be a mind-body connection, so that your body knows exactly what your mind wants to work!. 

My sister started going here a while back as an alternative to Lifetime Fitness, which just wasn’t meeting her needs and goals anymore.  I had the opportunity to join her in a BarreAmped class (it was what fit into both of our schedules). 

What is BarreAmped?  Sparrow defines it as:  The BarreAmped method is influenced by classical and modern dance (though it is not a dance class) and utilizes a barre to achieve optimal positioning. Insights from Pilates, yoga, and orthopedic stretching also balance the method’s unique approach.

I would have to say that is spot on.   What I really liked about the class were the students – gals like my sister who want to work out without bouncing around or trying to move from downdog to a lunge when they aren’t built to move like that.  This was not an easy class – the emphasis was move toward muscle fatigue.  It was well rounded – starting with arms and backs (ow! ow! ow!), moving to legs (ow! ow! ow!), then abs and some pushup work, ending with gentle stretching.  Movements were small, controlled and based upon repetition.  The instructor was engaging and encouraging and laughed.  I like instructors who can laugh.

I enjoyed the class because it was so different frin what I attend (traditional yoga, CorePole resistance and aerobic training, and spin class).  It was refreshing to work outside of my usual routine and comfort zone and I felt it the next day!  Woot!

Based upon first visit – recommended.