Monday, December 28, 2009

Keeping Class Energized



As one year winds down and we find ourselves on the cusp of a new one, I have been contemplating how to keep my classes fresh and energized. I do believe there is a tendency to not change things up too much for fear of offending regular students or alienating new ones, but yet, that too becomes a samskara (habit).

Over the past month I have been experimenting with some new things; some have been well received, others, meh, not so much but they were good for a chuckle. I should add that my students are very lively and interactive. I like to encourage community and I've seen some beautiful friendships form. People greet each other by name, ask how things are going, and engage in a meaningful way. It's a wonderful thing to watch. But I'm always mindful to make sure the regulars try and engage the newer folks to so we don't become "cliquish".

Here are some things I've done so far:

Musical Mats
I have 5-8 students who always sit in the same spot. The EXACT same spot each session. Then others tend to fill in around them in generally the same area. So I have everyone stand up, pick up their mats, and walk around in a circle to music. Music stops, put down your mat right where you are at. Most folks find this great fun. Most folks...

Reverse Room
Back of the room is now the front. It is very interesting to watch peoples reactions.

"Crazy-Wild Poses"
I toss in a pose every now and then again that is just totally "out there" for my students. Things like Side Crane variation, Fallen Angel, Tripod Headstand (though they are beginning to enjoy this one!). I usually cue it by saying "I'm going to go crazy-wild on you now and we are going to do...". I don't want people to *think* about the pose, but to just *do* the pose wherever they are at.

Rocket Sequence for Ashtanga Sequence
I know Ashtanga traditionalists will be clutching their chests in horror, but as I've mentioned before, I teach what I call Contemporary Ashtanga (it is the traditional Ashtanga sequence, but without the chanting and Sanskrit names). But! Just to liven things up and to see if people are paying attention or if they've shifted into autopilot, I will do Suyra Namaskar A and B then shift to the Standing Sequence of the Rocket series without telling them ahead of time! I do think working outside of the box on occasion is good for body and soul.

Different Music/No music
I confess, I get tired of the ethereal sounds of Deva Premal or the rhythmic chanting of kirtan. So on the occasion I need something different I throw in a little rock music, or Irish Folk Rock (Tempest). A while back Brenda on Grounding Through the Sitbones mentioned Jazz, so I tried a little Michael Buble. That was nice. Or, I go with nothing at all. Just silence. Also a treat in our noisy world.

Technique Week
One of the downsides I find to the Ashtanga sequence or a Vinyasa Flow class is there is really no good way to break down a pose without disrupting the flow of the class. So, based on a request from a student to work on technique, I decided to do a one time a month "technique class". I picked the last week of the month and I let the students know ahead of time so they know it's not a regular session. We go through a half hour of movement, then the last hour is devoted to breaking down a pose, its modifications and working toward individual awareness in alignment (internal alignment). We do the dreaded partner exercises, use the wall and bring out the props.

For myself: workshops
Nothing energizes me more than going to a weekend workshop. It's when I really get to recharge my batteries and I love that I can bring back new things to my classes.


So, my question to my fellow practitioners - teachers and students - what sort of things do you like to keep class fresh and interesting? Or, even, what *hasn't* worked?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Best Wishes to All

Warm wishes and thoughts to everyone this Holiday season! May your travels and homecomings be everything you dreamed they could be.



Christmas Homecoming by Norman Rockwell

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vortex of Busy-ness

Rather an odd thought for the week:

I am beginning to wonder...is it even possible to step away from the swirling Vortex of Busy-ness during the Holidays? Even with the scaling back I did this year, which included not decorating, no holiday cards, and minimal gifts, I still find myself running hither and tither while feeling frazzled and annoyed. My few evening hours just don't seem to be my own. There is dried fruit to make, dinner to assemble, hounds to exercise (who aren't getting enough), knitting to do, house to tidy...

I've said no to skiing outings, no to breakfast and dinner invites. I've rationed family time so I'm not making extra trips into town (downside of living 30 miles outside of the City). Errands are done on the way home from work - which means I'm getting home late.

Work I can do very little about. Similar to tax accountants in April, this is my crunch time. But I don't take work home with me! I am fortunate that what goes on at work can stay at work. And I hold my lunch gym runs as sacred "get out of the office time".

I'm being mindful, attempting to maintain an attitude of gratitude, paying attention to my mood swings and making sure I thank people.

And yet, the Swirling Vortex of Busy-ness looms like a bad special effect in a science fiction movie. Perhaps it's just a matter of waiting till the Holiday rush is over. All I can do at this point is wait and see.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"This Time of Year"


It is that time of year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we are blitzed by such phrases as the 'spirit of giving', 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men', and the 'holiday spirit' - which I believe is supposed to reflect our open hearts and goodwill over the holiday season.

Note I said "supposed". Mostly what I see is stress; the anxiety and worry about getting so and so a gift, the concerns about whose house the Holidays will be spent at and did someone remember to buy grandmama her dried fruit?, the apprehension about traveling during inclement weather, the disappointment when opening a gift and it wasn't what was expected, the irritation that "I got her a gift, but she didn't get me anything!" or it was the wrong gift.

For years now I have had mixed feelings about "this time of year" - I've experienced the whole gambit I just rambled off above, fully thankful when December 31 finally rolled around and I didn't have to worry about "this time of year" for another 360 days.

However, since I've started practicing yoga and studying Buddhism, I've seen a subtle shift within myself. I've noticed that "this time of year" is no longer restricted to the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That I feel comfortable now stepping back and saying, "Naw, I'm not going to get sucked into X Y or Z this season, it does not serve me."

This isn't saying that I'm in anyway perfect! I'm still fully capable of some very snarky moments and comments. Now I find myself mortified when I'm caught up in them.

Mostly what I'm trying to say is, for myself, the Holiday Season extends beyond these 30 days, beyond "This Time of Year". "This Time of Year" has become 365 days, that every moment is one to be grateful for, one to express my thanks, a birthday or random moment a time to show my gratitude, or to donate to a charitable cause.

"This Time of Year" is every year, the whole year through. Now THAT just gives me the warm fuzzies!

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Monday, November 30, 2009

Class time

I had an interesting experience recently that I need to share with my yoga blog world. Perhaps some of you have experienced this and I’m wondering how you and your class handled it.

I lead a Power Vinyasa session in the Rocket Series tradition as created by Larry Shultz of It’s Yoga, San Francisco, once a month on Saturday. It is the follow-through on a workshop that the studio has hosted twice now and the students really enjoyed, myself included.

The usual suspects gathered on Saturday and we had one guest attend. As we began with our suyra namakar A’s and B’s, we all immediately noticed this practitioner was much more advanced in the practice than we are. Amazingly advanced. This practitioner was noodle-like in their poses, solid in their inversions, and seemed to almost levitate as the moved between each.

I’ve always felt that a person attending one of my classes should feel free to modify the pose to fit their body, to take a vinyasa if their body asks for it, or to do a variation on a pose, but I was rather floored when this practitioner did forearm balances during vinyasa’s, twisty-bendy things during other asana and I’m not entirely certain, but I think every single pose we moved through they did something different. It was nearly all I could do to keep my concentration on the session and to move the rest of the class forward. I know the class was covertly rubber necking when they could. Some admitted later they were just flat out watching.

I had the opportunity to talk to the practitioner after class and they were pleased with the session and thanked me for not pestering them about not doing vinyasa’s and sun sals because they don’t care for them. I admit I was greatly perplexed because they really didn’t do the session per say, they just did their own thing…the whole class. I’d like to add here, that I have had advanced practitioners before, but they’ve always followed the session and quietly slid in the subtle advanced poses. I’ve never had someone go so completely free-form on me.

So, dear practitioners and teachers, have you had this happen to you? Have you ever had such an incredibly advanced student attend one of your sessions and do something different the whole class? How do you accommodate the advanced practitioner? I can’t say ‘student’, because when they are working at that level, I’m only providing a framework for a session. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Let Every Day be a Day of Thanksgiving.

May everyone have a very Blessed Gratitude Day!




(Norman Rockwell's Golden Rule)

"If the only prayer you ever said was Thank You, it would suffice." Meister Eikhart

Monday, November 16, 2009

Workshop and Weekend Revisited

I had an absolutely amazing weekend! I attended an Anusara Weekend and Teacher Training at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis, plus got to visit family and friends. With the exception of Friday where it rained all day, the weather was beautiful. I have never been to an Anusara session, so when this opportunity presented itself and all the factors aligned (the price was right, the weekend was open) I signed up and went. I’m so glad I did! I was able to visit with the sister, I met a facinating gal from Grand Marias and her rescue dog Sheeba, and had lunch on Sunday with another gal I met at a different workshop this summer.

The instructor for the weekend was Christy Burnette, a Certified Anusara Teacher and Director of Yoga Education of Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, Tempe, Arizona. She has trained with John Friend since 1991. Among the first to be certified in Anusara, she is an inspired interpreter of Anusara’s language of the heart and clearly illuminates the complexities of the Universal Principles of Alignment.

Right now my brain is on a bit of info overload and I’m still trying to process everything. I’ll try and be succinct. Full weekend overview – excellent! A lot of technique, how to approach poses from different planes, working from the core out. Criticism (and nothing here would prevent me from attending another session) we never really did a ‘session’ so I’m still wondering how a typical Anusara class is structured and because we never really did a ‘session’ I never felt like I was warmed up. We’d ground and center and move for maybe ten – fifteen minutes tops then right into technique demonstrations and partner work.

Christy stated at one point that if your body is in alignment then you don’t need to be warmed up to move into the poses. I had to disagree with this one – I need to awaken my body a bit more before moving into poses. Especially at workshop weekends where I’m sleeping in a strange bed, putting in longer more intensive hours and spending more time in a car than I usually would. In addition, living in Northern MN where it’s damn chilly 6 months out of the year makes for tight muscles coming into class.

Friday Night: The Passion of Practice (2 hours)
Discussion on what Anusara is – Attitude, Alignment and Action. How to let go of expectations. Focus on the exhale to soften the pose; inhale can overwork the posture and we’re conditioned to do a good inhale. Keep the palette soft by swallowing.

Overall a good session. I didn’t leave “buzzing” and unable to sleep which I greatly appreciated.

Saturday A.M.: Focused Action – Standing Poses, Hip Openers, Balance Poses (3 hours)
Discussion on Five Aspects to Anusara – Open to Grace, Muscular Energy, Inner Spiral, Outer Spiral, Organic Extension. I loved these quotes: The answers you have for your practice are already inside you and, There is a difference between setting a goal and setting an intention for your practice.

And lots more technique focusing on hips and legs.

Saturday P.M.: Reading the Body for Alignment (2 hours)
Included a more in-depth explanation of Five Aspects of Anusara and how they relate to one another and discussion on how to find a way for everyone to the pose by moving the pose into a different plane. More technique.

Sunday A.M.: Focused Action – Back Bends, Inversions (3 hours)
Lots of focus on the shoulders and shoulder blades this morning. We did technique work then moved into partner work – backbends on a chair, headstand between chairs, bow pose with a partner, downdog with a partner. The spot between my shoulder blades is feeling this so I know I was working the right area and staying out of the lower back.


The next workshop I'm going to will be a Power Yoga session from the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in March as led by Bryan Kest.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good Practice/Bad Practice

A couple weekends ago the Saturday Regulars did a Baron Baptiste podcast as lead by a Kinndi McDonnal. Our usual sessions are the Ashtanga sequence, the Rocket Series, or Shiva Rae’s Sanctuary CD, depending on our mood and who shows up. We’ve done a video by Baptiste before and everyone liked it, but this time the reaction was quite different. It varied from ‘enjoyed the session’ to ‘absolute dislike’ and the group over the next week energetically expounded on why (they are not ones to hold back opinions).



This gave me the idea for this post: what dictates a “good” practice and what dictates a “bad” practice? This may seem like an odd question to be asking, but the reason I asked is, I don’t really have good/bad practices. Some sessions may resonate more than others, but each session is what it is.

There is only one session where I went "I shouldn't be here," - and I recall that so vividly. I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. It was a cold dark Wednesday night in winter. I remember driving in (it's a 25 mile drive to the studio) and thinking, "I could turn back here...no, I'm halfway there...but I could turn around here...I should just go home..." I was slow, sluggish and out of sorts the whole session, so much so that the instructor commented on it after class. I went home and straight to bed. But even then, it wasn't a bad session, it just was.

I wondered if factors such as the time of day, the structure of the session itself (studio or home), other practitioners, music, and outside influences (dog whining outside door, people talking in hallway, etc) played into the overall theme. I interviewed 4 people: two are Saturday Regulars, two are from the Studio. One has been practicing for about 15 years, one for about 10 and two for about 2 years. Responses were fascinating and lengthy so I tried to summarize yet still capture the essence of our discussions.

For one practitioner who has a long standing neck injury, she replied that she has good neck days and bad neck days, and factors that influence her practice: are where she is mentally and physically on any given day, the structure of the session, the temperature of the room, if she's able to quiet her mind, and if she's able to re-align her neck during practice.

Practitioner number two had this to say: "...the time of day, session, music, etc., having very little to do with whether the practice is good or bad. It's probably more accurate to say that those things, in combination, can have an effect on determining whether the practice is good or bad, but no single one of those factors, or any of them in combination, will guarantee a good practice or a bad one." He went on to further clarify that doing a sequence for the first time can have an affect on his practice,

Practitioner number three replied: "Well, all of my practices are essentially "good" but I have some not as good days also. I suppose it think about in essentially two broad categories: internal and external. Most of the time I wonder if I have everything in order to 'earn' this practice." He prefers 'yoga' music with it's simple melodies and slow shifting patterns which allow him to focus internally, but doesn't use music at home. He also stated, "As far as other people in the room, hmmm that's a bit trickier to answer. Women are pretty and that can be distracting but out of respect I generally focus on what I'm doing though I admit I've been busted a couple of times."

And practitioner number four: "I don't consider any practice bad. It's like sex, never had a "bad" one. Some are just better than others. I really enjoy music during the practice. I like getting the more rigorous routines in early. Time of day, doesn't matter. Dogs or kids outside I hardly note. I do get distracted by lovely women around me but I use that to get through a particularly long pose (I breath too!) Yoga is very challenging to me. I make very tiny improvements. My balance sucks but I try. I always feel great after practice. When I played racquetball I also felt good after but I did have "bad" games and would be mad at myself for loosing or playing poorly- just big expectations. In yoga I am more humbled by the experience and just feel good about doing my best."



I promised the interviewee's that I would also post my thoughts, but I'll do that in the next post. Meanwhile, what are your experiences? Do you or have you experienced such polarity in your practice and if so, what are the influences?


(Photo from: fotosearch.com)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Meditate?


This was too good of a post not to direct your attention to: Linda's Yoga Journey - Wisdom from my Yoga Teacher.

I know many, if not most, of my students deplore meditation. I belong to an informal Saturday morning yoga group where it is frequently 8-10 folks participating. Only 2 of us do meditation after a session, the rest flee as if we are doing something so totally foreign to them. The studio I frequent offers a guided meditation once a week and usually only draws in a handful of people.

Personally, I marvel at the fear and arrogance surrounding the concept and even suggestion of meditation: I can't sit still, it's boring, I have better things to do with my time...the list of excuses I've heard goes on. And they are excuses. I've used some of them myself.

But I ask you, please READ Linda's post. She has some amazing insight that might just change your mind.

Om
Shanti
Namaste

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaching Flow, part 2

In my previous post, I asked the question on how do you teach "flow". Sara responded in kind with some more great questions that after some thought I decided to post about.

"I am curious to know how you find the time in the class to break down a pose. I liked what YogiClairebear had to say about making it a sort of "mini master class."

In Hatha class I take time to break down 1 or 2 poses per class but also flow through other postures without lots of focus.

Also, I usually demonstrate multiple levels for each pose and them go back to the "easy" level so students feel ok about choosing to pick level one or two and not push too far. How do you demonstrate?"


While all styles of yoga draw from the same poses, how they are put together varies tremendously. For this discussion, I'm going to focus on the three styles I'm familair with: hatha, vinyasa, and ashtanga.

Because a vinyasa or power/ashtanga class is based on movement, to stop a class and break down a pose can be disruptive mentally and physically. In David Swenson's weekend workshops, he often compares the ashtanga sequence to a train starting out on a journey. Once the train is rolling, you don't step off with the expectation of getting back on again. If you get off, move to the closing postures and savasana. To clarify, you are working toward a moving meditation and by stepping off the mat to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, wipe your face, etc, you are disrupting your flow. You've lost your mental focus and perhaps have cooled down the body.

In addition the vinyasa/ashtanga system, the idea is as the body flows, it will "find" the pose over time. Because the poses may only be held for a matter of breaths, there is not so much "breaking down" of the asanas. However, there is A LOT of verbal cuing: hands here, feet here, shoulders here, etc. There is almost no time for an instructor to go around to each student - rather, a good instructor will scan the class and pick one or two people to quick talk to or lightly adjust.

For me, the amount of demonstrating I do will depend on the class and more importantly, *who's* attending that session. In my Ashtanga classes, if it's the core regulars, I can focus on verbal cues, verbal technique and individual attention as they (mostly) know where they should be working. In my YMCA vinyasa classes, I do more demonstrating as the group changes significantly from session to session.

For the demonstrating, I use the cues, "Level 1, start here; level 2 move here; level 3 if your body is willing today; and if you are one of my Level 4 folks, move there - and I won't demonstrate Level 4 but rather stay in Level 1 or 2.

On occasion, again, depending on the group composition, I may actually structure a class around technique. This then turns the session into a hatha class, but ya know, that's okay. A bit o' change does the body good!

Whew! I would never have thought trying to describe how I lead a class or the concept of "flow" could be so in depth. Facinating.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teaching Flow

I had a fascinating discussion with a practitioner recently. This gal doesn’t come to my classes but prefers the Iyengar and Hatha based classes the studio offers. She explained to me that while she enjoys the flow of a Vinyasa and Ashtanga class she finds that she has a tendency to injure herself because it brings out her competitive side and so avoids those classes. I completely understand; it is hard to step back and say I don’t have to keep up with flexy-bendy chick in the corner or muscle-dude in the front row because you don’t want to appear to be weak to the rest of the class (yes, yes, an ego discussion is a whole different topic…).

However, her most interesting question was: How do you teach ‘flow’? I admit I was speechless for a moment. Indeed, how does one teach ‘flow’ to a class?

Well, first there is the basic definition:
(from About.com by Ann Pizer) Vinyasa Flow Yoga combines flowing postures with rhythmic breathing for an integrated body-mind workout. Nyasa means "to place" and vi means "in a special way." The entire sequence is structured to gently stretch while building strength and toning muscles through a variety of standing and seated postures. A good class format will incorporate alignment, modifications, and breath work that is appropriate for all levels of practitioners.

The word Vinyasa means “breath-synchronized movement.” In other words, the teacher will instruct you to move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale. This technique is sometimes also called Vinyasa Flow, or just Flow because of the smooth way that the poses run together and become like a dance.

And then we can become more specialized with Anusara, Sadhana Chi, Shakti, and other styles.

But the question remains, how does one teach a class how to move with the breath in a fluid manner? CAN it be taught? Is this something that is intuitive in some and not others? Is it a matter of saying to the ego, “no, you are not part of this class”? Can you teach someone to let go and just ‘flow’?

One thing I'm trying with my classes is a "ratcheting back" concept, to work at 75-90% rather than 100-110% because what I've observed is the tendency to "muscle" or "power" one's way through a session. If you are muscling/powering your way through a session, are you really flowing? Are you moving lightly and with thoughtfulness from one posture to the next or are you more concerned with getting as "deep" into the posture as possible? Are you letting the breath and body dictate where you need to go on that particular day?

So I bring the question to the blogworld - how does one teach flow?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where Are All the Men?

An acquaintance and fellow practitioner passed this article along to me: Where Are All The Men

This article takes a different look at why guys aren't practicing, pointing out such factors as social obstacles, physical hurdles, unrealized physical benefits, and the emotional challenge.

And after reading that article, I read this one: Model Men: Find out how yoga changed the lives of three men.

How yoga changed the outlook for a millionaire, a football player and a former Marine.


But it was interesting how neither article addressed the media's portrayal of yoga. Especially given Yoga Journal's portrayal of women/men in yoga.Coincidence? Intentional? Perhaps if they de-feminized the magazine a bit they might attract more guys to the practice.

Thoughts? Are the articles representative of the guys you know and the area you live in?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Morning Interlude



Like many folks, I spend a lot of time on the computer. Too much time in my opinion, but that's how it goes. I have however, been trying to limit my computer time at home - which is a bit of an oxymoron as I sit here on a Saturday morning typing up this post.

It's not that I spend an inordinately HUGE amount of time on the computer at home, but I have found myself checking e-mail or perusing blogs over breakfast and dinner (I dine alone)and that rather defeats the whole "being in the moment" concept. I'm not paying attention to the nice meal I just made, my poor hounds are waiting patiently for me to read 'just one more post' before they are fed or we go outside to play. And I cannot forget to mention the absolutely beautiful morning weather I am missing by staring at a flat screen instead of watching the sunlight drift through the leaves and mist.

So I have made an intent to turn away from the computer and eat my breakfast outside, or at the very least at the kitchen table. At 6:30 in the morning the mosquitoes can be quite feisty. Weekdays I don't have a lot of time, but even 15 minutes can make a difference. How you start your morning will carry with you all day.

Weekends though become like a miniature retreat, an hour or hour and a half to just sit. This Saturday I lit the mosquito repelant candles, grabbed my tea and breakfast, and my current study: the Dhammapada by Eknath Eswaran and I sat outside taking that precious "rest between the busy-ness".



To just take a moment and watch the hounds run around and play and hunt. To laugh when Kia-dog "gets a bee up her bonnet" and runs around all crazy like, tongue hanging out and a silly ass grin on her face. To listen to the migrating warblers. The occasional car going by on the road. The far of sounds of a train. The not quite so far off sounds of a highway being torn-up and re-done. The soft rustle of the leaves in the morning breeze.

My world. My moment. Impermanent and perfect.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yoga North Open House!

If you are in the area and have a moment to come and visit the studio:

Yoga North's Fall Open House is on Sunday Sept. 13 from 2–5pm. This gathering is great fun. There is delicious food, free yoga classes and discounts on everything!

New to Yoga North—FREE PASS for first class
10% OFF everything
QUALITY yoga wear & gear,cds & books
Snacks & PRIZES
Learn about our weekly Philosophy classes and Teacher Training
FREE 1/2 hr yoga class demos—demos are active participation wear comfortable clothes

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Clean Mats

Yoga North Studio was on break the last couple of weeks, and I decided this was a great time to clean my mats. I use three: one at home, one at the studio, and one for the Y. I'm very particular about using my own mat, but I'm not very good about keeping it as clean as I should.

However, I made an intention while on break to wash all my mats! It has been absolutely beautiful outside and I decided this would be a good time to spray down the mats, let them air dry and have the sun dry and disinfect.

Ecoygini has a great article here: How to Best Clean Your Mat and an unfortunate lesson learned on reacting to essential oils.

I used this concoction this weekend. It's actually a basic cleaner I use in my bathroom and around the house.

1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 tsp detergent (liquid laundry preferred)

Mix in a spray bottle. Lasts indefinitely.


The detergent helps to break down grease and oils, while the vinegar acts as a disinfectant and helps to prevent the detergent from sticking. Plus the vinegar is a natural deodorizer for a mat that has become a bit...fragrant.

I also add a just few drops of lavender essential oil to my mixture, but I know I don't react. I sprayed my mats down, wiped them off with a cotton dishcloth, and repeated. Then I let dry in the sun for a hour or two.

Some people swear that running a mat through the washing machine and letting air dry does wonders, but unless you have a front loading wash machine, I would think the swishy-swishy action of the tumbler would wreak havoc on your poor mat.

Yes, there are concerns about putting a mat in the sun, but I reasoned that for the hour it was drying, it would do more benefit than harm.

So I'm ready for Fall session to begin!

Adding a postscript: Check out Ecoygini's results on To Wipe or Wash one's mat. It was very eyeopening!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Expectations and Habits

Jardin Bontanique de Montreal

I went on a road trip to Montreal, Quebec , this past week (you can follow my adventures here: Scifi with Paprika) and as the miles rolled by (all 1100 of them…both ways…) I got to thinking about expectations.

I will readily admit I frequently let expectations get the better of me. For example, when coping with the mother-in-law who does have some serious mental health issues, the husband and I would be thinking, “Oh, this is going to be horrible, she’s going to want to do this and that and it’s going to be tedious and awful and we’re going to be miserable.” And while it often was tedious, it never was quite as bad as we would build it up to be. But even now when she is receiving full time care, we still fall back into those samskara’s (or ‘habits’ - if I have the Sanskrit word correct). There is no reason too, we just do. And I KNOW better.

The same went for my recent road trip. I have known my traveling companion since 7th grade. She can be difficult to cope with – different rules of engagement apply when we do things together than they do with other friends. I can’t describe it better, but there are significantly different dynamics at work which used to just drain me mentally and emotionally.

Over the last 15 years especially, I have gradually figured out small rules and guidelines that I use to cope when we are spending a weekend at a convention or traveling together. It can still be a very trying trip, but it’s not as draining as it used to be and I am able to enjoy myself more.

And so it was that I expected this trip to be…trying. We did something we have not done before and that was drive instead of fly. I didn’t expect that this would work in any way, shape, or form, but much to my surprise, she loved it. I have never seen her as relaxed and enjoying herself on a trip as I did this past week. This was honestly one of the best trips we have ever done together.

But what I think frustrates me the most is I still let myself get caught up with expectations. I know what pushes my buttons, I know what feeds the expectation machine, and the next thing I know is those pesky habits have snuck back in and I’m stuck in a negativity loop.

Sigh.

So what I’ve been working on is not the emotion of expectation, but the habits of negativity that crop up with those expectations. To not let myself get caught up in the negative feedback loop. For me, trying to change the habit that arises with the expectation is perhaps more approachable than squashing or eliminating feelings of expectation. Maybe that makes sense, maybe not, and that’s okay.

Are there any habits or expectations that you are working on?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Finding Balance

The topic of balance seems to be a prevalent one for me this week as I'm trying to find balance between work, house chores and projects, yoga, puppies, and the odd moment or two for relaxing.

In yoga I've been playing around with a balance sequence I learned at the Matthew Sweeney workshop where one transitions from Utthita Padangusthasana (Hand to Big Toe pose) to Natarajasana (Dancer Pose) and back again. I don't know why this one fascinates me; maybe it has something to do with the fluidity and concentration required.

At home I've been trying to find balance between getting my daily/weekly chores done while working on some outside projects. I took it upon myself this summer to build a retaining wall. I started during a dry spell, and now, a mere 3 weeks later, it's been a project between the rainstorms. If you've ever started a landscaping project, you know that you have to keep moving otherwise you end up with other issues (like erosion which can undo all your hard work).



And there is the garden. Green, sort-of growing, and in need of cultivating and
weeding. If it ever stops raining.



But what really grabbed my attention was Lolly's post on balance this week: Lolly Knitting Around.

Here is an excerpt: Finding balance – no matter what kind of balance it is: emotionally, figuratively, financially, physically - can be a difficult task. There are complete self-help courses on finding the work/life balance, on balancing your relationships, balancing your finances.

One of the major draws for people interested in yoga is learning how to balance – both balancing on one foot (or one hand!) but also finding the balance in your own life to avoid stress. Personally, yoga has helped me greatly in this way: balancing my emotions (not as quick to anger or sadness), as well as feeling more stability as I physically walk through the world.



When you think about it, learning to be balanced is more than just trying to stand on one foot. When were feeling balanced in all aspects of our lives, we're more centered, grounded, and open to new possibilities and opportunities emotionally and physically.

Go ahead, give it a try. I think you'll like being balanced too, and remember, it's okay to fall down. Just get back up again!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yogin

This was a delight to watch... (sorry, I haven't figured out how to get it to link directly).

From YouTube: Yogin is a short animation telling the story of a young yogi challenging an old master to a yoga battle. The egotistical challenger thinks he has what is necessary to take on the master however he fails to realize there is more to yoga then physical postures.

Yogin

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Workshop: Matthew Sweeney

Whew! It's been a super busy week and I just couldn't face getting on the computer again when I got home. I finally have a quiet moment this cold Saturday morning and I'm watching the Tour de France while I catch up on my blogs.

I attended a workshop with Matthew last year and was very impressed and inspired. When I saw he was coming back to the Yoga House this year I made sure it was on my calendar. He did not disappoint. I've cheated and cut and pasted the workshop description because really, it WAS EXACTLY this.

What I particularly liked, was while Matthew does instruct and teach the Ashtanga sequence, he acknowledges that it is NOT for everyone and that there are times and places where other sequences are necessary. Matthews background covers several styles of yoga (including Iyengar) which I felt really made him a well rounded, exacting, instructor.

For example, the Friday night Vinyasa session is a PERFECT way to end the week and start the weekend. Many Ashtanga workshop weekends start with a Primary practice on Friday night, then you come back Saturday morning and do it AGAIN, then do a partial session Saturday afternoon...you get the picture and by Sunday afternoon you are just exhausted mentally and physically. NOT SO in Matthews session. Several of us commented how relaxed and refreshed we felt after Friday nights sequence.

Saturday I loved how we focused on technique. This is what I want from a workshop and why I signed up again this year. Sunday morning was another Vinyasa sequence. I had to depart after the morning session to drive back to Duluth and pick up my hounds from the kennel. I didn't mind. My mind was full of concepts, ideas, and notes and it was nice to be able to just drive and digest.

If you enjoy a vinyasa or Ashtanga style class, enjoy working on the mechanics of a yoga practice, you would probably enjoy one of Matthew's workshops.



From the Yoga House workshop description: This weekend workshop is an informative and practical exploration of Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga. It will include traditional Ashtanga Yoga, therapeutic Vinyasa sequences and Yoga philosophy. It is a unique opportunity for both novice and advanced Yoga enthusiasts to practice under the tutelage of an international and advanced Yoga teacher.

Matthew delivers these workshops with enthusiasm and a fun-filled atmosphere to allow you to explore the joy of Yoga. The latest aspects of Matthew’s workshop series include flowing led practices and insightful guidance on various hints, tricks and techniques for some of the more intricate aspects of Asana practice. These sessions are useful for Yoga practitioners from any tradition and are not just aimed at traditional Ashtanga Yoga students.


FRIDAY, July 10 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Gentle Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (I) Chandra Krama: The Moon Sequence
Beginning with a short introduction about the workshop and Vinyasa Yoga this class will commence with Moon Sequence. Feeling tired? Depleted? Injured? Or otherwise a bit low? This sequence is a gentle flowing Vinyasa form accessible for all levels. Although this sequence was originally intended for practice on the full moon, the new moon and during the menstrual cycle, it is appropriate at any time for women and men. The sequence focuses on the hips, groin, lower spine and abdominals, which will feel awake and alive after moving through the postures. It takes pressure off the neck, shoulders and wrists (common from the standard jumps in the Ashtanga series) and is useful as a regular alternative to the intense heat of the traditional Ashtanga. Whether old or young this sequence is great for any age. Some Yoga experience is recommended.


SATURDAY, July 11 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Jumping Through and Jump
This class will explore the methods and techniques necessary to implement greater ease and ability with jumping through and jumping back. This class will begin with a warm up based on the traditional series and then explore the jumps in Surya Namaskara followed by the jumps in and out of the sitting postures - both cross-legged and straight-legged. These useful techniques have been comprehensively developed over many years and are applicable for students of any level. ing Back

2:00 – 4:30 PM
Vinyasa, Back Bending and Mula Bandha

This class will begin with a short Vinyasa warm up. This will be followed by exploring variations of back bending and drop bac ks. Simple hands on exercises will be provided to increase awareness of the articulation of the lower spine, pelvic floor and psoas muscles. This session will also include some practical advice for understanding and applying the mula bandha, or root lock and will conclude with a group discussion on Yoga Philosophy.

SUNDAY, July 12 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (II) Simha Krama: The Lion Sequence

This sequence is the second series that Matthew has designed. The Lion Sequence flows from the Moon Sequence, introducing postures that expand upon concepts begun in the latter series. It involves exploration of different standing postures, therapeutic back bends, a shoulder opening sequence and a playful approach to various inversion postures. This sequence can be a useful alternative to the traditional Intermediate Series where you may find certain postures (or the whole sequence) becoming either too painful, impossible or simply inappropriate for you.

2:00 - 4:30 PM
Headstand, Handstand and Meditation

This class will begin with a short warm up, followed by an exploration of headstand and handstand. A combination of easy to follow techniques and a fun atmosphere of learning will infuse this session. This class will finish with the subtle aspects of Yoga including Pranayama (breathing exercises), Meditation and a final question and answer session.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Workshop weekend!

Okay, maybe I slowed down too much? I just realized it's been over two weeks since I had a post!

My exciting news is I'm heading to the Twin Cities this weekend to attend a workshop hosted by the Yoga House, Edina and led by Matthew Sweeney. I realized it's been almost 6 months since I've been to something for myself. Too long!

(Picture from yogahouse.net)
Matthew teaches in the Ashtanga tradition, but what I loved about his workshop last year was he doesn't spend 3 days doing just the Primary Series. He really moves outside of the box for a great in depth workshop experience.

Check out his schedule below:

This weekend workshop is an informative and practical exploration of Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga. It will include traditional Ashtanga Yoga, therapeutic Vinyasa sequences and Yoga philosophy. It is a unique opportunity for both novice and advanced Yoga enthusiasts to practice under the tutelage of an international and advanced Yoga teacher.

Matthew delivers these workshops with enthusiasm and a fun-filled atmosphere to allow you to explore the joy of Yoga. The latest aspects of Matthew’s workshop series include flowing led practices and insightful guidance on various hints, tricks and techniques for some of the more intricate aspects of Asana practice. These sessions are useful for Yoga practitioners from any tradition and are not just aimed at traditional Ashtanga Yoga students.


FRIDAY, July 10 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Gentle Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (I) Chandra Krama: The Moon Sequence
Beginning with a short introduction about the workshop and Vinyasa Yoga this class will commence with Moon Sequence. Feeling tired? Depleted? Injured? Or otherwise a bit low? This sequence is a gentle flowing Vinyasa form accessible for all levels. Although this sequence was originally intended for practice on the full moon, the new moon and during the menstrual cycle, it is appropriate at any time for women and men. The sequence focuses on the hips, groin, lower spine and abdominals, which will feel awake and alive after moving through the postures. It takes pressure off the neck, shoulders and wrists (common from the standard jumps in the Ashtanga series) and is useful as a regular alternative to the intense heat of the traditional Ashtanga. Whether old or young this sequence is great for any age. Some Yoga experience is recommended.

SATURDAY, July 11 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Jumping Through and Jumping Back
This class will explore the methods and techniques necessary to implement greater ease and ability with jumping through and jumping back. This class will begin with a warm up based on the traditional series and then explore the jumps in Surya Namaskara followed by the jumps in and out of the sitting postures - both cross-legged and straight-legged. These useful techniques have been comprehensively developed over many years and are applicable for students of any level.

2:00 – 4:30 PM
Vinyasa, Back Bending and Mula Bandha
This class will begin with a short Vinyasa warm up. This will be followed by exploring variations of back bending and drop bac ks. Simple hands on exercises will be provided to increase awareness of the articulation of the lower spine, pelvic floor and psoas muscles. This session will also include some practical advice for understanding and applying the mula bandha, or root lock and will conclude with a group discussion on Yoga Philosophy.

SUNDAY, July 12 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (II) Simha Krama: The Lion Sequence
This sequence is the second series that Matthew has designed. The Lion Sequence flows from the Moon Sequence, introducing postures that expand upon concepts begun in the latter series. It involves exploration of different standing postures, therapeutic back bends, a shoulder opening sequence and a playful approach to various inversion postures. This sequence can be a useful alternative to the traditional Intermediate Series where you may find certain postures (or the whole sequence) becoming either too painful, impossible or simply inappropriate for you.

2:00 - 4:30 PM
Headstand, Handstand and Meditation
This class will begin with a short warm up, followed by an exploration of headstand and handstand. A combination of easy to follow techniques and a fun atmosphere of learning will infuse this session. This class will finish with the subtle aspects of Yoga including Pranayama (breathing exercises), Meditation and a final question and answer session.


Doesn't that sound like fun? It is! I haven't done the Lion Sequence before so I am looking forward to experiencing it. And I won't be able to stay for the Headstand sequence because I need to pick up my hounds from Pookie Prison by 5:00p and I have to account for a three hour drive back north. So please check back next week when I review the weekend!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Slow down every one...

...you're moving too fast;
frames can't catch you when you're moving like that...
(Jack Johnson, Inaudible Melodies; Brushfire Fairytales)

I have a confession.

I have an extremely hard time slowing down.

Really.

In fact I have an extremely hard time just sitting still. I highly doubt that I am alone in this conundrum. I just...feel...that I'm not being productive if I am "relaxing" in the traditional sense, which would be sitting doing very little. Meditation is a HUGE challenge for me. Once I am sitting I am fine, but it is the ACT of bringing myself to my cushion to actually SIT where I have a problem.

This constant motion often drives my husband nuts. He would love nothing more than if I would join him on the couch and to stay put. I took up knitting to help with this, but I can only stay put for about an hour then I gotta move.

For example, an average day for me:

6:00a - alarm goes off
6:30a - Kia dog tells me to GET UP NOW!
7:30a - kennel dogs and head off to work
8:00-12:00 - work
12:00-1:00 - gym (yoga, aerobics style class, spin class, walk or run)
1:00-4:30 - work
4:30 - head to studio
5:30-7:00 - teach yoga
7:40 - back home again! Let hounds run around, make dinner
8:30-9:30 - mow lawn, water garden, let hounds run around, clean house
9:30 - get breakfast and lunch ready for next day
10:00 - bed, read
10:30 - lights out!

If I'm not teaching yoga, then I'm home a bit earlier and I'm out in the yard or taking hounds for a walk.

Even tonight, I came home, finished mowing the lawn, threw the Frisbee for Kia, made dinner and now it's 8:00p and I'm feeling guilty for "sitting" here. I could be on my bike, walking the dogs, watering the garden, cleaning house, packing for my upcoming trip...all important things, yes?

But I am trying very hard to slow down, to stop and smell my petunias and just hang out because really, yoga is more than movement, it's about acknowledging each moment, and that moment should not include vacuum cleaning...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's What We Don't Know...


I was in class this past week and a discussion occurred between two gals. "Amber" noticed "Betty" had a cell phone in class and Amber asked Betty if it was turned off. Betty replied it was on vibrate and that she needed it because of her daughter. Amber insisted that she turn it off or leave it outside of the room or leave it at the front desk and Betty politely said, I need it for my daughter, and it was left at that. Amber wanted the instructor to announce to the whole room that cell phones were strictly forbidden, and the instructor chose not to, I assume, because it really was singling out Betty.

After class, I overheard Amber talking to the instructor about Betty about how Betty really needed to leave the phone out of the room because Amber felt she couldn't concentrate with electronics present. Amber went on to say she didn't want to spend the whole class "just" focusing on her mat to try and tune out the presence of a cell phone or other electronic item.

I must admit, I also have been wondering why Betty needed her cell phone for her daughter. I have contemplated why her daughter had to get a hold of her during class, but figured there must be a reason for it, kids being kids these days or whatever. And I've been in classes where people have had their pagers and I've always assumed they were doctors, nurses, or EMTs on call or something. It's never bothered me and I've been able to move through my practice without giving it too much more thought. Really, isn't that what a person is supposed to do? Look inward during practice and tune out one's surroundings? I heard of a Buddhist mediation instructor who would take his class to the most busy and noisy places he could find to practice; that it is what is going on on the inside that matters, not your surroundings.

But it is also what we don't know that can have a lasting impact.

I later found out that Betty keeps her phone in class because she has a terminally ill special-needs child under the age of 10 and must be readily available in the advent of an emergency. Mealtimes are particularly dicey and the child's caregiver needs to be able to reach Betty at a moments notice. Betty chooses not to broadcast this to the entire class; when confronted she opts to politely but firmly state, "It's for my daughter."

Now one could get into the discussion about HOW this situation was handled or SHOULD have been conducted, but the matter is, events played out as they played out. All I know is I need to work on being more compassionate for those things that I don't know about.

Maybe the grumpy check-out lady at the grocery store had to work a double shift because a co-worker didn't call in. Maybe the cranky woman in line is trying to figure out how to buy groceries AND pay the bills. Maybe the person with the cell phone at the gym is talking to her spouce overseas. I don't know, maybe... maybe... maybe...

Be compasionate in your words, thoughts and deeds.

Namaste

Monday, May 18, 2009

Shri K. Pattabhi Jois 1915-2009


(image from ashtanganews.com by GovindaKai)

The founder of the Ashtanga Sequence passed away today. While his physical loss affects uncountable people, the knowledge he passed on touches even more. How fortunate were those who were able to study with Jois, and how even more fortunate those people were able to come and teach the rest of us. An incredible depth of wisdom and knowlege has been passed on.

Linda posted a beautiful memoriam here: Linda's Yoga Journey

Om
Shanti
Namaste

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yoga Statistics

I recently received a catalog from GaiamPRO and on the back there was a little box with some statistics:

WHO DOES YOGA?
72% are female
60% are ages 35+
68% have an annual HH income of $75k+
71% have a college degree or higher
46% reside in a market size of 2 million+


What do you think? Accurate or no?

I think the results are a bit skewed at least from the age category on down. Think about this for a momement. Who's most likely to be online shopping for the newest trend in yoga wear? Women. With money. Who's most likely going to take a survey? A gal, who's online shopping for yoga gear.

Who's most likely going to be able to AFFORD the newest and greatest from Lulumon, Prana, pick-your-name-brand? It generally isn't your average run of the mill college kid or recent grad - it's going to be an established professional.

The guys I know don't worry about the fashion clothes. They go out, find a pair of compression shorts, a pair of sweats or shorts, a t-shirt, and they are good to go. Target, Walmart, the local running store, is where they are shopping, so no, they aren't going to be taking on-line surveys.

So my observation is, is it even be possible to get an accurate survey of who's doing yoga?

Monday, May 4, 2009

You and Your Yoga Mat

Given the current flu outbreak, I thought now would be a good time to touch on keeping your mat clean, especially if you borrow a mat. Personally, I think if you are a regular practitioner, you really should have your own mat. I'm a bit particular about putting MY hands/face on a mat where somebody elses feet have been. A huge Eeewww factor for me.

So, here are some options and suggestions for keeping yourself better protected against this flu outbreak and general mat hygiene in general.


Manduka Yoga Mat

1) Obtain your own mat.
Best option in my opinion. There are so many to choose from and it's really a personal preference. Durability? Try Manduka or Jade. Something not so thick? I've had good luck with Hugger Mugger. Environmentally friendly mat? I'm going to send you here to Eco Yogini's site as she did some great research on this topic.

And don't forget to try Amazon.com. They carry most brands and you can save on overall cost and cost of S&H.


Yogitoes Mat Towel

2) Barrier options.
So maybe you don't want to be lugging around a large yoga mat between car and the office and the gym or studio. There are a couple of options available: Yogitoes offers a skidless towel option in a small hand towel size to put at the front of your mat or a large full mat size. It's cotton with small nubblies on the back to help keep it anchored. This is great as a barrier between you and a borrowed mat. This is also great if you sweat a lot on your own mat. Or for travel - folds or rolls up into a nice small size.

Yogitoes can take a bit of getting used to: you may need to dampen the front/back down with a bit of water for traction until you really get sweaty and sometimes your feet have a tendency to "catch" on the towel and you kinda drag it forward. For that you just have to learn to pick up your limbs rather than sliding them across the top.

Best part is IT'S WASHABLE!


Hugger Mugger also offers a lightweight travel mat that is supposed to be thin enough to bundle up into a suitcase.

3) Disinfect!

Again Eco Yogini has done some great research here: Cleaning your Mat.

If your studio or gym doesn't have something out, ask for it! Dirty mats transmit a whole slew of unpleasant bugs. Clean your mat BEFORE and AFTER your session. Really.

And at the risk of sounding like someones Mother, wash your hands before and after practice! A little bit of prevention goes a long way.

Namaste!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting Things

I have been a bit distracted lately and haven't quite had the time I would like to devote to this blog. The Husband was deployed last week and I've been making the transition to running a household for two on my own again.

But I came across this posting on LollyKnittingAround regarding being compassionate toward yourself and your practice that I found just beautiful. We all need to remember to be in the moment and not where we think we 'should' be.

And the co-director of Yoga North Studio has started a blog titled The Yama's and Niyamas and I have always found her writing style to be very fluid and lovely to read.

Between Lauren's post and Deborah now devoting a blog to these Guidelines, I think the Universe is telling me I need to pay more attention to them!

Enjoy!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Good Cause


National MS Society - Walk Event: Home




My sister Kate has participated in the Multipule Sclerois Society Walk - Twin Cities for several years now on behalf of her good freind Jen. Jen was diagnosed with a rather aggressive form of MS at a young age, but it doesn't matter when or how a person gets MS, the fact is it is a debilitating disease that affects their quality of life.

Please take a look at the MS Society's secure web page for Team Kate and if you can donate a little something it would be very much appreciated.

Thanks!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Strange things in the yoga world

This was just too strange not to link to:

Yoga with Dogs: Bonding with Their Downward-Facing Humans

Do we really need to be paying for a yoga class to bond with our furry freinds? How 'about some floor time while listening to music or watching TV or taking your fuzzy buddy for a walk?

And I haven't made up my mind on the new Yoga Journal "movie": Ogden - the Inappropriate Yoga Guy. I find myself laughing and groaning at the same time - and I have a wierd sense of humor.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Workshop Opportunites!

Oh my goodness, I hadn't realized how much time had passed since my last post! Thank you for being so patient.

I am super excited right now about all the workshop opportunites that are coming up not only here in Duluth but down in Minneapolis. I love going to workshops because it exposes me to different instructors and methods of teaching. I always learn something new each time I go, and I get to challange myself in new ways I didn't think possible. So if you are able, check out some of these sessions coming up.

At Yoga North, Duluth, MN:

April 17th 6-8pm
Vinyasa Yoga & the 5 Elements
with Tanya (Boigenzahn) Sowards
Vinyasa Yoga is a flowing, often heat-building avenue to help study the connection between breath and movement while doing asana. The tattwas, or 5 subtle elements, are what yoga sees as the foundation of all creation. When we are out of balance in one element, such as earth, it's possible that poses such as balances may become more difficult, and so on. This workshop will introduce you to the tattwas through a variety of yoga sequences to help you learn to not only see how balanced you are in your subtle elements, but also how to master them. We'll discuss how to move beyond challenges such as floating, balances, strength and the chattering mind to help find a practice that allows you freedom and joy in body and spirit. $40 in advance, $50 at the door.

April 18th 9-11:30am
Intro to the Rocket Series
Tanya (Boigenzahn) Sowards
The “Rocket” is a vinyasa flow class with an emphasis on 1st, 2nd, 3rd Ashtanga Series Sequences. Have fun and stretch your yogi limits in this creative and dynamic class designed for yogis who want to explore a variety of challenging poses while still earning the benefits of a steady and dedicated practice. This invigorating routine wakes up the nervous system and rejuvenates the mind. Focus on back bending, arm balancing, inversions, and spinal twisting. Pose modifications and tools to help strengthen areas of your body/mind will be emphasized. Students are encouraged to do what you can, smile a lot, and to practice ahimsa. Bliss out with a challenging and enriching yoga practice that will awaken your soul, cleanse your body, and make you feel divine! $50 in advance, $60 at the door.

April 18th 1:30-4:00pm
Tejas Workshop
Tanya (Boigenzahn) Sowards
Tejas is word used in yoga and ayurveda that is described as an internal force or quality of prana or energy. When it is vibrant, it leads us to, as my teacher Yogarupa states, "the quality of personality that expresses itself as creativity, courageousness, compassion, and a melting tenderness that draws all hearts." When we align with this force, it helps us to attract the conditions and relationships that are most condusive to our growth, happiness, and success. Using Vinyasa Krama, or the correct application of sequencing, we'll unlock the forces of Tejas to help us all shine brighter and embody the strengths of our higher selves. $50 in advance, $60 at the door.

April 18th 6:00-8:00pm
Chakra Balancing for Couples Workshop-Yogi Date Night!
Tanya (Boigenzahn) Sowards
Help balance your vibes with this workshop especially designed for couples. Learn the basics about the chakras, biofield and marma (acupressure) points, as well as how to assess your partner's energy field and chakras. Then we'll do a guided chakra balancing sequence to help you and your partner find peace, harmony and well being. Handout with photos provided so you can take your new tools home with you to practice. All levels welcome. No experience necessary. NOTE: Please bring a pillow and blanket, and a yoga mat if you have one. $65, pre-registration required.



From the Yoga House, in Edina, MN:

Kino McGregor and Tim Feldman,
Friday, May 1
1:30 – 4:30 pm - introduction to working with the body & surya namaskara

Saturday, May 2
7:00 - 9:00 am - GUIDED PRIMARY SERIES PRACTICE
11:30 am - 1:30 pm – standing postures
1/2 hour break
2:00 - 4:30 pm – first half of seated postures

Sunday, May 3
7:00 - 9:00 am - MYSORE PRACTICE
11:30 - 1:30 pm – remainder of seated postures
1/2 hour break
2:00 – 4:30 pm - setu bandhasana & backbends

Monday, May 4
6:00 – 8:00 am - MYSORE PRACTICE
1:30 - 4:30 pm - finishing postures



Matthew Sweeney
FRIDAY, July 10 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Gentle Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (I) Chandra Krama: The Moon Sequence
Beginning with a short introduction about the workshop and Vinyasa Yoga this class will commence with Moon Sequence. Feeling tired? Depleted? Injured? Or otherwise a bit low? This sequence is a gentle flowing Vinyasa form accessible for all levels. Although this sequence was originally intended for practice on the full moon, the new moon and during the menstrual cycle, it is appropriate at any time for women and men. The sequence focuses on the hips, groin, lower spine and abdominals, which will feel awake and alive after moving through the postures. It takes pressure off the neck, shoulders and wrists (common from the standard jumps in the Ashtanga series) and is useful as a regular alternative to the intense heat of the traditional Ashtanga. Whether old or young this sequence is great for any age. Some Yoga experience is recommended.

SATURDAY, July 11 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Jumping Through and Jumping Back
This class will explore the methods and techniques necessary to implement greater ease and ability with jumping through and jumping back. This class will begin with a warm up based on the traditional series and then explore the jumps in Surya Namaskara followed by the jumps in and out of the sitting postures - both cross-legged and straight-legged. These useful techniques have been comprehensively developed over many years and are applicable for students of any level.

2:00 – 4:30 PM
Vinyasa, Back Bending and Mula Bandha
This class will begin with a short Vinyasa warm up. This will be followed by exploring variations of back bending and drop bac ks. Simple hands on exercises will be provided to increase awareness of the articulation of the lower spine, pelvic floor and psoas muscles. This session will also include some practical advice for understanding and applying the mula bandha, or root lock and will conclude with a group discussion on Yoga Philosophy.

SUNDAY, July 12 9:30 – 12:30 PM
Alternative Vinyasa Sequence (II) Simha Krama: The Lion Sequence
This sequence is the second series that Matthew has designed. The Lion Sequence flows from the Moon Sequence, introducing postures that expand upon concepts begun in the latter series. It involves exploration of different standing postures, therapeutic back bends, a shoulder opening sequence and a playful approach to various inversion postures. This sequence can be a useful alternative to the traditional Intermediate Series where you may find certain postures (or the whole sequence) becoming either too painful, impossible or simply inappropriate for you.

2:00 - 4:30 PM
Headstand, Handstand and Meditation
This class will begin with a short warm up, followed by an exploration of headstand and handstand. A combination of easy to follow techniques and a fun atmosphere of learning will infuse this session. This class will finish with the subtle aspects of Yoga including Pranayama (breathing exercises), Meditation and a final question and answer session.


And, please check out the Yoga Center of Minneapolis website. They have SO MANY great weekend workshops that I just can't list them all here! Seriously, there is something for everyone. Yoga Center of Mpls is where Tanya Sowards (see top) teaches.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Focus Pose - Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)

Intense Side Stretch Pose/Pyramid Pose
(Parsvottanasana)

We just finished our four wide-stance forward folds (or straddles as Stella from Austrailia called them!) with the hands on the floor variation, hands at the waist, hands behind the back for a shoulder stretch, and fingers to toes. We've come back to Samasthti at the front of our mats an are now ready to move into the next posture:

Pyramid pose or "Parsvottanasana"

Like Utthita Trikonasana, this asana is stretching quite a few things all at once: hamstrings, shoulders, wrists if in reverse namaste, ankles, back and hips. And as with Trikonasana, awareness should be maintained in the front knee to avoid hyper extending or a slight bend added if you have tight hamstrings.

Let's move into the pose in the ashtanga tradition:

From Samasthti, on an INHALE walk or jump three feet to the right (the feet are about three feet apart). This is our shortest stance of the standing poses.

NOTE: there is some variation in traditions here - in the Traditional Practice the practitioner would immediately exhale into the forward fold, hands behind the back. We are following a Contemporary Practice with the following breakdown.

Right foot points to the back of the room, left foot is pointing toward the corner of the back wall. This allows the hips to turn equally toward the back of the room. Check your heels - if you were to place a ruler on the floor between the front heel and the back heel, the ruler should be either right in line or separating the two (ie. one heel on each side of the ruler). This is to further allow the hips to move directly toward the back of the room.

Bring the hands to the waist (Level I)
Grasping forearms behind the back (Level II):



or reverse namaste (Level III). If in Level III, try and press the palms fully together by lifting up on the shoulders:


INHALE, look up the wall or toward the ceiling (a little back bend if that is comfortable). This motion helps to open across the front of the shoulders.

EXHALE, forward fold.
Level I will stay torso parallel to the ground, hands at the waist
Level II will move to about 45 degrees.
Level III will bring forehead to shin.

ALL LEVELS try to keep the shoulders opening and shoulder blades moving toward the waist. The tendency here is to collapse through the shoulders and hunch them toward the ears.

ALL LEVELS, press equally through the front foot and the back foot. For some people, this becomes a balance pose. Anchor down through the ball of the front foot as well as through the outside of the back foot (between pinky and heel).

ALL LEVELS, we are attempting to keep those hips parallel to the ground. The tendency is to pop one hip up and drop the other. Counter this by bringing the hip of the front leg forward and the hip of the back leg, back. Or ask your instructor for assistance.

HOLD FOR 5 BREATHS

INHALE, lift yourself up. Add a little backbend if that is comfortable.

EXHALE
, pivot yourself around. Left foot is now facing front, Right foot is facing the corner of the room. Check your stance! Often the heels will cross with the switch.

INHALE, little backbend. Even if you don't do the back bend, try and be expansive through the front of the chest.

EXHALE, forward fold as before.

HOLD FOR 5 BREATHS

INHALE, lift yourself up again.

EXHALE, turn to face the side of the room

INHALE, release the arms, expand outward

EXHALE to Samasthti at the front of your mat.






An aside - I have found this site to be a good resource for looking at poses from different angles. Yoga Basics

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What is yoga?

I picked up the recent issue of Yoga+Joyful Living this past week, and in an article by Gary Kraftsow there was one simple statement that I needed to share:

"...yoga isn't about getting to know the postures. It's about getting to know yourself."




Namaste

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Focus Pose -Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Stance Forward Fold)

Next up in our sequence are the wide stance forward folds. There are four of them known respectively as A, B, C, and D. The first and the last are done with hands on the floor or fingers grasping the big toe. The middle two are shoulder openers.

So what are we working on here? We are stretching hamstrings, the inner legs and the spine, which translates into the back and shoulders. And by moving in and out of these, we are strengthening the abdominal muscles and the lower back. I love the wide stance forward folds because they feel great on my back.

One of the most common complaints I hear about this set of 4 folds, is people feel lightheaded coming back up. This is not uncommon, and I still experience it. It could be due to low blood pressure, holding the breath, an inner ear imbalance, or something else. If this happens on a regular basis, make a point of following the breath and take extra time and breaths to move into and out of the pose.

As with all the poses I have been breaking down, there are variations in the Ashtanga sequence between the Traditional Form as taught by Pattabhi Jois and Manju Joia and the Contemporary Form as led by David Swenson and Beryl Bender Birch. Again, I am following a contemporary Ashtanga.

I thought about breaking these down individually, but since they are done sequentially, I decided to move through all four at once. I only have a picture for A right now (from yogajournal.com), but it should give you a good feel for what the rest are.

So let's begin. We have just finished Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose) and are at the front of our mats:

Prasarita Padottanasana A
From Samasthti at the front of our mats, on and INHALE walk or jump open about 3 feet wide or the distance of one of your legs. Feet should be parallel to eachother or slightly pigeon toed.

EXHALE hands to waist.

INHALE - Optional small backbend. (Some teachers practice this, others omit it. All depends on when, where, and from whom you learned the sequence.)

EXHALE swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Bring palms to the floor, fingers pointing straight ahead.

INHALE - look up. Lengthen the spine.

EXHALE - forward fold.




**Now a Level 1 - may just stay with hands at the waist, torso parallel to the floor. You may be here if you have exceptionally tight hamstrings or lower back issues.

**A Level 2 may work with hands on the floor, right under the shoulders.

**IN ALL LEVELS, a slight bend in the knees is accepted and encouraged - Especially if you know you hyperextend.

**IF YOUR HEAD HITS THE FLOOR - walk your feet in until your crown just floats off the surface. This will allow your spine to continue to lengthen.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE LOOK UP.

EXHALE - hands to waist. Take an extra breath here if you know you get light headed. ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

INHALE - bring yourself to standing.

EXHALE - pause.

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

Prasarita Padottanasana B

EXHALE - hands to the waist. ROTATE THE ELBOWS to face the back of the room, one thumb on each side of the sacrum or spine.

INHALE -(optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Elbows continue to move toward the ceiling as the crown of the head moves toward the side of the room (level 1) or toward the floor (level 2).

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, bring yourself to standing.
ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

EXHALE - pause.

Prasarita Padottanasana C

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

EXHALE - interlace fingers behind the back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you...

INHALE (optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. Let the arms float of the lower back as they will. Go ahead and wiggle the shoulders a bit to encourage them to open just a bit more.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, bring yourself to standing.
ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

EXHALE - pause. Bring hands to waist.

Prasarita Padottanasana D

INHALE (optional backbend).

EXHALE - swan dive forward, leading with the heart or throat center. As you come down, Level 1, keep hands at waist; level 2 grab your calves; level 3 with two fingers, grab your big toes.

(Picture from yogabasics.com)

INHALE - look up.

EXHALE - crown of the head lengthens as you forward fold.

REMAIN FOR 5 BREATHS. DRISTHI = nose or spot behind you.

ALL LEVELS - INHALE, come up half way,

EXHALE - hands to waist. Take an extra breath here if you know you get light headed. ENGAGE THE LOWER ABDOMEN TO SUPPORT YOUR LOWER BACK!

INHALE - bring yourself to standing.

EXHALE - pause.

INHALE - extend arms wide to the sides.

EXHALE - Samasthti at the front of your mat.



Again, there are nuance differences between different teachers. In fact, I don't think I've ever practiced this the same way in any workshop. The key is to honor that instructors style and to follow your breath.

Namaste!

Monday, February 9, 2009

10 Guidelines: Asteya (non-stealing)


This week I’d like to come back to the Yama’s and Niyama’s. Little things were pulling me in this Yamas and Niyamas. Yoga Journal had an article in February’s issue about them. A fellow yoga teacher mentioned to me that she teaches Ahimsa and Satya to her class at the Y (but noted that the class seems to like Mula Bandha better). And as it is still the beginning of the year, what a better way than to move back into mindful living. I’m going to make it my intent to review one per month. I’m sure I intended to do this originally, but, you know how it goes!
direction. Deborah Adele’s new book came out:

Yamas (or self restraints)
Ahimsa - non-violence
Satya - truthfulness

Asteya - non-stealing
Brahmacharya - walking with the divine/energy moderation
Aparigraha - non-attachment

Niyamas (or observances)
Saucha - cleanliness
Santosa - contentment
Tapas - self discipline
Svadhyaya - self study
Isvara pranidhanani - surrender to the divine.

Asteya - non stealing.

This seems pretty straightforward on the surface. In fact, there is a commandment for this one: Thou Shalt not Steal. But what is the first thing the mind thinks of? Possessions, of course. Material goods. Physical objects.

But Asteya moves beyond the physical to what you can’t see. Ask yourself, in how many ways do you steal from yourself? From friends? Family? Co-workers? As Yoga Journal points out, if you are late, you are stealing someone else’s time. You can steal someone’s happiness.

For example, my Husband is super excited about having a hobby farm. Now, both of us know that this is not practical right now - we don’t have the space, the time or the means. Yet he enjoys researching all the different chicken breeds, the varieties of turkeys, what kind of cows are suitable for our climate, would goats be more practical than sheep. And he enjoys telling me about these. While I am not as enthused about cows or goats or sheep, I have learned (am still learning...) to try and listen to what he has discovered. It makes him happy.

But on the other hand, he is stealing time from himself too, due to the amount of energy he is putting into this vein of research when there are other things that need his attention: homework, broken garage door, his Mothers financial aid paperwork, etc. So Asteya can really be a double edged sword.

Or, how about this example....internet time at work. You’re not working after all. Ooo. Hit close to home on that one, didn’t I?

I loved this suggestion from Yoga Journal: have a Fair Trade mantra: respect the time and energy of others, give credit where credit is due, give - more than you take.

So this is what we will work on for February; Asteya. Try and be truthful (Satya) about where you are stealing from yourself and others.

Namaste!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pranayama


Pranayama = breathwork. Prana = energy.

I thought I would touch on the energy of the breath this week. Very often in our Western practice, we gloss over the importance of bringing mindfulness to our breath during our practice. It is not uncommon, now that "yoga" has moved into a gym and fitness setting that the focus is purely on the asanas (postures) and how strong we are and how great we look in our very chic yoga cloths. Not that this is a bad thing, but it really distills the essence of what yoga is all about - a union.

From Shambhala Sun, an interview with Phillip Moffitt, Richard Freeman, and Ann Cushman on Sharing the Mat, bringing yoga and Buddhism together plus some additional essays. Richard Freeman is a longtime practitioner and instructor in Ashtanga Yoga.

Phillip Moffitt: To do hatha yoga without pranayama—without working with the breath—would not be practicing full awareness of the body. The breath and the body are entwined and both are reflected in the mind.

Pattabhi Jois noted in Yoga Mala, "Some Pranayama are useful for curing diseases, some for the purification of the nadis, and some for the arrest of the mind. All are important, however, through their practice requires that the preceding step - namely asana, be practiced as well. ...The nature of Pranayama should be known properly and practiced."

Or, to refer to a business class that I once attended, E+R=O. The Event plus your Reaction will equal the Outcome. If you can control your breath, you can control almost anything. Pretty powerful stuff to be teaching business people.

In the Ashtanga practice, Ujjayi is the most common breath practiced - the audible breath made from the slight constriction of the back of the throat to build heat in the body and focus the mind. In a traditional ashtanga practice, nadi shodanam (alternate nostril breathing) may also be practiced at the conclusion of the closing sequence.

A more contemporary practice might bring in (not all at once) kapalabhati breath, bhastrika breath, greater uddiyana (known as a kria - or cleansing breath), as well as nadi shodanam or 2-1 breath (exhales are twice as long as inhales).

But what I think it really boils down to is, just breathe. The tendency in class, or just about any kind of stretching, is to hold the breath. The tendency when we are anxious is to hold our breath or take small little panting breaths - make a conscious effort to lengthen those out. Angry? Step back, leave the room, whatever you need to do and take some long calming breaths. Because as odd as it seemed at the time, that one little equation, E+R=O, is incredibly powerful if we practice it.

"Practice and all is coming." Pattabhi Jois.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Week!

I have been undecided about what to post for this week. Should I comment on this oh-so-very-historic presidential nomination or something else? Two posts on blogs that I follow swayed my opinion and I decided to link to their posts.

Brenda over on Grounding Through the Sitbones comments ever so beautifully on Let's be the Change

I couldn't agree more. President Obama speaks of change, but change can only happen if it starts with us. BE that change.

And that change could start here, with a posting from Dee on Tangled up in Sticks and String:

"Now that we have an African-American president, a woman Speaker of the House, a governor with physical limitations, Hispanic, Jewish and Muslim people in Congress, and a woman over 40 has won an Olympic gold medal and gone into space (different woman, of course, not the same one --- NOW can we please stop describing the accomplishments of people with an limiting adjective before their name.

We will never over-come racism, ageism, or prejudice of every kind until we stop describing winners and people of accomplishment as "the first black man to become president", the "oldest man in space", the "first Cuban refugee to win public office", etc...

In my not so humble opinion, adding these qualifiers to any one's accomplishment diminishes what they have done. It's almost like saying, "wow, who wudda thunk a blind guy could play the piano like that", or "for a woman you done good".

Why can't we just honor the person and their accomplishment--- not the black person, not the old person, not the handicapped person --- just the person.

This is my hope for the future. After all today, more than most, is all about the audacity of hope and the promise of change.

Good luck to you President Obama. You have a challenging road ahead of you and I look forward to seeing your promise of tomorrow's change becoming today's reality."


Have a great week everyone!