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, 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:

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.