Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Graditude; Thank You; Namaste

If the only prayer you ever say is Thank You, that will suffice. (Meister Eckart)

Unspoken gratitude does no one any good. (Church sign)

I’ve been pondering what I wanted to talk about for my final post for 2010. Class structure perhaps? Class dynamics? Pontificate on how my year has been (which I did over on my other blog). But the answer came to me after my Karma Ashtanga Session last night – to simply say thank you.

The studio I attend and lead classes at takes two weeks off three times a year. Usually my Monday night class ends up being off for three weeks because there is a holiday in there somewhere that typically lands on a Monday. This break I made the suggestion to do a Karma class: I would donate my time and class would be a flat rate – no punch cards or season passes. Monies raised would go to a local food shelf.

It was a delightful success for our studio! The students seemed pleased to have the opportunity to practice over break, the studio was pleased, and I was thankful and grateful at the support. I don’t know how much we raised, it wasn’t a HUGE amount, but it was enough that it will make a small difference.

Isn’t that what it’s about? Making small changes for the better that eventually add up? I like to believe it is.

And so, here at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I’d like to say Thank You! To everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on my humble blog, to say Namaste to those of you who come to my classes and join together in community, and to express my gratitude to the universe as a whole. I look forward to seeing what 2011 will bring.




Picture from Free Yoga Pictures

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Humor: You've met them all...

From YogiClareBear's Blog, via Julia Lee's Blog.   A touch of humor for Monday. 

10 characters you may encounter in yoga class:
1. “The warrior” – The fellow to the left of you begins to take ujjayi breathing to the next level. You know how teachers will say, “Make your breath sound like the ocean at the back of your throat”? Well, now you feel like you’re at the beach…in the middle of a typhoon.

2. “The invader” – The person to the right of you places their mat directly beside yours, with not even an inch of room. Your hands are constantly brushing against one another awkwardly as you move through Sun Salutations. You take a step forward, hoping to stagger yourself against them. They take a step forward. You take a step back. They take a step back. You give up and resign yourself to whispering “sorry” throughout class as various body parts continue to make contact.

3. “The grunter” – The fellow behind you with very tight hips and hamstrings will grunt and moan loudly as he moves from one position to another. “Unhhhhh,” he cries. “Ahhhh,” he moans. You feel uncomfortable as you splay into a wide-legged forward bend.

4. “The show-off” – The girl in front of you, a former gymnast and ballerina, springs deftly into full splits with ease and grace. She gazes around the room, smiling sympathetically at those who can barely spread their legs at all (also ensuring that everyone has noticed her and her perky bun). You stare at her coldly as your sweaty hands fumble to support yourself with blocks.

5. “The freestyler” – The woman in the corner pays no mind to the teacher’s instruction. She hangs passively in a forward bend as the rest of you suckers struggle through a core series. She deftly moves into headstand as everyone else swivels into Trikonasana. You can’t help but stare.

6. “The hoarder” – This man waits by the practice room door 20 minutes before class begins to make sure that he can dart in and grab his goodies. He immediately snags a bolster, four blocks, two straps, and three blankets and stockpiles them – fortress-style – around his mat, leaving limited supply for the rest of the class. You stare sadly at your one, “well-worn” block.

7. “The au-naturale” – This boy has committed himself to an eco-friendly lifestyle, meaning he shaves once every two weeks and refuses to use deodorant. His hands are stained with soil from planting trees before class and he emits a natural, “earthy” scent. Sweat begins to dampen his hemp shirt. You hold your breath and vow to submit an anonymous submission to the suggestion box after class.

8. “The talker” – This woman turns to you in Downward Dog and begins to tell you about the day she’s had. Can you believe she was late for work in the morning because her kids didn’t want to eat breakfast? She sneaks in a few words every chance she gets, leaving you feeling like the bad kid in high school who passed notes behind the teacher’s back.

9. “The latecomer” – The door opens halfway through class and in comes the latecomer. She saunters to the front of the room and asks you to move over so she can have some space. She then proceeds to slap her mat down loudly and let out a loud sigh as she settles onto her back. The teacher smiles at her graciously as she joins the rest of you. You feel anything but gracious inside.

10. “The mat man” – This man needs to place his mat in the exact same spot every single time. Much like the hoarder, he will hover anxiously outside the door to ensure that he can rush into the room and place his mat directly in front of the door, for the “best ventilation”. You have become accustomed to stepping around him as you enter class.

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Gita Discussion!

edition referred to.
Earlier this year there was a great on-line discussion regarding the Bhagavad Gita over on Yoga Demystified via Elephant Journal: what was it, some themes, and thoughts and clarifications.  Bob Weisenberg did a fantastic job moderating and guiding the conversation. 

Well guess what!  He's back with another thematic look at this amazing text.  They are about 4 weeks in (my apologies for finding this late), but the past discussion are just facinating as the current.

Please, if you have some time, stop over and check it out.  There is really a lot of great wisdom being shared. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New to Me - Sivananda Style

I had the opportunity this morning, to try a new style of yoga: Sivananda Yoga; as taught by Thomas N of Duluth at the local YMCA. 

From wikipedia.com:  Sivananda Yoga, after teachings of Swami Sivananda, is a non-proprietary form of hatha yoga in which the training focuses on preserving the health and wellness of the practitioner. Sivananda Yoga teachers are all graduates of the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course, and students widely range in age and degrees of ability. Unlike Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga's more athletic program involving Bandhas, Sivananda training revolves around frequent relaxation, and emphasizes full, yogic breathing.

The Sivananda training system aims to retain the vitality of the body, retard the decaying process, and decrease chance of disease, by simply and naturally cultivating the body. The system philosophies are summarized in 5 principles.

Five points of Yoga
Proper breathing: Pranayama
Exercise: Asanas
Relaxation: Savasana
Diet: Vegetarian. A yogic diet is encouraged, limited to sattvic foods, void of rajasic foods as well as tamasic foods
Positive thinking and meditation: Vedanta and Dhyana

A session of training typically starts with every practitioner resting in Savasana, and begin with Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma, preceding rounds of Sūrya namaskāra, before the standard program of the 12 basic asanas. A session averages 90 minutes, and the traditional program may be followed flexibly by the instructor, allowing for some variation.

The description above, pretty much sums the session as I experienced it and for my A-type personality, strong Ashtanga/Vinyasa inclination, go-go-go mentality, this was exactly what I needed.  Class unfortunately was only 1 hour, and seriously, I could have used a full hour and a half.  I enjoyed the pranyama, sitting reflectively in a quiet - somewhat dark - room, I loved the seamless integration of philosphy and anatomy tidbits into the session.  I know we didn't get to everything as this was only the second session and there was background info to be touched on, but with time I suspect more will be incorporated.  I hope to make future sessions (weather permitting!). 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

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

Find Gratitude All Year Round.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Childs Song

Remember this one?   I won't make you do the little hand motions that go with it.  Maybe you've been singing it to your little ones.

Head Fingers Knees and Toes
Knees and Toes
Head Fingers Knees and Toes
Knees and Toes!
Eyes and Ears and Mouth and Nose
Head Fingers Knees and Toes!
Knees and Toes!

I was contemplating how applicable this simple song is for a yoga practice:
Are the head and neck relaxed?  Fingers active?  Are the knees slightly bent to prevent hyper extension or to relieve pressure on the hamstrings?  Are the toes gripping or lightly floating? 

Are the eyes turned inward?  Are the ears open to listen?  Mouth closed for ujjayi breath?  Breath moving in and out of the nose. 

I sometimes have folks sing Row Row Row Your Boat during Navasana...I could shake things up by singing this one instead...

Either way, what a fun way to remember to do a full systems check in each posture.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guest Instructor: Tanya Sowards, Devanadi Yoga Studio, Minneapolis, MN

The ever lovely Tanya was back in Duluth for another weekend intensive.  Tanya is a beautiful, dynamic soul steeped in this rich tradition.  She does an amazing job of incorporating vinyasa and philosophy to round out each session.

Friday night: Sankalpas: What is your life purpose?
In this workshop, we broke down some yogic terminology to facilitate understanding of how we can move forward out of our habits, whatever they are, big or small.  We discussed:

Sankalpa Shakti - the creative powerful life force that embodies the power and will do this one thing (one thing being discarding or changing an unhealthy habit or samskara).

Vikalpa Shakti - anything that takes you away from something you want to do, that which makes you feel fragmented.  Scattered energy.

Shradda - your faith.  You are the size of your "shradda" or faith. 

Purosharta - the four desires of the soul (artha, kama, dharma, and moksha) 

We listened, noted where we wanted to work, did a gentle moon sequence in they Himalayan Tradition followed buy a guided meditation, and then in small groups worked on identifying our Sankalpa.

 If you desire a different destiny,
you have to desire something different
than what lead you to where you currently are.  

Saturday: Rocket Series. we reconvened bright and early at 9am to breakdown and work on the Rocket Series.  Tanya introduced this sequence to us, as she learned it from Larry Shultz, of It's Yoga, San Francisco, about three years ago.  A core group of us have been plugging away at learning this sequence, ever challenged by the arm balances, twisting, and back bending involved. 

This morning we worked on:
jumping forward - use those knees and toes!

chataranga - elbows no more than 90*! Protect those shoulders!

toe flips - flipping foot at a time can create an imbalance in the SI and lower back, especially for women (Ah HA!), so either come all the way to knees and flip, or roll over on toes - if appropriate. 

Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) - work on one leg at a time; similar to the "rolling" up in headstand with bent legs.

Supta Virasana (reclined hero) - tuck the tailbone under as you come back. 

And while doing any arm balance, think of the heart center coming forward to extend through crown of head and tail bone. 

In the afternoon we came back for an Inner Fire sequence, where we had a half hour lecture, learned the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra, did a warming sequence focusing on the abdomen through twists and breath work including agnisara, pratyoma (alternate nostril with ujjayi breath) and pranadharma (positive breath) using bhastrika following the chakras. 

Agni - Fire of the abdomen

comprised of Jathara Agni - stomach fire/fire of the digestive system/physical manifestation
and Bhuta Agni - fire of discrimination/spiritual fire, fire of samskara's and impressions.

I admit, I left worn out and tired!  It was a lot of shoulder work with emphasis on the abdomen and lower back.  I was glad I lived in town and didn't have to travel after, as is what I end up doing so often after a weekend session. 

If you are in the Twin Cities area and interested in what Tanya has to offer, please check out her studio and website here:  Devanadi Yoga Studio  in Linden Hills, Mpls, MN. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Prop or Not to Prop

That is my question... 

For those of you newer to my blog, I lead primarily Ashtanga and Vinyasa sessions and occasionally a Hatha class or Yin class.  I prefer a flowing class myself, to just let the breath take me from place to place. 

However, I recently co-led a Yang-Yin class: one hour of vinyasa followed by one hour of restorative yin.  Back to back, no break in between other than a few moments in deep relaxation to facilitate the transition.   This was the first time this session was offered at the studio and we didn't know what to expect.  To every one's great amazement, it was incredibly well received.  Folks who usually do restorative Yin got to warm up with Yang, and those folks who primarily did Vinyasa, got to slow down and melt into the Yin poses. 

But what amazed me, was the amount of props my co-leader used.  I had a couple vinyasa folks comment on the amount of props and I've been contemplating it ever since: to use props or not to use props.  I use very few and on an individual basis.  And now I am questioning myself: Am I not using enough?  Should I be using more? 

Currently, what I find is they usually just get in the way.  A person spends an inordinate amount of time futzing with the prop, rather than using their breath and body to move into the pose. They are adjusting, wiggling, prodding or fluffing rather than just breathing and looking inward, feeling the pose internally.  With props, the focus seems to be outward - I can almost see the thought process - the prop isn't close enough, it's not high enough, it's to far away, it's now too low, it's not squishy enough; you get the idea.  Maybe you've been there yourself.

 In an ashtanga or vinyasa session, we are only in the poses for three to five breaths before moving on.  I have observed that by the time a person has propped them self, we're switching sides.   So it becomes an excuse not to do that pose.  It becomes a crutch rather than an asset.  I've observed the...almost panic...when someone realizes they forgot a prop and then go running to the closet and by the time they come back, we've moved on. Again - this isn't to say I never use props.  Blocks are handy when sitting in hero's pose, to deepen bridge pose, to move farther into extended side angle or triangle and to use to establish balance in ardha chandrasana; zafus have been good for my folks who have had knee surgery or knee issues; a blanket nearby for shoulder stand or to put under knees during camel or similar poses.  I tend to use a block in class when working on technique, guiding people into the nuances and layer or levels of the pose. 
But for me the question remains.  Should I be using more?  How would it affect the flow of the class?  Would I be facilitating a dependence rather than strengthening a practice?  Or encouraging someone to move deeper into a pose they didn't think was feasible?  

So I ask of you, what are your thoughts on propping in the lineage you teach in or participate in?  Do you wish for more props if you don't have any available?  Or do you find you prefer minimal props?  My guess is the answers are going to be as varied as a field of flowers.  

Editing to add: Sara from Do Restorative Yoga asked the exact same question back in September.  Please take a moment and see what she had to say on the topic from a Restorative viewpoint:  To Prop or Not to Prop.   Thanks Sara!

All photo's are from Gaiam.com

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Art of Listening

I have made the observation, in myself, in those around me, and in greater society, that we are lousy listeners. We are so busy texting, e-mailing, listening to the radio, talking, assessing, formulating, disregarding, denouncing, watching something…that we don’t really hear what is going on around us. 
Door County, WI, Cana Island Lighthouse

Oh, we like to think we are such good listeners. We listen to our bodies in asana practice to ascertain if we’ve gone too far or not far enough. We listen to our breath to bring
our awareness internal. We like to think we listen to our significant other’s/friends/parents needs.

But do we? Really?

For example, when I’m leading class, more often than not I can easily tell who’s not paying attention. Who’s eyes are roving around the room watching what everyone else is doing or checking out the person next to them, who’s paid no attention to the cue to not press one’s thumb into the floor during utipliti, who’s picking at their toes in Janu Sirasana.

For example, closer to home, when describing what can be eaten for lunch that day only to have that household member say over dinner, “I thought I couldn’t eat that so I just went out.”

For example, at work during a meeting, everyone’s talking, but nobody’s listening (except maybe the note taker). Everyone wants to push their personal agenda, but they don’t want to deal with someone else’s.

For example, when was the last time you just stepped outside, closed your eyes and just…listened? When was the last time you turned the radio off in the car and listened to what your passenger was saying? When was the last time you turned the TV off during dinner and actually listened to what your dining companion was talking about? And just let them talk without judging, defending, or rebutting?

If you truly want to confront your ego, try listening.

Editing to add: Yogiclarebear had a great post on listening back in mid-September that I just saw now.  Please take a moment and visit her posting:  Dog Poop, a Lesson in Listening

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yoga Finds Past Purpose (Minneaplis, MN, Star Tribune)

I thought Minneapolis/St. Paul were isolated from this, but I find that I am wrong.  I think what perturbs me is knowing of at least three yoga studio's in the Cities that emphasize the traditional practice.  This article makes it sound otherwise.  Rather a disservice to those studios and teachers who do incorporate the traditions of this rich practice.

Yoga Finds Past Purpose

Minnesota's Hindu Temple, with its laid-back, spiritual approach, is bringing back a more traditional form of yoga at its classes.

By: Amelia Rayno, Star Tribune, Sept 14, 2010 

 Mythili Chari demonstrated “downward-facing dog” as the students moved through yoga’s traditional “chaturanga,” something that most yoga classes teach. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

On the last night of outdoor yoga at the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, mats formed a zigzag along the cold, concrete balcony.

Some of the pupils came in jeans, baggy dresses and T-shirts. The only sound was the purr of the wind curling through the cornfields that surrounded the holy place.

One of the students shivered, a reminder that there was no expectation that anyone was there to work up a sweat.

The inspiration came from within. And on this night about a dozen kids, middle-aged adults and teenagers came to try to tap that inner jackpot.

The temple's setting, where inside a white-robed priest performed chants and blessings for various young couples, was a far cry from what one might find at a typical American yoga studio, where soothing music is often played on a stereo and the outfits are pricey spandex.

But with the temple's traditional Indian approach staged more like a spiritual workshop than a cardio routine, the trendy practice became what it was originally intended to be: a spiritual guide to finding oneself.

"It was ... a little different," said Veronica Tews, a stay-at-home mom and first-time student at the temple, which offers yoga and meditation classes inside the community center the rest of the year. "It was neat to sort of get more into the spiritual side of it; I'm not used to that."

That's probably because as yoga has exploded with popularity and studios have popped up seemingly on every street corner, the emphasis is almost always the same: music, flow, sweat. The instructor might use a few Indian terms, and bow and say "Namaste" at the end, but otherwise, hard-core yogis say, the practice has become completely "Americanized" at most institutions.

"They don't know what yoga is, so they try to fit it into what they know," Aadil Palkhivala, founder of the Yoga Centers facility in Bellevue, Wash., said in a phone interview. "They call it yoga aerobics, yoga weight-lifting; it's so cute. In yoga we don't get upset, so we just smile and hope people will get it someday."

The numbers tell the story about yoga's growth: Americans increased spending on yoga by 84 percent from 2004 to 2008, and currently, about 7 percent of U.S. adults participate. While most yoga studios don't adhere exactly to ancient Indian forms, they do provide an effective and appealing alternative to typical aerobic classes. Those classes, traditional or not, have inspired many Americans to get more involved, or at least get in better shape, said Ben Wuest, 21, a yoga instructor at the Hindu Temple and at Moe Body Works.

Palkhivala, often referred to as "the grandfather of yoga" in the West because he helped popularize the practice in the 1980s, said he is partly responsible for what yoga has become. "My intention was to introduce physical process as bait, so they would be interested. But many of my pupils took off on their own, without waiting to learn the rest of the practice."
That practice, temple instructor Mythili (Mike) Chari said, is more about healing than working out; it's more about gaining spiritual strength for life than finding a sexy, sequenced core exercise.
"Your third chakra, your manipura, is your naval chakra, which is connected to the decisionmaking process," said Chari, demonstrating to the class how to manage one of the seven chakras, which are "force centers" on the body's surface. "If you do not have a good sense of this chakra, you will feel anger, shame and despair. You will have stomach ailments."

To correct these maladies, Chari instructed, one could perform the fish pose, in which the back arches, steadied by the arms, until the crown of the head rests on the floor. With that, the dozen pupils got into the position.

"It was never about beauty and being gorgeous," said Chari, who grew up in India and studied yoga at B.K.S. Iyengar's Prashanth Institute in Bangalore. "It was all about how you felt. It was physical therapy for the common man. It's a prescriptive, holistic approach to good living. Once you take care of your physical body, your mental and your service strength will come."
Nonetheless, this subculture has found that there is a much greater market for sexy exercises than holistic methods for better living.
"I like to use a lot of prayers to goddesses in my sessions," said Wuest, who studied Buddhism last year at monasteries in Japan. Most yoga centers don't do that, he said. "They provide a cookie-cutter version, but they can't be baking what the goddesses are.
"Here, I can be free."
Free to practice a tradition that has held deep spiritual meaning for centuries in the East, the way many feel it was meant to be practiced.
"Honestly, I do believe that people have the best of intentions," Palkhivala said. "They're trying their best. I just wish they would call it something different."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Previews

It's been quite a while since I've reviewed a book.  I find my yogic reading really slows down in the summer time.  I think that's because I'm so active with hiking, biking, gardening, and just soaking in the warm golden sun.  Winter is when I really like to curl up and study. 

Today Linda-sama just posted a great review of a book which explores the connection between Buddhism and Yoga over on Linda's Yoga Journey, which got me thinking about my growing "to read" pile for this winter.   So today, instead of a traditional book "review", I'd like to do a book "preview" of several books that  I intend to read when the wind and snow are swirling outside and darkness has wrapped around everything like a thick cold blanket.  MMmm, I can smell the hot chai already....

(Synopsis from Barnes & Noble.com)

The first yoga text to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a complete practice according to viniyoga—yoga adapted to the needs of the individual.
• A contemporary classic by a world-renowned teacher.
• This new edition adds thirty-two poems by Krishnamacharya that capture the essence of his teachings.

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, was one of the greatest yogis of the modern era. Elements of Krishnamacharya's teaching have become well known around the world through the work of B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, who all studied with Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father all his life and now teaches the full spectrum of Krishnamacharya's yoga. Desikachar has based his method on Krishnamacharya's fundamental concept of viniyoga, which maintains that practices must be continually adapted to the individual's changing needs to achieve the maximum therapeutic value.

In The Heart of Yoga Desikachar offers a distillation of his father's system as well as his own practical approach, which he describes as "a program for the spine at every level—physical, mental, and spiritual." This is the first yoga text to outline a step-by-step sequence for developing a complete practice according to the age-old principles of yoga. Desikachar discusses all the elements of yoga—poses and counterposes, conscious breathing, meditation, and philosophy—and shows how the yoga student may develop a practice tailored to his or her current state of health, age, occupation, and lifestyle.

This is a revised edition of The Heartof Yoga.

A structural engineer by training, T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father until Krishnamacharya's death in 1989. He has devoted his life to yoga instruction for people of all backgrounds and all levels of ability and currently teaches at the school founded in his father's memory in Madras, as well as in Europe, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Dhammapada as translated by Eknath Eswaran

(Synopsis from Barnes & Noble.com)
Dhammapada means “the path of dharma,” the path of truth, harmony, and righteousness. Eknath Easwaran’s translation of this essential Buddhist text, based on the oldest version, consists of 423 short verses gathered by the Buddha’s direct disciples after his death and organized by theme: anger, thought, joy, pleasure, and others. The Buddha’s timeless teachings take the form of vivid metaphors from everyday life and are well served by Easwaran’s lucid translation. An authoritative introduction and chapter notes offer helpful context for modern readers
(Synopsis from Barnes & Noble.com)
Buddhism and yoga share a common history that goes back centuries. But because yoga and Buddhism came to North America from Asia as two separate traditions, their commonalities in the West often seem invisible. Most people choose to study either yoga or Buddhism and generally don’t combine the practices. Michael Stone brings together a collection of intriguing voices to show how Buddhism and yoga really do share the same values and spiritual goals. The contributors’ themes are rich and varied, yet they all focus on the common threads among the traditions that offer guidance toward spiritual freedom and genuine realization.

Topics include the Zen view of enlightenment through the body; cultivating life-force energy; concepts of emptiness; foundations of mindfulness; Tibetan yoga; and experiencing emotions through the body. Contributors include: Frank Jude Boccio, Ajahn Amaro, Chip Hartranft, Sarah Powers, Christopher Key Chapple, Eido Shimano Roshi, Mu Soeng, and Jill Satterfield.

Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali by Chip Hartranft  (I think this is the copy I own)

(Synopsis from Barnes & Noble.com)
In just 196 short aphorisms, this classic work of Indian philosophy spells out succinctly how the mind works, and how it is possible to use the mind to attain liberation. Compiled in the second or third century CE, the Yoga-Sutra is a road map of human consciousness—and a particularly helpful guide to the mind states one encounters in meditation, yoga, and other spiritual practices. It expresses the truths of the human condition with great eloquence: how we know what we know, why we suffer, and how we can discover the way out of suffering. Chip Hartranft's fresh translation and extensive, lucid commentary bring the text beautifully to life. He also provides useful auxiliary materials, including an afterword on the legacy of the Yoga-Sutra and its relevance for us today.

There are other books too, such as The Upannishads trans. by Eknath Esawaran, re-reading the Yama's and Niyamas by Deborah Adele, but I tend to get overly ambitious.  Yogic/Buddhist texts are not always the most gripping reads and I find myself dozing off.  Sorry, it's true!  I do.

So, to toss the question out into blogland, what's on your reading list?  Any recommendations? 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cultivate 'Me' Time

This is a lovely video titled How to Be Alone from YouTube as I found it on Yoga,Dogs and Chocolate:

I just loved this video/poem/message to cultivate some alone time - down time if you prefer to think of it that way.  It hit on several things I like to do when I need to just chill or mentally check out for a while - go hang out at the coffee shop, go out for dinner by yourself, sit on a park bench and watch the world go by, pick up your art, go work out.   But what I really like about this was the message of sitting in silence as the world moves around you, of just being without demands or demanding.  It's like opening yourself up without attachment.   


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Restorative Vinyasa

Restorative yoga seems to be a theme in my reality lately and perhaps it is because Summer brings a flurry of activity beyond the usual gym workouts and yoga sessions. Maybe it's because we in the heat of Summer temperatures and the body needs something cooling. Or because there is an increase in running as people train and run in marathons, ultra marathons, and triathlons; cycling miles to be had as people participate in 20, 40, 60 and 100 mile organized rides on top of the daily and weekly riding; there is swimming, canoeing and kayaking; and not to forget walking, hiking, and backpacking.

And we wonder where our summer goes…

So it was on Monday night I found myself leading (by request and subsequently promised) a restorative Vinyasa session. Seems contradictory, yes? The principles behind this are based on a Chandra sequence as designed by Matthew Sweeney, a Yin session by Paul Grilley, and a Long-Slow-Deep session by Bryan Kest. The idea is simply: slow. down. mindfully.

I used Matthew Sweeneys principles as a base and to provide the flow. Students are instructed to work at no more than 80%. If one is working at 100%, how can that be restorative? I started the postures with left foot first to balance the tendency to always lead with the right. Think about this: Ashtanga – opens to the right, right foot is always first. Twist to the right then the left. Right right right… Matthew says to bring back balance by changing things up and moving from the left first. I think this helps to slow down the practice because it takes mindfulness to do something opposite from what you are used to (just try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand one night…).

I then incorporated Paul Grilley’s principles and Bryan Kest's ideas of holding the poses for longer. Not a hurried huff! huff! huff! Of five breaths then bam! Onto the other side, but a long, luxurious, deep breath. As one of my respected instructors, Joe, likes to say, “Find savasana in every pose.”

I was concerned that people would become fidgety, or that I would not have enough material to last an hour and a half, but much to my surprise, I had plenty of material and people seemed to just ooze into deep relaxation.

Would I do this again? Definitely. I think the exposure to a restorative vinyasa class is good on so many levels. I don't think it's something I would do monthly, but perhaps quarterly. I look forward to exploring this further, with perhaps the addition of some pranyama and meditation. Stay tuned!

Top photo: TourdeFrance.com
Bottom photo: YogaJournal.com

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Yoga at Home or on the Road

Perhaps I'm an odd duck...well, I already know I am...but we're just confirming it yet again today. Even though I teach classes and I am fully capable of sequencing poses, I don't care to do it for myself at home. Oh, perhaps after a afternoon of cycling or hiking I may spend 20 minutes moving through a variety of stretches, but to do something longer is more involved than I care for.

I've found I much prefer on-line, video, or audio options. Doing my own isn't as relaxing as I would like. My brain is chattering away about the sequence, should I do this or that next? Oh, I should have done blank instead. Drat, well I can add it in here after I do this...and so on and so forth. Maybe some of you have experienced this too?

I thought with this post I would highlight some of the videos and podcasts that I gravitate to when I do a home or on the road session.

Yoga Today. A free weekly on-line yoga class. The style and location changes each week; I've done anusara, hatha, vinyasa and ashtanga based sessions. Format is usually two students and one instructor in some beautiful western location. Directions and suggested modifications are usually pretty good. Some of the instructor 'chatter' can be a bit much depending on style/individual, but hey, it's only an hour and it's not like I have to take that session again. Base option is free and you pay if you want to save and download that particular class. Sign-up for more options. Recommended if you like a variety of sessions and have an hour to practice.

Yoga Journal podcasts and videos. I have i-Tunes so I signed up for regular downloads. Couple things I like about these sessions: shorter lengths and varied sessions that target specific things. Sometimes I just don't want to do a full hour or hour and a half session. I just want something that will make my hips and back feel better. Something that will relax me before bed but doesn't involved another hour out of my day. These fit that requirement.

I-tunes. When I bought my i-Pod, I had no idea all the wonderful things I could do with it beyond listening to my music! There are free yoga sessions available! Woot! It takes a bit of searching and some experimenting with the instructor - what style do they offer? Is it something I'm comfortable with? Do their instructions make sense or is it all sanskrit? Two that I've found in the power/vinyasa category are: Wade Zinter and Baron Baptiste as led by Kinndli McDonnal. These are also great to do with a group if you have portable speakers for your i-Pod.

Videos. I am not usually a fan of videos, especially for beginners as the tendency is to watch the video and thus be craning the head and neck when one shouldn't. That being said, they do have their place in a yoga practice. I recently uploaded all my video's to my i-pod so I can take them on the road with me. I don't need to see what's happening on my 1x1.5" screen, but the verbal cues are nice.

My CD and Video collection includes:
Rocket Series II by Larry Shultz of It's Yoga, San Francisco
Primary Series Ashtanga Yoga by David Swenson
Primary Series Ashtanga Yoga by Manju Jois
Bryan Kest Power Yoga Complete DVD Three energizing sessions.
Yin Yoga: the Foundations of a Quiet Practice by Paul Grilley
Yoga Sanctuary by Shiva Rae

And for mediation, I gravitate to Common Grounds Mediation Center (Minneapolis, MN)downloads as led by Mark Numburg. These are in the Buddhist philosophy in the Vipassana tradition.

Are there any other recommended sites from blog-world? A CD or DVD in particular resonate with you? Or perhaps something else from i-Tunes?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yin Yoga Posting from Do Restorative Yoga

A series of conversations with a couple of fellows I bike with and a recent post by Do Restorative Yoga made me decide to link to Sara's blog rather than what I had originally planned.

Yo! Ashtangi's! Vinyasa nuts! Bikram followers! ((me jumping up and down waving my arms))

Athletes! Yeah! You! Us "A type" overachieving personalities need to bring some balance back into our lives and practice. As a recent bicycling article noted (sorry, I don't recall which one), "All of your training isn't going to leak out your big toe if you don't [bike,run,swim,jog,ski] for one or two days."

Yin Yoga from Yoga Journal

Do yourself a HUGE favor. Periodically slooww your practice down. Take a Yin class if you can. You will still find it challenging, just in a different way than you are accustomed to.

We all need to periodically rest - a full complete day of downtime physically. The muscles need to rebuild and the joints heal. This is part of what makes us stronger in the long run.

So please, my fellow athletes and practitioners. Practice ahimsa (non-harming) on yourself and bring in a slower practice.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Finding gratitude

First, I'd like to thank everyone for their comments on Bitter Sweet Partings. That posting seemed to have struck a cord with many readers - as students and instructors, how blessed we are to be able to travel together even if for a little while! Our lives are so much richer for it.

It was thinking of how grateful I am to have met and known so many people that I noticed the theme of gratitude popping up in a variety places: a TV commercial where someone does a good deed, a nearby person notices, then they do a good deed; Linda-Sama's blog with the post on the passing of her feline friend; a fellow yoga friend who frequently subs for me when I can't make my noon class at the Y due to work conflicts thanked me for having a noon class; and in a USAA financial magazine (Summer 2010).

The title of the article is called Find Your Financial Mojo by Jean Chatzky and in it, as with many financial articles she is emphasizing healthy money habits. There are eight bulleted items:

1) Optimism
2) Resilience
3) Passion
4) Connectedness
5) Intuition
6) Saving habitually
7) Investing in stocks
8) Gratitude

I was intrigued with the list. It was so very yogic to me even with item #6 and #7. One could substitute 'investing in stocks" for 'investing in yourself', I suppose. Finding a yogic analogy for #6 is proving to be a bit harder what with non-attachment and non-hording.

But it was item eight that surprised me: it said, "...understand the importance of giving back - and being thankful for what [you] have - to tie it all together. Gratitude is the antidote to materialism. Materialism is obsessing on what you desire. Gratitude is appreciating what you have. To get more of it into your life, use these words daily; grateful, thankful, gift, lucky, fortunate. You'll start feeling richer in no time."

A daily attitude of gratitude. I love it!

So fellow readers, where have you been finding yogic messages?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Repost: Killing Yoga's Sacred Cows from Linda's Yoga Journey

Linda-Sama from Linda's Yoga Journey reposted this blog from Dec 2008. I had not yet discovered Linda at that time...actually, there's a good possibility I wasn't even yoga blogging then.

But having recently discovered Yin Yoga and Paul Grilly's DVD's, I loved this so much that I had to link/post it here. It really sum's up what I've been contemplating in my own practice and sessions. We are NOT the same. We will NEVER be the same.

On one end of the spectrum I have a 6'7" gentleman in my class with 4' long legs. Seriously. His legs alone are 4' long. On the other end of the spectrum I have a 5' gal who is so petite but with an incredibly tight back and hips. Simply no flexibility there. I have 20 year old college kids, 40 year old parents, 62 year old retired guys. You simply cannot convince me there is one pose that fits all.

Another reason this resonates with me is in the Ashtanga/Vinyasa tradition, because of the flowing nature of the practice, it's the flow that matters and less so the 'correctness' of the postures. There simply isn't time, nor is it appropriate to stop the flow and break something down. It is the nature of the practice that the body is supposed to find it's own place in the pose.

This isn't to say that a person shouldn't be safe in a posture! Safety first! I don't want someone to hurt themselves - if a simple correction or adjustment would be of benefit.

Please, take a moment and read this. Even if you don't agree with everything it has to say, it still has some great tidbits to take back to your practice. I'm going to print it out for my classes.

Killing Yoga's Sacred Cows

Thank you Linda!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bitter-Sweet Partings

I live, teach and practice in a college town - actually, we have four colleges in the area which always surprises me given the population of Duluth-Superior. It also means that we get a fair number of students passing through the studio. I love the energy and enthusiasm they bring - sharing what they are studying, places they've gone, hopes and plans for the future.

And for a brief moment in time, they share the road with us, and us with them.

But studies and tests and books eventually come to an end and it's always sad to hear their time with the group is up and they are moving on. Sometimes the member says something to the group and we're able to wish them well, other times, they just quietly drift away.

Either way, I'm glad they came and wish each of them well in their future endeavors!

LOKAH SAMASTA SUKHINO BHAVANTU :: May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

(from Shiny Yoga's site, but a far older quote than that!)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gita Talk on Elephant Journal: Introduction

As I mentioned in my previous post, Bob Weisenburg over on Elephant Journal has initiated an online discussion of the Bhagavad Gita. They are reading the Stephan Mitchell version of the Gita and have just started discussing the introduction.

I have the Eknath Eswaran version (two copies) and didn't wish to purchase a third copy. Which means my introduction is much much different. But that's okay. The important thing is the discussion.

I read the Gita for the first time several years ago as part of a workshop held through my local yoga studio (ha! L Y S! except that also stands for Local Yarn Store in my world...) WHY? read the Bhagavad Gita? If you are a practitioner of yoga and are looking to move beyond the asana practice, I think this is a great place to start. The Gita really distills what it means to practice yoga beyond the mat in layman's terms. It's not a long text or document, but it really conveys some very profound concepts.

I'm looking forward to the ongoing discussions; please join in if you can.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Gita Talk" on Elephant Journal!

It's been rather quiet in my blog world this month. I've been through a few changes: husband coming home from Kuwait, mother-in-law passing away, adjustments that go with both, and some get-away travel.

However, THIS came to my attention and I just wanted to share what a great opportunity it is!

Yoga Demystified's Bob Weisenburg is doing an on-line discussion of the Bhagavad Gita on Elephant Journal! This is really a beautiful text and worth reading. Please come and join in!

Bhagavad Gita

Perhaps if this works out Bob will explore the idea of doing other texts. How cool would that be?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thoughts on Silence

I just loved this post by Dee of Tangled up in Sticks and String. I'd just send the link but I know she keeps a tidy blog and it may not be there next week.

The Death of Silence
I am in mourning. DEEP mourning. Silence died. I don't know the exact time of it's demise, but it is most certainly and utterly dead.

As I write, I hear the neighbor-two-doors-over dog barking at nothing. I can hear road noise from Tanner Road. Since the wind is blowing my way, I can hear the infernal canned carillon music from the Carillon neighborhood entrance over a mile away. It wouldn't be bad if it was real carillon music, but it's cheesy MUSAK-type carillon music. Every half hour --- Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head or Memories --- GAH!!!!!!!!!!!

There is a cardinal somewhere out there. I can hear him (her?), but can't find where the bird is. I can hear the pool pumps of several house, including mine. Since it's Monday ... my washer is making noise too.

Silence is gone. Even with earplugs firmly in place, there is noise. Without external noise to block it, you'd be surprised how noisy my head is all by itself.

I wonder what it would be like to be in one of those sensory deprivation tanks. Would it be relaxing? Or, would it be totally freaky to be in a place absent of any life noises? Do you still hear the noises in your head? Can you hear yourself breathe?

Maybe I'd really MISS all the noise ---------well, NOT the dog. The dog I could absolutely do without.

This made me wonder, what is silence for someone else? For me, it's the sounds of a quiet house, the dogs slumbering, the occasional hum of a car going by on the road, the toink toink toink of my bamboo wind chimes, a plane going by overhead. Sometimes it's a bit quieter, usually at night, but not by much. Rarely do I have music on, or the TV as "background" noise. My phones are turned to the quietest setting possible where I'll still hear them.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Workshop review: Bryan Kest

This past weekend I spent at the Yoga Center of Mpls attending a workshop held by Bryan Kest. I was amazed at the number of people who showed up - Friday night was over 60! Now for some people, that might not be a lot, but for Minneapolis, that's a very good turn out.

The workshop agenda was as follows:
Friday - 7-9
Saturday - 11:30-2; 3:30-5:30
Sunday - 11:30-2

Friday night was mostly lecture. Mr. Kest discussed his philsophy for an hour and forty-five minutes, then we did a small forty minute practice as a bit of a preview of what the rest of the weekend would bring. I veiwed Mr. Kests evening discussion similar to a 'Dharma talk' in the Buddhist tradition...but with some rough edges. If I hadn't know Mr. Kest was from LA, I would have pegged him for a New Yorker. Personality aside, Bryan's lecture could be summarized as follows (this is the extent of my note taking - seriously!):

> Yoga is quiet the mind and touch yourself everywhere with love and kindness. By being gently with yourself you will create wellness in the body and to be gentle PAY ATTENTION!

> Yoga isn't here to change you. It accepts you just the way you are. It is our need to change ourselves to fit some warped and twisted version of perfection.

> A reminder - yoga is the "cessation of the fluxuation of the mind" Pantanjali

> YOU are the teacher.

> How in the world will [insert pose here] make you a better person? Why not practice [compassion/loving kindness/gratitude,etc] instead?

> Yoga is quiet the mind and touch yourself everywhere with love and kindness.

Saturday we moved right into the physical practice. It was amazing! Intense? Oh yes, but only to the degree you allowed it to be. He continually stressed focusing on your breath and only on your breath, to move into the pose only as far as was appropriate for you - you are not your neighbor and this is not a contest and he doesn't give a crap which way your hand is facing in a given pose. My mind is still reeling with the simplicity of the postures and how well they were linked together to "touch yourself everywhere with love and kindness". There was nothing in the sequence a beginner couldn't do or long time practitioner couldn't challenge themselves with - as long as beginner and long practitioner know where they need to be working. Fantastic, absolutely fantastic.

Saturday's second session was the complete opposite of the above. It was a "Yin" session or in his terms "LSD" Long - slow - deep. Oh my god. It took us an hour to move through both sides of Supta Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand to Big Toe Pose). THEN! He was concerned he wouldn't get through the rest of the postures so he was only holding poses for a minute.

Now, I've done a Yin class and I've held poses up to 5 minutes and it was NOTHING like this. This was some serious stretching and we never left the floor. The whole session culminated in holding Pashimottanasa for 10 minutes WITHOUT MOVING. Yes. Once we moved into the pose were to "stick it" and ONLY breathe for the next 10 minutes. Do your feet fall asleep? Oh yes. Do your lower legs fall asleep? Oh yes. It was one of the most intense stretches I have ever done - and it felt wonderful (once I was out of it).

Sunday was very similar to the first session Saturday and it felt really good to move after the two Saturday practices.

All three sequences were followed with a half hour of mediation. I REALLY liked this part (and would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't started coughing. Most embarrassing.) We did a 10 minute Vipassana meditation, a 10 minute Bhakti mediation, and a 10 minute Karma meditation all right in a row. What a great way to end a two hour practice.

Would I recommend a Bryan Kest workshop? Yes - if you understand going in that you will be challenged mentally and physically at the same time. He has a great message if you are willing to accept the rough delivery (yes, the man knows how to swear). I hope the Yoga Center of Mpls is able to bring him back in the future.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Bryan Kest Power Yoga Workshop

Oh joy! I'm going to a workshop next weekend! I love workshops; they provide me an opportunity to be a student for a little while. My biggest challenge at these weekends is to turn off the 'teacher brain': the bit of me that's always looking for new ideas to bring back to class, the subtle rubber necking to watch what adjustments the instructor does, the compulsive note taking. To practice aparigraha: to let go and just be present in the moment.

That is why I love workhops.

Yoga Center of Minneapolis - Power Yoga with Bryan Kest

BRYAN KEST: Power Yoga Workshop
Friday, March 12 - Sunday, March 14

This weekend is an immersion in the practice of yoga that strengthens not just the body, but more importantly, the qualities of our mind that have the largest impact on our physical well-being. These workshops will be strong, well-rounded, yet simple physical practices that leave every nook and cranny in our bodies vibrating with vitality while challenging our minds in the sense of strengthening the qualities of mind that are most useful, positive and powerful, and eradicating the qualities of our mind that are harmful and stress-inducing. They will strengthen qualities such as calmness, patience, focus, gentleness, gratitude, humility and acceptance, while weakening qualities such as judgment, competitiveness, distraction, reaction, and criticism. If you feed qualities of mind, they will grow big and strong, and if you don’t feed them, they will weaken and die. Since our physical practice is such a fertile environment for most all of these qualities to arise, our physical practice becomes an opportunity to strengthen the qualities we want to be strong and to weaken and eradicate the qualities we find harmful.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Welcome to my Playground

I attended a one day arm balance workshop this past weekend (absolutely delightful to be a student for a change, but that's another post!) where the instructor really took the time to break down what it entails to do a strong supported arm balance.

Some clarification here - by arm balances he was focusing on pendulum, crane, crow, 8-angled/crooked pose, etc.

I loved every minute of the three hour session, and only wished it could have been longer. However, it also demonstrated how even in one tiny studio such as the one I attend, how opposite different style of yoga can be.

Using this workshop as my example because this instructor is so good at breaking things down. We started with a lecture on the shoulder girdle itself, and how unlike the pelvis which cups and holds our organs and provides stability, the shoulder is only connected bone-to-bone in one spot! Which means the muscles and connective tissue must provide the stability necessary for lift.

We then moved into some shoulder awareness exercises, such as laying on the floor with a strap between the blades, raising our arms and rotating our arms and hands in certain ways to isolate various parts of the shoulder girdle, and standing against the wall with arm at 1:00, 2:00 and so forth.

It was only in the last 45 minutes of class where we started to move into the arm balances itself, but it was with the awareness of what our shoulders and core have to do to lift our bodies off the floor.

It was during all of this that I really realized the divergence between the instructors class (his classes are very similar to his workshop; almost an Iyengar style and a delight to attend) and my classes where I will offer a pose and say here are the differently levels of this pose, "play with it". Where I don't want people to think about the pose, I just want them to try. And in trying there is only doing no matter what level. Our bodies are so different, with different centers of gravity and different proportions and arm-torso-leg ratios that to sometimes break something down so minutely, may not work.

The instructor kept referring to "taking poses to the playground" in the sense of not consciously breaking a pose down and just playing. I realized I'm the the kid who's always on the playground, first out, last to come back in because I have to play. Which may not be for everyone and that's okay.

For those that stick around, welcome to my playground.

(Tanya Soward, Yoga Center of Mpls, Scorpion Pose)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Technique Week!

One of the ways I have been trying to keep my Ashtanga classes (and myself) energized is by doing a once a month (roughly) technique class. The Ashtanga system – Contemporary or Traditional – doesn’t lend itself to breaking down poses in class. It disrupts the flow and the internal meditation the student should be working toward.

I come from a studio that has a very strong tradition in alignment and asana safety, which has definitely influenced my own teaching. And while a Vinyasa or Ashtanga system tends to allow more for letting the body find its way to the pose I have found that doesn’t always work. Occasionally you need to stop, step back and break down the fundamentals of asana.

So last fall I started Technique week, where we do the standing sequence to warm and limber up, then take the last hour of class and break down 3-4 poses. I feel this gives the students to move beyond just the gross anatomy of the pose and start to feel the internal alignment. It is fun to watch “ah ha!” moments, when I bring in a prop such as a wall to demonstrate what I mean in such-n-such verbal cue.

I do announce Technique Week ahead of time, and I have observed that those classes are a bit lighter in attendance, but that’s okay. Those who are interested come, those who aren’t don’t.

So far we have done:
Padangushasana and Padahastasana
Utthita Trikonasana
Utthita Parsvakonasana
Virabhadrasana II
Virabhadrasana III
Headstand variations

A little bouncing around, but it’s meant to keep it fun. A couple poses that are tied together then one fun pose. I also want to start doing more pranyama, but wow, suddenly my hour is over and it’s time for deep relaxation!