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!