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

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