Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On Hiatus

I've been waffling about this for a while, and after seeing my last post was August, I decided time for indecision was over.  I need to take a break from my yoga blog. 

I'm at a place in my life right now where I'm looking inward. Perhaps it is in part the season of Fall, where we start to bring the harvest in, fill the pantries and hay lofts, and prepare for Winter.  I've been practicing yoga for about 10 years now and I'm seeing an internal shift, a withdrawing. I've been contemplating what I actually think about yogic philosophy as it relates to a physical yogic practice.  Can I keep the two mutually exclusive yet remain true to the yogic form?  My initial thought is yes, definitely.  But I need to think on this and let it gel in myself. 

Because really, the yogic philosophy isn't for everyone.  Just like, say, Catholicism, isn't for everyone.  We need to find our own path. And I'm finding I have more affinity with the Buddhist philosophy these days than I do the Hindu/Yogic system. 

I'll still be around. Blog will still be up for reference. Posts will be very sporadic and probably on form and technique as they relate to a flow class, which is something I have an interest in. 

I will leave you this, from The Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1, King James Version), addition by Seeger.  
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace [I swear it's not to late].


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Focus Pose - Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II, Warrior B)

Virabhadra = the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger's skin.

In the Ashtanga Primary Series, Virabhadrasana B concludes the standing sequence. I really enjoy doing warrior II, I love how it feels so open, how everything feels like it is stretching toward infinity. Reality is, not everyone agrees. Many people find this intense  on the front quad(s), uncomfortable in the hips, awkward on the back leg, and sometimes hard on the lower back and shoulders.

We move into the pose from Virabhadrasana I. Some teach opening from Warrior I to Warrior II on an inhale, my body seems to prefer an exhale, as if the exhale is allowing me to root into the earth, the hips opening and sinking down just a bit lower.

Hold for 5 breaths, then straighten the front leg, rotate around, and reestablish pose on the right hand side.

Hold for 5 breaths, then exhale hands to the floor through Chataranga dandasana (vinyasa)

Some technique points:

  • Traditional stance is front heel in alignment with the back arch. This is not comfortable for everyone. If this bothers your hips or knees, move the back foot so that the front heel is aligned with the back heel, or even a gap between the two.
  • Front knee over the front ankle. NOT over the foot or toes. Conversely, knee should not be behind the heel (stance is too wide).
  • If too much strain is felt on the front quad or knee, OR the back knee, shorten the stance, keeping above point in mind.
  • Activate the back leg by pressing through the back heel. Use both legs to support you in the pose.
  • Keep torso upright as possible, not lunging forward or arching back.
  • RELAX the shoulders! Move shoulders away from the ears.
  • Reach equally from front fingers through back fingers. Flipping palms up engages slightly different arm muscles.
  • Drishti is over front fingers unless you have neck concerns. Then look in the same direction as your torso. 

There are some fun variations to take on the Warrior II stance, but in the Primary Series we stick to the traditional pose as above.

Below, the lovely Maria Villella demonstrating the last three standing poses in the Primary sequence. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Instructors Say Dumb Things

Before the pitchforks and torches start waving and the organic tomatoes are thrown...I'm an instructor. I'm speaking from experience here. And I've said dumb things - recently in fact!  So not sharing what I said here.  A truly doh! moment.   

As a student, I've heard dumb things from instructors.  It happens.  

Instructors have to learn the art of multi-tasking mentally and spatially.   It's one thing to react to instructions, to be told you have to put your right foot forward, drop the left heel down, press back and lift the right arm overhead as the left hand moves down the back leg.

Now try and cue that backwards.  That's right.  The instructor is not infrequently cuing an entire class from the opposite side for visual effect.  They are stepping forward with their left foot, right heel is dropping back, left is reaching, right hand moving down.  They are telling you breathe while cueing modifications while mentally prepping for the next pose in the sequence.   At least in a vinyasa or flow style class.  Hatha, Iyengar, Restorative and Yin style classes are a bit slower paced allowing a bit more time for contemplation for the instructor. 

As an instructor, keeping an eagle eye on the class, thinking ahead, cueing, breathing, moving, thinking...can lead to the occasional dumb comment.  The kind that makes the instructor inwardly wince and go oops! and the students give them a funny look if they caught it.  Sometimes a quick apology and correction is necessary, sometimes you can let it slide by.  It just depends. 

However, as an instructor, have you tried talking less? 

Say what?  Yes.  Talk less.  Simplify.   

I got to thinking about this in my Ashtanga class this past week.  I had a group of strong regulars - a rarity this summer - and I was able to talk less.  Cue less.  Babble less.  Yes, instructors are known to babble.  It's like there is this compulsion to fill the silence with stuff:  Open the heart! Extend through your fingers! Lengthen the spine! Engage your quads! Feel the earth! Press into your heel!  Relax the shoulders! Move from the sacrum! 

And this isn't just in yoga.   I freqently see this when I'm at the gym. 

I personally find over cuing/over talking annoying.  It's an unwanted plethora of information that the brain just cannot assimilate in the amount of time a person is in a pose, usually about five breaths.  The brains shuts down and the students just tune all that chatter out after a while.  I know I do. 

It was a lot of fun to talk less.  To cue what pose to move into, let them breathe while offering individuals some quiet instruction as needed, counting the breath silently or out loud.  I didn't feel I had to fill the beautiful, warm, summer's evening's class with chatter.  The sounds of the street drifted up, kiddo's playing on the playground out front, a dog barking in the distance and some soft guitar music floating with the dust motes. 

Flowed through vinyasa.  We laughed through the harder poses.  And sweated. 

I'm sure I still said something dumb...but hopefully it was less dumb than usual. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

What we expect of Instructors: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In the past I've talked about student quirks and what teachers sometimes cope with in any given class. I've also discussed the expectations on a student - new or not - in a yoga class. But lately I've been cogitating on our expectations for Teachers/Instructors - what things might jolt a student out of their practice, or make them shake their head and go "Say what?!"

You've been there. You cannot practice yoga and not have experienced something that made you snort in disbelief or cringe in awkwardness.

Here a few things that I've observed over the years that I've found disturbing, and I know mine are pretty mild compared to some stories I've heard.   You might have other observations - please share so we can all improve!

The Ugly

Toenail fungus. If that wigs you out just reading about it, imagine having said instructor step on your mat. Teachers (and students) please! pay attention to the condition of your feet. My gut reaction was I wanted to leap up and immediately clean my mat. I didn't want to even go near that spot so I spent the rest of class figuring out how to do asana while not grossing myself out. How's that for being yanked out of a practice?

Dried, cracked and dirty feet. Again, pay attention to the condition of your tootsies.

Coffee breath (bad breath in general). Not quite as bad as above, but it can be distracting and disturbing to be in a pose, have the instructor come over to offer advice or adjustment in the customary whisper, and be totally knocked out from bad breath. Not cool. Brush your teeth before class if you can, mints often just don't cut it.

Excessive swearing.  Actually anykind of swearing at all.  I was at a workshop with an internationally know instructor and this guy swore like a sailor.  Um...really?  Do you have to drop the "F" bomb to show us what a totally awesome Dude you are?  Made me laugh and shake my head and I couldn't take him seriously anymore.  

The Bad

Flow-y yoga clothes that aren't far removed from lingerie. As a student, I'm here to practice. Not watch you parade around in front of class in something that looks like it's come off the cover of Victoria Secrets magazine. I also don't need to see what kind of thong, boxers or BVD’s you are wearing today.

Lack of deodorant. Again, if you are moving into someone's personal space, don’t knock them breathless with lack of hygiene. Slap a little on before class to freshen up. It goes a long way.

Stepping on peoples mats. I fully admit I'm uber quirky about my mat. I do NOT like people touching it. I do NOT use public mats. Nothing grosses me out more (well, the toenail fungus thing does) than knowing someone with questionable feet stood where I'm now resting my face. As an instructor, I try very hard not to step on peoples mats.

Incense sticks. Many studios are generally small, confined spaces that may or may not have good air circulation. Please, don't leave the incense stick burning throughout class. There are scent sensitive people out there who find the smell cloying and suffocating and will react negatively to it. While I'm not scent sensitive, I can't stand the smell of four incense sticks burning away while I'm trying to move through my vinyasa session.   Phew!

Timeliness. Start and end class on time.

The Good

Learning people’s names. Yes, easier for some than others. Do try.

Check in with the class at the start. How is the class feeling that day? For example, up here in Duluth have a nationally recognized Marathon in our area that a lot of people run or volunteer at. I've learned to do a restorative flow class the Monday after the event - it encourages people to come and stretch and takes away the worry about 'making' through an ashtanga session.

Check in with the students during class. Teach yourself to recognize that the awesome sequence you came up with isn't coming across as well as you thought it would. Learn to ratchet back when necessary.

Acknowledge the White Elephant in the Room.  It puts everyone at ease.  An example, your Level II/Intermediate Vinyasa  class has a couple of drop in students who have never taken yoga before.  Let the regulars know by saying something as simple as, "we have a very mixed group today, from folks who are new to yoga to folks who've been practicing for X years. Remember to work at the level appropriate for you."  

Admit when you've goofed something up.  A simple whoops! Let's try that again, or Oops! That didn't work quite like I thought it would goes a long way.

Laugh at yourself. You are going to miscue a pose. You are going to screw up a sequence. You are going to misspeak. Instructors are human and we're multitasking when standing in front of a room. We are going to goof something up.  If you can laugh at yourself (out loud even!) it will go so much better.

Picture from the internet

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fear of Sitting Still

Sara, over on Do Restorative Yoga, is blogging about her 30 Day Meditation Challenge.  In this post:  Day 13, she noted that she had a difficult time coming to stillness this particular day and how she addressed that; which got me to contemplating about movement and sitting. 

In the Ashtanga tradition as I have learned it, one moves for an hour and a half, focusing on the breath and bandhas.  This in itself becomes a moving meditation.  A very traditional version of this would be the practice, followed by pranyama, seated meditation and chanting.

Select Buddhist lineages incorporate a walking meditation that may or may not use a path.  The practitioner follows the path inward, each step being placed in mindfulness, mind focused on the here and now.  Buddhists don't necessarily focus so much on the breath, feeling that the body can breath well enough on its own.

And I don't recall where I was at the time, but I found a similar prayer/mediation wheel based off of Native American spirituality, where the practitioner would go from compass point to compass point within the circle and mediate at each cardinal direction. 

And some people use running or cycling or swimming as a form of meditation, a way to clear the head, to think things through, or to let thoughts and emotions settle.

But what I got cogitating on was: are people really afraid of looking inward? or are people actually afraid of sitting still

It's as if there is a stigma, a black mark, something, about the act of not moving that some people just fight.  I especially see this in the A-type personalities.  NOT moving = bad!  If you aren't moving then the house isn't getting cleaned, the kids are getting shuttled, the [insert job/task here] isn't being done, you are a slacker!  Your fitness levels are going to decrease!  The kids are going to fall behind in activities!  Checklists aren't getting checked off!   There is palatable angst about just sitting.

Now, granted, sometimes work schedules, families and outside forces do dictate what a person can and can't do.  I do not want to trivialize anyone one who is juggling work schedules and families. 

Admission time: yes, I have a hard time coming to stillness - I LOVE sitting still, I just have a hard time getting there! 

So, what can a person do?  Here are some of my recommendations:

  • If you do yoga, sit in stillness before or at the end of class.  Are you able to arrive early?  Some studio's are open before class to permit the practitioners to come and just sit.  Take 5 or 10 minutes if you're able.  For some people, traditional savasana doesn't work for them - they take deep relaxation as a meditation. 
  • I purposely taught myself how to knit so I would sit still.  Yes.  The action of following my stitches and sitting still induces a meditative state for me.  I can now sit in contentment for upwards of an hour now.  Ahhh....
  • If possible (you are kid free or rise before the kids), just sit over your cup of coffee in the morning.  Turn of the TV, turn off the radio, sit and feel the warmth of the cup between your hands.  Look out the window or close your eyes.  Just take 5 minutes of quiet and stillness.
  • Taking a longer trip somewhere and you're not driving?  Plug into one of the resources Sara has mentioned, take a few grounding an centering breaths and meditate! 
Just remember to put the phone in another room, turn it to vibrate, or even just turn it off.  In most circumstances, there is nothing that can't wait 15 minutes. 

Does anyone out there have any other recommendations for coming to stillness when the body or mind doesn't want to? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part VII Muse

This final chapter dealt with the idea or concept of Yoga as Muse from an artists standpoint, using well known actors and musicians from the 1940's through modern times as examples.  I rather wondered why this chapter was in the book; from a scientific standpoint, there wasn't much science behind this - all the other chapters had already expounded on how yoga affects our physical and mental health, how yoga affects the brain chemistry, our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems and even testosterone levels.

So yeah, if you are doing yoga it might inspire your creativity.  Your brain is flush with chemicals, your muscles are relaxed, you are rested, you've had your green smoothie because you know the importance of eating right, and you had awesome sex the night before.  So why wouldn't yoga inspire creativity? 

An odd chapter in my opinion that really didn't add much. 

So with Part VII: Muse, I will end my review of the Science of Yoga.  I will let you read the Epilogue without my commentary.  These chapter reviews are just my opinion and interpretation on what I thought was a fairly good read overall.  If you were expecting this to be an in depth look at yoga from a philosophical viewpoint, look elsewhere.  If you are thinking of doing yoga, are doing yoga, or just want a better understanding of the science behind the practice, I would recommend this book. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part VI Divine Sex

This chapter felt incomplete and unsubstantial after the rest, like we crested a massive hill in Part IV and V, and now we're on the downside.  Which is not what one would think when reading a chapter on sex.

In a nutshell, yoga can improve the quality of your sex life.  It does it through the manipulation of testosterone. 

Simplified? Oh yes, but that's rather what I pulled out of this.  It seemed there was so much focus on the chemical aspect of yoga affecting sex, that it didn't at all take into account that a) people who do yoga tend to lead healthier lives, and b) if you are leading a healthier life, then generally your sex life is going to be better and c) yoga makes you calm and if you are calm, your are going to be more receptive to your partner, etc.

This chapter discussed at length the role testosterone has in doing yoga, it touched on a handful of poses that are known to stimulate our base desires and discussed at length the Kundalini practice. 

I have to say, I started to lose interest.  Not my favorite chapter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad; Part V Healing

So you've injured yourself doing yoga as predicted in Chapter IV: Risk of Injury.  Or maybe you've injured yourself somewhere else.  At any rate, you are hurt and it's not getting better.  Why not try yoga as therapy? 
If you can avoid the quacks and find a legitimate yoga therapist that is...

This fifth chapter discusses using yoga as a means to heal the body after injury, to assist in healing oseoporosis, at fighting the stiffness caused by arthritis, and many other physical ailments.  But there is a dark side to this prescription (which should come as no surprise to the reader at this point) in the distinct lack of qualified yoga therapists.  Just as with the teacher training programs that have become the mainstay of nearly every studio, yoga therapy is croping up everywhere and often these people do not have the experience behind the certificate. 

This chapter looked at that more so than the whole teacher training phenomenon, and perhaps it is because of the nature of the "prescribing" of yoga as alternative therapy that this raises so many red flags.  Broad discusses the nuances of a "yoga teacher" calling themselves a "yoga therapist" to distinguish themselves in some way or to enhance an existing degree. 

Yoga Alliance, one of the largests corporations that certifies yoga teachers, allows for the use of the term Registered Yoga Teacher or RYT (either a 200 hour or a 500 hour training program) once a person has completed a certified program.  However, what the industry is seeing is Registered Yoga Teacher is morphing, in some cases, into Register Yoga Therapist.   The two are mutually exclusive terms and qualifications. 

As of today, Yoga Alliance has not expanded it's registry to include Yoga Therapist.  There is a separate International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Broad states: "...the continuing lack of regulation and the hundreds of false claims that aspiring healers make about their credentials are helping fuel the fields rapid growth....Dozens of books hail yoga therapy as a sound treatment for most every kind of ailment - including cancer and AIDS, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.... The surger is creating not only a lively commerce but, as the last chapter showed, a threat, since yoga in unskilled hands can bear risk of serious injury.  Patients can get hurt."  (pg 153).

Which is kinda scary when Broad goes on to point out, "In 2008, Yoga Journal released a market study done by Harris Interactive.  The survey of more than 5,000 people - a sample large enough to be considered statistically representative of the entire population of the US - showed that yoga therapy had achieved wide acceptance among patients and, arugably more important, among the nations health-care providers." (pg 154)

Oh goodie!  So when I hurt myself doing yoga, I can be prescribed yoga therapy for my recovery, and when I hurt myself doing that, at least I'm covered by insurance....

Okay, maybe a bit harsh, but with elements of truth in it.  Overall this was a pretty good chapter, driving home the point that if you do agree to or opt for yoga therapy, maybe you should do some research before signing up, or at the very least, ask some pointed questions about experience and background.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad; Part IV Risk of Injury

Part IV: Risk of Injury

This was the chapter that the NY Times article was based on, the one that has inflamed the yogic community. 

First paragraph: injuries are unsettling because of the disciplines image as a path to exceptional heath.  Many people turn to yoga as a gentle alternative to exercises that leave them hurt or intimidated. the idea of damage also runs counter to yoga's reputation for healing and promotion of superior levels of fitness and well-being.  Few practitioners anticipate strokes and dislocations, dead nerves and ruptured lungs.  (pg 103)

As I've noted before, I practice Ashtanga and Vinyasa.  I have seen first hand the injuries people walk out of class with.  I was at a teacher training event in 2004, and one gal in class had that special athletic tape around both wrists, both feet, knees and at least one elbow.  I have seen my fellow practitioners endure hamstring pulls, achey wrists, stubbed appendages, tweaked backs and, recently, one instructor who admitted to dislocating his collar bone.  During a workshop I watched as a fellow newer to power yoga hurt his back and had to spend 25 minutes sitting in childs pose.  He never came back to yoga.   A friend told me about an older woman who suffered a massive heart attack during a basic hatha class at the facility where she works.  Injuries happen in yoga.

If I thought the chapter on Moods was the most positive, I took delight in reading this one.  FINALLY someone (the author) is talking about the dirty little secret in the yogic closet: yoga can cause injuries at all levels. 

Case in point: I recently had a new-to-yoga student come to my vinyasa class. They had been encouraged to do so by a good friend who found positive benefits from their own practice.  The student introduced themselves and went on to tell me they had had a herniated disk, two vertebrae were fused together, a fractured cervix and fibromyalgia.  Yikes!  Spinal conditions are nothing to mess around with (the simplest of backbends, forward folds, and twists can all be detrimental to spinal health), but because they had heard how awesome yoga was, they didn't know that a vinyasa class was not the best place to start. 

This chapter went on to discuss postures that threaten to reduce the blood flow to the brain through extreme bending of the neck (such as shoulder stand, upward facing bow and even updog/cobra) and set up the potential for strokes; how other postures could cause nerve damage through repeated or long term exposure (seated forward fold); that even standing on your head has the potential to cause arterial blockage and lead to strokes.

Some of these injuries are being exacerbated by other situations - hot yoga, where the "...penetrating heat could raise the risk of overstretching, muscle damage and torn cartilage. One specialist noted that ligaments...failed to regain their shape once stretched and that loose joints could promote injury."  "Mirrored walls...encouraged students to neglect the traditional inner focus of yoga for outer distractions and the pressures of a room full of competitive individuals, also courting injury."    (pg 123)

A survey of 1300 yoga teachers, therapists, and doctors from around the world, conducted by Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and with cooperation from several organizations had some interesting results.  The survey participants practiced Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Anusara, and Kripalu amongst several offshoots of those. 

Incidents reported:
231  lower back injuries
219  shoulder issues
174  knee injuries
110  neck issues

Respondents knew of 43 herniated disks resulting from yoga, 17 fractured bones, and 5 recorded heart problems. 

Yes. Yoga can cause injury. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad: Part III Moods

Part III: Moods

I thought this was probably the most positive chapter of the book, examining how yoga can lift moods and refresh the human spirit. 

Mr. Broad states, "The studies began with the muscles (and how yoga can relax them), went on to study the blood (and how yoga breathing can reset the chemical balance), and eventually zeroed in on the subtleties of the nervous system (and how yoga can fine-tune it's status).  The discipline was found to lift and lower not only emotions but also their underlying constituents - the metabolism and nervous system."  (pg 78)

The author found first hand accounts here, in both the yogic community (through Amy Weintraub) and therapists.  Now here, as with his other chapters in the book, he found questionable practices amongst so called regulatory and scholastic organizations, and other authors who were perpetuating yoga myth., The grossest errors once again being that yoga can increase your metabolism and that breathing practices increase your oxygen consumption.  He debunked those in the first two chapters.

"Chaya, the physiologist in Bangalor who had practiced yoga since childhood, told me that the secret of weight loss had nothing to do with a fast metabolism and everything to do with the psychological repercussions of undoing stress, 'Yoga affects the mind - and desire,' she said, 'so you eat less'.  (pg 98)

I loved this statement toward the end of the chapter: The portrait of yoga that emerges from decades of mood and metabolic studies is of a discipline that succeeds brilliantly at smoothing the ups and downs of emotional life.  It uses relaxation, breathing and postures to bring about an environment of inner bending and stretching.   

Yes - "and environment of INNER bending and stretching".  Internal flexibility of the mind.  As I've been taught, Yoga is what you CAN'T see.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Tim Feldman at Yoga House, Edina, MN May 4-7

I had the opportunity to attend a four day, five session workshop in the Cities the first weekend in May, hosted by Yoga House and led by Tim Feldman.   I waited about five years, maybe more, to attend this session and it was worth every drop of sweat!

The weekend focused on breaking down individual postures from the Secondary Sequence in the Ashtanga Tradition.  While I am familiar with the sequence, I do not practice the Secondary Series (not knowledgeable enough) but I DO practice the postures.  As I've noted before, I do not do a Traditional Ashtanga practice, preferring instead to enjoy a more Contemporary Ashtanga workout.   In essence, I made the practice my own.  However, I do appreciate the nuances and dedication a Traditional practice requires. 

But! Workshop details:

Friday, 11:30-2:00p  Nadi Shodana               Pattabhi Jois  "It is primarily a breathing exercise and the rest is just bending."

Tim broke down the three locks integral from the practice (from his website): Bandha (valves or locks): Moolabandha, Uddiyanabandha and Jalandarabandha helps you integrating your physical and energy bodies. Through the use of the three bandhas in your practice, the body comes together to one entity, creating bounce, flow and grace. It accumulates the generation of purifying heat deep in your body and, yet again, makes for a strong internal focus point for your mind to rest.

As well as the Ujjayi breath (breath of victory): The core of the practice. Facilitates movement in the physical body, creating ‘room to roam‘ between your bones underneath your skin. quiets the mind from unnecessary entanglements. distributes appropriate energy through-out your body and unifies the physical, mental and energetic bodies to one solid entity of motion, transformation and power. Generates purifying heat in the body.

And we worked on integrating these four things into our  bodies.  It was interesting to learn that the Ujjayi breath in and of itself should be used as a pranyama exercise and that for the Ashtanga practice (and I will also infer a vinyasa practice) "breathing with sound" is the appropriate methodology. 

Saturday 7:30-9:30a Guided Primary   11:30-2:00p  The Backbends and Twists

"In Ashtanga we tend to identify our practice with where our body is in space. We actually want to line ourselves up with our breath-body."

The morning session was the Primary series as led by Tim.  LOVED IT!   It just flowed

The second session was focused on lots of technique and breaking down twists and backbends.  Not a lot of time to take notes so I'm hoping that as I do some of the postures down the road the small ideas will come back to me.   A very complimentary session yet intense session as there is a lot going on in the lower lumbar to do these postures. 

Sunday, 11:30-3:00p  Foot behind the Head and Headstands

"Work with what you have.  Treat the pose as a journey.  When we see X pose we stop working.  What do we need to obtain X?  Ask, What is the obstacle?  Is it the mind? Strength? Flexibility? And focus on working toward  X."

This was a class of dualities.  For the first half, we became well acquainted with our hamstrings and hips.  For myself, this was excruciating.  There is something going on with my hamstring insertion points that in certain poses feels like someone is driving hot pokers right into that spot.   Needless to say, my foot does not reach behind my head.  I need to figure out what's going on down there and find some resolution before moving that deeply into my hips. 

The second half was challanging and fun.  I have never attempted all seven variations on headstand (I can comfortably do two) as done in this sequence.  I think I can start working on two more now. 

Monday, 2-4:30p,  Arm Balances

Some of the best breakdown of arm balances I have done to date.  We worked extensively on Bakasana (Crane Pose), Mayruasana (Peacock), and Pincha Mayruasana (Feathered Peacock)

I felt this was an outstanding workshop.  He has a great rapport with students, a lovely sense of humor and an ability to break the postures down enough to capture the essence of the asana yet provide the framework and platform to build confidence and experience to grow in that pose.  I see on the Yoga House Website that he will be returning in Nov 2013.  I do hope I can attend! 


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J Broad, Part II: Fit Perfection

Part II: Fit Perfection

In Part II Mr. Broad moves away from India and tackles the scientific communities claims regarding the health benefits derived from yoga, specifically, cardio wellness.  I had some initial confusion where I wasn't certain if Broad and the articles he was referring to were exclusively Hatha yoga or if it was Hatha and the flow yoga styles.  Initially, it was Hatha, and later in the chapter the flow yogas are addressed. 

Again, I appreciate the methodology behind his research, finding an early legitimate study and moving forward from there.  In this case, we touch on Gune from the first chapter, who was one of the first to bring credibility back to yoga in India in the 1920's.

Broad states, "Gune taught a style of yoga that epitomized the slow, tranquil approach.  His emphasis was on holding poses for long periods of time and learning how to relax even amid extreme states of bending, flexing and upending.  It was a point he drove home with his measurements of how challenging inversion were gentle on the heart.  By contrast, the newer styles tend to be hyperkinetic, some done to the beat of rock music. The objective is to get the heart pounding and the body exhausted...In contrast to Gune style of yoga [and one could argue Iyengar's], the new goal is to maximize rather than minimize the energetic costs."  (pg 49)

It was 1922 when the sports world started looking at cardio and respiratory capabilities in athletes and starting to establish oxygen intake.  But it wasn't until the 1970's when researchers started to look at the claims that Hatha yoga "...held that deep breathing increased the blood's oxygenation despite the relative stillness of hte body and the modest use of the muscles during  yogic practice."  (pg 52) 

It should come as no surprise that no, Hatha yoga does not increase aerobic capability or oxygen consumption.  Only endurance sports can do that. 

Further studies ensued looking at Ashtanga Yoga and similar flow yoga styles and results were published in Yoga Journal, Shape Magazine, and subsequently spawned the whole YogaFit corporation.  Yoga was the "fit perfection".  You could do aerobic yoga and reap all the benefits of an endurance athlete.  Mass media said so, so it must be true. 

But there was one more study lurking on the horizon in 2007, conducted by the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and the Mailman School of Public Heath of Columbus Univeristy.  They had the funding and additional support from the National Institutes of Heath.  The style studied was Ashtanga.   In a nutshell (you'll have to read the book for the details), the oxygen demands on a seasoned practitioner "represent low levels of physical activity, similar to walking on a treadmill at a slow pace or taking a leisurely stroll." 

According to Mr. Broad's research,  this final study was disregarded by the yogic community and media.

"Yoga Journal continued its claims, hailing vigorous Hatha in 2008 as a 'good cardio workout'. 
"Yoga for Dummies 2nd ed, 2010 hailed the Sun Salutation for its aerobic benefits..." and the newer styles, "let practitioners 'work up a sweat' to achieve 'aerobic-type' workouts."
New York Times article "Does Yoga Keep You Fit?  Yes, it said.
...Mr. Broad cites more examples after that. 
Absolutely fascinating. 

Personally, I loved the last page in this chapter where he addresses cross-training.  I cross-train.  I do Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow, Iyengar-style Hatha, Yin, spin class, a CorePole class (aerobic weight training with resistance bands), bicycle, walking and long distance hiking.   Yoga is my stretching and strengthening time.  Everything else is my cardio and muscle workout.  I have seen great improvement from yoga in my recovery time after my endurance sports.  I have seen improvement in my yoga from my CorePole class.  And I've become even more mindful about making sure I take time to recover, to schedule in minimal activity days.  And ya know, it's all good.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Studio Review! CorePower, Edina, MN

My travels recently took me down to the Twin Cities, specifically Bloomington.  I knew I would have a bit of extra time on my hands and desperately wanted to fit in a couple yoga classes.  Corepower was on my travel paths AND offered classes that would easily fit into my schedule.  Other advantage: new-to-me studio! 

I arrived 10 minutes before class (later than I wanted but it was the best I could do driving straight from Duluth), was greeted warmly, given a quick tour and settled in on my mat.  This was a C2 class lead by Bethany.

CorePower Yoga 2 – Open Power Yoga: CorePower Yoga is a truly unique yoga practice based on intuition rather than tradition. A heated, climate controlled Vinyasa flow practice, CorePower Yoga heals, detoxifies and exhilarates the body and mind with emphasis on movement, balance and intention. A great class for students who are ready to take the next step in their journey, CorePower Yoga 2 connects the body to the mind and spirit through intense flow and Ujjayi breathing techniques, helping students get to the "Core" of their being.

Bethany lead a lovely class that was both simple and challenging.  The flow sequence was really delightful and could be adapted to both beginners and experienced practitioners.   She offered ways to up the pose and decrease the pose and moved around the room offering adjustments and encouragement. 
The room...was not as pleasant.  It was about 95* and humid.  About halfway through I suddenly felt nauseous and a bit light headed.  I do have low blood pressure (98/62) and couldn't get my heart to stop pounding.  Childs pose and modifications were necessary.   Any thing with my hands over my head was not good.  Ujjayi breath had to go away.   It took a good 10-15 minutes at the conclusion of class to get my heart to stop pounding.  I was dripping wet. 
An aside - I do question the use of the Ujjayi breath in a heated environment - Ujjayi is used to heat the torso, so do you really want to be heating the body when it's 95*?   Just a thought....
I returned the next day and attended a C1 class led by Valerie. 
CorePower Yoga 1 – Introduction to Power Yoga: A great class for beginners, CorePower Yoga 1 is a Vinyasa yoga done in a non-heated environment, with a slower-paced flow than CorePower Yoga 2. Postures are broken down (demonstrated), and instructors lead the flow at a deliberate pace with an emphasis on alignment and breath. An interactive class, students are encouraged to ask questions and explore the postures as they are ready. A great place to start your CorePower Yoga journey.
Yes, a beginning class, but it fit into my schedule and sometimes beginning classes can be just as challenging as a "upper level" session.  Valerie was a lovely instructor who moved around the room offering encouragement and adjustments as she worked with her regulars.  The room was NOT heated, but pleasantly warm.  I really enjoyed the flow and sequencing of this class and wouldn't hesitate to go back again. 
Overall, a good first impression of a CorePower studio.   I may try a C2 (heated class) again, now knowing that I should not add the Ujjayi in at the beginning and to keep my hands below my heart from the start.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad Part I: Health

I had a different post lined up for today, but then this book came available at the library on Friday.  I figured I would review it chapter by chapter.  Please join in if you've read it already. 

Quick background:  January 5, 2012, William J Broad wrote an article for the New York Times called  How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body.   I'm sure most of you have read it, it hit the yoga community like a midsummer thunderstorm leaving people feeling shocked, dismayed, threatened, and, in some instances, relieved that someone was finally speaking up about the "darker" side of yoga. Yup, apparently it's not all incense and bliss. 

Stretch forward three months and I got my hands on a copy of the book the article accompanies -  The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards.

I have finished part I: Health.  So far this has been a fascinating read.  The author explains articulately why he has chosen to focus on asana and not on the philosophy of yoga and how he went about doing his research.  I appreciate that Mr. Broad went past what we in the west understand to be the 'beginning' of yoga with Krishnamachara.  Mr. Broad dug into the sordid past and put it right down there in black and white.  As a western practitioner, raised in a traditional Christian religion that I walked away from as soon as I could, who came to yoga mid-life, I always found the discussions and dialog of "traditional" yogic philosophy a little too clean and pure sounding for my tastes.  I tend to be an automatic skeptic anytime someone says "we do this because tradition says so". 

Mr. Broad doesn't hold back.  Immediately in Part I: Health, he brings in the science and the research that has been conducted over the last century.   I work in a field that deals with a lot of statistics, number crunching, data analysis as well as speculation so I can appreciate the efforts behind good (and even mediocre) research.  My field has it's pariahs as well, those so-called researchers where I automatically sneeze bullshit! so I understand it's not all clean and clear cut.  I thought the authors methodology was reasonable and insightful and established a solid foundation for his hypothesis.

I do have a couple of criticisms:  one, it was either in the prologue or early in part I where the author states he wants to move away from those studies that use too few bodies (as in people) for their sample, citing research where perhaps only one individual was used or maybe less than twenty.  Yet as I read on, I found him talking about studies where they used, oh twenty eight people, or maybe forty.  I questioned the statistical validity of those samples in light of the former statement (assuming I read that first statement correctly) and wondered if the experiments had been repeated.  That's where you'll find the good science - can those studies and the results be repeated. 

My other criticism was he seemed to focus on debunking some of the more outlandish claims of yoga, using one example, that established yogis can stop or re-start their hearts (emulating savasana, or corpse pose).  Now this is just my opinion but even for as much as yoga can claim to do, that one I just never quite believed.  Perhaps it needed debunking because it's rooted in yogas deep "traditions", but I had my doubts. 

So far this book is very easy to read, it doesn't become bogged down in technical details and he interjects enough stories to keep the pacing satisfactory. 

Please stay tuned for Part II: Fit Perfection. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

After Savasana/Deep Relaxation

First, a moment of clarification: I'm going to refer to Savasana as Deep Relaxation.  Just a personal quirk of mine.  And the Deep Relaxation here will refer to resting fully supported on the ground.

I've been to a fair number of classes and workshops over the last 10 years and it seems so much emphasis is placed on Deep Relaxation and almost none on coming out of that place of deep rest and contentment.  As instructors move their classes into Deep Relaxation, they talk about arm and leg placement, or putting one's legs up the wall to make the pose more restorative.  There may be breath work like the 61 points of light or similar variation.  There may be a discussion on abdominal breathing and the use of a small bag of rice to facilitate that breath.  Some read poetry, play music, or do nothing at all (my personal favorite - hard to 'absorb' the class when the instructor in yammering away in the front of the room). 

But nobody talks about coming out of deep relaxation.  Heck, I've been in sessions where I'm just starting to really let go, and then I'm being told to get up! Time to Om!  No to minimal transition from that relaxed contentment to sitting up.  Now granted, sometimes the instructor has misjudged how much time they had at the end (I've been there myself), but egads people!  Don't be an alarm clock! 

Which is the point of my discussion today.  Coming out of Deep Relaxation mindfully.  Alarm clocks are for the morning. 

My preferred method is -  assuming at least 5 minutes of Deep Relaxation (longer if possible) and the person is resting on the floor:

1) inhale up from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and let the breath sweep back down and out through the soles of the feet.
2) next inhale, begin to wiggle fingers and toes
3) next inhale, begin to rotate ankles and wrists, being mindful to rotate wrists in both directions especially for vinyasa/astanga folks
4) next inhale, room permitting, stretch arms over head and stretch feet in the opposite direction. 
5) exhaling, release everything and let the earth support you.  Take a couple breaths.
6) exhaling, draw knees into your chest, and release the lower back with a little movement
7) next breath roll to a) left side for relaxing b) right side for more alertness.   I usually do left.   Making sure to place arm under head to keep spine in-line
8) with upper hand, gently push yourself upright to a comfortable seated position
9) end with sitting in silence for however long you have left and close class.    Ahhhh.....

This whole sequence should only take about two - three minutes, shortening the sitting in silence as needed to end on time.  Following the breath helps maintain that sense of relaxation and also is a good way to count coming out. 

Not infrequently, I will instruct the class to come out of deep relaxation in their own method and timing.  Now folks who have been with me a while will do some variation on the sequence above.  I usually don't do this method if I have a class with new-to-me folks because too often I see the "jack in the box" effect, where they go from laying down to sitting up with nothing in between.  Not recommended - you don't get up in the morning like that (unless you suddenly realized you were running super late), so you shouldn't Pop! out of deep relaxation.  ((shudder!)) It's jarring just thinking about it!

To recap:
DO - move gradually back into the body and limbs
DO - support the head when in foetal position (resting on your side)
DO - take your time, like you are waking up for the first time that day
DO - continue to breathe

DON'T - pop-up from reclined to sitting.  Save that for the middle of class asana
DON'T - rush  

Do you have a preferred method for returning from Deep Relaxation? 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flexibility of Mind (link)

People are, generally, pretty inflexible.  And I'm not referring to physical flexibility but mental flexibility.  I think we're witnessing this in our political system right now, I see it in peoples food choices (a refusal to eat anywhere but *insert chain restaurant here*), how they cope with their significant other or kids, and one's interaction with co-workers in the workplace.   We become very rigid in our thinking and manners.

But yet, a portion of us want to teach yoga.  Great!   But are you approaching the poses like you approach the afore mentioned items?  You were taught "this is THE way to do it and the ONLY way to do it?"  How is that flexible? 

I have witnessed this first hand in the Ashtanga tradition.  Guruji (aka Pattabhi Jois) said "X" and therefore, it shall be "X" because tradition says so. 

WTF?  Seriously?  B as in B and S as in S. 

Now don't get me wrong.  I LOVE the Ashtanga lineage.  I love the sequencing (okay, some days I don't), I love the meditative aspect I can get from the Primary Series that I just can't seem to achieve in a vinyasa class.  But the traditional Ashtanga lineage as taught  by the Mysore Institute is very structured and formalized.  It is very rigid in what a student can and cannot do.   Which is why I personally, cannot follow a traditional Mysore style Ashtanga practice.  I need to be able to work outside the box.  As an instructor, I need to be able to explore other poses and different ways to link those poses together. 

And so it was with great interest that I read this on Do Restorative Yoga's blog:

I can't agree enough with most aspects of the full excerpt.  It IS important to be able to meet individual students needs - for example, I have a student, male, in his 60's, 6'7", 190lbs if he's standing in the rain.  I have a student, female, in her 30's, 5'3", maybe 100lbs with her winter boots on?   It may be Utthita Hasta Padangustasa, but I cannot teach it the same way to both.   Their anatomy is completely different.  Same pose, different bodies. 

Picture from; Mount Nemrut in Turkey. 
These folks are a bit set in their ways....

Friday, January 27, 2012


I was in yoga class last night and the teacher said:

Cultivate gratitude to find contentment. 

A sign on a local Christian radio station: 

Resolve to be positive. 

Can it get any simpler? 

Honey Horn Plantation; Hilton Head SC.  My personal photo.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Practing with a Yoga-Newbie

This time of year I typcially see an influx of newer folks, often tagging along with a freind or family member.  I see daughters bringing their Mom's, wives bringing husbands, gals (and sometimes guys) who talked a reluctant  friend into trying "just one class". 

I see the same thing in road cycling.  The friend or spouse (whose an avid cyclist, the kind who lives in spandex when not at work and uses words like rpm, metric century and derailers), talks girl/boy/wife/husband into coming along on a ride. 

Mostly I see a lot of apprehension, followed by a bit of  anger and annoyance.  Yup.  Our enthusiasm is our downfall.

In yoga, as in cycling, the more experienced partner tends to forget that the newbie needs to be eased into the new activity.  Someone newer to cycling is NOT going to be able to maintain a steady speed of 14 mph for 10 miles.   No way, no how.   Someone new to yoga is not going to feel comfortable in an hour and a half Ashtanga class.  In both scenario's, the likelyhood of the newbie coming back is almost zero.

I decided a few guidelines for bringing someone new to yoga might be of assistance. Remember, The idea is to introduce them to yoga, not to intimidate the bejeebers out of them. 

1)  Ratchet back.  Take your friend/spouse to a class geared more for beginners.  Yes, YOU can probably hammer out 10 sun salutations in 10 minutes and hold boat pose with the best of them. THEY can't.  Start simple.  This is a great opportunity to look at a class with a beginner's eyes and work on some of the basic foundations of your asana. 

2)  Introduce them to the instructor and let the instructor know that they are new to class.  A good instructor will know to keep an eye on their guest and offer modifications as necessary.

3) Don't set your friend/spouse/partner's mat in the corner, and don't let them do it either.  Middle of the room or towards the back.  This way they have a full view of the instructor and will have other people to watch.  Back corner guarantees  'rubber necking'.  Not good. 

3) Once class has begun, leave your friend/spouse/partner alone.  Way too often I see our enthusiastic practitioner  'adjusting' the newbie, telling them what do do.  Let them be.  They already have so much being thrown at them that having you telling them what to do on top of it can be overwhelming.    Instead, focus on your practice and let the instructor watch your friend/spouse/partner.  

4) If you feel compelled to offer encouragement, keep it to a smile, a whispered, "you're doing great!", a thumbs up.   See #3

5) Try not to pounce on them after class with the question, "Well?  Did you like it?"  Give them some time to absorb what they just did.  Ask instead (over coffee or on the drive home), "Do you have any questions about what we did today?" 

6) And this is the hard one: don't expect them to love it.  Don't expect them to even like it.  Yoga is such a personal thing and not for some.  Just like you may not be attracted to weight lifting, so they too may not be attracted to the nuances of yoga.   And that's okay. 


(picture from yoga clip art images)