Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Yoga is more universal than you might think by Michael Perry (Wisconsin State Journal)

This was in the Wisconsin State Journal, Monday, Oct 7, 2013

Enjoy!  I certainly did, especially after the slow-cooked rice with vanilla-soy milk was a colossal flop this morning and the Husband was reluctant to tell me so.  :)  

Yoga is more universal than you might think

Recently a real-live yogi asked my wife and me for help renaming his yoga studio. Asking a guy like me to rename your yoga studio is the rough equivalent of asking a room full of teenaged boys to come up with an advertising slogan for baked beans, but I agreed to do the best I could, which is to say we lowered the bar immediately.

This all came about in the first place because my wife is a long-time student of the yogic arts. I don’t know if they give out yogi belts like they do karate belts, but if they did I guess my wife would be somewhere at the higher end, say a third-degree rainbow belt or a first degree tie-dye. She was studying before I met her. (As a matter of fact, she was doing yoga in the first photograph I ever viewed of her. In the department of “Hey! Who’s Creepy?” it popped up during my pre-first-date Googling.) She sustains a dedicated practice to this day. Over the past several years she has been studying with the yogi in question, and he’s become a family friend. In fact, we’ve had him over for pancakes. Gluten-free quinoa pancakes sprinkled with essence of dandelion, or something along those righteous nutritional lines, but nonetheless I think you should know that even yogis like pancakes.

I have all the flexibility of a narrow-minded scarecrow, so both my wife and the yogi have tried to get me to try a few poses over the years, but it hasn’t gone well. For one thing, I comport myself upon the mat with all the grace of a concussed cow. For another, yoga requires patience, dedication, and follow-through, and I just don’t think that’s fair.

Nonetheless, my wife hangs in there. One thing I admire about her as a yoga instructor is her dedication to sharing the benefits of yoga with groups of people not normally considered yoga-friendly. For instance, a year or two ago she asked me to help her write some promotional materials designed to lure farmers into attending yoga classes. I was pretty skeptical at first, until I started paging through one of her textbooks and discovered many of the poses were directly applicable to agricultural pursuits. For instance, you’ve got your plow pose, otherwise known as the Halasana. You’ve got your wheel pose, which looks to me like it’d be a good choice if you were trying to locate a grease zerk on the underside of the hay baler. You’ve got your Seated Wide Legged Straddle, otherwise known as the Upavistha Konasana, which would come in handy when dismounting from the tractor or avoiding a charging pig. Then there’s the Awkward Chair Pose, which I would call The Uff-Da, and the Half-Moon pose, which I renamed Farmer Dropped His Pliers. (Some might call it The Plumber.)

I wrote these suggestions up and shared them with my wife, because we are in this together, whether she likes it or not. After reading them, she looked at me in a manner betraying the fact that she has a looong way to go on this whole inner peace thing. Nonetheless, when the yogi called for help renaming his studio, she asked if I had any ideas. After a period of reflection coming in at just under three minutes, I compiled the following list: Languid Yoga. Grunty Yoga. Slippery Yoga. Do We Hafta Yoga. Something Popped Yoga. Oops Yoga. OK Yoga. Holy Yogi Yoga. Nice Tights Yoga. The Yoga Barn. Old Country Yoga Buffet. Posing 4 Posers. Dude-i-o with a Studio. And finally: Rock Hard in Your Leotard.

I submitted the list for review, but didn’t hear back. When I inquired, my wife said she hadn’t found time to respond because she’s been busy developing a new yoga pose especially for me. She says she hasn’t decided what to call it yet. She’s leaning toward Sound of One Hamstring Snapping, but for the sake of brevity may go with The Trussed Turkey.

by Michael Perry  An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. For more of Michael Perry’s writing, visit Perry photo by Andi Stempniak, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

YogaFit Training: Level 3 (MBF Minneapolis)

I was able to attend YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) in Minneapolis recently.    You can read about my experience with Level 1Training in Feb here, which inspired me to take the opportunity to attend a full conference.   Level 2 is the previous post.

Level 3 was Thursday and Friday, the start of what was going to be a very full weekend.  The days are well structured and very well run – which is one of the things that I like about the YogaFit trainings.  They give you the class format and they stick to the class format.   It’s a combination of discussion/lecture, movement, and small group work. 

Level  Three emphasizes “Introspection”.  The session starts out with a review of the YogaFit Essence, YogaFit workout, and  Seven Principles of Alignment, and which are all a review of what was introduced Level 1 and Level 2 and will continue to be a solid and integral part of the YogaFit system. 

I already discussed how a training day progresses in Level 1 and 2: discussion, workout, small breakout groups.  Same format here.  I do like the consistency and breaks are incorporated right in.  No need to worry that you won’t get that bathroom run in or time for munchies. 

In two days, we covered:
The Paths of Yoga (Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti)
The Mind-Body connection (le brain)
Level 3 poses and adjustments

I really enjoyed the Level 3 session – it was a group of engaging people and a very knowledgeable instructor.  Still a fair amount of review for me, but not nearly as much as Level 2.   The Chakras were not as hokey as I thought they would be and I actually would have liked a bit more breakdown than we got.  Again, I thought there wasn’t enough emphasis on the poses and adjustments, but that might be my background coming through.  A downside of coming into this training with 9 years of teaching experience – I’m not a beginning yoga instructor anymore. 

I have mixed thoughts on the breathwork – I don’t think there was enough discussion on when to incorporate and how to incorporate the breathwork.  Having done this as part of an Iyengar-style class I used to take, it was very methodical and structured.  What I’m seeing from YogaFit trained instructors in my area is the breath is just ‘tacked on’ in the beginning with no regard to how long or an explanation to the class of why.  It’s done because the instructor was told to do it.   So while I liked the review, the pranayama as taught and being part of a flow class remains questionable to me. 

I’m looking forward to taking Level 4. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

YogaFit Training: Level 2 (Minneapolis MBF)

I was able to attend YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) in Minneapolis this past weekend.    You can read about my experience with Level 1Training in February here in Duluth, which inspired me to take the opportunity to attend a full conference in Minneapolis. 

Level 2 was Saturday and Sunday, a very full two day session.  The days are well structured and very well run  – which is one of the things that I like about the YogaFit trainings.  They give you the class format and they stick to the class format.   It’s a combination of discussion/lecture, movement, and small group work. 

Level 2 emphasizes “Communication”.  The session starts out with a review of the YogaFit Principles, Essence, Transformational Language, “PEP” Language (positive expression) which are all a review of what was introduced Level 1 and will continue to be a solid and integral part of the YogaFit system. 

After about an hour, we transitioned into a “Master Class”, where the instructor takes the attendees through a yoga class incorporating the levels lessons and postures which will be discussed and broken down later in the afternoon or the next day.  I LOVE this hour.  To be able to see and feel how all of the teachings are being pulled together is fantastic.  My only complaint was the instructor turned the lights off in the room.  Being in a hotel conference space, way up in a front corner, and the only light coming from the hallway was not cool.  I get nauseous easily when I can’t see while moving and balancing. 

Once the Master Class is finished, a new concept is introduced (depending on how familiar one is with yoga, it might be a review of a known aspect)  and then we break for lunch. 

After lunch, there is another hour of discussion/lecture - and by this I mean that the instructors encourage a give and take from the group, that it’s not a straight hour of someone sitting at the front of the room reading from the manual - before we break into small groups for pose breakdown.  Class concludes with further discussion on another topic.

Things we covered included:
Yogic Philosophy – YogaFit philosophy, 8 Limbs of Yoga, Yamas and Niyamas
Positive Thinking
Awareness Process
Qualities of an Instructor
Visual/Auditory/Kinesetic Learning (VAK)
Level 2 Poses

My overall impressions – it was a good session.  It was also 80% of a review for me and there is nothing wrong with a solid review.  I am pretty well versed in the poses we covered (and a bit shocked at some they were incorporating at this level.  I don’t do them in my classes unless I have the right group of people), I have a solid grasp of the 8 Limbed Path and the Yamas and Niyamas from my first teacher training and subsequent philosophy workshops.  I should add that I am e-RYT200 and have nine years of teaching experience.

I did think the pose breakdown was way too basic; I thought we should have discussed how to enter/exit the pose safely, the mechanics of staying in the pose and alternatives.   But perhaps that would have been information overload for where the other attendees were at?  Still, now is the time to emphasize this information in my opinion.  

I continue to recommend the YogaFit training system.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teach from a Beginner's Mind

I recently attended a hot yoga class in town during their promotion week.  I enjoyed the session immensely: the class pace was good, the instructor had good cues, she was engaging, and she got off her mat to watch her students.  The room temp was a balmy 105*F (40*C) which oddly was not as hot as some CorePower classes I've taken - a difference in humidity I think.  I had a good session.

However, I don't think the two people brand new to yoga - as in this was their first class - did. 

Because the instructor led a class that was appropriate for her, not her students.  She was a small, lithe, little thing.  Her class, was not.  More than once I wanted to go adjust someone, to offer that person a more comfortable place to work, to relax shoulders, put knees over ankles or straighten legs, to lift hearts.  I inwardly cringed as she put people into a challenging variation on warrior III then transitioned to half-moon without any blocks for the the class.  She came to a spot where it was "Free Arm Balance Time!" then went through a slew of arm balances that only two of us could do (myself and my friend) but didn't offer any explanation of what all those arm balance poses were or places to work.  So what did the rest of the class do at that point?  You guess it, sat back and watched in the mirrors. 

One of my biggest peeves - don't give people a basketful of poses and expect that they know what they are!  Especially in what was basically a demo class!  Pick one and offer different places to work on. 

I'm fairly certain she was predominantly YogaFit trained - there is a class flow that is particular to YogaFit and readily identifiable.  I think this is one of the drawbacks of the YogaFit training system (and yes, I've done the YogaFit training) is this tendency to leap into the "fancy" poses without any breakdown.  Rather like the jump forwards/jump backs - always done, rarely broken down.

Which brings me to my title: Teach from a Beginners Mind.  Or, lead a class appropriate for your students.   I know I've written about this before, but class is NOT the time for YOU to be practicing. Yes, you might be very comfortable in any given pose, but your class probably is not.  LOOK at your class.  SEE what they are doing.  And find a place for them to start the pose.  Even if that means going back to the beginning.

Some suggestions: 
  • If doing a demo class, keep the poses to the basics.  Skip the Warrior III's, Half-Moon's, the Arm Balances. 
  • If you have an influx of beginners (beginning of a new session or season), keep the poses to the basics.  Then ratchet back even more.  Even your regulars will benefit from foundational work.  Your regulars should also know that they can work up if needed. 
  • You might be comfortable in arm balances, but most beginners aren't.  These take time to build up to - take the time to build up the foundation.  Pick one asana and work on it, and when the majority of your class is showing some proficiency, then introduce another. 
  • Don't be doing headstands with a beginning or demo class.  Period.
Much of this will come with teaching experience and with follow-up instructor training.  Currently, my community has a HUGE influx of new instructors and well, the classes in the area reflect that. 

And here is where I fully admit, it is hard for me to turn off my teacher's brain when I take a class.  I know I need to be in a front corner where I can't see the majority of the class.   Unfortunately for this session, I was smack dab in the middle of a long skinny room with a bank of mirrors.  Again, I enjoyed class and it gave me something to blog about.

Teach from a Beginner's Mind. Always.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sparrow Studio's, Eagan, MN

I had the opportunity to visit a new studio this past weekend when I was in the Cities:  Sparrow Studios

A studio dedicated to offering inspired group fitness classes.  Inspired is that special “it” that happens when a class harmoniously combines energy, music, movement and community.  Sparrow Studios is committed to offering group fitness classes that blend these elements and give you a workout that delivers results.  It is not enough to plod through an uninspired group fitness class – where you are one of many, the music is off, and you have no idea what muscle you are actually working. You deserve more. The instructor should be engaging, motivating and knowledgeable.  The music should lead you to where you need to be.  The class should deliver the physical results you want.  And there should be a mind-body connection, so that your body knows exactly what your mind wants to work!. 

My sister started going here a while back as an alternative to Lifetime Fitness, which just wasn’t meeting her needs and goals anymore.  I had the opportunity to join her in a BarreAmped class (it was what fit into both of our schedules). 

What is BarreAmped?  Sparrow defines it as:  The BarreAmped method is influenced by classical and modern dance (though it is not a dance class) and utilizes a barre to achieve optimal positioning. Insights from Pilates, yoga, and orthopedic stretching also balance the method’s unique approach.

I would have to say that is spot on.   What I really liked about the class were the students – gals like my sister who want to work out without bouncing around or trying to move from downdog to a lunge when they aren’t built to move like that.  This was not an easy class – the emphasis was move toward muscle fatigue.  It was well rounded – starting with arms and backs (ow! ow! ow!), moving to legs (ow! ow! ow!), then abs and some pushup work, ending with gentle stretching.  Movements were small, controlled and based upon repetition.  The instructor was engaging and encouraging and laughed.  I like instructors who can laugh.

I enjoyed the class because it was so different frin what I attend (traditional yoga, CorePole resistance and aerobic training, and spin class).  It was refreshing to work outside of my usual routine and comfort zone and I felt it the next day!  Woot!

Based upon first visit – recommended. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

YogaFit Training: Level 1

Weekend training is over and I've had a chance to digest and apply some of what I learned.  It was about 16 hours of Level 1 intensive over Saturday and Sunday.  My short version:  some of the better training I have received especially as it relates to pose/asana dynamics and safety.

The long version: while a long weekend, especially with the Props session on Friday, this was not as mentally or physically challenging as other training (Ashtanga based) I have taken.  I was able to enjoy the weekend, rather than feeling exhausted, numb and overwhelmed.

Day One:
Introductions all around.  18 people in the session, with a range of abilities.  Group was predominantly fitness instructors looking to expand their class options.  There were 2 people who had taken one yoga class (yes, one) and seven yoga classes and decided they wanted to teach.  There was one gal looking to bring some idea back to use with cancer patients and their families, and then a couple straight up yogi's like myself.  So very diverse group.

The instructor was absolutely fantastic.  Her depth of knowledge as it relates to the human body, how it moves, the muscular system was just great.  She had an undergrad/masters in Exercise Physiology and Biomechanics and was pursuing a Doctorate degree in Kinesiology.  I don't recall how long she had been with YogaFit as a Trainer, but I thought I heard something like 15 years with the organization.

We touched on the philosophy of YogaFit covering their Principles of Alignment, the Three Mountain Format, the Foundational Poses, and the YogaFit Essence.  Then she took us through a 90 minute class which I absolutely loved.  Some more discussion and off to lunch.  In the afternoon we began to break down the poses YogaFit has deemed acceptable for a newbie to teach.  At least that was how I viewed it.

At any rate, it was some of the best pose breakdown I've participated in to date.  It was more than here's the pose, here's how you do it; it was more, here are the dynamics that make the pose what it is, here are some strengths and weakness of the pose, and here are some variations on the pose to adapt it to a wider range of people.  Nicceeee...

Homework was assigned and out the door we went.

Day Two:
Another 90 minute session.  Room was a little warm at 92*, but the instructor managed to get the temp down to 85* by the end of practice. 

After a quick break, we moved into our homework assignment and partner work, which was talking people through a series of poses.  Some confusion here, but she got us straightened out and we did our talking.  The small room was not conducive to 18 talking through a 'mock' session, but we managed.

Lunch break.

And more partner work to build on the mornings session, switching partners for the second round.

We broke again and she led us through some things people might expect to see in a yoga class, such as people with injuries, arthritis, high/low blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, scoliosis, osteoporosis, etc.  She further discussed some YogaFit philosophy, verbal cuing and very briefly touched on props.

Again, ultimately, a great session.  My only complaint/criticism is the homework and execution was not as smooth as it could have been.  It was given to us as "Find 2 Transformational Language Cues for Each Pose" when, I think it could have been elaborated to include, "find transformational language cues for each pose as if you were going to lead a class..."

I also thought switching partners 3x fragmented the homework too much and didn't allow the class to really feel what it would be like to do a session, even if it was a mini-session.

The manual handout that was given at the start of class was much appreciated by myself.  Very well done, with a binding that would lay flat for ease of taking notes.  Though it did leave me wondering if buying the book was really necessary - everything seems to be provided for at the class.  Well, no matter, book is bought and now marked up with notes in preparation for a class where we didn't use it.  

Lastly, and this is my personal quirk, I don't like to be given "options" during a yoga class.  I'm there to turn off my mind, to move with the flow, and I find it very jarring to be moving and breathing and have the teacher say, "Now do whatever you want, whatever feels good, for the next five minutes...".  Wha..??  No, no, no.  Now you just made me think, when my brain was happily turned off.   Grrr.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

YogaFit Training: Props

So I took the plunge this weekend and attended some YogaFit training that was offered in Duluth.  I've been a bit hesitant about moving in this direction as I consider myself to be more 'classically' trained and YogaFit is definitely a 'gym' style class, but a couple of items finally pushed me to sign up.

One has been a lack of local workshops (as in a 150 mile travel distance local) being offered the last three years.  It seems there has been a significant decrease in Well Known instructors being invited to lead weekend workshops in the Twin Cities.  Noting here that I am looking for instructors who teach an Ashtanga or Vinyasa style.  Another factor is timing of said workshops - I need weekend dates, not mid-week dates.  It is problematic for me to just take off work on a Wednesday through Friday.  I'm rather limited to weekends.

Through my YMCA connections I received notice that the YogaFit organization was going to be conducting a three day session here in Duluth.  Day One: Use of Props in a Restorative class.  Okay, that's good, I do toss in restorative sessions and substitute lead Restorative class on occasion.  Very apropos.  And a two day Level 1 training.  Perhaps a bit basic for my needs, but YogaFit does offer a slew of additional training sessions where they require you to have taken the Level 1.

Did I mention the training was in town?  No extra gas or hotel costs incurred here.  Nice.  And I can use the credits toward my Yoga Alliance certification.  Also nice.

So, Props.  Well, I was under the impression it was going to be Props for Restorative based of of the description on the website, but it was definitely Props for Vinyasa.  Which was actually better.  It can be...problematic to incorporate props in a flow class because you do not have time to "set up" a station.  

Props session was well organized.  We got started about a half hour late because there were three people missing and with -20* temps that morning, the instructor decided to err on the side of caution.  Third person never did show up.  Ended up being six trainees, five gals and one guy.  Nice to see that guy in class!  Every one but me had previous YogaFit training, which wasn't a problem - just some terminology differences like dead bug = happy baby and some asana sequencing that I haven't learned.

The instructor, Katie, touched on some review from prior YogaFit sessions (like Level 1, 2 and 3 training), a bit of "prop philosophy", then moved right into props and prop use in a vinyasa class ala YogaFit style.  It was a combination of talking and moving, she would explain, we would move through the sequence a few times, then move on.  There was good give and take from the group. 

In the afternoon we did floor and wall work.  I learned a very cool way to get legs up the wall without scooching:  Ninja roll!  Awesome...

Breaks were built in, we did have an hour for lunch, and we were done early at 430p.  I got the impression that's not always the case, but the exception since we were a very small group.

So my impression of my first exposure to YogaFit was very positive.  I was impressed with the instructors ability to pull from previous trainings, those Level 1-3 sessions (even tho I haven't take them), I never got the feeling that in any given pose that "that was the only way" to do it, and it was some of the best use of props I had yet been exposed to.

I also realized just how much verbal cuing, verbal adjusting, and modifications I do, because I generally don't use props.  

Next up:  Level 1 training.  Two day session.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Fountain of Youth

I was at a party on New Years Eve and talking to one of the other guests.  We were discussing the places he traveled to in 2012 and places he and his wife were going to travel to in 2013.  Both years were many and varied, fascinating and interesting, for pleasure and for family.

Somewhere in the conversation, I said in polite jest, "Well, if you find the fountain of youth, please let me know!".

And he replied, "Oh, but I have..."  

This is what he said:

One - Practice a variety of exercise.  Don't stick with just one thing.

Two - Eat correctly.

Three - Read motivational books.** 

Four - Volunteer, donate your time and energy; practice the principle of giving without the expectation of anything in return. 

**As an avid book reader myself, I pursued the question of why motivational books?  He felt motivational books were a better way to engage the mind and to better oneself.  We discussed this further, to which I expressed the opinion that just the act of reading can be beneficial - one is still engaging the mind, but yet, for many of us, reading is a form of relaxation which is just as important in our hectic and overly busy worlds.  And in a society where so many people just 'zone out' in front of the TV, I feel the act of turning OFF the TV and picking up any kind of literature is a start. 

A fascinating discussion to be having on the end of one year, and on the cusp of the next.  Simple, practical, doable. 

Happy New Year!