Monday, September 22, 2014

YogaFit Training: Prenatal

Session was held at the Shift Fitness and Massage Studio, NE Minneapolis, MN.   The instructor was the fabulous and dynamic Katie S.  Yoga peeps, I could listen to her for hours, she is so incredibly knowledgeable about anatomy, alignment, kinesiology, biomechanics, prenatal, postpartum and yoga and how it is all inter-related. 

The session started right at 8am, with a smaller class of 10.  Eight of us knew each other from either the Level 4 training  or Anatomy and Alignment.  What made the class even better, was we had an delivery nurse taking the session, so she brought her knowledge and understanding to compliment the instructors.

We did a review of the Courses Purpose:
  • Safety for Mom and Baby
  • Physiology, hormonal and bio-mechanics of pregnancy
  • Emotional aspects
  • Sleep
  • Importance of nutrition (did not go into depth or details)
  • Social Support
  • Breathing
  • Poses
And ultimately, the message for the Mommy-to-Be, "Yeah, you can, but should you.  What risks are you incurring to you and your baby?"

It's those risks as related to yoga that we would be covering, for either a prenatal specific class OR if you have a regular in one of your classes who becomes pregnant.  

We touched on the Three Trimesters and what's happening physically.

We discussed breathing that's appropriate - because the breath is linked to the nervous system and has a direct impact on Mom and baby.

We stuffed pillows up our shirts and did a 90 minute moving yoga session to simulate what it's like to move (minus the weight of an actual baby). 

And we did a pose discussion - what is appropriate and safe for a pregnant woman during the various trimesters then broke down a handful of partner poses.

Now, I will say this is a summary of most of what covered. The conversation and discussion walked a mid-line between holding a prenatal specific class with newer-to-yoga students and having a regular yoga practitioner in one's class.   For the regular, long(er) practicing Mommy, this is where the statement: "Yeah, you can, but should you.  What risks are you incurring to you and your baby?" really comes into play, because of all the hormonal changes happening to the Mom's body she may not be aware of. 

A lot of what we covered could also be used for a Senior Class (though YogaFit does have a Senior specific training that I'll probably be taking at a later date), a class for Guys or for a larger body type.  Heck, it could also be used in a restorative class!   The Prop workshop also compliments any of these trainings.

Overall, I was very pleased to finally get some Prenatal instruction.  My only criticism of the session was the class was a bit short for the topic being covered - perhaps there was the assumption that we were all women, so either you had kids or were planning on having kids and understood much of this (which is not true).  And the class got a bit squirrel-y toward the end of the day so maybe skipping breaks and having a working lunch isn't necessarily conducive to a learning environment.  I would have like a longer discussion on poses.  But, at least I have something to work with now.

Highly recommend this training. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

B.K.S. Iyengar 1918-2014

YogaSpy is studying in Pune, India and was present the day Mr. Iyengar left his body.  Her post is far more poignant than anything I could say.  

To incredible man who has given the world so much - thank you.

Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai

Abahu Purushakaram
Shankhacakrsi Dharinam
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
Pranamami Patanjalim

2004 at his 86th birthday

Not familiar with the Iyengar tradition, follow this link here: 

Monday, August 18, 2014

YogaFit Training: Anatomy and Alignment

This past weekend found me at another YogaFit training, this time in Excelsior, MN – Anatomy and Alignment I.  This is the training I wanted to take, that started me on the YogaFit path back in 2013 – YogaFit requires Level 1 training to take this particular workshop.  

Level 1 and Anatomy and Alignment were both taught by Katie, an absolutely amazing instructor.  The enthusiasm she brings to class is infectious and inspiring, her delivery makes what could be a dry topic fun, and she uses a variety of tools to teach.   It was easier to copy her bio from the YogaFit webpage:

Katie has been a Hatha Yoga Teacher for over 12 years. She holds certifications in personal training and group fitness instruction and designation of E-RYT 500. She has done extensive training in using Yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation in promoting positive affect and is a Level 1 LifeForce Yoga Practitioner, a mindfulness-based Yoga program that focuses on the intentional design of Yoga classes to manage mood. She is also a Senior Master Trainer for YogaFit Teacher Training Systems and the creator of YogaFit for Balancing Mood teacher training. Katie has studied Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, and Hatha Yoga at the University of Minnesota and has spent 4 months in Northern India studying these traditions. 

Katie earned her MA at Gonzaga University. As part of her PhD study in Kinesiology, she is minoring in Prevention Science, as well as in Integrative Therapies and Healing Practices through the Center for Spirituality and Healing. Her PhD research project examines the efficacy of mindfulness-based Yoga in reducing depressive symptoms in currently mild to moderately depressed women. In addition, she serves as project coordinator for a large NIH-funded randomized trial that examines the efficacy of a physical activity intervention for the prevention of postpartum depression. Katie serves as Graduate Faculty at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in Hatha Yoga history, asana, pranayama, meditation, philosophy, lifestyle, and ethics as well as research methods in Kinesiology.

I could sit and listen to Katie for hours (which, technically, I did…) and would love to take one of her classes at the U of MN.  I bet it would be challenging and inspiring.

As I type this, I’m still reeling a bit from information overload.  Katie admitted she was giving us in two days what she usually gives over a semester in one of her courses.  I thought my knowledge of anatomy was pretty strong, I’ve always been interested in how the body works, but after this weekend I realized just how little I really understand.  Uff…

To recap the training, we began by taking the YogaFit  Seven Principles of Alignment and applied them directly to Anatomy:
1) Establishing base and dynamic tension starting with the feet
2) Soften and align the knees
3) Hinge at the hips
4) Create core stability
5) Align the spine
6) Relax the shoulders
7) “shorten the lever” 

Then it was a review of anatomical and kinesiology terminology, which I admit I’m really weak in. We discussed the planes of the body, what flexion/extension/ medial and lateral rotation/adduction/abduction are in relation to those planes, and eccentric/concentric/isometric contraction.  Next came the bones, joints, muscle groups up to the base of the neck, plus some of the tendons.  Then we put all of those together to understand how the body moves.  That was day one, 8am to 6pm. 

Day two we started at 8am, had a 20 minute lunch, and finished at 4pm.  We reviewed the above terms – lots of review and repetition via group work and 90 minute asana practice – and we applied what we learned to yoga poses specifically.  What is happening when we move into a warrior II, what are the hamstrings actually doing in a forward fold, what needs to lengthen in order to do a heart opener (backbend), what muscle groups support us in our twists, and so on. 

The books we referred to – and in this workshop we actually did use the books – were the Key Muscles of Yoga by Ray Long, PhD and Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries by Susie Hately Aldous.   Key Muscles is a great book.  I was reading the moment I pulled it out of the box, and this training gave me a better understanding of what I was looking at.  I’ve had Susie’s book for years from a previous training, but until now I never really looked at it.  Again, a deeper appreciate of what I resource I now have. 

The weekend, the instructor, the participants were amazing.  I need to let things gel a bit before I start reviewing the material. This is too important to just set aside, especially since I intend to take Anatomy and Alignment II - which is also taught by Katie - in another year or so. 

If you are serious about leading yoga classes, take an anatomy and alignment class.  If you are in the YogaFit program, this workshop was outstanding. You'll be overwhelmed, but your personal practice and teaching will be better for it. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

YogaFit Training: Level 4 (Minneapolis MBF) - LONG!

This past weekend I was in Minneapolis at YogaFit’s Mind Body Fitness (MBF) conference to attend the Level 4 training.  This is what they consider their most “intensive”, covering four days from 8a till 6p every day.   From my perspective, this was not the most rigorous training I have experienced – my initial Ashtanga Teacher Training and several subsequent weekend Ashtanga workshops fit that category.  In fact, I thought this was a fairly relaxing weekend as far as trainings go. 

I would have preferred to have blogged every day, but in this day of ready internet access, getting a free and open wifi signal in downtown Minneapolis was darn near impossible.  Hotel charged for access in room, and I certainly wasn’t paying for the three hours I would be awake in the room each evening.  We weren’t provided a password for the meeting rooms – though that might have been intentional.  We’re there to focus on training, not our phones.  Minneapolis does provide wifi, but from what I could tell, you needed a secret codeword for that as well.  The standard Starbucks and Caribou coffee shops were inundated with pods and gaggles of teenage girls and their chaperones who were in town for a National Volleyball Championship and not conducive to hanging out. 

So, I’m going from memory a bit here.  

The Level 4 YogaFit session roughly covers:
The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
The Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Yogic Philosophy as relates to Gita and Sutras
History of Yoga
Sanskrit pronunciation (The Language of Yoga by Nickoli Bachman)
Advanced Pose breakdown

I’m going to review by topic rather than by day since we covered multiple – and often the same - subjects each day.   And I’ll do it from what impressed me most to least from my perspective.  Please recall, this is NOT my first workshop or Teacher Training experience; I did a TT200 in 2004-2005 and more worshops than I can list here.  

Ready?  Okay!  Here I go!    

Sanskrit pronunciation  (The Language of Yoga by Nicolai Backman)
For the first time in 10 years, I got a solid breakdown of the Sanskrit language, touching on vowel and consonant pronunciation, spelling and the postures themselves.  Until now, it has been somewhat glossed over or I’m expected to learn the language through call-and-response or by osmosis.   The Level 4 instructor talked us through it visually (we had our manuals in front of us), then brought that to the mat for some call-response work and association, and later, working on looking up the words for a crossword.

This was  introduced early in the weekend, and we just kept building on it. Lots of repetition which I appreciated.  Now I did have the advantage that I knew many of the asana names from the Asthanga sequence, but my pronunciation was sorely lacking. 

One student did ask, Why are we learning Sanskrit when the whole point of YogaFit is to make this accessible and non-elitist to the general population?   And now we’re bringing in that very thing YogaFit wants to avoid?    The response was that yoga comes from a very rich and ancient culture, Sanskrit is an integral part of that history, and as instructors, we should be aware of the root language of the postures we are teaching. 

The Bhagavad Gita (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
This was not my first reading of the Gita, and I have led discussion on this well known and quite epic book.  I will say straight-up I am by NO means an expert or even partial expert.  However, out of all the yogic texts I have read, the Gita is my favorite.  I did read the edition required (well, I’m about halfway through it as of this posting) and have every intent of finishing it.  I was a bit disappointed we did not spend more time on Gita – it was just a couple of hours and not really even on the story itself, more the parables Sri Satchidananda included in his translation and explanation.   I was impressed with how many people in the class had taken it upon themselves to read the book. 

The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali (as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
My first introduction to the Sutras in 2004 left me more confused than “enlightened”.   Now, after 10 years, it made a bit more sense.  I appreciated the instructor having us read this out loud, and then we tied it in with sub-stories from the Gita.  Where I was at a disadvantage was I opted not to buy the recommended edition (above) because I have three other copies of the Yoga Sutras.  After this session, I might go get Sri Satchidananda’s version. Maybe…

I can’t carry a tune period.  Small animals run from my attempt to sing.  My dogs cover their ears.  But!  I can chant!  I like chanting. I like the call and response. I like the sound. I love the energy.   The instructor tied in common chants and their themes with class throughout the weekend.  At one point, several Levels came together and we did group chanting for about half an hour.  The more voices the better! 

We also discussed the use of mantra in meditation, daily life, and as a chant.  We discussed the symbol and sound of OM.  Again, much of this was refresher for me, but I appreciated hearing it again.

Add into this eclectic mix we learned about mudras (symbolic hand gestures) and how to incorporate them into a class. 

Yogic Philosophy (Kleshas, Gunas)
Not as in depth as some training I had, which I think was ok.  This can get pretty esoteric so keeping to the generalities I think was good.  This provided a base upon which to continue building and gave further clarity to the Sutras and Bhagavad Gita.

Advanced Pose Breakdown - 22 poses with a focus on arm balances and inversions
This is where Level 4 fell short of the mark for me.  YogaFit has a very strong adherence to safety and approachability in their class design, structure and philosophy.   Up until now the poses they picked to represent each level was a reflection of that.   The poses they offered for Level 4 were quite advanced even by the Ashtanga lineage.    In particular Tadasana to Dhanurasana (mountain to bow pose – a drop back) and then in reverse, coming up from bow pose to mountain.   And Vrschikasana (Scorpion) – a "general population" can barely do Pincha Mayurasana (Feather of a Peacock) unmodified and now we're learning this?!  So much for approachability and working with a general population. 

 Vrshtikasana pose; Beautiful, no? Photo from internet
In the 10 years I have been teaching Ashtanga, I have not had one student have the openness in their shoulders or front to do a dropback or pop-up.  I have ONE student in my regular vinyasa classes, and she is an ex-gymnast.   Same situation for Scorpion Pose.   The ONE student at the training who could do these poses was also a ex-professional gymnast. 

The instructor also kept calling poses incorrectly or saying that one name was the same for many.  No, not so!  Since the poses for the Level Four are also found in the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series (and the Language of Yoga reading, which IS the Ashtanga Primary and Secondary series) I am quite familiar with most of them.   Kurmasana (tortoise) and Supta Kurmasana (sleeping tortoise) are two different poses with their own modifications.   Uttana Padanasana is NOT Matsyansana.  If YogaFit is going to require using a Sanskrit book, then they should make sure that the poses in their YogaFit manual MATCH THE BOOK. If nothing else, refer to BKS Iyengars "Light on Yoga" manual. 

I was also disappointed at how little time we spent breaking these down.  Maybe a half hour – hour each day for all 22ish?  NO discussion on the contraindications and minimal modifications offered.  I felt that when I did bring up a contraindication for clarification, I was brushed off.   It was as if the instructor felt none of us would actually bring these to a class so why work on them.  Very disappointing.

Deep breath…trying to let it go.  Let it goooo….

In conclusion, a very worthwhile training despite my issues with the posture selection and breakdown in this session.   I still recommend the YogaFit system for someone who might be thinking about embarking on a new journey for personal growth and teaching. 

Next on board will be the Anatomy and Alignment training in August, which is the session that started me on YogaFit path.  I’m looking forward to the training very much.  And I’m signed up for Level 5 next year, again in Minneapolis.  


Monday, April 7, 2014


I recently attended a class where the instructor related a story about one of her little boys and breathing, and after mulling it over for several days, I decided I needed to write this one down. 

She said:  When Otto was little and just learning his numbers, he had a bit of trouble getting beyond "one".  He would pick up an object and say "one" and set it aside. Then he would pick up the next object and say "one", and the next toy, "one", and the next, "one"..."one", "one", "one".   For Otto, there was only "one". 

We should cultivate that attitude with our breath - there is only "one".  One inhale, One exhale.  One moment. One Pose. One Breath. Not ten, eleven, or twelve, only One. 

Then I got to thinking, in these days of revealing in our multitasking, that we could cultivate this attitude even farther, to be present with:

One task at a time
One person at a time
One thing at a time

Because it all starts with One Breath. 

Thank you,  Jillian!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hot Yoga Tips

The last couple of years I have started taking Hot Yoga classes.  Not "Bikram" or Bikram-like classes, but vinyasa flow done in a 95-105* (35*-40*C) room, plus humidity.  My first class left me panting in childs pose on my mat - I was so unprepared mentally and physically and that was compounded by being right by the heater.   Subsequent classes have gone better and this Northern Minnesota gal has come round to the view point that a warm room is definitely a better for a yoga practice.  It doesn't have to be 105* (40*C) per se; but something above 75* (23*C) is really nice.

I've also learned some tips to make class more enjoyable for myself.  Learned the hard way, actually, which is why I've decided to share them.  It seems hot studios just assume you know what you are doing - or at least that has been my experience.  Well, guess what...I didn't know what I was doing!     
Class basics/props:
  • Water. Water. Water.  Drink it!  Drink it! Drink it!
  • Wear clothes that will move the sweat away from your body.  I don't care for full length leggings, it's hot enough already without having my legs completely wrapped!  I prefer BePresent pants because they soak up the sweat, keep me cool, and dry incredibly fast or capris.  Loose tanks or t-shirts will fall down over your face and get stretchy from sweat - use something a bit more form-fitting.  
  • Have a small towel handy to wipe the sweat off your face and arms, or to use in balance poses.  Also works great across the front of the mat for sweaty hands, folded to provide a spot for your head or elbows in childs pose or inversions, and under the heels for forward folds on hardwood floors.  Any non-poofy bathroom towel or kitchen towel works great. 
  • Some kind of yoga mat towel is nice - YogiToes, Manduka, Gaiam all offer either a full mat size towel.  A yoga towel can help prevent hands and feet from slipping once sweaty, helps keep your mat clean because you can toss the towel into the wash (remember to take it out of your mat bag!), and prevents skin from sticking to (or slipping on) the mat in seated postures or inversions.  
  • Water. Water. Water.  Drink it!  Drink it! Drink it!
Technique suggestions:

  • Drop the ujjayi breath.   I come from a lineage (Ashtanga) where you always use the ujjayi breath.  If you recall, ujjayi is a warming breath.  Guess what?  You definitely don't need a warming breath in a 105* (40*C) class!  
  • Exhale through the mouth.  This is a natural way for the body to vent heat - exhale with gusto!  Lion's breath is completely appropriate here.  If embarrassed by Lion's breath, deep sighs when in downdog can go a long way.
  • Make sure your foundation in any pose is solid before moving into the asana. Because you are sweating (a lot), if your foundation isn't grounded, you aren't going to be doing anything but sliding or tipping to the floor.  Keep you and your neighbor injury free. 
  • Practice Asteya (truthfulness) and Satya (honesty) with yourself - if you don't feel good, rest.  Omit a vinyasa, take modification, take water.   

photo pulled from the web