Archive for the 'teaching yoga' Category

epidemic inhale


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In classes I’ve attended recently I’ve noticed an alarming breathing trend: a rapid, loud, high-in-the-chest inhale followed by the only thing it could be: a dear-God-I-just-popped-a-blood-vessel exhale of relief.

Friends, I don’t think such drama is what the sages had in mind when they touted the benefits of yogic breathing.

My guess is this over-efforted breath comes from a combination of several things:

The instruction to take a “giiiiant inhalation”
Our desire to do well
Our belief that more is better
The brief jolt of adrenaline we get as the fight-or-flight response kicks in

breathe with me

Try this — inhale deeply through your nose as though you are sucking nose spray up into your sinuses. Then exhale. And repeat 10 times. (But not really if you get lightheaded.)

Imagine doing that for a whole class.

Yikes.

prana and pranayama

The breath is equal parts delicate and powerful. In his book The Yoga of Breath, Richard Rosen offers:

Prana literally means “to breathe forth.” It comes from the prefix pra, “to bring forth,” and the verb an, “to breath” or simply “to live.” The entry for prana in my Sanskrit-English dictionary reads, “breath of life, breath, respiration, vitality, vigor, energy, power, and spirit.”

That’s serious business, let alone the emotional effects of breath.

This is a large part of why I don’t teach much pranayama (in the way of manipulating the breath), especially with beginners.

Pranayama in my classes consists of yawning and sighing, the body’s natural response when releasing and relaxing. We also focus on un-learning and un-layering patterns of breathing rather than adding effort on top of those patterns.

I know of teachers who can instruct specific breath techniques with finesse and subtlety. I know of students who can receive such instruction and not dramatize or overdo. The combination of the two is more uncommon.

pranayama-lite

If you (or your students) feel anxious, fidgety or stressed, spend a minute or so emphasizing a long, slow, steady exhale followed by a spontaneous and relaxed inhale. This will help trigger the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or the relaxation response, of the body.

      But that’s so boring.

Consider this: how often do you feel stressed?

Rushed?

Overwhelmed?

Exhausted?

Even though the opposite technique is true to balance lethargic or depressed energy — long, steady inhales followed by natural exhales (the difference is to do only a few of these breaths, versus a couple of minutes of the exhale emphasis — this will have an energizing effect without stressing the nervous system), many of us are simply overextended and what we really need is… sleep.

Using a dear-God-I-just-popped-a-blood-vessel (or even a more sophisticated energizing inhalation) is similar to reaching for a Coke or Snickers Bar… it’s a rush. An adrenaline cocktail. And sometimes we do it (the inhale or the Snickers) and because the body is brilliant it accommodates us and life goes on.

And other times that rush camouflages the fact that we are under-nourished and lacking vital sleep, or we’re entering a cycle or season that calls for more rest and down time.

coming soon to a mat near you

Have you seen signs of the epidemic inhale? I hope not.

But if so, exhale for that well-meaning, tender soul.

And for all of us, just wanting to do well, to do it right — take a smooth inhalation . . .

    and long

             deep

                  sigh.

Ahhh… how do you feel now?

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hanging out with the shoulder, part i

The four-week shoulder series at the studio is so much fun (and I feel just terrible for those of you who can’t be there), I thought I’d post highlights throughout the next three weeks on what we’re covering.

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Last week, in preparation for the series, I called an anatomy-geek friend to ask her what thing she would most definitely cover if she was teaching this series.

Without hesitation, her impassioned response was:

I would tell people to stop pinching their shoulder blades together and sticking their front ribs out!

Ah yes, the overcompensation for the equally misaligned opposite, The Slouch.

Friends, we are going to talk about shoulder blade stabilization.

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Why is this important?

Any misalignment in the shoulder girdle (your two collarbones and two scapulae) affects and is affected by the posture of the pelvis, spine and head. The entire system called shoulder is a tricky riddle. Like in Jenga, you can’t move one thing without changing the whole system.

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Where are the shoulder blades supposed to be?

Flat on the back.

Not sloping out to the sides.
Not squeezing together.
Not winging at the inside edges.

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Why does this matter in yoga asana?

Take, for example, the position of my shoulder blades in Warrior II (the Squeeze and the Spread):

Now, it might not cause any great damage for you to do Warrior II with squeezed or misaligned shoulder blades, but consider that these are the same arms you’ll want for Vasisthasana, Side Plank (a super scapular stabilization strengthener (SSSS)). And you don’t want to bear weight on a misaligned joint. At best, you’d be reinforcing a less than ideal pattern; at worst, you’d compromise the joint and be more susceptible to injury.

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Here are two SSSSs to consider adding to your practice.

All 4s/plank on knees or feet
Yes, likely you do this often in your yoga practice, but are you getting the full benefit from the pose? Are you pressing the hands down through the floor, rebounding back up to fill out the space between the shoulder blades? If the answer is No (i.e. your back sinks between the shoulder blades), then you are not using your serratus muscle, a very important scapular stabilizer.

Scapular push ups
From the same position (all 4s or plank for more challenge), bring the thumb tips and index fingertips together making a diamond shape (hands turned in slightly) underneath your face (rather than under your shoulders). Keep the elbows straight and let the chest sink all the way down between the arms until the shoulder blades touch. Then ground into the hands and lift the chest back up between the blades. You might even exaggerate the lift so that you feel slightly rounded at the upper back. Repeat 10+ times.

In both poses, keep the head “on” — not looking forward, not letting the head hang. Grow your neck from the core of your body forward and out the crown. Maintain a low belly tone, as though you are lifting the spot halfway between your navel and your pubic bone away from the floor.

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Whew! I’m feeling that. Are you? It seems easy enough, but can be deceptively potent.

I think that’s the thing with the shoulders. They can be deceptive.

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By the by, you can purchase the audio version of all four classes (be the detective of this deceptive area!).

If you purchased (and liked) the hips series, you’ll definitely like the shoulders. Very practical, great for teachers, and between the two you would have quite a toolkit for a balanced, informed body.

Wow, come to think of it, we also offer a video class on the shoulders through It’s All Yoga.

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Enjoy!

real life

                                                  {photo via}

Our business neighbors, an antique store, with whom we share a wall recently started playing very loud and ridiculously bad music. Think cheap Phantom of the Opera meets overdone City of Angels.

Since I typically don’t use music in class, particularly in Savasana, the strange and eery music coming from it’s-hard-to-tell-where has caused my blood pressure to rise.

In the early days of the studio when we were next door to a coffee shop, I used to get really tense at the amount of sound and distraction outside.

Dogs would bark while waiting for their people, those people would stand right outside and have boisterous conversations, and the banging that is apparently necessary to make lattes and frappes would all be more than I could take.

I can’t say that at some point I did not shush someone through the window.

Yes, I’ve been that person.

But all in fierce protection of the students and their Yoga experience. I believe that, to some extent, people pay to come into a distraction-free zone. A place — perhaps the only place — where they are not bombarded with sounds and stimulation.

When we moved locations we left the lattes behind and found new sounds: motorcycles on the main road in front of the studio, people walking by and window shopping (peeking), and now creepy Phantom Angel music.

But let me tell you about a little shift that has happened lately.

A loud motorcycle outside: Mmm, the deep vibration of life.
The sound of the freeway: Ah… the indistinguishable hum of an Om.
The crappy music through the wall: Well, this is real life and sometimes it’s distracting in unwelcome ways.

And how, amid all of this, can we stay in our own experience?

Not follow the motorcycle down the street and on to imagined destinations.
Not imagine the store where someone finds such awful music.
Not go from the awful music to Gee, I wonder if they still have that bench I saw in the window last week.

Can we just meet life where we are, as it is? Without pushing anything away; without grabbing on. Just the simple reality of being alive and experiencing the fullness of a moment. This is the union of Yoga.

So bring it on chatty people walking down the street. Give us something to rub up against, something to play with. Bring your dog, while you’re at. We’ll be meeting life as it is, including your offering to the soundtrack.

Meanwhile, I’m going to talk to the neighbor about turning down that God-awful music.

hostage: yoga mat

There was an assignment during one of my teacher trainings to create my ideal practice schedule — time, length, and type. I dreamed of having two hours of practice every day from 10-noon. For various reasons that seemed like the Perfect Yoga Life.

Ah, if only… at the time, I had a real job and was sitting at a desk during regular work hours. So I carved out other, less ideal times and went about my way.

that was then…

I still work at a desk, but it’s in my home… where I make my own hours and answer only to the voices in my head.

And yet… I practice less. For a yoga teacher (or in my schema of how a yoga teacher should be), I do actual asana practice pretty infrequently.

what’s going on?

There are numerous reasons my self-care goes in cycles — some personal, some not all that interesting.

What I know is this: I’ve been on a self-abuse spree. Good habits supporting sleeping, eating, practice, and general self care have been sadly lacking. The consequence is exacerbated by the fact that I am so hard on myself when I don’t meet my expectations (including the shame that is here in admitted this to you).

a teacher needs to prep, but a girl’s got to practice

There’s a saying that we teach for ourselves and we practice for our students. I agree. And I would expand it to say that we practice for the world — for our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, people we meet on the street, people we don’t even know.

Not only is it true that I can’t give what I don’t have (as a good accountant will remind you), the effects don’t stop at the people within my arm’s reach. When I’m connected through my practice to my body, breath, and the moment, I meet the world from that place. I respond to the world from that place.

june

One of the things I was reminded of during the Healthy Eating Cleanse at the studio is that I do well with structure. I like defined boundaries, check boxes, and measurable outcomes. Maybe there’s a little leftover Business Consultant in me.

Left to my own devices and generalities like I will practice more this week, I know I will not practice “more.” It’s too easy to let the morning slip away, and then it’s 4pm, and then there’s someone who needs something and all of a sudden it’s time to go to bed.

Because this online community of people near and far is so amazing and supportive, and you’re so good at creating accountability, I am making a practice commitment for the month of June:

I will practice every day.

On days I teach (3 days a week), “practice” may be as simple as legs up the wall before bed (serving two goals: a better night’s sleep and self-love time).

On days I do not teach, I will devote at least two hours of practice time on my mat. Not class prep, but me time.

And I will increase my twice weekly sits (with The Virtual Buddhas) to five, even if it’s just a few minutes.

priorities

It really comes down to what’s important? As I’ve written about many times, it’s difficult for me to say I am important. Important enough to take care of and nourish and love.

And you are too!

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How do you take care of yourself? Among all the things in life that ask of your attention, how do you make time for yourself? Where do say No?

Really, do tell. It may inspire someone else whose self-love account is a little low.

And feel free to state a commitment of your own. Feels so gooood to write it down!

Be well friends. xo

ps- Here’s the real reason I haven’t been using my props. Shiva the kitty is holding them hostage! Ransom: a large bowl of canned cat food.

hip hip hooray

The first class in the series The Six Degrees of the Hip happened today.

Oh. my. god. Give me a skeleton named Fred and a microphone and I might never stop.

(Fred wasn’t hip on having his photo taken. Shy, I guess.)

Today we talked about the construction of the hip and played around with external rotation. Since this is an action that is often overdone in yoga asana classes, we focused on fine tuning. My hope was to provide some tips that will be useful in ongoing classes.

For example, did you know that in most standing poses, the front leg is ideally (or feels like it is) externally rotating? This helps even-up the sides of the pelvis in lunges, keeps the knee safe in Vira II, and makes flexion at the hip easier in Trikonasana. Oh wait, flexion is next week…

(But I did sneak a couple of shots while he wasn’t looking. Check out those hips!)

 

And the cool thing…? You can be part of the class!!

Sign up to get each class (the afternoon of the real class) for just $24. Six audio recordings that you can play from iTunes. To keep forever. Anatomy, practice and teaching tips, plus a basin (the translation of “pelvis”) of information on your body.

(He eventually got really irritated and pushed me away.)

(Sorry, Fred.)

If you want to sing the praises of your pelvis, come on over here (click on the pelvis). Once I get the notification of your purchase, I’ll email the link to the classes to you. Class will be uploaded on Tues/Thurs afternoons ending June 16th. Contact me (michelle@itsallyoga.com) if you have any questions.

Hip Hip Hooray!!!

teacher responsibility


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I recently attended two workshops with seasoned teachers who approached student disclosure very differently:

One teacher spent 10 or so minutes going around room for introductions and sharing of any injuries or health issues. This teacher actually wrote down participant names and considerations.

The other teacher gathered everyone at the beginning of the workshop and stated very clearly that disclosing health information would not be necessary, saying: I don’t want to lead you to believe that I can remember all of your injuries and illnesses, let alone help you with them. Please take care of yourself.

The first teacher did not claim to be able to address every issue that might arise, but did offer individuals brief suggestions about what to do or avoid related to their situation.

The second teacher didn’t ignore students and added a few bits into the teaching about taking care of hamstrings or lower back.

Two very different styles, two different approaches.

where does your apple fall?

So much juicy potential here. Topics like students being reliant on teachers, how teachers are trained to offer suggestions on how to care for the body (or not), expectation, and how to handle it when a student does gets injured.

Before I weigh in with my practice and how I teach, I’d love to hear how you feel about responsibility in a yoga class — that of the teacher and of the student.

Teachers, how do you approach this topic in your classes? Do you speak specifically to responsibility? How did your teacher training address this? Have you had an experience of student injury — and if so, how did you feel?

And for all of us as students, what is your sense of responsibility for your own body in class? Does it depend on how the teacher sets up the container? Does one approach appeal to you more (or a middle-ground blend) as a learner? And if you’ve been injured in class, how did you react?

Thanks in advance for sharing and happy weekend!

the *not* yoga class


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A few months ago I went to a yoga studio in San Francisco for a workshop on the hips.

I had a dollop of hesitation signing up because the last time I went to this studio I came home with a rash and a headache. Too hot and too fast.

But this was with a different, well-known teacher and the workshop description led me to believe we would be doing very specific and thoughtful work in the hips.

the workshop begins

We started on our backs.

Yessssss. This is going to be awesome.

Some nicey-nice settling instruction, lots of quiet.

When we did start to move, it was with very slow, curious, swizzle-stick movements of the femur in the socket.

Ahh, just my speed.

The teacher talked about the potency of hip work, the importance of mindfulness, caring for the body, not pushing it, and working in a way and at a pace that spoke to us individually.

Wow, she is really speaking my language.

and then…

BAM!

After two hours of non-stop salutations, all I could think was, I’m getting too old for this.

My personal preference for certain types of practice aside, here’s what bothered me about the class:

I felt like I was asked to take care of myself and asked to push it at the same time.

Even after the invitations to take care, I was singled out when I came into a low lunge instead of a high lunge. Verbal pose corrections came across with an arrogant tone (you should know this, why do I have to tell you again?). And the teacher seemed very aloof and distant.

I recognized this approach because I see pieces of it in myself sometimes: encouragement that borders on pushing; the belief that harder is better; self-importance as Teacher that creates separation from the group.

(in)congruence

In his Teach Now interview, Parker Palmer speaks beautifully about congruence in teaching.

As a learner, he says, it’s all about our perception of the teacher. When we perceive that what we see on the outside does not match what is going on inside, obviously, it is incongruous. This is important because we are trying to gauge safety — will I be safe if I invest myself here? And learning from a teacher requires investing ourselves.

He goes on to talk about how if we sense that the teaching is a performance or act, or that the teacher is wearing a mask, red flags go up. We don’t know what we’re going to get, it’s unpredictable, it doesn’t feel safe. In response we withdraw and disengage.

Additionally, trust, respect, and likability plummet. This is starting to sound like a pretty unlikely environment for learning, huh?

My class experience in San Francisco lacked congruence. In my perception, the teacher sent conflicting messages.

Take care of yourself; you’re perfect as you are.

Push yourself; you can do better.

what I did learn

Creating an inclusive, welcoming space for all bodies to practice is my most essential purpose.

And admittedly, I have pretty strong opinions about what makes a good yoga teacher.

This workshop was a great reminder that how we show up, what we offer, and who we are need to mesh. We can call it being authentic, real, or honest. I really like the container of congruence.

the congruent teacher

I’ll be spying on myself in class and paying close attention to language. (I’ve been recording my classes so I can share some free full-length audio on my new website—coming soooon!)

Listening to yourself teach is humbling and so useful.

As is getting feedback from a colleague.

And being open to feedback from students (they are so not subtle sometimes!). You really went easy on us today; You killed us today; or Wow, that was just the right amount of nudge I needed to get past my fear (all feedback I have received).

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How about you? Ever had an experience like this? How do you monitor your own congruence? Is there an area of your life that is lacking congruence?

Oh, aaaand, I was so disappointed with the hip workshop that I decided to do my own. I’ll be hosting a six-class series on the six ranges of motion of the hip. Check it out. Can’t come? We’ll have the audio only portion available for sale. Shhh, it’s a total secret — don’t tell! Or just tell me so I can get it you. :)

Feel your breath right here, friends. A moment of congruence!

xo


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