Archive for the 'yoga' Category

yes, salamanders are slow processers. and a free class on the truth.

I spend a lot of time being clever…

in my head.

The truth is I’m not too quick on the draw — I’m a slow processer, like a salamander. I prefer to mull things over thousands of several times before I feel prepared to respond.

I’ve learned to accept and even appreciate this, bar momentary relapses (usually when I’m not feeling grounded or connected, i.e., not taking care of myself), as with a recent conversation with an acquaintance.

She was sharing about how well things are going in her life. Something about it triggered me: I felt a shift in my heart rate, a slight tensing in my solar plexus and instantly a voice in my head said Say something clever, be charming!

Oh, the ego is so delicate.

For better or worse, I spent a good part of a minute trying come up with something to say. Of course, I couldn’t come up with anything. Today I can, but in the moment? No.

And thank goodness.

Not saying anything left the silence and space for her to play out her story (which turned out to not be all sunshine and cherries). And space for me to be in my jealously and watch it shift in my body and eventually move through, leaving yet more space.

I notice something similar when a friend is in need or making a decision. Ooo ooo, I know what you should do!

But rushing in with fixes rob us of the opportunity to let the thing run its natural course. And, like with teaching, how much better is it for a person to find their own way to an answer than for you give it to them? Claiming that you know for them is actually quite arrogant.

In the midst of this interaction I also remembered that we’re currently studying ahimsa and sayta (non-violence and non-lying) in the Enrichment Program.

It was a great reminder that these foundational restraints and observances are a choice. The mindful life takes practice and patience, effort and discipline (but that’s tapas and we’re not there yet:).

Anyway, chances are my acquaintance wouldn’t have thought I was as brilliant and amazing as I’d have wanted her to.

***

In celebration of being more honest with ourselves, here’s a free class practice based on satya. Play with the little ways you exaggerate or deny or camouflage. Let me know how it feels (honestly!).

Click to listen, right click to save or open in iTunes.

It would be great to have a strap or robe tie, padding for your knees, two blocks (or just use the seat of a chair) and a little piece of wall. Don’t let all the stuff scare you — it’s a pretty simple and lighthearted class based around Half Moon Pose.

Satya Beginner Class

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epidemic inhale


photo credit

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?

be magpie’s guest

It’s easy to let people have ideas about who I am. As a yoga teacher, the assumptions about me are usually that I’m nice, kind, warm and generous. And, I am!

Of course, I can also be mean, petty, jealous and selfish. If you hang around Blogasana, you’ve read about the sassy tangos between these two sides.

Stepping more fully into this duality and exposing my darker side has been scary. And strangely freeing.

My guest post at Magpie Girl is no exception. When Rachelle asked me to write for her Relig-ish series about living a spiritual hybrid, the only answer that came was about my marriage.

This was the hardest and most honest post I’ve written and I thank Rachelle for the opportunity. Reflecting on my past, my beliefs and the path that has led me to this Right Now has been a lovely gesture of self-acceptance, integration and wholeness.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the Magpie post.

Happy weekend!

hanging out with the shoulder, part ii

The other day I checked in with the group in the shoulder series and asked how their shoulders were feeling. One student answered, They feel powerful!

What a great way to feel. Powerful.

Let’s consider the other options. Do these with me:

  • Completely slump — let the shoulders round forward and hang the head. How does this feel? To me it feels sad. Like I can’t take it anymore. There’s no hope. And after a minute or so I get really really tired.
  • Now pull your shoulders back and pop your chest out (just don’t let my anatomy friend see you). How does this feel? This one is tricky for me. It camouflages itself as powerful pretty well, but if I really tune in and listen, I can feel how it’s a false sense of power. It’s more like force or bullying, with undertones of desperation and insecurity.

These are two extremes, and perhaps I’m dramatizing the feelings behind them, but we communicate with our bodies. We send messages about who we are in the world by the way we carry ourselves. So now…

  • Find the center point between those two. Imagine you’re rising equally from your front and back torso, growing tall from the inside right out the top of your head. Let your shoulders widen, as though you’re effortlessly pressing your outer arms into an imaginary hug. Let your eyes find a point straight forward from eye level. I feel present, like I’m greeting the world from an embodied and alive place.

Do you feel the difference?

How do your shoulders feel right now?

Is your load too heavy? Are your shoulders tired? You may need to delegate and take a nap; you could also try changing your posture and see if it changes your feeling. ‘Cause it works both ways.

Isn’t this body amazing?!

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Did you download your free class on the hips? Let me know what you think!

 

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.

______________________________________________________________________

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.

++

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.

++

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.

++

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.

++

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.

++

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.

++

Enjoy!

how sensitive is sensitive enough? and a free class

Two important parts of horse training are desensitizing the horse and sensitizing the horse.

Desensitizing to objects, sounds and places so the horse does not literally fear for it’s life, freak out, and accidentally kill you.

Sensitizing to your commands so the horse knows when you are talking to it and asking it to respond in some way.

Both pieces are equally important. You don’t want an over-sensitized horse who spooks at every rock, whistle and gesture; nor do you want a completely dull horse that is half asleep and won’t move when necessary.

The big ball

Last week Cowboy and I worked on desensitizing with a giant red and white ball.

Cowboy saw the ball as a big round predator. He was anxious and would not stand still when I rolled the ball toward him.

Eventually, though, he decided it was worth checking out.

After a few more minutes I was able to rub the ball on his legs. He was skittish and uncomfortable at first, but became more relaxed the more I did it.

By the second day of working with this (there’s no rushing a horse), I was able to pass the ball underneath his belly to the other side with no upset.

If you have a horse and a ball, all it takes is patience, love and some sweet talking.

Might we do well…

What if there were de/sensitizing exercises for humans?

Well, I believe there are.

Having an honest conversation with friend, family or lover.

Receiving constructive criticism.

Exposure to new people, places and sounds.

Stepping out of routine and comfort.

Getting lost.

Being injured or sick.

Learning something new: knitting, guitar, French.

And of course, meditation and yoga asana practice.

Sensitive enough to respond appropriately; desensitized enough to not be alarmed by every new thing.

All it takes is self-directed patience and love. A little sweet talking doesn’t hurt.

________________________________________________________

Want to jump right into sensitivity practice? You can download two yoga classes for free. These are live, as in unscripted, there are um‘s and sooo‘s, references to the room, student questions, etc. Practicing along would be a great desensitizing exercise!

Both classes start with the story about the horse. Both classes are focused around hip work. Right click the link and “Open with” iTunes.

This is a 75 minute, lighthearted, beginner-friendly class.
Blanket or towel padding for the knees and blocks (if you have them) will be helpful.

Sensitize – Beginner Yoga Class

This is a 75 minute more intermediate flow class.
Blanket or towel, blocks, a bolster or blanket roll, and a golf or tennis ball are all referenced. If you do not have these things, just interpret the poses without them.

Sensitize – Intermediate Yoga Flow

In any yoga practice, I believe we hit at least 95% of the human de/sensitizing exercises listed above: it’s like a very honest conversation, you’ll probably be out of your comfort zone at some point and you might get completely lost.

But, like Cowboy, I hope you aren’t spooked by the shadows and shapes out on the trail. Have a safe ride!

what’s your story?

{Photo of Cowboy completely unrelated to post}

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Voices

There are two ways to tell a story. You can tell it from the voice of The Reporter, or you can tell it as The Commentator.

In her beautiful workbook called Finding Your Voice, Jen Lee differentiates the two:

The Reporter sticks to the facts — what’s happening, where, when.

The Commentator offers explanations and interpretations.

While The Commentator often offers meaning and context — which most of us are very interested in and seek in our lives — sometimes we rob ourselves of raw experience. We generate conclusions and step into The Story without being aware of, let alone actually feeling, what’s happening.

The Reporter, on the other hand, takes notes, interviews witnesses, and gathers all the facts. The Reporter doesn’t make assumptions or snap judgments.

The Yoga Reporter

I believe we need more Reporting and less Commentating in yoga practice.

I feel a stretch in my hamstrings
rather than
These damn hamstrings are never going to give and I’m always going to suck at forward bends

I feel fatigued right now
rather than
I’m so lazy and I just need to push through

And instead of stopping at one or two main details (usually the ones The Commentator thinks are important), we would benefit from Reporting the whole story: How’s the breath? What’s the expression saying? What amount of effort is present, is needed?

What is happening rather than what it means.

Observations rather than conclusions.

We all have them

One of my stories is that I’m weak, not very “hardy.” It’s a story from my childhood, told to me by my family. I’ve spent much of my life compiling evidence to support this story.

My Reporter has a stack of facts that reveal giant holes in the story. I don’t feel weak. Although I need and like to rest, I also have great stamina and can do a tremendous amount of work in a day. My heart has expansive capacity and holds many sorrows and joys.

Come to find out, this story is not true.

Even this guy

This is a favorite poem for the vivid imagery and surprise at the end. I hope you enjoy.

Fake by Jordan Grumet, MD


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