Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pep Talk - Stop Making Excuses and Just Come to Class!

I recently received a message from a woman who had just returned to my yoga classes after a long absence, saying she couldn't come that day after all because of an emotional upset.  Something was going on in her family that was distressing her, and she thought it was best if she didn't come to class because she wouldn't be able to concentrate.

Unfortunately I didn't hear her message until afterward.  Otherwise I might have been able to  encourage her to come anyway, because after all, what better reason to practice yoga than to help us deal with the stresses of our lives?

When I finally did touch base with her a couple weeks later, her excuses had changed to physical problems.  Her joints hurt, she didn't feel good, she was worried about her health.  But again, what better reason to practice yoga than to give us the tools to help ourselves feel better, either physically or emotionally?

This is a repeated pattern for this woman.  I know from past experience that this is just how she works.  She has experienced that yoga is good for her (she has told me this), and I know she initially has good intentions for coming to class, but for various reasons she has never followed through for very long.

Many of us do this to some degree in certain areas of our lives, although maybe not to this extent.  It can be easy to come up with excuses to step off the path we have chosen for our own growth and self-improvement.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  

I think two underlying reasons for this self-sabotage are feelings of discomfort stemming from:
  1. Our fear that we really won't be able to accomplish what we set out to do - that we won't live up to our own expectations (or the perceived expectations from others) of how well we think we should be doing.
  2. That it will take more effort than we are willing to put in to see results.  We want to avoid hard work.
So we unconsciously find excuses to avoid the discomfort of hard work or the fear of not succeeding, and that gets us....absolutely nowhere.

Yes, it does take disciplined effort to practice yoga, and you may not accomplish what you initially envisioned for yourself.   But if you study and practice in a setting that is appropriate for your level of health and fitness, you will soon start to feel the benefits of this powerful practice.   You will feel stronger and more energetic, and better able to deal with whatever physical, mental, or emotional stresses are going on in your life.

There are good reasons for not coming to your yoga class.  You might be recently injured or sick, or recovering from a serious illness, or there might be some emergency that you need to deal with, and you really do need to step back for awhile until things quiet down.   If you are already a seasoned yoga practitioner, I hope that during these times you take care of yourself with some quiet restorative practice sessions (including pranayama).  That will help you get through your difficulties.

But if you often make excuses for not coming, take a harder look at your reasons.  Are they really valid (and ultimately only you can make that decision), or are they ways to get you "off the hook" for  doing the work that is necessary for growth in this area?  You might ending up deciding that your avoidance really means that the classes you're taking just aren't working out for you at this time.  I hope you can find another path, whether it be in another yoga class or a completely different discipline that works better for you.  On the other hand (and this is what I hope happens), maybe you'll decide that it's time to stop making excuses and start regularly joining us again in yoga classes!  You'll be happy you did, and I'll be happy to see you again!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Special Yoga Classes at Harmony Yoga, November and December 2014

Deepen your understanding of different aspects of your yoga practice. These classes may include a combination of talk, demonstration, and asana work. Recommended for people with at least three months recent Iyengar Yoga experience at Level I or higher unless otherwise noted.  Gentle Yoga students will be fine in some of these classes. Contact me if your background is in another style of yoga, or if you have injuries / health concerns.

Please register and pay early. Some classes may fill. Classes that have less than 5 people registered will be cancelled a few days beforehand.   You are registered when you pay.   Note: Since these classes are not part of the regular session classes, they cannot be used as make-ups and cannot be paid with class cards.

Deep Forward Bends and Arm Balances
Saturday  November 1, 2:00 -- 4:00pm

Recently we had fun in some classes working toward Kurmasana (tortoise pose) and Dwi Hasta Bhujasana (both legs over the arms balance).   Join us in this class to work more on these and similar poses.  We’ll explore ways to break them down into their component parts before attempting the full poses.

Day After Thanksgiving Classes
Saturday November 29
Focus on Twisting
10:00 -- 11:15am

Work off those mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie with lots of twists!  We’ll include standing and seated twists and other supporting poses.  There will also be some inversions for both experienced and inexperienced students. Twists and inversions are great for the digestive system!

Quiet Class, Seated and Restorative Poses
11:30 -- 12:45

De-stress after your busy Thanksgiving Day with this quiet sequence of seated and supine poses, possibly with simple inversions.  Some simple pranayama (breathwork) may be included.  Multi-level class.

Ease Into the Weekend With Restorative Poses and Pranayama
Friday December 12   6:00 -- 8:00

This time of year is stressful for many people.  De-stress at the end of your work week with these quiet recuperative poses and yoga breathing exercises.   You’ll hold these supported poses for some time to experience their calming effect on the nervous system.  

For continuing Gentle Level students and above.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Seven Basic Yoga Standing Poses

Utthita Trikonasana - Extended Triangle Pose
Photo by Matthew Greenfield on Wikimedia Commons

This is a bit of a shameless plug on something I first wrote a few years ago on one platform, but then took it down for various reasons.  I've re-written it for a new platform.

Seven Basic Yoga Standing Poses tells why the yoga standing poses are a cornerstone to the practice of Iyengar Yoga, and then gives short descriptions along with accompanying YouTube videos of Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, teaching the following poses:
  • Tadasana - Mountain Pose
  • Utthita Trikonasana - Extended Triangle Pose
  • Utthita Parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle Pose
  • Virabhadrasana II - Warrior Pose variation 2
  • Virabhadrasana I - Warrior Pose variation 1
  • Parsvottanasana - Intense Side Stretch Pose
  • Prasarita Padottanasana - Wide stance Forward Bend
I used only the videos by John Schumacher, because of the cohesiveness of showing the poses all described in a similar way, and because of his very clear and succinct way of instructing, and his strong, clean-lined poses.

I introduce all of these standing poses to my Beginning Level classes, and we continue to return to them on a fairly regular basis in my more Experienced-level classes.   My Gentle classes also do these poses but with more support, often using a chair and / or a wall to add stability.  

These important standing poses help us develop better body awareness as well as greater strength, stability, and flexibility.   

"Live happily and die majestically" B.K.S. Iyengar died at the age of 95

B.K.S. Iyengar
December 14, 1918 - August 20, 2014
B.K.S. Iyengar passed away last week, on August 20, 2014 at the age of 95.  He had heart failure which led to kidney failure -- basically an age-related death.   He lived an exemplary life and his teaching on the art, science, and philosophy of yoga has inspired hundreds of thousands if not millions of people over the years.

Yes, I know that this post is late, and out of sequence with the previous post that talked about the country-wide commemorative practice that was held this past Tuesday.

But instead of writing about BKS Iyengar and his life and death, I've been reading.   Since his death, there have been many excellent articles, obituaries, and reminiscences about him.   Here are a few that I especially appreciated.

B.K.S. Iyengar: An incredible body of work from The Times of India.  Includes his life history and why he started teaching yoga in the way he did.

The Light of Yoga on a Huffington Post blog.  It includes a short segment on Ann Arbor's place in the history of Iyengar Yoga in the United States:
"His American impact began in 1973, when a musician named Mary Palmer, who had studied with the yoga master in India at Menuhin's suggestion, arranged for him to teach at the Ann Arbor, Michigan, YMCA."
B.K.S. Iyengar, Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West, Dies at 95 from the New York Times.

B.K.S. Iyengar Obituary The Guardian

Yoga Guru B.K.S. Iyengar Dies in India Wall Street Journal

The Global Legacy of Yoga's Master Teacher  Listen to On Point, NPR.  Includes as guests, author and journalist Elizabeth Kadetsky, Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher John Schumacher, and professor of Sanskrit Frederick Smith.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tuesday August 26 2014 National Commemoration Day

B.K.S. Iyengar
December 14, 1918 - August 20, 2014
"I always tell people 'live happily and die majestically'".

To honor the memory of Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) invites us to do the following practice sequence at the same time in our homes or yoga studios on Tuesday, August 26.

For our time, Eastern Daylight Time, that is 8:30pm.

Since another group already uses our space at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor on Tuesday evenings, I'm encouraging you all to practice in your homes or wherever you are at that time.

The suggested sequence:*
Tadasana - 3 minutes
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Utthita Trikonasana - both sides
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tadasana - 3 minutes

Sit quietly for 5 minutes

*If you don't know what these poses are,  scroll down to the end for the English translation.  Or make it part of your yoga practice to look up these poses and learn what they are (that's what I really recommend!)

Why is the suggested timing for Tadasana 3 minutes?   For this sequence you are using Tadasana as a meditative experience, by focusing on how you are holding your pose.  Observe how you are positioning and holding each part of the body.  Include paying attention to how the feet are placed and weighted.   What instructions do you remember from class?  Are there any instructions that were particularly helpful for you?

We haven't practiced holding the pose this long in class.  You will get a very different experience of the pose if you hold it for 3 minutes....or even one minute.   Try it and let me know what your experience is.

BKS Iyengar said about Tadasana:
“It is essential to master the art of standing correctly. One thousand things that apply to Tadasana apply to every other pose. See how much your intelligence has to peep in, has to go in, even to understand tadasana? When truly in tadasana, one feels light in body and the mind acquires agility.” 

Here is a link to a YouTube video of Geeta Iyengar (BKS Iyengar's daughter) teaching Tadasana in great detail, including a long segment paying attention to how the feet are placed.

Sitting quietly is also to reflect on the teachings and life of BKS Iyengar, or if you're not very familiar with his work, then reflect on your own yoga practice and experience in the classes you take.

And now the English translation of the sequence.  Look in books or search online if you are unsure of any of these poses.  Any of you who have been to Harmony Yoga for any length of time will be familiar with them.  Modify them how you need to, as you've been taught in classes.

Mountain Pose - 3 minutes
Standing forward bend
Downward Facing Dog pose
Triangle pose -- to the right, then to the left
Downward Facing Dog pose
Standing forward bend
Mountain pose - 3 minutes

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yoga Field Trip to Cleveland OH, August 2 & 3, 2014

© 2014 The Cleveland Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
The Cleveland Museum of Art will be hosting the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation this summer, June 22 through September 7, 2014.

This presentation is: "...the world’s first exhibition about yoga’s visual history, [and] will explore yoga’s meanings and transformations over time, including its entry into the global arena; yoga’s goals of spiritual enlightenment, worldly power and health and well-being; and the beauty and profundity of Indian art.

Works will include sculptural masterpieces of historical and divine yogis, exquisite Mughal paintings of militant yogis and romantic heroes, Islamic divination texts, fifteen-foot scrolls depicting the chakras (energy centers of the body), nineteenth-century photography and early films."

A few of us from the Ann Arbor area plan to visit the exhibit and we'll also take a special yoga class from  Iyengar Yoga teacher, Karen Allgire, at Green Tara Yoga and Healing Arts in Cleveland Heights.  We invite you to join us August 2 & 3, 2014, for this fun yoga-themed field trip!

  • Saturday August 2, Yoga class 11:30 -- 1:30  (see below)
  • Afternoon -- possible activities include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, walking / hiking, or just taking it easy.  
  • Dinner in Cleveland Heights
  • Sunday August 3, 10am through early afternoon visit Cleveland Museum of Art for the Yoga exhibition
Please contact me if you are thinking about going from the Ann Arbor area, and I will email you more information about travel and lodging suggestions. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Does Concern Over Alignment "Muddy the Message" About Yoga?

 In the most recent issue of The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal ("Ann Arbor's Holistic Magazine") there's a short article written by another local yoga teacher.  It's a nice article, and I like most of what she has to say. (See p. 112,  Spring 2014 issue of the CW Journal.)

But partway through she writes:

"... I try not to hide the basic premise of what yoga is under a lot of technical pose alignments or the use of Sanskrit words.  I believe that muddies the message: yoga is not an esoteric practice that an ordinary person can't do.  Anyone can do it, even with mobility limitations."  

Of course I had to laugh, because she's referring to how Iyengar Yoga is taught.  And of course as an Iyengar Yoga teacher,  I completely disagree with this viewpoint.

A cornerstone of the Iyengar Yoga method is that we learn and practice good alignment in the poses.   On a very practical level, this focus on alignment helps us to do the poses safely while building up the body in a healthy way.    Distortions in alignment can lead to injuries.

Also this focus on alignment trains the mind to be attentive, to focus, to concentrate, to be present within the moment.  The second sutra (verse) of the ancient yoga text,  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, says, "Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind".    The practice of yoga helps us to quiet ourselves, so we can start to see what is really important in our lives.   Focusing intently on the alignment of the body is one way to bring the mind to quietness.  It becomes a meditative practice as well as being a physical practice.  So "technical pose alignments" would help, not hinder, our understanding of "the basic premise of what yoga is" which is to quiet the mind.

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, from the Washington D.C. area, says,

"As with all methods of yoga [the practice of Iyengar Yoga] builds strength and flexibility in the poses.  But because we pay exquisite attention to alignment and precision in the details of the asanas, the poses are for us a meditation in action.  We learn to focus, concentrate, and refine the quality of our awareness as we practice the poses."  (on YouTube video, John Schumacher teaches Virabhadrasana I)

So does this technical practice of alignment "muddy the message" of yoga, making it an esoteric practice that the average person can't do?   Of course not!  Learning better alignment is a very practical way to make the practice of yoga poses accessible to all.   Not paying attention to alignment can be especially injurious to people who are older, or who have health or mobility issues.  

Is Iyengar Yoga, with it's focus on learning good alignment in the poses, for everyone?   I certainly think it can be beneficial for everyone, but of course not everyone is interested in practicing this way.  Different temperaments are drawn to different ways of moving.  But I have seen how powerful this method is within my own practice, and in the practice of my yoga students at all levels, from those who need to move more slowly and gently,  to those who are stronger and fitter and want to be challenged by more difficult asanas.  

People with experience in other methods of yoga are sometimes puzzled or bored by the "technical jargon" that Iyengar Yoga teachers use.   But if they can stick with it, they also start to experience how powerful this method can be.    It can be used to enhance the practice that they're more familiar with.

As for using Sanskrit to name the poses or to quote a few philosophical ideas -- it's a part of the ancient tradition of yoga.   Is it completely necessary?  No, but it does pay honor to the roots of this tradition.   People get used to it very quickly and it is another way to keep the mind fresh and open to learning new things.  Where is the problem in that?

Look at the marvelous extension, vibrancy and vitality in this Utthita trikonasana (Triangle pose) by B.K.S. Iyengar when he was 85 years old.

This can't be done without "exquisite" attention to the alignment of his body, and the years of practice that went into training his body and  mind to be able to do the pose so beautifully and precisely.    It is a work of art.