Tuesday, December 29, 2009

December 30 Wednesday 6pm WILL be held!

A continued Happy Holidays to you all!

I originally wrote that the Dec. 30 evening Holiday class may be canceled -- I have since heard from 3 other people who are interested in attending....so this class will be held.    Come if you'd like!

Consider also coming to the New Year's Day class, 1:00pm -- 3:05pm.   It will be a fun class, with a focus on standing poses for the first hour, and a focus on floor poses the second hour, with inversions according to ability and experience.   It's open to all.   You can choose to come to both hours or just one of the two hours:   1:00 -- 2:00,   2:05 -- 3:05.   (Very short break in between).

Fees for the New Year's Day class:
One hour        $8 if prepay     $10 drop-in
Both hours     $16 prepay      $20 drop-in
You can pay online, from our website, through PayPal.

Our seven week Winter session starts on Monday, January 4.
(Not that Winter only lasts 7 weeks, of course, but I'm optimistically calling the subsequent session "Early Spring", to start at the beginning of March!)

Friday, December 25, 2009

May all beings be at peace.

"May all beings be at peace, may all beings be free from suffering, may all beings come to know the light of their own true nature and may all beings be blessed and be a blessing to the world."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last week's standing pose sequence for Level 2 classes

As I mentioned in the previous post, last week many of our classes included a standing poses vinyasa routine (a "flow" from one pose to another).   Instead of doing a pose on one side, coming up, and repeating on the second side as we often do in an Iyengar yoga class, we did one pose, moved into another, and another, etc.

The higher level classes had a slightly longer sequence than the Level 1 classes.   I'm including that longer sequence here.  The stick figure drawings are from the Free Yoga Stick Figures Facebook page.  

Start this sequence going to the right (i.e. triangle pose, turn right leg out).

Trikonasana -- Triangle pose

Ardha chandrasana -- Half moon pose

Parsvakonasana -- Side angle pose

Virabhadrasana 2 -- Warrior pose 2

Virabhadrasana 1 -- Warrior pose 1

Lunge to Parsvottanasana -- Side stretch pose

Parivrtta trikonasana -- Revolved triangle pose (i.e. if right leg forward, take LEFT hand down for intense twist)

Come back to Parsvottanasana.
Then Prasarita padottanasana -- Wide legs standing forward bend.

Turn legs to left, go to Triangle pose to left, and go through sequence again.   Or you might see what happens if you reverse the order of the poses.

Play with the sequence -- maybe change the order of the poses, and maybe add other poses such as Warrior pose 3 ("airplane pose"), Revolved side angle pose, Downward facing dog pose (possibly moving into more of a sun salutation sequence, including plank pose and upward facing dog pose).

This type of sequence is good for building stamina and strength, as well as flexibility.    Those of you who are more experienced may start working to hold the poses longer.  

Last week's standing pose sequence for Level 1 classes

Last week many of our classes included a standing poses vinyasa routine (a "flow" from one pose to another).   Instead of doing a pose on one side, coming up, and repeating on the second side as we often do in an Iyengar yoga class, we did one pose, moved into another, and another, etc.    A couple of you requested that I post the sequences, so I am doing that here.

I found a series of yoga poses drawn as stick figures on a Free Yoga Stick Figures Facebook page that I'm including here to refresh your memory of what the poses look like.   I'm including the Sanskrit names too.

Start this sequence going to the right (i.e. triangle pose, turn right leg out)

Sequence #1 (from the Level 1 classes)
 Utthita trikonasana -- Triangle pose


Utthita parsvakonasana -- Side angle pose

Virabhadrasana 2 -- Warrior pose 2

Virabhadrasana 1 -- Warrior pose 1

Lunge to Parsvottanasana -- Side stretch pose

Prasarita padottanasana -- Wide leg standing forward bend

From here, you can either reverse the poses to the left (moving from Prasarita padottanasana to Parsvottanasana), or go to Triangle pose to the left and go through the list of poses again as shown.

Those of you who are newer to yoga may hold these poses for a short time.   Those of you who are more experienced, start to hold the poses longer to build up strength and stamina.

Don't worry if you feel you're not doing the poses "correctly".   Do them as you remember them, and over time you'll learn more about the shape of the poses and the finer points of alignment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yoga and learning to live with an open heart.

A couple days ago, my husband David and I went to the memorial service for the husband of someone we know through the meditation group David belongs to.   This man died unexpectedly, which was a huge shock to all of us.   The service was at the Friends Meeting House (Quakers), so instead of a traditional religious service, people stood up and shared their stories about him and about how he had touched their lives.  

It was a lovely meeting, given the circumstances, and very touching.   Story after story about him told how caring and supportive he was with friends, co-workers, and family.   He was a good and kind friend.   He didn't say bad things about people behind their backs.  He wasn't judgmental, but accepting of people's faults.   He gave meaningful, loving advice when asked, and when it wasn't asked for, he still gave his loving support.   Many people commented that he could really "see" them;  that he understood them.   He lived fully; he was genial and open-hearted.

A few of us who were talking together afterward wished we could develop more fully this open-hearted attitude.   How do we learn to live with an "open-heart" and to be truly present when other people need our help and support?

All spiritual traditions show us how to lead better lives; how to become better people.   What is the practice of yoga if not to give us tools to learn how to become better people?     The practice of yoga teaches us to observe ourselves and to more fully understand ourselves.  

What do we see when we look at ourselves?   What do we want to change?  

The style of yoga I teach, Iyengar yoga, starts with the physical knowledge of ourselves since this is the easiest part of ourselves to observe.    As we work in the yoga poses, we learn to observe how our bodies react in the poses, and we learn to adjust the poses so that they work better for us and help us become physically healthier.   This takes practice!  As we learn to work more skillfully and mindfully in the physical poses, we start to know our physical bodies better.     But this is also training for us to learn to observe and understand other aspects of ourselves.    We learn to observe how we react in different situations in our lives.   When we can pause and observe and reflect on what's going on in our lives and how we're reacting to these aspects, then we can start to take steps to change ourselves for the better.   And again THIS takes practice!

The death of this wonderful man, this loving husband and father and brother and friend and coworker, is the kind of event that reminds us to pay attention to the things that really matter in our lives.    It reminds us to cherish the people in our lives, since they may be taken from us too soon, and it reminds us to practice living our lives fully, so we can accomplish what we want to accomplish before we all pass away.

This man's wife asked that we sing the following song, which has been going through my head ever since the memorial service.    It's from a traditional Sufi song from the Dances of Universal Peace.

All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
      Ishq allah ma'bud allah*
      Ishq allah ma'bud allah
      Ishq allah ma'bud allah
      Ishq allah ma'bud allah

*“The Spirit is at once The Lover, The Beloved and Love Itself.
or "God is Love, Lover and Beloved."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Creating your own backless chair for yoga poses

We use backless folding chairs in our yoga classes to give support for a variety of poses.  My favorite use for this chair is to do a supported viparita dandasana, or inverted staff pose, over the chair seat (see picture).   This is the reason that yoga chairs have had the backs taken out of them!   

(photo of woman over chair is from the book, "Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health" by B.K.S. Iyengar)

My husband helped me make the chairs at Harmony Yoga:   He banged out the backs with a sledge hammer and I filed the sharp edges down from the welding spots.    The following Youtube video shows a much less "violent" way of taking the backs out.    He uses the same chairs I did -- inexpensive folding chairs from Staples.   You can use other folding chairs as well -- maybe you have an old folding chair at home that could be put to good use this way.
It's not a difficult process, but it does take some time to file and sand the edges.     The man in the video spray paints the chair back afterward to give a more "finished" appearance to the product.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yoga during the menstrual cycle

In Iyengar Yoga, women are advised not to do certain poses while menstruating.   This can be puzzling to many women -- why should it matter what poses we do while we're menstruating?   Is this a cultural tradition that doesn't have any place in our western world, or is there really something to this recommendation?

Yes, there are good reasons to practice differently during your menstrual period!  

The practice of yoga aims to increase our self-awareness and the best possible health for our body.  Yoga poses are practiced not only to  bring the physical body to a healthy state of balance, but also to improve our mental and physiological states.  According to Pixie Lillas (see article link below), "The aim is to create the best possible environment for nature to follow its course and to bring into balance any disturbances, mental or physical, which may occur during the days before or during menstruation."

Poses that are often contra-indicated during menstruation are:
  • Inversions
  • Unsupported backbends
  • Strong twists
  • Abdominal poses
  • Possibly unsupported standing poses
Inversions (i.e. headstand, shoulderstand) may interfere with the rhythm of the cycle, causing an interruption to the flow, or conversely a heavier than normal flow, depending on where a woman is in her cycle.    We also want to work with the direction of flow, not against it.   We hold in the fluid when we're upside down, rather than eliminate it.

Unsupported backbends can over-stimulate the system at a time when we want to soothe the system.

Strong twists and abdominal poses tend to irritate the system rather than soothe it (if you're cramping, do you really want to do Boat Pose or Noose Pose???)

Some woman are more tired during menstruation, and unsupported standing poses will further deplete their energy.

Poses that are suggested for the menstrual cycle include calming, cooling poses such as supported forward bends, and quiet energy-boosting poses like supta virasana and supta baddha konasana (click Menstrual Sequence for pictures of these poses).

Two well-written articles on the practice of yoga during menstruation are (click on the title) :

Why are some poses not practiced during menstruation?  by Pixie Lillas,  (Advanced Iyengar Yoga certification,  Sydney, Australia)

Inversions and Menstruation  by Mary P. Schatz, M.D.

When you come to class while you're menstruating, you can let me know beforehand, especially if you're experiencing extra difficulties (cramping, tiredness, headache, bloating).   Or you can just tell me that you're not inverting or that you'd like a quieter sequence during class.   I'll suggest the appropriate poses for you.

What happens if you ignore the "menstrual recommendations"?    Maybe not much, especially if you're not a strong practitioner (i.e. if you don't have much of a yoga practice in between classes).   But then again, you may feel more physically or mentally drained, or you may see an undesirable change in your flow or other menstrual symptoms.   Consider giving yourself permission to change your practice during your period, whether at home or during class, to help to "recharge your batteries" and to soothe your nervous system.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Do your muscles quiver in yoga poses?

Students sometimes ask me why their muscles quiver or shake when holding certain poses.   Usually it's their legs that shake.   I've surmised that it was just because they're working their body harder or differently than it's used to.  Over time, with practice (practice is key!!), the muscles learn to work more efficiently and the shaking will stop.

Richard Rosen, who writes for Yoga Journal, says (see the link below), 

" Your muscles are made up of many fibers. When you use a muscle, not all the fibers contract at the same time. Some rest while the others work, and then they trade places. When you really challenge your muscles, the changeovers can get a little ragged.
Beginning yogis often shake quite a lot. As your muscles get stronger from regular practice, the fibers learn to trade off between firing and resting with smoother coordination. Your quivering will probably subside (though there will always be teachers who turn you into yoga jelly, no matter how strong you get). "

He goes on to say that quivering isn't necessarily bad, but it just means that you may be working harder than you need to.   Read more in the following article:

Yoga Journal - Yoga Asana Columns - All Shook Up
(Posted using ShareThis)

When I was newer to yoga, the poses that I "quivered" in most were Paripurna navasana (full boat pose,  pictured above), Urdhva prasarita padasana (leg lifts), and Virabhadrasana II (Warrior pose II).   Mostly the shaking was in the legs, but in boat pose, I remember my whole body shaking uncontrollably!   This doesn't happen to me as much now, of course, but if I hold a pose for longer than I normally do, my body sometimes "gets the shakes" again.

Do your muscles shake in certain poses?   Which poses?  Have you seen improvement in the shaking since you started taking classes?   Do you practice these poses in between classes?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My views of the Manouso Manos workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA

I've been having a difficult time figuring out what to write about the Manouso Manos yoga workshop classes at the Ann Arbor YMCA last weekend (Nov. 13 - 15).   First of all, it was an absolute treat for me to be able to take all four workshop classes this year.   But there is so much information to process about what he was teaching us.    It doesn't make sense for me to report here the exact sequences and instructions he gave us -- we'll be working with some of this information during the next few weeks in classes at Harmony Yoga.

Manouso has been coming to Ann Arbor almost every year to teach workshop classes for much longer than I've been studying yoga (1993).    His bio says he started studying with B.K.S. Iyengar in 1976 -- over 30 years ago.    He's one of only two Iyengar yoga teachers in the U.S. with the Advanced Senior level certification.

He doesn't have the personality that many people think of in a yoga teacher, i.e.,  he's not calm and serene, he's not a "fuzzy, feel-good" person; in fact he's loud and brash -- "barking" out his instructions, and he'll let students know in no uncertain terms when they aren't following them.  He doesn't pad his pronouncements with "nice, pleasant" words, but he's direct and matter-of-fact.   He is also brilliant, and utterly dedicated to B.K.S. Iyengar and the practice of Iyengar Yoga.   And he can be very humorous and self-effacing at times -- telling great stories about his experiences with B.K.S. Iyengar,  or alluding to his own (*ahem*) not so sterling past.

He's also very willing to share with us his extensive knowledge of yoga asanas, of therapeutic applications of the asanas,  and his understanding of the philosophy of yoga.    All of his yoga knowledge he credits to B.K.S. Iyengar.

It's been interesting to see how Manouso's yoga workshop classes have changed over the 10 or so years I've attended (or maybe it's just that my perception has changed).    He's responding to the fact that the Ann Arbor Iyengar Yoga population is aging, and many of the long time students and teachers (some who've been studying Iyengar Yoga since the 70's) come to these workshops with more and more physical problems and injuries in backs, hips,  shoulders, or necks.   These problems will happen to almost all of us who stay physically active (and even those who don't....) as we grow older.   Our bodies wear out!   Many of these problem areas can be at least partially relieved by training the body to move into better alignment.    During a couple classes Manouso focused on how to correctly work with the lower part of the body: low back, hips, knees, ankles.    Another class focused more on the shoulders, upper back, and neck.  He's been working with his own hip problems -- he's been told that he should get hip replacement surgery.   But after working with B.K.S. Iyengar over the last couple years, Manouso is learning how to work with his hips so that they function better with less pain.   He may still need hip replacement at sometime, but...maybe not.  

I have some minor knee problems that were flaring up last weekend before the workshop classes, especially in my right knee.   Years ago I told another visiting senior yoga teacher that I had knee pain.  She looked at my legs in Adho mukha svanasana and said my calves weren't working properly.  She probably told me how to work them correctly, but at that stage in my yoga practice I had no clue what she meant.   In one of the workshop classes last weekend, Manouso had us do Parsvottanasana (with hands on a chair) about 10 times (!) on each side with the emphasis on the legs.    For each repetition he added an extra instruction for the legs and pelvis.   As I mentioned, it was my right knee that was giving me the most problems.    After that class, my right calf was extremely sore (muscular soreness -- not a problem) for about 3 days afterward but my knee felt fabulous!   I think I'm finally learning to work my calves (and quadriceps) properly to help stabilize my knees.

For the most part, the poses that he taught were poses that most of us do often in classes and in our own practice.    His goal wasn't to give us an intense work-out, leading us through more and more exotic poses (which are fun to learn of course!), but to take our awareness more deeply into the poses that we already know.    One comment that he made is that "the practice of yoga isn't a work-out, but a work-in". 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Iyengar Yoga and Back Pain -- short video

I fully intend to add a post or two about the Manouso Manos Iyengar yoga workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA that I attended this past weekend, but I'm still processing what I experienced in those classes. They were excellent classes, giving me a lot of "food for thought" both in the asana (posture) work and in the philosophy of yoga. At some point I'll share more about my experiences.

In the meantime, this post is a follow-up to an earlier post Iyengar Yoga and Low Back Pain, from Oct. 6, 2009

I know Kimberly Williams, who designed and ran the study, and her husband (the teacher in the video-taped class) from various yoga workshops that we've attended, and am so pleased that the study produced such positive results!

As in my previous post about this West Virginia University study on back pain and Iyengar yoga, the video reports that people with low back pain who took a specially-designed Iyengar Yoga class did better than those who received standard medical care for back pain (physical therapy, muscle relaxants, and pain medications). Those who did yoga had less back pain and less depression than those receiving standard medical care. They were able to sit longer, lift more, and walk further, enjoying a better quality of life.

The Iyengar yoga class helped the patients retrain the musculo-skeletal system to bring about better balance and alignment in the body, resulting in a healthier back.

Most Iyengar yoga classes are general classes, not designed to specifically improve low back pain, but the principals remain the same. Certified Iyengar Yoga teachers are rigorously trained to help students develop better alignment in all parts of the body, which helps to create a healthier body in general. This takes time and diligence, of course, on the part of the student as well as the teacher. The student needs to practice in between classes as well as to regularly attend classes.

I've heard from a number of you who come to my classes that your backs (or knees or shoulders) have felt much better since starting a yoga class. It's truly a transformational approach to health!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving week classes at Harmony Yoga

There will be classes at Harmony Yoga during Thanksgiving week -- the same schedule as usual, except no classes on Thanksgiving.

Since I've been hearing that a few regular students are sick (at least one person with H1N1) or are recovering from illnesses, and since Thanksgiving week can stressful to many (extra cooking, extra cleaning, extra relatives),  I'm planning to teach the regularly scheduled Wednesday 6:00pm class  as a "restorative / recuperative" class, including simple pranayamas (breathing exercises).

The regularly scheduled Saturday 9:30am class will be a "spirited" class to help work off our Thanksgiving meals!   It will be a lively, active class with a number of standing poses and twists, as well as our inversions (to your own capacity).

 **** IF THERE IS ENOUGH INTEREST ****                        
I'll add a Friday 9:30 -- 11:00am post-Thanksgiving class to help with digestion :-)   This will mostly be a restorative / recuperative class but also with few more intense twists to aid the digestive system.
I'll only teach this class if there are a minimum of 4 "firm" registrations by Monday, Nov. 23 (i.e., if at least 4 will commit to attending this class -- otherwise it doesn't make sense to add this extra class.    "Maybe's" are okay, only if I also have the 4 "for sure's").

The restorative /recuperative classes and the "spirited" class are open to all, regardless of whether these are your regularly scheduled class times.

You can use any of these classes as "make-up" classes.
If you're registered for another weekly class this session at Harmony Yoga, you can pay $12 for any of these special Thanksgiving week classes.
You can attend as a drop-in -- either using your class card, or pay $15.

I'll have more information at the studio on Monday, November 16.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Improving your mood with yoga poses

This past weekend was gorgeous here in Ann Arbor -- sunny and in the 60's - a real gift for this time of year!   Many of us along our street were taking advantage of the sun and warmth, getting outside to finish our last bit of raking and yard work, and chatting with each other about jobs, kids, and the neighborhood.   People were happy and vibrant-looking.     

Soon the colder weather will set in though, and for many of us Michiganders it becomes harder to get outside.   I, for one, too easily start to feel sluggish and blue....unless I keep up my yoga practice.

We all know what it feels like to be sad or "blue", or "down".   Our bodies show it with an overall lack of muscle tone.   We slouch, our shoulders roll forward, we look down when we walk or talk, our voice may become lifeless.   Our body droops.   Our facial expression droops.   Our breathing may become shallow and ineffectual.

On the other hand, when we feel happy and confident, our body lifts up.   We keep the head up, the shoulders back, and the chest up and open. 

Our feelings are reflected in our body.     But changing our body posture can also affect our feelings.    

When we practice the yoga poses, we almost always practice keeping the body "lifted" and open -- we lift the chest and look forward or even slightly upward, we practice keeping our shoulders back, we even lift the knee-caps and the arches of the feet.   We open the chest to create more space for the lungs and the heart, and we create more space in the joints.   There is no pose where we allow ourselves to "droop".   How can we feel sad when we're in these uplifting poses?    We can't!

Standing poses can quickly get us out of our sluggish feeling, and bring more energy and more vibrancy back to our body and mind.     They refresh the body and the mind, especially if done somewhat quickly, but still maintaining the mindfulness to extend well through the limbs and spine,  and to keep the chest well open.

Backbends exaggerate the opening of the chest, and can create even more of a sense of buoyancy and joy.    Imagine yourself standing out in a meadow under sunny skies, arms thrown wide, chest lifted, and head back (didn't Julie Andrews do this in "The Sound of Music"?)   That's the feeling that backbends can give us!    Backbends are often given in yoga therapy to ease low-level to moderate depression.

The next time you feel sluggish or down-in-the-dumps, try a few easy yoga poses;  stretch your arms over head, lift and open the chest and look up; maybe do a few sun salutations, maybe a few standing poses like triangle pose, lateral angle pose, or any of the warrior poses.   Maybe lie over a rolled blanket or two and stretch your arms beyond the head.   Or if you know the back-bending poses, do some of those.   Don't worry too much about the alignment (worrying too much about alignment when you're already feeling "down" can be counter-productive, in my opinion...) but do the poses safely for your own body.   I guarantee you'll feel better than when you started!

Friday, November 6, 2009

What is the meaning of "Namaste"?

I say "Namaste" after the end of each yoga class, with my palms together in front of the heart, but I often forget to tell a group of beginners what this means.

Simply, "namaste" means "I bow to the divine in you".   It's a friendly greeting of respect commonly used in India that has been adopted by many Westerners who practice yoga or other spiritual and health practices that derive from the Hindu culture.

In Sanskrit, "Namas" means, "bow, obeisance, reverential salutation."  "Te" means "you".   So, "I reverentially bow to you."

The hand position, anjali mudra,  of pressing the palms together with fingers pointing upward, has the same meaning as "Namaste" and can be done silently without the word itself.

A few of the more poetic translations are (from Wikipedia "Namaste"):

  • "I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me."
  • "I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One."
  • "I salute the God within you."
  • "Your spirit and my spirit are ONE." 
  • "That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you."
  • "The Divinity within me perceives and adores the Divinity within you."
  • "All that is best and highest in me greets/salutes all that is best and highest in you."
  • "I greet the God within."

The following is from Aadil Palkhivala, in a Q&A segment in YogaJournal.com on the Meaning of Namaste
"Ideally, Namaste should be done both at the beginning and at the end of class. Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart."

(Aadil Palkhivala is a nationally known yoga teacher who has strong underpinnings in the Iyengar Yoga tradition.   He is also a naturopath and an ayurvedic practitioner.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gentle Yoga Class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor

We have more space in the Gentle class again, since a few people have moved on to other classes.

How does the Gentle Yoga class differ from our other classes at Harmony Yoga?    It's a good class for anyone who prefers a slower-paced, more supported approach to learning the yoga poses.

You might especially benefit from these classes if:
  1. You have taken some time off from your yoga practice or your usual exercise routine and want to ease back into a healthy exercise program.
  2. You have certain difficulties in other yoga classes that frustrate you (balance issues, weakness or other problems in the joints or muscles).
  3. You've injured yourself in some activity and are worried about coming into a regular yoga class.
  4. You're a "mature-bodied" person, and want to maintain your strength, balance, and flexibility as you grow older.
  5. You have a hectic life, and want to take time to slow down, while still doing some good stretching and gentle strengthening work.
In the Gentle class we do many of the same poses that are done in other classes, but often with more props, and we take our time getting there.   For standing poses (one of the hallmarks of Iyengar yoga), we almost always use the support of the wall or a chair to stabilize ourselves.   This way we can hold the pose for longer, and work toward more optimal alignment with more ease.   We use the chairs for many purposes -- stability for standing poses, as I mentioned; downward and upward facing dog poses with hands to the chair instead of the floor;  sitting in the chair for twists or certain arm and leg stretches, and a number of other uses.   We do a few more restorative/ recuperative / resting poses than the other classes as well.  

If you're new to Harmony Yoga, or haven't been to classes for awhile, you're welcome to take your first Gentle class for no charge if you mention this post.   Or if you have a friend who you think would benefit from and enjoy a class like this, please pass on this information.

The Gentle class meets Tuesday mornings, 9:30 -- 11:00.  For more class information, descriptions and fees, go to:  http://harmonyyogaannarbor.com/classes.html

This is a friendly group of people, and we'd love to have you come to the class!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Home Yoga Practice ideas

Practicing between your weekly yoga classes will help you improve your poses (asanas) more quickly, and will give you greater health benefits.   Students have told me that part of the reason they don't practice is that they don't know what to practice, or they think they'll do the poses wrong.

If you're a beginner, a good way to start your home yoga practice is to try to remember three asanas that you did in your most recent class, and do those 2 or 3 times that week.  You don't have to do them perfectly!   Just the process of doing what you can remember will help you learn them more quickly than if you only do them in class.   As a beginner, first focus on how to place your arms and legs, hands and feet, and head in the yoga asanas.    Practice straightening the arms and legs in poses that require straightening, and practice lifting and opening your chest in the poses that require that (which are most poses for beginners!).  As you become more experienced, you'll start to remember more of the details that you were taught in class, and then can incorporate them into your own practice.     And, as a beginner, if you really just don't get around to practicing much, don't worry!  Let it develop over time!

Practicing between your yoga classes becomes more essential as you become more experienced and take higher level classes.   You'll find it much harder to progress in the more difficult, complicated yoga asanas unless you put in your own work between classes.   If you're having trouble in certain asanas and just can't figure them out withing your own practice, you're welcome to come in early before classes to get help.  I'm usually at the studio 1/2 hour before class starts.   Some students are finding it's helpful to take more than one class a week. I'm also available for private lessons if you'd like more focused attention on some aspect of your yoga practice.  But my guidance is only worth a little if you don't follow up with your own work.  

Here's a link to a series of practice sequences on the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the U.S.) website.     Sequences for practice
I've posted this link before in newsletters, but it's always good to check again!   There are 4 general sequences for Level 1 students, and 4 sequences for Level 2 and higher students.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! "Zombie yoga"

Happy Halloween!

I saw this first a year or two ago -- kind of silly, but good for the day :-)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Iyengar Yoga Rigid or Harsh? The process of "waking up"

This video is of John Schumacher, a Senior Level Iyengar Yoga teacher in the Washington D.C. area.  He talks about the perception that Iyengar yoga seems harsh or too rigid to some people, and he clarifies why we teach as we do.

Underneath the video is my summary of what he talks about, along with a few of my own thoughts.

John talks about the intensity of B.K.S. Iyengar as a teacher --  the yoga sutras of Patanjali say that a practitioner can be mild, medium, or intense.    Different teachers will have different intensities; different students have different intensities.   For many people Iyengar is too intense, or too harsh.   Many of his earlier students adopted this intensity and incorporated his mannerisms into their own teaching, until they found their own "voice" as teachers. 

 -- Those of you who know me know that I'm a mild person by temperament, and that's reflected in my teaching.    I'm seriously dedicated to this practice, but I couldn't adopt B.K.S. Iyengar's intensity and still stay true to myself (or retain students!).   But I've learned 98% of all I know about the practice of yoga through his teachings (mostly through higher level Iyengar yoga teachers, but also from him).

John talks about the perception that Iyengar Yoga is rigid.   He says we can let people do what they want to do in a class, and they may be fine and happy, BUT they don't learn as well as if they are guided.   If a teacher guides a student, is that "rigid"?   Some may perceive it as so -- probably Iyengar Yoga will not be a good fit for them.

John tells his beginning level classes that "this is not an exercise class, but a yoga class".   His job is to teach you about yoga; about "waking up", about learning to understand the connections within yourself and the connections between you and the rest of the world.    His job is to teach you to "be present".

To learn to "be present" you follow with the teacher's instructions.   That way you also learn the poses better, and avoid problems and possible injuries.  Paying attention and following teacher's instructions keeps us in the "here and now".      That's the "yoga" part -- to be mentally awake, to be present.   (He mentions Ram Dass's "Be Here Now")

If you're not present and paying attention, the teacher's job is to bring you back to awareness by pointing out what you're doing or not doing.   He gives the example of the instruction to make the feet parallel in certain poses.   Some students may think it's too rigid to insist that the feet be "just so".   Why should it matter?   Partly it matters because the position of the feet affects how the legs, hips and back work.   But also, more importantly, paying attention and following this instruction keeps us "present"; it brings us to awareness.   If the feet turn out after we initially make them parallel, it means that our attention has wandered (at least away from the feet!).   He says "If you're not doing what I'm saying, then you're daydreaming."  His job (and mine) is to "wake you up", to keep your mind from wandering, from daydreaming, and to bring your awareness, your concentration, back to the present, back to the body.   We can then become more perceptive, first of our own bodies and mental and emotional processes, and eventually of the rest of the world around us.   That is the aim of yoga!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Who, me, an Iyengar Yoga snob?

I've noticed that some yoga students who come from other traditions feel like the Iyengar Yoga community excludes them.    They may be seasoned yoga students who do difficult poses with grace, strength, and beauty, but if they ask about attending Iyengar Yoga workshops or experienced-level Iyengar yoga classes, they may be told that the classes are only open to students with prior Iyengar yoga background.    So why are they being excluded?   Why are we being so snobbish?   Do we think that Iyengar yoga is better than what they do?

No, it's not that, of course.   Well, at least I hope that's not it!

One of my yoga teachers likened it to different kinds of musicians.   Consider two trumpet players.   One may be a top-notch jazz trumpetist, and the other a lead trumpet player in a world-class philharmonic orchestra.   They both are excellent trumpet players, but both come from very different traditions.   The jazz trumpetist couldn't expect to play in the world-class philharmonic orchestra, any more than the philharmonic trumpet player could expect to be a member of the top-notch jazz band.     If they want to explore the other style of playing, they get this experience in the appropriate venue -- they learn in a more "beginning level" setting.

So it's not our goal to exclude non-Iyengar practitioners (not my goal, at least), but we do have certain expectations from the students who come to higher level classes.   They're  expected to already have a certain knowledge of the methodology and terminology of Iyengar Yoga.     You learn these in the lower level classes.   If you jump into an experienced level class that assumes a certain prior knowledge, you may be doing the teacher and the rest of the class a disservice since the teacher may need to spend more time teaching you what the others have already learned in a lower level class.   This applies to all fields, not just Iyengar yoga, not just yoga classes in general, but in any endeavor where there's sequential learning.  

I've been practicing yoga since 1993, only in the Iyengar Yoga method.   I do think a Vinyasa, or Ashtanga, or Yin Yoga class would be a lot of fun, and I may try one of those classes some day.  But I certainly wouldn't go to an advanced level class.   I'm experienced in Iyengar Yoga -- that's it.   Many of the elements that I know would translate well into other styles of yoga, but not all.   It would be hubris on my part to feel entitled to attend an advanced level class outside of what I know.

I probably wouldn't even attend an "advanced" Iyengar yoga class if taught by someone I'm not familiar with, for the same reasons as above.    Different teachers have different expectations for their students, and it is good for us students (teachers need to remain students too) to honor these expectations.   The teacher of an advanced class shouldn't have to back-track to help out the new student who doesn't have the prerequisite background.   This is unfair to the rest of the class.

Personally, since my more experienced-level classes are not large, I do enjoy having people from different traditions attend as long as they're willing to take my instruction.   There is a certain amount of discipline expected -- not a harsh, overly-strict discipline in my class, but still, the discipline to follow my instructions to the best of your ability even if you can do more.   I wrote about "Beginner's mind vs. Prideful mind" in an earlier blog entry.    Cultivate your own "beginner's mind" in my classes, even if you already have a vast amount of experience.   You will learn something this way, not just get a workout.   It's a good idea for you to contact me first, before dropping in, so we can come to an understanding of what I'd expect of you in class, and what you hope to get out of a class.   Our expectations may not mesh, but then again, it could be the beginning of a beautiful yoga relationship :-)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Manouso Manos yoga workshop at the Ann Arbor YMCA Nov. 13 -- 15

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, Manouso Manos, will be teaching workshop classes at the Ann Arbor YMCA November 13 -- 15.     Manouso is one of the  most capable and experienced senior Iyengar Yoga teachers in the United States.  A student of B. K. S. Iyengar since 1976, he holds one of only two Advanced Senior certificates granted worldwide  (the other is Patricia Walden).    He's methodical in his teaching, first helping us to develop a strong foundation in the yoga asanas (poses), then progressively helping us to refine the poses.  "His sense of humor and sensitivity shine through as his dynamic and challenging teaching style moves you beyond perceived limits." 

We've been lucky here in Ann Arbor to have Manouso come on a yearly basis to teach workshop classes.

Classes this year are open to yoga students who have at least 2 years recent Iyengar Yoga background.    This assumes that you are already familiar with Iyengar Yoga methodology, and know how to work in head balance and shoulder balance as taught in the Iyengar Yoga system (i.e. know how to set up for shoulder balance with the blanket platform).  

(So, this isn't for students in the Gentle class, or probably not for students in my Level 1 classes even if you've been taking classes for 2 years.)
Registration is through Yoga Focus (not the YMCA).

From my past experience in these workshops I can tell you that for the most part we'll be working more deeply within the poses that you are already  familiar with.   The 3 hour Sunday class will probably include about an hour of Q & A.   

Times and fees:
Friday, Nov. 13        6:00-8:00PM      $35.00

Saturday, Nov. 14    9:00-11:30AM    $40.00

Saturday, Nov. 14    2:30-4:30PM      $35.00

Sunday, Nov. 15       9:30AM-12:30PM  $45.00

For those of you who take classes with me, I have workshop flyers at the studio.   Otherwise if you're interested, contact Karen Ufer at Yoga Focus (link is above).

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yoga and Aging -- Growing older with grace

I've noticed that I've gotten stiffer over the last few years, despite my yoga practice.   I've seen this in some of my long-term students as well.    Our hips, ankles, shoulders, and back just don't move or stretch as freely as they used to, or at least not as quickly.     Our strength and sense of balance eventually start to decrease as well.

Apparently this is an inevitable parting of growing older.   This doesn't mean we give up on our yoga practice -- on the contrary, our yoga practice will keep us stronger, more limber, and overall healthier and happier than if we didn't practice.

I did mention that I am stiffer than I used to be -- this stiffness goes away during practice, although it takes me a little longer to get there.   I can't imagine what my body would be like without this practice, let alone my state of mind!    I'd probably be a hunched-over crank with bad knees and back, and a perpetual scowl on my face if it weren't for my yoga practice!    (Well, hopefully not, but I'm not going to test it!)

We have to practice differently as we get older than when we were younger.    Perhaps we can't throw ourselves into poses with the joy and abandon of younger practitioners, but our body awareness develops so that we can more intelligently and more skillfully work to increase our physical and mental health, or at least to maintain for longer our current level of health.

This photo of B.K.S. Iyengar is from the Vanity Fair article link, below.  This was taken when he was 88.
The Yoga Portfolio Outtakes Entertainment & Culture: vanityfair.com
Of course this photo is meant to inspire-- most of us won't have such a beautiful back arch at any age perhaps, but it shows that the human body is capable of more than we think it is.    B.K.S. Iyengar doesn't "hit the perfect pose" right off the bat, however.   He moves his body with intelligence during his practice, skillfully moving deeper and deeper into his poses, with the aid of props and keen mental awareness.   This is how we all need to work as we get older -- mindfully and intelligently.

The photo of the woman doing paschimottanasana ( seated forward bend) is also inspiring, and more accessible to more of us.   But it's still a pose that needs intelligent and mindful work if we want to deepen the pose without injury.

In the Denver Post article, Turning Age on it's Head , one of the teachers that is interviewed says, " Iyengar is the safest yoga for older practitioners because of Iyengar's focus on proper alignment and the use of props — blankets, blocks, straps, chairs and ropes — to assist poses.
"Mr. Iyengar's genius engineering in the use of props and sequencing makes the essence and benefit of each pose available to any student, regardless of ability, strength, flexibility, experience or age,"

If you're new to yoga, and are starting to feel the effects of age, you may prefer to find a "Gentle" yoga class or a "Yoga for Seniors" class as your introduction into this practice, so that you're with other like-minded, and like-bodied people.    Yoga IS for everyone, but not every beginning yoga class will be suitable for all beginners.   Some will prefer an active, vigorous class (I think many younger people need this activity), while some need a slower-paced, more supported class that gently strengthens and stretches and opens the body.  

Again, from the Denver Post article, one of the interviewed teachers says,
"For those who practice yoga regularly, stiffness turns to suppleness. Closed joint spaces open so the life-force energy known as 'prana' can flow to bring vitality," Frechette says. "And the oxygenated flow of blood brings youth-promoting nutrients to all the nooks and crannies of our aging bodies."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India

I found this interesting little video recently on YouTube.   It shows some of the area around and inside the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India, where I studied in February 2006.

The Institute building is octagonal, and on each of the 8 side there's a bas-relief sculpture of B.K.S. Iyengar in a yoga asana (pose). There's also a statue of Patanjali, set into a wall. Patanjali is the ancient Indian "sage" who codified the philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras about 2500 years ago. In front, there's a bust of B.K.S. Iyengar's wife, who died in 1993 just as the institute was breaking ground (the institute is named after her -- the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute -- RIMYI).  As the camera goes around to the back, you'll see the shelves for shoes before people enter the building. To the left of this, across the small courtyard is where B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter, Geeta, live. His son, Prashant, lives in an apartment in the Institute itself.

There's a little garden with a statue of Iyengar doing Lord of the Dance pose -- I have a couple pictures of me in front of that statue :-)

The last 1/2 minute is of the main classroom area -- this shows one of the practice times. You can see Geeta briefly as the camera first comes into the room -- she's sitting on the floor, in white top and green shorts (her signature yoga class "uniform") (time 2:58)

The video brings back memories for me!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Beginner's mind" vs. "Prideful mind" -- A tip for being a successful yoga student

Recently I had three visitors attend my more experienced level class.   Two were less experienced than my regular students in that class.   The third was quite accomplished -- strong and flexible, showing off her beautiful and remarkable poses, carrying them further than anyone else in the class, adding various flourishes and periodically "doing her own cool thing" in between the poses I was teaching.

All three were delightful people and I was happy to have them in class that evening.    But who was being a "good" student?   Which kind of student is overall more successful? 

You don't have to be strong or flexible, or have beautiful poses to be a successful or "good" student -- just the willingness to learn and practice what the teacher has to offer during that particular class.  I'm not familiar with other styles of yoga and the accompanying teaching methods -- perhaps it is acceptable in some other classes "do your own thing" when you think you can do more than what is being shown and taught in class.   But part of the philosophy of the Iyengar tradition (and most likely many other yoga traditions) is to develop patience and discipline and a degree of humility.   Of course we can be proud of our accomplishments and of our beautiful poses, but pride can lead us to believe we know more than we really do, or are better than we really are.   This leaves no room for learning.    And there is always more to learn.

If there's no patience, discipline, and humility, then that student has already decided (even if unconsciously) that she has nothing to learn from this class.   So basically that student has come to class for a work-out (and possibly to show off).   That's not necessarily bad, but she misses out on the wonderful experience of learning something new.

In the following Yoga Journal entry --
Yoga Journal - Teacher Tells All - Yoga Blog
the writer/teacher describes "Beginner's Mind" in yoga as "that space where you examine everything as if it were new. By opening ourselves up to the possibility that there is always something new to learn (even when you have done the "same" downward facing dog a thousand times) all kinds of things can shift and change and evolve."

If we already think we "know it all", we can learn nothing.   When we look at the poses afresh each time we do them, they become endlessly fascinating and satisfying.

(Yoga Journal entry posted using ShareThis)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yoga and Meditation -- Part 3

When we talk about Yoga and Meditation, many people consider them to be different although compatible practices.   We often think of Yoga as the physical practice of poses, and Meditation as sitting in contemplation.

The full practice of yoga, though, includes more than just the practice of poses.   It also includes meditation.

The eight limbs of Yoga are:
  • Yama --  ethical practices toward society
  • Niyama -- ethical practices towards yourself
  • Asana -- practice of poses 
  • Pranayama -- breathing exercises
  • Pratyahara -- withdrawal of the senses
  • Dharana -- concentration
  • Dhyana -- meditation
  • Samadhi -- enlightenment, being one with the universe
We can embody all of these limbs of yoga within the practice of asana (and in some later posting I may discuss these more fully).    Very briefly, the practice of Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses; looking inward) leads to Dharana (concentration), which leads to Dhyana (a more profound concentration -- or meditation), which leads to Samadhi (being at one with God or with the universe).

Many people have described the practice of yoga asanas as a physical meditation or a meditation in movement.    To practice well, to do the poses as a meditation, we have to turn our awareness inward while practicing the pose.  We learn to discriminate between the different movements of the body, we  learn to develop more of an awareness of our full self, as we move deeper into the practice of the pose, an awareness not just of the physical body, but also the physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual layers of ourselves.

B.K.S. Iyengar writes in "The Tree of Yoga", "We must learn in our performance of asanas to express the outer form and beauty of the pose without losing our inner attention."  He talks about reflecting in the pose, judging whether we are doing it correctly -- where it is wrong, and where it is right.  He continues, "You have judged.  You have reached a state of balance, so there is oneness.   There is awareness through your whole being from the skin to the self and from the self to the skin.  Then you know how to see outside and how to see inside.  There is fullness inside and fullness outside."   Later, " Can I extend my awareness of my self and bring it to each and every part of my body without any variation...[...] ...I learn to how to be at one with my body, my brain, my mind, my intelligence, my consciousness and my soul without any divisions at all.   That is how I practice.  That is why for me there is no difference between asana and dhyana."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Aquarium video -- stress reduction

This isn't about yoga or meditation per se, but this is such a soothing, calming video.   I found it while browsing other blogs.

Yoga and Meditation -- Part 2

As I was writing Part 1 of Yoga and Meditation, I noticed that AnnArbor.com carried an article on meditation that same day (Thursday, October 8):
Meditation grows in popularity for both health and spiritual reasons

I was struck that the reasons given for practicing meditation are basically the same as the reasons for practicing yoga asanas (poses).   The second sentence, "Over the last few decades, meditation has evolved from a fringe practice to a mainstream stress-reduction technique that might be recommended by your family doctor"  could easily have been written with "yoga" replacing "meditation".

Both practices help to improve our physical and mental health and well-being.  Both are a practice of mindfulness and of staying in the present moment, and may develop into more of a spiritual practice over time.

People often choose to start either practice as a way to quickly feel better physically and/or mentally.    People may start a yoga practice to help with physical issues like achy backs or sore joints, and to develop strength and flexibility, as well as to reduce stress.   People may start a meditation practice because of emotional issues (that may lead to physical problems), and again, as a way to reduce stress.

I like what Carol Blotter says in the article about people beginning their practice of meditation (or of yoga) with the thought, “ ‘just give me something to do to make me feel better in this moment",  and over time it may change to, "Help me live my life with more honesty, clarity and openness from the heart."     She continues,  "Many people start with the motivation to ‘just fix this one thing right now,’ and, over time, it changes into an awareness of a spiritual nature.”

The sustained study and practice of either yoga or meditation will bring us greater knowledge of our own true nature and of our relationship to the world around us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yoga and Meditation -- Part 1

It's been interesting teaching our "Integrating Yoga and Meditation" class with my husband, David,  these last three weeks.     We are both passionate about what we teach, we've both been thoroughly trained in teaching our particular method, and we know that the two subjects, as we've experienced them, should go well together.  

We come from two very different teaching traditions though, and putting the two together, given our different traditions, has been a bit of a challenge.

I teach Iyengar yoga as a very practical, physical method of improving one's health and well-being.   Most of the emphasis is on learning and practicing the poses, especially for beginners.   There is some awareness of the breath, and occasionally some philosophical concepts introduced as we are practicing the poses, but the initial "thrust" of the practice is of learning and practicing the physical poses as a way to learn to pay attention to the body -- to learn to concentrate, which in turn leads towards a meditative state of mind.

David teaches Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation.   As he teaches it (as I understand it -- and my understanding is limited!), there is more discussion on the different aspects of meditation, often in the form of dharma talks (lectures on a topic), as well as the actual meditation practice.   There's also been time set aside for students to share their experiences and to ask questions.

These different practices (Iyengar Yoga, Vipassana meditation) tend to draw different types of people.   There's some overlap, but not nearly as much as we thought there'd be.    People who have a  background in Vipassana or other formal meditation techniques may have less of an interest in the strongly physical aspects of Iyengar yoga.   People with a stronger background in a physically active yoga tradition may have less  interest in sitting still in meditation for long periods of time.   We have students from both practices -- and trying to find the common ground between the two has been challenging.   Neither of us has time to teach as fully as we'd like during each class (we'd need a 3 hour class for that!), but hopefully it's giving students a taste of how the two practices can be used together.  

Both are practices in mindfulness.   Both help to improve our health and mental well-being.   And both are great stress-reducers.   And David and I learn from this challenge of trying to satisfactorily incorporate the two methods into one class -- it'll take time to "iron out the wrinkles", but the challenge is a good one!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Iyengar Yoga and Low Back Pain

In my most recent email newsletter to students and friends of Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor (HYAA), I included information about a study that came out showing that the practice of  Iyengar Yoga provides significant improvement of chronic low back pain in individuals with mild disability.

One of the HYAA students (thanks Deb!) also pointed out that there's an article on the IYNAUS website (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the U. S.) that gives a brief overview on this research --  Research on Iyengar Yoga and Chronic Lower Back Pain.   This includes a link to a pdf file, "Therapeutic Application of Iyengar Yoga for Healing Chronic Low Back Pain".  

The overview and the article may be of interest to any of you who have low back problems.   The article includes a section on the philosophy of yoga and some of the key aspects of Iyengar Yoga.    Sequences of poses that are used to aid in healing low back problems are shown in drawings and photos.   Many of the poses that are shown are much more prop-intensive than how I normally teach them in class (I don't have all the props, and it wouldn't be time-effective to work on poses this way in a regular, general class), but the actions and the aims are still the same.  

I'm happy to work with any of you HYAA students who'd like extra help with low back issues, in private or semi-private sessions.   If you're interested, you can talk to me next time you're in class, or contact me through our Harmony Yoga website

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Desiree Rumbaugh Yoga Workshop Classes on Wednesday, October 14

Nationally-known Anusara Yoga teacher, Desiree Rumbaugh is coming to the Ann Arbor area on Wednesday, October 14, to teach two classes.     These workshop classes are being sponsored by Michele Bond, a local Anusara Yoga teacher, of Yoga House in Ann Arbor.      Registration information can be found here.

The morning class has a therapeutic theme, and it is appropriate for all levels of experience.   The afternoon class sounds like it will have an interesting mix of many different poses.

Unfortunately the deadline for a discount has passed (sorry!), but the classes are still very affordable.

Anusara Yoga, founded by John Friend in 1997, is an alignment-based yoga method developed in large part out of his extensive experience in Iyengar Yoga.

I haven't had any experience with Anusara Yoga, but feel that it is probably quite compatible with the teachings of Iyengar Yoga.   I'm considering attending her afternoon class (I teach during the time of her morning class).   Let me know if any of you are going!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The new Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor blog site!

I can't believe it's already October!   We're half-way through our Early Fall session, and for the most part classes have been going very well (although a couple continue to be VERY small).   Our lovely, light and airy new studio location has been a delight to teach in.   Our old location was fine, but it's SO nice to get up out of the basement!

I am new to blogging, so I'll be feeling my way through what kind of posts I think are appropriate for this site.    I'll include news from the studio, info about current yoga and meditation classes and upcoming events, and possibly news about what students are doing (with your permission!).   I'll occasionally include practice sequences (a good way for you all to learn the Sanskrit names of poses!), and articles about different aspects of yoga practice and philosophy -- perhaps moving some of the "items of interest" from our email newsletters over to these pages.

My intentions are to add updates once or twice a week.   Let me know what kind of information you'd like to see here!