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 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:

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.