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.