Sunday, December 26, 2010

Quiz Yourself On Yoga Pose Names

If you practice yoga or take yoga classes, you've heard your teacher give the yoga pose names, sometimes in English, and maybe sometimes in Sanskrit.

How well do YOU know the yoga pose names?

I've created three very short quizzes (just 8 questions each) on yoga pose names. 

If you'd like to test yourself, go to
Quiz Yourself On Yoga Pose Names

If there's interest, I'll create a few more.   If you're a teacher and happen by this page, most likely these quizzes are a piece of cake for you.  If you're a student....well, maybe the names are familiar, but maybe not.

I'd love to hear what you think about these mini-quizzes!

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Yoga for Arthritis

I've heard from a number of my students that they've seen the excellent PBS programs "Yoga For the Rest of Us" by Peggy Cappy, including her newest program, Easy Yoga for Arthritis. I've also received emails and phone calls from people who have watched this program, and are now searching for Yoga for Arthritis classes in Ann Arbor.

See below for more information on this product
I've written an online article, Yoga for Arthritis,  that many of you have already seen that describes how the mindful practice of yoga poses can help people with arthritis.   

The practice of yoga helps to increase mobility in joints, while stretching and strengthening the muscles and connective tissues around the joints.   A regular yoga practice also reduces arthritic pain.

If you don't have time to read my full online article, then just read the short section How Yoga Helps to Relieve Arthritis Symptoms.

UPDATE -- When I first wrote this post, I didn't have a Yoga for Arthritis class on my schedule.  I've since decided that I WILL offer a Yoga for Arthritis class on a trial basis.   It'll be an hour-long class and it will last for four weeks.  The class will be geared toward people who are new to yoga and who want to come to a gentle, slow-paced class to help them develop more mobility and strength.

My students with arthritis all agree that yoga has helped to increase their flexibility and strength, while reducing their arthritis pain.  They notice that if they take a break from practicing yoga, they experience more stiffness and pain.

If you're new to yoga, or have been away from the practice of yoga for some time, you may want to try a Gentle yoga class to start with.   In the Gentle Yoga Class and the 4 week Yoga for Arthritis class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor, you'll learn to safely stretch and strengthen your body with yoga poses, within a friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere.   If you're already relatively active, but starting to notice arthritic stiffness and pain, a general Beginning Yoga class may be a good place to start.

If the class you try just does not work for you, try another class.   "Gentle Yoga" or "Beginning Yoga"  can mean different things at different studios.  Some styles of yoga are more active than others, while some are very quiet and slow-moving.  Don't give up if your first class doesn't suit you!  Search around and ask for recommendations from friends.  Talk to different yoga teachers.

With the assistance of a competent yoga teacher, all of the yoga poses can be modified as needed to help with stiffness, weakness, and lack of balance.

If you'd like to see if a yoga class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor is suitable for you, take a look at our Yoga Class Schedule and Yoga Class Descriptions, and contact me if you have questions!  I'm happy to talk to you!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

May you all have a lovely day whether it be with family and friends, or if you choose to have a quiet day to yourself.

Here's Allison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma in a beautiful rendition of "Simple Gifts"

Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gifts was written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. in 1848.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happiness and Inner Peace Quote

Just a nice quote from The Inner Peace Project at

"Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace?  Yes.  Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not."

— Eckhart Tolle

 The Inner Peace Project is a little reminder to take a moment to breathe; to connect with a feeling of inner peace.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yoga and Arthritis -- Keep Moving Your Body

Image from
Yoga can relieve arthritis pain by creating more mobility and flexibility in the joints, while stretching and strengthening the muscles around the affected joints. 

A problem with arthritis pain is that the person suffering the pain may not feel up to doing much of any physical activity, because it hurts to move.

But sedentary people suffer more from arthritis pain than physically active.   When joints and muscles aren't used, they become weaker and less stable, with more chance of injury.  More degeneration and pain of the joints occur.

Regular gentle movement helps to regain some mobility in the joints, and it reduces pain.  With regular exercise, blood circulation if better, which helps to reduce swelling and pain.

Read Yoga for Arthritis for an explanation of the causes of arthritis and how yoga can help to alleviate arthritis symptoms.   This article also includes a list of resources for further reading, and suggestions for finding a yoga class that is appropriate for the fitness level of the arthritis sufferer. 

If you have arthritis and have continued to be physically active,  a regular beginning level yoga class may work out well for you.   If you've been sedentary, or if you're older or have greater mobility issues, a "Gentle Yoga" class or something similar will probably be more appropriate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Good time of year to take a yoga class.

This is a good time of year to take a yoga class.   If you don't currently take a yoga class, this is a good time to start or to return to classes if you've been away for awhile.

Many of us will be gearing up for the holidays soon, and even though we may love much of the busy-ness that surrounds the holidays, we may also get stressed out about all of the preparations we do to get ready.  

I know I'm prone to stress during the holidays if I don't do my yoga practice regularly.

The practice of yoga helps us to maintain our equanimity in times of stress.   It helps us to stay physically healthy and energized, and mentally more alert, and more capable of coping with any irritants, worries and problems that may be thrown our way.

We've just started our Late Fall session at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor.  If you're in the area and interested in an Iyengar yoga class, come join us -- we'd love to see you!

See our Class Schedule and Yoga Class Descriptions to figure out what class suits you best.   If you have any questions, please feel free to Contact Me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yoga for Disabilities -- Matthew Sanford

From Media Kit
A number of you who take classes from me have heard me mention Matthew Sanford's name from time to time.   One of my blog posts, from June 2010, was also about him: Matthew Sanford, Paraplegic Yoga Teacher.    Matthew was injured in a car crash when he was 13 years old.  His father and sister were killed, his mother and brother had minor injuries, and Matthew broke his neck and back, becoming a paraplegic.

The practice of Iyengar Yoga helped him to become more in touch with all of his body again, not just the parts that still worked.

I just found another interesting online video that features Matthew Sanford when he spoke at the Detroit Medical Center's Center for Spinal Injury Recovery earlier this year.    See Yoga for People With Disabilities.
In this video, Matthew Sanford asks the audience, "How do you live more vibrantly in your body?", and he states, "I've never seen someone become more aware of his or her body without also becoming more compassionate. Never seen it happen."

I've also recently found out that Matthew Sanford will be the keynote speaker at the Yoga From the Heartland Conference in September 2012, Chicago Illinois.   This conference is being planned by the Iyengar Yoga Association of the Midwest, and will be open to all yoga practitioners, from any tradition.

I'll be letting you all know more about this exciting conference as I find out more details.

Put the conference dates on your calendar -- September 15-18, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois

Monday, October 11, 2010

Late Fall Yoga Class Session Starts October 25

Our Late Fall Yoga Class session runs from Monday, October 25 -- Saturday, December 18, an eight-week session.

The schedule will be the same as it is now.
Yoga Class Schedule

If there is interest, in about a month I'll offer a 4 week Introduction to Yoga class, Saturdays 11:15 -- 12:15. 

If you know someone who might like to try a class at Harmony Yoga, ask me for a "One Free Class" card to give to them.   

If you're new to Harmony Yoga, contact me for a "One Free Class" card. 

If you have any questions about our yoga class program, feel free to contact me.

Come join us for enjoyable yoga classes in the Iyengar tradition!  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I've been distracted by many other activities recently, so haven't been adding to this blog regularly.   I'm working on changing that.  I come up with so many ideas for this blog, and I sometimes can't decide which one to flesh out first.   Or in the process of fleshing it out, it seems much less important than some other idea.  I have a number of "half-baked" half-written blog posts that I've never published!

Basically, my problem is that my mind has been more scattered lately, and it's a challenge trying to figure out how to get it back on track.   I've been feeling unsettled over the last few weeks. This seems to happen more often for me during the changing of the seasons.  

The practice of yoga centers me, but sometimes I have to plan more carefully to make sure I get in a good practice when my mind is scattered.

It's helpful for me to arrange a practice with a friend at my studio (or some other place that's not my home practice area) -- then I can't let my scattered mind take me up to the computer or out to the kitchen to eat a snack, or to make a phone call.

My pranayama practice, which is calming under good circumstances, is very difficult to settle into when I'm scattered and unsettled.   A good uninterrupted active asana practice with many standing poses is much more useful.   Then ending my practice with inversions, especially Sarvangasana (shoulder balance), and quiet forward bends brings me to a quiet, calmer, more focused state of mind. 

Monday, September 6, 2010


Okay, it's been awhile since I posted last, and I really will get back to a review of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, but I just found this YouTube video about the meaning of the word Namaste. Enjoy! (And more yoga philosophy next week!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Statue of Patanjali
Many (maybe most) of us do yoga because of the physical and mental health benefits we enjoy from practicing the poses and breathing exercises.    This is a great reason to do yoga!  However, there's much more to yoga than the physical practice of asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work).

The philosophy of yoga  gives us guidelines for living a meaningful, purposeful life in its entirety, not just on the physical plane.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ( from 1500 -- 2000 years ago) codifies the philosophy and practice of yoga into succinct aphorisms.  

Patanjali delineates The Eight Limbs ("Ashtanga"), or constituents, of yoga:
  • Yama -- Ethical and moral standards and sense of integrity, along the same line as "The Golden Rule".
  • Niyama -- Self-discipline and spiritual observances.
  • Asana -- Physical postures, for physical health and to develop discipline and concentration.
  • Pranayama -- Breathing exercises, breath control.  Connection between the body, breath, and mind.
  • Pratyahara -- Withdrawal of the senses -- looking inward.
  • Dharana -- Concentration
  • Dhyana -- Meditation
  • Samadhi -- Enlightenment -- the blissful union of self with the divine.
In upcoming posts, we'll look more deeply at each of these Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Back-bending poses!

Urdhva dhanurasana photo by BeckyKP, CC License 2.0
We've been doing some backbending work these past two weeks, leading up to Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward bow pose -- first photo) in some of the classes.  The first week we practiced a few of the prone position back arches, such as Salabhasana (locust pose), Bhujangasana (cobra), Urdhva mukha svanasana (Upward facing dog pose), Dhanurasana (Bow pose), Ustrasana (camel pose). Not all classes did all of these poses!  For both weeks some of the prep work included Adho mukha svanasana (Downward facing dog pose), various arm stretches, and work over a chair (Viparita dandasana) and/or over a bolster or rolled blanket to help open the chest.

Some of you love these poses (I certainly do!), and some of you, eh...well I know you're not particularly fond of them, but you know they're good for you!  

Back-bending and back extension poses aren't easy for many of us, especially as we get older -- our shoulders and upper back get tighter and stiffer over time since there's really nothing in our "usual" daily activities that requires us to move the spine in a backbending fashion.

Urdhva mukha svanasana photo by Tarnalberry, CC license 2.0
Many of us sit at a desk, perhaps in front of a computer, for many hours a day.   Many of us drive a lot.  Or sit slumped while watching television.   Or clean the house, or carry kids around.   In these positions, unless we work on our posture, our backs slump, our shoulders round forward and up, and our chests cave in.

Backbends counteract our slumping habits.  They're just one of the different categories of yoga poses that help to keep the spine supple in all of its directions of movement, and the back and shoulders more mobile.

In backbends we create more space in the chest so that the lungs and heart can work more efficiently.   Also backbends help us feel more energetic, and give us a boost if we're feeling down -- while slumping and drooping the chest saps our physical and mental energy!

If backbending poses are difficult for you (and even if they're not!),  lie over a rolled or folded blanket 3 - 5 times a week as we sometimes do in class, to gently open the chest.   Take time to stretch your arms as we do at the beginning of class, and do more downward facing dog poses.   Your backbends won't get easier unless you regularly practice these other poses first.

You have to regularly practice to improve your difficult poses!  

Friday, July 30, 2010

The 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books

Just a short post this evening.....I've come up with my list of The 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books.

Click on the link to look at the list -- they're not necessarily in order of what I think the best book is, or the 10 best book.  I also include a handful of "runners-up" (or is that "runner-up's"?).

You can add your own favorite title if you don't see it on the list.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New YouTube Video by John Schumacher

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, has a new video out teaching Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (revolved lateral angle pose).

His instructions are always very good -- very clear and concise. Follow along with his instructions! This isn't an easy pose, but well worth the effort!

He has a number of short one-pose videos on YouTube. To find them, either go to YouTube and search "John Schumacher", or for a compilation of a few of the basic poses he covers, click on Yoga Poses. Watching and practicing the individual poses from these videos is a great way to understand each pose better.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yoga and Physical Conditioning

Those of you who attend classes regularly at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor know that I was on vacation earlier this month (July 10 - 17), to Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana.   The trip was wonderful!  The scenery was spendid, we saw a variety of wildlife (including grizzly bears!), and we were there while the spring wildflowers were blooming.   (To read an overview of our trip and to see a few photos, check out Visiting Glacier National Park.)

We did a lot of hiking, from 4 - 10 miles each day (the photo below is of me on the Highline Trail) under many different hiking conditions -- flat and even, steep and rocky, across snowfields, across glacial-melt streams.  I don't hike particularly often around town, and expected to be sore from our extensive hiking in Glacier National Park, but that didn't happen.   I attribute that to my regular practice of the yoga asanas.    I did have some trouble hiking uphill, especially at the higher elevation -- I became out-of-breath very quickly and needed to rest often.   I figure a stronger pranayama practice would've helped (I do practice, but maybe more is needed) or doing more of a vinyasa practice for aerobic conditioning would've been useful.  But muscularly, there was no problem!

I've mentioned this before, from another vacation. During our cross country ski vacation in February, even though I was physically much more active than usual, I had very little muscle soreness (but again, the uphills were....difficult...).

Of course yoga is much more than just physical conditioning, but keeping our bodies well-conditioned is a good start to bringing about an overall greater health and sense of well-being.

The regular practice of yoga asanas helps to keep our bodies "in shape" for whatever other physical activities we choose to do.   The practice of yoga, as you've all heard me say, helps you to develop more strength and flexibility, more stamina and balance.  Yogic breathing (pranayama), helps to center and quiet the mind, keeping us present within this moment.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Svadyaya -- Self-Study

One of the components of yoga is svadyaya, or self-study.    This refers to "self-study" on all levels of our being, but here I'm discussing this concept in relation to our practice of the asanas, or yoga poses.

When you're new to the practice of the yoga asanas, you depend on the teacher (or a video or a book) to tell you where and how to place the different parts of the body for the poses you're practicing.  You're given basic instructions for how to open and extend different parts of the body and how to create more mobility, stability, and balance.   When you become more experienced, you'll learn to "fine-tune" the poses, bringing your body into a healthier alignment with more ease.

The teacher continues to give you guidance in the poses for as long as you're taking classes, but you also need to figure out for yourself how you have to work to improve your own poses.   This is where svadyaya comes in (as well as dedicated practice!).

Early on you'll figure out what kinds of poses are difficult for you and what poses are easier.  Repeated effort and practice will help you to improve, but you'll probably still experience that you remain "stuck" in certain kinds of poses.  

This is where you have to start observing in your own body what's going on, and take steps to change it.

For instance, if back-bending poses are difficult for you, start to figure out where in your own body you're stuck.   The shoulders may be stiff and the mid and upper back may be stiff, while the low back may hurt because it's doing most of the "bending".   Recall what poses, what instructions, and what props your teacher has suggested for moving into a better backbend.   Were you given specific instructions for your own body that helped you in class?   Are you practicing them at home?  Or remembering these instructions next time you come to class, even if the teacher doesn't mention them?  

Also pay attention to your own body -- can you figure out what parts are maybe moving too much, or not enough?   Does one side of the body work differently than the other?   Is there more awareness in some parts of the body than in others?  Does part of the body work harder than the other?  Can you figure out what are the simpler poses/stretches that will help you move in the right direction?   Much of this self-study has to be done during your own practice, partly taken from what you've learned in class, and partly from what you've experimented with yourself.

This is a never-ending but fascinating process!  I hope it also remains a fun, playful process for you as well.  It takes time, patience, and effort, but you'll find that it's a very satisfying experience!

Photo by Mrityunjaya Yoga Studio, Creative Commons License 2.0

Friday, July 2, 2010

Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) - The Mother of Asanas

I start teaching Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) a few weeks into the Level 1 classes, depending on the experience level of the group.  Some students love it right away, and some are never too keen on it.  (I never insist that people do this pose, because there are good reasons why some people should avoid it.   There are other poses that give similar benefits.)

I often am asked WHY do we do this pose?  (Sometimes this is asked in frustration...)  It's probably easier to understand and feel the benefits of other poses.   Standing poses, for example, help us learn how to stretch the muscles in the legs and arms, to open the chest, and to create more mobility in the joints, while also developing more steadiness in the body.  

For one thing going upside down like this is rather exciting, since most of us stop doing things like this after we leave childhood.   Going upside down gives us a different perspective on the world!

There are many other benefits from doing Shoulderstand!

In "Light on Yoga", B.K.S. Iyengar says about Shoulderstand, "Sarvangasana is the Mother of asanas.  As a mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system."

Sarvangasana promotes health and alleviates many common ailments.

Many of the benefits are listed in "Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health" by B.K.S. Iyengar.   Some of these benefits include:
  • Alleviates hypertension
  • Relieves insomnia and soothes the nervous system
  • Improves functioning of the thyroid and parathyroid glands
  • Alleviates chest and nasal complaints (asthma, coughs, cold symptoms)
  • Keeps the reproductive and urinary systems healthy
Sarvangasana should be avoided for people who have diarrhea, and for women who are menstruating.  Also care is needed when practicing this pose with high blood pressure.   Talk to your yoga teacher for more information.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yoga and Summer Activities / Summer discount for private lessons

It's summer, and the weather is gorgeous!    We've been out to a local lake a couple times to swim and kayak, I've been walking more, and of course doing more yard work (mowing the grass, weeding).

Because of my yoga practice, these summer activities don't leave me feeling overly sore or tired, because my body is already mostly "in shape" for what I want to do.

Of course I do feel a little sore after doing  these activities for the first time since last summer, but not nearly as much as if I didn't have my yoga practice!

And from learning to use the body efficiently in yoga, I know how to figure out how to use the body more efficiently in my other activities.


Maybe you've also experienced that your practice of yoga asanas (postures) has resulted in more ease and less pain in your other activities.

Often people's schedules change somewhat during the summer.  Some yoga students have time to take more yoga classes, and some have less time because of travel and other activities.   I suggest that you not giving up yoga entirely during the summer (you knew I'd say that, right?), because of the benefits that extend into your other activities.

You may also be interested in taking Individual or Small Group lessons where you chose the theme of the lesson.   Maybe you'd like help figuring out how yoga can benefit your other summer activities.

Or maybe you'd like assistance in figuring out how yoga can help you with minor health issues.   Or to work on problem poses, or just to ask questions about your practice.

For the rest of this summer, through August 31, 2010, I'm offering a discount for Individual/Small group lessons.
1 hour for $60 (rather than $70)

This works best if you've already taken a few regular classes with me, just so I can get to know how your body works in various poses.

This discount isn't currently listed on the Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor website.   You can contact me for more information, or talk to me before or after your class.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Story of the Yoga Warrior Poses

The Yoga Warrior Poses are beautiful but vigorous poses that require strength, stamina, and awareness to hold with integrity for any length of time.   The arms and legs need to be able to fully extend, the hips, shoulders, and spine require flexibility, and the back and spinal muscles need to be strong to keep the trunk lengthening and to keep the low back and belly from sagging forward.

Much practice is needed to be able to do these poses well!

The Sanskrit name for the Yoga Warrior Poses, Virabhadrasana, comes from the great hero warrior, Virabhadra, from Hindu mythology.   Virabhadra was created by one of the Hindu gods, Shiva, to avenge the death of Shiva's beloved wife, Sati. 

Yoga students sometimes ask why we practice Warrior poses, since isn't the practice of yoga supposed to help us become more peaceful.

We can look at the practice of these poses as a metaphor for battling our own ignorance and ego.   We can think of our own "spiritual warrior" nature as developing the courage and awareness to deal with our life's challenging moments.

To learn more about the Warrior Poses, and about the story of Virabhadra, read The Story of the Yoga Warrior Poses (the newest of my Squidoo yoga lenses).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Going Deeper Into the Poses

When we are beginning yoga students and just starting to learn the basic yoga poses, our understanding is understandably superficial for some time. We learn where to put our body parts -- our arms, legs, head and trunk. We learn the basic techniques of straightening and stretching our arms and legs, and of lifting and opening the chest. We learn basic key elements of movement and alignment. We paint the "picture" of our beginning poses with broad strokes.

As we practice these basic poses over time, we become stronger, more flexible and stable, and more aware of how our body works, which readies us for more difficult poses.

When we become more experienced, we add refinement to the poses. We're given extra detail in the instructions to fine-tune our alignment and to strengthen our level of concentration. We learn to pay attention to the finer details while still maintaining the whole of the pose with integrity. This brings our minds to a state of inner steadiness.

It makes no sense to add these "refinements" too early in our practice and learning.

Compare the videos below --

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher gives good, clear instructions and demonstration for Utthita trikonasana -- Extended triangle pose. This set of basic instructions is good for beginners and for more seasoned students. (Note that he is "mirroring" the instructions. So if you are following his instructions, he is your mirror, i.e. while he tells you to turn your right leg out, he is turning his left leg out.)

John Schumacher has a series of these YouTube videos for a number of the basic yoga poses, and they're all clearly presented. Anyone who is a serious yoga student or yoga teacher would benefit from watching these videos.

Contrast the previous video with the following video of Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, Lois Steinberg, teaching Utthita trikonasana to a group of experienced students (in Poland). These students have proficiency in the basics and are being taught some rather intriguing details that would not be helpful or appropriate for beginners. For seasoned students, though, this type of work deepens their understanding of the pose.

Any pose becomes endlessly fascinating as we learn to work more deeply in the pose.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Matthew Sanford - Paraplegic Iyengar Yoga Teacher

Matthew Sanford is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher from the Minneapolis metropolitan area....but he is paralyzed from the chest down.

Some of you may have heard The Body's Grace: Matthew Sanford's Story on NPR's Speaking of Faith this past week (May 27 and May 30), which is a re-broadcast from 2006.  (Thanks, Julie, for telling me about it!)

Matthew Sanford was 13 when his was in a devastating car accident that killed his father and sister and left him paralyzed from the chest down.

When he was 25, he was introduced to the practice of yoga by Iyengar Yoga teacher Jo Zukovich.   He eventually became a yoga teacher himself, and teaches to both dis-abled and able-bodied students.   He is the founder of the non-profit Mind Body Solutions, wrote the book "Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Trancendence", and travels around the country teaching yoga and giving talks about the mind body connection.

His story is a fascinating and inspiring one!   For more information, check out:

Matthew Sanford - Paraplegic Yoga Teacher 
This is my article.

The Body's Grace: Matthew Sanford's Story
From NPR's Speaking of Faith.   It includes links to a transcript, podcast and video

Matthew Sanford's website 
Waking mind and body.

Mind Body Solutions
Transform trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Twisted -- the Benefits of Yoga Twists

Sometime ago I wrote that yoga twists are one of the categories of poses that can help to cleanse or detox the body (See Yoga Poses For Detoxing).

Twists work with a "squeeze and soak" action on the abdominal organs, which stimulates the digestive system and makes it easier for the body to eliminate waste products. 

When you wring out a sponge, the dirty water is squeezed out, and the sponge can then absorb clean water again.

This is similar to what happens in twists.   The kidneys and liver are squeezed, or wrung out during twists, forcing out "old" blood that contains waste material and toxins.   When the twists are released, fresh clean blood enters the kidneys and liver, bathing the cells in nutrients and oxygen.

Twists also are obviously beneficial to the spine, helping us to retain (or regain) normal spinal rotation.   The hips and shoulders are also affected.  Many of us lose our full range of spinal rotation due to our sedentary lifestyles -- we may sit slouched over at a desk or behind the wheel of our car for long periods of time, and the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia start to shorten, which limits mobility.    Our backs may become achy and more prone to injury from this reduced spinal mobility. 

According to Julie Gudmestad (certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and yoga anatomy expert) practicing twists regularly help us to maintain the length and resilience of the tissues around the spine, abdomen, rib cage and hips.   Twists also help to maintain the health of the discs between the vertebrae.

To twist well, we need to keep the spine extended (slumping reduces our ability to twist -- slumping reduces our ability to do any yoga pose well!), and learn to twist evenly along the length of the spine, from bottom to top.     We're more mobile in the neck, and if we're not paying attention to the even twisting along the entire length of the spine, many of us turn the head first, neglecting the stiffer parts of the spine.

Until recently I have had the mis-understanding that the lumbar spine is also very mobile in twists -- but actually the twisting motion in the lumbar spine is limited.  What does happen for many of us is that the low back may over-arch as we lift the spine to twist more.   Twisting this way hurts the low back.  So we need to make sure we're grounding down well through the sit bones to keep the low back from over arching.   We then begin the twist in our lower back, and move our awareness up through the length of the spine, twisting evenly along its whole length. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Asana Requires Thought and Inner Reflection

On page 46 of Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar there is the quote:

"An asana is not a posture which you assume mechanically.  It involves thought, at the end of which a balance is achieved between movement and resistance."

I read this to some of the classes during the week that we compared the two Utthita trikonasana (triangle pose) photos -- one from the Yoga Journal calendar for the month of May, and the other either from The Path to Holistic Health, or from Yoga: The Iyengar Way.

Yoga Journal 2010 Calendar

Compare the two Trikonasana photos on this page.  They're both nice poses -- arms, legs, and trunk are extended, and both have hands on the floor.  But there are also some differences.

In the first photo, the Yoga Journal Trikonasana is a decent pose.   But notice that the stance is narrower than in the Trikonasana on the Yoga: The Iyengar Way book cover.

The second picture is of a gorgeous pose!  The wider stance makes it more possible to bring the whole trunk into better alignment.

Look closely at the first picture.  You'll see that her left leg (the back leg) thigh is rolling down slightly.  This rolls the left hip downward, narrowing the front of the pelvis.   This results in the chest rolling slightly toward the floor.  You can see this in the v-neck of her top.   The midline of the front of her trunk is turning slightly downward, but her gaze is upward.   There's a disconnect between the spine and the neck.

In the second picture, her stance is wider, and her left hip rolls back rather than forward, opening up the front of the pelvis.   This makes it easier to turn the whole trunk more fully in the pose.   The turning of the face results from an even turning of the spine and neck.    There's no disconnect between the two.

In the first photo, the turning in of the left leg may be partly from a stiffness in the hips, or of the placement of the left foot.   We do often teach to turn the back foot in a little because it does make the pose easier to enter for beginners.  But if we turn the foot forward, as in the second photo, it makes it easier to keep the left thigh and pelvis facing forward.   That makes it easier to turn the whole trunk correctly.

Also if the woman in the first photo took her right hand to her shin or to a block, she'd be able to turn her trunk better.

Yoga:  The Iyengar Way

So how does the observation of these two poses pertain to the quote at the beginning?

If we do this pose mechanically, we never figure out where we are going wrong.   We turn the right leg out, the left foot in, straighten the legs, extend the trunk and take the arm down.   That is fine for beginners (and we can be beginners for a long time!).  But to grow in our poses, we need to start looking at them in a more thoughtful manner.   We need to look at what needs to move and what needs to stay put.  The right leg turns out, and if we're not paying attention, the left leg goes with it and turns inward, especially if we have tight hips.   We need to learn to resist the left leg from turning in. 

If the hips are tight or the hamstrings or ankles are tight, we may not be able to have a wide stance in the pose, but then it's best to not take the hand to the floor. That just collapses the chest downward.  It takes thoughtfulness and inner reflection to see this in ourselves.  We need to develop this thoughtful reflection to improve our poses.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yoga Can Help Arthritis

Arthritis causes joint pain with accompanying loss of mobility and range of motion.    The practice of yoga is a good way to help reduce pain by gently opening the joints, increasing their range of motion, and by strengthening the surrounding muscles to give more support to the affected joints.

Yoga For Arthritis  gives an overview of what arthritis is, and how yoga can help ease arthritis symptoms.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Balance the body -- working the sides evenly

A few weeks ago I wrote about finding better balance in the standing poses but today's post is about a different kind of balance -- moving toward more evenness in the body from side-to-side.

It makes sense, of course, to do poses on each side -- i.e. Utthita trikonasana (Triangle pose) to the right, and then to the left.    We wouldn't do a pose only on our easy side, because we'd become more and more unbalanced.

Even in the "simple" poses, such as Parvatasana (diagram, arms), in which we interlace the fingers and press the palms toward the ceiling to extend the arms, we do twice to include the opposite interlock.     Maybe you remember how bizarre that felt the first few times you did this!

It's the same with Sukhasana (cross-legged seated pose).  It's good to practice alternating which shin is crossed on top.   And yes, that feels awkward too.

These seem like minor changes in the body, but we're so used to unconsciously positioning our bodies in the same way over and over again, and over time, that sets up imbalances in the body.  

But in our everyday lives, there are many things we do that are not balanced evenly from side to side.    We're right-handed or left-handed, so we use our dominant hand more often.   We step on the gas with our right foot.

If you do sports, you probably lead more with one side of the body than the other.   Sports like golf, soft ball, and soccer are "sided" sports (or at least I'm guessing soccer players usually kick with one foot?).

When you rake leaves or shovel snow, you're probably one-sided.

For most of these activities, it doesn't make sense to practice evenly on both sides!   Can you imagine learning to write well with your non-dominant hand!   Or swing a bat or a golf club on your other side?

Still, when we repeatedly do activities on one side, the body becomes unbalanced, and that can lead to injury.   The mindful practice of yoga poses helps us to keep the body from getting too unbalanced, and it reduces the likely-hood of injury.   This is a good reason to practice yoga!   We learn to strengthen our weaker (probably non-dominant) side, and we learn to create more flexible in our stronger side.   Your right and left sides will never work exactly the same, but you can reduce your imbalances.
I've been doing much more writing and other computer work over these last couple months, and talk about "mouse" arm has suffered, all the way from the wrist through the shoulder.   That's what inspired this post in the first place.   I've tried using the mouse with my left hand, but that is incredibly difficult!   As long as I don't overdo my computer work (oh, that's hard though!), and continue with my poses and stretches that help open my wrist and shoulder, I figure I'll be okay.    But I'm also looking into an ergonomic mouse!  (Anyone have any recommendations?)

If you're interested in what else I've been working on which has led to such wrist soreness, you can check out my Squidoo lenses (yes, it's an odd name, but a great community).   My Squidoo home page has a list of the lenses I've written -- some yoga and some on other subjects.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tapas, Svadyaya, and Moving Forward in Our Yoga Practice

After you first started taking yoga classes or started practicing on your own, you may have experienced an initial quick improvement in the yoga poses, and in your overall sense of health and well-being.    You became stronger and more flexible, and you probably felt good after leaving class.   Then you may have hit a plateau where nothing much changed for a long time.   This is very common  -- I'm guessing we all go through it if we stay with yoga for any length of time -- and I know it's frustrating.

How do you get past this plateau?

Two of the components of niyama (second limb of yoga which focuses on personal ethical observances) are tapas and svadyaya.   Tapas is the Sanskrit word for "burning determination" or "strong discipline".   Svadyaya is "self-study".

We need these two attributes to help us to move off our plateau and start climbing again along our yoga path.  We need svadyaya, or honest self-study, to figure out why we are stuck in our practice, and we need the discipline, or tapas,  to do the work to get "un-stuck".

I'll focus on difficulties in our physical practice right now, although how we go about working through these difficulties also inform us about how we work on difficulties in our daily lives.

Some of the reasons that a pose can be difficult are:
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Lack of balance
  • Lack of understanding the poses (especially the more difficult ones)
  • Resistance to discomfort (resistance to change)
  • Fear

Most of these reasons can be addressed just by practice.    We still may always have a tendency toward stiffness/weakness/lack of balance, but less so if we just practice.  Sometimes we have to look more closely at these specific reasons.   If one part of the body remains particularly stiff even with diligent practice, how do we work this out?   Or if balance eludes us (I know this one well!),  how do we work on this?   Sometimes you'll need extra information and help from your teacher to understand these aspects of the poses.

Resistance to discomfort is a mental obstacle.   To really improve, we will experience discomfort in the poses.  There is no way around this!   If we work to maintain comfort all the time, the poses will never get better even if we do them daily, and eventually we'll back-slide.  (Well, we all eventually back-slide anyway, but we can stave this off for longer with diligent, intelligent, thoughtful practice!)

Fear can be a difficult problem to get past.    We have to figure out what's scary about the pose and if this fear is reasonable, and how to take steps to get past this fear.   Sometimes there's a very good physical reason that we just shouldn't ever do the pose.   Sometimes we THINK there's a good reason to not do the pose, but maybe we're fooling ourselves.  Sometimes progressive baby steps toward the scary part of the pose is all that's needed.  BUT make sure that these baby steps are not really just shuffling back and forth in place, or even shuffling backward!   (Yes I see that in some students!  I see it in myself with one pose in particular!  Do you see that in yourself for certain poses?) 

Suggested homework for the week:
  • Pick a pose that has been eluding you but that doesn't seem too far out of your reach.
  • Look at it closely and decide what part of the pose is most difficult for you.
  • Decide what you need to do to work through this particular difficulty.  Maybe working on a similar but simpler pose will teach you how to improve your more difficult pose.
  • Then actually do it!   At least a few minutes each day!   
  • If you still have problems, ask me for ideas.  
  • Then carry through with my ideas!
Don't give up!

p.s.  If you haven't already looked at this, and want some ideas for overcoming obstacles to your own practice, read Practice Yoga at Home

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yoga For Menopausal Symptoms

I know this topic isn't useful to many segments of the population, but some of you will be very interested in this information!

I just finished another online yoga page on, Yoga For Menopausal Symptoms.  (See side bar for more of my yoga pages on Squidoo.)

It gives an overview of the common symptoms that women experience during menopause, and the kinds of yoga poses that can help ease these symptoms.

In general, restorative poses and inversions are the most useful poses to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings (irritability, depression, agitation), and insomnia and fatigue.  

Restorative poses (quiet, supported, nurturing poses) soothe our jangled nervous system, and help to balance the endocrine system.   These poses are cooling, and give us much needed rest for the body and mind.

Inversions, either supported or unsupported, also help to balance the endocrine system and calm the mind.   For those who have already been practicing headstand and shoulder balance, these continue to be key poses for our health throughout menopause.   For those who are newer to yoga, simpler inversions such as "Legs Up the Wall" pose will be very beneficial.

We can still maintain our active yoga practice during menopause, but our physical and mental health will benefit from the addition of more restorative work.

In my experience, my practice doesn't eliminate my menopausal symptoms, but it does ease them significantly, and I'm not distracted by them.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Comfort and discomfort in poses

I've been thinking recently about the feelings of comfort or discomfort while practicing the yoga poses.   I'm fairly sensitive to the temperature while I'm practicing -- I may fiddle with space heaters or fans (or both) every few minutes, or slow down my practice until my body temperature is "just right".

That's not what I need to be focusing on while practicing.   Of course some comfort is good -- I don't want to be shivering in a 57F. room in quiet poses, and I don't want to sweat in my standing poses in a 95F. (or hotter) room (although either is fine for those who prefer those temperatures!).   But I don't need to fine-tune the temperature as much as I often do.   I don't need to work so hard to avoid discomfort.  

I'm guessing that most of us practice some sort of avoidance techniques when we're uncomfortable.  In yoga (practice or classes) many of us want to get away from this discomfort as quickly as possible, whether it's from temperature, or from working hard and stretching more than we're used to, or from boredom, or from worry that we'll be uncomfortable in the future if we hold our poses for any longer.  

But if we shy away from this discomfort, we don't change; we don't grow in our practice!  If we always strive to be "comfortable" then we slide back in our progress!   We have to go through discomfort to improve. 

I know it's easier in class not to "run away" from discomfort when the teacher is there watching you and telling you what to do.   I tell students that they can always come out of poses if they hurt or if they get really tired, but for the most part people try to hold the poses until I tell them to come out.  It's harder to do this in our home practice when it's so easy to stop if we're feeling tired, hot, hungry, or bored.

What can you do to work through the discomforts you feel in class?
  • Focus on keeping the breath easy.   Don't breathe heavily, but keep your awareness on smooth inhalations and smooth exhalations.   Don't gasp the breath.
  • Watch your feelings of discomfort.   Where are you feeling discomfort?   What can you do while still in the pose to maintain the integrity of the pose, but with more ease?  Do you need to work harder in some areas, or relax certain areas more?  (Focusing on the breath is always useful.)
  • Sensation is different than pain.  You will feel sensation (maybe intense sensation that is uncomfortable) when you're stretching and working the muscles.  If you shy away from most sensation (i.e., from the feeling of stretching, or tiredness in the muscles, or heat or boredom), you may not be working hard enough to progress.   Again, go back to focusing on the breath, but without giving up the integrity of the pose. 
So, if you're in Triangle Pose, and your arms are tired -- before deciding that you have to rest your arms, take a few extra breaths first, and see if you can hold them in place a little longer. Take your shoulder blades in more firmly and stretch more fully, while relaxing the shoulders down, and practice keeping your face relaxed and your breath relaxed. 

And in Head Balance -- observe what's happening when you want to come down.   Is it because you're tired?   Stay another couple breaths.   Or bored?   Stay a few more breaths.   Or starting to feel a heaviness in the pose?   Lift the shoulders, press the shoulder blades, lift the legs, don't give up on the active aspects of the pose!  But if there is pain, and not just discomfort, come down, and let me know.

It is fine to work hard!   It is okay to be hot and sweaty!  It's fine to have some soreness in the muscles the next day or two!   Don't shy away from discomfort, but analyze it and decide what you can do to work through it.   If it is pain, then you need to stop!  But discomfort often is not pain.

Part of the work of yoga is to learn more about ourselves -- this is svadyaya, or self-study.    We observe in ourselves how we react in uncomfortable situations in yoga classes, and we learn to work through the discomfort rather than run away from it.   We can take this practice into our daily lives, and learn to mindfully work through our discomforts in our daily lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Coming back to the breath

I've been feeling scattered lately -- I have many tasks I need to get done, and many more activities that I'd prefer to be doing, and I've been jumping from one activity to another without being particularly effective at any of them.

There are all of the daily "domestic" jobs I need to do -- cooking, cleaning, buying groceries; all of the day-to-day "business" activities I need to do (luckily I don't mind most of these!), as well as long-term planning for sessions and new classes.   Then there was income tax preparation -- that took over a large chunk of my life last week!   And all of the other activities I want to do just because I want to do them -- read novels, blog (yes, I enjoy this a lot!), photograph our spring flowers (the daffodils were glowing in the sun yesterday), go birding or just walking along the Huron River with my husband, keep up with what my sons and daughter-in-law are doing,  write more Squidoo lenses,  do my online puzzles, maybe watch some videos with my husband. 

And of course I need my yoga practice!!

I have notes to myself stuffed in my purse and all over my desk to try and keep track of all I hope to accomplish during any particular day or week.

It's all good, but I'm realizing that lately I'm always thinking about the next few jobs on my to-do list before finishing what I'm currently doing.   Even during my yoga practice,  I too often stop to write a note, or check my email, or add to the grocery list.

So, what to do?  Well, I should take my own advice, for starters, and take time to be quiet, practice being present, and pay attention to my own breath.
This week in class we've been doing quiet restorative work.  All of you who've been in class this week have done supta baddha konasana (see picture) along with practicing simple breath awareness while in this pose.

Those of you with more experience did a bit more work with the breath -- deepening the inhalations and exhalations (ujjayi breath), and in a couple classes, we practiced an interrupted inhalation (Viloma inhalation).

I could see after you came out of these poses, especially after working with the breath, that most of you were very quiet and calm.

Paying attention to the breath is a powerful way to bring us back to the present moment.   The focus on the inhalations brings an alertness to our minds, and the focus on the exhalations is very quieting and relaxing.   Practicing our breath awareness helps us to let go the "scattered busy-ness" of our minds, and to bring us to a state of calmness.   Maybe you're taking a few easy relaxed breaths right now as you're reading this.  Can you feel the calmness that it brings?   Go find a place to sit or lie down quietly for 5 - 10 minutes today, and do more!

I did my pranayama (breath) practice this morning after a few days of neglecting it, and I've been much calmer and more focused today than I have over the past week.       It brought me back to the feeling of "Oh yeah, I'm here now, and it's a good place to be."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Finding better balance in our standing poses

As we get older, our sense of balance diminishes, which increases our risk of falling and injuring ourselves.   If you're a yoga student, you've undoubtedly heard that the practice of yoga can help us develop better balance....but you may also have experienced that finding this balance in the poses isn't necessarily easy!

It gets easier if you can focus on a few key points to help you with your balance.  I think the following three points are the most important to begin with:
  • Balanced weight under feet.   All four corners need to press evenly while lifting the arches.  This is the most important point!   The foundation of the pose needs to be strong and firm.  The feet are the foundation of the standing poses, and if they're not working properly then the rest of the pose won't work as well.  The weight needs to be evenly distributed on each foot -- between the heel and the ball of the foot, and between inner and the outer foot.   Or you can think about the "four corners of the feet":  base of the big toe, base of the little toe, inner heel and outer heel.   
  • Extended spine and lifted, open chest.
  • Steady, quiet gaze.
Also important, but what I consider secondary points are:
    • Strong, extended legs in poses where the legs are straight.
    • Stable pelvis
    • Strong, extended arms in poses where the arms are straight.   
    Tadasana (mountain pose)
      We learn these key points first in Tadasana.   Finding your balance is simpler in this pose since we're standing on two feet and the body is upright and symmetrical.  (If balance is difficult, stand with the feet hip width distance apart.)  Start observing where the weight is under each foot.   Is there more weight on the outer edge of the foot or the inner edge?   Or more weight under the toes rather than back in the heels?

      Often we take the weight forward when we stand upright, and our toes grip the floor.   Take enough weight back into the heels so that you are able to lift the toes.  But do this while still keeping the base of the big toe and the inner heel pressing.   Lifting the toes while pressing down the four corners of the foot will help you to find the lift of the arch of the foot.   Keep the arch lifting, and let the toes release back to the floor.

      Now as you press down evenly through your feet, lift and broaden your chest, keeping your gaze steady and level.  If your chest isn't lifted or your gaze wavers, there's less steadiness in the pose even if your feet are working well.

      For the secondary points:  the action of pressing down through the feet starts to bring about the proper extension and stability of the legs.   When the legs are working well, then there's more stability in the pelvis.   Firm, or grip, the outer upper thighs into the bone, and lengthen the buttocks to bring the pelvis into a stable upright, neutral position.    Extending the arms, with shoulders rolled back, will assist you in lifting the chest.

      Note the strong vertical extension of the whole body -- rooting down into the floor through the feet and the extension upward through the lifted chest and the crown of the head.

       Now take the information that you learned in Tadasana and apply it to the following poses.

      Vrksasana (Tree pose)

      There's the tendency for many of us to roll to the outer edge and front of the standing foot in Vrksasana.     To bring the weigh evenly under the four corners of the foot, press down through the base of the big toe while lifting the arch.   Don't grip the toes down, but take enough weight back into the heel to let the toes rest down.  Strongly lift the chest and keep the gaze steady and calm.

      The foot of the lifted leg also presses evenly into the standing leg thigh.  Stabilize the pelvis by pressing the standing leg thigh back into the lifted foot.   Keep the buttocks down as you continue to lift the chest.

      The strong upward extension of the arms will help with the lift of the chest.   You've seen people doing this pose with the arms over the head, palms together and elbows bent.   This is still a "pretty" looking pose, but unless the arms are extended (i.e. "straight"), they won't assist in the balance of the pose.   That's why we often do this pose with the arms separated -- because it's more likely that we can straighten the arms.

      Utthita trikonasana (Triangle pose)
      In triangle pose, again the weight needs to be distributed evenly over the four corners of each foot.   The tendency, however, is to collapse to the outer edge of the front foot, and the inner edge of the back foot.    There's also usually more weight on the front foot than the back.

      So, two good points of awareness to bring more stability to this pose are to press the base of the big toe down on the front leg, while still completely turning the leg from the hip socket, and press back and down through the outer heel on the back leg.   From this stable pressing through the feet, extend the legs and firm the outer upper thighs into the thigh bone.   Lengthen the buttocks away from the waist, and lengthen the chest in the opposite direction.  The strong extension of the arms help open the chest as well as give more stability to the trunk.

      Ardha chandrasana (Half-moon pose)

      Similar actions here, of course.   Again, help keep the weight distributed evenly on the standing leg foot by keeping the base of the big toe down while lifting the arch.   Don't neglect the lifted leg foot!   Even though it's not pressing into anything, extend through the four corners as if you were pressing it into a wall (that's a good way to practice the pose too -- moving so that the lifted leg foot can press into a wall!).   Again, stabilize the legs and pelvis, keep buttocks moving away from low back, and chest extending in opposite direction.

      Virabhadrasana I (Warrior pose 1)

      We've been practicing this pose in class this last week.   Those of you in class hopefully experienced how much more stable this pose is when you can keep the outer edge of the heel of the back leg pressing firmly back and down while strongly lifting the arms up to help the chest lift.

      Without this awareness of the back foot pressing, the arch of this foot collapses, and the leg doesn't give us much stability.    Without the lift of the arms and chest, the low back collapses.

       Practice the awareness of these points in other standing poses including balance poses such as Garudhasana, Virabhadrasana III, and Utthita hasta padangusthasana (your homework also includes figuring out what these poses are!).  Start with the base and work up through the legs, lifting the chest, and keep the gaze steady.

      And do practice!    You can intellectually understand how these points will help you balance better, but the poses still won't come until you do practice them!

      Friday, April 2, 2010

      My Favorite Online Yoga Videos -- "Lens of the Day" on Squidoo

      Earlier today I was working on a more "serious" informative post for this blog, but....found out that my Squidoo lens, My Favorite Online Yoga Videos, has been named Squidoo Lens of The Day for today, April 2, 2010.

      I am tickled by this!!

      One of my recent hobbies has been writing informational pages, or "lenses" for Squidoo.   It's a weird name, but a fun website community to work with.  Squidoo is a "community website that allows users to create pages (called lenses) for subjects of interest."  (from the Wikipedia entry)   People write about anything they want to on Squidoo, usually about subjects that they're passionate about.

      The "Lens of the Day"  "highlights a lens that stands out from the crowd, a lens that is unique in topic, approach, personality, tools or timing. Or, you know, just a lens that made [the selector's] day."

      Most of my lenses are informational pieces about yoga or health (I haven't written many yet), but I created "My Favorite Online Yoga Videos" just for fun.   The "research" was enjoyable -- searching through YouTube videos (mostly) and choosing short videos, mostly related to Iyengar Yoga, that inspired me in some way or made me laugh.

      I've placed links to my yoga-related lenses on the side of this blog, if you're interested in looking at more.

      It is a "commercial site" and includes online ads, which I know some people are adverse to.   While I love teaching yoga, I can't really contribute much to our household income this way.   So I'm exploring other alternative ways to supplement my income.   Maybe "too much information" here -- but that's one of the reasons I've decided to give Squidoo a try (not that it would ever be a huge money-maker, is supplemental...maybe I can buy a couple extra veggie pizzas every now and then!).

      Anway,  if you're interested, check out the lens and enjoy.   Some of the videos I've already included in other posts on this blog.   Here they're compiled in one place.

      And now, back to writing more about the original post I've been working on (stay tuned).

      Thursday, March 25, 2010

      Musings on yoga workshops

      To help keep my yoga practice fresh and informed, and to continue honing my teaching skills,  I like to attend various workshops during the year -- some of them are teacher training workshops, and some are general workshops.

      This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a general yoga workshop at The Yoga Loft in the Village  (the beautiful yoga studio of my friend Vicky Elwell) in Sheffield Village, Ohio,  taught by Rebecca Lerner of the Center for Well Being in Lemont, PA.   Rebecca is a senior-level Iyengar Yoga teacher.

      I met Rebecca a few years ago, when I went to Feathered Pipe Ranch, outside of Helena, Montana.   The two years I went, her husband, Dean, and Mary Dunn were co-teachers for the weeks I went, although Rebecca was the "unofficial" third teacher.   Since Mary passed away, Dean and Rebecca are the co-teachers.   They make an excellent teaching duo!  (Well, I've really only seen them teach together during their yearly teacher training intensives that I've been to a couple times, and they really do well sharing in the teaching.) 

      (By the way, if you're interested in a "yoga vacation" this summer, check out the Feathered Pipe link above -- it's not particularly cheap but worth every penny -- it's a good week; beautiful surroundings, good food, interesting people, and of course wonderful yoga!   Talk to me if you have more questions about it.)

      I've enjoyed all the Iyengar Yoga teachers I've studied with, for different reasons.   They all have their own interesting personalities and their own unique way of teaching; their own "take" on Iyengar Yoga and what is important to them, but all fully within the framework of the Iyengar Yoga system.   

      One of the aspects that I appreciate about Rebecca's teaching is her ability to sequence the poses and break down the more difficult poses in such a way that everyone, from newer students to more seasoned practitioners, can safely learn and participate and be challenged, all within the same class.  She builds on concepts introduced in the beginning of the class, repeating and reminding us of these concepts throughout the class, taking us from more familiar poses to more difficult poses.    She doesn't let us get away with being "sloppy" or mis-aligned in the poses, if she figures we can do better. 

      Her pacing was good -- we had long classes but I didn't feel over-worked, and I didn't feel that the class dragged.   She also has a good eye for alignment, and a calm but friendly, straight-forward manner for correcting us and for controlling the class.

      All good yoga teachers should be able to do this.   I feel I do relatively well as a teacher, but I know my own weaknesses.     Watching the more senior teachers in action, such as Rebecca, helps me to work toward becoming a better teacher and a better student/practitioner.

      Creative Commons photo credit:

      Thursday, March 18, 2010

      "Spring Cleaning' the body -- detox with yoga poses

      The last few days have been gorgeous -- sunny with temperatures in the 50's and 60's.   The snow is gone, our crocuses are up, robins are singing, and I heard (then saw) sandhill cranes as they flew overhead this morning.    (Sandhill cranes have a very distinctive "call" -- Maybe you've heard them but don't know what they are.  Check out this website for an audio clip about halfway down the page.  Sandhill cranes )

      With the warmer weather, I've been airing out the house and cleaning out the accumulated winter clutter and (I hate to say it) grime.  The stronger sunlight shows the dirt and dust more clearly.  It is time for spring cleaning.

      Our bodies can use some "spring cleaning" too.    During the winter, many of us start to feel more sluggish and heavy, both mentally and physically.   We eat heavier foods in winter, we may not get as much exercise, and with less daylight, many of us are less energetic and more moody.

      The practice of yoga poses can help us "spring clean" our bodies by helping our natural detoxification processesses to work more fully and efficiently to get rid of accumulated "gunk" -- waste products and toxic materials.      

      Wastes and toxic matter are eliminated from our bodies through the circulatory system, digestive system, lymphatic system, and through the skin and lungs.  If we're healthy, then these systems work well by themselves.   But if our diet is poor, or if we don't exercise, or if we're under a lot of stress, then these systems don't work as well, and can use an extra boost.

      A well-rounded yoga practice, with different kinds of poses will stretch, twist, and compress all parts of the body, and turn it upside down.   All categories of poses will help, but the three categories listed below, to me, are the most important for helping the body "detox".

       When I think about yoga poses to help detox the body, twists come to mind first.  Twists have a cleansing, refreshing effect on the abdominal organs.

      B.K.S. Iyengar talks about the "squeeze and soak" action of twists.   Just as we would wring out a sponge to force out dirty water, so it can then soak up clean water, so the twists "wring out" the abdominal organs, forcing out metabolic by-products and toxic material.   When the twists are released, then fresh, nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood flows into the organs.  

      Twists also promote digestion and circulation of blood and lymph.

      Forward bends and Abdominal poses
      Forward bends and abdominal poses compress the abdominal organs, again helping to force out waste material.   The digestive system is stimulated, which helps with the elimination process

      Inverted (upside down) poses such as headstand, shoulder stand, or a simple legs-up-the-wall pose help to drain lymph fluid from the legs so it can re-circulate through the body.   This benefits the immune system.

      Inverted poses also help to soothe the nervous system and reduce stress.    When we're not stressed, then it's easier to make better choices for our bodies -- we're more likely to eat better and to get more exercise when we're not stressed.

      For a somewhat longer (and admittedly more commercial) article on this, check out Springtime Yoga Detox

      Wednesday, March 10, 2010

      Reflections on Practice

      If you're a student of mine, you've heard me repeatedly encourage you all to practice yoga in between classes.   You've heard how important your own practice is for you to benefit more fully from the effects of the poses on your body, mind, and spirit.   Also when you practice, the poses become easier, and you probably enjoy your classes even more (and maybe you'll decide to step up to the next level if your class starts to feel too easy!).

      You know that it's good to practice.   I know it.   But....still....I know it's difficult for many of you to find time to practice.   And the same poses continue to be difficult for you, and more difficult poses are out of the question.


      One of my joys each week is to sing with the Women's Chamber Chorus in Ann Arbor.   This is a community choir for women -- there are no tryouts, and any woman who can carry a tune and can learn the music is invited to join.   Our director is patient with us -- he's a good director and a good teacher, especially for those of us who never had much vocal music experience (besides singing in the shower, or in the car with the windows rolled up, or campfire songs....but I digress).

      AND he strongly encourages us to practice in between our rehearsals. I practice???    Well.... occasionally.   Occasionally.   I'm not going to tell you how little I practice.   Of course when I do practice, the music that is difficult for me really is easier next time we all get together, and I remember it better than if I just sing it during rehearsals.     And I enjoy the music and it feels so good when I do get it right!   So why don't I practice regularly???   Same reasons as everyone else.    I procrastinate,  I get involved with other activities, some necessary, and some not-as-necessary.    It's hard to get started, especially on a more difficult piece.   It's also more fun to do with a group (a few of you are in that group -- it's a great group to sing with).   But practice does make a huge difference in my level of competency and enjoyment in that group. 

      Our concert is coming up quickly, and we don't have all of the pieces pulled together yet.   I don't want to be a part of the problem if certain pieces don't come together well, so.....maybe it's time to create my own "30 Day Challenge" for this music, such as I offered to you all earlier this winter.   If I set a goal, just for the next few weeks, of only 15 minutes a day, I will have this music under control for the concert.   And it'll feel GOOD!   Wish me luck!