Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 15 of the "30 Day Yoga Challenge"

We're half-way through the "Challenge"!  I've been hearing from a number of you who've been doing the "30 Day Yoga Challenge" and it sounds like it's going reasonably well!   Don't worry if you miss a day or two here and there -- just pick up where you left off.    You don't have to "make-up" the days that you missed,  but do try not to miss too many -- that just makes it too easy to quit altogether.

I was thinking back to when I played classical guitar 30 years ago.  I loved it and was pretty good at it for awhile, but ended up putting off my practice too often for too long, and finally gave up -- kind of sad considering how much satisfaction and enjoyment I got out of it when I DID practice!

If you feel now that the original goals you set for the "Yoga Challenge" are unrealistically high, re-evaluate and change them to something you can stick with, but don't give up entirely!  Just do less for now.   Find a practice pattern that works for you.  

If you start to feel stressed about the whole idea of practice -- quickly do 3 or 4 of your favorite poses -- maybe it will take you just 5 minutes -- and don't worry at all about if you're getting them "right".   Just do them because you enjoy them.   I assure you that you'll feel better for it! And maybe the 5 minutes will turn into 10 or 15 or 20 minutes...and maybe not, but you've done those 5 minutes and your favorite poses!   That's a good thing!

On the other hand, if this has been a fairly easy process for you and you're really enjoying your practice, consider occasionally adding in a longer practice.    Think of it as a treat for yourself!

I do a longer practice once or twice a week on quieter days when I'm not teaching as much, and don't have many other obligations.    On these days I can really settle into the poses, turn them around in my head and experience them more fully when I feel I'm not rushed.     It's during these practices that I see more rapid growth in my understanding of the poses.

You may not have time to devote to long practices -- I understand how busy you all are -- but even commiting 10 - 15 minutes a day 3 times a week solely for your own practice, for your own self, is a great gift to yourself, and will leave you feeling more centered and refreshed both physically and mentally.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Genius in Action: B.K.S. Iyengar (Day 11 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge)

We're over 1/3 of the way through our 30 Day Yoga Challenge!   How are you doing with your practice?  What's difficult about your practice?  What's easy?

This YouTube video is an excerpt from a film tribute shown in Boston in 2005 during B.K.S. Iyengar's "Light On Life" tour of the U.S.    The video quality isn't great in some parts (it's okay) but I hope it inspires you!  

 The video is narrated by Patricia Walden, one of the top two Iyengar Yoga teachers of the U.S.  (The other is Manouso Manos, most recently in Ann Arbor this past November.)

 I won't review the whole video -- I'll let it speak mostly for itself.   But I do want to share some of my thoughts about the references to the practice of yoga.

Patricia narrates that in the 1970's, those who took classes from B.K.S. Iyengar did many, many poses in each class, while he "rained instructions on [them] with a torrent of intensity".  His focus was on movement and action to fuse the body and mind, and to bring about "freedom" in the body and mind.

(BTW, the first set of public classes taught by B.K.S. Iyengar in the U.S. was in Ann Arbor, sponsored by our YMCA in 1973!)

Patricia then says that as the years passed, Guruji (B.K.S. Iyengar) added new dimensions to his teaching.   He taught fewer poses per class, but took the students deeper within each pose.

There's a phrase of his that's mentioned in this video which I've heard before, and which reflects the growth of his teaching and his practice of yoga asanas (poses), "When I was young, I played.  Now, I stay."

When we're new to yoga, it makes more sense (in my mind) to do a lot of poses;  to play in them, to bring about better range of motion in the body, and to wake up the intelligence of the body.   We don't hold them long to begin with -- but we get a taste of the poses and how our bodies and minds react to them.   As we begin to understand the poses better, and begin to develop the stability and alignment to hold them longer with more ease, then we can begin to explore them more deeply.     Even if we are not beginners, when we try a new pose or a new set of poses it's best to just touch on them, to playfully explore them, and as we become more proficient then we can explore them more fully.  (How about those arm balances, for example?   Hard to explore them very deeply when we fall out of them after a second or two!  Or can't quite lift off yet!   So I'm still continuing to work on them, along with the more familiar poses.)

Or if we're feeling sluggish, our minds can't really attend to the more profound elements of the poses, so we move quickly from pose to pose to invigorate the body and mind.  Then maybe we can work more deeply in the poses.    We need both the physical and mental conditioning to do this.

When we are more alert, and when our minds and bodies are attentive, then Guruji asks us to "explore to find out where we are dull or overworking, and to adjust, so consciousness can grace the body evenly throughout."   We don't practice just for the sake of the physical practice, but we practice with with an attentive, discerning mind to explore:   What part of the pose is coming along, what part is not?   Why is it coming along, or not?   How do I change what I need to change?

Patricia comments that Guruji  has "taught us to face difficulty with wide open eyse, and to awaken the boundless intelligence of the heart."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yoga Journal Calendars

I have a few Yoga Journal calendars for sale at the studio.   List price is $13.95, but since it's already almost February (they arrived LATE), I'm selling them for $12.00.

Originally I was hoping to have them in early January, but....the first box arrived damaged with no calendars.    Someone ended up with a few cool calendars for free....

I've been buying these calendars for myself for a number of years.   The pictures are inspiring and there's plenty of space for writing in your daily activities.

I can also mail one out to you.

Arm balances (Day 8 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge)

One of the challenges I've given myself for this 30 Day Yoga Challenge is to become more proficient in the arm balances, such as the pose shown here,  Bakasana (crane or crow pose).

On first glance, it seems that these poses would need a great deal of arm strength.   Of course that's an important component, but just arm strength won't get us there.

We also need enough flexibility to bring the arms and legs into position, and enough core strength to hold them in place as we lift off from the floor.  And of course we need the balance to keep us from tipping!

Most of the "usual" poses we do in class require lengthening the front of our trunk with respect to the back of the trunk; lifting and broadening the chest as we move the shoulder blades down and into the back to support the opening of the chest.  (Think of how we often start class, practicing to lift the sternum and broaden across the collar bones).

However, in the arm balances, we lengthen, broaden, and round the back of the trunk.   We lengthen the tailbone away from the back waist, tucking it under to lengthen and broaden the low back; and we spread the shoulder blades away from each other to broaden and round the upper back.   To hold this all in place, we draw the abdominal muscles up and in toward the spine.  John Schumacher, in the latest issue of Yoga Journal (Feb. 2010) advises for these poses, "Visualize wrapping yourself around a beachball".

Of course I don't want to work on these poses all by myself!  So, this past week in the higher level classes we've worked on some of the arm balances, first doing Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) for strengthening the arms and wrists, some hip-opening poses and variations, twists to help the spine become more supple, and Navasana (boat pose) variations for the abdominals.

Arm balances we worked on (depending on the class):
Lolasana (pendant pose)
Eka hasta bhujasana (one leg hooked over an arm, the other leg straight)
Dwi hasta bhujasana  (both legs hooked over upper arms).

These are difficult poses for most people, so practice them with a sense of playfulness and equanimity!   Enjoy the process of figuring them out in your own body!  

For pictures of these poses, you can look at the books at the studio, especially Light on Yoga, and Yoga: The Iyengar Way.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 4 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge -- the Warrior Poses

How are you all doing with your practice?   What kinds of problems are you facing?   It's during your practice that you'll start to see more clearly where your difficulties lie, and it's during your practice that, after some reflection (or asking questions, or reading about the poses) that you'll start to figure out how to move through these difficulties.

Here's a mini-sequence of the Warrior poses that you can work on, by itself or as a part of a longer practice.   The Warrior poses are challenging to many of us.   Observe where your difficulties lie in these poses.   What is similar from pose to pose?   What is different?   What do you remember about these poses from class (or is some of this new to you)?   Were you given any instructions that helped your own pose during class?

In Warrior 2 and Warrior 1, bring front leg to right angle.

In all three poses, keep spine, back leg and arms fully extended!

As you transition from W. 1 to W. 3, step your back foot toward your front foot until you can shift all weight to your front leg as you push off with back leg.

If balancing in Warrior 3 is difficult, take hands to wall.   But don't give up on the balance right away!   Try it a bit, wobble a bit, develop a sense of equanimity about your challenges in these poses, then move on to something else!

For inspiration, look up the Warrior poses in Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar, pp. 71 -- 74.   Look at the extension in his arms and legs!   He says that all standing poses are strenuous (you've experienced that, correct?), and in particular Warrior 1, so it shouldn't be held long by anyone, even those who are fairly strong.  (He recommends holding it 20 - 60 seconds per side).

Friday, January 15, 2010

30 Day Yoga Challenge to develop your own home practice -- Day 1

Here it is, the first day of the 30 Day Yoga Challenge!   Have you practiced today?   How did it go?

Harmony Yoga students, if you haven't picked up the info about this Challenge at the studio, and would like to receive it, you can contact me, and I'll email you attachments and other info.

IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) has just started a blog that people can contribute to, and the first subject is.....Home Practice.    If you have time, I suggest you read the first two essays at least (which are listed at the bottom of that page), "Starting Now", and "Pathway to Practice".    Both have excellent ideas for developing your own practice.    I'll be choosing parts of these essays to pass along to you in my blog posts.

Richard Jonas, who wrote the first essay, "Starting Now", writes,
"When you begin to practice at home you really learn, really experience the transformative effects of yoga -- on body, mind and spirit.  How can you get a Home Practice? Get up tomorrow -- practice -- then do it every day after that."

His first tip, one that I've also given, is to "Start slow".    Be realistic with your goals so you don't become disappointed if you can't stick to them.   Richard says, "... do a few poses that you know and feel confident with. When you've finished, lie down for a five-minute Savasana. Ten minutes and you've got a Home Practice"

He says start with a few familiar asanas.   Poses we often do in class that make a good practice sequence include sitting or standing and stretching the arms,  Triangle pose, Side angle pose, Downward facing dog pose, Pose of the Child.   If you have time, do each pose twice, then go on to the next pose.  Then maybe legs up the wall, or shoulderstand if you feel confident in that pose, and Savasana (the resting pose you do at the end of each class).

Happy practicing!

Take a Harmony Yoga class Saturday, Jan. 23, donate to Red Cross Haitian Relief

Originally, the two extra classes on Saturday, January 23 were meant to be free classes for Harmony Yoga students and for any other interested people, as a way to "unofficially" celebrate Yoga Day USA.

Given the horrendous nature of the destruction in Haiti from the earthquake, I'll also have an envelope out for donations to the Red Cross.   Checks can be made either to Harmony Yoga or to American Red Cross, with "Haitian relief" written in the "for" space. 

I'll have the envelope out for donations through out this next week if you'd like to donate but can't attend the Saturday classes.

Suggested donations $5 -- $50 (and more or less is fine).

Another way to donate $10 is texting "HAITI" to 9-0-9-9-9 (see Michelle Obama plea)

Classes will of course still be free for anyone who prefers this.

Link to videos from Martha Stewart's Yoga Show

You can now watch parts or all of the Martha Stewart Yoga Show online.

Click here for the first 10 minutes of the show.   On that page, to the right, you can also click "Play entire show" or click on different segments of the show.

For my earlier review of the show, click here.

What did you think of the show?   I thought it was very well done and enjoyable to watch!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Martha Stewart's Yoga Show

I've never been a huge Martha Stewart fan -- I don't dislike her, but never have had much of an interest in what I think she stands for.    I think of her as the "master homemaker" and my interests just do NOT lie in that direction!

But her show on Friday, January 8 was all about yoga, and it was delightful!   It turns out that Martha has been practicing Iyengar Yoga for about 10 years.

Click Martha Stewart Yoga Show for recaps of the different segments.

The photo here is of Martha doing Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) with support from James Murphy, director  of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York, and one of the teaching staff at the New York Iyengar Yoga Institute. 

Martha says that Half Moon Pose is one of her favorites (a few of you have mentioned that it's a favorite of yours as well -- James said that many people like it because it gives a feeling of lightness and openness).

Other guests besides James were Eddie Stern, an Ashtanga Yoga teacher; Sophie Herbert, Martha's lovely young niece and a teacher of Vinyasa Yoga ("flow" yoga), and Trudie Styler, rock-star Sting's wife, and creator of the Trudie Styler's Warrior Yoga DVD.

The audience was made up of yoga teachers and students, each with a yoga mat laid out so they could participate.    They were all encouraged to do their favorite poses a couple times during the show and during commercial breaks.   Many of the audience were teachers from the Iyengar Yoga Institute -- there's a characteristic steadiness, extension, and vibrancy in the poses of seasoned Iyengar Yoga practitioners that you could see also in these teachers!   Many of the others had beautiful poses as well, while a couple people looked like they were brand new students (or they practice a type of yoga that I'm not at all familiar with!).

I was very impressed with the three guest yoga teachers,  all good representatives of their style of yoga, and Trudie, while not a yoga teacher, has been an avid practitioner for 20 years.

Comments on their own practice of yoga --
James:  He started doing it on a physical level, but it became a whole life-style.   It's an art, a science, and a philosophy.

Trudie:  Since her body is the precious vehicle that has to get her through this life, she wants to maintain it in a healthy way.

Sophie:  This has given her stability and balance in her life;  it's helped her stay grounded in the other areas of her life.

Eddie: Has helped him to answer and continue investigating these questions, "Who am I?" and "What am I doing here?"

During the show, James Murphy and Trudie Styler both led Martha (and audience) in a sampling of poses characteristic of their "style" of yoga.    James emphasized that Iyengar Yoga is meant to be accessible to all, so we start with simple poses to wake up all parts of the body, and do a lot of standing poses to increase strength, flexibility, and firmness in preparation for more difficult poses later on.  Trudie led Martha through a few poses characteristic of her "Warrior Yoga" video, poses we can do anywhere, without the need to lug around props wherever we go.  We just need our mat and ourselves.

Eddie and Sophie both gave inspiring demonstrations.   Eddie did a few "foot behind the head" poses, including  Chakorasana, done with a very calm, serene demeanor.   Sophie did a few gorgeous backbending poses, including a variation of Ekapada Rajakapotasana  -- one legged king pigeon pose (See her website, and click "Yoga" for a view of this pose).

Near the end of the show, each of the guests was asked to give a few "Yoga Do's and Don't's" for students to follow for a successful experience.   All were good common sense suggestions that most of you know already (but maybe don't follow completely?), including; 

  • Coming to class on time (or even early)
  • Listening to the teacher (not chit-chatting with each other during class)
  • Turn off your cell phones
  • Don't eat a big meal before class.   
  • Don't drink water during class or your practice (puts out the "fire" necessary for a good practice)
  • Wear clothes that allow the teacher to easily see your alignment.
  • Treat all poses with equanimity
And, Eddie Sterns listed 6 qualities necessary to be successful in yoga ("flexibility" is not one of those qualities!):
  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Perseverance
  3. Courage
  4. Interest in seeking the truth
  5. Trust in the words of your teacher
  6. Avoid the company of negative people, or people who don't support your practice.
 I think 90% of being successful in yoga (or in any area of your life!) is by following the first three qualities!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"The Body is My Temple, Asanas Are My Prayers"

This video of BKS Iyengar was recently posted on Youtube.

"A film montage of yoga demonstrations by Yogacharya Sri BKS Iyengar over the years. Music: Mere Gurudev. Musicians: Cecily Palzewicz (voice), Mihal Palzewicz (cello), Jarvis Chen (piano). Part of a film tribute to BKS Iyengar shown during his 2005 Light On Life tour of the United States."

Observe the vibrancy and intelligence his body shows in the asanas (poses) especially as he's grown older!

Guruji turned 91 this past December.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Yoga and New Year's resolutions

I started my practice of yoga as a result of my New Year's resolution in 1993.   It was a simple resolution -- just to "regularly take a yoga class at the YMCA", since we had just become members of the Ann Arbor YMCA, and I knew that there was a well-respected Iyengar Yoga program there.    I didn't really know what "Iyengar yoga" was, but I had read in the (now defunct) Ann Arbor News that B.K.S. Iyengar had visited Ann Arbor a few times, and that he presented the practice of yoga as a precise way to bring the body to good  health.  At that time, I was very intrigued with different "alternative" or "complementary" self-care modalities (herbal remedies, homeopathy, massage, etc.), and it appealed to me that Iyengar yoga could be a way for me to take charge of my own health.

I tell people that it was one of the easiest resolutions I've kept.    BUT, thinking back, that's not exactly true.   It took me about a year of taking classes before I realized that I wasn't going to quit.   A number of times during that first year, I remember that I really didn't want to go to class -- I had other things that I wanted to do or felt I needed to do.   But I made myself go, and always was glad I went.    After that first year, I didn't have to "make" myself go -- I eagerly looked forward to my classes and was disappointed when I couldn't attend.    It took me that long to become fully and strongly "hooked".   

I hear from students that they sometimes have to "make themselves" come to class too, but that they are so glad they did because they feel so much better afterward.   At some point, they may realize that they don't have to make themselves come anymore -- they want to attend and are disappointed it when they can't, just as I experienced.    It becomes a habit.

The next step for me, after establishing the habit of regularly attending classes, was to establish my own home practice.   That took a long time!    I'd start and stop over and over again.   I still felt I was progressing fairly well in class as long as I attended regularly.    But I noticed during the times I also practiced in between classes, my poses became much better.   I could go into them more deeply with better alignment, I could hold them for longer with ease, I could feel different parts of my body working in concert with other parts in a way I hadn't noticed before, and I felt great!    Then I'd "fall of the wagon" again, and sometimes it would take weeks or months to "get back on" again.

It took time and discipline to keep coming back to my own practice, but of course it's been well worth the effort!

New Year's resolutions are used to help us create a stronger intention of creating good habits.   Casual intentions don't work out too well.   It takes dedication to continue with these good intentions, especially when we lapse, but then hopefully we re-commit.   It's human nature to lapse.  The trick is not to get discouraged but to re-commit again and again and again until it becomes an ingrained habit.

Somewhere I read that it takes a minimum of 21 - 30 days of doing something to make it a habit.      But if we give in to the "don't want to do it today" impulses, THAT becomes a habit too, and that particular habit is a hard one to break!

For those of you who are attending my yoga classes, and who are interested in developing your own home practice, I'll be putting together an informal "30 Day Yoga Challenge" program to help you with that.    I'll have "intention sheets" that you can fill out, handouts for practice ideas, probably some tips on this blog, and I'll be available at different times before and after classes if you want extra help.   The "30 Day Yoga Challenge" will start on January 15.     

I'll be posting more info about this in a few days.   Stay tuned!

In the meantime, sign up for the Winter session!    And if you have friends who you think would enjoy a class at Harmony Yoga,  have them check out our website,

A Happy, Healthy New Year to you all!