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.