Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays! Now go do a yoga practice for yourself!

Happy Holidays from Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor!   I hope you are all enjoying this special time of the year.

We've been enjoying family and friends coming over to our house, including our two sons and daughter-in-law, and our 3 month old grandson (our first grandchild!).  It's been wonderful to see everyone.

Because of my own busy-ness in getting everything ready for guests, I've neglected my yoga practice, and I'm feeling it.  So today, the day after Christmas, I'll be devoting a good couple hours to my own practice, starting out rather gently, including sirsasana (head stand) and sarvangasana (shoulder stand), and seeing where it goes.  I'm so looking forward to it!

I know many of you who attend classes at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor are disappointed that there are no classes offered this week.   I suggest to you that you also find time today, or sometime this week, to devote to your own yoga practice.   No, not two hours (unless you are so moved!), but I bet you can find 20 - 30 minutes for a practice at least once this week.   Yes, I know it's easier to come to class and follow along with what I'm teaching, but if you've been taking yoga classes regularly for a few months or more, you have a good idea of what poses you can practice at home.

If you need ideas to get you going, I suggest standing poses be your base practice, and also include adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog pose) and any inversions you feel safe in practicing on your own (legs up the wall, headstand, shoulderstand).

 Also refer to these Sequences for Practice for more ideas.

For those of you who are taking the Gentle Yoga classes, you might do the supine leg stretch pose (lie on your back and take a belt, strap, or bathrobe sash over your foot and stretch that leg up and hold for 10 -- 30 seconds, then take it to the side and hold for the same amount of time), followed by simple seated poses, including twists.   Then a downward facing dog pose with hands to a chair (against a wall!), or hands to your kitchen counter.   A standing pose or two will be good for you also, if you remember how to do them, and if you feel you have the stamina for them.

Don't worry if you don't get the pose exactly right!     Move mindfully, and observe how your body is reacting to the poses you're doing.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Lightness and Ease with Strength and Flexibility

Some texts say that with enough yoga practice, we can learn to levitate. Well, I have my doubts about that. But this video shows a young man who is a close to levitation as anyone could get. He combines strength and flexibility to create this astounding routine that looks light and effortless, as if he's almost floating. This takes an incredible amount of perseverance and body awareness.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Yoga and Healing Trauma | Matthew Sanford

Matthew Sanford is a wise man! Well worth watching this video.

Click on the image to start video. COMMENT It took awhile for the video to load -- be patient.

You can also go to the Yoga Journal page with the video:
Yoga and Healing Trauma.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yoga Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) Reduce Anxiety and Stress

In my previous post, Breathing Through the Circle of Life, I mentioned how paying attention to my breath has helped me to get through the worry and anxiety about my mother's serious illness and the premature birth of my first grandchild.

That prompted me to write another on-line article, Reduce Anxiety With a Calming Yoga Breath.  
Image: nuttakit /

As I pointed out, it's not the formal pranayama (yoga breathing exercise) techniques per se that are absolutely necessary here, because we all breathe, and we can all benefit from focusing on better breathing techniques whether or not we practice any aspect of yoga.

But my background is in yoga -- including pranayama (yoga breathing exercises), so I do use the Sanskrit names of the pranayamas that  have been most useful to me in reducing anxiety. 

In this article, I discuss how anxiety leads to tight, tense upper chest breathing, and how that can trigger other anxiety-related symptoms including dizziness, racing pulse, digestive complaints, and headaches, to list just a few.  These stress and anxiety related symptoms can be eased with the easy breathing techniques that I mention.   

As an extra benefit, I've noticed that paying attention to my breath in this way has also been easing my night-time hot flashes.  

By the way, my mother continues to progress, although slowly, and my grandson is home from the hospital, and thriving with the loving attention from his two parents.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Breathing Through the Circle of Life / Bhramari Breath

Those of you who've been coming to yoga classes recently at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor know that there've been a couple of life-changing events in my extended family during the last month or so.

My mother, who has always been a strong, active, vibrant woman had a recurrence of an old health problem that triggered some other serious health issues this past year.  It came to a head early this fall when she was hospitalized with pneumonia.   She was released too early, and re-admitted, much sicker than the first time.    When I went to visit her, she looked old and frail, and wasn't as mentally sharp as she's always been before.   We weren't positive that she'd pull through this event.

At the same time.....while I was visiting my mother, my first grandchild (and her first great-grandchild) was born a little over 6 weeks prematurely.   Wow!!   A number of you mentioned the "yin yang" aspect of this, and the fact that our family is experiencing the circle of life up close and personal.

How the heck do we keep our composure and our sense of balance and equanimity throughout all of this?  It's not easy for many of us.

What has helped me most through my worries, anxieties, and sadness about my mother's illness is to pay attention to my breath.   I find that when I am worried and sad, my breath becomes shallower, and my chest closes and my diaphragm is tense.   This is ironic, in a way, because the breath has played a part in both my mother's and my grandson's health.   Both were hooked up to oxygen (my mother still is, and will probably be for a long time) because they weren't getting enough of this life-necessary component.

I found that focusing on easy, somewhat deeper breaths with attention to softening my diaphragm helps me to return to a calmer, more focused state of mind.   I can think more clearly and I can sleep better if I remember to do this.   I'm more useful to others when I can breathe well! 

I'm not doing a "pranayama" exercise here in the strict sense, but my regular practice of pranayama, or "yogic breath control" has made it possible for me to observe when my breath is stifled and ineffective in my everyday life.  

A variation of one of the pranayamas, Brahmari (Bee Breath), has been most helpful to me.   Basically, during Brahmari, we make a humming, buzzing sound as we exhale.   A Yoga Journal article on Brahmari says that anxiety is often associated with "short, tight upper chest breathing".   Lengthening the exhalation helps to soothe and relax us.   With Brahmari pranayama, the sound helps to soothe the mind, and allow longer exhalations without strain.     I adapted this to my own needs -- while I was driving or walking and started to experience anxiety,  I'd take a slightly deeper, but easy, inhalation, and exhale as a humming, or buzzing sound.   It works very well!

My mother is stabilized, but most likely will never return to her "old" life.  She'll need a lot of care for a long time.   My grandson is getting stronger, and will be released soon from the hospital.  Thank you to all who've sent good wishes and prayers for their well-being!  One of my hopes is that my mother and my grandson can sometime meet each other :-)


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Yoga From the Heartland Regional Conference a Great Success!

A few of us from Harmony Yoga attended the Yoga from the Heartland Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference last week, September 15 -- 18.   It was a great success!

I heard positive comments from the other Harmony Yoga people who attended, although one also said that "there can be too much yoga" (it was definitely a lot of yoga, and I do agree -- I actually "played hooky" during one class...).

The first scheduled event, after registration was the "Meet and Greet Reception" with upbeat music and chanting by the kirtan group Devi 2000 , along with stilt walker (and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher) Koren Paalman in a Ganesh costume, walking and swaying to the music and greeting people.

Later that evening, we walked to the Chicago Cultural Center to hear paraplegic certified Iyengar Yoga teacher Matthew Sanford give an inspirational keynote address about his personal experience with Iyengar yoga, followed by cellist (and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher from Ann Arbor) Alicia Rowe, accompanying film footage of B.K.S. Iyengar at different stages in his life.

You can read a summary of Matthew Sanford's speech on the well-written blog post Behold Yoga: Yoga from the Heartland (also see a photo of the author doing Sirsasana with the back drop of the beautiful Palmer House hotel ceiling).

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend that you find a copy of Matthew Sanford's book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, about his journey of recovery after the devastating car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down when he was 13, and his experience with Iyengar Yoga as a way to help him more fully live in his own body.

The yoga classes were well-taught by Senior teachers in the morning, and Junior teachers (including me) in the afternoon.     I came away from each class that I took, both pranayama and asana classes, with gems that I can incorporate into my own practice, and into my teaching.   As I mentioned above, I played hooky for one class -- the backbending class -- because I had gotten about 4 hours of sleep the night before, and figured I had no business taking a difficult level 3 backbending class with so little sleep!   I missed a great class, but I also was able to refresh my batteries, so to speak,  by taking a nap, then walking through Chicago's Millenium Park, and on down to the lake to take in the sun and the view of the water.

The conference ended with a pleasing Closing Event, including Yoga Poetry by Peggy Hong, and chanting led by Leslie Freyberg.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What were you doing on 9/11, 2001?

Many of us remember exactly what we were doing the day of the 9/11 attacks.

I had just entered the yoga room where I was teaching my Tuesday 10am Gentle Yoga Class at the Ann Arbor YMCA, and one of my students said she had heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.   I envisioned a small private plane that had gone astray, and thought it was tragic for the plane occupants, but I didn't think much more about it during class.   After class, while still at the YMCA, I found out it had been a commercial plane, and it had probably been a terrorist attack.   While I was shocked and dismayed, I still didn't realize the enormity of that event.

It was only when I returned home that the pieces started coming together.  One of the towers had already collapsed, my husband said, and another plane had crashed in PA.  And the bad news kept on coming in.  I remember sitting down, feeling bombarded by the ongoing horrible news, and not being able to stop crying for a long time.   Of course all of us were shocked and saddened that day and for a long time afterward.    

One of the senior Iyengar Yoga teachers (I don't remember who) wrote to B.K.S. Iyengar, asking how best to teach yoga classes to help those who had been directly or indirectly affected by the attacks.   We were all affected to some level.   Iyengar sent out a sequence which was rapidly dispersed and practiced throughout the U.S.

It was a restorative sequence that was developed to help depression and post traumatic stress syndrome, if I remember correctly.   Unfortunately I can't find the sequence now, but I do remember that B.K.S. Iyengar suggested that many people would benefit more from an eyes-open Savasana and in other quiet poses, especially those who were near ground zero and the other attacks.   Keeping the eyes open feels safer to many people, and we want our students to feel emotionally safe in their practice.   For some people when they close their eyes, all of the terrible visions that they've seen on television, or first hand, come rushing back.  With eyes open, they can see the immediate world around them, and be reassured that they are safe in the present moment.

Many of us taught this sequence, with some variations, for the next week or two, partly to help our own students deal with the stress of this horrible situation, but I think also partly in solidarity with yoga students near ground zero who experienced this tragedy first hand.

I hope on this 10 anniversary of the 9/11 attacks you are all feeling healthy and safe, and enjoying the company of people who are near and dear to you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cultivating Peace of Mind

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state that to have peace of mind we need to cultivate four great virtues.   These are (in Sanskrit, with translations):

    Maitri -- friendliness, loving-kindness
    Karuna -- compassion
    Mudita -- sympathetic joy
    Upeksha -- equanimity

I first heard of these concepts as the Brahma Viharas, or the Four Sublime States, as taught in Buddhism, but they are included in the Yoga Sutras as well (I.33).   In Buddhism they're more often seen written in Pali, an ancient language related to Sanskrit:  Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Uppekha.

Maitri / Metta -- The translation of the Yoga Sutras that I have says Maitri is friendliness.   That's a good start, being friendly to people.   In Buddhism, Metta is taken a step further and is translated as "loving-kindness".   We practice to accept ourselves and others with friendliness and kind, loving understanding.

Karuna -- Compassion.  We acknowledge the pain and suffering that others may be experiencing, and we practice being compassionate with them.  We practice being patient with those who are suffering, and offer them assistance where we can give it.

Mudita  -- Unselfish joy, sympathetic joy.  We practice rejoicing in the positive accomplishments of others.  The opposite of this would be being envious and jealous of what other people have accomplished.

Upeksha / Uppekha -- Some translations say "indifference" but I much prefer (and understand better) translating this as "equanimity".   We accept what we can't change.   Another translation that also resonates with me is "serenity" in accepting limitations in ourselves or in others, and rising above these limitations.

The virtue of Upeksha reminds me of the "Serenity Prayer" by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference

A rough summary of B.K.S. Iyengar's commentary on this sutra (in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, below) is that we are asked to rejoice with the happy, to be compassionate to the sorrowful, friendly to the virtuous, and practice equanimity with those who still live in a non-virtuous way, despite attempts to change them.  This practice brings social and individual health.  This approach to life keeps us serene and pure.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yoga for Seniors -- again

Downward Facing Dog Pose with Chair Support
I was recently asked if I could write a guest post for the blog Life After 60 - Living Life With Joy, by Joan Adams.   She is another writer on Squidoo and Wizzley, where I've also written some articles (some on yoga -- see the sidebar to the right).

Joan had seen my article Yoga for Seniors - Aging Well With Yoga, and thought her readers would be interested in reading more about how the practice of yoga can help us stay healthier as we age.

Of course I was happy to oblige! If you know me, you know I love "talking yoga". 

The post is Yoga for Seniors - Keeping Our Bodies Healthier in Our 60s and Beyond.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sign Up for the Midwest Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference - September 15 - 18

Yoga From the Heartland Sept. 15 - 18, 2011
Most of you who attend classes at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor have heard me talk about the upcoming Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference, Yoga From the Heartland, to be held in downtown Chicago, September 15 - 18.

If you're still undecided about going, read this excerpt of an email I received from IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga  National Association of the U.S.) relating the experience of someone who attended the Regional Conference in Providence, RI  October 2009:

Sophia Anastos, a yoga student from Chicago writes:
"My husband and I went to the conference in Providence with modest expectations. We hoped to learn things that we could bring to our practice while enjoying a new setting and making friends in the Iyengar Yoga community. Our experience far exceeded our expectations. We had a blast, and we learned so much from a diverse group of accomplished instructors. It was amazing to witness such rich and varied perspectives, temperaments, and sensibilities give voice to the rigor and objective orientation of Iyengar Yoga. Teachers were spontaneous, direct, authentic, and funny. We experienced quite personally the results of years of disciplined and loving practice. It was an unforgettable weekend, and we are grateful for all that was so freely and joyfully shared."  

The email continues:
IYAMW's "Yoga From the Heartland" regional conference will continue to extend that warm embrace, and we invite all students from all paths of yoga to attend. The weekend will offer opportunities for having fun and networking with acquaintances old and new. Festivities will include a keynote speech held at the Chicago Cultural Center. Screenings of films about Iyengar Yoga, chanting the Sutras, dinner circles offering excursions around the city, and "Union", an art exhibit featuring Midwest artists, will also be a part of the event. the conference location is within walking distance of world-class museums, such as the Art Institute of Chicago, our gorgeous outdoor town square, Millennium Park, and countless theater and music venues. We look forward to seeing you in Chicago as we explore, both on and off the mat, the wealth of Iyengar Yoga.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana

A few weeks ago, some of you had the opportunity to try the standing pose Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana. I mentioned that I had come across a photo that showed a woman in high heels doing the same pose. Here it is!

She's doing the full pose, with an arm reaching around her back to hold on to her lifted foot. We did the pose with both hands on the floor (or a chair or blocks).

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana -
   "Ardha" = "half" (here, one leg is in a padmasana position, thus the "half")
   "Baddha" = "bound"
   "Padma" = "lotus"
   "Uttanasana" ="intense stretch" (here as in a standing forward bend)

The seated version is Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
"Paschima" = "west" (refers to the back of the body)

Both poses are useful for preparing the legs and hips for Padmasana, or lotus pose.

If you come across other interesting yoga photos, I'd love to see them!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yoga for Seniors (Aging and Yoga)

Yoga for Seniors - Aging Well
 As the Baby-boomer and the Silent (Great Depression and WW2) generations age, there are more yoga classes that are suitable for seniors than ever before. 

My Gentle Class at Harmony Yoga, comprised mostly of students over age 60 (okay, I know a few are a little younger!), is currently my largest class, and overall has the most stable student base of all of my classes.   People who attend have discovered that the practice of yoga, done in a slow-paced, mindful way, has helped them remain healthier as they get older.

Many of my students in that class have mentioned that their joints feel better, they're stronger and more flexible, and feel better overall from attending yoga classes regularly.

If you're a Baby-boomer or older, and are looking for a way to keep your body and mind healthier as you age, consider trying out a class specifically with your age range in mind.

Class names might include:
  • Gentle Yoga
  • Seniors Yoga
  • Ageless Yoga
  • Chair Yoga
If you're already healthy and relatively fit, a general Beginning Level class may be fine for you as well.

Read Yoga for Seniors - Aging Well for benefits of yoga in seniors, tips for choosing a class, and suggested resources.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Have a Rope Wall Now

Rope-supported Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This is the third week that we've had our ropes up at Harmony Yoga, and for the most part, people are enjoying their use.

As you can see in the photo to the left, a rope-supported downward facing dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) allows these students to more easily extend through their upper backs.

Suza Francina (not from Harmony Yoga!)

The photo of the woman (Suza Francina, an Iyengar Yoga teacher from California, who has written many good books and articles on yoga and aging) shows another great use for the ropes.  Hanging forward as she is doing is an excellent way to open the chest and create more mobility in the shoulders.

We don't start in such an extreme position until our shoulders are ready for it.  Most people have been starting much further away from the wall, to begin with, for a less intense stretch.

We've also used the ropes for extra stability while doing Utthita trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Parivrrta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose).   We've discovered that besides given extra stability in both poses, the body comes into better alignment much more easily.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Register Now for "Yoga From the Heartland" Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference

Register soon for the Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference, "Yoga From the Heartland", September 15 - 18, 2011, in downtown Chicago.

This conference is not just about taking another yoga class or yoga workshop, but it is also a celebration of the practice of yoga with other like-minded people.

Of course you'll take a few yoga classes during this 4-day event in Chicago, IL, but there's much more happening than that.

Read the recent email from 2011 IYNAUS Regional Conference:

Can you imagine downtown Chicago mobbed with the wellness vibe of Iyengar Yoga? Join us September 15-18 at the Palmer House Hilton and the Chicago Cultural Center. We still have space for you, but don't wait long to register. 

Listen to the blissful devotional music of Devi 2000 on opening night, for a reception with light fare. Reunite with your yoga friends here and make new friends. Then we will walk a few blocks to the Cultural Center for a live cello performance by Alicia Rowe, featuring a film of BKS Iyengar, and an inspiring keynote by Matthew Sanford

Your morning workshops with Senior Teachers will certainly be profound and memorable, and the afternoon workshops with Intermediate Junior Teachers insightful and useful. During lunch breaks, chant the yoga sutras, partake of our Movie House, and stock up on the highest quality yoga props. Enjoy culinary Chicago and good company with Dinner Circles in the evenings.

We welcome all experience levels and students of all styles of yoga. Nourish your yoga practice, and nourish the yoga community with your presence.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yoga Poses Support the Body's Detox Functions

I've written before about how yoga can help our bodies with the detoxification process in Yoga Poses for Detoxing the Body.

In a nutshell:
  • Yoga twists "squeeze and soak" the abdominal organs, like wringing out a dirty wash cloth and then rinsing it with clean water.
  • Forward bending poses compress the abdominal organs, and stimulate the digestive system, making the elimination process more effective.
  • Inverted poses help to drain accumulated lymph fluid from the legs, making it available to circulate through the rest of the body.   Also inverted poses help to reduce mental and emotional stress, making it easier for us to choose healthier behaviors that naturally lead to eliminating toxic materials from our bodies.
I found another recent blog entry that goes into a little more detail about how yoga twists help the body to detox more effectively - Yoga for Detox /The Real Dish blog.

The author of that post says to twist to the left to massage the liver, and twist to the right to massage the spleen.   Both of these organs need to be healthy to help eliminate toxic materials.

As she explains, the liver is, "constantly making decisions on what to do about your digestion, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and detoxification" and the spleen, "also processes lymph. Lymph carries waste from the blood so squeezing the spleen can get that waste into the blood again to be processed and cleared".

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Response to "13 Things Your Yoga Teacher Won't Tell You"

Ardha matsyendrasana from Free Yoga Images
Thanks to my friend Pam for telling me about 13 Things Your Yoga Teacher Won't Tell You

I found this on Shine by Reader's Digest Magazine, with the points below submitted by yoga teachers from different parts of the country.  Various yoga blogs and newsletters have picked it up, and  I thought it was worth commenting on also.

It may sound like the people writing this are rather cranky, but face it, no matter how much we love our job (teaching yoga), we do have our difficult classes, difficult students, or bad days in general from time to time.   Many of you may think that yoga teachers should always be calm and friendly and non-judgmental concerning the following points.....but we're not perfect.   We're working to improve ourselves, as I hope you are too, but that's a lifetime endeavor for all of us.   We teach yoga largely because we love it and want to share this wonderful practice with others, not because we are already perfect in our practice. 

I don't agree with all of the points below, but some resonate strongly with me.    I've responded after each point:

1. I don’t have all the answers—about yoga or anything else—and I get irritated when I witness other yoga teachers putting themselves out there as gurus, therapists, or doctors.
I definitely don't have all the answers, but will give you my suggestions for how you can improve your yoga practice.  Some of these suggestions may help you improve your overall health and well-being, but I'm not a yoga therapist.  My suggestions may or may not help you. The teachers that I learn from know a lot more than I do, and I don't feel they're 'putting themselves out there as gurus, therapists, or doctors'.  I can't speak for other yoga teachers.

2. Clean your mat. When you sweat on it and then roll it up and then sweat on it again, it becomes a petri dish.
 Eh, not too much of a problem in our studio.   We don't work up as much of a sweat as some other styles of yoga.   I wash the studio mats periodically.   You're always welcome to bring your own equipment too, but do clean it periodically.  

3. I love teaching yoga, but teaching is torture if I haven’t been able to do my own practice in awhile.
I do get my practice in.  I can't be a good teacher if I don't practice.
4. Yoga is not a magic bullet or a pill you can take to solve your bad attitude if you’re not prepared to put in the work yourself.
That's for sure!  A yoga teacher can point you in the right direction, but you have to do the work.  Nothing will happen otherwise. (regarding bad attitude or poor health, or stiffness, etc)

5. Wear deodorant. Look up the Sanskrit word “saucha.” It means “cleanliness.” No one wants to smell you; it’s off-putting.
I haven't had this particular problem at my studio.  There've been more problems with people using scented products which other people can't tolerate.  Also during the warmer months, there are more dirty feet coming in to the studio.   Please clean your feet, and practice good cleanliness and hygiene in general, but don't use scented hygiene products.

6. I may be smiling at you when you walk in late and loudly slam your mat on the floor next to your meditating classmates but that doesn’t mean I approve. We all have busy lives but if you arrive late please try to be respectful of me and your fellow students. Start thinking yoga BEFORE you come in.
I like the sentence, "Start thinking yoga BEFORE you come in".  Yes, I'm happy to see you even if you are late, but it does disrupt the beginning of class.   Come in quietly if we're in a quiet pose.   
Better yet, come in early.   I do realize that there are some good reasons why people are late, but look at your own behavior patterns and determine whether you have a good reason to be late, or if you're late out of habit.   The practice of yoga is a discipline to help us develop good habits.   Not just to become more flexible.

7. I am not doing this for the money. I could barely make a living teaching you this class, as I receive little financial reward for the effort I am putting into this. So please respect that.
 Even though I own my own studio, I could not live on my income.   I can pay off the Harmony Yoga expenses and have a little left over, but I couldn't live off of this unless I lived in a tent and ate mostly rice and beans.  I'm eternally grateful to my husband that he realizes how important teaching yoga is to me.  But for both of us to work as we are, doing what we love, we've had to make tough financial decisions in our lives.

8. I have poses I dread and avoid practicing and teaching.
 Oh, yes indeed.   Not many, but read my previous blog post.

9. I hate yoga sometimes.
I can honestly say that this is not true for me.  I'm not sure what other people mean by this.
10. When people have matchy-matchy yoga outfits and every single prop, designer yoga mat and accessory on the market, I question what their practice is really about. People, seriously, all you need is a heartbeat, willingness and a little space.
I haven't seen this at Harmony Yoga :-)   We're not excessively trendy here!  We do like to adorn ourselves -- there's nothing wrong with that -- and it's fun to get some cool new yoga clothes and matching props, but no one at Harmony Yoga has overdone it.  

11. It’s one thing to modify a posture if you’re having trouble with it. But don’t just ignore the teacher and freestyle your way through class. That’s rude.
Yes, I strongly agree with this.  I see this more in some students who are new to Iyengar yoga, but have other yoga background and don't understand yet the culture of an Iyengar Yoga class.  

Of course modify poses if you can't safely do them as being taught.  Don't modify poses just because you don't want to do them as taught.  Let the teacher know why you're modifying a pose, and if she/he has another suggestion, try that.  But the style of yoga I teach isn't meant for people to "freestyle" their way through a class and do whatever they want to do.  Why come to a class for that?  This is a class, not just a group exercise session.   In Iyengar Yoga, and I'm sure many other styles of yoga, we are trying to teach you specific things, and we ask that you pay attention to what we are teaching during each class.   You might be able to do more, or you might prefer to do less, but practice discipline and stay with the class plan unless there's some physical reason why you can't.
  • This shows respect for the teacher and what he/she is trying to teach to the class. 
  • This shows that you're paying attention. 
  • This shows that you're understanding what he/she is trying to teach.
  • This shows that you're willing to keep an open mind to learn something different. 
Maybe what's being taught is very different than what you're used to doing, but be open to these new ideas and stay with the class.  You will learn more if you pay attention and follow along.  Again, the practice of yoga is a discipline.  If this doesn't sit well with you, that class is definitely not for you.   You'd be doing yourself and the teacher a favor by finding a different style of yoga where you can just do what you want to do.  Not Iyengar yoga.

Okay, rant over (although I could go on...).   Usually it's not a problem in my classes, but occasionally this comes up. 

12. I am not a doctor. I ask you about your injuries because they affect your practice. But I am not a qualified cardiologist, neurologist, psychiatrist or podiatrist. So don’t expect me to be able to solve your heart murmur, figure out the source of your mysterious neck pain, or provide counseling between down dog and savasana. You need a doctor.
 Well, I'd love to be able to help you in all of these, but I am not a doctor.   I can give you suggestions for common injuries and ailments to help keep you safe and maybe strengthen your weak areas, but that's about it.

13. Yoga is HARD. It’s meant to be. Didn’t you get the memo?!
 Yes, yoga is hard.  It's not meant to be easy.  It's meant to challenge you and to help you develop into a better person all around.   The practice of yoga is a discipline, and it takes work.   No two ways about it.  It takes work.  And with anything that is important in your life, the more effort you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Sources: Yoga teachers in Montana, California, Martha’s Vineyard MA, Vermont, Washington, DC, Portland, OR

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Practicing the Poses We "Hate"

 Don't Shy Away From Difficult Poses!

I enjoy most of the yoga poses that I work on, but there are a few poses that I really, really don't like.  I hesitate to use the word "hate", but I do have a very strong negative reaction to a couple of poses in particular.  But some of the poses I used to "hate" I now enjoy, or at least don't mind practicing.

My least favorite pose is Virabhadrasana III, or Warrior Pose III.  My balance is often "iffy" to begin with, and the particular shape of this pose makes it even more difficult for me to hold for any length of time, given that my shoulders and upper back are on the stiff side and my low back is a little too mobile, and my arms somewhat weak in this extension.  But one of my students says this is her favorite pose!

Watch the following video to see how steady and beautiful this pose can be when practiced regularly!

Other poses that I used to "hate" are Paripurna navasana (full boat pose) and some of the seated forward bends, including Janu sirsasana (head to knee pose).   Now seated forward bends are among my favorite poses, and the boat poses don't give me much trouble either.  But it took diligent, mindful practice over an extended period of time to get there.    Hmmm.   I guess I need to work that way on Virabhadrasana III!

What is the pose that you "hate" or dislike most?   Why do you dislike it?
I'm guessing that the poses that we least like are those that are difficult or impossible for us to do.
But do you dislike all poses that are difficult for you?  (Hopefully not!)
What makes this pose especially unlovable for you? 
What are you doing to work through this dislike?
Are you practicing this pose in between classes, or are you avoiding it?

Can you think of ways to start to "make friends" with this pose?
Are there similar, but easier poses for you that might help you build up to your least favorite pose?

One suggestion is to decide to practice this pose 3 times a week, and sandwich it in between other poses that you can do more easily and that have some similarities with the pose that you dislike.  You may decide to work on an easier variation of the pose for awhile.   But then periodically try the full variation from time to time.  

You will not make friends with this pose or have it come easier if you do not practice it.  You know this.   Decide that you want to work on this pose, then do it.  Make a plan.  I can suggest ways to work on it (or your own teacher can help you).

These difficult, disliked poses will teach us more about ourselves if we work on them.  But avoiding them won't get us anywhere.  Don't shy away from the work it takes to improve your least favorite poses.   Even if they remain difficult, or not possible to do, you'll still be improving your practice overall, and gaining invaluable insights into your own self.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Practicing Yoga at Home

While we were having dinner with a couple of good friends last week, the guy mentioned that he had just started practicing yoga poses again, after a long break (many years I think).   He was browsing through Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar and noticed that the Appendix included yoga practice courses for beginning, intermediate, and advanced yoga students.   In these courses, B.K.S.  Iyengar lists sequences of poses for practicing each week.   Our friend is starting at Week 1 of the Beginning Course and plans to proceed at his own pace through the recommended sequences of poses week by week.

What a simple but effective plan for practicing yoga!

Students often ask me if they should practice yoga poses between classes (yes, please do!), and if so, what should they practice.    I usually tell them that they could do what they remember from class each week.  They'll learn and remember more as time goes by.   In general, doing the standing poses, downward facing dog pose, a twist or two, and the inversions that they're comfortable with will give them a good solid base for their home yoga practice.

I've talked about the benefits of practicing in between yoga classes and given tips for practicing in The Importance of a Yoga Home Practice.  You can refer back to that for ideas on how to develop your own home practice.     You'll also find a link there to Yoga Practice Sequences to get you started.

Also read Seven Basic Yoga Standing Poses to familiarize yourself with these important yoga postures.  This includes embedded YouTube videos of Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, giving good, clear instructions while demonstrating these seven yoga standing poses. 

For more variety in your practice, look through your yoga books for inspiration.  Many of my favorite Iyengar Yoga books included practice sequences for different experience levels.   Some of these sequences are for general practices, and some sequences are used for specific health purposes.   Following these sequences and referring back to the instructions in the books are a great way to familiarize yourself with the yoga poses.  

DVDs are fine as well, but I personally get more out of studying the pictures and instructions in a book to more fully understand the yoga poses that I'm practicing.

Below are three of my favorite Iyengar Yoga books that also include practice sequences for different levels of students (at the back of the book).    You may be able to find copies in the library, and many bookstores will carry them., of course, has them.....

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yoga From the Heartland -- Registration Now Open

Registration is open now for the 2011 Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference, From the Heartland, which will be held in downtown Chicago, September 15 -- 18.

This will be a great opportunity for yoga students of all traditions, from beginning to advanced, to learn more about the practice of Iyengar Yoga.

For the opening ceremony on Thursday, September 15, the Keynote Address will be given by paraplegic yoga teacher Matthew Sanford, and there'll also be a presentation of a BKS Iyengar practice film with live cello accompaniment by cellist (and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher) Alicia Rowe.

There will be morning pranayama and asana classes, assigned by experience levels, and afternoon Special Topic classes that you choose when you register.

You'll have time between the morning and afternoon classes (1pm - 4pm) to enjoy one of the many films about Iyengar yoga, or to participate in chanting, or to practice in the practice salon if you so desire.  There'll also be an art exhibit, Union, that will run for 3 - 4 weeks, coinciding with the yoga conference.  Union is an exhibition of art works created by yoga practitioners from around the Midwest.

Or during the afternoon break you may want to wander around downtown Chicago.   The conference venue is at the Palmer House Hilton (except for the opening ceremony which will be at the Chicago Cultural Center), a short distance from Millenium Park and Lake Michigan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Iyengar Yoga and Back Pain Relief

Downward facing dog pose is great for backs.
A number of people who come to yoga classes start as a way to help relieve chronic back pain.  The mindful practice of yoga poses help to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the back, and ease stiffness in the spine.

There are a few good studies out that confirm what we experience in yoga classes -- that yoga really does help reduce back pain, and create healthier backs. 

Read Yoga for Back Pain Relief for an overview of how the practice of yoga postures can help reduce back problems. This article also gives a synopsis of a clinical study that shows that people who practice of Iyengar Yoga are more successful in alleviating their low back pain than people who receive standard medical therapy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Iyengar Yoga -- Inspiration From a Video

There are many yoga videos on YouTube --most of them I'm just not that impressed with, but occasionally I find one that's interesting or inspiring in some way.

Here's a video of Iyengar yoga teachers, Linda DiCarlo and Claude Goldstein, demonstrating a number of poses during their December 2010 holiday party at Linda's studio, Iyengar Yoga Source, in Rhode Island.

They start with Surya Namaskar (sun salutations), then do standing poses,  some floor poses, back extensions (back bending poses) and inversions (upside down poses).

How many of these poses are familiar to you?    Have you done them in class?   If you've been taking my classes for awhile, you'll recognize most of the poses they demonstrate.  

The sequence is interesting!   Here's a challenge for those of you who have a home yoga practice:   try some of the segments that are shown in this video!  

I was especially intrigued with moving from Utthita hasta padangusthasana (standing balance pose, hand holding big toe of lifted, outstretched leg), to Urdhva prasarita ekapadasana (standing forward bend with one leg lifted up), to Parsvottanasana ( intense side stretch pose -- one leg forward, one leg back, forward bending over forward leg).  

How about you?  Does this video inspire you to try something a little different in your home yoga practice?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why Practice Yoga Standing Poses?

If you've taken Iyengar Yoga classes for any length of time, you'll have noticed that there's a strong emphasis on learning and practicing the standing poses, often from the very first class you took. 

Why are the yoga standing poses so important?  What are their benefits to us?

Some of the more obvious benefits are that we develop develop greater strength, stamina, flexibility, and balance from practicing these poses.  

As beginners, we practice the standing poses to learn to become more aware of all parts of our own bodies.   We become more familiar with how to position different parts of our bodies -- our legs, arms, hands, feet, trunk, and head.   We learn basic elements of alignment in these poses.

As we become more proficient in the standing poses, we start to refine them.   We become more aware of how the smaller muscles need to be used to bring our poses into better alignment.  We learn to more fully turn our awareness inward to bring a steadiness of body and mind to the poses.

The yoga standing poses form the foundation for the rest of the yoga poses. 

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, has a number of YouTube videos in which he demonstrates and instructs basic yoga poses, including a number of the standing poses.  His instructions are clear, and his poses are superb!   They're well worth watching!

To watch these videos and to read more about the benefits of yoga standing poses, go to Seven Basic Standing Poses.

For more ideas how to practice on your own, go to The Importance of a Yoga Home Practice.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yoga From the Heartland -- Iyengar Yoga Regional Conference, Sept. 2011

If you take classes regularly at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor then you've probably heard me talk about the 2011 Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference, Yoga from the Heartland, that will take place in Chicago, September 15 -- 18.

This will be a marvelous opportunity for you all to gather with other yoga students for a few days of enjoyable Iyengar Yoga study and practice, and other special events, in downtown Chicago.

All interested yoga practitioners are invited to attend, whether you're a beginner or a more seasoned student, and whether you practice Iyengar yoga or another tradition.

During the conference you'll be assigned to general asana and pranayama classes in the mornings based on your experience level, and taught by 9 of the Advanced Level Yoga teachers from around the country (including Ann Arbor's Laurie Blakeney).   In the afternoons, you'll also be able to choose from a variety of classes that cover different topics, taught by regional Intermediate Level teachers (including yours truly).

There are a number of special events and activities being planned, including:
  • Keynote address by paraplegic Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Matthew Sanford.
  • Presentation of B.K.S. Iyengar yoga practice film accompanied by cellist (and Iyengar Yoga teacher) Alicia Rowe, from Ann Arbor
  • Dinner circles for dining with old friends or new acquaintances
  • A practice salon where you can practice between classes if you wish
  • An art exhibit highlighting the work of midwest artists and yoga practitioners
  • Various movies being shown about Iyengar yoga during afternoon breaks.
Check out the website often for more updates:
Especially watch the delightful short video of Iyengar Yoga: From Pune, India to Chicago, USA !

Registration will open on April 1, 2011.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Culture of a Yoga Class

I always enjoy new students in my classes, whether they're brand new to yoga, or new to Iyengar Yoga, or just new to my classes.

It's always interesting for me to watch people who are new to my classes, but who have some experience in other styles of yoga, or from other teachers within the Iyengar system.    Sometimes they catch on quickly to how we do things in class.   Other times I see some resistance to following my instructions and expectations.   Or perhaps there's just not the awareness that they're doing something unusual for that class.

Each style of yoga has its own "culture" or way of doing things, and each studio and teacher may have it's own mini-culture as well.    Just as you'd try to respect the culture and traditions when visiting a foreign country, it's a good idea to try to fit in with the expectations of whatever new yoga class you may attend.   This shows respect and a willingness to learn.   I like students who are respectful and willing to learn what I'm teaching!

You may think you know what you're doing, because that's how you've done it in other yoga classes....but that may be a misconception on your part for a particular class or method of yoga.   Practice awareness in these new classes!   The dedicated practice of yoga leads to awareness!

Be aware of how the other students are behaving in class.   Follow along with what they're doing.  Don't do something different unless you aren't able to do what's being taught.   Don't do something different just because you feel like doing something different.    Ask a question or two if you don't understand what's expected of you.

Part of the 'culture' of Iyengar yoga is to pay attention to what the teacher is asking you to do, and follow that as closely as you're able to.   Don't "do your own thing".  Watch when the teacher says watch, and do when the teacher says do.

Other styles of yoga  have different expectations.  Learn to pick up on what's expected in each particular class.   Some classes may be very open to experimentation and doing what you feel like doing, while others are more directive.   Follow instructions as closely as you're able to in those more directive classes.  Err on the side of caution if you're not sure.

Why should you follow instructions exactly, or do exactly what the other students are doing?   Why shouldn't you do what you're used to from your other classes?   Maybe you think you can do a pose better in another way.   Why can't you do it that way?

If you're following the instructions that I give, it shows me that you're paying attention, understanding what I'm saying, and open to learning what I have to teach during that particular class.

If I see that you're not following instructions it could show me that you don't understand what I'm getting at, or it could show me that you can't physically follow that instruction (so maybe I have to change  an instruction), or it shows me that you think you know better how to do something -- that you're not willing to learn what I have to offer. 

Part of the practice of yoga is to learn to be mentally more open.   Don't rigidly adhere to what you've learned in the past.  You won't learn anything new that way.    It's fine to ask a few questions in my classes if you're really puzzled or worried about my instructions.   But don't ignore them.

Practice being open to what a new teacher has to offer, and you'll learn so much more than ignoring what that teacher says.  This is more respectful to the teacher and to the rest of the class.   The way you normally do your poses certainly isn't "wrong" but it may not be appropriate in certain classes.   Practice respect and awareness, and you'll get much more out of your yoga class experience.

Thank you!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Does Your New Year's Resolution Include Yoga?

Happy New Year to you all! 

Did your New Year's resolutions include more yoga?  Maybe you've decided to practice more at home.  Or maybe take more classes (or return to classes!).  Or maybe you're new to yoga and want to start.

I started yoga as part of a New Year's resolution a number of years ago (in 1993), as part of my plan to maintain good health.  It was a life-changing decision on my part!

While it's great to plan goals at any time of the year,  New Year's resolutions are special.  The beginning of a New Year is symbolic for our own new beginnings and fresh starts.

I think that the most effective way to follow through on a New Year's resolution (or a new goal at any time!) is to tell someone about it.   Not just to rattle off a laundry list of ideas that you  think you'd like to do for the coming year, but to hone in on one or two really important goals that you want to work toward.  Then go into detail how you plan to reach your goals.   If you'd rather not talk about your resolutions with someone else, then write down in great detail how you plan to keep your resolutions and work toward your goals.

Setting your intentions this way makes your goals more real in your own mind, and makes it easier to find ways to work toward your goals. 

We went through a lovely extended process on New Year's Eve with a couple of dear friends of ours, of sharing how our past year had gone for us, and what we hope to see in the coming year.  We each had our own turn to talk, first about 2010, then again for our plans for 2011.  This helped to validate our own desires and goals in a friendly, non-judgmental atmosphere.  I recommend the process to anyone!

Even though it is now past the offical beginning of the New Year, it is certainly not too late to make your own resolutions!   And plan to make "more yoga" as one of them!