Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Yoga Christmas Card

I usually don't promote items like this on the Harmony Yoga blog, but I was looking for a fun Yoga card to celebrate the holidays and I found this on Zazzle.

Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph are shown happily holding some nice-looking yoga poses:
  • Rudolph is doing Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  • Mrs. Claus is in Paripurna navasana (Full Boat)
  • Santa is in Vasisthasana (Side plank named after the sage Vasistha)
Inside the card is, "May the spirit of the season move you."

These aren't mass-produced cards that you'd find in Hallmarks, so they do cost a little more, but they're also very unique!

Greeting card size is $3.15 / card with discounts at 10, 20, and 50 cards (more if you buy larger amounts).   A note card is $2.60, again with discounts.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mary Dunn -- Demonstration of Standing Poses at the 1990 Convention

Those of you who have taken my classes have heard me talk about Mary Dunn, one of my favorite visiting yoga teachers.

Mary grew up in Ann Arbor and was the daughter of Mary Palmer, who was instrumental in bringing B.K.S. Iyengar to Ann Arbor in the early 1970s. This was the beginning of the popularization of Iyengar Yoga in the United States.

 Mary Dunn was the founding director of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), and a founder of the Iyengar Yoga institutes in San Francisco, San Diego, and then New York City.

She was one of the teachers who came back to Ann Arbor every year to teach a weekend series of workshops (such as Manouso Manos still does). Mary was very clear in her teachings, calm and compassionate with her dealings with students, and had a great sense of humor. She was also an excellent teacher of teachers -- I took a number of teacher training classes from her.

This video shows Mary demonstrating a series of standing poses. You can see the vibrancy, control, and extension in her poses as she moves from one pose to another to another. The stance is a little different in some of the poses than what we might teach now, i.e. the distance between the feet might be wider in Parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle pose). I noticed that her heel is up in Parivrtta parsvakonasana (revolved lateral angle pose). That was good to see, because I can't keep my heel down either in that pose!! (Keep it down if you can.)

I hadn't started yoga at that point -- I started three years later, in 1993.  

She died from complications of cancer in 2008, at age 66.   You can read this very nice obituary about Mary in the New York Times.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Iyengar Yoga With Gabriella Giubilaro - Video

Here's a great video for you to get practice ideas from, especially for next week when there'll be no classes at Harmony Yoga.

Gabriella Giubilaro is an Iyengar Yoga teacher from Italy who studies almost every year with B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta.

Notes about the video, and suggestions for practice:
  • The first 3 1/2 minutes are for show only -- to inspire and maybe to make you laugh :-)
  • Many poses are shown in this video.  You might decide to do just half, or even less. 
  • Do the poses as you know how to do them, with the props you need.  Gabriella shows some variations if you can't do without props, but also use your own judgement. Work intelligently.
  • The list of the poses is after the video.
Observe how strong she is in these asanas.   She is very controlled and precise with her movements.  A steady body indicates a steady, focused mind.

Here's a Yoga Journal interview with Gabriella. Talking Shop With Gabriella Giubilaro

 For more info on these poses, refer to recommended Iyengar Yoga books.

Sequence of poses in this video:
Vajrasana with parvatasana - Sit on heels, clasp hands, stretch palms up
Virasana  - Sit between heels

Paripurna navasana - Full boat pose

Urdhva prasarita padasana - Leg lifts

Jathara parivartanasana - legs to side (supine twist, knees bent or legs straight)

Ubbhaya padangustasana - Hold toes, lift legs up

Supta padangusthasana - supine leg stretch

Anantasana - lying on side, leg stretch

Adho mukha svanasana -- Downward facing dog
Jump to Uttanasana - Standing forward bend
Come up to Tadasana - standing pose

Utkatasana -- arms up, knees bent
Garudhasana - Eagle Pose
Vrksasana - Tree pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana  #1 (down arm in front of bent knee) - side angle pose variation

Utthita trikonasana - Triangle pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana #2 (regular way, down arm behind bent knee) - side angle pose

Virabhadrasana II - Warrior II

Ardha chandrasana - Half moon pose

Parivrtta trikonasana - Revolved triangle pose

Parsvottanasana (paschimonamaskarasana hands, or hands to blocks, chair) - intense side stretch standing forward bend

Prasarita padottanasana - wide legged standing forward bend

Uttanasana  hold elbows - standing forward bend
Padangusthasana -- standing forward bend, hold big toes
Padahastasana -- standing forward bend, hands under feet

Adho mukha svanasana
Rest (Adho mukha virasana)

Sirsasana -- head balance

Chaturanga dandasana (or I might do urdhva mukha svanasana) -- plank pose (or instead do upward facing dog)
Ustrasana -- Camel pose
Swastikasana -- forward -- Cross legged seated pose going forward
Swastikasana  twist

Chair bharadvajasana -- twist, sitting through back of chair

Marichyasana III -- seated twist, one knee up, twist across bent leg.

Sarvangasana -- shoulderstand -- Come to Halasana (plow pose)  first -- roll to top of shoulders, first w/arms bend then clasp hands behind.   Then place strap and come up.

Halasana - clasp hands behind

Janu sirsasana -- seated forward bend, one knee bent out to side
Paschimottanasana -- seated forward bend -- both legs straight

Upavistha Konasana -- wide angle seated pose
With twist

Baddha Konasana -- bound angle pose

Supta virasana -- supine virasana
Supta baddha konasana -- supine baddha konasana

Savasasana -- corpse pose

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Iyengar Yoga Books - My Recommendations

Yoga students occasionally ask me what books would help them with their understanding of Iyengar Yoga.

Here are the four books I would recommend first:

The books Light on Yoga and Yoga: The Iyengar Way (the first and the third books shown above)  are the first two books that I bought, on the recommendation of my first yoga teacher, and I continue to refer to them.

Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, is considered the "Bible of Modern Yoga".   It was first published in 1966, and continues to be one of the best references for studying and practicing yoga, including sections on philosophy as well as yoga asanas (poses) and pranayamas (breathing exercises).    If you're an experienced Iyengar Yoga student, you'll notice that some of the poses look a little different than how we typically teach them now, and there are very few props that are used.  It's interesting to see the progression in what the Iyengars think is important in our practice of the yoga poses.   It's not a static subject.

Yoga: The Iyengar Way, by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta, has large, clear photographs of about 100 yoga poses, and detailed instructions for how to do the poses, what to pay attention to, and tips and variations for how to practice.  There's a section on yoga philosophy, and a practice sequence section in the back.

How to Use Yoga, by Mira Mehta, is geared a little more toward the beginning level yoga student compared with Yoga: The Iyengar Way.  It has step-by-step instructions, shown in clear photos, of how to do the yoga poses, including correct prop usage. 

The Tree of Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar, is the best introduction to yoga philosophy that I've come across.  In this book,  Iyengar writes about yoga and how we live our lives; the different elements of yoga (the Tree of Yoga); yoga and health; and yoga and spiritual growth.

Read 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books for more recommendations.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yoga and Working With Injuries

Photo Credit: FoxTongue on Flickr

CC BY 2.0

I have had a few injuries from practicing yoga poses.  That's not really too surprising since I've been doing yoga for 20 years.

My injuries have been mostly mild, but a couple times more severe.   They've included pulled hamstring muscles, torn cartilage around the ribs, and an occasional glitchy shoulder or neck.  

I'm sure you're all aware that with any physical activity comes some risk of injury or at least of discomfort.

In general, injuries might happen because of a moment of inattention to what we're doing, or pushing ourselves just a little too fast or too far, or an injury might develop slowly over a period of time from habitually using a part of the body in a mis-aligned, uninformed way.

If we are avid, dedicated yoga practitioners, or sometimes even if we're not, many of us will injure ourselves at some point during our yoga practice, either in class or at home.  Most of the time these injuries will be minor, and won't slow us down for too long, but occasionally they may be more severe and take longer to heal.

But the risk of injury shouldn't stop us from being active!   We know that the benefits of physical activity on our health and well-being far outweigh the risks.

How would an injury affect your yoga practice, whether the injury was yoga-related or not?   Should you stop practicing, or stop coming to class?

It depends in part on how severe the injury is and where it is, and how much knowledge you have of how to work with your own body.  Common sense goes a long way.

Of course immediately after an acute injury, do follow the RICE recommendations (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).  Get advice from your health care giver as needed.   But then if the injury is fairly mild, and if you're motivated to do so, you might cautiously explore what you can comfortably do with that area.

If the injury is minor, such as a mild muscle strain or pull, or a slightly sore shoulder, hip, or back, continuing with your yoga class and/or your home practice will probably help you heal more quickly IF YOU WORK INTELLIGENTLY with your injury.   Talk with your teacher about your concerns and s/he may be able to suggest modifications to help you in your practice while your injury heals. Iyengar Yoga teachers are trained to help people with mild physical issues, including minor injuries.

Back off of the actions that make your injury feel worse.  If you have a hamstring attachment injury (such as I'm working with now), back off of the forward bends.  Don't stop forward bends, just don't do them as deeply.  If your shoulder is damaged, don't stretch the shoulder as intensely.   Maybe avoid poses that put a lot of weight in your shoulder.   Work cautiously to explore when the pain starts, and what positions make your injury feel better.    Continue to communicate with your health care professional or physical therapist as you need to.  Continue to communicate with your yoga teacher also.

If you have a major injury, of course that will preclude you from coming to class until there's enough healing to feel reasonably comfortable and to avoid re-injuring yourself.   But say you've broken your leg (such as from skiing, and hopefully not from some weird yoga mishap!).   You can still stretch your other leg, and your arms and back.  You can still probably do some careful twists.   You can work to keep the rest of your body strong and mobile while you let your leg recover. 

For the avid yoga practitioner, working one-on-one with your teacher may be a good way to go for awhile, so you can learn techniques to help work more intelligently with your injury.

Even though an injury is never wished for, we can often use it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and how our bodies work.  I know now what has been contributing to my hamstring problems and how to work with them.  I know how to avoid hurting my ribs and how to work with glitchy shoulders and neck.  I feel more confident in my yoga poses because of this knowledge, although it took some mishaps along the way to learn it. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Yoga Boosts Confidence - a blog post recommendation

Halasana - Plow Pose
My friend Pam, another Iyengar Yoga teacher, recently wrote a delightful article / blog post Yoga Builds Confidence

It starts with,
"“Are you kidding me lady! You want me to do that?”"

and ends with,
"They go back to their mats and they, indeed, do that. Because they can. I know they can. And after they strike that pose, they know they can too."

I often get the same "Are you kidding me?" looks when I introduce a pose that is new to the class.  Some look slightly horrified, while others, still incredulous,  are grinning and waiting to try it out for themselves.

As Pam mentions in her post, yoga builds confidence through steady, prolonged practice. Poses that at first seem impossible and perhaps very scary become more accessible. If you've attended Iyengar Yoga classes, you know that we (the teachers) help you to break down the elements of the poses so that over time, and with practice (practice is a huge factor!) they become more accessible -- there's a greater possibility of actually being able to do these difficult poses.

You first learn the basic elements, and you build on that knowledge and practice (again the "P" word) to advance to more difficult and complicated elements and poses.  You see more and more success, which leads to more confidence in your yoga practice, whether in class or at home.

A pose that absolutely terrifies me (yep, there's at least one) is a variation of Adho Mukha Vrksasana (full arm balance / hand stand) with the hands pointing backward rather than forward.   I joke that it induces in me Abhinivesa, or "fear of death".  But I know how to go about being more comfortable with the idea of the pose.  I know which incremental steps to take to get me closer to the pose.  But it takes PRACTICE which I'm not doing for that pose variation at the moment.     There are so many other poses that feel more important to me, so I need to pick my battles.   If I ever decide that's a pose that I really, really want to do, I know which direction to travel in my practice.  And I know that I'd feel a huge surge of confidence once I did it.

And as Pam said, this confidence starts to overflow into your regular life as well.   You've learned how to make difficult actions less difficult in yoga, and the same principles apply to your daily lives. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Free Yoga Class Opportunities Early Fall 2013

I always enjoyed the beginning of the school year when I was growing up.   There was a sense of excitement, with the anticipation of learning something new and of meeting new people.  I think that the beginning of the school year is also a great time to begin a yoga class!

I'm offering a couple of opportunities for people to take a free yoga class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor during the early fall (2013).

1.   During the week of Labor Day, there are three free Intro to Yoga classes available for anyone who would like to attend (current students and new people):
  • Wednesday, September 4 - Level 1 - 9:30-10:45 AM
  • Wednesday, September 4 - Gentle - 11:00 AM-12:15 PM
  • Thursday, September 5 - Level 1 - 5:30-6:45 PM
These classes will give you a good idea of how I teach beginning level classes at Harmony Yoga.  The Gentle Yoga class is slower-paced and poses are practiced with more support than the Level 1 classes.   Pre-registration is recommended -- email me to reserve a space or if you have any questions.

2.   If you are new to Harmony Yoga, or haven't taken a class from me in at least 6 months, you can use this free yoga class coupon to take a class anytime from September 9 -- October 19.  Check our Yoga Class Schedule and Yoga Class Descriptions to choose a class that fits your experience level.   Note that a Level 2 class assumes knowledge of Iyengar Yoga, including how we set up for poses such as Sirsasana and Sarvangasana (head balance, shoulder balance).  There is a difference in how the various styles of yoga are taught (of course!), and in any style you would be expected to follow along with how that particular class is being taught.  And it's really easy for me to tell if you haven't had much Iyengar Yoga experience. Again, pre-registration is recommended (email me to reserve a space or if you have questions), but not absolutely required.

Happy practicing!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Kindness in the Yoga Classroom

Earlier this summer, I came across the following blog post, Can Iyengar Yoga Attract the Masses?

This excellent post lists a number of reasons why Iyengar Yoga classes may not attract as many people as other styles of yoga, and each of these reasons are worth exploring more fully in other blog posts (which I may do later!).

But another reason that came up partway through the comments section is that there's the perception that many Iyengar yoga teachers are rude, bullying, insulting, dogmatic, and fundamentalist in their approach.

That is so sad to hear.    But unfortunately there is certainly an element of truth to these statements.

Granted, Iyengar Yoga is taught more as a discipline than a number of the other yoga systems, and adheres to more rigorous standards in both the practice and teaching of this method.   That in itself can turn off many people, but that is okay.   Some of us are fascinated by this disciplined, exacting practice, especially after we start seeing and feeling the results, while others prefer a "do what feels good" approach, or may be just in it for a good, aerobic workout, while not being remotely interested in all the picky little details for learning good alignment.

That's fine...different strokes for different folks....

But beyond that, the discipline of the Iyengar Yoga system sometimes really does seem to translate into overbearing arrogance and rudeness on the part of the teacher.  And it's not necessary. 

I do realize that some of this is in the eye of the beholder.   A strict taskmaster may be perceived as insensitive and overly demanding by some who aren't used to this method, but in reality is simply stating in a matter-of-fact way what is expected in this particular class, and what needs to be done and what shouldn't be done.

But I have also taken classes from a few Iyengar Yoga teachers who I perceived as appallingly rude, who seemed to disapprove of the class make-up (not locally BTW, but more at the national level at conferences / conventions),  and I have no interest in ever taking a class again from these 2 - 3 teachers no matter how well they know their subject.  If I had experienced these attitudes when I was a beginning yoga student, I would've searched out another style of yoga.  Or taken up Tai Chi. Or ballroom dancing.

I recently came across this quote by Maya Angelou ~
 “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

One of my aims as a yoga teacher is to make my students feel that they are welcome in my classes, and appreciated for who they are, at whatever level of experience they are at.  I'm not 100% successful, but practicing awareness of how I treat others is definitely a part of my overall yoga practice.

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight cc

Monday, June 3, 2013

Iyengar Yoga at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor

When I first started taking yoga classes, in 1993, Iyengar Yoga was the most commonly taught method of hatha yoga in Ann Arbor, and in much of the country.   Times have changed, and there are many other methods and styles being taught in Ann Arbor and around the country.   All are a form of hatha yoga, which refers to the physical practice of yoga (if you know anything about yoga philosophy, you'll remember that the physical practice is only a part of the entire practice of yoga).

Different styles of yoga will appeal to different types of people.  What is so special about Iyengar Yoga?

First of all, Iyengar Yoga is named after B.K.S. Iyengar, who is currently 94 years old, and still practices yoga including the asanas (albeit in a much more supported manner) in his home city of Pune, Maharashtra, India.   He would be quick to tell you that he didn't name this style, but his students gave it this name to differentiate it from other methods that are taught.

A main feature of Iyengar Yoga is that it places a very strong emphasis of learning and practicing good alignment in the yoga postures, or asanas.  Besides allowing us to more effectively and safely stretch and strengthen our muscles, to create more freedom of movement in our joints, and healthy space for our organs, this practice also develops our awareness - first of our own bodies and where we are in space, and then it starts to extend to what we are doing in other areas of our lives.   As we learn to move consciously into and out of the yoga asanas, we also learn to move consciously throughout our daily lives, so we can respond intelligently to what life throws us.

We often use props to help us move into better alignment and to give us extra support.  We may use blankets, blocks, straps, chairs, or the wall to help support our bodies in the poses.   If your hamstrings are tight, and you can't touch your hands to the floor in a standing forward bend and still keep your legs straight, you might take your hands to blocks or a chair instead.   If your hips are tight and sitting with an upright spine is difficult, you'd sit up on blankets to bring better alignment to the spine and more ease to the pose.  Also holding the pose for longer, in a supported manner, deepens the effects of the pose.

If you are just looking for a good aerobic workout, Iyengar Yoga may not be for you, although it will depend on the nature of the particular class.   Typically the classes I teach don't have an aerobic component, but there is emphasis on learning how to move toward a fuller representation of each
yoga pose within your own physical capabilities.   You'll become stronger and more flexible with this practice.

If you want to experience an Iyengar Yoga class at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor, check our class schedule and class descriptions.   A Level 1 class is great for beginners and is not excessively strenuous.   Drop-ins are fine during most weeks, but occasionally a particular week won't be as suitable for someone who is new to Harmony Yoga (for instance, the last week of each session is often "restorative week",  and the classes are taught differently than during the rest of the session).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yoga Builds Awareness - Crazy Wisdom Article by yours truly

Karen in Halasana, photo by Pam Lindberg
I had the opportunity to write an article for the current issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, May - August 2013.

The subject could be of anything that was relevant to my practice and teaching of Iyengar Yoga so I wrote, Yoga Builds Awareness ~ The Practice of Yoga,  Done with Awareness and Intelligent Action, Enhances our Physical and Emotional Well-Being 

I have a couple more copies at my studio, Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor, for those of you who come to my classes, and I'll try to pick up a few more.  

Or you can read it online Yoga Builds Awareness  (pdf file)

The photos are by fellow Iyengar Yoga teacher and friend, Pam Lindberg.   I think it all turned out very well!   What do you think?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Still room in Holiday Yoga classes

 Image of Yoga Holiday Card from YogaDudes Shop

There's still room in the rest of the Holiday Yoga classes at Harmony Yoga.  The Thursday 5:30 -- 6:45pm class is especially small.  If you'd like a smaller class, this will be a nice one for you!

Go to Holiday Yoga Classes (skip past the free yoga class for new people section) and check the schedule and fees for the final Holiday classes.

Pre-registering / pre-paying still applies for the discounted price. 

If you want to pre-pay but can't easily drop off your payment at the studio by the day before the class, you can pay through PayPal.  If you don't have a PayPal account, you can pay with credit card or debit card as a PayPal Guest.

Go to the Harmony Yoga Pay With PayPal page.
Click on the bottom button that says, "Buy Now".   It will take you to a page where you can add the price for the class.   (There are no special PayPal buttons for the individual Holiday Classes).   On the confirmation page there's a space to write a note to tell me which class you're paying for.   If you miss that, just email me and tell me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Yoga Practice Tips for the Holidays, Part 4 - Refer to good yoga books

Happy New Year 2013!

Was one of your New Year resolutions to practice yoga poses more often between classes?   It's an excellent resolution to make at any time of the year!   If you practice at home in between classes and during times when classes aren't in session, you'll notice a big difference in the ease in doing poses during class and during your own practice.   Difficult poses will become more of a delight to work on!  Your muscles won't be as sore after regular classes if you also practice at home.  You'll become stronger and more flexible and less prone to exercise-related injuries.   You'll become more mentally centered.  All of you who've been taking yoga for some time know all of this!  

The Tips for Practicing during the holidays that I've been presenting recently are good tips to follow any time of the year, whether or not your regular classes are in session.

Tip # 4 for practicing yoga during the holidays, or at any time of the year, is to practice from instructions and sequences in good yoga books.    These books also present the philosophy of yoga, for those of you who are ready to learn more about the full scope of this ancient art and science.

As an Iyengar Yoga practitioner, I highly recommend the following books.  They all include detailed instructions and photos of many poses.   The first two books include sequences for practicing as well (although Light on Yoga sequences are more difficult).

 If you are a serious Iyengar yoga student, you probably already have some of these books.   If you don't, get them, especially Light on Yoga, which is considered to be the "Bible of Modern Yoga".   

Also refer to The 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books for summaries of these books and other more specialized yoga books.