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.