Rox Does Yoga

Musings on Everything Yoga

October Teacher Training Weekend October 24, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:22 pm
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Teacher training this weekend was a lot of fun. This was presentation month, so each trainee gave a presentation on the topic of our choice. My topic was “yoga for great sex”, and my presentation went really well – everyone had a good time and a lot of laughs, and I got to share a lot of good information. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting all that info here for you!

Other presentation topics included yoga for natural childbirth, yoga for lower back pain, yoga for athletes, yoga for children, devotional music, yoga for anxiety and depression, yoga for post-traumatic stress disorder, yoga for martial artists, and the chakras. Everyone did a really fantastic job of researching each topic and presenting what they’d learned. Each of us could easily have done a 30- or 60-minute presentation instead of just 15 minutes!

At the end of Saturday’s session, we spent some time going over specific yoga asanas and talking about proper alignment, common problems, and how to help a student with those problems. We did this once before, last spring, and it was just as helpful this weekend as it was back then. I’ve practiced yoga for over eight years but there are still poses I don’t fully understand, and even for the poses I do know well, I don’t necessarily know the problems that a beginning student or student with limited mobility might have. These things are really important to know! Now I feel a lot more comfortable teaching basic poses like wide-legged standing forward fold or head-to-knee pose.

Our homework for this next month is to read the Upanishads and to keep track of any questions we might have as we read. N says that we shouldn’t try to sit down and read a bunch of them; it’ll be more effective to read just one upanishad and then take a break. They’re not thematically linked (well, other than they’re all about experiences of higher consciousness) so we don’t need to read them all at once, and it’s better not to, to give the material more time to sink in. We also have to do two posture write-ups this month, just on any pose we want to learn more about.

Since I probably won’t have a lot of posts to make about the Upanishads until later in the month, this works out well for the blog – I’ll finish up our series on yoga and emotions and also get started on all the fabulous yoga and sex material! I’m so excited to share this with you!

 

September Teacher Training Weekend Summary September 20, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:53 pm
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This month, our scheduled teacher training weekend was complicated by the Haverford Music Festival. The yoga center is a Havertown local business so N and J wanted to participate in the festival (which could attract new yoga students), but we couldn’t reschedule our TT weekend either, so we crammed it all in: teacher training 6-11 PM on Friday and 9:00-10:30 AM on Saturday morning, then some of us helped to set up our table at the festival, and we all took shifts working at the table during the day. It was a good weekend, but a very full one.

On Friday night, we had our usual monthly check-in, then a lecture on yoga and emotions. We did some activities on this topic, and I got to work in a pair first with Sarah and then with Tonny, which was interesting and fun. After that we learned about the four primitive urges or fountains (which I’ll discuss in a future post), and then we had teaching practice (also a future post). A long night.

On Saturday morning we gathered to watch a video of a lecture by Swami Rama at the Himalayan Institute. The topic of the lecture was finding inner peace in a troubled world, and Swami Rama talked about the four primitive urges/fountains in the video, so it coordinated well with our lecture the night before. While Swami Rama seems to respect women highly, he also seems to think that a woman’s main job is to raise the children – which he acknowledges as the most important job in the world, but still. I may change my mind when I have a child, but I think working outside the home is important for women as well. Overall, though, the video was informative, and Swami Rama was definitely an interesting and charismatic guy – there are more videos of him on youtube that I’d like to check out sometime when I get a chance.

After the video, we were off to the festival. We helped set up by carrying boxes and tables and chairs from the studio over to our designated spot on the street, then we all took one-hour shifts to staff the table all day. We talked to people about yoga, handed out copies of the current yoga class schedule and passes for a free class, got people to enter a raffle for a free ten-class card, and I even sold a lavender neck pillow. It was fun and different to talk to people about yoga, and handing out the free class passes felt like I was giving out candy because people were so excited.

Our homework this month is to write up an intermediate level sequence of postures, which shouldn’t be a problem at all. Otherwise, no other homework except preparing for our presentations next month. My topic is yoga and sex – not in a Tantric way or a creepy way, but in a helpful practical way. I ordered two books online a few weeks ago and started reading one this morning – I’m halfway through the second chapter and so far, while the writing isn’t spectacular, the content is really good, matches up with what I think, and confirms what I’d been suspecting. I’m really excited to read further and look at the specific poses they discuss. So, dear readers, you can look forward to lots of information this month about how yoga can improve your sex life!

 

Pose of the Month: Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle August 22, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:12 pm
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Thread the Needle 1 - Side StretchPose Name:

Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle

Sanskrit Name:

I can’t find a specific Sanskrit name for this one.

Steps:

  1. Begin on hands and knees with a neutral spine. Make sure that the knees are right below the hips and that the wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in a straight line.
  2. Inhaling, life your right arm up to the ceiling. Keeping hips centered, stretch up.
  3. Exhaling, bring the right arm down, under the body, and out under the left arm. Rest the right arm and shoulder and the right temple on the floor.
  4. Rest here, or if you want a deeper stretch, extend the left arm to the ceiling.
  5. Relax into the pose, breathing deeply.
  6. When you’re ready, bring the left arm down and plant the hand on the floor. On an inhale, unwind, lifting the right arm and stretching up toward the ceiling.
  7. Release and return to a neutral tabletop pose. Repeat the twist on the other side.

Benefits:

Twisting poses compress the internal organs, releasing toxins and cleansing the body. Twists are beneficial for abdominal health. This pose also incorporates a side stretch that opens the chest.

Contraindications:

This pose is contraindicated for students with serious back/spine injuries. Pregnant students should be cautious with any twist and may want to consider doing Cat/Cow instead.

My Experience of Kneeling Twist / Thread-the-Needle:

Before coming to my current yoga center, I rarely did this pose, but now I practice it regularly both in class and at home. J often uses this pose as part of his warm-up sequence in class, and so I’ve really come to like the pose. The twisting action and side stretch begin to wake the body up for practice and also calm the mind, readying it for practice as well. The pose is refreshing by itself and makes a good warm-up too.

Thread the Needle 2 - Twist

 

August Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday Afternoon August 18, 2011

Filed under: teacher training — R. H. Ward @ 1:17 pm
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In Saturday’s afternoon training session, we mostly talked about yoga philosophy: the obstacles in our minds that prevent us from achieving enlightenment, as well as the attitudes that help us along the way.

We talked first about the kleshas: the five deficiences in the mind that obstruct us. I’ve posted about the kleshas here before, so I felt pretty solid on that. Focusing and controlling the mind can help to overcome the kleshas, which results in feeling calmer, more aware, and more balanced. We also talked about the nine obstacles to mental clarity, which I find fascinating and can’t wait to discuss here later. On the positive side, we talked about the bhavas (the four spiritual attitudes of an aspirant) and the parakarmas (four attitudes towards social relationships that help us overcome negative emotions in our dealings with others). These too I’ll discuss in more detail later this month.

Here’s our homework for August/September:

  • Read the rest of the Yoga Sutras (we’ve done all of book II so far, so I’ll be reading books I, III, and IV)
  • Write a paper on my likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions – it doesn’t have to be a long paper, but listing these things will help me to better understand my motivations and the influence of the kleshas in my life
  • Write up two inverted postures
  • Choose a topic for a 15-minute presentation to be given in October and begin research (I know my topic already – when I’m ready to get into the research, you’ll hear more!)

At the end of Saturday’s session, we split into two teams and played Yoga Jeopardy (with J acting as a hilarious Alex Trebek/Vanna White). My team got an early lead by choosing the 500-level questions, and then we swept the Sanskrit category (largely due to Joanna, who somehow appears to be fluent). The other team rallied and almost caught up to us, particularly after answering some really hard Yoga Philosophy questions (which my team totally would have missed), but ultimately my team won the day. (I must admit, I am not so unattached and advanced in my yoga training – I did whoop a little at our victory.)

 

Pose of the Month: Seated Cross-Legged Twist August 15, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:06 pm
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Pose Name:

Seated Cross-Legged Twist

Sanskrit Name:

It’s possible to add a twist to Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose), or Padmasana (Lotus Pose), depending on the ability of the student.

Steps:

  1. Come to a comfortable cross-legged position. (Take Lotus Pose if you’re able, or stack your calves so the ankle of the top leg is directly above the knee of the bottom leg for Fire Log Pose, or simply sit comfortably in Easy Pose.)
  2. Sitting up straight, bring your right hand to your left knee.
  3. Keeping your spine straight, raise your left arm to shoulder height. Lift the arm up and overhead, then turn to drop it down behind you, placing the hand right next to your hip. (Placing the hand too far behind you will have you leaning over backward.)
  4. Turn and look over the left shoulder. Let your eyes rest on a point as far to the left as you can see. Your body will naturally follow your gaze and twist more deeply into the pose.
  5. Continue to breathe smoothly and evenly as you twist.
  6. Inhaling, look toward the front of the room, then lift your left hand and stretch the left arm overhead, reaching toward the front wall for a side stretch. Feel the stretch all down the left side. You may want to grip your right hand into your left knee for leverage to stretch further. Take a slow, deep breath.
  7. On an exhale, drop the left hand to the right knee, and then fold forward over your crossed arms. Breathe into your belly.
  8. Inhaling, release and come back up to seated. Change your legs and repeat the sequence on the other side.

Benefits:

Twisting poses compress the internal organs, releasing toxins and cleansing the body. Twists are beneficial for abdominal health. This pose also incorporates a side stretch that opens the chest and a forward fold which further works the abdomen.

Contraindications:

This pose is contraindicated for students with serious back/spine injuries. Pregnant students should be cautious with any twist and with folds.

My Experience with Seated Cross-Legged Twist:

I first learned this little twisting sequence from a teacher at Yoga on Main in Manayunk and I practice it frequently. I like how it combines a twist with a side stretch and a forward fold, neatly and economically stretching a variety of muscles. I appreciate the simplicity of the leg position that makes the pose accessible to students at any level. My mind stays engaged as I move through the variations, and I find the forward fold at the end gives a feeling of completion.

 

Seated Cross-Legged Twist 2

Seated Cross-Legged Twist 1

 

 

 

 

Pose of the Month: Bridge Pose July 25, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:35 pm
Tags: , ,

Pose Name:

Bridge Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Steps:

  1. Begin by lying on your back on the floor.
  2. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on mat. Skootch your heels as close to your tush as you can.
  3. Tuck your chin.
  4. On an inhale, press your arms and feet into the floor and lift your hips into the air.
  5. If you wish, you can grab the edges of your mat with your hands, or you can clasp your hands under your back, rolling your shoulders under to open the chest even more. You can also lift your hands to support your lower back, pressing your upper arms into the floor.
  6. Continue lifting and extending the hips as high as you can. Keep the legs and feet parallel. Don’t forget to breathe!
  7. Exhaling, unclasp your hands and gently lower down to the floor. Hug your knees into your chest.

Benefits:

Bridge pose is a backbend, stretching back muscles and helping to relieve back pain, as well as a chest opener, stretching the muscles of the chest, which can improve and expand breathing. Bridge also works the muscles in the tush and abdomen. The pose stimulates abdominal organs and can improve digestion.

Counterindications:

Those with back injuries may want to avoid this pose. Those with neck injuries may want to place a folded blanket under the shoulders to protect the neck and should only practice the pose under an experienced teacher’s supervision.

My Experience of Bridge Pose:

I’ve practiced bridge pose for many years now, and my practice has grown and changed with time. When I lived in Boston, my teacher there emphasized working with the pose dynamically, coming into and out of it repeatedly. We would often do 20-30 repetitions, as if we were doing situps or pushups. Since moving to Philly and taking up a classical hatha practice, I’ve now learned to hold Bridge pose for several breaths. The two practices lead to very different experiences of the pose! I enjoyed working with Bridge athletically, and at first I resisted staying in the pose for a longer time; now I can appreciate settling in to the pose and feeling the stretch through my chest and back. I enjoy the calm, pleasant feeling I get when I practice Bridge pose.

Bridge Pose

 

Relaxation Sequence July 22, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:37 pm
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For last month’s homework, I had to prepare a relaxation sequence – the sort of thing I’d say out loud during savasana at the end of a yoga class. Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to imagine me saying this aloud in a calm, soothing voice.

Let’s start getting ready for savasana: do any last pose or twist you need to do, then come down to lie on your mat. Make sure you’re warm enough, arrange your clothing so nothing’s bothering you, and we’ll prepare the body for relaxation.

First, flex your feet: curl your toes, really tense the feet… and relax them.

Now tense your legs: engage your calf muscles, squeeze your thighs, really tighten… and relax.

Tighten your tush, squeeze it hard, really flex… and relax.

Now squeeze your belly, tighten your abs, pull it really tight… and relax.

Curl your hands into fists, squeeze them hard, flex the arms, tighten the arm muscles, push… and relax.

Pull up your shoulders, squeeze them up toward your ears, really press hard… and relax.

Now squeeze your face: scrunch up your nose and mouth and forehead, really squeeze… and relax.

Release all the tension from your body, and feel your whole body relax. Feel the floor holding you up. Let your body be heavy; let yourself just sink down into the floor and rest. Let your mind rest too: just watch your breath move in and out, in and out. Let all your worries go for just a few minutes and luxuriate here.

Savasana

I’d give the students several minutes to relax in savasana. Then I’d invite them to begin to bring movement back to the body – wiggling fingers and toes – and to roll onto one side, then up to a comfortable seated position. After a moment of meditation, we’d all say “namaste” and the class would be over.

 

July Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday (and a little Tuesday) July 20, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:19 pm
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At Saturday’s teacher training session, we spent lunch and a little class time on one-on-ones, so J & N could meet with each trainee individually to see how we’re doing. The one-on-ones lasted longer than planned, so some of us had to wait and do ours during the week. (I had mine last night, Tuesday, after class, and got to enjoy a really good conversation with N that helped me clarify that, yes, I’m on the right track; yes, I’m doing the best I can right now and once things calm down in my life my practice is going to take off; and yes, I should talk more in class; and yes, my papers are really good, but you all knew that part already because you’re basically reading my papers all month long. N also says she needs to see me teach more, which I totally understand, and that I am to thwack her in the head and remind her next time I’m in one of her classes so that I can teach a pose. I told her about my practice class at the pond and she was really glad to hear that I’d done that. Again, I’ll be trying to bank some teaching practice at home once we’re more settled in to our new house. Can’t fit more than one yogi on the porch right now since there’s still a queen-sized box spring sitting on it. Which reminds me, does anyone need a queen-sized box spring?)

Our actual class lecture on Saturday was Intro to the Bhagavad Gita. We talked about the four paths of yoga:

  • Karma Yoga: the path of action
  • Raja Yoga: the path of meditation
  • Jnana Yoga: the path of wisdom/knowledge
  • Bhakti Yoga: the path of love/devotion

We also discussed the three gunas. Guna means “strand or quality”; the gunas are three moods or influences or qualities that affect pretty much everything that happens:

  • Sattva: peacefulness, calm, contentment
  • Rajas: activity, sensuality; full of desires, attachments, and enjoyments
  • Tamas: confusion, laziness, lethargy, ignorance

The four paths and the three gunas are discussed in depth in the Bhagavad Gita, which is our reading assignment for this month. You can probably all predict that you’ll be hearing a lot more about these things later this month. We also talked about karma and about the four duties of a yogi, which I’ll describe further in a later post too.

My homework for this month is to read the Bhagavad Gita and write a reflection paper on which yogic path seems to suit my personality the best, including why I think that, what about that path resonates for me, and what evidence in my life leads me to this conclusion. We’re also doing two posture write-ups this month on twists (any ol’ twist: seated, standing, or reclining). It seems like a light homework month, but I think the intention is really for us to focus on the Gita and the four paths and to think carefully about it.

I already owned a copy of the Bhagavad Gita: Stephen Mitchell’s translation. The rest of the class is reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation. At first I figured, I already have the book, I don’t need to buy another copy, but now I’m reconsidering. First, I absolutely loved Easwaran’s Passage Meditation, so I would be very interested to see his take on the Gita. Also, given that we’re being provided the time to do some real hard work on this, I think it might benefit me to read the thing twice. I’ve already started on the Mitchell translation (just finished chapter 3, I think), and I’m a fast reader, so I’ve got plenty of time. It seems like, of all the books on yoga and spirituality out there, the Bhagavad Gita is one that it might be nice to own two translations of.

 

Pose of the Month: Cobra Pose July 17, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:14 pm
Tags: ,

Pose Name:

Cobra Pose

Sanskrit Name:

Bhujangasana

Steps:

Cobra pose is frequently practiced as part of the classic sun salutation sequence. If you are practicing cobra during sun salutation, you’d move through the sequence until you come to plank pose, then gently lower your belly down to the floor. Cobra can also be practiced independently: begin by lying on the floor on your belly.

  1. Place the hands lightly on the floor, palm down, under the shoulders. Hug the elbows against the body. Legs are active but relaxed, with the tops of the feet resting on the floor.
  2. Press the legs firmly into the floor. Using only your back and abdominal muscles, lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
  3. Press your shoulders back, opening your chest. Check on your elbows, making sure they are tucked back, keeping your forearms parallel to each other. Close the eyes or gaze at an unmoving point on the floor in front of you.
  4. All the effort of the pose should be in the back, not the arms – you should be able to lift the hands up off the floor.
  5. For a deeper variation, press through the hands, begin to straighten the arms, and lift yourself into a deeper backbend. Extend the neck and stretch the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
  6. Breathe deeply, extending further into the pose on each inhalation.
  7. To exit the pose, gently lower yourself down to rest fully on the ground. If you’re practicing sun salutations, exhale and press back to downward-facing dog.

Benefits:

Cobra pose is a backbend and chest opener. It keeps the spine healthy and expands the chest.

Counterindications:

Those with lower back problems should be very gentle with this pose, practicing only the basic pose and not pressing with the arms. Those with wrist problems may want to practice a different backbend like sphinx that puts less pressure on the wrists.

My Experience of Cobra Pose:

The vinyasa yoga classes I attended in the past emphasized practicing upward-facing dog during sun salutations, so I rarely practiced either sphinx or cobra before coming to East Eagle Yoga, and never really understood before that these poses could substitute for upward dog in a sun salutation. Since beginning my practice at East Eagle, I’ve really enjoyed playing with these poses, especially because upward dog tends to make my back hurt if I hold it too long. At first I felt like I was taking a step backward by choosing cobra over up dog, but now cobra pose has become a really good alternative for me – as a gentler backbend, it allows me to work my back muscles without my arms forcing me into an uncomfortable posture. Also, practicing cobra at the beginning of my practice warms my back up and prepares it for more intensive stretches later on. I like the feeling of opening in my chest that I get when I do cobra pose. Even more, I like the feeling that I’m protecting and strengthening my spine.

Cobra Pose

 

Meditation Round-Up July 15, 2011

Filed under: checking in,meditation — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
Tags: , ,

This month has been incredibly challenging on a personal level. Two days after our last teacher training weekend ended, my husband and I bought our first house, and since then, we’ve either been packing, moving, arranging for repairs, spending hours looking for tools we never needed before at Lowe’s, learning how to do yard work, and just plain settling in. I haven’t had any time for reading other than when I’m on the train to and from the office, and my personal yoga practice has suffered too. Add to that the fact that this was a short yoga month with just three weeks between teacher training weekend sessions, so it’s been difficult for me to complete all my homework this month, and with all the chaos, difficult to see whether the meditation was having any effect in my life.

However, I do feel like I’ve made some progress with meditation this month. I have meditated every single day: even if I was just sitting down for four minutes in a room full of boxes, I still did it. Most days, I was able to do a little yoga or basic stretching before meditation, and every day I’ve done some sort of pranayama before meditation. I feel really glad that I’ve been able to make this a priority.

During this month, I’ve practiced either counting meditation or passage meditation. When I know I only have a few minutes, counting meditation has been a good option because it only takes a few minutes to count down from fifty; it’s like a built-in timer. For the most part, I have been able to keep my mind relatively on track during counting meditation; I’ve had some distractions, but never so much that I lose my place in the count. I’ve become amazed by how many thoughts I’m able to have between exhales! Staying focused on the breath and the count is difficult, especially with so many tasks on my mind this month, but I’ve mostly been able to stick with it.

I’ve also practiced passage meditation. With so little time available to read spiritual books or to meditate at all, I chose a line from a Rumi poem as my passage and have just stuck with that – it’s short enough that I feel like I can get somewhere with it in the few minutes I have available to meditate, but long enough that there’s good spiritual content to get somewhere with. Meditating on the passage has been interesting in different ways. Occasionally I’ve caught myself daydreaming in the background while the words of the passage float on the surface; once I found myself getting sleepy and substituting in other words and images that weren’t part of the passage. Overall, though, I find the passage technique to be really helpful for me in relaxing my mind and having something to focus on. The passage technique has also led me to consider different interpretations of my passage. For example, it occurred to me that one phrase that I had thought was about worship could just as easily be about service; I realized that another phrase that I’d thought was about natural physical beauty could also be interpreted as being about kindness. These realizations have carried beyond my meditation practice and led me to consider how I practice service and kindness in my life.

I’ve also found myself thinking about more spiritual topics this month. Usually when I’m moving, I get very caught up in the physical tasks that need to be done, and I have been caught up in those things, but I’ve also been thinking about more spiritual concepts. For example, I reflected on patience: how slowing down is mentioned in almost every text we’ve read, and how slowing down and being patient can help us in our daily lives. I also did some thinking about striving for excellence, and reflecting on how teacher training has influenced my thoughts, opinions, and actions in this realm. My reading in the yoga sutras this month has also affected my spiritual reflections. I’ve also been thinking a lot about practicing non-attachment (especially as I pack all my worldly possessions into boxes and carry them around).

Overall, in spite of all the personal challenges in my life this month, I feel good about the time I was able to create in my schedule for meditation practice, and I’m happy about the progress I’ve made. I look forward to continuing the journey.

 

 
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