Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Teacher Training Weekend: Friday Night Anatomy Class May 20, 2011

Filed under: reflections,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:58 pm
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Tonight was our May teacher training Friday night class, and I’m too excited to go to bed. Tonight we had an anatomy lesson with a special guest teacher, Jeanne, who is both a yoga teacher and a physical therapist with 20+ years of experience. She gave a talk about the anatomy of the spine and how it applies to yoga. Some of you might be thinking, “Anatomy lesson? On a Friday night?!”, but this may be the best thing that has happened during teacher training yet.

First, some background. My dad is in his 50s. He did hard physical labor all his life, and it took a toll on his body. He’s had knee problems, foot problems, and back problems, most recently resulting in two spinal surgeries in the past year, with another one possible on the horizon. He’s a bigger dude and thinks his weight might not be helping the problem, so since his last surgery he’s been trying hard to get in shape. He goes to the gym every day, does some aqua aerobics classes, swims some laps, puts in time on the stationary bike. This in spite of severe daily pain. I admire his dedication so much and I’m so proud of him.

Last month, Dad offered to be my beginner guinea pig so I could practice teaching, and asked me when I was going to come up and do yoga with him, but I put him off. I was too nervous – I didn’t want to hurt him by accident. My dad’s health is so close to my heart, I couldn’t stand it if I made his pain worse. My aunt and cousin, who are also beginners at yoga and who have a few health problems between them, have also been asking when I’m going to come teach them. Plus, at the middle school where my mother teaches, apparently the entire faculty want me to teach them a class too. The whole thought was just overwhelming.

Tonight at training, we started the evening by doing our group share. Most of us talked about the experience of doing the posture write-ups this month and what we learned, but one woman mentioned that she’d been really nervous about teaching beginner yoga classes, so she experimented on her mom and her husband, and learned a lot. Another classmate chimed in that she’d been teaching her husband too, and J told us that this is our gold, finding family and friends that we can practice teaching on. My first thought was, but how do I work with my dad when I’m afraid I’m going to break him?

And then Jeanne started her lecture. We learned about how the spine is constructed, how each spinal disc sits like a little jelly doughnut in the vertebrae. When you put pressure on the disc wall, it pooges out a little, and presses on the nerves coming out of the spine; depending on where in the spine the pressure is, this can cause pain in the arms or legs, because the nerves going to the extremities all originate in the spine. When you put more pressure on the disc wall, it cracks and the jelly oozes out, which really impinges on the nerves. And I’m having these revelations: this is what is going on in my father’s back! We talked about each section of the spine and the common problems that occur there, and what poses can be used to counter those problems. I’m taking notes like a madwoman and starting a list in the back of my notebook of poses that might work for my dad and poses that we should avoid doing. After class, I approached Jeanne, explained my situation and asked what she might recommend, and we had a good conversation and she gave me some ideas.

After class I felt so incredibly inspired and jazzed up that I tried to call my dad from the car on the way home, but I couldn’t get the speakerphone to work, so I drove home and then called from the parking lot. I had to tell him how excited I was. Now I can work with him without having to worry about hurting him. I’ll still be mindful, of course, and watch him carefully, and I want to see what exercises his physical therapist gave him so I don’t contradict anything, but now I know what to avoid (specifically: lengthy forward bends). I have a short list of poses that shouldn’t hurt his back and might possibly help a little, and when I see what his capacity is, we can go from there.

Having a little bit of confidence that I can try to help my dad gives me some confidence that I can try to work with other beginning students, too. (Apparently that was the key – kind of a weird key, but I’ll take it.) And just the whole night tonight! Jeanne is doing work that I’m really passionate about. She teaches yoga at a retirement center. That is exactly what I want to do. I really want to work with older people, help keep them healthy and flexible. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time now, but the thought of it is a little overwhelming because, well, older people are more fragile and have more health concerns to worry about. There’s so much more I need to learn before I can do it effectively and safely and helpfully. This lesson tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of all I need to know to do any part of what Jeanne does, but I have a little faith now that I have the capacity to understand this work and the enthusiasm to make it happen.

And I may never get to sleep tonight but it’s totally worth it.

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Pose of the Month: Pigeon Pose

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:10 pm
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Pigeon Pose - FoldedPose Name:

Pigeon Pose (One-Legged King Pigeon)

Sanskrit Name:

Kapotanasana (or, more fully, Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Steps:

  1. Begin in downward-facing dog.
  2. Step the right foot up toward the hands, and lay the right leg on the mat: right knee behind right hand, right foot in behind left hand. The right heel should be in line with your left hip point.
  3. Lower your body down onto the floor. Straighten the left leg and lengthen it straight behind you; uncurl the left toes and press the top of the left foot into the floor.
  4. Bring your hands back alongside your hips. Pressing your hands into the floor, breathe in and rise up into a gentle backbend.
  5. Lengthen your spine. Make sure your weight is distributed evenly over both hips.
  6. Fold forward over the right leg. Keep your spine straight and don’t hunch your back. You can rest your hands or elbows on the floor in front of you. If you’re able to bend more deeply, rest your forearms on the floor. You can cross your arms and rest your forehead on your hands, or stretch your arms straight out and rest your forehead on the floor.
  7. Breathe slowly and deeply as you relax into the pose. Don’t push yourself – let gravity pull you deeper into the pose.
  8. Press palms into the floor and come out of the pose, pressing back into downward-facing dog. If you are able, curl your left toes under and press back while bringing your right leg straight up into one-legged dog.
  9. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits:

Pigeon pose is a deep hip opener and stretches the thighs, groins, and psoas. Stretching the piriformis muscle can relieve sciatic pain.

Contraindications:

Those with hip or knee problems should practice this pose gently. Those with lower back problems may want to omit the backbend. Pregnant students should take care with any forward-bending pose.

My Experience of Pigeon Pose:

I love pigeon pose. It’s a pose that just feels good! I love the feeling of my hips opening in this pose. When I practice pigeon, I always feel I can just relax and enjoy the pose. My mind feels calm and relaxed in this pose. I also feel a sense of achievement that I can bend forward and rest comfortably in the pose.

Pigeon is also challenging – I’ve been working on the royal pigeon backbending variation, but my hips and low back aren’t quite open enough to move deeply into the backbend. I have a long way to go before I’ll be able to bring the back foot up to my head! I love that pigeon still has challenges in store and provides a deep stretch no matter what the level of the yoga student.


Pigeon Pose - Side