Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Some Personal Reflections June 16, 2011

Filed under: reflections — R. H. Ward @ 6:41 pm
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“Buddhist training offers an alternative approach to experiencing life from an essentially fear-based perspective of survival in favor of experiencing it as a parade of odd and wonderful events.” – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, The Joy of Living, page 81

Dear readers, here at the yoga blog I try to keep the focus on what you’re here for: the yoga. But lately I’ve been taking stock of where I’m at and what else is going on in my life, and I thought you might indulge me in some personal reflections.

One year ago next week, I married an amazing man. Afterwards we crashed out for a while, then got started planning a spectacular (and yogaful!) honeymoon in Belize. With those milestones over, I thought 2011 would be a year to get back to some old projects and start on new ones. I had no idea how much sheer stuff was going to happen in 2011. I had some vague goals in mind: make progress with yoga and maybe look for a teacher training program; get back to my writing and try to make some progress towards starting a freelance editing business; and on a personal level, think about maybe buying a house. Here’s what’s actually happened so far this year:

  • I found a teacher training program, signed up, and made a lot of progress. This, you know in detail already.
  • On the writing and editing front, I attended a writing conference in February, reconnecting with old friends and making valuable new connections. I started this blog, which has been in different ways both easier and more difficult than I expected. I wrote my first professional book review and sent it out to a number of magazines, I had three poems accepted at literary journals, I did a proofreading job for a small press I like a lot, and biggest news of all, I found out that my chapbook manuscript won the editor’s prize in a contest and will be published next year.
  • F and I found a realtor, started house hunting, fell in love with a house, made an offer, got turned down, made another offer, got accepted, had a home inspection and a termite inspection and a radon inspection and a sewer inspection, applied for a mortgage, got an appraisal, and settlement is scheduled for June 27, god willing and the creek don’t rise.
  • A bunch of unexpected things also happened, some good, some less good. I won a big award at my current job. F got some welcome recognition at his job. F and I traveled to Arizona for a great vacation and a wonderful wedding. We had a getaway weekend in Rhode Island with fabulous friends. I took an eight-week African dance class, we saw an amazing play in NYC (twice), I became a member at a museum I love and went to a bunch of really interesting lectures. I had a business trip that involved my presence in Chicago for less than 24 hours. I had an extremely minor surgery, F fell down some stairs and fractured his shoulder, and we got rear-ended on the highway (we’re both fine, but the damages on the car are estimated in the thousands of dollars). None of those things except for attending the wedding were things I could have planned in advance.

And 2011 is only half over! Look at how many things I’ve done and how many things have happened already. On the horizon, I know that we’re going to get our car fixed, spend all our savings on a house, and pack all our stuff and move into said house; I know that F is going to attend a two-week writing conference that will be good for his career (but lonely for his loving wife), and I’ll finish my teacher training and become a registered yoga teacher (again, god willing and the creek don’t rise). I know that we have these things planned now, but I don’t know how the details are going to unfold. I don’t know what wonderful surprises the rest of 2011 has in store for us.

So, happy early-anniversary to my wonderful F. I assume we’ll still be married, not only on our actual anniversary on Monday, but for many more wild, enchanting, surprising, amazing years. I know that no matter what the rest of 2011 has in store for us, we’ll handle it awesomely together.

And, dear readers, happy blogiversary. We’ve been together for three months now, and it’s been pretty cool, I think. Here’s to experiencing life not as something to survive, but as a parade of odd and wonderful events. Here’s to embracing whatever comes.


Thoughts from Last Night’s Class June 15, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 7:06 pm
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A few miscellaneous thoughts on last night’s yoga class:

  • N’s classes are a pretty amazing workout. I feel challenged in a completely different way than I do in J’s class. It’s kind of humbling, actually, because I think it’s not hard for me to get puffed up about my yoga practice, and N’s class brings me right back down to earth where I belong. It doesn’t matter how bendy or strong you are – what matters is the intention behind the practice – but really, I am not so bendy or strong as I think I am.
  • N’s class also serves to make me feel old. Last night, my back hurt, the backs of my knees hurt, my standing leg hurt all through the balance poses, and my arms hurt and wobbled all over the place. The arms are a strength thing, and clearly I’m working on that just by showing up, but the back and the knees could be age-related. N’s classes, while inspiring me to do more, work harder, and get stronger, also remind me to be careful, be mindful, and not hurt myself.
  • Speaking of the standing leg in balance poses, N had us do another balance sequence that kicked my butt again. I think the issue for me is that we’re going from balance poses where we bent forward (like ardha chandrasana) into balance poses where we’re upright (like crane and tree). Plus, putting that much pressure on the standing leg for several poses in a row without a break is really rough, and N doesn’t give us time to shake it out after we come down. (I say “without a break” but I gave myself several breaks last night, and it was still really tough.) This looks to be just one more area where I need to practice ahimsa and be gentle with myself.
  • When I find myself hurting in yoga class, or unable for whatever reason to keep up and do the pose as everyone else is doing it, I have a tendency to get angry. How long have we been holding this?!, I’ll think to myself, or Down-dog twist again? We’ve done it five times now! Last night it was really hard for me to practice tapas and work through the burn, and really hard to practice ahimsa and counter those negative thoughts with positive ones. Again, I have to turn my brain around and see this as an opportunity: a difficult yoga class is frustrating, but it’s going to make me stronger, and my negative thoughts are natural, but they give me a chance to practice some loving-kindness towards myself. If I need to rest, it’s okay to rest.
  • I hate ardha chandrasana. I really, really do. I’m practicing it more this month and I’m improving, but still. It is just Not Fun.
  • And speaking of Not Fun, someone near me in last night’s class was experiencing a gas problem. Now, I have nothing but sympathy for whoever it was – I’ve been that person before, we’ve all been that person – but it just makes the whole “deep even breathing” thing a little more difficult. Grabbing my lavender-filled eye pillow for savasana was a big relief, let me tell you.

Ayurveda: what’s it all about? June 14, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:49 pm
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One of my assignments this month was to complete an ayurvedic questionnaire and explore the results. My first response was, wait, back up, what’s ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an alternative form of medicine traditional in India, with a history going back thousands of years. It’s a system of healthful, mindful living based on the concept of balancing three elemental energies called doshas: vata (air/wind), pitta (fire/water), and kapha (water/earth). Ayurveda holds that each person has different levels of these three doshas, and poor health comes from an imbalance in the doshas. Balancing the doshas, in a unique way for each individual, will lead to better health. This balance can be accomplished by focusing on diet (to improve metabolic system, digestion, and excretion), exercise, yoga, meditation, and even massage. In balancing the doshas and living in moderation, it’s thought that the body, mind, and spirit will also come into balance, improving the health of the whole person.

Each person has a unique distribution of the three doshas. Each person has some of each, but often one or two doshas are more abundant; by examining your physical attributes and personality (for example, in a quiz like this one), you can find out which is your dominant dosha. Your dosha levels can fluctuate, affecting mood and health, which is why it can be helpful to bring them back into alignment and balance! I took N’s ayurvedic questionnaire and came up almost equal in vata and pitta, with a very low level of kapha by comparison.

Vata, the air or wind element, is characterized physically by a thin, delicate body type with low body fat. A vata person is sensitive, jumpy or unable to sit still, easily overwhelmed, flighty, often runs late, easily confused. A vata dominant person who is well-balanced will demonstrate the most positive traits of this type: sharp, quick thinking, creative, while an unbalanced vata person could experience gas, bloating, lack of focus, spaciness, dry skin, nervousness, sleeplessness, and worry. A vata should avoid low-fat, raw, or cold foods in favor of warm, heavier foods.

The pitta element combines fire and water. Physically, a pitta type is medium-framed and well-proportioned; personality traits include being focused, organized, “type A”, workaholic. A pitta person tends to need to eat regularly and gets cranky when she misses a meal. When balanced, pittas are productive, organized, energetic, enthusiastic; unbalanced, pittas become agitated, irritable, and overly competitive and may experience diarrhea, rashes, and perspiration. Pittas should avoid overly spicy foods and red meat, choosing sweeter foods.

Finally, kaphas are earth and water types: physically larger or big-boned, not necessarily overweight but able to gain weight easily, and can be powerful athletes when in shape. Kaphas are grounded, stable, solid, slower moving, sensual. Balanced kaphas are reliable, dependable, calm, even-tempered, and peacemakers, while unbalanced kaphas can be lethargic, depressed, dull and sluggish, congested, and overweight. Kaphas should avoid fatty and heavy foods, dairy, and red meat, and choose lighter grains and proteins.

I think my results are pretty accurate. There were a few questions I could have answered differently, but doing so wouldn’t have changed the overall balance. I have a lot of vata and pitta characteristics. At my best I have the quickness and creativity of vata and the focus, organization, and productivity of the pitta. At my worst, I get the vata’s spaciness, dry skin, nervousness, lack of focus, and worry, and the pitta’s irritability and rashes. I definitely have the pitta need to eat regular meals (as F’s family can attest; I’ve started packing snacks for myself when we visit because they just don’t seem to eat on a schedule!). The food recommendations for vata and pitta are a little contradictory (the above is just a summary) but on both lists I see things that really appeal to me and that I’ve been naturally drawn to: lighter proteins, creamy soups, mashed sweet potatoes (vata), and fresh lime, dark leafy greens, sweet vegetables (pitta). My yoga teacher N is an ayurvedic practitioner, and I’m considering having a session with her to look at these things more closely.

Interestingly, I made F take the questionnaire with me, and he came up almost completely balanced among the three doshas. Looking at the descriptions, F has many characteristics of each dosha: he’s stronger in vata and kapha than pitta, but all three were within four points of each other. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. Apparently I have a well-balanced husband.


Soaring on Two Wings June 13, 2011

Filed under: books,reflections,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:27 pm

A few months back, I was doing some yoga reading and came across the idea of having “two wings” to support you in your practice. In the February 2011 issue of Yoga Journal, Stacey Mietus writes about re-learning yoga after a serious injury (page 20). Mietus had been practicing yoga in a competitive way, always trying aggressively to improve her postures, but after hurting her neck she had to find a new approach. She quotes as an inspiration B.K.S. Iyengar, who wrote, “A bird cannot fly with one wing. In the same way, we need the two wings of practice and renunciation to soar.” Mietus had been practicing hard, but to keep herself healthy, she had to learn to balance with renunciation: not comparing herself with others, not judging herself when her body needed to rest. Her injury forced her to back off and take a new, gentler approach; now she strives to practice with both wings to stay balanced.

I read Mietus’s story in Yoga Journal while riding the train home from work. Later that same day, I settled down with the book The Joy of Living by Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingur Rinpoche for a little bedtime reading, and I was surprised to see Rinpoche bring up the very same idea of flying on two wings! He uses the concept in relation to Buddhist practice and study. The teachings of Buddha are often grouped into two categories: teachings on wisdom, and teachings on practice. Rinpoche tells us that Buddha himself compared these two categories to the wings of a bird, because you need both in order to fly.  Without wisdom, you can’t practice properly; without practice, you may be wise but the wisdom does you no good.

Although yoga isn’t a Buddhist practice, Rinpoche’s description of the two wings in Buddhism has much in common with Mietus’s experience with yoga. Rather than putting all her energy into simply practicing hard, she needed to examine her yoga practice and approach it with more wisdom to avoid hurting herself.

Reading about the two wings in two disparate books on the same day really struck me – clearly this is something I ought to be thinking about! I like to practice yoga in a physically challenging way, but unless I am mindful in my practice, my yoga becomes only a workout without satisfying me in a spiritual way. On the other hand, right now my life is so busy that I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about yoga but don’t have much time to actually practice yoga on my mat. I crave both the mindfulness and knowledge as well as the physical practice, and I’m happiest when I have these in balance. Similarly, I often read books like Rinpoche’s about Buddhism, but until I sit down and practice meditation, the knowledge I gain from the book won’t do me any good. The practice and the knowledge go hand in hand.

In our busy world, it’s often difficult to strike a balance. What are the two wings that sustain you, and how do you keep them balanced?


books: Science of Breath: A Practical Guide, by Swami Rama, et al. June 12, 2011

Filed under: books,breath — R. H. Ward @ 6:49 pm
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Science of Breath, by Swami Rama, et al.This slim book provides a practical introduction to the yogic concept of breath and how to utilize it to link body and mind. With chapters written by Swami Rama and by medical doctors, the book explores both Eastern and Western perspectives for a well-rounded view of the topic, helping the reader to understand first the mechanics of how and why we breathe before delving into the yogic breathing techniques.

The Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter 1 give background on the breath and explore the rationale behind focusing on breathing. Prana, or life energy, is defined and discussed, and the authors describe the benefits of developing a deeper awareness of our breath.

In Chapter 2, Dr. Alan Hymes explains the physical mechanics of breathing: what respiration is and why we do it, how the lungs oxygenate the blood, which muscles are involved in inhalation and exhalation, and how those muscles work. Hymes also explicates the differences between diaphragmatic breathing, thoracic/chest breathing, and clavicular/shallow breathing. The chapter reveals how breathing, a seemingly simple process, is actually a complex and vitally important function for the body.

Chapter 3 by Dr. Rudolph Ballantine details the anatomy of the nose, nasal cavity, and sinuses, and how these areas shape the air currents we breathe and the odors we smell. Ballantine gives strategies for keeping the nose healthy and functioning properly, including nasal wash (neti pot) and alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhanam).

Chapter 4, written by Swami Rama, expands upon how to regulate the breath and use it to control energy in the body. Rama likens the mind to a kite on a string: when the string is held skillfully, you can guide the kite where you want it to go, but until you learn to control the string, the kite will flap around directionlessly. Like a kite’s string, pranayama is a tool we can learn to use to control the mind. Rama states that there’s a reciprocal relationship between breath and mind. We’ve all observed that a certain mood (for example, anger, fear, or passion) can result in a change on one’s breathing pattern; the converse is also true, that consciously changing one’s breathing can affect one’s state of mind. Rama explains, “By consciously making the breath deep, even, and regular, we will experience a noticeable release of tension and an increased sense of relaxation and tranquility” (84). Rama goes on to offer a series of breathing techniques that one can use to achieve this result.

Overall, this is a useful book for anyone interested in pranayama and meditation. The photos and diagrams throughout the book are quite useful for understanding the medical anatomic concepts and the physical yoga positions described. The medically focused chapters on respiration and nasal function are particularly helpful for readers more used to Western science than Eastern philosophy, making the book a good stepping stone towards further reading, but the book is highly worthwhile in its own right as a comprehensive discussion of the function of breath.


mid-month check-in on pranayama practice June 9, 2011

Filed under: breath,checking in,reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:38 pm
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It’s been over two weeks since my last teacher training weekend, and my next one is in just over two weeks. So how am I doing with the daily pranayama practice?

I think I’ve been doing okay. I have practiced my diaphragmatic breathing, three-part breathing, and alternate nostril breathing for 14 days out of the past 18 days. Sometimes I practice in the morning, sometimes in the evening, sometimes somewhere random like at my desk at work, in my parked car, or on the train (I can do regular breathing no problem in random places, it’s just the alternate nostril breathing that looks a little crazy to passersby and that I try to be careful of). I’ve been keeping my journal and tracking the time of day (or location if needed) and how many of each type of breath, plus any thoughts that come to me during the practice. Here are some reflections so far:

May 25: I’m starting to see correlations with the left and right dominant nostril that match up with what I’ve been taught (that when the left nostril is dominant, the body’s energy is calming, soothing, lethargic; when right nostril is dominant, body’s energy is vigorous, energetic, warmed up). I got to work yesterday and was tired – left nostril was dominant. Busy all evening, energy high, and it’s time for bed – right nostril was dominant. Woke up at 3:30 in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep – right dominant. Woke up with the alarm and didn’t want to get out of bed – left dominant. Just observing the patterns for now and trying a little to influence them with alternate nostril breathing.

May 26: The distinct movements of the three-part breath are becoming easier, more automatic (after three days of practice).

May 27: I’ve been doing three-part breathing at odd times, like on the train or in the car, not just when I’m sitting quietly at home.

May 31: I’ve noticed that diaphragmatic breathing makes me yawn – the breath just doesn’t feel deep enough to fill up my lungs completely. This is in contrast to what my teachers and the book say, that diaphragmatic breathing is best. In my experience, three-part breathing is a better, deeper, more filling breath. Am I missing something?

June 1: I noticed that diaphragmatic breathing is more comfortable and feels deeper when I’m lying on my back (practicing at bedtime). Three-part breath is more uncomfortable to practice while lying down.

June 5: Almost halfway through my month of breathing. Starting to feel some calmness during three-part breath, but diaphragmatic breath is still uncomfortable and alternate nostril breathing is unpleasant because one nostril is always too clogged. The alternate-nostril technique doesn’t seem to improve the clogged-up nostril but rather seems to make it worse (this has been an issue for the past few days, maybe allergies? I’m breathing fine and clearly when I can use both nostrils). Also, note that it’s hard to practice pranayama while wearing jeans.

Overall, though, much like with my posture write-ups, I find it difficult to write about what I’m feeling during a practice. With the pranayama, I’m often thinking about how clogged my nose is, or I’m thinking about how many more breaths I need to do, and that just makes me feel agitated. Or I’m thinking about something else entirely (which happens during my yoga practice too), and then I realize I’m doing it and then I feel bad. But what’s the root, baseline feeling? Is this one of those things where, just by observing a situation, you change what’s happening and make it different? Particles are like that in physics. Maybe brains behave the same way.


Yoga Class with N June 8, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:11 am

Last night my neck was feeling back to normal (meaning: tight and full of stress and tension, but no more than usual), so I headed to the yoga center and had a great practice in N’s class. Tuesday night’s class is on the schedule as an “All Levels” class, but N seemed to know everyone in the room and she definitely taught a challenging class, the sort of class where downward dog really is a resting pose and a relief. It’s been a long time since I was so sweaty in a yoga class that I couldn’t hold on to my own slippery leg and was wiping my face on my pants. Definitely need to remember to bring a towel to N’s classes in the future!

N’s class was different from J’s typical class, maybe because I usually catch J’s class when it really is an “All Levels” class. J almost always structures his classes the same way, typically does basic sun salutations with lunges, and always has us hold the poses a long time. N’s class was more of a vinyasa flow; we did vinyasa-style sun salutations, moving on each inhale and exhale rather than holding each pose for a few breaths. I knew I was in for something different when one of the first poses we did was crow. We came back and did arm balances several times over the course of the class. I didn’t always practice an arm balance – I did crow once, but sometimes I just hung out in a squat or did leg stretches – but the other women in the room were doing crow, side crow, tripod, handstand, all kinds of cool stuff.

At one point N linked several balance poses together so we were on one foot for a while without coming down. I can’t remember the exact sequence we did, but the poses included ardha chandrasana (half moon), standing split, crane, dancer, tree, and two ardha chandrasana variations: one in which the raised arm was behind the back in a twist/bind; one in which the raised hand held the raised foot, almost like in dancer pose but with the other hand on the floor. This last I could not do at all. The balance chain was overall really tough on me and I had to keep coming back to standing split, which was the easiest of the forward-bending balances (with both hands on the floor), and after each balance chain I really needed to stretch out the standing leg. I think the fact that this sequence was so rough for me means that I need to go to N’s classes more often. N also had us do a different inversion sequence: starting in plow, lifting one leg at a time up to shoulder stand, and then working into lotus in shoulder stand, rolling out that way, and doing a lotus fish. Pretty intense stuff. I don’t do lotus so I just played with cobbler pose a bit in my shoulder stand.

To come from J’s class, which is slower paced and tends to have many beginning students, to N’s class, fast-paced, with an all-female group of students who were doing advanced arm balances like side crow and handstand and who could handle the difficult balance and inversion sequences, was really kind of inspiring. You don’t always see women doing those sorts of challenging poses, especially not ones relying on arm strength. This class was an amazing workout and I felt like I was really able to relax in my savasana, which doesn’t always happen in J’s classes. I think I may stick with N’s Tuesday class for a while rather than J’s Monday class – not because of the headstand, although that’s part of it, but because N’s classes have different things to teach me and it will be a different way to challenge myself. I do still plan to talk to J, but I think I’ll spend some time with N for a while.


thoughts on doing posture write-ups June 7, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:52 pm
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This month we’re supposed to do posture write-ups on any two standing poses. So far, I’ve chosen the poses I want to write about: wide-legged standing forward fold, and ardha chandrasana. Both of these poses are very challenging for me in different ways. However, I’m still struggling with the idea of observing and discussing my own experience of the pose.

The first month, with the forward folds, writing about my own experience was really difficult for me. Last month, we had to write up our most and least favorite poses, so it was much easier because we were picking poses that we actually had feelings about. Now we’re back to “pick any pose in this category”, and when I think about the regular poses that I do well (for example, triangle pose, or warrior 1), I can’t for the life of me think of what I feel in these poses. When I try to pay attention when I’m doing the pose, I have no problem noticing how my body feels, but I don’t see anything specific related to that particular pose going on in my mind. Other than anatomic things (like having to be careful of my knee in triangle pose), I feel pretty much the same no matter what pose I’m doing. Calm, strong, distracted, tired: it just depends on my mood that day. No particular pose really stirs up anything specific for me. Having to do this exercise is really frustrating, it feels fake to me, I feel very resistant to it, and I will go out on a limb and say I kind of hate it.

So, this month, I am picking two poses that are challenging for me, because if a pose is physically challenging, I can talk about that and be excused from talking about my stupid monkey brain and how it’s not doing anything useful. However, this is still problematic because I just decided a few days ago which poses I would write up, and so I haven’t been practicing them all month, so I still might not have anything good to write about. I did the “I don’t have anything to write about so I’m writing about that” thing the first month and I don’t know if I can get away with it again, although in a sense, if that’s still where I’m at with this, then that’s a valid place to be. I’ll be interested to see what comments I get back from last month’s assignment, maybe that’ll help.


Pranayama: Ujjayi Breathing June 6, 2011

Filed under: breath,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 9:02 pm
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If you’ve taken a few yoga classes, you’ve probably heard of ujjayi breathing. If you haven’t heard the term, you might recognize it as that sort of loud, raspy, almost a little embarrassing breathing noise that your yoga teacher makes. Why, you may ask, do yoga teachers breathe funny like that? I’ll tell you how to try a few breaths at home, and then once you’ve got the noise down, I’ll tell you more about it and why it can be beneficial.

To begin ujjayi breathing, take a deep breath in through your nose. Now open your mouth and exhale while whispering the word “Ha”. Make the “Ha” last the length of your exhale; don’t vocalize the “Ha” or say it out loud, just whisper it. Do this a few times and notice how your throat constricts when you do it. Then shut your mouth. Keep thinking “Ha” and see if you can still make the same noise, with the same throat constriction, while exhaling only through your nose. Engage your abdominal muscles to help press all the air out. Got it? Now try to make the noise as you inhale through the nose too. If it helps, think “Sa” on your inhale. See if you can feel the cool air on the roof of your mouth as you inhale and exhale.

Ujjayi breathing sounds funny when you do it, but once you get past feeling self-conscious about the sound, you can use this technique as a tool to improve your yoga practice. Ujjayi means “victory”. It’s a warming breath that creates heat in the body. I feel like the throat constriction helps me to get a deeper, fuller breath. When you combine ujjayi with diaphragmatic breathing, you can powerfully cleanse stale air from the bottom of your lungs and get fresh oxygen moving through your system.

Use ujjayi breath during yoga class to help build up heat as you practice. We already know that focusing on the breath can help us to stay strong and hold poses longer; the ujjayi breath helps with that by being a nice deep breath, and having a nice deep breath makes it easier to keep the breathing slow and steady. Believe it or not, the sound helps too. Hearing yourself breathe a slow, deep, steady breath can be soothing to the mind and can help you focus.

This is why your yoga teacher breathes so loudly: she’s using the sound to calm the students and remind them to breathe. Imagine it: there you are, trying to hold your plank or high lunge or whatever pose it is that challenges you most, and you’re wobbling away, your arms or legs are shaking and you want to be done with it already. Your teacher comes over to you and makes some minor adjustment to your posture (or maybe she just adjusts the guy next to you), and of course she’s breathing loudly, slowly and evenly. Without noticing that it’s happening, you try to deepen your breath to match hers; maybe you were even holding your breath, but now you’re breathing deeply, and maybe you wobble a little less, or feel a little burst of strength to carry you through the pose.

Ujjayi breath is a breath of heat and energy and victory. Engaging ujjayi breath always make me feel determined to keep holding the pose. It’s good for tapas! Practice it whenever you can, even off your mat (if there’s no one around to look at you like you’re a crazy person), and you may find it helps with whatever you’re dealing with.


Headstand Drama June 5, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 3:34 pm
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Yesterday I went to the 10:30 morning yoga class. Class was good and I was feeling great until we got to inversions. I decided to do a headstand (which I rarely do at the yoga center, only when I’m feeling particularly strong and confident). I did my headstand, held for a few minutes, and came down, and then J came over to me. He explained that I had my elbows too wide in the headstand – the elbows shouldn’t be wider than the shoulders, so I should bring them in closer together. He also said I should bring my feet close together, as that would make it easier to balance. Then he told me to try it again.

I had some difficulty lifting back up into headstand – I’d already done it once and was a little tired. Also, the new arm position felt unnatural. J helped me lift my ankles. As soon as I was vertical in the pose, I knew it wasn’t right for me: I felt very uncomfortable and my neck really hurt, which is a major problem in a headstand. Thinking back now, I think that with the new arm position I wasn’t able to press strongly enough through my arms, putting all the pressure on my head and thus my neck. Either the new position made it physically difficult for me to press strongly, or I wasn’t confident enough with it to press strongly, but either way it was a problem. I wanted to come down out of the pose right away, but J was in front of me holding my ankles, so if I had dropped down I would have kicked him in the face. I panicked and didn’t say anything because I was afraid I’d (A) cry or (B) shout, so I just kept my mouth shut. I tried to press down through my arms to alleviate the pressure on my neck, but I don’t think it helped much, and I tried to follow J’s instructions about lifting my hips and keeping my feet together. I have no idea how I did with this. The base for my headstand was so uncertain and uncomfortable that I don’t know how well I held up at all. As soon as J moved aside, I dropped down. I tried to do a few neck stretches, but I was really shaken. Then it was time for sivasana.

I spent most of sivasana alternately being really angry and upset and trying to calm myself down. I felt angry foremost at J for making me do this modification that turned out to be so painful and so scary. But I knew I couldn’t be too angry with him – he’s a yoga teacher, not a mind reader. Also, he knows I’m an experienced student and should be able to trust me not to do something that hurts (while I on the other hand should be able to trust him not to hurt me, but this is a circular argument). I was angry most of all at myself for not being better able to respond to the situation. I know that I can have trouble with my neck in headstand and I could have been more careful; I could have told him I didn’t want to do the pose again; or I could have said something when it hurt, even if it resulted in me crying or shouting. Sticking it out through a tough pose is one thing, but when a pose actually causes pain, you’re supposed to come out of it or modify it right away. I felt angry that I let that situation happen, even though there didn’t seem to be anything else I could do at the time (short of kicking my teacher in the face).

I got myself mostly calmed down by the time we got to meditation. After class, I tried to wait to talk to J, but there was a new student in the class and he always likes to check in with new students after class. I used the rest room, and when I came back upstairs, everyone else was gone except J and the new student, who were talking in the back room, so I left too. I spent the afternoon with my parents and managed to put the bad feelings out of my mind.

I woke up this morning with a really, really sore neck. I still feel upset with J, and with myself. I think I do need to talk to him about this because I don’t want this to affect our working relationship (considering we’re stuck with each other until December) and plus he just deserves to know. Also, I want to talk about the pose itself and why he felt it necessary to modify my headstand in that way. Would keeping my elbows wide eventually lead to some other sort of injury? Right now I’m torn between wanting to practice playing with the new arm position in a safe way at home (after the current soreness heals, of course), wanting to ignore what he told me and keep doing it the old way, and wanting never to do a headstand again. Choosing the last option would mean giving in to the fear that I feel about the pose now, and that’s not a good idea. I also really, really don’t want to have to confront J. I could go to one of N’s classes instead this week but I feel like that would be avoiding the issue.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Tips on practicing headstand safely? Authoritative suggestions on correct arm positioning? Ideas on how to approach J?