Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

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.)


August Teacher Training Weekend: Friday and Saturday morning teaching practice August 17, 2011

Filed under: teacher training — R. H. Ward @ 1:42 pm
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At Friday night’s session, we just met with J, as N was caught up with errands and things at home (she just moved to a new house last week). After our regular check-in, we did teaching practice, and it was a really great session. We didn’t make it a structured yoga class, but rather, each person just got up and taught whatever pose he or she felt like teaching or wanted to practice. Someone would teach a seated twist, and then someone else would have us all stand up again so she could teach a balance pose. It was fun and different! Mimsy taught us a neat gormukhasana-to-pigeon transition that she picked up from a British yoga teacher on a cruise last month, and that was really fun. I taught ardha chandrasana, which personally is one of my biggest challenges and is also swiftly becoming one of my favorite poses. I was really impressed with my classmates’ teaching, too. Some people I see teach semi-frequently (for example, it seems I’m always in class with Nancy lately), but other people I rarely see (like Elyssa or Tonny). Everyone is making just terrific progress and doing so much better at teaching than they were even a month ago. J agreed and was really pleased with all of us. We’re all going to be awesome teachers.

At Saturday morning’s hatha yoga class, there were six or seven of us in the class who were teacher trainees, so N asked each of us if we wanted to teach a pose. Initially I said no, with the idea that I wanted to give some of the others who felt less confident a chance to teach. But then I sat there thinking to myself that this is my teacher training and I need to practice too, and I felt silly for saying no. But then, as N got the class started, she came over to me and asked if I could teach half sun salutes so she could run to the bathroom, so I still got to teach! Five rounds of half sun salutes turns out to be just enough time for a yoga teacher to run to the bathroom and back. I hadn’t taught half salutes before so I was glad I had the chance. It was also an interesting class because Tonny taught us this version of pigeon pose with the neatest transitions I’ve ever seen – clearly stuff right out of his martial arts background, and he moved so quickly and smoothly it looked impossible, but when we tried it we were all able to do it no problem. Really fun! N taught a cool transition from gormukhasana (seated cow face pose) on one side directly to the other side, so that was also cool. A lot of interesting and different transitions in our yoga practice this weekend, a lot of fun.

In other news, I’m going to start teaching a free yoga class at my home this week. I hope to teach this little class every week as a way to practice my teaching more and deliver some free yoga to my friends. Right now I think we’ve got a full house (i.e., around six people), so we’ll see how that goes and if I’m able to establish a regular group!


So You Want to Try Yoga, Part 4: Making the Most of it! August 16, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:14 pm

Inspired by this article on how to find the right yoga instructor, I started writing some tips for those new to yoga. Parts 1, 2, and 3 covered deciding what you’re looking for in a yoga class, how to find a class in your area, and tips for a successful first yoga class. Now we’ll move on to making the most of your yoga class.

  • Speak up.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the instructor! When you arrive  early for your first class, let the teacher know of any concerns you might have. Tell her about your lower back pain or your bad knee. This will help the instructor a lot! If the yoga teacher knows that there’s a brand-new student in the room, she may teach differently, choose different poses to teach, or describe the poses in different ways. She may keep an eye on you to make sure that your alignment is right, so you don’t do anything that will hurt that bad knee. Good communication with your yoga teacher will reassure you, help her plan her class better, help her help you better!, and make the class a better experience all the way around.

  • In any yoga pose, try to be comfortable and steady.

In all of the Yoga Sutras, this is pretty much the one thing that the sage Patanjali had to say about physical poses: be comfortable and steady. And yet this is something that most yoga instructors don’t think to mention. If you are unsteady, wobbling all over the place in a yoga posture, you’re not going to be doing anything valuable for your body, and you’re more likely to cause yourself an injury. Yoga is about finding the middle path: not doing too much, and not doing too little. In any pose, you want to find the spot where you are steady but still working hard. If a pose makes you wobbly, it’s okay to take an easier variation of the pose, drop a hand or knee to the ground, or just sit down and rest.

  • Pay attention to your breath.

Your breathing is a key indicator of how you’re doing in a pose. Nice steady deep even breaths? You’re doing fine and could maybe push a little harder. Quick shallow panting breaths? Something may not be right – you may be doing too much in a pose, or you might need a rest. You should strive to keep your breath steady and even. Focusing on your breath gives you a barometer of sorts of how you’re doing in your practice, and it gives your mind something to focus on. Of course, in a more athletic style of yoga class, you may end up breathing harder, but continue to be aware of your breath, and know what the difference is for you between hard working breathing and needing a rest.

  • Understand the difference between discomfort versus pain.

It’s normal to feel discomfort during yoga class, especially as you bend in ways you might not have bent in years, and as you discover muscles you never knew you had! Stretching it out can be uncomfortable. However, there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. Yoga should never hurt you. If something genuinely hurts, then stop doing it and take a step back: maybe your body isn’t ready for that pose or that variation, or maybe you just need a rest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your yoga practice – take care of yourself!

  • Adjustments: okay or no-go?

The yoga instructor may ask if she can touch or adjust you during the class. Be honest about how you feel about this. Being adjusted by the yoga instructor can be really helpful in understanding the correct alignment of a pose; however, it’s okay to say no if you don’t want to be touched, and the teacher should just give you verbal instructions instead. If the instructor adjusts you in a way that hurts at all, tell her right away! This can be scary, but don’t be afraid to speak up. In general, a teacher’s adjustment should be helpful, such that when she gets you in the right spot, you go “Oh!” and things click into place.

  • Try lots of classes – and don’t give up.

If you go to one yoga class and you don’t like it, try another class. This is the #1 most important thing I want to say in this post, so I’ll say it again: If you try one yoga class and don’t like it, try another yoga class. If you have a bad or uncomfortable experience, that’s a shame, but it doesn’t mean that yoga isn’t for you – it just means that that one class or that one teacher isn’t for you.

Maybe you were looking for a beginners class but the vinyasa class fit your schedule better – then you find out that, yup, you should be learning basics just like you thought! So try to make time for the beginners class. Or maybe you went to the beginners class but the teacher moved too fast. Try another class with a different teacher, or try another yoga studio. Remember that yoga studios are independently owned small businesses, so the style of yoga taught, the schedule, and the pricing scale will vary greatly from one studio to another – what you can’t find at one studio might be present in abundance on the other side of town.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve talked to someone about yoga and the person says, “Yoga? Oh, I tried that once. It wasn’t for me.” Or “That yoga class was okay, but we kept falling asleep, so I don’t think we’ll go back.” (Yes, seriously.) Remember that one yoga class does not represent all the variety that’s available. If you have a genuine interest in yoga, try lots of different classes so you can get a sense of what’s out there!

I truly believe that yoga can be beneficial for everybody. That’s why I’m training to become a yoga teacher! I hope that this series of yoga tips for beginners has been helpful for you. (Anything I didn’t cover? Just ask!)


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.


  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.


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.


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





10 Signs Your Yoga Teacher Has a Hangover August 12, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 2:47 pm
Tags: ,

Here’s some yoga humor for your Friday: Ten Signs Your Yoga Teacher Has a Hangover.


Yoga in the News: It’s good for fibromyalgia and orthopedic problems! August 11, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

Here’s some good news: Yoga Beneficial for Fibromyalgia. Women with fibromyalgia have lower-than-average cortisol levels, which contribute to pain, fatigue and stress sensitivity, but after doing hatha yoga twice a week for eight weeks, the women participating in the study had higher levels of cortisol. They reported that they suffered less from pain and other symptoms after practicing yoga, and further, they experienced psychological benefits: feeling stronger, more accepting, and less overwhelmed by their condition.

And more good news: Yoga Therapy May Help Prevent and Treat Orthopedic Problems. From the article, “Dr. Fishman, a lifelong devotee of yoga who studied it for three years in India before going to medical school, uses various yoga positions to help prevent, treat, and he says, halt and often reverse conditions like shoulder injuries, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and scoliosis.” The article goes on to describe how a modified yoga headstand can be used to treat painful rotator cuff injuries without expensive surgery or lengthy physical therapy and without recurrence of pain. Dr. Fishman also did a study on yoga for bone disease and found that the patients with osteoporosis who practiced yoga daily for two years had increased bone density.


The Gunas August 10, 2011

Filed under: bhagavad gita,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:42 pm

Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about three gunas and the effects they have on each individual. The word “guna” means “strand” or “quality”; the gunas are qualities that influence and control our actions and even our personalities. Having a working understanding of the three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas – can help us to better understand ourselves, our motivations, and our spiritual path.

The first and highest of the gunas, sattva, denotes peacefulness, calm, contentment, and balance. Ideally, after meditation or after yoga asana practice, you’ll be feeling sattvic: the goal of these practices is to bring about a sattvic state. Sattvic foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds, dairy products, and sweet spices like cinnamon or cardamom.

The second guna, rajas, denotes activity, energy, sensuality, desires, attachments, and enjoyments. Being in a rajasic state can be good for getting a lot done at the office because you’re full of energy and drive. Feeling rajasic can be pleasant, but to make progress on our spiritual path, we need to strive for a sattvic state. Rajasic foods include caffeine, meats, heavy foods, and very spicy foods. From an ayurvedic standpoint, the vata dosha is most rajasic.

The final guna is tamas, which denotes laziness, lethargy, confusion, and ignorance. We all feel tamasic sometimes, but it’s not a state anyone really wants to be in. Tamasic foods include fast foods, old or leftover foods, canned or boxed foods, and foods with lots of preservatives. In ayurveda, kapha is the most tamasic dosha – spicy rajasic foods can help to get kaphas moving!

The three gunas act together to influence our thoughts, words, and actions. In understanding the gunas, we can come to understand our motivations and why we do what we do. Try using the gunas as a system of measuring your mental state. The gunas fluctuate depending on each person and each day, but at any given time one guna is dominant over the others. Which guna is affecting you most right now?

As yogis, when we’re aware of the gunas, we can use that knowledge and our discrimination to make choices that will lead us to a sattvic state. When you first wake up in the morning, you may feel sleepy and tamasic, so what do you do to get yourself moving? If you have six cups of coffee, that will lead to a rajasic state; if instead you do your yoga practice followed by a healthy breakfast, that’s more likely to lead to a sattvic state. (And if you roll over and go back to sleep, you’re giving in to the tamas and you won’t get anything done!) Paying attention to our moods, and to the effect our choices have on our moods, will lead us to make healthier choices, choices that make us happier.

As a yoga teacher, it’s important to be aware of the gunas too. The purpose of yoga class is to bring the students to a sattvic state. This is why most yoga classes begin with a series of active rajasic poses, then lead students to more calming poses and finally to relax in savasana. If the yoga teacher is aware of the gunas, she’ll be careful to preserve the sattvic state of her students at the end of class: talking in a soft voice, making slow movements, and turning the lights up gradually. Loud voices, bright lights, and being rushed out of the room can spoil that yoga high!