In lieu of actual generated-by-me content today, please check out this hilarious post from RecoveringYogi. Funny because (1) it’s so true and (2) we wish we could actually say this stuff at the office… #1 and #2 are my favorites, but I also love #15.
Wake-Up Yoga, Incorporating Dance Warmups for the Neck September 29, 2011
The past few mornings, I’ve been doing a fun little wake-up yoga routine that only takes about 10 minutes. Sometimes it can be hard to get my yoga on first thing in the morning, so I’ve tried to find ways to get myself moving that aren’t too strenuous and won’t seem like a lot of work pre-coffee. This little practice can be done entirely while seated (and in pajamas) and incorporates some basic stretches, some yoga moves, and a series of neck warmups that I learned in African dance class. The neck warmups in particular really help to relieve tension, so I thought I’d share the love. A little practice like this is a great way to trick your grumpy sleep-deprived self into doing some yoga, and afterwards you’ll feel refreshed.
As you move through this warmup, always be careful to move gently and not too quickly, and don’t push past your natural range of motion. As you practice, you’ll probably be able to turn farther and move deeper, but if not, don’t worry about it: just gently work with where your neck happens to be today.
- Put on some music you like: something with a good beat but not too fast. It’s fun to do this warmup in time with music, but moving your neck too quickly could hurt! Don’t let the music distract you; it’s just there for the rhythm and to add some fun. You should always practice with awareness, especially any stretch involving your neck.
- Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your back straight. If you’re on a chair, you probably want to sit on the edge of the chair; if on the floor, straighten your spine and sit up nice and tall.
- Start off with some gentle neck circles, slowly circling your head around as if you’re trying to trace a giant circle in the air with your nose. Do eight circles clockwise, then eight circles counterclockwise.
- Come back to a neutral neck, then drop your chin down to your chest and look down. Then lift your head, dropping it back, and look up. Repeat this for eight counts: down, up, down, up.
- Next, turn your head and look to the right. Then turn your head and look to the left. Repeat for eight counts: right, left, right, left.
- Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, tilting your head. Then drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Repeat for eight counts: side, side, side, side.
- Now combine them together: down, up, right, left, side, side. That’s one. Do the full series eight times. If it feels good, do it another eight!
- Next, jut your chin forward and then tuck it back, like a bird pecking. We call this “the funky chicken”. Repeat for eight counts: peck, peck, peck.
- Shake your head, as if your neck is a spring and your head is going boi-oi-oing. (This is a small motion, like the side-side tilt above – not a full side-to-side shake or a headbang, just enough to shake out the kinks.) We call this “the bobblehead”. Shake it for eight counts.
- Alternate the Funky Chicken move and the Bobblehead move, eight counts each, repeating each move three or four times.
- Come back to a neutral neck. Stretch it out a little more by dropping right ear to right shoulder, then use your right hand to press your head gently down, stretching through the left side of the neck. Repeat this stretch by dropping the head to the left, and then drop the head forward and use both hands to apply gentle pressure, stretching down the back of the neck (make sure you’re sitting up straight for these stretches, and be cautious as you apply the pressure!).
I love this neck warmup at any time of day, but it seems especially refreshing first thing in the morning when my neck is stiff from sleep.
I also work in some arm stretches, which is great for a morning practice – I always want to stretch my arms first thing in the morning anyway. Stretch straight up overhead, then grasp one wrist and pull, then switch and grasp the other wrist, getting a nice stretch down each side.
Here’s one nice stretch that I just learned from Better Sex Through Yoga: lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm. Then do the other side. I was floored when I tried this – if you sit in an office typing all day, this stretch is amazing!
If you’re practicing on the floor, try beginning the practice in child’s pose and then move into rabbit pose to get the shoulders involved too. If you’re in a chair, you can get the same effect by bending forward, clasping your hands behind your back, and stretching up as you continue to bend.
Work in a twist or two as well, turning your body to one side, then the other, using a hand on the opposite knee for leverage as you look over your shoulder.
After a 10-15 minute practice, all the stiffness of sleep has dissolved away and I’m ready to face the day! And all without doing a single standing posture!
Subbing at the yoga center! September 28, 2011
Last night N wasn’t feeling well, so she sent out a call for subs for the evening classes. I volunteered to sub for the 6:15 class. This marks the first time that people paid money for yoga taught by me! I was nervous during the afternoon, but when I thought about it, I was less nervous about actually teaching yoga than I was about the logistical things like filling out the paperwork properly and using the credit card machine and the stereo.
I arrived around 6pm and N showed me what to do: how to log the students who come in, where to put the money, how to run credit cards, how to work the stereo, and she helped me pick out music for the class. Six people came to class: one of them also teaches at EEY, a few were more experienced students I knew, and one person was brand-new. It was a smaller class, so I rolled out my mat and taught while doing poses myself, which is what N & J usually do. At my home classes I walk around more and I’m working on making adjustments to people, but last night I just wanted to give them a standard EEY class.
Overall I was pretty happy with the class I taught. Usually at home I teach a one-hour class, but classes at EEY are an hour and fifteen minutes, so I did feel like my timing was a little off: I felt like I moved faster through the standing poses than I should have and ended up with more time at the end than I wanted, so it felt like I was stretching out the seated poses. A couple of extra sun salutations would have helped a lot, I think, but we still did good seated stuff too: camel and bridge and cobbler and forward fold plus some twists. I don’t think I shorted the standing stuff, though: I was definitely sweating a bit by the end of the standing poses and some of the students seemed to be puffing a little too. (I reminded everyone to lengthen and calm the breath while we stood in mountain pose, and I immediately heard breaths calming and lengthening! It really works when you say that!)
One thing I did mess up is that I started the standing poses with the right leg stepped back, and then stepped my left leg back to mirror what the students were doing, only then I forgot I had done that and was verbally cuing the poses on the wrong side (i.e., “lift your left hand” because I was lifting my left hand, when the students were all lifting their right hands). No one seemed to get off track, though. When we started on the other side, I realized what I had done and started cuing poses as front/back instead of left/right to keep myself from getting mixed up again.
I ended class with a guided relaxation that I thought went well. I really worked on slowing it down and waiting a few breaths between lines. The class started a little late because someone needed to pay with a credit card; we ended right on time just after 7:30pm, so I guess I cut it a little short, but by that point everyone had savasanaed and was ready to go.
Since it was my first time really teaching a full class, I couldn’t help thinking, “oh god oh god they hate me”, which I am sure is not true, but it’s impossible not to think it. I had some very experienced people in the class and some who were brand new, and so I taught to the middle as best I could – I worry that the class may have been boring for some people. I hope it wasn’t, but I taught the best class I could teach, and that’s all that’s in my power to do. Teaching yoga isn’t about me: I’m not going to get feedback on my teaching at the studio the way I do from students at my home classes, because that’s not what the purpose is! The students who go to the studio are there for themselves, the same way I am when I attend classes there, and I gave them the best class I could. I know I can do better next time, but I feel good about my teaching last night and satisfied with what I did.
Yoga vs. Emotions September 27, 2011
In the yoga sutras, Patanjali tells us that when negative thoughts arise, positive ones should be thought of instead. Patanjali is trying to help us break the negative cycles of emotion that we all get caught in from time to time, but of course this instruction is easier said than done! This month, we’ll spend some time examining yogic strategies to overcome negative emotions.
First, let’s take a minute to consider the dominant emotions in our lives. This will be different for everyone. What strong emotions do you feel frequently? Are there any well-worn emotional paths in your mind that you find yourself going down over and over again? What emotions typically come up for you when faced with stress or unexpected difficulties – how do you react to such situations? When strong emotions come up, how do you cope with them? These questions may be difficult to answer, but spend a few minutes thinking it over. Be honest, too – don’t just think about how you wish you reacted or what you’d like to be, but think about who you actually are. It’s all in the interest of greater self-knowledge!
For me, the dominant emotions in my life tend to be anger, fear/worry, joy, and love. (Don’t forget to include the positive emotions too!) I’ll often experience all of these emotions in a short period of time: for example, walking home from work, I might worry over a future event, fearing an adverse reaction, and then invent a scenario where the worst happens and get angry at the imagined poor treatment. I do this all time (seriously, I’ve concocted whole tearful deathbed conversations when no one in my family is deathly ill and had arguments with the schoolteachers of children I don’t even have yet). When I catch myself at it, I try to turn my mind around. Pretty soon, I’m looking up at the blue sky and feeling joy about what a beautiful day it is, and then I arrive at home, where my husband is waiting to greet me, and I feel a powerful surge of love (that is, before he sends me out to mow the lawn). Of course I often experience other emotions, both positive and negative (like sadness, laziness, compassion, laughter, nervousness, relief, or many others), but these tend to be the ones that dominate my life.
When stress and unexpected difficulties arise, my instinct is usually to go on the defensive. I have to work really hard to push this instinct down, because I can come off as nasty and abrasive. I’m trying to learn to keep calm and focus on communicating about the problem – often it’s not as bad as it seemed at first! Sometimes problems come up that we can’t do anything about, and in those instances, it’s best to find a way to let go and let what happens happen. For example, my train is often late. A year or two ago when faced with a late train I would’ve been manic, worrying about being late to work or making up missed time, stressing out about getting home late. Lately, though, I find myself just sort of shrugging. The train’s late – nothing I can do to make it go faster, so why worry? The other day when my train was late I noticed a woman getting visibly upset, talking on her cell phone, obviously worrying. It made me glad I don’t put myself through that anymore – I don’t need any extra stress in my life!
When strong negative emotions come up, my usual instinct is to push them down or hide them. I don’t want to be perceived as an “angry person”, so I just won’t acknowledge that I’m angry! Yep, that really works well. I can’t do anything to move past the emotion if I don’t acknowledge I’m experiencing it. Or I might explode – doesn’t the other person see how stressed I am? Neither reaction is a productive way to handle the emotion. Deep breathing and cultivating a better consciousness of my emotions helps me to catch these strong negative emotions before I have an instinctive reaction, which allows me to choose how I handle the situation rather than letting my instincts choose for me.
What are your dominant emotions, and how do you handle them?
In Better Sex Through Yoga, Jacquie Noelle Greaux and Jennifer Langheld discuss in detail how yoga can make your sex life better by boosting your sex drive and enhancing physical pleasure. For those who already practice yoga, this concept is a no-brainer: yoga makes you physically stronger and more flexible, it improves your stamina and muscle control, gives you more energy, and helps you develop a thorough knowledge of how your own body works, all of which can lead to improved physical performance in the bedroom. Further, yoga practice often leads to increased self-confidence and a more open and compassionate heart, and yoga is proven to relieve stress, so practicing yoga can help with the emotional and spiritual side of sex as well.
In the first few chapters, Greaux and Langheld discuss all of these benefits, going into detail about why both yoga and sex are good for you and how practicing one can benefit the other. In chapter 3, they embark on a yoga primer for those who’ve never practiced it before, including coverage of yoga breathing and the chakras.
The bulk of the book is in chapter 4, which offers a detailed breakdown of each pose Greaux and Langheld use in the Better Sex Through Yoga program. There’s a brief description of each pose, detailed instructions on how to perform the pose, notes on which chakras benefit, which areas of the body are worked, and which sexual positions work the same muscles, followed by a “hot tip” for improving your posture in the pose and/or your sexual use of the pose. In addition to yoga poses, Greaux and Langheld also pull from pilates and dance moves to provide a full body workout. Duo-assisted poses are offered, as well as poses you can do at your desk at work. There are photographs of each and every pose, often demonstrating step by step how to accomplish the pose.
In chapters 5 and 6, the individual poses are pulled together into a series of routines. There are three core routines and eight quickie routines, which offers the reader some flexibility in her yoga practice depending on how much time she has available. The routines vary widely, and there are routines specially designed for being stuck in a chair at the office, calming down after a stressful day, or stretching out quickly before joining a partner in the bedroom. Chapter 7 ties it all together by giving a list of sexual positions, with an illustration and a description for each telling how your yoga practice will deepen your sexual satisfaction.
I have some conflicted feelings about this book, so I’ll get the negative stuff out of the way first. Greaux and Langheld obviously have a target audience in mind: straight women (lesbians could certainly use this book to improve their sex lives too, but they’re clearly not the target audience), women who probably work in offices, and who are already in fairly good physical shape and are already physically active. I think this book would be difficult to use for someone who was overweight or someone limited in their flexibility. That’s not to say that yoga wouldn’t help those people, or that those people can’t have hot sex, just that the book seems geared toward women who resemble Greaux herself, as Greaux models all the poses (there’s a male model as well, credited in the back of the book as the “Living Male Work of Art” – he’s good at yoga poses but I’d almost rather see him on a naughty birthday card). You can see Greaux on the book’s cover, doing a split. Photographs of less flexible people might have been more helpful for those who are true yoga beginners.
The routines are definitely intended to be vinyasa style: each routine includes a lot of poses, with instructions that you should work up to practicing for 30-45 minutes. They expect you to move fast through these routines, and that’s not necessarily what beginners can or should do, unless they’re already very used to exercise. From my perspective as a yoga teacher, I didn’t appreciate how the routines would bounce you up and down: you do some standing poses, then some seated poses, then you stand up again, then you get back down to the floor. That sort of thing is more difficult for beginners or those with limited mobility, and it’s also contrary to my understanding of the purpose of practicing yoga (but then again, practicing yoga to prepare the mind and body for meditation is different from practicing yoga to prepare the body for hot sex, so really there is a different purpose here). Finally, the writing style is really sensationalist – I think they must have had a rule in place to make sure they used the word “sexy” at least twice per page. That’s the sort of thing that drives me nuts.
But, all that aside, the content here is really very good. The section on poses is great because it’s quite thorough and it does tell you exactly what part of the body you’re working in each pose and how that helps you in bed. The authors don’t shy away from detail. In some cases the authors have altered the traditional pose, but it’s clear to me (as a yoga teacher, anyway) why they’ve done it and what the sexual benefit of doing the pose a different way would be. They’ve incorporated moves from pilates and dance, but the ones I’ve tried so far are easy and clearly have some bedroom benefits. The routines get you up and down and up and down, but they’re otherwise well structured to be full body workouts. Finally, the “sexy secretary” sections, which modify poses so they can be done from a desk chair, are brilliant. I’ll be photocopying these and surreptitiously doing them at the office.
The sexysexy language, while troubling, is the maple syrup on the vegetables: the real message here is the idea that yoga isn’t just good for your sex life, it’s good for you as a person. The authors don’t leave out the emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits of doing yoga. In fact, when they list the reasons why yoga improves your sex life, the very first thing on the list is compassion, the ability to love and be loved. The language used sounds shallow, but the core message is not, and I really think the authors want to reach a wide range of readers and improve their lives. I liked the book a lot and would recommend it to anyone with a working knowledge of yoga who can take the sexysexy talk with a grain of salt and move on to the practical stuff.
What it means to be a writer, what it means to be a yogi September 23, 2011
I guess I probably knew this would happen. A few of my yoga classmates saw my blog post the other day and contacted me about it. Some wanted to explain better why they were upset or to dispute some of the inflammatory language in my post (language that had bothered me too and that I’ve now removed). One person voiced a concern that a personal conversation was now in a public forum – she had thought our yoga class was a safe space and didn’t want to worry about saying personal things and having them be published online.
My first thought was that I’d never take someone else’s own personal story and use it here without permission. But haven’t I done that already? In these two past posts, for example, I summarize information about people I know. But in those contexts, I was using that person’s example to demonstrate a positive quality, telling how much I admire that person – I wouldn’t use someone’s story for anything negative. Except that I kind of did already, this week, in that post. True, I didn’t name any names, I omitted many details, I didn’t quote anything directly. I tried to describe the conversation in the most general way possible and then move on to my reaction to it, which was the purpose of the post, but I still used that conversation. And maybe I shouldn’t have.
N & J told us during our first teacher training session that this would be a safe space for us to share anything we needed to. I never worried before about violating that space because it was only my own experience I was writing about: this blog was intended as a way for me to explore the topics we discuss in class and deepen my understanding. But once I start to pull my classmates into the blog, that changes things. My friends and family outside of yoga know me, love me, and choose to hang out with me anyway, knowing that they could find themselves in a book someday, but my yoga classmates didn’t sign up for that. They’re just here to do yoga and learn.
As a writer, I make the decision to violate my own privacy all the time, but it’s my choice what to share and what I keep private. When I write about others, they don’t get that choice. So now, while I’m not going to delete the previous post, I’m also going to make a real effort not to blog my classmates’ experience again, or at least not without express permission, and if I ever do get a chance to turn this blog into a book, the same holds true. They deserve to learn in the safe space they signed up for. As a writer, I don’t want to limit myself, but as a yogi, I need to treat others with compassion. Finding a balance between the two is something I need to learn to negotiate.
Home Yoga Class, September 21 September 22, 2011
Last night’s yoga class was possibly my best yet. (I really like this thing where every class I teach is my best one yet. If I keep this up, pretty soon I’ll be a yoga superstar.) I taught a sequence I came up with a few weeks ago that focuses on breath and on thighs, with the idea that poses that are tough on the thighs are an opportunity to lengthen and deepen the breath. Everyone seemed to enjoy the class even though it was hard work.
I started out by teaching ujjayi breathing (which apparently I did only partially successfully, since I ended up really confusing my husband, so I’m planning to go over it again next week in case anyone else was confused and didn’t say so). Then we went through the following sequence of postures:
- child’s pose
- thread the needle
- downward dog shifting to plank
- lifting to plank and back to downward dog
- forward fold
- 4 half salutes
- 2 classic sun salutations (low lunge the first time, high lunge the second time)
- chair pose (everyone was so excited!)
- standing sequence:
- warrior 1
- warrior 2
- radiant warrior
- side angle pose
- standing sequence on the other side
- crane pose, transitioning directly to eagle pose
- seated forward fold
- bridge pose
Everyone commented that it was both a challenging class and a really good class. I was glad that it was challenging both for my beginner and for my more experienced students.