Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga in the News: A Yoga Room at the SFO Airport! January 27, 2012

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 11:05 am
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Now this is exciting: SFO unveils world’s first (?) dedicated yoga room within an airport. I think it’s a fantastic idea. On airplanes we get crammed into these tiny seats and aren’t allowed to get up and move around or even stretch our legs. In airports we can sit for hours waiting for a late flight. A little yoga before or after a flight or during a layover would be a great way to stretch out and feel better. I’m excited for the next time I fly into SFO so I can check this out!

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It’s official January 24, 2012

Filed under: Miscellaneous,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:09 pm
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I got my paperwork in the mail addressed to “Roxanne H. Ward, RYT”. It’s official: I’m a registered yoga teacher!

You can even go look me up on the Yoga Alliance website. YA maintains a directory of all registered yoga teachers. Visit this page, and search for yoga teachers named Roxanne. There aren’t that many: I’m the last one on the list. I’m also apparently the only yoga teacher in my entire tri-state area named Roxanne, which is interesting to know. I won’t even need to use my last name!

 

Gentle/Prenatal Yoga Sequence January 23, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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A pregnant friend asked me what stretches she could do to help her lower back. I consulted the “Workout for Healthy Moms” handout* my midwife gave me and found that the exercises listed only needed a little organizing and fleshing out to constitute a full yoga sequence. This routine should be appropriate for most expectant moms, and it also makes a good gentle routine for non-preggos.

Standing

  • Begin standing with feet hip-width apart.
    • Breathing in, stretch the arms up overhead; exhaling, bend forward, allowing your hands to come down toward the floor.
    • Be gentle with this forward fold – allow your knees to bend just a little (instead of locking them), and let your upper body hang. Don’t force yourself to try to touch your toes or bend farther; the bending isn’t the point. We just want to release any tension in the lower back.  You can let your arms dangle or bring your hands to the opposite elbows.
    • Shake your head yes or no, and if it feels good, let your upper half wiggle around, releasing tension in your lower back.
    • When you’re ready, come up slowly: roll the spine one vertebrae at a time, and let your head roll up last. Stand up nice and tall.
  • Next we’ll come down to the floor. Step your feet more widely apart and come down in a squat.
    • Squats work the hips and thighs as well as the pelvic floor muscles.
    • Work on balancing here; try to fold your hands in prayer while using your elbows to press back your knees.
    • If you need a little extra support, it’s okay to put your palms on the floor.
    • When you’re ready to be done, just sit your tush down.
  • Alternate options for standing:
    • For a more vigorous practice, complete four half sun-salutes after the initial forward fold before coming to the floor.
    • For a gentler practice, or if standing forward bends are uncomfortable for you, just skip the standing and start out on the floor.

Sitting

  • Come into a comfortable seated position. If you can, cross your legs, but if that’s awkward, just get as comfy as you can. Try elevating your tush with a cushion or folded blanket.
  • Neck rolls
    • Begin by gently dropping your chin down toward your chest and then rolling your head around in a circle. Pretend that you’re drawing a big circle in the air with the tip of your nose. Go nice and slowly; after a few circles, roll your head the other way.
    • Neck rolls can help relieve stress and tension in the neck.
  • Shoulder circles
    • Lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Rotate them backwards and let them drop down low, then bring them forward and back up. After a few backward circles, change direction and rotate them forward.
    • Shoulder circles can help to relieve stress and tension. They also improve posture and expand the muscles of the chest, both of which are helpful when you’re pregnant.
  • Arm stretches
    • Inhaling, lift your left arm up by your ear, and exhaling, lean over to the right. This will stretch out the whole left side of your body. If your right hand touches the floor, you can press the fingertips or palm down for support. Repeat on the other side.
    • You can also do the “stopping traffic”/”talk to the hand” move here: 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. This is great for your wrists if you work in an office.
    • Arm stretches help to open the chest. They can also reduce swelling in the hands.
  • Next, open your legs out wide. Let your legs be active, with toes pointing up.
    • Reach your left arm up by your ear. Let your right hand rest on your right thigh, and, exhaling, lean over the right leg. You should feel a stretch all down the back of your leg as well as down your left side. Come up gently and repeat on the other side.
    • Stretch your arms forward and reach straight out, hold for three breaths, and release.
    • If it’s comfortable for you, you can rest your hands on the floor and bend gently forward. As with the standing forward fold, don’t push yourself to bend any more than what’s comfortable for you – we’re just looking for some release and stretch in the back. When you’re finished, rise slowly back up, letting your head roll up last.
  • Lift each leg and bring it back to center. 

Reclining

  • Leg lifts
    • First, come down to lie on your side. The lower leg should be bent, and the lower arm can support your head.
    • Extend your top leg. Lift it up, hold a breath, and release. Do a few repetitions, then repeat the stretch on the other side.
    • This is a great exercise for stretching out the hips – very important during pregnancy!
  • Next, come to lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
    • Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about whether lying on your back is appropriate for you: if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy, don’t do it. In later stages of pregnancy, lying flat on your back can restrict the flow of oxygen to your baby, so be careful with this. In general, don’t lie on your back for more than five minutes or so.
  • Pelvic tilts
    • Rest your hands on the floor or on your belly. Notice how, as you lie on your back, your lower back naturally curves up and doesn’t touch the floor. Now tilt your pelvis and tighten your abdominal muscles to press your low back against the floor. Release, and repeat a few times. This simple little exercise can do a lot to relieve your lower back discomfort. (If you’re avoiding lying on your back, try this exercise with your back against the wall while sitting, standing, or lying on your side.)
    • Return to a neutral position. Press into your feet, and lift your pelvis a few inches off the floor. Hold for a breath, then release, and repeat a few times. This move helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Head lifts
    • From the same reclining position with knees bent, brace your arms across your abdomen as if you’re hugging yourself. Then gently lift just your head off the floor, then relax. Repeat. This exercise can relieve backache and strengthen abdominal muscles, helping to support the baby.
  • Lift your feet and curl your knees in to your chest (as much as you comfortably can). Roll around a little on your lower back – this can nicely relieve some tension. Do some “happy baby” pose by grabbing your feet, letting your legs fall open, and rocking around. You can also widen your legs to get some nice hip stretch in. Just do what’s comfortable for you.
  • Finish up with a gentle inversion, like legs-up-the-wall.

* Some exercises taken from “A Workout for Fit Moms”, by Cheryl Appel, in 1992 Lamaze Parents’ Magazine, page 36. Sequence of exercises is my own.

 

Spreading some love January 17, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:01 pm
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Not long ago, I read this blog post: I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay. It’s a little long, but the heartfelt emotion behind it makes it well worth reading. I really appreciated Dan’s honesty and boldness, and my heart goes out to his friend Jacob and some of the people who responded to Dan’s post.

For me here on the yoga blog, Dan’s post meant a lot to me, because it fits right in with what I’ve been talking about regarding yoga and Christianity. (Yes, it does, just hang on a sec.) There are a lot of people who are all too ready to judge. One of the people who responded to Dan’s post explained that mindset: that she felt called by her faith to judge others harshly for their sins as a form of tough love. I’m sure you’re unsurprised that I agree with Dan on this one. Many people are all too ready to judge, all too ready to cast the first stone, forgetting that Jesus said “love thy neighbor” and “judge not, lest ye be judged” (emphasis mine). We all make mistakes, and we all do things wrong sometimes. If we judge other people harshly, then we’re likely to be judged harshly too. Yoga philosophy teaches compassion, just like Jesus did.

So often people who call themselves Christians spend most of their time talking about how Jesus died to save them from sin, and not enough time talking about all the smart things Jesus said and told us to do. People get so caught up in the story of his death that they don’t think enough about his life! And when I think about examples to follow, I don’t know that I can think of a better example of how to live than Jesus. He was kind to everybody! He loved children, he had a lot of friends, he made sure everybody had plenty to eat and drink and he threw a good party. He was sensitive to the pain and grief of other people and tried to help them. He worked to heal sick people and befriend lonely people and feed hungry people. He didn’t care what people looked like on the outside; he cared about who you were inside and whether you were good and honest and kind. He didn’t blame other people for the things that happened to him. He put his faith in something beyond himself. There are probably many more things that can be said about what an exemplary guy Jesus was. And the people who talk about gays (or whoever) going to hell have read the books about Jesus, haven’t they? Haven’t they read these stories about his life? I don’t understand how someone can read those stories and claim to be a follower of Jesus and still fill his heart and mouth with hate. Jesus was not about hating.

My point is, Jesus was all about compassion, and so is yoga. There’s nothing in what the yoga philosophies tell you to do that contradicts anything Jesus tells you to do. Not on a practical “here’s how to live your life as a good person” kind of way. I’m a yogini and maybe a Buddhist too, and I try to be true to the things that my special books tell me to do. I think that if you’re a Christian, you should try to live according to the things Jesus said to do. And Jesus didn’t say “punish sinners” or “don’t do yoga”, and I’m pretty sure he never said anything about whom you go to bed with. Jesus said to love everybody. I think that’s a pretty fine foundation to use to build a way to live.

 

First Prenatal Yoga Class January 16, 2012

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 11:25 am
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Yesterday I went to my first prenatal yoga class: the Sunday 10:30 class at EEY. Unfortunately, the regular teacher was really sick, so there was a sub. Maureen did a decent job teaching the class, I thought, especially considering that she was kind of on the spot and was picking it up last minute. Since this was my first prenatal yoga class, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it seemed to me that she taught the class more like a “gentle yoga” than a “prenatal yoga”. All the ladies in the room seemed to be in the 3-6 month range, and able to handle a more vigorous class than she gave us. Maureen definitely understood using prenatal yoga to improve emotional balance and calm in the face of all these bodily changes, but for me another important aspect of prenatal yoga is strengthening my body to stay healthy and prepare for the birth. It was still a good yoga class, and I’m glad I attended (and man were my hips and tush sore today!), but I want to go back and try the class again with the regular teacher.

I’ve been looking around for other prenatal yoga classes in my area, and here’s what I’ve found:

What’s with these schedules? I understand that the Creative Living Room, at least, offers a whole lot of stuff other than yoga, so I’m honestly just glad they’re offering prenatal at all, but I’m pregnant, not unemployed. (However, they also offer a post-natal mom-and-baby class, which I really hope to attend as soon as the baby is mobile and I’m back on my feet.) For the studios with Sunday morning classes, I understand that prenatal yoga has a limited audience and a studio might not want to spend their prime evening hours on a class that won’t bring in a ton of people. But I do like to sleep in on Sundays, since it’s one of the few days I have when I can do that, and sleep is pretty important right now. I’m also trying to go to church more often, which is pretty much completely incompatible with a Sunday morning yoga class. I feel a lot more motivated to go to church now that I’m pregnant, because we have a church we like with a good religious education program for my future kid; there are lots of other families with small kids at our church who could be good friends/resources for us; and getting involved now would probably make it easier to stay involved and keep attending once the baby arrives. So that makes Sunday mornings really inconvenient for yoga. It’s just possible I could hit the 9:15 service at my church and then rush out the door to get to a yoga class, but that kind of defeats the purpose of going to church. I’d rather have a class on Sunday at 2pm, honestly: church, lunch, then yoga sounds like a great day.

I did find a few other options that are less ideal:

  • The Yoga Garden in Narberth, PA offers prenatal yoga on Tuesdays at 6pm and Saturdays at 9:30am. However, it’s a good half-hour away, on a road busy enough to easily increase the travel time. It looks like the studio is close to the train station, so for the Tuesday class I could take the train there after work, but then poor F would have to drive out to pick me up after class, and that would eat up an hour of his evening just in the car. Saturday mornings could possibly work, though, so I’ll keep this in mind.
  • Belly Pilates in Bryn Mawr, PA seems to be specifically for expecting and new mothers, which sounds great. However, I don’t do pilates now because it’s prohibitively expensive (I’ll spend $15 or, tops, $17 on one activity class, but not $25, sorry.) They do offer some yoga classes, but they’re priced almost as high as the pilates. The prenatal yoga is Tuesdays at 9:30am, and again, not unemployed. The postpartum yoga is Tuesdays at 1:30pm, which I could possibly do on my maternity leave, but the same teacher does the Creative Living Room post-natal classes, and TCLR is less than ten minutes from my house and much more affordable, so not sure why I’d hike all the way to Bryn Mawr. So Belly Pilates is off the list for now. (Plus I hate to say it but their website is ugly and difficult to navigate, and that turns me off big time.)

That leaves Thursday nights at Enso as my best option for a regular prenatal yoga class, so I’m going to try to check that out this week or next week. I’ll keep you posted!

 

Avoiding Injuries Through Mindfulness January 12, 2012

A lot of people have read the recent NYT article about how yoga will “wreck your body”. As a brand-new yoga teacher, I obviously disagree with a lot of what the writer says: I mean, I just spent a significant amount of time and money dedicating myself to learning about yoga, which would be kind of a waste if this guy is right. Here are my thoughts.

Of course many people have injured themselves doing yoga. It’s not difficult to do – I’ve done it myself, and so has almost anyone who’s practiced yoga with any dedication over an extended period of time. You can injure yourself hiking or dancing or playing video games or gardening, too, but that doesn’t mean that we stop hiking and dancing and gardening. These are things that feed our spirits, and so is yoga. To single out yoga as an activity that can wreck your body doesn’t make sense, because there are so many other activities that can wreck your body! We humans are equal opportunity wreckers. Accidents can happen no matter what you’re doing.

The key thing, for me, is to keep in mind what the true purpose of yoga is. According to the ancient texts, yoga is a way to get the body healthy so you can then sit in meditation. The point is not to sculpt the body or lose weight or to get a great workout, and people who approach yoga with that attitude (or, with that attitude only) may in the long run be more likely to injure themselves. The point is to be healthy: whatever healthy happens to be for your particular body. And the point of being healthy ultimately isn’t the body at all – we’re working on the body so that we can sit comfortably in meditation. A healthy body won’t be aching and complaining when you sit still for ten minutes. That’s the point we’re trying to get to: improving the body so we can focus on more important things.

Keeping your focus off the body and on the mind can actually help yoga practitioners not to injure themselves. You want to be aware of what’s going on in the body, certainly, and it’s really important to cultivate that awareness of how the body feels and the difference between work and pain. Being mindful of your body is crucial, but it doesn’t do any good to be looking in the mirror or comparing yourself to other students and forcing your body toward something you’re not capable of. And don’t think ahead to what this yoga class is doing for you; keep your mind right in the moment, on your own mat. Stay present and focused on the pose you’re doing right now.

When you take part in any activity, you do your best to be careful and to be mindful of what you’re doing. When you go hiking or ride your bike, you watch where you’re going, but if your mind wanders, your foot can slip or your bike can veer off the path. It’s the same thing in yoga. Staying present and mindful and focused on what you’re doing will help you to avoid inadvertently causing an injury.

Here are a few other responses to the article by nvnehi and anytimeyoga and Michael Taylor. I think it’s interesting to see the very different, thoughtful ways that different yogis have reacted.

 

My Home Practice, Winter 2012 January 11, 2012

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:25 pm
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I took a break from yoga for about a week and a half over the holidays. After teacher training I needed the break, and it allowed me to relax, do holiday things, and visit with family and friends without worrying over when I’d be able to fit in my practice. During this break, though, I noticed some changes in myself. Physically, I was more achy, less flexible – I could feel the difference in my body. (I was also more tired and stuffy, although that could be due either to the cold I had or to my pregnancy rather than the lack of yoga.) Emotionally, I felt unsettled. My mind felt much busier and less calm without my meditation practice. I think it was really valuable to take a break just to remind myself that I feel better in just about every way when I’m practicing yoga. F and I made sure to fit in a yoga practice on New Years Day, and it felt great!

Now that we’re back to a normal daily schedule, I thought it might be helpful to write about my current home practice, in the interest of keeping up my practice and improving it while still making allowances for my body’s needs right now while I’m growing a new person.

I typically practice in the mornings. We eat breakfast first thing – I’ve always been the sort of person who needs to eat right after waking up, and now with the baby on the way, mama’s gotta eat. After we clean up the dishes, it’s time for yoga. I need to make my yoga fit in between breakfast and showering so I can get out the door on time for work, so how much time I spend on yoga depends on a number of factors: how late we were up last night, how many dozens of times I had to pee and whether I was able to fall asleep again afterward, how much I overslept when the alarm went off, how long we lingered over breakfast, how well my stomach’s feeling (I’m past my morning sickness now but things are still pretty weird in there, and if my digestive system and I disagree on how to spend this time, then my “seated meditation” will be happening on the john and I just need to accept that). On a good day, I can clock a 30-minute asana practice plus time for pranayama breathing and meditation; on a different day, I might manage two sun salutations and a quick meditation. It is what it is, and I’m doing the best I can.

My yoga practice itself varies. Lately, because it’s chilly in my house in the mornings, I’ve been practicing yoga in pajamas, socks, and my fuzzy pink bathrobe, which isn’t ideal but isn’t as uncomfortable as you might think. I’ve been focusing mostly on sun salutations, because they’re active and they hit most of the major ways of stretching, and they help build strength, which is a big focus for me right now. I do standing and balance poses if I have the time, but I always make sure to fit in some squats, since those are important for my pelvic floor muscles. For seated work, I’ll usually do some of the poses I talked about here. No twists, and really gentle with any forward folds. I like bridge pose for strength but I’m careful with it since my abs don’t want much extra stretching right now. I still do shoulderstand but more often lately I do legs-up-the-wall. I’m looking forward to playing with inversions for as long as I feel able. I usually finish with a short savasana, but sometimes I’ll just hang out in legs-up-the-wall during that time instead.

After my asana practice, I like to do some alternate nostril breathing to prepare for meditation, although with it being winter this is becoming more difficult for my stuffy nose. Then I do a brief meditation, maybe five minutes. I don’t do the same meditation every day but instead choose what seems to resonate with me at that moment.

I still have trouble making my yoga practice happen on the weekends. I like to sleep in a little and then we usually have a busy day planned, so it’s hard to make sure I get my practice in without the routine of the weekday. If anyone has any advice on this, let me know.

I hope this post was helpful to those of you who imagine me as SuperYogaGirl. I try to have some sort of practice every day, but I’m not nearly as regular about it as I wish I was, and I definitely am not SuperYogaGirl, although I wish I could be. And now you can picture me flopping around doing downward dog in my scuzzy bathrobe, which is a lot more realistic than what you might have imagined before!