Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Reading Yoga Journal March 27, 2012

At the end of my teacher training (and beginning of my pregnancy), I started to get a little burned out on my yoga reading, so I have a pile of Yoga Journal back issues sitting around that I’ve been trying to work my way through. I recently read the December 2011 issue and was pleased to find some articles related to things I’ve been blogging about here lately, so I thought I’d share.

The first thing that really caught my attention was a short article about teaching yoga to Deaf students, since that’s a topic I’d never really thought about, but a Deaf person could walk into my yoga class anytime. There are some simple things a yoga teacher can do to make a class more accessible for a Deaf student, like making eye contact, demonstrating poses, and using touch to guide. These are easy things to do that wouldn’t disrupt my usual teaching rhythm at all but that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, so I was grateful that this article broadened my awareness. Definitely tore that one out for future reference, and in the future I’d be really interested to learn more – the DeafYoga Foundation offers trainings and presentations on how to make simple adjustments that really help Deaf students, and I’d love to attend one.

There was an article on Chair Pose that I really appreciated, since Chair is one that I struggle with a bit (see the comments here and my write-up from last year here). They describe the alignment bit by bit – getting the top half of the body aligned correctly, then getting the lower half aligned, and then putting the two together for the full pose, which is an interesting bit of yoga dissection. I can see myself coming back to this article for reference later, since they give some good tips.

This issue of YJ also includes a moon salutation sequence as an alternate to sun salutations, which I found really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, and it could end up being a little flowy for me, but it’s definitely something I want to try. I’ll keep you posted!

I was also really interested in the article on yoga and religion. Regular readers will recall that this is an issue I’ve done some serious thinking about here on the yoga blog. I really appreciated that YJ put together a panel to discuss this. After reading the article, I went back to the March 2012 issue that I’d read a few weeks earlier, and there were several letters from readers about this article, some of whom really liked it. One reader noted that the article might have had more depth if the panel had included some actual religious leaders (priests, nuns, rabbis), rather than just yogis, which was an interesting point. I was glad, though, that Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, a Christian ministry group, was included on the panel. I’m really interested in the intersections of yoga with personal faith, and the article gave me some new perspectives and talking points. I wish YJ made its back issues available online.

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Yoga Tips for Beginners: 5 Myths About Yoga Teachers March 21, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 4:14 pm
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Loving this post today from Rambling Yogini: 5 Myths About Yoga Teachers. When we find a yoga teacher we like, it can be very easy to put that person up on a pedestal and forget that he or she is a normal human being. I know I’ve gotten caught up in some of these myths before – when they’re dispelled, it can be heartening (like learning that J loves hockey almost as much as yoga), but it can also be painful when you expect something of your yoga teacher than he or she can’t provide. It can even be physically painful if the advice or adjustments aren’t what your body needs. Thanks to Rambling Yogini for putting some of these myths out there and setting the record straight.

 

Prenatal Yoga and Modifying Postures March 20, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:45 pm
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So far I’ve taught prenatal yoga at EEY three times, and I’ve learned a lot from every single class. I try to focus on poses that anyone in the class can do, but that’s a difficult task. At 12 weeks, a pregnant woman is likely to have most of her usual mobility and flexibility, and it’s possible she feels great and has lots of energy, but she may also be feeling tired or sick. At 38 weeks, a pregnant woman’s mobility is much more limited and she’s likely to be moving more slowly and getting tired more easily. And every pregnant woman is different and has different needs. At my current 25 weeks, I definitely move more slowly and tire more easily than I did a month ago, so I’m finding that the yoga I need is changing: a vinyasa class used to invigorate me, but now it just wears me out. I’m still capable of a lot of what I could do before, but as a yoga teacher my pre-pregnancy baseline is a little different from most women’s, so I can’t assume that my students can achieve certain poses just because I still can. I also can’t assume that my students, many of whom are new to yoga, will be able to catch when a pose isn’t quite right for their bodies to do. I’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of training and even I still occasionally do too much or press on through a pose that doesn’t feel right; I can’t expect a student in my class, especially a student new to yoga, especially a pregnant student dealing with her body feeling all kinds of different lately, to be able to make those calls with the level of accuracy and safety that I can for myself.

My experience as a pregnant yogini really brings home to me the importance of giving my students options for modifying postures. I feel like I spend a lot of my class talking through different options. For example, in a lunge, you can leave your hands on the floor, bring them to your knee or hips or heart center, or raise them to the sky. Depending on how I feel on a particular day, I’ve taken every one of those options at least once in the past few weeks, whereas before my pregnancy I’d almost always lift my arms overhead. I try to emphasize to my students that they should do whatever feels right for their bodies today, regardless of what I or the others in the class may be doing; I remind them to focus on their breath and to rest whenever they need to. I try to remember to tell them that if they need to run downstairs to the bathroom at any time during class, they should go ahead. And I try to give them tidbits of knowledge about what their bodies are doing during pregnancy, things that I’ve read or learned from my midwife or experienced myself. Here’s why it’s helpful to stretch the pelvic floor muscles; here’s what’s going on with our joints right now and why it’s important not to overstretch; here’s a pose that will give you some relief if you get leg cramps during the night like I do. But mostly, I try to give them options. Lots and lots of options.

And I think that these experiences will make me a better yoga teacher overall. Most of the time, the students who come to my regular hatha yoga classes are fit and able to practice at or near my level, but that won’t always be the case. I never know when a new or older or differently abled student might show up, and I want to be able to give that student options too. I never know when one of my regular students may be feeling extra tired or have a cold coming on and want to take it easy. I never know when a pregnant student may show up for a regular hatha class. Part of the challenge is being able to think on my feet and adapt to a particular group’s needs, but the real challenge is to be able to provide options to my students in a regular class, any regular class at any time, while still engaging the more advanced students. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s an essential part of my job. My yoga is not about making every person do each pose exactly the same way; my yoga is about helping each student to find what his or her own yoga is.

(Unrelated to the main content of this post, I just wanted to let folks know that Awaken Massage and Yoga has moved to a new location and my teaching schedule has switched from Wednesdays to Tuesdays. Check out Awaken’s website or my Schedule page for details!)

 

Yoga in the News: Ashtanga Article in Vanity Fair March 19, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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I just read this interesting and detailed article on Vanity Fair’s website: Whose Yoga Is It, Anyway? Kind of a fascinating look at the inner circle(s) of the Ashtanga community, especially after the recent Anusara blow-up. It sounds like the combination of lots of money, commercialization, yoga superstardom, passion about the core teachings, and the passing of a revered teacher is making a lot of waves. Overall I found it interesting to learn more about the Ashtanga lineage and wider community, even if that community is feeling some tension of late.

I know that many people really value having a deep connection to a special teacher or guru. I do know my lineage as a yoga teacher – who my teacher J studied with in India, and who that teacher studied with, rooting the yoga that I teach in a tradition that I’m proud to carry on. But at times like this, I think I’m glad not to have a personal connection with a guru. As we’ve all seen with John Friend and others like him, even revered yoga teachers are still fallible humans, and even when the teacher is as kind and lovely as Ashtanga’s Jois seems to have been, his successors won’t necessarily have the same qualities or goals. I don’t intend to demean the personal and spiritual connection of working directly with a guru or being part of that sort of close-knit yoga community; not having experienced it, I don’t want to pretend to understand how enlightening or intense that could be. What I do have, though, is my yoga. Because I’m a generation or two removed from the renowned teachers, I can always find strength and comfort in the yoga I practice and in passing that tradition on to my students, without having to worry about personal drama or community upheaval, and that’s something I appreciate.

 

Books: Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard March 15, 2012

As a book on meditation, Mathieu Ricard’s Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill is the best of both worlds, presenting both a spiritual and a scientific perspective. Ricard left a promising career in biology and genetics to become a Buddhist monk, so he uniquely understands both perspectives and is fascinated by the scientific study of the brain and how meditation affects, on a biological level, the way we think. Happiness is at once a guide to how meditation can improve our lives and help us to become happier and a thorough description of why it works, written in language accessible to any reader.

In the first few chapters, Ricard opens the book with discussion of happiness in general: is happiness the purpose of life? What does it mean to be happy, and how do we recognize happiness when we have it? Can we actively cultivate happiness in our lives? Concluding that happiness is possible and that cultivating it is worthwhile, Ricard then considers the problem of suffering. How can we be happy when we suffer; further, how can compassionate beings be truly happy when faced with the suffering of others? Ricard tackles this question, presenting stories of those who have suffered true hardship and examining the root causes of suffering. While we cannot control the events that happen to us, we can always control our responses to those events, and here is the real key to being happy under any circumstance. Over several chapters, Ricard discusses how we can use meditation in order to overcome ego, negative thoughts, and disturbing emotions, the obstacles within ourselves that prevent us from being happy no matter what occurs.

Ricard speaks from his own and his teachers’ experience that when we can lessen the influence of the ego and negative thoughts and emotions, we feel more freedom and happiness in our lives. He then goes on to discuss happiness from the perspective of sociology, psychology, and psychiatry, citing laboratory studies of experienced meditators whose brains have been shown to function differently than ordinary people’s brains. Meditation over long periods literally changes brain chemistry, leading to great benefits in quality of life. Ricard as both a scientist and a talented writer, in these chapters and throughout the book, is able to describe a variety of scientific studies and their results in terms a layman can understand and appreciate.

In the later chapters, Ricard examines positive attributes like altruism, humility, and optimism, and describes how cultivating these attitudes can help us to be happier. He cites evidence that those who are kind, humble, and optimistic tend to be happier than those who are not. By modifying our behavior to act more altruistically in daily life, or by being aware of pessimistic thought patterns as they arise, we can begin to make progress toward increasing happiness.

In the book’s final chapters, Ricard addresses several difficult issues: appreciating versus wasting time, ethics and the dichotomy of good and evil, and how to be happy in the presence of death. Ricard’s wisdom truly shines in these chapters; his advice is inspirational, practical and uplifting. The concluding chapter rounds out the book by describing the challenges and great rewards of following a spiritual path. Ricard promises that with regular practice and dedication, we can each not only live happier lives but become kinder, wiser, and more compassionate. Developing these qualities can lead us, as it led Ricard, to a life of great meaning, freedom, and joy.

 

Vegetarianism in the News March 9, 2012

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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Today just a couple of quick links about vegetarianism and meat. The title of the second article, for me, pretty much succinctly answers the question posed in the title of the first article.

We’re eating less meat. Why?

70 Percent of Ground Beef at Supermarkets Contains ‘Pink Slime’

The two articles don’t actually have anything to do with each other – the NYT opinion piece on eating less meat is from January, and I just saw the pink slime news item today. As Bittman states, we’re eating less meat because meat’s expensive and because we want to be healthier. But man oh man, was I glad to be eating healthier already when I read about that pink slime.

 

Prenatal Yoga Sequence #1 March 8, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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Here’s the sequence I came up with for my first prenatal yoga class a week and a half ago. It’s a perfectly fine series for anyone to practice – it’s an active sequence with some good emphasis on thighs, hips, and pelvic floor. It just doesn’t involve any deep forward folds, twists, or poses lying on the belly.

  • child’s pose
  • cat/cow
  • leg and arm extensions from neutral all-fours
  • downward dog
  • step up to gentle forward fold
  • 4 half sun salutes
  • 2 (or 4) modified full sun salutes (modified to omit chaturanga and up dog: fold, high or low lunge, step back to down dog, lunge on the other side, up to fold)
  • mountain pose
  • standing sequence:
    • warrior 1
    • warrior 2
    • triangle
    • pyramid
    • wide-legged forward fold
    • goddess pose
  • crane/squat dynamic balance pose (this is great but a little hard to describe, I need to shoot a video or something)
  • repeat standing sequence other side
  • if time permits, tree pose
  • squat/malasana at the wall
  • modified cobbler pose (instead of bringing feet tight toward the body, extending legs a bit into a diamond shape, leaving more room for the belly)
  • happy baby (mostly because I can’t hug my knees in to my chest anymore)
  • legs up the wall or other inversion depending on student’s ability
  • savasana (for students later in pregnancy, savasana should be taken while lying on one side, instead of lying flat on the back)

After practicing this sequence, the only thing I felt was missing was some sort of neck stretch. In the future I’d work that in either while standing in mountain pose or while seated, after cobbler pose. Just some gentle neck circles would fit nicely into this routine.