Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

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!)

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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.

 

Pose of the Month: Goddess Pose February 28, 2012

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Pose Name: Goddess Pose

Sanskrit Name: Utkata Konasana (Fierce Angle Pose)

Steps:

  1. Begin in a wide-legged stance, with feet about three feet apart, or roughly the length of one of your legs. Angle your feet so your toes point out and heels point in, about a 45 degree angle.
  2. Exhale and bend both knees deeply. Don’t allow the knees to swing out to the front – keep knees right over the ankles. Also, be sure to keep your knees and your toes pointing at the same angle – if needed, adjust the angle of your feet a bit. Tuck your tailbone under.
  3. Keeping your back straight, raise your arms up to shoulder height. Bend the elbows so your fingertips point toward the ceiling. Palms face forward or in, and fingers are active and extended. Drop the shoulders down and back, and press the chest forward.
  4. Look straight ahead and breathe. (Ujjayi breath is great to use here.)
  5. To come out, exhale and release the arms down, then inhale and slowly straighten the legs.

Benefits:

Goddess pose offers many of the benefits of a squat: it’s a great hip opener and works to stretch the pelvic floor, and, like a squat, it’s a great pose for improving your sex life and for pregnant women to practice for those reasons. It also offers many of the benefits of the warrior poses: strengthening the arms and legs and building heat and stamina. Goddess pose is also a great heart opening pose, stretching and strengthening the muscles of the chest.

Contraindications:

Those with knee injuries should work gently and mindfully in goddess pose. If you have poor balance, you could try practicing the pose with your back against a wall for support.

My Experience with Goddess Pose:

Although I’ve always liked this pose, I didn’t practice it often until just recently. Now that I’m pregnant, I find this pose is a nice alternative to a squat and a great supplement to my warrior series: I really enjoy bringing some strong feminine energy to my standing sequence, since the warrior poses feel so masculine to me. I love this pose because it feels elegant and fierce, strong and grounded.

 

Misc updates February 27, 2012

I taught my first prenatal class at EEY yesterday. It was awesome (or, at least, it seemed so to me – I hope my five students also enjoyed it!). I focused primarily on standing postures and included plenty of squatting poses as well; I’ll try to post the full sequence later this week. I felt confident teaching and the class seemed to flow really smoothly. Next time I want to walk around more, and also encourage the students to use a blanket as a prop or cushion (since personally I am far more comfortable these days sitting on a blanket/cushion than I am on a hard floor, and this class is based pretty much entirely on my own experience). I definitely need to do more research, watch a few more videos, maybe get a book, and hit another few prenatal classes myself, but I’m really happy with this beginning. And today my arms, hips, and thighs feel sore, which is a good sign. I hope my students aren’t suffering too much soreness, especially since some of them are still dealing with morning sickness!

When I thought about it, I was surprised to note that this is the first time in a while that I’ve taught yoga to students I don’t personally know in some way. It’s also the first time I’ve taught at EEY since graduating from teacher training. I was nervous, but not overly so, and I don’t think I seemed nervous; once I started teaching, I felt confident and like I had something valuable to share. This was a great feeling, and reminded me of how much I love teaching yoga! The Sunday morning timeslot for this class isn’t ideal, but I’m so glad I made room for it in my schedule and my life.

Unrelated to how awesome teaching yoga is (or perhaps tangentially related!), I just read this article by Mike Lux titled “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” This is not a political blog, but just last month I blogged about how frustrating I find it that many people who claim to be Christian do not seem to support the values that Jesus describes over and over again in the Bible. Mr. Lux makes a much better case, citing the specific number of times that Jesus told his followers to do things like help the poor, and providing examples from the Old Testament as well. I really appreciated his article so I wanted to share.

 

Pose of the Month: Malasana (Squat) February 23, 2012

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:44 pm
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Pose Name: Squat

Sanskrit Name: Malasana (Garland Pose), Upavesasana (Sitting-Down Pose)

Steps:

  1. Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose): feet hip-width apart, spine nice and straight, hands in prayer at heart center.
  2. Slowly bending the knees, come down toward the floor in a squat. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor. If you need to, you can widen your stance slightly – toes as far as the outside edge of the mat, heels pointing in.
  3. If you can, work your elbows inside your knees with your hands in prayer. Try to use the elbows to press the knees back, opening the hips and lengthening the spine. Press your shoulders back – you want to keep the chest open and spine straight. Don’t hunch!
  4. Work on balancing here. Find your center of gravity and try to find a way to hold the pose comfortably. Feel your pelvic floor muscles relaxing and opening.
  5. If you need to, you can rest by leaning forward a bit and placing your palms on the floor. You can allow your heels to lift as you do this. When you can, come back into the pose.
  6. To release, simply sit your tush down on the mat.

Variation Using the Wall:

Begin in mountain pose as described above, but with your back pressed against a wall and heels a little out from the wall (maybe a fist’s width). As you come down into your squat, slide down the wall, then use the wall to support your back in the pose. This will take some pressure off and help you balance, allowing you to focus on opening the hips and relaxing the pelvic floor.

Benefits:

This is a great simple pose for anyone to practice since it stretches the hips, works and relaxes the pelvic floor, and strengthens the legs. Because it works these regions, it’s a good pose for improving your sex life. It’s also a great pose in particular for pregnant women (hence my current interest!).

Contraindications:

This pose may be difficult for those with balance issues or knee/ankle problems. If it’s difficult to keep your feet flat on the floor or you feel pressure in your ankles, you could try using some support under your heels (like a blanket folded in half or the folded edge of your mat). Over time, gradually use less support until you can comfortably keep your foot flat. If the whole pose is difficult, you could try it seated on the front edge of a chair: with thighs at right angles to the floor, and heels slightly forward of your knees, lean your chest forward between your thighs.

My experience with this pose:

Right now I am loving squats. They feel great and I know they’re a good preparation for childbirth. I’ve liked squats for a long time, though – one of my yoga teachers in Boston had his students practice squats regularly. As a yoga teacher myself, I like squats for sequencing reasons, because they make a great transition from standing to seated poses, adding more interest and structure to an asana sequence than “OK, let’s all come to the floor now.”

Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), since I’ve been practicing this pose regularly, I’ve been finding myself using it in other parts of my life – like examining items on the bottom shelf at the grocery store, picking up something I’ve dropped, or cleaning up a spill. It’s nice to be able to hang out down there for a while to compare nutrition info on product labels or find that loose change!

For more useful tips on this pose, check out Tori’s post On Squatting.

 

2012 goal update February 22, 2012

Filed under: checking in,reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:03 pm
Tags: , ,

Back in January, I did some thinking about my plans and expectations for the coming year. I thought it might be useful to check in and see how I’m doing with all the various goals I came up with.

  • Get registered with Yoga Alliance.(Check!)
  • After registering, look into yoga teacher insurance. (Still need to do this.)
  • Turn this blog into an official website with a schedule and more information about me.(I feel good on this one – if you look around and think I’m missing anything, let me know!)
  • Start a Facebook page for RoxDoesYoga separate from my personal FB to make it easier for yoga friends and potential students to find me. (Done!)
  • Keep up my ties with EEY, the yoga center where I completed my training, by attending hatha yoga class there at least once per month. (January and February: check.)
  • I also hope to attend any special events or workshops that come up at EEY, and teach as a sub there as opportunities arise. (See below…)
  • Reach out to new studios and make connections with other local yoga teachers by attending at least one new yoga class per month. I’d love to start building a new yoga community a little closer to home than EEY and look into teaching opportunities with other yoga centers. (This is such a hard one. I’ve gotten it done for January and February, hitting classes at Enso and Awaken respectively, but I’m not sure how much more reaching out I’ll be able to do. The teaching opportunities have been fast and furious, however.)
  • Keep teaching my weekly Front Porch Yoga class for private students at my home, at least for the next few months. This class will continue to be free, since these students are my friends and their interest in yoga and continued dedication to showing up at my house has provided me with invaluable teaching experience. For now, I really want to stay in practice as a teacher and not lose my confidence, and continuing the free Front Porch class will help me do that.(Front Porch Yoga is now canceled so I can focus on my yoga teaching in other venues.)
  • Begin exploring other yoga teaching opportunities. This is a little more vague, since I’m not sure what’s out there. Some ideas include teaching a discounted class for my neighbors at our town community center, or seeing if the dance studio in the next town over might be interested in starting a yoga program. (I think this resolution will need to be postponed to much later this year, if at all – there’s only so much teaching I can do with a day job!)
  • Continue to challenge myself with reading books on yoga and meditation, with a goal of one yoga-related book per month. (I didn’t succeed with this, although I managed to read the current issue of Yoga Journal and I’m almost done a meditation book. This isn’t turning out to be a good time in my life for reading.)
  • Contact Yoga Journal and other related magazines to look into writing book reviews for publication. (Still need to do this.)
  • Maintain my personal yoga practice. My goal is to fit in some sort of practice every day, whether it’s an hour-long class or three sun salutations. I want to work on practicing pranayama and meditation daily. (This is probably the hardest goal on this list. I am really, truly trying. Sometimes I’m too tired, and sometimes I just forget.)
  • Continue this blog by posting 2-3 times per week. I figure all the goals and plans I’ve listed here will give me plenty to write about! (I missed the end of January/beginning of February due to travel, but otherwise I’ve kept up with the 2-3 times per week goal.)
  • Look into and begin researching prenatal yoga.

That last one is taking off a bit, not entirely through my own initiative. It turns out that the person who has been teaching the prenatal yoga class at EEY has moved to Florida; N needed someone to fill in, and of course she thought of her pregnant former student! I’ll be picking up the 10:30 am Sunday morning prenatal class until at least the end of March and possibly for the foreseeable future.

Although I don’t have any formal training in prenatal yoga, I do have some solid experience considering that all the yoga I do right now is prenatal, and I have firsthand knowledge of how pregnant bodies feel and move. I feel pretty solid about teaching this class, mostly because my body has been very up-front and communicative about what I should and shouldn’t be doing in my yoga practice. (My digestive system needs more work on communication, but my muscles and ligaments are quite chatty.) I’m going to continue to research prenatal yoga as best I can, which right now involves watching videos online and will hopefully involve me picking up and reading a few books. I’m looking forward to learning more as I work with my students and continue on my yoga teaching journey.

 

Gentle/Prenatal Yoga Sequence January 23, 2012

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
Tags: ,

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.