Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Thursday Night Class and Teaching Practice July 30, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:07 am
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Thursday night’s yoga class was really great. J tapped Nancy and me to teach some poses. It was technically a beginner level class, but J looked around and everybody in the room had some yoga experience, so he said we could teach it more as an all-levels class, so a little less description, less worry about just getting people into the pose, and actually doing and demonstrating the poses ourselves instead of walking around.

Initially I was pretty nervous, since I hadn’t taught in almost two months, but then I got excited. Nancy taught sun salutations – she has a lot of anxiety about teaching, but I thought she did a good job, some of the best teaching I’ve seen her do. Then I taught standing poses. I did a sequence starting with warrior 2, into radiant warrior, then triangle, revolved triangle, and then half moon for the balance. Best I could come up with at the time – I had been thinking I’d start with warrior 1, but Nancy did a lot of lunges in her sun salutations, so I figured we’d kind of worked those muscles. I was nervous at first and was only able to get out the basic instructions, but as we went on I got more confident and was able to say more, use my own words a little more. It ended up being really fun. Any time I teach, I start out nervous and then just want to go teach more.

After class, one of the students, a guy in his 50s probably, came up and told Nancy and me that we’d done a great job, and he appreciated having to be on his toes not knowing what pose would come next. We had a nice chat with Bob and then J sat down to do a little teaching post-mortem with us, wanting to know how we felt while we were teaching and how it was for us. He didn’t give us feedback on our teaching, because I think at this point he just wants us to practice doing it and make our mistakes and know that it’s fine. Then the three of us stayed for a good hour and just had a conversation about yoga and the Bhagavad Gita and India, where J spent 2+ months in an ashram several years ago. It was good because, as I told Nancy afterwards, I feel like we’re getting to know J a little more as a person. He does this wise yogi thing in class, and it’s hard to get at who the real person is under that, but I’m starting to see his energy and personality and emotion a little more. I got home late on Thursday, but it was really time well spent.


Thoughts from Last Night’s Class June 15, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 7:06 pm
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A few miscellaneous thoughts on last night’s yoga class:

  • N’s classes are a pretty amazing workout. I feel challenged in a completely different way than I do in J’s class. It’s kind of humbling, actually, because I think it’s not hard for me to get puffed up about my yoga practice, and N’s class brings me right back down to earth where I belong. It doesn’t matter how bendy or strong you are – what matters is the intention behind the practice – but really, I am not so bendy or strong as I think I am.
  • N’s class also serves to make me feel old. Last night, my back hurt, the backs of my knees hurt, my standing leg hurt all through the balance poses, and my arms hurt and wobbled all over the place. The arms are a strength thing, and clearly I’m working on that just by showing up, but the back and the knees could be age-related. N’s classes, while inspiring me to do more, work harder, and get stronger, also remind me to be careful, be mindful, and not hurt myself.
  • Speaking of the standing leg in balance poses, N had us do another balance sequence that kicked my butt again. I think the issue for me is that we’re going from balance poses where we bent forward (like ardha chandrasana) into balance poses where we’re upright (like crane and tree). Plus, putting that much pressure on the standing leg for several poses in a row without a break is really rough, and N doesn’t give us time to shake it out after we come down. (I say “without a break” but I gave myself several breaks last night, and it was still really tough.) This looks to be just one more area where I need to practice ahimsa and be gentle with myself.
  • When I find myself hurting in yoga class, or unable for whatever reason to keep up and do the pose as everyone else is doing it, I have a tendency to get angry. How long have we been holding this?!, I’ll think to myself, or Down-dog twist again? We’ve done it five times now! Last night it was really hard for me to practice tapas and work through the burn, and really hard to practice ahimsa and counter those negative thoughts with positive ones. Again, I have to turn my brain around and see this as an opportunity: a difficult yoga class is frustrating, but it’s going to make me stronger, and my negative thoughts are natural, but they give me a chance to practice some loving-kindness towards myself. If I need to rest, it’s okay to rest.
  • I hate ardha chandrasana. I really, really do. I’m practicing it more this month and I’m improving, but still. It is just Not Fun.
  • And speaking of Not Fun, someone near me in last night’s class was experiencing a gas problem. Now, I have nothing but sympathy for whoever it was – I’ve been that person before, we’ve all been that person – but it just makes the whole “deep even breathing” thing a little more difficult. Grabbing my lavender-filled eye pillow for savasana was a big relief, let me tell you.

Yoga Class with N June 8, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:11 am

Last night my neck was feeling back to normal (meaning: tight and full of stress and tension, but no more than usual), so I headed to the yoga center and had a great practice in N’s class. Tuesday night’s class is on the schedule as an “All Levels” class, but N seemed to know everyone in the room and she definitely taught a challenging class, the sort of class where downward dog really is a resting pose and a relief. It’s been a long time since I was so sweaty in a yoga class that I couldn’t hold on to my own slippery leg and was wiping my face on my pants. Definitely need to remember to bring a towel to N’s classes in the future!

N’s class was different from J’s typical class, maybe because I usually catch J’s class when it really is an “All Levels” class. J almost always structures his classes the same way, typically does basic sun salutations with lunges, and always has us hold the poses a long time. N’s class was more of a vinyasa flow; we did vinyasa-style sun salutations, moving on each inhale and exhale rather than holding each pose for a few breaths. I knew I was in for something different when one of the first poses we did was crow. We came back and did arm balances several times over the course of the class. I didn’t always practice an arm balance – I did crow once, but sometimes I just hung out in a squat or did leg stretches – but the other women in the room were doing crow, side crow, tripod, handstand, all kinds of cool stuff.

At one point N linked several balance poses together so we were on one foot for a while without coming down. I can’t remember the exact sequence we did, but the poses included ardha chandrasana (half moon), standing split, crane, dancer, tree, and two ardha chandrasana variations: one in which the raised arm was behind the back in a twist/bind; one in which the raised hand held the raised foot, almost like in dancer pose but with the other hand on the floor. This last I could not do at all. The balance chain was overall really tough on me and I had to keep coming back to standing split, which was the easiest of the forward-bending balances (with both hands on the floor), and after each balance chain I really needed to stretch out the standing leg. I think the fact that this sequence was so rough for me means that I need to go to N’s classes more often. N also had us do a different inversion sequence: starting in plow, lifting one leg at a time up to shoulder stand, and then working into lotus in shoulder stand, rolling out that way, and doing a lotus fish. Pretty intense stuff. I don’t do lotus so I just played with cobbler pose a bit in my shoulder stand.

To come from J’s class, which is slower paced and tends to have many beginning students, to N’s class, fast-paced, with an all-female group of students who were doing advanced arm balances like side crow and handstand and who could handle the difficult balance and inversion sequences, was really kind of inspiring. You don’t always see women doing those sorts of challenging poses, especially not ones relying on arm strength. This class was an amazing workout and I felt like I was really able to relax in my savasana, which doesn’t always happen in J’s classes. I think I may stick with N’s Tuesday class for a while rather than J’s Monday class – not because of the headstand, although that’s part of it, but because N’s classes have different things to teach me and it will be a different way to challenge myself. I do still plan to talk to J, but I think I’ll spend some time with N for a while.


Headstand Drama June 5, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 3:34 pm
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Yesterday I went to the 10:30 morning yoga class. Class was good and I was feeling great until we got to inversions. I decided to do a headstand (which I rarely do at the yoga center, only when I’m feeling particularly strong and confident). I did my headstand, held for a few minutes, and came down, and then J came over to me. He explained that I had my elbows too wide in the headstand – the elbows shouldn’t be wider than the shoulders, so I should bring them in closer together. He also said I should bring my feet close together, as that would make it easier to balance. Then he told me to try it again.

I had some difficulty lifting back up into headstand – I’d already done it once and was a little tired. Also, the new arm position felt unnatural. J helped me lift my ankles. As soon as I was vertical in the pose, I knew it wasn’t right for me: I felt very uncomfortable and my neck really hurt, which is a major problem in a headstand. Thinking back now, I think that with the new arm position I wasn’t able to press strongly enough through my arms, putting all the pressure on my head and thus my neck. Either the new position made it physically difficult for me to press strongly, or I wasn’t confident enough with it to press strongly, but either way it was a problem. I wanted to come down out of the pose right away, but J was in front of me holding my ankles, so if I had dropped down I would have kicked him in the face. I panicked and didn’t say anything because I was afraid I’d (A) cry or (B) shout, so I just kept my mouth shut. I tried to press down through my arms to alleviate the pressure on my neck, but I don’t think it helped much, and I tried to follow J’s instructions about lifting my hips and keeping my feet together. I have no idea how I did with this. The base for my headstand was so uncertain and uncomfortable that I don’t know how well I held up at all. As soon as J moved aside, I dropped down. I tried to do a few neck stretches, but I was really shaken. Then it was time for sivasana.

I spent most of sivasana alternately being really angry and upset and trying to calm myself down. I felt angry foremost at J for making me do this modification that turned out to be so painful and so scary. But I knew I couldn’t be too angry with him – he’s a yoga teacher, not a mind reader. Also, he knows I’m an experienced student and should be able to trust me not to do something that hurts (while I on the other hand should be able to trust him not to hurt me, but this is a circular argument). I was angry most of all at myself for not being better able to respond to the situation. I know that I can have trouble with my neck in headstand and I could have been more careful; I could have told him I didn’t want to do the pose again; or I could have said something when it hurt, even if it resulted in me crying or shouting. Sticking it out through a tough pose is one thing, but when a pose actually causes pain, you’re supposed to come out of it or modify it right away. I felt angry that I let that situation happen, even though there didn’t seem to be anything else I could do at the time (short of kicking my teacher in the face).

I got myself mostly calmed down by the time we got to meditation. After class, I tried to wait to talk to J, but there was a new student in the class and he always likes to check in with new students after class. I used the rest room, and when I came back upstairs, everyone else was gone except J and the new student, who were talking in the back room, so I left too. I spent the afternoon with my parents and managed to put the bad feelings out of my mind.

I woke up this morning with a really, really sore neck. I still feel upset with J, and with myself. I think I do need to talk to him about this because I don’t want this to affect our working relationship (considering we’re stuck with each other until December) and plus he just deserves to know. Also, I want to talk about the pose itself and why he felt it necessary to modify my headstand in that way. Would keeping my elbows wide eventually lead to some other sort of injury? Right now I’m torn between wanting to practice playing with the new arm position in a safe way at home (after the current soreness heals, of course), wanting to ignore what he told me and keep doing it the old way, and wanting never to do a headstand again. Choosing the last option would mean giving in to the fear that I feel about the pose now, and that’s not a good idea. I also really, really don’t want to have to confront J. I could go to one of N’s classes instead this week but I feel like that would be avoiding the issue.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Tips on practicing headstand safely? Authoritative suggestions on correct arm positioning? Ideas on how to approach J?


April Training Weekend: Saturday Asana Round-Up, part 2 May 5, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:27 pm
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Yesterday‘s post discussed standing postures, forward bends, backbends, and twists. Here are a few other categories of yoga postures:

  • Arm balances are often the poses that look the coolest. We’ve all seen photos of some flexible, muscular, inhuman-looking guy balancing like some sort of impossible alien creature. We look at these pictures and think, I could never do that. Part of what’s needed to accomplish arm balances is a positive attitude: the ability to get over the idea that it’s impossible. It may be too much for you right now, but anything is possible. This is why arm balances also require and build strength and determination. Because they look like you’re about to take flight, arm balances are often named after birds: crow, crane, peacock, swan. Side plank (vasisthasana), while challenging, can be an easier arm balance for beginners to start with.
  • Inverted postures are usually done near the end of hatha yoga class. Any pose that results in your head being below your heart is technically an inversion, but there are many classic ones: the most challenging include handstand, headstand, and wheel; easier ones are bridge and shoulder stand; and finally, there’s legs-up-the-wall, which anyone can do. No matter which you choose, inversions are beneficial because they mix things up, reversing your systems, which can improve slow metabolism and help with headaches. Inversions also make organs and muscles work harder to stay upright, which tones them. With inversions, it’s best to be humble – don’t force yourself into a pose you’re not ready for just to impress others. When you do “egostand”, you’ll be uncomfortable and could end up really hurting yourself. Be kind to your neck!
  • Finally, any hatha yoga class will end with sivasana – corpse pose or rest pose. It looks the simplest because your just lying there on the floor, but it’s actually challenging because you have to calm your mind and really allow the body to relax. The whole yoga class is building to this point: relaxing in sivasana. (Here’s an interesting tip I learned: if you have a cold and sivasana makes you cough, try lying on your stomach instead!)

Some yoga poses may seem to fit into more than one of these categories (handstand is both an arm balance and an inversion; wheel is both an inversion and a backbend; standing poses often involve backbends and twists). That’s not a problem, because you’re getting the benefit of both kinds of poses.

Since this month is focused on asana, our homework assignment is to do eight posture write-ups. We have to write on four of our favorite poses, and on four of our least favorite poses. We’ll reflect on what specifically it is that we like or dislike about the pose. After all, the posture itself is neutral – it’s how I perceive the posture that makes it “good” or “bad”, so what does my perception of that posture say about me? This assignment gives us an opportunity not just to examine the poses, but also ourselves based on our feelings about the poses. Some of my classmates wondered aloud how they would find four different poses they disliked, while another classmate had trouble coming up with more than two poses he actually liked! I think we’ll get a variety of responses to this assignment.

We also have to write out a one-hour sequence of postures for a beginner class. We talked a lot in class about how to structure a hatha yoga class, so I’ll write more about this in the days to come.


April Training Weekend: Saturday Asana Round-Up, part 1 May 4, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:19 pm
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I haven’t finished my write-up of the April teacher training weekend yet, so let’s remedy that. On Friday, we had talked about sun salutations; in Saturday’s class we covered other types of yoga postures. Most postures can be grouped into one of the following categories:

  • Standing postures build strength, endurance, and flexibility. They can improve circulation and energy by building heat in the body. Standing poses also increase mental energy, improving alertness and concentration. There’s a lot to concentrate on during standing poses, after all! Although vigorous, standing poses are good for beginners because they strengthen the body and improve focus, which is necessary for meditation. Standing postures include the warrior poses, triangle, chair pose, and balances like tree, eagle, and dancer pose.
  • Forward bends can be done while standing or seated – all you do is bend forward. These poses are good for calming body and mind, releasing tension, and lengthening the spine. Forward bends also provide an abdominal massage, which can be good for the internal organs and digestion. In seated forward bends, the legs can be straight, wide open, in a split, or one or both knees can be bent – different positions of the legs allow you to get different leg stretches during the pose. For standing forward bends, you can bend with legs hip-width apart or in a wide-legged stance.
  • Backbends are heart opening poses. For this reason, backbends can be difficult for some people – a backbend can make you feel vulnerable. When you drop your head back, you can’t see what’s in front of you, and that can be scary. However, backbends can be really beneficial because they open the chest and shoulders; if you spend a lot of time hunched over a computer keyboard, backbends can really help to balance out your body. They improve posture, decrease depression, and strengthen the back. Common backbends are upward-facing dog, cobra, sphinx, camel, and wheel pose. You can do a simple backbend right now, either standing or seated, just by placing your hands on your lower back for support and leaning gently back, opening and bending backward from the heart.
  • Twisting poses wring out the body, releasing toxins and massaging the internal organs. This makes them good for digestion and circulation. Twists also, obviously, twist the spine, which can release tension in the back and shoulders. Many standing poses involve a twist (think of revolved triangle), but usually we think of twists as seated or reclining poses. Twists are great for improving energy – when you’re feeling stressed, do some twists and unwind!

Tomorrow: learn about arm balances, inversions, and sivasana, and find out what my homework for this month will be!


General guidelines for asana practice: comfortable and steady May 3, 2011

Filed under: breath,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 7:19 am
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N gave us a handout listing general guidelines for a yoga class:

  1. Start with a centering exercise
  2. Breathe in and out through the nose
  3. Engage diaphragmatic breathing (not shallow breathing)
  4. Do not hold the breath; let breath flow
  5. Practice on an empty stomach
  6. Wear loose-fitting comfortable clothing
  7. Always end practice with sivasana and meditation
  8. Stay present and focused on practice
  9. Make sure you are comfortable and steady in every posture
  10. Close the eyes if you are able, or focus on drishti (focal point)
  11. Have no expectations of your practice; remain detached
  12. Each posture has an attitude behind it: acceptance, surrender, balance, strength, heart-opening
  13. Each posture works with subtle body energy and chakras
  14. Time of practice and place of practice are important elements

Many of these are common-sense things or things I’d heard before, but there are a couple that were new to me. One of these is #9, “Make sure you are comfortable and steady in every posture”, which I’d never heard before coming to N & J’s classes. They’re not saying that you should feel as comfortable practicing yoga as you feel sitting on the couch. What they’re saying is that, even in a difficult pose, you should be able to feel comfortable and steady staying in the pose for a while, despite the fact that it’s difficult.

We all know that, when practicing yoga, you need to find a balance between actual pain and the strain of stretching in a new way. If a posture is causing actual pain, you need to get out of that posture or modify it so it doesn’t hurt. However, some strain is natural, the body’s way of letting us know that something is going on here. Feeling strain allows us to practice tapas and use that burning feeling in our arms or legs as fuel to become stronger.

Despite the strain and ache in our muscles, we need to find a way to feel steady in the posture. If we’re wobbling all over the place, we can’t find our balance, and our feet are slipping, then we’re not practicing the pose properly. The best thing to do is to come out of the pose a little bit: change your stance, bend a little less, modifying the pose until you feel steady. If you don’t feel steady, it’s a sign that your body isn’t ready for the most challenging modification, and maybe you should spend a little more time in the basic posture or a in gentler modification. If you feel steady in the posture, then you can allow your body to relax into it a little, and you can hold the posture comfortably for longer.

Similarly, N & J tell us to pay attention to the breath in a difficult pose. Is your breathing ragged and uneven? Are you panting like you just ran a marathon? Or are you holding the breath? Then it’s time to modify the posture. Hatha yoga class isn’t like kickboxing class – the point isn’t just to give the body a good workout. You want to be able to keep your breath deep and even and regular as you hold each pose. Let your breath guide you as you flow from one pose to another. There’s nothing wrong with modifying a pose to make it easier, or with taking a rest if you need one. Get your breath back to a nice even flow and focus on keeping it steady and even as you practice. It will make your practice stronger and you’ll feel better afterwards!

Are any points on the list of general guidelines unfamiliar to you? Do you see any surprises here?