Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Getting back in the swing of things February 21, 2013

Filed under: checking in,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:45 pm
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For the past week, I have practiced yoga every day! On the weekend, I got a good half-hour practice in each day during YogaBaby’s naps, but on the weekdays, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 am so I can practice for 15-20 minutes before we start the day. This hasn’t been as horribly as I would have expected. First of all, my husband F has been getting up at 5:30 for a while now to write, so I’m already used to the alarm going off. Also, YB suddenly decided that she only needs one night-feeding instead of two, so getting up early has been much easier now that I’m getting a little more sleep. (I also theorize that, with having a baby, I’ve gotten used to sleeping less in general, so getting up early may be less of a hardship than it would have been for me pre-YB.)

I have to say, I’m feeling so much better than I was. I hadn’t practiced yoga at all between January 14 and February 13 (family illness, out-of-town guests, and then inertia as contributing factors), and it showed. My body felt rusty, sore, and old, and even worse, my emotions were noticeably more negative and less under my control. I hadn’t realized just how much I relied on that yoga time for not just my physical health but my emotional well-being too. Add to that the fact that it’s winter, and February is typically the worst month of the year for me, and you can imagine how I was feeling. It wasn’t good for my family either (YB looked so surprised the day I randomly burst into tears at the dinner table!).

After only a week, and with such short sessions, I’m not back to 100 percent yet. But I feel much better. My body feels pleasantly sore instead of creaky old lady sore, and I find myself yearning to go for a run or a bike ride. My problem areas are still my calves and hips, along with my back, which is suffering from annual hunched-over-freezing-cold achiness. The calves are improving, and I’m much more likely to start stretching them during the day while waiting for coffee or the elevator. Hips are more troublesome – I can’t manage cobbler pose at all – but at least now I know that my left hip is tighter than the right. My back, shoulders, and neck are all delighted to be practicing again too.

And emotionally I’m much happier, less snappish, less easily frustrated, and more patient and responsive to YB. I still have a lot of room for improvement – I had a bit of a breakdown on Sunday, and Tuesday night I got grumpy with F for no reason just because I was tired – but I feel like I’m starting from a calmer, more positive baseline. I really hope to keep it up!


Being the Best July 6, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 10:07 pm
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One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is what it means to be the best. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had a thing about being the best – maybe it’s because my generation was always told we could do anything, maybe it’s because as a child I learned quickly in school and got used to being praised. Whatever it was, it meant that whenever I was good at something, I wanted to be better, wanted to conquer it (or at least to feel like I could conquer it if I weren’t so busy conquering other things). In middle school when I got straight As in everything but science, in which I got a B+, instead of accepting that as good enough, I studied hard and pulled the grade up. In high school, I took geometry and algebra II at the same time so I could catch up and do AP calculus my senior year. In college I did exhaustive library research for all my papers, filling my dorm room with stacks of inter-library loan books. In everything I’ve chosen to pursue, I’ve always challenged myself to excel, to be the best.

Of course when it comes to yoga I do this too. A slow hatha practice wasn’t enough for me, I had to push myself in a tough vinyasa sequence. If there was a complicated, difficult pose, I was going to work hard until I could do it. A beginners class was fine for beginners, but I was an advanced student. When I decided to do my teacher training, this focus came up there too. Of course I would want to teach advanced classes, being that I was so advanced myself.

Through the teacher training program and even just in practicing at EEY, I’ve experienced a major attitude shift in my personal practice. When I signed up for teacher training, I thought that the classical hatha program wasn’t exactly what I’d wanted, and I was a little sad that I wouldn’t get to do the more vigorous vinyasa practice that I liked, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still teach vinyasa after I was certified. What I’ve found is that a classical hatha class challenges me in completely different ways than a vinyasa class does.A few weeks ago, I went to a vinyasa class at a different studio for the first time since starting the TT program, and it was too fast for me: I missed having time to linger in each pose and really appreciate how my body stretched. I built up a sweat, sure, but I didn’t feel my muscles burning the way I do in hatha class. Having to hold the pose a little longer works the muscles differently.

The TT program has also made me more humble. I’ve realized that a lot of poses are hard for me such that the most basic pose is all I can manage, and I can’t even think about the more challenging variations; there are many ways in which I could be stronger, more flexible. There’s a lot to learn for everyone in a beginners yoga class, no matter what level you’re at, and I’m finding that I really enjoy beginner yoga class because it helps me stay strong on the basics. I’m learning that I don’t have to be the best at yoga – that there’s not even a “best”, only what my body is capable of doing today.

What I’ve really learned is how much yoga is a part of my full life, not just a workout. I crave my yoga time not just because it feels good physically, but because it keeps me calm and centered. I don’t need to do fancy poses or wrap my leg around my head because it’s not about that. I don’t know if I realized that as much before I started TT. I wanted to be a yoga teacher because I love yoga so much and I really want to share yoga with everybody, but I noticed that teaching advanced vinyasa classes doesn’t so much jive with the “sharing yoga with everybody” mission. Sharing yoga with everybody means teaching beginner classes, period. I’ve always said too that I want to teach yoga to older people, but older people often have physical problems that mean they need the most basic level of beginner yoga. There was a disconnect in what I saw as my mission, and I can see that now. I’m really excited about teaching yoga to people who’ve never done it before, and I’m much less interested in teaching advanced level classes. I’ll teach ’em, of course, but I’m psyched about working with beginners. Being “the best” teacher doesn’t have anything to do with how flexible I am compared with others. To be the best yoga teacher I can be, I just have to share my passion.


Teacher Training Weekend: Friday Night Anatomy Class May 20, 2011

Filed under: reflections,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 10:58 pm
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Tonight was our May teacher training Friday night class, and I’m too excited to go to bed. Tonight we had an anatomy lesson with a special guest teacher, Jeanne, who is both a yoga teacher and a physical therapist with 20+ years of experience. She gave a talk about the anatomy of the spine and how it applies to yoga. Some of you might be thinking, “Anatomy lesson? On a Friday night?!”, but this may be the best thing that has happened during teacher training yet.

First, some background. My dad is in his 50s. He did hard physical labor all his life, and it took a toll on his body. He’s had knee problems, foot problems, and back problems, most recently resulting in two spinal surgeries in the past year, with another one possible on the horizon. He’s a bigger dude and thinks his weight might not be helping the problem, so since his last surgery he’s been trying hard to get in shape. He goes to the gym every day, does some aqua aerobics classes, swims some laps, puts in time on the stationary bike. This in spite of severe daily pain. I admire his dedication so much and I’m so proud of him.

Last month, Dad offered to be my beginner guinea pig so I could practice teaching, and asked me when I was going to come up and do yoga with him, but I put him off. I was too nervous – I didn’t want to hurt him by accident. My dad’s health is so close to my heart, I couldn’t stand it if I made his pain worse. My aunt and cousin, who are also beginners at yoga and who have a few health problems between them, have also been asking when I’m going to come teach them. Plus, at the middle school where my mother teaches, apparently the entire faculty want me to teach them a class too. The whole thought was just overwhelming.

Tonight at training, we started the evening by doing our group share. Most of us talked about the experience of doing the posture write-ups this month and what we learned, but one woman mentioned that she’d been really nervous about teaching beginner yoga classes, so she experimented on her mom and her husband, and learned a lot. Another classmate chimed in that she’d been teaching her husband too, and J told us that this is our gold, finding family and friends that we can practice teaching on. My first thought was, but how do I work with my dad when I’m afraid I’m going to break him?

And then Jeanne started her lecture. We learned about how the spine is constructed, how each spinal disc sits like a little jelly doughnut in the vertebrae. When you put pressure on the disc wall, it pooges out a little, and presses on the nerves coming out of the spine; depending on where in the spine the pressure is, this can cause pain in the arms or legs, because the nerves going to the extremities all originate in the spine. When you put more pressure on the disc wall, it cracks and the jelly oozes out, which really impinges on the nerves. And I’m having these revelations: this is what is going on in my father’s back! We talked about each section of the spine and the common problems that occur there, and what poses can be used to counter those problems. I’m taking notes like a madwoman and starting a list in the back of my notebook of poses that might work for my dad and poses that we should avoid doing. After class, I approached Jeanne, explained my situation and asked what she might recommend, and we had a good conversation and she gave me some ideas.

After class I felt so incredibly inspired and jazzed up that I tried to call my dad from the car on the way home, but I couldn’t get the speakerphone to work, so I drove home and then called from the parking lot. I had to tell him how excited I was. Now I can work with him without having to worry about hurting him. I’ll still be mindful, of course, and watch him carefully, and I want to see what exercises his physical therapist gave him so I don’t contradict anything, but now I know what to avoid (specifically: lengthy forward bends). I have a short list of poses that shouldn’t hurt his back and might possibly help a little, and when I see what his capacity is, we can go from there.

Having a little bit of confidence that I can try to help my dad gives me some confidence that I can try to work with other beginning students, too. (Apparently that was the key – kind of a weird key, but I’ll take it.) And just the whole night tonight! Jeanne is doing work that I’m really passionate about. She teaches yoga at a retirement center. That is exactly what I want to do. I really want to work with older people, help keep them healthy and flexible. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time now, but the thought of it is a little overwhelming because, well, older people are more fragile and have more health concerns to worry about. There’s so much more I need to learn before I can do it effectively and safely and helpfully. This lesson tonight is only the tip of the iceberg of all I need to know to do any part of what Jeanne does, but I have a little faith now that I have the capacity to understand this work and the enthusiasm to make it happen.

And I may never get to sleep tonight but it’s totally worth it.


Yoga on a Monday April 26, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:15 pm
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Yesterday, I felt a little sick, but took a tylenol and decided to go to yoga class anyway. I’m really glad I did, because it was the best practice I’d had in a while.

It was a small class – just seven of us, with J teaching. Three of us were more experienced yoga students; four were closer to beginners, and as I was practicing I reserved a corner of my mind to pay attention to how J gave the instructions for each pose, what he said or pointed out to help the less experienced students through the postures. I noted the little moments when J said something outside his usual wording, indicating that those words were a gentle nudge aimed at someone in particular. I was pleased that I remembered to start cultivating that awareness throughout the practice.

I did a little stretching before class started, and found that my legs were loose enough that I could press my forehead to my knees in paschimottanasana; that was my first clue that it was going to be a good practice. I felt strong all through the class. J had us do some poses, like Pigeon, that I hadn’t done in one of his classes before, and it felt good. My low and high lunges during sun salutations were nice and strong, and it occurred to me that just a month or two ago, the sun salutation lunges were killing me because I wasn’t used to them. During the standing poses, when I felt my thighs burning, I consciously whispered “tapas” to myself, lowered a little deeper into the pose, and lengthened my breath. I was able to straighten my right knee in Revolved Triangle (not my left knee, not quite, but I got closer than usual). We did Camel as our backbend, and it felt so good that afterward I lowered back into Hero pose and was able to comfortably get my tush on the floor. J saw me doing Hero (everyone else was doing Child’s pose) and gave me a tip about trying to pull my knees closer together to get a different stretch, so I tried that. At the end of class, I felt ready to do a headstand, which I hadn’t done in a while. I pulled my mat over to the wall, prepared myself, and was able to gracefully lift my legs straight up. J gave me some pointers on lifting my legs away from the wall, so I worked on that, and was able to hold my headstand a good long while.

I wish I could say that my sivasana was perfect and undistracted, but not really. (I can even tell you my train of thought: Hey, I haven’t seen Katrina in a while. I should call her next time I’m in Boston and we should go dancing, it seems like she goes dancing all the time from her Facebook page. I miss going dancing with Kris, too, she should come along, but I bet she’s busy planning her wedding. I’m glad Carlos came to MY wedding. I wish Bobbi and Jon had been able to come to my wedding too, or that I’d been able to go to theirs. I’m so happy they’re having a baby – Hey, sivasana here! My eyes keep flickering, I should get Sarah T to make me an eye pillow, I need to check her prices on etsy – Sivasana!) So yes, I felt some distractions, but I was able to (1) catch myself and come back to sivasana and my breath, and (2) follow my own train of thought. I feel like this is a little bit useful because at least I’m aware enough of the distraction to see where my thoughts are going and where they’ve been, and awareness is a good thing.

Overall, it was a really excellent practice, and afterward I felt relaxed and languid and peaceful and content. I wanted to remember this practice, to look back over it as something special. In the midst of everything going on in my life right now, all the stress I’ve been feeling lately, I needed this practice to remind me that I really love this thing, that there’s a reason I believe in this so much.


Letter of Intent March 16, 2011

Filed under: teacher training,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 12:39 pm
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In order to sign up for the teacher training program, I had to send the instructors a letter of intent.  I thought it’d be nice to post it here, since it describes how I got into yoga in the first place and talks about why I want to teach.

Dear Nicole,

I would like to participate in East Eagle’s 2011 teacher training program.

I first started practicing yoga in the spring 2003 while in graduate school, and I loved it right away.  Shortly after that class ended, I moved to Boston, where I continued my practice, attending yoga classes twice a week from 2004 to 2006.  My teacher, Gene, taught Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, and was a stickler for keeping a straight back and doing poses accurately.  He  provided me with a great yoga foundation.  When I left Boston for Philadelphia in 2006, I knew I wanted to pursue a teacher training program.  Of course, life intervened: I moved to a new city, found a new job, and fell in love with a man who lived in California, so for a long time my weekends were devoted to traveling to maintain our relationship.  Eventually F moved to Philly and we were married last year.  Through all of this, yoga has been my lifeline.  When I didn’t have enough in my budget to attend yoga classes at a studio, I would practice at home, rolling out my mat in the tiny space between the back of the couch and the hall closet.  In my new home with my husband, I am fortunate enough to have a dedicated yoga space, and I wake up early several mornings a week to practice before heading to work.  On our recent honeymoon, one of the places we visited was a yoga retreat in Belize (and it was heavenly!).

During the past few years, I have been reading books on yoga, meditation, and Buddhism as a complement to my yoga practice.  To provide just a few examples, I recently read BKS Iyengar’s Light on Life, Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, and Nischala Joy Devi’s guide to the yoga sutras for women; I also spend some time every night reading authors like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön on meditation.  I subscribe to Yoga Journal and read it cover to cover every month.  The reading requirement for the teacher training is something I’m truly looking forward to!

Yoga is an important part of my daily life.  Over time, my practice has deepened, from simply accomplishing the physical poses, to relishing the emotional calm and spiritual growth that yoga makes possible.  Yoga is something I love and something I want to share with others.  I get excited about yoga the way a young child gets excited about a flower and wants to show it to everyone.  Yoga is so incredibly good for us, physically and emotionally and spiritually, and I want to help others  realize those benefits.

One of my long-term goals is to teach yoga for the elderly.  My former teacher Gene told us about the classes he taught at a retirement home, and how much yoga helped those older students stay strong and balanced and flexible. When I was a teenager I watched my grandma gradually decline and lose her sense of balance until she could barely walk. I don’t know how much of that was medical in nature and how much was a result of her sitting in a chair all day, but now I wonder if things could have been different for her. How many grandmothers could be helped by yoga, staying mobile and living longer on their own?  This is a subject really close to my heart, and it’s work I feel called to do in the world.  Completing my teacher training is the first step to eventually realizing this dream.

In short, I want to participate in East Eagle’s teacher training program in order to deepen my personal yoga practice and live a more yogic lifestyle, not just for myself but for the life that I share with my husband and the children we may have.  I want to learn how to teach this practice and share it with others.

I look forward to hearing from you.  Thanks very much,



Why I Love Yoga March 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 9:02 pm
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For my first real post here, I thought I’d write about the obvious: why do I love yoga?  What is it about yoga that makes me want to devote 200 hours of my not-so-copious free time over the next ten months to learning how to teach it?

I love yoga because it feels great.  Yoga stretches can be as simple or as challenging as you want them to be.  When I’m practicing at home, sometimes I want a fast-paced practice that will get me sweating, and other times I just want some gentle stretching.  When I’m sick or injured, I can scale back my yoga practice and still benefit from it.  No matter how old or young or fat or skinny or flexible or stiff you are, you can still enjoy yoga.  I love the feeling of stretching during a practice, and the slight soreness afterward reminding me that I still have more to do.  I love the feeling of working on a particular pose for a while (sometimes years!), and gradually being able to move farther and farther into the pose.  I love that moment when I’m suddenly able to do a pose I hadn’t been able to do before.

I love the physical benefits of yoga.  I’m much stronger and more flexible now than I was before I started doing yoga several years ago.  Then, a year and a half ago, I committed to practicing yoga in the mornings before work three days a week.  I have firm, shapely Michelle Obama arms now, and what 30-something woman doesn’t want those?  I’ve also lost weight and gained muscle just about everywhere. And after yoga practice, my body feels hungry for healthier food.  Dunkin Donuts?  No thanks, please pass the bananas.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, I’m happy with how I look, I have plenty of energy, and I feel great.

I also love the emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga.  Yoga practice calms me and lifts my spirits – I almost always end with a smile and feel great for the rest of the day (or at least until I get to the office).  I’m a busy person with worries and fears like anyone else, but yoga helps to make it all feel manageable.  When I’m practicing yoga regularly, I feel like I can do anything.  As trite as it sounds, yoga really does help me to be my best self.  And bringing a calmer, happier me to my family and my friends and my job means that I have more to give to them.

I want to complete a yoga teacher training program partly for myself, to deepen my practice and continue to learn.  But more, I feel like yoga has done so much for me, and, like a little kid with a cool new toy, I want to show everyone just how awesome it is.  That’s why I want to be a yoga teacher.  I hope you’ll follow along with my journey.