Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feet: Wake Up Your Feet

Our feet are the most powerful part of our body for creating groundedness. If you aren’t using your feet well, you can’t be truly grounded. Or, said in a more positive way, the more effectively you use your feet, the more grounded you will feel in life! The more grounded you are, the more energetic and vibrant you will be, the more authentically you will show up in your life.

The foot has 26 bones, 31 joints, and 20 intrinsic muscles (meaning the muscles start and end in the foot and do not cross the ankle). The feet are meant to be used and to have fine movements to them. For most of us, though, our feet have become relatively rigid. (For reasons beyond the scope of this post!) When our feet are rigid, we walk like a car without shocks; we land hard on the ground rather than rebounding lightly. We don’t yield to the energy with the ground.

So, the first step to becoming more grounded is loosening up the feet to bring back the bounce in your step.

Before you begin, sit briefly in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Notice how your feet feel right now. It is illuminating to compare how they feel now versus after waking them up.

Step 1: Massage the Feet
  • Sit in Sukhasana (Easy, Cross-Legged Pose)
  • Hold your right foot with your right hand and lace the fingers of your left hand into your toes. If you can, lace all the way to the root of your fingers. (If your toes are particularly tight, just lace the tips of your fingers. The tips are smaller than the root of your fingers.)
  • Hold your arch strongly with your right hand to steady the foot.
  • Gently rotate your toes with your left hand. You are only rotating your toes, not the ankle so be sure your right hand is holding firmly.
  • Rotate a few times in one direction and then change direction.
  • Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) and compare how your feet feel.
  • Now repeat the massage to the other foot.
Step 2: Stretch the Toes
  • Come to all fours. Tuck your toes under.
  • Slowly begin to sit back on your toes, stretching your toes and the soles of your feet. If you toes are very tight, this stretch can be intense. (My students accuse me of Yoga Torture with this one!) Just sit back as far as you can and still be able to breath and enjoy the stretch. You may be able to sit all the way on your heals.
  • Sit for 10 breaths then come out.
  • Return to Dandasana (Staff Pose) and compare how your feet feel. Ahhhh!
Next time we will learn to place the feet to be more grounded in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).

Groundedness Series:
Teaching Groundedness
Grounding: Grounding Your Feet

Teaching Groundedness

Help your students become more grounded this year. Remember, what you do on the mat is reflected in your life and vice versa. I am going to write a series of posts on becoming more grounded in the body, from the feet up. When we engage our body well, it will align and energy will flow more fluidly through it. When energy flows more fluidly, we feel more energetic and vibrant. We also feel stronger and more courageous both on the mat and off! Enjoy the series!

Groundedness Series:
Wake Up Your Feet
Grounding Your Feet

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Study in Cross-Legged, Seated Poses

I had a very interesting session in my Master Class recently. We spent an hour and a half comparing and contrasting easy, cross-legged poses. The three we studied were: Siddhasana, and Swastikasana.



We came up with some questions to further investigate these poses in our bodies. They are fun to take to class as well. Let me know what you discover:

• We tend to lean forward in these seated poses. How do you get on sit bones without gripping hip hinge?

• Sit for a long time:
o Can you get to psoas and release hip flexors?
o What does Mhula Bhanda do for you?

• In which pose are you most grounded?

• How does adding a lift under your sit bones help you? Hinder you? Can you release the hip joint without a lift?

• Here is a fabulous adjustment: Drop your tailbone to elongate your lower back. Helps you ground and releases tension in the lower back. Remember that you can drop your tailbone and keep the chest lifted. We also found the drop helped us engage the transverses abdominus (your core). (I felt a huge energy zing up my spine! Spectacular!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pose of the Month: Parsvottanasana

So, in my last post I mentioned that my yoga community (musasana) and I are studying Parsvottanasana this month. I decided to teach it in every class this month. I may use it as part of a flow series or teach a part of the pose. Last night in class I focused on the work of the legs, especially the back one. I find that back leg begins to "relax" as we move into the pose and then hold it. When the back leg lacks energy, the heart sinks and the energy of the pose is lost. Instead, keep the energy and strength in both legs equally throughout the pose. I use two variations to teach this idea.

1. Place the back heal at a wall so the student can press the heal to the wall to keep the back leg engaged.

2. This variation places the hands at the wall so the student can push into the wall to keep weight in the back leg. Have them face the wall and do a "wall push" (hands shoulder height, stepping the feet back to get about a 90-degree angle at the hips.) Then have them step the right foot forward a bit and the left foot back to put their feet in the position for the pose. Now they can reach for the wall and get really long in the body and press their weight into their back leg.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pose of the Month: Parsvottanasana

The pose of the month is Parsvottanasana (Stretch of the West). I am going to teach it in every class this month to challenge me to learn more of this pose!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spiritual Practice

In Marya and my Awaken to Joy Program, we are exploring our Spiritual Practice for the month of November. How do you define Spiritual Practice? And what do you do for your practice? We would love to hear from you! Here is the blog to go to.

New Pose of the Month

Welcome to November! We are studying a new pose on ...musasana.... This month we are studying Parsvottanasana. Want to join us? Use the month to practice it, think about it, see what it has to teach you this month. There are also ideas on the blog for studying it more deeply if you aren't sure what to do. Then let us know what comes up for you!.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Resting for Connection

This weekend I am off to my spiritual renewal weekend. My spiritual path has a huge gathering two times a year for a weekend. My family and I go every time. My time is focused on my connection to my Higher Self and what I will do when I leave to maintain that connection. I take the weekend very seriously because I am still learning how to take time for that connection the rest of the year. Just stopping to relax is challenging in our society with the frenetic energy we have as our norm.

I once heard that the ideal for relaxing/off time is:
• 20-minutes daily
• one day each week
• one weekend a month
• 2 weeks a year

I do the 20-minutes daily well, but the rest are still a work in progress. I have also heard a great coach say we should all take “federal holidays” and have 10, 3-day weekends a year as well as 4 weeks of vacation. I couldn’t agree more! I know I would be more inspired than ever. So, why is it so difficult?

I know as a teacher, I have a sense of responsibility to my students. Yet, when my teacher took vacations, I didn’t mind. No, that answer is too simple. I truly think the energy our culture discourages breathing space. I also think we have the power to change that old way of thinking! Judith Lasater recommends a 20-minute Savasana (Relaxation Pose) daily, making one day a week of restorative, and one-week of restorative each year. Our calming energy can change the energy of the world. Changing the world, one yoga student at a time!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Help for the Savasana (Relaxation Pose) Challenged

Do you have any students who simply cannot relax in Savasana? In our culture, it is simply not unusual to find those who cannot surrender in that position. Savasana is actually stimulating to our nervous system! Now I don’t mean stimulating like backbends or headstands, but a bit. The back body is about stimulating (hence the effect of backbends) and the front body relaxing and surrendering (hence the effect of forward folds). We do Savasana on our backs to keep us a little alert. Savasana is supposed to be conscious relaxation, not falling asleep. But when someone already has a very stimulated nervous system (in other words, stressed. Not uncommon in our world!) then Savasana can further stimulate it, rendering relaxation impossible.

If you have a student who needs help, place her in Asavasana. (Whenever an “A” is placed in front of a Sanskrit word, it changes the word to its opposite.) You place her on her stomach over a bolster. You can see me here in the photo demonstrating it. I like to hang my head just a bit over the edge (letting the forehead have a downward angle helps relax the brain) but if that is uncomfortable for your student, have her rest her head on the bolster, turning it to the other side halfway through the relaxation.

Top 100 Yoga and Meditation Sites

Thank you X-Ray Technician Schools! They compiled the 100 best yoga and meditation sites for us. They have a brief description of each so you can find what fits you. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


So, in my yoga group: "The Muses", we are studying Savasana for the month. Ever have a hard time convincing your students Savasana is necessary and not a waste of time? Here are a few "Did You Knows" about Savasana to help you.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

Want to join me in Costa Rica for a fabulous yoga retreat? I will be at Samasati Yoga and Nature Retreat Center January 24-31st. You will enjoy 3 daily yoga sessions with me (a early morning wake up, a before dinner stretch, and an evening relaxation.) You will also be able to enjoy eco-tours such as a waterfall trek:
A zipline ride through the canopy of the jungle:
Or spend an afternoon strolling on black or white sand beaches:
Or reading in the hammock on your veranda:
Or sitting in the hot tub overlooking the Caribbean sea:
You will also enjoy 3 gourmet, vegetarian meals daily in their open air restaurant and regular visits from toucans and monkeys!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Class Outside

Last night I taught a class outside by the lake. The weather was perfect, not too hot and not too cold. Ahhh.... And did I mention I taught a silent class? It was transformative for all of us...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Inspiration for your Business

As I have discussed previously on my blogs, I have created a new company whose premise is we should all be working from a place if inspiration, fulfilling our purpose in life. Next Saturday I am taking them through the process of creating our vision. To prepare, I am having them answer for themselves these questions. Please do do yourself! What is your dream business? Are you already doing it fully or is it possible to express it more deeply? These questions will help you through the process of deciding...Leave answers at the ...musélan... blog:

What does success look like to me? To me, success means:

What is it I love to do that lives at the heart of my dream business? My dream business is a vehicle that allows me to do:

What feelings do I want to experience as a result of my dream business? Because of my dream business, I get to feel:

Because of my dream business, I arrive at the end of the day feeling...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Opening the Upper Back

(Sorry I haven't posted for awhile. Frankly, I have been enjoying the summer with my children!)

I recently met with my Master Class (a group of teachers who gather together to talk yoga.) We discussed helping our students get movement into their upper backs. I thought you might enjoy a few of the gems we came up with!

Getting movement into the upper back is tricky for a few reasons:
1. It is the only area on your body you cannot see without a mirror. As a result, you do not have a direct connection with the area, just a reflection.
2. The area is tight from the forward slump many of us wear with our posture. Ironically, the tension is really from stretched out muscles that have grown chronically weak.
3. There isn’t much movement in the area anyway due to the attachment of the ribs. The ribs are attached to each of the thoracic vertebrae (the vertebrae that run from the base of your neck to your upper lower back) and therefore restrict the movement of those vertebrae.

I read this fabulous metaphor at some point years ago and it has remained a vivid image for me when working with the spine. Think of your spine like a bicycle chain. Like a bicycle chain, it can get stuck links. When links get stuck, the looser links on either side of the stuck spot get all the movement and the stuck place remains stuck. The same concept occurs in our spines. We get stuck between a few vertebrae and the joints on either side of the stuck place get all the movement. Without consciousness, we continue to move from the loose places, creating more flexibility there and sometimes instability and the stuck places remain stuck. We need to bring more thought into our upper backs to loosen the chinks.

These first suggestions bring attention to the upper back and warm up the muscles.

Shoulder Rolls – Make them really big so you are thinking of moving from the shoulder blades rather than the arms. (Of course, the shoulder blades always move when the arms are moving, but when you move them the shoulder blades rather than the arms, you can make bigger movements and you can feel the spot in your upper back as well.)

Standing pose variations -- In both Parsvottanasana (Extended Side Stretch Pose) and Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose), you can do a variation with the arms behind the back, hands clasped. It brings attention to the upper back.

• “Cactus Arms” (as we call it – “stick ‘em up” is also fun) -- can be done standing or lying down. Start with arms at 90 degrees, hands down. Rotate the upper arms outward, bringing the hands up to the position in the photo. The action draws the shoulder blades strongly into the back.

• There are many variations of Salabhasana (Locust Pose) that help bring more awareness into the upper back.
o Arms out to the side
o Arms overhead: This variation is a bit tricky and probably warrants its own post. For now, suffice it to say the lift needs to come from the mid-back, not the upper trapezius (across the top of your shoulder). If you life your arms and your shoulders contract (bringing them to your ears), you are not using the correct muscles. Stay tuned and I will write more later on this one.

o Lace fingers behind back:

The next variations will help you get movement directly into those stuck spots:
• Of course, backbends over various objects such as blanket roll, chair, or ball are helpful. My favorite variation of this one is backbend over roll a block. I can slowly move the block bit by bit up my back to use the edge to bend at my “stuck” spots. (It feels MUCH better than it looks!) You can do it at any of the heights of the block. If you are at the two lower heights, you can sit on your buttocks and keep your knees bent with feet on the floor. If you are at the highest height, sit in Vajrasana. You can see me in the photo. I lifted up off the floor to get into the pose and then allow both my hips and my upper body to move down into the pose.

• Sphinx: Another excellent variation for “awakening” the upper back. Placing your arms in a variety of positions helps you really get into the upper back.

• Maricyasana III – In this variation, you place your hand on the wall. Use the wall to help you really get the shoulder blade in and to get the twist higher into your back.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What We Teach is Just Our Opinion

One of the best messages I ever received from a yoga teacher came from Barbara Benagh about a dozen years ago. She said whatever a teacher teaches you is only her opinion about a pose based on how it feels in her body. I love to remind myself of this observation whenever my “control” button gets pushed when one of my students has the audacity to do something other than what I have taught her (Note: last sentence must be read with dripping sarcasm.) Perhaps she has decided that what works in my body doesn’t work in hers!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

77 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga

Check this out! What a fabulous, and thorough, list! It should keep you doing your yoga for years to come...77 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga.

Plus, some fun facts to share with your students to keep them coming back...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Honor Other People’s Reality:

We all have beliefs about our bodies. (And beliefs, by the way, are just an opinion, a thought, that we have held for a very long time. Read more about them here.) We may see ourselves as flexible, tight, injured, weak, strong, unable to go upside down, unable to balance, etc. My guess is if you sit for a moment you will come up with half a dozen beliefs you have about your own body. What is most interesting about our beliefs is others usually see through them before we do. And, as teachers, we often see that our students are capable of so much more than they think they are.

As teachers we need to honor other people’s realities and at the same time, hold the door open for something more. Beliefs create the reality in the body, not the other way around. If you think you are tight, you will be tight. If you think you can’t do a handstand, guess what? You’re right! We can best help our students by first helping the student feel safe by honoring what they think about their body. I think we have all experienced at one time or another a teacher who led us to feel less than or even stupid by not understanding what he/she was trying to teach us because we weren’t ready or were still too mired in our belief and so still afraid to try. We need to be there with the student in the place the student is, not where we want the student to be.

Then, at the same time, you can hold the door for the student for something more. You can gently guide them to use different language to describe their body, to see that anything can change, that they are capable of anything. Gently remind them they are strong enough, flexible enough, whatever. Then they will fly!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Savasana and Injuries

When we have injuries or even really tight areas in our body, we feel differently in them, we don’t allow the energy to flow through them effortlessly either from years of holding or habit.

When our students have an injured place in their body, especially if they have had it for some time, they hold their body in an imbalanced way as a result. An easy and very powerful way you can begin to affect their injury is to have them envision balance in Savasana (Ending Relaxation Pose). Have them imagine their sides as feeling equal. Have them imagine their breath flowing equally through both sides as well.

You can also guide them to begin the process of no longer seeing the injured side as the “bad” or “injured” side. The more they can see the sides as equal, the faster a healing can occur.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Assisting Part III: The Conscious Adjuster

In Part I, I discussed the benefits of adjusting. In Part II, the disadvantages. So what is the balance? It is what I call the “Conscious Adjuster”. In conscious adjusting, we don’t just mindlessly walk around the class adjusting every student as we teach. We take a moment (and it only takes a moment the better you get at it) and assess whether the adjustment is necessary and whether it will truly help the student understand the point you are teaching. We don’t adjust for something we aren’t teaching, even if it might be useful. There is nothing more confusing for a student than adjusting the arms when you have been focusing on the feet all night.

The conscious adjuster also uses all three adjusting techniques (voice, light touch, and physical manipulation) with more emphasis on voice and light touch. Voice is telling the student what you want to see and is the best adjustment technique. It takes a great teacher to be able to use their voice that well. Voice is best because the adjustment is then entirely the student’s. She made the movement in her own body and has a better opportunity to be able to replicate it.

Light touch is another good adjustment technique. In light touch, you use one or two fingers, at most a flat palm. Light touch is good because it will bring attention for the student where you want her attention without adding too much of your own energy. A light touch often wakes up the brain to be able to identify the correct muscle to engage to create the movement so the action is almost entirely the student’s.

Last, but certainly not least, is physical manipulation, when you, the teacher, actually move your student into the position she needs. Although this technique may be all yours, it can get a student out of stuck consciousness place (See Part I) so it is definitely useful sometimes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Assisting Part II: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of adjusting. So, here is the downside of adjusting: the change is yours and not your student’s. What I mean is, when you make an adjustment, it is something you have done to the student, the student has not done it for herself. Then often times the student cannot replicate what you did. The newer your student is to yoga, the truer this idea is. I once had a beginning student who, after straightening her arm, said she could not feel a difference in her pose! Many to most beginners just don’t have a strong enough connection to their bodies to feel the benefits of our changes. Even advanced students often struggle with replicating an adjustment once they are home on their own mats. It is often better for a student to figure it out, sometimes over years, by herself. (I have a few corrections that I still remember, for whatever reason, that I finally “get” years later!)

So, what’s the answer? Stay tuned for Part III.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Assisting Part I: What’s the Point?

Assisting refers to whenever we suggest an adjustment, by words, touch or physical manipulation. Of course we tend to view an adjustment merely in terms of physical manipulation, but whenever we suggest to a student to change their position with words or a light touch, we are also adjusting them. Over the years I have heard many arguments for and against adjusting students (especially with physical manipulation) so over a few different posts, I am going to explore a few sides to assisting.

Remember that the point of yoga is to shift our consciousness; to evolve. In yoga we do it through our bodies. We take our bodies to new places that then takes our consciousness to new places. Who among us has never experienced being stuck? We all get stuck in our illusions and that stuck consciousness shows up in our body as doing the same thing with our body over and over. Often we are sure we are doing what our teacher is asking of us, only to be shocked when she comes over and manually adjusts us into the correct position. And surprised when we realize we can’t yet replicate the adjustment without outside assistance. (How many times have you adjusted student, again and again and again, for the same pose! My rule of thumb is three adjustments and then I let it go. I realize that they aren’t ready for what that position has to teach them and their body is resisting the change.)

My main support of adjusting is because it can get our students out of their ruts; to wake them up and take them where they haven’t been before.

Stay tuned to find out what my hesitations are for adjusting!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Paschimottanasana: Part III

In the final installation of this series, we look at aligning energetically in Paschimottanasana. Aligning energetically begins with being precise in your physical alignment, fully engaging the body and, well, getting the bones aligned well. Once you are there, you can feel your energy more fully.

Once you have found the alignment and physical work I discussed in Part III, have a yoga partner aid you in these variations to help you tap into the energetic support of the pose. These variations are for the full engagement of the legs in Dandasana that will then take you into a well-supported full pose.

The first variation is subtler than the second one. Begin here and if you don’t feel anything, move to the second one.

Have a partner sit squarely to you at your feet. It is important that your partner be square to you when you are adjusting, especially when you are working on the energetic level. Once you have found your strong Dandasana pose, have your partner take her index fingers and lightly touch your heals. Can you feel your legs engage on a deeper level?

If not, here is your second variation. Have your partner place her hands on lightly on your ankles. If you still don’t feel anything, have her press harder. See if you begin to extend your legs from a level deeper than the physical.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West): Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West) is a challenging pose for many people. When the legs are used well, the torso can become lighter and the fold easier. Learning how to use the legs well both physically and energetically will help you be in a stronger pose. In this pose I will discuss a few ways to learn how to use the legs well.

Using the legs well refers to engaging them. When legs are fully engaged, the body can be lighter. To feel this more strongly, do the opposite. Sit in your usual Dandasana (Staff Pose) and then relax the legs. You will notice your torso slumps a bit. More specifically, your heart drops. The action in your legs keeps the heart open. Now that you know what happens when you relax the legs, can you imagine what happens when you actively and effectively engage them? Here are a couple of poses to use to work on creating this awareness:

Tadasana (Mountain Pose): A traditional way to feel the action in the leg is by placing a block between your thighs in Tadasana. Placing your feet as close together as you can will engage the inner thighs strongly. (Often this variation is also used to teach the internal rotation of the thighs. Be careful there, that direction is not useful for everyone. I am asking you here to just engage the legs, not do a rotation.) A very different Tadasana! Feel the legs (especially the inner thighs) fully engaged. From the strength of the legs, let the torso extend effortlessly. Let it be light. Remove the block and hold the feeling.
• Standing poses – Now do any standing poses, focusing on keeping the back leg fully extended and working. It may help to place your back heal at a wall to give you something to engage into.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) with mat behind legs: Stand at a wall with your feet about six inches from the wall. Have a mat that is folded in quarters behind your legs. Be sure the mat is below your sit bones. Fold forward into Uttanasana. It is a bit awkward with the wall and the mat so your fold may not be graceful! Hold onto the mat with one hand. Now, once in Uttanasana, firm the legs up, using the mat to ground them to the wall.

Now return to Dandasana. Can you feel the engagement of the legs? Next time we will find the energetic line in the legs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paschimottanasana (Stretch of the West)

This pose challenged me for years. It wasn’t until I realized that it was my lack of stability in my legs (from first chakra issues) and my discomfort with my present, that I found the root of the issue. Interestingly, I always assumed it was my hamstrings that were the issue. Of course, once I worked with the first chakra issue and the fear of the present, the hamstring issue dissipated!
Forward folds are all about surrender and being fully present. Letting go of the past (back body) and gently using the front body (present) to breathe and trust. When our legs aren’t being used effectively and efficiently, the torso needs to make up for the lack of support and works harder than necessary. The added gripping makes the fold more effortful and one can only surrender when peaceful and not gripping, especially in our gut, our fear center. The key to this pose is working the legs just enough, without gripping, to give your Dandasana a strong base. Then the torso can be light and the fold a surrender. To work the legs effectively and efficiently, one needs to tap into both physical and energetic lines. I will be writing about some ideas around this thought over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Residual Awareness

I know I have written about this idea before. It is a thought that seems to frequently come up in class. One of the benefits of yoga is we become aware of our bodies, more conscious of what is going on in our bodies (shoulders are tight, stomach is off, back feels great today) and what we are doing with our bodies (I hold tension in my jaw, sit so my back is tight, stand with more weight in one hip than the other.) This awareness continues for awhile after class. The more conscious a student is and the longer he/she has studied yoga, the longer the residual awareness lasts. Remind them of this benefit. Encourage the awareness to continue by giving them something more to think about after class.

• Do you need to change the height of your rearview mirror after yoga? You have created more space in your joints.
• Can you lift your rearview mirror more so you need to sit taller in the car to use it?
• When you stand doing dishes or brushing your teeth, do you grip your lower back? Release it and breathe.
• Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) in the shower.
• Do 10 full breaths in bed before going to sleep.
• Find your sit bones while sitting at your desk.
• Smile at yourself when you are going to brush your teeth and shout, “I love you!” to yourself.

Any other ideas?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Limitations are Merely Self-Imposed

In tonight’s class I taught, I had an interesting thought I shared with my students. Do you often go into a pose assuming it will look exactly as you did it last time? I am guessing there are a few poses in which you do. Personally, basic standing poses such as Warrior II and Triangle Poses are my weak spot. I just plop myself into my usual position and hang out there until I think it is time to go to the other side. I don’t even try to take myself more deeply. I just assume my pose will look the same today as it did yesterday and it will tomorrow.

When I realized what I was doing, it made me think. Where else in my life do I just plunk myself down and assume I have gone as far as I can go? There are so many places we can limit ourselves in what we have – happiness (really, test yourself – being happier than you are comfortable with can be incredibly uncomfortable and we usually only allow it for brief periods), love, money, career, health, even the number of vacations or where we go on our vacations! Where in your life do you feel a bit stale? Is it time to blow past a self-imposed limitation? You see, the irony of physical limitations is they are primarily perceived. What I mean is you can move beyond your “wall”, which is, in fact, merely a speed bump. Our flexibility is tied mostly to our consciousness. If you think you are tight, guess what? You are right! If you think you can loosen up and move past your inflexibility or weakness, guess what? You are right, too. If you think you can move past your current health crisis, guess what? You are right! Maybe it is time to blow past a few of those limitations and experience the joy on the other side…Then you can guide your students to the other side as well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Surrender Quote

I am reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle with Oprah and over two million people. With my study around surrender this year, this quote struck a chord.

“Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary, your action will be in alignment with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen. If no action is possible, you rest in the peace and inner stillness that come with surrender. You rest in God.”

A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

Grievances With My Body

I have been reading and fully enjoying, along with Oprah and well over 2 million others, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. What a powerful book!

“The past has no power to stop you from being present now.
Only your grievance about the past can do that.
And what is a grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.”
(A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle)

I read this quote this morning and it struck a chord as a teacher. How often do we see our students (and ourselves) stuck in the past when doing yoga. “My bad shoulder/knee/hip.” “My weak core.” “My tight hamstrings.” “My tension and stress.” “I can’t do that pose.” “I will never be strong enough/flexible enough to do that pose.” When you think about it, these are merely grievances, baggage of old thought and emotion. When we continue to label our body with old thoughts, we keep the body stuck in the old consciousness. As teachers, we can guide our students into a new awareness, to begin seeing their body fresh each day.

How? Teach the same old pose in a brand new way. Instead of focusing on the hamstring stretch in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), focus on the contraction of the quadriceps. Instead of speaking of “releasing tension”, speak of “creating space”. You can also encourage them to change their language to a more compassionate speech that leaves space for growth. Instead of “my bad shoulder”, try “I am still learning what my shoulder has to teach me.” (Speaking from someone who had hamstring pain for 13 years, it was this shift that finally guided me to the other side – very powerful!) Or, “I am learning what I need to create space in my hamstrings.” I also find breaking down a difficult pose into bite size pieces makes it less scary. Language is incredibly powerful! Moving past our grievances opens us up to a brand new life!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

YJ Asana Column: Revolved Janu Sirsasana

Ever struggle with reading the asana column in Yoga Journal while trying to perform the actions? Or get your spouse to read it to you? Me too! I finally recorded reading it for myself and thought you might enjoy it as well. This recording is Charles Matkin's article on Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana. I talk you through the entire process, repeating for the other side. Let me know if you enjoy the recording and I will do more. Enjoy! Recording

Monday, March 10, 2008


Hi, Everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in awhile -- I have been very sick! I am better now and am preparing a few new posts. I will put them up soon. Peace, Laura

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sitting with Dignity

“Sitting down to meditate, our posture talks to us. It makes its own statement. You might say the posture itself is the meditation. If we slump, it reflects low energy, passivity, a lack of clarity. If we sit ramrod-straight, we are tense, making too much of an effort, trying too hard. When I use the word ‘dignity’ in teaching situations, as in ‘Sit in a way that embodies dignity,’ everybody immediately adjusts their posture to sit up straighter. But they don’t stiffen. Faces relax, shoulders drop, head, neck, and back come into easy alignment. The spine rises out of the pelvis with energy. Sometimes people tend to sit forward, away from the backs fo their chairs, more autonomously. Everybody seems to instantly know that inner feeling of dignity and how to embody it.”

Remember Wherever You Go, There You Are? by John Kabat Zinn? I recently pulled my old copy off the shelf and opened it at random. This entry was what I read. I love the thought. What does it mean to you? My computer dictionary defines dignity as: “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”. Mmmmm...doesn’t that thought feel good?

I have begun practicing the idea when I am preparing to begin class. I sit before my students as they do their breathing. I sit with dignity, imagine grace coming through me, feel gratitude for the opportunity to be a teacher, and then I use the Mudra I described in a previous blog post to open my throat chakra and make my voice more resonant. Then, and only then, do I begin.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Savasana and Surrender

The last of the niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to the Divine. It is said that if you practice the first yama, ahimsa or nonviolence, and surrender you needn’t practice anything else. They cover the range of spiritual practice. Do you practice surrender with your class? Our culture is centered on control, being on time, eating what you should, exercising, being organized, making sure our children behave, it is everywhere. We do our students a disservice if we don’t teach surrender in our classes.

With surrender is the process of letting go, releasing control. It is in true surrender that we learn about faith and trust in the universe and the inner knowing and trust in our own process.

The very best poses for teaching about surrender are Savasana (Relaxation Pose) and Balasana (Child’s Pose). These poses teach letting go fully, releasing. Frequently you can feel you are still holding tension, holding on to something, in these poses. Encourage your students to fully release their bones. Common pockets of tension in both poses are between the shoulder blades, the lower belly, the lower back. Also, in Savasana, we often hold the ribs up, keeping tension in the kidneys.

Another helpful surrender technique is exhaling. Exhaling is the letting go or surrender part of the breath. Have students focus on exhaling, releasing tension, letting go, and watch them melt into the glorious present!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hamstring Help

I have been having this discussion with Nadine over at Just Breathe and she recommended we blog it since it might help you as well. It began with my blog entry on Dandasana on a block and then it went on from there…The best part is I started that blog with saying how I finally decided in September that I was ready to completely move beyond my injury and was open to the lesson it had to teach me. Apparently my lesson was to shut up and listen because answers keep coming at me…Thank you, Nadine!


Did you try the Dandasana on a block pose? We need to chat -- one hamstring injury to another!


Ooh, tell me more....
Does dandasana on a block help build stability? My main problem is that my hips have become so flexible in the forward direction, that my sitbones tend to flick up and my lower back overarch, unless I am really concentrating on my alignment, and of course, I am not always, especially when demonstrating! I just want people to get the gist quickly, so bad. So the injury heals, it flares up, heals flares up. I will take any and all advice! It works best for me so far to do a lot of work on strength and stability in the hips - esp the hamstrings, loose bastards, so I do a lot of locust etc.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts Laura!



Interestingly, our problems are similar, yet not. I have hamstrings that are very tight (yogically speaking, that is. I went to a doctor about my pull and he brought my leg easily to 90 degrees and proclaimed me healed. He walked out before I even had a chance to say, “uuhhh....”). The reason I ask is we can exchange notes. I can share what I have learned for my self and I would love to hear what you do.

Here is a list of what I do:

1. I learned how to hold the attachment of my hamstring. I contract
at the tendon right at the sit bone. I do that while lengthening
the rest of the hamstring. If you stand in Tadasana and
isometrically push one leg back, you can feel the necessary
contraction. (Sometimes I put a strap a the top of my thigh to
remind myself to contract.)
2. I do the dandasana I shared on my blog. REALLY helpful for
learning how to ground through the errant sit bone. Yes, I think
it does help build stability. As I mentioned in the post, you
feel the bones so you can tap into keeping them aligned. It
isn’t about the soft tissue anymore. You won’t flick the
sitbones either if you are in the bones.
3. I do seated forward fold with the extended leg heal up on a
block (and sitbones on a blanket). I can’t explain it, it just
4. I also ground well when I forward fold in seated positions to
not do what you mentioned doing in your email – flick those
babies up. Teaching is tricky. Not only do I do moves quickly, I
often exaggerate the movement so students can really see what I
am doing.
5. I also do LOTS of strengthening. I love bridge, too for
strengthening “that” area.

Okay, any ideas for me? Thanks for sharing!!

Have a spectacular evening.


Hey Laura!

You have pretty much covered all bases, I think. This is just about what I do: I can elaborate a bit, but there is nothing you aren't doing, that I know about! I really appreciate the reminder to be present even when teaching, since this is my problemo...

The reason that propping your foot up on a block helps, is that it 'locks' the femur into the pelvis and prevents over-rotation. I didn't figure this out for myself, read about it in Yoga for Wellness by Gary Kraftsow! Funny, most of the time we are trying to get people to move
their pelvis around the thighbone more, not less. As to strength: I also love bridge, moving dynamically in and out of it, then holding the pose. I do the same with baby locust, lifting chest,
arms, head and alternate legs, in and out with the breath, then both legs together.

I have found that getting stronger in my core - lower back and belly - has helped a lot with the 'floppiness' so I also practice urdvha prasarita padasana every day. Since I am tight in the front of my hips, I have found also that regular and assiduous stretching of the hip flexors and quads helps balance the hips - basically mine are overstretched and weak at the back and the
opposite at the front. My favourites for this are warrior 1, warrior 3 (also really good for contracting the hamstrings) and some pigeon variations. Moving in and out of pigeon forward fold is another good back strengthener, I find.

My last thing is this: it seems that the injury shows up in the hamstring but sometimes comes from over stretching the entire hip area - including aggressive hip openers, and if you do less of this, it helps. I have found this for people whose knees trouble them too, actually!

I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that most yogis spend too much time on flexibility and not enough on strength...

Thanks for all the help!


Hi, Nadine.

Fabulous! Thanks for explaining why foot on a block works. I love knowing why I am doing something — especially the physiology behind it. Thank you for that info. (I was going to call it a “tidbit” but it is so much more for me.)

I was thinking about your comment about getting our students to move their pelvis around the thighbones more, not less. You know, as I understand it, the injury occurs over time because the femur is not rotating tight within the socket, being “locked” in, but protruding out ever so slightly to be out of alignment. Apparently, many Iyengar practitioners are suffering from hip joint problems. I think it has to do with exaggerating the movement and the femur coming out a bit. (Hence what you telling me makes perfect sense.) It was part of my problem too. I thought the pain was from stretching the scar tissue in my hamstring, but it was pain in my joint from using it incorrectly for years.

As for your hip flexor, also add releasing the psoas. Are you familiar with Liz Brock’s book, The Psoas Book? She also had an article in Yoga Journal a few years back that is available on the YJ website. The psoas needs releasing first before stretching and it can drastically shift your hip flexor tension. Strengthening it will also transform your Urdhva Prasarita Padasana. (Everyday? You are amazing!! And I am inspired...) I have a YJ article written by Richard Rosen on that pose in which he talks about the psoas too. It was written in 1995 so I would guess it didn’t make it to the website but you can check. It is excellent for describing how to use the psoas and not the abdominals for the lifts.

Do you move in and out of pigeon forward fold with your arms overhead? Or just with out using your arms? I am curious how to do it to use it for strengthening the back. I do Salabhasana (locust) with arms overhead. Wow is that one amazing! It really helps get into the lower trapezius.

Ooohh...I am just moving through your entire email and responding as I go and just got to the part about too many hip openers. That is what I was talking about with the hip injury! Another recommendation to help “bring in” the femur is to do a practice with a strap running through your mid hip — just across the top of the femurs — the greater trochanter. Use the strap to draw the femurs in (it is subtle. It is easy to contract in the buttocks, but the action is lower, at the top of the thighs.) This action is especially important for seated forward folds and standing poses like Parsvottanasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana. And, yes, the issue affects the knee as well.

Peace and miracles of the hip joint...


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Setting an Intention

Do you set intentions for the classes you teach? Setting an intention – a theme or thread that runs throughout the class, can bring more cohesion to your classes. Intentions can be physical (e.g. stretching hamstrings, strengthening the core), mental/energetic (e.g., calming with forward folds, stimulating energy with back bends). Intentions can also be broader, teaching a lesson the student can take off the mat into his/her life such as surrender, nonviolence, truthfulness.
I sometimes set the intention for the class a week ahead of time, sensing from the class what would be helpful the following week. Sometimes my intention comes to me during my own practice – an insight I have gleaned that I want to share with others. Often the idea comes to me in the moment before I start class. I sit quietly with the class while they do some breathing to let go of their day. In my silence, the idea pops into my head and a class forms around the theme.
However and whenever you do it, setting an intention is a powerful way to deepen your level of teaching. If you have always focused on physical, you will have an opportunity to focus on the philosophical and vice versa. I also find intentions helpful when I have begun to feel stale and need some new ideas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

“We’re Not Too Into Judgment Here”

Tonight I taught a really fun yoga class to my advanced class. We worked up to Kapotasana and it was fabulous! What was most poignant for the evening was a discussion we had. Now this group of students has been with me for about 7-9 years so we are very close. We have lovely, deep philosophical discussions and sometimes we just get downright, joyously silly. Recently a new student has joined who is relatively new to yoga. He is very dedicated, coming to class several times each week. He is also very hard on himself and what he deems to be “appropriate yoga behavior.” We had pulled out chairs to help with our Kapotasana preparation and he sat down and joked that he was ready to have chips and salsa delivered. We all said that sounded so good! Then his voice changed to judgment, saying that it wasn’t good for him in a “I shouldn’t eat it” sort of tone. One woman joked by saying, “I don’t know… salsa has fruit and vegetables in it.” He continued down his judgment path and added that it was all the other things that went with the salsa that were bad, the chips, the beer. We laughed and said the beer has hops which has Vitamin B. I also added that some good chips and salsa can be incredibly nourishing to the soul. And then another woman said her wine is a fruit serving for the day…I think you get the picture. I finally ended the joking with, ”We aren’t too into judgment here.” The new student said quite seriously, “I know. That is why I feel so good here.”

His comment gave me pause. How incredibly powerful that statement was for me to hear. I take non-judgment for granted because I have surrounded myself with people who do not judge me. It is a gift we give to our students when we allow them the space of non-judgment as well. Let them explore their bodies and the issues they have stored there knowing they are safe.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jo’s Gems: Dandasana

About 14 years ago I pulled a hamstring doing Hanumanasana (Full splits). I did a really good job (the person next to me hear the popping noise!) I was on crutches for a week and have been working with the scar tissue ever since. You can imagine that I am always looking for insights into how to work more effectively with my hamstring. This fall, I decided it was time to move beyond it entirely and threw it out to the Universe. I had an answer within a few weeks. (That Universe is fast!) I learned it from Jo Zucovitch in a workshop I took with her this fall. This variation is wonderful to teach your students (with or without hamstring injuries) more about staying balanced between the sit bones. It is also helpful for those who hyper-extend their knees.
I am sitting on a block and have another block under my heals. What Jo taught me is the sit bone attached to the hamstring that is pulled is often not grounded. Wouldn't you know, she was right? On the block I could really feel my sit bone on my injured side was lifted. It was suspended ever so slightly over the block. I needed to concentrate to get it down. When I fold forward from that grounded place, the injury isn't as apparent (and it is lessoning with each practice!) Initially, I thought that meant it was the injury caused the imbalance. Jo told me that, in fact, the imbalance was first and it was torn because of ungroundedness of the muscle. Therefore, it is a fabulous position to put yourself and your students in to discover any imbalances before an injury occurs.

I also mentioned this pose is great for those who hyper-extend their knees. Seems like it shouldn't be because you would think the knees would droop and cause hyperextension. Ironically, they don't. One of my students who has serious hyper-extension issues in her knees tried it and agreed. She felt the energy of the pose in her legs and they felt firm. Another colleague of mine, Matt Sanford, was also in the session (he is a yoga teacher who began his yoga career after he was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. You can read his amazing story in Waking or check out his website: Mind Body Solutions), wondered if we were feeling the energy of the bones. I have to say that his comment makes sense. There is a deep grounding in this pose. Try it and see how it feels for you!

Playing the Edge

I have been “playing the edge” in my own practice and with my students lately. We all have an “edge” in our poses, the place where we go and feel we cannot go any further. The edge usually feels like a wall, an impenetrable brick wall, in fact, that keeps us from going farther. I often find that I get to “that point” in the pose and just sit. I can distract myself with a myriad of things at that point, a mental tapping of fingers, if you will, waiting for the moment that I can move on from the pose and do the next pose. We can stay in that spot for weeks, months, years, never moving more deeply. Of course, we don’t do this in all of our poses, mainly those poses we don’t enjoy. When I brought this idea up in class, everyone giggled. Apparently I am not alone!

Ironically, while there is an edge physiologically speaking, it is far from a wall because it can move. I have now begun calling the “edge” a “speed bump” because, while it can slow us down, it does not need to stop us! When you reach an edge, play there. Breathe into the resistance, see it releasing. Feel yourself move more deeply into the pose. Iyengar has been quoted as saying flexibility is 80% emotional, an idea I have personally experienced. Assume you can move more deeply into whatever pose you feel stuck in. See yourself in the deepest expression of the pose. Encourage your students to do the same. Have them hold a pose a bit longer. Have them feel where the resistance is so they can breathe into it and release it. Do it in standing poses, backbends, twists, and forward folds. This work fits everywhere. Watch your students carefully, though, this work is moving into the pose, not blowing past it with poor alignment. Remind them that if they move a millimeter, it is a significant shift.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Great Yoga Clothing


(Oops! I had the link wrong. It is fixed now!)
Here is a great yoga clothing site I want to recommend. They are beautiful and produced responsibly using environmentally sound materials. Thank you, Katherine, for bringing in such wonderful products into our world!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Take Your New Year’s Resolutions to the Mat

I taught a fun workshop on New Year’s Day. I had people take their new year’s resolutions to the mat. The workshop had three parts: Letting go of what you don’t want; getting excited about what you do want; and finally, surrendering into the present with gratitude for what you have and who you are right now.

I had them begin with in a basic breathing position, on their backs with knees bent, and had them think about something they no longer wanted in their life. If there were many things, I had them pick just one to represent all of them. We then focused on the exhalation aspect of the breath and viewed whatever it was going out with the out breath. I also encouraged them to see whatever it was they no longer wanted with gratitude and not judgment. Even though it might be something they see as incredibly unpleasant, judging it just keeps it stuck in their body. Seeing it with gratitude for serving them in whatever way it did and then saying goodbye to it with a smile and a wink, helps us release it more fully. We then did a 30-minute practice of twists to further release whatever it was from their body.

For the next section, getting excited about what they want, I again had them begin the section on their backs for basic breathing. I had them think about what they wanted and begin considering what it would be like to have it in their life right now. How would they feel? What would their life be like? We then focused on the inhale – bringing something into their life. For the asana portion, we did Tadasana (Mountain Pose), the Warrior series (Virabhadrasana I and II), and Ustrasana (Camel Pose) variations for opening the heart. You could feel the excitement grow with each pose. Whenever you need to feel you could conquer the world, do the warrior poses and camel pose. I call it the “yogic cup of coffee” feeling. The entire class said they had a buzz inside of them and could feel their excitement.

For the last section, surrendering into the present with gratitude, we again returned to the floor. Yes, I had them go straight from Ustrasana variations to laying down. I wanted them to feel that ungrounded excitement isn’t good. You are unable to relax in that state. Excitement is definitely a wonderful thing. When it is ungrounded, it is more about the future and not about being present, though. The very best place to change things in your life is from a place of gratitude for the present with excitement of what is to come (grounded excitement.) We began with just following the breath. I had them feel the release into the floor and let the breath float more and more easily with each breath. You could feel the energy of the room calm as they breathed. Then we did forward folds, starting with the standing forward folds and then seated ones. I finished with a long Balasana (Child’s Pose) and then Savasana.

They commented afterward that they could see the benefit of being present and still excited about the future. It was great fun!