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!