Archive | January 2011

Some musings on alignment, breath and self expression…

Today’s vinyasa class at Columbus Circle Equinox was truly a joy to teach.  There was something in the energy in the room that was palpable, almost as if the room took on a life and persona of its own.  There is so much that goes into a fulfilling yoga experience, I couldn’t begin to enumerate them in one blog post, so I chose three: alignment, breath and self expression.  Thinking this way reminds me of Edwidge Danticat’s “Breath, Eyes, Memory”…a gifted storyteller and wordsmith.  I will try to call upon the inspiration of talented writers to share some musings of my own…

Alignment…why?  and what is it exactly?  alignment can be many things.  Lets say for example we are talking about the most basic principle of alignment, which is in the tangible, physical realm, of aligning our joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue in an optimal fashion so as to avoid injury, strengthen weaknesses, and stretch and lengthen constricted structures.  When we practice yoga with alignment, we are placing ourselves in the best possible position to reap the benefits of the posture without being too vulnerable to injury or adopting bad habits.  Take warrior I (right leg forward) for example:  ideally, the front knee is bent 90 degrees, and the knee is directly or slightly forward over the front foot/ankle, which is facing directly forward, while the back toes are turned out approximately 45 degrees.  The heel and all five toes of the back foot are in contact with the floor, and we are making every effort to square our hips to the front of the room – this opens up our psoas on the left side, while  – if we are consciously pulling our right hip back, can give some stretch to our right TFL, ITB and glutes.   Meanwhile, our shoulders are drawn down inside our backs, to strengthen the lower fibers of the trapezius group, while giving some rest to the upper fibers of the traps, where most of us tend to hold tension and stress.  If then we are able to close the ribcage, activate the transverse abdominus, and lengthen the torso by grounding down through both feet while stretching up through both hands – well then we have our joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue in alignment.  But what other kinds of alignment can we have?  What about alignment that comes from within?  what about aligning ourselves with our values, and what we consider to be important and sacred to us?  If being loving, compassionate, kind and thoughtful is important, are our lives aligned with those values? Alignment is not only physical – but seeing how detailed it can be as we work through a posture, we see how our yoga practice can be a mirror for other aspects of our lives.

This bring us to the breath: how is breath used in a vinyasa practice, and how can we begin to apply that breath and those principles to other parts of our lives?  In vinaysa, we breath in order to deepen the posture – we breath to give fuel to the body, to remain in the present moment, and to connect what we are doing from the neck down to whatever might be scampering around from the neck up – the thoughts that might be bouncing around in our brain, whatever might be distracting us from our deepest level of attention – when  we focus on the breath, we gain depth, we gain focus and we gain ease, as literally, the additional oxygen provides fuel to muscles and helps flush out lactic acid.  This process is super complicated on a bio-mechanical/physiological standpoint – suffice to say breathing brings another level of awareness to whatever we are doing.  There is also the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response in the body, where our heart rate slows down, and our fight or flight response is muted so we can feel less stress, tension and worry.  All that with breath!

Self expression – what happens when we feel a degree of openness, trust, space and creative expression through our body language, or through our postures in class?  What happens when we open the chest another inch, raise the eyes towards the ceiling, pull our shoulders back, and open ourselves to our practice, and to ourselves?  Do our walls come down?  Maybe its a far cry from peeling away layers of protective body language or instinctive protective reactions, but I honestly believe that how we choose to express our bodies says so much about who we  are , how we feel, and how vulnerable we are willing to make ourselves in pursuit of deeper, better and more.  Deeper, better and more what?  Whatever that is for you…for the most part, all processes on the mat start with you, and the deeper you dig, the better you feel, so the more you can express and in turn give to others.  That is how I see it – like a light that gets charged with energy and turns on, so that others can see that light, feel its power and charge their own light and so on…

To summarize, it starts with alignment – of our physical, mental, ethical and spiritual selves – we add breath to gain depth and focus, and with time we venture towards self expression as a way to feel liberated and renewed.  Or at least I do!  Maybe for you yoga is a class you take and you feel better when its over and you don’t consciously take it to any deeper metaphorical level. The world has so much room, there is space for everyone.  Enjoy your practice, remember to breath, and everything will fall into place.  Till next time…



This entry was posted on January 30, 2011. 2 Comments

Tara Stiles article – not so bad…

It was this past Sunday morning, around 8am to be exact, when my first client of the day told me there was an interesting article in the NY Times about yoga.  We proceeded to do an hour of yoga, after which I taught my 75 minute yoga class at Equinox Columbus Circle, after which I was told again, by two separate people about this yoga article I just had to read….so I read it.  And I have many thoughts about it, hopefully they will come through as clear as they are in my head.

At first I imagined I was going to be offended by what I read, as the slant seemed to be “spiritual yoga”  vs. “non-spiritual yoga”, if there is such a thing – that is an entirely different issue in itself.  But what I found instead was a sort of kinship in some of what Ms. Stiles feels and perceives, and how she has translated that into a successful business and brand.  I am nowhere near her level of success as measured by financial gain or renown, I don’t necessarily have the desire to be in that place, and only wish her well in her pursuits.  What I can relate to is the feeling that yoga has become something that is exclusive and not always accessible to mainstream practitioners, or would be yogis.  There is something to be said for the value of maintaining and being loyal to the inclusion of spiritual and ritual-like practices within a yoga class. These practices have been shown time and again to have tremendous potential as ways to deepen our understanding of ourselves, and through that deeper understanding gain empathy and compassion when we deal with the world, either on a large or small scale.  Having said that, there has to be the willingness to put faith in these practices, and to be somewhat educated about their history.  If a person is not willing to open themselves up to chanting, or learning a spiritual lesson based on a Hindu text, then perhaps that type of yoga class is not for them.  It has been said that our physical practice prepares our body for our mental practice of mediation.  Perhaps when people practice on a physical level they are doing the work that may one day help them delve deeper into a meditative practice.  Life, and the process of change, and the process of using our bodies to cultivate greater self-awareness, strength and resilience is just that – a process…meaning that where we are today is not where we were yesterday, and not where we will be 2 weeks from now.

Back to Ms. Stiles – are people getting hurt or injured in her classes?  Does she neglect form, alignment, cuing and corrective strategies?  These are things we should be critical of, for this is a potential danger to people who are in a vulnerable position.  As far as where people feel comfortable practicing yoga and how they choose to define it, I believe we should not stand in judgmental but in tolerance of individual differences and preferences, and reserves labels for containers of food, not people and lifestyles.  Yoga is expensive, and it should be affordable.  It is intimidating, and it should be welcoming.  It can be confusing where it should be clarifying. If we really understand the principles of yoga and leading with an open heart and beginners mind, we embrace all the versions of yoga that exist and see that they serve to enlighten and inspire, just in a different way. Especially in New York, there are plenty of spaces for people to chant, study scripture, learn and listen to Sanskrit and integrate spirituality into their practice in a  supportive and like minded community.

I don’t see any reason why yoga cannot accommodate differences.  Once we start thinking “my way is better”, we have lost our spiritual path anyway.  I say good for her, and good for you – is there is something you believe in that you feel good about that has brought you success and makes other peoples lives better?  Maybe the first step is finding that and being inspired, rather than being critical of others.

This entry was posted on January 25, 2011. 2 Comments

Very first yoga blog!

This is incredible!  I never knew I would take to blogging as I have, suddenly as it were…I just learned how to use this site – in my mind “learn” means not get booted off  – so here I am.

I want to use this as an exploration of thoughts about yoga, about teaching, about learning and about sharing. What does it mean to teach when you – or me – are still learning?  16 years of yoga later and I find myself seeking to extract greater depth from the yoga soil.  When do we become “teachers”, or are we always eternal students of life?  I do feel that as I instruct yoga I am bringing something to the class that my students would not have were I not there, and thinking of other teachers I have had I am so grateful for their wisdom and guidance…today was funny because I was instructing an arm balance, and several students laughed, as if to say “yeah ok, that is very much not happening…”  that is hilarious and endearing because that used to be me, and sometimes it still is me!  I guess I just answered my own question then.  Teaching and learning stride together hand in hand, like a lovestruck couple, giving each other space while always being there to enjoy and relish in the process of moving forward towards better, towards more, towards fullness and towards light.

Till next blog, a thought from the desiderata’s first line: Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

This entry was posted on January 23, 2011. 2 Comments