Archive | June 2011

The L Word…

Housekeeping!: subbing Vinyasa Yoga this Friday 6/24 at two NYC Equinox locations: Columbus Circle at 7am, and again in Brooklyn Heights at 1pm.  I am also subbing July 1st at 1pm, 19th Street, as well as two classes July 4th, 10am in Soho and again 1:15pm at Columbus Circle.

Hello and Happy Summer! On Tuesday, June 14th,  class at Equinox Columbus Circle (6:30pm) was so much fun! There was so much work going on, everyone breathing deeply, working to get themselves into their asanas, it was truly inspiring. Anyone who teaches anything for a living understands one of the most undisputed, simple pleasures in life that is when a student says “Thank you”.

I have two “thank you” stories to tell in today’s blog post. Originally I was going to write about where we store our emotions in our bodies, and how that may help to explain areas of tightness as well as deepen our understanding of some of the fear we may encounter when attempting (or not attempting) to open those places, to expose that tightness, to work through some very well (or not so well) hidden pockets of anxiety, depression, sadness, grief, anger or other expression of emotional experience. I started to research this topic, and came upon two important discoveries. The first, and most important, is that the phenomenon of storing emotions in the body is a highly individual process that is different for everyone. It is common to think that we have all experienced tightness “stored”  in our upper neck and shoulders, most often based on stress. Here is what usually happens: either we hunch our shoulders as a result of spending long hours in front of the computer, which stresses us, which makes us hunch our shoulders more, or we are already stressed as we sit to the computer (computer being literal, or as a metaphor for “blank” = enter any stressful activity here).  Because we are preoccupied with our stress we succumb to some very faulty movement patterns that result in us having a rounded spine, compressed lumbar and cervical spine, maybe even headaches or migraines.  Couple this with the potential to spend long hours behind the wheel or otherwise commuting,  taking care of children or elderly parents, or just generally attempting to keep current with our ultra fast paced society and you have a perfect recipe for postural, structural and physiological disaster, i.e., a veritable warehouse of emotions “stored”…somewhere.

The second discovery was that this topic is so very vast and broad I will need more time, more research and more consultations with experts of various sorts in order to write a concise blog post about it.  Stay tuned:)

Instead, I have two stories to tell about two real people, who shall remain nameless and faceless.  These two folks serve to illustrate a beautiful point about the magic of yoga and its trans-formative power.  But why the “L” word Melinda?, you ask?  Read on…

My first story involves a student I will call “L”.  L is a young woman whose huge smile and sweet voice add to her already charming demeanor.  L came to class  bit early, so we chatted for a few minutes.  L was telling me about some of the amazing benefits of yoga she has experienced lately. She has been trying to lose weight, and has already lost a significant amount of weight(awesome!) She says yoga is the thing that has really helped her feel strong, toned, and more in touch with her body. Prior to coming to yoga, L didn’t see herself as a yogi. She said to me “I’m big, I’m black, I don’t do yoga!”  As we chuckled, mostly because of course she was very much in the here and now about to do yoga, but also because when we look back at some of our limiting beliefs about ourselves, which usually are contained within statements like “I’m too blank, blank, and blank (young, old, small, big, poor, rich, not good-enough, etc, fill in the blanks for yourself) to do that!”, we can see how silly it can be to box ourselves in to what we cant do, instead of opening ourselves up to what we might be able to do…

L took class,  L sweated in revolved half moon, in triangle, in modified chataranga, in standing bow pose, in high lunge, in low lunge…well, in just about every pose she practiced, L put her heart and soul into it, and out came the sweat, the fear, the trepidation. In place of fear and doubt were confidence, curiosity, questions, experiments, explorations and joy. Real true joy that comes when we say “I’m blank, blank and blank, and I do yoga! ” L finished her practice beaming like a ray of sunshine, and promptly gave me a huge hug and told me all about the stuff she never thought she would do, but that she did!  How about that….

The second story involves another student I will call S.  S had only taken my class once before, as I mentioned I took over for another teacher in a new time slot. S is a very advanced student who was happy with her practice led by the previous teacher.  Needless to say, sometimes when another instructor comes in and takes over, it can be jarring, or disappointing, especially if you feel that the quality of your practice might change, or things you have always had the opportunity to work on are no longer offered in class.  S poured through her practice like someone with laser sharp focus and intense amounts of dignity, integrity and attention to breath, form and flow.  As we moved through our sequence, I had no idea this was a person who might have been anxious about a new teacher, or who may have been questioning whether my class was going to be the right fit for her – all of which is completely natural and easy to understand given the circumstances.  We saw each other after class, and as she thanked me (there it is again, that wonderful offering of gratitude in two words), she also mentioned that she felt transformed.  Now, I play it cool like the rest of us…don’t stress when I see a celebrity, try not to call or text immediately after a great date, etc…but inside my head I was thinking “did she just say transformed????  that’s huge!  Omg:)”. 

And so, after two profound experiences of witnessing personal transformation, I thought of the title to this post..the L word.  What is the L word?  Love!  Of course.  It is love that is the driving force behind any transformation, behind any inkling we get to try something out of our comfort zone, any urging we get to take ourselves out of our box of what we think we can and cannot do, and into that beautifully vast abyss that is the world of what is limitless inside of us.  Love for self, love for yoga, love for new things, love for that rush of “feel good” that springs inside us when we look the fear monster in the eye and say Not Today.  This is what yoga can do for us.  Transform.  Love.  Power.

See you in class!

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.”  O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966.

“Things do not change.  We change.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Hot!…Out there, isn’t it?

More pictures like this one can be found in the post entitled "Real Women do Yoga". All previous posts can be found be scrolling through the list to your right.

Housekeeping!  Subbing this Wednesday June 8th for Derek Beres, Equinox Soho:  Basics, 6:30-7:30pm, Level 2/3 7:30-8:45.  I can have one non-member guest:)

Holy hot!  Its getting very warm outside here in NYC, and that can mean several things.  You, like myself, may have just run out to get an assortment of cooling technology, in an effort to secure a good nights sleep in the wake of oppressive humidity.  You, like myself, may have also run out to upgrade your wardrobe to “what will work for both ridiculously hot, humid, sticky outside as well as freezing cold air conditioned inside”  clothes…and you may also, like myself, find that your schedule has opened up a bit and there are more opportunities than ever to maximize the fun days of summer that lie ahead.

One thing that I have always really enjoyed about the summer time is how deep I can get into some of the more challenging yoga poses I stumble across in my practice.  This is because muscles, joints and connective tissue respond very well to heat.  With heat there tends to be an increase in the elasticity of these structures in the body.  There are two forms of heat we can refer to.  One is external heat, not generated by us, but heat all the same.  This is akin to standing on the train platform waiting forever...and all of a sudden you are sweating.  Did you exert yourself?  Not necessarily, just your body is cooling itself off with sweat.  Then there is internal heat we create as a result of moving the body against gravity.  This is the kind of heat we create after a few rounds of sun salutations and perhaps some breath of fire.  This kind of heat is very useful to us in yoga practice.  This is also why it is recommended that one both inhale and exhale through the nose during asana practice:  this keeps the air warm, and limits the amount of hot air we can let escape.

Most people have a significant amount of tightness in their hips.  I know this through years of observation as both a personal trainer and yoga teacher. I also speak for myself:  I am fairly flexible and my hips always feel like they could use a stretch.  We use our hips for so much: walking, standing, sitting, biking, running, bending down, getting up, you name it and there is probably a degree of hip flexion or extension involved.  This is a good thing, as the hips were designed to be used in a variety of functions.  The hips become problematic when we use them more than we stretch them, or when we don’t stretch them at all (yikes!).

Lets look at a low lunge:

Low Lunge 'Anjaneyasana" Variation

Here we see that the left hip flexor is being stretched while the right one is flexed.  This is fine, knowing that we always do both sides in yoga practice. But imagine that either both hips are always flexed, as in sitting at a desk, on a plane, in a car, or otherwise, or that you run, bike or recreate with some sort of discrepancy in strength between your right and left side.  All sorts of compensatory movements and adjustments would take place in order for the body to regain balance as a whole. I digress a bit here but the point is that low lunge is a great hip flexor stretch and should always be done bi-laterally, or on both sides.

When stretching the hips, it can  be helpful to understand where your “neutral” is for your pelvis.  This is why at the beginning of most Vinyasa classes there are plenty of chances to discover this.  Often times we stand in Tadasana, or Mountain pose, to get a sense of balance and neutrality in the major joints and muscles.  In order for your pelvis to be neutral, stand with your hands on your waist and reach down towards your hips to feel for the highest and most bony prominence.  This is called your ASIS – (anterior superior illiac spine – sounds fancy but really just your hip bone in the front).  If your ASIS had light bulbs coming out of them ( which for MOST of us is not the case, hee hee…)  those light bulbs would be facing straight ahead. In other words, if your pelvis is out of alignment, the ASIS will in most cases point down, and less often will be pointing up or be tilted higher on one side than another.  As we create heat for the body and engage in a mindful practice of sun salutations, Warrior I and II, Lizard and Hanumanasana (split) pose, we can increase the range of our ASIS, by lengthening our psoas (hip flexor) and imagining our ASIS is pointing straight ahead as well as being level right to left.

Often we cannot get as deep as we need to, because the hips are not only highly used in our daily life, but they are a veritable warehouse of emotional buildup, so to speak.  Now I am really drifting off to an entirely different topic, that of the phenomena of storing emotions in various places in the body…Next week!  Suffice to say if you are one to loathe sharing emotions, or have a tendency to accommodate so that others may be happy at your expense, you just might have some tight hips, and releasing them may be a matter of going deep on both a physical and deeply rooted emotional level.  This requires bravery, compassion, empathy for yourself and for others, and patience.  Patience most of all, because we resist change, we fear change, we fear the unknown and the unseen.  But liberation is not something to take lightly.  Embrace the heat and go deep into your practice.  There is something amazing waiting for you on the other side of that journey.

“It is the truth we ourselves speak rather than the treatment we receive that heals us.”  O. Hobart Mowrer, 1966

“Things do not change.  We change.”  Henry David Thoreau, Walden