Transitions

Happy Tuesday! Happy day after Memorial day!  Housekeeping:

Subbing this Wednesday, June 1st, Brooklyn Heights Equinox.  Vinyasa, 6pm.  Please come!

Hello all!  I have been away from blogging, its true.  It was not deliberate I assure you!  I was in the midst of a very significant transition in my life.  I went from being Graduate-student-who-spends-every-waking-minute-either-at-work-or-in-the-library to being…free!  I graduated!  I feel very proud, excited, inspired and relieved.  What a long road…two years of going to school both at night after work and in the summer, a highly curtailed social life, lack of sleep, multiple sentences of intellectual mumbo-jumbo tumbling out of my mouth at any given moment – was it worth it?  Absolutely.  Going to school and learning, being exposed to the vastness of ideas and incredibly rich intellectual material out there is one of the all time best things that has ever happened to me. I discovered more about myself in the past two years than I could have ever imagined was even there.  Once we get to know ourselves, and embrace who we are (read: my inner nerd!), we begin to not only sense a completeness but also what power there may be in investigation and the thrill of opening the door to life’s challenges.

I transitioned in other ways as well.  I was very fortunate for months to have been able to teach a highly dedicated and LOYAL group of yogis every Sunday morning at 9am since October.  We made great use of the space, I knew everyone’s name, we had great chemistry for an early hour, on a Sunday no less.  I was again fortunate to be offered a new teaching spot, which coincided seamlessly with my new status of being out of school.  This new spot is Tuesday nights, at Equinox Columbus Circle, at 6:30pm.  I am so excited.  A good portion of my Sunday morning students have been able to switch and come on Tuesdays, so in a sense they are transitioning as well.  Anyone who is working through their schedule, we miss you and please know that the door is always open. Come when you can:)

How does this idea of transition play itself out while we are practicing yoga?  In the most immediate sense, once we step onto our mat and begin to become present in the yoga studio, we have transitioned.  Maybe we have had a rough day and we are in class to go to a quieter space in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies and our muscular system.  Maybe we have had a great day and we use our yoga practice to celebrate and help us transform even further into beings of light, energy, warmth and love. Or maybe we are that person who is not even aware of how we feel until class is over and we feel so much better…no matter.  All that matters is that by the end of class it is clear we have shifted.  We are relaxed, we slow down, we breathe easier, we think more clearly, and what might have seemed insurmountable now seems entirely under our control.  That, my friends, is not magic.  It is yoga! It is what happens when you allow your breath to slow, your movements to deepen, your awareness to be directed towards the present moment, your intentions to be based on what is happening at that very second, not what you wish would happen or what you think you should be doing.

Allowing ourselves to be open to the moment, as expressed through our bodies, requires us to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, we have to relinquish control.  We may not know exactly what is going to happen, or how a pose might feel, or if we will be able to hold it for so long, or if we even know how to do it.  We commit ourselves to doing the work it takes to go deeper, maybe through conscious self exploration.  We might decide to become more mindful of our thoughts, our reactions to things, our process, our judgements, our critical inner voice.  Picture yourself now stepping into the yoga studio, onto your mat, ready for your practice to enable some form of transition within you.  Doesn’t that sound exhilarating?  True, maybe terrifying as well.  No one said it was easy!  It is without a doubt a tremendous opportunity just waiting there for you.

Breathe, movement, conscious awareness and a penchant towards transformation is all you need.  Yoga is that gift.  Life is that gift really.  And it is summer!  The perfect time to transform. So… lets celebrate the potential that is there and enjoy as we unfold.

Tune in next week for my posting about hip opening poses and the kinesiology behind certain vinyasa sequences.  oohhh, ahhhh!  Until then, have a wonderful week and 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

This entry was posted on May 31, 2011. 2 Comments

Practice makes…perfect?

More pictures like these can be found in the post titled Real Women Do Yoga.

Good morning!  And of course Happy Sunday!

Housekeeping:  Subbing for Mindy this Monday 4/25 6pm, Vinyasa level 1/2, Equinox Columbus Circle.  Please be my guest if you are not a member.

The flowers are in bloom all over NYC!  It is so pretty to look at.  Happy Easter, Passover, Greek Easter, Orthodox Passover, Happy non-observant Sunday, Happy Birthday, Happy engagement Party, Happy Christening and Happy All-Day-in-the-Library Day (that one is not real for most people but for me that’s what today is…)!  There is all that and more going on today – drink it all in and lets celebrate Spring, I think it is finally here.

This past Friday I went to a piano recital.  When I tell you I was left breathless by the extreme and extraordinary talent of the young woman playing piano, I mean I literally exhaled only when she stopped moving her fingers, which didn’t happen too often.  I was so mesmerized by her dexterity, and of course her musicality, fluidity, passion, talent and performance that I dared not move one inch to uncross my legs, scratch my face or otherwise fidget lest I brake the spell she cast on me.  Here is an example of the utter lack of dexterity I have in my fingers:  I got a new phone that has both a touch pad and a keypad.  My I-phone people are rejoicing “You finally got a touch pad!”  My fingertips are not so happy. I have managed to accidentally call, text and otherwise notify more people in the past 2 weeks that I intentionally mean to contact!  If you received a random call or text from me with no voice mail or no discernible content, it was my fingers and the touch pad conspiring to frustrate me and expose my unsophisticated technological skills.  So sorry!

Watching the pianist the other night led me to reflect on talent, skill, passion and practice.  Of course in pursuing ones passion and life dream we hope to have all of these variables in abundance to get us to the top level of our field, allowing us to at some point truly enjoy the fruits of long hours of practice and sacrifice.   Other things we pursue may not be our life’s dream but they require practice just the same.  One of these is yoga (you knew that was coming!).  We refer to yoga as a “practice” because that is precisely what is involved when we decide to undertake the study of yoga asanas, which are the physical postures we hold in class.  We  refer to yoga practice when we incorporate a study of yogic philosophy, which may involve examining the intentions behind our actions, some form of meditation and mindfulness, and some reading of yogic texts in an effort to change the way we lead our lives to be more in harmony with nature, with our true selves on a spiritual level, and with whatever our conception of a higher power might be.  All of this takes practice!  We won’t get it right on the first try. We might not get it right on the second, third or fourth try either!  We have to embrace practice as a means to knowing ourselves better, learning about our bodies and our minds, and gaining trust, patience and compassion along the way.

Picture yourself in Warrior II with the left foot facing forward, right foot back.  Now picture yourself easing into extended side angle pose with the left hand moving down towards the left foot or block, and the right arm extending either towards the sky or over your right ear.  Now imagine your teacher asks you to start the binding process – which involves wrapping the right hand behind the back towards the base of the tailbone, while the left arm threads underneath the left hamstring to grab the right wrist.  Once the bind is completed, you are asked to bring awareness to your breath, to your hip alignment, to your shoulder alignment, to your ribcage, to your back foot, your front knee and your state of mind.  Yes.   Well.  About that.  The first time I attempted this, besides wanting look around the room and make sure I hadn’t accidentally stepped into circus class- nope, still yoga -well besides that and wanting to laugh, cry, run away, or pretend not to understand English, I just about thought I would die.  Now being a dancer for many years, I know my body pretty well and can tell the difference between good and bad pain. This was not pain as in “injury” – this was pain as in “this is something I have absolutely never ever done before ever in my entire life.”  I breathed into it, felt the rush of taking on a challenge, and managed to wrestle myself out of it in one piece.  To see me do a bound extended side angle pose today speaks nothing of that first experience. Like night and day.

What happened?  Practice. I practiced.  Any chance I had to practice something I was not yet able to do with ease was something I practiced.  That dedication to practice extended to headstand, handstand, shoulder stand -which I still need to practice!  and meditation, which I expect to practice for the rest of my life, as it poses the deepest of challenges, quieting the mind and being at peace with what is.

Go ahead and practice something.  If you need some inspiration, go to a show, see a musician perform, look at some art, read a great book or just look back through your own life at something you couldn’t do but now can do with ease and confidence (public speaking, tweeting, using MapQuest, etc).

As for me, I am enjoying All-day-in-the-library Day, as evidence of practice, patience and passion for improvement are all around me.  Enjoy your practice, whatever it might be:)  See you next Sunday.

“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

Just another Sunday…or is it?

Hello!  Some housekeeping:  I am subbing a bunch of yoga classes this week at Equinox Columbus Circle:

Monday 4/18 6pm, Thursday 4/21 and Friday 4/22 1:15pm.  Please come!

I was away last Sunday, super busy soaking in abundant sunshine and the warm, gentle, crystal clear waters of Miami’s South Beach. Needless to say, it was fabulous.  Much love to Michael Jones for always taking such great care of me.  We should all be so lucky:) In the meantime, I hope you are all well and happy.  Happy Sunday as I always say.  Great weather, so many other things to be thankful for, holidays if you observe them, etc.

Last night the most magical thing happened to me – before you start to wonder where I am going with this, I will reassure you, it probably happened to you as well.  Sleep!  I slept.  I mean, deep deep deep sleep.  I woke up this morning so incredibly refreshed and energized – which says a lot for 7am on a Sunday, which is when I wake up before heading out the door to teach my fantastic group of students Vinyasa yoga at 9am.  I leave some time to snuggle with my incredibly cute and affectionate dog Rosie, have some coffee, check some tweets and do some puttering around the kitchen.  Today was different, I knew right away.  I slept!!! And this deep sleep could not have come at a better time – yesterday was an extraordinarily full day, complete with an early morning trek to the outer edges of Queens for a national certification exam, continuing to the library to complete a 20 page paper for school, topped off with car trouble in the pouring rain, I mean, calls to AAA, moments of “really????”, and all.

Sleep – when it does what it is meant to do – on a  physiological level it is the time for our muscular, skeletal, digestive and other systems to rest and regenerate – is fantastic.  Powerful.  Life changing!  You know how wonderful it feels, how you all of a sudden feel that surge of positivity, that radiance of energy and light, that unmistakeable feeling of being rested.  It is so wonderful, and personally speaking, many times so elusive and rare that when it happens it is like I just know. I don’t have to think about why I am so happy, or so blessed, or so grateful – my mind is clear, and all of life’s amazing offerings feel like they are in the palm of my hand.

We have a version of this most wonderfully trans-formative experience in yoga class as well.  It is called savasana – pronounced more like SHA-vasana.  It is translated from the Sanskrit to mean “corpse pose”.  It is often the hardest pose for people, because as opposed to all the other asanas that rely on  specific alignment, coordinated breath movement and often challenging physical demands on the body, in savasana you are encouraged to do just the opposite, and let the body relax.  Savasana is also known as “yogic sleep”, and there is  a rich body of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the practice of savasana is how Buddhist monks are able to feel total relaxation and regeneration with very limited hours of actual sleep as we know it in the western world.  In fact, I have read and been taught from several sources that when we practice any form of physical yoga, like our asanas or breathing practices, we are really just preparing our bodies for savasana.  How does that work?  Well, much like a previous post where I spoke of the stress response in the body (scroll down or click on the previous posts listed to the right), when we move and stretch and explore tight muscles and stiff joints, we excite the nervous system.  Once we stop, slow down and begin to allow the body to adapt to and accommodate all that we have done, we experience the benefit from having opened up some channels that may have been previously closed off due to bound up muscle fibers, etc.  Then, like a cherry on top of an ice cream sunday or a really great big hug from a good friend, we get rewarded.  We get to lie on our backs, and do nothing.

Why would that be hard?  Because the mind wanders, and goes to our anxieties and fears.  We wonder about what things we need to do, what we have to accomplish, what we could have done better, what we wish we hadn’t done, how we will fix this or that, and how life seems to pass by so fast sometimes. We bundle all this up inside and when left with a moment of inaction – of peace, quiet, stillness and calm, our mind gets flooded with these thoughts.  Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe we are able to explore our breath, visualizing our ribcage gently floating up and down with each inhale and exhale, imagine the floor holding us up, imagine that we are perfect just as we are, flaws, mistakes, limitations and all.  Maybe we take our yogic sleep as place and time of regeneration, nourishment for our bodies and minds, a place to explore tranquility, a place to experience stillness, calm, peace, trust, love.

And maybe, just maybe, we “wake up”  feeling revitalized, refreshed, renewed and inspired.  Try it. Take 5 minutes for some stillness, peace and quiet.  Lie on the floor flat on your back or modify for any lower back problems, and close your eyes.  Remain awake but listen to your breath and stay as present as you can.  Enjoy the magic! Reward yourself.  Give back your body. You will be so very happy you did.

Till next week…

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

“Things don’t change.  We change.” (David Henry Thoreau, Walden)


Clutter=Yuck. Space=Freedom!

Good Sunday morning!  It finally feels a bit like Spring – I know, it might snow tomorrow, but at least for today we can enjoy blue skies, ambitious runners, crisp breezes and other markers of that unmistakable Spring fever…it is that itch to be outside, to be active, to start to really soak up life again after a long winter of hibernation and weather-imposed limitations.  Today’s 9am Vinyasa class started off with a huge pit in my stomach – the room was totally empty at 8:58, and I thought – “Omg, today is that day.  The day when nobody comes to class.  The day I am here all alone…” On and on the nightmare played out for about 30 seconds, until all my students were arriving at the same time, and before I could get to the part in my silly mind wandering where I teach an empty room, the studio was full and I had to laugh at my insecurities and fears, and remind myself of my good fortune and incredibly loyal, wonderful students. Thanks everyone for just showing up:)

Before I forget, I am subbing for the fabulous Derek Beres this Wednesday, 4/6/2011 at the Equinox in Soho.  Basics at 6:30-7:30, Level 2/3  at 7:30-8:45.  Let me know if you would like to be my guest.  I would be happy to have you!

Today’s post began in my mind several days ago.  I am blessed to have many wonderful friends and loved ones in my life.  I have one friend and loved one who stands  out among them all, mainly because she is not human.  She has four legs, a super-adorable furry face, a wet nose, very slobbery tongue, and a butt and tail that can wiggle forever at the slightest hint of happiness or excitement.  Her name is Rosie, and the other day she started her pitter-patter/whimper dance of  “There is something under the bed (or under the couch, in the closet, in your hand, that you are about to eat, etc) that I desperately need right this very second!!!!!”  As I bent down and peered under the bed, I was not surprised to see several half-eaten tennis balls, a delicacy for Ms. Rosie.  What I was surprised to see was how much dust was also under there!!  I was horrified!  And I thought, I wonder where else there is dust and dirt lurking in places I am not so motivated to look at, and so began the metaphor…Where do we have dust, gunk, dirt, “stuff”, lingering where it does not belong, and how often do we really take the time to look closely enough to see our clutter?  When and if we do see/experience/examine it, what, if anything do we do about it?  Do we ignore it?  Do we look further and ask ourselves where it came from?  Do we carry out the brave task of attempting to clean it up?  What is waiting for us in that space?  Is there freedom when there is less clutter?

Similar to spaces in our apartments are spaces in our bodies.  There are places like muscular attachments, joint attachments, connective tissue pathways in the body that all can become cluttered with the leftovers of activity or stress.  When we become pre-occupied or busy or just feel as though we cannot handle digging deeper into these places, “clutter” accumulates.  This, of course, is not the scientific or physiological phrasing for this.  Really in physiology what has become the commonly accepted phrasing is something like a trigger point, or over-activated tissue, or agitated muscle fiber, phrases like that.  Suffice to say we can use the word clutter to describe the tightness and loss of space this creates.  Today lets talk about one place where clutter can collect, and what we can do about it.  It is known as the ribcage.

When we sit all day, or we slouch, or we are carrying around heavy loads of groceries or children or packages or school books, etc, we often end up adding to the compressive force of gravity on our spine and ribcage.  The muscular, bone and connective tissue makeup of our ribcage is designed for some amount of compression, as it serves as the structure that protects and houses our lungs.  What can happen with chronic compression and a lack of stretching is that we end up taking breaths that are more shallow, based on having less space for the breath to travel.  One way to avoid this is to be proactive, and use good postural adjustments when we are doing our daily tasks, which is a great long term habit to acquire or aspire to.  Another way is through the practice of yoga.  One asana that comes to mind as a great way to open the ribcage is Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virahadrasana).  Picture yourself in Warrior II on the right side. Imagine now that you gain about one inch in length from reaching so far forward with your right hand, and so far back with your left hand, that there is a noticeable tingling sensation in your forearms that travels through your upper arms to your shoulder blades and into the center of your back. With that amount of space and length, your begin to reach the right arm towards the ceiling (or sky of you are lucky enough like this woman to be practicing on a gorgeous beach!).   Simultaneously you reach the left arm towards the backside of the left leg.  The right arm , meanwhile, is reaching so far up and back that there is a perceived amount of opening in the ribcage.  From the top of the hip bone on the right side to the armpit and fingertips of the right hand, you have just found, created and indulged in space. Clutter be gone!  Breath be free!  Once there is space in the ribcage, the lungs can be greedy and gobble up breath after breath after breath, allowing the body to sink deeper, the mind to slowly still itself, the stress response to lessen, and the heart to open.  Really?  Really.

Sooo…why don’t we do this sort of thing?  Well, for one, if you are not accustomed to having space in your body, this can be a jarring, emotionally overwhelming experience.  We use clutter and tightness as “storage spaces” for emotional responses that we may not be ready or equipped to deal with.  Think about how you present yourself when you are confident -chest up, eyes forward, shoulders back.  That is you emulating your emotional state through your physical presence.  Now think about another option, perhaps feeling stressed, worried, tense, sad, rejected or lonely:shoulder hunched, eyes cast down, stomach in knots.  If we are to take the steps required to untangle ourselves from some of these emotional manifestations, we may be surprised by what we see.  And sometimes we don’t have a wagging-tailed Rosie in our lives to tell us “Look under the bed!!!”.  We have to be brave to look in places we would normally ignore, and be ready to face what might be lurking there.

As long as we move with love while breathing deliberately, slowly and fully into the tightness, we can clean up clutter, find space and create room.  Its only after we peek under the bed, behind the closed door, into the over-stuffed closet, or wherever we try to conceal what we don’t want to see that gives us the opportunity to gain clarity.  With clarity  we are poised to experience the true freedom that only the process of self-reflection and honesty can bring.  That is yoga.

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

“Things don’t change. We change.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

This entry was posted on April 3, 2011. 1 Comment

Stress. Coping. Cleansing. Spring!!!

Happy Sunday afternoon to you!  It is a bright, brisk, chilly- did I mention brisk?  Sunday afternoon here in NYC.  It is a clear day, with deep, turquoise-y blue above us, and just a faint yet exciting peek at Springs first flowers flirting from the ground at our feet.  Ahh, Sunday.   It is a day some of us use for renewal, restoration, catch up, cool down, sleep in, sleep over, buy food, eat food, surf the web, update our blogs (ahem), and of course, indulge in the ultimate gift to ourselves, that being our yoga practice.

I have not blogged in over two weeks, some of your regular readers have reminded me, and I have really missed it!  The last blog post was a way to showcase the photo shoot I recently did.  The talent of the photographer, the afternoon lighting and the beauty there can be in self expression all converged on that day to create a satisfyingly complete yoga-photo-document experience.  I have entered this picture below into a contest sponsored by Yoga Journal where they have asked for original reader photos in yoga poses. There will be a chance to vote for the favorite picture. Once the voting starts I will let everyone know. I am sure there will some incredible photos to choose from.

In the interim, lets talk about a few things. In the interest of staying true to the wonderful seasonal change we have experienced -at least on the calendar -lets talk about stress, coping, cleansing and spring.  As my students can attest to, this mornings Vinyasa class was all about twisting, binding, cleansing and celebrating Spring. It was a fabulous class with amazing energy, tremendous focus and impressive displays of determination. In short, my students are awesome:)

Stress.  We all have it. We actually need it to some degree. Some of the earliest clinical work done to study stress and its effects on the body concluded that there is a very intricate mechanism within the nervous system and various other systems of the body designed to keep us alive, functioning and alert to danger.  What usually happens in Western – lets face it – NYC culture, is that we have lost the mechanism to counteract stress, and as such our bodies, via our nervous system and various other systems (digestive, endocrine, muscular, etc), contain undue amounts of stress that no longer serves us productively.  We not only manage it poorly but fail to create and access a viable outlet for it.  So how do we cope?  And by cope I mean how we choose to handle situations sometimes beyond our control that can create a stress response in the body. Do we talk to someone?  Do we go for a long walk?  Do we smoke, drink or use chemical substances to take the edge off? Sure sometimes that glass of wine really does do the trick, and there is plenty of research to prove the positive effects of moderate alcohol intake. But lets talk about yoga and how it can not only be a safe place to experience stress, but also a place to allow stress to dissipate and become manageable. In other words, yoga as both a place to experience stress, to cope with stress, to cleanse the body, and embody the beauty and wonder of rebirth in this our glorious season of Spring.

Sometimes in a yoga pose we can add a twist, as you see here in the low lunge to the left.  Lets suppose that you have been holding the low lunge, or several postures prior to where you are now, and your instructor tells you to “add a twist”. And what you would like to do is tell your instructor “No YOU add a twist!  My legs are burning!  Cant you see that?  You have had us here on this leg FOREVER!  You corrected someone, then you had sip of water, then you gabbed about x,y and z, and now you want me to add a twist????  No way.  There is no way.”  But instead of verbalizing that, you do indeed add your twist.  and in a couple of breaths, you find a deep stretching sensation that feels so divine you forget what you were so angry about, and begin instead to enjoy, maybe even deepen (gasp!) the pose, and truly feel like time has stood still, the world is in the palm of your hand, and the next downward dog or child’s pose is the best one you have ever had in your entire life.   Let me explain…By inviting voluntary stress onto the body – holding a posture for longer than we would like, adding twists or binds on top of it – we excite the nervous system, and momentarily overload it.  Then, with breath, with compassion, with strategy, we release what we have, and we experience the safety  and calm of regaining control and composure.  That is the stress response aspect.  What happens during that whole process is the coping aspect.  This means what we tell ourselves, what we think we can do versus what we think is beyond us and our interpretation of that.  This also means how we decide to handle a posture that might be too advanced for us, or one that feels like it is just at our level but to truly experience it might bring discomfort to the point where we are just not sure if we can bear…that is learning how to cope.  So indulge in the possible train of thought that might sound like this when your instructor asks you to add a twist to that low lunge:  “OK. I can do this. I have done this before.  It is going to be intense but it is temporary and I can come out if at any point.  I can also use my breath. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?  Inhale, exhale.  Hey this is feeling pretty deep…and pretty good…a couple more breaths and I am there. I can actually deepen this a bit.  Ah, yes, that’s -well that is amazing! Time to release… ahhhh sweet downward dog.  That was great.  And we get to do the other side.  Awesome.”  Or perhaps you follow the path of detachment, like the Buddhists or other spiritual folk. Whatever your coping style, if it is positive in nature and adds to the nurturing of your body rather than its destruction, you are on the right track. Its in yoga class that we get to safely have this experience, which can in time, better equip us for what we may encounter outside of the yoga studio.

In summary, what this leaves us with is a feeling of cleansing and renewal.  Our hearts might be a  little more open – either via our chest opening in a back-bend, or softening in a restorative pose. We might start to resemble those first few flowers that flirt with us from the newly un-frozen earth. We show a little more of ourselves each time, knowing that stress is no match for our breath, our focus and our knowledge that we can experience discomfort and come out the other side feeling  something like bliss.

“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)

Real Women Do Yoga.

Today is one of those days that is more beautiful on the inside than the outside.  In NYC it is raining and gray.  At times the rain is very heavy, at times it is a drizzle but the sun is nowhere in sight.  This is something we cannot control. So we get up, we amble over to yoga class, we breathe into our bodies, we stretch what is tight, we lengthen what is short.  All the while we revel in the possibility of what could be (a sunny day perhaps?  springtime soon?). We dream indulgently about what potential there may be for our yoga practice, about what new sensations we might feel and what level of depth we may permit ourselves to explore.  Or maybe we don’t…some of us use Sundays to go to church,  read, sleep, catch up on work, clean, shop, see family, rest, restore and anything and everything in between.  In any case, Happy Sunday to you. It is a beautiful day no matter rain or shine.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a photo shoot last weekend with a photographer named Sharon Goldberg.  You can find her work at http://www.iliketotakepictures.com  She is very talented and the photo shoot was as smooth and easy as it gets.  Minimal makeup, natural lighting and one “outfit” – if you can call a leotard an outfit – and in an hour we were done.   You can click on the photos for a larger version.  Here is one of my favorite pictures:This is a version of Eka Pada Koundinya II, or as I like to call it in my head, “that arm balance that I really like doing”.  Many thanks to one of my favorite teachers Derek Beres for letting us play with this pose in his class.  If we are never given the chance to fly, how will we ever leave the ground?

We moved through the shoot, as you can see there were no mirrors. There was no chance for that (sometimes loud!) voice of self doubt to ruin what ended up being an amazing experience.  Here is “two-legged inverted staff pose” (dwi pada viparita dandasana):  I have my forearms underneath my head while my head is still above the floor. This pose requires flexibility in both the hips and shoulders, and should be attempted after a very thorough warm up, and should not be attempted if you are not able to hold wheel with your palms flat,  elbows straight and feet parallel for 5 full breaths.  If you can hold your wheel in this way comfortably for 5 full breaths, try extending your legs.  Do this by lifting through both your thighs and hip flexors, making sure not to crunch or add pressure to your lumbar spine.  Once you have mastered that variation, you can try placing your forearms down.  This is a very advanced pose and should not be attempted by a beginner, or someone with injuries or loss of integrity to the major joints/ligaments/tendons/fascia of the body.

Here is a variation of wheel pose.  This one requires strength in the hips to allow for the extension of the leg: Wheel variation I will admit that if you look carefully, my bottom foot is a bit turned out, or externally rotated. I have the flexibility in my hips and lower back to accommodate for this, but ideally my foot would be parallel, ensuring that my lower back remains neutral.  This cannot be overstated!  If the lower back positioning is compromised, we are putting ourselves at great risk for herniated disks, ligament damage and possible nerve pain.  Having all the flexibility in the world is not useful if you hurt yourself!  We have to take care of our bodies and respect their limitations, be in awe of what they can do, and enjoy the journey as we figure it all out.

The final two pictures are similar, in that they are variations on low lunge.  Low lunge, or anjaneyasana, is one of those poses that once the basics are understood, the potential for creativity is limitless.  Here is how I played with it:

In this version I simply reached back with my right hand as if I might grab my left foot while extending my left arm towards the sky.  There is very minimal pressure on my back knee because I am using my left butt muscles to support the stretch in my left hip, rather than sink down to my back knee. I am also using the opposition of my top arm to create lift and stretch from the long line of connective tissue that encases my thigh, hip, torso and chest.  If you are new to this kind of variation, you can try using a blanket or other form of support under your back knee.  Be mindful of the pressure you apply and be sure to lengthen in multiple directions  -up, down, forward and back.

The final photo I will share is another low lunge variation.  In this one I admit, my dance background crept into the room and I felt a softness come over me, as I twisted and gestured, Sharon in her brilliance was able to capture a moment that emanates both stillness and movement:low lunge variationThat is it!  That was my photo shoot. I was nervous and excited. I found myself on various points of the emotional continuum that is one end fear and the other end ecstasy.  Looking at the pictures, sharing them on the blog, sharing them on twitter and facebook, teaching my wonderful students this morning, I have come towards delight and ecstasy – I felt fear, I embraced it, I was vulnerable and I survived!   That is yoga:)

If you would like to check out the photos on facebook , here is the link:

“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)

This entry was posted on March 6, 2011. 1 Comment

Transformation…this one is for the guys.

Another gorgeous day!  No really, what is it about a beautiful Sunday morning that just makes everything seem like it actually will be OK. This particular Sunday I am still floating high from doing a very successful yoga photo shoot the day before – as soon as the pictures are ready I will publish them right here on the blog.   I teach Vinyasa Yoga Sunday mornings at Equinox (Columbus Circle, Sundays 9am-shameless plug).  Sunday is a special day and morning is a special time to teach. It is the day people often use to restore, to reflect, to piece together whatever good, bad, ugly or in between that may have transpired the week before – and move forward towards a new week.  It is an honor to be part of that process.  Today’s class was all regulars.  Not a single person I had not had in class before. Imagine!  It feels rewarding to build and foster a community of like minded people who come together to transform themselves on some level, as I mentioned, whether it be to release stress from the previous week or to build energy for what may be to come…no matter, really.  The end result is the same.  Ahhh….that after-yoga bliss we all love and crave time and again.

As is often my ritual, I stand at the door as students exit, saying my hellos or goodbyes, kind of a yoga flirting if you will.  Its often a chance to get someones name, tell someone how well they did their this-or-that pose, or ask them how such-and-such a joint/injury/muscle ache is going this week.  Today I had the pleasure to speak with one of my regular male students, lets call him Tom (not real name).  Tom is active, muscular, and loves yoga.  Tom loves yoga as in he is early to class, he has his own mat, he prefers a certain spot in the room, he is dedicated and works hard.  Tom is also your typical male, in that many poses are a challenge for him.  For Tom, this is not a hindrance.  He actively works towards the flexibility he seeks, and enthusiastically approaches his practice with the intention to make progress,  unlock tight fibers, transform and transcend.  The main body of his commentary today was him telling me that previous to really committing to yoga, he resisted it.  He resisted because, well, of course, it is hard!  Not only can yoga be hard, but it is a process that benefits from consistency, and for almost all of us, sincere humility, compassion for ourselves and patience.    It is entirely true that in a vinyasa yoga yclass you may be asked to do things that seem completely and totally impossible, at which point your inner monologue might resemble this… put what where???  And breathe?  At the same time?????  now? or in my next life?

We all know deep down somewhere that the process of transformation is possible – we see it all the time in the media.  Sometimes we are witness to the sad downward spiral of a young celebrity.  Sometimes it is the feel-good story of someone down on their luck who is given another chance and paves a new path for themselves.  Sometimes we witness the transformation of an entire group, nation or culture of people.  As Tom and I talked further, he mentioned that it was his yoga practice that enabled him to excel at all the other things he loves doing .  We talked about biking, running, swimming, lifting weights.   Everything gets easier if muscles have balance and full range of motion, if the respiratory system is able to bring oxygen to working muscles that much more efficiently, if the brain can stay focused on the breath, and work through discomfort and fear while staying grounded and calm…that’s yoga!  True, that’s asana practice and there is much more to yoga than just the poses we practice in the studio.  But if that’s where we start, if through the physical practice of yoga we can build and pave a new way for us to deepen our experience of other things we already enjoy, well what could be better than that?

Humility, compassion and patience can seem like tremendous obstacles –  most likely because we have not yet taken the time to consider or expose ourselves to what awaits us in return.  On a purely practical standpoint, we receive benefits to each of the many systems of the body – respiratory, lymphatic, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine and digestive.  We connect our brain to our muscles, we calm the sympathetic fight-or-flight response, we learn something new as we gain body awareness we can use towards our other athletic endeavors. That is a process that is so amazing is has no price, and no obstacle stands a chance.  As I write this post, I am thinking about all the male yoga clients I have -quite a few actually.  They are unique and different in their own way of course – how they are similar is how grateful they are and how each one of them tells me more often than not how yoga has had a positive impact on their lives.  They especially appreciate being able to recover from or progress in the various athletic pursuits they enjoy.

If you are a man reading this, think about transformation and how it is just there waiting for you.  All you have to do is be open to it. You will be happy you did.

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

Ambivalence…

As has been my good fortune, today February 20th was another gorgeous Sunday morning in Manhattan.  As I write today’s blog, I would first like to acknowledge and thank all of you readers. There has been an overwhelming amount of positive feedback about this blog, as well as insightful comments and supportive text messages.  Thank you!  As I mentioned in my very first post, I never would have imagined I would take to blogging as I have.  At this moment, writing this blog is one major highlight of my week.   Life is so amazing-   we can stumble onto something that enriches us so much – all we have to do is be open to it,  most of the time not being fully aware of what that thing will be.  Any number of my friends can testify to the vast barren space that is my computer literacy.  Yet here I am.   Blogging.  Incredible.

I was originally going to title todays post “Commitment and Fear”.  What loaded words those are!  And as I thought about what those terms mean to me through my yoga practice, my yoga teaching and my life outside the yoga studio, I found myself looking at the space between…that is ambivalence.   Of course what I mean here is both the metaphorical state of being ambivalent, vacillating between two points, not sure which way to go or what direction to follow, as well as the more concrete feeling of just not knowing what to do.  Being stuck, and living there for a while.  What is on the two opposing ends of ambivalence is commitment on one side, and fear on the other.  Commitment implies making a decision, knowing there are good and bad aspects to everything, yet sticking with the path and consciously deciding to work through the bad parts, and relish and enhance the good parts.  My students who regularly come to 9am yoga class on Sunday morning certainly are committed.  They have decided that the good outweighs the bad, and their dedication to their practice is far more important than any inconvenience of getting up early or reigning it in a bit the night before.  I made my commitment to yoga a long time ago, when I fell head over heels in love with what it had to teach me, with the intense vulnerability I felt, and with the deepening of awareness I continue to cultivate after each time I teach, each time I practice, each time I devote myself towards being the best me I can be.

But what about the things in life where we cannot commit?  Lets stay away from the obvious relationship example – too loaded, plus we will all probably go there in our own mind anyway – and use a yogic metaphor.  Lets explore two poses:  one grounded, the other inverted.  Lets look first at downward facing dog, the pillar of any yoga practice.  Often in downward dog there is such an intense sensation of stretch and lengthening, I see students really pull away from it rather than deepen it.  What is this really telling us?  Well for one, there is an absence of the commitment to take the stretch deeper.  When you see someone fully committed to their downward dog, it is a sight to behold. Their heels stretch and reach towards the floor, simultaneously their hips are stretching and reaching towards the ceiling.  Their shoulder blades are drawn into the middle of their back, allowing space for the full rotation of the scapula and therefore full extension of the shoulder.  Everyone does not have the range in the musculature for this, which is really not so important in terms of their commitment.  Commitment isn’t something you have when everything is perfect – its what you need while you are on your way there.

Sometimes something is damaged beyond repair and commitment isn’t the issue- the issue is should you even be there in the first place – what is keeping you in a place/asana that is not open, not structurally healthy, not able to receive stretch and grow, closed off.

What is often mirroring commitment?  Fear.  Fear brings us to our inverted asana.  The group that I had today in class was phenomenal.  We did handstand today for our first inversion.  Handstand, either using a wall or not, involves really confronting fear, and yes, gathering up commitment.  If either of these elements are not in place, the experience will be ambivalence…”I want to, but I don’t.”  ” I want to, but I am afraid.”  “I want to, but I don’t know how and I am scared to try and learn.”  “I want to, but I am stuck and cant seem to get unstuck.”  What does it take to try something that we are afraid of?  What does it take to examine ambivalence and ask ourselves what is our obstacle towards progress?  Well, in yoga class it takes breath, awareness, patience and commitment.  Commitment to the process of letting go-  letting go of worries, fears, hang-ups, insecurities…things that stand in our way of making commitments to our asanas, that stop us from having that deeper experience where we do indeed meet our fear, and move past it.

One of the most wonderful things about yoga practice is that yes, ideally, we have all those elements:  breath, awareness, patience with ourselves, and commitment to the process of becoming our better selves.  But we really only have to have one of those things at any given time, and the rest will follow – if you have breath that is deep, steady and full, you gain awareness, you gain patience and perspective  and you learn to commit to that breath as you see how much it gives you in return.  There is reciprocity again, my all time favorite elusive quality to be sought after in the goings-on of life.  If you have awareness, you can bring that awareness to the obstacles you may face, or the resistance you experience when you do in fact face them.  With awareness comes patience, as we understand that life is not a race to self understanding but rather a journey that is as magnificent as it is perplexing and beautiful.  Along the way, we may feel ambivalent – should I?  I want to…but I cant, or it is going to be too hard, so I wont…OR, I don’t actually know what to do- so I wont do anything.

Ultimately, whether you dig deeper in your downward dog, fly up into your handstand, or  remain ambivalent is entirely up to you.  Fear is no match for breath, patience and awareness.  Next time ambivalence calls your name, sit with it and learn from it, then move forward.  Life  – and yoga – give you the freedom to make the choice, feel the fear but not be controlled by it and commit yourself towards all the levels of greatness that are waiting for you.

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

 

This entry was posted on February 21, 2011. 3 Comments

Support…

Hello all!  First some admin stuff to get out of the way:  substitute teaching this week, all at various Equinox locations:

Tuesday 2/15 10am Columbus Circle

Wednesday, 2/16 1:15 pm Columbus Circle

Wednesday, 2/16 6:30pm basics, 7:30pm level 2/3 Soho

Friday, 2/18 1:15pm Columbus Circle…lots of options!

Today, Sunday February 13th, is another beautiful, clear Sunday in Manhattan.  Folks are out doing Sunday type things – shopping, carting children and/or dogs around, strolling, eating, going to church, coming back from church, and all types of other in-between things that folks do on Sundays – laundry, relax, an of course, heading to or heading from yoga class.  I was privileged enough to have another brilliant array of students in my 9am vinyasa yoga class, taught at Equinox Columbus Circle.  It is always inspiring to watch people undergo the process of transformation.  That’s really what my job is- I facilitate the process of transformation, and in that facilitation I am witness to, and participate in life’s great poetry – large or small, subtle or striking, once we become present and give ourselves attention, time and breath, we change.  Issues seem manageable, problems fade from our immediate focus, and we deepen our relationship with ourselves just a little more….All that from yoga?  How?  Today we will discuss it in the context of support, and how with the right support at the right time, anything is possible.

We all deal with the concept of support in many aspects of our lives. In the world of movement, personal training, yoga teaching and health education, the concept of support is hugely important. Support is the thing in life – personal, professional, yoga, running, dancing, anything -that can keep us from failing. It holds us up.  It is like the small voice whispering in one ear “don’t give up, you are almost there, you can get through this…I believe in you.” It feels like a hand just hovering at the small of your back, ready to catch you if you should start to fall.  With the proper support in place, we are held up, we can grow, we can explore, we can shine.  In terms of movement and personal training, there is a direct relationship between how well a muscle can perform a certain action and the amount of support it receives from the smaller muscles.  With a well functioning muscle – one that can go through its full range of motion, can contract and relax with reasonable efficiency, and can assist in everyday or sport specific tasks when we need it to, there is an entire system of supporting musculature that facilitates that action.  In yoga the same rules apply.  We have to understand where the support is coming from in order to be able to grow, explore, and shine in our asanas.

There is some basic physiology at play when we talk about supporting muscles – lets take tree pose for an example.  We are standing with our right leg straight, and our left foot pressed up against the middle of the right thigh.  Our left knee is turned out to a 45 or greater angle, and our hips are even left to right, our pelvis is neutral, and our shoulders are aligned right over our hips.  Even though our left leg is the one that is in the tree posture, it is able to do that because of the support it is receiving from the right leg.  In dance we call it the standing side – the one that does the work, that provides support, that gives stability and allows the left leg to express the beauty and calm of a well executed asana.  Were it not for a strong right leg, we would have great difficulty in this pose. Now of course all you exercise physiologists, yogis, dancers, pilates folks and assorted other movement specialists out there are thinking – wait just a minute Melinda!!! what about the trunk, the core, the visual stability, the hip stabilizers????  What about all that support?  Well, yes of course all that is functioning as well.  We can see that a well placed, well timed, well established system of support leads to our ability to first stabilize ourselves, then grow, and then shine.

Maybe when we watch others we are blinded by the shine, inspired to garner more support so we too can be a bright light in whatever we do -work, school, yoga, exercise, personal relationships, professional relationships.  Maybe we are already working towards our own brilliant shine and our support is not quite functioning as it should.  What do we do?  Breathe – go deeper and breathe more  – go a bit deeper and breathe more – go deeper still and pause – is there another source of support we can tap into?  Are we neglecting some other layer in this intricate dance of support and strength?  Or are we already shining brightly, well equipped with all the support we need?  It is question only we can answer for ourselves.  Our yoga practice is our journey to explore this notion of support and strength, seeing where we are strong, where we are weak, and where we need the hand at the small of the back to hold us up while we become that brilliant light.

This entry was posted on February 13, 2011. 1 Comment

Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful day.  The sky is clear and sunny, and on my way this morning to teach my 9am vinyasa class at Equinox Columbus Circle I saw the throngs of runners on their way to Central Park for a morning 4 mile race.  I love to see runners because I am one, and they often inspire me and remind me of the passion and commitment that bubbles up when you make the effort – getting up early, putting on the clothes, packing some food, etc etc.  I am so grateful to my students as they too inspire me. They are up early, often in the studio before I get there, warming up, breathing into the space.  Their energy and commitment brings my fulfillment, and we have reciprocity, that elusive quality we are always seeking out in any relationship or endeavor.

Next week I will include some more concrete physiological yoga/how-does-that-work-stuff…but today’s blog is all about much more abstract adaptations of the concepts of helping, giving, receiving and learning –  how do those ideas and concepts play out in our lives…?

This morning in class I was helping a student with her headstand.  This is a particularly dedicated student, always expressive with a  positive attitude, great listening skills and insightful and thoughtful commentary.  As I finished helping her stabilize her inversion, I asked her how it felt to be upside down like that, and if it was OK.  Her reply, was yes, it felt great, and that she was able to do that because of my help.  I thought about that for a second.  It reminded me of how amazing it feels when we encounter something or someone in our lives that brings us to a place we have always wanted to go – but were somehow not able to get there on our own.  This can signify a place internally for us, like an emotional place that perhaps we have always been wary of exploring, fearful of what we may find.  This can be a “place” as in some aspect of ourselves that we didn’t even know was there – maybe creativity, imagination, ambition, intellect.  This can also mean a literal place, or event, like performing a headstand, and experiencing the freedom that comes with confronting fear and accepting whatever assistance we need to take it step by step, inch by inch, until we feel we can manage and “stabilize” without direct help.  So the question is…did I help her?  Or is it more significant that I there at the right time where she was able to accept the help, and discover for herself what was and has always been there – a sense of adventure, strength and fearlessness, curiosity,  investigation – in short, a solid headstand.

I think we all have tremendous potential for various facets of life, whether it gets expressed through the work we perform, the partnerships we create and nurture, or the impact we have on those around us.  I also believe there is a metaphor within yoga practice for discovering this potential, as our bodies become the vehicle for this journey.  Yoga can give us the permission we crave to explore, peek behind corners of tightly bound muscle and connective tissue, and see what lies underneath.  What is waiting to be discovered, led up to a headstand, and eventually sustain itself? Maybe that role of teacher is our professional life, maybe it is someone in our personal life.  If we are fortunate to have a teacher who nurtures that path of discovery, again we have reciprocity. We give and receive, finding balance between strength, practice and stillness.  We can feel satisfied knowing this is a process that never ends, and there are many more beautiful days ahead…

This entry was posted on February 6, 2011. 2 Comments