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I made a short video in what I plan to make a series called “Yoga Explained.”  Sure, this information exists out there in many different forms, and there’s a lot of different approaches to instructional videos, but I hope you’ll find these quick videos (this one is less than 2 minutes) both a helpful introduction to yoga and refresher for areas you might glaze over in your practice. It’s also a tiny glimpse into me as a teacher, if you’ve never been to one of my classes.

In this first video, I show variations on the transistion from Plank to Chaturanga Dandasana to Upward Facing Dog to Down Dog. This is a sequence you’ll do over and over in any Vinyasa class, and it’s one that’s easy to get lazy in so it’s helpful to remember the proper alignment. It’s also a sequence that lends itself well to an Open Level class because there’s a variation that will work for you no matter your level. I also always urge my students to try one of these varations that they don’t normally go for, to see if they can find something new in it.

 

Something that I don’t fully explain in the video which is important to remember is which breath is attached to each movement. Here’s that information along with links to more information for each pose:

Plank Pose: inhale

Knees/Chest/Chin or Chaturanga Dandasana: exhale

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): inhale

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): exhale

 

PS. Sorry for the low production quality, we don’t have much space in our apartment, and no video editing software or skills (this was shot by my lovely fiance on my point and shoot camera).

 

Yesterday I participated in the New York Century Bike Tour for the 5th year. My fiance Mark and our friend Joan joined me for the first time this year. It was a beautiful day;  perfect weather, great company, challenges, fun, and a big sense of accomplishment. Biking up monster hills while facing a strong wind, peddling with all your strength but barely moving felt like a metaphor. The soreness and utter exhaustion after nearly 60 miles and over 9 hours of biking, gave me a feeling that I wish I had at the end of every day–I’ve done everything I could do, I’ve accomplished something impressive, and I’ll sleep soundly.

Beyond the feelings of achievement, the sense of community and exploration however, came the very practical concerns: SORE muscles. I benefit from yoga everyday, but some days, like yesterday, I NEED yoga. I did a few down dogs and pigeons at some of the rest stops, and last night I led Mark in some more thigh, hamstring, and groin stretches (Uttanasana, Pigeon, reclined pigeon, baddha konasana, prasarita padottanasana, and a few more like those).

After yesterday though, and seeing people doing a few stretches at each stop, I’m really interested in putting together sequences for cyclists (before, at rest stops, and after a big ride, as well as in general for the areas that need work). I think it would make a great addition to bike tours. Stay tuned for that from me in the future!

In the meantime, here is some ideas from others on the topic:

It’s easy (especially in New York City) to get image wrapped up with yoga. Yoga has for many, become associated with upper-middle class skinny white women, and can seem from the outside to be very elitist.   Beyond even the comparisons of body types and ability, there is so much consumerism tied into yoga–so many cool yoga mats and props, so many pretty $180 stretchy pants. On one hand I get it, there’s a lot of opportunity to make money and a lot of people willing to spend it. On the other hand though it’s the thing that bothers me the most about yoga.

I truly believe that anyone from any background,  with any body type, at any age, wearing any clothes, standing on any piece of ground can not only do yoga, but benefit from and enjoy it. Which is why I found this blog post on Yoga Journal (by Erica Rodefer). Here’s the outline of the article, click the link to read the whole thing:

The 5 things that yoga does require:

1. An open mind.

2. The willingness to look silly.

3. An adventurous spirit.

4. A sense of humor.

5. Body, breath, and spirit.

I found this list and the entire post very refreshing, and I wholeheartedly agree– I espically love this line:

“It’s a comforting thought that you were born with everything you need to do yoga.”

I would add to the list though the following two items:

6. Patience. I’ve talked about it some already, but it’s really so relevant in all aspects of life and especially in yoga. My wonderful fiance only does yoga because he wants to support my teaching endeavors, and he gets frustrated with himself for not being able to get into some of the poses. He’ll say his body isn’t capable of doing those things, but it is– he’s only done yoga a handful of times, he (and all beginners) just have to keep trying, keep practicing, be patient.

7. A Teacher. This one could be argued, you can certainly learn yoga and pratice yoga all by yourself– and as many people in the “yoga world” will tell you, a good solo pratice is important. But I’d say it’s essential to have as least periodicity practice with a teacher. There’s only so much you can learn from reading or DVDs, and even if you’re practicing in front of a mirror, without a teacher you could have the wrong alignment and never know it. Tiny adjustments, guidance, someone to ask questions to and encourage you, I’d say those things are pretty essential to yoga too. (but of course I would say that, I’m a yoga teacher..)

The biggest thing people take for granted is their health. For most of us, most of the time, our bodies just are. We can disconect and live in our heads. But as soon as something goes wrong all of your awareness is on your health and body, you can think of nothing else. It’s really the base of everything.

I hurt my toe pretty badly on Friday afternoon, and the same day my wisdom tooth started aching horribly. I try to be more aware of my body than the average person, but I had never given any thought to my toe or tooth, I took for granted that they are just there, doing their jobs, not giving me any trouble. Now it’s difficult to think of much else. It’s amazing how such small forgotten parts of your body can seem so all consuming when you are in pain. It makes appreciate your healthy working body even more.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose or simply “pigeon” in English, has long been one of my favorite poses. Aside from how fun it is to say in sanskirt (try it), I’ve always liked the release I feel in folding over my front leg. For people with tight hips and psoas, this pose isn’t as enjoyable and the release may not quite be as full (or there at all).

(photos via Yoga Journal)

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is the first in a series of increasingly difficult pigeon poses, one of which involves bending the back  leg and holding onto that foot.  A simliar pose, Mermaid, opens the quads and shoulders even more. Here’s a great explaination of how to work up to Mermaid using Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.

MC_mermaid

 

I had a unique opportunity today; one of my fellow newly minted yoga teacher friends is also a trained budokon teacher, and was asked to give a special class at Joschi Studio for a few of us.

Just what is budokon? In a nutshell, it’s a mix of yoga and martial arts with some animal movements thrown in (a more in depth explanation here) Here’s a video that includes some of the movements we learned today.

It helps tremendously to come to budokon with an understanding of yoga movements as many are included, but there’s also quite a bit of reframing your muscle memory of how flows and poses go, since it’s not quite the same. At first a lot of the hopping and switching sides and legs and arms was a little confusing, but like anything with a little repetition it clicked a little more and when we sped up the flow, I started to have fun and even feel a little badass. But boy o boy is it a workout, this isn’t really a practice that you can come into without some sort of movement in your life already.

After almost an hour of various fighting stances, we ended the class with animal movements, which was, while still strength and agility building, pretty fun and playful. Mats aside, we moved back and forth across the room as gorillas, chimpanzees, frogs, and  other animals.

I could see incorporating some of budokon’s take on yoga poses into my classes (especially the roll through to plank from down dog), and the animal movements seem like a great way to snap people out of taking themselves so seriously and play with their strength. Booker is a great teacher and will be subing the 1:30pm Sunday flow yoga class at Joschi and incorporating some budokon in, I’m going to try to check it out again.

I was annoyed and generally in a pretty un-yogi mindset this morning, and when that happens it’s always really difficult to keep my mind from wandering when I’m practicing. So I decided to challenge myself with something different, I decided to go through my morning flow with my eyes closed.

I’ve read and been intrigued with the idea of yoga classes preformed while blindfolded, but have never tried to do more than a few poses without opening my eyes. Clearly this isn’t something a newbie should try, you need to be really familiar with the poses and how your body should be aligned.

It’s often said that where the breath (prana) goes the body follows and  vice versa — if you are on edge or upset, your breathing will be quick and shallow, to relax and calm the body, breath slow and deep. There are so many breathing exercises that we bring into yoga classes to calm or build heat.

But it’s also true that where your eyes go your mind follows–eyes wandering around the room looking at other people and objects? Your mind if probably wandering too. So then, with your eyes closed, your mind is drawn more inward and without the visual information to help you in the poses you are forced to focus more on your body and depend on your muscle memory –your mind is forced to be with your body in the present moment–there’s too much for it to do to wander or worry.

Aside from helping to focus my mind on my body and breathing, I found that doing 45 mins of yoga with my eyes closed helped me to take it less seriously. When you’ve been doing yoga for a long time you always want to go for the fullest expression of the pose, but I fell all over the place in tree with my foot on my inner thigh, so I rediscovered the pose with my foot on my calf, a version I haven’t done for years. Half moon pose? With my eyes open I feel steady and open, with my eyes closed I could barely stay up, but I enjoyed the falling and trying again, because I cut myself slack that I normally wouldn’t (“I should be able to do this”, “I’m not strong”, etc were all gone since I knew I was doing a wacky version)

I felt much better after my blind yoga, and I’m interested to try it again (perhaps with a blindfold so I really can’t peek). I think an whole other layer would be added in a blind yoga class–trust in the teacher and in the other students, and freedom to look silly in front of other people.

There’s a lot to learn when you close your eyes.

There’s so much to life. So many directions to go in. So many thoughts to think.

Which is something I love about yoga, not only is it a way to connect my mind, breath, and awareness to the movement of my body, but when I’m really in it, when I’m just doing yoga, it’s practice for for life–it’s practice for being only where you are, doing only what you are doing. Then my mind wanders again. But in there are these perfect peaceful moments where I’m not reliving something that’s in the past, or worrying or anticipating what’s in the future.

Which is a good place to start this blog. I’ve just finished my Yoga Teacher Training at Joschi Yoga Institute, I feel so inspired to start a million things, I have so many ideas, so much anticpation, and yes, some worries. But I keep coming back to a quote I read just before I started my training:  “A relaxed mind, is a creative mind.”  You can’t create until you quiet and clear everything you don’t need at that moment. You can only think one thought at a time. You can only preform one action before you move on to the next. Your body is always in the present moment, join it.