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Anyone who is paying attention in the world of yoga, has by now, read or heard people talking about the New York Times article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” . And as a yoga teacher and journalist, I feel almost required to chime in with my reaction. So here it is:

I think the topic of injury and yoga is one that needs more attention, and the author clearly did research to support his thesis, but therein lies the problem. It’s an alarmist article that was likely written in the manner it was to get a reaction–in which case it succeeded. But as well-rounded discussion about yoga, or a balanced piece of journalism, it failed.

The entire stance of the piece seems to be centered around yoga teacher Glenn Black’s assertion that  “the vast majority of people should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.”  The article and Black both then go on to give extreme examples of students sitting in vajrasana for hours a day and deadening their sciatic nerve, or getting strokes and spinal damage from head and neck trauma in inversions.

It  just seems like such a cop-out for a yoga teacher to say people should just stop practicing yoga.It’s a cop-out for the teacher, deciding that it’s too difficult to guide students through poses safely, giving variations, finding out about limitations, and encouraging patience and moderation. And it’s giving up on students to think that they lack self-control to accept the guidance and advice of their teachers and limitations of their bodies.

Black cites  seeing students strain so much in down dog that they tear their Achilles tendons. Where were their teachers?  “It’s ego,” he says, “The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” On that I agree with him completely, it’s so anti-yoga, but it happens so much in yoga classes and even whole studios, people obsessed with what they look like contorted in show off poses with expensive clothes and accessories and perfectly toned bodies. Yoga is reportedly a $6 billion a year industry in the U.S. and probably $5 billion of those dollars are ego driven. A good discussion of that topic in response to the article is here.

But I don’t think that’s the majority of people who practice yoga and I don’t think it means that even those people should stop practicing yoga. I think the cases of injuries that the article mentions aren’t the norm, I don’t think most people who practice yoga hurt themselves, and I don’t think yoga is bad for your body–in fact I believe that everybody can and should do yoga (as I’ve mentioned before I’m trying to get my 85-year-old grandmother into yoga).

I think that people need good yoga teachers. He mentions yoga teachers with such bad backs that they have to lie down to teach. Who is going to these teachers and what are they hoping to learn? I don’t agree with the ascertain that most people shouldn’t do yoga, I do believe that some people shouldn’t teach yoga. If you push your body to the point where you can’t stand up, let alone demo poses, you are not a safe yoga teacher, you should not teach. I’ve been practicing yoga for over six years, I’ve been teaching for 6 months. I’m no guru, I know my limitations, and I’m totally fine with them. I’ve had yoga teachers who have said “I can’t do this pose, but if it’s in your practice, I can help guide you into it.”  That’s the mark of a good teacher–not one that can balance her weight on her index finger with her legs wrapped around her neck.

The onus isn’t just on the teachers though–students need to know that there’s risk with any physical activity (and lots of risk in inactivity)–after all most accidents happen in the home–you can throw your back out cleaning the tub if you do it wrong, but that doesn’t mean we should live in filth. They need to know that nothing happens quickly (like I said I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for six years and I can’t stand on my head), and that all bodies are built differently with different limitations (maybe I never will do the splits), and that human bodies aren’t designed do any movement or posture in excess (sitting in hero’s pose for 8 hours a day–or sitting in an office chair for 8 hours a day without moving will damage your body).

So no, yoga can’t wreck your body, you can wreck your body. And like so much of life, in order to “be successful” at yoga, you let go of your ego and expectations, and pay attention. Kind of  sounds like the most basic yoga teaching, doesn’t it.

 

 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a 3-week beginner workshop series at Joschi NYC (this is the studio where I did my teacher training). The three, hour-long classes are Wednesday nights from 7:30-8:30pm and are designed to be taken as a series, as each class will build on information and poses from the class before. If you have never tried yoga before, this is a perfect, non-intimidating place to start.  As always, check out the Classes Page for all the details. Hope to start 2012 with you in this or my 4-week open-level classes at the Brooklyn Zen Center!

I really enjoyed November’s Sunday evening classes at the Brooklyn Zen Center, that I’ve decided to do it again (with all new themed classes) in the New Year! Details below and on the Classes Page. Spread the news far and wide! Hope to see you there!

4-week Open Level Vinyasa Yoga Series

 

Brooklyn Zen Center
505 Carroll Street, Suite 2A Brooklyn, NY

Sunday January 8, 7-8pm
Sunday January 15, 7-8pm
Sunday January 22, 7-8pm
Sunday January 29, 7-8pm

$10/class (cash only) Please Bring Your Own Mat

All Levels Welcome!!

The Moving Studio where I was scheduled to start my Friday morning classes tomorrow has to settle some issues with the transition to new ownership, so all classes are suspended for the moment. Always check my classes page for updates. I’ll be at the Brooklyn Zen Center this Sunday night for my next class in the 4-week fall series!

I’ve taught my first two kindergarten yoga classes this week and have my first preschool class coming up, I’ve also been volunteering at several different yoga classes, including one for autistic middle school kids. It has certainly given me many different perspectives on yoga. I’m still processing it all, so expect a post on it at some point in the near future.

It so easy as a yoga teacher and as a yoga student to feel like you “get it.” As a student, I’m totally guilty of cherry picking the classes on any given schedule that “sound like me,” beginners class? boring, I know all that stuff. “Boot Camp Yoga?” Sounds punishing. I gravitate towards the same sort of Vinyasa classes no matter what studio or gym I’m going to. And most of the time I enjoy it, and there’s always something to learn, especially from trying new teachers. But when I do branch out and try something totally different, even when I don’t enjoy it, is when I learn the most.

While I process all that I’m learning from all of my new teaching experiences, more opportunities are coming in! Starting next week I’ll be teaching at The Moving Studio in Downtown/Fort Greene Brooklyn every Friday morning from 8:00-9:00am. I’ll also be subbing Monday nights from 8:30-9:30pm on November 21, 28, and December 5th. The price is sooo reasonable ($10/class) and the view from the 30th floor  is amazing.  Between this and my Sunday night classes at the Brooklyn Zen Center, you have many opportunities to take affordable classes are gorgeous locations. More info on everything here.

I haven’t posted in a while, but it isn’t because I haven’t because I have nothing to say about yoga, in fact, quite the opposite, my silence has been in part because I’ve been busy setting up exciting new teaching opportunities. Here’s a brief run-down of what and where I’ll be teaching starting this Sunday!

  1. My four-week  open-level Vinyasa series starts this Sunday at 7pm at the Brooklyn Zen Center and happens every Sunday night until Nov. 20th.
  2. On Tuesday Nov. 1, I’ll start teaching twice week after school yoga to Kindergarteners at Brownsville Leadership Charter School with Fit4Life Kids.
  3. On Friday Nov. 4, I’ll start teaching two weekly morning yoga classes to pre-schoolers at Hudson Guild Community Center as a team leader with New York Cares
  4. *coming soon: an early morning weekday class at The Moving Studio in Brooklyn.
As always, check the Classes Page for all the details, and check back here, I have lots of ideas for blog posts and my next “Yoga Explained” video.

I volunteered with New York Cares yesterday morning at a community center called Hudson Guild in Manhattan. It was two back to back yoga classes for pre-school aged kids, and my job as a volunteer (there was 4 of us) was simply to participate in the class showing the poses and encourage the kids. The team leader on the project led the class is songs, games, and lots and lots of creative animal poses. The experience was in a word: joyful.

I’ve always loved children and have thought a lot about working in early childhood education, and of course after getting my 200-hour teaching certification I figured I’d probably add a kids certification at some point. In the meantime however this was a remarkable experience that I think anyone with an interest in yoga (even if you aren’t interested in teaching) should try. It was so refreshing to see how yoga can be approached and adapted to suit anyone. But my biggest take away was something I think everyone involved with yoga from teachers to students often forgets–how much FUN yoga can be.

So much in classes I (and most people) find myself with a super serious look of concentration on my face–brow scrunched, I’m doing YOGA, I must get this pose RIGHT. In this class we howled in upward-facing dog, said hello to our toes in Uttanasana, sang our OMs and  namastes. In tree and dancer poses when kids started to topple, they reached out to hold on to the person next to them to stay up, smiling the whole time.

Not every kid participated in everything, but the focus that these 3 and 4 year olds demonstrited was still better than most adults–if some one got up and started running around in your next yoga class, would you carry on joyfully with your balancing pose? I was also very impressed with the teacher–so much creativity and quick thinking goes into teaching kids. You know the poses when you teach adults, in this class the teacher went around the room and asked every child what animal they saw, she already had poses for the monkeys, dinosaurs, lions, tigers, etc, but a “spiderman” or “princess” pose? Now that’s some improvisation!

I’ve been a volunteer with New York Cares for over 5 years and have enjoyed every project I’ve participated in (there are over 1,000 projects a month people!!–sooo many fun worthwhile things to do!) Since yoga is now such a big focus in my life I decided to take my volunteering with them a step further and last night I completed my training to be a Team Leader, so soon I’ll be teaching a yoga for kids class!  I’ll keep you updated on where and when my kids yoga class is, so you can sign up to volunteer in my class and bring some joy into your practice.

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).

 

I’m very excited about my next scheduled classes!

I’m renting a beautiful space (see below) at the Brooklyn Zen Center in Park Slope for a 4-week open-level vinyasa series. Sunday nights 7-8pm Oct. 30, Nov. 6, 13, 20.

I was feeling so inspired that I made this fall-themed art project/flyer last night. Hope to see you there ( and as always, check out the classes page for more info)

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..)