Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My little Rant on the Myth of Yoga & Flexibility

I always get so bummed out every time I hear someone tell me they would love to try yoga...BUT..."they're soooOOOooo not flexible."

If you've been using your inflexible body as an excuse to not do yoga, you may not want to read this. :P Because I am here to convince you:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE FLEXIBLE TO PRACTICE YOGA. Flexibility may seem like it is a prerequisite to practicing yoga. I understand, I've seen the magazines too! It can be intimidating at first, when your association with the practice of yoga are these slender lithe beings who seem to easily contort themselves into pretzel like shapes. Well here's food for thought: The men & women you see on the covers of magazines are generally teachers who have spent YEARS i mean 10-15 years practicing and teaching. Just sayin'!!!!

It's actually quite simple: Whatever you lack in your body, a yoga practice will give to you. Not overnight, but with extended and dedicated practice, the parts of your body which are stiff and inflexible will become more supple and movable. You will soften where you need space, stabilize where you need balance, open where you need length and tone where you need strength. AND, as a little "icing on the cake" as they say...These qualities that you begin to cultivate in your physical body will then manifest themselves into your more subtle energies and you will notice that they will begin to have an affect on how you express yourself and live in the world. Yoga is a transformative, alchemical, creative process!

My personal journey has been about gaining strength in areas that were once weak. Flexible, but weak, and therefore at great risk for injury. Because yoga came naturally to me, I never even realized that I didn't have much muscular strength in my thigh muscles. I would just thrust myself into the posture, not even realizing that instead of using my muscles I was instead sinking into joints. It's been a long journey, but I now have stronger quadricep and hamstring muscles that I know how to use to protect my fragile flexible joints. As it so happens I have also started to feel a lot more grounded and rooted in my life.

B.K.S. Iyengar says; "...My own body was the laboratory, in which I saw the health benefits of yoga, but I could see that yoga would have as many benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body....The miracle is that after seventy years these gifts are still increasing for me. The benefits of practice cannot always be anticipated. When they come, it is so often as unexpected bounty in forms one had not expected. But if you think that learning to touch your toes or even stand on your head is the whole of yoga, you have missed most of it's bounty, most of its blessings and most of is beauty." (Light on Life)

So, now try and see for yourself! Who cares if you can't touch your toes???!!! A beginners Iyengar class is a great place to start if you're unsure because you're not flexible. The teachers are true guides who use a lot of props to help each individual yogi and yogini to get into the poses in a way that is aligned with what their body is capable of.

Next up: I will debunk the Myth that yoga is just an elaborate stretch session. Stay tuned!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

next hoop-yoga session 12/17 @ 9pm

hoop-yoginis and yoga-hoopers!
We know you're craving a wonderful work out experience, so to quench your fun-loving thirst here it is: our next HOOP YOGA session! We are so very excited to meet up for another workshop integrating yoga (led by our own talented and certified instructor Nicole) and hoop dance. Our first class had such a great turn out and can't wait to share this great workout experience with more of you!
If you were able to attend class last time, it would be amazing to see you again. It's going to feel great to have that hoop around your body again - you may be surprised by how easy you get it this time! For those who are new to the list or weren't able to make the last class, we would LOVE to see you! and don't you worry about being behind on your hooping - We use larger, weighted hoops which make it much easier to catch on (and provide better exercise too!)... in fact, we haven't yet met someone that we couldn't teach to hoop, so trust us, you can do it! Just about everyone in the class are inexperienced or beginner hoopers, so you'll be in good company!
Where: Sounddance Studio - 281 N. 7th Street between Havemeyer & Meeker (BQE), Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Trains-- take L train to Bedford or Lorimer, or G train to Metropolitan/ Lorimer and it's just a couple of blocks away
When: Thursday, 12/17 9:00-10:15PM
How much: Free! Though donations are greatly appreciated!!! Since it's our second class and we're still working with each other and with you to make this the best class EVER, we aren't charging... But if you can afford it, please give a donation (whatever you can afford to give us... $5? $10? :) the donation is to help us cover the cost of the rental space and to supply the hula hoops for the class.
What to bring/wear: Just comfy work out clothes that you can move around it and your beautiful self - we'll provide the rest! We have the hula hoops, mats and yoga accessories needed for class
Why: ....Because it's awesome and it'll make you feel great!!! as we noted in the last email - 1 hour of hooping burns the same amount of calories as running on the treadmill for the same amount of time at an 8 minute mile pace!!! If you're feeling a little pokey after Thanksgiving or want to get a head start on holiday cookie calories, it's a fantastic and fun way to work your body and tone your core and arms specifically.
Hope to see you on Thursday the 17th! Please let us know if you think you can join us(Friends welcome too! Just let us know a head count) If you aren't able to make it and want to be removed from our list as to not be contacted in the future, let us know... no hard feelings :) Please feel free to email if you have any questions. Can't wait to see you all!
hug n kisses and happy hooping,
Becca, Mary Beth and Nicole

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

DIY Restorative: Upper Back Opener (free massage anyone?!)

This delicious posture can be done without a mat on any hard surface, and you don't really need too too much space. All you're going to need is a towel, blanket, or sheet, and your beautiful self.

First, take whichever "prop" you have, fold it, and then roll it into a cylindrical shape that is approximately 3 inches thick and at least a few feet long. You want it to be AT LEAST a few inches wider than your shoulder blades on each side for the pose to be held comfortably.

Position yourself in front of the rolled up prop with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor.

Now, find the very bottom of your sternum (breast bone) and place a finger there. Draw a straight line from that point around your rib cage until you're touching your spine. If you move your finger from side to side you will graze the very bottom of your shoulder blades, your "wing tips". This is the part of your back that you want to be resting on the cylindrical roll up you just made.

Lean that part of your back onto the roll up, keeping your knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor, allowing your shoulders to pour over the roll up onto the floor. Tops of the shoulder blades should meet the floor. If they don't you should adjust the thickness of your roll up.

You should feel a "sensation" in the space in between your shoulder blades, and it may be uncomfortable (BUT NOT PAINFUL) at first. You are placing a great amount of pressure on some very deep, very thick upper back muscles where we all hold A LOT of tension. If you don't feel any sensation whatsoever, you should increase the thickness of your roll. If the top of your shoulders do not touch the floor, decrease the thickness of your roll.

When your settled at the right thickness, bring your arms out to "T" shape with the palms facing up, then bend to a 90 degree angle. (This is called "Cactus Arms")

breathe, smoothly in and out through your nose.

relax, your forehead, your eyes, your jaw, your throat.

surrender, allowing your body to melt into the floor and the support, no tension, no muscular effort at all.

This pose feels soooo good and is a stimulating, invigorating, deep, but passive backbend. A great way to experience the benefits of deep backbending/heart opening without the risks that come along with them, especially if you're a beginner. It can be practiced in the morning in lieu of a cup of coffee, or any time you need a jolt of energy! Also great to relieve muscular tension and pain in the upper back.

You're also opening your heart center, or chakra, which is said to govern the heart and circulatory system, thymus gland and respiratory system. In terms of the subtle body the heart chakra represents the seat of your higher emotions like true and unconditional love. You may take your attention to your sternum area and mediate on the following mantra if you'd like: "Yam", pronounced Y-ah-m. NOT like that orange potato we eat during the holidays in the US. :P

If your mind wanders, that's ok, bring your attention back to the mantra or to the the inhale and exhale.

Hold for at least 3 minutes.

To come out of the pose: Gently, gently, GENTLY, roll to your right side. PAUSE, take a few breaths here. Then, letting your head be the last part of your body to come up, gently press yourself up to a sitting position. Find a comfortable cross legged seat (you can sit up on your prop if you'd like), close your eyes and breathe. You may feel a jolt of energy after stimulated those DEEP upper (thoracic) back muscles.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

DIY Restorative: Halasana (Plow Pose) w/ Chair

Lately I have been so busy with so many different projects, my yoga practice has mainly been a home restorative practice. Sometimes it's just what the doctor ordered; to set up in a sweet restorative posture, cover the eyes with a lavender scented eye pillow and just breath there for 5 or 10 minutes (or more). If you have never experience restorative yoga, I highly recommend you start today!!! I would like to share with you one of my favorites, all you need is a mat, a blanket and a chair (a metal folding chair is ideal, but any armless chair should work).

Spread your mat out on the floor and place the chair facing sideways at the end of the mat (this will ensure that the chair doesn't slip) so that you have the rest of the mat extended lengthwise toward you on the floor. Fold your blanket until you have about a 2-2 1/2 inch cushion, then place the folded blanket on the seat of the chair and come into the pose as described below. Make sure you are set up so your neck, shoulders and arms are supported by your mat, you can even fold your mat into thirds or quarters and/or place another folded blanket under your upper back and shoulders to cushion the part of your cervical spine that is pressing into the floor. Now come into and out of the pose as described below.

Come to lie on the section of your mat that extends onto the floor with your head as close to the chair as possible. Arms down by your sides, palms facing down. Knees bent with the soles of your feet on the floor. Now raise both legs to a 90 degree angle, feet flexed, and keep them flexed throughout.

Spread your fingers well and press strongly into the floor with both palms, tone your belly, INHALE, and on the EXHALE, pressing into your palms and using your engaged core muscles; float your legs up and over the chair, allowing them to gently come to rest on the padding you so lovingly prepare for them.

Please take a moment before you settle in to adjust yourself. You may want to reach around and use the legs of the chair to wriggle your thighs further back, keeping in mind that you should have as much of the fronts of your thighs on the support as possible. When you're comfy, you can close your eyes (an eye pillow is great in this posture if you have one!) place your arms back down by your sides, palms facing down. Settle in and just breath evenly in and out through your nostrils.

I recommend doing this pose for a minimum for 5 minutes to get the full benefits!

To come out:

Crack open your eyes and mentally prepare yourself first. See yourself coming out of the posture with grace and ease (no crash landings!!!). Take several deep inhales & exhales. Now again, press firmly down with both palms into the floor, suck your belly in and lift both legs up and over the chair, coming back to a 90 degree angle. Lower both soles of the feet (at the same time) to rest on the floor with knees bent. Pause. Take a few breaths. Hug both knees into the chest and slowly roll to your right side, into a little fetal position. Inahale and Exhale here. Gently press yourself up to sit, and take a few breaths in a comfortable seated posture. Smile! This should feel rrrrreally good!

Chair supported Halasana (Plow Pose) stimulates the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, or in other words the "rest and digest" fuction. When the relaxation response is engaged, it has profound healing effects for the body and mind! It slows down the heart rate, lowers blood pressure and muscle tension; circulation to vital organs increases, and more!!! Also, in this pose you are in a throat "lock" (bandha, in sanskrit) which stimulates the throat chakra, as well as massaging all the glands and muscles in your neck/throat area, as well as helping to stimulate the relaxation response. It has been said that practicing this pose for 10-20 minutes is akin to taking a Valium! (not that I know what that feels like :P)

Enjoy yogis and yoginis, and report back to let me know how it works out!!!



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musings on Taoism & Yoga

A little something I found that I wrote a few months ago...Right after I finished training. Please forgive any spelling errors and the fact that I have become too lazy too lazy to type with capital letters, it's one of those things that kind of just poured out all at once : ) Thanks for reading <3

i am endlessly fascinated by eastern spirituality & philosophies - their similarities as well as their different approaches toward attaining that which i believe to be common to all the many teachings - a stilling of the constant chatter of the mind which allows us to connect with the unwavering divine light in our hearts. this stillness in the mind helps us to see clearly and act from a place of intuitive wisdom where outside phenomena cannot disrupt that everlasting stillness within. the philosophy of taoism, especially, has touched me most deeply.

"whether you go up a ladder or down it your position is shaky" as the Tao Te ching says. everything in nature, including human beings are expressions of that divine force that existed before the universe was born, from which the universe and all its wonders were born, and to which we all return. "There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born. It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name,I call it the Tao." "endlessly repeating itself, endlessly renewed" when the mind is calm and the heart is open we connect to that primal part of our being that remembers this. acting in harmony with all of god's creations, spontaneously without force or effort.

the tao te ching states "Man follows the earth. Earth follows the universe. The universe follows the Tao. The Tao follows only itself." the tao te ching also states that this force or essence cannot be named or categorized as other things on earth and in the heavens can. "you can't know it, but you can be it" in order to know it, you must experience it. but how? the tao te ching presents us with a dazzlingly poetic, incredibly simple, humorous but cryptic way of living in harmony with the world. lao tzu tells us that "if you want to know me, look inside your heart". as simple as it seems though, for most of us it is incredibly difficult to put into practice in our everyday lives. sure, you read the beautiful words written in the tao te ching and for a few minutes, hours or days you embody them fully but then life gets the best of you and you are shouting at someone on the subway who won't move out of the doorway. i have read the tao te ching...i don't know.....easily a thousand times since i first pulled it off my bookshelf in the summer of 2001, but over the years i have found it, impossible! to always live, as the tao te ching suggests: with simplicity, patience and compassion. and lao tzu tells us straight out that if we try to practice his teachings, we will fail. he more or less leaves us to find our own way to experience the mystery of the Tao.

enter yoga.

in my opinion yoga exists so that i can experience and share with others what lao tzu describes so eloquently in the Tao Te ching. since i first read it so many years ago that is what it has been trying to tell me. what speaks to me about yoga, specifically, is its practicality and absence of dogma. every practitioner is invited to embark upon their own journey or interpretation of the philosophy. see sutra 1.1, of patanjali's yoga sutras: "atha yoganusasanam" "Now we begin the discussion of yoga". the following sutras go on to say that yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind and he who attains this will have achieved enlightenment. then patanjali goes on to offer ways to calm the flucuations of the mind, but in no way shape or form dictates that any of these methods is definite or required. it is more an art of self alchemy, or a scientific experiment in self study than a religion with rules and dogma. the one thing that is absolutely necessary is that whatever practice or path you choose it must be done with dedication and for a long time. the sutras themselves have so many different translations it is clear to see these ancient teachings are meant to be open for interpretation. over the years many different paths have developed but ultimately it is up to each individual sadahka (seeker) to discover the best path for herself. this fits completely with the Taoist philosophy which seems, in its own roundabout way to urge each seeker to find their own tributary toward the experience of the divine and elusive Tao. for all it's wisdom and power the tao te ching does not in the end give us a clear pathway to the experience, but it certainly leaves us a few clues! for me, the answer is no questions asked, the practice of yoga. thus, it is my intention through my own practice and through my teaching to cultivate a state of being where one can be experience this brilliant, this luminous, this infinite quality that resides within us all. that we may live with grace, spontaneity, simplicity, patience and compassion; no matter what obstacles life brings us, because as one of my teachers has said: "the obstacles will ALWAYS come" so, no matter what brings you to the practice it is my intention that you will be able to taste, if even just for a moment, knowing the Tao.

stability. alignment. length. grace. to move through the poses in a way where you start to feel as if your body is rooted, firm and then bursting forth. blossoming open spacious luminous quality. like a flower or tree in the springtime. intelligent sequencing, precise alignment. fun! play!

becoming a teacher to me is just a part of deepening my own practice. and if i can someday share what i have learned with others in the way my amazing teachers have done for me......then i will feel as if i have accomplished something incredible in this life.

And so I will leave you with this little prayer I wrote (inspired by something i read in the tao of physics)

"May all my actions arise out of intuitive wisdom, spontaneously and in harmony with my environment. not forcing myself or anyone around me, but adapting my actions to the movement of the tao. may i refrain from activity contrary to nature, and let everything be allowed to do what it does, so that it's own true essence can be satisfied, joyful, peaceful and happy."

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