Welcome to Yogi Sticks!

Do you know your Gomukasana from your Adho Mukha Svanasana? Is your Vrksasana all it can be? And how do you feel about Supta Baddha Konasana? Do you know what I'm even talking about?

Sometimes the Sanskrit - however beautiful it sounds - is not very helpful. So, to encourage my students to expand their yoga practice into their home, I sketch the poses we practice during class on a chart and add the Sanskrit and common name. Hopefully, this is a useful tool to help them along in their yogic journey. I also troll the internet, books, and journals to find interesting articles about yoga and the yogic lifestyle.

Schedule Reminder

I bet I'm not the only one forgetting my new schedule at the Yoga4All, so here it is again:
Mondays 5:30-6:45 / Wednesdays 7:00-8:15

The class level remains the same, but it has a new title: "Hatha Yoga Blend - Beginner's 2".
Check out the entire schedule at www.yoga4all.com.

Also, I am subbing in Indian Shores this week. You can find me on Thursday at 9:00 at the Indian Shores Community Center (on Gulf Blvd. next door to Salt Rock Grill). It's only $6, so I hope to see you there!

Let Yoga Be a Journey

This was written by Melissa Gerson (my sister!), a yoga instructor in Parker, Colorado:

A lot of yoga participants are looking to achieve the perfect yoga pose according to someone else's standards. Well, here's the thing...The perfect pose is different for each person. Everyone's body is unique, everyone responds differently to a pose, and no one's pose will ever match someone else's. You can push it, to try and force your body into a certain look. And your body might match the "picture perfect pose" perfectly, but that doesn't mean you've perfected the pose. (Say that 10 times fast!) And it's not just the physical aspect. There's a mental portion to every pose as well. It's more important to know what is the purpose of the pose. Why am I doing this? What's the point? If you don't know, ask. Otherwise, you might end up hurting yourself just trying to make the pose look "right". Maybe, technically, your arms should be at 90*. Well, what if your arms don't go to 90*? What if they are at 88*? Or 72* Does that mean the pose is wrong? How about instead, think about the reason why your arms should try to be at 90*. Is it for an arm stretch, a shoulder stretch, a strengthening move, or all three? Then can you find a position that is moving towards 90*, that includes the purpose of the pose? And as long as you feel the stretch/strength happening, should it really matter if your arms are at 90*? Nope. Not at all. What if you're extra-stretchy? Should you stop at 90*? Again, what's the purpose? If it's stretching, no. If it's strengthening, then probably yes.

However, this means that you, as the yoga participant, have a lot of responsibility. If yoga poses were all about the look, I could simply come around and move you into the correct pose, hoping not to hurt you while I do that (and a lot of instructors do just this, but that's their perspective, and good for them). But you're not a puppet, so cut the strings! It's more important that you take your awareness inside, find the purpose of the pose and move your body accordingly. Yes, I'll still make a few mild adjustments, but mostly for safety or to direct your awareness. But your pose is up to you. Maybe, for whatever reason, today your body is extra tight and you don't want to push it. Then take your awareness inward and find your pose. And I won't come around and force you into something you're not ready for. Your body will achieve all of the poses, when it's ready. Forcing a pose will only slow you down. In yoga, pain is not gain, it's simply pain...which makes your body tighter, adds stress, and makes you not want to come back to class, which makes you tighter still, which makes you grumpy, which makes others grumpy, and isn't the world grumpy enough already? So let's make the world a happier place just by listening to our bodies, honoring its' requests, and being nice to ourselves. See how yoga solves the world's problems? :)

Okay, back to the rant and my last point...Don't get frustrated! These poses were created by yogis who have been practicing 10-12 hours a day since childhood in 100*+ temperatures. It's their job, their lifestyle, and in come cases, their religion. I'm grateful that these yogis exist/existed, I am humbled by their dedication and I honor their teachings and guidance which offer amazing direction for our practice. But that's exactly what their teachings are - a direction, not a goal. A goal means that if we don't achieve it, we've failed. The only way to fail in yoga is to give up, to quit trying. Did you really enjoy your first yoga class? Probably not. But you tried again. And now look where you are! Yoga is a journey. Remember that most of us didn't start yoga until much later in life and only because we could feel how stiff we were becoming. So should we be ashamed that we can't touch our toes? No way. We're trying, we're slowly loosening up and that's all that matters. Does it mean we're not healthy if we can't wrap our leg around our neck? Nope. Healthy means our body is strong enough to support our lifestyle - that's it. And I don't really need my leg around my neck, so I'll be happy to settle for less back pain and a stronger core. If I get more physically from my yoga practice, then it's a bonus but not a necessity.

Please note that all of the above is just my opinion. Believe me, a lot of people will disagree. And I've tried to stick with only the physical aspect of yoga. Believe me again, you do not want to get me started on the mental/spiritual side unless you are looking for a long, boring summer read. I wanted to write this mainly because I keep hearing people say, "I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible enough", which makes me a little crazy. That would be like saying, "I'm not sending my daughter to school because she can't read". We've all seen the covers of yoga magazines, with the beautiful woman smiling while in some crazy pose with perfect hair and make-up. In reality, who actually looks like that when practicing? I don't like the image this gives yoga. We work hard and we sweat. None of us are flexible unless we stretch. I had a teacher say once that it's good to be tight because then you don't have to move as much. Look at the guy int he picture above. Imagine how far he has to go to get a deep, satisfying twist. I applaud his abilities, but that's a lot of work! I think I'll stick with my not-so-perfect poses and choose to feel great about myself no matter how far over I can or can't bend. Because I'm trying. And that's perfect. Now go have a great day!

9-20 Yoga for a Good Mood, 9-22 Thighs

As we settled into practice Wednesday evening, I reminded us to set this intention: "I am attempting something difficult and unfamiliar, and I appreciate myself for trying." Thank your body for agreeing to be you again each day.

On that note, we worked into our thighs in this practice. Lots of strengthening, and of course, lengthening.

Quote: "Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another." - Desmond Tutu

This series was inspired by an article in the new Whole Living magazine (www.wholeliving.com). The practice was a few of the many, many poses that have a direct effect on our emotions. For example, twists (like fish twist - Mariachiasana) relax the back, shoulder, and abdomen (the places we store tension), and improve digestion (getting nourishment throughout the body). Inversions (like downward dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana and forward fold - Uttanasana) increase blood to your brain and energize your body. And some of the most important mood enhancing poses are back bends (camel - Ustrasana, locust - Salambhasana). Chest openers allow more room for breath and prana, more space around the spinal cord, and allow more energy for clearer thinking. And finally, pranayama (breathing practice), increases the intake of fresh oxygen, increases your energy, detoxes through the exhale, and promotes a clarity of the mind.

Abraham Lincoln provided the quote for tonight: "Whatever you are - be a good one."

Drum Roll, Please...

Big changes are afoot in the studio on Wednesday nights!

My Wednesday beginner class will begin at 7:00, an hour later. This time change will give us the opportunity to use the larger "wood room" to ease any crowding. Mondays will remain 5:30-6:45, and Wednesdays will now be 7-8:15.

I know that this will be an issue for some students, but I hope you will be able to continue to attend your practice with me. If you have any comments, concerns, suggestions, etc., drop me a line at ajames05@tampabay.rr.com. To contact the studio owner, Marty, call 727-392-9642 or check her website at www.yoga4all.com.

I truly feel blessed to lead your practice each evening, and I look forward to working with you through the schedule changes. Thank you for your patience, support, and positive energy!

9-13-10 Sciatic Nerve and 9-15-10 Chataranga

I can hear the groans when we transition from forward fold (Uttanasana) into plank as we move through the Sun Salutation series. I believe it is because students just know that I'll say, "Keeping your elbows in, lower down chest first and bottom last. Then pull through to cobra." Not an easy move. So, I tried to break this bit down and practice that forward motion (8 points touching and plank to cobra). Remember to imagine you are rolling a peanut or a marble with your nose as you stay low and get long. Try not to get frustrated - as your strength and flexibility grow, it will become easier and graceful. Promise.

Quote: "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." - Winston Churchill

This was not the first time we worked around the sciatic area (see the post from March 23) - and it certainly won't be the last! Who doesn't have problems with their hips and low back occasionally? We tend to sit too much, wear shoes that are too pointy or high, and abuse our bodies with overuse all at once (I'm thinking of the yard work this weekend...). So send some love to your low back and buns - they work hard for you!
Quote from practice by John Lennon (and another absolute favorite): "Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted."

Breathe Easy!

"The mind is the king of the senses. And the breath is the king of the mind."

Without awareness of our breath during yoga practice, we are simply stretching or doing aerobic exercises. However, when we add conscious breathing, we are moving deeper into the tradition of yoga and all of the benefits it provides.
Prana is our life force, our energy, and it rides into our body on our breath. Prana is like the electricity in an appliance. Turn off the electricity, and the appliance turns off. It is that simple: no prana = no life.
Lucky for us, breathing is one of our first responses to entering the world. So, we should know how to breathe, right? Unfortunately, along the way, our lives interrupt our breathing. We no longer use our full lung capacity and therefore lose out on the benefits of a full "dose" of prana. Yoga's pranayam practice is a wonderful way to reintroduce ourselves to our breath.
Respiration is the only body system immediately under our conscious control (you can't change your heartbeat or redirect your digestion). Because we have this control, our breath is our doorway into the body.
In yoga, it is believed that different stages of our life have different needs:
Sunrise (0-25): Asana (movement, poses)
Mid-day (26-75): Pranayam (breath work)
Sunset (76 +): Meditation
You can see that pranayam practice is critical during most of our lives, yet we often focus externally, worrying more about outward appearance while leaving our breath health out of the picture.
When you decide to focus on your breath, there are six principles to explore:
1. Control directional flow (movement of awareness) - this is when we begin to notice the breath and consciously decide to breathe through our nose, for example, or a particular nostril.
2. Threshold (speed of breath) - we average 15 to 20 breaths a minute. That is a lot! Once we begin breathing with awareness, we can control the speed of our breath. Taking longer breaths and fewer breaths per minute can change your life.
3. Ratio - There are four parts of your breathing cycle: inhale, hold at top, exhale, hold at bottom. Different ratios have different effects on your body.
4. Technique - Different "types" of breath have different effects on your body. For example, some pranayam practices control temperature, some control relaxation effect, etc.
5. Place of Mind - Just being aware of your breath will change it.
6. Relationship of Asana, Pranayam, and Meditation - No one part of the yoga tradition works without the others.

For more information, a wonderful resource is "Yoga of Breath" by Richard Rosen. This book combines science, philosophy, and practical applications to truly explore your breath, and thereby your life. Also, a quick search on http://www.youtube.com/ using "pranayama breathing techniques" provides a huge number of hits - just watch with caution, as some practices can be quite powerful. I really enjoyed BKS Iyengar's 2 minute video of just one breath: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcPjvp4La8A He exhales for over 20 seconds!!

9-9-10 Forward Fold: Uttanasana

Has it really been 9 days since I posted? I apologize and promise to get it together now that school has started. I should be back on a schedule soon... Wednesday evening we worked on Forward Fold (Uttanasana). In the above illustration, note that the back of the legs (from glutes through heels) is stretching. Likewise, the fronts of the thighs are contracting, allowing the hamstrings to relax. Easier said than done, right? But, trust me when I tell you that forward fold is a great antidote to stress, as it calms the brain and relieves minor depression. According to Yoga Journal, Uttanasana stimulates the liver and kidneys, and obviously stretches the hamstrings, calves, hips. The pose strengthens the thighs and knees, improves digestions, helps relieve the symptoms of menopause, and reduces fatigue and anxiety. Folds are even known to relieve headaches, insomnia, asthma, high blood pressure, infertility, osteoporosis, and sinusitis. WOW!

I hope the practice left you feeling calm, yet energized!
I still have one week left teaching on Indian Shores (Community Ctr, next to Salt Rock on Gulf Blvd) at 9 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It's only $6 - hope to see you there!