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.

Guest Writer

I'd like to introduce my daughter (10 year old Whitney) and her thoughts on yoga:

"Why should you do yoga?" you may ask. The real question is, "Why shouldn't you?" Yoga isn't just hard balance poses, and crazy meditation. It's actually fun!
You start a yoga class by breathing. You're probably thinking, "boring!!" But it's not boring, and it's actually really good for you. There are many different kinds of breathing, from Bunny Breath to Ujayi breath. Breathing improves concentration and calms you down. Breathing also gives you more energy because when you breathe, Prana (energy) rides the air into you.
The next thing we do is the poses. Don't scream and run away when you get to this part. Just calm down and relax. Some poses improve your posture, like camel and mountain. Others stretch you like down dog, forward fold, cobbler, and triangle. Some give you energy, while other poses decrease it. Your eyes and tongue can even do poses! Twists squeeze out toxins that may be inside of you. Twists also realign your spine. Some twists are pretzel, half-lord-of-the-fish, and revolved triangle.
One of the last things we do is meditation. Meditation helps focus your brain. Some different meditations that I do are Secret Garden, a practice that calms you whole body. Pom-pom poppers, where you throw a pop-pom in the air and catch it to improve mindfulness. Mantras, where you think of a four word phrase that describes you, and Mala beads, where you say your mantra for each bead. Some meditations help you totally relax, others focus your mind on one thing.
At the very end of class we always do two special practice. We say "Om". Om is the vibration of the universe and of you! Then we say "namaste". Namaste means, "all the good things i me see all the good things in you."
So that's why yoga is good for you in many ways. Now you realize that yoga isn't just hard balance poses and crazy meditation. It's actually a fun way to be healthy in body and mind! "

1-24:Posture (Lordosis) and 1-26: Yoga for the Lymphatic System

I can't be the only one being bombarded with cold/flu/pneumonia germs right now, so I wanted to design a class to help our immune system with the battle. The practice from Wednesday evening used the lymphatic system as it's base. Our lymphatic system is crucial to our health: The lymphatic fluid contains message sending chemical and hormones from various lymph glands throughout your body, via the circulatory system. The lymph fluid is rich in white blood cells and therefore important to the immune system and in toxin removal. Interestingly, the lymphatic system has no pump (like a heart) or peristalsis (like the muscles in our digestive tract). The ONLY way lymphatic fluid is moved is with the contraction and stretching of skeletal muscles - enter yoga!

Yoga provides unique muscle movements that move the lymph fluid throughout the body, and your pranayam practice does, too! Deep breathing activates a lymph node deep in the thoracic cavity - and only full breathing can reach it. Inversions (like dog, forward folds, and bridge) shift the fluids while twists essentially wring out toxins from the spine and force the lymph fluids to the upper and lower quadrants of the body. Additionally, by moving through any of the common postures, you are able to access the areas of great lymph gland density: armpits, neck, groin, and the back of the knees.

Add to this the ancient kriya (cleansing practice) of the neti pot (sinus wash) and you will hopefully be well on your way to health, even in these germ-infested winter months.

Quote for class: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -Eleanor Roosevelt

Last week, we looked at kyphosis (hunchback) posture a bit, so Monday night I worked with the opposite (but often related) problem of lordosis (excess curve in the lumbar-low back). This posture creates a kyphosis (hunchback) to balance. It also tends to hyperextend knees, put more pressure on the balls of the feet, tighten the psoas, and weaken the lower abdominal muscles. This practice, like the one last week, was adapted from the book, "Anatomy for Yoga" by Nicky Jenkins and Leigh Brandon.

Tonight's quote was from Louisa May Alcott: "Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy."

What is a "Beginner"?

I'm often asked what level my class is - beginners? advanced? The answer is not easy for me to explain. Yes, I'm teaching poses that are appropriate for beginners, but advanced practitioners would also be wise to take a step back and re-connect with the basics. But, just knowing the poses and being hyper-flexible does NOT make you an advanced yogi.

I found this article on http://www.yogayak.com/ and some of the statements really hit home with me.

"...Carving up yoga into levels of physical difficulty, does not give the right impression of it. It sends the message that yoga is about how well conditioned and flexible your body is. In case you didn't know...that has little to do with yoga.
Rarely do I meet anyone who is not a yoga beginner, actually...and that goes for some extraordinarily flexible yoga teachers too. The modern yoga class culture would seem to suggest that physical mastery of some yoga exercises is the gauge we use to assess a person's "level" of yoga. If that were true, though, then we'd have to consider many athletes, world-class dancers and even circus performers as advanced yoga practitioners, too.
But we don't. because we know that yoga has very little to do with how flexible you are or how much bodily strength and control you've gained. In the holistic science of yoga, these physical abilities really actually don't count for very much.
Being an advanced yoga practitioner means much more than demonstrating how far you can back bend. It means demonstrating an uncommon level of poise amidst the challenges and turmoil of life...and a firm control over our emotion and mental urges too, not just our physical body.
Most importantly, it means showing others, by example, how to live in a way that reflects a deep respect on this earth, regardless of their ideologies or actions. That's not easy for the average person to do, I agree, but the one who is advanced in yoga is truly no "average" person."

On that note, Yoga Yak has numerous FREE videos on meditation, pranayam, and asana practices (some over an hour) suitable for beginner's in all stages of their yoga journey.

Let Me Count the Ways (all 77)!

Still skeptical?
Believe yoga is just to help with flexibility?
Think people who practice are just hippies who love incense?

Check out this list of 77 ways yoga makes you healthier!

Yoga at the Dali

Every Sunday from 12:30 to 1:45, at the new (and fabulous) Salvador Dali museum, join a yoga class! The class is a flow based, all level practice either in the Avant-Garden or the community Room. Cost is $15 and for an additional $6, you get to visit the museum, too. Purchase tickets on their website: www.thedali.obres.com/selectdate.aspx and bring your receipt to class.

1-17 Stamina and Strength 1-19 Posture (Kyphosis)

Wednesday night I wanted to work on basic posture - and the problem I see everyday (mainly in my mirror at home) - slouching, or hunching. Or my new word: "Slunching". It is called "kyphosis" or "hyper-kyphosis". Curves in your spine are natural and desirable, as your spine acts a bit as a spring. However, our hours spent driving, typing, and sitting are catching up with us!

A kyphosis is technically an excess curve of the thoracic spine. It pushes the head forward causing neck pain and weakness, often accompanied by headaches. A kyphosis posture also pulls the shoulders forward, making the chest and shoulders tight and weak, while over stretching the upper back. Bad news!

So, as you try out the above poses, let me explain a few details, many of which are from the book, "Anatomy for Yoga" by Nicky Jenkins and Leigh Brandon. First, the pranayam bolster is a towel rolled and placed under the spine and head. Keeping your arms in "cactus" will allow gravity to stretch the ligaments in the front of the spine. This is lateral mobilization. For horizontal mobilization, place a pool noodle under the shoulder blades, perpendicular to the spine. With hands acting as a basket for your head, sit up 3-5 times, holding for 3-5 seconds each time. Be sure to keep the low back pressing down into the mat. After working on that spot, move the noodle up one vertebra toward the shoulders and repeat until the entire thoracic spine has been mobilized.

Cat/Cow awakens and warms the thoracic and lumbar spine. In cat, contract the buttocks and pull the armpits away from the floor. In cow, shoulder blades slide down toward the sacrum and you lift out of the shoulders.

The strap poses are shoulder and chest openers used to break holding patterns. Hold for a minute or two to allow release.

Cow Face (gomukhasana) releases the upper back and shoulders to increase shoulder rotation.

And finally, the 'L' shape on a chair reverses imbalances of excessive internal rotations of arms and creates space to hold shoulders back. Be sure not to let your low back sink (like in cow). Keep a flat back, reaching down with the heart region, not the waist region.

Quote for class: "Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go, and it makes the end so easy." -Louisa May Alcott

Building strength and stamina is just as important in a yoga practice as stretching and increasing flexibility. We worked up a sweat tonight, huh?

Tonight's quote was from Willa Cather: "Where there is great love, there are always miracles."

Twists - More Than Just Twisting

I found this description of Marichyasana (Half Lord of the Fish Twist) in the book, "Tales from the Yoga Studio" and loved the metaphor:

"...like all spinal twists (Marichyasana) is detoxifying. And because there are a million variations on this one, there's a version to suit every need. And let's face it, who among us doesn't need a little detoxification every once in a while?
If you're trying to manage a chemical addiction, this pose can help the liver and the spleen wash out all poisons you've built up in your system, making it look like an untended litter box.
But drugs and alcohol are not the only things we need to detox from. There are relationships that leave us so full of emotional and spiritual poison we need to purify on the deep level we get from really twisting and squeezing them out of our spines. (Kind of like the way we sometimes wanted to "wring someone's neck," back before doing yoga, when we still dabbled in violent metaphors.)
And sometimes we need to wring out whatever self-destructive patterns of behavior are making it impossible for us to accept that we do deserve a good relationship or a steady job or just a plain old break once in a while.
But here's the thing about twisting and detoxing - it isn't as much about wringing out as it is about the lifting up. Your head, your heart, your spirit. Because you can't get into marichyasana, or any of the twisting poses, unless you have your chest lifted and your heart open and are ready to move into it.
And believe me, you can't start clearing all the emotional and spiritual litter out of your life unless you're first ready to hold your head high and open your heart and lift yourself out of the old patterns and the rehearsed reactions and expectations of failure.
Lift, open, twist. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. Don't overthink it. Just do it. Don't get bent out of shape."

I Have A Dream

About a year and a half ago, I visited Memphis and the Civil Rights Museum. It is an amazing tribute to the brave men and women who gave up everything to demand what we all deserve: equality and freedom. On this holiday, let's not just celebrate having a three-day weekend. Let's remember and honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy of peace.

1-10 Flexibility and 1-12 Sciatic Stretches

The sciatic nerve gets on our nerves quite often! There is a quote from Doug Keller's website that says 5 percent of the adult population in the US suffers from sciatica, and you have a 40 percent probability of experiencing it in your lifetime. His website is a treasure trove of information on biology, poses, and all things sciatic!

Quote: "After the verb 'to love', 'to help' is the most beautiful verb in the world." -Bertha Von Suttner
Most of us found yoga when looking for increased flexibility - and we sure notice when we haven't been practicing. This practice was a general set of poses to get the blood moving to all of our joints - even ones we've forgotten about!
Judith Lasater provided this quote: "Each of us has a dharma: a purpose, something to contribute to life. Perhaps happiness is the state that we feel when we find what it is that we can contribute with joy to the world."

Circus Time!

After going to the circus this weekend with the family, I was inspired to create a kids' class with a circus theme for today (1/12). I hope to see you and your little clowns at Yoga 4 All at 2:30.

Indian Shores

I'm back at the beach this Tuesday (1/11) at the Indian Shores Community Center (on Gulf Blvd. next to Salt Rock Grill) from 9-10:15 and only $6! Can't wait to see all of my Canadian friends I met last winter while subbing for the lovely Tom Maher.

See you there!

BKS Iyengar Video

This is BKS Iyengar moving through several amazing postures in 1938. Clearly, not attainable to many (ok, most) of us in this lifetime, but you have to be in awe of the control, strength, and commitment this type of physical exertion must take. It just goes to show that the more you learn about yoga, the more you realize what a beginner you are.

The Yoga Sutras

Click on the link below to hear one verse of the the Yoga Sutras being chanted in Sanskrit. It is believed that the great Indian sage, Patanjali, wrote the Yoga Sutras about 2000 BCE as a collection of all yogic knowledge up until that point. It is only 196 verses divided into 4 chapters describing everything from the meaning of yoga, to the practice of the asanas, to the realization of Samadhi (true self or awareness)

Yoga Sutra 1-3 Audio mp3

www.patanjalisutras.com has the entire Yoga Sutra available as an mp3 file.

1-3 Chakras and 1-5 Forward Folds

Last night we worked through several forward fold variations. Forward folds are said to be relaxing and stress-relieving, beings that they are inversions. Plus, they just feel great! But, not until your hamstrings are ready to let go. So move into the postures slowly, paying particular attention to any discomfort in the low back (keep knees micro-bent if this is the case). Hold the pose for several breaths, as it takes quite a while for these large muscle groups to trust you.

The quote from last night was one of my favorites, and one I try to remind myself of daily: "I am filled by the life I have been given."-Judith Lasater

The new year began with a chakra practice Monday evening. (Check back into my previous posts to read more about chakras. A Google search will also provide an overwhelming result of information). Starting at the root chakra and moving up toward the crown, we did poses designed to stimulate and regulate each energy center. So even if you don't "believe" in the chakras, this sequence provides a nice overall workout for you. Check out www.yogatampabay.com/chakras-information for a quick run-down on each chakra's location, Sanskrit name, color, element, function, etc.

Patanjali, author of the ancient "Yoga Sutras" described contentment (samtosha) for our quote tonight: "Through contentment unexcelled joy is gained."

Today Is The Day

Young Yogis rejoice - today is my first kids' yoga class!

I hope your kiddos can make it - We are planning a fun game of "Jogging Through the Jungle", some balloon breathing, and a trip to our Secret Garden.

I'm also thinking about starting a family yoga class in the late morning for younger children and their caregivers. Let me know if you are interested - I think it would be a wonderful class.

This is a photo of the December 2010 graduating class of Kidding Around Yoga - I'm official!

Bad on Me

I know...I know....It's been a very loooong time since my last post. But now that the holiday craziness is over, my resolution is to post at least once a week with class sketches and once with other "stuff". Wish me luck!