Monday, July 15, 2013

Want a real yoga challenge? Try yoga on a surfboard

Ever tried yoga on a surfboard? I hadn't either... until a few weeks ago.

That's me on the far left in the (very blue) SurfSet studio.

I took a surfboard yoga workshop at SurfSet Fitness last week. Wow! What a fun way to shake up your typical yoga practice.

They have these surfboards that are set up to mimic what it feels like to be on water, but you're actually in a studio (no bathing suits or water needed!). Erin (of the OM place) led us through a two-hour workshop on a Friday night. Plank and Down Dog on a surfboard are a whole new experience!

One of the best things for me was really being able to feel the difference when firming up your base. At one point we were going from Triangle up to Warrior II. When doing this "on land" it helps to firm the legs and energetically scrub the feet away from each other. You can really feel the difference when you firm/scrub while standing on a surfboard.

Rooting through the big toe side of the foot in Tree takes on a whole new dimension standing on a surfboard.

I knew from my personal yoga practice that focusing on weight distribution, shifting weight, and energetically moving my body in different ways changed a pose. Playing with that on a surfboard amplified those effects many times over.

Check out SurfSet Fitness to see if there is a studio near you. If they don't currently offer yoga classes, see if your favorite local yoga teacher can team up for a special class or workshop.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Yoga Teacher Training Graduation!

It's been a busy couple of months capped off with Yoga Teacher Training Graduation! I've had a lot of graduations in my time, but this was by far the most meaningful (and fun!).

Jenny Wiseman Alfrey, me, and Erin Smith as I receive my teaching certificate!

I am thankful to all of the fabulous teacher trainers that went through training with me. I learned as much from you all as I did from Jenny and Erin.
the OM place 2013 yoga teacher trainers
After our graduation we had a party. I made an awesome (if I do say so myself) chocolate cake with nutella buttercream frosting that I decorated using an Ella Vanilla cake decorating kit.

Here's a close up of the cake:

And everyone waiting to dig in to it!

I'm teaching July 11, 2013 at the OM place - it's a Slow Flow class that will incorporate some of the great cues and pose variations from the Candle Light Vinyasa class I took in Chicago. Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 1, 2013

108 Sun Salutations

How often do you get to practice yoga, outside, with a group of amazing people, live drumming, the sun setting to one side and the moon rising on the other? Not often. This was a really special moment.

June 21... the longest day of the year... the summer solstice. To celebrate, Erin (of the OM place) hosted 108 Sun Salutations at her studio annex (ie, the back porch).

It was incredible! Over 40 people practiced together with different teachers (including me!) leading sets of 10 salutations. Drummers provided over two hours of live drumming for us to practice to.

I was able to catch a few of the amazing moments practicing outside:
The moon is just visible above the narrow clouds to the left while the sun is setting just to the right of the house.

Here we are with a final hamstring stretch before preparing for savasana with the moon rising:

Why 108 sun salutations? 
108 is a number full of symbolism that arises in many religions, myths, and in mathematics. Check out elephant journal for a thorough list of the symbology of 108. If you'd like more information on a sun saltuation (and a little more about 108) check out this article.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Candle Light Vinyasa in Chicago

One of my favorite things about traveling is checking out yoga studios. On a recent trip to Chicago I had the opportunity to practice at Nature Yoga in a 2-hour (amazing, intense) Candle Light Vinyasa class.

Unfortunately, there was no good time to get photos, but they have beautiful pictures of the studio on their website.

Rich Logan was the instructor - his cueing is amazing. He is very focused on alignment and working to find the deep places in a pose.

I had asked the lady working the front of the studio what level class to expect. She said it wouldn't be all that challenging but to expect to hold each pose longer than usual since it was a 2-hour class. (She was right that we held poses longer than in a typical vinyasa class - but it was super challenging. I'm glad I wasn't a beginner.)

When I arrived for class, there were already quite a few people there. In the end (after some rearranging to fit everyone in) there were probably 30+ people. We were situated in two long rows of mats, facing each other, with an open space running down the middle of the room. Rich set out large candles in front of each of our mats. Practicing in candelight (with very dim overhead lights so we could see what we were doing) was really magical.

It was a little odd to be practicing with someone directly across the way from you, but if you can embrace the awkwardness of staring at a stranger while you practice, it's really quite interesting. It forced me to really focus on myself rather than being distracted by what was going on around me. I was constantly reminded of this since every time I looked out over my fingertips in Warrior II I was staring at the lady across from me.

We focused a lot on shoulders to help open the heart. I'm planning to use some of Rich's cues and variations on poses when I teach in a few weeks at the OM place (July 11, 2013, 8:30am).

As I was leaving, Rich stopped me to say thank you for attending. We had a brief conversation and I shared with him that I was planning to use some of his cueing and variations on poses with my students at home. I really appreciated being thanked for practicing with him and set a personal intention that I would thank all of my students.

If you're in the Wicker Park area of Chicago on a Sunday night, consider checking out Rich's class.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Find stillness in your practice sequence

I taught this restorative sequence in yoga teacher training. My goal was to have active poses/movements paired with restorative poses. You can see how I divided up each bit of the sequence in the image. This is just a rough written version of the sequence. If you have any particular questions about it, please email me.

Props: 1 bolster, 1 strap, 2 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 sandbag
- get straps ready - make a loop that is large enough that you can slip the strap around your neck and hold your arm out straight and the neck and hand are both touching the inside of the loop
- set up for supta baddha konasana (with either 1 or 2 blocks under bolster) roll 2 blankets in to rolls one under each thigh
- R=restorative
- A=active

Dharma Talk: find stillness - it's always there, sometimes we just don't notice it - find stillness in the breath, in restorative poses, and in active/challenging poses. I came back to this in every sequence and every restorative pose.

The sequence:
supta baddha konasana
= ratio breath - find stillness in the breath in the pauses

table - cat/cow - walk hands back to knees so kneeling, step 1 foot forward, then the other to tadasana
1/2 sun salutes (inhale arms up, exhale uttanasana, inhale monkey, exhale fold, inhale reverse swan dive to tadasana, exhale hands to anjali mudra)

on last uttanasana go to monkey, fold, then step back to table, cat/cow, come to sukhasana

lateral stretches on L and R, breathe in to side bodies

side lying stretch (from Judith Lasater's Restore and Renew)
bring L hip to bolster (crossways across mat) with probably 1 or 2 blankets folded on top. Grow the torso long and lie over the bolster exactly on the side body. Scooch the body a little so both the hips and the shoulders are off the mat. The head can lie on the L arm. To intensify, reach the R arm up and over, grab the R arm with the L hand and put a little tension there. Breathe in to the R side body. Really stretch the intercostals

Right hand grounds in front of face, use R arm to help sit up. Pause. Examine difference between L and R side bodies.

Repeat on with R side on bolster

table - cat/cow - table balance (R leg up L arm up). L arm grounds, R leg warrior preps, spin R arm up, modified vasisthasana - can reach both legs long and/or raise top leg for greater challenge. R leg grounds, still warrior prepped, slide it (mindfully) 6-8 inches behind you on the floor, open heart even more to the sky. Repeat other side.

supported childs - add sandbag to low back if have one - opportunity for introversion, looking inside, have stilled the body, now still the mind

sukhasana - shoulder/heart opener with strap - hold strap just wider than knee distance apart in both hands, raise up, over head, and down back 3x
drop strap
twist to R, twist to L

supported twists - R hip to bolster (long ways on mat) lean on to bolster, turn head so L ear down if can
come up, pause, check in with differences in both sides
repeat left side
move bolster out of way

Purvottanasana (surfboard) - use as heart opener to counter the forward folds
Navasana (boat) - heart opener - open up really slowly to get to back

Supta padangustasana on R side
Floating supta padangustasana - use strap around occiput (wrapping up above ears and around ball of foot)
Repeat both on L


Supported bridge for shavasana

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You have breastfeeding rights!

New York has a Breastfeeding Mothers' Bill of Rights! It states, in part, that women have the right to:

  • Have their baby with them immediately following birth (whether vaginal or cesarean) and to begin breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
  • Have their baby room in with them 24 hours / day.
  • Have a trained specialist provide information and help with breastfeeding whenever they need it.
  • Have their baby not receive bottles or pacifiers.
  • Place a sign on baby's crib stating that baby is breastfed only and shall not receive a bottle.

Click here for more detailed information on laws that protect breastfeeding in other states. Know your rights!

If you feel your rights are being violated in New York or you are being treated unfairly because you breastfeed your baby, contact:
The Reproductive Rights Project
New York Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 19th floor
New York, NY 10004

Friday, April 26, 2013

Starting (and maintaining) a personal yoga practice

Today I had the opportunity to teach a private yoga class to a newcomer to yoga. One thing we talked about at the end of class is having a personal practice. How does a newcomer start a personal yoga practice at home? How do you know which poses to do or how to structure your practice?

The main thing is don't take it too seriously. Be careful, practice within your comfort zone, watch your alignment, but really it's mostly about being mindful and having fun.

For me it boils down to three key elements:

1. Keep a yoga journal.

If you take a class at a studio, jot down a few of the poses or sequences that you did in class. What did you love? What did you not love? Was there a pose you thought was great but your body said "there is no way I'm doing that!"? Were there certain alignment cues that the teacher gave that you found helpful?

This will help you build a repertoire of poses from which you can draw in your personal practice. You may find that as you continue to practice the nature of your journal entries changes. You may start really focused on the poses with a gradual shift to noting how a pose feels, variations/modifications of poses, energetic responses you have to poses, or emotional responses to poses. You may begin to learn which poses help ground you and which help raise your energy levels.

2. Look online for ideas for sequences.
Check out:
Yoga Journal
Yoga Journal also has a great article about a home practice.

I also really like the Yoga Teachers' Toolbox. It has many poses, each on a laminated page that you can remove from the book. It has variations of each pose, instructions for guiding students (or yourself) into and out of each pose, which chakras are stimulated in the poses, etc. It's beautiful and also really useful (I used mine this morning in my personal practice).

Keep in mind that you need to practice to your ability, so if something is not clear or your not sure about the alignment or how to get in/out of a pose, don't do it. Make a note of it in your journal and ask about it the next time you go to a studio for a class.

3. Listen to your body.

Be mindful of your body. Often it will call for a particular pose, even if it's not one you "planned" to do in your home practice. You may be in down dog and you find your hips begging for pigeon. Or you may be feeling rather badass and want to rock a bunch of planks, chaturangas, side arm balances, etc.

If you're just starting out with yoga, stick with the few poses you feel comfortable with. Breathe in to the poses. Focus on alignment, try little modifications like shifting your weight to the balls of your feet in standing forward fold, tucking your tail towards the mat in dead/sleeping/reclining pigeon (supta eka pada raja kapotasana), moving your gaze to a different drishti, or closing your eyes in a balancing pose.

Enjoy your practice!