Monday, December 24, 2012

Yoga classes - strain vs. gain

With all the different types of yoga, and varied teaching styles, it may seem overwhelming to find a class that's right for you. But really, choosing a yoga class and teacher is very simple - as the class ends, just notice how you feel.

Whether you consider yourself stiff and inflexible or in need of strengthening, a 'beginner' or not, this is the only thing you really need to ask yourself at the end of a class: "Do I feel good? " If you feel relaxed yet invigorated, positive and ready to take on what's ahead, that was a good class for you. Your body should feel amazing, your mind clear, maybe even inspired. And this has happened for me in both intensely challenging classes as well as very slow, gentle restorative classes where I felt like I did almost no work.

Once you determine what kind of class you want to take - one that is more restorative for relaxation, stress reduction and healing, or one that is more rigorous for conditioning and strengthening, then it all comes down to how it feels afterward. I find some of my students seem to have the notion that 'hard' is good. I don't think this is necessarily true.

In the past few weeks I attended two different classes - two different styles of yoga with different teachers. Both pushed me to, and at times beyond the limits of my abilities. After one class I felt strong, happy and calm yet stimulated. After the other I just felt tired, in body and mind. I felt good at first that I had done some "hard work". But I noticed as the day went on that it had not been good, strengthening work but actually more of a strain on my body. I realized again how the distinction between 'gain' is often blurred with 'strain' - or - a 'hard' class bringing benefit versus wear and tear to my body. (see my January 16, 2012 entry: Risky Business - Is yoga a dangerous activity?).

We all know this in theory. But at the same time, I think some of the yoga styles that have become popular recently, as well as our culture in general, send the message that the more you sweat and work, the better! It is especially in yoga that this is not the case though. Unlike most forms of exercise, yoga can help you work deeply - beyond muscles to ligaments and tendons,  beyond the outer body to the organs and beyond the physical body and into the mind and sense of well being. So as with anything powerful, yoga can be abused, or can be respected and used with attention and care.

If practiced with that care, you will experience benefit that is truly powerful. So if you have tried yoga and had a bad experience, try other teachers until you do find that benefit with a punch. Or if you are afraid to try yoga, know that it should not be a discouraging, frustrating or painful experience. Try a class, and maybe several until you find an experience that inspires you to do more!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creating & cultivating your home practice - First steps

One reason not to have a home practice is thinking you "should". We have enough things we should do, or have to do in our lives. But you may find, once you start, you actually love it.

Yoga should be a joy to do - and should help you feel really good. If you want to get to that good-feeling at home that you find in yoga class, then here are some ways you might start your home practice:

1. Clear a place in your home - have a place reserved and kept clean for your mat. Store your mat near that place so you can roll it out at any time.

2. Chose a time of day - find a time in the day that you can do your practice and try to stick to that time - first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed, for example. Try to practice a few days in a row or a few times in the week at that same general time.

3. Just do it! - The goal is to begin to establish a habit - something that triggers your brain at the same time each day with a memory of good feelings.

Below is a link to a few simple Iyengar yoga sequences you can start with at home. If you are new to yoga, Iyengar yoga is a great place to start because of the emphasis on alignment and attention to detail to avoid injury and get the most out of each pose. Go to at least a few yoga classes with one or more Iyengar yoga teachers, even if you only want to practice at home, so that you learn the proper and safe way to do the poses.

Home practice sequence - Level I, sequence 1

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Refreshing, inspiring, transformational - the Ojai Yoga Crib

I just returned from an unbelievable weekend at the Ojai Yoga Crib, an annual gathering in Ojai, California created by the inspiring yoga teacher Kira Ryder. This gathering of yogis from all walks of life seemed to be a synchronistic convergence of forward-thinking, creative and innovative individuals, meeting and connecting in a deeper than usual way.

The Crib is set up as a weekend of 2 1/2 hour workshops and an optional all-day intensive workshop with a teacher of your choice on the Thursday before. Aside from the contemplative beauty of Ojai, cradled in the Topatopa Mountains, the attraction is the outstanding teachers and thinkers who draw on ancient ideas and bring them into modern western culture, making new combinations of old ideas, and taking novel directions to expand the body and practice of what is called yoga.

Among some of the workshops I attended, there was much more going on than the standard yoga asanas. Scott Blossom talked about digestive fire from the Ayurvedic perspective, then taught a yoga asana practice to address kindling that fire in the body. Chandra Easton offered Women's yoga for the three stages of a woman's life, with flavors of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Ravi Ravindra talked about the Rig Veda, an ancient text that infuses the philosophy behind yoga and Uma Goswami  - a psychiatrist - talked about Eastern thought and culture and how these principals inform and guide her practice and help her patients. She also taught us mantras and traditional Indian dance as a way to go deep and release embedded maladies. Erich Schiffmann taught Freedom Yoga with such humor and wisdom that it left us laughing, crying and in awe.

In the evenings there was a truly mind-expanding dharma talk by the same Erich Shiffmann, and a kirtan with the vibrant and beautiful music of Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band.

I came away with a tangible sense of the living, evolving nature of modern yoga. I saw for the first time, the possibility that modern yoga is a sort of 'movement', and one that may be playing a vital role in a coming transformation of the human experience.

For more on the teachers and programs mentioned, see Lulu Bandha's Ojai Yoga Crib.

As I was transforming myself at the Crib, my husband Rob was running his 5th and hardest 100 mile run in the mountains above Ojai. He and his friend Gary were tackling the elusive "Coyote Two Moon", the annual race - which no longer exists - which took place every March on the full moon weekend in and above Ojai. It was the hardest because of the terrain, the steepest coming at the last 25 miles. But tough physically and mentally because it is run over two nights, instead of the usual one night of most 100 mile races.

There were several years in which the racers were pelted with rain, snow and even sleet. This year - for just the two of them plus crew - was warm and clear with pink-mountain sunsets and moon-lit nights. And so the weekend for both of us was transformational and unforgettable.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Flame Resistant/Toxic things for our kids

My girls' Nana just arrived for a visit with two new sky-blue robes for my daughters. They were so excited ............until I checked the label and told them that Nana had to take them back. They were "flame resistant".

Nana called  up the company and complained. They said they had offered kids' robes without the retardant but there wasn't much demand for them.

And so I'm reminded many people still don't know about these toxic substances which will enter your child's body through his/her skin, and can stay in the body for years.

See: Flame Retardants Remain Widespread in Children's Products
and Fire Resistant Sleepwear

Monday, September 3, 2012

Tuesday Classes move to Wednesdays!

To my students and prospective students -

My Tuesday classes at Seaside Yoga Sanctuary: Prenatal Yoga and Postpartum (Mom & Baby) Yoga are moving to Wednesdays. They will keep their times - 10:00 - 11:45am for Prenatal and Noon - 1:00pm for Postpartum. We wanted to work with Parents' Place and not overlap with their wonderful classes - so you can go to both!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Postpartum/Mommy & Baby Yoga begins this week!

Weekly Postpartum Yoga classes are back at Seaside Yoga Sanctuary! I will be teaching Postpartum Yoga Tuesdays, 12-1pm at the Seaside studio. This class targets the postpartum practice. You are welcome to bring baby to class with you, but if you have a sitter come on your own! I will emphasize rebuilding core strength, maintaining openness & flexibility in the shoulders, hips and legs as well as the health of the pelvic floor. 

$14 drop-in or purchase a class card for discount. Military drop-ins only $10! For more info. call Laura at: 831-899-9642

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Straws and ingesting plastic

This has been bothering me for a while - plastic straws. Last night we went out for a family dinner, and as usual, my 3-year old got a plastic cup with straw for her water. (Even when she gets a glass, there is a straw). Kids love straws, right? But she spent most of the evening chewing on it until it was a mangled mess, despite our reminding her we don't chew on straws. Our kids are ingesting enough plastic without adding to it with this. And we certainly don't need more plastic waste on the planet!

So just ran across this - a fairly local product that could be a great solution!
Glass straws

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Are you Mom enough.........?

Did you see this cover? Read the article? What is it about this that riles people up? What is really important? Here's one take on it:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Giving birth at our local hospitals - all the same?

Are you hoping for a natural birth, or looking for someone who will talk about a VBAC? Kera Abraham's article in the Monterey County Weekly sheds light on some of the differences in birth facilities and policies at each of the three local hospitals. See:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Weekend in Ojai

This past weekend I went to Ojai to take part in a yoga workshop and the hip and fun yoga school called Lulu Bandha's. But I got some apparently poisonous take-out food Friday night and spent the late night and much of the next day losing it (my dinner, that is) - violently.

So my yoga practice - a very challenging one - was to be with how awful I felt, to breath, to relax and rest, and to practice patience, patience for being sick, and for the healing to take place. I couldn't have done much else though, as I could hardly crawl out of bed.

I may not have recovered as quickly had I not had a guardian angel there at the B & B  - a woman named Anat who brought me fresh thyme tea and a homeopathic remedy called Arsenicum Album. It really seemed to stop the ...... unpleasantness....and help me begin to get better. Something I will never be without from now on!!

When my sense of smell returned Sunday morning I could drink in the warm orange blossom infused air, which was a good fragrance to chase away nausea and to heal. I was in a lovely, sunny room overlooking the gardens at the Pepper Tree Retreat, a bed and breakfast which used to be a home of the famous philosopher and educator Krishnamurti.

I read a part of one of his books from the library of his there. He too practiced yoga and had an interesting insight I've been thinking of since. He said that his teacher told him yoga - the poses - should be effortless. But before one reaches that state, you are "doing yoga". I understood the passage to mean that it is all the doing, until you reach the pose; it is a practice, a process (as in all of life). You are in the doing of it, until you attain it.

I like this way of seeing yoga. It takes it out of the more western tendency to see things in a linear way, competitively, as in a context of "beginner, intermediate and advanced practitioner', or worse/better, etc. Instead, each yogi is simply 'in the practice', in the doing of yoga, in his or her own unique way. It opens up an acceptance for me, acceptance of where I am, whether sick because I've over-done it in my life in some way, or struggling with a pose, or struggling with a ten-year old. It is all 'in the doing' of living.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prenatal yoga & doula Certification complete!

I just completed this week, a two-week training course for teacher certification in prenatal yoga, as well as a certified doula training. I think it might be the first combined course for both of these subjects, offered by Nine Moons Prenatal Yoga. My yoga instructor was Candice Garrett, a very gifted and fantastic teacher, so knowledgeable and so much fun. Her sister Heather Schwarz is the wonderful, warm doula who taught that part of the course. I don't think I will work as a doula, at least not now when I am home with my kids while they are young. But the knowledge is so valuable for the pregnancy and birth education that are always a part of my prenatal classes. I thought I knew the basics but I learned far more than I imagined.

I'm now official - a certified yoga and prenatal yoga instructor!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Workshop with Judith Lasater

Today is my birthday, and to mark my personal New Year, I attended a restorative few days away at the Mt. Madonna Center in Watsonville this past weekend. There I took a course with the renowned Iyengar yoga teacher and author Judith Lasater - (Iyengar is the style of yoga I have and continue to study). She not only has a huge body of knowledge and experience behind her, she is also deeply committed to the practice of yoga: of seeing yoga in everyday life. She shows this in the funny stories and pearls of wisdom she tells about teaching and about her family life.

The workshop was focused on the lower back and pelvis, especially on hips, pelvic floor and sacrum/S.I joint. These are the most vulnerable areas for prenatal students practicing yoga, but also for many people as they get older. It also helps me as I continue to try to heal injuries I have from doing yoga in a way I shouldn't have when I was pregnant - before I knew any better.

We practiced strengthening and restorative poses in this workshop, going into great detail around the anatomical position of bones, tendons and ligaments - her area of immense expertise. This was my second workshop with J. Lasater and I come away again amazed at how much I have learned.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


BEGINNING January 25th, 2012:   
Gentle Yoga Flow
Wednesdays, 6:00pm - 7:15pm -- 
Classes held at North County Physical Therapy -
17815 Countryside Court, Prunedale, CA 93907. 
Phone:(831) 444-5989

Monday, January 16, 2012

Risky Business - is yoga a dangerous activity?

After class the other night, one of my students handed me a New York Times article just out recently called: All Bent Out of Shape, or How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body - the online version.

I wholeheartedly agree with the author - William J. Broad's - basic conclusion: that yoga is not only beneficial, it can also cause harm. Yes you can get hurt doing yoga, especially if you are pregnant, postpartum or do yoga in an overheated room. In these scenarios, you are looser and more flexible than usual, though for different reasons. Even with many years of experience practicing yoga, and while training to be a yoga teacher, I injured myself several years ago; I overstretched several joints doing yoga while I was pregnant.

You can also get hurt by following a bad or inexperienced instructor and doing poses that are not right for you. During pregnancy I was pushed by several of those egotistical instructors he describes, to do things I knew instinctively I shouldn't do. But lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater, the potential risks do not nullify the benefits to body, mind and spirit one can experience in a yoga practice done properly.

In the article, Broad describes a teacher - Glenn Black - who believes the majority of people should not do yoga at all. Here is where the argument breaks down for me. Iyengar and some other teachers are mentioned, but "yoga" is never clearly defined in terms of what type can actually be harmful. "Yoga" can be anything from a mindful way of life, to meditation, to a physical practice of asanas or poses. To say most people should give up yoga is truly to throw the whole baby out with the bathwater! There is restorative yoga, chair yoga and other very gentle asana-based or asana/meditation based yoga that can be very relaxing and stress-reducing, while offering very gentle stretching and strengthening for the body.

As the article goes on, I come to form an image in my mind of the latest trend in yoga in America - the hot or movement/flow-based yoga classes in which the goal is to sweat and get 'buff'. Our culture is very competitive and obsessed with physical image. These types of classes, especially those that have one or a few set sequences, and may be done in a heated room, are definitely only right for a small group of people in my opinion. In my classes I not only customize the sequences for the class, I then modify poses for individuals in the class - depending on their physical conditions. The one-size-fits-all classes miss so much of the point of yoga, that they do fit this article and the conclusion that "the vast majority of people should give up yoga."

The author uses some of the most extreme and unusual medical cases to illustrate how harmful yoga can be, again not distinguishing extreme and/or bad practice of yoga asanas from the rest of yoga. In addition, there does not seem to be extensive and conclusive evidence in the article that there were no  underlying physiological conditions these patients already had. Maybe the yoga pose was just the tipping point for them? In any case, of course doing rather extreme and strenuous poses that are not right for you are harmful. And running can lead to death with an underlying heart condition.

Here is my grain of salt: one can get injured, even seriously, in just about any sport there is, especially under the guidance of inexperienced or overzealous instructors/coaches! This is pretty common knowledge. There does not seem to be a lack of people who run or who experience health benefits from running, though one can also seriously blow out a knee. I always recommend finding a yoga teacher who is experienced, trained and specializes in the kind of yoga you want to learn, especially if you have special circumstances such as pregnancy, injury or chronic pain.
Yoga for me personally, and what I try to convey in my classes, is a practice for balance and for self awareness - to explore and get to know both your physical body and the way your mind works. If you are pushing yourself to extremes, especially in order to look good physically, there may be something out of balance in your life. If so, it is worth exploring more deeply.

The conclusion to Mr. Broad's article, at least the feeling I was left with was not to do yoga at all; it is too dangerous. If anyone gets this message and gives up on yoga, the potential benefits they will forego is unfortunate. If on the other hand, teachers and students are a lot more careful in their practice of yoga, and strive to learn more, Mr. Broad will truly have done some good.
Here is another perspective from Mark Stephens, who teaches yoga in Santa Cruz, CA:

How Yoga Will Not Wreck Your Body by Mark Stephens