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