Sunday, January 31, 2010

State of Yoga in America

A NPR radio program from San Francisco during the Yoga Journal Conference. Nice interview with several instructors. I really enjoy hearing about how people have been affected by Yoga or how they came to find yoga. Listen up!

Yoga Merchandising and Culture

Full disclosure - I work in marketing and product management. It may affect my feelings on this topic.

A couple of posts over at Grounding thru the sit bones has got me thinking about yoga merchandising and the changes in yoga culture that have come along with the mainstreaming of yoga in the west. My basic thought has been "Why is it that this does not bother me at all?" Perhaps it is because I am a part of it? I mean I am "new" to yoga (in this lifetime anyway.)

There are many yoga bloggers and readers who are talking and commenting about these issues. The collision of food, wine and yoga, the clothing marketing, The ethics of a yoga teacher plugging products, Lululemon, Lululemon and Lululemon.

Why does it bother them and not me? I start thinking maybe "I am not getting it right." This should bother me. I can absolutely tell you that I love Yoga and especially the spiritual path. I love the tradition of it and the openness and the peace and the stillness. I love what it is doing for people everywhere. I love that it is in health clubs and YMCA's and hospitals. I love that Lululemon does classes in their stores. This yoga is changing the world!

Now I must admit, I love the products too. I love the clothing. I love the festivals that combine yoga and Rock n roll. I love the "famous" teachers! I look for opportunities to practice with them and attend their seminars.

I am going out on a limb here. I think that a lot of the fuss about all of this is because people who did yoga before yoga was mainstream are upset because now everyone is doing yoga. It has somehow lost its specialness. It used to be that only the cool people did yoga. It had an element of mystery. It was esoteric. Now that millions and millions of people are doing it in 95 dollar pants, it has lost its granola factor. Ironically, it has not lost that granola factor for the new people doing it. They love it for all the same reasons that people were loving it for 20 years ago. Yoga has not changed.

The Yamas and Niyamas don't tell us we cannot own nice things. They don't tell us we can't have businesses and market products. They tell us how to make our choices. They tell us how to focus on our own practice and spiritual growth. My teacher Rolf says, "The Yamas and the Niyamas are the firm ground we stand on." He is right. My life has been touched by these teachings.

During asana practice my Jade mat is the firm ground I stand on. My Prana sleeveless shirt covers my belly until I strip it off halfway through class. My Reebok compression shorts suit me well. I teach in my Lululemon pants - great for a cooler classroom and they allow me comfort and the ability to demonstrate with free mobility. I have shunned the traditional loincloth Iyengar wears in "Light on Pranayama."

I just don't have an issue with merchandising, posing, celebrity teaching, shoes on the mat, TV stars featured as yoga practitioners. Oprah's feature on Bikram Yoga has the Hot Yoga studio I frequent filled to the brim. It brings a smile to my face. Some of them will go. Some of them will stay. Some wear Lululemon ordered over the internet, purchased so they would feel good and 'fit in.' Some wear no name shorts and cotton t-shirts. Some buy Prana in the lobby and wear it immediately.

As we move through Bikram's half moon series and the sweat starts to pour, we are all equal, all the same. All practicing yoga.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What students tell you and ask you

I have been asked a lot of questions about a lot of creaks and groans in the past 4 weeks. I know how the doctor must feel hearing "I've got this little pain right in here, doc."

In some cases I could offer some insights - but I have also learned to say
1. "I'm not sure about that."
2. "If there is any pain, don't do it."
3. "Just back off a bit - don't try to go deep."

I have resisted the Pattahbi Jois, "practice and all is coming."

I emphasize at the beginning of class that there is a pose for everyone - but that we have to have to practice accepting the constraints of our bodies and notice how they change. I emphasize during practice that 'deep' for some people is not for others. I also ask the students to notice the changes in the way their bodies feel from beginning and through the practice. I think the classes are getting that message.

I'm glad that students have begun to request things and poses. Today a student (who is reading this blog!) said that he missed me suggesting that they dedicate their practice to someone else. I am glad he mentioned that - because it is one of my favorite things too. I will make sure to include that suggestion.

In the book "How Yoga Works," Saturday, the yoga teacher, the prisoner, the woman, tells us that "we cannot practice Yoga for ourselves, it is not enough. We must practice yoga for other people." Saturday always reminds her student to focus on what the yoga can do for others, and this is where we also learn the Tonglen meditation.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I wanted to plug a nice post on savasana over at Yoga Spy

What a nice question - What does savasana mean to you?

Oh my, I love savasana. I really love it. It is like a "little death" for me. A death to the ideas in my head. I find savasana to be a practice all its own. It's an area where I am making progress - just letting go.

I am also grateful for Yoga Spy giving me a pointer to this Judith Lasater article on teaching. She details the 20 minute savasana in this writing and we all know that Rolf often quotes her.

I have been careful to reserve 3 minutes for savasana in my 50 minute lunchtime yoga class. It makes me watch the clock carefully. I have been careful to respect the 50 minute duration so people have time to get some lunch and stay on schedule. I also have watched as people have settled in to the savasana as the class has proceeded. First day people were just kind of lying there. As I have talked them in to the pose I have noticed the difference in their bodies, the level of surrender has increased.

Savasana - bring it on.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaching as a practice

You know - all these little ideas are beginning to sink in now. It seems so basic - Teaching as a practice. It's obvious. But yet I am just relearning it. I was thinking "that class wasn't quite as good."

Not every class is better than the last - just like my own asana practice. Some are just "ok." But each adds something to my thinking. Each has something I noticed or tried. I'm definitely "noticing what I am noticing."

I reported a great class last Friday - and then on Monday - just OK. I thought of many things I might have done differently. I am sure learning a lot.

Next big "teaching paradigm shift" for me is that I volunteered to lead the practice for our teachers get-together in Chicago end of next week. It is perfect timing for me to get back to leading a more advanced practice. My students at work have been a great chance to really rethink more alignment cuing and careful attention to what the students are doing. This week I need to go through and outline a longer class for the teachers that I will be reuniting with.

The great timing is that I am moving toward doing an audition class for a local studio and I need to have a 75 minute class! I will try that out on my fellow teachers next week. I am also going to brush up the Tonglen meditation.

Hope to see you all there!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Beliefs about Yoga

I want to draw your attention to a blog I started following. It is called Yoga medical news daily and is available at that very url

This is frequently updated with links to medical studies involving yoga, pilates and other alternative treatments. Very good stuf - take a look.

I especially paid attention to this post on the yoga alliance insight survey. It is really interesting to see what people think about Yoga.

Yoga Medical News Daily on the yoga alliance survey

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rockin' class today

I learned something about having more fun teaching -- I did a little prep work!! Yeah. Amazing. I had been so busy the last couple of weeks that I did not do much planning or adjusting. I sat down last night and did some sequence work. It really paid off! I changed up the sequence a little bit - adding crescent lunge and "spin up to face the rear of the room in Warrior 2." Made things more fun. Maybe my awareness of the changes kept me in the moment a bit more. I enjoyed the class a lot and the students seemed to get a good workout. Fun!

I have had a long week - a long 2 weeks. Stopping to go teach class today was a real gift.

A few things I am learning. -
1. Sticking to a 50 minute class is challenging! I allow for a 3 minute savasana which I feel is highly integral!
2. I need to think about chapter 5 (back bends) section. Not satisfied with that part of class. Probably because I am short on time!! Transitioning from belly to back takes time. I am going to rethink the back bends.
3. Students ask a lot of questions. They often ask about a specific muscle. When I do not know the answer - I just say I don't. I look forward to more anatomy education.

The past 10 days was a focused period of work - Yoga practice, Yoga teaching helped make it work.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Teachers - staying in the moment

I learned the hard part of teaching at work today. It was hard to "be there" for class because I was distracted by my work. There was a lot going on today and I had a tough morning. I moved down to class rather abruptly. I would imagine that teachers have felt this. I was not entirely checked in.

I taught the power mod's at the beginning - that went great. Several people were using them and I think they got a lot from it.

The class itself was fine - but I have this image of watching myself move through the class from outside of myself. Know what I mean? Have you experienced this?

So - anyway. That was then. Moving on. Moved on. Thanks for listening!

PS - Read more on staying in the moment over at Bending Toward the light

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More on teaching Yoga

This past week I got an email from a student saying that she overheard 2 other students from my Lunchtime Yoga class saying they felt they should be more sore from taking yoga. They were not sure they were building muscle.

I have been keeping the class very "middle of the road" for beginners. As I have said before, I am working them even a bit harder than I had planned. There are a few stronger people in the class and a couple of people with existing strong yoga practices. This week I am offering a 15 session before each class to teach some Power Modifications.

I plan to teach:
Turbodog -- Downdog with Bent Arms - Forrest yoga pose to crank up downdog
Chattarunga and Up dog - We have been lowering all the way to floor and doing Cobra
Floating a leg coming in to Chattarunga
Goddess and Temple - straight from this months Yoga Journal! They can do this while we do horse.
That should smoke them! Any other suggestions? I just want to give everyone the opportunity to work at their level.

This weeks featured pose is Cobra. I will take some time to teach Cobra in a "come and see" moment. It is an easy pose to gloss over since it is a part of every Vinyasa and it deserves some attention for Arm and leg position and action.

Last weeks "Hands and feet" focus went well. The week prior I focused on breath. At the beginning of class on Friday I asked "Who can tell me an important thing about breath?" A student answered, "Keep Breathing!"

I think they are getting it!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Accepting Limitations to Find Freedom

This was the theme Rolf assigned for the final classes of our final weekend of teacher training. I have been thinking about this theme since he assigned it in September and I have discussed it with many people. You can get a range of reactions on the topic depending on who you talk to. It has been so forward in my thoughts that I keep connecting it to everything. I need to write.

Rolf assigned the theme as it related to the Yamas, the 5 moral restraints referred to in Patanjalis Yoga Sutra. The yamas are; non-violence, non-stealing, truthfulness, moderation, non-possessiveness. Patanjali prescribes these restraints as the first step on his suggested road to freedom through the 8 fold path of yoga. When we accept these restraints, we find a framework we can live within. We find that we are freed from fear and worry and doubt. As Rolf suggested - we can find freedom.

In my own experience moderation (brahmacharya) has been one of the most difficult of the yamas to live by. I have normally preferred a lot of what ever it is I am enjoying! Since I stopped drinking, food has been among my favorite indulgences. Now the doctor says my cholesterol is high and i should lose a little weight, so I have to work on restraining a bit. Another area is my love of coffee, most particularly, expensive Starbucks coffee. I am almost fully decaf so it's not about the caffeine, but just the luxury of a great latte.

But I recognize the freedom that moderation brings. I can feel that freedom when I am not over-indulging in food (as an example.) My yoga practice feels light and lively, my clothes look and feel good, I have a kick in my step. It's not that I am vastly overweight, (just a bit!) but I am in touch enough with my body now - and not very numb - and I can notice the small differences.

I just don't seem to notice them going the other way as quickly.

Long breath in, long breath out.
Victory to our spirits, . . .

Monday, January 11, 2010

Class 3 update

Class three today! All went well and I enjoyed the class very much. I made almost no changes to the sequence today. I did get through chapter 1 and 2 a little quicker and noticed we had time for another back bend so we did Cobra, giving me a chance to teach the pose I use throughout the Sun Salutations. (I have not been teaching Up-Dog because most folks are not ready for it yet.)

We did a squat and I demonstrated Crow as well and a few people did 'baby crow.' The class needs a little intrigue doesn't it!?

Things I learned today:
Any modification I offer to enhance the pose - most people will take - whether they need to or not. Know what I mean? We do horse and I transitioned to Goddess and then offered the Goddess to Temple transition (featured in this months yoga journal!) - most people tried it. Same with clasping hands in a straddle forward fold - everyone took it.

I had not been mentioning tucking shoulder blades under and clasping hands in bridge since most people are not getting up that high. After class 2 people said their lower backs were "pinched" in bridge. I showed them the shoulder blade thing and I am hoping that will help them curve the upper back along with the lower. I will cue this in class from now on.

I am getting more comfortable making small modifications in alignment for people.

But most importantly -- I am really impressed with the effort everyone is putting out! When teachers say that in class - sometimes I think they are just saying that - but I have to tell you it is really great to look at all the Triangle poses and say - "you guys look great!" and really mean it. They are working hard!

Any suggestions for themes in a corporate environment?? I need one for Friday!

Thanks for listening! Teaching has been great and I am looking forward to every class!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Class 2

Dear friends
I relaxed this weekend and had not thought to post an update until now. Class #2 was on Friday. All went well and according to plan!

The changes to the sequence were positive and I think it meshed well with the group. Timing was good. There were about 24 people in the class and it seem to be enjoyed by all.

What I am learning:
Reading the class is a big skill that I am just beginning to feel. Walking among them and getting a sense of where people are at is a big deal. I am grateful to have these wonderful students to learn with.

Verbal cues for a class of many beginners are very different from the narrative we learned from Rolf. While he emphasizes alignment - he focused on alignment principles. Many people in this class need more direction for hand and foot placement, knee safety, etc. It's a lot to think about, but I feel it coming on.

After every class I remember many things that would have been helpful to say. Oh well.

I am resisting making too many changes to the basic sequence, as I feel that many will benefit from some repetitive practice. I have 7 more weeks with these folks! I will adapt as they do.

I am working them harder than I planned. Then again - most are in their 30's and pretty healthy so it is working out OK. If you practice very regularly you get conditioned for Sun Salutations. I have been watching carefully to pace the class properly and offer time outs.

I am wondering how many people will stick with it for 8 weeks.

Last week I emphasized the breath. This week I am emphasizing Hands and Feet.
For my teacher friends - do you like the drawings? My wife did these in Illustrator - she is so cool! If you want them I will email them to you - just ask.

I missed joining my teacher friends for practice this past weekend - but I plan to be there in Feb. Looking forward to studying the Bhagavad Gita with you all.

That's all for now.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Class 2 coming up - and changes to sequence

Well - my second class is tomorrow! Very excited and looking forward.
I am planning a few changes to my sequencing. First - taking a cue from my Forrest Yoga teacher I am adding Ab-work to chapter 1. Yep - remember how long Rolf discussed his decision to do core before backbends :-) ? I am taking it a few steps further.
The core work will be low key - no extremes - and part of the warmup to awaken the core early. I'll let you know how it goes!
Why? In effect it will smooth out the flow of the sequence, AND - I like it! I like core early in the sequence because I feel stronger at that time. I also like the idea of awakening the core early and recruiting the core for the Sun Salutations.

I'm also adding a seated side stretch after pranayama and deleting the Bikram half moon sequence. These changes keep the students on the floor for the first three sections - Pranayama, side stretching, core - and then transitioning from core on the back to Cat/Cow and Downdog/Plank (which nicely counterpose the corework) and then up to Ragdoll and Mountain. From there we begin to flow . . . With only 1 round of the Sun A!

I've been enjoying chatting with students this week at work. It seems like most people have enjoyed the class. I can certainly say I am learning a lot from the process so far. I'll report more to you later.


Monday, January 4, 2010

First Class report

Today at noon we were off and running on Lunchtime Yoga at ETC! It was great! I was really excited to see 24 people coming in and setting up!

Everything went according to plan with few exceptions. I did a short talk about the Vinyasa practice, accepting your degree of flexibility, there is a right pose for everyone, etc.

We started with some extended Pranayama as the breath was this weeks theme. The sequence unfolded with childs pose, cat-cow, bird dog, downdog-plank, rag doll and then mountain. I taught mountain using the loops without lingering too long. I then demoed Sun A. We were off! I led them through Sun A and by the time we did left-right everyone had it. Here I miscalculated slightly and had them do the whole Sun A Left-right again. Well this had several of them huffing and puffing a bit so we rested on our bellies and I simplified Warrior 1 and 2 in response. The Pinnacle pose for Chapter 2 was Triangle as planned.

We continued through straddle forward fold and then horse followed by standing raised knee, dancer and tree. From here we did a squat on to our backs. At this point I realized time was short and skipped core work. I will get them next week!

Keeping it simple, we did Bridge, reclining half pigeon, isometric leg release and twist. This kept them on their backs (which was needed) but gave a backbend which they were ready for and of course, the important finishing poses.

I talked about welcoming the opportunity for renewal as they got in to savasana. A hearty Namaste and they were on their way. 52 minutes! I went over by two minutes, just as Rolf recommended!

People seemed really happy with the class. They clapped for me and a few people even hugged me! I felt great!

What did I learn?
1. Time goes quickly! Reduce reduce reduce. After 1 set of Sun A they were ready for Warrior 1 and 2. My added Sun A was a distraction. I was just excited that they all had it! I am seeing how to read the class now.

2. I had people in jeans with no mats practicing on carpet! I brought 4 of my mats. Will bring 2 more and another enthusiastic student will bring a couple.

3. I brought blocks and straps and should have distributed them ahead of time - it was obvious who would need them!

4. I was not nervous - just excited.

5. Doing this class is a great way to log some hours before auditioning at local studios!! I really need those hours!

6. I felt that my co-workers really appreciated the class. Several of them had a bounce in their steps as they left!

7. I worked them harder than I had planned. I think the class was about right - without an extra Sun A!

8. What a great relief to get away from the narrative! This is an area where I am torn. I think the narrative gave us a lot to work with - but I was sure ready to put it away.

I have another class on Friday with about 15 fresh students and some repeats! I'll let you know how it goes!