Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dead Body Pose

In the Bikram series Dead Body Pose or Savasana is practiced throughout the entire second half of class. I really like to think of it as practicing surrender and quite literally practicing the final letting go state; the state of non-being, or dead.  It is dead body pose, after all.  I am not being morbid, but when I was younger, I was so frightened of death that I literally would have panic attacks if I thought about my own death.  Death is something we collectively fear -- the great unknown.  What does dying feel like -- is it a relief -- is it painful?  And what happens afterwards -- is there an afterwards?  Well, if there is, it is not with this body.  This body will return to dust.  I think that whenever death comes I hope I am at peace.  I know practicing dead body pose has helped me greatly with practicing surrender, and living in the moment.  When we practice Savasana, we are asked not to fidget, not to adjust or move anything, but rather just accept the moment and what is happening now.  Which usually is you are breathing heavier from just having done a strenuous pose, you are sweating, and you are simultaneously relaxing, recovering.  Newbies to the practice sometimes feel overwhelmed at this point in the class, because they are feeling all their cylinders firing -- and are asked to just be with this excited state.  This becomes a powerful thing once you surrender and can feel your vitality.  You feel your heart, your body functioning, and all your attention is on your breath.  You literally feel the mechanism of your body at work, at rest.  So, what does this all have to do with death, and feeling surrender -- it has to do with both.  Dead body pose taught me how to live in the moment and in doing so, helped quill my fears of dying.  What I love about yoga is that you can make it a practice about deepening your connection not only to this life, but also to the after life.  You can be a spiritual warrior -- looking at your own demise with courage and ultimately peace in your heart.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bikram Helps Fat Loss, yes or no?

As a Bikram Yoga Teacher I get this question a lot: Will Bikram yoga help me lose weight? Recently I found this on the Mayo Clinic website. What I think is great is that it clearly states where/how our fat gets released from our bodies-- through sweat (yeah Bikram heated room) and carbon dioxide air exhaled from our lungs: that's what we start with: Pranayama breathing....so breath and sweat (the only thing we don't do (hopefully) in the room is urinate. On the other side a calorie is the amount of energy used to raise one gram of water one degree centrigrade -- so if the room is doing the work for you --you are not burning the calorie. I have been a teacher for seven years and have witnessed folks who "rely on the room" to get the sweat on. Just like in the gym you have to do the work in order to use the energy to raise the temperature to release the fat. The room aids in the release of the broken down fat. You plus the room equal results. Here's the article:

Question Body fat: Where does it go when you lose weight?
Where does body fat go when you lose weight?

from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.
When you consume fewer calories than your body needs, your body turns to fat for energy. Your fat cells (triglycerides) provide the fuel for this energy.

Through a series of complex metabolic processes, triglycerides are broken down into two different components — glycerol and fatty acids — which are absorbed into your liver, kidney and muscle. Here, these components are further broken down by chemical processes that ultimately produce energy for your body.

The heat generated through these activities is used to help maintain your body temperature. The waste products that result are water and carbon dioxide. You excrete water primarily in urine and sweat and carbon dioxide in air exhaled from your lungs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Away From Yoga

Recently it was the holidays and I got away from my yoga practice. I moved cross-country -- I started two new days jobs, I moved back into my house -- so many many things: changes-- the new, the old it all collided around the holidays, until it was almost two weeks and I hadn't practiced regularly. If it's possible to feel your own circulation diminish I felt it. Blood, life, went into a stillness --- but not the stillness that we talk about in yoga. The stillness of stagnation -- lack of movement, lack of flow. All around my personal life was filled with challenge...my friends weren't getting along, strangers weren't getting along -- my cousin announced a divorce, a former colleague died. Is it a coincidence that I wasn't practicing -- I can sometimes be superstitious about certain things -- wear a lucky color, but that's about it. No, it isn't that if I don't practice bad things happen: it's that these types of things are always happening and when I don't practice I am not at 100 percent, and therefore dealing with these things throws me (much more than if I do practice). I recently watched two films: Food Inc. and Super Size Me...which also coincided with my yoga practice derailing... It all pointed in the same direction: take care of yourself. If you haven't seen either of this two films they are worth your while. Food Inc. shows how far away we have come from really knowing what is even in our foods, and Super Size Me, shows just how easy it is to get sick from all the fast foods we have readily available to us. Organic food is more expensive and fast food chains are all over working class neighborhoods. Yoga means union -- if we are so far away from where our food is -- if we are so far away from each other's neighborhoods (this includes the NIMBYS!) we are far away from yoga. I went back to class today. My mantra was, "I am at peace in my yoga practice".

Monday, September 28, 2009

Books I have Abandoned

Okay, I have my bookmarks in several yoga and related-topic books...for some reason or another I have abandoned them. One went missing -- Deepak Chopra's "Creating Health." I was almost done (I was on chapter eight) With each chapter I kept telling myself, "Okay, NOW, he's 'gonna get to his point." Okay, Okay, I'm waiting for the chapter where he talks up the virtues of being vegan or vegetarian -- I keep waiting for this chapter, and in each chapter he keeps telling me that in the next chapter he is really going to give it to us -- you know, the whole "Creating Health Thing" --- well, maybe I left the book on a park bench, or at the car wash or it fell out of my yoga bag, or the post-yoga bag (since I do Hot Yoga -- and I don't have to tell you, YOU NEED another bag after that) -- well somewhere in there the book mysteriously disappeared -- it's been over a month -- as I like to say, at the end of a relationship or meal, "I'm done!" So go ahead read this book if you like being teased through 8 chapters -- but I am sure (well, now not so sure), but he is so darn successful -- that I would think another of his titles must be worthy! I am thinking about the title that escapes me at this moment, but it's about Life After Death (and it may even be titled, "Life After Death" -- now THAT interests me. So has anyone out there read THAT one? If so please let me know -- does he tease you all the way through? Is it worth the time investment? Okay, enough picking on Deepak -- NEXT we have my other bookmark -- currently waiting on the pages of, "Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life" -- this title spoke to me, after all this blog is an attempt to spring off the mat, connect to that place we get to in the yoga room -- here, on the Internet??? Okay, crazy, but that need to discuss and connect the alchemy that happens in the yoga room to the rest of our lives is Judith Lasater's general direction when writing this book. Currently my lonely bookmark is parked on page 89. Why wasn't I crazy about this book? The book translates selections from Pantanjali's Yoga Sutra and THAT I did appreciate. And the writer goes on to illustrate these yoga principles from her own life. The first few anecdotes are somewhat charming. She is a mom and lives, you can imagine, from how she frames things, in a nice home with typical problems, relating to her kids -- I don't know, maybe it's just me, maybe this is an AWESOME book. But I can't finish it. Banal is the word that comes to mind. OKAY book number three -- I REALLY wanted to love this book, I wanted this one to CHANGE MY LIFE. It's by none other then, Thich Nhat Hanh -- a gentle soul, a wise soul. And it was recommended by one of my favorite Forest Yoga Teachers at a weekend workshop. It's called simply,"Anger" -- well it does have a tag-line: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. So I thought this one will help -- this one will really give me perspective. Currently my bookmark in dozing off on page 83. No, not a banal book in the least -- it's packed with wisdom, insight, meaning, and, yes, as promised (listen up Deepak) ways to overcome anger. The way he writes reminds me of the way Bob the painter would teach us how to paint trees -- oh, so gentle, so kind, his text almost whispers -- problem is:NO ONE in my LIFE whispers! This book would only be helpful if myself and the entire east coast were magically transported to Hanh's retreat center and we were forced to eat out of little bowls and take vows of silence and talk to each other only at discreet moments and in the following manner, "Know that as I sat by the river listening to the water flowing, as I listened to my breath, know that I have done a great deal to make you suffer, know that I suffer too, darling I am not my best right now, let us have a session tomorrow under the blossoms, etc, etc." NO ONE I KNOW SPEAKS LIKE THAT -- maybe we should (no, on second thought I would die of BOREDOM)...I am just not there. In defense of Hanh -- I did incorporate some of his ideas and found that it kept me from saying the f-bomb during an argument. I will give Hanh another go: next chapter is entitled: With Compassion You Don't Make Mistakes -- During those last two dashes I read something great:
Nothing can heal anger except compassion (p.83 ) Then, 2 pages later Hahn tells me to embrace my anger -- I like that. Okay, so I've just changed my mind -- I am going to suffer through the stilted dialogue and listen for the lesson, get past the soapy language. It's funny in both these books it's not the life lessons I object to, it's the semi-fictional characters that both Judith and Hanh use in their anecdotes: the children that pepper seemingly the entire book in Judith's case, and this inane couple that speak in, "Darling, I was this, and know that I suffer that..." -- it's the lack of art in their dramatic writing that leaves me -- well that leaves my bookmarks frozen in their pages.

Thich Nhat Hanh's retreat center -- maybe we can all go!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bikram Yoga Workshop & Pregnancy Series

Fish Pose -- alternative for the Spine Strengthening Series,
in the Bikram Pregnancy Series. Photo by: Deborah Bluestein

I was Massachusetts attending a yoga class/seminar designed for teachers of Bikram yoga.  A wide range of topics, including: common dialogue mistakes, handling "difficult" students, and teaching students with special concerns: including joint problems, obesity, and practicing while pregnant. I learned the pregnancy series as well.  I didn't take a separate class, because in Bikram Yoga, pregnant students take class along side the students taking the regular class -- there isn't a separate "Prenatal Yoga" class.  The instruction for the "pregnant" (only one of us was really with child!) students  is weaved in with the regular instruction (what, we Bikram practitioners call "The Dialogue"). It was a brilliant way to teach. I was able to experience the pregnancy series in my body, and feel how the adjustments make sense. The basic design and difference of the pregnancy series from the Bikram regular series is that it is an hour long, instead of an hour and a half, however you stay in the room for the full hour and a half, so you get built-in rests. The second basic difference is that you do not do any postures that compress the belly -- for example: you modify in Half-moon, by separating the feet six inches apart and you completely avoid other poses like standing separate leg head to knee.

Half moon posture with the feet six inches apart noticeably changes the way the posture feels. Even without a baby-belly -- the entire center of the posture is changed -- the idea in this (and all the modified postures) is to get the best affect of the asana, and still keep space for the baby. With my feet 6 inches apart I found it almost impossible to squeeze my hips or push them very hard:I found I had to focus more on what I COULD do-- which was:open up my upper body and keep my balance.

But that's not all that we got to. Plenty of topics. Very importantly was: "First, do no harm". Borrowing from the doctor's creed, Diane reminded us to be mindful not to teach from our own modifications--meaning the dialogue is a big tent and a catch all -- it is designed for the beginner. So she asked us to correct students individually -- with a name! And of course reminded us, not to touch students -- only in a light easy way, as in adjusting hands in Eagle pose. Diane does not like to use hand towels to help with grips, she likes to say, "If you give them a hand towel, that is their yoga career." The hand towel use was only suggested for Eagle pose where the student can't get their hands anywhere near each other. For those students who can't yet grab both legs in floor bow, she recommends doing one leg at a time (first set grab right leg, second set grab left) and this is a pose where the teacher can do a light touch and help the student grab the foot.

On of the most poignant moments of the seminar was when the teacher said,  "The difference between Bikram Yoga and all other yogas is that Bikram Yoga doesn't "modify" any postures to accommodate the body (or it's limitations). By trying exactly the "right way as prescribed" we make the body fit into the posture instead of the posture fit the body - creating a healing of, or change and balance in, the body back to normal."

It is important to note, however, that a student who needs to lean on something do so.  Many studio owners  put a ballet bar at the back of the room -- (it's not there for drying mats!) I have been surprised that many teachers do not know that the ballet bar is there for more fragile students who are just struggling, sometimes simply to grab their foot in postures like standing bow.

Another hot topic was: Dealing With the Resistant Student.
"It's not what you do, but how you do it!" The bottom line was to be gentle and ask them to do it the right way in an even "unattached" (in quotes, because that's the word Diane used to describe the manner in which to make a suggestion to a resistant student. For the most part if a first-time student is struggling, allow them that -- do not pick apart their practice on the first day -- of course help them out if they look as if they are doing something harmful (again: First DO NO HARM).

A big stress was made in first part of Locust pose for "straight arms first": in other words encourage the student to first get their arms straight before getting them under the belly...and lifting the hips one at a time in order to do so -- No bent arms under the body in locust. I was able to apply this technique the following day with, Fred, a new student -- he was in great shape, and was born in 1940something, so he may have had a bit of apprehension of putting his weight on his arms -- and tried to slide his arms in the bent position. But I went over to him and asked him to left his right hip, then slide his straight arm under, then do the same with the left arm. This technique works, and it honors the dialogue.
The Hips Don't Have It!
Please, don't talk about the hips in Standing Bow, Balancing Stick, or Locust, was another one of our senior instructor's cornerstone comments. I often will make the (personal adjustment) to drop a hip in balancing stick -- as usual it's a more advanced student -- this is a finesse of the posture and true, it is not in the dialogue. This is the challenge to the Bikram teacher: You are given a basic dialogue, good as a catch all for the very beginner, and you see many different bodies in the room -- you still have to teach the dialogue for the beginners and also help the advanced students progress. I have many students who are championship material and I will ask them to take their Tulandansana (Balancing Stick)to the next level (two hips in one-line!) and yes, it's not in the dialogue, but we all know that's the ideal.
Another teacher commented that directions are different in the Blue book -- which gave rise to an idea for a future post -- a much bigger project:going over discrepancies in the Bikram Dialogue and the Blue Book. The teacher acknowledged that Bikram's instructions have changed over the years. That the original dialogue was very different then the current one. The current dialogue is the one most in line with the philosophical statement: First do no harm. So when we are teaching a class of 25 - 30 people of different levels we can feel confident that we are delivering a class that does just that, and of course gives maximum benefit as well. I had to leave the seminar an hour early. I would love to hear from any of you who attended, what called out to you --- what else was covered that you found valuable and that you could take into your Bikram Yoga Studio the next time you teach.
If you weren't there, I highly recommend taking a seminars -- whether you are a Bikram certified teacher or a curious student-- it'll take your understanding of Bikram Yoga to a new place.

Monday, August 10, 2009

No Naughty Cows 2: or the real post

When I first heard, "An empty barn is better than a barn full of naughty cows," I had this picture of cows just jumping around being naughty -- not behaving like cows are supposed to --not paying attention, just goofing off:clearly, I had no idea what naughty meant in this context. I heard this expression straight from Bikram, and I went around with this image of these silly cows behaving poorly, and I guess maybe the farmer would be better off without them -- maybe the farm was getting really noisy at night and the farmers couldn't get any rest...the situation was out of control with those naughty cows. So, I kept hearing Bikram say,"An empty barn is better, than a barn full of naughty cows," -- and of course I agreed -- I mean, in my mind they had been keeping this farmer up for weeks.
Finally, someone must have asked him to explain what he meant by naughty, because in the middle of yoga class he goes into it. "You can't get milk from that naughty cow!" Finally, I get it: a naughty cow is a cow that won't give you milk. So it's better to get rid of those cows, empty the barn, and that way you'll have room to find good cows that give milk -- that sustain you. It all made perfect sense. Simple, and true. There is a very similar saying in Latino culture (which was like a mantra my mom repeated throughout my childhood and even to this day): "Mejor solo que mal acompaƱado," translation, "Better alone than in bad company." All three are good sayings -- I am, however, most fond of the naughty cows version because of its fun, colorful and well-suited imagery.

If you have ever put this saying into practice, you have looked at your life and found that the people you are closest to are not sustaining you. You have had to take the step to change your life, by changing the relationships in it. The first step of ridding everybody can be quite liberating and cathartic: "OK, all you naughty cows, OUT, and I mean OUT." You can be all Jackie Gleason about it even. But then comes the empty barn part. The empty, lonely part. And maybe some of us, who have more foresight, don't take the first step, because we think about step two way too much. Now, in practice, the saying proves truer than ever, but not as simple -- the proverbial: easier said than done.

* * * * *
I remember sitting in Larry Moss's acting class in Los Angeles, and an actress named Kate got up, on what Larry would call "The platform -- biggest step you can take.." -- it was a six inch step up to the platform (aka, the stage). Kate performed a monologue and did well. Afterwards Larry spoke to her, as he does after you perform in his class, "How did it feel to you Kate?" She was clearly shaken, but her work had gone so well. He was as perplexed as we (the students sitting in attendance) when and he asked her more questions. "What are you working on professionally?" "I am leaving soon to work on a film," said Kate. I was surprised at her demeanor...I would be walking on sunshine if I was off to shoot a film on location, but then it all became clear. "Do you have support in your life Kate?," was Larry's line of questioning. It seemed, despite her success she didn't have supportive people (only naughty cows!) --- "Well, get rid of them!" Larry said without any apology. And Kate, simply replied, "I did, but now there is nobody left." So there it was, I was witnessing someone in the "empty barn phase."
Sitting in that audience I could feel the deep loneliness, the sorrow in her voice, to which Larry responded, "Good, Kate. Go do your film. It's good to see you up there." It was a personal victory moment for Kate. It was o.k. to have an empty barn...life goes on -- she was moving on.
Larry said, "Good," because he was saying the same thing this little silly saying is saying -- same darn thing my mom has said: Now you have space in your life to fill it with good: be grateful for the empty barn, no matter how hurtful it is right now, honor the empty space, because here in this space without, lies the promise of a better tomorrow, better companions, and a life that is sustainable.
Clearly three cultures can't be wrong: this saying says a lot. Loneliness is sometimes necessary and a great teacher-- not without its fair share of pain, but it is at these moments we can ask ourselves and must ask, "What can I do to overcome this loneliness?" A friend of mine, between writing the, "No Naughty Cows (1) -- and this post, coincidentally e-mailed me the
question: "How do you deal with loneliness?" I wrote back quickly. It was a list of things I do to comfort myself. Because when we are lonely, we are wounded and it is a time to pause, reflect...acknowledge, like Kate did, that there is emptiness. Here is an excerpt of the personal letter I wrote to that close friend, who was looking for some sort of answer:

...give yourself time (I am always especially lonely after I leave my family or have had a break-up -- there is pain in the form of grief and that's okay -- it's ok to feel sad and cry and nurse yourself -- just make sure you rent your favorite movies and make your favorite soothing tea! In other words treat yourself like the exquisite unique being you are!

It may not be old classic films and hot tea, but finding the small comforts -- what you can do for yourself is essential. Because none of these small comforts are really small -- they somehow, in an innocent everyday way connect you with the world outside of the sorrow. So, it goes from a small pampering to a cosmic thought -- that you are not alone in the universe. At the heart of yoga is finding what sustains you from within, and discovering that within you is a connection to the core of existence, and in that deepest and truest of ways you are not alone. A yoga practice has helped me co-exist peacefully with pain in many of its forms, including loneliness. In the empty barn times I look ahead and I am grateful that I have the space to usher in a brighter future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kids Are Yogis Too

First I have to say that I do not hold a special certification for teaching kids. I am, however, a certified Yoga teacher, and I was introduced to yoga when I was in middle school, at the age of 13.
Since I loved yoga as a kid, I think my nephews and nieces really connected with me on that level. I remember how silly, fun, strange, different, and yet at the same time familiar and natural yoga felt when I was a kid.

I was visiting my nieces and nephews (ages 6 - 14). A Saturday morning and we were set on going to the see Harry Potter later on, but other then perhaps a hike, no other
activity was firmly planned. My sister said, "Why not teach the kids yoga". I had 4 extra yoga mats in the back of my car (who knew?) and we just set them out on my sister's deck. My sister had a regular excerise mat and that was the fifth one. They all took the class: Rocco 6, Zoe 8, Christopher 10, Kristian 13, and Alex 14; 3 Boys, and 2 girls.

I usually teach Bikram Yoga -- a hot style of yoga in 105-115 degrees, indoors. Only one nephew, Christopher, 10, had tried that before. And he was happy that instead we were outdoors, but I could tell he was secretly proud, and there was a gleeful bragging to his re-counting of his previous yoga class, "It was so hot in there -- I never sweat so much!" So, with that we set-up on my sister's deck, and I didn't even realize it until I saw the video, but Chase (the family dog) was in and out of the class -- he was so relaxed and part of the whole thing that his weaving in and out didn't stop the yoga--how's that for focus!

I was psyched that they wanted to do it. But I had never taught kids yoga before, so I said, "Ok, we'll do just a half hour!"

We began with breathing on the floor -- showing them how the belly rises and ribs expand as they inhale, and how their bellies drop on the exhale. We got on our feet and did Pranayama breathing, 3 rounds of sun salutations, awkward pose, bow-pulling pose (a.k.a. Dancer's pose), Tulandasana (balancing stick), then triangle (Astanga-style), standing seperate leg stretching, triangle (Bikram-stlye), seperate head to knee--can you keep up (we were heading towards the half-hour, so I asked, "Do you want to calm things down and get to the floor, or do you want more challenging poses?" -- They all wanted more:) I was thrilled -- they were much more willing then I had imagined. They got the yoga. My brother-in law and my sister, where snapping up pictures and taking video...(Video to be posted soon!) They really wanted more, so we did a lot. Since they were going strong... warrior one, and ok, back to the center of the mat for Tree Pose and Toe stand. The Floor series: pigeon, cobra, full locust, camel, rabbit, head to knee, hand-to-feet and finger stand, upward wind relieving pose -- are you tired yet? At that point they wanted to show me postures and strecthes they had learned from their other activities. It was already much more then half an hour's time -- but who was counting...we were seeing an evening showing of Harry Potter: we had all afternoon. We went on for a bit more!

What I learned: kids have natural focus, they have an easy connection to their breath. Their playfulness lends itself to learning. They understand focus, and they understand breathing. They are in the moment, and in the end they indeed started to show me poses and stretches that were similar to yoga, but that they had learned in a variety of other activities like: little league, gymnastics, soccer practice, swimming practice-- okay, I do have physical nephews, but this required stillness! Rocco, my youngest nephew of 6 was the first to show us--what he called "Cat Pose"-- it was downward dog, with a variation-- you lift one foot off and bring that foot's toes to heel of the opposite foot and help stretch the heel down towards the floor -- one way to help get those heels down in downward dog! After that, I asked the other kids if they could show me other poses: we went into Table pose from gymnastics--what we call Bridge pose, and then I showed them what we call Table pose...finally after who knows how long -- we closed the class Bikram style with breathing in fixed-firm pose, otherwise known as skull-cleansing breath! But Rocco wanted to sit in Lotus while doing it--who can refuse such an eager 6-yr old yogi? So there it ended, my first kid's class: grateful to my nieces and nephews for showing me the way.

The next day we were all at the Tennis Club's Pool, and little Rocco asked me if I could do some yoga with him--wanted a private. So I set him up on a beach towel and we went through 4 or 5 poses -- during this private lesson, I noticed this little-one was holding his breath during triangle --, "Breath," I said, and he did. "Good, very good." And again he wanted to sit in lotus pose, so he did. I showed him lifting lotus -- and he did it. "That is an advanced pose," I tell him. And he says, "I'm going back to play." "Okay, Roccito you did great."

The biggest compliment I got was from my brother in-law, a highly respected teacher of grades k-12, with over 20 years of experience. Afterwards he asked me, something along the lines, "Is that the class you normally teach kids?" "No, I've never taught kids before." "Oh, you seemed like you do this all the time".