Tag Archives: teacher

Intentions are Set: Helping Students Learn to Fly

It has taken me a little while to set some 2012 resolutions.  But then it struck me in my first week back teaching.  I want to help my students learn to fly, at least in the yoga sense.

Why?  Because it feels so good.  It is empowering when you start to do things you didn’t know how to do or even more, didn’t think you could.

I want to help people get that up lifted feeling.

A dash of physics, a little practice (ok, a lot of practice), and the ability to pick yourself up when you fall.

Need a little inspiration?  Check out this Equinox video of LA yogini, Briohny Smyth.  Holy moly, I hope you like underwear.

“Yoga is the resolution of opposition” -Maty Ezraty

Opposition including Roots and Rebounds Yoga is made up of opposition. To lengthen something you must pull it in two directions. In our asanas we focus on rooting down into the floor through our hands and feet and then rebounding away in the other direction creating length and strength. There is also an opposing muscular action in the arms during arm balancing poses. We look for muscular counter actions to stabilize us and give us a locked in feeling. While the upper arms externally rotate away from the ears the forearms are rolling inwards. This helps give us a strong downdog and handstand. Another opposite is the balance of apana and prana in the body. Apana is a downward energy and prana is an upward energy. We must have these in equal measure to feel both grounded and light.

Bone stacking When we use bone stacking in our favor, the muscles don’t have to do all the work. We can be supported by the alignment of our bones and joints. In some of our arm balances we will look at this bone stacking as a fulcrum whereby we look to shift our center of mass.

Shifting your center of mass The center of mass is somewhere around your hips and pelvis. In all the arm balances, inversions, and jumping we are really working with shifting this center of mass (your hips, pelvis, ‘tail’), until we find a point of balance. This leads me to…

Dude where’s my core?Yes, the ever elusive core. The “core” consists of deep abdominal muscles (the transverse abdominals), the obliques (the sides of waist), rectus abdominals (your 6 pack abs), and the pelvic floor. If we think of the core not only as our midsection but also the trunk of the body than we can include muscle groups here like the lats, traps, serratus anterior and so on. The core is our power center. If we use opposition, roots and rebounds, stack the bones, and shift the center of mass, then our last stabilizing factor for flight is to use the core. In yoga this is often called using the bandhas (inner body locks), engaging the deep abdominals in the low belly and lifting the pelvic floor. These bandhas also play a role in creating prana in the body, that upward flow of energy. All of these things lead to lift-off.

“Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory” – Pattabhi Jois

Yoga Gizmos, Gadgets, and Gear


I got an email the other day for a product called the YoFoMat.  And I have to say I am rather intrigued!!  I am tempted to order one of these origami, travel anywhere, eco mats.  It folds away to the size of a book (or ipad box apparently) so you can carry it in your purse or bag.

Does anyone have one of these things? It’s being sold by a company called Khataland. I can’t tell if it is clever and functional or if it is a home shopping network disaster.  Needless to say, I must have one.  It appeals to me because I cycle everywhere and find that it is too cumbersome to travel with my yoga mat and my usually crammed full Osprey flapjill messenger bag. But then again I just can’t tell if it is a good mat with all gimmicks aside.

Moving on into the realm of the techy.  A rather interesting iPhone/iPad app was brought to my attention.  Michael Gannon, the self branded ‘Yoga Dealer’ has come out with the first ever Ashtanga app.  Now this I have tried and tested, and I do approve! There are beginner and advanced options with useful pictures, info, and direction.

Michael Gannon Ashtanga App

Lastly, I am a sucker for anything made by Yogitoes.  I am obsessed with the uStrap.  It looks like they are coming out with a new Skidless towel. The brand is called Prism with Brock Cahill as the poster yogi. It is made from recycled polyester and represents the glow of the chakras!  I think it looks great.  And I love the Walle esque ad campaign.

Brock Cahill for Yogitoes Prism Skidless

Is it Ok to Dip Toe in Different Yoga Pools?

Photo courtesy Salim Fadhley via Flickr

One of the first things people ask you when they find out you do yoga is what style you practice or teach.  I have always found this question to have a long answer.  In reality, there are few styles of yoga I haven’t practiced.  And over the course of time I have shifted in and out of certain styles/methods/and practices.  Can a style or a method be effective if it is only dabbled in?  Or does each style require that you practice it and only it every day for the method to work?

I started with Bikram.  I gained flexibility, focus, and health from this yoga. It is a very specific discipline and after a couple of years I wanted to branch out.  So I tried most everything, or at least what Yogaworks in LA had to offer.  I found vinyasa flow, Iyengar, yin, restorative, and anusara. And since then, Jivamukti, ashtanga, and hot yoga.  And to some of these disciplines I have committed a fair amount of time, mainly vinyasa flow.  And now, more and more, I find myself wanting to blend the styles.  I want to take from all these forms and make a kind of yoga fusion.  Perhaps that is what is so attractive about vinyasa flow.  It is a living style that is being influenced by teachers today. And in fact yin/yang yoga is growing more popular, a blend of vinyasa and yin, deep stretches.

Methods work.  They especially work when followed with discipline.  But since freeing myself of yoga discipleship, it’s hard to go back.   I would like to believe there is room to explore yoga in a broad sense and learn from many different kinds of teachers.  The intensity of what a teacher has to offer is correlative to the integrity they have for their discipline.  Perhaps a fusion of styles can be its own niche, and the blend becomes its own new thing. Or maybe instead of blending the styles together you practice different styles simultaneously.

I say, for the sake of self-expression and personal growth, yoga is to be embraced.  If the style feels right, if it builds you up and softens your edges, then its a good thing.  Branch out, build up, and be blissful.

Yoga meets wardrobe malfunction

Broken strap

I took a hot yoga class last night for the first time in years.  I began my practice many years ago with Bikram classes.  Within the first five minutes of class I could tell that this was going to be similar to the trademarked and franchised series I was used to, with the addition of classical music.

We do some breathing.  The teacher announces it’s time to focus for the next 90 minutes and “stop fidgeting”.

Then one of the straps on my top snaps in proper wardrobe malfunction style. Commence fidgeting.

I wasn’t near the door to leave.  I had no other shirt in the room.  And I had 90 minutes to look forward to in heat and sweat.  Crap.

I spent several minutes tying a knot in the strap, continued with the series, and tried to reclaim my drishti.

Snap.  the top breaks again, I now struggle to tie a double knot (as seen above), and hope no one can see what is going on.  The teacher tells me my feet are too close together, and advises me to find the appropriate distance using my fists. uh-huh. Ave Maria soars in the background.

After what seemed like 10 minutes of fidgeting, I secured the knot so I could get my head back in the game.

110 degree heat + panic = sweaty

I got through the class and now have new criteria when buying yoga wear.

Drawing Inspiration from a ‘Yoga Rebel’

It’s not every day Yoga makes the NY Times, but it did this week with an article on ‘yoga rebel’, Tara Stiles.  The whole article is here and worth the read. Yoga teacher Tara has bucked the yoga traditions in her NYC studio ‘Strala’ and is gaining popularity and critics like wildfire.  She just seems to be doing everything her own way, neither asking permission nor forgiveness.

As I read about her style, classes, and her book, “Slim, Calm, Sexy” I get a mixture of emotions ranging from “not sure if I like that” to “wow, amazing person”.  What has inspired me about her is not that she has thrown out the Sanskrit, axed meditation, or looks like and is a super model,  actually it’s none of the specific choices she has made.  It is this quote, “There are no rules in life.  It is a mind- set that limits people dramatically.”  Spoken like a true rebel.

Finding your own voice, paving a new path, and following your heart require courage.  Some people will love you for it and some will oppose you.  You have to find your inner rebel to shed the fear that holds you back from doing something in a different way.  And when you do this new thing, some people (or a lot of people) won’t like it, and won’t like you.  But if you know this will happen then you can overcome the fear of it.  Because actually we don’t need to be liked and applauded by everyone. We just need to be the best version of ourselves.

Today, I feel inspired by Tara, the rule-breaker and rebel.  I may not want to do things her way, but I am feeling encouraged to do them my way…

Embracing Ego

Since I started practicing yoga, I have been hearing that yoga is not about the ego.  It is not about what the person on the mat next to you is doing.  And in fact your ego will get in your way and tell you to keep going and move deeper, before you are ready, of course leading to pain and suffering.  The ego must be shed.

“Leave your ego at the door”, one teacher said before class.  Will my ego be sitting outside the door like a pet puppy, waiting for me to come back and walk it around town?  Do you mean I get to have my ego any time, all day long, but in this class?

I didn’t want to let go of the evils and trappings of my ego.  I wanted to do what the other guy was doing…something that looked awesome on his yoga mat. Harumph…

So I continued to practice.  And I practiced and practiced and have had many beautiful moments on my mat.

Now as a teacher, I see students of every shape, size, and ability all getting on their mats and having a beautiful dance with their egos, just like I did and still do.  I can’t imagine asking them to leave their ego at the door. (I’d hate to hear the whimpering throughout class). Instead I look to embrace that spark, that fire, that drive to push themselves, or to just back off and breathe in child’s pose.  I want to nurture the natural inclinations of students.  That spark is their individual doorway into expansion, and its not the same as mine or anyone else’s in the class.  If I don’t want them to have their ego, isn’t that serving mine?

The ego must dance its dance.  Sometimes it will feel like wrestling, and sometimes it will just sit down next to you and be still. Embracing egos reminds me how beautiful the human spirit is, and really I think they just want to play anyways.