Posts Tagged ‘specific classes’
boundless teacher mission
so the teachers and i just finished co-authoring this, the boundless yoga teacher mission.
i asked all of them to write me a manifesto on what their teaching style and interests were, and what they were really intending to do in a yoga classroom. i collated everyone’s overlapping and/or potent ideas, and then we all edited together.
we are a multi-disciplinary yoga studio, and we want to be clear in 2009 about the tremendous value that every class brings to you.
back to life!
it is understood in modern-day ergonomics that our backs are a mess. it would be safe to say that around 2% of my students and clients claim they have loose shoulders and pain-free backs.
that’s why, whether you are an advanced student or just beginning on your yoga path–or if you are not interested in mainstream yoga but have back problems–you should try out becky’s “back to life” yoga series. it starts tonight at 730 pm, and it’s a session that runs through april 3.
becky will offer the yogic approach to healing your chronic and/or injury-based back and neck pain, and she will help you develop home and office “work” that you can do to keep yourself feeling freer in your back!
where to, eyes (and neck and head)?
i was teaching handstand (adho mukha vriksasana) tuesday night in the 630 p open hatha class. a student, also a teacher at this studio, had settled into what my eyes told me was a quite well-executed pose. as she balanced there, i called the attention of the class to the pose because i wanted us all to observe.
as i described the various ways in which she was strong, balanced, graceful, and nearing a sensation of zero-gravity (one of the coolest side effects of any pose, and also, some would argue, the esoteric point of doing any pose in the first place), another student and yoga teacher in class commented that the back of this handstanding student’s neck looked compressed because she was lifting it to look between her hands. they wanted to know how the pose could be so well done if she was this tight in one area of her body.
the root of this observation comes from a different teaching of handstand that i, or other teachers i later discussed this exchange with, have been taught. indeed, if you look at p. 288 of iyengar’s light on yoga, or at this pose, the students (p. 288 is iyengar himself) are gazing in between their hands or further up as a point of focus.
(if you’re already bored, jump off now and save yourself).
this point of focus is called a drishti in sanskrit. drishtis have great importance in a yoga pose: the smaller the point, the greater the focus; when there is no point, there is little or no focus. this is why i have been taught to have the head raised in handstand, and also as a means of opening the chest. this can be done with no bowing of the back if the student’s core is engaged.
ana forrest, on the other hand, teaches that your head should be dropped in all poses, no matter what, as means for relaxing the neck. my understanding is that this teaching stems from modern-day issues we all have in the neck and shoulders (anyone who has studied with ana, feel free to chime in).
the teacher who questioned the head-raising-in-handstand choice and i later e-discussed this issue. showing this link and referring to a workshop where he’d learned to deepen his own inversion practice, he wrote:
The picture gives an indication of her [his example, in the link above] level of integration.During the workshop, we did a huge amount of lunge practise. One of the keys to all poses being the preparation. She was a strong believer that dropping the head was important in integrating when inverted, which then enables walking on the hands.
In my own experience, dropping the head is key. As you pointed out the cranial base and the sacro lumbar junction each require the other to release, for their [sic] to be freedom in the spine. Cranial sacral understanding of spinal fluidity seems to confer with this view. But there are no single answers and yoga requires an embrace of all possibilities.
exactly. and as i further contemplated his answer, the pose itself and, generally, what happens to the spine in inversion, i concluded, still, that in fact head dropped is unintegrated for me, and head raised is a more evolved way of looking at the pose (and, perhaps by extension, our own experience in general) for me. here are my reasons:
1) there is no such thing as a straight line. we know this from physics.
2) to this end, if the vertebrae were in fact to totally straighten (which to me the dopping of the head suggests a goal of), the spine would either implode or explode.
3) the eyes, like every other part of the pose, need to ground. that’s what relaxing into that eyes-half-closed-stare is in a drishti (think kevin smith’s mall rats: the picture of the boat)
4) when the head lifts, the heart opens. in meditation and pranayama, the idea is to keep the eyes looking downward, in an act of deference to the body and breath as guide, and to calm the nervous system. but in a yoga asana like handstand (as opposed to pachimottanasana, seated forward fold), we express our evolutionary capacity by looking up.
it’s almost as though, in this case, the heart is doing the real taking in, the actual assimilation (which by the way is where prana makes it most indelible mark). the eyes are simply two little data centers. they are ferrying in less and less distracting information by focusing on a smaller and smaller point of the outside world. this opens us up fully to the experience within.
one more thing on the guy yoga phenomenon sweeping the dc area
the most common thing we hear from guys contemplating yoga is their fear over being inflexible. they’re concerned that when they get into the class, they’ll feel stupid or strange or uncomfortable trying to touch their toes when surrounded by “bendy” chicks who might as well have the floor removed under their hands because they can reach further than gravity.
here’s the news flash: bendy people are inflexible also, to such a degree that many yoga teachers, “flexible” themselves, don’t notice that, for example, a willowy woman with joints that bend like gumby is actually holding tremendous blocks in her groin, between her shoulder blades and, often, in her neck. this happens because she is so “flexible” elsewhere.
think about it as a pulse within a closed system, like the give a bridge has with all that weight traveling over it. when one spot gives, another has to tighten or else the entire structure will collapse. so make no mistake: what appears to be flexibility is often a mask for painful tightness elsewhere.
most important for most western men out there: in many ways you’re starting from a better place if you feel tight everywhere.
a) unlike the flexi-ladies, you don’t have to unlearn the pattern of being too loose in one place, and too tight in another, and
b) you are basically starting from scratch.
everything will hurt so good (thanks john cougar), and the changes in your body will appear more wide-reaching, and more pleasurable, faster. it’s easier on the mind if it has only one place to focus on (even if that one place is the entire body), versus it having to figure out what’s tight, what’s loose, and how everything works together in a more appropriately executed yoga pose.
yoga for guys
so the irony of this class is that yoga, a mind/body science and philosophy, was created for and by men. for at least five thousand years until recently, yoga was practiced, philosophized, and propagated mainly by men. one quick glance at the nation’s top yoga teachers, and you’ll find mostly men.
these men, of course, are teaching mostly women. there are lots of reasons for this social imbalance (post your thoughts about it here!), but for several years i’ve waited for DC to be ready for a yoga community, dominated by women, to offer a class only for guys.
this class at boundless, taught by one of our beloved (male) teachers, chaka, is mondays at 730 pm.
the fears most men have regarding yoga is that a) they aren’t flexible enough, b) they won’t be able to “best” the class in the same way they do weights at the gym, and c) they won’t get a good enough workout.
yoga is not exercise, so men, exercise elsewhere and then come to yoga. yoga is such a holistic approach to the body that it is the best cross-training series of movements you’ll find anyhwere. you’ll learn about your innate flexbilities, even though most of your forward folds will feel horrible in the beginning. you’ll learn about using your natural strength appropriately, instead of from a place of imbalance. you’ll learn why your neck and back are so tight–and, more important, how to unwind that repetitively-built-in tension, letting it go once and for all.
finally, your partners (whether men or women), will love you more for it.
challenge the state of yoga
last week i said i’d be posting until the end of the month on which classes were right for you. i’ve elected to cancel tonight’s challenge class because george bush is giving his annual state of the union; the other time i canceled this class was in 2003, the night he announced our invasion of iraq. as i reconnect with my own physical practice, which i lost for much of 2006, i’ve remembered an important lesson from yoga. doing the asanas (poses), especially the basic ones once you’ve done them repetitively for a while, is like riding a bike. going through the motions is easy; your body has muscular memory associated with triangle poses, tree pose, and so on.
what’s difficult to to do, when you’re actively involved in deepening your practice, is to walk that fine line between physical and mental challenge. as the boundless teachers and i discussed at a staff meeting over the weekend, physical and mental challenge are often inversely correlated. in other words, to feel physically challenged is sometimes to be mentally checked out of what the body is really experiencing–and that’s actually very natural, since the brain deals with pain and discomfort in myriad ways. ask anyone who works in an ER: the variations between people’s perception of their own pain is astonishingly great.
therefore, as you introduce what the mind considers “pain” or “discomfort” to the body, the brain, trying to be a good muscle like all the others, assists the situation in the best way it knows how. the trick is to use your own powers of observation–this process of seeing, sensing, experiencing the moment is not the brain, but the greater awareness we all have access to, all the time. it is a much larger picture than the brain is actually capable of giving you.
so in my challenge yoga class, which i’m converting April 3 to an intensive evening class every tuesday 7-930 p, i ask the students to perform more “challenging” poses, but with a deepening knowledge of their own body in space and time. that means that the poses are just the means through which the students observe their mind. this is difficult at the end of a 10-minute headstand. it’s challenging when attempting to observe the finer details of triangle pose. it’s particularly tough in savasana (corpse pose).
but yet, there we are, taking it up a notch through the spirit of the practice, and not because we’ve become better gymnasts. flexibility and strength in a yoga pose are nothing more than a reflection of a flexible and strong mind. to be sure, i entered yoga in 1995 so inflexible that teachers would pull me off to the side during forward folds. today, i have grown so flexible that i need to get some of that unbending-ness back! it is the practice of yoga to accept that my body can swing dramatically from one extreme to the other if i let it go. then, it is my duty, and very much in my own self interest, to manage those vacillations with equanimity.
in practical terms, for challenge yoga, you need to be able to turn upside down with little fear. that means headstand, handstand, shoulderstand, forearm balance. and wheel pose. though these poses are external metaphors of internal energy, they are also practical applications of a deepening practice.
in day-to-day terms, i am canceling tonight’s class because it is the job of the yogini to observe her mind at all times. tonight’s speech, and the energy in the country (or at least in DC), is an opportunity to experience social behavior observation (yamas) and self-reflection (niyamas) that buttress the practice of yoga. if you plan on watching the state of the union as a yoga practitioner, reflect on these words before, during, and after: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-hoarding, purity, contentment, discipline, self-education, surrender to god.
beginning yoga versus intro to yoga
this is a question i have been asked a lot since the beginning of the year. what is the difference, according to boundless, between an intro-to-yoga series and a beginning yoga class? further, if i am a beginner, can i take the open hatha class?
everyone learns differently, and beginning students who enjoy a step-by-step learning process will like the intro-to-yoga series. if you are a beginning student similar to the one i was when i started yoga in 1995, you will do well in a beginning yoga or open hatha class. this is because you’d rather learn more independently, as in, you’ll take the information the teacher gives you, go home or perhaps, later, to another class, and think about it. this, to you, is preferable to learning information in a packaged, more systematic way.
it’s kind of like taking the myers briggs test: if you’re a J, there’s a good chance you’ll be down with series yoga. a P, and the more random approach is for you.
put another way, learning yoga is like learning a new language, except you already know it. you’re simply allowing yourself, in whatever yoga class you take, to be reintroduced to concepts your body already understands. to the extent that poses feel weird (or, for that matter, spike your nervous system like backbends often do), that’s just your brain doing some blocking and tackling for the body. the natural flow of things is much less staccato and tin-man feeling. as you ease into this flow, the breath, and indeed the mind and body, move more freely. in short, take the class in which you know you’ll feel the most relaxed.
the right class for you
so i’m back in the saddle after living out of a suitcase for a month. i’ve found that traveling is oppositionally correlated to sustaining a regular blog. this is an interesting first chakra issue: when you are not grounded (and can you be, traveling? that is my question to the energy practitioners out there.), it is difficult to manifest anything, especially from your creative source.
this entry, and the ones coming up for the rest of the month, are devoted to explaining not just the types of classes we have at boundless, but our teachers and their approach. and mine. i will first start with the types of classes to answer the many questions we always receive at the beginning of every year: how should i get into yoga? how many times a week should i practice? what should i wear? what type of yoga do you teach at boundless? should i do the intro to yoga series or the beginning classes? what, in god’s name, is a “challenge” class, and how do i know if i’m up for that? can i do an open hatha class if i am a beginner? and so on.
i am recounting questions our front-desk sirens, teachers, and i have received. i’m sure there are more. start posting, start asking, and i’ll respond daily (or every other day, as i continue to unpack the suitcase) with answers explaining what class is right for you at boundless.