Friday, May 18, 2007

Attitude Adjustment

At Yoga Journal’s Lake Geneva Conference a few weeks ago, I attended the Teaching Intensive, which ran from Friday to Sunday. We spent 6 three-hour sessions with various well-known teachers, who shared their philosophies and approaches to the discipline, and their frustrations with those who teach it. They all have an overwhelming concern (not necessarily unfounded) with the state of teacher training—3-day certification courses, yoga being presented as “therapeutic” by inexperienced teachers, dangerous adjustments and so on. Some were quick to push their training programs and distributed flyers, other were content to let their demonstrations do the recruiting.

Having trained with an Iyengar-influenced teacher and mostly studied that style of slow yoga, with its careful attention to alignment and proper positioning, I have always been skeptical of the hot, athletic yogas. I figured that was for sweaty 20-yr olds, or show-offs who were mostly interested in displaying their upper-body strength. I’m sure some jealously was involved, but I dismissed it as a lot of unsustainable kids’ stuff that wasn’t really worth serious consideration.

So, it was with great skepticism that I arrived for the morning session with Ana Forrest, “Therapeutic Backbends.” Forrest Yoga requires a lot of upper-body strength and Ana, herself, often gives controversial demonstrations at conferences that involve complicated twists and wraps and arm balances not often seen outside of Cirque du Soleil. She and her sleek assistants arrived en masse, several with wrist braces (Gary Krasftsow often wondered what the point of doing yoga was, if the practitioners repeatedly injure themselves) to begin our session.

I was ready to do a lot of observing, since there is little in the backbend world that will serve some one whose expecting—most of those asana are contraindicated for pregnancy because of the stretching and contracting of the abdominals. I discussed my situation with Ana, so she was aware, and she alerted her assistants. Much to my surprise (and a bit, my embarrassment) they all were extremely attentive and made sure I always had an alternative pose to do with similar effects as the rest of the room’s work. Some of their directions were a bit goofy; one girl kept encouraging me to fill my lungs to make room for the baby—tricky to do, when said baby is squashed up against my diaphragm—but mostly they were gentle and careful.

I felt as if I was getting a personal class—which was great, although I hope the rest of the students didn’t resent the attention. That is always a possibility if you have a special needs student, but I also figured it was good for all these teachers to see modifications for pregnancy. By the end of the three hours I felt a great openness and length through my torso, and no sense of having overdone anything. Baby X was kicking away (with all that new room ?!?!) and I had a newfound respect for Ana and her students. I would be interested to see how she modifies some of her more aggressive arm balances for weaker students, but never felt left out of the practice. Some much for sweaty kids’ stuff.

Here are a couple of the preparatory poses that we did that are wonderful ways to create awareness and openness:

Individual Finger Stretch
This would be great after a long day of using your hands and really increases the circulation in the forearms. Sitting in Sukhasana (Easy Pose), extend one arm with the palm out and, one at a time, take hold of a finger with the other hand and gently pull it towards you. For the thumb, turn the stretching hand palm up and press the back of the other hand to it. Then reach the fingers up and grab the stretching thumb and pull it towards you. Repeat on the other hand.

Neck Stretch Realign yourself in Easy Pose and then reach the right arm out and tuck it, palm down, under the right hip. Place the left hand on top of the head and let the weight of the hand and arm gently pull your head toward the left shoulder, stretching the side of the neck out. The right arm under the hip will serve as a counter-stretch to really open up the neck. Let the head come slightly forward, still with the left hand on it. Then come forward a bit more, but still not to the center, and notice how the stretch moves into the back of the neck and upper shoulders. Release the head at the center and then, using the left hand on the forehead, gently press the head upright. Repeat on the other side. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved