Thursday, August 23, 2007

Have a Look...

As you often hear in an Iyengar class--Have (or Take, depending on your teacher's first language) a Look. I have been reading a few new--to me--yoga blogs and there are several I think you will enjoy. There are some yogis with a nice sense of humor out there! Check them out:

Soul Jerky: YogaDawg-ish irony with lots of interesting links to yoga-related (sorta) articles, nice design
Isha Yoga: a snappy blog, with some very funny observations--most recently about nude yoga
Playin' the Edge: some nice observations about her own practice, quotes and sequencing ideas
Yoga, Dogs and Chocolate: a personal blog with topics ranging from yoga to vacation photos to reading lists
Yoga Buzz: Yoga Journal posts news from the yoga world...some of the discussions get quite heated

Let me know if you have any favorites that we should consider!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

In Remembrance of Things Past...

Maybe I am just torturing myself, but I thought it might be nice to think about Plank and some variations for a few days. I haven't offered much in the way of Yoga Practice lately, and its always good to pay some attention to the core. Of course, I'm not doing anything abdominal right now--or maybe I am only doing abdominal work, depending how you look at it (the Youngster is due in 2 weeks)--but I am looking forward to the future.

Here's a little something to hold you (borrowed from last summer)...for the next post I want to talk about vairagya (non-attachment) again and will be back to more Thoughts.

Variations for Plank Pose

Basic Plank: Set up in Table Pose as you would for Dog; heels of the hands are beneath the shoulders, knees are beneath the hips. From here, straighten the arms and stretch the legs out behind to bring the torso into a straight line from the ankles to the shoulders. Keep the shoulders away from the ears and the neck long. Notice the work in the torso--the abdominals do most of the work in this pose, more than the arms and legs, because they are responsible for keeping the spine long and the torso lifted. If your hips sag, or the body is bent, lower one or both knees to the floor, so that the abs are still engaged, but you can lengthen the back. Try to hold for 5 breaths and work up to 10.

One-Legged Plank: In this version, come into the Basic Plank and then lift one heel. Keep the weight balanced between both hands and stretch out thru the lifted heel. This requires even more work from the torso, so don’t try it if you need do the Basic Plank with one knee on the floor.

Tripod Plank: Make a tripod by interlocking the fingers, bending the elbows and resting the forearms on the floor with the elbows under the shoulders. Then lift the torso and straighten the legs. This version works the upper chest and triceps.

Ball Plank: If you want to take your Plank to an even more challenging level, try it on an exercise ball. Come into the Basic Plank with the legs resting on the ball, and walk your hands forwards until the lower shins and ankles are on the ball, while the shoulders are over the wrists. Notice how you have to engage the side body to keep your balance on the ball—this is in addition to the work that keeps the hips lined up with the legs.
©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blogging as a Yoga Practice

I’ve been a self-publisher from an early age. In fourth grade I put out a monthly newsletter call Brenda’s Bugle that featured such goodies as book reviews, 4-clue crossword puzzles, some cartoons cribbed from the New Yorker and a contest that my grandmother always won (I knew she wouldn’t collect the prize money—usually a dollar). There was also a two-issue modern dance “magazine” that I forced my sister to subscribe to and a fanzine some friends and I intended to start in high school, but just ended up borrowing some disks from the campus record store with the intension of reviewing them (I wrote the reviews but never got around to printing them…or returning the records).

There were legitimate ventures, as well (journalism wasn’t just a way to scam money from people). In high school I wrote for the school paper and yearbook and even majored in journalism in college, until I decided art history seemed more dignified. So when I decided to start a blog, the writing came quite naturally.

Thank God for Blogger and TypePad and all the rest. I love the potential of each blog and the ease with which one can put together information, upload images and have a nicely laid-out post available to anyone with an internet connection. I appreciate the sense of obligation a blog provides; the discipline required to keep writing when you aren’t getting paid is hard to maintain on your own, but a blog’s audience, even if just a few readers, is enough to keep you on task. It is so great to hear from people out there and know that your musings are being read and thought about (even disagreed with).

Now that I’ve been at this for almost 15 months, I’ve noticed other benefits, as well. Originally my intension was simple; I wanted to provide my students with some additional practice sequences and information. However, trying to post every five days kept me thinking about yoga in my “off hours”—what would make a nice 20 minute sequence, what would be appropriate for the weather, how was something I had recently read applicable. I had to sharpen my descriptions of poses so that I could explain Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog) with only minimal visual information. I also became more aware of how I demonstrated asana, so that my photos would be correct and useful, instead of revealing bad habits. My copy of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga became even more dog-eared, as I tripled-checked the Sanskrit spelling of poses under discussion.

In a way, this blog has become my yoga journal. Instead of writing for myself, however, I spend a lot of time thinking about how my practice and teaching can be useful and interesting to my readers. I find I get the most response to posts that are “thinky” rather than just a description of a sequence. I hope both are helpful, but it seems that people who read yoga blogs—and respond to them—are interested in the more contemplative parts of the practice. So I contemplate more that I used to and I suspect this is a good thing. It is not quite so inner-directed, but it is very simpatico with the way I like to express my feelings about yoga.

I’ve been talking about journaling lately and so I wanted to draw the act of blogging into the mix. I’m afraid my feelings about private journals are more in line with Kristin’s (see last week’s comments), but I do think the regular exercise of having to write carefully and concisely directly affects the rest of your yoga practice.

So, I’m not holding my breath until some one sends me some yoga books to review or sticky mats to try out—never the intention of this blog, despite my past history. I can’t even think of what an appropriate contest would be (sorry, Grandma). But the benefits to my personal practice and teaching have been far above and beyond what I ever expected. How’s that for a Yoga Thought! ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Witnessing the Voices

Some interesting ideas have come up lately, both from my interviews for the “Ego and Teaching” article and in my readings on Pranayama. In the last couple of posts, I’ve been talking about other yoga practices besides asana, so I’m still thinking about that, too (so have some readers, check out the comments sections to see what Stella, Kristin and Gypsy Girl have offered about their non-asana practice).

The practice of journaling keeps coming up. I’m not a big one for writing about my feelings as a private exercise, but I can see the value of it. Michael Russell, a psychotherapist in Chicago, and Johh Schumacher, an Iyengar teaching in DC, suggest yoga teachers take some time to write about each class, once it is finished, and record the emotions and situations that arose. Richard Rosen, the Pranayama author, also recommends taking a bit of time after your breathing practice to reflect on what “came up.”

All three teachers stress the need to be non-judgmental in your journaling. You don’t want to call anything good or bad; you want to try and be as impartial and observant as possible. You aren’t trying to identify your faults (or praise yourself); you are trying to discover what is going on with your emotions and how they affect your teaching and practice.

Rosen refers to this as “the Witness” and wants you to think of this Observer as a guide and partner. Russell suggests you recognize each of these feelings with the thought “that’s interesting” and see what conclusions you draw from there. Were you agitated during the practice and your mind wandered—why? What is going on outside of yoga that makes your feel that way? Were you sleepy and had to force yourself to practice? Were you really happy and able to clear your mind with very little effort? That’s interesting.

Once you get used to watching yourself think without berating yourself, it becomes much easier to draw conclusions about why you are thinking that way. I find it a huge challenge not to judge or assign value to how I think. I’m very quick to scold myself, even for just not clearing my mind while breathing. I used to joke that my Witness was really my Inner Control Freak. So this is going to be an extremely useful skill to develop, and one that is going to take me a long time to refine.

I especially look forward to using the practice with my teaching. I think we teachers can be very hard on ourselves, because of the responsibility we feel towards our students and their development. I suspect watching yourself as a teacher and seeing what thoughts come up after class could be very useful in helping us mature and gain confidence in the importance of that role. I miss my students a lot, right now, and can’t wait to get back on the mat with them.

Do you journal, whether on paper or just in your thoughts? Do you have any secrets to keeping the practice going? How has it helping you in your work and daily life—or didn’t it? How did you get started? This kind of self-observation is very important to the process of self-acceptance (and non-attachment or vairagya) and is another yoga practice that is quite different than just sweating through a series of asana. Let me know what you’ve learned! ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ego preview...

Whoa, have I been remiss. The combination of another Yoga Journal deadline looming and my 9th month low energy and resulted in a delay of blog posting. Sorry about that.

This next article—working title “Your Ego and Your Teaching”—has been extremely interesting to research. It’s a very complicated subject and paring it down to 750 words has been rough. During a conversation for an earlier article (“Enliven Your Teaching”) with Iyengar teacher Chris Saudek, she commented that you should practice detachment in your teaching; i.e. not get too emotional or involved with your own issues when dealing with students.

The idea of detachment, or vairagya, gets thrown around a lot. What my sources all emphasized was that it doesn’t mean you should disavow or disown the emotions that come up while teaching, but that you should try and understand them. You don’t want to remove your personality from the classroom, you just want to clear out the personal “stuff” (insecurities, arrogance, anger, etc.). A noble, but tricky proposition.

This all goes along with my current yoga-is-not-just-asana kick. So I have a lot more to say about expanding your yoga practice, but I need to do a bit more thinking. On Monday I'll start sharing these reflections.

Have a great weekend!