Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yoga and The Belly

Apparently, more than any other topic, the most popular questions on Yoga Journal's newsletter for teachers ("My Yoga Mentor") is how to deal with pregnant students in yoga class. So, my next series of articles for them will discuss how to make class as safe and useful as possible for pregnant yoginis. This is not to be a replacement for specific study of prenatal yoga, but more an introduction into key concerns and essential modifications.

On the one hand, it seems pretty basic--one article per trimester, describe useful poses, warn about contraindicated poses--but it also is kind of overwhelming. Where to start? Having just finished my second pregnancy (and having taught the whole way through), I feel pretty in tune to the limitations of the pregnant body. But, I have no idea what it feels like to wander into your first yoga class, 7 months pregnant, where everyone else is regulars and not pregnant. I feel like these are the students that the article should address, but--man--it seems like there are a lot of issues to cover. Any thoughts?

It is interesting how the practice shifts from asana to pranayama and meditation--at least it did for me. I'm going to interview the obstetric nurse who helped deliver both my sons and is now, coincidentally, one of my students. I'm really interested to hear what a professional thinks are the most useful elements of yoga for labor and delivery. Obviously breath and focus are important, but I suspect there is more.

So, I'm headed into the research part of the process and thought I would post my initial ideas to see what y'all think. So many of you are teachers and/or mothers with yoga experience, I'm sure you can give me some suggestions of what to consider (remember, I only have 750 words per article). I look forward to hearing from you!

(Boy, looking back at that picture from June...I gotta say, I do not miss those maternity fashions, that's for sure!)

Monday, January 14, 2008


Jane Brody had an interesting article in last week's NYT Science section on balance (Preserving a Fundamental Sense: Balance). It was mostly about what determines your sense of balace and some exercises to improve it(nothing about yoga, tho, hmph). She writes that there are three main sensory contributors to balance: vision, cilia in the inner ear, and proprioceptors on the bottom of the feet. These decline with age, but there are ways to maintain these elements through various balancing exercises.
I was intrigued by proprioceptors, since I had never heard of such of thing. According to Wikipedia it is "is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other." Nerve receptors in the muscles send information to the brain so that it understands where the body is located in space without using visual information. This is how you can walk in the dark without falling over or, with a little practice, touch the tip of your nose with your index finger while your eyes are closed. Or type without looking at your fingers, or drive without seeing your feet on the pedals. Important stuff.

Like most motor skills, it is one that can be learned. So I thought I'd post a little exercise to bring awareness into the soles of the feet. Where you go from there is up to you...Vrksasana (Tree Pose), Garudasana (Eagle), Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Standing Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). If you really want to challenge yourself, try them with your eyes closed!

Grounding Thru the Foot Bones
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Lift all your toes at once, and feel the rest of the foot settle into your mat. Now lower just the big toes. Now lift the big toes and just lower the little toes. Now lower the big toes, but keep all the toes in between lifted. Is this easy or hard? You can help yourself a bit, by mimicking the actions of the toes with the fingers (I don't know why this helps, but it does). Now lower all toes, so that each one has its own space to settle and notice how much more solid your stance is.
I like to start all my standing poses with this exercise, just to get the feet grounded, but also to help make my toes more coordinated. I even try to drum my toes, little to big toe--one at a time--in imitation of my son. I notice my 3 1/2 year old has so much mobility in his toes, he could play the piano! I'm not looking to add more digits on the keyboard, but I suspect that drummable toes equals well-tuned proprioceptors.

Ankle and leg strength also play an important part in your ability to balance. But the sole of the foot is the starting point. Give it a try and see!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Still herding...

Happy New Year, all! I hope you rang it in with a group of dear ones. We hit the hay about 9:45pm and I noted the transition when I was up again to feed the babe at midnight. Ah the glamorous festivities of early motherhood. Altho, I can say I rang it in with my nearest and dearest...(champagne glass half full).

I hope you've had a chance to look at all the comments about the last post (Herding Cats), there are some really thoughtful responses. I'm still thinking about the subject--not obsessing, mind you--and I've had a couple of ideas. How about a general test that would be taken after you'd finished your training, wherever you studied--like the accounting or bar exam. It would cover general yoga knowlegde--maybe the same categories as the YA certification--and ought to include some sort of demonstration of your teaching abilities (adjustments, modification, general classroom manner, etc) that would be evaluated by a senior teacher. Instead of placing emphasis on where you studied, it would measure what you actually know and can teach.

This could be the basic Hatha test...if students wanted to continue on to a more advanced study of Iyengar, Ashtanga, Kripalu, etc., that could be an additional credential to the basic test. By creating a measurement that would assess everyone's skills evenly, I think it would more fairly identify who should be teaching and who shouldn't. And, I suppose, you wouldn't have to take the test to teach, but any organization that wanted to be assured of your expertise could require it.

It's a huge undertaking, of course. What would be on the test? Who would score it? What would be the criteria for assessing the teaching demonstration? Where would it happen? How often? What is required for a passing "grade"? etc. etc. On the other hand, maybe there needs to be something this standardized to help level the playing field of all the different trainings. Instead of trying to cobble together something from lots of disparate sources, you could just say you passed the Hatha test with flying colors.

I, for one, would be relieved to have something that measured my yoga knowledge and my ability to present it effectively. Assuming I would pass the test, of course...

Chew on that one for awhile, and let me know what you think!