Friday, February 29, 2008

Reconsidering the Wrists

I was cruising around to various yoga blogs this evening, looking for inspiration for this week's post. I'm trying to visit everyone regularly (new Xmas laptop does wonders for the screen time) and see what's going on. There's so much out there these days; it's exciting to see how each blog deals with the subject differently. Namaste from Duluth had an extensive discussion of Down Dog, that got me thinking about one of my favorite instructions for that pose.

I thought I had talked about this before in an earlier post on wrists, but after a leisurely scroll down memory lane, I realized I hadn't. My teacher used to instruct us to place our hands so that the wrist crease was parallel to the top edge of the mat to prevent the elbows from hyper-extending. I never realized why that helped until I did the reading for that earlier post. By lining the wrists up, you "square" the insertions of the radius and ulna of the lower arm. When they are crossed (elbow creases thrust forward) the elbows lock and you end up holding the pose by resting the bones against each other, instead of using the muscles of the chest. Sort of the same logic behind engaging the thigh muscles in Trikonasa or Virabhadrasana II so that the knees don't lock and make the pose rigid.

Give it a try for either Urdhva or Adho Mukha Svanasana, various arm balances or Plank. It is much harder to hold these poses when the bones are un-locked; therefore strengthening the pectorals and biceps (which is gentler on the wrists).

I think my students often wonder why so much time is spent arranging the hands and arms for Dog. But once they are up, they notice the difference in the work of the torso (I hope) and it gives them a focus for the arms. I've also been sliding a rolled blanket under their heels if they are quite far off the floor to give them some support so they can lengthen behind the knees...but that is a discussion for another post.

P.S. I highly advise a glance at old posts. Like flipping thru a photo album, it's fun to reminisce about what inspired a certain article or what you were thinking when you had to rant (or rave). I wrote my 100th post a few weeks ago and forgot to commemorate it...looking back is an acknowledgement of all that work. Whew.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Some more Excellence

Oh yeah, I still have to finish my E for Excellence list. Here it is:

Yoga Like Salt
Yoga Dogs and Chocolate
Everyday Yogini

E for Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Yoga of Motherhood

When I was pregnant I thought a lot about yoga beyond asana, especially in the final trimester when my practice was mostly Baddha Konasana and pranayama. Frankly, asana is the easy part. Once you start to realize the opportunities for greater awareness and appreciation in the activities of your every day life (Yoga of Teaching, Yoga of Blogging, etc), you realize almost everything can become a practice if you decide to be engaged and respectful. It certainly makes everything count (see Jon Kabat-Zinn's practice of Mindfulness).

I have two sons, 3 1/2 years and 6 months old. They are the loves of my life (after their dad) and--I'll tell ya--the hardest yoga exercise I've ever done. There is so much about motherhood that you have to practice vairagya (non-attachment) with, but one of the biggest things you have to let go of is your feelings about time. Everything is going too fast or not going fast enough.

The baby is about to retire his car seat-basket and move into an upright chair--no more grocery shopping or going out for lunch while he sleeps. And he just had his first bite of sweet potato tonite. So I get excited to see him turn into a little kid and sit up straight and use a spoon. But I get wistful when I clean off the old car seat and get ready to put it away forever or imagine the day when breast milk is no longer his main source of nutrition. I can't wait until he sleeps through the nite (oh Lord, I can't wait), but I love letting him nap in my lap.

I felt much the same way with his older brother, although I was pretty sure I would get a second chance to celebrate all these developmental milestones with kid #2.

So I try to enjoy the process as it unfolds and not wish away any of difficult parts of their childhood. Or mourn the passing of the sweet babyish habits that fade with each new month. It is very hard and challenging but, as I've been saying, I'm not dead yet so I must be stronger.

In retrospect, Side-Plank, never seemed easier.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Russian Ballet Teacher

A few posts ago, jensmith98, asked for some thoughts about teaching a non-prenatal class while pregnant. Well, I have some thoughts so I'm gonna share them...

I taught through most of both pregnancies (stopping at the beginning of the 7th month for Eamonn, at the end of the 8th month for Alec). Because I teach an Iyengar-inspired style, it wasn't too hard to lead the class, with some minor modifications to lying-down poses to avoid pressure on the inferior vena cava (the large vein that carries de-oxygenated blood from the lower body--i.e.uterus--to the heart) To modify these, I used a bolster for Supta Padangusthasana (Hand-to-Big-Toe), Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle), and Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall), so I was reclined at about a 30-degree angle. I usually just led the final relaxation verbally, while seated, altho a few times I did recline on my left side with supports.

I avoided most inversions and all backbends and front-lying poses. I did Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog) pretty late into the pregnancy, altho after awhile it just didn't feel very good, so I did a Half Dog, with my hands on a chair or countertop (which felt great to shift the weight off my lower abdominals and lower back).
As I got bigger, I stopped doing demos and had more experienced students show the correct form. It also allowed me to show adjustments on them, so that the rest of the class could see better positioning for the pose. By the eighth month I stopped waddling around the classroom and did most of my adjustments verbally. I joked that I was going to teach like a old Russian ballet teacher--seated in a chair at the front of the room, tapping students with my cane when they were in the wrong position.

Most of all, I tried to be respectful of what my body was telling me as far as what I could and couldn't do. A lot of poses felt just fine, other stuff just felt weird. I felt a little silly parking in a chair at the front of the room part of the time, but it took so much effort to get on and off the floor that it was easier to do my perambulations from a seat. I hope I was a good example to my students as far as recognizing my limitations and working with them, rather than pretending they didn't exist (impossible to do when you are big as a house, I might add).

My own practice became much less physical towards the end, but I think the time I spent in Supta Baddha Konasana focusing on my breath really helped when it came time for labor and delivery (I only had to push for about 7 min.s, when Alec was born); I could really focus and stay calm despite the pain and how weird the whole process is.I was lucky in that both pregnancies were very low-maintenance, so I could keep up with my yoga. I'm glad I was able to stay involved with my classes and students for so long, because I think it kept me from focusing too much on the discomfort of the third trimester. Once I got used to my bulk (sort of), it was kind of fun to be the representative Pregnant Yogi.

So, it worked for me and I don't think my students minded the change in teaching style. At least my classes stayed the same size and everyone came back after my maternity leave. My message to jensmith98 is: teach for as long as you can, find the ability to laugh at your limitations and enjoy the attention. I loved teaching pregnant and I think the lesson of listening to your body is good for all of us, not just the mommies.

Those of you that taught during your you have anything to add, suggest?

Friday, February 08, 2008

E is for Excellent

Yoga Mama has sent out a challenge of your top 10 favorite blogs, and they--in turn--have to name theirs. Sort of a blogo-chain letter. I have been meaning to acknowledge a number of blogs that I like and bloggers who have made some interesting comments on GTTSB, so here's my opportunity. Here's my list so far,in no particular order...I have two more to go, but I also have to hit they hay if I want to get any sleep before the first feed of the nite. Ah, the baby trumps yoga (and blogging) as usual...
-Just Breathe
-Yoga and Cupcakes
-Yoga Dawg

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Woman's Intuition

So, the research continues. I had a really interesting conversation with Judith Lasater on Wednesday for this prenatal yoga series I'm writing. She has always been one of my yoga heroes--physical therapist, religion Ph.D, smart, sensible, good writer--so I was excited about the prospect of our conversation. Unfortunately, I was a bit tongue-tied, as well. I had come up with a few prenatal questions (appropriate poses for which trimester, etc), but, as we talked, I realized they were woefully basic and didn't take advantage of her expertise.

Luckily, Judith didn't let the interview peter out and offered her own approach to the subject. Of the many things we talked about (the yogic tradition and its lack of prenatal tradition, learning to relax, learning to teach relaxing), one of my favorite was acknowledging one's intution and learning to trust it. What a simple but complex idea!

How do you teach some one to trust the work that their body is doing and that it will provide you (your mind?) and the baby with the support it needs when the time comes? How do you teach some one to relinquish control, while allowing her body to do the heavy lifting? Judith talked about letting students acknowledge their feelings while in a pose ("If you like it, stay longer. If it is uncomfortable, come out of it.") and letting them take charge of their own practice. It seems like a subject that needs its whole own article.

I'm also reading Gurmukh's Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful book (I'm hoping to interview her, too), and this is a theme she comes back to over and over again, as well. It reminds me of my discussions about non-attachment (vairagya) for the Ego article this summer. Intriguing, crucial and very, very difficult to teach (and practice!).

So, tell me. How do you teach some one to trust herself and the power her body has. How do you teach yourself? It's definitely something I need to work on. I suppose it there's any practice that teaches you not to cling to things that don't matter, it's motherhood (my floors are mighty gritty these days)!