Tuesday, May 27, 2008

2 Years Old...and a week

Altho not exactly to the day, I can now celebrate the second anniversary of GTTSB! Two years of posting--almost--every week. I started the whole thing as sort of a bulletin board for my students--dissecting poses, listing practice sequences, a bit of observation. The early posts are extremely formal, as tried to find my blog "voice." I think I wanted to convery a sense of seriousness to the endeavor and not seem to casual and loosey-goosey. It mostly sounds stiff to me now (a bit of the "yoga is no laughing matter" ala YogaDawg).

Early on I set up a site meter with StatCounter and checked religiously to see if anyone was reading. I begged my sister and husband to post comments, even with pseudonyms, just so it would look like I had readers. But slowly, people started to find me--and I them. Also, the yoga blog community really started to take off in the early 2007s, so there was a lot more back-and-forth as more and more yogis began contributing to the discussion.

I love how the blog practice has affected my yoga practice. I find myself thinking actively about why a certain sequence works and how to explain it; reading the paper with an eye to subject matter that is worth commenting on; applying other bloggers' ideas to my own teaching to see how it helps students. My mind moves around the whole discipline of yoga for subject matter, rather than just concentrating on how do Trikonasana or ways to breathe.

Having an audience keeps a sense of obligation that motivates writing. I can blow off other stuff, but not my weekly post. Even if I won't get in trouble for missing a "deadline", the task weighs heavily until I can cross it off the to-do list. I encourage any friends who think about writing to start blogging; it's more public than a journal, but I think it feels more like a "real" writing gig. And certainly it has resulted in some real gigs, for me...specifically some Yoga Journal online assignments.

So, Happy Anniversary, Baby...got you on my mind!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Any idea of what I'm talking about?

I give up. I have been trying to find an article I read in the New York Times a few weeks ago and have google-d just about every combination I can think of, to no avail. Maybe some one saw it--it was about building new neural networks in the brain by training yourself to do new things. The article mentioned a Japanese practice of doing routine tasks differently every time so that you were aware of the process and not just "going thru the motions." Let me know if you recognize either this Japanese term, or the article.

Anyway, I can't post a link, but I still want to discuss the idea of creating awareness just by doing things differently. We do it all the time in yoga in subtle ways; recrossing legs, using different spacing, lifting heels, turning in toes, etc. All these little adjustments shift which muscles are working and draw your attention deeper into the body. My favorite way to "startle" students is to just have them re-cross their fingers in Hastasana (Overhead Arm Stretch), so that the other index finger is on top. It always feels massively wrong, and I always feel like I have an extra finger all of a sudden--and yet I'm simply interlacing fingers differently.

You can start to think of all sorts of ways to shake up a yoga routine...Down Dog with toes turned inward, using different mudras (check out Yoga Dogs and Chocolate for more on these hand positions) in Sukhasana, coming into standing poses differently (jumping instead of stepping the feet apart, or vice versa), doing a Sun Salute veerrryy slooowwwly or quickly, the list goes on and on.

I think the article was about how the brain will be more nimble if you force it to "think" about routine activities instead of just shuffling through them blindly. Developing muscle memory is good, but introducing new ways to stretch is also good for developing strength and flexibility. Especially if you want to keep the gray matter fresh...

Let me know if this rings any bells!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Pelvic Tip

We've been doing forward bends in class this past week. Some people love 'em, some people shudder. I've always liked forward bends, but I have pretty flexible hips and hamstrings. I always fret when I teach this class, because it can be very discouraging to those who are not so bendy below the the waist. I can see people shutting down when I announce the day's theme...

At that point, I guess, it becomes a class about a lot more than just lengthening the backs of the legs. It's hard to see a more flexible student bend completely in half and not be a bit envious. But, it's also a good reminder that a yoga practice is about your own body and its capabilities...not how it compares to somebody else's.

I started with a quick explanation and demo about the importance of concentrating on the pelvis. In forward bends the stretch comes from tipping the pelvis forwards and stretching the back of the legs by increasing the distance from sit bones to heels. Rounding the spine and hunching the shoulders gets the chest and face closer to the legs, but doesn't stretch the hamstrings and calves. Depending on the student's determination to get the face to the knees, it can be dangerous, because forcing the chest forwards like that is to compensate for the lack of flexiblity around the pelvis. It might look like a deeper stretch, but it isn't.

So, I encouraged everyone to realize that a deep stretch could be had just by a subtle folding at the hip crease ("lead with the belly button"). By keeping the spine long and the chest lifted, the fold happens at the hinge of the hip joint--where the stretch should be originating, instead of collapsing the upper body. It seemed to resonate with everyone, and I saw less hunching. By holding the fold for awhile and breathing deeply into the lower back and hips, I could see students "getting" the work of the poses and keeping their awareness in their own bodies.

What's your tip for forward bends?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Firsts and Re-firsts

The baby had his first swim class this morning. He is a Shrimp. Jim and I bounced him in the rather chilly pool at the YMCA and sang the old favorites from Eamonn's swim class: The Wheels on the Bus, the Goodmorning Song, etc etc. He was a good sport, altho he was a bit startled when he got splashed during some unfamiliar raindrop song. His chunky feet and hands were clenched tight, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

One of the best things about having kids is getting to do everything for the first time, over again. I certainly don't remember my first time in a swimming pool, but I love to swim so it was probably a good experience. Nor do I remember my first bite of apple sauce or crawl across the dewy grass or feeling of sandy toes...but I get to see what it might have been like. Having been through all of this already with the three-year-old, I kind of have a head's up with Alec and can really watch how he responds. Most of the time he is delighted, altho the sand was not a big hit...which I suppose is understandable if you have soft, uncalloused little feet.

So I got thinking about my first yoga class. I still can't remember why I decided to sign up for a class at the University of Pennsylvania, during my first semester of grad school in Art History. This would have been fall, 1989 and yoga was not on my radar screen at all, aside from watching the "Lilias, Yoga and You" show that was on PBS in the 70s a few times. The teacher was Joan White, a long time Iyengar practitioner. I really liked the solemnity and rigor of her teaching; I was also pretty flexible, so a lot of it came easily--at least the asana part. Aside from the Oms at the beginning, there wasn't any chanting or heavy breathing or anything scary for this recent arrival from the Midwest.

I didn't have time--or money--after that first semester, but much of that early session stuck with me, and I incorporated what I could remember into my own practice until I started attending regular classes in Washington DC. I would love to go back to those first days and watch the young me practice and try and figure out what was going on. I just remember everything resonating and being really excited about each meeting. So funny to imagine what I would have thought if you would have told me how much a part of my life this exercise would become...

So pay attention to the new stuff in your life, because you never know where it will lead...(first rinse the sand off, please).