January 16, 2008

Recommended Reading

I am often asked for recomendations of books to further ones Yoga journey. Here are some books that I think are wonderful.

1) Living your Yoga by Judith Lasater
2)Yoga-The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffman
3)Start Where You Are-A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron
4)Yogi Bare-Naked Truth from America's Leading Yoga Teachers by Philip Self

Happy Reading!

Yoga Etiquette

Here are some reminders to help you and your classmates get the most out of your yoga classes.

1) Before entering into a yoga classroom, please remove your shoes. It is a sign of respect for the practice as well as a symbol of transitioning from your daily life to your practice.

2) Try not to eat for two hours before a yoga class, and if possible, for one hour after class. Food in the stomach makes some of the poses uncomfortable, and can actually create digestive and circulatory problems. Food and drink also dampen the internal fire or “agni” that is an important aspect of the practice. Never bring food or drink into the classroom. If you feel you must drink during the class, please be discreet and use water only.

3) Try to arrive five to ten minutes early for the class. This will give you time to sign in, get situated, and calm and clear the mind. It will help you let go of the days events and bring yourself into the present moment. Try to use the time for this purpose. Out of respect for the practice and the fellow yogis, anyone arriving more than five minutes late will not be allowed to join class.

4) Do not leave class early. It is quite disruptive to the class as well as unsettling for your body and mind. The Savasana at the end of class is extremely important. It helps to calm the mind and connect the preceding asanas to the spirit. Schedule your time appropriately so that you can enjoy the whole experience rather than having to rush in or rush out.

5) Yoga is a journey within to stillness...so please be sure to turn off all outside disturbances such as cell phones, pagers, watch alarms and any other external distractions.

6) Make sure to let your instructor know if you have any conditions that may affect your practice such as injury, emotional disturbances or pregnancy. And be sure to always work within your comfort level.

7) Avoid wearing strong scented products. Yoga increases our awareness of all the senses and perfumes or other strong scents may be disturbing for others.

8) If you have any questions about the practice please ask me! I want each and every one of you to get the very most out of your yoga practice. Communication is a key aspect of the learning process.

9) Consider beginning a “sadana” or daily personal practice. Whether you take class everyday or practice at home, yoga was meant to be a daily practice. It is hard to maintain the physical, emotional and spiritual gains of the practice by only taking one class a week. You needn’t do a whole hour each day, but see if you can commit to at least a few poses everyday and a moment of meditation. You will be glad you did.

Reach within your spirit, and execute yama and niyama, two of the basic principles of yoga –---codes of respect and restraint for yourself and respect for others-----


Keeping a Clear Head

Winter is often the season of colds and flu. Besides the obvious recommendations of washing our hands regularly, eating well and getting plenty of sleep, there are some yoga techniques that help to stave off the possibility of catching these conditions. First and foremost, a regular yoga practice (3-5 times a week) is already going a long way to boost your immune system and strengthen your respiratory system. So you are already ahead of the curve if you are a regular practitioner. In addition there are some specific poses that help to support the immune system by stimulating toxin release. These include twisting poses such as Pavritta Trikonasana (revolved triangle), Marichyasana II (one legged seated twist), and extending poses such as Adho Mukha Svasana (downward facing dog), and Bhujangasana (cobra).

If you do get stricken with a cold it is best to practice poses that help the body heal. These can include Balasana (child pose), Adho Mukha Svasana (downward dog) which help keep the mucus out of the lungs, and Ustrasana (camel pose) to help open the lungs and sinuses. Easy restorative poses also help the body to heal by reducing the stress hormones. These include Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose) and Supta Savasana (supported corpse pose).

It is also helpful to practice specific Pranayama techniques. To help keep the sinuses and bronchial airways clear, a short daily practice of Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) is very helpful. Also Sectional Breathing (1/3 into belly, 1/3 into ribs ,and 1/3 into chest) helps build lung resistance to cold symptoms.

If you are familiar with nasal cleansing, this too can be an enormous boost to keeping the sinuses and head clear. An ancient Ayurvedic technique (the sister science to yoga), nasal cleansing incorporates what is commonly called a Netti Pot. It is a small pot that has a long spout that is directly inserted into one nostril. A saline solution is then run through one nostril and pours out the other. The procedure is then repeated on the other side. It is greatly effective, although it takes awhile to get used to. Recent findings from a Penn State University study involving 294 college students support this. Those who irrigated daily with saline experienced a significant reduction in colds.

The flu carries a slightly different set of circumstances because usually there is a fever. It is best not to practice yoga with a fever as it increases body heat. However, there is one pranayama technique that is recommended to reduce fever. Sitting in Sukhasana (easy pose) breathe slowly and deeply with tongue extended and curled like a U. Inhale through the tongue and exhale through the nose. This is a cooling breath called Sitali Pranayama. Practice for 1-3 minutes.

Remember that no matter how hard we try, sometimes even the healthiest of us get caught by the cold or flu bug. Should it happen to you, listen to the voice of your body and let yourself heal. Resist the temptation to keep going at the rapid pace you are used to. It is probably that pace that lowered your immune system in the first place. According to William Mitchell, N.D., a Seattle-based practitioner who teaches advanced naturopathic therapeutics at Bastyr University, studies show that many viruses and bacteria quietly reside within us until something within the body's internal environment becomes unbalanced. Then they rally into action and attack. So your best defense is to remember to pace yourself, take nutritional care of yourself, and do your yoga!


My Path To Yoga - By Janet Mullet

Eight years ago, I spent an evening complaining of chronic neck pain, bad posture and general lumpiness, lamenting a dissatisfaction and rootlessness in my life. My friend responded by inviting me to join her for yoga. It was a small class in the attic of a church, and from the first sun salutation I knew I’d found something special. The combination of physical exertion, mindfulness, and respect for individuality drew me in. My commitment was erratic – I’d go each week for a couple months, then skip several weeks as life got busy, pick it up again, and then lapse – and still, yoga made me feel better. When we bought our first house, I stopped going for almost six months. To my surprise, I found that I really missed it, that I had started to develop an awareness of my body and to appreciate the increased mental clarity. I discovered Tracy’s classes at this point, and dedicated myself to the mat with renewed vigor.

I’ve now been practicing with Tracy for four & a half years, starting with one class a week, then twice per week, and adding a daily home practice about two years ago. Each increase in frequency has made a huge difference – being able to repeat an exercise from class at home, experiment with balance or rotation or extension, makes all the difference in the intellectual and instinctive understanding of each pose. Over time, my home practice has become a living thing, as I learn more about asanas and their effects on body and mind. I’ve discovered how to tailor my practice to my mood, level of energy, particular injuries or discomforts. Mantras heard first in class have become old friends, repeating “I breathe in compassion, I breathe out and release fear” as I work through difficult poses – or difficult times. I’ve learned to be comfortable in my skin, both with greater physical grace and deeper compassion. I am calmer, more patient (though that’ll never be one of my strengths!), and more generous. My sense of place in the world, in ‘the family of things’ is stronger than ever, and I am learning every day to be present in the moment. This summer, I spent a weekend at Kripalu, a yoga center in western Massachusetts, and was amazed by the ease of joining their practice, by how well Tracy had prepared me to be open to new ways of thinking, and by the strong sense of belonging to the world that was physically present in my chest.

The poses still aren’t easy – I discover something new in every class – and I struggle along with my fellow yogis to improve, breathe, and deepen. I am determined to be able to stay in a lunge endlessly, to develop a handstand away from the wall, to release all judgment about my body and my life. Each class inspires me, challenges me, and grounds me, providing new possibilities for my home practice, which reinforces our collective work and builds strength as nothing but repetition can.

The community I’ve found in class is warm and welcoming, and I enjoy sharing our journey as much as I value my personal growth. The gentle support of peers provides a strong platform on which to stand. Tracy’s leadership is invaluable, setting the tone for everyone who participates – and she has an uncanny way of targeting my particular issues each time, so that I feel as if she’s speaking directly and only to me as she guides our fluid and challenging classes, though I think all of us probably feel that way.

Discovering that yoga is a journey, mind and body together, has enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined those eight years ago, and I believe that I’m still only at the beginning of this path.