To Prop or not to Prop

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Hi so watch the really short video, by a damn good teacher and then read my take on it and then leave me a comment……

https://www.facebook.com/taylorhuntayc/videos

Ok, so for the most part I like this guy. He’s an awesome yoga teacher, in that he actually teaches not just shouts out poses and expects the student to do them……But…. then he does this video and now I’m disappointed……

Jeezzee….I thought we were past this….the yoga shaming……the ‘oh, do you have to use a prop? Well it’s too bad you can’t do real yoga, bless your heart’  crap……(So I added the “bless your heart” but I live in the south) .

I get where he’s coming from and for the most part I agree, the postures are not the practice, they are one part and only one part of a rich, complex spiritual practice. But no single style of practice (western practice anyway) has done more to exclude most people than Ashtanga. Maybe not deliberately, but by only showing only the fancy postures (thank you Instagram & every yoga magazine…ever…) like crane and forearm balances…the jump back, pike into a handstand and float through to titibasana stuff, you know the yoga fluff. That kind of power practice has disenfranchised a lot of people. You rarely see an Ashtanga yogi in Instagram, just doing pranayama……

And the average person sees that and of course they think they can’t do it. And so they never….ever… get on a mat. They don’t try because they aren’t shown the years of work someone did to get ‘there’. (wherever the hell ‘there’ is )

Please know and understand I started my practice many years ago with Ashtanga and I deeply respect Pattabhi Jois and all he did to bring yoga out of the shadows. But as I grew as a teacher and as a student I knew that some (most) students, myself included, needed a different practice and so I was drawn to Iyengar yoga by its precision, by its application and use of props thereby allowing all to practice…..everyone. Iyengar didn’t use props because he wanted perfection in the pose; he used props to give everyone a means by which to practice. Without blocks, blankets, chair and other props most people would never be able to practice yoga….to live yoga.

And I do understand what he’s saying, that maybe using props can take away your learning something from the pose, from taking the pose deeper, that it takes away from you exploring the practice of yoga asana. And I personally don’t use a lot of props but I also don’t do 3rd series, hell I don’t do most of 2nd series anymore. But when I do I use props they don’t limit my practice…If my practice is limited (and it does get that way sometimes) then it’s ME that is the problem not the blocks, blankets or wall. My practice is eclectic, very eclectic. Somedays it’s Iyengar, and I work on specific poses and the alignment and other days it’s very Ashtanga, lots of Sun Salutations and movement. Most days, if I’m being honest it’s a mix, a blend of both. I think, those styles play very well together. And why shouldn’t they, they have the same ancestry. Krishnamacharya. Both Jois and Iyengar studied under the great yoga master Krishnamacharya.

Most people come to Ashtanga in their 20’s or 30’s and their bodies can adapt to the changes quickly, more quickly than say someone who begins practicing yoga in their 50’s. So what’s a middle aged person with no upper body strength or no core understanding let alone strength, supposed to do? Suffer? Push through the pain of the practice and hope they don’t get hurt in the process? Come on!?

He’s also saying that if you do use props that your practice isn’t meditative. Tell that to everyone whose yoga practice includes restorative yoga, a practice that heavily relies on props, and is deeply meditative. And if the practice is just meditative then why do the postures at all. You could just sit in sukhasana and breath. That’s yoga, that’s meditation.

What he is stating is that he assumes that everyone  using props are doing so because they want to somehow deepen just the physical aspects of the pose. To open hips (to use his example). Nothing could be farther from the truth. Props just help to bring the pose to where you are, in that moment. And if you do want to deepen the pose, so what?

Props help you get into a pose and help you get the pose into the body, so that you can be strong, steady and stress free while practicing. Ahem, Patanjali states in the yoga sutra 2.46 that yoga asana should be sthira sukham asanam – that asana should be Steady and Comfortable.

Yes of course yoga is an internal practice. No one is saying it’s not. But does NOT using props make you more spiritual? More enlightened?…. Yea, I didn’t think so.

Look if using a prop allows you to practice yoga without struggling (Sukha) and gives you a sense of steadiness in the pose (Stirha) then use those tools. A block is a tool, just like the breath, bandhas and dristi are tools.

And come on, all asana practice should be meditative, whether it be Astanga, Iyengar, Kundalini or any other yoga practice, it should be meditative and there should be a strong focus on the breath work as well.  And lets not forget there are 7 other limbs of yoga we should be studying along with Asana.

I have seen how yoga can transform someone’s life and I have lived that transformation as well. Just remember that whatever you practice, it’s your practice. Use props….don’t use props….I do not care. It’s about your choice, but don’t let someone’s idea of yoga, their dogma, take that choice from you. As long as you are on your mat, as long as you are giving all you have to your time on the mat and as long as you are always exploring why you’re on the mat, exploring the breath and the intention, that’s what I care about. Because then you can begin to take yoga off the mat…..and taking yoga off the mat and into your life, well, that’s where the big changes can happen.

Yoga is a practice of exploring who we are, where we are going and how we choose to get there. It is a practice of the breath, the heart, the mind, the body and ultimately the spirit.

Use whatever tools you need to strengthen your body, relax your mind and enrich your spirit so that you can transform your life.

Om Shanti

 

Cheryl

Are Private Clients needy?

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I have a private client that was attending an event downtown recently and she was seated at a table with a local yoga teacher. During their conversation my client mentioned she did yoga but had a private teacher. The person she was talking to said she did not take private clients because private clients were ‘just too needy’……. Hummmm well my knee jerk reaction is “what a jerk!” but that’s not very Yogi like is it. So I thought about it for a minute and I know that each of us has our talents and the gifts we were born with. And I’ guessing that her gift is something other than working with private clients. It does take a specific skill set to be successful at working one on one.

But I think it’s her perception of private clients as being needy that I took the most exception too. It is way off base……They aren’t needy but they are in need. They need the specialized training that a private yoga teacher has. If you had a heart problem you wouldn’t go to a General Practice Doctor you’d go to a Cardiologist. If you need help with your teeth you see a dentist. If you are training for an Iron Man event you don’t go to your local gym and hire just any Trainer you hire someone who specializes in coaching athletes.

And the people who go to a dentist, cardiologist or hire a coach aren’t considered needy. But they do have a need.

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And just as not all yoga teachers are gifted as private teachers, private yoga isn’t for every student. Most of you will never have that ‘need’. But don’t assume that because someone is hiring a private yoga teacher that they are needy and just want a lot of attention. All of my clients have very specific needs, such as pain reduction, mobility issues, illness or injury recovery to getting ready for a marathon or Iron Man (and many others). But whatever your reason it should be looked at as part of your self-care regime. Just like getting a massage, seeing a chiropractor or having your teeth cleaned it’s all part of what you do to keep yourself health and well.

You keep doing what you need to do to be healthy and well!

 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

Still a beginner after all these years

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Really, if you think about it, all Yoga is ‘Yoga 101’ or beginner’s yoga, because your practice is always changing, always adjusting to who you are right now. My yoga has changed so much over the years, as my knowledge of yoga expanded so did my practice and yet if you look at my  physical practice now compared to 10 or 15 years ago it almost looks like I’m going backwards, When in fact I am still expanding.

I took my first yoga class in 1976, yep I’m that old. Did you know there were no yoga mats back then? Seriously! And no fancy yoga clothes either. How ever did we do it! There weren’t yoga studios, at least not around here, there wasnt anywhere to learn yoga from a teacher in person, so the book-worm that I am I got books and learned a bit about yoga that way and my practice didn’t look anything like yoga does today, it wasn’t a vinyasa or flowy practice. And my practice now doesn’t look anything like what it did 15 years ago. 15 years ago it was still mostly a physical practice without as much understanding of the deeper meaning of the 8 limbs of yoga. 15 years ago I had heard of the sutras but hadn’t read them, 15 years ago I could still do a full wheel, 15 years ago I didn’t really have a meditation practice, 15 years ago I vinyasa-ed till I couldn’t breath (an oxymoron?…. perhaps), 15 years ago, I didn’t know what restorative yoga was, now I have a deep appreciation of a true restorative practice, I believe in its power to heal. 15 years ago I started studying more about yoga and began teaching. Over the last 15 years I’ve learned that yoga isn’t just meditation, that yoga isn’t speaking in Sanskrit, that yoga isn’t about tying your body in knots, yoga isn’t about performing gymnastic type poses and movements, yoga isn’t about eating vegan and never drinking alcohol. So I’ve spent the last 15 years learning what yoga isn’t……So what is yoga? Yoga is what you need when you need it; it is also the deep understanding of what that might be. Yoga helps you discover the layers of who you are and what you can be. Today, 15 years later, my practice is slower, much more spiritual, I no longer do full wheel and I meditate on a regular basis. Today, I have a deeper understanding of why I stuck with yoga beyond just the asana practice. Today I am aware of how little I really know and so I continue to read, to study and to learn. And today I appreciate how much I have to learn and look forward to it. Every day I am a beginner.

Oh and 15 years ago there was no Facebook or Instagram. Hell I didn’t even have a cell phone then. I KNOW RIGHT, CRAZY.

~c

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Sunday Haiku Feb 8 2015

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New friends and old ways

Learn and grow always changing

me, a blessed teacher

 

I taught the Sunday installment of the Yoga Teacher Training this weekend. We talked all things yogi…Kundalini, Chakras, Pranayama…you know Life.

I am beyond blessed.

There is talk that being an old  crone is a bad thing, I don’t think so. I have reached a place in my life where I am so comfortable in my skin that I no longer worry about the skin of others. I am also comfortable with knowing shit and being able to share that shit. It truly is amazing to watch others grow. I stand on the shoulders of so many great teachers, in Kundalini it is know as the Golden Chain. I am happy to be part of that chain and to be able to continue my growth by participating in the expansion of others.

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picnic lunch, fun times:) pic with our teacher, mentor,

and friend.. 

Om Shanti!    Cyndi, Cindy, Leighanne, Tulsi, Mark, Frances, Rachelle, Amy, Tamra

Cheryl

5 Poses to Do Every Day

Sthira Sukham Asanam     Patanjali  Yoga Sutra 2.46  

5 Poses to do Every Day!

Oh come on, it wont take you that long.
I know it’s hard to schedule 90 minutes in your day for a yoga class, trust me I know! But we all have 10 minutes for a few yogic things to do at home and remember your home practice doesn’t have to be a complicated 90 min Hot class.

Just roll out your mat & spend a few minute’s in each pose listed, focus on your breathing, on being comfortable in the pose & remember try to feel a sense of freedom in the pose. Don’t get caught up in how it looks, but instead bring your awareness to how it feels. The important thing is to move and articulate the spine in all directions allowing for energy movement and to help with back pain & stiffness. Remember our teaching of Sthira (stability) & Sukha (ease, freedom). Take time in each pose to notice where is the balance between being grounded and stable (Sthira) and being free, physically and mentally?

1st pose is Mountain (Tadasana) –Mountain pose is about taking the time to ‘come to your mat’, in the physical sense as well as a mental & emotional sense. Stand in Mountain pose and turn your attention in. Start to make a connection with your breath and just focus on the quality of your breathing. Tadasana is about rooting and grounding your practice with your intention for coming to the mat. This is the time to reflect on your body (how do you feel, how much energy do you have & what does your body need). Draw energy up from the ground into your feet (Sthira), feel that relaxed energy filling your core body (Sukha). Take 5 breaths.

2nd Pose Forward Fold – Forward Fold from an anatomical perspective is about folding from the hips, stretching your hamstrings and lengthening your low back. It’s always a good thing to relax your back body, but your mind and emotions benefit too. A forward Fold relaxes the mind, soothes the central nervous system and calms the senses. While in your Forward Fold look for the Sukha & the Sthira. Where do you find stability and freedom?

3rd is modified crescent lunge – Why modified instead of full crescent lunge? Because most of us will be doing this sequence either first thing in the morning or right after we get home from work, so we are dealing with cold, tight hip flexors. Although if you want to do the full version all the same principles apply. Raise your arms only after you have drawn up the front body, being careful not to thrust the ribs forward, but rolling the body up one vertebra at a time. Play with shifting the Sthira between the Left foot in front and the Right knee behind, find a balance between those 2 points of contact with the mat. The Sukha in the pose might be in maintaining a calm easiness in the arms overhead, so relax those shoulders. Repeat on the other side.

4th is Twists seated or supine – If you aren’t comfortable (sukha) in seated twists please lay on your back for supine twists. Sitting in Sukhasana (simple crossed legged position) Inhale drawing the arms over head lengthening the body then rotate to the right and bring the arms down. Stay for 5 breaths and come to the center and repeat on the other side. It really is that simple. If laying on your back, draw your knees over your body on the inhale then exhale as you lower them to the right, keeping the left shoulder on the mat. Then repeat on the other side.

5 is Sphinx or Cobra  – Spinal extension (back bend) is an important thing to do every day. Most of us are desk jockeys or at least we sit a lot, so it is necessary to length out the front body. Maybe start with baby cobra and move with your breath. Inhale as you lift up (Sukha) and exhale as you lower down. Keep the hips, legs and feet connected to the mat (Sthira).

6 is savasana –  Yep, Savasana. Taking the time for stillness, even just a few minutes, each day is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Corpse pose requires a stillness of mind as well as your body. It gives your body a chance to return to normal, helping you to reap the benefits of your practice. Corpse pose is the bridge between your practice time and the rest of your life. Take the time to cross that bridge and take the calm, restorative, energetic properties of your practice into the rest of your life.

 

Om Shanti

~C

A journey through the Bandhas…..First stop Uddiyana

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We talk a lot about Bandhas in yoga so let’s explore them in more detail.
There are 5 major bandhas in the body and this is my definition of The Bandhas “the bandhas are subtle and refined uses of muscular awareness to promote strength in the physical body (think Uddiyana Bandha in planks) but to also redirect and to efficiently use energy throughout the body.” The Bandhas help us to move with grace and to better incorporate the principle of Sukha   (effortless work) in our movements.

The main point to understand is that while we talk about the bandhas as individual events or areas of awareness (i.e. belly or pelvic floor ect) nothing in the body happens in isolation (well very little). So when we talk about say, Uddiyana bandha and we talk about activating the belly and deep core line it isn’t just the drawing in of the belly that we are talking about. And truth be told most teachers will tell you to Pull the belly in and up (guilty as charged) but that really isn’t correct because if that’s all we do then we can’t breathe right?…Go ahead, suck the belly in to the spine (think trying to pull on your skinny jeans) and then try to lift it up… what happens to the breath? Nothing right?! ‘Cause you can’t breathe! And you know if you aren’t breathing it isn’t Yoga. Lets try this instead…take a smooth deep breath in….. Notice the soft expansion of the rib cage, not just the lift in the front near the sternum but the movement around the sides and maybe even into the back pf the ribs, try to keep the rips expanded and then exhale by pressing the belly into the body BUT leave the spine neutral, you may even feel a bit more expansion of the rib cage and the feeling as if you are bringing the hip points towards to mid line of the body and guess what you can still breathe! Another important point is that the body isn’t just what you see in the mirror i.e. the front of your body….It helps to think of your ‘core’, your torso as a tube.  A circular body of wondrous activity, of energetic flow, of Pranic movement. And just as muscular engagement helps move lymphatic fluid through the body so can muscular contraction (and flexion) aid in the movement of prana.

Of course that’s just Uddiana Bandha, there are 4 other major bandhas ….

Uddiyana Banda (Belly seal)

Mula Bandha (Pelvic Floor seal)

Hasta Banda (Hand seal)

Pada Bandha (Foot seal)

Jalandhara Banda (Throat seal)

We will talk about the others soon but for now go explore the bandhas and relax and be  at ease throughout your poses, no struggling, no gritting of the teeth and no holding of the breath. It’s all about the Sukha Baby, effortless work. If you’re struggling you are trying too hard. Namaste my Lovelies

Om Shanti

~c

It’s all about the Sukha Baby

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‘Sukha’…… Approach your yoga practice (and life) with the understanding of Sukha.

Sukha translates as ‘easy’, for example ‘sukhasana, or easy pose’ but in our yoga practice (and life) it means so much more. In our modern western way of life ‘easy’ almost means lazy or to do something without any thought. ‘No problem’ we say, “its easy peasy”. But Sukha is actually work, but it is work that requires very little effort. So Sukha = Effortless Work. A student of Krishnamacharya, Ramaswami Srivatsa, says that sukha is ‘No Pain with Gain’. Read that again, NOT ‘no pain no gain’ (this isnt the 80’s) But ‘No Pain With Gain’. Whoa, can you do that? Can you really stop forcing your body into Chinese Acrobat positions and still be doing Yoga. Of course you can! Teachers are all the time saying ‘if it hurts don’t do it, but thats not the whole story. It isn’t just don’t get hurt, it is about trying to do poses without force, without strain and stress. Remember Yoga is about de-stressing not creating more stress. Feel how different it is to move out of pain instead of into pain. What a concept!

And like all of Yoga we can take these teachings off the mat and intertwine them into our lives. Matthieu Richard, a Buddhist monk and the author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill defines sukha as: “the state of lasting well-being that manifests itself when we have freed ourselves of mental blindness and afflictive emotions. It is also the wisdom that allows us to see the world as it is, without veils or distortions. It is, finally, the joy of moving toward inner freedom and the loving-kindness that radiates toward others.” So perhaps we can take that idea of No pain with gain into other aspects of how we live. When we are having a heated discussion with our spouse or partner, turn down the heat and apply Sukha, and see if you reach a mutually beneficial conclusion without the pain of arguing. Maybe you are stressing over how to ask for a raise at work, apply Sukha, see if your calm mind and presence can help you to better articulate the whys of you getting a raise. There are countless ways to bring Sukha into our lives.

So the next time your in bridge pose (or living your life) think about how you can use Sukha …..Effortless work. 

Om Shanti

Cheryl

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Because breathing matters

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A recent conversation with a yoga student went something like this…..

My Client: “…But the problem is when I slow my breath down the movement gets slower too”

Me: “Hows that a problem?”

Client: “Well, it’s not really yoga if I go too slow. I am supposed to move fast to get anywhere, right?”

Me: “Where are you trying to go? What are you trying to achieve? Yoga can be so slow you don’t move at all, and that might be a more restorative practise, Yoga can be fast paced, jumping, hoping, one breath/one movement. And it looks like it’s moving fast right? But it only looks like that on the outside.

Yoga no matter how fast it looks on the outside  should still feel slow and subtle on the inside. Sometimes when you move fast or without control, no matter what you’re doing, you can create tension in the body, clenched jaws, tight tummies, your fingers clutching at the mat and that translates into tense breathing. So even if your yoga is fast paced, keep the breath smooth and easy, (it’s all about the Sukha baby). Try and find that balance within yourself of Effort and Ease and then on the inside you become very still, even while moving.
That’s balance….. That’s Yoga!

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