This past week I was able to attend a class instructed by one of my favorite teachers, Judy. I was finally able to make it to an evening class and was hurried to go because this is the last time Judy would be teaching this class. She is moving out of province so I had to have one more class with her.
I have had many discussions with Judy about becoming a yoga teacher. She knows what I do for a living and could tell I was very interested in learning more about yoga. Prior to having a baby, I attended her Friday after work class for over two years and even while I was pregnant (she was very gracious to support my practice while I was pregnant by leading me in appropriate prenatal poses - even though it wasn't a prenatal class). Thinking back on it now, it was such a gift. Her words, voice, energy and presence were just what I needed every week, particularly at the end of my week.
To reflect back, what have I learned from Judy? First and foremost, was to be gentle with myself. After many years of pushing and stressing the body hard with vigorous exercise, it was a huge challenge for me not to push my practice. She offered guidance on how to let props, particularly foam blocks, help release tension. She always emphasizes moving to the point of tension but never pain and allowing the body to be supported so that it can release. It is not in the number of blocks we use that we should judge how well we are doing! She always jokes about letting go our preoccupation with using props. They are there to help us!
Judy taught me to explore what my body can do with simple movements, which can have a profound effect on mobility and surprisingly, mental calmness. I recall the encouragement "to be curious but not to judge" in particular with my breath rhythm. Her classes always challenged me but in a profound inner way. Her direction commonly include the words "less is more".
Having experienced Judy's classes for years, I can say she allowed an environment to explore, to respect your body and experience the benefits of yoga. What I learned from her is that every day your body (maybe interchange with mind too?) is different, every day you practice you are different and thus, take each class for what it is and be in that moment.
It was a bittersweet moment to reach corpse pose (savasana) this week. Such a blessing to have a moment to myself but sharing this moment for the last time (at least for now) with Judy. She ended our practice this week with a quote about being on a journey. How fitting for her but also, in some sense, quietly me too.
Be gentle to yourself.
From as far back as I can remember, I really have enjoyed (and benefited) from child's pose (balasana). Having a chronic back/hip injury and the associated pain, it was a position that I could stretch my back out even as an awkward tween. Yoga came into my life because of my back injury. Hard to believe how long I've be practicing child's pose!
Child's pose is a kneeling forward bend pose. It releases the low back and spine by letting gravity pull the torso down towards the ground. I even read how some yoga teachers encourage this pose to help energy move through the chakras (I barely know and understand chakras at this point!) All I know is that the prone position (very common) and the similar supine position (think flipped on your back with your knees to your chest) is such a relaxing pose!
In recent practice session with a DVD, Shiva Rea Flow Yoga for Beginners, the yoga teacher provided a real unique way to look at child's pose. The teacher called it wisdom pose because "it is the wisdom of knowing when to relax and come back to yourself. It is the wisdom of knowing when you need to take a break for your body...". What a great way to think of this restful pose.
Recently a friend was commenting on a class she attended where she was doing child's pose the way she was taught, arms outstretched overhead, and the teacher told her that child's pose is suppose to be done with the arms and hands at the side of the body. This made me wonder - what is the actual way to do it? And, like with many poses, there must be modifications and/or variations on how to do it. I dove into my books and the Internet and this is what I found:
1. In most publications it shows arms resting at the side with the palms in the pronated (facing up) position. Forehead is resting on the floor.
2. An upper body option is arms stretched above the head ( in shoulder flexion). So, yes , my friend was still doing child's pose but a variation.
3. Alternatives for the lower body include opening the hips (abduction) and allowing the belly closer to the floor. This variation is something I am very familiar with. It was the only way I could do child's pose while pregnant!
4. The head positioning can also be varied. Forehead can be placed on stacked hands or fists. But also the head can be turned to one side as well.
5. The final variation that I could find was the arms by the side of the body but the hands clasping the heels. For whatever reason, I find this version the most relaxing and least taxing on the body.
So there you have it. The many faces of child's/wisdom pose. My back is better for it. So grateful for this pose!
As part of my full time work as an exercise physiologist, I work with individuals with limited mobility. And in most cases but not all, these individuals have not participated in physical activity for years or ever. These clients constantly remind me of how disconnected/connected we can be with our bodies.
I already know that once I am a yoga teacher, I will continue to work with this population. In my opinion, yoga is an essential way to move people from inactivity to activity. I reflect back on the time I had a volunteer yoga teacher come to one of my group classes to teach. It was wonderful to see clients enjoy yoga and reap the benefits. At times, I think yoga can be very intimating and thus, I tried a chair yoga DVD this week to experience a class that's more accessible than your tradition mat class.
The DVD is called, Chair Aerobics for Everyone: Chair Yoga, and I found it on the shelf of a local library location that I rarely visit. I snatched it up instantly and was eager to try it for myself. These are the types of poses I want to perfect to teach to other newbies.
What stood out the most was how great of a yoga session it was and all the poses were in the chair! I wasn't totally surprised but it really drove home the fact that yoga can be accessible to all. I was shocked by how difficult Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) was in a chair. I haven't competely figured out what it was about having a chair support me that made the pose more challenging. Maybe the seat of the chair allowed for a wider stance and thus a greater stretch? Not sure but I know I've never done a Warrior II pose and felt that same intensity.
I've decided that one of the contributions I want to make as a yoga teacher is to use chair yoga to reach the possibly unreachable populations particularly those dealing and coping with chronic disease and mobility concerns.
It's kinda nice to know where I'm headed already!
P.S. I found a short clip on YouTube of the DVD. Very short!
Photo credit: Sitka, Alaska (September 2009). Wouldn't that be a nice place to sit and do yoga?
I did it! I made myself an eye pillow!
It has been a godsend this week as I picked up a sinus cold this past weekend. It was a comfort for the eyes and the lavender scent was just what I needed!
Now my head doesn't feel as big as Mikey, the bear's head as shown above.
I highly encourage that you make or buy one for yourself!
With it being Thanksgiving this weekend, it was time to reflect on what we
have in our worlds and what we are most grateful for.
How often do you reflect on what you are thankful for? More than once a year?
I find that my yoga practice is the time where I reflect the most. It quiets the mind and allows for a focus on what is important (no multitasking allowed!) I
particularly love the yoga teachers who ask questions and allow for inner
reflection at the beginning, middle and end of class. It's almost like the yoga
practice is then more of a mental challenge versus a physical challenge.
What resonates a lot during my individual practice is the power, grace and beauty of the human body. I am grateful that my body allows me to move and breathe, which nourishes the mind, body, and soul.
In the writings of Patañjali, an ancient yoga scholar, he writes of the Eight
Limbs of Yoga. I know the very basics of his writing from my academic yoga class but I thought to myself there must be somewhere in his writings where he references gratitude. I went searching and found that under the second limb, Niyamas, or the "rules" or "laws" of personal observance, he highlights a similar idea with Santosha. Santosha might align well with gratitude. It is being satisfied with what one has. Maybe in other words, thankful for what we have?
I will leave the readings of Patañjali for another day but practicing yoga daily,
weekly, monthly sure allows me to reflect on what I am thankful for more than once a year!
And I'd be remiss if I didn't reflect on what I am thankful for beyond my yoga practice.
It is in these moments that I am most grateful...the wonderful people I
have in my life (the newest edition exploring the world!)
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.