Thursday, July 26, 2012

What do we store in our hips (aside from the obvious)?

I’ve alluded, in other posts, to my tendency toward tears during yoga classes.  This kind of thing tends to happen toward the end of class during some of the deeper hip stretches, like Uphavista Konasana, Supine Twists, or of course, Pigeon.  What is it about these poses?  Why does a release in the hip muscles so often provoke a release of emotion?

Usually when we talk about muscle memory, we are referring to the patterns that become ingrained in the body through continuous use and activity…but some yogis believe that we store memories, emotions, and even past traumas in our muscles as well.  They say that by releasing the muscles in and around the hips and pelvis (say, in a yoga practice), we can bring on emotional and spiritual break-throughs.  Maybe you buy it, maybe you don’t, but whether you’re a super-active runner or a semi-sedentary desk-jockey, chances are your hips could use some relief and release.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gah! Stress!

Do you ever wake up in the morning with a headache from grinding your teeth?  Or with sore fingers from clenching your hands into fists in your sleep?  No?  Oh, well, neither do I.  I mean, I do yoga.  Lots of it.  I was just, um, wondering if you have ever had that experience…

Just because we practice yoga regularly doesn’t mean we don’t still have moments in which stress gets the best of us.  Think about the classes you tend to take.  Many of our classes have either “hot” or “power” or both in the title, and many of us use these classes as a way to burn off excess stress, anxiety, nervous energy.  For those of us with type-A tendencies, the group energy and fast pace of a vinyasa class might feel natural, but might not be the best way to settle down.  There are, however, other kinds of yoga (like Yin, Restorative, or Nidra) that can help alleviate the physical and mental symptoms of stress through gentle release rather than strenuous stretching.

Many restorative classes, for example, incorporate breath work and meditation as a way to bring ease to the mind.  In these classes, the body is placed in gentle poses with lots of props to facilitate relaxation and opening as students are guided through meditations.  This kind of practice can be particularly helpful for those of us dealing with conditions like insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, or muscle tension (the kind that a little light stretching won’t release).  Given the pace of life even here in little ol’ Bloomington, we should probably all take advantage of these opportunities to slow down whenever we can.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hot Day, Hot Yoga?

Let's time-travel for a moment back to last week, when it felt like our lovely town had been relocated from South Central Indiana to the surface of the sun.  One might imagine that attendance would drop for the many heated yoga classes here at Vibe.  Not so.

It’s 104 degrees outside with 90% Hoosier-style humidity.  Why yes, a hot yoga class does sound like a good idea*.  Well, sometimes it does.   Year-round, the studio is heated to 95-105 degrees for Hot Fusion and 90-95 degrees for heated Vinyasa classes.  This can, without a doubt, feel great during the colder months, but during the summer we need to take extra precautions** to keep ourselves safe. 

If you do feel compelled to leave the cool waters of the pool or lake, or the air-conditioned comfort of your abode, Yoga Journal recommends that you drink at least 16 ounces of water before class, frequent small amounts during, and 20-40 ounces for each hour of practice after class.  Also, be sure to wear clothing that allows the skin to breathe and release heat.  

Finally, be willing to make accommodations for yourself.  Even if you’ve been practicing hot yoga for years, the body is different every day, so if your pulse speeds up dramatically and stays that way, or if you begin to experience dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or vision disturbances, these can be signs of heat exhaustion, so get down on your mat and elevate your legs.  Or, go into the lobby and do the same.  The front desk staff will be ready and willing to help you get situated, and will offer you a cool facecloth to help bring your body temperature down. 

*but maybe not for you pitta folks.
**A refresher course on the "regular" precautions:  practice carefully, or consider a non-heated class if you are currently experiencing blood pressure issues (high or low), dehydration, symptoms of heat exhaustion, chronic bronchitis or asthma.  Consult a doctor before beginning a heated practice if you are experiencing or have experienced the following: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, a history of heat-related illness, pregnancy, blood pressure issues, dehydration, chronic bronchitis or asthma.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Free Flow or Set Sequence?

Spending time talking to yogis and yoginis is one of the perks of my job.  This makes me privy to a lot of opinions about different kinds of classes, styles of teaching, and, more generally, approaches to yoga.  One of the most debate-provoking classes offered at Vibe is Hot Fusion.  Hot Fusion is a set series—the same every time—which makes it a good place to start a heated yoga practice.  This is also why some people find they can’t abide it—it’s always the same. 

Those of us who gravitate toward the free-flowing, creative movement of a Vinyasa practice might do so because it’s always changing—every practice is different.  It varies from teacher to teacher, and from day to day given the goal (physical, spiritual, or otherwise).  An ever-changing sequence can be a great exercise in staying present and attentive during a practice, and can also challenge us to let go of expectations.  Conversely, a set sequence like that of Hot Fusion or the Ashtanga primary series can be an excellent way work out the kinks of certain poses, and also presents the opportunity to let go of the mind and get into a moving meditation.  I like ‘em both, but it depends when you catch me…  

Friday, June 22, 2012

4 Common Yoga Myths - Busted!

Myth 1:  You have to be flexible and "in shape" to do yoga.

We’ve all seen pictures of yogis with legs bent around shoulders and feet by their heads.  But that level of flexibility—or any, for that matter—isn’t necessary to begin a yoga practice.  Rather, a regular yoga practice is an excellent way to ease into a fitter, more flexible body (and mind).  Keep your attention on your own mat and your own body, don’t worry about what’s happening around you, and let the practice work.  It’s not necessary to work into the “full expression” of a pose in order to reap its benefits; your body will tell you where it wants to go and where it needs to stop. And if you need an inspirational story, follow the link.

Myth 2:  Yoga is just a bunch of sitting around and stretching.

Well, yes…we do sit, and we do stretch during a yoga practice, and some styles are more passive than others.  Many styles (Vinyasa, for example) link postures with breath to create a continuous flow of movement that warms the body quickly and can, frankly, be one way to incorporate cardio into your exercise routine.  Once the warm up is over, there is generally a series of standing poses that challenge our strength, balance, and resolve.  After this a class will generally move onto the floor for a series of more passive, though not easy, poses.

Myth 3:  Guys don’t practice yoga.

Sure they do!  While it is often the case that yoga classes (especially in the West) are primarily populated by women, yoga began (thousands of years ago) as a practice for men.  But this is neither here nor there—anyone can reap the benefits of a practice that offers a stronger body, more focused mind, and more open heart.

Myth 4:  Yoga is boring.

It is often said that the ultimate goal of the physical practice of yoga (insofar as there is one) the ability to sit quietly and meditate.  Meditation requires a disciplined, quiet mind.  Bryan Kest, a talented teacher out of SoCal who gave a master class at Vibe last spring, made the bold claim that we don’t actually want to quiet our minds.  He explained that we are addicted to our drama because without the constant mental stimulus of stress and anxiety, we feel bored.  But without it, we might also feel happier and more grounded.  Maybe the potential boredom is worth it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Notes from a Yoga-Crier

Sometimes it’s a sad song during pigeon.  Sometimes it’s a heart-opening backbend.  Sometimes it’s the wringing-out action of series of twists.  And sometimes the teacher says just the right/wrong thing during the opening meditation, and there they are…tears.

Not everyone cries during yoga.  Some people cry almost every time they practice.  Neither is right or wrong.  Neither means that you are more advanced in your practice because you can a) hold it together or b) access your emotions.  Like so many other aspects of yoga, it is what it is for you on any given day. 

Many students have noticed that there’s a moment during which they can make a choice—to cry or not to cry.  To hold it in or to let it go.  And while it can feel a little odd to do something so personal in a public place, your mat is a sacred space on which you can do what you need to do and feel what you need to feel without considering/recourse to anyone else’s thoughts or judgments.  Chances are, other students don’t even notice what you’re doing because their attention is on what’s happening on their own mats.  And if it isn’t, it should be (I don’t like to invoke a “should” re: yoga, but this one stands).  The teacher might notice, and might offer you a facecloth, or might even place a hand on your shoulder as a way of showing support.  He or she knows about how the physical practice can interact with the emotional and energetic body, and will certainly offer you some compassion.  This is all to say that if you need to release some emotion, a yoga class is a perfectly valid place in which to do it.  It's your practice--cry if you want to.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Third Chakra - The Core

So, what’s a chakra?  Chakras (there are seven) are energy centers.  Often described as wheels or vortices, the chakras send energy out from the subtle, energetic body into the physical body in a whirling pattern.  According to various eastern philosophical traditions, when the chakras are spinning as they should, the physical body, the emotions, and all other aspects of life are in balance.  When they are over- or under-active, injuries, illnesses, and emotional disturbances can manifest.  Caroline Myss offers a comprehensive explanation of the chakras (and a fun flash presentation) on her website.

Today, let’s skip to the third chakra.  The manipura chakra.  This one is located in the solar plexus…in the gut.  It’s the seat of our power, self-esteem, personal boundaries and identity, our ethos…  It’s the core.

Here at Vibe, we hear a lot about the core.  There is a “core” section in every class we do, and to be honest, the first few times I practiced here, that really bothered me.  It didn’t feel like yoga to me—it felt like exercise.  Working muscles for the sheer sake of making them stronger or more attractive struck me (and sometimes still strikes me) as narcissistic and ego-driven…not yogic. 

But, there’s a lot to be said for having a strong core, and not just in terms of being able to hold ourselves in arm-balances and standing poses.  The manipura chakra, as the energetic core, also offers strength and balance in other aspects of our lives.  If we have strong cores—knowing who we are, what we believe, how to honor and value ourselves—we’ll be better equipped to weather the challenges that are an inevitable part of being alive. 

Maybe in this way our core-centered yoga and Pilates classes can become points of access for tapping into our intuition, building self-esteem, recognizing and respecting our boundaries as well as building physical strength.  Thoughts, yogis?