Tag Archives: class

The appeal of an Ashtanga practice

Ashtanga practitioners have more options than you might think:

Washington Post Express Never Out Of Practice: Mysore yoga classes help students advance at just the right pace – “First-timers get personal training in a few postures, starting with five rounds of sun salutations, and that may be all they do. As they return to class and master that section, the instructor adds on. Advanced students can complete the beginning of the series, but at some point, even people who can hook their legs around their necks need an assist, a modification or a pep talk.”

A few months ago, I pointed to another article about Ashtanga and Mysore practice in the DC area.

Thanks to Donavan Wilson for tipping me off about this article since I am “out of pocket” (meaning “away,” it’s journalism jargon, if I remember correctly.)

DC Yoga Week – starting today!

It’s here again! Thirty seven DC yoga studios are joining forces to encourage people to take to the mat.

DC Yoga Week 2013 – dc community yoga
The DC Community of Yoga (DCCY) is hosting the 8th Annual DC Yoga Week and Yoga on the Mall Monday, April 29 thru Sunday, May 5.  This means participating studios will be offering FREE and $5 classes daily – all week long!

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to explore other yoga studios and styles, now’s your chance because of free or low-cost classes. The weather should be good for Sunday when you can catch Yoga on the Mall.

Bad Timing

This week, I am at an undisclosed location on the Delmarva peninsula, with wife, yoga mat, laptop, notebooks, and reading matter, and will be unable to take advantage of discounted rates and open doors. I may get to DC in time for the weekend activities.

Breath, vinyasa and restoration on a Saturday morning.

Today I went back to yoga class for the first time in a month. I had done yoga, pranayama and meditation practically everyday in my home practice and interspersed yogic moments during my work day. But I could not gird myself up to go to a class. I felt as if I was going to walk into the class naked, stripped of disguises, handicapped by a body that seems to  rebel against the abuses of work routine and the slow slog of a winter cold. I felt as if my personal melodramas were branded on my forehead, biceps and thighs, a yogic version of Scarlet Letter.

But today I attended Susan Bowen’s morning vinyasa class at Thrive Yoga. She was all bronzed and refreshed from her yoga retreat (and vacation) in Hawaii. She started out really simple, focusing on the breath, which was fine with me because I knew I did not qualify for a 2/3 level class. I was the perennial beginner, coming back to do remedial exercises, make-up work for all the time I missed.Photo: yoga class in Wwarrior II pose

But a curious thing happened. I laid on the mat and let the breath wash over me in small, delicate waves, that were contained withing the external sheaf of my skin, which was still  porous enough to absorb the prana bubbling up from the wellspring of life. I did the asanas sequenced together in vinyasas, that all seemed as familiar as a walk through a favorite park but different because the sun,clouds, wind, trees, grass and path shift experience into an immediacy of perception. I tested my legs in the warrior poses, I wobbled in the one-legged balancing poses, I skipped to the flying crow poses because my knees and hips have not loosened enough to make it feasible, much less comfortable.

I discovered an unexpected strength in crow pose, shift into three-point headstand, eased myself into the L-shaped transitional dismount and then stuck the drop down to chatarunga, followed by upward-facing dog and back to downward-facing  dog. I had never attempted that particular sequence before (indeed, I have avoided inversions so far this year), but I did not need to think about its novelty at the time; I did not even listened to Susan’s cues. It was just the natural flow of the poses unfolding on the mate.

The decompression phase of the class included supported frog and fish poses, which allowed for a grace-filled easing into stillness. It was a deceptively simple class that allowed me to participate at my own pace and with my own menu of discoveries.

Cover-up of my negligence and a yoga class at work

I have did not write a single entry in November so to alleviate my share I am going to date this one as November 30, even though I am writing it on December 12.

Since August, I’ve been attending yoga classes twice a week during my lunch hour at my workplace. Once a week, a long-time teacher comes in and delivers a briskly paced class in 45 minutes for $7 in a style that I can’t identify (we start out rolling the soles of our feet on tennis balls — I actually love that part). This workplace yoga has been going on for more than four or five years, but I never attended because it did not seem worth the effort for such a short class and I preferred to do my yoga in the evenings. But now, my evening routines are as unpredictable as my lunch hour so I decided to take the class as often as feasible (meetings frequently stretch into the 12:30 pm time slot). At least, I am getting some yoga practice in.

The setting is in a windowless room on the loading dock floor with a carpeted floor and mirrors on some walls. It’s chilly and austere, but it’s one of the few spaces in our building that’s available for non-work activities. Some mats, blocks and resistance bands are available. Other days they may have choir practice or dancing lessons.

My workplace is an international organization with a distinct Latin flavor, and not a hot bed for mind-body innovation. Our neighboring organizations (World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) put us to shame with the quality of their fitness facilities and the range of services provided. They’ve had Art of Living courses and meditation training (and probably more than that, but I don’t see their wellness schedules). Our nurse is lucky to get a meditation teacher to come in once or twice a year to give a chat.

There is a core of four or five regular students, and once in a while a new participant will show up to sample the session. The more veteran students take the lead on the non-teacher day. I’ve had a chance to contribute a couple of vinyasa sequences and it was a valuable lesson. I had to think and give instructions for each movement and posture while going the vinyasa myself. It’s interesting how some yoga sequences, like Sun Salutations, have become second nature, almost instinctive. Giving instructions is almost as if I came outside my body to observe what I was doing and to lead the class.

Just a short yoga practice during the day does so much to break the accumulation of stress in my body. I’ve started finding moments when I can take mini-yoga breaks, doing forward folds or simple arm and shoulder sequences.

Post script

Wouldn’t you know it — I write about going to yoga class at lunchtime at work, and then miss both classes this week because of noon meetings that overlapped with my class.

A month of yoga practice and few classes

June was a rather uneven month for my yoga practice. While treatment had gradually improved the issues arising from my iliopsoas to the point that I could resume taking class, other problems intervened to keep me from getting back to a regular practice at Thrive Yoga.

Vacation on Cape Cod

For one thing, I took a week off (June 16-23) with my wife for a vacation on Cape Cod. We went up via Amtrak and rented a car to get out to Provincetown (or “P-town,” as they like to call in Massachusetts), which must be a full two-hours from Boston or Providence, so it’s not an easy reach. We probably could have gotten along fine without a car once we were at our resort because P-town and neighboring boroughs have regular free buses running the main roads, including the beaches. But having a car was necessary to get to Plymouth (for the Plimouth Plantation and museum about the Pilgrims) and New Bedford for the National Whaling Museum. We went to those site on Monday and Tuesday when the weather was too chilly for extended time on the beach. The weather heated up for the rest of the week, but the temperatures on the Cape were still 10 degrees below the heat in the rest of New England.

A heated practice

Speaking of heat, this weekend in the DC area has been extreme: the “derecho” storm that flew through here on Friday evening has created havoc. Power has been knocked out in most of my area of Montgomery County (but by some miracle we have been without electricity for 90 minutes at most!), and most businesses, including yoga studios, have shut down. Considering that the Washington, DC area has been through multiple weather events that devastated infrastructure (snow and ice storms, hurricanes, earth tremors), inhabitants have absorbed lots of disruptions in public services. It’s especially bad that the power outage come at a time when air conditioning is vital to getting through the heat. It may be a full week before most people get power back.

Daily Practice

I was able to make it to five class at Thrive Yoga in June, far less than I expected to attend. That did not mean that I stopped doing yoga. Practically every evening, I went through my sequence of yoga poses and restorative routines that seem to help me control the discomfort caused by my peripheral neuropathy. I took my travel mat, strap and roller with me on vacation, and I needed them after spending time behind the wheel. The stress tended to accumulate between my shoulder blades, knot up my neck and tighten my lower spine. I don’t think I would get to sleep at a reasonable time without my practice.

But the shortcoming of my practice has been that I have not done a strong vinyasa practice and I can tell that I don’t have the strength and stamina that comes from a more dynamic, upbeat, balanced practice that I usually get in class. I could feel guilty about being a slacker, but I want to approach my practice on an even keel, not leaning to the physical side with an alpha-type intensity or endowing it with a kind of magical power to change to transform my mind, body and spirit (but isn’t that why I’ve been going yoga for the past eight years???).

Catching up on the DC yoga scene

I’ve been so absorbed in my day-time-turned-evening job over the past few weeks that I did not have a chance to point to an article that appeared May 8:

The struggles of D.C. area yoga studios – The Washington Post
Yogis don’t like to talk about competition, and most owners will deny there’s any tension among local studios. But Schumacher acknowledges that the businesses are vying for students’ attention.

A few weeks ago, I noted the closing of Ashtanga Yoga Center at the end of this month. Yoga has to be commercially viable in order to have an impact on mainstream culture in the United States. The market is the medium for sustainability. The Post scratches the surface about the costs of operating a yoga studio, and “amenities” like cookies are the least of owners’ concerns. To survive, owners need to have a creative, flexible business mind without losing touch with the spirit of yoga. That’s a difficult balancing act. That can include finindg new ways of offering yoga, like combining spinning and yoga, although technically it’s a fitness center offering the class.

Closer to home, my home studio, Thrive Yoga, offers classes for climbers at Earth Treks. But the new twist at Thrive has been the incorporation of Aerial Yoga with Silk Hammocks – practitioners are suspended from cords hanging from the ceiling and play a different kind of leverage game with gravity. The classes seem to be booked up well in advance. I have not had a chance to try it because I’ve been away from the studio for the last two months.

Oh yeah, May 13-20 is DC Yoga Week, as the Post announces, but you can actually read the full details on the DC Yoga Community site, and the traditional highlight of the celebration, Yoga on the Mall, will take place on Saturday, May 19, weather permitting.

Learning something from my daughter

Photo: headshot of female teacher at yoga studio
My daughter, the yoga teacher

I had a special pleasure today in my hatha yoga class at Thrive Yoga: the class was led by  my daughter, Stephanie. We’ve been going to classes together since 2004, and she went through teacher training in 2006-2007 at Flow Yoga and then took additional training at Thrive this past year. She’s been teaching community and kids classes and subbing at Thrive. She’s been bugging me for months (or a year) to take one of her classes, but her teaching opportunities and my schedule always seemed out of sync. Finally, she filled in on a Sunday morning.

I think that the biggest compliment I could give her was that after the first five minutes, I forgot that she was my daughter, and just cursed under my breath that she was kicking my butt in high lunge and Warrior II. It was still a hatha classes, strong on fundamentals and focused on breathing and body awareness, but it kept up a good flow so that I felt touched in my whole body at the end. It certainly was a test for my ego, allowing myself to be guided by my daughter through a yoga routine and holding back from taking a picture of her in the class.

Stephanie’s been teaching a lot over the past week or so because there have been a lot of class openings. Susan and Dave Bowen, the Thrive Yoga owners, led a group on a retreat in Hawaii (and taking some leisure time while they’re out there). Hopefully, there will be many other opportunities for Esteff (as she prefers to be called — it’s a long story).

What I learned from my hip abductor meltdown

It’s been a while, hasn’t it.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a chance to extract some lessons from the pain and discomfort from the meltdown on the mat. I am even hesitant to call it an injury because there was no visible damage or impairment, except that in a few poses it would flare up again:

  1. After my injury, I actually had an increased sense of feeling in my left foot (numbness caused by peripheral neuropathy has a problem for me). Of course, with time, the symptom came back because my muscles and tissues tightened up again; in fact, the symptoms have evened out between my two feet.
  2. I also had more feeling in my lower core, which may just be a consequence of focusing more on that part of my body because of the injury.  I am also aware that I pay more attention to the pitch (tilt) of my pelvis.
  3. A few years ago, I would have freaked out that I had hurt myself doing yoga; I would have taken it as a sign that I was not properly aligned, a “bad” practitioner, and had broken the rules. But injuries sometimes are caused not by what we are doing, but what we did in the past, the accumulation of ingrained neuro-myofascial patterns acquired over a lifetime, and when we may break through some of those patterns, it may leave us “flapping in the wind” because the old rigidity was also a support structure; my muscle and tissues did not know what to do with the new freedom so they went into spasms. I now see that as I loosen up my hips, it’s going to affect other parts of my body so I have to remain alert, aware and sensitive to what my body is telling me. And even then I may not avoid injury.
  4. With an injury to something like the hip abductors, it’s really hard to reach down through several layers of muscle and tissue. I am lucky to have a veteran massage therapist (Howard Rontal) to do that for me.
  5. It’s really touch and go to get back into a vinyasa practice because I did not want to start too soon, but probably waited too long, even though the injury was still sensitive,  and I’m not the kind of guy who believes in practicing through the pain. How’s that for stringing together four contradictions in one sentence. But once I started returning to class, I became less preoccupied and more aware.
  6. When I had this interruption to the intensity of my yoga practice, plus other distraction, I notice that the drop-off in physical exercise had a ripple effect through my body and mind.
  7. Restarting is always disagreeable because I am constantly reminded about how far I have backslid (“Oh, God, I’m going to have sore muscles tomorrow, and I can’t do the jump-backs as well as before, and — this is an order, punk, drop into child’s pose, and give me 20 breaths!” ).
  8. Don’t stop doing yoga even when injured (give it a couple days rest, of course); just modify poses and pick sequences that won’t stress out the problem area.

Well, you get the point. I’ve made it to about five classes in eight days so I am gradually get back to “normal.”

But I’m already there!

Last night I went to a hot vinyasa class and let the sweat pour. It’s amazing how a physical purging can wring out all the emotional toxins as well. No yoga class today because I couldn’t get home early enough to grab the restorative class at Thrive Yoga. I could not get to the gym as planned because of a mix-up on the scheduling of our car.

I’ve come to realize that I already have the right mindset for the 40-day challenge; it’s just a matter of making time to go to as many classes as possible. My daily routines include   mindfulness, meditation, breath work, restorative yoga and therapeutic yoga. Just quieting my mind enough to prepare my body for bed is a kind of staggered vinyasa in which I shift into a more restful rhythm. What I will get out of the 40-day challenge is the accumulative impact of stepping up the frequency of attending class, which are almost always more physically demanding than a yoga session at home.

Events to keep in mind

The MAYA Yogathon is taking place on Saturday, January 26 at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, 2437 15th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009. More details at MAYA site. World Yoga Day is February 3. Karmapalooza (no longer online) was a Miami-based event, but is now expanding nationwide. It is on March 1. So many events, so few opportunities to get the news out.