Saturday, December 3, 2016

TODAY

Each Saturday morning, I review the schedule of the current Teacher Training for content -- what do I need to review or read or write for the group on any given day. One of today's topics is 'Listening Skills'.

Several years ago (more than 5), I wrote a blog on this topic. I thought, mistakenly -- 'I'll go to my blog and pull up that post, and use it'.  Wrong -- My blog used to have a different title and the blog program cannot (or will not) access that 'old' title content. So, I will write it again (everything bears repeating, doesn't it?).

In my previous post, I wrote that, over the years, I've come to look at listening with the attitude encompassed by the three A's of Anusara Yoga - Attitude, Alignment and Action.

FYI, my original post was written not just because I know that listening is a valuable skill for yoga teachers, but because I had experienced once too often being asked "How are you?", only to have the person inquiring look away to his/her next target of inquiry BEFORE hearing my response. That is just rude, in my book!

I considered the skills involved in truly listening and have tried to apply them to my encounters with people. So hear (here) goes:

ATTITUDE - When I have decided to engage with a person or people, I step into the 'listening' space. I make a conscious and concerted effort to think about this person's interests and the value of having someone 'listen' to what you (or I) have to say.

This came acutely to my attention in August of this year, when I was attending Desiree Rumbaugh and Andrew Rivins' "Raising Your Vibration" Intensive. Andrew had us gather into small groups of 3-4 people, and answer a specific list of 3-4 questions. We were instructed to listen, not offer commentary to another person's offering. When we finished, we re-gathered as one large group and he asked how that felt. Overwhelmingly, the comment was made "I felt heard". INTERESTING - and, this from a group of very social yoga teachers and students!

ALIGNMENT - Once the decision has been made to step into the 'listening' space, I 'align'. To me that means - I look the person in the eye and I open my ears to only their voice.

When you read my brief diatribe about 'how are you', you got the gist of 'alignment'. People who ask 'how are you?' perhaps have good intentions, want to be friendly and outgoing, etc., etc., BUT what happened when the question was out there? Eyes begin darting around the room, voices (other than the target's) are in their ears, they allow interruptions, and they may even get a bit 'fidgety' - as though trapped.

A good example is my second encounter with John Friend - my first was a retreat at Inner Harmony, which I had to leave early as a result of a family emergency. I next attended a weekend workshop in Tucson. After the workshop, I went to John to thank him - not just for the workshop, but also for the work he had done to establish a community of caring people (I had received many notes and communications after leaving Inner Harmony from fellow students). During our brief conversation, his eyes stayed on me. Another student came up to talk, interrupting us. He gracefully turned to her and asked her to wait for a few moments as he finished our conversation. John then turned back to me, I finished my words of appreciation - that was alignment, in my book; not to mention attitude.

ACTION - So, we've set our attitude, we are aligned, now for the work of 'listening', the action. I connect through the eyes, I open my ears to only their words, and I close my mouth.

How many times have you begun speaking to have someone say "Oh, that's happened to me and . . .".  You haven't finished your statement, you haven't been heard, you've been spoken over by your supposed listener's experience.

SUMMARY - Briefly, to summarize all this, when I decide to 'listen', I:
    1)   Decide that, no matter what, this person deserves (and wants) to be heard
    2)   Set my stance and make eye contact (for the duration)
    3)   I open my ears and I keep my mouth shut

This is not easy - we are living in a fast-paced world. I have places to go, things to do, and - sometimes - it takes some of that time to be kind. I have never regretted taking the time to listen to a student, a friend, and/or a family member.

Have a great day!



Friday, July 1, 2016

TEACHER TRAINING

I recently (within the past 6-9 months) began assisting and conducting Teacher Trainings -- I assist with one in Temecula and lead a similar program in Fallbrook.  These are 200-hour RYT trainings. At some point I'd like to teach Immersions and TT in the Anusara style, but first I must assist an Anusara TT. That hasn't happened yet.

So, what have I learned? That teaching people to be teachers is a learning process in itself. I find myself back in the classroom, reading required texts (again), creating lesson plans, planning schedules in order to get in the required hours.

I've also learned that, for me, I enjoy the process (and the learning).

It's especially rewarding to take a class from one of the graduates (who has been teaching for just one month), and find that the class is well-crafted, appropriate for the audience, and taught with confidence.  Even the music was nice (this from someone who doesn't 'do' music).  Hard to keep from smiling the entire class.

In my desire to learn more, I am attending several of the modules being offered by Sundari in her 300-hr training. I also signed up (already) to go to Tucson in March for a weekend with Darren Rhodes and Sam Rice. I have always wanted to do a class or workshop with Darren, so -- here I go! Time to get the "A" game on (which means 'beefing' up my stamina - since the Tucson group, as I remember, is VERY strong).

Besides the TT's, I am happily teaching 7 classes each week. I've decided to let go of the 5pm class mentioned in earlier posts and that has lifted a great burden. I find that when I let some things go, there is an associated relief that wasn't expected. Not worrying about a drive in traffic with little reward (in terms of class attendance) is - for me - a good thing.

Enjoy the 4th of July !!!



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

FOLLOW-UP

In my last post, I mentioned class size; in the sister class last night (5pm), there were 5 (five) students. That's BIG for this time-slot/style/teacher at this studio.

The student I mentioned last week was one of the five.  She arrived, set up her mat, and - I just happened to notice - was quickly massaging her feet, calves and hamstrings. Why? Well, if you read the last post, I promised to mention something about hamstrings 'later'. I guess today will be 'later'.

But, first, her down dogs looked amazing! I could tell she focused on the IS/OS of the arms, setting the shoulder blades strongly on her back, as she moved into her down dog. This set her shoulders up and then, with bent knees, she could warm up the backs of her legs, before we moved into a fuller down dog. What I witnessed was exactly what I hoped would happen -- strong shoulders, melted heart. She commented after class that she still needs time to set everything up - so, in a flow class where instructions happen quickly, she gets a bit frustrated not having 'time'. I reassured her these actions will happen more fluidly and rapidly as her body incorporates them. It's all a practice, right?

To continue on the hamstrings and forward folding: Hamstrings seem to be at the center of my attention these days. I have several students working with tight hamstrings. So, have been paying a lot of attention to webinars and other video clips, as well as my memory bank, to offer me some tips.

What have I learned and/or been reminded of?

  1. Several years ago, I asked Adam Ballenger to work with me on kicking to handstand. He first identified my tight shoulders, then worked with me on hamstring tightness (both needed loosening before kicking up). For the hamstrings, he talked about and asked me to do movement to lengthen those muscles - in particular, the fascia of the hamstrings AND the fascia above and below.  
  2. In recent study, I continue to hear about the fascia and its role in inhibiting flexibility. Doug Keller reminded me that there is a fascial line running from the sole of the feet to the crown of the head, and that line of fascia will affect hamstring flexibility (I remember hearing this from Adam, also). Doug suggested the following:
    • Example: Do your first forward fold of the day and notice the hamstrings in both legs. Now, take a seat and massage the sole of one foot; really get into the thick tissue with your thumbs and massage the entire foot. Now stand back up and do another forward fold. Compare legs. What do you feel? 
Now, fast forward to last week's encounter -- I considered both of these teachers' thoughts, and - after doing the "example" with the student from last week, I asked her to sit back down and massage both legs (the foot, the calf muscle - moving from knee to ankle, and hamstrings - moving from hip to knee. I remember that the energy line of the fascia moves directionally and - in the lower half of the body - the direction is towards the earth, so massaging in that direction is beneficial.

After massaging both legs, student comes back to standing.  My favorite way to get an effective forward fold is as follows:

  1. Massage legs and feet (you will just need to do this on the first fold of each practice)
  2. Stand in mountain pose, energetically hug shins towards each other, now move thighs in, back & apart (shins in, thigh out) 
  3. Engage core and glutes (don't clench, tho)
  4. Place thumbs in hip creases
  5. Create length in torso
  6. Fold over thumbs, maintaining length (#4)
  7. With core still engaged, release hands to floor at about the halfway point into your fold
  8. Continue into your uttanasana (forward fold)
  9. Now, re-extend into ardha uttanasana (half forward fold) and re-engage core, glutes and lumbar curve, as best you can
  10. Fold again
  11. Deeper?
It was for the student last week - significantly. After a couple of these, she was able to fold, bend her knees and place her hands on back of heels, forearms resting on the back of her calf muscles, and belly resting on thighs. This position of hands and forearms created resistance as she moved to lift her hips, which straightened her knees - all while keeping her belly on her thighs.  

What did her forward folds look like last night? Quite different - she was deeper from the first fold of her practice; and - better yet - I sensed an awareness of her knees (which may hyperextend if given the opportunity).  

It's moments like these that ___________fill in the blank______________.

Hope you have a great Tuesday,  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

THERE WAS JUST ONE . . .

I teach a class called 'Alignment Basics' each Monday and Wednesday at 5pm in Temecula. Three things to know about this class --

1.     5pm in Temecula is a challenge for people coming from work, due to traffic (I-15 is usually very crowded, beginning at 3-4pm);

2.      The name is a bit deceiving, since I do not believe it is a 'basic' class. That being said, including the word 'basic' in a class name will lead some people to believe it is not advanced enough for them (!?!?!?!); and

3.      I may not be the teacher to attract a crowd to a class like this.

So, I am working on several things:

1.     The time will not change,  we'll give it a couple more months to see if growth, in any form, happens.

2.     The name will change. I've suggested "Aligned Yoga", and also - within the description - eliminate the reference about 'new to yoga'.

3.     We will work on 'me'. I have asked students to tell me what they expect, what they like and what they would change.  Fortunately, I have students willing and able to share their expectations, and they have offered some good suggestions.

As with many of my classes, growth happens slowly. Last night's class had one student. As is my habit when doing a 'private', I asked that one person what she would like to work on. Her response:  down dog. Well, I was a bit surprised -- down dog? from a dedicated and proficient student? Yes -- she had heard in another class that her heart ought to 'melt' in down dog. She was a bit confused by that instruction, so asked me to look at her down dog and offer my thoughts.

Be still my heart!  This opened a couple doors for me.  Yes, we could work on down dog. We also could address her elbow hyperextension, as a 'side dish'.

As I looked at her down dog, it looked great; from hands to hips was a direct line, with a bit of deviation to that line, as she straightened her legs (hamstrings, you know).

So, what did we do?  Here's a laundry list - if you have questions or thoughts, contact me:
  1. To address the hyperextension, in table position, I asked her to place her hands strongly on the mat, bend her elbows laterally, and - pressing hands into floor - begin to straighten the elbows. The muscle activation that this creates helps to mitigate the hyperextension.
  2. Moving to vajrasana (seated on heels), we practiced inner rotation of the forearm and outer rotation of the biceps, which brings awareness to the scapulae. It's easier to do one arm at a time, then both arms. For some, it also is easier to attain if we inner spiral/rotate the forearm, then work from the scapula and shoulder to create outer spiral/rotation of the biceps. (It's a very subtle action.)
  3. Now we put the two together in table position - first we worked to prevent hyperextension and added the IS/OS of the arms.
  4. With those actions in place, it's time to move to down dog. (Let me just say that this student is so dedicated and steady in her practice that maintaining the actions - which could be problematic for some - was not an issue for her.)
  5. Now add a little "Desiree" and her 'funky' down dog. If you've ever attended one of Des' workshops, you know what I'm talking about - down dog, looking forward - knees bent - hips and shoulders lifted - shoulder blades engaged - back a bit swayed (sorry if I am missing anything). What you end up with is a down dog that looks NOTHING like the end result.
  6. From here we maintain the shoulder action, stretch hips back and up (which extends the sway to a more straight position), and begin to straighten the legs.
  7. #'s 5&6, coupled with #'s 1&2, moved this student to a down dog with heart 'melted' AND strong shoulders AND no hyperextension. Another 'be still my heart'!
  8. Keeping all this, enjoy.
I guess in modern parlance, we might call this a "heart-melted down dog" hack.  

By the time we were done doing all this, plus one or two of her 'new' down dogs, her arms were shaking and she wondered why. Why? Because she is using a lot of muscles that have previously been 'on vacation' -- the muscles helping to keep her elbows out of hyperextension PLUS the muscles up and into the shoulders and shoulder blades. New territory for this student.  

Then we moved on to uttanasana (my choice, not hers), since there is so much potential. That's a rewarding topic for another day

Would love to hear feedback and/or questions.  

Have a great Thursday,

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS ...

I fully intend to write more on this blog. And, since I can't come up with a topic to write a lot about, I'll be satisfied with just a few thoughts:

Having taught yoga for 13 years, I am finally 'coming into my own'. What does that mean? Well, I feel wanted. Not just because one or two studios would like me to teach for them, but because students are also seeking out my classes.  For this, I offer my gratitude to my teachers.

The things I was taught along my path are now bearing fruit. Students come to class - not to be entertained or to exercise, but (I believe) to learn more about yoga.

Why do I think that?  Well, my classes are focused on teaching the intricacies of the practice, which is NOT everyone's 'cup of tea'. The student who comes to my class will receive the nuances of our poses. We may not 'get to the pose' right away, but my goal is to 'get to the pose' in the best way possible -- without pain and in good alignment.  So far, so good.

The Teacher Training I have been guiding is also going well. My community of Fallbrook is small, but has a mighty desire to practice yoga. The studio is busy. There are five brave souls holding court with me two times each week. We talk anatomy, philosophy, teaching methods, adjustments/modifications, etc. And, we sprinkle in a liberal dose of workshop experiences, including arm balances, sound, Ayurveda, etc.  I am impressed that each comes with a strong desire to learn and to teach, and each has their unique voice to add to our sessions. I am feeling very happy to be in their company.

Guiding a teacher training has enriched my learning, as well.  I've read several great books:

  • I am just now about mid-way through Chakras and their Archetypes - not necessarily a YOGA book, but a good correlation between the way we are (due to genetics, upbringing, etc.) and the Chakras. 
  • The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, is also a good one. I am not a philosophy geek (anatomy speaks loudly to me), and this book was easy for me to read and provided good reminders and some 'ah-ha' moments.
  • Functional Anatomy of Yoga by David Kiel is the anatomy book I chose for the teacher training. I asked each student to purchase a copy and we are working our way through it week by week. (I did read the book before making this decision.) What I like about the book is that it tells us - in an easy-to-read style - about the basic anatomy, with a section on how our poses affect this anatomy.
  • Warrior Self by Ted Cox. I purchased copies of this book for the teacher training students while attending the Kindred Spirits Reunion a few weeks ago. It basically is a translation of the Bhagavad Gita into metaphor. Great book - we are reading it chapter-by-chapter alongside a translation of the Gita by Stephen Mitchell.
  • Next on my reading list are hunger, hope & healing by Sarajoy Marsh (who I also met at the Kindred Spirits Reunion); and Age Without Limits by Janet Rae Humphrey (this will be a great resource for students who practice yoga but are dealing with injury, chronic condition, or aging issues).  
I mentioned the Kindred Spirits Reunion a couple times in my book list.  It was a really enjoyable weekend retreat in Austin, TX, organized by Betsy Downing and Desiree Rumbaugh. I arrived on Friday, not really sure what I was getting into (I'd not attended last year's event.).  I found my room and settled in a bit (long travel day from San Diego), then walked over to the yoga/event center for a Restorative Class (I re-discovered my hips there - thank you, Phil Davis). We joined after class for dinner - wonderful food, by the way. Up the next morning for a guided meditation, breakfast, short break, then we gathered for a forward folds class (taught by a group of 5, including Barbara Kuhl, Martha McQuaid, Jackie Romero, Patrice Barrocas and myself). Lunch followed, and after lunch we gathered to hear about the great efforts of current and former Anusara teachers, including books, teaching, history, etc. (in all, I think 5 people spoke -- VERY IMPRESSIVE AND ENERGIZING). Sunday morning, we gathered again for a meditation guided by Carmel Calcagno, then breakfast, a short break, re-gather for a class with Christina Sell, Jason Lobo and Elle Potter. Then home. If this event happens next year, I'll be there.

Well, a few thoughts hav blossomed to a long essay.  I'll close now, saving some for the next post.  

Hope you all have a great day!



Thursday, February 18, 2016

FAST FORWARD . . .

I am now part of the faculty of two teacher training programs in our area. I have also recommended students in one of those trainings read my blog. What motivation to write!

It has truly been a hectic time over the past 3 months.  Between holidays, a couple short get-aways with husband, and my increased teaching schedule after Jan. 1, I have often felt like I need a white board in my car telling me where I must be at what time.  

Well, not to bore you with those details.  I will tell you about a great book I read in preparation for one of the trainings -- "Functional Anatomy of Yoga" by David Keil.  Rarely am I able to read a book like this cover-to-cover; but, this one I did. And, it presented anatomy in a different way than I had experienced. Lots of information on the structure of the body, but also lots of follow-up information on how the body (and its structure) is influenced by our yoga practice.  Highly recommend.

Teaching 7 classes each week (3 different studios) is not how I thought I'd be spending my 66th year. 
And, I have developed a bit of a reputation.  Who knew that people read your bios on your website or on the studio website? Who knew that people talk about you and your teaching? Well, I must say I hoped they were reading about me, and I hoped my reputation was a good one; but I came face to face with it a couple weeks ago. Here's what I heard:

"I've read all about you on your website; I know when you started yoga, etc., etc., etc."

"You're the one!"  As in (they explained), you're the one who makes students do what you have asked of them (or, at least, a modification).

All this to say that, at age 66, I am finally being sought out. What a great feeling! I am grateful.

I WROTE THE PREVIOUS PARAGRAPHS ABOUT 2 WEEKS AGO; SO LET'S FAST FORWARD AGAIN:

I continue to teach 7 classes each week, and I am now into week 3 of the teacher training that I am the lead instructor for.  All, so far, is going smoothly.  My classes are well populated in one studio, moderately populated in another, and - well - let's hope the 2 new classes grow over the coming months.

As for the teacher training, I could not have asked for a greater group of future teachers to work with. They are enthusiastic, participative, reading and doing all that I ask. I took a page from my teachers, and began a FB page for our group (it's 'secret'). On that page, we share information. I worried it may just be a one-way communication tool, but find that everyone in the training is using it, contributing, and participating.  Be still my heart!!!

Tomorrow, I travel to Austin for Desiree Rumbaugh's (& others) Second Annual Kindred Spirits Reunion. It's a gathering of current and former Anusara students and teachers. My first time and I am looking forward to just being a sponge for most of the sessions, soaking up a lot of good stuff.

All in all, 2016 is shaping up well.  I hope you are having a good start to 'sweet sixteen', also.

Take care and enjoy your weekend,

Monday, November 30, 2015

SIX YEARS AGO . . .

Six years ago, yesterday, I turned 60 (if you do the math, that means that today I'm 66).  I bored you with a countdown to the dramatic day in which I turned 60. Turns out it was pretty anti-climactic, but the countdown made it fun (for me).

So, today I am 66.  I still teach 7 yoga classes each week, and continue to sign up for workshops and webinars as often as possible. (If you hear an audible 'groan', that is from my students as they heard or read the word 'webinar'.)

But, I still learn so much from those 'groan' webinars!

Today, I finished a 2-part webinar on hamstring health done by Julie Gudmestad (YogaUOnline).  In the first session, Julie talked about the reasons for tight hamstrings. Exercise, lack of exercise, physical make-up -- all can contribute to our ability or inability to stretch out these 3 muscles on the back of our thighs.  Loose (flexible) hamstrings can also create an issue for our students.

One thing I learned from this first part is that strengthening the muscles is the first stage of creating flexibility.  I know, Adam or Sundari, you both told me this in countless yoga classes, but I forget -- remember, I'm 66 now. It was a good reminder. Julie explained that a strong set of hamstrings has greater blood supply, helping to create beefier muscle fibers to stretch. Strong and energized muscles are also safer to stretch.  So, strengthen first then lengthen.

Part 2 reminded me that several factors affect hamstring tightness - some students may have more connective tissue in their muscles, which will limit flexibility; adductor, performis and gluteal muscles will also affect flexibility of the hamstrings; and, in adolescence, bone growth may exceed tissue growth, creating short hamstrings.

Interesting fact from the 'groan' webinar:  Allowing hands to ‘dangle’ - due to tightness in hamstrings - is only tightening / contracting the muscles that make up the hamstrings. As we angle forward from our hips, the hamstring muscles shift into a lengthening contraction - ecentric contraction; however, once you ‘dangle' in that forward fold, the muscles go into an isometric contraction, shortening and tightening. Solution: a block under the hands (or something of sufficient height to keep back in a safe position).

So, armed with this information, I am off to teach.  And, I have students with tight hamstrings.  I also now have some safe, effective ways in which to work.

Hope you have a great Monday!