Styles

YIN & YANG: A RUNNERS GUIDE TO YIN YOGA

With the Sun Run and the BMO half/full marathon just around the corner adding a little Yin to your Yang could be your best preventative approach towards staying injury free this season.

As an ultra marathoner and Yoga teacher I realize that stretching is a crucial part of any athletes repertoire. Over time, as we age, and especially in competitive athletics when load is applied continuously our structural frame our connective tissue and joints are ultimately the most affected. This creates stiffness, limited mobility and sometimes injury.

 So how does Yin and Yang relate to human physiology?

Yang tissue make up muscles, are more fluid-filled, soft, and elastic.  Yin tissue make upconnective tissue (ligaments, tendons, and fascia) and bones are dryer, harder, and stiffer.  By extension, exercise that focuses on musculoskeletal tissue is yang; exercise that focuses on connective tissue is yin.

Through dynamic movement and the linear mechanics of running, we place 8 times our body weight with every gait cycle; which generates a large amount of heat within working tissue. So it’s no wonder so many athletes gravitate towards adding a little Yin to their Yang practice.

Yin Yoga provides a slower, calmer method of yogic stretching that targets the joints, ligaments and fascia/connective tissue in the body. When combined with deep diaphragmatic breathing; the vagus nerve is stimulated and the relaxation response within tissue is activated, releasing new depths in postures, deeper ranges of motion, or an increased flow of energy can be achieved by focusing on the deeper tissues of the body through this practice.

Moreover, a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as nonmalleable, especially the hips, pelvis, and lower spine, all areas that runners need to be mindful of during their peak training leading up to race day.

As you approach the Sun Run and BMO half /full marathon create space for Yin Yoga, it’s a great addition to your taper. Try YogaFORM on Saturday mornings on the North Shore, or if you are an evening Yogi; one of my favorite spots is YogaPod, also on the North Shore, Friday afternoons and Saturday evening bliss!

 Happy Yin, to all your Yang!

If You Can Breathe, Then You Can Sing

Sitting cross legged, arms raised straight out from each side, palms up, music on. We can sing along if we want to. And to my surprise, we all do. And it sounds…awesome?

I didn’t expect a group of random people – some with vocal talent and others (like myself) with none whatsoever – to sound so lovely. And it wasn’t just this once either, it is every time we repeat a mantra or sing along to a popular song. We sound good. The combined voices are somehow in sync with great tone. It sounds better than any cover band I’ve heard or any church choir performance I used to be tortured with. Yet, these bands and choirs rehearse.

So why does an unrehearsed group at yoga sound better?

The author of Yoga Solara offers many parallels between practicing yoga and singing, offering explanations about why us untrained singers find our voices in yoga.

Relaxation, releasing our egos. The best singers strive to let go of all physical and mental tension and allow their voices to come from an authentic, natural place. If you allow your ego to run your singing, your voice will sound false and manipulated.

Presence. Singing is the epitome of being present in the moment. If you let your mind wander, your voice can become unstable.

Posture. Correct singing posture is identical to mountain pose, with hands at the sides.

Technique and Heart. A great singer understands and cultivates a solid technique, and then, when performing, lets go and just sings from the heart.

Breath, the focal point in both yoga and singing. The ‘First Secret’ to singing is the control of breath. When you have control of your breath that means you have control over the muscles of your diaphragm, larynx, and vocal chords (Singing and Breathing – http://singinglessons4u.net/).

So, a singing voice and the courage to find it is one of the many benefits of practicing yoga. Although I’m not about to start belting out Donna Summer songs or create my own cover band, it is nice to acceptably sing out loud and believe I sound better than I would otherwise.

What are your thoughts about singing in yoga?

Want to sing in yoga? I recommend Gloria’s Kundalini at Semperviva.

YOUR PATH TO PRANAYAMA

breathe deep and relax

We know that the word “prana” means life force and “pranayama”  in Yoga means “breath control” or deep diaphragmatic breathing; which is crucial to both sustaining life, as well as relaxation.

But did you know your diaphragm does more then just help you breathe deeper and cultivate prana? 

Deep breathing establishes the mind-body connection needed to regulate our autonomic nervous system (ANS); which can become under-active or over-active with higher levels of stress, tension and the daily hustle and bustle of our urban lifestyle.

The ANS is comprised of the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and the sympathetic Nervous System (SNS); which are responsible for regulating the body’s involuntary functions; which includes the movement of the diaphragm, breathing, circulation, muscle contractions and how you got into the Yoga posture you are practicing right now!

When we meditate or sleep all of these processes slow, along with our breath and we reach a steady state of deep breathing, which is controlled and methodical.  

However, daily stress, tension, muscle fatigue and anxiety can obstruct the fluidity of breathing leaving us with shallow, rigid breathing patterns. This results in unbalanced or impaired autonomic responses that restrict the flow of energy in our body, thus weakening our prana.  

Deep diaphragmatic breathing exercises engage the diaphragm, abdominal wall and rib-cage which improves the inner space within the abdomen for the organs to move freely.

Practicing your pranayama helps to circulate freshly oxygenated blood throughout the system, improves mental clarity and activates the PSNS by stimulating the vagus nerve; which induces the relaxation response, and provides a healthy respite from chronic stress.

Your Path to Pranayama can begin in a relaxed seated or supine posture. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly:

  • Steady your mind.
  • Breathe more slowly.
  • Breathe more deeply, from the belly.
  • Exhale longer than you inhale. 
  • Cultivate Pranayama

Happy Breath makes Happy Prana!

Sources:

*  Full Path to Pranayama article can be found here:  “The Da!ly Muse” YogaFORM’s official blog site.  http://gimmedailymuse.wordpress.com/  

* Yoga Anatomy: author Leslie Kaminoff and The Breathing Project, Inc – NYC

YOGA: DO YOU MOVE WITH INTELLIGENCE?

A  well worn “Post-It” sits on my bedside table adorning this phrase; “Action is movement with intelligence” by B.K.S Iyengar; a mantra or better yet a metaphor for pretty much anything we do in life, on and off the mat. 

Question is…how often do we practice it?

Last night I stumbled upon an intriguing article from the NY Times called “Stretch/ When Yoga Hurts” by Lizette Alvarez and it reminded me of how necessary it is to take the time to move with careful precision and be mindful of limitations in our body.

 The foundation of her article outlines the exponential rise of injuries in Yoga over the last several years. Her top 2 findings below are agreeably valid:

1. The overzealous, eager student (we have all been there).

2. Poor alignment and bio mechanical asymmetries.

 As a YogaFORM teacher, Movement & Performance Coach I work daily with clients on corrective strategies to become more kinesthetically aware of their own unique mechanics, and it makes a world of difference on and off the mat.

Yoga is one of the best forms of therapeutic movement; as it provides an atmosphere where one can practice internal awareness, and become aware of their limitations while working towards methodical corrective mechanics.

 Therefore, to build upon my “Post-It’, intelligent action and movement implies focusing on improving the responsiveness in the body for an all encompassing awareness.

This means that each movement we make and the corresponding transitional movements require exquisite observational skill and mastery to cultivate alignment and prepare the body for automatic responsive sequencing. As you continue to observe, adjust and integrate into your postures, this will lead to less strain on the all the muscles, bones, joints, (CNS) Central Nervous System and (PSNS) Parasympathetic Nervous System responses.

When we move and act with intelligence and intention we open channels within our structural framework that results in improved alignment, a nurturing sense of balance and steadiness in postures for better symmetry overall. 

How’s your form? Do you move with intelligence?

Sources:  

NY Times article: Stretch/ When Yoga Hurts, by Lizette Alvarez: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/24stretch/

 YogaFORM Links: www.fittotrain.com.  Blogroll: http://gimmedailymuse.wordpress.com/

Online Yoga Class Review

For the times when we can’t make it to our weekly yoga class, there’s always the online alternative. I thought I’d capture and provide a few words to some of the online classes I’ve come across. Here goes!

Yoga Today – search, stream or download yoga classes!

There are three teachers featured on Yoga Today: Adi, Neesha and Sarah. They each offer various yoga styles, levels and focus. Classes range from Ashtanga, Anusara, Kundalini, Hatha blend and Vinyasa and provide for the novice to the more advanced guru. The website has over 200 one-hour video courses all shot in beautiful backgrounds and settings (mostly outdoors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA). Each class has typically two students, along with the teacher, so it’s great to see adjustments and the different variations they offer based on ability. At the end of the class, you can rate and provide feedback – you can also check out what others have written. I’ve tried classes with each of these teachers and there’s no doubt about their expertise! I’m a fan! You can choose to download individual classes or purchase a membership. Annual unlimited membership is 89.95 USD. The site offers a weekly free class! www.yogatoday.com

Yoga Download – also a search, stream or download!

Yoga Download offers a pretty huge range of yoga classes in addition to various levels. Yoga classes range from Forest, Office, Prenatal, Hot, Restorative and Vinyasa yoga (and much, much more – some I didn’t even know existed!) to also offering Pranayama classes. You can choose between 20, 30, 45 and 60-minute audio or video classes. In addition, each class offers a downloadable pose guide. The site has around 28 yoga teachers. The site also offers music by chosen music artists and yoga products. Each class is typically set up with information regarding to style, theme (ie weight loss), intensity, props and a rating. You can preview a class even if you are not a member! Annual unlimited membership is 89.95 USD. The site offers 20-minute audio and video classes for free. www.yogadownload.com

Yogaglo – stream on your computer or HD TV!

Yogaglo offers a range of yoga styles and teachers from Anusara, Hatha, Restorative, Basics, Yin, Pre and Post Natal and Vinyasa. They also offer meditation classes, tutorials, lectures and workshops. Levels start at one and climb to three. In addition, they offer a choice for class duration starting from five minutes to 225 minutes. There are over 800 yoga classes to choose from and a choice to stream from your computer or HD TV. You can get a sneak peak of the yoga classes as well as comments from online students. There is also a beginner 7-class series for chosen yoga styles. Monthly membership is 18 USD. The site offers a 15-day free trial! www.yogaglo.com

Would love to hear your experiences and any online classes you’ve checked out!

Passport To Prana

If you haven’t yet purchased your Passport to Prana yet, it’s not too late, they do not expire until July 31, 2011. For only $30, you only have to use it twice to get your money’s worth as most drop in fees are $15.00 plus.

This is the second year I have purchased the Passport to Prana, and while last year I probably only did use it twice, this year I’m hoping to get more use of it and am well on my way. With almost 30 locations there are LOTS of options for taking in a class here or there, however if you don’t drive or don’t have the time to venture out to some of the locations then you probably will only use it a few times.

A few wonderful friends of mine have all purchased the Passport to Prana and we use this time to catch up as we venture out to try a new studio & a new teacher and have brunch or dinner after. It’s a great and affordable way to check out new classes and studios, and especially if you are hunting around for “your” space to practice in, this is a fantastic option to get a feel for the studio and see if you want to become a member. For me, I use it to try different styles of yoga, Bikrams, Anusura, Kundalini with different teachers and get a different feel for my favourite styles.

Are you planning a vacation anytime soon? Make sure you check out wwww.passporttoprana.com and ALL the other Canadian cities plus many US cities and purchase your Passport to Prana for wherever you are going.

Lori Lucas; Mummas & Babies

I’ve heard it said time & time again, that lots of women make their first path into yoga when they are pregnant, and what a better place to be when you first make your way into yoga then to already be on a path of change.

I was graciously invited to come & take one of Lori Lucas’ Prenatal classes at the Roundhouse last week, and was delighted to be surrounded by love and baby bellies! Yoga is a great practice for Moms to be who are more aware of the changes in their bodies and allows them to prepare mentally and physically for the birth of their babies. Prenatal yoga helps in building awareness and self love, along with strength both mentally and physically as well as added perks of relaxation, decreased swelling, relief from back and neck pain and so much more.

A trained Doula, Lori has been in attendance at numerous births and has completed both her Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training and Kids Teacher Training. Lori’s classes are a place of love and comfort, where all the mummas are encouraged to go at their own pace or make adjustments to their practice as their body tells them. With the never ending circle of new baby bellies and new moms that come through the door, Lori continues to make a community for these new moms to share and talk about how they are feeling with other moms to be. But it’s not over there, once baby arrives these moms can still have that connection with other new moms at Mom & Baby yoga. Mom & Baby yoga builds on the community that Lori so lovingly builds and ensures that these moms continue to stay connected to people who have played an integral part in their pregnancy.

Since most women make their way into yoga when they are pregnant, the idea of going to a studio may be a little daunting. Lori’s classes are held at local Community Centres (Roundhouse & Mount Pleasant Community Centre) and while some people have a perception that Community Centre teachers are no where near as good as Studio teachers, Lori’s classes confirm you can get the same level of teaching if not better at your local Community Centre.

Check out Lori’s blog at: http://yogawithlorilucas.blogspot.com/ or on Facebook and if you are a Mom to be and haven’t yet signed up for Prenatal Yoga, give it a whirl, or if that new bundle of joy has arrived take that time for you and baby & head to a Mom & Baby yoga class. Lori’s schedule can be found on her blog or on Facebook.

Liv Hilde, Upside Down

Since lectures started up a the beginning of January I’ve been mostly held to one yoga class a week, with the rare free weekend for some yin/yin:yang or something. Instead of something soft and easy to get me through the crush of the days, I went for the hardcore to really wring out the nasty vibes. I’ve been taking Liv’s classes since the summer sometime, and everything from hatha to YRide was in the books.

Out of curiosity, I just had to look up the origins of her last name. Apparently, Hilde carries a meaning like “ready for battle” or “woman of battle”. In this case the meaning is extremely apt, but don’t let her cheery demeanor fool you. In the last 5 months since I’ve started taking Liv’s Power Upside Down classes, I’ve only missed one due to a sore throat. Every Wednesday at 6:30pm I haul myself to her classes knowing I’m going to be fighting myself the whole way through. Yes, the male ego and pride still kicks around and lingers, pushing me to make every posture in the class.

Liv Hilde is absolutely ridiculous, and her strength is astonishing. I’ve also noticed that she really treats every class like a how a 5 year old would treat a day at the beach: with wild exuberance and unabashed enthusiasm. As such her classes don’t get too heavy with philosophy and wisdom either, sticking to lighter fare like odd happenstances in her life or poke around the lives of the yogis in class. She also has a penchant for making funny groans and grunts during tough poses, and has even called me a “ninja” for how I windmill into Warrior II.

Oh, and I should’ve mentioned that she’s been under the tutelage of Ana Forrest. Anyone else shakin’ on their mats?

What's that look on her face? Ah, deviousness.

Her Power Upside Down class is a very fast vinyasa affair with minimal rest. The inversions are placed near the end of the class when the body is all worked up, but it presents a problem because she trashes almost everyone. We’re all way too tired at the end to give the inversions a solid go, though we don’t slack off on purpose or anything. I repeat: she’s not malicious.

The classes are getting harder and harder, mostly because everyone in the class is a regular. I think a weekly class such as this with such a consistent group of followers speaks volumes to her magnetism. She makes everything look so easy, that it’s just within reach, that everyone just goes for it; caution is thrown to the wind and injury seems impossible. For the record, I’ve taken my fair share of tumbles (with everyone watching, even).

The YRide classes she used to teach at the downtown Flow studio were equally exhausting. I wrote a piece about YRide a few months back and one can get a gist of it with a decent glance through it. She’s a pure taskmaster alright, but with a heart of gold. The journey she drags you on is perilous to both mind and body; it’s that challenging when she’s on her game. All she asks for is a good effort and she’ll be there to prop you up the entire way.

I attribute my being able to get into Forearm Stands and Headstands largely to Liv’s influence. She’ll help work all the proper muscle groups, warming them all up, while encouraging…well, courage to go beyond. Before her classes I wouldn’t even dare prop myself against a wall. Today I’m comfortable with two freestanding inversions and a slew of arm balances. Never would I have imagined myself doing anything like them, and Liv and her instructor compatriots are to thank.

Oh, and if you haven’t done inversions yet but wish to try it, I’ll say that you’re brain will love it. Guaranteed.

Attention To Details

You know you are in an Iyengar type class when you hear a teacher say that ‘feet are parallel’ means second toes are in line with the middle of your ankle.

At the beginning, when I was practising yoga, I was addicted to Ashtanga. So, whenever my favourite teacher was substituted by an Iyengar teacher, my heart would sink, and I would itch for a Vinyasa.

Whenever I thought of Iyengar, blocks, straps, and injury rehab would come to mind.

[source: yogaasanablog.com]

My relationship to Ashtanga changed when one summer, I went to a Mysore class in Barcelona. The studio was really hot, and my body was overheating. For some reason, the teacher thought I was a dancer, and in the standing balance sequence, he lifted my leg way higher than it should go. That’s how my hamstrings were torn. I could barely walk for a few days, and it took a whole year for them to recover completely.

When I arrived here I went to a lot of different classes, and was exposed to many different styles of yoga. Although I still really enjoy Power Vinyasa classes, I really feel I’m working when I’m attending an Iyengar type Hatha class.

After almost 3 months here, I can already see how my mental checklist for each asana has grown – especially for downward dog. There are so many details that I’ve now added to my practise, and my body has already learnt most of them.

The more I get into the details of an asana, the more I feel focused, relaxed, and grounded. It goes for many things in life, the more you break them down, the more you understand them, the more empowered you feel.

I’ve now also discovered a great Iyengar trick to open tight hamstrings the other day; a lesson learned the hard way!

Delve a Little Deeper

So perhaps you want to delve a little deeper into your yoga practice, learn more about the history and the philosophy behind yoga or perhaps even teach, what do you do?

http://www.exhalestudio.com/

We are lucky to live in such a huge yoga community with endless options on styles, studios and teachers so how do you decide where to take your training? I’ve come up with a Top 5 List of questions that you should ask yourself before taking the plunge.

  1. Availability – How much time do you have to commit yourself to training? The first part of teacher training is 200 hours, or you could go for the full meal deal & do all 500 at once. Do you work full time, go to school, only have weekends, evenings available or maybe you only have weekdays available? Do you want to get it all done in a month or would you prefer to take a few months to complete your training?
  2. Style – What style of training do you want to take? Vinyasa, Hatha, Hot, Bikram, Anusura? Make sure that you determine what style of yoga the studio offers before signing on the dotted line.
  3. Location – Maybe you live in the Fraser Valley or maybe you live right downtown, where you live will also determine on where you take your training unless you are planning on relocating for the duration.
  4. Cost – Since teacher training is certainly not a cheap affair, make sure you research what the studio has to offer. Do they offer payment plans or want it all paid up front?
  5. Teachers – After narrowing your studio selection down, make sure that you take classes with the instructors of the teacher training program before you sign up. Do you like their style and personality, remember you will be spending 200+ hours with them.

Even if you have no intentions of teaching, you can gain so much from a Teacher Training Program with benefits to your life and your yoga practice.

Groovin’ Yogis!

Yoga Music http://yogasuper.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html

People have a strong like or dislike for the music that they hear in their yoga classes, I’ve even heard people comment that they won’t take a class BECAUSE of the music. People seem to find a strong connection to music, whether its something that triggers emotions, lets them let go, or dance or smile or even sing a little, there is a “type” for all of us.

One of my most favourite parts about attending a class is to hear the tunes that role through my head as my breath guides me from pose to pose. I find an escape in the music, maybe it’s something catchy or something that has a positive message just when things get a little tough that makes you push on or something that I can sing along to, whatever it is, I find that the majority of teachers have created play lists with perfect timing in relation to their class.

I’ve yoga’d to the likes of Pearl Jam, the Beatles, Snatam Kaur, Krishna Das, Florence & The Machine and the list goes on and on including various genre’s from Folk, to Rock, to Kirtan or Reggae. Where can you get the tunes you may ask? Well iTunes of course, but also many studios generally have copies of CD’s that frequent their play lists.

It has been said that music plays a great part in our brain development and stress management. Check out this video Good Vibrations; The Power of Music on the Mind about how music plays a role in our brain functions and therapeutic benefits to our health.

Good Vibrations; The Power of Music & the Mind

What type of music or songs do you like to hear in your yoga class?

Danielle Hoogenboom

I’ve only started taking Danielle’s classes in the last month or so. Since the departure of one my favourite instructors (Violetta Pioro) I’ve been searching for another mellow soul to fill the void. Danielle’s hatha classes function more like yin than anything, and I personally couldn’t have been more thrilled. The postures and the transitions she fields are slow and soft, and such methods are important to balance out those hardcore classes. Taking power everyday isn’t a bad thing as long as one knows to find slower and gentler classes for balance.

Danielle is soft-spoken, with a hint of lisp, and packs her dreads around like they’re clouds that float her around. Before each class she sifts around the room, asking every yogi if they have any injuries or any postures that they’d personally like to go into. I like the fact that almost all instructors ask their classes for requests, but Danielle’s one by one inquiries seem rare to me. For those that may wonder, I normally ask for twists.

I do have to say that her slow hatha classes are exceptionally effective. It’s only in her classes that I’ve caught myself at the beginning of a snore, twice, during heart-openers and such. It got to that point after she came by and lifted my chest even higher as I was lying on a bolster for Savasana; with everything supported and opened I guess my insides just melted outright. I distinctly remember one night that I relaxed so much I actually didn’t remember who I was, where I was, and how to drive home for about 10mins after the end of class.

www.lovelightyoga.com

Many of the postures in her classes are seated or in low lunges and I haven’t done any crazy inversions or arm balances with her yet. It’s a welcome change of pace after hitting up Anila and Liv’s power classes (of whom I will talk about in a few weeks) as my muscles could really use some laziness. I always get thrown off by powerful/aggressive instructors in slow classes since their strong voices seem to push me faster and further, but Danielle’s demeanor matches her class style perfectly to turn everything down.

She likes to explain every step, though always with a lull that really gets you to move the same way: slowly. Sometimes we all get caught up in the flow of a class and we really do forget to be aware. Her speed makes it so that there’s really no way to not realize the exclamations of the body. Since her movements aren’t sharp, and in our tendencies to match the instructors, the whole class claws around. I was still enough at the end of one class to end it in a sitting meditation. She later came up and said that she could see from my eyes that I had disconnected and rebooted. I didn’t deny it since it did indeed feel like that.

She has a way of making one feel like that they’re in the clouds with her, just swaying around shifting along with the vapours themselves. Like most instructors she offers food for thought, though she normally talks about the interplay between what we see to what we feel. It’s a bit different than taking a snippet from a yoga text and transposing it, rather drawing very clear lines to connect different aspects of our life.

From what I know she lives on Commercial Drive, has a roommate that digs astrological spiritualism, and sports her staple dreadlocks all the time. She even joked at how she seemed stereotypical to herself, which she then said wasn’t too far off the mark if her roommates didn’t rub off on her so much. She has her own sites, Danielle Hoogenboom and Lovelight, and teaches at Unity Yoga Tea House and YYoga.

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