Yoga Styles


I went to a morning Moksha class the other day. It’s a hot yoga class and there are mirrors along one wall that everyone faces.  Similiar to Bikram style classes, people like to line up right at the mirror, and then the rows of people continue behind them. 

I’m not a fan of mirrors in yoga classes.  I mean, I get them from a practical perspective, you can see what you’re doing.  But I know that people, being people, or maybe it’s women being women, will more likely spend a disportionate amount of time staring at their hips.  I feel like staring at a mirror doesn’t help you *feel* the poses from the inside out. I suspect they take you outside your body when we probably get more value out of going inside. 

But I get it, you can see what you’re doing in a mirror and adjust your alignment.  And really that’s why i love yoga – you get the benefits of the poses whether you’re in a hot room, a cold room or standing on the back of a truck trailer, yoga works every time.

So I walk in the class and women are lined up all along the front right at the mirrors except for the mirror at the far end of the room.  I don’t want to be right at the mirror, I don’t feel i need to watch the sweat drip from my nose, but I go right to the end and start a second row.  I can see myself clearly becuase i’m in the empty spot.  Moksha classes start with Savasana so I don’t get a good look until we stand to start the first round of breathing. 

It turns out I am standing in front of a fun house mirror.  No one has taken this spot because the regulars all know that this mirror is broken.  And the worse kind of broken. My head looks long and thin.  My hips look like I have swallowed a watermelon.  And the watermelon has split and lodged in my hips and thighs. 

So remember how I was saying that mirrors just invite women to obsess about their hips through class?  Well I absolutely include myself in that bunch and here I am starting a 90 minute class with hips “4 axe handles wide” as my father used to say.  Not that he’s dead or anything, he just doesn’t seem to use that unit of measurement anymore.

I do my best to focus on alignment and doing the pose and breathing and managing the heat while trying not to look at my hip region.  Or at least not to look at my hip region and say “oh. my. god”.   It was the best lesson I’ve ever had in being the Witness and observing without judgement.  Mostly because I failed a lot and had the opportunity to start all over again.

Then I started finding it funny.  Ha!  Look at how those crazy monster funhouse mirror hips look when I do Dancers Pose!   It shouldn’t be physically *possible* to lift that kind of mass on one leg!  It’s like how honeybees shouldn’t be able to fly or something!

It was a relief to get to the mat part of class.  But when I left I felt that glorious I-could-be-hit-by-a-bus-and-it-would-be-ok feeling that I get after a hot yoga.  I love that feeling.  That’s yoga for ya’, it works every time.

My friend said she felt calm the minute she walked into the Golden Bridge Spiritual Center, a Kundalini yoga center near Hollywood and Vine in LA.  The idea behind the center is that you might come for class but you might also stay for a meal, the vegan organic food smelled great and you eat at a long wooden table with everyone else.  Or you might shop for books, CDs, jewelry and clothes – they even had maternity yoga wear, what a great idea.

I’d gone to a session with Gurmuhk, the co-founder, at a yoga conference and really liked her. When she told us she’s in her 60′s I just about fell over, she looks easily 20 years younger.  I also read her maternity yoga book when I was pregnant which is over-the-top baby positive. But I’ll take “Bountiful Beautiful Blissful” any day over “All the Terrifying Things To Expect When You’re Expecting”.

The Golden Bridge building is cool. It felt organic. It’s like someone built it by stucco’ing together crushed leaves and dried fruit instead of pouring cement and putting up steel beams. The roof isn’t flat and somehow natural light flows in and the floor is covered in textured granite tiles. The yoga rooms aren’t rooms in the institutional sense, in fact when we climbed the stairs to our small class room, we looked down and saw that the whole back area is a yoga space where 50 people were sitting meditating.  We didn’t realize they were there.

They offer yoga classes in varying styles, but Kundalini is the main deal. Our class had 3 people in it and the only “standard” yoga pose we did was Down Dog for 3 minutes. The rest of the time was spent doing repetitive movement and breathing designed to build up the energy in the base of our spines and then move it up through our chakras.  It worked, I felt pretty energized by the end of class.

But the test for any yoga class I do is Savasana. If it’s been a good one then I vacate the premises during relaxation and during this class I didn’t just leave the building, I think I was visiting another planet.  I was just gone, it was great. 

Music is a big component of what they do, and it helps when you’ve been doing a movement for 3 minutes. They end every class with everyone singing along to a blessing song that starts “may the warm sun shine upon you”. It’s simply a feel-good place. And in a sprawling transient city like LA, it’s probably a mecca for people who are craving a bit of community with like-minded folks.

When we left our room, there were a dozen parents in the big yoga area at the back dancing their babies around the room to music. I had seen a Moms/Babies class on the schedule but I thought those classes were usually about women attempting yoga poses while their babies crawled under them or fussed to be fed. This looked a lot more fun for both.

My friend was sold and took advantage of the first visit discount and bought a 10 class package. The center isn’t real close to her house but she’s going to try to go on Saturdays.  The real success story here is that we managed to hold onto a good yoga buzz all the way to Malibu for fish tacos and back on surface streets in rush hour. Now that’s an accomplishment.

I did a Jivamukti workshop last week and it was so cool to do a class where music is used well.  I don’t mean playing frenetic drumming on a tinny boombox until the teacher realizes it’s driving people crazy and turns it off, but really used to manage the energy of the class.

Lots of teachers, my own included, are against music or at least really cautious about it.  But my thing is, for people who *like* music, when it’s used well it only enhances what’s going on.  If the goal is to help people get in touch with their insides, music is simply one of the best ways to do it.

I learned that the Jiva folks are really into inversions, like they work up to 75 breaths in Shoulder Stand.  I lost track of my breaths but we held it really long.  The teacher wandered over to the music player and switched to some spoken word thing with a strong veggie/enviro-message and beat.  It was great and did I ever need it because at one point my legs started shaking, I could barely hold them up anymore.  And I thought – this is *gravity* I’m working against, why am I having a challenge with this?  I mean ok, we were going on to hour 3 of yoga and I’d run the day before but still – gravity?  So, yeah I appreciated the music.  And the fact that she let us cross our ankles.

She played Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” towards the end of the workshop and I’m not sure I’d ever heard it before, what a beautiful song. It motivated me to go through some music I’ve been collecting and create some new CD’s for my fall yoga classes.  I’ll post here with any juicy finds.

But back to inversions, she said that Jivas spend 5 minutes every class on Headstands.  I’ve avoided them in my Power Yoga classes because we only meet once a week and I figure there’s no way someone can build up the strength to avoid neck injury that way.  So I don’t do them.  But since the folks who’ve registered for the next session are physically active experienced yogis,  I think it’s time to lighten up. 

If strength is an issue they can use the time to work on that by walking their hips over their shoulders, creased at the hips with straight legs.  Or they can walk up a wall they’re facing so their legs are parallel to the floor, hips over shoulders.  Those who can hold their weight without compressing their neck can spend the time playing with their balance and getting into the pose. 

I really want to see where it goes.  Inversions may be good for us physically but there’s something about turning our world upside down that I’m convinced is pretty powerful.  Even when you have to cross your ankles.

 

 

I had the opportunity to get to a Bikram class last week in Montreal while I was in town to see The Police.  I loved the teacher and I’m sorry to say I didn’t get her name. 

The last time I had a Bikram opportunity, the teacher was like a drill sargeant, I felt sorry for the newbie that she yelled at.  But the Montreal teacher managed to challenge us but also be gentle.  She was respectful of the newbies in the class saying for Standing Head to Knee Pose, “if this is your first time you’re going to hold the posture right here” with foot in hand above the floor. 

I find Bikram teachers talk non-stop which means I inevitably zone, but because this woman was teaching in English and French I had to really focus when it was in English to make sure I got the instruction I needed.  Then I zoned when she switched to French because I understand about zero of it.  I never did learn the words for ‘rabbit’ and ‘camel’ let alone anything useful to yoga instruction.

But what I liked best about her teaching is that she encouraged us to enjoy the spaces between the standing postures.  She told us to avoid the urge to wipe sweat, scratch and fidget.  She asked us to just pause and breath.

It was a great way to deal with being overheated, which I find makes me feel edgey and fidgety and then clausterphobic.  It’s like my body thinks it can wiggle away from the heat.  But that’s just resistance talking right?  It was so much better to just stand and breath.  Just suck in the heat.  I felt calmer and cooler. 

We get can get so busy between poses.  It’s like we want to avoid the subtlety of what’s really going on inside.  I love how there are times between Sun Salutations in my own classes where it seems like the whole class finds something to get busy with.  They adjust clothing, blow their nose, play with their hair, line up their mat more perfectly with their neighbour.  Not that any of those things are inherently bad.  It *is* best to avoid having the snot flow when you’re doing Sun Salutations.  And in my Bikram class I did wipe the brow sweat every so often because I knew salt in the eyes was *really* going to harsh my buzz.  It’s just another thing to be aware of.

It reminded me of how they do it in Kripalu too.  The languaging is different, but same effect.  In Kripalu you pause after a strenuous standing pose and literally soak up the effects.  Notice where the energy moving.  Feel the flow of prana.  Soak up the bliss. 

And in Bikram they take it a step further so that you actually enjoy a 20 second Savasana between each of the mat poses.  I originally thought it was to keep you from passing out after an hour of that heat.  Now I’m seeing it probably helps the energy flow and kickstarts the detox process between the twists and sit-ups.  But whatever the reason is, it was delicious and calming. 

It reminds me of how little we focus inward and how powerful it is when we do.

 

I went to a Sarah Powers’ workshop once and she said, “what we think of as aging is really just neglect”. Sarah is big into long slow stretches. She does Yin Yoga. In that style they stay in poses for a long time to really juice the joints. See Paul Grilley’s article on it here and check out his book here.

Ever held Pigeon pose for 5 whole minutes? It’s really tough. All kinds of things come up and that seems to be the point. Sarah says that it’s about learning to be flexible about our flexibility. You spend the time just being in the pose, softening, learning to accept what comes up.

She talked about coming face-to-face with what you cling to, and what you have aversions to. An aversion is *anytime* you wait for something different instead of just accepting what is. Wow, sometimes I spend the whole day in aversion. And you definitely experience aversion to the way your hip aches from holding Pigeon for so long. But you get to practice accepting that. In Yin Yoga you’ve got the time and have the focus because you’re not about to jump to the next pose. Our own yoga mat is such an ideal place to practice that kind of thing. It’s safe. It’s a practice ground for the rest of our life.

Someone sent me a great link – it’s excerpts from a 1938 video showing Iyengar and Krishnamacharya doing yoga. It’s amazing to see their practice back in the day.

DaisyI’m actually a certified Kripalu yoga teacher and while you wouldn’t know it from my teaching – thanks to my training I really value the importance of breathing. Next time you’re bored in front of the PC (hopefully *after* reading this blog post ;-) ) do some googling on the benefits of breathing, it’s amazing what you find out.

I’ve found that the simplest forms of breathing (pranayama) are the most powerful. And this is a boon for teachers – because they’re simple, it means you can stop yacking sooner and just do it. Here are my faves:

- 3 part or Complete Breath (Dirga Pranayama) - gets you centered before practice. A stress response requires shallow chest breathing, so the best way to start relaxing your body is to breath into your belly. Here’s how to start – get into a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, pull your spine straight and relax your shoulders and knees. Put your hands against your belly and completely relax it. Feel it soften into your hands. We normally suck in our belies to look svelte, but now it’s break-time. Fill that nice soft belly full of breath. When your belly has expanded into your hands, let your breath fill your ribs and then your chest. When you’ve completed a deep inhale, let the air go in one long smooth exhale. Take 10 more breaths like this focusing on the sensations that come with each breath. Allow your exhales to becomes longer and slower as your body becomes relaxed and filled with oxygen.

- Breath with Retention (kumbhaka) – this is a good one for centering, Savasana or those nights in bed when you just can’t quiet your mind enough to fall asleep. Here’s how it works – take 3 deep breaths, then hold the next inhale pause before letting the breath go. Do this 3 three times. In the next round move the pause to the end of your exhale. Do this 3 times. For the next round pause in both spots – when you’re full of breath and when you’re empty of breath. Start again. You may find your pauses naturally get longer as you go. Allow yourself to enjoy the gaps – known as a ‘perfectly peaceful pause’.

Bonus points – add rention to 3-part breathing.

- Ujjayi or Ocean breath - if you’re new to this one, one of the best ways to get the hang of Ocean breath is to breath onto your hand like you’re fogging up a mirror. Ujjayi breath uses the same throat position and produces the same sound. Then maintain that position with mouth closed and you’ve got it. The key is finding the right amount of relaxation in the throat. It’s like you’re getting so relaxed that you’re going to start snoring, but don’t quite get there. If you’re not sure, it helps to listen to someone else. Ujjayi breathing relaxes the body and the reason we do it during asana practice is to help keep us focused on the body. The sound and sensation of the breath helps keep us grounded in what’s happening on the mat so it’s harder for the mind to drift off.

Bonus points – add retention to a 3-part Ujjayi breath.

There are a plenty of forms of pranayama – heck there are a bjillion versions of the retention breath alone, where you add bandas and all kinds of fun things. These are just simple starters. CDs can be useful for your home practice. I have
Kripalu’s PRANAYAMA: Beginner Level Practice and it’s a good one (I don’t have experience buying from this vendor). But the bottom line is that you can get pretty relaxed and go pretty deep even with these simple breathing techniques. And they’re guaranteed to get you to sleep every time.

The word ‘pasteurize’ jumped off the page at me from June’s Yoga Journal. The sidebar of the Tree Pose article talked about ‘tapas’ or creating heat. It said that we create heat in yoga to ‘pasteurize’ the body. We burn off impurities and imbalances so that the prana or energy can move freely. And so that we can feel clear and calm.

What a great way to describe it. Sometimes people come into class tired and want to head right to Savasana but there’s a reason that yoga class isn’t just naptime – it wouldn’t be half as effective. Your mind would still be churning about your day and your body would be tense and stiff. We do Sun Salutations and standing poses to pasteurize our bodies and take care of all that. More active styles like Power Yoga, Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes build the heat really well. But even when I teach more gentle classes I keep it active with 1/2 Sun Salutations, or swingy stuff borrowed from Kundalini or Breath of Joy type moves from Kripalu. Or even simple poses done on repeat with the breath, like cobra, can work well. You’ve gotta get your yah-yahs out before you can relax.

I find that when I’ve had a really intense workday and I’m exhausted, it’s really my head that’s exhausted and my spirit that’s depleted. My body isn’t tired as much as it is tense and leaden from sitting absorbing all the adrenalin of the day. I may have been in Fight or Flight mode but I didn’t actually do either. So all that stress and tension settles in the body (always the same places right?) making it stiff and tight or dead feeling. Not to mention that without taking a deep breath all day, it’s no wonder my toes feel like they’re attached to someone else’s body.

When I get home from a day like that I *think* that I need to camp out on the couch, but that’s the worst thing to do.

And this is where yoga comes in – we move, breathe and oxygenate, use the muscles, heat up, then stretch deeply and *then* we’re ready for Savasana. And a good sleep.

There are plenty of yoga styles but there are exponentially more yoga teaching styles. I’ve been perusing podcasts on iTunes again and found Amy Jin Schmelzer who does Power Yoga with Amy. She’s recorded while teaching an hour-long moderate level class.

Amy is a talker. Like a New York kinda talker. And it’s not necessarily about the yoga pose you’re doing but about life and yoga and all kinds of good stuff. She admits herself that she gets talking so much that she forgets what’s up next. So it just depends what kind of yoga class you like. I found I just relaxed into the pose and listened. Thanks to the talking it’s not a super fast paced class, which makes it easier when you’re following via audio-only. But it warmed me up good because she works through alot of Sun Salutations, probably a good 1/2 hour.

Amy is funny and doesn’t take herself too seriously and yet doesn’t take the yoga lightly either. I’ll definitely ‘go’ to her class again.

I wrote about JivaDiva and how her podcasts are great for at-home yoga. Sometimes though, Jivamukti yoga, which is the style she does, is pretty speedy. It can be tough to keep up to audio-only instructions. Alanna, that’s her name, commented back with a tip that she’s now offering video podcasts! My iTunes is set up to automatically download her podcasts, so I found one and I tried one out this a.m.. It was a 30 minute Twisting session and it was great. Nice to be able to peek up and see what the next move is.

She did a wicked sequence (I won’t give it all away ;-) ) where she went from a Revolved Prayer Lunge to a Revolved 1/2 Moon Pose. So if you’re lunging with your right leg forward, your hands come into prayer and you twist right. Then to transition, your left hand comes onto the fl0or a foot ahead of your right foot and you open up to the right stretching your left leg straight/back and your right hand up to the ceiling. Yummy! This is one you should try at home. If you’re not an iTunes person, no problem, you can also find them on her website. Thanks for your comment Alanna!

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