The idea of using pressure and friction on the human body for health and relaxation is not new. Massage was prevalant in the time of the Roman empire: if you went to the baths it would be common to have a body rub in addition to the hot and cold tubs. The Greeks as well had it, and before them the Egyptians and the Chinese, and the Indians. There are even some European cave paintings that suggest massage may date back thousands of years earlier. So the practices and the understanding of their benefits predate a lot of our modern medical science. But as that science developed it gave both new insight and new techniques to various forms of body work, as well as to exercise science and sports science. The study of anatomy and detailed anatomical drawings grouing out of the practice of disection helped us understand what is going on with the musculature underneath the skin, and investigation of processes like blood flow and lymphatic flow and drainage, and immune function have helped paint a picture of the integrated nature of the various systems of the body. The invention of the microscope and the study of biochemestry helped us see the underlying cellular and chemical processes of our bodies.
The first society of trained masseuses in Great Britain was founded in 1894. It is interesting that the time that massage moved toward being seen as a skilled profession in the mid 1800s to the early 100s coincided with other discoveries... like the importance of hand washing to avoid spreading germs. Advances in hygene were as important as anatomical knowledge, and the microscopic study of the chemical processes of the body.
Massage is a representative of a style of therapy sometimes called hands on bodywork. There are many styles of massage: Swedish, Thai, and Shiatsu are some that are popular. Reflexology is a bodywork that attempts to influence systems of the body through movements and pressure to the hands and feet. Physical therapy and Occupational therapy also use hands on techniques. Rolfing is another form, and one that was one of the first bodywork therapies to work toward structural integration of the fascia. Ida Rolf, who was born at the end of the 19th centure, and lived until 1979 was trained in biological chemistry (as well as physics and math) which clearly relates to her interest in underlying structure and its interconnections.
The first time I had a massage therapist mention special techniques to open the fascia was more than 10 years ago. This was a very experienced practitioner who spent most of her time training other massage therapists. The technique she used on my back was very different than what I was used to, and the effects surprising for something that didn't have that strong deep feel of most of the massage I had done. Since that time I have paid attention to everything I have seen on fascial research and have continued to think about it in my yoga practice.
The role of connective tissue, and in particular fascia hasn't been studied as much as the shape, structure, and function of other systems. The story you hear in lecture after lecture is how when one used to do anatomical disection the fascia was stripped off and slopped into buckets. In fitness in particular even when I was studying almost 20 years ago the musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems got most of the attention. But lately fascia has been getting quite a lot of interest. Recent research into the major role connective tissue, and fascia in particular has yielded a new theoretical understanding of the important role it plays in human function, as well as a number of practical techniques for health and relaxation. What is being learned has important links to how one understands physical function, physical exercise, and techniques of rehabilitation and relaxation.
Connective Tissue 101
Please feel free to skip the next 3 paragraphs if they make your eyes cross, or if you already know it. Connective tissue is the part of our body that functions to support and bind together various structures of the body into a whole. There are a number of kinds of connective tissues (just as there are different kinds of muscles: bicep, quadricep, heart....) for example: your outer ear, intervertebral discs, ligaments, tendons, and the fascia. If you were to peel away the top layer and the deep layer of the skin you would find a superficial and deep layer of fascia. If you were to remove everything from within the fascia you would find something that looks a little like a spider web that forms a body shaped glove from your head to your feet. After a lifetime it would be worn out, torn, or stiff in certain places, but it would still be a whole body shape.
Connective tussue includes fibers of various sorts (collagen, elastic and reticular fibers), and cells (some secrete fibers, some have an immune function, cleaning up and breaking down stuff, and of course fat cells). Cappilaries run through the tissue, some are more vascularized than others. And there are fibers: collagen, and elastic and reicular fibers. It is the amount and arrangement of those fibers that a lot of people peaked a lot of interst. Some types of fibers are naturally loosely woven, or densely woven which can have a regular or irregular shape. There are also a ton of sensory nerve endings: 10 times as many as in the muscles. And, oh yes, a lot of water.
What gets really interesting is not just how it is made, but how it works, why it works that way, and how it affects everything else. The fascial web transmits force. It holds together and balances the contractions of the muscle fibers in relationship to gravity. The sensory nerve endings allows it to transmit complex messages from the autonomic nervous system to parts of the body. The fibers realign in response to stress and movement. So when you engage mulha bandha from that center it is not just the intraabdominal pressure of the transversus abdominus muscle that is helping to stabalize the body.... you are causing a cascade outward of fibers turning and realigning, life bits of grass in a bowl of water when you drop in a stone. Actually even before you engage the movement the fibers in the fascia start to orient toward the direction of movement. The movement of the fascia which interdigitates the muscle fiber bundles allows those muscle fibers to slide over one another. There even seems to be a connection between emotional tension and the state of the fascial web. Release one and there can be release in the other.
So strong, healthy, and stretchy fascia is important to movement, to balance, and to avoiding pain.
Keeping it healthy is partly a question of movement. This is what yoga teachers and physical therapists, and personal trainers, and all those types of people have been saying ad nauseum for decades. Range of motion is important. Being sedentary is not good for long periods of time. Fascia is adaptable. It can heal and it can hypertrophy.
The other really important thing has to do with hydration. As we become inactive, and as we age the fascia dehydrates. Just as a sugar syrup you are boiling becomes thicker and harder to stir as water boils off the fibers in the fascia get more flattened and harder to move as they get dehydrated. This does not simply mean that you should drink a lot of water (though that is good as well). Think about what happens if you have a drought and then a rainstorm... a lot of water just rolls off the surface. It means that you need to move that water around so that it has the fibroblasts can take in water. They produce proteins that bring in water, and if they are dehydrated they do it less well.
Yoga, even before having the science, tended to employ processes that create healthy connective tissues and a healthy fascial web. A yoga class will move the whole body (not typically one joint in isolation) within a variety of three dimensional directions. Spinal twists in particular are wonderful for moving fluid through the body: hydrating the intervertebral discs, as well as squeezing and rinsing out internal organs. In a typical yoga posture we are less interested in isolating a specific muscle to do an isolated action, than to stretch or open into a particular direction. In my teaching I talk about line of stretch and line of energy. We balance our directions of stretch. One fascial technique that I read about recently is the use of stretching in the opposite direction of the tension and then into the tension: something I've been doing in class for a long time. (My students will think of tail on the dog into pigeon). It is wonderful to see the science that explains the benefits that I've seen in a lifetime of practice.
Yoga is not a hands on body work modality. The pressing, stretching and squeezing comes from within. There is, however, a strong hands on tradition in yoga. These days yoga teachers have to make some accomadations to how such touch is used. It can be enormously helpful in more ways than I can list here, and I am always honored if my students trust me to help them find a slight shift in movement … to feel their way kinesthetically into it, rather than to understand it cognitively. On the other hand, I always understand that there may be reasons why someone may not be ready for, or may not best respond to learning and connecting in that way. But there is a reason why there are a fair number of massage therapists who do or teach yoga, and a fair number of yoga teachers who are massage therapists, or at least take a lot of massage. If I could budget the time and money I have often thought I would love to study massage therapy. They seem like disciplines that each enhance the other.
Just as we know that when a trained masseuse presses their fingers into a particular part of the body and rolls in a particular direction we feel release, we know that a non human object pushed in that way can have a similar result. People have been using tennis balls, and other already existant devices to manipulate the myofascial web, but these days there are a range of tools that have been developed to do what is sometimes called hands off body work.
The biggest name in hands off body work is Susan Hitzmann, the founder of the MELT method. I have had 2 workshops with her and would say she is a gifted teacher. Her techniques involve several types of pressure and movement using a fairly soft foam roller, and fairly small balls. She uses light compression, gliding, and shearing as a way to rebalance and rehydrate the fascia. Rather than describing her method at length if you are interested you can take a workshop with her, or get her DVD. But there are a lot of people doing these techniques, and a lot of tools available. Susan's recommendations for rollers were to use heavy compression after a major workout or for injury rehab, and light compression for chronic tension or pain, and to keep the sessions rather short. I have a set of gel balls I use for the feet which come from Gaiam. You can source a range of equipment from companies like OPTP. I purchased my current foam roller from them, and you can get a nice book of color photos showing various techniqes for breaking up tension in the muscle. I know a trainer who swears by a myofascial device shaped rather like a padded dumbell or oversized peanut. The only thing I would suggest is to discuss this with both your trainer and your medical advisor. There may be reasons why they would not wish you to add this activity, and there may be particular guidance they would wish to give you related to your own health and fitness level.
If you wish to know about my current class schedule or beginner mindfulness workshop, or would like to schedule a private session, you may check my facebook page, or messge me.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I think about and use shavasana (http://blog.ideafit.com/blogs/ariadne-greenberg/shavasana-and-meditation ). Since then I find myself thinking about, and talking to my classes about the beginning of the class. If in part Shavasana is the transitional pathway out of the physical practice, into the meditative practice, and then out into our lives, it is balanced by what we do at the beginning of practice, when we step on the mat.
I used the image with shavasana of coming from a long walk to sit in the shade of a porch outside of a building. If we were to expand this image, when we put our mat down we are entering the park to begin our walk. There are practical things we need to do: applying sunscreen and bug spray, getting water, lacing up our boots. And even before that there was the matter of planning where we would go and with whom. I have also written about choosing a yoga practice. These days it is common knowledge that there are many types of practice. Some want a flat path that is not too strenuous... some want more vigorous terrain. For some it is the guide and/or the company that matters more than the path. The decisions and choices that have led you to enter the door to the yoga studio are as much a part of your practice as your first down dog: it is about self exploration. As well, the gathering of the props, the decision of where to place the mat, the question of how many layers you want: this is all part of the practice.
One of the big distinctions between the typical yoga practice and our daily life has to do with transition time. In my beginner mindfulness workshops I tend to talk a bit about what someone called the myth of multitasking (sorry, I do not remember where I got that), which is more often fast task switching. We are asked to switch our attention between more and more things, and to keep each thing timed so we can jump back as needed. This is not a bad thing. The issue is to balance. I often say to my class: if you only stretch you will likely create joint instability, if you only strengthen you will not be able to reach the peanut butter off the shelf; if you only inhale you will collapse your lungs and die. We are pushed toward speed all the time: if 3 g is good, 4 g is better. How many gs do we need? When step aerobics first came out I got an early tape with about 115 beats per minute.... how long was it before people were competing to see how fast they could do it? How fast can you go before your likelyhood of injury surpases any benefit from the exercise?
When I was going to have my first child I read everything I could find on child rearing. One of my favorite authors was William Sears. One thing I remember him talking about was the importance of transition time. Many children do not do well if swooped down on and told they have to go or do 'RIGHT NOW'. In a way the time we spend at the start of the class, and the time we spend in shavasana, and the time we spend rolling to the side and sitting up, are all ways to allow us to regain homeostasis, to have that time of transition.
The beginning of a class often includes a little time to 'check in'. Every teacher has their own way of doing this. I find that asking where people are is helpful in a few ways: even if people do not want or need to answer they begin to look inward and notice, it promotes group cohesion (and community is one of the dimensions of human experience), and it gives me an idea of what path we might take together today. It also allows the idea that everyone gets a chance to ask when they need.
It also generally includes a few moments to engage the breath. I often talk about how the breath is the key to the mind body connection. It affects the balance between the arousal and the release of the nervous system (think about panting with fear, and how we take deep breaths when we try to calm down). I have already written a bit about pranayama ( http://blog.ideafit.com/blogs/ariadne-greenberg/yoga-and-pranayama ) so suffice to say we begin to focus on and use the breath as soon as we begin the class.
As soon as we begin moving (aside from the movements of respiration obviously) we are doing a number of things: we are checking to see where each of us is holding tension, we are limbering up most of the major joint areas of the body, we are promoting the movement of fluid within the synovial joints, and the intervertebral discs, and through the fascial web. We are checking on alignment. It is true that every posture has alignment to consider: it is equally true that before we think about alignment in posture or movement we need to think about baseline. If someone has been carrying a 2 year old on one hip, or a 40 pound backpack on one shoulder all week, or if someone is scoliotic, or has one limb shorter than the other.... well, those are good things to pay attention to as we go forward. If I am going into the woods and I know I have a hole in the heel of my sock I might want to have a piece of moleskin ready in my pocket.
Mentally I want to prepare by focusing on the body at rest, as a base to pay attention as I move. It is like the eyes tracking a moving object. I notice the lift of the breastbone in breath. This helps me notice the placement of the foot and the knee in virabhadrasana I. This helps me keep my mind from jumping to the end of the posture, rather than being present at each moment the posture unfolds.
Mircea Eliade wrote a lot about hierophany, or manifestation of the sacred within the non sacred world. It is common to set apart certain objects, (relics, statues, books) as imbued with a meaning deeper than their simple physical being. The same thing can be true of times, or actions, as well as objects. Not everyone comes to yoga as a spiritual practice; not everyone belongs to an organized religion. Yoga can be practiced without reference to the spiritual dimension (something else I have written about ), but that is clearly part of the history of yoga, and a context to find a place of spirituality is one of the things it offers. But whether the individual in the practice is coming to self study philosophically, anatomically, emotionally, or spiritually, it is a practice that asks us to step outside of the course of our daily life, and to notice and explore in a different way.
As an unrelated side note I wish to express my appreciation of those who are reading my blog. I think there must be a number of you, as I can see from the host site the numbers. If you enjoy it and ever have questions please feel free to find and like my yoga facebook page, to comment (I will answer as many as I can), or to share it with anyone you think might also enjoy it. And if you are in my area I would be honored to see my jnana students in my asana classes. Some of my classes are in membership clubs, but there are others where one can buy individual passes.
As always, it is an honor and a pleasure to share this with you. Namaste: the light in me salutes the light in you.
Sun and Moon Vinyasa Series
Suryanamaskar is practiced twice. Once with lunge leading from the right leg, and once with it leading from the left. (So this is not the sun salutation from Ashtanga that moves from lift to fold to arch to plank, but the one that moves from lift to fold to lunge to plank). Please note that during the first movement I keep the arms in the sagittal plane. This is anatomically and philosophically coherent with the flow as a whole. Then one takes a quarter turn and stands at the front corner of the mat. One does moon salutation twice, once leading with right leg, and once with the left. One should end up toward the rear of the mat where one takes a quarter turn to face the back. Sun salute is done again twice, another quarter turn takes us to the next side and 2 more moons, and then a quarter turn returns us to the front of the mat.
This style of practice suggests the eternal return (Eliade) of the continuous cycle through the 4 seasons: each cycle the same, and yet different, because it stands on and is affected by, all those that came before. In addition to the eternally renewing cycle of seasons it speaks of the four cardinal directions: east, south, west and north. Like Dorothy at the crossroads we stand at the enter, and geographically, culturally, meteorologically.... which way we turn and which way we travel will send us into new possibilities.
The practice also articulates how that standing at the center can be seen as the 0 at the center of the number line. Each of us is the flame at the elastic center breathing out into synergistic oppositional directions that are really two directions on the same number line. We inhale and we exhale; we forward bend and we backward bend; we right twist and we left twist.
When I begin sun salutation I reach up to tall mountain in Jupiter mudrah. I greet the sky. Then I bend down to touch the floor. I greet the earth. I was telling my students recently about having a conversation with someone about what one would look for in a spiritual leader. My feeling is that one either wants a 'sky father' or an 'earth mother'. Not that sky fathers are inherently male, or eather mothers are inherently female: these are just archtypes. What I mean is that I see two important, and connected directions of spirituality. In one we are taken to the heights of awe and wonder, and in the other we are wrapped in the arms of love and compassionand support. Someone who can remind us of, or help us touch those experiences (head and heart) is doing what I think is essential in a spiritual leader. These two physical movements beginning the flow remind us that we reach up to what is possible, and bend down to honor what is. We are the flame burning at the center: the balanced 0 at the center of the number line, that is not nothing, but is empty balanced possibility. We hold at the center and circle around that: rooting and reaching.
There are quite a number of dynamic synergies that are articulated with sun and moon: day and night, up and down, earth and sky, and male and female. I find the forward direction of sun partakes more of the traditional idea of male energy (often associated with sun), and the lateralness of moon (more twisting) more female (also often associated with the cyclicity of the moon). What is also important is what we see in the ying yang symbol: the seed of the one inherent in the other. Where the two series find commonality is in the lunge.
You can also see why I take the arms through the frontal plane in moon, and the sagittal plane in sun in that first movement. It is part of the directionality.
When learning the series, and usually in the first round or so we linger over certain movements. However, once we know the series each movement is taken with either an inhale or exhale, except for down dog in sun, and prasarita padottanasana in moon. Here at the center we pause and take a few breaths before returning to the cycle. This is a reminder of another blance (which I talked about in my last blog entry, on shavasana), that is, the balance between work and rest, and the need to pause and reset to find our balance between mind and body.
Background, or Philosophical Ramblings
Some schools, or lineages, of yoga practice a single set of repeated postures. For example Bikram yoga employs a sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing techniques. Ashtanga (the original ashtanga yoga as developed by Sri. K Patthabi Jois, as opposed to the various styles of 'power' or 'hot' yoga that are based on it)has 5 defined series, though most practitioners only do one or two. If you are in a class doing the Ashtanga vinyasa of Patthabi Jois you will be doing the same linked series of postures, until you move on to the second series. Some people on hearing this will raise an eyebrow and ask 'don't you get bored?'. I have done the primary series (with David Swenson who trained with Patthabi Jois himself), though it is not my usual practice. I do know people (my sister for example) who do practice it regularly and who find the question difficult to understand. It calls them in a way that seems always deep and new. I prefer to allow my practice to arise from being present to where I am and what I need at the time, and my teaching to arise from both my own and my students place of presentation.
If you look at the school records of the palace school where Krishnamacharya taught in the 1930s there are records of his teaching yoga, and of other teachers teaching suryanamaskar. In other words, those were seen as different things. Some teachers assert suryanamaskar series were taught as yoga as long ago as the Vedas. I personally agree with Geoffrey Samuel who said “modern yoga has become a siginficant part of contemporary western practices of bodily cultivation, and it should be judged in its own terms, not in terms of its closeness to some presumably more authentic Indian practice.” (this is from a journal called Asian Medicine, Tradition, and Modernity, yoga special edition in 2007) I think we need to understand the history and traditions.... we learn a great deal from those. But we also need to understand modern anatomical and physiological science and research. Figure out what tools are in the box, and what they do.... then adapt them as the needs arise.
Other schools use vinyasana, but do not always do the same flow. Almost 30 years ago Amrit Desai (founder of Kripalu which was named after his teacher) practiced a flow he called 'moving meditation' in which the postures were meant to flow from within as the practice stretched both inward and outward, rather than being set beforehand. And if you peruse the pages of Yoga Journal, or various yoga web sites you will see many variations of yoga sequences that are meant to be done in this way. Once can honor the great of the past by remembering and practicing their work as they designed it. One can equally honor it by understanding and then adapting it. I cannot, like Galileo say that I have seen more by standing on the shoulders of giants, but I certainly do stand on the shoulders of those who came before, and use and adapt all that calls me.
To explain the use of shavasana in yoga I often use a particular set of images in my classes.
Imagine the class as a walk you are taking with the group of other students through the woods. As a group you are walking together, but you do not all walk in exactly the same way: there will be some who are bird watchers, and some who like to race to the top of every hill, some who run ahead and double back, some who enjoy the company and conversation, some who like to take pictures, or some who like to sit and rest by the water for a bit. There is a path I am following, but I do not expect people to step precisely in my footprints from beginning to end. I've had students (more than once) come into a class, lie down, and fall asleep. Afterwards they have said that it was just what they needed. I have students who really need that headstand or crow, even when they are in a room of students who are taking a different path. I try to set a tone that we need to listen and look inward for what we need, and then support those with whom we are practicing as they do the same.
Now imagine that as you come to the end of the walk, feeling stretched, a little tired, but with that good feeling that physical exercise tends to promote you find yourself at the end of the woods, entering a sandy stretch approaching a large marble building, shining in the sunlight. As you come to the edge, there is a kind of portico, or vestibule, or covered poarch area, with seats, and a place to stow your shoes. When you enter and sit it is quiet... you can hear some noises of the people who are still in the woods, though they are muffled, and beyond that are aware of the more frenetic pace of the city beyond. But in that space it is quiet, and peaceful, and you can simply rest.
Shavasana can be just that: a place of rest after your practice. If yoga is about balance, shavasana is essential to that practice. During a typical practice your forward and backward bends have balanced eachother, your right twists balanced your left, your inhales balanced your exhales, and so on. Fight or flight balances the relaxation response. Parasympathetic activity balances sympathetic.
But this space is more than a place to rest and regroup. On one side we can exit (back through the woods, or the yoga studio) to the parking lot, as it were. But on the other side is that elegant, shining, beautiful, quiet building. If our focus is clear enough we will be able to make out a door along the wall. As we approach the door we can hear the sound of the ocean, and see the blue of an endless sky within, and beyond that golden light.
Shavasana is one of the doorways into meditation. My own feeling is that it is important to understand that we will not enter the royal path of meditation every time we enter shavasana. Sometimes we are going to rest in the portico, and that is exactly what we need. Sometimes the traffic in the parking lot is so loud that we cannot focus enough to find the doorway. And that is when we must find compassion and patience. The building is not like the village in Brigadoon. It will not vanish never to be found again. We hold the key. We can loose track of it, but it can always be found again.
I came to this place almost as soon as I did yoga, as a child. I lost it for quite a long time. I found it again with a wonderful teacher, years later. Over the years there were spans when I entered easily, but other, sometimes long spans when the woods were full of storm clouds and I could not find the sun. Of late it seems easier and easier to see the door, even when the sky is dark. I guess I stopped worrying about getting in, or needing to prove anything to myself or anyone else. Each of us who decides to have a meditative practice, of whatever kind will find that it will have its ups and downs, like any other practice. Some days the forward bend goes to the floor. Some days you need a block. Some days you need a nap. And some days you really do need to go buy groceries. But if you practice yoga for long enough, and deeply enough there will come a day you will enter that door.
I try to go to take other people's classes as often as I can. I also try to go to workshops. It is so important not just to have your own practice in yoga, but also to keep open to new ideas, and to learn from others. I also try to do one 'big' training a year. My current family obligations make it hard for me to do as much as I would like, in terms of time and cost, but I make an effort to keep up with training as well as reading.
In August I went for my big training to attend the IDEAfit convention. This is a huge fitness convention: about 12,000 fitness trainers, instructors, business owners, and a sprinkling of body work professionals, Pilates instructors, and so on. This is a bit out of the box for me. Although I teach and am certified in group exercise, and used to do and be certified in personal training, my main calling (I recently blogged on the difference I see between calling and training) is in yoga. Typically I go for a yoga training. But although it is good to deepen one's understanding of one's own area, it is equally important to learn from other areas. I find having read Aristotle has deepened my understanding of how to do physical asana. I find having studied symbolic logic helps me understand the connection between phrasing in music and developing choreography in aerobic dance.
There are a few differences between a 'yoga' training, and a 'fitness' training. Yoga centers tend to be dedicated spaces. I guess this stems from the ashram experience: one leaves the urban center to go to a place of spiritual retreat. This is not a new idea: in many times and cultures people would go to the desert, or to a cave, or to the wilderness to be alone to pray or meditate. I have a friend who is going soon for her 500 hour teacher training in Bali. When I train I often go to Kripalu, because it is only a 3 hour drive from me, and because it is one of the best yoga training centers in the U.S. … I know I can work with some of the best teachers in the world here.
Last summer I went to Kripalu to work with Gary Kraftsow. He is founder of the Viniyoga school, and trained with Krishnamacharya (arguably the most influential yoga teacher of his age). The first part of the drive is highway, but as get closer things become more and more verdent. When you enter the grounds of Kripalu there are acres of green.... you walk toward the entrance, and if you turn you can see down a wide expanse of lawn, sprinkled with a few people sitting, or strolling quietly, across a road, down past the meditation walk, all the way across the lake. The sky pulls you up and you feel as though the white noise is lifted away. The process of doing yoga is about being present, not just about learning how to stand on one hand.
Fitness training tends to do better in an urban setting. Comparing the IDEA world convention and a training at Kripalu is in some ways a false comparison. IDEA world is enormous. And some of the training requires equipment that would be expensive to cart out to the wilderness. But for most fitness trainings one needs hardware, and space for people, and the one's I have attended tend to be in more populated places.
Food was one thing that was different. A lot of yoga places are very vegetarian. Kripalu offers chicken, but only of the free range variety, and has lots of options for those who are vegetarian or vegan. I had a lot of trouble finding vegetarian and vegan options at IDEA world (although there were people at the expo with samples of both). I think this is partly that it is hard to offer such things on such a large scale and in a convention center setting, and partly that not everyone in fitness is looking for the same thing. I stood behind a woman at a sandwich shop who ordered diet soda with her sandwich. I have not seen soda of any kind at the yoga trainings I've done. I found a small vegan place a short walk from the convention center, but when I mentioned it to some people who were talking about walking out for lunch they laughed and said they wanted chicken. I am neither vegan nor fully vegetarian, though I might be if I was not cooking for a family. I think people should think about the health and philosophical context of their eating choices, but those choices are just that: choices. But it seems clear to me that there is a lot more emphasis on vegetarianism (and on sustainablilty) in the yoga community. (I have blogged about this before).
One thing is certainly similar for both of these trainings. I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best people in their fields. As honored as I was to work with Gary Kraftsow (and with David Swenson... a senior Ashtanga teacher who trained with Sri. K Patthabi Jois) the year before, I was as honored to have a seminar with Len Kravitz.
Len Kravitz is a fitness researcher. I have followed his work for years. I even have an early VCR tape he made years ago of abdominal exercises. His articles on the science of exercise are exceptionally well written and always interesting. I do wish I could sit through that lecture he gave three more times though, as I felt left behind in a few cases. (A wonderful feeling.... that one is being stretched). The topic was on fat metabolism. This is something I studied a lot on back when I was a trainer and doing my master's work in exercise science. I've been thinking of doing a small workshop for my students, as I think people who have an interest in weight control would benefit from having some good information to balance all the information they get from people eager to sell them products and services. His workshop was fabulous, and presented quite a lot I did not know, and that I suspect even some trainers do not know.
I also got to do two workshops with Susan Hitzmann. Foam rollers are used in Feldenkrais and Pilates (I think Moshe Feldenkrais may have been one of the earliest people do do so), but her MELT program has really taken research on fascia and practical techniques for the use of foam rollers and balls and created one of the best and most well thought out programs out there. She has a DVD available that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn her method. She also offers trainings, and I highly recommend her. She is a truly gifted teacher.
I guess the most 'out of the box' thing I did was to take a kettle ball class. It was pretty hard for me. I really like lifting weights. I think there are great benefits to bone density, and to a lot of othere paramaters of fitness. And the old idea that you cannot do both yoga and weights because if you stretch in yoga you will give up the bulking you want from the weights is something I haven't heard in decades, thankfully. I think most people now get that yoga is about more than just stretching as far as possible. I also think kettle balls are an efficient way of training. I do not think they are for me though. I do not see anything more I can get from them that I cannot get from the old fashioned free weights. But I must stress that I do not argue from there that they are not good for anyone. For a serious trainer it is good to have multiple tools, and for some sports and training the effect of this modality may be just what they need.
I do worry about a couple of things generally. One is that people sometimes go to something new because they get bored, rather than because it is inherently best for what they want. That is not always bad.... if a person gets bored easily and doing new things keeps them exercising, well that is better than sitting on the couch. And cross training varies the load and therefore varies stress and therefore lessens overuse injury. But is it good for the pocketbook to keep buying new stuff? And is it good for the earth to keep tossing out stuff, rather than simplifying?
The other thing (and this is not new, though I think it is more common now) is that sometimes things seem to be about “Here is our program... we want you to sign on, do trainings, certify, pay annual fees to join, buy our stuff, and sell it to your students” rather than, here is some interesting new choreography, or some research about safety or effectiveness. In other words how things are packaged has to do with profit. Think of how it is with restaurants and stores. When we went to see my mom in Kansas some years ago we had a very long drive from the airport and stopped into a little restaurant that had the best pie I have ever eaten. It was not a chain.... just a single restaurant. With Chipolte I can go to one in Florida and one in Rhode Island, and I know it will be good.... but it will be the same. With that pie, I will not have another like it again, but I will remember it. If I go to a store in D.C. to buy a present for my family in Rhode Island, and it is the same thing I can get anyplace else why not just buy it in RI? There is an advantage to a gym to hire a company to provide a prepackaged exercise program from a company. They do not have to have someone on staff who makes sure that everyone is trained and knows what they are doing and has music, and so on. The company does that and the instructor pays them for the training and music and so on. But the public might know if they get a sub they will still get what they expect.... but what they will miss is the creative piece. I personally prefer to get something unique and then pick it apart and put the ideas together with my own to make something that I think will work for the people who choose to work with me.
I have wonderful memories of my 'going to the mountaintop' trainings: the underground meditation room and the cold water of the bathing hole at the White Lotus foundation in the hills above Santa Barbara, reading in the sun room, and the restfulness of silent breakfasts at Kripalu. I also learned so much at IDEA world. If one is looking to deepen one's practice, or if one is a trainer or yogi seeking to learn more I would recommend either. In fact, if you are a trainer or teacher and have never gone to an ashram I highly recommend the experience, and if you are a yoga teacher in the traditional mold I recommend stepping into the other world. I think it is a good way to stay both strong and flexible both mentally and physically.
Prelude: On Training versus Calling
One of the standard questions any adult asks a young child they first meet is, “What do you want to be when you group up?”. By the time that young person is a teenager the question has usually shifted to, “What do you want to do when you are out of school?” The question is whether this is a shift, or if the being and the doing should or must have some connection.
There are a few areas by which one can judge suitableness of profession for a person. The ability to support oneself is important, but something people do not tend to think about until they are facing doing so. On the other hand if making money becomes the primary factor one can end up in a job where one is 'living for the weekend'.... and giving away rather a large part of their life between the weekends. To be able to make a living at something one enjoy's doing is worth the trade off to earn a bit less, and be a bit happier. The third thing I think one can forget is that it helps to be good at what one chooses to do. If one tries to work at something one loves, but for which one has a demonstrated lack of aptitude, one is likely to live in a state of frustration as much as happiness.
So if one is fortunate one can figure out, train for, and find employment in something one enjoys, has skill in, and can earn a decent living doing (recognizing that the people would disagree on how much weight to give each part of this). If one is really fortunate one will have one more aspect to one's life task. Here is where I see the difference between training and calling.
I see calling as more than an ability in an area, or an enjoyment in doing something. I see it as a belief in the deep importance of the work, not just for oneself, but for one's community, or one's world. Joined to this is the conviction that who one is, at their most fundamental core, is someone who should be doing this work. There are some types of work that are more likely to be filled with those with calling, rather than simply training: spiritual or religious leaders, public defenders, investigative journalists, those who serve in doctor's without borders, or other such organizations. And, yes, I would add the preponderance of the yoga teachers I have known (at least in years past) would definitely be in this group.
I know full and well I could earn more doing something else, but for me being a teacher of yoga is not something I do, but something I am (to be a bit trite). Even when I was not working actively, my yoga way of being was the bedrock of my being. I love teaching. I would rather teach than go on vacation. When I finish a class and sign my mantra it is an outward manifestation of a radiant joy I find within. It is difficult to articulate this without sounding like a hallmark card, but no worry of sounding hokey can shake my belief that this matters, and that this is my place.
“Whoa” you say. I am a fitness instructor, or personal trainer, and I just want to teach a few yoga classes, to expand my repitore. There is no reason why you cannot teach yoga without a 'calling'. There is no reason why you cannot explore the physical, postural discipline, or even the meditation or any other part of it. Do understand that you will find as you work with yoga people, that you will find rather a lot of people to whom the practice is a lot more than doing downward dog or head stand.
The Nuts and Bolts of Teacher Training
I would like to give some practical advice to anyone who is thinking about doing some yoga teacher training. Keep in mind that how you train will affect where and how you are likely to work. There are differences between health clubs, yoga studios, research studies, and running your own program.
If you are unfamiliar with either the world of group fitness, or the world of yoga (and they are not the same though there is overlap) and are wondering about teaching yoga as a career my advice is to take a few classes. It is also very helpful to read a book or two on the history, philosophy, and types of practice. If you do not love doing yoga yourself this is not a great career path.
If you are have a yoga practice (and that is the way it is usually phrased in yoga... “I do yoga”, is less used than “I have a practice”) and are thinking of teaching you probably do not need a ton of advice on how to set about getting teacher training. You will be familiar with the various lineages, or schools, and will be likely to have favorite teachers or studios who either offer training, or can advise you on where to take it. The one big piece of advice I have if you do yoga but do not yet teach is to ask the place you intend to train if it helps with finding you teaching assignments.
If you are a working group fitness instructor or personal trainer who is thinking of adding yoga to your training I have the same advice regarding creating a regular practice, and doing some background reading. The biggest difference here is that people interested in yoga in this group may be thinking not of teaching a regular yoga class, but of adding some yoga to their schedule. Typically someone working in fitness will have connections and perhaps students. But before offering any program, or taking any training it is a good idea to check your insurance. If you are teaching yoga and someone gets injured (even if not your doing) are you covered? The industry standard in yoga is an Alliance certified program. You want to check to see what your policy covers and what sort of training they want you to have to provide coverage.
Also keep in mind that continuing education may or may not have cross over. In other words if you are teaching zumba, or doing personal training the same continuing education training may not serve for all of the things you are offering.... which will add to your program costs.
For anyone thinking of training, who is also thinking of teaching you will want to do some cost comparisons regarding how much the training costs, and what you will be able to charge. You might also want to see how many studios are in your area, and read the teacher bios to see what the standard is for training in your area in the places you wish to teach.
I definitely recommend getting training that is Alliance registered. This means that it will be either a 200 or a 500 hour training. Any program that is Alliance registered will offer the same basics. Keep in mind that beyond those basics you have lineage specific training. There are differences between teaching in an Ashtanga, or a Kripalu, or a Bikram, or a Jivamukti, or an Iyengar, or a Viniyoga style. If you want to offer, for example, Bikram yoga you will need to do Bikram training. If you want to teach Iyengar, you will get some of the most rigorous training there is, but be ready to put in a lot of time, and to commit to teaching only in that lineage for some time after your training. Many teachers are eclectic, and are able to fuse elements of various styles, or teach in different styles.
There are training programs that are shorter. They often call themselves yoga 'something', which is a way to set them apart as a specialized training, and (to be cynical here) to offer a training that is shorter. If you are running your own program and just want to have some sort of certification these short programs are certainly available. They are less likely to get you hired in a yoga studio. For health clubs it will vary. If you are not doing straight yoga, but adding some yoga to your program they may work well.
I strongly advise against doing any program that is only online. Aside from your own liability, yoga is a practice about building connections, and the face to face practice is vital.
I do understand that there is an economic side to training. It may be that you find yourself not able to afford, or have the time to undertake a full teacher training. There have been times in my life that I learned by devouring whatever books I could get, watching Lilias on T.V., and practicing on my own. You can certainly begin your journey without the long training. Most yoga studios offer 'community' classes, where the cost is donation based on what you can afford. Many offer the chance to help in the office, or work things out with the owner. There are lots of meditation groups around to join. Most of the teachers I know, at least the ones who are called to yoga, believe in its transformative power, and will want to help people be able to get to their mat. Most libraries have books and media available (much more than when I was young). Practice, read, meditate, ….. and keep open to possibility.
Will you get rich teaching yoga? Well, a few people have, I guess. But that is true in any field. You can make a living as a yoga teacher, but my experience has been that the teachers who do so typically have put as much in energy and commitment into the process as they are getting out, so you should at least love coming to the mat before you decide to draw the mat to the front of the room. But if you feel strongly that you have something to say or show that matters, and a burning desire to do so, I hope you will decide to join our community of teachers. I look forward to learning from you some day.
If I say the way yoga is understood and practiced today is different in a number of ways from how it was understood and practiced traditionally it is helpful to understand what I mean by traditional. After all yoga has been around for thousands of years, and it was not one thing for most of that time, and then suddenly another thing twenty years ago. The tides of historical change have run throughout human history: it is just easier to see subtle changes to the waves that are closest to us. I am not going to give a scholarly text with dates and citations. I just want to show a few areas where practice and philosophy generally were different, say a hundred years ago (or even fifty years ago, when I was young).
What I mean by yoga today is pretty straightforward. However, the thing is that people today practice it in a variety of ways, some more traditional, and some less. I just want to point out a few shifts. I also do not want to denigrate the changes. One of the strengths of yoga as a practice is that it is malleable to our needs. However, I do think it is important to understand what the tradition is, and to have a clear reason for whatever shift you want to make. In terms of what I am comparing, I am a bit looser.
I have blogged elsewhere on my understanding of the connections between vegetarianism and yoga, (http://blog.ideafit.com/blogs/ariadne-greenberg/so-what-does-vegetarianism-have-to-do-with-yoga), so I won't go into this too deeply. It is a huge shift though.
One example of the shift, and the importance of this to people in the yoga community, came to my attention a couple of years ago, as I recall. A teacher I know was talking about going to do a training at Kripalu. A few other people posted their utter refusal to go to or have anything to do with Kripalu because they had decided to serve chicken in the dining hall. I am not here to judge Kripalu, my colleague, or any of the posters. I just think it is interesting that this is such a strongly held belief among many traditional yogis (Sivananda people I have known seem particularly attuned to this). It is of course, based on the idea of ahimsa, or non violence to all living things, and has an association with the Hindu roots of the practice. My own belief is that it is possible to eat meat and practice ahimsa.... and to eat vegetarian and not practice ahimsa. If one buys vegetarian food in non recyclable containers and dumps them in the local lake one may not be eating animals, but one is not being kind to the earth and its denizens. If one supports old fashioned family farms, and kind treatment of animal livestock, and eats eggs and makes cheese, or even eats chickens, I think an argument can be made that one is practicing ahimsa by living in harmony with nature which has its carnivores and herbivores. I personally would have preferred Kripalu not serve chicken, because I think it is good for people to understand the traditions, and I do not think it would harm anyone to try a vegetarian path. But as long as the decision was not just 'hey more people will come if we serve chicken and we will make more money', it is still a decision I think can be made within the context of being yogic.
It is definitely a change though.
This comes under the heading of the yamas: saucha (purity), tapas (austerity or self discipline), and svadhyaya (self study). Even when I was first teaching yoga in my late twenties and early thirties most of the yogis I knew did not drink alcohol. Smoking is in the same boat. A teacher I knew back 20 years ago, when I happened to see her smoking was highly embarrassed. She knew it was generally counter to the 'yoga path', and she did not want her students to know she smoked, but she was also not willing or able to stop. My own practice is that while I never was a big drinker, I do occasionally have a cocktail or glass of wine, but I find with time it becomes rarer and rarer, not because I am against it, but because as my own practice evolves I am less and less interested. This is one of those areas I think it can be a good change for people to accept that the things of life can be explored and enjoyed without detracting from our path toward self understanding. One of the best pieces I ever read on this topic was years ago in yoga journal. A gentleman talked about travelling in Russia with a group, and how they would feast and drink vodka late at night, and he would go to bed early and not eat late, or drink vodka, and would wake up cranky and with a headache. Then one night he decided just to celebrate with them and have the vodka and food, and stay up. He ended up feeling wonderful. The key is that he was sharing with them, and not being so rigid in his own path that he was unwilling to walk with them in theirs. I don't recommend getting drunk and driving sports cars around because your friends are doing so, but I do think the bigger principle here is the connection with and understanding of other people and other paths that enriches us, not to take the path as our own, but to be willing to try something different. This multicultural openness seems to me to be rather modern, and a good shift. Like the bumper sticker on my (and many) cars 'Embrace Diversity”.
Women and men did not always practice together traditionally. In fact it was Indra Devi who first went to the great Krishnamacharya and asked him to teach her. She was the first foreign woman to study yoga and eventually she went on to teach Hollywood celebrities like Gloria Swanson. There is a fabulous film called 'Yoga Woman' that traces the history and practice of the great women yoga teachers of the west. In the west women outnumber men as teachers as well as students. There are a number of reasons for this, some historical, some cultural. It is true that a number of men, even in my early days of teaching, had the idea that yoga was wimpy, and that they would do better in the weight room. These days men and women are both in the weight room, and both in yoga. And strong, competitive athletes like Kareem Abdul Jabaar practice yoga for its physical and mental discipline. I feel that the shift to bringing men and women together in their yoga practice has been wonderful, as it allows us to learn together things we would not learn separately.
I have blogged elsewhere about yoga and age (http://blog.ideafit.com/blogs/ariadne-greenberg/age-exercise-and-yoga) .
What is interesting is that in traditional yoga practice and philosophy the powerful physical practice would have been one for youth. By the time one was older one's practice would be less about developing self discipline, and honing the body. The changes in yoga mirror changes in our culture, where we understand that strength, and vigor, and the enjoyment of all aspects of life that physical health and strength and vigor bring are possible, and desirable even at an older age. Our culture honors youth and vigor more than age and wisdom (to use a traditional differentiation) with the result that in age we seek to keep the vigor while we try to find wisdom. Actually the idea that yoga could promote physical health is not that new (look back to books like the Hathayogapradipika, from the 15th century) and you can see that hatha yoga was taken by many as a path to physical benefits regardless of philosophical niceties.) But the practice of yoga as a method of maintaining physical function and health even into older age dovetails nicely with our modern concerns and desires.
Posture over Philosophy
Singelton in his book 'Yoga Body' did an excellent job of looking at how the modern practice of yoga has become increasingly asana or posture based. I hardily recommend his terrific book, but will not go into depth about it.
Keep in mind I am not talking about really big differences in, say, Jain and Hindu ideas, and I am leaving Tantra out entirely. There are a ton of other things I could bring up: the use of the chakras, the interest in science to bolster practice, even our tendency to pick and choose those elements of varied traditions and the way we sometimes leave out the most difficult parts of those traditions in favor of a simplified understanding. By and large I would say though yoga today is practiced in some different ways, those ways mirror the needs and ideas of our modern world. I think it is possible to keep the principles, but to reunderstand them..... as long as we take the effort to understand what has been, and why we are choosing to do what we do.
A few days ago I posted a photo on my Facebook page of my lunch. I had been trying to keep my fridg stocked with pre made healthy choices, and given that I had seen a lot of photos of oreos and such recently, I wanted to share a thought of some ways one could eat quickly AND healthfully. That day I was having kale with garlic and lemon, spiced chickpeas with ginger, and brown rice with turmeric and cilantro.
I was surprised how popular that post was. Even more popular than when I posted about Kareem Abdul Jabbar doing yoga, or quoted Camus (gentle irony). So I said I would follow with the recipes. I promise 2 of the 3 dishes can be done in less than 10 minutes, and they are all quick and healthy.
If you just want the recipes please skip the next paragraph, as I exercise my 'jnana yoga'.
There are all these threads coming together around our eating habits. Big food provides us with whatever maximizes their profits, and coincidentally (and sometimes perhaps not coincidentally) decreasing our health and increasing our weight. People involved in health and fitness (and those that make a profit from supplying its needs) tell us about juicing, eating raw, eating paleo, eating low carb.... Beautifully set cooking shows show amazing and elegant cuisine. But we also do not live lives where we have a kitchen staff, and even people like me who work part time are hard pressed to avoid the traps of cholesterol, trans fat, over pricing, animal cruelty, staying in budget, growing our own.... and still get everything else done that we are called on to do. I know what it is like to be tired and just want to make a p b and j, or eat digestive biscuits. I know what it is like to try to manage a household of different tastes and different schedules. I know what it is like to walk the gauntlet of the grocery trying to avoid pesticides, cruelty, worker ill treatment, over packaging, trans fat.... and to engage in the war that SOME companies wage to fool me into buying their outwardly pretty inwardly dubious wares.
Brown Rice with Toasted Turmeric
If you are optimizing reducing packaging and cost you will start by cooking a batch of brown rice. I typically steam it. If you are optimizing speed you will go to your freezer for your box of Rice Expressions Organic Brown Rice and microwave 2 of the packets (3 minutes each). You can also use the whole foods frozen brown rice, or some other one.
In a sauce pan heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on low to medium heat. Once warm add a teaspoon of turmeric (or a bit more), some salt, and a few turns of black pepper. You can also put in a sprinkle of ground cumin. Give it a couple of minutes, till it starts to get a little golden, but not dark. Stir in the rice, and about a quarter cup of rinsed and chopped cilantro.
Keeps well in fridg, warms up well, and if you do the frozen rice ready in under 10 minutes.
Kale with Garlic and Lemon
You can certainly do this with fresh kale from your garden or farmers market and reduce packaging and carbon footprint. If you do that you need to wash carefully, and chop. Or you can procure a package of organic baby kale and rinse it in the package.
In a sauce pan over medium to high heat add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add some chopped garlic and about a teaspoon of butter (can be left out, but enriches the flavor). Again a choice: fresh chopped, or Penzy's spices (in my opinion the BEST spices ever) has wonderful chopped dried garlic, much more flavorful than anything chopped in a jar. This will start to brown quickly so quickly throw in the rinsed kale. Usually enough water is adhering to it to steam it. Put on the lid and let it steam a few minutes. How long? How crispy do you like your kale? I do about 5 minutes. Stir once to bring up the bottom layer. Take off lid, drain if excess water, add salt to taste and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Here I am going to give you a link, because I got this from Allrecipes.com
I will say, I made a few changes. First I did not crush my cinnamon sticks, I used powdered (penzy's again), and I used ground cloves. Second I used 2 cans of organic chick peas, and I rinsed them well. Third, mincing takes time and my family tends not to like big chunks of 'veg ter bles' so I grated rather than minced the onions and ginger and I used the penzy's garlic again. Saves time also. I also did not cook it for a full half hour, I found 20 minutes quite adequate.
I think it is possible to eat and feed a family in a way that tries to do well with those things that matter to us. I also think the act of cooking and eating is one that sits at the center of the various dimensions of self. It feeds our physical self, our emotional self, our creative self, and when we cook for and share food with others is one of the most basic ways to feed our social selves.
If you like these I will do some more. I am planning a really delicious moroccan salmon for tomorrow's dinner which I would be glad to share, for example.
(please note I am not on the payroll or otherwise have any relationship other than consumer with any product I mentioned).