Time Out!

IMG_3243Time Out!

Remember when we were too loud in class and our teachers’ made us put our heads down on our desks?

I’m putting my head down on my desk and taking a time out until the New Year. At least that’s my intention. Shutting down Facebook, not thinking about Practically Twisted – the blog I sporadically post on – or the blogs I have in my head with the catchy titles I won’t reveal.

It doesn’t feel as though that long ago when I announced I was headed to graduate school for my master’s in transpersonal psychology. And yet, here I am, looking at the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The school I attend – Palo Alto’s Sofia University (formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology) – is a good school with a self-inflicted tarnished reputation that it is in the process of restoring. Despite the trauma Sofia experienced last year I trust the education I am receiving because so much of it depends on what I choose to put into it. And in this last term before graduation I intend to give it my all.

Meanwhile, my studies with Niroga Institute’s Yoga Therapy Teacher Training program in Oakland continue.

And, of course, I continue to teach my classes at Samyama Yoga Center in Palo Alto: a Viniyoga inspired slow flow on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:15 to 9:15 and my Pure Yin classes on Tuesday evening from 7 to 8:15 and Friday afternoon from 1:30 to 2:45.

There are a few class schedule changes, however. For the following two Saturdays I’ll be teaching a hatha flow from 4-5:30 in the afternoon but because I am away at Niroga for one weekend each month I’ve decided that it’s unfair to the students who want consistency in their practice and so I’ll be handing that class over to a new teacher beginning September 6th.

The Tuesday evening Pure Yin class will go on hiatus in October for eight weeks for an exceptionally cool reason. Samyama will begin the Dharma Path, its own Yoga Alliance approved 200-hour teacher training program. I am honored to be teaching Asana and Methodology with the visionary John Berg. This is going to push and pull me in wonderful ways and I am very excited! If you’re interested in a teacher-training program or would like to deepen your practice I encourage you to contact Samyama for more details. If you’ve been to our two Pathways programs then you have some idea the high expectations we set for ourselves at Samyama. We want to take you on a journey unlike any other.

Finally, I’ll be doing some traveling between now and the end of the year. I’m so looking forward to these adventures – my studies, my training, my teaching and my travel. I want to embrace them all with my whole heart.

I hope to see you in person at one of my Samyama classes and, if not, I’ll see you here in a few months.

 


Let’s Talk About Yin. Yes, again.

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They...

English: Tension lines of the human skin. They follow the main fibres of the connective tissue of skin.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about anatomy, too. And whether or not a yoga teacher needs to study anatomy and physiology…

I was having coffee last week with Anirudh Shastri and John Berg. Both are much admired and deeply loved teachers in the Bay Area. In January John’s dream will be a reality when Samyama opens its doors in Midtown Palo Alto. I am so proud John found me and asked me to teach at Samyama. I’m proud to be part of a faculty that includes – besides John and Shastri – Louis Jackson, Annika Williams, Hilary Easom, Amy Rogg, Clive Beavis and Lindsey Amrein. We are not only a team of teachers but a family. We meet regularly and support each others’ practice and teachings as strongly as we hold our vision of Samyama. We all chose different paths and somehow still managed to arrive at the same place. How wonderful is that? Eight individuals. Amazing journeys. Same vision. Different stories.

Here’s my story about why I believe the study of anatomy is important for any yoga teacher:

I didn’t go to medical school. I attended massage school. It was a good school and the anatomy was fast, furious and hard taught. I learned the names of the muscles and the names of the bones. I learned the origins and attachments. I looked at fake plastic skeletons and the living limbs of my bodywork clients and my yoga students. But until I saw these photographs I didn’t know. Until I studied with this couple and then this man I didn’t know. I didn’t know that for fifteen years I was teaching an alignment-focused style of yoga and assumed my students’ inability to move deeply into any particular posture was the fault of a ‘tight’ muscle. I never considered the important contribution bones and connective tissue make toward how we move and how we feel. How we experience asana.

It seems obvious. It feels like it is something I should have known all along. But I didn’t. It’s my continued study of anatomy that has provided an insight I didn’t have when I began teaching.

One of my responsibilities as a yoga teacher – particularly a teacher who loves introducing beginning students to the profound joy of an asana practice – is to keep you safe. Knowing the difference between a femur and a tibia helps me do that. Describing the sacroiliac joint and understanding fascia helps me do that. No, my classes are not a lesson in human anatomy. But sometimes it’s more efficient – more precise – to name a muscle in the body rather than indicate an area on the body.

In-depth study of anatomy has changed my teaching. I will agree – it’s not for everyone. But it turned me from an alignment-centric cookie cutter teacher into one who focuses less on the aesthetics of alignment and more on helping each student have their own, ever-changing, safe, unique life-affirming asana experience.

Shastri was about halfway through his coffee and John had probably finished his tea when the discussion turned to Yin and connective tissue.

Yin – like any style of yoga – can provide something different depending on what time of the day you practice and what your intention is for your practice.

Yin Yoga shifts our awareness away from yang’s contracting strength and power to soft and melting expansion. Contraction and expansion are neither positive nor negative. They are states our body experiences as we move through life. Yin Yoga restores but should not be considered the style of yoga we call Restorative. Yin Yoga is challenging but many of the challenges differ from the ones we find in classic Hatha Yoga.

Physiologically, Yin Yoga stresses connective tissue. These tissues include fascia, tendon, ligament and bone. Because we hold yin poses for time, the practice also offers a deep release to the nervous system. It feels intuitively wrong to consider stressing our joints, but done with right intention the practice results in greater stability and fluid flexibility. Consider this – we don’t correct crooked teeth (yin tissue) with a blow from a hammer. We use orthodontia – a long, slow and sometimes uncomfortable technique that realigns and corrects. That is Yin Yoga in a nutshell.

When I take yin in the morning my muscles are cool. They’ve not woken up. They’re at their shortest. This is the time when my yin focus is less on the benefits to the nervous system and more on the gifts to the connective tissue. My cold muscles won’t “steal” the stretch away from the connective tissue. The stretch/stress is not diluted by muscles that are warm enough to accept a deep fold or twist. The practice is more challenging to me in the morning because my body is cool and my ego is bruised. In the morning I cannot sink into the same deep and calming positions I can explore with an evening yin practice. The morning yin practice is sometimes frustrating but teaches acceptance and mindfulness. And it reminds us not only to be humble in our practice but to have a sense of humor.

But Yin Yoga is not all about the connective tissue.

When I practice Yin Yoga in the evening my intention shifts from the effects on the body to those on the spirit. In the evening our muscles, warm from a day full of movement and work, will absorb some of the effort saved for the connective tissue in the morning. But experiencing yin’s long-held poses in the evening calms the mind and prepares the body for sleep. Many of my students have told me the evenings they attend class are the evenings they know they’ll have the week’s best nights sleep.

Yin is a style of yoga that nurtures balance. For the yogi whose practice emphasizes power, strength and endurance Yin Yoga may feel too slow or too easy. With time and an open mind, however, even the most ardent Bikram devotee’ will recognize the grace, challenge and benefits of Yin’s quiet beauty.

As for me, I need both. I love a strong, contracting Yang practice just as deeply as I love a cool, quiet and expansive evening of Yin. That’s what balance is all about.


Beware the YINJURY!

I couldn’t ignore the truth.  My hip was sore.  Real sore.  It was wince-inducing sore.  And while I limped in denial I began to hear stories similar to mine:  a recurring shoulder pain that increased after Yin practice; a wonky knee that ached the next day; a lower back that refused another forward fold.  All injuries reported by Yin Yoga students.

I refused to believe my beloved Yin was to blame.  It just had to be something else.  Yet, listening to these my students describe the course of events that led to their discomfort and considering my overstretched hip flexor with an objective mind the truth was obvious:  we had YINJURIES – the Yin equivalent to falling asleep in the tanning bed.  Sigh.

For a time the science of flexibility seemed to be changing like the wind.  When I trained as a sports massage therapist long held static stretches were all the rage.  Now the trend leans toward fast dynamic stretching.  I’m confused.  If science supports short and sharp stretches where does Yin fit in?  Does it hurt more than it helps?

I asked anatomist and philosopher Gil Hedley, circular strength training coach Michael Rook and personal trainer Steven Rice their opinion.

Gil offered this:

Virtually anything can be harmful or helpful.  That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to how you are feeling when you are doing something.  I’m no scientist, but I’ve overstretched and endured the consequences, and I’ve also relished the feeling of stretching and moving and enjoyed the benefits.  I personally believe that most anything you do over and over again represents a rut eventually, and like to change things up a bit myself.  While a practice is expanding you and your horizons, enjoy it.  When it becomes a tedium or mere repetition to satisfy a habit, move on.

There have been moments in my Yin practice when I’ve taken the poses almost ‘by rote’ – without thinking.  Without feeling.  Perhaps when we lose our mindfulness in the practice we open the door to injury?

Michael, who attended Paul Grilley Yin Teacher Training with me a few years ago, was frank in his opinion:

To be honest, I’m not surprised to hear about this.  The science is relatively clear that stretching before resistance training (some of my students attend Yin and then lift weights the following day) can harm performance and lead to injury.  Even more so before using kettle bells, I would say.  Personally, I don’t hold stretches for more than a minute (and it depends on the stretch).  There’s also a lot of deep flexion in many Yin poses that can play havoc with the lower back (if you’re posteriorly rotated).  Ultimately, all practices need to be tailored to the individual.

That sounds like obvious advice, but how often do teachers really attempt to do that?  In a large class that’s virtually impossible.  While it’s the instructor’s responsibility to guide the class safely, does it really come down to the individual listening to their body?

Michael then referred me to Charles Poliquin’s Blog and the Gymnastics Bodies website.

Finally, local trainer Steve “Mr. Science” Rice gave me this to chew on:

My understanding is that the ligaments should not be stretched as that will lead to joint laxity, and they don’t recover from that.  However it is also possible for the ligaments and capsule to get a bit glued together and need a bit of loosening.

Tendons of course are attached to muscles so I don’t know if they can be stretched separately.  A stretch will affect the tissue most willing to lengthen which is likely the muscle, and the length of a muscle is determined first of all by the brain. 

Traditional static stretching, like holding a yoga pose, has become depreciated in the sports world because it has been shown to decrease performance.  Current thinking emphasizes dynamic warm-up and mobility work.  End ROM (range of motion) positions are moved into and out of under control so the entire neuromuscular chain is engaged.  For example, instead of hanging in a forward bend with gravity pulling you down, walk and on each step do a high kick.  My stretches last no more than one or two seconds.

And then, just to inject a bit of controversy, Steven wrote:

Incidentally, Poliquin is a smart guy and leading fitness authority but also controversial in his interpretation of research.

So there you have it.  Static stretching out.  Dynamic stretching in.

Not so fast.  I love Yin not only for how it feels in my body but for how it soothes my spirit.  There’s no way I’m trading those five-minute dragonflies for some high kicks!  But here’s what I might do:

Offer my body more support in poses that are challenging for me.

  • Hold some poses for less time.
  • Avoid weight training for 24 hours after a Yin practice (I can assure you that won’t be a problem).
  • And then, more than anything, I’m going to listen.

Fitness trends emerge and fade, theories behind the science of flexibility change, our bodies cycle through movements that feel good and movements that don’t.

It seems that the only thing we can do is listen.


So You Just Got Your Yoga Teaching Certificate…NOW What Do You Do?

When you boiled it all down, the question my friend wanted an answer to was this:

“What do I do now?”

Deepa and I began Avalon Art and Yoga Center’s teacher training course in September 2011.  Six months and almost $3,000 dollars later we had a beautiful piece of paper to show the world that we were yoga teachers.

Hold up.  Actually, what we had was a piece of paper that said we’d completed the program.  The Avalon Teacher Training program is an intense and comprehensive six months of study.  It was worth my time and my money.  But when it was over, did the world have twenty-eight more yoga teachers?  I’m not sure.

It’s one thing to learn the techniques of teaching and another to know how to touch a student with words that describe the impact of a yoga practice or to provide support that make her feel safe.  Knowing how to instill confidence, knowing how to adjust a posture, knowing how to set the tone in the studio – it takes time and experience to develop those skills.  It takes an instinct that I’m not certain can be taught.  It’s a bit like learning that red and blue make purple.  Knowing how the color wheel works does not make you an artist.  And completing a teacher-training program does not make you a teacher.

The reality is I taught for many years before becoming a certified teacher. Instead of certification, I studied informally.  I read books and attended classes.  I asked questions.  I practiced.  I was a student for ten years before I began teaching.  I’m not suggesting the path to teaching I chose is better or even desirable.  There were holes in my “home study” yoga education I had a craving to fill.   What I’m trying to point out is that there are different paths, and maybe this push to collect certificates and to study with the flashiest Pop Star Yoga Idol (and after this past year we certainly know how quickly and how far yoga idols can fall) is blinding us to the truth that being a compassionate, effective and capable teacher takes more than a file cabinet of certificates.

So how important is that piece of paper?  I’m happy that after eighteen years I have certificates not only from Avalon but also from Paul Grilley’s Yin Teacher Training.  I could have continued to be a fine teacher without them, but they represent opportunity. They open doors.  If you choose – and for what it’s worth – your new certificate allows you to register with Yoga Alliance (which I’ve done).

But I’m through with formal training for the time being.  I’m happy to return to reading, talking with fellow teachers, attending classes in my neighborhood.  I’m happy to focus on my students and my teaching.

So how did I answer Deepa as she tried to decide what to do next?

I told her to take a step back.  I told her to find her teaching voice.

Your yoga voice – how you speak to students, the vocabulary you use to describe asana or pranyama or mudras or bandhas – it can’t be taught.  You have to find it and the only way to find it is to teach.

When you find your authentic voice as a teacher, that’s when you’ll begin to teach your truth.  And when you are teaching your truth you’ll know that the path you chose – the path that brought you here – it was the right one.

ps….Some people, by the way, are born to teach.  They’re naturals.  Deepa is one of them.  From mid-July she’ll be teaching at Downtown Yoga Shala in San Jose, California mornings and Friday evenings.  

As for me, I continue to teach my truth at California Yoga Center, Avenidas in Palo Alto and Prajna Yoga and Healing Arts in Belmont, California.  I also teach for Feinberg Medical Group and privately.


And Now, a Quick Word from Our Sponsor: January Classes

I thought it was time for me to remind everyone where I teach, how to register and what to expect.  Currently I teach in two studios:  California Yoga Center and Avenidas Senior Center.  I work privately with individuals or small groups in the home and am also available to teach introductory classes and workshops at your school or office.

California Yoga Center

One of the first yoga studios on the Peninsula – and where so many of us were first introduced to yoga – CYC has locations in Palo Alto and Mountain View.   My classes are at 541 Cowper Street in Palo Alto between University Avenue and Hamilton.  I teach three classes at CYC.  They are on going.  Two are Iyengar-influenced “slow flow” style classes and the third is a Yin class taught in the Paul Grilley tradition.  If you’re still looking for a last minute gift you can purchase Gift Certificates for individual or a series of classes.  More information about purchasing gift certificates can be found on the CYC website.

Here’s what to expect from a class with Mimm:

Yin Yoga – Mondays 7:30 to 9:00 PM

Yin is a donation-based class.  Please pay what you can afford up to $17 (the regular drop-in fee).

The long-held stretches characteristic of Yin Yoga help to recover and maintain a full range of movement and flexibility in the joints and connective tissue.  The work is challenging but profoundly relaxing. While Yin should not be confused with Restorative style yoga on more than one occasion students have told me, “I have the best night’s sleep on Yin nights!”

I keep the studio very dark.  Soft futons and bolsters, blankets and pillows are used for support.  Sometimes I’ll use music to help set a tone.

Verbal instruction is kept to a minimum.  Nevertheless, enough suggestions and options are offered to create an environment that feels comfortable and safe.

All the work takes place on the floor and poses are held between 2 and 6 minutes.  For more information regarding Yin Yoga look here.

Iyengar-influenced Hatha and Slow Flow – Tuesdays or Fridays from 9:00 to 10:00 AM

The drop-in fee for these classes is $15.  A 4-week series is available for $52.  An 8-week series is available for $104.  Classes do not have to be taken consecutively and there is no expiration date (this applies to my classes only.  Other CYC instructors may have different policies).

In the beginning, there was Iyengar.  At least for me.  I loved the attention to alignment, the emphasis on safety and the slow, careful pace as we moved from one pose to another.  But things change.

I still love my Iyengar roots, but I also love moving with my breath from one shape to another.  We move at a pace that allows time to settle into the pose and to explore how it feels in the body.  I provide options for anyone not ready to take on the more challenging standing poses.

Both of these classes are Level I/II – suitable for beginning and intermediate students.

California Yoga Center has everything you need for a safe practice:  bolsters, straps, pillows, and blocks.  It’s recommended that you bring your own “sticky” mat.

Avenidas Center

It’s a misnomer to call Avenidas a “senior” center.  Yes, you have to be over the age of fifty to enroll in classes – but what’s a number?  Pre-registration is required, but you can enroll online or drop by the front desk at 450 Bryant Street (cross street University Avenue).  Classes are held in 10-week blocks.  Our winter session begins the week of January 9th, 2012.  There is no drop-in but anyone is welcome to visit and try out my yoga classes before enrolling.  The price for a ten-week session is $60 for Avenidas members and $70 for non-members.  Where are you going to find a one-hour class for $6.00 anywhere on the Peninsula?

I have three classes at Avenidas:

  • Mondays from 1:00-2:00
  • Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30
  • Fridays from 11:45 to 12:45

Because of student demographics these classes tend to lean toward the introductory level but everyone is encouraged to deepen into the work as their bodies allow.  Some students have had years of yoga experience and will have a more full expression of the pose we’re working in.  Others who are new to yoga are given modifications that help awaken the body.

All three classes begin with floor warm-ups, followed by a carefully planned standing sequence and then finishing with seated work and relaxation.  Because of the nature of my classes at Avenidas, it’s suggested that students be able to safely lower and then rise from the floor.  That being said, chairs are available to assist.

Unfortunately, equipment is limited at Avenidas. We have soft exercise mats but I recommend you bring a sticky mat and two bath towels that can be folded into mini-bolsters.  A strap is also handy – this can be a yoga strap or, if you’re on a budget, a man’s tie or belt.  Yoga blocks are helpful, too.

Individual Study

If you are recovering from illness or injury then I recommend two or three sessions of individual study.  Together we can see where you’re at in terms of strength and flexibility.  We can build a program that will support recovery instead of setting it back.

Some clients, of course, simply enjoy how individualized attention deepens their practice. You’ll discover the body responds to the work easily when hands on adjustments and personalized modifications are part of the program.


Start Where You Are: More Adventures in Meditation

Since beginning the teacher training program at Avalon Yoga Studio in Palo Alto last September I’ve heard this phrase repeated again and again:  start where you are.

Start where you are is simple level-headed advice that we should remember when we’re beginning anything new, whether it’s the yoga we’ve always wanted to try, the novel we’ve wanted to write or the song we’ve wanted to learn on our guitar.

Don’t argue, don’t procrastinate and don’t wait for conditions to be perfect.  Start where you are.

The advice is particularly useful when contemplating a meditation practice.  Do you want to meditateStart where you are.

Read this blog back far enough and you’ll find a post about my two weeks of Yin Training in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Paul and Suzee Grilley the summer of 2009.  We began each morning with thirty minutes of meditation.  I was determined to continue the practice once I returned home.

It didn’t happen.

I used every excuse imaginable from being too tired to crawl out of bed to convincing myself I’d practice later in the day but of course I never did.

Why?  Because I felt fraudulent.  No one gave me a list of instructions (and we know how I like my lists).  I didn’t understand the steps. I couldn’t possibly be meditating correctly. And so I didn’t meditate at all.

The truth is, there are no list of instructions, no easy steps.  And there’s very little you can do short of strapping on headphones and cranking Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit to eleven that would ruin the experience.

Because we start where we are.  We find five minutes and we sit still.  And then we find ten minutes to sit still and to listen to the breath.  Soon we’re sitting for twenty minutes and the breath may become a mantra.  Or not.

There are plenty of books that offer techniques.  I’m reading one now, Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation. The book is a basic primer the offers suggestions and teaches the reader why meditation is life enhancing.

And there are groups you can join.  A friend of mine and I recently dropped in on a local Daoist Meditation Group.  And you know what?  The Daoist technique was deeply different to my personal practice.  Does that mean I’m wrong?  Of course not.  And neither are they.

We start where we are.  We find our way.  We choose our path. And there is no wrong.  We start where we are.


Autumn Teaching Schedule

I love this time of year.  Summer is winding down and the last few weeks of August are rolling by slow and lazy.  Kids are anticipating the start of the new school year and so am I.

I’ve had a wonderful summer full of hikes, a trip to Point Reyes and a weekend with friends outside of Reno.  I’m ending my summer with four days at Asilomar for the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR).  I’ve never been to Asilomar nor have I attended a SYTAR conference and I’m excited to be doing both.

The following weekend teacher training begins at Avalon Yoga Studio.  Although I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years I’ve decided to complete this six-month teacher training to add to my knowledge of yoga and to fill any gaps in my education.  I’m looking forward to the new vocabulary one gains with learning.

Of course a girl has to pay the rent and so while all this is going on I’ll still be teaching my usual schedule.  I hope you’ll join me.

California Yoga Center:

With the exception of the Monday night Yin class, which is a fantastic practice for anyone, my classes at California Yoga Center are considered Level I/II – most suitable for beginners and continuing beginners:

  • Monday evenings from 7:30 to 8:45 – Yin Yoga
  • Tuesday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 – Iyengar Influenced Slow Flow
  • Friday mornings from 9:00 to 10:00 – Iyengar Influenced Slow Flow

You can find more information about these classes on my website or here.

Avenidas Senior Center:

As long as you are over the age of fifty you may register for classes at Avenidas.  The space is basic and we don’t have the same amenities as a yoga studio but you can’t beat the price.  You can find out more about Avenidas here.

  • Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:00 – Beginning Yoga
  • Tuesday afternoons from 5:00 to 6:00 – Improved Beginner
  • Friday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30 – Beginning Yoga
  • Friday mornings from 11:45 to 12:45 – Improved Beginner

I am also happy to work with you on a one to one basis from the comfort of your home.  This is a good choice if you’re recovering from illness or injury, new to yoga or simply can’t find the time to travel to and from the yoga studio.  Working one to one gives us the opportunity to design a program specific to your needs and goals.