Archive for the ‘Asanas’ Category

Yoga poses, working our bodies natural design

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

I’m standing on the beautiful beach in New Zealand. It’s 2010, and I’ve finished Donna Farhi’s yoga teacher training course.

I’ve signed up for four day walk in New Zealand’s South Island. With me on the walk is a group of American tourists. One of them is trying to do Warrior II. He’s trying hard to get the perfect pose. I can see him visibly making an effort and probably straining himself in the process. Thing is it looks really uncomfortable for his body.

He’s put his left foot at 90° to the other foot and he’s trying to put his pelvis so that he’s in one line with his body. And the problem is that our bodies are just not designed to do that. The average external rotation of the hip joint is 45°, he was trying for a full 90°, twice as much as the average range. Someone told him to do this and he was trying his best to do it.

No criticism or judgment about this, I often find myself doing things that other people have told me to do without really thinking them through. And the result is often discomfort or sometimes even strain. I’m getting a little better at stopping that kind of getting-myself-into-a-panice-trying-to-fit-into-the-class-movement thing because, well, it just hurts too much.

Some of the problem is just simple view point. Take a look at Warrior II from the side and it looks like the pelvis is completely flat.

Vector image from pixabay


But take a look from another perspective and it’s obvious that the pelvis is at an angle.

Warrior II, image from Flickr

 

And that’s the main theme of the workshop in 2 weeks, figuring out how to practice in a way that suits your body. There are still spaces in the workshop why not come along and just see how it works for you?

Workshop, Saturday 25th November 2017, Creating a yoga practice

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

When we start to practice yoga, we generally do someone else’s practice. We go to a class and we do the poses. Many people find this an enriching and empowering experience. Some find that these practices suit them and they can continue them as a life long practice.

But after a while, we can notice that there are gaps in these practices, we can get stuck, even end up trying to do a practice which injures us.

So this class is about creating your own practice by looking at your life as it is right now and then figuring what you truly need (as opposed to what you think you need) and then setting up ways to get those needs met. It will include:

  • Looking at the basics, how you stand, you walk, you lie down and sit. These are areas which most of us do in ways that create suffering and extra stress 
  • Setting up simple and effective ways to know your own body without become overwhelmed with anatomical information 
  • Setting up ways to integrate how we see with how we move. 
  • Looking at yoga poses that come from a deep understanding of your body and allow you to grow. Rather than retrofitting a yoga pose on to an already stressed body and then wondering why it doesn’t seem to be working 
  • Looking at the psychology of practice, how to use insights from neuroscience, psychology and the wisdom traditions to set up a practice that is simple, satisfying and possible for you to do enjoyably and well. 

If you are a teacher, this approach is also very useful for generating further material for your classes, or just helping a student solve a particular issue that they bring to class
.

If you are a student this approach is useful for developing your practice further and bringing you the results that you want.

The workshop will be based on insights from the ways that Alexander technique and Eyebody can help a yoga practice.

It will contain a mixture of guided movements/poses and then will have some space for personal work on poses within the group setting.

Click here to apply for the workshop.

Develop your yoga practice survey

Friday, October 6th, 2017
What do you want to develop further?
What do you want to develop further, please specify?
What’s your ideal mix for empowering your practice?
What’s your ideal mix for empowering your practice?
We all know that regular practice on our helps us improve and grow. Yet most of us would admit to finding it challenging to find the time and energy to practice. What makes you roll out your yoga mat regularly?
What makes you roll out your yoga mat regularly, other?
What’s your favourite way of learning new things about your body in a class setting?
How often do you practice yoga by yourself?
Any other comments

Yoga and Alexander technique: possibilities for pain free movement

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Yoga tends to attract people with unusually large ranges of movements. At the top of that large range are people who persist long enough to become senior teachers with photogenic practices. It creates a distortion field in our perception of what’s possible when we only look at those people doing poses in photos and videos.

We hit a restriction, assume that it’s muscular, it’s our fault, we’re bad people. We’re desperate to fast forward through the difficult bits, we feel ashamed and power on through

Then we hit some pain and assume that there’s something badly wrong, we’re about to die.

What if pain, restriction, guilt or shame was a path to waking up into calmness and not a signal to blunder around in a panicky way desperately looking for someone to save you?

I’m asking myself: what would that shame and guilt free practice look like?

Well, restriction comes from tight muscles/fascia and compression of joints. A practice which is full of shame is going to mean that you’re just not going to be there, just interested to see if the restriction is something that will resolve itself with practice or something that is an absolute limit.

What if I treated all restriction as a place of possibility? Then see if there’s more possibility for movement. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

What would it be like to be skilled, honest and open as I meet these experiences as they arise? As I go into more challenging movements for my body, what emotional skills do I need to be able to meet these challenges in an honest way?

I learnt something really important when I was assisting Donna Farhi in July 2017. Even though she had a very serious injury, she was comfortable. She was comfortable because she was utterly honest about her limits and used them with great integrity.

I learned that you don’t have to be uncomfortable or in pain even when up against really challenging physical limitations.

For me, it’s not about the result (nice though it might be), it’s about asking interesting questions and taking time to explore the answers that really makes the difference.

I’ve been asking these questions for the last 10 years as a teacher and sharing this process with students. Maybe I can help you ask some interesting questions and get answers of your own? Check out my one to one sessions here.

Yoga and Alexander technique: the art of seeing a whole person

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

When we do yoga or Alexander technique, we have an intention of being whole, of not dividing ourselves in a confusing set of parts.

Good intention, but how does that work in practice?

I’ve just finished assisting a teacher who is well-known in the yoga world called Donna Farhi on a 4 and a half day intensive on moving from the core. She’s a great yoga teacher and author. I’ve learnt a lot from her way of inquiring deeply into movement and the patterns behind movement. There were 3 of us assistants and around 50 students, many of them also yoga teachers. So, a busy class with lots of very knowledgeable people.

Assisting is like watching the patterns made by a flock of birds. Patterns in movement appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. Being able to help a student requires that I see the pattern and suggest a change at the right moment. Sometimes I’m right there. More often than I’d like, I’m behind or in front of that crucial moment. It’s a great metaphor for life as an effective teacher, there are lots of powerful distractions and teaching interventions need to be focussed, short and timely if they have a chance to survive.

Back to the seeing from wholeness. When we look at another person, we tend to focus on their face. We’re social beings and faces contain lots of useful information about how our interactions are going. If we’re attracted to that person, we look at er… other bits. And that’s it. We don’t really register those areas of the body not considered essential for social or sexual interactions.

Think about it, there are probably whole web sites devoted to your favourite movie star’s rear end. Not so many devoted to their left elbow.

So I’ve spent some time in looking at areas of my students that don’t usually register. Their toes, their elbows, their wrists, their knees. I got this tip from Alexander teacher Bruce Fertman; who has devoted many hours of study to the art of seeing the whole person.

It paid off with one student who was doing Warrior II pose in the one of the morning sun salutations. It was a pose that the students spent a minute or two. It’s a complex three dimensional shape. Like a lot of yoga students in this pose, I noticed this student seemed to have strain in her arms. She seemed to be pulling them up with a lot of effort.

If I had started working on her arms instead of seeing the whole person, I would have missed a little thing that she did with her toes. They seemed to have a life of their own, pulling away from the floor at intervals. I asked her if she would be willing to let her toes rest quietly on the floor. Instant transformation in her whole body, including her arms.

Afterwards she told me that she came into a whole different experience of a more intuitive, instinctive way of being in the pose.

The tension in her toes was just enough to block her experience of being whole.

Then there was a chap whose Tadasana looked full of strain. Tadasana is basically just standing and we’re designed to be able to stand upright with very little effort. Somehow, that message hadn’t reached this chap. He was pulling his upper body backwards in space with considerable effort and tension. If you looked at him side on, it looked like he was leaning backwards and pulling himself down to the ground.

I worked with him to find another balance. And didn’t have much luck. When I talked to him later, he told me that if he couldn’t feel the ground in the way he was used to, then he was convinced that he had lost his balance and he didn’t like it. He was all about holding on to the ground, that’s where his idea of support came from. The work I did wasn’t totally lost though, when he did a balance pose, he was beautifully upright. The key seemed to be when he was distracted enough, he let go of the pulling down and back pattern. In the body/mind connection, I’d got the body part of it there, the mind would need more work.

And that’s the way it is with working in fast moving dynamic contexts; lots of mistakes as well as lots of successes.

How much is enough?

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

I met him and his 2 children on my first teaching job. I was 17 and was teaching a multi-millionaire and his 2 children how to sail a small boat. After being on the boat for a while, the children became more and more restless. They kept asking their dad for something really expensive. I can’t remember what it was but I remember being surprised at how readily he said yes. And even more surprised at how little happiness this brought about in his 2 kids.

Think about the last time you ate an ice cream or a bit of chocolate and really enjoyed it. It was great, right? So, if that made you happy, think about what 10 ice creams would do. 10 times happier, obviously.

Actually, not really. It turns out what we need constraints to be really happy. One ice cream can make you really happy because you know that you can repeat it but you choose not to, you have other things to do which are more meaningful to you (and have less risk of expanding your waist line).

If I had to say the one thing that Alexander’s discoveries brought to my yoga practice that really changed it for the better, it wouldn’t be his discovery of the head / spine relationship.

It was his concept of too much too soon. Of overdoing things and ending up worse off. He noticed that people tended to rush through life, tended to want something without really thinking through how they were going to get it.

He called it end gaining.

In a yoga world that was busy getting flexibility at any cost, the concept of end gaining turned out to be a life saver. End gaining in the Alexander world is a very sophisticated yet simple inquiry into how much is enough. It is embedded in the way that Alexander people approach their work. That simple question of ‘how much is enough’ turns out to be one of life’s really deep questions.

When it comes to yoga, how much increased flexibility will make us happier? Function better, be easier in ourselves? It turns out that the answer to that is ‘not a lot’. Our joints have absolute limits which come about when bone meets bone. And there are limits to do with the state of your soft tissue (muscles, connective tissue, fascia).

One of the earliest lessons I do with my yoga students is to get them to figure out their current range of movement. Then figure out what the difference is between bone meeting bone (something they should never go beyond) and the limits set by their soft tissue (something they can work on). I wish someone had done something similar to me when I first started yoga lessons, it would have saved me a lot of frustration and anxiety.

There are lots of very interesting questions about how to get to a place of an expanded range of movement.

  • How many poses do we need to do each day?
  • How long do we need be in the pose?
  • When do we need to those poses?
  • How often do we need to do a particular pose? Once a day? Once a month?

These are questions I regularly ask myself and my students. The answer varies, but the process is a lot more fun than pushing your body beyond your limits and then spending weeks or even months trying to get over it.

Is pessimism ruining your Yoga/AT practice and your life?

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Martin Seligman, a psychologist who wrote ‘Learned Optimism’, has been studying learned optimism for over 30 years.

He says pessimists:

..tend believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault.

He says optimists are people:

..who are confronted with same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault: circumstances, bad luck, or other people brought it about.

He’s found that optimists do better on virtually everything in life. They live longer, are happier and even recover from illnesses quicker. They do better in life and generally better in elections too.

He also found that pessimism is related to something he called ‘learned helplessness’. Learned helplessness is a coping strategy when you believe that you have no power to influence an outcome in your life. It’s a giving up, a switching off and it goes deep.

The basic principles of both Yoga and the Alexander work are simple  (not easy though). If you can free the joint at the top of your spine that support your head, you’re already getting a good idea of what the Alexander work is about. Free as in more potential for movement. Free as in empowering our own self-supporting mechanisms throughout our whole body and being. Free as in easier.

It takes a single thought to do this.

When it comes to Alexander’s discovery, we’re all pessimists. We believe that release we just experienced is the exception, not the rule. We believe that our habits are the reality, not that new thing we just experienced. We believe that we are stuck with our habits for our whole life. That our habits will rule our life with small releases every now and then (time off for very good behaviour).

Habit has a particular meaning in the Alexander world. Substitute the word ‘habit’ for tension, drama, stress, unhappiness, depression and you’ll get flavour of the depth of habit.

What would it be like to be an Alexander optimist?

  • You would believe that tension/pain/stressful thingie is temporary. It was caused by a particular circumstance, bad luck or just getting sucked into someone else’s weird stuff.
  • You would believe that a free head on top of your spine is a permanent and pervasive condition, that anything else is just temporary.
  • You would greet life’s hard knocks as a chance to study, a chance to learn. And you wouldn’t be just saying that and hoping it was true, you would be feeling it and living it.

Anything wrong with being an optimist? Actually, there’s one downside: optimists are more at risk from delusion than pessimists. Believing that freeing your neck will heal your broken leg in a couple of hours is probably taking optimistic thinking a bit far. And there are some yogis who optimistically thought they could do handstand (I did this when I was 12, how difficult could it be?) and ended up leaving the class on stretcher.

We need some degree of caution in our optimism. It turns out that we all have an edge when it comes to believing optimistic thinking, we need something that is optimistic and at the same time is believable, something we can get behind.

Cautious optimism is perhaps better. We need a degree of caution when it comes to studying our bodies, there’s so much that we don’t see even when things feel really good.

So: something that pushes you to challenge that inbuilt pessimism but stops just short of the point where you are in despair about ever getting there.

And here’s another thought: if you reframe pessimism as ‘learned helplessness’ then it’s not something you’re hard wired to do but something that you learned and can unlearn.

And funnily enough, just that thought of freeing your head at the top of your spine turns out to be an important step on transforming your debilitating pessimism about life into something lighter and more optimistic.

Sequencing movement through your shoulders

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

When we disconnect from how our body works, we also disconnect from the fact that we are all whole and OK no matter what.

A couple of months ago I was working with a chap in his 50s who had come to me because he worried that his body was stiffening up, particularly one side of his body. When I looked at him, his alignment (posture to non-yoga people) was OK. He wasn’t doing a whole lot of slumping or hunching, yet, he was right, his movements were noticeably stiff. When I asked him to swing his arm up as though he were reaching for a cup on the top shelf, he had to make quite an effort to get his arm above his shoulder.

The culprit here was his sequencing, the way that the rhythm of the movement travelled from core to periphery.

This something that we often forget about reducing tension in our lives, that tension lives in movement, it lives in time, it has a place and it is not a static thing.

He tightened up in certain places because he was convinced that he needed exert extra effort to protect his shoulder joint. It was like the baton was passed easily between the relay team until it reached one member. That member was so keen to run the race that they grabbed the baton early and then dropped it.

In this case it was the shoulder pad muscle (deltoid muscle). We worked with persuading that muscle to wait, wait… and then go.

I didn’t change much to do with the tension he held in his body and yet that one thing allowed him to experience much more ease in movement.

Here’s an experiment you can do by yourself: Swing your arms up so that your finger tips are reaching for something above your neck level. Notice if something tightens or jumps ahead of the movement. Then, without changing the tension in that part, see if you can get it to be in the right part of the sequence. Play around with it and see if it makes a difference.

Why are you stiff in your shoulders?

Friday, May 26th, 2017

A few weeks ago I worked with a one to one student who had pain in her neck and shoulders. In her busy London life, not much chance to relax, she had done what we all do (me included). She disconnected from how her body actually worked and forgot that her arms connected to her head and tail. She disconnected from the fact that her shoulders were just a name for a part of her arm structure.

And when we disconnect from how our body works, we also disconnect from the fact that we are all whole and OK no matter what.

When I asked moved her left arm upwards, it got half way and then got progressively stiffer as it went up. It felt like I was lifting a heavy weight.

I worked with her with my hands to help her remind herself of that truth about her body, that arms are connected to whole length of our torso at the back right to our tail and back of our head.

I like working with my hands, it offers me a chance to get across information that would take a long time if I had to explain it. And, really importantly, it allows me to support my students. The process of undoing tension is quite a thing. We need information to help us make better decisions. And sometimes, we just need holding, support, nourishment to give us the courage to implement that information.

And that’s what I did for a while with this student. It helped, she softened a little and started breathing a bit easier.

Are there things in your shoulders and arms that you want to change? That you have the information to that would allow you to change, yet somehow that change isn’t happening?

Perhaps you need some simple support. You can support yourself through learning some more about lying down to rest in restorative yoga. I have a blog post about that here https://www.yogaground.com/blog/asanas/yoga-and-lying-down-to-rest-poses/

Or you could come along to one my workshops too. Click here for more information.

Are your shoulders killing you after a long journey?

Friday, April 7th, 2017

We’re traveling a lot these days. The normal commute is 25 minutes for people in USA and 54 minutes in UK. Then there are all those business and leisure trips.

I’ve realised over the years that I’ve bought into a fantasy version of traveling. In this fantasy, I can travel long distances without preparation, suffer no discomfort from the journey and be able to instantly recover.

I’ve wondered where this fantasy comes from, after all long trips were treated with a great deal of respect in the days where you had to use a horse or a ship to get where you needed to go. Perhaps there was no advertising industry to persuade us that traveling was entirely without difficulty, discomfort or stress?

 

For me, there are some stages to travel.

The art of preparation.

Stuff takes time. It takes time to pack. It takes time to plan a route, to book accommodation and transport. The funny thing about planning is that most of us get it wrong. We assume that it takes 20 minutes to pack a bag. It probably does but we forget… well, life happening. During that 20 minutes someone will call you. You’ll get distracted by deciding whether it’s green sock or blue socks. You’ll forget where you put your passport, get in huge panic, realize its where it should be and then take 10 minutes to calm down.

Then there’s the journey.

One of the stresses of the journey is caused by forgetting that a lot of other people will be doing the same as you. That it’s inconvenient for everyone, not just you. That you have absolutely no control of whether that train or plane will leave on time.

That there are long periods where nothing is happening other than sitting and being followed by short periods of intense activity and focus.

Are you able to sit quietly for long periods and then transition into intense (often weight bearing activity)? Or do you find that you that you either zone out or stress out when you’re sitting only to be startled when you reach your stop and need to get off with a bag?

Here’s a tip to help that:

Switch on your core. Your core is a very loose definition (anatomists get upset about us talking of the core) of some of the muscles that are towards the centre of your body. We tend to switch them off when we collapse or tighten up.

Guess what one of the best ways to do that is? Free your neck so that your core engages effortlessly. Free as giving yourself permission to activate the resources you need on demand. Free as giving yourself permission to be connected and present to what’s needed right now.

After the journey.

After the journey there needs to be stretches, relaxation, restoration. Joints get compressed and need time to decompress. Stiffness and swelling needs time and some body TLC to drop out of the system.

The best way to drop down an over activated nervous system, stressed out muscles is Svasana (if you’re a yogi) or the lying down procedure if you’re an AT person.

Check out some further tips about how to get into svasana in my article Yoga and lying down to rest.