Yoga is bigger than "styles": you can find everything from power to hot to aerial yoga and it's easy to think that if you just understood what the names meant you'd be closer to finding what you need. "Styles" are what happen when people take a simple set of postures and techniques and brand them. Yoga is bigger than that.
The categories of yoga that matter don't refer to people's names: they are ways of taking care of yourself.
You may have experienced strong hatha in studios and gym classes, videos and audios - any class where you spent part of the time in standing postures, weight bearing on your arms or sweating. These classes run the range from gentle through what's commonly termed "advanced" and build strength, flexibility, bone and breath capacity.
Yin practices are characterized by long holds and cooling breaths, often through the mouth, contrary to the ujayyi warming breath often encouraged in the prior set of practices. These help address long standing patterns and support self knowledge, working with sensation and release of unskillful tension in the body at many levels, from muscle to fascia and nervous system.
You've definitely experienced restorative practices as long as you stayed through Savasana, or final rest in your 'regular' or strong hatha yoga class. Savasana (literally, "corpse") is a taste of restorative that's included in any true yoga class. These are fully supported postures where you stay for minutes at a time, sometimes with guided meditation or visualization and are a luxuriously accessible way to radically change your nervous system over time.
If you've been here very long, you know I recommend at least one of each of these practices a week for every yoga student. I even include some of each in every single class. This is the most effective use of your time on the mat if you're looking to create transformation in your body, your breath, your mind or your feelings.
Full Spectrum Yoga is a practice that includes all three of these yogic modalities. Full Spectrum Yoga teaches you to care for yourself in every situation: strong, injured, tired, energized, morning, evening, weekend, weekday, young, old, postpartum, pre- and peri-natal, anxious, depressed, joyful, content: a spectrum of practices you can tailor to your own life and needs. Full Spectrum isn't a new kind of yoga. Full Spectrum is a way of approaching your practice, fitness and self care so you address every level of yourself in your fitness regime and can draw from the ancient wisdom of yoga, proven through what science is learning about the fractured fitness model, to take care of your whole self and reach the goals you set for yourself.
Full Spectrum yoga for full spectrum living.
During September 2015 we'll be focusing on forward folds. Poses referred to as forward folds in yoga are poses in which your femur, or upper leg bone, is closer to your torso than 90 degrees.
When we focus on a particular class of poses - like forward folds - we focus on the actions of all the poses we do that involve this action. For instance, Downward Facing Dog has forward fold actions in the hips and backbend actions in the shoulders: we'll focus mostly on the hips this month. In Warrior I, instead of focusing primarily on shoulder actions, we'll focus on the leg strengthening action in the forward leg.
Forward folds both require and create strong, flexible core muscles - both the deep core and the vanity abs - to support a long, aligned spine with all its natural curves.
Hamstrings are a major focus during folds because the action of rotating the pelvis forward lifts the sitting bones from which the hamstrings originate. Since they attach to the bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula) and cross the knee, keeping the knees bent while you flex at the hip with your core supporting your spine is the best way to enter forward folds form the majority of people - even very flexible ones. This allows you to create the container of the pose, focus on aligning with your breath and then to feel into the lengthening of the hamstrings as you straighten your legs, lengthening the hamstrings. Only go as far as you stay connected to your breath and your low back stays in great alignment; if the hamstrings are pulled down because they're not yet flexible and strong enough to cross the back of the leg fully extended, they'll pull your pelvis back toward its upright position and this will round your lower back. Rounding your lower back in forward folds puts you at risk for disk injury and generally compromises the fullness of your breath as low back rounding leads to shoulder and rib cage rounding. Bent knees allow you to stay connected through the entire body and create the strength you'll need when you're flexible enough to extend fully.
Forward folds are more contemplative, in general, than the mood elevating forward folds, and are great for calming anxiety, preparing for sleep and soothing your worried mind.
Look for forward folding focus in all my hatha, yin and restorative classes and explore the strength and flexibility that will allow you to rock your world from a place of calm and stability.
Questions about forward folds, hamstrings, home practice or yoga? Comment and get your answers here!
May is "True Core" month here in the Badlands, which means in every class we'll be experiencing some connection to "core" muscles and fascia. Learning to sense these structures is part of learning to engage and move from the deepest sources of your power. Traditionally in yoga these structures are referred to as the "bandhas," or locks - like ship locks, not like key locks. The bandhas refer to the three diaphragms of the body, structural horizontal elements that are key to both breath and movement: the pelvic diaphragm/floor made of 8 interlocking muscles in a fascial sheath (mula bandha), the respiratory diaphragm which is also a muscle wrapped in fascia (uddiyana bandha) and the vocal diaphragm through which we speak and modulate breath (jalandara bandha). Most focus in the beginning is on the first two.
The cool thing about working with the bandhas is that when you engage these muscles, the vanity abs (rectus and obliques) come along for the ride - this doesn't work the other way around, which is why crunches are less than counterproductive.
The pelvic and respiratory diaphragms can work in concert, supporting both breath and movement, and are each functionally connected to two of the other deep core muscles - the pelvic diaphragm to the transverse (from hip point to hip point horizontally across the low belly) and the respiratory to the psoas, the only muscle that crosses from lower to upper body, often referred to as a "hip flexor" but oh so much more crossing from the thoraco-lumbar vertebrae forward and down to the insides of the pelvic bowls with extensions to the inner femurs.
The video below is a human dissection demonstrating the connection of the deep front line which includes the sting ray looking diaphragm-psoas connection. If you prefer not to see this clinical demonstration then read the next blog post instead. For some people, seeing this will help you connect to the same structures in your own body, which is why I include this wonderfully beautiful video. Some folks would rather not see human cadavers which is why I include the bold, large letters.
Leave your reaction to the video or to your feeling of these connections in a comment below.
You've just experienced the bandhas. True, there's far more practice, finesse and exploration to do, but it would be disappointing if 7,000 years of investigating the human body were completely revealed in a 30 second exercise. This is, of course, just the beginning.
In May's Yinyasative classes, we'll be using three different breathing techniques to connect to, engage and release and explore the usefulness of the bandhas. While pelvic floor connection and engagement does indeed have the benefits showcased on "The View," you now also see some of the more mundane, but at least as practically applicable benefits of exploring this connection.
We'll then take that sense of connection and apply it in a variety of postures to create experience and strength in the "true core."
Join us to be guided through a selection of some of these postures and techniques in every class (we'll get through this and more in the workshop on the 16th, with modifications available for all levels). Check out the small group class schedule and scroll down to register for your first free class!
Restorative Yoga class for December 2014 combines Pranayama, Simple Yin Postures, Figure 8 Sacral Pump, Chi Kung and Fully Restorative Yoga Poses with Guided Meditations for a powerfully enlivening, relaxing, fire up your digestion class.
We digest not only the food we take in (and maybe a little extra over holiday time!), but also our experiences, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. The aim of yoga practice is to clarify the body, breath and mind so much that we process all of these varieties of experience as efficiently and effectively as possible, to release their energy and integrate their wisdom into every way we interact with and serve in our lives.
This class combines simple twists, powerful but simple chi kung and deeply restorative postures to invoke the parasympathetic nervous system - colloquially referred to as the "feed and breed" system, since in this relaxed but awake state our body sends circulation and nutrients to the core of the body, supporting these everyday processes of life. This is distinguished from (though interacts with) the more commonly known "fight or flight" - sympathetic - nervous response, which in the extreme shunts circulation and nutrients to the larger muscles of locomotion and away from digestion and reproduction.
Use this sequence to stoke your digestion of all you take in and share it with your family! One recent student experienced the relief of leg and low back pain she'd experienced for years after 3 classes:
"Thank you for Restorative Yoga class. My leg and feels better than it has in a long time, as well as my low back. After only three sessions it was a tremendous improvement in the leg that has been tight for a couple years." ~Chava"
Effective digestion of experience doesn't require reliving trauma or even necessarily knowing the exact cause. Chava reported no specific provoking factor or discrete injury, though she'd recently had a long car trip that seemed to aggravate the pain. Effective digestion does require bringing the body's sensation into the field of your awareness while integrating the breath. This sequence allows you bring those sensations gently to awareness, breathe and let go.
What are you digesting in your practice? What do want to digest on the mat? Do you ever surprise yourself with what comes up on the mat? Or what is resolved by your yoga practice? Share your experience here and let us know when you try this sequence or if you have any questions about how to follow it. Your practice - that's what this website is all about.