Sometimes it's nice to take a minute and remind myself of all the many reasons why I love yoga. Because I'm hyper flexible, I often have to forgo extensive asana practice in favor of targeted strength training for my hips, shoulders, back, and core. But yoga is my rock, the calm eye of the hurricane, the lighthouse pointing the way home when seas are rough and skies are menacing, the thing I return to after allowing myself to get scattered in the ego-driven winds circling us all at any given time. And here are some answers to the question, "Why do I love yoga?":
It's the end of the year. Already, I'm hearing people talk about New Year's Resolutions. For many people, resolutions revolve around one thing and one thing only: getting fit. And for many people these days, yoga classes seem a rather non-threatening point of entry on the path to greater fitness. I applaud their interest: yoga is an incredible method for getting in touch with your body, uniting the body and mind, and learning how to breathe fully. So I'd like to give beginning yoga students some tips on how to start off their yoga journey the best way possible.
Every yoga class is different. Well, not so if you go to a Bikram yoga class, or if you're learning the Ashtanga series. But most beginners are not headed straight for the 105-degree oven that is Bikram or the rigid, extremely disciplined practice of Ashtanga. Most would-be yoga students are interested in learning some poses, sweating a little, and feeling like they did something good for themselves. Beginners are more likely to head for a Yoga Flow class or a Hatha Yoga class. And I have to reiterate--every single one of them will be different. So how do you know, when you see a class on the schedule, what you're getting into?
Looking perfect or feeling good. That struggle has been on my mind a lot lately as I welcome a host of new internal and external conditions that have a direct impact on my identity as a "health and fitness professional":
The items in the above list have undermined the major belief that drove me to exercise obsessively for the first 10 years of my professional fitness career: my body was really messed up from scoliosis and other health issues, and I had to work really hard to make it appear "perfect" or I wouldn't be respected, successful, or loved. I think perhaps a majority of women are led to believe something very similar, and that is what countless "love your body" campaigns and groups are designed to help defuse.
"Why do I teach yoga?"
It's a question I often ask myself, because sometimes I get lost and need to find my way back. I get caught up in the very American view of yoga that promotes yoga practice as a way to lose weight and work on one's body shape and size. I feel pressured to teach a fast, flowing, aerobically stimulating class even when I know that the students asking for such a class are not ready for it physically. I let myself fall into the trap that I have fallen into since I was a youngster: trying to be what people want me to be instead of what I am.
In the last week, during my lovely yoga retreat in Puglia, Italy, I found myself falling into the traps that I just described, and I had to pause and ask myself again, "Why do I teach yoga?" Below are my answers.
For those of you taking my Yoga without Back Pain series who'd like to practice at home, here are the asanas we have covered so far. Thanks to your fellow student Shauna for asking that I send out the list.
By the way, you'll each get a complete list of the pranayama, meditations, and asana that we've practiced after the fourth class, so make sure I get your e-mail address for that.
And now, the asana from lessons 1 and 2:
[Performing all with bandhas engaged]
Tadasana (mountain pose)
Vrksasana (tree pose)
Utthita hasta padangusthasana (standing big-toe pose)
Dhanurasana (bow pose)
"Moving" cow pose
Upavistha Konasana (seated wide-angle pose)
Virabhadrasana II (warrior II)
Dwi Pada Pitham (two-legged table)
Apanasana (the "vital air" pose, with legs crossed over)
Jathara Parivrtti (belly twist, with legs extended)
Remember to practice with excellent spinal posture, deep and full breathing, and your bandhas engaged, and these should feel great! See you next week . . .
This piece by Elizabeth Landau on CNN.com is a beautiful account of how mindfulness can change the shape of both physical and emotional pain.
Back pain is the type of pain that I see and work with most frequently in my events and classes. When a person is experiencing pain--or is accustomed to feeling pain--the mind runs amok with negative thinking. Whether it be anxiety, depression, blame, shame, or the anger that Monty Reed (in Landau's piece) describes, those negative emotions actually cause pain to increase or intensify. Judging yourself for having a particular feeling or emotion, or believing you are victimized and disempowered, can cause anyone's back to hurt!
We all know someone who has tried yoga in order to alleviate their aching back, neck, hips, or shoulders. Yoga has become such a common--and successful--method for addressing orthopedic issues that doctors are even recommending it to their patients.
Dr. Loren Fishman, a physiatrist in New York, is one such physician. This summer, The New York Times featured Dr. Fishman's use of yoga with his orthopedic clients. I applaud the author, Jane E. Brody, for dedicating a large segment of the piece to rotator cuff injuries.
Having coached all type of fitness and back-pain client, I have dealt with many such injuries. In fact, the vast majority of people over the age of 50 have some sort of tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles. These tears are normal, are not likely to cause lasting pain, and will not be resolved by surgical means--but surgeons frequently cut away at the shoulder anyway. I'm encouraged that doctors like Fishman are actually using yoga to solve such structural issues. I've seen similar results with my own clients, for all manner of joint pain.
One statement in the article with which I do take issue, however, is the final sentence of Brody's piece. I'd get rid of the phrase "medical guidance" and instead say "Seek the guidance of a highly-specialized fitness or yoga practitioner."
Because we are not licensed medical practitioners, we are not able to prescribe you addictive pain pills, expensive injections, and unnecessary surgeries that won't relieve your pain. We are required by the restrictions of our profession to deal with the two things that actually will make a difference in how your body feels: The physical structure (bone, muscle, joints) that you carry around, and the mind with which you control that physical structure.
Click here to read Brody's piece.
Sara Hauber, MA
Teacher of yoga, meditation, and intelligent strength training for joint health and emotional well-being; constantly curious