Yoga Challenge Day 21

Monday was day twenty-one of the yoga challenge.  I ended my challenge with a private session with Marci Lew, whom I have known for several years and taken class from at Patanjali’s Place (http://www.patanjalisplace.com/) as well at her Wednesday class at the Health Associates space on Broad Street.  Marci’s training is in TriYoga and pilates.  TriYoga fundamentals include relaxation-in-action, wave-like spinal movements, and economy of motion.  Marci combines her understanding of each in a fantastic Yogalaties class including the best parts of yoga flow with emphasis on core strength and engagement.  She also teaches a gentle yoga flow class that works your body in all the best ways to achieve release, length and space from head to toe.  I have always found Marci to be receptive and eager to help her students with their practice.  She is skilled at demonstrating in reverse (a feat I have not mastered), and explaining what to do ahead of a transition or new variation she might offer.  I haven’t been able to take either of her classes in recent months, but recall her ease and skill with warm ups.  Her wisdom in coaching body movement and relaxation through yoga comes through in each class as does her outgoing personality.

I had not had a private session before and was more nervous about someone coming to my house for a class than the class itself.  Having 3 dogs in residence that day (my 2 and a guest dog, Buddy), we opted for class on the deck rather than contend with the pack.  I told Marci I was interested in working on core strength, having had David’s hour-long pilates class give me a new conception of my room for improvement in that area, and forward folding.  Improving on these in my practice holds a bit of ego for me since I want to be able to improve my arm balances and ability to go deeper in folded poses.  Ego aside, we rolled out our mats in the warm, late afternoon sun.  Surrounded by trees, we worked first with cat/cow rolls.  This is a series I teach every class and practice just as much personally as I do with my students.  One might think there is little to a cat/cow roll, but habits set in quickly and fresh eyes give new life to familiar poses.  I worked with Marci’s guidance to use a more wave-like motion tucking first the tail bone then moving inch by inch up my spine, pushing down through the shoulders I arched into cat.  Moving each part of the spine, upper back, middle, lower and tail bone, I dipped back to cow.  Marci’s suggestion was to drop my belly less in cow, leave my face at more of a neutral angle to keep the neck long and feel the tail bone and crown of the head move in oppistion to one another.  The difference in how that felt from my usual way of moving through cat/cows provided more openness in my back and built more warmth in my spine.

Cat/cow work lead us to discussing how to teach different poses to students at a variety of levels.  Since I teach both a large-group of students and a smaller studio class, I like to hear other teachers ideas about making poses more available to beginners without making them feel singled out.  My Duke population tends to have more of a “if they are doing it I can too” attitude.  Rather than discourage students at either end of the spectrum, I work to offer a range of options and remind them to choose what works best for them that day.  Marci has great ideas along this line since she teaches to a wide audience each week, including a class to factory workers just outside Durham.    We worked through a variety of table pose variations incorporating progressively more difficult balance and core options as we went along.  I am glad to say that over the course of the year I have more students in my Duke class reaching for a block or using a strap than when I first started teaching at Wilson.  I tend to demo first at the basic level and then take things up one notch at a time, so it is easy to move though the variations.  Marci confirmed this was a good way to interact with my group especially with such a large number of students when hands-on adjustments might not be possible for each body in the class.

Our session dissolved into a teaching discussion, each of us telling the other different techniques and options we use for our classes.  It was an amazing hour spent learning and refreshing my yoga teacher bag of tricks that afternoon under Marci’s supervision. As the sun set, we concluded our session and with it my 3-week challenge.  I was glad to spend the last hour of the challenge working with Marci and hope to catch more Yoagalties this summer when my schedule frees up a little more.

Thanks to all my fellow teachers, the studios I visited, friends and those who cheered me on along the way!!  Thanks to Patanjali’s Place for helping to publicize my 21 day challenge and to Bryan for his mentoring and friendship.  A special thanks to my family for their support; yes, even the dogs who gave me kisses and tail wags when I was not feeling much like yoga!  My deepest thanks goes to my husband for his unwaivering support, quickness to fill in for things when I was off on my mat, will to be weird and join in on classes, and mostly for all the love and understanding (I couldn’t have done it without you!).  You are all an amazing part of my life and I thank you each for what you add to my journey every day!

I will post a summary as soon as I have a few more days to let all of this sink in.  Namaste!

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Yoga Challenge Day 20

Sunday was day twenty of the yoga challenge.  I was ready for a busy yoga day on Sunday as I was subbing a deep stretch class at 10:15, teaching my own class at 11:45, and then taking Sarah Bish’s Classical Yoga class at 1pm at Patanjali’s Place (http://www.patanjalisplace.com/index.shtml).  After a stop at the Whole Foods for supplies (trail mix, Luna bars, smoked mozzarella pasta), I headed to the studio to start my yoga-filled day.  It was a beautiful morning and I was glad to be up and out of the house early for a Sunday.  I am always a bit nervous subbing for Bryan’s class since he teaches such a different style than I do.  I wonder if his students think, “oh no, it’s the lady who teaches vinyasa flow!”.   I am certain this is silly, but I think that each time I welcome his students for my version of class.  I opted for a mix of styles taking little bits I had gleaned from my Yin, and Rise and Refresh classes last week. I lead students in both my classes though a series of poses where abiding was the intention.  Wrapping up with restorative options and an extra few minutes in Savasana gave us all a calm body, and relaxed mind to move through the rest of our day.  I was ready for a nap and real food, but looking forward to trying out Sarah’s Classical Yoga style.

Sarah Bish has been teaching her 1pm-2:30 Classical Yoga class right after mine for as long as I have been at Patanjali’s.  I must admit I have never stayed to enjoy her, opting for brunch instead.  Sarah has an easy, quiet vibe about her and her energy seems to radiate, ‘don’t worry, it’s all going to be just fine’.  After the weekend of taking and teaching classes I was ready to be cradled in that comfortable place along with Sarah’s regulars.  We started movement with Sun Salutations, Side Angle, low lunges and held Cobra and Sphinx pose to open the lower back.  Sarah’s pace was fluid, gentle and we trickled like water from one asana to the next.  My body was feeling pretty overworked from the things I had been asking from it over the last few days.  I was feeling pain in my upper back and right side ever since Friday’s class.  As we undulated from pose to pose, stopping to “move here”, as Sarah suggested, I began to relax and loosen in the places I was still holding tightness.  I balanced in poses with a solid stance and opened deeply into Hanumanasana while my hamstrings lengthened with joy and sweet relief.  Sarah’s tenderness and compassion emanated as she moved in tandem with us on her mat.  Her love of teaching and desire to draw us out of where we were before class made the hour and a half go by in a blink. I still might opt for brunch after I teach on Sundays, but will look forward to the days when her class fits into my plan.  I left feeling clear-headed and in a wonderful mood.  My legs did feel a bit like Jello after almost 5 hours of yoga, but it was worth the experience to stay for Sarah’s Classical Yoga.

Yesterday was the last day of the yoga challenge.  Stay tuned for an account of my private session with Marci Lew!  I will post a summary of my challenge in the next few days to share what this experience has brought me in terms of my life, practice, and teaching.

Yoga Challenge Day 19

Yesterday was day nineteen of the yoga challenge.  I woke up to a fuzzy puppy face panting over mine at our usual weekday time of 6am.  For some reason our dog Tribble can’t seem to understand the concept of “weekend”, preferring to bounce me out of bed early both Saturday and Sunday.  I think she is afraid we might miss something if we sleep too long.  I dragged myself down the hall as the dogs hopped and wagged at my knees.  I felt stiff and tight all over and an extra hour of sleep would have been useful.  An 11:00am class was what I was shooting for that day at Patanjali’s Place (http://www.patanjalisplace.com/).  Amy Hambrick was filling in for Bryan’s Yoga Basics class.  I had taken her restorative class earlier in the challenge and liked it.  I wasn’t looking forward to practicing, but at least Amy’s class was one I  knew I would enjoy.

I wasn’t feeling much like yoga as I drove to the studio.  I was feeling achy, crabby and tired of the challenge.  I had lost my phone and was anxious about where I had left it last night, and if it would still be there so many hours later.  I unrolled my mat and discovered it was still moist from last night’s Bikram class; another rookie mistake!  Yuck.  I cleaned my mat and sat in child’s pose waiting for class to start, sulking.  Amy opened practice with introductions, she asked that we go around the room, saying our names and if we had any injuries or requests.  She started the circle herself which I thought was a neat thing to do as it allowed everyone else to relax and know what to say when their turn came up.  Amy is a very thoughtful instructor and seeks to incorporate as many requests into her class as possible.  Forward folds were emphasized along with low lunges, balance work in Tree pose and bridge.  I have been trying to work on deepening my forward folds, so it was nice that they were included in the sequence.  Amy’s skill in offering options for students at various levels of experience was displayed frequently during class.  She blended the options along with alignment cues allowing all students to participate without hesitation.  I try to do this in my own classes as I think it makes a practice more accessible and keeps students from feeling singled out if they are beginners.  Another quality to note is her ability to use imagery to guide you into a pose.  I found this very evident in breath work and Savasana.

I have found both my classes with Amy to be worthwhile and I will be glad to attend more post-challenge.  Her class allowed me to reset myself and I am grateful for that.  Since my Friday Bikram class I have been  thinking about what the difference is between suffering and inconvenience.  Saturday morning held so many inconveniences, it felt like suffering.  The truth might be that the difference between the two depends upon how you choose to react.  Sometimes all you need to turn suffering into inconvenience is some well-spent time on the mat.

Yoga Challenge Day 18

Yesterday was day eighteen of the yoga challenge.  I attended my first Bikram class at Bikram Yoga Durham (http://www.bikramdurham.com/) with Mani.

Their website explains that Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 Hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a heated room to stretch and strengthen every muscle, tendon, ligament, gland, joint, and organ in the body. The series systematically moves fresh oxygenated blood throughout the body to detoxify and restore your body to its natural, perfect condition without machines, drugs, or injury. The room is heated to 105° Farenheit to promote deep stretching, rapid detoxification, and increased heart rate for a cardiovascular workout. The workout thins the blood to clear the circulatory system.

I had been dreading this day from the second I agreed with Shelton’s suggestion that “how much of a challenge was it if I didn’t try a Bikram class”.  Just so you understand, I am a girl who starts to cross the days off until winter in about mid-June.  I do not enjoy heat even when sitting still,unless it is accompanied by an ocean breeze and umbrella drinks.  Since this was an experiment partly to push myself beyond typical experience, I trekked down to Golden Belt yesterday to see what some people rave about for myself.  Mind you, I did not go alone, my husband was certainly part of the class (after all it was his suggestion!) as were my friends Jess and David.  Jess has been attending Bikram classes semi-regularly over the last couple of months.   David loves the heat in general, often opting for the sauna at the gym.  David also knows CPR/First Aid so I thought it couldn’t hurt to have him around!

I arrived at the studio early, packed with towels, full water bottles and butterflies in my belly.  Questions like “will I want to pass out in the heat?”, “will I throw up in class?”, and the one that kept screaming the loudest, “is this really for me?”, beat in my head.  Stopping at the counter to sign in and pay, we were introduced to Mani.  She is bright, perky and very sweet, taking time to learn our names and tell us the in’s and out’s of our first day of Bikram.  After a quick stop in the locker room and a last-minute pep talk with Jess, I opened the door to the studio and laid out my mat.  The heat was intense, but not as bad as I had imagined.  Mani joined the room, stepping onto a platform in the center of a mirrored wall.  She explained she did not do the postures with the class, so us noobs should follow those around us.  She told us there were a couple of other rules: keep breathing and no leaving.  The idea the doors were ‘locked’ didn’t sit well with me in that first few minuted in the class, but I had decided in advance I was not going to give up just because it was hot.  We started out with a breathing exercise, side bends, standing back bends, chair pose and Eagle, all done once and then repeated.  I had sweat dripping down my face, back, legs; it was shocking the amount of sweat rolling off my body in those first 30min of class!  We pressed on through balance poses, stopping to take a Savasana before we moved on to floor work.  We finished up the series with Salambasana, Camel pose, Rabbit and ended with twists and a final breathing exercise.  Final Savasana was capped off with a lovely lavender scented chilled towel, a perfect reward for practice.

I did feel very open in the extreme heat of the studio and wasn’t as bothered by this element as I had expected.  I was prepared for the heat to do me in, but I survived.  I felt light headed and dizzy a few times and my heart beat hard in my chest towards the end of the 90 minutes.  I felt like my whole body had been rung out in a way that seemed like I could never drink enough water to replenish myself.  I was glad to leave when the class was over!

The class itself is a set series of postures allowing one to build up strength and stamina.  Mani taught with precision  and was direct in her instruction and spoke directly to students in an effort to motivate.  She was attentive and expected her students to give 100% in class.  A large number of regulars were in attendance, speaking to the popularity of her class and the studio.  The gift of a flavored ice pops at the end was a sweet reward for braving the hot room; definitely something to note!

I went into this class with a half-closed mind fearing the heat and the rumors I had heard about Bikram practice.  I can say Bikram and I will have to agree to disagree on some points of teaching philosophy.  As far as my personal practice, I enjoy more of a community feel to my studio classes.  Part of the reason I come out is to be around others.  Bikram seems to be a more self-focused experience than I am looking for.  I do appreciate the fact that this style reaches some people and I encourage everyone to try it for themselves.

I made a couple of amateur mistakes at the studio, I am embarrassed to say. I mistakenly ‘stole’ someone’s water out of the locker room and talked during the class.  I asked for forgiveness for the latter and was refused, but the former allowed me to meet a nice person and share a laugh.  I am glad to have the chance to try this style of yoga right here in Downtown Durham at a beautiful and thoughtfully established studio.

Yoga Challenge Day 17

Today is day seventeen of the yoga challenge.  I awoke early, around 5:30am to get showered, packed and ready for a 7:30am Rise and Refresh Vinyasa class with Emily Francis at Nataraja Healing Arts (http://natarajahealingarts.com/).  I arrived still a bit sleepy, but excited for a morning practice.  I have tried morning classes once before but balked at the 7:00am start time  giving in to the cozy of my bed instead.   7:30am seemed like a nice compromise as I could still get to work at a reasonable hour, 9:00am if I didn’t dawdle, and not have to leave my house before the rooster crowed for practice.

I arrived at the studio and was greeted by Emily at the door.  I have taken one other class with Emily prior to the challenge.  I very much enjoyed her style during that power flow class, and thought I might feel similarly about this class too.  Emily is new to the area, coming to us from Boulder, CO.  She taught in Boulder and earned her certification while working with fellow teachers and administrators at her school.   Her face shined with delight as she talked about a group she shepherded from novice yogis to seasoned practitioners. .  Her commitment to personalizing her teaching and helping students evolve their practice was not lost on me as we talked, and it made me like her even more.

I felt lucky this morning to be the only one to come to class.   Being the only student in class might seem a little intimidating, but having taught one person classes myself, I see it as an opportunity to provide more precise instruction and adjustments.  This is exactly what I was treated to for the price of a usual class (NHA is actually a donation based studio, but I donated the price of a typical class today; such a bargain!)

Emily began by asking what I was interested in working on.  I said hip openers are my favorite.  I suppose I should have elected to go with something I need more work on, but went for feeling good today with my suggestion, possibly in an attempt to keep the vacation feel of yesterday going on into today.  We started with a quick warm up pressing our palms towards the ceiling and side bending to wake things up.  A series of  stretches with the strap came after with hands-on adjustments to help lengthen, and draw my legs more fully into the stretch.  It felt amazing to have someone assist me like this in class.  We did Warrior poses, Triangle, and folded into a standing wide straddle before Salambhasana  was offered with a partner assist, a wonderful stretch for my overworked shoulders.  Shoulder Stand was a prelude to supported twists  and reclining with legs up the wall.  Emily had mentioned class would be a combination of vinyasa and restorative poses and I think she mixed things up quite nicely for a morning class.

When I finally left the studio, after lingering as long as I could to avoid starting the rest of my day, I checked my clock and realized it was only 8:45.  Class had felt like it had lasted a long time; like we had savored every moment.  I was glad to head out for my day after starting it in a class like Emily provided this morning.  I plan to join this early bird class again.

Tomorrow I will face my biggest challenge of the 21 days, Bikram Yoga (http://www.bikramdurham.com/) at 4pm with Mani.

Yoga Challenge Day 16

Today is day sixteen of the yoga challenge.  I feel like I had a mini vacation today having squeezed  in a pedicure between the day job and class.  I had a fantastic pedicure and even better foot massage at Allure Nail salon.  It had been a while since I had my feet done and it felt magnificent to have them rubbed and buffed!  After that I headed off to class at Nataraja Healing Arts (http://natarajahealingarts.com/) to try out an hour of Yin style practice with Lisa McCatskill.  Yin yoga directs the stimulation normally created in the asana portion of the practice deeper than the superficial or muscular tissues.  This style targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, bones, and even the joints of the body that normally are not exercised very much in a more active style of asana practice.

Participating in more passive style practice is always a challenge more for my mind than body as you have to abide in the pose and stay focused.  After 16 days of yoga I feel very open and limber with the exception of my seated forward bends, Paschimottanasana, in particular, so it was nice to be in a style where I could hold poses for several minutes at a time.

Lisa started us out in savasana bringing us into the moment and encouraging a three part breath.  Child’s pose with big toes touching softened the spine and loosened the hips.  She lengthened our hamstrings in several forward folds and twists worked the back and helped our digestion.  Pigeon is referred to as Swan in Yin and we gracefully folded into that asana, holding there for a perfect amount of time.  As we snuggled contently in our Swan pose, Lisa talked about how each pose we were doing tonight was designed to better flow Chi and blood through the body .  Her focus was the spleen specifically and how asana and breath could assist in balancing blood and Chi.  I heard what Lisa was saying but was so content in my pose and with my breath, I don’t really remember all she said, I felt so at ease.  I liked that she started in Savasana giving the practice a full circle feel as we returned to how we began on the mat.  She did a small adjustment while we relaxed, rubbing the temples and brow; it felt nurturing and kind.  I liked the class and think I like  in particular that it falls somewhere between a restorative and active practice.  Lisa carved out a bit more space in my body and head, and I left with a nice case of ‘yoga brain’.  Not a bad way to close out the day before heading home!

Tomorrow I will start my day with Emily Francis at Nataraja Healing Arts for a 7:30am Rise and Refresh Vinyasa.

Yoga Challenge Day 15

Today is day fifteen of the yoga challenge.  I went to Power Yoga with Jae Furman (http://www.duke.edu/~jfurman/) at Wilson Gym, Duke University.  I was anxious in that “can’t sit still” sort of way today at the day job, feeling distracted and lacking focus.  I was glad to head over to class to move and stretch.  I have taken Jae’s class before and enjoyed it each time.  Jae teaches a power style yoga with stress on precise alignment.

We started with an easy pace gliding from down dog to table, cat and cow, warming up, moving with the breath. Sun Salutations came next as a prelude to balance poses, Triangle and Warrior 1.  The balance series was tough, challenging my legs to hold on.  Eagle arms met Warrior 1 legs before we we hinged into Warrior 3.  Straps facilitated the ease of Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana (one of my favorite Sanskrit words to say!) as we extended our hamstrings and focused our minds to stay balanced.  We repeated that pose on the mat later in class and enjoyed a reclined twist to finish off practice before Savasana.  Class was a mere 55 minutes, short and sweet.  While it doesn’t feel rushed as a student, I know that’s how I would describe  how I feel when I teach the same slot on Thursdays.

I started taking classes much like this Group Fitness class at my alma mater back in Nebraska.  I remember my teacher, how she made poses understandable, philosophy seem relevant, and the physical benefits of practice seem attainable.  Jae does a great deal for his students in the 55 minutes spent together.  He reminds to open your heart, push your boundaries, and stay present and confident in the moment.  His dedication to his practice is easy to see as is his desire to connect with his class.

Here is yet another example of finding great yoga instruction in unexpected places.  There is no need to think you have to go to a studio to try out a yoga class.  Dedicated, experienced instructors might be as close as your workplace or university gym.

Tomorrow I will be at Nataraja Healing Arts (http://natarajahealingarts.com/) at 5:30 for Yin Yoga with Lisa MCatskill

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