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blog favorites the yoga consumer yoga habits yoga practice

what to wear for yoga

Preferably something opaque. Where to get it?

pants
These are probably see through

I just happened upon this “audio yoga mat.” I admit it could be useful if you travel a lot and can carry it around. But, I mean, really.

You do not need fancy anythings to do yoga. You need you. A mat can help, yes, and so will comfortable clothes. Tanks are better than T’s because T’s will fall over your head in inversions. Tucking in the T is not sexy (unless it is in at the moment. Hopefully that trend will pass swiftly), and will still bag around your head.

I admit a strong aversion to spending $120 for yoga pants. I also admit that since old navy changed their yoga pant style (oh, maybe four years ago now) and added the very unfortunate diamond crotch, I’m stuck with a very old and faded yoga pant wardrobe. I do not have the patience to try all the fancy pants for a replacement. I tried an athleta (since bought out by the Gap) pant and a gaiam pant (both about $70), and I hate them both. I want my old navy standard back. I’ve switched to their capris, but the diamond thing is still an issue. Who decided that was a good idea? It started in the pricey pant industry and trickled down. Unacceptable. I once saw a woman who actually had a diamond patch crotch in a different color than the rest of the pants. I thought that her pants had ripped, revealing bright unders. Good grief. We might as well be in 19th century tennis dresses.

Nice tank tops are on offer at gaiam for both guys and gals. I prefer cotton, as sporty, absorbent fabrics quickly smell bad. Gaiam duds are usually organic and possibly fair-trade. And their models aren’t underage and looking to seduce you, throwing you into despair about the underfed, sexual slavery, and child pornography (to say nothing of body image as it relates to mental and sexual happiness) while you’re simply trying to do some pant shopping. (american apparel.)

As for mats, I have three (teaching purposes). Two I bought at TJ Maxx. The oldest is a thick lilac “Everlast for Women” (haha) mat about six years ago. The other Maxx mat was about $13, has a pretty design on it, and comes in lots of pretty colors. You see it around. I will most likely get another to replace the shedders. The third was a fancy, eco-friendly, apple green jute mat I bought from Amazon, which shed its juteness all over me since day one.The little round things are coming off, sticking to my clothes and shedding all over the floor. I’m attached to this mat, but it’s time to let it go. It is coarse, unpleasant, and expensive. (More about yoga mats and reviews here. I currently recommend manduka, expensive but guaranteed for life.)

VS
Darling, you’re losing your shorts

No doubt there are some gorgeous yoga clothes out there. But I find the fancier I get the more likely a breast will pop out in updog, or my unders will peak out in child’s pose, or the laundromat will destroy them after two washes. I do wear different clothes to teach and to practice, as astanga sweat and the requisite after-launder is hard on the togs. (Please, please, wash your yoga clothes. Regularly. They smell worse than you think.)

Einstein had five identical suits, so that he didn’t have to think about what he put on every day. At least, that’s what my father (who was often called his doppelganger) liked to say. And, of course, Thoreau said, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”

Both had much to say about dressing:

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.  ~Albert Einstein

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.  ~Henry David Thoreau

If you’ve any good thoughts on what to wear and where to get it, by all means, share.

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art & yoga blog yoga habits

the yoga of sylvester graham

Sylvester GrahamJessica’s fantastic comment a few posts back reminded me of my undergrad thesis on health reform. Sylvester Graham was an activist of the 1800s. He had many interesting beliefs (and followers, like Ralph Emerson and Upton Sinclair), some of which parallel those of yogis. He was generally severe, believing that such things as cold cereal and flannel clothing worn against the skin (specifically undergarments) excited the body and should be avoided. However, he was a great advocate of dance. He believed that  it was preferable that people meet to sing and dance rather than to eat and drink, lest “They should endure a miserable existence in moping melancholy, for want of proper exercise and relaxation….If I could have my wish, the Violin…should be played in every family in the civilized world” and that were singing and dancing practiced in theological seminaries, literary groups, and scientific circles, then “immense benefits…would result for society at large.” Exactly! He goes on:

The salutary influence of animating music, connected with exercise, is very great; in fact, it may almost be said to be medicinal, for it actually has the most healthful effect on all the vital functions of the body; and hence, dancing, when properly regulated, is one of the most salutary kinds of social enjoyment ever practised in civic life, and every enlightened philanthropist must regret to see it give place to any other kind of amusement. The religious prejudice against dancing is altogether ill founded; for it is entirely certain that this kind of social enjoyment is more favorable to good health, sound morality, and true religion than perhaps any other known in society.

—Graham, Sylvester. Lectures on the science of human life. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1858, p.39.

Perhaps I’m a bit off topic here, but I love to see the parallels between yoga and other health practices in American culture, historical or otherwise. Soon, a shift from art and yoga to a post on Namaste नमस्ते. What it means and why we say it.

..

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blog favorites practice at home yoga habits yoga practice

the daily minimum, at home

Tuesday I shared a basic ten (ok, fifteen) minute class to practice at home. Today we have a slightly more vigorous ashtanga-based option. We’ll call it “the daily minimum +.”

If you are just beginning to practice at home, make sure to the same things you’d do in a class. Turn off your phone. Take a minute to ground into your body, using some pranayama or mantra. Commit to spending the next 10 minutes (or hour, or two) on your yoga. If you don’t think you have the discipline to do this, you can pay me a handsome fee to come teach you some.

This sequence takes about 25 minutes, unless you want to dally. If you have less time, simply do the sun salutations, shoulder- and/or headstand, and savanasana.

These lines at on a now defunct GoYoga page are good: “While it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the body and mind, it is also important to look critically at these needs. Frequently, these needs are actually subtle avoidance mechanisms. If you are sore, tired, or don’t feel like practicing. Acknowledge those feelings and sensations, drop the expectations about what practice should be like and practice anyway.”

Savasana the movie (above, viaYogaDawg) is short (1 minute) and pretty funny.

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asana blog favorites yoga habits

how to do headstand (sirsasana)

In comments past, Merka asked:  “My vinyasa instructor LOVES inversions and headstands. However, I am slightly terrified of headstands because my arms are quite shaky when I do them. Do you recommend any arm exercises, in addition to downward dog, that would help build muscle? How do I encourage my body to relax when I’m in this position?”

I’m going to backtrack on this, because it also relates to M’s comment on virtual yoga, and because it seems to me that there is a lot of mystique and self-worth tied up with sirsasana and other inversions in a yoga practice. For some reason, many people seem to feel that if they can’t or don’t do headstand, they aren’t really doing yoga. I’m not suggesting this is you, Merka. It just reminds me that I know so many students who are fixated on it to the point of taking away from their overall practice. Yes, it’s cool to go upside down and there are many benefits. But it’s also very dangerous to do improperly because it can put so much weight on the neck, and those dangers can far exceed the benefits.

When I started doing yoga, I was quite weak. I did yoga because it relaxed me, and I had no designs on ever doing headstand, armstand, or anything I deemed fancy. But over the years (two?), a regular, well-balanced yoga practice gave me the strength and balance to do them easily. It was a natural progression that felt neither dramatic nor effortful.  And while I do practice headstand, I know much more accomplished practitioners than myself who don’t do headstand because of neck issues or other concerns. My point: if you don’t feel solid and safe in headstand, don’t do it. In this case, not doing headstand is being kind to yourself, and much more yogic.

So what do you do in class if everyone else is going up, and you feel inferior because you aren’t? Or feel like your being a wimp because

Iyengar Teaching Sirsasana
Iyengar Teaching Sirsasana

you could, but…? Find your breath. It’s much better to feel comfortable where you are then to hurt yourself. Headstand does not make you a better yogi or a better person. Practice dolphin to forearm plank, which most instructors teach as a strengthening option for students not going up. If you are going up, use a wall. If the teacher doesn’t provide that option, and you don’t feel comfortable going to the wall anyway, then skip it and practice at home.

I often skip headstand in class if the teacher doesn’t know me well (or vice versa) and it’s taught in the middle of the room because I have a subtle twist through my body (because of dominant sight in one eye since birth. It’s been there through development) that often isn’t noticed until headstand, and I’m not interested in having that conversation or being misguided while upside down and unsupported in the middle of a stranger’s class.  So instead I do dolphin or whatever feels appropriate to me. And no one cares.

Dharma Mittra yoga retreat at Otam, Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Different schools have different ideas about how headstand should be done. Where I first trained, it was said that students shouldn’t be near the wall because they’d come to depend on it. I thought that was silly (training wheels, anyone?) and never tried headstand there for that reason. No way was I trying that in the middle on the floor. Other schools, like Iyengar, believe that it’s fine to have the wall behind you and come up one leg at a time when you are learning, as long is it is slow and careful, the abs are engaged, the forearms press down, and there’s no hopping. (I don’t mean press your body against the wall. I mean the wall is a few inches a way in case you fall back.) This is how I learned. Then I switched to a school that insists on coming up two legs at a time to protect the neck (which took some acclimation) but walls are fine. Yoga Journal advocates the two leg method, but suggests that hopping is okay: “Take both feet up at the same time, even if it means bending your knees and hopping lightly off the floor.” After years of safely lifting on leg at a time, I hurt my neck by “hopping lightly” with both legs. I don’t think it’s a good idea. Neither is throwing one leg up at a time, of course, or letting your head and neck take the weight.

I’m not interested in saying one way is right and another is wrong. All schools and methods are valid for their own reasons. Find one (one) that works for you and a good teacher who can guide you. Personal issues and injuries aside, you will progress to headstand when you have the strength, and you will move that into the middle of the room with the confidence and grace that come from a regular yoga practice. As they say, “Chit happens.”

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blog favorites teaching yoga habits

grammar for yoga teachers

When looking for a studio to complete my advanced training, I admit that somewhere in the process of choosing ISHTA, a deciding factor was that most of their teachers had a basic command of grammar. Perhaps I could be less judgmental, but it’s a matter of elegance. If you want your students to respect you and trust the knowledge you have to impart, it doesn’t hurt to know a few basics about words and phrases that are commonly used in yoga.

When to say “lay” and when to say “lie.” This is quite easy, as it’s generally used in present tense. The issue is not the action or the subject, it’s simply whether the verb takes a direct object. “Lay” takes a direct object, “lie” does not. Huh?

Lay your head down on the mat. Lay what? If you can answer that with a word in your sentence (your head, your hand, your iphone, yourself), use “lay.”

Lie down on the mat. Lie what? If there’s no word there to explain what (a direct object), then it’s “lie.” Lie over the bolster, not lay over the bolster.

(Note that “bolster” does not answer the question of what is to be moved.)

Fairly easy, if you quickly ask yourself if what is to be moved is in the sentence before you choose your words.

Another frequent problem is vertebra vs. vertebrae. The first is singular, the second plural. We have 33 vertebrae, each one a vertebra. “Roll up to the top of your spine, stacking the vertebrae as you go.” “Roll up the spine, one vertebra at a time.” Same goes for scapula and scapulae, though scapulas is also correct plural form. Scapula is not.

I’ll refrain from some pet peeves, which aren’t exactly grammatical errors, such as suggesting the class enjoy a “juicy” hip opener. For the visual student, this is quite distracting. When not pertaining to food or weather, juicy connotes:

a. Rich in wealth, fit to be ‘sucked’ (quot. 1621); or  c. Suggestive, esp. in a sexual way; piquant, racy, sensational. colloq.

Is this really what we want to imbibe? (Definitions care of OED.)

Feel free to share your favorite yoga pet peeves. Perhaps we can learn something from them.

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asana blog favorites yoga habits yoga practice

ouch. my wrists/hands hurt in adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

down dog at wall
Image from Yoga for Healthy Aging

I’m reposting this as many of you have had questions about wrist and hand pain in down dog.

It’s a quick post to answer MM’s question about her hands—the base of her hands hurt in down dog. This is a great question, because it’s a common problem. Often the wrists hurt for people who are new or who don’t do yoga regularly (more than once or twice a week), and I think the base of the hands is a similar issue. Press into your fingers! This takes strength and getting used to. You need to press into the index and thumb fingers especially. People usually press into outside base of the hands, which keeps the weight in the outside of the forearms on up to the trapezius muscle just below the neck, where we tend to hold a lot of stress. This habit doesn’t help.

Pressing into the thumb and index fingers as well as the other three takes weight off of the wrists and outer hands and arms and spreads the weight into the upper back. As you become stronger, flexible, and more comfortable in this pose, your legs will begin to take more of the weight. In fact, Iyengar says about this asana in Light on Yoga, “It strengthens the ankles and makes the legs shapely.” Fantastic.

A modification done daily to strengthen for down dog: practice it with your hands on the wall. This can be done almost anywhere. Here are links to an article and a video that show exactly how it’s done. This is great for beginners and those with hand or wrist pain. Every day! Ask your teacher after class if you aren’t sure you are doing it right.

 

Categories
asana blog pranayama yoga habits

how to slide pranayama into your day

Light on PranayamaAfter working on my general blog all week, which includes some info about my ashtanga retreat in Sri Lanka, I’m tempted to write about nethra vyamamam (yogic eye exercises). My eyes are burning after staring at the computer screen all day and I haven’t done these practices regularly in years. Alas, I’ll stay on topic: fitting pranayama into the day. Lauren asked how to fit it in when not practicing asana, and Amy wants to know the same.

To Lauren, I say try to get a little bit of asana in every day, even if it’s just a long adho mukha svanasana (down dog) or a surya namaskara (sun salutation) or two. Even viparita karani (legs up the wall) is better than nothing. If you have ten minutes, consider these.

I try to do five minutes of pranayama in the morning or before bed. If I’m energetic, I just sit down and do it. If I’m exhausted, I make my way into legs up the wall and rest there a few minutes. Then I begin some gentle pranayama. If it’s morning, I might sit up afterward and do more vigorous pranayama if I have time, and end with a savanasa (corpse pose). If you don’t have five minutes? You need pranayama even more than when you do. Squeeze it in! It will create the space you need to minimize stress by stepping back so that you don’t overreact to situations and make small problems bigger by creating mind storms (vritti) over little things, like unpleasant service or a missed subway.

Which techniques I choose are similar to what I’d choose for a class, mentioned in the last post.

I suspect you want some ideas about pranayama on the subway and at your desk. Yes, you can take a 5 minute break and breathe. You know this—the real question is how to create the discipline to do it. Creating a habit is probably the best option. “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it” (Horace Mann). Until the habit is formed, make yourself take a break for pranayama everyday at the same time daily, or when you are doing something specific, like riding home on the train, or when you begin to feel a certain way. After hours at the computer, I begin to feel a bit spacey. That’s my time.

Obviously, your choice of pranayama will be somewhat determined by where you are. In public, apa japa, deergha swasam or the krama breath are good choices. If your work space is somewhat private, you can do almost anything that won’t get in the way of your ability to return to what you were doing (nothing too intense). Make a note of how you feel after each exercise. If time permits, write it in an email or in your calendar so that you can reflect on how it’s helping. This can help to ingrain the habit.

If you find that you have trouble making yourself practice, do pranayama before whatever you usually do—before you open your book or ipod on the train, before tea, coffee, or chocolate, before calling a friend or searching out co-workers at the water cooler (Andrea). And make sure you’re practicing pranayama regularly with a teacher, which can be inspirational itself. If your teacher doesn’t do pranayama, ask if s/he’ll start. Many teachers are shy to instruct it because they think it’s not wanted.

In researching yoga blogs, I happened upon this bit about going home and getting on the mat instead of the internet, even for a minute. Yes! For me, that minute can turn into a 90 minute practice—even when I’d thought I was hungry.