Balancing (or Trying To)

I’ve been practicing yoga for nearly ten years and I’ve been teaching for four. Yet I still still struggle with balancing poses: tree (vrksasana), dancer (nararajasana), warrior 3 (virabhadrasana). It’s especially embarrassing when I’m teaching because yoga teachers are supposed to know how to balance, right? As I start to go into one of these poses, the voices in my head start speaking: Why can’t you get this? What’s wrong with you? What will your students think? You’re never going to get this. You must be a person who’s just always off-balance.

Of course,that’s the first problem: I’m in my head instead of my body.

At first, when I began teaching, I didn’t even teach balancing poses because I was so embarrassed. But I kept practicing and, for some time, I’ve teaching balancing but I simply use a wall for support. I think that’s called humility.

The other day, I was taking a yoga class, we were practicing tree (or I was trying to), and the teacher said: “The secret to tree is to keep your knee springy.” I noticed that my standing leg was tense, my knee was locked, I was pushing into the floor for dear life. I softened my knee and pushed gently into the floor and, viola, I was effortlessly balancing!

Now, I’m guessing I’ve heard this cue many times before, in different words. In my own classes, I’ve said: Yield into the earth, soften the knee, breathe, ease into the pose. Yet, that day I was able to really hear the cue and, even more important, to feel it in my body.

My struggle with balance in yoga has made me think of how easy it is for something or someone in my life to put me off balance. Recently, I said something to someone and she immediately and abruptly, without letting my finish, said I was wrong. In a flash, I was in this not unfamiliar place of feeling wrong, stupid, young, embarrassed. I know this was completely out of proportion to the event, but it is a childhood place that comes up suddenly and without warning. My reaction, as usual, was to clam up. I was able, a few minutes later, to challenge her and ask for an apology. That is a lot of progress, by the way. I used to just let something like that simmer, decide the person was definitely a bad person and I wouldn’t ever speak to her again.

Of course, again, I was out of my body. It happens so fast, this forgetting to breath, to feel.

That’s what yoga does, of course; it brings me back to my breath and my body, and helps me capture those experiences of balance like I did in tree. And, if I keep practicing, perhaps I will find, more and more, those moments of balance and freedom and joy, both on and off the mat.

Giving Myself Permission to Post

I’ve had this blog for several months but haven’t posted much. I’ve been wondering why. Sometimes I think I don’t know what I want to write about. Then I realized it is there in the name of my business — Samroha. Writing, yoga, healing. These are my life, my interests, my concerns, my passions. Then I think I’m not “smart” enough about any of these topics, or I don’ have much to say, or who would want to hear what I have to say? All these voices in my head preventing me from writing and posting.

I have been keeping a journal for maybe 40 years, off and on. But a blog is different. It assumes you have an audience. It assumes you are talking to someone, directing your thoughts and feelings so that perhaps someone else can hear them, understand them. And that is what is missing when I write in my journal. It is for my eyes only. And I want more. I want to write to an audience or at least write as if I have an audience. I wonder if, after 63 years of living, I am finally ready to speak out, at least in writing. For I have trouble speaking out verbally. Always have.

I notice how I, almost automatically, don’t share information. My husband comes home from work and launches into what happened with his day, the highs and the lows. He always asks me how my day went but I am parsimonious with my words. I don’t know whether I don’t think anyone else would be interested in my day. Or, in a protective way, if I am afraid to share too much of myself. I do know I wasn’t listened to as a child. Too much drama in the house for the children to be heard. Maybe I just got in the habit of keeping things to myself. Part of my reluctance, I know, is the fear of not being heard and understood. Of course, no way to be heard and understood if you don’t say anything. Not sharing my thoughts and feelings is a way to protect myself from hurt. Yet, there is also hurt in not sharing.

So I’m asking all these voices in my head to step aside and let me write and post regularly on my blog. Musings about writing, yoga, healing, life. Who knows, someone may be listening.

 

 

Mastery of Metaphor and Love of Nature Infuse Beverly Duda’s Yoga Classes

Have you ever thought of tadasana as balancing a bowl of fruit on your head? Or aspiring warrior as reaching up, grabbing an apple and putting it on the shelf behind you? Or ready pose (sometimes called pike) as a hovering hawk spreading its tail feathers behind it?

These are just a few of the metaphors Beverly Duda uses in her yoga classes. A senior Embodyoga(R) teacher from western Massachusetts, Beverly will be in Keene December 9 to share her creative and fun teaching style.

Her classes are fun and creative and, at the same time, cover basic principles of Embodyoga such as integrating yoga movements throughout the whole body, differentiating hardness from tone and locking from readiness, and building patterns that serve the body rather than deplete it.

“Yoga doesn’t have to be so hard.”

“Yoga doesn’t have to be so hard,” Beverly says, “if you pay attention to the body’s signals and move from a place of soft, integrated tone rather than overworking. When one part of your body is working too hard, you’re not using your whole body.”

Beverly, who is also a massage therapist, started training with Patty Townsend, founder of Embodyoga, in 2001, and has been working with her ever since. Now, she teaches in Embodyoga’s 200-hour and 500-hour teacher training programs.

“I guess I was like the cat that kept showing up,” Beverly laughs. “Finally, Patty said I might as assist.”

“…how yoga can transform how we move in the world and live our lives…”

“Beverly’s teaching is a real gift to her students,” says Patty. “Her personal embodiment is rich and she offers her knowledge and understanding with great clarity, persistence and FUN. She is a joy to practice with. Her insight into how yoga can transform how we move in the world and live our lives in an invaluable contribution for anyone who is learning and practicing yoga.”

Beverly is also the director of the Senior Yoga Program at the Listening Yoga Studio in Barre, Mass. She teaches a group of seniors, aged 55+, some of whom have been with her since she started the class six years ago.

“We do a lot of balancing,” Beverly says. “Balance postures help people access their core more quickly and balance can become trickier as you get older.”

94-year-old student does yoga on commercial breaks

One of Beverly’s students is 94 years old. “She tells us that, during commercial breaks on TV, she gets down on the floor and does yoga,” Beverly says. “That means there’s no excuse for the rest of us.”

Beverly gets many of her yoga teaching metaphors from nature. She spends much of her day outdoors on the farm where she and her partner raise sheep, goats, geese and chickens, and raise most of their own food.

“I try to keep my footprint on the earth as gentle as I can,” Beverly says.

And she is devoted to yoga as a practice that is accessible to everyone. “I’m in love with this work,” she says. “Yoga isn’t just good fitness and exercise. It’s about honing your awareness of your body, recognizing the layers of support your body has and paying attention to the body’s signals. It’s really about getting to know your body again and listening to what it has to teach you.”

Beverly will offer a workshop, “Exploring the Body Through Metaphor and Playful Inquiry,” December 9 from 1-4 p.m. at Cornerstone Center for Wellness in Keene, NH. Cost is $45 and registration deadline is December 1. For more information or to register, contact Cherryl Jensen at 603-313-0181 or ckjensen@samrohayoga.com.

Support Precedes Action — On and Off the Mat

One of the main principles of Embodyoga® is “Support precedes action.” For me, it has both literal and metaphorical meanings. Literally, when we express any yoga pose or asana, we must first find our support from the earth and from ourselves before we endeavor to express the whole pose. We yield and push into the earth and, when we are ready, reach into the full expression of the pose.

That principle became real to me one day, in a teacher training session, when we were doing Ardha Chandrasana or half-moon. For the pose, you have one foot and one hand on the mat and reach one leg out straight behind you and reach one hand up toward the sky.

Ardha Chandrasana

I was struggling, not able to get my balance, falling out of the pose each time I tried to raise that last arm and hand toward the sky. My mind was whirling: This is impossible, I’ll never get it, what am I doing wrong, am I the only who can’t do it, yada, yada, yada.

Suddenly, it dawned on me – that is, my body recognized — that I needed to yield first into the earth and feel the support from below before going any further into the pose. I pushed into the earth through one leg and hand and felt the strength and stability of the earth pulsing up into my lower body.
I opened my torso and extended my arm toward the sky, using my legs, my abdominal muscles, my whole body. It was not just a matter of putting my hands and feet in the right places, it had to be a movement that included the whole body and I had to find the support of the earth first before reaching toward the sky. I stopped struggling and went into the pose with ease. Feeling solid at my root, I could then reach up with a lightness I had not felt before.

Afterward, I remembered my teacher, Patty Townsend, saying: “You can only rise up to the degree that you are grounded.” All growth, she says, begins from the root. The starting place is learning to trust the support of the earth and cultivating the qualities of earth in ourselves — qualities such as strength, solidity, stability, support.

I realized that my struggle with Ardha Chandrasana was a metaphor for my life. Much of the time, I haven’t felt or taken advantage of the support offered to me by earth. I have been reaching up and out for the things I wanted (or thought I wanted) without really being stable or solid. In many ways, I’ve been going through life unconnected to earth, unbalanced, struggling, yet not really realizing what was missing. I was reaching for the sky without first being connected to earth.

In Embodyoga ®, you learn through your body, seeing it as an endless laboratory for inquiry and discovery. My body took over Ardha Chandrasana that day in training and overrode my mind — it showed me how to connect to the earth and find the support it offers.

I wish I could say that from then on, I could do Ardha Chandrasana with ease and grace. Many times, it’s still a struggle for me. In the days when I can let my body teach me, when I can remember to find the support and connection with earth first, I can reach for what I want with the knowledge that I don’t have to “find” the support of the earth. It’s always there, I just need to remember to notice it and receive what it offers.
I will be discussing my experiences with the other movement principles of Embodyoga ® in future blogs. They are:

Calm and mobile spine
All movement is relational
Contained body principle; principle of whole-body integration
Integration of movement forces through the joints
Balance, stability and mobility throughout the body
Permeating consciousness

A description of Embodyoga® from the website, embodyoga.com, is below.
WHAT IS EMBODYOGA?
Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of Yoga. It is an evolving tapestry, woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of Yoga, and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® is a whole-person experiential investigation into, and enlivening of, cellular awareness. Through inquiry and relationship we actively engage with all aspects of self and the environment in which we live. Our inquiry reveals direct perception and authentic experience of our True Nature.

Does Yoga Wreck Your Body?

The yoga world has been abuzz recently in response to an article that appeared in the Sunday January 15 New York Times magazine. Titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” the article quotes yoga teacher Glenn Black on his view that some people just shouldn’t do yoga and that it can cause serious injuries. Judging from the conversations on the Web, many yoga teachers and students are very upset about his comments.

When I first read the article, I thought it was a really good article and I agreed with most of it:
Yes, yoga is not for everyone.
Yes, practicing yoga unsafely can cause injury.
Yes, yoga is not just the asanas on the mat, it is an entire philosophy and way of life.
And, yes, some yoga teachers do push their students to practice beyond what is safe for their bodies.

When I started seeing all the negative responses to the article, I went back and read it again – maybe I had missed something. There were some parts that I thought overstated the situation. However, I realized the article had not upset me because this is what I learned in my Embodyoga® teacher training with Patty Townsend.

Patty has always stressed safety and that you should go into the yoga pose only to the extent that you feel stable and comfortable in the pose, not to the point where you are straining and hardening your muscles. This, of course, means you need to be in touch with your body and aware of how you feel, what feels comfortable, what hurts or feels hard. Soften into the pose, Patty says. Find the ease in the pose.

Patty also stresses that yoga is not just what we do on the mat. Yoga is a holistic approach to life both on and off the mat. The asanas or poses are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. (The eight limbs are outlined below.) The practice can be seen as using these different limbs or techniques to reach the final limb, union with the Divine.

You’re not likely to hear about the fullness of yoga in most yoga classes and certainly not in the ones that focus only on the asanas as physical exercise.

I have experienced yoga classes where I was encouraged to do a pose I wasn’t ready for and I have been injured through yoga. Shoulders and backs are typical places where yoga teachers and students injure themselves. Knees and necks are also particularly sensitive. This only emphasizes the need to be in touch with your body and do only what feels right to you.

Below are the website addresses for the New York Times article, so you can read it and make up your own mind, and Patty’s response on her blog. You can find more discussions about and responses to the article if you do a web search. Patty’s approach may be quite jarring for some yoga teachers and students to hear. She basically says it’s time for yoga teachers “to take off their masks” and stop pretending that they have not been injured, and stop presenting yoga as if it only includes the asanas.

This discussion raises some great questions about yoga – why and how we do it as students and teachers, what responsibilities of teachers are to their students and themselves.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html

http://embodyoga.posterous.com/

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Yamas

The five yamas are basically about how you live in the world.
Ahimsa, non-violence
Satya, truthfulness
Asteya, non-stealing
Brachmacharya, non-lust
Aparigraha, non-possessiveness

Niyamas
The niyamas are about how you treat yourself or your attitude toward yourself.
Shaucha, cleanliness
Santosha, contentment
Tapas, burning enthusiasm
Tadhyaya, self-study
Isvarapranidhama, living with an awareness of the Divine

Asana
Pranayama, breathing practices
Pratyahara, drawing one’s attention toward silence
Dharana, concentration or focus
Dhyana, meditation or sustained awareness
Samadhi, enlightenment
(Sources: “Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi, and “Light on Yoga,” by B.K.S. Iyengar)