Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Festival Of {Inner} Light on Oct 10-12

The Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco (IYISF) is hosting this three day Yoga Festival in San Francisco. Although I have branched out in recent years, all my early training was by Iyengar teachers either directly or indirectly associated with IYISF.

They have an amazing schedule of classes with an awesome collection of Yoga Teachers lined up. I don't think you can really go wrong with any of the teachers participating in this event.

You can register here for a $25 one day pass or pay just $60 for the all access weekend pass. I can only attend part of the three day event, but, I've already signed up for the all weekend pass anyway. I figure the money is going to support a great Yoga Center. Besides, I am stilling getting a great deal at that price even though I can not attend the full three days.

On Friday, I will attend Jito Yumibe's standing poses class, Annette Murphy's Restorative Yoga class, and Timothy McCall's Keynote talk. On Saturday, I have some other commitments. However, I still hope to attend Ramanand Patel's Philosophy talk in the afternoon and the Festival Party after that on Saturday evening. On Sunday, I'm looking forward to Allan Nett's Inversions class, Jessie Holland's Ayurveda class, and finishing up the weekend with Regina Brunig's
Chanting session.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back In Business

This site has been neglected for the past few years. My day job is software engineering and I joined a Silicon Valley startup, Krillion, as employee number 3 in the spring of 2006. They are still keeping me pretty busy at Krillion, but, I'm finally getting back to this pet project of mine again.

In the interim, technology has advanced to the point that I am now using this Google Map to maintain my personal list of favorite Yoga Studios in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check it out!


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Manual Adjustments: Rodney Yee

This session will be difficult to describe textually. There are a few main points that I should be able to convey though. Something I had never heard before was to have "receptive" hands when making manual adjustments. By that, Rodney explained that you need to listen first with your hands when touching a student. As opposed to, starting with an intention and immediately exerting force to achieve that intention. You need to "feel" the vibration of the student's body so that when you adjust them you can "feel" when the vibration changes both in good and bad ways.

This approach really worked for me. I must confess that I am usually uncomfortable making manual adjustments. The freedom to be "receptive" initially and just listen to what the student's body is telling me allowed me to relax. I ended up being paired with a pregnant woman and was able to make some non-trivial adjustments to her poses without my own energy closing down as it normally would. At one point, I could feel her respond to one of my adjustment and really start lifting up and out of a gentle seated twist.

Of course, this session was mainly an opportunity to practice manual adjustments in a safe environment with other teachers. However, there were some nuts and bolts of manual adjustments that Rodney covered:

  • The body is less stable the higher up you go and more stable the lower down you go. As such, you need to be more careful when making adjustments higher up on the body.
  • You really can't go too far in adjustments in twists as long as the twist is evenly distributed along the spine.
  • If the twist is not evenly distributed along the spine, only adjust in the area that is working less to attempt to even out the twist.

An interesting philosophical discussion arose around the topic of asking permission of the student to make an adjustment. In the just prior session, Judith Hanson Lasater made a point of always asking permission before touching a student. Rodney indicated that this approach would not work for him. He did indicate that each teacher must decide for themselves what works for them and go with that. He also mentioned something that Ramanand Patel would tell his students. If anything makes you uncomfortable, you always have permission to leave.

Switching gears to discussing how to get better at manual adjustments. Rodney recommended finding another teacher as a training partner and practicing adjustments over and over again on each other. He suggested that you shouldn't make non-trivial adjustments on students in class until you had done the adjustments many times on someone you know that will trust you even knowing that there is a possibility that you could hurt them. You need to develop confidence. Otherwise, the student will feel your own lack of confidence and react accordingly by tightening up.

Finally, he stressed that it was important to center yourself before making any manual adjustment. When you are centered, it carries over in your voice, presence, touch, etc... Similarly, it is conveyed to your students when you are not centered through all these same channels.


The mysterious Sacroiliac Joint: Judith Hanson Lasater

I was somewhat familiar with Judith due to my early background in Iyengar Yoga. I knew that this would be a good session. Her main point that she came back to repeatedly was that the primary function of the sacroiliac (SI) joint is stability, not mobility. She even stressed the fact that a hyper-mobile sacroiliac joint is going to cause problems. Women are genetically predisposed to more mobility in the SI joint than men. Which is why the majority of people experiencing SI joint pain and/or related sciatic pain are women.

There were two key teachings in this session. First, we learned about the true neutral pelvis position. For most westerners, this position feels like you are sticking out your butt. I can't give all the details on how to assess this in a student. It has to do with the anatomy of the pelvis. Her main point was you really can't tell for certain just by looking at someone. The only way to know for sure is by putting your hands on the pelvis of the person checking for whether the left and right ASIS is in proper alignment.

There was one visual trick you can use to get an idea though. If the student is wearing loose fitting pants, you look at how the pants lay against the leg from the side of the person. When in true neutral pelvis, the pants will run in a nice straight line from the hip to the foot. If there is a curve in the pants leg, the person is most likely not standing with a neutral pelvis. This resonated for me personally with what I had learned from Thea Sawyer earlier about the work of Noelle Perez.

The second key teaching was around what she described as the lumbosacral rhythm. This is hard to describe without a visual aid. She described it this way:

  • lumbar extension (backbending) = nutation
  • nutation = S1 sacral vertebrae moves forward and tailbone moves backward

Basically, she was saying that these two movements are tied together. You must nutate the sacrum in order to go into a backbend in the lumbar spine. Similarly, she described lumbar flexion:

  • lumbar flexion (forward bending) = counter nutation
  • counter nutation = S1 sacral vertebrae moves backward and tailbone moves forward

Interestingly enough, it is a common instruction to students in many yoga classes to essentially counter nutate the sacrum to protect the lumbar spine in backbends. According to Judith, this is simply impossible. If you consciously counter nutate the sacrum first and then try to move the lumbar spine into extension, you will find it very difficult to do.

My take on this is that this instruction is intended to protect students from going into hyper-mobile movement of the sacrum in the direction of the natural nutation movement that would hurt them. It is not that you are literally tucking the tailbone. Rather, you are energetically thinking of that action and that helps you to ground the sacrum and keep the SI joint functioning in its primary capacity as a stabilizer rather than a mobilizer. Still, I would have liked to ask Judith how to rephrase that instruction more accurately while still encouraging students to stabilize (ground) the SI joint in backbends.

Judith made some general statements that I really liked too. Here are a few of my favorites from this session:

  • Teach people asanas, don't teach asanas to people
  • Start on time out of respect for the practice.
  • End on time out of respect for the student.


Seeing & Understanding Bodies: Jean Claude West

Jean Claude West was the senior teacher that I knew the least about going into the Teachers' Program. His knowledge of orthopedic biomechanics was truly amazing. His work with us on Virabhadrasana I (warrior pose) was phenomenal. I can't explain it here adequately, but, I highly recommend studying with him. He resides in Mill Valley.

Todd Jones from the Yoga Journal staff was in this particular session. He wrote a nice blog entry about the session that is worth a read. I was impressed by Todd as well. There was a point in the session where it looked like we were going to go off into the weeds discussing how to best communicate the information Jean Claude was sharing with us to our students in terms they could understand. Todd did a great job of redirecting us back to focusing on what we could learn from Jean Claude in the brief time that we had with him.

Jean Claude mentioned that anyone that wanted to learn more about biomechanics could read what he called the bible of biomechanics. A three volume set written by Adalbert Kapandji entitled "The Physiology of the Joints."


Monday, January 16, 2006

Secrets of Sequencing: Gary Kraftsow

Gary Kraftsow is the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. There were no secrets revealed during this workshop. In fact, Gary stressed the fact that the workshop wasn't about hidden secrets. Rather, he was sharing fundamental information about the sequencing of asanas and the effects of the sequencing of asanas that is not commonly taught today.

There was a lot of good information on a theoretical level in Gary's workshop. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to convey in this medium. Personally, it was one of the more interesting workshops in the Teachers' Program. The Viniyoga approach that Gary teaches is something that I am less familiar with than some of the other approaches. It is also an approach that is well suited for the latter part of life which I am quickly approaching myself. He did give us this list of things to consider in planning and teaching our classes:

  • Include an intention, goal or theme for the class
  • Include some element of elegance or art in the experience
  • Limit the number of postures
  • Limit the number of variations
  • Be conscious of transitions
  • Adapt the breathing
  • Be conscious of rests

He also discussed the three main stages of life and the focus of each stage according to Krishnamcharya. The stages are described as sunrise (0-30 years old), midday (30-70 years old), and sunset (70+ years old). Asana is the focus during the sunrise years, Pranayama is the focus of the midday years, and Meditation is the focus of the sunset years. I'll end with this quote that I believe Gary attributed to Nathamuni:
"Asana prepares the breath for pranayama. Pranayama prepares the mind for meditation. Meditation prepares the heart for God."


The Art of Teaching Arm Balances: Roger Cole

Because of my focus on Iyengar Yoga practice during the 80's and early 90's, I previously attended several workshops with Roger Cole. He may not be as well known outside the Iyengar Yoga tradition as some of the other faculty for the Teachers' Program, but, he is highly respected within the Iyengar Yoga community. I love his way of breaking down the poses in ways that pretty much anyone can understand.

Although the general focus was on teaching all arm balances, this workshop led up to the teaching of Bakasana in particular. The first part of the workshop was both a warm-up for our bodies to do Bakasana and a training in how to assess your students' readiness to do the pose. Basically, you have to do a few preparatory poses as warm ups anyway. So, you assess the student's readiness while they are doing the preparatory poses. The things you are looking for are:

  • Adequate shoulder, forearm, and abdominal strength

  • Adequate flexibility of the wrists, shoulders, hips, and trunk

Roger covered both some recommended preparatory asanas and what to look for when assessing student readiness for arm balances during the practice of these asanas. Roger also provided an excellent 4 page handout covering this in detail. I won't share all the details here. If you are interested, I highly recommend attending one of Roger's workshops on arm balances yourself sometime.

I will share two things I learned from this workshop. First, Roger spent some time at the start discussing the balance aspect of balancing poses. To demonstrate it simply, he had us all stand in tree pose (Vrksasana). The instruction was to shift the weight to the outside edge of the foot of the standing leg. You then shift your weight slowly towards the inside edge of the foot of the standing leg. If you go slowly, you should be able to sense a point where the pose suddenly feels light. That is the balance point of the pose.

Without digressing into a Physics discussion (Roger briefly did during the workshop), this balance point exists in every balancing pose. On the surface, this is an obvious statement. He was emphasizing this because in the more advanced poses many students have problems not because they lack the adequate strength and/or flexibility to do the pose. Rather, they don't have a good understanding and/or feeling in their own bodies for the balancing point in the poses. So, they struggle mightily never positioned properly over the balance point of the pose. Even many of the more advanced balancing poses should feel light just like tree pose does when you have found the balance point. In fact, he indicated that getting into and out of certain advanced balance poses was actually the hard part. Holding them once the body has moved to the balance point is much easier than it looks.

With respect to technique, Roger explained one trick that helps when going into Bakasana. I believe he credited John Schumaker for this. Or at least, he indicated that John was the first person to describe this technique as scrubbing the arms. The basic idea is that the upper arms are less likely to slip off the shins when you go up in Bakasana when the flesh of the upper arm is externally rotated. The problem is that both hands are fully occupied at all times in this pose (:-)). The arm scrubbing motion against the shin is what does this. Before going up into the pose, you place the upper arm flesh as far down towards the ankle as it can go against your shin. You then scrub the arm up the shin. This scrubbing motion will externally rotate the flesh of the upper arms.


SF Yoga Journal Conference 2006:
Teachers' Program

This year there were a lot of blog entries posted on the Yoga Journal site for the San Francisco conference. Some of them have short video or audio clips from the conference. If you are not on a dialup connection, it might be worth a look.

I attended the Teachers' Program at this year's conference for the first time. It was quite an experience. It was like having 6 separate 3 hour teacher training workshops over a three day period with some of the most respected senior teachers. I had a great time and learned a lot of new information. I highly recommend it. Be sure to register early though because it is limited to about 40 people and I know several people that wanted to participate this year that didn't because they tried to register too late and it was already full.

With this blog, I normally just post notices about upcoming events in the bay area. I'm going to break from tradition this one time and post some personal reflections on each of the 6 teacher training workshops I attended at the conference. I'll be creating a separate blog entry for each workshop in the next day or so.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Stretchworks Grand Opening
and Book Signing with Bob Cooley

I was fortunate enough to take a workshop with Bob Cooley and Tom Longo several years ago. Although I was a serious student of Hatha Yoga for more than a decade at the time, it still had a significant impact on my practice. If you have not done so already, I highly recommend exposing yourself to the benefits of the meridian flexibility system at some point. If you are interested, this new center grand opening and book signing with Bob Cooley would be a good opportunity to find out more. Here is the full announcement I received from Tom:

Stretchworks Grand Opening
Saturday, January 21, 2006, 2-5 pm
3636 Florence Street, Redwood City, CA 94063

In celebration of our newly expanded and beautifully revitalized flexibility center in Redwood City, California, we invite you to a grand opening celebration. Our special guest of honor will be Bob Cooley, author of the revolutionary new book “The Genius of Flexibility”. Please join us on Saturday, January 21st from 2-5 pm at StretchWorks, a flexibility center in Redwood City. Bring your family and friends to see our amazing new space, meet the new teachers who are offering all new classes, and pick up a new schedule. Start 2006 by experiencing powerful freedom of movement.

StretchWorks is the West Coast Center for the Meridian Flexibility System. To celebrate, Bob Cooley, creator of this powerful system and the true Genius of Flexibility, will be there to meet you and sign copies of his all new book. If you don't already have a copy, we'll have lots on hand. It is our honor that Bob is launching his nation-wide book tour at StretchWorks.

Tom Longo and Doran Christie, the founders of StretchWorks, invite you to come and share in the fun, joy and excitement of their new center. Organic snacks and beverages will be provided. We’d love to have you and all your family and friends join the party. Come and cheer us on. We could not do it without you!


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Oct 1st - Yoga Potluck with Samantha Matthews

The October 1st Yoga for Good Potluck is now open for registration. Samantha Matthews will be teaching a rigorous level 3/4 class entitled "Sinking Our Roots Deep and Blossoming into Community."

The events are held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. It is located a few blocks south of Oregon Expressway at 600 Colorado Ave. between Middlefield and Cowper. The meetings are held in the Parish Hall. The entrance to the Parish Hall is located at the "elbow" of the breezeway, next to the office. The event starts with gathering at 5:30, the opening circle at 6 followed by the yoga class. They have dinner around 7:45 and will start the improv circle at 8:30 and clean up between 9:30 and 10pm.

The suggested donation is $5-$15 per person (CASH ONLY, PLEASE), but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The reason for the range is the hope that those who can afford it will help subsidize those who can't afford to pay. The money goes to pay for the teachers, the space, and supplies. All remaining funds will be donated to a worthwhile charity, the first being GAIA, which helps AIDS orphans in Africa. To date, they have given $740 to GAIA. Once we reach $1,000, they will switch to another charity.

I just now learned about Yoga For Good and these events. I have not personally attended one of these events, but, I hope to do so real soon. Unfortunately, I can't make the October event. Samantha Matthews is an awesome teacher though and the communal nature of the event sounds very attractive to me personally.