Friday, December 29, 2017

Yoga for the older student

So I was asked by a student to address what to do as an older yoga practitioner. As many of us are 60 plus, I thought I might speak to this issue.

First, do not hurt yourself. Pain is the body’s signal that you should stop! Go to that place where you can feel an effort in your muscles and in your mind. But don’t strain or work so you cannot catch your breath. Do not work to the point of feeling intense sensation that stays in one place. With yoga practice we breathe and hold postures to the degree that we feel muscles stretching, relaxing or working in a curve, where the sensations shift. If a posture is not serving your body well, ask your teacher for a modification or alternative. It’s okay, that’s what the teacher is there for, and someone else in the class may appreciate the response!

Don’t compare or compete with others, not even yourself. Again, this is standard yoga protocol. As we age we tend to let go of trying to better someone else. We also remember how flexible or strong we used to be. So maybe use that as a carrot in front of you to strive for doing more than you can currently do. I am taking a core strengthening class with my daughter, Jen. I am fully aware that I am the oldest, and the weakest in the class. My goal is to continue to work, not overdo, and enjoy and appreciate the benefits of increasing strength that I receive.

Practice shorter holdings of the postures, with more repetitions. Again, not to overdo, but remember that your muscles appreciate repetition. In yoga we move slowly and hold postures for the muscles to work, to strengthen or relax. So stay in a standing squat-Utkatasana-for 3-5 breaths. Come out of the pose and then repeat. Squatting is a great exercise to continue to practice as we age. Balancing postures are also very important, mainly for focus of the mind. Remember it’s perfectly acceptable to come out of a pose before other students do or when the teacher says.

Do work on your joints. Feel free to rotate and circle with your joints, like ankles, hips, shoulders, wrists, but not your neck, please. Don’t circle with your neck like an owl, but allow your head to go down to your chest and make half circles, like grins across your chest from one shoulder to the other.  Moving joints increases synovial fluid around them, which lubricates the joints and makes them happier. Be mindful of pain in joints, because that is not what you want. With our aging ailments you may want to ice or take an Alleve to help your yoga practice be more effective and pleasurable. Drink plenty of water before and after yoga practice.

Don’t be afraid to use props. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather a good choice. Using props, like a wedge for your hands in downward facing dog, or a folded blanket under your hip in pigeon may be the difference between being able to practice the pose or not. If you don’t know what to do, ask the instructor.

Above all else, don’t give up. Keep moving! And keep practicing yoga!

I know this may sound like all the usual yoga “rules”, and they are, but maybe as we mature we can actually listen to the rules!

See you on the mat!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Finding a yoga teacher

A yoga student thought I was retiring. Not yet, my dear yogis and yoginis. You don’t get rid of me that easily! And even when I do retire, I will continue to teach yoga as it is my passion and my life.

That brings us to a yoga lesson: be here now. This student was worrying and thinking about the future. Yoga teaches us to be present, in the moment. Let go of worry and fear. In the present we experience happiness.

This brings to mind the question: what do we look for in a teacher? A yogi friend was recently at training and shared with me how she did not enjoy the teacher. Oh, horrors! We go away on retreat or for training and we don’t like the teacher! That inhibits the learning process for sure. It also makes us reach for the positives. This particular student noted the teacher’s ego - that it was all about him.

I also had a horrible training once with a teacher who was so insecure that she could not allow any of the students, who were all seasoned yoga teachers with experience galore, ask questions, or more importantly answer questions and share all their knowledge.

I had teachers come to my studio on Franklin Road , back in the day, who refused to listen to what a student was telling them about their bodies and why they could not practice a particular pose. The teachers instead instructed the student(s) to do what they were telling them to do.  Another visiting teacher once told me that a student was wrong when I reported what the student had said about how they were treated in a class which I did not attend. This student had a particular injury that she was nursing and felt like the instructor was not hearing her. The teacher clung to her ego and insistence that what she did was correct and that the student was in the wrong.

Do you see where I am going here? All of those teachers are ones I do NOT want to take classes with or receive yoga training from, or have my students exposed to. The ones who came to teach at The Yoga Center were not invited back to teach there again.

The examples listed above are traits and ways of being with students that I do not care for. What is important is to identify your own needs when seeking a yoga teacher or class. I will enumerate some traits I think are important in a teacher and ones that you should look for.

1) A teacher who is pleasant and cheerful to work with. Why would I want to be with a teacher who is a grump? A good teacher can roll with the flow of life, and may have some less cheerful days, but on the whole seems truly happy to be in front of the class and sharing what he or she knows about yoga. I love yoga. I want to take classes from a teacher who also loves it and enjoys teaching it.

2) A teacher who respects students’ boundaries, as well as what the student(s) says and knows about his or her own body. You are really the only one who knows how you feel, or what illness or injuries you have sustained. When you share that with your yoga teacher, that information, as well as your person, deserves to be respected. A good teacher encourages students while acknowledging their limitations.

3) A teacher who is supportive, not degrading. I so enjoyed being with Baron Baptiste. He was fun, funny and spiritual. He was not how I thought he would be. And he was so grateful to be with us as students. I do not care for the teacher who puts me down or criticizes my posture or my body. That kind of behavior is not acceptable, nor does one recover easily from it. An art teacher once laughed at my work (which was not intended to be funny) and it took me about 10 years to venture into the art world again. Donna Farhi, in her book Bringing Yoga to Life, says that we unconsciously look for teachers who support our own self-image and talk. The teacher who berates you may be mirroring the violence you dish out to yourself.

4) A teacher who is encouraging and takes you places you may not have ventured before—who takes you to places you didn’t think you were capable of. I was overwhelmed when I went to a Power class with Baron Baptiste at Kripalu. We were handed towels as we entered the classroom and we needed them! We worked so hard, I sweat so much, my glasses slid down my face. AND, I practiced postures I never thought I could because he warmed us up properly and led us in a supportive way to get where we were going. He believed in our skills, as well as his own.

5) A teacher who offers more than is expected. A lovely training I had with Judith Lasater included some information about Nonviolent communication as well as being present in the moment. She talked a bit about these 2 things, while incorporating them into the topic of the training and demonstrated what she was talking about. Loved her!

6) A teacher who is observant of her students and their bodies, and who knows how to help them modify and how to take them farther in a posture and in the journey. I like a teacher who checks in about injuries or simply even how I am feeling today. Again, I want to know the teacher has something other than her or his own ego showing up at the class.

7) A teacher whose ego isn’t the most important thing. It’s not about the teacher, it’s about the student(s). Again, I have been to too many classes where it was all about the teacher, and hearing him or herself talk, or even watch themselves demonstrate postures. L

8) You may also appreciate a teacher who is respectful of your time, and generous with her or his own time and person. I have asked some teachers questions after a class, and they just basically sent me on my way, without taking time to answer me.

9) I also appreciate a yoga teacher who promotes yoga and its teachings, without promoting her or himself. I have had teachers who were all about themselves. Really? I coulda stayed at home and done my own practice.

Once a student questioned why I didn’t wear yoga pants when I taught class. And why I didn’t practice with the class. I remember the first time I attended a yoga class and the teacher walked around and did not demonstrate or practice with us, but instead led us through the practice with his voice. I was surprised, but got over it and enjoyed the practice.  Rolf Gates didn’t dress like a yoga teacher, and was one of the best I have practiced with. He demonstrated one pose because he could see we were all a bit confused. He was tuned in to the students.

Maybe you need to see someone doing a pose. Perhaps you like hands on assists, or don’t want anyone touching you. You should be able to make this clear to the teacher and have your wishes respected.

What about the level of the class? Does the teacher speak to your needs? At the beach I attended a class labeled Gentle and beginner. The time suited my vacation “schedule” and so I went. The student next to me was a beginner, older and a man. Needless to say we were not the same person, nor did we have the same needs or abilities. The teacher was really good, though, as she was able to attend to the beginner mind as well as give space for additional holding or postures which served me well. In fact, I simply just held some of the poses longer.

Some of us appreciate a routine, and keeping things the same. If that is what you need, look for a teacher who offers that style. Integral, Bikram and Ashtanga styles all offer the same set of postures, in the same order each practice. Or if you like to mix it up, seek that in a teacher or class. Kripalu is an example of each class not being the same.

Is there a deal breaker for you? Is there a quality you don’t want in a yoga teacher or something you absolutely have to have? Check in with yourself to see what you need. Then find a teacher and find a 
class. Trust your instincts. 

Got enough ideas? Really and truly, it comes down to whether or not you resonate with a particular teacher. We are all different and have different needs and respond to different styles of yoga and different styles of teaching. I remember the yoga joke: 2 students left a  class and one proclaimed: “That was the best yoga class ever. The teacher talked the entire class!” The other student countered with: “That was the worst class ever! The teacher talked the entire class!” Find what makes you feel good, happy, and complete.

As one of my favorite chiropractors said to me one time when I was shopping for a new one: “I don’t care if you come to me or not, but please do get some help!”  I support you in practicing yoga, in your way, with the style or teacher you enjoy. Please do practice yoga!

Bottom line: Find the teacher and class that help promote what you want to receive from practicing yoga. It’s your body, your life. May you find ease in your body, peace in your mind and compassion in your heart.


Monday, January 2, 2017

End of the year reflection, or how yoga has helped me

It has been a difficult year…of changes, transitions and losses. My yoga practice has both failed me and sustained me. Change has been inevitable. Suffering was not a viable option.

A yoga student shared that it took her a year to be able to write about an event, as it had so great an impact on her. When she was able to write I imagine it was cathartic, a letting go.

One day I made a U-turn on Grandin Road. This is a metaphor for my life. After that I learned that I would no longer have the space at CoLab, on Grandin Road, available to me after the end of June. Maybe I should be more discriminating when it comes to making U-turns! But I do it when there are no other cars coming and I have room to make it in one turn. So I believe I do it safely and cautiously.

So in my life I have made a U-turn. I am back to where I began, almost, but not completely the same. I am teaching yoga like almost 30 years ago, at different locations, and as an adjunct to the rest of my work. It no longer serves me to have a studio, especially when there are many fine accessible ones in this town and its surrounds. My energy is not up to the struggle of locating and leasing a space, nor managing teachers other than this one!  Other employment is what puts the gas in the car and food on the table, so I am back.  I have returned to that place where I can say that I can teach yoga and give myself to it instead of trying to run it as a business.

In the past year and a half I have counted several losses, including the loss of the space above Grace’s Restaurant, my grand dog, Mary Jane,  a friendly relationship that dwindled away over the last couple years, my 9 year old cat, Tia, who was my heart, and my likely 100 year old maple tree. And then there were the procedures and surgeries. Grieving has not been easy, and yet it has been. Thankfully I have been able to be with family more than usual this year, and my old and new friends have stepped up to the plate to comfort me through these times.

I stayed away from the mat because I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to break down. I didn’t want to tap into what’s inside because I knew it would be real and it would be painful. And yoga always brings me to what’s truly going on. That depth was scary to me. I could not take the pain of finding my insides open and exposed to me. So my yoga practice failed me because I didn’t do it.

But when I found myself frustrated or sad, or even confused, when I remembered my yoga practice, all became clear. My yoga practice has helped me physically: my ankle and hip ailments subside. My yoga practice helped heal my heart and its wounds. My yoga practice helped me remember my mission to help, not hinder, others. Yoga reminds me to breathe into the moment.

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

from Mary Oliver, poem: The Journey

A reminder from Mary Oliver’s poem that the journey isn’t an easy one. We need to keep coming back to it. We go off the path and we find our way back. May we all find our way back.
There’s no going back

to back
where I came from
There is only now and where I am now