All posts by Erica

What Exactly Do You Learn At A Yoga Conference Anyways?

Last weekend, 2,000 yoga teachers and students gathered for five days at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. I was lucky enough to attend the gathering: the Yoga Journal Conference 2011. It was a last-minute opportunity. I’d never been to a huge, multi-teacher yoga event before, and the whole idea of a “yoga conference” seemed kind of weird — I usually do yoga to retreat from the world for a bit, not to pick up goodie bags and chat with friends. But my eyes were soon open wide. I learned an immense amount in two days, and they weren’t just lessons about alignment or breathing. Some teachers shared information straight from ancient books; some gave wholly modern takes on yoga lifestyles.


from Rod Stryker
The path of yoga is to clear the mind (as taught by Patanjali) or to clear the energy (as taught in Tantra). In yoga we usually feel better because we’re doing the latter. You’re probably doing more Tantra than you think! As we age, we focus less on a physical practice and more on an energetic one. We can learn to hold our energy in, to keep it from going to our heads or out through our senses. Muscular locks (bandhas), combined with mental intention, are one of the most important yoga practices. The senses are actually places where energy is lost, not gained.


from Seane Corn
The sign of an advanced practice is not strength or flexibility. It has everything to do with breath and intention. If you’re a beginner, and you find yourself in an advanced class, remember your sense of humor. Look around and learn. Breathe. How you react to a difficult situation might be a reflection of how you react to many things in your life… I was often using food to anesthetize myself from emotions that were rising. To move forward took self-reflection, recognition, standing in discomfort rather than disconnecting. But also honoring the impulse that needed comfort.


from Matthew Sanford
The principles of yoga don’t discriminate. The poses do. But the principles are universal. We must move inward in order to move outward. Root the heels in order to lift the head. Strength in service of a sense of direction is grace. What is the true nature of your strength? Where does it truly reside? What has yoga taught you about that? The best part of yourself is not a psychological realization. The best guarantee of presence, of connection to the world, is your body. When my son comes to me for a hug, he doesn’t want sympathy. The hug gives a boundary to the suffering, so it can be less… In yoga poses, you’re integrating what you can feel and can know with what you can’t feel and can’t know. I call this the silence. The conduit of the inner body is not the muscular action. It’s the silence. What you’re seeking in a yoga practice is the ability to synthesize the silence with daily life.


from Shiva Rea
In our twenties we think that we’re supposed to burn through everything, but as we grow older we learn how to keep the fire inside.


from Cameron Shayne
The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Find your stable base in any pose: keep the attention on the perimeter, and hug into the midline to grow light. Initiate movement from the ground up. What we think of as yoga comes mostly from one man, Krishnamacharya. If someone else had gotten there first, our practices would be very different. His style was very linear, and this is reinforced by the shape of our mats. In Budokon (yoga plus martial arts), we move in circles, spirals, waves. We leap, like all other animals… At some point you have to innovate. You don’t have to make up poses; you make your own voice within the poses.


from James Murphy
In order to turn, to twist deeply, we must first stretch and lengthen up. We must either ground one end, and extend the other, or stretch both ends away from each other. Access the periphery, and feed it back into the core. Start by pressing through the heels; feel the difference it makes. Raise the arms above the head, and feel how it helps the chest. “It’s impossible to be depressed with the armpits open.” –BKS Iyengar


from Ana Forrest
How do we learn to address our own needs? My bottom line is: what brightens/feeds my spirit? My yoga practice has drained a lot of the numbness, so that I feel the effects of everything. It gave me a sense of trust in my ability to discern my truth for myself. In healing my bulimia, I had to ask myself questions. What is contentment? (Especially for one who is so intense, and strives?) What is it I’m really needing? (Doing my best to stop, take some major deep breaths, and assess what’s really going on.) What is a correct relationship with food, for me? (What, when, how much, why?) Come back to what works for you, and find something better to obsess about.


from Aadil Palkhivala
A body in balance craves that which keeps it in balance. A body out of balance craves that which takes it further from balance. What we need to do is not to stop the craving, but bring the body back in balance.


from David Romanelli
A “yogic diet” is one that focuses on savoring food, slowing down, instead of speed and efficiency… There are many ways to reach yoga (that comfortable, relaxed state). Chocolate is one of those ways.


from Judith Lasater
How do you define a senior? BKS Iyengar is 92, you wouldn’t put him in a senior class. The real definition is someone 10 years older than you. Slowing down is the same thing as waking up. Everything you do in yoga should be a metaphorical speed bump, to slow you down. Your homework is to do everything 10% slower.


The physical classes associated with these lessons were of course wonderful — you get to feel these lessons, as well as understand them intellectually — but the parallel principles of teachers from all over the world will keep me thinking for a while.

All photos courtesy of yjevents.com

Bandha Practice with Rod Stryker

Rod Stryker at the Yoga Journal NYC Conference 2011
Teaching "the supreme energetic and physiological lock"

Learned a lot at the Yoga Journal Conference today. (You can still drop in on classes tomorrow!) The hardest thing was choosing a schedule — there were 12 amazing teachers for each block! I went for mostly West Coast people that are here less often, and other teachers who were new to me.

Here are my notes on the first session with Rod Stryker, which left me feeling AMAZING — buzzing yet settled down, like I’d just had a massage. (I’ll post more session notes over the next few days.) Apologies for any misquotes!

Rod Stryker: Bandha: The Theory, Application, and Practice. (5/14/11, 8-10am)

Great way to start the morning: an hour reviewing a key technique, and then an hour actually feeling it in poses. Rod’s lesson:

There are two paths to yoga (union):

  1. chitta — still the mind (Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, as explained in the sutras)
  2. prana — use the energy (Tantra, has no single source book)

Most yoga classes, you feel better b/c you’ve done the latter, moved energy.

Tantra

“You’re probably doing more Tantra than you think.”

Our experience of the world depends on our filter. In yoga, the filter is the mind. In tantra, the filter is the energy. Change your energy, change your experience.

Start thinking of yourself as a vessel of energy. Understand three principles:

  1. your vessel is leaking (eyes, ears, hands, genitals are all places we lose energy)
  2. energy is misplaced
  3. the energy in your vessel is dirty

Bandhas

Two meanings: bondage, holding back, restraint AND bond, connection. Like hydroelectric power: they are walls which contain a flow.

Jalandhara Bandha — chin lock (jala = net, to catch)
— gets the least press (who cares about the neck?), let’s cover it first.
— related to the inhale
— lengthening of the cervical spine, lifting of the collarbones, dropping of the chin (optional)
— (those w/a flattened cervical spine should not be doing it)
— stops energy from rising above the collarbones, from going to the head and the intellect
— raises the blood pressure; the subsequent drop is good for meditation
— don’t jam the neck, lift the occiput

Uddiyana Bandha — navel lock (ud = lift, fly)
— supreme lock, in the teachings, physiologically and energetically
— drawing of navel in and up, compresses and lifts the abdominal organs to the spine
— only done on the pause after exhalation
— can’t be done when inhaling or after inhale
— people often misappropriate the term, they really mean “lift your lower abs”

Mula Bandha — root lock (mula = root)
— gets the most press (like kids, we like to talk about the farting / pooping / sex area :)
— pelvic diaphragm moves gently up (often follows navel diaphragm)
— not gripping or muscling, not contracting or hardening… just lifting
— specifically the anterior side
— pretty much the same as Kegels
— but the mental focus and intention is what leads to pranic control
— three muscle groups involved: frontal muscles, anus, and perineal floor
— to feel those three groups think about holding in #1, #2, and … (there is no #3 :)
— move towards it on exhale
— effects change if done on exhale or inhale
— if done on inhale, it disengages you from basic biological functions (might have trouble eliminating, menstruating, grounding, putting down roots in the world)
— ok if you’re a saddhu trying to disassociate from the world, but not great for city people
— “if I lived in NYC, I would not be doing a lot of mula bandha on the inhale”

The bandhas open the door to the next stage of practice — more energetic, less somatic.

Practice

Mental energy will give you mastery of prana. Physical techniques are secondary.

Good poses to start/teach the practice of bandhas in asana:

Jalandhara — bridge
Uddiyana — standing w/hands on knees (traditional), forward folds, bridge
Mula — chair, down dog, some gentle forward bends

Just do maybe 4 or 5 rounds of bandha in asana. Can deepen practice if preparing for pranayama, meditation, etc.

Sequences (that I remember)

We did some gentle salutations to warm up the body. Stepping back to lunge, and then forward to forward bend (no vinyasas). Keeping the neck long, the head slightly back was a challenge, but it helped me stop feeling faint in that transition! A couple sequences that really helped me feel the locks:

  1. Three part bridge — Lying on back, knees bent, inhale and raise hips. Hold there and exhale fully. Roll down holding the breath and suction the belly in and up. (Can add raising and lowering of arms, or flexion and extension of arms with interlaced fingers, to increase the effects.)
  2. Table to Down Dog — Kneeling on all fours, keep cervical spine long. Exhale and tuck the tail and roll the belly up and in. Hold the breath and slowly straighten the legs into Down Dog. (To the count of six or so.) More intense practice.
  3. Sitting — Breath of Fire, then Maha Bandha (all three locks)

Rod has a book coming out in July called The Four Desires: Creating a Life of Purpose, Happiness, Prosperity, and Freedom. He also has a 23 (yes, twenty-three) CD boxed set that I’m sorely tempted to buy. (It’s called Tantra: The Radiant Soul of Yoga.) Five two-hour asana/pranayama/meditation practices, five one-hour “deepening practices”, 47 talks on the theory and science of practice, 14 different meditations, and 12 pranayama practices. Dang. He seems to like this stuff.

You can keep up with Rod on twitter at @parayogatweets or on Facebook at ParaYogaFB.

Check back tomorrow for another session of Yoga Journal Conference notes!

Yoga Journal Conference This Weekend in NYC

Yoga Journal Conference 2011Did you sign up for the Yoga Journal conference this weekend? There are a few days left to register. Classes happen all day on Saturday and Sunday, as well as single day intensives on Friday and Monday. Study with senior teachers like Cyndi Lee, Seane Corn, Judith Lasater, Alan Finger, Leslie Kaminoff, Rod Stryker, Ana Forrest, or Shiva Rea.

Curious to learn more? Here are a few cool talks and events that are free and open to the public:

Keynote Address by Matthew Sanford (Saturday, May 14, 1:30pm – 2:30pm). Matthew Sanford shares his remarkable story of surviving a devastating car accident and living with paralysis for the past 32 years–and how, through yoga, he has discovered new levels of sensation within his entire body. His story not only changes how one thinks about yoga and yoga poses but also shows how yoga can practically transform the world around us.

Panel Discussion: The Yoga of Food. (Sunday, May 15, 1:30pm – 2:45pm). What does it mean to eat like a yogi? Is there such a thing as a yogic diet? Join Aadil Palkhivala, Ana Forrest, Seane Corn, David Romanelli as they discuss how the practice of yoga affects our food choices. Moderated by Yoga Journal’s Dayna Macy, author of the new book “Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom.”

Closing Savasana with David Swenson (Sunday, May 15, 5:45 – 6:15pm). Let go of fatigue and adopt a state of profound meditation as Swenson guides you through a simple inward journey designed to show you how to relax, release, and unwind.

There’s also a Business of Yoga workshop, for those learning financial balances, and special events for both teachers and new beginners.

If you’ve been in the past, I’d love to hear about your experience, leave a comment below!

 

Legs Falling Asleep in Meditation?

Learned another great tip from Harshada at Abhaya last night:

If your legs start to fall asleep during meditation, switch to Baddha Konasana (Butterfly / Cobbler Pose) for a minute. Press the soles of the feet together. That should return some blood flow to the legs and wake them up.

Last night’s meditation built on Tara’s class about the three focal points: at the perineum, the heart, and the roof of the mouth. For each pose, the focal point is the one bearing most of the weight (usually lowest in space). So standing poses are focused on the pelvis, arm balances are focused on the heart, inversions are focused on the soft palette (generally). Tara had us imagine an egg at each one (as a symbol of rebirth, for Easter), drawing the muscular energy to this point and then opening away from it. Harshada had us silently repeat the syllable Ram at each one, slowly raising the vibration from the base of the spine into the skull. It was like sinking into a warm bath; super hypnotic.

Kirtan this Saturday at Om Factory

Gaura VaniFor you chant-lovers out there: Om Factory has a special guest this Saturday.

At the age of six, Gaura Vani left the US to study sacred music in a gurukula or temple school in the timeless town of Vrindavan, India. He learned ancient prayers in Sanskrit and Bengali and to sing and play ethnic instruments like the harmonium and mrdanga. 25 years later, he continues to share the magic he received and performs extensively throughout the world with As Kindred Spirits, his ensemble of musicians, dancers, and performers.

Kirtan with Gaura Vani, Ananta Govinda Das & Acyuta Gopi Dasi
Saturday, April 16, 7:30-10:30pm

Om Factory Yoga Center
265 West 37 Street, 17th Floor
info@omfactorynyc.com – 212 616 8662

$15 pre-registered / $20 at door / or by donation

The Zamboni Meditation

Tonight I learned the zamboni meditation, a wonderful experience from the wonderful Harshada Wagner at Abhaya Yoga.

Breathing in and out, up and down, you let the breath wash over you. Like the guy in the truck, smoothing out the scratches in the ice. Some ruts are deeper; these are your personality. Sometimes there are big holes; these are your experiences, good or bad. They all get smoothed out so that the skating can begin again.

This meditation stirs things up, and lets you release them. It washes out tension like water. It’s good for a bright spring day, or pretty much every day. Also, the name is hilarious.

During the meditation I was very distracted, my mind wandered all over my body, but when we opened our eyes I felt amazing. Harshada said this is common; to get more enjoyment out of the actual experience, the actual transformation, focus on the heart.

Compass Yoga with Christa Avampato

Christa Avampato
Christa Avampato

More $10 yoga! More great teachers!

Christa Avampato, who has blogged here on Yogoer, has launched an awesome new initiative called Compass Yoga. She not only offers affordable yoga, she donates 20% of the proceeds to the charity of your choice. (She also writes an inspiring blog on entrepreneurship, Christa in New York.)

I attended the very first class last night, and was really impressed. Christa managed 26 students, of all ages and experiences, with ease and charm. She offered variations for the injured folks, and lots of helpful focal points throughout class. I came away relaxed, restored, and ready to face my week.

Classes are held from 6–7pm every Sunday at Pearl Studios, near Penn Station. Christa did her teacher training at Sonic Yoga; classes are slow flow Shiva Rea style.

Amazing Anusara Immersion in Costa Rica

Boca Sombrero
Boca Sombrero

Tara Glazier, the brilliant anatomy and philosophy teacher I am lucky enough to study regularly with, is leading a retreat to Costa Rica next month. I just booked my ticket! There are some budget spots left — only $900 to share a beach cabana — as well as some larger, gorgeous rooms with pools and things for $1700–$2200. She’ll be accompanied by James Bae, a healer and acupuncturist.

The days will be filled with two complete Asana practices, meditation, breath work, and individual healing sessions with James where he integrates his knowledge of Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, yoga therapeutics, and acupuncture. Three organic, whole food meals will be provided daily. There is the option to take part in the many activities the Osa provides such as surfing, bird watching, rainforest hiking, waterfall tours, or simply relaxing in a hammock near the beach.

I can’t recommend Tara highly enough; she’s translated the sometimes murky language of Anusara into real benefits in my yoga practice. She corrected the habits that were causing my sciatic pain, and has totally reshaped poses like Pigeon, Down Dog, and Handstand so that I’m feeling secure and healthy in all my joints. If you’re a seasoned yoga practitioner, you’ll learn a lot of great details; if you’re newer, you’ll learn them correctly. And I am always impressed by her ability to dish out complex Indian philosophy without losing the rhythm of sequencing at all.

Come play in the sun with us! (Buy a ticket to SJO before the weekend, they’re starting to go up.) February 13th–20th, 2011. Get the details and reserve your spot at AbhayaYoga.com

Personal Training Part Three: Everyday

Ankle weights are awesome
Ankle weights are awesome!

On Saturday I ran back to Crunch for my final session with genius personal trainer Claes Passalacqua. It’d been a really long week; I needed a kick in the pants as well as the final secret series of hip and back fixers.

We started off with the Core strengthening exercises and the Glute strengthening exercises, just to warm up. Except this time I had to do the Glute series with ankle weights. Good. Lord. It felt like my leg was trapped in concrete; I could barely move it around. It felt like someone else’s leg. That I’d set on fire. We also added an inner leg lift, similar to ones I’d done for knee pain, that brought the sensations full circle.

The real magic, however, came when I stood up. The nerves and muscles firing up and down the back of the leg created this insane feeling of gravity in that leg, as if my heel was being suctioned to the ground, and my hips were being sucked out through my leg bones. It was like a huge flush of water, an avalanche, dropping through my legs. For all the yoga I’ve done, for all the teachers that have pulled my heels or hips towards the floor, THIS made me understand what “grounding” really feels like.

We built on that. The final series adapted these Core and Glute alignments to more “normal” postures, to train the body to use these new-found muscles in everyday living.

  1. Standing tall — left side against the wall, with a kickball to cushion the hip. Right foot on a stair-stepping bench (could substitute a thick book), left leg dangles parallel to the right. Arms up, shoulders down. Ribs in. The challenge is to balance using the glute, not the quad, calf, or foot. Microbend the knee, send the hips back, keep the weight in the heel, hold for a minute. Crazy strength is discovered. Do both sides.
  2. Sitting down — in front of a bench (or bed), lift one foot six inches off the floor. Arms up, shoulders down. Ribs in. Lower the hips towards the bed, keeping the feet parallel. Use the glute not the quad. Rest, stand up with both legs, and repeat 10 times. (For extra challenge, try to come back up. With the core and the glutes you can do it!)
  3. Bending over — stand with feet hip-distance apart, lift the right foot about six inches off the floor. Microbend the other leg, send the hips slightly back. Left hand on the hip for balance, lean the heart forward and touch the left toes with the right hand. Repeat 10 times. (Similar to the Hamstring Circles recommended in Ironstrength)

I’m kind of sad to be done, even though my hip and back pain can certainly stay hidden wherever they are. I’ve got the homework I asked for, and all kinds of new sensations to play with. I’ve learned all kinds of things about yoga from cross-training, especially this strength training, and I highly recommend some intense muscular exploration for anyone who does yoga. And, I cannot even describe how immense a relief it is to have not an injury, but a plan. Thank you so much Claes!