Category Archives: Classes

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!

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.

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!

Ironstrength: Strength Training for Runners

Dr. Jordan Metzl
Dr. Jordan Metzl

Lately I’ve been focusing my yoga practice on strength training. We yogis tend to be a flexible bunch, and we don’t always know how to support the joints we’ve so arduously opened. (Remember, once you get that Monkey you have to take care of it…) So I was uber-excited to have my friend Laura invite me to a free “Ironstrength” class. She’s a marathoner, suffering from hip pain; her sports medicine doctor Jordan Metzl offers these classes, “a one hour, intense session of plyometrics and strength exercises designed for runners and triathletes,” for free, as a service to others. How awesome is that? (He’s finished 8 triathalons and 28 marathons, btw. He knows what he’s talking about.)

The class was hosted at the gorgeous Equinox gym on the Upper East Side. 60 people filled the classroom, equipped with hand weights and yoga mats. Dr. Metzl blasted music, and cheered us on the whole time. The routine was:

  1. Warm ups — Jumping jacks, etc (I was late, I missed this part)
  2. Jump squats — Keep arms forward, butt back, squat down and jump up. With a smile! (15 reps, EIGHT sets)
  3. Rotation 1 — Go straight from pose to pose (15 reps of each, repeat to fill 6 minutes)
    1. Pushup pose, arms straight, grasping weights — roll onto right hand, lift left weight to ear, repeat other side
    2. Pushups — knees bent if you have to
    3. Situps — standard style
  4. Rotation 2 — (10 reps of each, repeat to fill 5 minutes)
    1. Lunge plyos — right foot forward, both knees bent, lightly hop and switch feet, repeat other side
    2. Hamstring circles front — with one leg lifted slightly forward, bend down and touch other foot, repeat other side
    3. Hamstring circles side — with one leg lifted slightly sideways, bend down and touch other foot, repeat other side
  5. Rotation 3 — (15 reps of each, repeat to fill 5 minutes)
    1. Mountain climbers — in Low Lunge pose, hop and switch feet
    2. Leg drops — flat on back, legs together, raise to 90Ί and lift hips, lower hips and lower legs almost to floor
  6. Rotation 4 — (15 reps of each, to fill 5 minutes)
    1. Deadlifts — holding weights, squat and drop arms towards floor, straighten and lift weights by ears
    2. Overhead press — holding weights, turn palms up, press towards ceiling
    3. Curls — holding weights, elbows by sides, flex biceps and curl fists towards shoulders
  7. Ring of Fire — little squats (10 in each position, then 8, then 6, 4, 2, 1)
    1. Lunge facing forward
    2. Turn feet parallel
    3. Lunge facing the other way
    4. Step feet together
  8. Squat Thrusts aka Burpees — (10 reps, 4 sets)
    1. Squat and touch floor
    2. Jump/step back to Plank
    3. Pushup
    4. Jump/step forward
    5. Jump up to sky
  9. Planks — hold for 1 minute each
    1. Side Plank, right forearm down
    2. Forearm Plank, both forearms down
    3. Side Plank, left forearm down
  10. Stretch

So you strengthen both the muscles used (or overused) by running, and the accessory muscles that help you stay balanced. I was ready to PUKE by the Burpees. I hadn’t done most of this stuff since college (crew). It was a great workout. The rotations mean that you’re exercising one muscle group as you rest another. My friend and I were sore for days afterwards.

The next class is January 22nd at 3pm at the 85th St Equinox. If you’re a member, you can go ahead and sign up; for everyone else the RSVPs will open a week beforehand. Stay strong!

Personal Training Part Two: The Gluteus Medius

Gluteus Medius (cut)
Gluteus Medius (cut)

Happy holidays, for and from me. My back and hip pain are just about gone; I’ve been doing the physical therapy exercises that Claes Passalacqua gave me just about every day. Week one, I’d learned his Core series, week two he increased the core work, added some spine and shoulder stretches and introduced some gluteus medius work. I had to suck it up and buy a foam roller (the thing takes up half the room), but I have not woken up with a frozen back in weeks. So. Happy.

Exercising while laying on the foam roller is interesting, it forces you to balance using deep core muscles. It can also be used to massage (roll out) the IT band and the quads, so it’s a good investment.

Claes says that a lot of people have week gluteus medius muscles — the quads and the hamstrings are often overdeveloped, while the hip ab/adductors and rotators are often weak. Especially if you do running or cycling or other exercises in a repeated linear plane. And if the muscles attached to your pelvis are imbalanced, they’re going to tip or twist your hips — hello back pain. We often think of “the Core” as just our abs, but it actually includes your inner thighs, outer thighs, and butt. The medius helps your legs move away from each other, back, or rotate outward. Mine was so weak that I was yelling OH MY GOD by the middle of the exercises. (I guess they’re used to that at Crunch?)

And check this out: just a few days after my session, the Times posted an article on “Dead Butt Syndrome.”

“A new thought in running medicine is that almost all lower extremity injuries, whether they involve your calf, your plantar fascia or your iliotibial band, are linked to the gluteus medius…”

So, for posterity (and healthy posteriors), here’s Claes’ Gluteal series. It helps hip and lower back pain, and is great for runners and other linear athletes. Do it every morning, it only takes ten minutes. Combine it with Jill Miller’s Lower Body Series (deep tissue massage) once a week and you will have the happiest hips around.

1. Pilates stance — lying on one side, legs straight, hips slightly bent for balance, bottom hand supporting the head, top hand on the floor in front, keep hips perpendicular to floor, feet slightly turned out (unless it makes your hip click like mine)

  • 10 leg lifts, foot flexed — just up 12″ or so
  • 10 leg lifts, foot pointed
  • 10 heel touches — foot flexed, tap top heel in front and behind bottom foot
  • 10 infinities — make figure 8 with top foot
  • 10 circles forward — imagine you’re drawing on the far wall with the toe
  • 10 circles backward

2. Fetal position — lying on one side, bend the knees to 90Ί, support head with bottom hand and balance with other

  • 10 book covers — lift top knee about 12″
  • 10 seesaws — rotating hip/femur, tap top knee down (heel up), then top heel down (knee up)
  • 10 circles forward — small, imagine you’re drawing with a pencil
  • 10 circles backward

So! Miracles do happen. Hips and back are healing! Just have to tackle (I mean nurture) the shoulders and wrist and I’ll be swinging again.

Look for Claes at Crunch and beyond…

Personal Training! The Core

Find your Transverse Abs
Find your Transverse Abs

I’ve been quiet on the class front lately, looking for some help with my nagging aches and pains. Vinyasa would be a joke; even Anusara is no fun. I’ve got a classic zigzag pattern: right foot, left knee, right hip, left shoulder, right wrist. So I’m pretty sure the injuries are related, cropping up due to imbalance. (As you injure one side, you avoid it, and often overwork the other side.) And of course my lower back is getting torqued, too.

It makes me skip yoga practice; there’s too many things to worry about. I know there’s a ton of teachers I could go see, but I have to admit that the money is a concern… I spend SO much money on yoga already. I just go running instead. Not the best solution but at least it keeps me halfway sane. And I found the time to pick up a regular meditation practice again.

But then I couldn’t skip a workshop with Jill Miller, who was in from the West Coast. (I’ve written about her here and here.) She felt my total lack of resistance in an intense side stretch and said that I need some resistance training. (Like with rubber bands. Barf.) But I agree; I am extremely flexible, and not very strong any more. I told her I was overwhelmed. I stare at my mat and don’t know what to do. She recommended Claes Passalacqua: “He’s a genius.” So I met with him yesterday…

Continue reading

Thank Goodness for the Little Things

I’ve been wearing black this week, grieving the death of summer. And my practice; I’ve now got wrist pain to match my tricky hips. Le sigh. I’d had a couple weeks to rest it; I’d been running and biking to build up some strength. I finally realized I needed to ask a yoga teacher for some advice; it was not getting any better on its own.

On Friday some early plans fell through, so I dropped into Abhaya before dinner. It was their Dub Vibe class: slow, flowing Anusara, with a live DJ spinning dub (reggae) in the back of the room. Sheila Donnelly was subbing for Tara, and knew just as much about anatomy. Her tips for my wrists:

  • Wrist pain in yoga usually means you’re putting too much weight in the heel of the hand.
  • Work on lifting the heels of the hands (in Down Dog and similar poses). You should be able to fit a couple pencils under the back of the palm.
  • To strengthen the wrists, practice on “ridge tops,” for short periods: lift the heels of the hands about three inches, until the weight is entirely in the bottom knuckles of the fingers. Or lift all the way onto your fingertips.
  • Most people lean weight towards the outsides of the hands; make sure the weight’s to the inner sides of the hands. The wrist should NOT be rotating outward.

So now I have some answers, some assignments. So grateful. On with class.

I was in a strange mood; things were hitting me very poignantly. I was feeling injured, and old; stymied and slow. But the class, and the music, made waves. Seven students sprawled across the space. One had brought her baby; it chirped, and grabbed its feet. We chanted, and focused, and saluted the setting sun. The pace was kind; the teacher was calm. DJ Ceiba gave us “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The pressure cloud started to lift. We helped each other jump into Handstand; I knew I couldn’t do it, but then all of the sudden I was there. My partner jumped right up, and stuck it; he’s 75 years old. I felt less old :) I felt a sense of perspective, or scale. We found relaxation for the night.

This shit really works, huh?

Yoga Tune Up with Jill Miller at Omega

Jill Miller
Jill Miller

Twice in my life have I wandered into a yoga class where I felt completely fascinated, connected, and at home. The first was with Jhon Tamayo at Atmananda, where I ended up doing my teacher training. The second was this past weekend with Jill Miller at Omega.

I’d heard about Jill from Brooke Siler, who runs Re:Ab Pilates here in New York. She said if I liked anatomy and alignment, I would like Jill. Then my friend T’ai Jamar, who runs T’ai Yoga Therapy, happened to link to Jill on Facebook. And she was leading a retreat upstate the following weekend. Perfect timing!

Continue reading

Little Lesson: Pain Isn’t Progress

From Stephanie Sandleben, at Kula Yoga:

Stephanie: So, in my own practice, I’ve been thinking about the difference between sensation, and tapas. And realizing that they’re not the same thing.

Rough quote, I’m forgetting more of it, but her words hit the spot. It’s taken me years to realize that yoga is not the Marines, pain is not “a sign of weakness leaving the body.” Tapas, the purifying burn that is a big reason we practice asana, is achieved through appropriate challenges for the body. Not masochism and ignorance.

Continue reading

Little Lesson: Chase Rainbows

Bakasana, from Yoga Journal
Bakasana, by Yoga Journal

From Elias Lopez, at Abhaya Yoga:

Elias, demonstrating Bakasana: You can stay here, with the toes on the ground. That’s the pink variation. Or you can lift one foot, that’s the blue variation. Or the other foot, that’s still blue. Or lift both feet, that’s the purple variation. Any color you wish; all colors are light.

Rough quote, but it was a beautiful use of language. To get people to detach from chasing “advanced” variations, just because they’re there, we need to eliminate the hierarchy of Beginner < Intermediate < Advanced. The variations are like colors, distinct but equal; we just want to choose the one that feels right for the moment.

[Strala Yoga does something similar, calling its classes “Strong”, “Relax” and “Recover.”]