The Struggle is Real

MUST GET POSE!!!!! MUST GET DEEEEEEP IN POSE!!!! MUST DO HARD POSE LONGER THAN ANYONE ELSE!!!!

I see it all too often. People’s inner “Hulk” comes to the surface.

  1. A student is DETERMINED to get into a pose.

  2. They push, force, shake, stop breathing and BOOM…

  3. They kind of sort of get the pose!!!

  4. Panting and confident they move on to the next thing with no real awareness of what happened in the body / and whether what they did was actually good for them

  5. They do the same thing again 10 minutes later, and in the next class, and next week and next month

Every time I see it happen I cringe a little. Even through verbal cuing / 1 on 1 check ins - its impossible to stop and correct it all. In a “silver bullet” culture - where pills, procedures, and quick fixes are the way of the future - many people have lost the critical skill of working patiently, and diligently over time and witnessing the safe, subtle and lasting transformation that can happen through a well-balanced yoga practice.

I would say that 1/2 of my job as an asana teacher is teaching postures and the other half is helping students in the sophisticated art of finding that balance between effort and ease. What can we look for in students that indicate struggle? Tune in for things like shaking in the body, clenched jaws, stealing from one area of the body to make things look deeper (think hinging at the lumbar spine as the sole source of a back bend), or held breath… to name a few.

WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT? BECAUSE WE’VE SPEND YEARS - IF NOT DECADES - CONFUSING OUR BODIES NATURAL DESIGN!

Recently, I read “Move Your DNA” by Katy Bowman. And while I’ve been on the “move smarter not harder” train for a while now - there is a really important idea in her book that all teachers of movement should try to understand: If you spend most of your life challenging your very design by preventing your body from moving in the way it was designed to move (walking, running, climbing, squatting, with bare feet on diverse surfaces - all day long) and then have a life that limits that potential by wearing shoes and sitting a whole heck of a lot, then no amount of personal ass kicking - performed for an hour every other day - is going to be able to bring you into lasting "good shape.” Forcing your body into a state of “struggle” in these classes or activities is likely (over time) to result in injury or pain.

AS WE ADVANCE IN OUR PRACTICE, DON’T WE WANT TO BE MORE SOPHISTICATED THAN THAT?

I’ve said for years that the hardest pose in yoga is patience. Be skilled and patient enough to work with your body and notice the subtle nature of the current condition - coaxing your tissues mindfully towards change. Be patient enough to also get your nervous system on board by incorporating smooth and steady breathing that moves your diaphragm in your body. Be patient enough to find the edge of effort and ease (sthira sukham asanam). Be patient with the parts of your body that say “no, not yet” - because you will also notice the parts that are saying “ahh, yes, like that!” Doing so will set you up for a practice that lasts a lifetime.

Sun Salutation A - Low Lunge Variation with #StanTheYogaMan

#StanTheYogaMan is back and showing off one of my favorite variations of Sun Salutation A. In this version we step into a lunge and a balance posture on the way to the top of the mat. This can also be done in "step back" format - which can be easier for populations newer to yoga or those who carry more weight around their mid section.

I love this lunging variation of Sun A because it not only works balance early on in practice, it provides extra lengthening for the hip flexors - which can be critical for a population that spends a lot of time sitting. If I'm working towards bigger back bends - then I'll use this sequence in the beginning quite often. The key here is to do this slowly first and impart the importance of keeping a strong belly and rooting down into the legs for the lunge with the knee down - especially if they want to lift their arms here. For some, it may make more sense to keep hands down on blocks and have those blocks available for standing split (which may also turn into more of a supported warrior 3). 

WHY Sun Salutations? by #StanTheYogaMan

WHY Sun Salutations? by #StanTheYogaMan

Here is #StanTheYogaMan - my newest creation. Stan is here to help me share my latest sequences, thoughts on poses and nerdy yoga stuff. This post gives a break down of Sun Salutation A, explains why I think Sun Salutations are important in general and why I teach them in almost every, single class!

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Let Your Breathing Impact the Position You Are In

When I talk about asana or "postures" in class, I like to remind students that postures are opportunities to collect information. It's not about forcing something that isn't there - it's about bringing yourself into a position and allowing the posture to reveal more subtle information that which is embedded beneath the surface. By doing so, you summon patience, discipline, self-compassion and breath as your key partners for navigating things that feel challenging. Not only is this a critical skill that can help you overcome tough or chaotic times outside your yoga studio - but you also stand to unpack some pretty interesting information about your body as well.

The thing is, your body has an innate intelligence. In Iyengar's Light on Life he talks about how every cell in your body, through a complex network of nerves, is connected to your brain. Therefore, every cell in your body has an intelligence. As you practice, you should continuously be scanning the sensation on the surface of your skin all the way to the marrow of your bones - gliding your awareness seamlessly across the layers of your being to identify areas that are calling out for support, release or attention.

In a recent training, my mentor Jacqui Bonwell, discussed how our bodies remember the physical positions we are in when we encounter stressful information or in a state of stress - and this physically impacts the tissue. She gave the example of being under duress while answering phone calls in a previous job that lead to severe pain that ran down the whole side of her neck on the side she used for phone calls. The funny thing was that this injury was ultimately healed by one, solid Reiki session - and not physical therapy or medicine (not knocking them - just interesting that we can tackle physical trauma from many angles).

The point of this is that yoga is trying to teach us to stop trying to force it, fix it or fidget our way through it - as none of these things can serve us as much as sitting still and allowing our breath and our focus to reveal what we need to know. As we hold position our breath will help us make space with each inhale and either soften or strengthen into that space with each exhale.

When you can allow your body and breathing to do the work, you are naturally training your mind in the more sophisticated art of being aware of everything that composes the position at a higher level. You notice nuances, small shifts, displaced areas where you thought things were happening - when, in reality, most of the information is coming from someplace else. (Some day we'll talk about "Systems Thinking" as it relates to yoga :) 

Ultimately, if we can hone this sophisticated skill of allowing our breathing to impact the position we are in - we can become better not only at yoga - but in relationships and work and in all aspects of our lives. Notice the next time you encounter something that throws you off your game - something that might normally be "stressful" for you and ask yourself:  

"Can my breathing impact the position I am in?"

Give it 10 breaths and then come back here and tell me about it - I'd love to do a follow up post!

Please Donate to my YRO Page - Lady Gaga Tickets @ Fenway to One Lucky Winner

Donation Link: http://yogathon.yogareachesout.org/goto/AlyssaHalePrettyman

Motivation: One lucky person who donates will win 2 tickets to see Lady Gaga at Fenway park on the Right Field Roof Deck party - food and drinks included!

About YRO: Yoga Reaches Out is a charity event that raises money for Children's Hospital and other powerful charities that support children's charities. As many of you know, Children's Hospital holds a special place in my heart. 

My Story & My Dedication to the Cause: In 2010 my son, Jackson, needed cranio-facial surgery for a condition known as craniosynostosis. One side of his skull fused too early - meaning one side of his head and face could grow - and one side could not. The surgery was scheduled right after his first birthday. I think it's obvious that putting your baby through and medical procedure is hard enough - not to mention one that requires a neurosurgeon and plastic surgeon to work on his skull and face. 

What a lot of people don't know about this time in my life is that my grandmother was also losing her battle with Alzheimers and dementia and that my stepfather was next door at the Brigham fighting for his life after crashing his helicopter during Jackson's first birthday party three weeks earlier.  Our family was stretched so emotionally thin that we literally had to just keep our heads down and put one foot in front of the other. By the time Jackson's surgery was through, we had lost my step father, Bruce. By the end of the year, we had lost my grandmother, Mary. It's hard to untangle those stories from Jackson's at this point in my life. It's hard not to mention the incredible grace and courage of my mother through it all - but that is a story for another day.

Why add these details in this post at all? Because when I reflect on this time in my life - and even while walking through it - I remember thinking that the part of it at Children's was, strangely enough, the least stressful part of all of it. The staff - from Doctors and nurses to the clowns and cheer-up crew that came by post surgery - were all incredible. I was kept well informed, I was confident that we were in a position that so many around us were not in - we had a solution, and things were going to be okay. I will be forever grateful that even through this challenging time, I was given a sense of peace in one small corner of my life knowing my son would be okay when I wasn't sure about pretty much anything else.  

I remember the waiting room during the 7 hours Jackson was in surgery. I smile when I think that one of the many things YRO has done has been to provide a yoga room at Children's for parents and families waiting for their child to complete a surgery or treatment. That people who have very little emotional breathing room are given a small slice of space to put on their own oxygen mask so they can get back up and carry their children and families forward with a little extra charge in their batteries.

So if you can spare even $10 - you can smile knowing that $10 might make its way down the pipe to cover a moment of peace for a parent or child who needs it.