Friday, November 16, 2018

What Do I Teach?

I feel compelled to explain what I teach currently in my classes and my teaching approach. To do so, let’s start with a little backstory for some perspective.

In the Beginning of my Yoga Journey
I started attending regular yoga classes in the summer of 1995. My first teacher was knowledgeable in a variety of disciplines. We were both in our mid-20’s, the teacher and I (I cannot account for the other students) so the class was at the pace and difficulty I enjoyed. (And the yoga space was a small, old church converted into her home  - it was gorgeous.) I left those Saturday morning yoga classes feeling energized and revitalized. I was hooked.

Later, I was introduced to a wonderful Iyengar yoga teacher who took me deeper into the practice. Everything taught was asana based (yoga postures) with some gentle pranayama (breathing exercises) introduced at the end of the class (during Savasana – or the ending relaxation pose).

After four years of attending yoga classes regularly and practicing every day at home or with a friend – I received an exciting opportunity to teach! What a gift and challenge. Anyone who has embarked on the path of teaching understands what I am saying. Comprehension of the material being taught must be at the highest level due to the fact that not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace. It was and is a challenge I am eternally grateful for having.

When I first discovered ayurvedic medicine in 2001 (which is a sister science to yoga), a new chapter in my life appeared. I will say that I did become confused on how to incorporate this important historical body of work into my regular yoga classes. Not such an easy task, to be sure.

My initial approach was to attempt to distill some of ayurveda’s vast knowledge of the body and its relationship to the cosmos (essentially everything else) and to then teach that to my students. I think that was received with mild success. I was hoping that my students would be able to grasp this new language of the body, enabling the class to progress. Like with any language, repetition and emersion help considerably. At that time there weren’t a lot of articles freely available to the general populace to support what was being taught in class. I am thankful that my students were so kind to indulge me in those early days.

To Recap
I started practicing yoga in the summer of 1995. Discovered and loved the discipline of Iyengar yoga in 1997. Started teaching in August of 1999. Was introduced to ayurvedic medicine in 2001. The first ten years, or so, I attended primarily senior level Iyengar teachers. After attending my first Judith H. Lasater class, I had found my primary teacher that I would spend another 10 years studying with when I attended her annual workshops, but that is for another essay.

Of Course, Life Happens
This is just a quick overview of a life lived. Nothing, as you know, is really that simple. Stumble here..pause there….move on and hopefully grow along the way. It’s an adventure, for sure.

When a problem arises, if the student searches long enough the answer is revealed.

About 4 years ago I started teaching at a new location. A problem arose when I discovered that my new students weren’t able to do most of the asanas (yoga postures) or what one might call a “traditional” yoga class. A new approach needed to be devised to accommodate the needs of my students.

I was attending a yoga workshop and discussed with a fellow yoga teacher my dilemma. She suggested the work of the biomechanist Katy Bowman, which was a perfect answer for what we all needed. Now I had some excellent exercises and stretches that most anyone can do. Yay!!

What Do I Teach?
I have taken the work of senior level teachers Judith H. Lasaster and Doug Keller, the biomechanist Katy Bowman, and the “Roll Model” teacher Jill Miller and have fashioned a class that most anyone will enjoy.

My goal is to teach stretches and strengthening exercises that anyone can do at any time, no special equipment needed. I want everyone to be able to take care of their body every day, not just once a week when they attend class.

With only one and half hours of time allotted to the class, I do make sure to have at least twenty minutes, if not more, dedicated to several relaxation postures. That I do know. After that, it depends. Since I taught two workshops recently, one on the feet and the other on the knee, I do try to incorporate lots of follow up work from those workshops. Most classes start of with the basic calf stretch, followed by top of the foot stretch. If we do it every week, its an important stretch.

Short answer: I suppose the real answer would be, “It’s complicated.”

I am currently realigning my own body, which means that the information I am gaining through my own practice will be brought into the classroom.

Does that help? I hope so.

Like with any new exercise, if you are seeing a doctor about an ailment or are on any kind of medications, I would highly recommend that you talk to your doctor first before attending one of my classes. While I do a lot of research and study the body’s functions, I am not a doctor. Seek their advice.


Thanks for stopping by and I hope to see you on the mat!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

How You Move Matters

 Your belief system, especially in your ability to
physically do something, is learned from your personal experiences as well as the good and bad experiences
 of those you model (parents, peer groups, etc.).
~ Katy Bowman

Yoga and Movement
I have been a yoga teacher for 19 years, and yoga practitioner for 23 years.  The first 7 years of teaching was mostly at a yoga studio where students would attend an 8-week set of classes (AKA session). I would start out with 25 students in a beginner class and by the end of the session only 7 core students would remain. Point being that lots of people like to try yoga, which is perfectly fine and normal, but usually a core group of people would continue on seeing the benefits to movement exercises.

Fast forward to today. My second (and the best ever) husband and I live a little over an hour from a small college town where I raised my children. College towns have a lot of older folks who want to stay healthy plus an influx of new students every August who want to learn. It was a great place for me to raise my children and it had the added bonus of lots of people who wanted to attend and learn about yoga.

I currently teach at two locations: one weekly class is at a library and two weekly classes are at a health center for Native American tribal members. While I have a smaller pool of people to attract to my classes, I feel a direct and profound connection to my community - which is very satisfying.

When I first started teaching (out here in the “boonies”) I was perplexed at everyone’s inability to move well in their bodies. Getting up and down off the floor seemed near to impossible, plus any “traditional” yoga postures seemed like I was inflicting torture onto my students. I had a dilemma on my hands, for sure.

Sometimes a Question Must First Be Asked
I was at a yoga workshop about 4 years ago, when I discussed my problem with a friend and fellow yoga teacher. She kindly referred me to Katy Bowman’s work, and the rest is history.

Not only has Katy given me a different and refreshing approach to the body but also safe exercises and instructions that are great for all ages and body types. For instance, I am hyper-mobile (or really my connective tissues are more mobile than “normal” people’s tissues ~ and thankfully this is in just a few joints, not all) which can be problematic in yoga.

While one of my seasoned yoga teachers helped me deal with this hyper-mobility problem, I wished that it had been addressed sooner. I have a “nice” hamstring tear because I was over-riding my body’s ability to put the natural breaks on to protect my ligaments and tendons. Lesson learned now…..and to be discussed in a later essay.

When One Door Closes, Another Opens
I understand the need for a “quick fix.” What’s the answer so I can get on with life? Yeah, it isn’t that easy, or is it?

I do teach 3 classes per week on healthy movement exercises with a few yoga postures that I think are now achievable for my students. What I can say to you, dear reader, that walking is the ingredient that we desperately need to add to our movement diets. And if you think you “walk enough already,” you probably don’t.

For anyone to get out of the sedentary category, a person must walk OVER 5 miles A DAY. Just let that statistic settle into the old noggin. And don’t get me wrong, I am still working on getting more miles each and every day. Not even close at this point but I am moving in the direction of more miles. One step at a time, my friends. One step at a time.

The Key to a Healthier Lifestyle May Be Obtained by All
If yoga isn’t for you, never fear, healthy movements are for all. Here’s some suggestions that can get you started:

1.     Sit on the floor. Really. Not only will sitting on the floor open up your hips into different body configurations but the movement up and down will challenge most AND it will get easier with time.
2.     Park your car at the farthest end of the parking lot so you will be forced to walk more. Take that car back to the inside of the store instead of placing it conveniently (read: less movement) in a cart rack in the parking lot.
3.     Get a walking buddy. Walk with a friend daily which will help you both in a variety of ways. Share the fun!!
4.     Every hour that you sit in a chair (like at work) get up and move around for several minutes. If you can, go to a window and look at the farthest point at the horizon for several minutes. Your eye muscles need a workout, as well. Those computer screens can be hard on the eyes.

Link Below
I hope you found this info helpful and informative. The link below will take you to Katy’s website. She is an inspiration to us all to not only move more but to also move well.

Take care. Be well. Move well.

~ Cat


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Diversity of Movement Matters

You can develop good judgment as you do the muscles of your body, by judicious, daily exercise.
~ Grantland Rice

Any Journey Starts with that First Step 

Three years I embarked on a journey of self-discovery when a friend of mine and fellow yogini suggested I read Katy Bowman's work. I was having difficulty with my ageing students inability to do the simplest asana (yoga postures). They were stiff and having a hard time getting up and down off the floor. Of course, I didn't want to hurt them, so I felt very limited and received the best suggestion for my situation.

Katy Bowman is a biomechanist. She is a well studied/researched individual who found herself injured and in pain (in her 20's) following the "correct" exercises to stay fit. While attending graduate school, she would run for an hour in the morning, then teach several aerobics classes afterwards. Back pain and other injuries should not have been an issue for her and her athletically minded school friends - but it was. Katy was driven to find out why.

My People  

I find joy and inspiration from someone who has a burning question who then spends decades discovering the potential cause of the problem. Katy now teaches and writes about "nutritious movements." Since our culture has a tendency to sit for most of our waking hours - maybe fitting in an hour or two of exercise - we now have diseases due to very little time moving but also due to a loss of diversity of movements.

Diversity is Key to a Healthy Lifestyle

If you, like most people, sit in a chair for decades - your body will adapt, save energy, and mold into that shape. Period. All your tissues not used will atrophy. Muscles that help pump fluids through the body by you using them will no longer be strong and supple but tight and weak. Your heart will be forced to work harder. When you stand up from a seated position, your body will still have the residue of the previous posture. The head may be forward slightly, especially if you collapse your chest when you are at the computer. How you sit in a chair is going to reflect what your body looks like when you are standing.

Do you tuck your tailbone when you sit? The you are flattening your lower back causing compression on the vertebral discs which may cause you pain now or in the near future. You are also sitting on your lower pelvic organs - which could cause a prolapse over time due to the constant compression without a change in your body's geometry (posture in relation to gravity). 

Remember: It's not so much the position you are in but the duration that counts, especially decades of sitting.

There is Hope!

Now please don't think that there isn't a solution to this dilemma. Maybe you have heard about standing desk stations - well great. But don't think that standing for 8+ hours at your work will immediately protect you from seated ailments. 

Again, we need to think about what we do the bulk of our day that counts. Standing or sitting for 10+ hours in about the same body configuration is the problem.

We have lost our diversity of movement and removed walking almost completely from the equation. Somehow we need to add those nutritious movement ingredients to our life's recipe for a healthier lifestyle approach.


What Next?

What body positions are you in during a 24 hour period? Write it down over a 7 day time period. 
  • How many hours are you in a seated position in a chair, not omitting being seated while driving/passengering in a car (or other modes of transport like biking)? 
  • Do you ever choose to sit on the floor? 
  • How much time do you spend walking daily? 
  • Any uphill/downhill miles? 
  • Are there any stairs that you choose to take instead of the elevator?
  • Are there opportunities for varied terrains other than the flat surfaces in homes and on concrete pavements? 
  • Do you ever walk barefoot?
  • What are your activities during the weekends?
Check in with yourself and the activities that you choose and why. Do you seem to choose activities where there is a lot of car driving (sitting) and then sitting to watch a concert or movie? 

It's nice to take an assessment of the habits we have formed over the years without questioning why we don't vary very often. Now might be a great time to make some slight changes that will have profound effects when practiced daily. 

Just walking every day can improve digestion, increase range-of-motion, move all the fluids to and from the organs the way we were designed to function which in turn improves our overall body's health. It's a win-win!!


One Step at a Time

If you spend the bulk of your waking hours in a chair, it might be time to change your habits.

Try this: 
  • Every 50 minutes you are at a desk, stand up for 10 minutes to round out the hour. 
  • If you can, walk around. Move your limbs.
  • If there is a window available then look out at the farthest point and keep the gaze for 2 minutes. Now you have exercised your eye muscles, which have adapted to your computer screen and the walls (short distances vs. long distances) in your workspace. 

Great job! Keep that up for a month and see how you feel. It will take your tissues time to adapt to your new demands but you should feel better, more alert, and able to adapt more to changes in your posture.

Can you fit walking into your normal routine? Is the grocery store close? Bring your family members or friends along for the outing. Maybe you will need to make several trips per week due to the loads (the weight of the groceries) being added to body - but you needed groceries and the walk, so why not combine the two? You get stronger in the process and potentially gain some wonderful memories while hanging out with family and friends.

Tissues Need time to Adapt

I always appreciate the enthusiastic student who wants results sooner than later. I get it. Like with any change, everything takes time. The tissues in the body need time to adjust to the new movements. They will adapt faster if you do short intervals multiple times a day. No one jumps off a well worn couch and immediately runs a marathon.

Go for short walks. Increase the duration over time. Sit on the floor daily. Find ways to move more and sit less.Your healthy lifestyle is achievable by just using your body more.

This approach seems so simple. And if it weren't for my friend's suggestion to read about this "nutritious movements" concept put forth by Katy Bowman, I might still be a little perplexed about how to teach my students yoga. Now my classes are less about yoga postures and more about how to live better by moving more. I've seen the positive results in my own body as well as my students. 

Sometimes the most profound, life changing events start with a question. Never be afraid to ask, and be patient. The answers are there for those that seek the truth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

While looking through my notes I found this gem.....

"Hypermobile people are attracted to classes 
that have a lot of stretching and flexibility like yoga 
because is it easy for them. The problem is 
when entering into stretches those hypermobile 
students actually rearrange their bones to 
bypass the stretch. People with hypermobile 
joints actually have very (very, very!) tight muscles!"

~ Katy Bowman, biomechanist
I am really excited about Saturday's foot health class.
Email me if you have any questions.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Food for Thought

Deane Juhan in Job's Body, a must read for any bodywork practitioner, notes "bones can only go where muscles pull them, and muscles can only respond to conditions which prevail in the nervous system."