Thursday
Oct172013

Give Them Yoga

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends posted a question on her timeline: What is the big difference between yoga and Pilates? A very legit question if you’re new to both and want to figure out what to take up. The answers were interesting.

“Pilates is about strength and stability and yoga is more relaxing”

“It depends on which form of yoga you are talking about. Power yoga and flow yoga require a lot of strength. Hatha yoga is more about stretching. The mental dimension is primarily present in the relaxation at the end of the class”

I trust that these people talk from experience. They have probably taken some relaxing Hatha classes or fitness inspired power yoga classes with a guided Shavasana at the end, because that’s what yoga teachers teach; strength, stretching and guided relaxation.

I don’t know much about Pilates. On Wikipedia I can read that it is intended to strengthen the human mind and body and that is was developed by some dude in the first half of the 20th century. That does sound a lot like yoga. Lots of yogis developed their own systems and sequences from Hatha yoga last century: Pattabhi Jois, John Friend, Sharon Gannon and David Life and Bikram Choudhury (not to compare them, their ideas or systems in any way). I still think there’s a difference, though, and while I don’t know much about Pilates (which I’m sure is great), my point hasn’t really got anything to do with it.

My point is that there’s so much more to yoga than strength, stretching and relaxing – and that we as yoga teachers might forget to pass all this on to our students.

In an hour’s yoga class in a gym there isn’t time for studying the Yamas and Niyamas for meditation, chakra balancing, pranayama, bandhas, koshas, dristhi, kriyas, mantra and self-study. We know that if we say that Patanjali’s definition of yoga is to stop the fluctuations of the mind or that yoga in fact means unity – maybe even with our higher Self, God or the Universe, we’re considered ready for the loony bin. We should at least be wearing orange robes and have bald heads if we start talking about chakras and prana.

I do believe that you can have a great yoga practice without all these elements. Yoga can be a great physical or mental practice without mentions of the energetic body or Anandamaya Kosha. This way it’s accessible for everybody to experience the benefits of a yoga practice.  I, on the other hand, also believe that we as yoga teachers have an obligation to recognise when a student is ready to open up to these other aspects of yoga and give them a space for these aspects to grow, such as a sangha, a class or a referral to another teacher or workshop.

But you will be surprised about how many students come up to me after a chakra based restorative class to tell me about clearing blockages, experiencing strong emotions or asking where they can learn more.

All I’m trying to say is this: When a student asks for yoga, isn’t it our responsibility as teachers to give it to them? I know we can’t get though The Yoga Sutras in an hour in a gym, but we can always suggest that there is more than stretching and relaxing.

Stay in touch on Facebook :)

Saturday
Oct122013

Mantra Chanting High

Last night the city was buzzing with people because of Kulturnatten (Culture Night). Everybody in Copenhagen seemed to be out. I went to a chanting session at Hamsa Yoga and it was amazing. Neela Bindu played ancient Sanskrit mantras and about 30 yogis joined in with beautiful voices and amazing energy. We started out softly, but very soon the band had us clapping and singing at the top of our lungs lifting the energy higher and higher. The complete silence between the mantras was buzzing with prana and I caught myself grinning like a fool. The grin pretty much stayed on my face all night. And this morning I’m still humming:

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
(I offer myself to the one true teacher within and without)

Saccidananda Murtaye
(In the forms of reality, consciousness and bliss)

Nisprapancaya Shantaya
(Ever present and full of peace)

Niralambaya Tejase
(Independent being, the vital essence of illumination)

Monday
Sep092013

Woman Yoga Therapy Teacher Training - or Ode to Uma

She’s travelling all over the place to spread her massive knowledge of women’s health and vitality from puberty to menopause. Womb Yoga she calls it. This weekend it was Copenhagen’s turn to learn from the womb guru: Uma Dinsmore-Tuli at Well Woman Yoga Therapy Intensive Teacher Training at Yoga Mudra. 

Uma is a tiny little lady, but it takes only one look at her to see that she’s as strong as an ox. She speaks The Queen’s English but mixes in perfectly pronounced Sanskrit whenever she gets a chance and always has a mantra or a story about the Hindu goddesses to go with her teachings. She has an impressive luggage full of anatomy posters, pelvises (pelvi?) with and without organs, a baby doll, flowers and books. It’d love to see her go through security in the airport... In spite of a cold she has the most beautiful singing voice and accompanied by her scruti box she chants mantras that leaves the shala vibrating with energy. She really is the kind of woman who deserves an ode. Or a lovely Sanskrit mantra.

As you might know I’m often quite hesitant with new styles of yoga (you can’t mess with tradition, right?), but even though Uma has invented her own yoga sequences for pregnancy, fertility, healthy menstruation and menopause, she knows her yoga and tantra and it is obvious that all she does is rooted in the old tantric and vedic traditions. Uma knows her stuff.

Mixing asana, pranayama, anatomy, mudra, bandha and yoga nidra Uma spent nearly 30 hours in three days teaching us how to help and empower women with issues from PMS over endometriosis to hot flashes during menopause. I never talked so much about yonis (yes, that’s Sanskrit for your C U Next Tuesday) and wombs, but as Uma says; we need to respect and honour women’s cycles. My yoga classes do consist of 99 % women, and as yoga is made by men - for men, we need a more feminine approach that embraces the womb, the female anatomy and shakti energy. 

And that is Uma’s dharma. Changing the world one womb at a time helping women awaken to a higher consciousness of the importance of their own health, self esteem and spiritual well being. As a step towards changing the whole planet.

You leave the 18 wombs gathered at Yoga Mudra this weekend a little more enlightened, Uma.

Hari om tat sat. Hari om tat sat.  

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Friday
Aug162013

Craigslist: Yoga Mat For Sale. Used Once.

You can't blame this guy for wanting to sell his mat and never return to the hot room.

If you take out the blonde that this guy is sure he's going to marry his experience of hot yoga is not that far from my first Bikram experience. If you've ever done Bikram (and if you remember that aweful first time now that you do it everyday and love it) you will sympathise.

Yoga mat for sale. Used once.

Yoga mat for sale. Used once at lunch hour class in December 2009. Usage timeline as follows: 

11:45a
Register for hot yoga class. Infinite wisdom tells me to commit to 5 class package and purchase a yoga mat. I pay $89.74. Money well spent, I smugly confirm to myself. 

11:55a
Open door to yoga room. A gush of hot dry air rushes through and past me. It smells of breath, sweat and hot. Take spot on floor in back of room next to cute blonde. We will date. 

11:57a
I feel the need to be as near to naked as possible. This is a problem because of the hot blonde to my left and our pending courtship. She will not be pleased to learn that I need to lose 30 pounds before I propose to her. 

11:58a
The shirt and sweats have to come off. I throw caution to the wind and decide to rely on my wit and conditioning to overcome any weight issues my fiancée may take issue with. This will take a lot of wit and conditioning. 

11:59a
Begin small talk with my bride to be. She pretends to ignore me but I know how she can be. I allow her to concentrate and stare straight ahead and continue to pretend that I don't exist. As we finish sharing our special moment, I am suddenly aware of a sweat moustache that has formed below my nose. This must be from the all the whispering between us. 

12:00p
Instructor enters the room and ascends her special podium at the front of the room. She is a slight, agitated Chinese woman. She introduces me to the class and everyone turns around to greet me just as I decide to aggressively adjust my penis and testes packed in my Under Armor. My bride is notably unfazed. 

12:02p
Since I do have experience with Hot Yoga (4 sessions just 5 short years ago) I fully consider that I may be so outstanding and skilled that my instructor may call me out and ask me to guide the class. My wife will look on with a sparkle in her eye. We will make love after class. 

12:10p
It is now up to 95 degrees in the room. We have been practicing deep breathing exercises for the last 8 minutes. This would not be a problem if we were all breathing actual, you know, oxygen. Instead, we are breathing each other's body odor, expelled carbon dioxide and other unmentionables. (Don't worry, I'll mention them later.) 

12:26p
It is now 100 degrees and I take notice of the humidity, which is hovering at about 90%. I feel the familiar adorning stare of my bride and decide to look back at her. She appears to be nauseated. I then realize that I forgot to brush my teeth prior to attending this class. We bond. 

12:33p
It is now 110 degrees and 95% humidity. I am now balancing on one leg with the other leg crossed over the other. My arms are intertwined and I am squatting. The last time I was in this position was 44 years ago in the womb, but I'm in this for the long haul. My wife looks slightly weathered dripping sweat and her eyeliner is streaming down her face. Well, "for better or worse" is what we committed to so we press on. 

12:40p
The overweight Hispanic man two spots over has sweat running down his legs. At least I think its sweat. He is holding every position and has not had a sip of water since we walked in. He is making me look bad and I hate him. 

12:44p
I consider that if anyone in this room farted that we would all certainly perish.

12:52p
It is now 140 degrees and 100% humidity. I am covered from head to toe in sweat. There is not a square millimeter on my body that is not slippery and sweaty. I am so slimy that I feel like a sea lion or a maybe sea eel. Not even a bear trap could hold me. The sweat is stinging my eyeballs and I can no longer see. 

12:55p
This room stinks of asparagus, cloves, tuna and tacos. There is no food in the room. I realize that this is an amalgamation of the body odors of 30 people in a 140 degree room for the last 55 minutes. Seriously, enough with the asparagus, ok? 

1:01p
140 degrees and 130% humidity. Look, bitch, I need my space here so don't get all pissy with me if I accidentally sprayed you with sweat as I flipped over. Seriously, is that where this relationship is going? Get over yourself. We need counseling and she needs to be medicated. Stat!

1:09p
150 degrees and cloudy. And hot. I can no longer move my limbs on my own. I have given up on attempting any of the commands this Chinese chick is yelling out at us. I will lay sedentary until the aid unit arrives. I will buy this building and then have it destroyed. 
I lose consciousness. 

1:15p
I have a headache and my wife is being a selfish bitch. I can't really breathe. All I can think about is holding a cup worth of hot sand in my mouth. I cannot remember what an ice cube is and cannot remember what snow looks like. I consider that my only escape might be a crab walk across 15 bodies and then out of the room. I am paralyzed, and may never walk again so the whole crab walk thing is pretty much out. 

1:17p
I cannot move at all and cannot reach my water. Is breathing voluntary or involuntary? If it's voluntary, I am screwed. I stopped participating in the class 20 minutes ago. Hey, lady! I paid for this frickin class, ok?! You work for me! Stop yelling at everyone and just tell us a story or something. It's like juice and cracker time, ok? 

1:20p
It is now 165 degrees and moisture is dripping from the ceiling. The towel that I am laying on is no longer providing any wicking or drying properties. It is actually placing additional sweat on me as I touch it. My towel reeks. I cannot identify the smell but no way can it be from me. Did someone spray some stank on my towel or something? 

1:30p
Torture session is over. I wish hateful things upon the instructor. She graciously allows us to stay and 'cool down' in the room. It is 175 degrees. Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon? My wife has left the room. Probably to throw up. 

1:34p
My opportunity to escape has arrived. I roll over to my stomach and press up to my knees. It is warmer as I rise up from ground level - probably by 15 degrees. So let's conservatively say it's 190. I muster my final energy and slowly rise. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Towards the door. Towards the door. 

1:37p
The temperature in the lobby is 72 degrees. Both nipples stiffen to diamond strength and my penis begins to retract into my abdomen from the 100 degree temp swing. I can once again breathe though so I am pleased. I spot my future ex wife in the lobby. We had such a good thing going but I know that no measure of counseling will be able to unravel the day's turmoil and mental scaring. 

1:47p
Arrive at Emerald City Smoothie and proceed to order a 32 oz beverage. 402 calories, 0 fat and 14 grams of protein -- effectively negating any caloric burn or benefit from the last 90 minutes. I finish it in 3 minutes and spend the next 2 hours writing this memoir. 

3:47p
Create Craigslist ad while burning final 2 grams of protein from Smoothie and before the "shakes" consume my body. 

4:29p
Note to self - check car for missing wet yoga towel in am. 

See the ad on Craigslist.org.

Thursday
Aug012013

10 reasons why Yin Yoga will Stay in my Life

I recently attended Sattva and Mari Nordstrøm’s 6 days Yin Yoga Immersion in Copenhagen and I’m completely in love with the practice. Here’s why.

1. Yin yoga is slow and teaches me to be still.

2. Yin Yoga lets me connect with me body in a way that I am yet to find in more dynamic or Yang methods of yoga. When holding an asana for 5 minutes I actually feel what the stretch does to my body.

3. Whenever I stretch a muscle and its connective tissue it is connected to the energy fields of my body. So even though I’ll be stretching my hamstrings I will be working on my bladder and kidney energies.

4. Yin Yoga makes my ‘stuff’ come up. Just like in restorative yoga when I give my body and mind a chance to relax, my attention seeks inwards revealing my Self. My feelings, sensations, emotions and issues – my stuff. Mari uses a beach ball as a metaphor of the Vrittis and Vasanas of meditation: when a ball is forced under the surface it will pop right back up – demanding to be looked at.

5. When attending a Yin class with others the practice creates the most beautiful energy. (This happens in restorative too. Come try it on one of my classes).

6. Yin Yoga works on the fascia. It’ll stretch out the fascia into nice sheets.

7. Yin yoga softens my body, opens my hips and makes me more flexible. It prepares my body to sit in meditation.

8. Yin Yoga brings long periods of time in an uncomfortable position, which then asks me to learn to be and to accept what is in that given moment.

9.It releases prana that I can actually feel in the body (and it feels like fizzy pop running through my veins).

10. When I leave the yoga shala or my yoga room at home after a Yin practice I feel like I’m floating 2 inches above the ground.

Thank you Mari and fellow yogis for an amazing immersion.

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