Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yang-Yin Class ~ October 2, 2010

Yang-Yin Special Combo Class - Join us on Saturday, October 2nd for this one time only class.

Join Kristin and Sara for this unique 2 hour class that takes you through an invigorating Vinyasa Class to warm the body followed by a restorative Yin Class with long held stretches and a deep relaxation. Space is Limited.  Please register in advance. Sign up online or call the office at 218-722-9642.

Date: October 2nd
Time: 8:30-10:30 am
Cost: $15
Location: Yoga North
4628 Pitt Street, Suite 208
Duluth, MN 55804

Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Supported Lumbar Stretch

I learned this lumbar stretch from my teacher Susi Hately Aldous during one of the Therapeutic Yoga Trainings I have taken from her. I'm a bit of a hyper-extender so I was surprised that this pose would be good for me. What it does is lengthen your lumbar vs. kink it - which is a typical move for me in any kind of backbending posture. Here's how it works:

Step 1. Get yourself a felted pad or a firm blanket or even a big towel (like a beach towel) and make a roll that is about a handful for you. Sit on the tail of the blanket if you have extra.

Step 2. Lay down over the roll, supporting yourself on your elbows to ease your body down.

Step 3. As you lay down, lift your seat up so you are in a tiny bridge pose. Adjust your roll so it is at your waist - not your sacrum). You know if it is in the right place if it is centered behind your bellybutton.

Step 4. Now start to lower your seat towards the floor, arching your spine over the roll. When you settle your seat your back should feel like "Ahhhh" not "Ow, ow, ow." You should not look over arched. Your belly is not raised by the roll under your back. If you are not comfortable, lift your seat (into little bridge again) and make your roll smaller until your back is happy. Conversely, if you feel nothing, you will need to lift your seat into little bridge and make your roll a little bigger.

Step 5. Lay here for 5-10 minutes or until you are feeling done.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Eight Principles of Movement

Many of the teachers at Yoga North have had Therapeutic Yoga training with Susi Hately Aldous. She sums up her training with 8 Principles of Movement to help us get out of pain. Of course there is a lot to learn about each of these (if we want to confuse ourselves and make it complicated). Or we can just keep it simple, follow the principles, build awareness and work to get out of pain.

From Susi's "I Love Anatomy" Ezine: 
Eight Principles of Movement
from Anatomy and Asana: 
Preventing Yoga Injuries

by Susi Hately Aldous

Susi's first book - click to link to site.
1. Nourish Relaxation. This principle is all about creating ease in the body. It is in this state that you can become aware of your body, and recognize the whispers that are letting you know when to back off, when to go deeper, when to switch practices. One of my favourite mantras is "when you listen to the body when it whispers, you don't have to hear it scream". Something to try - listen, really listen to the whispers in your practice. 

2. Begin with the Spine in Mind. The spine is the hub of our movement, and it is also the geographical area for a tonne of nervous, vascular, muscular and fascial connection. From here, nerves move peripherally to tell the body how fast and how much to contract. Something to try - when you move, consider what your spine is doing throughout the movement. Don't try to change it, just be aware of it and feel what it does. 

3. Connect the Spine with the Largest Joints First. Many practices build asanas from the feet up, or the hands up. I like to begin centrally and out. Why? Because a large degree of movement happens (or we want it to happen) at the shoulders and hips. If it doesn't happen there...compensations are going to occur. Improve movement at your shoulders and hips...and you will know happiness! Something to try - when you raise your arms to the sky, do your ribs pop out, or do you try to hold your ribs from popping out? If so, only move your arms as far as your ribs stay ease-y and quiet. With no extra effort. 

4. Move Your Joints In Their Optimal Range of Motion.  I love this principle since it brings in the "depends" factor. If you were just on a hike, then your practice will likely be different than the day prior to your hike. If you have osteoarthritis, your practice will be different than someone who doesn't have osteoarthritis. Be ease-y with yourself. I promise that if you move in the pure range of motion that is available for your joint, your range will improve. Something to try - when you move your leg in your hip socket in Tree Pose, does your pelvis move? If so, you aren't moving as purely as you could be...try making the movement more pure and see what happens. 

5. Core Stability: Boost Up Your Bandhas and Breathe. Core stability is so vital to a practice, and more often than not, I see people working far too hard at something that is very simple. Something to try - when you are engaging your core, are you breathing - breathing totally easily? Try engaging in that form. Why? Because your transversus abdominus interweaves with the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor and diaphragm work together for full body breathing. Hold or force your breath, and you will not have core stability . . you will have rigidiity.

6. Adopt Relaxed Resilience. For every level of awareness we have, we have an opportunity to strengthen it, by going deeper. Ask yourself - where else can you be aware? In what other asanas can you experience ease? How deep can you go? Something to try - survey your asanas and discover where you are holding tension and purposefully attempt to be okay with the tension...truly okay. Then move in a tension free range of motion (see next principle). What do you now notice?

7. Move In Your Pain Free Range of Motion. This is the best principle ever. And it is the one that stumps (along with # 8) most people most of the time. Why? Because most people think pain is normal. What I am suggesting (because I see it everyday, and in every training that I teach), is that everyone can have reduced pain or have pain eliminated by moving in a pain free range of motion or in a range where their pain symptoms don't increase. Why does it work? Because you are sending different communications back to the nervous system, which in turn changes you physiologically. Try it's crazy and it works. It is mind blowing! Something to try - really and truly move in your pain free range of motion. See what happens.

8. Less Is More. Some would say that this is cliche and doesn't work...I am here to say that in every aspect of life it does. Both in my life and on the mat. Teachers who have trained extensively with me, will also agree. The idea is cultivating less effort to have the same result. It is about achieving a simple yoga asana before moving to a complex asana. Your body, your muscles and your brain will love you for it. Something to try - can you do the same asana with 5-15% less effort and still have the same result?

If you want more: Coming soon is the Online Biomechanics, Kinesiology and Anatomy training program. If you are interested in exploring these concepts with me as your guide for one month, you can click here and we will send you details when the program is launching. We'll send them soon.
Happy exploring!!

Sara's note: For more information on Susi and her teaching visit This article is taken from her September e-newsletter 2010.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Restorative Stations Class coming up September 16, 2010

Restorative Stations - Join us Thursday, September 16 at 7 PM

Location: Yoga North
Class held 1 x monthly.
Scheduled Dates: Sept 16, Oct 21, Nov 18 & Dec 16
Time: 7–8:15pm
Cost: Drop-in rate/ punchcard*
*Please pre-register. This class requires tons of set-up and I need to know how many people will be attending. Sign up online or call the Yoga North office at 218-722-9642.

You do not need to bring your own mat or any other props except a personal eye pillow (if desired). Wear warm, stretchy clothing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quiet Awareness

A few tips from Yoga Journal on how to come out of Savasana...

Learn to Stay Quiet

By Constance Hale

To learn what true relaxation feels like for you—and to extend this feeling beyond your yoga practice so it stays with you throughout your vacation and afterward—try this exercise, created by New York yoga teacher Jillian Pransky, called Eye Open Savasana. At the end of a yoga session, when you're ready to ease out of Savasana—or anytime you're coming out of a restorative pose such as Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall-Pose), right—take yourself carefully through these steps:
  • Slowly open your eyes and gradually take in the space around you.
  • Observe how you feel as you begin to move your awareness outward.
  • Notice if tension or stress starts to seep in.
  • Tune in to your body and watch how and where you start to harden.
  • With your eyes open, let yourself soften again and relax even more deeply.
  • Practice staying relaxed while your eyes remain open.
  • Practice staying open, and not tightening up, as you softly reenter the world.
Another variation is to start with opening the ears. "It can be easier to start taking in the sounds without tightening up," Pransky says. After letting the sounds start to register, open your eyes and then go through the same set of steps.

Monday, September 6, 2010

To Prop or Not to Prop

Restorative Yoga uses tons of props and I tend to use lots of props in my other classes too. I know some folks think props get in the way and maybe even act as a crutch, not allowing you to move deeper into your practice. I agree that can happen. On the other hand, pushing yourself  into a pose without support can be just as limiting. You can create habits of fear in your mind and body if you do not allow yourself to have support.

For example, in high school I pulled my left hamstring. It has been tight ever since. Over time, I found myself dreading forward folds because I felt so unbalanced and stretching my tight side left me feeling weak and in some pain. Then one day my teacher Ann had us do a standing forward fold while squeezing a block between our inner thighs and at the same time we had a belt wrapped snugly around the outer thighs which we were supposed to push out against. In essence we were activating our adductors and abductors to support our forward fold. Using props to support my fold allowed my hamstrings to relax and lengthen without fear or pain. It was the most satisfying forward fold I had ever had.

I wrote about another example of finding a deeper and more relaxed stretch in a supported reclining twist in a previous blog post, A Student Observation. And I recently read the below article in Yoga Journal which discusses this very issue. I especially love what Ms. Cummins says about being your own teacher. Read on...

To Prop or Not to Prop
Are props a helpful supplement to your practice, or do they just get in the way? Here's how to decide when to use—and not use—these tools.
By Claudia Cummins

The original yogis didn't practice with foam blocks, D-ring straps, or purple sticky mats. But as yoga evolved, many practitioners discovered that props could help deepen their explorations.

Among modern yogis, attitudes toward props range from the Zen-like minimalism of those who shun all but a sticky mat to the abundance of those who travel with an extra suitcase filled with yoga accessories. Regardless of where you fall in this spectrum, a few guidelines can help you make the most of your props.

Be clear about why you're using them. Mindlessly using a block to support your hand in a standing pose just because your teacher told you to won't deepen your practice. Ask yourself what purpose the extra support is serving and let that answer guide the way you use it. Are you using the block to move into a posture you aren't yet supple enough to manage on your own? If so, consider ways to lessen your reliance on that aid over time.

Be your own teacher.
Use your body's signals to devise new and effective ways of using props to enhance your practice. When you sense a certain part of your body crying out for extra support in a resting pose, for example, wedge a towel or shirt beneath that area and observe what happens. Or if you're struggling to master a new pose, ask yourself whether any props within arm's reach might help. You might be surprised by the ingenious solutions you unearth.

Explore new territory.
If a rolled-up blanket is supporting your back during a restorative pose, you might like to explore how varying the size and position of it alters your experience. Or if you're using a strap to help you understand a particular action or direction in a posture you know well, you may choose to repeat that same pose without props from time to time to explore the differences.

Be creative.
Yoga basics include mats, blankets, straps, and blocks. But if you consider a prop to be any aid that helps you access a posture more fully, your world will widen considerably. Walls, tables, balls, books, socks, neckties, even the helping hands of a friend can all be used to deepen your exploration.

Practice nonattachment.
Ideally, yoga leads us toward greater flexibility and adaptability. So don't grow so attached to your chest of yoga toys that you can't practice without them. If you use props regularly, challenge yourself every once in a while to stow them away and practice without any aids at all (that's right, not even a sticky mat). On the other hand, if you're a yoga minimalist, incorporate a few props into your practice every now and then just to explore how they might be helpful. You might be surprised by what you learn. Remember, the best yoga prop is always an open mind.

Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in Mansfield, Ohio. At the moment, her favorite pose is Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose).