Target Pose: Urdhva Danurasana (Wheel)  

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Getting into this deep backbend can be challenging.  At first glance, you might think this pose is all about flexibility through the lower back - that is definitely a part of it.  But shoulder flexibility and arm strength are also key elements to mastering the pose.  When you try this, you'll notice that your body will be better at either the low back flexibility or the shoulder flexibility.  The tendency is to "cheat" by leaning into the area you are more comfortable with.  This will give you a lopsided wheel with "kinks" at the hips or shoulder joints and will not help develop the muscles you need to be stretching.  Whenever you come into this pose, be sure to aim for a nice smooth curve in the back with no kinks.  The more you practice this way, the more centered and relaxed you will feel in the pose.

If your challenge is the lower back, you may want to spend some extra time in the backbend section of this practice.  Cobra and Locust will develop strength, Camel and Bow will push your flexibility limits.  Both are equally important in developing a beautiful Urdhva Danurasana.

The combination of the inward rotation and elevation of the arms can also be quite uncomfortable for students.  Of all the positions our shoulders are capable of, I find this one the most difficult.  Luckily, we get lots of practice in poses like Downward Dog and Chair pose.  If you are having a lot of trouble with the shoulders aspect of the pose, spend some time in these two poses to build up your strength and flexibility and then try Urdhva Danurasana again - you will be amazed at the difference.

One thing many people may notice in Wheel is that it can be hard to breathe, which leads to a panicked feeling.  This is to be expected.  Look at what happens to the front body in this pose - your diaphragm and lungs are getting a wicked stretch - there is very little room for them to expand to take in more air.  If you notice yourself struggling to breathe, try shifting the weight forward into your hands and switch to a shallow, controlled breath.  As you become more used to breathing into your overstretched front body it will become less panic-inducing.  With enough practice the shoulders will become nice and open, giving your lungs a little more space to expand and contract.





To warm up for Urdhva Danurasana (Wheel), try practicing the following sequence:

  • Sun Salutations (at least 6 of any variety - you want your body to be warm!)
  • Downward Facing Dog (opens shoulders)
  • Chair (opens shoulders, builds heat)
  • Warriors A & B (warms up thighs)
  • Dolphin to Plank to Dolphin Flow (3-4 times through, opens shoulders, builds heat)
  • Wide Leg Forward Fold: Variation with arms clasped behind (opens shoulders)
  • Hero (opens the thighs)
  • Cobra or Locust (2-3 repetitions, strengthens back muscles)
  • Bow (1-2 repetitions, back strength/flexibility)
  • Camel (2-3 repetitions, back flexibility)
  • Bridge (may modify with hands clasped behind the back, shoulder openness, back flexibility)
  • Half Wheel (rest with the crown of your head on the floor)
  • Wheel (you made it!)
  • Optional: Wheel w/ Leg Extended Upward

Make a mental note as you scan the practice above - what poses do you dread the most?  We tend to avoid the poses that are difficult and only do the ones we like.  The difficult poses are probably the ones that are limiting your success in Urdhva Danurasana.  Try to spend some extra time in these poses and see if it makes a difference for you.


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Exploring Ashtanga Light  

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For the past few weeks, we have been trying out a new yoga format that I am calling Ashtanga Light.  In a nutshell, it is a condensed form of Ashtanga yoga: shrunk to fit inside a 60 minute yoga class and modified to be more approachable for beginners.

I have been trying for a while to figure out how to teach Ashtanga to beginners.  The practice is very intimidating at first - even the first series has some very challenging poses, which I think is off-putting for a lot of people who are new to yoga.  I have a big heart for beginners.  I remember walking into my first yoga class and being afraid that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb since I wasn't very flexible yet.  I remember feeling like everyone was watching me and laughing when I screwed up.  Of course, that wasn't happening and I learned pretty quickly that was NOT what yoga was about.  But it doesn't stop you from thinking those things in your moments of uncertainty.

Whenever people learn that I am a yoga teacher, they almost automatically say something like, "I haven't stretched in forever, I am the least flexible person in the world."  As if I might somehow judge them for it.  As if everyone who first tried yoga was already flexible.  No one walks into my class able to do everything and it makes me sad when people use that as an excuse not to try.  It also makes me sad when people leave thinking that the class was too hard - that is not my goal at all.  My goal is simply to challenge you to push your own limits.  I offer a lot of modifications throughout the class and I trust you to listen to your body when it tells you to back off.  I silently applaud students when I see them heed those cues.  It is important to me to create an environment where my students feel like they can push their limits safely, and yet still feel okay if they need to take a break.

For these reasons, I came up with the Ashtanga Light format.  The goal is to create a class where beginners can get to know the Ashtanga practice in an non-intimidating way.  The basic outline of the class is similar to traditional Primary Series Ashtanga.  We do Sun Salutations, Standing Postures, Primary Series Seated Postures, and Finishing Postures.  In order to save time, we skip over some of the standing postures (I rotate them every week, so that we are sure to hit them all eventually).  We do only the basics among the Seated Postures, leaving the more challenging poses for another day.  And we only do one vinyasa per pose, instead of taking a vinyasa every time we switch sides.  I hope these modifications will make Ashtanga more approachable for people who are new to yoga.




Some of the reasons why I love Ashtanga:

  • It is "no nonsense."  Nothing fancy, just the poses, the breath, and the bandhas.  Although many Ashtanga yogis, including myself, also dig into chakras, chanting, sanskrit, ayurveda, vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, etc., most of that develops naturally through their own curiosity, and it happens outside of class.  The practice is simply the practice, where we can all bring our own individual beliefs and ideas and enjoy the same space for a little while.  
  • The lack of music makes it easier to focus on your breath.  When you go to an Ashtanga class, everyone is breathing the ujjayi breath very loudly and it produces a meditative state for the entire class.  It is nice to have a break from all the noise that we experience throughout the day.  Silence is golden.
  • It is consistently challenging.  Primary Series is difficult on its own, and when you've spent a couple years mastering it, there is Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and I think there's even a Sixth Series.  There is always something new to learn, always some crazy posture that you are working on achieving.  The work is never done.
  • This is the Real Deal.  Ashtanga comes from India, taught by a direct student of Krishnamacharya, the father of almost all yoga in the West.  Sri K. Pattabhi Jois came up with this system, in consultation with Krishnamacharya, and taught it for over 70 years.  After his death, he passed the torch to his son, Manju Jois, and his grandson, Sharath Jois, who both continue to teach this style in the U.S. and India.  
  • Ashtanga yoga has been tested for many years.  Someone once told me that the best way to choose a yoga style is to look at the students who have practiced it for a while.  If you like what you see, if you want to be like these people, that's a pretty good indicator that you should follow the path that they did.  Since Ashtanga has such a long lineage, you can look at people who started practicing this system of yoga in the 1970's and see what it has created in their lives.  I highly respect all of the Ashtanga teachers I have met so far.  They seem to be well balanced, grounded, spiritually secure people.  They also appear to be very healthy, so we know that the practice is safe and effective.
In the coming weeks, I'm going to have a lot more on Ashtanga yoga to show you what it is all about and help you decide whether you would like to give it a try.  My intent is to keep all of my Vinyasa classes the same and create a new Ashtanga Light class in the future for people who would like to challenge themselves further and try something new.  If you are definitely interested, let me know!



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A Spring Poem  

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...Because we all are overjoyed that spring is finally here!


Did you hear that winter’s over? The basil
and the carnations cannot control their
laughter. The nightingale, back from his
wandering, has been made singing master
over the birds. The trees reach out their
congratulations. The soul goes dancing
through the king’s doorway. Anemones blush
because they have seen the rose naked.
Spring, the only fair judge, walks in the
courtroom, and several December thieves steal
away, Last year’s miracles will soon be
forgotten. New creatures whirl in from non-
existence, galaxies scattered around their
feet. Have you met them? Do you hear the
bud of Jesus crooning in the cradle? A single
narcissus flower has been appointed Inspector
of Kingdoms. A feast is set. Listen: the
wind is pouring wine! Love used to hide
inside images: no more! The orchard hangs
out its lanterns. The dead come stumbling by
in shrouds. Nothing can stay bound or be
imprisoned. You say, “End this poem here,
and wait for what’s next.” I will. Poems
are rough notations for the music we are.
~Rumi, "Spring Poem"

Forgetfulness  

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As human beings, we are hard-wired to forget.  Our minds are constantly churning through information, filing away important details, clearing out non-essentials, making room for the next influx of information.  This process is essential because there is no way that we could hold onto every detail of every day.

But in this process of clearing out, sometimes important things get thrown away too.  And not just little things, like your cousin's birthday - big things too.  Things that are hard to wrap your mind around.  Things like what hope feels like.  What joy feels like.  The knowledge that tomorrow brings a brighter future.  That everything happens for a reason.  We forget these things over and over again.

It is as if there is something vitally important in this process of forgetting and relearning.  It is as if this process of remembering is essential to the growth of our souls.

Take a moment right now to remember who you truly are at your very core.  Look at yourself as if from the heavens, a tiny person on this earth, one of millions, but significant and beautiful in your own unique way.  What is it that you have to offer the world?  Are you a seeker, a healer, a companion?  Are you a mother or a father, or an avenger of the less fortunate?  Take a moment to remember the best part of yourself.  Remember how that relates to the rest of the world.  What is your role to play in this lifetime?

Yoga for Everyone: The Benefits Broken Down  

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The following article was written by Carolyn Fallon, a new yogi and fitness warrior. I always love hearing newcomers' perspective on yoga - sometimes I forget what it's like to be new. I've learned so many things on my yoga journey and while many things have been rolled directly into what I teach, many things have also fallen into the background - unspoken, yet strongly influencing my commitment to the practice. One of the things I commonly forget to teach people is all the benefits of practicing yoga - mental, physical, and spiritual. I take it for granted that everyone already knows that yoga is the cure for all of our ills. That may sound like a joke, but it's actually sort of true. Yoga puts you in touch with your own body wisdom - it helps you begin to listen to your body and access the answers that you need for your health and well being. In the following article, Carolyn explains very succinctly many practical ways that yoga can help you manage your health.  

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During a recent conversation with one of my closest friends, I was talking to her about the new love of my life: yoga.  As much as I love my friend, she is a serious “Debbie Downer” and questioned EVERY aspect of yoga and why I would waste my time.  I explained to her the many benefits of yoga and decided to research a little more.  Here is what I’ve found!

Stress Reduction and Management
Everyone has stress in their life, whether it comes from a high-pressure job or simply the day-to-day stress of family life. Yoga requires you to focus on your body movements, taking your attention away from the mental stress of your day. Yoga can also help to increase your concentration, which will allow you to focus on what’s positive in your life instead of dwelling on the negative, which can reduce your overall stress level.


Physical Fitness and Weight Loss
Yoga requires precise movements that develop your muscles and improve your balance, range of motion and flexibility.  Dr. Glen Axelrod of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Health Center states, “Many professional athletic teams use yoga as an integral part of their training.” The simple act of doing yoga will help you burn fat and tone your body, but yoga also helps develop the discipline you need to make healthy lifestyle choices regarding exercise and diet so you can lose unwanted pounds.


Chronic Medical Conditions
One of the biggest benefits yoga offers is the potentially helpful role it plays in the treatment of certain medical conditions. According to the University of Maryland Medical Clinic, doing yoga regularly may help relieve pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, help people with asthma breathe better and ease chronic back pain and migraine headaches.  Doing regularly can also help boost your mood and fight depression and anxiety.


Serious Disease and Illness
Yoga can help to relieve symptoms of major illnesses like lung disease, epilepsy, cancer and heart disease when used in conjunction with conventional therapies according to the University of Maryland Medical Clinic. While yoga isn’t a cure for disease, it can be beneficial part of treatment. Yoga can also help you cope with a serious disease and improve your outlook on life by boosting your mood. 


Pregnancy
Hormonal changes and genetic predisposition are the most common causes of depression in pregnant women, and nearly 1 in 5 suffers from serious bouts of depression. Doing yoga regularly may help to boost the moods of pregnant women according to the University of Michigan. In a 10-week study, women that regularly participated in yoga saw significant reductions in depression and anxiety. The mother’s that participated in yoga also reported a stronger attachment to their babies in the womb. 


Talk to Your Doctor
If you have serious health problems you should talk to your doctor before changing your exercise routine, and that includes starting yoga classes or doing yoga on your own at home or with a group. While yoga is safe and beneficial for most people, certain types of yoga are not appropriate for some people, depending on their overall health. Your doctor will be able to help you incorporate yoga into your exercise routine safely and effectively.

Carolyn Fallon is a 20-something year old with a passion for life, fitness and overall well being.  She is an avid cycler, golfer and has known to bust some serious moves on the dance floor.  Check out Carolyn’s blog at http://fullonfit.blogspot.com!


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IT'S ALIIIVE!!!  

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After an entire year of fiddling with the comments code, I am happy to report that the comments feature finally works!!!!  I am super excited!

Please feel free to comment on anything, past present or future! I would love to hear from you!

P.S.  Also - follow me on Facebook and Twitter!  There's lots of good stuff coming this year!

Holiday Classes  

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Hey everyone!

Just a reminder, we will NOT have class on Tuesday, Dec 25th (Christmas) and we will NOT have class on Tuesday, January 1 (New Year's Day).

Have a wonderful holiday and I'll see you when we get back on Jan 8th!


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