Monthly Archives: January 2012

My Hips Story

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Sheryl Stich. Sheryl is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 500 hour teacher training program and an instructor at Whole Life Yoga. She can be contacted at

Our bodies are made up of a complex matrix of muscles, bones, organs, energy, nerves and emotions. Our hips are centrally located and intricately connected with the rest of the body. Because of theses interconnections, it can sometimes be a challenge to determine where pain originates. We can even have problems in one area of the body, but we experience the discomfort in another area of the body, called referred pain.

When I was 22 I started to have pain in my right low back, which traveled down to my knee and foot. The doctors thought I had tense muscles in my back and gluts and gave me exercises to help relieve the tightness. After 17 years of unrelenting pain, and working with various doctors and therapists, my primary care physician sent me for an x-ray of my hip joint. There it was, plain as day – the cartilage was almost non-existent, which was causing the pain in my back, and referring pain down my leg. The doctor said the only way to fix it was to have a total hip replacement. I said, “This pain can be fixed? Sign me up!” I had no injuries or other things that might cause the cartilage to erode. Many of my family members had hip replacements, so my problem was probably genetic. The surgery was highly successful. Afterwards the pain was virtually gone! Amazing – what was thought to be back pain was actually being caused by my hip joint.

Several years later, terrible pain suddenly started shooting from my other hip joint down the front of my leg. I was certain something had happened to that hip joint, so I went immediately to my orthopedic surgeon. When I described the location of the pain, he told me it was a disc in my back, not my hip joint. “Funny, I thought, this time I think it’s my hip, and it’s actually my back.” I had surgery to trim the bulging disc, which immediately relieved the pain, but left me feeling a need to do something to help preserve my joints and hopefully stave off future surgeries.

I decided to start practicing yoga. As I was walking down Greenwood Avenue one day I noticed Whole Life Yoga and met Tracy Weber as she was opening the front door. I told her about my back and hip surgeries, and asked if this would be a good yoga for me? The answer was a resounding “yes!” She explained the benefits of Viniyoga to me, and I started taking classes that week.

After a few years of yoga practice, I took the Whole Life Yoga basic, and then advanced teacher training programs. As I was designing a hips practice for myself for the training, it occurred to me that others might also benefit from the practice, so I developed Yoga for Happy Hips class. In this past year I have had a hip revision surgery on my right side to replace the worn out synthetic cartilage from my 16-year old original hip replacement (when it was first replaced, the estimated life span was ten years). I believe my yoga practice helped me to lengthen the life of the joint by keeping the muscles around my hip joint strong and flexible. My left hip joint has lost a significant amount of cartilage over the years, so I practice to keep that hip strong and flexible too.

Through yoga, I have learned to listen to my body. When I have pain, yoga helps me not only physically, but helps me remain more calm and relaxed which helps reduce stress and discomfort. I truly enjoy helping my students by sharing my knowledge and experience with them, whether it’s tight muscles, stress, injuries or the myriad of other challenges that can cause hip discomfort.


Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

A Simple Meditation for Greater Mindfulness and Peace

Meditation is one of my favorite practices, in that it is so simple, yet so incredibly powerful.  When I have a consistent meditation practice I am more mindful, more focused, more calm in the face of challenge.  When I don’t, life is just plain harder.  Meditation doesn’t erase the challenges of life. (And who among us doesn’t have challenges?)  But it makes me less reactive to them and clearer in distinguishing between what is  important and what is not;  What I can control and what I cannot; What is real and what is a crazy trick of my overactive imagination. 

Many students I speak with assert that they “can’t” meditate.  That when they try to meditate, their mind wanders.   Frankly, so does mine.  My chattering mind often sounds like the soundtrack to a bad episode of the Jerry Springer show. 

It doesn’t matter. 

Meditation is not the act of sitting still with a perfectly quiet mind.  Meditation is simply the act of noticing when your mind wanders and inviting it back–again, and again, and again.  The beauty is that every time you notice your mind wander and bring it back, you are learning to control your thoughts instead of letting them control you.  You may not notice the effects while you’re meditating, but I guarantee you’ll notice them in your daily life.  You’ll be calmer, clearer, and likely kinder.  Your loved ones will thank you!

Research shows that as little as 10 minutes a day of meditation 3 times a week yields significant benefits in health and mental well being.     Give it a try and see what happens.   It won’t be easy, but it is simple.  Just breathe, and notice.

Breath Focused Meditation:

  1. Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling.  Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable and your spine is in “neutral”. 
  2. Allow your eyes to close or keep your eyes at “half mast” gazing quietly at a place below and in front of you.
  3. Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it.  Feel the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils.  Allow your mind to focus on and pay attention to this feeling of the breath.
  4. If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose.  Try not to criticize yourself.  Instead congratulate yourself for bringing the attention back to the point of focus.
  5. Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

Let me know how it works for you!


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

An Exercise in New Year’s Resolutions

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Jennifer Campbell. Jennifer is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She  can be contacted at

For several years, every January 1, I would wake up early and pound out a few miles on the treadmill.  I told myself this would be the year – the year I would to lose weight, or finally take up running, or attain those mythical six pack abs.  I made elaborate schedules for my exercise and tried to move my 6:45 wake up time to 5 am so I’d have time to work out in the morning.

And every year, I kept it up for about a week.  Sometimes for two weeks.  But by the end of January, I’d have given up, only to try again the following year.

This year, I knew that I wanted to make exercise a New Year’s Resolution, but that I wanted to actually follow though for the whole year.  There was a small part of me that thought maybe I should give pylometrics or circuit training a try, and what is this HIIT stuff that I keep hearing about?!  But I stopped myself.  My schedule is a little too busy right now, and besides – the exercise that I really love is yoga.

Last summer, I attended a yoga workshop with Donna Farhi and she discussed the two different kinds of exercise – the kind that requires or depletes energy, and the kind that restores energy.

Her point was that we need both in our lives, and that yoga can fulfill either.  But what I’m taking from it in thinking about my New Year’s Resolution for this year, is that my life is pretty stressful right now – I’m working and in school full time.  It takes a lot of energy.  What I really need at this moment in my life is the kind of exercise that restores energy.

To me, that means long meditative walks, and finally trying Qi Gong (I’ve been meaning to try that for months).  Things that bring movement to my body, but that leave me feeling refreshed, rather than exhausted.  And actually, that fits better with my exercise goals, which are not to get an intense workout, but to improve my posture (my posture sucks), relieve stress, sleep better.

And of course, I’ll be practicing plenty of yoga.

Jennifer Campbell

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Can Yoga Wreck Your Body? Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

A student asks:   Do you have a response to the New York Times article  article called “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body?”   As a yoga teacher, how can I be safe in my own teaching and practice?  A link to the article is below.

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

Thanks for the question.  I’ve been forwarded this article several times in the past 24 hours.  Let me start with a qualification to my response:  I teach in a lineage, viniyoga, that is known for its conservative approach, and even within that lineage, I am known as a conservative teacher.  I have long been concerned about the injury rate and what I consider negligent practices in many public yoga classes. So I can’t really disagree with much of the article.

However, the article also makes me sad, because it lumps all asana practices together into one bucket.  Although I do believe most lineages have similar philosophical teachings, our physical practices differ considerably.  So to say the injury rate is the same among all is a gross oversimplification—and just plain incorrect.  When I read the specific practices the article cited as being unsafe, I kept saying to myself “But I would never teach that.”

Many public yoga classes do, however.  For example, the head of my lineage has specifically asked that we never teach headstand in group asana classes, due to the unacceptable level of risk.  Therefore I do not, nor do I allow headstand to be taught at my studio, unless it is part of my yoga teacher training program.  However, I’ve had many students tell me they were taught headstand in beginner classes at other venues.

I believe this is a mistake.  Many, most even, of the benefits of yoga can be achieved in simpler, safer poses than the ones seen on the cover of Yoga Journal.

All that said, I find it interesting that the teacher in the article claiming to be a proponent of safer yoga said to his class, “I make it as hard as possible. It’s up to you to make it easy on yourself.”  This is, in a word, wrong.

I firmly believe it is up to us as teachers to teach a class that isn’t as hard as possible.  But to teach our students how to be mindful and aware of how their body is served when it’s not working “as hard as possible.” Our work is to teach our classes in a way that is accessible and safe.

Now no physical practice, including yoga, will ever be 100% risk free.  Neither is walking down the street.  We can never guarantee a student won’t suffer an injury in a yoga class.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything in our power to keep our classes safe.

Which comes back to your question.  What can we do as teachers?

First, get training.  Then get more training.  Study a lineage, like viniyoga, that focuses on understanding the physical issues of a student and adapts the practice of yoga to that student.  This involves not only teaching mindfulness in practice, but also using physical adaptation of postures and specific sequencing principles that maximize the benefits of yoga while minimizing its risks. Shy away from teachers and yoga styles that believe “one form fits all” regardless of the physical structure of the student.

Second, understand the level of your students and teach to that level.  Not your own level.  Not what your students wish was their level. Not even what your students think is their level.  You will lose some students this way.  But you will gain others.

Just yesterday I had two new students in my class.  They didn’t know each other, and they had different yoga experiences in the past.  Both of them came up to me after class and thanked me for making my “all levels” class accessible to them.  They told me they had been frightened to take a yoga class again, after having been asked to do things beyond their level in other “all levels” yoga classes in other venues.

“All levels” classes should be accessible to all levels.  Not taught to experienced students with the assumption that beginners and students with injuries will know when something is unsafe for them and choose not to do it.  And beginner’s classes should be beginner’s level.  Period.

Finally, if you don’t know how to keep a student safe in your class, don’t teach to that student.  There are cases in which a given class is not appropriate for a student.  We can’t be shy about letting him or her know that.  The more training and experience you have, the more you will be able to accommodate a wide variety of students.  But even with the highest level of training, group yoga classes aren’t appropriate for everyone.  Know when to say “no.”

I hope that helps!

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Yoga Poses to Strengthen Knees

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

Barbara asks:  What are some knee strengthening exercises and/or exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knees?

This question, like most, has many facets.  Yoga postures can help improve some knee issues.  The trick is figuring out how to do those poses in a way that doesn’t further harm the knee while we’re trying to heal it.  This challenge isn’t unique to yoga.  When I met with a surgeon over 20 years ago to determine whether my own knee condition warranted surgery, he told me that physical therapy exercises for knees had changed, because some of the traditional exercises damaged the “good” knee while rehabbing the injured one.

Therefore, when we work therapeutically with knees, we first must obey the old adage “do no harm.”  This sometimes means adapting poses so that the practitioner doesn’t perform poses in a kneeling position.  Chair adaptations work wonderfully for this.

Then we must make sure that the practitioner uses proper body alignment for her own structure.  Contrary to some yoga philosophies, there is no “right” standard of alignment that can be universally applied.  It must be discovered via observation and experimentation with each individual.

Beyond that, the goal is to make sure the muscles that support the knee joint are balanced: that the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves are flexible and strong in a balanced way.  Simply strengthening one muscle group over another may do more harm than good, especially if we ignore the opposing muscle groups and don’t pay attention to overall flexibility.

That said, below are a couple of my favorite postures for strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings.  Please be aware, however, that unless I work with a client one-on-one and observe their specific condition, I can’t know for sure what is needed to help this complex and surprisingly fragile joint.  Therefore, proceed with caution and please discontinue these postures if they cause any discomfort in your knee or anywhere else!

Strengthening poses for knees:

Note:  Please remember that Viniyoga is a dynamic practice.  Even though the pictures below show static postures, each should be repeated dynamically, and each repetition should be connected with the breath.

Half Squat Against a Wall: This pose strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings and hips.  When doing this pose, please stand on a non skid surface.  As you move into the squat, make sure that your knees track over the center of your feet and do not extend beyond your toes.  Also make sure to keep your hips higher than your knees.

Bridge, gently squeezing a blanket or ball between the knees: This pose also strengthens quadriceps and hamstrings, along with other muscles.   As with the squat, do not let your knees go behind your toes.  Squeezing the blanket engages the inner thigh muscles and promotes correct positioning of the feet.  Always keep both edges of the feet and all ten toes on the ground.

Cobra, bending the knees: This back strengthener also promotes mobility in the knee join and builds strength in the hamstrings.  You can either bend one knee at a time or both.  Flexing the foot as you bend the knee and imagining that you are wearing an ankle weight deepens the work.

Thank you for your question, and I hope this helps!


Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  A KILLER RETREAT is available for preorder now from Whole Life Yoga. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble,  and book sellers everywhere! 

Reflections for a New Year

The transition to each New Year can be a powerful time.    Like many, I spend this time reflecting on the past and creating promises to myself for the future.  These promises have ranged from the dramatic to the absurd.   From larger goals, like changing careers, to physical goals, like losing that dreaded final five pounds, to last year’s seemingly frivolous resolution to spend more time on Facebook

The challenge, of course, is in keeping my annual promises.  I start out determined, but over time my discipline wanes, and with it my commitment.  And I know I’m not alone.  The fleeting nature of New Year’s resolutions is obvious both at the health club I attend and in my own yoga classes.  January 1, the studio is filled with enthusiastic students—many back for the first time since the prior January.   By mid February, the crowds begin to thin. By April we have plenty of room to sweep our arms and do those space-demanding twisting postures.

And the cycle continues, both for many of my students and for me.  Many give up making resolutions all together, deciding it’s simply futile.  Believe me, I’ve been tempted.

But in spite of my own struggle with follow-through, I always try again.  Because I know that the process of setting these goals makes me a better person.    If you don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, that still shouldn’t stop you.  There’s nothing special about January 1.  Every day is an opportunity to reflect, to commit, and to begin again. By doing so, we plant the seeds of intention that will blossom into future actions.  From intention, from thought, comes everything.

The questions below have been adapted from a meditation I learned when I took my first yoga teacher training.    As we begin 2012, I hope you will join me and incorporate these reflections into your yoga practice and your daily life:

  • What are my most important values?
  • How have my recent actions reflected those values?
  • How have my recent communications reflected those values?
  • How have my recent thoughts reflected those values?
  • How can I change my thoughts, communications, and actions to more closely align with my values in the future?

Each of us has the power, through intention and choice, to live a life that embodies our most important priorities.  We simply need to  use that power.

I hope you have a wonderful 2012. May your new year include not only increased mindfulness, but also great joy.  And I hope to see you at Whole Life Yoga soon—not just in January, but throughout the entire year.


Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!