Category Archives: Asana

Welcome New Teachers to Whole Life Yoga!

The last few months have been unusually chaotic at Whole Life Yoga, but I believe (hope!) things are settling down now.  With that new calm, come some transitions.  Sheryl Stich and Katie West are both cutting back on their classes, which is sad news, because they are both awesome teachers who are loved by their students.  It has, however has allowed me to bring three new teachers into the Whole Life Yoga drop-in class lineup.  I’ve been wanting to hire them for  years (literally!) so I hope you share my excitement.  Photos and a brief hello from each of these lovely ladies is below.

Oh–and if you’ve been wondering where in the heck I’ve been lately, I AM coming back.  I was in a car accident a couple of months ago, which injured my neck and back, but I will return to teaching in September.  I’m really looking forward to seeing you all then!

In the meantime, please give a warm welcome to Jen Boyce, Jocelyn Hess, Sarah Mercier.

Jen Boyce: 

Whole Life Yoga has been a sanctuary of peace for me since I started coming to classes in 2005.  I am honored to have the opportunity to teach at WLY and look forward to sharing my love of yoga with others. Teaching inspires me to strengthen my personal practice and improve my health.  My “day job” as an occupational therapist often focuses on illness so I am excited for the opportunity to guide my yoga students in their quest for mind/body wellness and PEACE.  Jen teaches All Levels Yoga Thursdays from 4:30 – 5:45 PM starting in September.

Jocelyn Hess:

I love teaching yoga because yoga is such a happy place to me and I wanted to extend that joy out to the world and to other people. I really enjoy helping people especially in a way that can better their life and their health. I think that yoga is much more accessible to people than they realize and I like being that person that can show people the way in to yoga. I look forward to meeting new students and working with them in whatever way they need. Together we can create a better life for ourselves, healthier body, and clearer mind. Josie teaches All Levels Yoga Wednesdays from 6:00 – 7:15 PM starting in September.

Sarah Mercier:

I am a certified yoga instructor through Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program at the 500-hour level. Living with a Chronic Illness from childhood has led me to the mindfulness and breath-centered practices of Viniyoga.  My passion is inspiring others to be the best version of themselves, gain confidence and work to overcome their own personal obstacles.  Through yoga, I hope to bring peacefulness and mindfulness to each student, no matter what their age and level of experience. Sarah teaches All Levels Yoga Mondays from 9:30 – 10:45 AM starting in September.

 

Please help me welcome these ladies to the Whole Life Yoga Family and check out their teaching in a class soon!

Namaste,

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Breath and Movement: A Powerful Union

Hi all!  Two weeks into my summer writing sabbatical, and I’m still sick!  Today’s article is a reprint of one of this blog’s first articles, but I think it’s important enough to share again.  Enjoy, and send me some healing vibes!

People new to Viniyoga often tell me they are surprised at the effects of class.  Although class feels gentle while they practice, they often feel “good” muscle soreness the next day.   They are also surprised that although the first class or two may seem easy, the more they practice the more challenging it becomes.  I believe this is completely due to the distinctive way Viniyoga uses the breath.

Viniyoga uses breath in a subtle, yet powerful way.  In asana (movement) practice, we breathe as we do each movement in a way that maximizes the effect of the breath on the spine and the muscles that support it.   Therefore opening, lifting and extending movements are typically done on inhale, whereas bending, compressing and twisting movements are typically done on exhale.

But it’s not as simple as moving with the breath.  Rather, the breath informs, guides and fully surrounds the movement, like a blanket wraps your body on a chilly winter evening.   The breath begins before the movement starts and ends after the movement completes.   This is often called “envelope breathing.”

This integration of breath and movement requires mindful attention and is the key reason viniyoga is so powerful at connecting body, breath and mind.  Only by completely focusing the mind can the movement and breath link together in this elegant dance.  Furthermore, this connection doesn’t stop when the movement ends.  Even when “staying” in a pose, subtle breath focused movement continues.  The student consciously lengthens her spine on inhale and engages and strengthens the muscles of her core on exhale, creating a delicious dance of “micro-movement” that deepens the posture with every successive breath.

So the next time you take a yoga class, pay attention to each breath you take and mindfully allow the breath to guide your movement.   You might be surprised at the profound impact this relatively simple change will have on your practice.

Namaste,

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

The True Gift of Learning to Teach Yoga (It Might Not Be What You Think!)

The last month has been crazy for me, and although I’m getting better, I’m still healing from my car accident five weeks ago.  My focus has been less on writing, more on my yoga teacher training program.  Soon I’ll write to you about this year’s group and all that they have meant to me.  For now, I’m living in this weird space of observing, teaching, and correcting the final homework of this year’s class while meeting with students interested in the next one, which starts September 25.

I never know what to say to potential students. There is tremendous power in studying yoga, and I’ve seen first hand that my yoga teacher training program changes lives. I wish I could take all of the credit, but honestly, it’s not about me.  The tools I share existed thousands of years before I did.  Still, something magical  happens in the eleven months my students and I spend together.  Something that can’t happen in my regular group classes.  Since I couldn’t find words to describe it myself, I asked some of my current students to share.  This article is long, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete a single word. Here’s what they said:

What was your favorite part of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program?

  • It was really amazing for me to see how much more there is to yoga than just the Asana. In particular I love learning about the yoga sutras and pranayama. There is so many levels to yoga that can transform your life and this training really dives into that.
  • My favorite part was the weekly sessions on Monday nights, spread over 10 months.  It felt manageable and became something to look forward to each week. I was before, and still am now, working on the right yoga for my body.  Starting the program I was newly pregnant and apprehensive to be too aggressive.  Viniyoga proved to be gentle and focused on adaption/meeting you were you are.  In the middle of my pregnancy, discomfort forced me to look at bodywork and yoga from fresh eyes and have even more grace for myself – also directly relating to the philosophical principles we were learning.  At the end of my pregnancy and postpartum, the program helped me balance my body and mind for the life and body changes I was going through.  I’m proof that this program can accommodate the adult learner at any stage of life and/or career.  It is insightful and wise to spread the training out over almost a year for the personal growth, as well as the honing of yoga skills, a training program requires.
  • One of the things I most enjoyed about the program was the attention to the mental aspect of yoga. This is one of the reasons why Viniyoga appeals to me.  Linking breath with movement and increasing one’s awareness of the breath has profound effects on focus, mindset and the body.  Tracy does an excellent job teaching future yoga instructors how to help their students’ explore new means of concentration, awareness and calm.
  • I like the community, working together with the group in the learning process. Getting to know them and sharing the experience with them.  The homework is well thought out and presented in a well organized form which helps with planning and scheduling.
  • I think it was the teaching style. I never felt out of place even being totally brand new to yoga. I learned to practice yoga and to teach at the same time.
  • I love how inclusive Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program is. Tracy truly provides a welcoming and warm environment for anyone, no matter ability, size, shape, age to feel at ease and empowered in developing their personal practice and the skills needed to teach. I also appreciate that there are assignments that really hold you accountable in learning the material for certification, it’s enough structure to help me feel prepared yet flexible enough to live my life and not feel stressed.
  • The quality of the training felt amazing at the start, but over the course of the year as I learned more about yoga is taught, and met with other teachers, it became apparent how truly high quality our training has been at Whole Life Yoga. We learn so much, and we’re taught how to integrate everything into our teaching as well as our personal practice. I really saw why the studio is called “Whole Life” when I took the teacher training.
  • My favorite part was how compassionate and uplifting the group of student is. ( I really like the energy request at the beginning of each class). I also like the fact that we can ask questions and a lot of them if needed to clarify a point.
  • I like the comprehensiveness of the program, but my favorite part is understanding the energetics of practice. I also like that we use a number of textbooks written by some of the best yoga teachers in the world. This allows us to understand yoga from a number of viewpoints.
  • I only have wonderful things to say about Tracy and the Whole Life Yoga program. Tracy creates a comfortable, positive learning community for her students- I’ve grown not only as a yoga practitioner and future teacher, but also as a person throughout this process. The classroom environment let me be open and honest with myself, and at times, even those around me. I believe the material- everything from the autonomy of the poses to the intricacies of breath work to the philosophy of yoga- is well rounded, and very well taught.

What do you like about Viniyoga (the style of yoga studied in Whole Life Yoga’s training)?

  • Viniyoga is a true healing lineage of yoga, which I connected with personally and professionally as a social worker. It’s been invaluable to my own healing journey as well.
  • I really like Viniyoga because I think it’s physiologically safe. Everything from the sequencing principles which prepare the body for the time on & off the mat to the awareness of correct alignment makes sense to me.  I feel like it’s an extremely beneficial type of yoga for people at all stages of life.  Because Viniyoga meets people where they are I have been able to address the needs of my teenage athletes to my 75 year old mom.  I look forward to putting my learning to use in group classes as well as with my patients.
  • The sequencing of Viniyoga combined with the movement and stays creates a well rounded yoga practice that leaves you feeling balanced physically and emotionally.
  • I was first drawn to Viniyoga to heal back injuries and loved how adaptable and healing it is. As I healed and was able to work stronger, Viniyoga was adaptable to that too. I love that Viniyoga is easily adapted to suit the spectrum of needs and abilities that we encounter from day to day. I can work gently and therapeutically if I need or I can work very strongly when my body calls for it. There is also a certain magic in how we link the breath with movement in Viniyoga, leaving you feeling balanced mentally and physically in ways I didn’t experience in other styles of yoga.
  • I love the focus of breath – abdominal contraction and spinal lengthening.  I feel I’ve warmed and stretched my body in 20 minute sequences if I focus on the right mechanics.
  • I was drawn to viniyoga because the style is so meditative. In the beginning, I preferred the calm and meditative practices. Now however, I really enjoy trying to adjust my practice according to what I need that day. I am again and again being amazed over the effect a yoga practice can have – both on my body and my mind. Viniyoga is a wonderful tool to help me calm down, but the practices can also be adjusted to give me more energy – when that is what I need. This is something very interesting and powerful – and I am just in the beginning of exploring it!  I also love that viniyoga is a style for all ages and all body types. There is no one right way to do a pose or practice in viniyoga. The right way for you is the adaptation that best serves your body and mind. This is truly a yoga style for everybody – and every body!
  • I like that viniyoga is suitable for everyone that has ever wanted to practice yoga. It’s so universal.
  • I love how Viniyoga is for everyone and every body. I’m so far away from the traditional cliche of the woman yogi, I’m much bigger and I have a chronic illness. Occasionally I could find a class that seemed willing to accept me, but to find an entire lineage that not only embraces my body but empowers me to teach, is a huge gift.
  • I like that it is a non competitive yoga style , it has a big emphasis on breath work and inside focus.  I feel that it is a yoga that can be adapted to all, a healing style of yoga.
  • Viniyoga is so accessible to anyone. I am proud to say I am an viniyoga teacher because we are able to essentially teach to anyone at any level. I like being able to reach a wide range of clients that are interested in doing yoga who may have not been able to otherwise.
  • The fact that I am able to do it! I am not flexible (although getting a bit better now) and yoga was never something I was drawn to previously. Connecting breath with movement in viniyoga is the reason I am in teacher training

What surprised you about the program?

  • I was surprised how much I learned in so little time. I’m surprised that I actually feel so comfortable & confident teaching.
  • How much I learned in 10 months about Viniyoga, the depth of yoga beyond asana or the postures and myself.  It was easy to incorporate the Monday’s and Sunday’s into my life activities.
  • How in depth it is! We have covered an unbelievable amount of information in such a short time without it ever feeling overwhelming. I feel far more prepared and confident to teach than I ever thought possible after just 11 months.
  • I was surprised by the diversity of the reasons people were attracted to the program – from personal growth and health, to fitness, to learning more about the yoga lifestyle philosophically, to starting a new career path.  It was intimidating to start the program without much experience in Viniyoga myself.  But, everyone had such varied skill and background, we all learned from each other.
  • I am a bit surprised over how much I have actually learned – both about viniyoga and myself. And also over how much more I would like to learn. It feels like this is just the beginning.
  • I don’t know that I was surprised by any particular part of the program- all of the high recommendations I received before signing up for the program held incredibly true to the Whole Life Yoga Teaching Training. I’d pass along that same sentiment to anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of Viniyoga either professionally, personally, or both. I’ll carry this experience with me for the rest of my life journey, and if the opportunity to progress to the 500 hour training under Tracy’s honest and caring guidance were to arise for me, I’d take it in a heartbeat.
  • How much I didn’t know! I thought yoga was 80% asana (poses), and 20% fancy breathing and some philosophy. I was so delightfully wrong! My mind has been opened to so much more. Yoga is a vast and beautiful path, that can and will accept anyone. I thought the teacher training program would feel like school. I didn’t expect it to feel like being adopted into an amazing family, and make me so excited about yoga that I would wish the program didn’t end!
  • The program is very thorough, this style of yoga is complex and I feel well prepared for teaching . I felt that all the facets of practicing and teaching yoga were explored. It is a strong learning curve.
  • I was surprised by the amazing community of people. I had always seen the same people when I would attend classes but after the training the connection and family like atmosphere was so much more prominent. You feel like you’ve found a home. People are all so supportive and caring.
  •  It was a surprise to me that I was actually taking yoga to integrate (Mohan textbook allowed me to discover that). Yoga is so much wider and deeper than how we practice it in the West. It is a lifelong study and practice.

What would you tell a student who is considering taking the training?

  • I would say it’s an amazing program for you to do weather you want to teach or not. You will learn so much about yoga and yourself in the teachings. I am so glad I did this program I have met amazing people along the way.
  • It will be worth it – the financial and time commitments and the “unknowns” of the next 10 months.  It will spark something in your heart that you didn’t know needed to be lit.   As I practice my written sequences at home now or teach my husband and two-year-old daughter occasional principles, I know I’ve gotten my money’s worth in learning a great way to care for myself and family.  I hope to teach and stay part of this yoga community.  But even if I never teach a class, this has been a great learning experience I will carry with me forever.
  • You will not regret it! Whether you intend to teach or not, or aren’t sure, go into it with the intention of staying open to the possibilities. You will grow and learn more about yourself than you can even imagine, it is truly a life changing experience and the outcome might surprise you!
  • You will never be sorry you did this. Even if you decide to take the training for your own enrichment and not follow a teaching path (although don’t be surprised if you change your mind!), every single thing you learn will enhance not just your own personal practice, but your life. I draw on skills that I’ve learned in my yoga teacher training on a daily basis. I’m currently struggling with an illness and won’t be able to teach for some time, but what’s amazing is how much this training has helped with my illness. I didn’t have to become a teacher to reap the benefits of my time here. I’ve learned to take care of my body and mind, together. It’s called “yoga teacher training”, but it’s also just in-depth viniyoga training. If you love yoga, you’ll love doing this.
  • I would encourage a student to take the class … it is very rewarding to be able to teach yoga to students.
  • You will be surprised how much you learn and the fun you have in the process!
  • Do it. My life has been forever changed for the better since taking this training. Tracy works so well with you to make sure that your able to get through the training, any hesitations should be let go. Go for it and don’t look back.
  • If you want to do it, you should do it.  Listen to that small inner voice. You will learn a lot about yourself, regardless of whether you ever teach yoga. Your life will show up during this program, and Tracy will be there to teach you and shepherd you through the process of training to be a yoga teacher, as well as the personal growth yoga brings. Tracy is a honest and true teacher of this lineage. It is an honor to be her student, and in following her example, I know I will never go wrong.

Thank you Sarina, Cassidy, Emma, Hollie, Isabelle, Jocelyn, Susan, Rebecca, Grace, Laurie, and Jodi for providing this feedback!  I’m honored to have shared the past eleven months with you.

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, learn about our Yoga Alliance Registered yoga teacher training program, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. 

Can You Do Yoga Over 50? You Bet!

Please welcome Sheryl Stich back to the Whole Life Yoga blog today.  Sheryl teaches four (!) classes each week specifically designed for students over 50.  Continue reading to discover what makes so many students come back week after week.  It’s never too late to start a consistent yoga practice!

As students were chatting and stacking their mats and blankets after the Monday Yoga for Over 50 class, I started to reminisce about how the class began seven years ago with three dedicated students. After a few months, attendance began to flourish and in response we added a class on Wednesdays and Fridays. The classes have continued to grow, so we recently introduced a 4:30 PM class on Wednesdays.

Why is this class so popular? The Yoga for Over 50 class is very similar to an All-Levels class with modifications to accommodate the over 50 body. There are countless benefits of yoga for people over 50, including staying active, improving quality of life and slowing down the aging process. I teach a variety of strengthening postures, always include a balance posture and exclude postures that could possibly compromise bodies with arthritis, osteoporosis and other issues we may face.

When I asked my students what specifically draws them to the class, one student approached me immediately, saying the class matches her energy level, and that Viniyoga is great for the body, and just feels right – this class is perfect for people over 50.

Several students shared that they appreciate working around any physical limitations but still getting benefits from the postures. They recognize the importance of the individual modifications and they feel safe because they are not pressured into positions. One student proclaimed that the practice and postures helped her recover from breast cancer!

One recurring theme was that the class helps with every day things like increasing strength, flexibility, balance, body awareness and a sense of serenity. And the practice helps students be more confident and have an increased ease of movement throughout the day. Stress management, minimizing physical discomfort and preventing accidents also came up several times.

The class has helped one student feel stronger when skiing and another said it has increased her time in the garden from one to three hours. One student shared that she couldn’t walk very far because her hips hurt – this class has helped her be more flexible and strong and has taught how to move so she can spend more time walking.

The Yoga for Over 50 class also has a great sense of community. Catherine Williford has coordinated monthly luncheons for students in all the Over 50 classes, and this is what she had to say:

I love Over 50 Yoga at Whole Life Yoga because Sheryl is a gifted teacher who teaches with clear language and she keeps the pace perfect for those of us who might need a little more time. The poses seem to always be just what my body needed that day. I also love the community that is being created with monthly luncheons for whomever wants to join. I highly recommend this class!

Sheryl Stich is a certified yoga instructor through Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program and is registered with Yoga Alliance as an E-RYT 500. Sheryl came to Viniyoga after recovering from disc hernia surgery in 2002. She also had hip replacement surgery, and found that yoga and breath work not only helped retain her health physically, but also helped mentally and emotionally. She finds much joy and happiness in sharing this “calm awakening” connecting the mind, body and breath with her students.

Benefits of Yoga for Chronic Pain: A Practice of Conscious Movement, Breath, and Meditation

Please welcome Whole Life Yoga instructor Katie West to the blog today!  Katie is such an inspiration to me and her students. Yoga is an incredible tool to help manage chronic pain, and I’m delighted to offer a new drop-in Yoga for Chronic Pain class by Katie on Thursdays at noon starting May 4.  Please join us!

The Body (movement/asana):

When living with chronic pain, one often develops a negative relationship with the body. If the body is limited and causing distress, frustrations, depression, or anxiety, the natural reaction is to disconnect from it. Many people want to suppress those emotions that are provoked by a chronic condition, so one might try to silence it, when all that is needed is to listen and respond with compassion.

Self-compassion is paramount when it comes to yoga and chronic pain. To be able to look at our own dysfunctional body, feel and nourish it, takes great courage and persistence. Our normal is a different kind of normal from those who do not have physical limitations. It is more delicate and special in that way. It is important to see this, to create a baseline for yourself and adapt from there. What differentiates Viniyoga from other lineages is its adaptability for different bodies and conditions. Correct movement for your body helps manage and minimize chronic pains, change old movement patterns, and build a more positive connection to your body. Viniyoga practices breath-centric movement where the breath is the core of conscious movement and builds a deeper connection to the body.

The Breath (pranayama)

One evening, I was on my side in the middle of the living room floor in crippling pain. Just a typical Friday evening. I began to focus my awareness on the expansion and release of my breath. I felt the warmth and vibrations of my breath within my body and the subtle contraction and relaxation of my muscles as I directed gentle awareness to achy areas. My exhale made my body feel at ease, and the control I had over the expansion in my body through my inhales left me feeling empowered. I slowly breathed life back into my body and realized I have the power to change my responses to what I had been labeling as negative physical sensations. Rather than wallowing in pity and complaining about my physical problems, I just breathed with intention and control, easing my achy joints and busy mind.

To breathe is to live. To consciously breathe is a persistent practice and affects our systems and energy on different levels based on the conscious control of the lengths, segments, pauses, and accentuation of the breath.

The Mind (meditation):

The mind is the control room, reigning over breath and body. Meditation can provide tools to change your thoughts, emotions, behavior, and habitual patterns allowing you to control your mind’s process.  If you choose to focus your attention fully on something, and catch your mind as it is wandering, the act of bringing your attention back to that original focal point is the practice of meditation. If you choose to focus on more positive things such as building a more positive relationship with your body, it will begin to become a habitual pattern. The same goes for negative habitual thought. Meditation teaches us how to listen and respond to the patterns in our mind and change them if desired.

The combination of correct gentle movement, conscious breathing, and focused intention or visualization creates an empowering practice for those with chronic pain.

Katie West has completed 500 hours of yoga teacher training via Whole Life Yoga (WLY) and continued as a TA for WLY’s 200 hour training. She believes yoga is a gift to share with all, having found Viniyoga after years of chronic conditions stemming from structural and muscular issues.The lineage’s teachings yielded the tools to begin her journey of reintegrating body, breath, and mind. This exploration of connection helped minimize and manage her chronic pain and revealed a constant practice of balance to life as a whole. Her teaching style highlights the accessibility, therapeutic, and rehabilitative aspects of yoga. Katie honors the Viniyoga lineage as an instructor and finds any way for students to integrate yoga into their daily lives. She holds that yoga is for everybody and adaptable to all.

 

Research Proves It: Yoga Is Good for Your Heart!

Those of us who practice yoga know first-hand its wide-ranging benefits: from increased mindfulness, to decreased stress, to reduction in pain, to weight loss. Western medical research is finally catching up.

A review of thirty-seven studies appeared in the December 16, 2014 issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The report was co-authored by Dr. Gloria Yeh, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The effect of yoga practice on heart disease risk factors was impressive. On average, study participants who practiced yoga:

  • Lost five pounds
  • Decreased blood pressure by 5 points
  • Lowered their LDL cholesterol levels 12 points.

Researchers also noted the benefits of breath work and meditation, two often-overlooked yoga tools. Participants varied in age and ranged from physically healthy individuals to those with significant health conditions. The styles of yoga practiced were diverse, though researchers recommend styles that allow for modification. Yoga was also found to be a powerful tool in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

More information on the study can be found the February 28, 2017 article in the Harvard Health Publications blog.

Continue practicing, and go yoga!

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

Chair Yoga for Readers

Yoga is truly for everyone, but especially for readers, who tend to sit in slouched, hunched positions for hours at a time. I teach this class at library events and book signings, but even those of you too far away to attend my in-person events can benefit from the practice.

1.  Sit in the middle of your chair with both feet planted firmly on the floor and your head extended up to the ceiling. Notice your body. Are there any areas that feel tight or achy? How do the sensations in your body reflect the stress or relaxation of your day?

2.  Progressively lengthen your breath. As you inhale, lengthen your spine and feel the crown of your head extend up toward the ceiling. Gently contract your abdominal muscles with each exhale, which will gently flatten your low back.  Allow the abdominal muscles to relax with each inhale. Take 6 – 10 breaths in this manner.

3.  As you inhale, sweep both arms to the side and overhead, with the palms facing inward, toward the ears. As you exhale, sweep your arms back to your side and gently tilt the chin  toward the pit of your throat. Do this 4 – 6 times.

4.  Grasp the sides of the back of your chair with the palms facing inward. On inhale, gently squeeze the shoulder blades together as you lean your rib cage forward and away from the chair. This should have a gentle back bend quality.  On exhale, release back up to sitting. Do this 6 times, then stay leaning forward for 4 breaths, lifting the ribs with each inhale.

5.  Starting from your original seated position in posture 1, bring your palms to the tops of your thighs. On inhale, extend the crown of your head to the ceiling. On exhale, slide the hands down your legs and bend forward.  Each subsequent inhale, use the hands to help you lift the ribs and come through a flattened back up to sitting again. Do this 6 – 8 times.

6.  From your original seated position in posture 1, on inhale sweep both arms to the side and up to the ceiling, lacing the fingers together and pressing the palms up toward the ceiling. On exhale, lean toward the side, stretching the rib cage. Keep your belly lightly contracted and try to keep the shoulders directly in line with each other. On inhale, bring the torso back to the center and exhale to the opposite side. Do this 4 times each side, alternating sides.

7.  Repeat posture number 5, but this time on inhale, sweep both arms to the side and up to the ceiling on inhale, and sweep the arms to the side as you fold forward on exhale.  After 6 repetitions, stay folded forward for 6 breaths. Totally relax any tension in your body. On inhale, return to sitting.

8.  Come back to the comfortable seated position in posture number 1, with both feet planted firmly on the floor and the crown of your head extended up to the ceiling.   Notice your body again, without judgment.  What were the effects of these movements on your body, your breath, your emotional state, your sense of focus?

Enjoy the practice and let me know what you think!

Tracy Weber

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All four books in the Downward Dog Mystery Series are available at booksellers everywhere!

A Fatal Twist launched January 8!

 

Enough

Please welcome Whole Life Yoga 500-hour graduate Marcie Leek to the blog today.  I’m so INCREDIBLY proud of Marcie and the work she’s doing.  Thanks for joining us here today!

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For the past few years, I’ve been teaching classes called “Befriending Your Body through Yoga” to plus size women. My intention with these classes is to create a comfortable space where women who have bigger bodies are able to come and see what yoga can offer them. As the name implies, there is also an element of self-compassion underlying the classes. Teaching self-compassion to my students is as important to me as teaching pose adaptations because in my own life I have found that practicing yoga has led to a much kinder, gentler, and more accepting relationship between my (overcritical) mind and my (overweight) body. This is nothing short of a miracle.

I grew up in a small desert town in the 70s. My perceptions of beauty came from the Charlie’s Angels, the Bionic Woman, and Tiger Beat. At that time, there was no body positivity movement and no Yoga and Body Image Coalition and, as a girl of a certain size, I could have used them. My body didn’t look or move like the bodies of most girls around me, and I felt markedly different. No matter how much I dieted, I couldn’t get down to the movie-star weight of 107 pounds. So, I abandoned my body in favor of my mind, striving for excellence in order to make myself good enough, lovable enough, and acceptable enough.

I’m no longer a girl, and I’ve learned from some of my students that not all rounder-bodied women grew up ashamed of their bodies. I’m wistful when I meet women like that. I wonder what my life might have been like had I not spent years aiming to be invisible for fear of mockery or rejection. There have been other students in my classes who grew up like me and who say that it takes every bit of their will just to get to class, particularly the first few times. They are afraid of being visible, of being watched and judged. I feel so deeply for them because I recognize that struggle. They, like me, have samskaras, as yoga philosophy would call it. Samskaras are patterns deeply imprinted at a subconscious level. They can affect our habits, thoughts and actions. The samskaras about my body that I learned from and cultivated in my youth followed me for much of my young adulthood and still affect me today, even after years of conscious work with them. They are familiar to some of my plus-size students because the messages that conditioned them permeate our culture. The messages we receive are that bigger bodies are not normal, acceptable, or desirable. That we are lazy, undisciplined, and ugly. That the sum total of who we are will never be enough to compensate for the fact that we are fat.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from yoga is the ability to find a place within myself that is not only quiet and accepting but also has no interest in following the patterns and beliefs of my samskaras. This is what I want to pass along to my students: the understanding that yoga can help them access this same place within themselves, and that it is a place of deep kindness and self-love that is unimaginable when the samskaras are running the show. My deepest Self isn’t interested in what I weigh or what I’m wearing to class, nor is it interested in comparing my body or my abilities to the other students around me. It’s such a relief! I practice yoga to experience that connection with my Self and to experience my body and my breath as it is in the moment, and I’ve learned that what it is in each moment is enough.

Marcie Leek is a Seattle-based yoga instructor and is registered with Yoga Alliance at the 500-hour level. She is also certified in Yoga for Round Bodies.  She has found yoga, meditation, and breath work to be powerful tools in her life, and she is inspired to help others do the same. You can learn more about Marcie on her Facebook Page or at her website www.nourishingbreathyoga.com and contact her at marcie@nourishingbreathyoga.com. Marcie’s Befriending Your Body through Yoga E-Course begins on January 17.

How to Keep Cobra Pose From Being a Pain In The Neck

When practiced appropriately, Cobra Pose and all of its fantastic variations can be an important exercise for creating and maintaining back and neck health. If you practice it incorrectly, however, you can create the very neck issues you’re trying to prevent. Below are five ways you can practice Cobra while protecting your neck.

  • Lead with your collar bones, not with your chin. The origin of motion (the place where the movement starts) should be your low back, not your neck. The photos below show a Yogi leading with her chin, and another practicing correctly. Most students find the right motion if I tell them to imagine they’re leading with their collarbones.

Correct form

Student incorrectly leading with her chin

  • Extend out through the crown of your head as you lift. Extending through the spine (called intervertebral extension) increases the space between your vertebra and prevents that pinching sensation at the base of your neck. It also engages and strengthens neck muscles in a more effective way.
  • Turn your head as you lower, not as you lift. As you lift up into Cobra Pose, your eyes should point toward your mat, not toward the ceiling, and certainly not to either side of the room. Turn your head only after you have started lowering back to the floor. The photo below shows a person practicing with her head in the incorrect position.

  • Don’t lift your chin, or if you do, lift it at the very end of your inhale, after you have fully extended your spine. Most yogis would be best served if they kept their neck in a neutral position. Experienced yogis can lift the chin a little to stretch the throat, but only at the very end of the movement.
  • On the other hand, don’t overly tuck your chin, either. Students often interpret “don’t lift your chin” as “squash your chin to the pit of your throat.” Keeping the chin in a tucked position places extra strain on the very muscles you’re trying to protect. You should be able to hold an object about the size of a Granny Smith apple between your chin and your throat. The student below is holding her chin in an inappropriate position.

If you have neck issues (or even if you don’t!) give these tips try and let me know what you think. I hope that they help.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

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PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

Research Proves It! Yoga Improves Bone Density

Skeleton of the man. 3D the image of a man's skeleton under a transparent skin

I became interested in methods to build bone health in my early thirties.  Not coincidentally, it was the same day my first DEXA scan showed that I already had osteoporosis, likely due to excessively low estrogen levels in spite of estrogen replacement therapy.

I’ve long believed that yoga could safely help build bones, as has my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. It makes sense. After all, yoga is a low impact, weight-bearing exercise that strengthens the muscles supporting the spine, wrist, and hip, which are at particularly high fracture risk in individuals with osteoporosis.  Anecdotally, I also know that my own bone density increased from moderate osteoporosis and osteopenia (depending on the bone) to “low normal.” The increases began after I started practicing yoga–in spite of the fact that the doctor took me off of bone-building medication.

Finally, we have some research that backs us up.

The ten-year study done by Dr. Loren M. Fishman—a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine—involved Iyengar postures, but I have every reason to believe Viniyoga (which uses repetition as well as “staying” in poses to build strength) would have results that are as good, if not better.

Study practitioners performed yoga poses for twelve minutes every day (or at least every other day) for ten years. The time period is important:  Bone density builds slowly. It can take years to find measurable change. According to a December 21 New York Times article:

“The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.”

Even more encouraging, there were no fractures or significant injuries among any of the participants in the study—indicating that yoga is a safe activity even for older individuals with significant bone loss. And unlike bone-building drugs, which come with a host of gastrointestinal and other side effects, yoga gives increased strength, better posture and improved mental health.

Go forth and practice! Your body, breath, mind, and bones will thank you!

Tracy

books available

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!