Category Archives: Asana

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!

How Did I Spend My Weekend?

Hi all!  Please welcome Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate and Whole Life Yoga instructor Roxie Dufour to the Whole Life blog today.  Roxie can be contacted at YogaRoxSeattle@gmail.com. Roxie will always hold the honor of being the yoga student I saw get married in a kayak.  It’s only natural that she should combine teaching yoga with her favorite pastime.  Roxie, please share!

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How Did I Spend My Weekend?

Answer: Combining my favorite things!

Over the weekend, my husband Dave and I assisted in the Washington Kayak Club Basic Sea Kayak Class at Deception Pass. Yes, we are the kayakers under the bridge in the swirly waters, 28 students, and 9 instructors.  The best way to describe it is going to camp with your kayak.  I was asked to squeeze in a ‘brief’ yoga class.  I knew the students needed to warm up shoulders, neck and hips, side body stretching, and lots of torso rotation for paddling, calming anxieties and tension, and to invite balance, integrate left/right movements.  In any yoga class, there are adaptations and options to incorporate factors.  Some students have never been in a kayak or taken a yoga class.

No pressure, right?

Tapping on the Viniyoga lineage, Tracy Weber’s teachings, meeting the students where they were, and from experience…keeping it simple was my plan. Did I mention, we were at the beach, wearing dry suits, PFDs, and dressed ready for immersion?

Basic Kayak Yoga2

The sequencing was simple with about seven postures, all standing, because dry suits are expensive. Connecting simple movements to the breath impacts the autonomic nervous system and increases circulation.  I visualized the student’s shortened breath patterns, muscle tension, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. I was nervous, too. Having students recognize where they are and accept that place with compassion is important to any student, anxious kayakers included.

Basic Kayak Yoga3

My reward was seeing shoulders relax, smiles, sighs of relief, thank yous, and “When do we get wet?”

Whether you are on the mat or heading to your kayak, yoga is a positive piece of the day, keep it simple.

Roxie

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. 

Research on Viniyoga for Cystic Fibrosis

Woman holding tablet pc. Conept: X-ray with lungs. Isolated on white.

I co-authored a research paper!

The paper, “Yoga as a Therapy for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cystic Fibrosis: A Pilot Study,” was published in the November, 2015 issue of Global Advances in Health and Medicine.  The study was (at least as far as we know) the first to look at the safety of Yoga for individuals with Cystic Fibrosis.

The goal of this pilot study, led by Jennifer Ruddy, MD and conducted at Seattle Children’s Hospital, was to evaluate the safety and tolerability of yoga for patients with Cystic Fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a life-shortening genetic disease that thickens secretions in the lungs, which leads to lung infections and decreases the patient’s ability to breathe. CF secretions also limit the pancreas’s ability to release digestive enzymes. As a result, patients with CF often have difficulty digesting food. (Not unlike my German shepherd, Tasha, who has Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency.)

I was both honored and excited to design a series of sessions that would bring Viniyoga to this population of students. After all, Viniyoga’s breath-centered practice is almost uniquely designed to increase lung capacity while integrating movement with breath.

Each participant in the study completed sixteen private Viniyoga sessions taught over a two-month time period. The Viniyoga sessions were designed to be safe for individuals with mild to moderate lung disease and easily modified for the individual.

The four study instructors—Claire Ricci, Roxie Dufour, Beverly Gonyea, and Cynthia Heckman—were all Whole Life Yoga certified yoga teachers who received additional training in Cystic Fibrosis. They were given the specific yoga protocol for this study but allowed to adapt as needed for student safety. Sessions included asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breath practices), and mindful awareness.

The results are encouraging. Ten of the eleven students enrolled in the study were able to complete the two months of practice.  Out of the 160 private sessions represented by those ten students, only two adverse effects were noted that might have been related to yoga: one mild instance of calf pain and one mild headache. Even more encouraging, statistically significant improvements were seen in the CFQ-R respiratory domain score (a measure of respiratory symptoms including cough and difficulty breathing.)

More research clearly needs to be done to see the full benefits of Viniyoga for this population, but these initial results are encouraging and will hopefully pave the way for more research in the future.

One again, research shows it: Viniyoga works!

Tracy Weber

books available

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

Why I love Sequence Whiz

Hand with thumb up isolated on white background. Ok sign by womanI’ve been meaning to write a blog about this website for over a year now. Like me, Olga Kabel is a yoga therapist who has been certified through the American Viniyoga Institute.  She is making huge contributions in the yoga world. Not only has she developed one of the best yoga sequence drawing tools I’ve seen, she also offers free videos and virtual yoga privates via Skype.

What I really love about her Sequence Whiz site, though, are the articles.  Most of them are not only Viniyoga friendly—they are Viniyoga accurate and commonsensical, meaning that her articles promote safe and sane yoga practices that are likely to help, not injure, practitioners.  I often share her blog articles with my teacher training students.  Maybe someday she’ll write a textbook I can use in my teacher training!

In the meantime, here are four great examples of the articles you can find there:

Whether you’re a yoga teacher, a yoga student, or simply someone interested in body mechanics, I highly recommend that you check out Olga’s website and sign up for her bimonthly newsletter.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the professionalism, depth, and accuracy of the information she provides. And the graphics are simply out of this world!

Check it out and let me know what you think.

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!