Category Archives: Asana

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

books available

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!

Why Yoga isn’t as ‘Wishy Washy’ as You First Thought

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Please welcome Megan Zsaa to the Whole Life Blog today!  I’ve never thought of yoga as a “nothing exercise,” but  all of you marathon runners and weekend warriors out there should give this article a read.  Megan’s right!

My yogi friends–what benefits have you seen from your yoga practice?

Admit it, you once (or still do!) thought yoga is a bit of a ‘nothing exercise’; a chance for a load of people who have little energy or motivation to do anything else to feel better for heading to the gym. Well – you’ve guessed it – I’m going to tell you that you were wrong to think that! And you only need to get yourself along to a yoga class to fast realize it’s far from ‘wishy washy’, ‘easy’ – or worse still – ‘pretend’ exercise.

Yoga is hard, really hard. And there’s a reason the ancient Indian practice has been in existence for centuries – it’s because it works. I really have heard it all when it comes to people’s perceptions of yoga and I felt it was about time to take a stand. Here’s why it’s not quite as pointless an exercise as you might have first thought.

Yoga Really is ‘Ancient’

Let’s be honest, the word ‘ancient’ is overused. You might joke that your parents/grandparents/[insert other old relative] are ancient, but hey – they don’t come close to the real meaning of the word. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago. Yep, 5,000 – you read that right. Some researchers believe it could be as old as 10,000 years. So you see, it’s been around a long time – and that alone must mean it offers more than a few benefits. If not, why else would people do it?

Improved Flexibility isn’t its Only Benefit

True, if you get yourself to enough yoga classes you’ll be able to bend and stretch like a pro. Touching your toes? No problem. Splits? In time, maybe. But did you know improved flexibility isn’t the only benefit of yoga?! The hobby can also help you burn calories, too. So if you’re thinking of kick-starting your fitness regime for 2016, you can enjoy all the stress-busting benefits of yoga and a smaller waistline – in time.

That said, yoga does burn a relatively small number of calories – but it will help improve everything from muscle tone and strength to balance and posture. Not bad at all, eh?

It Makes You Happy

And by happy I’m not just talking about that post-gym feeling of ‘I’ve done a workout so now I have a chocolate bar’. No, yoga actually makes you feel happy in general – it’s been proven! Reducing the stress hormone in your body, it brings about a general feeling of happiness and helps you zone out and relax whilst you’re in the class, too. Result!

It can Ward Off Illness

We bet you don’t need another excuse to sign up for yoga at this point – the fact it burns calories, keeps you fit and reduces stress must be enough, right? Wrong! But there’s another great benefit of yoga – and it’s that it can help prevent illness too. So not only will it ensure you feel good today, it can also stop you getting ill in the future.

If you’re someone who’s always got a cold, you’ll definitely want to try this quick move to help prevent you contracting one in the not-to-distant future.

Start by sitting sideways next to a wall, or the headboard of your bed. Now, simply lie down on one side, facing away from the wall but with your bottom touching it. Now, using your arms, just lift your legs up the wall as you roll over onto your back. Allow your arms to fall on either side of you, with your palms facing up. Finish by breathing for at least 10 breaths. Go on, give it a go – you know you want to.

By now I hope I’ve converted you to the art of the humble – but extremely beneficial – yoga class? And if I haven’t, can I suggest you keep reading up on the hobby; it really will become your new favourite workout if it isn’t already!

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Megan Zsaa has been a student of yoga for three years and works with Samsara Mind and Body on their health and wellness programs. She lives in London and when she isn’t doing yoga you’ll find her preparing yummy, healthy food or making Kombucha. 

Research Proves It! Viniyoga Helps Kick Eating Disorders

surrealistic picture of an apple reflecting in the mirror

The study discussed in this article by Yoga Dork has special meaning to me, as I was involved in its design. One of our amazing Whole Life Yoga teachers, Liziah Woodruff, was one of the teachers!

The study (which was led by T. Rain Carei, Ph.D. of Seattle Children’s Hospital and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health) included over 50 teens ages 11 – 21, all with diagnosed eating disorders. Half of the teens had been hospitalized due to their eating disorder. Participants were randomized into either a control group that received the “standard care” at Seattle Children’s Hospital or a separate group that received the same standard care plus two hours of Viniyoga a week.

The results? According to the article in Journal of Adolescent Health:

“The Yoga group demonstrated greater decreases in eating disorder symptoms. Specifically, the EDE [Eating Disorder Examination] scores decreased over time in the Yoga group, whereas the No Yoga group showed some initial decline but then returned to baseline EDE levels at week 12. Food preoccupation was measured before and after each yoga session, and decreased significantly after all sessions. Both groups maintained current BMI [Body Mass Index] levels and decreased in anxiety and depression over time.”

More research is needed to see if this work can be replicated in larger groups, but so far Viniyoga seems to be a useful adjunct treatment for individuals with a variety of eating disorders.

Go Viniyoga! And I’m so pleased to have been a part of the design of this study protocol.

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!

The Purpose of Corpse Pose

A Whole Life Yoga student asks: what’s the point of Corpse Pose? I have a hard time relaxing when my mind is supposed to be completely blank.

This is a great question, and I’m not surprised you feel confused. In truth, no one can make their mind completely blank, at least no one I’ve met. Corpse Pose is, in many ways, a meditation practice. While it’s true that there can be moments of mental quiet during meditation, those moments are the gifts of meditation, not the practice. And they are fleeting gifts at that.

But let’s set the mind to the side for a moment. Corpse pose is at least partially for your body. A good yoga practice mobilizes healing energy called prana, which is very similar to chi in Chinese medicine. Corpse pose gives your system a chance to integrate that energy and send it wherever it is needed the most. Prana flows with the breath, but it is directed by the mind. Feel achy in your lower back after practice? Imagine warmth coating the area like a soft blanket. Feel tension? Imagine your muscles melting into the mat. The sensation you feel is the movement of prana.

Prana is a powerful source of healing, not to be wasted. Corpse Pose allows you to harness that energy without the distractions of movement.

Now, back to the mind.

The mind is designed to be active. Some say the mind is like a monkey, swinging from thought to thought like a monkey swings from branch to branch. Rather than asking the mind to do something impossible, give it a new job. Ask it to focus on something: the coolness of the breath in your nostrils; the delicious post-yoga sensations in your muscles; even the rhythmic snoring of the person next to you.

Whenever your mind wanders (and it will!) invite it back. You may find moments of quiet nothingness. Then again, you may not. In the end, it doesn’t matter. As soon as you notice them, they’re gone anyway.

Your body, energy system, and mind will benefit regardless.

I hope that helps.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere

How Cool Is This! Yoga Dolls! These Ain’t no Barbies, Baby!

Hi all!  I have a number of things going on in my life right now that are demanding my attention, so today’s blog article will be short, though totally worth checking out.

Recently a Facebook friends sent me a link to an article, saying that there were finally yoga Barbie dolls.  As it turns out, that statement was only partially true.  The AZIAM Girlz are the world’s first yoga doll series, but they are not made by a major toy manufacturer, and it shows.  The dolls have been created by Alanna Zabel, a yoga teacher who (among many other pursuits) teaches yoga workshops to young girls. The eight planned dolls will each be named after one of the 8 limbs of yoga, and 10% of the profits will go to the charity each doll is associated with.

Better yet, they can really bend and do asanas!  From their website:  “Each doll has been designed to move with full range of motion in her hips and knees – she moves just like you! She also has a built-in spinal extension to allow for forward and back bending”

Now of only I could get the manufacturer to dress them in Downward Dog Mysteries t-shirts.  My favorites are the ones below, who look like three of the major characters in my Downward Dog Mystery series:

Kate--stretching out for her walk with Bella

This one looks like Kate–stretching out for her walk with Bella

rene

Wouldn’t this one be a great Rene? She’s a fashionista and everything!

Totally Tiffany--chillaxin' at the beach

Totally Tiffany–chillaxin’ at the beach

My one quibble is that there aren’t any male yogis in the line that I’ve seen, or German shepherd dogis (dog yogis), an error I hope they rectify in the future.

You can purchase or pre-order these lovelies at http://www.aziamgirlz.com/collections/the-worlds-first-yoga-doll.  Even better, they’re running a Kickstarter campaign.  It looks to me like they have a way to go to meet their funding goal, but I’m going to support them anyway.  I think it’s awesome to have young girls play with such positive  role models.

I hope some of you join me!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Karmas a Killer (4)And if you want to show me some love, you can preorder my newest mystery, KARMA’S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble.

Yee haw, yippee, and yahooey!

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 and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere