Category Archives: Therapeutic Yoga

Staying Balanced when Teaching Yoga–Response to a Student Question

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

A Whole Life Yoga teacher training graduate asks: Is it possible for a teacher to absorb the energy of her students? I recently worked with a client who is currently in an emotionally dark place. She felt better after our session, but I felt worse. I even cried later in the day, for no apparent reason. Have you experienced this, and if so, how do you protect yourself?

The short answer is, yes! Yoga tools impact the human energy system, and in teaching them, we open ourselves up to our students’ energy fields. This feels great when students are in a balanced place. It can be challenging when their energy is stressed or sad.

Private work is even more problematic. Private clients allow themselves to be much more intimate and vulnerable than students in group classes. As a yoga therapist, I’ve worked with clients struggling with severe debilitating diseases, clients recovering from trauma, even clients who were in the end stages of terminal disease.

To say, “It isn’t easy” seems more than a little trite. But honestly, I don’t have a simple answer. When I started this work, I actually felt guilty. I thought I should feel worse about my clients’ situations. But I quickly realized that I can’t do this work unless I keep some distance. Otherwise I’ll be on a quick path to burnout and depression. I had to give myself permission not to take on my clients’ pain. The Yoga Sutras agree. According to the sutras, yogis should practice active compassion without joining the suffering. Once we take on the pain of our clients, we’re of no good to anyone, especially our students.

The best way for a teacher to keep that needed distance is to actively practice yoga and meditation herself. That seems obvious, but for some reason, teachers often stop practicing. They even kid themselves that teaching is their practice. Wrong answer! When we teach, we should be 100% focused on the students in front of us. Our personal practice, on the other hand, should be all about us. So if you aren’t currently practicing, start.

Second, I firmly believe yoga teachers should take periodic breaks from teaching. I take a six-week teaching sabbatical every summer. I still work at the studio, but I refuse to teach a single yoga pose. Instead, I focus on filling my own energy well. How full is your energy well? If it’s sucking mud, maybe it’s time for a break.

Third, sometimes our reactions to people around us are symptoms of something already happening within us. I recently wrote an article about Daurmanasya (Depression), which is one of the symptoms of an inner obstacle. So is Svasaprasvasa, which means disturbance of the breath, including uncontrolled crying, as you describe. The sutras list a number of actions you can take when you’re up against an obstacle. Review sutras 1.32 – 1.39 and consider adding one or more of those tools to your daily practice.

Finally, remember to spend time doing things that make you happy. If you’re sensitive to negative energy, you’re likely sensitive to positive energy as well. Nothing picks me up like time spent with puppies or upbeat friends. Others are refueled by playing with children. Still others by gardening. Spend time re-connecting with the touchstones that bring you joy. Allow them to refuel you, just like you do your students.

I hope that helps!

Namaste

Tracy

More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.

More Research on the Benefits of Viniyoga–Viniyoga Reduces Workplace Stress!

I know from personal experience that Viniyoga is an amazing tool for reducing workplace stress—that’s what hooked me on it almost fifteen years ago, when I still worked at Microsoft.  But now, research proves it!

Aetna, inc. recently studied methods of stress reduction in the workplace. The results were published in the online version of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The study evaluated the effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation (a specific type of meditation) and Viniyoga on both perceived levels of stress and biological markers of stress. The Viniyoga intervention used in the study was designed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. The study participants included 239 Aetna employees located in California and Connecticut who were split into three groups:  the Mindfulness Meditation group, the Viniyoga group, and a control.

The results were encouraging.  Both the Mindfulness Meditation and the Viniyoga interventions saw over a 30% reduction in perceived stress levels. Participants also showed significant improvements in several heart rate measurements, suggesting that their bodies were better able to manage stress.  Even better, both Viniyoga and Mindfulness Meditation worked in about half the time as other commonly used mind-body interventions.

The Viniyoga intervention included a twelve-week yoga program that used physical yoga postures, breathing techniques, and guided relaxation. Participants met in class once a week and received practice handouts to use at home and in the office. Which just goes to prove what I’ve said all along—a well-conceived home practice gets results!

For more details on the study, check out the article on Aetna’s web site.

Be well, and come see me in class soon to reduce your stress!

Namaste

Tracy

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out our Series on Yoga to Ease Stress!

Research Shows It! Viniyoga Can Help Heal Your Back!

Finally, a yoga-related news article I’m happy to pass on to you! It seems like yoga has had more than its share of bad press lately—from the New York Times article proclaiming that yoga can “wreck your body” to many recent articles that have been forwarded to me about a famous (non-viniyoga) yoga guru who has recently, shall we say, fallen from grace. 

So I was more than a little pleased when a student approached me in my Yoga for Healthy Backs class recently to say that two of her friends recently forwarded her a positive article about yoga from The Huffington Post.  This article discusses recent research showing what I’ve known for years:  that yoga, specifically viniyoga, can help overcome chronic low back pain.

The research described is the most recent in a pair of studies co-sponsored by the National Institute of Health and Group Health Cooperative.  Both studies used viniyoga—the same style taught at Whole Life Yoga, and the yoga protocols were designed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow.  One goal of the most recent study was to see if earlier benefits of viniyoga could be replicated with a larger test group.

According to Karen Sherman, one of the study authors, they specifically chose viniyoga, because “we wanted to pick something to test that was likely to be safe and easy for beginners to practice both in classes and at home.”

The results?  Students who participated in weekly 45 – 50 minute viniyoga classes, including deep breathing and guided relaxation, experienced clinically significant improvements in low back pain and dysfunction.  And those improvements were still apparent at least 14 weeks after the end of the study.  Similar benefits were found in students who practiced weekly 52 minute stretching classes with 20 minutes of home stretching on non-class days.  Although the article does not state this, I do believe the yoga students were also given home practices. 

Researchers attribute the improvements to the physical benefits of yoga—specifically, stretching and strengthening, versus any mental benefits. So I guess all the stress reduction and emotional balance we yogis experience is just an awesome side benefit!  😉  (By the way, a recent study on viniyoga for stress reduction also showed great results, but that’s a blog article for a different day).

And on a personal note—the Group Health study specifically looked at chronic low back dysfunction that interfered with participant’s day-to-day activities.  But I can tell you from personal experience, yoga also helps with upper back and neck pain, along with a variety of other physical, physiological, and emotional issues.

If you, or someone you know, suffers from chronic low back pain, consider giving viniyoga a try! If you’re in the Seattle area, please check out Whole Life Yoga’s Yoga for Healthy Backs series.

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

New Viniyoga Videos for Anxiety and Depression

Like many viniyoga teachers, I’m not a huge fan of yoga videos, as the video format doesn’t allow for the customization and adaptation to the individual that is such a hallmark of this rich lineage.  Still, as much as I’d like everyone to experience yoga first hand at Whole Life Yoga or work with me privately, I know that for many students, videos provide a much more convenient and accessible connection to a consistent yoga practice.  Who knows…maybe someday I’ll even create a video of my own!  😉

Until then, two new viniyoga videos have recently been released by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow, on topics that are personally important to me:  Yoga for Anxiety and Yoga for Depression. I’ve suffered from both conditions off and on throughout my life, and yoga has been an incredible powerful tool in helping me manage my symptoms. I may have come to yoga to overcome back pain, but by far the first and most important thing to heal was my heart.

Gary’s new products introduce the viniyoga therapy approach to anxiety and depression.  They are a bit different than typical videos, in that he provides cognitive learning in addition to yoga practice.  Each video contains approximately an hour of lecture on yoga therapy and its applications for anxiety and depression, along with two practices: one that is a bit over thirty minutes and one that is closer to an hour.  Even more unusual, the practices aren’t just asana, or movement.  They contain multiple facets of the rich and dynamic viniyoga lineage:  Asana (movement), Pranayama (breath work), Meditation, and Chanting.

I sell both of these at the studio, along with a few other viniyoga videos.  But they can also be purchased at amazon.com and via other on line sellers.  Of course, I’d much rather see your bright shining faces at the studio, but these videos may provide a nice addition to your collection and to your practice.  Let me know what you think!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

A New Perspective, a New Yoga

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Jacqui Trent. Jackqui is a current student  of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program.  She  can be contacted at jacquitrent@gmail.com.

Like so many people in America, I was drawn to yoga as the next big workout craze.  Boasting arms like Jennifer Aniston and abs like Madonna, yoga promised a “hot bod” – something very appealing to a twenty one year old with a poor body image. So for the next couple of years I took classes on and off at my gym.

I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t getting enough out of it.  Going only when I felt like it, i.e. when I was feeling really “fat”, I didn’t have a strong practice.  The teachers at the gym were good teachers, but they were restricted.  They couldn’t teach pranayama, bandhas, or anything related to yoga that wasn’t a pose.

And then my husband lost his job.  The next two years were really tough.  Things were tight and the stress really ate away at me.  Going against what everyone I knew told me, I took on the stress of two jobs.  Working twelve hour days baking and cleaning houses. It was draining and the extra income wasn’t easing my stress level like I had expected.  Finally the stress was eating away at me and I knew I had to do something. A we search led me to a local yoga studio that offered two months of unlimited yoga for the price of one.

Almost immediately after my first week I was hooked.  My body took to the practice right away and I loved how much better I felt. Leaving my stress at the door and just focusing on me for that hour was amazing!  I was taking most of my classes from the studio owner; she became my favorite. I loved her classes.

I had been with the studio for a few months, when my instructor announced that she would be conducting her first teacher training program starting in January.  Recently I had been considering teaching yoga and was thrilled to get the chance to learn from her.

However, shortly after the program started I wasn’t as excited.  Let’s just say that the training was supposed to last fifteen months and we didn’t even make it half way.  For many reasons it became a toxic environment and we finally had to dissolve the program. We kept telling each other it was going to get better, but in reality it was only getting worse.

I found out about the viniyoga training through one of the amazing woman with whom I bonded with during this experience. She had found out about Tracy and Whole Life Yoga and had joined her upcoming training program. It started in two weeks and encouraged us to contact her.

At first I didn’t know if I was ready. I was so shaken from my last experience that my practice had suffered. I’ll admit I knew nothing of viniyoga, and didn’t know if I should join a program that was foreign to me. After I heard about its therapeutic qualities, I wondered if this wasn’t exactly what I needed.

I still have a lot to learn about viniyoga. This lineage is so different from any style I’d ever tried. My prior knowledge was more focused on form and adjustments. Sometimes the benefits would become compromised when you’re trying to achieve the perfect form, not paying attention to what’s going on in the body.  I really appreciate the fact that there is much more of an emphasis on the benefits of a pose, not making it perfect.

The pace is different from what I’m used to as well. People, including myself, seem to be caught up in the newest yoga fad of a fast paced flow.  But I like that this style seems to be more mindful and intentional. I can’t see myself completely abandoning flow practice, but I do see how others, myself included, can benefit from a viniyoga practice.

The opportunity to study viniyoga came to me at a time when my own practice was broken.  Just like it is used to rehabilitate someone with problems with their back, sacrum or hip, it’s become my tapas and reignited my practice.

Jacqui

More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.

My Hips Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheryl

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Yoga Poses to Strengthen Knees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening poses for knees:

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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

A Breath Practice to Ease Depression

If you’re feeling a little down and blue this time of year, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 18.8 Million adults, or 9.5% of the US population are affected by depression in any given year. Those of us who live in the Northern states are especially impacted by seasonal depression, sometimes referred to as SAD.

If depression is impacting your ability to function, a visit to your health care provider is in order. Yoga can, however, be an effective part of your recovery. Breath-centered movement, pranayama and meditation are all wonderful tools to bring your entire being–body, mind and heart–into balance.

I included the breath practice below in my series Overcoming Depression with Yoga. The word “krama” simply means segmented. In this practice, we segment the inhale portion of the breath into two parts, with a short pause both between each part and at the end of the inhale.

This very simple, very gentle practice increases energy, promotes balanced alertness, and over time can help ease depressive symptoms. Because this is a subtly energizing practice, please be sure to practice it earlier in the day; if you practice it shortly before bed, it may cause interruptions in sleep. For a wonderful practice to overcome insomnia, please see my earlier article titled “Tracy’s Sleeping Pill.”

Two Part Krama Inhale Breath Practice:

  1. Come to a comfortable sitting position.
  2. Notice how you feel before beginning to practice, in your body and in your breath. Then notice how you feel in your thoughts and emotions. Don’t worry if you don’t feel as you think you “should.” Just notice whatever comes to mind and be grateful for the awareness.
  3. Gradually, over 6 breaths, lengthen both your inhale and exhale, noticing the natural pause at the end of your inhale.
  4. Maintain the breath in Step 3 for at least 6 breath cycles. Then, break the inhale portion of your breath into two equal parts, with a natural pause both between parts and at the end of the inhale.
  5. Maintain the breath in Step 4 for at least 6 breath cycles. Then lengthen both the pause in the middle of the inhale and the pause that follows the inhale to a count of 2. You will maintain this count for the rest of the practice.
  6. Continue this breath for at least 12 breath cycles. Do not strain the breath. If you do start to feel strain, decrease the lengths of both pauses. Then continue with that new breath for the rest of the practice.
  7. Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths at Step #6, shorten the pauses to a natural length and take 6 more breaths.
  8. Release the pauses completely and breathe for several breaths. Then gradually allow the breath to come back to a normal rhythm.
  9. Notice any changes you feel after this practice, without trying to judge them as “good” or “bad”.

I hope you have a wonderful , depression free holiday season!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!