Category Archives: Yoga Books

The Meditation Myth

Today’s blog article was written by  guest author Ashley Josephine Herzberger and was inspired by her new book The Unconventional Beginner’s Guide to Yoga, an e-book introduction to yoga practice for those who are wary of stepping on the mat. Ashley also guides an online community for busy women looking to relax, release stress, stretch and connect at http://ashleyjosephine.com.

Ashley Josephine HerzbergerThese days, the benefits of meditation grace the pages of scientific news journals, national newspapers, thoroughly researched magazine articles and entire books. Meditation is indeed becoming mainstream as more and more doctors start to prescribe the practice as a remedy for anxiety and its host of symptoms. But with the mainstream, comes the propagation of a myth that meditation must be done the  “right” way for it to be as effective as the medical journals say it can be.

The Downfall of Meditation

As any curious yoga student, I had been hearing enough about meditation to believe that I could benefit from its wide array of soothing solutions. A few years back, I decided I should probably start a meditation practice. I didn’t know much about it, but the several silent moments I’d spend in yoga classes every day quieting the mind seemed to me as good an introduction as any.

The hardest part was finding the time to do it. Once I decided I would spend 10 minutes before bed every night quietly contemplating nothing, I was ready to start practicing.

Except I kept looking at the timer, convinced that I had forgotten to set it or that it had somehow malfunctioned and I’d actually been sitting for hours instead of minutes. I couldn’t slow down my mind and my thoughts wouldn’t disappear, no matter how much I willed them to go away.

And then there were some nights I was just so tired…so my meditation practice fell by the wayside.

A month or so later, I’d try again, but the same things kept happening. I got frustrated and decided meditation wasn’t working.

Then I met a teacher. He gave me a personalized meditation practice but that still wasn’t enough.

What I came to learn through personal experience and through teaching beginning students is that meditation can be a formal practice but it doesn’t have to be.

The myth of meditation is that it must be done a certain way. The name confers a practice, when in fact we engage in contemplation every single day in our own unique way.

How To Find Your Own Meditation Practice

To find your own meditation practice, you need not look for special teachers or particular practices.

To start building your own meditation practice, look around in your life and see what it is you already do to reflect. Consider the following activities and ask yourself if you can perform these with more intention, awareness and focus.

  • Praying
  • Writing in a journal
  • Drinking coffee or tea
  • Preparing meals
  • Taking a walk
  • Working out
  • Going to yoga class
  • Listening to music
  • Gardening
  • Reading a book
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Working on a project you love
  • Playing with your kids

Notice how the activity changes and how you feel when bringing more focus to it. Notice the relaxation qualities and the struggles to maintain focus.

Let go of the need to practice something formal all the time. Be compassionate with yourself if you skip a sitting session for whatever reason.

Now that you know meditation isn’t so scary, formal and pretentious after all, email this post to a friend or two who has complained they don’t have time to start something new.

Ashley

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join Tracy Weber’s author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Seven Viniyoga DVD’s to Help You Continue Your Summer Yoga Practice

Larry Payne Yoga DVDsI don’t know how I missed these, since they were created in 2005, but better late than never.  Larry Payne, author of Yoga RX and co-author of Yoga for Dummies has several DVD’s available.  Larry may not call his yoga style Viniyoga, but he studied with Desikachar—the leader of the Viniyoga lineage—and his work definitely utilizes the Viniyoga principles. There are a variety of practices to choose from:

  • Immune Booster and General Conditioning: Level One
  • Immune Booster and General Conditioning: Level Two
  • Weight Management for People with Curves
  • Common Lower Back Problems
  • Common Upper Back & Neck Problems
  • Restorative Health for Women
  • Classic Beginner’s Yoga for Men & Women

Each video offers at least two, sometimes three, separate routines of different lengths. They also contain MP3 audio versions of the practices, so you can listen to them on your ipod or computer.

Although yoga is always best studied with a teacher, summer activities often make it difficult to get to the studio.  I’m happy to be able to offer you the next best thing.  I don’t currently carry these videos at the studio, but you can purchase them on line at Larry’s web site Samata.com.

Let me know what you think of them!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Yoga Can Be Murder

I’m guest blogging this week on Inkspot, the blog for authors at Midnight Ink.  Check it out and learn the answer to a question you might be thinking: Why does a yoga teacher write stories about murder?

http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2013/06/yoga-can-be-murder.html

Writing about yoga, dogs, and murder….What could be more fun?

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available January 8, 2014 from Midnight Ink!

A Meditation Proven to Invoke the Relaxation Response

In last week’s blog, I shared some of the benefits of a consistent mediation practice and briefly discussed Herbert Benson’s early research.  This week, I’d like to prove how simple an effective meditation technique can be.

The meditation below was used in Benson’s research.  I’ve stolen it from his book The Relaxation Response.

  1. Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer rooted in your belief system.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. Relax your muscles.
  5. Breathe slowly. Say the focus word as you exhale.
  6. Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts intrude, just say “Oh well” and return to your repetition.
  7. Continue for 10-20 minutes.
  8. Open your eyes and sit for another minute.
  9. Practice once or twice daily.

If it seems like I’ve been writing about meditation a lot lately, I have.  But only because I strongly believe meditation has the power to transform your life and the lives of those around you.

Enjoy, and practice!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and join my author mailing list for updates on MURDER STRIKES A POSE, available early 2014 from Midnight Ink!

Can You Do Too Much 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 student asks: Is there such a thing as too much yoga? I have spent most of the past few years doing yoga two to three times a week. Now, I’m at about seven. I feel like I’ve been more tired than I should be. This past week, I tweaked my shoulder. My overriding thought is that I’m doing too much yoga – that I increased the frequency too quickly rather than building up slowly. What are your thoughts?

You’ve asked a great question, and I’m going to answer it with some generalities and even more questions. Appropriate yoga can be practiced every day safely. Inappropriate yoga done once a week or even once a month can be unsafe.  Only you can figure out the answer for your situation.

Here are some things to consider.

  • Is your practice serving your body or injuring it?  The goal in yoga should never be to achieve a certain pose or increase the level of physical challenge.  The goal should be to meet your body where it is–in that moment–and to use yoga to bring your body, mind, and heart into a place of greater balance. If you find yourself competing, even with yourself, re-evaluate.  Consider interspersing stronger yoga days at the studio with gentler home practices focused on mindfulness and breath. Also consider taking your practice back a notch or shortening the length of your home practices.
  • How does your yoga practice balance the rest of your life? Since I know you, I can honestly say that you have a tendency to take on a lot.  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating in a way that fuels your body? Are you taking time to do practices that fill your energy well?  The exhaustion you feel may have little to do with your yoga practice, and a lot to do with imbalance in your everyday life. Take a good look at your practice. It should balance the stressors in your life, not add to them. If the rest of your life is “strong” make your practice gentle, and vice versa. Dr. David Frawley has a book, Yoga for Your Type, that shows how to use yoga to balance your Ayurvedic doshas. It might be a good place to start.
  • Is your yoga practice an anchor or an addiction? When I was in my twenties, I had an exercise addiction. The need to exercise strongly, every day, was all-consuming. I planned vacations around it, chose not to socialize with friends because of it, and felt great anxiety when I couldn’t do it. The same can be true for your asana practice. Stop practicing for a few days and see how you feel. It’s perfectly fine to miss your practice, but you shouldn’t feel significant guilt or anxiety.  Remember, your practice should serve your life, not replace it. If your practice is becoming an addiction, then pull off the Band-aid and stop practicing.  In several weeks, start again, but not daily. Find a way to let your practice serve, rather than enslave you.

I suspect that once you reflect on those questions, you’ll have your answer.  If not, e-mail me again with what you’ve learned, and I can be of more help.

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! 

 

Can Yoga Wreck Your Body? Response to a Student Question

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

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

How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps!

Tracy Weber

Tracy Weber

          A Killer Retreat

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

The Origins and History of Viniyoga

Tracy and her teacher, Gary Kraftsow

People often think that all yoga is the same.  In other words, if they take a yoga class, it is representative of all yoga classes at other venues and with other teachers.   I’m always a little saddened and surprised when people say “I tried yoga once.  It’s not for me.”

You may not realize it, but there are a myriad of yoga styles popular in the United States, and they can be dramatically different from one another.  So your experience in one class is likely to be completely different than if you try yoga in another studio or style.  So if at first you don’t find what you love, keep trying!

Although not 100% true, most yoga styles in the United States fall under the umbrella of “Hatha” yoga.  In the West, this term basically refers to the physical practice of yoga.  There are a wide variety of yoga types that fall under that umbrella.  From stronger, more athletic styles like Bikram, Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga, to form-focused styles like Iyengar, to more therapeutic and individualized styles like Viniyoga.

Some of these styles have been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Others are more contemporary and have been “invented” or “reinvented” by Westerners.   Teachers also often combine lineages to create something uniquely their own.

Whole Life Yoga is a studio dedicated completely to the Viniyoga lineage, therefore every class you take with us will follow the Viniyoga principles.  I have great confidence in Viniyoga, and not just because of the transformations I’ve seen in myself and my students.   I also have faith because it is a lineage has been passed down through the centuries.  In other words, Viniyoga’s principles have withstood the test of time.

In our lifetimes, this lineage has been passed down through a man by the name of  Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who passed away in 1989 at over 100 years of age.  He himself studied yoga with several teachers and in many venues, including seven and a half years in the caves of Tibet with a teacher named Brahmachari.   Krishnamacharya trained several famous students, including BKS Iyengar (who later developed Iyengar Yoga) and Pattabhi Jois (who later developed Ashtanga yoga).

Krishnamacharya passed the full breadth of his teachings, however, to his son TKV Desikachar.  Desikachar passed them on to many, including Margaret Pierce of The Pierce Yoga Program and Gary Kraftsow of the American Viniyoga Institute.  Gary and Margaret have both been my teachers.    I’m continuing the tradition by passing this lineage on to my students and the teachers in my yoga teacher training program.

My hope is to continue to honor the principles of this lineage by transmitting them as clearly and purely as possible, thus helping ensure that it continues to serve future generations.

If you’d like to learn more about Krishnamacharya and the history of Viniyoga, I recommend the book Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings by A.G. Mohan.

But regardless of whether or not you’re interested in the history, rest assured that when you take a Viniyoga class you have the knowledge of many generations of teachers supporting you and your practice!

Namaste,

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

Viniyoga Books and Videos to Motivate your August Practice!

August is the month yoga teachers nationwide wonder where all the students have gone. With long days, warm weather, and summer vacations beckoning, it may be hard to motivate yourself to go to the studio for your regular yoga practice.

But not every practice has to be at a studio! I firmly believe there’s no substitute for an instructor who can personally give feedback on form, design a sequence for your goals, and teach you the basics of a safe and effective yoga practice. But what’s a yogi to do when she just can’t get herself to the studio?

I often work privately with students to develop a written practice they can do at home that is specifically catered to their needs. But that’s a subject for a future blog. 😉

The next best thing is a well conceived and safe book or video. While there are thousands of yoga books and videos out there, until recently there were no videos I felt comfortable recommending. Viniyoga relies so heavily on adapting to the person before us, that we have resisted creating videos that, by their very nature, are ”one size fits all.”

But recently some Viniyoga teachers have taken the challenge, and I’m happy to say that the resources below are quite good. All but the book are available at Whole Life Yoga, in addition to many online retailers.

Yoga for Your Life

This book was written by Martin and Margaret Pierce, with whom I studied prenatal yoga. It has always been my “go to” resource for people who want to practice at home, but don’t know which postures to do or the order in which to do them. With gorgeous photos and a series of practices that build over time, you just can’t beat it for finding or re-invigorating a yoga practice. The last half of the book has practices for different activities, including a yummy pajama-clad practice for bedtime. Unfortunately, Yoga for Your Life is out of print, but there are currently copies available at many online booksellers.

The YogaAway Video Series

This video series was developed by a friend of mine, Bija Bennet, with input from our teacher, Gary Kraftsow. The videos were originally designed for the Hyatt hotels as in-suite video practices for Hyatt guests. There are currently four videos available, with practices focusing on everything from working out to falling asleep. All four have gotten great reviews from my students.

The Viniyoga Therapy Series

These videos were developed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. They are a little different than the yoga videos you normally find. Each contains almost 3 hours of material, including several practices, lectures on back pain, and individual tutorials for specific postures. He currently has one for lower back issues and another for upper backs. Two more videos are in the works: one for anxiety and one for depression. I’ll let you know when they are available.

Although there’s no substitute for seeing your bright shining faces at the studio, I hope you will use these resources to continue your practice even when you can’t make it to Whole Life Yoga. And I look forward to seeing you back this fall!

Namaste

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

The Philosophy of Yoga

In this week’s post I introduce the key philosophical text of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In future posts I will delve into more detail about some of the teachings of this wonderful text.

One of my first yoga teachers once said to me “People start taking yoga because of benefits they hope to find in their body. They stay with it because they find something more.”  That quote has always stuck with me, because I’ve found it to be so very true, not just for myself but for many I’ve taught over the years.

People in the West usually think of yoga as strictly a form of exercise. In reality, it is that and so much more! Yoga was originally developed as a method of calming the mind and connecting with the heart. These teachings are wonderfully conveyed in an ancient text called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Written sometime between 400 BC and 200 AD, this text describes in a compact and almost poetic form the teachings of yoga and how it can help us become more centered, balanced, clear and connected.

The first 2 sutras describe yoga’s purpose: Learning to control the random fluctuations of the mind. They then go on to describe how, in calming those random fluctuations, we can become more connected to our values—to who we truly are at our core—while being less influenced by our filters, projection, fears and anxieties.

This clarity of mind was the undeniable benefit I personally found in practicing yoga, long before I actually studied the sutras. I became clearer about who I am and the mark I want to leave on my world. Things that used to drive me crazy became interesting observations instead of painful traumas. Fears diminished. Courage returned. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m hopefully getting a bit more balanced every day.

If you’re interested in exploring these teachings further, there are many wonderful translations and commentaries available. My personal favorite is The Essence of Yoga, by Bernard Bouanchaud. It is occasionally difficult to find in the United States, so I have some copies available it at Whole Life Yoga. But if you go to any major bookseller you will find many different translations of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali on their shelves.

Frugal yogis can also find many wonderful free translations on the internet. Swami J has a translation many of my students have found very useful. But my biggest advice is to be open to changes that happen as you continue your yoga practice. Listen to the voices of truth you may begin to hear. Yoga is not at all about achieving a certain posture.  Release the shackles of thinking that it is all about “stretching” or even “exercise.”  You likely will get stronger, leaner and more flexible. But the most powerful thing you can stretch is your mind!

Namaste,

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!