Monday, December 26, 2011

Yell and holler! My beef with Yelp.

As we all know the pen is mightier than the sword and freedom of speech is still a constitutional right at least for now. It's in that spirit that I'm picking of my pen, or in this case my keyboard, to defend small business owners who can't afford an ad with Yelp and end up paying the consequences. And also to defend the rights of those who write reviews on Yelp in support of such businesses.

Yelp has recently introduced a program on their site to "filter" out any seemingly phony business reviews. Apparently, some businesses have figured out how to beat the system by asking customers to write positive reviews on the site or by writing them themselves using a fictitious persona. In theory the filter is good because it allows new customers to see only honest reviews by real people. Kudos to Yelp for trying to keep the internet a honest place.

However, this same filtering system has removed all positive reviews from my listing, even though they were unsolicited nor written by me. I can only assume this was done because every couple of months a Yelp salesperson calls me asking me to purchase an ad with them. I've politely told them on numerous occasions that I'm not interested. I've tried to explain how small my business really is and that I keep my overhead low by not paying for advertising. After all, the best advertising is word of mouth.

After declining several times, I took note of the number from which the Yelp salespeople call me and started ignoring them when they call. Seriously, I just don't have time for a 20 minute phone call each time where I listen to the same information only to have to argue my way off the phone.

Then lo and behold, my reviews and ratings all disappeared. Even the one that had been up for over a year and a seemingly innocuous one that just said she was looking forward to checking out my studio and would report back.

I've heard from others that I'm not the only business that this is happened to. Is it possible that Yelp's review filtering system is just too sensitive or in error? Possibly. But I suspect that more is going on here than a glitch in the software. Especially, since they state specifically in their rational for filtering reviews that they aren't punishing the non-advertisers.

Yes, I know I can't prove it but it does seem a bit suspicious, doesn't it?

Yelp, if you are going to try and keep everyone honest and accountable for their reviews, how about starting with yourself? Just because I'm not giving you money doesn't entitle you to edit out my positive listings and ratings. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right that shouldn't be guaranteed with money. You are perpetuating the system of corporate greed and power where the small businesses get pushed out because they don't have the deep pockets to compete with the big-boys.

You might be able to edit my listing on your site but you can't touch my blog. Yogis know how and when to speak up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The hazards of working from home

Since it's the holidays and my last post was a bit of a downer, I thought it would be nice to share from my collection of funny stories that have happened over the years because I work from home. After all who couldn't use some humor during one of the most stressful times of the year?

Having my studio in my basement has it's advantages but it also has some amusing drawbacks, usually in the form of my cats or my husband. Yes, this is their house too but that doesn't mean they always understand that it's also my office. Try explaining to a cat that you are "working down here" and the only response you'll get is a louder cry. This is what happens when one of my cats wants out during class, and usually during Savasana.

This isn't the worst of it I'm afraid. When we still had Hunter, the world's friendliest cat, he would often saunter down the stairs, crawl into someone's unwitting lap and make himself comfortable. Or curl-up next to a student laying in a spinal-twist. It got so bad that I had to put up a child-gate to try and keep him out. Unfortunately, he quickly figured out how to get his not-too-slender body underneath the gate and come down anyway. He also enjoyed jumping up on the massage table when I had a client. I used to joke that I was going to charge extra for cat therapy.

Hunter's replacement, Abbott, is much more polite and shy. However, he and his sister Diamond, got into a terrible scuffle once while I had a client on the massage table. We heard the ruckus upstairs, shortly before it moved downstairs under the table. Both cats were screaming and the fur was flying. I have never been so mortified in my life! Fortunately it was a regular client who was very understanding despite nearly jumping off the table. Not exactly a relaxing massage for her that day.

My husband is a little better trained than the cats. He knows not to talk on the phone during class since he has a voice that I'm sure even the neighbors can hear. He also knows not to enter though the garage during class times or appointments. However, he does occasionally venture downstairs during class, again usually during Savasana to get a snack. One particular time, I was talking a class through a visualization that involved the woods. After class a woman said to me, "I felt like I was really there until Bigfoot started stomping through the woods."

Speaking of snacks, food smells are another consideration, especially since I offer a prenatal yoga class. For awhile my husband loved to come home and cook eggs for dinner right before class. Eggs of course have a terrible after smell even to those not pregnant. I finally got him to lay off when I explained that he would have to clean up after anyone he made sick because of it. Now, we just get treated to microwave popcorn or burritos occasionally but never during the prenatal class.

On the weirder side, I once had a mystery person enter my house at the end of class. At the time I assumed it was the ride of one of my students who had been told it's OK just to walk-in. I motioned to the person who I couldn't quite see because of the darkness to wait for a moment until class was finished. The person then left. As I wrapped up class, I asked if anyone was expecting a ride. They shook their heads and said they all thought it was my husband coming home. Since my husband was already home that made me a bit concerned. I asked him to take a quick look around outside to make sure all was well. Whoever it was had vanished.
Later, I learned that it was a student who had shown up at the wrong time and was a bit embarrassed so she just left.
With the exception of keeping the house constantly clean, or at least the first two floors of it, and being conscious of food smells, working at home really has more advantages than drawbacks. People remark that they couldn't stand to have others in their space and that they would never really feel like they were away from work. Since I don't use the studio for anything but massage and yoga, I don't really feel that people are in my space. I could say something very yogic like my space is inside of me not where I live but I don't want sound like a bumper sticker. The reality is I've just never thought of my house as a boundary but something to share.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

6 things that sadden me as a teacher

At the risk of sounding depressed and down I thought I'd share a few things I've heard repeatedly that really make me sad as a yoga teacher.

In reality, I've been pretty happy about my classes and students lately. A recent rice-bag making party gave me an opportunity spend time outside of class with some of my students. It filled me with joy that my students would come together and cooperate to make some much longed-for props for the studio. And have a blast in the process.

I've also loved watching the community that has developed out of the studio lately. Several students have reached out to embrace a new student who recently moved to the area. They've taken the time to familiarize her with the area and offer her their friendship.

These examples of kindness warm my heart but that doesn't mean that there aren't still things I wish I could do more to change.

Experience has taught me that sometimes I need to gently nudge my students when they tend to slip into one of these six traps as I like to think of them. Unfortunately, many of the people I've seen falling into these traps aren't my students in which case I don't have a right to nudge at all. It's then that I take a deep breath and blog my frustrations in hope that they might reach the eyes and ears of those folks I wish I could nudge or rather push.

So here are the six things I've heard that sadden me as a yoga teacher:

1. "I don't want to take up all of your time during class or be a burden." This statement kills me. I teach because I want to help. It's part of what lead me to become a yoga teacher. I also know that this statement isn't made out of consideration of other students so much as the person making it doesn't want to feel like they need help. We all need help at some point and if I'm spending time with you it's because it happens to be your turn right now. I'm not ignoring the other students. I just happen to see that they can manage on their own at the moment. On a different day it will be their turn so don't feel bad.

2. "I tried yoga a few times but I wasn't good at it." No one is good or bad at yoga. It often takes years before you get comfortable enough with it to feel like you know what you are doing. Don't give up on yoga just because you stumbled your way through a few classes. Everybody does that in the beginning. Of course you feel stiff and tight and sore the next day. That's why you need yoga. Keep trying.

3. "Why aren't there more men in yoga? Is it more for women?" No! Yoga was actually invented by men for men. We women of the west have taken more of a liking to it than the majority of the men here and for that reason have probably crowded out the guys. That doesn't mean yoga is for women and that men can't do it. Men need yoga just as much if not more than women. Men often tend to prefer bulky muscles and weight training as opposed to leaner, more flexible muscles. However, inflexible muscles create a greater risk of injury. So come on guys, get in here and represent.

4. "Isn't yoga some sort of mystical, New Age, cult practice?" Unfortunately, yoga got a bad reputation in the 70's as being a stereotypical-hippie practice. Because yoga has been influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophies, it tended to draw those interested in Eastern religions when it first became popular here in the west. However, yoga itself isn't a religion and has become much more secular and fitness based in the last decade or so. You are just as likely to find lawyers, doctors and executives in a yoga class as artists, vegans and commune dwellers. Yoga is for everybody.

5. "I don't don't think I have the right body type for yoga." There's a right and wrong body type for yoga? This wasn't something that was taught to me in teacher training, I'd better go back. The idea that only thin, fit people can do yoga is simply wrong. Props were made to make poses accessible to all different kinds of people, from thin to overweight, young to old. Your poses might not look like the pictures in the magazines but that doesn't mean you can't do them.

6. "I'm fat, old and ugly and my stupid joints don't work anymore." I really hate hearing people berate their bodies. Calling yourself fat won't solve your weight problem, just as calling your joints stupid won't make them more flexible. Simply accept where you are at and figure out what you can change. If you have an injured body part, don't shun it. Treat it with kindness because it's endured enough abuse already. It will heal faster if you care for it, not push it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yoga like a Turtle

“Where did the turtle come from?” a student asked. No, the hard-shelled reptile didn’t come crawling into yoga class one day. It’s actually a question I’m often asked in reference to my studio’s name Tranquil Turtle Yoga.

It’s a good question, especially with all the much cooler yoga studio names out there that inspire grace and strength. Turtle’s don’t inspire either. Turtles are generally thought of as slow with cumbersome bodies. We often say “She’s come out of her shell,” when talking about a shy person who opens up finally.

Turtles are slow but persistent. No doubt you’ve heard the story of the tortoise and the hare numerous times. The hare rushes off in hurry but quickly loses steam. Thinking he has the lead he stops to rest while the tortoise lumbers on to beat the hare. I’ve seen many students who practice like hares at first; taking multiple classes a week, buying all the latest yoga clothes and DVDs. However, after a few short months their yoga mats gather dust in the closet when they realize yoga is more work than they thought.

Turtle yogis practice with patience and persistence. Though they may only attend class once or twice a week or sometimes take a month break, they always come back. They are in it for the long haul, realizing that yoga isn’t a race to the finish but a life-long practice. It’s not about toning up your butt for swim-suit season or dropping a couple of extra pounds. It’s a lifestyle.

Turtle yogis make long term diet changes, instead of hopping on whatever crash diet is the fad of the month. They make the effort to slow down and enjoy the current season instead of wishing it was over. They turn off their Blackberries and iPhones once in a while and make time for tea with friends.

Turtle style yoga also translates into slower moving classes. That doesn’t mean they are less challenging than more rapid styles, it means the poses are held longer.

When I first started practicing yoga as a college student, I was into all kinds of sports and activities. I didn’t really need any more exercise but I was in desperate need of flexibility and relaxation. Classes that moved quickly from pose to pose only frustrated me because I would often feel like I had just gotten into a pose properly when the instructor had already moved on. I didn’t find this to be relaxing at all.

When I discovered Iyengar yoga, I realized it was a perfect fit. It was much more therapeutic with emphasis on correct alignment in the poses and it moved much slower. A traditional Iyengar yoga class can sometimes practice just five poses in a hour with all the moving of props, aligning of bodies and staying with the pose.

Staying with the pose is another benefit I find to a slower style of yoga. So much of our culture these days involves hurrying from one place to another. Our brains are constantly flittering from thought to thought to our phone, our email, and back to our phone again. Staying with the pose enables great relaxation and presence.

There’s a physical benefit to staying longer in the poses as well. Our muscles have what is called the Golgi tendon organ which regulates the amount of muscle extension. It helps protect the muscle for over-stretching. It takes a full six seconds for the Golgi tendon to completely release allowing the muscle to go into a fully lengthened state; after that is when the real, flexibility creating, stretch takes place.

Later, after I began teaching, I discovered Anasura yoga. This style combines both the alignment and slower pace of Iyengar yoga with the natural progression and sequencing of poses that flow yoga styles of yoga offer. This felt like an even better fit for me and for my classes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking styles such as Ashtanga and Viniyoga. It’s true that I often borrow bits of Viniyoga from an instructor friend of mine whenever we lead retreats together. But for a runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, rollerblader and snowshoer, I need my yoga to be still and slow like a turtle. I get enough cardio-exercise from my other activities. I need yoga to balance me out with strength and flexibility.

So don’t discount the turtle as a lowly, bumbling creature. She may have a lot to teach you about yoga.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yoga Bodies

One quick search of the web for yoga classes turns up a whole host of options: “Yoga for Seniors,” Yoga for Men,” “Yoga for Over-50,” “Yoga for Plus-Sizes,” “Yoga for Kids,” and the list goes on. There’s a yoga class for just about everyone and everything now, even dogs.

The average student many find this quiet baffling. If you’re a 50-year-old man with a dog who has never done yoga before, you might wonder which class you should attend; the men’s class, the beginners’ class, the over-50 class or the dogs’ class.?

The answer, with a few exceptions, has more to do with preference really than anything else. Who would you rather be around during your class?
I’ve known some students who still consider themselves beginners even after five years of practice but would be too advanced to attend a beginners’ class and many so called “plus-sized” yogis who can do beautiful poses without needing any modifications. I’ve also seen plenty of super-flexible seniors who would balk at doing yoga in a chair and 25-year-olds who could really use one.

As an instructor, I’ve always shied away from labeling my classes. I don’t like the idea of excluding anyone because of age or lack-there-of or categorizing people by body-type or gender. I of course have the luxury of teaching in a smaller setting so I’m able to help my students when they run into challenges with poses. This doesn’t always work on a larger scale such as in a gym so it’s much more appropriate to label classes in those settings so students know what to expect.
Likewise, there is certainly value in having a class just for beginners, or more specifically those students who have little or no experience with yoga. It’s also a good for students to know beforehand if a class is particularly active or challenging. Specialty classes such as restorative yoga or prenatal yoga are also beneficial because the whole class can focus on a particular topic or issue.

But classes that are labeled something like “Yoga for the Rest of Us,” imply that yoga is inaccessible to most “normal” people and that it’s only the super bendy among us that can do it.

One of the worst things I hear from students is that they think I’m able to do certain poses because I’m thin and still youngish. Or because I’m thin and young I wouldn’t be able to teach students who aren’t as thin or young. An instructor who is knowledgeable about both yoga and the body doesn’t have to be a particular physical type to understand different challenges various students face. A good teacher can and should be able to teach a variety of students.

Sure, I felt a bit conspicuous when I walk into to teach a class of seniors or men, but it doesn’t mean I don’t understand that they have different needs or face different challenges than I do. I’m certainly not going to show-off in front of a group of seniors by doing side-crow or touching my nose to my knees in a forward bend.

The beauty of yoga is that it is not one-size fits all which is the reason I believe various types of people can practice together and still benefit from being in the same class together. The important thing is know your body and your boundaries and be willing to use a prop or do the modified version when necessary.

I think it’s good for students to practice with people who are different from each other. There’s so much more that can be learned in a diverse group. It encourages you to let go of your ego when you see someone doing a pose that you aren’t able to yet. Or that you need not be limited by your body type or age.

Over the years, I’ve learned so much from working with students of all abilities and ages and even cancer patients. I’ve learned creative ways to modify poses, humor in the face of body-boundaries, graceful aging and the value of simply waking up one more day.

My philosophy as a teacher is that I will work with anyone who is willing to work with me. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers but I’m willing to be patient and find creative solutions for challenges that might arise.

Sorry, I don’t teach dogs though, I’m a cat-person.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Age of Anxiety

You are not alone.

It's estimated that 19.1 million people in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety, be it panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias or generalized anxiety. World-wide one in four people are likely to suffer some form of anxiety at some point in there lives. Approximately $42.3 billion, or nearly one-third of all mental healthcare costs, is spent annually to treat anxiety.

As a society we are more anxious than we've ever been at any point in history and yet we are the safest we've ever been. So why are we so anxious?

Because we are surrounded by a constant stream of information via the internet, television, radio, friends, and family. We are subjected to more stories about mishaps, accidents and illnesses in one week than our great-grandparents were in their entire lives or there about.

With all of us running around scared why are we still ashamed and embarrassed about it? We do we go to such great lengths to pretend we're OK when we're not?

Not too long ago, a student came to me for yoga to relieve her back pain but it turned out she had much more going on than just her back. She had spent many years cooped up at home due to debilitating anxiety she didn't want anyone to see. Years of her life had been spent away from other people because she was too afraid of what other people would think if they knew about her condition. While yoga eased her back pain some, it did more to help ease her anxiety.

Lately, I've had similar conversations with other students suffering from anxiety who find it hard to open-up and share their stories. The more stories I hear, the more they all start to sound the same. Worse than fear itself, we're afraid of others seeing it.

Our culture values the person who doesn't even break a sweat when confronted with knee-knocking, gut-churning circumstances. Maybe that's why extreme sports are so popular. Everyone wants to prove how brave they are by jumping off bridges with giant rubber-bands tied to their ankles or surf the waves using a kite.

Anxiety disorders are near and dear to me because I've suffered from one or another kind for the last 14 years of my life. In fact it was anxiety that lead me to become a yoga teacher. I thought that if I just immersed myself in a calm and relaxed atmosphere I could rid myself of it. Turns out that there's no way to completely eliminate stress from life. Anxiety will always follow you even into the calmest most serene environments if you try to run from it.

Since we live in an age of anxiety it's impossible to run away from anxiety but there are ways to manage it. Yoga is one of the best methods I've found. Study after study confirms this finding.

Yoga teaches you calming breathing techniques, how to relax in uncomfortable situations instead of resisting or running, and releases physical tension through stretching. It also teaches you how to calm and quiet your mind and listen to your body.

More specifically, many yoga poses stretch the psoas muscle which is considered the second most emotional muscle in the body next to the heart. The psoas is innervated by the Vagus nerve which controls the fight or flight mechanism in the body. By relaxing the psoas you are able to relax the rest of the body. 

The biggest lesson practicing yoga taught me, wasn't how to get rid of my anxiety but how to accept it and even befriend it. I learned that my happiness didn't depend on how calm I was or how calm I could pretend to be. Instead I realized how capable I was of managing it and it became a much less intimidating. Learn to manage it instead of fleeing from it and it won't be as big of a monster.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Running for balance

If you come around my neck of the woods in the morning, (on non-class days of course) you might catch me running through the neighborhood. Yep, that's me in the pink T-shirt that says, "I run like a girl, try to keep up," plugging away at my weekly mileage.

You might wonder what I'm doing out there, having heard me disparage running in the past. Or perhaps you heard me complain about my knees in class and how I can't run anymore because of them.

Thought is seems unlikely, what I'm doing out there is running for my life.

In February, my doctor gave me some bad news; the x-rays showed my knees are fine. It made me wonder if the pain was a fiction of my mind so that I didn't have to face my deepest fears; if my yogic aversion to running was just an excuse for the same.

In school and in college, I loved to run. I was pretty good at it too. Though I never entered any races after I traded track for tennis, on my own I once ran 4.5 miles in 27 minutes. (That's six minutes per mile for those who are counting.)

But something happened along the way to mind that created a running-phobia. I developed panic attacks which made me think that running would be bad for me. What if I got out there and had an attack? What if I just fell down dead? It's been known to happen, or so I had heard.

After several failed attempts to start running again after college, I gave it up for good nine years ago. Even though the attacks had abated, the fear continued to linger. Besides, who needs to run when yoga is so much better for your joints and fast walking is still considered a cardio-workout?

Apparently, I do need to run. This spring my mind and my body (and God too) let me know that despite teaching yoga for years, sometime several classes a day, I need more exercise.

Yoga helps slow and calm my mind. It releases tension from my body, but I need the balance of hard, vigorous exercise like running to help my manage anger and anxiety.

Running gives my body an outlet for difficult emotions like anger, fear and grief while walking would just set my mind churning. When I run, I can't think except to listen to my breath and the rhythm of my foot strikes, but my body is fully engaged in whatever emotion has overcome me, working it out in sweat and heavy breathing. Yoga can this too, but since I teach, it's hard to make yoga all mine alone. Running is what I do for myself, yoga is what I do for others and therein lies the balance.

In case you're wondering, yoga and running are in fact very compatible. I've always recommended that students have both a yoga practice and a cardio practice, since yoga doesn't always get your heart beating fast enough and long enough to count as cardio exercise. Some styles of yoga do this but not specifically the Iyengar style which I teach.

Yoga benefits runners by helping maintain flexibility which running can diminish. It also helps with faster recovery from hard workouts; provides core-strength which makes for better running form; improved lung-capacity from breathwork; endurance from holding the poses and finding the "edge" of your comfort zone; and mental strength from mindfulness and meditation.  

Running gives my competitive side and outlet. Rather than smothering it with the yogic ideal of non-competition which only make show up in other unwanted places, I am able to give it voice when I run. However, yoga gives me perspective and has taught me not to take my goals or myself too seriously. After all, I'm supposed to be running for the shear joy of it not, to prove something to world or myself.

Yoga has also taught me when it's time to back off and rest. It has taught  me to listen to my body and not push beyond my capabilities. As I've said many times to my students boundaries are there for a reason, don't try to push past them. When I run, I have to practice this or I know I'll injure myself. I practice this too because if I push myself mentally beyond what I'm comfortable with, I my end up back where I started.

Most notably, yoga made my re-entry into the running world much easier than I expected. Within two months of starting again I was able to run five miles in 42 minutes. A far cry from my personal best, but not too shabby for someone who hadn't run in nine years and who is also 15 years older from when that record was set.

So if you do see me running around the neighborhood or in local race, know that I haven't gone and lost my mind, I'm actually finding it. I feel like if I can run, I can do anything.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pairing massage and yoga for great benefits

I know it probably shouldn't surprise me, but it does. Every time I talk with someone who's never had a massage or has never tried yoga, I find myself in disbelief. To me it's like someone saying they've never seen a computer or a cell phone before.

One look at the listings for massage and yoga classes and it's easy to see just how ubiquitous both have become.  But maybe the problem isn't the lack of options but the over-abundance of them that leaves people confused and unsure of what's best for them.

Since I'm also a massage therapist I thought I might share some of my insights into the wonderful world of massage for all you massage novices.

Just as there are many styles of yoga there are many types of massage. The key is to decide what you are looking to get out of your massage. Do you have chronic pain or tension? Are you stressed? Do you have an injury or aliment that affects your muscles and joints? Or are you just looking to treat yourself to something nice? These are all great reasons to have a massage.

Many people start off going to a spa since it's often the most well-known venue for massage. This is a great introduction to massage, just as a class at a gym can be a good introduction to yoga. But neither is likely to satisfy your specific needs when it comes to injuries and aliments.

Spas are wonderful for a "treat yourself" massage or general relaxation, but many clients I've inherited from spas say that  they need a more treatment-focused massage for things like lower back pain and frozen shoulder.This is the kind of massage I specialize in and enjoy doing the most. I often joke that I am a "fix-it" massage therapist.

When I first started teaching yoga, many students would walk through the door after having finished up a physical therapy prescription or because they had been battling an injury that they didn't feel needed a doctor's attention yet. Yoga often helped them immensely, but sometimes there would be lingering pain or stiffness that no amount of stretching could quite release. Enter massage.

Massage is great for loosening up those areas that yoga just can't seem to access. Sometimes it takes another set of hands, quite literally, to get the job done. Another way to think about it is a manual adjustment of a specific muscle or muscles bring the body back into balance.

What's great about pairing yoga with massage is that often yoga students are very aware of their bodies and can pinpoint where they hold their tension and what areas of their body need extra work. After a massage, I can recommend specific poses for them to practice to get the most benefit from the body-work they just received.

Yoga students are already adept at massage-breathing because the same breathing techniques are used in massage that are taught in yoga class. Deep breathing helps your muscles relax and release just as much on the massage table as on the yoga mat. I try to get my clients to use their breath when working on a particularly tender area.

Likewise, massage can often create greater awareness of areas in the body that need more attention on the mat.  When you know that your shoulder is stiff you may naturally try to do poses to stretch your shoulders. But when you know which part of your shoulder is tight and which part is weak, then you know which poses will help you the most. You will be able to start drawing connections between which poses feel good for your body and which poses you struggle with and why.

As for my massage practice, I am specifically trained in and specialize in Swedish massage; deep tissue; Trigger Point therapy, which releases inflamed nerves that can refer pain to other parts of the body as in the case of tension headaches that often originate in the shoulders; treatment for migraines and other types of headaches; TMJD; sciatica and other lower back and hip issues; pregnancy massage; massage for cancer patients including Manual Lymphatic Drainage for limbs that have had lymph nodes removed and post-surgical swelling; plantar fascitis; rotator cuff issues; carpal tunnel; and knee problems.

Phew! I know that's a lot of information to list and chances are if you didn't see your particular issue up there, I am able to treat it or I can refer you to someone else who can.

One final note for those who are a bit squeamish when it comes to the thought of another person touching you or being undressed on a massage table, you might want to try chair massage (like the kind you see in the mall or in an airport) first since it's shorter and you are fully clothed. As for the table experience, clients are always covered except for the particular body part that is being worked. There are ways of draping the covers to avoid exposing anything that shouldn't see the light of day if you know what I mean. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are those $100 yoga pants worth it?

"What do I wear to yoga class?" Believe it or not this is one of the most frequent questions I get asked by new and continuing students.

In the days before yoga reached it's epic popularity, sweats and a t-shirt would suffice. Now, it seems there are plenty of clothing choices and just about every shop from Target to REI has it's own yoga-wear line.

As a teacher, I've tried just about every brand and I definitely have my favorites. You might be surprised to learn that they aren't always the most expensive ones. I will say that because I'm in my clothes all day, the cheaper brands often wear-out too quickly, so it's often worth it for me to pay a bit more up front for clothing that lasts. However, my needs are different from the average student so I often recommend the more affordable brands first such as Target or Old Navy because they're comparable to the more expensive ones.

For beginners, sweats and a t-shirt still suffice. It's better to wear what you already have in your closet before you decided to "invest" in yoga clothes. One; because you aren't sure if you are going to stick with yoga long enough to need new clothes and two; because you don't know what kind of clothes you will need. You may be the kind of person who runs cold and needs long-sleeves and long pants or you might run warm and want a tank-top and shorts.

Material matters. There are certain types of fabric that are too slippery such as nylon and can make poses like tree much more challenging. Some people find synthetic fabric too constricting while other people don't like the bagginess of cotton. Comfort is the main consideation when it comes to yoga clothes. 

Coverage also matters. Please, no running shorts or super low cut tops. As a teacher I often get an eye-full of what I don't want to see when students choose to wear such clothes. That said, you might be more modest and would prefer to have a longer shirt so that it doesn't ride up when you bend over or are in child's pose. The cut of your pants might also matter for the same reason. Low-rise yoga pants may look cute but they tend to slide down in back and can leave you feeling exposed. You don't want to spend your entire class time pulling up your pants and worrying what the person behind you is seeing.

More experienced students often ask me if those expensive lines of clothing are really worth it. The answer is it depends. How often do you plan to wear your clothes? Are you hard on your clothes? Is it hard to find your size in the less expensive brands? What do you plan to get out of your clothes? If you just want to look "yoga like" then the more expensive ones aren't worth it. It doesn't matter how exclusive your clothes if you still struggle with your poses, you won't look like a yoga expert. And no, those $100 pants won't make down-ward dog easier.

If you do decide you need a higher quality of clothing brand, I recommend checking off-price stores such as TJ Maxx or Ross first as often they carry such brands on closeout. They also carry mats and props too for less than what you will find in most stores. You may have to hunt around a bit but the point isn't to go broke buying your accessories however needed they may be. If you spend all your money on clothes and can't afford class, what good are your clothes going to do you hanging in the closet?

Speaking of mats, this is another topic I'm frequently asked about. Many students want to know what mat they should buy. Again this depends on your needs. For some students, one mat is as good as the next and another student may have to try five before she finds the right one.

I don't have a particular brand of mat I'm in love with so best advice I can give you is to find one with the right length, padding and stickiness for you. Don't worry about color or design. A pretty mat won't help you much if you're slidding on it or constantly stepping off the back of it.

As with clothes, expensive isn't necessarily better. I still have my very first mat and it's still in good condition. (Before that I had a beach towel. Yoga mats weren't as ubiquious when I first began practicing.) I chose to up-grade to a mat with more padding and a stickier surface because of the number of classes I was teaching. For me the expense was worth it since I'm on it several times a day.

One thing I will say is to be aware of the eco-friendly rubber mats. A few years ago research was released stating that the PVC in most yoga mats creates harmful pollution. I am all for keeping the environment free of toxins but many of the rubber mats fall apart quickly and leave behind debris. Several companies make yute mats which are eco-friendly and don't fall apart. There are also cloth mats.

To avoid waste, save your old mat for padding under your new one; use it in the car as a non-skid surface for your groceries or you can donate it to charitable organizations with yoga programs. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rest as a strategy for economic recovery?

The woman on the phone was a bit indignant; "You don't work Saturdays? I would think that would be a busy day for you." I explained that while Saturdays might be busy days for spas and salons, I've never found that Saturday classes work well and that most people who put their backs out, do so during Saturday activities. It's Sunday and Monday that they need yoga and massage most, and that's when other places are closed.

But that isn't the whole reason. My husband's brutal work schedule leaves very little time for us to be together during the week. Throw in my evening classes and clients and it get's near impossible. Besides, I teach classes or see clients six days a week, I need at least one whole day of rest or by Tuesday I'm dragging. Who wants a tired and bedraggled yoga teacher? Not me.

Moreover, I like to practice what I preach. In class, I'm always reminding students that there is a balance of work and rest. This is why we practice child's pose, legs up the wall and savasana along with warrior, plank and downward dog poses.Certainly, it's good to exert and challenge yourself but there's also a time to rest and let your mind and body restore.

Yet too often I see students with dark circles under their eyes, yawning their way through class. I often receive emails posted at 1:30 in the morning and the same students show up at 8:45 for class. I wonder, caring for small children notwithstanding, what these people are doing up at that hour? Which leads me to wonder what's wrong with us as a society that we shun rest and applaud those industrious folks who work 16 hours a day and live on four hours of sleep?

Teaching yoga puts me in contact with a broad cross-section of the working populous. I hear the woeful tales of budget cuts which force employees to take on the burden of more and more work as their companies either layoff or freeze hiring of people. Longer, stressful days are the norm now. Not that such days weren't before but with today's economy being such as it is, employees are being told they should just be thankful they have a job. (A recent article on Yahoo, however, states that CEO salaries are back to pre-recession levels. Hmm...)

Should they though? Recent studies show that long periods of sitting are detrimental to your health no matter how active you are outside of work. It's not just your posture that suffers but your blood pressure and your cholesterol as well. Other studies show that the longer your day is the harder it is on your heart putting you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. I could go on but it just gets more and more depressing.

I suppose it's easy for me, self-employed as I am, to get up on my soapbox and extol the virtues of rest and relaxation. Yes, I'm a yoga teacher and supposed to say such things, mind you. But as someone who is able to sit back and look at the broader picture, I wonder what good can come of such a hectic pace? At what point do people work so hard that their productivity drops, or they are unable to work because they are sick or injured?

I believe we may be in great danger of running ourselves into the ground and where will our economy be then? Economist predict that by 2010 China's economy will eclipse ours. I doubt the wisdom of trying to extract the work of two people from one to promote economic growth. Perhaps it will help companies' profit margins but the impact on Main street is likely to be burnout, not recovery.

A few years ago I clipped a quote from Yoga Journal that says, "What would it be like if you measured your success by how aligned you are with your deepest values? " Maybe collectively as a society we should be asking ourselves this question. What's more important our health and families or our wallets?

Don't think that I haven't had to ask myself this question. I've turned down plenty of work on Saturdays and given up classes because I felt my schedule was getting too full. I've had to ask myself is the money really worth it?

I hope that by modeling this practice it will help my students to begin to make similar choices in their own lives. It might need to be small steps at first, such as taking that week of vacation instead of cashing it in, or saying no to voluntary overtime to come to yoga. It might not spur economic recovery but hopefully it will ease some of the haggard, stress-filled expressions I see on so many faces these days.

One final point; when Henry Ford started rolling out cars, there was no such thing as a five day work week. As a marketing strategy, Ford began giving his employees Saturdays off so that they could be seen driving around in his cars. The strategy worked and other companies began following suit. Maybe it's time to revisit that concept.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A few other things your yoga teacher won't tell you.

This past week a yoga blog went viral on the internet titled, "13 things your yoga teacher won't tell you" by Emily Green. Several students asked me if I'd seen it and of course I had. Most of them thought it was rather funny and so did I initially. However, lunch with a fellow instructor made me realize how true, if somewhat harsh, most of it is. Ms. Green's stark honesty is a breath of fresh air and has inspired me to write a few honest observations of my own.

Yes, it's true that we instructors are more than just a little irked when students come late to class or project other annoying behavior. Most tardy students do a good job of coming in quietly and really, who hasn't run late on occasion? Even I sometimes find myself rushing to class or rushing to be ready on time. However, there are a few serial time violators who seem to think it's OK to come to class late regularly because they always have a good reason. These are the people that bother me most because I know that the other annoyed students expect me to "say something" to them.

Honestly, I hate being put in that position. I'm a terribly non-confrontational person. I've been asked numerous times by students to make yoga etiquette announcements in class about tardiness, perfume, cell phones, mat placement etc etc and it always makes me uncomfortable. Sure, it's my job to ensure that everyone has a sacred space to practice in, free of distractions, but often when we are in community other people's "stuff" tends filter into our lives. Yoga teaches us to tune out such distractions The best thing we can do when someone's behavior annoys us is make adjustments, speak our peace, and not let it ruin our day. I tend to pick and choose my battles and try to incorporate as much grace into my classes as I can. Just because I'm smiling doesn't mean I'm OK with it, it just means I'm trying not to let it get in the way of our relationship. Do try to come on time, please.

Ms. Green also writes that it bothers her when some yoga teachers try to act like gurus with all the answers. For me it's worse when I think students expect me to be the epitome of happy, calm and serene. I confess that there have been times that I've been so unsettled and anxious that I wondered if should even be teaching yoga at all.

A few years ago I was having a difficult time emotionally and was sleeping very poorly. I confessed this to a class and one student looked at me and said, "Really? But you're a yoga teacher!"

The reality is this: I'm a human being just like you. I'm not perfect. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, I worry a lot and I've taught more than a few classes smiling when I wanted to cry. I don't teach yoga because I'm some enlightened creature who wanders around in a perfect state of emotional and physical balance. I teach yoga because it makes me feel better and I want to share that with others. I also teach yoga because I want a career with less pressure and stress than my previous one but it hasn't always worked out that way.

Sometimes I give so much of myself I feel I have nothing left to give. Sometimes I'm so empty that my soul feels tired. These are the times that I'm in danger of exhausting myself to the point of being useless to everyone including myself. That's when I know it's time to back off a bit but I find it hard to say "no."

It's hard to say "no" when I there's so much need out there. There's so many hurting people; hurting physically, hurting emotionally, hurting spiritually. It can be overwhelming. I want to help every person and be present for everyone, but I find I'm limited by my humanness. I can't fix you, I can't even fix myself. Still I try and that's what get's any yoga teach into trouble fast. It's then that I've stepped out of my role of teacher and into the role of savior.

At last check I am still in need of a savior myself and will always be. And when I fall into the trap of to trying save or fix everyone and burning myself out in doing so, these words of Jesus come to my mind; "Come to me all of you who are wearied and burdened and I will give you rest." Then I take a deep breath, know that I am filled again and it's not my job to save the world. I am only an instrument of healing, not the healer.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sooth your lower back aches

Over the years I've noticed that injuries and physical ailments tend to come in waves. One month I might see a spate of shoulder issues and the next month everyone seems to be having knee trouble. I'm not sure why this is but it's just an observation. Recently, I've heard a lot of lower back complaints. Several students have commented that I should have a book or at least a list of poses and their descriptions to practice at home. Well, here's the next best thing, a blog.

A lot of lower back trouble tends to stem from a weak core. Studies show that people with the strongest core muscles have the least amount of lower back pain. Poses such as plank, (the push-up position); forearm plank; staff pose (seated with legs straight and arms up over head); hunting dog (on all fours with right arm extended forward and left leg extend back in line with the hip and then switch sides); leg lifts (laying on your back with your hands under your hips lift your straight legs perpendicular to your hips on the exhalation and lower parallel to the floor on the inhalation. Keep your knees bend if it's too much for your back); are all good examples of core strengthening poses. Mountain pose is also a great pose for the back because it puts your posture into proper alignment. Stand with your big toes together, heals slightly apart. Bend your knees and tuck your tailbone under you. Then straighten your knees as you lift up through your lower abdominal muscles as if zipping your jeans. Keep your shoulders rolled back. This pose teaches you to use your abdominals to hold up your lower back which puts less pressure on that area.

Keeping the lower back flexible is another way to alleviate aches and pains in that area. Poses such as cat/cow (on all fours inhale your spine toward the ceiling and drop your head and tail. Then exhale and lift your head and tail as your stomach drops down. Repeat at least ten times); sphinx pose (on your stomach with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your shoulders dropping down away from your ears. You may lift your feet perpendicular to your knees with your feet flexed); locus pose, (laying on your stomach with your arms extended to the sides, lift your head and chest with your gaze at the floor. You may also lift your feet off the floor by engaging your hip and thigh muscles to help you lift) all help create strength and flexibility in the lower back.

Hips and hamstrings are also another key component of a healthy lower back. The hip series is wonderful for soothing lower back trouble. You will need a strap for these poses, but an old necktie or bathrobe tie works just as well. Lay on your back and bring your right knee to your chest. Loop the strap over your foot and extend the leg toward the ceiling. Keep the knee straight which might mean lowering the leg a bit. Press down through the back of your left leg. Hold for five-ten breaths. Then holding the strap in your left hand, take the right leg toward the left side of the body just to the point you feel the stretch in the side of your hip and thigh. Hold again for five-ten breaths. Then with the right hand holding the strap, take the right leg out to the right side just to the point the left hip wants to lift off the floor. Place your left hand on the top of the hip to encourage it to stay down. Hold five to ten breaths. Repeat on the left side.

Also part of the hip series is Thread-the-Needle pose. This pose can be complicated but once you get into it it feels awesome. This pose is one of the best poses for sciatica related to the piriform muscle in the hip. Often this muscle becomes tight and impinges the sciatic nerve as it runs down from the spine to the leg. Bring your right knee to your chest and cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Make sure the whole ankle is crossed over and the foot stays flexed. Run your left hand between the legs and hold onto the back of the right thigh. The right hand will meet the left but from the outside of the leg. Draw the right knee toward the chest until you feel a good stretch in that hip.  Repeat on the opposite side.

Another common cause of lower back discomfort is a misaligned sacral-iliac joint. Often it feels as if there is a kink on one side of the hip and one hip may be higher than the other. There are two good poses for this. The first is a great quick fix if you just need to loosen it up. Standing on a block with the unaffected leg (a stair or curb would also work.) Swing your affected leg from the hip. Try not to bend the knee and watch that your toes don't stub the ground. You aren't kicking a soccer ball. Because you are standing on one leg, it is best to hold on to a wall for better balance.

The second pose always amazes students because it's so simple and yet effective. It involves laying on your back with the knee of the unaffected side at the chest and the affected knee bend with the foot on the floor. Slowly slide the heal of that foot down until the leg is fully extended. Then gently bounce the heal of that foot without letting it touch the floor. Once the leg feels a bit tired, slowly slide it back in. With both feet flat on the floor and knees bent, gently sway your knees side to side to check your hips. They should feel more balanced.

Hopefully, these poses and exercises help manage your lower back challenges between yoga classes. Remember to always keep your breath moving and work within your comfort level.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Looking forward, looking back

February, though now over, marks the five year anniversary of Tranquil Turtle Yoga studio. It has come without much fanfare this year, I admit, because of the swirl of other activities vying for my attention.  As I write this, I'm preparing to leave for a two week vacation, followed by a manual lymphatic drainage training. Not to mention I had been trying to figure out a new location for my prenatal yoga class, which so far hasn't panned out. It appears the class will be staying here for now and really I'm OK with that.

The possibility of moving my prenatal class got me thinking about the direction of the studio and where I, and it, might be headed in the future. I've wondered about my ability to teach yoga into my latter years. I know many older instructors but some on-going knee pain made me rethink that idea. Fortunately, I received an all-clear from my doctor. I'm not doing myself any unrepairable harm by teaching several class a day at this point.

I also wondered a bit about the future of yoga. I know it sounds funny to wonder about the sustainability of something 5000 years old, but recent conversations with students and other instructors and a quiet January at the studio made me think that maybe the Everett area has reached it's yoga saturation point. Or maybe the yoga "fad" has died down. "Are there any new students still out there?" I asked myself.

What I concluded was that hot yoga and gym-based classes might be pulling in the newbies and those who just want to "try" yoga but there's still a very real need for specialized classes in the area: prenatal yoga, therapeutic yoga, yoga for seniors, not-so-hot yoga etc. That's where Tranquil Turtle Yoga comes in.

When I started my little studio I had grand plans. I never intended for it to remain in my house as long as it has. It was just a temporary location until I built up enough students to move it outside. Sure, I've looked at rental space. Most of was too expensive to reasonably consider and the spaces that weren't just didn't have the right feel or weren't in good location.

But these are just excuses. The truth is I'm comfortable where I am and really don't want to move now.  I like my basement studio. I like the view out the window and cozy feeling it emits. I like that I don't have to drive anywhere to get to it. (I joke that a bad commute is a two-cat pile-up on the stairs.) I like that there's very little overhead. I like my students. Most of all I like the freedom it gives me. There's no staff to manage, no rent to pay, no teaching format to follow.

Many people have heard me talk about my days at the newspapers and how stressful and unrewarding that was for me. However, not many people know that I didn't really enjoy my first years as a yoga teacher as much as I had expected. Sure, I was glad to be done with my old job but it wasn't as relaxing as I thought it would be. I was always racing from one class to the next, going from fifth gear to first and back to fifth without every shifting in between. Classes were very big and often I had no idea who was in the back row and much less their experience level. I felt like I had to teach generic, one-size-fits-all classes. I couldn't really use most of the therapeutic training I'd received and so wanted to share. I started thinking is this all there is?

Then through a series of events and missteps, my husband, who had once suggested I become a yoga teacher, suggested I convert his "gameroom" into a yoga studio. I think he made this sacrifice mainly to avoid having me make a big financial mistake which would have been far worse than giving-up a gameroom. And here I am five years later.

My husband still asks now and then when he can have his room back. Well, to answer his question, as far as I can see not anytime soon. As long as it's still working to keep the studio here, God willing, I'll be here for another five years.

As those year progress, I see my studio turning more and more into a niche of specialty classes, something that most students won't find at their gym, and in some cases, anywhere else. I'd rather not follow the yoga trends, I've never been one for trendy, but rather start my own.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


As Valentine's Day draws near, your thoughts might be turning to romance. Yes, love is in the air, and with love comes commitment. I'm not just talking about to your sweetie but to yourself. To love yourself means to commit to yourself. Committing to taking care of yourself both physically and mentally.

When things get hectic and deadlines loom, often the first thing to be compromised is our health. We skip yoga class because we have to work late or we're just too tired to go after a long day. We pick-up fastfood on the way home instead of washing and preparing the veggies that are already in the refrigerator. We veg-out on the couch in front of the TV because it's easier than sitting quietly to reflect on the day. However, it's when we are stressed and under pressure that our bodies and minds most need good food, exercise and relaxation.

Committing to yourself doesn't have to be about rules and regulation, self-discipline and guilt. Diets and exercise regiments fail because they are looked upon as restrictions instead of loving acts of kindness towards ourselves. We think that we need to shape-up, get it together and follow a plan but really we just need to be compassionate towards ourselves. We need to listen to our bodies which will tell us what we really need.

Compassion can mean tough love though. You might decide to go to yoga class even when you are tired with the understanding that you don't have to push yourself to do your very best poses. You might do the modified versions that night instead. It might also mean picking up a salad on the way home instead of burger for dinner. Many quick-serve places have healthier options now, we just have to choose them.

Commitment isn't easy whether it be a romantic relationship or to yourself. Often commitment is what holds everything together when life gets challenging. Commitment is how we sustain ourselves in adversity not just when it's convenient and fits into our schedule. I've been learning this in a very personal way with a husband who has been working 16 hour days lately (and not by choice.) There have been times when I've complained to God that this isn't fair and that a marriage can't grow under such conditions. Unfortunately, God answered back that marriages that aren't challenged don't grow. So much for my righteous indignation.

It's true though, life's challenges are what help us grow and commitment is what we need to keep growing in the midst of the challenge. Think about that the next time you are tempted to "cheat" on yourself with unhealthy foods and practices. Don't let guilt weight you down because guilt is counter-productive. Instead ask yourself honestly what you truly need in that moment not just what you think will make you feel better or seems easiest. You might be surprised at the answer.