Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meet the Teacher of the Month

From yoga and meditation to reiki and massage there is little Kristin Leal is unaware of if it pertains to the body. She even holds certifications in neuromuscular and myofascial release. Kristin is a student for life – curious and ever expanding her knowledge of anatomy, movement and yoga philosophies – it is this inquisitiveness and depth that makes her a New York Yoga favorite. She has a fabulous sense of humor in her class room and creates a space for beginners and advanced practitioners alike to energetically explore their practice.

Kristin has been a guest on New York Yoga’s 200 hour Teacher Training faculty many times. She created the Kaya Yoga programs and has worked with Alan Finger to further his development of the Ishta Marma Point teacher training as well. It is no question that she will continue to be a powerful force at New York Yoga and to the greater yoga community.

Kristin teaches at the York studio on Mondays at 6:05pm and 7:35pm; and on Wednesdays at 4:35pm and 6:05pm.

Kristin, when did you first discover yoga?

I first discovered yoga in 1993 – a friend of mine from my dance program took me to a class at the old Jivmukti studio. I started practicing there because the stretching complimented my dance practice. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about at first but was curious about non competiveness nature of yoga – totally different from the dancing I was doing at the time.

How long have you been teaching?
About fifteen years.

What makes your class unique?
I try to balance the seriousness of your enlightenment with not taking yourself too seriously. I like to make the teachings practical and not just an exercise for class that day, so that people can bring it into their everyday life.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
I don’t have a favorite pose to teach. I prefer to see the students find themselves energetically in each posture – the specific posture itself is fairly irrelevant.

What is you favorite pose to practice?
All poses have different energetic effects and compliments. My main goal is to connect with who I am beyond the labels, attributes and conditions. I practice to connect with my higher self beyond the pose. But I guess you could say anything that opens me up enough to meditate or anything that is going to help me to be a more present teacher that day.

Best advice for beginners?

Best advice for more advanced yogis?

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
Actually I am trying to work on compassion; I want to work past my pet peeves. I used to have some pet peeves about class manners but now when something ruffles my feathers I’m trying to notice where it comes from and get beyond that.

Reader questions…

Who are your biggest influences?
Sharon Gannon and David Life early on, Katchie Ananda was my teacher at Jivamukti in the early nineties, and for the past three years Alan Finger has been a huge influence personally and professionally.

Are there any other projects like the “Yoga Fan” coming up?
I am currently co-writing a book with Alan about aligning the western anatomy with the more eastern esoteric anatomy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taking Time in Tadasana

December Pose of the Month

During the holidays, its easy to get overwhelmed with commitments and responsibilities. Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, provides us with a solid base to start any day, especially a busy one. While it is a basic yoga posture, it also improves posture and creates space for the internal organs to work more efficiently.

Benefits of this pose include but are not limited to:
  • Relief from sciatica
  • Reduction in flat feet
  • Stronger abdomen, thighs, knees and ankles
How to -

1. Stand with the bases of your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (so that your second toes are parallel). Lift and spread your toes and the balls of your feet, then lay them softly down on the floor. Rock back and forth and side to side. Gradually reduce this swaying to a standstill, with your weight balanced evenly on the feet.

2. Press your shoulder blades into your back, then widen them across and release them down your back. Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift the top of your sternum straight toward the ceiling. Widen your collarbones. Hang your arms beside the torso.

Tadasana is usually the starting position for all the standing poses. But it's useful to practice Tadasana as a pose in itself. Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing easily.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

It would make sense to be hugely grateful for happiness.  Filled with a true deep happiness, how could one be anything other than grateful? That said, I believe it’s huge gratitude that engenders happiness in the first place.  To me, intentional gratitude is the seed and the soil and the sun and the rain. And happiness is what sprouts organically from that.

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.” Denis Waitley

It’s my Yoga practice that showed me that the Gratitude State is both a choice and a cosmic wormhole to joy. And for that teaching, I’m so ridiculously grateful! It’s a delicious, recursive loop.

“Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy… “ — Brother David Steindl-Rast

Gratitude is specific. We are ‘grateful for’ or ‘grateful to’. So let me be specific. I’m grateful for the gift of joy that the Yoga teachings has delivered to me. I’m grateful to my Yoga teachers, and to their teachers, and theirs - all the way back in time. I try to picture this ancient, teaching lineage right back to its roots.  It’s like contemplating the infinity of deep space; marvelous and totally unfathomable. 

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” — Rabbi Harold Kushner

It is said that it’s a great blessing to encounter the Yoga teachings in one’s lifetime. And clearly I agree. Moreover I’m twice-blessed. I get to share these amazing teachings as my full time occupation. Sometimes, seriously, I just have to side hop and click my heels with delight.

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present — love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure — the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” –Sarah Ban Breathnach

And so, from time to time, needing to take action on my gratitude for Yoga, I have trees planted in the names of my teachers and my teacher's teachers and my students -and very importantly! -  also in the names of the studios and the people who run those studios that make it possible for me to teach.

“If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.” — Meister Eckhart

Recently, I arranged for 40 trees to be planted. They'll be planted in parts of the world that suffer from deforestation and they'll be fruit bearing trees which will get planted in areas that suffer from lack of food (my guess is they'll be planted in Haiti, but the organization that does the planting – - will decide where it's needed most). So that's to say, some beautiful life-giving trees will go into the ground in the name of New York Yoga and my students here, in gratitude for enabling me to share the gift of Yoga.

And let me be clear, it’s a totally selfish act on my part. Because doing so brings me so much joy.

“Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” — Edwin Arlington Robinson

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Johnson Chong is a newer addition to New York Yoga’s schedule and has already wowed students with his vigorous vinyasa flow classes. This month, he has added the Wednesday 8:25am Power Hour All Levels, at the York studio, to his line up. Johnson also teaches the Friday 9:35am Vinyasa All Levels, at York, and the Sunday 11:00am 90 minute Hot Vinyasa Open.

 If you have not yet tried Johnson’s classes, be sure to check them out! Be prepared for fabulous alignment based cues and adjustments, music that supports your yoga groove and a teacher who will leave you with a stronger understanding of your body. This up-and-comer will keep you focused and encourage you to meet your highest, purest self on the mat.

Johnson, when did you first discover yoga?
I discovered yoga during my first year of college. A friend of mine started a yoga club and yoga  was also taught as one of the many movement courses through my acting conservatory training at SUNY Purchase.

How long have you been teaching?
Two years; I’m a young teacher.  I received my original training through Joschi Yoga Institute, and from there, embarked on a Thai Yoga Massage training with Lotus Palm Thai Massage School.  Now, I continue to study and teach the mind+body curriculum at Studio Anya, which is an in depth movement philosophy that incorporates yoga and pilates to facilitate profound change.

What makes your class unique?
I see what people are doing and adjust my cuing to who is taking class. Most of my cuing is anatomy based – lots of skeletal vocabulary to deepen people's spatial awareness in motion.  Muscular shifts are very temporary, and the more people can deepen their relationship to their bones, the more successful the integration of these postures will translate into real life.  My classes are also driven strongly through intention and dynamic meditation.  The whole asana practice is one big moving meditation after all, and the better people can be about counting, breathing and listening intently all the while, the more receptive the nervous system will be to welcome well earned openings.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Savasana.  The best thing to teach bumbling and bustling New Yorkers on the go is how to be actively resting.  Instead of going into an unconscious slumber, Savasana is an opportunity to witness the body and mind in a state of assimilation and integration.  How does this help in real life?  Well, instead of someone going into a panicked fight or flight frenzy running late for work, wouldn't Savasana be a good friend to have?
What is you favorite pose to practice?
I love Savasana after a grueling and sometimes not so grueling class because that’s where it’s at for me. With the bodywork I do, there is quite a bit of energy manipulation, and transference.  I tend to be a vacuum cleaner for a lot of people's junk, so savasana is a very necessary practice of shedding what's  unnecessary. Every savasana is like a miniature unveiling of one piece of beautiful artwork that is hidden by gnarly cobwebs. 
Best advice for beginners?
One-on-one's are the way to go.  Private instruction sets a firm foundation for people with specific issues that may come up for any beginner.  In a private setting, a beginner eliminates the part of the ego that is trying to mimic everyone else in the group setting.  Beginner's also have to take responsibility for themselves and not be afraid to ask questions, which is why a private setting is a better environment to start.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
This is my advice to myself quite often: “Be humble and listen.”  We all can fill in the blank and advise ourselves.  We already know the answers to some degree.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
Students instructing other students or friends in a class, or even going as far as adjusting them.  We've all been the rogue high school student or at least have that rogue kid inside ready to go against the grain, which is fine, but it makes my job much more difficult. 

Reader questions…

What are your hobbies?
I'm also a performer.  I act, dance (modern) and do aerial silk work.  Recently, was  introduced to Budokon, which is yoga movement fused with martial arts movement.  I used to practice kung fu, so I miss that Yang energy in yoga movement, and Budokon definitely covers it. 

What is your favorite music to play in class and why?
It's hard for me to pick favorites because I switch in and out of states or moods so quickly.  So music-wise, my one golden rule is that it should compliment what is being taught in class. 

Why should a student from your York class come try your Hot class / and vice versa?
Any hot class is challenging, and I teach the “Open,” which is wicked intense but a great challenge for a York student if they want to put their sense of inner stillness to a test. How efficient can you be with your actions and breath? Can you still quell the excessive mind chatter in an extremes? These are all additional challenges if you feel like you’re plateauing. But of course everyone is different, so some nervous systems literally cannot handle the overheating of the hot studio, and should be mindful of just jumping into any random class. Again, taking responsibility is key.

People should come from Hot to York to really experience their asana practice. I think it’s good to notice that your practice doesn’t have to be this extreme sport. If Hot is yang, then York is yin, come experience more yin energy. Hot yogis are radical and extremists, sometimes overly so. Taking a restorative or gentle class will actually help tone your muscles by letting all that lactic acid pent up in the system to wash out a bit. Knowing when to pull back and finding softer hues on the palette is a good thing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Standing in Sarvangasana

November Pose of the Month

The Sanskrit for Shoulder Stand, Sarvangasana, translates to “whole body” or “full-limbed” – and this is a pose that lives up to its name. It provides a good stretch for the head and neck, tones the legs and abdominals, promotes good circulation, strengthens the upper-back while relieving low-back pain, helps calm the nervous system and refresh the brain. Sarvangasana benefits the entire body by incorporating a little bit of everything – relaxation, inversion and revitalization – in one posture.

This November, as the holiday season approaches, let Shoulder Stand take some of the pressure off, relieve stress and refresh you. This pose also helps stimulate the thyroid gland to aid in digestion – Sarvangasana on Thanksgiving anyone?

Benefits of the pose include but are not limited to:

 • Relieves fatigue and helps to promote deep, restful sleep.

• Good for metabolism – helps the thyroid gland function more efficiently.

• Provides nutrient rich blood to brain.

• Benefits people with constipation, indigestion and asthma.

• Increases blood flow to aid headaches, congestion and sore throats.

How to:

1. Lie down with your back on a yoga mat. Arms rest by your side, palms flat on the mat.

2. Lift your hips off the floor and bring your legs up, over your head. Toes touch the mat above your head.

3. Straighten your spine, bend at the elbows and place your hands against your upper back - as near as possible to the shoulder blades.

4. Push your back upwards with your hands. Rest your weight on the back side of the shoulders. See to it that you do not bend the upper back and the chest.

5. Lift up your legs, one at a time. The pelvis is stacked straight over your back and hands.

6. Breathe deeply and find your balance – moving hands closer to shoulder blades to work towards straightening.

7. Hold for at least 30 seconds - or as long as comfortable.

8. When finished. Slowly bring your legs back to the mat over-head, one by one, stretch out your arms by your sides and slowly roll your back downward.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall 2010 Retreat Highlights: It was a Yoga Miracle

  • Beginning the day with a car rental pick up 'Um, excuse me sir, you want me to fit 3 people, 11 mats, 11 bolsters, blocks and straps in a Volkswagen beetle?'. Thankfully, we were given a larger car, at least where trunk space was concerned and got on the road. Not without first leaving the trunk open as we pulled away and then noticing that I had inadvertently popped the hood somewhere on the Harlem River Drive. Road trips are not without their bumps, right?
  • Hot apple cider upon arrival at The Waterfall House. Thanks Chad!
  • Tag team yoga with Jenny and Jimmy first night followed by the first of many amazing meals by Paco. Rain? What rain? 
  • The. Hot. Tub.
  • Waterfall hikes!
  • No cell service! Eep!
  • Saturday night Kirtan - Thanks Sarah for getting creative with the bouncy ball
  • Paco
  • Yoga photos for all! 
  • Wood burning fires
  • 5 amazing yoga classes
  • Perfect Durga Puja to close the retreat

Thank you to everyone that made our first retreat wonderful!
  Save the Date! - Summer 2011 - Mid-June!

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Cari Friedman has been teaching at New York Yoga for many years and is currently teaching 4:45pm and a 6:30pm class on Fridays. Cari delivers an Anusara class that is both challenging and gentle all in one. Class is challenging because you will have an invigorating class, and probably get to practice your handstand, and gentle because she provides a supportive space for students to meet themselves on the mat and explore.

Cari will encourage you to find the good in all things. She teaches from a place that incorporates personal experience, fun and the Universal Principles of Alignment. She is a busy mom, devoted yogi and one of New York Yoga’s shining elite.

Cari, when did you first discover yoga?
When I was 21 – my best friend was becoming a teacher and I wanted to support her.

How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for 10 years; under Max Strom, in 2001, and experienced my first Anusara training with Jimmy & Ruthie Bernaert and Ellen Saltonstall, in 2001-2002.  I’ve continued to study with John Friend and other senior Anusara teachers since then.

What makes your class unique?
I encourage my students to step into their authenticity while offering humility, and playfulness.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Handstand – because its one of the most exciting poses, its fun, it shakes you up. By taking you upside-down the pose makes you approach yourself. For most people it’s scary but that’s all in the mind. I like that handstand makes you step up to yourself and face that fear.

What is you favorite pose to practice?
No one pose.  Inversions are definitely a favorite, I like backbends because they are challenging and twists because they are healing and replenishing.

Best advice for beginners?
Remember that you are your own greatest teacher. Listen to how you feel and trust it. Do not be shy to ask questions and always state your concerns.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
To stay humble and to always honor the beginner’s principle – remember you are always a student; always try to have a beginner’s mind.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
I don’t think I have a pet peeve – but it’s always distracting when a mobile devise goes off in class.

How does teaching in an Anusara style influence your class?
When we open to the first principle “Open to Grace” we can open with a pause, a breath, to expand and find ourselves back to our most subtle and honest space.  From there we can apply the following Principles of Alignment to support us in coming back to our true nature. When we align to that nature through our bodies we empower & stabilize which encourages our freedom.  When we feel this from the inside out, we walk away remembering we are a part of something greater.

Has being a mom taught you anything new about yoga?
Being a mom is the ultimate yoga of patience and presence. Having a child makes you step up; as a mother you can’t be passive, you must participate and a child commands every second you have. You are alive, awake and as present as possible.

I have found that being a mom is one of the most incredible ways in which you can heal yourself. It has supported me in my own healing process as a woman – I have become a better person by having my daughter.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Surrender to Savasana

October - Pose of the Month

Changing seasons force us to adjust to different weather, schedules, clothing, et al. In our yoga practice and daily life, its important that we take the time to be still and accept the changes. Savasana, or Corpse Pose, allows us the time to physically and mentally accept all that is changing around us.

Benefits of the pose include but are not limited to:
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Relaxes the body
  • Reduces headache, fatigue and insomnia
  • Helps lower blood pressure
How to - 

1. Rotate your legs in and out, and then let them fall gently out to a neutral position

2. Let your arms fall alongside your body, slightly separated from the body, palms facing upwards.

3. Rotate the spine by turning your head from side to side to center it.

4. Then start stretching yourself out, as though someone is pulling your head away from your feet, your shoulders down and away from your neck, your legs down and away from your pelvis.

5. Breathe deeply and slowly from your abdomen.

6. Stay in this pose for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of practice. To exit, first roll gently with an exhalation onto one side, preferably the right. Take 2 or 3 breaths. With another exhalation, press your hands against the floor and lift your torso, dragging your head slowly after. The head should always come up last.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumnal Equinox Midnight Hot Yoga

Join Rachel Page to say goodbye to Summer and welcome Autumn. The Autumnal Equinox is a time to restore balance and harmony in your life. This is a time of harvest, a time to count your blessings, and a time to set your goals for the coming season. While the day and night are equal, examine the light and dark within yourself to find balance. Let Rachel guide you through a challenging vinyasa sequence as you explore the changes in nature and season, and look inward to appreciate changes and goals within yourself.

Wednedsay, September 22nd, 11pm - 12:15am
@ New York Yoga HOT
132 E. 85th St, 2nd Floor

$15 Class
Included with unlimited memberships and class packages

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Meg Carlough can be found teaching her Gentle, Basic and All Level Vinyasa classes at New York Yoga’s York Ave studio. If you are really lucky, you may even get to hear her beautiful voice during class or catch her at a Kirtan event. Meg is also a director of New York Yoga’s 200 and 300 hour Teacher Training programs. You can join Meg for the next 300 hour Teacher Training this Fall - October 3rd through May 8th. She is also on the faculty of this Fall’s 200 hour Teacher Training.

In class, Meg believes students, new and advanced alike, can learn from the humility of approaching postures with a fresh focus each class. She encourages every student to look deeper, get in touch with their body, and to take each day as its own new practice.

Meg, when did you first discover yoga?
I first discovered yoga in 1999 after a very serious motorcycle accident. Yoga helped me rebuild strength and heal.

How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching for six years now. I did my 200 and 300 hour certifications at New York Yoga – so I am 100% home grown.

What makes your class unique?
I encourage people to slow down and get honest about things. Instead of practicing on auto pilot, I encourage people to question themselves. I believe that knowing yourself better on the mat helps you know yourself better in the world.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Downward dog – because it’s a whole body pose. There are so many things to explore in this posture; every time I come to it, I find something new. Downward dog is one of the most common but one of the most complex poses. Again, it’s so easy to be on auto pilot in class, this pose is a good place to check in and feel what’s going on.

What is your favorite pose to practice?
I really enjoy practicing drop backs because it requires your full attention. You could start standing and move to wheel and then back to standing for example. It is a practice of balance and back bending altogether, which encourages you to be really present and awake. I believe that’s what practice is.

Best advice for beginners?
Be honest about what your body needs. It is easy to fall into habit and do a pose just because you always do or think you have to. For example, if your back is screaming at you to take it easy, why would you push yourself to do full wheel? Be honest with yourself, any given day, any given practice.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
Same advice! I would say this especially applies if a student is advanced because it gets harder to stay honest.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
Habit or unconsciousness – in other words, thinking that your pose is perfect without taking time to really be aware. You will get more out of your practice if you check in with yourself and be humble – admit that poses are not perfect and try to be more present in the moment.

One reader asks: What makes your gentle, basic and all levels classes different?
I offer different variations depending on the difficulty level of the class, but I really teach to the people who are there for class that day, so variations depend on that too.

Another asks: Why do I have enough flexibility to take a bind on one side of my body, but not on the other side?
We are all slightly asymmetrical. Chances are that you are doing something in day to day life to perpetuate imbalance. Practicing yoga is great for balance but we do spend most of our time off the mat – try to notice if you are doing something in your daily routine that focuses more on one side.

And lastly, what is your favorite thing to do besides yoga?
Anything puppy related! I love walking my bulldogs, Sheriff and Jelly in the park.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Open your heart with Ustrasana

September - Pose of the Month

As September begins, we prepare ourselves for the upcoming seasonal changes, first to Fall and then Winter. Ustrasana cultivates the patience we need to cope with these changes. It also allows us to tap into large resources of energy that we can tap into, like a camel taps into its large reserves of water when they are low.

Benefits of the pose include but are not limited to:

Alleviates constipation.
Relieves backache, rounded back and drooping shoulder.
Fully stretches the front of the body.
Regulates the thyroid gland.

How to -

1. Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor.

2. Place your hands on your lower back, fingers pointing down. Use your hands to spread the back and lengthen down through your tail bone.

3. Inhale and lift your heart.

4. Lean back, keeping head in line with spine. *Beginners probably won't be able to drop straight back into this pose. Stay with hands on lower back, experiencing the heart opening.

5. Begin to move hands down backs of thighs towards ankles, left hand to left ankle, right hand to right ankle.

6. Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute, maintaining a relaxed breath.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet the Teacher of the Month

Michael Gilbert is known for his Basic and All Levels classes at both New York Yoga and New York Yoga Hot.  He is also one of the Directors for New York Yoga’s Teacher Training program and the founder of Language of Intensity. Michael has guided many new yogis and teachers into the world of yoga through his alignment based classes and workshops.  Often, he can be heard encouraging students to “listen to your body” and to “check in, see how it feels” in order to help personalize the poses.

A firm believer in choice, he gives plenty of options or modifications during class; one of them is always “Smile. You’re doing yoga.”

Michael, when did you first discover yoga?
A friend took me to my first class in 1986 and I liked the calming affect yoga had on me. I also had some back pain at the time and realized after the fact that the yoga class had helped. I started teaching on and off that same year.

How long have you been teaching?
Twenty three years all together. I have been at New York Yoga for eight years now – I first got involved leading a workshop for the Teacher Training Program and after that started teaching a regular class.

What makes your class unique?
My aim in class is to get people to change their perspective. I also try not to take yoga too seriously.

What is your favorite pose to teach?
Revolve triangle. Because if there is one pose that alleviates the most conditions - knee pain, sciatica, back pain etc. - this is the pose. Revolve triangle opens up the outer edges of the body better than anything other pose.

What is you favorite pose to practice?
Halasana and shoulder stand – calms you down, gets rid of stress and restraint. I am always interested in inversions because they allow me to see world in a different way.

Best advice for beginners?
Always recognize that you have a choice. I find many beginners come to class and try to force themselves into everything or push to hard. So if you are new to yoga, remember that you have options and don’t over do it.

Best advice for more advanced yogis?
Focus on how a pose feels to your body versus what you think the perfect pose is.

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve would have to be when students don’t stay for the whole class, because the person leaving early disturbs other students.

Our readers would like to know two things. What are you reading now?
101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick. Someone told me that it is a beautiful book on changing perception related to contradiction – so far that is very true.

And what is your guilty pleasure?
My kids. Not chocolate or sweets or anything like that – definitely my kids.

Well… and maybe red wine.

Michael is Directing the Fall 2010 Teacher Training with Jenny Gammello
and teaches 
Monday 11:00a-12:20p - Vinyasa Basics
Thursday 4:35p-5:50p - Vinyasa All Levels
Thursday 8:15p- 9:30p - 75 Min All Levels Hot Vinyasa
Sunday 9:50a-11:20a - Vinyasa Basics

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stretch it out with Paschimottanasana

August - Pose of the Month

End of summer. End of practice. End of the day. Paschimottanasana is a forward bend that helps to calms a distracted mind and end unnecessary thoughts. A deceptively simple looking pose, it is an intense and rewarding pose and a very soothing stretch for the entire back, from your heels to your neck, rejuvenating your entire system.

Benefits of this pose include but are not limited to:

Stress and mild depression relief
Fatigue, headache and anxiety reduction
Spine, shoulders and hamstrings lengthening
Digestion improvement.

How to –

1. Come into a seated position on the floor with legs stretched straight forward and together.

2. Exhale fully.

3. Inhale again and raise the arms overhead. Feel the ‘elongating stretch’ from the tip of your tailbone, right through the entire spine, shoulders and arms to the hands.

4. With an exhale, slowly bend forward at the waist, keeping your arms and back as straight and extended as possible.

5. Allow your hands to grasp as far down the legs as possible, either:

a. wrapping the hands right around the soles of the feet,

b. grasping overtop of all of the toes, catching the big toes with your thumbs, index and middle fingers,

c. or holding the ankles, or as far down the lower legs as possible.

6. Relax the head, arms and entire upper torso. Do not let the legs roll outward; pull up the outer thigh muscles and keep the knees pressed down. Stretch forward and rest the front of the body on the legs.

7. Maintain this position and breathe in a deep and relaxed manner for 20-30 seconds.

8. Inhale, come up.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yoga Caliente! with Gabrielle Barnstone

-Jim Catalpano for Yoga Sleuth

After honing his alignment in a series of Iyengar and Ashtanga based classes, Yoga Sleuth was ready to move again. This took me up to New York Yoga on York Street, and into the joyous and fast-paced Vinyasa class of Gabriella Barnstone.

With stone walls, bamboo floors and a huge fountain urging Yogis to “turn off their minds, relax and flow downstream” as The Beatles would say, the studio is everything a Yoga haven should be. Gabriella, a professional dancer with her own company, began by congratulating the eight of us for coming to the mat that afternoon. She noticed that half the class was brand new, and took the time to visit with each of us for a quick meet and greet. Then she cranked up the Salsa music.

“Gotta have fun too,” she said as she led us to our backs for some leg stretches. Then we came to an early pigeon, a pose we would return to throughout class, sinking deeper into it each time. A modified side plank saw us bending one knee for stability, with the option to go into “Rock Star” if we were feeling feisty. Then the flow began in earnest, which began slowly, with cobra and knees down for our Vinyasa. Each repetition was faster then the previous one, and in each we added on another pose. Before we knew it we were moving like lightning from one pose to the next. Gabriella, in a voice angelic and encouraging, found time to adjust and assist even in the hectic pace of the flow. “For your Yoga Journal photo,” she quipped as she straightened my arm in Parsvakonasana (extended side angle). We stretched into Prasarita Padottonassana and most of us embraced the challenge of tripod headstand, benefitting from Gabrielle’s motivating presence.

As class wound down the music shifted to Frank Sinatra’s romantic Bossa Nova recordings, setting the new mood perfectly. As I moved into an inversion, I spied Gabrielle guiding a newcomer into a fearless and skillful Sirsasana headstand, presumably his first ever. Finally, we were treated to a supported fish pose. We placed a block on its highest setting behind our heads, and another at medium height between our scapulas, and enjoyed a long throat and chest opener.

After a luxurious Savasana we joined our voices in three triumphant Oms and scampered out onto sunny York Street, balanced and invigorated; many of us thrilled to have a new teacher to look to, to start our Saturdays off right.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yoga May Help Fight Depression

Yoga Increases Levels of Brain Chemical That's Low in Mood Disorders, Study Says

- Charlene Laino

Yoga may be helpful in the treatment of depression, researchers say.

In a small study of healthy people with no psychiatric problems, yoga produced greater improvements in mood than walking, suggesting its beneficial effect is not just from physical activity.

"We think that one of the reasons yoga makes people feel better is because it increases levels of GABA, a [brain chemical] that's reduced in depression and doesn't work well in [people with] anxiety," says study head Chris C. Streeter, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

She presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The study involved 19 people who practiced Iyengar yoga, a type of Hatha yoga, and 15 people who walked at an average pace for one hour, three times a week, for 12 weeks.

Participants filled out standard mood questionnaires throughout the study. MRI images of their brains were taken at the start of the study and at the end of the 12 weeks. Then, participants did one more hour of yoga or walking, depending on which intervention they'd been assigned to, followed by one more scan.

The people who practiced yoga reported greater improvements in mood and greater decreases in anxiety than the walking group.

Also, GABA levels showed a trend toward an increase in the yoga group from the second to third scan, but not in the walking group.

Streeter tells WebMD that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) commonly used to treat depression and other mood disorders also increase GABA levels.

Although the study only involved people without psychiatric problems, this suggests that yoga postures may be helpful in treating people who have depression or anxiety and have low GABA levels, she says.

That's not to say yoga should replace treatment with SSRIs or other medications, says Donald Hilty, MD, co-chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the meeting and professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.

"It's always best to go with well-studied treatments that have been proven and add complementary treatments such as yoga," he tells WebMD.

"This very preliminary report shows some real positives [to yoga], and it doesn't have a downside," Hilty says.

Both doctors called for further study of yoga in people with depression and anxiety disorders.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

To Meat or Not to Meat - That is the question

Yogis welcome vegetarians and omnivores.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Does embracing yoga mean saying goodbye to cheeseburgers?
One of the persistent debates in the yoga community is whether yogis should be vegetarian. One side finds evidence in ancient texts that eschewing meat is among the central precepts of yogic tradition. Others find in yoga's teachings a more inclusive bent, a belief that yoga is for everyone, no matter what they choose to eat.

Data seem to support the latter stance. A 2008 "Yoga in America" survey conducted for Yoga Journal magazine found that almost 16 million people in this country practice yoga, while a Vegetarian Times survey that year found 7.3 million people in the United States are vegetarians.

I did my own little survey of people deeply entrenched in the yoga world. I wasn't surprised by the range of their responses or by their open-mindedness. They're yogis, after all.

"You'd think that yoga has just one message and that everyone interprets it the same way," says Debra Perlson-Mishalove, creative director and founder of Flow Yoga Center in the District. "But yoga welcomes everyone," vegans and omnivores alike.

The thing with yogis and vegetarian eating, Perlson-Mishalove says, is that "as you practice, you become more and more aware of your connection with yourself and the community around you." As that happens, she says, "you notice patterns emerging that aren't serving you." Meat eaters, for instance, "might start to pay more attention to what they put in their bellies and realize that all things are connected."

A vegetarian herself, Perlson-Mishalove urges those who want to move down this path without giving up meat altogether to "take baby steps. Maybe try Meatless Mondays. Or choose foods from kinder sources," such as farms that follow humane practices. "I encourage them to meet their meat."

Should yogis be vegetarians? "Seems like such a simple question," says Cathy Husid-Shamir, media relations director at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Mass. "But as a rule, Kripalu's stance on everything is 'You be your own guide. Let your body be your guide.' " If eating a certain way, vegetarian or otherwise, makes your body feel good, then that's probably the best way for you to eat.

Husid-Shamir says the center serves mostly vegetarian food, with a small selection of chicken and fish. The meat options are there for those who feel they need animal protein in their diets. "Some people reacted badly to all the beans and grains," she says. "It was upsetting them."

In the end, the principle of ahimsa carries the day at Kripalu. Ahimsa, variously translated as nonviolence or doing no harm to other creatures, is perhaps the most common argument in favor of yogis' being vegetarian. Farming, butchering and eating animals seems the opposite of ahimsa to many practitioners. In Kripalu's view, though, offering meat to some guests came to seem like a kind of ahimsa, too.

"You have to understand that there's no unanimity of opinion in the yoga world" regarding vegetarianism, says Timothy McCall, medical editor for Yoga Journal. "There are dedicated yogis who eat meat, and there are dedicated yogis who shun it and think everyone else should shun it."

"The crucial thing about yoga is that it cultivates your ability to feel what's happening in your own body," says McCall. "You develop a highly tuned mechanism, a reliable gauge of what's serving you and not serving you in every aspect of your life, including your diet."

A true yogi, McCall observes, is not guided by anyone else's rules about what he should or shouldn't eat. The more you practice, "your internal feedback becomes more and more reliable," he says, allowing you to decide for yourself how eating certain foods make you feel.

McCall says the concept of ahimsa "causes you to consider the karmic implications of what you eat. It comes down not to just not eating meat, but asking how was that animal treated when it was living."

In the end, though, McCall, a 10-year vegetarian who enjoys an occasional dairy product, says, "I take this stuff seriously but try to live a joyful life and not get too hung up on the details, including not worrying about what other people eat."

"I call myself a 364 vegetarian," McCall adds. "If I get invited for turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving, I'll take it," he says.

Originally posted - Washington Post

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Flow, Sweat, Stink: Nirvana


Full disclosure: I love the heat; I like humidity. It’s in my blood (Cuban) and my upbringing (in Miami). So it didn’t take long for me to fall for hot power vinyasa yoga, a vigorous class taught in a room steamy enough to simulate the tropics in summer.

Flowing from one warrior pose to another, down into plank position and back up again, in 95- to 100-degree heat is grueling. It jacks up your heart rate and sledgehammers your stamina. After 75 minutes or so, you leave behind an outline of your body — in sweat, not chalk — on your yoga towel.

It would all be miserable if it weren’t so intoxicating. Muscles melt. Flexibility comes willingly. Last night’s mojitos surge out of your pores. At the end, you’re floating out of the studio.

“Right off the bat it releases more endorphins in your body,” said Seth Weisberg, the co-owner, with Alison McCue, of Garden State Yoga in Bloomfield, N.J., the spot where I roll out my mat most weekends. “It’s like I’m clean after a class,” Mr. Weisberg said. “I feel fresh, lighter, absolutely.”

New York City is home to several hot power vinyasa studios and classes, including Prana Power Yoga off Union Square; Earth Yoga NYC on the Upper East Side; and Yoga to the People, which opened a separate studio for hot vinyasa in the fashion district last year. Because there are relatively few studios devoted to this kind of yoga — though their numbers are growing — classes are often packed.

The notion of ratcheting up the heat and humidity in a yoga studio was popularized by Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga, which is practiced in a carpeted 105-degree room (40 percent humidity) and adheres to a sequence of 26 poses. There are Bikram Yoga studios all over the country. I tried it once, a year ago, and while I know there are legions of fans, for me it was simply too hot and the style too evocative of Mussolini circa 1940.

One of my friends, in the throes of a hot flash, wept in the Bikram class and was chastised by the instructor for leaving. The rest of us stole illicit sips from our water bottles and took breaks as discreetly as possible because they were verboten. I wound up with a migraine. I realized then that the difference between 95 and 105 degrees was make or break.

There is no question that doing yoga in a hot, humid room is not for everyone. Purists argue that heating a yoga room is redundant; your body heats itself and then heats the room for you. Germaphobes can get turned off by the sweat and unpleasant odors. Others just can’t stand the heat or feel claustrophobic.

“People can hyperventilate much more easily, so I really emphasize the breath,” said Shayna Hiller, who teaches at Prana Power Yoga. “And the mats can get very slippery, so I stick to a more traditional flow.”

There can be medical reasons to steer clear of doing yoga in a hot room, too, particularly for pregnant women or people with multiple sclerosis, heart problems, high blood pressure or autoimmune conditions like lupus.

“Your blood vessels dilate and your heart works harder,” said Dr. Loren Fishman, medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a committed yogi (though he does not practice hot yoga). “You lose more water and more electrolytes.” For that reason, it is important to hydrate long before the class begins and remain hydrated throughout.

To stay sanitary, studios must be cleaned several times a day, and Mr. Weisberg — who runs a construction-related company during the day — said that cleaning supplies were among his biggest expenses.

The fewer clothes you wear while doing hot yoga the better, in my view. I saw one poor soul wearing jeans in class one day, and wanted to tell him to run for his life. Although many people stick to long yoga pants, I suggest stretchy shorts. My arms tend to slip in poses like twists or crow, so I drape a face or hand towel around my knees or elbows. It’s also smart to bring a nonskid yoga towel to stretch over your mat so your hands and feet don’t slide in downward dog.

And one more caveat: It does get stinky in there. I got a whiff of something ripe the other day that wouldn’t dissipate. It turned out to be me.

Originally posted - New York Times

Friday, May 7, 2010

New York Yoga Opens New Annex to Teacher Training Program

May 7, 2010, NYC: Today New York Yoga, the Upper East Side’s first yoga studio, announced the opening of a new annex space, as the permanent home of its Yoga Alliance Certified 200hr Teacher Training program.

The 1300 square foot annex, located in New York Yoga’s office space on 81st Street, opened this spring, and will begin serving as headquarters for the studio’s teacher training program when the summer session commences May 15 under the direction of veteran yoga instructor Carl Horowitz.

New York Yoga’s teacher training program began with the inception of the studio over a decade ago and continues to be an integral part of its identity within New York’s yoga community.

“Because of the unique group of teachers participating in the training and our individual skills, I do not think there is another Yoga Teacher Training out there that can offer this kind of perspective,” says Horowitz.

Horowitz, with the help of assistant director Jenny Gammello, will lead trainees through an intensive training curriculum on Saturdays and Sundays through October 3, which focuses on affording them a solid understanding of the basic principles of Yoga philosophy from a perspective that makes the ancient teachings of this 5,000-year-old practice relevant to the life and practice of program participants today, while also assisting them with the development and enriched understanding of the body, postures and flow sequences discovered only in the deeper lessons of a teacher training program.

“In truth, the beautiful thing about teacher training is that anyone whose goal is to learn more and deepen their practice is an ideal candidate for taking a teacher training program,” Horowitz says. “It really is such an amazing process that someone who is just beginning to practice Yoga will get an amazing amount out of it and learn a lot about themselves as they deepen their practice, and someone who has been practicing for years will get an amazing amount out of it as well. There are so many levels of subtlety to the work that it is really just as great a process whether your goal is to teach or simply to go deeper into your own practice.”

New York Yoga is a Yoga Alliance Registered training facility, and all trainees, upon completion of the program, earn a 200hr New York Yoga Teacher Training Certificate and are eligible to register with Yoga Alliance as a 200-hour-level certified teacher.

“Training is really an amazing process,” says Horowitz. “It is great to see how much each of the trainees grows and changes through the training program because from the process of deepening your own practice and learning to help guide someone else through practice intelligently, you begin to see a lot more about yourself on and off the mat.”

For more information please call: 212.717.9642 or email

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Easing Those Travel Aches Through Yoga

By: John Hanc
Published: May 5, 2010

WHEN the world of the business traveler turns upside down — whether because of a missed connecting flight, lost luggage or an uncooperative volcano — Steve Boerema knows just what to do.

He finds a convenient corner in the airport and stands on his head.

Mr. Boerema, who is 45 and lives in St. Augustine Beach, Fla., travels an average of 150 days a year, most of them overseas, as a consultant to the yachting industry. He has also been practicing yoga daily for four years. That practice has now become as essential a part of his business travel as his frequent-flier mileage.

“Initially, it helped me dealing with homesickness and melancholy,” said Mr. Boerema, who is married with two teenage children. “All of us on the road suffer some sort of guilt, being away from our families. Yoga really calmed my head, helped keep me from thinking about things I had no control of.”

Several million Americans practice yoga at least once a week, according to surveys by the sporting goods industry. Many are college-educated professionals in their 30s and 40s, demographics that match those of business travelers, so it is logical that they would adapt their practice to their life in transit.

There is even an app for it: Yoga Journal magazine’s iPractice 2.0, a mobile yoga class for iPhone and iPod Touch. “I knew I had to find something to keep me centered,” says Sarah Howell, a 29-year-old sales trainer for a software company based in Austin, Tex. She started traveling for work three years ago and is now on the road two to three days a week, most months of the year.

Ms. Howell, who writes a business travel blog called the Road Warriorette (, describes herself as “a better person and certainly a better employee,” when she practices yoga while on her business trips. “I’m better able to focus on the task at hand,” she said.

“Research has shown that those who practice yoga and Pilates have improved sleep quality,” said Michele Olson, an exercise physiologist at Auburn University-Montgomery in Alabama. “That’s a big plus for travelers.”

“If you’re sitting for hours on a plane, your hip flexors and hamstrings and other muscles shorten, and we know that can lead to back problems,” Dr. Olson says. “Yoga, because it involves a lot of moves and positions that lengthen those muscles, can be very beneficial in combating joint stiffness at the hip joint and preventing back problems.”

Christopher Berger, an exercise physiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, is leading a task force for the American College of Sports Medicine called “Exercise Is Medicine on the Fly,” designed to promote physical activity among travelers and airport employees.

“Since 9/11, we have very long lines, unpredictable searches and more demands on people,” he said. “There’s certainly psychological stress associated with that. One of our goals for this task force is to get people to use airports as places to blow off that steam.”

Some major American airports do seem to be trying to offer passengers more opportunities to get blood flowing instead of boiling. Detroit Metropolitan Airport, for example, has a marked one-mile walking trail on the airport grounds, and so-called Reflection Rooms in each of its two main terminals — one 720 square feet, the other 357 square feet — where yoga and meditation can be comfortably practiced.

Beryl Bender Birch, a yoga teacher and author of “Beyond Power Yoga” and “Boomer Yoga,” suggested this sequence of three stretches for business travelers.

SEATED FORWARD BEND (relieves stress in the neck, lessons tensions in the hips and lower back caused by lengthy sitting)
Inhale, stretch your arms out in front of you. Fold your hands and interlace your fingers, then exhale and stretch your arms up overhead. Keeping your fingers interlaced, reverse your hands, so your palms are facing up. Arch your back, press your ribcage out and your buttocks forward, tighten your belly, straighten out your legs and point your toes. Feel the shins stretch as the toes point. Look up and back. Take three deep breaths with your mouth closed. Then inhale and release the whole stretch on an exhale. Repeat.

SEATED BACK STRETCH (stretches the back of your body)
Grab your knees with your hands. On an exhalation, pull against your knees with your hands, curl forward, rounding your spine and pushing your back into the back of your seat (make sure the seat-back tray in front of you is up). Drop your head forward and press your chin into your chest. Pull your shoulders up around your ears and round them forward, tighten the belly, pull your heels back toward the bottom of your seat and lift your toes. Feel the stretch all the way from your shoulders to your feet. Repeat.

SEATED SPINAL TWIST (stretches and strengthens sides of body)
Put your right ankle on your left knee in a cross-legged position. Inhale deeply and grab your right knee with your left hand. Lean forward slightly and take hold of the arm rest to your right with your right hand, then exhale deeply and twist as far as you can to the right. Inhale again and as you exhale, pull with your left hand and reach your right arm up in the air. Push your right shoulder back, and look back over your right shoulder. Pull your belly in and take three big conscious breaths with your mouth closed. Repeat.

To read this article in its original format, please see New York Times

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bent on Learning: Why Increased Accessibility to Yoga Is a Vital Endeavor

-Eddie Stern-

As a yoga teacher since 1989, I am at the point where I am almost embarrassed to say that it is what I do because it can sound like such a cliche. Everyone does yoga; sometimes it feels like everyone sells yoga. The yoga scene, which has always been pretty wacky (think the Omnipotent Oom's yoga harem of the early 1900's), seems to be getting wackier by the day (suede yoga mat bags, anyone?).

Yoga in India was originally -- and by originally I mean more or less 3,000 years ago -- practiced by those living on society's fringes: those intrepid seekers of reality that left the cities and their Vedic lifestyles to search out truth, freedom and liberation. Vedas are the revealed sacred texts of the Hindus, and to be Vedic is to belong to the Hindu culture that produced and abided by the Vedas.

While in America there are certainly are many practicing yoga with profound sincerity, it seems as though they are dwarfed by a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely focused on, well, selling stuff that we don't really need to practice yoga.
Anyway, let it be. That spirit of commercialism and consumerism has helped to make yoga a household word, and that's not an entirely bad thing. I believe that increased accessibility to yoga is a positive result of yoga's modernization.

Why do I believe this? Because everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

One example of how yoga has become a mainstream practice can be seen in the New York City public school system. Schools are coming to realize that yoga is helpful for public students who deal with many sources of stress and trauma on a daily basis.

I serve on the board of a nonprofit organization called Bent On Learning, founded in 2001 by Anne Desmond, Jennifer Ford and Courtney McDowell. To date we have taught over 9,000 school children, and currently serve over 1,500 children per week, in 10 schools. If yoga remained esoteric and mysterious, rather than mainstream, Bent On Learning would not be able to have such a strong presence in NYC public schools. In fact, we most likely would not have a waitlist of schools from the Bronx to Brooklyn, eager for yoga classes.

Interestingly, my late teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, was deeply committed to creating a yoga syllabus in the Indian school system. I did not know this when I was first studying with him, and found this out only much later after I became involved with yoga in the schools. He saw the importance of training children from an early age to be conscious of their bodies, health and the ability to strengthen their minds before unhealthy habits took root -- habits that later in life are much more difficult to reverse.

I am convinced that yoga belongs in schools, especially in NYC public schools. Out of a seven-hour school day, children in most public schools get only 15 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for recess. Only 56 percent of NY's 1.5 million public school kids are of a healthy weight. Many schools have painted a walking track around the perimeter of their cafeterias so the kids can walk in circles to get exercise. They have to walk in the cafeterias because many schools have no gym facilities. Forty-three percent of NY's 1,450 public schools do not even have a gym teacher. Coupled with constant exam preparation, cohabitated schools and overcrowded classrooms, the DOE clearly could use some help getting children to exercise.

A proven fact is that children need to move to be healthy, and healthy kids are happy kids, and better learners. Cooped up kids, exploding with the energy of youth, are not happy kids! BOL has a simple and practical solution to this problem: yoga in the classroom. By moving the desks to the side of the room, the classroom is transformed into a yoga room, a haven for relaxation and stress reduction, and in which the children can learn skills for healthy movement, healthy breathing and concentration.

In a realm where the popular phrase 'giving back' is heard in association with such endeavors like BOL, I would prefer to think that groups such as BOL are not 'giving back,' but simply giving. Why patronize the intelligent, vital kids we are teaching? We need them as much as they need us, for they are the future of this world, and it is our duty to help however we can.

The spirit of yoga is the removal of suffering; it is the central tenet of the earliest texts. As I stated earlier, everyone suffers: inner city kids, their teachers, the wealthy who summer in East Hampton. Suffering is undiscriminating and comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga provides tools to cultivate stability, good health, mental focus, relaxation and compassion. Bent On Learning lives by this simple prescription. The children who take our classes find that it makes them happy, and perhaps a little healthier. In the BOL syllabus book, the first definition we give of yoga is that yoga is a practice of kindness. I can't think of anything more worthwhile to practice in life.
- Eddie Stern is the Director of Ashtanga Yoga New York and Sri Ganesha Temple in NYC.
- For more information about Bent on Learning, check out
- Originally printed