Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yoga with Yoda

So maybe you've seen the Star Wars yoga jazz happening on the internet, but now there's some more, and even better, from artist and designer Rob Osborne. Check out these fun and funny yoga posters and prints featuring Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and, yes, even Yoda in Natarajasana, Ardha Chandrasana, and Utkatasana. May the force be with you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sounds Like Yoga, Volume 16

This week we've got a great playlist from NYY instructor Rebecca Merritt, featuring the likes of Mumford & Sons, Citizen Cope, and The Band. Check it out here and catch Rebecca's classes Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-5pm at our Hot Studio!

I'm Buff Because I Do Yoga

In this interesting article on MindBodyGreen, author and founder of Rethink Yoga Kim Shand discusses yoga's impact on the body's muscles. "Do you lift weights?" people ask her. "No," she replies. "I do yoga." She goes on to say that exercise doesn't have to be something you hate or punish yourself into doing. In fact, for yoga practitioners, it's often the opposite. Aren't you glad you have New York Yoga?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Science of Yoga

By Lisa Dawn Angerame

I read “The Science of Yoga” by William Broad. After the excerpt that appeared in the New York Times, and the firestorm it created, including my own reaction, I felt it was only fair to read it myself and see what the book is really all about. Mr. Broad says that a synonym of science is “organized skepticism.” I’m skeptical.

The book, subtitled “The Risks and Rewards,” compiles information about scientific studies that have been done on the practice of yoga, defined for the purposes of this book as asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing practices). There are awful stories of injury and pain and wonderful stories of healing and joy. There is a call for yoga as an alternative healing modality and more training for teachers. But the book teeters between useful and educational and gossip and innuendo.

The book opens with a list of 13 “Styles of Yoga,” mixing and matching brand names, lineages, and class descriptions that you might find on a schedule at a local studio. The brands and lineages listed are Anusara, Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar, Kripalu, Kundalini, Sivananda, Viniyoga and YogaFit. The classes listed are flow, power, and vinyasa. Hatha Yoga is listed too but, as Mr. Broad himself says, is the forerunner of all postural yoga, so really all yoga is Hatha yoga. Shouldn’t the list be called “Styles of Hatha Yoga?”

If Mr. Broad was going to name styles of yoga, why didn’t Jivamukti Yoga make the list? It is arguably one of the most influential styles of yoga in the world today. What about the rest of the so-called styles or brand names out there such as Yin Yoga, Forrest Yoga, hot power yoga, and restorative yoga? I emailed the author and asked him how this list came to be with some of the examples above. His answer: “Sorry. Only so much that one 60 year old journalist can do!” I wasn’t asking for an apology but I expected a more detailed, perhaps scientific answer, from an award-winning journalist who practices yoga.

There are only seven chapters in this book. While every chapter cites scientific studies of one kind or another, the most interesting ones to me were about health, moods, and healing. Throughout, Mr. Broad refers to studies, albeit some very old and some with few subjects, that offer glimpses into why the practices of yoga asana and pranayama are so powerful, revealing the physiological effects of yoga practices on mood, the nervous system, and the brain. This is cool stuff. I wish I could cut and paste the parts I highlighted on my Kindle into a book of it’s own because the rest of the book pales in comparison.

The controversial and provocative chapter on injuries details mostly one-off accounts of injuries sustained by students in various poses such as wheel and shoulder stand. The stories are anecdotal and situation specific. There are no long-term studies on these poses and no scientific evidence that prove anything about any pose being injurious across the board. The book concludes with chapters on divine sex and the muse. Both are tangential and just not that interesting.

Mr. Broad does make a point that I would like to emphasize because it speaks to where we are in the yoga world today. There is a great deal of myth associated with asana and pranayama practice that has no basis in any science but is spoken about matter-of-factly. By way of example, when I was pregnant I wanted to continue my practice as I had been doing for the prior ten years. On days when I was extremely nauseous or tired, I did not practice. But on days I practiced, I did so for about 90 minutes, in the style of “flow-power-vinyasa-Hatha-Jivamukti” yoga.

I wanted to do what I always did and that included poses, like headstand, that are said to be off limits to pregnant practitioners. My instinct was to keep practicing until something didn’t feel right. I also did my research and I found little that was satisfactory in terms of good yogic or scientific reasons to back up claims that certain poses and practices were inappropriate. The definition of science in my dictionary is “a process of gaining systematic knowledge through observation.” I did that for myself, and I urge any one unrolling a mat anywhere in the world, to do the same.

It is important to remember that the practices of asana and pranayama are embedded within a larger system called Yoga, a philosophy that codifies ways and means that can lead to pure happiness. Can happiness be analyzed and measured scientifically? As a Westerner, I am thrilled by the scientific studies that explain why I feel so good when I do my physical practice. But as someone who embraces the Yoga philosophy as a way of life, I know that there are some things that may never be explained by science. And I think that is just fine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sounds Like Yoga, Volume 14

It's time for another installment of Sounds Like Yoga, this time featuring a playlist from Lulu Hagen's classes at our Hot Studio. We've got a little bit of everything--The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, Krishna Das, and more--so tune in and give it a listen here. Be sure to check out Lulu's classes on Sundays from 8-9am and 9:15-10:45am, too!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February Boutique Sale!

It's on now!! Check it out!

Teacher of the Month: Melissa Feldman

By Rebecca Merritt

Melissa Feldman is one totally awesome mama, who cares deeply about other totally awesome mamas, and has a knack for making their pregnancies and beyond a little more yogic. She teaches a vinyasa style flow that is strengthening, active and fun. Melissa is a presence. She will make you smile, she will make you laugh, she will make you work – prenatal or postnatal, and she will not hesitate to offer words of wisdom that will turn out to be exactly what you need to hear. Melissa is one yoga teacher you will return to again and again; she is able to create community among her students and will quickly become a friend for life.

You can find Melissa teaching Prenatal: Thursdays at 6:15pm and Saturdays at 9:00am and 10:45am. You also can take Mommy & Baby with her on Saturdays at 12:45pm. Look for one of her incredible workshops coming soon: Childbirth Education, Yoga for Labor and Delivery or Postnatal yoga to name a few. She is also a member of New York Yoga’s Teacher Training Faculty.

"The ability one day to throw your leg behind your head is kind of meaningless if you're not being nice to people outside the studio, in my humble opinion."

When did you first discover yoga?
A woman in PR took me to a Bikram class, and I was hooked. But after nine months and losing 20 pounds, I realized I needed to go another route yoga-wise. I moved to Integral Yoga and wound up meeting my husband in his Hatha 3 class. 

How long have you been teaching?

I've been teaching about 10 years now. I seriously can't get enough of it. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed a successful career as a magazine journalist, I never got the satisfaction that I do from sitting down in front of a class and taking them somewhere, you know what I mean? I could be having the worst day EVER and five minutes into teaching my class, it's all good.

What makes your class unique?

Heh. I do. I guess you could say I have a personality, and boy does it come through in class. I have a lot of not-so-hardcore yoga people in my class because their doctors said they should do prenatal yoga, so I teach in such a way that it feels like we're friends who just happen to be doing yoga in your living room. It's very low key and fun.  

Plus, I get to say things most teachers don't. For example, I have like 36 names for the Girl Package because I have to talk about that a lot in teachings. Also, because I'm a birth doula and a childbirth educator, I pepper my class with lots of practical information women can use during their pregnancy and later on while giving birth. 

What is your favorite pose to teach?

Ankle-to-knee. I know that pose inside out and upside down because it's my b*tch pose. That pose kicks my tuchus every time I do it, so I know every little nuance of it. I love when a student tells me she can't feel anything in that pose because I really know how to dial it up a click. Plus, it's a great pose for pregnant women because their hips tend to be really tight. 

What is your favorite pose to practice?

While taking a class, I always get excited when the teacher pulls out an obscure pose. I really like the sexy poses; you know, arm balances with legs all directions or poses that are about as far away from, say, Warrior 1 as possible. I love me some headstand.

The pose I probably do most often is a squat. I wait for the train like that all the time. People must look at me funny.

Best advice for beginners?

Take your yoga off your mat. Practice kindness, practice ahimsa, satya, etc. The ability one day to throw your leg behind your head is kind of meaningless if you're not being nice to people outside the studio, in my humble opinion. 

Best advice for more advanced yogis?

Marvel at the new thing. No matter how long you've been practicing yoga, there's always something new to discover. So stay open and acknowledge that new thing when you hear it in class. 

What is your biggest yoga pet peeve?
It's s toss-up between these two things: transitioning from warrior 1 to warrior 2 (I won't do it) and when people do that really loud mat FWAP! rather than rolling out their mats nicely on the floor.

inspired you to start teaching mamas?
You're not going to believe this (so hilarious), but I decided to take that first prenatal teacher training because pregnant women freaked me out! Something about that big ol' belly sticking out just got me. Considering I'm studying to be a midwife now, I'd say I've gotten over that. I don't think there's anything more awesome than a pregnant woman.

How has being a mom changed your practice?

Well, I'm so very excited when I actually have time to go take a class, so there's that. But being a mom has taught me a humbling level of patience I never knew before, so I don't beat myself up if I can't nail a crazy pose like I used to or if I have to opt out of that third wheel. I really know how to appreciate where my practice happens to be in that moment, rather than where I think it should be because I'm a professional or because I used to be able to do something incredible.

Why is yoga so important for mamas-to-be, postnatal and beyond?
There's no short answer for this one! My class gives pregnant women strength, knowledge, community, support, fun and so many other things. Prenatal and postnatal yoga both signify time that moms are carving out for themselves, which is hugely important when the babies are on the outside. But I think the most important thing about postnatal yoga is rebuilding: repairing the split most pregnant women get in their abdominal wall and restrengthening their feminine areas so they don't have to worry every time they sneeze, if you know what I mean. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Studying the Yoga Sutras, Part I

By Lisa Dawn Angerame

Editor's Note: Lisa will be writing a series of blog posts about studying the Yoga Sutras. This is the first in the series.

I bought my first copy of Bhagavan Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras almost ten years ago.  Perhaps you have the same one?  The cover is light blue and there is a picture of Swami Satchitananda in his flowing pink robes and gray beard.  The book is filled with Swamiji’s teachings on the Sutras, his commentary, and wonderful stories that bring the teachings down to earth.  Over the years, I have amassed my own small library of Yoga Sutras. To date, I count 25 different copies, two apps on my iPhone, and three recordings.  I have become a little obsessed!

One day, about a year and a half ago, I was on a retreat and the afternoon was dedicated to study of the Sutras. My teacher, Jeffrey, was explaining that to quiet the mind, there are many ways.  We could focus on cultivating positive attitudes toward others, or by regulating our breath, or by concentrating on our sense perception, or by focusing on the light of another, or by imagining a clear mind, or by meditating on the experience of deep sleep. Then he said that if none of these methods work, just contemplate on any object of your choosing, one that will bring about stability and tranquility. It was something about the way Jeffrey said “or.”  For the first time, I saw a flow in the Sutras. I could do this…or that…or this? With this revelation, I began my studies anew. 

Yoga is one of six philosophical systems from ancient India and the Sutras are essentially the yoga bible.  Having experienced transcendental states, going beyond time and mind, Bhagavan Patanjali compiled his teachings into four books in order that the rest of us could learn to do the same.  In 196 short statements, Bhagavan Patanjali teaches us practical methods to attaining ultimate freedom, yoga.

It is said that to understand the first four Sutras is to understand yoga:

“Now, I vow to you that yoga is when the activities of the mind are arrested and you abide in your own true nature.  At other times, you don’t.” 

Bhagavan Patanjali is vowing that based on scripture, scripture that he studied and practiced, he is now going to tell us about yoga. Yoga is the state of mind when we are able to hold on to one thought of our choosing, not allowing the mind to jump all over the place. When we are able to hold on to one thought, this is yoga and we dwell in and experience our own true nature. Our true nature is peace and happiness. When we are not holding on to one thought of our choice, and we are involved in the activities, the fluctuations, the whirlings of the mind, we are not experiencing our true nature.  

Contemplate this.  It is such a sweet, simple proposition.  But how do we accomplish it? Stay tuned.  This is the first of many posts on the Yoga Sutras!

Lisa Dawn has been studying the Yoga Sutras in depth with master teacher A. G. Mohan of India.  She has memorized all four books and teaches small groups. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We've Got Your Yoga in the Bag!

Check out the latest promotion at our studios, starting today!

February Pose of the Month: For the Love of Dog

Urdhva Muhka Svanasana  - Upward Facing Dog
By Rebecca Merritt

February always reminds us to open our hearts – to give and receive more love. In yoga, we open our hearts in many ways but one of the most common physically, is through backbending. Urdhva Muhka Svanasana helps build the groundwork for our backbend practice. It helps us deepen and stregthen, encouraging us to expand our heart space all the more. This month take a moment to really spend some time in this pose we so often flow right through. Enjoy a few breaths here and let the pose be an expression of your joyous, open heart.  

·         Energizing to the body
·         Strengthens the spine, arms, wrists and shoulders
·         Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen
·         Stimulates the abdominal organs
·         Helps relieve mild depression and fatigue
·         Helps relieve sciatica
·         Good for those with asthma because of the effect on the lungs
·         Increases the flexibility of the spine giving a fresh blood supply
·         Heart opener

How To:
1. Come to lie face down on the floor. Bend the elbows and draw the arms on by your sides, planting the hands underneath your shoulders.

2. Inhale and ground into the palms, while drawing the heart forward and straighten the arms as you lift the torso and legs off the floor.

3. Keep the legs strong, internally rotating the thighs towards one another as you balance on the tops of the feet.

4. Roll the shoulder blades against the back. Keep the gaze forward or tip the head back slightly.

5. Hold for a few full breaths and then slowly release back down or lift from the hips to Downward Facing Dog.