So, you tried, but you just couldn’t make it to the Yoga Journal Conference in Boston this year. No problem; take a moment to read about the classes and lectures I attended. I included teachers, topics, web links and book titles to help you experience some of what I learned in this valuable two-day experience!
Saturday April 10
Backbends: Tapping into the Fountain of Youth
This was a two hour class which was a mixture of poses and a discussion about the anatomy of the back. The sequences were meant to open up the deep muscles of the hip and fronts of the legs. The anatomical discussion, complete with demos and the use of a skeleton, was really useful in illustrating the internal bones involved in many of the backbends both in the legs, back, upper body and spine. The sequence included some floor work and ended with some really neat drop backs using the wall for support as well as flip dog with a transition to wheel, again, using the wall as a training wheel.
For students: Backbends come from your legs. You don’t necessarily have to be very flexible in your backbone (spine) in order to do a backbend.
For teachers: An effective way to help students move from flip dog to a full backbend is to suggest they lift up onto their toes and push their knees forward. That will allow the femur to move more freely and put students more into their legs so they can attempt to move into a full backbend.
Empower Flow (2 hour vinyasa class)
This was a two-hour vinyasa class which assumed some basic knowledge of vinyasa flow.
For students: Even though this was a vinyasa yoga class, Seane emphasized that we should watch moving too quickly when in any flow yoga class. During the class, students were moving faster than the verbal instructions and she was really trying to rein them in. She suggested as we get more practiced, we tend to be on auto-pilot and can move too fast.
For teachers: Seane is an amazing teacher who really speaks from her heart. If you teach vinyasa flow, I would encourage you to take one of her classes or workshops to see some of her sequencing. I was really inspired with some new ideas for sequencing by having taken her class.
Gary Kraftsow: Exploring the Chakras for Emotional health- Discussion with a mixed practice of chanting and meditation
For students: Gary is a wonderful teacher who I have seen lecture before. The topic was Chakras and one of the interesting things we found out right away was that most of us are pronouncing that word incorrectly. The correct Sanskrit pronunciation is not “shock-ra” like most of us here in the Western world say it, but instead is ‘”chock-ra.” Gary went on to provide us with a model for the Chakras (correctly spelled “cakra”) that presented the seven levels: earth, water, fire, air, space, intellect and crown (representing the gateway to heaven). For each level, he presented the biological/ human connection to each one: earth/smell; water/taste; fire/sight; air/touch; space/hearing; intellect/thought and crown/gateway to heaven or Seer.
This model can be used to understand human behavior and in the context of yoga, can help us understand our energy levels, why we react in certain ways to certain things and in our lives can give us a model to not only assess ourselves but better understand the behavior of those around us.
For teachers: Gary’s presentation ended with some powerful meditation and used visualization that included focus on certain chakras. It inspired me to understand more about the chakras in the hopes of including some chakra visualization in future guided meditations I do with my classes.
Sunday April 11
Desiree Rumbaugh: Anusara Yoga (2 hour yoga class)
For students: This was a wonderful introduction to the Anusara style of yoga. I would highly recommend this to anyone that is a new student or even an experienced student as it presents a new and different way to approach the postures. While Anusara has a strong focus on the idea of opening to grace and opening from the heart center to the idea of something bigger than you (which you’d find in other styles of yoga also) their unique approach translates this concept into the physical body by the positioning of the upper body, head and neck in many of the poses. Opening the heart starts with opening the body, and in many of us, that means the throat, front of the chest and letting the head fall back. Much of the focus of the class was spent understanding how one can connect to the intrinsic strength inside the limbs (“wrapping muscle around bone”) to support the body as it moves in a way, that some might think is off the neutral line.
This style of yoga also emphasizes internal, isometric movement to support the bones and move the body into proper alignment. While many styles of yoga speak to this idea (“ wrap the muscles of your upper leg around your femur as you breathe in downward dog”) this style almost exclusively speaks to this concept in every pose. In this two hour session, we never created a vinyasa sequence, but instead when through individual poses and Desiree walked us through the alignment, the internal rotation, the internal isometic forces (“push your shins out”, for example) at work in each pose. It was exhausting but a true revelation. Desiree spoke of the benefits of moving in this way and said that it helps students find more enjoyment in their practice by giving them a healthier way to move from their internal bones and muscles instead of just brute strength. She described it as, “ Anusara makes the easy things harder and the harder things easier.” This, she said, as she walked us through how to lie in shavasana! (which I thought I already knew!)
For teachers: This was a great eye-opening experience for me. I love the Baptiste style of yoga I teach and loved the emphasis in this style on the internal power that can be derived through showing students how to move from their bones. The instruction provided along with the demonstrations of basic postures from the perspective of this style were invaluable to my teaching. It will provide me with a new emphasis to add to my own teaching and will give me better instructional tips and verbal cueing to provide my students with as I teach within my own classes.
Carlos Pomeda: The Joy of Sanskrit (lecture)
For students: How many times have you been in a yoga class and heard the terms used by the teacher and had no idea what she was referring to? Do you wonder what the language of Sanskrit is all about? This was a great lecture on the basics of Sanskrit, the ancient language spoken in India and infused into the history and story of yoga. In this lecture, we practiced pronouncing the basic vowel, consonants and “semi-vowels” of Sanskrit, learned about the different diacritic marks and practiced some of the more common mantras and used what we learned to translate the mantras into English.
For teachers: Carlos provided some wonderful resources for yoga teachers (and students): Good book to learn how to properly pronounce yoga postures: The Ygoa Asana Index, by Bruce Bowditch. See : www.Bruce-Bowditch.com. Also, a good translation of the Yoga Sutras: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Edwin Bryant.
Debbie Williamson: Community (free) Baptiste Yoga Class
This was a free class taught to over 100 students. It was fun, liberating and ended with a beautiful a cappella song by Kellie Lin Knott. The song is amazing. It’s called “May I Suggest” and is written by Susan Kerner, the original artist (from what my research has found). I would encourage you to look it up on YouTube and take a listen.
Natasha Rizopoulos: Wring it out: the thrill of twisting (2 hour yoga class)
For students: Twisting postures can often be fun but can also bring us pain as well as confusion. Are we supposed to keep our hips centered? Why does our neck hurt? Am I doing this right? By taking us through a number of twisting postures, Natasha showed us how the movement comes from the stabilization and center of the hips, and then a movement that encourages mobility in the middle part of the back, an area that for so many of us, she said, can be dull and lifeless. There are many benefits to twisting poses, not the least of which are their ability to open up the thoracic spine (mid-back), their ability to flush out toxins and the value of bringing fresh blood flow with nutrients into internal organs. The key to twisting postures when standing starts with the base, so many students should focus on getting their feet aligned and solid before moving up the legs to the hips. Once the hips are centered, then begin the twist, using the metaphor of a spiral staircase as you work up the spine and all the way up to the crown of the head.
For teachers: Natasha took us through a series of twisting poses, working from the basics to more advanced postures, finishing with twisting triangle. She used a framework of stabilizing the hips and then moving into the twist that allowed students to apply it to the different poses to experience the benefits while using a digestible model that could be applied to many postures.