July 30, 2015

Confessions of a Yoga Fuddy-Duddy

I don’t practice Eagle Pose, or fold forward in Pigeon Prep.

But my sacroiliac joint isn’t jacked anymore, either.

I don’t hold Plank, or Forearm Plank, for as long as I’m physically capable; because when I stop using my target muscles—and start compensating in my habitual patterns—I feel it. I’m not on my mat to deepen my pre-existing muscular imbalances. I’ve already got scoliosis, fer crying out loud! I’d actually like to build new neurological pathways.

Still, sometimes it’s hard to put my knees down or to come out of the pose.  I want to keep up. I feel that compulsion as much as the next Type-A Person from Fairfield County, CT. I practice putting my knees down anyway. (Hey, did you know that if you hold Plank too long, you’re almost certainly not strengthening your abdominals? Yup, you’re probably just overusing already imposed upon back muscles.)

I don’t teach long strings of asanas on the same side. I’ve pretty much evolved into a Right Side Pose followed by Left Side Pose kinda teacher. It’s SO not sexy! But then hobbling around with your S.I. joint killing you probably isn’t all that sexy either. And I don’t collapse into my ligaments and joints as much as I used to. My connective tissue is stiffer—an accomplishment I’m proud of! I know there aren’t any physical benefits to practicing beyond exhaustion, and  plenty o’ good reasons not to. I’m sorry to say that if you’re looking for fancy-pants choreography, you won’t find it in my class, and you’ll probably be bored.

If you’re looking for solid sequencing it might be worth your time.

I probably sequence Side Angle Pose into every yoga class I instruct. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because it’s a solid way to build strength, to inhabit range of motion, to explore nuanced body awareness, and because—like Downward Facing Dog—it enlists the major muscle groups. I teach basic poses because they offer so much value in their own right, and because they’re great preparation for more challenging poses. I teach them because—although I’ve probably done them a million times—there’s never not something interesting to pay attention to.

I don’t practice or teach a lot of back-and-forth transitions between neutral and open hips. (Using the yoga mat as a frame of reference, that means transitioning between poses where the pelvis faces the front of the mat versus one side of the mat, for example going back and forth between Warrior 3 and Half Moon, or between Warrior 1 and Warrior 2.) I’m not into putting that much pressure on the front of my hip joint. I don’t think you’re a bad teacher if you teach those kinds of transitions. I’d probably still enjoy your class. I’ll just put my foot down in between.

I guess I’m kind of a yoga fuddy-duddy.

But I have less pain in my body than ever before. My sacrum is a lot less likely to slide around and jam up. My low back muscles are less pissy because they’re no longer working overtime, all the time. Like Sleeping Beauty after her long nap, my abdominal muscles have rubbed their sleepy eyes and awakened! I have less neck and shoulder tension than I once did.

Okay, my ribs do still pop out of place if I’m not careful, but I try to be careful.

There are poses I once did that I can’t do anymore, can’t do with the same ease, or just won’t do anymore. I probably can’t pop my head behind my front foot in a lunge anymore, but can’t say for sure because I haven’t tried. I won’t be trying anytime soon. I did a couple of arm balances more easily when my connective tissue was less stiff.

I’ve always sucked at sticking inversions. That’s the price overly bendy people pay for being able to roll out of bed first thing on a January morning and slap our palms flat on the floor. Well—sucking at inversions, painfully unstable joints, injuries, and hip replacements looming in our futures.

I’ve learned new ways to align my body, from the ground up. I’ve focused on building stronger glutes. I’ve 100% stopped scooping my tailbone. I’ve started creating more stability by lengthening my spine, and addressing my displaced ribcage instead. I’ve learned how to feel a stretch in my hamstrings (and it’s not through static stretching). I’ve stopped pulling my shoulders back when I’m not bearing weight on my hands. I’m trying to stop clenching my jaw so I can access my “core” instead, but it takes a lot of attention, and more patience for nitwittedness than I was born with. (Oh, that term, “core”?” Oy. There’s a conversation for a whole utha day.)

Interestingly, I’m stronger. I’m closer than ever before to sticking my handstand in the middle of the room. I take that as a pretty good indication that my muscular patterns are less severely imbalanced than they once were.

I’d like to stick my handstand. It would be a personal triumph with over a couple of decades in the making. It would make the perpetual adolescent in me feel less like a fuddy-duddy, and more like a badass.

More than that, though, it’s an adult measure. It’s personal verification that doing more isn’t always better, that working differently may offer more tangible results than working harder, and that being a yoga fuddy-duddy ain’t actually all that bad.





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July 12, 2015

Yoga Private Investigator



This blog post is one in a series of articles all month long on the topic of Sequencing To The Individual hosted by Kate over at You & the yoga mat. Many awesome yoga experts are contributing to the blog tour throughout the month. Be sure to check out Ellie McMillan’s post on creating sequences that keep your clients coming back for more, and check out Erica Mather’s post tomorrow, too. Want to get all the #sequencingblogtour posts? Use the hashtag #sequencingblogtour on Instagram and swing by here [youandtheyogamat.com/sequencing] to get emails with each post to your inbox all month long.


I go on fairly regular rants about how ideally yoga should be taught one-on-one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my group classes. I think there’s benefit to being part of a community. Laying down mats, side by side, on a regular basis forges connections. Still, there’s no such thing as one size fits all yoga. Never has been; never will be.

So I love working privately! Teaching just one student affords the opportunity to custom tailor the practice to one set of individual needs. And after juggling entire classrooms full of conflicting circumstances, that’s pure luxury.

The best way to custom tailor the perfect private sequence is to be an expert information gatherer. To that end, I always spend at least a few minutes up front talking with students.

Here are some of the things I want to know to create the just-right sequence:

  1. “How are you today?”
  2. “What’s new since the last time we met?”
  3. “How’s that __________ since last week?” (Achy neck. Tight shoulder. Broken toe. Migraine. Fill in the blank with whatever condition has been an issue for this student.)
  4. “How’d you sleep last night?” (This tells me a lot about the overall velocity a student is moving at.)
  5. “How’s work?” (I’ll sequence differently with a student who’s on vacation than one who’s put in 30 hours of overtime this week.)
  6. “How are things with _______________ ?” (Spouse. Kids. Pets. Fill in the blank with whoever is most important to this student. I ask students to provide the names of their nearest and dearest on my client intake form, to be sure I remember them. A simple question like this gives me a ton of info about a student’s emotional state. It also conveys my genuine interest in my student.)
  7. “How’s the ________________?” (Fill in the blank with whatever motivates this student to practice yoga. For example, if the student has a goal of improving a golf swing, running a marathon, or just living a healthier lifestyle, I want to know how it’s going.)
  8. “Is there anything special you’re in the mood to work on? Or would you prefer me to just run with it?” (If a private student wants to work on something, in particular, I want to know about it. I also want to know when a student would rather not have to make one single decision for sixty minutes, and just be told what to do. For some students, that’s a huge luxury.)



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May 1, 2015

15 Instructions I Have Eliminated From My Teaching

Yesterday I dashed off a FB post. Originally I’d intended to jot down a couple of instructions I no longer use in my teaching. As I composed the post, it generated into a list. That list inspired such a long thread and interesting conversation, I thought to share it here.

When I dashed off that list I didn’t take the time to create context, so I’d like to set at least a bit here. These are instructions that I personally no longer use in my own practice, or in my teaching. I don’t think you’re a bad teacher if you use these cues. I’m SUPER NOT INTO the whole shade-throwing, shame inducing tenor that I think the conversation about yoga alignment has taken in our current milieu. I know wonderful yoga teachers who use cues that I don’t use, and who don’t use cues that I love.

Nothing is carved in stone. It’s great to have a spectrum of tools in our toolboxes. There are no one-size-fits-all instructions. When working with real humans, with real differences, IT ALWAYS DEPENDS.

In this past year, I’ve observed myself feeling triggered and defensive by articles that seem to aggressively fault-find and nit pick yoga teachers. That’s not my goal here. Nothing about this post is a reflection on anyone’s value as a teacher, or as a human.

I could explain why I have discarded each of these instructions, but it would be a long-ass post, and I only have a few minutes this morning. I’m going to rely on generating interesting conversation in the comments rather than detailing each item in the body of this post. Feel free to comment with questions; I’ll try to answer them when I can.

What instructions have YOU originated, discarded, deepened or evolved in your practice or teaching?

15 Instructions I No Longer Use:

1. “Press into the 4 corners of your feet.”
2. “Lift your toes.”
3. “Draw strength from your feet up into the core of your pelvis.”
4. “Hug your leg muscles in toward the bones.”
5. “Rotate your sit bones in, back and apart.”
6. “Blossom your butt.” (Okay, I never used that one to begin with.)
7. “Scoop your tailbone.”
8. “Draw your front hip under/ Externally rotate your front hip.”
9. “Puff your kidneys.”
10. “Lift your sternum/ Lift your heart.”
11. “Melt your heart.”
12. “Draw your shoulder blades more firmly onto your back/ Squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another.”
13. “Plug your arm bone in,” in poses that don’t bear weight on the upper body.
14. “Move your shoulders back,” in poses that don’t bear weight on the upper body.
15. “Open to grace.”

Cues That Feel Great in My Body and That I Currently Love to Use in My Teaching:

1. “Try lowering your toes so you can relax your feet and better engage your abdominals.”
2. “Consciously set the 3 corners of your feet upon the earth.”
3. “Keep your front heel heavy and pay attention to what you feel in your hip.”
4. “Turn your kneecaps to face in the same direction as your toes, then tone your inner thighs.”
5. “Press more into the inner edge of your back foot and observe the response in your hip.”
6. “Tone your pelvic floor.”
7. “Tone your abdomen.”
8. “Lower your front ribs as a way of engaging your core for support and decompressing your back.”
9. “Let your sternum drape down.”
10. “Imagine your arms are rooted in your low back.”
11. “Let your shoulders simply drape.”
12. “Lift up the back of your head and feel the length of the back of your neck.”

Photo credit: Danielle Brown

Photo credit: Danielle Brown

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