Greetings Yogis! It has been a while but I am back in Los Angeles teaching yoga!!!! I am teaching a Summer Solstice Workshop on JUNE 22nd from 1-3pm at Yoga Daya in Culver City. Early Bird rate (before June 8th) is $35, and $45 after June 8th. Space is limited so secure your spot by calling Yoga Daya at (310)-558-YOGA or sign-up online and click the "Workshops" tab at the top of the page.
Friday, 03 May 2013
I watched a mind blowing BBC Documentary the other night on The Man Who Los His Body. Ian, an Englishman woke up one morning and found himself unable to move. He was not paralyzed but he experienced nerve damage in the part of his brain responsible for proprioception. His sense of touch was gone completely, yet he was not paralyzed. Doctors were baffled. There was no diagnosis for this odd condition (only 10 cases reported in the world!) and doctors concluded that Ian would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Through tedious hours, weeks, months and years of rehabilitation Ian was able to bypass his own nervous system relying solely on his vision and his memory of movement. Eventually Ian was able to teach himself to sit up, stand and walk again. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Thursday, 10 November 2011
As a movement professional I take verbal cues very seriously regardless of whether I am the one giving them or receiving them. The ability to articulate movement to a student is the difference between good instruction and great instruction. I had many ballet teachers in my career yet only two of them were able to articulate their instruction in such a way that I immediately understood what to do with my body to achieve the desired lines. The same clear, concise and most importantly individually tailored verbal cues are necessary to proper yoga instruction. Whether you are an advanced yogi or a beginner or whether you are a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet or a ballet enthusiast, everyone needs a fresh pair of eyes. I call this the "spinach in between your teeth effect." If you have a piece of spinach stuck in between your teeth, wouldn't you want someone to tell you about? If you had your skirt tucked into your underwear in public wouldn't you want to know about it? How about if you had a piece of soiled toilet paper stuck to your shoe at a trendy nightspot, wouldn't you want someone to tell you???
Wednesday, 05 October 2011
Sorry guys, but not all yoga instructors are created equal. I have taken my share of yoga classes with inept instructors where the sequencing of postures was nonsensical and the instructor's lack of articulation cut my ears like nails on a chalkboard. Like a good yogi, I resist the urge to judge and do what I know is right for my body. A beginner might not have the good judgment to back off or do what is best for their body for fear of not being able "hang" with the rest of the crowd. Having a ballet background makes it easy for me to decipher whether or not an instructor actually understands movement or if the instructor approaches teaching yoga in a Simon says manner. Yoga is a powerful tool and without a skilled instructor the potential for serious injury is much greater. Nowadays everywhere I go someone tells me about beginning a teacher-training course with the intent of going out into the world to teach yoga. Don't get me wrong, more power to you friend; however, not everyone has it in them to be a good yoga instructor. Exposing this darker side of the yoga world--call it yoga politics-- seems like the karmic kiss of death but it is necessary. Who you practice with is the most important aspect of your yoga practice, especially if you are a beginner. Yoga instructors have more power than you might think since he or she can make or break a beginner's yogic experience for life.
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
I recently saw a commercial on television in which a yoga instructor endorses Advil. I thought to myself, "wow, this is irony at its best!" Isn't yoga the "natural" painkiller? By participating in the commercial, yoga instructor Lacey Calvert deflates the value and the physical benefits of yoga. Many people turn to yoga precisely because they experience pain and because they believe yoga can help extinguish their physical discomfort. This commercial is just another cunning attempt by Big Pharma to shove another pill down our throats in an attempt to solve our problems. Instead of unnecessarily creating another bad habit and popping a pain pill, think about what caused your physical pain. Did you exhaust all possible options to alleviate the pain or are you simply choosing the easiest and most available option? Click here to view the ad.
Monday, 18 July 2011
What happens when you suffer an injury? No, seriously, this is not a rhetorical question. I am curious what all of you out there experience when your body is not well from something as minute as a paper cut or a bruise to something more serious like a broken bone. Something as minor as a paper cut or bruise can become a major annoyance. Don't you find that when you injure yourself you somehow someway always manage to hit, bang or whack the wounded area? What if the injury sustained is more serious than a paper cut? Let's say a dancer or an athlete sustains a pulled muscle or a sprained ankle, wouldn’t you agree that this type of injury is worthy of a personal "meltdown?"
People who are highly active either as a result of their profession or simply because of a lifestyle choice are gluttons for sensation. Just in case you didn’t hear me the first time, athletes and especially dancers are gluttons for sensation! The degree of pain and range of motion are barometers for how much further he or she can push him or herself physically. Whenever I manage to hurt myself (and it happens more often than I’d like to admit in my line of work) my dad always says, "Don't try it! Leave it alone!” Ahhhh... famous last words. My ex-professional volleyball player father should know better than anyone that when something hurts, when something feels off physically you have no choice but to rub it, stand on it, stretch it, tweak it, and test it out to see if it still hurts... yea, of course it still does; however, at least I feel like I am doing something beneficial for my injury by “testing the waters.” Maybe if I stretch it this way, or maybe that way it will hurt less and in order to determine if my brilliant methodology was a success I must test it out first! Duh! Ouch! Crap! Yup, my foot is still there and so is the pain. Time to R.I.C.E.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
It’s no wonder that George Balanchine, the father of ballet in America as we know it, was such a stickler for tendus. Balanchine believed that if a dancer could execute a perfect tendu, then no step or combination of steps is unattainable. A battement tendu is a French word meaning to “stretch” or to “extend” and is a fundamental step in the classical ballet vocabulary where the foot is fully stretched so as to continue the line of the extended leg. Every time the foot leaves the ground, it has to be pointed!!! This is the 1st commandment of classical ballet! Otherwise, let's just face it...it's bad ballet. Tendus are the basis of all jumps, turns and all the seemingly effortless footwork seen in ballet. It can take years to perfect the tendu; in fact if you ask most highly trained professional dancers if they consider their tendus to be perfect they will undoubtedly reply: “Far from!”
Tendus are to ballet as tadasana is to yoga. The most fundamental asana in yoga is tadasana a.k.a. Mountain Pose. As the name suggests, the energy of this asana is strong and unbreakable like a mountain. In tadasana the feet are either together or slightly apart, the arms down with the palms at the sides of the body and the chest is lifted. It is important to keep the gaze soft by directing it at the tip of the nose to maintain the undisturbed energy generated by this asana. Tadasana is the blueprint for all postures in yoga because in tadasana the body is at its optimal alignment with the neck positioned over the shoulders, the shoulders stacked over the hips, the hips aligned over the knees and the knees positioned over the ankles. There's even weight distributed between the mounds of the big and little toes and the inner and outer heels. In tadasana the spine is maximally extended and not torqued. When the spine is elongated it allows for prana to flow through the body uninterrupted. When all the anatomical puzzle pieces fit together like this moving freely from one position to the next becomes second nature. The need to push, strain or overexert disappears and the risk for injury greatly diminishes. Additionally, when we successfully find this sense of ease in our yoga practice we can begin to pay less attention to the physicality of our movements and tap into their energetic quality. When this happens, many find it mentally soothing and therefore quite liberating.
Every sport, activity or art has its building blocks; but in my experience the building blocks of yoga often compliment those of ballet and in doing so provide me, “the ballerina,” a more comprehensive understanding of my body and a greater sense of physical awareness and mental clarity.
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
If you practice vinyasa yoga or any other physically demanding activity it's crucial to find a good bodyworker. At home, I try to do as much as I can on my own to roll out the kinks and muscle adhesions using a foam roller and other toys, but there's no comparison for getting some great bodywork. I found an amazing bodyworker at Yoga Tree in San Francisco and his name is V. Yes, V. Just V. It was quite possibly the best massage I've ever had in that not only was the pressure deep enough but V also incorporated techniques like stretching and working on the back of my body while I was lying face up! I've never experienced bodywork in this way before and it was really incredible because the weight of my own body aided V in getting deep into the bound up muscle tissue in and around my low back, gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus. On top of V's technical mastery he radiated a healing and spiritual vibe that was very comforting. Being able to "hold space" in an intimate practice like bodywork or yoga is imperative because people can and do feel vulnerable underneath that little cloth separating all of them from the bodyworker and outside world. I was also impressed with how thorough V was in his work. V left no muscle unturned so to speak and because he was so thorough time seemed to slow down, which is great when you’re getting bodywork! I thought the massage was almost done but in actuality we had about another 10-15 minutes to go. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of V informing me that there was only 10 minutes left so if there's anything specific I want worked we still had enough time. Overall, a fantastic experience
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
If you practice yoga regularly then you’ve probably noticed the emphasis on the spine. Most asanas and class sequences are designed in such a way that elongation of the spine takes priority. For example, in dandasna the sit bones are rooting down into the mat, the legs extend out in front of you and the hands touch the ground just outside the hips. Many people cannot sit comfortably with an erect spine and with their legs extended, much less fold forward to reach their toes because of tight hamstrings. Many people also find it hard to press their palms down to the ground in dandasana because their spine is curved. If this is the case, a modification is made to the pose by placing a blanket or a two or even a block underneath the pelvis to “raise” the floor. Immediately, the practitioner experiences relief and ease in the low back and hips and is able to reach their hands down to the ground because the spine is now straight. Another great example of spinal elongation is adho mukha svanasana a.k.a. downward facing dog where the hands root into the mat, the hips lift up and back, the inner thighs revolve away from each other and the heels spin out slightly and lengthen towards the mat. In adho mukha svanasana you use the strength of your legs and feet to help pull as much weight out of your hands as possible while stamping the palms down into the ground. This opposition creates massive elongation of the spine which is why downward facing dog pose feels so good and is often used as a “resting” pose or a “home base” position as you move through a yoga practice.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
So it seems that all of the different modes of movement I am currently involved in are converging. Perhaps the commonalities between ballet, yoga and Gyrotonics® were always there, but now I am approaching each with an astute awareness I never had during my earlier years. Yoga literally translates as "union" "to yoke," or "the bringing together of opposites." In ballet technique for example, you must press down into the floor with your foot (or feet) in order to get up onto your toe(s) or in order to achieve that perfect jump. I’m now learning Gyrotonics® works along the same principle: opposition. Even in physics we learn that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you stretch your torso laterally to the left, as in a side bend, you would want to avoid thrusting your torso to the left. Thrusting or jerking in order to execute a movement does not serve you at all. In fact, doing so causes more harm because you compress and shorten the left side of the waist. Compression is never good for our joints. Lateral movement occurs in the coronal plane, or frontal plane. Simply put, the coronal plane refers to any sort of side-to-side movement. Rotation of the spine also employs the oppositional movement principle. Rotation occurs in the transverse plane or horizontal plane. Twists are an easy way to understand the transverse plane of movement. When you twist you rotate around the axis of your own spine.
YOGI TIDBITS TO TRY:
EXPERIENCE YOUR FULL CORONA: Reach your right arm out to the right and take it overhead so that your right tricep rolls forward and the palm of your right hand begins to turn towards the wall behind you. Inhale deeply as you do this. As you exhale start bending over to the left keeping your left waist as long as possible and complete the movement by taking your right arm overhead. What you just did here is create more space along both sides of your waist before stretching laterally to one side. Notice if stretching in this manner allows you a more satisfying experience. We could use a little more...space, the final frontier.
TWIST TRANSVERSELY: Sit up as tall as you can in a chair or on a bench. Separate your feel a little wider than your hip's distance and point the toes out slightly (about 45 degrees). Allow the hands to rest on the thighs. Make sure you feel both of your sitting bones rooting evenly into the chair. The more you hone your attention on the rooting of your sitbones here, the more extension you will get through your spine. Here again is the principle of opposition. This should be an easy-seated position. Inhale deeply and imagine both sides of your waist elongating. Keep your left hand on your left thigh and as you begin to exhale slowly twist over to the right letting your right hand glide out towards the right knee. As you deepen your exhale your twist will naturally deepen on its own. Now, as much as you are twisting to the right, imagine a gentle hand on your left ribcage and press your left waist into that imaginary hand. There it is again...our friend, Mr. Opposition.
Thursday, 10 February 2011
This past Monday I went to see Jesse Rice, a neuromuscular healer at a local Gyrotonics® studio. Mr. Rice developed and coined his technique the Rice Release Technique.™ This technique is a form of active release technique or ART. Mr. Rice finds the line of fascia along an injured limb or trunk and finds the area where there's excess tension...i.e. where there's locked energy or tension. Then he will manually enter the area... and let me tell you it hurts...at first, but after a few seconds the pain subsides and Mr. Rice moves up along the line of fascia to find the next tension point and employs the same technique. Mr. Rice explained it to me this way...let's say you get into a car accident and you lose a limb. You may not even realize it until you are already in the ambulance because you are in shock. The brain shuts off the pain signals to that limb. The Rice Release Technique™ works with the same part of the brain that interrupts pain signals to the injured area by manually locating them and what Mr. Rice calls "turning them off." The relief as experienced by the client is longer lasting as opposed to the temporary relief after a deep tissue massage, which could irritate the surrounding tissues more and cause more inflammation. This experience really made me think a lot about how closely related the mind and the body are. The body and mind are interdependent for their optimal functionality.
To learn more about Rice Release Technique™ and Jesse Rice CLICK HERE and scroll down to Jesse Rice's bio.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Let the video speak for itself:
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
You would think that after five consecutive performances my body would be completely inoperative.... but alas, my messiah came in the form of a bottle of white distilled vinegar. A fellow dancer shared her approach for managing extreme muscle soreness and fatigue. Initially I was totally grossed out by what she had to say. Apparently, the answer lies in a bottle of white distilled vinegar. I decided to try it. Being just a tad less bold than my friend who took a bath in the vinegar, I decided to begin by soaking just my feet in a bucket of cold water mixed with white vinegar. My feet felt reinvigorated and ready for the next day's performances! Today, I felt bold and decided to try taking a bath in the acidic stuff. It works! IT WORKS!!!! The vinegar draws out the lactic acid from the muscles, which is the main culprit for sore and tired muscles.
In addition to the vinegar soak, I did the unthinkable today...I took a LEVEL 1 yoga class. Yes, you got it right, level 1. I wouldn't have been caught dead in a level 1 yoga class about a year ago, but recently I'm noticing that my body craves a much slower, deeper and more attentive practice. I’m actually allowing myself to listen to my body's intelligent yet subtle demands. A highly active person like a ballet dancer already does so much with her body that taking a high intensity level 3/4 vinyasa class after a day of dancing can really be more damaging than beneficial. This is nothing short of a revelation in my own practice. It's a really big step for me to accept that it's ok to move slower and listen to what I need. After all, isn't that what yoga is all about?
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Why do you come to yoga? Maybe it’s to find community, to workout, to find peace of mind? Whatever it is, I’m 100% certain that it’s not to acquire any more dukhas (discomforts) that life already has to offer. The number two most frequent issue my students approach me about (other than dissatisfaction with their lack of flexibility) is wrist pain during their practice. When I teach I’m a huge stickler for instructing people, especially beginner yogis, proper alignment. The way you set up your asana from the ground up directly affects whether or not you will hurt yourself. The foundation is integral. The foundation is the part of the body that’s on the ground and in yoga, its not always our feet! Yoga offers many wonderful asanas with a variety of different positive effects but if you are consistently practicing adho mukha svnasana a.k.a. downward facing dog or plank pose without properly aligning your hands then you put yourself at risk for developing a repetitive stress injury or RSI.
Monday, 20 September 2010
So often we ignore what we can’t see. How many of us make an effort to see our legs, much less stretch them on a daily basis? Unless you are a competitive athlete or professional dancer you probably don’t pay much attention to your stems. How many of us love to go shoe shopping? I would bet that most of you love it (or at least secretly love it and don’t want to admit it). The shoes we wear everyday constrict our feet and for about 90% of our day we don’t feel the soles of our feet sprawl out on the earth beneath us like our cavemen ancestors used to.
Click Read More For Susy's Vloga (Video Blog Yoga) Demo!
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
Like many of us, I was brought with the idea “work hard and you will succeed.” However, I’m one of those people who like to take things to their extremes. My “push through the pain” attitude bled into my yoga practice. The good news is that through my yoga practice I strengthened my capacity for awareness and can at least recognize my overachieving nature. In yoga philosophy, aversion and attachment are the two main causes of suffering. My quest for perfection, especially as a dancer demands discipline. I examine things through the lens of the glass being half empty. I search for ways to fill the glass up with as much goodness as I can find at any cost. In my mind complacency also demands a certain level of discipline. You’d have to commit to doing just enough to get by. At the risk of sounding like a yoga nazi, I believe strongly that you must play to your edge in order to improve and refine your craft, however, now I understand that there are no shortcuts even if those shortcuts involve the ruthless daily pounding of your body to make it do what you want it to.
So this brings me to my this question: How do you reconcile the quest for success and complacency? Where is that fine line? Is it different for each person? Yes, yes, I know I am suppose to “listen to the Divine Teacher within me” but more often than not my more aggressive and calculating rational mind upstages the latent layers of my consciousness. This is going to be very “unyogic” of me to admit, but whatever it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to right? When I first began a regular yoga practice at YogaHop in Santa Monica, CA I’d see all these people doing crazy arm balances and I was like “I wanna learn how to do that!” This desire to master some of these crazy poses is what propelled me to pursue my yoga practice further and further. In my quest to attain the perfect arm balance I actually fell in love with yoga and how it made me feel…and yes, eventually I was able to perfect the poses too, but when that time came it felt more like a side-effect compared to the lingering sense of well-being and connection I experienced each time I practiced.
I use to think that being a disciplined dancer meant pushing through the mental and of course physical discomfort until you simply can’t push anymore, but as I became a more seasoned yoga practitioner and as I get older I’ve implemented a new kind of discipline. When the body speaks to you, you shouldn’t shush it. Ask anyone who has a consistent yoga practice and they will tell you about yoga’s capacity to refine and elevate their level of body-awareness. Not only does this more sophisticated sense of self allow more control over the body but it can also help prevent injury. These days I take genuine inventories several times a day each day to check in with what’s going on with my physical body. My thoughts on discipline morphed over the last few years. I’ve strayed away from the stringent “no pain, no gain” attitude and arrived at an understanding that if I do what’s possible at the present moment with unvarnished consistency then I am still a disciplined.
YOGI TIDBIT TO TRY: To help yourself take a genuine inventory of where you are right now, lie down on your yoga mat in supta baddha konasana by placing the soles of your feet together and letting your knees fall open towards ground. Then gently place one hand over the heart and one hand over the abdomen. If you feel discomfort in the groins or in the hips, place a couple of blakets or blocks under each knee so that you can soften the groins. (see image below) Close you eyes and if you have an eyepillow or a small towel, place it over the eyes. Exhale completely so your abdomen is totally empty and hold the breath out for a moment. Inhale deeply through the nose—all the way to the top of the lungs—and hold the breath in for a moment before letting it go through the mouth. Close the lips and start to breath through your nose. Take about ten minutes here simply breathing through the news and focusing your attention on maintaining the steadiness of the breath while tuning in to any sensations that might arise.
Monday, 06 September 2010
Faith and belief are not synonymous. As someone who holds a degree in Philosophy, I am a bit ashamed to admit that I never thought to explore this notion of faith versus belief until I read Judith Lasater’s book Living Your Yoga this last March. In it Judith writes that beliefs are based on our preconceived ideas about reality whereas faith is more of an openness, a sort of receptivity toward the unknown. It's almost as if having read and ascertained the depth of this idea was a foreshadowing of what was to come...
In April, I severely sprained my right ankle. As a professional dancer you get accustomed to working through injuries and dancing through pain, so I brushed it off as just a sprain. After taking only a week off, I returned to work and continued to dance on it for another two months before the pain was so excruciating I finally had to stop and get an MRI. As it turned out, I had two torn ligaments in my ankle…a dancer's worst nightmare! You always hear dancers say, “Please, let it just be broken” because a broken bone usually heals cleaner and faster than a soft tissue injury. Needless to say, I was pretty depressed for the next month and a half. It's not uncommon to believe that anything over the age of 25 in the ballet world is old. At the ripe old age of 27, I constantly question whether or not I will be able to make this audition or that audition because I was brought up believing that a dancer's career is essentially over by the age of 30. It's like there's a ticker and after my injury, the ticking kept getting louder and louder. So, what could I do??? I had to stop dancing and take care of the injury, step one. After two cortisone injections and intense physical therapy three time a week for about five or six weeks, I returned to work very slowly and with extreme caution. Those five or six weeks off from ballet, were the most agonizing because my dome was ballooning with ideas based on my beliefs. I was in a constant state of “oh shit, what now?!” stressing about how much time I was losing and how all my technique and hard work had just gone down the toilet. My mind felt like a war zone being inundated with belief bombs. I needed something to pull me out of my own misery so I started to shift my focus to my teaching and practicing yoga and actually to finally starting this blog. So, I guess something good did come out of it :)
I knew deep down that this injury was merely another temporary phase and that it too would pass. Once I accepted what happened to me I immediately recognized this acceptance as faith. The beliefs and perceptions I carried with me from childhood manifested into insecurities as a mature ballerina. We are products of our environments and because of this our beliefs, especially about ourselves, are often misguided. In the ballet world where the ideals are as rigid as my wooden living room coffee table, it is even harder to break away from negaroty self-talk and ill-informed ideas about self. My experiences and thus my reality result directly from these misguided beliefs. All I can do is step aside for a moment, take a breath and momentarily detach from my own processes and in doing so, I can observe them with a little less judgment and criticism. Just by virtue of taking a step back from my situation I prove to myself that I am more than the aggregate of my beliefs. Ok, here I am, what do I do next? Keep dancing.
P.S. A week ago I was taking class at my old studio and ran into Arianna Lallone who was and still is one of my idols. She is amazingly tall for a ballerina….I think she is around six feet tall. Arianna also went through much adversity, especially in her early years as a dancer because of her height. She has been a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, one of the top companies in the U.S. for about 20 years. Having studied at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, I once asked Arianna to sign a pair of pointe shoes when I was about 14 or 15. I ran into her earlier this year before my injury and she totally remembered me! Then when I saw her the other week we chatted for a little bit and she admitted that she was 42 years old! I said “oh yes! There’s hope!” And just like that faith crept inside my bones and whispered into every nerve in my body, you are still a baby ballerina.
Wednesday, 01 September 2010