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
The main goal of So You Think You Can Yoga?® is to demystify some of the common misperceptions people have about yoga. One of them is the notion that unless you are naturally flexible yoga is uncomfortable and impossible. Yes, the asanas do require flexibility but they also require strength. With a consistent practice, flexibility and strength develop together; like a married couple. They are two sides of the same coin. People who tend to be on the stiff side usually fare better with poses that require more strength. People who are more on the flexible side tend to do better with poses that facilitate elongation of the muscles and ligaments. Neither one is more advanced than the other per se. The degree of difficulty really depends on which side of the coin you identify with the most. Yoga is about balance. The goal is to reach equilibrium between the two sides of this coin.
Astavakrasana is an “advanced” asana because there are several elements to it. Astavakrasana illustrates the duality of yoga specific to a yoga practice because it requires core strength and flexibility. Below is a sequence of asanas designed to help prepare your body for astavakrasana. It helps to think about this pose in terms of component parts, which include the core and hip flexibility. The sequence below strengthens the core muscles while simultaneously targeting external rotation of the hip joints.
Thursday, 21 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
When you enjoy crossing paths with a fit, toned and generally pleasant individual it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he or she practices yoga. Surely by now most people understand the physical and mental benefits of yoga. Yoga is perfectly accessible to even the laziest and unmotivated of persons. I’ve heard more than my fair share of misconceptions about yoga, but they are simply that: misconceptions. Regardless of whether you to practice for an hour, thirty minutes or even five minutes a day, the bottom line remains: you will undoubtedly reap the many wonderful benefits yoga has to offer.
In this post-post modern era of instant gratification it’s hard to commit to practicing yoga for an hour every day; but, lucky for us overworked, overstressed and under nurtured creatures there is no wrong way to practice yoga. Yoga is unique because it’s a system of movement in which the asanas can be modified not only to fit the individual yogi’s needs and goals, but it’s also a system of movement in which the asanas can be manipulated to target multiple areas of the body simultaneously. The efficiency of yoga as a system of exercise is unmistakable. The asanas don’t need to be overly complex or arranged in any particular order per se. For example, practicing five rounds of Surya Namaskar A followed by five rounds of Surya Namaskar B (a.k.a. Sun Salutations) while integrating the breath into each movement every morning equates to a legitimate yoga practice. It is what I like to call a “moving meditation” because it increases the heart rate, tones the entire core and upper body all while generating and maintaining mental equanimity through the incorporation of breath. Another great example of maximizing the efficiency of your asana practice is practicing utkatasana, a.k.a. chair pose while squeezing a block with your hands. Utkatasana is already quite challenging. It strengthens the legs and core and when squeezing a block overhead in between your palms you instantly layer on another dimension: Mr. and Mrs. Triceps. In addition to maximizing the efficency out of your yoga practice, modifying postures like this keeps your practice fresh and interesting. Hold this pose for ten ujjayi breaths. I challenge you to reply to this post if you don’t feel anything. Get your yoga on!
Sunday, 24 April 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