I may want to refer to these parts as I talk about the classes, so I'm just going to quickly lay out what yoga is to me. Yoga is based on 8 limbs or rungs, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras. They are: the Yamas and Niyamas (an ethical code of behaviour), asana (postures we put the body in), pranayama (breath work), pratyahara (withdrawal of your senses), dharana (focussed concentration), dhyana (being absorbed in meditation), samadhi (bliss or enlightenment). Although many people are really just looking for a good workout, yoga is so much more than just exercise, and I feel that it's important to included all of these parts in my teaching. Most yoga teachers do this, but often they don't talk about it.
This is mostly a meditation class. Those last four rungs of yoga (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) are generally found as a part of a meditation practice. That's half of what yoga is. But starting a meditation practice can be difficult. "How do I meditate?" "I can't get into full lotus, so I guess I can't meditate." "My mind wanders — I'm no good at meditation." This class is set up to help with all of these things. It's a class where we get to try different types of meditation and move our bodies in ways that will help us be ready for meditation. It's different every week. Sometimes we do guided meditations. Sometimes we sit or walk or stand. Sometimes we use different tools to help our minds be quiet, and sometimes we learn about how we can still meditate when our minds will not be quiet. Meditation on a Monday evening is a great way to start the week.
Hatha Yoga is a general physical yoga class. I try to include as many parts of yoga (as listed above) in this class as I can, but what it looks like is a mostly a moving meditation. There is some breath work, and there is a lot of movement. What kind of movement? Well, I have a lot of movement influences, and I let them help me teach the asana parts of the class. I try to teach to whomever is in the room. I'm not a therapist, so I can't treat your injuries, but I do know a lot about the body, so I try to take those injuries and physical challenges into consideration when teaching. Drawing on movement practices like Animal Flow, Axis Syllabus, Movement for Trauma (as taught by Jane Clapp), and my time working out in a gym, I do my best to help stretch out and strengthen the body so that it is more able to do what it needs to do for your activities of daily living (ADL). Doing some of the traditional asanas is great fun, and a lot of what I do does look like traditional yoga. I haven't thrown out all asanas, but asanas quickly become physically difficult, and I draw on other practices to help ready the body for those postures. For example, in this morning's class we did a modified side plank. Side plank, the way it is done in yoga, is on one hand, the opposite hand straight up, feet stacked. It takes a lot of shoulder strength and core strength and stability to be able to do this. I wanted to be able to help the class this morning work on strengthening their obliques (those side abdominal muscles), but a full plank was too challenging, so I used a movement that I learned from a kinesiologist, a modified, moving, side-plank. Why am I straying from only teaching traditional asana? Well, asana was developed as yogis knew the body. We've learned a lot about the body since then, so as long as we are moving mindfully, with self-awareness, I feel that other movements can be included in this practice and still be called "yoga".
Hatha Yoga 2 is an extension of Hatha Yoga. Yes, sometimes the postures can be a little more challenging, but I still do try to teach to whomever is in the class. The main differences between this class and Hatha is the philosophy and chanting. We take the last 20 minutes of the class (or so) and we talk about the philosophy of yoga. Right now we are going through the Yoga Sutras. Previously we've gone through the Yamas and Niyamas, the Gunas, the Koshas, the Chakras, the eight limbs of Yoga. Some weeks we chant as a part of this, which is a wonderful experience. Don't be intimidated by the 2 in the name of this class!
The class I'm fielding the most questions on is Fascial Yoga. What is this? Yes, I used to teach Yin yoga in these time slots, so something has changed, but what?
First of all, what is fascia? Fascia is the connective tissue that holds your body together with web-like structures, in lines or trains or webs (depending on who is describing it to you, people use different language) throughout the body. Fascia contains our newest organ, the interstitium. If you come to a fascial yoga class, I'll probably mention this fabulous, somewhat mysterious organ.
Yin yoga addresses fascia by using long held poses with no movement. We need to find the "edge" of the pose, and stay there, gently allowing the fascia to release over a long period of time (around 3 – 10 minutes).
While I agree that this is what can happen, there are some challenges with a practice that looks like this. Where is the "edge"? How do you know when you've found it? Is it a feeling or sensation? How long should you hold the pose? How much letting go in the fascia should you allow or encourage? If you've been doing a lot of Yin yoga, will your "edge" (ie the sensation felt at the edge of your range of motion) move? And if the edge does move, at what point is it still safe for the joints?
What I've been learning is that there are other ways to work with fascia. If you are holding a pose for a very long time, at the end of that, you might find that you've gone so far that the connective tissues are not able to support the joints as they should, leaving the joints unstable. But if you move slowly and gently in and out of a pose, or through a series of repetitive motions, or a series of spiral or circular motions, the fascia will also let go, possibly more slowly, but with more awareness of the impact of the letting go on the joint. You might not get as far, but you might also be in a safer place at the end of the movement. And how far is it that you want or need to go? What is the end-goal of your practice?
Do I still use long-held poses? Yes, sometimes. Many Yin yoga poses are great for the body. However, there are some of the poses that I've seen (and felt in my own body) push the body beyond what is safe. More than anything, I want people to be safe in my classes. Moving beyond what is "safe" can happen in any type of practice — I'm not trying to demonize Yin yoga. However, to properly reflect this move in my ideology from using only stillness to using much more movement as well as some stillness, I thought it only right to change the name of the class.
If anyone has any questions about this, please feel free to comment below, or reach out to me via email. I love having conversations about this stuff!
(usually one Sunday a month — check the schedule for class times)
Yes, you just read a few paragraphs about long held poses, and how I'm moving away from those. But isn't that Restorative yoga? Yes, and no. The goal in Yin yoga is to affect the fascia. The goal in Restorative yoga to affect the nervous system. So, although the poses are long and still, the body should be at rest, not at the edge of the range of motion, which might cause the nervous system to up-regulate. Restorative yoga is all about down-regulation. This is about allowing the nervous system to let go, reset, move out of the sympathetic, fight-or-flight, day-to-day stress that we live in. We are holding tension in our shoulders, and we can stretch the shoulders and strengthen the muscles so that we don't feel pain there, but what about the tension that was there, and the stress that caused the shoulders to be up around our ears? How do we let go of the stress? How do we allow our nervous systems to come down, so we can move to rest and digest, the parasympathetic state that we require to be healthy?
This is what is happening in a Restorative yoga class. And with our crazy, busy lives, most people will feel better when they have included a practice like this. It's so good at moving us to the parasympathetic that, in fact, people often fall asleep during the Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra literally means yogic sleep, but it's not actually meant to put you to sleep. You're meant to be conscious and awake during the whole thing. It's a guided meditation that takes you through the layers of the self, and it's a beautiful practice. However, because people are so stressed out, over-tired, their nervous systems on the edge, when they finally move to the parasympathetic state, they often fall asleep and sometimes even snore. One class recently had 4 of the 8 people snoring all at the same time! Sometimes others are irritated by the snoring, and I've had many suggestions that I go and nudge people out of their snoring state. I don't do this, and here's why: it doesn't stop the sleeping or snoring. It might for a moment, but it will return. If someone is so worn out that this is where they go, this is where they will need to go. It doesn't always happen, but if it does, if you are one person who has managed to stay alert and conscious during the Yoga Nidra, please try to have compassion for person next to you, maybe look at it as a part of the practice to keep doing your work no matter what is happening around. You might even find it amusing, the chorus of snorers.
What happens in a private class? Well, it's a combination of all of these things, depending on what you need on that day. Because you are the only person there, and especially if we are working together regularly, we can progress your strength and mobility step-by-step, as you are able.
And if you don't know what kind of drop-in yoga class is right for you, maybe try a private class where we can talk about yoga and move our bodies to see what might work best for you. You can schedule a private class online here, or send me an email to talk more about it.
See you on the mat!