Category: Yoga

Where Have All the Adjustments Gone?

In the late 90s I received a “deep” adjustment in Marichiasana D where my hands wouldn’t clasp and the knee of the leg that was in lotus didn’t touch the floor. That is until the guru stepped on my knee and pulled my hands together behind my back.

With the weight of his body on my knee that was in lotus, it easily touched the floor and, with effort, my hands finally clasped behind my back in this elusive twisting pose. I was elated… for a few fleeting moments. As it turns out, having somebody step on one’s knee in lotus and then twist the hips and spine in the opposite direction generates a lot of torsion in the knee. As a result I damaged my LCL on my left knee and couldn’t walk for three months!

I was young and trusting back then and learned my lesson the hard way. I never thought I would be able to do any poses that involve any sort of knee-flexion again; no pigeon poses and definitely no more lotus pose in my lifetime.

I embarked on the long road to rehab and I am happy to say that over the years, I have healed my knee by using intelligent alignment and a lot of patience.

You may think that after this injury that I would be the biggest naysayer for yoga adjustments, but I’m not—I’m a big proponent of good adjustments, if they are from a qualified teacher I can trust.

However, with every passing year teachers and studios are opting not to adjust (or “enhance” or “assist”) students. Many studios don’t even allow adjustments anymore. There is fear of inappropriate touch issues and/or the need to respect any trauma-sensitive students (massive topic we can’t address in this article but is definitely worth exploring). The bottom line is, it’s just safer not to touch.

In this litigious culture we live in, who wants to take a chance with having a student claim that your adjustment hurt their back or shoulder? Nobody wants to be sued. The pace of many yoga classes seems to be increasing as well so there is less time to focus on adjustments.

Lastly, good adjustments require that instructors have a lot of skill, practice and knowledge. At the end of the day, people seem to be enjoying yoga classes just fine without adjustments, so why rock the boat? If people in yoga classes don’t seem to be missing adjustments, why add them back in?

Adjustments can be the most healing and beautiful part of a yoga practice or they can be outright dangerous.

Unlike when I got injured in that adjustment two decades ago, I’m now educated about what is an unsafe and what is a beneficial adjustment. This means I can bail on the adjustment, requesting the adjustor to stop at any point if I feel it is not working for me.

And this brings up an interesting point. I am firm believer that a good adjustment involves the education and participation of the person being adjusted. In my books, the person receiving the adjustment should not just be a passive object to be manipulated but an active participant in the process.

That’s why I am big believer in “somatic self-adjustments” where students use their own hands on their own bodies to create the enhancement of their pose. I use this technique all the time and it’s proving to be empowering and effective for students. I believe that a good adjustment doesn’t just feel good, it educates.

It does require a bit of technical know-how for teachers to share this technique so I‘ve broken it down how I do it. These are tips for both adjusting others and “somatic self-adjustments,” which is something we dive deep into in our 200 and 300-hr Blissology trainings.

  1. Go slow and feel the sensations of the body.

    An adjustment involves playing one’s edge. An edge is where the growth happens but also where damage can occur if the student is not aware of bodily feedback. In general, we want poses that do not cause sharp pains or do not allow for long, smooth breath.

At all points in the process, students and teachers need to be in their bodies, feeling the sensations of the body and letting the wisdom of the body guide the pose. This will make it therapeutic, enjoyable and sustainable.
  2. Know the intention of the pose.
    What the pose is meant to stretch? Is it supposed to stretch the hamstring or the hip flexor? Why are we doing the pose? This will help the students monitor the direction they are moving in without fumbling around in the dark.
  3. What joints need to be stabilized?
    Generally speaking, there is a simple rule I use for this. Whatever joint the muscle I am stretching crosses will be the one to stabilize. For example, if I am stretching the pectoral muscle that crosses the shoulder joint therefore the shoulder joint should be stabilized. If I am stretching the hip-flexors that cross the hip joint, then it will be the hip joint that needs to stabilized while stretching.
  4. What bone is the anchor point and what bone moves to create the stretch?
    A stretch is a mini “tug-of-war” between the origins and insertions of a muscle. It is important that students know what these are.
  5. What are the tendencies or “go-arounds?”
    A “go around” is term we use in Blissology Yoga to explain the ways the body moves to avoid the precision of the stretch. In Warrior 2 for example, when the thigh bone moves away from the midline (adducts), the adductors stretch. However, instead of keeping the hip joint stabilized as per step 3 above, the untrained body tends to take the tension of the muscle by sticking the butt out. This is “going around” the alignment pattern and missing purpose of the stretch and the light but grounded feeling it creates.


Here is an example of these principles for adjustments and self-adjustments in Warrior 2.

Know, the intention of the pose is to primarily stretch the inner adductor chain of the right thigh and secondarily to stretch the adductor of the back left leg. Small “micro-movements” of the pelvis will really help refine the stretch.

Stage 1:

1. From Standing pose step the left foot back so the feet are 4-5 feet apart.

2. Keep the front foot facing forward turn back foot in about 45 degrees.

3. With a very slight bend in the right leg, place the right hand on the inner thigh close to the knee and the left hand on the inner left thigh, palm down.

4. Keeping the pelvis upright (minimizing the tilt forward or to the side) start to bend the front knee.

5. As you bend the knee, keep pressing outwards with the hands on the thigh bones to create a stretch on the inner groins.

6. The tendency is for the front adductor muscles to tilt the pelvis forward so the butt sticks out slightly. To fix this, think about “scooping” the right sitting bone under the torso and lift the pubic bone toward the ribs using the lower abdominal muscles.

7. Breath into the stretch in the inner groins as they stretch.

 

Stage 2: Refining the pelvis: “stabilizing and scooping the right hip joint”

1. Keep pressing the right knee outwards using the right hand at the thigh (don’t forget to engage the side hip and quadricep muscles to move the thigh outwards.)

2. Now take the left hand behind the back for the right thigh, close to the hip joint.

3. When someone else adjusts us, they would have a ribcage or a thigh on the back of the hip joint, but we are going to create this same action with out left arm.

4. Catch the left forearm on the right gluteus maximum muscle. Press it down create an upward scooping action with the right sitting bone. Use the abdominals in the front to help lift the pubic bone upwards towards the lower ribcage. This should accentuate the stretch in the inner adductors.

 

Stage 3: Refining the pelvis: “rotating the pelvis left and elongating the outer hip from the front knee ”

1. And for the last step, wrap the fingertips of the left hand around the ASIS Bone of the left hip (the ASIS is the “pokey” part on the front left upper hip).

2. Without loosing the scooping action of the right sitting bone, pull the ASIS bone towards to left away from the anchor point of the front right knee. The idea is to rotate the pelvis left against the tug of the inner adductor.

3. Be sensitive to your feedback to make sure none of this is too much to relax into.

4. Lastly, remove your hands and let your arms float up shoulder height take 3 long, deep and soothing breaths.

 

You can learn more about these techniques in our Advanced Alignment and Adjustments 50-hour training!

Blissology in Vancouver

Blissology is back in our home town of Vancouver.

It has been almost a decade since we’ve lived here and we are excited to dive back into life in our coastal city, sample all of Vancouver’s beautiful offerings and reconnect to our yoga community here. This fall and winter are packed with Offerings with Eoin and Insiya, so please check this page often to see where you can find us, when we are not chasing our now 7.5 year old son around. 🙂

DROP IN CLASSES 

Mondays + Thursdays @ 12 Noon: Active Flow Yoga with Insiya @Stretch Vancouver (starting September 10)

Tuesdays @ 19:30: Vinyasa Power Flow with Eoin @ Semperviva City Studio  (starting October 9)

Wednesdays @ 9:30 a.m. Yoga with Insiya @Semperviva City Studio (starting September 5)

Blissology Yoga With Eoin @ Stretch Vancouver, Sat October 13 + Sat Nov 10 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

TEACHER TRAININGS + ADVANCED IMMERSIONS 

October 9 – 13: Advanced Alignment + Adjustments, 50-hour Advanced Yoga Training at Stretch.
Note: Since this course is now waitlist only, we’ve added two more Advanced Alignment modules in Seattle, WA (Jan/Feb 2018) and one in Torquay in Australia (March 2019).

Nov + Feb: 100 and 200 Hour Blissology Yoga Teacher Training at Stretch Vancouver  (Session 1: November 2 – 11, 2018 + Session 2: February 18 – 27, 2019)

WORKSHOPS

November 2-11, 2018: 100-hour Blissology Immersion 

November 2, 2018: Blissology Yoga Foundations signature course at Stretch Vancouver

November 2-4, 2018: Align your Yoga, Align your Life signature course

Feb 8 – 10, 2019: Superflow + Yoga Foundations + The Skill of Chill

Feb 18 – 27, 2019: Session 2, Blissology 200 hr Yoga Alliance Certified Training. 200-hour Blissology Yoga Teacher Training Winter 2018/2019 at Stretch (Session 1: November 2 – 11, 2018 + Session 2: February 18 – 27, 2019)

Is Yoga Medicine? Part 1 of 2

As part of our 500-hour training, I co-teach a course that I called Yoga and Mind Body Medicine. It’s a course I spent years dreaming up. My vision for it was to offer a Western science-based perspective on understanding the gross and subtle benefits of yoga on our body-mind physiology. I enlisted a colleague Dr. Lawrence Cheng—a Harvard trained integrative medicine doctor and yogi who teaches Mind-Body Medicine in medical communities—to present with me. I knew this was going to be groundbreaking.

However, when we listed this course under our Blissology Yoga school’s 500-hr training program on the Yoga Alliance website, we immediately received an email, telling us not to use the words “Medicine” or “Healing” in conjunction with Yoga.

Why is this an issue? Yoga Alliance explains that “the risk comes from suggesting that a yoga teacher or school is diagnosing and/or treating a mental or physical health condition. The words ‘heal’ or ‘healing’ imply this. These claims are within the scope of the practice of medicine and/or licensed health care professions.”

As an alternative to the word healing the phrases “improving health” and “increasing well-being” are  suggested.

This meant we had to get creative with what we called the course on Yoga Alliance’s website. Eventually, we settled on “Yoga and Western Science.

I understand that the medical community does not want people who have graduated from a 200-hour yoga training to describe themselves as healers, or treat someone with a sore back or cancer without the proper medical training nor does anyone want to be legally liable for endorsing someone as capable of healing issues for which they are not qualified.

This graph indicates the increasing amount of scientific research of yoga and meditation in the last decade

Yet, the data about the evidence-based healing benefits of yoga and meditation is increasing with each year. The benefits are so real that it is getting harder to dismiss all yoga as a “quack science.” I would love to see a day in the future when well qualified yogis (and doctors) will be able to claim that yoga is both “healing” and “medicine.”

Will this ever happen? Skeptics do not think so and go to long lengths to tell us why yoga is not healing, or medicine. In his article titled “Yoga Woo“, Stephen Novella, a clinical neurologist at the Yale School of medicine writes, “Yoga is simply exercise plus a lot of ‘Woo.'”

“Yoga, if practiced responsibly, seems to be a reasonably effective form of stretching and exercise. There is insufficient evidence, however, to conclude that it is any superior to any other form of exercise of the same duration and intensity. There are concerns about the safety of yoga, as it often involves extreme stretching or poses that the average person might find not only difficult but physically harmful.”

I’ll share more of my thoughts on this topic in Part 2 of this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you, what is your opinion? Is Yoga Medicine or not? Should the word healing be used by some practitioners of yoga?

What is advanced Yoga?

In my past two decades of teaching yoga, I’ve seen a lot of evolution in the yoga world. I’ve loved watching new poses come into the mix, some borrowed from creative minds and some from other disciplines such as circus school. I never thought I would be interested in a one arm hand stand for example. I thought, “this is just flashy,” but then I realized the challenge kept me fresh and gave me something to progress towards. I am no longer a naysayer and practice this and other “new school” yoga moves almost every day.

That said, having just taught one month of intensive Blissology Yoga Teacher Training course focusing on the ins an outs of yoga alignment, I am recommitted to making people realize my stance on yoga progression. I strongly believe that advanced yoga needs to be viewed not just as flashy, challenging poses, preferably done on the edges of cliffs or waterfalls; nay, advanced yoga lies also in being able to do so called “basic” poses with precision, breath and presence. This needs to remain the foundation of yoga.

One afternoon during the YTT, I wanted to run our Yoga Foundations course so the students could see how to explain so called “simple poses” like upward dog or chaturanga to beginners.  It become clear that this work was not just for beginners. Even people who had been practicing yoga for decades loved going back to basics and learning how to do them well.   It was a joy to spend whole afternoons looking at what muscles need to turn on to make these poses feel light yet stable to explore what the feet, pelvis and hands do in the pose with a fine brush instead of in broad brush strokes.  There is a whole world of detail that isn’t boring but outright exciting in this work.  There needs to be a resurgence of this type of study in modern yoga.

Over the years, as thousands of more yoga teachers pour into the incredibly competitive global yoga market, there is more and more emphasis to find something fresh and exciting in the practice. This means that teachers will step up their sequencing game, make killer playlists, and throw lots of challenging poses into the mix.

To really do yoga with precision, you need to make people aware of what they are doing by plugging into their bodily feedback loops and slowing the tempo down. In way too many yoga classes I’ve observed, the tempo seems to be speeding up as this is what creates sweat which is an easy sell in our body conscious culture.

Imagine trying to play jazz before mastering the scales. This is an analogy for what I see in the modern yoga culture.

I believe that we need to spend more time ingraining a solid alignment foundation in yogis; and as experienced yoga teachers it is our responsibility to the next generation (of yogis) that we do so.

I always remind our graduating teachers that every yoga instructor is trying to strike a balance between detail and flow—and it’s a tricky balance. If you concentrate on the details of the poses, often the classes loses flow and become a clinic or workshop.

Yet, there is a third option. When we slow the pace down just a little and create an experience of harmony between mind, body and breath, concentrating on precise yoga can lead to the state of mind we all love called “flow.”

This means we need to let people know why they are doing the poses, what the benefits are, how they should feel in the pose and let their internal experience guide the poses.

It’s the opposite to being guided from the “outside in” and feeling like every pose needs to fit a perfect photo. This is where we progress to in our month long YTT.

There is a lot of room still for inspiring playlists, creative sequencing, philosophical themes and even options for advanced poses for those who want to go there in the class. Let’s walk before we run though. Alignment is and should be the foundation for all yoga, beginner or advanced. After all, cultivating a strong practice of alignment will help our bodies to continue to practice our yoga as we age, with more freedom and no injuries.

The Beautiful Parallel between Poetry & Yoga

Here in the States, April is National Poetry Month. I love it for the inspiration to re-visit my favorite poems, the encouragement to discover new ones, and the excuse to share them in my yoga classes.

There’s such a beautiful parallel between poetry and yoga. One of the things that Eoin said during my teacher training that stayed with me is that teaching yoga is like poetry: the idea is to encourage people to slow down and feel.

When I read a poem, I feel a difference in my approach compared to my more typical tendency to skim. My time in law school with its endless required reading of case law made me a champion skimmer. And if I’m not careful, I find that skimming skill transforming into habit. Maybe it’s the same for many of us. How often do we skim the news, our email, our Facebook feeds, just trying to sift through and determine what really requires our attention?

This is where poetry is so good for me. It forces me not to skim. What would be the point of skimming a poem, after all? So much of the pleasure of reading a poem is appreciating each word, noticing how it relates to the next, much like our poses and movements flow together on our mats.

I love the way poet Naomi Shihab Nye explains it, in her lovely 2016 interview on the podcast On Being:

“…when you think, when you’re in a very quiet place, when you’re remembering, when you’re savoring an image, when you’re allowing your mind calmly to leap from one thought to another, that’s a poem. That’s what a poem does.” 

And at its best, isn’t that also what a yoga/meditation practice does? It provides us the same opportunity to get quiet, to savor, to make some space to notice how we feel. And like a poem, our practice is most powerful when we allow it to evoke feeling, emotion.

Shihab Nye, again, says it beautifully:

“…and after you read a poem just knowing you can hold it, you can be in that space of the poem. And it can hold you in its space. And you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

More and more I notice our collective need for this space, and I see that the enemy of it is “skimming.” When we rush—whether through texts and images on a screen, or through movements on our mat—we’re not letting ourselves slow down and feel. With poetry as my remedy, I’m committing to skim less, and savor more.

I’d love for you to join me. Let’s make more space for poetry, for practice, for presence.

It seems only appropriate to share a poem to close. It’s so hard to choose just one of my favorites, but this one echoes a lot of Blissology principles for me. It’s from fellow Oregonian William Stafford:

Why I Am Happy

Now has come, an easy time. I let it 
roll. There is a lake somewhere 
so blue and far nobody owns it. 
A wind comes by and a willow listens 
gracefully. 
I hear all this, every summer. I laugh 
and cry for every turn of the world, 
its terribly cold, innocent spin. 
That lake stays blue and free; it goes 
on and on. 
And I know where it is. 

By Victoria Williams, Blissology 200-hr YTT
Check out Victoria’s teacher profile to learn more.

The Biggest Benefit of a Yoga Practice

I can’t tell you how many new yoga students have come to me in their first weeks of yoga and said, “My husband (or wife) really wants to thank you for your classes.”

I know most people think the biggest benefit of yoga practice after a month of practice is flexibility. And while that is certainly one of the effects, the greatest gift is vitality and connection to our higher vibration self. I see people with so much more life force moving through them. They have more purpose, more joy and you can see it in their eyes.

They feel more connected to their bodies, to their communities and to the world. Life gets busy and very few of us have a connection to our innermost self. Whatever you call it—our soul, our inner light or just oxytocin—we have a cultural amnesia about this place in the heart.

We don’t have sacred spaces or time to move stuck emotions out of body so we can get in touch with this place. When we connect to this place, we end up being kinder to ourselves and all those around us.

One thing that I know for certain: Yoga is less about touching your toes than touching your heart.

Teaching Yoga to Beginners.

I have been introducing yoga to sailors cruising the globe for four years now and I love it. I did not only grow as a student but as a teacher as well and my realisation “light bulb” has switched on—I love to teach beginners!

It lights me up seeing the look on their faces and conversations after class, how much they enjoyed it, but most of all, I love their comments. Most common remarks are: “I thought I could never do yoga,” “I feel so light,” “My mood after yoga gets me through the day,” “My back is improving,” “I feel better after just three classes.”

My self practice keeps me focused as I continue my travelling yoga journey and I find room to grow along the way.

Sometimes I have struggled as a teacher. I find more often, not to introduce advanced asanas with my teachings, as I am often not in one place too long and it just isn’t appropriate for my students when they are often new to yoga. I keep it simple with glimpses of advanced progress from me as a teacher.

I find teaching preparations a mindful experience involving quiet time to decide the flow of asanas/postures, music, words to inspire, but the more I teach the more I have learned my preparations are often almost void and my plans quickly shift based on who is at my new location and joining my classes. Quite often one student will change my whole routine planned, but I love that it challenges me as a teacher and helps me grow. After all, this is not my practice but theirs.

Teaching beginners slows the whole class down, allowing transitions to be enjoyed by all students regardless of flexibility.

Prior to teaching beginners, I take a few moments to demonstrate various parts of the vinyasa flow practice, showing hand and feet placement, also the importance of not rounding the spine. I also demonstrate Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog to encourage beginners the importance of resting if needed.

I endeavor to teach from a place of compassion and understanding, emotions are clearly shown on beginners faces, some are nervous, they are questioning their capabilities, and some are worried as they do not want to get hurt or look foolish in their eyes. I use words of encouragement, and remind them that I was new to yoga once also, and that although I am teaching them, they in turn will teach me.

I not only slow the practice but my verbal cues, I speak in plain text limiting the ancient yoga language “Sanskrit” to eliminate beginner’s being overwhelmed by not only yoga, but a new language.

I encourage beginners by using humour, for example, take Tree Pose, they start to sway loose focus, I remember my teacher saying this once in a class holding this pose, “If you fall out just take a few people out with you”—the class always laughs, it reminds them to not take themselves so serious. Teaching the second side of Tree Pose, they are more relaxed and manage to hold the pose a little longer, and not be overwhelmed if they loose focus & start to sway!

The mindful practice, meditation, benefits beginners by becoming aware of their breath, and instills the beginning of using their breath as a tool throughout practice, to help steady and focus them, which in turn relaxes the nervous system and centers students prior and after class.

By Leanne Hembrow, 200-hr YTT graduate
Check out Leanne’s teacher profile to learn more.  

Yoga Poses to Balance your Doshas for Health & Happiness.

Ayurveda—India’s ancient wisdom science of longevity—categorizes us as unique individuals, each stepping into life with our own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual blueprint.

This blueprint, or prakriti in Sanskrit, arises from Ayurveda’s universal life-creating elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. These elements combine to form specific bio-energies called doshas, existing within us as well as in the world at large. Earth and water create the heavy Kapha dosha, from fire and water emerges fiery Pitta, and from air and space we get light and excitable Vata.

It is our unique ratio of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha that gives us recognizable characteristics, traits, and quirks. For example, earthy Kapha people have bigger bones and tend toward calm solidity, athletic Pitta people exhibit competitiveness and passion, while Vata people tend toward thinner frames, as well as a quick, creative, scattered mind.

Our work in life, according to Ayurveda, is to understand our doshic blueprint so that we can choose activities, food, and a lifestyle that balance, rather than amplify, our doshas.

Understanding our doshas is also key to getting the most benefits from our yoga practice. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class and emerged feeling a little out of it—you may have felt irritable and over-heated; or perhaps too scattered and spacey, or too mellow and melancholy—it is possible that your yoga practice is not supporting your doshas.

Here is a short guide to poses that will help to balance your doshas for maximum health and happiness…

Read the rest of the article on elephant journal.

Blissology Project: January 22nd – February 4th, 2018

Aloha everyone!

This January 22nd – February 4th 2018 we’re launching the Blissology Project. This is a program we created years ago to create an Upward Spiral of positivity and health in ones life. We’ve refreshed the content while keeping what works the same and we’re stoked to change lives!

Watch the video below for more information. More detailed information will be released in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and keep your Bliss Vibes strong in the meantime!

5 Surf-Inspired Yoga Moves

A superflow is a joyous movement practice that pulls from yoga, tai chi, and surfing.

This powerful yet calming trinity intentionally mimics the rhythm of nature and flow of the oceans, opening you to a higher state of bliss in both body and mind.

Here are five beneficial surf-inspired movements:

  • Tai Chi for centering
  • Lay back flow
  • Surf burpees
  • Surf burpees with slash
  • Round house

On a physical level, these practices increase agility, coordination, and strength; mentally they evoke positive energy and clarity. Yogis will find these flows more circular and less confined to a grid than a traditional yoga practice. Fitness enthusiasts will love the physical challenge and creativity within each sequence. Expect a whole new level of mind-body harmony.

And if you want to dive deeper into the superflow practice, join me in Tofino in September/October for a Superflow: the Fluid Body advanced module course!