Yoga Theme: September, 2009

The fall is a time of letting go. As the trees let go of their leaves we are reminded to unburden ourselves of unnecessary tensions. In this class, you can focus the minds of your students on releasing tension.

This can be done by focusing on letting go of tension on the exhalation and cueing a long exhalation coming out of postures to release the tension of each pose and at the end of class by imaging the body expanding and the tensions dissolving in savasana.

Pilates Theme: September, 2009

In this class build up each exercise with a fundamental warm-up and skip exercises to make up for the time spent on the warm-ups.

For the hundred, do arms up down to work on the arm movement, only taking the fingers to the ceiling and then do this going into c-scoop a few times, emphasizing that you don’t lift with your head, that you lift from the 5th press point and then start the hundred.

For roll-up teach roll-down and ab prep from the modified basic program as fundamental building blocks and then teach arms up down focusing on the arm movement from fingers to the ceiling back, while keeping the 4th press point knitted and then teach roll up.

For leg circles, teach knee sides as a warm-up with the fingers on the hips emphasizing the powerhouse.

For single leg stretch, teach knee folds with the fingers on the hips and ribs, emphasizing pelvic stability. Repeat the same knee fold warm-up before double leg stretch.

And so on, choosing exercises that you have warm-ups for and building them up slowly

Yoga Theme: July, 2009

The summer is filled with gifts for the senses. The color, fragrance and textures of life are rich and vibrant. Although it is the more vedic approach to yoga to withdraw from senses perception/pratyahara, the tantric approach to yoga encourages us to celebrate our embodiment as well as embracing the austere practice of turning our awareness within, balancing the male and female aspect of life.

Following the tantric path of yoga, this class focuses on opening the senses to the subtle energies of nature from within. Encourage your students to draw the energy of their brain and minds’ awareness deep into the tissues of the body to increase awareness of the subtle
sensations within the body and specifically of the breath flow of the breath. The breath can be felt as the waves of energy, purifying the body, mind and soul. The inhalation draws in subtle pranic energy and the exhalation gives way to relaxation on all levels. By giving into the sensations of the breath and the body the mind merges of ‘yogs’ with the tissues of the body. Continue to use words like; feel, sense, experience the sensations inside as you continue through the class.

In the ancient tantric yogic texts the body is metaphorically compared to that of cow and our sadhana or practice is meant to be like milking a cow. Instead of milk we are pumping the body to awaken and uplift subtle energy. We can also draw the shakti prana up from the earth in standing postures. Pulling the biospheric energy up into your body as we inhale and giving into the gravitational pull of the earth to connect to her tectonic plates to merge our energy meridians into the energy meridians of the earth. This practice will create a deep connection to the energy of nature which is fully awake during the summer and it will make us feel more alive and receptive to the richness and juiciness of summer!

Pilates Theme: July, 2009

In this class focus on the breath. Start with the pillar warm up and take time to place the hands on the side ribs and back ribs to fully connect to ribcage or thoracic breathing. Then emphasize breath in all of the exercises. Breath loud for your students to hear the rhythm of the breath to help them to deepen the breath and intensify the energizing nature of the matwork. Have them ‘roll the breath out of the lungs’ as they doing rolling movements and have them focus on ‘drawing the navel to the spine’ and ‘breathing into the lower back ribs’ as they inhale. Have them ‘wring the air out of the lungs’ on the exhale in criss cross. In other words use every breathing cue you know and teach breathing throughout the whole class.

In the side kicks where no specific breath is instructed, remind your students to stay aware of their breath as they breathe in whatever rhythms feel good to their bodies remaining aware of keeping the breath deep and full. Then at the end of class keep reminding the studens to breath deeply as they stretch and once they relax draw their awareness inward to the natural flow of the breath and to ideally allow it to be initiated from the powerhouse, one’s center of gravity.

Yoga Theme: April, 2010

I feel myself learning to be more compassionate with myself and appreciate the peace and acceptance I find in treating myself with loving kindness and so I want to focus on the theme of caring for ourselves this spring.

At the start of class, once you get the breath flowing, you can focus the energy/prana of the breath into the heart. Feel it awakening the heart just as the earth awakens after winter.

Throughout the class you can focus the awareness of the posture into the heart center to release tensions and create open space in the heart.

As you reach the inner limbs of the practice focus on generating prana in the heart during pranayama and then in meditation bring awareness to all the space that has been created in the heart and then fill it with compassion/loving kindness and feel that energy towards yourself.

You can use the following quotes if you like in meditation and or savasana/relaxation:
Sometimes the smallest things can take up the most room in your heart
– Unknown
Kind words can be short, and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
– Mother Teresa
(With this one you can also mention to speak kindly to yourself and others, to speak from your heart)

Pilates Theme: April, 2009

Every once in a while I like to teach and review proper c-scoop position very clearly at the beginning of class and than emphasize it throughout the entire class. First I focus on using ‘pelvic rocks’ to find neutral pelvis (the imaginary line from the pubic bone to navel is parallel with the floor or ceiling). Then in the ‘pillar warm-up’ I emphasize the pelvic stability attained by the first three press points and do one or two pelvic stability exercises such as ‘knee folds’ or ‘heel slides’, then I continue the ‘pillar warm-up’ and really emphasize the lengthening of the spine as we move up to the crown of the head.

I now get the students review how to use their lats by laying on one side and feeling them and then relaxing them, etc. Then I review the ‘chin nod’ and getting into c-scoop by starting with a chin nod and then lifting the 5th press point off the floor by using the lats and really lengthening the spine and reaching the crown of the head forward and to look forward at their navel. I get them to do this a few time and then to hold the c-scoop position and to focus on drawing the navel to the spine as they inhale so that the lower belly doesn’t pop up on the inhalation during c-scoop. I also have them watch the pelvis to make sure they maintain neutral pelvis in c-scoop rather then letting it tilt backward or into a posterior position. Then I go into the hundred and continue to cue proper c-scoop.

Once leg movement is involved, such as in single leg stretch, double leg stretch, etc, I remind them to look at the navel and to draw it into the spine as they inhale so that as the legs go forwards they are able to keep the pelvis stable and neutral rather than allowing the pelvis to forward tilt and the lower belly to bulge outwards. I continue to emphasize the proper c-scoop throughout the class in all exercises that involve a c-scoop position.

Pilates Theme: February, 2009

I want to focus on two qualities in the mat work, intensity and relaxation. To do this, it is very simple, when cueing the execution of the mat exercises I do so with rhythm to keep the movement flowing and attention to detail to get my students to engage maximum strength to create intensity and then in between the exercises I cue to focus on relaxation, by letting go of tension, reconnecting to the breath and melting into gravity. I do this through out the whole class to create a feeling of ‘giving it’ and then ‘letting it go’ or intensity and relaxation. This works really well. The class flows and the result is a great workout that is also very calming

Yoga Theme: February, 2009

Since February is the month of LOVE, lets explore the divine union between Shiva and Shakti, the un-manifest and the manifest, energy and matter. The form is considered female in the philosophy of Tantric yoga and is personified as the mother goddess Shakti, the formless is male and personified as Shiva. The love affair between Shiva and Shakti is symbolic of the unification of the earthly realm with the heavenly realm in the heart of every person. The earths’ bio-spheric energy rises into the body to create vitality and with gravity pulls down through the body the invisible energy of the universe that creates heaven on earth.

The metaphor of the love between Shiva and Shakti is an ancient representation of the love of the formless, the universe or God, for all that is in the form of matter in the earthly realm. This philosophy pre-dates todays religions and yet can support every faith or give meaning to those without a religious practice. Every religion has the element of an invisible God energy and the nurturing mother that births life to form. The beauty of Yoga is that it can enrich any spiritual or agnostic view of life and even the atheist can embrace the idea of above and below, the earth and sky and the merging of these two through a folkloric relationship between two characters, Shiva and Shakti. The ancient Tantric story, that even pre-dates Hinduism of Shiva coming down to meet Shakti and Shakti rising up to meet Shiva is over 5000 years old.

As you teach yoga, you can bring awareness to the the union of heaven and earth in the heart. You can cue, to connect into the earth, to ground, to root down, to give into gravity and at the same time to lift up, the lengthen upwards and to reach the heavens. As you ground into the earth you can feel the energy of the great mother earth or Shakti rising up to the centre of your heart and as you lift upwards you can feel the energy of the great father of the heavens or Shiva descending into the centre of your heart where these two energies marry or unify.

The balance of female and male, gentle and strong, grounding and uplifting merge in one’s heart. This is why on the path of yoga we surrender the mind to the heart, to live from a place of love. We also find the male and female union in the breath, the inhale contracting and nourishing (the feminine aspect of the breath) and the exhale expanding and strengthening (the male aspect of the breath). The lower body is female, grounding into the earth, the upper body masculine, uplifting to the heavens. The back of the body male, with muscles that extend the body and the front of the body female, with muscles that contract or fold the body.

These two dualistic qualities that come together in oneness, exist in the asanas or yoga postures as well, with forward folds and twists offering a calming and cooling feminine quality and backbends and inversions offering a heating and energizing male quality to ones practice. The female asanas (forward fold and twists) are engaged with a masculine breath or on the exhale and the male asanas (backbends – keep in mind standing postures that are done in an upright position involve the use of the muscles that extend the spine and are considered to be like backbends – and inversions) are engaged and deepened with a feminine breath or on the inhale. In this way, there is always the feminine in the masculine and the masculine in the feminine. Even the energy of earth is solar, outside and inside at her core with a burning yellow fire, which is masculine and the energy of the universe is diamond white and feminine. One cannot exist without the other, there is a sacred union between these two dualistic qualities and each are equal in value. Shiva without Shakti is impotent, Shakti without Shiva is meaningless.

Yoga Theme: January, 2009

The winter offers a sense of ‘stillness’ that no other season offers. January takes us into the depths of winter and is a great time to explore this quality. I start my class by having everyone imagine they are like a rock, STILL and GROUNDED. I have them feel their bones, like rock made out of minerals and that which provides grounding in the body. Throughout the class, I have my students focus on their bones grounding into the earth and feeling the stillness in the body. In that stillness it is very easy to sense the breath.

I have also layered in that winter is also a quiet time or a time of ‘silence’. I have had my students focus on the quietude of the breath rather than using ujjayi and to sense the breaths movement instead of sound. As I progress through the class the quality of stillness and silence deepen. I continue this theme into pranayama and meditation. In meditation I have also explored having everyone hold a rock and focus on merging with the qualities of rock which are; still, grounded, silent.

For me the qualities of ‘stillness’ and ‘silence’ are portals into the eternal realm. I feel that I can actually soak in these qualities like soaking in a bath to find renewal and a deep connection to the essence of life or what is called ‘swaha’ in Yoga philosophy. In savasana I remind my students of this truth and have them bathe in ‘stillness’ and ‘silence’ and to allow it to soak into the depths of their being and the core of their bones.

The idea of exploring ‘stillness’ in my teaching was originally inspired by the film, ‘I heart Huckabees’ in which there is a line where the two main characters experience the ‘zen of being’ and describe it as feeling like being a rock. I have explored the feeling of being like a rock in perfect stillness as an entry point to meditation ever since. I found that most people that I discussed this movie with didn’t get it and yet it had a very strong impact on me, like a ‘zen hit’ it whacked me with its wackiness.

The exploration of ‘silence’ as a portal to bliss was inspired by my teacher OSHO with whom I took sannyas in 1989. His teachings explore using music as a way into silence. When the music stops there is silence, in this silence the inner ear awakens and sometimes divine music can be heard, like the sound of OM.

Pilates Theme: January, 2009

Since the winter months can cause muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders, I have explored teaching pilates with a strong focus on keeping the neck, shoulders and jaw relaxed. I start the class bringing everyone’s awareness to the jaw and unhooking it so that the roof of the mouth rises and the back of the tongue drops into the mouth. Then I get them to do a neck stretch to relax the neck followed by the pillar warm up where I give a strong focus to sensing how the neck is part of the spine and get them to use their hands at the base of the skull to pull upwards as I cue ‘reach the head out of the neck’.

Throughout the rest of the class I continue to remind the students to keep their neck on their spine as they do their matwork and every so often in between exercises I have them do neck rolls, capitat nods or circles. At the end of class I have them do neck presses and more neck stretching and remind everyone that it is a flexible neck that gives us the ability to have many perspectives in life and a stiff neck can lead to rigid thinking, so keep you neck, jaw and shoulders relaxed and put your tension into your ‘powerhouse’, your center of gravity. I also focus on the short relaxation at the end of the class on the connection between relaxation in the jaw and the breath being initiated from the ‘powerhouse’.

I was really inspired to focus my teaching on releasing neck and shoulder tension after reading Eric Franklin’s book, ‘Relax Your Neck, Liberate Your Shoulders’ which I took out from the liabrary by the way because I had no money at that time (yeah for libraries, they are heaven when you are broke!!!). At that time, I began to really emphasize in my teaching to let go through the occipital (base of the skull) and temporal-mandibular(jaw) joints and I noticed that there is a relationship between the jaw being relaxed and the breath falling into the body so that it moves from the center of gravity or ‘powerhouse’.

Years before when I studied acting I had also explored how releasing the jaw and opening the back of the throat is connected to opening the energy in the lower belly which is the second chakra (svadishthana) and our emotion and sexuality energy center. What makes an actor successful? The ability to express emotion and of course the ability to make the opposite sex and same sex gay people want them sexually, right? Notice when you are watching actors in film how often they have their mouths slightly open; it is an actor trick. So the exploration of the connection between the jaw openness and the energy openness in the lower belly is a powerful one worth exploring. It also forms a connection between the throat chakra (visuddhi) and the lower belly chakra (svadisthana) both chakras linked to creativity. When these two chakras are vibrating together one is literally a creative ‘powerhouse’.