Yoga Month, Yoga Wisdom

Me in high lunge.

Me in high lunge.

So, September is National Yoga Month. A lot of places — both brick-and-mortar studios and online spaces — are offering free classes. Not having access to good filming equipment (or, you know, a yoga teacher certification), I thought instead to share, throughout the month, some of the things yoga has taught me over the years.

I think the first has to be that not all pain is good pain.

I know it should be fairly obvious, but it was actually a hard lesson to learn. Before I started with yoga — and even after, in certain classes and with certain teachers — a lot of the physical activity I did was of the “no pain, no gain” mentality. Honestly, I attribute a lot of that to the fact that what I was doing before was pretty well grounded in a mainstream “fitness means achieving one specific aesthetic ideal, and until you do this, your body is not really worthy” mindset.

It’s easy to ignore pain — the bad kind of pain, the kind of pain that means too much strain on joints or forcing a pose too soon — when you’re focused on the image of the body you might one day have at the expense of the body you’re in right now.

Yoga, for the most part, taught me that this was not something for which to strive.

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Posted in ahimsa

How to Talk About Sex… and Books… at School

Condom rolled

So.

I’m lucky enough to have a local “Friends of the Library” organization that holds monthly book sales for super cheap. I’m talking regular prices of fifty cents to one dollar on the books I buy. Not counting the — regularly occurring — five-for-a-dollar young adult fiction sales, ten-for-a-dollar youth paperback sales (including upper elementary, middle grades, and young adult books), and five dollar bag days. I use these sales not only to replenish my own reading stores — which, truth be told, includes a lot of fiction marketed to young adults — but also to stock up my FREE BOOKS shelf at school.

(Seriously, people. Free books. No check out. If you want it, take it. I will never hunt you down for late fees or returns.)

I’m also lucky enough to teach at a school where my students have access to a mobile family planning health clinic. That’s right — Once a week, a big ol’ condom-distributing, BC-pill-prescribing RV comes to campus and parks by the basketball courts. They have fliers in the nurse’s office. Each year, I take a ginormous handful, on account of some of my students will become sexually active whether they know about safer sex practices or not. So they might as well know.

I store my family planning clinic pamphlets on the same shelves with my free books. This way, I can tell my students —

“If you’re embarrassed to be taking a health clinic pamphlet, you can just tell people you were taking a book.”

Also —

“If you’re embarrassed to be taking a book, you can just tell people you were taking a birth control pamphlet.”

I mean, I don’t consider either pleasure reading or wanting to be educated about safer sex practices to be socially awkward pastimes. But I have always been a nerd, and at this point in my life, I do not have (basically, really, I don’t think) the same priorities as the average fourteen-year-old.

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She’s Gone Again

Small cream colored dog on a couch, staring out a window.

Small cream colored dog on a couch, staring out a window.

At the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona blog, writing about the HOPE program. That is, hormonal options — birth control — without a pelvic exam. I am also supposed to let you know that the link discusses sexual assault, in case it influences your clicky choices.

Still and all, I HOPE (see what I did there?) she brings cookies when she comes back.

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Hip Yoga: Easy Hamstring Stretching

I know that a number of instructors sequence reclining big toe pose toward the end of a sequence, but I actually prefer to do it more toward the beginning. When I do it early on and with a strap, it becomes a relatively gentle hamstring opener for me. I’m not sure, but I think this has to do with the pose’s relationship to gravity. That is, in the reclining version of the stretch, gravity is doing most of the stretching work, helped along by a small bit of tension from my hands on the strap. In other common forward folds like uttanasana and paschimottanasana, the weight of the torso draping onto the legs intensifies the hamstring stretch for me. This is fine when I’m ready for it, but when I’m not — such as early on in my practice — it can be nice to remove that weight from the stretching equation.

If I do this pose at the beginning of a practice, I almost always start with the strap, setting it aside if it turns out I don’t need it. For me, at least, I can get almost as intense a stretch with the strap held very near my foot as I can with my fingers around my big toes. Either way, I prefer to be pleasantly surprised — as in, “Hey, I can stretch more today!” — than unpleasantly stretched too far.

In terms of hamstring stretching, there are two variations of the stretch I like to do, on account there being different muscles in the hamstring group. (For a refresher on hamstring anatomy, go here.) The first one is basically the “straight up” version that stretches all three hamstring muscles more or less evenly (depending on things like individual tightness).


[Cathie Ryder instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]

Variations and options:

  1. Instead of going to one’s full knee extension right away, it can be nice to bend and straighten the knee a few (or several) times first. I find this is especially true on days when my hamstrings feel tighter than normal (exhaustive run, slept funny, whatever). Sometimes, my body needs the stretch to be readily subsiding in order to believe the stretch is safe.
  2. For folks whose hip flexors are comfortable with this, the pose can be performed with the bottom leg extended along the floor.

The second version I enjoy involves externally rotating the leg and then bringing it out to the side. The external rotation moves the stretch more toward the semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles. The abduction also moves the stretch into the hip adductors, but that is another hip yoga post for another time.


[Cathie Ryder instructing for Expert Village. Video via YouTube.]

Again, variations and options include:

  1. Not moving the leg so far away from the center line. Especially useful if the adductors are the tighter muscle group here.
  2. Softening the knee a bit while abducting the leg.
  3. Softening and extending the knee in a bit of a vinyasa.
  4. Entering the pose with the bottom leg extended to add some opposite-side hip flexor stretching into the equation. (As a runner and a sitter, I’m big on hip flexor stretching. My hip flexors just love me, let me tell you.)

Basically, the positioning here makes it a lot easier for me to back off and go slowly when needed as well as to play around with a lot of different variations in order to find the right type and amount of hamstring stretch I need at any given time. Additionally, making the stretch more dynamic — bending and straightening — helps to “wake up” those muscles more for hamstring strengthening asanas down the road.

Hint, hint.

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Posted in asana

Vote for Me

So, there’s a (probably unpaid, of course) leadership opening at my school. My principal asked members in each department to — confidentially — vote for what is basically a grade level department chair. (Our freshmen are teamed, and so freshman team teachers spend a lot of time with one another and relatively little time across grade levels — which, in the absence of seamless communication, makes for alignment issues. The sort of sub-chair position is an attempt to remove some of the jagged seams from our school’s communication.)

When considering the colleague who would best represent us, my first thought was, “Me.”

By the time I clicked open the nomination ballot, I was already mentally scanning my colleagues, trying to decide who I should vote for instead.

It’s not that I don’t want to the position or that I’m concerned about the additional responsibility, as it’s a position I’m currently unofficially filling right now anyway. As such, neither is it that I have doubts as to whether I’d be able to fulfill those duties competently. Objectively, there’s no reason I wouldn’t be a good candidate for the position and at least a few reasons why I might be the best candidate.

Rather, I resisted the idea of voting for myself because I worried that doing so was insufficiently humble. You know, that people might think I was full of myself for daring to believe that in a given set of people, I might be the best at something. Even now, I’m tempted to gush about how awesome all of my colleagues are and how each one of them would do a fine job as well — which is true but not actually relevant with respect to how good I am or would be at something.

So then I realized, “Fuck this noise.”

If the collective vote of my colleagues plus me selects someone else for the position — if this is what happens when too much awesome is concentrated in one place — fine. I can fully support whatever we decide as a group. However, if my gut reaction, followed by my carefully reasoned reaction, is to vote for me — then the best thing for me to do is to trust my own judgment, say what I think, and vote for me.

So I did.

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Posted in non-asana

Links? I Like Links!

Things I’ve read in the past [chunk of time that it’s taken me to assemble a goodly list of them].

Savasana when you have junk in the trunk by Amber at Body Positive Yoga — On modifying savasana to accommodate a larger butt.

Dear Book Readers by Frank Lee at With Love — On consent — the lack thereof and/or the hostility to it — in romance novels.

It’s All About Colour… Unless You’re Fat by Kath at Fat Heffalump — I liked it best for its photos on the stark difference between Target’s straight-size clothing choices and its plus-size ones.

Insightful or insipid: a handy guide to platitudes by Danielle Stimpson at Recovering Yogi — “Any phrase can be typed out with quotes around it, but very few deserve to be Photoshopped over a sunset and posted on Pinterest.”

Reproductive Control by Nahida at the fatal feminist — “. It means I will rarely have motivation to see a doctor—if at all—for problems relating to my cycle. Even if there is pain. It means no one will inform me until I have passed out that I am iron deficient and that accounting for this is critical.”

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Playing with My Playlist 4: Adrenaline Rush

Note to self: If I do this before establishing sufficient body reserves (i.e., drinking enough water, eating enough food earlier in the day), this many back bends in a row is a stars-seeing adrenaline rush. (Don’t worry. I noticed that, skipped the last wheel, and was fine.)


[Adi Amar instructing for Yoga Today. Video via YouTube.]

That said, I do love me some backbends.

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Posted in asana, backbend, balancing
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