Friday, June 28, 2013

Chair yoga made me cry

chair yoga?
I've been on a quest for gentle yoga classes that I can take while respecting my shoulder injury.  I'd heard about Chair Yoga and just recently noticed that Shambhala offers a couple of chair yoga classes each week, so I decided to give it a shot.  The description states that it is a good option for those seeking a gentle practice or for those with injuries. I am both of those people right now.
In the studio, several folding chairs were set up in a circle, draped with blankets on the backs and seats for cushioning.  Mara was subbing the class for the first time and just stepped right in and lead us beautifully.  She asked us to grab a bolster and two blocks each. 
We started the intimate class by going around the circle and saying our names, and then reversing.  It felt kind of silly, but I also liked it.  The crowd of students was mixed in age range, race and level of yoga experience.  We were all women.  The common thread was that we all had some sort of limitation due to pain, either chronic or temporary.
Though the class was mostly seated, I still felt like I got some really deep muscular work done, particularly in the abdominal region- which is great! At one point, we squeezed a block between our thighs as hard as we could, maintaining a straight back...that was where the deep core work came in.  (It's funny because it doesn't look like you are doing anything at all, but really you are activating a lot of those core muscles)  We did some warm ups working up from the feet to the shoulders, using the bolster as a support to help open up our backs and side bodies. There seemed to be a strong Iyengar based component to the class- lots of precise alignment and deep muscular work.
Next we used the wall as a prop and played with tree pose and some plank/dolphin/chataranga type of variations.  This was a great upper body strength building focus and really opened up my upper thoracic area (the area between the shoulder blades), which is where I have been holding most of my tension lately.   It also created a nice stretch in the calves and hamstrings.  I felt strong and felt a deep release in that area around the spine between my shoulders, it felt like I was somehow massaging all of those extra large knots that have been plaguing me for the last couple of weeks.  I was happy to feel strong and stretchy.
After the wall, we returned to our chairs and, using the bolsters, did some chest openers using our arms to reach above our heads in a flowing motion.  It was in this asana that I was confronted with the reality of my loss of mobility in my right shoulder.  It seemed that I could barely open out and lift my poor arm.  I used to be able to make huge circles and move any way I want to, but not any more.  It made me sad, I felt defeated, and tears started to well up in my eyes.  I just sat there, doing the flow of the pose as much as I could, and closed my eyes and let the tears gently fall. 
So, I don't know, but I suspect that the opening and deep release that I got from the wall poses tapped into something, and then following that up with actually seeing my limited mobility was a bit emotionally overwhelming.  It's not the first time I've cried in yoga, and probably won't be the last.  That is one of the things I love about yoga so much, is that connection with mind/body/spirit.  Throughout this process of dealing with my injury, I've been strong, fearful, eager to learn and earnest about trying to heal myself.  (okay and sometimes careless and defiant)  But, I haven't really allowed myself to be sad about it, and I needed to let that emotion play itself out.  As I told my students in my kids camp yesterday, sometimes it's the quiet, gentle poses that are the most difficult.  Quieting the monkey mind and connecting with your body, turning off the mind chatter to focus inward is tough work, but necessary for us to grow, heal, and learn and to ultimately truly connect with ourselves and others. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Restorative Yoga: doing it/teaching it, even with my injury!

Since I have been nursing my poor sad shoulder for the past few months, I haven't been able to go to a yoga class in ages.  I've been avoiding them because I'm not able to comfortably do Downward Facing Dog or to raise both of my arms above my head without pain.  While I am content to respect my injury and avoid any excess physical exertion, the rest of my body (and soul) is suffering because of the lack of yoga.  My back is in knots and I long to feel a good deep stretch in all of my muscles.  While I am certainly immersed in many areas of yoga right now by way of teaching, reading, studying and blogging, I miss my practice!
Lately, since I've been doing acupuncture and really lightening up on the usage of my right arm/shoulder, I have had some pain-free days and I see a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of recovery.  Last night I went to a restorative yoga class at Shambhala, taught by Alex Phelan.  I went partially to experience the yummy goodness that is restorative yoga for myself, and partially to refresh myself since that is the style of class I will be teaching starting next week.
If you aren't familiar with restorative yoga, it is a gentle, relaxing style of practice that uses props such as bolsters, blankets and blocks for support in passive stretching and release of muscles and tension.  It calms the nervous system and results in very deep relaxation.  Most of the poses are supine (laying down) or seated, and they are held for much longer than in most typical yoga classes of any style.  Basically, when you do restorative asanas, you are letting gravity do the work for you, allowing your muscles to sink into the props, instead of using effort working against gravity to maintain a pose.  It's extremely calming and beneficial for your nervous system (and all of your systems) to counteract all of the effort and stimulation we encounter on a day to day basis, buzzing around in a hyper-aroused state...and not in a good sexy way!
So, Sunday night restorative class...I was so ready for this!  I arrived early for the class and grabbed my props and lay on the mat, easing myself into yoga mode.  We started class seated and closed our eyes,  focusing on the breath for what felt like about 10 minutes.  Then, moving to a supine pose, we rested on our backs with a block placed below the shoulder blades and one supporting the back of the head. You know that feeling you sometimes get at the end of a yoga class, while resting in savasana, ...where you feel so relaxed and calm that you're kind of asleep, but you're not asleep, but you're not thinking about anything and you're perhaps kind of dreaming a little bit but you don't realize it until you hear the teacher's voice bringing you back out?  (yah, I love that feeling) I got to that place in our first pose, and contentedly rode that wave for every pose in the class.  75 minutes flew by in a flash as I melted away.  If the class would have been 5 hours long, you wouldn't have heard me complain.  It was dreamy.
The Art of Teaching Restorative Yoga with Minimal Props with Jillian Pransky

I was familiar with all of the poses that Alex had set up for us.  I wondered if she had trained with Jillian Pransky, who teaches restorative yoga teacher trainings in the city and at Kripalu.  I had the pleasure of taking one of her teacher training workshops at Kripalu in the spring- (The Art of Teaching Restorative Yoga with Minimal Props) and was planning on applying what I'd learned in my own restorative classes coming up in July and August.  My hunch was right, and Alex had studied with's funny that I could tell that...and is probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much.  We had that connection.
Anyway, the moral of the story is: I highly recommend restorative yoga!  If you find yourself in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Mondays and you're seeking tranquility, please come to my class at Shambhala Yoga and Dance Center.  I promise you'll leave feeling more relaxed than you were when you walked through the door.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Farm Yoga- it happened!

So last weekend I taught a yoga class out under a beautiful tree at The Youth Farm at The High School for Public Service.  Initially I was nervous, but it ended up being awesome! I expected to teach to some kids, which would have given me a sneak preview of teaching yoga to kids, but the students were all adults- which is totally fine! I had never even taken a yoga class outside before, not to mention taught one, so it was probably a blessing in disguise!
I tried to think of every possible aspect that might effect a yogi-gardener doing a practice outside, but naturally there were elements that came up that I didn't anticipate. It was a bit of a challenge to lead and demonstrate without raising my arm above my head, but I explained my (injured shoulder) situation and the students were understanding, of course. Nothing was a major problem at all, and overall the class was a very pleasant experience.
Five of us came together on this hot day to practice under an old beautiful Sycamore tree.  Above us was a view of craggy branches and abundant leaves and beyond that a clear open sky.  Below was soft grass and some hidden little Sycamore tree fruit balls, which are kind of hard and spiky, and really cool looking.  We just moved the spiky balls away and let ourselves really connect with the earth, it was pretty easy to feel grounded. 

spiky balls!
The sky was perfect and though temperatures were high, the shade from the tree kept us cool.  My favorite part was hearing the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves above us.  There were plenty of other city sounds to distract our focus such as the usual police car sirens and screaming teenagers, but I noticed the peaceful sound from the wind and leaves dancing together and challenged the yogis to see if they could find a place within themselves where they heard only that noise. I don't know if it worked for them, but I enjoyed it.  
When prepping for the class, I was very interested in trying to specialize the structure so that I could address specific needs of the farmers such as back pain or stretching the hamstrings.  However, the group was mainly volunteers who had only worked that day so they did not have chronic pain that developed from working the land over time.  Also, they seemed to be in their early 20's and I guess I've forgotten that feeling of invincibility that flows through you as an early's been a while since I've been that age!  Still, they seemed to appreciate the class and what I gleaned from our chat post-class, was that the most fulfilling part of the experience was the combination of working on the farm, getting dirty...being part of that cycle, AND then finishing up the day with a very grounding, gentle yoga practice to end the day.  The two seemed to fit together well. 
After my class I took a little more time to explore the rows and check out everything that was growing.  I cursed my aching shoulder and wished that I could have been out there that morning, weeding and watering, smelling the soil, touching the dirt...but, it wouldn't have been safe.  I vowed to myself to go back once my shoulder is healed, I owe it to myself to spend time caring for a garden- it's so rewarding for me even if its not my own. After a moment, I stopped being irritated at myself and my shoulder and just appreciated the fact that I was there and breathed in all of the loveliness that surrounded me.  The poppies, sunflowers and squash plants seemed to smile up at me and invite me back whenever I am ready to return.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

shoulder pain management: acupuncture

I have been dealing with a dysfunctional shoulder issue for several months now, and throughout this process things have gone from bad to better to worse to really worse to a little bit better.  This past week I experienced the most pain and discomfort to date, and I was feeling pretty sad and scared about the impact of this injury on my life. 
living with shoulder pain
At my last appointment, my chiropractor recommended that I get an MRI because he thinks I may have re-injured it and that I may have a small tear deep in the rotator cuff.  Once he mouthed the letters MRI, I pretty much spaced out and most certainly blocked the word "surgery".  I promised myself to take this experience step by step and (try to) remain calm and not think about horrific things like surgery (and the associated pain, boredom, inability to work, financial burden and loneliness) until that option is formally presented to me as a necessary treatment.  At this point, it is quite possible that it's not as bad as it seems, which is why we are doing the testing. So let us not speak of surgery again.
Dr. Grant told me that one reason why he is concerned is that I am so active. He's fairly in tune with the kind of work I do as a costumer.  He treats tailors, drapers, stitchers and other costumers that work in my field. He's familiar with the various ways that we use our bodies when we work.  He's also well aware of my yoga path, and is supportive of it- so much that he's asked me to teach yoga to kids in his summer wellness camp.  And he's right, I'm a super active person. Though I haven't done a yoga practice in over a month, and I try to avoid carrying heavy things with my right arm, etc., it's really the way that I use my arm in day-to-day activities that are preventing me from healing fully. I just started noticing how much of a strain it is for me to reach into the fridge to grab milk.  Making my bed in the morning hurts my shoulder, even lifting my laptop with one hand is uncomfortable.  And I won't even get into tasks like ironing, sweeping and mopping the yoga studio, cleaning windows or gardening.  I never realized how much I rely on my dear shoulder to do daily activities, and just how often, as in constantly, I use it...until I realized how much it hurts just to get through a normal day.

So again I have been easing up and retraining myself to be ambidextrous...ironing with my left hand, opening doors with my left hand, and of course, leaving my bed unmade! Obviously I'm still avoiding practicing yoga, and I've stopped digging in the dirt.  I'm functioning cautiously and taking time out to ice and heat almost obsessively. Yesterday I went to my first acupuncture session at Brooklyn Open Acupuncture.
After filling out extensive health history forms and discussing them with the practitioner Liz, I climbed onto the table.  I was looking forward to this experience even just for the opportunity to lay on a massage table in a quiet room for an hour! She took my pulse and looked at my tongue, then explained that I might feel a slight pinching sensation like a mosquito bite as some of the needles were inserted. Nothing about it was painful, but because of the severity of the tightness of the muscles around my rotator cuff, I felt some strange sensations.  Liz sort of pinched my skin in order to place the needle in the right spot, but because I had such huge, dense knots, it was clearly difficult for her to insert some of them.  The knots and/or the muscle kept sort of moving around and seizing up (?) it's hard to explain what was happening, but it was crazy!  It was as if the knots were moving to avoid the needles.  Liz explained that I had particularly tense muscles and seemed to have a surprised/shocked look on her compassionate face.  Finally she was finished left me to lay there for a very long time. 
Once all the needles were in, I tried to stay relaxed but was so aware of the minute movements in my muscles and the degrees of tension/release within them individually that I didn't fully drift into a tranquil state.  I wasn't nervous or anything, just aware.  It was really neat to notice the different sensations related to each point where there was a needle.  Some places tingled a little, like a mosquito bite that I wanted to scratch, while other places, like my back muscles-specifically my Teres Minor (maybe?)- seemed to actively tense up and then release then feel light like air.  This tension/release action repeated several times until either it stopped, or I drifted into a less self-aware state and no longer noticed it.
After a while, I felt that I was ready to get off of the table.  Liz came to check on me and remove the needles.  She told me to take my time getting up and I heeded her wisdom.  After laying face down on a table for over an hour and having the treatment, I was O U T of it! I felt so heavy, yet light headed, I didn't dare to stand up for a while. (I'm used to getting dizzy and light headed, so I wasn't overly concerned, but this one was a bit of a doozie) She could see that I was feeling funky, and was very attentive, getting me some water and reminding me to take it easy.  After what felt like 5 minutes of sitting, I decided I was ready to stand.  I slowly gathered my things and thanked Liz and wandered out to the street.  I was floating, and I kind of liked it. 
At this point, I was so floaty, feeling like I was on drugs or something, that I couldn't even tell if my shoulder felt better.  Plus, I wasn't concerned with that.  I just wanted to make sure I could walk down the street without getting run over or having my acupuncture-buzz killed. Was it just me, or was everyone looking at me?  Yes, I did have a super-cute outfit on and my hair looked great, but I also felt like maybe I even had a special glow, a supernatural aura that came out from the acupuncture, and that's why it felt like people were looking at me- they could see it!  Ahhh it's silly, I know, but that is actually what I was thinking at the time. 
So, eventually the heady weirdness wore off and I noticed that indeed my shoulder felt better, it was lighter, it hurt less.  At the end of the day I reflected upon how I had felt physically when I entered the acupuncture clinic that morning compared to how I felt now.  There was a remarkable difference and a great reduction in my discomfort.  I'm not saying that this will cure me, but it seems to have helped and I surely plan to follow up with more treatments.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Yoga on the Farm

Things are starting to happen with me and my yoga-teaching journey.  Next Saturday I will be teaching a class on a farm- at The Youth Farm at The High School for Public Service.  I found out about this opportunity through my friend Melissa, who is the manager at Shambhala, the yoga and dance studio that I currently work at as a karmi.  I loved the idea of doing yoga in a farm setting, and felt honored that she asked me to be a part of this! The students will be the farmers and volunteers, adults and probably some kids, and in exchange for teaching, I will take home a veggie share.  I love it!
I will admit that I am a little nervous, for a few reasons...but I am excited to challenge myself and show up and help to share in a positive experience for everyone.  I will be stepping outside of my comfort zone in terms of location and class setting, but also because I am nursing a shoulder injury which seems to be getting worse... so that is tricky, but I am excited to do it!

 one of last weekend's gardening projects
Luckily, part of my escape to the country last weekend involved me working outside doing gardening/landscaping projects, and I tried to make note of the atmosphere around me, how I used my body, and how my body felt.  One thing I noticed was that my friend and I would repeatedly get dizzy when standing up after weeding or digging.  We both got blisters on our hands from the tools...we both got a lot of sun!  So there are some things I need to consider as I structure the class:

First off, we will be outside, in the hot sun, with the dirt and the bugs, amongst the rows of flowers or veggies, and most likely without a yoga mat.  That means that I need to think about things like- sunshine getting in our eyes as we raise our gazes to the sky...the potential for insects to want to fly into our noses/mouths when we inhale...the likelihood that we will have pollen/dust/stuff in our noses due to breathing in the blooming garden all day and kicking up soil.  Also, the volunteers will probably be a bit tired from working all morning- so the class should be more on the mellow side. It will probably be helpful to do some alternate nostril breathing to help clear out the sinuses and calm us down a bit to start off.

Second, people will not necessarily be dressed for yoga- they'll still be dressed for a day of working on the farm.  I'm expecting to see jeans, sneakers, and tee shirts or tank tops, possibly a long-sleeved button up shirt. People could likely even have a sun hat on and sunglasses.  Things like denim waistbands and laced up shoes can reduce the range of motion that is usually available to us in a yoga class when we are appropriately dressed...usually we are barefoot!  How will those factors change the way I structure the class? 

Third, the yogis will have just finished up with a shift of working in the garden, pulling weeds, digging with tools, bending and contorting their bodies in ways that are particular to gardening.  They will have aches and pains (hopefully not too much pain) specific to doing this type of work.  I imagine it will be useful to focus on the hands, wrists, all parts of the back, some hip openers  and shoulder openers and hamstring stretches.  I imagine they will have been squatting, bending over, reaching and pulling with their arms, and gripping tools tightly...they may even have developed some blisters on their hands. I would like to offer some ways that they can move and work that will help them to avoid injury and to protect themselves while they work in the garden in the future. I think a restorative, gentle approach is definitely in order for this class. 

I will need to balance the class so that it is not too active, yet I will likely need to structure the class with mostly standing poses, since we will not have mats underfoot.  And since my shoulder is not feeling good and I don't want to injure myself further, I need to modify my teaching accordingly.  I am indeed up for a challenge- but I do feel like I have a good sense of what the atmosphere will be like and some idea of the special needs of my population.  Hooray!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

wave of inspiration

 It has been a while since I've blogged because I was out of town for work and then went directly to an escape in the country for a few days. Admittedly, I was feeling a little beat up by NYC before I even set out to Jersey for tech week. And, not surprisingly, after 9 days of working 14 hour days making crazy crafty feathered headpieces and costumes for The Little Mermaid, I really needed a break before returning home.   In all, I was away from my laptop for 13 days and it felt pretty good.

rack of costumes in the mezzanine
It has also been a while since I worked as a costume craftsperson (actually building costumes) and I was feeling very happy to put my skills to use again.  I had the pleasure of working with two lovely and talented ladies who really inspired me as we discussed different building and painting techniques.  I learned a lot about different glues, and fastening materials, and some tricks for working with feathers. My world was all feathers and shiny things for a few days, and that was awesome. But,  naturally, after working for many hours in an air-conditioned room (using some toxic chemicals, no less) and then getting not enough sleep in a hotel room with more air-conditioning, my body started to protest.  I was feeling super achey in my (injured) shoulder and my hands from working with wire for hours on end.  I woke up with a sore throat each morning, and sneezed and coughed and had a runny nose.  I was worried that I was coming down with a cold, as is often the result of me doing a work binge like this.

So the opportunity came up to hop on a bus straight out of Jersey and take a visit to my friends in the country.  It all sort of came together at the last minute, and after a 6 hour ride, around midnight I found myself walking into the comfort of a big ole country house, quiet and peaceful, new yet familiar.  I have fond memories of time spent there last summer, and I had hoped to return. I finally exhaled.  

My friends Matt and Amy are couple that recently got married in a small civil ceremony downtown, and are planning and hosting a big wedding extravaganza on their property to celebrate their union and share this joy with lots of friends at the country home.  They're doing it all themselves, and counting on friends to help make it happen by sharing in their areas of expertise.  Amy and I were talking through some of the details, when I started to get ideas for decorations.  For some reason, I have an affinity for home-made bunting.  I have made some out of paper before, but had yet to sew some in fabric. I looked around the property and started to envision huge wire-framed flowers, tissue-paper flower garland, and of course a couple of swags of bunting. Still riding this wave of inspiration I got from working on the feathery fish costumes, I enthusiastically volunteered to design and make the decorations, it will be my gift to them! 
the wedding site
As someone who takes pleasure in making crafty items for friends, this is a big and exciting opportunity to really challenge myself while doing something very special.  This project, decor for a wedding in the country, is no minor feat and is a much larger scale project than my usual gifts for friends, such as jewelry or cards or weird airplant doll head magnets.  I'm very excited and have already started collecting images, fabrics and materials to make the bunting and garland.  Chances are pretty good that I will post on my progress here on the blog!
PS- please excuse the small font- I am very frustrated with the formatting problems of this blogging site, but it's really the only one I know how to use right now (and obviously I don't really know how to use it properly!)  It will have to work for now!