Monday, December 7, 2015

How to Avoid Shoulder Injury While Doing Chaturanga Dandasana

By Janine L. Agoglia

Yoga can sometimes get a bad rap for causing shoulder injuries. The main reason for shoulder injury in yoga is repeatedly doing Chaturanga Dandasana incorrectly. When done with proper alignment, Chaturanga, or Low Push Up, is a great pose for core and whole body strengthening. It is an important and frequently done pose in the Vinyasa and Ashtanga practices, but many instructors, due to the nature of flow styles of yoga, don't spend enough time teaching students to do it properly, which results in many injured shoulders. One of my personal missions as a yoga instructor is to make sure all of my students fully understand how to do Chaturanga, both to understand how to use their bodies efficiently and to reduce the possibility of injury.

I often joke in class that "Chaturanga Dandasana" does not mean "Collapse to the floor before Upward Dog,"  rather it translates from Sanskrit as "Four Pointed Staff Pose." This is important, because it is the repeated collapse that leads to shoulder injury. Many students who lack the strength will just fall to the floor (hoping nobody is watching) and then come up into Upward Facing Dog as if Chaturanga never happened. Chaturanga can strike fear in the hearts of many yogis, but when you learn to do it correctly it is an amazing, powerful pose.

The good news is that there are many ways to modify this pose so that you can practice it safely and build strength over time. One way is to lower your knees to the floor so that you have a shorter lever and don't need to support as much weight. At your lowest point, the shoulders should be level with your elbows (see photo #3 below), but until you develop the strength in your core and upper back, you don't need to go that low. You can bend your elbows half an inch and still be doing a great Chaturanga, provided that you are using your upper back and not shrugging your shoulders.

How To:

Chaturanga is basically Plank Pose with bent elbows. Ideally there is no bend at the waist or the neck, only at the elbows.


#1
Start in Plank pose with knees either on the floor behind the hips (photo #1) or off the floor in a straight line from the shoulders to the heels (photo #2). Shift your weight forward as you bend your elbows, with your elbows pointing toward your heels. Your chest moves
#2
forward and your shoulder blades move toward your your waist. This is key. If your shoulders shrug, you lose connection to your larger back muscles and you risk shoulder injury. Keeping your shoulder blades depressed prevents the weight of the pose from falling into the shoulder joint. Your upper back muscles (especially the Latissimus Dorsi) are much larger and stronger than the smaller arm muscles (deltoids, rotator cuff muscles) so if you engage the larger muscles, it is much more efficient. The forward movement of the chest places the shoulder joint in front of the elbow joint, creating the proper pose alignment, but it is crucial to move the shoulder blades in the
#3
opposite direction. Make sure to also use your legs so that the upper body isn't doing all the work. As your chest moves forward reach your heels backward, lift your thighs upward (without hinging at the pelvis) and squeeze your glutes. If your knees are on the ground, still think of lifting your thighs, but not by bending at the pelvis; instead think of your whole body hinging at the knees and moving forward and down as a unit. Engage your abdominals by squeezing your ribs toward your hips. In the end there should be one long line from the top of your head through your heels (photo #3).


Using Props:

#4
Get a strap and a block. Place the strap around your upper arms, just above the elbow crease and place the block about 18" (give or take)in front of your fingers. Start in plank and move forward into Chaturanga so that your lower ribs are resting on the strap and your forehead rests on the block (photo #4). For women the strap should be below the breasts. This position requires less upper body effort so that you can feel your alignment and find your shoulder blades so that you can engage your upper back muscles without needing to hold yourself up. Stay for 5-10 breaths. Make sure you are using your legs to help you lift as well.

It is much better to to have proper alignment than to get as low as possible. This pose is about strengthening so if you are not using your muscles properly, you will most likely end up injured. It is much better to take the "less is more" approach here.  Modify with your knees on the floor and a slight bend in the elbows until you develop the strength to perform the full pose. Remember, yoga is not about finding the perfect pose, it is about being in the moment in your body. Safety is important, as is relinquishing the struggle. Enjoy the journey.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.





Monday, November 16, 2015

Understanding Different Styles of Yoga

By Janine L. Agoglia

I believe that Yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, sex, physical ability or body type. That being said, not all styles of Yoga are good for all people, and that is why there is such a variety in offerings. It can get confusing, so in this post I would like to try to shed some light on some of the common styles of asana (the physical practice of yoga) so that you have a sense of what you are getting into when you enter a class. This will be general characteristics of each style, each teacher has their own particular "flavor" that they add to their classes.

Vinyasa (also called Flow Yoga)-- This is a flow style of yoga that uses the breath to move from one pose into the next. This style is somewhat based on Ashtanga Yoga (created by K. Pattabhi Jois, literally meaning "Eight-Limbed Yoga"), which is 6 set series of progressive poses that flow from one into the next. Most well known is the Primary Series, with only very advanced, experienced practitioners moving on to the other series. Unlike Ashtanga, Vinyasa practices can vary from class to class and instructor to instructor. There are many common poses in each class (Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Chaturanga, Plank, warrior poses, etc.) but each class will be a bit different, with a different focus each time. Using Ujjayi Breath (Victorious Breath)-- a special kind of pranayama/breathwork-- to fuel the practice, it creates a meditative quality to this dynamic asana style, with a good balance of strengthening, stretching and calming of the mind.

Power-- This is often a flow class, but not necessarily. The focus is typically on strengthening over stretching, holding poses for long periods, and challenging both the body and the mind. Many Vinyasa classes are also Power classes, but it is not a hard and fast rule.

Kripalu-- Like most yoga styles and traditions, Kripalu Yoga uses classic asanas or poses (though not a particular set or routine), pranayama (yogic breathwork for both invigorating and energizing the body as well as for cooling the body down and balancing the nervous system as preparation for deep relaxation or meditation), development of a quiet mind, and the art and practice of relaxation. What defines Kripalu Yoga is its emphasis on following the flow of prana (life-force energy), practicing true compassionate self-acceptance, developing witness consciousness (observing the activity of the mind without judgment), and taking what is learned "on the yoga mat" about being with one's experience with non-judgmental awareness, “off the mat” into one's daily life with family, in work, in relationships and with ones own experience.

Iyengar-- This is a style of asana practice based on the work of B.K.S. Iyengar. It features very detailed alignment work, very long holds in the poses  and the use of props to further support everyone's body in any particular pose. Each person will strive toward the ideal alignment in their body, even if their practice, visually, looks very different from someone else's.  Their internal experience will be the same. Asana and pranayama are different practices in this style, but are equally important.

Anusara--This style of yoga was created by John Friend and is based in the Iyengar alignment principles, but is infused with heart centered spirituality as well. "Anusara" means "to flow with Grace," with "the power of the heart as the force behind every action or expression of an asana."

Adaptive or Chair Yoga-- While most yoga practices happen on the floor or on a mat, this style of yoga happens in a chair. It is great for anyone with limited mobility. The poses are done seated or sometimes standing while holding onto the chair for balance.

Svaroopa--Created by Rama Berch, Svaroopa® is a very gentle, restorative style of yoga. Often called Yoga for the Back, "Svaroopa® yoga uses precise alignments in carefully selected poses, along with meticulous placement of props, to open up the deepest tensions of your body. This also opens up conscious access to the ever-expanding inner realms of being. Rather than using hatha yoga as a sophisticated form of exercise, Svaroopa® yoga pursues the search for an understanding of the deeper purposes of yoga: the understanding of your own essential nature."

Bikram-- This is a set series of 26 poses done in a room heated to over 100 degrees (often as high as 110).  The practice takes 90 minutes and you should expect to sweat. I personally advise caution with this style of yoga, both because of the high heat (and risk of dehydration or overheating) and because of the encouraged "locking" of the joints in certain poses.

There are many other styles of yoga, too many for the purposes of this post, but I just wanted to give readers a little taste of what is out there.


Sources:


Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Playfullness of Ageless Grace®

By Amy Podolsky

Birthdays can bring up all sorts of feelings, and as I approached my last one, I felt kinda funky. While it wasn't a "milestone"--unless the number 44 has some deeper numerological meaning of which I'm unaware-- it nonetheless felt poignant in that I was approaching the halfway point-- a bridge between early and mid forties. And I realized there is no stopping the clock; ready or not, here it comes.

Enter Ageless Grace®. The day after my 44th birthday, I took a seminar (followed by a two-day Educator Certification) with Ageless Grace® creator, Denise Medved. I'd signed up for the training on somewhat of a whim: I had heard great things about the program, knew of Denise through the Nia world (she's a former Nia trainer and First Degree Nia Black Belt instructor), and had read remarkable things about Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain and the nervous system to change structurally and functionally through the practice of movement). In hindsight, I see now that "The Universe" was clearly handing me a priceless gift in Ageless Grace®, one that would help me get off the pity pot and accept that aging is a gift in and of itself (even when I'm not thrilled about its "byproducts.").

For those of us lucky enough to celebrate birthdays-- and truly it is a blessing when you consider how often disease point their awful, senseless fingers at those we know and love-- the choices (as I see them) are these: Let go or be dragged. We grow older every day, whether we like it or not. We can choose to let go and play, or we can be dragged, kicking and screaming. Either way, we are heading toward our next birthday in every given moment.

Play wasn't a familiar concept for me before Ageless Grace® came along. The truth is, I was afraid of looking foolish. But, as I sat in my chair and played with Denise and my lovely group of fellow trainees that weekend, I couldn't stop smiling. It was pure joy, and I didn't even care what I looked like. I began practicing and teaching AG almost immediately after completing the training. Having felt so good in my body, all I wanted (and still want) was to pass that same gift on to others (my fear of heights is the only thing holding me back from standing on the rooftops shouting "I've discovered the Fountain of Youth, People!"). When I'm practicing and/or teaching Ageless Grace®, I feel awesome. My core muscles feel tighter (and more fit), my awareness of (and appreciation for) my body increases, and my mind feels much sharper. If this is what "Aging" looks like, then bring it on.

Teaching Ageless Grace® at Lumina Mind Body Studios is a pleasure. What a fabulous community! Class is so much fun ("it's like a party," one student recently remarked), and also deceptively powerful and invigorating. Don't let the chair fool ya, you will get a great workout. Every Body is happy in these classes, without fail. That never gets old for me. When asked what the class is like, I've started to say: "It's like chocolate; you can't describe it, you just have to try it." I hope you'll join me for this delicious Body, Mind and Soul treat. I whole-heartedly believe in Denise Medved's mission, to "help create a new paradigm for aging, one where we all, from childhood on, incorporate daily movement into our lives...that enhances our movements, our ability to function with comfort and ease, our attitudes, our outlooks and intentions and our overall quality of life!" Amen and cheers to Ageless Grace®!

Amy Podolsky is a Nia Brown Belt Instructor and Certified Ageless Grace®  Educator. She loves sharing the Joy of Movement with people of all ages, and with her trademark warmth, humor and attitude of "no judgement," is committed to empowering Every Body to stay fit by choosing pleasure over pain.





Monday, October 19, 2015

Reducing Anxiety by Being a Mountain

By Janine L. Agoglia

Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, is one of the foundation poses in asana practice. Although seemingly simple, you are merely standing on two feet, it is a very powerful pose when done properly.

Creating a stable, secure standing pose, such as Tadasana, will create more stability in your physical body, allowing you to ground your mind in the present moment. Anxiety lives in the future, with thoughts like "what if" and "what could be," but in reality, these things may or may not actually come true. When you bring yourself into the present moment, feeling your feet on the ground and connecting to your breath, anxiety drains away and all that is left is peace.

Anxiety often causes a sensation of being untethered, floating without connection or root, feeling out of control. If you stand like a mountain, you are standing firmly on the ground, stable, steady but comfortable and relaxed. Your connection to the earth through your feet makes Tadasana a very grounding, anxiety-reducing pose.  By standing in Tadasana, you re-root to the earth and feel more in control.

Stand with your feet parallel to each other other about 3-4 inches apart. Feel your weight set evenly on both feet. Keeping the knees relaxed, stack your knees over your ankles. If you tend to hyper-extend your joints, your knees should feel very slightly bent. Engage your quadriceps to encourage stabilization of the knees. Stack your hips over your knees, gently activate your bandhas (Mula Bandha--your pelvic floor lifts, like doing a Kegel; Uddiyana Bandha-- two fingers below the navel contracts inward and upward toward your lower back). Your shoulders should stack over your hips, the shoulder blades should move down your back and you want to lift through your heart center. Finally your head should stack over your shoulders.

When you are standing in Tadasana take 5 deep, slow breaths, imagining drawing the air up through your feet to your head, then exhaling back down from your head through your feet. Any time anxiety hits, doing this simple, calming, stabilizing pose can get you out of your head and reconnect you with your body. When you are in your body, anxiety doesn't exist.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.




Monday, September 28, 2015

Is Self-Judgment Learned in School?

By Janine L. Agoglia

I was pondering this question the other day while I was teaching and the answer that came to me was very interesting: We are taught to judge.

When we are small children, we are busy exploring the world around us and taking everything in like a sponge; there is no judgement, only wonder and curiosity. We learn to walk and talk, love and play and there are no "right" or "wrong" answers to be concerned about. Everything is new and interesting and it doesn't matter what other people think, the world is ours to absorb unconditionally.

When we go to school, we are taught to look at things more closely; observe, but define and discuss what we are observing, distinguish between things as the same or different and ask why and how. The more we start to discern and analyze, the more we place judgements on things, like "this ball is blue, not green," or "the answer is 5, not 6," or "this smells bad," or "this is wrong."

The more we learn with our minds, analyzing, discerning, discriminating, criticizing, the more we apply that type of thinking to other parts of our lives: "this isn't the right shirt/shoe/makeup/music/phone/lifestyle, etc to have," or "you aren't good enough to do ________," or "I don't want people to judge me for thinking/acting/looking this way."

How do we go from joy in learning to negativity about ourselves? We learn to judge. The problem with judgements, is often times they are based on beliefs, rather than what is true.

  • Will you actually die if you don't get the job you want? No.
  • Will your leg actually fall off if you don't move it? No.
  • Will that mosquito bite itch forever if you don't scratch it? No.
  • Will you be unlovable if you are not perfect? No.
  • Will loved ones think less of you if you follow your own path? No.

And the list goes on. Is your self-talk based on your beliefs or what is actually true? 

Instead of judging yourself, can you find kindness, gratitude, appreciation and acknowledgement?

When you feel like you didn't accomplish anything in a day, can you instead focus on what you did do? Maybe you made good choices, maybe you didn't, but you can learn from those choices rather than judge yourself for them. Instead of focusing on what you don't have or wish you had, can you instead be grateful for what you do have?

In the end, what matters most is who you are, not what you have. Instead of focusing on your partner's shortcomings, can you focus on all the ways that he or she makes your life great? Acknowledging the positive things in your life helps get you out of feeling bad and the negative self-talk spiral that can occur. Focusing on what is good helps you see more good in the world and in yourself. 

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

As Simple As Breathing

By Leah Carey

It took me a long, long time to get myself to my first yoga class. I like to think I’m open to new experiences, but this one seemed a bit out there. Plus, I assumed flexibility was a prerequisite, and my tight hamstrings were not budging. Finally, tired of the excuses, and more curious than afraid, four years ago I put on sweatpants, threw on a t-shirt, and headed to Lumina. I borrowed a mat from the front desk, took a deep breath, and walked into the studio. 

The class was advertised as gentle yoga, and it was just that. The instructor was kind and reassuring when I introduced myself as a beginner. I could do each of the poses, basically, even though my hamstrings protested. There wasn’t too much sweating. There were no mirrors. The lights were low. The final resting pose was delicious.

I felt great afterwards, all stretched out and somehow lighter. Even more than the physical effects, though, I felt better inside. I had been stressed lately, going through physical and emotional transitions as a woman and mother, and I’d just made a career change. It had been rough going, and yoga allowed me to be okay with all those changes, to check in with myself and find I was still in there, still whole, still me. 

As I continued my yoga practice, I reconnected with the part of me that loved to create. Learning to focus on breathing in yoga got me out of my chattering mind, and I found time off the mat to write - something I hadn’t done in years. I realized there would be huge benefits to doing yoga and journaling together – intentionally combining these powerful, self-discovery tools - and I approached Janine Agoglia about co-leading workshops with this unique approach. 

The idea of the As Simple As Breathing workshop series is to quiet the mind and reflect on our gifts and strengths, use yoga poses and breathing to center us, and journal to discover more about ourselves. The 7 workshops build on each other, and we’ll end each session with what we call an inquiry, something to think about between sessions that enhances the internal work we’re doing.
This series is a low-key yet mindful way to work through life transitions, tap into your own creativity, and get clearer on your life’s purpose. As in all things, you’ll get as much out of it as you put into it. Janine and I are here to help in any way we can.

Hope to see you at the first As Simple As Breathing workshop series!

ImageLeah Carey is a certified executive coach and leadership consultant and the author of As Simple As Breathing: On Yoga, Writing, and Life. More of Leah’s thoughts on books and writing can be found on her website, www.mandalawriterscircle.com.