Sunday, February 28, 2016

How to Love Your Body--A Body Story

Reprinted with permission from the blog A Body Story, written by Holly Kania.

Day 6: Why A "Body Story?"

That old saw: “write what you know.” I am still coming to know my body and our relationship has surely had interesting narrative turns. But as a Nia teacher, and now adding work with movement-challenged populations as an Ageless Grace educator, I am fascinated by my students’ relationships to their body stories–how they move, why they wince, the moments when they transcend themselves and I can literally see their souls moving underneath their flesh.
My students constantly surprise me. They are mostly women, typically between their late-forties and seventy years in age. They come to class for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they like the music and they love to dance. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life, but never one like this, where it daily feels like a privilege to be among them, to bear witness as they learn new steps or try new skills, often moving through pain or limitation. And whether by nature they are creaky and off-tempo or limber and rhythmic just doesn’t matter. I can see something of their struggle in life in how they move, in which movements or songs call them out of themselves and unlock their younger selves – transforming achy or self-conscious idiosyncracies into sudden bursts of playfulness, freedom or sensuality. Each of their bodies tells a story: I had colon cancer when I was in my fifties; here I am, dancing. Take that! I had breast cancer ages ago but that was child’s play compared to Parkinson’s; I’m just glad to be alive. I was a competitive ice dancer; now spinning makes me dizzy. I’ve always been a klutz, but I don’t care; look at me shakin’ it! I played three sets of tennis yesterday morning and another two last night; bring it on. I’ve been trying to lose these 10/20/30/40 pounds for the last 1/5/10/15 years; I feel beautiful when I dance. I haven’t slept well for the last year; this stretch feels so good.
Life in the physical body can be a pretty tough business. For some people, it’s a sh*t-storm of pain and frustration; for others, it’s the slow drip of diminishing returns. The luckiest among us may live pain and disease free, may even glory in good health, but we still find plenty to complain about. And yet, for all of us, there is joy to be had. That’s a body story.

 A certified Brown Belt instructor in Nia Technique, Holly has taught Nia classes in Metrowest Boston for four years, and has been teaching at Lumina since January 2013.  Holly did her Nia certification trainings in Concord, MA with Maria Skinner & Al Wright (White Belt), Sun Valley, ID with Britta von Tagen & Casey Bernstein (Blue Belt) and Houston, TX with Helen Terry (Brown Belt).  She plans to pursue her Black Belt certification (the highest level in Nia teacher certification) in 2016.  She is thrilled to share this movement practice with the clients at Lumina.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Backbends: The Fountain of Youth?

By Janine L. Agoglia

Back bending poses are a core part of most asana practices, whether they are small and controlled like Cow pose or Cobra, or more dynamic, like Camel, Dancer or King Pigeon. Back bending poses not only look good, but they create spinal flexibility and back strength, as well as undo the effects of gravity on our body. When you imagine a stereotypical "old person" they are typically slumped forward with a rounded upper back, leaning on a cane. A stereotypical "young person" has a more vertical posture and ease of movement. The secret to a youthful appearance are poses that reverse the effects of gravity on the body, helping you stand more upright.

From the moment we learn to stand up, gravity begins pulling us forward and downward. This is only exacerbated by poor attention to posture, driving, sitting at a computer, taking notes in school, texting and holding small children. Unless you work to reverse it, gravity causes the head to fall forward which creates strain in the neck and upper back muscles, and tightens the chest muscles; the tailbone tucks forward, thereby tightening the hamstrings and weakening the hip flexors and lower back. This causes them undo strain. By letting gravity win on a daily basis you are left with physical limitations, dysfunction and eventually pain. Poor posture has also been linked to heart disease, poor lung function, poor circulation and headaches.

Back bends help us reverse the effects of gravity on the body by moving us in the other direction. By opening and stretching the front of the body, the back muscles intentionally contract making them stronger; it is weak muscles that strain since they are forced to work harder than they are capable. There are many safe and fun ways to back bend that work for every body. Here are just a few examples from simple and supported to more advanced and strengthening:

Supported Reclining Bound Angle

Supported Bridge

Supported Reclining Bound Angle and Supported Bridge are two great back bending poses that are gentler and use gravity to create the opening.

         Cobra with arms extended

For a more active back bend, Cobra is a great place to start. Create the pose using the muscles of the back, rather than the arms. This variation really encourages the squeezing of the shoulder blades and activation the muscles along the spine. Make sure to lengthen the tailbone toward the floor and press the feet into the floor so that it is an upper back backbend.

Upward Facing Dog
To take it up a level, take Cobra off the floor into Upward Facing Dog. Keep the tailbone reaching for the floor, but lift the legs off the floor so that the only things pressing into the floor are the hands and feet. Press the shoulder blades down through the palms and make sure the shoulders are over the wrists. The more you use your legs, the better, and again, it is an upper back backbend.

For more experienced practitioners, Wheel and Camel can feel really good. As with all back bends, keep lengthening the tailbone forward and use the legs!



After all back bending practices it is good to counterbalance with some easy forward bends and gentle twists. Lie down on your back and pull your knees into the chest, maybe lift your head toward your knees. Then bring your head back to the floor and let your knees fall to the left as you look to the right. Stay for a few breaths then do the other side.

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 or visit her website,