Monday, July 24, 2017

Is Your Down Dog Still a Puppy?

By Nathan Schechter, ERYT-200 hour, YACEOP, ACSM CPT, CST

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." ~BF Skinner




When I was a child and took home my first puppy, he was so small we had to put him in a shoe box. The whol family stared at him for hours. Because he was new, we paid great attention to the details, giving him all the things that he needed to grow into a happy, healthy dog: chewing toys, the right food, even a flea collar. Over time, our dog lost that special "puppy" status, and we might have paid a little less attention to him than we used to, but he was still loved, and graduated from a helpless pup, to a full-fledged participant of the household.

When you first learned Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) do you remember how awkward it felt? Maybe your wrists hurt, or perhaps you couldn't figure out how to get your hips up and back. Maybe you could only stay in the pose for a few seconds. At this stage you may have relied on your teacher to guide you with cues-- those short, pithy instructions, like "draw the front of your thighs toward the wall behind you" -- to learn how to allow your body to take on this new shape. You may have had to spend a lot of time working on the posture until it felt comfortable. It is how we all got started. But for many students who are not new to yoga practice, the days of learning Downward Dog are long gone.

When something is new we often DO need to pay a lot of attention to the details. But later on, this same type of focus prevents us from moving to the next phase.

Are you paying a lot of attention to the letters and punctuation in this article? At one phase in your learning, you needed to spend a lot of time tracing letters, and learning how to use punctuation. Now, however, when you want to read something, you ignore those same details because you are intuitively using them to accomplish something larger: understand meaning.

This is part of what B.F. Skinner meant when he said: "Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

In fact, the poet E. E. Cummings used punctuation incorrectly. On purpose! Yet no one supposes that Cummings just didn’t understand punctuation. In fact, he understood it so well, that he started playing with it, and breaking the rules.

While focusing on the details of Downward Dog can be very rewarding – and particularly helpful if you are still struggling with the posture - it’s equally important to understand what the pose is about in a larger context.

Down Dog is like a period. It is a foundational pose that is often used for transitions to other movements. In flowing styles of yoga (called Vinyasa), Down Dog is one part of a larger series of movements called Sun Salutation. I won’t go into a full description here of what a Sun Salutation is, but think of it as a dynamic warm-up and strength building exercise that often occurs within a flowing yoga class.

Because Downward Dog is part of this larger whole (the Sun Salutation), at a certain point it becomes less important to focus solely on down dog, and more important to use it for what it is intended: 1) To rest, and 2) to prepare for moving somewhere else.

Many beginning students often focus on whether their feet should touch the floor, or if they are doing the pose “right” (In “Light on Yoga” by BKS Iyengar, a famous yoga teacher, his head and feet touch the floor). Students often internalize an image of a very flexible person who does the posture. Maybe like the photo below.


But if you understand the role Down Dog plays, you might see it could look quite different. You could: keep your heels off the floor, turn out your heels, bend your knees, lift an arm. This wouldn’t be “correct” alignment, but it might make sense depending on the larger context. In fact, you could even replace Down Dog with another pose altogether, like using a semi-colon instead of a comma.

This photo shows what is sometimes called a “Hindu Squat.” It too is a foundational pose, although it has different properties than Downward Dog. Try this exercise: Starting in Down Dog walk your hands back to your feet to wind up in Hindu Squat. Now do the reverse. Walk from Hindu Squat back to Down Dog.

Can you begin to see new possibilities for your practice? Both down dog and the squat offer you a stable base from which to move to another posture. The poses are different. Hindu Squat puts your head above your heart. Downward dog puts your head below your heart. The squat activates your hips differently than the dog. But like the semi-colon and the comma, both can act in similar ways.

Now you are focusing on the “function” of the posture, rather than simply the details. Your Down Dog has moved past the “puppy” phase and takes less of your attention; you understand not only the details, but the larger context.

As you begin to grasp the idea of the purpose of the pose, you become freed up to adapt it to your own particular body and use it in new ways. This gets you deeper into the whole purpose of yoga, which is to connect you to your unique body, and help you make observations about its uniqueness within the observational field of your own mind.

Again, I won’t go into great detail here, but if you want to look at another example of moving beyond the details, try taking a look at this article by yoga teacher, Donna Farhi, which talks about experimenting, with not only Down Dog, but the whole Sun Salutation. (“Variations on Sun Salutes: Moving Outside the Square. March 27, 2015)

As your practice grows, you may find that you can put less attention on individual cues (which may still be in one corner of your mind), and pay more attention to what you are seeking to accomplish overall in your mind and body. This is where you begin to knock on the door of what, to me, makes practices like yoga really interesting.

Yoga is one kind of mind body education, but done well it begins to show you larger possibilities. For your Dog to no longer be a puppy, it may mean that you stop giving it the same amount of detailed attention, but that doesn’t mean you stop loving it, or can never give it attention. It just means that now your Dog has taken its rightful place in a family of poses that are aimed, not at constant cue repetition, but more as one road of learning about the dance of mind and body in movement.

Nathan Schechter started practicing yoga in 1997 at Patricia Walden’s yoga studio in Somerville, MA. There he met the bass player of the Bare Naked Ladies who introduced him to Baptiste Power Yoga in 2000. He began teaching after being certified at Frog Lotus Yoga in 2005.
Nathan has learned a great deal from many yoga styles – Iyengar, Vinayasa, Anusara, Bikram, Ashtanga – and hundreds of yoga teachers, both well known nationally (Barbara Benagh, David Williams, Richard Freeman, Annie Pace, Sarah Powers) and local to New England. He has sought out other disciplines with a focus on how the brain-mind-body work together in subtle ways. He has traveled to work with gifted teachers, trainers and health professionals from the United States, Europe and China.
Drawing insights from Qigong, Tai Chi, Craniosacral Therapy (Upledger Institute, 2014), Alexander, Feldenkrais, and Personal Training methods (American College of Sports Medicine Certification, 2014), and observing the high caliber of learning and skill development of those who used diverse approaches, Nathan recently started a company to educate and train others working with the body and mind.
The group yoga class Nathan will teach is a heated power vinyasa template which includes techniques from Qigong and other disciplines. Sometimes small “break out” moments are used to capture some of the flavor, and benefits, of the more in-depth learning he shares in 12 week courses, and 1:1 work.

If you would like to learn more, you can reach Nathan at the newmindbodyliteracy@gmail.com


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Musings of a Yoga Teacher: On Control

By Janine L. Agoglia

Control. It means different things to different people. It has both positive and negative connotations and can be underused or abused.

When it comes to the practice of yoga, you are learning to control your body and mind, but there is a balance to be found. Too much control and you create rigidity; too little control and you lose stability. Finding the right amount of control is part of the practice.

At first you must take things slowly. When learning to control the body, in a 1 legged balance for example, you move slowly to tune into what the body is doing. If you move too fast, you will fall over because you lack control. If you start screaming at yourself in your mind, grasping for control, most likely you will fall over because your mind is causing your body to be tense and unyielding. When you take control of your body in a mindful way, you become very present. You can tune into the subtle shifts of weight on your foot and leg that allow you to balance without falling over. You can more easily adapt to the subtle shifts like the branches of a willow tree, bending but not breaking. Your mind is calm and quiet, but you are completely aware of what is happening in your foot, the muscles of your leg and any other body part that is involved. You are placing your body into a position intentionally. You are assuming control, rather than grasping desperately for it. Like anything in life, it takes practice, moving away from old habits and into new ones.

Control of the mind can be a similar endeavor, and they are most definitely connected. Anxiety often makes us grasp for control in our lives, making us emotionally rigid. Things have to be done a certain way or everything will fall apart (or maybe some other similar story). Assuming control over our minds takes practice. At first we observe. We notice what is happening, the stories we are telling ourselves, maybe even what is true and what is only a held belief. We come into the present moment. But then our mind wanders away to other things-- to our to do list, to the argument we had with our spouse, to that thing that happened that time with that person-- some distraction creeps up and takes our attention. So we come back to this moment, the only moment we truly have control over.

The past already happened, there is no changing that; the future may or may not ever happen, no matter how hard we plan. We can prepare for it, but we still have no real control over it. The present is the only place where we can create action and therefore do something to make a change. So we cultivate our ability to be in this moment. We lose it and come back. Over and over. The longer you spend in the present, the more control you can have over yourself.

By noticing our stories, our tendencies, our "stuff," we can choose to change or stay the same. But at that point we have choice which equals control.

None of this is easy, it takes time and dedication. But the best part is, there is no finish line, it is the journey that matters. Take your time, go slow and enjoy the adventure.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she stumbled upon 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.






Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Savasana: The Space Between the Thoughts

By Janine L. Agoglia

Savasana (Corpse Pose) is the most important pose in the entire asana practice. To find out why I think so, click here.

This post is more about the "what" rather than the "why" of Savasana. The process starts by lying down and stilling the body. When the body stops moving, the mind starts to slow down. If you are constantly moving and fidgeting physically, the mind will be in a constant state of reaction; this is the conditioning for stress and discomfort. When the body is still, you have a chance at stilling the mind. Slowing down gets us out of fight or flight and allows us to find peace and contentment. Space.

Initially, you will notice your mind flooding with thoughts, both related to the moment and not. The mind likes to travel to the past and the future, but here you are trying to stay in the present. It may be uncomfortable to be still. It may be uncomfortable notice what comes up--feelings, sensations, emotions. It might be difficult to detach from your thoughts, afterall, we spend the first part of our lives in school learning how to actively, consciously think and analyze. Savasana is about not thinking; instead you are witnessing what is happening in the present moment. Thinking involves effort whereas noticing, or witnessing is like watching your thoughts on a movie screen in front of you. There is separation between the thought and the noticer, room to slow down and breathe. Space.

At first this is an impossible task. Thoughts come at us a mile a minute, sometimes several thoughts pile up and happen simultaneously. Savasana is the practice of noticing: noticing your thoughts without actively thinking. Noticing what is happening in the mind without judgement or analysis. Noticing our habit of creating noise in our head when there doesn't need to be any. Once you've noticed, you can make a different choice. You can choose to "turn the volume down" so that the only thing left is sensation. When you stop "talking," quiet is much easier to find. You may notice that the words are insistent, just keep turning down the volume in your mind. Space.

At some point you may notice moments of no words. Of course once you notice them, the words come flooding back in as you try to grasp the silence. Eventually you will learn to be with those moments and not grab onto them, but rather sit with them. Experiencing the space between the noticer and the thought. Allowing it to be there rather than forcing it to be there. When you "declutter" the mind, it creates room for your own internal wisdom to rise to the surface. You already hold all of the answers to your questions, you just need space to hear them. It is in that space that self-exploration and growth happen.

Practice Savasana every time you practice asana and notice how it affects you, off the mat and in your life.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she stumbled upon 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, March 8, 2017

Yoga Teaches Us to Meet Ourselves Where We Are

By Janine L. Agoglia

When I teach a yoga asana class, students show up with all different abilities, body types, learning styles, strengths and limitations. The challenge, as an instructor, is to build a class where everyone is challenged in the same way without feeling overwhelmed. As a student, the challenge is to only take on what is possible and not compare yourself to others in the room. Be in your body and keep your eyes on your own mat; the only person judging your limitations is you (and even you don't need to be doing that).

Step #1: Listen to your body and notice.
Are you panting or can you control your breathing while doing what you are doing? Are you holding your breath? Are you feeling pain or just the sensation of muscles working or stretching? Is your mind racing or are your thoughts more controlled and inquisitive? Your body holds all the answers, you just need to learn to speak its language. Ideally, no matter what your body is doing, your breath is controlled, moving smoothly and evenly, there is no sharp pain and you feel in control. For more on this, see How to Know Your Limits in a Yoga Class.

Step #2: Respond appropriately.
Once you've listened and your body has told you "you're fine, continue on," or "you can go deeper/farther," or "time to back off," respond to that message. Practice yoga with the body that you have today, not that of your neighbor or even your body yesterday. Every day, every moment is a new opportunity to check in with yourself and see if all is good. If your breath gets short, choppy and erratic, back off; rest, reset and come back to the practice in control. Injury happens when we push ourselves beyond our capabilities. If everyone in the class is standing on their hands and you don't feel ready, take Downward Dog. If everyone is side bending their Tree Pose and you are struggling to balance, just stay upright; fall if you need to. If everyone is doing bridge pose and you feel like going up into Wheel, go for it! The great thing about yoga is that it is a "non-competitive sport," where resting is okay, pushing yourself appropriately is okay, doing exactly what the teacher instructs is okay, modifying the practice to suit you is okay. You have permission to take make the practice more or less challenging according to how you feel on any given day. Today you might be raring to go, ready to sweat and work hard; tomorrow you might need to take things a little slower, drop into Child's Pose more often than is instructed. Both are completely fine and allowed. The key is to listen to what your body, not your mind/ego, is telling you. Unfortunately the ego is usually the louder voice in your mind telling you "I can't do this" or "she's doing it, I can too" or "when will this end?!" The body is sensation and when you tune into the sensation of your body, you get our of your mind and things get quiet. Calm. Still. Centered. Relaxed. Even in challenging poses. These are some of the other benefits of practicing yoga.

Step #3: Take your practice off the mat.
Why do we practice yoga? So that we can learn how to move through our lives more peacefully, more lovingly, more in control of our body and mind. The challenge is taking this knowledge off the mat and into our world. Once you can hold Warrior 2 without crying, maybe you can also tolerate your child having a tantrum at the supermarket, responding with compassion for your child rather than worrying about what everyone else may be thinking. Maybe you can tolerate the discomfort of your child falling apart because you learned how not to fall apart. Dealing with challenging clients or co-workers in your life might be like dealing with poses you don't like (the ones you hate are the ones you need the most...). If you can learn to accept that these people will be in your life in some capacity, find your breath and see if you can meet them with compassion. Their bad behavior is not about you, even if they take it out on you. Maybe you can respond, instead of react by taking a few breaths, accepting that this interaction is happening and then do something. Answer their question mindfully, tell them that you don't like being yelled at but that you would be happy to calmly discuss the problem, walk away, or maybe some other possibility. You might be having a bad day where everything goes wrong, you are stressed, exhausted, hungry, you know those days. Can you find compassion for yourself? You don't have to be perfect, you can ask for help, you can honor how you feel and do the best you can. Maybe you go to bed early with the house still a mess or the dishes or laundry undone or the assignment incomplete. Tomorrow will come when you can meet whatever is looming with a fresh body and mind. Take a do-over and let it be okay.

The point is, difficulty happens, stress happens, life happens. Yoga teaches us to honor where we are and meet ourselves at that point. By doing that we can respond to challenges in a way that feels authentic, and doesn't leave us feeling regret. How can you do that? Connect to the lessons you learned on your mat.

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, February 1, 2017

How to Have a Mindful Pilates Practice

By Kay Finn

We hear a lot about Mindfulness these days. What does this mean?

Mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at UMASS Medical), is: Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpuse, in the present moment and non-judgementally." If you can approach Pilates (and Yoga and Barre and everything you do!) in a mindful way, you will get so much more out of the exercise experience.

There are six common principles in Pilates: Concentration, Control, Flowing Natural Movement, Breath, Precision and Centering.

  • Concentration requires the ability to be in the moment, to "be present" and to coordinate the mind to what the body is doing.
  • Pilates was originally called Contrology by Joseph PIlates. Here, the mind controls the body.
  • In Pilates the flow has a specific beginning and ending, the Breath is important to oxygenate the muscles, nourish and cleanse the body's systems throughout.
  • We practice Pilates exercises in a specific order and very deliberately and purposefully (with Precision). It is important to learn and understand the essence, or reason, for each exercise.
  • Lastly, all of our energy comes from our center, sometimes referred to as the "powerhouse." This center includes our abdominals, lower back, hips and gluteals.
It is easy to see how all of this used together makes for a mindful experience. Although it is challenging to be mindful, the result is incredibly satisfying!

Let's take you through a mock class:

Show up for your favorite class and put your outside life on hold for the length of the class. Scan your body and relax any muscles that you can. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale all the air out through pursed lips. Feel how this expands your rib cage and helps you concentrate on contracting your deep abdominal muscles. Listen to the teacher's cues and follow the pattern of movement. Try to use the correct muscles necessary to complete the movement. Be deliberate about this; if you are using compensatory muscles, modify or complete fewer repetitions. Think about how each exercise makes YOU feel. When class is over, see how different you feel compared to how you felt at the beginning of the class. If you show up for class planning to focus on your movement, pay attention to how you feel and what you can do (without judgement). You will be completing a mindful Pilates practice!

Kay Finn is Director of the Stott Pilates Studio at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA. Kay is a longtime fitness enthusiast who began her Pilates experience in 2004 by taking a Pilates mat class. After several years of taking mat and equipment classes, Kay began her formal training at Northeast Pilates in 2006 and completed her training for certification with Stott Pilates in 2008. She is fully certified on the Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrels through Stott Pilates. 
Kay has been teaching Pilates at Longfellow since 2007. She teaches group exercise classes, small group classes on the mixed equipment and private sessions with individuals on the equipment in the Pilates Studio.  In addition to teaching and spending time with her extended family, Kay enjoys biking, swimming, walking her dog and Yoga. 


Friday, January 6, 2017

Practicing Yoga and Finding the Pause

By Janine L. Agoglia

This morning I was poking around Facebook, as I often do, and came across a wonderful meme that was titled "Practice the Pause."

"Pause before judging.
Pause before assuming.
Pause before accusing.
Pause whenever you are about to react harshly and you will avoid doing and saying things that you will later regret."     ~Lori Deschene

The practice of yoga helps us find that pause. Just being present allows us to create space in ourselves to respond, rather than react. "React" involves impulse, no thinking or forethought, whereas "respond" implies thoughtfulness, acting with purpose and intention. When we practice yoga, using our breath to help us connect our mind to our body, we learn how to respond, rather than react.

The mind is constantly going from one thought to the next, whether we realize it or not. When practicing asana (the physical practice of yoga) we are giving the mind something to focus on: our breath, our alignment, sensation in the body. Your mind tends not to wander when you are holding Warrior 2 for awhile. Your mind is much more conscious of how much your legs (and hopefully your core and upper back) are working (sometimes screaming) which keeps you in the present. While feeling those "sensations" we have a few options:

1. You can move away from the sensations and come out of the pose.
2. You can brace against the sensations while screaming in your head wondering how much longer you need to stay in the pose.
3. You can breathe deeply and allow space for the sensations and thoughts to be there; simply notice.

#1 could be a reaction or a response. If at the first sign of "sensation" you come out of the pose, that is a reaction. However, if after a few breaths you decide that this pose is no longer serving your body and it would be better to come out of it, that is a response. The pause that happens when you take those few breaths gives you a chance to really assess what is happening: I feel like I am dying; am I really dying or is that just the story that I'm going with right now? Creating that space, or that pause, allows you time to check in to the true nature of what is happening in your body and mind. Usually we are stronger than we think but we lack faith in ourselves. Or we are overzealous, doing things our bodies really don't want us to do (this usually leads to injury). When we practice yoga using #3, we can really tune into what is happening now. Can I be in this moment and still be okay? Do I need to rest? Do I need to stay? Am I breathing? Creating a pause allows us to gather more information to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

We practice this in class so that we can use this skill in our daily lives. What if you could pause while you are interacting with your children, spouse or parents? What if you could pause when dealing with challenging occurrences in your life? Finding a way to respond, rather than react, can prevent escalation which can lead to regret.

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.