Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inpsiration - Big Girl Yoga

I just had to link to this woman's website - she embodies all that is truly yoga.

Self love through yoga.
Valerie aka Big Gal Yoga is a yoga practitioner, installation artist, ceramicist, radical self love enthusiast, and body positive encourager based in the SF Bay Area. She started her yoga practice at her university with yogi Lawrence Caughlan who gave her a positive view on practicing yoga, and believing that as long as you have the determination, motivation, and patience anyone can do yoga. Valerie's yoga practice is about learning to love yourself physically and mentally through yoga. Learning to listen to your body, to know when to push it and when to protect it.
Now that Valerie has finished her undergraduate studies in a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spatial Arts, she will be focusing more on her yoga practice and connecting to the yoga community. As well she is announcing that she will be doing Yoga Teacher Training at the beginning of 2016. There will be a fundraiser for her YTT during the fall/early winter, as well as she has a GO FUND ME to raise $4000 to train at the 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Non Judgement

A sign at the gym where I was teaching read "Your body is a reflection of your physical standards."

That message alone would discourage most people I know from going to the gym. Is the gym implying that someone with a prosthetic or in a wheelchair or who had a congential problem or is trying to get fit but is overweight has low standards?

Now I'm sure it was just someone's attempt at being pithy and trying to garner memberships and they didnt' think about it too much. But really, that was pretty shallow and callous.

In a cheerful demeanor I suggested they change it to be less insenstive, less judgemental, less superficial.

I didn't state this but I would prefer (at least in the context of a "fitness gym"):

"Your state of mind has a direct relationship with the health of your body. Elevate the fitness of both!"

Monday, September 14, 2015

Pinatas, Ahimsa, and Charity

I take a small departure from the purely yogic world to talk about something that came up for me at my son's 6th birthday party yesterday.

Instead of a traditional candy filled pinata, we filled one with 720 ping pong balls, and told the kids that when the goodies fell out of the pinata, they were to collect whatever they wanted, and then put them in any of six boxes around the party site - 2 each for charities that Eli picked out. Ever ball was worth five cents toward that chartiy. Children were welcome to take some home as well. Though Eli thought the kids would be upset there was no candy, then scramble to shove ping pong balls into pockets and shirts and hands and pants seemed to entertain them well enough, as well as playing "basketball" tossing the balls into the boxes.

I was pleased with my cool new idea, saving quite a bit of money by not buying candy, and sparing parents and kids the sugar hang-over as well as reducing the "gimme more candy" scramble the invariably leaves some kids crying.

But it turns out my new "trend" isn't so new... at some point in history, pinatas were used to help children learn religious lessons, with one of them being Charity. From the interwebs ""Finally the piƱata symbolized ‘Caridad’, Charity. With its eventual breaking, everyone shared in the divine blessings and gifts." (see

Which brings me to my point. With these sweet and celebratory roots of the tradition, it pains me to see children elbowing one another to get at the candy. Which is why did the HUGE quantity of ping pong balls AND made the kids use a wiffle bat (so that more kids had a chance to play, and EVERYONE would get prizes).

But I started to question the practice in general when I saw that children that were having a difficult time NOT punching and hitting the pinata long before we were playing the game because they KNEW (well, assumed) that there was a ton of candy inside. I heard them say they "couldn't wait" and "I really want to SMASH it" That bothered me. A Lot. I mean, it's just a little game that sometimes gets you some candy - why was it jacking them up so damn much?

When the game started it was innocent enough. But some kids were so riled up, they tried to use the bat to tear the pinata from its hangar, tried to punch through the bottom and stab at it with the bat. Then when the first gifts fell from our pinata, a few grabbed at it and started to aggressively tear the panels open so they could dump out the contents. And then it got ugly (uglier) - kids on the ground having fun picking up the ping pong balls, but what I was drawn to watching were the few that tore the darn thing down from the tree, using hands, feet and the bad to beat it into submission, to absolutely dismember it. When the ball gathering had completed, the (battle) ground was littered with little yellow streamer paper and shreads of cardboard, dirtied and damp, he whole thing discarded and dismissed, as they all went on the enjoy the party.

I'm being a bit (ok, a lot) dramatic here, but what I felt when I watched this take place was a complete oxymoron of emotions. One the one hand, the charity experiment was WORKING - kids were loving the game, parents were loving the game, and there was much joy as balls rolled all over the grass so kids were spread out and NOT climbing on top of one another.

On the other hand, I felt a sinking failure as a parent: that my son and his sweet friends would participate in a mob that was bent on destroying something innocent. That platiutdes like "oh kids will be kids" and "they need to get their aggression out on something" were running through my mind and uttered by others. That I created a scenario that encouraged aggression and unregulated release of it through destruction. That I had tried to teach Tzedakah (charity) and Tikkum Olum (healing the world) but Ahimsa (kindness/non harming) had been lost - or at least misinterpreted.

I should have said "please do NOT get all Lord of the Flies on the pinata - once it opens we'll get the goodies out but we will NOT be tearing the thing apart limb from limb." I should have, but I didn't. I didn't want to be that parent that ran into a feverish group of children yelling "STOP" and (probably) not being heard, because, well, "everyone does this."

When did this trend to "grab the goods and then tear that thing limb from limb" start? And why do we... why did *I* ....let it continue?

Studies show that even young children can be easily led to participate in mob mentality (

And as adults we engage in it all the time in SEEMINGLY harmless ways: sporting events, rock concerts, piolitcal rallies. How often do WE just let our "spiritedness" out in what might be a less than savory manner - how often to we show our children it's ok to act out, to lash out, to lose self control, as long as (you think) it's not harming anyone, or if there is a reward (candy?).

Anyway, I'm more than pleased that in the end, a few kids really really liked the message, as did my friends. And i know that it's just a pinata, really I do. But the issue of "what do we teach when we aren't paying (enough) attention" seems to be something to which I'll certainly (try to )be paying more attention.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Yoga, Sciatica, Neck pain

I receive a lot of queries concerning how to utilize yoga to relieve certains pains/tensions, specifically sciatica nerve pain, and neck tension/stiffness. I am not a doctor, nor a chiropractor nor a PT (but I have visited them all many many many many many times). That being said, below is a selection of links that I have found useful for my own self-care practice and perhaps they can benefit you.

Know that here is a plethoria of (good and bad) information out there, but first and foremost you have to see a doctor if the pain is chronic OR severe (indicating injury or damage).

There are yoga poses to strengthen muscles to help with joint problems like arthritis and stenosis, but remember that range of motion may be limited so you have to be VERY aware of your own body and not push (but also know WHEN to give a little more effort).

There are yoga poses to stretch the muscles around the sore area (if there is an issue with tight and/or overused muscles).

And there are poses that do a little bit of both.

There needs to be some good body awareness for any of the remedies to help: for neck issues posture can be a huge component. Notice, do you thrust your chin out when sitting at a desk or driving or walking? Do you walk hunched over with rounded shoulders and head hanging? Small postural adjustments will do you a world of good but you need to be aware of the issues first and be willing to make conscious corrections until the good habits take over for bad.

As for sciatica, the terms usually refers to pain along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs out of the spine and down along the back of the pelvis to the back/side of the leg. It can go under, over or sometimes through the piriformis muscle, which means when that muscle contracts, it can press on the nerve.

Walking with the feet face out ("duck footed") is common when we lose our good posture and walking technique because the legs rotate OUT and this contracts the piriformis. Extreme sway back positions (lordosis) can strain the low spine and cause nerve discomfort. On the opposite note, the tail tucked under from squeeing the glutes can also compress the pirifomis.

Learning better techniques for posture, for standing, and especially walking properly, with the hips leading rather than the feet, or the chin, or shoulders, can help relieve strain on the neck, the low back and piriformis.

There are great stretches for the outer hips and low back too, but please know if your piriformis runs through the muscle rather than around it, some of the stretches might cause increased pain. For chronic pain and MRI might be helpful to determine appropriate course of action.

So, what is the bottom line? See a doctor if necessary - try different things, do really intentional self care, be aware of small changes, practice good posture, experiment a bit and don't give up. You'll find what works.

Good luck!