Inverted poses are important in Iyengar yoga. Senior practitioners often cite an inversion as their most essential pose. (Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) seems to be a favorite.) Can anyone do inversions? General contraindications include spinal disorders, hypertension, and glaucoma. Recently, however, I’ve met yoga students with glaucoma who … Continue reading Should you go upside-down if you have glaucoma?
At my sister’s home in Santa Cruz, I do a brief yoga practice before breakfast with my niece. In my bedroom, there are large mirrored closet doors. I typically face away from the mirrors. During my last trip, however, I ended up doing Sirsasana (headstand) facing the mirror. A sofa blocked my line of sight, so all I could see were my lower legs, from shins to toes. Believe it or not, that truncated view was nevertheless informative. I noticed that, while my big toes were joined, my anklebones were too far apart. Was I over-rotating my legs inward? Regardless, I appreciated seeing that cropped shot of my pose … Continue reading Yoga and mirrors: do they mix?
In early 2014, I strained a left hamstring muscle near the origin. Or an external rotator in the left hip. Or something. It snuck up on me. There was no acute injury. I simply noticed less range of motion (ROM) in straight-legged, forward-bending poses, marked … Continue reading Case study: hamstring strain (or something)
For my first six months of yoga classes, I used no props–at least what I now know as props. At the Berkeley RSF in the late 1990s, all we had were towels and padded gym mats (which did come in handy for kneeling). Eventually we got mats. But I didn’t try a block until I set foot in an actual yoga studio. In a year or two I began acquiring my own props. My first foam blocks were the dense, textured ones sold by Yoga Props, a longtime Internet retailer based in San Francisco. (I’ve never seen them sold elsewhere.) In classic black and with an un-scratchable … Continue reading The yoga block
I bumped into an old friend during my holiday trip to California. “Dylan” has always been an athlete, so I wasn’t surprised that he’s still avidly into hockey, skiing, and other sports. But I didn’t expect him to say, “And here’s one for you. I’m learning to play bluegrass banjo.” What? Is Dylan even musical? Anyway, he wanted a quality instrument, so he commissioned a Wildwood banjo. Now he’s learning a few bluegrass favorites, mostly on his own. “What about lessons?” I asked. “Right now, I need to get a feel for the instrument,” he said. “No one can really teach that. So every night, for a couple hours, I tool … Continue reading Learning on your own
A few months ago, one of my original yoga teachers, Donald Moyer, observed my Tadasana. Under his scrutiny, I tried extra hard to perfect my pose. To my surprise, he said, “You’re tucking your pelvis.” What? If left to its own devices, my body is overly mobile in the lumbar spine. I am a natural pelvic “tilter.” I typically get corrected for too much anterior tilt. Was I overcorrecting? Donald observed that I was clenching the gluteus maximus, i.e., buttocks, and the external hip rotators. He advised me to soften and spread instead–to correct excess tilt by lifting through the anterior vertebrae. (An aside: “buttocks” must be among the top 10 … Continue reading Pelvic tilt: how much is too much?
Recently a physiotherapist asked me to stand, feet apart, facing a mirror. When I did, she said, “Your feet are slightly turned inward.” In the mirror I saw my feet aligned in Tadasana. I then repositioned them to show my natural alignment, a bit more outwardly turned (yet still more or less parallel). That made me reconsider my Tadasana feet: To avoid excess turnout (a common misalignment), have I been overdoing it the opposite way? Determining whether feet are parallel requires observation of the “midline” of the foot–a line between the second and third toes to the mid heel. If your feet are narrow and oblong, both inner and outer … Continue reading Tadasana feet: what is parallel?
Flying into Hilo, my hometown, two weeks ago, I gazed out the airplane window. An endless, supersaturated palette of green, along the Hamakua Coast. While much of the world, including California (my subsequent stomping ground) is suffering from drought, Hilo has had over 12 inches of rain in the month of April alone. The aerial view was striking. What a vast bountiful island. So much undeveloped land. Still a chance not to ruin it. I thought to myself: I’m lucky to have grown up here. I didn’t always appreciate Hawai‘i, not enough anyway. One of my worst habits is not appreciating what I have–in the moment. Only afterward does it hit me. Maybe I … Continue reading Home practice in my hometown
Ever been injured in a yoga class? Chances are, we’ve all felt a twinge in one class or another. So, who’s at fault? The teacher? The student? Or are occasional tweaks simply part of being active and exploring our limits? Since William Broad began writing about yoga injuries in the New York Times, most fingers have been pointed at unqualified yoga teachers. Michaelle Edwards, founder of YogAlign, goes further, claiming that yoga injuries are prevalent because many poses are anatomically incompatible with the human body. This is a complex issue, too long for a blog post. A few thoughts for starters: Pain versus strong sensation In February, a few weeks … Continue reading Yoga injuries: who’s at fault?
Last summer, I resumed freestyle lap swimming after a hiatus. I’m purely a rec swimmer and will never be super fast, but I still want to cut my 1000-meter time, 25 minutes. “What’s a ‘decent’ 1000-meter swim time?” I asked my yoga student who does triathlons. Here’s her paraphrased answer: It depends. A fast swimmer will take 15 minutes or less. A slow swimmer will take 30 minutes or more. Most of us have a comfortable speed. Swimming is not like running (at least to me). The time difference between my fastest and slowest swims is about two minutes, but I … Continue reading Take it to the next level
A few years ago, I was walking along the seawall at Kitsilano Beach. There’s a segment where the seawall separates the path from a drop (Six feet? Eight feet?) to the beach below. A friend I’ll call MJ dared me to walk atop the seawall. It’s encouragingly over a foot wide. But would I risk toppling from a height greater than my own? “Hold my hand,” I said. “Then I’ll try it.” “That would be only for practice.” “You’ve got to be joking. No thanks!” At that moment, a man and his dog approached us from the opposite direction. The dog–a short-legged … Continue reading Yoga… and the rest of your life
Last month I found myself at YVR, awaiting a flight, oddly without anything to read. I skimmed the magazines and books, noting the jacked-up Canadian prices. Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club, which I recognized from a review, caught my eye. Flipping through the book, I saw a reference to Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, which I’d read in June. He’s one of my favorite authors so, on a whim, I bought Schwalbe’s memoir. It turned out to be a gem (definitely worth my $20). Schwalbe’s plot is driven by his mother’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but the … Continue reading Reading, doing yoga, and other “essential” activities