Category Archives: Yoga Practice

Do you really need a long practice (Part II)?

When I was in a yin teacher training with Sarah Powers, she recalled how Paul Grilley first started teaching yin yoga.  He was running classes that were over two hours long and wondered why he wasn’t getting a lot of students.  Who has the time?  Who makes the time?  Eventually classes became shorter and yin took off.  I always share this story in our teacher-training program because it highlights the fact that yoga needs to adapt to the needs to the student and most students don’t have 120 minutes to practice on a given day.

But think about it.  Two hours to immerse yourself in slow and methodical journey inwards in order to unwind seems like a true luxury.  Nowadays, if you want a two-hour or longer practice, you need to do back-to-back practices or take a workshop.   For most people, this is too great a time commitment and for yoga studios, there just are not enough students to fill the class.

In fact, the opposite is happening, as there is a growing trend of one-hour yoga classes and some shorter than that. As I wrote in my last blog, some studios are offering even shorter classes by either removing warm up periods or parts of sequences or the savasana at the end to cool down and reflect. You can only do so much in a one-hour class, especially if you want to include advanced poses that require more preparation.  These classes and studios always rubbed me as the wrong way to do it and I resisted.

But then I thought, “we’ve always offered one-hour classes at lunchtime.” But they were fixed sequences – a modified primary series from the Ashtanga school and a Spiritual Warrior from Jivamukti.  Both of these sequences have been practiced and tested for many years and they make sense.

I resisted adding more one-hour classes because I thought tradition dictated that both students and teachers needed more time to get the full effects of an asana practice.

And yet, in my personal practice, I didn’t always practice for 90 minutes or even 60 minute.  Most days I hit the mat early in the morning and sometimes I’ll practice a longer sequence and sometimes a shorter one (depending upon how my body feels, whether I was teaching that day, what time I started and how packed my day would be).  I would see how much time I have and then I would mentally construct a practice that made sense – whether that is 30 minutes or two hours.

So the issue wasn’t the length of the practice (although over time a 75 minute session allows for a more complete practice for intermediate and advanced students).  The issue is in the construction of the practice for whatever time was available and to make sure its well thought through and complete.

So, we are now creating classes for our community with the goal that every 60-minute offering includes all of the components of a longer class – no shortcuts allowed (be it adding high heat to emulate a warmed-up body, racing through the sequence to cram a lot of poses in or skipping savasana).  Each class is a complete practice with some moving at a faster pace for more advanced students and some with a more measured pace and fewer postures.

As noted in my previous blog, I believe it is more important to be consistent and practice more often with shorter sequences versus coming once a week to a longer one. Regardless of whether you prefer shorter or longer classes, any time on your mat is a good thing.

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Do you really need a long practice?

When I began practicing yoga back in 1994, most classes were pretty long. You would find the occasional one-hour class, but most traditional yoga centers offered primarily 90 minute classes.  More and more people are now doing yoga and shorter classes are on the rise, with some chains only exclusively one hour classes.  I’ve even seen a studio advertising asana classes as short as 25 minutes!

Does it matter how long you practice for?  Is a longer practice better?

In short, I don’t think so.  What you want is consistency.  Yoga is experential – you need to practice it to order to really learn it.   One of my teachers, Larry Schultz, used to advocate for a minimum daily requirement for asana practice – within an hour of waking up, get your mat and do a minimum of 10 minutes of yoga (he preferred 3-5 Sun Salutation A’s and 3-5 Sun Salutation B’s).  He believed that doing this 6 times a week was better and a one hour class once a week and I agree.  Learn a short sequence you can do at home and be consistent.

No matter how long you practice for, try as best as you can to be fully present.  Whenever you are on your mat, stayed focused on your practice.  Last time Ben Thomas was at Nandi, he said that it was his duty to give all the students there his full attention and he required theirs in return.  Set aside whatever tasks you need to complete or whatever burning issues you have on your plate and stay connected in body, breath and mind.  Notice the effects each pose has on your body so you can fine tune your practice to support what you need that day.

And remember, be compassionate and patient.  It takes time to develop strength, flexibility, proprioception, and awareness within the body (and mind) so be patient with yourself.

So, yes, do shorter practices if it means you practice more frequently.  In the long run, having this consistency combined with mindfulness and patience will serve you well.

What do you give up with a shorter practice if anything?

Some yoga styles require a greater time commitment as these classes are designed to help take the body deeper, whether it’s to relax and unwind fully in a restorative sequence or to prepare the body to do extremely challenging poses which often require more opened joints.  Furthermore, slower classes (which are often longer) can challenge the body in new ways – focusing on transitions using muscular engagement versus momentum.  So longer classes and even workshops have their place and it’s worth considering adding these to your schedule every once in a while (or more often should your schedule permit).

The key is practice so get out there and make it happen.

Mentee’s Inspiration: What Makes an Authentic Yoga Teacher at Nandi Intern Program

 

On my first day back at the studio after spending 3 weeks in beautiful Costa Rica, I had planned to simply observe my first class assisting as part of Nandi’s Intern Program (I had missed the most recent intern meeting and was not quite sure what to expect).  However, as soon as Deeb Qobti greeted me, he said, “ok you’re going to teach a 10 minute sequence today!” I remember gazing at him in shock and feeling the anxiety and fear creeping up my spine, as I clearly had not prepared for that.  A large part of me wanted to say no thanks, but the fact that he was confident in me and was offering me this incredible opportunity right off the bat convinced me otherwise.  Plus, I wanted to prove to him (and to myself) that I was up for the challenge!  So, I taught a sequence that we developed right before class, and even though I was nervous, I did pretty well, although I did forget a pose on one side. Being a self-critical perfectionist, I expressed to Deeb after class that I probably could have done better.  His response to me is something I will never forget, “it’s not about the poses; it’s about your energy and the smile on your face that makes you a great teacher.” Immediately, the self-deprecating voice in my head dissipated.  Those words were exactly what I needed to hear, and they epitomize why Deeb has been such a wonderful mentor to me. He constantly reminds me why I decided to become a yoga teacher in the first place.

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Deeb Qobti, Vinyasa Yoga Instructor hands-on assists in his Energetic Flow class at Nandi Yoga.

 

Nandi’s Intern Program has taught me the importance of being a nurturing, attentive, and supportive yoga teacher through hands-on assists.  Deeb’s approach, in particular, is about breathing and flowing in unison with the students.  It is about sharing the energy between teacher and student, using our touch to guide our connective energy through the fascia and the body’s energy channels. And of course, it is also about making the student feel good.  When Deeb adjusts a student, he instructs me to observe and then mimic his movements on another student nearby.  While I still don’t feel 100% confident giving students deep adjustments, I have definitely become more comfortable in my abilities because of Deeb’s style and encouragement.

Since my first class, Deeb has given me numerous opportunities to co-teach his sequences as well as teach some of my own.  Not only has this made me more confident in my own voice, it has also enhanced my skills (particularly in sequencing) as a yoga teacher.  My knowledge about the body’s anatomy and how to properly adjust students has also expanded, particularly because Deeb incorporates a lot of unique, fluid, and energizing poses and movements, not just your run of the mill asanas.  

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Energetic Flow students learn how to incorporate their breath throughout their poses and movements.

 

Every week I look forward to learning something new from Deeb.  Whether it’s a new pose or a new adjustment, I always leave class feeling inspired and more confident in my teaching capabilities.  This mentorship experience has already taught me so much about what it means to be an effective and authentic yoga teacher, and I am truly grateful to have such a supportive and inspiring teacher like Deeb as my mentor.

 

About Deeb Qobti

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Deeb began his yoga journey in 2008 after working as a contractor for over 20 years and hurting his back. He completed his Sri Yoga teacher training under the tutelage of Jean Mazzei and Brenna Geehan in 2011 and a six month internship at Nandi Yoga in 2012 which helped him further refine his teaching. Deeb has studied Tantra with Rajmani Tigunait and other styles at Nandi Yoga including Jivamukti and Ashtanga Vinyasa. Deeb believes if you change the mind, the body follows and if you change the body, the mind follows and integrates this approach of Krama Yoga (Yoga of Action) in every one of his classes.

Check-out Deeb’s full class schedule, and click here to sign-up!

– Celeste Wong, Mentee at Nandi Yoga’s Intern Program

Up Close with Tiffany Belzer from being a Mom, School Teacher, to Kids Yoga Instructor

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Just in time for National Children’s Day, we catch-up with Tiffany Belzer on her personal journey from being a mom, school teacher, to Kids Yoga instructor at Nandi. Her dedication inspires us in so many ways!

Nandi Staff: What are the three words would you use to describe your Kids Yoga journey/practice, and why?   

Tiffany Belzer: It’s more than three words but I go back to Pattabhi Jois and his quote which really sums it up for me, “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”  Everyday I teach, every class I teach, and I learn.  It’s the practice of teaching that continues to fuel my growth as teacher and as a person.  In Kids Yoga there is this ongoing dynamic interaction between the teacher and the students and the group as a whole.  No two classes are the same.  

NS: What do you want everyone to know about Kids Yoga, and any benefits it provide for children today?  

TB: I believe yoga is for all.  The benefits adults enjoy from yoga are there for younger students as well.  What is really powerful for children doing yoga is that they are learning to breathe with awareness and move their bodies building flexibility, strength and balance as their brains and bodies are still developing.  Kids in my classes learn that by stopping and focusing on their breath they calm down their minds and make better decisions.  I wish I’d learned that as a child, don’t you?

NS: Who was your inspiration in starting your Kids yoga journey? Please explain and share any previous stories from your personal experiences.

TB: Prior to being a yoga instructor I was an elementary school teacher.  I left teaching when I became a mom in 2000 and it was in those years at home raising my children that I discovered yoga. For me the benefits of yoga were life changing. Being a stay at home mom with two young children is challenging.  The days I practiced yoga I noticed that I was more patient, calm and had more energy.  I credit my children with bringing yoga into my life.   I completed my Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training in 2006 and signed up shortly after for a kids training.  I had spent most of my adult life working with children so it was a natural next step.  

NS: What kept you to continue in teaching Kids Yoga, and building a community at Nandi?

TB: From the beginning Wendy (Nandi’s Owner) wanted the studio to be a place that would welcome kids and families.  In addition to the several options of yoga for adults she envisioned multiple classes for kids from toddlers to teens, including family yoga, prenatal and mom & baby classes.  Being an experienced Kids Yoga teacher I was thrilled to have the opportunity to build the program in this supportive environment.  Most yoga studios don’t have options for kids and if they do there might be one or two classes but they aren’t the heart of the studio.  

NS: What’s next on your horizon that we should know about?

TB: I’ll be leading a Yoga for Kids Teacher Training at Nandi this August 6-7, 2016. More details to follow on the website as the date gets near. This training is designed for yoga teachers and classroom teachers who want to teach yoga to kids. The world needs more Kids Yoga teachers!  I currently work as a Health and Wellness Instructor in a public elementary school in East Palo Alto, California.  What’s exciting is that we’re bringing yoga practices in to the schools and teaching students who otherwise might not have the opportunity.

 

About Tiffany Belzer

Prior to Tiffany’s yoga journey, she spent over 10 years teaching in preschools and as an elementary school teacher.  After becoming a mom in 2000, she left the classroom to be with her children. During this time, she discovered yoga. 

She was Yoga Alliance certified in E-RYT 200 and RCYT. She had received her teacher training at Its Yoga, San Francisco in Ashtanga Vinyasa with Larry Schultz in 2006.  In order to expand her skills to teach yoga to children, she went on to be trained at Its Yoga, Kids. In the past 8+ years, she has taught yoga to children, adults and families throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

In addition, Tiffany’s yoga philosophy directly transcends into her teaching style: live, love, and shine your light. Her own experiences as a mother led to yoga for the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the practice.  She believes it is through the familial relationships that we receive continual opportunities for growth.   She strives to provide a space where children and families are able to playfully connect in a stress-free environment, and enjoying the beautiful practice of yoga.

Contact Tiffany: itsyogatiffany@comcast.net

Follow on Facebook: www.facebook.com/YogaTiffany

Asana of the Week: Restorative

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As our body and mind relax, literally becoming softer, we create space to get in touch again with our natural qualities of compassion and understanding of others and self.

Benefits of Restorative Yoga: 

  • Deeply relaxes the body
  • Enhances flexibility
  • Enhances tranquil mood
  • Improves capacity for healing and balancing
  • Balances the nervous system
  • Boosts the immune system

Looking into the Lens of Restorative Yoga: Peace of Mind, Body and Spirit

 

I had been teaching Yin and Hatha yoga for some time before I decided to study under Judith H. Lasater, considered by many to be one of the masters of this style.  Her words and books really resonated with me but when I sought her out, her tranquil zen space really got me hooked.   It’s like floating on clouds while still connecting with everyone in the class.

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Judith is masterful in holding the space for her students and her dialogue, well rooted in yoga philosophy and human anatomy, is accessible to all.  I find her Sangha intellectually stimulating while very peaceful and joyful and I hope to spread that peace of mind, body and spirit with humble sense of service. From the very first class I attended as a very Stressed out Cal student years ago, I am drawn to therapeutic aspect of yoga and for that reason I have returned to school for advanced certification in yoga therapy. It’s exciting to engage in deeper learning so that I may be of better service.  

 

– Kay Tsuyama, Restortive Yoga Instructor

First Yoga Lesson

My first introduction to yoga was 50 years ago. It was not the enlightening experience you might expect, though it was quite revealing.  I came across a Yoga paperback. The guy in the front cover was really good shape. It was difficult for a skinny wimp of a teenager like myself to believe that these static poses could take me part way towards the next Spiderman, but in my adolescent years I was willing to give anything a shot.  

Naively I decide to go all in. What to wear? From the pictures it seems I should be wearing something that looks like a giant diaper. We didn’t have any white towels at home, so I took our largest bath towel, it was blue with a large kingfisher print. I fashioned something close to the pictures in the book. Actually it looks more like I have strapped a flock of unwilling seabirds loosely around my middle.  It doesn’t feel particularly secure either but no problem, I have the house to myself.

Stripped down to the bare essentials I prepare for my first pose

“It is possible to enter Vīrabhadrāsana using vinyasas starting from either Adho Mukha Śvānāsana or from Tāḍāsana.”

Wait what?  I thumb through to the index to look up 4 words in sanskrit to figure out where I am going to start. Got it  Tāḍāsana  means stand up.  It sounds simple enough but check out Wikipedia for 3-4 pages on how yogis stand up at the front of their mat. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

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Continuing from the book with Warrior I:

  1. The arms are stretched up, palm touching.

  2. Inhaling spread the legs sideways by jumping or stepping, creating a gap of ⅔ body height.

⅔ of body height.  Is that important? What is ⅔ of 5ft 8 inches?  Clutching the paperback in my teeth I reach for my slide rule and tape measure.

  1. Exhaling turn the trunk facing to the left while rotating the left foot 90° so it faces forward and the right foot so it points slightly to the right.

The left foot has to be precisely 90°, “where is my set square”.  The right foot slightly right? What does that mean?  15°, 25°  I have a protractor. I could use that if the instructions were clearer. Why were the instruction so precise for the left foot and all sloppy for the right?

  1. Bend the left knee till the thigh is parallel to the floor, avoid extending the bent knee past the ankle and keeping the other leg straight.

Balancing Dad’s spirit level on my left thigh I start to feel warrior one. But I am still not clear on the other leg, should it be straight or not. There are two ways to read instruction 4.

There are 10 more instruction to complete the pose and the clue is buried in them “the knee is locked.”

Side note never lock your knee out in any pose, whatever the book says.

Continuing – Looking up seems important too but how then to read the rest of the instructions.  I build a simple device. In the days before selfie sticks, it’s a spatula and some well positioned duck tape. Now I can have the book in front of me by holding the spatula between my teeth. I resume my warrior I reading the further instructions while in the pose. As I reach up with my hands my kingfisher diaper feels like it is trying to escape. One false move and I am in trouble, but I persevere with the pose.  We have net curtains at the windows and everyone is out.

Semi-naked in the middle of our lounge , spirit level balanced on one thigh, slide rule in hand and tape measure extended across the floor and spatula clutched between my teeth I look up and pause for “1 to 4 breaths.” Well is it 1 or is it 4 there is a big difference.  I take a deep breath anticipating enlightenment.

The door bursts open, Mum and Dad rush in. They are back unexpectedly early as mum is not feeling well. I freeze and look over in horror. With a gentle thunk the kingfishers successfully make their bid for freedom.

I did not practice yoga for a few years after that.

The book is, I suspect, long gone and until google offers “search from images in your mind” I doubt I can find it as I have no idea of the title or author.  

Today of course there are plenty of online resources to explain the poses. The instructions I used above were actually from Wikipedia. The collective wisdom of the crowd came up with that version of Warrior I.

There are lots of approaches out there.   For the doctoral candidate with a minor in geometry how about the Yoga Journal style

“Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor (and parallel to each other), and reach actively through the little-finger sides of the hands toward the ceiling. Firm your scapulas against your back and draw them down toward the coccyx”  – Yoga Journal.com

My first lesson was simple – Learning Yoga from a book is hard, very hard. Actually I think it’s impossible.

Like so many other things you can’t learn Yoga by reading about it.  There are too many small adjustments and correction that just make written descriptions impossible to remember, follow or appreciate. Most of these refinements make no sense until you have been working on the basics of the pose for a while anyway. Instructions talk of 90 degree angles with an authority that would humble a guru.  Only advanced yogis get to 90 degrees in most poses.  The rest of us are somewhere on the way towards 45 degrees and happy right there. In complete contradiction other instructions are sloppy, “turn your back foot in slightly” . Why does one foot matter and not the other? What is important?  And that fundamental question “Am I doing it right?”  only an instructor can tell you these things because everyone is different and every pose is unique to them.

The knowledge passed down for 5,000 years has stood the test of time. Learn from an instructor, one that you like and resonate with, and use books for reference. Nothing has changed in 5,000 years though the western world is trying hard to do that with science and marketing.  Not everything new is an improvement.  That said I do appreciate 21st century yoga clothing. After my first experience with Yoga, to this day,  I have not taken as much as my shirt off in a yoga class.

– Clive Beavis, Vinyasa Yoga Instructor