Getting the Full Effect

If you’ve ever tended a garden in the middle of a dry summer, you likely understand how important it is to be thorough with the watering.

When the ground is parched, an incomplete irrigation won’t saturate the soil, which causes roots to grow ever further afield in search of water, stressing the plants. On the other hand, when the soil is fully hydrated, the effect on plants is obvious. They practically glow with satisfaction.

Doing yoga is a bit like watering a garden. If a practice happens here or there, the effects are unlikely to penetrate in the ways that are most supportive.

Of course, what constitutes a thorough, satisfying practice will be different for different people, just as sweet potatoes, corn, and melons all need different amounts of water.

For some, one yoga class per week plus a bit of  practice at home provides valuable and sufficient effect. Other people feel the need for more.

Whatever your current level of practice, it’s worth taking the time to consider, are the effects of your practice penetrating in a way that feels fully satisfying?

If the answer to this question is no, maybe, or not sure, the Spring Intensive could be just the thing to help you gather and receive the deeper effects of a yoga practice. And because it’s three days, rather than the full week of the summer and winter courses, it offers a manageable step up if you are accustomed to attending a studio class or two every week.

Come and quench that thirst. Give yourself some nourishment. Have a look here.

Umm… isn’t that a bit much yoga?

So just as plants can get over-watered, can there be too much yoga? Eleven hours of yoga in three days seems to be a lot.

As I mentioned in the last post, this is a really common question. It helps to understand that we don’t spend the entire intensive doing the most challenging poses possible. That would bun people out.

Instead, the intensive provides a balance of active, meditative and restorative practice. This allows students to fully engage with the practice without generating aggravation or strain. It lets people address a broader spectrum of needs and encourages a full immersion.

Often plants can use a deep watering that really saturates them– maybe you do as well? Take a look for yourself. You can jump in with us or ask any question you may have.

Wishing you well as the weather warms up.

Eric

 

My Introduction to the Alexander Technique

by Jim Froelich

I studied viola in college, and it was there that I met an Israeli violinist who was one of the best string players at the school. He was also an excellent tennis player.

He and I lived in the same boarding house, and I would hear him pick up his violin in the morning and play phrases beautifully and easily, without warming up. It felt like the sun rising.

He mentioned that he had spent time training to teach something called the Alexander Technique. He told us it was a method for doing things more easily. Based on hearing and seeing him play, there was something to this.

While this violinist was a very free and natural player, he hadn’t always been. He talked about his previous struggles: he had asked his teacher how to improve faster, and was told to practice more. He had followed this advice but it hadn’t helped much–in fact, he just felt fatigued.

More Ease

Then he encountered the Alexander Technique, and it transformed his life. His playing improved “on its own” without overwork, and he enjoyed playing more, with less effort.

Interestingly, this technique was not only applicable to music.  He also spoke of tennis shots that he could now return that he previously couldn’t reach.

This young man went on to have a busy performing career.

A Significant Impression

He must have made a real impression on me, because after I transferred to a different school, I perked up whenever I heard this Alexander Technique mentioned, which led me to take Alexander lessons with different teachers. Eventually, I became a teacher myself.

Before starting the Alexander work, I played viola with what I would now call a pressed sound. I was trying to push my way through difficult passages (without fully realizing I was doing this). I was forcing the actions of both my bowing and fingering hands.

I had studied for many years with a viola teacher who played well and emphasized the importance of working harder, even when fatigued. Finally I seemed to exhaust the possibility to improve.

But when I took Alexander lessons, my playing underwent a shift, and I seemed to be able to learn a level of playing that I could not otherwise attain. Fortunately, this time coincided with finding teachers whose approach complemented the Alexander work. My sound became more round and full, and the movements of playing flowed better, and were easier.

In my orchestra work I could stay aware of more things in the moment: hearing my playing, hearing the section and larger groups, seeing the conductor, and adjusting as needed.

Not So Nervous

I was also less bothered by nervousness in performing. The sense of flexible control in my playing had increased greatly.

The lessons in the Alexander work had other benefits as well. I had more energy in general and better stamina, and I slept more soundly.

I have seen similar kinds of improvements in students who have studied with me.

Recently I heard a  student reflect on the benefits of the Alexander Technique. One major problem he described was fear of performing. He also felt confusion about the presence of pain and discomfort: why it was there, and what to do about it.

Finding Solutions

The student said several solutions developed from lessons. He gained awareness of unhelpful and restrictive habits of movement and thinking, and lost his fear of performing, while learning to be more playful about it.

This student had taken only five lessons when this conversation occurred.  I have seen many people benefit similarly.

I sometimes start a lesson by asking what the student would like to do with less pain, better focus, and greater ease. It could be a simple activity such as walking, sitting without discomfort, or moving with more freedom.

Or it could be something more involved such as speaking in public, playing a concerto, or performing a dance on stage.

If you have anything like this that you’d like to look at, consider joining us at Solaluna for the Alexander Technique classes we have coming up at 3:00 PM on Saturday, Feb. 28.

Meditation for Tenacious Thoughts

This week we have a free audio recording for you: a meditation that’s helpful for focusing attention and letting go of distracting thoughts.

The Antidote to Perfectionism

by Chelsea Doohan

Are you a perfectionist? Do you know one?

Do you struggle with self criticism or beat yourself up over things big and small?

Do you get tired of telling a friend or partner that they are okay, that they are good enough?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be interested in some tools that yoga and Buddhism have to offer, tools are available to you even if you are not a Buddhist or a yogi.

If you are not a perfectionist, you probably know one.  And if you work with one or live with one, you feel and deal with the effects of the perfectionism, even when it is not your own.  Either way, could you use something to soften the sharp edges of perfectionism?

Take this from a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist: If there is an antidote to perfectionism, it is metta.  

The translation of metta says most–if not all–of what you need to know about it: it is loving-kindness or loving-friendliness.

I remember sitting in a corner of the big studio at Solaluna one evening when I first learned about metta.  The instructor led us in silently saying to ourselves phrases like “May I be well” and “May I be happy.”

For this conservatory student, accustomed to rigorous discipline and unforgiving self-criticism, the idea seemed almost alien.  Sure, I was used to being kind to others, but to myself?!  My mind revolted… There were self improvements to be made!  Shortcomings to overcome!  Deficits to make up for!

Saying kind things to myself was so radical compared to what I was used to, I ended up weeping that day.

But interestingly, this experience wasn’t a put-off.  Rather, I felt strangely opened, almost cleansed by the experience.  And I wanted to explore it more.

Practicing metta over time has revolutionized my relationship with myself, and if you struggle with perfectionism, it might do the same for you.

Metta comes from the Pali word for friend.  My guess is that you know how to direct love and friendliness to your friends.  You tell your loved ones how you feel about them, you wish the best for friends, you are probably exceedingly kind to animals, etc.  You can start your practice by recognizing that you already have metta inside you.  For some of us, the tricky thing is directing to ourselves.

Below I share a practice that can help you cultivate the same kindness towards yourself that you already give to others.  Try it out, or share it with the perfectionist in your life…

Start Small.

If your initial experiences are anything like mine, it might be a tall order to fully accept yourself with complete kindness.  That’s hard for almost everybody!  A lot of complications can arise from trying the wholesale approach, so start small and start simple.

Choose one part of yourself.

Gently offer metta to your bones, to your breath, or to your blood.  Or you could try sending metta to a body part like a “bum knee”.  Alternatively, you could give metta to a psychological part of yourself, like the voice of criticism.  You might imagine it like the voice of a person who is hard-edged but will soften a bit when shown kindness.

Use Simple Phrases.

These are some of my favorites:

          “May I be well.”

          “May I be happy.”

          “May I be free from suffering.”

There is no rule about sticking to these phrases exclusively.  If other phrases come to you, use them!

Take It into Your Life

You can try out these phrases while you are lying in bed before sleep or in the quiet moments of morning.  If you have a meditation or yoga practice, that is a great space for metta.  There are infinite opportunities to practice, including while driving, riding the bus, walking, running, waiting in line, etc.

In Oberlin right now, there are a number of ways you can get support and instruction in metta.  First, there is an eight-week course in Mindful Self Compassion at Solaluna taught by Martin Thomson-Jones.  For more information, go here.

If your schedule doesn’t allow for the eight-week commitment, there is also a weekly metta meditation at Solaluna on Mondays at 8:30 PM, which uses a drop-in, pay-what-you-can class structure.  There you can benefit from some instruction if you are new to the practice, and everyone can participate in the group sit, which is followed by questions and discussion.  No matter your experience level, you can always benefit from building community and support around your meditation practice.

You can also get a taste of metta in many of the yoga classes at Solaluna.  Metta is an essential component of Simple Yoga, and Audrey also uses it in her classes.  By including such practices, we at Solaluna want your experience in class to be nourishing to your whole self, so that you are practicing more than just physical exercise.  Our hope is that we can help you toward a state of larger kindness, one that includes yourself in the breadth of its circle.

The Yoga of Making Your Bed

by Chelsea Doohan

Do you make your bed?

As someone who has never been a habitual bed maker, I would like to think that it counts for absolutely nothing.

And at the same time, I recently began to suspect that my unmade bed was contributing–albeit in a small way–to a larger sense of messiness in my life.

I have tried to get into the habit of making my bed before, but in the past when I did so, I always focused on what was difficult about it.

“I’m not a morning person, I feel so tired in the morning….” Or I would fool myself into thinking that I would come back later and do it, once I wasn’t so tired… and I never did.

I told myself I really, really ought to do it… but I usually didn’t. And I would get down on myself because I wasn’t doing something I felt like I should do. Ultimately, I gave up.

But recently, after years of not making my bed, I was turning over a new leaf in other aspects of my life, and I decided to try again.

This time, I saw it as an experiment and a small game. It was less about “I MUST do this” and more about “What might happen if I do?” I see a crucial difference between the two. When I approached bed-making with the former attitude, it simply didn’t get done.

You probably know where this is going…. When I approached it with the latter attitude, I actually began to form a new habit!

I love my new routine. I get a little reward at the end of the day, when I go to my bed and it is tidy and ready for me to climb in. I feel calmer. I feel just a little bit more settled in my life and my space. And I feel a small empowerment knowing that I made that change, I decided to do it, and I followed through. And it took–literally–less than thirty seconds a day.

How does this relate to yoga?

Simple Yoga was developed out of the observation that small, simple things can make a big difference. This is true on and off the yoga mat.

Small, simple actions that lead to big changes go hand in hand with another principle of Simple Yoga, and that is curiosity.

Curiosity creates the best conditions for learning. When I adopted the “What would happen if…” attitude towards making my bed, I was able to learn a new behavior that stuck.

On the yoga mat, the combination of small actions and curiosity can lead your practice along. Following those things, and letting them be the backbone of the practice, makes both burnout and apathy less likely.

For example, if there is a pose that you always struggle with in class, it is very likely that you don’t practice it at home. But what if curiosity took over and you wondered… “What would happen if I practiced this pose at home, in between classes I attend?”

Using the principle of small, simple actions, you could commit to doing that pose every other day for a week. Nothing but that. It would take five minutes–at most–four times a week, so it’s less than twenty minutes out of your week. (That’s about the length of a sitcom minus commercials.)

Do this for a week or two, and I’d be willing to bet there would be some changes.

Five minutes of yoga every other day may not seem like much, but it can grow into something more, especially when combined with going to classes and using the Simple Yoga approach in your everyday life off the mat.

Remember that these structures that we set up are little games. They can be silly, goofy, or dorky. Sometimes when I am in my morning stupor, stumbling around, clumsily making my bed, I laugh and make self-deprecating (and kind) jokes to myself.

Similarly, on the yoga mat, I generally laugh when I fall out of a yoga pose. If I don’t laugh, I try to readjust my attitude… Because people falling down is just funny! And I am no exception.

Whether it is a yoga pose you want to work on or a problem in your personal life (just remember to start small), you can begin to approach it in this way by asking “What would happen if…?” Then, use small actions and curiosity to guide you along. Pick a game. Go and play it.

Simple Breath Exploration

This week’s audio offering is a breath practice that helps people assess how much effort they put into breathing. It also explores different lengths of inhalation and exhalation. Enjoy!

 

Insight on the Shoulders

Shoulder Insights

Today we have an audio exploration that investigates movements of the shoulder blades.

Awareness of the different ways the shoulders can move is essential to freedom and mobility in the upper body. It’s also vital vital for maintaining strength and stability.

This inquiry brings particular attention to the relationship between shoulder movement and arm rotation, which is a necessary skill in asana practice (and handy for life in general).

Just click on the image to listen.

A New Way to Pay!

Hello everyone,

We are excited to announce a new payment option that replaces the $15 drop-in. We think it will be an appealing alternative for a number of our students.

For individual classes, we are shifting to a pay-what-you-can system. This means that people can determine an amount to pay for a class based on what they can afford and what the class is worth to them.

10- and 15-class packages will continue to be available for those of you who find it convenient to purchase classes ahead of time. As of this writing, we will no longer offer any 6-class blocks.

At the beginning of October, we will likely consolidate our payment options further, but we want to see how things progress before deciding what changes to make. As part of this process, we welcome your input.

Whatever additional changes we make, you can be certain that we’re committed to this new donation option, and we will also continue to offer packages of 10 and 15 classes.

Effective, Now

If you’d like to pay for class by donation, you can start doing it now, or at any point going forward. You can purchase a class this way whether you attend Solaluna on a frequent or infrequent basis.

Teachers and staff have begun announcing the change during classes. This email is a chance to get the word out to more people and give a fuller explanation of our reasons for doing this.

The Main Reason

At the most basic level, we see this as a more effective way to support and express some of our most basic values.

In particular, we want our classes to be accessible, regardless of people’s financial circumstances. We also want to see Solaluna thrive financially, and we believe that this system offers the best way to accomplish both of these objectives. Here are a few factors that we see as essential to succeeding with this:

First, there are yoga studios and other businesses that have prospered using a donation-based payment structure. We’ve studied several of them and have utilized elements from different systems with the basic intent to create a structure that works here for Oberlin and the surrounding area.

Second, we have a solid and loyal community of people who support Solaluna, who appear to be receptive to the intent of this change. As we’ve communicated our plans to staff, teachers and students, the response has been enthusiastic and encouraging.

Finally, for this to work well, it’s essential that people have a framework for choosing what amount to pay. We have a clear process in place for this.

The main reason for a framework is to communicate the needs of all parties in the exchange. The framework defines the conditions that will allow students, teachers and the studio to mutually benefit.

Our structure for determining what to give is simple and flexible. It balances the needs of students and teachers. It involves three basic pieces of information:

  1. Consider what you can afford.

  2. Consider the value of the class to you.

  3. Consider the teacher’s time and energy.

If what you can afford is a determining factor, give more weight to that in making your decision. If the affordability of the class is less an issue or not an issue, give more weight to the other factors.

More Awareness

One of the main reasons we are enthusiastic about making this change is that it invites awareness into a monetary exchange. It moves away from buying a thing as a commodity and toward mindfulness of the exchange as a relationship.

This supports the possibility that paying for a yoga class can itself be an aware act, a kind of yoga.

Now for the Nuts and Bolts

When you attend a class, if you choose to utilize the donation option, you can write a “P” to the left of your name on the class sign-in sheet at the desk. This just lets us be clear with who is using a class block and who is doing a donation.

There is one donation box located at the desk and another in the southeast corner of the big studio. Your donation may be placed in either of these boxes. No one but you will know what you pay unless you write a check or audibly count your money before depositing it into the box.

That’s all there is to it!

One final note: in addition to classes, we will be extending the Pay What You Can option to workshops and intensives. What’s involved for those events is a bit different compared with classes, and we’ll be rolling that out soon. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the new system, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Easy Steps to Reducing Strain

by Jim Froelich

I once worked with a very good clarinet player practicing a very difficult piece of music. He was convinced it was especially hard. Every time he got to the most difficult section, it was as though he thought, “here comes the really hard part.”

But when he gave up trying too hard, he was able to manage the difficulties much better. It was a difference between struggling to play well and just playing. This got him over the hurdle, and then he could approach it this way, on his own, every time he played it.  

Performing an activity, musical or not, can introduce difficulties. Today I’d like to outline a few simple steps used in the Alexander Technique to help help reduce mental and physical strain. These are things you can learn to do on your own. 

The first step we’ll look at is thinking of an activity that you find difficult.

Does just thinking about it introduce any change in your tension, state of mind, or both? If there is a change, is that something you already knew, or is it a new discovery? 

Now actually do the difficult activity. Do you notice any of the same changes that happened when you first thought of the activity? Did you find it was hard to notice this in the middle of the doing? 

Let me add a more specific approach that I call “the easy drill” (borrowed from a teacher named David Gorman). The reason this works well is that people often respond to a difficult task with their whole being, adding tension of which they’re unaware. The “easy drill” invites a different response. 

You can look at this in activity, and it is fruitful to explore it in your yoga practice. You can also use it with more routine tasks such as such as cleaning or sitting for a period of time. The gist of this is, if you approach a task thinking, “this is going to be hard,” your system complies and makes it tough.  

So let’s work with a thing that’s hard to do. Take a small bit of it, and do it as easily as possible. But be willing to give up for now other things you want to happen. 

For a musician, for instance, you may want to have good tone, accurate pitch, correct rhythm, have the  notes be clear…the list can be long!

For someone doing yoga, it could be about remaining stable, increasing strength and flexibility, or looking good or “correct” in the pose.

Now, use common sense and be safe (you don’t want to give up looking where you’re going if you’re driving), but be willing to give up anything you feel you “have to” do, even big obvious things, in order to practice easiness first, before the other aspects. 

After you do this, add in other aspects one at a time, without sacrificing the ease. Go back to just doing the activity easily if other aspects affect this.

You may notice ways of thinking that influence your success. In the case of the clarinet player mentioned earlier, notice that trying could mean (or feel like): this thing I’m trying to do is hard, and will take much effort.

Someone could get into a spiral of using more effort to perform an already effortful task, making it harder and harder. 

To quote Yoda addressing Luke Skywalker, “Don’t try, do.”

The Alexander Technique helps people gain awareness and free themselves from unneeded tension, which affects their ability to work and be at their best. This tension is usually part of a larger pattern of the whole self, a combination of thought, perception, physical sensation, emotion, and other aspects of one’s whole experience. 

Another way to address tension is to seek the guidance of a teacher who can help you notice if anything in your approach impairs your ability to perform a task well. Then the teacher can show you how to restore your natural ability to work with ease.

At Solaluna we are scheduling a series of Alexander Technique classes, beginning with a free class Monday September 15, from 7:00 to 8:15 PM.  Four more classes will follow on September 22, 29, October 6, and 13.

In the class we’ll look at features of general movement and invite you to bring any activity that you wish to explore.

Thoughts (and Yoga) on Labor Day

Labor Day in America is a really strange thing.

A holiday recognizing workers gets a little weird when it’s framed more as the last gasp of summer, the beginning of school, the revving up of the National Football League, a chance to sell a lot of stuff, and an opportunity to serve a bunch of food.

Which all means that a big chunk of the working population works on Labor Day.

Describing the holiday this way might put the whole thing in a discouraging light, but it offers a shift of perspective back to the original idea of Labor Day. It’s a reminder to honor, consider, and be aware of the state of workers in America.

Of course people of different political persuasions will view this issue in different ways and will come up with very different answers as to the health and rights and strength of the American work force.

Here I’m less concerned with that broader political back-and-forth. What I can write about is what I see on the ground level, with people’s bodies and hearts and minds.

Work is such an important thing in the way it can give people structure, dignity and a sense of accomplishment.

In my job as a yoga teacher though, I get a close view of the struggles of work, the tangled parts of work that cause pain and suffering.

This is certainly the case for people who have to work in jobs they don’t like (and it’s magnified with people looking for a job), but I find there’s a lot of struggle around work even among people who love what they do.

That being the case, this piece could neatly button itself up with a conclusion along the lines of: “Work in today’s modern society is really hard and yoga can really help you. Don’t forget to come to yoga class.”

Certainly, I don’t disagree with this. Yoga can truly help to mitigate the slings and arrows of one’s work life. This is sometimes as far as it’s taken, but I think yoga can offer more than 5 poses you can do to deal with your shitty job.

If the relationship of a yoga practice to a job is that it only soothes the hurts, it might be tempting to just keep going along with what doesn’t work with work.

Yoga has much to offer to a person’s greater relationship with work because it is essentially a way to be more awake and aware, more deeply true to oneself.

Honoring that awareness might mean in one instance that a person maintains the fortitude to stay in an unfulfilling job for some time because it is clearly the available option that puts food on the table and pays the bills. In another instance, that awareness might reveal a possibility to do something different.

What’s more, the awakening that yoga inspires is of a piece with honoring work that is done, recognizing the energy that’s put into work, and having the presence of mind to lessen the suffering of others when it’s within one’s power to do so.

The forces at play that shape the distribution of income and labor are huge and overwhelming. My experience with yoga is that it can offer a way to live within those overwhelming, sometimes discouraging forces and stay open, stay available, while at the same time being able to question and probe and do what’s possible.

……………………

The other thing about yoga and work is that asana itself can be work (it’s also play, but that’s for another bit of writing). It’s work you can do for free if you have a personal practice. Or you can attend a class and pay someone to guide your work. Good deal, huh?

There’s a reason that it’s worth paying for: it helps people become more resilient to stress. Asana is itself a kind of useful stress that can help people become more adaptable to other stresses.

One of the key factors for this to be effective is that the work of asana is not wholly about quantity. That is, working more in an asana does not necessarily make a person more resilient. Working more than necessary can in fact burn a person out.

Instead, it is about learning to discern how much work, how much energy is appropriate. It’s about working with clarity and coordination.

This increased resilience and awareness can offer some very real benefits in relation to work. Especially when a job is very stressful, mitigating the challenges of work may be much of what the practice supports. This falls under the yogic precept of ahimsa, non-harming.

At the same time, as a person has a clearer sense of ahimsa for themselves, it can be extended to others.

It is in this spirit that right now I am thinking about all the varieties of work in this crazy world and all the people who work. I am thinking about people doing work that’s mundane, inspiring, pointless, nourishing, life-saving, dangerous, physically taxing, and mentally demanding. There’s so much work in the world, and so much joy and suffering that results from it.

Let this be a small offering to recognize the struggles and the fruits of work.

Let this be a small offering to honor work and workers.

namaste.