Saturday, July 13, 2013

Third Post of Yoga Recommendations for the Beginner

This is the third in a series of posts in which I share my recommendations for yoga resources, including dvds, books, and cds.  You can find the first post here and the second one here.  Before I dig back into my personal preferences, I wanted to urge you, dear reader, to go to your local public library and see what yoga resources they have available to borrow.  One of my favorite yoga dvds, which I review in this post, was discovered in this way.  If your library is very limited in the variety of what's offered, ask friends and family if they have any old yoga dvds you can borrow.  If you have a working vcr, you may find some people willing to just give away what they have.  Also, check your local thrift stores and neighborhood garage sales.  While I don't encourage anyone to accumulate a lot of dvds and such, I know it's hard to resist the temptation.  (In writing this post, in particular, I realized that I would like to add a few of these dvds to my personal library.  Or at least try them on for size.)

Don't get too caught up in having it all.  For me, the goal is quality over quantity.  I would rather have a few perfect-for-me practices that I do joyfully than a lot of not-quite-right ones.  Hopefully some of my recommendations will prove to be perfect for you as well.

Yoga Zone:  Introduction to Yoga with Alan Finger

This practice is as gentle and ideal for a beginner.  In fact, Finger has a set of dvds for beginners but I've only seen this one and cannot comment on the others.  This 55 minute practice is mostly seated and one of the women uses modifications, including a strap and blanket.  There are some balancing poses which can be challenging.  There is a lot of emphasis on form, which is always a lovely thing.  I can't say it often enough--it is better to explore a pose in comfort than push yourself deeper and risk injury.  This practice will allow you the space to explore your body without hurting yourself.

Chakra Balancing Yoga with Sharon Cannon

Now I'm introducing a dvd that gets a little into the philosophy that is the foundation for yoga as a form of energy healing.  The instruction is gentle and focused on how each pose benefits the body on a more subtle level.  It's easy to see, or feel, how tree pose helps with balance but it also helps with the "root chakra" so it not only benefits balance in the physical body but helps you feel grounded and balanced emotionally as well. There is some chanting on this dvd, which may feel strange to some.  I consider it an invitation to explore yoga in yet another manner. We know that there are different ways of learning; some people are visual learners, others tactile, and still others audio.  Chanting brings in this last element and you may find yourself responding to your practice in a deeper way with this lovely dvd.

Trance Dance Yoga with Shiva Rea

I adore this dvd!  I borrowed it from the library and kept borrowing it until Rob, tired of going to the library for it, bought me a copy.  Shiva Rea is gorgeous to watch and this practice is both traditional and unique.  For instance, she does what she calls a "serpentine cobra" which includes rolling the shoulders and upper back, which really opens up the chest, strengthens the arms, and feels like a shoulder massage all at once.  Furthermore, the dvd production is brilliant!  I cannot emphasize this enough:  more yoga and exercise dvds should be designed the way this one is.  The dvd is broken down into segments that include yoga practices and trance dance sequences.  You can literally create your own yoga experience or use one of the pre-set practices.  If you want to do only yoga, you can choose from the matrix which of the yoga practices you want to do.  You can make a short practice with only two or three short sections or develop a longer one by simply layering one sequence after another after another.  If you want a high energy practice, you can select the parts that are most dynamic or, if you need to keep things mellow, you can skip those in favor of the others.  The flexibility of how one can use this dvd is brilliant!  There is also a cd available for when you do not want to use a dvd or cannot.  The yoga practice is not identical to the dvd but it is still very good.  However, if you still consider yourself a mostly inflexible beginner, this dvd and especially the cd may be a bit too much.  Let's say that this is for the advanced beginner who is moving into being an intermediate practice. Or at least ready to do so.

The Heart of Yoga by T K V Desikachar

There comes a point where most people who take yoga classes and/or use yoga dvds at home feel a desire to explore yoga in their own way.  This book is the one that was recommended to me time and time again, along with Iyengar's Light on Yoga.  I'm glad I chose to buy this book rather the other.  Desikachar does a beautiful job of explaining the philosophy of yoga before detailing how to create a personal yoga practice.  For instance, when doing a warrior pose, one usually starts with one leg forward, typically the right, before repeating the same pose with the other leg forward.  That kind of balance is obvious.  But, as he explains, when you do a pose that opens the chest, like cobra, it is important to also do a counterbalancing pose that will open up the back, like cat.  The same is true for forward bends, back bends, etc.  Once you've explored several different dvds and collected a few asanas that you like, a few you find challenging, and maybe a few you would rather avoid altogether, you can use this book to help you design a practice that meets your needs.  The temptation to avoid those poses that are more difficult may be hard to resist but these are often the very places we need to go with our practice if we hope to grow in body, mind, and spirit.

There are so many wonderful ways to explore yoga and these three posts are merely a small sample of the full potential of resources available.  I didn't recommend anything for pranayama yoga, a practice that focuses solely on the breath.  I only included one practice that has any chanting although I love kirtan yoga.  I recently reviewed a book that is a fusion of mindfulness meditation with yoga practice that I highly recommend.  Don't forget to check out my pinterest board on which I have my reading challenge.  If you see something there about yoga and you want to hear what I think about it after it's all read and done, I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, July 12, 2013

More Yoga Recommendations for the Beginner

In a previous post I shared some resources I feel are ideal for anyone wanting to explore yoga in their home but overwhelmed by the many choices out there.  Yoga practice can be an intimidating experience and when faced with choices like ashtanga or hatha when you don't even know what either means is understandably overwhelming.  Because I have a balance disorder, I come to my recommendations from a unique position, seeking to find resources that are gentle and will not be too challenging.  This does not mean I avoid balancing poses.  It does, however, mean that I prefer practices that move slowly, hold poses rather than move swiftly from one to the next.  I find there is as much power to be found in holding a downward dog as there is in the aggressive demands of a "power yoga" practice.  Neither is a better choice but one is clearly and absolutely a better choice for me.  My recommendations are rooted in this and I share them because others have asked before and will continue asking, I'm sure.

Gentle Yoga Kit with Stephen Cope

Unfortunately, this kit is no longer being produced so you'll have to buy it second hand or on ebay or something.  I hate that because this really is a very good practice.  I hesitate to recommend it but if you can find this, it's worth having.  The kit comes with 2 cds, flash cards, and a 72 page book.  The practice on the one cd is 70 minutes long.  The second cd is relaxing music which, I confess, I haven't really listened to because I have my favorite meditation cds already.  The book explores some of the spiritual underpinnings of the physical yoga practice while explaining each of the asanas, their benefits and contraindications.  The flashcards give you a visual reference for the various poses.  There is something about being able to focus on your practice, without looking at a teacher on a dvd that is wonderful.  It heightens the experience of being in the present moment with your body.  I really love being able to just close my eyes and follow along.

Candlelight Yoga with Sara Ivanhoe

I don't even own this dvd but I recommend it because I have done the practice several times and every time I found it lovely.  Ivanhoe's voice is sweet and the practice is very simple.  She has one person showing modifications so even a beginner can enjoy this very gentle practice.  I like the practice enough to recommend it but not enough to buy the dvd, mostly because, by the time I tried it, I was already exploring my own yoga practice and did not want to add to my dvd collection because it might have distracted me from developing a practice of my own.  However, had I found it sooner, I have no doubt I would have eagerly bought a copy.  The practice is about 40 minutes long and it is very relaxing.

AM Yoga for Your Week with Rodney Yee

This dvd offers five 20 minute yoga practices, each with a different emphasis.  Standing, forward bends, back bends, hip openers, and twists.  These practices are short enough to be done on even the busiest day and the instructions are clear, easy to follow, and somewhat more challenging than the practices on AM/PM Yoga.  Working through all five in a week, you will explore a variety of poses. It can also be interesting to do the same practice for an entire week, to see how it feels from one day to the next.  It is amazing how sometimes what is easy one day is difficult on another day and how what seemed impossible a month ago suddenly becomes possible if you just stay with it.

Yoga: The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee

While I'm recommending things from Rodney Yee, I think this book is accessible for anyone who is still new to yoga but curious to explore more fully.  Yee doesn't get too deep into the spiritual practice but does share some lovely insights into the different poses drawn on his years of practice and teaching.  There are several practices outlined in the book so, when you are ready to no longer watch a dvd but maybe not quite ambitious enough to design your own yoga practice, this book can be a wonderful way to bridge the gap.  With 8 different sequences, you can easily explore this book by doing one practice a day or using it once a week in addition to using the dvds I've already suggested.  You will, however, need one of those folding metal chairs for one or more of the sequences, if I remember correctly.  Nonetheless, this yoga book is a pleasure to read and the practices are only as challenging as you choose to make them.

Yoga in Bed: 20 Asanas to Do in Pajamas by Edward Vilga

And since I'm on the topic of books, this book is just adorable.  But don't let the cuteness of it fool you.  This is just as serious a yoga practice as any other.  You will do spinal twists, forward bends, and all of the things you would do in a traditional yoga class, only you'll be doing them in bed, surrounded by pillows (or yoga props, as those pillows are used to prop your knees or back, as needed).  The pictures are colorful and the text joyful.  Whenever I start feeling like I am taking myself or my yoga practice too seriously, I grab this book which I otherwise keep in my guest room.

In my next post with recommendations, I'll offer some more traditional and less traditional choices, including more dvds and more books.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Yoga Recommendations for the Newbie Yogi

Someone asked me what I recommend for someone who is new to yoga by way of dvds and I realized it made sense to create a blog post where I could share the resources I feel are most essential for anyone wanting to explore yoga and begin a home yoga practice.

Yoga For Beginner's Kit

This kit comes with a yoga mat, a yoga strap, a block, and a dvd.  I cannot vouch for the dvd but, if you are new to yoga, you will need a mat, trap, and block.  You may think you don't but having all three will make your practice a much more pleasant experience.  If you already have a mat and don't want to buy a new one (although mats will wear out and you'll need a new one eventually, you can buy yoga blocks and straps separately.

I would also add a yoga blanket.  You can buy yoga blankets online.  (The ones pictured here are identical to the ones used at Omega and Kripalu.  However, I use a blanket I bought at Big Lots which doubles as my meditation shawl on winter days.  I would suggest getting two blankets if you don't have a throw blanket you can use.  The link is the best price for these blankets I could find so if you can find better, go for it!)

AM/PM Yoga with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden

Go to any yoga message board and look for the inevitable question "What dvd do you recommend?" and this one is always recommended.  It is simply that good!  Two practices that last only 20 minutes each, one to be done at the beginning of the day, the other at the end of the day.  There is also a bonus section that explains how to use yoga props (you know, like that strap and block I suggested you buy).  Many people say they tend to do only one of the two because of their schedule.  It makes sense.  In these hectic times it can be challenging to carve out time to exercise once a day let alone twice a day.  I suggest, if you buy this dvd and find yourself only doing one practice because you either do your yoga in the morning or in the evening, try doing the other practice whenever you do your practice.  It can be interesting to explore the PM yoga practice in the morning and vice versa.

Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss with Suzanne Deason

This is a longer yoga practice lasting 45 minutes but this dvd is formatted brilliantly for a variety of reasons.  One, the practice is divided into clear sections so you can, if you choose to do so, skip a section and shorten it to 30 minutes or even less.  Two, you can choose your level of practice.  There are four women of varying flexibility on this dvd so if you are very new and need to use props, you can select a soundtrack that will walk you through how to modify the various poses.  As you become stronger and more flexible, you simply choose a different track to follow.  Three, there is a "personal trainer" mode you can select where you can get further clarification on the more subtle details for each pose.

If I were to recommend nothing else for the beginner, these three items--the kit and two dvds--would be all anyone could or should need to start a yoga practice.  There are not a lot of standing poses. You won't be asked to hold a pose where you're standing on one foot for long lengths of time.  The focus is on moving into a pose and holding it long enough to feel the pose but not so long that you will feel bored.

With that said, there is nothing wrong with holding a pose for a long period of time and much can be learned from not moving from one asana to the next.  I have used the 20 minute practices on the former dvd in my daily practice but held each stretch for twice as long as on the dvd, taking the 20 minutes into 40 and more.  We live in a society that is constantly pushing for improvement, for perfection, for more.  Yoga can be an invitation to just stay for a while, visit where you are, and be in this moment with an openness and acceptance we rarely allow ourselves anywhere else.

I'll write another post of recommendations that build on this foundation, including other yoga dvds, a few yoga books, and other yoga resources that I feel are gentle enough for anyone to enjoy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Semi-True "Fairy" Tale

Once upon a time there was a boy who grew up in chaos.  His father was a father of many.  He had already had 11 children (that he knew of) from one woman when he met another woman who became the mother of 13 more of his children.  The Boy was the tenth, or the twenty-first, depending on where you started counting. 
The mother was a schizophrenic.  And an alcoholic.  The boy was the first of her children to be born in a hospital.  Was she there for other reasons than giving birth?  Who knows?  Who remembers?  She lived with her mother, an abusive, violent, woman.  There was a ritual, if you will, to her violence.  Every Sunday there would be a beating.  With a belt.  With a shoe.  Sometimes she would be sober.  Sometimes it would be the mother and grandmother.  Sometimes both of them would be drunk.  Sunday mornings, week after week, before chores were done or after.  Beat the devil out of the boy, a terrible truth from which he could not escape.
Unless, sometimes the father would come and he would claim the children, take them somewhere else to live for a while, away from that crazy bitch.  Did he mean the mother?  The grandmother?  Both?  Being away meant no more beatings on Sundays.  It meant other things.  It meant the father leaving the house for work and not coming back for a few days, leaving some money behind to buy food, money the older children used to buy cigarettes for themselves and maybe food for themselves too.  But there was never enough food or maybe there was never enough money to buy enough for everyone.  The little ones would get less, raiding the pantry for remains, scrounging as best they could. 
They didn’t go to school either, where maybe they could have had a free breakfast or lunch.  Instead, they were home, hidden, not legally allowed to be there but content watching television, when it worked, and playing games.
There are games the older children play the younger children are too young to play or don’t want to play.  It doesn’t matter.  Eventually the father would come home.  Eventually he would bring some food.  And things would be better.  For a while.  Until too many children became too much for one man and he returned them to their mother and the waiting for a rescue would begin again.
But there, at the mother’s, there was school.  The boy was skipped not once but twice.  He was smart.  Smart enough to know that getting a hole in his pants on the playground during recess was dangerous.  Smart enough to charm the home economics teacher into sewing the hole so that nobody would ever know.  He would eat.  And learn.  And he made friends.
Friends are hard to keep, however, when you have to disappear and eventually a teacher would notice a bruise or cut too many, a some-familiar-sign of something very wrong.  Someone would be called and someone would show up at the mother’s door and soon the children would be scattered in different homes in different places.  Maybe two or three would be assigned the same foster home or group home.  Maybe.  Not usually.  But never could anywhere take all thirteen of them.  Ever.
Together, they were safe.  Safer.  From the abuse or neglect of their foster parents or the other abandoned children who cluttered the beds in a group home.  Sometimes there was the grace of a place with clean linens and clothes, with food and comfort.  But placement never lasted long or long enough.  Eventually the father or an older sibling would come by with an invitation to a lunch that would turn into an escape and even the best of strange places could not compare to the rightness of being home again, surrounded by faces that are kind, if not kind. 
Complicated.  Chaotic.  Familiar.  Family.
The boy knew who to be and how to be when he was home again, whether with the father or the mother.  And the pattern repeated from year to year, from place to place, and he lost love of learning, and lost his brother, and eventually followed his father one last time away from a group home that promised him something.  Which is why, perhaps, he took hope with him, hoping to make something different for himself in the future.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Stages of Losing Weight

Image found here.

There are stages in weight loss and exercise that I’ve witnessed in my own life and the lives of others.
Stage One:  Nobody notices any change but you feel a difference.
Maybe it’s that you can walk faster, longer.  Or hold a plank or asana with more ease.  You feel stronger or struggle less than you did before.  The danger, of course, is that, without external validation, you are forced to rely solely on internal motivation. 
Stage Two:  Finally people are noticing.
You begin to receive compliments, people ask what you are doing to lose weight.  If you dare name a specific diet, well-meaning friends will tell you about a friend of a friend of a friend who knew someone who lost weight using that diet and gained it all back.  The danger is mistaking friends for saboteurs. 
Stage Three:  You’re really losing weight and it shows!
You buy new clothes because you need them.  You don’t mind exercising quite as much because you can see and feel all of the promised benefits.  The danger?  Now your friends, those same well-meaning friends, are “teasing” you, saying you better watch out or you’ll lose too much weight.  Family may even say that you’ve changed.  Even coworkers seem eager to sabotage you by insisting you eat what they know you are trying to avoid. 
Stage Four:  You reach your goal.
Who cares what others have to say?  Who cares what they think?  All that matters is how you feel when you look in the mirror, when you try on new clothes, when you commit to one more day of sweat and more sweat.
I am currently in Stage One.  Nobody can really see I’ve lost any weight.  I feel  stronger though.  I gave myself a challenge:  do one sun salutation per day.  Today is the ninth.  I did nine surya namaskar.  And there are parts which have become easier.  Ashtanga namaskar   I am coming to accept how one side is easier for me to move than the other. 
I still don’t like to sweat.  I have to coach and prod myself into exercising each and every day.  It is a challenge.  I wish I liked it more.  But I do my morning yoga, take Snowdoll for our daily walks, suffer through the 10 Minute Trainer, occasionally add in a Leslie Sansone walk, and use the bike. 
No excuses.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Poison, Overdose, Attacks--What a Week!

This has been a gloomy weather week.  At first, it was rather lovely, a break from the glaring heat of summer sun.  However, by day three it began to feel maybe a little oppressive and even the most stalwart of my people were muttering.   It looks like it will be lasting, this miserable weather, for a while. 

We had some unnecessary excitement this week.  I was taking my daily dose of vitamins, including a couple of ibuprofen when I realized I forgot to pour myself a drink.  I did that and decided I wanted to have some nuts as well.  Then I couldn’t find my pills.  Where were they?  What had I done with them?  Eventually I realized that maybe Snowdoll had eaten them and that’s when I panicked.  I called our vet and got the answering service that suggested an emergency number which I then called and told them that my dog had taken 2 ibuprofen and . . . yes, I’ll hold.

Snowdoll is fine, before there is any real concern or fear.  But we had to induce vomiting to ensure her well-being.  It wasn’t difficult.  However, the stress and anxiety left me exhausted.  Luckily, it was after dinner and I was able to go to bed once I knew she was well and truly okay.

The next night Rob took his usual amount of insulin but, as anyone who is insulin dependent can tell you, sometimes the normal amount can be too much.  Rob’s glucose levels plummeted to 26 and we were scrambling to get enough sugar in him to keep his numbers from falling any lower. 

In case you don’t know, extremely low glucose can result in all sorts of “fun” things like seizures, coma, and even death.

He survived.  We survived.  But that was two days in a row and the next day I told Rob, “No excitement tonight.  I nearly killed Snowdoll.  You nearly killed yourself.  Tonight, let’s just not have any excitement.”

We had none.  No excitement.  None whatsoever.  Whew!

The rest of the week has been my exercising and doing laundry, taking Snowdoll for walks, and applying for jobs.  Now that I have my certification, I am able to apply for different opportunities only, so far, every one I’ve seen listed requires experience and, until I get my foot in the door, practical experience is not something I can offer.  I have office experience—general administrative assistant experience.  Now I just need to get into a doctor’s office so I can start using this certification, even if it is only as a back-up to the person who does it full time.  I created a new place to track my applications and interviews and such in the sidebar so if you want to see my progress, you can look there. 

In the midst of all that I finished and wrote two book reviews.  One for Mindfulness Yoga and the other for two novellas Chéri and The Last of Chéri. It isn’t often I get to praise books back-to-back like this so it was a pleasure to write two book reviews of praise.  Trust me, it probably isn’t going to happen again next week.  If you’re curious about what I’m reading now, I’m going to add images with links to some of the books I have on my currently-reading pile.  Look for book reviews to come, some sooner than others.

This promises to be a full week.  Forget that Rob’s family is going to be in town and Rob is getting a new tattoo as a birthday present from someone who loves him almost as much as I.  None of that is as exciting as the weather which has been rainy and gloomy all week long.  Every day.  Rain and more rain.  And, according to the weather, it will be like this all week long. 

Because of the weather, I have been taking Snowdoll out for a walk as soon as it gets light, even if it is lightly drizzling.  Yes, before I even have my morning coffee!  And, if this morning is any indication, we really are in for a full week because Snowdoll was attacked again by the same brown dog that injured her ear a few weeks ago.   We were walking along and here he came running out, his leash still on his collar.  My guess is that the owner lost control of him or something.  So I am standing there and my first instinct is to get control of Snowdoll’s leash and then, as the brown dog grabs Snowdoll, I grabbed his collar.  By some miracle I managed to get them both to calm down and that probably had to do as much with my knowing I needed to stay calm if I hoped to get control of the situation. 

But then what?  I was standing there, holding Snowdoll’s leash in one hand and this dog’s collar in the other.  I called out, “Hello!” because we were standing, the three of us, outside of the brown dog’s home.  I could see a vehicle in the driveway.  I knew someone was home.  Surely they had heard the attack because goodness knows Snowdoll has an ear piercing shriek that can probably be heard for miles.  Just as I was trying to figure out what to do, up pulls a second vehicle and it is the man, who immediately jumped out of his vehicle and rescued me.  Snowdoll was understandably freaked out but, all in all, it went well.  He apologized.  I have mud all over one of my socks. 

The thing is, as soon as I had the dog under control he seemed to calm down a bit.  He clearly wanted to make me happy.  He has a sweetness about him.  So why is he so damned aggressive and wanting to attack our dog?  Ugh.  It reinforces my thought that if they put a muzzle on him he may end up being less dangerous.  I hate muzzles but I would hate it much more if this poor dog had to be put down because he keeps attacking other dogs. 

Then again, I hate not feeling safe walking around my own neighborhood with Snowdoll and it really is getting harder and harder to do so.