should by Hope Amico

My dad, in a sweet way, doesn't quite get what I am talking about most of the time but tries to say something supportive. When I tell him I was teaching a lot, he says, "at least you are staying in shape!" Of course, I do not practice when I teach and my practice isn't really about staying in shape. As a teacher, I like to attend other classes but my home practice has been my foundation, a constant of the past 2 years.
 

Most of the time practice is the thing I do when I wake up. But sometimes schedules change or I get sick or sometimes I don't feel motivated and I tell myself I will go to class and when I don't go I feel bad. Like I should've gone. Like I should practice more.

Stepping away from the idea of what I should so and allowing my practice to be a tool for how I approach the rest of my day is key. Sometimes I need to sit. Sometimes I want to be around others. Sometimes I need to move. It isn't always easy teasing out what I need from what I think I need. I have struggled with depression and internalized capitalism that says I need to keep doing stuff, making stuff or something is wrong with me.

And then some days I am able to let the feelings settle, and find a way to move my body and clear my mind. 

Today it was because of music a friend shared with me. So I will share it with you. I usually prefer quiet or low drone when I practice but today I wanted warmth and light.  It isnt a steady pace for a sequence but it is a good listen and the opposite of what I thought I needed.

"nothing is impossible/love is the only way."

 

Music for your practice by Hope Amico

I like to practice in the quiet but my house isn't always quiet. The studio isn't always quiet either and so I find the next best thing is quiet, wordless music that softens the disturbing noise around me.  Lucky for me, my partner is a musician and likes to write electronic music. He wrote this bit for my restorative classes but I like it for my personal practice too. I asked him to write something that can be looped, played over and over and appear seamless. My class seemed to enjoy it so I will share it with you.

 

If you like this, he also shares other electronic music under the name crimewave and can be found on bandcamp.

Body and Mind by Hope Amico

I love asana practice. I love teaching it. I love the physicality of it, that we can feel our bodies do one thing and then another. That someone can lead us into poses that were unfamiliar to us.

But I don't practice yoga for my body.

I mean, there are days when I focus on my legs , tired from working on my feet for hours. I love opening my shoulders and back, feeling broad in places where I usually feel tight and constricted, but I could accomplish this with stretching and my body might not know the difference. My body does benefit, of course.

At the beginning of my practice I sit for 2-10 minutes, breathe and let the quiet come. If it comes. Usually I think of a to-do list, then bring my focus back, then I hear noises outside, or sometimes I realize I have opened my eyes and have been sitting there for minutes like that, thinking about bills or the best route on my bike to a meeting later.  I practice. Everyday I close my eyes, and quiet my mind.

And then I move. I don't sit still often so I like the practice but the reason why there is movement, why yoga is more than exercise because it is both, mind and body. I'm sure you've heard something like that. In beginner classes I sometimes ask new students to sit quietly, then sit following their breath and then add the raising and lowering of arms.  The body becomes a marker, a guide. Inhale, arms up, exhale arms fall. And, if you are not panicking about whether or not you are doing it right, maybe the mind quiets.

There is a connection between our emotions and thoughts and our physical body. You can feel tension when you are concerned or worried, for example. But there is also subtler connections. Today I tried a pose thinking "I have open hips" and then found the pose to be very difficult. I tried a variation, feeling the tension in what I thought was my soft muscles. We think we are one way. Sometimes, some days we are another. I thought I was patient and laid back for a long time. In some ways I am and in certain situations I can be. But mostly my mind races for solutions, worries, and plans.  My response is to try to sit quietly a few minutes every day.  And from there, maybe see if I can bring a little of that stillness and quiet into my body.  There are things I think I know about myself. I practice and some days I find out something different. That is why I practice.

Why I Love Body Positive Yoga (and why it is good for all bodies) by Hope Amico

reposted from June 2015.  since writing this, I have completed the Yoga for All training and in two weeks I will begin teaching a Yoga for All class in Emeryville, CA.  Join me Sunday nights at 6:30 at square one yoga.

A few weeks ago I was asked to sub for a class at the yoga studio for people with larger bodies. I was excited about this class existing at our studio, and had done a little to spread the word about it. I was happy to see new faces coming to the studio and to hear about what the class offered. When I was asked to sub, I did a little research for idea. I had lots of information for modifications in general from my teacher training notes.   Then I found the site Body Positive Yoga, led by Amber Karnes.  There were videos offering many options for many poses. I had more information than I could use in one class.  I am a new teacher but some of these variations are brilliant adaptions that even some of my experienced yoga teachers are new to.

Which is why I think that this is important for all classes, all teachers.  Because this is not just yoga for larger bodies, because we all have different restrictions and openness in our bodies. Our bodies are at different places every day. Knowing more options means bringing the benefits of a pose to more people.  A few years ago, I found that child’s pose was restricting my breath.  I felt like I was suffocating. When a teacher offered the option of opening my knees wider, with my toes touching, it changed the pose for me. I stopped dreading this “resting” pose.  Simple modifications like this can take the struggling out of a pose and bring us more ease.

And that is the point, right? Our physical practice, the asana practice, brings us more in touch with our bodies. Which means we can be present in our body and maybe take that presence with us throughout the day.  Yoga is bringing your body and mind and breath to the same place.  Finding ease in our poses allows us to be fully present.  This is some basic yogic philosophy that is hopefully evident in all of your classes.  Hopefully your teachers are offering you a place to connect with your body, maybe as the groundwork for a more mindful existence.

Which is where body positive yoga comes in.   Offering modifications do not mean an easier, or less challenging practice but offer a way for your body to experience a pose.  Body positive yoga, while offering many suggestions for people in larger bodies, is not limited only to larger bodies.  There are plenty of smaller framed folks who have tightness, who can’t access the poses the way Iyengar coaxes. Similarly, not all people in larger bodies are not just looking for a gentle yoga class.  Check out #selflovingyogis on instagram for photos of plenty of people in different bodies doing challenging poses.  In your gentler or slower classes, offering modifications can benefit all. My teacher, Jennifer Meek, taught me by example, to have everyone in class try the “modifier” version of a pose, or using a prop.  This allows everyone to experience the pose in this way, sometimes offering new insight to their own bodies.  Sometimes we struggle to attain a certain end in a pose, such as our palms touching in garudasana , that we don’t feel the subtleties in our back. Using a strap can help access that for everyone (thank you Amber for the idea!).  It also takes away any stigma of using a prop, so that anyone who might have felt shy, or like they were not working as hard as others  can feel comfortable and confident. In moderate or strong flow classes,  knowing minor modifications such as lifting the belly skin in twists can make poses available to people who found it too uncomfortable before or who could get enough from the pose.

The class I taught went well, and I learned a lot that I have been using in my regular classes. Sadly, the class was discontinued at the studio, but it is exciting to see the strength of the online community of yogis in larger bodies and see how this informs my teaching.

check out www.bodypostiveyoga.com for so much information!

Finding Space by Hope Amico

reposted from october2015

How many times a class to ask my students to “reach through the crown of the head” or “lengthen your spine”.  They are probably two of my favorite cues. They are the cues that make the most sense to me and only recently I realized why.

I was biking to class after teaching, practicing, and eating a little breakfast. Though it is a little faster to take the train, if I can, I like to ride to the studio. I was thinking about how lovely it was outside, how maybe I should ride home too. Then I thought of a looming to-do list, the dishes I haven’t washed, the emails to return.  I had scheduled my day so tightly, that a detour along the water would have maybe left me with not enough time.  In this case, I enjoyed the ride one way and I did end up taking the train home, but I thought about this a lot. My practice is about finding space.  I lengthen through my spine, breathe into my ribs to make space in my body. I often over-schedule myself, agree to do too many things. Sometimes this causes anxiety that once was crippling. Lately I have been a little better about taking a day or an afternoon or a morning off. Sometimes just ten minutes breathing with my legs against the wall is enough to rest my day.

It seems a little contradictory to schedule a time of your day where nothing else is scheduled, but if you have multiple jobs, kids, or a hard time taking a break, make a block of time in your week where you don’t do anything in particular. Maybe a whole day. Maybe 20 minutes every day.  Try it. Make the space. Because when we cultivate this space in our lives, we are allowing for things we had not planned, we are open to possibility.  I often find that if I take a walk I run into someone I haven’t seen in a while, or see a new plant, or find the solution to the problem that has been plaguing me

How does this relate to your spine, to your asana class? Making that space in the body allows room for possibility in your body.  Tension closes off muscles and joints and can draw our body in, making us seem unavailable to the world. But lengthening, opening, breathing into the spaces between your ribs is a way to remind your body to be open to possibilities too.

Want to try it? Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Now reach the crown of your head towards the ceiling. Then relax.  Notice how that made your feel. Now try inhaling into your chest,  gently expanding your chest on all four sides, into your ribs, between your collarbones. Allow this to float the crown of the head up, opening. Again, notice how that felt. There is a subtle difference between stretching that is like reaching and lengthening which is like creating space between your bones.  Think of it as the difference between trying to fit more things into your day and leaving yourself intentional space to see what happens.

Starting at Square One by Hope Amico

I've been teaching for less than a year. When the studio offers me a class, if I can fit it in my schedule I tend to take it. I want the experience and I like teaching. So though I love teaching the gentle classes and restorative classes, I also like my moderate classes for sneaking in some of the same foundation lessons.  All the classes at the studio where I teach are all-levels, and sometimes people take a class because it fits with their schedule. So sometimes I have new people in my moderate level class and sometimes I have experience yogis who want to slow down in my gentle class. I like the challenge and the interest it adds to have variety.  Even if every one of my students was brand new, each person brings their own abilities and limitations.

So my favorite class to teach is the Beginners Workshop. I get to share my enthusiasm for props and alignment and options with new students. I hopefully make group classes seem less intimidating. And I get to talk about why we practice. It is dreamy.

Sometimes my friends express interest in attending classes.  Sometimes they say things like they are not flexible or rich or thin enough for yoga and I am surprised. Because I am lucky to teach at astudio with a group of teachers who don't believe you have to be thin or flexible or rich. You might never touch your toes. But I understand the desire for flexibility.  I am lucky to teach at a studio that offers worktrade for students, which is how I got started. And I am lucky to have had teachers in my training that addressed the differences in our bodies, that strong people and flexible people and thin people have limitations in their bodies too. That we all have abilities and restrictions. And I am lucky to have found a training to offer lots and lots of idea for options for working with different bodies.

I want to tell my friends all this when they say they are not ready to come to class for one reason or another but I also don't want to overwhelm them. I also think people will come when they are ready.  Also i never take it personally when a friend has no interest in coming. But it is great to have friends in class.  So on the off chance you were thinking about coming to a class but you thought you have the wrong kind of body, or that you can't do it, I want to say get in touch. The first and most important step is to breathe. Everything else is fancy footwork.

 

 

De-Mystifiing Props by Hope Amico

reposted from July 2015

don’t know when I started to love using props in my yoga practice, but I do. Maybe it was when I could not quite reach the floor with my fingers some days.Or maybe when I realized it made Varasana a very comfortable pose for me.  No matter. I offer props in my classes and I want to talk about why.

Props are not what you use when you are not good enough, they are not training wheels or a crutch. Props allow you access to a pose in a way that does not work for your body otherwise. I like to teach poses a few different ways, breaking down the pose into smaller variations. One of those might include a prop. And we all use it.  All the students in class lift the strap,holding it in one hand while reaching for the other end of it with the other behind their backs in Gomukasana . Some students may regularly reach their arms behind their backs in such a way, fingers locking. However, by using the strap, you can isolate the muscles used, perhaps having a different experience.  Sometimes we are straining and reaching so much in a pose we are not able to find the ease of the pose, and we might mistake the straining for the pose.  As a teacher, having everyone try the pose with a prop means not making any one person feel like they their practice is not good enough. And for anyone who has been struggling, it might help with the realization of how the pose could feel. If we are all in this together, we all have the opportunity to learn.  The next time you try the pose, you can choose, prop or no prop, but you are making an informed decision.

All that said, there is plenty you can do without props and you don’t need to buy fancy cork blocks or special straps and bolsters. You can, if you like, but you don’t have to. Not having fancy props should not keep you from a home practice.  I use lots of props because I teach in a studio with plenty of options, Students have paid for these props with their memberships.  So we use them.  

Here are some tips for using props at home.

  • Bolster–a bolster can be a great support in restorative poses or if you have less flexibility in your hips.  They may cost about $30 if you buy it through a yoga supply website.  Or you can use a couch cushion or a very firm couch pillow.  Find something that suits your needs. Maybe you want something to support you in supta baddha konesana, so a wider flat cushion. Use your couch cushions! Also try folding up a towel. This may be enough support as a small bolster or maybe even to replace a block.
  • Block–the very supportive blocks. Foam ones can be cheap but maybe you don’t to buy a pair. Maybe you have a better place to spent $14. You can use a firm small pillow to support you in seated poses, or where you need support under your sacrum. Sometimes your couch cushion bolster will work. Sometimes you need something firm.  Shoe boxes are the right size but are not that sturdy–you could rest your finger tips on one but not really support your weight.  Find something that suits your needs for the prop.
  • Blanket–any blanket will do. Really. It is best to find something that you can fold evenly, not a lumpy quilt. Fleece blankets are small and plentiful. And you can fold it up to be roughly the size of a small bolster. And if you are lucky, your cat will love it too and will leave your mat alone.
  • Strap–a cotton woven belt, a long sturdy scrap of fabric, even a long towel.  I have used a falling apart, fake leather grommeted belt. I don’t suggest it, but it will work in a pinch.
  • Chair–I don’t use chairs a lot but you don’t need an Iyengar certified backless chair.   They are nice. A cheap folding chair will do. Or any sturdy unpadded chair that supports you. Again, it depends on what you are doing, whether supported your raised legs or sitting on it for seated poses.   Try out what you have.
  • Mat–that’s right, the secret is revealed–you can practice without a mat. Jade yoga doesn’t want you to know that. You might prefer one to keep your feet from sliding. You might like the extra padding.  But know you can try it without. If you are on a slippery hard wood floor, use caution.  But if you have a little traction you might find you even like it.

That’s all I have for tonight.  I will now reveal that I do have cork blocks and a Jade yoga mat that I got at a discount. I started practicing often and found I prefer the heavier sturdier blocks and I use them often to support my sacrum in a few poses.  I wanted something that would hold my weight. .  When I graduated teacher training, I bought a few blankets and a strap. I was teaching private lessons out of my home and wanted to have slightly more professional props.  I fully support discovering your preferences and most importantly, doing whatever you need to keep practicing.  If you like a cushy mat, invest in a mat you will love and use every day. But don’t get caught up on gear and things.  Find ways to make the poses work for you.  And then let others practice in their own way.