Five Points Yoga

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Archive for the ‘Health and Wellness’ Category

Somerville becomes a Fit City

Just ran across this article about how promoting walking and biking in Somerville has helped kids and adults alike get more fit in the last several years.   I was a proud Somervillain for almost 8 years, and still work there every week, so this makes me happy.  

The article also talks about fresh and local produce being more accessible to kids in school and to residents through farm shares. 

It reminds me of this article earlier in the week, about a doctor who eats only organical food for 3 years.  He’s coming out with a new book on “green” living during pregnancy.   Should be interesting!

The ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of Childbirth

I just finished watching the documentary that the Tribeca film festival dubbed “The ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of Childbirth.”  It’s called The Business of Being Born, and it is produced by actress Ricki Lake.   I’d been meaning to see it for a long while, and as soon as I saw it available on Netflix Instant, I watched it.

It’s an amazing video for those of you thinking about your birth options, now or in the future.  It’s pretty well-balanced, interviewing a range of providers and families, but the central story it tells is about why giving birth, and the place you give birth and the way you give birth, is controversial.  And why it matters to many women and their partners.  

I want to recommend it to anyone who is planning on being pregnant in the next few years, or to anyone who cares about healthcare and access to a range of care options.  I found particularly compelling the parts of the documentary about how few birth centers there are, and about the lobbying actions of ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) to make homebirth illegal.  In Massachusetts, we had 3 birth centers when I started working in the prenatal field – one closed about 3 years ago, and 1 is on the  verge of closing now, as I’ve written about here in this blog.  That leaves only one left, the Cambridge Birth Center.   They are maxed out, filled to capacity, months in advance.   Clearly, there’s a desire on the part of women to avoid the excess of interventions in birth, and yet there’s little access to low-tech birth options.

Anyway, when I watch something like this, it confirms to me that prenatal yoga is more important than ever.  As you’re growing your baby, you need a safe and sacred space away from all the hype, and the fear, and the questioning.   Each of us need that space in our lives to be still and silent, and let our bodies’ wisdom shine forth.   I think if more women felt good about themselves, from yoga or childbirth education classes, or from positive, empowering visits with their midwives/doctors, then we’d have better outcomes for women and babies.    

I encourage you to watch the documentary – it’s compelling! Next on my list is to read Birth and Pushed.   Anyone read them?

Self Massage


As a complement to my yoga practice, I often do a bit of self massage.  Sometimes I teach this in class with tennis balls, but in my own practice, I use a bunch of other tools. I’m working on a workshop to teach these techniques because they’ve been so helpful for me.


Update on my hamstring tenderness:  I use a lot of self massage to relax my hamstring and help it feel better.   Also, it’s been going very well to just say a little something in class about how I’m protecting my hamstring.  I’ve been using other people to demonstrate a lot, instead of demonstrating myself.   Sometimes I will show something, but I definitely feel I’ve laid off of doing too much. 


I’m also being a little more diligent in my own practice to strengthen the hamstring, and not overdo the stretching.  I’ve been focusing on inversions and backbends now that it’s getting cold, so I can avoid overdoing the hamstring in both of those kinds of postures. 


Mostly, I’m self massaging and using Yamuna Body Rolling to stimulate healing.   Body rolling uses heavy duty plastic balls (about 8-10 inches in diameter) to help you roll from the origin to the insertion of a muscle.   This is the proper way to lengthen and release a muscle – not rolling back and forth on it.   So, I’ll start at the buttock of the hamstring, and slowly roll down to the back of my knee.   It’s pretty cool to feel the congestion in a muscle – the knots, the tender spots, etc.  My leg routine has been to do my hamstring, then my quadriceps (the opposing muscle), and then the side of the leg down the IT band (wowser!  That’s intense!).   You can use a foam roller for this leg work, but I like the balls because they’re more versatile for other parts of the body.


Even if you don’t know much about massage, if you have an injured area, just giving it some release by palpating it can be very helpful.  And if it’s an area you can’t reach, like your low back, using a tennis ball or foam roller can really help relax clenched muscles around your back.


I find this work to be a new frontier for me to eventually teach people, because it’s so much a part of my self-care routine.   Do any of you give yourself a massage regularly?  Or use tennis balls (which I pass out in class frequently) for self-care?   It’s interesting for me to know how intuitive and easy it is to practice this on your own. 

How You Walk Affects How you Feel

In high school, I remember seeing myself in a video and saw that I tended to stick my chin way out.   My neck was not aligned with the rest of my spine – I was very cerebral so I interpret my poor alignment to be a symptom that I was always leading with my brain and nothing else.   Also, in middle school, I remember someone pointing out to me that my dad and I walked the same way – with toes pointed way out.   They laughed and said we had a “duck” walk.

Over the years, these two memories stayed with me.   I was in theater in high school, and started practicing yoga quite seriously in college, and both of these disciplines helped me evolve in my posture.  I think I still have “bad” habits, including sticking my chin out and turning my toes out.  But not to the degree that I used to.   Best of all, I think just knowing this about myself has helped me learn a bit more about how to walk and carry myself.

I’ve been reflecting on this since I read this article in the NYTimes last week.   It’s about people curing chronic aches and pains from improper walking.   More and more yoga teachers, bodyworkers, chiropractors, and Alexander technique teachers can help you with this.

Anyone else resonate with this?   Have you learned something about the way you carry yourself from practicing yoga?  Have you changed your gait, or your stance, and found an improvement in the way you feel?  I’m curious!

Fall Yoga

I took this picture a few weeks ago, in Ithaca, NY.  These rocks were just irresistable 🙂   I was taking a hike, and stopped to do a quick photoshoot.  I want to go outside and practice now!

Yikes – An Injury!


Writing yesterday about the science of stretching made me realize I have more to write about on a personal level.  For the past 4-5 months, I’ve been “aware” of my left hamstring, right at the origin where the hamstring connects to the sit bone (so, think at the bottom of the buttocks/top of the thigh).  


I am extremely flexible – partially, just naturally – and definitely because of a sustained yoga practice for the last 16 years.  I’ve never had a yoga injury, really never had any kind of an injury.  


Except that I got hit by a car 8 years ago.   I was walking in the crosswalk and the damn car hit me!   Thankfully, he’d started to slow down, so I wasn’t seriously injured (though, I’m still angry at bad drivers when I’m walking – my “pedestrian rage” is a post for another time though). 


At the time of the accident, I didn’t go for treatment – there was nothing really wrong.  But over the weeks, I realized my back was sore and it wasn’t going away.   After a visit to my regular doctor (useless), lots of chiropractic (marginally helpful), and lots of massage and yoga (tremendously helpful), I was back to normal.   Except I could feel a bump on the right sacro-iliac joint – scar tissue that had formed.    The bump is still there to this day. 


For years, I had no problem.   But then I started running, and I kind of overdid it. I did too much too fast (very common when people discover something new and challenging).  For the first time in 4 years, I felt my back again.   I was surprised – I didn’t think I had anything still in there.   I stopped running and it went away.   I started running again 6 months later – it came back.   This time I’d also just ended a long-term romance and that really seemed to compound the situation.   It took longer to sort out my back, and more treatment from bodyworkers.   I stopped doing backbends during this period of time, which in retrospect, was a mistake. 


Over the 4 years since these recurrences, I’ve felt my back off and on.  A flare-up always happened if I got overzealous in physical exercise, or if I had an emotional stress in my life.  It’s very interesting.  I’ve learned that my back is awesome and strong, and it also tells me what I need to know.  And I’ve been lucky that on the painscale, all of this has been pretty minor.  I haven’t ever been laid-up in bed, unable to teach or in a lot of pain. 


The hamstring is a new manifestation of this old injury.  It’s been telling me I’ve been overdoing certain parts of my yoga practice (leg stretches like triangle and straddle – things that typically feel really good) and underdoing other parts (leg strengthening, back bending).  Also, a big thing is that I’ve been demonstrating postures too haphazardly in class – just popping into a triangle as I’m talking about a certain aspect of the posture, for example. 


I’m consciously learning that I have to use other people to demonstrate.  I teach 15 sessions a week – it’s very demanding on my body, and I have to recognize that if this hamstring is going to stop nagging me, I’ve got to let it be when I teach.  I’m also realizing that it might help to “admit” this to students in class.  It’s hard, because it doesn’t really “hurt.”  I’m not really “injured.”  I want to demonstrate postures, because it makes it easier to teach.   I don’t want to talk about myself, because class is for the students, not for the teacher.  But I think I need to treat this as if I am injured, and be honest in order to model how to work with your limits in yoga practice.  Otherwise, it feels clear that it’s only going to get worse, not better.


I’ve gotten some good chiropractic to adjust my pelvis.   I continue to get massage on it, and self massage (more on this in a later post).   I’m working on changing my own practice.   Now you can help me by not letting me overdo it in class 🙂  


This has gotten long, so I’ll write more in a future post about what I’m doing to help this injury.  Lots of you have hamstring or other issues, and I’d like to write more about how to develop a therapeutic yoga session. 


Thanks everyone, for helping me with this latest “inquiry” into the power of yoga and the beauty of our body’s messages.  Even when they’re messages we’d rather not hear 🙂





Science of Stretching


This recent NYTimes article really has me thinking.   I’ve read lots of debates about stretching – when to do it, how to do it, how much is too much?  Though yoga is not stretching, flexibility is one of the things yoga is known for, and a definite physical benefit. 


Also, recently someone asked me to comment on their debate website.  The topic: Is yoga bad for you?  I was kind of shocked that the question was even framed that way, and so I’ve been pondering –  


Why is it that yoga works for so many of us, particularly on the physical level? 


(I’m also a big proponent of how good and necessary yoga is mentally, but for this post, I’m talking the physical benefits).  


The crux of the article discusses the difference between static stretching – reaching to hold your toes, for example, and staying in the stretch, unmoving for a period of time – and dynamic stretching.   Dynamic stretching is when you move and stretch.   Studies have shown that practicing static stretches before exercise or sports weakens the muscles – not a good idea when you want those muscles strong.   Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, seems to warm them up and help them work better for the workout ahead.


These dynamic stretches seem to be a lot like the beginning part of a vinyasa yoga class.  I think about the sun salutes – how they’re active and even lift some people’s heart rate even though we’re consciously breathing slowly.   And for those of you in my class, you know that we practice a lot of back and forth warmup movements with our breath at the beginning of the class.  


It’s important to note that this article doesn’t say static stretching is bad – rather, it’s good after a workout, for a cool down.   So, it makes sense that we save the longer asana holds for the end of yoga class.  


Again, I’m trying to relate what this article imparts about stretching with our yoga class to understand better why people find yoga so useful.   However, I’m also interested because many people ask me how to incorporate yoga into their workouts, and into their life.  And I’m also interested because yoga injuries aren’t uncommon, unfortunately.  And finally, I do live and teach in Boston, a very scientifically-oriented city, and people like to have “proof” that things work.   Including me, I guess.


What do you think?   Do you use yoga before or after you go for a run (or other physical exercise)?   Do you think it’s good to combine yoga and other activities, or is it better on its own?  


I’ll keep thinking about this as well – off to practice some dynamic stretches!





Keep Moving


It’s already happened a few times to me as the temperature drops and the days have less light.   I am starting to want to hibernate – to move less and burrow into the couch or under the covers. 


It’s exactly what I know I’m not supposed to do.   I feel so much better when I exercise, when I practice yoga, when I walk outside instead of drive.  So this year, as I have in some previous years, I’m telling everyone I can to help me keep moving, and to keep moving themselves. 


Recently, the NYTimes wrote this article about all the ways you can fit exercise into your life.   The recommendation is for adults to try to get 150 minutes of exercise in a week.   That sounds like a lot, but for all of you who live in this great walking city of Cambridge/Boston (or someplace like it), you probably walk for 20-30 minutes many days of the week.  You may be getting close to 150 minutes just on your commute around town. 


Remember, not only is exercise good for you physically, but also, it’s crucial for some of us mentally, especially during the winter.

  In yoga class this winter, expect lots of flow back and forth between postures, lots of backbends, and lots of energizing pranayama!


Composting in Cambridge


I was so happy to find out that Whole Foods on Prospect St. in Cambridge has a compost bin.  This year I didn’t compost much at my CSA farm, but I really think it’s an effective way to reduce waste and promote local farming. 


Read this article about Whole Foods’ composting in Cambridge. 


Anyway, I’ve been collecting my scraps for a few days, and excited to go over there soon and “contribute” to the pile. 


In general, I’m a huge fan of fresh, local food.  In my journey through the blogosphere recently, my friend (and yogini) Zeenat turned me on to this blog called bostonlocalvores.  Stay tuned for a blog post about evil MSG and all the things it is lurking in.






Eating for New Moms



One of my favorite classes all week is my Postpartum class on Thursday mornings.  All the moms I’ve grown close to in Prenatal class suddenly disappear once they have their babies. Over the past year that I’ve been teaching this postpartum class, I’ve been able to stay in better touch with my students and continue to observe and support their entry into parenthood (even if they’re already parents to older children).  Plus I get to hang out with cute babies 🙂


New parenthood is hard!  Most of my students are smart, organized professionals who have a fair amount of resources, and still they can really struggle with the first few months postpartum.   Not only do babies require a lot, but so do moms – proper physical exercise after carrying a baby for 40-some weeks, nourishment for supporting feeding a baby, learning to cope with a new sleep pattern, figuring out a new work/social schedule, etc. 


So, anytime a new resource comes up that can help new moms, I’m all about promoting it.   My dear friend Christi Collins has written a fantastically practical and super helpful Ebook called “How to Eat to Survive Motherhood.” 


I learned a lot by reading it, some of which I’m excited to impart to my students – for example, what the most important nutritional needs are in the postpartum period, and practical foods to have on hand for those needs.   


But if you are a new mom, or looking to help out a friend who is a new parent, I highly recommend you buy this Ebook.   This Ebook has recipes and worksheets that I think will take the important informational content and make it actionable.


Check out Christi’s site here to buy the Ebook.   Even if you’re a new mom who has it pretty together, this book will help you feel even better.   And I can’t emphasize enough, that if you’re a friend of new parents, please consider giving something other than a cute outfit for the baby.   I know it’s fun to pick out those things, but parents really need a good home-cooked meal, or a massage, or a yoga class, or an afternoon of babysitting or help with chores.   This Ebook could be the perfect gift.   


Also, my new mom’s class is Thursday mornings from 10-11:15 at Black Lotus for any mom.   You are welcome to bring babies up to crawling (usually 6-7 months).







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