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My husband’s shoulder started hurting him a few months ago. At first it would come and go. Then it started aching and burning at night, so much that he couldn’t sleep on his side. I suggested lots of exercises to help strengthen his shoulder (which, to my dismay, he did not practice), and he regularly used his Yoga Tune Up® Balls for self-massage, but he was still in pain.
“As long as you can take a deep breath in the pose, you’re safe.”
How many times have you heard this phrase from a yoga teacher? You may have even heard it from me…
Deep breathing has always been the fail-safe awareness detector for pose safety. The prevailing myth is that your breath is the best way to gauge whether or not you have traveled too deeply beyond your edge in a pose.
Are you addicted to crack? Cracking your joints, I mean! There were years during my 20s when I could not fathom getting through my early-morning yoga practice without popping my shoulders, low back, hips and neck. I was popping and cracking my way through the day like a one-woman band.
Usually these fast internal whacks felt great, a rush that temporarily relieved aches and pains. What I didn’t know at the time was that all that cracking was not only emblematic of my body’s instability, but it was accelerating my own tissue breakdown.
Jill Miller met fellow yogi Elena Brower this past October when they both presented at the Ojai Yoga Crib, and the two immediately struck up a friendship. When Jill found out Elena was about to publish a yoga workbook called Art of Attention (co-authored by Erica Jago), she knew she wanted to have a heart-to-heart interview: teacher-to-teacher, innovator-to-innovator and woman-to-woman. Here is Part Two of her interview. To read Part One, click here.
I first met Elena Brower this October when we both presented at the Ojai Yoga Crib, although we’d been acquainted through email for about a year prior. Elena walked into the faculty dinner and seemed to carry a piece of the sun in her essence.
Now I know that might sound a bit “woo-woo,” and if you’ve been reading my blog for the past five years, you know that I am a straight shooter and tend to refrain from sharing heavy doses of mystical or esoteric phenomenon with my readers. But I tell you, I can also recognize a galvanizer when I see one, and I was immediately drawn to Elena’s intense stare, clarity of tone and poetic spirit. She’s awesome! And I am happy to now call her my friend.
So when I found out she was about to publish her very first book Art of Attention, a yoga workbook designed to inspire your yoga practice, contemplation and creativity, which she wrote with co-author Erica Jago, I wanted to have a heart-to-heart interview: teacher-to-teacher, innovator-to-innovator and woman-to-woman. Here is the result of that conversation:
Have you ever had a shoulder injury? If so (or even if not) it’s important to get clear about how your shoulder works so that you don’t re-injure yourself.
Quite often, learning how to locate your body’s tissues and taking the time to learn a bit about anatomy can make all the difference between keeping your body functional and damaging yourself in Downward Dog. A bum shoulder can make all sorts of everyday movements painful and difficult, so it’s vital to keep yours in working condition.
In this post, I’ll give you the tools to do just that!
Are you proud of your posture? Or do you feel a bit slumpy? Did your mom tell you to sit up straight? Does she still cajole you?
I’m on your mom’s side! Most people do not pay enough attention to their daily posture and everyday movement habits, and it can have long-term health consequences if left unimproved. I see postural issues daily in my Yoga Tune Up® classrooms. And as a self-proclaimed “posture princess,” I want to motivate you to make better choices to improve your carriage.
When I was an 18-year-old yogini, I was also an active bulimic. I was in college studying dance, training to be a shiatsu therapist (Japanese pressure point massage), making sandwiches and slicing salami at Jimmy John’s Deli, racing around Chicago learning yoga, and using food to self-medicate.
During that time, I remember never feeling connected to my core, my abdominal muscles. My Pilates teacher was always giving me corrections that I could not embody. In dance class, I was never able to find balance in my turns or jumps, and I would often duck out of class in frustration. Then I would become even angrier with myself because I was a quitter! This would inevitably lead to a binge and purge.
SCENE: A yoga class. Students are standing in Mountain Pose like a Buddhist “army.”
Teacher: Breathe in…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “sucking” sound is heard.)
Teacher: And breathe out…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “whooshing” sound is heard.)
Teacher: Good. Now three more deep breaths just like that.
Class: (They are audibly compliant until…)
Teacher: Now step your right foot back.
Class: (The sound of 25 left feet strike the pose, and no more breathing is heard.)
Teacher: What, no more breathing? Let every movement be a prompt to remind you to breathe for the next 90 minutes.
Class: (Sound of breathing is amplified again, and class proceeds smoothly until … well, the class forgets to breathe again. And again. And again sporadically throughout the class.)
What’s going on here? Why do so many of us forget to breathe? Did you actually finish breathing?
It seems laughable, the notion of “finishing breathing.” Our nervous systems are actually built in such away that breath happens automatically, without us prompting our breathing muscles every few seconds. Think about it, a lot of mental energy is actually required to control every single breath (instead of letting it happen on its own), and our brains have a zillion other tasks to balance. But the breezy thing about breathing is that we can control it, and in so doing we can deliberately impact every system of the body.
Have you ever wondered what to prioritize when you are doing a yoga pose? What is the most important thing to focus on when doing Triangle? Or Downward Dog? Or Savasana? Ask 15 different yoga teachers from different yoga lineages and you will likely get 15 different answers. Is alignment the most important? Is it the breath? Awareness? Eye gaze? What is it?
I have wrestled with this question myself and have attempted to deconstruct hundreds of poses to figure out what is most important … but after 29 years of practice (yep, I’ve been practicing since I was a kid!) there is one element that I come back to again and again — and it might surprise you!