The yoga practice is a glorious dance of the physical possibilities in the human body. An advanced practice can take your breath away as easily as it can expand your ujjayi. It can twist and turn in directions that make an artist quiver with creative jealousy and inspire even the heaviest of sloths to entertain a change of mind.
That being said — it can also be intimidating as hell.
I learned, trained, teach and practice in Santa Monica, California. It is the mecca of yoga these days and the cream of the crop when it comes to beautiful practices. It’s hard to find a level 2-3 class that doesn’t have at least one yogi soaring through the air in-between asanas or adding what appears to be a level-X variation to every pose. It can often be inspiring and mind-blowing but it can also be, in a word, daunting.
It’s allergy season — that time of year when many of us are plagued by itchy or watery eyes, runny noses, and bouts of sneezing and coughing that threaten to knock pictures off the wall. These common allergy symptoms are the body’s way of defending itself against bacteria and viruses. Luckily, yoga can help!
First, we have to figure out where those annoying symptoms are coming from. Allergies are triggered by allergens. Some of the most common seasonal allergens include pollen, dust, mold, food and insect venom. Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and some strong odors (such as perfumes) also impinge the respiratory system.
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms is to avoid what triggers them — such as by staying indoors on days when the pollen count is at its highest and keeping your home free of dust. But yoga can also help with both the prevention and management of allergy symptoms.
A yoga teacher’s suggestion to invert has the power to illicit a range of emotions from students: bewilderment, fear, anxiety, aversion, rejection, excitement, butterflies — you fill in the blank.
Purposely turning ourselves upside-down is contrary to our physical nature, and yet the benefits of upending ourselves are many. Just as yoga gently encourages us to move away from any unconscious habitual patterns, the invitation to invert is simply another way to shake things up, step out of a rut.
Student: Jill, what do you actually do for your personal yoga practice?
Me: I practice what I teach.
Student: You mean you don’t do anything else? Spinning? Or running? Or Zumba? I mean, how do you get your arms to look like that?
Me: I don’t mean to sound cryptic … but I practice what I teach.
It’s true. I have been practicing yoga and multiple movement arts since I was 11 years old, and the yoga practice I teach in the classroom (I began teaching part-time at age 19 at The Omega Institute) has evolved and changed with me through the past two decades. The work I share in my classes, workshops, conferences and videos all resonates with my own discoveries in my personal “jungle gym” of a practice.
My student Mary came to me nearly in tears one day after class. She’d been working for years to get into a headstand, yet continually watched newer students lift up with ease before her. She asked, “What am I doing wrong?”
Since Mary had come into my yoga classes only the week before, I asked her if she was using her bandhas to help her attain headstand. “What’s a bandha?” she asked, looking puzzled.
INVERSIONS are coveted among yogis. Yoga is one of the few systems of health that suggest you regularly turn yourself upside down for extended periods of time. The health claims are astonishing: it reverses aging, increases blood flow to the brain, regulates pituitary and pineal glands, relieves constipation, tranquilizes and mellows the nervous system, and the list goes on. Responses vary from person to person, but a regular practice of turning upside down to one degree or another is soothing and balancing, and it can be a necessary step for many to stop their chattering minds prior to meditation.