Why I don’t Teach Partner Exercises in Yoga

partner exercisesWhen I first began taking yoga partner exercises were all the rage. There were many ways for people to work together to go deeper into the practice.

To be honest I loved them. It was fun to work with other people. I was always confident that I knew what I was doing. And it felt good to help others and I wasn’t too wrapped up when others didn’t help me. It was all part of the practice.

When I became a yoga teacher I also started teaching partner exercises quite often. There were a number of them that I loved particularly and we did them fairly regularly. Working with a partner can be incredibly beneficial as a learning tool and for the fun of being supported.

But then one night at a dinner party a friend who was not a teacher mentioned that she hated doing partner exercises in class.

When I asked her why I had enough reason never to teach partner exercises again.

Her two points were:

  • She was not a teacher and therefore did not feel comfortable trying to put people into poses or support them in them. She felt that she had no idea what she was supposed to do most of the time.
  • She didn’t always feel safe with her partner. If it was a stranger and a difficult assist she didn’t always feel comfortable that her partner knew what they were doing.

In the years since I have taught a very limited number of partner exercises. I have a couple that are truly unobtrusive and even those I rarely break out. It is my job above all else to make sure that everyone has a comfortable and safe experience if they come to my class.

I have learned so much on this yoga teaching journey. One of the main lessons is learning to repsect the wants and needs of others over those of my own.

To teach is to serve and that means serving everyone in the room so that they feel better after they leave than they did upon entering.

That isn’t always something the teacher can control but it’s worth trying.

A Dog is Your Core’s Best Friend

Active-Seniors-0015If you want to get strong in a natural and deep way I suggest getting a couple of unruly (not mean) dogs that pull you around every which way when you are walking them about. I have been doing that for the past twenty five years and I believe it has served me well.

Some people are stronger than others. Some people are born that way and some develop strength over the course of a lifetime. It is my deeply felt belief that it is good to be strong.

I was born fairly strong for whatever reason. I am fairly weak in comparison to so many of the people I have met and worked with over the years but it is all relative. It became apparent that I was pretty strong when I took my first job in construction at seventeen years old. I applied for a laborers gig from a Help Wanted ad showing up at a construction site on Thompson Street between Bleeker and Houston.

As it turns out, surprise surprise, I was the only Caucasian and the only applicant without a prison record. And I was half the size of everyone who showed up. The foreman laughed at me, said “Why not?” and asked me if I had ever used a jackhammer before.

While the first few days were truly viscous— jackhammering eight hours a day to put a twenty foot by twenty foot whole in the floor to make room for a central stairway that would lead to the section of the store below street level. But soon enough I was hauling rocks and lugging bags of cement and it was quickly apparent that the fact that I was half everyone’s size didn’t set me back much.

In the years since I have done more than my share of manual labor, loving the work and the exercise combination aspect of things but it has been a long time since I have had to put in a real days work and sometimes I think I suffer for it.

As a yoga and movement teacher I offer a strength based practice. My classes tend to work the core more than anything else trying to help people develop a balanced musculature that will serve them for a lifetime.

But one of the issues with yoga— that I have written about numerous times before— is its inherent lack of dynamism. It is a fairly linear and straightforward practice without any of the sudden start and stop kind of power inherent in most teams sports like hockey or basketball, or daily activities like living..

To that end I am always trying to help people find ways to get strong in a functional way that fits into their lifestyle.

If someone wants to develop upper body strength and a dynamic core I highly recommend getting two dogs between fifty and seventy pounds and don’t work too hard to train them.

Speaking from experience as I mentioned, there is nothing like trying to keep a couple of beasts in line in the pursuit of core tone.

It helps if they like chasing squirrels and cats. Imagine if you will, a lovely Brooklyn morning out with the dogs. You run into someone you know and are chatting amiably. Unbeknownst to you a cat has sauntered out of a garage into the driveway that you stand in front of.

You have no time to prepare as both dogs lunge at the same time doing their best to pull you off your feet. And guess what? If you aren’t somewhat strong they will. But if you are strong and they reach the end of their tether they will come flying back towards you on the rebound as your core solidifies around your trunk and your arm becomes an extension of your spine. As strong as they are, if you are up to the task they won’t be catching critters any time soon.

The feeling of two dogs lunging that way is pretty awesome and amazing. And feeling the power of an engaged core is pretty cool as well. Your brain goes into action to activate the necessary muscles before you are consciously aware of it, and you can witness the end result – you as immovable object— with a certain proud omniscience. Cool stuff.

To be honest I am fifty one and my days of big dogs are coming a close. We have one at the moment after his mate passed away a couple of years ago. The next batch of puppies will be of the smaller variety. But that is because I am fairly strong already.

If you are looking to build up some natural strength get a couple of big ornery dogs and go on some long walks.

Sunday Morning Music: Puddles Pity Party

Sad clowns and Leonard Cohen go together perfectly. This song is haunting sung by anyone but throw a clown into the mix and the intensity is ratcheted up.

Puddles Pity Party is the work of Michael “Big Mike” Geier. Hallelujah is the work of Leonard Cohen.

After seeing this I found a Puddles Pity Party cover of Royals that is worth looking for.

Weekend Mashup: October 18th

Here is the Weekend Mashup: A collection of articles from the past week worth mentioning.


weekend mashuo

First up a TED talk on One More Reason to Get a Good NIght Sleep


weekend mashup

Here is a peer reviewed study about Scoliosis and the reducing its effects by doing poses on the weaker side only.


weekend mashup

Yet another reason why soda is the devil. The problem being that I love soda. How does one eat a slice of pizza without a Coke?


weekend mashup

How do your fingernails hold up? Eight Health warnings your fingernails might be seding you.


weekend mashup

Here is an article about sleep patterns, one of my favorite subjects. Would you want to sleep twice in a night?

Does The Body Change The Mind?

Amy Cuddy  Your body language shapes who you are   Talk Video   TED.comIt would be very easy to have a blog that simply put up TED talks on a daily basis. I try hard to avoid that but there are so many amazing TED talks that it can be difficult. This talk by Amy Cuddy is from 2012 and it is a beautiful piece of work. When I first saw it it had about 4 million views and it is now up to 20 million.

I have nothing to add except that it resonates with everything I am trying to do in the pursuit of teaching better posture. I just read someone who I truly respect say that you can’t teach someone to change their posture which I was genuinely surprised by. I just don’t buy it.

And not only do I think people can change their posture for the better, they can change their mind at the same time. As Amy Cuddy says, “Don’t fake it till you make it, fake it till you become it.”

And even though it is somewhat of a non sequitor I’ll throw is some lyrics by Morrissey. They aren’t particularly connected but Still Ill is one of my favorite songs and lyrics.


Still Ill- The Smiths

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving
England is mine, it owes me a living
But ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye
Oh, ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye
But we cannot cling to the old dreams anymore
No, we cannot cling to those dreams

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

Under the iron bridge we kissed
And although I ended up with sore lips
It just wasn’t like the old days anymore
No, it wasn’t like those days
Am I still ill?
Oh, am I still ill?

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

Ask me why and I’ll die
Oh, ask me why and I’ll die
And if you must go to work tomorrow
Well, if I were you I wouldn’t bother
For there are brighter sides to life
And I should know because I’ve seen them
But not very often

Under the iron bridge we kissed
And although I ended up with sore lips
It just wasn’t like the old days anymore
No, it wasn’t like those days
Am I still ill?
Oh, am I still ill?



The Importance of Yoga Toes

yoga toes are essentialI can’t believe that I haven’t written before about Yoga Toes, an essential piece of long term foot care. I got my first and only pair of Yoga Toes over ten years ago. They are expensive but one pair is all you will ever need. At this point I wear them once a month or so but back in the day…

Aging gracefully is one of the main themes of my life and the quality of your feet go a long way to determine how gracefully you will age. The feet are the base of a rather precarious structure that requires a good deal of support from a solid base. There are twenty six bones in each foot making up a quarter of the bones in the body.

As a yoga teacher I see a lot of feet– it helps to love feet and be fascinated by them. I worked in a hospice a number of years back and those are some crazy feet to study. My sister referred to my father’s feet as hooves due to the way they swelled and thickened.

There are a number of arch systems in the body providing stability and effective weight transfer. The arches of the feet are the end of the line so to speak and the quality of the arches of our feet determine a great deal about how supportive our posture could be.

A lot of things can go wrong with our feet. Here is a short list from the Yoga Toes website:

  • Hammer Toes
  • Bunions
  • Claw Toes
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
  • Poor Circulation
  • Crossed or Overlapping Toes
  • Mallet Toes
  • Flat Feet

In my work the way we stand and walk can have a profound effect on all of these issues. For whatever reason people have these problems, I think poor mechanics and posture are always a contributing factor.

So while everyone should use Yoga Toes because they are very effective and an extremely useful tool in the war on aging poorly, they will not fix anything without your willingness to make some other changes as well.

Depending on the nature of your feet you might want to rip the Yoga Toes off within minutes of putting them on. They are big and thick and move your toes where they want them, which is into the correct position.

Even if you have fairly sever bunions the Yoga Toes will get your big toes to line up correctly. The likely won’t stay there when the Yoga Toes come off but it is possible that they can arrest their further progress.

Original YogaToes – Small Sapphire Blue: Toe Stretcher & Separator. Fight Bunions, Hammer Toes, Foot Pain & More!

Three Options For Sitting at Your Desk

sitting at your deskSitting at your desk shouldn’t be how how you spend the majority of your time. But maybe it is and that’s just the way it is going to be. If that is the case, figuring out how to physically get by in a modern world where the deck is stacked against our bodies is a worthwhile pursuit.
Pick your poison—car seats, kitchen chairs, office chairs, couches— not one of these accoutrements are designed to connect a human being to healthy living.
ut many of us love to do things involving all of these objects. I know I do. I love driving but I have yet to sit in a car that was made for me to sit in it.

If you are sitting at your desk as you read this are you slumped in your office chair like I am?  I spend a great deal of time in front of my computer and it would be nice to think that because I teach posture I always maintain good posture but this isn’t the case. Out of every hour in front of the machine I probably sit well for about ten minutes, give or take.

Moving on, the couch and me have a long and loving relationship as well, etc etc.

So how are we going to resolve the conundrum of how debilitating the implements of work and play can be and our need to make extensive use of these implements.

For todays post we’ll look at life spent sitting at your desk.

If you are going to spend the day at a computer why not mix it up and use three different approaches to your working life.

  • A chair
  • A Ball
  • A standing desk

A desk chair is a fine thing to use. A good desk chair is better to use than a bad desk chair but it is all relative as a chair will not force you to sit correctly. That is up to you.

sitting at your desk


At this moment I am sitting in my extremely high end Herman Miller Aeron Chair. This is “the” chair. Voted the Chair of the Millennium (I kid you not), and is a fixture in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

And yet, my desktop is in the shop so I am using a laptop on my desk and the monitor is almost a foot lower than my other monitor so my head is a mess tilting down to see what I am writing. My butt is no where near the back of the chair so my lumbar is taking no advantage of the wonderful lumbar support. One foot is up on my desk as the other sits on the floor.

It might be a great chair but there is nothing great about the way I am sitting in it. But for a third of my working day maybe I could get away with it.

sitting at your desk

An inflated exercise ball is a great option to offset a chair. I used to have one that sat in a stand on wheels and actually had a back but I found it to be too solid and would invariably end up leaning into the back. Once I got rid of the stand I loved the free moving ball.

Finally, the newfangled thing is standing desks which I am instinctively a fan of. The problem with a standing desk is similar to the chair issue. If you don’t stand well a standing desk will end be being as bad or worse than an office chair.

sitting at your desk

While standing desks tend to run towards the expensive, I have a client who created a very effective one with $30 worth of goods from Ikea. It might be worth giving it a try.

Spending some time each day in each of these options strikes me as a smart way to spend your day. Two sessions with each option in rotation could keep your body moving and shifting enough so as too minimize the effects of sitting in one position all day long.

Fallen Warrior That I Have Been Calling Dying Warrior

Here is a video of Angela Farmer doing one of her main poses Fallen Warrior. I have been teaching variations on this shape for years and have been mistakenly calling it dying warrior. Oh well.

Call it dying warrior or fallen warrior, whichever works for you, but either way it is a killer pose. I usually use it in the middle of sequences involving the IT Band and Tensor Fasciae Latae. I’ll make a video of my own about this at some point because I teach it slightly differently but I love her approach especially the piece about the long  lower back as you move into the pose.

The beginning of fallen warrior the way I teach it is an exploration of how your muscles are programmed to work. From downward dog I ask students to take their legs, while straight, out to the side. The instruction is to go sideways not backwards but invariably the leg gets pulled backwards.

For me this is a perfect example of an overly active or dominant gluteus maximus doing the work for everything else in the surrounding area. We work a similar pattern from tadasana often with the same results. Tell your brain to move your leg sideways and you can usually watch it move slightly backwards.

Fallen warrior or dying warrior (that will have to remain my name for the pose, I can’t help it) works on a lot of levels and my favorite moment in the shape is when I am in the plankish position with leg leg out to the side and the hips about a foot off of the ground. This is where I get my work done. Even though I would like to think that I am fairly twisty, I am fairly shut down once I get my pelvis on the ground.

Sunday Morning Music: Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon is the pseudonym for former Red House Painter’s singer and guitarist Mark Kozelek, Kozelek is a fairly prolific dude releasing many records under both his own name and Sun Kil Moon.

The song is off of 2014′s Benji which is a pretty spectacular record though get ready for lots of dying amongst its characters.

What’s With All That Crying?

crying eye

Crying is something I excelled at as a child. My memory is that I cried easily and often. Usually at the hands of my brother but I can’t imagine I had trouble finding other reasons as well. Then I stopped crying. When I was younger I couldn’t control the impulse when it came over me and I feel like I couldn’t wait to find that ability to stop (I think it might be the only impulse I have been successful with).

I finally cried again when a friend passed away about fifteen years ago. That opened a small leak and since then, I have cried at the deaths of people and pets… and TV shows. And I should probably add in the odd hallmark commercial or two.

My daughter is nine and I am very aware of her childhood coming to a certain close. I know she has a couple of years left of being a kid but subtle things are changing and I can sense a worldliness about her and an expanded awareness. There is no stopping the march of time so I work on embracing the feelings.

We usually watch a couple of TV shows after my kids do homework and last night we were watching an episode of Modern family and the wonderfully uncomfortable to view Phil is taking daughter Hailey to check out colleges. Hijinks ensue ending with Phil being sweet and tender about letting go of his daughter and I had tears pouring out of my eyes.

Which my children thought was the funniest thing ever. They laughed and laughed.

So what’s up with all that crying?

I was going to write the answer to this in long form but I found this video that it says it all ridiculously well.